“I have to learn your limits, so I’m working you slowly. But there are many, many areas we have yet to explore.” His touch grew rougher. “And I want to explore them all.” His hand dropped. “Does that answer your question?”
“Yes,” I whispered, wanting to explore them all as well.
“Any other questions?”
“If your other subs didn’t use their safe word, how did the relationships end?”
“They ended as any relationship ends. We grew apart and went our separate ways.”
Okay, that made sense. “Have you ever had a romantic relationship with a woman who wasn’t your sub?”
He shifted a bit. “Yes.”
“How did that go?” I asked, wondering if I was walking into Melanie territory.
“You’re here now.” He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Was that a rhetorical question?”
Obviously, it hadn’t gone well. But I just couldn’t let it go. “Melanie?”
“What did Elaina tell you?” he asked instead of answering.
Caught. “That Melanie wasn’t your submissive.”
He sighed. “I would prefer my past relationships remain in the past. What Melanie and I did or did not do has no bearing on you and me.”
I picked at the uneaten pasta on my plate, still not sure I felt any better about Melanie.
“Abigail,” he said and I looked up to meet his eyes. “If I wanted to be with Melanie, I would be with Melanie. I’m here with you.”
My eyes roamed his fabulous body. “Did you ever have a n**ed picnic with Melanie?”
He smiled. “No, never.”
I’m not sure why that made me feel better, but it did.
I woke on Wednesday with the crazy notion I should look out the window. I felt like an idiot, checking to make sure there was still snow outside, but I did it anyway. I pushed back the curtains and, sure enough, there was the snow. Maybe a bit less than the day before, but still there. Still not melted enough for me to risk going home.
I let the curtain fall back into place. I wouldn’t be going home today. Tomorrow? Maybe, but what was the point if I’d just be returning on Friday? I might as well stay at his place for the rest of the week. Martha had texted to tell me the library wouldn’t be reopening until Monday anyway.
I really didn’t think Nathaniel would mind me staying, but decided to ask later and instead headed off to get breakfast started. I took a quick shower and skipped down the stairs. Once the coffee was bubbling in the coffee maker, I focused my attention on the bacon and eggs. The frying pan heated up and I did a quick two-step around the kitchen to the songs inside my head.
“I’ll say she looks as clear as morning roses newly washed with dew,” Nathaniel said, walking into the kitchen and leaning against the countertop.
A grin covered his face.
Except he had.
I strolled back to the oven and flipped the bacon. “You have witchcraft in your lips.”
He laughed, clearly enjoying himself.
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.”
Okay. Fine. He had studied his Shakespeare. I could still outdo him.
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.”
He walked to the stove, held one hand to his chest and threw the other toward the open window.
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.”
I giggled. I was such a sucker for Shakespeare. And no one had ever quoted Romeo and Juliet to me before. Still, best not to let him know how it affected me, although I’m sure he could tell.
“Asses are made to bear, and so are you,” I said.
“Women are made to bear, and so are you,” he quoted the next line.
Damn. He knew that one, too?
“I have no other but a woman’s reason: I think him so, because I think him so,” I said.
He laughed. A deep hardy laugh. “O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!”
I looked at him in mock shock. “You called me a villain.”
“You called me an ass.”
I could hardly argue with that. “Draw?”
“This time,” he said. “But I’d like the record to show that I’m gaining on you.”
“Agreed. But speaking of gaining on me,” I said, “I need to use your gym today. I have a few miles to log on the treadmill.”
“I need to jog as well,” he said, snatching a piece of bacon from the plate. “I have two treadmills. We could work out together.”
Which was the only way jogging could possibly be fun.
After breakfast, I changed and headed to the gym. Nathaniel stood in the middle of the room, stretching. I joined him, slowly working the stiffness from my lower body. I spent a lot of time watching him, following his actions, because, damn it, if he ever decided to quit his day job, he could be a personal trainer. Or a chef. Or a literature professor. Or a lot of things.
When we made it to the treadmills, he kept pace with me. I thought it was awfully sweet—he could run me into the ground if he wanted to. Briefly, I thought ahead to spring, imagining running outside with Nathaniel and Apollo. Hadn’t he said last night he saw us in a long-term relationship?
We jogged along together, there inside the gym, and my mind wandered. What would spring be like with Nathaniel? Would he even want to spend an afternoon jogging with me? I liked to think he would. Was that wishful thinking on my part?
The week had brought us closer so far. A few of his bricks had fallen, and even though there were many left to knock down, progress was progress.
Speaking of progress, I wondered how Felicia was doing. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d gone so long without talking. How was her blizzard time with Jackson? Was she even more in love now than she had been? Was that possible?
Thoughts of Felicia and the blizzard took me to Linda and the lunch we were supposed to have had the day before. Maybe we’d be able to get together next week.
Then I wondered what Nathaniel and Todd had argued about in Tampa. Damn, I should have asked Nathaniel about that during our n**ed picnic. Not that he would have answered.
“Abigail?” Nathaniel asked, not even sounding winded. “Are you okay?”
I looked to my side. “Fine. My mind wanders while I jog.” My mind should have been thinking about the delicious masculine specimen to my right, because who the hell cared about spring when you were snowed in with Nathaniel in February?
I made my way into the kitchen in the late afternoon, trying to decide what to cook for dinner. Maybe some fish? Shrimp? I tried to remember if he had any fish in the freezer. I glanced around the countertops. Maybe roasted potatoes to go with the fish? Something simple. My gaze hit on the cabinets and I thought back to the day after the whipping bench. I never had explored the upper shelves.
I pulled a chair over to the cabinets and scrambled up to a standing position. I swayed a little bit and grabbed onto the shelf, telling myself to be careful. If I fell and broke something, how would I get to the hospital? Steadying myself, I peeked into the shelf.
More cans. I smiled. With labels. I went through them, looking for something interesting to serve with fish, when my eyes fell on a large box at the very back of the cabinet.
I reached over the cans and pulled the box toward me, moving cans out of the way.
I held it in my hands in disbelief.
Nathaniel had an entire box of candy bars in his cabinets. I thought back to the times we had eaten together. Only at the black tie benefit and the family dinner during Super Bowl weekend had I ever noticed him eat sweets. And he had an entire box of candy bars in his cabinet? A box that had been opened?
It was golden.
The vague inklings of a plan formed in my head.
This was going to be fun.
I walked into the library, the box of candy behind my back. Nathaniel sat at the small desk, thumbing through papers.
What happened next would end either very well or very badly.
His head shot up at my use of his full name. I realized that while I’d thought of him as Nathaniel in my head, I’d never used his first name. To him, at least.
His eyes narrowed. “I assume you will apologize for that slip, Abigail?”
“I’ll do no such thing,” I said with as much courage as I could muster. I pulled the box of chocolates out, hoping he’d see what I was doing. “What are these?”
He set the papers down and glared at me very intently.
Oh, dear. He was angry. Very angry. He wasn’t seeing anything.
Or else he saw everything and wasn’t amused.
Wasn’t amused. At. All.
“They are chocolate bars, Abigail. It says so right on the box.” He stood up.
Very badly. Odds were this was going to end very badly. “I know what they are, Nathaniel. What I want to know is, what are they doing in the kitchen?”
He crossed his arms. “What business of yours is it?” he asked in that you’re-in-for-it-now voice.
Ouch, my backside hurt just thinking about the spanking I’d be getting. And it wasn’t even the weekend. I had one more chance.
“It’s my business,” I said, shaking the box at him, “because these are not on your meal plan.”
Understanding dawned in his eyes.
I stepped closer. “Do you think I put together a meal plan for you because I’m bored and have nothing better to do? Answer me.”
His arms uncrossed. “No, Mistress.”
Mistress. He understood. He was playing along.
I gave a dramatic sigh. “I had plans for today, but instead we’ll have to spend the afternoon inside, working on your punishment.”
His eyes darkened. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, Mistress,” he said in that low, seductive voice.
“You’ll be sorrier still when I’m finished with you. I’m going up to my room. You have ten minutes to join me there.”
I spun and walked out of the library, then ran up the stairs to my room. I stripped my dress off and put on the silver robe Nathaniel had once complimented. Then I stood by the foot of my bed and waited.
He entered slowly. Quietly.
I crossed my arms and tapped my foot. “What do you have to say for yourself, Nathaniel?”
He hung his head. “Nothing, Mistress.”
“Look at me,” I commanded him. When he met my eyes, I continued, “I am not a mistress. I am a goddess.” I pushed the robe from my shoulders. “I will be worshipped.”
He stood for the span of five seconds, deep in thought. Then something snapped. He rushed forward, lifted me in his arms, and cradled me in his lap on the tiny bed.
His eyes searched mine, and a million unasked questions flicked across his face. He gently cupped my cheek. “Abby,” he whispered. “Oh, Abby.”
My heart twisted. Abby. He called me Abby.
He glanced down at my mouth, traced my lips with his thumb. “A kiss of desire…”
“…on the lips,” I finished in a whisper.
His fingers shook. Ever so slowly, he leaned forward and my eyes fluttered closed as he narrowed the space between us. His chest heaved in a shuddering breath. Then his lips pressed tenderly against mine.
Just a touch, but I felt the electricity spark between us. His lips came again, longer this time, but just as soft. Just as gentle.
Nothing more than a whisper.
I knew then that while Nathaniel knew many things and was right about most of them, he was completely wrong in this respect. Kissing on the lips wasn’t unnecessary, it was the most necessary thing there was. I could live without air sooner than I could give up the feel of his lips on mine.
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