“Do you know why I asked you in today?” Mr. Merkel, my boss, asked.
I knew. I’d just turned in my numbers, and I’d done better than ever. I’d been #1 in sales with Blanche Haydn Insurance for the last three quarters, but this time I’d even outdone myself. I was getting a promotion. Maybe they’d even make me part owner. Okay, that might have been a bit of wishful thinking, but really, if anyone deserved it, it would have been me. Of course, I didn’t want to sound too full of myself.
“No, sir,” I answered, barely managing to suppress my smile.
“Well, I’ve had a look at your new numbers, and it looks like we have a problem,” he said, a stern expression on his face. I wasn’t worried. I’d heard about this before. My manager, Marco, said Mr. Merkel had pulled the same thing with him before his promotion.
“Yes,” Mr. Merkel answered. He opened one of the many folders on his desk and slid its contents across the table to me.
Marco hadn’t mentioned this part, but Marco had only been promoted to junior sales manager. With my
numbers, I was probably going to end up being his superior.
I started looking over the documents. It was my sales report. There was the number $4,334,576 in personal sales over the quarter. Living in a smallish suburb of a medium-sized suburb of a moderately-sized city, anything over a million was considered extraordinary. No one had broken the two-million-dollar mark. Not until me, and even that, not until this quarter.
“The pertinent information is on the third page,” Mr. Merkel said.
I flipped over to the third page, the smile finally breaking free of all restraint and painting itself wide across my face. I didn’t know what he’d put on the third page, but I knew it had to be something good. Before I came along, Merkel still held the quarterly sales record from way back in the mid-nineties.
“The highlighted portion,” he said.
My eyes settled over the bright yellow and black on the page and my breath stopped. “This can’t be right,” I said.
“That’s exactly what Marco said when he handed it over,” he said. “In fact, once I looked through it, I said the same thing, myself. You can see our problem.”
It was a stupid mistake, but one that was going to be hard to explain. What it came down to was a transposed number mixed in with a math error. I hadn’t intentionally changed the numbers, but as it turned out, I’d only ended up with about 1.5 million in sales. It was still a
personal best, but it was nowhere near the numbers on the top sheet.
“Obviously, this was a mistake on my part, and I’m happy to correct it,” I said.
“That won’t be necessary,” he said. “I hate to do this, Ellie, but I have to let you go.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “This can’t be right, though. How could I miss something like that? You see what happened there. It was clearly a mathematical error.”
“Marco didn’t notice the problem until after he sent the numbers off to corporate,” he said. “Maybe if we’d been able to keep it in-house, things might be different, but I’m going to need you out of your office by the end of the day. You can pick up your final check from Sharon down in HR.”
HR wasn’t so much a department in our small outpost of Blanche Haydn, as it was the five feet surrounding Sharon’s desk. I looked at the clock. It read 10:30.
“You’re really firing me?” I asked. “After everything I’ve done for this company, you’re really going to let me go over a stupid mistake?”
“Corporate wanted to press charges for fraud,” Merkel said. “I managed to talk them down from it, but there’s no other option. I hope we can do this civilly.”
“Name one person who’s brought us more business and more money than I have,” I said. “You can’t do this.”
“It’s already done,” he said. “Am I going to have to call security to escort you out of the building?”
“This is bullshit,” I said. I had it in my head I was going to give one of those big I’ve-been-fired speeches you see in the movies, but the words in my mind went blank and Mr. Merkel went for his phone.
“Security? We’re going to have to do this the hard way.”
* * *
I’d never been so humiliated in my life. I was damn good at my job. My picture had been on the employee of the month wall the last ten months running. One stupid, though completely innocent, mistake had erased all of it, though. As I drove home, my only consolation after having been unceremoniously shoved out of Mr. Merkel’s office was that Jack, my fiancé would still be home.
With the wedding coming up, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time, but Jack had always been so kind and thoughtful. He’d know what to do.
I’d met Jack a few years earlier, hunched over a gin and tonic at Patrick’s Bar and Grill. I was working toward being cut off. That was before I got my job with Blanche Haydn. I was dancing on a table and then I wasn’t. Apparently, it was a spectacular fall. One of the waitresses helped me over to the bar and fixed me up with a makeshift icepack for my ankle. Hell, I didn’t feel it, though, and I wasn’t ready for my night to be over yet, so I started chatting up the handsome man in the three-
piece suit, sipping on his gin and tonic.
I wouldn’t say he was especially nice to me that first night, but over time, we started to grow on each other. It helped that we were both regulars at the bar.
When I pulled up to the house, I noticed Sandra, my best friend since junior high, had parked on the street. The funny thing was, she was parked three or four houses down. It was definitely her car—I recognized the ZS University bumper sticker in the back windshield. I didn’t think too much of it, though. Sandra made friends easier than anyone I’d ever met, and so it wasn’t all that strange that she’d have struck up something with one of my neighbors.
As I walked to the door, I could feel my adrenaline rise. He wasn’t going to be happy about this. He’d come through, though. He’d be supportive after he got past the initial shock. I knew that much, and that much kept my feet moving.
Still, as I opened the door, I struggled over what to say, how to start the conversation. “Hey, honey, how was your day? By the by, I just got fired and so we’re probably going to have to cut our wedding budget in half. Feel like Italian for dinner?” It didn’t seem like the best approach. I wasn’t going to bother calling his name and letting him know that I was home until I had at least some idea how to frame me losing my job as a good thing.
He wasn’t in the living room or the kitchen. The bathroom was empty, but our bedroom door was shut. He was probably taking one of his mid-morning naps. That must have been why his phone was off when I tried
Slowly, quietly, I opened the door. I didn’t want to wake him. The conversation was going to be tense enough without me jolting him out of sleep. I’d all but forgotten about Sandra’s car, but the moment I looked in the room, it made sense why she’d park a little ways down the block.
At first, I honestly didn’t know what I was looking at. I’d read later that it’s common in unexpected high-stress situations for the brain to take a minute to click over to reality, and even be confused by the most apparent things. Some people, having a gun pointed at their head, they don’t see the gun. What they do see varies from person to person, but there’s often a sort of disconnect. So, I stood there in the doorway, watching my fiancé and my best friend screwing each other’s brains out for a solid minute before it even occurred to me that something was out of place.
It all became clear soon enough, though.
“What the hell are you doing‽”
Jack yelled, “Shit!” Sandra, though, she just looked over her shoulder, sighed, and grudgingly climbed off of Jack.
“It looks like the two of you have a lot to talk about, so I’m just gonna go,” she said, lazily picking up her clothes from around the bed. Apparently, it hurts your hand when you punch someone in the right cheekbone. “Ow!” she cried, clutching at her face. “What the hell was that for?”
“Get out,” I said. “You have three seconds, and I don’t care if you have to put on your clothes while you’re walking to your car.
Jack, you’re not going anywhere. We have to talk.”
Sandra sat down on the edge of the bed. She’d managed to get her pants on, at least, but she was still bare-chested as she looked up at me with her one open eye, saying, “Yeah, I think it’s about time we did. Jack doesn’t love you. He loves me. We didn’t know how to tell you, but that’s the way it is, so you should probably just get over it.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I kept telling myself this couldn’t be real, that this couldn’t actually happen to a person, and especially not to me. Of course, my throbbing hand made that theory unlikely. Somehow, what bothered me the most was that three seconds had already passed and I was still standing there, motionless now as I watched Jack get dressed.
“How long has this been going on?” I asked.
“Does it make a difference?” Sandra asked.
I looked toward the man I was hoping would help me get through my getting fired. “Jack?”
He looked up at me, and then quickly looked away. He didn’t say a word.
“Look, you can go all crazy bitch and whatever, but that’s not going to convince him that he loves you,” Sandra said. “I think the best thing for all of us is if you just move on and find someone else. This one’s taken.”
After that, there was a lot of screaming, a lot of throwing things. Once he was dressed, though, Jack got up from the side of the bed, walked right past me without a word or a glance, and left the room. A few seconds later, I heard the front door open and close.
Then it was just me and Sandra, but once Jack was gone, she didn’t have much reason to stick around. I asked her, “After all we’ve been through, how could you do this to me? Why?”
She walked past me, too, taking a cue from Jack. Just before she left the room, though, she turned and looked at me. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but she hesitated. Finally, it started to look like her conscience was kicking in, but she blew that theory out of the water with four words. “This isn’t about you.”
* * *
The room was spinning. I remember that much. It was loud, too. Patrick’s Bar and Grill was where everything with Jack started, so it only made sense to me that it should end there, too.
I went over to the jukebox, and I remember standing there for a long time, just staring at the screen. I wasn’t sure whether to go with an angry breakup song or a very angry breakup song. In the end, I decided that throwing a song on the jukebox wasn’t going to fix my freshly screwed-up life. I was just walking (staggering may be more accurate) back toward the bar when a tall, blackhaired man with about a day’s worth of stubble stopped me, saying, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?”
After that, I don’t remember much of anything until we were back in my house, tearing each other’s clothes off. I remember the disdain I felt for that man whose name I hadn’t bothered to hear. He was a stand-in for the version of Jack I thought I knew. In what felt like no time at all, I was lying back on my couch, legs spread while the man with all the muscles and the stubble started kissing my thighs.
I was impatient, though, and my hand quickly found the back of his head, directing it right to my core. He chuckled a bit, but got the hint quick enough. Even through my alcoholic haze, I was staggered by how deftly his tongue moved over my sensitive folds before his mouth settled over my clit. Drawing tiny circles with his tongue, he slowly slipped a finger inside me as I ran my fingers through his hair.
All I could taste was the stale liquor on my breath from half an hour earlier. All I could hear was the sound of our breathing and the faint sounds of his mouth and tongue as he kissed and licked and teased my center, and all I knew was that I wanted him inside me right then, right there.
I remember rolling the condom over his thick, hard member, though I don’t remember who’d brought it. He went to climb on top of me, but I pushed him to the side. I’d been stuck beneath Jack ever since I’d known him, though it took the scene in the bedroom for me to realize it.
On his back now, I climbed on top of the stranger from the bar and I lowered myself onto him, gasping a
little. It had been a long time since Jack and I had had sex. I thought maybe it was just the two of us settling into a more mature or committed relationship, but he’d obviously been getting his fill elsewhere.
“You feel incredible,” the man said, and I wanted to slap him hard across the face.
I responded, saying, “Shut up.”
It wasn’t like me. I’d always been so kind, so gentle, so afraid of offending someone or coming off the wrong way. It felt kind of nice being a bit of a bitch, though I knew I’d hold a different opinion in the morning. My hands pressed hard against the man’s chest, I rode him hard, lifting myself almost all the way off of him before driving my hips back down, his hard cock filling me again and again.
I wasn’t looking for a relationship, and I sure as hell wasn’t looking for love. What I was looking for in that moment, and what I found, was power, a sense of control. Apparently, the man inside me was looking for something similar, because a moment later, he was wrapping his arms around me, picking me up and he was standing now as my legs wrapped around him.
Keeping me from gravity, his arms were tight around my body. The sound of our bodies meeting echoed off the bare walls of the living room in the house my parents had left me in their will. I started thinking about how close we’d come, Jack and me, to going all the way down the aisle, and I rocked my hips hard as the man inside me lifted and lowered me over him.
I went to kiss his shoulder, but ended up biting it instead. The man didn’t draw back, or even flinch. He just pushed himself inside me that much deeper, that much harder until I felt like I was the one who was going to lose my balance as not just the room, but the whole world spun around me in a haze of bitter ecstasy.
“Down,” I said, “on the floor.”
Slowly, the man inside me lowered us both until he was sitting on the carpet and I unwrapped my legs from around him, pushing his upper body back and down as I tried to reclaim what was left of my tattered sense of power. Beneath and inside of me was everything I wished to conquer, and as my legs started to shake, it almost seemed that through this simple act, I could.
My fingernails dug into his skin a bit as my muscles tensed, heralding the release I’d hoped might change something. Closing my eyes, I threw back my head. I didn’t need to look at the man inside of me, and I didn’t want to. All that would do, would be to reinforce everything I’d lost. And to think, last night, it seemed like everything was so perfect.
I pitched forward, pressing my body into his as the levee broke, and for a precious few moments, my mind was blotted out entirely. For the space of a few breaths and moaning, screaming syllables, all I could feel was the pleasure of my body. As soon as my orgasm began to die down, though, I pulled myself off of him and left the room, not sure if I wanted him to follow me or not.
Crawling into bed, I tried to catch my breath, the fatigue of physicality and alcohol finally taking their toll.
After a minute or two, I heard the footsteps over the bare, hardwood floor, and as soon as he walked into the moonlight which provided the only light in my room, I could feel that same anger coming back into me.
He got in the other side of the bed, and I could see he was trying to work something out in his mind. I looked down his body. I slid over closer to him, and just as he was opening his mouth to speak, I gripped him in my hand. I said, “I don’t think talking is going to work out well for either of us. What do you think?”
Leaning his head back, his eyes closed, he said, “I can live with that.” I took him into my mouth, still gripping his base, and we were off again into the realm of ravenous copulation until both of us fell into an exhausted sleep.
I don’t know how long I was sleeping, but when I woke, the bed shook beneath me as a crashing sound like nothing I’d ever heard deafened me. For a moment, I hid under the covers as if that would somehow protect me from the world caving in. I could hear the ferocious wind, but it didn’t sound like it was coming from outside. It sounded like it came from the living room.
My whole body shaking just as much from the developing hangover as from the unknown horror waiting for me in the front room, I got out of bed and slowly walked to the door. I glanced back at the bed, but the man wasn’t there.
Opening my bedroom door, I could feel the sharp breeze cutting through my bare skin. There was a massive storm outside. I figured I must have left a window
open somewhere. As soon as I came into view of the living room, though, it all became clear: The old oak tree on the front right corner of the house had apparently decided to pop in for a visit. The structure that was supposed to protect me from all the dangers of the outside world was now a skylight and thousands of drops of bitter rain shot through the opening, drenching the carpet beneath.
I furiously tried to figure out what I could do or who I could call, but it was four in the morning. Despite my limited knowledge of carpentry, I was well aware that I wasn’t going to be able to get someone to come by and fix my roof in the middle of the night, and definitely not during a storm like this.
In a daze, I meandered into the kitchen and found my flashlight in the utility drawer next to the sink. Flipping it on, I went back into the living room to get a better idea of the damage and to make sure my drunken mistake hadn’t been crushed into marinara.
The good news was he wasn’t there. The infuriating news was that he’d left in the middle of the night so I had to deal with things quite literally crashing around me. There was nothing I could do, so I switched the flashlight back off and headed back to bed, taking with me a strange feeling of disappointment that the roof above my bed was still intact.
Chapter Two Collapse Liam The phone rang early, about six o’clock. Rolling over in bed, I groaned as I reached over to silence the stupid thing. I was about 80% of the way to hungover and some jackass decided it was time for me to get up and deal with it.
It was my boss calling.
Sometimes I hated the man, but never more so than when he called this early in the morning. Jeff Heaney was born behind a desk and learned to talk by telling other people what to do. Maybe that wasn’t the fairest assessment of the situation, but at that point I’d only managed a little over two hours’ sleep.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had more than six hours at one time, and that 80% hangover had quickly hit triple digits. Still, as foreman of our company’s only remaining crew in town, it was my job to suck it up, so on the fourth ring, I picked up the phone.
“Liam Araya,” I answered.
“Yeah, I’m going to need you and the guys over at 1934 East Stanton Boulevard ASAP. Got a call from a possible client who’s got an oak tree halfway in her living room, and I’m going to need you to get there right away
and make sure we get the contract. Underbid if you need to, but try to keep it profitable, will you? I can’t have you and your guys spending weeks on this thing with nothing to show for it.”
He hung up without waiting for a response. Thankfully, I kept a notepad and a pen next to my bed just for calls like that. If he’d stayed on the line, I would have had a chance to argue, not that that would have done any good. Jeff was all about the power play.
Moving to the side of the bed, I sat up and put my feet on the floor. I rubbed my eyes and tried to find the will to get in the shower. The only thing that did it, the only thing that ever did it anymore, was the knowledge that me and my crew were one missed opportunity away from the unemployment line.
The company was doing a lot better five years earlier, but then the nationwide contractors moved into town. We’d held our own that first year, but our main competitor, Pendulum Construction, had more resources and better advertising. More than anything, the fact they had more than one crew working in town meant that for every job me and my guys completed, they finished two or three. We still had a few loyal clients, but it had been a long time since anyone new had picked up the phone to call us.
After popping a couple of ibuprofen, I got in the shower. Half an hour later, I was in my truck, headed to the address. My head was pounding. As I turned onto the street, though, things started looking a bit too familiar. My heart started pumping faster, my head throbbing. I’d given a woman a ride home the night before, but the
night hadn’t ended there.
I checked the slip of paper on which I had written the address. The woman hadn’t given me her address, but she gave me directions. I just hoped I wouldn’t end up working down the block, or worse, right next door. As drunk as she was, I imagined she’d recognize me as the guy who sneaked out in the middle of the night. She hadn’t given me her name, but it’s not like she asked for mine, either. We both knew what last night was. She’d made it clear enough.
There were a few trees uprooted around town, but when the house came into view, it looked like our prospective client had gotten about the worst of it. That’s not what concerned me. What concerned me is I recognized the house. What concerned me more was that I recognized the woman standing out in front of it with her phone pressed to her ear.
“Shit,” I muttered to myself. I double-checked the address, but there was no mistake.
I thought about turning around, but I’d seen the numbers. The only thing from keeping my crew from going under at that point was surface tension. At the same time, though, I couldn’t believe she’d want to see me, much less hire me to work on her house for the duration of the job. I thought about calling my boss or one of the guys on my crew to step in for me, but I knew before reaching for my phone that would be a nonstarter. My boss never went out into the field, and my crew didn’t have any experience giving quotes. That had always been my responsibility.
Maybe she wouldn’t remember me. Maybe she was just drunk enough and maybe it was just dark enough that she wouldn’t recognize me. As I pulled up to the curb, though, and she turned to look in my direction, I could clearly see her mouth the word, “Shit.”
I took a breath, my hungover brain trying to come up with some last-minute idea that would allow me to avoid speaking with her, but wouldn’t cost us the job. Nothing came to mind. She’d already seen me, and she had to have seen the decal on the side of the truck. Taking off might spare me the embarrassment of sneaking out on her before that corner of her house caved in, but I had to land this job.
I got out of the truck, but before I had the driver’s side door closed, she was calling out, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Good morning,” I said. “Looks like you got the long end of a lot of sticks, here.”
“What are you doing here?” she snapped. Charm wasn’t going to work for me on this one.
“I’m from Bernard Construction Improvement,” I answered. “You called.”
For a few seconds, it was a standoff. My only consolation was I was the last one to speak, sparing me the duty of coming up with something to fill the void.
“Is this going to be a problem?” she asked.
“I don’t see why it needs to be,” I answered.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Well, you can see the problem. Can you fix it and how much?”
“Well, I’ll need to take a closer look before I can give you an estimate, but we can definitely fix it,” I said.
She didn’t speak, only pointed toward the house. I walked past her, averting my gaze as much as possible without making it too apparent. “A couple other guys came over here earlier, but their quotes were frankly more than I’m willing to pay unless I absolutely have to,” she said, and for a moment, it looked like we might actually be able to get past the indiscretions of the night before. “Do your guys do anything about water damage?”
“Are we talking from a busted pipe or from last night’s rain?” I asked. “We can help you with either, but if it’s the first, we’ll want to get a plumber in here ASAP.”
“Was it raining when you left last night?” she asked.
I was instantly annoyed. She’d made sure I knew she wasn’t looking for anything beyond a one-nighter and now she was going to chastise me for not sticking around to fix her breakfast? I just tried to move past it, saying, “Whatever the case, we can help you. If it’s an issue with the pipes, though, we’ll want to call in a plumber. I know a guy who does a great job and isn’t too hard on the pocketbook.”
“As far as I know, there aren’t too many pipes in the ceiling above my living room,” she said.
“You’d be surprised at what can be affected by something like this, but I get your point,” I answered, taking a closer look at the damage. It wasn’t going to be
cheap, but it would be easy enough to underbid the competition. As far as they were concerned, Bernard Construction was all but dead and so there wasn’t much point in undercutting us. They weren’t entirely wrong.
“So, what do you think?” she asked.
“I’ll have to take a look inside to get a better idea, but I think we can give you a great price on this,” I said.
“Well, you know the way,” she said.
She was glaring at me. As I thought about it, though, I couldn’t be sure I’d seen a different expression on her face. I let it slide, and I walked through the open front doorway. Things were worse on the inside than I’d expected. There was the damage to the roof that was mostly visible from the outside, but a few of the longer limbs had torn into the walls of the living room.
“Well, I can tell you right now you’re going to need a bit of electrical work done, but I’ve got a guy on my crew who’s better with juice than anyone in town,” I said.
“Am I picking up a hint of desperation here?” she asked. Before I could answer, she continued, “The question then is, are you desperate for the job or is it something else.”
“Neither,” I said. “We’ll have to get the tree out of here before I can give you a solid number, but I’d estimate this shouldn’t be more than $7,500 unless there’s something big hiding under all the mess.”
“$7,500?” she asked. “Funny, the other guys said it shouldn’t be any more than three.”
She was lying. Three grand wouldn’t even cover the cost of materials, much less the labor it would take to do a halfway decent job of it. I was taking a pretty massive hit going as low as I did. “Well, if you got a quote for $3,000, and the guys you talked to are actually licensed, I’d say you should probably hire them.” Sometimes the only option is to call the bluff.
She eyed me. “$7,500, huh?”
“I can give you a firmer number once the tree is cleared out,” I answered. “If you haven’t called someone already, I can give you a couple of numbers, people that’ll treat you right without gouging you.”
“You know nothing’s ever going to happen between us again. Last night was, well, I don’t really have to explain myself to you,” she said.
“I’m just here to work, ma’am,” I said and her face started going red. The “ma’am” thing was a mistake.
“What would you charge to remove the tree yourself?”
I wondered exactly what quote she’d gotten from Pendulum and whoever else she called, but the fact she was trying to hire me to take care of the tree instead of a company that specializes in that sort of thing told me I was already giving her the deal of the century.
“Is that a question?” she asked. “You’re not filling me with confidence.”
“Well, I have to tell you it’s not generally what we do,” I said. “We’d have to rent the equipment—we’re more than qualified to take care of it, but we’re primarily focused on construction and renovation. Tree removal is —”
“Yeah, can you do it?” she asked. “More importantly, if I hire you and your people to take care of all of it, do you think you could manage pretending like you and I never…” she trailed off. “I never intended to see you again.”
“I got the feeling,” I said. “Yeah, I’m a professional. I’m not here for anything but work.”
“You said that already.”
“Well, at least you know I’m consistent.”
She sighed. “As long as this isn’t going to be a thing, I think we can probably do business.”
“Great,” I said, ready to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. “I’ll call up my guys, and we’ll get the wheels in motion. We should be able to get the tree out of here today.”
“Do you know anybody who can pump some of this water out of here, or do you do that, too?” she asked.
I looked down. The carpet was soaked through. I hadn’t figured water damage into the estimate. Even with overcharging her a bit for the tree removal to balance out my low bid on the roof, any significant water damage was going to eat into what little profit we stood to make. It was
either that, or I could tell her that I was too busy trying to land the job and get the hell out and then ask to see the basement. “We can get it dried out for you,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. “I guess you’re hired then.”
“Great,” I said. “I’ll get my guys over here and we’ll get started.”
“Great,” she said.
“Great,” I repeated. Then we stood there, looking at each other. “Well I should…”
“Yeah,” she said and unceremoniously retreated further into the house.
“Yeah,” I repeated under my breath. This was going to be awkward.
Chapter Three The Sentinel Ellie “Do you have any experience as a personal assistant?” Mrs. Walton asked, peering over her bifocals at me.
“Not as such,” I said, “but I have a lot of experience working with computers, and more importantly working with people. As you can see there,” I added proudly, “I can type forty words per minute.”
Her lips thinned as the corners of her mouth drooped into a frown. “We’ll let you know.”
“Thank you,” I said with what I felt was just the right amount of enthusiasm. “It’s been a pleasure meeting with you.”
“Can you find your way out?” she asked. That’s about the time I figured out I had no chance of getting the job. It was my eighth interview that week.
This wasn’t how my life was supposed to go. I was supposed to graduate from a good college, and I’d done that. From there, I was going to work a job with a decent salary to pay down my student loans and get some experience. After that, I’d get married to a good man and maybe pop out a couple of children while preparing myself to start my own business.
What business I wanted to start was the only part of my plan that wasn’t set in stone, but there was supposed to be plenty of time to figure that out. With every failed interview, though, all those carefully laid plans seemed farther and farther outside the realm of possibility.
My only consolation was that I didn’t have a mortgage payment. The house was paid off years ago by my parents, and when they died, it came to me, leaving only property taxes and utilities. Now, though, even that was falling apart, and literally.
As I was leaving the office, somewhere behind me I heard someone saying, “Forty words per minute? She was proud of that?”
I pretended I didn’t hear it and just kept walking until I got to my car. As I started driving, I felt that pang of the life I’d lost. Two years I’d worked for Blanche Haydn. Two years of consistently high sales, two years of always going above and beyond to reach customers and bring them into the fold. I’d made the company a lot of money, and I was supposed to be on track for a promotion. Two years I’d been with Jack. Who knows how long he’d been sneaking around with my best friend? It didn’t really matter, but my tear ducts didn’t get that part of the message.
My only consolation was that Liam’s crew had already made a great deal of progress on the roof. They were nearing completion on the project, and so far, everything was falling within my budget. Of course, my budget was made up of all the money I’d saved, and when they were finished and it came time to pay the piper, all but a few hundred dollars of my savings would
be gone. I could live off my credit card for a little while, but I needed a job.
I pulled over just before turning onto my block to dry my eyes. Liam and I had managed to avoid each other for the most part; he’d stayed true to his word and had been professional throughout the process. When I finally got back to some semblance of presentable, I put the car in drive and turned the corner to find Liam’s crew running back and forth between the house and their trucks, furiously grabbing tools and materials and I could feel my heart sink to somewhere below my ribcage.
As I pulled up to the house, Liam spotted me and started walking over to my car. This wasn’t going to be good. Climbing out of my car, I asked, “What the hell happened?”
“It’s all right,” he said. “There was a bit more damage to the structure than what we could tell. Some of the studs had cracked in the basement and so there was a minor collapse on one wall, but we’re taking care of it.”
“A minor collapse?” I spat. “The way your guys are running and shouting at each other, it doesn’t seem like there’s anything minor about it.”
“As we went to brace the wall, we noticed a crack in the foundation. It’s hard to tell whether it’s a result of the tree falling or if it’s been there a while, but we’re going to need to get that taken care of and then work our way back up to get everything where it needs to be.”
“How much is that going to cost?”
“They’re taking away the drywall now, and we should
know the extent of the damage any moment. Don’t worry, though, we’ve got this handled.”
Just then, one of Liam’s guys came out the front door, shouting, “Boss!” When he saw me standing there, his eyes went wide.
“Excuse me,” Liam said and started walking away. I had no intention of excusing him, so I followed him and his crew member into the house, dodging workers as they continued to rush past.
“What’s going on?” I asked, but didn’t receive an answer. Following the two of them downstairs, the problem became apparent. There was about an inch of water on the ground. “What did you do?” I asked.
Liam shot me an angry glance, but didn’t say anything. His crew member answered, “We was workin’ on gettin’ supports up, but one of the pipes was corroded. All we did was bump it a little and the thing came apart.”
“Did you shut off the water?” Liam asked.
“Water’s off now, and we got the pipe plugged up as best we could, but we’re gonna have to get all the pipes changed out or it’s just gonna keep happenin’,” the man said.
“I’m sorry, what’s your name?” I asked.
The crew member looked to Liam who nodded.
“Jaimé, ma’am,” he answered.
Liam cut in, saying, “Give a call over to Bruce at Cirano, tell him what’s going on and see if he can get out here. If he gives you any trouble, just tell him I’m calling in my favor. He’ll know what it’s about.”
“You got it, boss,” Jaimé answered and ran back upstairs.
“Do we have your permission to move your things out of the downstairs until we get all this water cleaned up?” Liam asked.
“What the hell happened?” I asked. “I thought you said you and your guys knew what you were doing.”
“With these old houses, something goes wrong and other things become apparent,” he said. “This is only a minor setback. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Do we have your permission to get your stuff out of here?”
The good news was most of the stuff downstairs was Jack’s. The better news was that Jack hadn’t come by to pick any of it up, so I got a taste of revenge. The bad news, well, it was soaking through my best interview heels.
“Yeah,” I said finally, and I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to fall apart next.
Liam whistled, and quicker than I would have thought possible, his crew, minus Jaimé, gathered. “All right, we’ve got to get all the stuff off the floors and upstairs. The longer it takes, the more it’s going to soak through. Let’s move it.”
I jumped in and helped, though I didn’t bother even
touching a single thing of Jack’s. With everyone working, it didn’t take long, but there wasn’t a whole lot that came out unscathed. By the time we’d cleared the basement, I was exhausted. My physical exhaustion only exacerbated my emotional exhaustion, and as soon as I could pry myself away, I was on the back porch, trying to keep from hyperventilating. The more I tried to fix things, the faster they came apart. The house, the job search, my whole life was a smoldering pile of rubble.
“Ellie? I was hoping we could talk,” a familiar voice came from the side of the house.
“Jack, I don’t know what you’re doing here, but now really isn’t a good time.”
“I just came to get my things,” he said. “Listen, I’m sorry about—”
“You’ll find your stuff drying in the kitchen,” I told him. “Get it and get out. I told you I didn’t want to see you again.”
He sighed. “What happened?”
“You fucked my best friend,” I answered. “That’s what happened. Any more questions, or are you going to do the right thing and get the hell out of here?”
“Ell, it doesn’t have to be this way.”
“No, it didn’t have to be this way. Is there anything else? I don’t know if you could tell by the construction crew, but I’ve kind of got a lot going right now.”
“Why are you being such a bitch about this?”
Through the kitchen window, I heard a man’s voice say, “Go.” A moment later the back door opened and Liam spat, “Hey! Watch your mouth.”
“This really isn’t any of your business,” Jack said.
“Well, from what I heard from the kitchen, it sounds like I have more right to be here than you do, so why don’t you tuck your insignificant genitalia between your legs if you even can and get the hell out of here?” Liam said.
“I’d listen to him,” I added. “The guy swings hammers for a living.”
Jack’s upper lip twitched a little, but his voice was small as he said, “I just want to get my stuff.”
“It’s in the front yard,” Liam said. “When I heard your conversation, I had my guys move it out for you.”
Jack protested, “You had no right to—”
“Some of it may have ended up in the road, so I’d hurry if I was you before all your precious belongings become road kill,” Liam shot back. Jack looked up at him dumbly for a moment until Liam added. “Does it look like I’m joking? Move!”
Liam started walking forward, and for a minute, I thought I was going to see the beatdown of the century. No such luck, though: As Liam neared, Jack turned tail and left. Liam sat next to me.
“I know it’s not my place to get involved, but I can’t
stand guys like that,” he said.
“How much of his stuff ended up in the road?” I asked.
“There’s not much traffic on your road,” Liam said. “If he hurries, he might be able to save a box or two.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “You know he’s probably going to try to sue you or something. He’s kind of like that.”
“Yeah, well, shit happens,” Liam said. “I told my guys to take off after they ditched all the boxes with his name on it so they wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout. The plumber’s going to be here for a little while, but—”
Maybe it was the way he jumped in when Jack called me a bitch. Maybe it was that he actually did what I’d been fantasizing about doing for the last week, chucking the last remnants of Jack out of my home. Whatever the reason, I was now locked in a kiss that seemed to surprise us both.
Liam had handed me my first win since I got fired, petty though it may have been. I wrapped my arms around Liam’s neck, pulling him closer and he leaned into me. A second later, though, I was on my feet and walking inside.
Turning back for just a moment as I opened the back
door, I said, “I wouldn’t read too much into that,” and I went inside.
Chapter Four Sedition Liam The room was dark, quiet. Ellie had told me not to read too much into those kisses on her back porch. Lying naked on her bed, I wondered how much I should read into being inside of her again.
Her skin glowed in the moonlight, and I questioned for a moment if I was dreaming. I stayed a little late to clean up what my guys left behind and the next thing I knew, Ellie and I were all over each other. I don’t even know who made the first move, it just sort of happened. As she slid over me again and again, though, I certainly wasn’t complaining.
Leaning up enough to get my arms all the way around her back, I pulled her close and we rolled until she was beneath me, our legs entwined. Lowering myself into her, I had to wonder what this meant. I didn’t have high hopes that it was going anywhere, really, but then again, I hadn’t expected her to kiss me out on the back porch, either. I certainly hadn’t expected this.
Gripping me with her insides, Ellie whispered, “More.” She rocked her hips to meet mine, and I was already trying to fix my mind on something else to keep from coming.
This was different than the first night we were
together. Where the first night was filled with angst and more than a little frustration for both of us, being inside her now, all was passion and shadow, her intentions as unclear as the darkening room around us, the moon disappearing behind a cloud. Harder, faster, I drove myself into her and her fingernails dug into the skin of my back as she let out a silent scream of ecstasy.
Her eyes finally opened, already fixed on mine, and I kissed her cheek, her lips, her neck. My arms beneath her, I grabbed her shoulders, pulling her down as I moved forward, the cool breeze of the open window above her bed chilling my sweaty skin. So, deep inside her now, I felt my concentration slipping, and I slowed the tempo, grasping at any thought that might help me make this moment last just a little bit longer.
I knew almost nothing about her, but none of that mattered as the sweat dripped down my back. Reality could wait. I was happy for the repose of fantasy.
Pulling my head down toward her, she whispered in my ear, “Make me come.” The way she said it sounded more like a challenge than an invitation, and in those final moments before the last remnants of solid reality dripped away, I pushed myself deeper and deeper inside. “Just like that,” she said. “Don’t stop.”
My breath heavy in my lungs, I set my mind above my body, but as her legs started to quake, I could feel myself approach the edge of the cliff and then it was down, down, down into the swirling waves of a vast and unseen ocean. My forehead dripping sweat, her breath quickened and rushed loud into my ears.
With her arms, her legs, her pussy, she gripped me, holding me tight as we came together, staring into each other’s eyes. My body jerked and every inch of me came alive as the rush left my body and entered hers. Her arms around my shoulders, she pressed her lips against mine, and as our motion slowed, we shared our breath.
Easing myself out, I lay down next to her on the bed, staring up at the ceiling as I tried to remember who and where I was. I couldn’t begin to speculate how long it took to catch my breath and fall back into my body. Of course, that’s when my mind cracked open again.
They don’t go over it in the licensing exam, but it doesn’t take a booklet to know sleeping with a client is a bad idea. I asked, “How much are we reading into this?”
“We’re not,” she said, and I couldn’t say whether or not I was relieved. My body had started craving her like a drug far too new to be outlawed and just as dangerous. “Call it a ‘thank you’ for sticking up for me today and let’s make that the end of it.”
“Deal,” I said.
As I sat up on the side of the bed and started to get dressed, though, she added, “Maybe you can stand up for me tomorrow.” No longer vacillating, I couldn’t deny that I wanted her; not that she’d asked.
* * *
Only six hours after leaving her house, I was back, this time to work. The job kept getting bigger and bigger as every problem we solved only uncovered another that
couldn’t wait. I’d gotten the feeling the day I’d landed the job that her budget was limited more than she’d said, but stopping where we were would leave the house with almost as many problems as we’d already solved.
Most of the downstairs was bare concrete, but the ruptured pipe had spilled enough that the few carpeted areas swelled from the deluge. Ellie was gone, off to another interview. I should have been able to concentrate, but I found my mind continually drifting back to her. It wasn’t something I’d expected, much less planned for.
My last relationship had been an unmitigated disaster, though I’d stuck with it for almost four years. I wasn’t in the market for a new one. With Ellie, it was sex as catharsis. That was the point for both of us. It wasn’t about love or relationship. Still, it was eleven-thirty and I couldn’t stop replaying last night in my head. The whole situation was becoming terribly inconvenient.
I was in the process of inspecting the work that Bruce, my go-to plumber, had done the night before when I heard Ellie’s voice calling down the stairs, “How’s it coming?”
“It looks like Bruce fixed you up good,” I called back. “That said, you’re probably going to need to replace the carpet, or at least the pad.”
“I’m coming down,” she said, and with every clop of her heels over the steps, my heart beat a little faster. What the hell was going on with me?
She entered the room and all but ignored me entirely
as she looked over the replaced piping.
“Bruce said most of your pipes are in decent order, that there must have been a fire or something that had caused the old ones in this area to corrode,” I explained.
“It’s all taken care of now, though, right?” she asked.
“Right,” I answered. “Listen—”
“I’m pretty sure neither one of us really wants you to finish that sentence,” she said. “How’s the roof coming?”
“We’re almost done. There’s still some work to do in the living room, and we’ve got to get this drywall replaced and there are a few other minor things that’ll need to happen before this place is back in shape, but we’re getting close. I’d say three, four more days, tops and we’ll be out of your hair.”
“Great,” she said, still avoiding my gaze. “Hey, I know this is kind of an awkward question, given… But the job market in this town isn’t what it used to be. I was wondering, is your company hiring?”
“You want to work construction?” I asked.
“Hardly,” she answered. “I was thinking something in an office.”
“I don’t think so, but I can check with my boss,” I said.
Then it was quiet again. I sure as hell didn’t know what to say.
“Well,” she said after a minute, “I should probably…”
“Yeah,” I answered.
She started off toward the stairs, but just as she was about to leave the room, she turned, saying, “Last night was fun.”
Then came more silence until finally, without another word, she turned again and went upstairs. The sooner me and my crew were done with the house, the better. I didn’t want a relationship, but being with her casually had left me wanting more. The best thing either of us could do would be to stop seeing each other and to move on with our lives.
My phone rang, and I picked it up. “Hey boss,” I said.
“Yeah, how’s that house coming?” Jeff asked.
“There’s still a bit to do, but we shouldn’t be here much longer unless something else goes seriously wrong,” I answered.
“Great. I just got a call from one of our older clients. He’s looking to add a third level, so I’m going to need you to finish up what you’re doing as fast as humanly possible. This is going to be a big one, and if we play our cards right, we might actually have a company this time next year.”
“That’s great,” I said. “I’ll tell the guys and we’ll get things here wrapped up.”
“Good. Just make it quick. Tillman wants us on property by the weekend or he’s going to go with someone else. I guess he’s got family moving in and so time really is a factor here. I’m going to need you and the guys at your best. Just don’t screw it up.”
The rest of the day was busy, which helped me keep my mind off of Ellie and all the chaos that went with that situation. At least, that was the plan.
It was about four-thirty, and I was walking around the side of the house when Ellie came around the other corner walking toward me. I nodded and said, “Hey,” but she didn’t answer or even look at me. I could feel my face growing hot, but I was happy enough not engaging her in conversation. Talking hadn’t really been our strong suit anyway.
As she was just about to pass me, though, she turned and pushed me up against the side of the house, pressing herself into me, her lips hard against mine. All that rationality flew out the window, and I felt like a teenager again, sneaking a kiss between English and Math.
She threw her head back and I kissed her neck, my arms around her waist and pulling her lower half against mine. “You know,” I said, barely taking enough time between kisses to speak, “we really need to stop doing this.”
“If you want to stop, stop,” she breathed.
“Otherwise…” She kissed me again. My erection strained against the fabric of my jeans, and I wondered if there was somewhere we could sneak off without the guys knowing about it. Most likely, none of them would say anything about it, apart from the occasional adolescent joke, but I couldn’t say I was without competition.
I trusted my guys, well, most of them. The only one I was worried about in the slightest was Tom. Before I came along, Tom had been foreman, and it was a continuing source of friction with us. It wasn’t so much that I took his job. The problem with Tom was that he couldn’t delegate. He’d start out the day just fine, but the first unexpected anything that came up and he’d panic. He’d kick the other guys off of what they were doing, insisting that he do it himself. It hadn’t just cost us valuable time, it had cost us jobs. When Jeff made the call, demoting Tom and promoting me, things changed quickly. I wouldn’t say things exactly turned around, but we’d at least managed to stop hemorrhaging money.
Ever since then, though, Tom had been just a little too nice, a little too compliant with whatever I had to say. When I asked him about it, he’d told me that he wanted to be a good example to the other guys. He’d said that we couldn’t stay afloat with two captains at the helm, much less a mutiny. He’d said all the right things and that’s what worried me. Jeff had mentioned something about Tom approaching him, but hadn’t gone into much detail. I knew he was jockeying to get his old position back, and I was the one standing in the way.
So, when I heard someone clear his throat toward the back corner of the house while I was grabbing Ellie’s ass and we had our tongues in each other’s mouths, I
instinctively pushed Ellie away. I took a breath, closing my eyes for just a moment before looking over, saying over and over in my head, “Anyone but Tom. Anyone but Tom.”
Of course, it was Tom.
“Hey boss,” he said, not even trying to hide his grin. “Me and the guys have got the last bit of the roof and ceiling done in the living room and we were hoping we could call it a day.”
“That’s fine, Tom,” I said as Ellie made her retreat around the other side of the house.
As soon as she was around the front corner and out of sight, Tom sidled over to me, saying, “So, you and the boss lady, huh? Be honest, Araya. Did you hit that?”
“Have a good night, Tom,” I answered and walked past him to the back of the house to grab my things and get the hell out of there before things could get any worse.
For appearances, I didn’t want to be the last one to leave, but I didn’t want Tom staying behind long enough to say something stupid to Ellie and get us all fired, either, so I took my sweet time getting my gear in my truck. Tom was parked behind me on the street, a habit he’d gotten into after we’d switched jobs. Even if he couldn’t be number one, he still wanted to let everyone else on the crew know that his integer was higher than theirs. He was all packed up and in his truck. The problem was, he wasn’t going anywhere. He just sat there, watching me through his windshield.
I finished getting my tools secured, and got in my truck right about the time I saw Tom putting his phone to his ear, a wide grin adorning his face.
Chapter Five Coffee Ellie It had been two weeks since Liam’s crew was supposed to be finished working on my house. They were still there, but it had been a week since I’d seen Liam. When I asked his guys where he was the first morning he didn’t show, all they’d say was that he’d gotten “called out.” They didn’t give any more detail than that, but I had a pretty good idea what had happened.
Oh well, I thought. It wasn’t like he and I were going anywhere anyway. It was better that he’d gone without a goodbye or an explanation. Lord knows we’d had enough awkward moments, and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to another one.
At around eleven, one of the guys from the crew approached me, scratching the back of his neck. “Hey, uh,” he started, and I could already feel my day getting worse.
“Yes?” I responded.
“So, we were just getting things cleaned up downstairs, but it looks like there’s some more water damage that we didn’t—”
“You’re joking,” I interrupted.
“Wish I was, ma’am,” the man whose name I don’t think I’d ever heard said. “It’s nothing too bad now, but even a little water damage can cause some serious problems. Can we have your permission to take care of it?”
“How long and how much?”
“It’ll set us back another day, maybe two at the most. Unless it turns out the damage is even more extensive than it looks now—”
“I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Ben,” the man returned. “Ben Walters.”
“Ben, can you tell me where Liam is? I mean, is he off the job? Is he fired? It’s not that I don’t think you guys can—”
“We’re not really supposed to talk about it, ma’am,” he answered.
“Oh? And why is that?” I asked.
He lowered his head. “If you’d like to talk to someone higher up the food chain, I’d be happy to get Jeff on the phone.”
“It’s just this project has taken a lot longer than it was supposed to, and I understand things have come up and everything, but I don’t exactly have unlimited resources here, and I would like to see this get done before I have to mortgage the place,” I explained. Why was I explaining myself? It was like a veiled apology for something that wasn’t my fault. Well, I might have had something to do
with Liam’s absence, but it’s not like he didn’t kiss back.
I tried to convince myself with that old reassuring lie that one day I’d laugh about this whole period of my life, but in reality, that thought was nothing but frustration. The whole thing was a mess from the start. I should have known that going with a crew headed by a man I’d spent a drunken night with the day before wasn’t going to pan out, but with as low as the initial quote was, I didn’t think I had a choice.
“I’m sorry about all the delays, but if we don’t take care of this stuff, it’s just going to be that much bigger a headache later,” he said.
“Did I get Liam fired?” I asked. Did I care? I guess, probably. Even though it was hard to keep my eye from twitching every time I saw him or spoke his name, I didn’t feel good about costing him his job. After all, I’d recently found out what that felt like. It didn’t feel good.
“I wouldn’t say it that way,” Ben said.
“But that would be an accurate assessment of the situation?” I returned.
Ben scratched the back of his neck again and mumbled through some sort of response.
“Where can I find him?” I asked. “Do you have his number? Can I talk to him?”
“I don’t think that would be such a good idea,” Ben answered. “Last time I talked to him, Liam wasn’t—he was pretty upset about the whole thing.”
It’s funny how fast guilt evaporates when someone else acknowledges that you did something wrong. Maybe it’s that human beings are hardwired to never accept blame. “I’m sorry to hear that I hurt his feelings, but it’s not like I was the only one—”
“It’s really none of my business,” Ben interrupted. “If you want, like I said, I can put you in touch with the big boss, Jeff. He’d probably be able to tell you a lot more than I can.”
“The water damage,” I said, “it’s something that really needs to be taken care of today? Is there any chance it could wait, I don’t know, indefinitely?”
“There’s already mold growing in some of those areas,” he said.
“Some of those areas?” I repeated. “Just how many spots of water damage did you miss?”
Ben scoffed, apparently losing his patience with me. “Even if we could overlook the structural issues, which we can’t, it’s still a health concern. If you want to spray some bleach inside your walls, you can probably take care of the mold, but we’d have to leave it open or cut some tiny holes in the walls or something. We can do that. I mean, we’ll need your signature on something saying that you’re rejecting our analysis and releasing us from all liability, but if that’s how you want to do it, that’s how we’ll do it.”
“You’re kind of a prick, aren’t you?” I shot back.
Ben forced a smile, turned, and walked away.
“Where’s Liam‽” I shouted after him, not ready to let the brewing argument die so easily. Ben just kept walking, though. I had Liam’s number, but I was miles away from picking up the phone and calling him. I didn’t know what he could do about any of this, though my guess was probably nothing. The most I could potentially get out of him was whether he’d been fired or just taken off this job, and I really wasn’t in the mood to accept any more responsibility for any of that than I already had.
I’d had at least a dozen interviews since I was fired, and I was running out of prospects. There was always someone just a bit more qualified, or who went to a better school. I had planned to make a day trip to Benson and see if I could find anyone to reject me there, but I’d lost the will to leave my house. It probably wouldn’t be long before they fixed the water damage and found something new to charge me for anyway.
I brewed up a big pot of coffee and stood next to the sink as I sipped and tried to think things through. Until the final bill came from Liam’s former crew, I still had a bit of money left. It wasn’t much, probably just enough to keep me in food and gas money for the next week or so, but what more did I really need anyway? The house was paid off years ago. Sure, there were still property taxes and utilities to pay, and then there was my car payment and insurance, and medical insurance, and then there were the medical bills I was still paying off from a kidney stone I’d had three years earlier.
I was lost in my thoughts, my body on autopilot as I poured another cup of coffee. It was three rings into the phone call before I even realized I had nothing to say, should Liam pick up the call. I’d been so distracted, I
didn’t even remember dialing.
“I think it’s probably best if you and I don’t talk anymore,” Liam said, answering the phone.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“How many ways can a person mean that?” I asked and then devolved into a brief and terribly awkward series of giggles. “What are you doing right now?” I asked.
“At the moment, I’m—”
“Can you meet me at Patrick’s in, I don’t know, half an hour?”
“Ellie, I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“Why not?” I asked. “It’s not like they’re going to kick you off the job if you see me again. I just miss you and wanted to know—” I hung up. I was searching for something to numb me, but Liam wasn’t the answer. He couldn’t be. Despite whatever, one thing I never felt with Liam was numbness. Usually it was something between arousal and vitriol.
I went to Patrick’s, knowing Liam wouldn’t be there. It was about the only place I knew he wouldn’t show up outside my house, if for no other reason than I’d asked him to meet me there and then hung up on him. I sat at the bar, hunched over a beer I’d only taken two sips of in the half hour since I’d ordered it, wondering if I should pick a fight with someone and really make the day something to remember. I probably wouldn’t have fared
well, though. All I had to my advantage was I was sober and hopped up on more caffeine than I normally drank in a week.
I’d just decided to go home when a man sat in the stool next to me, and offered to buy me a drink. I glanced over just long enough to be sure it wasn’t Liam asking the question, and I nodded my approval.
“You look like you’re having a rough day,” the man said. He was tall, at least in his stool, and he had one of those chinstrap beards I’d thought people stopped wearing years ago. “I’m Rupert, but most people just call me Chad.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Chad,” he repeated. “It’s one of my middle names.”
I didn’t really care to hear the rest of them. “No, I meant I’m sorry your parents did that to you. It must be quite the burden.”
His face went a little red, and I could almost see him biting his tongue. “What would you like to drink?” he asked.
“Whatever you’re buying,” I answered. “Nothing too strong, though. I don’t drink that much and I tend to make bad decisions when I do.” Already I was frustrated with the conversation. Maybe that was my problem; maybe I just never gave anyone a chance. Even in polite conversation—which this certainly wouldn’t turn out to be, of that I was already certain—I’d look for the first flaw, or the first minor irritation and then that’s all that person would be to me. “Thank you,” I said, trying to offset my
irritation with courtesy.
“You’re welcome,” he said. Turning to the bartender, he said, “Can I get two shots of 151?”
“Not unless they’re both for you,” I cut in. “When I said I make bad decisions when I drink like that, I wasn’t flirting.”
“How about vodka, then?” Rupert Chad Whatever asked.
“Fine,” I sighed. My drink came, and I looked down at it. I really wasn’t in the mood to drink. I’d only come to the bar because it was the one place I figured Liam wouldn’t be. Still, I was looking for something that might just help me feel better and I started to think I may have found it. “You know,” I said, turning to Chad, “I’m really not in the mood for drinking. I wonder if you might be so kind as to take me home, instead.”
“Sure,” Chad said, getting off his barstool with far too much enthusiasm.
Was I really going to do this? Was I really going to go home with this guy? I hadn’t promised, or even mentioned sex, but judging by the look on his face, that’s what was on his mind. Really, I just wanted to have another heartbeat in the house for a little while. I wasn’t attracted to him, but he seemed nice enough. Of course, nice always bored me. I wouldn’t say I was looking for a jerk—though dating jerks was kind of my wheelhouse.
In that moment, I would have settled for someone bearing less of a resemblance to a dog that’s just been told he’s going for a ride in the car. Still, I got off my
barstool, gingerly, drank half my shot of vodka, and while Chad paid for the drinks, I headed to the door.
I got outside, feeling the still-warm breeze on my face. If I started walking immediately, I could probably be around a corner by the time Chad got outside. In fact, that was my plan right until I saw Liam’s work truck, now devoid of decals and largely stripped of tools, parked a little ways down the block. Liam wasn’t in it; I could see that much from where I was standing. But that meant he was already in the bar.
Why wouldn’t he come up to me? Until a few minutes earlier, I’d been sitting there completely alone and unbothered. Suddenly, I felt a wave of guilt wash over me. It’s not like Liam and I were dating. We hadn’t made any commitments to each other—quite the opposite, in fact. Still, I felt like a first-class bitch inviting Liam to the bar only to walk out with someone else.
I stood there halfway between taking a step and running away when the door to the bar opened. It wasn’t Chad. “So, fun time at the bar?” he asked. “I’m really glad we got to catch up and everything. Great talk.”
“It’s not like you walked up to me,” I retorted.
“You invited me,” he said. “So, was the plan just to get me to sit there while you picked up someone else? Did you think you’d make me jealous? If that was your goal, you really over-estimate yourself.”
Once more, all those feelings of guilt dissipated. “Listen,” I started, but he held up his hand.
“I thought it was a mistake coming here,” he said.
“Now I know it was a mistake. Do me a favor and lose my number, will you?”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Home,” he said. “Another bar, I don’t know.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” he asked, already starting to walk toward his truck.
I matched his gait. “You were there and then that guy caught us kissing by the side of the house and then you just didn’t come back, and your guys or your former guys or whatever, they wouldn’t say anything about it, either, and so I could really only speculate, and I didn’t know if you wanted me to call, or if I wanted me to call, and I’m sorry if I didn’t see you when I walked in or you walked in or whichever one of us walked in second, but when you didn’t show up what was I supposed to do?”
“Did you breathe once during all of that?” he asked as we got to his driver’s side door. “Okay, so you didn’t see me. I get that. That doesn’t make this any less weird. So, if there was something you wanted to say to me, now’s the time. I’ve been having phone problems lately, and random numbers just get deleted. It’s the strangest thing. I have a feeling that might happen again somewhere around the time I get in my truck, so if there’s anything else…”
“You’re an asshole, you know that?” I asked.
“I’m the asshole?” he shot back. “You’re about the most confusing, hostile woman I’ve ever met, and I really
couldn’t tell you why I’m still standing here talking to you.”
“I said you’re an asshole,” I repeated. I was about to launch into some overblown dissertation on the difference between him being the asshole or me being an asshole where I pointed out that him being the asshole would imply one of us had to be anyway, and so it might as well be him, but in the breath before I started speaking, I glanced over to find Chad walking toward me.
“Is this guy bothering you?” Chad asked, puffing out his chest like a blowfish.
He’d only heard the part about me calling Liam an asshole if he’d heard anything. I couldn’t help but answer Chad with, “Only every time I see or talk to him.”
In my defense, I didn’t expect Chad to actually walk up and punch Liam in the face because of my snarky answer. That didn’t change much, though, as Liam slammed back into his truck door. A moment later, he’d landed a few blows of his own, knocking Chad to the ground.
“Stay down,” Liam said. To me, he said, “I’m not fighting some stranger just to get you off. Now lose my number.”
With that, he got in his truck and drove away as I helped Chad up off the ground. Chad called after Liam’s truck, “Get back here, you coward, and get what’s comin’ to ya!” And suddenly, the pity-lay I was considering, throwing the guy for getting beat down, was no longer an option.
“Listen, Chad, I’m sorry for the ordeal and everything, but I just don’t think it’s going to work out tonight,” I said.
“Why, who was that guy? That wasn’t like your husband or anything like that, was it?”
I scoffed and then the scoff was laughter, and even though Chad was looking at me like I was a woman who’d finally lost the last of her marbles, I just kept laughing. No, Liam wasn’t my husband. It was a preposterous idea, and Chad must have had some serious insecurities for immediately going there. The more I laughed, though, the more I felt an invisible knife twisting in my gut.
I was supposed to be married by now. Not to Liam, obviously, but the asshole who’d preceded him. Not knowing what else to do, I just kept laughing to keep myself from falling into a quivering mass. I was supposed to be married. I was supposed to still have a job, even a promotion. I was supposed to have a house that didn’t fall apart and a construction crew that would put it back together, quickly and easily if it ever did. I was supposed to have a lot of things, but in that moment, all I had was that stupid look on Chad’s face and the sound of my own laughter.
“You know,” he said, “maybe you’re right. Maybe today’s not such a good day for me, either.”
I would have tried to stop him or explain myself or, at least, apologize, before he trudged back into the bar. The problem was I couldn’t stop laughing.
Chapter Six Inconvenience, Meet Exponent Liam I didn’t feel like drinking, so I didn’t. I’d only just walked into the bar when I saw Ellie getting up to leave. She didn’t see me. I knew she hadn’t. It didn’t matter. I was mad at her, and I was going to be mad at her no matter how things went. She’d made it easy, though.
I opened the fridge and pulled out the steak I’d been thawing for dinner, and I slapped it a little too literally against my left cheekbone where that moron had punched me. Wincing from the new pain added to the old pain, I took a moment to think about what I was doing —what I had been doing. I was getting tired of thinking about it, though, and in the minute or so between opening the fridge and more gently resettling the steak on my cheek, I suddenly felt like drinking.
When Jeff called and told me to come into his office, I was sure my job was already gone. Imagine my surprise when I walked in there to find him beaming, eager to shake my hand and even more eager that I sit down and listen to him prattle on about how I’d managed to save the crew—at least for the next month or so. Jeff went on and on about how I had “taken the bull by the horns” on the job, and that while he couldn’t abide me fooling around with a client during work hours—potential lawsuits and liability and all—and especially where the
other guys on the crew could see it, he said he didn’t mind if I “got a little on the side” so long as it helped our bottom line.
He said he couldn’t let me back on that job after Tom had seen what he’d seen, but that if I could do with the next job what I did on Ellie’s, there might just be a big bonus waiting for me at the end of the year. In the meantime, since there was nobody else hiring, I had nothing to do but hope the guys finished up before I’d exhausted my already-stretched savings.
Jeff wanted me to swing by Tillman’s to talk about adding that third floor for him, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk shop. Besides, it was already getting late in the day, and I remembered Rudy Tillman wasn’t much for talking business after five o’clock. He was one of those guys who could set his own schedule. He was one of those guys who’d never run out of money. He’d gone bankrupt a few times, each very publicly, but it never seemed to hurt him. When his business wasn’t doing so hot, the corporate subsidies kicked in. The money never seemed to make it past Tillman and the executive branch of his company, but that never seemed to bother anyone. Politics, in my experience, only ever meant just how much the alreadyrich were swaddled in the tax dollars of guys like me. If the economy was bad, they’d get a bit more of it. If the economy was good, well, they’d still get a bit more of it. Useless degenerates.
As much as I wanted to hurl into a rage of bad choices and worse liquor, I couldn’t be certain I wouldn’t call up Tillman and yell at him for being rich. He’d never done anything to me. In fact, he’d always been a loyal client. He had to know that the other crews in town would
be able to get the job done a lot quicker than my guys could. They had more resources, more people. In that moment, I just wanted to lash out at everything and everyone.
I’d missed a call from Ellie, but I had no interest in listening to the message she’d left. I was kidding myself thinking our tumultuous “relationship” would ever go anywhere. The best thing I could do was just forget about her, move on.
My phone rang, and this time I didn’t bother looking to see who was calling. It might have been Jeff, asking why I hadn’t gotten in touch with Tillman yet, or it might be the guys telling me something had happened at Ellie’s and they needed my help. It didn’t matter who it was. I didn’t want to speak to anyone.
The steak I had pressed against my face now suitably ruined, I walked into the bathroom to see just how apparent my injury was. The barfly hadn’t broken skin with the blow, but my cheek was swollen to the point I could hardly open my eye.
My phone rang again, and with a groan, I pulled it from my pocket and checked the caller ID. It was Tom. “This should be interesting,” I said to myself before answering. “Liam Arraya.”
“Hey, Liam,” Tom said. “Jeff was going to call you himself, but I wanted to be the one to tell you.”
“Tell me what?” I asked.
“Tillman went with Pendulum,” Tom said. “I guess you were supposed to call him or meet with him or
something and he got tired of waiting. Anyway, so we’ve lost the project and you’re off the crew. Jeff wanted me to go ahead and make sure that any company tools you still had were—”
“What?” I asked, removing the raw steak from my face and dropping it unceremoniously into the bathroom sink. “I thought we already had the Tillman job. Jeff said he’d done the contract.”
Tom sighed. “Look, you’re out, I’m in,” he replied. “I don’t see how anything else really matters here. Anyway, all the best and that. I’m sure you’ll land on your feet.”
“What did you say to him?” I asked.
Tom just chuckled and hung up the phone. A moment later, the phone was crashing into the bathroom mirror, and I was yelling, “Damn it!”
I had to call Jeff. Tom had obviously made his move, but that didn’t mean it was too late. Unfortunately, even had my phone completely survived its high-speed collision with the mirror, which it hadn’t, it had dropped into the toilet after its second bounce. I spent the next twenty minutes trying to find where I’d written down Jeff’s number. When I couldn’t find it, I only really had one option if I was going to try to save my job. I’d have to go talk to the man face to face.
Getting in my truck, I peeled out of my driveway and sped toward the office. It was almost seven in the evening, but Jeff’s car was still in the lot. I parked directly behind him, blocking the two spaces on either side of his vehicle as well as his, and I put the truck in park and
threw open my door, not bothering to remove the keys from the ignition.
Jim, the security guard, was waiting for me at the door. “I’m sorry, Liam,” he said. “I can’t let you in. We’re after hours.”
I didn’t say anything, but pushed my way past and into the building. Once inside, I shouted, “Jeff!” Yeah, I was off to a good start. This wasn’t the way I was going to get my job back, but if Jim caught up to me before I got Jeff in front of me, it wouldn’t matter anyway. I was almost to Jeff’s office when its door began to open. About the same time, two arms wrapped tight around me, tackling me to the floor.
“Liam?” Jeff asked, watching as Jim pinned me down with his knee and called for backup.
“I need to talk to you,” I said, trying to sound calm and measured, though I can’t imagine it worked.
“It’s all right, Jim,” Jeff said. “He’s right: he and I need to talk.” Jim let me up, and I brushed myself off before following Jeff into his office. Once the door was closed behind me, Jeff started in, saying, “What the hell is with you lately? It seems like things were going fine with you until this last job and then you start pulling every amateur trick in the book.”
“What did you say to Tom?” I asked. “Better yet, what did Tom say to you? I don’t know what kind of crap he’s been trying to feed you, but—”
“What are you talking about?” Jeff asked.
“You’re really going to fire me just because Tillman went with someone else? I thought you two had a contract? How can you blame me if he breaks it?”
“Okay, you’re going to have to slow down. I think there’s been some misunderstanding.”
“Oh, there’s no misunderstanding,” I said, throwing any vestige of tact out the window. “Tom filled me in on the whole thing. I’m out, he’s in: Ringing any bells? Do you really think the guys are going to work for Tom? They don’t even respect him. You remember the way things were falling apart last time that Machiavellian jerkoff was running the show? I get that maybe this wasn’t my finest job, but you’re going to let that jackal be the one to tell me I’m out of a job?”
Jeff held up his hands, and I took a breath. He said, “Did you say there’s something wrong with the Tillman project?”
“Are you telling me there’s not?” I shot back.
Jeff sighed. “I haven’t heard anything from Tom since he called to tell me you were playing grab-ass with that client of yours. You and I talked after that, I thought we were pretty clear on the game plan and then here you come, busting in here, yelling and getting taken down by security. What’s with you lately? You’re not on drugs or something, are you?”
“No, I’m not on drugs!” I shouted. “Is that what he told you to get you to fire me?”
“He didn’t tell me anything,” Jeff said. “Now, maybe we should both calm down and see if we can get to the
bottom of this, rationally.”
“Yeah, if he didn’t tell you anything, why was Jim waiting at the door to stop me from coming in here?” I retorted.
“Well, usually when someone cruises into the parking lot and slams on their brakes so hard, the whole building can hear it—you really need to get those checked out, by the way—it’s kind of policy for security to look into it.”
I held my breath. There were two possibilities. Either Jeff was lying to me, just trying to get me calmed down enough to not make as big a scene on my way out as I did on the way in; or Tom just played me to the point I’d imperiled my employment all on my own. “We didn’t get a call from Tillman?” I asked. “He’s not going with Pendulum?”
“If he is, we sue him for breach of contract and none of us ever has to work again,” Jeff said.
“So, I’m not fired?”
“I think you should sit down, Liam. Jim must have slammed you down pretty hard. Your face is all swelled up,” he said.
Grudgingly, I sat in one of the old chairs opposite Jeff’s desk. “Jeff, what the hell is going on? Just be straight up with me. I think I’ve earned that much.”
Jeff sighed. “I’m worried about you, Liam,” he started. “You haven’t been yourself for weeks. I’ve tried to look the other way, because you were bringing home the bacon,
but it seems like every day it’s something else. I thought taking you off the current project would give you some time to get your head together, but I can’t have you busting in here making a scene.”
“What are you saying?” I asked, trying to resume a more civil tone.
“I’m saying that maybe it’s a good time for you to take some time and figure out exactly what it is you want,” Jeff said. “You’ve always been a good worker and a strong leader for the guys, but there comes a point for everyone where too much is too much, and I think I’ve done you a disservice not noticing that point passed for you a while ago.”
I repeated, “What are you saying?”
“I think maybe it’s best if we part ways,” Jeff said. “I’ll be happy to give you a good recommendation, but—”
“It’s Tom!” I shouted. “He’s behind all this. Do you think I’d just come in here screaming if—”
“You’ve worked with Tom for years,” Jeff said. “It’s only now that he’s getting to you, and frankly, after today, I no longer feel comfortable with you representing Bernard. Maybe if you could have spared the theatrics, but this just tells me that—”
“What do you think it’s going to be like with him in charge again?” I asked. “Do you remember what that was like? He couldn’t delegate, and he’d start throwing things if anybody disobeyed him. The man’s a walking liability.”
“Again, I never said anything about putting Tom in
charge of the crew,” Jeff said, folding his arms. “And as far as being a walking liability, I don’t think you’re really in a position to throw around that kind of accusation with your behavior.”
“What are you saying?” I asked for the third time.
Jeff pressed the intercom button on his phone, saying, “Yeah, Marcy? Could you have Jim come to my office, ASAP, please?”
“You’re actually going to throw me out?” I said. “You said yourself this project was all that was keeping us afloat, and we both know I’m the one who landed it.”
“Yes, and due to your lack of professionalism, you’ve repeatedly put that project in jeopardy, and the way you come into my office…” His eyes narrowed. “It doesn’t matter who’s been calling about your behavior, the fact is you haven’t had your head on straight for a while now, and I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I wasn’t planning on doing this, so it’ll be tomorrow before we’ve got your final check ready. I’m sorry, Liam. You’re fired.”
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter who’s been calling?” I asked. “Tom aside, my guys are loyal.”
“I’m not going to give you that information. Suffice it to say, I’ve heard enough, and thanks to tonight’s little outburst, I can no longer ignore it. Jim will show you out,” Jeff said. “Good day.” Leaning back in his chair, Jeff called out, “Jim!”
So, there it was, being escorted out of my boss’s office by Jim, the Security Guard. I was losing it. Hell, I’d
already lost it. Tom saw his opportunity to play me, and for once, I was stupid enough to let it happen.
I’d been with the company for years. I was there before Tom got promoted and started screwing things up. Our old foreman, Jerry, was a good guy and a hard worker. He’d kept us going strong right up until he came off a ladder on a four-plex and injured his spine. Jeff had offered to let Jerry keep his job, or give him an office position, but for Jerry, it was time to retire.
When I first started out, I was a lot like Tom, minus the incompetence. I saw myself moving up the ladder, and anyone who got in my way could expect some sort of retribution. I had nothing to do with Jerry’s fall, just so we’re clear on that. Even though I’d only been at the company a couple of months when it happened, though, I was still pissed when they put Tom in as foreman instead of me.
Construction was in my blood. My stepdad had his own construction company for a long time. I was even supposed to take it over when I came of age and got my contractor’s license. I was swinging a hammer when most kids were getting paper routes, and there wasn’t a whole lot I didn’t know about the business before I graduated high school.
Then the business went broke. Earl, my stepdad, sold off the company, drill bit by drill bit, and I had to go seek my fortunes elsewhere. By the time I joined my first crew outside KIS Construction, Earl’s company, I’d already had years of experience on the job. I climbed the ladder (no pun intended) quickly, but it never seemed like enough. Even though I’d solidified my position as
foreman, I still had eyes on Jeff’s desk. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d even enjoy going from the great outdoors to the office. It was just the next step.
Now I wasn’t foreman anymore. I wasn’t even on the crew.
Jim shoved me out the front door of the building and locked it behind me. I thought about turning and trying to get back in, maybe I could reason with Jeff. Even if I got handed a demotion, it would still be better than getting thrown out entirely. But as I spotted my truck being towed away, the last bit of wind left my sails. I just sat on the curb. wondering what the hell I was supposed to do until Jim opened the door and shouted to me that I was trespassing.
Chapter Seven Settling Up Ellie I swallowed hard, but my throat remained dry. “This seems a lot higher than what we discussed,” I muttered.
“You can see the initial estimate right there. We actually came in on-budget for that part of things, but with everything we found, stuff that really had to be taken care of… you didn’t think we were going to do all that for free, did you? I’m pretty sure Liam went over that with you before… well, you know,” Ben, the prick who’d taken over Liam’s position, explained. “We can work out a payment plan if that’s necessary, but we do charge interest if the full balance isn’t taken care of within ninety days of billing.”
I couldn’t pay the bill. I’d have to sell my car, and even then, it’s not like I was careening around in a Lamborghini. Just selling my car wasn’t going to be enough. “Why did the cost of labor go up after the fourth?” I asked.
“The electrical bumps it up a bit,” Ben said.
“But isn’t that one of the guys on your team or whatever who does that? Why would you charge me more to have the same guy who’s been working on my house, work on my house?” I asked.
“It’s a different kind of work, and it requires some more specialized training than general construction,” Ben said. “I can maybe knock a little bit off, but we’re pretty close to the bone with this contract as it is.”
“Anything you can do,” I said and handed the sheet of paper back to the stand-in foreman, and I walked away.
The good news was the house was all fixed up and good as new. They’d done a spectacular job, or else I’d have looked for a way to duck paying for it. So now, at least I didn’t have to come home after days spent looking for jobs I was apparently nowhere near qualified to perform and worry about the place falling in on me. In that moment, though, I kind of hoped it would. It’s not that I had a death wish or anything, but it would have solved a lot of problems.
Now that I knew how much the repairs were going to cost, going to the bar wasn’t really an expense I could justify. Besides, drinking hadn’t actually made anything better. For brief periods, it made me numb enough to forget just how screwed up everything had gotten, but it never lasted long enough. In the end, something was always worse when I sobered up anyway, so I pledged that I’d give up the bottle completely. Even that seemed like too little too late, though.
I figured things would just work out somehow, that as long as I kept generally doing what I was supposed to be doing—in this case, applying for jobs and going to interviews—something would happen and I’d at least have some path out of this. Sadly, I was acutely aware of just how many ways that wasn’t working.
I drove around for a while. It usually helped me clear my head. As I drove, though, I felt as if there was too much blood in my veins, and that my heart was pounding too hard, trying to move it all through. I thought I was just driving to make that feeling go away, but I had to do something. Even if I took something working fast food, it’d be more money than I had.
The more I drove, the more I got to thinking about the bill from Bernard Construction. When I was working in insurance, the only people who ever made any headway about payment were the ones who went straight to management. If there was any chance of getting the bill whittled down, I’d have to go in to the main office and try to work something out. I knew my chances weren’t great even then, but if I could talk them down even a few thousand dollars, I could get away with only selling my car. The thought of refinancing the house was more than I wanted to think about.
I saw the truck first. I remembered thinking it looked a lot like Liam’s, but it was being towed. A few seconds later, there he was, Liam, walking away from the parking lot, his head hung low. My heart pounded. It looked like he might just be having a worse day than I was. I pulled up next to him.
Rolling down my window, I slowed to match Liam’s pace. “Need a ride?” I asked, immediately wishing I’d just kept going.
He looked over at me and scoffed. “Of course, you’d be driving by when they’re towing away my truck.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault,” I answered. “What happened?”
He stopped walking and looked behind me. “You’re holding up traffic,” he said.
“You’d better get in, then,” I answered. “That is, unless you’re really set on walking wherever it is that you’re walking.”
“I’m going home,” he said.
Behind me, a car honked. “Are you getting in or what?”
He looked both directions like he was worried someone might see him. “Fine,” he said and got in the passenger’s side. I started driving again, and he said, “I live about a mile from here, but if you can take me even a little way, I’d appreciate it.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“I’d really rather not talk about it right now,” he said. “You’ll want to take a left at this next street.”
I didn’t take a left. “I’m sorry about what happened outside the bar,” I said. “I didn’t think he’d actually hit you.”
“When a guy’s peacocking, he kind of feels obligated,” Liam said. “You missed the turn, but you can take the next one.”
I didn’t take the next one. “I don’t even know what that means, but I’m sorry it happened anyway.”
“Where are we going?” Liam asked.
“I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately,” I told him. “I mean, I know as far as you and me goes, that ship’s pretty much sailed and sunk. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do about the rest of it, though. Getting the house fixed was a lot more than I thought it was going to be, and I still haven’t found a job that would even begin to cover—”
“No,” he interrupted, “I mean, where are you taking me right now. You’ve missed the last two turns, and if this is one of those Vanilla Sky things where you end up driving me over a bridge, I’d just like to know beforehand.”
“Oh,” I said. “Where am I turning?”
“You’ll have to flip a U-turn up here. It’s a few blocks back now.”
I got in the middle lane and waited for the oncoming traffic to clear. As I did, I felt a strange sort of bond with Liam, especially now that he looked on the outside the way I felt on the inside. It wasn’t so much that I felt sorry for him. I just had a feeling I knew what he was feeling. “So that was your truck getting towed?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I kind of overreacted.”
After a minute, the traffic cleared and I made my Uturn.
“All right,” he said as we started going in the other direction. “You can take fifth or sixth. It’ll be a right-hand turn.”
“Do you still have a job?” I asked.
He didn’t answer.
“Listen,” I said, “I know I screwed up, letting that guy pick me up when I was supposed to be meeting you and everything, but I didn’t think you were coming. I figured not showing up was your way of letting me know you didn’t want to see me again.”
“Yeah, well, it seems like I can’t get rid of you if I try.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Look, can we not do this?” he asked. “I really don’t feel like talking. It’ll be your next right.”
“I wanted to meet you at the bar because I wanted to talk to you,” I said. “I know that’s not the way it worked out, and to be honest, I don’t even know what I was planning to say if things had gone any differently, but I think we’d both feel a little better if we just cleared the air a little.”
“Okay, you missed it again, but you can take this next street,” he said impatiently. “It’s your next right.”
“Look, I know that our relationship is more or less founded on equal parts sex and mutual disdain, but I think maybe you’re not the frat boy I always thought you were.”
“It’s right up here. It’s a right turn,” he said. “Take a right—you missed it again.”
“Maybe that’s not the right way to say it, but I have to
tell you I was pretty pissed when I woke up to find you gone when that tree came through my roof,” I said. “It’s not like we had any sort of commitment to each other—I think we were both pretty clear about what that night was, but I was still pretty pissed. I think maybe I’ve held onto that feeling a little too long.”
“Are you actually going to take me home, or are we just going to drive up and down the street?” he asked. “If it’s the second, I think I’d rather you just let me out.”
I pulled over and put the car in park. Hitting the button to unlock the doors, I turned to Liam and said, “You can get out whenever you want, but there are some things I’d like to get off my chest, and I don’t know if I’m ever going to get the chance again.”
He sighed. “Fine,” he said. “What is it you want to talk about?”
The tone in his voice had me more than a little irritated, but I tried not to let it overwhelm what I was trying to say. “I’m saying that maybe if things were different, they could have… I don’t know,” I said.
“Are you telling me that if things were different, they could have been different?” he asked with a snide chuckle. “Well, thanks for letting me know. That’s certainly crucial information.”
“See? It’s stuff like that,” I said. “I know I’m not always Miss Pleasant-to-be-around, but—”
“You know what your problem is?” he interrupted.
I gripped the steering wheel. “What?”
“Your problem is that you want everything in the world to go exactly the way that you want it to, and you can’t deal with it when things go wrong,” he said. “If that tree hadn’t crashed into your house and you hadn’t ended up calling my company to get it fixed, do you really think you would have been pissed that I left? The way I remember it, you didn’t seem like you really wanted me there before I left. I figured you’d be relieved to wake up alone.”
“You know what your problem is?” I shot back.
“This should be good,” he scoffed.
“Your problem is, you think you know what’s best for everyone else, but you never really bother to take a look at yourself. If you did, you’d realize you’re not always right.”
“Well, this has been a good talk and everything, but if you’re not actually going to drive me home, I’m just going to—”
“What do you think it would have been like if the tree didn’t crash into my house and you didn’t sneak out in the middle of the night? Do you think anything more would have ever happened with us, or do you really think we would have just forgotten about each other?”
“How the hell am I supposed to know?” he asked.
“You haven’t thought about it?” I asked.
He shifted in his seat. “Well, sure, I thought about it, but I think reality’s been a pretty clear indication that it
wouldn’t have worked out.”
“Then why did we come back together the way we did, time after time?” I asked.
“You’re the one that kept grabbing me and kissing me,” he said.
“Yeah, but you kissed me back every time. You could have said you weren’t interested, and I don’t remember you complaining when we jumped back into bed together.”
“So, you’re saying it’s my fault?” he asked, furrowing his brow.
“I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault, or that there’s any fault to go around,” I said. “Look, maybe it’s just that the world hasn’t stopped crashing in on me since the day we met. Maybe I’m just looking for something to hold onto, and maybe that’s a mistake, but I know that I haven’t stopped thinking about you since we met. You’re under my skin, and before I let you out of my life, I’d like to figure out if there’s a bigger reason for that.”
“What kind of reason?” he asked.
“Maybe there is something there, and we’re both so scared at the thought of anything going well, we’ve done everything we could to sabotage it,” I said. This wasn’t how I had expected to spend my evening, but it actually felt good saying what I was saying. The words gave some sense of clarity, even if it was all speculation.
“What are you suggesting?” he asked. “Are you saying we should take it as a sign from the gods and run
off and get married or something?”
“No,” I said. “I’m just wondering if we should take it as a sign that there’s something there and maybe we should see if there is. I’m not talking marriage,” I said, cringing at the word. “I’m talking about coffee or dinner at a restaurant. I’m talking about maybe we should get to know each other a little bit better and find out if it’s just lust and stress-relief, or if we might actually like each other.”
He sighed and looked out his window. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a pretty rough day,” he said. “You may remember, I kind of got into a fight earlier. Add to that embarrassing myself and my boss to the point that I lost a pretty solid gig, I’m not sure if right now is any time for me to see that sort of thing clearly.”
I didn’t know what to say next. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted. Maybe it was just tension and release that was behind the entirety of our relationship, maybe not. Still, I was ready to find out. “You frustrate me more than pretty much anyone I’ve ever met,” I said. “You walk into the room, and I grit my teeth. At the same time, I’ve never felt passion the way I did with you. Maybe that’s just anger mixed with arousal, but you can’t tell me you haven’t felt the same thing. I don’t know if I’m just clinging to the thought of something happening with us because it’s the only time I’ve felt like I was in control of a god damned thing since I lost my job, but I know when I walked out of that bar, before I spotted your truck parked outside, I was looking for an escape route. I didn’t want to be with that guy, and I knew it. I wasn’t really attracted to him—I couldn’t be—because the whole time I was sitting there talking to him, I felt like I
was cheating on you. I know that’s stupid, because we’ve never been committed to each other or anything, but he wasn’t you, and that’s what pissed me off more than anything else.”
He was quiet a minute. Finally, in a quiet voice, he asked, “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Now, I don’t know what that is and I don’t pretend to, but that’s not something that just happens to me. You’ll forgive me if I’d like to figure that out before I drop you off and we never see each other again.”
I don’t know what I expected him to say. We’d never really spoken like this to each other, and I’d be lying if I said it was comfortable. So much about Liam was a mystery buried under months of telling myself whatever I could to not get attached. Mostly, I was scared. I’d just put myself out there, and I didn’t like my chances that he was going to meet me halfway.
Still, it wouldn’t have hurt if he’d managed to say something, anything at all, other than, “I really should get home.” Epilogue Just the Way it Goes Ellie There I was, back on my regular barstool at Patrick’s Bar & Grill. It was late, probably eleven-thirty, when the
bartender asked if I’d like anything else.
“No,” I said, “I’m good.”
I’d dialed back on the drinking since the night Liam and I first met. At that moment, I was sipping from a hot mug of peppermint tea.
The good news was that I’d finally found a job. It didn’t pay as well as my old one, but there was room for growth. Things would be tight for a while, but I’d make it, though it was going to be a while before I could manage to finish paying off what I owed to Bernard Construction.
A man sat in the stool next to me and ordered himself a drink. “Mind if I sit here?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Just keep your hands to yourself, and I don’t care.”
He laughed. “Bad day?”
“No,” I said. “Actually, it’s been a pretty good one. I just wanted to set down ground rules before you start thinking sitting next to me means anything more than it does.”
“You’re the kind of person who overthinks things, aren’t you?” the man asked. “But sure, I’ll keep my hands to myself.”
The bartender came back with the man’s drink, and he and I didn’t speak much as he sucked it down.
I’d seen Jack about a week before, some new woman clinging to his arm like there was a strong wind and she
was afraid of getting blown away. I thought about walking up and warning her, but then it occurred to me I didn’t listen when other people warned me about him. I’d lost friends over it, and I was only starting to get them back. I don’t know, maybe the woman would have listened, but I wasn’t going to follow the man around for the rest of his life just to warn off anyone who fell for his lies. Thanks to Incipio Insurance & Co., I already had a full-time job.
“Can I buy you a drink?” the man sitting next to me asked.
I glanced up at him. He was attractive in a rugged, trying-too-hard kind of way. Eyeing him, I answered, “You can, but only if you’re not going to read too much into it.”
He laughed and motioned to the bartender, saying, “I’ll do my best.” The bartender came over and the man motioned to me, saying, “I’ll have another martini, and whatever the lady would like.”
The bartender looked at me, asking, “The usual?”
I nodded and he went on his way. “You know a martini is about the most pretentious drink you can order,” I said.
“I like the taste,” he said. “If that makes me pretentious, then I guess I’m pretentious.”
My drink came, another peppermint tea, and I gulped it down. Setting the glass on the counter, I got up from my stool and leaned over to whisper in the man’s ear, “Come with me.”
He looked like he was trying to figure out if I was serious, but he got up quick enough as I started walking for the door. This kind of thing had only really worked out for me that one time, and even then, it led to untold weeks of frustration. The key to any experiment, though, is whether or not it can be repeated. I was about to find out.
When the two of us stepped out onto the sidewalk, I asked the man how much he’d had to drink that night. He said, “Just those two drinks. I’m parked just down the block.”
I walked with him and got into his car. It was an old beater, some model I couldn’t remember seeing anyone drive, though I recalled seeing a few of them broken down on the side of the road over the years.
“Where are we headed?” he asked.
“Judging by the state of your car, I’d say my place. I get the feeling I’d probably end up with fleas or something if we went back to yours.”
“You really like the whole edgy approach, don’t you?” he asked, laughing. “Tell me where to go.”
I gave the directions and we got back to my house. Getting out, the neighborhood was quiet. It was a good thing for me that nobody was out and about, as I didn’t really want to be seen getting out of a car whose main color was rust.
It was a windy night, and as we walked toward the house, I couldn’t help but eye the tree on the opposite side of my house from the one that had fallen. It swayed
back and forth a little, but not enough for me to have a panic attack about it.
Reaching the front door, I took out my keys and said, “Now, I don’t want you thinking this means anything.”
“Don’t you think we’re a little past that, Ellie?” he asked.
I stopped with the key halfway in the lock and I turned toward Liam, saying, “You know, if you can’t stay in character—”
“I know, I know,” he said. “Yeah, I won’t think it’s more than it is. After all, you’re just some woman I picked up in a bar.”
“Technically,” I said, “I picked you up. You bought me a drink, sure, but I’m the one that did all the work.”
“Whatever,” he said. “Are we going inside or not?”
“Keep that tone and the only thing you’re going inside tonight is your shitty car on your way to a hotel,” I said. This was my favorite role to play. It was always a little more fun than it probably should have been talking down to Liam. It helped that he could give as well as he could get.
The door wasn’t even closed when I felt his arms wrap around me, and I kicked the door closed with my feet as we fell into a deep, passionate kiss. The night that I saw Liam walking down the sidewalk as his truck was towed in the opposite direction, after I dropped him off at his place, I went back home, expecting just another crappy night. I honestly didn’t expect the phone to ring,
and when it did, I sure as hell didn’t expect Liam to be the one on the other end of the line.
This was our first night living together. In a way, it still felt like we were moving a little quickly, but every step he and I took together had only ever made things better. You know, once we realized we actually liked each other.
His hands moving down my back, he kissed my neck as his fingers curled around the bottom of my shirt and pulled it off of me. With one hand, he reached up and unclasped my bra.
“You’re getting pretty good at that,” I whispered.
“Now who’s falling out of character?” Liam said.
“Oh, shut up,” I returned, unfastening his belt.
His pants sliding down to the floor, he pulled off his shirt as I crouched down to free his cock from inside his boxers. He was already hard, and I gazed up at him through the dim light of the moon coming through my windows as I took him into my mouth.
He swelled between my lips, and I ran my tongue over the bottom of his member as I felt myself already growing so wet with anticipation.
Standing back up, my hand encircling him, stroking him, Liam kissed me on the mouth as he lifted the front of my skirt. His hand was hot electricity as it moved over my waiting pussy, and I jerked him all the more as he slid two fingers into me.
In a lot of ways, we were still figuring each other out.
We were both just as headstrong as we were when we met, and that wasn’t likely to ever change, but it turned out that if we listened to each other, we didn’t do half bad together.
Sliding his fingers from inside my crease, Liam rubbed my clit with the pad of his fingers and I was finding it harder and harder to keep my knees from buckling beneath me.
“Put your arms around my neck,” he said, and I did. A moment later, his hands were gripping the bare skin of my ass beneath my skirt, and he lifted me up until I had my legs wrapped around him. My skirt already bunched up around my waist, he teased my center, running the tip of himself against my slick, eager opening.
He slid inside me, cradling me in his powerful arms, and I rested my forehead against his shoulder as I let out a long, pleasured sigh.
“I like a man who takes charge,” I whispered, not sure anymore if we were still bothering with the roleplay.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he whispered back, lifting me again and again up and down the length of him. “Do you have a bedroom?” he asked.
“That’s a stupid question,” I responded, coming down a bit harder over him as if that was going to be some sort of punishment for either of us.
“Keep doing that, and I’ll have to start asking nothing but,” he said.
“In the back,” I said.
Closing my eyes, we kissed as he carried me from the front room into the hall, and finally into the bedroom. I wasn’t quite sure how he didn’t run either of us into anything, but we made it to the bed easily enough and he laid me down on my back. He was inside me the whole time.
The more I was with him the more I wanted to be with him. We’d gotten off to a rocky start to be sure, but he was a good man. Not to mention, he could turn me on more than anyone I’d ever met in my life. The feeling seemed to be mutual.
He pushed further into me, and I grinded over him as he kept himself so deep inside. I could see the little beads of sweat forming over his brow, reflected in the gentle light that came through my bedroom window.
We kissed. As he pulled away, I put my hands on his chest, feeling his firm pecs bare and hot against my skin. I looked up and into his eyes just in time to see his mouth form the words, “I love you,” and then I watched as his eyes went wide with fear as the wind gusted outside and what we would find out a moment later was a large limb from my tree out front fell onto the roof with a loud crash.
I never came so hard in my life.
Excerpt from Unexpected
Chapter One As he walked down the aisle for the second time, I felt the world tilt sideways. I reached out to grab something, anything, to steady myself, but I knew nothing would make this better – nothing would make this go away. The entire room was achingly silent as we watched him make his way back down the aisle, striding quickly as he tried to avoid eye contact with anyone in the pews around us. Instead, I felt their eyes on me; felt the overwhelming sympathy and embarrassment as they took in what had just happened to me. The bridal party exchanged looks around me — I could feel them, but I didn’t care to look at any of them. After all this planning, all this time, it had all been called off with a soft “I can’t do this” only moments ago. Talk about an anti-climax. Finally, someone coughed out there in the pewsthere were at least a hundred people, but each and every one of them had been utterly silent since the news broke. My head snapped up as I tried to figure out who had made the noise, tried to place it — but it was futile. The silence was broken, and suddenly a wave of whispers overtook the crowd, and what had actually just happened hit me like a ton of bricks. Without lifting my head, I paced quickly away from the altar, towards a small door to the left of the chapel that would let me back out into the hotel. I heard some footsteps behind me, some muttered conciliation, but I ignored it. I didn’t want it. How could I? What had happened here, it would never leave me. This was a liferuiner, a game-changer. Nothing would be the same after
this. I made it outside before the tears started to fall, and when they did, they came fast and hard and hot, pouring down my face. I blindly groped my way back up to the hotel room. I’d slept there last night, excited and a little nervous, in preparation for everything that was going to happen the next day. How could I not have seen it coming? How could he have hidden this from me? Why did he wait till the moment we were supposed to pledge our lives to each other to tell me that that was the last thing he wanted? Tam, I needed to find Tam. My maid of honor, my best friend, the only person who might be able to drag me out of the mess I’d found myself in. As soon as I was in my room, I reached for my phone and pulled up her number, quickly dialing and holding it to my ear. She would probably already be pursuing me, and she was almost never without her cell, tapping out messages to unknown suitors. Before she could answer, I heard a knock on the door. I apprehensively went to answer it- but as soon as I saw who was there, I threw it open. “Tam,” I managed, and went to put my arms around her. She looked beautiful, long dark hair tied up in a delicate bun at the top of her head, the gorgeous dress we’d picked out together hugging her waist and skimming over her hips. She stepped out of the way of my hug before I could get to her, and pushed past me into the room. She seemed…off. “What is it?” I asked, a little resentment bubbling in my chest. Why wasn’t she looking after me? Even offering a scrap of comfort? After everything that had happened… “Kyra, I’m only going to say this once,” she finally
turned to me. “Because David was meant to, and he obviously pussied out.” “Huh?” I blinked at her stupidly. What was she trying to tell me? “David and I are together,” she replied bluntly, not meeting my gaze. “We never should have let the wedding get this far. I’m sorry, but we’re leaving together. We’re doing it now.” “W…what?” Her words bounced around my head, catching on the corners of my brain as they went. No. No. This couldn’t be right. The two people I loved most in the world, they wouldn’t do this to me. They couldn’t. They loved me too. Didn’t they? “I said, I’m only saying it once,” she snapped. “Look, I’m sorry it had to happen like this. But we’re in love and we’re not going to hide that anymore. Good luck with… everything. I’ll get rid of the guests so you don’t have to deal with them.” And with that, she was gone. I stared at the space she had occupied for at least a minute, blankly trying to take in what she had told me. At first, I refused to believe it. She must have been covering, trying to hide something he’d done, something worse that she didn’t want me knowing. But then…the pieces began to slot together. I downed the entirety of the complimentary bottle of champagne that had been delivered to my suite that morning as it finally became obvious that what she had told me was true. The nights he would go “out of town” matched up with all the times she’d been out with some mysterious guy, the guy whose name she’d never given me. All the little looks I’d seen them exchange, and been proud of because it meant that my best friend and my
husband-to-be were actually friends, and how many women got to say that and mean it? Those times when I’d left the room and returned to find them both looking… different. All the times when I’d cast it off as nothing, because the alternative was awful. The alternative was this. A few other people came by my room, tapping on my door; Mom slipped a note under it, telling me that she would be back home when I wanted to talk and we could figure things out. That she and Dad were thinking of me but knew I needed my space. A hotelier dropped by to call through the door about cancellation fees. Another couple of knocks that I refused to answer, too exhausted and drunk and devastated to think of much else. And then, late in the evening, when I’d assumed that everyone had already left, another knock came. This one was firm and heavy- three short, and two long. I lifted my head, dashing the tears away from my eyes as best I could manage. “Hello?” I called out, my voice wavering. “Uh, Kyra?” A voice I recognized came drifting through from the hallway outside. “Can I come in?” “Sure,” I sighed, and went to open the door. The man standing outside I hadn’t seen in years before that day; like David, he’d attended the same high school as me. Jones and David had been best friends, sporadically keeping in contact after Jones left to chase a career playing football- I was surprised when David invited him along to the wedding, as his best man no less, and even more so when Jones agreed. Still, at that moment, I was glad to see a friendly face, even if it was one I hadn’t seen for such a long time. He ducked under the door- at well over six feet, he had to just to get into the room. He towered over me, all
strong arms and lean muscle, as he made his way to to the bed and sat on the edge. He was holding a bottle of wine, and proffered it out to me once he sat down. “You want some?” “I’ve already had enough today,” I shook my head. Then I took the bottle from him anyway, opened it, and took a swig. “Yeah, I don’t think there is enough alcohol for today,” he commented, smiling at me sympathetically. “Is everyone gone?” I asked as I finished my swig, and he nodded. “Yeah, everyone’s out,” he ran his fingers through his dark brown hair, messing up the perfect styling he’d had done for the wedding. “I told them that I wasn’t going till I saw you, though.” “Thanks,” I replied, feeling myself choking up again. I swallowed my tears and nodded towards his suit. “I think the last time I saw you this dressed up we were at prom.” “That long ago?” He grinned, playing along, knowing I needed to be distracted. “Don’t remind me of that.” “Yeah, I think so,” I nodded, managing a small smile. “You remember? All the dumb music and the drama…” “Oh God, how could I forget?” He shook his head. “The whole thing was such a build-up to nothing. Everyone thought they were going to get drunk and lose their virginity and I don’t think anyone got past one beer and second base.” I spluttered with laughter, feeling slightly human for the first time since that morning, when it had all happened. I pushed that thought from my head — the drunkenness lingering at the corners of my vision was reminding me of the crush I’d had on Jones all the way through high school and how, finally, I was single again. “Hey, the open bar still stands,” I remarked. “How
about we get changed out of these fancy clothes and go get drunk as hell?” “Sounds like a great idea,” he agreed. “Meet you down there?” A few minutes later, I had slipped into something far more comfortable — namely, stripping out of my outrageously pinchy corseted and stiff-skirted wedding dress and into a pair of jeans and a sweater. Jones was waiting for me at the bottom of the hotel stairs, and offered me an arm. “Milady,” he grinned as I approached, and I couldn’t help but smile. Yes, my entire life had been ripped away from me only that morning, but all I wanted to do at that moment in time was forget about it all and have a little fun. I hadn’t had fun in a long time, what with all the wedding planning, and I was thoroughly looking forward to having a good time with Jones that night. “The bartenders all went home, but the bar’s still open,” he explained. “I did some tending back in college if you what anything fancy?” “Can I just have a beer?” I sighed. David had always insisted on drinking fancy bottles of wine whenever we went out, but I loved nothing more than a strong, cold brew. Jones shrugged. “Whatever the lady wants,” he agreed as we arrived at the bar- the place was dark but for a few emergency lights, and he swiftly vaulted the polished wood bar and pulled out a couple of glasses. I laughed in surprise as he poured me a beer and got himself a scotch. I took a sip, and observed him for a moment. “Why did you stay?” I asked suddenly. It didn’t make any sense — why wouldn’t he just go? David was his friend, after all, and it wasn’t like he owed anything to me or anyone else here. He wasn’t the one having an affair
with one of the bridal attendants. “Because I wanted to remind you that not every guy you know is a complete asshole,” he shrugged. “And someone needed to make sure you were okay.” “Well, thanks for that,” I replied, lifting my glass and touching it against his. “But I’m not sure I’ll ever believe in men again.” “I don’t think anyone could blame you,” he agreed, looking around the enormous, empty room. “I can’t believe what he did to you. That’s maybe the most douche-bag thing I ever heard of.” “You know he was having an affair with my maid of honor? That’s who he left to be with,” I leaned in, enjoying the chance to spread some gossip. Jones’ eyebrows shot up, and he shook his head. “Damn, and to think I came out here to support that fuck,” he shuddered with apparent disgust. “I can’t believe I never saw what a shitty person he was.” “Hey, don’t beat yourself up, I didn’t either,” I shrugged. “And you haven’t seen him in so long. How were you meant to know?” “I guess you’re right,” he agreed. “Well, I think you know who’s side I’m on here. Anything you need, I’m with you.” “Anything?” I cocked an eyebrow playfully, and he finished his scotch. “Anything.” I stared at Jones for a moment. He met my gaze firmly, his pale green eyes flashing in the dim light around us. I took another swig of my beer, and finally plucked up the courage to do something that I’d wanted to do for a long, long time. My mind flashed back to the first time I’d seen him, in my math class freshman year of high school, and how I’d felt that jolt of attraction, the
shot to my heart that told me this guy was hot. As I stared at him in that hotel bar, wanting nothing more than to do something I actually wanted to do, after so long spent deferring to David and everyone else around me. I needed some fun after all that had happened and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to have it. I leaned across the bar, placed my hand on his cheek, and kissed him. He seemed surprised at my advance, but his tongue slipped quickly past my lips, exploring me, tasting me. Heat pulsed through my veins as he pulled me up on to the bar and laid me down on the dark wood, brushing my hair from my face. “You sure you want to do this?” He panted. “Fuck, yes,” I replied, reaching up and grabbing his face again. I knew the CCTV cameras would catch us, and didn’t care- hell, it just turned me on even more. His body felt strong and heavy on top of mine, and I ran my hands down his back, pulling up his t-shirt and exposing his muscled neck and shoulders. He moved his head, kissing down my throat, and I threw my head back to allow him more access. After everything that had happened, my inhibitions were out the window, completely gone- and it felt incredible. He moved down, yanking my sweater off over my head and throwing it to the ground, hooking his fingers into my bra cup and exposing my breasts. He teased my nipples with his teeth, lightly grazing my skin with his lips and making me shudder. I was already growing wet as he moved further down, pressing kisses along my hips and slowly shuffling my jeans downs my legs so I was in nothing but a bra and panties. The cold air prickled my skin but I couldn’t have cared less, aching for more, aching for him. He kissed me once, lightly, through my panties, and I
let out a loud groan — the heat of his mouth against my pussy was too much to bear. I needed him inside me, needed to lose myself to the feeling of him. “Fuck me,” I murmured, and he looked up, his eyes glowing from where he lay between my legs. “You sure?” He panted, and I nodded. “Fuck me!” I repeated, his time with more force, and he didn’t need telling twice. InI a scramble, we tossed aside the rest of our clothes, and he sheathed himself quickly. I climbed on top of him, pushing him down on to the counter. I felt deviant and sexy, totally in control, as I wrapped my hand around the base of his cock and lowered myself down on his impressive length. “Ah,” I moaned as he penetrated me, his cock filling me in the most satisfying fashion I could imagine. He gripped my hips and watched me as I placed my hands on his chest and began to move up and down on top of him. I took my time at first, using him for my pleasure, and soon began to build up a pace, letting my mouth drop open and my eyes close as I forced him deeper and deeper inside of me. He felt so good- his chest muscular and strong beneath my hands, his arms powerful as they held me up-when he suddenly flipped me over on to my back, the small growl he let out into my ear was almost enough to push me over the edge there and then. “Are you going to come?” He panted in my ear, running his hands up my legs and pushing them back so he could get even deeper inside of me. And that was all I needed to hear — his invocation, as if he drew it out of me. I let out a small cry and let my head fall back as it hit me, my climax sweeping through my body. It felt almost cathartic as my pussy clenched around him, again and again, as though I was letting go
of everything that had happened. As if I was making a statement on my new start. He came a few moments later, thrusting deep and groaning in my ear before slowly withdrawing himself from me and disposing of the condom. I lay, panting, and watched him as he moved around -God, he was hot. As hot as he’d been in high school, at least. I reached up to run my fingers down his strong arms, and he turned to look at me, grinning widely. And then, he dived down on top of me once more, gripping and grasping and grabbing at me, and we had lost ourselves to each other once more.
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