He had been speeding.
Twice, he’d stopped so close to the car in front of us, he nearly hit the rear bumper
But we made it back to his place safely where he walked with long strides to the lift and I had to follow at a gallop.
He did not let up his pace until we were in the penthouse, where he was now pacing in front of me, an angry expression on his face.
“I knew this topic would come up eventually,” he said. “I’m even surprised that you’ve never asked. But then again, I suppose I never gave you any reason to wonder about me.”
I swallowed hard, watching him, wondering if he was simply thinking out loud or actually talking to me.
I sat there, facing my front, too afraid to move.
I understood how people could be fearful of asking the questions that they wanted answers to because the truth was even scarier than they realized.
And I was scared.
“I think it’s important that you know this.”
Maybe it was not.
It was in the past and he seemed sincere about rising above that –
“Because… Honestly, I don’t know – I can’t say for certain that I have left it all behind.”
I pursed my lips.
“And maybe it would do you some good to know,” he said.
I wasn’t sure how.
Okay, maybe a little bit.
“Because… If I fall…”
He looked at me.
“It would be… I hope I don’t go back. But I just want to share it with you. I want you to know my story.”
I swallowed hard on a dry throat. “Why do you want me to know?” I asked.
He understood what I meant when I asked.
The question did not come from an ungrateful place and he knew this.
Maybe it was my own insecurity.
And it was.
Yes, I was his girlfriend and maybe that was enough for anyone, but I didn’t think that gave me carte blanch over what he should and shouldn’t tell me.
At the end of the day, it was his choice.
He shrugged, skewing his lips. He dropped down into the sofa next to me and he nudged me playfully with his shoulder.
“I trust you,” he said.
That explained everything.
I smiled warmly at him and he smiled back.
He reached out, brushing his knuckles across my cheek.
And he sighed heavily.
“It would be completely senseless for me to start this story somewhere else, so I’ll begin right where Hilda picked it up.”
Physically, he withdrew.
I knew that he wouldn’t touch me again and maybe that made sense.
“It was during my tour with the force,” he began. “My time there taught me lessons I’d only learn after I left. But I also saw things and did things…”
“I didn’t come out the way that I went in,” he said. “Because of all of it, I ended up moving out of my parents’ house and moving in with Aiden here in the city. So I spent my leave here, visiting my parents when I could.”
I nodded, silently urging him to continue.
“I wasn’t quite adjusting to life here, since I’d been there. So Aiden, being the brother that he is, he tried to help. You know, see a few people, have a little fun.”
He rose to his feet and walked to the giant window wall.
“I was eighteen, home for the Summer break. Everyone else was out of school so the clubs were packed. They were letting loose, getting wild. And that’s where I met Flo.”
He put his hands in his pockets.
“She’s four years my senior. I have no idea what she was doing at the time, but she loved to party. I saw her at almost every event that my brother took me to and apparently, that was her scene – the club circuit.
One of those nights, one of my – slightly better days, I decided to talk to her. She was – I don’t know – there was something, fresh about her.”
“Fresh?” I repeated.
He spun around, a smile in his eyes and on his face.
“I know, it sounds stupid, but that was what I thought of when I saw her dancing there,” he said. “It was dark in the room but she seemed to shine, like she was almost glowing. She was happy, eyes bright, didn’t even care who was or wasn’t watching. And she was laughing. I remember thinking of – have you ever heard wind chimes before?”
I found myself picturing her dancing in a corner of this very room, her red hair flying around her like fire in the dark.
“She didn’t even say hello,” he said.
He looked uncomfortable. He ducked his head.
“She pulled me into her and I thought we were going to dance but she kissed me stupid.”
I couldn’t fight back the smile when it came.
“Fuck,” he grumbled.
“So it is her thing,” I said. “Go on…”
He eventually looked up at me, but I could see that he was pushing his thoughts through a very tight filter.
“We started hanging out, things heated up and…”
I couldn’t help it; I blurted it out.
“She was your first.”
“Yes,” he said slowly.
The moment was given the weight it deserved and I nodded. “Okay.”
He nodded, understanding.
“I went back into the field. Another uphill climb and – it was so dark, after the second tour, I nearly quit the force. I didn’t see her for a long time, even though I wanted to, every time that I came home. Then I was shot and was discharged. I was ready to quit as it was anyway.”
I could not begin to imagine it.
“I came home and the first thing I did was find Flo.”
I remembered how he said that he had had two romantic relationships in his life and that one of them hadn’t worked out.
I always assumed that it was Hilda.
“I don’t think what I felt for her was love,” he said. “I just liked the way she made me feel.”
And that answered my question.
He stood there quietly for a long moment, looking at the ground.
“Flo was the first,” he said. “But she wasn’t the only one, at the time.”
I bit my lip and immediately pulled it back out.
“I didn’t cheat on her because we weren’t together.”
He scratched his head and I wondered if he was going to follow it up with the common practice of such a gesture – a lie.
“She – allowed other women in, while we were together.”
I cocked my brow. “She allowed you to cheat?”
He sighed, grumbling under his breath.
“We weren’t exclusive, so it wasn’t cheating. But there were other women. Sometimes, even while she was right there.”
My eyes widened.
I nodded silently.
“We started going out together, but not as a thing,” he said. “We were – friends. She introduced me to new people and things got a little easier for me. I’d go out with Aiden and his people would meet my people and the circle just kept growing. But despite my active social life, I still had some of what I’d seen, with me.
Nightmares, anger, despair, regret. There was even a sense of bloodlust that seemed to fuse it all together. And when I wasn’t feeling these things, I was numb.”
“All the discipline that I’d learnt, just seemed to fly out of the window when I was in that state,” he said. “But I always felt better when I…”
I nodded even before he finished speaking.
“There was also some kind of thrill in it, doing what we were doing. It was wrong and we all knew it but that’s what made it fun.”
He turned his back on me again.
I blinked several times, realizing that I’d been staring.
“Then I started school. Started my degree in Aeronautical Engineering – just for something to do, really.”
“Most of everyone else had also returned to campus life. It was here that Aiden learnt what was going on. He flipped out.”
Dom shook his head.
“A girl he was dating at the time –”
“No – way!”
“Yes,” he said. “She was one of the girls I’d slept with.”
“Is that how he found out? Because of her?”
“Not really,” he said.
He looked at me for a short moment.
“It was only a specific group of people who knew what Flo was like because they had experienced her lifestyle for themselves.”
“Experienced her lifestyle? What?”
“Swinging,” he said. “She loved to party, but she got her kicks from swinging.”
“As in… Oh my word...”
He nodded again.
I felt along the bracelet on my wrist, feeling like it was burning against my skin.
“Her desire for pleasure was – is – insatiable. She loves to give it, to have it, to feel it. And because she was so good at it, I believe that’s why I wanted her specifically.”
He paced to the other side of the window wall, still looking away from me, at the city beyond.
“Aiden had heard of her and when he learnt that she was with me, he was ready to blow up the world. His concern wasn’t just for me – the risks are plenty. You know, you are a Nurse.”
Damn straight, I was.
“He was worried about the Tyree name and all the brands that go with it.”
“That’s just funny, seeing as he is who he is,” I said without thinking. He chuckled without humour.
“That’s what I said, but there are some lines that even he wouldn’t dare cross.
So he gave me an ultimatum. Either I stop all of it, or I move out. So I moved out and moved closer to campus.”
He shook his head.
“I craved it. I craved the high of it. I knew that there were other ways to cope, but I didn’t want these other ways. I wanted the –”
He stopped short of what he was going to say.
“I have a lot of money. We all do as sons of my grandfather’s empire. But I wasn’t about to spend it on buying the pleasure I wanted. So I put a proposition on the table for Flo. She was single, I was single, so why not be what we were to each other? Keep ourselves healthy for obvious reasons, but because I only wanted her and I knew what she was like, I would be with her exclusively and she could see whoever she wanted.”
I breathed out slowly. “And?”
“She agreed,” he said. “But she put her own demands on the table. I don’t see how they could be called demands though, they were already in line with what I wanted.”
“What did she want?”
“What I did to her, I could do with nobody else,” he said. “And whatever she did with me, she could do with nobody else.”
“Doesn’t that mean you were exclusive?”
“We were intimate, but not personal. Exclusive in our sexual dealings, but nothing else. That’s where I learnt about The Echelon. But I didn’t sign on until later.”
I blinked. “Right.”
“At first, we would always meet at her place,” he said. “She would come and pick me up and we’d do what we’d do.”
He paced back to his original position, quiet for a long moment.
“The risk was reduced by a wide margin, but still, Aiden was not satisfied,” he said.
“But you were honest with each other, about what you were doing,” I said.
Dom nodded in agreement. “Yes,” he said, “But in his eyes, she was still a liability. Flo was just like him in one thing – she was who she was openly.”
Yes, I understood the predicament there.
“He was worried that she’d open her mouth about it.”
“Yes,” he said. “And that’s when he thought of the contract. She would not be allowed to make any references to us and what we did amongst other things. The fact was, it was legally binding. A non-disclosure agreement that had very severe and specific consequences.”
I didn’t know how they could have made that happen.
You would need a very open mind to have such a contract drawn up and looked at and bound.
“This time around, it was different, it wasn’t rushed,” he said. “Just the two of us. We weren’t just using each other like objects. We – acknowledged the fact that we were living and breathing and we used all of it to our advantage.”
In that moment, I saw that same glint I’d seen in Hilda’s eyes when she was explaining him to me –
“It was intense and because it was so – unhurried and we took it slow, it was a different kind of fire that I felt. It was…”
And now I was remembering just about every encounter that we had had with each other.
I remembered how I couldn’t breathe when he –
“In that year alone, I was introduced to all kinds of things, all kinds of ways,” he said.
He turned around and looked at me and I battled not to study him, look for signs of that part of his life – to see if he missed it.
His face was blank.
“It came to a point where I went exploring on my own.”
“On your own?”
“The art, the books, toys,” he said. And he actually looked shy in that moment.
Would he could blush..!
“You were right, when you said that I could be controlling,” he said. “That was part of what I explored.”
I sat there and I thought for a minute.
And it hit me instantly.
“With my earnings at The Echelon, I decided to take it up a notch. I bought the remaining space of the floor. I put it all in there. At first, it was for my own amusement, I told myself this. But I knew that it wasn’t…”
He nodded his head.
“So I added a little something to the contract – that they would have to come to me and we would do all of it in there.”
It was wrong.
It was entirely wrong, I knew, but hell if it didn’t sound so completely sexy!
“Of course, there were no complaints at all.”
“Of course,” I repeated, shaking my head.
“Things looked different and felt different, then,” he said. “So as a result, the kind of company I kept, changed, somewhat. The hardcore partying ground to a stop and I eventually started hanging out with people who were more my speed.”
“And what speed was that?”
He looked at me and only smiled, but didn’t outright answer me.
“A simple conversation could go many different ways, but only some women would understand it.”
“And the ones that did..?”
“Some would blatantly throw themselves at me. Others, I would proposition. But we only met under the terms of the contract and at The Echelon’s pleasure.”
I swallowed hard, hoping that I was keeping a straight face.
“But I found myself falling into the same pattern I had encountered when I was with Flo – craving it and seeking it out above all else. It was like a drug.”
“Where was she when this was happening?”
“Our contract had expired – I was with her over a six month period,” he said. “We did – a lot of things…”
He shook his head as if to clear it.
“But we kept in contact,” he said. “And I am glad that we did.”
A cold brick settled on my back as I waited for him to explain that part to me.
“I wanted to know how she did it,” he said. “The high you get from sex is so heavy and potent. I wanted to understand how she was able to keep a straight head.”
He laughed, an edge to the sound.
“Once again, she opened another door to another world that I didn’t know about.”
He looked at me and I felt like a veil had been lifted and I was seeing him differently.
“I saw here, how she could – extract this pleasure, in many different ways, without even taking it to sex. And I learnt that she too had discovered this from her exploits and adventures on the swing circuit.”
And at once, I pictured her, sitting on a swing with him watching her.
“I wanted to know more,” he said. “So once again, she took up exclusivity and showed me. I grew in that discovery, learning more and more about the female body and my own. Some women would meet me just for the sex, others wanted to experience more, something different.”
“Were any of them married?”
“No,” he said. “That was one of the points. Little consolation, I know, but…”
Little consolation indeed.
“It pretty much went that way,” he said. “Things got easier with Aiden and me. The family’s worry eased a little.”
“Do they know?”
He nodded after a slight hesitation.
“They know the skeleton of it,” he said. “Part of my therapy was to apologize to those I’d hurt.”
I nodded, taking this in.
“And when did you meet Hilda?”
“It was a pretty simple meeting,” he said. “I was out for a jog, trying to blow off some steam. It had been a bad day and I knew exactly where my head would lead me. I was bound to someone at the time, but she wasn’t around.”
I could almost hear Hilda’s voice in my head right now, what she’d said.
“She was almost always the only one on the field, so eventually, we started jogging together. We struck up a friendship and for a little bit, I considered a proper romantic relationship with her, so I never attempted to gauge her reaction or her response to my life – she didn’t actually know anything. Or so I thought…”
He sighed heavily, staring down at his shoes, an undecipherable expression on his face.
I longed to know what was on his mind right then!
“Then how’d she figure it out?” I asked.
He was all somberness now.
A cold shiver stole up my spine and I sat perfectly still, waiting.