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“Fuck,” James muttered with feeling, looking distraught.

I grinned wryly. “I told you I was fucked up,” I told him.

“How did he die?” James asked in a hoarse voice, his hand stroking my belly.

I didn’t mention the score we were keeping on our information. Apparently I was in an answering mood, because I just answered. “He didn’t,” I said softly.

His eyes went a little wild as they shot from my stomach to my face. “But you said-”

“I lied. About him, but not my mother. She’s dead.”

“How did she die? And where is your father?”

“She killed herself.” The lie slipped from my lips with no effort or remorse. It was an old lie. And a necessary one. “And I have no idea where he is. I ran away from home just after my mother died. I was nearly fifteen, and I never stopped running. He found me, a few times. The foster system was actually unhelpful enough to reunite us. But by then I had Stephan. He would always protect me, and we would run again.”

“So you were in foster care? That’s how you met Stephan?”

I gave a swift shake of my head. “We had some run-ins with foster care, but no. We were homeless runaways. I met Stephan because some homeless old man was trying to rape me, and he beat the pervert to within an inch of his life. You can thank Stephan for helping to keep my virginity intact. We were inseparable after that. We never even discussed it. We just became family.”

I saw a fine tremor rock his body. I touched his jaw softly with a fingertip. “

I want to kill somebody,” James whispered. I traced his jaw. “I can’t bear the thought of the man who beat you as a child running loose. I can’t believe that someone like you was made to live on the streets, unprotected.”

“I had Stephan,” I said simply. He had made all of the rest of it worth it. Having someone like him at my back had made my life bearable during the horrible times.

“I love that guy. Remind me to buy him a ridiculously extravagant gift. I know he likes cars…” he trailed off.

I laughed, and it felt surprisingly carefree. “I love him too, but I refuse to encourage you there.”

“I need you to answer a question for me. Be brutally honest. Is this bad for you, what we do together? Am I like your father? We don’t have to do any of the rough stuff, if it’s too much for you. I don’t want to be bad for you.”

I traced his lips, choosing my words carefully. “I’ve been fascinated by the BDSM stuff since I can remember. It embarrassed me, and so I hid it well. Obviously, I had no experience with it, but I felt drawn to it, always. And the way you embrace it, with no shame, is liberating to me. My past has shaped me, that’s true of anyone, but I don’t think it’s bad for me to confront it in this way. It’s good for me to have someone like you, who can help me with this outlet. Someone who I think I could learn to trust. And you are nothing like my father.”

I could see that my words reassured him. He leaned down to kiss my forehead softly.

“Thank you,” he murmured against my skin.

“And we’re getting off track. You owe me a painful revelation. A few of them, actually. Why do you hate alcohol so much?” I asked.

I knew there was something there. I just sensed it. His reaction to seeing me drunk, and his instinctive tensing every time he thought I might drink alcohol, was all just too personal.

He ran his hand up my torso, tracing my ribs.

I gave him a few minutes of silence while he watched me broodingly, and formed his answer.

“I told you about my first guardian when my parents died. He was an older cousin. His name was Spencer, and I despised him. Supposedly, he was a close friend of my fathers. I could see why, right at first. He seemed nice at the beginning, never giving me any rules or restrictions. I was barely fourteen and he would let me have wine with dinner. I thought he was the coolest guy in the world. Until I realized that he was drugging the wine.”

A hand went to my throat at his words. I held my breath for him to continue, knowing with inexplicable certainty that the rest would be bad.

“It took me awhile. I would just have these blackouts. I wouldn’t remember anything after dinner. But there were…signs.”

“I was sore in places that I shouldn’t have been. I had marks on my back, and wrists, and…other places. And Spencer changed. At first it was just something knowing in his eyes. After a time, he started to brush up against me in broad daylight, and I just knew. I just knew that he had done things to me, things that I hadn’t consented to. Not that a fourteen year old can consent to any damn thing.”

Tears filled my eyes for the first time in many years, and my hands stroked him reassuringly. It both broke me, and touched me, that he would share such a thing with me.

He noted my tears, and brushed them from my cheeks almost absently, continuing. “It was just a guess on my part, but I suspected the wine. So I pretended to drink it one night, and let him lead me to his room. He had me handcuffed before I realized what he was doing. But by then, I was helpless. And then I got to experience the whole disgusting thing without the benefit of drugged wine.”

I traced those tiny scars on his wrists, and he let me. He shut his eyes tightly when I kissed them, but he didn’t stop me.

“I think he knew that I wasn’t as drugged out as usual almost immediately, but I really don’t think the bastard cared. He had convinced himself that I was a willing participant, no matter what I said or how I struggled.”

“He didn’t let me loose until morning. That was the longest night of my life. I was exhausted and sick down to my soul, but I still had the gumption to beat the shit out of him the second I was free.”

“He steered clear of me after that. And not even a year later, some angry lover choked him to death. He liked younger men who could overpower him physically. I guess it finally backfired. At least that lover wasn’t underage. It was a huge family scandal. All of my relatives were mortified. But I relished the news.” His eyes had glazed over as he told me the gory details, but they cleared as he finished, and seemed to focus back on me right away.

He leaned down and kissed me when he finished. I returned the kiss desperately. He pulled back, murmuring into my mouth.

“You’re the first person, aside from my therapist, that I’ve ever told that to. I was so ashamed by it all. Does it change the way you see me?”

In answer, I kissed him with all of the emotion that I felt for this damaged soul that seemed, somehow, to match my own. And to complement it in just the way that I hadn’t realized I’d needed so desperately.

We just kissed like that for long minutes. It was a soft and reverent kind of sharing. The type of intimacy that would have made my skin crawl at one time. But it didn’t now. I relished the contact, something having changed inside of me.

He finally pulled back, but only to lift me. “I need you in my bed, Love. Say goodbye to the 4th floor, for now. But we’ll be back, make no mistake.”

He cradled me against his chest as he walked with seemingly no effort to the elevator, not setting me down or shifting me as he boarded the elevator and it rose slowly back to his room.

I nuzzled against his chest. He kissed the top of my head.

He laid me on his bed and made love to me. I imagined it was a lot like being made love to in a forest, the huge, wall-sized window flooding us with sunlight.

He was all tender lover, though even James’s tender lover side had an edge. He pinned my legs down on the bed, parted wide, so that his every hard thrust rubbed my clitoris almost unbearably roughly. He made me come again and again before he allowed his own release.

“You’re mine,” he breathed into my ear afterward. We lay together, entwined. We were on our sides, and he was wrapped around me tightly from behind, a hand laced firmly with one of my own.

“Yes,” I murmured back, and sank into a deep and peaceful sleep.


Mr. Beautiful

I awoke to darkness, disoriented at first, and uncertain of what had awoken me.

“Shh, love, go back to sleep,” James murmured into my ear, rising and going immediately into the bathroom. I heard the shower turn on. I made myself get up.

I went into the closet, putting on my work clothes, since they were the only ones I had. I definitely needed a shower, but it could wait for my hotel room. I had a feeling that if I joined him in the shower now, he would talk me into staying at his place while he went out. I still wasn’t willing to do that.

I dressed quickly, going to the bathroom door when I heard the shower turn off, speaking to James through it.

“I’m starving. Mind if I go try to find some food in your kitchen while you get ready?”

“Please. I’m sorry. I’ve been a negligent host. Help yourself. I’ll need some time to get ready, but I’ll join you in about twenty minutes.”

I had seen the pristine tuxedo laid out in his closet, so I knew why he needed some time. He was obviously attending a black tie event. And one far fancier than anything I’d ever been to.

“Okay,” I said.

I got a little lost navigating through his maze of an apartment, but it was a good thing that I did, since I found my suitcase. I had left it in the trunk of the car when Clark had driven away. I hadn’t even given it a thought until the second I saw it again. I grabbed it gratefully, pulling it behind me as I attempted to place the kitchen, trying to retrace James’s steps from the day before.

I found it more by sound than sight, inadvertently coming at it from a different angle. I could hear two female voices chatting, one warm and husky, the other friendly and tinkling with laughter.

I approached the open doorway cautiously. What I saw confused me, and I just stood there, blinking.

One woman was in her fifties and I recognized her friendly voice from overhearing her speaking to James when we had first arrived. She was the housekeeper. She was a plump hispanic lady and had the look of a kindly mom-type. Her words trailed off as she saw me. She took in my disheveled appearance wordlessly.

I wasn’t surprised by her presence. It was the other woman whose presence I couldn’t make sense of.

She was exceptionally beautiful, with coifed, curly black hair that shone brilliantly. Perhaps she was related to James, I told myself. She was beautiful enough to share his bloodline, if anyone could be as beautiful as James.

Her lovely gray eyes studied me with far less surprise than I studied her. She was decked out for a black tie affair in a silky, pale-gray gown that matched her eyes and belonged on the red carpet. It had a classic and simple strapless design that clung to her perfect body like a glove. She had a very tidy body, with the tiniest waist I’d ever seen in my life, but it still managed to be voluptuous, flaring out in the quintessential hourglass. She was the kind of woman that made every woman feel worse just by looking at her. She was several inches shorter than me, no taller than five foot six.

She made me feel instantly tall and awkward. Her tan skin was flawless, her lips lush and sultry, her nose pert and perfect.

“Another flight attendant?” the woman asked in a husky voice. She was speaking to the housekeeper. “Boys and their toys.” Her voice was casual, and she rolled her eyes, but there was a certain tension around her mouth that spoke of cold anger.