Calder found out Remy and Astrid were together again from the private detective he hired. He had a lot of useful information on Remy but shoved the envelope inside of his desk after the initial perusal made him sick after the PI handed it over.
Astrid’s phone calls had torn him up. When he let it ring, he knew he was hurting her. But it was for his own sake. When hearing they reunited after a mere seven days, he felt justified in his decision.
He sulked at home every night after work, haunted by Astrid. He thought of her constantly. Why? Why, when he should date other women?
Why couldn’t he stonewall himself against his protective instincts? She made her choice.
She may have been asking herself the same question because she showed up at his place three nights after speaking to the investigator. He was drinking, and when she requested into the building; he acted like a jerk.
“What for?” He spoke into the speaker, gripping a glass of bourbon.
“I need to see you. Calder, I didn’t come all the way here to talk through a mic. Buzz me in.”
“What for?” he repeated, knowing it would piss her off.
“Do you want me to leave?” Her tone sounded the opposite of angry, tired and sad.
He buzzed her in, curiosity winning out logic. Glancing at his briefs, he decided she’d already seen him in the buff and could deal with his near nakedness. Drunk, he stumbled to unlock the door, before heading to the bar top by the kitchen.
Astrid didn’t knock, rolling her eyes when she saw the state of him. She looked incredibly hot in white low-rise jeans and a tight red shirt. She tossed her purse on the glass table, a habit by now, then joined him for a drink.
“Nice underwear,” she grinned, “Why won’t you take my calls? What happened?”
Leaning towards her, he growled, “You happened. You’ll keep seeing Remy so I stepped back.”
She sighed, smelling his liquored breath, “You said you were my buddy.”
“I lied,” he snapped, “I can’t just be friends with you, Astrid. Look at you!” he slapped her ass unexpectedly, and she rubbed it with an amused expression, “I’m contemplating how to fuck the shit out of you instead of listening to your voice. Is that the kind of pal you need?”
“No,” she cocked her head, “So you wrote me off?”
“Yup!” He staggered the sofa, “I have to let you go for women who prefer me over psycho assholes.”
“Calder!” she sat next to him, “I do!”
“We’re a pair of liars, aren’t we?” he spat, “You’re with him!”
“It’s complicated!” she yelled, “He and I ran into each other and you ignored me! You still are! I came here… because…”
“Why?” he angrily shouted in her face, “Because he hurt you? Canceled a date? Couldn’t find your G-spot? Because you had to know why I won’t call you? All I do is think about you.”
She swallowed, “Calder, please…”
He waved his hand dismissively, “Go away.”
“Calder,” she looked close to tears, and his chest tightened, “I… pick you. He’s twisted, angry and he’ll hurt me if I stay.”
“I should care?” he sneered, “You chose Remy. You like it.”
She stood up, full of fury, “Nobody gives a shit. I’m all alone. I hope you realize when I leave he’ll win.”
“Some prize,” he muttered, annoyed at the guilt he felt when she gasped, stung by his coldness.
“I can’t tell you the courage it took for me to come here,” she whispered before snatching her purse, storming towards the door. Calder would let her go, except her words held truth he couldn’t ignore. He wasn’t blind to the fact she came to him for help.
“Shit,” he groaned, lurching unsteadily to his feet, “Stop right there.”
She swiveled on her heels, tears rolling down to her flushed cheeks. “You’re wasted! Why are you sitting home alone, in your skivvies, drunk off of your ass?”
“Because all I dwell on other than you is my job,” he ranted, stalking over to her, “You say he’ll hurt you and no one cares for you then bounce? What kind of head games are you playing Astrid?”
She scoffed, “Really? Do you want to compare head games? What about when you said all that shit about friendship, respect, and compassion only to walk out after we fucked? Do you think I shrugged and went, 'Oh, he’s showing me so much fucking consideration I must send him a thank-you card’?”
He laughed at her sarcasm, “I left because you’ll never choose me. I saved time by leaving. Did you show up here expecting me to save you from your own damn decisions?”
“No!” once more she became teary-eyed, “Calder, you are who I choose. If you hate me, I will leave, and never bother you again.”
She snapped her mouth shut, although it trembled. He wanted her against his better judgment. He considered the Pros and Cons a lot. The fucked up part — she already had him, even if he hated Remy. If she understood the impact, his lifestyle can have on hers, uncertain she would be so adamant to remain in his life.
“What about Remy?” He softened his tone, hoping she’d calm down, “Where do you two stand? Does he understand it’s over?”
“No,” she gulped back tears, “I was at home, waiting for him. He was at a woman’s house, doing lord knows what to her, when I realized I couldn’t take it anymore. He was gentle the first day, the next a little rougher, then last night he did this.”
With scared, hesitant eyes she lifted her blouse, revealing bruised skin over her ribs in three places. Remy had either hit or kicked her, and his blood pressure rose instantly.
“Astrid,” he breathed as she avoided his horrified stare, quickly tugging her shirt into place, “Why would Remy beat you if he loves you?”
She walked over to the bar top, “You know, I asked myself that question too, but when he’s fucking me, it slips my mind. It only happens when we’re intimate. He called on the cab ride here.”
Calder sat on the sofa, sobering from arguing and the shock of seeing Astrid’s battered torso. Remy would never see her again. He’d keep her close until sure Remy moved on. He wouldn’t deny his feelings any longer.
“I love you, Astrid,” he boldly stated.
She half-turned, a bottle of vodka in one hand, “Why would you say that? You can’t!”
He snorted, embarrassed, “Yeah, because you don’t love me?”
She set the bottle down and came over. The mixed emotions playing across her face wary at best. Calder opened his arms, and she stepped close enough for him to pull her onto his lap. She smiled softly, touching his stubbled cheek.
“I could love you,” she confided, “You disappeared, breaking your promises.”
“I’m so sorry,” he groaned, “This thing between us happened fast, and although I don’t mind sharing you if it makes you happy, you’re fucking miserable. The fact you won’t leave the asshole rattled my cage and I can’t afford a scandal.”
“Figured as much,” she sighed, “You two are worlds apart personality-wise. Remy is easier to accept because I know his type. If I can survive it — a whole other matter.”
He exhaled, “You will be with me. Only me from now on. If you came here for a relationship, Remy won’t be a plus one. I’m not dicking around. If he threatens us, I’ll handle it.”
Astrid hugged Calder, and he cradled her body, careful of her side. She trembled, making him wonder what else Remy had done to her she wasn’t ready to say. It didn’t matter because she agreed to his terms and relaxed in his embrace until falling sleep. The ordeal exhausted the poor girl. He had thought she was wearing black makeup again, but the dark circles under her eyes supplied how much she’d suffered lately.
He carried her to his bed without waking her and laid down beside her, feeling as if he did this to her. If he hadn’t left that night, would she have returned to Remy? He clenched his jaw, holding back a curse finding out Remy struck her again. Sexual or not, those bruises meant to harm, not inflict joy.
There was a vicious fight on the way, but his mind to sluggish to formulate a plan. Astrid chose the right man in the end, but the wrong one picked her in the beginning.
“I’ll protect you,” he whispered to her sleeping figure, then passed out clutching her hand.
* 48-hours earlier *
“No, please stop!”
Astrid’s pleas fell on deaf ears as Jay held her down with rough hands. Someone spiked her beer, she knew somebody had because the sensations coursing through her were body unnatural and foreign.
He covered her mouth so Remy wouldn’t hear her cries while he took a phone call in his room, tickling her against her will. She struggled, but his hold was firm as he crushed her into the sofa from behind. Her ribs stung when his fingers dug into her flesh.
She closed her eyes tightly, salty tears wiggling out as she felt utterly violated. What started out as teasing escalated quickly, and she didn’t understand how she’d gotten smashed against his wiry frame.
“Playing without me, eh?” Remy taunted, pushing him aside, peering down on her with amusement.
Remy promised her he would never hurt her again! That he would treat her better! Still, here they were holding her down so Jay could get his rocks off. He had tricked her into the same situation as before. She had been having a good time until suddenly finding herself pinned down.
The drug eased the pain.
Remy fondled her.
Jay tried too, but Remy shoved him, warning, “You can watch fucker, but no touching.”
When she stopped fighting, they didn’t notice. The room faded away as the hours past, and when someone shook her hard, her mind snapped back to her body.
“Get up,” Remy grinned, standing over her, “Let’s take a shower.”
“What happened?” Astrid moaned, flinching when her joints flared with weird aches.
He laughed, yanking her into a sitting position by her forearms, “You don’t remember? You look so cute, all sleepy-eyed. Wake up, baby. I planned an outing. It’s my last day off.”
She groaned as he tugged until she stood on wobbly legs, “What time is it? All I remember is…”
“It’s over,” he bit out impatiently, “Come on.”
Astrid swayed on disoriented feet until the cool shower water startled her into awareness. The ache and pains grew the more she moved, but when the spray warmed some of it melted. Remy massaged her back tenderly as she gingerly soaped her front.
Her memory was foggy, yet she remembered Jay. Recalled how his grubby hands squeezed her bare skin. Disjointed flashes of Remy and Jay pleasuring her caused to bile rise in the back of her throat.
“You’re so beautiful,” he hummed, “I’m one lucky asshole. Do you love me?” he asked, working her tight muscles like a professional until she relaxed.
“I’m confused,” she sighed, turning around, “D-did you give me drugs?”
His brows pinched together, “No.”
Astrid focused on his erection and how the overhead spray fell onto it, not aroused in the least. That shocked her. He always appealed to her. Something changed between them, and it hung heavy in the air. Remy was breaking her. Was he intentionally pushing her limits so she wouldn’t fight?
“I asked if you loved me?” Remy pinched her chin in his fingers, jerking her head up, “We belong together. You’re the girl I’ve waited for.”
She peered into his hardened hazel eyes, hearing him speak kind and meaningful words but none of it reflected on his handsome face, “Yeah.”
He kissed her on the mouth hard, “Wash your hair. I’ll get your clothes.”
Astrid was glad when he let her finish showering by herself. Her hands trembled as she reached for the shampoo. Damn, her entire body hurt.
Remy didn’t leave her alone for long. In two days he’d barely left her side for more than a few minutes. Even when she used the toilet! Nor had she been able to sleep. He kept her moving, planning activities for them to do. She humored him, although his manic behavior made her suspicious.
He handed over her dress, then ushered her out to sit on the sofa. She swallowed an aspirin with a glass of water left next to the pill bottle when he went into the kitchen. Arlo came out of his room and avoided eye contact as he walked over to a side table to gather his keys.
“Arlo,” she whispered, fearing Remy would be mad to find them talking, “Look at me.”
His shoulders jerked, looking anywhere but at her, “I’ll see you guys later.”
“Hey,” she stood, her limbs protesting, “What happened last night? I- I’m a little fuzzy on the details.”
Arlo finally met her troubled stare, and they narrowed in sympathy. He seemed eager to have sex with her the last time they saw one another, but the disinterest she received now caused her to think it had been her imagination.
“Astrid, you remember enough to keep doing what he tells you to do,” he muttered, “Sorry, I gotta go to work.”
She sat back down as Arlo quickly exited the apartment. He had given her a warning. A message she couldn’t decipher. She covered her mouth, wondering how to navigate her current situation. These men were depraved, and she knew someone drugged her.
Remy swaggered into the room exclaiming, “Okay! Let’s find a quiet restaurant for lunch, then I’ll take you shopping. I’ve been wanting to buy you something nice for a while. Come on, baby!”
Astrid gave a smile, jumping to her feet, hoping he’d be gentle and not pull on her like an impatient child if she appeared excited. The exhaustion she fought was nothing compared to the anxiety. She didn’t recognize him any longer. When he touched her, she wanted to flinch but composed herself.
She played along all day. They ate, stopped at an expensive boutique where he bought her a slinky black gown even though she protested. He insisted, then took her back to his place.
Jay sat on the couch and ignored them, much to her delight, and the only time he spoke was to offer them both a beer before he ran to pick up dinner, his treat. Soon after, she once more felt detached from reality.
Her inhibitions disappeared, and previous worries became a distant memory. He stripped her naked, making out with her when Arlo strode through the door holding two pizza boxes.
“You have a bedroom,” Jay grunted, standing over their entwined bodies while Remy fingered her into an orgasm.
Remy jerked in surprise, and since she laid on the edge of the cushion fell hard onto the table in front of the sofa. Tears sprung to her eyes, pain flaring across her rib cage when Remy laughed, shoving her against the solid wood, pressing her flat against the surface to enter her from behind.
“Ugh!” she cried in agony.
“Stay put,” he slapped her ass, “Christ, I can’t get enough of your tight pussy tonight.”
She obeyed, too exhausted to move. To fuck him the way he preferred. Her mind shut off and time smeared into random coherent moments, disconnected from her surroundings.
Arlo came home, a disgusted expression on his face when he ordered Remy to take Astrid somewhere else because her screams kept him awake. Remy helped her dress and when they got to her place, he carried her inside and made love to her, whispering sweet promises.
She passed out before he pulled out, unaware of the entire evening.
He left a letter on her bedside stand.
A love note.
A promise to return for her.