Man Candy: A Real Love Novel, page 18
Today, again, no briefs.
I look there too, stroking his length and admiring his handsome, proud cock. It has a lot to be proud of, I muse as it grows heavy in my palm. It’s responsible for my most powerful orgasms.
I kiss his chest, sliding my tongue up his throat and kissing there while Dax’s fingers thread through my hair and he massages the back of my head. His chest expands to its glorious limit when I nip his earlobe.
“The minute I saw you at my brother’s bar,” I whisper as his fingers clench against the back of my head, “I knew I had to have you.”
I rest both hands on his chest, rubbing there as I look up at his painfully handsome face.
“I never dreamed I’d have you over and over. I never imagined you had so much to teach me. In bed and out. I’ll never, ever forget you, Dax Vaughn.”
I smile with a touch of sadness. No. More than a touch. It’s weighty and oppressive. But that’s not what right now is about. Right now is about honoring who we are in this moment.
“Someday I’m going to visit Columbus and order my chicken and cheese quesadillas off your bar’s menu.”
He doesn’t smile. The moment’s too intense.
Gently he kisses me, like I’m porcelain and might break if he holds me too hard. He removes the rest of his clothes and I lie down. Then he rolls on a condom, his expression set to serious.
Silently he widens my legs and positions himself between them. He slides forward, penetrating inch by precious inch. My eyes close completely, and I’m blind to the beauty that is Dax.
I’m reduced to feelings and sensations. Fullness and depth. Wanting and wanton. I’ve been reduced to a being who feels. In the background the radio plays. I can’t make out the words, only the rhythmic thump of the bass.
I’m surrounded by Dax—invaded by him. Each slide is achingly slow. I open my eyes, palm his face, and lock eyes with him. He watches me as he moves, each glide deliberate.
My heart suffers a tiny fissure and tears pool in the corners of my eyes. I should tell him what this means to me—what he means to me—but I don’t have to say anything. He knows.
With a nod, he puts a soft kiss on my mouth. All our doubts and passion and fire and loss have culminated in this moment. I let the tears slide down my cheeks without shame.
He swipes them away with his thumbs as he whispers, “I know, Princess. I know.”
I place my fingers over his lips because I don’t want him to say more. I don’t want him to say anything that might make this moment harder than it is.
Even if it’s not forever, it’s goodbye to the bubble we’ve lived in for nearly two weeks. He has to leave, and no matter how we feel, there’s no avoiding that both of us are leaving this moment behind.
And in this moment, we are the most “us” we’ll ever be.
I shudder my release as Dax’s orgasm rocks his solid form. His muscles go hard. He bares his teeth and his eyelids pinch shut. I commit his beautiful pain-mixed-with-pleasure expression to memory. I soak him in as the waves of my own orgasm ripple along my form.
He drops his forehead to mine. We breathe each other in—sharing the same air for the last time for a long time.
I can’t deny what this is any longer, what it has been. Lara was right. And since I know myself well, that means the feeling in the center of my chest—the one stretching my heart to uncomfortable limits—is exactly what I think it is.
Inconvenient. Awful. Incredible. Painful.
I was right about him. He’s truly second to none.
Becca doesn’t want to stay the night. I can tell, so I don’t ask.
We didn’t leave the field right away. I lay there, my arm wrapped around her shoulders, her head on my chest. I pulled the sleeping bag over our nakedness. We were sated and satisfied. Both accepting and reeling that we had no future to discuss, even though we both felt the earth shake.
I was there. I know what happened. There’s no denying it, no matter how much either of us doesn’t want to talk about it. It was there when I pulled on my clothes and she buttoned her shirt over a sexy lace bra. It was there when I rolled up the sleeping bag and she waited for me up front while fiddling with the radio.
It’s here now, like a third party, while she kisses me good night on the porch of cabin 13. She sighs when we part.
“I meant what I said about the quesadilla. I meant every word.”
Spoken or unspoken, I have no doubt Becca means every word she says.
“Promise me you’ll put it on the menu. Please?”
And think about her every time I look at one? No, thanks. That’s a brand of agony only a masochist would enjoy.
“I don’t want you to forget me.” Her eyes are swimming with sincerity.
Fuck, what can I say to that?
“Okay, Princess. I’ll put it on the menu. Does it have a name?”
She flits her eyes to the porch’s roof while she thinks, then grins when she comes up with it. “Cabin 13 Quesadillas.”
I shake my head and regard my shoes, her laughter electrocuting my rib cage. I’m really, really going to miss that sound.
“Is that corny?” Her cute nose wrinkles and I kiss it.
“No, babe. It’s perfect.”
“What time are you returning the keys tomorrow?”
“Don’t know. Early. Are you working?”
“In the afternoon.” Her teeth stab her bottom lip.
“It’s a long drive, so—”
She launches herself at me, cutting off my words as I catch her against me. Her arms wrap around my neck, her breasts flatten against my chest. I scoop her up and hold her as tight as I dare.
“Thank you,” she whispers in my ear. “For everything.”
There’s a wrecking ball of emotion lodged in my esophagus, so I don’t say anything. We’ve already said it all.
I lower her to her feet. She lifts her purse from the rocking chair and pulls it over her shoulder. Then she pushes her hands through her hair, spins, and walks off the porch to her car. Finally when she opens her car door, my voice box cooperates.
“Be safe,” I call out.
She waves, climbs behind the wheel, and leaves.
I watch her car disappear behind the trees lining the road before I go back inside.
I decide to pack, then crash, but sleep doesn’t come for several hours.
Several hours I spend staring blankly at the ceiling, my thoughts a perfect storm of regrets and wants, hopes and dreams.
I race into Grand Lark in the morning stoked because I’m only fifteen minutes later than I intended. I was shooting for 6:30, but I’m here at 6:45 and come on, who leaves earlier than 6:45 to drive to Ohio?
I unlock the door, step inside, and find Tad at the front desk. His expression quickly morphs from surprise to sympathy.
“You just missed him.” He holds up the yellow key fob for cabin 13 and my heart sinks.
“Oh. By much?”
Tad shrugs, having no idea he’s delivering the worst news possible. “Ten minutes or so.”
Ten minutes or so.
Ten. Minutes. Damn my lateness.
“Didn’t expect you here this early. Did you come to see him off?”
“In part,” I lie. I came here to see him off. I also planned how to spend my additional morning hours. “I came in early to work on the menu some more. Have to earn that extra ten thou.”
“You’re accepting my offer.” Tad smiles. It’s so good to see him not frowning.
I lift my arms despite loss weighing down my entire body. “I’m here to stay. For better or worse.”
“Better, Bec. It’s for the better.”
I’ve never said this before, but man, I hope Tad’s right.
Right now it doesn’t feel better. Maybe it will someday soon.
At eight a.m. I take the phone call.
I’m on the road heading home and have been for over an hour.
“Good morning, Mr. Vaughn!” My realtor, Cindy, sounds way more awake than I do. Her chipper demeanor is almost painful. Then again, she didn’t leave the woman she loves on a mountain in Tennessee without so much as getting her phone number.
“Morning,” I manage.
“I’m thrilled to let you know that your offer on 123 North Street was accepted. You are inches away from being the proud owner of that building. Congratulations.”
I let that sink in.
“I’m here. Coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. That’s great news.”
She rattles off next steps and I respond with the occasional “yeah” and “uh-huh” so she knows I haven’t dropped the call. I expected to be excited to hear about the bar, but my excitement is muted. Turning the coffee shop on North Street into a bar is going to be a hefty endeavor. A lot of sweat equity keeping me busy.
Then again, I consider after I end the call with Cindy, busy is what I need to be. Busy with no excess time on my hands. Too tired in the evenings from building walls and laying floors to lie awake and stare at the ceiling and wonder why some relationships—like my parents’—are destined to last until the end and others just . . . end.
I crack my neck and roll my shoulders, setting my eyes on the road ahead, but in my mind I’m designing my new place. Deciding how to advertise, who to hire, how I’ll redesign the interior. I turn over colors and themes and styles. I mentally mock up a plan for the menu.
Cabin 13 Quesadillas.
The name’s all wrong. I’m going to change it.
I’ll put it on the menu because I promised Becca I would, but I have a more fitting name in mind.
Two Weeks Later
“Got ’em.” Barrett strolls into the North Street building, his thumb pointed behind him. “They’re on the truck.”
I set aside the saw and pull off my safety glasses. The rebuilt bar doesn’t look like much, but it will once we stain the top and tile the sides. I’m going with a bohemian style for this one. At least, that’s what my mom called it when I texted her a few photos I found online and asked what she thought.
“I was going to say ‘I got wood’ instead, but that seemed immature.” Barrett shrugs his shoulders and gives me the grin not dissimilar to the one he gives girls to get them to come home with him.
“I’m impressed by your restraint.”
“What can I say? I’m growing.” He opens a cooler, pulls out a few cans of beer, and tosses me one.
I catch it but toss it back and gesture to the saw. “How about a water? I’d rather not slice off a finger this early in the day.”
He throws the bottle in a neat spiral that I have to back up a few feet to catch. He winces in pain and grips his right shoulder. That’s the one he fucked up. The injury took him out of his Miami Dolphins contract. The same one landed him back in Ohio and in the arms of his ex-girlfriend-turned-girlfriend-turned-ex-girlfriend again. The injury and the girlfriend share the blame for Barrett’s still living in my apartment. But he’s been helping me build my bar, so I can’t complain. We don’t do anything more at the house than crash for six to eight hours of sleep before we come here and work a full day.
“I got it,” he announces as I slug down half the water in the bottle.
“What, wood? We covered this.” I swipe a few stray drops from my mouth with my arm. His smile and cocky-ass expression tell me all I need to know, but he spells it out anyway.
“The sportscaster position. I got it.” He spreads his arms and waggles his beer can. “Sure you don’t want to celebrate?”
“Fuck yes, I want to celebrate!” I say, changing my tune.
Barrett’s been trying to land the gig on the air ever since he returned to Columbus. It’ll put him on the field as an announcer for OSU games.
I abandon the water bottle and the rest of my chores for the day to crack open a beer, tapping his can with mine. We drink, and he sits on a chair while I collapse onto a stack of tile.
“Feel sorry for the cameraman that has to line up your ugly mug every game, though.”
He grins. It’s eat-shit-and-die dazzling. Barrett’s what the girls call a “ginger,” though he has some golden tones mixed in to keep him from being a true carrottop. If the hair doesn’t work for women, the sea-blue eyes and dimples seal the deal.
“This face sails ships, my friend.”
“I never understood your appeal. On the field or off.”
He laughs, knowing I’m giving him shit. It’s what we do best. “Good news is there’s a big signing bonus, so I’m almost out of your hair.”
“No more free labor in trade for room and board, then. Bummer.” But I’m happy for him.
“I’m finishing what we started. You could always throw in free beers for life.” He tries.
“You’re not a TV star yet and already you’re trying to get free stuff from local establishments? Pathetic. You’d drink me out of business.”
“Free food, then?”
I shake my head but give in. “Free food it is.”
We finish our beers and stop at one. Because who are we kidding? Neither of us can leave the day’s work unfinished. We unload the truck, do a few more hours’ worth of sawing and nailing, and then clean up the mess.
Barrett and I were a good team on the football field and we work as well together off.
“That’s it for me. You should come out,” he says for the eightieth time today.
“Double dates are a bit too high school for me, Bare.”
“If you saw Kim and met her friend Cherokee, you’d eat those words. Hot chicks.”
I shit you not, he draws an hourglass figure in the air with both hands.
“I’ll pass. I’m beat.”
“You’re not beat, friend,” Barrett says. “You’re whipped. By a Tennessee cutie you refuse to talk any more about.”
The night I came home, Barrett and I had a few beers. Those few beers loosened my lips and I told him about Becca. Never have I more regretted sharing so many details with anyone. I was exhausted from driving, heartbroken, and overwhelmed by the call about this very bar. He caught me at a weak moment and I confided in him.
“You’re never going to let me live that down, are you?” I ask him now.
“You vacationing in the woods and falling apart over a long-legged beauty? Never.”
“Have fun with Kim and Cherokee.” I grab a broom and sweep the remaining specks of sawdust into a pile.
“Why don’t you call her? The Tennessee girl?”
“I don’t have her number.”
“The main office of the resort. The place she works. Come on, Dax. I’ve never known you to be a pussy about these sorts of things. You want the girl, go get her. It’s only been a few weeks.”
He’s trying to goad me into calling her, but he doesn’t understand.
Two weeks felt more like two months. The miles between us are nothing compared to the distance created when we separated that last night at cabin 13.
“Sometimes, Bare”—I lean on the broom on the edge of the unfinished bar—“there’s no way to go back to what you once were. You and the ex-girlfriend. You know what I’m saying. You go back to her over and over and it doesn’t work. Why do you think that is?”
“Probably because every time we split up, I date other women like my life depends on it. She hates that shit.”
They didn’t call him “the bad boy of the NFL” for nothing. But he’s also full of it. Yes, he dates, but Beth has broken his heart a few times. I’m not sure why he goes back to her if he knows they’re going to fall apart again.
“I hear you,” he says. “Once bitten is enough. You want to leave it pure. The memory of her. The unachievable goal that all other women in your life will aspire to reach. You’re setting up a lot of honeys for heartbreak. Never knew you to be so cruel.”
Maybe it’ll take twice that long. Maybe it’ll take ten times that long.
I hope it doesn’t take longer than that.
“Exactly right,” I say anyway. Telling him the truth would be social suicide. You’ve never seen this guy at a cocktail party. He’d skewer me like one of those weenies dipped in barbecue sauce.
“You’re sure you don’t want to come with me tonight?” He asks one last time.
“Maybe next time.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He waves a hand and walks out of my bar. I kill time for another hour, then head across town to McGreevy’s to check in.
One of my managers, Grace, with her bright smile and brighter red hair, is behind the bar. She fakes like she’s having a heart attack when I stroll into the restaurant.
“Is it really you?” She gapes. Her boyfriend—excuse me, fiancé—Davis chuckles at her reaction. He’s in his usual spot on the customer side of the bar. Those two are quite the mismatched set. Grace is tats and tight leather pants, and Davis is suit and tie. Mismatched kind of like a former-jock bar owner and a plucky blonde who can’t show up anywhere on time.
“I haven’t seen you since the day after your vacation, Dax. I thought maybe North Street Bar was your new bae and you were giving McGreevy’s the shaft.”
“I still need someone to run North Street, you know.” I asked Grace if she’d like to manage her own place. She promptly and politely gave me a “no,” explaining that she loved McGreevy’s and her schedule.
“Sorry.” She turns me down again. “I’m planning my wedding. I can’t run a bar right now.”
Davis smiles and she grins at him. They’re gone for each other and it works. Why that shakes out well for some people and not for others will forever mystify me.
McGreevy’s is winding down for the night. Only a few tables are full, and other than Davis there are three patrons at the bar.
Grace moves to cash one of the barflies out while I check the office. I can do the number crunching on my laptop, but on occasion Margo leaves me a note taped to the keyboard. I keep asking her to text me or email me instead, but she’s old school and jots her notes on Post-its.
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