Other Side of Beautiful (A Beautifully Disturbed #1) (17 page)

BOOK: Other Side of Beautiful (A Beautifully Disturbed #1)
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“So why come all the way back to Michigan for college? It’s so far from home.”

“Trying to get rid of me, Hayes?”

“That would be impossible since I only ever want you in my bed. Now answer the question.”

She shrugs. “Cricket hates me. Dinah hates me because Cricket hates me. Michigan is the only place I’ve ever felt loved.” Damn it if I don’t feel the urge to show her how much Michigan loves her by rolling over, pinning her to the bed, my knee positioned perfectly between those glorious thighs, and going in for yet another round of kissing. Kissing so slowly, tracing my favorite spots, and working really hard to come up with some new ones. I take extra time relishing every palpable minute of touching the beautiful woman beneath me.

Elle

 

Valentine’s Day turns into a long Valentine’s weekend up at the little shanty off the shore of Lake Michigan. We only venture out to the tiny general store about three miles out when we absolutely need something. I’ve never shared so much of myself with another living person ever, even though I still keep covered except for my shirt. While sharing me feels completely right in the moment, it still leaves me feeling vulnerable, like that feeling of always being aware my life could come crashing down around me at any time.

Surprise of all surprises shivers on my stoop when Ben finally drops me back off to my apartment—poor Collin looks positively frostbitten. Always protective, Ben shoots out of his seat, I imagine thinking as I do that something’s wrong. But Col shakes him away, approaching me, he leans his head on my shoulder. I can’t help but to wrap myself around him, to warm him up, to let him know I understand. Seems he and I have a lot more in common than we ever thought. How does a parent put conditions on love? If I ever had a kid, I swear that kid wouldn’t spend one minute doubting my love.

“Forgive an ass?” he whispers into my hair.

“It’s a pretty fine ass,” I say and grab hold, making him jump.

“I don’t know what you’ve heard about me but…”

“So you used to be scrawny, huh?”

“Go get your stuff, bitch, and come home.” Hmm…funny boy. I reach inside the car to grab my purse, but Collin presses his hand to mine to stop me, shaking his head. “Ben, tell your girl she needs to come back home.”

“Col, if you think the woman is going to listen to me on anything, you don’t know Brontë at all.”

I pat his face, a couple of good pats. “Poor boy. Must be effects of hypothermia. I
am
home.”

“You aren’t home. Home is with us. You were moving in before I went all psycho jackass on you.”

“You had a reason.”

“No. No excuses. I was so wrong. Now please don’t make me get on my knees to beg you, because you know I will and this ground is damn cold.”

“I don’t know…maybe seeing the great Collin Pratt begging…” I’m kidding. I’m kidding, and he knows it, but Collin drops right down in front of me, hands clasped together against his chest.

His eyes pleading, he loudly begs. “Oh beautiful, Elle Dinninger, please move in with me and Ben.” And I can’t help it, laughing at the way he’s making a fool of himself for me. But then the jerk shouts, “Threesomes are only awkward the first couple of times. And don’t worry, I’ll mostly be interested in your boyfriend,” right as a group of four coed Kelsies are walking into an apartment a couple of doors down. They stop. Dead in their tracks. And turn to stare at us.

“That’s enough,” Ben cuts in, clearing his throat. And saving me.

“Well, now I have no choice since I can’t face my neighbors anymore.”

Both men come in with me. Collin sits on my bed while Ben leans against the doorframe, both just watching while I run around like a freaking maniac packing a large suitcase full of everything but clothing because I don’t have any anymore, and then sundries from the bathroom, toothbrush, hairbrush, makeup bag. The essentials. We’re going to need to go shopping. Good thing we live in a thrift store community. That’s about what my budget can handle with having to replace an entire wardrobe. Ben loads my bag in his car while Collin loads up all my school books and my book bag. I follow them out the door with my eReader and my laptop. I go to my car, making sure to lock up the apartment before leaving. That’s when I see Col pop around the corner. He’s gone maybe five minutes before coming back with two garbage bags in his hands. “Since tomorrow is trash day I thought it might be worth a shot. Guess what?”

“She threw away my clothing, didn’t she?”

“I’m sorry.”

“No. I’ve been gone a few days now, if I were that worried, wouldn’t I have just canceled on you the other night to search for my stuff?”

“A—No. We wouldn’t have let you stay home. And B—we only put up with her for you. That shit was not right.”

Scratch the thrift store.

Ben

 

She’s already been gone a couple of hours when I wake up. Her side of the bed is cold. Waking up with that woman snuggled against me, her leg flung over my hip aligning us perfectly, is fast becoming one of my favorite activities. Distractions.

We’ve been back home for almost a week, but I still can’t shake what she said to me up there at the cabin.

Because you’ll know.

Know what?

The truth.

I need to know the truth. I want to know. She’s my girl, and we need to be open, to rely on each other. But at the same time, the way she said it,
the truth
, scares me more than I’ve been scared in years.

It might help to talk to Collin. We’ve always talked about the important shit going on in our lives. Still, I don’t want to betray her confidence. No matter my intentions, they become moot when I head into the kitchen for some breakfast. Collin, leaning against the counter eating a bowl of cereal, turns to look at me. He drops his spoon.

“Everything okay? You look constipated.”

“Yeah. And thanks for that, by the way. Just stuff with Elle.”

“Trouble in paradise already? Aren’t you supposed to be in the honeymoon period? You know, the point where we all get sick of hearing how blissfully in love you two are.”

How do I answer him? She’s everything I’ve ever wanted. I know I’m in love with her. That’s not the issue.

“You’re not planning on breaking up with her?” He sets his bowl in the sink behind him and turns back, waiting for an answer.

“What? God—
no
.”

“Don’t you hurt her.”

“That’s the thing, I think someone already did.”

“What do you mean? Did she say something?”

“Not exactly. She’s always been kind of withdrawn from us, never letting anyone too close.”

“But that’s a product of her childhood, Ben.”

“No. I think it’s more than that. We haven’t had sex yet. She won’t let me see her naked.”

“I call bullshit. I know what I’ve heard.”

“You’ve heard stuff, but not what you think. She acts like she wants to, but then shuts down. She’ll switch. We’ve done other stuff, but I know a distraction technique when I see one. I’ve never seen her in the shower or getting dressed. She won’t let me see her without clothing.”

“Okay, that is strange. But do you think it just might be a weight thing? She’s always been sensitive about her size, Lord knows why.”

“Don’t I know it, but no. It’s not that. She did say something up at the cabin. She said I couldn’t see her because then I’d know the truth.”

“The truth? That doesn’t sound very promising, does it?”

I shake my head. “Talked to one of the counselors yesterday. She said I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. To build the trust.
Fuck
.” And rake my hands through my hair. “She should already trust me. We may not have been dating very long, but this thing between us has gone on for a couple of years. We all know it. She told me she loves me. How can she love me and not trust me?”

Collin walks over and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Ben, she trusts you. Of anybody. She sleeps next to you every night. That’s trust, my friend. She’s called you when she was scared. She let you get close enough to know she can’t take her clothes off yet. That’s all trust.”

“I guess so.”

“Our girl is a hard nut to crack, but here’s the thing. I think when she does crack she will be well worth your effort.”

“She’s already worth my effort.”

“Have you told her yet?”

“That she’s worth the effort? Every damn day.”

“No. That’s not what I meant. I’m talking the big feels here.”

“You know I can’t.”

“I’m just saying, it might help go a long way for her if she knows.”


Maybe
.”

He shrugs. “Well, I’m going to shower. You good?”

“Yeah. I’m good.” It might be what I tell him, but it’s certainly not how I feel.

Ben

 

Despite my concerns, we fall into a pretty blissful pattern of domesticity. The two of us. The three of us. Hell, sometimes even the four of us. That’s not to say things haven’t been different, challenging since Valentine’s weekend. I guess more so than I anticipated, if I’m honest with myself. Not that it hasn’t been worth it all. That she hasn’t been worth it all. I’m still happier now than I have been in years. But sometimes I wonder, are we really breaking down her walls, or are we just masking them with a different distraction?

I of all people know you can’t escape the past. No one runs that fast. No one. But she’s been helping. Making the past hurt a little less than the day before. That’s my hope for her, of what I can do for her.

Women still approach me just about every day, despite those god awful internet videos of us which refuse to die. And I’m uncomfortable.
Me
. Sure, niceties will always be exchanged as long as they remain respectful, but not all of them do. Apparently I’m a challenge. Really, I’m a challenge they’d never accept if any of those girls understood how fruitless their efforts are now and will remain into the rest of the unforeseeable future. The girl I’ve got is the only one I ever want. Period.

Elle walks out of the bedroom and my heart stutters for a second. She’s breathtaking. And the killer is, she still doesn’t see it. I can’t see anything else. Her silhouette is just—it’s not any one part. She’s fixing the cap sleeves of a black satin blouse. Then her hands smooth down the front past the thin black ribbon tied at the waist like she’s smoothing out wrinkles, but I think it’s more nerves. And holy shit! That pencil skirt hugs her curves from her waist to her sexy, sexy calves. I never thought of myself as a calves man before seeing her in a skirt for the first time. I’m just hopeless is what it is. Pretty much anything I can see on her is the kind of man I am now. Calves, breasts, eyes, lips. The heels have to be at least four inches because I usually tower over her, but in those she reaches my neck. Sabrina’s influence radiates throughout everything. Have to thank her later.

Collin and I, we never were ones for throwing parties. Always had Zena for that. But it seems Kelly got Zena, Garret, and the parties in the divorce. Elle got the rest of us. It’s been a while since we’ve been out. Midterms coming and all, we’ve all been working pretty diligently, but none more so than my girl who has actual tests to deal with, unlike the rest of us. And anyone who knows me knows I’m not going anywhere without her.

Tonight, though, we’re triple dating. Me and Elle. Errol and Bri. And Collin and Kip. They hit a rough patch after Valentine’s Day. All the guilt he’s been harboring for having feelings for Kip, like he’s betraying my brother. But Andrew loved him so much he’d never want him to spend his life sad and lonely. He’d want him to live his life to the fullest, which is exactly what I told him when we had it out.

“What?” she says. “Doesn’t it look okay?”

“You are the most beautiful—God, you are beautiful, Elle.” But in true Elle fashion, she blushes and turns away, shaking her head like she thinks I’m feeding her a line. It’s not a line. Never where she’s concerned, and I need her to really, absolutely, without a hint of second guessing, believe this truth.

Her burgeoning smile tells me she’s at least trying, even if still wading through a few hesitancies. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? “Well you clean up pretty nicely yourself,” she tells me in her favorite distraction technique. Apparently she thinks I’m so self-absorbed that turning the conversation onto me will make me forget my point or just shut up about it. She really should know that won’t work. Not in our apartment. Because even if
I
let it go, we don’t live here by ourselves.

Collin, followed by Kip, slip out of his bedroom both looking ready to go for the evening. I know they’ll back me up.

“Well that’s no fair.” Kip, stepping up to Elle, spins her around slowly by the hand, making a low whistle.

“What’s not fair?”

“The three of us didn’t need to get dressed up. I could’ve worn sweats tonight.” She looks like she doesn’t get what he’s saying. I know. His words are mine. “Nobody is even going to see us tonight. Not with you sitting at the table.”

“You’re just being kind.”

“He’s being truthful,” Collin cuts in.

“Well don’t you boys just know how to make a girl feel good about herself?”

Her coat already draped over my arm, I help her into it then offer up my arm which she accepts with a kiss to my cheek. It’s just a little peck, but nothing ever feels little to me with my Brontë.

I take a moment and then clear my throat. “Your carriage awaits, m’lady.”

***

Dinner goes smoothly. We really are sitting with the two prettiest women in the city. I keep looking down at the ring on Bri’s finger knowing one day that will be Elle wearing my ring. I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life, which scares me to death sometimes to think about. Sometimes I don’t even recognize myself. Who am I? The Benton Hayes I’m comfortable with, he can’t even say the word love to the person he cares for the most in the world. Forget about marriage. I remember the boy who swore it off the day his brother died because he gave his boyfriend a promise ring. A promise of his intentions for their life to come. So when did the switch happen? Because the bling of that ring is a beacon for my eyes. I don’t want to scare her off. I mean, we haven’t even had straight up intercourse yet. We’re working on it. My beautiful Brontë is so worth waiting for.

“Have you decided if you’re coming to PWMA next week?” Bri asks Elle.

“She’s going.” I speak for her. The look of shock on her face is priceless.

We hadn’t discussed it. There’s been so much going on it slipped my mind. Collin and I hadn’t discussed anything either, but without missing a beat he slips in, “She’s staying with us.”

“But—” Elle’s eyebrows pinch together. “Don’t you guys want dude time or something?”


Dude time
?” Both Collin and I say at the exact same time, and all four of us men just lose it.

“Now you’re just being mean.” She crosses her arms over her chest, which I can’t help to notice plumps her breasts, teasing me with cleavage, and turns her chair away from us.

It’s so hard to rein myself in but I manage to enough to say, “Collin doesn’t like to cuddle anymore now that he has Kip.” Then I turn to look at him. “Thanks a lot, Kip.”

Even Sabrina joins in the laugh with us. Everyone except Elle who starts to stand, but I’m on her, my hands resting on her shoulders, pressing her back into her seat gently before she even knows what hit her.

“That’s not what I meant,” she says. Almost embarrassed instead of upset with me. When Elle gets embarrassed, she pulls away. I won’t let her pull away. There’s soft, slow music playing overhead. It reminds me of the day in the social science building common area. That was a true, honest day for us.

I grab her hand, pulling her from the seat. “Come with me.” And slide my hands down to her hips, swaying us back and forth in time.

“There’s not dancing here.”

“We’re moving, so I beg to differ.”

“I didn’t mean—it’s just—a lot has changed for you in such a short time.” She holds her breath, closing her eyes.

“Talk to me.” She still has her eyes closed but now stops swaying. “Hey, hey.” I grab her chin gently and she finally opens her eyes for me. “Talk to me, Brontë. Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I just…don’t want you to get tired. If I’m around too much you might not want…” She hiccups on a small sob. Damn it, she’s crying.

“I might not want what, Elle?” I’m not stupid. I know what she’s going to say. But for some reason I need her to say it out loud.
Why?
Those words punish both of us. But at the same time, if she keeps them bottled we will never get any further, and we’ve made some great strides over these past weeks. So I prod her again. “Come on, what might I not want?”

“You might not want me, Ben. You might not want me any longer.” Even though she says exactly what I expected her to, it still stings that she doesn’t trust me enough, trust how I feel about her enough to see I could never tire of her. One step forward, twenty-seven steps back.

“Let me tell you a story,” I tell her, starting the sway of our hips again. She nods. And I’m honest with her. “I saw her eyes first. She hadn’t noticed me yet, standing in line, this girl didn’t talk to anyone in line around her. Mostly she looked at the ground. Even the shyer students fumbled with cell phones, yet she didn’t. But every so often, she’d lift her head to glance around the room. Those eyes spoke volumes, at least to me. So deep and piercing and soulful. Scared and determined. They spoke volumes.”

“What did they say?”

“They said read me. Just read me. And do you know what I found?” She shakes her head no. “It hasn’t been an easy read. Something along the lines of
War and Peace
, but written in Morse code and backward.”

Brontë smiles, but it doesn’t really touch her ears. It’s still beautiful, but I want the one that shines so brightly it could lead anyone through crushing blackness.

“But the story’s not over,” I continue on. “Her story might be a difficult read, but figuring it out has brought me so much satisfaction already. That in the end, I know all the time spent will be worth it. The greatest story I have ever or will ever read.”

“I’m sorry I’ve been so all over the place.”

“Just part of the story. One day, you’ll trust me.” It’s not meant to make her feel bad, just something she needs to hear.

“Ben.”

“Yeah, baby?”

“Can you take me home?”

“So soon? We haven’t had dessert yet.”

“I want you to…
see me
.” It takes a minute to figure out what she’s saying. When I don’t answer her she says, “I want to take another step.”

“Are you sure? Only because you want to. Not because of me.”


I
want to
because
of you.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

We’d drifted some from our table. With her hand in mine, our fingers locked together, I excuse us from our group. “Elle and I are heading home now. Thank you for a wonderful evening.”

“Everything all right?” Errol is the first to ask. But Bri looks from me to Elle and punches him in the shoulder.

“Everything is fine,” she says through gritted teeth, not wanting to call attention to the sexual undercurrent humming through our departure. Because she knows Elle. She’s a good friend. They all are.

“Well we’re staying longer, then we might go dancing or catch a movie.” Collin. He understands me too.

When we return to the apartment she has me closing the front door with my back as she pushes me up against it. I love when she initiates. But as often happens, I get a little over zealous with the woman. Her kiss is scorching. The kind of slow burn to bring a man to his knees. And I’d be more than willing to drop to my knees if she’d let me. We just aren’t there yet.

“I want you to see me,” she whispers again.

I scoop her up into my arms, carrying her into our bedroom and set her down on the bed. Then go back to shut the door before joining her there.

“How do you want to do this? You want me to match you?”

She nods and I shuck out of my shirt. She pulls the undershirt over my head.

“Those eyes,” I whisper. “I’m reading them, Brontë.”

“Will you?”

“You’re absolutely sure?” She nods and that’s all the encouragement my greedy fingers need to begin working the buttons on her blouse.

A slow descent into madness, she drags me further down with every move, every moan. The touch of her skin against mine, incendiary.
The faintest scent of coconut fans the inferno of
desire
. Yeah, I really just thought that. Writer’s brain.

I know what I’m doing. I know the how, the why, the when, and the where of everything I’m doing. Every touch, breath, caress, or press of my lips. And I know she knows.

No matter how badly I want to rush through, now is not the time for speed. It only takes the lightest brushing from my index finger for the satin fabric to drip away. She’s all lace and sex goddess underneath. Lace and underwire pushing her breasts round and pert against my lips. She tastes even better than she smells. Every lap of my tongue is a caress against my soul.

Her hips sway and press against me like we’re back on the dance floor and I close my eyes then pull away. Slowly I open them again and she’s staring at me. Staring through me. Elle lifts my finger, tucking it under the strap of her bra at the shoulder. I run the same finger back and forth against the bareness, sending a shockwave of pulsating want through me and her. I feel it.

“You sure?” She nods. “No, baby. I have to hear you. I have to know you are ready to reveal this part of yourself to me. Are you ready, Brontë? You sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure.”

At her words, I slip my hand from the strap of her bra to the band on the back. So anxious, I haven’t been all thumbs since I was a freshman in high school, fumbling to get it unhooked. We accidentally knock our foreheads together and laugh. What else is there to do?

BOOK: Other Side of Beautiful (A Beautifully Disturbed #1)
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