“I need you fueled up for what I want to do to you tonight.” His eyes lingered on mine.
Oh. So it wasn’t some romantic gesture. It was about sex. I helped myself to the food. I might as well enjoy the meal.
We made our plates, taking a little of everything, and then settled on the bed. Ben flipped on the TV to some French news program for background noise while we ate. It was relaxing and so ordinary. And perfect.
We chatted casually throughout the meal, and Ben asked me questions about college. He seemed genuinely interested and admitted he’d always wanted to go to college, but Fiona thought it would slow down his career. Money and exposure now, college later. Even if I could see her reasoning, it made me sad for him.
The conversation I really wanted to have—about his prescriptions—remained just out of reach. I’d already asked about them once; I didn’t want to push him. He’d tell me when he was ready. I had to believe that.
Ben cleared away the dishes then stretched out on the bed next to me. I was comfortable and full and relaxed into the fluffy white bedding. Ben lifted my bare feet into his lap and began lazily rubbing them. It felt amazing. I let my eyes slip closed, allowing the food coma to set in.
“Thank you for breakfast. It wasn’t anything like the home cooking where I’m from, but . . .” I smiled. “It was delicious. Maybe you’ll have to come to Tennessee with me sometime.”
His brow crinkled.
“I want to be upfront with you.”
Her eyes lifted to mine. God, she was so sweet, it almost made me feel bad. Almost. But I knew what I wanted and the pleasures I could show her. I wouldn’t let anything complicate that. If she was talking about taking me home to Tennessee, clearly we weren’t on the same page about what this was.
“Emmy, I’m not looking for a relationship. I’ve been on my own too long; I’ve gotten too good at it.”
“That doesn’t mean that’s how it has to be.” Her voice was small and she looked down. She wanted to challenge me on this, but seemed reluctant to push me. She wanted it to be my choice. But I knew what I wanted.
Using two fingers, I lifted her chin, forcing her eyes up to mine. “I know. But it’s how I like it. Having to only worry about myself.”
Emmy waited, her eyes on mine, waiting to see what else I’d say.
If I was smart, I’d push her away right now. I’d spill my history, my twisted past, all the many ways I’d f**ked up. That would send her running. But something in me wouldn’t do that. Refused. I wanted her too badly. This sweet, soft-spoken girl who was far too normal and nice for me. I wanted her. And it wasn’t just about sex, either. I couldn’t lie, being buried balls deep in her sweet body sounded f**king amazing, though that wasn’t all I wanted if I was being honest. But, unwilling to let myself f**k with both her body and her mind, I needed to remind her this was only about sex.
I pushed on, needing to kill her hope for more. “Is what we have right now so bad?” I asked, one side of my mouth lifting in a playful grin.
She merely blinked up at me, like she wanted to disagree, to tell me I was wrong, that this could work if I would only try. But she deserved better—a proper boyfriend who’d cherish her, not hide her from the world in a hotel room.
“Ben . . .” she started.
My finger over her lips silenced her. “I’m just not capable of giving you everything you need.”
She took my hand and squeezed it in hers, as if saying, “You’re wrong.”
My chest throbbed. She looked at me like I was good and whole and someone she wanted to take care of. I wouldn’t push her away, as long as she knew what she was getting and not getting. “I don’t know where I’ll be living a few months from now. There’s constant temptation in this business. Don’t complicate this, Emmy. It’s two and a half months. Let me have you.”
“Baby, you’re on my mind constantly. There’s no one else. Come on . . . let me have you how I want you. I promise you won’t regret it.”
Let me have you. Ben’s words rang in my head while his soulful eyes remained locked on mine. Could I do that? Could I hand him the keys to my body and not my heart? I realized with shocking clarity that this was who he was—how he grew up. He had watched his mom with a constant parade of men, and that was the norm. Moving all the time, relying only on himself. He learned to meet his physical needs with whomever was there with him, never getting too attached, knowing he’d eventually move on.
In contrast, my parents were high school sweethearts. I was pretty sure they’d been intimate only with each other—yet I knew they regretted nothing. They were still deeply in love after all these years.
The resolute look in his eyes, his belief that he was better off alone, broke my heart.
I tried not to read too much into it. He said it was two and half more months—just sex. But every time he said or did something sweet, like this breakfast, or opening up to me, or insisting I spend the night in his bed, my heart got confused. I knew it was stupid, wishful thinking, but maybe we could be more. Maybe I could change his mind about commitment. It was probably stupid, but my brain latched on anyway. Didn’t every girl want the fairytale romance with Prince Charming? Maybe this was my chance. I couldn’t give up on him.
“Thank you for dinner,” I murmured, determined to relax and enjoy myself, despite his disappointing attitude on relationships.
Each time he called me beautiful my heart skipped a beat. He made me feel all squirmy, like I was fifteen again, trying to attract the cute guy’s attention. Luckily, I seemed to have somehow captured his complete attention and adoration. His thumbs stroked my instep and his eyes stayed locked on mine.
“Does this feel good?” he asked, pressing his knuckles firmly into the bottom of my foot.
Good wasn’t a strong enough word. After walking all day in unsupportive flats that pinched my feet, this was heaven. “I f**king love it. Actually I flove it.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Inventing new words, Miss Clarke?”
I smiled and nodded shyly.
“I’ll call Webster’s,” he said. “Have it added to the dictionary.”
His playfulness should have lightened the tone, but I could tell something more was on his mind. He continued rubbing my feet for several minutes in silence before laying them gingerly at the end of the bed to join me, leaning against the headboard. He didn’t meet my eyes, just continued staring straight ahead.
“I take meds for anxiety and insomnia, and a couple different prescription sleep aids. I’ve had trouble sleeping since I was a kid. And the anxiety meds help with that. I don’t like taking the sleep aids. They make me feel like a zombie.”
I waited, nodding slightly, urging him to continue.
“I didn’t have the most traditional upbringing.”
That was the understatement of the year. His mom was a celebrity and they’d lived all over the world. I knew instead of going to school he’d had a private tutor that traveled with them.
“I used to stay up late at night, baby-sitting my mom while she partied. Used to force my eyelids to stay open, trying my hardest to stay awake. I was convinced something bad would happen if I fell asleep. It was a stupid childhood fear, really. But I used to find her in the morning and regret not staying up to take care of her.”
His childhood had been so different from mine. Instead of days filled with climbing trees and catching frogs, and nights spent making pillow-forts, Ben watched over his mom. It broke my heart. I now understood the intensity in his eyes was due in part to his life experiences, the wariness to open himself up for a relationship. But it had to mean something that he was sharing this with me.
Ben took a deep breath and released it slowly. I gave his hand a gentle squeeze, urging him onward.
“I’d find her in the morning, sick, hungover, vomit in her hair, mascara smudged under her eyes, or worse, unconscious on the floor. Sleep was the enemy. And even now, I don’t know why that stayed with me all these years—the hectic travel schedule, time zone changes, stress from work, you name it. I guess old habits die hard, because I still can’t sleep for shit.”
I thought about the times I’d seen Ben on set, the hardened intensity in his eyes. His steely look had nothing to do with hours of practice in front of a mirror, but instead had everything to do with a sad, lonely life replete of love. How had no one made this beautiful man feel loved and cared for?
He shrugged, looking down. “I’m probably not the guy you thought I was.”
I grabbed his hands and gave them a squeeze. “No.” His eyes lifted to meet mine. “You’re better. You’re sweet and giving and insanely good at dirty texts.” And a boy that loved his momma was something I could relate to.
He laughed, a deep, rumbling belly laugh that was like music to my ears. “The crazy thing is that last night, I curled right up with you and fell asleep. I never do that. Every night I lie awake for hours. You’re like a magic cure.”
I remembered the way he’d held me against his chest, his breathing growing deep and even as he’d fallen right to sleep. It was sweet to think I was some type of cure to his insomnia.
He leaned toward me and kissed me softly. “Thank you.”
Her gaze was so sincere, so humble, so caring, I had no choice but to open up and tell her the whole sordid truth. Even if it was too much for her to handle, and she got up and fled the room, that would have been okay, too. I’d repeatedly told her this wasn’t anything more than two people enjoying each other. But the idea of her leaving sent an ache racing through my chest. I didn’t want to watch her walk away again.
I was glad she hadn’t. She’d simply grabbed my hand and squeezed.
Emmy was caring and warm. She was the make-you-soup-when-you’re-sick type. She’d bring you pain reliever and palm your forehead to see if you had a temperature. She had natural motherly instincts. Not that I would know much about that. No, I didn’t have that type of mother. I had the party-till-4 a.m.–red-carpet–jet-setting–yacht-gracing–actor-dating type of mom who barely managed to stay out of the tabloids.
Emmy’s sweet, simple lifestyle and outlook was a nice change of pace. It was shockingly normal, and I found that great. Sometimes I craved normal. Especially since my life was anything but.
I’d envied those families in the sitcoms I watched growing up—with a mom and a dad who went to jobs and came home each night, threw the ball around in the yard. I’d never known anything like that growing up. I was willing to bet Emmy had.
She’d listened to me speak without interrupting, a little line creasing her forehead. She didn’t judge me, didn’t look at me like I was some damaged a**hole. Then after we’d been intimate, she’d changed into one of my T-shirts while we got ready for bed. I loved seeing her wearing one of my old shirts. She looked a f**k of a lot better in them than I did. Her soft, curvy body and chest filled out the front nicely.
Climbing into bed, Emmy turned to face me, looking up at me. The way she looked at me wasn’t like I was used to. She gazed deep into my eyes in a sort of mesmerized way while I brushed the long strands of hair back from her face. The moment meant something. I’d told her it was just physical, yet even I couldn’t deny that this felt deeper than two people sharing a blissful postsex moment. I didn’t quite understand it, but I couldn’t look away, either. Her pretty gray eyes were wide and continued watching mine. Her skin was pink and glowing, and a calm relaxation spread across her features. I liked knowing I put that look there.
I just liked being around her—even without the sex. It was a strange realization. I didn’t have girlfriends. Shit, I rarely hung out with friends, period. My travel schedule didn’t allow it. I had fellow models I hung out with and girls I f**ked. But Emmy was more than that; I didn’t know how or even what that meant; she just was.
Everything about her was special and beautiful. I didn’t know what was happening between us, but this was definitely some type of moment. The way her eyes saw everything—looked straight into me—was too much. I pulled her down to my chest, feeling her heart thumping wildly against mine.
“Rest, baby.” I just wanted to hold her. Normally I wanted girls gone as soon as I came. But not Emmy. She could stick around. She was warm and soft, and she smelled nice. And she didn’t feel the need to fill the silence with mindless chatter, a quality I definitely appreciated. This was nice. Just the beating of our two hearts and her soft breathing. It provided the perfect backdrop to fall asleep to. Something I never thought I’d say. But this girl seemed to be a cure to my insomnia.
I woke in the night, too warm, with a heavy weight pressing against me. Ben’s arm was flung over my middle, locking me in place beside him. I tore the covers off my legs, separating myself from the death grip Ben had me in. I rolled away from him, the cool sheets feeling like heaven against my overheated skin.
Waking slightly, Ben whispered my name and I could tell something was bothering him. The distressed tone of his voice was like a knife to my heart. He bore some great burden and I was the key to freeing him. I moved closer, and forgetting all about how warm I had been, held him tight, running my hands up and down his back to soothe him back to sleep. If he needed me, I was there.
He breathed my name once more before dozing off again. I wanted him to feel safe and comforted. To not have to take those pills again.
His story about his mother ripped at my heart. Ben was like no one I’d ever met. I could feel something pulling us together in my very soul. We were the same: This man who wanted more had desperately tried to win his mother’s love and approval. I wanted more—better—for myself, too. I wanted to make my parents proud. I wasn’t trying to win their approval, but wanted to show them all their hard work was for a reason, that I could make something of myself. We were each driven by that basic need to please our parents. I guess it was true what they said—you never really escaped your childhood. The desire to soothe his fears was an overwhelming urge. I wrapped my arms around him and held on tight.