Authors: Maya Banks
“What do you want?” she asked.
He stared at her a moment longer, his gaze stroking over her as surely as if he caressed her with his hand. “You, Ren. I want you.”
Her eyes widened in surprise. If she weren’t so flabbergasted, she’d laugh. Lucas. Cole. Herself. All apparently blunt people who didn’t play coy games and pretend they were unaffected.
So many things were on the tip of her tongue, but in the end, none of them mattered and all were better left unsaid. They solved nothing. So instead, she spoke a simple truth.
“Even if I wanted such a thing, I belong to another man. I don’t just belong in the symbolic sense of having a relationship. He owns me. I am his possession.”
She watched to see if he so much as blinked. He didn’t. But then perhaps he too had followed the path they’d struck out on together all those years ago. He was after all in a private club for just such practices.
“You said ‘even if I wanted.’ Do you want it, Ren?”
She frowned. Again, she hadn’t expected that approach.
“No,” she replied honestly. “We’re two very different people now, Cole. We can’t just pick up because we once shared something special. You can’t just walk back into my life after ten years and expect me to open my arms.”
Cole’s eyes glittered and his jaw tightened at her response. “Tell me this: If there was no Lucas, if you didn’t belong to another man, would you be holding me at arms’ length right now or would you be willing to see if there was still a spark between us?”
She’d already been honest. There was no point in fudging the truth now. She closed her eyes, breathed out and then reopened them again, hoping she sounded steady and calm. “Maybe? I can’t really answer that. My loyalty lies elsewhere. The point is there
a Lucas. I’m not free. This conversation is pointless.”
“What about your heart?” he asked in a quiet voice. “Where does
She held up her hands. “Enough, Cole. Nothing good can come of this. It was nice to see you. The years have been good to you. I would never be disloyal to Lucas. He
me. I’m happy to be his. I’m his by choice.
choice. There is no other place I want to be more.”
glad to hear that what belongs to me can’t be swayed by the pretty words of others,” Lucas drawled.
Ren jumped, took a step back and stared over Cole’s shoulder to see Lucas leaning against the opposite wall. How long had he been there? And why did she feel so damn guilty?
She rubbed her hands down her jeans, dismayed at how this evening had turned out. She simply hadn’t been prepared to see Cole again after so long and definitely not to be bombarded by memories of them together and his bluntness about wanting …What did he want? It all sounded so crazy. They see each other again, in some sex club, and he wants her back just like that?
She pushed forward and frowned as she automatically went to Lucas’s side. He slid an arm around her but it was a gesture of support, not a movement meant to signal his possession to another man. She appreciated that. At the moment she didn’t feel like being in the middle of some pissing match. She needed comfort and Lucas had sensed it.
As she stared back at Cole, he looked …tortured. Again, why? None of this made sense. Unless…?
“You knew I’d be here tonight, didn’t you? Did you plan this? How did you know? You weren’t surprised to see me. This didn’t come out of the blue at all.”
Lucas’s hand tightened on her upper arm and he pulled her in closer, as if to tell her not to worry. But he too waited for Cole’s response, his dark eyes staring intently at the man who’d boldly encroached on his territory.
Maybe he was curious. Ren wasn’t entirely certain why Lucas was allowing this to go further. At times he was absolutely unreadable. This was one of those times. She didn’t sense that he was angry. She didn’t want him angry.
Cole’s lips drew into a firm line. His jaw grew tight, which only accentuated the strong lines of his face. Gone were the traces of youth.
He was a formidable man. One that she’d absolutely be drawn to. That promise of dominance. The quiet strength in those intense eyes.
She’d had a taste. Just a taste. Mixed with youthful innocence. It had been bittersweet. She’d loved him so much, but they’d been too young to know what they were getting into.
“I asked Damon to invite you,” he said by way of admission. “I saw you the other night when I was eating with Damon and Serena. I knew I had to see you again. I couldn’t walk away…”
Like he had before.
The words lay unspoken and heavy between them. The air was electric, the silence unnerving. She swallowed but couldn’t rid herself of the sudden knot that was closing her throat.
“And yet you knew she belonged to me,” Lucas said mildly.
“She was mine first.”
Lucas nodded. “That may be so, but you’re her past. I’m her future.”
Ren glanced up in surprise but Lucas admonished her with a quick squeeze of her arm. It was the first time he issued any sort of order since they’d arrived. He wanted her silence.
She lowered her gaze and his grip slowly loosened.
Cole’s eyes glittered in challenge. “So you say. But I’ve not heard Ren say the same.”
Lucas studied him a moment, his expression odd. “Interesting that you’d make such a distinction. As the one who owns her, body and soul, the two are the same. What I say
what she says. Clearly you are a man of similar tastes and yet you’d expect her to refute my word. Would you tolerate the same if she were yours?”
“I would want her to be happy,” Cole said from behind tightly clenched teeth. “Even if it wasn’t with me.”
“In that we are agreed,” Lucas said. “Ren’s happiness is of utmost importance to me.”
“Then allow her to make the choice.”
Lucas smiled. “She already has.”
Cole stared at Lucas, the man who
Ren. It wasn’t an alien concept. It could be argued that Damon owned Serena, although she owned his heart, body and soul as well. He was hers every bit as much as she was his.
He’d never given the idea of ownership much thought. It was something that over the years he’d contemplated. He’d seen. He’d experienced. Though he’d never owned a woman. He’d never been close enough to one to feel proprietary over. He’d only ever wanted to possess one woman.
Now, faced with a man who was very clear in his ownership, and backed by Ren herself, who seemed very comfortable with the label and the sentiment, he was …appalled? Dismayed? Frustrated?
He was a flaming hypocrite because from the moment he’d laid eyes on Ren again, he’d been seized by a force so strong that it staggered him. A voice inside his head that told him to claim her. That she belonged to him. That
wanted to own her.
He wanted to be able to show her that he wasn’t the same boy playing at dominance. He would never make such a brutal mistake now. He would never hurt her as he’d done when he was young and inexperienced and had no business testing the waters with a girl he adored.
He’d been arrogant and self-assured. He didn’t need to be taught and certainly not by another man. Ren was his and he needed no instruction when it came to her, did he? He knew her body intimately. Had spent hours exploring it, tasting it, possessing it.
He’d been so stupid. So very
He couldn’t accept that Ren was beyond his reach. But he also knew that there were different rules for the world he lived in. The world Ren lived in.
He nodded slowly, but his gaze locked with Lucas’s in a clear message. This wasn’t over. Not by a long shot. Lucas dipped his head in acknowledgment.
“I think perhaps it’s best if we go now,” Lucas said in that quiet, controlled voice. “I don’t want to cause Ren any further upset. Give my regrets to Damon and Serena.”
He turned to Ren as if giving her permission to speak. She was a disciplined submissive. So beautiful. Elegant in her obedience and her respect for the man who mastered her. It made Cole ache.
She touched Lucas’s arm as if to thank him and then she turned to Cole.
“It was nice to see you again, Cole.”
It took all of Cole’s restraint not to reach out and touch her. Not to take her hand and feel the softness of her palm. Turn it over in his hand and kiss it. He wanted to rub her hand over his cheek and down his neck. He just wanted to touch her. To feel her against him.
And now she was turning to go. Panic flared in his chest. Spread to his throat, squeezing relentlessly until his pulse thudded rapidly, each beat like a hammer at his temples.
Lucas nudged Ren away and as she started down the hall, Lucas held out a business card to Cole.
With a frown, Cole took the card. He was still holding it, staring down at the name and contact information for Lucas Holt when Lucas turned and disappeared down the hall after Ren.
en wasn’t herself. Lucas knew her intimately. Better than he’d ever known another woman, which he found interesting given the length of their association.
He’d had longer relationships. Their year together was actually one of his shorter agreements. But they meshed well.
And yet, as well as he knew her, he also recognized that there was still so much of her to learn. Maybe that was why she still fascinated him so much.
He watched her frown over her sketch, chew absently at her pencil and then with disgust, ball up the paper and toss it across the room.
Yes, his Ren was distracted, and he knew well the source of her preoccupation.
If he asked, he knew she’d be truthful. It was what he liked most about her. She was refreshingly honest even when she thought he’d be unhappy with her response. He never grew angry over the truth,
though. It was a clear invitation for lies, and he hated untruths above all else.
But he wouldn’t force her to voice the source of her distraction. He sensed how unsettled she was and he worried about her happiness.
With a sigh, he turned away, knowing what he needed to do, but at the same time, reluctant. His reluctance intrigued him as much as the idea that he didn’t yet know all there was to know of his Ren.
It would seem that he did indeed possess the ability to feel jealousy. This was new for him, and while he recognized it for what it was, he was mystified by it.
Perhaps he’d allowed Ren to get closer than he’d intended. But then he hadn’t done it consciously. Somehow she’d managed to slip past his defenses and he doubted she’d tried to do so. She seemed as content with the status of their relationship as he was. Or had been. Now he wasn’t so sure what he wanted or expected. And that bothered him.
The question was, what did he want?
He walked quietly away from the doorway of Ren’s office, went into his own, closed the door and then sank into the chair behind his desk.
He fingered the message left by his secretary, who came in half a day to take care of paperwork. Cole had called as Lucas had known he would.
He laid his hand over the phone receiver, staring at that message for a long moment. Then he picked it up and keyed in Cole’s number.
ucas entered Ren’s office to find her asleep at her desk. Her cheek rested against the polished mahogany and her silky hair splayed out over the piles of paper that littered the surface.
He’d left her to contemplate for the last two days. She’d immersed herself in her work and she seemed deep in thought even when she was away from it and in his presence.
Normally he wouldn’t tolerate such inattention. But he found himself unable to punish her for the confusion she was feeling. It was also becoming increasingly clear that he had a soft spot for this particular woman.
He reached down, slid his hands underneath her slight body and lifted her into his arms. She came to rest against his chest with a small sigh and she immediately snuggled into his hold.
He smiled and kissed her brow as he strode out of her office toward the bedroom they shared. Once there, he placed her on the bed and then began undressing her.
She roused and stared at him with sleepy eyes as he slid her jeans over her hips.