Yep. Definitely didn’t want to go where he was going.
Which was admittedly naïve because what did I expect? More to the point, what did I think I wanted him to say? That he wasn’t bothered by my brush-off? That he hadn’t noticed I’d ducked out on him? That everything was hunky-dory?
No, I wanted him to be bothered because it meant he cared. So I’d have to take it, whether I liked confrontation or not.
“Okay, well.” I bit my lip as I gathered my words. “The first time shouldn’t even count because you left the bed before I did. Excuse me for thinking maybe my presence was no longer wanted.” I’d come off a little bitchier than I’d meant to, but I didn’t regret it. He needed to know I was bothered by what he did too.
“Yeah. Because I’ve made it so obviously clear how much I don’t want you.” His sarcastic retort made me scowl.
But it also made my heart trip. Silly, really. I already knew he wanted me. Of course I did. Hearing him say it, though, when he wasn’t seconds from pushing inside of me and I still had all my clothes on—it felt different. It felt like he was saying something more than he was. It messed me up.
Feeling out of control, I turned away from him. “You disappeared. I took it at face value.” I busied myself with making sure the chairs were arranged around the tables the way the party had requested instead of with studying JC’s expression and trying to analyze its meaning.
Behind me, he let out a frustrated sigh. “I was downstairs. You fell asleep. I figured you needed your rest, so I went down to play a bit. It hadn’t ever been a problem before.”
I spun toward him. “You’d abandoned me before?”
“Don’t make this bigger than it is.” He pulled his legs in and leaned over, his elbows resting on his thighs. “I’d slipped out a couple of times before, yes. Like I said, it’s never been a problem.”
“You couldn’t leave a note?”
“I could say the same to you.”
He had a point. At least when he’d left, he’d intended to come back. I hadn’t.
But I was hurt. I was mad. I was self-righteous. “Hey, I’m not going to feel bad about leaving that night. You were closed off from the minute I walked in the door.” My words were heavy and bitter on my tongue. “Really, I guess you didn’t abandon me since you were never really there.”
I despised everything coming out of my mouth. They threw blame, and worse, they gave me away. I preferred that he didn’t realize I had feelings for him. There was no way I wanted to be accused of breaking our deal by falling for him. In fact, if he confronted me about it, I’d probably deny it. And I’d look more foolish than I already did because it was so obvious that I felt a lot.
Yet I couldn’t stop myself. I kept saying the girly, emotional blackmail-y shit that I hated saying almost as much as I hated feeling.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Gwen. I was there.” He didn’t meet my eyes, though, and I felt justified. Because it reinforced my belief that he’d been closed off on purpose.
Didn’t that mean he really had felt something for me? Why else would he try to hide himself? And if he’d felt it for one day, why couldn’t he feel it again?
Maybe I was being too obstinate. If I gave him time, if I was patient with him, perhaps he could become more comfortable with the emotion.
On the other hand, what if I just got further wrapped up in him and he never came around?
His gaze found mine. As always, he saw right through me. Saw me debating. He took advantage of it. “You remember. I know you do. Or should I remind you what happened that night? Should I tell you what we did?” His eyes were dark now. “We had a pretty fantastic time, if you’ll recall.”
I didn’t want to talk about the fantastic time we’d had. I was already wavering, and for whatever ridiculous reason, our argument had only elevated my desire. My core was wet and tingling and thoughts of fantastic times were not what I needed.
I turned back to the chairs, shifting them gruffly. “You know what? Forget I said anything. I left because you were gone. You didn’t try to reach me after, so I assumed it hadn’t been an issue.”
“I figured you needed your space. I’d pushed you that night. Sexually.” He was still teasing, trying to push my buttons. Trying to get my thoughts where he wanted them—on our physical connection. On how good we were together.
It didn’t work. That he’d thought it had been about sex actually made things worse. Fucking asshole. My irritation notched up, when I should have been relieved that he hadn’t called me out on emotional involvement.
And if I really hadn’t been fine with the kink, as he said he’d suspected, then shouldn’t he have been more concerned about checking in on me?
“Whatever,” I said, more to myself than to him. I couldn’t talk about that night anymore. Thinking about it was starting to rub at me like the itchy fabric of a wool sweater. It looked good, but it also scratched, scratched, scratched.
I had to get rid of the sweater.
I spun back to him with false bravado. “Anyway, the second surprise shouldn’t have been a surprise either. After three weeks, I figured you’d get the hint.”
His posture tensed. “Get what hint?”
With his eyes on me, it was harder to say it. Even though I’d practiced it all day. It’s over. I opened my mouth to say it. Nothing came out.
JC bolted out of his chair and closed nearly the whole distance between us, his face hard. Harder than I’d ever seen it. “Get what hint?” he asked again.
I shrunk back, unable to speak or look away. Doubt trembled down my spine. I’d done this wrong. In this moment, I realized my actions had felt shitty because they had been.
He read the guilt on my expression. “Are you ending our arrangement, Gwen? Because I think that I at least deserve the courtesy of getting that kind of news face-to-face.”
I pushed past the lump in my throat. “I’m sorry. You’re right. You did.” God, I felt small. And tired. And out of my league. “I thought that…” That if I’d shown up to break things off face-to-face, I’d never go through with it. I couldn’t tell him that. “I don’t know what I thought. I was wrong.”
He held his arms out to the side in a grand gesture. “Finally. We’re getting somewhere.” His hands fell to his side. “Now. Why?”