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Twelve weeks, 3 days ago
Death sucked. Ben Tyler leaned his head against his office chair and closed his eyes while he considered his fate. The leukemia was winning and it pissed him the hell off. As a man who had control over his thoughts and emotionstypically two difficult things to rein inlosing control over his body wasn't sitting particularly well with him.
He was angry, he was irritated and, worse he was scared.
He'd spent four days and nights in a cave halfway up the side of a rock cliff in Afghanistan being ruthlessly hunted by Taliban forces.
Cakewalk compared to this.
Because there he had some control. He could hide his tracks, he could shoot his attackers, he could plan his silent escape. He controlled whether he lived or died, not some damn disease.
That's why he made this decision. His doctor agreed.
Anna wasn't going to like it. Of course, he had no intention of telling his executive assistantthe title she preferred to be called rather than a mere assistantanything until it was too late.
Anna would get emotional. Anna would look up studies then quote medical research and statistics. Anna would call the people who worked for him and tell them to change his mind. But his mind was set. Since she was living in his house now, seeing to both his personal and professional needs, it would be hard to avoid her finding out. However, for a few days he could manage to keep this secret.
He was particularly good at keeping secrets. His CIA training and his ability to endure water boarding proof of that.
At this point, nothing would change his mind. He was done with this disease. Done with letting it control him. It was time for him to take charge. Once that happened, the fear went away.
The sliding wood door opened and a familiar redhead popped in. Anna's hair was always messy and moving about her face. He couldn't say why that bothered him but it did. Especially when she told him her hair stylist cut it that way with intent.
"Hey, you want to watch a movie or something tonight?"
He'd made a life or death decision. Something as silly as watching a movie didn't make the cut on the list of things he wanted to do right now.
Of course it wasn't her fault. She thought he was only gearing up for a second round of chemotherapy in the coming weeks. She didn't know that he was ready to bypass that step and go directly to the end.
Cure it or die. That seemed much simpler to him.
The stem cell transplantation was his secret to hold on to. He knew it was a risk without a genetic match. Anna had already diligently searched for potential matches, finding no one closer than a second cousin who lived in Boston. And while Ben was listed in the donor-matching program, so far there had been no hits close enough.
Turns out his particular DNA was rather unique.
That's where the risk came in. Without a genetic match the threat of Graft-Versus-Host disease was very high. If contracted, the GVHD could kill him before the cancer had a chance to.
Only, science was always evolving and making new discoveries. An alternative to a match was to use stem cells from a newborn's umbilical cord. The theory was the host body was less likely to reject the new cells.
After a severe round of chemotherapy to kill all remaining leukemic cells, the stem cells would be injected to help stimulate new cell growth. If his body accepted the foreign cells, it could cure him of the leukemia.
If his body didn't, it could kill him.
"Okay, no movie. We know how you love the TV shows I like to watch so that's out. How about I read to you? You like that."
He did like it when she read to him. The last thing he felt like doing when he was nauseated was reading, and something about the sound of her voice soothed him. But he didn't feel sick now. Instead he felt edgy.
He rose and walked over to his fireplace. It was early spring and still mostly chilly in Philadelphia. Although it could be a hundred degrees outside and he doubted he would feel warm. His internal thermostat was always off now and he found himself constantly cold. Except when a flash of heat would come over his whole body leaving him drenched in sweat.
Seriously, how did women live with this for years?
"How about Nelson DeMille?" Anna was browsing the bookshelves that encompassed one full wall of his office. "You like him."
Ben watched as she bent to one of the lower shelves to search for the book she had in mind. The M row was second from the bottom toward the left. It wasn't like she was being intentionally provocative, he knew that, but it seemed as though her ass was just there dancing in front of his face. She was wearing a pair of yoga pants as she normally did around the house. Yoga was something she was forever trying to talk him into doing.
As if he had any desire to stand on his head.
She claimed it was relaxing and would be good for his mental state. She also believed staying physically active in any way he could while he went through treatment would be beneficial. Truthfully, he thought she was full of it and the only reason she cared for the activity at all was because it gave her the opportunity to wear pajamas all day and still call them active gear.
Whatever the hell that meant.
Even now he could see very clearly the demarcation line of her panties beneath the stretchy material. He had a sudden image of himself standing behind her and putting his hand on her ass and holding her hips while pulling the stretchy material down and away.
He blinked. She'd said something and he hadn't heard it. Instead he'd been lost in a sexual fantasy involving Anna.
Anna. It was inconceivable. She worked for him. He paid her salary. He had strict rules about any romantic fraternization between employees, let alone employer and employee. To him she was the most off-limits woman on the planet.
Not that he was going to be so self-righteous or so self-deceiving to say he'd never once thought about her sexually in all the time she'd been working for him. Of course he had. He was a man and she was an attractive woman.
There was something wild about her. The way her hair moved and the way she laughed out loud. The way she practically folded her legs into her lap every time she sat on a couch. It was like she had no restraint. And so yes, from time to time, he'd thought about what she might be like in bed. Unrestrained entirely. Unrestrained except by him. On top of her. Inside her.
But his self-imposed mental discipline would never let him think about that for too long. Those thoughts were dangerous. Those thoughts, if allowed to linger, could make a man lose control, which Ben swore he would not let himself do.
This time, however, the thought of ruthlessly shutting down his fantasy the way he'd done all those times in the past didn't appeal to him. After all, he knew what the next week would bring. The chemo would be stronger, his symptoms more violent. He would feel like shit for weeks, and after that he could suffer an even more debilitating reaction if he contracted GVHD.
If the transplant didn't work, or the GVHD couldn't be controlled there was only death.
Tonight, though, he was still alive.
Ben coughed into his fist to cover his lack of attention. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I asked if you wanted me to read this book. Are you okay? You look a little funny."
"I'm fine." He walked to the couch and sat. He was wearing loose pajama pants and the flannel robe Anna had purchased for him during his first round of chemotherapy.
He hadn't had a robe since he was a child. He'd forgotten how comforting the garment could be.
And practical. When he got sick it was easier to lose the robe and vomit over the toilet without worrying about getting splatter on his T-shirt.
Now, however, the robe served as cover for his growing erection. God, he thought. How long had it been since he'd been hard. Really hard. Sex had never been a priority in his life. Nothing ever trumped his work. In his previous life working for the government, opportunities to get laid were few and far between, especially given his rule about not comingling with his coworkers. Most of the other women he knew then were his enemy.
After he left the agency his focus had been about establishing his business, finding a qualified staff and building a reputation as a troubleshooter/consultant of all trades. Finding time to date while he'd been getting the business up and running hadn't been possible. Then once he had it established and he'd tried to get himself back into the world of women, dating and sex he'd found it unsatisfying.
No one was exactly what he wanted. Meaningless sex with strangers for the sake of a few minutes of pleasure was not worth the trade-off in his mind. He had to deal with either the awkward next morning when he knew he had no plans to ever see the person again, or the game of trying to leave immediately after the sex was over without sending the woman into a fury or, worse, tears.
Then he'd gotten sick and any thought of sex had been relegated to the furthest reaches of his mind.
Only now his death was a specter standing in front of him and the idea of doing something so completely life affirming had appeal. Doing it with someone so completely alive as Anna had even more appeal.
You could do it. You could have her.
He wasn't exactly sure where the certainty came from. But it made his dick swell even more. He watched her as she moved to the couch to sit next to him. Watched as she folded her legs across one another Indian style and opened the book to the first page. Watched her lick her lips before starting to read.
Ben tried to imagine how she might react to a sexual advance from him. If he tossed the book aside, tugged on her hand and brought it down on his lap, would she pull away? If he let her see his erection, let her know what he wanted from her, would she reciprocate?
He could see it so clearly. He would pull her onto his lap, he would cup her face in his hands and lower her mouth to his so he could finally, finally know what she tasted like.
Again, he blinked. "Huh?"
Anna closed the book and carefully set it on the edge of the couch. She looked at him as if somehow she knew what he'd been thinking. Like she could read his wicked sexual thoughts. She licked her bottom lip again and he almost groaned against the near painful swelling of his penis. He adjusted the robe over his lap hoping it didn't draw her attention down there.
Or hoping it did.
"You're staring at me," she accused him. "Don't be ridiculous. I was looking at you. You always exaggerate."
Her eyes dropped for a second to where his hand was trying to casually bunch the material in his lap.
She met his gaze and he knew he was caught. He thought about leaving, going to bed. They would ignore this awkward incident as if it never happened and she would continue to be nothing more than his assistant. As it should be, his rational brain tried to convey.
Instead he sat there and said nothing.
He watched her swallow and wondered why she hadn't gotten up and pretended to need something from the kitchen.
You know why. You've seen the way she looks at you.
It was an insidious thought. One he'd stifled for months as Anna extended her duties from being his employee to his primary caregiver. Or maybe she had been looking at him like that for years. He didn't want to think about that.
She unfolded her legs and he thought that was a good thing. She would leave now and end this uncomfortable moment so he didn't have to. Because, in truth, he didn't want to. Instead she shifted so she was on her knees on the couch directly facing him.
He stared straight ahead. He couldn't answer her. He was too conflicted. If he looked at her, he might act on these impulses and he knew intellectually that doing so could only end in disaster. There was no future in this. Hell, there was possibly no future in him.
"Look at me."
Typical of Anna. She made everything so damn messy. Not at work. No, in that arena everything was neat and efficient. But everywhere else around her there was clutter. The way her hair swept across her eyes. The way she was always smiling. She made him feel not like himself. He didn't care for it.
He turned his head to look at her but still he said nothing.
She was the one, the bold one, the courageous one, to cup his face in her hand. She leaned over him and pressed her lips against his.
On a sigh his mouth opened and he felt her tongue slide inside and rub against his. It was such an awful pleasure. His whole body lurched at the unfamiliar contact and then his decision was made.
He would never say he allowed his body to dictate his actions. The idea that sexual need could overcome good sense was preposterous to him. What he was making right now was a rational choice.
In this moment, he needed what she was offering. Because the reality was this might be the last time he ever had a woman. In an odd way it seemed fitting that the woman would be Anna. Reaching behind her neck to hold her still he took control of the kiss, thrusting his tongue against hers and relishing in the feeling.
When she started to pull away he almost didn't let her. It was as though she was his very own oxygen mask, and he wanted to inhale her inside his body. But then she stepped off the couch and moved to stand between his legs. Legs he opened to make room for her there.
Brazenly she pulled off her T-shirt, then the tank top she wore in lieu of a bra. He was looking at her pert breasts with large brown nipples.
I always wondered what color they would be.
Pulling her forward he dipped his head so his mouth was even with one nipple. He teased it with his tongue before pulling it into his mouth to suck. At first he was gentle, but the feeling of Anna's hands on his shoulders squeezing his muscles urged him on until he was sucking on her with deep pulls. He released her to move to her other breastsuch a divine thing that women had two to play withbut she pulled away again, this time to pull off the yoga pants and panties.
Slim but soft, with a smattering of freckles over her body, she looked like some dream he'd imagined once. His eyes were pulled to the small thatch of curls between her legs and he had this idea that she would taste like strawberries and cream.
Proudly naked in front of him, she sank to her knees between his legs. She pushed away the material of his robe he'd been unsuccessfully hiding his erection with. Then her hands went to work on the drawstring of his pajama bottoms. At one point her palm lay flat against his stomach and it was as though she warmed him all over with only her touch.