What do I think? The phone is going to ring of its own accord? If I stare at it long enough some magic will happen? That’s never worked before and it’s not going to work now. If I want this, if I want her, I’m going to have to grow a pair and go after her.
Before I talk myself out of it, I snatch my cell off the desk and find the contact I’m looking for, pausing to acknowledge the possibility that this may be the last phone call I ever make because Rey Walter is going to have me killed. Should I call my parents first? No, you stupid fuck, just fucking do it.
I’ve never gotten Rey’s voicemail before. What the fuck am I going to say? Hey, man, you know that girl I was so in love with I broke up with her? I’m having second thoughts and hoped you might be able to help me out. So, uh, give me a call.
Christ. He is going to kill me.
On the fourth ring, I prime myself to hang up, ready my thumb to slide over “end call,” but just as I’m about to give up on this suicide mission, his voice comes through.
“Cris. What can I do for you?”
“Uh…” I was expecting yelling, maybe a hang up, maybe a swift, smooth fuck off, anything but precisely the same greeting I always get. I’m like a boxer who’s not met by a punch who lets his guard down and gets KO’d because of it.
“I’ve got a client in a few minutes, could we move this along?”
“Yeah, of course. I’m calling about India.”
“I don’t think she’s available, but I’ve got some other women who might be better suited to your needs if you want—”
“I don’t want someone else. I want her.”
“I guess you should’ve thought of that…three months ago.”
So that’s how it’s going to be. Better than I deserve. And why is that? “Why are you even taking my call?”
“I still talk to Hunter, don’t I?”
Rage rips hot and red in my chest. Hunter? Is he seriously comparing me to Hunter? “I’m nothing like that fucker, don’t you dare—”
“I don’t think you’re in any position to argue with me, Cris. Did you publicly humiliate her? No. Did you rip her life to shreds because she wasn’t willing to give you exactly what you wanted? Yes. So in my book, you’re not so different.”
His nugget of truth sucks the anger out of my protest. India was right; Rey’s really fucking annoying sometimes. But as usual, he’s right. I put my elbows on my desk and scrub a hand through my hair, trying to think clearly because I’m only getting one shot at this. I’m lucky I’m getting one.
“You don’t watch TV, do you?”
“I really don’t have time to discuss the latest Game of Thrones, but that Red Wedding was a real shocker, wasn’t it?”
His sarcasm makes me want to throw my phone against the goddamn wall but if I have to put up with some hazing, so be it. “Did you know she was on the news?”
Silence is all the response I need, but after a beat he answers anyway. “National?”
“Yeah. Her press conference up in LA. That jackass from the Times tried to embarrass her and she ate him for breakfast. It was… She was awesome.”
The soft sound of a held breath being let out makes its way through the line. “So you saw her. She looked sexy as hell, she sounded all brainy. You got hard thinking about how that smart mouth used to suck you off while you pulled that glossy hair. And now you want her back? I don’t think so.”
“No. I mean, yeah, she’s fucking gorgeous. You’d have to be dead to not see that. But she looked…” I close my eyes and see her against my lids like a movie. That green dress, her fingers gripping the edge of the podium when Brad asked her about Jason Garrett. The split second of alarm before she took control and fucked him with it. Yeah, it was hot. Whenever I hear, heard, India talking work stuff, it was such a fucking turn on. She swears like a merchant marine, her mind works at the speed of light, and she’ll go chest to chest with anyone. She’s an honest-to-god tiger and knowing she puts away her claws to be so…pliant for me? It sure as shit gets me hard. If anyone can understand that, it’s Rey.
But that’s not why I called. I would’ve kicked myself for being so fucking stupid to let her go and I would’ve jerked off to that two-minute clip more times than I’d like to admit. I would’ve stewed in jealousy that someone else gets to order her to her knees and mark her, but I would have done it all in silence. No, I called because she looked “tired. She looked tired, Rey. Worn out. Is she sick?”
“You really think you deserve to care about her?” The hard edge of his words has softened, even as they sting.
“No, I don’t, but I’m going to anyway. I can’t…not. I love her. I love her and I’ll jump through any hoops you want me to for another shot. I’m not going to ask her to be something she’s not. I’m not going to ask her for something she can’t give. If she wants to go back to how things were before, I’ll do it. I’ll see her once a month and I’ll call you as soon as she leaves and I’ll sign the fucking contracts and I’ll follow every single goddamn rule she lays down no matter how ridiculous it might seem to me.”
It occurred to me recently that maybe I’d been handling her all wrong. Well, not completely—I clearly did something right for her to keep coming back—but wrong enough for it to blow up in my face. Sure I took it slow, pushed and prodded when I thought I could get away with it. She gave in on so many things with some encouragement. But when it came down to it, I pushed too hard. I asked for too much. And instead of getting another priceless inch, I got nothing.
The more I’ve turned it over in my mind—okay, obsessed over it—the more I’ve realized that the only person India’s put faith in is Rey. And what the fuck is it about him that made her do it? She’s the most mistrustful, wary, vulnerable person I’ve ever met behind that crisp shell of hers. Finally I understood. She did it because he’d offered something she’d never gotten from anyone else. Unconditional acceptance. He took her as she was, and in return, she gave him trust, and loyalty like I’ve never seen.
I want those things from her.
If I do, then I have to give her what she needs and hope it’s not too late. And that it’s good enough. Hand her everything, and as sickening as it is, trust her to give me something in return. I’ll stand still with my hand out, and eventually my skittish little wild thing will eat out of my hand. Fuck all do I miss her eating out of my hand. I can practically see her anxiety and stress falling away when I’ve got her under my control. I want to give her that. And I want that feeling back. The satisfaction like I’ve never experienced, and all from having her believe in me.
“I’ll sit there wanting more, but I’m not going to demand it. I want it given freely, because she wants it, because I’ve earned it. Like how she submits to me. Submitted.” I’ve never hated the past tense so much as I do when I think about her. “But if you think she’s better off, if you think she’s really happier, I’ll hang up and I won’t bother you again. But I think the least you can do is tell me she’s okay. That you’ll take care of her if she isn’t.”
There’s a long pause. I wonder if he’s googling how to say fuck off in Hawaiian or some other language I’ll understand. The waiting is heart-pounding agony, and I rub the heel of my hand over my chest.
“I’m not an unreasonable man, Cris. I know there are no guarantees. You’re grown-ups and sometimes things don’t work out. But you understand if you hurt her like that again you will cease to exist.”
My skin crawls. I have to turn around to make sure Rey isn’t standing behind me with a knife. No, not a knife. No way Rey’d get blood on his hands. Poison. He’d poison me. Or maybe he’d look at me sideways and I’d go up in a cloud of smoke.
“Have you got a pen?”