Authors: Naima Simone
He erupted, cum shooting from him with breath-stealing power and pouring into the condom. It seemed to go on forever…and an instant. He convulsed, a deep, low growl rumbling from him as he gave her everything in him—his seed, his heart. His soul.
“This place is huge,” Harper whispered. Yes, she was babbling, but the nerves tap-dancing under her skin, and the fist slowly tightening around her throat incited babbling.
Right now, she faced two options. Jabber or beg him to let her stay, to not end their night together.
So. Babble it was.
Rion nodded, but didn’t speak. With a hand pressed to the small of her back, he continued to guide her down the hall and into a large open area dotted with couches, tables, and a tall cross-like structure. The hell? But he didn’t grant her time to ask. Pausing before a door that blended into the bare brick wall, he punched in a code on a discreet key pad and twisted the knob.
Ambient lighting flickered on as they moved out onto an iron landing. Shifting his hold to her waist, Rion remained close behind her as they descended three flights of stairs to a large vestibule. Dark blue panels lined the walls along with mounted sconces identical to the ones in The Loft. A beautiful, black chaise lounge rested against one wall, another of Rion’s framed photographs hanging above it. An image of the Old North Church enshrouded in shadows. The white of the steeple spearing toward the sky shone like a beacon in the gray, moonless sky. It was lonely, stark, yet gorgeous. A perfect description of the man standing beside her.
“My driver is going to take you home,” Rion said, his first words since they’d left the room with the green door. He leaned over and removed a Mary Poppins-esque umbrella from a tall, elaborate stand. God. She shook her head. Every sense had been so focused on him, she hadn’t noticed the drum of rain outside. “Are you ready?”
Desperation clawed at her throat, a cry nipping at its heels as she studied his stoic, unsmiling face.
Am I ready? You’ve changed me so I don’t feel like I occupy this body by myself anymore. Like you’re now a permanent part of me. So hell no. I’m not ready
Nodding, he pushed the heavy steel door open and stepped out, popping up the umbrella. Rain sluiced off the sides of the material, framing him in cascades of water. He extended a hand toward her…and she stepped back, farther into the building, shaking her head.
Frowning, Rion lowered his arm and reentered the lobby. “What’s wrong, Harper?”
Her heart thudded against her rib cage, and no amount of swallowing brought moisture to her mouth.
“Harper,” he pressed, setting the dripping umbrella on the floor and grasping her upper arms in a gentle, but implacable grip.
“I-I don’t want just one night,” she breathed. Even as the words exited her lips, part of her longed to drag them back kicking and screaming. But the other part sighed in relief. Because maybe…just maybe…
The concern disappeared from his face, and from one moment to the next, he became closed off to her. A wall slammed down over his features, shutting her out.
“What do you want?” he murmured. “One more? Two?”
Unease slithered through her, twisting in her belly. “I don’t know,” she lied.
One, two, three nights—she wanted them and more. So much more. Because she loved him. Initially, she’d wrapped up coming to him as lust. But letting him touch her in a roomful of strangers, trusting him to guide her into a ménage
…opening her heart to talk to him about Carlie… That had required more than arousal and need. Maybe she’d never stopped loving him. Maybe her feelings had prevented her from giving Terrance all of herself. Maybe…
She couldn’t say for certain, because the only thing she was absolutely, 100 percent sure about was this huge emotion pressing against her sternum scared the hell out of her.
Love meant exposing herself to the pain of loss and powerlessness and hopelessness. She’d sworn never to be that vulnerable again. But here she stood, her chest wide open and her heart bare and unprotected. Loving him with everything in her.
God, why didn’t he show some emotion? What was he thinking?
“I just… I don’t want this to end,” she added, silently begging him to hear what she couldn’t say. Again, fear bridled her tongue. Fear of rejection.
Fucking heaven, Harper. That’s what you are. Heaven
He’d whispered those words while deep inside her after he’d confessed how she’d changed his life. But never had he mentioned wanting more with her.
Rion stared at her, his gray eyes black in the low lighting and as shuttered as his expression. “For how long?” His eyes narrowed, though his tone remained low, soft. “A week. A month. A year? In that time, am I your dirty little secret? Do you lie to your friends and family about where you spend your nights, about who and what I am? Because God knows I don’t fit into your proper, white-washed world. So if this ends—
this ends—do we just enforce the stipulation of walking away and not seeing each other again then?”
She shook her head, but the reply lodged in her throat. What was she missing here? Why did he sound angry? No. Not angry. Hurt. Somehow, she’d
him. When had she ever given him the impression that she was…
“Rion, I—” She stretched out a hand toward him, needing to touch him, comfort him.
“I can’t do—” He bit off the rest of the sentence and turned away from her. A muscle ticked along the rock hard line of his jaw. After several moments, he looked at her again, and once more, his gaze seemed carefully blanked. “Listen, you’ve had an intense night, and I can understand why that would lead you to believe you feel more than you do. But we should stick to our bargain.”
Shock slapped at her, and she flinched. “Are you—” She huffed out a brief burst of laughter that didn’t possess an ounce of humor. “Are you telling me that because of sex I don’t know my own mind?” He parted his lips, but she slammed up a hand. “Never mind. I’ve had enough of people instructing me on what I mean, what I’m thinking, and what I need. If you don’t want me, that’s one thing. But please don’t patronize me.”
Pain and humiliation scored her. She pushed past Rion and shoved open the door, not bothering with the umbrella. In seconds, the rain plastered her hair and clothes to her body, but she didn’t feel the wet or the chill.
“Damn it, Harper.” His growl reached her seconds before his fingers closed around her arm, jerking her to a stop just as his driver opened the rear door.
He jerked her against his chest, and his mouth crushed hers. With a loud, greedy moan, his tongue speared between her lips, and for a moment, she melted, meeting him thrust for thrust. She whimpered into his mouth, opening wider so he could have more of her.
He doesn’t want more of you
Just like five years ago
The whisper brushed across the walls of her head, and she wrenched free, her breath harsh, serrated by the anguish and hurt that flooded her like a swollen river.
Without sparing him another glance, she stumbled into the car and tugged the door closed, not waiting for the driver. She had to get away from him, from the agony of his rejection, before she did something she regretted.
Like beg him to chase her.
“So you’re still here.”
Swearing under his breath, Rion turned away from his office window and the view of the Leather District at dawn on a Sunday morning. So deep in thought, he hadn’t heard his office door open. Or his friend enter.
“You need to wear a cow bell or something around your neck,” he snapped at Killian. Damn. It never failed to amaze him how someone so big could move so silently. It was impressive…and eerie.
As Killian moved out of the shadows and farther into the room, Rion didn’t bother asking how his friend had spent the night before. The darkening bruise along his jaw and the cut on his bottom lip told the story. More contusions would probably mark his torso, but not many; Killian was damn good at what he did. Another underground fight. Demons rode Killian, and he had two outlets for the rage and pain that seethed under his skin like a boiling cauldron: fighting and fucking. And no woman had caused the injuries to the other man’s face. Fists had.
“I work here, don’t I?” Rion rounded his desk and leaned against the front, arms crossed.
Killian matched Rion’s stance, his feet spread wide, and a dark eyebrow arched high. “Is that how we’re gonna play this? Okay.” He shrugged a shoulder. “Yes, you do work here. But you don’t live here. Which I think you may have forgotten since you haven’t left this place since Friday. Now…” He paused, his hazel gaze sharp as a scalpel. And just as incisive. Bastard. “We can dance around why, or you can just tell me why you let Harper leave.”
“I’m not talking about her.”
“I didn’t think shit could surprise me anymore. But seems I was wrong. First, learning from Sasha that Harper Shaw was here at the club. The only girl who’s ever had your balls in a twist had walked in here looking for you. Then second, finding out you just let her walk out of here. What the fuck is wrong with you?” Killian snarled, his disgust evident in the curled corner of his mouth.
“Leave. It. Alone. Killian,” Rion gritted out.
His friend snorted. “Your gynecologist called. She wanted to set up an appointment for you.”
Fury rolled through him, and he launched off the desk, pushing his face into Killian’s. “I said, let it go, goddamnit,” he ground out.
Instead of shoving Rion away, who loved a good fight, Killian smiled. “So you do give a fuck. I was beginning to wonder.”
They stared at one another for the space of several heartbeats before Rion grunted, pivoting around and tunneling fingers through his hair. “I’m not in the mood for your mind games, Killian. Save them for the ring and whatever sorry idiot you’re beating the shit out of.”
“What are you in the mood for? Getting drunk, maybe? Brooding over how stupid you’re being to waste another five years?”
“You don’t know—” Rion swallowed the rest of the accusation back. Remorse rushed in. Asshole. He was a grade-A asshole. If anyone understood the agony of lost time, it was Killian. Jail had robbed him of two years of his life. A woman had stolen more than that. “Sorry,” he murmured.
Again, Killian shrugged. “Because I do know why I’m in here riding your ass.” He lowered his arms and held out his hands, scarred palms up. “You think we don’t know how much you loved Harper? That we don’t know why you gave her up? Hell, Ri,” Killian continued, “how many people get second chances? And here you are blowing it, and for what? What reason could possibly justify letting her walk out of here tonight?”
Because she’s not for me
.” All the rage inside him blasted out like he’d gone supernova.
Her words hounded at him. And no matter how he tried to turn down the volume, he could hear it over and over.
I don’t want just one night
. For a second—for one, blinding, joy-filled second—hope had wrapped its bony fingers around his heart. Then she’d admitted to not knowing how long she wanted him.
Didn’t know how long it would be before she decided to stop slumming. One week, one month, maybe even a year. The length of time wouldn’t change the result. Her returning to her neat little life that didn’t include the owner of a sex aphrodisiac club. He shook his head. What? Would she invite him to dinner with family like their own BDSM version of
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Yeah, her parents accepting him into their tight-knit, proper, and decorous fold was as likely as peace in the Middle East.
No, once more Harper would find a safe, nice guy like Terrance. Once again, he’d know it was better that way, what she needed…deserved. And once again, Rion would walk around like the walking wounded, alive but with a huge, gaping hole in his chest.
After finally savoring her strawberry-and-cream scent on his tongue, after being inside her for hours and being milked by her pussy and perfect mouth, after holding her while she wept, and having tasted her kiss…he was already condemned to nights where he would wake up craving her. Needing her.
Trying to grab onto more time like a desperate fool, all the while knowing it was steadily slipping away, wouldn’t ease the pain. Like a surgeon in triage, his only choice had been to sever it before the hurt and loneliness slithered in, poisoning him.
“That’s utter bullshit,” Killian growled. Rion snapped his head up, and he glared at his friend. Killian returned his scowl, hazel eyes bright with anger. “Bull. Shit,” his friend repeated. “If she didn’t want you, what the hell were you two doing up here? Playing bridge?”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Rion countered.
“But it’s part of it. Sasha told me why she came here. She could’ve gone anywhere to scratch an itch, but she came to you. Women like her don’t fuck and forget. They don’t enter into sex easily or without emotion. She searched you out, Ri, after
. What does that say?”
A dismissive answer tunneled up the back of his throat, but it hovered on his tongue. He shook his head. What he wanted her actions to mean and what they actually meant were two different things.
“Damn, open your eyes,” Killian said, disgust lacing his tone. “That woman loves you. She always has. You were the one who chose his own insecurities over her.”
“The hell are you talking about?” Rion rasped.
Killian’s scowl eased, and stuffing his hands in the front pockets of his jeans, he shifted closer to Rion. “If you’re honest with yourself, the reason you didn’t stop her from marrying that guy then is the same reason you let her go the other night. And it has everything to do with you and nothing to do with her.” He paused, and his words sank into the room, embedded into Rion’s heart. “You don’t believe you’re good enough for her. She never believed that; she was your friend when you only had me and Sasha. She was never afraid to walk beside you, and she held her head up high while she did it. She never gave a damn that you were Darry Ward’s son. But you…you were the one who never felt worthy. Did it ever occur to you that she might not have gotten married if you’d only opened your mouth and told her how much you loved her? I get it, Ri. You’re afraid of being hurt again. But now you have another chance to change both of your lives, and again, you’re screwing up.”
“What about you, Killian?” Rion murmured. “Knowing the pain that would be waiting for you on the other side, would you still have loved her?”
A shadow flickered in his friend’s gaze. “In a heartbeat.”
Rion blinked. A memory rippled in front of his mind’s eye. The same from earlier that evening. Him, walking into his high school English class, searching out and spotting Harper in the second seat in the second row. A bright, happy smile widening that too-lush-for-a-teenager mouth. Then another image wavered, replacing that one. Years later, sitting in a diner across from the Boston University campus. Her, dark brown eyes solemn and wary, telling him she’d accepted Terrance’s proposal. As if waiting for him to say something…anything. Waiting for him to stop her.
But he rejected the image even as his stomach tightened with nausea. Because again, he was going to do what was better for her rather than what he wanted.
He met Killian’s stare, resolution a heavy weight bearing down on his chest. “I get what you’re saying. I do. But…” He paused, clenching his jaw before continuing. “It’s because I…care for her that I know I need to let her go.”
Anger flared in Killian’s hard gaze. “In all your knowing, did you consider that maybe it should be her choice about what’s best for her life?” He didn’t wait for Rion to reply, but stalked out of the office, not even bothering to slam the door shut behind him. Somehow the soft click was more of an indictment on his opinion of Rion’s decision than a resounding boom would’ve been.
Silence permeated the room. But he wasn’t alone. Memories, from years ago and two days ago, crowded in the room. He closed his eyes, savoring the mental reel, acknowledging they detailed the most joy-filled, content moments of his life. He greedily hoarded them because he also understood they would probably be all he had.
Sighing, he opened his eyes, and his gaze landed on his desk. Unbidden, the image of Harper bent over, palms flattened to the surface, her dress hiked around her hips, baring herself to him, wavered and solidified in front of him.
She’d been nervous, maybe even a little terrified—of rejection, of him, of herself and the needs that had brought her to Lick. But she’d also been brave, facing her own fears and insecurities. Honest, giving him the truth, knowing there was a possibility he could use her vulnerability against her. Forgiving, coming to him even though he’d hurt her in the past. And so generous with her reaction to his touch, her pleasure, her body…her heart.
A line from a song he’d heard echoed in his head. Something about a person being who they loved, not who loved them. If that was true, then he was brave, honest, forgiving, and generous. Worthy.
Now the question was…could he believe?