The week passed quickly. I continued to work with Ashley and was so busy I barely had time to think.
Shawna did not return. Apparently, she had a three-day shoot in Paris and would be back at Skyscraper on Monday. By then, I’d be working over in the Arts department. Alexander had suggested I do a week in each department (except Political Affairs, it was implied) so I could get a glimpse into each. After that, I’d “create my dream job.” He wanted me to invent the job I felt would fit my skills and my aspirations, as I saw it. I want you to wake up each morning excited to be alive and in love, and go to bed each night so happy and satisfied and secure that you can only smile at your devoted, besotted husband. I wasn’t sure exactly how to thank him for all his generosity and even more importantly, for his love. Actually, there were a few things I knew he liked – loved, in fact – so I could do my best to make sure he was as happy and satisfied as I was.
After work on Tuesday, Alexander and I drove in his limo to Saks Fifth Avenue, where we was greeted by a team of wedding dress salespeople in a private fitting room. I was shown twenty-five new-season designer gowns, all exactly my size, miraculously, like they’d been made for me or something. I chose a Vera Wang that was the most perfect thing I’d ever laid eyes on. It fit me like a dream. I’d never been terribly prone to princess fantasies but this dress made me feel like the most beautiful woman who’d ever walked the face of the earth, and Alexander made a point of confirming this not once or twice but at least a dozen times. After Saks, we drove directly to Tiffany & Co., where we were again taken to a private room. Alexander had already chosen a ring, but he wanted to make sure I was pleased with it. The sales guy, all decked out in Armani and suave subservience, presented twelve other diamond wedding bands, just in case I didn’t like the first one. (I liked the first one.) And after work on Wednesday, the limo again escorted us around town, first to a high-end wedding cake baker, then to a florist, and finally to a caterer, all of which presented us with and promised to deliver only the finest money could buy.
I had no idea about the price tag of anything. Alexander must have ordered all the salespeople to never, under any circumstances, mention money. Everything was paid for invisibly, as though this fabulous dress, this solid gold band with embedded diamonds that matched my engagement ring, this five-tier cake (decorated with pink peonies) and seven-course meal, to be served with top-rated French, Californian and New Zealand wines (Alexander, as it turned out, knew his wines) were free.
Eva had agreed to be my maid of honor and Alexander even called her – she told me this after the fact – and basically commanded her (she said) to go to Saks and pick out any dress she wanted and put it on his tab. She’d literally screamed in my ear before giving me a ten-minute description of her dress – a pale purple Zac Posen – and its price tag: four thousand eight hundred dollars. “I’ve never owned a dress this expensive. I haven’t owned a car this expensive. I’ve never owned anything this expensive,” she’d said.
Yeah, I wanted to say, it takes a little getting used to.
So go ahead and judge me. Oo, it’s so hard, you’re thinking. It’s so tough to be engaged to a billionaire. To be lavished with expensive gifts and jewelry and clothes and trips to Paris. Houses all over the world. Luxury beyond belief. And a car that I’d never even seen. A Porsche or something.
It wasn’t tough. It was just weird. Different. Liberating and at the same time scary, in a strange, intangible way. Like I was bartering pieces of myself I wasn’t sure I wanted to part with. There were actually times I wished Alexander was poor, like me. Just for a while. Just so we could be on equal footing for a time, to see what it felt like. But I was only human. Sure, most of the time, I just appreciated the plenty and the opulence and counted myself lucky on every imaginable front.
My deep-dark reservations were lingering symptoms of my upbringing, I knew. Little corners of my soul hated vulnerability. I’d been forced to stop relying on other people when I was seven years old. Always, I had to have an out, an escape route that I could control. It was the escape routes that had kept me sane, and alive.
With Alexander, I could let my guard down, though. Or at least try. Some days it was easier to do this than others.
It was Thursday night. I looked at my watch: 7:22. I was supposed to be meeting Alexander upstairs in his (our) apartment at 7:30. I’d worked late with Ashley, preparing a shoot she was calling “Hell’s Kitchen Hobo” that would be published in the November issue. The photographs were of models dressed to fit the scenes of a Hell’s Kitchen background: surrounded by kids playing baseball on the street, busking in the subway, playing chess against an old-man opponent in a back alley, ordering food at a deli counter. All supremely stylishly done in a way I could never have guessed at. It had been fascinating watching her put it all together. She was an absolute perfectionist. And she had a definite vision, which, after a lot of hard work, was beginning to shine through. It had been a long day.
As I stepped into the elevator my phone rang and I fished it out of my bag, hoping it was Alexander. I hadn’t talked to him since this morning. But the screen read Eva.
“Hey,” I said. I’d seen her only once since Alexander and I had returned from Paris, for a quick cup of coffee, but I’d spoken to her several times during the week about various details relating to the wedding.
“I was thinking.” Eva always did this. She never bothered with a greeting. She just launched into whatever it was she had on her mind. “Since you’re not having a formal rehearsal dinner or anything, I thought we should at least do something casual. Tomorrow night. I want to take you out. To celebrate your last night as an unmarried woman. We’ll hit the clubs and have a little fun.”
“I think we were planning to meet Jake for dinner tomorrow night.”
She was already acclimatizing to my attached-to-Alexander-at-the-hip mentality and she’d given up trying to recruit me for a girls’ night out. I’d be doing exactly the same thing if I’d landed that billionaire beefcake, was what she’d had to say about that. “He can come too. We’ll make it a double date,” she joked, adding, “Is he cute?”
I wasn’t sure how to reply to that one. Actually, yes, Eva. Jake’s not only cute but totally drop-dead gorgeous. He’s also a sweetheart. And, well, we’ll find out the length of his prison sentence tomorrow morning. Let me set you up. Personally, I thought Jake Wolfe was one of the most caring, gentle souls I’d ever known. But that soul just happened to be all wrapped up in crazy turmoil and rough edges and a badboy veneer.
Now that she mentioned it, I felt a little hesitant to even introduce them. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe because I knew – I knew – that as soon as she met him, Eva would want to hook up with him. She was a fun-loving girl and Jake was, well, hot. I wasn’t sure if I was looking after her best interests or his, but I could already see the writing on the wall. She’d flirt with him, he’d take her up on it in a casual I’m-about-to-go-to-jail-so-might-as-well-have-fun kind of way. She’d fall for him because he’s a hunky, sensitive badboy with a heart of gold. He wouldn’t return her phone calls because he’s distracted by, well, jail and she’d end up getting her heart broken or some such. I just had a feeling.
But it wasn’t up to me to control other people’s lives. They were both consenting adults who knew how to handle themselves. I should leave other people’s love lives up to them and concentrate on my own. Which was, to put it mildly, intense. I’d hardly slept last over the past few nights – who am I kidding?: over the past few months. At least in Paris we’d been able to sleep all day if we chose to. Now that we were back at work the schedule was getting a little gruelling. And Alexander had mentioned some secret, special plan for tonight that I was half-excited about and half-ready to tell him I just wanted to go to bed – to sleep.
I left out the part about Jake’s looks. “That sounds like fun. Where do you want to meet?”
We made a plan and I hung up. The elevator doors binged open and I stepped out to the penthouse apartment lobby. I found my key and let myself in, wondering if he’d be home yet.
It was quiet. Claude must have left already, and Alexander wasn’t in the living room, or kitchen.
The apartment was perfectly lit, styled, arranged. Ambient lighting complimented the night sky of the city down below. An open bottle of red wine, two glasses and a large, freshly-prepared antipasto platter sat on the coffee table. I took off my shoes and poured myself some wine. And I cut off a slice of brie and scooped a tiny silver teaspoon of caviar onto it. Then I ate a few olives. I took a sip of the wine.
The only sound was that silent whitenoise of a cocooned, perfect safety. We were sealed away in this high-up opulence. No one could touch us here.
I felt good. Happy. That this was my life. I could appreciate every twinkling light, every morsel of food, every sip of the silky, tannic wine, with the gratefulness of someone who had always, before now, gone without.
I wanted Alexander. Now that I was away from the bustle and rush of Skyscraper, I suddenly missed him with a ferocity that washed over me. I wanted to tell him how safe he made me feel. I wanted to show him and share with him and lavish him with my love, to make sure he knew. That was the thing about us: we had filled a void in each other and this new feeling of completion was more addictive than any drug.
I walked up the stairs. The bedroom door was closed and I opened it quietly. I could hear him talking. On the phone. He was sitting in the alcove off his room, a roomy space which he used as a private office. Before I could even hear what he was saying, I could tell by his tone he was pissed off about something, and agitated. He was making an effort to placate whoever it was on the other end of the phone.
“Don’t say that. I’m not listening to that kind of bullshit. I mean it. You don’t know her. You don’t know anything.” Instantly, I knew exactly who he was talking to. I could sense it, and it became clear soon enough that my instincts had guessed right. “I know you don’t want to accept it but you have to,” he said, gruffly. “I’ve already told you: it’s over. I don’t know what else I can say to you to get you to understand –” A brief pause. “No. It wouldn’t change anything. There’s no point. Meeting with you won’t change my mind. I’ve tried to explain to you the best way I know how, Shawna. There’s nothing else to say. We had a good time, but it’s over now. Move on, please. I’m serious. I made my decision and I’m – ” Another long pause, into which he sighed heavily. “Look, crying’s not going to – No. I can’t. I won’t. You have to accept it, Shawna. Please, deal with it. It’s over.”
I could have felt angry. I could have walked out. I could have stood there and listened, since he was still unaware of my presence, to hear how the conversation played out. To see if he would put a foot wrong, if he would waver it his commitment to me, if he would agree to see her and hear her out. I could have cringed at the thought of her accusations. Her name-calling, which I had no doubt she was laying out to Alexander in all their gory details. You gold-digging fucking whore. I know your type. You’re just after him for his money.
I felt like taking his phone and calmly saying into it, No. I’m not after him for his money. I’m after him for his heart and his head and his hands. His arms. His eyes.
I did none of those things.
Instead, I walked over to where he was sitting.
At first he didn’t notice me. His focus was still out across the night-lit horizon as he carried on his frustrated conversation. I could see that his clenched fist was resting on his thigh.
I touched my fingertips to his hair, smoothing along the side of his head. He looked up at me, and his eyes widened when he saw me. I leaned over him, gently, silently kissing his cheek. Then I pulled back.
I didn’t say anything and neither did he. But her voice was there, between us. This seemed to aggravate Alexander beyond belief.
“Look,” he said brusquely into his phone. “I have to go now. I’ve told you how it is. I’m sorry, Shawna, but it’s over. Please accept that. There’s nothing more to say. Goodbye.” With that, Alexander ended the call, muted his phone, and tossed it aside. “Hey,” he said to me, his voice dark-edged, unsettled.
He was in a volatile mood, I could see this. I knew this mood. I’d seen it before. And the feverish glint in his black eyes was enough to pique a tiny, suppressed sense of self-preservation in me. He stood up. He looked huge, hulking, strong. He was shirtless and the play of his muscles, taut and powerful, was riveting. If I didn’t know him so well and trust him so implicitly, I could have allowed a whispered thread of intimidation to settle. Just from the size and obvious strength of him. As it was, I let the feeling slide, and forced it to fall away.
I concentrated on his beauty. The waved flicks of his thick dark hair. The heavenly shape of his mouth, even as he sneered. “I suppose you’re mad at me, are you?” he scowled.
“No, not mad. Other things, but not mad.”
“I’m done answering her phone calls. She keeps asking to see me, but I’ve told her no.” He went silent, like he was waiting for an emotional outburst.
“Okay,” I said. “Is she all right?”
“She’s pissed off.”
“I guess that’s fair enough.” Silence. “Are you all right?”
“I can’t change the way I feel.”
He stared down at me, as though challenging me.
“I’m not mad at you, Alexander. Why would I be?”
“That was Shawna.”
“Yes. I figured that out.”
“She keeps calling me.”
“She doesn’t want to let you go. I can’t blame her for that.”
“I’ve told her it’s over.”
“I heard that.”
“I’ve done my best to let her down easy, but she’s fighting me all the way. I don’t want to keep repeating myself.”
“I wouldn’t either.”
He contemplated me and his expression was aggressive, both offensive and defensive. When I didn’t say anything else, he exhaled harshly. “You’re not going to have a big blow-out over it? Accuse me of secretly talking to my ex every time you leave the room?”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because every other woman I know would have some big fucking ballistic tirade over it.”
I wasn’t sure what had gotten into him. I guessed it might have something to do with the fact that tomorrow morning Jake’s sentence would be delivered. And Shawna was clearly frustrating him beyond belief. More than I realized. “I guess the obvious answer to that is that … I’m not every other woman.”
He was still glaring at me, as though he wasn’t sure I was being entirely honest with him.
“You already explained it to me,” I said. “How you feel. I believe you. I trust you.”
This information seemed to flick some invisible switch in Alexander. He went very quiet but his body practically hummed with tension. “You trust me,” he finally said.
Again, he stared down at me. “Prove it.”
“I said: prove it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I’m just about going insane, trying to live my life like this. With you in it but somewhere else. Somewhere where I can’t see you or touch you. And even when we are together, you keep things from me. You hold back. What I want you to do, Lila, is to prove you trust me. I want you to give in to me completely. Tonight. I want you to submit to me. Anything I want.”
“I –” His manner was both freaking me out and leeching into me in an entirely different way, touching that under-surface lust he seemed to so easily reach.
“No pulling away. No not answering my questions. Just honesty and trust. Just giving in.”
“I already do all that,” I said, feeling strangely shy.
“No.” His hand was on my arm. His long fingers circled my wrist.
“Alexander.” He was pushing too hard. He knew I had places in me he couldn’t go. My heart was pounding in my chest at the gentle vice-grip of his fingers. He was pulling his belt out of its loops.
“All the way.” He slowly, slowly unzipped my dress, peeling it off my shoulders. He let it fall to the floor. He just stood there, waiting for me to adjust. To allow. He kissed my lips in a light, erotic brush. His fingers found the clasp of my bra and he pulled it off.
I was breathing more heavily now. I could be more abandoned with Alexander than I’d ever been. But this, something in this was different. He was searching deeper. Looking for locked, hidden secrets. I didn’t know how I felt, or how I should feel. I could feel long-buried abysses in my soul pulse in a dark, painful rhythm. Very, very gently, he gripped both my wrists in front of me. He began to loop his belt around them. “Do you trust me?”
“I don’t need to –”
“I need you to. I need you to let me learn you. I won’t hurt you.” He pulled the belt tighter. Around my wrists. Manacling me. Trapping me.
Unearthing a horrific, surging flashback.
You stay put, girl. Learn your place. You ain’t goin’ nowhere. If tyin’ you up is the only way to make you obey, then tyin’ you up’s what I’ll have to do. Now, hold still while I –
I made a small moan, a spoken exhale. There was something alarming about that sound. Like a wounded animal. I pulled away from him, but the belt and his grip were too tight. Rolling waves of panic sparked and whined in a high-pitched noise in my brain. “Stop,” I said. “Take it off. Take it off!”
He let the belt fall from my wrists, and dropped it to the floor. He didn’t touch me, just spoke to me in a low, calming voice. It took several seconds before I could focus. Time seemed off somehow, elastic and surreal. I looked at his face. “It’s me, Lila. Me. Alexander. Your Alexander. Look at me.”
I did. I looked at him. I looked in his eyes and I could see his own alarm. Beyond that, I could see his dawning understanding. Right there in the gold flecks of his irises. He’d learned something about me he’d never known.
“You’re all right, Lila. You’re safe. Look at me. I won’t hurt you. I love you. I’m here to protect you. You’re safe. You’re all right.”
It was bizarre: my knees didn’t feel like they could support me anymore. Alexander caught me and I flinched at the contact but he hugged me closer, lowering us to the floor where he cradled me on his lap and held me while I cried.
I’m sorry, he was saying. It’s good. Let it out. Let it go.
I don’t know how long we sat there like that, me crying, him crooning to me in a low litany of reassurances. It helped. It was working. He seemed to know exactly what to say. The cage fell away. His arms began to feel familiar again, like the safety net I knew them to be.
I could see the walls, the windows. Reality was returning to me. The old shabby house was gone. The peeling wallpaper and locked doors. The iron bed with the sagging mattress. Gone. Replaced by shining windows and glittering lights. Soft, clean carpeting and expensive leather furniture.
“Right here, honey girl.”
I looked up at him. His expression was soft, so incredibly beautiful. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why –”
“It’s okay. That’s what I’m here for. To catch you.”
“I remembered something.”
“Tell me,” he said, gently playing a curl of my hair. “Just a little. It’ll help. It always helped Jake, too.”
Jake. Of course. Jake had suffered, too. And Alexander had been the one to guide him out of the darkness and back out into the light. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Tell me one thing. Just one. Every one thing you let go of loosens it. Digs it up and lets it fly away. You’ll feel lighter afterwards. Try it. I’ll close my eyes.”
“It always made it easier for Jake if I closed my eyes when he talked about stuff. When he was little.”
Alexander closed his eyes. It did make it feel easier, weirdly. But it was difficult to start. Too difficult.
“Just one thing,” Alexander said softly.
I kept my eyes open. I looked at Alexander’s face. His soft, thick hair that I loved. “He used to use ropes. Those hard, thin yellow ones that hurt when you try to break free.”
I fell silent. The residual anguish was making my stomach feel hollow, and sick.
I took a deep breath and it felt like I was inhaling into corners that were so old and dusty and dank I almost coughed. But it felt good. To get some fresh air in there. “Once he kept me tied up for a whole week. He’d bring food and water but he’d only give it to me if I –”
Alexander’s eyes opened. I could see the layers of his emotion in vivid detail: the sorrow, the fury, the pain. When I didn’t continue, he said, “He’s gone now, you know.”
“What?” My voice sounded scratchy and tired.
“I tracked him down. Just so I could –”
“What? Why?” I sat up, panicky and unhinged. “Why would you do that?”
“He’s dead, Lila.”
I felt my eyes widen in horror. “You –”
“I didn’t kill him. Jesus. I mean, I could have. But I didn’t. He drove his car off the road in the middle of the night a few years ago. Drunk. I had a private investigator look into it. Just so I could make sure he … never re-surfaced.”
“Oh my god,” I heard myself gasp. “He’s dead?”
“Yes. Gone. You can deal with what happened to you and move on. I’ll help you. I want to help you break free of it. I know that’s easier said than done but I’m here for you, honey. Right here.”
“He’s dead,” I said again.
It was true what Alexander had said. I felt lighter. I felt free and light and so exhausted I let the tears do their thing and I closed my eyes. Alexander picked me up and carried me to the warm expanse of his bed, where he wrapped his arms around me and held me close.
I did not dream and the black sleep fell over me like a kind of death.
At some point in the night, I woke up. It wasn’t a gradual, drowsy transition but a sudden, eyes-wide-open awareness. It took me a second to figure out where I was. When I looked over at the digital clock on Alexander’s bedside table it read 3:48.
There was an unfamiliar looseness in me, as Alexander had said there would be. Like some locked, guarded, torturous door in my psyche had been opened, just a crack, letting light in. I felt an urge to act on it. To open it further. Now that I understood the healing effect that one small confession could give me, I wanted more. I wanted to tell him everything so I could, as he’d said it, Let it out. Let it go.
Alexander was asleep. He lay on his stomach, as he often did when he slept. His arm was slung around his pillow and his face was softly lit by the blue-gold light of the far-away city.
I let my fingers gently drift across his muscular shoulder. “Alexander?” I whispered. I almost changed my mind. He should sleep. He worked so hard. I was learning, after almost a full work week together, that Alexander worked like he did everything else: all in. I wasn’t surprised by this at all, of course. You don’t become a billionaire off your own steam by the age of thirty-three without some serious grit, sweat and dedication. If I hadn’t known beyond a shadow of a doubt that Alexander would want me to wake him up with this, that he’d be downright furious if he knew I was even second-guessing myself, I might not have done it. As it was, I wanted to talk to him. To tell him everything that made me hold back from him, emotionally. Because I knew he wanted to hear it.
“Alexander?” I said again.
“Mmm?” He stirred and his eyes opened. He sort of jerked awake, suddenly alert, looking around the room as though there might be a threat. “What?”
“I’m sorry to wake you.”
Again he scanned the room, then looked at my face. “What’s up? You all right?”
“Can I talk to you?”
He seemed to understand completely. He rolled onto his back and let his head fall back to his pillow. He laced his hands behind his head. “Of course you can, honey. You know that. You know you’re safe with me.” That’s what I’m here for, he’d said. To catch you.
“First of all I want to say something to you,” I said. “To thank you. For being the most decent human being I know. For being so kind to me.”
His mouth quirked in a self-deprecating scowl, like he completely disagreed with the part about him being a decent human being. But he might have sensed that I would balk at the whole spill-my-deepest-darkest-memories gig if I was interrupted too soon.
“Are you sure you don’t mind? You don’t want to go back to sleep?”
“No. I want to listen to you.”
“Where should I start?” I asked, feeling lost.
“At the beginning.”
So I did. “I … I was ten years old. He came to live with us. My mother was excited. She cut back on the drinking for a while, at the very beginning. I guess we felt like it was going to be … like having a family. Something we’d never really felt we had, either one of us. The two of us alone was … well, it was lonely. She couldn’t handle the loneliness and I couldn’t seem to fill that void that my father had left when he walked out on us.”
I paused and Alexander moved his arm, to weave his fingers through mine. It was just the kind of comfort I needed. I kept going.
“She wanted to impress him so she ran the house almost like a normal house for the first month or so. Kept it clean. Cooked dinner and we ate it at the table. But she still never quite seemed able to leave the bottle alone. By night-time she’d be drunk again. She’d miss things. Like the way he looked at me when her back was turned. Or maybe she didn’t miss it. Maybe that’s why the drinking got so bad. I always thought mothers were supposed to protect their children but that’s just not the way it was. She was always passed out by nine or ten at night. And once she was asleep, he would come to my room.”
I focused on the warmth of Alexander’s hand. He didn’t close his eyes this time but his gaze was gentle, on the fingers he softly played.
“You know I always thought of what he did as the worst thing a person could do – and it was. I was a vulnerable child. But lately I’ve started to see it a little differently. It was bad. Awful. But it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. He never … took it all the way. There was never a time – not even once – when he was … inside me, not in any way –”
Here, I faltered. Alexander rode it out, this silence, letting me take my time. His hands were so warm, his eyes so incredibly dark.
“It only lasted three months. Not long, really. Not long enough to completely de-rail me for life, I guess. I was his prisoner, but he was very careful not to leave evidence. No bruises, no scars. Not the kind you could see, at least. He was very particular about what was allowed, and what he wanted. It was always the same.”
A few sickening flashbacks came to mind and I let them play out. The pain in my head and my heart was vivid and sharp, but then the images flickered, and the pain began to fade. Just a little.
“I didn’t always obey. I fought him. That’s why he used the ropes, and locked the door. He knew I would run. But I never cried, not once.
“One night, though – that last night – he forgot to secure the ropes. He’d drunk too much. He was very drunk. Stumbling, ranting drunk. He couldn’t –“ It was too difficult to get some of these words out, so I skipped those and kept going. It was enough, anyway. I could feel the long-carried fear beginning to unravel. It was a frightening yet at the same time intensely liberating feeling. “He left my hands tied but he didn’t tie the other end of the rope to the bed, like he usually did. And he forgot to lock the door. I waited til the house was quiet. And I left. I took a blanket and some clothes, and I ran. I didn’t stop until I found I place I could try to cut the rope. There was an old fence with a rusted piece of metal I used as a saw. I couldn’t even dress until my hands were free but it didn’t matter in the dark of night. I was alone. Very, very alone. I cut myself on that fence but I didn’t even notice until the next day. I didn’t even feel it until I saw the dried blood in the morning. And my feet were all cut from running with no shoes on. I swam in the cold river to wash it off. And after that, I lived wherever I could find shelter. A chicken coop, under a bridge or in a barn or sometimes under the canopy of a tree. I never spent more than a night or two in each place. I didn’t want to get discovered. In case they took me back.
“Then once I went back to school, my teacher noticed, of course. I was put into foster care for a while. But then there was another man, looking at me that same way. I ran before it started all over again. And then, they took me back to my mother, after he left. Somebody somewhere must have known what was going on because they never took me back home while he was still there, and he stayed another six months. So then I got returned to my mother and she must have fooled them or something because she was so far gone by then I might as well have been living alone. It would have been easier.” I stopped. I sighed. A light barely-there sigh that was a beginning. Let it go. I felt like that’s exactly what I was starting to do. I’d blocked it out of my mind for so long it felt strange now and somehow wildly therapeutic to tell the story. To let Alexander share the burden and the echo images.
“You’ve been badly hurt, honey, but you’re not damaged,” Alexander said, and his voice was so steady and so sure I knew I could believe him. “Not really. You can heal if you let yourself.”
“I already am healing. Because of you.” I paused, taking a minute to think about how to say what I wanted to say. “You know how you said when you met me, on that very first day, that you felt different. You felt a connection to me you never even thought was possible, because you’d never experienced anything like that before. Well I did too. I felt free, for the very first time. And it was a freedom that was strangely … safe. I felt safe with you in a way that didn’t even make sense. I was so used to being afraid. But with you, there was no fear. Just excitement. And an unexplained comfort. And there was something about the combination that made me feel like I was more alive than I’d ever been.”
I gently squeezed his hand, concentrating on the clever play of sinew and bone. I smiled at him and felt a light heat on my face as I said, “I guess my reaction to you was a little … unusual. I’d definitely never had that kind of … response … well, to anyone.”
“Our reaction to each other was definitely unusual. I sure wouldn’t change a thing, though, sweetheart. Not a single thing.”
“So I wanted to tell you: I don’t blame you if you have second thoughts about anything. I know I carry a lot of baggage and I’m sorry about that. I’m glad you know, though. I don’t want to have secrets from you, Alexander.”
He rolled over onto his side and cupped my face with his hand. “Oh, no. No way. I don’t ever want to hear you apologizing to me. Not for that. Not for being who you are. I want you just like this. It’s okay to have baggage, honey. We all have it. None of us are unscathed by life. What I want to do with your baggage is unpack it and rearrange it. Throw away the stuff you don’t need anymore and replace it with stuff that makes you happy. That’s my job as your … as your husband. If you’ll have still have me after I keep fucking up and hurting you.”
“You haven’t hurt me. You helped me.”
He looked thoughtful, and he ran a hand along his jaw. “I need to apologize too. For a couple of things.”
“What two things?”
“Well, you know that night … that poker night?”
I could feel myself blush. “Yes.”
“I don’t know how I ever let that go as far as it did.” He ran a hand through his hair, like he did when he was angst-ridden about something. “I mean, I would never, ever share you. I was quite simply blinded by lust and I couldn’t even see past you. I’m sorry about that. I promise to never let anything like that happen again.”
I couldn’t help almost smiling. Actually, I didn’t regret any of that night. Or any other night with Alexander. It had all been so … abandoned. That new freedom, I guess. The one inspired by the sense of security Alexander seemed to radiate. “You don’t need to apologize for that. That was my fault. For getting so carried away.”
“No. Not your fault. My fault.”
“I don’t see why it has to be anyone’s ‘fault’. It was a wild night that’s now over.”
“And those French chicks, too. I don’t –” Alexander’s face was almost comically outraged over the memory. “I don’t know how that even happened. The whole girl-on-girl thing, and having them touch us both … then watching us. It’s not something I’m proud of, is what I’m trying to say. That I would put you in that position.”
I exhaled a small chuckle. His concern was so adorable. He though I was mad at him because he’d shared me in the heat of several scorching sexual escapades. “I thought it was fun.” I had thought it was fun. The whole thing had been ridiculously sensual. “I should also be the one apologizing for that one, too, if an apology is required, which it isn’t. I’m the one who invited them back to our hotel. And sort of … started the whole thing. I shared you, too, remember?” I bit my lip. “Well, sort of.”
“You were actually fairly insistent about not sharing me, if I recall correctly.”
“Yes, I was, wasn’t I?”
There it was: his slow smile.
“I’ll forgive you if you forgive me,” I said. “I think everything was just so new and so uncontrollable. Unchartered territory. I think we were both just going with it.”
“Yeah, we were, weren’t we? We really were.” The look he gave me was so filled with love, and a subtle, careful lust. In light of all the revelations that had gone down tonight, he was keeping himself under control. It was one of my favorite things to do, though, I’ll be the first to admit: I loved breaking through Alexander’s control. And I felt positively buoyant, like years of dull weight had been lifted, and my peripheral vision was no longer black and hidden, but instead new and somehow sparked.
I kissed him. Slowly. Tenderly. But he pulled away. “Honey girl?”
“I don’t want to share you any more, though, okay? I want you all to myself. Just you and me.”
I kissed him again. “Okay. Just you and me.”
“Are you okay? Do you want to talk more? Do you feel okay? What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to close your eyes.”
He stared at me first, trying to interpret my request. I waited for him to obey, which, after a few seconds, he did. His eyes closed. It was strange: Alexander and I shared a bond that was incredibly tactile. That had been our very first connection. The meandering, forging love had grown out of this wild, uninhibited lust. We could communicate with our bodies, at times, what we couldn’t always put into words. I loved him. I felt so fortunate to have found him. And I needed the comfort of his touch as much as the comfort of his understanding. I kissed his mouth, suckling his bottom lip, flicking little licks into his mouth with my tongue. I kissed a line down his neck, his chest.
“Lila, are you sure? You –” He drew in a slow breath when my fingers brushed against his hot, rigid shaft.
I was sure. And I loved the textures of his big, hard body, dusted with hair and quilted with ridge upon ridge of perfectly-placed muscle. “I need you,” I whispered, kissing the arrow line of black hair down his stomach, taking the head of his cock between my lips, nipping him, licking slowly. I took more of him, sucking him like I was drawing some kind of fortifying strength from him greedily, like a drug. I knew exactly what he liked and I could read the reactions of his body with practiced precision. I wasn’t going to make him come yet, just stoke the rising bliss in him, milking him with my mouth as I tasted his mounting, dewed pleasure. The lingering tumult of my emotions was driving me in desperate, driven directions as I gripped him harder and sucked him deeper.
His strong hands were guiding me. He was pulling me up his body. I suckled him again before I let go, letting my hands grip him, biting his chest as he pulled me up to him. He could feel the frenzy in me, and he used his arms and his words to calm me. “It’s all right. Come here. Let me give you pleasure, too,” he was saying. “You’re going to come with me. Together. That’s my girl.”
He laid me back against the pillows, kissing me, giving me everything I needed. His fingers found my core and he fed his massive cock into me, slowly, slowly, making sure I was wet enough to take him, easing himself inside. I tipped my hips up to him to receive him, whispering love words in his ear as he forced the dazzling pleasure into me and his surging, flooding shaft brought me to a lustrous, shattering peak.
After, we lay there for a long time, replete and completed, awed by the beauty of this connection.
There were no words.