Just One Lie
IT’S SAID THAT we are all products of our upbringing. Parents mold people the way the army molds soldiers: with discipline, training, and copious amounts of rules and regulations, all with the understanding that their efforts will make the difference between a Pulitzer Prize and a twenty-year sentence.
Of course, it’s all utter bullshit.
Fine, I was affected by my experiences as a boy, and I certainly learned from my parents’ mistakes, but I’m not a product of anything. My name is Robert Dade, and I am a self-made man. I never aspired to be a rebel—and I sure as hell was not going to be a follower. To take on either of those identities would be to bind myself to other people’s definitions, definitions that have never interested me. I’ve simply chosen to be the person I am. I created my business, I continue to achieve the success I covet, I live in the city I want to live in, and if I choose to spend my limited free time with someone, it’s not out of obligation, and it’s certainly not because I think I can use them for networking or anything else. No, if I spend time with someone it can only be because I genuinely enjoy their company—and there are very few people whose company I enjoy.
Kasie Fitzgerald is the major exception. I don’t just enjoy her company. I’m in love with her.
I’ve had salt-and-pepper hair for almost half a decade now, I’ve traveled to more than twenty countries, and yet this is my first experience with love. I believe I’m the first person who has ever loved Kasie for who she really is.
Kasie’s parents did try to mold her, using the excesses of Melody, her older sister, to scare her into submission and turn her into an uptight Stepford Wife with an Ivy League education used only to elevate the men around her. Melody died of an overdose a little over fifteen years ago, when Kasie was only fourteen. And that did scare her. So she tried to be the person her parents wanted her to be for a while.
But I saw right through that.
Now she doesn’t even try to hide her true self and I’m the only one she’ll submit to; even then it’s only in the bedroom.
I stand now in the doorframe of my living room, quietly studying her as she lounges across my antique leather sofa, taking in the lean curvature of her legs as she stretches them out across the cushions, the waves of dark hair that brush against her back, the swift movement of her brown eyes as she reads her book, a scholarly account of the vicious love affair between money and war. She’s . . . she’s more than lovely. She’s the personification of what art is. Everything from her perfectly toned body to her razor-sharp mind has been finely crafted with the skill and training of a master, and she is that master and the canvas.
She raises her head from her book, her gaze now mine. “You’re staring,” she says, her voice sensuous, teasing.
“As long as you’re near me, I’ll be looking,” I say simply. “Because I can.”
“Rather entitled.” She places her book on the oak coffee table, careful to put her bookmark in place.
I walk over to her, between the coffee table and the sofa, and place two fingers under her chin, raising her face toward mine. “You’re in my house,” I remind her. “Everything here is mine to look at.”
“I could leave,” she says lightly, a smile playing on the edges of her lips.
“You could. But you won’t.”
“No.” She takes a deep breath, causing her breasts to press against the thin silk of her blouse, tempting me, inviting me. “I won’t.”
It wasn’t that long ago that she would have answered differently. When I met Kasie, she was with someone else, someone unsuited and unworthy of her. I ensured our proximity by devising a way to work with her. I fought for her, won her, and then I fought everyone who wanted to hurt her. I was ruthless; Kasie would say too much so. She’s probably right, but then let’s face it, it’s not as if she hasn’t crossed a few lines herself. And if you won’t be ruthless for love, then how valuable is that love? My real mistake was having underestimated her. She didn’t need my protection, only my partnership. She even left me for a while because I failed to see that.
I won’t make that mistake again.
At least I’ll try not to.
But as I caress her smooth cheek with the back-and-forth motion of my thumb, it’s hard to believe that I would be able to restrain myself if anyone tried to hurt her again.
She rises to her feet, her toes pressing into my silk and wool Persian rug as she lifts herself, bringing her mouth to mine. She tastes like vanilla ice cream and Irish whiskey. Placing my palm on the small of her back I pull her closer, feeling her heat as I open her mouth with my tongue. I move my hands up, then down, to the bottom of her skirt, and then lifting it I find the thin cotton of her panties and run my fingers across the fabric until she trembles against me.
“Can you feel how much I want you?” I ask, bringing her hand down to my cock.
“Yes.” She whispers the word against my neck, and then slowly she lowers herself to her knees. She uses those long, dexterous fingers of hers to unbuckle my belt, pulling it off before moving to the other items of clothing that block her way. When she takes me in her mouth she brings me to a different plane. No woman has made me quiver before, but she does. I reach down, tangling my fingers in her hair as she massages me with her tongue. This Harvard summa cum laude power player is now on her knees, her lips wrapped around me, tasting me, pulling my strength from me as if she were a devilish enchantress.
“Kasie,” I whisper.
I feel the involuntary twitch of my cock as she continues to pleasure and torment. I’m losing control.
Swiftly I pull her away, picking her up and placing her firmly on the sofa. Her lips are pink and swollen; her hair spreads beneath her, a halo of black. I reach forward, taking hold of both sides of her blouse, and then without hesitation I tear it open, letting the buttons scatter. I don’t care about her clothes. There are days when I consider feeding her entire wardrobe to a bonfire, righteously condemning it for the unforgivable sin of concealing her from me.
The white bra she’s wearing is sheer and her hardened nipples are straining against the fabric. When I touch them she moans . . . so sensitive, this one, so irresistibly responsive. I reach forward and lower the straps over her shoulders, then even lower until her breasts are freed from the translucent material and completely exposed. Her arms are bound to her side by the bra but she doesn’t struggle. I remove her skirt, her panties, and still her gaze doesn’t waver. She shed her last remnants of modesty months ago.
“Spread your legs,” I instruct.
Again she takes a deep breath, but she doesn’t refuse. Slowly her legs open, showing me her world. I touch her, gently toying with her clit, watching her tremble and writhe as her arms remain restrained. She’s incredibly wet. Seeing her react to me is almost as arousing as her oral ministrations. I have as much power over her as she has over me. Meeting her mind to mind, body to body, it’s such a scintillating game of will and desire. I slip my finger inside of her and she arches her back and thrusts her hips forward, clearly desperate for relief. She’s still so tight and so very ready for me.
I pull my hand away as she protests with a moan. Slowly I remove what’s left of my clothes as she watches with greedy, demanding eyes. I climb on top of her, hovering just above her, making us both wait, savoring this moment of anticipation as I once again study her. I have never questioned if I had the right to any of my achievements or fortune, but looking at her now, her breathing erratic, her body perfect and needing, I wonder how on earth I was lucky enough to find her.
I squeeze one hand between her back and the sofa, a thin layer of her sweat now on my palm as I carefully undo her bra, releasing its makeshift binds.
In an instant she has freed herself, wrapping her arms around me, pulling me down, thrusting her hips forward, joining us completely. Jesus, it feels so good to be inside this woman. She’s throbbing against me as her nails run up and down my back violently. I love that I bring this out in her, that I have the authority and the permission. I bite her neck and press myself forward, deeper, lost in her, increasing the intensity of our kiss, wanting to be connected to her in every way. And still I want more. I pull her legs over my shoulders and then get up on my knees, leaning over her, pressing her into a V as I take advantage of my new leverage to go even deeper, feeling her absorb me in full, watching her go wild beneath me. She grabs on to my arm, squeezing it, seeming to delight in the bulge of my biceps, as her other hand strokes my shoulders, my back, my chest. It’s everything I can do not to lose it immediately—but I want this to last. I want the release to be earned and potent. I can feel her getting wetter, I can see her eyes widening as her movements become more frantic. I know she’s about to come. I increase my pace, making this a little rougher until she’s overcome. She cries out, her pussy contracting around me . . . I can actually feel her come, watch her climax . . .
It’s got to be the most magnificent and inspiring sight in the world.
It’s also emboldening.
I separate myself from her just long enough to sit up, my feet against the soft carpet, and then swiftly I pull her onto my lap, her feet planted solidly against the sofa on either side of my hips. Without a moment’s hesitation I dive into her again. Her forehead is against mine, her hair falls forward around my shoulders. Nirvana. And then she begins to lean back, further and further, bringing to mind the feats of gymnasts. I grab on to her thighs, supporting her as she finally lowers her back against the tops of my legs. Her head falls back as she reaches behind her and grasps the edge of the table with both hands. I can’t say I disapprove of the view. And now she uses her arms to push herself into me, then pull away. Ah, now she is the one who is setting the pace as she thrusts against me over and over again, letting her legs fall open, then bringing them back up. Her breasts are pert and her nipples hard, her stomach lean with just the right amount of definition. It’s almost too much, this feeling matched with this vision. When I run my fingers up the inside of her thigh she gasps, then bites down on her lower lip. When I lean forward, bringing myself to even further depths, she whimpers with pleasure. And when I pull her back up to me, so we are once again eye to eye, I know she’s ready to orgasm for the second time.
So soon, Kasie? I can’t help but smile. But my own restraint is weakening, and so as she grinds against me, clinging to me, I manage to lift her once more, this time not breaking our connection. Again laying her back against the sofa, thrusting with such force that it comes—that wave of pleasure for her and that spike of total bliss for me.
My mind leaves me as I fill her, pulsing inside her as she cries out in a fully realized state of ecstasy . . .
My name has never sounded more beautiful.
LATER, WHEN THERE are flames crackling in the fire and her head is on my shoulder, it’s hard not to dwell on the well-worn clichés of love. Who was it that said it first? That the air feels fresher, that food tastes better. Who coined the phrase there’s a song in my heart? And when people first heard it, those who had never been in love must have shaken their heads in confusion. They must have laughed, as I used to laugh at such a moronic sentiment, while those who had felt love must have stopped, awed by the accuracy, the perfection of the metaphor.
But why aren’t there more songs and poetry that acknowledge that to experience the joy you have to accept the fear of its loss?
I can only assume it’s because most people haven’t learned to romanticize fear. They don’t know how to embrace it and use it.
But then, I’m not most people.
The fear of losing Kasie is with me constantly. It’s the kind of fear that spurs men into action.
I look down at her fingers as they gently pull on my chest hair. They’re bare. Not a single ring on them. I want to change that.
“There’s a resort in Saint Barts I’d like to take you to.” Names of jewelry designers flash through my mind in rapid succession—Lorraine Schwartz, Graff Diamonds, Fred Leighton. “We can go next month, on the first—”
“I’ll be in New York.” She stretches her arms above her head, causing her body to tighten and then relax against mine. “There’s a prospective client I’ve agreed to meet.”
“New York?” Kasie has her own small but rapidly growing consulting company. She advises entrepreneurs and small corporations on how to market, refocus, restructure, and attract the best talent, while cutting loose the people and things that obstruct the path to increased power and wealth. The annual revenues of those businesses have thus far ranged between three million and thirty million, approximately. But if she’s going to New York, she must be on the verge of hooking a much bigger fish, one that would make all the traveling expenses required to maintain a cross-country client worth her while.
“Anyone I know?”
“Not sure.” She pulls herself up, reaches for her bra and blouse. “He’s a banker . . . or former banker. Actually, he may be straddling that space between leadership and retirement at the moment. He’s looking to launch a nonprofit and he wants some advice on what kind and where to begin.”
“What bank?” I ask, already reformulating my plan. St. Barts is elegant, but a proposal in New York could be nice, in a top-floor penthouse or roof deck, skyscrapers at our feet. “What’s his name?”
She pulls on her panties, gets up to retrieve her skirt. “Travis Gable.”
I laugh and reach for my own clothes, pulling them on as she fastens the few buttons and hooks I haven’t destroyed. “Is that your way of telling me you don’t want to tell me? Or have you forgotten it?”
She turns to me and I note the hint of confusion as she furrows her brow. “I’m not joking. The client is Travis Gable of HGVB bank.”
For a moment I don’t move, my feet still bare, my shirt unbuttoned to my waist as I try to make sense of this information. “Travis Gable of Forbes’s top billionaires list?” I ask. “The man who’s currently facing down a slew of white-collar crimes on top of—what was the charge, conspiracy to commit murder, or was it just straightforward murder?”
She smiles and nods in acknowledgment as if I’ve just recited a list of eccentricities rather than crimes. “I believe it’s all of the above. I’ll have to trust the justice system to decide if he’s guilty or innocent, and so far they’re not saying he’s guilty. The ugliest charges have resulted in nothing more than a mistrial. They’ll try him again, of course, but if the prosecutors weren’t able to prove their case the first time . . .” She shrugs, implying the conclusion is obvious.
“And the charges against HGVB?”
She bends her neck and laughs, her already tousled hair falling forward around her shoulders. “Name a bank that hasn’t been accused of misdeeds in the last decade. HGVB’s transgressions are the rule, not the exception.”
How the hell can someone so bright be this dense? “He could be dangerous.”
“He could be,” she acknowledges, her tone softer. “Like I said, I have to trust the justice system to decide his guilt or innocence. Or at least I choose to trust the justice system. But if he wants to start over, do some good?” She spreads her hands before her, palms facing up. “Why shouldn’t I be part of that? If I’m able to help Mr. Gable remake himself, his purpose, his image, people will learn my name. This could be the break I’ve been waiting for.”
I take a large step forward, place my hand on her shoulder, hoping that such a light touch may be all that’s necessary to break through her denial. “He could be dangerous to you,” I clarify.
Again she laughs. “What’s he going to do? Assault me during the meeting? Right when the eyes of the world are on him and he awaits his next trial? I’ve never met the man, but he isn’t known for being reckless or stupid. If anything it’s the opposite.”
My grip tightens. Flashes of memory; three minutes of coverage on the evening news, a headline here and there as I made my way through the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post. I hadn’t focused on the details, only the premise: that a man whom few had met but most had heard of had crossed lines no one should ever cross. I vaguely recall seeing him sit across from Anderson Cooper, Diane Sawyer, Greta Van Susteren, icy blue eyes and practiced sincerity filling the screen as he declared his innocence, his ignorance of the supposed wrongdoings, his convenient indignation and sadness. I remember glimpsing at quotes buried in the articles; terms like witch-hunt and class warfare had popped up more than once.
I remove my hand, take a step back. “I don’t want you to do this.”
“Robert, really, you’re being silly—”
“I won’t let you do this.”
Her mouth falls open, her eyes trained on mine. “You shouldn’t say that.” She whispers the words so softly I can easily pretend not to hear them.
“This is a man with the means and the temperament to do people harm.” I cross my arms over my chest. “You cannot get involved with him. Not in any way.”
She hesitates, then shakes her head and steps forward, brushing her lips against mine. “You’re tired,” she says lightly, “and we have more immediate issues to deal with. For instance, I’m going to need another shirt, perhaps one that still has a button or two over the bustline, for decency’s sake.” And then she kisses me again and slips past me to find something to wear, indicating that the topic is closed.
But it’s not closed, not for me. Not by a long shot.
LONG AFTER SHE’S left and midnight has come and gone, I lie alone in my bed, staring at nothing but unoccupied space. I hadn’t invited Kasie to stay over, but when the night began we had both seen that as a given. And yet, she’s not here. When I tried to press her about Travis again, she glanced apologetically at her watch and explained that she had work to do, needed to check her mail, had laundry and dishes: all the canned excuses lovers use when searching for an exit.
Kasie and I should be above that.
Already Travis Gable has diminished us.
How could she think she could align herself with him without risk, without sullying herself with his corruption?
I get up, flip on the light, storm into the bathroom, where I stare at the image in the mirror. I’ve always taken care of myself. Forty-six isn’t far away, but my body is as strong and defined as it was in my twenties. Only the coarseness of my skin, the creases around my eyes, the silver that is scattered randomly over my chest and scalp give away my age. But still, they do give it away. No one has ever looked at me and thought I was young, not even when I was young.
How old is Travis Gable? Forty? Younger? I couldn’t begin to guess. There’s something mildly inhuman about him. Something alien.
I curl my fingers into a fist and then flex them, pressing them into the countertop. My name is not on the tip of every tongue. The average housewife would have no idea who I am. But in the boardrooms, in the offices with views of the Pacific and the Atlantic, the men’s clubs where the best cigars are smoked without apology—there they know me, and they fear me. I have influence and I am not kind to my enemies. Yes, Kasie, I can be ruthless.
But Travis Gable . . . he takes it to another level, doesn’t he? The Gable name was legendary even before the recent scandals. It’s up there with Bloomberg and Koch. An eighth-grader might recognize it. Only the least informed among us are unaware of the power Travis Gable wields. And when someone that rich and that powerful wants to hurt someone, he can. Kasie suggesting that she can trust the courts to deal with this man is a joke. Justice has never been blind. It isn’t even color-blind, and the color it likes most is green.
“You won’t work for him, Kasie.” I say the words, using them as a way of soothing my own agitated mind. She won’t do this. That’s it. Simply, it’s been decided.
I take a deep breath, fill a ceramic cup by the sink with water, and swallow it in a rough gulp. It’s been decided. It’s as easy as that.
It takes me another hour to finally fall asleep, whispering words of conviction to myself until the world goes dark.
THE NEXT DAY I travel to her office. She hadn’t been expecting me, and when I walk in she starts, clutching the edge of her desk as if she needs support even as her face brightens with happy surprise.
“My secretary didn’t offer to announce you?” she asks.
“She’s away from her desk.” I walk along the walls of the room. Art is scarce; an original oil painting with a cubist bent on the left wall, across from it a large, dramatic black-and-white photograph of the sand dunes of Japan under a stormy sky.
“Most people would have waited for her to return,” she says, then after I give her a look she laughs. “I know, I know, you’re not most people.” Then, in a warm, somewhat sultry tone she adds, “You’re Robert Dade, the moon to my ocean.”
I smile at the metaphor; it’s one she’s been using for some time now and it still appeals to me. Two separate entities that are always connected. I like to think that I influence her tides of temperament, increase her power, while she connects me to everything that’s real. Because, as I once told her, what is the moon without the ocean?
Nothing but a remote and barren rock.
I walk to the window and take a moment to stare through the glass. The view is decent if not grand. Still, she should take pride in the modest luxuries of this space, from the view to the art. She earned them all without the help of anyone else. She’s stumbled a few times on her path to success, but each time she rises it’s swift, and each rise brings her higher than the last.
The soft click of her heels tells me she’s approaching. I feel the gentle pressure of her hand as she rests it between my shoulder blades.
“What are you thinking about?” she asks quietly.
“You,” I reply simply. “Who you are, who you used to be. When I first met you, you were . . .” I pause as I try to find a word that is accurate without sounding condescending.
“Lost,” she supplies. She steps up so she is now standing by my side, her eyes scanning the same landscape. “It’s not that it seems so long ago, it wasn’t. But . . . it seems like that time, those experiences . . . they must have happened in an alternate universe. It just seems so ridiculous that I could have let anyone convince me that I had to somehow compensate for my sister’s mistakes, those faults that led to her death. I was so caught up in trying not to be her, I had completely lost track of who I actually was.”
“Yes, well, the very fact that you were willing to tie yourself to that insipid little asshole you were dating when we met proves you didn’t know your worth,” I note. “I went after him because he tried to hurt you, but he was never competition. He was too common and weak to hold anyone’s interest for long. The only person I had to fight in order to win you was you.”
“Yes, well I was fighting myself, too.”
I turn to her, bending my head even as she lifts hers toward mine. I run my finger along her throat, then down and to the delicate area where I can feel the beat of her gradually accelerating pulse.
“You can always have the best, Kasie,” I say quietly. “A woman like you never has to settle for anything.”
I mean it as a compliment, but for some reason when the sentence leaves my lips I experience a stab of unease that I can’t explain.
“Well, fortunately I know what the best looks like now,” she says as she links her arms around my neck. Then she lifts herself enough for the kiss, biting down gently on my lower lip as she pulls away. “I know what it tastes like, too. I’ll never settle for less again.”
“Do you remember the first time I tasted you,” I ask, “in my suite at the Venetian?”
She nods, her pulse vibrating beneath my fingertip.
“Your secretary must be back at her desk by now,” I continue. “Call her, tell her to hold your calls. You have one more meeting you need to take before lunch.”
She smiles and gently pulls away. I watch as she goes to her phone, listen as she follows my instructions.
“Jen, I’m going to need you to hold any calls that come in for . . .”—her voice fades out as she feels me behind her, lifting her skirt to her waist—“for . . . I mean, it might be a little while . . . I . . .” My hand is between her legs, lifting up, applying a delicate pressure. I have her panties down to her knees, her ankles. “I’ll let you know when I can walk—talk, I mean talk.”
She places the phone down in the cradle and allows herself a nervous laugh, her cheeks flushed as she turns to me. “Robert,” she says, breathless, chastening even as she reaches for me.
“Get on your desk,” I say simply. And without another word she does, perched on the edge, shuddering as I pull her knees apart. “Do you remember what it felt like?” I ask as I sit in her chair, positioning myself between her thighs. “That first experience?”
“Yes,” she whispers again.
“Tell me.” With each caress I can feel the warming of her skin, hear the increased pace of her breathing.
“It was like something happened to me,” she murmurs. “There was this ache and . . . and every part of my body was suddenly so much more sensitive and . . . it was . . . intense. It was ecstasy.”
“And now?” I ask and I lean forward, let my tongue flick across her clit before pressing it flat against it, massaging it with a circular motion.
“Everything,” she gasps, “all of it . . . but more . . . now everything is . . . more—oh!” She gasps again as I add my fingers to the fun, slipping them inside of her as my tongue continues its work. I love the way she tastes, I love the very scent of her arousal. I use my free hand to hold her waist as she leans back on her arms, her head now fallen back, her gaze pointed upward as if she’s searching for God in this moment of rapture. I change the pace and pattern of my service, giving her new sensations until she finally has to put her hand against her mouth, muffling her cry. But before she can recover, I have my hand on my belt, removing the impediments that separate us. I enter her, slowly grinding against her as I support her weight with my hands and tilt her back until her body is pressed against the hardness of her desk, papers crinkling underneath her as I hold her legs over my shoulder, keeping her tight as I lose myself in the warmth of her. I hadn’t planned on this, but being so close to her, reflecting on the confident woman she has become . . . I just know that I need this now. I need to feel my place with her, my place inside of her. Feeling her quivering for me, wanting me right here in the center of her success, in this office that represents her phoenix-like rise. I keep the pace hard and fast. This is not the moment to luxuriate; it’s the moment to seize the pleasure, punctuate the victory that is us.
Feeling her pulsating around me, seeing her succumbing to me again, is all it takes. I explode inside her as she whispers my name again, straining to keep the sound muted even as she shakes with the orgasm I’ve given her.
For a moment neither of us move. Both of us are panting, catching our breath.
“Is this . . .” she says, her voice a beautiful staccato, “why you . . . came?”
I smile and finally pull away, helping her up as I do. “No,” I say. “Get yourself together, Ms. Fitzgerald. I’m taking you out.”
WE GO TO a restaurant five blocks away. Dark wood that seems more appropriate for night than day, the echo of voices as people laugh and gossip over their grass-fed burgers and imported beer while the televisions above the bar play images of retired athletes in designer suits speculating on how a star linebacker’s sexual assault charge will affect tonight’s game.
“I can’t remember when you last made time for lunch with me in the middle of a workday,” she says as she scans the leather-bound menu. She’s recovered nicely. Her hair is now back in place, her lipstick repaired. Only the wrinkles in her skirt give away our earlier activities, and I watch with amusement as she runs her hands over them again and again, trying in vain to iron them out.
“How would you have handled it if I had been with a client?” she adds. “What was your plan?”
“I would have waited,” I say simply.
She looks up quickly. “I don’t believe you.” But there’s warmth in her eyes. “You don’t wait for anyone.”
“Except for you,” I reply. “Anything and always for you.”
In some corner of the room a glass crashes to the floor, and near the bar a man hoots in laughter and slaps his friend on the back. Kasie just looks at me, her eyes watering a little as she mouths, I love you. Beautiful, silent words meant just for me.
I reach forward and take her hand in mine. “I have something to give you.”
She replies with a sweet, anticipatory smile.
“A job,” I explain. “I’ve gotten you a client you’ll want to take on.”
“A referral?” she asks. It’s not what she expected, and she searches my expression as she attempts to work out where this is going.
“How would you like to be hired as the primary consultant for the Red Cross?”
“It’s not possible,” she gasps, her grip tightening to a squeeze. “They wouldn’t want me . . . why . . . there’s no way an organization like that would hire me! They’d go to a big firm, or use someone internally. The size of their operation, Robert . . . I’d need a bigger team . . .”
“Which you’ll be able to afford,” I assure her. “I can lend you the money to hire the best. Then, when word gets out that the Red Cross wants you, there will be CEOs, chairmen, and directors lining up for the chance to hire you. This is your opportunity. This is the step you need to take to get where you want to go.”
“But I don’t understand . . . how did they choose me? Why do they need a consultant? Why didn’t they call me directly? Did you refer them? How are you connected? Do you—”
But I hold up my hand, stopping her questions before she can bury me in them. “The Red Cross has had some difficulties lately,” I explain. “They’re struggling to reassure their donors after some negative reports in the media, and obviously they can’t wait for the next natural disaster to prove themselves again.”
“Wait . . . I did hear something about this. They’re dealing with accusations of inefficiency that were published in ProPublica, right?” she asks as she mulls over the information. “But . . . wait, didn’t I also hear that they hired Reed & Elliot to consult? That would make sense but . . . did I hear wrong?”
“No, they did hire Reed & Elliot. It’s a predictable choice. They’re a large agency, used by many nonprofits. But they’re not better than you. Just bigger. I’ll see to it that they’re dismissed.”
Kasie blinks her eyes so rapidly I think she might have something in her eye. “Wait—” she says warily.
But I push on, impatient now to unfold my entire strategy. “It won’t be hard. I’ll use my connections, my influence. By the time I’m done, the Red Cross won’t want anything to do with them. And then I’ll make sure they turn to you.”
“Why would you do that?”
Is there an edge to her voice now? No, she must simply be overcome.
“This is what you want,” I assure her. “A high-profile client that will elevate you and your career. It’s what you deserve. And now you can have that with the Red Cross. I’m giving that to you.”
“I need you not to say this.”
The note of warning in the odd phrasing of her statement is now impossible to miss. But I won’t acknowledge it. I simply need to make her understand. “Now you’ll have the freedom to refuse less savory potential clients and focus on other, more honorable organizations, ones whose integrity and legitimacy can’t be questioned—”
She pulls her hand away, and my fingers instinctually strain forward, unwilling to accept the loss. But she’s leaning back in her chair, her head lowered as she murmurs the words, “This is about Travis Gable.”
“You don’t need him now,” I say, my tone perhaps a bit too harsh. “You’ll have the opportunity you want without having to involve yourself in this Gable mess at all.”
“You don’t become as powerful as he is without making enemies—” she begins.
“As I said, he’s a dangerous man.”
“—it’s possible one of them is setting him up.”
“Damn it, Kasie.” I slam my fist on the table, attracting glances from the other patrons near us. “Even the people who think he’s innocent admit that he’s a cold-blooded SOB! If it’s not the crimes he’s actually charged with, it’s likely something else. No one wants to mess with him, so even though he probably isn’t guilty of the violent crimes, that doesn’t mean he’s someone you should be working with.”
Her brow furrows and I see her eyes moving in that back-and-forth way they sometimes do when she’s piecing together a puzzle. “You don’t think he’s guilty,” she says slowly, as if testing the probability of this hypothesis even as she says it. “This isn’t about protecting me.”
I take a deep breath before responding, careful this time to keep my voice level. “You’re not listening to me. I’m sure he’s behind the crimes of HGVB, and those crimes are highly significant. He has destroyed more lives from behind his desk than most men could with a gun. And most importantly, you don’t have to be his consultant in order to get ahead. I’ve worked out an alternative for you. It’s settled.”
She jerks her head up at that last word, her eyes alight with a new kind of fire. But when she speaks, her voice is pure ice. “I’m going to meet Mr. Gable. I’m going to hear what he has to say, and he’s going to listen to my proposals.”
“You have no right to say no or yes!” At her words, people glance over at our table. Kasie straightens her posture and once more tries to smooth the wrinkles in her skirt, this time with more force than before. “When I came back to you, when we decided to be together . . . not when we came together, but when we decided to make this work, we had an agreement. Do you remember? You agreed that you wouldn’t try to control me. You wouldn’t undermine others for my sake. You wouldn’t try to shape my future . . .”
“And what did you agree to?” I growl, anger that I didn’t know was there sliding onto my tongue. “I seem to remember you talking about decency, playing by the rules, being something other than predatory. Travis Gable is not a decent man. He doesn’t play by any rules. He is the definition of a predator. He is everything that . . . that—”
“That what?” she asks, interrupting. “Everything you are? Everything I’ve asked you not to be?”
I don’t answer, not immediately. Instead I let the sounds of the restaurant come between us. Laughter, unintelligible words, the clinking of silverware against porcelain plates—all of it feels unnatural and out of place.
“You can’t ask me to be a different person,” I say, quietly cutting into our pocket of silence, keeping my voice low. But I know she hears every syllable.
“A different person? All I’ve asked is that you submit to your better nature!”
“I’m not trying to control you,” I reply, determined not to be segued. “I won’t tell you how to run your business. If you don’t want to accept the Red Cross as a client, don’t. But I can’t allow you to have anything to do with this man.”
“A loose leash is still a leash.”
I shake my head and finally look away. I want to step back into the last five minutes and pluck out the words I know have offended her. But that’s not possible, and I can’t pretend I didn’t mean them.
“It’s not that I don’t want your advice, Robert,” she says at last, her icy tone gone. She’s pleading with me now. “I do. But you have to save your orders for your staff. Please, let’s start again here.”
“I will always give you advice.” I want to take her in my arms, bury my face in her hair. But I also want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. I need to make her see. “I’m advising you to take this opportunity I’m offering you with the Red Cross. I am going to clear the way for you.”
“Even if it means destroying Reed & Elliot?”
“If necessary, yes.”
“Right, this has been coming for some time now, hasn’t it?” She clenches her fist and presses it against her stomach as if she’s covering a wound, as if she’s trying to stop the bleeding. “And here it is, the betrayal: You told me that if I came back to you, you wouldn’t destroy others just to elevate me. And now you’ve achieved some sort of reverse alchemy, turning all your golden promises into cheap manipulations and lies.”
What she’s saying is little more than gibberish. I don’t know what she’s talking about.
But . . . how is it possible that such senseless words can sting like this?
She gets up, her lips now pressed closed.
“Sit down,” I say, now weary to the point of exhaustion. “We’re only ten minutes into this conversation. There’s more to say.”
“No.” Carefully she refolds her napkin and lays it by her unused plate. “I’m pretty sure we’ve been having some version of this conversation since the night we met.”
I close my eyes, bring my fingers to the bridge of my nose as I silently count to ten, then back again. Obviously I’m not making myself clear and she’s overreacting.
“Kasie,” I finally say as I open my eyes.
But she’s not there. I turn just in time to see her walk out of the restaurant.
The mild hunger I felt a few minutes ago is replaced by an odd, unfamiliar hollowness. Had she seen this argument as a last straw? But how is that possible? I didn’t know there was a first straw!
But the look in her eyes when she got up from the table . . . toxic resignation.
All this time, while I had been holding her in my arms she had been waiting for me to fail her. I turn back and stare at the empty chair across from me. For the first time in my adult life I feel . . . lost.
Here it is. The betrayal.
BY THE TIME I get back to my office I’ve been able to replace the feeling of loss with anger. I’m angry at her for not understanding my position and for walking out on me. I’m angry at the jury that didn’t convict Travis Gable, and I’m angry at Travis Gable for having the audacity to exist.
I storm past the security desk as they offer me obligatory greetings. I jam my finger against the elevator button, pressing it several times as if that might make it come faster. When I get in and turn back to the lobby I see some of my lower-level employees there, clearly hanging back in order to avoid riding with me, although when I make eye contact they all murmur their own greetings. “Hello, Mr. Dade.” “Good afternoon, Mr. Dade.” I know all their names, and I’m usually quite friendly with my entire staff, but today I simply give them a curt nod as the elevator doors close me into a brief seclusion.
On the top floor I run into Sam, my senior VP, who is beaming like a fucking lighthouse.
“Good news!” he booms. “Jeremy has won DirecTV over! They’re gonna go with our latest Internet security software for all their offices and development. We beat the competition without even having to underbid them. That makes five cable providers that are going to be contracted with us, Robert. And our growth in the retail market is looking great! Eric tells me Neiman Marcus has indicated that they’ll be contracting with us by the end of the month!”
I brush past him. My company, Maned Wolf, produces everything from home security systems to the Internet security software Sam is referring to. Apparently I can secure and protect everything except for my goddamned relationship.
“What about HGVB?” I ask through clenched teeth. “Why aren’t we providing Internet security for them?”
“HGVB?” Sam repeats, struggling to keep up with me as I stride down the long hall leading to my office. Workers stream past us; they begin to give me cheery hellos, but then quickly check themselves when they see my expression and, heads down, whisper their greetings as they pass.
“A company that big is going to handle that internally,” Sam continues. “Besides, as I understand it, the government already has all of HGVB’s classified info. How much more can they have to protect?” Sam laughs as if he’s made a particularly funny inside joke.
“Are you still on good terms with your friend . . . what’s his name . . . that private detective based in New York? The one we used to investigate Security Elite when we suspected them of corporate espionage?” I ask as I reach the waiting area outside my office. My secretary, Sonya, is vacationing, and her bleached-blond fill-in is safely tucked behind her desk as she watches us with avid interest.
“Paul Mills? Yeah, sure, what about him?” Sam asks, understandably confused.
“Tell him we have another job for him. Have him investigate Travis Gable.”
“Really? Why would—”
“Tell him to find as much incriminating information as he can, and if it will help the New York DA’s case against Gable, then he should hand it over to them. In fact . . . have him investigate the DA, too. See if there’s any conflict of interest in the Gable case. If they’re going soft on him, I want to know.”
“Robert, I don’t understand, what does this have to do with us?”
“Just get it done!” I storm into my office, leaving Sam standing dumbfounded in my waiting room.
“Mr. Dade?” the secretary calls after me before I have a chance to slam the door. “I have some messages—”
“Then give them to me,” I snap as I walk to my desk.
She comes in and closes the door gently behind her while clearing her throat. “Um, Mr. Buffet’s assistant called. He’s going to be in LA next week and would like to meet for lunch.”
“Fine.” I shift through the papers on my desk without really looking at them. It’s tempting to clear my work space with one swift swipe of my arm, sending everything—paper, pens, and computer monitor—crashing to the floor.
“Also, you received a call from Mercy’s manager,” she says.
I look up from my desk, detecting an inexplicable giddiness to her tone. For not the first time I note that despite the round shape of her face, this woman is positively emaciated. I’d raise her wage if I knew she’d spend it on Häagen-Dazs.
“She wants a private meeting,” she continues. “You have an opening on the nineteenth at four that works for her, so I took the liberty of penciling her in. Of course I can reschedule, but, I mean—”
“Mercy who?” I ask.
“Oh my God, Mercy! You know, the Mercy!” she says, now bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Her full name’s Mercy Raye, but she just goes by Mercy. You’ve heard her single, ‘Try Again’? It’s like in the Billboard top ten now! She’s been around as an indie artist for ages, but this is her first big, mainstream hit. It has such a great rhythm. I got the whole EP and—”
“What’s your name again?” I ask, interrupting her.
She stops and blinks her owl-like eyes. “Cheryl?” she says, as if suddenly questioning her own identity.
“Very well, Cheryl. I appreciate your filling in for Sonya. But I don’t care about pop music or your personal predilections. And if you had bothered to familiarize yourself with the structure of this company at all, you’d know that I never meet with clients, potential or otherwise. I have people for that. Now, do you have anything else to waste my time with or are we done?”
Cheryl’s lower lip begins to tremble even as her eyes narrow into an accusatory glare. I can see that she’s struggling to keep herself from crying, but sadly the battle itself is even more pathetic than the actual shedding of tears would be. I’ve taken my anger out on a field mouse.
As she begins to turn to go, I hold up my hand to stop her. “Wait.”
Cheryl does as she’s told, chewing on her lower lip nervously. “I’ve had a bad day,” I explain. “A personal matter. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”
Her expression shifts from distraught to stunned. “Oh wow, thank you!” she stammers. “It really means a lot. God, and Sonya told me you never apologized for anything . . . I mean . . . Oh no.” She takes a step backward as she comes to grips with what she just let loose. “She didn’t say that,” she says lamely. “Please don’t be mad at her.”
“No, she’s right. If I’ve caused a problem I’d rather fix it than talk about it.” I stare back down at my mahogany desk, looking at the white paper now scattered like confetti over its surface. “Maybe that’s our problem,” I mutter. “Maybe we don’t talk about things enough. But dear God, it feels like we do.”
“Excuse me?” Cheryl asks.
I let out a soft laugh and shake my head. “I had an argument with a woman today. She seems to see it as a breaking point for us, while I was unaware we had a breaking point, at least not one that was in sight.”
“Oh God.” Cheryl sighs heavily. “Why don’t guys ever realize there’s a problem in their relationships until it’s too late to fix it?” Then again the look of shocked embarrassment as her hand flies to her mouth. “Sorry . . .” she says, though her words are barely intelligible now that her palm is blocking them. “I’m having a problem with my husband and I’m . . . um . . . projecting. I didn’t mean to imply that you were as dense as he is.”
I lean back in my chair as I study her. “How did HR select you for this position, Cheryl?”
“Oh, I come with great referrals from my temp agency,” she says cheerily. “What’s your girlfriend upset about?”
“Strictly between you and me? She thinks I’m controlling,” I say with a slight smile. There’s no way in hell that I would have this conversation with anyone else who works for me. But confiding in someone who will be gone in ten business days feels more like an opportunity than a risk. And if she does betray my confidence, I’ll simply make sure she never gets a job again.
“Have you read that book Meeting in the Middle by John Owen?” she asks. “It’s that self-help book about how to get romantic relationships back on track?”
“Well, it’s all about women being more assertive in order to get what they want, but it also says men need to be less assertive. If there are things you want your girlfriend to do or not do, there are ways of pushing her toward compliance without ever trying to control her. I mean, that kind of thing takes a certain amount of finesse and, what did Owen call it? Emotional intelligence. Do you think you have any of that?”
I burst out laughing. “You should go back to your desk before I call the temp agency and ask for a replacement.”
“Right.” She turns and goes to the door and then stops. “I probably shouldn’t mention this, but I read another book, It’s Not You: It Really Is Him, by Dana Specter, and she says men get controlling when they’re feeling threatened or insecure about something. So you might want to . . . okay, let me try to remember this . . . take inventory of your emotional baggage and identify the things or people who might be making you feel that way . . . threatened and insecure, that is. If you can work through it, it might help you be a better partner to your girlfriend.”
“Cheryl,” I say, my tone now serious, almost menacing, “get back to your desk.”
The temp quickly exits the room, closing the door softly behind her.
I swivel my chair to the window, looking out at the city and the ocean that lies beyond it, contemplating the Machiavellian influence self-help books are having on the American psyche. But my mind keeps going back to Kasie. I keep seeing her standing before me, her chest heaving with anger, her countenance contorted with disappointment. And then I blink and she’s gone.
Why is it that men never realize there’s a problem in their relationships until it’s too late to fix it?
But that can’t be true, can it? And the rest of it is complete drivel. I don’t want to finesse Kasie. I want to talk to her. And I’m not threatened by anything. I never have been. It’s just not in me.
I turn back around, click onto my computer, and Google Travis Gable.
ONCE HOME IT takes two bourbons and a handful of melatonin to put me down for the night. My dreams are of Kasie, appearing, disappearing; sometimes she’s alone, other times she’s with Travis Gable, holding his hand.
“This woman is art,” he says, his lips not moving, his hand relocated to Kasie’s waist, “and she never has to settle.”
But it’s just a meaningless dream. That’s what I tell myself when I wake up in a cold sweat. I fall back to sleep within minutes, too tired to avoid the nightmares. And those nightmares do keep coming. Sometimes I wake in the middle of them, but more often I just think I’m waking, only to find myself in another strange and confused dream. One second I’m home, then I’m at the office, then at the beach, my location changing at the speed of thought. She’s in my arms, she’s beneath me. Her silky skin rubs up against me as her thighs encircle my waist; her lips are by my ear and she whispers, “I’m the ocean. What are you?” I feel myself getting hard for her as she presses her hand against my cheek. But then her eyes widen. “Why, you’re nothing but a rock.”
And then she’s gone, walking out the door, riding away on a wave; everything’s merged, nothing makes sense.
THE NEXT TIME I wake up, morning sunlight is streaming into the room. I forgot to close the blinds. But when I open my eyes I realize I’m still dreaming. I must be, because she’s here, sitting on the side of the bed. This devil woman who has haunted me throughout the night is now beside me, illuminated by a halo of morning light. I silently count to five, waiting for her to disappear. But then it slowly dawns on me that what I’m experiencing is too intricate to be a dream. I can feel everything—the smoothness of the sheets, the warmth of the sun. I can hear her breathing but I can also hear a helicopter off somewhere in the distance. I smell the faint scent of her perfume mingled with nearby coffee, which she hands to me as I prop myself up, my bare back against the headboard.
“You broke in?”
She cocks her head to the side, a wry smile on her lips. “You gave me the key.”
“Still, you’ve never just come in uninvited.”
I sip the black coffee, refusing to look at her. “Are you what?”
The coffee’s black, bitter, strong, a metaphor in a cup. Usually when I have a confrontation, it’s on my schedule.
“You walked out on me yesterday,” I say. I’m surprised by how cold I sound. In truth I feel heated by anger and frustration, agitated by confusion and . . . and love. God, even now I’m overcome by love for her, and that fact gives a peculiar and unpleasant intensity to all those uglier emotions.
“You were doing all the things you promised me you wouldn’t do again,” she says in a whisper. “I trusted you, Robert. I trusted your promises, and you essentially threw all of it back in my face. You made a fool of me.”
“Is that what this is about? Pride?” I put the coffee down on the nightstand and get up, walking over to my phone on the dresser and clicking on my e-mails. I won’t look at her. If I look at her now as she sits there in her white shift dress, her hair loosely bundled at the nape of her neck, fingers toying with the corner of my bedsheets, control will be hard.
“It’s about follow-through,” she says, a slight edge creeping into her voice.
“Even if I was in the wrong—”
“—you have no right to walk out on me after one disagreement. You and I are not that fragile. If there’s an argument to have, let’s have it. But choosing to run away can’t be your first option. Not after you chastised me for doing the same thing several months ago. Hypocrisy doesn’t suit you.”
I hear her take in a sharp breath. “You’re not being fair and you know it. We said we would be partners. And now you come at me with . . . with demands and . . . and all this patriarchal bullshit and you’re surprised I walked out? Really, Robert? Really?”
“So your running away is perfectly fine—”
“We had an argument yesterday,” she says between gritted teeth, “and I’m back today. That’s not running away, that’s taking a breather. If I had stayed at that table I might have done something impulsive, like stabbing you with a fork.”
For a full minute neither of us says anything. The sound of the helicopter is gone and now everything outside my window is still, as if the sky is nothing more than a Photoshopped background for everything that’s going on in this room.
“I may not have handled things as well as I should have,” I admit.
She stays quiet, somehow restraining herself, although I’m sure she wants to scoff.
“I’m not a young man, Kasie. I’ve conducted myself a certain way all my life. I told you I would work on my flaws. But did you really think I would never slip? Did you think you wouldn’t be called upon to work through the challenges that will inevitably come up when you fall in love with a man who is in the process of changing?”
She takes a deep breath, her gaze shifting toward the light. “We’ve both done a lot of changing, Robert. Eleven months ago I was trying to be another person. Ten months ago I cheated on a man I was supposed to love. I cheated on him because I couldn’t resist you. You, a man I was technically working for.”
I cock my head, surprised by this turn. “What does that have to do with anything? He didn’t deserve your loyalty, let alone your love.”
“Perhaps, and the truth is he never had my love despite my trying to convince myself otherwise. Still, it’s enough to make a man wonder, isn’t it?”
“Wonder if I might leave any relationship I’m in if I see what I think is a greener pasture.” When I don’t respond she looks up, pained. “All night I was trying to figure out why this proposed meeting with Travis Gable set you off like this.”
“It’s because he’s dangerous, Kasie.”
“It’s because he reminds you of you.”
Again a moment of silence descends, and then, casually, I take up my coffee, leaning against the wall as I drink. “It would seem that he and I have certain things in common.”
The acknowledgment seems to sadden her. She stares down at the floor, clasping her hands in her lap. “Do you know why I chose you?”
Again a moment of silence as she waits for my reply. “Maybe we shouldn’t do this,” I suggest.
“No, I want to know. I think I need to know at this point.”
I study her for a moment, then nod, taking a deep breath before launching into my answer. “My wealth can’t be much of a drawback, but there’s more than that,” I say, adding the last part quickly before she can take offense. “As much as you complain about my controlling nature, you like my power. I make my own rules, and that excites you.”
She stands up, walks to the window, then back again, seemingly restless now. “Go on.”
“You’re drawn to my ambition,” I say, “and even my aggression. You like that I go after what I want and that I don’t let anything get in my way.” I pause for a breath, but before I can continue, Kasie speaks up.
“And you could describe Travis Gable in the same way, right?” she says. “Except he’s richer than you.” Her voice is level, but I can see that she’s struggling with this. “Younger, more ruthless, more aggressive, he has more influence and more power—”
“Don’t underestimate me, Kasie, and don’t underestimate my reach. He’s a worthy opponent, nothing more.”
“No.” She holds her hands out in front of her as if trying to physically hold her argument up for me to see. “He’s not worthy. And he’s not an opponent.”
“You haven’t met him. You don’t know that you’ll feel that way after you do.”
“That’s not— God!” She cuts herself off, swearing under her breath, her eyes moving from the floor to the sky. “People don’t fall in love with a list of attributes or flaws,” she says, enunciating each word with care. “A woman falls in love with a man because of the way that man makes her feel. I love the way you make me feel when you walk into the room, when you look at me. And the strength I feel . . .” Her voice fades out as she takes a moment to gather her thoughts.
“The thing is,” she says, beginning again, “the only reason I’ve had the strength to walk away from you in the past is because you gave me that strength.”
“I’m not following,” I say as I study her face, trying to read the furrow in her brow, the determination in her eyes.
She lets out a small sound of frustration as she steps forward, takes the coffee cup from me, and places it down on the bedside table. “You showed me who I could be, what I wanted to be, and what I didn’t want to be. And when you became controlling, I broke the chains you put on me because you were kind enough to show me the awful nature of chains. I am my own person now because you helped me see the value in that.” She takes several steps back, keeping her eyes on mine. “You’ve given me so much, and you can’t take those gifts back. I’m simply not going to allow it. I fell in love with the man who gave me those gifts.”
I lean back against the wall, studying this glowing, strong, beautiful woman before me. Each of these gifts she’s describing was within her long before I entered the picture. But yes, I helped her realize them. I gave her a mirror with a more accurate reflection than the warped-glass fun-house monstrosity her family and boyfriend had provided for her. But my motives were always selfish. I did it because I wanted the real Kasie Fitzgerald. I wanted the woman underneath the facade. It was a selfish task and perhaps one that had a grander payoff than I could have ever hoped for.
“I shouldn’t have compared you to Travis Gable,” she says softly. “Even if he was the richest, most powerful alpha in the financial world, he’d never have what you have.”
“And what is that?” I ask.
She lets out a somewhat exasperated laugh. “My heart, you idiot. My brain, my strength, my free will—those are mine, but my heart’s all yours, so I can’t give it away. Not to anyone.”
I bend my neck, smile sadly at the dark wood floor. “I was about to hire a private detective to dig up dirt on Travis.”
She laughs again and shakes her head. “The man’s being charged with murder. I think you might be a little late to the party with that one.”
“I do think he could be dangerous, Kasie. I wasn’t lying about that.”
“I don’t need your intervention,” she says. “But”—and here her eyes begin to glisten with trapped tears—“I need your trust. I need you to trust my love for you, my loyalty. But when you look at my history . . . I just don’t know if I’ve earned that, so if you can’t . . . I mean . . . if you . . .”
I take a step forward. “The only thing I doubted was my own worth.”
In my entire life I’ve never said or even thought such a thing, and I’m shocked to find that as I say it now, it’s completely true. And so I take another step, then another, until I’m right in front of her, my hands holding her arms before lifting to her hair, pushing it back from her shoulders. Gently I rest my forehead against hers. “You are my ocean. You are the only thing I can trust.”
“You don’t have to say that,” she whispers.
“I don’t have to say anything,” I agree. “Still, it’s the truth. I trust you. And . . . I love you,” I say.
Those words have never been easy for me, but now that I have said them out loud I can see the smile in her teary eyes. “I love you,” I say again before I kiss her, gently at first, as if asking permission before my hunger takes over, the intensity increasing as her hands move to my face, then she’s pulling me closer and the desire is both intense and tender. I push her toward the bed even as she pulls me there and we tumble down onto it, our lips parting for no more than seconds before they connect again, her hands desperately working on my buttons as I yank down the zipper on her dress.
I love you, I love you, I love you.
With one hand I undo the clasp of her bra; my other hand strokes her hair, gently pushing it away from her face.
I love you.
She tosses my undershirt to the floor, and my cotton-jersey pants quickly become a discarded pile on the bed. Her hand is wrapped around my cock, and between kisses she breathes the words back into my mouth,
“I love you, Robert, I love you.”
I have never wanted anyone as much as I want her, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever wanted her as much as I want her right now.
I tear her panties from her body. I want to be inside this woman. I need to be inside her. Right. Now.
And when I enter her she cries out, her legs immediately wrapping around my waist as I adjust my position, placing my feet on the ground as I thrust into her again and again. And still I kiss her, still I pet her hair, slip my hand beneath her back, arching her up to me as she clings to my shoulders.
This woman who is art, who is my ocean, who will be my wife.
I pick her up, never losing our connection as I press her back against the wall, as her thighs continue to hold me. Her arms are now around my neck, her hands on my back, in my hair, and I’m thrusting up now, celebrating a new way to be inside her, our breathing in sync, our rhythm our own. And when I release her it’s only to turn her around quickly so I’m pressed up against her back. As she presses her hands and face to the wall, my own hands are now free to explore her in different ways. Fondling her breasts, toying with her clit as I bend and straighten my knees, thrusting into her as she absorbs me. It’s everything I can do to hold myself back until she cries out again, until I feel her contract around me, shudder against me. That’s when I fill her again, exploding inside her. That moment of mindless bliss so brief and so damn perfect.
“Kasie.” Her name comes from my lips like a puff of air.
“Robert,” she whispers, “you have my heart.”
A HALF HOUR later we’re still naked, lying in my bed. We’ve both called our secretaries to say we’ll be in late. I just need to savor this for a little longer. I need her in my arms. I still don’t know if I deserve this woman, but I do know that I have her.
Maybe it’s that sense of security that spurs me to push my luck. “I still think Gable is dangerous,” I say as her head rests on my shoulder. “The decision is yours, but I’m going to ask you again: please, don’t take this account.”
I prop myself up and look down at her with a dumbfounded stare. “Okay? Yesterday we had our worst argument since our last breakup, and now, this morning it’s okay?”
“Yes, well, I’ve been doing some more research, and the more I read, the more I’m on the fence about Mr. Gable and his offer. Plus, clearly this is important to you, but before you were demanding.” She shrugs, smiles. “All you ever had to do was ask.”
I study her for a moment and then hit her in the face with a pillow. She laughs delightedly as she picks up a pillow of her own and returns the favor, prompting a battle of cotton and feathers until I finally pin her to the bed.
She wriggles and giggles beneath me as I smile and study her bare fingers.
I’ll decide on a jeweler today.
This woman will be my wife.
MORE THAN A week has passed and things are back as they were . . . no, that’s not right, they’re better than they were. The fear that was spurring me before has been replaced by something gentler, but so much stronger. I don’t have to be afraid of losing Kasie to want to marry her. I simply have to love her. And I do.
And I have the ring.
It’s an estate piece featuring a rectangular-cut red diamond, the rarest and most passionate of stones, couched between two clear diamonds cut in the shape of half-moons. The band itself is made of pavé-set diamonds that cling to platinum. To me, the ring reflects her complicated nature, symbolizing her traditionalist background that only serves to highlight the parts of her that are so strikingly original. I had sent a surrogate to a Christie’s auction to get it and ended up paying over three million for the piece.
But what’s two months’ salary for something that lasts a lifetime?
I smile wryly to myself. The truth is, I would have spent even more for the right ring. I never aspired to marriage before I met Kasie, but now I can think of little else. There are no more obstacles in our way.
“Mr. Dade?” It’s Sonya’s voice coming through the intercom. I’m considering giving her a raise, and a bonus if she never goes on vacation again. “I have a Mercy Raye here to see you.”
I hesitate; the name sounds familiar but I can’t think why. “What is this regarding, Sonya?”
“I’m not sure . . . the appointment was made by my fill-in.”
I wince. Of course. And of course Cheryl neglected to reschedule the singer’s appointment with an appropriate member of my staff. I sigh heavily, leaning back in my chair. “Send her in.”
A moment later the door opens and this woman walks in. She’s petite, with light blond hair colored with streaks of violet, and when she turns to thank Sonya for her help I note the cursive words of a tattoo on the back of her shoulder, exposed by the wide neckline of her top. Not a style I prefer, but as she turns back to me, I have to admit she’s attractive, even beautiful. She looks like she could be in her late twenties, but seeing that this is Hollywood, that probably means she’s significantly older.
I rise to greet her, shake her hand. “Miss Raye.”
Her voice has a very familiar quality to it. Perhaps I have heard her songs after all. “I’m afraid there’s been a mix-up,” I say as I lead her to one of the chairs in front of my desk before resuming my position behind it. “Cheryl, the temporary employee who set up this appointment, should have informed you that I don’t actually handle the accounts.” This woman looks familiar, too . . . something about the shape of her face, her mouth . . . and yet I can’t quite place her. “I can make sure that one of our top executives takes on whatever security needs you may have.”
“Oh . . .” She shifts her position, taking in the details of my office. “Yeah, I’m not here for that,” she says, tugging on her fingers, nervous about something. “I’m here for personal reasons.”
“I see.” I cross my ankle over my knee, studying her. “What personal matters could you have with a complete stranger? We haven’t met before, have we?”
“Oh no.” She shakes her head quickly, and for the first time I notice the little crow’s-feet. Yes, she’s in her thirties, and yet the crinkles actually suit her, serving to bring attention to her brown eyes, which contrast nicely with her hair.
And again, her eyes are familiar.
“If we haven’t met, and you don’t want to talk to me about business, what do you want to talk to me about?” I ask steadily, allowing my tone to become a little deeper, more intimidating. Whoever she is, I don’t have time for this.
Again she shifts in her chair, seeming a little uncomfortable and then, finally, she looks back to me.
“I’m here because . . . because . . .” She pauses, takes a deep breath, which she blows out slowly through pursed lips. “Sorry, this is hard for me.” She pauses again, seeming to steel her resolve. “Okay, here it goes . . . I’mHereBecauseIHearYou’reDatingMySister.”
Her speech has become so fast that the last part sounded like one long word, like a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious release of a secret.
Still, I understood it, and it made me more than a little irritated.
“I’m afraid you heard wrong.” I glance up pointedly at the clock. “The woman I’m involved with only has one sister, and she passed away some time ago.”
“No she didn’t,” she says softly.
My eyes jerk back to the woman in front of me. “Excuse me?”
“Melody didn’t die,” she says slowly. She rolls her shoulders back and she smiles a small, trembling smile. “I’m right here.”
I stare at this woman, this woman with the same eyes as Kasie, the same lips, this woman who is supposed to be dead.
“Maybe we should start again,” she says. “I was born Melody Fitzgerald, and I’ve been very much alive all my life. Now I’m hoping you can reacquaint me with my sister, Kasie. Will you do that, Mr. Dade?”
Again I just stare. Melody, who was kicked out of her parents’ house when Kasie was just nine, who was pronounced dead when Kasie was fourteen. Melody, whose death colored the entire shape of Kasie’s life, influenced almost every decision.
What the hell is going to happen now?
Melody’s story is revealed July 28 in
JUST ONE LIE
Read about Travis Gable—and the young woman who brought him down—now in