Calder was nearing the end of the most tedious double date he’d ever been on when Astrid’s name flashed on his phone. He ignored the woman’s huffing when he jumped to his feet. Hurrying to answer, he ducked inside the restroom, the attendant the only one present.
“Calder,” Astrid sounded distraught, raising his concern, “I’m sorry, I had nobody else to call.”
“What’s going on?”
“Can you pick me up?” she sniffed over the line, “I have no clue where I am. The street signs say James and McLarrow. It’s downtown in a bad neighborhood.”
He frowned, turning his back when his brother Cody entered, “No problem. Are you safe until I get there? Why the hell are you even in that part of town?”
“Remy,” she exhaled, and he heard the pain behind it, “I’ll tell you later.”
“Right… okay. Be there soon, bye.”
Cody glared at him, “Dude, what the fuck? I had to work at bagging Kelly, and she only came because her friend is into you. Don’t screw this up for me.”
Calder rolled his eyes, placing his cell inside his suit jacket, “Cody, she’s not into you. Nor should you want a woman who has no brains. Do you know the crossroads, James and McLarrow?”
He pouted, crossing his arms, “Yeah. So?”
“I need directions,” he snapped, “Astrid needs me.”
“Oh, is that what you believe? She doesn’t. She’s only sleeping with you because you’re wealthy. I don’t understand why you bother with her. She quit because you couldn’t keep your dick in your pants. She should have asked for a raise.”
Calder shoved him against the counter, causing the cleaner to scurry out. Cody swallowed hard, realizing he pissed off his younger sibling. He took a steady breath, hating his family sometimes.
“Man, you’re sounding more and more like Chris,” he growled, before letting him go, “I always felt the closest to you growing up. Women of Astrid’s caliber are rare because they give to others, not expecting anything in return. That whore out there is only here for your money. Stay with the girls, I’ll use GPS.”
Cody stiffly straightened his tie, “I’m coming with you. It’s a tangle of seedy streets and you’ll get lost.”
Calder shrugged and walked out. They excused themselves from the two boring models, and climbed into Calders Porsche, leaving Cody’s BMW.
Cody directed him onto the freeway, telling him which exit to take, then grudgingly admitted, “I enjoyed Astrid’s company when we worked late. She had a calming influence if that makes any sense.”
He glanced at Cody, hunched over and pouting beside him, “It does.”
“She’s smart and real, a good girl. She also didn’t flirt as Marla does. Geez, I’ve fucked her more times than Cameron, I think.”
He scoffed, “I knew you were fucking her! That explains the moans in your office yesterday. Why fuck the employees?”
Pot, meet kettle.
“Because I can,” Cody snapped, “Perks of being rich and influential. Women love the power exchange. It’s not as if we force them to spread their legs.”
Calder took the exit, huffing, “You don’t have to be an asshole just because you can. So, if Astrid had shown interest, you’d fuck her?”
He snorted, “No way. She seems prudish.”
Calder smiled to himself, letting his brother believe she’s a cold fish because Astrid was a phenomenal lover. Far from prissy. He needed to spend more time with Cody. He, unlike Cameron or Chris, had a genteel perspective on life. If he wasn’t careful though, he’d turn chauvinistic like the other men in their family.
Calder rang Astrid, telling her he was close. She sounded so unsettled, it really bothered him. What the hell had Remy done to her this time? Why was she on these dangerous streets at night?
Three minutes later he swung onto the residential street she roamed. He couldn’t help but admire her ass in the tight jeans she wore. Astrid looked amazing, although disturbed. Her makeup was a lot darker than he’d ever seen on her, yet it complimented her hair. Cody gaped, his of her opinion about-facing as she scrambled into the backseat.
Astrid gave Cody a tentative smile, before turning those chocolate eyes on him, “Thank you. I’m sorry if I interrupted your evening.”
He grinned reassuringly, “Never hesitate to call me Astrid.”
“Or me,” Cody chimed in much to his chagrin, “You may not work with us anymore, but we can be friends.”
She stared out the window, not responding. Calder drove out of the area, returning to the restaurant to drop off Cody. Astrid remained quiet, even when he asked if she was okay. She peered at the starless sky, lips pursed in unease. He hated seeing her so despondent. Why did Remy bruise her neck? The finger marks plain as day and not fresh. Why did she continue to date that abusive dick?
Calder pulled behind Cody’s vehicle, who blubbered once more Astrid should call him. Like hell she will, he fumed to himself. Cody obviously thought she appeared as captivating as he did, shooting him a dirty glare until he jumped into his own car.
Happy to be alone with her at last, tried to lighten the moon teasing, “Destination, milady?”
She turned to him, quietness and sadness vanishing. Fury lit her features, “Just drive. I can’t go home. He probably found out your address, so take me somewhere else.”
He obeyed, heading north, “Are you going to explain what happened?”
She switched on the radio, changing stations for distraction, muttering, “To be honest, I don’t know. I went to Remy’s apartment where his friends sat around half-naked. I was having a great time, joking with them, dancing. Then, Remy comes out of the kitchen with this little pill, telling me its ecstasy.”
Calder listened intently while she talked, white-knuckling the steering wheel. Remy must live downtown, the reason she was in a sketchy neighborhood. When she told him Remy wanted her to take an illegal drug, he gritted his teeth. What kind of woman did he think Astrid was? He would never do such a thing to her, or anyone.
“So, Remy explains they already took the drug,” she snorts with derision, “and my decision if I wanted to play.”
“Play?” Calder repeated softly.
Astrid sat back, abandoning the radio, “Yeah, he actually said ’play’. I grabbed the tab and watched their faces turn smug. They were there to fuck me! Remy brought me to his apartment for an orgy!”
“Huh?” her eyes widened.
“Unless other women were there, it’s considered a gangbang.” he cringed when she paled at his explanation, “Go on."
“Damn,” she blew out a breath, shaking her head, “I couldn’t do it or stay so he’d force me.”
“He would force you?” Again, he kept his tone soft, detached so she wouldn’t clam up. His knuckles ached from strangling the wheel, imagining Remy’s neck.
Picturing her on all fours with men circling her toned body made his pants uncomfortably tight and chastised himself for the tinge of jealousy he felt. Deviant by nature, learning Remy approached his friends to get it on with his girlfriend took balls he’d never have and wondered if she left because she didn’t know the men, or if the whole idea sickened her. There was no way to ask, so he listened to the rest of her story.
Astrid’s phone rang. She dug it out of her shoulder purse, groaned and said, “He followed me when I bolted. He sounded pissed, but not surprised. Why? Why would he expect me to screw others when he doesn’t even want me with you?”
Calder didn’t respond, not having answers to why that jackass did anything. Astrid sighed in frustration, running a hand over her braided hair. He couldn’t wipe the experience from her memory, but glad she came to him for comfort.
“I ran from Remy,” she whispered after the ringing stopped, “I can’t deal with his darkness. He has so much anger when we’re messing around.”
Calder swallowed hard then asked, “Is that why your neck’s bruised?”
She touched her throat, “We played a different game last night. He became enraged after I hurt him and shit got wild.”
“I don’t understand. Did you injure him?”
She gave a sad laugh, “No. He had me hide, and when he found me, I tripped his ass. Kicked his face. He… he took me down after that.”
Calder reached Sunshine Lake, thinking it was a good place for her to calm down and pulled into the guest parking next to the guardrail so they had a view of the entire area. After killing the engine, he looked over to find her staring up at a weeping willow on top of a hill.
“Astrid, he shouldn’t hurt you, no matter the circumstances,” Resentment bled into his voice, although he tried to come across impartial.
She turned her teary eyes towards him, “I know. He promised he wouldn’t lose control again. But… it’s his job.”
“What job?” he snapped, “Punishing your partner during sex?”
“Yes, actually. He works at a fetish club and provides sexual fantasies in people’s homes.”
The revelation silenced Calder. Remy had a creepy vibe, and now it made sense why. He kept his profession a secret from Astrid, but because of her big heart, she stayed with him either out of loyalty or twisted affection. No wonder the man didn’t hesitate to bring her drugs or offer a gangbang. He’d visited fetish establishments before, and if not properly introduced to the scene, it could screw up a person. She had no clue how sadistic Remy’s behavior might escalate.
“He’s not a whore,” she defended Remy when Calder remained quiet, “Sure, he’s paid, but when we are together, I think he forgets what he does.”
“You just told me he takes his anger out on you,” he reminded, “Why do you defend him?”
“Because I love him!” big fat tears fell from her doe eyes, “I was a meek, self-conscious dork before I met him. You would never have looked twice at me Calder. He makes me feel beautiful. Our relationship began with trust and friendship before sex.”
“Trust?” he growled, not caring if she became angry, “He wouldn’t tell you where he lived! Where he worked! What do you even know now except what he tells you? He follows you! Handed over permission to fuck you if I promised to never approach you again. I acted shitty, making him seem the better choice.”
She sniffed, wiping her tears, “You agreed knowing it would hurt me?”
He glared out the window instead of meeting her accusing stare, “Yeah, not my proudest moment. That’s why I came across like an asshole the first night we slept together. It’s why I fucked you until dawn. I thought I’d never get the chance again. Then Remy hit you, confessing he set you up.”
“You’re both warped, but… I still want you. I’m messed up too, I guess.”
Turning, he noticed she stopped crying. She was stronger than she gave herself credit for. How could he tell her he was falling for her when she said she was in love with someone else? He would put all of his feelings out there for her to stomp all over his heart.
“Me too,” he sighed, “and you need to stay away from Remy. He’ll only keep hurting you. Psychically and emotionally. Don’t you recognize a pattern of abuse?”
Tentatively, she reached over to take his hand. He looked down, squeezing gently. How badly he wanted to pull her into his lap and kiss thoughts of Remy out of her mind forever.
“I visited my ex-boyfriend today,” she laughed without humor, “He’s a jerk, but helped me understand why I never thought handsome, intelligent, rich guys would want me. I’m no stranger to abuse, mentally or otherwise.”
Calder brought her hands up to his lips, brushing his mouth against her soft skin as she spoke. Astrid gazed at him with fortitude shining through her skepticism. Maybe her ex was the reason she found the nerve to walk out on Remy.
“Men have used me,” she continued, “They never talked to or complimented me. The sad part is, they treated me indifferently because I taught them to. I held on to them, not the other way around. Does that make any sense?”
Dropping their joined hands onto his lap, he replied, “I’ll hold on to you. You don’t have to even try. I won’t leave without a fight.”
Astrid maneuvered her body until she straddled his frame. He pushed a button, moving the seat to give them room, and she giggled when vibrations shook their bodies. He preferred her laughter to tears, hoping her mood lifted.
“Thank you for listening,” she murmured, “Calder, I’m going to take a break from Remy. He has to accept it. Will you promise not to interfere?”
He brushed her hair away from her face, “For real? It’ll be good for you.”
Astrid gave a husky laugh, placing her hands inside his jacket, rubbing her palms against the silky material of his dress shirt, “For you too. I mean, don’t get alarmed if he becomes a little crazy. He loves me and wouldn’t really hurt me because of that fact.”
Calder was having a hard time discussing her other lover with her ass sitting on his erection. “Okay. Hey, it’s your relationship. I know I stepped in mid-waltz and have no right to add my opinion.”
She grinned so warmly he couldn’t imagine a more beautiful woman he’d rather be with. The model he ditched at the restaurant was stunningly attractive, yet she had no life in her blue eyes. He had talked to her for over two hours, and she presented none of the humanity in Astrid’s doe ones. The raven-haired beauty made it difficult to remain detached, and it scared him shitless, but wasn’t he ready for more after being treated like a walking, talking ATM by his former fiancee?
“I understand it’s weird,” her voice trembled, “Thanks for being there when I needed a buddy.”
Guiltily, he took his hands off of her shapely ass, “Anytime.”
“It’s a lot, isn’t it?”
“I got you,” he insisted, “You did the right thing.”
She dipped her pouty mouth towards his, which he eagerly met, shoving his tongue past her lips. Her fingers slipped under his shirt, pressing against the rapid beat of his heart. He did nothing but kiss her, gripping her kneecaps.
He showed his devotion through kisses, and she reciprocated. Their mouths were wet, teasing and perfect against each other. He kissed her with every ounce of passion surging through his veins. She had to know how she affected him.
“Calder,” she gasped after fifteen minutes of intense making out, “Wait a second.”
He dropped his head against the seat rest, short nails digging into her knees with restrained desire. She sighed as once more her phone disrupted the quiet interior. Slowly, she stripped off her black top, revealing a silky red bra. Calder stifled a groan as another boner grew. The previous one faded from focusing on not having one. Treating her with respect, his new priority even if it gave him blue balls. He would be fine if she held off on sex for at least… a week? Four days? Who was he kidding? Their sexual chemistry wasn’t the issue, but her refusal to acknowledge Remy stood between their happiness.
“Touch me,” she whispered as her cell kept ringing, “Just touch me with the same intensity I see in your eyes.”
They resumed, his sweaty palms cupping her breast. After a minute he slowed, so she’d experience the whole of his intentions. He yanked down her left bra strap, breathing in her sweet smell. She moaned, pussy flush against his pelvis.
She clasped his forearms, leaning backward as he pulled off the other strap, then sucked across the suppleness of her heaving chest. Once again, the phone rang. He stopped, raising a frustrated brow.
“It’s him,” she rolled her eyes, “I’d shut it off but I have no idea if-”
“Do it,” he urged, placing both hands on her flushed cheeks, “You made your decision.”
Be with me, he willed.
To his complete surprise, she answered the call while sitting on his lap with both tits out. His erection wilted once more, upset she felt the need to placate her crazy boyfriend while dry humping his cock. What was it going to take for her realize they’d be good together if he was out of the picture?
Would she ever leave the asshole, or was he deluding himself?