The Arrangement (An Alternative Love Romance)

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A Preview Of Things To Come?

“Wow. Nice place,” Selene commented, looking around only moments after walking through the door. “Sometimes I forget you’re rich.”

Nick looked around and tried to see his apartment through Selene’s eyes. He supposed it must look quite nice compared to what she was used to.

“I guess it kind of is,” he decided. “I suppose I don’t appreciate it as much since I live here,” he admitted. “Let me show you around.”

“Sure. Um, should I take my shoes off,” she asked hesitantly. “I don’t want to mess anything up.”

Nick laughed and shook his head. “I want you to feel welcome here, so think of it as your own place. Besides, rugs and carpet can be cleaned. Friend trump stuff, right?”

“Ok then, big guy. Now, show me around, huh,” she teased with an impish grin.

Nick took her arm and began leading her around. Up the hall to a small one on the left was a door leading to the kitchen. It was the biggest kitchen she’d ever seen in a house and was amazed at all the space. Nick watched her as she walked around and checked everything out like a child-like sense of wonder.

“I’ve never seen a kitchen this big in real life,” she told him. “There’s so much room!”

“You know, I don’t even know half of what’s in here. Dottie does all the shopping and cooking for me.”

“Dottie,” Selene asked curiously.

“Yes. An older woman who does the cooking and cleaning for me. She’s kind of like a grandmother in a way,” he revealed, something he did not normally readily admit to.

“That’s cool! I like the substitute relatives. I have a kinda grandpa one. He owns a bookstore about a mile past my place. I think it might be the last used bookstore, even. But I love it and he’s really awesome. A lot of people refer to him as ‘Old Uncle Larry’,” she told him. “Life’s more fun with older people around.”

Nick chuckled at her nervous rambling. “Do you want a drink now or would you rather see the rest of the apartment first?”

Selene sighed and her face scrunched up. “I was doing it again, wasn’t I?”

Nick nodded, though his grin told her it didn’t bother him.

She groaned in response. “Ok, I’ll chill. Let’s go,” she added, making motions for him to get moving. “Let’s see the big, fancy bachelor pad.”

With a laugh, Nick took her on into the living room, which she also admired for several minutes. Then, he lead her back into the hallway where there was a half bath on the right, then further down where the guest room was. He got a kick out of her wide-eyed expression when he revealed a walk-in closet with a full vanity inside as well as an attached bathroom. He had to explain the vanity being in there to her, though she still seemed a bit confused by the entire thing. There were only two more doors down the hall from the guest room: his office, and his bedroom.

Nick showed her the former, but just explained what the latter was. He then lead her back to the spacious living room.

“There are other rooms on the other side, as well, but I don’t really use them much,” he admitted. “I have been trying to avoid spending much time here. It gets...”

“Lonely,” Selene filled in.

He looked at her and nodded, giving her a wry smile. “Yeah. I’d like to change than, but I always seem to pick the wrong ones.”

Selene took off her shoes and unfastened her vest. “Ok, I need to get out of this uniform, so you pick a movie or a game or something and I’ll change. We’ll have a couple drinks and you can dump all your worries on me.”

“Alright. Any preferences?”

Selene nodded. “None of that sappy romance crap or those stupid girlie movies. I can handle just about anything else, even gore horror,” she informed him with a grin before she left the room.

Nick chuckled to himself. He took off his jacket and draped it over the back of a chair before he began to look through the drawers that contained his many DVDs. He pulled out a few possibilities, then he went to the bar on the side of the room and poured himself two fingers of whiskey. He looked over his collection, trying to decide what Selene might enjoy the most.

“Oh, I wanted the see this one,” she exclaimed from behind him.

Nick looked back to see what one, but his eyes landed on Selene in a snug tee and a pair of yoga pants. What caught his full attention was the fact that he could now see that her uniform had done absolutely nothing for her. While she was clearly designed small, she was curvier than he’d realized before. While she looked a bit underweight, she was in no way rail thin, as many models were described.

“You’re staring, Nick,” Selene commented, snapping him back to reality.

“Sorry, I just wasn’t… I mean..,” he paused and cleared his throat. “I don’t know what kind of alcohol you prefer,” he managed, redirecting the focus.

“Something not too strong, maybe a mixed drink,” she suggested.

Nick suddenly had an idea for a simple drink that he thought might be acceptable. He soon joined her by the couch, handing her the drink before he showed her the DVD slot on the side of the TV. They were soon sitting next to each other on the couch to watch the movie.

A few minutes in, Selene realized something. “Don’t you have to work tomorrow,” she said, turning toward him.

This time. it was Selene who was staring. With his legs stretched out, his body looked longer and she realized just how well-built Nick actually was. When her eyes raised, they locked with Nick’s.

“I own the company. I can take a day off now and then,” he reminded her.

“Oh, right,” Selene exclaimed, grateful Nick didn’t call her out. “I forgot.”

Nick laughed and pat her thigh. “It’s one of the things I enjoy about our friendship. There are no pretenses. I don’t feel like ’Nicholas Saber, multi-millionaire and eligible bachelor. I feel like Nick the man.”

Selene folded up her legs up under herself, then looked at him and smiled softly. “I’m glad. I really don’t think of you like that, either. I’d heard about that, but I really don’t pay much attention to that kind of thing.”

“No, you don’t. You’re quite different than the people I normally run into. Even the good ones are acutely aware of who has what and how much,” he admitted with a sigh. “Some are good people, but there’s a lot of pretentiousness as well. Some folks like to show off and look down on those they don’t perceive as being as good as them.”

Selene smirked, flopping back against the couch. “Like me.”

Nick looked over at her, alarmed. “You don’t believe that, do you?”

Selene shook her head with a soft laugh. “Snobs don’t bother me. I’ve dealt with far worse than their nonsense.”

“Good. They shouldn’t. I’ve been around them all my life and they’re more annoying than anything else,” he informed her with a crooked grin. “I just try to avoid them whenever it’s possible to.”

Selene grinned at him and turned back to look at the screen. Nick studied her face as she watched the movie, the colors flickering over her features. He shook his head and swallowed his drink. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt the need to study another person so closely, like he wanted to put every feature to memory.

“I’m going to get the bottles so we don’t have to get up to get refills,” Nick decided abruptly, rising to his feet. He could hear Selene giggling behind him once he’d passed her.

“Don’t you laugh at me,” he warned with mock seriousness. “I will make you regret it.”

Selene only laughed harder, “You are so not scary.”

“I’ll try harder next time,” Nick declared, fetching the bottles quickly. He soon joined her again, placing the bottles on the coffee table.

A few drinks, more laughter and nearly the entire movie later, Selene looked over at Nick with a more serious look on her face.

“Ok, spill. What’s on your mind?”

Nick sighed and leaned back, looking at her, then down at his hands. “Selene, I… what do you think about me,” he asked, looking back at her.

Selene shrugged slightly, leaning against the back of the couch. “I think you’re pretty nice. You seem like a really good guy, though I’ll admit to being surprised you aren’t married.”

Nick sighed and nodded. “Yeah. I haven’t picked the best kind of women to make that kind of commitment. I’m trying to change all that, though. I want something different; something real with a person I can trust and rely on.”

Selene nodded in understanding. “It must be hard to have so much on you and no partner to have your back. You deserve a good one, though, from what I’ve seen so far.”

Nick smiled a little at that. “I appreciate that.” Nick paused, then met her eyes again. “Do you trust me, Selene?”

She thought about that a moment before she lifted a hand and did a so-so motion. “I don’t think you’ll hurt me, but I can only trust you so much at this point. I have been taught not to trust easily.”

Nick nodded, his barely hidden disappointment not missed by Selene.

“Why does that bother you?”

“I want you to trust me,” he said bluntly. “I want you to feel safe and comfortable with me. To feel it’s ok to talk about things.”

Selene studied Nick several minutes, searching for any hint of deception or malicious intent. Yet, the only thing she saw was a lonely man who had chosen her as someone to reach out to.

“Why me? You have lots of friends, I’m sure,” she queried slowly.

“You mean, besides the fact you are amazing, a lot of fun, smart, and real? There’s nothing fake about you – no pretensions, no games, no bullshit,” Nick added. “It’s really nice and I just want to know more and more about you.”

Selene swallowed the last bit of her drink, setting the glass down on a coaster. It was a delay tactic as she processed what he was saying. Experience made her suspicious, but she had never detected any malice from Nick, nor picked up on any warning signs. In fact, she felt a bit confused by his attention.

“I suppose I’m just not used to people who go out of their way to befriend me without wanting something from me. Especially men, and it’s usually sex,” she explained.

“I’m not saint, Selene. Don’t think I haven’t thought about it and I wouldn’t turn down the chance if you were willing,” Nick told her honestly. “But there’s so much more to explore than just physical pleasure or attraction. There’s just something special about you.”

Selene scoffed and shook her head. “I’m nothing special. Just a girl with a lot of baggage, a crappy childhood, and a tendency to be a bit of a loner.”

“You may not see it,” Nick said gently, reaching out to brush his fingers along the side of her face, “but others do. I do.”

Selene smiled at him, almost shyly. “I’m glad someone thinks so.”

Nick’s hand cupped her face, his thumb brushing near her lips. “Anyone who doesn’t is blind or obstinate,” Nick stated bluntly. “You’ve got so much heart and strength. You’re determined and you just have this natural ability to make things better. I’ve watched you handle difficult customers and thought that I wished you were around for some of my meetings. You just make people certain things will be set right. I wish I could do that.”

Selene closed her eyes partway, finding Nick’s touch soothing. “I guess I’ve had experience with people with really bad attitudes enough to understand how things work.”

Nick found himself leaning forward a bit to look into her eyes. “I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with anything bad. I hate the idea of your being hurt.”

Selene gave a slight, sad smile. “Life isn’t always fair and sometimes it’s really hard and horrible. But, we can either give in and let it defeat us, or we push forward and learn how to deal. Sometimes I wanted to give up and sometimes I almost did, but in the end, I am alive and moving forward the best I can.”

“I hope someday you’ll trust me enough to tell me,” Nick told her quietly. “I want tto take some of that burden away. I don’t even know why, but I really care about you and I don’t want you to hurt or feel alone.”

Selene placed her hand over his, gently pulling it away before she wrapped her hand in his and let them drop to her lap. “It’s strange to hear that from someone. I’ve mostly been on my own and never really had any friends like that.”

“Well, consider this a start to a new, better part of your life,” Nick told her with a grin. “I have decided I’m not letting you go.”

That brought a laugh from Selene that made Nick grin. “Decided that already, have you?”

Nick nodded and drug her over to him before wrapping his arms around her. “You’re mine now. I’m going to keep you forever and ever.”

Selene laughed, swatting at him as he began to playfully try to plant big, sloppy kisses on her forehead and cheeks. She was squealing and squirming in his arms, but soon began to poke him along the sides and his armpits. Nick began to jerk and tried to avoid her fingers, eventually loosening his arms around her before Selene hopped back with a triumphant look on her face. Nick grinned in return, then began to move toward her with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

“I’m still keeping you,” he told her as he inched closer.

Selene raised an eyebrow. “Is that so,” she challenged. “What if I run away?”

“I’ll find you,” Nick said with certainty.

“What if I say no?”

“I will convince you to say yes,” Nick informed her with a grin. “I might play a little dirty, too.”

“And what do you mean by that,” she inquired, leaning back as Nick got close.

Nick’s eyes drug up and down Selene’s figure before his eyes connected with hers again. “I might try to seduce you,” he admitted, his voice deepening. “I can be pretty convincing.”

Nick now had reached her and shifted to hover over her, gazing into her eyes with a similar intensity as he had done when they first met. “And I am quite certain I can make your body feel things you never thought was possible.”

The way Nick was positioned, his words, and the tone of his voice had Selene’s pulse racing and her breath coming quickly. Her pupils dilated, telling Nick just how much he was affecting her. His gaze turned to her lips before flickering back to her eyes.

“I want to kiss you so badly right now. I’ve been trying so hard not to push you or make a move on you so you will be comfortable and trust me, but,” he said, loosing his focus as his eyes caught her lips again, now parted as his affect intensified. Nick looked back in her eyes and licked his lips, clearly torn about what he wanted and what he felt he should do.

Selene could not react, frozen in a mix of desire and surprise. This was not what she had expected, but she wasn’t sure she didn’t want it, either.

Finally, Nick bent his head and kissed her forehead. “No, I’m not going to do that to you. We’ve been drinking and I don’t want to do anything that will make you uncomfortable later,” he decided before he pulled back slowly, then helped her sit back up.

“I’m sorry, Selene. I should control myself better than that,” Nick said with a sense of frustration directed inward. He turned to face the TV, rubbing his forehead with his fingers.

Selene, recovering from whatever had happened in that moment, shook her head and gave his thigh a pat. “It’s ok. Don’t be upset, it’s all good,” she assured him. “I’m not upset with you or anything like that, ok?”

Nick turned his head to look at her. He studied her expression for a long few moments before he relaxed a bit. “You sure? I don’t want you thinking that’s what I want from you.”

“I’m sure. Don’t worry about it. You’re lonely, you don’t seem to date, and lots of people get frisky when they drink,” she explained.

Nick wanted to tell her it wasn’t just the loneliness and alcohol, but he didn’t want to push it right now. She wasn’t mad and that’s all he cared about right now. Instead, he just nodded and they decided to start another movie, everything forgotten. Or at least, put aside.

Nick couldn’t forget how it felt to be hovering over her with her vulnerable and aroused. Had he have drank more, he might not have been able to stop himself from kissing her or going even further than that. As enjoyable as that might be, he didn’t want to risk making things complicated at this point. Like Angie said, this kind of woman needed time and he would give her that. He wanted her help, but he wanted her to be a willing part of things, rather than just someone he met up with for parties and such.

At some point, Nick realized that Selene was asleep, curled up against his side. He wasn’t sure when it happened, but he took a few moments to enjoy the warmth of her small frame against his side with one arm draped around her. She just seemed to fit right there, like she was made for that space at his side. The effects of the alcohol were fading, but the craving for her had remained and right now he wanted nothing more than to take her to bed and hold her while they slept. Tonight was the first night in a while his apartment didn’t feel lonely.

Nick was now resolved to convince her to to help him and stay with him here. It was closer to work, safer, and he could admit to himself that he had a selfish need to keep her close. He’d known some decent women over the years, but this was the first time he’d found one who was single and that he felt a connection with. A connection that was growing more and more powerful with each day.

“What the hell are you doing to me, Selene,” Nick asked under his breath.

Nick carefully pulled Selene in his lap and just held her for several minutes, relishing the sensation. She buried her head against his chest, which only made it harder to do what he needed to be. Everything in him wanted to keep her like this until she stirred in the morning. At the moment, he couldn’t think of anything more appealing.

Instead, he carefully got to his feet while cradling her against him. He made his way down the hall and into the guest room. Nick took care to put her in the ed without disturbing her sleep. After pulling the blanket up over her shoulder, he pressed a kiss to her temple. He then made his way out of the room, closing the door most of the way behind him. As he returned to the living room to shut things off, he had to wonder if he was playing with fire.

Could he really keep this on just a friendly level, or was he only seeing the beginning of something much deeper?

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