Author: Tara Sue Me


It was sweet in some sort of sick, twisted way.


I snatched a blueberry muffin from the counter and took a cautious seat. I wasn’t able to hide my wince.


“You need protein,” he said.


“I’m fine,” I answered, taking a bite of muffin.


“Abigail.”


I stood up, hobbled over to the refrigerator, and took out a pack of bacon. Damn. Now I had to cook.


“I put two boiled eggs in the warming oven for you.” His eyes followed me as I put the bacon away and retrieved my eggs. “The ibuprofen is on the first shelf, second cabinet beside the microwave.”


I was pathetic. He was probably wishing he’d never collared me. “I’m sorry. It’s just…been a long time.”


“What a ridiculous thing to apologize for,” he said. “I’m more upset over your attitude this morning. I didn’t have to let you sleep in.”


I sat back down and hung my head.


“Look at me,” he commanded. “I have to leave. Meet me in the foyer dressed for the benefit and ready to leave at four-thirty.”


I nodded.


He stood up. “There’s a large tub in the guestroom across the hall from yours. Make use of it.”


And just like that, he was gone.


I felt more human after a long soak and some ibuprofen. After drying off, I brewed a cup of tea, sat at the kitchen table, and called Felicia.


“Hey,” I said when she answered.


“Abby,” she replied. “I didn’t know you were allowed phone calls.”


“It’s not like that.”


“So you keep saying,” she said in that I-don’t-give a-shit-what-you-say-I’m-not-going-to-believe-you voice. “Of course, since you’re by yourself, it’s not like you have anything better to do.”


It wasn’t often Felicia caught me off-guard. “How’d you know I was by myself?”


“Jackson said he was playing golf and having lunch with Nathaniel and some Todd guy before the benefit tonight. Of course, you’re probably on a need-to-know basis with Nathaniel, so you wouldn’t have known.”


I could hear her smug smile through the phone and I wondered why on earth I’d thought it was a good idea to call Felicia in the first place.


“We didn’t have much time together this morning,” I said offhanded, like I couldn’t care less why Nathaniel hadn’t told me where he was going. It was a lie on my part—it hurt for some reason. “And remember, Jackson doesn’t know about Nathaniel’s—”


“Honestly, Abby, your kinky sex life isn’t anyone’s idea of appropriate first-date conversation.”


The front door opened and closed.


“I have to go, Nathaniel’s back,” I said, thrilled to have a reason to hang up and thrilled Nathaniel was back.


“Are you sure?” she asked, interested for the first time. “It’s far too soon—and Jackson said he’d call when they finished and I haven’t heard from him.”


“Got to go. Bye.” I ended the call, right as someone walked into the kitchen.


It wasn’t Nathaniel.


A tall, willowy woman with short brown hair and red eyeglasses looked at me in shock. An expression that probably matched my own.


“Oops,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone was here.”


“Who are you?” I asked, certain that if Nathaniel had expected someone to stop by he would have mentioned it.


“Elaina Welling,” she said holding a hand out. “My husband, Todd, and Nathaniel go way back.”


I shook her hand. “Abby King. I’m sorry, Nathaniel didn’t mention anyone stopping by.”


She held up the black satin evening bag in her hand. “I forgot to bring this by when I dropped off the dress.” Her eyes locked on my choker and, I swear, she gave a sly smile.


“Would you like some tea?” I asked.


“Yes,” she said, sitting down. “I think I would.”


I poured her a cup and we chatted pleasantly. After only fifteen minutes, I felt as if I’d known her forever. Elaina was the kindest, most down-to-earth person I’d talked to in a long time. She’d moved into the Clarks’ neighborhood before high school and Linda had become a surrogate mom to her. Hearing that Elaina lost her own mother as a child somehow made me feel even closer to her. When I spoke of my mom’s passing four years ago, Elaina nodded, took my hand, and simply said, “You’ll always miss her, but I promise it gets easier.”


During our conversation, I noticed her eyes drift to my collar several times, but she never said anything about it. I wondered briefly if Nathaniel had lied when he said his family and friends didn’t know about his lifestyle, but quickly decided he wasn’t the type to lie.


Nearly half an hour had passed without our realizing it when Elaina looked at her phone and gave a little cry. “Oh no, look at the time! We need to get busy if we aren’t going to be late.” She kissed me on the cheek as she left and promised we’d talk more at the benefit.


I have an active imagination, and when I first tried to imagine the gown Nathaniel would have me wear, I’ll admit my thoughts drifted toward leather and lace. But the gown waiting for me on my bed was gorgeous. A one-of-a-kind design I’d never have been able to afford with a two-year advance on my salary. Black satin, with a low gathered neck and delicate shoulder straps; form-fitting without being vulgar or revealing. It was floor-length and flared just a bit at the bottom. I loved it.


I normally didn’t wear make-up, but Felicia Kelly was my best friend and she never passed a cosmetic counter without stopping, so I knew a thing or two about proper application. With my hair swept up off my shoulders in the best up-style I could manage, I looked in the mirror. “Not too bad, Abby,” I said to myself. “I think you might manage to make an appearance without embarrassing yourself or Nathaniel.”


One quick stop in my bedroom to slip on the heels and I was off. Down the stairs to meet Nathaniel in the foyer, and, I’d admit, giddy as a teenager on her first date.


I stepped into the foyer and stopped.


Nathaniel waited with his back to me. He had a long, black wool overcoat on. A dark scarf was tucked around his neck and his hair brushed the collar. He turned around when he heard me.


I’d seen Nathaniel in jeans and I’d seen Nathaniel in a suit. But there wasn’t a sight on this earth that compared to Nathaniel in a tuxedo.


“You look beautiful,” he said.


“Thank you, Master,” I managed to choke out.


He held out a black wrapper. “Shall we?”


I nodded and when I walked to him, it was as if I walked on air. I wasn’t sure how he did it, but he actually made me feel beautiful.


He draped the wrapper around me, hands lightly brushing my shoulders. Unbidden, images of last night flashed through my head. I remembered those hands. Remembered what they’d done to my body.


There was no other way to describe it, I decided as we walked outside—I was nervous. Nervous about being seen in public with Nathaniel. He’d said once he wasn’t into public humiliation. I hoped that meant he wouldn’t ask me to go down on him at the dinner table. And I was nervous about meeting his family. What would they think of me? He usually dated high-society types, not librarians.


January in New York was cold, and it had been one of the coldest on record. But leave it to Nathaniel—the car was running and toasty warm inside. He even opened the passenger side door, like a true gentleman, and closed it once I was inside.


We drove in silence for a long time. Eventually, he turned the radio on and a soft piano concerto filled the interior.


“What kind of music do you like?” he asked.


The delicate melody playing had a soothing effect on me. “This is fine.”


And that was all the conversation we had on the way to the benefit.


A valet took the car when we arrived and we walked into the building’s entrance. Living in New York for as long as I had, I’d grown accustomed to the skyscrapers and crowds, but walking up the stairs that night, being part of the high-society crowd I typically just watched, made me feel overwhelmed. Thankfully, Nathaniel kept his hand on the small of my back, and it was oddly reassuring.


Taking a deep breath, I waited while Nathaniel gave my wrapper and his overcoat to the woman working the coat-check.


Within minutes of our entrance, Elaina trotted toward us with a tall, good-looking man in tow. “Nathaniel! Abby! You’re here!”


“Good evening, Elaina,” Nathaniel answered with a slight inclination of his head. “I see you’ve met Abby already,” he said, his tone faintly quizzical. He turned to me and lifted an eyebrow. I hadn’t mentioned Elaina’s visit to him—though I had no idea why, I felt he’d disapprove.


“Oh, lighten up.” Elaina smacked his chest with her purse. “I had a cup of tea with Abby when I stopped by at your house earlier today—so yes, Nathaniel, we’ve already met.” She turned to me. “Abby, this is my husband, Todd. Todd, this is Abby.”


We shook hands and he seemed pleasant enough. Unlike his wife, his eyes showed no shock over my collar. I glanced around, wondering if Jackson and Felicia had arrived yet.


“Nathaniel,” another voice said.


The woman in front of us stood with a grace and elegance that gave her a regal appearance. Even so, her eyes were kind and her smile welcoming.


I knew immediately she had to be Nathaniel’s aunt.


“Linda,” Nathaniel confirmed. “Allow me to introduce Abigail King.”


Nathaniel could call me Abigail, but I’d be damned if everyone he knew would. “Abby,” I said, holding out my hand. “Please call me Abby.”


“Nathaniel said you work at the New York Public Library—at the Mid-Manhattan branch,” Linda said after I shook her hand. “I go by there on my way to the hospital. Maybe we could meet for lunch sometime?”


Was that even allowed? Could I have lunch with Nathaniel’s aunt? It seemed way too personal. But I couldn’t turn her down; I didn’t want to turn her down. “I’d like that.”


She asked me about the release date for several new books by her favorite authors. We chatted a few minutes about our likes and dislikes—we both enjoyed thrillers and read very little science fiction—before Nathaniel interrupted.


“I’ll get us some wine,” he said to me. “Red or white?”


I froze. Was this a test? Did he care what type of wine I wanted? What was the correct answer? I’d been so comfortable talking with his aunt, I’d forgotten I wasn’t the average dinner date.


Nathaniel leaned close, so that only I heard him. “I don’t have a hidden agenda. I simply want to know.”


“Red,” I whispered.


He nodded and went off to get our drinks. I watched him move away—it was such a joy simply watching him walk. A young teenager interrupted him, though, halfway to the server. The two embraced.


I turned to Elaina. “Who’s that?” I couldn’t imagine anyone having the nerve to walk up and hug Nathaniel like that.


“Kyle,” she said. “Nathaniel’s recipient.”


I felt totally clueless. “Recipient?”


“Nathaniel’s bone marrow, of course.” She waved to the banner at the front of the room and I read for the first time that this was the New York Bone Marrow Association Benefit.


“Nathaniel donated bone marrow?”


“It was a few years ago. Kyle was eight, I think, and Nathaniel saved his life. They had to drill into Nathaniel in four different places and he was awake the entire time. He said it was worth it, though, to save a life.”


I think my eyes were still bugged out when Nathaniel returned. Fortunately, we were called to dinner shortly and I could turn my attention to other matters.

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