Authors: Charlotte Howard
Tags: #Erotic Romance Fiction
“Deal,” he said. He checked his watch. “Eight o’clock?”
* * * *
Leah left before he did, allowing him to tidy the apartment and lock up before he headed back to his house.
Jerry was waiting when he got back, sprawled over the sofa, making it look untidy. Cushions had been kicked onto the floor and he’d pulled a blanket over himself.
“You know you have a bed. And a TV up there too,” Ty grumbled, avoiding the scene and going straight into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of water, and drained it in three gulps before putting the empty tumbler into the dishwasher. Grabbing a dishcloth, he ran it over the surfaces, brushing the remnants of a sandwich into his palm before dropping the crumbs into the bin.
“So where is she?” Jerry asked, leaning against the doorframe.
Ty scowled. “None of your business.”
“Oh, come on, Ty,” he drawled. “You don’t want to play games this time? She looked like she might be the type who was up for it.”
“You stay away from her.”
“Not sharing this one then?”
“I mean it, Jerry. Go anywhere near her and I will tell your brother. He’s the only reason I let you stay here, and it won’t be a problem for me to kick you out.”
Jerry swallowed, hard. Ty watched as his Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat. “You’re an arsehole,” Jerry said, turning around and going up to his room.
Ty hated being in debt, but he preferred owing money to favors. He only had himself to blame, though. Rubbing his hands over his face, he let out a loud groan of despair. He only had an hour before he had to pick Leah up.
After a quick shower, he packed a small overnight bag and slung it into the boot of his car. He called up to Jerry, but music blared over his voice so he left a note and stuck it under a magnet on the fridge instead. Jerry wouldn’t be able to miss it—it was the only piece of paper on there.
He parked the car outside her house and began to search for his phone so he could send her a text to let her know he was waiting.
“Shit.” His mobile was still on the kitchen sideboard. Glancing to the side, he took in the front of the house. It was unassuming with its white uPVC front door and matching windows. A four-by-four, bought for show rather than actual off-road drive, was parked in the driveway. Ty climbed out of the car and made his way up the path, knocking on the front door.
The man who answered was about his height, but had about five stone on him. He was older as well and Ty put him in his late thirties, early forties. Thick black hair was peppered with gray around his ears, with the odd white strand in his eyebrows glinting in the evening sun.
“You must be Ty. Neil,” he introduced, thrusting a hand out.
Ty gripped his palm and for a brief second, they both vied for dominance. Ty yielded, giving him a friendly smile, and the handshake was let go. Neil turned back into the house and shouted for Leah before taking a step to the side and allowing Ty in.
A pregnant woman waddled into the hallway and gave him a huge grin. “Hi,” she greeted with a hug. “I’m Maggie. Leah has told me an awful lot about you.”
There was something parental about the way Maggie and Neil held themselves. It was clear they were both protective of Leah, but perhaps more than a sister and brother-in-law would normally be. He felt uncomfortable, but kept his composure as he waited.
“She won’t be long,” Maggie said, looking over her shoulder as Neil headed into the next room. “Just beautifying herself a bit more.” She sucked on her bottom lip—a trait he’d noticed in Leah as well. “Look, while she’s not around, I can say this to you. Be careful with her.”
Ty frowned in confusion.
“She’s been through a lot, and I don’t want her getting hurt. She’s just starting to get settled and—”
“She is a big girl,” Leah interrupted, walking down the stairs. She was dressed in the same jeans as earlier, but had changed her top to a long line T-shirt patterned in colorful swirls.
“I’m concerned, that’s all.”
“I know.” Leah smiled and kissed Maggie’s cheek. The two women were the same height, and had the same blonde hair and blue eyes—they were easily recognizable as sisters, but the age difference was obvious. Still, Ty could see why they said pregnant women glowed.
Leah shifted uncomfortably.
“Shall we go?” Ty asked, taking the bag that Leah clutched.
“Have a good night,” Maggie called as they both headed for the car. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t!”
“Sorry about that.” Leah’s cheeks pinked and she swept her hair behind her ears, revealing her neck. “Anyone would think I was a teenager,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Ty smiled softly. “It’s okay, I understand.” He walked around the car and opened the passenger door for her. “It’s nice to have somebody who cares.”
Sliding into the driver’s side, he twisted to face her. Overcome with a need to touch her, he lifted his hand and cupped her chin, leaning forward to press his lips against hers. She murmured something against him, but his thoughts had trailed elsewhere.
“Are we going?” she asked after a brief second.
“Yeah.” He twisted the key in the ignition. “Just need to nip home to grab my phone.”
Her mood soured a little at the thought of seeing Jerry again. She couldn’t say what, but there was something about Ty’s housemate that unnerved her. Maybe it was how he’d been in the club, pawing over Rainie, or how he’d been ogling anything with cleavage. It was clear that Ty didn’t hold him in high regard either, which left her wondering why he let Jerry stay.
“So what did your sister mean, when she said you’ve been through a lot?” He sounded cautious, testing the edge of the conversation as if it were a thin layer of ice stretching out in front of them. Only he couldn’t know how deep those waters ran.
Leah closed her eyes and leaned against the headrest. She inhaled a long breath and blew it out again in a quick burst.
“That bad, huh?”
One side of her lips curved into a smile. “Clingy ex. Lied, cheated and manipulated me into believing that we could get married. Fortunately I found him in bed with his sister’s flatmate a week before walking down the aisle and not after. Unfortunately he thought he could weasel his way back in.”
“I’m glad you didn’t let him.” He laid his palm on her leg and gave a gentle, reassuring squeeze.
“I did,” she confessed. “And nothing had changed apart from his level of trust. It was as if I’d been the one who’d cheated. I wasn’t allowed out unless he was with me, could only wear what he wanted me to, always had to let him read my text messages and emails…” Leah let out another sigh. “I moved down to get away from him. I promised myself that I would never let a man control me like that again.”
Ty put his hand back to the steering wheel. She watched him from the corner of her eye. The muscles in his jaw had become tense. His arms were rigid against the wheel. They sat in an awkward silence for the remainder of the journey.
The car stopped outside his house, and Leah waited for him to get out before relaxing. It had been a mistake to tell him about Kyle. Clearly he didn’t want someone with baggage, especially the emotional kind.
“Are you coming in?” he asked, leaning through the open car door to look at her.
“I don’t mind waiting,” she replied, shifting in her seat.
“Okay.” The door was shut, and she was left to her own devices.
Leah stared down the street, taking in the pretty front gardens, manicured lawns and polished cars. She wondered how many of the residents thought Ty and Jerry might be an item, how many rumors were circulating, how many women gossiped about the cute gay couple down the road. Her smile widened. How many fantasies would be ruined when they discovered he was actually straight and seeing her?
The smile disappeared. She hadn’t considered the fact that she might not be the only woman he was seeing. They’d spent a night together, but bumping into each other at The Mall had been pure coincidence as far as she was concerned. He had become uncomfortable when she’d talked about Kyle. Perhaps it was because he knew he was the same sort of man.
She shoved the intruding thoughts to one side and concentrated on her breathing and the feel of her pulse. After a while, she glanced to the house. The sun had begun its descent, shattering the sky with streaks of orange and red, casting the building in an eerie glow. Uneasiness settled in her veins.
Leah fidgeted in her seat. He’d taken the keys with him, leaving her with only her thoughts, which were ruining her mood more than it already was. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself out of the car.
With a clenched fist, she knocked on the front door. Jerry opened and Leah’s heart sank.
In this light, he was more handsome than she’d given him credit for. The solid lines of his jaw had been freshly shaven, and his dirty blond hair had been styled into a pompadour, adding to his height.
“Hi.” He grinned and crossed his arms over his chest, exaggerating his biceps and pecs, which bulged beneath the white T-shirt he wore and skewed the black motto emblazoned across the front.
“Hi,” Leah returned, and tried to peer past him.
“Let her in already,” Ty called from the shadows. Jerry stepped to the side and gave her a mock bow. Ty stepped closer to them. “Do you want a drink? I’ve completely lost my phone.”
“I’m fine,” Leah said, hugging herself and following Ty through to the kitchen. He mumbled something about finding his mobile and jogged down the hall as Jerry entered the room. Leah pressed her lips together and surveyed the room, looking everywhere but at him.
Jerry stood in the doorway with a smirk on his lips, watching her. “Sorry about last night,” he said.
“Oh, that’s okay.” She tried to dismiss him.
“Ty says I was an utter bastard.”
“Alcohol does that to some people.”
“I guess. Sure you don’t want a drink?”
“Honestly, I’m fine. He probably won’t be long and then we’ll be out of your hair.”
Jerry shrugged. “It’s his house.”
“You going out?” she asked after a brief silence.
“Dunno yet.” He slunk into the chair opposite her. “So how long have you known Ty?” he asked, raising an eyebrow and one corner of his lips.
“Umm…” She looked around the room, taking in every clean inch. “I started working at the school in September, so ten months, I guess.”
“He said there was a sexy new teacher there.” Jerry winked and Leah felt her skin begin to crawl. “How well do you know him?”
Leah narrowed her eyes and scrutinized his intentions. “Not very,” she said, treading lightly around the words.
“Yeah, that figures. Not many tend to stick around once they get to know the real him.” He laughed as if he’d told her some corny joke, but Leah hadn’t gotten the punch line. “Mind you,” he said, still chuckling to himself, “he doesn’t usually do more than one-night stands, so I guess you must be different.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Leah pushed herself away from the table. She walked out of the kitchen, so desperate to get away from him that she didn’t see Ty and bumped into his chest. Her fingertips curled into the soft cotton of his top, and she took delight in the heat that he radiated, the reassurance of a safe place nestled beneath her touch.
“You okay?” he asked, kissing the top of her head and wrapping a protective arm around her.
She nodded and smiled, looking up at him with wide eyes. “Just wondering what was taking you so long.” She let her palms slip down his body until they rested on his backside.
“Sure?” he asked, throwing a glance at Jerry. Linking his hands in hers, he brought them down to their sides. “I found my phone. We can go now.”
“Can I use your bathroom first, please?”
He let her go and she didn’t hesitate before walking quickly away from Jerry.
* * * *
“You want to tell me what the fuck that was about?” Ty snapped, his sights squarely set on his housemate.
“Conversation.” Jerry shrugged, heading for the door, but Ty stood in his path. The two men squared up to each other, and this was a contest Ty wouldn’t back down from.
“I told you to leave her alone.”
Jerry let out a snort of laughter. “I give it a week before you’re bored with her and toss her my way. That or she’ll see your collection and freak.” He pushed past and grabbed a jacket. “I’m going out.” The door slammed as he left, rattling against its frame.
Ty looked at his phone. The temptation to end things grew with each passing day, but had become more urgent since bringing Leah home. He put the phone in his back pocket.
Rubbing his face, he walked to the front room, stopping when he got to the bottom of the stairs. Leah was stood at the top, arms folded across her chest and an expression on her face that told him she had heard every word. Or at least the important parts.
The tension in the air was palpable. They stared at each other, silently daring the other to speak first.
“Sorry about that.” It was Ty who spoke, not moving his eyes from hers. He took a deep breath through his nose, expanding his chest before blowing out in a long, slow exhale. “Shall we go?”
“No,” she said, walking down the stairs. His body stiffened, ready for the blow of being rejected. Standing in front of him, she flattened her palms on his chest, taking in the hard muscle under her touch. She stood on her toes and took his bottom lip between her teeth. “I want to know what this collection of yours is.”
Ty let out a heavy breath, taking her hands in his, and led her upstairs and into his bedroom. He pointed at the bed, and she obeyed the silent order, sitting on the edge, partly regretting her decision to inquire into the collection. She hoped it was something silly like a stash of porn hidden in the bottom of his wardrobe. But what if he had a sex dungeon in a cellar she knew nothing about? What if he had weird fetishes? Her teeth grazed over her bottom lip as she contemplated the possibilities. What if… Memories of Kyle stung the backs of her eyes.
Outside, the sun was beginning to set. Streetlights flickered into life. Orange spotlights hit the pavement, but didn’t make it into the house. The bedroom was shrouded in a soft glow from the two wall-mounted lights. The shadows fell over Ty’s face, and she couldn’t quite make out his expression as he turned his head.