“He was entirely too easy on you.”
Although he said it under his breath, she heard every word of his low, rumbling growl. As she knew he meant her to, even though he was supposed to be comforting her at this moment, not suggesting that she was bratty and needed to be disciplined more and criticizing how her now ex boyfriend/Dom – such as he was – had handled her.
Well, she supposed the latter was okay…
After the blow up to end all blow ups this afternoon – how did she end up sounding like a shrieking harpy when she almost never yelled at anyone? She’d thrown his engagement ring back at him, locked him out of her house – and herself into it – changed her Facebook status back to “single” and cried herself to sleep in a pathetic heap on the couch.
That was all it had taken for him to arrive on her doorstep, the loud pounding on her front door rousing her out of an almost drugged sleep, but barely.
She knew exactly who it was, without having to get up. No one else in her world would bang on the door like that – as if it should simply open because it was him.
And there it was again, loud enough to wake the dead, or the rough equivalent, which would be waking her ancient neighbors from their afternoon naps.
“Open up, Kyah. I know you’re in there. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
If she’d been in a better mood, she might have laughed. He sounded like her gay best friend, although he was anything but.
Oh, he was her best friend all right – since they were both in diapers – but no one who’d spent more than a second with him would mistake him for gay.
Although he wasn’t a womanizer, exactly, either.
Truth be told, though, Riker Delano Spelling was one tall, cool drink of water – much too cool for her, but he never seemed to let that bother him – or even notice it – in the least.
A long, lean, surprisingly powerful six-four, with a full head of long black hair that just brushed his shoulders, a Mr. Spock style goatee that he kept very neatly trimmed, and eyes so blue they were very nearly black, meant that he could have any woman he wanted. Hell, they came to him. They practically fought over each other in front of him, while he just sat back and watched, with that deceptively lazy gaze of his.
But as laid back as he appeared, nothing got by him, and she – this – his presence on her doorstep – was proof of that. No one else had so much as commented on her status change – or called her or texted her about it, even just for the juicy details – but he was here, in person.
Nothing got by him in regards to her, anyway.
She’d known as soon as she’d saved the change to her status that he’d be there.
It was only a matter of time.
Riker stood on her steps, making a spectacle of himself to her neighbors, not that he much cared about that kind of thing, but Albuquerque in the summer was not the place to be standing out in the sun – especially not with the provisions he’d spent the past hour acquiring for her in anticipation of what was to come.
He had already mentally decided that he was going to knock on the door once more – and give her his most Dommish tone – before he broke the blasted thing down. Not that he didn’t have a key to her place. He did. But it would feel so much better to him to expend some of the anger that had been building in him since she’d begun seeing that man to pictures of his face as he slammed his shoulder into it/him.
Riker was certainly sorry for her pain, but he’d been waiting for her to ditch Asshole Aidan – as he’d begun referring to the other man in his mind since not long after they’d met for the first time – for entirely too long.
And his motives for wanting her to do so were far from lily white.
Yes, he’d wanted Aidan about as far away from Kyah as he could get and still remain on the planet. But then, he’d felt that same way about every man she’d ever dated, and not all of them had been asshats.
He’d even liked some of them, which was almost worse.
“Kyah,” he warned ominously as he pounded on the door. “Open this door, immediately. I’m not Aidan, and I’m not going to let you get away with -“
He heard the locks click off, but the door didn’t open.
He grinned to himself, thinking it was just like her to do the least possible thing that was the closest to obeying him she could get, without actually doing so. Damn, if she was his, he thought for the zillionth time, he’d never let her get away with stuff like that.
But both the reality of their relationship and the extent of the pain he knew she was going through wiped any trace of a smile from his face as he entered her neat and tidy little home.
She was on the couch in what he recognized as her “hurt” pajamas – they were kid-like, a cotton t-shirt and matching pants that went so well together, they almost looked like footie pajamas, with pictures of fairies all over them – a crumpled hunk of Kleenex in her hand, slumped over dejectedly and sniffling. His heart broke for her; he knew she never approached any relationship casually, and she had actually been engaged to Aidan – she had never done that with anyone else.
That supposedly happy bit of news – about which he knew she expected him to be ecstatic – had, instead, sent a cold chill through his body.
He was going to lose her – permanently – to another man, if he didn’t do something drastic.
What he had chosen to do, had driven a nearly irreparable wedge between them, and they’d gone the longest they’d ever been without seeing each other – almost a year, with him dying more inside the entire time, knowing he was the cause of their rift.
Well, Aidan was actually the root cause.
But he was a man who took responsibility for his own actions and deciding to tell Kyah about the fact that her fiancé was cheating on her had been the wrong one.
The very wrong one.
He’d learned a hard lesson about interfering in her life; one he would never repeat if things remained the way they were and they never became a couple themselves. She’d come as close to punching him as she ever had – and she did crack him one across the face. The woman had a mean right arm on her – all that softball pitching, he guessed. He knew that if it had been within her physical capabilities, she would have physically thrown him out of this very house, praying he landed on his head and snapped his stupid neck.
Working himself back into her good graces had taken a long time and a lot of intestinal fortitude on his end – in putting up with watching her with Aidan – which he hadn’t been sure he had at the time, but apparently, he did.
Somehow, he had managed to keep himself from killing the man, but he was just biding his time until the younger guy put his foot wrong.
Which he’d finally done.
So Riker was here to help her pick up the pieces, as he always had been and always would be.
Only this time, he was going to do a better job of presenting himself as a viable alternative, when she got to the point where she was interested in dating again.
Or maybe sooner.
He’d see how things played out.
“I come bearing a Breakup Survival Kit, but I need to put some stuff away and then I’m going to hold you while you cry, darlin’, so you only have to hang on by yourself for a couple seconds longer, I promise.”
She nodded, and he headed for the kitchen with his emergency care package, and the sight of him – the physical, real proof of how much he cared for her – had her sobbing again. She didn’t deserve him, not in any way.
Kyah knew what was in his patented Break Up Survival Kit – unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time he’d come to hold her while she sobbed her heart out all over his beautiful white shirt. Unless she missed her guess, it held all of her favorite things. The things she rarely allowed herself to eat. There was spicy, crispy chicken with extra pork fried rice and an egg roll from Lotus, mega peanut M&Ms and mega stuffed Oreos. Definitely a theme there – a half gallon of Jose – Coke Zero, and two pints of Everything But The Flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, plus whatever else he might have seen in the supermarket that he thought might strike her fancy.
She also knew that he had dropped everything to come be with her, and he was at least as much of a workaholic as she was, so that was saying something. Besides his immediate family, she knew that she was the only other person in the world who could get him to miss work.
Ri was as quick as his word, and she heard him folding the reusable grocery bags into the space under her sink, where everyone kept them, before he headed to her.
As he rounded the corner from the kitchen, his strides so enormous that they always seemed to mesmerize her, especially since – despite his size – his movements were always very fluid and elegant and graceful – the opposite of her, he was talking to her in that luscious soft tone he always used whenever she was hurt – physically or otherwise. Riker took his assigned position, leaning back against the corner of the couch, pulling her gently, inexorably against him – not that she was putting up any kind of a fight – just the opposite. She’d been counting the minutes until he arrived, until she could really begin to mourn her now defunct relationship in the atmosphere of safety and love that he always provided for her.
Like her, Riker was raised by a single mom and had grown up being surrounded by women since his only blood sibling was a sister, and, somehow, he ended up a wonderfully striking balance of confident masculinity mixed with absolutely no fear of emotion – his own or anyone else’s. He was an inveterate hugger, and he adored women of all kinds, although he did kind of tend to lean towards the smarter, funnier ones who were also confident and accomplished.
That had her constantly wondering what it was that he saw in her, even though they were just friends. She’d seen him date all sorts of women, although he’d never gotten all that serious about any of them, they were all doctors or lawyers or successful in business, as he was.
She was a teacher. That was all she’d ever wanted to be, and it was probably what she’d be doing when she died – unless it was summer vacation, of course, or the rumors about them cutting back teachers to balance the budget proved to be true. Since she had no interest in going into the administration side of things, and having already attained her masters, she’d already gone just about as far as she was going to go in her career path, and that was fine with her. She adored teaching the fourth grade – although she’d done fifth and third, too, over the years – and honestly looked forward to meeting a new batch of them every fall.
So she was hardly a CEO or a mover and a shaker of any sort. She was much closer to being his sister than his lover, but she was really neither. Yet he continued to hang around her – much more than he hung around anyone else, male or female.
And he never shied away from doing things like this, either. She couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t feel as if he always had a watchful eye trained on her. They were brought up together – very much a part of each other’s families as their moms were best friends in the same single parent boat – but he was a year older, and she thought perhaps that had made him feel a bit responsible for her.
Not that it bothered her, she kind of liked it – more than she probably should.
The same went for him, although she did her best to hide it, for a reason she could never really put her finger on. It wasn’t as if getting together hadn’t occurred to them. It most certainly had. Somehow, the timing was never right, and she was, understandably, worried that taking that next – seemingly inevitable step – might hurt their friendship irreparably.
Like he almost did more than a year ago, when he’d been a truly stand-up friend and had told her what she’d already suspected about Aidan – that he was fucking around on her. But she couldn’t take it in, didn’t want to hear it when he said it. Kyah knew he’d done it as gently as he could – but there was really no easy, good way to tell anyone that kind of thing, and she had flown off the handle.
Afterwards, they hadn’t spoken for much too long – with her missing him terribly the whole time, almost texting him, almost calling him more times than she could count, with no one to call. There was no one else in her life quite like Riker – when she was home alone, knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that her so-called fiancé was out balling another woman.
Even when they finally began to drift closer again, it was terribly awkward at first, when it hadn’t ever been before.
She knew that was entirely her own fault, although she hadn’t apologized at the time.
Now, she knew she needed to issue the heartfelt apology she owed him.
So, after allowing herself to weep and cry and cling to him – marveling in the back of her mind, as she always did, at just how solid he was, how strong but wonderfully tender he was with her – she sat up, still thinking about him as she did so. He didn’t do what so many men in his position – with a crying woman on their hands – would do automatically, without so much as a thought. He wasn’t trying to solve her problem for her. He wasn’t trying to get her to stop crying. He wasn’t saying anything – beyond softly murmured nothings of pure comfort and support – as he rocked her slowly back and forth, keeping a box of Kleenex at the ready, expecting and demanding nothing from her, just quietly offering himself to her as a safe place in which to fall completely apart.
And she had and was likely to again, for as long as he was here. He wasn’t impatient, he never tried to push her to recover before her time because it was more convenient for him for her to do so, or because he was sick of hearing her whining.
But, as she snuffled and blew her nose, then snuggled back against him, feeling his powerful arms closing around her comfortingly, she cleared her throat and said what she needed to say, “I owe you a big apology, Riker. I’m very sorry for being such a nasty bitch to you when I knew, in the back of my mind, even as I was trying to bulldoze you out the door – that you were right. I just didn’t want to see it, and I was -” A huge, painful lump appeared in her throat, and her eyes filled again with tears, but this time for a different reason than before, her voice tremulous as she continued. “I was so ashamed that you knew what I already did.” Kyah buried her face in her hands. “It was almost worse than what he was doing, knowing that you knew. I have never been so embarrassed and humiliated in my life.”
Riker had surmised as much, but he couldn’t talk to her about it at the time. She wouldn’t have heard him. “I understand, honey, but you should know that there’s no need for you to feel that way. I can see why you would, but you don’t have to. It’s me. I love you – even your stupidest decisions.”
He got whacked a good one for that, but went on, anyway. “Didn’t I say you shouldn’t do a home perm? Hmm? Or that you shouldn’t go on that roller coaster at Six Flags after you’d just eaten ice cream, funnel cakes and pretzels?”
“I hate it when you’re right,” she grumbled.
He grinned broadly. “I’m always right, little girl.”
Inwardly, she preened at that nickname and the fact that he used it freely, even now, when she was far from it, but only with her.
Kyah snorted. “There’s no ego in your family – you got it all.”
“I can’t help it,” he replied, with no humility at all.
Suddenly serious, and fidgeting with the button on his shirt, her eyes darted to his then down again. “Well, I’m very sorry for the way I treated you. You sure were spot on about him, anyway.”
Riker’s big hand covered hers, squeezing gently and kissing the top of her head loudly. “You are always forgiven, sweetie. And, for what it’s worth, I wish I wasn’t right this time, darlin’. You know I hate to see you hurting in any way.”
Big wet drops began to appear on his shirt as she began to weep again, and he held her close to his chest throughout the storm, rubbing her back lazily and just letting her cry it out.
When she’d quieted, he whispered against her hair, “How long has it been since you’ve had anything to eat?” Riker knew that – although her first impulse was usually to eat most anything at any time – unlike most women in his experience, when Kyah was in full mourning, her appetite completely deserted her and she was apt not to eat for days at a time, if someone wasn’t watching over her and seeing to it that she did.
When the man who had become her stepfather late in life – a wonderful guy she had come to love – had died suddenly, he’d made himself as available to her as he could without intruding on her grief. He still kicked himself mentally that she had actually collapsed one day at work because she hadn’t eaten, in something ridiculous, like five days.
If she’d truly been his, she would have taken her meals – and he would have made sure she ate every single one of them – standing up for the next five days for not having looked after herself as she should.
But he didn’t have that right, although he had put his foot down as far as he could and made sure she resumed eating, promising the attending doctor that he’d see to it himself.
She hadn’t looked very worried.
Ky pulled away a bit, as far as he would allow her, which wasn’t far, but she didn’t say anything, obviously avoiding his question.
But Riker wouldn’t sit still for that kind of thing – her simply avoiding his question – and she knew it, although he’d never really done anything about it. His censure was usually more than enough. She hated it when he was unhappy with her in any way, and disappointing him was absolutely not an option. He wasn’t like any of the men she’d dated. In fact, the majority of them were the polar opposite of him. She wondered whether that was subconscious. She always looked for a guy who she clicked with, who was also interested in being her Dom.
Although she’d had a couple of serious relationships, none of those guys were really comfortable with that role. Oh, they had no problems taking charge in the bedroom, which was great, but they didn’t seem to want to expand that into other areas of their relationship, which was really what she wanted. She wanted the lifestyle, not just role-play.
Aidan had come the closest of all of them to what she wanted ideally, which was why she’d said yes when he popped the question – for the fifth time.
Kyah knew that Riker would never have proposed to her so many times. He would ask her once – with all the usual trappings, of course. He’d probably even get down on one knee – but if she turned him down, and he decided she was worth another shot – which she thought he probably would – he’d remove the choice, somehow, or make it very hard, very uncomfortable, for her to say no to him.
That very provocative thought had her squirming on his lap until he stilled her forcibly, saying her name in that way that always made her stomach clench.
Contorting her lips and refusing to look at him, her answer came in the form of a reluctant, naughty girl whisper, without her trying to make it sound that way, “I dunno. Sometime day before yesterday or so?”
His unsuppressed growl had her eyes flying to his. “You, my bratty little friend, should be spanked for that.”
She rose to the bait immediately, chin going into the air automatically, as if to countermand his edict. “Aidan never spanked me for not eating. He wanted me to be skinny.”
“Aidan was an idiot, who apparently has no concept of low blood sugar and the deleterious effects that skipping meals has to one’s diet.”
She had to smile at his snark and vehemence, but it was his hand on her bottom that made her gasp and look up at him.
“He was entirely too easy on you.”
Ky bit her lip, her eyes still plastered to his, as if she couldn’t quite tear them away, but she couldn’t let that remark go without saying something. “Well, that’s your opinion. And you are neither my boyfriend nor my Dom.”
He didn’t seem at all phased by her tone; in fact, he patted her bottom emphatically as he spoke. “And you should count yourself very lucky that I am not – yet – either of those to you, Kyah Elizabeth Dennison, because you know that you will get away with a lot less when I’m lucky enough to take you in hand.”
She played his words over in her mind as he scooted out from under her, placing her gently on the couch as he headed back to the kitchen without another word.
He’d said she wasn’t his yet, but he’d spoken as if it was imminent.
A shudder that was far from delicate ran through her at the thought of actually being his.