Authors: Barbara O'Neal
She swung a foot, her head braced on her hand, a spill of glittery hair falling on the counter. “That’s easy for a man to say. No offense or anything.”
“You won’t offend me, Portia. Speak your mind.”
“Well, men can be ordinary looking and it doesn’t hurt them. They can be really smart or talented and they don’t have to also be skinny and really handsome and all that stuff. I mean, look at you.”
She rolled her eyes. “I mean, you’re handsome enough, but you’re kind of a geek. You always have been. You’re skinny. You have a big nose.”
He chuckled. “Don’t mince words, kid.”
Portia grinned back. “Don’t be vain, Dad. You are not Brad Pitt, exactly, and yet you’ve had really beautiful wives and you have women throwing themselves at you all the time, and your career is going fine.”
“I’m not an actor, though. I’m behind the camera.”
She made a face. “You know it’s different for men.”
“It is,” he agreed, stirring the milk. “But that seems like all the more reason for you to concentrate on things that are not about how you look.”
“That’s just the point, though. A woman can be smart and talented and all that stuff, but she
has to be good-looking and thin.”
She inclined her head. “Name a successful woman who is really fat.”
He seriously tried and couldn’t come up with a name off the top of his head. Oprah had been pretty round at one time, but she wasn’t these days. “But not that many fat men are successful either.”
“What about James Gandolfini? Gérard Depardieu?”
“You’re right.” He could think of a bunch of rap stars, too. Including a few women, but that wasn’t the point. He didn’t want to convince her to be heavy, but to be healthy and in her body. And ski, for God’s sake. “What about women who are not fat but are not thin. What about Elena? She’s curvy.”
“She’s also beautiful and she’s a cook, so there’s room to negotiate.”
“You think she’s beautiful?”
“Don’t you?” She narrowed her eyes. “Please don’t play me, Dad. I notice things, okay? I can see that you have a thing for her.”
He pursed his lips, didn’t look at her. The milk started to steam. “I just want you to be in your body, kiddo, and love it. Stop worrying so much about what everybody else thinks.”
She unwrapped the chocolate and broke it by slamming it on the side of the counter. “Says my dad the director who casts beautiful women in his movies.”
Julian glanced at her. “Sometimes you’re a little too grown up for your own good.”
“I know,” she said.
And he realized that he didn’t really want to leave her alone, looking so shadowy and wan. He’d been thinking of Elena’s lusciousness all afternoon, watching the clock until he could take off and see her after her shift. But he didn’t want to leave his daughter tonight. “I’m going to have to take Alvin down to Elena when she gets off work, but in the meantime, you want to watch a movie?”
“I don’t know. We have 147 channels, so there must be something.”
“Sure,” she said. “You know what else I would like, Dad? Can we get a smaller table so we could eat dinner together? Maybe, like, a pretty tablecloth and stuff like that?”
A memory rose of his family dinner table, a square melamine with vinyl-covered chairs. His mother’s pasta in a big bowl, glasses of red Kool-Aid all around. In comparison, the table in the great room looked like something from a medieval banquet hall. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s a really good idea. We can go shopping this week.” He raised his eyebrows. “We do have one problem. Who is going to cook?”
Portia frowned. “Oh, yeah. I forgot.” She rubbed a thumbnail over the surface of the counter. “I just liked it when we all ate breakfast together, like a TV family.”
“I liked it, too. I grew up like that.” He thought for a minute. “Leave it to me, kiddo. I’ll figure out a way to get the food in here. You’re in charge of figuring out what you want for the table and all that stuff. Deal?”
Her smile was as young and pleased as anything he’d ever seen. “Really?”
“Really.” Picking up his cup, he said, “Let’s go see what we can find to watch together.”
After work, Elena showered the grease and grit of the day from her skin and then padded downstairs for a glass of wine. The candles burned on her altar, and she smiled at the offerings, then spied a sock in front of the couch and bent to scoop it up.
A flash of Julian—over her, touching her, kissing her, driving into her—gave her a sultry shiver, and she straightened, letting the full memory wash back into her mind. His seasoned tongue and thick member and skilled fingers, his surprising earthiness and unselfconsciousness—
Across the room, in soft outline, stood Isobel. She simply gazed at Elena, face impassive. “What?” Elena asked.
“Tell him that his mother is here, too,” she said.
“It’s a little weird, you know.” She tossed the sock on top of the washer as she passed the closet where it was stored, and went to the kitchen for that wine. “And it’s weird that you’re showing up when he’s in the room. What’s that about?”
But Isobel never answered questions like that, and she didn’t now. She fell on her elbows on the counter, watching as Elena poured white wine into a goblet. “Something’s going on,” Isobel said. “There’s some kind of trouble, but I’m not sure what it is.”
“I talked to Hector’s sister.” The wine was cool and sharp and refreshing. “She said there is an accident coming.”
Isobel nodded, peering into the distance. Around her wrists were seven thin bracelets and a big chunk of turquoise. Her eyes, that almost golden brown, shimmered. “Juan. It’s about Juan.”
Narrowing her eyes, Elena remembered the strangeness about Hector going to the emergency room. Which made her think of Juan and Ivan standing in the kitchen, exchanging that look, and then everything had been all right when Hector returned, stitched but off dish duty. She put him to work in the front of the house for the time being.
She’d forgotten to ask Ivan what was going on because she’d been awash in postcoital blurriness, flashing back to hands and mouth and eyes and—
What had she
The same thing she always did. Let the wrong man get close, let the wrong guy under her skin. And this man was not just one who had power in her life, he was famous and charming, and sexy and—
She realized that Isobel had gone. The kitchen seemed painfully empty, and she sank down on a stool, shaking her head. She wanted to call Mia, talk it out, but even if it wasn’t the middle of the night in England, Elena wasn’t talking to her friend yet. Maybe Patrick?
No. Patrick had his own relationship stuff going on. He wasn’t likely to be particularly reasonable. Or available, honestly.
Her grandmother? No. Maria Elena always just wanted Elena to settle down, get married, stop this foolish chasing-around-the-world stuff. Her relationships with her remaining sisters were too tenuous. There was no one else in her world, no confidante. No best friend to whisper with, or analyze things or solicit advice from. Even her dog wasn’t home yet.
Pathetic. How did that happen?
Across the room, the candles on the El Día de Los Muertos altar flickered. “Yeah, I get it,” she said to the invisible ghosts. “I have you. Not the same.”
In the end, she carried her wine upstairs and flipped on her laptop. If she
speaking to Mia, she would write her an email. So she would just do that without actually sending it.
I’m in a mess again. I had sex with my boss this afternoon, and it was not as light as I expected it would be. It feels like there’s weight and substance to it, which makes it even more dangerous. I like him. That’s the real trouble. He’s the kind of guy you know is going to be too much trouble in real life—too rich, too accomplished, with access to too many really gorgeous women—but I like him more than I want to. He’s got issues and he has too much power in my life, but I still like him a lot and I want to see where it goes.
What do I like about him? No, I’m not dazzled by his position. You’d have to meet him to understand that it’s just a nonissue.
I like his dark brown eyes, which are kind and intelligent. I like the faint air of the geeky about him, in his wrists and big hands and the cute way he looks in glasses. I like his aura of power. I do like that. I like men who like themselves, who know where they are going and what they’re all about.
I like his daughter, and she’s part of the problem. I don’t want her feelings to be hurt. I don’t want her to feel like I’ve been nice to her just to get to her dad, because it isn’t true.
Elena paused, thinking of his tongue, of his hands, of his—it had been so intense. So intense! He was like some thick nectar, dripping down her throat, slow and thick and sweet.
When he knocked at the door, she stayed where she was for a long, long moment. Little hot spots bloomed on her body, chin and inner wrists and the edge of her knees. She thought of his tongue, the golden depth of his mouth.
He knocked again. She stood up. She couldn’t leave Alvin out there.
For one more minute, walking down the stairs to open the door, she tried to tell herself that she was going to send him away. Her feet brushed over the carpet, the fibers sweeping her soles electrically, a feeling she’d never noticed before. The air parted, brushing her cheeks and arms and breasts.
She opened the door and Julian was there. Alvin wiggled his way in, brushing her legs, and she bent slightly and touched him, rubbed his ears, even as Julian was tangling her fingers in his hand, drawing her close, and she was pulling him into the room, pushing the door closed behind him. He captured her face in his hands and kissed her, whispering a soft oath as their bodies came together. “I can’t stay very long,” he said. “Portia is by herself.”
Elena nodded, drawing him into the room, up the stairs where it was softer and more comfortable, and she pushed his sweater up, touching his chest, kissing his nipples, and he tugged the blue wool over his head, the black tumble of curls falling around his face. He reached for her T-shirt and pulled the hem over her head, and pushed her back on the bed.
He drew her arms over her head and held them there with one strong hand, touching her with his other hand, his hand roving over her belly and breasts still clad in plain pink cotton, his penis pressed into her thigh, his mouth against her neck. He unfastened the clasp of her bra and her breasts tumbled out, and he halted to look, just look and bend and touch with the edge of his tongue the aroused tips. He licked them and suckled, and lifted her breasts, and she whimpered, “I need to touch you, too.”
“In a minute,” he said, holding her wrists firmly, kissing one nipple, then the other, then the hollow of her throat. He moved his chest against her naked breasts, erotically brushing hair over her skin. He suckled her lips. “I wish I had all night,” he whispered.
“Me too,” Elena said, and arched into him. “Please, Julian, I need to touch you as much as you want to touch me.”
He raised up a little. “What do you want to touch?” he asked. “I was thinking, before I came here, of your milk-white skin, and the milk chocolate of your nipples.” He released her wrists and drew his hand over the places he’d named.
“The licorice of your hair,” she said, smiling. She lifted her head and licked his mouth. “The honey of your lips. The…pickle of—”
He laughed. “Pickle!” He tugged her hand down. “Don’t you mean zucchini, baby?”
“Just give it to me,” she said, laughing.
Afterward, they were naked and covered by the sheet and Elena offered him wine from her glass. “I know you have to go soon, but we do need to have a little bit of a conversation.”
He refused the wine and propped himself up on one elbow. “Which conversation?”
“The you-are-my-boss-and-that’s-a-bit-of-a-problem conversation.”
He smoothed a hand over the sheet. Elena just let the pause grow until he finally said, “All I know, Elena, is that I haven’t stopped thinking about you for more than five minutes all day.”
Quietly, she said, “Me either. Obviously, this part is going to happen. I need to know that I’m still going to have a job when this part is over.”
He made a noise, captured her hand and put a kiss on her palm. “That’s harsh, killing it before it starts.”
She looked at him, smiling. “Neither one of us is that naive, Julian. Things don’t last.”
“So rarely that it might as well be never,” she said, aware of a high sense of emotion lurking at the top of her throat. “And I’m not trying to have some serious conversation at an inappropriate time, but I want this job. I don’t want anything to fuck that up.”
“Then let’s make a pact that we won’t let it happen. Whatever it is, whatever we do, the job is yours, Elena.”
“Let’s just say that no matter what happens with us, the job is about the job, how’s that?”
“Deal.” He stuck out his hand to shake, and Elena accepted it, and he tumbled her forward. “In the meantime, before it’s all over, can we have sex about seven billion times?” His mouth was hot on her throat. “Because that’s about how much I’ll need to get this out of my system.”
“Deal,” she said, and this time, she took the lead. In the back of her mind, she heard the snide voice of Dmitri saying
He just wants to fuck you.
But it could go both ways, couldn’t it? She wanted to fuck him, too, Julian Liswood of the tumbles of curls and throaty laugh and big zucchini. She just had to keep it all in perspective.
After he left, she turned on the television to stop thinking, erase everything. Clicking through the On Demand movies, she saw one of Julian’s slasher movies, maybe the first one, starring his ex-wife. Fiercely curious, she punched in the order code.
It was an odd experience, seeing the very young version of Portia’s mother. Portia really did look a lot like her, but there was something sturdier in the daughter’s face, a legacy from Julian. It was a classic teen serial-killer kind of thing—a young woman trying to outsmart the crazed killer who wanted her dead and killed everyone in his path to get to her. It surprised her with its tongue-in-cheek humor, and also the respect it gave the genre. He never talked down to his audience.