Authors: Kaye Blue
Tags: #Interracial Romantic Suspense
I didn’t though, and instead let her set the pace, watched as she moved in an unpredictable pattern, slow and deliberate, pushing us higher and higher, until we reached our peak and came together, the gentle completion I reached with Ruby atop me more potent than any I’d ever experienced.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
Later, I curled around her, her body pressed against mine in the evening light.
“So what are you taking classes for?” I asked.
“Are you trying to manipulate me?” she asked instead of responding.
I froze for a moment, my heart pounding, and then I asked, “Why do you say that?”
“I’m somewhat…inexperienced, but I believe this qualifies as postorgasmic bliss, right?”
“So imagine how it looks, I’m here all relaxed and you take the opportunity to pounce, trying to pry answers out of me when I’m defenseless.”
Her voice was lazy, light, but my already pounding heartbeat sped. She’d hit far closer to a wider truth than I was comfortable with, to make no mention of the fact that hearing her lay it out like that gave my actions a heartlessness and calculation that was as awful as it was true.
She didn’t know that, though, and I still needed to keep up the charade.
“Maybe I just want to get to know you?”
“You’d be the first.”
“Proof of how stupid everyone else is. So what are you taking classes for?”
Laughter rumbled through her. “Fine. Nothing interesting, like I said. Just some business classes.”
“Cool. Are you interested in business?”
She shrugged. “I guess so. We did some economics in one of my high school classes, and I liked it well enough, thought for a time I could go to school and end up TV talking about it.” She scoffed. “But that wasn’t to be, so I figured a business degree was a good substitute.”
“Why wasn’t it to be?”
She looked over her shoulder at me and then shook her head. “I give an inch…”
“I give the inches here, Ruby,” I said as I pushed my hips against hers.
She laughed seemingly despite herself. “You’re so juvenile,” she said.
I breathed out against her neck and then whispered in her ear, “You know you like it. So why wasn’t it to be?”
The mood suddenly turned somber, and I could see the change in Ruby, the playfulness of mere moments ago disappearing as if they hadn’t ever existed.
“My father got sick my senior year of high school. It was just me and him and he needed someone to take care of him. He was strong, fought hard for a long time. His treatment took all of his savings, though, and there was nothing left once he was gone. I came pretty close to losing the house, too. So it took a couple of years to try to get back on my feet and then a couple more before I had things settled enough that I felt comfortable going to school. It’ll take a little longer than I planned, but I’ll finish.”
“I know you will,” I whispered.
That story explained so much about her, and my stomach roiled with the mix of pride for her and shame at myself.
“You’re not used to having someone take care of you.”
It was a statement and not a question.
“Why do you say that?” she asked, her voice betraying her surprise.
I kissed her shoulder and then her neck before I responded.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, trying to lift the moment. “I have to practically tackle you to give you a ride home in the cold. I fix your step and you look at me like I’m an alien. All signs of someone who’s not used to being taken care of.”
“I guess not,” she said, as she traced her fingers along the veins in the back of my hand.
She was so wonderful, and it sucked that she’d had so little of the pampering she deserved and that she was in for yet more heartache, this time at my hand.
“It’s just always been this way for so long,” she said, her voice breaking into my thoughts.
She didn’t sound upset, a fact that only made me feel worse. I squeezed her tighter. I still needed her to get to the schematics, but I vowed that the time I spent with her would be as good as I could possibly make it and that when I left, she’d be in as good a position as I could leave her.
“Well, if I’m around, you’re just going to have to get used to it,” I said.
“And are you? Around I mean?” she asked, her voice so tentative it was almost as if she wanted to take the question back.
“What you think?”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. No guy has ever wanted to be, you know?”
I moved quickly, flipped her, and after pausing to sheath myself, I buried myself inside her in a single stroke.
“I’m not ‘no guy,’ Ruby.”
“And I very much want to be, you know?” I said.
And then I showed her how much.
We were on the service elevator and headed down to the basement when Ruby made the exclamation.
“What’s up?” I asked
“I forgot to scan out upstairs,” she said, eyes clouded. “Would you…? Never mind.”
“What?” I asked.
“If I leave you the key, I can run back up and take care of it without getting us off schedule,” she said, looking off to the side as she considered.
“You sure?” I responded.
It was exactly the moment I had been working so hard toward, and if she went upstairs, it would give me plenty of time to do what I needed.
But I was unsure. I’d had an opportunity to take the key, or just ask her for it a thousand times over, but I hadn’t. I was so close to the end, but I’d held back, unable to bring myself to do what I needed. But this was different and so much worse. She was offering it to me, showing that I’d earned the trust I’d worked so hard for.
And the thought of betraying that trust, of betraying her, made me sick inside.
I watched her face as the internal battle raged, part of me, a huge part of me, hoping that she wouldn’t go through with it.
“Yeah. That’s what we’ll do.” She took the key off her neck and handed it to me, the metal warm from being so close to her. “I’ll be right back.”
She scanned the access door and then got back on the service elevator, leaving me alone with my guilt and with my opportunity. I stared down at the key and then looked into the brightly lit room, focusing on the box that held my future.
And I didn’t move.
I exhaled a frustrated sigh, hating the indecision. For a moment, I let myself imagine a fantasy scenario, one where I got the money and the girl, but the picture of Ruby and I on some beach faded before it had fully formed. She was too decent to live off Titan’s dirty money, and there was no way I could ever explain all that had happened, the lies I’d told.
I looked down at the key and then back at the box, relieved when I heard the service elevator approaching. I had, at least for a moment, a reprieve, but I couldn’t stay in this limbo forever.
Mouth lifted in a smile, I turned to face the elevator, but the expression dropped when Daniel emerged. He looked at my hand and then at the open door.
“What are you waiting for?” he asked.
Before I could speak, I heard another voice, this one familiar, the voice of the woman I had come to love.
“Yeah. What are you waiting for?”
I gaped, mouth opening and closing as Ruby stood next to Daniel, who put his hand on her shoulder, touching her in a way that suggested an ease and comfort that shouldn’t exist. Beyond the jealousy that reared up at the sight of his hand on her, there was no explanation for this. Daniel and Ruby should never have crossed paths, let alone know each other well enough for him to feel comfortable touching her.
“Ruby?” I said, the sinking feeling in my stomach intensifying as she stared at me, her eyes burning with hate.
She shook her head and then looked away.
“To think I’d almost convinced myself it was true,” she said, though she seemed lost in thought, not directing the words to me or Daniel.
“Say nothing!” she said, her voice hard and distant and nothing like her at all. Then she turned to Daniel. “You have a new partner.”
I stepped toward them, then grabbed Ruby’s arm.
“You don’t know what you’re playing at,” I said low, dangerously.
“Why don’t you explain it to me, then?” she asked.
I said nothing.
“Didn’t think so,” she replied, head tilted in defiance.
“Look, whatever is going on between you two, I don’t care about. All I care about is my money. So let’s go,” Daniel said.
I ignored him and stared at Ruby, who stared back, her eyes hard, but underneath, the hurt clear.
“We can’t,” I said.
“I need to set a meet. We’ll want to get rid of the schematics as soon as possible after, so we’ll leave them now and come back in two days.”
As I spoke, I kept my gaze on Ruby, looking for some hint of her, but I found none.
“Yes!” Daniel said believing my lie. “So close.”
“Two days?” Ruby said.
“Two days,” I responded.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I moved through the rest of the night as if in a nightmare. Ruby looked like herself, but she was completely lost to me. The coldness that she’d shown on our initial meeting was like a warm embrace compared to how she behaved now, vacillating between looking at me like she wanted to chop me into tiny pieces, while at other times she pretended like I wasn’t there at all.
“Where are you going?” I asked at the end of the shift as she headed toward the bus stop.
She didn’t look back.
She kept walking.
“Ruby,” I repeated, this time my voice rough-edged.
She didn’t look back but at least she stopped.
“We need to keep up appearances, and people will notice if you start riding the bus again.”
Silence reigned, but then she looked back at me, eyes hidden in the darkness of the early morning. She walked to my car, got in, but did not speak to me, didn’t acknowledge my presence at all.
My mind whirled as I tried to figure out how she’d known. And, more importantly, how I could get her back. That last question was stupid, selfish, but it was my most pressing concern. Maybe I couldn’t make her understand why, but surely she knew what I felt for her now, knew that the time we’d spent had been real.
I pressed the gas harder and then eased up when Ruby cut angry eyes at me.
How could she know?
My sole focus and entire purpose had been to convince her that I cared for her, and I had been very, very good at it. But now, could I ever convince her that somewhere along the way, my feelings had grown into something real, something that I’d never felt?
I didn’t know, but I’d try.
She practically leaped out of the car before it even came to a complete stop, but I was behind her, hot on her heels. She rushed toward the house, key in hand, but I was faster and made it in before she could shut me out.
“Get out of here,” she said.
Her voice, which had been cold, distant, now shook with rage. And even worse, a clear, sharp pain. I stared down at her and saw the hurt in her eyes. Hurt was too soft a word. The look in her eyes revealed a depth of pain that froze my lungs in my chest.
“I said get out.”
“Not until we talk,” I said, pulling myself to my full height and glaring down at her.
“You son of a bitch. After what you did, you’d stand there and make demands?”
Disgust and incredulity gave her voice a sharpness that didn’t fit the Ruby I knew. And worst of all, she was right. I had no right to ask anything of her, should have been groveling, begging for her forgiveness.
Forgiveness. Asking for it, giving it, was not something I knew how to do, so I stood there silent instead.
On a huffed-out breath Ruby turned. “You know what? I don’t even need to say anything. You’ve covered it already,” she said.
When she reached into her bag and retrieved her headphones and music player, realization dawned.
“This thing’s a piece of junk. What idiot would put the Stop button right next to the Record button?” she asked as she tilted it toward me. Then she pushed Play.
Daniel’s voice, and then my own filled Ruby’s semidark living room. Had I really sounded like that, so callous, so uncaring, so certain and so cocky as I’d casually discussed gaining her trust and then using that trust against her?
“Heard enough?” she asked.
I nodded, and she, finding mercy I knew I didn’t deserve, stopped the recording.
“Not like it sounds? I don’t understand? You didn’t mean anything?” she asked, rapid-fire questions spewing from her mouth in an increasingly high-pitched voice.
“You what? You really care? You really weren’t going to set me up, leave me to deal with God knows what while you and that asshole Daniel made off with your ill-gotten gains? Tell me you weren’t, that it was all a misunderstanding. Go ahead,” she said, voice turning deathly calm, “I’m listening.”