“Brilliant and captivating…”
Just out from Amazon bestselling author Rachael Wade —
a gritty New Adult drama about a young woman’s self-destructive quest to find purpose, self-worth, and love in a broken world.
A fantastic read for just 99 cents!
by Rachael Wade
My name is Elise Duchamp. I’m twenty-three years old and I’m known as the town whore.
No, not the kind who exchanges sexual favors for money. The other kind. The kind who gives it all away for free, whenever and however she likes. I am that girl. The one everyone whispers about and the one none of the girls seem to like, because all of their boyfriends either want to sleep with me or already have. Promiscuity is my thing—the kind that slowly, violently turns my insides black, but gives me something I need.
All things considered, I’m not completely reckless. I’m safe, and contrary to popular opinion, I do have a heart. I live in a world of careless choices, and with those choices come careless people. I cannot judge them, because I am one of them. I too bow down to the altar of the self-serving. I am not a good friend. I am not and never could be anyone’s girlfriend. I’m convinced any goodness in me shriveled up and died long ago.
But I am a replacement. That is something I know how to be, and this is a story of the lengths I’d go to in order to keep it that way.
Please note: Contains sexually explicit content and mature subject matter, including language and elements of abuse.
Praise for The Replacement:
“…moved along at a fantastic pace…a story that grabs you and keeps you interested until the very end.”
Best Rachael Wade book YET!
“…this is one of those stories that will stick with me forever…
an excerpt from
by Rachael Wade
23 Years Old
It’s five o’clock in the afternoon, and I’m screwing my boss’s brother. It’s not the first time. He’s bald and his name is Tim, and I know he’s engaged to be married next summer. I vaguely wonder if his fiancée knows about the things he does with me, or if she knows about me at all. I doubt it.
He’s sliding in and out of me slowly, relishing each push and pull, and frankly, it bores me. But he’s giving me something I crave and it has absolutely nothing to do with physical pleasure. Sure, I enjoy sex just as much as any man does. Especially when I’m attracted to a man, which in this case I’m not, but my mind usually loves it more than my body does.
Especially when it involves Tim.
It’s men like him who give me the greatest mental high. The ones who actually love to cheat. They somehow think they’re so smooth, think they’re getting away with it—and for a while, they often do—so when they’re screwing me, they have this rebellious air about them, as if they wish someone would walk in and catch them with their dicks in the cookie jar. They’re half out of their minds with lust, and they’re only out for themselves. Obviously, it’s quite fucked up that this somehow nourishes me, but it’s what I know, and it’s what I need.
Tim’s looking down at me, with that lost, untamed sparkle in his eyes that I know so well. He’s not really looking at me; he’s looking at my shell. And as his waist begins to pump harder, I too become lost. Lost in the heady look in his eyes, like for just a few short minutes, I am his whole world. Nothing matters to him in that moment except using my body, his visual of my shell, to get him to where he wants to be. He’s relying on me for that, and if I yanked it away from him right this moment, he’d be a crazed, dazed, desperate man. That power sends me soaring, and then the plummeting begins.
This is the best part. It’s like a roller coaster. It all begins with that look of his. I ascend, higher and higher, knowing his climax is looming as I rush to the top. Then, as my moans follow in a trail of his own, we both teeter at the top, our bodies enraptured in dizzy anticipation. A few more jerks of his waist and we’re tipped over the edge, sent spiraling down in a fiery blaze, our shouts overpowering the sound of the coaster’s rickety rattle, until finally, we reach the good stuff.
Once I hit the bottom of the track, I plunge head first into a free fall, straight into an ominous abyss. It confuses me because it’s equally dark and light, just as beautiful as it is dangerous. All is cool and still there. So peaceful I could cry. And I often do, which sometimes baffles the men I’m with. Or freaks them out, one or the other. The bottomless void continues to drag me down, farther and farther, and at this point, I’m begging to be swallowed up. And this is where the sobs usually become heavier. Because I can’t sink any further. The hole won’t drag me down anymore. I hit a wall, and it infuriates me. As if the abyss can read my very thoughts, it cuts the string that was pulling me into it and watches as I begin to float back up, forcing me to ascend back to the place I do not want to be.
I don’t want to leave the abyss, I want to drown in it and soak up that peaceful feeling. I want to live there. But I can’t, and it’s time to go home.
Tim grunts above me as he finishes and then rolls off of me, immediately getting up to walk to the bathroom and dispose of the condom. In my massive quest for euphoria, that is the only thing I always do right—insist on protection, every time. I don’t care if it pisses the guy off, ruins the moment, or whatever the hell. I just don’t. I might disregard my dignity and tons of other important shit, but one thing I won’t consider compromising is my physical health. Not if I can help it.
I ponder that—my dignity—as Tim fumbles around in the bathroom. It’s something I think about often. The whole town seems to think I’m in short supply of it, because I sleep around. What they don’t realize, though, is I’ve found my own sort of dignity. It just doesn’t match up to their standards. I find self-respect in owning up to what I am and not bullshitting anyone about it. Honesty is self-respect in my book. Granted, I’m deceptive. But if you flat-out asked me if I’ve deceived you, I’d never bullshit you about it. That’s gotta count for something.
“Give me ten more minutes and I’ll be ready for round two,” Tim says as he steps out of the bathroom, lingering in the doorway. The blinds are drawn and I squint at the clock to get a better look at the time.
“No can do,” I say, stepping out of bed and slipping on my jeans. I didn’t wear underwear here. I stand there topless in front of him, letting him drool over my tits. Sometimes I think he likes that more than actually having his hands on them. “I work at six. Gotta go.”
He stirs from the bathroom doorway and makes a move toward me, but I raise my hands. “Don’t, Tim. I can’t be late for my shift.” He stills and grits his teeth, obviously annoyed. I reach down to grab my tank top and roll my eyes. What’s he got to be annoyed at? I just gave him exactly what he wanted, just the way he liked it.
“Tell Jay to cut you a break tonight,” he says. “You know he will.” I detect a hint of whininess in his tone and I’m immediately turned off. I couldn’t fuck him again now even if I tried.
“No. This is my job and I won’t screw it up.”
He suddenly laughs, and the sound grates on my nerves so badly that it takes everything in me not to run out the front door sans top and shoes. “You screw everything else, what’s the difference?”
In a flash, I feel my body leap forward so fast, I’m not sure where the slap across his cheek begins and where it ends. It just happens, and it feels fucking great. “This was the last time. We’re done.”
“Oh come on, Elise.” He rubs at his cheek, not the least bit surprised by my retaliation. “You know what I meant. You never play by the rules. Excuse me for finding it humorous that you’re concerned about a good attendance record all of a sudden.” He waves his hands out to the side like he’s trying to get me to see some sense. But I only see red.
“You know what I’m concerned about, Tim? The fact that men like you seem to think all women like me don’t give a damn about anything. Stop acting like just because I give it to someone else besides you that I’m a worthless slut with no life ambition.”
“Hey, you said it, not me.” He folds his arms smugly and smirks.
“You know, I think I might stop by after work tonight to give Cheryl a visit when she gets home. She’s been in the dark a little too long, don’t you think?” I slip on my tank top and snatch up my bag, then start for the door.
Tim’s hand snakes out and grabs my elbow. “If you even think about talking to my fiancée, you can kiss your shit waitressing job goodbye.” His eyes roll down my body and then back up, locking with mine. “All I have to do is tell Jay how long you’ve been sucking my dick and he’ll toss you right out on the street, honey. Think about it.” He lets out a haughty laugh. “You’re so ambitious…maybe it’s time to find something better than waiting tables, huh? Maybe you can start charging for that fine ass of yours.”
I yank my elbow from his grip before spitting in his face and racing out the bedroom door. I have to admit, the son of a bitch has me. I need my waitressing job at Stella’s. Not just because it pays my bills, but because it gives me the means to pursue those other ambitions—the ones that Tim clearly doesn’t think I have.
I jump in my car and waste no time peeling out into the residential street that I know like the back of my hand by now. The misty rain coats my windshield with a sleek layer of moisture and I flick on the wipers, thankful when I hit the first stoplight. I’m officially off of Tim’s property, and I can breathe again. I pop a piece of gum in my mouth and hit the gas when the light turns green.
My ride from Tim’s house to downtown Gig Harbor is a blur, and I’m suddenly pulling into the parking lot at Stella’s for my shift. I park and rifle through my bag to make sure I didn’t forget any necessities before I go inside. A clean uniform, pair of panties, bra, and my apron are all rolled up into a ball at the bottom of the bag.
I inhale deeply for a moment before stepping out into the rain, scanning the picturesque harbor view that lies just beyond the restaurant. That harbor isn’t the only thing that looks like it belongs on a post card. The grass is an unnatural shade of green—so vibrant I want to snatch up a handful and watch it bleed on my fingers. There are white picket fences that line the adjoining buildings and everyone, I mean everyone, is walking a dog, not the least bit deterred by a little Northwest drizzle. On a clear day, this harbor is littered with sailboats and kayakers. Everything in Gig Harbor seems untouched, so pure and sweet that you can almost feel its nostalgia sink you, like sugar hitting sensitive teeth. It’s high-end, with a ritzy feel, but comfortable. Like coming home.
I sigh and pull the small bottle of hand sanitizer from my bag and rub a drop onto my fingers, smoothing away the leftover grime from my messy tryst with Tim.
The door jingles as I make my way inside the vintage, classic movie themed diner, and Jay greets me right away.
“Hey, hon.” He smiles and glances at his watch from behind the counter. His dark black hair is tainted by a smidgen of gray, and his green eyes are fresh and alert. “You’re early today.”
“Yeah, just wanted a few extra minutes to change and get myself together,” I reply, which is not entirely a lie. “I’ll be right out.”
I head toward the bathroom and Jay nods, his dark black hair glinting under the counter’s lighting. As I strip down in the bathroom to put on the fresh change of clothes, I dampen a pile of paper towels under the faucet and wash off the remnants of my afternoon with Tim. Nowhere near as refreshing as a hot shower, but it’ll have to do for tonight. I pull my back into a ponytail and wash my hands thoroughly.
The hallway lined with black and white shots of Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball greets me when I step out of the bathroom. I pass the old-school telephone mounted on the wall and round the corner to the main counter to check in. Jay has disappeared, but Natalie, one of our newest waitresses, stands there, looking flustered
“Hey, Elise,” she says. “Do you know where Jay put the new dinner menus? I can’t find
them anywhere and I have three tables waiting, with no menus to give them. Jay ran up the road to give Brad a lift. He’s having car trouble again.” She bites her lip, knitting her strawberry blonde eyebrows together, and shuffles through a pile of paperwork beneath the register. Brad is one of our waiters and has worked for Jay since high school. The thing about Gig Harbor is that it’s homey and tight knit. A family harbor town, where everybody knows everybody. Jay has always treated his staff like family, and Brad is no exception.
“Yeah, here,” I say, handing her the pack of new menus from one of the cabinets.
“Oh! Thank you so much!” She jumps around to face me and grabs the menus, sending me a mega-watt smile before dashing off toward the waiting customers. I don’t return the smile, no matter how nice it might be. I know Natalie’s the new girl on staff, and she is also in the business of looking for new friends. It is bubbly, bouncy girls like her that I avoid at all costs. She seems like a nice enough person, with plenty of girlfriend bonding potential and all; which is exactly why I need to stay far, far away from her. Chances are it won’t be long before she catches wind of my reputation around here, if she hasn’t already.
The door jingles, calling my attention to the customer walking in. I tie my apron behind my back and veer around the counter toward the guy. “How’s it goin’?” I ask, placing my hands on my hips as I approach him. “Take a seat wherever you like and I’ll be right with you.”
“Oh, that’s okay, thanks,” he says with a grin. He doesn’t move, instead scanning the restaurant as he sticks his hands in his pockets. “I’m just here to chat with my girlfriend for a second. It won’t take long.”
“Oh?” I scan the restaurant with him. “Who’s your girlfriend? Natalie? I didn’t realize she was seeing anyone.” I laugh. “We know everything around here. Harbor towns are infamous for gossip.”
“Yeah,” he says, his grin revealing a tinge of shyness. “Uh, it kind of just became official, so…”
“You’re not from Gig Harbor, are you?” I give him a knowing look, twisting my lips into a smirk.
“Nope, nope I’m not.” He holds out his arms and looks down at his jacket and chuckles. “What, is it that obvious? Do Gig Harbor people have, like, a look or something? I’m from Phoenix. Just moved here.”
“Nah, I can just tell. Locals have a sixth sense like that.” I shrug and reach over the counter to grab a new menu from the remainder of the stack I pulled for Natalie. “Here you go. She’s waiting on those tables over there, so if you want to order something while you wait, just let me know. I’m Elise, by the way.”
“Cool, sounds good.” He takes the menu and nods, extending a hand. “I’m Nate.”
I accept his handshake and let my head roll to the side. “Nate and Natalie. Cheeky.”
“Yeah, we seem to be getting that a lot lately.”
“Well, Nate, nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, you too.” Turning on his heel, he gives Natalie a wave across the room and slips into a nearby booth. I stroll over to the adjacent booths and start wiping them down with a washcloth to kill time until the next customer walks in. About two minutes pass and I decide to top off the salt and pepper shakers. I can hear Natalie finishing up with her customers and then a squeal as she walks back to the other end of the restaurant and spots Nate sitting, waiting for her.
“Hey, baby!” she sings, leaning over the table to give him a peck on the lips. I fill one salt shaker, then two, watching their rosy cheeks as they exchange laughter about something under their breath.
The door jingles again and in walks Tim, the bald spot on his head tossing a shiny reflection my way. I stiffen and set the salt shaker down, dropping the washcloth on the seat before I stride toward him. “What are you doing here?”
“Just grabbing a bite to eat, honey. Miss me already?” He shoots a glance at Natalie and Nate, who are still preoccupied chatting, then winks at me. He got here quickly. Must’ve left his place seconds after I did.
I rush forward, closing the space between us, and glower, lowering the volume of my voice. “You can’t waltz in here and say shit like that when you know full well Jay might overhear you.”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist. His car isn’t in the lot. I know he’s not here. Give me one of those menus, will you?”
“Natalie,” I say, looking over his shoulder, “sorry to interrupt, but I have to run to the restroom. Can you please take care of Tim here?”
“Oh, sure,” she pipes up, pulling herself out of the booth. “Tim, you’re Jay’s brother, right?”
Tim smiles smugly and it makes me even more uncomfortable. Natalie is new here, and the less she knows—the less anyone knows—the better. The community knows most all of my business, but I’ve managed to keep my fling with Tim on the down low. And I want to keep it that way. This is my job on the line.
“That’s me, honey. I’ll take a coffee to start, please.”
Natalie excuses herself from Nate and scuttles off to fix Tim’s coffee, and I slink to the back hallway and into the restroom, dragging in deep breaths as I stare at myself in the mirror. I can’t allow this bastard to have the upper hand like this. But I can’t lose my job, either. If Jay found out, I guess he couldn’t technically fire me over it, but his opinion of me would be severely altered, and he’d probably find some other excuse to let me go, if not for the awkwardness that would surely settle in afterward.
Cheryl, Tim’s fiancée, has been friends with Jay for ages, long before they ever got engaged. Jay is possibly the one person in the world I don’t want to let down. He is the polar opposite of his brother: honest, loyal, and trustworthy. He gave me a chance with this job three years ago when my mom died. I had dropped out of my first year of college as quickly as I had enrolled, had no place to live, and no job. My dad had sold the house and told me I was on my own. He still technically owned it, even though my parents were no longer married, and I had little say over the matter when my mom passed. Jay had been a friendly acquaintance of my parents over the years. He lived only a few blocks from us and my dad would sometimes pay Jay to help with yard work when he needed to be out of town on business.
My parents split up right after my high school graduation, and my dad moved to L.A. My only other family in Gig Harbor—an aunt and uncle—wanted nothing to do with me, especially after my mom’s death. I quickly became the outcast, which made no sense considering I’d never done anything to them to deserve that. So, Jay was really all I had in the way of family. He might have only been my boss, but he treated me like a father would a daughter…like I wished my own had treated me.
Guess I should’ve thought of that before I started sleeping with his very engaged brother.
There’s a knock on the door and I jump, moving to turn the lock and step out. “Yeah?”
“Oh my God, Elise,” Natalie whispers, stepping forward so I retreat back into the bathroom. She carefully shuts the door behind her and I make sure to leave a good two feet of space between us. “Jay’s brother is seriously a douchebag. I get super bad vibes from him. He’s nothing like Jay!”
“Tell me about it,” I mumble, wondering why she’s cornering me like this. Did he tell her something? Did she figure it out?
“So, I know you asked me to wait on him, but is there any chance you can come help me? I still have those other tables, and Jay isn’t back with Brad yet. I hate to barge in here and rush you, really, but the guy kinda grosses me out and he’s so damn picky. He’s describing exactly how he wants his lettuce and tomato on his BLT, talking to me like I’m three years old.”
I groan. “Yup, that’s Tim alright. It’s fine, I’ll handle him. I was just on my way back out.”
“Whew, thank the Lord. He’s all yours, girl.”
I cringe inwardly at her words as I follow her back out into the diner. I’m not her girl, not her anything. I’m relieved to see more customers have just walked through the door. The more the merrier; whatever helps keep me busy until Tim leaves. I know he just came here to get underneath my skin after our little altercation back at his place.
Showing a family that just walked in to a booth, I take their drink order then waltz over to Tim and top off his coffee, not bothering to say a word. I take my pad from my apron pocket and pop a hip to the left, then click my pen and wait.
He looks at me with beguilement and then shuts his menu, sliding it across the table. I’m vaguely aware that Natalie’s boyfriend is within earshot—another reason I won’t delve into any conversation with Tim right now. “You are aware that Jay knows you get around, right? It’s not some big secret.”
My eyes snap from my order pad to his condescending expression. “What can I get for you, Tim? A BLT?”
“I’ll take another order of what you gave me thirty minutes ago, how about that, honey? You know, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve envisioned taking you right here, over one of these tables. You’d love that, wouldn’t you?”
Just like before, back at his place, my hand acts on its own before I can even respond to his scumbag comments. I pick up his coffee and dump it on his lap. He leaps up from the seat, screaming like a little girl. “Son of a bitch! You dirty little whore!”
All of my patience has just been thrown out the window. “You want to play this game?” I ask, disregarding my last drop of restraint. “Too bad, ’cause I’m not playing.”
And I mean it.
I need this job, and the last thing I’d ever want is to see the disappointment and disgust in Jay’s eyes when he hears the truth, but if he’s anything like the man I know him to be, he’ll hold Tim just as much responsible, if not more.
“Go on.” I jut my chin out at him. “I dare you to tell your brother when he walks through that door. I’ll be damned if I let you hold this over my head anymore. And if Jay finds out, Cheryl finds out, too. How will you get your weekly cheating fix then, huh? Who will you run around on? Not everyone will be as oblivious as she is, you jackass. Better start looking for a replacement.”
Tim gets in my face. He’s beet red and boiling as he hovers over me, drawing every eye in the room to our dispute. “That’s all you are, you slut—a replacement. Sloppy seconds and an in-between quickie for every guy in this town who’s looking to fill a hole.” He speaks through gritted teeth as he leans in closer. “All you’re good for is that hot little body. I bet you a hundred bucks you’ll be back at my doorstep by the end of next week, begging me to bend you over.”
I dig my fingers into his chest and push him back, fueling as much anger as I can into the shove. “At least I know what I am,” I spit back. “I don’t masquerade myself around this town, pretending to be something I’m not. Now walk out that door, Tim, before you make an even bigger idiot out of yourself.”
He shakes his head and swipes his car keys from the table, then turns for the exit, giving me one last glance. “By the end of the week,” he repeats, pushing the door open. I exhale when he’s gone, but I don’t have much time to gather my breath. Natalie and her boyfriend Nate are right behind me.
“Uh…Elise?” Natalie’s voice drifts over my shoulder. It’s timid and calm. “Are you okay?”
“Who was that asshole?” Nate asks. I turn to face them, and I’m mortified when I find each customer watching me intently.
“That was our boss’ brother,” Natalie answers for me, taking a hesitant step forward to hand me a clean napkin. It just hits me then that there are tears running down my cheeks. “Elise, can I get you anything? Is there something I can do?”
I use the napkin she’s handed me to dab at my eyes, quickly shaking my head to decline her offer. It’s sweet, but accepting anything from this girl would only open a door. One I want to keep tightly shut. “No thanks,” I say. “Please just never mention this again, okay? It never happened. That’s how you can help.” I look from her to Nate to make sure Nate realizes I’m including him in my request.
He nods and shifts his stance uncomfortably. “Oh, of course, yeah.”
“We won’t say a word,” Natalie replies, exchanging glances with Nate. They both back up to give me some space and I hear them whisper as Natalie shows Nate out the front door. Once he’s gone, she returns to her tables and apologizes for the scene and for the delay, and I sneak back to the bathroom to ride out the humiliation and to once again pull myself together, so I can make it through my shift. It looks like business might be slow today, but every little bit helps. My head needs to be in the game. I’m still $2,000 away from meeting my goal, and I’ll be damned if I let Tim—or anyone—get in the way.
Bacon sizzles in a pan and I wait patiently for my toast, taking small sips of black coffee from my Eiffel Tower mug. Little pink and yellow flowers blossom around the sides of the tower, and cliché French sayings, oh là là, c’est la vie, dance around them, reminding me of where I’m headed.
Someday, I’ll visit Paris for myself.
Until then, I can only dream about my trip to France and live vicariously through the mug’s close proximity to the landmark I want to see standing right in front of me someday—tall, stoic, and elegant. I’ve been planning the trip since tenth grade. It is a luxury expense, one I’ve had to claw, scrimp, and save for over the years. I’ve never been able to explain my fascination with Francophone culture to anyone. Like a passion for teaching or healing the sick, it was just there one day, and since then, I’ve been unable to think about much else.
My mom gave me this mug when I graduated from high school. After my dad left, she didn’t have much money. Helping me get there wasn’t an option. She struggled, right up to the very end, when breast cancer took her life. She died alone, convinced that dad left her because she lost all her hair. It was tragic and seemingly delusional—just like my father—but I often wondered just how deluded the theory really was. My father was a material man, after all. Shallow to the bone. Appearance always mattered in his eyes. If it didn’t look good, then it wasn’t worth his time.
So, the mug was her little way of cheering me on. She wanted me to keep the dream alive, and after she passed, my desire to make it happen bloomed with a vengeance. Dad was well off, comfortable with his new wife in L.A.—a beautiful blonde actress, not much older than me—but asking him for even the pettiest of financial help was out of the question. He didn’t call, didn’t write. When mom went, he went with her, and it was better that way. I didn’t want to depend on his money, anyway. I’d much rather live in this tiny, outdated apartment, where I could at least sleep at night knowing I earned every dime that paid its rent.
My lips still at the mug as I will the toaster to spit out my wheat bread. The bread finally jumps and I slap it onto a plate, lathering it with jam and butter. I settle into my green armchair, the one with the tear in the left arm, nibbling on the toast while opening the paper. My pulse begins to race as I thumb closer and closer to the Sorry Secrets column. It’s my favorite column in the Gig Harbor Weekly. Much more entertaining than reading on a hard, impersonal e-reader device. I detest e-books. Give me an old-fashioned newspaper or paperback any day. Give me something tangible, something that gives me paper cuts and leaves my fingers dirty.
I unfold the page that beholds the column and scan each header, ready to pounce on the first one that catches my eye. The column is a collection of short confessions, submitted by readers, all residents of Gig Harbor. Some are downright laughable, while others are so sobering, they’re chilling. Most are anonymous, but every now and then, someone decides to be brave and leave a name. The why behind the reason people choose to write these confessions and send them in to a paper for the whole town to read still eludes me, but I find a sort of cleansing in it. I hadn’t gone to college long, but when I did, one of my first classes was basic psychology. I remember learning how simply writing down your thoughts or listing your source of anxiety is somehow cathartic. I imagine the sense of relief these people experience, submitting their deepest, darkest secrets. How it strips them of fear.
Once you’ve cut yourself open and dumped your insides out on the table, what can the world really threaten you with?
My attention latches onto a confession from a daughter to her mother, something about not really wanting to go to medical school. I’m vaguely interested. Before I can jump to the next header to see if it’s any juicier, the phone rings.
“Yeah?” I answer, holding the cell limp in my hand. I’m still restlessly searching the column for my fix.
“Hey, baby. It’s almost ten. You coming over?”
I recognize Christian’s voice immediately. It’s husky and authoritative, which usually sends my libido into overdrive, but today is my day off and all I want to do is curl up with my column and dive into a bag of peanut butter cups after breakfast.
“Can’t,” I say with a sigh. “Busy today.”
“I know what day it is.”
“It’s your day off.”
“Very good. You want a gold star for that one?”
“You know I love that smart mouth of yours. If you were here right now, I’d teach it a lesson. Don’t deny me, Elise. You know I won’t take no for an answer.”
“Well, today you’re going to have to, because I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’ll come to you.”
“No,” I say quickly, sitting up. The paper falls to my lap and Christian has my full attention now. “You can’t come here.”
“You do realize you’re going to have to let me come to your place someday, right?”
I laugh dryly. “You do realize that day will never come, right?”
“What are you so afraid of? You have a husband I don’t know about?” His question is full of coy regalement, but I’m not amused. Christian will never see my apartment. None of the men I sleep with ever do. I go to them. This is all on my terms.
“Where’s Kylie today?”
“Visiting some friends in Seattle. She won’t be back until late tonight. Come on, baby, let me come over and show you a good time. I’ll bring lunch.”
I almost choke on my coffee. I’ve grown used to his endearments, but now he wants to eat together? “Lunch?”
“Yeah, you know, that meal after breakfast and before dinner?”
“Elise, relax. I’m not asking you to have my children. Surely, you can eat a meal with me after I fuck you senseless, yes?”
My earlier plans for binging on peanut butter cups are cast aside by his forwardness. Well, that and the fact that this week’s column is turning out to be a letdown. Warmth floods my inner thighs and I fold my legs underneath me in the chair, turning to gaze out the window. Christian is pretty damn delicious. I’d probably count him as my favorite, although Brad from the diner is a close runner up. Brad and I have had an understanding for the past three years now, since I began working at Stella’s. He’s low maintenance through and through, and he knows my body well. The conversation is always minimal, and he’s considerate. Sweet. Kind of like Christian.
I laugh at that thought, watching a blackbird zip past my window.
Christian is far from sweet. In bed, he’s as dominant as they come, and he’s as charming, persuasive, and seductive as the devil himself. There are times I almost forget about his wife, Kylie—almost. He’s that good.
“Okay,” I decide, wanting to see his face. “I’ll come to you. Give me an hour.”
“That’s my girl.”
“See ya.” I hang up and pull myself from the chair, ditching the paper and my mug for my laciest red lingerie. Christian loves me in red, and the day could use a little color. I wash up, curl my hair, apply some make up, and then I’m out the door.
What was meant to be a quickie and a bite to eat turned into an all-day romp. Not that I’m complaining. Christian is 30, fit, and maddeningly handsome, with dirty blonde hair and shocking blue eyes. What really gets me is his tan. We’re not exactly golden here in Gig Harbor, Washington, but Christian has this perpetual bronze glow. Not the orange, unnatural kind, but the kind that kisses his skin just enough to give him that beach-bum look. Not only is he first-rate man candy, he’s phenomenal in the sack. I don’t doubt he k
eeps his wife a very happy woman. Too bad she has to share.
We’re launching into another round on his bed, and I go to kick off my black peep toe stilettos, but he grabs my ankle and slides my leg up higher around his waist. “Leave them on,” he orders gruffly. My head floats back down to the pillow and I keep my hands relaxed above my head, next to my ears, just where he likes them. I let him do his thing, keeping quiet and rocking my hips up to match him thrust for thrust.
My gaze settles on the corner of the ceiling. It’s barren and lonely, and I think there are traces of a cob web hanging there, dusting from wall to wall. I don’t whimper or moan for another few minutes, knowing he only likes to hear me on command. “I know,” he says sympathetically. He gives me a dazed smile of approval. My obedience makes him happy, and that only serves to make the way he’s fucking me all the more satisfying. “You can control it, I know you can.”
I bite down hard on my lip, trying to give him what he wants. I’m not sure why I comply with his demands. Maybe because compared to the others, Christian is the most tolerable. Something about him makes me want to compromise. Whereas I need Tim to punish me, I need Christian to indulge me. “Christian,” I pant, feeling every spring in my body coil tightly.
“Soon.” He starts to pump harder, gathering my wrists above my head to pin them against the mattress. His waist is pushing, his force prodding me on as he nails me to the sheets. “Come on, baby, let me hear you.” His arctic eyes hone in on me, never straying from my face. Now that he’s given me permission, I let my moans pour from my lips. I can hear his cell ring from the nightstand, but I don’t dare let it burst the heady bubble I’m in. He feels too damn good and I’m way too close to be distracted.
“Shit,” he mumbles, closing his eyes to push out the intrusive ringing. My gaze falls down to his abdomen, firm and defined, rolling with each thrust. Each one is frantic now, and I know he’s close. I allow myself to whimper and my fingernails to dig into the palms of his hands. They’re still restraining me, holding my fists in a vise grip above my head. “Tell me you’re mine, Elise.”
The phone stops ringing and he keeps pushing, smashing me into the comforter, but I let my eyes drift shut and focus on absorbing all of the sensations instead of replying.
“Elise,” he barks, stabbing me with a sharp, measured jolt. “Say it.”
“Mmmm,” I breathe, answering him with a buck of my hips. My breasts are tender and swollen with arousal as they bounce against his sweaty chest.
He hammers me with another piercing strike and withdraws, releasing my wrists to flip me over onto my torso. I cry out from the sudden emptiness. In a flash, he gathers my wrists above my head again with one hand, while he lifts my ass with the other. He gives me no warning, slamming back inside of me. The warmth is deep and decadent, just as much as it is possessive. “You like that?” His words ooze into my ear, his head hovering over mine. “You want me to keep fucking you like that?”
“Yes,” I say, the word muffled as I answer into the side of the pillow.
“Then say it.” He lifts himself up to lean his weight on his hands and peer down at me.
“I’m yours,” I lie, pressing my ass harder against him to capture each thrust. I’m about to combust, and the sight of his muscles flexing over my shoulder sends a sinful shudder through me. “Don’t stop, Christian.”
“Say please.” He leans in and bites savagely on my neck, and the pain is numbingly exquisite. Christian has always liked it rough. It’s one reason we’re so compatible in bed.
“Please, don’t stop.”
He growls in approval and lowers himself back down so his chest is pressing against my back, leaning on his forearms. One of his hands fists my hair, tugging my head farther to the side, and he pauses for a beat before powering away. He fucks me mercilessly, pounding me into the bed, and I come hard and gloriously, convulsing against the damp sheets. “So…goddamn…good,” he hisses through his teeth, pushing the syllables out in a broken staccato as he comes. His hips slow and our heavy pants fill the air, my body aching in the most delicious way.
Groaning in pure satisfaction, he pushes off of me and rolls me onto my back, sitting back on his heels. He pulls at my legs, propping my knees up, and grasps the tops of my thighs to part them. Before I can catch my breath, his hands slide underneath my knees and he yanks me forward, shoving his face between my legs. His mouth hits my clit, and he begins to suck, setting my body back on fire. “God, I love your pussy,” he mumbles against my flesh, rubbing his nose up and down the slit in between licks. The man has a tongue women dream about, and the way he looks up at me, with the most wicked, gorgeous smile, confirms my earlier musing: He is the devil personified.
The fire he ignited is raging now, like flames doused with gasoline. My entire body tingles from head to toe, the hypersensitive skin at the junction of my thighs blazing with need. My fingers find his hair and push his head down, pressing his mouth tighter against me. He groans as he licks and sucks, moving a hand to tap my calf, encouraging me to hook it over his shoulder. I obey and slide the other one around for good measure, linking them both behind his neck. He loves that, and I find pleasure in giving him what he loves.
My stiletto heels dig into his skin and he groans, moving from my clit to fuck me with his tongue. The bliss sends me into a shout and I start to rock my hips against his hot mouth. Each shot of pleasure he delivers travels from my core to the tips of my fingers and toes, reminding me exactly why I keep coming back to Christian for more. No one screws me like he does, and although I’m cautious today about his sudden interest in sharing a meal together, he’s kind to me, unlike Tim and some of the other assholes I hook up with. Tender, even. The way he leads me into a room, places his hand delicately on the small of my back, and the way he brushes my hair over my shoulder when we talk, leaves me feeling like his lover sometimes, instead of what I actually am.
In seconds, I’m coming again, and he’s delighting in every wave of ecstasy that washes over my body. I’m utterly spent, my skin buzzing with a high that only Christian knows how to give. My legs fall lazily from his shoulders and his head rises, his eyes burning as he looks down at me. He watches my chest rise and fall, lets his gaze drift over my curves until it settles on my legs again.
My eyes are shut as I breathe deeply, fluttering open when I feel his teeth graze my ankle. I find him holding my calf up, nipping the skin there, then trailing up to the inside of my knee. The little bites are the perfect dessert for the aftershocks. “You’re insatiable,” I finally speak, giggling when one of his bites triggers a small tickle.
I sigh and smile, rolling my head to the left to find the alarm clock on the bedside table. I move to sit up on my elbows. It’s time to go. He’s done with me—I’ve been here all day—and the moment our feet leave the bed and hit the carpet, I know I’ll start thinking about how I can get away. I don’t ever want to hear a guy awkwardly ask me to leave. Which is why I always beat it to the punch.
“I better get going.” I wriggle out of his way and swing my legs over the side of the bed, searching the floor for my dress.
“Wait,” he says, moving with me.
I snatch up my dress and begin sliding it over my head, mumbling absentmindedly while searching for my scarf next. “Hhhmm?”
His tone causes me to still. I turn to him, and find a determined expression on his face. There’s a deep set to his jaw, his blue eyes churning with intensity. I’m afraid to ask. “What is it?”
“Can we talk before you go?”
I sneak a side glance at the alarm clock again, wondering if we really do have the time. That was probably Kylie calling earlier. She could pull up any minute. “Talk about what?”
Christian extends a hand, gently guiding me to sit back on the bed with him, and I feel it—the awkwardness. I let myself sit, but my feet are poised to stand.
“Elise, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Oh, God.” I jump up, pulling my hand from his. “Don’t tell me you have another mistress. Or three. Christian, whatever it is, I don’t care, okay? I don’t ask questions, you don’t ask questions. That’s never been an issue, so let’s just—”
“I’m leaving Kylie.”
“What?” I blink, not sure I heard him right.
“I’m leaving Kylie. She knows I want a divorce. It’s over.”
The bedroom becomes quiet, his words hanging heavily in the air.
“I know how you feel about me—about this, about us—” he waves his hands in the air, “and you know I respect your position. But I thought you should know. I’m leaving her, and she’s relieved. She hasn’t been happy, either. I want you, Elise. I want you to be mine.”
Shock explodes into little sparks around me, and I suddenly feel the walls closing in. The air in this bedroom is too stuffy, the ceiling too low. He can’t have possibly said what I think he just said. “Christian,” my voice comes out throaty and dry, “I’m not sure I’m hearing you right.” He relaxes with a knowing sigh, leaning forward on the edge of the bed to rest his elbows on his knees. “I’m not trying to put any pressure on you. I just want to be honest, want to put it all out there so you know what’s waiting for you, if you decide it’s something you’d be interested in. You know I’m a rich man, Elise. I would take care of you, take care of everything. I’d pay for you to go back to college. Anything you want, it’s yours.” Suddenly, he rises from the bed, carefully approaching me like he knows I’m about to dart at any moment.
“I want every inch of you, inside and out. And I don’t give a damn who thinks what about it. This isn’t enough for me anymore.”
My mouth bypasses my brain’s filter and lets out a laugh, one that I know will hurt Christian if I don’t quickly explain where it’s coming from. “I’m sorry,” I say, half covering my mouth, “I’m not laughing at your offer, I’m laughing at…” I search for the words, turning in a circle to look out the bedroom window. What am I laughing at?
Could it be the fact that aside from being a cheater, this guy is actually a dream? Young, rich, handsome, charming, and amazing in bed to boot? Or could it be the fact that I’m possibly the reason he’s leaving his wife? He hasn’t mentioned that detail yet, or if I even have anything to do with his decision, but judging by the reality that he sees me often and his wife is not a stupid woman—she’s a well-read, educated med student—it’s a very real possibility. My mind tumbles through these options, then pauses as it reaches a realization: I’d classified him as someone like me.
Someone who uses his good looks and charm to deceive and take what he wants, then casts aside the object of his interest the second he’s accomplished his goal. Granted, Christian had never been a one-night stand or cold lover from a sordid affair, but I’m certain that with each bedroom tryst, he is willfully using me, just as I’ve been using him. He is unfaithful to his wife with me and who-knows-how-many other women, and he never sees me as anything other than a piece of ass he can call up anytime he is feeling lonely. Each time he touches me, he makes me feel like I am the only one in the universe. The only one he has eyes for. He knows that isn’t true, and I know that isn’t true, but he has led me to believe it anyway, because he is a wolf by nature. He is wicked like me. Or at least he was, until he started bringing his feelings into the equation.
In this moment, I realize Christian and I are very different.
“You barely know me,” I say evenly, fixing my gaze on his. “You know my body. That’s not the same thing.”
He falters for a second, but he’s not the least bit deterred. He’s confident, his naked body remaining steadfast and still. “I know a lot about you.”
“You know only what I tell you.”
“Nothing you tell me will change my mind.”
“You can’t possibly know that.” I shake my head and something in the back of my skull screams for me to find that damn scarf and get the hell out of his house. Right now. “Does Kylie know about me?”
“Our divorce has nothing to do with you, Elise.”
“Does she know about me?” I repeat sternly.
“Shit.” I spin and start rifling around for the scarf, my movements erratic.
“Please don’t take off like this. Talk to me.” He reaches out to me, but fails to make contact, his open palm hanging in the air.
“There’s nothing to talk about. This won’t work, I’m sorry.”
“I care about you, Elise. I want to take care of you.”
I laugh again. This time it’s got some bite to it. “You want to own me, that’s what you want.”
“I want a relationship. With you. No one else. And I want you all to myself, yes. I won’t apologize for it. I don’t care about the other men you’ve been seeing. Stop seeing them. Move in with me.”
I gasp as I find my scarf, unable to process what he’s saying without going completely fucking mental. “Move in with you?”
“I know you have feelings for me, too.”
“Whatever gave you that impression?” I gesture wildly in the air, my hands flailing at my sides, the tension building in me like hot lava. “Wait, let me guess…you assume that from the way I beg you to let me orgasm? The way I say your name as I come? Because I say I need you? That I want you?”
That does it. A flicker of hurt flashes over his features, but he recovers quickly. “I see it in your eyes. Every time you look at me, you’re searching for something. I feel it in the way you touch me, the way you drop everything to come see me when I call. You think I don’t know about the others? Well, I do. I know when you’re with them because you don’t answer. You take time to call me back. But you’re never gone for long. You spend time with me, more time than you ever give to them. I know that much. That tells me something, Elise.”
“Yeah, it should tell you that I like sleeping with you. That’s all.”
“No.” He strides forward, placing his hands softly on my arms. “You need something from me and I can give it to you. Something those other dumbasses can never give you.”
I flinch from his touch. Not because it doesn’t feel good. It always feels good. He’s always careful with me, even when he’s impaling me like a wild caveman in bed. “What, money and college tuition?” I snicker, stepping back. “You can’t buy me, Christian.”
“You know that’s not what I want. You want more, too. I know you do, damn it. So let’s not dance around it.”
My mouth goes slack and I’m about to respond, but the chime of his cell phone interrupts my train of thought. “You should get that.” I eye the phone, then the bedroom door.
“It can wait.”
“It’s Kylie, you know it is.”
His jaw flexes and his eyes dart from me to the phone, then back. He knows I’m right, and he also knows he can’t keep avoiding her calls. Not when she’s due home tonight. He may be leaving her and she may know about me, but I’m certain he wants to avoid that potential shit storm just as much as I do. “Damn it,” he murmurs, moving for the phone. He answers and stops to give me a silent, pleading look before he slips out of the room to handle the call.
And I take that as my exit cue.
Wrapping my scarf around my neck and collecting my bag, I wait until I hear his voice disappear down the hall. I pull my car key from my bag and count to ten. With a deep breath, I quietly open the bedroom door and peek out into the hallway.
The coast is clear.
I zip through the hall and down the elaborate stairwell, slithering through the front door and making it to my car just in time. I rev the engine and speed off, catching a glimpse of Christian’s solemn face in the living room window, through the rearview mirror. He’s standing there, pulling the curtain aside, the phone still held to his ear. I watch only for a second, turning to give my attention to the road. My foot powers down on the gas pedal, and I don’t want to imagine what Christian must be thinking, watching me drive away like this. But I know what I’m thinking.
This will be the last time I ever see Christian Walker.
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