Talk about a wake-up call.
My muscles sunk into the bed as Braden crawled up my body, his eyes smiling down at me as he braced himself above me. I could feel his hard on rub against my wet center. “Morning, babe.”
I caressed his waist, scoring my nails lightly across his skin in a way I knew he liked. “Morning to you, too. And what a happy morning it is.”
He laughed at my goofy grin and fell off me to lie at my side. I turned to check the clock but my eyes caught on the object on my desk. I bolted upright, staring at it, wondering if I was actually seeing right. I felt Braden at my back and his chin came down on my shoulder.
“Do you like it?”
A typewriter. A shiny, black, old-fashioned typewriter sat on my desk beside my laptop. It was beautiful. It was just like the one my mom had promised to buy me. Just like the one I’d told Braden my mom had promised to buy me. The one she didn’t buy me because she’d died before she could.
This was an amazing gift. A thoughtful, beautiful gift. And it was more than sex.
I felt the pressure on my chest before I could do anything to stop it, my brain fogging up like it too was too full. The tingles exploded across my skin as my heart galloped out of control.
“Jocelyn,” Braden’s worried voice penetrated the fog, and I reached for his hand to reassure him. “Breathe,” he murmured in my ear, his hand squeezing mine, his other on my hip, holding me into him.
I breathed in and out in rhythm, taking back control, letting my lungs open, my heart rate slow, my brain unfog itself. Exhausted, I leaned back into Braden’s chest.
After a minute or two, Braden spoke, “I know you don’t want to talk about why you’re taking these panic attacks, but… do they happen a lot?”
“Sometimes. More lately.”
He sighed and my body moved as his chest moved. “Maybe you should talk to someone about them?”
I pulled away from him, unable to look at him. “I already am.”
I nodded, hiding behind my hair. “A therapist.”
His voice was quiet. “You’re seeing a therapist?”
My hair was brushed back behind my ear, his fingers gliding along my jaw to turn my face to his. His eyes were kind, concerned. Understanding. “Good. I’m glad you’re talking to someone at least.”
You’re beautiful. “Thank you for my typewriter. It’s beautiful.”
Braden gave me an uneasy smile. “I didn’t mean to cause a panic attack.”
I kissed him quickly, reassuringly. “That’s my bullshit, don’t worry about it. I love it. It was really thoughtful.” And more. To push out the ‘more’, I grinned devilishly, my hand sliding down his stomach to grasp his cock. It hardened instantly. “I can’t accept it, however, without giving a gift in return.”
Just as my head descended Braden stopped me, grasping me by the upper arms to pull me back up. I frowned. I knew he wanted it. He was throbbing in my grip for it. “What?”
His expression had changed so quickly, his eyes dark, his features granite. “You go down on me because you want to, not because of the typewriter. It was just a gift, Jocelyn. Don’t go f**king it up in your head and twisting it into something else.”
I let this sink in and finally I nodded. “Okay.” I squeezed him a little harder and his nostrils flared. “Then I’m going down on you in return for you going down on me.”
Slowly, he let me go and rested back on his elbows. “That I can work with.”
“The book is coming along then?” Dr. Pritchard asked, seeming pleased.
I nodded. “I’m getting there.”
“And the panic attacks?”
“I’ve had a few.”
“When did those occur?”
I told her and when I finished she lifted her gaze and there was something in it I didn’t understand. “You told Braden you were seeing me?”
Oh hell, was that the wrong thing to do? It had just slipped out. I don’t know why… “Yeah, I did.” I pretended like I didn’t care.
“I think that’s good.”
Wait. What? “You do?”
“Why do you think I do?”
I made a face. “Next question.”
I saw Braden nearly every day after that morning. We spent the next week hanging out. Ellie, Braden, Jenna and Adam, and some girl Adam had brought along as a date, stopped by the bar on Saturday night before dragging Braden to a nightclub. He seriously hated clubbing which had brought me to ask him the question ‘why he owned a nightclub?’ His reply was that it was good business. When he was being dragged out of the bar for the nightclub, I gave him a sympathetic smile. I was not at all surprised to find that he’d escaped the club to come pick me up. Sunday was dinner at Elodie’s and Clark’s, which consisted of Declan and Hannah bickering, Clark ignoring said bickering, and Elodie making the bickering worse. Ellie, in an effort to forget Adam’s date last night, was complaining constantly that she didn’t think the lenses in her glasses were right, and no one noticed anything different about me and Braden. Thank God. Elodie’s head would explode if she knew what was going on between us.
Monday night, Braden came over after he’d gone to the gym—we had memberships at different gyms for which I was thankful. I needed to focus when I was exercising—we’d hung out with Ellie, and Braden had stayed the night. Tuesday night I went on my first official required business dinner. A real one this time. What I hadn’t known was that Braden was selling his French restaurant and keeping the contemporary, upmarket Scottish seafood restaurant he owned down by the Shore. It was a private sale to a business friend. A private sale, but the local media had still found out and wrote a piece on the established La Cour changing hands, and speculating over the reason for Braden selling it.
“It’s too much,” Braden had explained after asking me to accompany him to the dinner, which was really just a celebratory thing between him and the guy who’d bought it. “The nightclub has become a much bigger success than I was expecting, the estate agency is always pulling me into some problem or another and away from the property development which is what I enjoy, and I’m just spread too thin. La Cour was my dad’s. There’s not anything about it that has my stamp on it. So I sold it.”
We met Thomas Prendergast and his wife Julie at Tigerlily. I wore a new dress and tried to be as charming as possible. Well, charming in the only way I know how. Thomas was older than Braden and much more serious, but he was friendly and clearly respected Braden. Julie was like her husband, sedate, quiet, but friendly. Friendly enough to ask personal questions. Personal questions Braden helped me deflect.
I rewarded him well for that later.
Overall, the dinner was nice. Braden seemed more relaxed now that he didn’t have La Cour resting on his shoulders, and for some reason I found that him being relaxed made me relaxed. We hung out at his apartment Wednesday night, mostly because we had to be quiet at my apartment, and that took some of the fun out of the sex. So we had sex loudly on the couch, on the floor and in his bed.
Replete, I lay in the tangled sheets of his bed, staring at his ceiling. His bedroom was as contemporary as the rest of the duplex. Low, Japanese bed, wardrobes built into the walls so they didn’t take up space. An armchair in the corner by the window. Two bedside cabinets. Nothing else. He needed some pictures at least.
“Why don’t you talk about your family?”
My whole body tensed, the breath whooshing out of me at the question I was completely unprepared for. My head twisted on my pillow to stare at him incredulously. He wasn’t looking at me warily, like he was waiting on me freaking out. He just looked determined. I sucked in my breath and looked away. “I just don’t.”
“That’s not really an answer, babe.”
I threw up my hands. “They’re gone. There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Not true. You could talk about who they were as people. What you were like as a family. How they died…”
I struggled for a moment with my anger, trying to hold it in. He wasn’t meaning to be cruel, I knew that. He was curious, he wanted to know. It wasn’t unreasonable. But I thought we understood each other. I thought he understood me.
And then I realized that he couldn’t possibly understand. “Braden, I know your life hasn’t been easy, but you can’t possibly understand how messed up my past is. It’s shit. And that’s not a place I want to take you.”
He sat up, pushing his pillow up against the headboard and I twisted onto my side to look up at him as he looked down at me, a pain in his eyes I had never seen before. “I understand messed up, Jocelyn. Believe me.”
I waited, sensing more on the horizon.
And he sighed, his eyes drifting over me to look out the window. “My mum is the most selfish woman I’ve ever known. And I don’t even know her that well. I was forced to stay with her during the summer holidays, travelling around Europe, living off of whatever sad f**k she’d managed to manipulate into being with her. During the school year, I lived with my dad in Edinburgh. Douglas Carmichael could be a harsh, distant bastard, but he was a bastard who loved me, and that was more than my mother ever did. And dad gave me Ellie and Elodie. Elodie was the one thing I had issues with my father over. She’s a sweet person, a good woman, and he never should have chased after her and treated her like all the others. But he did. At least she ended up with Clark and Ellie ended up with a brother who will do anything for her. My dad was neglectfully affectionate with Ellie, nothing more. With me he put on the pressure. And I was an a**hole kid who rebelled against following in daddy’s footsteps.” He huffed at himself, shaking his head. “If we could only go back and knock some sense into those kids we once were.”
“I started hanging around the wrong people, smoking pot, getting drunk, and getting into a lot of fights. I was angry. Angry at everything. And I liked to use my fists to get rid of that anger. I was nineteen and dating a girl from a rough area here. Her mum was in prison, her dad gone, and her brother was a junkie. Nice girl, bad home life. One night she turned up at my door and she was just a hysterical mess.” His eyes glazed over as he remembered, and I knew instinctively that what he was about to say next was going to be beyond awful. “She was crying, shaking, and she had vomit in her hair. She’d gotten home that night and her brother was so off his face on smack that he raped her.”
“Oh my God,” I breathed, feeling physical pain for the girl I had never met, and for Braden for having had that happen to someone he cared about.
“I lost it. I didn’t give myself time to think. I tore off, running the whole f**king way to his place on adrenaline alone.” He stopped, his jaw clenched tight. “Jocelyn, I beat him within an inch of his life.” He looked down at me, his expression remorseful. “I’m a big man,” he whispered. “I was, even as a teenager. I didn’t realize my own strength.”