Authors: Susan A. Bliler
“Neither. I mean both…I mean…,” she stammered before roughly setting down her utensils and meeting his entertained gaze with her own annoyance. “What I mean is that Warren and I are not in love, we are not lovers, we never have been, and he’s all but abandoned me.” Taking up her wine glass, she peered into its contents as she continued in a more reflective tone, “I thought he was my friend, and I may have loved him in a somewhat brotherly fashion, but…he’s gone now, and I’m alone again. Just as I was before, just as I was meant to be.”
Glancing up at Draken she continued, “I don’t know who I’m kidding. I’ve been alone all along. Warren was never my friend. After the race and the wreck…why didn’t he try to find me? He should have tried right? If he were truly my friend he would have tried to find me.”
She fidgeted nervously, realizing she was revealing more of her emotions and thoughts than she intended, but now she was too angry and too hurt to care.
“I saw him,” she continued, turning her head to stare out the window, “after the wreck, when my car was on fire and I was trapped inside. He went racing by. He knew there was an accident, he saw my car in flames, but he didn’t stop he just kept on racing. Winning money was more important to him than saving me. He knew it was me. We exchanged a glance. My expression, full of what I can only assume was terror, met his and all I saw was sheer determination. Determination to win. I remember clearing the smoke, and I was almost hit by a car…your car.” She turned to stare at him, “Then somehow you were standing before me and I thought, Draken’s here, he’ll take care of me. It was the last thing I remember before waking up here with you.
I’ve thought about that moment a thousand times. About why you’d risk your life for me when you didn’t even know me, while Warren left me to my demise after professing that I was like the sister he never had.”
Her gaze faltered as Draken’s intensely dark eyes scanned her face as if searching for something. “To this day, I can’t explain why I thought that you would take care of me. I mean I didn’t just think it,
I knew it
I’d never met you, didn’t know you.” She smirked, “I’ve chalked it up to your reputation. I didn’t know you, but I knew
you. I’d heard other racers speak of you and the Furies. Of the Captain that demanded excellence and perfection, but who put his team before himself.
I heard what you did in Montana, how your team was racing the track in Bozeman and one of your teammates hit a patch of black ice. They say you raced up and placed your car between his and the guardrail. All while you knew the drop off was a straight 400 feet down.
I guess I just created a character of you in my mind comprised of what I’d heard and what I’d assumed.” Silence hung in the air for several moments before she pressed, “Draken, I know you now…well I feel like I do, and I know your too honest to lie to me.” She was silent a moment as if debating before she finally asked, “Did Warren come for me? When I was here and unconscious, did he come for me, did he call, did he send someone, flowers…anything, did he try to find out if I was okay?”
Draken’s eyes wavered as he reluctantly shook his head.
Lucia sighed deeply as her hand instinctively went to her throat and gently rubbed her scarred flesh. Tears welled up in her eyes and she quickly pushed herself from the table and crossed to the opened window. She stood on the other side of the curtain to put somewhat of a veil between herself and Draken.
She couldn’t have imagined that the revelation of Warren’s true abandonment would affect her so deeply. Even worse, she was in the home of his enemy, who would offer no solace to her wounds from Warren.
As she tried to collect herself, Draken approached, pulling the sheer curtain to one side he stood closely behind her. She could feel his breath on her hair and the rise and fall of his muscled chest against her back.
“Just when I think you’ve got me convinced that there truly exists no intimate relationship between you and Warren, your feelings prove to me otherwise.”
She spun on him, angry and hurt, “Why? Because it hurts me that someone I thought was my friend isn’t. Because when I almost died the only person on the face of the earth who cared was a stranger? I’m not sad because Warren doesn’t love me Draken, I’m sad because I wasted my friendship on someone who didn’t return it. I’m angry because I feel like an idiot,” she gritted out as warm tears rolled down her cheeks. “You don’t know what it’s like for me. At least you have Nikolai and for a time you had your parents and Arabella. I’ve been alone my whole damn life. My mother gave me up when I was a baby and when I turned 16 I ran away from the foster home I was in. With Warren I thought I found a friend, and with team Cutlass I thought I found a family, a place I belonged, a place that wanted me, but I didn’t and they didn’t.
They preyed on my weakness, my desire to belong somewhere, and I was the idiot that was too blind to see. Too blind to see I was being used by them, and too blind to see that I was being used by you to get back at them. So you and Warren can both go to hell for treating me like I’m a pawn in your damn hatred for each other. I don’t know what happened between the two of you and I don’t care, I just don’t want to be a part of it anymore. You had no right to call Callisto, my life has nothing to do with you, and you have no right to take away my ability to make a living.”
She brushed past him attempting to storm away, but he grabbed her by the arm and turned her to face him.
“Hey”, he said softly, dipping his head in an attempt to get her to meet his gaze.
Before looking up, she used her free hand to swipe the tears from her cheeks. When her eyes finally met his she could see sincere concern in his expression. “What’s wrong? What’s really going on here?” He asked in the same soft tone.
Lucia sighed heavily before looking away as she explained with fresh emotion choking her, “It’s you, and it’s this place. I came here to tell you off, to tell you to stay out of my life, and I end up staying for dinner.”
“So you’re upset with the dinner?” he teased.
“No,” she exclaimed laughing through her tears, “I loved dinner, I love it here, and that’s the problem… I shouldn’t. I try to hate it here and I try to hate you, but I can’t. You never believe anything I say, you’ve ruined my chance at buying a new car, you’re keeping me from making a living, and you’re constantly holding me captive in this wickedly beautiful manor. But I can’t bring myself to despise you enough to hate any of it.”
His strong fingers gently lifted her chin so she would again meet his gaze. She saw his smile fade and an intensity take over his expression. His fingers moved from her chin as he firmly grasped the back of her neck and harshly pulled her body into his.
Her heart began to race as she stared up at his angry expression. She placed both hands on his chest and attempted to push away just as his free arm wrapped around her waist and locked her struggling body in place. “What are you doing?” she asked breathlessly.
He simply squeezed her body tighter to his and grasped her hair, forcing her to look up at him. “Tell me the truth and tell me now,” he growled, “are you and Warren lovers?”
She glared up at him with fresh tears stinging her unwavering eyes, “No.”
He leaned closer to her, so close that his nose was inches from hers as he declared, “Lucia, if your lying to me you’ll regret it…do you understand? You’ll both regret it!”
Her expression changed to disbelief as she slowly shook her head, “Let me go Draken, I’m going home!” She stopped struggling to look into Draken’s eyes so he could see how serious she was.
Now it was time for his expression to adjust as his furrowed brow relaxed and his façade changed from anger to a gravity that matched her own as in an even tone he informed, “You are home.” He bent his head and pulled her body into his as his mouth claimed hers.
Lucia instinctively fought his kiss before she relaxed and melted into his embrace. Unable to stop herself, she returned his passionate kiss with an urgency of her own.
She nearly lost herself in Draken’s sensual lips until his words hit her. Suddenly her body tensed, and she could feel his familiar chuckle deep in his chest as he trailed his lips down her neck to place a kiss just below her ear before he pulled away. He smiled down into her questioning gaze before releasing her.
Lucia lifted the back of her hand to her lips as she tried to catch her breath. Draken was practically to the door before she could ask, “What do you mean I’m home?”
He threw over his shoulder without breaking stride, “Just what I said. I suggest you get some sleep tonight, tomorrow your life is going to change forever.”
Lucia lie awake staring up at the ceiling. Draken had suggested that she get some sleep, but his implications of her life changing forever made the task impossible. The knots in her stomach tightened every time she remembered his words.
What could he mean?
Clearly, he had something planned.
Sighing in frustration she sat up and dangled her bare feet off the side of the bed as she rocked her body back and forth. Glancing at the clock on the nightstand, she saw that it was 4:12am. Thinking again on Draken’s words, she sprang from the bed and strode to the balcony, desperately needing a breath of fresh air.
Standing on the balcony, she gulped down mouthfuls of the fresh night air. Grasping the balcony’s rail, she wondered if she was having a panic attack. She closed her eyes and concentrated on controlling her breathing and taking slow deep breaths.
When she finally opened her eyes, she decided that she wasn’t going to take anymore of Draken’s games. His threats were now literally making her sick to her stomach.
She had come to give Draken a piece of her mind then leave, never to see him again, but now here she was in a nightgown standing barefoot on his balcony in the middle of the night. Glancing down, she wondered if the guard dogs were still roaming freely on the estate.
She’d tried to storm out of the manor after their exchange at dinner, but as she reached the front door, she was stopped by Patrick who informed her in his oh-so arrogant tone, “Lord Shatan would have me inform you that the dogs are still loose on the grounds. If you choose to leave, you do so at your own peril.”
If the dogs were penned up tonight, or asleep, perhaps she could get dressed and simply walk home. A long walk would give her time to clear her head. Scanning the grounds of the estate, she squinted attempting to make out shapes in the dark. Leaning over the rail, she quietly whistled to see if the dogs would come running. Her whistle came out a little louder than she had intended and she winced as her head snapped to the side to see if the noise had drawn Draken out onto his balcony, located mere feet from her own.
She held her breath as she waited to see if he would emerge from the darkness of his room, luckily he did not. Looking forward again, she leaned further over the balcony getting as low as she could. She lightly whistled again, and then listened for the dogs’ approach. Silence.
She whistled again slightly louder, but her low whistle turned into a loud gasp as Draken’s voice cut into her concentration, “Will you please stop doing that!”
She pushed herself back from the rail and was thankful that the darkness of the night prevented Draken from seeing the flush that stained her cheeks. His eyes were barely opened as he stood across from her on his balcony wearing only a pair of thin night pants.
As he rubbed his eyes and yawned, Lucia turned her head to the side, but her eyes didn’t follow.
“Why are you out her whistling like a blue bird at four in the morning?”
She tried to think up a lie but came up with absolutely nothing. “I was…,” she stammered, “I thought…”
Draken dropped his curled fists from his eyes and stared at her in amusement, a slight smile touching his lips. “Yes? You were….” he coaxed.
Without even blinking, she stated in one breath with more seriousness than she had intended, “I’m afraid of the implications of your threat earlier, so I was plotting my late night escape.”
Staring at Draken with her straight face, she was shocked when he erupted into laughter. His deep laugh was a surprisingly delightful sound to hear and she couldn’t help but smile as she lowered her head to hide her shared amusement at her confession.
When he finally stopped laughing, she cleared her throat, hid her own amusement and looked evenly into his eyes. He smiled as he looked her up and down, “You know just when I think I have you pegged you do something that entirely changes my opinion of you.”
Looking down at her bare feet, Lucia wrung her hands as she asked in a tone that failed to sound as nonchalant as she was hoping, “Changes your opinion for better or for worse?” Again her eyes met his as she heard his laughter before shifting her gaze back down to stare at her own hands.
“Lucia, sometimes I want to squeeze you so hard, I think I’d probably break you in two.”
“I’m not that easily broken,” she blurted out before she had a chance to check her words. Her head snapped up just in time to see a mischievous glint light Draken’s eyes. “Is that a challenge?”
Lucia knew his wicked look all too well, and she knew she was playing with fire, but she wanted to let him know that she wasn’t a woman who would be toyed with regardless of what look he gave her. “I’m simply saying that many men have tried to break me, and all have failed.” She placed her hands on the rail and squared her shoulders to show him how serious she was.
A sinful smile touched Draken’s lips as his eyes danced with an achingly desirable fire. “Not to brag my sweet, but you’ve never met a man like me.” Now it was his turn to place both hands on his balcony’s rail and set his broad, muscled shoulders in a challenge.
Lucia dropped her hands from the rail, deciding that he had her beat in the intimidation department, but she’d be damned if she’d give up that easily. Crossing her bare arms in front of her chest, she lifted a defiant chin as she casually tilted her head to one side and replied, “Met one, met ‘em all.” Even in the dark of night, she could see Draken’s knuckles turn white as his grip threatened to snap the balcony’s railing.