Aaliyah’s ascent to full consciousness was gentle and leisurely, her mind lingering in the realms of her dreams as if hesitant to return to reality. Before even opening her eyes she was aware of the wonderfully relaxed state of her body, her muscles free of tension in a way they hadn’t been for some time. As she rose out of the deep sub consciousness of sleep, she gradually became aware of strong arms around her body and the feeling of incredible warmth and security. Instinctively, she snuggled against the warm softness and gave a feminine sigh, only to have it returned by a deeper, masculine one.
Instantly, Aaliyah was much more alert. She cracked an eye open only to discover an unruly mass of blond hair under her chin that could only belong to one person she knew. And that’s when the memories of last night’s events all came flooding back.
She had made love to Jason right here in this bed and it had been by far one of the most euphoric and amazing things she had ever experienced as he took her to the heights of pleasure during the joining of their bodies.
However, she was back where she had started with the dilemma of what to do now. The champagne had embolden her like never before and was now butt naked, tangled up with the man of her dreams who had no idea about her past or that she was even married. But if they had any chance for a future, he’d have to know. She couldn’t keep up this facade much longer. He needed answers as much as she didn’t want to give them.
She could do this. She had to do this.
Aaliyah closed her eyes, as if trying to summon some strength inside her.
Alright. She told herself. Tonight, I will tell him. I will tell Jason everything there is to know about me.
Before she could dwell further into her thoughts, a husky voice whispered in her ear as the hand on her back began to stroke her skin with light touches.
“Good morning,” he rasped and she couldn’t help but smile. It felt so good to be the center of someone’s world, to be needed.
“Good morning,” she murmured, snuggling back against him as his arms tightened around her.
“I had a great time last night,” he whispered against her neck as his fingers stopped just short of the place where the skin parted into two plump lips before traveling back towards her navel.
“Me too,” she smiled demurely.
“How would you like to come over to my place after work tonight?” he asked. “We could have a real dinner instead of going out.”
Aaliyah pushed herself up on her elbow to look at him. “Jason Moore, are you cooking tonight?”
He chuckled. “Are you poking fun at my cooking skills?”
She feigned to be deeply shocked. “I would never.”
“You’re a horrible liar,” he smiled. “If you don’t trust my cooking, I could take you out instead?”
She giggled and kissed his lips. “I’m just teasing. I have complete faith in your cooking skills,” she murmured against his lips.
Jason gently pushed Aaliyah onto her back and eased his body on top of hers. He smiled down at her warmly before dipping his head to kiss her softly, tongue lazily sliding over her bottom lip. She cooed as he trailed kisses to her ear and then finally down to the valley between her breasts where he seemed content to stay, nuzzling the soft peaks playfully.
“Then it’s a date,” he murmured against her flesh, blue eyes gazing at her over gently curving breasts.
Neither said anything for a moment and the silence stretched between them as Aaliyah tried to delay the inevitable, but she knew they couldn’t stay here forever.
“I should get ready,” she said reluctantly. “I have to be at the diner here soon to help Samantha open.”
He gave a slight nod and Aaliyah wriggled out of his grasp, stretching languidly as she padded to the bathroom. Jason couldn’t help but admire her delicious backside as she walked away. A moment later he heard the toilet flush and the shower turn on, and Aaliyah stuck her head out to ask him if he cared to join her, her lips quirked in a mischievous grin.
The thought of lathering up her nude body was too tantalizing to pass up, and he wasted no time throwing off the covers and swinging his legs over the bed. Aaliyah giggled and ducked back inside, stepping into the already steamy shower.
As he followed her inside, he didn’t mind at all that her shower was rather cramped when occupied by two people. In fact, he realized that in this moment, there was no place he would rather be.
Aaliyah couldn’t help but smile as she entered the diner to start her shift. Even after she left the house this morning, her head was full of nothing but Jason. She couldn’t quite believe what had transpired but knew that what they had done hadn’t satiated her lust for him, but fueled it further. Even their steamy encounter in the shower hadn’t quenched her thirst. He had pressed her against the wall and made love to her all over again under the hot spray of the shower, loving how she was forced to cling to him in her unstable position, or risk slipping and falling.
“Someone’s lively this morning.” Samantha quirked a brow, her half open eyes bloodshot, and yawned.
“And someone looks a little hungover.” Aaliyah observed.
“Well, then I’m putting up a good front, Lia, ’cause I’m actually a lot hungover.” she sassed, pursing her lips into a pout.
Aaliyah giggled and turned around to look at her, but continued walking backwards to the front counter to grab her apron. “Perhaps next time you should schedule the party on a day where we don’t have to work the following morning.”
“Agreed,” Samantha yawned again. “So what’s got you in such a good mood this morning? I figured with the amount of champagne you downed last night you’d be in the same boat as I.”
Aaliyah stared at her as she tied her apron around her waist. “First off, I didn’t drink anywhere near as much as you did last night, thank you very much. Secondly, perhaps I just woke up in a good mood.”
“You had sex with Jason, didn’t you?”
The blunt question clearly caused Aaliyah no end of mortification. A scarlet flush cascaded over her entire face and neck.
“You dirty little minx!” Samantha practically shouted, jumping out of her seat.
Aaliyah glanced around nervously. The people closest to them were starting to stare, and she couldn’t really blame them. Samantha had been loud and none too subtle.
“Samantha, will you quiet down?”
Rolling her eyes, Samantha grabbed Aaliyah by the elbow and dragged her down the hall and into the employee’s lounge.
“This confirms it, right? You told him about you?” Samantha asked.
“Well, not exactly…”
Samanthan could only stare with her mouth agape.
“You can’t be serious?” Samantha said coldly.
“Will you stop berating me for one second and just listen to what I have to say?” Aaliyah asked.
Samantha huffed and said, “Fine, what?”
“Jason invited me over for dinner tonight at his place,” Aaliyah explained. “I’m telling him everything tonight, okay?”
“Y-you’re really going to tell him?” Samantha stammered, becoming wide eyed with surprise as her anger was now forgotten.
A smile slowly spread over Aaliyah’s lips and despite her best efforts, tears formed in her eyes. “I am,” she sniffled. “But I’m scared, Samantha. I’m scared because I think I’m in love with him. What if he wants to break things off afterwards?”
Samantha smiled warmly, embracing her friend. “It’s all going to work out fine. I promise.” She reassured softly.
“So what’s this amazing recipe you’re whipping up for us tonight?” Aaliyah asked from the passenger seat. She turned and met Jason’s brief gaze as he took his eyes off the road for a few seconds to look at her.
“Baked courgette and wild mushroom risotto.” he answered with a proud smirk to his face.
“Oh? Sounds fancy.” She mused, smiling.
“The recipe is in the glovebox. Check it out.”
When Aaliyah opened the glove department there was a pistol. She went pale. Memories of Nathan pressing his gun to her forehead flashed through her mind. She swallowed hard and slammed the glove box shut and glanced out the passenger side window.
“Lia?” he asked. “You okay?”
She nodded mutely.
“Sweetheart, talk to me. What’s wrong?”
Aaliyah clasped her hands in her lap, twisting her fingers. “You carry a gun?” She whispered hesitantly.
He paused. “Only for protection.” he replied. “It’s Texas. A lot of us carry handguns down here.”
She stayed quiet.
“I take it you’ve had a bad experience when it comes to guns.”
She nodded and said in a near whisper, “Yeah.”
She shook her head. “No,”
Jason paused. “The person you’re running from?”
She hesitated then finally nodded. “Yes.”
Jason removed one hand on the wheel and placed a hand on her thigh. “Sweetheart, I would never hurt you nor will I let someone else hurt you again. I promise you.”
Her eyes brimming with tears she looked up at him, biting her lower lip to keep the tears at bay. “I know.”
“If you want, when you’re ready, I can show you how to use one.” he offered.
She nodded again. “Okay.”
When they arrived at Jason’s place, Jason immediately went into the kitchen and started to prepare dinner. He went to work heating the chicken stock in the pan, then warming olive oil in another pan. He added the arborio rice with a splash of white wine. While he waited for it to bubble, he was aware of Aaliyah watching him from the far end of the counter. It’d been a long time since he’d cooked for a woman, and he found he still enjoyed it.
“You’ve gotten more confident with your cooking,” she mused.
“I should hope so. The recipes you left me have been a great help.” He added the heated stock to the rice.
Aaliyah grinned. “Good to hear.”
He returned her smile as he sautéed the mushrooms. Once he had them completed, he added it to the risotto and sprinkled in the parmesan. He then divided the meal onto two plates, turned, and held one out to her. “Bon appétit.”
“This looks amazing.”
Aaliyah took the plate and sat down at the wooden kitchen table. He took the chair across from her, watching as she dipped her spoon in and took a bite. Her eyes closed and a low moan came from her.
“It’s delicious. Possibly the best thing I’ve ever had.” she answered truthfully.
Relief had him releasing a breath. “Really?”
“Really,” she replied, with a giggle.
“I’m glad you like it.”
As they ate, they chatted casually about their day and how Jason would be helping his father tend to the vineyard a little more frequently than he has been. He even offered to show her the process of wine making, which was something she had always been curious about.
After she took the last bite, she dropped the spoon in the bowl. “Jason, that was delicious.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” he smiled. “Maybe tomorrow…”
Aaliyah didn’t hear what Jason said next. All she could think about was would he even want her after tonight. There was no point in delaying the inevitable. It was time.
She regarded him closely, her smile fading. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
Jason put his spoon down. “Uh-oh. That’s never good. Are you breaking up with me?”
Aaliyah’s eyes widened slightly. “What? No. Well...depending on how this conversation goes, you might call things off with me.”
Jason looked at her, his brow furrowed with confusion. “Why’s that?”
She took a deep breath to steady her nerves. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently, about you and about us. What happened last night was a big step for both of us. But when I woke up this morning, it made me realize something.”
She hesitated, wondering where to begin, then slowly started, “During my time here with you, I’ve come to realize that you are a man of deep feelings, who cares about others. You’re a man who believes in honesty and integrity. But I have to tell you some stuff about my past. And it’s not all stuff that you’re going to like.”
“You can tell me anything.”
She shifted her weight slightly and reached into her back pocket and pulled out her old identification card. She stood and walked over to him slowly before handing it to him.
Jason glanced down at her driver’s license, brushing his thumb lightly across her picture. He seemed to absorb this and remained quiet for a moment.
“Can I ask you a question?” Jason said finally.
He paused. “Everything you told me during our time together, about you, about your parents. Was any of that even true or was it all just a lie?”
“It was all true. I wouldn’t make something up like that.” She told him.
He exhaled, as if relieved. “So, what should I call you?”
“Aaliyah. Lia.” she answered.
“Does Samantha know about this?” he whispered.
For a moment Aaliyah said nothing, unsure whether or not to answer. Finally she nodded.
“Yes,” she admitted. “That night at the bar, after everything that occurred with that man. I was overwhelmed. I had to tell someone...someone that I could trust at the time.”
His shoulders slumped and sadness flickered behind his eyes.
“You trusted Samantha, the biggest motor-mouth in Port Isabel. Yet, you couldn’t trust me with something like this, even after I told you that I was here for you?”
She looked down at him apologetically. “Please trust me when I say this whole situation is more complicated than you’ll ever realize. You’re the first guy I’ve come to trust since...”
“Since?” he prompted.
“Since I left my husband back in Los Angeles.”
He shook his head, his eyes wide.
“Legally yes. But I’m no longer with him.”
He turned away slightly, raking his fingers through his hair. The dark blond strands stuck every which way.
“We were sophomores. We met at a frat party and I fell in love with him. A few years later we got married. After that, he...” She trailed off, lost in the memory she was trying so hard to bury.
How could she possibly explain how naïve she had been, to stay with a man who’d beat her, who’d let him rape her.
She shook her head listlessly. “He hurt me.”
His eyes fixed on her protectively.
“I tried to fight him off,” She whispered. This time, she couldn’t swallow away the tears that fell free down her face. Her limbs felt weak and heavy, weighed down by her past and the reality that losing whatever she had with Jason to it would be a crushing blow.
Jason’s jaw clenched, and he sat back, running his hands down his face. The momentary separation from his touch physically hurt, the places where their skin had met ached for his return. She needed the contact as an affirmation that this new knowledge wouldn’t color how he felt about her. A sickness twisted inside her at the thought.
“The beatings, the threats and the rapes. Every day it grew worse. And when he pressed that gun to my forehead, a part of me wanted him to pull that trigger so it would all end. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to leave. ” She said weakly through her tears, wishing Jason would respond.
His expression was frozen with a nameless emotion.
“I’m damaged goods.”
“Stop.” The authoritative bite to his voice gave her pause.
“You’re not damaged, Lia.”
She swallowed hard, wishing she could believe him. “I’m simply stating the obvious. It doesn’t make sense for you to want to be with someone like me anyway. You should be dating someone with an uncomplicated past, not someone like...me.” Her voice caught as the words left her.
“I’m not interested in anyone else.”
“Well, that makes no fucking sense, you realize that? I’m a mess. I mean, just look at me.”
“I do. Frequently, in fact. You’ve been driving me crazy from the moment we first met. You’re all I think about.”
“Now, I have you. No best friend, no sister, no crazy ex-wife, and you’re trying to come up with every reason to scare me off. If you think this changes things, you’re wrong.”
How he could still want her, she would never know.
“I don’t want you to get hurt, Jason. If something were to happen to you because of me, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
Jason pushed away from the table and stood. “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again,” He moved to stand in front of her. “I don’t care.”
“You deserve someone you can spend the rest of your life with.”
Gently, he brought his hands up and framed her face. He tilted her head up, bringing them eye to eye. He thumbed her cheek. More contact, every touch overwhelmed her. Her eyes brimmed with tears that began to fall now.
“And I found her.”
Aaliyah let out a small sob. “Jason…”
He hushed her and brushed away the tears. “We’ll figure this out together, okay? But right now, all I want you thinking about is being here with me.”
Leaning up on her tiptoes, she kissed him, In that moment she felt like they had been together and known each other far longer than they had. She had shown him a part of her, and he was still here with her despite all of it.