Broken Pasts
Author:C.M. Stunich

chapter 17

“Pick up, pick up, pick up,” I whispered as I paced the bathroom floor with my fingernails in my mouth and my phone to my ear. I was waiting desperately for Jamie to answer, so I could dump all of my emotional baggage on her shoulders. The weight of it had lifted briefly in Nathaniel's arms and now it was all crashing back down on my head and threatening to drown me. I had to tell someone or I was going to burst. Unfortunately for me, it wasn't going to be my best friend. She didn't answer. I ended the call and sighed, leaning over the counter while my heart pumped and my thoughts whirled. Now what? Did I invite Nathaniel to stay the night? What about Cedric? Did they have to switch out now? Could Nathaniel just … I don't know, spend the night with me? Was I moving too fast?

“Theresa?” he asked from outside the door. “Is everything okay in there?” I looked up, caught my expression in the mirror and realized that I was now terrified of the man. He'd given me my first orgasm and now I was choking on my own fear at the thought of even looking at him.

“Yeah, I … just a minute,” I said as I thought about someone to call. There was nobody but Jamie to tell this to. I was on my own. With another sigh, I approached the door and opened it slowly. Nathaniel was waiting in the doorway between the hallway and kitchen with his arms crossed over his chest and a soft, tentative smile on his face. “I'm sorry about Glen,” I told him and he shook his head.

“Don't be. It's actually fairly common for a stalker to try and turn the situation around and blame the victim. Happens all the time.” I nodded, but that didn't make me feel any less sick. Gary might not have been sitting outside my window, but he was still there, searching for a way back into my life, however that opportunity may arise. At least I had some idea what to do with the gun now, and a basic knowledge was all I needed because if I took it out, it was going to be a life or death situation and I refused to go down without a fight.

“Should we, uh, maybe put Glen down as a witness?” Nathaniel shook his head again and stepped forward, running his hand across my cheek and through my hair. I shivered at the casual touch and tried to puzzle out exactly what was going on here. If I didn't determine the boundaries soon, things were bound to get awkward between us.

“I think he'd do more harm than good to your case,” he said with a smile. “And don't worry about the restraining order, there's no way Gary could get one, especially not since we already filed a police report on him. He's bluffing.”

“He's going to try and kill me, isn't he?” I asked, my mouth set in a thin line. It was a horrible thought, imagining Gary out there plotting to take me down, but it was the truth. I couldn't run from it anymore.

“He can try,” Nathaniel said. “But I won't let him. I'll protect you, Theresa.”

“Until Wednesday,” I said as I stepped back and rested my body against the bathroom door. “And then – ” Nathaniel put his hand out by my head and leaned forward, making my body hum with excitement.

“I'm not leaving you,” he told me, but I was already shaking my head.

“Yes, you are. Nathaniel, I can't really afford – ”

“Really, Theresa?” he asked, but his voice wasn't angry, just confused. “Do you really think I'd charge you after what just happened between us? Of course I'll refund your money.”

“No,” I said firmly as I looked up into his face and touched his cheeks with my hands. “That's not fair to Cedric. Besides, what are you going to do? Move in with me? Protect me round the clock without sleep, without pay?”

“If that's what it takes.”

“Nathaniel … ” I began, and when I realized I was using my 'mom' voice, I cringed. “Let's just get through the next few days and see what happens. We still have a date on Friday if I remember correctly?” Nathaniel nodded and pulled his arm back, wrapping his fingers around mine and pulling them away from his face.

“It's not a weakness to ask for help when you need it,” he told me.

“I know,” I told him, and didn't know what else to say to that. My bodyguard has just thrown me over a desk and given me the best oral sex I have ever had and now he's trying to go all white knight on me, and I'm freaking out. Is there a fucking problem here because there shouldn't be, Theresa. Stop being a bitch. “Want something to drink?” I asked and then paused. “Something nonalcoholic. I think I'm going to stay away from the booze for a couple of days.” Nathaniel smiled softly and dropped my hands.

“Tea?” he asked as he stepped aside and let me slide past. It was the same sort of thing we'd done a dozen times in the past few days except on this occasion, he didn't stand back all professional like. In fact, he pressed his body against mine and ran his fingers across my belly as I sidled past and started rummaging around in the cabinets.

“I hope you're not a tea connoisseur or anything,” I said and nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt his warm breath on my neck and his hands on my hips.

“Nope,” Nathaniel said. “Anything you have is more than fine with me.” I spun around in his arms and nearly groaned as he used his hips to push me against the counter.

“Even six month old generic brand black tea?”

“Perfect,” he said as we locked gazes and I found myself struggling to catch my breath. Apparently the little tryst between us had only whet Nathaniel's appetite for me. “Weren't we in the middle of something?” he asked as he grabbed the box of tea from my hand and tossed it onto the counter behind me. I moaned and nearly collapsed in his arms when his mouth found the hollow of my throat and began to nibble down towards the edge of my dress …

And then his fucking phone rang.

“Shit,” Nathaniel said as he gave me an apologetic look and pulled it out of his pocket. “With what happened yesterday, I – ”

“No problem,” I told him as I slid out from between his body and the counter. “It's okay. Take it.” Nathaniel smiled apologetically at me and answered the call, switching instantly from suave and sexy to perfectly professional.

“Yes?” he asked tentatively, pausing as if he wasn't sure who was on the other end of the line. After a moment, he sighed with relief and a gentle smiled teased the corners of his mouth. “No problem,” he told the caller. “I'll take care of it. You take the rest of the week off.” Nathaniel paused again. “Cedric, you only get married once.” And then Nathaniel cringed, and I watched as his eyes snapped over to mine. I looked away and pretended to be super busy with the flimsy plastic wrap that covered the tea box. It was the kind that always got stuck to your fingers like it was possessed. “Okay. No, no, it's fine. I've got it covered, and Cedric,” Nathaniel said as I struggled frantically to get the plastic bits off of my fingers and into the garbage. “Congratulations.” Nathaniel hung up the phone, but he didn't try to apologize or explain himself which I appreciated. You are only supposed to get married once. Nobody goes into it thinking that it's one of three.

“She said yes, I presume?” I asked instead as I filled the kettle and put it on the stove to heat. Nathaniel slipped his phone back in his pocket and nodded.

“She did.”

“And Cedric is taking the week off?”

“He is.”

“Nathaniel,” I began, turning to face him again. He was leaning against the counter in a much more casual position than I'd ever seen him. If I'd thought smooth and polished Nathaniel Sutherland was hot then mussy haired, T-shirt wearing Nathaniel was even better. “I can't let you stay here without paying you.” A dirty little smile turned up the corners of his lips.

“Why not?” he asked. “I believe I already offered up my services free of charge.”

“Stop that!” I said as I pointed at his thick, delicious muscular chest. “You see? That's the kind of stuff that just makes me crazy. You can't keep talking like that.”

“Theresa,” he said as he reached out and wrapped his hands around mine. “You already paid for the week anyway. I'm here until Wednesday afternoon from a purely business standpoint. If it makes you feel any better, I'll dock a bit of Cedric's pay and take you out to dinner.”

“You're horrible,” I told him as the tea kettle began to whistle and I moved it off the burner. “Are you sure you haven't been on a date in years? Your flirting skills are a bit above the average Joe.” Nathaniel's face dropped for just a moment, and I wished briefly that I hadn't said that. Then he smiled at me and pushed whatever feelings I'd just stirred up back down.

“Only my flirting is above average?” he asked as I poured hot water into a pair of tea cups. “What about my other skills?” I grabbed one of the saucers and spun around, placing it between us before he touched me again, and I forgot that I had not only a business to run, but a stalker to worry about and a daughter that I was more than likely going to be late picking up from school.

“I don't know,” I said as I stared him straight in the face. “I haven't tried them all yet.”

***

“I'm glad you're back,” Rhea said as she beamed at Nathaniel like a ray of sunshine. Her smile was stretched from one side of her face to the other and I think she was even batting her eyelashes. She has a worse crush on the guy than I do. “Because I drew you another picture, but the art teacher took it to show at my parent-teacher conference. I think she's going to steal it and hang it up on her wall.”

“I'm sure she is,” I said, trying to keep my voice light. Glen hadn't said a single word after we'd thrown him out, and he hadn't called. I would make good on my threats, believe you me, but I was still worried. I didn't want to get into something with one ex when I was already knee-deep in shit with the other. “So, what did you learn today?” I asked as I tried and failed to distract us both from Nathaniel.

“Are you going to move in with us?” Rhea asked. “Because I like you way better than Cedric. Mom does, too, I think because she gets pink when you're around.” She pointed at her cheeks and strained forward in her seat belt. Nathaniel laughed and caught her gaze in the rearview mirror, tossing in a little wink for good measure.

“I'm going to stay with you for a few days,” he said. “If it's okay with your mother.” I sighed and glanced out the window. Of course it was okay, how could it not be? He'd asked with his mouth on my neck and his hands cupping my ass. What was I supposed to say? I let you give me some tongue over the desk, but no you cannot stay the night and protect me from my evil stalker, you bad ass, sex machine. I snorted and covered my mouth with my hand when Rhea cast a strange glance my direction.

“Well?” she asked, daring me with her eyes to say no to the man.

“Of course he can stay,” I said as we pulled into the driveway and Nathaniel shut off the engine.

“And are you going to have sex with him?”

“Rhea!” I said, but she was already done with the conversation and was halfway out the door. I sighed and tried not to smile when Nathaniel opened mine for me.

“Always a gentleman,” I said as I climbed out and caught his gaze, smoldering at me over the top of the door.

“Always,” he told me as he closed it behind me and stepped back into his bodyguard position. We were in a bit of a strange spot, he and I, and it was anyone's guess how it was all going to work out.

I followed Rhea into the house and spent the next several hours wondering how I was going to get anything done with Nathaniel behind me, always behind me. He was playing bodyguard again, sure, keeping his eyes trained on the doors, the windows, sweeping the rooms before we went in them, but he was standing so close that I could feel the heat of his body burning through the thin satin of the robe I was wearing. When Jamie finally called, I was halfway to tears, not from sadness but from sheer desperation.

“I can't resist him,” I told her and meant it. Jamie laughed and chewed noisily in my ear.

“Hello to you, too,” she said as I heard the fridge door open and glass clinking. “You called earlier, but didn't leave a message. I'm guessing this is it. The conversation where I talk you into sleeping with him.”

“I already did,” I blurted and my best friend paused for a moment.

“You did?” she asked, voice shiny and excited.

“Try not to sound like a Goddamn pervert for five seconds and help me figure this out.”

“Did you do it bareback or did you use a rubber? Oh, oh, did he do you from behind? He seems like a 'doggy style' sort of a guy.”

“Jamie!” I whispered angrily. “Christ, what is wrong with you? Would you just listen for a second. We didn't … go … all the way.”

“You sound like a fifteen year old after her first date. What do you mean you didn't go 'all the way'? What the fuck is that? Did you screw the guy or not?”

“He gave me oral sex,” I said, turning the sink on and letting the water run like a barrier between my conversation and Mr. Sutherland's ears.

“He went down on you? Wow. Nice. How was it?” I heard a second voice in the background and rolled my eyes.

“Who is that?” I asked. “Who are you discussing my personal life next to?”

“It's just Joel,” she said, and in my mind's eye, I could see her shrugging loose and easy. What's the big deal? So what if my husband knows that you're deepest, darkest fantasies involve fuzzy handcuffs and sex swings? Is that a problem? “Go on. He went down on you and … ”

“And the details aren't important, Jamie. What is important is what's happening now.”

“You're going down on him? While we're on the phone?”

“For the love of God, Jamie. He's staying here. Until Wednesday. Just him, no Cedric. What do I do?” My friend rolled her eyes (don't ask how I knew that, I just did) and snorted like she couldn't believe how incredibly ignorant I was. Wait until she heard about the big 'O'. She was really gonna freak out then, probably have me betrothed to Mr. Sutherland with a dowry of chocolate and cheap wine.

“Theresa McMaster, I'm going to say this once and only once. You do whatever makes you happy. Do you want to sleep with him?”

“I – ”

“If you do, then just do it and don't worry about how or why or when or what. You've spent your whole fucking life worrying about those things and it hasn't worked out. Follow your fucking heart and let yourself be happy. That's all I have to say on the matter.” And then she hung up on me. Of course, I did just happen to hear her say, “Oh, yeah, Theresa finally screwed the bodyguard,” before she ended the call, but I don't think I was meant to get that part.

When I opened the door to the bathroom, I found Nathaniel redressed in a suit and shirt and tie, hair perfect, slacks perfect, face perfect. How the hell?

“Oh,” I said instead. “You brought extras?”

“Always,” he told me with a white toothed smile. I gestured at him and found myself rethinking my earlier statement. Suit Nathaniel vs T-shirt Nathaniel was not as easy a pick as I'd first thought. In fact, now that he was redressed in the sharp lines and crisp fabrics, I was starting to lean this way. Guess he brought a whole new meaning to the phrase, Likes it both ways. “I went out to my car and grabbed my things,” he said as his smile faded a bit. “I hope you don't mind. Rhea was in her room and – ” I held out my hands.

“It's okay,” I told him. “I think we're a little past the whole client-bodyguard relationship thing, don't you?”

“I hope so,” he told me and then we both stood there stupidly staring at one another until Rhea came out of her room and found us.

“Adults are weird,” she said as she rolled her eyes and moved past us. I couldn't have agreed more.