Bailey’s hand stung and she wiped it on her yoga pants as the elevator descended. She exited on her floor and made a beeline for her room. She was still angry and hurt and confused about Hunter but she wanted to see Nick. They’d hardly spoken since she’d arrived and she really needed some perspective.
She barged into her room and checked it to make sure it was tidy. She grabbed a maxi dress out of her suitcase and quickly changed into it before pulling her hair into sleek pony tail and touching up her lipgloss.
She was nervous about seeing Nick and her stomach jumped about erratically. He hadn’t said anything on the phone except that he was on his way over and he wanted to see her. Why did he want to see her? Had he changed his mind about marrying Ainsley?
There was a knock on her door and she jumped. Taking a deep breath, she smoothed her dress and walked over to open the door. Nick stood there, leaning casually against the door frame, his coat tossed over his shoulder. He smiled at her. He was gorgeous, but there was a reticence about her now and she wasn’t as quick to melt under his gaze.
“Can I come in?” he asked and she blushed.
“Of course,” she said, stepping out of the way so he could enter.
He tossed his jacket on the bed as she closed the door and then turned to pull her against him. He nuzzled her neck and her skin prickled with goosebumps.
“God I’ve missed you Bae,” he whispered into her ear. His hands roamed over her back, pressing her into him as he nipped at her neck.
This was modus operandi for them, but something felt different tonight. Bailey didn’t feel the usual thrill of being with him, instead it made her uncomfortable. She pushed away from him, needing space.
“What’s wrong Bae?” he asked, reaching out for her hand.
“Nick, I’m seeing Hunter,” she said. “We’re here together.”
“What, here in the room?” he asked looking around for the evidence of another man.
She shook her head. “No,” she said, “but we are here together as a couple.”
Nick flashed her his trademark smile, the one that usually made her weak in the knees. “But that doesn’t apply to us,” he said. “And it’s been ages since we were together.” He pulled her back into his arms and caressed her cheek.
She pulled out of his arms again and walked over to the window to put some space between them. “Nick, you get married in three days. Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be with Ainsley?”
He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his head, his jaw clenching. “I’ve explained all this to you Bailey,” he said. “I’m only marrying her because my father needs her father’s company. I thought you understood that.”
“But you’re sleeping with her and you intend to have a family together,” she said, speaking out the words that she had been hiding from.
“Well, yeah,” he answered like she was being silly. “It wouldn’t be much of a marriage if I didn’t.”
“And what about me, Nick?” she asked.
“Bae,” he said, his voiced softening, “you know how I feel about you. I love you and I always will love you.”
“So why don’t you marry me?” she asked, blurting out the question that had been plaguing her.
“I explained this to you Bailey,” he said, his patience waning. “I can’t marry you. You live in Melbourne, your life and career is there.”
“I could move back here,” she said, taking a step towards him.
“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” he said. “I would never expect you to give up your life for me.”
“But what if I wanted to? I’m sure I could get a job here in the same field and then we could be together all the time.”
“You would end up hating me,” he said. “You would resent me for making you give up everything you have built for yourself and that would break me. Bae, what we have, it works. If you want to keep seeing Hunter, then I’m fine with that. We can still keep our arrangement.”
“So you would be happy sharing me with Hunter?” she asked, her stomach churning.
“Well, it’s not exactly sharing,” he said reaching out for her hands again.
She let him pull her into him and looked up into the eyes that she had dreamed about for so long. He was telling her that he loved her and always would, but he was also telling her he would never marry her. Giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
He dipped his head and captured her lips in a tender kiss, but for the first time since she and Nick had begun their arrangement, it felt wrong. He was willfully cheating on his wife-to-be and she was a willing accomplice. Not to mention what she was doing to Hunter. They may not be actually, officially, in a relationship, but as far as Nick was concerned they were. If she went through with this tonight, she would put Hunter in a very bad position.
She pushed Nick away again. “I can’t do this,” she said. “Hunter and I are in a relationship and I won’t betray him like this.”
“Are you fucking serious?” Nick growled at her. “Do you know what I’m risking by coming here tonight? If Ainsley found out, the wedding would be off and my father’s business deal would be in the toilet.”
“That’s not my responsibility,” Bailey said, raising her chin defiantly.
“Are you in love with him?” Nick said harshly. “Or is it his money you’re after?” His face screwed up into an ugly sneer and Bailey had a glimpse of a man she didn’t even know.
“I think you should leave,” she said her palm itching to make an imprint on his face.
“Does Hunter know that I screwed you? Does he know we’ve been fucking like bunnies for years?”
“Get out Nick,” she said, refusing to be intimidated by his vulgar words.
He gave her one last look and then shook his head and stormed out, slamming the door behind him. She crumpled to the floor and began to sob. Nick had never been cruel to her. He’d never made her feel like a cheap screw before. But the words he’d said to her tonight cut her deep.
There was banging on her door and she jumped.
“Go away Nick,” she yelled. “Leave me alone.”
“Bailey, it’s Hunter. Let me in.”
She jumped to her feet and ran to the door pulling it open. Hunter stood there, his green eyes wild, his hair in disarray like he had been running his fingers through it.
“Hunter,” she whispered and collapsed into his arms.
Hunter wrapped his arms around a trembling Bailey and held her tight. He backed her into the room, letting the door close behind him.
“Shh,” he mumbled into her hair, caressing her back as she sobbed into his shoulder. He had no doubt that this was because of Nick and he really wanted to hurt the bastard. He didn’t know how he was going to get through the next few days without decking him.
He manoeuvred them until they sat on the edge of her bed. Her room wasn’t a suite and there was no couch, so it was the bed or the floor. He kept his arms around her and let her cry, murmuring soothing noises and rubbing her back until her sobs quietened.
She held onto him like she was afraid he would let her go and he tightened his hold on her to let her know he wasn’t going anywhere. He lay back on the bed, pulling her down with him, and snuggling her under his arm so that her head rested on his chest. He continued to stroke her back as she soaked up his attention.
“I’m so sorry about earlier,” she said, her voice hoarse from crying. “You were right. I’m nothing more than a booty call to Nick.”
“I was stupid and jealous,” he said, running his fingers through her hair, pulling it out of its pony tail and spreading the red gold strands along the pillow.
“No, you were right,” she said and sighed. “I asked him to choose me and he said he wouldn’t.”
“He’s a fucking retard,” Hunter growled, pulling her tighter against him.
“He asked me if you knew that he and I had slept together. He might say something to you.”
“I’ll handle my stepbrother, baby,” he said. “Don’t you worry about it.”
“Why are you so good to me Hunter?” she asked, tipping her head up to look at him.
Her eyes were red rimmed and glassy with tears and her face was so sad that it broke his heart. He couldn’t help the soft kiss that he brushed across her lips.
“Bailey, I think the absolute world of you. You deserve so much better than Nick. You deserve someone who worships the ground you walk on.”
“Kiss me Hunter,” she said and he couldn’t deny her.
He dropped his lips to hers and languidly slid them across the soft pillows that were her lips. He tasted the salt of her tears and it caused his heart to clench. He wanted to take away all her hurt, all her pain. He wanted to protect her from the ugliness of people like Nick.
She opened her mouth under his and he slid his tongue inside, tasting her and a soft moan escaped from his throat. Her hands snaked up into his hair and her body shuddered against his as his hands ran down her back. He rolled her on top of him and she settled between his legs, her soft core making contact with his hardness. He couldn’t hide the way he felt about her or what his body yearned to do with her.
She moved against him and he tightened his arms around her to keep her still.
“Bailey,” he warned in a gruff voice.
“I want you Hunter,” she whispered into his neck. “I need you.”
He groaned, but rolled her back off him and sat up. He ran a hand through his hair and took a few deep breaths. He didn’t come here for this. He came here to save her from making a mistake with Nick not for her to make an even bigger mistake with him.
“Hunter,” she said, her voice small and uncertain.
He looked over his shoulder at her and he nearly just said fuck it, but he wanted more from her than this. She was upset and emotional and hurt. He would be just easing her pain, it would just be sex to her and Hunter didn’t want just sex with Bailey.
He turned to face her. She was sitting up in the middle of the bed and the look on her face was so forlorn that he wanted to tuck her up under his arms and tell her everything would be all right.
“Bailey, I really like you,” he said, cupping her cheek and lifting her head so that she looked him in the eye, “but I can’t sleep with you tonight.”
“Why?” she breathed. “Don’t you want me?”
“God,” he shook his head and chuckled ruefully, “I want you so much Blue that it hurts.” He ran a hand through his hair. “But that’s not what you need tonight. Tonight, you need a friend and I want to be that friend.”
She blew out a puff of air and closed her eyes. “You’re right,” she said. She opened her eyes and looked at him. “But will you stay with me?”
“I have a better idea,” he said. “Grab some clothes and come up to my suite.”
She looked around the room, unsure.
“Come on,” he said. “My suite is bigger and it even has a second room. We’ll check you out tomorrow morning and you can stay the rest of the week with me.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, still uncertain.
“Bailey, I want to be your friend and I want to spend time with you. You don’t have to sleep in my bed, but I would feel a whole lot better if you were at least in the same apartment.”
She bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes. He willed her to say yes. Everything he’d said to her was true. He wanted to get to know her better and he wanted her near him. But he also wanted to run interference between her and Nick. At least if she was staying with him, Nick wouldn’t be able to ambush her like he had tonight.
“Okay,” she said and his heart whooped.
Bailey let Hunter gather her and her belongings up and took them to his suite. She felt a bit awkward about him turning down her advances (who says no to sex?) but appreciated him for it. She’d noticed his steel-hard erection and knew it hadn’t been easy for him to say no and it was just another way he showed her how different he was from his step-brother.
She felt like such a fool in regards to Nick. Why hadn’t she seen this before? He told her he loved her, but he didn’t treat her like he loved her. Had she really been so blind? She’d vowed she would never become one of those women who lost brain cells whenever a hot guy was near, but that’s exactly what she’d done whenever Nick had crooked his finger.
Bailey had thought that the arrangement she had with Nick was proof that she was evolved. She thought it had proved that she had a mature and realistic view of sex. She was a woman who liked sex and she wasn’t ashamed of it. By having an understanding with Nick, she had deluded herself into thinking that she was above the affectations of lust and was avoiding those awful, uncomfortable moments when you didn’t know where you stood with a man. She’d thought she knew where she stood with Nick and she thought she was okay with that.
But she hadn’t been okay with it at all. The way she freaked out when she heard that he was getting married had shown her how much she’d been deceiving herself. Bailey had convinced herself that she was above other women who mooned over their latest crush, but she was no better. Her and Nick had had this arrangement for five years and she hadn’t dated anyone else in that time. She knew he had, but she had kept herself for him, convinced that he would eventually see the light and realise that he was in love with her all along.
Fuck. She made herself sick.
“So what do you feel like doing?” Hunter asked as he walked back from depositing her bags in the second bedroom. “Movie? Card game?”
“Dessert?” she asked and he smiled.
He walked to the freezer and removed the tub of gelato that she’d brought earlier. God was that only a couple of hours ago? It felt like days since she had stood outside his door feeling nervous about spending the evening alone with him.
Hunter grabbed two spoons and brought them over to the kitchen counter where she was sitting. He dragged a stool around to the other side of the bench and sat opposite her.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked handing her the tub and a spoon.
“No,” she said, scooping out a large mound of mango gelato and putting it in her mouth. She was willing to risk brain freeze rather than discuss with Hunter what an absolute fool she had been.
“Okay then,” he said with a smile taking his own giant scoop of the icy confection.
“You think I’m an idiot, don’t you?” she asked after she had swallowed her mouthful.
He didn’t answer straight away, taking time to slowly finish his own mouthful. He tapped the spoon on his lips before answering.
“I don’t think you’re an idiot,” he said. “I don’t understand, but my ignorance doesn’t make you the idiot.”
“I think I’m an idiot,” she grumbled before scooping some more gelato into her mouth.
“Why?” he asked. “What makes you the idiot in this scenario and not Nick?”
“Because we had an agreement and I was the one who reneged,” she replied.
“No, I think Nick was the one who changed the terms of the contract without negotiating it with you.”
“But I was the one who fell in love,” she murmured and shoved the spoon into her mouth.
“Is that such a bad thing?” he asked and she rolled her eyes.
“Well, obviously,” she said. “I wouldn’t feel like such a bloody fool if I hadn’t.”
“How long were you two together?”
“Five years,” she replied.
Hunter whistled. “And neither of you felt the need to ask for more? You didn’t feel at some point that the arrangement wasn’t working for you anymore and that you wanted more?”
She shook her head. “The last few months we were together I began to, but I suppose I just thought that eventually we’d end up together,” she said, licking her spoon. “Isn’t this weird for you? Talking about this stuff?”
He shrugged. “I’m just trying to understand what the allure is, what changed so that you suddenly decided the arrangement wasn’t working anymore.”
“That’s easy,” she replied. “When he told me that he was getting married.”
“But he’d had relationships before,” Hunter said.
“Well, yeah,” she responded, “but they were never serious, they were never permanent.”
“So suddenly someone else would have a claim on him and you got all territorial.”
“No, it wasn’t like that,” she argued, but…
“Are you sure, Blue? I don’t deny that you love Nick, but are you in love with him or is it more that you don’t want anyone else to have him?”
Hunter’s words battered against her like waves breaking over rocks in a storm, slowly eroding her protestations. Is that what this was? Was this reaction just a form of jealousy?
“You make me sound like a child fighting over a toy.”
He lifted his eyebrow at her but didn’t reply, stuffing a spoonful of gelato into his mouth nonchalantly.
“Do you honestly think that this is a tantrum?” she asked, anger rising up in her suddenly. But she wasn’t angry at Hunter, although he was the focus of it. No, she was angry because what he said felt a little too close to the truth and it made her uncomfortable.
“I think,” he said calmly, “that you and I wouldn’t have had such a powerful connection if you were really truly in love with Nick.”
“Our connection?” she shook her head. “The only connection we have is sex.”
“Bullshit,” he said, conversationally.
“Bullshit?” she was getting agitated with his utter calmness.
“You heard me,” he replied. “I call bullshit. What we have goes way deeper than sex and you know it.” He stood and walked around the counter to stand next to her. He leant down to whisper in her ear. “If this was just sex then your pulse wouldn’t speed up when I get close to you. Your breath wouldn’t hitch when I brush against you. Your eyes wouldn’t seek me out whenever I walk into the room and you wouldn’t feel the need to touch me in public, to brand me, to mark me as yours.”
She closed her eyes as his hot breath skittered over the soft skin of her neck. Her heart rate had increased as he’d gotten closer to her and her breath did hitch when his beard brushed across her bare shoulder. He stood and walked away and she felt the loss of him keenly. She kept her eyes closed though, feeling the physiological changes in her body caused by his nearness.
She had been confused because she couldn’t understand how she could have such an attraction to Hunter when she had told herself she was in love with Nick. She had never stopped to consider that she wasn’t in love with Nick at all.