“But I want you to hear yourself say it again.”
I let out an exasperated sigh and clear my throat for the second time. “I enjoy being matched outside of the bedroom. It’s a constant game that’s fun to play. She keeps me on my toes.” The words come out like I’ve rehearsed them, but it’s only because I’ve said them so many times before. “But I love the part where I can give her everything she needs in sex, and I get the same in return. Through that bedroom door, I become in control again, and I can empower her. It’s a dynamic that never gets tired or old.”
I often thought about her when I was at Faust and Penn—remembering the conversations we had at academic bowls and conferences. I never believed she’d enjoy giving up control in bed. But the longer she shied from affection, recoiling from other men, I thought she was just scared. And how could a woman as powerful and unabashed as her be frightened of sex? And then it dawned on me. She didn’t wish to rule a man in bed. She wanted to be ruled. But she didn’t know how to ask without feeling weak. So she thought being alone, unfulfilled sexually was the better option. I’m here to tell her it should have never been a f**king solution in the first place.
“There’s more.” I need to be honest about what’s going on recently. “She thinks once she gives herself to me, I’ll leave—that our relationship is nothing more than a game because I won’t allow myself to love anyone.”
“And why don’t you love her, Connor?” His chair creaks as he leans back, and a shadow of a smile plays at his lips.
He acts as though he understands what I can’t, putting me at odds with myself. He’s listened to my beliefs about love for years, but that doesn’t stop him from routinely asking more.
“People relate love to insects fluttering inside their digestive system. I’ve never had that affliction.”
He cracks a smile. “It’s a metaphor.”
“I know what a metaphor is, Rick.”
“Then stop being a smartass and so will I.”
I straighten in my chair, becoming more serious. “I’ve seen the kind of love that cripples. Take Loren Hale and Lily Calloway—when one is shot with an emotion, the other feels it. If you stripped one from the other, they’d be less than themselves. If that’s love, I want no part of it.” I want to be whole. I want to be the best possible version of myself without the chance of being wounded or broken.
“Can you empathize with Rose?” he asks me.
“Yes, but love is a weakness that I won’t submit to.”
“Sometimes you can’t control everything, Connor,” he tells me. “Even as intelligent as you are, there are things out of your grasp. Love, death—you can’t predict either. They just happen.”
“And you believe it’s already happened?” I refuse this outcome. It’s not computable.
“Why are you with her?”
“Amusement—these are just words, Frederick.”
“Love is just a word.”
“I can’t love her,” I tell him definitively as I stand and pocket my phone.
He stays seated, and yet, I feel as though he has the advantage on me. He still sees what I can’t. “And why is that?”
“Smart people do stupid things when they’re in love. I’ve yet to do something inane.”
Frederick grins. “Give it time.”
I suppress the urge to roll my eyes. I wave him off and head to the door. “See you next week.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“Of course you are,” I say back. “You get to hear about me spanking my girlfriend.”
“Get out of my office, Connor.” He returns to his papers, but his grin grows wider and wider until I leave.
* * *
I stop by the liquor store after my session with Frederick, and it’s late when I arrive home. The lights are off in the living room, and I don’t hear Lily or Lo’s cli**xes through the walls.
When I reach the second level, I stop by my door, not about to knock. I haven’t been that courteous since we moved in together. There are some barriers that I choose to destroy for her.
As soon as the door creaks open, I find Rose sitting on the bed, flipping through the latest issue of Vogue. Her eyes flit up to mine and she drops the magazine on her lap. “Did you bring it?”
I hold up the brown paper bag. “Wine and tequila as you requested, but I would advise only choosing one tonight. Unless you’d like to be ill.”
“The wine is for you,” she says curtly.
My eyebrows rise. So the tequila is for her. She’s that nervous.
She pats the mattress. “Take a seat, Richard. You look like a scared little cat. Sadie would claw you for your cowardice.”
“My cat loves me unconditionally,” I reply. The bed rocks as I climb onto it, and I set the paper bag in between us. “And I’m fine, so you must be projecting your fear onto me.” I smile, just so I can see that flicker of contempt in her eyes.
“I’m not scared.” She straightens up and pulls her shoulders back. “I know exactly what we’ll be doing tonight. I can’t say the same for you.”
“So what are we doing tonight, hun?” I ask. “Other than getting drunk.”
She reaches into the paper bag and pulls out the bottle of Patron. I watch her unscrew the cap and start rubbing the lip with the hem of her black thigh-length nightgown. It’s silk and looks like a slip underneath a dress.
I immediately imagine myself slowly lifting the thin fabric off her body, leaving her bare for my touch. I want her nak*d. Now.
I place my hand on the smoothness of her leg, her skin nearly as silky as her nightgown and exceedingly warmer. The minute I pull her closer to me with that one hand, her chest rises. But she focuses on wiping the rim of her Patron.
Rose plans on drinking straight from the bottle. She’s trying hard to progress our relationship, willing to forgo a glass. That’s a big deal in Rose Calloway’s world. Her effort hasn’t gone unnoticed in my eyes.
When it’s successfully clean for her lips, Rose takes a swig from the bottle. She nods to the bag. “Get your wine. And then we’ll play the game.”
“Truth or dare.”
She says it with a straight face, almost challenging me to laugh. I keep my expression complacent, but I can’t help what I say. “Shall we spend seven minutes in heaven too?”
She shoots me a heated look. “We’re playing. Don’t make me tie you up.”
I laugh and rub my lips, unable to contain my amusement. “Darling, if anyone is going to be tied up,” I say, my hand descending towards her ass, “c’est toi.”
[ 21 ]
“Don’t be a p**sy,” I tell Connor. “If I can do it, you should be able to.” Although with that confident declaration of tying me up—my brazen attitude feels more like a front than anything else.
“Name calling gets you nowhere in life,” he refutes with ease. “And just so you know, I was only going to drink from a glass in case I spilled it on your comforter. But your loss.”
He acts like he’s going to tip the wine bottle accidentally onto my white-laced bedspread. My heart jumps into my throat, and fear bulges my eyes.
He grins and then puts the bottle to his lips, taking a large swig. The wine and tequila are strategic. I need more liquid courage than him, and I’d rather be buzzed. I’ve never seen Connor drunk, which means he could very well turn into an inebriated a**hole. Someone I do not want to play truth or dare with. But it’s a risk I’ll take.
“Truth or dare?” I ask him after another sip of tequila. The liquor slides sharply down my throat, but I’m too nervous to care. Normal couples who share a bed would be fine playing truth or dare together. Another piece of evidence that I am not normal. We are not normal.
He doesn’t blink. “Truth.”
I don’t want to ease in. “What’s your favorite position?”
“I won’t hurt you,” he says, reading into my question. “I know you’re nervous to have sex, but I promise I’ll be…” He smiles at his own thought. “…no that’s not quite right.”
“You were about to say gentle, weren’t you?”
His lips rise further, validating my assumption.
The aftertaste of tequila sticks to my tongue, and my head dizzies at the idea of Connor being anything but gentle. I’m not the softest girl, so the image of being handled by a soft, careful boy makes me squirm.
“I promise I’ll be me,” he says, grinning into his next swig of wine.
“It’s a good thing I like you then.” My voice is still icy. The alcohol hasn’t kicked in just yet.
“Like me? Qu’en est-il de l’amour?” What happened to love?
“You don’t believe in love,” I retort. “So you’ve lost the right for me to love you back.” I nod assuredly at this new stance I’m taking. “But I still like you. Don’t worry.”
“I never worry,” he says. “I do believe in love. When I was a child I thought it wasn’t real, but I’ve come to see that it does exist for some people. Just not me.”
Right. He can’t love anyone. He’s too analytical, I suppose. I’ve come to accept it, but there’s a part of me that wants so badly to be his first love the way he’s mine. His hand keeps descending, gripping my ass above my silk nightgown. I tip the bottle of Patron against my mouth, taking half a shot.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I say.
“What’s my favorite position?”
“I have a lot of favorites.”
“Choose one, Richard,” I snap.
He smiles. “Missionary…with a few alterations.”
His lips just curve higher, as if he’s partaking in a personal inside joke. I kind of want to punch him for the smirk, but I also want Connor to kiss me roughly. It’s an odd mixture that’s pounding my head.
At least he doesn’t want me to ride his dick like a sexy dominatrix. I don’t think I could confidently pull that off. It’s not something I’ve ever visualized either. Although when people meet me, I know it’s their first assumption, their first wild picture. Of me in stilettos, a heel at a man’s throat. All these years, I believed in the stereotype too. That to be a strong, confident woman outside the bedroom, I’d have to be as equally dominant inside. It’s a reason why I rarely brought guys back to my apartment in college. Because I’d disappoint them. And I’d rather shove them out of my door and be called an ice cold bitch than be laughed at for not making good on their fantasies.
We’re all more than we appear to be.
“Truth or dare?” His question pops my thoughts.
“What’s your strangest fantasy?”
“I change my mind. I choose dare,” I say quickly.
He laughs. “Play by the rules, darling.”
“Dare,” I repeat, not backing down.
“Fine. I’ll let you cheat this once.”
Cheat. That is a vile word, but I stay my course.
“I dare you…” His eyes flit around the room before landing back on me. “To answer my question.” He full-on grins.
“You’re terrible,” I deadpan.
“You love me. Even if you won’t say it anymore.”
“Maybe.” Ugh. I stare at my traitorous bottle of Patron for loosening my lips and deteriorating my brain.
His hand dips further to my ass, and he pulls me so close that I realize I’m sitting on his lap, my legs sprawled to the side. He combs the hair off my neck and places a light kiss on my nape. He watches how my body shivers from the touch, warms from the alcohol, and dizzies from his closeness.
“You wanted to play this game,” he reminds me. “Somewhere in your heart, you wanted these things to be revealed.”
I did. And that’s why I had the alcohol. To build my courage. I take another small sip, my lips wet with the liquor. He rubs his thumb across them, slowly. As my breath hitches, he puts his thumb in his mouth, tasting the tequila.
“My strangest fantasy?” I repeat, studying him like he’s the most interesting specimen in the universe. To me, he most definitely is. When the answer suddenly hits me, I pale. I’m not even close enough to being that drunk to tell him. But I can’t lie. I hate cheaters so damn much. “Ask me something else.”
“No,” he says, not making this easy for me. He rests a hand on the back of my neck, so near now that his chest touches mine. He inhales strongly, my body closing in on him. The tension winds me in a taut strand, the place between my legs beginning to pulse for touch. He kisses right outside of my lips. “Answer me,” he murmurs with a deep, husky voice.