Dazed Page 11

This year\s Valentine\s Day was the first in a long time I actually had someone to share it with. Jagger bought me two movies. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and he made me dinner chicken cacciatore. It was delicious. And over my candlelit table, he also formally asked me if I would be his girlfriend. My pulse raced at the idea of us being exclusive and we never made it to watching the movies that night. But rather, before we had even cleaned up the table, I did something right in my dining room I had done a handful of times in the bedroom with other men, but hated each and every attempt I took his c**k in my mouth. And there was nothing I disliked about it, especially after witnessing his reaction.

***

Despite the rumor that nobody walks in Los Angeles in the winter, today Jagger and I spent this first Saturday of March roaming the city. And now I\m coming home with a beautiful red-and-gray-checked scarf around my neck and a monogram bracelet with a snowflake hanging from it. I selected the scarf because it reminded me of him, and Jagger surprised me with the bracelet telling me it reminded him of the beginning of the movie Through the Looking Glass and the first time we met. When he clasped the bracelet around my wrist, I knew I knew I loved him.

When we finally pull in the driveway at River and Dahlia\s house, we are both exhausted. They\ve gone for the night to a Lakers game so we decided to hang out here.

He opens my door and just as I clear it, he slams me up against his car. ’’You look incredibly se*y today,’’ he murmurs.

My body tingles in every place possible, as the warmth of his breath passes over my mouth. I look down at what I\m wearing. Skinny denim jeans like the ones Dahlia helped me pick out a while ago, a tight gray sweater with one of my grandmother\s glass pendants hanging from my neck, and low, black ankle boots. ’’Really? In this outfit?’’

He cages me in and I can feel his hard c**k against my stomach. ’’It\s not the clothes, it\s the way you move in them.’’

I push his hair from his eyes. ’’Thank you,’’ I say, not sure how else to answer.

I have to look away to not get lost in his eyes. Of the dozen or so relationships I\ve had so far in my life, no one has ever made me feel as wanted as he does. The se*ual chemistry between us frightens me. I\ve never had this kind of connection with anyone. And sometimes, like now, I have to try to get some control.

With my breathing embarrassingly fast, I duck under his arm and head toward the trunk. ’’Come on. We have a car to unload and dinner to make.’’

He gives me a sly smile. ’’Is that what you want?’’

Trying really hard not to run back to him and jump him, I say, ’’Yes.’’

He shrugs and moves my way. ’’Okay, then use me for my cooking skills, but I expect proper compensation later.’’

I swing the totes into his arms and lean in to nip his lip. ’’You can count on it.’’

With bags of groceries in his arms and a huge grin on his face, he waits for me to hit the keypad next to the garage door. As the door rolls open, I study the lean lines of his body and appreciate the way his muscles move holding the bags. Tonight we\ e making Fettuccini Alfredo and I know I\ll have to work out extra hard this week after this meal. I don\ get how Jagger stays so thin with what he eats, but he seems to have a good routine down that I have slowly adopted eat healthy during the week and work out heavily. Then on the weekends eat what you want. We head toward the stairs in the corner of the garage and before we reach them he motions with his chin toward the door that opens into the lower level.

’’Why don\ you grab us both a sweatshirt and we\ll watch the sunset before we cook?’’

’’Sure, I can do that,’’ I nod and reach above the door to remove the key from the ledge. River and Dahlia keep one above this door and another one on top of the door that leads to the kitchen. I\ve always told them it\s not very safe, but they insist it\s fine.

’’I\m not sure where they are, but I think maybe in the closet. And don\ roll your eyes at the mess.’’

’’I wouldn\ think of it,’’ I laugh.

’’And don\ straighten anything out.’’

This time I don\ laugh. ’’How did you know I was thinking that?’’

He steps up to the landing and I have to crane my neck to see him. ’’I can see the gears turning from here,’’ he says, shooting me a wink that makes my pulse start to race. The sunlight is peaking through a small round window behind him, highlighting the smile he shoots me, and the ache that only subsides from time to time is back. I wonder how much time we have before the Lakers game is over.

Jagger\s things are placed haphazardly around the room, but somehow appear neat. The closet is just about empty. A few dress shirts and slacks hang from it, but nothing else. I spot a bottle of cologne on the dresser its silver cap and clear liquid draw my attention immediately. I pick it up Creed Royal Scottish Lavender. I knew his scent included lavender. I squirt a little on my wrist and sniff it. God, it smells of him.

Setting it down, I go about the task of finding sweatshirts. I spot one on the chair in the corner, but I\m not sure if it\s clean or dirty. If I have to, I\ll spray it with cologne and it will be fine. I open a drawer, starting at the bottom because that\s where I keep my own sweatshirts and I find a gray one. Opening the drawer next to it, when I spot something red and thick on the bottom, I remove the t-shirts to get at it. I know he likes it when I wear red, so this will be perfect. But when I see a small square black velvet box lying on top of it, my heart stops. I pick it up with trembling fingers and open it. I quickly close it and just stare.

’’Either you\ e straightening up or didn\ want to climb the stairs alone,’’ his smooth voice says from behind me.

The room is closing in on me his scent is everywhere, his voice is at a distance, his body is so near, but my mind is in freefall. I feel like Alice tumbling through the glass.

’’What is this?’’ I say twisting around. Wondering if it\s for me, but knowing it can\ possibly be. We haven\ even said those three little words to each other yet.

He doesn\ move, doesn\ look at the box, but his eyes convey a sadness that tell its own story. Something cold rushes through my veins as silence fills the room and I start to lose my mind. ’’Jagger, what is this?’’

When he still doesn\ answer, tears blur my eyes. I set the elegant box back down where I found it and without closing the drawer, I stand up and head toward the stairs. Passing him, I leave the room in a daze.

He catches up with me, fast as lightning. He grabs my elbow and turns me around before my foot even hits the hardwood beneath it. ’’Aerie, let me explain,’’ he swallows.

I blink at the wistfulness in his eyes and, with my throat having closed up, all I can do is nod. With his hand on my back, my heart beats at an uncontrollable speed, but this time it\s not out of want, it\s out of fear. Fear that the ring is a threat to our relationship. Once we cross the threshold to his room he closes the door. My eyes flicker to the drawer, but it\s no longer open.

He lowers his head to mine. ’’That box has nothing to do with us.’’

’’Then tell me why you have an engagement ring in your bottom drawer.’’

Pain flashes across his face and he sits down with his hands cradled around his head. When I sit next to him, keeping some distance between us, his eyes snap to mine. ’’I told you I had a girlfriend when I lived in New York City,’’ he says.

’’Yes, you did. But having a girlfriend is completely different from having a fiancé.’’

’’She wasn\ my fiancé.’’

I knew he had broken up with a girl just before he met River, but he didn\ tell me they were that serious. I feel the red creeping up my neck and spreading across my face as anger courses through me. ’’But you wanted her to be?’’

’’Marriage seemed like the next logical step, so I bought the ring. But I never asked her to marry me.’’

I close my eyes, trying to suppress that flare of jealousy I know will be ablaze by the time this conversation ends. ’’Why did the two of you break up if you had plans to ask her to be your wife?’’

He clears his throat and tries to take my hand, but I pull it away. ’’She cheated on me and I broke up with her. I left for Paris shortly after that.’’

’’So you moved here because of her?’’

’’Only partly. I moved here for a lot of reasons life was out of control for me, I felt like I was rushing everywhere, but, yes, she was part of the reason.’’

I say nothing as I feel the red spreading up my neck.

’’Alice, please don\ be mad over nothing. Because it is nothing.’’

Those same tears from earlier prickle my eyes, so I quickly stand up and swipe them away before they can fall.

He bolts up and follows me. Standing near, but not nearly close enough, I can feel his eyes penetrating mine. He tilts my chin to meet his gaze. ’’Hey, did you hear me? That ’’ he kicks the drawer ’’ has nothing to do with us. Nothing.’’

I cup his cheeks and look into his eyes. ’’I know it doesn\ . But why are you holding on to it? Why is it tucked away in your drawer?’’ And here it is the flaw I knew he had to have the imperfection I\ve been waiting to surface.

He twirls his finger around a strand of my hair and something like a magnetic force pulls me to him. ’’Aerie, I\m not holding onto it for any reason and it\s nothing like you\ e thinking. I left New York City in a rush. Then I was staying with my mother before I headed out here. It had become baggage that I had no idea what to do with until now. That\s all it is.’’

I\m pretty sure a look of skepticism crosses my face, but I try to crush it. ’’It must mean something to you she must mean something to you.’’

He steps back and opens the closed drawer, takes the ring out of the box and dashes out of the room. I chase him, trying to keep up. He swings open the door that leads to the lower pool deck and strides across to the railing that overlooks the canyon. The sky is cloudy, but the sun peaks out and casts shadows over his face, masking his expression. He winds his arm like a pitcher and throws the diamond into the dark night yelling, ’’This is how much she means to me!’’

’’Stop, are you crazy?’’ I yell, but by the time I reach him, it\s too late.

’’Yes, crazy for you,’’ he says, pulling me toward him.

And for the second time today I know that I love him. ’’You didn\ have to do that,’’ I say in a shaky voice.

’’Yes, I did.’’ He kisses my forehead. ’’Now can we go make dinner?’’ He extends his hand and I take it. We head upstairs to the kitchen, opting to eat inside and I make a conscious effort to put the ring out of my mind. But the nagging question of why he was still holding onto it still presses me.

Once we clean up, he rubs his hands together. ’’Are you ready to watch one of the greatest movies ever made?’’

I laugh. ’’Believe it or not I much prefer romantic comedies to action packed chasers.’’

He raises a brow. ’’Name five romantic comedies that you can\ live without.’’

’’That\s easy Along Came Polly, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Because I Said So, Knocked Up, and Jerry Maguire.’’

’’Well, I\ve seen one: Jerry Maguire.’’

’’Oh, I can\ wait for you to experience the others.’’

He grins at me and pulls me to his chest as he aims the remote toward the TV and hits play. The studio logo fills the screen as we begin our escape into the world of fast cars. Just as the Eclipse tops out and it spins out of control, Jagger bolts up and pauses the movie. I sit up quickly too.

’’Did you see that? You know a car never spins out at top speed,’’ he says.

I blink my eyes and smile. ’’No, I had no idea.’’

’’It either reaches a drag limit or hits the engine\s fuel cut off, but never spins out.’’

’’Why do I think you have an arsenal of mistakes that have been made in films that you could share?’’

The front door flies open and Dahlia goes running across the room toward her bedroom.

’’Hey, man, everything okay?’’ Jagger asks River, whose following close behind.

’’I think Dahlia ate too many hot dogs at the game,’’ he calls from the hall.

Jagger looks at me.

I snort and shrug. ’’She has a tendency to overindulge.’’

He hovers over me and softly kisses my lips.

’’Do you like going to the games?’’

’’Me? No. I don\ really like spor ’’

He puts his finger to my lips, ’’Don\ say that. Let me take you to a game and then let\s see what you think. I bet you\ll like it before it\s over.’’

My lips curve into a smile. ’’Okay, sure, why not. But good luck getting me to change my mind.’’

He pulls me to my feet. ’’Come on, let\s go to bed.’’

Chapter 7

Burn

When I think of Silicon Valley, Apple and Microsoft come to mind, or Google and Facebook. Not cattle, olive trees, and grapevines, which is what I\m staring at now.

The day started with a plan to apartment hunt for Jagger. He has decided he\s staying in California, even if he doesn\ get the movie part, so finding his own place is the next logical step or that\s what I think. For him, this is a means toward no longer invading River and Dahlia\s space. But I know Dahlia doesn\ care she\s told me she likes having him there. I\d like to think he\s staying partly because of me, but I can\ help but think that it\s because he\s running away from his ex. There seems to be a distance between us since I found the ring. I\m not exactly sure why, but I can\ shake the thought that I\m a rebound.


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