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AMÉLIE S. DUNCAN
Copyright © Amélie S. Duncan, 2015
Published by Amélie S. Duncan
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All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior permission of the author or publisher. This book is a work of fiction. Any references to real people or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All books, songs, song titles, mentioned in the novel Tiger Lily are the property of the respective songwriters and copyright holders.
TO MY FAMILY
THANK YOU FOR THE LATE NIGHT
SINGING AND DANCING
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Also by Amélie S. Duncan
Jonas Crane. I sat on his lap, crushing yet another one of his designer suits. Normally, I would be worried about it, but not today. He had placed me here the second he sat down in the car. I was exactly where he wanted me to be.
He was dressed for work, which he missed yesterday and would probably miss this afternoon as well. Something unheard of for him, a renowned workaholic. I knew he thrived on structure and order. Nonetheless, I had somehow become the chink in his armor. He had chosen me.
I positioned myself to stare up at his face, and I couldn’t help but gape. He was a gorgeous man, from his dark, wavy hair down to his polished leather shoes. High, sculpted cheekbones, a square jawline, and thick lashes that framed a set of sea blue eyes. If that wasn’t enough, he had full sensual lips that I knew to be as soft as silk. And a muscular frame built for sin, which he wielded at every turn. Potent, masculine perfection.
He had beauty as well as brains, a savvy business mogul and a legend in his field.
Jonas was sought the world over to impart his wisdom or provide his golden touch to new ventures. That was how we had originally met. My company, Arch, wanted him. He wanted me. Still wanted me, after I had disappeared from his life, believing I could protect all I cared for, and myself, by being alone. But in the end, I fell apart, and Jonas came for me.
Just one of the many reasons that I love him.
A grin spread across my face, and Jonas’s took on a suspicious glint. I didn’t blame him. Mischief was on my mind. I leaned up and gave him a noisy kiss on the cheek, interrupting his phone call. He responded with a reproving shake of his head and mouthed, “Behave.” A cute little pucker appeared on his brow.
I leaned up again and kissed his moving lips in apology.
“That won’t save you,” he whispered. A dark promise crossed his face and I shivered, such was his effect on me. Not because I thought he would hurt me physically. He had gained my trust there. And with that awareness, I decided to kiss him loudly once more, adding a giggle.
“I’ll phone back,” he said, ending his call.
He captured my chin and gazed at me intently. “What are you doing to me?” he asked.
My pulse sped up as I stared back at him.
His eyes glimmered and he used his free hand to caress the side of my face. He liked asserting his will, but also gave affection freely, which was one of the many reasons I loved him. He winked and tucked me back against him.
His warmth and the smooth ride through Manhattan traffic had me stifling a yawn. I closed my eyes and nuzzled his neck, inhaling his fresh scent. I loved the way he smelled. I loved everything about this man.
“You didn’t get your nap. You’ll take one after we eat lunch and talk.” Jonas brushed his lips against my forehead.
The words “I’m not hungry…” were out of my mouth before my brain connected to them. Jonas gave me an empathetic, though critical, look. His body tensed underneath me. “I’ll speak with Dr. Steinman. See what we can do.”
My trip to the doctor’s office yesterday had convinced me that I did have an issue with eating, as I was now underweight. A side effect of the extensive exercise routine I had cultivated in an attempt to exhaust my mind. Dr. Steinman ran some tests and I was waiting for the results. Or, we were. Jonas had included himself in the knowing.
He was taking me over and I wasn’t certain how I felt about it. Though I was certain, no matter what happened, I wouldn’t leave him again.
“I’m not sure how hungry I am.” I corrected myself. He brushed his lips to my forehead again and slowly rubbed my back. “We’ll eat lunch when we get there.”
My brows rose as I looked past him out the window. We had long passed through Midtown and were halfway through Downtown Manhattan now.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“We’re staying temporarily in a furnished loft apartment in Tribeca,” he replied. “I’d prefer to move closer to Central Park and the Upper West Side when we can. Dani is going to help search for a place.”
I licked my lips. “I know you offered for me to stay with you, but you really don’t have to do that. The locks have been changed at my apartment and I’ll be finding a new place in a month.”
“If he got in once, he could get in again. I’m furious no one told me,” Jonas said, his tone sharp. He was talking about my ex, Declan, who had recently broken into my home and stolen photos and my prized possession—the Peter Pan book given to me by my father who, like my mother, was gone to me forever in a tragic car crash.
I curled my chin under in shame. If it had been my choice, Jonas would never have known what happened or seen me at my weakest.
He reached out and stroked underneath my chin, tickling the soft skin there, though I didn’t feel like laughing. “You’ll stay under my watch until we fix that piece of shit ex of yours,” he said in a softer tone.
I swallowed hard. Generally, I would have told him that Declan getting inside again wasn’t possible, but this time I just couldn’t. He had assaulted and stolen from me. I had given him my word I wouldn’t bother him if he didn’t bother me, but he still harassed me. All he did was continue to find ways to hurt me. Most recently, he sent me nude photos I hadn’t even known he had taken, the implicit threat being that he could easily post them on the Internet. He had the power to destroy my reputation and to hurt anyone else associated with me.
Even though I didn’t want to further my embarrassment, I decided to remind Jonas of that much and added, “You can’t. I told you what’s at stake.”
“You think I give a fuck about his threats to you?” he said, raising his voice. “I’ll destroy him.”
I flushed and closed my eyes. “I care. I’ll be ruined. And your reputation, along with mine.”
“Look at me,” he said.
I raised my head slowly.
His eyes were steady and determined. “That isn’t going to happen. I have people combing through his whole life right now. Trust me, he’ll be shitting his pants when I’m done with him.”
My pulse sped up. I was happy and terrified at the same time. Jonas’s nature was to fight. He was a warrior in business. He crushed his opposition—and worse, based on what he had shared with me. And from where I sat, it was evident he had declared war on Declan. From the set of his jaw, there was little I would be able to say to make him change his mind now.
Truthfully, I no longer believed Declan would do the right thing. I knew I needed help dealing with this, but I worried for Jonas. “I don’t want you, or anyone else, to get in trouble,” I pleaded.
He grinned and kissed me lightly on the lips. “We won’t,” he said confidently.
I touched my lips and stared off, wishing his words were enough.
“What are you most scared of?” Jonas asked in a gentle tone.
I cast my eyes down. “I don’t want anyone to see my body,” I said, just above a whisper. The truth, without sensor or process.
“I don’t either,” he admitted.
I flicked my eyes up to him and my stomach lurched as my old, negative tapes chimed in. He’s embarrassed of me.
“Whatever you’re thinking, stop,” Jonas said, breaking my thoughts as he assessed me. “Your body is beautiful, but I don’t want anyone else to admire it. Only me.” He paused for a moment, then asked, “You need confirmation of this again? You’ll make me tell you.”
A crease appeared on my cheek. Ever the general, Jonas. Commanding me to get him to remind me that I was beautiful.
My heart skipped a beat over just the thought, though I didn’t see the beauty he referred to. Sure, my spa treatment had invigorated my skin. And Dee did wonders with my hair. I was pampered smooth all over. Some surface cosmetics to mask the darkness. But that wasn’t enough. And the more I thought along those lines, the more worries arose. “But you haven’t seen…”
“What haven’t I seen?” Jonas asked. He stroked the side of my face, letting me know he wanted me to continue. But I didn’t want to. “You need to tell me,” he implored.
“He showed people at his job. He sent photos to my cell, with messages…” I stammered.
Jonas’s facial expression turned lethal. “Show me.”
I absently reached into my pocket and fumbled with my cellphone. Then I realized I didn’t want him to see them either, and started to put my phone back. His hand closed on my wrist.
“No secrets. This, I will break you of. We won’t work if you continue to hide things from me. Now, give me your phone,” he said, releasing my wrist and holding out his hand.
My own hand shook as I placed the phone in his open palm. “That goes for both of us,” I mumbled.
“I know this is hard for you, but you will learn to trust me,” he said, kissing me on the cheek. A tear escaped the corner of my eye as I watched Jonas look through my cellphone history and the images Declan had sent of me. One, apparently new, had me naked in the shower. I could pinpoint the timeframe of most of the photos he had. They were taken right after I sank into a depression following my parents’ death. I had gained weight, which he made fun of, and shortly after, he broke off our engagement. I covered my mouth to try to still the wave of nausea that went through me. The bile rose in my throat and I motioned to Jonas frantically.
“David. Pull over,” Jonas called out. The car cut across traffic and double-parked. Jonas quickly opened the door and I climbed out just in time to expel what I hadn’t digested from breakfast. Jonas took his handkerchief out and wiped my chin.
I took in a few quick breaths as I waited for the queasiness to pass. Once I was certain, I glanced at Jonas.
He handed me a bottle of water and I rinsed my mouth out, trying my best to pour the remainder over the piece of curb I had spoiled.
“I’m sorry,” I said hoarsely.
“Shhh,” Jonas said, as he helped me back inside the car. Another vehicle pulled up behind us and started blaring its horn, but David sat there for a few extra minutes before pulling out. That distraction broke the well of my thoughts. That, and Jonas placing me back on his lap, cuddling me close. After a few minutes passed without us speaking, I tilted my head up to look at him. His mouth was thin, but his eyes were kind as they connected with mine.
“I need my phone to call Mary. I have to tell her what’s going on, but I don’t want to over the phone…I don’t want her to see me like this.”
“I’ll get you a phone to use and you can invite her down to visit when you’re ready,” he said.
I opened my mouth, poised in protest of him keeping my phone, but he held up his hand to stop me.
“You don’t have to do everything at once. Your doctor said no stress. Let me handle it. I’ll take care of things for you,” he said.
“Like I’m a child,” I stammered.
“No, like you’re a woman I care for,” he replied in a gentle tone. He kissed my parted lips and a flutter went through my stomach. Letting him take care of me was something I had tried my best to resist before, out of fear I’d come to rely on him too much and wouldn’t know what to do with myself when it all inevitably ended. I worried he would only be caring for me out of pity, but we both agreed to put aside our fears and try to work on our relationship.
I had him and I was not leaving.
I gave him a small nod in agreement. The smile he returned didn’t reach his eyes, but he kissed me lightly on the lips and tucked me back into the warmth of his arms before making another phone call.
The car jostled down a cobblestone street in the West Village, finally stopping before a five-story gray brick and granite warehouse. A stocky man with a dark brown crew cut and navy business suit stood poised outside the building with a notepad. Jonas opened the door and helped me to stand on the sidewalk. He walked over and greeted the man.
“Samuel,” Jonas said.
“Mr. Crane,” Samuel replied. He handed a key ring and a folder to him. “Everything is in order.” I turned and thanked David, accepting my handbag. When I reached for my backpack, he smiled and stopped me, walking over and handing it to Jonas.
“Thanks, David. I’ll see you later,” Jonas said, ignoring my loud sigh and holding out his outstretched hand for me to take, which I did. “Samuel, this is Ms. Salomé.”
“Lily,” I said, awkwardly holding out my hand for him to shake. He smiled at me as he grasped my palm.
“Nice to meet you. We’ll have some of your clothing from your old apartment brought over later today. The rest will come tomorrow. I’ll need you to make a list of things you would prefer to remain in storage…”
My mouth went dry. “You’re done? I’ll need to go over and organize. I need to clean and prepare it for my final walk through. I still have about six weeks and I have to find a new place—”
“Let’s not overwhelm her,” Jonas said with irritation in his voice. “We’ll work it out later. She needs to eat lunch. Is Lin here?” He pressed his hand in the small of my back and guided me toward the building.
“Of course. Apologies, Mr. Crane,” Samuel said and adjusted his tie. “Yes, Lin is here and she confirmed lunch is ready.”
We walked as a group toward the backside of the building, stopping in front of a freight elevator. Samuel pulled the gate and then climbed inside. We rode to the top level. Once the doors opened, I was surprised to find we were already inside the apartment. It was a renovated penthouse loft with exposed brick walls, six floor-to-ceiling windows, and polished mahogany wood plank flooring.
The décor was contemporary, with mahogany and steel custom bookshelves, full of an array of leather and hardcover books. There was a closed, carved cabinet with a flat-screen TV and stereo that took up a third of the height of the fourteen-foot ceilings. A mix of brown leather and antique seating surrounded the centrally located fireplace.
“Your office is set up,” Samuel said.
“Show me,” Jonas said before turning to me. “I’ll be right back.”
I watched him walk away and couldn’t help but admire the way his body fit his suit. Or the lean muscle perfection I knew was underneath. This temporarily distracted me, though I wanted to know more about his plans. I turned away and walked over to the black Steinway piano and lifted the case, pressing lightly over the keys and smiling. In tune. Of course.
I sat down and played “Alouette.” When that didn’t sound too bad, I played Brahms’s “Lullaby.”
“I was happy this place had one,” Jonas said, walking up behind me. I stopped playing and smiled. “We used to have an upright piano in our house on Franklin Street. My dad would play and my mom would sing. I learned a few songs but, as you can see, I’m rusty.”
“Paul plays, as you know. I was hoping to get him to play for us. Of course, that is if I can stop him from horsing around.” His smile was wistful.
“Yeah, there’s that,” I said and laughed, but Jonas didn’t join me. I reached out and took his hand. “I’m really sorry for what he overheard today.”
Jonas’s eyes glazed over. “Melissa was right, he’s heard worse.”
I pressed my lips together at the mention of her name. I wondered how he had left things with her.
Jonas cleared his throat. “Dani and I made some decisions in raising him that I now regret. I was under a strict regimen with my father. We kind of went overboard in trying to give him the opposite by exposing him to adult behaviors too early. Letting him have a lot of freedom. And, well, now I’ve got a lovable smartass.”
I covered my mouth, stifling my laugh. “Well, he’s a teen. We all push boundaries at that age. He’s also kind and thinks very highly of his dad, I might add.”
His brows rose and a ghost of a smile appeared on his lips. “Oh does he?”
“Yep. He told me as much,” I said, and grinned when I saw the light in his face.
“Still. Melissa…I just don’t understand her.” He let go of my hand and ran his own through his hair.
“She said she loves you,” I said evenly.
“Yes, there is that,” he said it like it was a curse.
I blanched. “Yeah.”
“She went too far. I don’t know when I will forgive her,” he said.
I swallowed hard and averted my eyes, reminding myself I didn’t have Jonas’s love either.
He ran his hand down my side and a tingle went through me, flaring our connection. He leaned close to my ear. “I don’t feel the same way about her.”
My heartbeat sped up. As me?
He turned me around to face him. “Maybe we can have Dani, Alan, and Paul over for dinner soon? We used to do that when I lived here.”
I glanced at him. “We’ll need to talk about how this will all be working first. I need to start searching for my new apartment. I’d like to know more about this storage Samuel was referring to. And I have to get back to work…”
“Slow down,” Jonas reached out and took my hand, kissing the back of it. “We’ll talk.”
“But,” I said, just as Samuel came back into the room, a folder tucked under his arm.
“It’s all set. I’ll call you later with updates, Mr. Crane. I’ll just need your signatures,” he said obliquely.
Jonas nodded and Samuel walked over and handed him a pen. He used the top of the piano to sign, before turning to me. “This is to give me permission to act on your behalf, to help you.”
My lips parted as I eyed him questioningly. “In what capacity?”
“I need your permission to represent you through my legal division. Your authorization for me to proceed in the resolution of your apartment lease, and to pursue other issues. If possible, the theft of your property. Samuel will provide a copy for you to read over later,” he said, holding out the pen.
I hesitated. This would not only be placing me further in his debt, but also under his control in the decisions affecting my life.
I trusted Jonas. He had shown his genuine interest in helping me, and had given me no reason to believe he didn’t have my best interest at heart. Refusing would only leave me with the difficulty of trying to find and hire someone to do all of this on my own. But still, giving in felt too close to giving up, particularly after all I had tried to do to take care of myself.
I tried for a compromise. “I need a copy and for someone to explain this all to me, along with an added clause that states I can reject this agreement at any time, should I choose to do so.”
Jonas’s brow rose a fraction and he broke into a broad smile. “If that will make you feel better. Samuel here is your witness.” The announcement of his involvement prompted Samuel to take a step forward and gesture with his hand in a semi-salute, acknowledging his willingness to do his part in the role assigned to him. Then again, the way Samuel was looking at Jonas had me thinking he would deny his own mother to stay in his favor.
Nevertheless, I reached out and took the pen, signing along the line where asked to do so. Jonas exhaled and handed the paper to Samuel, then walked with him to the door. My mind worried over the implications, but also reminded me that I didn’t fare well on my own. In fact, things often got worse. I needed help, and he was willing to give that to me.
“Thank you for trusting me,” Jonas said when he returned to my side, holding out his hand for me.
I walked over and clasped it. “I wish I could say I didn’t need help, but I do. Thank you.”
He led me out of the living room area and past the circular staircase to a modern, open-plan kitchen. Stainless-steel appliances, dark wood, and marble. Modern lights. A long island bar with steel and leather barstools, custom cabinets and wine racks. A small breakfast nook completed the space.
A petite, elderly women with short, wispy gray hair and large, dark brown eyes stood before a five-burner stove. Her little bow mouth creased. “Jonas and…?”
“Lily. This is Lin, our amazing friend and housekeeper,” Jonas said. “I had to bribe her away from Dani.”
Lin laughed. “No, Jonas. I was more than happy to come over and help.” She pushed up the sleeves of her pink shirt and came around the counter, surprising me with a kiss on my cheeks. “Lily, our little beauty. Or…what was that name you called her, Jonas?”
“Tiger Lily. Or did you hear me call her my lioness?” Jonas said, with a bit of huskiness to his voice that made me blush.
Lin beamed as her eyes shifted between the two of us. “Oh, yes. I see.” Her eyes lingered on us for a moment, and then she added, “I’ve made my special homemade steak truffle pie with a delicious crème sauce and rosewater custard for dessert.”
The smile froze on my face as my mind flashed. Danger—bazillion calories alert. Lin’s face was prideful and my heart melted. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but I wasn’t sure about such a heavy lunch. “I had a big breakfast and my stomach has been upset.”
Lin looked a question at me, her smile wilting a little.
“How about you try a bit, Lily. We can get you something light for dinner,” Jonas said.
My brows rose. A compromise? Who was this Jonas Crane? “That sounds good. Thank you, Lin.”
She beamed and squeezed my arm. “One more thing.” She turned and held out a glass of water and a bottle. “Iron pills. This helped when my friend’s daughter was anemic.”
I took the pills and water without fuss. I wasn’t sure yet that I was anemic, but I did want to get better. Jonas gave me an approving smile and motioned for me to take a seat at the built-in breakfast nook while he pulled out a bottle of wine.
“Take a seat,” Lin commanded as she came up behind him and patted him on his back, taking the bottle from him.
I laughed as Jonas took the seat across from me, delighting in someone else ordering him around.
His stare warmed me all the way down to my toes. My heart skipped a beat as I returned his gaze with my own intensity.
“I love seeing you smile,” he said softly.
Lin walked up and put our plates of food down in front of us. I shook my head to try to dispel the effect he had on me. I was utterly besotted with him. I needed to get ahold of myself or I might scare him off again.
“What are you thinking?” Jonas asked, no doubt picking up on the change in my demeanor. Nothing got past him.
I lifted the corner of my mouth. “Nothing,” I muttered.
He frowned at me. “Why can’t you just tell me?”
I shrugged. “I’m trying. You don’t need to know every passing thought in my head.”
“I do if it wipes the happiness off your face. I want to know,” he replied.
I licked my lips. “My thoughts are…personal. Please give me time.”
We ate in silence for a few minutes. The rich food was incredibly delicious and I nodded over to Lin when I noticed her smiling at us.
“I’d like to look over your spa treatment from this morning. You’ll show me before your nap.” His tone suggested he could have been discussing the weather, but his words made my breath hitch. His face remained straight as he continued to eat his food. I must have been staring off for a few minutes, because his next words were, “Your food is getting cold.” Though he wasn’t looking into my eyes, his mischievous grin told me he knew exactly what he had just done to me.
I shifted in my seat. “I’m enjoying it,” I managed. “Thank you.” I took a sip of my wine and went for my own change of subject. “So, how long before you have to go out of town?”
“I have a possible day trip to Miami Friday for work. Maybe in a few weeks we can go on a mini vacation,” Jonas said.
I moved my food around my plate. My heart ached at the thought of him flying away on business so soon, but I understood. He enjoyed his work. I only wished we’d have more time together.
“If I decide to go, you’ll come with me,” he added.
I looked up and caught his eyes, a slight smile breaking across my face.
I ate more of my food and thought about the possibility. I loved that he wanted me to join him on his business trip, but I knew I wasn’t financially in a position to pay to do so, let alone to go on a vacation. Finally, I spoke up, “I can’t afford…I do appreciate your offer, but…”
“But nothing,” Jonas interrupted. “I meant it when I said I want us to spend more time together. I think a compromise on both of our parts is in order. I’m making time, and you will too. You’re on leave anyway.”
“Yes. For a week, I suppose,” I said and sipped my wine.
“I’ll speak to Gregor and get him to agree to let me decide when you return,” Jonas said, as if the thought had just formed in his mind.
My eyes widened. “He’d never do that.
Jonas sipped his wine and said, “Oh, he will. If I agree to publish my book with Arch, he’ll do anything I ask.”
I opened my mouth to tell him he was wrong, but thought better and closed it. Gregor would wrap a bow around me and hand me to him on a platter if Jonas agreed to give his business. Wasn’t that how I had come to meet Jonas in the first place? Hell, he would be able to expand his office from the press release alone. “You can’t…he needs me,” I muttered.
But if that happened, would Gregor still need me?
My eyes darted as my mind raced onto what I would do with my life.
“Oh, please eat,” Lin said, breaking my thoughts. She walked up to the table and added more pieces of steak. “I’ll like to know your favorite meals, too. So I can cook them for you.”
“Great idea, Lin,” Jonas said and grinned. She beamed at him.
“Thank you, Lin,” I said and plastered on a smile for her. When she walked away, I chewed my bottom lip and stared down at my plate.
“Calm down. I haven’t done it,” Jonas said. The word ‘yet’ hung in the air.
I exhaled. “So, you will be making the decisions for me? I know you found me the way I am right now, but I can fix these things on my own…”
“Not without me.” He reached over and took my hand. “Not on your own.”
I looked up at him through my long lashes. “Because you’re my friend…”
A small smirk appeared at the edge of his lips. “You fishing, Lily?” he asked coyly.
I turned my head to hide my grin, thoroughly resolved to eat every last morsel of my lunch.
Iwas sure I would burst after eating a small dish of the rosewater custard. I tried to help Lin clear the dishes, but she shooed Jonas and me out of the kitchen. He took my hand and led me to the stairs, where he started removing his shoes. The carpet was pale and soft underfoot as we climbed up to the second floor and down a short hallway, passing a few doors and a bathroom. At the end, we walked into a large and modern master suite with a small, floating fireplace and a sitting area that had modular couches and tables.
Four floor-to-ceiling factory windows dominated the space, draped by built-in blinds. A large, custom leather and steel bed with dark grey and white bedding and colorful pillow accents was against one wall.
Jonas let go of my hand and moved over to a walk-in closet that was divided by a short wall, while I admired the built-in shelves and groups of framed, abstract photos that decorated the space. I walked in the opposite direction toward the bathroom, which was also impressive—built-in cabinets, an extra-large garden tub with a large glass-enclosed shower with a stone bench, and a custom vanity area.
“Big enough for two,” Jonas said. I turned to look at him and my pulse sped up. He had changed and was now wearing a shirt that showed off his sexy, muscular upper body. His pants hung low on his waist and looked oh-so right.
I forced my gaze back to the tub. “Or four. It’s huge.”
He kissed my lips, and I got a taste of mint. “I’d like to brush my teeth. Do you have spare toothbrushes?”
He walked me over to the cabinet, where I brushed my teeth and rinsed my mouth. When I finished, I asked, “Off for a workout? I could use one too.” I rubbed my stomach.
His arms circled my waist. “Yes. My trainer will be coming soon. This place has a small gym, but,” Jonas said, curbing my enthusiasm, “not for you right now.” He kissed the side of my neck.
I sighed and he took my hand, leading me back into the bedroom and walking us over to the bed.
“Sleeping and eating,” I smirked. “Just so you know, I gain weight pretty quickly.”
“Good. I want you better,” Jonas said. He sat down on the bed and put his hands on my hips, pulling me between his legs. “Now, I want you to take off your clothes and climb into bed. We’ll talk until you fall asleep.”
My body responded to his command. I enjoyed him taking over when we were intimate. However, there was something besides my desire for him overtaking me now. Something different. I stared up into his eyes that were fixed on me, and my heart swelled. His need was reflecting back to me, but so was something else. I took in a shallow breath as my fingers trembled to work at unbuttoning my shirt.
Jonas’s hands closed over my own as he leaned forward and planted a light kiss on my knuckles. “Want me to undress you?” he asked.
I nodded. I couldn’t speak, but felt a tingle down to my core. He went at a slow pace and finished undoing my button-down shirt, then I helped him pull it off my arms and into his hands, where he paused to fold and place it on the side table. My breathing and pulse teemed with anticipation.
“Why do you always fold my clothes after undressing me?” I whispered.
He turned me away from him and unclasped my bra.
“How does it make you feel?” Jonas said, answering a question with a question. He eased the straps down my arms and kissed my shoulders. My breasts responded, swelling and hardening my nipples. He turned me around to face him. His eyes roved over my naked upper body.
My feelings were full of romanticism. I didn’t trust he was ready to hear them, especially after his reaction to Melissa’s love. So I answered, “I don’t know.”
“I think you do know,” he said in a low tone.
I exhaled as he cupped and kneaded my breasts. He closed his lips around my nipple and traced it with his tongue as he continued to massage the other one. I moaned. I couldn’t help but put my hands in his hair and hold his head there, arching my back to him. He gently bit down, then licked lightly, soothing the pain with his tongue. He suckled my other breast and my breathing became staggered. Heat coursed through my body. I thought he would take off my pants next, but he surprised me by capturing my lips and kissing me.
Deeply massaging his tongue against mine, he sucked my bottom lip, just to cover my lips again in a sensuous tangle that had me pressing in closer and squirming to get more from him.
“Don’t be afraid to share your feelings,” he said in a gentle tone as our lips parted. He placed his hands on my hips to still me. I looked over, taking in his half-lidded gaze and swollen, full mouth. I felt wetness gush between my thighs. He was so incredibly hot. I squirmed.
“I’ve got you,” he said in a soft tone. He unbuttoned my jeans and hooked his thumbs in the sides of my panties, pulling them down together until I stood before him, naked and struggling not to cover myself. He wrapped his strong arms around me and pulled me into a hug. “I’m worried about you, Tiger Lily. I want you to gain weight and get healthy.”
His term of endearment warmed me and the thickness in his voice constricted my heart. “I’m fine. I’m going to be fine.”
“Yes,” he rubbed over my hips. “You will be. I’ll make sure of it.”
His caress elicited a familiar spark, coursing across my skin. I shifted my legs. “Do you just want to talk right now?” I asked, my voice raspy.
He ran the back of his knuckle over the top of my mound in an unhurried manner. “So soft. I want to feel you on my lips, but if I start there we both know I won’t stop.” He was using his low tone. The one that turned me on to no end. He was also teasing me, making me desperate enough to do something I would likely find embarrassing under other circumstances. Like standing naked, parting my thighs in front of him and moving against where his knuckle stopped, making him press against my slit.
His gaze was dark as he watched me. “You’re soaking my finger. Is that what you want?” he purred. He held his knuckle still as I slid it against my swollen clit. I moaned and moved faster, the sensation sending pulses of pleasure through me.
“Answer.” He moved his hand back and rested it on his thigh.
My pulse pounded in my chest and I whined. “Why can’t you just do instead of making me say…?” I hissed, frustration in my tone. He pulled me closer and kissed along my collarbone and neck. “Because I want you to tell me. Straddle my lap.”
A blush crept up my cheeks. “I’ll ruin your clothes,” I whispered.
His eyes danced with amusement. “I know your pussy is wet. I don’t care. But since that bothers you, you can pull down my clothes. Just know, getting in my lap wasn’t a request.” His crass words and command worked as affectively as his hands and I heated up all the more.
Pulling down his pants and bringing his long, thick erection into view, I crawled on his lap. Before I could sit, he pressed the head of his cock against my clit. I whimpered, “Jonas.”
He inhaled sharply. “I’m not fucking you right now, though it’s tempting,” he gritted. “Mmm, but that whimper. So sexy.” He paused, seeming to think for a moment. “You don’t want my hand. You want my cock? Tell me.”
A smile formed on my lips despite his torture. This was a play on the dream he had woken me from last night. Oh, I had the answer alright. “Your cock, please, Jonas,” I rasped.
He laid back and dragged me up and down the outside of his shaft. He grabbed my ass and pressed in hard. “I want you to come on my cock.” Rocking my hips, I arched and slid against the base of his cock. Pleasure and need taking over me with every drag and press of my sex to him. Oh, Jonas.
His eyes were fixed on me as he groaned and panted below me. Even there he was in control. The last threads of my own broke, and I humped him unabashedly. He had reduced me to primal desire and all I could think about was that sweet release within my grasp. I grunted, “I’m close. I’m, ohhh. Jonas!”
“Yes. Come, for me,” he commanded, rubbing the head of his cock right up against my clit. I came, shuddering, collapsing against him. “God, Lily. So fucking sexy. I can’t wait.”
He let go of me and I eased to his side. He moved his hand down and gripped his cock in his hand, using my essence as a glide to stroke himself with.
“Lick me,” he commanded.
I moved into action, licking him as he jerked on his cock until he exploded with force. Then I closed my mouth over him, sucking down his seed, tasting the heady mix of the both of us.
“Yes,” he hissed. Jonas petted my hair as he came down, releasing himself from my mouth.
“My Tiger Lily. Come here.” He pulled me into his arms.
Yes. Jonas had me. And as I held him close, I realized I had him, too.
“I do the things I do because I want you to feel closer to me,” he replied, giving me an answer to the question I had asked earlier. How close, he didn’t say. And I didn’t push it. I was too bliss-filled.
After a while, he moved me on the bed and held open the covers. “Get in.” I climbed in and he moved to lay on his side, facing me.
“Now, that’s a look I’ll enjoy while we are living together,” he mused.
I glanced down at his mention of ‘while.’ It was best to remember we had a time limit for our togetherness. “I’ll start looking for a permanent place,” I promised. “I’ll pay rent here until then, though I suspect it’s well out of my range.”
He laughed. “I make your yearly salary quicker than you could turn over.” I looked away, and he continued. “I’m not saying that to hurt you, but the idea of you paying rent here is ridiculous,” he said.
My mouth went dry. “I don’t think it’s silly,” I mumbled.
He stroked under my chin. “I do admire your willingness and pride. No one I have ever been with before has challenged me on this, and you have so much less than most of them.”
My body went stiff. Jonas cleared his throat. “You’re here because I want you here. What I want and do costs. And I want you with me. So we both benefit.”
I didn’t say anything, so he continued. “As I told you before, we ended the companionship. This is about us, together. I go to a lot of public functions and events. You will come with me. Right now, your clothing doesn’t fit you properly. I want to fix that.”
Now I wanted to respond. “So, what am I supposed to be? I wasn’t raised to be a burden. I can’t do that, not even if I only had a couple of dollars. Maybe I could clean and cook here? You can send Lin back to Dani,” I said.
Jonas looked at me as if I had sprouted a new head. “Not a chance. I don’t want you serving me. Well, not in that way,” he joked, but leaned in and kissed my lips when he noticed how his words hurt me.
“So, I’m to take and take, until you’re done and leave me? No way.” I moved to turn over, but he took hold of my hips and pinned me down on my back.
“Where am I going? You already have me gone before we’ve even started. Stop telling me how I feel and listen to me, have a little faith in me. If you’re worried about taking, how about you do something I want from you that doesn’t cost money as payment?” he said.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You go to counseling for what happened to you. Dani has a friend, Isla, who could see you this week.”
I furrowed my brows. “I appreciate Dani’s offer, but I’m not a head case. I know I messed up with everything. I don’t plan to do it again. I’m on board with fighting Declan, even though that scares me. But I took care of myself. I kept my apartment, went to work, and was trying to turn my life around.”
He laid on his side, facing me, then placed an arm along my waist. “I know, and I admire that about you. I think you’re resilient, trying to keep your life together after all that happened. But now you’re not alone. I’ll be here, and so will Dani, Alan, and Gregor. Even Paul would be willing to help you,” he said, kissing behind my ear.
“Why? I don’t understand. Gregor is my boss and friend, but your family barely knows me,” I said.
“Because we trust each other and our instincts about you. I went against them when you disappeared, but I trusted Dani to tell me what happened. Though we are both saddened that she kept your attack from me.”
I took his hand. “Dani did that for me and I’m sorry. She wouldn’t stop calling or texting, even though I didn’t return any of her messages.”
“That’s how she’s been since I met her. Once she declares you her friend, she won’t let go. Even if you never spoke to me again, she would never have left you. Can you believe she still has friends from grade school? Even after we separated, she called me every day. She doesn’t throw anyone away,” he said.
My heart constricted. I kissed his chest. “I didn’t throw you away,” I whispered.
“I understand that now.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway. Counseling may help you gain perspective on everything, and Isla can give you an introductory session before her scheduled sessions in a couple of days. You don’t have to go forever, but trying would be an acceptable payment. I won’t force you, but that’s what I want,” he said.
I huffed, feeling thoroughly ambushed. I wanted to whine that I should get a week to process, but there was no reasoning with the man that had taken me to my doctor’s office immediately upon seeing me just a day before. This was the one thing he asked of me, and I had said I would try. “Fine, but I don’t have to like it. I had a bad experience after my parents died. The counselor gave me a few brochures to read after…after I poured my whole heart out to her. It was useless. But I will try therapy again, for you. I still want to do something else, though.”
“I’ll think of something.” He leaned over and kissed the back of my neck.
“Sex,” I said, like it was a dirty word. He stopped.
“I wanted to find and explore what we have together without sex. We can’t do that now,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked coyly.
He reached over and placed his hand over my sex possessively. “Because I’m not going without sex. I don’t go without,” he said bluntly.
My mouth dropped open and I looked past him. “I don’t want you to go without. I just didn’t want to share you. But there is something that concerns me.” I paused and he waited for me to continue. “Melissa mentioned there are things you enjoy that I don’t…or we haven’t…”
He pressed his lips together. “Melissa again.” I could hear the exasperation in his voice, but he took a soothing breath and then returned to me. “We had a different relationship together. I was different, too. You already know some of my kinks, but the main thing right now is you staying here with me.”
I put all my feelings into my gaze. “I meant what I said, Jonas. I’m staying, but I want you to tell me what’s going on and for us to discuss it, and for you to compromise instead of taking over.”
He grinned at me. “Feisty and full of negotiations. Who are you?” He moved out of the bed and changed back into his clothes.
My cheeks warmed. I shrugged.
He kissed me. “I like it, but you’ll find I’m not easily swayed. You won’t get your way all the time, especially if I think my way is for your betterment.”
I sighed. “Yes, I’m well aware that you’re bossy and pushy.”
“I’m not perfect, but you love me,” Jonas said. His voice went up at the end, a rare hint of uncertainty.
Of course that hit me right in the chest and I answered without hesitation. “Yes, I do. That, I’m certain of.”
Jonas cupped the side of my face and we stared at each other as electricity sparked between us. His thumb reached over and traced the outline of my lips.
The doorbell sounded. Grrr!
Leaning in to kiss me, he said, “That’s the trainer. We’ll talk more soon.” He climbed off the bed and headed for the door.
“Jonas?” I called out.
He turned in the doorway. “Yes?”
My pulse sprinted as his eyes bore into mine. “The way you are with me makes me feel like…I’m special to you.”
Jonas walked back over and kissed me tenderly on the lips. “That, I’m certain of,” he whispered.
My heart swelled and I leaned forward, deepening our kiss.
The bell sounded again and we parted.
“Now, get some rest. I’ll check on you later.” That assurance was all I needed as I gave myself to sleep and dreams.
Irubbed my eyes against the light coming from the table lamp. My body felt rested, though my jaw was sore from grinding my teeth. My heart sank as dread washed over me. Had I been having a nightmare?
I sifted through my thoughts as I took in my surroundings, narrowing in on a phone next to the lamp, along with a handwritten number scrawled across a piece of paper.
This is your new phone and number—Jonas
My stomach lurched at the thought of what might have appeared on my phone after giving it to Jonas.
Would Declan call to gloat? What would happen if Jonas answered?
The pain in my jaw flared again as I gritted my teeth. My mind raced ahead, worrying about what might be next. My heartbeat was even faster, and it had me seeking relief the way I had for some time now.
Pushing back the duvet, I climbed out of the bed and searched for my clothes, but I couldn’t find them. I thought to run in place, to lunge, crunch or jump in my fight against the pain and exhaustion these thoughts plagued me with. But that choice had been taken away by my doctor and Jonas.
No. Truthfully, I knew it wasn’t an ultimate solution. I wasn’t running anymore. Not physically or mentally, since both had almost cost me everything.
Standing up, I walked back to the bed and sat down, covering my face with my hands. I took a few short breaths.
What was I to do now?
The sound of music drifted up from downstairs, interrupting my thoughts and bringing me back to the now. “Maybe I’m Amazed.” I smiled. Jonas was here. We were together for a while, if I could help us. If I helped myself.
If I started letting people in to help me.
I dropped my hands and looked at the phone. I thought to call Mary, but she was another person I had shut out of my life in the midst of all this chaos. Would she forgive me?
I needed to find out. I picked up the phone and dialed her phone number. After a few rings, she answered.
“Hello. Who is this?” Her tone was cautious.
“Mary,” I cleared my throat. “It’s me, Lily.”
“Oh. I didn’t recognize the number. And I didn’t realize you even remembered mine. Thanks for the message to say you would be back in touch,” she said, her voice crisp.
I climbed back under the covers and curled on my side. “I deserve that. I was…I was trying to. I didn’t want you to know about what happened. I didn’t want you to worry…” I stammered.
“What happened? Are you hurt? Oh my god,” her voice went shrill.
I sat up. “No.” Then I took a breath. “Yes…I really don’t want to do this over the phone. I just wanted you to know I’m staying with Jonas. And this will be the phone number to reach me at.” My own voice wavered.
“I need to know more or I’m driving up to wherever you are this minute. I…I swore I would look after you after your parents died. And I’ve failed miserably.” She was sobbing now.
I wiped my cheek. “No. I failed you again. I’m sorry.”
“Tell me what’s going on. I want to see you. Give me the address where you are and I’ll leave right now.” Her voice elevated.
I bit my lip. “Jonas said…we agreed…after a couple of weeks or so. When I’m better.”
“I don’t care what Jonas said. You’re my best friend and I love you. If you’re hurt, I want to be there to help you. Put him on the phone,” she yelled.
“Calm down. Let me explain…everything. God I didn’t want to do this over the phone.” My voice broke.
“I’m grabbing my keys. I can’t take not knowing what’s going on anymore. You weren’t doing well when I saw you after that asshole hurt you. I’m your best friend, Lily. You’re my sister. I love you. You have to tell me.” My heart constricted at the sound of her crying into the phone.
My own eyes filling, I finally said, “After I returned from Boston…” I didn’t stop talking until I had told her everything that happened after I left her apartment in Boston.
When I finished, she said solemnly, “I’ve failed you as a friend again. I had a feeling things weren’t going right with you. I should have listened more during your visit or tried harder to come down to see you when I couldn’t reach you.”
I wiped my chin. “I didn’t let you be a friend again, Mary. This is me. Not you.”
“I want to be there for you. I’d like to take your Jonas up on his offer to visit soon. Please give him my number so I can speak to him,” she said.
I groaned. “Jonas isn’t exactly mine. He wants to help me. He has been helping me. But it’s still complicated. I’d love for you to visit, but I just got here myself. I’ll call you with a date soon. If you want to speak to Jonas, I’ll have him call you, but I don’t know what’ll happen between us. If he decides I’m not…”
“Don’t start down that path. He wouldn’t have dropped everything and came for you, and he wouldn’t have you living with him, if he was just going to drop you. The man is crazy in love with you. He’s just too stubborn to admit it,” she said.
I blew out a breath. “He likes me, I know that, but I don’t want to pressure…” My words were stolen at the sight of Jonas walking into the bedroom wearing just a towel around his neck.