Dane proceeds to take at least three laps to each of my two, and he’s still going at it long after I’ve crawled out and plopped my tired ass on the side. Leaning back on my palms, I could easily watch him for hours, yet it only takes one lap to recognize that Dane swimming toward me makes me a whole lot happier than Dane moving away. I’m ridiculous, and I know it. Where’s he going? To the other end of the pool! That damn Neanderthal thing again.
Mine, mine, mine!
A break in his rhythm catches my attention, and I can almost feel his body’s long sigh in my own bones as he slows to a stop between my dangling feet. Off come his goggles, and Dane dips his head underwater and pushes his hair out of his eyes. Pressing his hands against the wall, he extends his left leg behind him and pushes into the stretch. Glancing up at me, Dane grins, lifts his foot into his left hand, and pulls the damn thing up to the back of his head.
“Are you kidding me with that? God, you are such a show off!”
“Okay, Dane.” I pretend that he’s not driving me crazy, and he pretends not to be doing it on purpose. It’s a beautiful arrangement.
Mine, mine, mine!
There follows a complicated sequence of contortions, each designed to torture me in a unique way. Torso twists, shoulder rolls, arms and legs stretched and flexed and . . . hell. It’s hell. He seems to be quite enjoying himself, but then, Dane always takes great pleasure in knocking me off balance.
This stretchy thing across my groin hides nothing, and neither—I’m quite sure—does my expression as I watch him up close, slack-jawed and helpless. I’ve had it.
“Dane, you just about through here?” He has to hear my exasperation.
And that’s when he does the thing I pictured him doing when my famous blue Speedo fantasy was born, before I learned about La Perla and short stretchy things and how Dane doing the thing right in front of me is so much worse than from a distance in a daydream. With his palms on the coping, he lifts his body straight out of the water, pausing—let’s be real, posing—Olympic high-bar-style: two-armed push-up, abs rippling, legs fully extended down to ten perfectly pointed toes, water gliding off pebbled skin, and last but never least, the perfect hump of virile boy suspended just inches from my mouth.
Oh, merciful heavens.
As if pulled from above, Dane effortlessly lifts his body out of the pool, placing his feet right between his hands. Crouched next to me, he leans into my ear, dripping a cool stream off his chest. “Master?”
Dane chuckles. “I’m ravenous.”
I can relate. He pulls me onto my feet and retrieves our towels. It kills me not to be able to peel that suit off him and wrap him in my arms. For now, I settle for the tuck of the towel at his waist, but we certainly head down the stairs quicker than when we came up.
In an obvious attempt to take back some semblance of control of this totally out-of-control situation, I give Dane a good ogling when he drops his towel and slides off his suit. So much for shrinkage! It’s not all that much of a relief when he pulls on his plum-colored briefs, but I’m not going to do anything about it here.
“Did you have something in mind for lunch?” I ask while throwing on my clothes as quickly as possible. I don’t like to keep Dane waiting when he’s hungry.
“How do you feel about Indian?” He tugs on his jeans and leaves them carelessly unzipped while pulling on his tight red shirt. I’m so jealous of the hand tucking it in, I could actually weep.
“That’s fine. Whatever you like.”
“There’s a place called ‘Namaste’ right down the block from my place. If you want, we can do take-out.”
My fingers freeze over my belt buckle. It’s an awfully long ride back to Times Square from here, and there’s no way Dane is planning to hold out that long to eat. There’s only one logical explanation for his suggestion, and my heart stops beating while I process it. He’s turned his back to pull on his coat—or to avoid making eye contact.
“Sure, sounds great,” I answer, hoping my voice doesn’t give everything away.
And it’s strange. Because this is Dane’s gig, has been all day. Not exactly my comfort zone, well that’s actually a huge understatement. But—and wow, is this a BIG BUT—this part could never have happened otherwise. This offering of Dane’s, this sweet slice of his personal life, a piece of himself he could’ve withheld, could never have been mine for the taking; this is something that can only be given away.
“It’s a couple miles. We should probably take a taxi.” He spins back around toward me, and I give him a nod. My heart is in my throat, but that’s okay—it blocks a whole lot of words from spilling out. Dane seems grateful for it, giving me a small smile as he settles his duffel over his shoulder.
Taxis are not hard to come by, and Dane gives the address as I scoot inside next to him. I can’t decide which of us is more nervous right now, but I do know that things are always better when we’re connected. I reach for his hand, weave my fingers around his, and pull the bundle into my lap. He looks down at our hands, at the slow swipe of my thumb across his knuckles. His phone vibrates in his back pocket, and Dane reaches for it automatically before shooting me his “uh-oh” look from this morning’s unauthorized conversation with Riley.
“Of course. Can you do it one-handed?”
Dane grins at the innuendo. “It would be easier with my right hand, but I can manage.”
He chuffs, not even a little surprised I haven’t given him back his hand. Squirming and tipping, he pulls out the phone and taps his password with his left thumb. His smile fades as he reads the message. “Excuse me, Master, but may I have my other hand please? I need to type a message right away.”
“Of course, Dane.” I let go and he pulls away. “Everything okay?”
“I just heard back from Eleazar. He wants to meet me on Monday.”
“That’s the therapist?”
“Yeah.” He starts typing out a reply. “I’m not meeting him on Monday. That’s your birthday.”
My lips have already curled into a smile despite themselves. “Dane, meet with him.”
“No way,” he says, head shaking vehemently while he types. “We’ll find another day. I’m not taking time away from our day together.”
“Did you just disobey me?”
His head whips around, and for a second, he looks completely lost. Poor Dane, what an awful dilemma. And what terrible timing for the driver to pull to a stop at the curb.
“That’ll be eight-fifty.”
Dane’s too flabbergasted to fight me for the fare, and he’s wise enough to stop typing until we sort this out. He exits the taxi after me, his expression a mixture of misery and opposition, and he honestly looks like he’s thinking about putting up a fight.
We’ve both got our gym bags slung over one shoulder and Dane’s phone hangs from his hand like a bloody axe.
“Let’s not do this right here,” I tell him, placing a hand on his lower back and guiding him out of the flow of foot traffic.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to go against your wishes. I just—never mind, it doesn’t matter what I wanted.” His shoulders droop along with the corners of his mouth.
I cup his chin and lift his face. “Of course it matters what you want, but the most important thing is your well-being.”
His anguish multiplies before my eyes, but he’s muzzled himself, not a bad strategy if you’re afraid you’ll get in trouble for speaking your mind.
“Dane, talk to me.”
“I don’t think you’ll like what I have to say.”
My gut twists. “All I require is honesty and respect. Do you have a problem with that?”
“Absolutely not,” he answers with a fierce nod.
“Okay, then.” I drop my hand from his chin and give him some space to gather his thoughts. “I’m listening.”
“First of all, I’m fine. I’m happier than ever and feeling better every day we’re together.”
“You do realize that every time you insist how happy you are, you’re kind of miserable, right?”
He looks at me as if I tricked him. “Well, except for this particular moment, which I’ve obviously royally fucked up, I’m extremely happy.”
He rolls his eyes, and I have to smile. “Okay, Dane. If you’re fine, that’s great—really, I hope you are. I’d just like a little professional corroboration so I know I’m doing right by you.”
“Look, we’ve already been through this, and you’ve already agreed to go see him. What’s the big deal if you carve out a little time on Monday?”
The conflict is written all over his face, but bound by honesty, he spits out the answer. “I have plans for us.”
My hand flies to my heart. He has plans for us. Jesus.
“I hate to be an asshole, but can we not spare an hour or two to see this guy?”
“Two? We?” Fuck, he looks like someone sucker-punched him, and I’m about to kick him while he’s down.
“I was hoping you’d sign a release and let me talk to him as well.”
Dane bites the inside of his cheeks and turns his head away from me. What felt like hell earlier has nothing on this little scene. And the damn waiting . . .
Finally, he turns back, and in a gloomy, broken voice, he pleads, “Why?”
I’m not ready to tell him what I need to discuss with the doctor; that’s the whole reason I need to speak to the man in the first place. I don’t know shit about victims facing their abusers. I have a strong sense of how to direct things, based on what I understand of Dane and how I’ve seen him handle different situations, but the whole idea is to heal him, not cause further harm.
“As I said, Dane, I need to know I’m taking good care of you. I appreciate your assessment of things, but I’m really sorry; I’m just not confident you’re the best judge of that right at the moment. And frankly, neither am I. I know that sucks. Trust me, it sucks worse for me, because I’m not really used to doubting myself.”
Whoa. You want to pull back on the reins a bit there, Tonto?
Dane’s hard glare softens at my confession.
“So,” I start, opening my arms, “can this work without screwing up everything you have planned? Because, Dane, I gotta say, I’m sure whatever you’ve cooked up is amazing and thoughtful and totally you, but you could not possibly give me anything I’d want more than the assurance that I’m good for you.”
He barrels into my chest so hard, I stumble backward, but his firm grip around my back keeps me from falling.
“You trying to get even with me for crashing into you in the pool?”
He starts to chuckle against my chest, and soon we’re both shaking with laughter and relief. God, he feels so good in my arms as I finally hold him the way I’ve wanted to for hours now—not counting the facts that we’re both clothed and standing in front of a busy Indian restaurant.
His verdict is a murmur into my thick coat. “How early can I make the appointment?”
“Whatever time you like, Dane.”
“Okay, I’ll see what Eleazar can do.”
I drop a kiss on the top of Dane’s head. Chlorine, not my favorite shampoo scent, but right now, it’s heaven.
“Thank you, Dane. You’ve already given me the best possible gift.”
Dane stands, pulling away from me. “I already know what he’s going to say about you, but I get it. And there is one really serious thing I need to say to you, Master.”
“What’s that, Dane?”
Whew! That was tense, huh? Is Eleazar going to approve of Marcus? *snicker* XXX