Read an Excerpt
If I Were You
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
For months I’ve had dreams and nightmares about how perfectly he personifies the word. Sleep-laden, alternate realities where I can vividly smell his musky male scent, feel his hard body against mine. Taste the sweet and sensuous flavor of him—like milk chocolate with its silky demand that I indulge in one more bite. And another. So good I’d forgotten there’s a price for overindulgence. And there is a price. There is always a price. I was reminded of this life lesson on Saturday night. And I know now, no matter what he says, no matter what he does, I cannot—will not—see him again.
It started out as any other erotic adventure with him. Unpredictable. Exciting. I barely remember where it all went wrong. How it took such a dark turn.
He’d ordered me to undress and sit on the mattress, against the headboard, my legs spread wide for his viewing. Naked before him, open to him, I was vulnerable and quivering with need. Never in my life had I taken orders from a man; most certainly I had never thought I would quiver with anything. But I did for him.
If Saturday night proved anything, it was that once I was with him, under his spell, he could demand anything of me, and I’d comply. He could push me to the edge, to unbelievable places I’d never thought I would go. Exactly why I can’t see him again. He makes me feel possessed, and what is so disconcerting about this feeling is that I like it. I can hardly wrap my mind around allowing such a thing, though I burn for it. But when I saw him standing at the end of the bed Saturday night, all broad and thick with sinewy muscle, his cock jutting forward, there was nothing but that need.
He was magnificent. Really, truly the most gorgeous man I’ve ever known. Instant lust exploded inside me. I wanted to feel him close to me, to feel him touch me. To touch him. But I know now not to touch him without his permission. And I know not to beg him to let me.
I’ve learned my lesson from past encounters. He enjoys the vulnerability of a plea far too much. Enjoys withholding his pleasures until I am nearly quaking with the burn of my body. Until I am liquid heat and tears. He likes that power over me. He likes full control. I should hate him. Sometimes, I think I love him.
It was the blindfold that should have warned me I was headed toward a place of no return. Thinking back, I believe it did. He tossed it on the bed, a dare, and instantly a shiver chased a path up and down my spine. The idea of not being able to see what was happening to me should have aroused me—it did arouse me. But for reasons I didn’t understand at the time, it also frightened me. I was scared and I hesitated.
This did not please him. He told me so, in that deep, rich, baritone voice that makes me quiver uncontrollably. The need to please him had been so compelling. I put on the blindfold.
I was rewarded by the shift of the mattress. He was coming to me. Soon I knew I would come, too. His hands slid possessively up my calves, over my thighs. And damn him, stopped just before my place of need.
What came next was a shadowy whirlwind of sensation. He pulled me to my back, flat against the mattress. I knew satisfaction was seconds away. Soon he would enter me. Soon I would have what I needed. But to my distress, he moved away.
It was then that I was sure I’d heard the click of a lock. It jolted me to a sitting position, and I called out his name, fearful he was leaving. Certain that I’d done something wrong. Then relieved when his hand flattened on my stomach. I’d imagined the sound of the lock. I must have. But I couldn’t shake the subtle shift in the air then, the raw lust and menace consuming the room that didn’t feel like him. It was a thought easily forgotten when he settled heavy between my thighs, his strong hands lifting my arms over my head, his breath warm on my neck—his body heavy, perfect.
Somehow, a silk tie wrapped around my wrists and my arms were tied to the bed frame. It never occurred to me that he could not have done this on his own. That he was on top of me, unable to manipulate my arms. But then, he was manipulating my body, my mind, and I was his willing victim.
He lifted his body from mine, and I whimpered, unable to reach for him. Again silence. And the whisk of fabric. More strange sounds. Long seconds ticked by, and I remember the chill that snaked across my skin. The feeling of dread that had balled in my stomach.
And then, the moment I know I will die remembering. The moment when the steel of a blade touched my lips. The moment that he promised there was pleasure in pain. The moment when the blade traveled along my skin with the proof he would be true to his words. And I knew then that I had been wrong. He was not dangerous. Nor was he chocolate. He was lethal, a drug, and I feared . . .
A knock on my apartment door jolts me from the seductive words of the journal I’ve been reading to the point I darn near toss the notebook over my shoulder. Guiltily, I slam it shut and set it back on the simple oak coffee table where it had been left by my neighbor and close friend Ella Ferguson the night before. I hadn’t meant to read it. It was just . . . there. On my table. Absently, I’d opened it, and I’d been so shocked at what I found that I hadn’t believed it could really be my sweet, close friend Ella’s writing. So I’d kept reading. I couldn’t stop reading, and I don’t know why. It makes no sense. I, Sara McMillan, am a high school teacher, and I do not invade people’s privacy, nor do I enjoy this kind of reading. I’m still telling myself that as I reach the door, but I can’t ignore the burn low in my belly.
I pause before greeting my visitor and rest my hands on my cheeks, certain they’re flaming red, hoping whoever is here will just go away. I promise myself if they do, I won’t read the journal again, but deep down, I know the temptation will be strong. Good Lord, I feel like Ella seemed to feel when living out the scene in the journal—like I am the one hanging on for one more titillating moment and then another. Clearly, twenty-eight-year-old women are not supposed to go eighteen months without sex. The worst part is that I’ve invaded the privacy of someone I care about.
Another knock sounds, and I concede that, nope, my visitor is not going away. Inwardly, I shake myself and tug at the hem of the simple light blue dress I still wear from today’s final tenth-grade English class of the summer. I inhale and open the door to have a cool blast of San Francisco’s year-round chilly night air tease the loose strands of my long brunette hair that have fallen from the twist at my nape. Thankfully, it also cools my feverishly hot skin. What is wrong with me? How has a journal affected me this intensely?
Without awaiting an invitation, Ella rushes past me in a whiff of vanilla-scented perfume and red bouncing curls.
“There it is,” Ella says, snatching up her journal from the coffee table. “I thought I’d left it here when I came by last night.”
I shut the door, certain my cheeks are flaming again with the knowledge that I now know more about Ella’s sex life than I should. I still don’t know what made me open that journal, what made me keep reading. What makes me, even now, want to read more.
“I hadn’t noticed,” I say, wishing I could pull back the lie the instant it’s issued. I don’t like lies. I’ve known my share of people who’ve told them, and I know how damaging they can be. I really don’t like how easily this one slipped from my lips. This is Ella, after all, who in the past year as my neighbor has become my confidante, the younger sister I’d never had. Together we are the family neither of us has or, rather, neither of us wishes to claim. Uncomfortably, I ramble onward, a bad habit brought out by nerves, and guilt, apparently. “Long day of classes,” I add, “and I had piles and piles of paperwork to finish up for the summer. Lucky you got to avoid that this year, though I had some great kids I enjoyed.” I purse my lips and tell myself I’ve said enough, only to find I can’t help but continue. “I only just got home a few minutes ago.”
“Well, thank goodness you have some time off now,” Ella says, lifting the journal. “I brought this over last night when we’d planned to watch that chick flick together. I wanted to read you a few of the entries. But then David called, and you know how that went.” Her lips tilted downward, guilt laden in her tone. “I deserted you like a very bad friend.”
David being her hot doctor boyfriend. What David wanted from Ella, he got. Now, I know just how true that is. I study Ella a moment. With her dewy youthful skin, and dressed in faded jeans and a purple tee, she looks like one of my students rather than a twenty-five-year-old teacher herself. “I was tired anyway,” I assure her, but I’m worried she’s over her head with this man ten years her senior. “I needed to get to bed to be ready for today’s classes.”
“Well, they’re over now and yay for that.” She indicates the journal. “And I’m so glad to get this back before my date with David tonight.” She wiggles an eyebrow. “Foreplay. David is going to love this. This thing is scorching hot.”
I gape in utter disbelief. “You read him your journal?” I’d never have the courage to read a man such intimate personal thoughts—especially not about him. “And it’s foreplay?”
Ella frowns. “This isn’t my journal. Remember? I told you last night. It’s from the storage units I bought at that auction at the beginning of summer.”
“Oh,” I say, though I don’t remember Ella saying anything about the journal. In fact, had she, I’m 100 percent sure I’d remember. “That’s right. The storage auctions you’ve been attending since you got obsessed with that Storage Wars show. I still can’t believe people store their things and then default and let it go to the highest bidder.”
“And yet they do,” Ella says. “And I’m not obsessed.”
I arch a brow.
“Okay, maybe I am,” she concedes, “but I’m going to make more than double what I would have teaching summer school. You should really consider going to the next auction with me. I’ve already turned around two of the three units I bought for big money.” She holds up the journal. “This came from the last unit I bought, and it’s the best yet. It has artwork I know is going to sell for big bucks. And so far I’ve found three journals that are absolutely spellbinding. My gosh, I can’t seem to stop reading them. This woman started out like you and me, and somehow got pulled into this dark passionate place that is terrifyingly exciting.”
She’s right, and I can feel that burn in my belly as I recall the words on those pages. I can almost imagine the soft, seductive voice of the woman whispering her story to me. I try to focus on what Ella is saying, but I’m wondering about that woman instead, wondering where she is, who she is.
“Oh my!” Ella exclaims. “You’re blushing. You read the journal, didn’t you?”
I blanch. “What? I . . .” Suddenly, I can’t talk. I am so not myself right now, and I sink helplessly into an overstuffed brown chair across from Ella, stuck in the trap of my earlier lie. “I . . . yes. I read it.”
Ella claims a couch cushion, narrowing her green eyes on me. “Did you think I wrote that stuff?”
I cast her a tentative look. “Well . . .”
“Whoa,” she says, clearly taking my reply, or rather lack of reply, as confirmation. “You thought . . .” She shakes her head. “I’m speechless. You couldn’t have read the good parts or there’s no way you would think she was me. But you’re sure blushing like you read the good parts.”
“I read some parts that were, ah, pretty detailed.”
She snorts. “And you assumed I wrote them.” She shakes her head again. “And here I thought you knew me. But heck, I so wish I could live up to that assessment for just one hot night. There is a mysterious eroticism to that woman’s life that’s just . . .” She shivers. “Haunting. It, she, affects me.”
In some small way it comforts me to know she is as affected by the words on those pages as I am, and I don’t know why. What in the world do I need comfort for? It isn’t logical. Nothing about my reaction to this unknown woman is logical.
“Once David and I finish with the journal,” Ella continues, drawing me back into the conversation, “he’s going to take pictures of a few intimate pages for potential buyers and we’re listing the journals on eBay. They’re going to bring in big money. I just know it.”
I gape, appalled at this idea. “You can’t seriously intend on selling this woman’s personal thoughts on eBay?”
“Heck yeah, I do,” she says. “Making money is the name of the game. Besides, for all we know, it’s fiction.”
Her words are cold, and she surprises me. This is not the Ella I know. “We are talking about a woman’s private thoughts, Ella. Surely, you don’t want to profit off her pain.”
Her brows dip. “What pain? It sounds like all pleasure to me.”
“She lost everything she owns at auction. That isn’t pleasure.”
“I’m guessing her rich man flew her off to some exotic location and she is living life in a grand way.” Her voice turns somber. “I have to think like that to do this, Sara. Please don’t make me feel guilty. This is money I need, and if I didn’t do this, some other buyer would have.”
I open my mouth to argue but relent. Ella is alone in this world, with no family aside from an alcoholic father who doesn’t know his own name most of the time, let alone hers. I know she feels she has to have money for emergencies. I know that feeling myself all too well. I, too, am alone. Mostly, but I don’t want to think about that right now.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her, and I mean it. “I know this is good for you. I’m happy it’s working out.”
Her lips curve slightly, and she nods her acceptance before she pushes to her feet. I stand with her and give her a hug. She smiles, her mood transforming into the instant sunshine I so often find she brings into my life. I love Ella. I really do.
“David and I are looking forward to a bit of that spellbinding action ourselves tonight,” she announces mischievously. “I have to run.” She laughs and waves a few fingers at me. “Enjoy your night. I know I will.”
I sink back into my chair and watch the door close.
• • •
The sound of pounding on my door once again takes me from bliss to panic. I sit up in the bed, disoriented and groggy, and eye the clock. Seven in the morning on my first day off from classes.
“Who the heck is pounding on my door?” I grumble, throwing the blankets off me and sliding my feet into the pink fuzzy slippers one of my students gave me last Christmas. I grab my long pink robe that is not fuzzy, but does say PINK across the back. More knocking has begun.
“Sara, it’s me, Ella!” I hear as I shuffle my way toward the living room. “Hurry! Hurry!”
My heart flutters not only because Ella is clearly in some sort of panic but also because, unlike me, who doesn’t like to waste a second of any day, Ella doesn’t get up before noon on days she doesn’t have to. The instant I yank open the door, Ella flings her arms around me and announces, “I’m eloping!”
“Eloping?!” I gasp, pulling back and tugging Ella inside, out of the chill of the early morning. She’s still wearing her clothes from the night before. “What are you talking about? What’s happening?”
“David proposed last night,” she exclaims excitedly. “I can hardly believe it. We’re flying to Paris this morning.” She eyes her watch and squeals. “In two hours.”
She shoves something into my hand. “That has the key to my apartment. On the kitchen table, you’ll find the journal and the key to the storage unit. If it’s not cleared out in two weeks, it has to be rented, or it’s auctioned off yet again. So take it and sell the stuff. The money is yours. Or let it go. Either way, it doesn’t matter.” She grins. “Because I’m eloping to Paris, then honeymooning in Italy!”
Protectiveness fills me for Ella. I don’t want her to get hurt, and I’ve never even heard her say she loves David. “You’ve known this man for only three months, sweetie. I’ve met him only once.” He always, conveniently, got called away when we’d been planning to get together.
“I love him, Sara,” she says, as if reading my mind. “And he’s good to me. You know that.”
No, I don’t know that, but while I try to find the right way to say it, she is already reaching for the door. “Ella—”
“I’ll call you when I arrive in Paris, so keep your cell handy.”
“Wait!” I say, shackling her arm. “How long will you be gone?”
Her eyes light up with excitement. “A month. Can you believe it? A whole month in Italy. I’m living a dream.” She hugs me and gives me a kiss on the cheek. “Since we high school folks don’t go back until October, thanks to the longer school days, I’m going a full month! Can you believe it? I’ll never complain about our longer school days again. A whole month in Italy—I’m living a dream! I’ll call, and when we get back we’ll have a reception.”
Her eyes soften. “You know I wanted you with me for this, don’t you? But David knew I had no family. He wanted to whisk me away so that it wouldn’t be painful.” She pokes at the puckered spot that always appears between my brows when I frown. “Stop making that face. It’ll be wrinkled when you get older. And I’m fine. I’m perfect, in fact.”
“You better be,” I say, attempting my best teacher voice, but my throat is too tight to do much more than croak out the warning. “Call me as soon as you arrive so I know you’re safe, and I want pictures. Lots of pictures.”
Ella smiles brightly, “Yes, Ms. McMillan.” She turns and rushes away, giving me a last-second wave over her shoulder before she rounds the corner. She is gone, and I am fighting unexpected tears I don’t even understand.
I am happy for Ella but worried for her, too. I feel . . . I’m not sure what I feel. Lost, maybe. My fingers curl around her keys, and I am suddenly aware that I have just inherited a storage unit and the journals I swore I wouldn’t read again.