Dark Hunger


Page 4



“My bedroom pictures?” Huh? “Oh, my God!” he said, washing his face with his hand, rubbing his eye until he calmed himself down. “Jesus, Laura. That's not my girlfriend. That's Jill!”

She snorted. “So who's Jill? Your wife?”

“Jill is my...man, this is complicated.”

“Yeah...” she replied, drawing out the word. “It's always complicated. It was complicated with the last guy I dated. Seriously – he turned out to be married, too.”

“Oh, so you think...oh, no, Laura, Laura, no!” Dylan shook his head. “Jill's dead. Jill's my...my...former lover.” The words came out like a mouthful of packing peanuts. How could he describe Jill? She was just Jill. Giving her a label reduced her to so much less than she had been.

“Dead?”

“Yeah. She died of cancer eighteen months ago.”

“And so you have pict – oh! Oh, oh, no, Dylan, I've made such a big mistake!” she cried. All of the anger drained out of her voice, her hushed tones triggering more hope than mourning in him.

“I didn't bring it up because it was just our first date, Laura,” Dylan explained. “But no, those are pictures of Jill. We – ” watch it, Dylan “I was with Jill for almost 10 years. And, she, well...she died. She has, she had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. And there was nothing the doctors could do after really trying everything. So, that's...that's my girlfriend, as you put it.”

He stuffed his hands in his pockets and stared at the industrial carpet for a few seconds, then looked up at her. “Is that why you've been putting me off? Is that why you've been ignoring all of my messages, my texts, my voice mail – because you got up in the middle of the night and saw some pictures of this...of some woman and jumped to one hell of a conclusion?”

Oh, shit! Laura thought. She could see the anger forming in him and she couldn't blame him.

So all this time Laura had been blocking him, hiding from him – no, running away from him – and had fled straight into Mike's arms because she thought he had a wife or girlfriend? Damn it! Leaving Jill's pictures all over his bedroom had been just part of his life; he'd never even considered taking them down. Hadn't really noticed them as part of the scenery. They were just there.

It gave him pause now. Was he really over Jill? He knew Mike wasn't, had never even begun to heal, but Dylan assumed he was past the worst of it, and that Jill would just remain as a lingering “what if.” The three of them had started to talk about having kids the year before she was diagnosed. That potential had been shut down fast by chemotherapy and radiation and just getting through life day by day. Whatever remained of Jill inside him, though, was bigger than he had realized. If a bunch of pictures were that overwhelming and made Laura think he was a two-timer, then it was time to re-evaluate himself.

Laura's entire demeanor had changed from a defensive, angry countenance to one of apology and self-reproach. “Dylan, I don't know what to say. I am such an idiot! Idiot, idiot, idiot!” She lightly smacked her forehead with each repetition of the word. He smiled. Ah, how well he knew that feeling.

“I totally see where you made that leap, Laura.” He closed his eyes and inhaled, partly to figure out what to say next and partly because the room was so cold and corporate it was giving him the heeby-jeebies. “We haven't known each other for very long.” He took a step toward her. She didn't move back. Good, good. “And I can only imagine what it was like to wake up in the middle of the night in my bedroom.” Step. “Surrounded by pictures of Jill.” Step. Two more steps and he'd be within range to reach out and touch her.

Gorgeous, long blonde hair pulled tightly back made her look like a cold career woman and less like the Laura he'd fallen for on their date. She seemed remote, but as her face melted into something he recognized – arousal and intrigue – his heart warmed and a little swagger grew in him. He had a chance here. As the seconds passed, the odds leaned more and more in his favor. He glanced at the door. A lock.

Good. They would need it.

She relaxed against her desk, letting her arms drop from across her chest, and casually unbuttoned her suit jacket. Her fingers fluttered to her mouth, a gesture of contemplation as she seemed to measure what she was about to say.

“I need to say something.” Here it comes. She's going to tell me about Mike. She pulled on her lower lip with her index finger, then touched a loose strand of hair, twirling it in her fingers, the gesture making her seem much younger and achingly vulnerable. “Guys like you don't go after women like me,” she said quietly.

“Oh, come on, Laura – that's not – ”

Palms facing out, she made him stop mid-word. “Let me say my piece.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

Her furrowed brow made him worried he'd mis-stepped. “You are a former model. Women pay thousands of dollars to go out on a bachelor auction date with you.”

He choked. “You know that?”

“I Googled you. There are more images of you than there are links about you, Dylan.”

“Oh,” he said. Anything more would seem like he was bragging. The swagger grew. How about that? Nice.

Looking down, she stared pointedly at her belly, her legs, and used her hands to flow down her body. “So what does a guy who looks like you want with a woman who looks like me?”

“I – ”

“That night with you was unreal. Un-fucking-real. A little too unreal, you know? When I woke up and saw all those pictures of this surf-n-ski bunny all over you – ”


“Jill wasn't – ”

“I'm sure she was more than that. Really.” She cocked her head and seemed to have a sudden flash of insight, but whatever it was she kept it to herself. This conversation most definitely was not going where he'd thought it would, but it was fine. Laura was sharing. Her willingness to be this open, this real, reminded him of Jill. How lucky was he? And why hadn't other men seen the goodness in her? They – not Laura – were the true idiots.

“Laura – ”

“So I ran.” Tears filled her eyes. “It was too good to be true. In my mind, you were just another asshole, like Ryan.”

“Who's Ryan?”

“The last guy I dated before we met. He turned out to be married.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah. See why I ran? Why I blocked you? I just – we're so different, and I assumed you just wanted a one-night stand. So I gave you one.”

Now, Dylan. Now. Two more steps and he was there. A hand was all he needed. A hand was all she could handle right now. The soft whisper of his skin against the tightly-woven wool of her jacket's arm sounded like a Greek chorus of chiding. It was good enough, though.

She glanced at his hand but didn't shake him off, didn't step away. Instead, she sighed, a tiny smile on her lips.

“Laura, it's not like that.”

“And when you pursued me! Wouldn't stop messaging me and texting me and calling and – Jesus, Dylan, you are persistent!” Her throaty laughter made him harden, his entire body seizing, breath hitching. If he wasn't careful he'd groan, and the sound might scare her off. Oh, how he ached for her.

Easy, boy. Don't overplay this.

Using every ounce of restraint he possessed, he leaned in toward her, his hand now stroking her forearm. “You're worth pursuing.”

Indecision flickered in her eyes. Or was it disbelief? Had it really only been a handful of days since their date? And in the meantime, she'd started dating Mike, had slept with Mike, and now here he was chasing after her. She wouldn't say a word about Mike; he knew that. And she didn't have to, because what was he to her right now? Some guy she'd ditched in his bed because she thought he was screwing with her (literally and figuratively) and she left to protect whatever vestige of integrity and self-respect she had deep inside.

Walking out of his apartment in the middle of the night was an act of courage for Laura; he could see that now. It was her way of stepping back from the last bastard who had dallied with her. Dating Mike was an even bigger step, and he felt a rush of mixed emotions overpower him, filling his mind and veins and heart. That she liked Mike gave him tremendous hope. That she was willing to talk to Dylan right now gave him more.

Getting her to accept them both and their unconventional relationship would take something greater, though. Something bold. Something that could cut to her core and transmit a very clear, very safe message that she was amazing and adorable and lovely and – everything they wanted.

Never one to back down from a challenge, and often the guy who took stupid risks, he felt one well up within him right now. Without thinking, he stepped back and put his hands on his hips. “I'm really angry right now.”

She blinked, her face shifting to confusion. “What?” Then the wall came down hard. “At me?”

“No. At all the assholes over the years who have mindfucked you and convinced you that you're somehow less than amazing.”

Breathe, Laura. Breathe. When Dylan had walked into her office with a batch of flowers she had nearly died on the spot. Died dead. The last person she ever expected to grace the halls of the thirty-second floor at the Stohlman Industries building, Dylan had sauntered in like he owned the place. That was him, though – he walked with such confidence, a natural fluidity and power that said I'm here.

He really was here right now.

Here. In front of her.

Oh, God. Mike.

How could she want both Dylan and Mike? In her dreams she wanted them both, alright – at the same time. Threesome fantasies had become all-pervasive, filling her mind during quarterly accounting meetings, code reviews, train rides and coffee runs and hell – even when she clipped her nails. She couldn't get these two out of her mind and had found herself not only enjoying Mike more and more, but pining away for Dylan.

Who she had written off as a two-timing douche.

Boy, had she been wrong. Egg on her face and all that. A dead girlfriend? Could she have made a worse call? The light pressure from his hand on her arm felt like a branding burn, his heat so strong it emanated, rays of warmth and fire pouring through the cloth and onto her eager skin. How could his touch – a simple gesture of compassion – fuel so much arousal and deep yearning within her?

Mike.

And what about Mike? They weren't exclusive, so she didn't have to feel guilty about these reactions to Dylan, yet she did feel tremendously conflicted, because it was Mike. Nice, amazing, contemplative, easygoing Mike. Sex with him had been mindblowing, too. She couldn't compare.

Why on earth was she thinking any of this in flashes of a second as Dylan's eyes undressed her right here, in this drab office, her body moistening and pooling into a heap of hormones and cravings under his soulful eye? That familiar itch between her legs made her nearly groan aloud, for she knew what it meant.

Torment.

She wanted Dylan. Now. On her desk and in her. As she glanced down she saw her sweater, pooched a bit at her belly, right where the waistband of her skirt rested. Did he mean it? She wasn't Jill. Would never be Jill. Couldn't be the chick with fifteen percent body fat and legs like a beach volleyball addict. Oh, sure, she could surf. And ski. And maybe run with an inhaler and an ambulance driving two miles an hour behind her. Give her an Olympic bar and some squat racks and she'd do fine with the guys, lifting in the weight room, but they'd outlift her easily.

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