Authors: Nina Lane
“Oh.” She tugs one of her gloves up her wrist, eyeing me with speculation. “Well, you are quite the expert at squeezing into tight spaces, aren’t you, Dean? Out of them too, I imagine.”
She gives me a smile and a little wave before heading off.
I have no idea what she just meant by that, but then again I don’t have much experience dealing with elderly ladies.
I take out my phone and text Liv that I’m heading up to the Butterfly House. I stop to get a toolkit and other supplies out of our storage garage, then drive to where the house sits on its huge parcel of land.
After shouldering my way in through the loose board at the side, I walk through the house again, studying the furniture, everything that needs to be fixed, picturing how it would look if it were all restored to its original glory.
Then I open the front door and get to work.
It takes one phone call. It’s almost a relief, as if I’ve been waiting for the catalyst. The excuse I need to finally confront the thing that has gnawed at me for weeks.
It’s a warm day, the trees and flowers flourishing, the sun bright. A few boats are out on the lake, the sails like giant bird wings. After working for a couple hours at the Butterfly House, I drive to the café with the intention of asking Liv if she wants to go to lunch.
The place looks phenomenal with new tables and chairs, the walls painted and murals almost done, the hardwood floor gleaming. I find Liv in the kitchen, going over some papers with a few people she’d introduced to me as the head chef and kitchen staff.
Liv gives me a quick smile and wave of hello, then turns back to the discussion. I watch her, my heart thumping hard as it always does at the sight of her.
She looks different—more confident, in charge, as they talk about the stations, the ordering system, purchase specifications, and work flow.
I let out a breath, feeling something loosen inside me. This, I know, is exactly what Liv wanted. Even through all we’ve had to deal with, she’s stood her ground, found a goal, and gotten it done. She’s finally realized how strong she is and has proven it to herself.
When she sets the papers down and approaches me, I’m grinning like a fool.
Liv stops, amused. “Well, you look happy.”
“Sure I’m happy. You’re here, aren’t you?”
“Aw.” She smiles, giving me a little pinch on the arm. “Good one.”
“Can I take you to lunch?”
“Of course. Just give me a sec.”
We return to the main room, and Liv goes behind the front counter to her open laptop. I sit down at one of the chairs, which has upholstery covered with a playing card design in honor of
Alice in Wonderland,
and wait for Liv to finish typing on the computer.
The phone rings. Still looking at her computer, Liv answers it.
“Good afternoon, Wonderland Café.”
She pauses. Something radiates from her suddenly that gets me to my feet. I cross the room in a few strides, tension clawing at me.
“Yes?” Liv says into the phone.
She turns, her gaze meeting mine. My instinct kicks into gear, and I’m reaching for the phone before I can think. Liv puts her hand up and steps back, the phone still pressed to her ear.
“What?” she says into the receiver, her skin paling. “No. I don’t want to talk to him.”
I go around the counter and grab the phone from her, knowing to my bones what this is about.
“This is Dean West,” I tell the caller. “Who’s this?”
“Um… I was speaking to Olivia West,” replies a woman.
“This is her husband.” My grip is about to break the phone. “Who is this?”
“This is Mary Frederick, assistant to Mr. Edward Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton would like to make an appointment to speak to Mrs. West about—”
I slam the phone down, anger flooding me, my heart hammering. Liv is watching me, wary now, her eyes dark with the realization of what that phone call means. Edward Hamilton is now a very real threat to her and possibly her new business.
“What does he want?” she asks.
“To get to me.”
Edward Hamilton is an asshole, but he’s not stupid. He figured out early on that Liv is the one guaranteed way he can scare me. That if he goes after her… I’ll do whatever it takes to protect her.
Liv knows that too.
Her brown eyes fill with fear, pain, worry. A sharp ache cuts through my chest. And as my wife and I stand there in the Wonderland Café looking at each other, the decision solidifies inside me like ice.
I reach out to tuck a lock of Liv’s hair behind her ear. Any excuse to touch her. Not that I need an excuse. Most of the time I touch her just because I want to. Because I can. Because she’s mine.
“I need you to do something for me,” I finally say.
“Don’t change your mind. Don’t tell me you want to talk to Hamilton and defend me or defend us. Not now. Not ever. I will go bat-shit crazy if I have to let you go to him.”
She curls her hand around my wrist. My pulse beats against her fingers. She shakes her head.
“I won’t,” she promises. “I’d never talk to him about us.”
“Okay.” Relief melts away some of the ice.
“What if he…”
Her voice trails off, leaving a hundred questions unspoken. A seething anger snakes into my blood at the thought of what the answers could be.
“I’m going to deal with this.” I tug my arm from Liv’s grasp. “And you’re going to let me.”
If there is one certainty in the world, it’s that my wife knows me. She knows that this is not a question, not a negotiation.
“What are you going to do?” she asks.
“I’m going to talk to him.”
Liv nods, her expression clouding. “Please be careful.”
“If his assistant calls again, hang up on her,” I say.
“What if he calls?”
“He won’t.” I check the caller ID on the café phone, then take out my cell phone and program Hamilton’s office number in. “I’ll take care of this.”
There’s no other option. Not with Hamilton closing in.
Instead of taking Liv to lunch, I go home and make arrangements for the hour-and-a-half flight to Chicago the following day, with a return flight the same evening. I call Frances Hunter and keep the conversation short. Apologize. Don’t listen to her protests. Thank her and apologize a second time.
Then I call Hamilton’s office and tell his assistant when I’ll be there.
The next morning, I say goodbye to my wife yet again.
The hot, sweet crush of her body against mine, a tangle of silky hair, the peach softness of her cheek, the press of her mouth.
She’s all I’m thinking about as the flight lands in Chicago. She’s all that matters. I catch a taxi from the airport, and the driver stops in front of a downtown high-rise. I grab my briefcase and go inside, taking the elevator to the twelfth floor.
Edward Hamilton’s law office is filled with leather chairs and polished mahogany furniture. His receptionist greets me with a smile and offers coffee or tea.
“No, thank you.”
“All right, follow me, please. Mr. Hamilton is waiting for you.”
My teeth clench as I follow her into the room, the window overlooking the lake, the huge desk where Hamilton is sitting in his leather chair. He’s on the phone, and he gestures the receptionist out of the room as his gaze meets mine.
“I’ll call you back,” he says into the receiver before dropping it back onto the cradle.
Hostility thickens the air. He points to a chair.
I set my briefcase down and remain standing. “I want you to leave my wife alone.”
He eyes me narrowly, closing his hand around a pencil and tapping it on the desk. “I’m sure you do.”
“She has nothing to do with this.”
“Stafford thinks she does,” Hamilton replies. “We have evidence that you were involved with a student in the past. A student whom you seduced and later married.”
My fists clench. Anger heats my insides.
“What do you want?” I ask.
“You know what I want,” he says, pushing to stand up. “You fucked with my daughter, and I want you gone. She can’t get anything done with you still at King’s, and there’s no way she can graduate with you there. If the board doesn’t fire you, I’ll beat you to a pulp myself.”
Every muscle in my body tenses for a fight. I need one excuse, one goddamned opening…
Hamilton looks down at some papers on his desk.
“Your wife had a nervous breakdown, didn’t she?” he asks. “Lost her merit scholarship at… Fieldbrook College in the first year. What exactly happened? Reports are that she dropped out for personal reasons, but there’s a record that a psychologist had to—”
I leap across the desk before I can think. Grab Hamilton by the throat and bring us both crashing to the floor behind the desk. My fist connects with his face. He grunts. I hit him again. My vision goes red.
“Mr. Hamilton!” The receptionist’s voice penetrates my anger.
I land two more punches on Hamilton and pull back for a third when two security guards grab my arms and yank me off him.
I fight them, my blood replaced with rage, hating the restraint.
Don’t stop me, you bastards. Let me kill him.
The guards are shouting. One of them wrestles me away. Hamilton climbs to his feet, wiping a trickle of blood from his mouth.
“Mr. Hamilton?” The receptionist hurries forward. “Are you all right?”
I push myself away from the guards, holding my hands up. My breath burns my chest. I stalk to the other side of the room.
“You want us to throw him out, sir?” one of the guards asks.
Hamilton heaves in a breath, his gaze cold on me as he shakes his head. “No.”
“But, Mr. Hamilton, you—”
“Never mind, Mary.” Hamilton waves a hand to the door. “Go away.”
With a worried glance at me, Mary hurries from the room again. The guards hesitate before Hamilton snaps at them to get out.
“We’ll be right outside,” one of them says. They leave the room and shut the door behind them.
I clench my jaw. My shoulders are about to crack.
“How far do you want to take this, West?” Hamilton grabs a glass of water from his desk and takes a swallow. “You want me to charge you with assault and battery? Take it to court? Have it all dragged out in front of the board of trustees and student body? You know they’ll call your wife in to testify.”
Fear stabs through my anger. I shove aside thoughts of Liv.
Hamilton and I stare each other down like wolves looking for another opening to attack. Hatred seizes me as I walk back to him, my fists tight, my voice like stone.
“You leave my wife alone,” I order. “You leave her the fuck
I hear that you’re asking one goddamned thing about her, that you’ve tried to contact her, that you’ve
said her name,
and you’re dead. I will fucking kill you, Hamilton.”
“We can end this all right now,” he replies with a shrug. “It’s up to you.”
I fight back a new wave of rage, grab my briefcase, and walk to the door. Outside, I drag in a few breaths of cold air.
I get a taxi and go to a computer services store where I can hook my laptop to a printer. I power up the laptop and open a document.
Don’t think. Just type.
Dear Chancellor Radcliffe, Professor Hunter, and members of the Board of Trustees,
I am writing to resign from my position as professor of Medieval Studies at King’s University, effective immediately.
Given the circumstances that have affected me both personally and professionally, it is in my best interest, as well as that of King’s University and my students, that I leave the position.
I have greatly enjoyed teaching at King’s and regret this course of action tremendously. I will do whatever is necessary to facilitate the transition for my students.
Please accept both my resignation and my heartfelt gratitude.
fter signing and sending three hard copies of my resignation letter via certified mail, I have a few hours before my flight leaves tonight. I walk to the Art Institute of Chicago and look at Impressionist paintings, Greek vases, Japanese silk screens, German sculptures.
I take the stairs to the second floor and walk through the arms and armor collection. I stop in front of a full suit of plate armor dating to the sixteenth century. The steel breastplates are perforated for bolting a lance rest or reinforcing armor, the close helmet fronted by a pivoting visor. A knight would have worn the suit in the field or for a tournament.
My brain processes the facts, but I also wonder about the man who once wore the armor. It’s the part of history I like the most—thinking about the people who lived, the knights who served their liege lords, the pledges and vows, the training in horsemanship, weapons, battle skills, hunting.
The chivalric code. Honor, loyalty, sacrifice, duty, faith. Ideals I learned about when I was a kid devouring the stories of Galahad, Lancelot, Arthur, and Gawain. Then at thirteen, when I told my brother he wasn’t really my brother, I broke just about every tenet of that code.
I sit on a bench and take out my phone. I’d left a message earlier for Liv that I should be home by ten. I pull up an email window and type a message.
TO: My beauty
FR: The guy who loves you
I walked into Jitter Beans that morning in a hurry. Thinking of a hundred things. Lectures, office hours, a grant proposal deadline.
The world stopped when I saw you behind the counter. I had a flash of unreality. That it couldn’t be you, Olivia R. Winter, the girl from three weeks earlier who’d taken my breath away.
But it was. You were explaining the difference between two kinds of coffee to a customer. I wanted him to get the hell away from you, and I was plotting some dark move when you glanced up and saw me.
You knocked my heart right out of my chest. Sent it up to the stars. I looked at you and thought, “I could fall in love with her.”
I didn’t know that I already had.
I’m going to kiss you for a long time tonight.
I send the message and turn off my phone. Push to my feet. Study the knight again, the weapons and helmets. Sometimes not even all that steel armor was enough defense.
I leave the museum and spend the rest of the afternoon walking around downtown Chicago before catching a taxi to the airport. The tedious routine of travel is enough to dull my thoughts. An icy ball forms in my chest.
The flight is delayed, and I text Liv that I’ll be late. After the hour and a half drive back to Mirror Lake, it’s past midnight when I finally go into our apartment and push open the bedroom door.
The bedside lamp is on. Liv is half-curled under the covers, one hand still loosely holding a book, her body moving in the rhythm of sleep.
I set my briefcase down and go to take a shower. After pulling on a pair of pajama bottoms, I take the book from Liv’s hand, glancing at the title.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
She’d once told me how much she liked the heroine, a hard-working, imaginative girl who loves books and writing.
I put the book on the nightstand and climb into bed. The sheets are warm from Liv’s body. I tuck myself against her, put my leg over her thighs, press my face into her hair. Tighten my arm around her. Breathe. Her fragrant smell fills my nose.
She shifts, wiggling back against me, settling her ass against my groin. I feel her start to wake before she turns to face me. She’s heavy-eyed, flushed with sleep.
“Oh, hi,” she whispers, rubbing her cheek against my shoulder. “I was trying to wait up for you. Did you get my voicemails? What happ—”
I press my mouth to hers, stopping her words. A little moan catches in her throat. She shifts to wind her arms around my neck, parting her lips under mine, letting me in, pulling me closer. I close my eyes and sink into her. Tension fades, replaced by the spark of lust that fires my blood.
I run my hands over Liv’s curves, tugging at the hem of her tank top, the waistband of her pants. Soft, she’s always so soft, so warm, even more so when she’s sleeping, as if she keeps an extra reserve of heat inside that only radiates from her when her defenses are down.
“How is it you’re always so warm?” I bury my face in her neck, pressing my lips against her collarbone.
“Because of you,” Liv murmurs, slipping her hands into my hair. “You drive away the cold and melt the ice. You’ve always made me
My chest constricts. I want to drown myself in her sweet goodness. The heat of her burns off my own lingering cold. Her mouth opens, her teeth scraping my lower lip, her tongue sliding over mine. Lust jolts through me, welcome, familiar. I push my hips against her, wanting her to feel the growing ridge of my cock.
She makes a throaty noise that echoes inside me. Everything else breaks apart. There’s only her, only us, only the warmth of our bodies. I push my hands underneath her shirt, rubbing her smooth torso up to her full breasts.
She arches her back, pushing herself into my hands, her nipples hardening against my palms. I squeeze her breasts, stroke my fingers over the tight peaks, slide my hands into the hot crevice beneath them.
“Take my shirt off.” Liv pulls her mouth from mine, her eyes darkening to the color of cocoa.
I grab her shirt and pull it over her head. Urgency floods me at the sight of her naked breasts, her nipples like berries. I hook my fingers into her waistband and tug her pants off, tossing them to the floor. Then I just look at her—my beautiful wife with her rounded hips, the slopes of her shoulders and waist, the dark curls between her legs, the curve of her stomach, the arch of her neck.
I move lower on the bed, pushing the sheets aside, getting between her legs. My erection pulses against the loose material of my pants. I put my hands on Liv’s inner thighs, rubbing the tender flesh before easing her legs apart.
She sinks back against the pillows, watching me, her breathing quick and her face flushed with pleasure. She’s already hot. I ease one finger into her, my blood pulsing as she moans and closes her inner flesh around me.
So easy. It’s so easy with her. I know exactly what she likes, wants, needs. I circle my finger over her folds, rub the knot of her clit, push her legs farther apart before moving down to put my mouth on her.
“Dean!” She arches upward with a gasp.
I pause, inhale the scent of her, wait for her to settle. I press my hands against her hips and lick her with long, sweeping strokes that make her twist and buck up into my grasp. The taste of her fills my head. My cock throbs, and I shift to rub my groin against the bed.
“Oh, God…” Liv groans, running her hands up and down her body, squeezing her breasts. Tension vibrates through her. “So good…”
I move my hands back to grip her inner thighs and push my tongue inside her. She lets out a cry of pleasure, pulling her legs up to her hips, opening herself fully. Her cries become louder, a stream of pleasure that fills my ears and drowns out everything else.
She reaches down to grab my hair, twisting her body beneath me. When she comes, her whole body flexes and shakes, her hips curving upward, a groan tearing from her throat.
“Dean, oh… hurry, please…” She pulls me back up to her, her hands on the back of my neck as she crushes her mouth to mine.
She’s all soft, yielding heat, her breasts pillowing against my chest. I get on top of her, pressing her into the bed as her curves surrender to my weight. I want to enfold her, surround her, consume her. She slides her hands down my back to tug at my pants.
“Take these off,” she whispers, trailing her lips down to my shoulder.
I shove my pants off and grasp my aching shaft. Pressure floods me. My blood is on fire. Liv pushes to the side, her breath fast as she fumbles for the drawer of the nightstand.
I grab her wrist to stop her. Her breath catches in her throat, her eyes widening as she stares at me. The air thickens between us, drenched with heat and untold possibilities.
“I want to come inside you.” My voice is rough.
Something flickers to life in her expression that I can’t read, can’t define. I press my mouth against her cheek, down to her neck, back up to her lips. She puts her hand on my chest, right in the middle, as if she wants to feel my heartbeat.
Everything inside me fills with
“Let me.” I press my forehead to hers. My chest burns.
“Yes,” Liv breathes, tenderness filling her brown eyes as she searches my gaze. “Of course, Dean, love of my life.
She strokes her hands over my back and writhes beneath me, opening her legs, pulling me closer. Beneath the physical pleasure coursing through my blood, there’s an immense shifting inside me, like the plates of the earth locking together.
Liv slides her hand down my abdomen and closes her hand around my cock. The touch of her fingers almost makes me come. Her breath is hot against my ear. I move again to position us both before surging into her tight channel with a groan. Sensation explodes through me. Liv winds her legs around my hips and her arms around my back, moans vibrating from her and into me as I ease out of her and push back in.
I want it to last forever, the clench of her pussy around my shaft, the hot dampness of her body beneath mine, the jostle of her breasts. I plunge into her again and again as lust fogs my brain and instinct takes over. My muscles tense and strain as I move faster, Liv’s cries driving my own need higher.
I brace my hands on either side of her head, wanting to feel the full length of her against me. She parts her legs wider. Our gazes lock through the heavy air. Sweat trickles down my chest. I push into her again, reaching between us to put one hand over her pussy and circle her clit with my thumb.
I love this, love her all spread open for me, watching her get all twisty and desperate, her long fingers plucking her nipples, her hair sticking damply to her shoulders. Another flick on her clit, and she comes with a cry, her pussy rippling around my cock. I surge into her, my mouth coming down on hers—open, wet, hot.
Liv clutches my biceps and closes her teeth on my lower lip. My head spins with the feel of her, every part of me driving toward the base need to mark her, claim her, make her mine again.
“Take me,” I whisper. “All of it.”
She wraps her legs around mine, her fingers digging into my shoulders, her lips sliding over my jaw. Pressure cords my entire body. I thrust fully inside her as the pleasure explodes, shooting through me and into her with a flood.
“Dean, I… I feel it,” Liv gasps. “Oh...”
I sink on top of her, my chest heaving with ragged breaths, my cock still inside her. A shudder courses through her. Tears fill her eyes. I put my hands on either side of her face and kiss her—her lips, her cheeks, her chin, her nose, her eyelids.
I ease aside and take her with me, pulling her halfway on top of me. She hides her face in the slope of my shoulder. Her tears dampen my skin. I stroke her back, her hair, breathing in the sweet smell of her.