As I left the restroom and headed back into the dining room of La Vecchía Ristorante, I was determined to see this through. I was sick and tired of Cade acting like he was in control of everything, including me. I would do what he said. I would flirt and seduce Jason Lowe, but I’d be doing it because Cade was watching. If he really was as distant and cold as he seemed, it wouldn’t bother him at all and I’d at least get an enjoyable experience out of it. But if he felt even the tiniest fraction of emotion for me, I’d make sure he regretted ever giving me this…command.
“Miss me?” I asked as I slid into my seat. I resisted the impulse to look around and try to spot where Cade was spying on me. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing I thought about him at all.
“Desperately,” Jason said with a laugh. He reached across the table and placed his hand on top of mine. “I took the liberty of pouring you a second glass of wine. I hope that was okay.”
“More than okay,” I answered honestly. I used my free hand to pick up my glass and take a drink. Just because I’d decided to go through with this didn’t mean taking the edge off with some wine wasn’t a good idea.
Jason picked up the conversation where we’d left off and I fell back into it. This time, however, instead of keeping up just enough to not be rude, I engaged in the interaction. I laughed and teased, remembering all of the ways Adelle and Mindy had gotten guys over the years. I kept making excuses to touch his hand, his arm. I even brushed my foot against his a few times, eliciting a flare of heat in his dark eyes.
He really was quite good-looking, I thought as he told me about a trip he’d taken with Habitat for Humanity. He had a solid job, did charity work, and could hold an intelligent conversation. And, best of all, he was a virtual stranger who didn’t live near me, which meant whatever happened here wasn’t in any danger of spilling over into my real life.
Our plates were empty and I saw the waiter coming towards us. It was now or never time because once that waiter got here, he’d ask if we wanted dessert or the check. It was the deciding moment of where the rest of the evening would go.
“I have a room – a suite actually – at the Windsor Arms.” I really hoped Jason couldn’t tell how nervous I was. I didn’t want him to think this was my first time inviting a man back to my room. “What do you say we head back there for dessert?” I gave him a sly smile. “Room service has quite a selection.”
He didn’t even look at the waiter as he said, “Check please.”
Jason was a complete gentleman as he hailed a cab and opened the door for me. I kept my hands folded on my lap, unsure what to do with them. I didn’t know how this transition worked, how to get from date to bed. Jason continued the small talk we’d made at dinner, as if we really were intending to just share some pie or cake and then call it a night.
When we reached the hotel, he extended a hand to help me out of the cab and then kept ahold of it as we walked into the lobby. My heart was racing as I led Jason towards the elevators. I was really going to do this.
“You know,” Jason said suddenly. “I think maybe I need a little taste of dessert.”
He used my hand to pull me against him and bent his head to kiss me. His mouth was hard against mine as he parted my lips with his tongue. I tried to give myself over to the kiss, to enjoy the way his tongue was exploring my mouth, but part of my mind was protesting at such a thorough kiss in public. Then I felt his hand on my breast, cupping and squeezing through the dress. I grabbed his wrist without breaking the kiss and brought both of our hands down to our sides. I was in charge, in control. That was the point of this entire exercise.
Jason broke the kiss, but didn’t step back. His eyes gleamed as he walked me backwards until my back was against the wall. The elevator next to me dinged open, but Jason made no move to get on it. The hand I had restrained twisted and now my wrist was in his grasp. I frowned. This wasn’t like it was when Cade was forcing me out of my comfort zone. I trusted Cade. I didn’t trust Jason.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. He dragged my hand between us and pressed it against his crotch. “Don’t you want to give the other guests a bit of a show?”
“No,” I said firmly. “I’m not into that.” I yanked my hands free and pushed against his chest. He barely moved. “I think we need to call it a night.”
He scowled. “I don’t think so.” He pushed his hips against mine so that I could feel his cock hard against my stomach. “You can’t just make promises and not deliver.”
My temper flared. I’d had enough of men telling me what I could and couldn’t do. “Get the hell off of me!” I pushed at his chest again but he had the leverage to keep himself from moving.
All of the good humor had vanished from his face and I found myself wondering why no one was coming to help me. I knew there were guests around, but were we hidden enough from view that no one could see what was happening?
I jerked my knee up, but Jason shifted at the last moment, taking the blow against his thigh. He pulled back, his hand coming down before I could register it heading my way. The slap caught me across the cheek with enough force to snap my head back. I cried out, more from shock than the pain. My eyes filled with tears as the pain quickly followed.
Jason glared down at me, his face red. “You little bitch!” He raised his hand again and I tried to remember the self-defense moves I’d learned in college.
A hand wrapped around Jason’s wrist and he spun around. A fist connected with Jason’s jaw and I heard noise from the lobby as someone noticed what was happening. Jason stumbled backwards and I saw Cade swing again. This time, the blow was accompanied by a crunching sound and a shriek of pain. Cade stepped in front of me, but not before I saw his face. Gone was his usual calm demeanor. He was pissed.
“Get out of here before I seriously fuck you up.”
My eyes widened. I’d heard Cade’s voice with an edge before, but it had never been anything like this. He sounded like he really meant his threat and I wondered if that was the real man behind the mask. I couldn’t stop myself from flinching as he turned towards me and I saw a flash of pain go across his face. He reached out and took my arm.
“Come on,” he said. “We don’t want to make any more of a scene than we already have.” He led me away rom the elevators, carefully stepping over the drops of blood on the pale tile.
There were people moving towards us, hotel guests and a few people I assumed were security, but before I could get a good look at any of them, Cade ducked through a doorway, taking me with him.
“Sir, we’re not open–” A young man hurried towards us.
“Here.” Cade stretched out his free hand, a bill folded between his fingers. “We just want some privacy.”
The young man looked at me and I saw the doubt on his face. I could only imagine how we looked. My cheek had to be red and I could feel it starting to swell. Cade’s knuckles were bloody and neither one of us looked very happy.
“I’m fine,” I said. I forced a smile. “I had a misunderstanding with someone who didn’t take it well.” I jerked my chin at Cade. “He protected me.”
The young man nodded. “This way.”
We followed him through what I now realized was the Courtyard Cafe. It was light and airy, the kind of place I would’ve enjoyed coming for a light meal. The young man motioned to a table that was tucked behind a heavy curtain. It would shield us from view of anyone who might happen to glance in here.
“Cade,” I asked as I took a seat. “Are you okay?”
“Am I okay?” Cade let out a bitter laugh. “Are you kidding me?” He pulled his chair around so that we were just a few inches apart. He reached out towards my cheek, stopping just before his fingertips touched it.
“Thank you,” I said. “For what you did, but why are we hiding in here? We didn’t do anything wrong?”
Cade dropped his hand and I saw that it was shaking. I met his eyes and saw that they were still stormy. “We’re hiding because I’m not sure if I want to report him to the police or go find him and beat the shit out of him.”
I put my hands over his, something in my stomach twisting as his hands jerked under the touch. He was almost more rattled by what had happened than I was. “I’m okay,” I said softly. “We can just let it go.”
“Let it go?” Cade’s hands curled into fists. “Sure. Just forget it ever happened. Put it behind us until it happens again and again.”
His voice was shaking and, with a start, I realized it wasn’t just from anger. What had happened had triggered something in Cade, something he’d hidden for a long time.
“It’s my fault,” he said. His expression was raw and open as he looked at me. “I’m so sorry, Bree. I didn’t know what kind of man he was. I should’ve seen it. Stopped him.”
“You couldn’t have known,” I said.
He shook his head. “I should have. I spent seventeen years watching a man like him charm my mother one minute and beat her the next.”
My hands tightened over his, but I didn’t make a sound.
“She married the abusive bastard when he knocked her up. And she stayed with him because she loved him.”
The anger and bitterness he put into that single word made me wince.
“Stayed with him and loved him right until he beat her to death for burning dinner.”
“Oh, Cade.” My heart broke.
“I couldn’t stop him. I tried, but he locked me in a closet. I listened to her scream and beg for him to stop, telling him that she loved him. He hit her harder.” Cade shuddered, his head dropping. “By the time I broke through the door, he was gone and she was dead.”
I put my hands on Cade’s cheeks and raised his head so that we were face-to-face. I didn’t try to tell him that it wasn’t his fault. He’d heard it a million times, I was sure, and he’d never believe it, no matter who said it. I did the only thing I could do. I offered him a distraction, something he could lose himself in.
I covered his mouth with mine, teasing at his lips with my tongue. I felt him stiffen in surprise for a moment before he took what I offered. His arms wrapped around my waist as my tongue slid into his mouth. I kissed him to forget what had happened to me. To help him forget what he’d been through. I kissed him because my heart was aching for him and it was the only form of comfort I could offer.
When I broke the kiss, his hands flexed on my back and I saw desire in his eyes. I stood and held out my hand. “Come on,” I said quietly. “Let’s go to bed.”