“What do you like best?”
“I like it all when I’m with you.” As the limo coasted through the dark city streets, I melted into his chest. Who knew Declan would ever say something so sweet? And here, in the shadows of the car, I felt it was true.
Declan’s phone rang. After looking at the number and cursing, he apologized. “I have to take this call.” Arm up and off, he leaned toward the door and began discussing the logistics of something or other.
I hugged myself in the darkness of the car. Lights flashed by outside, buildings, people, as we headed up to a Broadway show. I could tell Declan was discussing something about the black tie gala at the Met Saturday night. I bet there’d be ice sculptures of swans and heaping vats of caviar. Would I like caviar? I knew I’d like messing with Dot, my boss at the diner, once I got back to work. I could tell her I’d developed a taste for caviar and thought we should put it on the menu. Tough old bird, Martha probably wouldn’t even crack a smile. She’d probably hand me a plate of tater tots, Montana caviar.
“Angie can answer all this.” Declan huffed, sounding frustrated. “It’s all on the website.” He listened some more, then relented. “All right, read it to me.”
He nodded into the phone, then said, “No, ages five to eighteen. We used to start at eight, but we dropped it to five.” I couldn’t help but listen in and wonder what he was talking about.
“Five centers now,” he spoke again. “We just opened a fifth.” He nodded, listening some more. “That’s right, and holiday donations. Mention that, it’s our biggest drive.”
A few more curt ‘yups’ and ‘that’s rights’ and he ended the call.
“Finalizing the program for Saturday,” he explained. “They wanted my green light.”
“What centers? And donations?”
“It’s the charity I started. For foster kids.” He explained it all to me, his arm back around me tight. He’d started a foundation that funded lots of supports for school-age foster kids, including five centers that hosted everything from afterschool activities, to flu shots and well check-ups, to holiday parties.
I could hear in his voice it meant a lot to him, to give back to those who had so little. I remembered he’d spent some time in foster care. My heart swelled at the thought of his generosity, this tough, hard man who’d seen so much. I remembered the scars I’d seen on him, on his lower stomach and others along his back. The way he closed down when the subject of his past ever came up. He’d been through a lot, that much I was sure of, and now he was helping others. Tears welled in my throat.
There was still so much that I didn’t know about him, but I wanted to know it all. We’d been so intimate the past few days, but he always held himself tightly in reserve. When we were together it was as passionate and intense as an explosion of dynamite, but I also wanted the long, slow burn of lazy hours. I wanted to lie in bed and talk about everything and anything, from silly little things we’d heard on the radio to the deepest secrets we’d never told another soul. And I wanted endless days to touch and explore, kiss every scar, love each inch of his tattooed, muscled body.
“Courtney’s been a big supporter,” he continued, breaking me right out of my reverie. “She’s pulled all of this together. I don’t know what I would do without her.”
“Courtney? From the restaurant yesterday morning?” With the blood red nails that she trailed down his shoulder?
“Yes. Without her, my foundation wouldn’t be in on the fundraiser Saturday night. She’s amazing.”
Funny how my gooey emotions dried up quick. Such was the magic of Courtney with her tweezed eyebrows and silk pantsuit. I grit my teeth. He sounded so enamored of her and her lovely, charitable help.
Declan held my hand as we stepped up into the magnificent theater, and he held my hand as we sat together in the red velvet seats. He wrapped his arm around my waist as we headed back into the limo afterwards and on the way back to our hotel, he nuzzled my hair all over again.
I did enjoy the show, I really did. I’d never seen such dancing and singing live, in-person, and I couldn’t imagine all the talent on and off the stage required to create that kind of spectacle. But jealousy had wound its serpent’s tail up and around my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking about Courtney, the one who belonged in this high-end world. The one who could pull strings and use her connections to help Declan out. Courtney who’d looked at me like I’d crawled out from underneath a rock. And, compared to her, I basically had. She’d probably been to schools I’d never heard of, traveled to places I’d never read about, was on a first name basis with people so important they’d never even crossed my radar.
I shouldn’t let her get to me.
She got to me.
“Did you like the show?” Declan asked, clearly picking up on my stiffness.
“Yes! Yes, I did!” My tight smile looked stupid, I knew. I’d never been able to fake a single thing, not for a second in my life. So freaking annoying.
“I thought you’d like a big musical,” Declan continued. “But maybe you’re more of a gritty drama kind of a girl.” I knew he was teasing me—we both knew gritty drama wasn’t exactly my sweet spot—but I couldn’t let go.
My phone blipped with a text. Automatically, I pulled it out to see:
Wanna hang out 2nite?
Ah, romance. Bruce always had had a way with words. I rolled my eyes and put the phone away. But not before Declan had seen.
“Bruce?” he asked, his voice and his body tense.
“It’s nothing.” I waved
the air in front of me as if shooing away a gnat.
“Bruce Miller? From high school?”
“He’s divorced now and back in town—”
“And you’re hanging out with him again.” Off went his arm from around my shoulders.
“Declan.” I turned to him. “I’ve seen him, like, twice since he’s been back.”
“Oh yeah? You’ve gone out twice?” He looked at me, cold and calm with disturbing detachment. I squirmed in my seat. This was heading downhill, fast, but it didn’t have to go there. Bruce meant nothing to me, absolutely nothing.
“No, we haven’t been out. He’s come around the Chat ‘n’ Chew. Oh, and then one other time at the ranch.”
The limo pulled up in front of our hotel. Declan stepped out and headed to the entrance without offering me his hand. I followed, half-rolling my eyes at his jealous flare-up, half-desperate to make sure he understood. Bruce didn’t matter to me at all, not in the least.
Up in the elevator, down the hallway, into the hotel room, Declan didn’t say a word. I sputtered along, cajoling him, offering explanations, but it was like his mind was on auto-pilot. His jaw was set and nothing I said or did got through to him or took him off course.
He strode directly into the master bedroom. I followed him, nervous, silly things tripping off my tongue. I didn’t know what I was saying but I wanted him to turn to me, put his arms around me again, kiss me and tell me he understood, he cared.
Instead, he ripped off his tie and flung his jacket onto the bureau. Rolling up his sleeves, he finally turned to me, locking me with a steely glare.
“It’s time I began your training. You’re not taking this week seriously. Now you’re going to see what kind of a master I am.”
“What?” I didn’t know what he was saying, what he meant. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach and I caught my breath, frightened, excited.
“Now you are going to do exactly what I say,” he told me with complete authority. “I am going to train your ass for my pleasure. Now strip.”