My Summer in London Title Page Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four
London exchange student Serena didn’t expect to be attracted to the host’s sons, the daredevil Archer and the sizzling hotter than thou Cruz Elliot. Not only was Cruz the hottest thing Serena had ever set her eyes upon, but he was also about to be engaged. Stuck between the intense pull of temptation and doing the right thing, she decided to ignore her feelings, merely leading her on a tumultuous ride of emotions.
“The heart that truly loves never forgets.” - Proverbs
“Miss Serena?” The butler with his bushy yet well-kept eyebrows eyed me with hesitation. “Miss Serena Woods?” he reiterated. Making a slight smile, I nodded towards him. “Yes, that’s me,” I whispered timidly. His less than warm approach made me feel somehow intimidated. I was sure he could sense that about me. Nervously, I cleared my throat, arching my back a little as I fixed my posture. “Is this the home of Mrs. Margery Elliot?” “That it is, young lady,” he uttered in a deep, timbered voice before snapping his fingers. In the blink of an eye, a middle-aged woman appeared to fetch my measly luggage before the standoffish butler opened the door wider, silently inviting me inside. There was no doubt in my mind that I was out of my depth as I noted my surroundings with immense awe. I’d had no clue Mom had such prominent connections, yet there I was, an exchange student in London for a whole year. My parents had a decent amount of income, but nothing of this magnitude. Apparently, my mother had once been a neighbor to a woman who married some wealthy Brit, one who had some serious health issues and only recently passed away after a serious battle with liver damage for over twenty-five years. Upon receiving the devastating news, my mother was concerned for her friend, and in the span of a week, she had concocted an ingenious idea. Well,
according to her. I wasn’t all that excited when she suggested I study abroad after my devastating break up with Aaron, my boyfriend of four years. Daunted by my failed relationship and a gnawing need for space, I had succumbed to my mother’s insistence, resulting in my present location in London. Chelsea, to be precise. “This is Anne. She’ll accompany you to your rooms and help you unpack. You will have approximately an hour to unwind before tea. Would you like that to be brought to you, or would you like to have it out in the garden?” Tea? I wasn’t sure if I even liked tea. I was more of a coffee drinker than anything. “Well, I was more hoping to meet Margery before anything else.” “Mrs. Elliott will be joining you soon. She’ll be back in time for tea,” he quietly informed before giving me a final nod, indicating he was dismissing me. Not knowing what to do, I glanced at Anne before saying, “All right. Okay, I guess.” “Come with me, Miss Serena,” Anne said chirpily as she started to stride towards the long, winding stairs that were so superbly polished I could clearly see my reflection without a problem. Trailing behind her as my eyes gathered my opulent surroundings, I didn’t notice we had come to a halt until she stood and opened the two doors that led to the most beautiful bedroom I would probably ever sleep in for the rest of my life.
The lovely trappings consisted of silk beddings with contrasting pastels and earth colors. It was vibrant and exuded warmth at the same time. “Mrs. Elliot had this quickly redecorated for your arrival. The final touches were done merely a couple days ago. It’s lovely, isn’t it?” She beamed at me as her eyes admired the newly furbished surroundings. It was beyond lovely. It was … “Exquisite,” I whispered, still in awe of the understated elegance Mrs. Elliot had arranged because of my arrival. “It’s very generous of her to do something so nice.” I think I like her already, I silently added as my smile grew. “It gave her something to do. It was a brilliant suggestion by her son.” Anne was a shy and timid woman who seemed to be in her early thirties. She had a warm, inviting smile and a pleasant demeanor that made me feel comfortable in her presence. How thoughtful of him. My mom was most likely right. Coming here for a study program not only could help me get all the breakup negativity out of my mind, but at the same time, it would be beneficial to have a long-term houseguest for Mrs. Elliot. It was a win-win. Striding to the partially opened French windows with a cozy settee next to it, my finger touched the velvety texture of an orchid before I heard someone clear their throat. It sounded so deep I instantly knew it hadn’t come from Anne, but from someone I hadn’t met before.
I spun around, hoping to greet the person, but I lost my voice the moment my eyes landed on him. I felt as though my entire body was sledge hammered with something so fierce I literally was out of breath. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever set my eyes upon. There was an air about him, the grand machismo, something formidable that made me aware he was decisive when it came to what he wanted, and he went after it without hesitation. Who was he? More importantly, how old was this man? My crazed mind instantly halted when he threw me a crooked, lazy smile, and I swooned on the spot, much to my own embarrassment. “Serena?” Damn, of course he would be packaged with a husky, sexierthan-thou voice. Still looking like I hadn’t seen a perfect male specimen before, I made a facial expression that seemed as if I was in pain, which must have amused him because he laughed a little. I supposed he was used to these awkward encounters. “I’m Cruz, Margery’s son,” Mr. Perfection introduced himself with a toe-curling, lopsided grin as he strode towards me, facial pain expression and all. I instantly felt faint when those vivid, metallic eyes captured me. Holy fucking heaven and hell.
“How do you like London? Is this your first time?” Margery Elliot asked me in a soft, gracious tone. Apart from the terminal and the view from the cab, I hadn’t seen much of the city. Making a small smile, I made a curt nod. “Yes.” Ma’am? Madam? Everyone was so formal here; as a result, I wasn’t sure how to address her. Maybe Mrs. Elliot would do, like how the rest addressed her in her household? Yeah, it sounded much better. “I … uh … This is my first time.” Margery was very well poised, and with the way she spoke, it was as if she was saying something beautiful all the time. It was impressive and hypnotizing at the same time, which made me wonder if she even knew or remembered how to yell at all. She was very soft spoken, very unlike my spontaneous, temperamental yet passionate mother. After inquiring about my mom and my life back in Cali, she then directed her attention to her son, asking about some event they were organizing. The opportunity of them conversing gave me a chance to study him unnoticed. After our peculiar introduction upstairs, I was surprised Cruz stuck around to join his mother and me for tea. If the situation were reversed, I would most likely stay the heck away from someone who couldn’t stop staring at me, which was, by the way, hard to do, even when I was sitting across from him and his mother. It was like my eyes were trained on him. Whatever he did—
clear his throat, smile, speak, or the way he sipped his tea—I took it all in, and thus far, I hadn’t found anything repulsive about him. For the past thirty minutes, I had been trying to find something that would turn me off, yet he still remained perfection. The ends of his hair curled on the sides, and I was itching to touch them. It reminded me of JFK Junior’s hair, but much better because Cruz had silver eyes, like hot molten mercury, indefinable, untouchable, unattainable. It was extraordinary for me to be sitting here, sipping tea, mindlessly having a conversation, all the while day dreaming about the guy sitting across from me. Apart from niceties, he hadn’t really said much to me. “I’m home!” a loud voice came from down the hall, making me instantly tense, while Margery perked up at the booming voice. “That must be Archer, my youngest son,” she informed me with a proud smile. “Archer?” she gently called out to him. “The one and only,” Archer loudly responded as he entered the sitting room. Dressed in all black, he took the available seat next to me before extending his hand. “Ah, you must be the mysterious Serena. Welcome to the family.” Oh, God. Brothers, two blindingly hot brothers, one with silver eyes and the other blue, but almost alike. The only difference was the height and muscle mass. Though Cruz was clearly the better looking of the two, Archer, I assumed, was the friendliest because he already felt comfortable around me by the way he was sitting too close for propriety’s sake.
“Are you here to join us for dinner?” Cruz asked him in a cool manner. “Not entirely. I’m just here to check-in is all. I have this thing tonight that I have to attend …” He trailed off before granting me his sole attention. “Want to come? I’d like to show you around.” Before I had the chance to respond to Archer’s question, Cruz butted in by asking, “And what do you mean by this ‘thing’? Your usual parties and conquests, I take it?” Archer rolled his eyes at his brother. “Oh, do cheer up, Cruz. You act as if you’re not merely a few years older than myself. It’s a bloody party, not a funeral.” “Why don’t you both take her?” Margery cheerily proposed, lightening the mood after the short-term burst of tension. “I’m sure Serena would love to see what people your age do around here.” Yes, please do, I silently encouraged, too giddy at the thought of having alone time with Cruz, even if it was with his brother. “The scene wouldn’t be fitting for Cruz,” Archer stated in a mocking tone. “And what scene would that be?” his less than pleased brother flung the question at him, seeming more irritated than before. “Fun folks. You’re more into uptight, bore fests and air kisses.” The irritation that was pasted on his face seconds ago seemed to have disappeared, and in came the cool, collected Cruz. “Just because I’m the responsible one, it doesn’t make me a boring person.” “You really need to stop fighting like hounds. Your father
would be aghast to see you two bicker like ten-year-olds,” Margery reprimanded them, hoping to put a halt to their nonstop counterarguments. Archer shrugged. “Fine. All right. I’ll lessen the jabs.” He cocked his chin towards his brother before giving him a shit-eating grin. “All jests aside, dear brother, I do highly respect you.” “Brilliant, then I’m coming along,” Cruz stated, seeming pleased with himself. “That settles it, then,” their mother commented, finalizing everything. Oh, dear. Two brothers who were competitive against each other: check. One chick who was hyperventilating at the thought of partying with not one but two gorgeous men on her side: check. This ought to be an interesting night.
Chapter Three Before I arrived in London, I wouldn’t have pegged myself as the type to ponder what to wear for a night out with guys. I wasn’t that kind of girl. Well, I thought I wasn’t … until tonight. The contender was between a pink mini dress and a denim skirt, matched with a cream, sheer, lacey, silk chiffon. Since I was a So Cal kinda gal, I tended to opt for clothes that were pretty and comfortable; therefore, the skirt and silk chiffon won my decision in the end. Once the clothing debacle was over and done with, it was time to test out the newly refurbished bathroom with the deep Victorian bath that closely resembled a coffin. Odd thoughts aside, the vintage-esque feel of modern meets old money was a nice mesh of where I was in my life in this moment. With my background, I wasn’t trained in historical art, which the whole country practically was comprised of. The intricate details on the buildings were extraordinary. I hoped to learn as much as I could before going back home. Obviously, they did things differently here, and more importantly, since the Elliots were a different breed than I was used to, it would be an interesting dynamic to witness. I wouldn’t consider myself an awkward outcast. In fact, I was popular in my old school, being that I was on the cheerleading squad, dance, and in theatre, which was the polar opposite to my business finance major. As a result, moving here and starting from scratch with no friends or family to speak of was terrifying.
However, along with those feelings, there was a lot of excitement, as well, because the unknown was—well, it was the unknown, and who knew what could transpire in a year. Although living in the same household with two dashingly handsome men definitely ignited a lot of excitement. I mean, who wouldn’t be? Keeping this kind of company would place Aaron in the dust … until I barely even remembered him. Yeah, this was the upside of going away for a year after a painful break-up. It was easy to get on and live life again. Being far away from home was thrilling, not to mention being around guys who were interesting and quite different than me. Regardless, my main goal in coming here was to have experience and to see if I could possibly qualify for an internship somewhere. That would definitely be the icing on the already lavish, scrumptious cake. # “Where’s your brother?” The question flew out my lips the moment I found Archer. Instead of greeting him like one normally would, I regarded him like we were old friends and not an acquaintance trying to bond, hoping to merge into a friendship. I was hoping my major blunder on etiquette wasn’t noted as I tried to cover my reddening cheeks with an easygoing smile. “He had to tend to something on short notice, so he might not be able to join us after all,” Archer responded without hesitation as he studied my outfit with gusto before beaming at me. “But cheer up. At least you’ll have me all to yourself.” He then winked at me before laughing at his own expense. Playing along, all the while grinning like a blushing idiot at his
penetrating eyes, I couldn’t help blossoming from his intense scrutiny. “My, aren’t you the forward kind?” “That, I am. I promise not to disappoint.” His smile grew wider, his eyes sparkling like diamonds as he sexily cocked his head to the side. Fuck. He was too suave at flirting, while I was new to all of this. Four years of being in a monogamous relationship had made me rusty. His thick, dark hair and impressively magnetic blue eyes put the word dreamy to shame. Therefore, even though his hunk of a brother wasn’t around, Archer wasn’t one to be brushed off, either. It’s as if Cruz was the demigod and Archer the god—not as amazing as the demigod, but still a god. And yes, he could also easily make my heart speed up like crazy. I knew it was superficial and too cliché, but hell, my body was acting of its own accord. I mean, in all seriousness, I was a twentyone-year-old living in a new country, living in a new house. Everything was foreign and different, and the newly minted me wanted to come out and play. Yes, playing would be nice. I wasn’t trying to shamelessly justify my flirtation by blaming my heartbreak and trying to move on from it, but after the hurt, I deserved to live like normal girls my age would—living life to the fullest. Consequently, that was what I wanted to do—live life with no regrets. Right this instant would be a good start … “Well, how about we put those words to action?” I challenged
him with a wicked glint in my eyes, raising my brow. “Christ, I do love bossy women with itty, bitty skirts.” “Man, you’re really going to take this up another notch.” I gave a small laugh before sending him a steady look. “Now that we’ve both established that you’re a serial flirt, are you ready to be a good host and take me to this party I’ve been hearing all afternoon or what?” “Someday, I might be tempted to take you to the wild side. For now, though, I’ll play along with you,” Archer stated as if he already knew it was going to happen before he led me towards the main door, ready to begin our nighttime festivities. It was arrogant of him to assume, but what bothered me more was the fact that I actually was curious about it … and maybe a little excited, too. Maybe it was his accent that was making me think crazy thoughts. Fuck, don’t get me started with the accent. It was downright lethal. Simple flirting, I could do. Sex-talk flirting, on the other hand … Well, I was rusty with that one. To be successful at it, one had to be confident within her own skin, have a boatload of attitude, and have mastered the technique of eye fucking. The first I easily could do. The second, I probably needed some sort of practice. As for the third … Hmm, I shouldn’t dare try in fear of being mistaken as a nymphomaniac with some serious eye problem. Sometimes, it was better to be safe than sorry. I believed in trying new things, but that? Not so much. “Of course you’d be driving a sex machine,” I exclaimed the moment I saw his red car. It was one of those expensive, sporty
ones that screamed machismo, control, and sexiness wrapped into one. Archer threw me an amused look as he smiled from ear to ear. “Oh, yeah? Is that what they call it in America?” “Amongst other things …” Yep, the car matched its owner: über sexy and full of machismo. Kids my age didn’t drive these types of cars; as a result, I was beyond excited to see how powerful it was and how fast it could go. Archer played the chivalrous guy by opening my door. Nevertheless, just before closing it, he leaned over close to my ear, close enough to make me shiver yet enough distance away to avoid being too intrusive. “You’d be pleased to know this isn’t the only engine I drive superbly well, machine or otherwise,” he whispered in a teasing tone. I wasn’t going to lie—okay, it wasn’t as if my body could lie for me since it was panting as if I’d had my first orgasm—but, fuck … He was so aggressive and arrogant I couldn’t help reacting to his advances. I had been in his company for what, like ten minutes, and it was already a full speed chase? Um … I needed a breather. Like stat. “Archer, you’re hot, but do you really have to be so flirty every second you’re with me? I’m calling a five minute timeout.” I was attracted to him—who wouldn’t be? Seriously, though, it was exhausting to flirt. I’d had no idea until then. “A timeout?” Archer mused before turning on the powerful engine, which vibrated and roared to life. Shifting gears, he cocked
his head to the side, giving me a challenging look. “You’re a laugh, you know that? I like it,” he declared before pressing on the gas pedal and driving like the daredevil he was. I’m a laugh. Did that mean I was funny, or did that translate to me being laughable? I wasn’t sure how to interpret it. Who would have thought proper English could be this confusing? I sure as hell hadn’t seen it coming.
“Denim skirt, how typical,” a pompous, goddess of a woman snidely remarked at my outfit. A little over five minutes in, this was the kind of haughtiness I was greeted with. Sure, she was skinny and out of your mind beautiful, but fuck, she was the ultimate bitch of the highest denominator. She acted as if my denim skirt was criminal. There was nothing wrong with it. I liked my denims, with or without anyone’s fucking approval, thank you very much. Ignoring the bitch’s malicious comments, I decided to stay close to Archer while his friends came and went, greeting him. Surprisingly enough, none of the women were friendly. Not a single soul with a set of boobs smiled at me. The guys Archer introduced? Heck, they all had sets of sunny smiles. “Your people haven’t heard of the word polite, have they?” I asked after a woman named Krissy gave me a death glare worthy of an Academy award. “It’s not usually like this, but women are the catty breed, aren’t they?” He laughed as he casually flung his arm around me. “It’s all right, love. I’ll protect you from getting clawed or scratched.” His promise lasted about twenty minutes—twenty-five, tops— before the Krissy woman came towards us and threw a megatantrum to get his undivided attention. And sure enough, Archer had to take her somewhere to calm her down and hopefully inject some sense in her. All on my lonesome while casually sipping my whiskey sour, I
felt like the prime example of an outcast. Dressed differently than the rest with an American accent, I was sticking out like a sore thumb, and no matter how I tried to ignore the feeling, it couldn’t be helped. It was like that movie Mean Girls when the main character had to eat lunch in the bathroom because everyone was too cruel to care for the new girl. Scanning the crowd for Archer, I was beginning to wonder why he had gone with that pretty yet highly emotional woman. Just before I decided to take my leave in search of him, someone decided to join my company. “You look as though you need rescuing from boredom,” said the guy who was earlier introduced as Harvey. He was charming and carried a similar, flirty persona yet was lacking in the looks department. I supposed his personality made up for it. I wasn’t necessarily bored, but maybe in dire need of rescuing from looking like an epic loser. “It’s kind of you to notice.” Sending him a genuine smile, I took a quick sip of my beverage before directing my gaze at him. “What was that all about?” I asked. Harvey shook his head before giving an amused laugh, as if the mini-meltdown scene everyone had witnessed was the norm. “That is what a jealous-minded ex-girlfriend looks like.” “Should I be on the lookout? ’Cause I need to prepare myself, you know.” His grin grew wide before lightly tapping his chest. “You’re safe with me.” Our conversation came to a screeching halt when someone
appeared by my side and intruded. “Harvey,” the man uttered in a commanding tone. Harvey made some mumbling excuse about needing to light a fag and left me to my own devices. Confused at the sudden way Harvey left, I looked up from the booth that I was sitting in to find the stunner himself. “I’m surprised to find you alone,” he drawled in a husky tone. “Why has my brother abandoned you, pray tell?” I wasn’t necessarily alone up until he got here and shooed poor Harvey away. Was Harvey scared of him or something? Because the poor guy just scampered as if he didn’t want to get bitten with venom. My tongue got caught somehow. I was taken aback at seeing him again. No man could hold a candle next to him because, in my eyes, he was flawless. My silence apparently was taken as an invitation for him to gesture for me to scoot over and make room for him, and of course, I obliged. I was flattered he didn’t take the opposite side, wanting to sit close to me. I knew I shouldn’t think much of it, because heck, it was really nothing. However, I couldn’t help it. My body and mind were both going berserk from the absolute thrill of being this close to him. Stirring my drink with the tiny, black straw, I tried to hide my reddening cheeks by not looking directly at him. Certainly, there was little space between us, but I was dying inside. I had never reacted like this with any man, not until Cruz Elliot had come into my life. I felt as though lightning had struck me. I could feel him from
head to foot and everything in between. “You can tell me, Serena. I don’t bite,” he teased in a low, whiskey-hoarse whisper that sent me into a tailspin of excitement. Jesus Christ. He had said my name, and I loved the way it sounded from his lips. Why was it that, every time he spoke, my mind never failed to conjure up sexual images? It was as if my mind was inclined to particular things. I had never been the horny kind, but I was beginning to think otherwise. “Archer had to take care of something. I really don’t mind being alone.” I finally found my voice, though not the courage to look directly into those metallic eyes. He was electrifying me without touching me. It was crazy to feel like this with someone I had met less than twenty-four hours ago. Clearing my throat, I pretended to look around as I asked him a question. “Where were you earlier tonight if you don’t mind me asking?” “I had to be somewhere …” He trailed off, sounding distracted. “Oh, okay. It must’ve been really important, then.” My light comment didn’t seem to rouse any response from him, so I decided to keep my mouth shut. As the silence stretched, the music in the background that I hadn’t really noticed before seemed much louder. “I should take you home,” he suggested, breaking the awkwardness that seemed to grow more daunting as the time ticked away. “My mother would be appalled if we didn’t take care of
you.” What time is it? I thought as I glanced towards my old cell phone to check the time. It was barely thirty minutes before midnight, and I wasn’t in a rush to go back yet. I didn’t know why, though maybe it was because this was my first time out in a new city, and I wanted to get to know it more. The vibe and ambiance was so different from what I was used to. I was intrigued by it, sans the bitchiness of a few women. “I’m fine. It’s still early,” I argued softly, not wanting to come off as rude. Besides, I wasn’t a child, so there was no need to treat me as one. “All right. That’s fine by me,” he conceded. “How about I take you for some coffee to sober you up a little?” he suggested, making me glance at him. “Coffee?” I asked, smiling broadly. “Geez, aren’t you a downer?” There was no question that Cruz was the serious type compared to his brother. How old is he, anyway? I wondered as I gazed into his eyes, making me inwardly sigh. “Yes, Miss Coffee Snob,” he quipped back, matching my grin. “I’m much better company than this spoiled lot.” The smile he gave me was highway robbery. Staring at him, I let my eyes roam his gorgeously chiseled face in pure, unparalleled admiration. How could any man be allowed to be that goodlooking? “Well, you certainly are the best looking one here, hands down.” I wasn’t one to say compliments to any man, but with the
alcohol hazing my mouth filter, there was no stopping it from being blurted out. He made a face, as if he couldn’t believe what he had just heard before he gave a throaty, deep-bellied laugh. “My dear Serena …” he finally said after his laughing hysterics began to calm down. I tried to brush his endearment off as if it didn’t make me feel like I was floating on clouds. Instead, I brazenly challenged him further. “Come on, don’t pretend like you’re not used to the attention. You’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen … to date.” “To date?” he huffed as his face broke out into another toecurling smile. “My, how you instantly shatter a man’s ego just as quickly as you inflate it.” “A man with deflated ego, how are we going to fix that?” Raising my brow at him, I found myself immersed in him and this little world of banter he and I were dancing around. “Easily. Just have coffee with me.” “Okay,” I finally agreed. “But just so you know, I’m not drunk, so I don’t need sobering up.” “Of course you’re not.” His eyes twinkled, not buying the load I was selling him. Gathering ourselves out of the booth, I barely noticed people watching us depart. I was too absorbed in the fact that he had his hand on the base of my back as he guided us out of the bar. His warm hand made me feel electrified, and I simply wanted to stop thinking and have fun with him, come what may.
Emerging from the bar and walking towards his parked car, I noted that his hand hadn’t come off my back. I was beginning to like it too much, having him this close to me. “What is that scent you’re wearing?” I blurted out as I leaned a little closer to get a whiff of it. “What cologne is it?” “I don’t wear cologne. Maybe it’s my aftershave.” Well, hell, was there anything about this guy that I didn’t like? I just wished I could find something to put me off so I didn’t have to act like a fool around him. All this excitement was too much for my blood pressure. “My car is through here,” he said, guiding me towards a black Range Rover. Just as he was opening the door for me, I spun around to face him, curious. “Is there something wrong with denim skirts on this side of the world that I wasn’t aware of?” His brows furrowed, taken aback by my random question. “You’re asking me about denim?” “Yeah …” “I find it … well …” His gaze dropped to my skirt, lingering on my legs while his eyes burned. “You have quite the lovely gams,” he rasped out in such a way that it sent tingles all over me. Sexual thoughts, here we go once more. Fuck. “You can stop staring at my legs now.” It was too much too soon. It was undeniable, this chemistry we had. I wasn’t imagining it, either. It was obvious he felt it, too. “You did invite me to, so here I am … enjoying the view.” My sanity was on the verge of being thrown to the wind. Even
though there was this thing with Cruz, I didn’t want to make a fool of myself. My ex-boyfriend did such a number on me, and I didn’t want that repeated. “Jesus Christ, must you all be so flirty? Archer, you—I can’t breathe for a second without having palpitations. You both are just too everything—” “You find my brother charming?” he inquired. There was stillness in him that made me seek his eyes. “No— yes … Well, it’s hard not to be.” Something flashed in his eyes. “He’s a good man, but he doesn’t like to take women too seriously. I’m just giving you a precaution in case you get carried away. He’s not that type. He likes variety.” He was giving me a warning of what type of a man Archer was, and I appreciated it, but maybe there was something he misunderstood from me. “What makes you think I’m not that kind, as well? Who wants commitment, anyway?” He studied me a moment, scrutinizing me with those vividly mesmerizing eyes. “Most women do.” “Maybe I’m not like most women. Maybe I like to play the field, too.” He nodded as if fully understanding me. “Brilliant. Then there’s nothing to worry about,” he said in a serious voice before holding the door open, indicating he was done discussing the subject. His demeanor didn’t come off rude, but there was an apparent shift in his attitude. It didn’t give me the warm fuzzies; that was for
sure. The moment he started the engine, I could feel him deep in thought as he weaved into traffic. He didn’t bother turning on the music or making small talk. He was quiet as he concentrated on the road while I wondered why I had to say things I didn’t mean that had possibly offended him. Was it that my statement about not wanting commitment and wanting to have fun made me look like a loose cannon? Was his silence an indication that he was worried I might bring problems to his mother’s household? Reflecting on what had happened, I hoped he didn’t deem me as trouble.
“How about we have some coffee back at the house?” My suggestion got a nod and a cool “of course.” As much as I loved being around him, I got the feeling I had somehow offended him, so maybe prolonging the night in his company wasn’t a great idea. Here’s to hoping he wouldn’t really take up my offer of having coffee back at their house. I hoped he skipped it altogether so I could go to my room and scold myself for being a carefree idiot. Parked right outside the house, we got out of the car, walking side by side. Producing his keys, he then let us inside the foyer. The house was dimly lit, bright enough for people to see as they navigated around their surroundings. I wondered where the stiff butler, whose name I had yet to find out, and Anne were. I supposed they had their own separate quarters, or they might have gone home and would come back in the morning. “Do you still want coffee or a strong nightcap?” Cruz asked, stopping in his tracks in the middle of the foyer. Frowning, I gazed at him with a contorted face. “Are you offering me alcohol?” I double-checked, confused at his sudden change of mind. Had I missed something? I couldn’t be sure. “Yes,” he said. “But I thought the main point of us leaving was for me to sober up?” My voice came out a little louder than intended. He shrugged. “Not entirely. I didn’t like seeing you alone with random men coming up to you, thinking you’re the next dish to be
savored. Archer left you to your own devices while he’s probably up to some shenanigans.” “It’s not really that big of a deal. I can handle myself if something bad happens.” There was no need for overprotectiveness. It was appreciated, but unnecessary. “Well, I made sure that didn’t need to happen. So, coffee? Or do you want something stronger?” “Coffee.” The last thing I needed was to drink any alcoholic beverages and make a fool of myself. In the kitchen, I decided to sit at the kitchen counter as I watched him prepare coffee from the espresso machine. Watching him closely, I noticed he had this way about him as he fed the beans into the grinder, as if he was in deep concentration. “How do you take it? With or without sugar?” he asked after he made two steaming cups of cappuccinos like a true barista would. Beyond pleased at his superb manners as a host, I licked my lips before responding to him. “With sugar. Two teaspoons please.” With the use of his manly hands, he followed my request while I intently took in everything he did. He could make cappuccinos all day long, and I wouldn’t get bored. Graciously handing me my coffee, Cruz chose to stand across the counter from where I sat, unassumingly sipping his drink while watching me taste mine. “Are you feeling homesick yet?” he asked, seeming as if he wanted to know more about me. It was understandable since I would be living here for almost a year.
His question really made me think twice. It was odd, but I just realized I hadn’t really thought of home much since I had landed. Maybe it was too soon to tell, but yeah, home was the last thing on my mind, most especially when I was facing this kind of male perfection. Forget home. I would rather ponder more about whether he had a stellar body or not. “Surprisingly enough, no, not really. My mind is overwhelmed … with everything.” “Yeah? Well, I hope you feel right at home here. If you have any problems with the staff or if you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to let me know.” “Thank you. That’s really nice of you to say.” I couldn’t help smiling at him. “So, how do you expect me to sleep now since you’ve injected my system with caffeine?” His face lit up as if he had thought of something brilliant. “I want to show you something.” Damn it. Why was it that, every time that particular smile appeared, butterflies magically appeared in my stomach, making me all the more aware of how deeply this man affected me. “Um, sure. I’m down for whatever you like.” My expression most likely looked dull compared to the posh people he surrounded himself with, just like Archer’s friends at the bar earlier. But hell, Cruz had the magical power to turn my mind into a mush, so I couldn’t really be faulted for that now, could I? It was insane how my attraction to him had made me seem like a star struck idiot. I just hoped it wasn’t too obvious, or he would think I was weird.
My thoughts immediately vanished when he began to set our cups aside in the sink for the staff to clean tomorrow. He then guided me towards the other end of the house where he opened the French doors that led to a beautiful garden. There were lights randomly placed about, making the whole scene look grander at night. Heading towards the trees, we strolled on a stone pathway before a vast wall of hanging vines appeared on the very end of the trail. Upon reaching the dead end, I was surprised when Cruz pushed the vines to the side and led me to another place, like a secret garden, a detailed, lavish one. “What is this place?” I gasped in awe, looking around as my eyes took in everything they could. It was like stepping into one of those gardens one read about in storybooks. The dim lighting enhanced the setting, making the place look utterly magical. “My father had this made for my mother.” His raspy voice came out sounding wistful as I followed him farther into the garden. “On the days he was too sick to go anywhere, he would wheel himself here to have some special time with her.” “How incredibly romantic … They sound like they were crazy in love.” A sigh came from my lips, enamored by this newfound spot that evoked a sense of serenity and calmness. Hearing stories like Margery’s gave me hope for the future. I hoped I would be that lucky someday, finding a partner who loved me unconditionally. “They were.” He sounded thoughtful, a soft smile playing on his lips, awash with heartwarming memories of his parents. “They deeply loved one another. My mother never once thought my
father’s illness would deter them from being together. They fell in love, and the rest was history.” It seemed appropriate to wait for him to speak it all out before saying anything, so I did just that. “I worry about her. She’s a bit more fragile ever since he died,” He went on saying as we ventured towards a curved garden bench before taking a seat. His unconcealed concern for his mother showed me what kind of a man he was. It was always comforting to find a man who worried about his mother. It gave me a glimpse of how deep the bond of love was between him and Margery. Glancing at him with a careful look, I felt his uneasiness, yet I knew I had to give him some form of reassurance. “I’m sure she’ll learn to cope in time. Most people do.” It was the best I could come up with. Deaths weren’t something I was used to. More to a point, I had no idea how wretchedly painful it would be to lose the man you loved due to sickness. “Most do I suppose … but I highly doubt my mother will,” he continued. Seeming thoughtful, he cocked his head to the side, showing me those mesmerizing eyes of his, leaving me somewhat panting. “Do you believe in people dying of heartbreak?” The intensity of his gaze and the angle of his face that showed how chiseled it was made me forget what he had asked for a moment. My eyes went on full admiration of his jaw-dropping face from a close distance. “Do you?” he pressed. His question made me blink a few times before snapping me
out of the heavy, lust-filled haze I was in. Shoving it in the back crevices of my mind, I let my mind back pedal to the conversation about love and heartbreak. Daydreaming squashed and oddness aside, I cleared my throat slightly before shyly looking away, shrugging as I considered his question. “No, heartbreaks don’t kill people. That’s just plain crazy. I mean, if people died like that, there’d be no college students left.” I immediately paused when I noted how weird his reaction became as I voiced my opinion. “Most intense romantic relationships happen during late teens to early twenties. Breakups are happening all over the world—right this second, right this minute—so, no, I don’t think it can kill. There’d be no humans left.” My reply made him smirk before laughing lightly at me. “All right, little miss. I do see your argument, but have you considered the depth of heartbreaks? What if one is much more severe than another? Could one really gauge and compare the agony of a broken engagement with ones who dated for several weeks?” I frowned, pondering at his thought-provoking argument. “Humans evolve. We’re malleable beings. One can’t cease to live because of a breakup. It just doesn’t make sense to me.” “Then I suppose you haven’t really experienced anything like it. I’m cynical at best, but I’ve seen it happen. When my grandmother died, it only took my grandfather six months to follow suit. He didn’t have any underlying condition, but he died, anyway. The same thing happened with a distant cousin. The wife died three months after her husband tragically died in a car accident.”
Since he had a valid point, it made me realize how distressing his position might be. After all, he was responsible for holding the family together after his father’s died. “Are you afraid your mother will die soon?” My mind drifted back to Margery and how she had been earlier in the day. She had seemed poised and reserved with a calming aura about her. People were good about masking their feelings, so I supposed Margery could have been acting a part to welcome me to her home. Given the class this family had, I guessed it was one of those things they deemed appropriate. “I am,” he openly admitted, looking despondent. “I’m finding ways to prevent her from falling deeply into that hole.” I felt for him. I did. “That’s a big task. Each person deals with grief differently. Maybe your fears are misplaced, though. Maybe they aren’t. At the end of the day, it’s her choice and hers alone.” My sentiment wasn’t meant to be insensitive, so I hoped he didn’t see it that way. I just believed people had the freedom to choose was all. He became silent for a moment before penetrating into my eyes with such sadness I could almost feel it wrap around me. “I can’t lose both parents in the same year, Serena. That’s a little too much for any person to handle.” The thought of losing both my parents made me want to faint. I couldn’t imagine what he was going through, grieving after his father died. Not only that, he had to worry about his mother and running the family’s company. From what I had heard from my mother, Cruz had taken the reins early on after being groomed to run the
company as he grew up. I couldn’t have imagined that he was going through such turmoil upon meeting him today. He seemed so confident and sure of himself I never pictured we could have this conversation. I supposed it was true what they said: there was more than what met the eye. Reaching out for his hand, I entwined it with mine. There were no words spoken, yet I hoped the gesture held some comfort for him. I couldn’t fathom what he was going through, but I at least wanted him to know that, if he wanted someone to speak to, I was there. After five minutes of comfortable silence, I felt his hand squeeze mine before he threw me a thoughtful, arresting smile. “This is the first time I have spoken about this. I don’t usually divulge anything to anyone … let alone a mere stranger.” He paused then gave me a sexy smile. “Well, technically, you aren’t one.” “What do you mean technically?” “My parents and I visited your home when you were about two or three years old. You were this stubborn, little button who would follow me everywhere.” What? This was a lie, right? It had to be. “No, I didn’t. You’re seriously making this up.” My cheeks had to be the shade of a ripened tomato. The mischievous glint was back in his eyes, teasing me to no end. “Everyone was outside, enjoying the barbeque, when I found you holding a small fruit knife. I tried to take it from you, but you were having such a terrifyingly good time with the bloody thing, so
you wouldn’t hand it over. Long story short, I managed to take it away from your chubby, stubborn fingers while cutting myself in the process.” “You’re joking?” The picture he painted of a crazy child playing with a knife made me think of possessed, little girl who wanted to rein terror on the world around her. “I swear to you on my father’s grave, you went bonkers with that knife,” he replied. “Here,” he said, showing me a white scar between the valley of his right forefinger and thumb. FUCK. I did that? I thought, paling at the thought of hurting someone, marking their skin forever. “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry. I had no idea I was a baby assassin.” “You scarred me for life,” he teased further, making me laugh. I wasn’t really sure what happened, but somehow, the normal laugh turned into a series of hysterics that made me snort, which then made me want to die on the spot, while my colossal blunder only made him hoot twice as hard. It went on for a bit longer, and for some odd reason, I ended up kissing him. Unbridled. Unchecked. Unforgettable.
Chapter Six My lips simply took his, and I felt him freeze. Nonetheless, I was too overwhelmed with passion, so I ignored his reaction and continued my own desires by deepening the kiss, forcing his lips to open. My tongue parted his lips, consuming him without reservations. It took him a second, maybe a few more, before he finally took hold of the situation and kissed me just as ardently, just as feverishly, devouring my lips as if they were a decadent piece of chocolate. The sudden progress of how quickly things shifted between us left me reeling at how consumed he was. I wasn’t sure why I had done it. The moment was a sudden rush of heightened awareness. His close proximity, his intoxicating male essence drugged me into an exquisite stupor. Then my lips became possessed and took over, expelling what little inhibitions I had left. Being this close to him—having his lips mesh against mine in a heated, erotic kiss—was beyond anything I had ever experienced. Nothing came close. Nothing could compare. One kiss was all it took for me to know I was more than unhealthily attracted to Cruz. I was, in fact, epically crushing on him. My corrupt thoughts came to a sudden pause when the man whose lips I had technically raped and ambushed decided to halt, and he looked me in the eye with such profound severity that I literally forgot to breathe for a few seconds. Those eyes … Those beautiful, magnetic eyes made my heart
skip not one, not two, but many beats. When it regained its momentum, my heart was beating erratically. “We should head back,” he murmured in a croaky voice, which made me think of hot sex. And lots of it. With my tinted cheeks, I didn’t recoil from his powerful gaze. “Yeah … um … we should.” I tried to sound normal, unsure of where his mood was. Was he upset about my impulsive actions? Was it too slutty for me to advance on a man who didn’t make the first move to kiss me? He wasn’t necessarily being cold, but there was something amiss. I could feel him thinking deeply, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. Getting up from the cool, stone bench, I followed him out of the beautiful place, but before fully exiting, I twisted my body one more time to get another glimpse of it, knowing all too well I wasn’t ever going to forget this place or this particular memory. There was something about him that drew me towards him in the most nonsensical way. It was indescribable, and even though I wasn’t sure where this was heading, I knew the chemistry between us existed. It was palpable. If he couldn’t feel it, then he must have some sort of chemical imbalance because, fuck, I could literally feel the electric current bouncing off us, ready to spark fire. Suffice to say, however, my self-preservation was in effect, helping to settle my relentless hormones. Sending him a quick glance, I noted how tense he was. His posture and his hands in his pockets didn’t give me the kind of reassurance I needed. Regardless, instead of prying into his thoughts, I resorted to the waiting game, hoping the tension would
disappear, and he would be back to his gorgeous smiles and unending teases. Striding back out to the main garden, I emerged near the line of trees as the spell of that secret spot gradually disintegrated, and I was placed back in reality. Question after question hounded my thoughts, wondering what major consequences I had to deal with after that bold kiss. We didn’t speak at all as we retraced our steps to the house. Then, the second we reached the French doors, he led us through before halting his steps to face me. He had unreadable expression across his handsome face, giving nothing away. “I’ll bid my goodnight here, Serena,” he uttered in a tone teachers would use if they had caught someone cheating. His stern attitude made me crumble inside from humiliation and rejection. My pride was beyond injured, but I still managed to give him a genuine smile through my pain. “Goodnight, Cruz.” As I slowly took my leave, I thankfully managed to remember which direction led towards my bedroom. Although I could feel his eyes on me, watching me closely as I walked away from him, he didn’t say a word to soothe or reassure me. He simply let me walk, thinking I had made a fool of myself, that maybe I was unworthy of him. This negativity continued as I brushed my teeth and changed, but before I managed to fall asleep after a couple of hours of torturing myself, I made a vow that I wouldn’t let Cruz Elliot affect
this once in a lifetime opportunity. No matter how much the man evoked strong reactions and emotions from me, I just had to stand my ground, regroup, and get over it. # The next day, Anne came in to greet me before announcing that breakfast was going to be served in half an hour. Sleepy and still partially hallucinating, thinking I was still back in my bed in Los Angeles, I stared back at her with my squinting eyes, disheveled hair, and a look that screamed what the fuck? After all, where I came from, no one cooked anyone breakfast. If you found yourself hungry, you made toast or popped a frozen waffle in the toaster, whatever was convenient. To wake up to such an untraditional thing, I was instantly reminded of where I was and what I had done last night. The horror of my mistake last night made me contemplate getting out of bed and facing the man who had made me feel less confident of myself. It was daunting to think of conversing with him, let alone being in the same room and sharing the same table as we talked about menial things that I couldn’t care less about. However, this was part of being human and living in a civilized world—most especially on this part of the map—where class and decorum were high on everyone’s list. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have class—I believed I did, though I hadn’t exercised much of it last night—or the fact that my display of decorum was nil. It was just that I felt as if I had gone in over my head, and I wasn’t sure how to act around these affluent people. Never again would I dare wear a denim skirt when I had to be
surrounded by rich kids. I wouldn’t put myself through that kind of ordeal. It was just too much for anyone to handle. I was better than this. I kept telling myself that no one should ever have the right to make me doubt myself. However, it was hard to convince myself when my ego and pride had taken a beating from Cruz’s standoffish attitude last night. The need to curl up and sleep through the day, using jetlag as my excuse, was truly tempting, but my parents had taught me better than that. At a young age, manners had been ingrained in my head. Therefore, instead of opting to save myself from more hurt and insanity, I reluctantly rolled off the bed, slowly dragging my feet to the bathroom to get ready to face the music. Just a little bit over half an hour later, I left my bedroom to head downstairs. I was dressed in an all black outfit, leggings and cami that matched my comfortable flats. My hair was knotted into a messy bun that crowned my head. And as for war paint, I didn’t use much: a smear of concealer, a coat of mascara, and some blinding, bright red lipstick to mask my battered confidence. Red on my lips meant business. It stated I was not to be fucked with, because I would chew anyone who crossed me. The fallacy had worked wonders for me over the years, and I had never needed this kind of armor more than today. With my head held high, I strolled into the dining area and was astounded to find it empty. It took about a minute to recover from this nice surprise before realizing this could be a great excuse to simply retrace my steps and call it a day. Of course, before I could spin around and shimmy away, a sound from the front door made
me freeze, and without a chance to breathe, in came the man of my hellish dreams, looking well rested and relaxed. “Serena.” He nodded towards me while I stood immobilized as he approached me with cool indifference. “I hope you rested well.” Okay … He was acting as if nothing had happened between us. I could do that, too; be unconcerned and all. How hard could it be? “Where is everyone?” I asked, taking a seat right across from him and eyeing him like he wasn’t a delicious sin to be savored, but more like a revolting pickle. God, how I loathed and detested pickles. I hated them with a passion. Speaking of passion, it was the same damn feeling that had gotten me into this awkward position. Next time—well, I had better make sure there wasn’t a next time. Period. “Mother should be down any moment now,” he informed me as he poured himself coffee. “And as for Archer, he’s still out and about town, as expected.” Archer. If he was here, he would lighten the strained tension between us. Unfortunately, he was probably still with that ex of his. She was too much to handle in my opinion. Then again, men did like their women a little crazy, didn’t they? That was what my ex Aaron told me one time while trying to make a point of me being too boring at times when I opposed getting drunk on a nightly basis. Partying during weekends was one thing, but every single day of the week? I just couldn’t do it. Not only didn’t I have the capacity to party like a damn animal, but I just didn’t see the point of being in a constant state of inebriation. It was depressing.
Besides, I had classes to attend, and I couldn’t go in one with beer goggles on. It wasn’t my thing. I supposed my decision of wanting to have a better GPA than the average college drunk of 2.0 paved the freedom for his cheating ways. Ugh. The last thing I needed to harp upon today was Aaron. Shit happened, right? Plucking up a piece of fresh, oven-baked bread, I welcomed the warmth of it against my fingers. The aromatic scent wafted to me the second I pulled it apart, making me salivate. I supposed there were really nice perks being this rich. I could get used to this kind of breakfast on a daily basis. Chewing on the lightly buttered bread, I poured myself a cup of coffee. The smell of it alone reminded me of last night and how gorgeous he had looked navigating the kitchen as he made cappuccinos. Speaking of the man, he was consumed in the newspaper rather than trying to converse with me. Not only had his rejection last night stung, but making it too apparent that it was unmentionable this morning made it worse. It was like getting a paper cut. Though it was tiny, the pain it produced was hard to dismiss because all the focus of your body’s stressors honed in on it. I wished for a do-over since Cruz was great with me before I moronically kissed him. If I could restart, this moment was as good as any. I just had to cough up the strength and get over my pride. Glancing across the table, I cleared my throat, ready to wave the white flag of surrender simply to be on friendly terms again. “You seem to have started your day early. Did you just come
back from working in the office?” Without bothering to look up from his reading material, he responded, “No, I came from my own place, though I stay here infrequently during weekends from time to time.” So he had left last night. “Oh. Okay.” That made sense, I supposed. He was, after all, a grown man whose age I still hadn’t discovered. Before I had the chance to inquire, Margery strolled in with a soft smile on her face. “Mother.” Cruz smiled at her before getting up from his seat and striding to meet her. Then he guided her to the head of the table, pulling out the chair and waiting for her to take her seat before retreating back to his own. “You’re looking better today, Mum. That new prescription worked better as opposed to the first one, I take it?” “Yes, my dear son. There’s no need to fret. I’m fine … Really, I am.” She reached out to touch her son’s hand then lightly tapped it, as if to reassure him. They shared a moment of understanding before she turned her attention towards me, bestowing me the same warm smile. “How did last night go? I hope you had fun,” she asked without taking her eyes off me, as though she was waiting for my immediate response. Fun? Yeah, way too much if I say so myself. Pasting a strained smile on, I had to squash that small, guilty feeling that surfaced out of nowhere, catching me off guard. “It was good fun.” “Good.” She nodded, assured, then murmured a kind thank
you to her son who had just made her coffee, complete with milk and sugar. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to attend the Ainsworth’s party tonight. Do you mind going with just Ivy?” She expectantly glanced over her son while Cruz simply bore an impassive look. Who was Ivy? His girlfriend? Fuck. Well, why was he being all too friendly with me at the bar then? I wouldn’t dare flirt with anyone’s man. I wasn’t that twisted a thrill seeker. Clearing his throat, he nodded. “I will have to check with her. If anything, I could go by myself.” Margery’s face turned soft, still gazing at him like she was expecting something more. “I don’t mean to pry, but have you two set a date yet? It’s been almost eight months since the engagement and still no word when the wedding will be.” I choked on the scalding hot coffee that was about to be washed down my throat. Softly tapping my chest, I forced myself to breathe before croaking out, “Excuse me.” “Are you all right, dear?” Margery held my hand, worriedly eyeing me as if I was about to faint or something. Well, thank goodness I didn’t. That would have been embarrassing. I didn’t need any more reasons to feel humiliated. “I’m fine. Thank you.” I made a pained smile, hoping it was enough to convince her to get back to prying into her son’s personal life. ENGAGED? Fuck me. Fuck me bad. What had I been thinking? I knew it. Cruz was too good to be true. Sigh. Much to my dismay, Cruz skipped answering his mother.
Instead, he spoke about employees and business dealings and prospects. While he engaged his mother with business updates, I, on the other hand, wanted to know more. I felt as though I was owed answers. It was stupid to think this way, yet it was how I felt. It was hard to justify why that was. Throughout the time he was with me, he never once mentioned anything about Ivy or his engagement. I wouldn’t have missed that kind of info, knowing how glued I was to him last night, so why had he not disclosed this major factor? “Serena?” Margery gave me an expectant look. I blinked a few times, wondering what I had missed. “Sorry, what?” I mumbled, hoping I hadn’t offended her with my flighty mind. “Your mother mentioned that you needed internship hours. I thought it would be a brilliant idea if Cruz takes you under his wing. It would be a good opportunity for you—” “Wait, Mum, we need—” he tried to argue, looking ready to combust, but Margery was unrelenting. “I know it might be odd and difficult for you for a short while, but you will get used to it. Besides, Serena’s like family. Her mother and I agreed that it would be a fantastic prospect for her. It’s already agreed upon. Let’s not try making me break my word to my friend. ” Obviously seeing the tension in Cruz’s reaction, I knew I had to pacify the situation. “I don’t think that’s necessary, Margery, but thank you. My
school offers a list of companies that will gladly open their arms for these things.” “Are you implying that my company won’t be the best candidate for internships? Because let me assure you, it wouldn’t be featured in Fortune Global 500 if it weren’t,” Cruz justified with pride and a dash of arrogance. Well, I had no idea what I was declining to begin with. But Fortune Global 500? Fuck. Having that attached to my resume would be beyond impressive; it would be astounding. “I wasn’t trying to be rude. I just thought it would be better if you weren’t forced to do it out of kindness to me and my mom.” It was too obvious he didn’t want me working for him, and I couldn’t fault him for that. It was his company, after all, so it was his decision, plain and simple. Masking his reaction, he threw me a steady look. “No one forces me to do anything, Serena,” he stated in a matter of fact tone before eyeing me with such intensity that I almost forgot to breathe. “You can begin on Monday after you finish with your classes.” I was flabbergasted. What had just happened here? “Mon-day?” I stupidly stammered, astonished at his rapid change of heart. “That’s splendid!” Margery gleefully exclaimed while I still kept openly staring at Cruz, my soon-to-be boss. Fuck. Me.
“You’re engaged?” I exclaimed irrationally, feeling emotionally bereft and embittered. It took me about a minute or two after Margery was out of earshot to confront him. If I had chosen not to, it would forever eat me alive. Still, I had to stand my ground and face him, and it was a now or never situation. “Yes,” he replied without batting an eyelash. Damn. I could feel something crack. “How come …? Why didn’t you mention it last night?” “I don’t know.” “What do you mean by ‘you don’t know’? How can you not?” I pressed. If it were me who was engaged, I would have told him. He wasn’t necessarily being deceitful about it, nor was he leading me on … but I hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that there was something there. Now I realized how wrong I had been. Something passed across his eyes before he gave me a frown. “Serena, last night—” “I’m sorry I kissed you,” I immediately interrupted. “I don’t know what came over me. I’m not usually like that. Maybe it was being in that beautiful, magical garden that made me get carried away.” My reasons sounded unconvincing to my own ears, but it was the best I could do, and whether he believed it or not was out of my control. “Can we just forget that happened? Is that possible?” “If that’s what you wish.” I wasn’t wishing on anything. My heart was stammering out of
control, and I had no idea why I was reacting as if he and I were dating and he had led me on. It was too much. It was almost making me freak out inside. “Thank you, Cruz,” I whispered, looking at him, but not really. I didn’t have it in me to stare into those metallic pools that made me feel so alive it was frightening. “I’ll see you on Monday or whenever.” As graciously as I could, I managed to get up without making a fool of myself. “Have a good day.” I gave him a wan smile then spun on my heels, almost sprinting out of the dining room. My heart galloped as I raced towards the stairs, seeking my bedroom so I could fully grasp everything. It was a relief I didn’t run into any household staff. I’m sure it was easily seen how upset I was. Holding my breath as I grappled with the bedroom door, I stilled when I heard him say my name. My heart stampeded madly against my chest as I tried to ponder every rhyme and reason for him coming after me. In the end, I knew I couldn’t keep staring at the doorknob. I had to face him and ask him that myself. “Yes?” I asked as I turned on my heels to face him, barely meeting his intense gaze. “I …” He breathed out heavily, frowning down at me. “I hope this won’t be a problem between us in the future.” I hastily shook my head. I didn’t want it to be awkward between us, either. “No, it won’t be a problem. I promise.” I was going to start working under him in two days’ time. Whatever qualms I had prior to working with him had to be squashed, swept under the rug.
He gave me a curt nod, accepting my promise without hesitation. “One more thing …” he hesitantly drawled. “I’m sorry if I led you on. It wasn’t my intention. Well, to be quite clear, I wasn’t sure what I was doing.” “No, it was my fault. It’s perfectly fine. Let’s forget any of it happened.” I was dying to kill the damn memory. “Very well.” His frown vanished, replaced with that toe-curling smile I adored too much. “I will see you come Monday, then.” Why does this man have such an effect in me? I wondered as I swallowed what little moisture I had in my mouth. “Of course,” I said in a scratchy voice. “Good day, Serena.” He threw me one last look before leaving me to my own devices. “You, too.” Watching him walk away, I released a long, melancholy sigh then shook my head, dismissing any lingering thoughts. The man was engaged. Engaged. He was going to marry someone. He was already spoken for. And for me to daydream about him was disrespectful. I supposed it was better this way. He was out of my league, anyway. He was too good-looking, too rich … well, too everything. Once school started, hopefully I would meet great friends so I could have my own life, totally separated from these folks. There was nothing wrong with Archer or Cruz, but they were not on my level. I was at the bottom, while they were on top. It was basically my second day here in this country, and I had already caused problems. I wondered how the rest of my stay
would pan out. Hopefully, it would be with less drama, great memories and experiences, and nothing related to the matters of the heart. With my body clock still stuck on Pacific Time, I decided to stay in today and unwind, unpack, and call my family back home. Pulling my phone out of my purse, I pressed to call my mom, hoping she wouldn’t cringe at the cost of my roaming charges. I strolled towards the end of the bed, taking a seat while I cradled the phone on my ear, waiting for her to answer. “Sweetie, how have you been? How are you settling?” My mother’s gleeful greeting made me realize how much I missed home. “Just tired, but yeah, everything’s been great. Margaret’s been really nice,” I responded with a smile on my face. “I know! Did she manage to get you an internship? I haven’t spoken to her today. Maybe she’ll call later. Nevertheless, how are you, baby? This is the first time you’ve been out of the nest; I’m actually really nervous. I try not to worry, you know, but it doesn’t help that your dad freaks out, as well. Thank goodness for Grace. She never fails to remind us that we’re a breath away from a nervous breakdown if we didn’t stop worrying about terrorist attacks, getting robbed, and all of that stuff.” My grin grew wider. Grace, my little sister, was the cute, sarcastic doll I adored too much. My parents were both worrywarts, but she would always take them down a notch. “I’m fine. Jesus, Mom, I’ve been gone for, like, a couple of days. And, no, there’s no terrorists attacks, but I’ll do let you know if something comes up,” I teased, hoping she would calm her butt
down. “Now that’s not funny, Serena. You should be kind to my nerves. You know how I get,” she reprimanded, but it was obvious in her voice just how much love there was. “You guys have to stop. Seriously. Have some confidence in me. I can handle this.” Reassuring her somehow worked. My parents were great folks, but holy crap did they worry. It was to the point of borderline paranoia. As our conversation progressed, I asked for updates about Grace and how she was doing in school. Grace was in the top of her class, as always. I was the laidback one, while my little sis was the perfectionist in the family. We were like night and day, yet our sisterly bond was as strong as ever. The more I conversed with my family, the more homesickness settled in. Then again, it also reassured me that I was going to be okay. They grounded me. Thinking about them made me realize what was important in life. I was here to experience living and studying abroad, not to find a boyfriend. Boys came and went, but achieving lifelong goals, such as experience and education, that was for life. Prioritizing was all I had to do. Cruz and his magnetic eyes be damned.
“Hello.” I nervously smiled towards the sea of people around me. “I’m Serena. I’m majoring in International Business, and this is my first semester here.” Adding the last bit before taking my seat, I noted how bored the rest of the class looked. This was my first day studying at the University in London, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. After the rest of them welcomed me, the teacher then went to the next victim. I thanked my lucky stars I didn’t look like a timid idiot. I hadn’t realized how anxious I was until I had entered the classroom. Back home, I didn’t really have any anxiety issues. I supposed acknowledging I was far from home and away from my comfort zone brought it home today. Teachers and the staff were friendly enough, but there were little things that I still had to get used to. I had two classes scheduled for today. The last on the roster, Egyptian Mythology, ended at two in the afternoon. Hopefully, I wouldn’t be late to my internship. Margery had given me the address and reassured me that whatever time was fine as long as it wasn’t past five so they could put me in the system. Elliot Corp. was located in the City of London, and since I was already short of time, taking the tube would delay me even more. The easiest way to get there without wasting time would be taking a cab. The city was basically littered with cabs everywhere, so it wasn’t a hardship getting one. With added traffic, I ultimately got
there thirty-five past two. Perusing Margery’s instructions, I trotted towards the building then straight to reception where I was greeted by a well-poised woman who introduced herself as Charlie. After giving her my name, she handed me a temporary pass and told me my destination was the top floor. Once I thanked her for helping me, I was on my way to the banks of elevators when I abruptly halted after noticing how everyone was dressed. I knew it was my first day, so instead of worrying about what to wear, I had been more consumed about my encounters with Cruz, and I had chosen jeans and white, fitted cami. Embarrassment filled me as I looked up, staring at the floor while walking, avoiding the people around me who were sprinting to wherever they needed to be. My journey felt as if it was going to take forever. The elevator that was jam-packed earlier left me all to my lonesome as they gradually exited as it travelled upwards. Once it reached the top, I carefully took a step out of the elevator and onto the cool, black marble floor. I was instructed to seek Denise, who was apparently the main assistant I was going to be working under. “Hello, how may I help you?” a tall, blonde, blue-eyed woman greeted me. Composing myself, I tried not to let her cool demeanor intimidate me. “Hi, I’m the new intern, and I’m looking for Denise.” “Oh, hello, Serena. I’m Steph, the second assistant.” She extended her hand that had engine-red manicured nails. “Denise
should be in her office. Welcome aboard Elliot Corp. If you need anything—anything at all—don’t hesitate to ask.” Her friendliness overwhelmed me in a good way. “Thank you, Steph. It’s great meeting you.” After giving me the directions for Denise’s office, we parted ways. The nervousness I felt earlier on ebbed away as I reassured myself that everything was going to okay, and I had nothing to worry about. Ever since I was sixteen, I had always worked in retail, so this was a big step for me. Though I was anxiously apprehensive, I was also ecstatic. I felt as though I was working towards my goal. Whatever experience I gained from here would be applied in the future. It wasn’t a hardship locating her office. After quietly knocking on her door, I was warmly greeted as she ushered me in. With the quick introduction out of the way, she then invited me to take a seat. At first, I found it nerve-wracking as she probed into my past employment history and what other qualities had driven me to choose this specific career. She also asked about my hobbies and passion and my overall perspective as to where I was at in my life. The grilling session took about half an hour. Then, thankfully, Denise handed me a folder containing all the paper work I needed to fill in then requested a copy of my passport and the other essential documents the company needed for hiring an intern. I was surprised she didn’t direct me to HR, but hey, I wasn’t going to complain. Instead, I fervently handed her my passport and began to work on
the information they needed. Once done, I handed it all to her, and she gave me a glimpse before dropping her eyes back to information I had supplied. “So you can work Monday to Friday. Thursdays and Fridays are regular hours, and Monday to Wednesday for two hours. Is this correct?” “Yes, you have that right.” “Brilliant.” She nodded before directing an intense gaze at me. “You’ll be working under me. Steph, the second assistant, does most of the business scheduling, flight and hotel bookings, emails and the phones, etc. I take care of the personal and business essentials. I’m on call all day, every day, twenty-four hours a day. I’m at his beck and call. Mr. Elliot is a very private person, so you will have to sign a confidentiality agreement. Anything regarding his life, his work, and family is strictly off limits.” Every day? Twenty-four hours a day? Was I expected to work the same hours since I would be working under her? Jesus, what had I signed on for? I tried to appear undaunted as I said, “I understand,” in a curt manner. As tempting as it was to ask about what my job entailed, I should keep it to myself, just in case that gave her the wrong impression. Anyone who had seen The Devil Wears Prada should know not to piss off the assistant in command. “Perfect.” She beamed at me. “Mrs. Elliot called in this morning to make sure I know you should be well taken care of, so whatever you need, feel free to come to me. Also, I want to be
clear about dress code. If you go through the packet I gave you, it should outline what is and what’s not proper.” My argument was at the tip of my tongue, but I changed my mind the last minute. I didn’t want to seem as if I was making excuses. “Yes, will do.” In the business world, there were no excuses. There were only actions and outcomes. That was all that mattered. Since I was going to work for less than an hour before the workday ended at five, I was basically acquainting myself with my own personal desk that came with an iMac. Thrilled about my new job, I barely noticed how Denise seemed frazzled as she came to and from the office, and when the clock struck at five, she seemed even more agitated. Concerned with her well-being, I looked away from my computer screen and gave her a tentative gaze. “Is everything okay, Denise?” She paused, frowning down at me. “I’m running late. My boyfriend’s parents are in town from Australia, and I’m supposed to meet them for dinner. I haven’t even gotten around to what to wear yet. This is the first time I’m meeting them, so it’s a massive deal. I just want to look my very best.” It was understandable. I had been there, done that. “Can I help you with anything? Anything at all?” “Could you please?” she asked, grinning at the prospect of me taking on some of her burden. “I’m waiting for a fax from Hong Kong. Make sure to separate different sections of the contract in different folders. I believe there are three separate ones. Lastly, you
need to personally drop that off to Mr. Elliot’s home. There will be a driver waiting downstairs. Make sure you don’t utter a word about what you have in your hand. This is pretty hush-hush, and normally I don’t trust just anyone, but since you’re basically a family friend of the Elliot’s, I’m trusting you with this.” I nodded, jotting down everything she told me, trying in earnest not to react to the fact that I was supposed to go over to Cruz’s place. What if his fiancée was there, too? Fuck. Whatever; it was too late to change my mind now. Besides, Denise needed my help. As a result, I sucked up my pride and just dealt with it. She repeated the instructions several times before I reiterated everything to her, just so she could leave me be and head off to be with her boyfriend and his family. Although Denise was firm and efficient, I was pleased to see she could be easily ruffled just like everyone else when meeting their significant other’s parents. While waiting on the papers from Hong Kong, I took a moment to stroll around, scanning the now empty office spaces. As I did so, I wondered where Cruz’s office was. There was only one set of black, double-doors on the floor, and it didn’t take a genius to guess it was the boss’s office. For a moment, I contemplated if I should go and scout into his space, but as easily as the thought came, I immediately scolded myself that there was no point in that. After all, I would feel downright awful after what I had done. He was engaged, and hopefully he didn’t hate me for being aggressive the other night. Retracing my steps back to my desk, I was glad to find the kitchen along the way. In there, I took a bottled juice, a banana,
and a granola bar before retreating back to my post to man the machine. The fax beeped at thirty past seven, indicating that the longawaited files were being sent over. The mere sound of it almost made me want to dance because I was starting to get tired, and the last thing I needed was for me to fall asleep while the driver waited for me downstairs. As carefully as I could, I followed Denise’s instructions to a T. Once finished, I held on to the folders for dear life as I headed towards the elevator and in search of the driver who would take me to Cruz’s apartment. Oh, Lord. First assignment, here we go.
Chapter Nine Wracked with nerves, I didn’t realize how hard I was chewing on my lip until I felt the iron taste of blood. I was sitting in the back of a Mercedes sedan with the cool air blasting high, yet I could feel myself breaking into sweat. It wasn’t necessarily about seeing Cruz again. Okay, maybe it was. As much as I tried to tell myself to get over it, it was difficult. He affected me, and there was nothing I could do about that. At least I could pretend he didn’t. I wasn’t the first woman in this predicament. I could pull it off. I knew I could. As they said, “practice makes perfect.” The more I encountered him, the easier it would be for me in the long run. Surprisingly, his home was ten minutes away from his mother’s. If that didn’t scream overprotective, I didn’t know what did, but it was endearing to see a man like him so concerned about his mom. I supposed it was one of those things that made him unique. All right, enough thoughts of him being extra special. I wasn’t helping myself if my thoughts lingered around his praises. The driver helped me out of the car before leading me towards the front door where he produced a key, opened the door, and then let me in, informing me he would wait to take me home. After giving him a heartfelt smile, I entered the quiet stillness of Cruz’s home. Denise instructed me to leave it on the desk in the library. The problem I had was the fact that she didn’t tell me which floor it was, and from where I stood, there seemed to be three floors. Not knowing what to do, I weighed leaving it on the foyer table or hunting down the library. I supposed I could look around
and take it from there. Libraries and home offices usually were located on the main floor, right? Cautiously strolling, I found a formal-looking settee that was decorated in hues of white and beige. It was nice, but it screamed standoffish to me. It would make it difficult for any guests to move around. They would be intimidated and too worried to make a stain anywhere. Across that coolness of a room was the formal dining then the kitchen. Not finding the library, I decided, since I was already here, why not keep looking in order to do what I was told to? I didn’t want it to seem like I couldn’t follow a simple task by placing these vital papers in the library. With newly injected courage, I spun around and headed towards the stairs that led me to the second level. Just as I was reaching the landing, I froze when I heard a sound coming from upstairs¸ and before long, I heard footsteps then saw Cruz descending from the stairs, fresh out of shower and with his towel loosely wrapped around his hips. Fuck, I thought as I forgot to breathe at the sight of him almost naked. “Serena,” he said, pausing as he looked at me, shocked just like I was. I should say something, anything. However, I was in total panic mode, and for the life of me, my mouth wouldn’t operate. We stared at each other for a minute then two, three, until everything seemed to disappear. The magnetic pull his intense gaze had on me felt dizzying, as if he had cast a spell, and I was enslaved
to him and at his command. The air between us was too charged to ignore. Of course, as much as I wanted to bask in it, experience it once more, I knew I shouldn’t. With everything I could muster, I broke the spell between us, shamefaced that I was almost waltzing back into temptation. Clearing my throat, I blinked a few times before gazing at him again. “I—uh—have the papers from Hong Kong. I’ll just … umm … leave these here.” I just left it on the landing before turning around and pacing the steps as fast as I could, hoping this crazy nightmare would all be over soon. Just as I stepped into the foyer, I heard him call after me. “Serena, wait!” I instantly paused, counting a few times before spinning on my heels to face him. “Yeah?” I asked, barely meeting his powerful, mercurial gaze. He opened his mouth, his frown deepening as he gazed down at me, as if he was trying to conjure the words to say. Licking my lips, I let out a sigh. “Is there anything else you need, Cruz?” He hastily shook his head, seeming confused at my question. “How are you finding things at work? Is everyone treating you well?” He wanted to know how my day had gone? Seriously, he didn’t need to be almost naked while trying to engage me in a mundane conversation. “Everyone’s been great, just great!” I said chirpily, trying to pry my eyes off his beautiful face. It was hard to. I hadn’t realized
how sexy a freshly showered guy could look. Damn, but he looked delicious. There was a long pause. It was unnerving the way he was staring at me, like he wasn’t sure what to say, yet it seemed like he didn’t want to end it, either. When I was finally fed up with this strange dance we were doing, I opened my lips to say something, but he beat me to it. “Are you doing anything tonight?” Um, no. I didn’t have friends yet, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. I was twenty-one, for crying out loud. I should have a vibrant nightlife with lots of girl time. Instead of telling him the truth, I decided to tell a little white lie. “Yes, actually with people from school.” “Right, right, of course.” Okay then. I supposed there was nothing left to be said here. “I should get going.” “Be safe.” His face softened as his eyes lingered on my face before adding in a strained voice, “Please.” “Always.” Everything seemed to blur from then on—the walk towards the awaiting car and being driven and deposited at Margery’s house. It was none of my business, but somehow, I was left with an inkling that he was going to spend the night with his woman. The heart was a fickle thing. It usually never followed what the mind bid it to. It simply felt. And what a dangerous thing that was.
Chapter Ten It had been exactly a week since that emotionally charged encounter, and lucky for me, Cruz had been in and out of the office, travelling and attending business meetings in different parts of Europe. It would be conceited to consider, but part of me believed Cruz was relieved he didn’t have to see me. I wasn’t sure why my thoughts led me to that conclusion, but I had the wild hunch. With Cruz gone, Archer suddenly come out of nowhere, surprising me at work. He thought to pop in and see how things were working out for me and to also tell me he would be going to the south of France with some of friends for a whole week. He even extended an invitation, and for a second, I was willing to go, but then I was reminded of school and work commitments. I couldn’t check out of those responsibilities for a whole week. It would be insane. Archer, however, was a law unto himself. He didn’t follow any rules and did things on his own terms— coming home whenever he felt like, dating whomever he wanted, whether to opt in to work in their family company or not, or to follow the proper social obligations or not. Some might see it as impulsive, lazy even, but I found myself admiring that trait—not giving a fuck if he was offending anyone. It must be freeing to act and think that way. One could only wish to have such freedom, but I cared too much. During this time, I met two girls from school, one named Nessa and her roommate/best friend, the eccentrically cute Bobbie. They were the epitome of opposites attract. Sometimes, I wondered how
one could tolerate the other, but for some reason, they worked and, in a sense, complimented each other. I guessed, since they grew up together as neighbors, they’d had time to accept each other’s traits. Before I left school to go to my internship, Bobbie invited me to a party tonight. Given that it was my first official invitation from anyone at school, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. The need to fit in with my peers made it all the more important to me. Promising them I would text them the address to Margery’s house in Chelsea, I then went to work, but this time, I made sure I had the right clothes to change into. With Denise gone to shadow Cruz wherever he needed to get to, I had to go under Steph. Steph was more laidback, and I resonated more with her than Denise. Maybe it was because she was less intense and much hipper due to her love of rock and roll, one tidbit that I didn’t expect upon judging her by appearance since she looked like your typical Miss Prim. She proved me wrong, though. Once work ended, I came home to dine with Margery. She and I had been in our getting-to-know-each-other stage. I found her enchanting, most especially when she told me stories about her youth, how she met my mother, or how she fell in love. There was no doubt in my mind how much love she had for her late husband. The more she reminisced, the more I recalled Cruz’s words about how true love could sometimes kill someone. When she got those spells, she usually got teary-eyed, not the hysterical, but more of a poised, gracious cry. Before we parted for the night so she could rest and read a novel, I gave her a warm hug then whispered that
she was a brave woman. The despair in her eyes became evident before she whispered her thank you with a weakened smile. I had already informed her that I planned to go out tonight, so when she wished me a lovely evening, I took it as my cue to go upstairs and change. The minute I was secured in the room, I began to change into a skin-tight, stretchy, white, micro mini dress. No denim mishap for me tonight, I thought as I inwardly recoiled at the memory of the horrified look as they ridiculed my outfit that night. Though I didn’t want to be bullied into changing who I was and what I liked, I also didn’t want to provoke uninvited attention. With some careful use of cosmetics, I decided to let my hair down before slipping into some stilettos. When Bobbie called, telling me they would be there in less than five minutes, I hurriedly went downstairs and waited right outside for them to show up. Surprisingly, Bobbie had her boyfriend Jude, a guy who matched her dulled-out, silvery-pink hair, drive us to the party. And since I had no idea where the party was located, I was beginning to worry after thirty minutes or so when we didn’t slow down one bit on the freeway. “Um … How far away is this place?” Nessa threw me a warm smile. “Not far. We’re almost in Brighton, love.” Brighton? I wondered, thinking that I hadn’t been there. Well, there were a lot of places I hadn’t been yet, but one by one, hopefully before I left the country, I would have a chance to see them all. Who knew when I would be able to visit again? Surely not
on a student budget; that was for damn sure. The party was held in the three-story home of some artist, so the people filtering in and out of the place were a contrast of colors and hues. Most opted for black apparel with interesting hair colors from all over the color wheel. It certainly would be a night to remember. British people expressed themselves in the most passionate of ways. I didn’t know how they had become known for being standoffish and reserved. One thing stood out, though, and that was their love of music. People here seemed to appreciate the retro jams, rock and roll, and everything in between. It was different than what I was used to, but I found it refreshing. I wasn’t sure if that made much sense, but heck, I was young and buzzing with alcohol, so I did what everyone else was doing: dance, drink, converse, and dance some more. Since Bobbie was basically engrossed with Jude, Nessa and I partied together. There were several men wanting to break us apart, but I wasn’t interested. When one guy took Nessa’s interest and left me all to my lonesome, I was relieved to see Bobbie sitting all by herself while watching her boyfriend do some Irish bomb contest. Seeking her company, I sat next to her, enjoying the craziness around me. “Your boyfriend looks a breath away from passing out.” Jude did seem as though he couldn’t go for another round. His eyes were barely cracked open as he sported a shit-eating grin. Bobbie smirked. “Oh, that’s nothing new, my love. The party wouldn’t be smashing if he didn’t fall flat on his hairy arse.”
Jude had a hairy ass? Uh … GROSS! The image that flashed through my mind was too hard to shake off. Fuck. Bobbie spat out the alcohol from her mouth, snorting as she laughed her heart out. “Your face! Bloody hell, that was priceless!” Hairy and ass didn’t go together. I would have enjoyed laughing along with her, but I was too sober to do so. “What time do you think we’ll be heading back? I’m in no rush, just want a time frame.” I still had classes and work tomorrow, none of which I intended to miss. “I don’t think any of us are in condition to drive. We’ll probably crash here or sleep in the car more like. You know what I mean?” “Yes, I do.” But I wasn’t prepared for that. I didn’t expect that coming out to party tonight meant that I wasn’t going home until whenever they felt like driving back. It wasn’t their fault. It was mine since I hadn’t asked for essential details when they invited me. Heck, I hadn’t even asked where it was located. While Bobbie was preoccupied rehashing stories about Jude and getting inebriated in the past, I was trying to find a solution. Given the hour, flagging a cab or taking the train was out of the question. I had heard it didn’t resume until six a.m., so I basically had the choice of waiting it out for another five hours or tagging along with my school friends, none of which appealed to me, to say the least. He did say I could call him if I needed something, and this was a moment of desperate need. It would have been different if there was a safe place to crash around here. However, it seemed that
everyone was too busy meeting someone to hook up with and getting obliterated as quickly as possible instead of worrying about something as lame as having a decent place to sleep. One of my biggest rules when partying was always to make sure I got home safely. I could get drunk as much as my heart desired, but I always had to sleep in my own bed. With that in mind, I got up and went to the nearest corner that was packed with couples making out or trying to get to second base. Ignoring the romantic humdrum behind me, I pulled my phone out of my purse. “Serena!” Nessa hollered at me from a few feet away. “Dance with me. I need a partner.” “In a little bit. Let me just call someone really quickly, then I’ll be right with you, promise,” I pled, and she signaled a thumbs up then blew me a kiss. Back to my dilemma, I took a lengthy breath. “Get over it, Serena. You’re being obnoxious. Stop it,” I muttered under my breath as I looked down at the handheld device. With my phone in hand, I scrolled for Cruz’s name, feeling wretched for even considering this idea, yet I felt dizzy at the thought of hearing his voice after a week of no news from him. My withdrawals were real, but not severe. Even so, none of it was healthy. Holding my breath as I pressed the call button, I was half hoping he would pick up and half hoping he would send the call to voicemail or still be out of the country. When I heard his voice on the other end of the phone, though, my heart skyrocketed into
blissful oblivion. “Yes?” His raspy, deep-timbered voice temporarily suspended me from reality. Then, as quickly as it came, I was reverted back to my senses. Shaking my head, I wondered who answered a phone call with a yes. A normal person would usually say hello, not yes. It was arrogant and a bit entitled. Little bits like these made me nervous when it came to him. It only reminded me of the vast difference between us. “Hey, it’s Serena,” I said meekly but loud enough for him to hear. “Serena?” He didn’t sound pleased. “Why are you calling me at this ungodly hour?” Maybe I had caught him at a bad time. Well, there was no good time past midnight when one was calling for a favor. Damn it. I probably should just apologize and hang up for bothering him. It would be the politest thing to do. “What is that sound in the background?” He sounded appalled. Your worst nightmare, I wanted to retort back, but I successfully refrained from it. Instead, I decided to play nice. “It’s called the “Macarena,” A blast from the past, 90s style.” “It’s the what?” “Have you been living in a cave? ’Cause I’m pretty sure everyone’s heard this song.” There was something about his tone that rubbed me the wrong way. I felt as though he was judging me for some reason. “I sure as hell haven’t, so no, I doubt everyone has heard of
it.” I couldn’t believe it. We were actually arguing about the fucking “Macarena” song. Why did he have to be so infuriating? “I get that you’re mister high and mighty, but please, just for once—just this one time—could you please take the stick out of your royal ass?” “I beg your pardon? First of all, I am not royalty. Secondly, I never had a stick up my arse, not now, not ever, not even in the near bloody future—” Okay, I got that loud and crystal clear. “Fine. Okay, whatever.” This whole conversation had started on the wrong footing. How it got here, I had no idea. As much as I would have liked to bury this entire conversation, he apparently wasn’t done. “Did you insinuate that because of what happened that night?” he confronted, possibly wanting to open the can of worms once again. Oh, no. I could talk and argue about anything: conspiracy theories about NASA covering up alien life, the inhumane ritual killing of hundreds of whales in the Faroe Islands, the child bride practices in other cultures, the thriving narcissistic culture through social media, why Kylie Jenner’s lips garnered more attention than ISIS in our society’s younger generation—heck, anything, anything at all. But never about that night. I just couldn’t. “Listen, I’m sorry I called at this late hour. Just scratch everything I said. It was a mistake calling you tonight.” “Were you drunk dialing and mistakenly called me?”
Drunk dialing? I wasn’t that kind of woman. What the hell? I was a fun drunk, not some emotional train wreck. “No, but if I was, I’d rather call 1-800-MASTURLINE.” WTF? Did I just say that out loud? Shit. Shit. SHIT. My face was beyond hot; it was burning from inside out. “Forget I said that. FUCK!” I wanted to die on the spot. What in the world made me spout off idiotic things to him? It was like vomit—just when you thought it was over and done with, there was another surprise attack sneaking up on you. “Like hell I will. MASTURLINE?” His tone sounded amused with a hint of intrigue. “Care to elaborate on that?” “Not really. Nope.” I shook my head, wanting for something to swallow me alive so I didn’t have to endure another notch in my already long list of embarrassing moments where Cruz was concerned. “You’re quite the firecracker, aren’t you, Serena?” How badly I wanted to die right then and there. Then again, the uncomfortable damage was done, so it was best to live with it. “You bet. I’m like a Christmas morning—a gift that keeps on giving. Now that we’ve established that, can I hang up now? ’Cause I think my fun-o-meter is running low.” “Why did you call me in the first place, Serena?” he inquired, obviously willing to forgo the awkward moment. I could have sighed with relief, but I didn’t want him to know how embroiled and distressed I was.
“I wouldn’t have bugged you in the first place if Archer wasn’t out of town.” “Good to know I’m not the first choice.” Pure sarcasm laced his voice, none too pleased. His comment was as if he was implying something else entirely. If his ego was bruised, well, it wasn’t my intention. Back to my present conundrum, I hoped he would be willing to help me. “Are you back in town, or are you still in Geneva?” “I flew in four hours ago.” “Right. Well, I know this might seem too much, given that you guys don’t know me all that well yet, but since you once told me that I could count on you when I needed something, I was hoping, if possible, there’s a spare driver you could call to come pick me up right now? I know it’s late, and I apologize for that. I promise this will be the first and only time. I don’t like inconveniencing people for my benefit. I’m not like that at all. I just wanted to add that.” There was a momentary pause before he said, “Where are you exactly?” “Brighton.” “What in God’s name are you doing in Brighton on a school day?” he hissed, briefly stunning me. The second I regained my wit, I immediately went into defensive mode. “What do you think, Cruz? We’re studying the Bible and singing “Kumbaya,” I snapped back, fuming. “Lovely, just lovely. At least one of us finds it humorous,” He reprimanded in a manner that a principal would use to scold a
student. “Text me the address this instant, and someone will be on their way to come fetch you.” “Thank you.” His less than amused tone affected me a great deal more than I would like to admit. Instead of responding in the same biting tone I had used minutes ago, I felt compelled to resort back to my less catty voice, mellower and less snarky. I was expecting another exchange of words, but was stunned to find that the line had gone dead. Okay. What was that all about? Was he pissed off because I had called at this time of the night, the fact that I wanted a driver to come get me, or the fact that I had partied on a school night? Margery didn’t seem to mind when I told her, so why was he acting like I was a rebellious party girl? Shaking my head, I made sure to text him the address then put my phone on vibrate before I slipped it back into my purse and headed off to find Nessa on the dance floor.
Chapter Eleven Cruz I kept staring at the phone, confused, wondering why the hell I was so bloody furious. Ever since the day I had laid eyes on her, nothing had been the same. She had been hounding my thoughts, making me struggle to fight this powerful pull that kept me from gaining back my sanity. The week away from her was a blessing. I had almost believed she didn’t affect me so. Well, that belief came into question when I got a call from her and proved how wrong my judgment was. Brighton, on a Monday night. “Bloody Hell,” I muttered under my breath. Before I even had the chance to ponder it, I thought it would be best to get her myself. That way, maybe she could get a good lecture or two about how she should take her life seriously. As all these inexplicable thoughts ran through my mind, one thing stood out—why did I care so much if she partied? She wasn’t my responsibility, far from it. Apart from making sure she got everything she needed while living in my mother’s home, the rest wasn’t my problem. Cursing for considering such idiotic thoughts, I took the flight of stairs two steps at a time, instantly going inside my room to change into some black jeans, black top, and a matching leather jacket. Then I marched down the flight in the same manner as before, striding towards the hall that led to the foyer. I seized the set of keys that were sitting on the Murano crystal table then let myself out the
house, and I immediately slid into the Range and revved up the engine before maneuvering in a maniacal manner. Reckless driving was not a constant occurrence, but haplessly applied when the situation called for such, such as when someone got themselves in trouble on a Monday night. Before I had received the call from Serena, I had actually been contemplating if I should see Ivy or not, but the idea turned to dust the moment I heard the madness in the background. Ivy. God help me. She wouldn’t be pleased to know what I had been up to, but I was already on my way to pick up Serena. “This is the last time,” I said under my breath, loathing the fact that I had somehow managed to entangle my life with Serena’s. Although I didn’t despise her, I found myself cold and distant with her. Maybe it was because I envied her candor and vibrant persona, the polar opposite of me. She always seemed to don this smile that never failed to make me feel uncomfortable, yet I couldn’t ever look away. I admitted she was charmingly beautiful, but so was Ivy. I had realized I had never looked at my fiancée in the way I looked at Serena. Serena rattled something within me, and it was unsettling. I had felt it the moment my eyes had found hers, and it had only gotten worse when she had kissed me in such a fervent manner that I had succumbed to my wayward senses. For years, I had never had a problem governing my wants and desire, yet that kiss almost made me lose control. From then on, I had known I had to keep her at arm’s length. She was far too dangerous for my well-being, and quite
frankly, I liked having order in my life. Happenstance wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Still, here I was … about to dance around the orbit of the damn enticement itself. I already regretted the decision of coming out to get her myself rather than having one of the in-house drivers pick her up, so I consoled myself that I needed the drive to clear my thoughts. I supposed I could use this opportunity to see her in an environment that would give me a hefty reality check. When I had first met her, I had shocked myself by flirting with her. It wasn’t intentional. I was used to women throwing themselves at me, and she didn’t hide the fact that she liked me. Her eyes and the way she addressed me proved as much. My normal reaction would be to scoff at it and turn down the woman’s advances before it progressed further since I was committed to Ivy, but I couldn’t do it with Serena. It seemed, the more I got to know her, the more I felt as though she drew me into her spell. I was drawn to her like none other. It was enjoyable at first, but after that heated kiss, I knew she was a disaster waiting to happen. Indulging in such fiery dalliances was never on my agenda. She simply was a risk I could do without. With that in mind, I had it all planned out, and then my mother had to suggest she work for me. I had almost passionately rejected it out loud when the mere idea spouted from her lips. Once more, however, I didn’t have the capacity to decline my mother in fear that her health might deteriorate even further. It was best I dealt with the situation with
caution. Tonight would be a good start. Steering through the sparse traffic with the help of navigation, I arrived at the address Serena had texted me. Although I’d had an idea of what I would most likely deal with upon arriving, nothing had prepared me for such monstrosity. Not only was the house vibrating loud music throughout the street, but there were people littered around the damn walkways, drinking, dancing, and doing God knew what else. This was, without a doubt, the worst racket I had ever set my eyes upon. Serena likes places like this? I marveled at the thought, pondering what had enticed her to such a scene. To each their own. Parties such as these were not my cup of tea, and for good reason. Archer, on the other hand, lavished on such occasions because he had been brought up differently than I. At a very young age, I was already primed to carry on my father’s legacy, so I had instilled in my mind that partying would deviate me from my purpose. While he had the freedom to do as he pleased without familial obligation hanging over his head, I had carried on doing my commitment without a word of complaint. I had one it for the love I had for my parents and out of duty, and nothing could ever steer me away from my commitment, not even an enchanting American who stirred something deep within me. After drawing out breath, I tried calling her phone a few times, but to no avail. It immediately diverted straight to her voicemail. “Where the bloody hell is she?” I grumbled as I scanned the drunken folks through the glass of my window. After a minute or so without any sign of her, I decided it was best to park somewhere,
get out of the car, and look for her. I wasn’t one to wait about until she was ready to end her partying for the night. Once I was out of the vehicle, I was a little disappointed of what type of company Serena surrounded herself with from university. She seemed like a bright woman with splendid potential. It would be disheartening to see her deter from her promising future, wasting away precious time by meandering through parties and men instead of focusing on paving her way into a successful career. Was this the main reason she had come here in the first place, to party? I balked at the thought as I broke into the throng of people, pushing my way into the house. The second I got through the door, I wasn’t surprised to see a full house. Try as I might, I scoured the crowd for her familiar face and figure, but she was nowhere in sight. Deciding to follow the flow of the crowd, which led me towards the back end of the house that faced the beach, I found myself in a converted communal room turned into a dance floor. And that’s when I found her … atop a circular dining table, dancing in a form-fitting white dress that left little to a man’s imagination. Each curve was on display as men surrounded her, glancing up in awe and with lust-filled eyes, admiring each curve was flaunted for their eyes’ pleasure. I saw red. I saw white. I saw her. All of her. I had known she had a lovely figure. She was trim and had a well-toned body that garnered everyone’s attention. It also exposed how much time and effort she most likely invested in the gym or
some sort of outdoor activities. God help me, but this ought to be one hell of a long night. My body went hot as my blood boiled with each second that passed watching her seductively swaying as she danced to the beat. She was hypnotizing to watch, but sense left me as I furiously streamed towards her, ready to bring hell on earth. “Get your bloody arse down from that godforsaken table, or I’ll fucking do it myself,” I threatened, almost screeching at the top of my lungs, past caring what others thought. “Cruz!” Serena paused, momentarily shocked to see me. The second it registered how angry I was, her smile gradually turned to a frown. “Okay, gosh. There’s no need to cause a scene.” I wasn’t the least bit amused. All I knew was how royally ticked off I was. I didn’t care if it made sense to me, to her, or for the people amongst us. All I knew was that I didn’t want men looking at her as if she was a dessert ready to be devoured. I wanted to shield her, protect her, and at the same time, strangle her for being so reckless. My emotions were getting the best of me, and I was having a perilous time harnessing them back in their cage. The second she got down from the table, Serena wearily eyed me then leaned closer with a cute pout on her succulent lips. “I was just dancing. There’s no harm in that, is there?” Yes, there was. She was harming my sanity, my entire existence, and I wasn’t sure how to address it. “You were flaunting your body while men ogled and fantasized about fucking you senseless.” That had not come out the way I had wanted it to, but bloody hell, the woman was driving me mental.
Literally. Unequivocally. “Exactly. What’s the harm in that? You act as if I committed a crime.” She was standing her ground, a trait I respected most especially since not a lot of people tried to argue with me. As much as I admired her vigor, however, I couldn’t shake off the potent jealousy that possessed me upon seeing her dancing for such a rabid, hungry audience. “You were inviting trouble, Serena,” I replied. “What if one of those men had decided they had to have you to themselves, even though you protested? You could’ve been raped or something even more dreadful.” All amusement vanished from her face. “Your imagination is colorful. No wonder you’re the way you are.” I’d had high hopes she would see my point, but I was taken aback by her derogatory remark. “And what is that exactly, Serena?” It seemed she had already made up her mind about me, and I admitted it stung a little. “You’re boring,” she said, obviously feeling justified. “You don’t know how to have fun. You’re always so serious about everything. You’re so wound up that you don’t ever let yourself loose.” I gritted my teeth as I squashed down the urge to wrench her against my body and kiss her senselessly just to shut her up. “Displaying utmost concern for your well-being deems me a boring person?” She and I would never see eye-to-eye; therefore, there was no point in indulging ourselves with more argument.
Sending her a steady gaze, I took a moment to study her face. “Well, that bloody well sums it up, doesn’t it? I’ll wait outside. If you’re not there in five minutes, don’t bother coming out.” She opened her mouth just as I spun around and left her there, flummoxed at my treatment of her. I had the utmost respect for women, but whenever Serena was concerned, she drove me to a place where my mental capacity was nil and the emotional drive too high to see much else. Emerging from the insufferable house, I ignored the jovially drunk crowd as I purposely sought the confines of my car. I pulled my keys out of my pocket, and I had just disengaged my alarm when I felt someone push from behind, instantly making me face my pseudo attacker. “God, you’re so infuriating, Cruz!” Serena screeched at the top of her lungs, her cheeks red and her vivid green jewels wildly glittering at me. “You drive me fucking crazy!” I drove her crazy? Seriously? Huh. “This is bloody mental,” I muttered, not meaning to engage in a full-blown fight with her. She seemed as though she was ready to have a bloody showdown, and I wasn’t going to bait her. “What the fuck is wrong with you? I just don’t fucking get you! One minute, you were all over me, and then the next, you treat me like shit. And the most shocking thing of all is you’re fucking engaged! Is this what you do, toy around with women’s minds just for the hell of it? ’Cause let me tell you, it’s just plain cruel.” Bloody. Fucking. Hell. And back. “I might have this random case of selective amnesia because I
don’t seem to recall ever toying with you.” No matter how much I tried to squelch the need to disengage from the escalating fight, she was making it too hard. She knew what buttons to push. Gritting my teeth, I groaned loudly as I tried not to capture how enticingly beautiful she looked. God, what the fuck am I going to do with her? “You know what? Forget you.” She looked wild, intense, and utterly breathtaking when impassioned, but I simply couldn’t. I had given my promise to Ivy, and it was best I remember that solemn promise that signified the ring she had on. Peeling my eyes away from her, I muttered, “Suit yourself,” before opening the car door, willing to leave this damning place. “Asshole,” she spat back with fire and so much more. “Don’t tempt me, Serena. It’s already late, you’re sloshed, and I don’t have an ounce of patience to deal with any of this.” I meant it. She was too dangerous to be around because I was a hairsbreadth away from wanting to break the promise I had given to Ivy and indulge in this intense feeling Serena evoked in me. “Tempt you? Tempt you to do what?” She was little miss devil incarnate, yet she hadn’t a clue how much she affected me and pretty much all the men around her. She petrified me, I admitted, but I wasn’t ready to give up. No. It wasn’t going to be easy to keep her at arm’s length, but it must be done. “Nothing. You don’t tempt me at all, not specifically in that department.” I knew it was going to put a dent in her confidence,
but she had to stop goading me into a fight … and everything else. My response hit a raw nerve. I could see it in her face, though the fire in her eyes didn’t ebb. In fact, it had a reverse effect; it glowed more brightly. Closing the gap between us, her body almost touched my chest before she took a deep breath and raised her chin to meet me in the eye, ready to test my limits. “So if I strip naked and throw myself at you, you’d decline me, Cruz?” “Certainly,” I said effortlessly. The image she painted already had my cock aching, but I wasn’t going to let my dick rule me into submission. “I’m not going to lie. That hurt very much …” She made a small nod, as if comforting herself. “But I’m consoling myself with the thought that you’d probably be a lazy bore-fest in the sack, anyway, so yay me.” My nostrils flared, but I admired myself for not allowing her jabs to affect me. I could do this. She was simply a woman. Though I was attracted to her, at the end of the day, she was simply … a woman. “All right, Serena. Now that we’ve settled the disputes, can we move along? I still have a company to run in the morning, in case that significant bit escaped your drunken mind.” “Whatever,” she huffed out before she rounded to the other side of the car then opened the door and slid inside, slamming the door. Turning the ignition, I didn’t immediately drive off as expected. I could feel immense tension radiating off her, which made me
contemplate if I should apologize. Then I argued that, by doing so, she might mistake my gesture as encouragement. Therefore, I was left with few options. It was a delicate situation, and I wasn’t sure how to go about it anymore. “Serena—” “Don’t. Just don’t.” She said it in a way that told me that she was done with me, that it was better to leave it be, suspended just like we were, leaving me in a confused state of mind. Explosive sexual chemistry, one that wasn’t explored, was a bloody bitch to a man’s sanity.
Chapter Twelve Cruz The drive back to my mother’s house was filled with unspoken words and profound tension. I could hear her think, her frustrations radiating off her in waves, while I suffered in the same manner, halfhoping someone had the wit to break the intensity. However, I knew the person who should be trying to ease the situation was me. Discussing anything in a confined space after that explosive fight would not be wise, though. It was best I wait until we arrived at my mother’s. Hopefully, she and I would have calmed down by then. Instead of pondering the fight back in Brighton, I diverted my thoughts to how to approach her and how delicate my words should be. Apologies were unknown to me, yet I felt inclined to do so with her. The second we turned into my mother’s driveway, I turned to her. “I just want to apologize about my off-handed comments earlier,” I began in a resigned tone, nothing too aggressive or accusing, but my good intentions were put to the test. She unbuckled her seatbelt before glaring at me. “Which part are you apologizing for; the one where you said I have the sex appeal of a broomstick or the part where you said I was a tease and inviting someone to rape me because of the way I dressed?” “Bloody fuck.” I knew I had said all of those things—well, not in the way she delivered it, but all technicalities aside, the end
meaning was the same. “I’m sorry if I offended you—truly, I am, most particularly about the temptation reference.” “Okay. If you say so.” She shrugged, like she wasn’t willing to discuss anything further. “Could you at least try meeting me halfway here, Serena? I’m trying to make this situation less unsavory than it already is.” Her cheeks flamed crimson. Looking flustered, she glanced at me heatedly. “I am meeting you halfway! What the hell? I get it—I do—but you were being honest. There’s no need to apologize for not finding someone appealing, so there’s no need for this conversation at all.” It was the biggest lie of all, yet I couldn’t find my voice to undo the damage. In my mind, I believed that, with her thinking I found her unappealing, it would discourage her attraction to me, which in turn, would be beneficial to everyone involved, me most especially. There was an overwhelming need to console her, comfort her, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. As a result, we simply stared at each other while my inner turmoil waged on, and she looked like she was on the verge of tears. Before I could say another word, however, she decided to shuffle out of the car then slammed it shut before hastily striding towards the front door as if the hounds of Hell were upon her heels. Something significant snapped inside of me while I followed her. “Serena, wait!” I called out, hoping she would give me a moment to apologize, to make amends. Chest heaving, she spun and faced me. “If you have more to
say about how unattractive you find me, I can guarantee you there’s no need for that. I assure you I got the message pretty loud and clear.” She looked like an injured kitten, and it was killing me that I couldn’t comfort her. I just couldn’t, or so help me God, I wouldn’t be responsible for what happened. “I’m sorry … I truly am.” The broken words echoed in my heart. Glassy eyed, she gazed at me with sadness and wonderment. “You … affect me so much it leaves me breathless.” She sniffed. “How can I feel this … kind of pull, this electricity with another man, yet it seems as though he doesn’t feel the least bit affected?” she wondered aloud, expecting me to answer the question that had haunted me since that day I found her in her bedroom. “Serena …” I whispered, not truly knowing what to say. I simply couldn’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to. I chose not to. She shook her head, denying what was and what wasn’t. “When I kissed you, I knew you felt it. You looked as if you did. You did feel it, didn’t you?” A word would be too much. Confirming her suspicions would be suicide on my part. Silence was golden. “But you kissed me back …” she whispered brokenly. That sole kiss was confirmation enough. Control where Serena was concerned was out of the question. She had this uncanny ability to make me into an undisciplined, uncontrollable fool, and I couldn’t have that. It was petrifying. Still, I knew I had to say something to ease her mind since I was to blame for this entire thing and not her.
“I did … and I will regret that for the rest of my life. I’m sorry I didn’t meet you sooner.” Because, if I had met her before I had committed myself to Ivy, I would have chosen Serena in a heartbeat. It wouldn’t even be a question at all. It might be too much to admit, but this connection, this uncontrollable attraction to her was something I hadn’t experienced with anyone, so yes, choosing her would have been a given. “But that’s all it’ll ever be with us, Serena. I know this might not make sense to you now, but you’re better off with someone who’s your age, someone free who could give you whatever your heart wishes. That man cannot and will not be me.” “I know …” Closing the gap between us, I reached out to cup her face before lifting it so her gaze met mine. I wanted to memorize her beautiful, flashing green eyes and to also remember how closely I had been to seeing how it felt to have someone reach into your soul without reason, without explanation. I would always remember Serena this way, even though I would admire her from afar. “You should live and enjoy life. You’re young and free. I beg of you not to wrap your mind around what might or might not have been.” My voice trembled as emotions ran through me. I let my eyes roam her beguiling beauty for the last time before I softly kissed her forehead, as if she was the most precious thing this world had to offer. She very well could be, for me at least. Ignoring the tightening of my chest, I tried to make a reassuring smile. I couldn’t shake away the feeling that I was throwing away something that could’ve been special had I given the time to nurture
it. Mirroring the same smile I had bestowed on her, Serena gently detached herself from me. “Goodbye, Cruz.” I merely nodded, unable to trust myself to utter a damn word. I let her words hang in the air, sounding as if it were a simple goodbye, though it indicated so much more than that. It was as if she was saying it with finality, as though she was releasing the man who could have been with her. I stared after her, half-wanting to chase her and apologize, and the other side felt as though this was the wisest thing to be done since it had gotten out of control. We were working together, and I simply could not let this temptation derail me from my main goal, my ultimate purpose. Never had I experienced anything like this, even though nothing really had happened between us except for that one kiss. Who would have thought a mere kiss could wreak havoc in my life? It was all over now. Working alongside Serena Woods would be a hellish ordeal, but it was one I had to learn how to master. God help me because, if I couldn’t, it would be a bloody disaster. I would have to take all the required precautions to remind myself how closely I was to throwing everything away for a girl who made me feel like I was on the verge of a free fall. I wasn’t aware of how long I stood there, staring at the front door after Serena had gone inside. Maybe it was exhaustion or madness, but I had to move along, or someone would see me and wonder if I had lost my mind. I took one long breath before
retreating back into my vehicle and driving myself back to my own place. The moment I entered my house, instead of going into my bedroom, I sought the bar where I drank until I was numb within, until I could no longer imagine her tearstained face. When I kissed you … I knew you felt it. You looked as if you did. You did feel it, didn’t you? Her words haunted me so much I barely slept a wink. It didn’t help my cause that the dress she’d had on filled my mind all night. How I managed to restrain myself and not push her against the car and have my wicked way with her left me speechless. Functioning around her without noting how my cock painfully ached was a feat. It was no wonder I was always furious with her. The woman simply made my cock ache like no other in my life. Not even Ivy could elicit such lascivious thoughts. “Serena,” I hissed out, “how you fuck with my bloody mind.”
Chapter Thirteen It was expected that Cruz would do everything in his power to avoid me. Even when I wheeled in his refreshments, he was engaged in a call or conveniently in the bathroom, anything really so he didn’t have to speak to me. As much as it hurt me, I was also grateful he made it easier to work in his presence. After a week, I had gotten used to it. Well, up until I met his fiancée, Ivy, in the flesh. It was on a Thursday, and I was doing my usual round of refreshments in his office when he emerged from the door with this stunning woman draped on his arm. I was in the middle of rearranging the porcelain pot and the fresh cream when they surprised me with their enamored presence, so I spilled a little cream on the tray. Obviously, I was beyond shocked. I wasn’t exactly the poised kind, nor was I elegant, so I was pretty sure I appeared inexperienced and unprofessional. If it were Steph or Denise, they would have handled it with effortless elegance. Before I could beat myself up for my major blunder, Ivy decided to take charge of the situation while Cruz remained cool as a cucumber. “Serena, right? I’ve heard so many things about you. It’s about time we finally meet. I’m Ivy, Cruz’s fiancée.” Ivy was a tall, longlegged brunette who screamed heiress by her practiced smile, the slight tilt of her head, and the soft-spoken voice she addressed me with. As much as I wanted to study how well they went together, I
was more worried about what she had just said. So she had heard things about me? Uh, such as what, exactly? “It’s great to meet you, too, Ivy.” “Why don’t you join us for coffee, Serena? I’d love to know more about you,” she offered, leaving me disconcerted. “Serena is busy, Ivy,” Cruz instantly interrupted, barely glancing at me. “I’m sure she has better things to do.” I did, like stomp his balls into the ground for being a coward and a hot jerk rolled into one. Still donning my awkward smile, I merely nodded in agreement. “Yes, Mr. Elliot is correct. I have all these papers stacked on my desk. You know, work and stuff …” I was rambling whatever else I could think of, anything to get away from this awful situation. I rapidly bid them good-bye, uncaring how it made me look. The second I got away, I made a beeline towards the bathroom, needing to hide from the shame that seized me. Someday … Someday, I could look at him without feeling any of these emotions, and I couldn’t wait until that happened. I was sick to my stomach at the thought of how I had thrown myself at him and how he had graciously declined my advances. I stayed a while in the bathroom until I felt safe to come out. Emerging, I searched for Denise and explained I was feeling ill and that, if she didn’t need me for the rest of the day, I would rather be excused to go home and rest it off. She understood and didn’t give me a problem. Therefore, at three in the afternoon, I found myself in the bedroom, in bed, with
my eyes wide open, wondering how things had become so shitty. It had begun as an exciting adventure, and now it wasn’t. A loud knock on the door made me lose my breathing. Before I could move, it was pushed open, and in came Archer with a confident, cocky grin splayed across his face. “I heard you were feeling under the weather.” He lifted his hand, wiggling the glass filled with amber liquid in it. Upon seeing him stroll into my bedroom, I instantly sat up, frowning as my eyes studied what was in his hand. “Uh, what’s that?” “A shot of whiskey. Believe me; you’ll be good as new. It’s brilliant, really. I use it for anything.” Archer moved towards my bed, handing me his charming cure for all sickness. Snickering as I took the glass and cradled it with both hands, I sent him a grateful smile. “I’m sure you use it without needing a reason.” His playful grin grew, drawing my undivided attention. “Ah, love, you know me too well. Now drink up, and then let’s get out of here.” Typical Archer move, free-spirited and always on the move for the next adventure. I raised my brow at him. “Where to?” “Anywhere but here. You need some cheering up, me thinks,” he said, lying on my bed, displaying his toned body while he stared at the ceiling, whistling to his own tune. I was too distracted by his random actions, so I forgot the drink he had brought me until he told me to drink up. I knew, without a doubt, I would be grossed out by the taste of it, but I
didn’t let it deter me. Archer was right; I did need some cheering up, and I could get my cheering sooner once I downed the strong drink. Just as expected, the second I tipped my head back to drink it to the last drop, I squirmed from the horrid taste, swallowing it all, anyway. “Fuck, that was gross.” “Atta, girl.” He cocked his head towards me before sending me a wink. “Now that we have that over and done with, get your bathing suit on. We’re going swimming while we watch a fun movie.” I paused, grinning at him. “Swimming? Where?” His spontaneous personality was infectious. “Didn’t you know? No one gave you the grand, ol’ tour, eh? There’s a pool downstairs, next to the gym,” he drawled amused at my reaction. There was a gym, and I had no idea about it? Damn. “Give me five. I’ll be back in a jiffy.” I barely glanced at him as I jumped out of bed, skittering towards my closet. I plucked out my two-piece suit then slammed the door shut to my bathroom. I was naked in a flash before shimmying myself into my matching jade green bottoms then tying the straps of the suit around my neck. Checking myself out in the mirror, I was pleased to find I looked pretty good with my toned abs and pert breasts. Not to mention, the jade color made my green eyes stand out even more, making them vibrant and intense. “Okay, I’m done!” I announced as I stepped out of the
bathroom, ready to have a lazy afternoon. The second Archer saw me, he simply stared for a while, and then he gave a long, drawn out whistle. “Fuck me, Serena. I don’t think it’s possible to go for a swim, after all. I don’t think the cool water can cure what’s going on with me at the moment.” Ah, freaking Archer, seriously? This wasn’t the damn time to get turned on. “It’s not as if you haven’t seen a woman in a bathing suit, so stop being a pervert for a second and just have fun with me, please? It was you who came in here, promising some cheering up, so don’t give me this stupid excuse.” He gave a hearty laugh then cleared his throat, seeming serious all of a sudden. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but I give you my word: I won’t do anything that might not please you.” “That’s good enough, I guess,” I said, rolling my eyes at him. “Can we go now, pretty please?” I begged just as he rolled out of bed and gave me a look that indicated exactly how much he wanted me. For some reason, this didn’t bother me. I was used to guys finding me attractive; consequently, Archer was not any different. Well, maybe with the exception that he was more good-looking than most men out there.
“What type of movies do you like?” Archer asked while I did a three-sixty of my surroundings. I had never been in such opulent settings. I mean, there was rich, and then there was wealthy. This was the latter, and good God, I was speechless. The pool stretched from corner to corner, and across from it was the super high tech gym, which was separated by floor-toceiling glass walls. Everything was done tastefully, and I couldn’t help being impressed at how the other folks lived. When the projector appeared, I glanced at Archer, a little curious. “How do you people live like this on a daily basis? It just blows my mind.” Archer stopped whatever he was doing, looking at me and riotously laughing. “Oh, Serena love, I honestly don’t know how to respond to that without sounding like a privileged snob.” “Point taken.” I beamed at him before I strolled towards him as he held the remote, shuffling through the movie catalogue. Then he handed it to me so he could go to the bar and scour for alcoholic beverages. “What’s your choice of poison, love?” Archer asked as he opened the bar fridge. With my eyes glued on the screen, weighing in if I wanted to do a zombie movie or a romantic comedy, I managed to respond, “Hmmm … Surprise me.” Archer brought two bottles with him—a vintage champagne
and vodka. Obviously, he kept the fiercer drink to himself before handing me the bubbly potion. “No glass?” I stared at the expensive label. He made a cute, hunky wink. “I can’t seem to find one, so we’ll share and swap bottles to satisfy our thirst, and I’m such a bloody flirt believing that, by doing so, we just made the first step to getting intimate.” Same old, same old. I had to give him credit, though; the man was persistent. “Ha, you’re too cocky. All this talk and I get the feeling you won’t even come close to satisfying me.” Teasing and provoking men was my strong suit, though I wasn’t known for pulling the trigger … well, with the exception of the oldest Elliot brother. That was a random, isolated incident for sure. As much as I wanted to ponder about the oldest brother, the younger one was busy trying to win my undivided attention. “Is that a challenge, Serena? Because I’ll bite if you want me to; just say the word,” he baited. “It’s like that, huh?” I wasn’t necessarily seasoned, but growing up in LA made flirtation normal, like a prayer. Everyone did it like it was part of their daily routine. “You have no idea how arduous it is to be this close yet not sample the sweetness.” His finger caressed the side of my arm, brushing upwards, reaching towards the base of my neck. I swallowed hard. His eyes looked intense as he watched my breasts rise and fall from his touch. “Archer!” A loud, booming sound echoed throughout the
basement, making me freeze with horror. My eyes were wide with shock as his voice sent electrifying shivers down my spine. Cruz. He was here and had most likely witnessed that impromptu exchange. Fuck the fuck. I just couldn’t catch a break today whenever it concerned him. Damn it. “Can we help you?” Archer asked with an exasperated voice. I took a breath then a couple more. Then I took a few more before I braved it out and directed my eyes towards where he was, and when I did, I felt something fierce, something violent. My emotional response confirmed how much work I had put into trying to get over the damn man. . Whatever it took, I had to do it. Meeting Ivy had slapped me back to the reality of the situation. She wasn’t simply a name any longer or the forgotten fiancée. When I thought of her, I could put a face to the name, and it made it all the more real to me. “What the bloody fuck do you think you’re doing, Archer?” He stood, looking down at us with the steady gaze of a panther waiting for its opponent to make the next move before attacking with a deadly blow. His dominating presence alone spoke volumes. All he did was stand there, yet he emanated power like no other. Steadfast with his hands in his pocket, his eyes didn’t waver from his brother. “What?” Archer quipped back, obviously rankled at Cruz’s uninvited presence. “Are we not behaving up to your standards?” Keeping his cool, Cruz didn’t move from his spot, but his displeasure was unmistakable in his eyes.
“I’m not in the mood to be trifled with, Archer. You know quite well what I’m capable of doing if you keep defying me.” “You’re a fucking controlling bastard!” Archer was immediately inflamed at his brother’s dominating display of power. Instead of engaging Archer in another round of threats, he chose a different route. “I need to speak to Serena alone,” he emphasized, issuing a request that sounded more like a demand. “Why? So you can warn her not to be in my presence? She and I were getting on quite well without your interference.” Archer wasn’t ready to back down just yet, but it was obvious his big brother had the upper hand. “Are you done with your spiel?” Cruz remained as calm as a cucumber, though his eyes portrayed the opposite. Looking as though he was about to pop like a well-shaken champagne bottle, Archer took a few short breaths before sending me a severe gaze. “I’ll be waiting for you in my bedroom. Come to me whenever you’re done here.” He parted without a glance at Cruz, who seemed to resemble a ticking time bomb by the time his younger brother exited the pool area, temporarily banished. I was screwed, and I knew it The tension grew, and just when I thought I couldn’t take any more of it, Cruz decided to break the growing pressure by clearing his throat. “Do you always feel the need to flaunt your body whenever there are men around, Serena?” Oh, hell to the no! Instead of feeling remorseful for whatever fault he thought I had
done, his sardonic comment brought out the bitch in me. “Yeah, Cruz, ’cause this all I’ve got going. Can’t you tell?” His jaw locked while his eyes heatedly studied my body, making my nipples hurt. “Stop staring at me!” I snapped, ready to match fire with fire. “My brother was doing the same thing, but you had no qualms then,” he said in a measured tone, making me wonder what he truly thought of me. “Maybe I like your brother better.” With my claws out, I decided that, if he was ready to draw blood, I was ready to go an eye for an eye. His silvery gaze turned dark, unmistakably displeased. “Is this what I think it is, Serena?” I blinked a few times. “What do you mean by that, Cruz?” I feigned innocence. “You and my bloody brother!” His contained anger began to crack, giving me a glimpse of the man underneath the controlled temper and emotions. I swallowed what little moisture was left in my mouth, weighing how to proceed without damaging our already tattered relationship. “What you saw—” “Are you shagging him!” he thundered out. Did he just ask me that? Fucker. My nostrils flared as I wondered if I should kick him in the balls or punch his face for insulting me like I was a second-class hooker. Regardless, as much I wanted to flow with my emotions, something made me change my tune by deflating the situation.
“Cruz, I think you’re out of line,” I tried to calmly reason with him, but he wasn’t willing to. “I am not bloody out of line, Serena. We both know that. How could you simply go from kissing me to shagging my brother?” he huffed, beyond enraged. “Are you punishing me? Is that it?” “Punish you? What are you fucking talking about! I don’t want to punish anyone.” I wasn’t that type. I wasn’t the kind to hold a grudge. My parents taught me better than that. If that was what he thought of me, then he was sorely mistaken. “Tell me what this is all about, then.” Cruz pressed. Carefully placing the champagne bottle on the nearest flat surface, I strolled a few steps so I was inches away from his infuriated form, facing him head on with my arms folded underneath my breasts. I was willing to use whatever weapon at hand so he could feel what he was accusing me of—punishing him. “Has it ever occurred to you that I might just like Archer’s company? Or that he’s so fun to be around that I can joke around and be myself with him? Or how refreshing it is to be around someone who doesn’t take himself seriously? Did any of those enter your rational mind at all, Cruz, before you started accusing me of shit?” If he wants to go in circles, then let’s have at it. I had all the time in the world. For a second, he seemed distracted as his eyes repeatedly glanced at my overly abundant display of flesh. “He wants you,” he rasped out, seeming aroused and angry at the same time. Feeling empowered by his evident reaction, I reinstated some of my confidence.
“So? What’s your point here?” Liking and wanting someone weren’t a crime. Besides, he was making a big deal out of nothing. He was just being a control freak. “Shouldn’t you be at least worried? You can’t honestly lead the man on, knowing full well you want me.” I choked a little. What the fuck? “Well, that’s fresh coming from you, but to answer your question, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m attracted to him, and if that leads to something, then great. I’m just having fun, as you kindly suggested I should.” My words sent him into a tizzy. “I won’t condone that. Not here, not now! Most importantly, not under my watch,” he grated out, setting the rules once again. “Fine, I’ll make sure to remember not to do anything with anyone in your mom’s house. Anything else I should remember?” “If my brother does anything, I ask you to put a stop to it.” “What if I can’t? What then?” I was playing with fire, and I knew it. “No, you will. You have no other choice.” He took a step closer to me, his silver eyes storming. “Oh, yes, I fucking do. It’s my life, my body. I’m free to share it with whomever I want.” No one, not even a man I secretly adored, would dictate my actions. “You wouldn’t dare!” I was my own woman, and I would stand by my conviction. “You don’t have any right to tell me what and what not to do.” “You’re fucking mine! You’re mine! You became mine the
second you bloody chose to kiss me like I was the best thing you’ve ever had. You chose me! Me, not him. You chose me, Serena!” “No …” I shook my head, denying everything he had said as I noted the shift in him and the way his eyes seemed to look brighter by the second. “Cruz—” I gasped before I felt his lips crash into mine, hungrily consuming me while his hands possessively held me captive. I was floored. How could kissing be potently beautiful and sinful at the same time? His hands eagerly sought and cupped my breasts, massaging them, while his tongue hungrily took everything it could, as if he wanted each breath, each lick, each kiss to be all his. The emotions he evoked in me were terrifying. We seemed to be drawn to each other, even though it was obvious how much he tried to contain it, control it. Now that he had failed to, what would happen? The realization of the aftermath brought me back to my senses. “Cruz, no. Stop.” When he didn’t seem to hear me, I used all my might to push him off me. “This has to end,” I cried out, trembling from the intensity of our earth-shattering encounter. “Stop messing with my mind and let me be!” He was roughly heaving, looking devastated, like what could have happened if I hadn’t stopped it had just dawned on him. “I apologize … I don’t know what came over me. I hoped I didn’t frighten you,” he murmured, despondent. Frightened? Far from it.
“I’m fine, but we can’t—I can’t, Cruz. You’re engaged, so this will turn out badly. We both know it will, so let’s stop it here, right now. We have to promise this will never, ever happen again.” His head dipped, inching closer to my face until I felt the tip of his nose brush against my cheek, caressing. “You confuse me,” he whispered, evidently tortured by this whole situation. “I want to kiss you again, but I’m afraid you’re going to hate me for it.” Never had I wanted another man like I craved him. “No more. No more.” “Serena, whatever you decide to do”—his lips brushed against the side of my ear, breathing me in—“promise me you’re not going to do anything drastic.” “Why should I do that, Cruz?” God, I wanted him, though I knew I must fight it. Even if it was hurting me, I must keep on fighting. “Because I’m having a hard time,” he muttered. “It’s been hellish.” He paused before seeking my eyes, penetrating into my soul, my heart. “You’re all I think about, even when I’m with her.” The very mention of her was enough. There was nothing left to be said. As much as it pained me to walk away, I did just that, but before I did, I pled with him for the last time. “Please, I don’t want to hear any of this. Whatever this is, it’s over and done with.” And this time, I was going to stick to my guns. If my relationship with Aaron had taught me anything, it was the horrible feeling of being cheated on, and I wasn’t going to do that to another woman. If Cruz was confused, he had to deal with it. I didn’t want
to be a part of that, not anymore. In the beginning, it was hard to grapple with the situation because he hadn’t divulged that he was engaged. I felt as though he had led me, distracting me with the butterflies and rainbows he painted before me. Since then, I had been battling this push and pull between us. However, it was time to end this. I couldn’t take it anymore. My conscience wasn’t a willing participant, and my heart wasn’t a willing hostage.
Chapter Fifteen The next day, back in the office, I was stunned to find an elaborate flower arrangement sitting on my desk with a note enclosed in a cream envelope. Naturally, I was more curious at the note than the beautiful blooms before me, so with a shaky hand, I began to open it, holding my breath as I did so. Forgive me for wanting something I gravely wish was mine. There was no name, no signature anywhere, so I wasn’t sure where it had come from. Was it from Cruz? Archer maybe? Jesus, who would send something this pretty and not say whom it came from? It doubled the frustration and stress. Mind you, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my working hours wondering whom it came from. After my tumultuous exchange with Cruz last night, I barely thought of Archer to be honest. I was drowned by my own misery too much to even think about if the guy had waited for me or not. Well, even if I had, it didn’t matter. I was in no way, shape, or form ready to be good company after I had scrambled to get away from Cruz. Taking a deep breath, I was telling myself there were bigger things to worry about when my phone rang, alarming me. Getting ahold of my bearings, I cleared my throat before taking the call. “Mr. Cruz Elliot’s office. This is Serena; how may I assist you?” “Serena,” the man said from the other line. There was no doubt in my mind who it was. There was only one man in the world who
said my name the way he did. Nervously biting my lip, I tried to calm the fuck down before breathing out, “Yes?” “I need you in my office if you have a moment.” He commanded. Nodding, I immediately told him that I would be in right away before placing the phone back on its cradle. For a moment, I contemplated if I should head to the bathroom to make sure I looked presentable. Then I realized there was no point. Being self-conscious around him after last night … Well, it was useless. Therefore, I simply shrugged and made my way towards Cruz’s office. I had barely even begun to knock when I was surprised to find Cruz opening the door for me. “Serena,” he said in a tone that seemed a little on edge, which was odd. Not wanting to dwell on his bizarre attitude, I carefully glanced at him, keeping myself at a safe distance. The tension between us was even more apparent than before, and it was disconcerting and slightly intimidating because I had no idea what would happen next. “You needed me for something?” I breathed out, anxious to immediately leave, yet I couldn’t help staring at him as if I was a starved, lovesick puppy. He studied me a while, lingering on my face, eyes, then my lips before he snapped back to reality. “How’s your day going so far?” he casually asked, as if we were the best of friends.
His bizarre attitude left me on eggshells, but since he was my boss, I knew I had to answer him in a respectful manner. “It’s been … well.” “That’s brilliant.” He nodded, still staring at me, as if he had something to get off his chest. “Are you doing something tonight?” he questioned, catching me off guard. “Why do you ask?” I treaded carefully, knowing very well this could get messy yet again. After last night, the last thing I needed was to engage in another heated argument with him. “I was hoping I could take you out for dinner …” Damn, he was willing to go there. Did we need to have this type of discussion on a daily basis? It was fucking exhausting. Fuck. I was ready to wave the white flag and just surrender, but I couldn’t shake the thought of Ivy away. Besides, I wasn’t that woman. It was all or nothing for me, not some half-ass anything. Not even for Cruz, the man who starred nightly in my dreams … and nightmares. “Cruz, whatever this is you’re trying to do—” “I can’t get you out of my mind, Serena. You’re all I think about. I’m truly going mental.” He ran a hand through his thick, wavy hair before blowing out a breath, seeming tortured as his metallic eyes penetrated into my heart, into the very depths of my soul. No … NO! He couldn’t. He just fucking couldn’t! “Cruz—” “I’ve never felt this way before. I’m beyond confounded. I need to figure this out without any guilt. I’m thinking of breaking things off with Ivy. I can’t keep lying to her, least of all to myself,”
he confessed, giving me a glimpse of the troubled man underneath the cool, collected, and calm persona he projected to the rest of the world. “No!” I shrieked. “Don’t do that. I’m not going to have someone’s unhappiness on my hands.” His confession beyond panicked me, so much so that I was ready to spout whatever lies I had to in order to sway his belief. I knew it was wrong, and I had already made up my mind where he was concerned. I couldn’t backtrack now. I had to see it through until the very end. Hiding the pain in my heart, I sought his eyes, hoping he would see there was nothing special between us. “Besides, I don’t like you like that. I mean, it was fine before, you know. It was fun, but it meant nothing.” Discernibly, he was offended by my rational reasoning. “So it was just a game to you, then?” he hissed in pure disbelief. My heart thudded so loudly it rang in my ears. I knew I was in uncharted territory, but I had already pulled the trigger, and it had shot through his skin, resulting in his wounded pride. There was no going back after this. As calmly as I could, I murmured, “Sort of, yeah.” Although it hurt me to say such horrible lies, I felt as if it was justified, as if his momentary pain would eventually be for a good cause for everyone involved. He observed everything that crossed my eyes, my face. “Why do I get the feeling you’re lying to me, Serena?”
I was guilty. I knew it; he knew it, but I would never admit to it. If I had to stick to my lies and appear to be the biggest liar of all, then so be it. Standing my ground, I barely blinked as I prepared myself to keep lying through my teeth. “Think what you like, but if you don’t have anything work-related for me, it’s best I go. Good day, Mr. Elliot,” I huffed out before sending him one last look. Then I spun on my heels and exited his office with fake bravado. My body shook as I strutted back towards my desk. However, before I could even warm my seat, my phone beeped, indicating a message from Archer Elliot. “Damn it,” I muttered under my breath, feeling as though I couldn’t catch a break from these brothers. Unlocking my phone, I tapped on the text. Can you be my date tomorrow night? I was surprised he didn’t sound pissed off since I hadn’t sought him out after I left Cruz in the basement. Truth be told, I was such a wreck afterwards that I took a sleeping pill and decided to sleep the rest of the night away. What’s happening tomorrow night? It’s my mother’s birthday. No one informed you? I wouldn’t have asked if I had known. Besides, I had been avoiding the people around the house, even the lovely Anne, because I felt too ashamed for keeping a secret from all of them where Cruz was concerned. Tapping my reply, I took a steady breath before hitting send. No, not really.
My phone beeped in less than a minute. So is that a yes? Maybe? I’m not settling for no. I’m kind of a nice asshole like that. His reply made me grin. Unlike Cruz, who seemed to have a sexy fixation with his brooding, which was so fucking sexy and suited him… God. I had to stop thinking about him before he decided to break off his engagement with Ivy. This was the best route to go. It wasn’t as if Archer was a second choice. He was just harmless fun. Yes, asshole. It’s a yes. My choice was made. There was no going back. After all, it was his mother’s birthday. How bad could this turn out?
“May I come in?” Archer asked as he softly knocked on the door. I was just about done applying the finishing touches to my dramatic, smoky make-up. “You may,” I called back. “But I’m not one hundred percent done, so sit back and wait, yeah?” I could hear him laugh gruffly in the background before I kicked the door to my bathroom shut, not willing to risk him peeking through before I was fully done. It took me another five minutes to finish up because my mascara took a while to dry. A minute might not be too much, but when you were counting down each second, it could feel like forever. My hair was already in a loose bun, and I only had to insert pins into my hair to keep it in place. “I just need my shoes. Then I’m set to rock and roll!” I happily announced as finished hiding in the bathroom. My stiletto heels were already sitting atop one of the two delicate-looking settee chairs, so I tiptoed my way towards it before giving a smile at Archer. He had taken the liberty of lounging in my bed with his head against my headboard and his shoes on my newly made-up bed, looking like a bored model in GQ with his elegantly expensive, custom-made tux. “Look at you. You just waltzed in here as if it’s your domain.” He threw me one of those lazy smiles that was similar to Cruz’s. These brothers and their toe-curling smiles … sigh. Of course, the older brother had it down to a T.
“That dress and everything underneath it is definitely my domain, love,” he rasped out, his eyes conveying what he wanted to do with this dress and my body. “Right,” I said awkwardly as I reached for my shoes, trying to hide the rosy cheeks that crept up from his intensive stare. Once the stilettos were strapped and secured, I glanced over to where His Lazy Highness was lounging, hoping we could get a move on. “I’m ready if you are.” “I’d rather spend the rest of my time with this excellent view. Alas, duty calls.” He exhaled a breath before getting to his feet and pasting on a dashing smile. “Miss Serena Woods, will you do me the honor of allowing me to escort you tonight?” Typical Archer. He was charming; I had to give him that much. The guys sure knew how to make a woman swoon. With my arm tucked in Archer’s, we both made our way downstairs as he enthusiastically murmured his coping skills for boring events, as he nicely stated, of pulling pranks with grouchy relatives. That way, his targets could easily forgive him since they were family and all. The grand home was exceptional, but in the hands of a party decorating team, it had evolved into an extraordinary work of art. The room was full of pink flowers, silver candles, and beaded crystals everywhere. Flowers in all shapes and sizes, as long as they were pink, were there, and the fragrance added to the amazing setting. I had never seen anything like it. “As you can tell, my mother adores pink flowers. Cruz tends to spoil her to her heart’s content,” Archer whispered in my ear as the
uniformed waiter paused to hand us champagne-filled flutes. My smile immediately vanished when I felt a prickly feeling that he was at a close distance from me. And lo and behold, when I carefully peeked to my left, the man was right there, sending daggers at me as he strode towards us. “Serena,” Cruz greeted in a stale manner, blatantly ignoring the fact that his brother was standing right beside me. “Cruz,” I quipped back with a careful smile before swallowing whatever pride I had left. “Where’s Ivy?” It was obvious given how darkly he looked at me that he wasn’t willing to be the mature one between us, so I felt obligated to direct our conversation towards the very reason he should begin to straighten out his act. “You met Ivy?” Archer, who didn’t seem to mind being ignored by his sibling, raised his brow towards me, optimistically curious with his eyes bright and teasing. His emphasis on the word met honed it home for me that Cruz wasn’t an available man; thus making me feel good that I had taken the initiative to cut whatever it was budding between us before it had even had the chance to blossom. Clearing my throat, I glimpsed at Archer with a pleasant smile. “Yeah, at his office. She seems very nice.” “Who’s nice?” Margery joined in on our cozy group, directing me her question. She was dressed in her golden-beaded regalia. Blushing, I tried not to melt at the heavy weight of Cruz’s enigmatic, mercurial stare. “Ivy. She dropped by at the office the other day.” My small, deficient voice made me inwardly cringe. “Isn’t she lovely, dear?” Margery whimsically said as she lightly
touched her delicate coiffed hair, radiantly smiling. “Oh, I do wish Cruz would hurry and marry the woman already. They haven’t set a date yet,” she informed us with apparent disappointment. “No wedding date means no grandchildren.” Archer seemed to rejoice in his brother’s compromising position. “Yes, dear brother, when can we expect such an event?” He decided to goad him even more by smiling smugly. Their love/hate relationship somehow made me cherish the one I had with my sister. Our parents would seriously disown us if we ever treated each other this way, but it seemed that Margery was used to their sibling banter. “This isn’t the time nor the appropriate place to discuss such delicate matters. If you’ll excuse me, I have people to speak to,” Cruz immediately excused himself. . Margery then followed Cruz’s lead and decided to mingle amongst her friends, and not really knowing anyone around here, I decided to stay close to Archer since he seemed to be the best person to hang around. Cruz, I realized, was nowhere in sight. I comforted myself with the fact that he was probably waiting on Ivy to arrive. I just hoped to God I wouldn’t make a fool of myself like I had when I first met her. There was also this small voice in the back of my mind, hoping I wouldn’t hurt as much as I had during that first encounter. When the early night sky completely fell into darkness, the house turned aglow with candlelight, as did the gardens. It was wonderfully set up to give the attendees a sense of intimate coziness
that brought out the love and romance in the air. It was evident there was a certain aspect about this party that signified her late husband, Edward, perhaps because something about it reminded me so much of the beautiful secret garden he had specifically made for her. Seeing how Margery was tonight, though sadness was still apparent in her eyes, I could tell she was beginning to learn how to survive without her husband. I had never seen her in such great spirits. It must be tough to learn how to live day by day, knowing your significant other, the man you had vowed to love for the rest of your life, was no longer there with you. Getting my heart crushed by Aaron had been traumatizing enough; I couldn’t imagine what I would feel if my husband died. I would probably go the same route as Cruz had described that night about people dying of heartbreak. I would be one of those victims; I just knew it. Archer excused himself to speak privately when he received a call from someone. Left to my own devices, I decided to explore and mingle. Nursing a glass of red wine, I strolled around the room, smiling at strangers as I took in the happy vibe. I was in great mood when drawn towards the outside patio that led towards the vast gardens where a pianist was playing a superb rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight” by good ol’ Frank Sinatra. “You seem like you’re having such a grand time.” A familiar voice spoke right behind me, taking me by surprise, and I gasped loudly enough for the people around us to notice. I had no need to look back to check who it was, knowing for
a fact that it was him by the scent and the presence he radiated. Taking a moment to myself, I bit down on my lip, wondering when he would stop giving me semi-heart attacks. Each time he was near, I never failed to get intense palpitations. Not to mention, I got nervous, started mumbling, and became a sweaty idiot at best. And since I was on the fence with Cruz, I knew I had to play it cool— nothing too rash, nothing too abrasive, just a little something that would keep him at bay without showing him too much emotion or the inner mayhem I was going through. “It’s hard not to have fun when everything I see is perfection,” I quietly remarked before gently sipping my glass of red wine. “Thank you. I find you exquisite, as well, but with that dress you have on … I’m left with no words to describe it,” he stated as a matter of fact and in the calmest manner, as if he was discussing the weather. His infallible sense of control in everything he did was impressive. His words carried a remarkable impact that never failed to render me clueless as to how to respond to him without appearing inexperienced or dense. I never failed to wonder how he did it. Dancing in this sexual beat with him was something I knew I shouldn’t be even involved in, and yet, time and time again, Cruz would reel me in, probably just to get a high from seeing me squirm or to test if he still had the same impact on me as he had the first time we met. If that was the case, then he would be disappointed. “Where’s Ivy, Cruz? It would be nice to have someone who’s closer to my age and someone whose mind isn’t overrun by their
libido.” “She isn’t here,” he said, stepping closer behind me, inches away from my ear. I waited for him to say something, anything, but the damn man let me bask in his magnetizing presence, the palpable sexual tension, and the undeniable connection we had together. It was intoxicating to be this close to him yet not able to fully savor what was right before us. It was sinful to be attracted to someone this way. Regardless, I was, even if my entire being protested against it. Before I could tell him off, the damn tease of a man blew softly against my sensitized ear, making it harder to think, let alone concentrate on what to say next. Fuck. “When my libido is overrun, Serena, there will be no way in hell you will be able to run away from me,” he rasped out, breathing me in. “What I am now is a man in control, so don’t wish that side of me to come out and play with you, because trust me, once you’ve had me between your legs, you won’t be able to easily dismiss me like you have as of late.” My skin prickled as his words sunk in, making me think a thousand things and, yet, not really think at all. The words “between your legs” and “play with you” rung too loudly in my ears. I knew this was some cat and mouse chase, but I was having none of it, even if it killed me to keep pushing him away. I knew I had to because cheating was something I didn’t condone. Nothing had changed. “Listen to me and listen to me good. I’m going to do everything in my power to sever this odd connection with you. I’m done
playing this sick sexual trip—” “To what extent? Even to the point of fucking my brother?” he hissed in my ear before I felt his hand on the side of my hip, holding me, as if he didn’t want me to run away. I wouldn’t have gone as far as that to prove a point, but if that was what he believed, if that was what it would take for him to stop entertaining the idea of me, of us in any shape or form, then I supposed it was harmless to let him believe it. Taking a short breath, I braced myself to the inevitable. “If that’s what it takes to show you how serious I am, then so be it.” “That would be a mistake and you know it!” He growled as his grip tightened. “I’m warning you, Serena; the moment you do that, the moment you let him touch you, I …” he trailed off, breathing heavily against me. I waited for him to continue, but I was left to wonder. Just as quickly as he had approached me, he vanished. Still reeling after he left, I wasn’t sure how long I stood there with a crazed, confused look on my face until Archer finally found me. “Dance with me.” He beamed as he made this cute curtsy before holding out his hand. Contemplating, I stared at the wine glass before quickly deciding to down the entire thing and take his offer. Cruz was difficult to deal with, but Archer was so easy. He knew how to have fun and live in the moment, while Cruz was … everything his brother wasn’t. And since I had already vowed to sever ties with Cruz by letting him to believe I would sleep with his brother, it was
best if I tried to look the part. Of course, I wasn’t planning to really do the deed, only carry on with the flirting banter that Archer was known for. All I knew was that, as long as I was stuck next to him, I was fine. He was hopefully my one hundred percent foolproof Cruz Elliot repellant, so I had to do what I had to do, which for the time being meant having a blast, dancing in his arms. “I know it’s not my place to ask, but I’m curious …” he started, smiling as our eyes connected while we danced to the soft ballad of jazz being played in the background. “What in God’s given name did you do to my brother?” I froze, unblinking as we stared at each other. My heart sped up as I thought at a billion miles per minute of how to respond to him without giving too much away. “What do you mean?” I replied, hoping he would shine more on his blatant curiosity. “He doesn’t want me near you. In fact, he commanded me not to seek you out.” He raised his brow, amusement playing on his face, though with evident inquisitiveness. “What he does in his life is none of my business, but he’s engaged to be married, and if he wants to frolic with other women, then I’d rather that woman not be you, Serena.” My cheeks were beet red, but I fully knew what he was trying to convey here. “Thank you. And I completely and wholeheartedly agree with you. I’m not like that at all. I swear—” “I never let on that I thought you were, but if there’s a
possibility that I could assist you, I’m at your service.” Shit. Here it was, the proverbial window to emotional and mental freedom. “God, how I want to ravish your lips …” Ravish? Jesus Christ, Cruz was somewhere in the vicinity. I couldn’t particularly pinpoint him around the crowd, but I strongly felt his presence. “Umm …” I licked my lips. “Kiss me … That’s all I ever need.” For now. He lifted my chin so our eyes met. “That’s all I needed to hear,” he murmured, grinning mischievously before his lips softly met mine. It wasn’t overly consuming like the one I had shared with Cruz; however, it was sweet and teasing, exactly like the man, himself. I knew Archer wanted me, but I also knew he had a lot of women on his speed dial. I wasn’t delusional enough to believe this could blossom into something. We were, after all, young, so I planned to just live in the moment and enjoy it as much as I could. Although I knew what was at risk, I also knew I had to be a little reckless to make this nightmare go away, and to be honest, I never expected to like kissing Archer so much. Maybe asking for his help wasn’t a bad idea after all.
“Are you sure you want to retire to your room?” Archer bemoaned, not hiding the fact that he didn’t want to cut the night short. We had just finished going through a few plates of decadent chocolates, fruits, cheeses, and tarts. Hiding my smile, I made a half attempt of an eye roll before shaking my head at him. “I’m sure.” Archer, though nice and playful, was too touchy-feely for my liking. It wouldn’t have been so bothersome had I not encountered Cruz and that peculiar conversation. As much as I enjoyed Archer’s company, I knew I needed some alone time to ponder, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning with it in the back of my mind. Before I could reflect, I had to part with Archer first … if he would let me go. “Could we possibly continue this upstairs, then? I don’t want to part with you, not just yet,” He pressed. His eagerness to get to the next level with me had a polarizing effect¸ which wasn’t doing him any good. He had an idea what was going on between Cruz and I, and a part of me wished he could be a little more understanding. Popping a blackberry into my mouth, I made a placid smile. “Don’t you have some place to get to? A party or whatever else it is you do at this time of night?” “I do …” He trailed off before he reached for my outstretched hand that was languidly sitting on the table, mindlessly stroking it with his thumb, hoping to evoke some sort of emotions from me.
Then he leaned over towards my ear and whispered, “But I’m giving you the chance to persuade me not to.” “Goodness, well, lucky me.” He was being provocative, and I didn’t know what to do or say other than laugh it off. “A no really means no with me, Archer.” “All right, all right.” He nodded before holding up his hands in surrender. “But the moment you change that pretty head of yours …” “It won’t,” I promised. I knew myself too well. Had I wanted to be with him, there wouldn’t be anything to stop me, but that wasn’t the case, so there was no need to make him wait or lead him on. The night had been fun—we both had admitted earlier on—but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue this charade. After all, I had a lot going on just from trying to persuade myself that Cruz Elliot wasn’t the man for me to pine and obsessive about. “How easily you break my heart, Serena. I suppose I’ll see you tomorrow, then?” He feigned hurt, clutching his chest as if he truly was in pain. I had to hand it to him; he truly was entertaining to be around. “You’re usually not back until Monday, so I’ll see you then.” Anyone in the house knew he went in and out, and on weekends, he was usually MIA and wouldn’t be back until later Monday afternoon. It only took one look at him to know how hard he partied over the weekend. He was the infamous wild child, and he lived it to its entireness. “I do, don’t I?” he mused before daringly adding, “But you
never know … Something tells me I might be coming home more often soon enough.” “Ha. Don’t count on it, mister.” Getting up from my seat, I declined when he offered to walk me to my room. Instead, he settled for kissing the back of my hand, playing up the lothario gentleman he was. “Pleasant, erotic dreams, Serena,” he said before sending me one of those teasing grins of his. Oh, boy. This guy was pure trouble. The word was written all over him. God help the women who fell into his trap. They would probably never recover. Thank goodness I wasn’t … Well, had Cruz not been in the picture, I could have easily been persuaded by his amazing good looks and personable persona. What woman wouldn’t? “Yeah, right. Goodnight, Archer. Be safe, yeah?” I bid him farewell before hurriedly striding towards the stairs so I could curl up in my bed and sleep this pang of sadness that had settled in and given me severe chest pains for most of the night. It was already past eleven at night, and Margery had retired for the night an hour and a half ago. Thinking about her made me smile. She had done well tonight. She was in her element, socializing and mingling amongst friends. Taking the steps, I basically sprinted so I could get onto the landing and take my shoes off. My soles were aching, my body was abuzz with alcohol, and my mind persistently raced like a damn broken video player, particularly focusing on the man who had eyes that seemingly melted me inside and out.
Sighing, I strode down the hall that led to my bedroom with half-closed lids. Upon opening the bedroom door, I was about to throw my shoes onto the couch when I realized I wasn’t alone. “Cruz! What in the world are you doing in my bedroom? I thought you had left. What the fuck!” I screeched with my eyes popping out of my sockets while the deafening sound of my heartbeat echoed in my ears. He remained still as he stood before the window with his back to me, staring at the darkness of the night. Why wasn’t he acknowledging me? I silently worried. How badly I wanted to walk across the room and demand answers as to why he was in my bedroom, invading my privacy, but I was too chicken-shit to do so. I knew this visit meant something. After what had happened downstairs, God knew what kind of backlash I would get after making out with his brother. Apologizing for it was out of the equation. He wouldn’t hear of it. Regardless, I did it in part to save us both, and I hoped I could convince him of that. Never in my life had I considered he would be waiting for me here, in my bedroom of all places. “Say something,” I pleaded after minutes of nothingness. He chose to remain silent, still with his hands in his pocket, seeming as if he was looking down into the world, plotting how to annihilate it. I didn’t need to see his face to know how incensed he was. I could feel his anger rolling off him in waves, sending frightful shivers all over me. I supposed I had asked for this.
“Cruz, please say something.” I tried once more then took a few steps towards him, but I halted in the middle of the room. Call it guilt or whatever, but I couldn’t get close to him without fearing he would burn me in one way or another. With his back still facing me, I heard him take a deep breath before uttering a command. “Whatever is going on with you and my brother, I demand you stop it immediately.” His words were delivered with precision, cutthroat and unforgiving, just like the very man himself, who to this very moment, remained an enigma to me. His beautiful, silver eyes were just as mercurial as his mood. It was difficult to read him, let alone know what truly was going on with him or what he truly felt for me. I understood his rage. Of course I did. However, I was my own woman with my own mind, my own heart, and my own decisions to make. Lifting my chin in defiance, I counted a few times before responding to him. “At work, you’re my boss, but in my personal life, I’m in charge of it. Please don’t ever tell me what to do again.” My hardheaded stance didn’t evoke any emotions from him, but when I finally decided it was time to hash this out, he then chose to show a little more of himself. “You’re punishing me for pushing you away,” he accused in a soft, monotonous voice. Why wasn’t he facing me still? Why couldn’t he look me in the eye and tell me this, instead? I wanted to see him. I craved to see those eyes that never failed to ensnare my common sense. “No,” I vehemently denied, “that’s not true.”
“You did everything you could to get under my skin, and the moment you did, you scuttled away and latched on to the next man you encountered.” His hate-filled words echoed in the room and left holes in my once intact armor. “That’s a vile thing to say.” I was seething with anger, with the need to explain my erratic actions, and all the other frustrations I hadn’t yet addressed. I was a mixture of it all, waiting to erupt and out for blood. “Is it?” He finally looked away from the window and strolled towards me, his eyes as cold as ice. “You knew I was there, and yet you kissed him right in front of me even after I asked—begged —for you to halt your relationship with my brother. How do you manage jumping from one sibling to the other? You do it so seamlessly it’s astonishing. It deserves a round of applause.” “I—I’m s—” His strong accusations left me stuttering before a loud knock came at the door. We both froze, staring at each other in shock and panic. “Serena?” Archer’s voice could be faintly heard from the other side of the door. Hadn’t I said good-bye to him? I hadn’t agreed to him coming upstairs, so why was he there? I was wracking my brain for answers when I saw Cruz’s nostrils flare in unmitigated impatience. “Serena, may I come in?” Archer kept pushing me further into hell. “Give me one sec,” I shot back, buying time to figure out what to do next or how to get rid of one of them. “Tell him to go,” Cruz grunted out, unbending.
My eyes grew bigger. “Shhh, he might hear you.” I glared at him as I weighed my next move. Archer might barge in here if I didn’t let him in, and the last thing I needed to make this night any worse was for him to find his older brother in my bedroom. God, I could already see how this would seem, and I just couldn’t let that happen. Fuck my life. In full panic mode, I considered the best possible solution on the table as I looked straight into Cruz’s displeased face. “Can you hide in the bathroom or maybe in the closet?” He instantly turned red. “You want me to hide?” he whisperhissed at me, looking like he was about to blow a fuse. “Yes!” I hissed back, glaring at him. If it were possible for steam to come out of his ears, it probably would have happened already. He was so pissed I almost felt sorry for him. Then again, since he had come here uninvited, he had to give in, or he and I would be bringing this conversation to an end, which by the looks of it, was the last thing he wanted to happen. “Unbelievable,” he muttered under his breath, but eventually left towards the bathroom without another word of complaint. I didn’t release a breath until I heard the bathroom door click shut, ensuring he was safely inside, Then my gaze reverted to the door where Archer was waiting. Brushing the sides of my hair, I told myself to calm down then opened the door. “Hey,” I greeted with a strained smile as I held the door handle, not willing to invite him in as I had blatantly told him
downstairs. If he was trying to get laid, he had best look elsewhere because that woman wasn’t me. “I just wanted to see you again before I leave for the night.” Archer’s charms were in full swing. “Have a lovely time. It’s nice of you to stop by, but goodnight.” I didn’t even give him a chance to respond before I smiled and gently shut the door on him. It barely took a second before Cruz came rushing out of the bathroom, looking like a raging, manic bull out to hurt whomever he saw on sight. “You wanted to continue what you two didn’t finish downstairs, didn’t you? He was here to shag you, for fuck’s sake!” Cruz didn’t waste a beat before jumping on me with guns blazing. Sometimes, I wondered what we were really arguing about. It was as if we were going in circles. “Has Archer fucked you?” he threw at me, unwilling to take a moment to let me gather my bearings. This guy was all shades of crazy. My good intentions flew out the window. “Can you for once just shut the fuck up and stop accusing me of things? I can’t fucking think, let alone defend myself, when you’re being this way. So stop! Stop yelling at me! Stop being so fucking angry! What the fuck!” I was acting erratically it was difficult to function like I normally would when he was around. It was as if my mind short-circuited. His silver eyes were trained on me, appearing conflicted. “I want you, Serena. I want you. I want you so fucking much that it’s
killing me inside. You must understand the struggle I am in, so I beg you to end my agony.” Oh, God. This wasn’t good … not good at all. Help.
Chapter Eighteen Cruz Serena’s lips parted as if to argue before she shook her head in disbelief, dumbfounded. Everything I had just said was true. For weeks, I had struggled to stifle my feelings for her, but it seemed like the more I wished them away, the harder it was to banish them. So here I was, standing before this seemingly confused woman who had irrevocably captured me, with no clue as to how to proceed with this delicate matter. “You’re … You’re getting married!” she lashed out, condemning. Her struggle was apparent in her beautiful face. “I broke it off. I had to—needed to—once I realized how deeply I felt for you.” “Oh, God!” she gasped as if I had struck her before immediate horror marred her stunning face. “You couldn’t—you shouldn’t have—” “It’s already done.” The urge to pull her into my arms was so powerful it almost made me weak. What was it about her that evoked such severe emotions? I could never figure it out, yet I was bound to it—to her —and she had clue of her influence on me. “When?” Her eyes bore into me, filmed with moisture. “When did you do this?” Her candid reaction only proved how good her heart was. I knew I had thrown a few horrid accusations, but it was all done out
of jealousy. Yes, for the first bloody time in my life, I could admit that I was a jealous man these days, be it over Archer or any man, for that matter. It was baffling, yet it was something I couldn’t control. Serena had utterly taken over my life. The thought of Ivy and breaking our engagement didn’t pan out as well as I had imagined. She was distraught, understandably so, but I had conveyed where my position was and how arduous it had been for me to pretend I hadn’t begun to have feelings for another woman. Ivy was a lovely woman, but I had realized she wasn’t for me. I wanted—agonized—for the woman who was eager to be with me in the beginning, but I had failed her by pushing her away and treating her callously. From here on, I vowed to make amends, even if the very thought of Archer touching her lit me on fire. If I had to win her once more, I would in order to show her just how much she meant to me. “I saw Ivy yesterday … hours before I asked you to dinner,” I divulged. “Oh, Cruz …” she whispered before bracing herself as she backtracked and fell on the bed in a sitting position with a dazed and confused expression on her gorgeous face. “This is awful, just awful.” Watching her clearly distraught made me feel like a total heel. Never had I wished to be in such wretchedness. I was dealing with it—with this—in the best way I was capable. There was no way I was going to be with someone, let alone engaged, if my waking
thoughts were hounded by another woman. Coming to terms with it was a hardship, given the short amount of time we had known each other, but it was how I felt, and there was no denying it. I wanted her, all of her, and I wasn’t going to stop until she was mine and mine alone. “I’m desperate for you. I can’t stop. God knows I’ve tried to fight this off, pretending it was a simple attraction between us. But each time I look at you …” I paused, overwhelmed by it all. Then I took the steps towards her and fell on my knees as I held her soft, delicate hands while my eyes sought hers, beseeching. “You feel it, too, don’t you?” I whispered as my eyes roved about her face. Her lips parted. She was about to say something before she licked her lips, instead, hesitating. “I …” she began. “I felt it the second I saw you, but—” No buts. I wasn’t going to listen to or accept a but. Not at a moment like this, not when I was on my knees, imploring for her to hear me out, to understand where I was coming from when I so callously rebuffed her claims. I couldn’t go on denying myself what this connection with Serena would and could become if she would only so graciously give me another chance to prove to her that I was worthy of her attention , that I was far more serious with her than Archer ever could be. All I had to do was show her how heartfelt my sentiments and intentions were. “I beg of you not to abandon this opportunity to let me prove to you that I can be worthy of your consideration.” My gaze fell on her heaving chest, showing me what my mere touch was doing to
her. With my hands still on her face, my eyes connected with hers for a mere second, and then I stood and bestowed a punishing kiss. My heart leapt at the slight shiver of her body, driving my need to another level. Growling in earnest, the punishing developed into a visceral kiss I could barely control as my cock twitched in my trousers. All I could feel were her lips and her warm, pliable body as the pungent scent of arousal hung heavily between us. Hastily, my body pushed against hers, guiding her towards the bed then pressing her against the mattress, caging her in. Breaking our kiss, my lips sought the nook of her neck as she released an erotic, pleasurable sigh, making me even more determined to evoke melodic sounds from those puckered lips. While my hungry hands explored her supple, covered mounds, an animalistic growl emitted from me. I reached the ends of the triangular squares that barely concealed her breasts and shamelessly ripped them apart. “Holy shit, Cruz!” Serena gasped, momentarily coming out of her arousal. Then her eyes caught mine, and she shut her beautiful mouth. “You look like you’re about to eat me alive,” she shakily whispered, licking her lips. I could have responded with something light and playful, but I didn’t. What I felt in that instant was far from light, and God help me, playing was far from my mind. This was …
This was game over. This was what a feral man would feel, in essence, if he caught something precious, something he had yearned for more than the air he breathed. Serena was right. I was about to devour her … every inch of her delectable body. I was going to feast on her glowing skin, disheveled hair, blushing cheeks, eyes heavy with arousal, and her luscious breasts with those dusky pink nipples. Reaching out so my thumb could brush against her right nipple, I didn’t let my eyes waver from her gorgeous face. “Do you like the way I’m touching you, Serena?” She meekly nodded, entranced. “Yes, very much.” As compelling as it was to free my cock from its constraints, I knew it would derail me from my sole purpose tonight. I wanted to slip into her sweet cunt and fuck her from dusk until dawn, but I didn’t want to scare her off. Serena must know my touch apart from other men’s. A flare of anger sparked inside of me at the thought of Archer relishing the same view as I was at this moment. I instantly pushed the wretched thoughts away. Nothing—no one—would deter me from having Serena. With the use of my forefinger and thumb, I roughly pulled against her nipple, wanting to see how she responded to the rewards of pain before pleasure. “And this? How do you feel about this?” I rasped out as my cock rebelled in my trousers, demanding to be freed. “I love everything you do to me.” She bit her lips as she lifted
her emerald gems towards me, enticing, challenging. “Spread your legs,” I commanded. She followed my directions, spreading them wide, showing me her red silk thong, which emitted a loud growl from me. Though my self-control was at the breaking point, I wasn’t ready to give in to my baser instincts. Not just yet. With my eyes fully glued on the sight between her thighs, I took a shallow breath. “Push your thong aside. I want to see all of you, Serena.” My heart was madly thumping against my chest as I watched with bated breath while she reached between her legs and pushed her thong to the side, giving me a full view of her bare pussy, the lips moistened from her arousal. The need to secure my mouth to those heavenly lips was strong, but I opted to tease her even further by using my middle finger to touch her sweet button, instantly making her pant in earnest and moan my name. My finger circled her nub before it glided lower, past her vaginal entrance, and then I dragged it back up again towards her trigger button. Unblinking, I took my finger and brought it to my mouth, tasting the essence of her womanhood. “You taste divine.” Just before she could react to me, her bedside phone began to ring. My brow arched, partially challenging her to take the call or continuing from where we were interrupted. If it were up to me, I would have chosen the latter. Since the woman before me had a mind of her own, though, she took a deep sigh before rolling over to her stomach, stretching and arching her body to reach for the damn
device. Before she took the call, she apologetically mouthed “sorry,” which did nothing for my wavering resistance and patience. “Hello?” she said into the receiver before a serious frown crossed her face. “Aaron?” she whispered as if she couldn’t believe who was calling her. She as so caught in the conversation she somehow neglected that she was with another man. Who the bloody hell was Aaron? There was another man in the picture? My jealousy flared to new height. I wanted to demand right then and there who the twit was, yet not having secured her as my own, I knew a display of possessiveness would make her turn away from me forever. Therefore, I did what any reasonable man would do—I had to figure out a way to win in this wretched situation. Of course, I had to deviate by deciding to take my clothes off. All of them. What else was a man to do? One thing I had learned about women was to never underappreciate the power of skin and the alluring sight of a man’s impeccable physique. I knew how Serena had reacted that night when she had found me almost naked with a measly towel to cover the important bits that I was proudly showing off now. My cock was beyond engorged; it was swelling to its full, potent potential, twitching from the intensity of Serena’s wanton gaze. “Can I call you back … um … later?” Serena rushed out, blushing profusely as she tried to concentrate on the conversation
yet failing miserably, obviously distracted by my naked body. Without another word, she simply hung up the call, her eyes, body, and all of her senses finally honed back to me, as it should be. “I need you …” Her eyes lingered on my proud, rock hard length. “I need you inside of me.” I wanted to ask if she was sure that it was me she wanted and not Aaron, but I bit my tongue and focused on what she had begged me to do. She wanted my dick. Her eyes showed me just how much. If I was cruel, I would let her wait a while, but I relented because her need echoed mine. She was wanton, and I loved the fact that she was shameless about it. Even though I was pleased with her eagerness to carry on from where we had halted, I couldn’t help feeling that some of the magic we’d had earlier had been tarnished by that damning call, a call that had planted a seed of doubt in my already worried mind. How many men was she entangled with? I took a moment to ponder, questioning her with my eyes. With her beguiling beauty and easy charm, I would guess it could be quite a bit, which only made things dire for my part. I didn’t fucking share my women, and I wasn’t about to start with Serena. Meaning to temporarily banish the very idea of sharing her with others, I proudly stroked my cock before her, jerking it several times. Then I situated myself between her thighs, gripping the base of my cock and slapping her cunt a few times before unapologetically sliding into her and immediately stilling at the exquisite feel of her, temporarily shocking me to the core.
“Bloody fuck, Serena. This is the tightest cunt I’ve ever felt,” I rasped out, almost out of my mind from pleasure. My blood soared. My mental state was elevated beyond transcendental comprehension, and I so badly wanted to fuck, take as much as her body was giving me, but I didn’t want to hurt her. She was too tight, unbearably so. “Please tell me you’re okay.” I began to worry. “I’m fine,” she assured with a nod and a smile. “I swear, Cruz, if you’re planning to stop, I’m going to murder you in your sleep.” There was my fiery, beautiful lass. Her comment made me grin like mad. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I beamed before capturing her lips once more. I thrust my hips farther into her body, so much deeper than I was before. My cock could feel her muscles clenched around my girth, making me groan from the very exquisite sensation of her sweet cunt stretched to its limits. Finding my pace, I gradually began to fuck her slowly with one hand holding the side of her face while the other gripped the side of her hip, holding it down so I could plow into her more acutely. Her body accommodated my length, and I could feel her body quake, shivering against my own. “Holy hell,” she moaned as she pressed her heels against my buttocks, openly expressing how much she loved my cock while her hands took hold of her breasts, erotically squeezing them as I fucked her harder. It was surely a distinctive level of beauty when a woman could
display her sexuality without being nervous. It took our lovemaking to a new platform, somewhere a man could stretch his imagination for both our pleasures without reservations. As much as I relished being this intimately close to her, I felt as though I hadn’t fully possessed her body, mind, and soul, and the animal in me desperately needed to fulfill that. In an arduous moment, I pulled out of her tight pussy and swiftly flipped her on her stomach before spanking her nice, rounded bottom. “On your knees and lift that tight arse for me, Serena.” She twisted her head to gaze at me before biting the bottom of her lips, getting on her knees, and lifting her supple derrière. Then she spread herself wide for me, showing me just how willing she was without a word of objection. Her puckered hole and vaginal opening simultaneously clenched as she patiently waited for my next move. Guiding my cock towards her drenched clit, I let the bulbous head of my dick glide through her juices, wetting her already aroused sex before dragging her silky essence towards her other opening. I could tell she was shocked at my gesture because her body fleetingly froze before she released a sigh of relief when I reverted back to her clit. Repeating this move several times, I let her get used to the feeling of the tip of my cock as I efficiently lubricated both holes with her own wetness. Barely satisfied, I pressed my hand against the arch of her back, pushing her stomach farther down against the mattress with her head high and her bottom lifted towards my dick. Once she was
gloriously positioned, I slid my shaft into her sore passage as I instantaneously inserted my thumb in her sphincter, doubling her pleasure as I fucked her greedy cunt like never before. Rapidly thrusting into her, I deepened my thumb into her hole while my free hand latched on to her left shoulder, wildly escalating the pleasure as I barreled in and out of her at such a speedy rate that my balls slapped against her sensitized clit. The pleasure mounted, intensifying as my orgasm heightened, rising to its peak. I could feel it run through my body, coiling from my stomach as it travelled below my groin then tightened around my scrotum, waiting for its momentous release. “Are you on the pill?” I asked through gritted teeth, about to lose my bloody mind from the mind-numbing sensation my body was experiencing. Serena replied with a heady moan as her fingers urgently gripped the sheets, incoherently out of her mind. “Serena,” I begged as I furiously tried to clamp down on my release that was threatening to explode out of my cock. “Serena?” My voice barely made an audible sound as my control began to slip while I waited for her to respond to me. But after a few more strokes and still no answer from her, my strength and control were pushed over the edge before tipping over to surrender. “Oh bloody mighty fuck!” The words feverishly hissed out of my lips as my come erupted from me. My body stilled as my hands gripped into her skin while my dick shot hot, thick, creamy ropes into her womb. The process was so violent I was weakened by it
and collapsed against her back with my eyes closed, heart thudding, and my chest heaving. My mind went blank as I let my body go through the motions of draining me to the last drop while I left appreciative kisses against her neck. I took a few breaths before deciding to shift us both on our sides whilst my cock remained inside of her, pulsating, basking in the passionate aftermath of our mating. Serena’s hand sought my fingers that were loosely brushing against her stomach. “Don’t you think you should’ve waited for me to answer that question before you came inside of me?” she gently asked in an amused tone. I tried. Hell, I fucking did, but I lost control. The battle was just too good, too hard to curtail without losing my bloody fucking mind. Smiling against her skin, I breathed out, “I meant to. I truly did, and I apologize for not being able to overcome the urgency that my cock was demanding out of me.” She sighed. “You know you’re still inside of me, right?” She moaned before pressing her bottom against my hips, making my half-mast sex slide deeper into her body once again. My insatiable hunger for her was severe, but as much as I wanted to go for round two, I knew I had to get one thing out of the way. Pulling out of her, I shifted her body so she could face me. With both of our heads resting against the pillow, I took in her flushed skin, bruised lips, and bright eyes. She perfectly portrayed the sated lover, and I couldn’t get enough of her. Lost in the moment, we both stared into each other’s eyes, full
of amazement and wonder. As I lovingly brushed the soft skin along her jawline, my gaze penetrated into her green jewels. “We’re fine, aren’t we, Serena?” It was a general question that could be conveyed subtly and without pressure. Without disconnecting from me, she answered as best as she could. “Right now, yes.” She gestured her airily, flicking her hand back and forth within the space between us. “This is definitely fine, but if you’re inquiring about what’s going to happen beyond tonight, then I have to tell you that I’m still on the fence about everything.” Two of traits were persistence and determination, and she would definitely see just how much I was willing to compromise and accommodate any ill feelings she had about us. Tonight, though, I knew better than to push my luck on the subject. She was mine … She just didn’t know it yet. Or maybe she did and was simply too determined to deny it like I had in the beginning. I couldn’t fault her for that. “I truly respect your feelings about all of this, but I just want to get one thing clear. I’m not going to give up on you. You can count on it.” Her eyes glittered. “Oh, it’s like that, huh?” she teased, beautifully beaming at me before she surprised me by bestowing a subtle kiss on me, laden with purity and honesty. I growled, pulling her body against mine and deepening the kiss, and her legs opened then hooked around my hip, eagerly guiding my cock into her tight cunt. The warmth of her skin and her intoxicating scent was driving me mental. One whiff of her and I swear to God my cock would be
aroused without qualms. And speaking of which, the damn, wicked thing twitched inside of her, growing and expanding as Serena began to shift her hips wickedly, driving me out of my senses. “Woman, you’re going to be the death of me,” I stated as I watched her get lost to the pleasure I could offer. I was beyond enchanted, enthralled, and unquestionably smitten. Watching in awe, I couldn’t help fearing what tomorrow entailed. Indeed, this could be tricky, but I was willing to take the chance. My mother and the rest of my friends and family had yet to be informed about my broken engagement. There would be a lot of questions regarding my hasty change of heart, most particularly from my mother who would be devastated since it was something she had been looking forward to celebrating. She had deemed it as hope for continuing the impeccable history and lineage of the Elliot name. Though it broke my heart to even imagine what her reaction would be like, I had to follow what my instincts were telling me. I knew I wanted to make my mother happy after Father passed away, but the hopeless romantic side of me took precedence, enlightening me with the fact that I, too, hoped to have the kind of bond my mother and father had. Serena proved to me just how much I had been lying to myself. I was about done deluding myself that this was what paradise might feel like. If one night in her arms already felt this beautiful, then I was in for another awakening.
Chapter Nineteen Slowly coming out of my deep sleep, I had never felt more relaxed in my life. This sentiment lasted for a few seconds … until I decided to roll over to my other side. “Shit!” I loudly hissed into my pillow as the strong, throbbing ache between my legs vibrated all over my body. Then my mind immediately came out of the sleepy fog as the memories of last night flashed in my mind. Cruz kissing me … inside of me … our sweaty bodies tangled … the feeling of his thick dick fucking me… “Oh. My. God!” I blushed as I tried to shake the giddiness that bubbled out of me. Last night was … the best thing I had ever experienced. Well, I didn’t doubt for a second that Cruz was going to be great in bed, but last night … He took me to a different place. There was sex, and then there was that. Promises of self-control did nothing to stop the crazy passion he and I ignited together. There was no question that I wanted him, yet there were a lot of things to consider before jumping into a fullblown relationship with him. First off, he was fresh off his engagement, so I should wait until the dust settled on that front. Then there was Archer and my exAaron, who had begged to speak to me. I wasn’t sure where he had gotten the number for here, but as surprising as it was for him to call me, I was more curious for his reasons behind it. Sighing, I reached towards the dip on the other pillow, the
imprint of last night where Cruz barely slept a few hours before reluctantly leaving my bed to go to his old bedroom located in the opposite wing, on the other side of the house. I didn’t want to move. My mind was too busy wondering if Cruz was awake and already downstairs or if he had already left to go to his own house. He was so different from all the other guys I had dated. Maybe it was due to the fact that he was a little older than me or that he was a totally different caliber. He intimidated me because I wasn’t sure what to expect from him. I knew what he had said last night about not easily giving up on me and what not, but that was last night. What he thought and felt in the morning would be critical. Men were known to change their minds after they got what they were after. And how easily I had let him take it, bending and opening my legs without a second thought. As much as I told myself it wouldn’t bother me if it went either way, deep down I was terrified to find out if Cruz had already lost interest in me. Bracing the sharp sting that came with too much sex from last night, I began to walk towards the bathroom for a much needed hot shower. After twenty minutes, I had barely made the effort to dry my damp hair before haphazardly knotting it in a loose bun. Donning a cotton, floor-length dress, some light lip gloss, and tinted moisturizer, I made my way downstairs. Most women I knew would probably put more effort into their appearance after last night’s festivities, but with the odd sensation between my legs and
with my ever limping confidence, I sort of needed to be comfortable. Anne quietly greeted me with a smile when she saw me stroll down the hallway that led towards the informal sunroom where Sunday lunches were held. Since it was already about one in the afternoon, I was hoping Margaret had retired already and Cruz would still be in there, comfortably sipping his espresso as he went through the news. Shaky though my legs were, I couldn’t help feeling anxious as I got closer to my destination. With deep breaths and determination, I stepped into the bright, cozy room. The white linen sofas were the first thing that caught my eye before I directed my gaze towards the opposite end where the rustic dining table was located. And sure enough, Cruz sat there, just as I had pictured him, with steaming coffee cup on a saucer and the Sunday newspaper claiming his attention. He seemed so engrossed in his reading that he barely noticed he wasn’t alone in the room. This gave me a chance to take in his chiseled profile and the air of command he carried about him even when he wasn’t in his power suits. How could someone like Cruz Elliot hold interest in me after he got what he had been after? The pang in my heart made me take a step towards the table before clearing my throat to get his attention. “Hello,” I murmured with a wan smile, seeming unsure. His mercurial gaze zeroed in on me, clashing with mine. It took about a second or two before he broke contact, snapping back into his usual demeanor by getting up from his seat and striding towards
“You look lovely as always, Serena,” he greeted me with a smile before leaning over to kiss me on the lips. His gesture took me by surprise. I simply stood there, tense as a piece of wood. My reaction didn’t seem to bother him, though, because his smile was still in place as he pulled out a chair for me to sit. I demurely thanked him, blushing like a notorious freak as I watched him pour me coffee. Then he basically took it upon himself to choose whatever food to place on my plate from the buffet the in-house chef had prepared for us. “Thank you … That’s very sweet of you to do that.” It couldn’t be helped; I swooned like any other woman would. His sweet, unexpected gesture touched me deeply. He carefully placed the plate before me that had a great selection of fresh, roasted vegetables, steak medallions, and grilled seafood. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but since he had put in all that effort, I felt obligated to eat, so I slowly worked on the scrumptious yet heavy meal. “Did you sleep well?” he inquired softly, still hovering next to me. “Yes … I guess I did.” He was making the effort of small talk, and I appreciated it greatly, too nervous to fully function with him so close to me. “I barely slept a wink after I left you last night …” he began in a low voice, leaning towards me. “You made it impossible for me to sleep after that, knowing you were so close. I had never fought
against such powerful urges as those I had to seek you out once more last night. I had to be a true gentleman and let you rest, but I doubt I’d be that accommodating the next time.” My mouth ran dry at the thought of him coming to me while I slept with naked abandon. What would he have done then? My mind lingered on the limitless possibilities. The picture he painted in my mind was so vivid I had to shut my thighs together, my pussy turned on. Fuck me. Why did he have to be so damn sexy? Holding my breath, I fought the urge to turn my head to the side, kiss him like mad, and ask him to show me what he had in mind. I was turning into a sex addict. Who would have thought? It was insane to be this constantly turned on by a man. “Please, it’s too early for me to be this … stimulated.” I barely glanced at him. “Give me a chance to breathe and get some caffeine in my system.” Cruz gave a husky laugh before he gently placed his hand on my chin so our eyes connected. For a moment, we simply took in each other before he left an endearing kiss on my forehead then the tip of my nose and lastly my lips. Then he took his seat across the table. If I could project how much I was glowing right at that instant, I would probably have enough power to wield electricity to a small city. I felt as though I were floating, and all Cruz had done was kiss me. It was such a simple thing, yet it resulted in so much reaction from me. My pheromones were going haywire. One could only pray that this lurid response would somehow die down soon,
because a girl could only take so much mental, visual, and physical stimulation at once. I felt his expressive, beautiful eyes on me intently as I slowly worked on my meal. I was giddy, so it was hard to hide that fact, and I was smiling like an idiot until my cheek muscles started to protest. It seemed that a lot of my body parts had their own protests going on where Cruz was concerned. His phone beeped, making him pull it out of his pocket before reading through it with a frown. Silently watching him as I sipped my coffee, I wondered what the message entailed. I was so engrossed with looking at him that I was caught by surprise when he lifted his eyes and his gaze clashed with mine, giving me the full impact of his formidable stare. “Do you want to talk about last night?” His question threw me off balance as I tried to read his mind and failed miserably. About last night … I wasn’t ready to break it down and what it all meant. It was too much, too soon. I slowly shook my head. “No, not right now.” Someday maybe, but not the day after … “Some other time, perhaps.” He made a solemn nod, as if understanding where I came from before he cleared his throat. “I should get going and let you be. I’m sure you have better things to do.” Wait, what? “Oh, you’re going? Like, right now?” I asked, jolted by the fact that he was ready to leave so soon after I had arrived. “You’re heading home or … somewhere else?” I had to know. Maybe he
had prior plans … He seemed thoughtful for a moment before shrugging. “I’m not so sure yet.” “Oh … okay.” My insecurities came back with a vengeance, and all of my thoughts were directed towards his ex Ivy. Fuck. “Go on. Tell me,” he urged. Cruz’s word made me snap back to reality. Blinking, I glowered at him. “Tell you what?” I wasn’t playing coy; I didn’t know what he meant. “What’s making you frown at me like that?” He didn’t hesitate to call me out. Um, fuck, like I would seriously tell him the whole theory behind my worrisome expression. “I just didn’t expect you to leave so soon.” Half-truths were better than lying in my book. Cruz considered me for a moment, as if he didn’t believe what I had just fed him. “Afraid to miss me, Serena?” he asked. I had to admire his punch lines. That shit got me every single time. Thrown off by his question while I simmered in my own redness, I still tried to portray what little confidence I could muster up. “No. I …” I began to say, sounding unsure of myself. His eyes sparkled, basking in my evident discomfort. “Do you know how arduous it is for me not to kiss you right now?” “No, not here, not when someone could see us,” I immediately protested.
He had already risked too much earlier by kissing me. I didn’t want to give the household staff any reason to see this as anything other than playful banter between friends. God knew what they would think of me, most especially since Cruz hadn’t broken the news of his newly single status. The moment the word got out, I didn’t doubt there would be a lot of women wanting to catch his attention. Would he still want me then? “Come with me. I want to spend my day with you,” he said. “Doing what exactly?” The very idea made me nervously choke on my own saliva. If I spent the rest of the day with him, I would never come down from my high. I could kiss my sanity good-bye. He shrugged, loving the idea he had suggested. “Whatever your heart wishes. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to bury myself inside of you again … and again … and again.” The sultriness in his voice was noted unmistakably. The images of him doing just that made my pussy clench from yearning for the same thing, but as much as I would love to have sex with him again, I was still sore from last night. Moreover, as much as I hated to admit it, I knew he and I needed some space from each other to breathe, to think, to fully understand what in the world was going on. After all, if I just threw caution to the wind and spent the day in bed with him, I would be in for the grandest of heartbreaks. I already knew that. The impact Cruz already had on me was tremendously powerful compared to how it all had begun when I first dated Aaron. What I’d had with him didn’t even come close. Cruz
possessed me like no other man ever had, and that was terrifying to think. If I gave him more of me, I would lose myself, and once this thing we had was over, I would have nothing left. Making a skittish face, I braced myself to answer. “It’s tempting to say yes … but I’m afraid I have to skip on that. I guess I’ll be seeing you at work tomorrow.” His face darkened, as if he hadn’t expected to hear my disinterest. “Are you quite sure?” “It’s just too soon … I don’t want to rush into anything,” I reasoned, trying to convince him just as I tried to convince myself that I had made the right decision. Cruz seemed to see through the bullshit I was feeding him because he looked far from convinced. “You’re weighing your other options then, I see.” No, I wasn’t necessarily weighing my other options, more like being cautious of my heart. As a man, I doubted he could see that. To him, this was more likely about ego than anything. It was surprising that this was what he thought of me, yet he was willing to keep pursuing me. Why on earth would he do that? Was this all just a stupid game, a challenge to win against his brother? Anyone with eyes could easily see how those two competed, so that was highly plausible. My thoughts were making me sick to my stomach. If I were any wiser, I would guard my heart against Cruz. For some odd reason, I had an awful feeling in my gut that he would eventually crush it. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Cruz.”
Something dark flashed in his eyes, drawing me into his silvery gaze. Though I could see frustration and puzzlement all over his expression, I didn’t let it persuade me to undo my decision. After Aaron had played me for a fool, I would be stupid to let that happen to me twice. Cruz would eventually discard me once he’d had his fun. Then he would eventually go back to dating the women who were more suited for him. I had to guard my heart, and I was doing just that. He couldn’t fault me for that. “Very well. As you wish.” Briskly getting up from his seat, he gave me a stiff, courteous nod before bidding me good-bye. Our eyes battled for a few minutes until he broke contact, readying to leave. I didn’t know why I was in pain watching him walk away when it was what I wanted in the first place. The matters of the heart always battled against the mind. Maybe that was why nothing made sense anymore. I hated being in limbo, but I didn’t have much choice. I would just have to learn how to live with it. Finishing half of my lunch, I left the sunroom half an hour later, still reeling. I sought the safe confines of my bedroom, hoping to spend the rest of my day relaxing so I would have enough energy to push through the next five days working alongside Cruz. Instead of calling Aaron back, I thought it was a better idea to email him. That way, I could thoroughly think through what I would say to him without getting my emotions involved like they had when we first broke up. I had written him lengthy text messages, left foul
voicemails, and always yelled into his face whenever I saw him in school or at a party. Recalling my hurtful past made me realize how important it was to build up my walls against Cruz so the past wouldn’t repeat itself. If he was only after sex, then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. After all, he was amazing in bed, so as long as we kept our relationship physical, then it wouldn’t be a problem, now would it? I wasn’t sure where my mind was leading me to, but I couldn’t deny that I was actually looking at this whole thing in a larger scale. Maybe it was time to get the details into perspective and spin it into my favor, one where I had the power to halt and disengage whenever I wanted.
Chapter Twenty When Monday rolled around, I had to call work and speak to Denise, explaining my situation in school and apologize for not making it to work. The school had invited a guest speaker that I couldn’t miss. Not to mention, upon attendance, I would also be earning an extra credit for my Economics class, so it was really imperative I went. Though I had to admit, it was a rather convenient excuse to avoid work, too, since I hadn’t made a decision yet, and once I encountered Cruz, he would inevitably press on that subject, so it was best to be prepared for when that time came. Throughout the afternoon, I kept checking my phone, halfhoping Cruz would eventually call, perhaps just to see if I was fine and see where I was, but that call never happened. That night, I got home with a sinking feeling that maybe my irrational response to his invitation was a mistake on my part. Like I had said before, I was in limbo. This very line of thought proved just how frustrating the tug of war of emotions was driving me crazy. Knowing how my mind was already not making any sense, I went to bed, convincing myself I could very well ponder this the next day. Trying to solve my heart’s dilemmas wouldn’t do me any good when I was exhausted. Tomorrow, after all, was another day, another chance. The next day at work, I found myself high on nerves as I prepared the refreshments I normally wheeled into his office. I knew it had only been a day since he had left me in the sunroom, so I
wasn’t sure how he would likely greet me: with a cold aloofness or with a warm smile. Somehow, I found myself hoping it was the latter. Before taking the snacks to him, I made a quick stop at my desk to pull out a mirror from my purse just to make sure my hair was in place and my teeth were sparkling white. Satisfied with my appearance and armed with a smile and enthusiasm, I made my way towards his office. I took a shaky breath as I stopped right outside his door before finally deciding to knock a few times and let myself in. Cruz looked up to watch me come through, and our eyes met. Nervously, I caught my breath as I softly nodded in his direction. “Hello, Mr. Elliot.” “Serena,” he immediately threw back, waiting for me to do or say something. Since I wasn’t sure how to approach him, I resorted to doing what I was there for—serving him his nibbles. Once everything was set, I quietly spun to face him and was startled to find him with his eyes trained on me, as if he was still waiting for something. Fidgeting with my fingers, I cleared my throat. “About yesterday—” “I was already told,” he fluidly provided, unblinking as he watched me like a man would admire something from afar. His face was stern with no smiles, but his eyes … his beautifully expressive eyes were aglow with warmth and something else. “Care to share some tea with me? Coffee perhaps?” Um … yes? Should I say yes? Maybe I should. I couldn’t stop
thinking about him, but people would talk if I did. Office gossip would ruin this entire internship for me. “No, thank you. I really should get back to work.” I was a coward, and I wasn’t proud of it. Cruz threw me a challenging look. “Come here,” he commanded smoothly. “Why?” I questioned timidly. “Because I want to look at you.” “You can see me fine from here.” It was one of those mind games he liked to play, but I wasn’t going to let him have his way. My rebuff wasn’t taken lightly. In fact, he seemed about to lose his cool composure. Even still, I remained where I was, not willing to go to him just because he had barked out an order. “If you keep fighting me off, I might be tempted to spread you on my desk and fuck you until you’re out of excuses to keep me at bay. It’s purely up to you.” His straight-faced expression made me think of imminent danger, even though I knew Cruz would never hurt a hair on my head. He still had that kind of pull, that kind of power to make me feel debased and defenseless. “Fine,” I said, conceding to his demand. It was silly, yet this wasn’t about the simplicity of his request, or command, rather. This was about control and who had the upper hand in this nonrelationship. My heart pitter-pattered inside my ribcage as I took the steps towards him, closing the gap between us. The second we were within arm’s reach, I could instantaneously feel the magnetic charge
between our bodies. It was disconcerting and mind-blowing, and for the life of me, no matter how I tried to squash and kill how my body responded to him, I was unsuccessful. My nipples hurt as if they knew he was close and they sorely missed his touch. If I had any sense left, I would leave his office S.T.A.T. I could smell disaster waiting to happen. “Are you done checking me out?” I snapped at him since he was taking his sweet time looking at me and thinking God knew what. “Not in the slightest.” Seriously? I needed to get out of there. Just as I was thinking of him, I saw him from the corner of my eye pulling something out of his pocket before handing it to me. It was a black credit card with my name on it. Well. What. The. Flying. Fuckery? “What the fuck is this for?” I shrieked, almost throwing the card back at him, offended beyond comprehension. If he had a clue about what was going through my mind, he had best pay heed. However, it seemed he was dense when it came to women’s feelings because he didn’t seem to understand what my about-to-lose-it face meant. “I need you to have a new work wardrobe consisting of skirts and dresses. You’re banned from wearing trousers.” Well, I’ll be damned. “Excuse me? Banned, you say?” My eyes turned into slits as I tried to contain the combustible emotions threatening to explode out of my chest. “That’s shitty and sexist of you!”
My outcry didn’t seem to surprise him, nor did he look fazed. “I want to fuck you without having to deal with such trivial matters.” For the very first time today, there was a spark of amusement lighting his handsome face. I would have been responsive had this conversation not taken place, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, he and I were at each other’s throats once more. Unfortunately. Dismissing the wry expression on his face, I denied myself the pleasure of slapping him and opted for dramatics by growling like an incensed animal and stomping towards his desk then throwing the damned thing in the trash before giving him a deadly glare. “In case you missed it, Cruz Elliot, I didn’t sign up to be your personal hooker. Get that into your fucking head, or I’m out of here!” “I never said you were.” He frowned before approaching me with a concerned look. “My apologies for offending you. That was never my intention, Serena.” There was authenticity in his admission. “All I ever wanted to do was to show you just how greatly you affect me … in more ways than you can imagine. I want you tremendously without question, without logic. I am terrifyingly enamored by you.” My eyes drifted to his lips before reaching his gaze once more. For the first time in my life, I was scared shitless of the unknown and what Cruz represented in my life. “It’s just too soon …” I argued, grasping at straws. “People are going to see me as a home wrecker: your mom, Archer, everyone in the house. I can’t … I won’t be able to live with myself,
“I know this might not make any sense to you, but this is very important to me. Whatever this is we have, if we work at it together, we can successfully make it disappear. Maybe we could even become friends. All this tension is just the cause and effect of being teased with the forbidden. And once the novelty wears off, it’ll be just like the rest—normal and pretty boring.” He drew his face closer, looking into my eyes, our noses almost touching, needing to see through my lies, through the windows of my soul. “Don’t ever feed me lies. Your eyes tell me too much.” “What we have is sex—amazing sex, but that’s all we share.” I licked my lips, wondering how I would deliver my next words without giving too much away. “If you’re willing, we don’t have to stop that aspect if we could do it as discreetly as possible, but that’s all I want from you.” He probed my eyes, searching. “Do you genuinely mean that?” I nodded and whispered, “Yes.” For the most part, I did. His intensity didn’t waver as his eyes flickered back and forth, as if trying to read me. “Will you be exclusively mine?” He obviously wasn’t assured. “I guess …” I trailed off, all the while pondering why he had to even ask me that. His lips pressed together, unimpressed with my answer. “You guess, but you’re not quite sure.” Why was he interrogating me in a way that was really pushing my buttons? It was pissing me off. Could it be because he was the
one who didn’t want to be exclusive? Maybe he wanted to hop into different beds whenever he felt like it. Well, in that case, there wasn’t much to be said, now was there? “Yes … I’m not.” “I see,” he uttered, emotionless. We were just like friends with benefits, but with less on the “friends” part. I could do this. This was better because I knew where we both stood. There were no false declarations of hope and whatnot. This was just a direct transaction of sex for sex: raw, unbidden, no strings attached. I had never had anything like this before, so it would be my first time. Good luck to me. My tension began to ebb as I let the idea dawn on me before I made a careful smile. “So, can we get together soon? I’m free tonight.” Cruz shrugged, seeming uninterested quite suddenly. “I’m afraid I won’t be. Will Sunday do?” “But that’s—” A lifetime. “Yeah, I guess that’s fine.” I was far from fine, but what was I supposed to say? No, because an hour seemed forever already? Apparently, since I was the one who had thrown the suggestion, I had given away my right to set the damn date. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Putting my injured pride aside, I needed to gauge just how invested he was with this newly minted arrangement we had. “Do you really need me to wear skirts and dresses?” His eyes shifted towards my body. They came alive, glowing heatedly as they perused. “Serena, I already told you what I want;
it’s up to you if you want to fulfill it or not.” “Okay.” I acquiesced. “All right.” Taking a deep breath, I knew it was time for me to take my leave. Just before I took a step away from him, though, he surprised me by taking hold of my arm and hastily yanking me towards him, clashing my body against his hard chest. “Don’t ever leave without kissing me,” he grumbled then took charge of the situation and did just that. The second we touched, I molded against his body, and before I knew it, my hand was rubbing against his pants, loving the feeling of his hard dick. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed him— everything about him—until that moment. His masculine scent fanned the hunger inside of me. I felt as though I couldn’t control myself as I devoured his lips while my hands busied themselves, exploring, touching him without restraint. “Do you want my cock inside your cunt, Serena?” he grunted between kisses. Need he ask? Couldn’t he see, feel just how desperate I was? “Please, yes,” I moaned just as I felt the evidence of my arousal dampening my underwear. He groaned as he squeezed my bottom, making me press against his body more. “I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until Sunday.” He was playing hard to get, right? His cock certainly didn’t feel as if it could wait five more days. Hell, I definitely couldn’t. “No that’s too long. I need you now, even for a quickie. I really don’t care,” I reasoned, pleading as my body melted against his touch. “Touch me…”
“Serena…” he hissed as though he was having a challenging time harnessing his body’s reaction to me. I took that as a sign to push the issue. With the use of my hands, I fumbled as I worked to undo his pants then let them fall to the floor. Looking at his flabbergasted expression, I didn’t even think twice before pushing him back against his seat with his dick sticking out, enormously proud. Without hesitation, I took my pants then my underwear off, all the while aware he was watching me, before straddling him. Our noses touched as I lifted myself off his thighs and began to guide his shaft towards my hole. I let out a moan the second I felt his mushroomed head stretch me wide, hissing at the slight sting as I pushed farther down his rock hard pole. I was beyond wet, but I supposed my body wasn’t used to his size. It was going to take a few more times until I could accommodate him without feeling a sting. “Christ, Serena!” Cruz hissed as he breathed against my neck, his hands still grappling a copious amount of my behind. “You have no idea how much I’ve thought of this,” I said before my eyes rolled back just as I felt his cock hit the outer part of my cervix. He felt massive, thick as he pulsated inside of me. “You feel so good. This is the best I’ve ever had.” Lost in the haze of pleasure, I began to ride him, rocking back and forth without stopping. I rode him fast, hard, and without reservations. I gave it my all, abandoning every one of my inhibitions and restrictions. I simply focused on how good it made me feel. I wanted to savor every stroke. I felt as if I had grown into a sexually
mature woman, confident in her own skin, someone who would take charge and take whatever she desired without any excuse or reason. My release kept building as I rode him, and it wasn’t long until I was about to reach it. “Come with me, babe,” I invited. Then I moaned out his name while I clenched around him as my body shook. I was out of breath as I experienced the passionate eruption of my release, and Cruz took charge by holding my hips and continuing to fuck me until he was about to peak, as well. “I want to feel you come inside me again,” I managed to say with my body slowly weakening. “No,” Cruz hissed in protest just as he lifted me off him when he was about to come before rapidly stroking his cock to finish off. Fascinated, I was mesmerized watching his shaft spurt out its white come. “You didn’t have to do that, you know. I’m on the pill.” Sliding off him, I began to pick up my discarded clothes. “It doesn’t matter.” He simply shrugged, barely meeting me in the eye. I watched him clean himself with some napkins as my mind began to race. “You don’t believe me? I can show it to you.” “There’s no need. I just didn’t want to; that’s all.” His immediate shift in mood rattled me. It was only a couple days ago that he couldn’t stop himself from coming inside of me, so what had changed?
“Is there any reason why, then?” I asked, not willing to drop the subject. “No reason,” he supplied before nodding towards the bathroom. “The washroom is through that door if you need to freshen up.” The last thing I needed was to overextend my welcome. It seemed that had expired the second he had come. He became aloof and distant, far from being the man who had consumed me with a mere kiss alone. Hastily putting my clothes back on, I skipped using the bathroom. I could use the one outside. Debating if I should get close to him or not before I left, my heart won out in the end by making me kiss his cheek good-bye. “You’re not mad at me, are you?” It felt as though he was pissed off, and I wasn’t aware of what I had done. Well, apart from grabbing his cock and taking a pause on his workday. He couldn’t be pissed off about that, surely? Without kissing me back, he raised his brow at me, indifferent. “No. Why do you ask?” “Nothing. Never mind.” I gave him a tight smile, stung beyond words as to how he kept shifting into this mercurial man whenever it suited him. “In case I don’t see you for the rest of the day, have a goodnight.” I strutted out of there with as much bravado as I could muster. One day, I would know how to hold myself after sexual encounters without getting myself tangled in emotional upheaval. Until then, I should learn how to practice it. They did say practice
made perfect. Eventually, I would feel nothing towards Cruz after experiencing the most cataclysmic orgasm to date. Someday couldn’t come soon enough.
Chapter Twenty-One Just as I imagined, I didn’t see him for the rest of the afternoon, and even though I had already predicted it, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I had done something to tick him off. Eventually, I went home, consumed by thoughts of our raunchy stint in his office as I stepped into the foyer. It took me a bit of time to realize there were voices coming out of the sitting room. Normally I would never eavesdrop, but when I heard Cruz’s name being mentioned, I couldn’t help being drawn to the people having the conversation. Before I could tiptoe closer, the voices became louder, as if they were talking and walking at the same time. Frozen in my spot, I saw Margaret emerge from the room with a distraught looking Ivy. All sorts of emotions washed over me with guilt claiming the very top spot. “Oh, Serena, you’re back,” Margery greeted me with a beaming smile before directing her gaze towards the woman next to her. “Ivy’s here to check on me. Isn’t that sweet of her?” “It is,” I commented politely. “Hello, Ivy.” “Serena,” she quipped back with a strained smile, teary-eyed. “It’s lovely to see you again. I’m sure you’ve heard about Cruz and the broken engagement. I’m trying to get used to my new life, but it’s been such a hardship.” “I—I’m really sorry to hear that.” I was stammering like the guilty idiot I was. If she only knew the reason Cruz had left her, she wouldn’t even dare talk to me, let alone look at me without disdain.
She tried to compose herself with another shaky smile. “I ought to go. It was pleasant to see you again, Margery,” she said before nodding towards me. “You, too, Serena.” She bid us both goodbyes as we watched her leave. Once she was gone, Margery touched her chest and released a sigh. “I sure do hope my son stops carousing or whatever it is that he’s up to and marries that poor woman. She’s beside herself. I never imagined Cruz would do such a thing. He has always been so gallant, a man who was true to his word. Let’s pray that this could quite possibly be just an awful case of cold feet.” Guilt ate at me, and I couldn’t stand it, so I excused myself to go to my room and unwind before dinner. My mood took a nosedive from then on. I was battling between desire and doing the right thing. Even if I stopped this liaison with Cruz, it didn’t guarantee he would mend his relationship with Ivy. Cruz was unpredictable. He and God were the only ones who truly knew what went on in that beautiful head of his. Besides, since I was already addicted to Cruz and his sexual prowess, it would be tough to separate from him right after it had begun. It was shameless, and yet there was no turning back from what had transpired between us. I was stuck with it until we decide to go our separate ways. At dinner, it was a pleasant surprise to finally see Archer’s presence. He seemed a bit more off than usual, but it was palpable to anyone with eyes that he was still somewhat hungover and maybe a little drunk. Although I was concerned for him, this was his normal, hard-partying ways, and I doubted anyone could stop him
except himself. Margery, of course, fawned over her youngest and made sure he got everything he wanted, which wasn’t much. Apart from iced water and cappuccino, Archer didn’t have any desire to eat. I could easily see the difference between how Margery treated Archer compared to Cruz. With the oldest, she was straightforward and didn’t fawn over him like she was with Archer. She still treated him like he was a baby in dire need of cooing and wooing. While Archer played and partied the night and day away, Cruz was busy running their business, making sure everything was going smoothly. It was crazy, but I suddenly realized I felt protective of Cruz. It must have been hard to see your own mother show more love towards your other sibling. My parents had never displayed favoritism between Grace and me, and I would forever be grateful for that. I could only imagine the insecurity and whatever else that could root from that. After dinner, Archer tried to cajole me into go swimming with him. Seeing the state that he was in, though, I declined. It would have been fun, but after how Saturday had unfolded, I didn’t want to put myself in a situation where Archer would perceive my acceptance to something more than what it was. Besides, I wanted to indulge myself in a long, hot bath after today. I was sore in places I hadn’t even known existed. Sex with Aaron was vanilla compared to the kind I was getting from Cruz. I got what everyone was saying now, so thank goodness for Cruz. #
The next day at work, I waited for Cruz’s return from an emergency meeting out of town, but it took longer than expected, so it was a letdown that I didn’t get to see him. I was so looking forward to seeing how he was after yesterday, even though the parting was a little strained for my liking. The same thing happened the next day. He got caught up with contracts in Scotland and would be staying overnight. To say I was having major Cruz withdrawals was an understatement. When Friday rolled in, I was in high spirits, knowing full well he was going to be in the office. I had made sure to check his calendar. Given that he would be spending a lot of time in calls and meetings, he would be on the same floor as me, and that pleased me to no end. Though guilt still weighed heavily on me, I had learned to cope by telling myself there were certain things in life that were out of my control. Cruz had pushed me and only came to me after he had broken things off with her. I just needed to learn how to deal with it. While my conscience suffered, it didn’t negate the fact that I still managed to dress as he had requested. It was a cream-colored, A-line dress that went just above the knee, formal and demure enough to be worn in the office. My upbeat mood lasted until right before everyone took their lunch when I witnessed a stunning redhead enter his office. She wore all white, impeccably dressed and alluringly sexy. My bitch radar was on high alert. From then on, my eyes were practically glued to the clock on my desktop, counting down the time. The unnamed woman was there for over an hour.
What did they have to talk about? I worried as I watched the time tick away. Each passing second was like a nail into my coffin. The comparison might be on the extreme, but it was how I felt, and damn him for making me go through such crushing jealousy. It seemed like I had waited forever for her to emerge from Cruz’s office. When she came out, there was a victorious smile pasted on her face as she strutted down the hallway, readying to leave through the elevators. I couldn’t stop staring at her while feeling my heart slam hard against my chest, clearly troubled. If I didn’t see him right at that moment, I would very well lose it. If he was busy doing something, he had better spare me a minute or two, or I would do something I might end up regretting. My mind was dead set on interrogating him, never mind the fact that I didn’t have the authority or the right to do such a thing. I couldn’t care less. Jealousy was a rotten thing, and it was eating me stupid. There was no better explanation than that. Swiping my sweaty palms on the sides of my dress, I briskly strode towards his office. What I planned to do the moment I saw Cruz … Well, that was yet to be determined. It was rude not to knock, but I couldn’t control myself from exploding, so I just barged in there like a damn lieutenant, meaning to bark for some immediate answers. When I got in there, however, I was greeted with the sight of him in the bathroom with the door barely cracked open while he thoroughly washed his hands. For what insane reason did he have to do that? He didn’t have sex, did he? He might have felt the need to simply clean them like
normal people would, but if he did have sex… Then there was that fucking stupid smile that woman had on her face that insinuated she’d had the yummiest cake for dessert… Fuck! Cruz wouldn’t, or would he? On the verge of serious outburst, I marched across the room and into the bathroom, unceremoniously pushing the door open, surprising the bejesus out of him. “Please don’t tell me you fucked that woman here, in this office, while I was working nearby!” My eyes wildly flashed at him, sending daggers, hell, and all of its deadly accouterments as I held nothing back in my tone. After biding his time by washing his hands, he took another lengthy moment to dry them off while he avoided my furious glare. “You sound as if you’re jealous, Serena. Try to be careful, my sweet, or I might take it as if you want to be my girlfriend.” “Did you or didn’t you?” I was a loose cannon, and there was no stopping me. “Because, if you did …” My heart began to ache so badly I had to pause for a second. “Because, if you had sex with her, then I don’t want anyone’s sloppy seconds. I’d rather fuck someone else.” Swiftly, in a whirlwind of motions, I found myself staring into the mirror with my navel against the sink while Cruz was behind me with both of his hands planted on each of my sides, grabbing the edge of the sink. “Do you remember what you said to me, Serena?” I could not. “Let me remind you …” he supplied with blatant
disappointment. “You told me that you wanted sex and nothing else, so why in the bloody Hell are you acting like a shrieking banshee?” Red hair. The strut. And the shit-eating-grin. Yes, I was definitely seeing red. Every. Fucking. Where. “Do you want someone else, Cruz?” I asked, past caring about anything else but this damn question and his answer. He bristled after realizing I wasn’t going to drop the subject until I got what I had come for. “Why are you so bent on getting an answer?” He was answering my question with a question, a total douchebag move. “I’m not going to ask you again, and if you choose not to answer me, then I’ll just walk away from you and all this bullshit.” I gave him a few minutes to break the deafening sound of silence before I carefully exhaled then yanked the door open so I could exit the bathroom. Then I felt his hands pull me towards him, which made me lose grip of the handle and inadvertently slam the door shut. Much to my chagrin, he situated me just like before—with us both facing the mirror while he was right behind me, looming like a dark cloud about to pour a mighty storm. “Did you really come here to interrogate me … or for this?” he grunted in my ear as his hand cupped my breast before squeezing it hard. My body immediately shivered from the pain and pleasure it brought me. Regardless, my anger hadn’t subsided. I wasn’t willing to give this up without a fight.
“Stop touching me!” I protested with conviction. “I don’t want your filthy hands on me after you’ve had that bitch all over you!” I was trying to use my body weight to push against him so he would free me, but he was so strong my effort was to no avail. All my protest and whimpering didn’t waver his determination. My body weakened against his as I felt him place his hand on my ass before it snaked past my thigh and between my legs, slightly parting them then hastily pushing my thong aside and unsuspectingly sticking his finger in my pussy, which made me moan and groan at the same time. “Do you want another man in here, Serena?” he growled low and hungrily before he brushed his teeth against the side of my ear. “Do you yearn for another man’s cock in this tight fucking cunt?” Sweet as sin … I should be mad as hell, and I was, but I was also turned on beyond measure. For some sick, twisted reason, this display of possession made me ache deeply for him. “Look at me, damn you! Bloody look at me!” he hissed, and I lifted my eyes to the mirror and met his steely gaze. “Tell me what you want.” I shook my head, unwilling to bend to his will. Maybe it was more about me being too ashamed to admit his power over my mind and body. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?” he asserted before he daringly stuck his tongue out and ran the tip of it along my shoulder blade, running it up my neck before it reached my earlobe where he playfully sucked. “Since you’re depriving me of the answer, my
sweet Serena, I’ll simply give you the courtesy of showing you.” His relentless finger was joined by another, mercilessly fucking me, which made me buck forward as the intensity built inside of me. I gripped the sink handles, holding on for my dear life, heavily panting and out of my mind from the pleasure of my rapidly building orgasm. I almost screamed when I unexpectedly felt his rigid cock plunge into me when I least expected it. “This is what you came in here for. This is what got you so hellishly bent,” he bellowed, and I was beyond saving myself.
Chapter Twenty-Two Cruz
“I don’t want you like this, not after her … not like this,” she moaned. However, her luscious bottom protruding hungrily, begging for my cock to keep plunging into her, blatantly stated otherwise. I was consumed by this endless need to possess her, and the more she objected, the worse it got. It wasn’t technically about pride or ego, but something much more severe. What that was exactly, I couldn’t be sure. All I could comprehend as of that moment was I needed to have her, or I would go mental. I had vowed to wait until Sunday and had tried to make excuses to go out of my way to avoid seeing her, but when she had marched in here, dressed to sexually stimulate me and looking as if she was ready to be at my beck and call, I couldn’t bloody resist. “Feel me inside of you.” Her drenched cunt felt sublime. It gripped my cock like a vice every time I slid out. As much as I loved the feeling of her, I knew the sex wouldn’t have this effect on me if it weren’t for the woman herself. There was just something about Serena: the way she walked, how her smile could mesmerize any hot-blooded man, how she laughed at her own expense, the beautiful way she look at me when thoughtful. It was like I was the most enthralling thing she had set her eyes upon. She simply made me feel things, things that felt so foreign to my well-organized life. Her threatening to walk away after she shook my world upside
down was a despicable thing to even consider. “You’re mine, Serena. I won’t allow another man to have you,” I breathed out with fervent conviction. “You’re mine and that’s that.” The statement held true to my heart. There was no way I was going to lose her. I would fight her tooth and nail if she threatened to walk away again. It wasn’t long until she and I reached our release, and just like the first time, it shook me to the core. The rational side of me ought to ponder what could result from such affairs, but I was too shaken, maybe even a little disturbed, to take a moment to reflect on it. Watching her carefully in the mirror, my eyes grazed her tinted cheeks and how her green eyes seemed at bliss. “Why …?” she trailed off, hesitating. “I mean, why don’t you ever come inside me anymore? That’s the second time that’s happened, and I’ve begged you not to pull out.” Had I granted her request twice, I wouldn’t be able to control myself. It felt too overpowering, as if it meant to unman me, and I wasn’t prepared for that. No man would unless, of course, she was willing to be mine and not just for sexual purposes, but to be exclusively with me and not because I could arouse her sexually. Don’t get me wrong; our sexual compatibility was off the charts unbelievable, but I needed more than that. I wanted to possess the woman beneath the beauty and striking body. Her soul, her mind … I saw the woman underneath it all, and clearly, she wasn’t ready for that. Until then, we could simply dance around this madness. Though I wasn’t too pleased about it, I had no choice
other than to work around it, or I would lose her altogether to my lothario of a brother or to some hopeless chap. “In due time, but not today,” I said nonchalantly, walking away to clean up. “It’s because you already fucked someone else today, so our sex wasn’t all that special; is that it?” She folded her arms, clearly infuriated. There was no doubt in my mind that she was ticked off. Instead of focusing on what she was saying, I was more engrossed in watching her face come alive with emotions. She was furious, and she had no idea how endearingly bewitching she looked. Drawing my mind back to her accusation, I wasn’t sure if she was jealous or simply angrily repulsed that she had come after someone else. She was giving me mixed signals, and I loathed not knowing what she was thinking. Emotions were such fickle subjects to observe, and the last thing I deserved was to have my good intentions being mocked. As a result, it was best to appear indifferent. That way, I could secure my sanity whilst protecting my pride at the same time. “Why ask such questions that would surely complicate things between us, Serena?” She growled before reaching for a hand towel and irately throwing it at me. “I complicate things by asking important questions? Go fuck off, Cruz!” she lashed out before harrumphing out of the bathroom then outwards, possibly back to her desk to curse the living daylights of me. I was maddeningly, hopelessly crazy for her, yet she didn’t
seem to believe me. She had reservations; I was well aware of it, but would it be difficult to give me a chance instead of blocking this phenomenon that was developing between us? I had fought her in the beginning and irrevocably lost. She must know where I stood. I had risked everything. I was all hers. All she simply had to do was claim me. There was no way I was able to privately speak to her the next day because she was adamant not to be around the areas in the building where she knew I was. Even my refreshments were delivered by a newly minted intern. I could have stretched my power just to see how far she would bend to please me, but I wasn’t that much of a bastard. I knew she was still reeling from yesterday’s nonsensical upheaval. I could have sat her down after we shagged and asked her to voice out what her concerns were, and I could have easily provided all of the answers she was looking for. However, she and I were at odds, and this constant, greedy need not to lose this bloody war she had silently waged against me was wreaking havoc with my very existence. Therefore, I decided to keep still, steadying myself even though I was in turmoil each time I saw her. One of us needed to give in, but until then, we would keep on with this madness. Simply put, I was waiting for her to come to me, no holds barred, unbidden, and with no artifice or hidden agenda. Just her… Just Serena.
“Could you possibly dare look at how gorgeously sexy I am in this blasted outfit? The price is outrageous, but I’m rather inclined!” Nessa twirled before me in delight. The strappy lace number screamed her, so I was wondering why she bothered even asking me. The woman had impeccable style in a badass, rock chic way. I admired her edginess and unapologetic attitude. She snapped her fingers at me before waving both of her hands in the air. “Oy, earthling, have we landed, or are we still floating in mid-air?” She arched her brow at me, waiting. I blinked at her a few times before shaking my head, clueless. “Hmmm? Earth floating what?” Was she asking me about the dress or some astrological question? I couldn’t be sure. Nessa rolled her eyes before checking herself out in the mirror and whistling at herself. “Slay, bitch, slay!” Count on Nessa to be her own cheerleader. I couldn’t help laughing at her silliness. There was something about her that made me feel happy just being around her. Her confidence and positivity were infectious. I loved it. Now, if I could channel some of that zeal into my turbulent relationship with Cruz that shamed the word “complicated.” After Nessa paid for the dress that she would no doubt wear tonight, we strolled towards the nearest café for some much needed cappuccino. It was late in the afternoon on a Saturday, and instead of looking forward to a night out with my school friends, my mind
was drawn towards one particular person. It had been two days, and I was riddled with guilt for acting like a horrid bitch. For one, I had gone and accused him without even waiting for him to confirm it. However, he was reluctant to provide me with the answers I needed, so my bitchiness meter skyrocketed to a new level. I was in the wrong, or maybe he was for being such a prick about everything. Nevertheless, it didn’t justify my outlandish attitude. And for that very reason, my guilt ate at me, so much so that I couldn’t even look him in the eye yesterday. This whole confusing relationship with him, the ins and outs of sexual partnership, was just too much. It was overloading my naïve brain. If this happened with a guy from school, it wouldn’t be so hard to decipher. However, since this involved a man who was six years older than me and who was used to running the world with a snap of his fingers, there was a delicate yet complicated sophistication I wasn’t accustomed to. “All right, I’ve had enough. I’ve been rather patient, but now you’ve got to tell me who’s behind the frown that’s semipermanently pasted on your face.” Nessa gave me a sharpened look, much more intuitive than I had given her credit for. Was I that obvious? I had hoped my complications with Cruz would remain a secret, but now that Nessa was curious, maybe it wouldn’t be such a problem to disclose some of the things that had been hounding my mind all night and day. Releasing a heavy sigh, I began to divulge my situation in a way that only gave enough to cover the angst and the confusion I had to
deal with on a daily basis. By the time I finished, Nessa had barely touched her coffee, so engrossed with my story. After a while, I patiently stared at her, waiting for her constructive criticism or anything to help me figure this out. I felt like I was too deep in the odd relationship for me to see reality. She let out a whistle before sending me one of those smiles, one that indicated I was literally fucked in all aspects. “So, you’re telling me that you cannot—it’s just impossible— to resist or decline this man’s advances even though you sort of hate yourself for giving in?” “Well, not exactly hate myself … maybe just a little,” I began, hoping to convey my concerns and frustrations without looking vapid or whorish. “It’s just … It’s more like I don’t like the fact that he has so much power over me … and we’re not even dating, you know. Top that with the recent broken engagement he had, and well, it’s just too much of an overload for me.” “Serena …” Nessa gently reached out for my hand before giving it a small squeeze and sending me a pleading look. “You’re in love with him. You know that, don’t you?” She held up her palm, as if to stop me from arguing her observation. “I know you’re going to say it’s impossible since it’s early, but think about it … How long has this tug of war between you two gone on? Over two months? It’s disconcerting—that’s understandable—but it is what it is. Love doesn’t know time. It doesn’t have a switch you can turn on or off whenever it suits you. It simply is.” “But love?” I gasped in shock, in horror. Oh. My. God! “I
couldn’t be …” I breathed out, about to faint. “No!” I choked out. “The more you insist it isn’t, the more it’ll prove you wrong. I think it’s wiser to simply let it be. You don’t have to embrace the fact if you don’t want to, but at least acknowledge it. That’s the least you can do for some peace of mind.” “Shit!” I was fucked, and I wasn’t sure if I could recover from this. My head shook in disbelief, in utter denial as I ran through my feelings. Sure enough, all the signs were there, but falling in love with him had never occurred to me. Why was that? It could possibly be because I was too focused on loathing him and too distracted by overwhelming lust each time my eyes saw him. My chest tightened as my heart galloped, recalling the last time I had encountered him. I was in love with Cruz Elliot, and it was going to be a fucking disaster of crazy magnitude. Nessa and I stayed for another hour. The time was spent with her consoling me and trying to help me see it in a different outlook by pointing out the positives instead of the negatives, like how I had been doing. Hearing her opinion made me realize it probably wasn’t as bad as I had pictured it. She advised that I slowly wrap my head around the idea, and if I wasn’t ready to commit and be with Cruz, then maybe it was best to cut off being intimate with him since it was unfair to Cruz and to myself. Coming home that evening, the prospect of going out, priming myself to get ready and party, got dimmer as the seconds ticked away. My thoughts were consumed by the conversation I’d had
with Nessa and what I intended to do about it now that I realized what I felt for Cruz. Already decided, I began to text Nessa to inform her that I was going to stay in for the night. I knew she would understand where I was coming from and how troubled I was after we had parted less than an hour ago. I had every intention of staying in bed and munching on junk food while I watched some cheesy movie in bed. After watching a comedy, however, I felt even more depressed than I had before. The despair in me was real, and it wasn’t going away soon. Therefore, I thought of other things to distract me. I came up with either pulling my hair out or dipping into a warm bath. I chose the latter since it was less painful and, hopefully, would relax me. I was too wired to properly function. The long bath lasted over an hour, after which I was less anxious than I had been beforehand. After getting out, I found myself staring in the mirror fully naked and simply taking a good look at myself. Even though I was watching myself, my eyes saw Cruz, imagining him right behind me just like two days ago in his office bathroom. My body instantly reacted, the zing in my blood electrifying me, making me come alive after a depressing hiatus in life. Cruz… “Fuck,” I whispered as I shut my eyes, imagining him … remembering him. Right then, more than ever, I realized how much I missed him, how much I truly felt for him.
Taking a towel out of the freshly bunched towel basket, I emerged from the bathroom and strode into the bedroom in search of my phone. I didn’t want to think what I was doing, so I simply followed my gut, which was screaming his name. The second I found it, I dialed his number. After a few rings without him picking up, just when I was about to hang up, he spoke my name. “Serena,” he said in a way that sent tingles all over my body. I’m in love with you, I thought as I savored the way my name sounded on his lips. Getting my bearings together, I decided to take the plunge and let fate guide me to see where that would take me. “You’re probably busy, but is there any way we can talk?” As there was a pause, I held my breath. “When?” he finally asked, sounding distracted. “Like, right now?” I had to get some of this out of my system, or I would go insane. Besides, I needed to see him, most especially after the revelation Nessa had brought out that afternoon. He released a breath before saying, “I need to be somewhere in an hour.” “Oh.” Damn and back. What now? Well, he did say in an hour, right? That was enough time to speak to him. “Well, I’ll be quick. I promise I won’t take up much of your time.” “Do you want me to come and give you a lift?” he immediately asked, making me break into a smile. No matter how much we fought, Cruz would never forget his manners. It was endearing, and I couldn’t help feeling a little light-
headed knowing my love for him had blossomed without me knowing. “No, I want to walk. Thank you, though. I’m leaving right now.” “As you wish, but be safe.” After hanging up, I immediately sprinted to change into a simple cotton, black shirt and matching leggings then almost ran out of the door and out of the house. I had been to his house that one time, but I hadn’t forgotten the way. It was embedded in my mind. I walked with the fresh air clearing some of the cobwebs in my head. It took approximately fifteen minutes to get to his house, and I was taken by surprise when he was waiting for me. He stood outside his door while leaning against it, looking like the epitome of a god, dressed to make any person with eyes drool with his bowtie loosely hung around his neck. I was so struck by the sight of him that I literally had to slow down, and all the while, my eyes were glued to him and nowhere else. The second I reached him, I made a wan smile, seeming shy all of a sudden. “Thanks for waiting,” I said breathlessly. “You wanted to talk?” he asked, not moving from his post. Instead, he seemed content to watch me just like a king would his subject, patient as he heard them out before making a judgment or decision. I was all nerves, yet I needed to go through this, or I would never be able to live with myself. As a result, I began by licking my lips.
“I just want to apologize for the way I acted the other day. I know I’m in no position to question you or what you do with other people …” God, this is eating me alive, I thought as I remembered that fucking redhead and that stupid smile. Instead of choosing to attack him with words like I had before, I decided to cool it down. My apologies wouldn’t be valid if there was no remorse to back it up. “I don’t know where you stand with me after that, but I was hoping … Well, I’m here to ask … if possible … that you don’t engage with other women, because … because I can’t stand being this jealous—” “Why were you jealous, Serena?” he calmly rasped out, his eyes glowing as he watched me try to answer him. For a whole lot of reasons... “I like you … and seeing that woman …” The stab in my heart felt so overwhelming I was almost in tears. “I don’t know how you could just go back and forth like that. I—seeing that really hit me hard.” Unblinking, he let out a deep breath. “Come here,” he softly urged. It took about a minute until I found my footing and took the necessary steps to get to where he was standing. It didn’t take a second for me to be in his arms as he kissed me in such a way that melted me into a puddle of gushiness. “I don’t want anyone.” He lovingly probed into my soul. “I only ever want you.” My heart skipped a beat, overjoyed that I had taken the
initiative to be here instead of denying myself a chance at something that could be great. Hopefully, once the guilt subsided, we could finally get to where we need to be. In the end, he decided not go to whatever event he had needed to get to. The very man himself ushered me into his home, and we didn’t get past the foyer before he had me naked and my willing body wrapped against him, clinging on for dear life as he took me against the wall roughly. We remained in that naked state of bliss for the entire weekend. I had never realized a person could be so happy they could sing from the rooftops. If I had thought I was in love with him before, after that weekend, I was fully his: body, heart, and soul. It might be naïve of me to proclaim such declarations at an early stage, but I couldn’t help how I felt. And just as Nessa had said … It simply is.
Chapter Twenty-Four The idyllic time lasted merely a month before reality kicked me in the gut in the most fucked up fashion. I knew it was eventually going to happen, but I didn’t expect it to be this way. It was when Ivy, his ex-fiancée, decided to seek me out when things began to really become strained. I was about to leave the house on my way to school when I received a text message from her, asking if I could meet up sometime around lunchtime to talk. Shocked that she somehow had managed to acquire my phone number, I was frightened by the thought of what she meant by “talk.” Of course, it would have been rude of me to decline her offer. Besides, my curiosity got the better of me. There was no way I would avoid going. For the rest of the morning, instead of listening to the lectures, I was playing out scenarios in my head. If Cruz had told her … Well, I was fucked either way. I could have easily asked him if he had, but I didn’t want to know if they were still in communication. Those evasive things didn’t need to be pried out of him. Besides, I didn’t want to tell him anything in case he hadn’t spoken to her. Maybe this was all just a twisted coincidence. Once lunch hit, I had an hour to see her before my classes started again. I was grateful she chose a restaurant half a block away so it wouldn’t be any trouble for me to meet up with her. When I got to the Italian restaurant, she was already there, waiting with an open bottle of white wine chilling in the bucket as she casually sipped from her glass.
Approaching her table, I made a strained smile as I took the seat opposing her. “Ivy, hello.” “Thank you for meeting me.” She beamed at me, obviously grateful I had even agreed to meet up, even though we barely knew each other. Before we could get down to a conversation, a waiter appeared to take our orders. Once he left, I prepared myself for whatever Ivy wanted to meet me about. “So, you wanted to talk to me about what exactly?” I asked carefully. “What else?” Her face immediately became sad. “I was hoping you could speak to him for me?” What? No fucking way. I was beyond flabbergasted. “Could you do that for me?” she pleaded. “It’s rather a lot to ask, but I’m left with no choice. He and I have broken up before, but it wasn’t like this. There’s some kind of finality this time. Though, I’m holding out hope he will find his way back.” They had broken up before? How come no one had mentioned that? So what was Cruz doing with me? An itch that needed to be scratched before he dumped me to go back to Ivy? What the fuck? “I don’t know if he’d even listen to me,” I said with obvious uncertainty. In fact, I was almost sure Cruz would not even tolerate me uttering her name and the word reconciliation in the same sentence. “I’d appreciate it all the same either way.” She let out a melancholy sigh before taking another sip of wine. “I know our
relationship isn’t all that romantic like some of my friends have, but we work—at least, our families believe so. I just hope he’ll come to his senses before it’s too late.” If it weren’t romantic, then what other kind of relationship was there? I sat there, confused as I tried to picture the cold side of Cruz, the one he didn’t shy away from showing me before he and I had finally given in to each other. How could she even imagine being married to someone cold, someone who would drive you up the walls because he wasn’t willing to discuss anything? I just couldn’t see it. If that was the kind of relationship they’d had, I couldn’t blame him for cutting himself loose. This was all my opinion, though. I had yet to hear what Cruz had to say about it, because I would definitely ask him when I saw him tonight. Yes, he and I had arranged that I would be staying with him and that he would take me to school the next day. He was being protective, and I couldn’t just say no to him. After this lunch with Ivy, I wondered how things would play out tonight. I didn’t make any promises about speaking to Cruz, though I reassured her that I would bring the subject up to him. What happened after—well, that was seriously up to him. Going back to class was a waste of time since my stomach was all sorts of upset from worry. I had fears and knew the only way to soothe my mind was to speak to him. When I got to the office, I was relieved he was in a meeting and wouldn’t be available until past five in the afternoon, which was close to clock-out time.
One of the main worries I had was how to broach the subject to begin with. After all, things were going so well, and I knew this would cause some ripples between us. Here’s to the hope we turn out fine, I thought with my fingers crossed. “Feel like escorting each other to the lift?” Denise stopped by my desk with her purse and phone in hand, ready to sprint out of there. I bit my lip before shaking my head. “I’m afraid I have something important to discuss with Mr. Elliot.” Denise grinned at me before rolling her eyes. “I’m sure it’s quite important. There’s no need to fret, my dearest love. I like you better for him than that other twit. It warms me to see him blissful. This is the happiest he’s been for all I’ve known him since working here. He’s a good man with a huge heart. He may seem difficult at first, but trust me … He’s the kind who’s worth the wait.” My jaw dropped to the floor. “How …?” My mouth still hung ajar, rendered speechless. “I’m the boss’s eyes and ears around here. I know everything,” she said before winking at me then leaving for the afternoon. Five minutes later, I was still at my desk, stuck in the chair, reeling from what Denise had told me. I mean, how long had she known? I wasn’t sure if I was going to laugh or hide from all of this embarrassment. Denise and Cruz had great respect for each other, and given the time they had worked together and known each other, it was apparent how Denise truly cared for her boss’s wellbeing. I
supposed anyone would if the man you worked for went out of his way to get her boyfriend a position in a famous media publishing company. “Okay, time to get this over and done with.” I let out a breath before I stood up and strolled towards his office. Upon entering, I found him at his desk, still engaged in a conference call. Our eyes finally met, and then his face broke into a smile. “I miss you,” he mouthed, making me blush endlessly. Still beaming like a lovesick puppy, I took my time and poured myself a coffee. Then I decided it might be a great idea to take one of the two chairs that was situated before his desk and simply waste my time by openly staring at the man. Cruz was tuned in to the meeting, but he couldn’t stop himself from glancing at me every few seconds or so. His eyes captured me in such a way that made me wonder what he was thinking as he gazed at me like he were debating if he was going to kiss me or eat me alive once he was done with his call. While sipping on my hot beverage with my eyes trained on the sexy beast, I wasn’t sure what came over me, but I felt a little frisky. T there was just something about watching him deep in negotiations while distracted by my presence that got my libido revved up like no other. As a result, with my drink in hand, I got up and pretended to be interested in my plush surroundings. I began with the abstract expressionist painting by the famous Jackson Pollack before I double-checked to see if Cruz’s eyes were following me. Sure
enough, they were. Encouraged, I decided to set my cup aside on one of the coffee tables before I went towards the floor to ceiling glass windows and began taking off the dress. The zipper was situated on the side, so it wasn’t such a hardship. Wiggling out of the dress until it reached my ankles, I then stepped to the side and cocked my head to see how the boss was doing with a sultry smile teasing on my lips. Cruz’s face was priceless. He had his lips slightly parted with the tip of his tongue licking the bottom of his lip as he perused my body with profound concentration. I knew he was beyond aroused, so I carried on with my striptease. My bra came off next then my underwear. I was about to give him the come-hither look when I heard him cut the call short just as he stood up and sent me the most delicious stare to date. The second he got his hands on me, I was surprised when he carried me to the edge of his table, spread my legs as wide as they could stretch as he took a seat in his chair. Then his mouth delved between my folds without any reservation. Relaxing, I concentrated on the incredible things my body was going through. The man seriously had unbelievable stamina. I was ready to pass out on his desk after he fucked me twice. He was just amazing, and I couldn’t love him any more than I already did. I was beyond grateful when he plucked my naked form from his desk and situated us on the couch. These were my favorite moments with him lately. I named it our “cuddle time” when he and I could talk about anything and everything. Be it silly or serious,
everything was open for discussion. My head was on his chest, listening to the steady beat of his heart while my forefinger aimlessly left slight strokes on his skin, basking in the very feeling of him against me. “Guess who I had lunch with today?” I quipped. “Archer?” His response made me roll my eyes because we both knew how much he hated me spending any time with his flirtatious brother. “Nope. It’s even better. Ivy.” His body instantly stiffened before he untangled himself from me and gave me a baffled look. “What in the bloody fuck is going on, Serena?” Why was he immediately defensive? “First of all, it wasn’t me who initiated anything. It was her who reached out to me. Second, she wanted me to speak to you about reconciling with her, which I’m doing right now. Thirdly, drop the fucking attitude before you piss me off.” “My apologies. You caught me off guard when you said her name. So she called you and begged for you to talk to me and what else exactly?” Since he seemed sorry enough, I let out a sigh and told the tale from the very beginning, emphasizing in great deal the pain Ivy was in. I carefully gazed at him, wanting to see the truth in his eyes as I asked him, “Is there any chance for a reconciliation between you two?”
His expression became dreadful, as if he already detested what I was going to say next. “Don’t look at me like that,” I told him. “I had to ask because, if you’re using me to waste time while you weigh out your options, I don’t want to be any part of it, even if the sex is out of this world. I won’t put up with that.” Cruz tensed, as though I had said something offensive. “It’s highly insulting that you’d even dare question me. How often do I have to remind you that you’re the only one I have eyes for? No one else matters. No one else comes close. No woman alive can compare to what you mean to me. “Ivy and I were comfortable with one another. I thought it was enough to marry someone since she and I rarely had arguments and since my father was heavily hinting that I marry, I felt compelled to propose just to please him. It was never for me, not really. Ivy wanted nothing more than marriage and my father’s yearnings simply made it easier for me to do it. We weren’t in love—and I hoped that someday she could find a man that would truly love her because that man isn’t me. She would thank me one day.” His words gave me hope there was something for us in the future. “I don’t know how we’ll do this knowing that we’re hurting someone. I feel so guilty. I can’t even look your mother in the eyes most of the time.” Pulling me close to him, he held me as he bestowed a kiss on my forehead. “My mum will understand. They all will eventually. This is where I want to be. I want to be with you … officially. I
want to tell everyone that you’re mine. I want you to be proud standing next to me as my partner, as my equal, and not hiding me as if you’re embarrassed to be seen with me.” He tugged at my heartstrings. How could he even think of such insane things? “Oh, no…” I drawled before reaching out to entwine his hand with mine. “I will never be embarrassed of you. I had considered the possibility of it being the other way around, but never me of you. You’re too hot for anyone with eyes,” I teased. “You’re only showering me with compliments because I’m the boss.” “Yeah, right. I do love bosses. There’s nothing I adore more or find any sexier than some grumpy, heavy panting, sweaty, and balding man with some serious fat rolls,” I said before I realized I was the only one laughing at my own joke. “What?” I asked then stuck my tongue out. “Grumpy man, yes, I am. But sweaty, heavy panting, balding of a man with fat rolls?” He tsk-tsked. “You ought to be punished for saying such heinous things,” He declared before launching a full-on tickle attack, driving me into seriously mad hysterics. I was in tears, barely breathing as I laughed. “I’m waving the white flag! I surrender!” “You bet your bloody arse you’re surrendering. Now turn on your stomach so I can fuck that tight cunt of yours.” He then palmed my cheek before smacking it a few times and did what he had promised to deliver.
Chapter Twenty-Five As much as I wanted to confront Archer face to face, I knew it would be close to impossible since his hectic schedule was jampacked with parties. So I had to settle for the second best, by calling him. “I knew you’d eventually take a liking to me,” he drawled, greeting me with great enthusiasm. I had to break into a smile. Archer’s bright and sunny demeanor never failed to make me grin. But as much as I adored his upbeat outlook in life, I needed to do some digging of my own. “Was it you who gave my number to Ivy?” He cackled. “Guilty as charged. Listen, she called wanting to ask me about such and such. I don’t fancy intricate dramas so I try to deflect them as much as possible…so I dare say I suggested she call you instead.” “Well gee—thanks,” I sarcastically said. “Anything else you want to get off your chest, love?” he teased with double innuendo. “Not a damn thing.” And just as expected, he’d turn everything sexual. Typical. “You’ve been rather busy lately…and my dearest brother is quite the single chap…” he trailed off, wriggling his brows at me, suspicious. “The possibilities are endless, wouldn’t you agree?” “Ugh—shut up.” I laughed before bidding him goodbye. The last thing I needed was for him to pry into my business. He wasn’t stupid. I was almost sure he knew something was going on between
with his brother and I. I was grateful that he didn’t readily accuse me of anything. In fact, he seemed as though he was somehow pleased. Odd really, but he sure sounded teasing about the whole damn thing. I was about to put my phone aside when it rang again, indicating a U.S. number—one where I had obsessed and memorized into memory at one sad point in my life. Aaron had been incessant in trying to reach me and it seemed my short email didn’t do much to convey how I felt for him these days. Deciding to take the call, I held my breath and greeted him with a stale, “Hello.” “Serena—thank you for taking my call,” he said in an appreciative tone. So much had happened...and there was no taking back the hurt he caused me with. The past was where I needed it to stay—in the past. Aaron surely had no place in my present nor in my future. Even toying with the idea of being friends simply wasn’t all that feasible for me. It was over and it was best to let the dead relationship stay as it was. “Aaron—listen. I know you’ve been trying to call and whatever but you’ve got to stop all of this. If you’re feeling guilty still…there’s nothing I can do for you. It was your choice, your mistake so that’s purely up to you to get over the guilt. I’ve moved on with someone else—so please stop it with all of this. I beg you.” “I’m really sorry,” he sighed as if he had a difficult time grasping what I just told him. “I do feel guilty. You were such a great girl and I fucked it all up. You’re right this is all on me. I just want to say that…hopefully…one day you can find it in your heart to forgive me
for everything.” “I already did, Aaron. I never truly hated you for it…thank you for calling me though. I think this conversation really needed to happen, for both our sakes.” After wishing each other the best, we ended the call. It was bittersweet to think about the past but I was in a much happier place now. I wouldn’t trade this for anything else in the world. Cruz had gifted me one of the greatest things in life—by proving me that it was possible to love again after heartbreak. My jealousy paved my way to enlightment. For quite some time, I had fought our feelings for one another but I hadn’t realized that letting all of my insecurities was actually the easiest thing I ever did. I learned the most valuable of lessons…that love, the kind that lights your soul and makes your heart sing, was worth risking for. Every. Single. Time.
Six weeks later… Cruz It was Serena’s birthday, and her parents and sister were due to arrive in town tomorrow. It wasn’t typical of me to be nervous to meet anyone, but there was no denying I was when it came to meeting Serena’s family. Of course, I was happy to see her so ecstatic about their arrival. I had never known anyone could be overjoyed with the simple things in life, yet Serena had proved to me otherwise. The moment we sealed our relationship with each other, she told me she didn’t want presents, only simple messages to remind her I was thinking of her on the nights she wouldn’t be able to spend with me or if I was out of town or at an event, a simple text to let her know that I was doing fine. All she demanded were the simplest things that a man could easily deliver to please his woman. I was so accustomed to gifting jewelry, paintings, expensive travels—these were the usual presents women expected from a man of my standing, but never her. She had vowed, the moment I gave her jewelry, I could kiss her good-bye. That statement should be abolished because what happened if I decided to propose to her? What then? Should I be inclined to give her a plastic ring as a symbol of my love and commitment? Knowing how she was, she would probably find plastic much more romantic than a perfect cut diamond ring. Suffice it to say, Serena was something out of the ordinary, and I truly treasured her little quirks that I found so endearing.
Even though we adored each other to no end, just like any other relationships, we fought, too, though they were mostly about trivial things or when the bloody woman thought it funny to make me jealous by spending time with Archer whenever I was busy doing something. Like the total idiot he was, he caught on and uncovered our secret. Then he, of course, told our dearest mother, who was beyond delighted to welcome Serena into the family. She even proclaimed she had predicted such event the moment she had seen us look at each other at her birthday party. That night was all sorts of mad for me, to put it mildly. Apart from Archer’s incessant intervening that night, I had to admit he was a great friend to Serena and hadn’t tried anything foul or offensive towards her. I was grateful the bloody oaf had finally found some manners. It was wrong to feel a violent reaction, but my brother liked her, as well. Then, when he realized I was interested in Serena, he made it his mission to infuriate me. Although I loved my brother, even if some would argue about that statement, he had this uncanny ability to drive me to the point of no return. Age was nothing but a number to him, so I expected that behavior from him when he was well passed his senior years. Watching Serena sleep soundlessly in my bed made me feel like I had everything I wanted in life. I probably did, and I reminded myself that I was a lucky man to have her in my life. We had been inseparable, and I knew, once her family arrived tomorrow, she would be consumed with entertaining and taking
them around town. The next two weeks would be quite challenging, but hopefully, we could steal some time away for just the two of us. Little did she know I had planned a surprise party for her. I hoped she wouldn’t be too cross that I had spent money on her. I had my fingers crossed. “Cruz?” she groaned before opening one of her lids, only to see me gazing down at her. “Quit being such a pervert and put me to sleep.” I gave a throaty laugh, aghast and amused that she would say such atrocious things, yet I found her such a cute gem. “You must know how madly I’m in love with you; that’s why I can’t stop watching you whenever possible.” She didn’t open her eyes, but she did give me one of those beautiful smiles that went straight to my heart. “I know. We’re in love, and I love you to the moon and back, but you seriously need to shut up and kiss me.” “If I were any less of a man, I’d be really offended.” If people only knew how my woman spoke to me, they would be appalled. Hell, the effect it had on me was the opposite. I loved the fact that she was bossy, most especially about the things she loved in bed. I couldn’t fault a woman who knew what she wanted and went for it without any excuses. She snorted. “Thank fuck you’re not. Now where’s my kiss?” the vixen demanded before pulling me close and scratching my chest with her nails. “Bloody hell, Serena!” She was one hell of a woman to be sure, but I wouldn’t change
a thing about her. She was perfect just as she was. T+H+E + E+N+D
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More books by Pamela Ann: The Torn Series Order:
Scornfully Yours Scornfully Hers Frayed Blasphemous Undeniably Yours Scorned Fixated On You Christmas With You Unveiled Crushed TBA Damaged TBA
The Chasing Series: Chasing Beautiful Chasing Imperfection Chasing Paradise