Read 31 Days of Winter Online

Authors: C. J. Fallowfield

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Erotica, #Humorous, #Mystery, #Romantic Erotica

31 Days of Winter (12 page)

‘Here you are, I did you a decent portion.’ I
smiled as I passed his over.

‘Thank you, Ellie,’ he smiled back, waiting for me
to take my place. ‘To friends,’ he raised his glass as he looked at me and I
raised mine back.

‘To friends,’ I replied and almost laughed when I
realised that we were both faking it. I could feel his desire for me without
even looking into his eyes and I was sure he could feel mine. I put my head
down and we started eating in silence as I tried to focus on anything but the
extraordinarily handsome and sexy guy sitting a few feet away from me.

‘Are there any seconds?’ he asked and I looked up
to see he’d already cleared his plate, whereas I still had some left. He must
have inhaled it.

‘Christ, you
were
hungry.’ I went to get up
and he immediately stood up.

‘Stay where you are, I can help myself while you
finish eating. Are you sure you don’t mind?’

‘No, of course not.’

‘Would you like some more?’

‘No, I’m good thanks, go for it.’

‘So, are you thinking of accepting your Junior Partner
deal when you get home?’

‘I don’t know,’ I replied honestly as I scraped my
plate. ‘My boss was … challenging, though he was very kind to me on Monday when
I handed in my resignation.’

‘Why do you think that was?’ he asked as he sat
back down with another virtually full plate. Man, he had an appetite. I
wondered if his sexual appetite was just as voracious.

‘I guess he valued me more than he’d shown me in
the past.’

‘You’re good at your job?’

‘I’d like to think so, yes. I’ve chosen and edited
a few bestsellers this year and I’ve been headhunted a lot over the years to
move to other firms on better packages.’

‘Why didn’t you go?’ he asked, he hadn’t even
looked up yet from his plate of food. Was he that out of touch that he didn’t
realise it was considered polite to look at someone as you spoke to them, or to
at least look interested as you replied?

‘Because he was blackmailing me with a tape of us
having sex on his desk,’ I lied and smiled as Dan’s fork dropped onto his plate
and he looked up at me shocked. ‘Sorry, I was just checking that you were
actually listening, you seem more engrossed in your dinner than conversation.’

‘So, that’s not true?’

‘No,’ I laughed. ‘But my meatballs are obviously
more interesting than me.’

‘I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t interested
Ellie, I’m just not used to holding two way conversations.’

‘What other kind are there?’ I asked puzzled at
his statement.

‘Then if he wasn’t blackmailing you to stay, and
was that bad a boss, why didn’t you leave?’

‘I don’t know,’ I shrugged.

‘I think you do,’ he replied as he cleared his
plate, again.

‘Meaning?’ I frowned and he looked up at me this
time.

‘I think you like the security of a stable
relationship in your life, work or personal, and shy away from anything that
threatens to take that away from you, or make you face change.’

‘So what, you studied psychology at Uni?’ I
bristled, pissed off that he seemed to understand me so quickly when I knew
virtually nothing about him.

‘No, just an educated guess. You stayed in a job
you hated and you’re considering going back after the boss makes one nice
gesture and you’ve not made up your mind about the arsehole fiancé who treated
you appallingly, and you may even consider taking him back if he grovels
enough.’ He picked up his wine and glugged some back as he watched for my
reaction.

‘Junior Partner is a big deal.’

‘You could make Junior Partner elsewhere, or go
straight in as one if you’re as good as you say.’

‘I
am
that good,’ I retorted, annoyed at
his insinuation.

‘Good, you’ll need that fire in your belly if
you’re going to break out of your rut and change things.’

‘I’ve already broken out of my rut, I came here
didn’t I? I left my home of five years, my job of four and took a flight to God
only knows where, and if I had to contact emergency services I couldn’t even
tell them where I am.’

‘You’re getting angry,’ he observed with a sexy
cock of his head.

‘Damn right, you’ve known me for probably the
combined total of less than a day.’

‘Was I right about the job?’

‘Yes, but …’

‘The arsehole?’ he interrupted.

‘His name’s Zac.’

‘Fine, Zac Arsehole,’ he said firmly and I
laughed. ‘So you’re not going to go back to him?’

‘No,’ I replied and broke eye contact with him.

‘That didn’t sound confident Ellie, and you’re
still wearing your engagement ring.’

‘It doesn’t mean anything,’ I shrugged.

‘It does, or you would have taken it off.’

‘It’s a nice ring.’

‘Wear it on the other hand then,’ he shrugged, as
if it were that simple. I looked at him and opened my mouth and closed it
again. ‘What were you going to say?’

‘You obviously don’t understand.’

‘So make me.’

‘Why? Why is it that important to you?’

‘Because I care about you and I don’t want you to
go home not having resolved your misguided remaining feelings for Arsehole. If
you don’t, you’ll probably feel sorry for him, believe more of his lies and go
back to a life that doesn’t satisfy you.’

‘Dan, this time last week, we were sitting
together having dinner, drinking wine and talking, just like this. We were
engaged to be married, with plans for a cottage in the country with children.
It’s been less than a week for Christ’s sake.’ I quickly stood up and grabbed
my plate and turned around to the sink, fighting back the tears.

‘You’re clinging to the life you could have had
Ellie, not the life you would have had. You said he’s been cheating on you with
prostitutes, doing drugs, blowing your savings, lying about his job, is that
the kind of guy you really want to have kids with?’

‘No, but what if there were extenuating
circumstances and I just didn’t know it? What if I’d really been there for him?
I could have stopped this downward spiral. What if I caused it? I mean he’d
rather have sex with prostitutes than me and I …’ I choked back a sob and heard
his stool scrape back, then footsteps. I closed my eyes as he pressed up behind
me and wrapped his arms around my upper shoulders. ‘Don’t,’ I whispered as the
smell of spice and laundry filled my nostrils, and my body softened against his
hard one behind me.

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you again. I
just think if he could do all of that to you he doesn’t deserve you, and he’s
probably been doing it for longer than you think. If you hadn’t caught him on
Friday would you have been here now, trying something you really wanted for
yourself?’

‘No,’ I sighed as I turned my head and felt his
firm chest against my cheek.

‘So you don’t put your own needs first?’

‘Not usually, no, taking care of people’s what I
do.’ I gulped as I felt the warmth of his breath on my cheek and let out a
small sigh of contentment. How could this stranger make me feel so safe and
worth something? He placed a kiss on the top of my head and suddenly let me go.
Cool air replaced where his warm body had been seconds before and I felt the
loss immediately.

‘I think I should go,’ he whispered.

‘But you only just got here,’ I exclaimed as I
turned around, but I knew why the minute my eyes spotted his erection in his
jeans and I looked up and saw the fire in his eyes.

‘I’m really sorry, but I need to. Please don’t
shed any more tears over that guy Ellie, he’s not worth even one of them.
Thanks for a really amazing dinner, I’ll see you tomorrow.’ I bit my lip and
nodded and watched him walk to the door, he hesitated for a moment. ‘Are you
going to be ok?’ he asked without looking back at me.

‘I will be soon, thank you. Goodnight, Dan.’

‘Night Ellie, lock the door behind me please, and
leave the key in,’ he ordered and quickly stepped out, walking away leaving it
wide open with the freezing air rushing in. I ran over, closed it and locked it
and stood with my fingers on the key.
Why had he said to leave it in?
He’d
been pretty insistent that he didn’t want me to leave it in so he could get in
if there was a problem. I looked up quickly and stared at the darkness as I
realised he was worried that he’d be tempted to come back in for me and what it
might lead to. He blew like a Sirocco he was that inconsistent.

I put my forehead on the cold glass and closed my
eyes, then laughed at his insistence on calling Zac “arsehole,” but in fairness
he had a point. I straightened up and looked down at my left hand, at the
diamond and platinum ring on it that we’d chosen together. I remembered how Zac
had promised to take care of me and treat me like a princess, that was so far
from what he’d done the last year. I knew what Brooke and Dan were saying was
right, I didn’t force him to make the choices he did, he did that. Maybe I
didn’t pick up on how stressed and unhappy he was, but it was his choice not to
share that with me. I wondered if he’d been using protection with his other
women and if he’d been sleeping with them, like Dan suggested, before we’d
stopped having sex. I covered my eyes and took in a shaky breath as I thought
of the possibility that he might have picked something up and given it to me.
I’d been on the pill for years, we’d not used condoms in, forever.

I sank down onto the floor, sitting back on my
heels, as I was hit with the reality that I really didn’t know my fiancé the
way I thought I did. He’d used his humour and charm to deflect every question
I’d had about why he’d had a stressful day. He always asked what time I’d be
home on a Friday, never any other day of the week, just Friday. I’d thought he
was being sweet because he wanted to spend time with me, but I realised it was
just the opposite, he was making sure what his deadline was for hustling women
out and restaging our bed before he left. I bet he didn’t even change the
sheets before I climbed in with him each Friday night. In that moment I felt
hatred for him, like I’d never felt for anyone before, not even the lorry
driver who’d caused my parents accident and killed them outright. I put my
hands in my lap and tugged at my ring, but it was firmly wedged behind my
knuckle, so I started twisting it and pulling it harder, ignoring how much it
hurt. I just wanted it off, it was a symbol of everything we didn’t have any more,
and everything I could never see myself wanting with
him
again.

I yelped in pain as I tugged at it again, then
scrambled up and opened the front door and ran down to the edge of the water
and plunged my hand into it. The cold numbed it and stopped the throbbing. I
kept it there as long as I could bear before heading back in and rubbing washing
up liquid all around my reddened knuckle and winced as the soap stung where I’d
taken a layer of skin off, but with more twisting and tugging I finally got it
off and hurled it across the room. I heard it bounce off the stone wall, somewhere
over by the pool table as I screamed in frustration and anger.

Day Eight

Ellie

By the time I got back
from my run it had started to snow and I was shivering, so I soaked in the bath
to warm up then dried myself off. I couldn’t face food, I felt sick to my stomach
that I might have some disease, that I might somehow be infected all because my
lying, cheating …
arsehole
of a fiancé couldn’t keep his hands off other
women, when he had no problem at all keeping them off me. I went over to stand
in front of the full length mirror and forced myself to really look at my naked
reflection, trying to see what was wrong with me.

All my life I’d been told I was beautiful, and not
just by family and friends. My cheekbones were defined, I had a perfect small
straight nose, full lush lips and my vivid green eyes were framed by long dark
lashes. Lashes that I was starting to realise didn’t need three layers of
mascara, neither did my porcelain skin need to be covered in foundation to make
it slightly darker. Being here for only a few days had made me realise I didn’t
need all that makeup. If a man like Dan found me attractive without, that was
affirmation enough. I always kept my long natural ash blonde hair in good
condition and I didn’t need validation that my body was in perfect shape. Men
couldn’t keep their eyes off my body.
So what the hell had gone wrong?
What had made Zac turn from me and into the arms of other women?

I cooked for him, I kept the apartment spotless,
we went out to eat, drink and dance, and had fun. We took regular weekend city
breaks and an annual two week holiday in some really expensive resorts in far
flung places. In the early years he couldn’t keep his hands off me, and it was
him that had made me realise that I
was
desirable. He’d given me so much
confidence that it seemed perverse that it was now him that had nearly
shattered it all. I decided that it wasn’t me, it
had
to be him. I may
never know the reason why and I was going to have to learn to deal with that if
I ever wanted to have a relationship again. I sighed, shook my head and grabbed
the soft white dressing gown off the back of the bathroom door and tied it
around me, rubbing the soft fabric against my cheek. It had come as part of the
“package” and I dreaded to think what the owner had lost financially in letting
me stay here, instead of in the boathouse. I drank two cups of coffee before
checking if there were any signs of life at the boathouse and decided as it was
already ten, I wouldn’t be waking him up if I rang.

‘Morning Ellie, are you ok?’ he asked as he
answered on the second ring. His voice was even more comforting than this
luxury gown I was wrapped up in.

‘No, not really.’

‘I’m so sorry about last night, I seem to keep
upsetting you without even trying.’

‘No Dan, it wasn’t you, please don’t blame
yourself. You just said it how it was, black and white. I need to face reality.
I’m ringing because I really need to do something today and wondered if you
were able to take me somewhere?’

‘Ask me.’

‘I want to go and get tested at an STD clinic,’ I
cringed as I said it. The potential man of my dreams was now going to be
thinking of me as some diseased slut. He stayed silent for a second.

‘Do you think there’s a chance that you might have
caught something?’

‘I don’t know, we used condoms to start and I’ve
never been unfaithful, but now I … I just don’t know if Zac … O God. What if he
didn’t use protection with those hookers?’ I whispered as I dropped my forehead
into my hand, holding the phone to my ear with the other. I felt scared, angry and
mortified all at the same time.

‘When did you last have sex with him?’ Dan asked
and I was sure I could hear a shake of anger in his voice. It was my turn to go
silent for a while, was I really going to confess this to
him
, of all
people? I’d just told him that my last boyfriend preferred prostitutes, I may
be infected and now he was going to know that when I lived with someone I
hadn’t done it in forever. He was going to think I must be really crap in bed. ‘Ellie,
when did you last have sex?’ he demanded.

‘New Year’s Eve,’ I whispered.


New Year’s Eve?
’ he exclaimed, the
surprise evident in his voice.

‘It’s been a dry spell,’ I groaned as I squeezed
my eyes shut, just wanting to die.

‘But that’s nearly a year ago.’

‘Yes, thanks for stating the obvious,’ I responded
with a roll of my eyes, not needing the reminder.

‘But he’s your fiancé. You were
living
with
him.’

‘It’s not been the best of years for our
relationship and he never initiated sex so I … do we really have to talk about
this?’

‘I’m sorry, I’m just … You’re telling me he
stopped
wanting
you?’

‘Yes,’ I sighed as I heard him take a sharp
inhalation.

‘Arsehole,’ he spat down the phone. ‘Him, not
you.’

‘Do you have to keep calling him that?’

‘Well, he is. I mean look at you Ellie, you’re …
you’re stunning, your body’s …’ I heard him suck in through his teeth as my
stomach started fluttering. ‘You’re the personification of every man’s wet
dream, Ellie. How could he be that close to you every night and not want you
physically?’

‘You seem to be managing ok,’ I whispered as my
mouth went dry. Dan really felt that strongly about me?

‘Trust me Ellie, I’m not. I’m not managing at all.
Being this close to you, knowing you want me too … it’s fucking hard,’ he
groaned as he reflected back exactly how I was feeling about him.

‘It is for me too,’ I confirmed. God damn it, what
was wrong with two single people with off the charts attraction just giving
into their desires and fucking wildly?

‘Did he refuse when you asked or tried to initiate
things between you?’

‘Yes, he always had a headache or he was too
tired.’

‘Fucking arsehole.’ He almost yelled it, and it
was laced with venom this time. I chuckled to myself, I seriously hoped Zac
wouldn’t find out where I was and come looking, as I had a feeling Dan would
eat him for breakfast.

‘Yeah, he is, isn’t he? But it doesn’t make me
feel any better about all of this.’

‘I told you he didn’t deserve you, Ellie. As a
species men are pretty shit at not realising what’s important in life.’

‘You treated someone badly once too?’

‘So you weren’t using protection with him anymore?’

‘No, I didn’t think I needed to as I’m on the pill.’
I realised he’d totally ignored my question, I know we’d agreed that he’d only
talk about the things he wanted to, but I was getting beyond curious. I wanted
to know everything about him, his background, why he was here in the middle of
nowhere, but most of all why he was single. For God’s sake, a man like
that
,
with that face, voice, body, and pure male
sex appeal
should
never
be single. ‘So, is there a clinic you can take me to?’

‘I can’t come with you I’m afraid, but I can drop
you off in the town on my way out and pick you up later. Would that be ok?’

‘Yes. Thank you.’

‘Can I do anything for you now?’ he asked softly.
I could think of a million things I’d love for him to do
to
me right
now, but we’d already agreed they weren’t an option.

‘No thanks,’ I sighed. ‘I’ll be fine.’

‘Come to me for quarter to one and dress warmly,
the forecast’s for heavy snow for the next week. If you think you need anything
I’d buy it today in case we get cut off for a while.’

‘Ok, I’ll see you in a while.’ I smiled. I
couldn’t help it, I just felt happier when I had him in my line of sight, even
if I couldn’t do anything about it. I headed up and got dressed in my thermal
leggings and pulled my jeans over the top, a thermal vest and thick black jumper
and got out the boots I’d purchased specially. I sorted out my scarf, gloves
and a wool beanie hat ready to grab when it was time to go, then went and sat
at the desk.
So much for writing every day,
I thought as I looked at my
laptop. I opened my iPad and smiled to see a message from Brooke.

You realise you ask how Maisie is, more than
you ask how I’m doing, right? But you totally made up for it by telling me
you’re looking forward to our nights out and some seriously great sex, I knew
I’d swing you to the girl side sooner or later ;-) Speaking of, I’ve been a
naughty girl :-( Well naughty, but very nice!! I’ll fill you in on that
tomorrow over wine. You’re seriously writing a novel about two gay guys’ sex
lives? That’s one book I won’t be reading, thanks! xx

I looked up out of the window at the falling snow
and was stunned again at the view. I took a picture and attached it to Brooke’s
reply.

You didn’t tell me about Maisie again, Brooke
Hanson! I’m starting to worry that you’ve hurt her. Please let me know she’s ok,
and if she’s not I’d rather know as it’s not like I can shout at you in person,
is it? I’ve invited Dan to come for dinner every night, so we both have some
company. Christ, he can eat like a horse. I made enough meatballs for four or
five meals and with the exception of my portion he ate the lot. I’m going to
have to get more food in and some industrial sized pots ;-) I’m leaving the
island today to go to a local town so I’ll send you an update later. xx

As I was just putting the iPad to sleep another
email came in, from the Captain.

HR have drawn up the proposed contract for you,
I think you’ll find it’s a very generous package. I have taken your comments
under advisement and am pleased to report that Natasha no longer flees from my
office, but merely exits at a quick pace. Please make sure you think very
carefully while you’re away Ellie, I really don’t want to lose you and I’m
sorry that I didn’t tell you how essential you are to the company more often. I
notice that you haven’t cashed your bonus cheque yet, if you need a replacement
please let me know. John.

I opened the attachment and stared at the first
page of the contract where the salary and benefits sections were and gulped
harder than when I’d watched Dan shirtless chopping wood. I leaned back in the
chair and stared out of the window, shell shocked. It was a few minutes before
I looked back at the screen to double check I’d read the figures right. He was
offering a salary increase of £25,000, a company car, private medical and
dental benefits, an additional week’s holiday entitlement and the option for me
to work from home and claim expenses for entertainment of my clients, all on
the condition that I attended the monthly partners meetings at our office or
any others as and when required. It was a seriously good offer. If John could
keep his moods in check and it wasn’t working out with my writing, I’d be hard
pressed to find a reason not to accept, plus that extra money would mean that I
could get a mortgage and buy myself somewhere small in the city. I sent him a
response.

Thank you for your email and kind words and I
agree, it is a very generous offer and I’m extremely grateful. I promise that I’ll
think about it very carefully and come to see you in person to give you my decision
as soon as I return to London in January. I don’t require a replacement bonus
cheque, thank you. I hope you won’t be offended but I’m afraid I can’t accept
the one you offered given the circumstances. I’m glad to hear that Natasha is
now walking, rather than fleeing and I hope that you can continue the good
work. If I return it would be nice to call you John, rather than Captain
Cranky. I hope that things are ok for you at home, I understand only too well
what a negative impact that can have on your life. Take care, give my best to
the team and I’ll see you in the New Year. Happy Christmas, Ellie.

I’d need to read the fine print on that contract
if I was going to seriously consider it, so I was going to need to find a cheap
printer from somewhere. The snow was really coming down and sticking, and the
shoreline had a white blanket over it already. I decided to dress up now and go
out and take some pictures, it was too pretty to miss. I took my bag with me
and laughed as I felt the snow crunching under my feet. Christmas was less than
two weeks away, and it would be amazing to be up here if the snow stuck, my
perfect Christmas fantasy come true.

I walked carefully around the shore to my right,
following my usual running track which was barely visible under the white. The
pictures on the iPad were coming out really well, so well I’d probably turn
some of them into canvasses for my new place. I checked my watch, I needed to
head back to meet Dan and cursed when I felt a flurry of excitement at the
thought of seeing him again. I needed this guy out of my system, fast, along
with this totally inappropriate crush. I took a picture of the boathouse as I
approached it, smoke curling out of the chimney stacks, it could pass for
Santa’s Grotto. I carefully made my way up onto the jetty and crouched down to
take a picture of it jutting into the water before the snow was ruined by our
feet, then headed right to the end and turned to take a picture of the
boathouse from the front. I stood up and flicked through the photo’s I’d taken
and smiled as I looked back up and saw Dan watching me. He was leaning on his
door frame, ankles crossed holding a mug of coffee with a serious look on his
face and his stubble was back.

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