Frayed Page 30

I have to commend her;she\s tough. But I can do this. I can see through it. She wants me to prove to her that I\m looking for more. And I will. Who knows? It might even be fun. For sure, it will be a challenge.

She bites her lip and returns my stare. She\s nervous. I shake my head and draw in a deep breath. ’’I know you better than you think, you know.’’

And although I\m not at all sure that her guidelines are realistic, I see them as her security blanket and for that reason I decide to accept them . . . for now.

She drops her eyes again.

’’Red, look at me. I know you bite your bottom lip when you\ e nervous. I know you\ e smarter than you like people to know. And I know that I\d like nothing more than to prove to you that I can be your friend. So I\ll agree to take it slow, but I can\ agree to the no touching.’’ My eyes skim her face and fall slowly to her chest before rising back up. The tension builds between us as the evidence of her arousal spreads across her chest in the form of a flush.

She stares at me for a while before speaking. ’’It\s all or nothing,’’ she says, her tone lightly squeaky.

I inhale a deep breath. ’’Lucky for you I\m an all-or-nothing kind of guy.’’

Her eyes sharpen and she starts to sputter in a way that makes no sense. ’’So, um, is that a yes, a no . . . ?’’

I\m pretty sure I\ve flustered her. I sit back in my chair and try to figure out what we just agreed to, because like her I have no f**king idea. Then finally I give her a pointed stare. ’’What happens to your guidelines when you change your mind about only being friends?’’

She swallows. ’’I don\ see it going that far,’’ she says firmly.

I\m okay with letting her think that . . . for the time being.

CHAPTER 10

I\m Ready

Bell

Today is Monday, and with no events until Friday I need to get to the office on time. Maybe if I pull the covers over my head, time will reverse and give me another hour of dreaming. No such luck, I know. I stretch and stifle a yawn before swinging my bare feet down onto the hardwood floors. This morning feels particularly cold for California in October.

I pad to the bathroom and blast the hot water, brushing my teeth while I wait for it to warm. By the time I finally slink into the shower, the small bathroom has already filled with steam. If only the water could knead away all of my tension, but with a low-pressure shower and so many knots, my chances are slim. I don\ know what I\m doing with Ben anymore. How could I have thrown a friends-only relationship out there last night? First of all, that\s not what I want and second, I should stay away from him. And what was he doing accepting my challenge? What if this fortifies our relationship instead of destroying it?

No, that won\ happen. Chances are he\ll never call me again after last night anyway. I reach for the shampoo and scrub my head before conditioning. I skip the shaving no need for that and I\m the only one to blame. Rushing around, hoping to put some distance between myself and my thoughts, I concentrate on getting ready. I slide into a pair of comfortable underwear and a no-frills bra, pull a dark gray jersey knit dress over my head, and slip into a pair of black boots, skipping the hose. I run to the kitchen to check the time and decide to go light on the makeup to have time for Starbucks. I dry my hair into a sleek curtain, swipe some blush on my cheeks, a little lip gloss and mascara, and I\m ready to go.

With my leather jacket in hand I grab my keys and rush back to my room for my phone. I hear the beep from it before I even cross the threshold two missed calls. One from my mother and the other from Ben. I head toward the door, thumbing to my voice mail and listening to his first.

’’Look, I thought we could maybe go out tomorrow night with Aerie and Jagger. Friends do that, right?’’ A few seconds of soft breathing. ’’Go out with other friends, I mean. Just to clarify. Let me know what you think. In the meantime I\ll plan something.’’

I try not to stumble down the flight of stairs while I listen to the message. I play it again as I walk through the courtyard, this time absorbing the sound of his voice. Again I wonder, what was I thinking last night? Spending more time with him was just going to make this harder.

I listen two more times before moving on to my mother\s message. She was just checking on me and wanted to know if I was interested in coming over for dinner tomorrow night. While I walk to my car I call my mother back to tell her I can\ make dinner that I\m having dinner with a friend. I just have to find a way to make sure Jagger doesn\ tell my mother who the friend is and Aerie doesn\ tell Dahlia either. Things are already getting messy. This is exactly what I didn\ want. I should have just said no.

My phone rings as I circle the street looking for a close parking place. Working in West Hollywood has its advantages and disadvantages, and parking is definitely a disadvantage. I don\ even look at the screen as I hit ANSWER on my steering wheel.

’’Hi there.’’ Ben\s voice exudes seduction.

’’Hi,’’ I manage in a much more friendlike tone.

’’Did you get my message?’’ His voice is low and se*y.

’’Friends don\ talk to friends like that,’’ I blurt out.

’’Like what?’’ He laughs, and the sound is almost like a caress that wraps around my bare legs and up my dress like a gust of wind.

’’Sounding like se*.’’

He laughs even louder. ’’No one has ever told me I sound like se*, but I\ll take that as a compliment.’’


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