Tamed, p.14
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       Tamed, p.14
 

         Part #3 of Tangled series by Emma Chase
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  put you through. Delores can be a major pain in the ass, but it’s only because she’s been hurt—trusted the wrong people . . . and now’s she’s scared of being wrong again. But . . . she loves . . . deep. She gives everything she’s got. If she lets you in—she’ll never let you down.”

  “I know she’s worth it.” I chuckle. “And I’m working on getting her to let me in.”

  Billy takes a drag on his beer. “Good.”

  He offers me another shot—I shake my head and he drinks it himself.

  Then he says, “I know you don’t know me, man, but I’m hoping you’ll be straight with me. Is something going on between Kate and that Evans guy?”

  The words hang for a moment, and I ask cautiously, “Did Kate tell you something was going on between them?”

  He drinks his beer and shakes his head. “Nah—just a feeling. She’s always mentioning him—either because he’s pissed her off or he’s helping her out or he’s done something fucking brilliant.”

  In situations like these, I don’t like to lie. I was raised on the idea that how you treat others is how the world will turn around and treat you. At the same time, Drew is my best friend. So while Billy seems like a good guy, if I need to have someone’s back here, it’s not going to be his.

  “Kate really doesn’t seem like the type to cheat, Billy.”

  “She’s not. At least, she never was before.”

  I nod. “And Drew . . . well, he doesn’t screw around with girls from the office. It’s kind of a rule he lives by. He’s never broken it before. Not once.”

  He leans back on the couch, mollified—relieved—by my statement.

  Then, roughly, he says, “This sucks.”

  I agree. “Breakups always do.”

  He snorts. “This is my first one. Kate and me . . . we’ve been together forever—since we were fifteen. She’s been my first everything. I thought she’d be my last everything too. My only.”

  I just nod and let him talk.

  “But the last few years . . . it feels like we’ve just been holding each other back, you know? I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving her . . . but it’s not the same. It’s not enough. We don’t . . . fit . . . anymore.”

  Sympathetically, I tell him, “That happens—a lot. People change.”

  He nods too. “Yeah.” He takes another swig of beer. “Still fucking blows chunks though.”

  “It gets better.”

  We sit silently for a few minutes—our heart-to-heart time over.

  So I pick up the remote and pull up the on-demand movies. “You want to watch Predator?”

  Billy pours himself another shot. “Sure. Never seen it.”

  I grin. “It’ll change your life.”

  A few hours before sunrise, Delores comes walking back into her apartment. I’m half asleep on the well-used recliner while Billy’s passed out cold on the couch.

  The vodka bottle sits empty on the coffee table—its purpose fulfilled.

  Dee kicks off her shoes with a sigh. Then she sees me. And she’s surprised. “You’re still here?”

  “Am I not supposed to be?”

  “No, no, it’s fine.”

  She covers her cousin with the throw blanket, brushing his hair back tenderly, like a mother with a feverish toddler. Then, she walks past me into her bedroom. I get up and follow her.

  “How’s Kate?”

  Delores takes off the outfit she’s still wearing from the party—letting the clothes fall off her to the floor. Leaving them there. Revealing tiny leopard print panties and a matching strapless bra.

  “Kate’s a mess. She’s hurt . . . Billy said some messed-up stuff during their argument. Harsh shit. And she feels guilty. Billy worked his ass off to support Katie while she was in school. She hates herself, now that she won’t be able to return the favor.”

  Dee keeps her back to me when she removes her bra, only turning around after she slips a red Phillies T-shirt over her head.

  “Thank you for staying with him, Matthew.”

  “Of course.”

  She sighs, but her shoulders are stiff. “I’m really tired.”

  I start to unbutton my shirt, to join Dee in bed. I’m not looking to get laid—although with the amount her cousin drank tonight, I don’t think even a full-fledged fuck fest would wake him up. But I’m not expecting what Dee says next.

  “You can go now.”

  My fingers freeze on the buttons. “What?”

  “I said, thank you, I’m tired—you can go.” And her eyes are flat, her face taught—like a mannequin in a department store.

  I step toward her, trying to make it past her attitude.

  “Dee, I know you’re upset . . .”

  “Or maybe I just don’t want you here, Matthew!” she lashes out. “Maybe I just want to be alone.”

  And, yes—in case you’re wondering—this is my pissed-off face. Jaw clenched, lips tight, eyes alive with adrenaline. I’m angry at her words—her outlook—her stubborn fucking inability to look at me and our relationship without the black cloud of her past hanging over it.

  “You don’t want to be alone—you’re just fucking scared. You see Kate and your cousin and you don’t want to feel what they’re feeling . . .”

  She claps her hands slowly. Sarcastically.

  “Brilliant deduction, Watson. Forget Chippendales—if banking doesn’t work out, it sounds like you want to be a therapist.”

  I push a hand through my hair, trying to rein in the frustration that makes me want to put my hand through her bedroom wall.

  “This pushing me away shit is getting really fucking old, Delores.”

  “Well there’s the door.” She points at it. “Why don’t you go find yourself something brand spanking new.”

  My voice is low—but fuming. “Good idea. I’ll do that.”

  Then I turn around and walk out of the goddamn room.

  I make it all the way to the living room—my hand on the apartment door—before I stop. Because this is exactly what she’s expecting. For me to give up. On her.

  On us.

  Dee would rather hit first and then throw in the towel than risk getting sucker punched later on.

  I know this. As well as I know the last thing she really wants is for me to leave.

  To leave her alone.

  My hand drops from the door and I walk purposefully back into her bedroom. She sits ramrod straight on the edge of her bed, facing away from me.

  “I’m not leaving. You want to yell? You can yell at me. Feel like hitting something? I can take a punch. Or, we don’t have to talk at all. But . . . I’m not going anywhere.”

  I sit on the bed and take off my shoes—the rest of my clothes quickly follow. Dee slides under the covers, then switches off the lamp, but the room doesn’t plunge into total darkness. There’s just enough light from the window to make out her silhouette—on her back, staring up at the ceiling. Boxers on, I climb under the covers next to her. And as soon as my head is on the pillow, she moves closer, turning on her side and resting her forehead against my bicep.

  “I’m glad you didn’t go.”

  I wrap my arm around her, pulling our bodies together—her cheek now on my chest, her hand on my stomach, our legs entwined. Delores whispers, “What am I supposed to do tomorrow? It’s Thanksgiving. Kate, Billy, and I were going to spend the day together—go out for steak.”

  My brow wrinkles. “Steak?”

  I feel her shrug. “Everybody eats turkey. I hate doing what everyone else does.”

  And I can’t help but smile.

  “I can’t choose between them,” she continues. “This is going to be hard enough—I don’t want either of them to feel lonely.” Dee lifts her head and looks into my eyes. “If Steven and Alexandra broke up, who would you pick to spend the day with?”

  I stroke her back lightly and answer in the most unhelpful way possible.

  “I don’t know.”

  She lies back down on my chest. And I add,
You don’t have to choose. You could blow them both off equally and come to Drew’s parents’ place with me for dinner.”

  She snorts. “No, I can’t do that.”

  I didn’t actually think she’d go for it.

  I suggest an alternative. “Your cousin is going to be sleeping it off for many hours to come. And when he does wake up, I can guarantee he’s not gonna want to eat steak. Leave Billy a note, meet up with Kate for brunch, spend the afternoon with her, then take him out for a late dinner.”

  “But they’ll both still be alone, for part of the day at least.”

  “They’re adults, Dee. They’ll deal. And who knows, maybe tomorrow they’ll patch things up.”

  “I don’t think so,” she says softly. “It’s probably for the best if they don’t.”

  “That’s pretty much what your cousin said too.”

  She kisses my chest lightly—one sweet peck. “It’s just . . . sad. The end of an era.”

  I squeeze her. Dee tilts her head back to look at me. “Matthew, these last few weeks with you and me . . . I . . .” She pauses and licks her lips. “I . . . I’m really glad you stayed tonight.”

  “Me too.”

  After a few minutes, her breathing turns steady and deep. I think she’s fallen asleep, until, in a small voice she says, “Just . . . don’t hurt me . . . okay.”

  I run my hand through her hair and hold her tight. “Not ever, Delores. Promise.”

  They’re the last words we speak before we both fall asleep.

  Early the next morning, Dee wakes up just long enough to kiss me good-bye. I walk past Billy—dead to the world—on the couch and go home for a long shower. Then I drive up to Drew’s parents’ country place for the day’s festivities.

  All the usual suspects are in attendance—John and Anne, Steven and Alexandra, George, and my mother and father. I make my way through the handshakes and hugs to the back sunroom, which affords a panoramic view of the pristine backyard. And a view of Drew—with Mackenzie—riding opposite ends of the very same seesaw we played on, as kids, a lifetime ago.

  Although they seem to be engaged in a serious conversation, I walk out the back door anyway, to join them. Drew lets Mackenzie know I’m here and she jumps off the seesaw, runs, and throws herself into my arms like she hasn’t seen me for months. But I eat it up and give her a long hug when her little arms wrap around my neck.

  Then I set her down and we walk back to Drew. “Hey, man,” he greets me.

  “What’s up?” I ask. “You go out early last night? You never came back to the party.”

  He shrugs. “My head wasn’t in it. I hit the gym and went to bed.”

  Huh. That kind of behavior is weird for Drew, and I wonder if it has anything to do with his pissy attitude toward Kate and Billy at the party.

  “You hung out with that Delores chick?” he asks.

  I nod. And test the waters. “Her, Kate, and Billy.”

  He shakes his head. “That guy licks ass.”

  Mackenzie walks over to us and holds up the Bad Word Jar—Alexandra’s invention—to keep us in check around her kid. It’s simultaneously a bane of my existence and completely fucking hysterical.

  “He’s not so bad.”

  Drew says, “Idiots annoy me.” And he loses another dollar.

  I think he does it on purpose—actually curses more than he would if the jar didn’t exist. Like a twisted sort of reverse psychology, just to buck the system and show his sister that he won’t be controlled.

  And maybe you’re wondering why I haven’t told him about Billy and Kate’s breakup? The answer is simple: Guys don’t fucking gossip. We don’t talk about shit like that—other people’s relationship issues. We barely talk about our own relationship issues. It’s just that simple.

  Plus, Drew would be on Kate like white on rice, if he knew she got dumped. Because everyone knows dumped chicks are low-hanging fruit. Easy pickings. I think it would give him an unfair advantage in their little battle of the sexes. One he doesn’t need.

  Lastly, people break up all the time . . . only to get back together the very next day. Despite what Dee said, Billy seemed pretty devastated over Kate. I have a feeling he’s going to try for one more at bat before that particular game gets called.

  There’s no point in getting Drew’s hopes up in the meantime.

  “So what’s the deal with you and Delores?” he asks.

  I smile. And keep it simple. “We’re hanging out. She’s cool.”

  “I’m assuming you’ve nailed her?”

  I frown. Because even though I know he doesn’t mean to be disrespectful, Dee’s not just some random chick. Hearing him talk about her like she is feels disrespectful. So I set him straight. “It’s not like that, Drew.”

  Now he’s confused. “Then what’s it like, Matthew? You haven’t hung out in over two weeks. I can understand you being too pussy-whipped to come out if you’re getting some. But if not, what’s the deal?”

  I wait for Mackenzie to approach us with the Bad Word Jar . . . but she doesn’t. Guess she didn’t hear that one.

  Then I try to get Drew to understand, but since he’s never been in love with anyone except himself, I really don’t know if he can. “She’s just . . . different. It’s hard to explain. We talk, you know? And I’m always kind of thinking about her. It’s like the minute I drop her off, I can’t wait to see her again. She just . . . amazes me. I wish you knew what I meant.”

  He warns me. “You’re in dangerous territory, man. You see what Steven goes through. This path leads to the Dark Side. We always said we wouldn’t go there. You sure about this?”

  I just keep smiling. And in my best Darth Vader voice I tell him, “You don’t know the power of the Dark Side.”

  This Thanksgiving dinner is definitely one for the record books. Or the scrapbooks. If I’d had my camera handy, I totally would have documented the entire hilarious, horrifying debacle. It was stupid of me to think the all-hearing Mackenzie didn’t pick up on Drew calling me “pussy-whipped.” She heard, all right. The reason she didn’t charge him was because she didn’t know it was a “bad word.”

  After she repeated it at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table? Then she knew. And all hell broke loose.

  I can’t help but chuckle again. Her asking Steven, “ ‘Wha’s pussy-whipped, Daddy?’ ” will forever live in my brain as the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard. I was so shocked, I spit out the black olive in my mouth and almost blinded Steven when it hit him right in the eye. Drew’s father practically choked to death on his turkey and my mother knocked over her glass of wine—leaving a permanent reminder on Anne Evans’s lace table cloth.

  Good times.

  Alexandra was rightly and truly pissed. Of course, if her ire was directed at me, I probably wouldn’t find it so awesomely amusing. But it’s aimed squarely at Drew, so I laugh over Mackenzie’s parody and its aftershocks the entire ride home.

  I only wish Delores had been with me to see it. Speaking of Dee, before I get back to the city, I stop for gas and call her to see how her day went.

  “Better than expected,” she says. “But, can I stay at your place tonight? My cousin is channeling his feelings into his music. And while I love listening to him sing, if I have to hear one more fucking song about his heart breaking, I’m going to make our food poisoning episode look like a hiccup.”

  And my life just got a whole lot more perfect. I know when things first started with Dee and I, she said she wasn’t into relationships. And I know she’s had her moments of insecurity—but look at us now. She’s coming to me, asking to stay at my place. That’s a huge tell. It means she wants the same things I do. That we’re on the same page. That she’s invested—interested in a future—with me.

  I chuckle against the cell phone. “Sure, I’ll be at my apartment in thirty minutes. Come on over, baby.”

  It’s always darkest before the dawn. It’s a common saying. What’s less common, but equally true is, Pride comes
before the fall.

  Remember a while back I told you that women needed to stop playing the victim card? Stop reading into a guy’s actions, thinking they mean something more than they do, and just accept what a man is telling them, straight up? I was so into Dee, so eager to take what we had and run with it all the way into the end zone, I ignored my own advice.

  Ever heard of the myth of Icarus?

  You probably weren’t expecting a Greek mythology lesson, but indulge me anyway—this is important. Icarus was the son of a master craftsman. His father made him a pair of wings out of feathers and wax and warned him, before he took off, to stay on the flight path. Not to fly too high. Icarus agreed.

  But once he was airborne, he was so caught up in how amazing it felt—the beauty and warmth of the sun—he forgot all about the warning. He ignored the signs that were right in front of him because he was positive he knew where he was going, thought he had everything under control.

  You can guess what happened next. Yep, Icarus got burned. His wings fell apart and he came crashing back to earth.

  Unfortunately . . . I can relate to that.

  Chapter 16

  The Bible says there’s a time for all things under heaven. A time for peace and a time for war, a time to reap and a time to sow . . . a time to love . . . and a time to tell a girl you love her.

  It doesn’t actually say that. But it should. Because many poor bastards make the mistake of telling a woman at the wrong fucking time.

  Like after sex. Wrong. That’s just asking for trouble.

  Or during an argument. Really wrong. There’s a reason the Doors’ song “Love Her Madly” is still popular today. Because the lyric, “Don’t you love her as she’s walking out the door” is timeless. Men don’t like to lose. Not a bet, their favorite T-shirt, or a girlfriend. In the attempt to keep from losing the latter, we could say something stupid—things we really don’t mean.

  But for me, tonight is the perfect time to take my and Dee’s relationship to the next level. I had a key to my apartment made for her, and when I put it in her hands, I’m going to tell her I’m falling in love with her.

  You’re not surprised, are you? Jesus, you had to have seen this coming.

  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. It happened gradually, but that’s the best way. In four weeks, Dee’s gone from a girl I wanted to nail, to a girl I wanted to hang out with, to a girl I really liked . . . to someone I don’t want to live without.

  I think about her all the time, I crave her—miss her—when we’re apart, no matter how long we were just together. She’s funny and beautiful and interesting . . . and sure she’s a pain in the ass too, but—like I told you in the beginning—I love her because of her quirks, not in spite of them.

  The last week and a half has been amazing. Billy’s still crashing at her apartment, so except when she’s there checking on him, she’s been here with me. But I still want more. There were plenty of times that I could have dropped the bomb on her during the last few days, but I wanted it to be memorable. Special. Something she’ll proudly tell Kate about, or someday—our kids. Girls love that shit.

  I haven’t talked to her yet today. I was out of the office all day, visiting with one client after another. But she’s coming over tonight and I have the whole thing planned. You want to hear about it?

 
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