Authors: A.M. Madden
“One day, very soon, I will be handcuffing you to that bed. By the time I’m done with you, you will understand Stockholm syndrome first hand.”
“That’s a moot point. I already love you.”
“True. But I’ll make you never want to leave this room or leave me.”
She stares into my eyes and divulges, “Another moot point.”
Once again, she surprises me with her admission. I release her wrists to bury my hands in her damp hair. “I love you, Ella Parker,” I whisper against her lips before sealing my declaration with a deep kiss. When I lift her suddenly and carry her gorgeous, naked body to the bed, she raises her brows.
“Yes, you’re going to be late.”
Happiness is something most people take for granted. There have been times in my life when I was very happy. My mother provided a great life for me. My childhood was filled with many happy memories. I will even go as far as saying there were times after her murder when I was happy. They were few and far between, but still evident in my life, in spite of the sadness I carried around on a daily basis. I was happy with Peter, or I thought I was. Although, contentment seems to be the word that comes to mind when I think of him.
But what I’m feeling now is a happiness I’ve
felt in my entire life. I strived for so long to achieve happiness on my own. It was important to me to rely on no one to control my happiness. I wasn’t very good at it. Apparently, I don’t know myself all that well. It turns out I did need someone to make me happy, someone to make me blissfully happy. The enormity of it should scare me. Knowing my personality, I should be terrified with how completely and irrevocably I’ve fallen for Ben. I’m not. Ben has single handedly taken control of my happiness and my heart and holds them both in the palm of his hands. More importantly, I’m letting him.
We took our relationship public. Except for his brother and aunt, neither of us have any family to speak of. I have been formally introduced to his brother over the phone. He’s adorable, carefree, and free-spirited. He’s so different than Ben. Ben explained it had to do with their upbringing and their age difference. Jon was always a self-confident kid. Thankfully, their family tragedy didn’t change or alter him, as it could have. Their aunt deserves much of the credit with how Jon turned out. She went to great lengths to ensure he was provided with a stable, safe home life until the day he left for UCLA.
Ben was already an adult, a guarded adult. His mother’s murder further solidified his already hardening heart. The damage was done until he met me. He said meeting me reversed years of the hostility that he carried around. He’s changed, grown since meeting me. He opened himself up, letting me in…and now that he has, he said he’s never letting me go.
Introducing me to his small family proves he’s changed. I’ve only spoken to Jon over the phone. He reminded us that technically I was Ben’s first girlfriend, and I should consider switching to the more experienced brother. Ben told him to go fuck himself. Their relationship is easy and real. Ben admitted Jon is the glue in their tiny family. Things have always been strained between Ben and Beth. He can’t get past the guilt he feels over leaving to pursue his goals. Even though Beth insisted he did, and he waited two years before putting himself first, he still can’t move past the guilt.
I met his aunt and her boyfriend, Theo. She’s a lovely person, an open book. She isn’t afraid to feel. She isn’t afraid to experience loss and learn from it. Just as I predicted, she has no regrets. Our train ride home, after we visited them, was spent in silence. Ben was lost in thought, further torturing himself. I was lost in thought, wanting desperately to help him in some way.
We’ve learned how to communicate without words. With an embrace, he instantly tells me that he’s got me. With one touch, I can calm him when he becomes irrational with past demons that plague him.
My safety is his priority. His methods are usually the only thing we fight about. I get his need to want to keep me safe. Besides the fact he fell in love with me, he’s a cop down to the core. I can’t fault him for that, ever. I can have issues with the lengths he’ll go to ensure my safety, though.
Even as we stand in the middle of a crowded bar, I can tell he’s on edge. He hasn’t left my side. His eyes dart around the room, suspicious of everyone and everything. Rob and Ben surprised us at work today. They decided to join Andrea and me at happy hour with our work friends. We quickly wrapped up what we were working on, grabbed our phones and bags, and dragged our men out before they could change their minds.
Once we got here, I introduced him proudly. Most of the men have been ignoring him. Most of the women have been drooling over him. So far, we spent the night at a table by ourselves, enjoying each other’s company.
To anyone outside our circle, the four of us are probably nauseating as hell. One of my colleagues admitted after Ben surprised me at the office with lunch that it was sickening to watch us together. Her words, “Two perfect people shouldn’t be allowed to flaunt their perfect love story, forcing the rest of us average folks to witness it first hand.” Her statement offended me. Is that how people see us? It couldn’t be further from the truth. I shared that quote with Ben. He laughed but didn’t deny her observation.
“You’re so conceited,” I accused.
“Who cares what people think,” he said.
He’s right. Who cares? I’m finally happy, and nothing or no one can change that. Not even the gossipy, jealous girls I thought were my friends until recently. He said that I needed to take a page out of Andrea’s
manual, and learn from it. He’s right. It’s time I practice the same philosophy.
He leans closer to kiss my neck. “Can we leave yet?” he asks for the tenth time.
“Asking me every two minutes will not make me say yes.” Andrea and Rob are mingling. She said if she doesn’t start playing nice with these bitches, no one is going to give her presents at her bridal shower.
“A few more minutes.”
With an eye roll and a pout, he concedes. “Fine. You owe me.”
“It seems like I always owe you for something, Superman.”
“I intend to collect.” He kisses me, not caring we are in a very crowded bar and most of my coworkers’ eyes are watching our every move. Knowing this would usually cause me to push him away, but instead I accept and lengthen the kiss.
Even Ben is surprised by my reaction. “Okay, that earned you a few more minutes before I ask again. Well done.” After another quick kiss, he says, “I gotta pee. Don’t move.”
As if I would.
He leaves me shaking my head. I watch him walk through the crowd. His height, his physique is such a presence among the throngs of young suit-clad professionals looking to let off some steam. The females all zone in, watching him while failing to hide their lustful thoughts. Some glance my way, judging me. Their expressions confirm they feel I am not worthy of such a perfect man.
The scrutiny both embarrasses and infuriates me. People truly suck.
While waiting for Ben, I retrieve my phone and see I have a missed call and a voicemail from Mr. McGill. When I enter my password into the phone, it remains locked. I try again and still no luck. Ben returns to find me still trying to unlock my phone.
“What’s wrong?” he asks when he sees me frowning.
“I think I took your phone off my desk instead of mine. I can’t get it unlocked.” He pulls out his phone and hands it to me with a smirk. It’s happened before. We have the same phones, and I’ve grabbed his thinking it was mine. He said if I was going to steal his phone, the least I could do was leave behind some naked pictures of myself.
Smiling at that thought, it’s instantly replaced by another thought. “Wait, if this is your phone, why is the investigating officer on my mom’s case calling you?” He averts my gaze, panic flashing over his face. “Ben?”
“Ella, I don’t want to talk about it here.”
He takes hold of my elbow, leading me toward the front door. I allow him to lead me out. My calm façade hides the doubt and suspicion that’s coursing through me. It’s so foreign to feel these emotions in regards to Ben. I fight to keep things in perspective until I hear him out.
Once we are outside, he leads me away from the noisy bar. “I called him.”
“It was weeks ago, after your panic attack.” He doesn’t offer any more information.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He flinches at my question. His discomfort is evident in the way he’s clenching his jaw. “I didn’t want to upset you.”
“And here I stand, completely upset. Ironic, right?” I ask, folding my arms defensively. “I get that you called him. I even get why you called him. I don’t get why you hid it from me. What else have you hid from me?” The one-second pause is all it takes for me to suspect there’s more. “Wow.”
“Ella, it’s complicated. I can’t talk about it. Smyth’s involvement in the case makes it off limits to discuss.”
“But it involves me. Enough so, it caused you to call McGill for information. So isn’t that a complete contradiction, Ben?”
“Yes,” he agrees.
“You lied by omission.”
“I’ve never lied to you and I never will,” he responds angrily. He closes the distance until we are inches apart, but he doesn’t touch me otherwise. “I’m sorry that I can’t tell you everything. That’s all I’ll apologize for. I won’t apologize for making your safety my priority. I also won’t apologize for my job and all its complications.”
His stiff posture and rigid muscles cause me to falter. I can’t be angry with him for doing his job or caring for me so much that it would provoke him to overstep his boundaries as my boyfriend. His loyalty, his morals, and his integrity are all things I fell in love with. Loving Ben Stone means I also need to love the mysterious, guarded cop beneath the man.
“I’m sorry,” I say with a sigh. “It’s hard for me to sit back and allow you to meddle in my life when I’ve protected my privacy for so long.”
He wraps his arms around me, eliminating the few inches between us. “The difference is, I’m not meddling to hurt you. Everything I do, every motive I have is because I love you.”
“I know,” I confirm his statement with a nod.
He places a quick peck on my lips. It’s unlike Ben’s normal kisses. It’s unsure and tentative. After a soft caress on my face, he says, “Come, let’s find Barbie and Ken and get out of here.”
Tension coursed between us by the time we got to my place. He immediately excused himself to my room to return McGill’s call. Fifteen minutes later, he finally emerges. The tension between us becomes stifling.
I sit on the couch, mindlessly watching some stupid sitcom. I can feel his eyes on me when he sits beside me. When I don’t turn, he takes the remote from my lap and shuts the TV off.
I try to hide my dissatisfaction with him when I meet his stare, but it doesn’t work.
“Talk to me.”
The irony of his command isn’t lost on me. “I’m fine. I’m just trying to understand you and your job, and come to terms with the reality of how it will affect my life.” He looks baffled from my comment. My words don’t make sense, even to my ears. I huff in frustration, attempting to clarify. “What I mean is…I was a victim of a horrific crime. You are a cop. I need to be more understanding that our realities will clash, as they should. I need to realize that it will result in this imbalance of honesty and open communication.”