“I thought we’d let things play out naturally, if that’s okay with you.”
Natural sex with Nathaniel? My face heated and I felt the familiar ache of yearning tighten in my lower belly.
Be cool, Rational Abby said. Don’t let him know how much the idea excites you.
Idiot, he knew that ages ago, Crazy Abby said.
Across the table, Nathaniel gave a knowing smile. Damn that Crazy Abby, she was right.
“I’ve been natural all weekend,” I said, coolly. “Why stop now?”
He laughed. I hadn’t heard him laugh very often—maybe being snowed in would be a good thing for us.
“Where do I sleep?” I asked.
He raised an eyebrow. “Your room.”
Oh, well. It was worth a try.
“Okay,” I said. “New rules start when?”
“Today at three.” He looked at his watch. “You’re mine for the next eight hours, so if you don’t have any more questions, I want the clothes off while you cook breakfast.”
You’re wrong, I thought to myself as I went upstairs to undress. I’m not yours for eight hours. I’m yours for always.
It was slow going on the natural plan. On Sunday afternoon, at three o’clock exactly, Nathaniel told me to go upstairs and get dressed. He said dinner was his responsibility since I had cooked breakfast and lunch.
We ate in the kitchen while watching the snow. It felt odd to have clothes on. Almost like I was hiding.
I called Felicia after dinner to make sure she was safe with Jackson. She acted a bit put out that I questioned her safety, but I knew how much it meant to her that I called. When I got off the phone, I made my way to my library and spent the evening alone. Nathaniel stayed in the living room. Though we spent the evening apart, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt in his house.
First thing on Monday morning I called Martha on her cell phone and explained my predicament. She told me the library was closed due to the snow anyway, and she’d keep me posted. I refused to spend the day idle, so I used Nathaniel’s treadmill after breakfast. I’d give him this much—he knew what he was doing when he set up my exercise plan. Already I could see improvements in my muscle tone, strength, and stamina. After just a few weeks, not only was I trim, I was fit.
Maybe it was the aftermath of spending the entire weekend naked, I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t immediately change out of my workout gear. Instead, I walked around downstairs while endorphins pumped through my body. I didn’t feel like hanging out in my library again, so I decided to clean. Clearly, Nathaniel employed a housekeeper. One who wouldn’t be able to come out due to the storm.
There was a supply closet off the kitchen and I dug through it until I found what I was looking for—a feather duster. I glanced around—no Nathaniel in sight.
I walked to the living room, set my iPod on Nathaniel’s player, and turned the volume up. I scrolled through my songs until I found one Felicia had downloaded for cleaning. We both agreed we didn’t mind cleaning as long as we could dance at the same time.
When the music came on, I spun, twirled, and twisted. Around and around I went, wielding my duster, cleaning every surface in the room. At the end, I threw my head back and sang along.
Looking around the room with a self-satisfied nod, I turned to walk out. Nathaniel stood in the doorway, watching.
“Abigail,” he said, eyes shining with amusement. “What are you doing?”
I twirled the duster. “Dusting.”
“I do employ a housekeeper for such tasks.”
“Yes. But she won’t be able to come this week, will she?”
“I suppose not. Although, if you insist on making yourself useful, you could wash the sheets on my bed.” His eyes laughed at me. “Someone got them all messy this weekend.”
“Really,” I said in mock disbelief. “The nerve.”
He turned, then stopped and looked over his shoulder. “By the way,” he said. “I’m dropping yoga from your exercise routine.”
Sweeter words have never been uttered.
“You are?” I asked.
“Yes. And adding dusting.”
Nathaniel made chicken salad for lunch. “It’s not as good as yours,” he said, putting my plate on the kitchen table. “But it’ll do.”
I tilted my head. “You like my chicken salad?”
He sat down. “You are an excellent cook. You know that.”
“It’s nice to hear every once in a while,” I teased.
“Yes,” he smiled pointedly. “It is.”
I went over his words again.
“You’re an excellent cook as well,” I said. Had I never told him before?
“Thank you. But you did compliment my chicken once before.”
The mood was lighter after that, as if we’d crossed some hurdle simply by admitting that we liked each other’s cooking.
“I was wondering,” I said, in between bites, “if I could take Apollo outside this afternoon.” It had stopped snowing, at least for the moment. Apollo sat beside Nathaniel and lifted his head at the sound of his name.
Nathaniel thought for a second. “I think that would be a good idea. He needs to get out and he seems to like you.”
“What’s his story, if you don’t mind me asking? Elaina mentioned something in Tampa that made me think he’d been sick.”
“Apollo is a rescue,” he said, reaching down and rubbing the dog’s head. “I’ve had him for over three years. He was abused as a puppy and it made him hostile. Although he’s never had a problem with you. Maybe some sort of sixth sense about people.”
“And what about what Elaina said last weekend?”
“He gets anxious when he’s away from me for extended periods of time.” He gave Apollo’s head another rub. “We’re working on it.”
“It must have been hard at first,” I said.
“It was, but the pay-off has been well worth the trouble.”
“Hummph,” I said, forking more salad. “There’s a special place in hell for people who abuse animals.”
“Why, Abigail, I never knew you had it in you to be so forceful.”
“I’m not a big fan of dogs, other than Apollo, that is.” I took a bite of chicken salad and chewed. Swallowed. “But for someone to cause harm to something helpless—well, I guess it brings out the worst in me.”
“Or the best,” he said, his smile saying he knew exactly how I felt. “I suppose that’s why I decided to donate bone marrow. To help the helpless.”
The bone marrow. “I wondered about that.”
“It’s Linda’s pet project, she made us all sign the registry. I never thought I’d be a match for anyone. But when the call came in,” he shrugged, “what choice did I have? I had the power to save someone’s life. There’s not a lot of thought that had to go into that decision.”
“Some people wouldn’t feel the same.”
“I like to think I have never been considered some people.”
“Sorry, sir,” I said, flustered. “I didn’t mean…”
“I know you didn’t,” he said, softly. “I was teasing.”
I looked down at my plate. “It’s hard to tell sometimes.”
“Maybe I should wear a sign next time.” He lifted my face with his finger. “I’d rather you not hide your eyes when you’re talking to me. They’re so expressive.”
His gaze met mine and for just one moment I almost felt I could read his thoughts. I wanted to swim in those deep green eyes. Fall in so deep I’d never have to leave.
He dropped his hand and we talked more about the boy who had received his bone marrow—Kyle. Nathaniel had grown close to him since the donation. He took him to baseball games in the summer and had hoped to take him to the Super Bowl.
“But he was sick and not able to go,” Nathaniel said. “Maybe next year.”
“Felicia said something about Jackson retiring. Will he play next year?”
“I think so, but it might be his last season. He’s ready to settle down.” He looked at me with the grin that always melted my heart. “If Felicia is amenable, that is.”
“Are you ready to deal with Felicia as a member of the family?”
“I will for Jackson’s sake,” he said. “And she does have the most amazing best friend.”
After lunch, I bundled up with some clothes stashed in the guestroom and took Apollo outside. The snow had stopped and the wind had blown it in drifts that reached heights I’d never seen in all my years in New York. Apollo and I walked toward a large field. Or, I should say, I walked. Apollo ran.
I made a few snowballs and threw them, watching as he ran after them, shaking his head in disbelief as they shattered into nothing. I laughed and Apollo looked at me and barked, wagging his tail, wanting more. I made more and threw them.
“You’re confusing my dog,” Nathaniel said, suddenly behind me.
“He loves it,” I said, throwing another snowball. I giggled as Apollo bounced after it.
“I think he loves the person throwing them.” Nathaniel balled snow together and threw one himself.
Apollo looked back and barked.
“You’ve stolen my game,” I said, trying not to think about the fact that Nathaniel had just said love. No matter he was talking about his dog. I balled up more snow and threw it at Nathaniel. “Now he won’t want to play with me.”
My snowball missed.
“Oh, Abigail,” he said, slinking toward me like a cat. “That was a big mistake.”
“You wouldn’t happen to be wearing a sign, would you?” I asked.
“Not on your life,” he said, tossing a snowball from hand to hand.
I backed away, holding my hands up.
“You threw a snowball at me.” Still with the tossing. Back and forth. Watching me. Back and forth.
“I missed,” I said.
“You still tried.” He pulled his arm back to throw the snowball at me, but at the last minute he turned and threw it to Apollo.
I, of course, didn’t see that and shrieked like a scared little girl. Turned and ran. Tripped over my boots and fell face-first into the snow.
Of all the…
“Are you okay?” he asked, coming to me and holding out a gloved hand.
“Nothing hurt but my pride.” I was covered in snow and all wet. My body shook with the sudden chill. I took his hand and he helped me up.
“Time to go inside? Something warm by the fire?”
Fire. Warm. Nathaniel.
Count me in.
As always, Nathaniel thought of everything. A large fire burned in the library fireplace when we made it back inside and the heat slowly permeated my wet clothes. Nathaniel went upstairs and returned with dry ones for me. As I changed, he poured us drinks.
I sat down and raised my eyebrow at the glass he handed me. “What is this?”
“Brandy. I thought about coffee, but decided this would warm us quicker.”
“I see,” I said, swirling the amber liquid in the glass. “You’re trying to get me drunk.”
“I don’t, as a practice, try anything.” He sipped his drink. “But it is over forty percent alcohol, so you’d better only have the one glass.”
Apollo ambled over and sat at Nathaniel’s feet in front of the fire. Nathaniel stroked his head.
I was starting to realize that Nathaniel and I had different ideas on what “warming up” entailed. I was also beginning to wonder if “natural” was dom code for “never going to happen.” It didn’t make sense to me. He’d been happy to suspend our weekend agreement at other times—he came to visit me in the Rare Books Collection on Wednesdays, and twice we’d had sex in this very library, my library, here in his home, and we hadn’t played by his usual rules. So why wouldn’t he let anything happen between us now? Sometimes everything felt confusing. I loved the dom part of Nathaniel, the part that could make my knees weak and turn to mush with a simple word. But I was starting to fall hard for this new weekday Nathaniel. If only there could be a way to combine the two. Was that even possible? Would he want that?
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