Chapter 10: October
How was it possible that she could never get ready on time? Then again, it was a Saturday and everyone slept in a little too long on a Saturday. Well, everyone except Max.
Danny raced out of the bathroom and pulled on a short tight-fitting beige skirt. She couldn’t be late. Not today. Her client was pedantic and would not tolerate tardiness.
“Max,” she called, “have you seen my—”
She stopped when she saw the straps of her brown sandals hanging off his finger.
“Thanks,” she said, taking it from his hand. “And do you know where I left my—”
Her butterfly hairclips were placed in her other hand. She smiled and hurried to the mirror to slide them on. Blouse on. Matching beige blazer on. Just breathe, she told herself.
She still had a few minutes to spare before she needed to leave, but in her rush she could not remember where she had left half her things. She tossed the pillows off her bed, looking for her cell phone and when she couldn’t find it, she ran back to the bedroom door. “Where’s—” Her cell phone was placed in her hand. “And—” followed by her car keys. “You’re a blessing!” she said, standing on her tip toes to give him a quick kiss.
She went back in and sat on the edge of the bed to strap on her sandals. She was exhausted. She had been up half the night trying to finalize the design for this client and all she wanted was a creamy cup of—
“Coffee?” Max said from the doorway, holding a mug.
God, she loved him! She took the mug from him and gulped down its creamy deliciousness in a matter of seconds. Max walked her to the door and handed over her laptop bag. As she opened the door, he slammed it shut and pushed her up against it, his mouth immediately closing over her Jerry Maguire spot. She groaned and her head rolled back.
“Just a quickie.”
“I don’t know what you’re begging me for, Danny.” His hand caught the back of her knee and he pulled her leg around his waist, her tight skirt riding up as he did so. “Is this what you’re begging me for?”
His other hand cupped her breast and she almost forgot about the meeting.
“Is this some sort of payback?” she asked breathlessly.
She buried her hands in his hair and kissed him hard. “Later. I promise.”
Pushing him back to a safe distance, she opened the door.
“You’re just gonna leave me like this?” he said, pointing down at himself.
Looking at his soft lips, his bare chest, and his tousled morning hair, all she wanted to do was dive into his arms again but she stopped herself. She groaned her frustration. “Later,” she said again. “I really have to go.”
“Alright. Have a great day, Honeybun,” he teased.
“You really have to think of a better name.”
After another quick kiss goodbye, she hurried to the outdoor stairwell.
“I’m taking a walk to the park later,” Max shouted after her. “Meet me there after your meeting.”
“Sure,” she shouted back and continued running down the stairs.
* * * * *
Danny sighed a happy sigh as she parked her car, pulled off her beige suit jacket and climbed out. Another successful meeting. Another happy client. She had actually managed to secure a higher fee for this next project. As the money started coming in over the last few months, she had started buying groceries and contributing towards the rental of the apartment. She no longer felt like she was a financial burden to Max.
He had never complained, but he had to have taken strain supporting both of them for so many months. Things were looking up and life couldn’t be better.
She replaced her heels with a pair of flats and walked through the park until she spotted Max sitting under a tree. As she got closer, she noticed a green picnic blanket and sandwiches wrapped in cling wrap.
“A picnic?” she asked. “Today of all days?”
“What’s wrong with today?”
She sat down beside him and unwrapped a sandwich. “The weather report said it was going to rain today.”
He looked up and there were only a few puffs of white in the sky. “It’s wrong half the time. How was your meeting?”
“Great. I even managed to up my fee.”
They chatted as they ate. She talked about her ideas for new designs and he told more about his family; his mother’s obsession with star signs, Kevin’s moodiness and Jordan’s ability to make him smile even during trying times. She heard the sadness in his voice when he reminisced about Perry. Although she loved Jake and she missed him, she couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to grow up with such a big family. They were all so close with so much love in their inner circle.
Even though Max complained about never having any time to himself, she would have given anything to have one little bicker with a sibling growing up. She had never felt like she belonged at her previous foster homes and thus had never really gotten to know her foster brothers and sisters. Not to mention the fact that she had moved from family to family when she was younger and yet none of them could ever really be considered family. Family was what he had and she was becoming more anxious to meet them.
Lying down, Max pulled her head onto his chest and they stared up at the sky as the heavy gray clouds began to roll in.
“We should get going,” she said. “It’s definitely going to rain soon.”
“It will hold up.” He pulled her closer. “I just want to enjoy this with you for a little longer.”
Danny had not realized that she dozed off until a drop of water hit her cheek. Another came and then another.
“Max, we need to go!”
She quickly stood up and picked up the plastic wraps as Max grabbed the blanket. Mother Nature skipped the drizzle phase and went straight to full-on downpour. Max covered their heads with the blanket as they raced to her car, accidentally stomping in puddles along the way. She threw her wet body into her car and Max got into the driver’s seat.
“Oh, my God! That was insane.” She looked over at him and laughed. “Told you it was gonna rain.” She handed him the keys, then rubbed her hands up and down her arms to warm up. Her body was soaked and shivering, her white blouse and beige skirt clinging to her cold skin.
“I’ll get us something hot to drink on the way home,” Max said.
They drove not more than a few miles before Max parked the car outside a small coffee shop. He got out and dashed into the building.
Ten minutes went by and then twenty and Danny became irritated. It couldn’t possibly take so long to make two coffees.
More minutes passed and she lost her patience. She got out of the car and ducked under a canopy to protect herself from the rain. It didn’t really make much difference. She was soaked all over again in the time it took to walk to the coffee shop.
She was about to go inside, but froze with her hand on the handle. Through the glass door she saw Max talking to a woman, a beautiful Latino woman with sapphire eyes. The woman reached out to touch his arm and Danny reasoned with herself to not read too much into it. Maybe they were just friends. But the way they looked at each other made it seem like they had a past, a past where they were on more friendly terms. Maybe it wasn’t the past…
What if Max was sleeping with her?
Once her mind latched on to the thought, it refused to let it go. Why else had he been in there for almost half an hour? Maybe this was the woman Jennifer was talking about, the one he had been dating. Had been or still is?
Her mind began to flood with all the ifs and maybes. She had always thought that Max was not the type to cheat, but there was living, breathing, incredibly beautiful proof standing right in front of her. For a split second her mind flashed with a vision of her standing in their kitchen doorway, wearing Max’s white shirt and she didn’t know if it was a memory or a figment of her overactive imagination.
Max had slept with her! All her gut was telling her was that Max had slept with her. And he’d lied about it. She couldn’t get the thought out of her head. It was stuck there, imprinted; almost like it wasn’t the first time she had thought it, as if she had tortured herself with that thought before. He’d said that the first and last time he’d had sex was three years ago, but everything inside her was screaming that this relationship was recent, so recent that it might be overlapping her own.
The tears that rolled down her cheek were camouflaged by the raindrops. Her chest tightened and her throat clogged up, making it difficult to breathe. A heavy weight pulled on her heart and anger pulsed through her body, heating her from the inside. How could he do this to her?
As she continued watching them, more pieces began to fall into place. The reason why he refused to kiss her, touch her; why she had to initiate everything in their relationship. The late nights at the “office”. Jennifer’s outburst. All the secrets. All the lies.
He had wanted her all along, been with her all along.
As Danny watched the other woman stand up on her toes and kiss Max affectionately on the cheek, she felt her wall of strength caving in. Just when she thought everything was coming together, her whole world fell apart.
* * * * *
“Danny, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” she snapped as she walked down the corridor of their apartment to the bathroom, leaving a dripping trail behind her.
Max shut the door and sighed. That was five nothings, three fines and one no-thank-you. Something was definitely wrong. He walked to the bathroom where he saw her kicking off her soggy shoes.
“Would you just talk to me?”
She turned to face him with reddened eyes. The drops that ran down her face had been tears disguised as rain the entire drive home. “Who is she?” she asked, her voice wobbling with exasperation.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Max. The woman in the coffee shop? Who is she?”
“Is that why you’re crying? Because of Sofia?”
He chuckled. Her jealousy was cute, but completely misplaced. She had nothing to be jealous about, especially when it came to Sofia. After all, she had dumped him when she found out he was in love with Danny. He reached out to take her hand but she moved back.
“Is she the one?” she asked. “The one you’ve been sneaking off to see?”
The cuteness faded with the heavy reality of what she was asking. She pressed the wrong button with that question, because he felt anger slowly trickling through his veins.
“Sneaking off to see? That’s some imagination, Danny.” Not even the rain pelting on the bathroom window hid the sound of pure disdain in his voice.
“Did I imagine her touching you or kissing you? You want her, don’t you?”
Another flare of anger, but he reasoned with himself to stay calm. He moved around her to get to the shower and turned on the hot water. “Have a shower, get into some dry clothes, and we’ll talk about this later.”
Stepping in front of him, she blocked his path as he was about to walk out. “We’re talking about this now.”
“No, we’re not. You’re angry and upset and you say really stupid things when you get like this. So have a shower and we’ll talk about this later.”
She shut off the water, adamant that she was not letting it go, and placed her hands on her hips. “No!”
“Danny, I’m not having this discussion with you until you calm down. You misinterpreted everything you think you saw.”
“Do you honestly think I’m that dumb?” She shoved him, so hard he almost lost his balance, and with every word and action, his own temper was beginning to rise.
“Don’t push me.” It was a warning, not a request.
“Then admit it. You want her! And why wouldn’t you? She’s beautiful. She’s not disfigured…like me, no ugly scars on—”
“Don’t!” he snapped, his fingers curling into tight fists. “Don’t even go there.”
She heeded his warning to stop talking about the scar, but did not stop her attack. “Admit it!” she shouted. “You don’t want me.”
“I’m sorry, Danny, but I respectfully decline the invitation to this little pity party you’re having.”
He tried to push past her again. This conversation was becoming volatile. Two hot-headed people could not communicate like rational adults unless at least one of them managed to stay cool. He was choosing to be that person and walk away before it got out of hand, but she blocked his path again.
“Admit it. It was all because of her, wasn’t it? The reason why you refused to touch me, why you keep hiding things from me. It’s because of her. All the late nights at the office these last few weeks. You were with her, weren’t you?”
She shoved him again, even harder than before.
“Don’t push me.” He gritted his teeth, trying hard to suppress his anger. “And watch what you say to me. I was in your bed last night. I don’t know what kind of man you think I am, but if you’re accusing me of cheating—”
With her hands on her hips, she lifted her head so she could look him in the eye. “I am.”
He nudged past her and headed for the door. “You’re talking crazy.”
“What’s so crazy?” she taunted from behind him. “You cheat at everything else.”
He spun around and stormed back to her. “This isn’t a game to me, Danny!”
Thunder boomed and lightening flashed in the sky, yet even the noise didn’t drown out the yelling between them. He was losing it. He could feel himself losing it. She was shredding his self-control piece by fucking piece.
Sofia. All of this was because of Sofia.
His mind flashed back to the morning of her accident. She had been the same that morning, refusing to listen to reasons or explanations. Sleeping with Richard had been her plan for that day and then Sofia showed up in the doorway and changed her plans, changed her path, changed all events leading to this moment.
And he was again reminded that she would not be with him if it hadn’t been for Sofia and the accident that followed their encounter. She would have still been with Richard and they would have still been friends. He had tried to prove to her that he was the better man for her and here she was putting him in same category as that fucking asshole, Richard. An unfaithful cheat! After all that, she still couldn’t see. Every fucking day from April to October. How could she not see it?
“Why would I be here?” he asked. “If I wanted Sofia all this time, why would I be here with you? Day after day. Night after night. Why am I here?”
“You tell me,” she said, shoving his chest again.
“Stop pushing me!”
He hated being pushed. It reinforced every weakness, reminded him of all the jerks who had put their hands on him because of her. Every punch to the face. Every kick to the stomach. He had taken all of it because of her and yet she didn’t see it.
“Why did I wait twelve days in the hospital, Danny?”
He could have left, abandoned her just like Richard. He was there and she didn’t see it.
“Obligation,” she hissed. “I was just some charity case with no family and you felt obligated to take care of me. If it wasn’t for the accident, you wouldn’t be with me.”
She couldn’t have gotten it more wrong. His breathing elevated. They were entering dangerous territory now. She was crying yet he felt no sympathy. Only rage. Building. Escalating with everything she refused to see.
“Is that the only reason you can think of?”
“Yes.” And again her hands hit his chest, his wet T-shirt stinging his skin.
“Stop pushing me.” He waited a few pointless seconds to stop his temper from spiraling out of control, to regain some composure, to take the edge out of his voice. Pointless indeed, because it didn’t work at all. “Is that the only reason you can think of?!”
Tears were streaming down her cheeks, anger and hurt blazing in her hazel eyes. “Yes. Damn you! That’s the only reason I can think of. You want her yet you stay with me out of obligation.”
Her fists came at his chest, hard and relentless. Pushing. And Pushing. And Pushing.
“Stop! Pushing ME!” He grabbed her shoulders, spun her around and slammed her against the bathroom wall; his hot, erratic breaths fanning her skin. One hand entwined in her short hair, pulling her head back and holding it in place, while the other slipped around her throat, squeezing slightly until those perfect lips parted. “You must be blind if you can’t see.”
His mouth came down on hers, feral and ferocious. He took hold of both sides of her soaked white blouse and ripped it apart, buttons scattering all over the bathroom floor. He felt her hands on his chest. Pushing again. But he pushed harder. Grabbing her wrists, he manacled them together above her head with one hand, the other moving down to her chest to give its usual tribute to the scar.
“You still can’t see it?”
She shook her head defiantly. “No.”
He yanked off his wet T-shirt and tossed it on the floor before his mouth closed over hers again. She kissed him back, unyielding and just as angry, biting his lower lip hard enough for it to hurt.
Leo and Aries. Maybe this, too, was the product of two fire signs colliding. Heat. Furious heat. Burning rage. Scorching anger.
His temper ignited her lust, fueling the fire inside her, inside both of them.
His hands caught the edges of her skirt, sliding it up her cool, damp skin. “Do you see it now, Danny?”
Her hands moved back to his chest and she attempted to push him away again. She was so stubborn, so fucking infuriating. How could she not see it?
The day he carried her to her dorm room because Anthony left her stranded on the beach. He was there and she didn’t see it.
He lifted her legs around his waist then arrested her hands again, pinning them against the cold tiles. He had no intention of forcing her. He wanted her wild, willing and desperate. And he would have her that way. He would make her see so she would know — even if it was only for a few minutes — what it felt like to be him. He wanted her to feel it in his unforgiving kiss, in the way his body was rapaciously crushing against hers.
“Do you see it now?”
Her stubbornness, her blatant refusal to acknowledge it was driving him crazy.
When Richard stood her up for her birthday last year and he sat outside her door for hours, listening to her muffled cries. He was there and she didn’t see it.
He released her wrists, his hands slipping under her skirt to snap off her flimsy G-string. A second later, her hands were pushing against his chest again.
“Max, please don’t.”
“Please don’t what?”
With her legs still around his waist, he turned around and took her down on the bathroom floor. His mouth moved to the base of her neck and she gasped, moaning against his ear. One hand moved over her breast while the other ran up her thigh, squeezing her bottom until her pelvis was pressing hard against his erection.
He lifted himself up onto his knees, unzipping his pants and tugging them down.
“Please don’t what?” he asked, his breath hitching in his throat. He leaned over her again, bracing himself above her on his arms. Her hazel eyes were filled with every kind of emotion; hurt and lust, anger and desire, hunger and pain. A mirror image of everything he felt. “Please don’t what?”
“Stop.” It was a breathless, aching whimper.
He took possession of her lips as he slid into her, claiming her mouth and her body at the same time. Even if this came to an end in the future, her body would know him, remember only him.
She groaned against his lips, her nails raking over his back. Her kiss was vicious and devouring, taking in whatever he had to give, so consuming that she would leave him desolate if he didn’t stop. But he didn’t stop. He wouldn’t stop giving until he had nothing, because he wanted her to have every part of him.
He broke the kiss once he was fully inside her and looked down at her, his body trembling as much as his voice. “Do you see it now, Danny?”
He felt the burn under his skin, rage spreading through him like wildfire, catching alight from every vexatious memory.
The day he cooked dinner for her and she went out with Richard instead. The Valentine’s Day gifts. He was there and she didn’t see it.
He pushed into her, wanting to be so deep inside her that her body would acknowledge what her eyes refused to see.
The morning of the accident when he admitted he had feelings for her.
“Your feelings are irrelevant to me.”
That was what she told him. Right in front of her and she didn’t fucking see it.
He withdrew and hit against her even harder. “Now?”
So stubborn. She was so fucking stubborn! He gripped her thigh, his fingers almost bruising her soft caramel skin.
Twelve days in the hospital. He was there and she didn’t see it.
He gritted his teeth and plunged into her again. The hard lump lodged in his throat caused his breathing to become quick and unsteady. “Danny…do you see it now?”
He felt her walls tighten around him, heard her moans becoming louder. He could tell that she was reaching her peak. He slowed his pace, thrusting deeper to meet every need their bodies begged for. He wanted to savor it, ensure she knew that he was the one who took her there, the one who made her reach her cliMax.
Eventually he couldn’t hold on any longer. She shut her eyes, he squeezed her fingers and when it was over, he collapsed against her, completely drained of every emotion except the desperation he had felt for years.
He lifted his head slightly. “Danielle…”
She opened her eyes and fresh tears trickled down the side of her beautiful face.
“Do you see it now?”
She nodded, her lips quivering as she tried to fight back the tears. “Yeah…I see it, Max.”
That was all he wanted. For her to see. Everything he said, everything he did; he wanted her to see it. He didn’t care about saving his pride anymore. He didn’t care about what would happen if their relationship ended. He didn’t care about being defenseless, completely exposed. He just wanted her to see, see everything, all of him. Every weakness, every insecurity, he wanted her to see every vulnerable part of him.
“I love you,” he whispered, brushing his lips against hers. The words had been trapped inside him for so long that once he said it, he couldn’t stop saying it. “I love you…I love you…I love you so much.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck, burying her hands in his hair as she pulled him closer. “I love you, too.”
Hearing those words leave her lips broke him, destroyed the little remnants he had left, and yet at the same time it doused the blazing rage and brought him back to one piece.
* * *
Danny sat on her bed, listening to the ceaseless attack of the rain and wind outside her window. The violent storm inside their apartment had passed just a few minutes ago. She hadn’t had a shower, hadn’t taken off her damp clothes yet. She wanted to keep his scent on her for a little while longer, keep those words floating in her head.
She was scared to wash away any evidence of what had happened between them and yet it would take more than a simple shower to rinse off her swollen lips, the slight bruises on her wrists and thighs.
She had been waiting for him to say it and he had been waiting for her to see it. And now she did. The love he felt for her was more than she had ever thought possible. There was no denying it and now she felt silly for doubting him in the first place.
She heard a light knock on her door before Max walked in and sat beside her on the bed. His brown eyes studied her, glancing over all the marks he had left on her body. He had battle scars, too. Red streaks down his back from her nails, love bites on his neck and shoulder.
“I wish I could say I’m sorry,” he said softly, “but I’m not…I’m not sorry for what happened.”
“I am. I’m sorry for accusing you and letting my imagination run wild. I shouldn’t have—”
“Don’t talk, just listen. Sofia and I dated for a little over a month and I liked her. I really liked her, but I kept comparing her to you. She wasn’t as feisty and she didn’t challenge me and my heart kept coming back to you. Eventually, things like that come to the surface…and she saw it. She saw what you refused to see until today.” He ran both hands through his hair and clasped them together at the back of his head. “I’ve been in love with you for the longest time, Danny. There isn’t anyone else. It’s only you. It’s only ever been you.”
She understood his desperation now. Wanting to be more than friends was something he had wanted even before she was ready for this relationship, but she didn’t understand his anger. Every ferocious kiss had only conveyed rage and resentment. She had been right about her playing a part in it, but she still did not know exactly what that part was.
“Why are you so angry?” she asked. “What did I do to make you so angry?”
He cast his eyes to the floor, thinking long and hard about his response before he looked up at her again. “It doesn’t matter now.” He pushed her back against the bed and rolled on top of her. “Nothing else matters now.”
That answer was not good enough and she decided to press further. “Max…what happened in that bathroom?”
“I gave you me,” he whispered, dipping his head closer to her, “and you gave me you and that’s all that matters. I’m not letting you go now.”
He silenced her with a kiss and stopped any further talking because in his mind, the conversation was already over.