Read Giving It Up Online

Authors: Amber Lin

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Erotic Contemporary

Giving It Up (9 page)

Colin had called this morning, asking me to come over and talk. I owed him that much. It was more of a meeting than a date. More of a breaking up than an opening.

I told myself that, again, fussing over my meeting-date outfit as I sat in the front seat of my car. But I didn’t really believe it. I wanted to make it right with Colin.

The heart wants what it wants, even if that means fucking over the people it loves. Because it really wasn’t fair to drag Colin into this. Bad enough I was so messed up, and that I was broke and had a kid and all the other things that were wrong with me. All the things that made me a poor candidate for a girlfriend, as if this were a job interview, an audition.

After the new troubles with Jacob, I should leave Colin well enough alone. It was impossible to say how it would affect him, impossible that it
wouldn’t
affect him, indirectly somehow.

Or maybe directly, by me running to him for help, like now.

I fidgeted in the car for ten minutes, parked a bit too far away from the curb as if those extra few inches could keep me from arriving. I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and looked over to see Colin open the front door. I couldn’t see his expression, but I read the lines of his body as he leaned against the door frame. Just waiting. His stillness poured through my body like steamy coffee on a winter day. That’s why I was here: he was different.

It wasn’t that Colin was never pushy or controlling, because he excelled at both those skills. The difference was that, whatever he did, he wouldn’t harm me. Not ever. I couldn’t even make him do it. I should know—I had tried. It was as if I’d been searching for him without even knowing it, trying out random men at a bar in the world’s stupidest litmus test.

And now that I’d found him, the trick was how not to lose him. I got out of the car and strode up the sidewalk. He stepped aside and, with a nod of his head, invited me in. As I passed, I could feel the tension vibrating within him—curiosity, frustration, maybe lust—carefully caged within thick walls of patience.

He took my coat. I followed the trail of savory aromas to the kitchen and set the dessert I’d brought on the counter.

“Drink?” he asked.

“Sure. That would be… Thanks.”

“Wine? Beer?”

“Oh.” I didn’t usually drink alcohol except for my club nights. The numbing effects would be welcomed now, except I needed to keep it together tonight. Didn’t want to go spilling secrets, after all. “Maybe just water.”

He handed me a glass. “We’ve got a few minutes before the pot roast is done.”

“Mmm, pot roast.” It had been forever since I’d had real meat, not the rubbery stuff that came in canned soup. Since my last date with Colin, actually. “It smells amazing.”

“It’s from the restaurant.” He quirked his lips. “With scalloped potatoes.”

I grinned. “So you’re a meat and potatoes kind of guy.”

He shrugged. “I’m pretty simple.”

I snorted. Simple as a Rubik’s Cube. But all I said was, “Maybe.”

The white cabinets, Formica countertops, and tiled backsplash matched the quaintness of the house but looked new. The stainless-steel appliances and fixtures completed the picture of a modern kitchen. But I’d expect nothing less from the owner of a restaurant. I might have been envious if I had ever imagined such things for myself.

I peered back the way we’d come, through the dining room.

“Did you want me to show you around?” he asked.

“Yes.” I smiled. I noted his hesitation and his stiffness, but I did want to see his house. Every little detail, from the green splash of color from the tea towel to the prickly aloe plant that sat on the counter, was a piece of Colin. I would hoard that knowledge like a miser collects coins and later strums through them with his fingers just for the pleasure of it.

Despite the coziness of the house, there was a definite sparseness to its furnishing. So male. So Colin. Plush seating and dark wood furniture stood so perfectly in place, without clutter, that I half expected to see price tags hanging on them.

Colin was quiet, even for him. And watchful. He walked ahead of me, leading me to the different rooms—the living room, the dining room, a study. And outside, the back porch overlooking a small but lush lawn. I oohed and ahhed. It came naturally, this admiration, because his house was beautiful and stark, like him. The place was large enough to be roomy, but small enough to be cozy. It was, as Goldilocks would say in Bailey’s book, just right. But I felt like he was waiting for something specific in my responses.

I leaned my elbows on the wood rail of the back patio as if I belonged. “It’s a great house.”

“Do you think so?” he asked. It didn’t sound like the idle question it should have been.

“Absolutely. It’s perfect. Why? You aren’t thinking of selling it, are you?”

“If I did, would you buy it?”

I laughed. “There’s no way I could afford this house. How much does something like this run? One hundred thousand?”

A faint blush tinted his cheeks, and I knew it had cost more. Not that I could even afford a fraction of that. It might as well have been a castle for all that it was accessible to me.

“The food’s probably ready,” he said, and we went back inside the house.

I found the dishes while he transferred the food from metal pots to ceramic platters. We met at the dining table amid clanking utensils. I set a place for him at the head of the table and sat next to him. That left five empty chairs and a wide expanse of cherry wood table.

“Do you have company often?” I asked.

His eyes flicked over the table, all those empty chairs. “No.”

I took a bite of the pot roast. The juices exploded in my mouth, and I released a soft moan. “God, this is good.”

A quick smile. “I’m glad you like it.”

“I bet you get that all the time.”

He shrugged. “It’s nice to eat a meal here, for once. And to have company.” My face heated. “How’s Bailey?”

I blinked. “She’s fine. And your brother?”

“Also fine.”

Have you talked to him lately?
I wanted to ask.
Done anything illegal? Dangerous?
But his eyes warned me away. I wouldn’t like the answer.

We moved on to safer topics. My work at the bakery and his at his restaurant. We both worked with food—something so elemental, providing sustenance, health. In my case, not so much health, but there’s a special intimacy that comes from preparing food for someone, as he had cooked this dinner and I had baked that pie.

We ate and were merry, as merry as Colin ever was. It was a last meal, of sorts. When we’d both eaten too much, Colin took me to the living room.

His hand caught mine, tender, and his eyes captured mine, intent. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I said in a falsetto.

“Tell me,” he said.

I sighed. The man was a walking lie detector. Either that or I was transparent as fuck. “Something happened,” I said. “Bailey…well, her father has come back.”

His face showed no reaction.

I averted my eyes before continuing. An omission was still a lie. “He was a friend of mine. From school. And we…hooked up. And then he left town. Now he’s back, and he wants to see Bailey. At least that’s what he said, but I don’t trust him. He doesn’t care about her. He’s just using her to get to me.”

Those dark brown eyes revealed nothing. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t really know what I
can
do. I guess visitation is something that would have to be figured out in court. But I would…
strongly prefer
… that he not get to see us at all.”

Colin’s eyes sharpened. “What’s wrong with him?”

I blinked away the answering thoughts. “Nothing. I mean, it’s not like he’s ready to be a father. He just wants to mess with me, but he…he had a rough childhood. I mean, really bad.”

“He ever hit you?” His voice was soft, but even if I couldn’t have sensed the banked fury within him, I knew from experience what he could do to a man who hurt me. Even if I could’ve gotten the words out, I couldn’t tell him, not without risking Colin going after Jacob, hurting them both.

I was grateful that the phrasing of the question allowed my “no” to be the truth. He hadn’t hit me, not exactly. But I knew I had to be more specific if I wanted Colin’s help. “He’s just not completely…stable. He drinks too much, and he uses. He picks up and leaves whenever he wants. And when he’s angry…well, I don’t want Bailey around him.”

“You need money,” he said.

“Sort of. I have money…” Not enough, probably, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted safety. And him. “I mean, I’m not sure how much it’ll be, but—”

“I’m not rich, but I have enough for this.” He looked like a man calculating the odds. Unnecessary, really, since I was woefully out of my league. This wasn’t a negotiation as much as total surrender. “I’ll help you.”

I gave Colin a look.

He raised his eyebrows, all innocence. “I meant the right way. I can find a decent lawyer. We’ll fight him, legally. In the meantime, move in with me.”

“What?” Hadn’t seen that one coming. “That’s…that’s insane.”

He actually rolled his eyes, making him look more like the twentysomething that he was. “People move in together all the time.”

“Not after dating for a week,” I said.

“I’m counting since the first time.”

“In case you forgot,” I said, “I have a baby. A kid.”

“I didn’t forget. There’s room for her. Besides, your apartment is a shithole.”

Harsh. Even worse, he was right. “You’re completely frustrating.”

He raised one eyebrow, which somehow proved my words irrelevant in one smooth swoop.

I set down my fork, taking his offer seriously. “We barely know each other.”

“We know each other enough,” he said. “From the first it was different.”

It was only the truth. Ever since my sordid proposition at the bar, there had been something between us. A spark, or maybe just recognition that he could handle my brand of crazy. I’d tried to ignore it and had even gone back to the bar to disprove it, but nothing had worked. What was this thing that felt like trust but looked like lust?

“But why?” I said, desperate to deny him or find some excuse to accept. “Just tell me why you’d even want that?”

“I have reasons.”

“But you aren’t going to tell them to me.”

“It’s okay, what happened before.” He pulled me close. “You’re with me now.”

The words were pitched perfectly, but they bounced off the wall of secrets I kept between us. I’d left out the most important part. What would he do if he found out?

I shivered, and he encircled me in his arms. Keeping me, for now.

“Can you spend the night?” he asked.

“Yes.” I had already put Bailey to sleep in Shelly’s bed. This was the third time in as many weeks, but Shelly graciously claimed not to mind about the loss of income.

“Good,” he murmured.

He took me to his bedroom upstairs. It was just as plain as all the other rooms, just as casual. Home, but I couldn’t think about that. Instead I tried to psych myself up. Please him, pay my dues, when all I really wanted to do was have sex with him. I wanted to rip off my clothes and his. In my wildest thoughts I wanted to push his face down between my legs and tell him to do that thing again.

Instead I just stood there in his bedroom like I’d never been inside a man’s bedroom before. Which was almost true, except for Jacob’s.

He turned down the sheets. When he glanced back, his eyes softened. “Come here.”

I averted my eyes while he tugged my dress over my head. He gestured to the bed, and I kicked off my shoes and climbed in, still in my underwear and bra. After stripping down to his boxers, he followed me in.

I wished I didn’t feel this strange nervousness. It felt almost like a wedding night. How awful.

Colin turned me away from him. I expected him to take off my bra or fuck me from behind, but he was working from a totally different playbook, because what he did was pull me in close to his body and
cuddle
. Christ, we were spooning. And not as a sexual position. Although there was a certain hardness pressing into my ass, it was doing absolutely no nudging, no rocking, and no thrusting. Whoever heard of a hard, docile cock?

Ah, hell. We’d skipped the wedding night and gone straight to married.

Well.

I pushed my ass back slightly, gratified by the catch in his breath. His arm tightened around my waist, but his hips remained still. Another nudge of my ass, this time triggering a twitch of that hardness.

Yes, that’s it. I rocked back into him. He had wanted me, the slut. And sluts were for sex. No more thinking, no more feeling. No more worry. At least for tonight, I got to play the slut and still be safe.

When I felt his hand drift around to my hips, my lips curved into a smile.
Gotcha.
Then his hands skimmed over my stomach and beneath my panties, and my smile slipped and my eyelids lowered.

Rough fingers prodded me open. One finger worked inside me, a little deeper each time my hips rocked into his hand. And thank God—finally!—his hips pushed against mine. At the knowledge that he was into this, a participant, my mind slipped a little closer into that blissful space of submission. But God, I wanted so much more. He was capable of more.

“What’s wrong?” I whispered.

“You want this, don’t you?” He repeated his words from earlier, still worrying over my consent. No, nothing like the others. Tears sprung into my eyes, and I was grateful he couldn’t see them.

“I want this. I want you.” I could only hope he took the thickness of my voice for arousal. “I want you to give it to me hard. Be rough, Colin. Do it.” Even before I’d finished speaking, his fingers inside me and his cock rubbing against my ass sped up, roughened.

His other arm slipped under me, holding me flush against him. As if I was going anywhere. But I was totally cocooned now, at his mercy. His fingers hit a certain spot inside me, and a soft cry escaped me. My hips jerked in a frantic rhythm, reaching for it, begging.

But it wasn’t his fingers rubbing me that took me over. It was the sharp pant of his breath on my neck. His excitement, mine. And as my climax took me, I shook in his arms, falling apart, held together.

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