Sample Chapters – Addicted to You
It was supposed to be just one week, just sex, no commitment, but somewhere along that overwhelmingly sexy ride, Rachel fell in love with Landon. There’s just one problem, he doesn’t do commitment.
As far as Landon knows, they have a good thing going, and he’s not willing to let that go. So Rachel can either tell him how she feels and watch him walk away, or keep it to herself and continue to drown in her feelings for him.
It hurts to be with him, but being without him hurts more. How do you make a choice about love, when there’s really no choice at all?
AIDAN is running around the playroom with his arms spread wide, making a whooshing sound like he’s an airplane. His toys are all over the floor, but he manages not to trip on them. I’m on the sofa reading a comic book, and Sue is sitting by the window, close to my train set, with her nose stuck in a novel. She’s Aidan’s nanny, and all her books have drawings on the covers of people kissing.
I’d like to go downstairs, maybe to Mr. Hayes office. He’s the manager of our hotel, and sometimes, he lets me walk beside him in the lobby when he greets the guests. He says the Swanson Court Hotel has a reputation for ‘sterling’ service, which means that you have to give people what they want before they ask for it. Sue says I can’t go downstairs because Mom will be back soon.
Aidan suddenly stops running and comes to peer at my comic book. I close the page I’m reading because there’re zombies in it, and he’s only four years old.
He makes a face and reaches for the book, and I stretch my hand up, holding it high enough so his fingers can’t touch it.
“I wanna see,” he complains, sticking out his lower lip.
Sue looks up at us. “Let him see, Landon,” she says, frowning in my direction. She’s really tiny, with short red hair, like a boy’s, and she just wants Aidan to be quiet so she can go back to reading her kissing book.
I start to think of a way to distract Aidan, but the door opens before I come up with anything.
“Mommy!” Aidan squeals, forgetting all about me as he runs towards her.
Mom scoops him up in her arms. “How’s my darling little boy?” she says with a bright smile as Aidan settles his head on her shoulder. She buries her nose in his hair and sniffs, before turning her smile to me and holding out a hand. “Landon, come say hi.” Her voice is soft and gentle, like her, most of the time. Today, she’s wearing a white, flowy suit, and her curly blond hair is around her shoulders. She’s beautiful. Everybody says so, even in the newspapers.
“Hi, mom.” I get up and walk towards her outstretched hand, wondering if she’ll let me go downstairs to Mr. Hayes. She ruffles my hair and smiles down at me. “Your Dad is coming back tonight. Isn’t that wonderful?”
I forget about going downstairs. “When is he coming?”
She shrugs. “He’ll be here around seven in the evening, maybe.”
I look down at my new watch. My grown up wristwatch. That’s what my dad called it when he gave it to me before he traveled. “Five hours. Cool.”
Mom laughs. I know she’s happy too. My dad is away on business. He didn’t travel so much before, but now he wants to expand our hotel, so he has to go to different cities. Sometimes, they fight on the phone, my mom and dad, especially when he’s gone for very long. I heard Dad tell her that she listens too much to the ‘trash’ people say. They were fighting when he said that, but they made up. They always make up when he comes back.
“Will Daddy tuck me in tonight?” Aidan asks.
“Of course,” Mom tells him, chuckling. “They haven’t been any trouble?” She’s talking to Sue, who has quickly hidden her kissing book under some cushions.
“No, they’ve been rather sweet.”
Mom looks at Aidan, who’s still resting his head on her shoulder, looking as cute as an angel, then at the comic book I’ve tucked under my arm. Her eyebrows go up. She doesn’t like the ones with zombies. “I doubt that,” she replies Sue with a sigh.
They start talking about something else, then Donna, the maid, comes to the door holding the phone receiver. “Call for you, Mrs. Court,” she says to my mom.
“Who is it?”
Mom sighs and sets Aidan on his feet, before going to the door to take the receiver from Donna. Mrs. Buckley is mom’s friend Auntie Thelma, who mom laughingly calls a busybody. I don’t like her, and I don’t think Mom does very much either.
She takes the receiver with her, talking as she leaves us in the playroom. Aidan starts to run around again, singing a silly song he made up, so I leave him there with Sue and follow Mom to her sitting room. It’s my favorite place in our whole apartment. It has billowy lace curtains, a reading nook with lots and lots of books, and a soft sofa that smells just like Mom.
She is standing by the windows with the receiver to her ear. “No, it’s fine,” I hear her say. “Thanks for telling me.”
From the sound of her voice, I know something is wrong. She stands still for a few moments, then starts to press the buttons on the receiver. When she puts it to her ear and starts talking again, her voice is angry, the way it always sounds when she’s fighting with Dad.
“Someone saw you!” she says accusingly. “You had dinner with her and then you went upstairs together. Do you know how embarrassed I am? How am I supposed to believe you when the same thing keeps happening all the time?”
I don’t understand everything she says, but I can tell that she’s mad at Dad. After a few more words, she tosses the receiver at the wall, then puts her face in her hands as it clatters to the floor. She’s sobbing loudly. I wish Dad would come home right now. He’ll tell her he loves her and she’ll be happy again.
She spins around and sees me, then she quickly turns away again, but not before I see the tears on her face.
“Mom…” I try to think of something to say. All the things Dad usually says to make her smile, but now I can’t remember anything.
She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. When she turns around again, she’s smiling. She doesn’t want me to know she was crying, but I already saw, and her eyes are still red. “Hey sweetheart,” she murmurs. “I thought you were in your playroom with Aidan.”
“It’s Aidan’s playroom. I’m not a baby.”
That makes her smile. “Okay.”
I go to pick the receiver from the floor and place it on the coffee table. “You were fighting with Dad.”
She smiles again. “Don’t worry about it sweetheart. It was just…” she sighs. “It was nothing.”
I nod. “He’s coming home today,” I remind her, hoping it will cheer her up. “You can make up when he gets here.”
The smile disappears from her face. “No,” she says, her voice changing. “By the time he comes, we’ll be gone.”
MOM is speeding. She hardly ever drives, except when we’re at our house upstate and she doesn’t want the chauffeur. She didn’t want him today. She made Donna pack up a case each for Aidan and me, and she put them in Dad’s green Ferrari and buckled us in the back.
Aidan is looking at me, his eyes wide. His tiny hands are tight around Alfred, his bear. Even he knows that something is wrong. “Are we going to see Daddy?” he asks hopefully.
I can’t think of anything to tell him, so I ruffle his hair. He likes that. “Where’re we going?” I ask mom.
She doesn’t reply. We’re already out of the city, but we’re not going in the direction of our house.
“Where’re we going?” I ask again.
“For God’s sake,” she snaps at me. “Keep quiet and let me drive.”
“You’re scaring Aidan,” I tell her. I’m scared too. I don’t want my parents to get a divorce.
Mom doesn’t reply. Instead, she starts to drive faster, till it feels like we’re flying over the highway.
Aidan peers out of the window just as we zoom past a big truck. “Mommy?” he cries.
“Now you’ve upset him,” Mom snaps.
I fold my arms. “I didn’t upset him. You upset him.”
“I want to go back,” I announce, hoping she’ll turn around. “I want to wait for Dad.”
She glares at me in the mirror, and I frown as deep as I can.
“Well, we’re not going back,” she says.
“I don’t want to leave. If you’re getting a divorce, I want to stay with Dad in the hotel.”
“I want daddy,” Aidan cries.
Mom starts to cry. I can see the tears running down her face in the mirror. I know she really doesn’t want to leave. If we go back and wait for my dad, everything will be okay.
But she keeps on driving, and I start to wish that anything would happen, anything at all, to make us turn back.
Landon’s last words to me before he drove away. They keep playing over and over in my head, and with every second that passes, I can feel the distance between us stretching, growing wider, triggering a frantic desire to run after him, to tell him I was wrong, that he’s everything I want, everything I need.
You can’t give me what I want.
Regret floods me, deep and painful, at the thought that I said those words to him.
I could have told him what I really wanted. I could have told him that I was in love with him, and I would have. But I knew what his reaction would be. He’d told me himself.
As soon as a woman starts to demand more than I can give, I walk away.
He would have walked away from me too.
And I wouldn’t have been able to bear it.
I did the right thing, I tell myself desperately. Being without Landon is a better option than being in love with a man who would never love me. Being without him is a better option than having to pretend that I don’t want more than he does, that I’m not aching for something deeper.
Being without him is a better option than waiting helplessly for the day he’ll tell me that he’s done with me.
Only right now, it doesn’t feel like a better option. It feels like torture. It is agony, squeezing at my insides, tearing at my heart, and leaving scars that I’m certain will never go away.
My memories don’t help. Landon is everywhere in my head. The first time I saw him at the Swanson Court hotel, when the elevator doors slid open to reveal the last thing I’d expected to see on the other side. A man with the physical perfection of a Greek god, and such undeniable sexual magnetism. Without even touching me, he’d made me forget everything but how attracted to him I was. He’d thought I was a hooker, and I’d played along. The result had been the most intense sexual experience of my life up to that point.
I remember Landon at his club, letting me think that he still believed I was a hooker, then the next day in my boss’s office… I almost smile at the memory. “I want to fuck you again,” he’d said. I’d been so angry, and yet, despite all my best intentions, I’d ended up in his office, half-naked on his desk, surrendering my body to his expert touch, letting him have his pleasure, and taking mine, because when I was with him, it was impossible to deny that my body was totally his.
So many memories. All of them painful now. How long will it be before I stop thinking about him?
Staring unseeing at the door to my apartment, I wipe my eyes with the back of my hands. I have no idea how long I’ve been standing here, but I can’t seem to bring myself to unlock the door, to step over the threshold and go on with life. Life without Landon Court.
I want to find a way to erase the last thirty minutes. I want to avoid the aching emptiness growing inside me. I want, more than anything, to regain the physical connection and the pleasure of being with Landon. Not the man everybody saw, the billionaire hotelier and ruthless businessman the press made him out to be, but the man I’d glimpsed inside, the man Landon Court really was, the caring, sensual, and incredibly gorgeous man who, from the very first, made me feel things, both physical and emotional, that I’d never known I was capable of.
The man I now had to live without.
Isn’t this what you wanted? The voice in my head is harsh and taunting. Why else would you tell him that you want more than he can give? Why else would you agree to meet with your ex? You wanted to show Landon that you didn’t care. You wanted to leave on your own terms, not as one of the women he had to walk away from because they wanted ‘more than he could give.’
If it’s what I want, then why is it tearing me to pieces?
“He can’t give you what you want,” I whisper to myself, trying to find even the slightest sliver of strength inside. “You’re in love with him. He walks away from women who want commitment. You’re doing the right thing ending it now.”
The pep talk works somewhat. I take a deep breath and unlock the door to the apartment I share with my cousin Laurie. It’s a small place, comfortably furnished. My home and sanctuary, and yet, right now, all it does is remind me of Landon. He was only here a few times, to pick me up for a night at the theater, to spend the night with me, in my bed, drugging me with his touch, making me lose myself in the kind of pleasure only he could give… but he has left his mark somehow, the same way he’s left a mark on my heart.
Closing the door behind me, I lean back on it, and will my thoughts to find another direction, something else to focus on instead of Landon Court. At that moment, Laurie emerges from her room. She’s already dressed for bed in a thigh length t-shirt. The name of her boyfriend, Brett’s gym is written on the front in big, bright lettering. Her curly hair is in a long braid, and as always, it’s difficult to look at her without being reminded of how physically striking she is.
There is a touch of sadness on her face. It’s been there since Brett told her they needed ‘some time apart.’ That, and the T-shirt, clue me in to the fact that she’s probably having a bad day.
“You’re back.” She smiles, then she sees my face and the smile disappears. “Rach.” Her voice rises in alarm. “What’s wrong?”
Her concern makes tears rise in my eyes again. I’d like to tell her that there’s nothing wrong, because – what’s the point in compounding her pain with mine? But I’ve never been able to lie to Laurie. She knows me too well.
“Hi.” My voice is shaky.
“What happened?” she asks, coming towards me.
I shake my head, words catching in my throat.
“Hey.” Laurie puts an arm around me. “It’s going to be okay. Whatever it is.”
No, it won’t. “I need to lie down,” I manage, pulling away and heading to the solace of my room. She follows me, watching from the door as I toss my bag on my chair and collapse crosswise on my bed, my eyes on the ceiling. In the dimness of the room, I give in to the tears, doing nothing to stop them from sliding down the side of my face.
“Are you going to tell me what happened?” Laurie’s voice is gentle. “Did Landon do something?”
I don’t answer. Inside, there is another surge of pain, followed by the now familiar temptation to go back to him and let him know that I was wrong. That I can’t live without him and I don’t want to try.
Laurie comes over to lie down beside me. She doesn’t say anything, but the silence is soothing. We lie side by side for a long while, saying nothing. I wonder if she’s thinking about Brett. The thought that we’re both nursing broken hearts is infinitely depressing.
It was your choice to walk away, I tell myself, willing the tears to stop. It doesn’t work. I should be able to let him go, I think miserably. We were never going to last forever anyway. We weren’t even supposed to last this long. It should have been just one night. It should have ended the moment I walked out of his apartment without leaving my number.
It should have ended when we returned from that week in San Francisco. It should have ended before I got to the point where I fell so hard for him, but I’d wanted him too much, and he’d been so relentless in his seduction and in his unwillingness to let me go. Now, even though I’d tried to convince myself that I could live with whatever part of himself he gave me, I know I can’t. I want more. I’ll always want more. More than he can give, more than he wants to give.
“I shouldn’t have fallen in love with him,” I say softly, breaking the silence in my room. My voice is still breaking, and my eyes are stinging. “It was too soon, and we agreed that it was going to be just sex.”
“You don’t get to choose when, or how, or with whom to fall in love,” Laurie whispers, her voice gentle. “Sometimes it just happens and before you know what, you’re reeling.”
I am reeling. I draw in a shaky breath, fighting a new flood of tears. “After Jack, I should have learned to be more in control of my feelings. I don’t want to be that girl who repeats the same mistakes with men.” I’d thought I was in love with Jack Weyland, my ex. I still remember the hurt I felt when two years ago, Jack responded to my confession that I loved him with outright dismissal, but that hurt is nothing compared to the devastation I’m feeling now.
“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” Laurie sighs. “You fell for Landon, and there was an emotional connection. It’s only natural that your feelings grew.” She squeezes my hand. “What happened exactly? Do you want to talk about it now?”
As soon as a woman starts to demand more than I can give, I walk away.
I close my eyes. She warned me, what seems now like a long time ago, that I wouldn’t be able to bear being in love and not knowing for sure that Landon felt the same. I swallow through the tightness in my throat. “I couldn’t take it anymore, Laurie. I tried… but I just couldn’t bear not knowing – or rather, knowing that he would never allow himself to feel anything for me.”
Laurie turns to her side, facing me. “Did you tell him that you’re in love with him?”
I shake my head. I’ve imagined telling Landon. Countless times, I’ve imagined confessing my feelings to him. But in my head, I always see his eyes cloud with pity and regret, and I hear his lips form the words to convey how sorry he is, and how he doesn’t feel the same.
“What would be the point?” I close my eyes. “He’d have walked away, just as he has from every other woman who ever wanted him to commit.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” she points out.
“Actually, I do.” I wish I didn’t. I wish I could have stayed blissfully unaware that there was no point in loving Landon. I wish I didn’t know, without a doubt, that our affair could only end one way, with Landon telling me that he’s done with me.
“So… you just left without giving him a reason?”
You can’t give me what I want.
I exhale softly. “I told him I wanted more than he was willing to give.”
There’s a long pause from Laurie. “But he doesn’t know what you want exactly.” She sounds confused. “And you’ve never bothered to ask him what he’s ‘willing’ to give.”
I don’t answer.
“Rachel,” she murmurs. “Do you ever think that maybe the fear of rejection is costing you more than anything you might lose if you’re frank with him about your feelings?”
As much as I’d like to cling to the fantasy that telling Landon that I love him would make any difference, I can’t allow myself to be so foolish. I wipe my eyes with the back of one hand. “It’s not the fear of rejection,” I tell Laurie. “It’s the reality of the man. I’d be a fool to continue to hope for a happy ending that’s never going to happen.”
“So that’s it?” She sounds almost as sad as I am. “It’s over?”
It’s over. The finality of those words rip through my body, and I fight back the surge of panic. It’s over. It’s over.
“Yes,” I whisper.
Laurie is silent. She squeezes my hand lightly. “I’m so sorry,” she says gently. “But, I still think you should have told him how you feel. It’s only fair that you let him know what you want from him.”
I pull my hand from hers. “Maybe what I want is a man who would be willing to fight for me. Maybe I want a man who wouldn’t walk away as soon as I indicate that I want something more from him, or accuse me of…” I trail off, my mind going back to Landon’s reaction to my phone conversation with Jack.
Laurie rises from the bed and leans on her elbow.
“Accuse you of what?” she asks, clearly prepared to hate Landon on my behalf if he’d dared to say anything unfair.
I sigh. I’d purposely kept silent about the part Jack played in my argument with Landon. Laurie’s reaction to anything that involves Jack is never positive. Not that I blame her. Right now I’m not feeling very good-natured towards Jack, even though nothing that happened tonight was his fault, really.
“Jack called me while we were on our way back,” I admit, “He asked me to get a drink with him tomorrow, and I agreed. Landon didn’t like it.”
Laurie doesn’t reply. Her dislike for Jack is intense, and she never pretended to support my friendship with him after he dumped me.
“I’m trying to understand,” she says slowly, “but I can’t. Why on earth would you do that?”
I close my eyes. I’ve been torturing myself with the same question. “I don’t know… Maybe I wanted a reaction. Maybe I wanted him to see that my life isn’t all about hanging on to him, that I could walk away too, if I wanted.”
“With Jack?” Laurie makes a frustrated sound. “Clearly, you didn’t get the reaction you wanted.”
If you’d rather be with your ex, you don’t have to conjure vague reasons why we shouldn’t be together, just let me know and I won’t stop you.
My eyes are aching with unshed tears, and right now, I just want to close them and try to forget everything. “Does it matter?” I sigh. “It’s over anyway.”
Laurie gets up from the bed and stands at the side, looking down at me with her hands on her hips. The light from the open door illumines her face, and I can see the frown of disappointment on her brow.
“I don’t understand you, Rach.” She walks to the door, then comes back to the side of the bed. “If you want Landon to commit to a real relationship, why not just tell him?” She throws up her hands. “I don’t know. Maybe deep inside, Jack is who you really want to be with.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Laurie.”
“Am I being ridiculous?” She snorts. “You let Jack keep you on a string for two years. Two years of your fucking life. Now you’re letting him come between you and Landon, who, from what I’ve seen, cares more about you than Jack ever did.”
I don’t have the energy to argue. “Laurie, this is not about Jack.”
“From where I’m standing…” She makes a gesture of exasperation. “I don’t know what kind of hold he has on you!” she exclaims. “Maybe you should call him now and tell him that you’re available again, that you’re still in love with him, and that you’re ready to take whatever crumbs he throws your way. It’s better than pretending that you’re ready to move on with someone else.” She shakes her head. “I’m going to bed. Enjoy your date tomorrow.”
I watch her stalk out of my room. She’s so wrong about Jack, because he’s the least important thing to me right now. I close my eyes, and immediately, I see Landon’s face in my mind, and his voice, saying those words that make me want to weep.
I find a pillow to bury my face, and curl up into a ball. You made the right decision, I tell myself. One day, you’ll get over him.
There’s no consolation in that, and I’m still crying when I finally fall asleep.
MY sleep is laced with dreams of Landon, and more than once, I wake up in tears, only to continue tormenting myself with the memories. I can’t silence the voice in my head telling me that I’ve made a terrible mistake. I finally wake up tired, miserable and almost late for work.
I shower hurriedly, tempted to remain beneath the flow of water and give it a chance to wash all my pain and memories away, but even if that would work, there’s no time. I dress quickly in a white cotton blouse and a beige patterned skirt, then brush my hair, despairing when my mind goes again to Landon, telling me how much he loved the color. “Sometimes it’s red,” he’d said. “Sometimes gold, and sometimes it’s both.” I breathe shakily, unable to suppress the memory of his fingers in my hair.
Frustrated, I drop the hairbrush and clip the strands away from my face. I forego any attempt at makeup, even though my eyelids show evidence of all the crying I did last night. I wince at my reflection but decide that there’s nothing I can do.
Laurie has already left for work, which is fine with me, because I’m not eager to talk to her after her reaction last night. I hurry out of the empty apartment, hoping, as I go downstairs, that I’ll find a cab before too long.
Outside, there’s the sparse morning crowd from my street. A few people on the tree-shaded sidewalk hurrying to work, others pushing little kids in strollers, and a few cars parked on the street. I clear the steps from the building entrance, and then the small paved area between the sidewalk and the building before I notice the familiar black sedan parked on the curb.
My steps falter. Something builds in my stomach, a mixture of dread and anticipation that seizes my body and makes me unable to keep moving. I watch, barely breathing, as the rear door opens and Landon steps out of the car.
A soft breath escapes from my lips, and my eyes close, almost reflexively, a protective measure to prevent me from going to pieces just from looking at him. Yearning courses through my body like a tidal wave, drowning my heart and weakening my knees. I’m suddenly shaking, my whole body drawn to him like a moth to a flame.
What is he doing here?
I take a deep breath, and when I open my eyes again, he’s still there. His eyes are burning with that familiar cobalt intensity, provoking an answering flame deep in my belly. I blink back a sudden wave of tears. The last thing I need is to be so close to his devastating beauty. Already, my eyes are greedily devouring him. The burnished gold of his hair is gleaming in the early morning sun, the waves framing and emphasizing the raw perfection of his face, and he’s dressed to conquer the world in an exquisite deep blue suit, one that does nothing to hide the powerful body beneath.
In the few seconds I spend looking at him, I get the feeling that if I walk into his arms, last night wouldn’t matter anymore, only how much I want him, and how much he wants me. For a moment, I’m tempted to do just that. To forget all my doubts and just be with him.
But for how long?
It takes an effort to tear my eyes away from his perfection, to break the spell he has me under. He takes a step towards me. “Hello.” His voice is low, and washes over me like a familiar, much-desired caress.
Suddenly the back of my throat feels raw. I swallow hard. I’m not going to start crying again. I chose to walk away, I remind myself. It was my choice.
There is some oncoming foot traffic on the sidewalk, so I have to step out of the way, I move towards the curb, closer to where Landon is standing. “What are you doing here?” I ask, my voice thick and rough.
He looks closely at my eyes, and I wonder how obvious it is that I spent the night in tears. A small frown touches his brow, and I can tell that he hasn’t missed a thing. He starts to come closer to me, and the slight movement instantly raises my heart rate. I flinch, and he stops himself, instead thrusting his hands into his pockets and rocking on his heels.
His voice is low and quiet. “I wanted to talk.”
I shake my head. My commitment to staying away from him is so shaky that I don’t trust myself to spend enough time with him to ‘talk.’ “I’m late for work,” I tell him, hoping that would be sufficient for him to leave me alone.
He takes a step towards me, closing the small distance between us. I pull in a breath, and my senses are assaulted by all the familiar scents. The faint whiff of his cologne, the delicious hint of soap and shampoo… I breathe, concentrating on the small frown he still has on his face. “I’ll take you to your office,” he suggests. “We can talk in the car.”
I contemplate sharing that small space with him, and I shake my head again. “No. Thanks.”
His quick intake of breath is followed by a frustrated hand running through his hair. “Rachel,” he says, his voice a study in patience, “Why are you making this so hard?”
It became hard the moment I fell in love with you, I say silently. Behind me on the sidewalk, people walk past us, and it makes me think how awkward we must look, just standing on the street.
“Fine,” I concede, walking past him to the car. I slide to the far side and adjust my skirt while I wait for him to join me. Landon’s preferred chauffeur, Joe, is behind the wheel, his crew cut visible from the back.
“Good morning, Joe,” I greet, my voice sounding churlish even to me.
“Good morning, Miss Foster,” Joe replies cheerfully.
The door closes with a barely audible click as Landon joins me at the back, and before the car starts to move, Joe plugs in a pair of earbuds. I fix my gaze outside the window, determined to resist the urge to feast my eyes on Landon’s perfection, but every nerve in my body is aware of him, right beside me, so close, so gorgeous, so… everything I want.
You’re in love with him, I tell myself, trying to be sensible. He doesn’t feel the same way, and there’s absolutely no chance he ever will. He can’t give you what you want, and you know, he’ll only hurt you in the long run.
What could ever hurt more than leaving him hurts now? Temptation whispers the words in my head, and I do my best to ignore them. I’m doing the right thing for me, I assure myself. Why postpone the pain that will surely come? Why keep holding on to a man who’ll only want me for a short while?
The car joins the traffic heading Midtown, and I’m so acutely aware of Landon, of the waves of sensual energy coming from his body, and of the desire growing low in my belly. I’m almost afraid to move. The silence stretches, along with my nerves.
“You’re still going out with Weyland tonight?”
The question makes me turn to look at him. He’s facing straight ahead, his fingers splayed on his lap. His body looks as stiff as mine feels. I close my fists, fighting the ache in my fingers from my desire to touch him, to feel the skin of his face, to smooth the silk of his hair… to allow my heart to win over my head.
Instead, I respond to his question. “Is that what you wanted to talk about?”
He doesn’t reply.
I turn back to the window. The truth is, I’m in no mood to see Jack, especially considering the state of my emotions at the moment. Jack had warned me about falling in love with Landon. It had been ridiculous and presumptuous, coming from him, but still, if he caught any inkling that things were not perfect, he would take it as proof that he’d been right.
“I don’t know,” I murmur. “I already told him I would.”
There is another long silence, and I wonder what he’s thinking. I steal a glance at him and catch him looking at me.
“What did Weyland say to you at the Swanson Court, the day we met?”
The question takes me by surprise, and I shake my head, confused. “I don’t think that has anything to do with…”
“Please,” Landon stops me. “Rachel, I’m trying to understand your… relationship with him, and why he keeps coming up between us.”
Us. Such a small word, but at that moment, it almost destroys me. I breathe. “I don’t think it makes any difference…” I stop talking, the intense burn in Landon’s eyes telling me that he won’t stop until I tell him the truth. “He told me he was engaged,” I say quietly.
Landon nods. “You were in love with him.”
It’s a statement, not a question. I don’t reply. I’d thought I was in love with Jack, but I’d been wrong. What I’d felt for Jack at the time was nothing compared to the emotions coursing through me now.
Landon isn’t done. His eyes are still on mine, searching and demanding answers. “Tell me what happened between you two.”
It doesn’t matter, I say silently. It ceased to matter the moment those elevator doors opened, and I saw you standing there. “I met him when I went to work at Gilt. We started seeing each other, and we stopped after about two months,” I shrug. “But we stayed friends.”
“Why did you stop seeing each other?”
“We didn’t want the same things.”
Landon chuckles, but he doesn’t sound or look amused. “You’re being deliberately vague.”
“I told him I was in love with him,” I turn back to the window, escaping the force and beauty of the eyes trained on me. “He didn’t feel the same way.”
There is another silence from Landon. Is he wondering why I remained friends with Jack after that? Why two years later I was still so into him that I cared that he was getting engaged to someone else. Does it make him think less of me? Not that I should care what he thinks, after all, I’m supposed to be getting over him.
“You told me you were completely over Weyland,” Landon says, his voice low. “Were you being honest?”
If he only knew. I close my eyes, pushing away the pain threatening to engulf me. “There’s really no point in talking about Jack.”
He is silent. I listen to his fingers beat a low, erratic rhythm on the tops of his thighs. “Are you still in love with him?” I hear him say, his voice grave.
I consider saying yes. The idea cycles through my head, and I contemplate what would follow. Landon would walk away. There’s no way he’d keep pursuing me if he thought that I was in love with someone else. He’d let me go, and no matter how miserable that would make me, at least I’d have the space I need to get over him.
But I can’t bring myself to lie to him. There’s something in his eyes. Some emotion that reaches deep inside me and makes me want to remove every single doubt in my mind, to break down every single wall I’ve labored to put up between us. I pull in a shaky breath. “No,” I whisper softly. “I was never in love with him. For a while, I thought I was, but I was mistaken.”
Landon releases a long breath, then he leans towards me, a puzzled frown on his face. “Then why?”
His face is so close to mine that it’s difficult to think. My eyes slip to his lips, and I have a sudden memory of those lips on my skin, tasting, teasing… I swallow. “Why what?”
He covers my hand with his, the touch firm but gentle. I start to tremble, knowing that he only has to keep touching me and I’ll fall to pieces. I try to pull my hand away, but he holds on, bringing his other hand to keep mine between both of his. His next words are tender and probing “Why do you keep pushing me away?”
I try to remember all the reasons, but everything is clouded by my desire to give in, to forget my doubts, to surrender myself to him, for the pleasure…
…and the inevitable pain.
“Because I don’t want this,” I whisper. “I don’t want to be with you.” Not like this, I add silently. Not unless you love me too.
His eyes close, and his jaw flexes. I don’t wait for him to say anything before I continue, digging my heels in before I surrender to the temptation to tell him how I really feel, what I really want. “I meant it when I said you can’t give me what I want.”
Something flashes in his eyes, like pain, but I can’t be too sure. I watch his throat work as he swallows, then he releases my hand, letting it fall back on my thigh. The thought that I’ve hurt him is almost unbearable. I want to take it back, but I know he’ll get over it. He’ll find some other woman who would be happy without the promise of commitment, or at least pretend to be.
My eyes are stinging with tears, and I blink them away, looking straight ahead to keep Landon from noticing. If only I didn’t love him so much, if only I didn’t want him so much.
I’m relieved when I see the Gilt building a few yards ahead. We’re both silent as the car inches forward in the traffic. It seems to take forever till Joe slides into the curb at the entrance and stops.
I risk a glance at Landon. He doesn’t look at me, and his face is as remote and distant as if it was hewn from stone. “I… Thanks for the ride.”
His response is a small, bitter chuckle. “I should thank you,” he says, “for making it clear to me, without any doubt, that I can’t always get what I want.”
I flinch at his tone, and at the realization that he thinks I’ve been trying to teach him a lesson. Taking one last, long look at his beautiful profile, I decide that there would be no point in arguing.
My heart is heavy as I leave the car. With my whole body trembling, I take the steps up towards the glass doors. I hear the low purr of the engines as the car starts to move away, but I don’t look back.
I’m doing the right thing, I tell myself for the thousandth time.
It only makes me feel worse.
“IT has taken a lot of work to restore the hotel’s faded charms. An acclaimed refurbishment team, for one, all of whom do not hesitate to give the real credit to one man, the new owner. From the Italian marble in the lobby, the exquisite mosaic in the indoor swimming pool; the extensive art collection, to the crested stationary, and even the cutlery, everything you find at the Gold Dust, the newest addition to the Swanson Court Hotels, has been carefully chosen by Landon Court himself. The man behind the contemporary success of the Swanson Court Brand isn’t just an hotelier, he knows what he wants, and never hesitates to go after it.”
Chelsea looks up from her tablet, her eyes sparkling with amusement as she raises an eyebrow in my direction. Like me, she’s a features associate at Gilt Travel. She’s also disarmingly pretty, and genuinely friendly. Today, she’s wearing all blue, her corn-silk hair in a loose ponytail. “Could it be any more obvious that you’re in love with this man?” she teases.
I busy myself with powering on my computer. Landon’s voice still sounding in my ears.
Why do you keep pushing me away?
After this morning, after our conversation, I’m suddenly more confused and unsure of myself. As if that’s not enough, the new issue of Gilt Travel has been electronically delivered to subscribers and staff, along with my article about the Gold Dust. Everyone wants to tell me how good it is, but the more I have to talk about it, the harder it is to stop thinking about its subject.
Why do you keep pushing me away?
The effort it takes to force the image of him from my mind is almost paralyzing.
“I’m not in love with him,” I tell Chelsea, without taking my eyes off my computer screen. There’s nothing on the screen, but I don’t want her to see the lie on my face.
Chelsea is still laughing, oblivious to my inner torment. “That’s what they always say.”
I don’t reply. I type in my password and concentrate on my screen as it comes to life. I search the files for something… anything I can start working on, anything to make me stop thinking.
Chelsea stops laughing, sensing that something is wrong. She steps towards my desk and gives me a sharp look. “You’re not seeing him anymore.”
I close my eyes, and even then all I can see in my head is Landon.
Why do you keep pushing me away?
I focus on Chelsea, pushing everything else out of my mind. “It wasn’t supposed to be a permanent thing.” I meet her eyes and force a brightness into my voice that I don’t feel, which, I’m sure, does little to deceive her.
She sighs. “Are you doing okay?”
I’m sure that as soon as she leaves my office, I’m going to succumb to the tears stinging in my eyes. “I’m fine,” I lie.
It’s obvious that she doesn’t believe me. “We should go out,” she suggests after a short silence. “Let’s pick a night, hit the clubs, and party till we forget that men exist. Me, you, Laurie, Sonali too, if she’s done with her juice cleanse by then. It’ll be great.”
I nod vaguely. Laurie. With the distraction of Landon’s appearance this morning, I’ve not had the chance to dwell on her reaction from last night. Now that I’m reminded, it rankles. I understand why she lost her temper over Jack. She’d nursed me through two years of crying over him, but her accusations had been so fucking unfair.
When Chelsea finally leaves me alone, I abandon my desk and any attempt to work and walk over to the small window. My view is limited to a small slice of sky, and some other buildings, their reflective glass walls hiding the busy people inside them.
Why do you keep pushing me away?
I close my eyes, wondering where Landon is, what he’s doing. He’s probably at his office by now, acquiring more properties and making more money. Had I succeeded in driving him away? Was it possible that he was also thinking about me? Had I left some sort of indelible mark in his life too? Would he be distracted at his desk by the memory of tearing my clothes off right on that same surface and making me come over and over?
That particular memory is followed by a surge of desire, and raw heat unfurls between my thighs. It’s just sex, I tell myself, leaning my head on the glass, hoping the cool surface will help to calm my raging hormones and emotions. It’s just sex, and he’s just a man.
A man I’m in love with.
Why do you keep pushing me away?
I have to stop thinking about him, or else I’ll go mad, or go to him and beg for his love, or accept whatever part of himself he’s ready to give, for however long.
I’m ashamed how attractive that option seems. It’s not fair. I want to have love in my life. I want something like what my parents have. I want a man who’ll give up everything if he has to, just so we can be together.
And I want that man to be Landon.
Pushing away from the window, I return to my desk. Just as I reach my seat, there’s a soft knock on the door. A moment later, it opens and Jack Weyland enters my office.
He pauses at the door, a smile on his face. Looking at him, it’s easy to see why I was stuck on him for two years. He’s charming and funny, and though he’s not as tall, or as perfectly built as Landon, he has a slim, fit physique, like a model’s. With his cloudy gray eyes, black hair, and the perfect smile he never hesitates to use, he’s unquestionably handsome. He’s also the most famous writer at Gilt Travel.
Today, he’s wearing a dark vest over a lightly striped shirt. Dark pants show off his slim hips and long legs. His hair is mussed, pushed back, with one curly forelock falling onto his forehead. He looks good, and it’s obvious that he knows it.
“Hey beautiful,” he says, making it sound as if he’s been waiting to see me all morning – as if I’ve just made his day by existing. It must be a gift, I think, how he can flatter and seduce with only a few words.
“Hi, Jack.” I force a smile, determined to hide the fact that a moment before he came in, I was struggling under the weight of my emotions, and I still am. Not that I care what he thinks, but I’d rather walk a plank than give him a reason to think he’d been right to warn me about Landon.
He walks over to my desk and leans his hip on the edge. “I read your article,” he says. “Nice work.”
The article again. I have to force myself not to succumb to the reminder of Landon. “Thanks. Though I’m surprised that you had the time. No new assignments?”
He grins. “You know I always have time for you.”
Since when? Definitely not during the two years I spent waiting, hoping, being there for him, while he went from one exotic beauty to another. It’s almost as if he’s forgotten that he knowingly toyed with my feelings for far too long.
He’s peering at my face, and I quickly turn my gaze to the surface of my desk. I’m not as happy as I’d prefer for him to think, but I’d rather he didn’t see the evidence on my face. “You said you caught a bug?” I ask, remembering what he’d said on the phone.
“Yeah,” he nods. “I was out for a couple of days. I’m great now. Just missing my favorite person in the world.”
Our old joke. I ignore it. “I’m glad you’re okay.”
He sighs. “I stopped by to remind you about tonight.”
I should tell him that I’ve changed my mind. I look from the hip casually perched on my desk to his familiar smile, and I imagine how a few months ago I would have been so glad, so grateful to have his attention.
He frowns. “Why what?”
“First you surprise me in San Francisco, now you want to go out. A few weeks ago you were engaged, and you wanted me to be happy for you. Now you’re suddenly eager to spend time with me.”
“We always spent time together,” he says with a shrug. “Even as friends.” There’s a pause. “I always looked forward to your company, no matter who I was seeing or what I was working on, Rachel. That should never be in doubt.”
He’d wanted my company, but not my love, for two years. Now there’s Landon, who wants my body, but would never allow himself to love me. It feels like I’m the cursed girl in a warped fairy tale. “It’s never going to be the way it was,” I tell Jack, thinking about those months spent as his loyal, adoring sidekick. The long months spent hanging on to his every word, hoping that one day he would realize that he was wrong to throw my love back in my face.
He looks pained. “Because I got engaged? Or because your boyfriend would likely swoop in and cart you away like you’re his property.”
He’s referring to the night in San Francisco, when Landon interrupted our date. I almost smile at the memory. Jack is waiting for me to reply, but before I can, there’s another knock on the door. It’s soon followed by one of the interns carrying a bouquet of purple lilies and yellow orchids in a beautiful glass globe.
“These were delivered for you,” she says, managing to simper at Jack while she places the flowers on my desk. Half the girls in the building are crazy about him, and obviously she’s one of them.
“I’m Meredith,” she tells him, starting to describe an article of his that she ‘really’ liked. He answers her politely, his lack of interest painfully obvious. He never dates any of the girls from Gilt. I was his one exception, and for a long time, I told myself it was because we had something special, now I couldn’t care less.
After Meredith finally leaves, Jack looks from the flowers to my face, his eyebrows raised questioningly.
I ignore him. My heart is already racing, and I know, without reading the card, who sent the flowers. Why would he do that? Especially after this morning? I don’t need any more reminders, any more reasons to cry. I suddenly wish the flowers would disappear, along with every torturous memory of Landon Court.
“Aren’t you going to see who they’re from?” Jack asks. There’s a tightness in his voice that wasn’t there before.
I’d rather not. I’d rather ignore them and pretend that I don’t care, but with Jack here, I can’t do that. My hand trembles as I reach for the card, pulling it out of the plastic stick to read the words in Landon’s hard, slanted handwriting.
That’s all it says. Nothing else. I remember his face from this morning. The flash of emotion when I told him once again that he can’t give me what I want.
Why do you keep pushing me away?
Slowly, I stroke a finger over the velvety surface of the card, overcome by an intense, painful yearning. You’ll regret walking away from him, a reproachful voice accuses in my head. You’ve made a huge mistake in letting him go.
I blink at Jack, realizing that I’d almost forgotten that he was here. Hastily, I drop the card on my desk, ashamed of how easily I’d been affected by just flowers and a card. In the space of a few moments, I’d almost forgotten all the reasons why I walked away in the first place.
“Yes.” I clear my throat and give Jack a small half-smile. “They’re from Landon.”
“Getting serious?” His eyes are questioning.
No, actually it’s over. I don’t say that. Instead, I give him a tired look. “Are you going to warn me again? About how heartless he is with women, how I shouldn’t fall in love with him?”
“No,” he shakes his head. “I believe you’ll find out for yourself.”
I lower my eyes to my desk. I won’t find out, I think silently, because I’ve already left him. “Come on Jack,” I say with a lightness I don’t feel. “You have more important things to do with your time than to speculate about my private life.”
He doesn’t miss a beat. “What’s more important than you?”
I roll my eyes and he laughs, then his face turns serious. “Rachel, I hope you know that I’m here for you. Whenever you need me.”
He looks so sincere. I sigh, looking from his face to the flowers on my desk. They’re exquisite, and they’ll make me think of Landon all day. When I get home, he’ll be there too, in my memories, in Laurie’s silent disapproval… I have nowhere to escape him.
“So tonight…?” Jack prompts with a hopeful smile, interrupting my thoughts. “Please don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind.”
I look into his gray eyes, the familiar smile, and that lock of hair flopping onto his forehead. Hopefully, the few hours I spend with him will not be full of thoughts of Landon.
“Well,” I smile, “at least tell me where we are going.
AFTER Jack leaves, I throw myself into my work, emailing drafts to the features editor, replying my emails, and checking social feeds for interesting ideas. By the time I leave the office, I’m mentally exhausted.
I have a dinner reservation at Angelos, a Greek restaurant we’ve included in a food wave article about places to eat Greek in major cities. On my way over there, in the cab, my mind slowly loosens from the whirl of the day and inevitably goes back to Landon.
Why did he send the flowers? Was he trying to tell me something? Was it a final footnote, a small gesture to mark the end of our affair? I can’t pretend to understand his motives, especially after this morning.
The flowers were probably nothing, I decide finally. Something he had already planned and decided not to cancel. They’d probably be the last personal communication we would ever have, leaving me with only my thoughts to conquer. Maybe one day I’d run into him at an event, or at a restaurant. Maybe by that time I would be over him, and I wouldn’t completely fall apart.
At Angelos, a wait staff leads me to a table. The restaurant is quiet, with only a few diners. At my table, I take the cushioned seat set against the white brick walls and go through the menu, deciding on roast fish and vegetables, with the signature custard cream pastry.
The food is superb, and I haven’t eaten all day, so for a few moments, I concentrate only on the taste and flavor. Later, I type a few notes in my phone while sipping the remaining wine from the glass I ordered. At one of the other tables, a woman laughs at something her companion said, then takes the forkful of food he offers her. I turn away, my chest suddenly tightening. How long will it take until the ache goes away?
My phone vibrates. It’s a text from Jack.
“Where are you?”
“On my way,” I text back, before gathering my things. Outside, I hail a cab to take me to the bar where we’ve agreed to meet. The cabbie soon leaves me on the sidewalk in front of the incongruous wooden doors that are the entrance to Ambrosia. It’s an art bar, with a constant exhibition of paintings and a stage for presentations, which right now, is empty.
I spot Jack at the bar. He’s deep in conversation with a good looking woman with short, messy hair and bright-red lipstick. I watch him as he says something to make her laugh. He leans forward, smiling at her. Does he even know what he’s doing? Or is flirting just his default setting? I walk over to join them. “Hi, Jack.”
He turns to me, and his smile widens. “Here you are.” He leans in to kiss my cheek, and I can’t help but notice that the long day hasn’t diminished his good looks. “I got us a table,” he tells me, before turning back to the woman and saying something that sounds like ‘Nice to meet you.’
I follow him to one of the booths set back from the main bar, and he beckons for one of the hovering waiters. “You look great, by the way.”
I’m wearing the same thing I was wearing in the morning. “You already saw me today,” I remind him after making my drink order.
“So what?” he says, his grin unrepentant. He pushes his hair back from his forehead and leans forward. “I wasn’t sure I told you earlier.”
I chuckle. “Flattery won’t get you anywhere.”
“So,” he leans back. “What will?” The grin has disappeared, replaced by a measuring gaze.
I ignore the question. I have no intention of going down that road with him. Not now, not ever.
“Seriously,” he insists, “What will get me somewhere with you?”
“Leave it, Jack,” I say softly. My eyes linger on his handsome face for a moment, and suddenly I’m flooded with gratitude towards Landon. I’m grateful that maybe because of the time we spent together, I can look at Jack and feel nothing. I can spend time with him, without being reduced to a nervous bundle of expectation.
“You want to eat anything?” he asks, “They have…” he shrugs. “Stuff”
I shake my head. “I already had dinner.”
He grins. “I remember when you’d order a little of everything so you could taste it all. You were fearless.”
A trip down memory lane? I smile despite myself, remembering those early days with him. I was fearless until I mentioned that I was in love with him, and he made me feel like a fool.
Our drinks arrive. Jack sips his while watching me, a thoughtful frown on his face. On the small stage, a scruffy looking guy appears with a sheaf of papers in his hand. Someone brings him a chair and a mic, and he sits, then introduces himself, before starting to read a poem.
A few people are listening, but most carry on with their conversations and their drinking. The poem is really lengthy and seems to be about someone being torn away from his dreams. The tone reminds me too much of how I feel, how torn up I am inside. So I try not to listen.
“Oh well,” Jack says when the guy finishes, leaving the stage to half-hearted applause. “That was sad.”
“Yes, it was.” I take a small sip of my drink. “So, when and what is your next assignment.”
He shrugs nonchalantly. “I’m liking just being in the city right now.”
I raise a brow. “That is so unlike you. What happened to your wanderlust, your adventurous spirit?”
His only reply is another shrug. I frown, puzzled. “How long are you going to stay this time?”
He looks at me, his gray eyes suddenly sober and intense. “How long do you want me to?”
I sigh. “It’s never depended on me before.”
He takes another sip from his glass, then lets his eyes wander around the bar before dragging them back to me. “Maybe now it does.”
Three months ago, I would have been overjoyed to hear words like that coming from him, but now…
My brain rebels against the thought, trying to suppress it, but I can’t. It bursts, uncontrollably, to the surface.
Now, I’m in love with Landon.
I draw in a breath, and concentrate on Jack’s face, doing my best to purge every thought of Landon from my mind. Someday, I tell myself. I’ll look at his face and feel as little as I feel right now with Jack. I’ll look at him and be unable to remember the intensity of the emotions now raging inside me.
It’s very unlikely, and there is a sense of loss at the thought of letting go of my feelings for Landon, but what choice do I have?
Jack is looking at me, waiting for a response.
I sigh. “Jack.” My voice is gentle. “You have to let it go.”
“Because of him?”
“Yes, and also because of you. I got over you Jack, let it go.”
He draws in a sharp breath. “I’m trying to.”
We’re both silent. It starts to feel uncomfortable, and I begin to think that maybe I should leave.
“My mother’s back in town,” Jack says.
“Really?” I give him a concerned glance. I’ve never met his mother, but I know who she is. Gertrude Weyland wrote a novel in her early twenties, which, more than thirty years later, had never gone out of print. After that one book, she stopped writing and went to work in publishing. She’s been living in London working as an editor with one of the big publishing companies. All through my years of knowing Jack, he hardly ever mentioned her. From the few times he did, I got the feeling that they didn’t have a good relationship, but I never pressed for the details.
“Is she staying?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” he frowns. “I haven’t seen her.”
He doesn’t look like he wants to either. “Will you?” I ask, wondering how bad their relationship must be for him to be so hesitant. I’ve always been able to take my relationship with my parents for granted. I’ve never had cause to doubt their love and unwavering support. It’s hard for me to understand anyone not being able to enjoy the same kind of relationship with their parents.
Jack shrugs. “I have to.” He downs his drink and signals for a waiter. “Will you come with?”
“Me?” I shake my head in surprise. “Why?”
He sighs. “She and I…” he shakes his head, and there’s no sign of the easy charm that’s usually a part of his every word and expression. “It would be great to have someone else there.”
I pause to think. A few months ago I would have been excited, both at the thought of meeting Gertrude Weyland, and by the fact that she was Jack’s mother. I’d love to meet the woman, but with Jack? I’m not sure.
However, considering it against the bleak hours I have stretched out in front of me, filled with the memories of Landon that I can’t escape, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
I sigh. “When?”
“Tomorrow evening.” He looks grateful. “Or the day after. I’ve stayed away this long. What’s a few more days?”
WE spend the rest of the evening talking about stuff from the office. To my relief, Jack doesn’t venture back into the territory of exploring his feelings for me, whatever they are. It’s almost like old times, except somehow, it’s obvious that we both have a lot on our minds.
When I’m ready to leave, Jack helps me find a cab. In the rearview mirror, I see him standing on the curb watching the cab silently, and the image makes me inexplicably sad.
My phone vibrates, and I fish it out of my bag. There is an alert is for one of my many reminders, and also two missed calls, from Landon.
My breath catches. I stare at his name on the screen, my stomach knotting hard. First his appearance this morning, and now phone calls. It all points to one thing, that he’s as reluctant to let me go as he was when he convinced me to go with him to San Francisco.
The thought is as alarming as it is exciting. A wave of anticipation and expectation floods over my skin, almost sexual in the effect it has on me. I close my eyes and lock the screen before tossing the phone back into my bag, and searching for other things to crowd my head with. Work, even Jack. Everything is safer than thinking about Landon.
The cabbie leaves me outside my apartment building, and a couple of people walk past me, talking and laughing, probably on their way to one of the many clubs on the next street. One of the guys whistles at me, but I ignore him and he goes back to laughing with his friends. I’m about to head for the doors when something catches my attention across the tree-lined street.
The silver Jaguar is parked directly opposite from where I’m standing. The same spot Landon parked the night he came over and called me from his car. A tremor moves slowly up my spine, especially when the pleasurable memories from that night flood my head. It could be anyone, I tell myself, my eyes still on the familiar car. There were probably hundreds of silver jaguars in my neighborhood alone.
But it is Landon.
I watch him step out of the car, his unmistakable lithe form circling around it until he’s standing directly opposite me on the other side of the street. He’s wearing a dark sweatshirt and jeans. At first glance, apart from his searing hotness, he doesn’t look much different from any of the new grads in my neighborhood. But when he moves, there’s something in the way he carries himself, something that points to the fact that beyond the wavy dark-gold hair, the beautifully sculpted face, and the sexy frame, there’s the enigmatic and powerful man beneath, the billionaire owner of the Swanson Court hotels.
What does he want now?
I stand there frozen. We’re looking at each other, silent, but my heart is pounding, my skin heating, my whole body drowning with painful longing. How am I supposed to get over him when just the sight of him renders me confused, aching, and full of desire?
Angry with myself, and with him for making me feel so helpless, I turn around sharply, stalking towards the entrance to my building.
“Rachel,” I hear him call, but I don’t answer. I’m too angry and afraid of what will happen if I let him come too close.
With a few long strides, he catches up to me at the door.
“For God’s sake Rachel. Why are you running?”
I don’t look at him, but I can feel him, so close. His whole body is like a magnet, pulling me helplessly towards him. My hands are shaking, the aching hole in my heart widening painfully. I close my eyes, willing myself to be strong. I want to reach for his face and kiss him, I want to press my body to his and feel the way he wants me. My head fills with possibilities and images, of both of us, bodies entwined, in his car, maybe, or upstairs in my bed.
I try to breathe, and to dispel the erotic images from my mind, before turning to face him. “Maybe because you seem to be stalking me,” I reply, my voice surprisingly steady.
His beautiful lips move in something like a smile, and yearning floods my chest. I can’t do this, I realize. I want him too much. “Landon.” My voice is a whisper. “You should leave.”
“Why?” There is so much to the question. I don’t know how to reply, so I don’t. He makes an exasperated sound in his throat. “How was your date?” he asks bitterly.
“You came all the way over here to ask me that?” I pause, “or to make sure I didn’t end up in Jack’s bed? That’s why you called earlier isn’t it? To make sure that even though I was with him, I wouldn’t forget about you?” I fold my arms and glare at him. “Because you’re what? Jealous?”
My outburst seems to amuse Landon. He leans towards me. “Of course I am,” he whispers.
His face is so close, his vibrant eyes, his incredibly sensuous mouth. I lick my lips, an involuntary movement that he doesn’t miss. His eyes follow the motion with a fierce hunger that draws a reaction from my core. I close my eyes and breathe. He doesn’t feel the same way you feel about him, I tell myself desperately. He’ll never love you the way you want him to.
“Go away,” I whisper.
He moves even closer. “No.”
I look away from his face, reaching into my bag with one hand to fumble for my keys while pushing the outer door open with the other. Landon reaches out to hold the door for me and follows me inside the vestibule. In the small space, his proximity is harder to ignore. I find my keys and lift them to the lock on the inner door, but my hand is shaking so badly, I can hardly get them to fit.
He reaches for my hand and takes the keys from me, unlocking the door and gesturing for me to go in. I step into the lobby, tensing when he follows me.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he tells me, his voice soft. “Not until you stop lying to me.”
I snatch the keys from his hand. “I don’t know what you want to hear,” I say sharply, leaving him and heading for the stairs. He follows me, and I’m all too aware of him behind me, his eyes on me as I climb the stairs, making my legs feel rubbery. At the door to my apartment, I stop. My emotions are warring inside me. One side is screaming for me to admit my feelings to him, another side is angry with him, and with myself for not being stronger. Then there’s the sensible part of my brain, trying to persuade me to stay on course, to stay away from him and protect myself.
I turn around. Landon is at the top step, and he continues to advance until he’s only a few strides from me. My eyes fix on his chest, and I search for something to say. “I got your flowers,” I offer finally, in a vain attempt to relieve the tension I’m feeling.
He cocks his head, probably surprised by the topic I’ve chosen. “Did you like them?”
I look up at him and nod silently.
“I liked the article,” he says.
“I’m glad.” My voice sounds faint, and why do I suddenly feel like crying?
His eyes linger on my lips again. Only for a moment, but warmth floods into the lower part of my belly. The urge to walk into his arms and forget everything else is so strong, it takes all my strength to overcome it.
I suck in a breath. “Landon…” I start. I want to tell him that it’s not a good idea for him to be here, that there’s nothing else to say, but he’s already moved one step forward, his hand going to the small of my back to pull me the rest of the way towards him. He molds my body to his, lowering his lips to capture mine in a deep, searing kiss.
God! He is possessive, masterful, and so sexy, His lips slide over mine, while his tongue probes the seam of my lips, urging me to open my mouth to him. I’m unable… unwilling to resist. He slides his tongue into my mouth to tease and taste mine, and I lose all my ability to think. My stomach tightens with need so intense it’s almost painful. I moan softly and he groans in response, the sound vibrating through my body as sweet desire pulses between my legs.
With the hand at my back, he presses my body closer to his, while he explores my mouth hungrily. My breasts are crushed against his chest, and my whole body feels weak and hot, melting into his, suffused with craving for him. I kiss him back, hungry for more of the taste of his lips, desperate for his touch.
I thread my fingers through his hair, my whole being reveling in the hunger I can feel coming from him, in the hard ridge of his arousal I can feel pressed against my stomach. I grind against him as the pulsing between my legs intensifies. I want him so much. I want him inside me.
Still kissing me, Landon moves his right hand to cup the curve of my butt, while with the other, he braces his weight on the door. I want to tear off my clothes, to give him access to the most heated parts of my body. I moan against his mouth, sucking hungrily on his tongue. His answering groan is like a spark in my blood. Any minute now, I’m going to let him fuck me against the door to my apartment, regardless of the fact that anybody could walk up or down the stairs. I want him so damn much.
But I shouldn’t.
The thought slips into my mind, the first sensible thought I’ve had since he touched me.
I tear my mouth away from his with a desperate moan, pushing as far back from him as the small space allows. I’m breathing heavily and so is he. His eyes are burning hot with arousal, his pupils dilated, and his body so tense, I can almost feel the effort it’s taking for him to control himself.
“You should leave,” I manage. My voice is hoarse, and my hands are shaking. I clench my fingers tightly, trying not to think about the fact that just a few seconds ago, they were buried in his hair. “Please leave.”
“Why?” He sounds as confused as I feel. “Rachel, you want this.”
I shake my head, my trembling body making the gesture a blatant lie. Every single inch of me is pulsing with unfulfilled desire. I want him to kiss me again. I want him to leave me alone so I can get over him. I don’t know what I want.
“Rachel.” Landon’s voice is firm and patient, urging me to listen. I shake my head stubbornly, but he doesn’t stop. “I want you,” he says insistently, “and I know you want me. I’m not going to walk away from this.”
I want you.
The words send a tremor down my spine, and it takes all my willpower to ignore the feelings they invoke in me. But we’ve been here before, and I already know how it ends. Me, back in his bed, wondering how long it will last and worried that it won’t.
When I don’t say anything, he sighs. “Just tell me what you want from me, Rachel.”
I want you to love me! The words hover at the tip of my tongue, but I don’t say them. Instead, I shake my head. “You keep saying you want me, Landon. For what exactly? Just sex? Indefinitely?”
“This means a lot more than sex and you know it.” He touches a finger to my cheek and I start to tremble again. “As long as we both want each other this much, why does it have to end?”
“I don’t want you,” I tell him stubbornly.
“I already said I won’t go anywhere until you stop lying to me.” He pushes back from the door and runs a frustrated hand through his hair. “Rachel, this thing we have…”
I inhale sharply. “Landon… I don’t want a ‘thing.’ I don’t.”
He considers me for a long moment. “So you want something more serious? Some sort of commitment? A relationship?” His eyes flutter closed, then open again. “Rachel, that’s fine. We can have that if it’s what you want, but it’s crazy to keep thinking of excuses why we shouldn’t be together.”
I want to hope, but how different is a ‘relationship’ from what we’d already had. There was still no guarantee that he’d ever allow himself to love me. “A relationship?” I ask softly, folding my arms across my chest. “And that’s all?”
He looks at me, brows raised. “What else is there?”
Love. Why can’t I say the word? Instead, I hold his gaze. “You’re willing to let me be a small part of your life, to go out with you once in a while and be seen with you. That’s what you call a relationship, isn’t it? And when you’ve had enough of the sex, which is what this is really all about. That will be the end, wouldn’t it?
He throws up his hands. “God! I don’t understand you. What the fuck do you want?”
Love. At least a chance at it.
But his thoughts can’t even go there. That’s how alien the idea of love is to him.
“I can’t do this,” I whisper. I want to cry. This whole thing with him is so heartbreaking. “I can’t… Just go away, Landon. Just leave me alone.”
He looks like he’s going to say something else, but then he turns and stalks down the stairs, taking them two at a time. I watch him until he disappears, my heart feeling raw, then I take a deep breath, unlock the door and walk into the apartment.
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