Fucking. She only ever wanted raging sex, the kind that rattled your teeth and broke beds, that you were sore for the night after from, that made you feel like you’d been in a car accident.
Not this soft, gentle stuff.
The former was athletic and aggressive, and so it was easier to keep a guard up. What she and Peyton had just done? It was too close. To…intimate.
“What’s wrong?” he asked her.
As he pulled back, she couldn’t meet his eyes. “Nothing. It’s fine.”
After a moment, he withdrew—and she hated that her body missed him immediately. That was also something she did not need.
“You know,” he said in a level voice, “sooner or later, you’re going to have to decide whether you like me or not.”
A pang of conscience made her more honest than she would ordinarily have been. “It’s not you. Honest.”
“Oh, my God, what a line.” His smile was dry as he swung his legs around and sat on the edge of the bed. “And you know, I’ve used it, too. It’s always a lie.”
“Well. Most of the time.”
There was a long period of silence, and she tried not to trace his shoulders and upper body with her eyes. The extra muscle suited him. And it wasn’t the only place where he was big.
She shut her lids as a blast of pure erotic heat whipped through her like a solar flare.
“I do like you,” she heard herself say. “I’m just not…good at the whole relationship thing.”
He looked across his shoulder at her. “Annnnnnd I have also used that line! Hey, give me back my playbook.”
Peyton seemed to focus on the floor as he shook his head. “No, frankly, it’s bullshit. ’Cuz who is good at relationships? And is that where you saw us going? Wait, don’t answer that—because it’s in the past tense now, clearly.”
Novo sat up. “Peyton. I’m serious.”
“My given name. I guess you are.” He slid off the high bed and pulled on his slacks. “And it’s cool. It’s whatever, you know. I am not going to push you.”
“I’m just not interested in anything.”
“Evidently. Although I guess I should be complimented by the fact that you’re threatened by me. It’s a backhander, to be sure. But you probably only give this strong-arm speech to people you think maybe, possibly, just might get past your badass shell. So hey, sign me up for that merit badge, ’kay? It’ll probably be a middle finger against a background of female empowerment, but I’m sure I can find a jacket to put it on.”
As she stared at him, the words came to her, but only in her mind: I lost a young. After the male left me for my sister—and Sophy only came on to him to prove she could win, okay? I miscarried alone, in a cold house, and promised myself I would never, ever get involved emotionally with anyone ever again.
And then you come along, and for a while, I got to write you off as a rich asshole…until you promised me you would never hurt me and then made love to me instead of fucked me.
Now I want to run from you because I don’t want to learn that lesson twice.
Okay, fine, that would all be so much better spoken instead of merely thought and kept to herself. But she couldn’t seem to make that leap. She couldn’t seem to open her mouth and tell him about all the reasons why no one, not just him, was allowed to get through to her.
“I’m going to go,” he said, “before you have to throw another line of mine back at me. Which, I’m willing to bet, is going to be the whole I’m so sorry, but I have to crash now because I have to work—which, at least for me, was actually a bold-faced lie up until I came into the program. But there you go.”
Bending down, he picked up his socks and shoved them in his pants pockets. Grabbed his shirt and put it on. The jacket as well. His loafers—were those made of ostrich skin?—went on first the left and then the right. He finger-combed his hair. Snagged his cuff links.
As he added more and more clothing to his formerly naked frame, he moved faster and faster, as if his departure were a train gathering momentum.
“So I’ll see you when I see you.” Peyton paused by the door. “And the message has been received, okay? I’ll leave you alone, especially now that you’re back on your feet.”
He gave her a smile that was right out of a fashion magazine, all cocky and full of perfect white teeth. “Take care.”
He knocked on the jamb like a judge putting the gavel down on a case, and then he was gone as if he had never been.
In the silence, she told herself it was for the best. He felt too good. He got past her defenses too often. He was the kind of surprise she did not need in her life.
And his departure couldn’t be better. By the time she saw him next—and that would be Saturday night—he would be re-categorized appropriately and all would be well.
She wasn’t going to have it any other way.
As Saxton stood at Ruhn’s open bedroom door and waited for his answer, he took deep breaths and smelled that wonderful combination of soap and shampoo that the male used.
“Please,” Ruhn said as he stepped back. “Come in.”
Saxton entered and thought immediately that the decor did not suit the male. It was not that the room was ugly or even badly done. In fact, it was a very elegant example of what he liked to think of as neo-monarchy, everything damask and silk and gilded up the yin-yang. The dark blue was okay, and worked well with the Old Masters paintings and all the gold leaf, but for what Ruhn would be comfortable in? It was too fussy and fancy.
That farmhouse of Minnie’s was better, everything handmade and practical, with clean lines and wood that was polished from years of hand waxing versus all kinds of layers of varnish.
“Would you prefer me to leave the door open?” Ruhn asked.
Saxton looked over his shoulder. “No. Please close it, thank you.”
There was a soft click, and then Ruhn stood to one side, his hands clasped loosely in front of him, his shoulders down and brought into his chest.
It reminded Saxton of the first time they had sat together on Minnie’s sofa, when the male had tried to make himself smaller than he really was.
“I just want to tell you that…” Saxton laughed roughly as he paused. “You know, for a lawyer who deals with words all day long, I find myself curiously tongue-tied.”
“I will wait,” Ruhn said. “For however long you require.”
As Saxton found himself over by the bed, he stopped and was surprised to discover that he’d been pacing. Turning around, he spoke clearly. “I am sorry that I seemed so shocked by everything. And I apologize for giving you any impression, if that’s what you came away with, that my opinion of you has been altered in any fashion. I also want to tell you that I am a coward.”
The male’s brows shot up. “I…don’t understand.”
Saxton moved down to the foot of the bed. “May I sit here?”
“Yes. Of course. This is more your house than mine.”
“That is actually not true, but we hardly need to debate the point.”
Saxton glanced overhead at the canopy and then regarded the drapes that came down the four posts. God, it was as if Tallulah Bankhead had left her gowns from the forties behind.
He swung his eyes back to the male. “I am a coward in comparison to you.”
“Because you stayed in the truck when those humans came up to us?”
“No, because…” He took a deep breath. “I was in love with someone. I say ‘was’ because the depth of my feelings were not reciprocated and I have had to live with that reality for a while now. It has been a very awkward situation for me.”
Ruhn blinked. “I am…I am so sorry. That must be so hard.”
“Yes,” Saxton said softly. “It has been difficult to be regularly reminded of what I had wished for, and it is hard not to feel lesser than even when one is well aware that it is not an issue of fault—the heart wants what it wants.” He shrugged. “And you know, I am also not the first, nor the last, to grapple with such a thing.”