So I hold back. But don’t think it’s easy, ’cause it’s not. There’s nothing I want more than to mold my mouth to hers and remind her of how good it was between us. How good it can still be.
I lean in and rest my forehead against hers. She closes her eyes. I brush my nose against hers and inhale, needing a fix. She smells even better than I remember. Like warm cookies in the Garden of fucking Eden.
And then I whisper, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I didn’t mean any of it. Not a single goddamn word. Please believe that.”
Kate opens her eyes. There’s surprise in those brown beauties. And fear, like a deer that just caught a hunter’s scent. Because she wants to believe me. And she knows I know that.
Then she blinks. And her eyes go hard. It’s difficult to tell if she’s more pissed at me or herself.
She shoves my chest, and I fall back into my chair.
She stalks back around my desk toward the door.
“Here? Now?” I look up at the ceiling, like I’m debating the prospect. “Well…okay. But be gentle. My couch is a virgin.”
I loosen my tie and start to unbutton my shirt.
She stutters. Then she points her finger at me and practically growls.
Yeah—it’s fucking hot.
“Ugh!” Then she walks out of my office. She stops in front of the Three Man Band, who’ve been waiting outside. “And don’t follow me!”
As she disappears down the hall, the lead singer looks at me.
And they follow in Kate’s footsteps, belting out “Heat of the Moment” by Asia.
Hey—what’s wrong? You look worried. Don’t be. I know what I’m doing. It’s all part of the plan.
I BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW THIS, but lots of guys have a thing for Ariel. You know, from The Little Mermaid? I’ve never been into her myself, but I can understand the attraction: she fills out her shells nicely, she’s a redhead, and she spends most of the movie unable to speak.
In light of this, I’m not too disturbed about the semi I’m sporting while watching Beauty and the Beast—part of the homework Erin gave me. I like Belle. She’s hot. Well…for a cartoon, anyway. She reminds me of Kate. She’s resourceful. Smart. And she doesn’t take any shit from the Beast or that douchebag with the freakishly large arms.
I stare at the television as Belle bends over to feed a bird. Then I lean forward, hoping for a nice cleavage shot…
I’m going to hell, aren’t I?
I can’t help it. I’m desperate. Frustrated.
I said I’d get to this later, remember? Well, it’s later. I feel like a shaken can of soda that’s about to explode. I know my previous record is twelve days—but this is different.
I’ve gone cold turkey. Completely. I haven’t even jerked off. Not once. In nine frigging days. I think the buildup of semen is starting to affect my brain. Like sugar to a diabetic.
Why haven’t I used the hand God gave me, you ask?
It’s a new rule. My own self-imposed penance for my stupidity. I refuse to come until Kate comes with me. Seemed like a good idea yesterday. But after seeing her today, I’m pretty sure the wait is going to kill me.
Don’t roll your eyes.
You don’t understand. Unless you’re a guy, you can’t. You have no idea how important regular sexual gratification is for us. It’s crucial. Vital.
In 2004, UCLA conducted a survey to determine how highly women valued getting off in relation to other daily activities. You know what they found? Eight in ten—that’s eighty percent—said if given the choice between sex or sleep, they would choose sleep.
In that same year, NYU conducted its own study. With rats. They implanted electrodes in the brains of male rats and put two buttons in their cages. When the lucky little bastards pushed the blue button, the electrodes triggered an orgasm. When they pushed a red button, they were given food.
Care to guess what happened to all the rats?
They fucking starved to death.
They never pushed the red button.
Need I say more?
Anyway, here I am. Stuck in my own little cage with no goddamn blue button. But…
Maybe I can have the next best thing. I pause the movie. Then I pick up the phone and dial.
“Hello?” Her voice is sleepy. Husky.
“Drew? How…how did you get my home number?”
“I looked in your personnel file.”
Yes, those things are supposed to be confidential, but I called in a favor. I play to win. Never said I play fair.
I lie back on the couch while images of Kate in bed dance in my head.
“So…what are you wearing?”
That went well.
I dial again.
“You were thinking about me before I called, weren’t you?”
I smile. And dial again.
“Just in case you’re wondering, I still have them.”
“You still have what?”
“Your underwear. The black lace ones. They’re in my drawer. Sometimes I sleep with them under my pillow.”
“You keep trophies from all your victims? How very serial killer-ish of you.”
“No, not from all of them. Just you.”
“Am I supposed to be flattered? Nauseated is more like it.”
“I was hoping we could add another one to the collection.”
Now this is just getting ridiculous.
I dial again.
“What. Do. You. Want?”
Stranded on a luxurious deserted island for about a week.
“Don’t hang up. I’ll just keep calling back.”
“Then I’ll take the phone off the hook.”
The challenge in her voice brings my semi full throttle. Did I say a week? I meant a month.
“Then I’ll come over. I’ll plant myself outside your door and talk through it. It won’t make you very popular with the neighbors.”
For a few seconds, she doesn’t speak. It’s after midnight. She’s probably wondering if I’m serious.
Then she huffs, “Fine. I’ll stay on the phone. Do you actually have a reason for calling, or do you just want to annoy me—more?”
I tell her the bare, honest truth. “I just wanted to hear your voice.”
Not too long ago, I could stop by Kate’s office whenever I wanted. I could talk to her. Look at her. Listen to her.
I miss that. A lot.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Me too. Kind of. What are you working on?”
“A proposal for a new client. Jeffrey Davies.”
“The millionaire? Isn’t he…like, crazy?”
“He’s very eccentric, yes.”
I heard he’s a fucking nutcase. Like one of those Trekkie fanatics who know the Klingon language or surgically alter their ears to look like Mr. Spock.
“What’s he interested in?”
“Technology. Life-prolonging scientific research, to be exact.”
Her voice is comfortable now. Normal. Almost friendly.
“I have some contacts in cryogenics. I could hook you up. We should discuss it over dinner on Saturday.”
“Are you trying to bribe me?”
“Would you prefer breakfast? Lunch works for me too.”
At this point, I’d settle for a light midday snack.
She snorts. It’s not a laugh, but it’s close. “Let it go, Drew.”
I smirk even though she can’t see it. “Not going to happen. I can keep this up forever. I have amazing stamina—but then you already know that.”
“Do I have to hang up again?”
I whine, “No. I’ll be good.”
I turn on my side. My apartment is dim and still. It feels…intimate. Like one of those late-night conversations you had in high school under the covers because you weren’t supposed to still be on the phone.
“So what are you doing for Christmas?”
There’s a smile in her voice when she answers. “My mom’s coming to visit. Dee-Dee’s is too, so we’re all going out together for Christmas dinner. And then my lease is up next month, so I plan on doing some apartment hunting while Mom’s here. I’m hoping New York will impress her. Maybe I’ll find a place that will entice her to stay.”
“What about Warren? Is he still staying with Delores?”
Don’t want any sneak attacks, now do we?
The edge is back in her tone as she tells me, “Not that it’s any of your business, but Billy moved to LA three days ago.”
Well, doesn’t that just make me want to stand up and do the happy dance on my dining room table?
“Do you guys still…talk?”
“He’s going to email me once he’s settled. Let me know how things are going.”
“Kate…what happened between you two, that day in your office?”
I should have had the balls to listen to her that day. I should have asked her this question then. At the time I thought it’d be easier to pretend I didn’t care than to hear her say she didn’t.
I was wrong.
She sounds sad when she answers. And weary. “We talked, Drew. I told him that I loved him, that a part of me always would. I said that I knew he loved me too. But that we weren’t…in love anymore. Not the way we were supposed to be…not for a long time. It took a while, but eventually Billy agreed with me. And—” she blows out an annoyed breath “—I don’t even know why I’m telling you any of this.”
We’re both quiet for a moment. And then I just can’t help myself.
“I’m in love with you, Kate.”
She’s silent. She doesn’t respond at all.
And my chest tightens because I know why.
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
“I think you’re an excellent liar when you want to be, Drew.”
Ouch. So this is what it feels like to sleep in the bed you made, huh? It sucks.
But my voice is firm. Determined and un-fucking-wavering. “I’m not lying to you now, Kate. But it’s okay. Do what you need to do. Curse me out, slap me around—get it all out of your system. I can take it. Because the more you push me away, the harder I’m going to fight to prove to you that this is real. That I’m not going anywhere and that what I feel for you isn’t going to change. And then someday—maybe not any time soon, but one day—I’m going to tell you that you, Kate Brooks, are the love of my life, and you won’t have any doubt that it’s true.”
After a minute, Kate clears her throat. “I should go. It’s late. And I have a lot of work to finish.”
“Yeah. Okay. Me too.”
“Good night, Drew.”
I grin. “It could have been. But you’re across town.”
She laughs then. It’s quick and muffled, but it’s genuine. And I’m pretty sure it’s the best sound I’ve ever heard.
“Sweet dreams, Kate. You know, the ones with you and me in them. Naked.”
THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME in a rookie pitcher’s career isn’t his debut. It’s his follow-up. The second showing. He has to prove that he’s consistent. Reliable.
Today is my follow-up game. The day I show Kate she’s not getting rid of me and that I’m one hell of a clutch player. I’ve started with something simple. Elegant. Something less in-your-face than the Three Man Band. After all, you don’t always need to drop a nuke to win the war.
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