I leaned down until my nose touched his, gasping when he fondled between my legs lightly. “Jonathan,” I whispered, “what are you doing?”
“I just want to know what barriers I’m dealing with here.”
“You always stick your hand up a girl’s skirt on the first date?”
He caressed the insides of my thighs, keeping his touch soft. “I haven’t bothered with an actual date for about nine years.” He angled his face so his lips met mine. I put my hands on his neck and kissed him. The tip of his tongue found mine, and we weaved our mouths together until I was a ball of heat and desire.
“I hate to break this up,” he said, “but we’re on a clock here.”
I groaned. I had no idea how I would make it through dinner.
“And you have to get a change of clothes,” he said. “Jeans and a jacket.”
“Can you let a guy surprise you?” He slapped my ass and pointed to the front door. “Go.”
Still smiling from the delicious sting on my butt, I gathered up clothes, stuffed them into a bag, and ran back out to the porch. He’d parked the Jag in my driveway, right behind my little black Honda. He opened the passenger door for me and closed it when I got in. As he drove up the 101, I put my hand on his, stroking the top of it.
“You working tomorrow?” he asked. “Because I have the day off.”
“Work, then Frontage.”
“Without your partner?” he asked, then waved his hand. “Sorry. Obviously.”
“Yeah. I wanted her on the piece with me and the boys, too. But, shit, I miss her.”
“What boys and what piece?”
“I’m collaborating with Darren and Kevin.”
The car swerved too far right, and he almost had an accident. A horn blared and a middle finger was raised. Jonathan waved in apology. “You were saying?” he asked.
“Don’t have an accident.” He pulled off at Los Feliz Boulevard. “Where are we going?” I asked.
“Small place in the hills.” He turned up into Griffith Park.
“You’re not just taking me to your house, are you?”
“No, not just my house. I have things planned, and they include my place. Initially.” He glanced over at me. “I didn’t suggest a date so I could take you back to my room and pin you to the bed.”
“Are we going to watch the game from your bed?”
“Damn. Brad Chance is pitching.”
“Why bother watching? He’s going to overuse his screwball and wear out his elbow by the third inning.”
“It’s fun watching guys swing at them. Especially Den Adler. He practically falls over,” I snickered.
“So,” he said definitively, stopping at a light, “you’ve avoided this ‘piece’ thing for exactly three minutes, and I’ve been very good about it.”
I put my hands on my knees. “Kevin asked me to collaborate on a thing with him for the B.C. Modern. We’re on a tight deadline. I brought Kevin and Gabby in.” The light changed to green, and I was relieved of the weight of his stare.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because they’re family, and I like working with them.”
“Not as a buffer between you and Kevin?”
“No.” I wasn’t sure if I lied to him or myself.
He pulled the car to a wide space on the side of the road and put it in park. He faced me. “Why did you agree to work with him after what he did at the Eclipse show?”
Layers of emotion masked his face. The top was a cold calm, an understanding bordering on parental. Under that, something wilder, but laser focused and powerful, pushed to the surface. I took a nervous breath. He was pissed, and I’d never seen that before. Goose bumps rose over my arms, and I rubbed my thumbs against my forefingers. I wondered if he could hear the clatter of my heart.
“Having music at the B.C. Modern could make my career. Everyone will hear it. Everyone will review it. It was like being handed a gift, and if I’d refused, I would have regretted it the rest of my life.”
“Your ambition outweighs your sense.”
I tried to match his anger with my own, but I felt puny and unjustified. “We were pretty clear that my work is my work. That hasn’t changed.” I kept my eyes level with his even though I felt the weight of his stare. He didn’t like Kevin. I knew that, but I wouldn’t abdicate my right to live my life as I pleased.
“Everything’s changed, Monica.”
With those few words, I felt two wills pressing against each other, hard, straight, still. Nothing moved. No friction was created between them. His hands clenched the wheel, and mine were wound into fists. I couldn’t bear it. I touched the top of his hand.
He grabbed the back of the neck and pulled my face to his, drowning me in a kiss so hard and hot, I almost forgot what I’d seen in his expression. What had he seen in mine? That my heart could be broken? That I was falling in love with him, and if I tried to stop, the inertia would crack me in two? I pulled my face off his.
I said, “I know you don’t like Kevin.”
“Understatement of the year.”
“He’s harmless. And I’m trustworthy.”
“The latter, I believe. But men know other men.” He stroked my cheek. “Can you not be alone with him? Can you promise me that?”
It was a lot to ask. Darren was involved, but who knew what situations would arise? I covered his hand with mine. He needed me to make an honest effort. I could do that. “Yes.”
“Thank you.” He kissed me and got back onto Los Feliz Boulevard. We made the rest of the trip in hand-holding silence. Whatever anger had manifested in his face got pushed away. He pulled into his driveway, and the gate shut behind us with a clang. He walked around the car and opened my door. I had never seen his house in daylight, never seen the art deco woodwork on the windows or the detailing of the roof shingles. He took my hand and led me up to the porch. The front door was open, and he went in, expecting I’d follow. But I stopped at the threshold.
“What?” he asked. “Cat got your feet?”
“I’ve never entered your house with my clothes on before.”
“Ah. Well, first time for everything.” He tugged on my hand until I crossed into his house. The living room was as it had always been but bathed in light from the setting sun. If the room could look warmer, more inviting, I didn’t know how. He looked back at me and the sunlight dashed off the tips of his eyelashes as he pulled me through rooms and out to the backyard.