Jackson and Felicia were already at our table. They sat turned to each other, engrossed in conversation. Nathaniel held my chair out for me while I sat down. Felicia smiled briefly, but quickly went back to Jackson.
“Looks as if they both owe us one,” Nathaniel said after he sat down.
“Abby,” Jackson finally said, standing up and shaking my hand across the table. “I feel as though I already know you.”
I shot Felicia an angry look.
It wasn’t me, her expression said. I don’t know what he’s talking about.
“Hey, Nathaniel,” Jackson said. “How cool is it you and I are dating besties? The only thing better would have been if they were sisters.”
“Shut up, Jackson,” Todd said. “Act like you have some manners.”
“Boys, please,” Linda chimed in. “Felicia and Abby will be afraid to join us again if you keep this up.”
The boys, as Linda called them, managed not to make too much of a ruckus again. I could see that they must have made for a boisterous childhood growing up. They all played off each other. Even Nathaniel joined in on occasion, but he was the most reserved.
Our appetizers were served first. The waiter put a plate of three large scallops in front of me.
“Hell, Mom,” Jackson said. “Three scallops? I’ve got play-offs starting soon.” But he dug in and ate anyway, mumbling the entire time about “pansy” food.
“Jackson was raised by bears,” Nathaniel whispered to me. “Linda only let him in the house every so often. It’s why he fits in so well on the team. They’re all animals.”
“I heard that,” Jackson said across the table.
Salads and entrees soon followed, and I didn’t know about Jackson, but I was getting quite full. Through it all, everyone kept a steady conversation going. I learned Elaina was a fashion designer, and after she entertained everyone with runway mishaps, Jackson chimed in with football stories.
I turned to Nathaniel when we’d finished our entrees. “I need to find the restroom.” I stood and all three men at the table did the same.
I almost sat back down. I’d read about it, seen it in a movie even, but I’d never had an entire table full of men stand up simply because I had. Even Felicia looked shocked.
Fortunately, Elaina covered for me. “I think I’ll go with you, Abby.” She walked over and took my hand. “Come on.”
We weaved through the tables to the restrooms, Elaina leading the way. “I guess it can be a bit overwhelming, seeing all of us together,” she said. “You’ll get used to it.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t think I’d be invited to many family functions. We made it into the restrooms. A large sitting room, bigger than my kitchen, met us. When I finished in the back part of the bathroom, Elaina was waiting for me at a large lighted dresser.
“Do you ever know something, Abby?” she asked. She swept powder over her nose, although I wasn’t sure why—she looked perfect. “You know, really know something? Deep in your heart?”
I shrugged, took Elaina’s example, and reapplied more make-up.
“I do,” she continued. “And I want you to know—you’re good for Nathaniel.” She glanced at me. “I hope you don’t mind me saying that, it’s just I feel as though we’ve known each other forever.”
“I feel the same,” I said. “Like you and I have known each other forever, I mean.” Not that I was good for Nathaniel. I didn’t mean that at all.
“I know he can be a prick and I know he’s hard to get to know, but I’ve never seen him smile more than I have tonight.” She turned to face me. “It has to be you.”
My hands shook as I redid my lipstick. I’d think about the conversation later, when I was alone in the dark that night. Or maybe sometime during the week when Nathaniel wasn’t so close. Sometime when I wouldn’t have to look at his eyes and wonder what I was seeing reflected.
I dropped the lipstick back in my bag. Elaina hugged me. “Don’t let the hard exterior get to you,” she said. “He’s a great guy.”
“Thanks, Elaina,” I whispered.
Dessert and coffee were waiting for us when we returned. All the men stood up again and Nathaniel held my chair out. Across the table, Elaina winked. I looked down at my chocolate cheesecake. Was she right?
After dessert, a small band started playing. Couples from around the room got up and began to dance.
The first two songs were fast and I sat back in my chair, happy just to watch. When the third song started, it was slower. A simple piano melody.
Nathaniel stood and held out a hand. “Will you dance with me, Abigail?”
I don’t dance—I’ve been known to clear a dance floor faster than a bad rendition of the Macarena—but my mind was still reeling after what Elaina had told me, and across the table, Linda’s hand fluttered to her lips, as if to hide a smile.
I looked up at Nathaniel; his green eyes were dark and I knew this wasn’t an order. I could turn him down. Politely decline and nothing would be said. But at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be in his arms, to feel him in mine.
I took his hand. “Yes.”
We’d been together in the most intimate way there is, but I’d never felt closer to Nathaniel as he put his arm around my waist and pulled me close, our joined hands tucked against his chest.
I was certain he could feel me tremble in his arms. I wondered if this was his plan all along—to have me trembling and aching in public. I wouldn’t have put it past him.
“Are you having a nice time?” he asked, breath hot in my ear.
“I am,” I said. “Very nice.”
“Everyone is quite taken with you.” He pulled me closer and we spun slowly across the dance floor as the song continued.
I tried to wrap my head around everything I’d learned about Nathaniel that night. How he’d donated bone marrow to a total stranger, the way he played with his family and friends. And I thought about Elaina most of all, about what she’d said in the bathroom. Thought about it all and tried to reconcile it with the man who had me tied to his bed the night before. The one who claimed he wasn’t easy to serve. I couldn’t do it.
And as we danced, I knew one thing—I was dangerously close to falling more than just a little bit in love with Nathaniel West.
We made it back to Nathaniel’s house right before midnight. It’d been a quiet ride back. Fine with me, I wasn’t in the mood to carry on a conversation. Not with anyone. Especially Nathaniel.
Apollo ran up to us when Nathaniel opened the door. I stood back, afraid he would soil my gown.
“Keep the gown on and wait in my room,” Nathaniel said. “The way you did in my office.”
I walked up the stairs slowly. Had I done something wrong? I thought back over the evening and pondered the many, many mistakes I might have made. I’d never told Nathaniel that Elaina came by. I insisted everyone call me Abby. I told Linda we’d have lunch. What if it was a test when he’d asked what kind of wine I wanted? What if I should have said white? What if I should have said, Whatever you wish, Mr. West?
My mind came up with three thousand things I’d done wrong, each one more ridiculous than the last. I wished he’d given me some instruction before we’d left.
He was still dressed when he entered. At least I think he was. My head was down; all I saw were his shoes and pants as he walked in front of me.
He moved behind me, each step slower than the one before. His hands came up and softly traced the top of the gown. “You were spectacular tonight.” He started taking the pins from my hair. Soft curls fell around my shoulders. “And my family will talk about nothing but you now.”
Did that mean he wasn’t mad? I hadn’t done anything wrong? I couldn’t think with him so close.
“You pleased me tonight, Abigail.” His voice was smooth, his lips dancing along my back, close but not quite touching. “Now it’s my turn to please you.”
He drew the zipper of my gown down and slowly pushed the straps from my shoulders. His lips were on me then. Trailing my spine as the gown made its way down and fell to a puddle at my feet.
He swept me into his arms and carried me to his bed. “Lie down,” he said and I could do nothing but obey.
I hadn’t worn any hose and he knelt between my legs and slipped my heels off. Dropped them to the floor. He looked up, met my eyes, and then bent down to place a kiss on the inside of my ankle. I gasped.
But he didn’t stop, his lips kissed gently all the way up my leg as his hand softly brushed the other. He reached my panties and a long finger hooked at the waistband.
I knew exactly what he was doing, what he was going to do. “Don’t,” I said, putting a hand on his head.
“Don’t tell me what to do, Abigail,” he whispered. He slipped the panties down and I was n**ed and spread before him once more.
No one had ever done this to me before. Kissed me there. And I was sure that was what he was getting ready to do. I ached for it, needed it, and I closed my eyes in anticipation.
He kissed me gently, right on my clit, and I grabbed the sheets, all coherent thought leaving me. I didn’t care what he did anymore. I just needed him. Needed him badly. In whatever way he wished.
He blew on me and went back to kissing. Taking his time, moving slowly, letting me grow used to him. Placing kisses sporadically, soft as whispers.
He licked me and I bucked off the bed. Shit. Forget his fingers. His fingers had nothing on his tongue. And he was soft and slow, licking me, nipping me. I struggled to close my legs, to keep the sensation inside, but he slipped his hands to my knees and pushed them apart.
“Don’t make me tie you up,” he warned and his voice vibrated against me, causing shudders to work their way up and down my body.
His tongue was back, licking where I needed it, and his teeth nibbled gently. All the while, the familiar tingling of my cl**ax built up, starting where his mouth was and spreading down my legs, up my torso to my breasts, circling my nipples.
But no, that wasn’t me, those were Nathaniel’s hands. And he was working me with his mouth, while his fingers stroked my nipples. Tugged. Pulled.
And licked and nibbled down below.
I twisted the sheets, wrapping them around my wrists, pulling hard as I pressed against him. His tongue swirled around my cl*t and I gave a small cry when pleasure overtook my body, starting where Nathaniel stroked softly and spiraling outward.
“I think it’s time for you to go to your room,” Nathaniel whispered when my breathing had returned to normal.
He was still completely dressed.
I sat up. “What about you, shouldn’t we…” I didn’t know how to say it. But he hadn’t cl**axed, it didn’t seem fair.
“But it’s my place to serve you,” I argued.
“No,” he said. “It’s your place to do as I say, and I say it’s time for you to go to your room.”
I slipped off the bed, warm and weightless. I was surprised my legs kept me up.
Between the emotions of the day, and the relaxing release I’d just experienced, it wasn’t long before I fell asleep.
That was the first night I heard the music—a piano somewhere, playing soft and sweet. Delicate and haunting. I searched for the sound in my dream, tried to find out who was playing, where the music was coming from. But I kept getting lost and each endless hallway looked the same. I knew somehow that the music was home, but I couldn’t get there and, in my dream, I fell to my knees and sobbed.
I slept restlessly that night, twisting, turning, and at one point woke up in a daze. An unexpected sadness filled me, but I couldn’t remember what made me sad. Just something about music and not finding it, and in my confusion, I rolled over and went back to sleep.
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