Heading up the wooden stairs, I couldn’t help considering that fact. There was a good chance I was beginning to find him irresistible, that much I had figured out. I was sure two days ago I was falling for him, but this was more than just a lust, this was I wanted to fall in love with him and was. That was a feeling that scared me, the last man I had fallen for was my ex and I knew where that had gotten me but Nick was nothing like him, or at least he didn’t seem to be. And yet there was a part of me that wanted to throw caution to the wind, end up happily ever after, like all the princess stories I used to read as a kid but this wasn’t a story and I wasn’t a kid anymore. I’d kissed enough frogs in the last year to know that Prince Charming wasn’t easy to find, but maybe this time I had found him. I’d never know if I didn’t risk it all, this might not be Las Vegas but I was still about to gamble it all and possibly lose everything that I had worked so hard over the last year to get.
Yet there was a problem, what if he wasn’t falling for me like I was him? What if all I was to him was a sexual relationship and once he was done with me, he’d leave me for someone else. Just a memory of a celebrity who could have anyone he wanted and yet I still couldn’t help but put myself out there. This was going to be the chance I took, and no matter the outcome I couldn’t regret it, no I wouldn’t regret it.
I wasn’t sure how I had managed to pick out an old pair of sweats and an over sized t-shirt that kind of matched leaving them on my bed but I had and was now standing in the master bathroom. Pushing shut the bathroom door, and flipping the lock I turned the shower on and began to undress. As I stepped into the shower, that sense of panic began to take over again. The rational side of my mind kept telling me that I was locked in my own home, hell even in a locked bathroom and nothing was going to happen but yet there was a side of me that knew that my ex had enough cronies with enough different skills that that wouldn’t matter if he really wanted to hurt me. I couldn’t help wishing that Nick was home, or at least here, considering this was by far not his home.
The warm water that flowed over my body pounding down on my shoulders and up turned face felt wonderful though, except as it ran down the parts of my body that were bruised. I definitely felt better than I had the previous night and the night before that but while moving hurt less, it was still tender to the touch. Once I’d finished cleansing my body, I stepped from the shower, turning it off and wrapping up in a towel.
It wasn’t until I was reaching for the door knob to leave the bathroom for my room though that I became aware of footsteps on the stairs. They weren’t the normal paws falling on the stairs that I was used to, no this was indeed footsteps. The sense of panic that I had been earlier feeling swept over me again especially as I realized that I hadn’t locked the back door again, how could I have been so stupid? Blaming myself wasn’t going to get me any closer to the answer to the questions at hand. Who was it, and what could they possibly want? It could be one of my ex’s moronic cronies, bound and determined to end me as he’d promised. I could feel hot tears against my cheeks, as I moved away from the bathroom door, until I knew who it was I didn’t want to be anywhere near them. Why hadn’t I taken Maria up on her offer to live together? Nothing like this would have happened if I had, there would be someone else home.
A knock on the door caused me to let out a gasp, well so much for pretending that I wasn’t in here. “Stephanie? You alright?” The voice on the other side made me forget everything that I had been worried about, moving towards the door. With trembling hands I fumbled with the lock to open the door almost falling into Nick’s arms as I pulled it open. “Hey, shhhhhh what’s the matter?” Carefully he wrapped an arm around my trembling body leading me to the bed in the bedroom before kneeling in front of me. “Talk to me Stephanie, tell me what’s the matter.”
Sniffling as I looked at him, I attempted to pull myself together enough to talk. “I-I guess I let myself get worked up over nothing. I’m alright.” I tried forcing a smile onto my lips as I looked at him. “Honest it’s nothing really.” I couldn’t help but wrap the towel around myself tighter as I looked at him.
“Stephanie, you’re shaking, what’s the matter? I tried calling on my way back and you didn’t answer so I figured you were asleep, so I let myself in and.” He cut himself off as he looked at me. “And I scared you half to death didn’t I.” He sighed closing his eyes for a minute. “Man, I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinking. I figured you’d gone to bed and I didn’t want to wake you up.”
“It’s alright honest.” I was trying to convince myself more than I was trying to convince him I was pretty sure.
“Alright, if you’re sure.” He didn’t seem convinced as he stood up still looking at me. “Get dressed, I’m going to go let the mutts in and then there’s something I want to talk to you about.” He placed a kiss on the top of my head before disappearing.
Pulling the bedraggled sweats on before pulling an oversized t-shirt over my head, I couldn’t help but figure that I looked like a disaster but it didn’t matter. He wanted to talk to me about something, maybe this was the end for the two of us. He’d thought it over on the way back and decided he was over me, or maybe it was something a little more up beat. I’d never know unless I went down to talk to him, so here went nothing.
The walk down the stairs had never seemed this long, it was almost as if I was headed for my doom and finding that Nick wasn’t in the living room didn’t help matters any. “Nick?”
“In here Steph.” Came his response from the direction of the guest room.
Moving to the door way of the guest room I leaned against the door frame, of course he had to be shirtless. God, if he was going to leave couldn’t he just leave, not make me drool in the process. “You wanted to talk?”
“Yea, Eric made an offer earlier today and I wasn’t going to take it, but I’m starting to think maybe it’s a good idea. He’s got a cabin just outside of Yosemite by a few miles. He’s headed up there Friday for the weekend and wanted to know if we’d like to come along. I figured after everything that’d happened to you, you wouldn’t want to go and was going to stay with you but after what just happened, I’m starting to think maybe it would be a good idea. Get you out of here for a little while, let you relax, go skiing, sledding or curl up by a nice warm fire even.” He paused seemingly waiting for my reaction.
“Sounds like a great idea.” To myself I silently added why not, spend three days with a guy I’d never met and I wasn’t so sure I trusted. I knew Nick was trying to be helpful but I had never met Eric, merely heard of him. Taking a deep breath I decided that my best option was to trust Nick, if this was a friend of his then chances were he wasn’t a bad guy.
“You’re sure you’re alright with it? I mean we could stay here and do something if you’d rather; I just thought I’d make the offer. Eric’s eager to meet you, but he’ll understand if you aren’t ready yet.” He pushed himself from the mattress standing before me again as he did. It was then that I realized that he was still shirtless, and I was powerless.
“Positive.” I offered holding a hand out to him. “Come here, I missed you while you were gone.”
“I missed you too,” Nick offered as he moved closer wrapping an arm around me. “You were all I could think about, I might sound nuts, but I think I’m falling in love with you.”
Setting a hand against his chest I couldn’t help but laugh as I looked at him. “No, I don’t think you’re nuts. In fact, I was sitting here thinking the same thing earlier.” The feel of his warm skin against my hand was something different for me, something I wasn’t used to. My ex had kept me at arms length at all times, that probably should have been my first indication that something definitely wasn’t right about him.
“What?” Nick asked looking down at the hand. “Admiring again?” He asked flashing a smile as he did, it wasn’t the normal smile I was used to, there was something teasing about it. The glint in his eyes was something I wasn’t used to see, and wasn’t sure how to interrupt.
“No, getting used to all the things I was never able to experience before, the touch of your skin under my hand, the way you look at me. So when do we leave, what should I pack, anything important I need to know?”
“I’m suggesting warm clothes, considering that whole snow thing, other than that though, whatever you and Gage are going to need. Eric’s got a Doberman but he’s good with other dogs so everything should be fine there.” Nick moved a hand to take hold of the hand pressed against his chest.
“I’ve never had an issue with Gage and another dog; he’s a big puppy dog who likes to play though, so certain dogs might take it as a threat. Alright, get dressed; I’m sure you’re cold.” The truth was I was mesmerized by him, and while I wouldn’t mind staying lost in this moment forever, there was so much else that we could be doing and oddly enough sex was the last thing on my mind.
“Alright, go get yourself curled up on the couch and covered up with a blanket and make sure that the pups leave room for me hey?” He offered teasingly before raising the hand from his chest brushing his lips against it. The mere feel alone sent my heart to fluttering.
“I’ll drag Gage’s bed out of my room, maybe if she lays on it he’ll consider laying on it too.” I carefully unwrapped my fingers from within his, taking in as many details about him as I could. “And if not then we’ll find a way to make things work with them, whither it means they end up laying on the floor or in the chair or we move upstairs.” I offered with a cheeky smirk. “Or to my room, and maybe I can convince you to stay with me tonight.”
“I didn’t figure you wanted me to stay last night after you’d fallen asleep. You tossed and turned and acted like you were having a nightmare, but then again maybe that was how you normally slept as well.” It mystified me how much attention he had paid to me during the little time he’d spent with me last night.
He was right, I’d had a nightmare the night before but it wasn’t something I wanted to talk about, not something I even wanted to remember but unfortunately it haunted me still. I didn’t want to tell him what it was about but yet part of me wanted to tell him at the same time, finally get it off my chest. Yet, I knew what would happen if he heard my ex had hurt me. I could see the headlines now, “Nicholas Schultz jailed for assault”, yea that would be helpful.
“Oh, that, it was nothing.” I offered shrugging as I looked at him.
“So you’re admitting that you don’t normally sleep that way?” Nick asked, though the fact that he still hadn’t let go of me made me think he was getting no closer to putting a shirt on. “And you’re admitting that you did have nightmares last night?”
“I’m pleading the fifth.” I answered pulling away from him as did. “Get dressed alright? I’m going to go look for that bed.”
“Alright,” Nick was reluctant to let go of me but he let me go as I pulled away. I hated pushing him away, I knew what that was like but I couldn’t tell him what had happened, after all the asshole ex had promised me if I ever said anything, the same would happen to me. A memory that still haunted me, but Nick would never know about it, never. It was better that way; I could do this on my own.
A stair squeaking under my foot brought me back out of my day dream. This house had been my home for a year now, and I was still repairing things. Door locks that needed changing, stairs that squeaked, minor pluming issues and who only knew what else had been fixed since I’d moved in.
The bed was where I figured it would be, still at the foot of my bed though Gage rarely used it; maybe now that Maverick was around he’d consider it. If not I was pretty sure Maverick would make pretty good use of it. I figured she was probably used to better but it would at least be comfortable for her. Nick’s words rang somewhere in my head, “I’m just a simple man, nothing real extraordinary about me.”
That wasn’t true though; he knew that, didn’t he? Perhaps to himself he was a normal average everyday person but to me he was much, much more. Some way I would have to prove that to him, no matter how long it took. And the first step was getting rid of my ex, and his goonies. Nick’s offer that night in the hospital still rang in my ears, “I know a few guys who can help you take care of this.” Maybe I should take him up on that offer. “Nick?” I called moving into the hallway, thankfully the house wasn’t very big and I knew he could hear me.
“On my way up.” Came his answer from what sounded like the living room downstairs. “You alright?”
“Yea, I’m fine, I just wanted to talk is all.” Setting down on the edge of the bed I couldn’t help but wonder if I wasn’t about to do something I’d regret. I had to, I would never be completely happy in my life until I did. He needed to rot in jail for all he’d done.
“Talk about?” Nick asked as he leaned against the door way. I was slightly disappointed to see that he’d put on a shirt, but part of me was glad to not have the distraction as well. The long sleeved tee fit him rather nicely and it took me a minute to form a response.
“What that ass hole did to me.” I parted my lips with my tongue, wondering how to continue on with the conversation. “You said you knew someone who would help, if you’re still willing, I think I want to take you up on that offer.”
“Of course, I’m still willing. Come here Stephanie. Or would you rather I come there?” There was a look in his eyes that made me understand, he really did care. I wasn’t just another fling for him, he really loved me. “Stephanie?”
“Sorry, lost in my own world again.” I responded before letting myself fall back against the bed. “And to answer your question, you might as well come here.” A yawn escaped from between my lips as I looked up at him.
“Get some sleep Stephanie, you look exhausted, it’s getting late.” He moved to sit on the edge of the bed looking at me as he did. For the first time as I laid there looking at him, he made my breath catch in my throat. “I won’t leave you tonight.”
“You promise?” I wasn’t sure why I was fighting the sleep that was threatening to take over my body but I forced myself to hold my eyes open as I looked up at him.
“Promise,” He moved up the bed leaning against the spare pillow on the bed before he held his arms out to me. “Come here.”
Sliding up the bed, I leaned against his shoulder. There was something about being near him that always made me feel better. I knew there was a good chance that tonight would be like a lot of other nights and I would more than likely have the same nightmare I had many times before. The comforting thing about it though, was knowing no matter what, Nick would fix it. Hopefully, soon enough the ass would be rotting behind bars while I enjoyed my life.
“Stop fighting it Stephanie.” Nick offered moving the hair that hung in my face before placing a kiss on my forehead. “I’m not going anywhere. Well not for long anyways, long enough to let the dogs out and such but I’ll come back.”
I finally let sleep overcome me as I curled up against him allowing his presence to over come me. “Good Night princess,” Were the last words I heard him speak.
The next thing that I remembered Nick was tightly holding onto me. “Shhhhhh you’re alright Stephanie. Come on tell me what’s the matter.” The hot tears that fell down my cheeks stung at open wounds on them. Maverick sat at the foot of the bed whining and Nick was fighting to keep Gage at the foot of the bed. “It’s alright boy, she’s ok. Come on Steph; tell me what it was about.”
Instead of answering though, I buried my face in his shoulder. There was something comforting about his presence and right now I was just trying to calm myself down. There was no trying to convince him that this had never happened, that much I already knew but maybe I could make it appear as if it was something less than what it had really been. I felt bad lying to him but telling him the truth wasn’t going to make things any better either. “I’m alright, I-I’m sorry if I woke you. I was just having a night mare that’s all; it had to do with my ex and him breaking in.” I was having a hard time trying to form my words. The only comfort I could seem to find was that I hadn’t really lied to Nick. It had involved my ex, and perhaps he wasn’t breaking in but he had been involved in a rather criminal act. The memory was still vivid enough in my dreams that it was as if I was reliving it, on a nightly basis. Reaching down I somehow found Gage’s head in the dark rubbing at his ear. “Its ok boy, I’m alright.” I knew that if I could calm him down, he’d stop struggling against Nick and lay down.
Gage stopped struggling against him and laid down letting out a whine as he did. He didn’t believe me anymore than Nick did when he finally spoke. “Are you sure you’re alright Stephanie? You don’t have to be afraid to talk to me about anything.” I didn’t fight him when he pulled me up into his lap, cradling me against himself.
“I cant tell you.” The words were hardly audible even in the quiet of the night. For living in Los Angeles, it could be quiet sometimes, oddly enough. The tears started to fall again, but this time it wasn’t because I was scared, it hurt not to tell him.
“Why cant you?” His voice was calm; he didn’t seem hurt that I wasn’t going to tell him, he seemed more concerned that someone was holding it over my head.
“He made me promise.” Setting my forehead against his shoulder the tears continued to fall, I couldn’t look at him. “He said he’d kill me if I ever said anything. You deserve better than me.” I attempted to pull away from him but instead of letting go when I pulled, he only held on tighter.
“Stephanie, look at me.” Nick didn’t let me respond before he placed his hand under my chin pushing my chin up so that I was looking at him. “I wont let anyone hurt you, now tell me what all of this is about. I know he beat you, I’ve seen that much but what else has he done Stephanie? I can’t help you if you won’t tell me.”
“No, I’m not getting you involved in this.” I somehow managed between sniffles. “I can’t go through it again.” I wasn’t really sure what I was saying at this point, after all, I relived it every night, sometimes more than once, so what was one more time? Especially if that one more time would end the hell I’d been living in for years.
“Stephanie, I can only do so much if you wont tell me what’s going on.” He was attempting not to let his frustration show. He was failing miserably at it though and he knew it.
“You wouldn’t even consider sticking around if you knew what happened.” It was a simple statement but I hope the point would carry.
“No, that’s where you’re wrong Stephanie. If you wont tell me, I’m more liable to walk away.” His words were just as simple but the meaning hit hard. I was faced with a descion that seemed like either way I was going to loose. Either I relived the hell I’d lived a year ago or I lost him. Neither option seemed to have any merit.
“Alright, fine. You want to know, I’ll tell you. Just not right now. Maybe not even tomorrow, but I will tell you.” If I was going to tell him I would have to figure out how first.
“Alright, for now that’s a good enough answer but just remember this, I cant save you if you refuse to tell me whats going on. One of these days it will consume you.” He wasn’t threatening me, that much I was aware of, more like he was warning me. “Now try and get some sleep Stephanie.”
After pulling away from him, I curled up against my pillow. It wasn’t the same as curling up with him but on the other hand it was what I was used to. Maybe that would help me to sleep through the rest of the night. Maverick adjusted at the foot of the bed so that she was laying with her head on my feet and Gage attempted to crawl in between us, letting out an exasperated sigh as he couldn’t manage to wiggle in.
“Well, the gangs all here.” Was the last thing I remembered Nick saying before I drifted back to sleep.
The more I got used to this life style, the more I became afraid of loosing it.
The next morning I awoke alone, even the mutts were void from the bed. Pulling myself up so that I was sitting on my feet I realized I truly was alone. Straining against the noises outside I tried to figure out where in the house everyone was. I wasn’t so sure that Nick hadn’t left but that didn’t explain where the mutts had run off to.
Crawling from my bed I let out a gasp as I realized how cold the floors were. Sometime during the night I had managed to strip off my socks and they were now lost among my blankets and sheet, but right now I didn’t really feel like looking for them. Moving into the upstairs living room the smell of coffee wafted up the stairs. Well there was an upside to the morning at least, I might be all alone other than the dogs but there was a good chance there was coffee left.
Moving down the stairs and into the living room I paused finding both dogs asleep again on the couch. Shaking my head I moved into the kitchen finding two coffee mugs waiting in front of the coffee pot, that was my first hint that Nick was still around. “Nicky?”
There was no response to the call other than him wandering from the guest room phone pressed to his ear. “I guess I lied, she’s right here,” Was all he said before holding the phone out to me. “It’s your mom.” That was when I realized it was my phone pressed to his ear and I was about to have a really interesting conversation with my mother.
“Yea mom?” I asked putting the phone to my own ear. I was hoping she’d skip the questions about a man in my home and why he was answering my phone when I hadn’t even called to tell her that he was living with me. Which really he wasn’t living with me, so it wasn’t that I hadn’t told her about it.
“Good morning Stephanie, I was just having a rather nice conversation with your boyfriend. And why didn’t you tell me about him?” I loved my mother, really I did but sometimes she could be, well a little prying.
“Mom, you called for something and if I know you it wasn’t to talk about whom I’m seeing and why I haven’t told you about him yet.” Having just woken up I didn’t yet have the patience to play twenty questions with her.
“What’s the matter, did we wake up on the wrong side of the bed? You haven’t called in a few weeks now and here I call and you’re seeing someone new and didn’t even tell me. I called to tell you you’re grandfather’s sisters are in the hospital, but it’s obvious you’re too busy to even bother to care.” Her voice sounded upset and I knew she had taken offence.
“Look Mom, I’m sorry I haven’t called, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Nick. I’ve just had a lot going on lately that’s all. As for Grampa, maybe I’ll stop over there later on and see if there’s anything I can do.” The last thing I wanted to go and do was to go visit him but I would do so. The one thing they would have to remember though was that, these were women I hadn’t known most of my life and it would be hard to feel sorry about that.
“Alright, and be nice to him, do you hear me?” I was pretty sure that sometimes she forgot that I was twenty four and knew well enough how to behave in the company of others.
“Yes, mom I hear you. But listen I’ve got to finish getting ready to head to work.” Right now I was praying that Nick hadn’t told her that I wasn’t going in today. “I’ll give you a call later on when I get home.”
“Alright, I love you.”
“Love you too. Bye.” Once I’d hung up, I let out a sigh shaking my head.
“Problems with Mom?” I hadn’t even noticed Nick returning to the kitchen, now standing beside me coffee cup extended out as he attempted to look innocent. “Let me guess, she wants to know why there’s a strange man all of a sudden answering your phone?”
“No, of course that probably didn’t help any. She’s upset that I don’t call home more often, calling to tell me my grandfather’s sisters aren’t doing so well.” Taking the cup from his hand I took a sip from it making a face as I looked at him. “God, black.” Moving to the cabinet I pulled down the sugar.
“Yes black, you mean to tell me you drink it any other way? As for your great aunts I’m sorry to hear that, you want me to go see your grandfather with you?” The concern was written in his face, whither he meant for it to be or not.
“No, no that’s alright, my grandfather and I don’t get along very well to begin with, and I won’t be there long. Long enough to see if there’s anything I can do for him and offer my condolences. And yes I do put sugar in my coffee, cant do creamer though, that leads to being sick the rest of the day.” Turning back to look at him, I shrugged. “So yea, go on and go to work and I’ll be fine today.”
“Ahhhhh did I forget to tell you?” Nick’s eyes had a teasing glint to them as he looked at me. “I managed to get a day off to spend with you and still be able to leave Friday.” Something told me that this had been planned long before my feet ever hit the floor this morning.
Closing my eyes for a minute I thought about it. My grandfather and I didn’t get along enough on our own, add in a man and it could be the perfect recipe for disaster. “No, this is something I’ve got to do for myself, by myself.”