“That took me a while to put up,” she says.
“I like it down.”
“Talk to me, cara.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Fuck this.” I take her glass and set them both on the coffee table, then cradle her face in my hands and kiss the hell out of her. She gasps and grips my shirt in her fists at my sides and holds on tight as I take the kiss from hot and hard to soft and lazy and back again, before pulling away and staring into her eyes. They’ve gone soft and glassy, making me feel satisfied. “That’s better.”
“You’re good at that,” she whispers with a sigh.
“As are you. I don’t want you to pull away from me, tesoro. Not now. Not after last night.”
She tries to look down, but I catch her chin with my thumb and finger and keep her gaze locked on mine. “If you get scared, or nervous, or have doubts, you run to me, not from me, do you understand?”
“This is so far outside my comfort zone, I don’t know what to do.”
“I think that’s the most honest thing you’ve ever said to me,” I murmur and kiss her forehead. “I’m not letting you slip through my fingers, Alecia. I’m not going anywhere, today or any other day. But I can’t understand if you don’t talk to me.”
She shakes her head and closes her eyes, but not before I see the pain there, and my own heart cracks for her.
“Being naked with you is easy compared to talking to you about my past.”
“I love it when you’re naked with me,” I murmur with a smile. She opens her eyes and grins back at me. “But I need you to talk to me. Let’s start with what we were talking about the other night. I believe you said something about not believing in happily ever after.” She squirms and finally pushes me away, and then stands.
And just when I think she’s going to throw me out of her apartment, she surprises me with, “Let’s take a bath.”
She doesn’t stop to see if I’m following her as she walks purposefully into the bathroom, wine in hand, and turns on the taps of the garden tub.
“Nice bathroom,” I comment calmly as I lean a shoulder against the doorjamb, watching her as she bustles about, keeping her hands busy pinning her hair back on her head and setting out towels.
“It sold me on the place,” she replies with a grin. “I haven’t used the tub yet. No time.”
She kicks out of her sexy black heels and begins stripping off her clothes as the tub fills and the room heats up, and I can only stand here and watch her. She’s not trying to tease me, she’s not trying to be enticing.
And yet I want to rush to her, strip her bare and fuck her against the bathroom vanity more than I’ve ever wanted anything.
Except to hear what she has to say. She won’t make eye contact, and I let her take her time to get comfortable. She pours something into the water that makes the room smell like jasmine. Turning her back from me, and this will be the last fucking time she ever does that, she strips bare and sinks down into the water.
“Are you just going to stand there and look at me?” she asks testily.
“Was that an invitation?”
She exhales deeply and closes her eyes, then offers me a shy smile. “I’m sorry. Yes, please join me.”
I push away from the doorway and unbutton my shirt, slip it off my shoulders and hang it on the hook behind the door. I don’t take my eyes off of her as I undress, and can’t help the smile that comes as her eyes follow my hands, gliding down my body. She licks her bottom lip as her eyes widen and her breathing picks up. I walk toward her, but rather than sit behind her, I sink into the water opposite her, pick her foot up and begin to dig my thumb into the sole, earning a low moan from her sweet lips.
“Oh, God, that’s good.”
I’m not sure what to do for her, and this is a first for me. So I simply sit and wait, letting the hot water work its magic, relaxing us both, and finally, after long minutes of me rubbing her feet and calves, she leans her head back on the edge of the tub, closes her eyes, and begins to talk.
“I’m not a particularly lovable person, Dominic.”
And pisses me off from the first words out of her gorgeous mouth.
“My mother never made it a secret that she didn’t want children.”
“Are you an only child?” I ask quietly, casually.
“Yes. My parents didn’t plan to have kids, and I was a mistake.”
You’re not a motherfucking mistake.
“From the time I was small, it was clear that I was an interruption. They loved each other, very much, and intended to always be a couple.” She pauses and bites her lip, a small frown between her eyebrows, as though she’s choosing her words carefully. “It wasn’t that they didn’t love me, in their way, they just weren’t interested in me.”
I rub my hands up her calves, massaging the muscles in her slender legs and concentrate on keeping my breathing even and face calm.
“From the time I was old enough to eat by myself, my mom would fix me a plate and set me up in front of the television to eat, so she and dad could eat together in the kitchen. That was their time. It still is.” She shrugs her shoulders, making her nipples surface above the water line and pucker from the cold air. Her cheeks are flushed pink from the warmth of the water. She’s pink everywhere.
“They kept me busy in school,” she continues. Her voice is perfectly calm. There’s no anger, no sadness. Just composure. “I also play the piano. I had lessons twice a week from the time I was four until I graduated from high school. Then, when I wasn’t involved with piano, they had me in soccer, basketball, and softball.”
She cringes and then laughs. “I fucking hate to run.”
“You hate to run?” I ask with a smile.
“I do. I hate it. And they always signed me up for things that involved running. I asked if I could do cheerleading or anything else, but those sports were on a regular rotation, so I was always doing something after school.” She sighs. “That’s probably why I don’t like to exercise much now and my ass is too big.”
“Your ass is not too big,” I reply calmly, but inside I want to beat the shit out of her parents. Who the fuck treats their child like they’re an imposition? “Besides, you run around plenty for your job. In heels, no less.” I drag my thumb along her arch, earning a groan from her.