Authors: Krista Ritchie,Becca Ritchie
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Adult
Dillon patted me on the shoulder. “Good job, Cobalt. Keep it up.”
Off the same category, I asked her, “Wife of Akhenaten?” I watched her think about it. I could stop here, stump her with little information, ending the game quickly. Or I could test her, to truly see how much she knew.
I wanted to prolong this.
So I added, “Step-mother of Tutankhamen, known for attempts to change polytheistic religion to mono—”
“Nefertiti,” she cut me off.
She was right.
It was my turn to pick the next category at random. I read the paper aloud, “Medical Terms.”
Her chest rose and fell heavily.
I couldn’t hide a burgeoning smile. “Rapid breathing,” I challenged.
“Tachypnea,” she retorted. “Stop smiling.”
“Now she doesn’t like smiling.”
“Not all smiling.”
“Just mine then?” I questioned.
yours.” It was like she was saying,
don’t think you’re that special.
I rubbed my lips, trying not to laugh. “And what’s mine like?”
She glared. “Like you’ve already beaten me. Like you’re halfway up my skirt. Like you’re the ruler of every free nation and every free man. Shall I go on?”
“Please do,” I said, amused. “I was wondering what else I rule. Could it be every free animal? Or just the ones in zoos?”
“Oooh,” people heckled. More students had gathered around us, not only from Faust and Dalton but other schools. They packed around the balcony and hallway, having to cram in while we continued this game.
She ignored me and challenged, “An abnormal growth of tissue caused by the uncontrolled and rapid multiplication of cells.”
“Also known as
,” she retorted.
“Oooh,” the crowds jeered again.
I actually laughed. And that merely wound her up all over again. I could practically read her enraged eyes that said,
Fifteen minutes passed and both of our questions were becoming more difficult. We drew closer together somehow, only a couple feet separating us as we spewed questions and answers to star constellations, composers, aesthetic theories, philosophy and American history.
She was much smarter than I initially thought. Perhaps, even, the smartest competitor I’d encountered in my adolescence. She liked facts, random knowledge, as much as me.
“Your turn, Richard.” She said my first name with
, venom seeping into each letter, as though she was slaughtering the syllables. I didn’t care to correct her, to tell her that everyone called me Connor. I was taken by her passion, so I wouldn’t stop her. Not once.
I looked down at my slip of paper. It was in neat, precise cursive. It had to be her handwriting. “Characters from Shakespeare’s Plays.”
She tried to force back a smile.
So she liked Shakespeare. “Sir John Falstaff,” I told her a character. Now she had to name the play.
Without a beat, she answered, “
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Henry IV, Part 1
” She was quick to ask me a question. We no longer waited for Henry to confirm answers that we knew were correct. “Ariel?”
” I assumed it must’ve been her favorite.
She plucked the next paper. “Birthplace of Ancient Civilizations.”
I tried not to gloat since she was already heated. I was the one who wrote down that category.
She took a deep breath and stared at the ceiling, racking her brain for a trivia fact. “Mesopotamia…1800 to 1686 B.C.” Her voice was quieter, more uncertain about this category than the others.
“Old Babylonian,” I told her in a hushed voice too. It felt like we were the only two in the hallway for a minute. Our eyes met, and I could see the defeat in hers before I even asked a question. She had no confidence in this subject.
I waited to ask her something. There was a long string of silence except for Henry’s fingers hitting the keyboard.
“He’s right,” Henry exhaled.
Every Faust boy cheered. The Dalton girls and guys whispered amongst themselves and tried to pump Rose with encouragements.
I didn’t want to bring her down as much as I wanted to build her up, but I also liked to win. And I wouldn’t lose this game. “Crete, 3000 to 1100 B.C.”
After one minute, she frowned and shook her head. “I don’t know.” Each word sounded wrong from her lips.
“It’s Minoan,” I announced.
Everyone groaned behind her. Everyone cheered behind me.
I tried to tune them out, leaving just her and me. I craved more time, maybe even alone. I wanted to talk. I wanted to explore her. I wanted so many things in that moment that my brain went five directions at once. I was overwhelmed.
More overwhelmed than I’d ever been.
“Congratulations!” she said, having to raise her voice through the applause and groans. She pushed the keycards in my chest. I thought she’d put up a bigger fight than this. I would’ve tried a different avenue, an alternate path, to obtain what I wanted.
“That’s it?” I asked, dipping my head towards hers so she could hear me.
“You won fairly. But I’ll beat you
this week.” She wasn’t willing to make a bargain, a barter, something
She wasn’t giving up. She just played by the rules, whereas I always searched for loopholes.
Rose wasn’t a carbon copy of myself, I recognized. She was someone else entirely.
“You’ll see a lot more of me,” I realized. If she was this smart, I’d see her around the academic circuits. I’d see her even more if I asked her out, but that wasn’t nearly as alluring as being her competitor. Not yet at least.
“Then you’ll need to buy me some barf bags.” She looked me up and down. I was always physically fit, and I appeared exactly as I dressed: well-off, cultured, proper, rich. An elite boarding school prick.
“Do you always vomit on guys you like,” I asked, “or just me?”
She glared. “The more you fish for compliments, the more I want to puke on you.”
“So it is just me then.”
And our respective friends began pulling us away, towards our different hotel rooms. I never realized how bored I had been with life. How mundane my surroundings looked. How unchallenged I’d become.
I never realized all of these things.
Until I met her.
ELEVEN YEARS LATER
[ 1 ]
Take directions from your husband, Rose Cobalt.
fated me with this night?
A sour taste fills my mouth. I am partly to blame, I’ll admit. I refused to let him drive. I thought if I was behind the wheel, he’d tell me where we’re headed.
Instead, he’s given me the barest of directions. I’m driving blindly, at his will.
Take directions from Connor Cobalt, outside of the bedroom
. I’d rather drown myself in hot, bubbling magma.
“Turn left at the light,” Connor says, his fingers to his lips. I catch his smug smile, illuminated in the blue glow of the dashboard.
I itch to do the opposite, to take a sharp
, but wherever we’re going, I want to be there as much as him. The endgame—which I am privy to—means more to me than starting a fresh rivalry with my husband. So I suck up my overwhelming pride and whip my Escalade left.
I can feel him gloating. “The more you grin like I’m giving you a quickie in a disgusting public bathroom, the more my ovaries wither and
,” I tell him. “So just think about all of our future children you’re annihilating, Richard.”
He outstretches his arm behind my headrest. “I’m so extraordinary that my mere grin can make you infertile?”
“I was insulting you,” I retort, my eyes flickering to him.
His brow arches with more satisfaction. “It was partially a compliment and partially erroneous.”
I scoff. “Erroneous?”
“Illogical, irrational, senseless—”
what erroneous means. I just want to cut off your tongue for using it against me.” He may be right. It’s not a rational statement, but I would hope my ovaries would stand with me and not firmly on his side.
“You forget that I use my tongue for your pleasure—turn right.”
I swing the car to the right. “I don’t need your tongue,” I refute. “I have other means of pleasuring myself.” Though masturbating isn’t quite as good or substantial, but I’m avoiding another compliment towards a man who finds them in insults.
His fingers drum the headrest. “Are these means battery-operated?”
I shoot him a sharp look, not denying the truth.
His thumb brushes my cheek, and I actually relax some. “Your argument lacks evidence, darling. Turn left after this light.”
I roll to a stop, the red light gleaming along the nearly deserted street. It’s 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, everyone eating pie with their families indoors. Not gallivanting across the back roads of Philadelphia on a bizarre mission.
“Where are we going?” I ask for the fourth time.
“A parking lot,” he says again.
“I’ve passed about thirty of them already.” I motion to the empty one beside a dimly lit gas station. “Will that one not suffice?”
parking lot,” Connor amends. One that he had to Google on his phone, the device clutched in his palm. “We’re almost there. Do you think your ovaries will survive until then?”
“Do you plan on impregnating me in this parking lot?” I glare, spinning fully towards him while we wait for the green light. He wears a blue button-down and suit jacket, tailored perfectly for his six-foot-four frame. Connor Cobalt is as classy as he is conceited. Both attract me.
Both annoy me.
I’m a paradox. And maybe that’s why he loves me.
“I plan on impregnating you seven more times,” he declares, “but not tonight.” He cups my face, and his thumb brushes my bottom lip in a slow, measured line.
My chest falls shallowly, especially as his eyes flit to my mouth. He wants eight kids. An
We already have one child together, but there are stipulations that we haven’t discussed in full detail yet if we want more. For another time. Another day. We have too many crises to stir another one.
“You’re taking too much pleasure in this,” I say a bit quieter than I intended. I’m not even sure what I’m referring to: our proposed empire, him controlling our destination, or turning me on?
“You’re the one out of breath,” Connor says calmly, but I hear the humor behind his voice. After being married for almost two and a half years, I’ve learned the subtlety in his tones. Either that or he’s decided to ease off the façade for me. I like to think it’s a little of both.
But I doubt I’ll ever know.
“It’s green,” he announces without breaking my gaze.
I turn my head, and his hand drops. I drive to “wherever the hell he directs me to”—which is my least favorite destination.
After another five minutes, he tells me to slow down and turn right into a parking lot. I pick my foot off the gas and the car lolls.
“Right here.” He gestures ahead of us.
I swerve into the empty parking lot and digest my surroundings: the front of a closed fabric store, lights off, the building as dark as the starless sky.
I park my Escalade in the third row and switch off the ignition, my heart thudding against my tight ribcage. The quiet blankets us, the reality of our choices starting to catch up to my head.
Connor watches me, not speaking. Maybe he thinks I’ll back out.
I understand who and what this is for.
“Let’s just do this quick.” I unbuckle and swivel around to face him. “Before anyone realizes we’re gone.” We slipped out of my parent’s house after apple pie. I set my six-month-old daughter in my mother’s arms and left her there for a couple hours. That was harder than this will be.
I pull my glossy brown hair back into a sleek pony, snapping the band violently before I focus on Connor in the passenger seat. His brows are pinched, lines across his forehead, his enjoyment depleting with mine.
My spine is at a stiff ninety-degree angle, and I struggle to uncross my ankles. “What now?” I ask, though I’m fairly certain I know what happens next.
“You want instructions?” He gives me a pointed look like,
you’ve been arguing with me for the past hour for giving them.
My eyes flame. “When it comes to your penis, I would like instructions, yes.” I’ve yet to master blowing him, and the whole ordeal gives me an anxious heat that I almost never wear.
Blowing him in a public parking lot—I never imagined I’d do something so juvenile. But when it comes to protecting the people I love, my list of
He unclips his seatbelt. “Lean against the door and spread your legs open.” My eyes grow in surprise.
“Lean against the door—”
“I heard you the first time,” I retort. “I just…” I have to read between his words.
Spread your legs open.
I dazedly shake my head.
You’re not blowing me, darling.
He waits for me to accept this switch.
I hesitate, only because I like following the rules. “Connor, they told me to give you oral.” If we really wanted, I could even
to blow him. We just need to act like we’re doing it close to the windows.
He slides near me and reaches down, gripping my ankle. He slips off my black, five-inch heels before I can protest. And then he lifts my feet on the seat, so I’m forced to lean against the door like he previously requested. I need the support anyway, blood rushing through my veins at his strong, assured movements.
With my ankles still in his grasp, he splits my legs apart. I tug down the hem of my pleated black dress, shrouding my lacy black panties from his view—but more importantly the view of someone outside.