“And to me it’s not real at al . It’s like a fantasy.”
He looked down at the sink. “Okay, that hurt.”
He looked up at her and smiled sadly. “Don’t apologize for your feelings, Myrna.” He approached her in the doorway and touched her cheek. “I think I know what it is. Tel me about your ex-husband.”
She flinched and turned away from him. He moved behind her and circled her waist with his arms, drawing her up against his body. She didn’t realize she was trembling until his steady strength settled behind her.
“I don’t like to talk about it.” Her trembling increased as flashes of memories assailed her.
“I’ve got you,” he murmured. “You’re safe.”
Brian did make her feel safe. And for that, she’d tel him a little so he would understand there wasn’t anything wrong with him. It was her. “Jeremy was a good man when I married him. He just drank sometimes, and when he was drunk, he became a different person. At first, he got bel igerent every couple of months. And then, every couple of weeks. At the end, he was drunk every night. He’d accuse me of things, things I’d never done, never even considered doing. He thought I was having affairs. He was paranoid. Cruel. When I denied it, he’d—” A broken sob cut off her words.
She dashed away her tears. Why was she crying? She hadn’t cried over Jeremy in years. She’d left him in her past. He couldn’t hurt her anymore. But even she recognized that as a lie. He hurt her every day.
Brian turned her around and held her against his chest.
She wrapped her arms around him, drawing on his strength. “He’d threaten me until I admitted doing whatever he accused me of. Fucking some guy. Touching or flirting with or even looking at some guy with too much interest.” Myrna looked up at Brian and his face blurred behind her tears. “You have to believe me, Brian. I never. I would never. I didn’t cheat. Not once. I never even considered it.” Her fingers curled into his shirt.
Brian’s arms tightened around her. “I believe you.” He rubbed his lips against the side of her head. “Did he hit you?”
She shook her head. “No, not while we were married. Strange as it sounds, I sometimes wish he had. It would have made it easier to leave. He mostly yel ed. Made me doubt myself. Sometimes I can stil hear his voice, screaming at me, cal ing me a whore. If our problems had stayed between us, I might have been able to deal with it, but Jeremy confronted several of my male coworkers and accused them of seducing me. He even got several of their wives involved. I had to leave my first faculty position because of it.”
“Why did you stay with him?”
“I was stupid; I kept forgiving him. He’d say, ‘I love you, Myrna. I love you. I love you. That’s al that matters. I love you.’ I believed it for so long. I don’t know how many second chances he earned by bastardizing those three words. Hundreds. I can’t even stand to hear them now. Those words repulse me. Remind me of my weakness. My stupidity. I think the worst part was, as a psychologist, I knew what he was doing to me—I knew—and hated myself for taking him back over and over again, but I couldn’t break the cycle. I wanted it to work. But…”
Having already said too much, she bit her lip and fel silent.
His hand brushed over her hair and he kissed her temple. “But you left him, right? So you’re not weak. You broke away.”
“Yeah, I final y left him, but it didn’t matter. If anything, it got worse. He stalked me. I thought he was going to kil me. I got a restraining order. He ignored it. They’d arrest him and he’d be out of jail almost immediately. He was a wel -respected man in the community. Wealthy. Old money. Highly educated. Charming. Most people had no idea what he was real y like. And those who did were too afraid of his family’s affluence to do anything. After I left him, he fol owed me everywhere for months; his footsteps always echoed mine. I’d often find him standing outside my house. Watching. Leaving little love notes in places he knew I’d find them.” She shuddered. “But because he never hurt me physical y, they wouldn’t do anything. Verbal and emotional harassment don’t carry the same weight as physical abuse. I understand why, but it didn’t make it easier to live through it.”
Brian stroked her back and her preferred numbness returned. Why was she tel ing Brian al these things? She’d never told anyone the ful extent of her terror.
“The divorce,” she whispered. “The divorce was horrible. He refused to sign the divorce papers, so we had to go to court and I relived the entire ordeal in front of a judge. The accusations. The things he said to me. How he humiliated me in front of people I wanted to respect me. Thank God the judge believed me and pushed the divorce through, even though Jeremy contested it. The day I was legal y free of him, the day our marriage official y ended, was the best day of my life. I never want to be trapped like that again—
by the word love or the institution of marriage.”
“So after the divorce he final y left you alone?”
She shook her head. “He refused to accept it. He kept stalking me. Continued to refer to me as his wife. When I started dating again, he snapped. In his mind, I was cheating on him. I’m sure Jeremy slashed my date’s tires while we were having dinner. Then one night he broke into my apartment and waited for me to come home. I don’t remember much of it, just waking up in the hospital two days later.” She took his hand in hers and lifted it to the uneven ridge on the back of her head. “This scar. He gave it to me. Hit me with the fireplace poker, knocked me out cold, beat me within an inch of my life, and then the idiot cal ed an ambulance.”
“Jesus Christ.” Brian pressed his lips to her temple.
“He confessed to the whole thing and went to jail. I changed my last name, moved, and covered my tracks, so he’d never find me again.” That’s why she’d been so scared when Brian had found her so easily. She reminded herself that Brian had known to look in Kansas City. Jeremy would not. He couldn’t find her. He couldn’t. He didn’t even know her name. But the flowers… Jeremy knew gladiolas were her favorites.
“Thank you for tel ing me,” he said. “I understand a few things about you that were bugging me.”
She bugged him? “What kind of things?”
He hesitated. “I… Wel , I notice you tend to freeze up for a few seconds when we try something a little kinky.”
She flushed. “You noticed that, huh?”
“It’s like you, the real you, is this uninhibited, open, sexual being, but something makes you feel it’s wrong. It’s not wrong, Myrna. It’s wonderful.”
“Somewhere in my head I know that, Brian, but I’m damaged.”
He squeezed her. “No. You’re perfect.” He kissed her temple again. “Perfect.”
Her breath came out in a gasp and she tried to pul away, but he tugged her closer. “Please don’t make it impossible for me to live up to your expectations, Brian. This is too much. Too soon. I can’t handle it. I feel… trapped. Don’t…”
Brian tilted her head back and gazed into her eyes. He kissed a stray tear from her cheek. “I’m not that guy, Myrna. I accept you for who you are.”
“I know,” she whispered.
“I would like to kil that guy, though. Do you have his address?”
She shook her head. “I have no contact with him. I haven’t seen him in four years.”
He held her quietly for several moments and she reveled in the feel of his strong arms around her. So safe. But stil scary.
He tugged her back by her shoulders and stared down at her. “So I guess what you need most from me is emotional space.”
“And patience,” she added.
He nodded. “I’l try to give you what you need, but it won’t be easy. I’m pretty into you, Myrna.”
She smiled, staring into his warm brown eyes. “I’m very much into you, Brian.”
“I guess you wouldn’t like me to use the l-word then.”
“Not unless it’s lips.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him hungrily.
“Lips is a very good l-word,” he murmured.
“Yeah, so is lust.” She pul ed his shirt off over his head and flicked her tongue over his nipple. “And lick.”
“I’m particularly fond of let’s go.” He took her hand and tugged her toward the bedroom. She laughed, fol owing him. “That’s two words.”
Myrna crawled out of bed, slid into the discarded white sundress she found on the floor, and stumbled toward the bathroom. They’d been driving two days straight to play a show in Florida. The band would play an hour, and then the crew would break down the set and be back on the road by midnight to head up the Eastern seaboard. She honestly didn’t know how these guys maintained their sanity. Al they did was ride on a bus al day and night, constantly moving from city to city with no time to enjoy the places they traveled.
After using the bathroom, she contemplated returning to bed, but decided Brian would wake up and then she’d spend several hours with his slim hips between her thighs. Not that she ever considered that a bad thing, she just had work to do and found herself entirely too distracted to get anything done.
Myrna shoved a stack of papers to the side of the square dining table, sat in the she-didn’t-want-to-know-why-it-was-sticky booth and booted up her computer. Now that she’d designed an appropriate survey, she spent her evenings interviewing groupies. Her project was moving along beyond her wildest expectations and she had a huge backlog of data. While she waited for a shoddy Internet connection, she sorted musical score sheets from pages of beer-stained data, pul ed a sucker stick off one page, and eyed a mysterious brown spot apprehensively. The guys were slobs and had no respect for her personal belongings. She only tolerated the mess because she didn’t feel it was her place to correct them.
She checked her email and answered half a dozen distraught messages from her graduate students. Myrna was working on creating a data spreadsheet when the bus slowed and pul ed to a stop. She craned her neck to peek out the heavily tinted window on the other side of the bus. Another fast food restaurant? Gag!
Jake climbed from the driver’s seat and stretched, his mouth opening in a wide yawn. He started when he noticed Myrna sitting at the table.
“I didn’t know anyone was awake,” he said. “Do you want some breakfast?”
“Coffee would be fantastic.”
“One coffee coming up. Make that two. I’m about to pass out.”
Jake exited the bus, leaving the door open so fresh air could circulate into the cabin. Myrna heard the unmistakable screech of her Thunderbird’s tires next to the bus. The roadies were abusing the hel out of her car and the miles were adding up quickly. As convenient as it was to have a car at their disposal, she was going to have to put it in storage. Driving the extra vehicle disrupted the roadies’ sleep rotation, which she recognized as a safety hazard.
The bedroom door opened and Brian emerged. He blinked his eyes in the early morning sunshine and smiled at Myrna when his gaze focused on her. “There you are. I’ve been waiting for you to come back to bed for over an hour.”
He didn’t even try to conceal his nakedness or his rock hard cock jutting into the space before him. This was exactly why she hadn’t returned to bed. He never al owed her time to catch up with her work. His diversions were always spectacular so it wasn’t as if she could say no. She didn’t want to say no. Her body was already responding to his on some subconscious, primitive level. She’d expected their mutual delirium to decline now that they were together 24/7, but it intensified with each day. She’d never experienced anything like this. She was hopelessly, madly, deeply in lust.
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