Authors: Polly Iyer
On this particular day, she came into the room when he was ready to leave. He stopped at the door and turned to her. “I’m going to say something I swore I wouldn’t. I’m usually not this impulsive. In fact, I’m one of those people who thinks a long time before speaking. After I say what’s on my mind, if you’re offended, I’ll finish the fireplace as quickly as I can and be out of your hair.”
Dana couldn’t imagine what he was going to say. “Why don’t you go ahead and spill it.” He rubbed his neck, which seemed his way of segueing from one subject to another. On some men the gesture might have presented an aw-shucks quality, but not on him.
“I’d like to take you to bed, and not as a random fuck, which is all I’ve had the past six years. I’m forty-seven years old, learned to be rough around the edges to survive. I don’t know if there’s time for me to smooth out. I can be moody, but I’m gentle. I’m honest to a fault…” He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head in slow motion. “I’d better leave now. I’m making an ass of myself.” He made a move toward the door.
Dana took a quick step forward. “You’re not.” Of all the things she didn’t expect. She thought for a moment he was joking, but this was not a man who joked about something like that. Not a crack of a smile or smirk showed on his face. “I’m not offended, and you needn’t rush to finish. There’s plenty of time.”
He pulled in his bottom lip, bit it, then did a funny twist of his mouth. “Okay, then. See you tomorrow.”
* * * * *
eece drove off Dana’s property disbelieving what he’d said. Oh, he meant every word. He never said things he didn’t mean. That wasn’t the problem. The words rolled off his tongue because that was the way he felt from the first moment he looked at her, no matter how gruffly he behaved, because he didn’t need the complication. The women he picked up in bars knew exactly what he wanted. No lies, no promises, no I’ll calls. Maybe they appreciated his honesty, because he never left a place without a willing partner.
He liked this woman. Liked the way she spoke her mind, how there was something so natural and comfortable about her. Other than his random fucks, as he described them, this was the first time in twenty-one years he had the urge to be with someone other than himself.
So all that crap about entanglements and emotional attachments amounted to nothing more than wishful thinking. Lies he told himself because it was easier to be alone than to share his life with another person. And because he was still a man, no matter how being inside had almost robbed him of that.
He remembered back, twenty-one years. That first week. Then his heart turned hard, and he forced the memories from his mind.
ana spent most of the next week finishing the first draft of her novel. Engrossed in her story, she didn’t hear Reece enter her study. She’d removed her sweater as the day warmed and felt his hands resting on her bare shoulders. They were rough to the touch but gentle in pressure. She turned and looked up at him. She knew now what it meant to say that eyes smiled. His did. She stood, expecting him to kiss her. He didn’t.
His gaze took in every feature of her face, and heat radiated through his hands to her shoulders, leaving her limp under his touch. He proceeded to undress her. She offered no resistance. When he finished, he shed his clothes in a few effortless movements. He never touched her in a sexual sense but took her hand and led her to the bathroom and the large tiled shower. He tempered the water and they stepped inside, letting the hard spray pelt them.
Placing his palms on her cheeks, he bent down and brushed his lips to hers while his hands glided from her cheeks into her hair. Her insides almost caved from feelings she couldn’t explain and had never before experienced. They soaped one another, examining and touching each other’s bodies for the first time. His was as hard as carved stone. A long, deep scar cut a path down his left side, from below his armpit to his waist. She wanted to ask how he got it, but this wasn’t the time. They rinsed off. He toweled her dry, then himself, and she took his hand and led him to her bed.
Reece had been right. He was gentle beyond words, making love, not having sex. Giving, not taking. Every move, every touch seemed choreographed, but they weren’t. It was just the way he did things. Fluid and elegant. She struggled not to compare him to Robert, who took her when he wanted, but she lost the battle. Robert never cared that she gave him nothing in return; Reece welcomed that she fell into the moment with no inhibitions. She wondered how he’d endured in a place near hell. What he had left to give.
“I couldn’t wait any longer. I’ve wanted you every day, every hour.”
“Right now I don’t care if I ever go back to work.” She ran her finger down the side of his face.
“You know I speak my mind, Dana, so here it goes. You took me by surprise. Before you, I couldn’t conceive of being involved with any woman. I mean a deep involvement. Truthfully, I couldn’t imagine any woman who knew my history would want anything to do with me. She’d always have doubts. I understand that. People who knew me before still have misgivings, and that hurt will stay with me forever.” His voice cracked on the last word. He reached his hand around her neck. “I don’t know why you didn’t run the other way, but I’m glad you didn’t.”
She steadied her gaze on him. “It was the animals.”
“I couldn’t believe anyone who took care of animals the way you do could ever hurt another living thing.”
He looked at her a long time, steady and penetrating. “I’m not sure that’s true. I often wonder what I’d do if I came face to face with the person who framed me.”
How could Reece not wonder about that? How could any man not question what he would do when facing the person who destroyed his life? “You’d do the right thing.”
He pulled her to him and spoke in her ear. “I hope you’re right.”
“So, where are we?” she asked.
“I want to know everything about you.”
She pulled back. “Does that work both ways?”
He didn’t answer immediately. “My life is divided into three parts. The first is almost unbearably mundane. A boy to young man who did everything expected of him, always centered on a goal, never minding hard work or sacrifice. The second part was simply… unbearable. If you want to know, I’ll tell you, but a little at a time. Not because I don’t want you to know, but because it’s equally unbearable to talk about. Do you understand?”
“Yes. I do. And the third part?”
“That seems to be dividing into two parts.” He smiled. “It could be a story outline. Roman numeral three: Part One—the last six years. Part Two is starting now. We’ll have to wait to see how that turns out.”
She kneeled over him and kissed him. “I want to know. All of it.”
“Not tonight. I’m afraid of going too fast and scaring you away. So I’m going to get up, put on my smelly clothes, and leave. Tomorrow I’ll bring a fresh change.”
“Is that why we started in the shower?”
“I loved your man smell, but I loved being wet and soapy and slick, and I loved what happened after.”
* * * * *
very afternoon, Dana crept out of her study to see the fireplace’s progression. The puzzle of rocks was an incredible sight. Each stone fit perfectly, no space between more than a coin’s width. Reece’s focus never waned until he finished for the day. Then he came into the study and started the lovemaking process the same way he had done the first day and every day since, only now they shared stories and thoughts. He massaged her shoulders and whispered in her ear. His breath, his words, his touch had such an erotic effect.
“I never thought this feeling of elation would happen to me,” he said. “It’s not only the sex. This is so much more. I don’t know if you feel the same way, and I’m not asking you to answer, but I want you to know how I feel.”
She ran her fingers through his hair. “I can’t get enough of you.”
He kissed her with a passion he’d held back until that moment. Maybe it was the affirmation that she felt as he did. They made love under the steady stream of water, made love on the bed after, always with variation, exploring. He touched her all over with his fingers, his mouth, with his tongue. Whenever she asked about the scar, he said another time, so she stopped asking.
She told him about her childhood; he told her a little about his. He was right. The first part of his life had been normal, even boring, with one hint of rebellion.
“We were rich. Very rich. Against our wishes, my father sent my brother and me to a private school. We hated it there. The boys were snooty and arrogant. It didn’t take long for our grades to drop. Dad wasn’t happy, but he brought us home.”
Then he told her about Harvard and how hard it was, consuming his every waking hour. A hardworking young man living the life expected of him—until a woman turned up dead in the apartment he shared with his brother, and Reece lay next to her in bed, unconscious, and soaked in her blood.
Then began the second part of his life.
fter making love, Reece helped Dana make dinner. They ate and talked, not only as lovers but as friends. Whenever Dana had asked him to spend the night, he made some excuse why he couldn’t. She’d learned that he took his own time doing things, and she wouldn’t force him to stay if he didn’t want to.
He called Saturday morning. “How about taking a drive? We can stop and have lunch somewhere, maybe rummage the roadside antique shops.”
“As long as we take my Jeep. No offense, but your pickup–”
“I know. You don’t want to be seen in it.”
Dana laughed. “I’m more worried about it making the trip. Besides, isn’t it full of rocks?”
“Point taken. Be there in an hour.”
When he arrived, he kissed her. Nothing passionate, a buss on the lips as lovers would naturally do. They kept the conversation light during their trip: the glorious day, the food, and how relaxed they were, away from the daily grind. She couldn’t have imagined a better day.
They got back to Dana’s around six. She opened a bottle of wine, and they talked and drank while she made pasta. After they ate, they made love. His touch never lost the magic of that first time.
Dana had promised herself she wouldn’t pry, but she lay with her head on his chest and couldn’t hold back any longer. What did she have to lose? If he didn’t want to talk about it, he’d tell her.
“Did you love the woman in Boston?”
He looked as if he expected her question and didn’t hesitate. “I doubt I thought about love back then, not with the demands of my residency, but I liked her a lot.”
He paused, whether to think or to summon his courage, she didn’t know.
“We were a large group at a club that night. One of the guys, I don’t know who, made a crack that Karen—that was her name—had other lovers. His words weren’t as genteel. I wasn’t supposed to hear, but I did, and she saw I did. I asked her if it was true. She said we weren’t engaged, and until then, we were free to see whomever we wanted.” Reece stopped. “I remember the feeling of betrayal. I suggested we take a break until we knew what we wanted out of the relationship. But I knew it was over, at least for me. She wanted to go back to the apartment and talk it over. Carl, his girlfriend, and a few others came back. I was glad they did. Then they all took off, and that’s all I remember. I didn’t think I drank that much.”
Dana saw a far-off look in his eyes.
“I could never have done something so vile, sober or drunk, and I certainly wouldn’t have jeopardized the life I had in front of me for someone who thought of me as another conquest. I must have been drugged, but if so, I don’t know by whom, and not surprisingly, no one fessed up.” He touched her face and planted a light kiss on her lips. “That’s all for tonight.”
He tried to smile, but she could see how difficult it was. “I’m sorry.”
“You’d think after over twenty years the vision would have dimmed. But it’s as plain and clear as if it happened yesterday.” He rose. “To be continued.”
“I will. Soon, but not tonight. You wanted to know everything. Know that talking about these things takes a toll on me. I can do it, but only a bit at a time.”
“We don’t have to talk about it.”
“I want you to know because I don’t want you to ever have doubts about me. I want to know about your life with Robert too, although it’ll probably infuriate me. Going over this again might register something that escaped me for the last twenty-one years. I’m thinking more clearly now.” He flashed a smile. “At least I tell myself that.”
He stood to pull on his pants when a loud noise clattered from the great room. He turned to her, perplexed. “I left the door unlocked. Maybe open.”
A male voice boomed, “
Police. We have a warrant
.” Three men in uniform barged into the bedroom, led by Mickey Ruggs, a man Dana had known her whole life. They threw Reece down on the floor, pulled his hands behind his back, and cuffed him. The look of confusion on his face as he sought out Dana broke her heart.
“You’re under arrest,” one of them said to him. “On suspicion of murder.”