“I was scared.”
“I know. And I don’t want you to be scared, either.”
“I should have put that on the list.”
“We’ll make a new list.” I touched her forehead and drew my fingers down, forcing her eyes closed.
“You’re my king, Jonathan.” She’d opened her eyes, but they looked heavy. I kissed them over and over, eyelids, cheek, nose, lips, eyelids again, forcing them closed over and over. When her eyes stayed closed, I knew she was asleep, and I could rest.
But I didn’t. I replayed the night in my head while looking out her window. Dogs barked. A police siren faded into range, then out. She hummed a little in her sleep, then stopped. She’d thought I was going to choke her. She’d thought I was going to put a plastic bag over her head until her body seized up. For thrills.
Obviously, she didn’t trust me yet. It would take time and patience. I hadn’t given either to a woman since Jessica because I gave her too much. My relationship with Monica could only go one place. Me, exposed to her, raw at the edges, breaking down at a shareholder meeting. Crying like—
I couldn’t let myself finish that thought.
In the dead of night, when everyone else slept, was when it happened. I’d never been much of a sleeper, maxing out at four hours a night by the time I’d finished adolescence. Having business in Asia helped. I could make calls and send emails. Taking a lot of women to bed helped with the voices a little, but the dead-of-night hours were still spent alone. Then it took over.
It was my father’s voice. The voice told me that the things I had done wrong were irreversible. My mistakes were yokes I could either break under or become strong enough to pull, but they could not be shaken. Marrying Jessica, which I had convinced myself was the only right thing I’d done, sat front and center. I’d screwed it up by trying to get her to fit into my sexual fantasies. If I’d stayed silent, just done things her way, I could have been happy. In the dead of night, the regret of putting my desires above love split me, gutted me, dragged me into despair. Come morning, the voice slumbered. The torment played on an infinite loop until I dreaded the sun’s dip below the skyline.
The voice was quiet that night, just a hum of warning. I could be that man again very easily. It was no harder than tripping on a bump in the sidewalk or cutting myself shaving, a slip in concentration long enough to lose control. I could fall off the tightrope to either side if I blinked at the wrong time.
I forced my eyes closed and listened to Monica’s breaths. Eventually, I fell asleep.
I woke up at 5:16 a.m., sore everywhere. My feet hurt from the stilettos. My knees from kneeling on the kitchen floor. My pu**y from getting f**ked hard, twice. My ass from the spanking. My tits from the biting and pulling. I wanted Jonathan again. I had about an inch of my body, somewhere, that wasn’t throbbing and sore. He needed to find it and f**k it.
I heard his voice from far away, and I realized he wasn’t next to me. He was on the side patio, facing the driveway and talking on the phone. After using the bathroom and getting into a robe and slippers, I joined him outside.
He sat at the little table I’d found on the corner of Echo Park Ave and Montana. His elbow was on the glass as he wrote something in a notebook and tapped something else into his phone.
“Good morning,” I said.
He reached for me, pulling me into his lap. “Good morning.” I flinched when my butt touched the hard surface of his knee. “Sorry,” he said when he saw me lower myself slowly. “I mean, I’m not.”
“Me neither.” I leaned into the pain and sat on his leg.
“I have to go to Washington in a few days. I could be gone a week. A congressman from Arkansas doesn’t want me building hotels overseas. I have an appointment to kiss his ass.”
He wasn’t just telling me he had to split. He was apologizing. I kissed him long and hard, running my fingers through his hair. “I knew you traveled a lot even before I met you.”
“Will you keep yourself busy without me?” he asked.
“In all the most boring ways.”
He slipped his hand between my legs and stroked inside my thigh. “What will you do?”
“I’ll call you at night,” I whispered.
“What else?” His fingertips touched my snatch just a little, like a threat of more.
“I’ll text you every time I think of you. So, all the time.” I opened my legs for him.
“I’ll go to work.”
“Yes.” He breathed on my neck, his finger so close to finding me sore, wet, and ready.
“I have to work on the B.C. Mod piece. We’re really behind.”
His hand stopped dead. “When I’m away?”
I cringed a little inside. Shit. “You’re away a lot. Should I stop working?”
“Maybe I should take you with me everywhere.”
I stood and threw myself into the other chair. “You think I’m going to run off and f**k someone else as soon as your back is turned? What kind of person do you think I am?”
He put his elbow on the arm of his chair and rubbed his eyes. I had an inner, boiling-hot rage cooled only by remembering what his wife did. He needed reassurance, not defensiveness. Even if he didn’t and couldn’t love me, thinking he didn’t have feelings or carry baggage was immature.
He said, “I trust you. I don’t trust him.”
I leaned forward and softened my voice. “It could be huge for me. Kevin is very important—”
“I don’t want to hear that name.”
“How are we supposed to talk about it? I mean, you trust me, but you don’t trust him. Do you think he’ll rape me?” I crossed my legs.
He took a long pause, looking at me. I would have bet two weeks’ tips he was deciding whether or not to say something, or reveal a piece of information, but he looked away and tapped his notebook. “Do you think his Eclipse piece said anything about how he’ll treat you?”
“He’s Kevin Wainwright. He starts with the obvious emotions, then gets cold, then flushes what he can’t use down the toilet. So that piece? I never saw the documentation, but my guess is someone just bought a pile of drawings of a dark-haired woman getting the shit beat out of her.”
“How is he starting this piece with you? What’s the early documentation look like?”
His eyes didn’t waver from mine, so he must have seen my reaction. My ears got hot and my arms tensed, because Kevin’s studio had been filled with raunchy sex drawings. Was that what he intended to work on with me? Were we talking about love or sex or the intersection of both? Had I been naïve and foolish?