Sweet addiction, p.4
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       Sweet Addiction, p.4

         Part #6 of Sweet series by Maya Banks
 
Page 4

 

  He hadn’t changed. Well, maybe that wasn’t entirely true. The youthful, handsome features of his early twenties had been replaced by the handsome ruggedness of age. He was tall but not as lanky as he’d been when she’d been with him. He’d filled out. Solid. Strong.

  Power emanated from him. Controlled power. It was as though he boiled just below the surface but outwardly projected calm and con fidence.

  She shivered as his gaze skirted over her. He recognized her too, and she was instantly aware of the hunger in his eyes. She felt hunted, and it was a delicious sensation.

  “Cole. ”

  It came out as a whisper, barely discernible in the quiet din of mingled voices and random conversation. But he heard her. Acknowledged the address with a step forward.

  “Ren. ”

  She nearly moaned. Her name was a caress, sliding off his tongue with all the practice that had made her name an endearment. He’d always said her name like she was the most special thing in his world. With reverence. With …love.

  Lucas’s hold suddenly tightened on her. She knew that touch. It was possessive. A clear hands-off to an intruder. It was his way of saying mine. It was rare indeed for Lucas to assume such a posture. He didn’t often see another man as a threat. The fact that he did so now told her all too clearly that the electric tension between her and Cole was plainly evident.

  “It’s good to see you again,” Cole said quietly. “You look beautiful. But then, you always have. ”

  Her heart squeezed and for a moment she worried that she’d be rendered unable to speak. She swallowed and tried to control the fact that her knees shook with nervousness.

  “You’re looking good too, Cole. How are you?”

  It was an awkward, stilted conversation that only grew more uncomfortable with each passing second. Lucas sensed her disquiet and pulled her further into the protection of his body.

  “Ren, introduce me to your friend,” Lucas said in an easy, casual tone that completely belied the tension she felt in his coiled muscles.

  Ren broke her gaze and looked up at Lucas. Then back at Cole. “Lucas, this is Cole Madison, an old friend of mine. Cole, this is Lucas Holt. ”

  Lucas made no move to release her so he could shake Cole’s hand, but then neither did Cole make an effort to do more than nod in Lucas’s direction.

  “A former lover,” Lucas said, a slight lift at the corner of his mouth.

  Ren nodded. She was always truthful with Lucas. Theirs was an open and honest relationship. She’d met Lucas’s previous lovers in the past. He hadn’t tried to hide them from her. Neither would she hide her previous relationship with Cole.

  “We were a hell of a lot more than that,” Cole said bluntly.

  Lucas’s eyebrow arched and he stared coolly at Cole. “Were you now?”

  “Were is the operative word,” Ren said quietly. “Cole chose a life that didn’t include me. It’s in the past. ”

  It was strange to be having such a direct conversation. Weren’t encounters with former lovers supposed to be filled with silly small talk and clear avoidance of the depth of the relationship? Weren’t they supposed to pretend that neither mattered to the other?

  “I made a mistake. ”

  Nothing Cole said could have shocked her more than this. Her eyes widened and she went still against Lucas. An action that didn’t go unnoticed by the man she belonged to.

  “Then I must be very grateful for your mistake,” Lucas said in a deceptively soft voice. “For she is now my greatest treasure. ”

  Ren’s eyes narrowed and she looked up at Lucas, baffled by his statement. They simply didn’t have that kind of relationship. Did he value her? Absolutely. Ren had no doubt as to that. Friendship. Respect. He offered her protection. She gave him her absolute obedience and submission. But never had they been into flowery descriptors that came far too close at hinting at deeper feelings.

  Or maybe it was a male posturing thing that had to do with entirely too much testosterone.

  Suddenly the tension was too much for her to bear. She didn’t want Cole to see how undone she was by his presence. By his admission that he’d made a mistake!

  She turned her chin upward so she could look at Lucas. “Excuse me. I need to go to the ladies’ room. ”

  His hold loosened on her and he pressed a quick kiss to her forehead. “Of course. I’ll be waiting here. What would you like to drink?”

  “Something strong,” she said, not realizing how much it said about her current state. “You choose. ”

  She slipped away, not even knowing where the bathroom was, but more important, she just needed to get away to collect herself.

  Once in the hallway, she glanced right and left and chose right since she and Lucas had entered from the left and she hadn’t thought they’d passed a bathroom.

  She finally found what she was looking for and slipped inside, locking the door behind her. She leaned against the vanity, her hands gripping the edge as she stared at her reflection in the mirror.

  She looked …shocked. Unsteady. Her eyes had a bewildered look. Her pulse was too rapid and the pressure in her chest was ever increasing.

  It wasn’t as if she thought of Cole on a daily basis. Quite the opposite. She’d made peace with his defection a long time ago.

  Really, Ren? Is that why you’re standing here out of sorts? Because you made peace with the man you adored beyond reason who left you after awakening a fire inside you that has never been extinguished?

  She ran water over her shaking hands but was careful not to mess up the light makeup she’d applied before arriving. She didn’t want any sign of her disturbance to be evident.

  When she finally managed to hold out her hand and see no noticeable tremble, she turned off the water and dried her hands.

  A knock at the door startled her.

  “Ren, open the door. ”

  Lucas she might have expected. But it was Cole standing just two feet away and suddenly her hands shook so hard that she had no hope of regaining her composure.

  CHAPTER 5

  Ren briefly contemplated refusing but then she realized she was huddling in a bathroom hiding for God’s sake. She opened the door, flicked her hair over her shoulder and arched one eyebrow as she stared back at Cole.

  He filled the doorway. Big. Broad shouldered. So damn good-ooking that she couldn’t help but stare.

  Time had been extraordinarily good to him. It wasn’t fair. If there was any justice, he’d be balding, sporting a potbelly and married with two point five bratty children and a wife who nagged him on a daily basis.

  “What do you want?” she asked.

  He stared at her a moment longer, his gaze stroking over her as surely as if he caressed her with his hand. “You, Ren. I want you. ”

  Her eyes widened in surprise. If she weren’t so flabbergasted, she’d laugh. Lucas. Cole. Herself. All apparently blunt people who didn’t play coy games and pretend they were unaffected.

  So many things were on the tip of her tongue, but in the end, none of them mattered and all were better left unsaid. They solved nothing. So instead, she spoke a simple truth.

  “Even if I wanted such a thing, I belong to another man. I don’t just belong in the symbolic sense of having a relationship. He owns me. I am his possession. ”

  She watched to see if he so much as blinked. He didn’t. But then perhaps he too had followed the path they’d struck out on together all those years ago. He was after all in a private club for just such practices.

  “You said ‘even if I wanted. ’ Do you want it, Ren?”

  She frowned. Again, she hadn’t expected that approach.

  “No,” she replied honestly. “We’re two very different people now, Cole. We can’t just pick up because we once shared something special. You can’t just walk back into my life after ten years and expect me to open my arms. ”

  Cole’s eyes glittered and his jaw tightened at her
response. “Tell me this: If there was no Lucas, if you didn’t belong to another man, would you be holding me at arms’ length right now or would you be willing to see if there was still a spark between us?”

  She’d already been honest. There was no point in fudging the truth now. She closed her eyes, breathed out and then reopened them again, hoping she sounded steady and calm. “Maybe? I can’t really answer that. My loyalty lies elsewhere. The point is there is a Lucas. I’m not free. This conversation is pointless. ”

  “What about your heart?” he asked in a quiet voice. “Where does that lie, Ren?”

  She held up her hands. “Enough, Cole. Nothing good can come of this. It was nice to see you. The years have been good to you. I would never be disloyal to Lucas. He owns me. I’m happy to be his. I’m his by choice. My choice. There is no other place I want to be more. ”

  “I’m glad to hear that what belongs to me can’t be swayed by the pretty words of others,” Lucas drawled.

  Ren jumped, took a step back and stared over Cole’s shoulder to see Lucas leaning against the opposite wall. How long had he been there? And why did she feel so damn guilty?

  She rubbed her hands down her jeans, dismayed at how this evening had turned out. She simply hadn’t been prepared to see Cole again after so long and definitely not to be bombarded by memories of them together and his bluntness about wanting …What did he want? It all sounded so crazy. They see each other again, in some sex club, and he wants her back just like that?

  She pushed forward and frowned as she automatically went to Lucas’s side. He slid an arm around her but it was a gesture of support, not a movement meant to signal his possession to another man. She appreciated that. At the moment she didn’t feel like being in the middle of some pissing match. She needed comfort and Lucas had sensed it.

  As she stared back at Cole, he looked …tortured. Again, why? None of this made sense. Unless…?

  “You knew I’d be here tonight, didn’t you? Did you plan this? How did you know? You weren’t surprised to see me. This didn’t come out of the blue at all. ”

  Lucas’s hand tightened on her upper arm and he pulled her in closer, as if to tell her not to worry. But he too waited for Cole’s response, his dark eyes staring intently at the man who’d boldly encroached on his territory.

  Maybe he was curious. Ren wasn’t entirely certain why Lucas was allowing this to go further. At times he was absolutely unreadable. This was one of those times. She didn’t sense that he was angry. She didn’t want him angry.

  Cole’s lips drew into a firm line. His jaw grew tight, which only accentuated the strong lines of his face. Gone were the traces of youth. He was a formidable man. One that she’d absolutely be drawn to. That promise of dominance. The quiet strength in those intense eyes.

  She’d had a taste. Just a taste. Mixed with youthful innocence. It had been bittersweet. She’d loved him so much, but they’d been too young to know what they were getting into.

  “I asked Damon to invite you,” he said by way of admission. “I saw you the other night when I was eating with Damon and Serena. I knew I had to see you again. I couldn’t walk away…”

  Like he had before.

  The words lay unspoken and heavy between them. The air was electric, the silence unnerving. She swallowed but couldn’t rid herself of the sudden knot that was closing her throat.

  “And yet you knew she belonged to me,” Lucas said mildly.

  “She was mine first. ”

  Lucas nodded. “That may be so, but you’re her past. I’m her future. ”

  Ren glanced up in surprise but Lucas admonished her with a quick squeeze of her arm. It was the first time he issued any sort of order since they’d arrived. He wanted her silence.

  She lowered her gaze and his grip slowly loosened.

  Cole’s eyes glittered in challenge. “So you say. But I’ve not heard Ren say the same. ”

  Lucas studied him a moment, his expression odd. “Interesting that you’d make such a distinction. As the one who owns her, body and soul, the two are the same. What I say is what she says. Clearly you are a man of similar tastes and yet you’d expect her to refute my word. Would you tolerate the same if she were yours?”

  “I would want her to be happy,” Cole said from behind tightly clenched teeth. “Even if it wasn’t with me. ”

  “In that we are agreed,” Lucas said. “Ren’s happiness is of utmost importance to me. ”

  “Then allow her to make the choice. ”

  Lucas smiled. “She already has. ”

  Cole stared at Lucas, the man who owned Ren. It wasn’t an alien concept. It could be argued that Damon owned Serena, although she owned his heart, body and soul as well. He was hers every bit as much as she was his.

  He’d never given the idea of ownership much thought. It was something that over the years he’d contemplated. He’d seen. He’d experienced. Though he’d never owned a woman. He’d never been close enough to one to feel proprietary over. He’d only ever wanted to possess one woman.

 
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