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by Mary Eason
Description: Life is just a series of events with consequences. On their own they wouldn't add up to much, but when you put them all together you never know where they'll end up taking you, or what the outcome will be once you're there. The last thing Paige Wilder is looking for at thirty-eight is another bad-ending relationship. Paige believes she has it all--good friends, a challenging career in publishing and the perfect little companion named Sammy. Jude Martin has made some promises to himself. He will never return to New York City, never work for his father and never, under any circumstances, will he fall in love again. So why is he here, in New York, running his father's publishing house and trying to convince a woman who is just as determined as he to give him a second chance?
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2007
eBookwise Release Date: March 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [337 KB]
Reading time: 226-317 min.
When I walked into my office the following morning, I still didn't have the answers to those questions, but I hadn't been disappointed the night before either. My dream lover had been there with me throughout the long night.
I tried to convince myself what I had with him might be a good thing. Maybe this wasn't such a strange relationship after all. I mean, it had worked pretty good for me thus far. Did I really need to know any of the details of his life? I think not. Who cared if I hadn't discovered his name, or where he lived, or whether or not he might be married. Those were all insignificant details, weren't they? He was good--no, he was great in bed. That's all I needed in my life right now.
I'd actually begun to feel content and defiantly satisfied by my newfound lover. Maybe I had unknowingly stumbled onto the true secret to relationship success. I had someone who made me happy in bed, and I didn't have to deal with any of his faults.
I'd almost been able to convince myself I believed all those things, until the questions came from all those who knew me the best. Starting with Ralph.
"I don't know what you've been up to Miss Texas, but that's definitely not Elizabeth Arden's work. You look fabulous, like..."
I knew exactly where Ralph was heading and decided I didn't want to be his next topic of office gossip.
"Never mind. What's my schedule look like?"
Poor Ralph. This had to be the first time ever he wasn't able to get the goods from me. He looked almost insulted.
But I think he also understood now was not the time for questions. Ralph simply handed me my calendar before dropping a bombshell on me.
"You have a ten o'clock conference call with the new boss, Miss Texas. You probably should get that freshly, 'screwed' look off your face, otherwise Junior's gonna hear it in your voice."
This stopped me from retreating to my office.
"What? Who? You mean the big boss, Junior Martin? What does he want with me?"
"Jude Martin. And I don't know, maybe he's heard your reputation is currently leaning towards loose."
"Ralph!" It was payback for keeping secrets from him, but still.
"I don't know what he wants with you, honey. I wish I could tell you more. All I know is his henchwoman called yesterday while you were doing whatever it is you've been doing lately. I managed to keep the woman in the dark until today, but no longer. She took the first thing I gave her on your calendar for this morning."
"Is Dani in? Maybe she knows something more about this?"
"Uh-uh, doll. Dani's out with the flu, or whatever you've had lately. She doesn't know a thing about it."
"I'm sure it's something she should be handling. Maybe its been shuffled my direction by mistake?" I asked hopefully before dumping my stuff in a chair.
I quickly searched through my emails looking for some clue, possibly even a hint from Dani, but found nothing. Glancing at my watch, I saw that I had exactly ten minutes to find something before I faced Jude Martin's questions without a clue.
"Don't think so, Miss Texas. No, the henchwoman specifically asked for you. Never mentioned Dani at all."
This had me even more frustrated.
"Are you sure, Ralph? What would the new guy want with me, anyway? How does he even know I exist? I'm just a flunky."
"Don't know that either, honey. But if you don't get your act together soon, you're not going to make a very good first impression on him, now are you?" I took another peek at my watch as my private line buzzed and Ralph and I both reached for the receiver at the same time.
Suddenly I found myself nervous. My hands were actually sweating. I waited while Ralph answered the call and did his best to sound pleasant before handing the call over to me.
"Ms. Wilder, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I understand how busy you must be with Dani being away from the office." A decidedly masculine and somewhat familiar voice spoke against my ear. Where exactly had I heard his voice before?
My imagination, perhaps? Or maybe my fear working overtime? Maybe I'd simply remembered all those things I'd been doing lately.
I'm sure somewhere in the moral conduct code of life, I'd broken every single one of the rules listed there.
"Um, you're very welcome, Mr. Martin." From all the pictures I'd seen of the older Martin, I knew he was short, balding and more than a little plump. I found myself wondering what Junior might look like? Did he live up to his voice?
I came back to reality in an instant when I realized I'd actually been daydreaming.
"I said I'm sure you're wondering why I asked to speak with you, aren't you, Paige... May I call you Paige?" Was it my imagination or was he finding me a little too amusing for a simple business call?
"That's fine," I said absently while trying to understand why my name, coming from a man I'd never spoken to before should sound familiar.
"Good. Relax, Paige. I'm not firing you. In fact, Dani speaks very highly of your work as do several of your co-workers." This got my attention fast enough.
"I'm trying to touch base with all of the middle management team members this week."
Jude kept me on the line for another half-hour, asking enough questions to leave me with an uneasy feeling my future at Martin Publishing might actually be in serious jeopardy.
By the time Jude told me he had to join another meeting, I wanted to cry from relief.
The second I ended the call I buzzed Ralph.
"Well?" He hit me with the first question before I managed single word.
"Come to my office." Protocol aside, I didn't have time to be nice. I was in serious trouble.
The official office pecking order runs something like this. Ralph was Dani's assistant...technically. Afterwards, his services fell to me as the second-in-command. Whatever was left over went to the others to fight over.
Today, with Dani not in the picture, I needed Ralph's help more than ever.
"Okay, tell me everything you know about this new guy?" I all but screeched at him, thoroughly trembling in my new three-hundred-dollar black Manolo patent slingback pumps. Jude Martin sounded as intimidating as he did sexy.
"That bad? Oh lord...what have you been up to, missy?"
"Ralph! I haven't been up to anything. But something's definitely going on that's for sure. Tell me what you know."
"Well, it isn't much, but I Googled him." He told me while he shooed me away from my computer in order to type in Jude's name while adding, "All I know for sure is the youngster, and I call him that because he's twenty-seven, twenty-eight tops, didn't want the old man's job at all. But apparently the old guy didn't give him any choice in the matter. I'm sure because he's the old guy's only natural child--there are a couple of step kids from a later marriage floating around I believe, but they don't talk to the old guy, and definitely have no interest in following his footsteps. Too busy spending his money, if you ask me."
At my impatient stare, Ralph put his personal opinions aside. There were only a few pictures of him, mostly showing Jude Martin from a distance on the arm of a beautiful woman. This guy didn't look anything like his old man. He appeared to be well over six foot, with dark hair. I couldn't see any of his features, but he seemed to be built beautifully, possessing one of those tall athletic bodies which could be so deceiving. Perfect for, well...best not to go there with Ralph sitting at my computer watching my reaction.
"Anyway," Ralph relinquished my chair and continued with his summation, "the old guy must have threatened to write Junior out of the will or something to get him back from London. Rumor has it Junior was getting through an ugly divorce and already sowing some wild oats when the old man called him back. None too happy to be back in the states, from what I hear."
Jude Martin had been married. This surprised me. I wouldn't have pegged him for the marrying kind.
"Tell me about the business? I don't care about him personally."
"Uh huh. You'd be the first woman in history to feel this way. I love you, honey, but you're not that special." Ralph glanced my way, saw my reaction and decided he'd gone too far.
"Everyone around is being very tight-lipped about the biz stuff. Which is strange, considering the old guy pretty much worships his creation and all. But there's some nasty rumors floating around."
"What type of rumors?" I asked, dreading his answer.
"Only there may be some major downsizing going on in the near future--and I mean major. Like getting rid of several departments!"
The manager in me wanted to remind Ralph spreading rumors of this magnitude would do even more damage and cause unnecessary panic. But the girl who'd just got off the phone with the very disturbing Jude Martin was in shock. That girl's mouth was standing wide open.
"It can't be true, surely? I mean, business is thriving. I've seen the numbers. Those are simply rumors, Ralph."
"Well, maybe, Miss Texas, and I certainly hope you're right, but I'm polishing my resume...tonight."
I spent the rest of the day, trying to make amends for my previous lack of enthusiasm at work. I mean, it might not be my dream come true as far as jobs went, but it did pay the bills and kept Sammy and me in food. And more importantly, it kept me in the city, seeing my fantasy. If I were forced to walk away from New York, what would I do about him?
The very thought and my reaction to it scared the living daylights out of me. I buried myself in emails and financial statements until late in the evening. I couldn't bear the thought of walking away from the fantasy.
Ralph finally poked his head in at seven to tell me he didn't care how long I planned on staying he had somewhere else to be.
"Ralph, I'm sorry. I never meant for you to stay this late. If you can wait a second, I'm leaving as well. I'll go with you."
The minute I reached my apartment, I forgot all about the problems in my life. I took Sammy outside for his evening walk and I waited for my fantasy to return to me.
* * * *
Right on time, and exactly what I didn't need in my life clouding my rational thought, my fantasy came into my bedroom. And for the first time since discovering him, I wanted to know more about him. I actually wanted him to talk to me.
"Tell me your name," I said once I managed to breathe normally again, after he loved me and lay holding me close.
Each time he touched me, he had the unnatural ability to leave me wanting him even more.
"I thought you didn't want to know anything about me? You only wanted the fantasy, remember?"
"I don't... I didn't, you're right. I don't care who you are."
The sound of his familiar laughter made me wonder who he left me for each night.
Was there someone waiting for him now? Was he married? Did he do this sort of thing with other women?
"I think you should to leave," I told him when that painful image hurt too much to consider. I tried to push him away but he didn't let me. He simply held me tighter.
"You don't mean that, Paige. You like this little arrangement of ours every bit as much as I do. You don't want any commitment."
"Get out," I said, loud enough for Sammy to come to my defense. The little dog let out a low growl followed by a slightly less forceful whimper.
To my horror, my dream lover got out of bed.
At this point, I tried, I really tried to let him go, but I wasn't that strong.
Instead, I said the words to bring him back into my arms, but left me fighting back tears until at last I slept. I wasn't ready to lose him yet. In fact, the thought scared me to death.
Of course, I knew I played a very dangerous game with this man, one which promised nothing but pain. But for the life of me, I couldn't walk away from it, or him. I was in too deep already.
I'd promised myself I would stay awake until he left me and follow him. I would discover where he went when he left me. But it never happened. The guy was too good at what he did.
Instead, I awoke before dawn with the same aching feeling throughout my body. My fantasy lover had touched every part of me once more. But this time, this night, his touch went all the way through to my heart.
* * * *
* * * *
Lesson 5: Judge success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
While I might not be willing to give up my dream lover, and nothing would change the way I felt, I could at least confess what I'd been doing to someone who would know how to give me some good advice. Someone who was an expert in the field of men.
Dani was one of those people constantly running on a kind of nervous energy which usually had her in the office every morning before seven.
She'd told me once that she used this quiet time to prepare for the day.
Today, I found her at exactly seven-oh-five, and I hit her with my problem shortly after. But not before asking the polite thing of how she was feeling.
"Okay--I wasn't sick. I wanted to take the day off and spend it with Mark."
Now, had I been functioning correctly, I should have realized this was totally out of character coming from Dani.
Dani didn't need any touchy-feely relationship stuff. She used men the way they'd been using women for centuries. Dani was tough and unemotionally, not your typical girly-girl.
"But I'm thinking you're not here, especially at this hour, to ask me how I'm feeling? What's going on with you, Paige? You look terrible."
At those typical Dani words, I confessed everything.
"I don't know what to do, Dani. I'm in way too deep with this guy already."
"Oh Paige. How did you let yourself get involved in something like this?" She quietly handed me a tissue, because I'd started bawling like a baby at this point, before closing the door on our "strictly private" conversation.
"I don't know," I wailed, burying my face in my tissue. "I don't know how it happened, but I don't want to end it. I think...I think I may actually have feelings for him, Dani."
Even through my tissue buffer there was no mistaking her groan.
"Oh Paige. If you weren't so upset, I'd kick your butt right now."
"Well thanks a lot!" But at least I could finally meet her gaze again.
"Well, it's what you deserve, for sure! Okay, let's think about this? You don't know anything about him, except the fact that he's good in bed. But you told him you didn't want to know anything about him, right?"
"Yes," I muttered before going back to the comfort of my tissue.
"And you like this guy?"
I glanced at her suspiciously. I knew what she meant. How could I be this naive, to think I'd fallen for someone I'd only gotten involved with in the first place because we'd hot sex together?
"Girlfriend, wake up! Stop trying to label what you feel for him and simply go for it. No one says you have to be in love with a guy to sleep with him. You have what every woman wants. Someone who does it for you sexually, but doesn't hog the covers. Why not keep doing what you're doing and see what happens? Who knows, the two of you will get sick of each other. Maybe you won't even want to know who he is."
For the first time, I considered a future with my fantasy under the terms Dani outlined. Did I really, really want to know who he was? What if he was just another boring Joe-blow like Harry?
Wasn't the only real thing I found exciting about the guy, well beyond the obvious sexually attraction, the fact that I didn't know a thing about him? Dani was right. I liked the guy now because he was a fantasy. I didn't want to know anything about the real man I'd been sleeping with so that he could fulfill all my fantasies.
Now that I thought about it, I had the best of all worlds. I mean, Someone to have a good time with and fulfill my needs physically. I had Dani and my other friends to talk to, and Sam for companionship. What more did a gal need?
"You know you're right, Dani. What am I getting so worked up about? This is the perfect arrangement. The last thing I want is to be tied down to some guy and his opinions. I got rid of one of those. Thank you. I knew you of all people would have the right answer. You've certainly made it work in your own life. You enjoy them before getting rid of them. I want to be more like you."
If I'd been thinking clearly and not thrilled to have finally pigeonholed my relationship with the fantasy, I would have noticed that Dani wasn't actually agreeing with me.
In fact, she wasn't able to look me in the eye anymore. There was something almost sad about Dani today. Something that if I were being honest, had been there many times in the past, but I'd simply chosen to ignore it.
In my current state of denial, I didn't understand Dani's sadness, but I believed nothing would faze my steadfast friend for long.
I left Dani without ever questioning the little niggling of doubt in the back of my mind. I went about my day, throwing myself into my career with a new fervor, while avoiding the man on the top floor like the plague. No need to complicate my life any further. I certainly had no desire to destroy my newfound utopia by throwing another problem into the mix.
I did my job during the day and lived my fantasy each night, never realizing the chain of events I'd set in motion the fateful night of my birthday would soon determine my downfall.
* * * *
Even as I lived each day in this dream world existence, there still remained the smallest amount of regret inside me which made me wonder why I couldn't have it all?
Didn't other women have the whole nine yards? The career, the husband to come home. The family. Why was I willing to settle for my fantasy-no-attachments relationship? And was I content to stop hoping to have it all entirely?
I wasn't as tough as Dani, even though I tried to pretend differently. I knew I couldn't be happy with simply physical satisfaction for long.
But for the moment, I was determined to give it a go. I pushed aside the need to ask my dream lover questions and tried to pretend it didn't matter when I woke alone in bed each morning. He was with me each night. He fulfilled my every need, sexually at least. But the coldness of the bed beside me each morning told me it wouldn't be enough for long.
It grew harder each time to be with him and not want more. Somehow, I managed to force those feelings aside every single time they came to the surface, but it had stopped being physical for me a long time ago. And the future had already begun casting its spell on my present state of mind.
Each morning I dragged myself into the office drained from my night in fantasyland only to be faced with the reality of the day. Another meeting, another impossible deadline, another day filled with wondering how much longer?
How much longer before the dream became a nightmare and my fantasy left my life for good. And because of this, I found myself slowly evolving into someone I didn't recognize anymore. I might still believe myself capable of having and controlling it all, but I wasn't dealing well with any of those things.
I became irritable with everyone around me, including Dani and Ralph and one day I went too far. I all but yelled at dear old, saved-my-butt-more-times-than-I-could-count Ralph and just about lost his respect and my best friend's in the process.
This happened when we were knee-deep in yet another attempt at reducing the budget for the now notorious Jude Martin.
It was late one evening, almost eight, and we'd been at it most of the day when I finally lost it.
All I thought about was how pathetic our efforts were. We'd been trying to decide on a nickel here and a dime there, and Jude Martin didn't care less about what we were doing, or what might happen to any of the people on his staff.
The guy didn't even want this job. What did he care if we were one step away from cutting some very important budgets, which meant possibly letting go of some valuable people in the process.
At this point I decided if he didn't care, why should I?
I got to my feet and went to get more coffee when Ralph made some off the cuff remark which struck me wrong.
Something along the lines of how antsy I'd been for hours now, unable to sit still for more than five minutes at a time. All true but unfortunately, the final straw for me.
"You know what, Ralph, I'm sick of those kinds of remarks. In case you've forgotten it, I am your boss! Dani may be in charge, but you answer to me as well. And you don't know what's going on in my life, in spite of what you think. If you don't mind, in the future would you keep your opinions to yourself?"
Even as I said those words, I regretted them. What had gotten into me? I was taking my personal frustrations out on Ralph of all people. The one man I did trust.
I saw Ralph's hurt reaction as well as Dani's shock, and then I lost it. For someone who was supposed to be in charge of her life, I'd behaved totally crazy.
"Oh Ralph, I'm sorry." Before I knew what I was doing, I knelt in front of him. "I don't know where that came from. I'm sorry, Ralph. Please forgive me."
Before my good friend and my best guy came to my comfort, the phone buzzed in the conference room we were using. Somehow, Ralph managed to unpry his fingers from mine to answer it, while Dani gave me the full force of her angry glare.
"Oh God--it's the big guy. He's on his way right now to talk to you, Dani, about this budget crap." Ralph looked as if he were searching for somewhere to hide.
Dani slowly let go of her anger and nodded. "It's okay, Ralph. It's late and you're both tired. Both of you go home. We'll start again tomorrow okay." Ralph and I didn't hesitate. I gathered my things and waited for Ralph to do the same before we headed for the back entrance stairwell like two kids cutting school. Ralph slipped through the door first. I glanced back over my shoulder in time to see Jude Martin close Dani's door. He said something to her that I didn't catch but they both laughed. The sound of his laughter seemed vaguely disturbing and definitely familiar. It struck an uncomfortable cord within me as the elevator doors closed and I descended into my own personal hell.
* * * *
* * * *
Lesson 6: Know how to fall in love without losing yourself.
One night my fantasy took on a new twist. My lover did not arrive at his usual appointed time, leaving me to wonder if the last night I'd spent in his arms would be the last time I'd ever hold him close.
As I lay in bed alone not wanting it to be it true, I wondered how it was possible to miss someone this much when I didn't know anything about him. My mind went back over every single second of our last night together.
Our conversations were never more than a few words, mostly passionate, enticing words uttered while locked in each other's arms. Had I said something during this time to make him suspect my feelings weren't strictly sexual anymore?
Not since the one night when I'd asked him his name had I ever attempted to learn anything personal about him.
I still tried to convince myself I didn't care about him at all. I could stop being with him at anytime. It was only a physical attraction, nothing more.
Unfortunately, my heart was not going along with the plan.
It kept reminding me no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't the type of woman to have casual sex.
Somehow, I must have drifted off to sleep, after finally forcing myself to come to terms with the truth. Whatever strange connection existed between us might be over.
I wasn't sure when he actually came to me but I knew the second he took me in his arms the right thing for me to do would be to turn him away.
I couldn't do the right thing.
I let him make love to me once again, while everything about him felt familiar. Too familiar. The second he joined me in bed, I became aware of something vaguely unsettling about him. Almost as if I knew him beyond this intimate relationship we shared together.
That thought alone should have been almost enough to force the words from of my mouth I should have been asking from the beginning. Back when I'd started this dangerous game we were playing with each other.
But the words wouldn't come until it was much too late for me to escape this relationship unscathed.
After we lay exhausted in each other's arms, I bit my tongue to keep from asking him where he'd been tonight.
I'd been almost asleep when he whispered those words against my hair. How did he know the name of my dog?
"What did you say? How did you know Sammy's name? I never told you?"
"No?" The fantasy in my arms wasn't the least bit thrown by my question. He smiled against my hair. "It must be on his tag."
I accepted his answer without question. This much had certainly been true enough. I'd bought Sammy his heart's every possible desire and insisted Sammy have a tag with his name and my contact information on it. In case, Sammy somehow managed to escape from the apartment all by himself through three deadbolts.
I'd become a paranoid pet owner. I couldn't imagine myself as a parent. I'd probably give the poor kid all sorts of complexes not to mention ulcers.
What I should have been asking was when exactly he'd had the time to read dear old Sammy's nametag, since we were pretty much tied up most of the night with each other and Sammy was scared of his shadow. He'd found himself a nice little hideout during those first few nights. Even I didn't know where he escaped to.
But for the moment, I was a woman obsessed with a man I didn't know and quickly losing more than just my physical self to him.
I ignored all the warning signs foretelling the events to come until it was too late for me to escape them without damaging my heart.
* * * *
The next morning my two friends met me at the elevator door with questions of their own.
"Okay, Miss Texas. You've got some 'splaining to do." Ralph took me by the hand and ushered me into my office with Dani following on his heels.
Once Dani closed the door, Ralph handed me my morning coffee and the two of them waited for me to spill my guts.
"What? What are you talking about, Ralph?"
"Oh, can you believe this?" Ralph threw his hands into the air and turned to Dani as if I'd gone and lost my mind.
As I looked at the two people who knew me better than I knew myself at times, I begin to think they might be on to something.
"Dani, talk some sense into this girl," Ralph exclaimed.
"Paige." Dani ignored Ralph's outburst as she forced me into my chair. "I think what Ralph means is have you taken a good look in the mirror lately. You're not yourself."
"I'm fine. I wish you and Ralph would stop worrying about me." The moment the words left my mouth I regretted them. At this point, I noticed the expression in her eyes which had me wondering if something was going on in my friend's life I didn't know about? I'd been wrapped up in my own fantasy world that I'd all but lost track of what was going on in Dani's private life.
"Dani, is something wrong?"
There was a sadness about Dani that only confirmed all of my fears. Something was dreadfully wrong in my friend's world life.
I reached for her hand but Dani merely shook her head. She didn't want to talk about her problems.
"I'm fine. And we're not talking about me. I want to know about you. Ralph and I are worried about you because we care about you. What's going on, Paige? Is it the fantasy man from your birthday? Is he the one making you act this way? Paige, please tell us what's wrong."
"I don't know... I don't know what's wrong with me anymore, Dani. And I don't think anyone can help me. I've let things go too far."
I found two sets of troubled eyes watching me. It was then that I told them everything.
"I should be lucky enough to find a man like that," Ralph said, blushing all the way to his roots.
"You can have him. Because I think he's going to be my downfall."
"Oh, Paige. I'm sorry I ever took you to that party. I should have never told you to get laid. I mean, you're not the type to have a casual affair. It's not in you, is it, honey?"
Dani handed me my tissue box as the tears I'd been close to for days finally came.
"You're right. I had to be crazy to start this whole thing. I should have never slept with him the first night. I guess it was the breakup with Harry, turning thirty-nine--everything. Now I'm in too deep. I don't know how to break it off. I don't even think I want to."
I saw poor old Ralph's shocked expression. For the first time ever, I think he was speechless. This was not what he was expecting from me. Ralph still believed I was that small town girl from Sweetwater, Texas.
"I'm sorry, Ralph. I'm sure I'm disappointing you. And you probably don't want to hear any of this. Maybe you should go?"
Ralph didn't know what to do for once. He might be shocked by my less than normal, good girl behavior, but he liked a good piece of juicy gossip as well as the next person. He didn't want to miss a thing.
Dani turned to him as if she'd almost forgotten he was there. "It's okay, babe. I'll fill you in later."
"Dani!" I protested without any real conviction. None of us had secrets from Ralph. He was the one who kept us all in line.
"Okay, but I'm holding you to that."
After Ralph left us alone, Dani took his chair. "What do you want to do, Paige?"
"I don't know. I don't want to end it with him. Is that crazy, or what? I mean, I don't even know anything about him, including his name, but I feel something for him. That's crazy, right?"
"No," she admitted after a moment. "It's not crazy, Paige. You've given away part of yourself to the man. It's not crazy. But maybe its time to discover something more about him. I hate to be the voice of doom, and you know how much I love it when a woman finds a man that satisfies her, but you don't know the guy. He might be the worst possible person in the world. If you're going to keep fu...being with him, I think you need to know something more about him."
"What if he isn't willing to tell me? I don't think he wants anything but sex from me either. I tried, once, to ask him his name. He made it obvious he didn't want to tell me. And I'm pretty sure he's hiding something. And you're right, I'm almost certain he'll be the worst possible guy for me."
"Then stop it, Paige. Before its goes any further. You have to stop this thing before you get hurt. More than you will be right now," she added when she saw my expression.
"It's hard, but if he doesn't want the same things you want, it isn't going anywhere anyway and you're going to be hurt. End it Paige...tonight, today, before it goes any further. If he won't talk to you about himself, end it tonight. And get the locks changed on your door."
Dani's words finally forced me from the fantasy world I'd existed in for days and back to reality.
I had to either stop seeing the guy cold turkey, or I had to redefine the relationship to something I could live with.
"You're right, and I will, I promise. I'll talk to him tonight. I'll settle things between us once and for all. And if he doesn't like it, he can get lost."
Dani smiled, gave me a hug and left me to my day. But unfortunately for all of my brave words, I still didn't know if I had the guts to do what was best for me. It was going to take everything inside of me to get through this thing still standing.
By the time I'd collected myself enough to face Ralph again, I discovered he'd reorganized my entire day, which gave me time to restore some order to my tear-stained face.
For the rest of the morning, I sat in my office and tried not to think about my fantasy. I knew if I sat all day thinking about him, I wouldn't be able to go through with what I needed to do for myself tonight.
By mid-morning, I'd gotten through all of my correspondence and was starting to prepare for the first meeting of the day, when Ralph burst into my office.
"The big guy's looking for you!" he announced before shutting the door and looking around my office as if he thought "the big guy" might already be in my office.
"What are you talking about? What big guy?"
Ralph gave me a look as if to say, too much sex had obviously taken away my ability to think clearly.
"The big guy? Jude Martin? He's had his henchwoman call at least a dozen times already wanting you in his office. What do you want me to tell her?"
"What does he want with me?"
Now, Ralph was probably the last person I needed to be asking this question. He threw me one of his all-suffering looks as if he were dealing with someone extremely slow in the head.
"You tell me, Miss Texas? Maybe he's got the hots for you. Have you been doing something with him as well?"
This didn't paint a very pleasant picture, even for me. But it did start me to wondering.
What did Jude Martin want from me? I wasn't anybody. Certainly not worthy of triggering his radar.
Since he'd been around, I pretty much looked like death warmed over every single day. Every single one of my thirty-nine years showed. No, I would not be the type of woman the great and powerful Jude Martin would give a second thought to.
"I haven't been doing anything with him, Ralph. I don't know what he wants. But I don't want to talk to him either. Can you get me out of it?"
Normally, I would never have asked Ralph to do such a thing. I mean, not only did it paint me as weak and definitely a coward in his eyes, but also by dodging the boss this way, I'd set a very bad example for Ralph as an employee.
Unfortunately, today was not the day for me to worry about setting a good example. Today of all days, I wasn't strong enough to face Jude Martin.
"Sure...I'll invent some excuse. Say you went home sick. Stay in your office for a while."
For the first time, I felt bad about asking Ralph to lie for me. "No, I can't ask you to do that. Besides, I have all these meetings in the afternoon."
"Don't worry, Miss Texas. Let me handle the henchwoman. But you have to promise when this is all over, you're going to give me the goods. And I mean all of it. Start to finish."
I never questioned Ralph's ability to accomplish the impossible. Somehow, he was able to keep Stella, Jude's henchwoman, in the dark about my whereabouts for the rest of that Friday. But he warned me right before he left for the day, she'd insisted he put me on Jude's schedule on Monday morning first thing, which meant eight a.m. sharp.
This gave me the weekend to decide what I to do next. Ralph would back me up, no matter what lie I decided to tell.
I hugged him so tight I believe Ralph about lost consciousness for a second or two.
Once he finally recovered, in his usual sarcastic way, Ralph reminded me of the favor I owed him. I promised the minute I knew, he would be the first to hear.
When I unlocked the apartment, my little puppy greeted me, along with the unmade bed reminding me of what I'd promised myself I would do tonight.
By midnight, I believed I was ready to confront my fantasy, thanks to a couple of shots of some very bad whiskey.
I sat waiting for him in my bedroom and tried not to think about the way he'd loved the night before.
But when my dream lover came to me, as hard as I tried, I couldn't say the words, couldn't ask the questions I needed to ask, and I couldn't send him away.
I let him make love to me and I hated myself even more.
As I lay in his arms, exhausted from his touch and emotionally drained from the battle of will I'd fought with myself, I couldn't stop the tears.
He hesitated for a second. He seemed surprised by the sight of my tears then he turned me to face the questions in his eyes I couldn't begin to answer. I shook my head. I knew where I stood with him. I'd known all along. He wanted my body, not my heart.
Lying next to him, looking into those blue eyes, I said the words I would come live to regret.
"Don't go. Please, don't leave me tonight." Even as I spoke my thoughts aloud, I felt weak and helpless. Unable to control foolish emotions.
"Shh..." he whispered tenderly against my hair. His gentleness became my undoing. The soft stroke of his hand brushing away my tears made them all the more difficult to control.
As I drifted off to sleep, I could almost swear I heard my dream lover tell me everything would be okay.
* * * *
* * * *
Lesson 7: It's important to have one friend that can make you laugh as well as let you cry.
I awoke the following morning to the gentle caress of a hand against my bare skin.
This must only be the remnants of my fantasy, I told myself sleepily, because it was clearly daylight and my fantasy would have left me hours ago.
As I searched behind me, expecting to find only the cold bed, but instead my hand met the warm, living flesh of my fantasy here with me in the real world.
I turned quickly around, shocked fully awake by the sound of his laughter, only to find that I couldn't move. I couldn't believe my eyes.
My fantasy had now turned into an ugly nightmare. The man lying next to me was none other than my boss, Jude Martin. My twenty-eight-year-old boss!
I couldn't speak, couldn't bring a single coherent thought from my mouth. Not that it mattered. The way he looked at me told me words would not be necessary.
As I struggled to grasp what was happening, my mind suddenly felt like as if it were caught in a fog of events that left me unable to believe what was right there in front of me.
"You look surprised." Soft, seductive words came from the most incredible lips. He smiled at my shocked expression.
"What...what the hell are you doing here? What do you think you're doing? Get out!" I somehow managed to speak again.
"Don't you remember? You invited me, begged me to stay with you last night. I'm not going anywhere, Paige." As he spoke, Jude moved closer.
I tried putting as much space between us as possible, without actually leaving the bed. After all, I wasn't wearing a thing and he was my boss.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"I'm..." Looking into the blue eyes of my fantasy turned reality, I found I couldn't breathe properly. "I can't do this. I can't do this, Jude. You should have told me. I can't believe you didn't tell me. I can't believe it's you."
That last part I added in a rush as he pulled me closer, his hands doing dangerous things to what was left of my composure.
"I tried to tell you. But you kept avoiding me. Refusing to talk. How was I to know you hadn't guessed the truth? I assumed this was some part of your fantasy?"
Jude stopped when I tensed. He'd come close to the truth. I had been playing in fantasy land.
"You didn't know..." he said slowly in wonder.
For a long time, I couldn't manage a single word. I felt like a complete fool. "How long... How long have you known?"
"Since the beginning," he acknowledged.
He closed the whisper of space left between our bodies, his hand moving over my breast, stroking slowly. I caught my breath, bit hard into my lower lip, but I couldn't stop my body from responding to him. My nipple hardened beneath his expert touch.
There was something almost twisted about being touched by Jude in this way and being forced to admit I didn't have a clue who was making love to me all of those times.
"How could you not know? Who did you think was making love you all those times?" he whispered against my lips.
I couldn't breathe over the racing of my heart. My last coherent thought disappeared the moment his lips replaced his hand against my nipple.
"Tell me, Paige."
"Suit yourself, but you know you will. You are going to tell me everything, Paige. One way or another."
Jude stopped talking. Instead, his lips demanded responses. They found mine once more. For one split second, I tried to resist him. He simply laughed at my efforts. It wasn't long before I struggled to touch him as well. To be closer. I couldn't get close enough to him. I couldn't reach his heart.
This time when Jude made love to me, it was different as if the last of the secrets between us had disappeared. But it didn't matter. His touch drove me wild with desire. Maybe I was the twisted one.
Jude and I spent most of Saturday in bed and I didn't care about anything but being there with him. The few conscious moments I did have I actually remembered my poor little companion who probably needed to be walked not to mention fed. Jude told me he would take care of it. I let him because I couldn't leave the bed in front of him.
I didn't actually become aware of anything much until late Sunday morning.
I missed the sound of the shower running completely and the fact that Sammy was barking at the top of his little voice. Nothing brought me from my exhausted sleep but the smell of fresh brewed coffee coming from close by.
"Good. I thought maybe I'd killed you." Jude sat close to me. I ignored his words but took the coffee he offered.
"You're leaving?" I tried to keep the disappointment out of those words, but I wasn't very successful at it. Jude probably wouldn't believe it, but I wasn't the kind of woman he thought.
I couldn't look at him. Instead, I pretended to be engrossed in my coffee, which in part was the truth. It was the only thing keeping me focused at the moment. Unfortunately, the sound of Jude's confident laughter did terrible things to all my concentration.
"I have to, Paige. I have a meeting in a few hours and I have to go home to change before going into the office."
"It's Sunday..." I reminded him, trying to keep my voice steady. "Why don't you tell the truth?" I still couldn't look at him because frankly I didn't understand this disappointment I felt.
Maybe it was in learning my fantasy was as real as any other man I'd met. Maybe it was because the fantasy had turned into an ugly nightmare. Jude Martin was not fantasy material in my book.
"Yes, I do realize its Sunday, Paige. I still have a meeting. But I'll be back tonight."
At these words I felt sick.
He noticed my reaction. "I want to take you to dinner, Paige. It's time we stopped playing games and talked to each other, don't you think? But in the mean time..." He took my coffee cup from my unresisting hands and forced me to look at him. "In the mean time, you need to eat something and get some rest. You look tired, Paige."
And just like that, with a simple little kiss on the lips that didn't resemble any of the passion we'd shared before, Jude Martin left me alone.
For longer than I can remember, I sat watching my bedroom door hoping... Well, part of me hoped I'd seen the last of him, while still another part prayed I hadn't.
I sat in bed, wearing nothing but a sheet and cried into my cold coffee for what seemed like most of what was left of the morning. When I walked into my tiny kitchen to the enthusiastic yelps of Sammy, I found Jude had made me Starbucks coffee, ignoring my old standby of Folgers. He'd also bought fresh bagels from the corner deli. This I didn't understand at all.
With Sammy happy and secure in my lap, I sat drinking coffee as if it was about to be outlawed, eating a bagel loaded with cream cheese and contemplating my sanity.
How was it possible for someone, no--correction, a thirty-nine year old woman who knew how to survive in New York to get herself involved in such a unbelievably dumb situation? With her twenty-eight-year-old boss to top it off?
What had I been thinking that first night anyway? And for the life of me, why hadn't I noticed all the signs that were clearly there?
Jude Martin was the living, breathing image of my fantasy, right down to the same startling blue eyes. There probably wasn't another guy in the world, much less New York who had the same shade of eyes, not to mention such a beautiful body. Why hadn't I noticed any of those things before?
Because, I had been living in a sexual haze for weeks since meeting him. Nothing would have gotten through to me.
Unfortunately, there would be no ignoring the truth now. So what was I going to do about it?
One thing for certain, I would not sit around my apartment all day and think about him. No way. I did not intend to spend another minute of my life in fantasyland.
Instead, I took Sammy for a long walk in the park and tried to decide what my next move should be.
I sat on my favorite bench, watching Sammy chase a squirrel and contemplated my new reality. I no longer called it a fantasy. I'd gotten my answer at last. I now knew the name of my dream lover.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make the decision to end this thing between Jude and myself. I guess part of me was still clinging to the fantasy.
But in truth, I still knew very little about the real man behind my fantasy. And I didn't know what I should be doing or asking. The only thing I knew for certain was that I wasn't ready to face the reality of Jude Martin again today.
So I did the only thing I could think to do in a situation that was way over my head. I turned to my best friend for help.
Dani didn't ask any questions, although I knew she was dying to. Of course, I'd eventually answer them all. When I called her I believe Dani read all of my fears in the things I couldn't tell her yet. She simply told me to pack a bag and come spend the night with her.
One hour later, when Dani opened the door to Mark's swanky apartment and got a good look at me, she took Sammy from my unresisting arms and ushered me into the living room where she sat me in front of the fire.
"Wait here," Dani told me before leaving me alone for a moment.
"Where's Mark?" I hollered after her.
Dani returned a short time later without my puppy and carrying a bottle of wine.
"That's the last thing I need right now."
"Sorry, doll, but it's exactly what you need. Take a sip. Now, tell me what happened."
I did exactly as she asked. But it was not an easy thing to do.
"Well, I know who my fantasy guy is." I told her slowly, glancing from the fire to see I had Dani's full attention.
"Okay, I'll bite...who?"
I closed my eyes then slowly said his name aloud. "Jude Martin."
At that moment, I believe I had accomplished the impossible. I'd actually surprised Dani Kincaid.
"Jude Martin. Our Jude Martin? The boss Jude Martin? Our twenty-eight-year-old boss Jude Martin?"
"Oh my God, Paige. Okay, you'd better tell me everything."
For the next half-hour, I did exactly that. I told Dani every little detail about how I'd discovered the truth, leaving no detail out, because I needed her help.
"Wow," she breathed when I'd finished. Unable to sit quietly next to me any longer, Dani prowled around the living room, repeating that same sentiment over and over again.
"Wow!" she said once more with a nervous little giggle.
"Stop saying that and tell me what I should do?"
"Are you crazy? I say go for it. The guy's obviously great in bed..." She caught sight my shocked expression and tried to curb her enthusiasm.
"Hey, you've been through a lot lately. And discovering all this is probably the biggest shock of them all. Maybe you're right. Maybe this isn't the type of relationship you need to be in right now, Paige. I mean, you're not the type who can remain unemotional about a relationship."
"Dani, that's not it. I won't let myself get attached to Jude--I can't. I won't go there again. And I can't see him anymore either. I can't even look at him anymore. After everything we've done together, and believe me there's been plenty, I don't think I can face Jude ever again. I may have to leave town." This was certainly true enough. Just talking about Jude had me blushing like a schoolgirl after her first romp in the backseat of her date's car.
Of course, Dani saw all this and tried not showing me how amusing she was finding my situation.
"Paige, don't be ridiculous. You two are both adults. If you want to have a sexual relationship with someone, what's stopping you?"
"Me! I'm stopping me! I don't want to go through another dead end romance with another wrong guy. And that's all it would be and you know it. Trust me, we both know how this story ends. I've been there too many times in the past. It's not a good ending."
"You may be right about Jude. I can't see him settling down either. Especially now, after coming off a divorce, not to mention all the pressures of the company. It's bad timing all the way around," Dani said in her usual to-the-point way. But still, I hated hearing those words, even if she was right, which I knew she was. Jude Martin might not be like all the other loser boyfriends I'd had in the past. At least not as far as class and attraction went. But he was still a man who didn't want a commitment.
"No, you're right," I forced out. "He's not the kind of guy to want anything more serious than sex with me or any other woman for that matter. And as much as I might want to be like you, Dani, I'm not the kind of girl to have frivolous relationships anymore. I'm sick of them, in fact. It's not me. I don't have it in me anymore. I want something to mean something. Oh, I'm not talking about marriage. I don't see myself going through that again. But I would like to someone I could connect with on more than one level."
I think it was at this point in which I fully realized something was wrong with Dani. In my need to solve my own problems, I realized I hadn't been much of a friend to her.
"Dani, what is it?" When she didn't answer, I asked," Where's Mark?"
Dani sank slowly in front of the fire at my feet.
"I asked him to spend the night with a friend. I thought you'd want it to be just the two of us."
"Tell me what's wrong, Dani," I insisted. From the evidence of tears left on Dani's face I knew it must be bad.
"Nothing...not really. No, that's not true. I don't know... I guess I'm beginning to realize some things about my life as well. Things I don't much like. I've always tried to be this carefree, love'em and leave'em kind of woman, or at least that's what I told myself. Now, I'm not sure anymore? I don't know if it's because I'll be the big four-oh-my-god in a few months, and I've started to look back over some things in my life and wonder if maybe its time to make some changes, or if I only feel this way because of Mark."
"What do you mean?"
"Trust me, of all the people in the world for me to want to be in a serious relationship with, Mark is not the one I'd have picked. I mean the guy has an even bigger history than I do."
I forgot all about my problems when I spotted Dani's tears. Dani never cried. She was as tough as any man. Dani always seemed to know what she wanted from life, and she went after it with a passion. What was responsible for this major change in her now?
"You think you're in love with Mark?" I asked slowly. "How does he feel about that?"
"He doesn't know," she told me and laughed as if a little unsettled by her admission. "And yes, dammit I think, no I know, I love him. Isn't this the most pathetic thing? I mean, think about it. Mark is guaranteed to leave me high and dry. His track record alone says this is the only thing that can happen. After all, his longest relationship before me lasted six months. We've been together that long already. I don't know what to do anymore, and it's killing me. On the one hand, I want to tell him how I feel -- hell, I want to scream it to the world -- but on the other, well, I'm afraid when I do, it will be the end of us. And I'm not sure that I can take that just yet."
"How do you know for sure, Dani? Maybe he feels the same way about you?" I said, taking her hands in mine. I didn't believe a word of what I'd said, but Dani was hurting and I wanted to comfort her.
"No, he doesn't, and you want to know how I know? It's simple. Mark told me he never falls in love. He was honest with me, right from the start. At the time, I thought great, I never want to fall in love either. Mark said this last relationship, the six month's one, ended because the girl got too possessive. She wanted him exclusively." Dani spotted my surprise and added, "Don't look so shocked, Paige. Mark and I have always had kind of a silent agreement we would see other people. In the beginning, I thought it was great. The perfect relationship, in fact. Now, well, he's been it for me for a long time now. Since...since I realized I loved him."
"Oh, Dani. Are you sure? I mean what if..." I couldn't finish those words. Dani's expression said it all. She didn't believe there was a future for her with Mark.
"I'm positive. Trust me, I wish I weren't, but I am. I've been doing some soul searching of my own. You're not the only one, you know. In fact, I've been checking on my options for a few weeks now. The day I called in sick--I did the worst possible thing. I slept with another guy. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to put something between myself and my feelings for Mark. Needless to say, it didn't happen the way I wanted it to. The way I'd hoped it would. I actually felt guilty. Me... Guilty? Can you believe that?"
"No." I tried to smile. This woman had slept with more men than I'd come in contact with in my lifetime. And that's just since I'd known her. Dani was my hero.
But she was hurting, and I didn't know how to help her.
"I wish I could say something, anything to make it better for you Dani. All I've done is cry on your shoulder when you needed me. I'm sorry. What are you going to do?"
"Stay with Mark until I can't stand it any longer. Then move on. I mean this is New York, right? Anything is possible, if you believe it can happen. Who knows, maybe I'll be the one chance in a million. Maybe I'll change Mark's mind."
"Oh, Dani, I wish I'd known what you've been going through. I wish I hadn't been preoccupied in my own problems and blinded to yours. Is there anything that I can do?"
"You can offer me a couch to sleep on when I need it. You can try not to repeat my mistakes. You can stop looking to me for answers because I don't deserve it. I'm such a phony, Paige. I've tried to pretend all of my life I was this tough, in-control woman of the world. But the truth is nothing like that. I'm just as scared as you of being rejected, of trusting someone enough to love. Of being hurt. In a way, I guess this is my own fault. Don't be like me, Paige. Don't try to be tough. Follow your heart. Because, whether or not you believe it, you have a good heart."
"Dani, you know you can always stay with Sam and me. But as far as Jude goes, well, I don't know. My track record when it comes to guys is terrible. My judgment sucks. And Jude doesn't exactly strike me as the type of man who's going to want anything more from me than the rest of them did. What a pair of fools we are."
"That's women for you. None of us is too smart when it comes to the men in our lives. We follow our hearts and look where that gets us? I take it you don't plan on keeping your dinner date with Jude tonight? You're avoiding the subject since you walked in."
"No, I can't, Dani. I'm not ready. I don't think I can go through another bad relationship. I don't have it in me anymore."
"Okay, let's make an agreement right now. Let's not talk about men anymore today. I mean, we're two very successful women. Who needs them, especially when we have Sammy? Look, I have an idea. Why don't we go over to that pizza place you love so much and get some greasy pizza and beer. We'll forget all about Mark and Jude and any of those other mistakes in the past, at least for tonight. We're two single women out for some fun in the best city in the world for fun.
And for the rest of the evening, we did exactly that.
But as I lay tossing and turning in Dani's guest bedroom, I couldn't bring myself to trust what my instincts were screaming to me loud and clear.
I might not have it in me to survive another bad relationship, but I would see Jude again. That is if, by standing him up tonight, I hadn't finished it for him. I'd see him again, because like it or not, he was still my fantasy.
* * * *
* * * *
Lesson 8: If you play with matches, you'd better be prepared to deal with a few fires.
When I walked into my office the following morning, I knew only one thing for certain. I wasn't keeping my eight o'clock appointment with Jude and didn't care what it cost me.
When Ralph pointed out the obvious, at exactly eight-oh-five, I only rolled my eyes and shook my head. No way--not going to happen in this lifetime.
When my nine o'clock meeting arrived in my office, I pretty much figured okay, I'd done it. I'd pissed him off completely, and I'd never see him again, except for when he fired me, maybe.
At exactly nine-fifteen, those words were proven wrong when my office door was thrown open and the object of my fantasies walked in, startling all three people seated in my cramped space.
Behind the obviously angry Jude, even though, to his credit he did seem to be trying hard to control his anger, dear old Ralph was busy waving his hands at me, trying to convey he'd at least tried to prevent this disaster from happening.
But nothing short of tackling the guy would have stopped Jude from accomplishing this quest.
"Where the hell were you last night?" While Jude might be doing his best to control his anger, those words didn't hold back any of what he was feeling at that moment from the people watching our little drama unfold.
"I'm in a meeting," I ground out, sounding a whole lot more in control than I felt. I trembled in my new cinnamon suede boots.
"Leave us alone," Jude told them all very calmly. No one seated in my office was going to come to my defense and disobey a direct command from the boss. Three people scrambled over themselves to do as he asked.
"How could you do that? Do you have any idea what you've done? This little scene will be all over the building by lunch."
"I don't care. Get your things. We're leaving. Since you've refused to do this the easy way, we'll continue to play games. But I'm warning you, Paige--don't go too far. You can come with me now willingly, or you can just come. It's up to you."
A thousand different answers flew through my mind, but after another look at Jude's determination, I decided it would be foolish to push him now.
I grabbed my purse and slammed the desk drawer closed hard enough for him to realize my anger, which only managed to provoke a faint smile.
Oh yeah, he knew exactly what my thoughts were and he was finding it very amusing.
I think Jude half expected me to run once we were out of the office because he took my hand and never let go of it.
We made our way past Ralph, who couldn't look me in the eye, past the subtle sound of doors closing, reminding me everyone on our floor heard our exchange. I cringed at the thought. I wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere and never to emerge again.
Inside Jude's car, I sat silently fuming. His only reaction to my anger was an occasional questioning glance thrown my way as he maneuvered the car through the congested traffic of the streets until we emerged on the outskirts of town heading in the direction of Southampton.
"Where are we going?" I finally forced myself to ask when he showed no sign of cluing me in to this little piece of information.
"Some place where we can talk away from all those prying ears. Some place where you can't run away from me again. Why don't you relax, Paige, we've got all day."
"No, we don't. I have a calendar full of things I'm supposed to be doing today and I'm sure, since you are the boss," yeah I actually emphasized the word to leave little doubt how I meant it, "you must have things to do as well."
"Not anymore." He appeared unmoved by my sarcasm. "The only thing I have to do today is you. You're it. You are all that's on my calendar."
Those words, coming a little to close to the place my straying thoughts were wandering, had me embarrassed enough to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the way to wherever it was he was taking me.
Unfortunately, the farther away from the city we went, the more I started to worry. Where exactly were we going? Surely not...
"Tell me where we're going, Jude?"
Jude smiled at me. "I thought you didn't want to talk to me?"
At the reemergence of his smile, I shut my mouth. It was best this way, really. I was furious with him and needed to stay that way. Jude's smile made it hard to remember my anger.
I sat quietly watching the light activity taking place along the road leading to the Hamptons.
I kept silent when Jude turned off the shady, tree-lined street onto a deserted cul-de-sac, and then to a private drive leading to an enormous two-story house.
Somehow, I managed to keep from showing Jude how impressed I was with the place. At least, right until the moment we entered the house and I looked around completely captivated by it.
At this point, I tried to counteract my small town girl wonder with some more anger. I stood rigidly in front of him as he closed the door and turned to face me.
"Come. Sit. I'll make you breakfast?"
Jude watched me a little too closely as I made my decision. I decided it was time to put an end to this mess I'd gotten myself into once and for all.
"Don't bother. I'm not staying." I started for the door but Jude was too fast for me. He reached me before I made it to the door. I knew the second he touched me the fight was over. I wasn't going to refuse this guy anything. I didn't want to. I was crazy about him.
Before either of us fully realized what we were doing, we were in his bedroom, touching each other as if it was the very first time.
Afterward, as we lay in each other's arms, exhausted once more, I finally became aware of a few things.
One, I'd just broken my promise to myself. I'd given in to Jude Martin again. I'd let him take me off without as much as a fight and I had virtually no idea where I was. And two, I still wasn't able to define what was happening between us. I didn't know what I wanted from him or from this relationship. I didn't even know if I wanted a relationship with him.
"Come downstairs, Paige. Let me make you breakfast, and we'll talk about all those things that are troubling you right now."
Jude didn't wait for me to consider what he'd said. He simply left me alone.
When I managed to actually get out of bed, I took my time before facing him again. I looked around the room which was decidedly masculine and tried to decide what this meant. I knew Jude had been married and divorced. But that was about all that I knew about my boss-slash-lover, except the fact that he was over ten years younger than me.
Was this house a new acquisition? Or had he shared it with his wife?
Outside the bedroom, a whitewashed deck overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. The view beyond the deck was breathtaking.
I found Jude in the kitchen actually making me breakfast.
The second I walked into the room Jude's full attention was on me. The look in his eyes told me he was remembering the passion we'd shared with each other just moment before. This man was very dangerous to my self-control.
"Come sit down," he told me quietly. And me, being at a loss for what to do, did exactly as he asked of me.
I looked through the wall of windows that faced the ocean and thought how lucky Jude was to be living in a house like this with such a spectacular view to look at each day.
Jude handed me coffee and set a plate of French toast in front of me before sliding into the chair next to me. Far too close for comfort.
"Aren't you eating?" I asked nervously.
He watched me for a minute longer before answering. "No, I ate earlier. And I happen to know you don't normally eat breakfast, which is a shame since it's the most important meal of the day."
"How did you know that?" I asked to cover my embarrassment at him actually knowing this much about me.
Jude gave me a look that told me how foolish he considered my question.
"Paige, I've been to your apartment more times than I can remember, and there's never anything to eat there. Believe me, after... Well, let's just say, I know."