1. GROUND ZERO
I was in a black mood, and there was nothing I could do about it except bury myself in more work. Tina skulked into the office, hugging the walls like she wanted to disappear into them.
“Here you go, Mr. Heathgate,” she said.
I could almost hear her gulp as she left the documents on my desk, before scurrying back out. I was half-way through of a long column of figures when my phone rang.
“Why are you calling my cell, Sam? What do we have land lines for?”
“Sorry, Troy. It’s Saturday. I didn’t think you’d be at work. Is this a bad time?”
“Cut to the chase,” I growled.
He launched into our latest project. I should have been listening. So much depended on it. But all I could think about was her. I had made an art of avoiding her for four years. Four long, miserable years that hung like a thundery, grey cloud over me. It was there when I opened my eyes in the morning, turning everything dull and foggy. Once in a while, I managed to escape, to jump-start the adrenaline and feel alive again. Biking treacherous paths in Bolivia; ice-climbing the Rocky Mountains; giving in to the crazy thirst for a pair of golden arms and legs. But when morning came, I was back to grey. Ground Zero. Until yesterday—a truly drab, rainy day that had burst into a kaleidoscope of spectacular color the moment I’d stepped into Jayne’s car.
And there she was. In the passenger seat.
Damn her. Damn her golden, glowy skin and her liquid brown eyes. Damn the way she'd looked at me like I was the apocalypse, knocking on her door. Damn the way her voice quivered when she’d said hello. But most of all, damn her for having this friggin’ hold over me.
I ran my fingers through my hair, wishing I could wipe yesterday clean, start over and head in the opposite direction so I was nowhere near Jayne and her stalled car. Seeing Shayda again was like getting a sniff of the drug you had sworn off, the one that could kill you, but still called to you, wanting to get in your blood and turn your insides out. I focused on Sam’s voice, trying to clear my head as I stared out the window.
“Miss? MISS! May I help you?” I heard Tina’s voice before the door to my office swung open.
And there she was again. Two days in a row. Shayda Hijazi. My deadly narcotic. My fix. My fixation. My opium. Except she was like a field of blazing poppies—soft, swaying petals that made me forget all about the poison seeds; standing before me in a prim and proper dress that made me want to slide my hands under the full skirt and rip her panties off.
“Sam, I’ll call you back,” I said before hanging up.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Heathgate, she just—”
“Thank you, Tina. That’ll be all.”
Tina hesitated, her eyes darting from me to Shayda, before seeing herself out and shutting the door behind her.
And then it was just me and Shayda. Well, technically, it was me, Shayda and the whole charged-up field that always zapped between us, like mini bolts of blue lightning. I stood motionless, speechless, afraid she’d take off, afraid she wouldn’t.
“I got the umbrella,” she said, after what seemed like an eternity of holding my breath.
“Doesn’t look like I’m going to need it today.”
“Well. I just came by to say thanks,” she said, shifting uneasily under my gaze.
It wasn’t until she reached for the door that I moved.
I’m not done looking at you.
I’m not done filling myself up on your face and your fingers and your feet and your soft, sexy voice.
“Don’t go.” I shut the door, bracing my arms on either side of her as she stood with her hand on the door knob, her back to me.
God. I’d missed her—the rose scent of her skin, the way her hair grew on her nape, the perfect, delectable ears that I could swallow whole in my mouth. It took steel-edged control to stop myself from grabbing her waist, from spinning her around and unleashing my pent-up passion on her lips, her breasts, her curvy-assed body. I wanted to slam her against the door and ravage her until she let out those little kitten moans that drove me wild.
“Can I get you some coffee?” I forced myself to step away. Another second and she’d feel my worked up cock pressing into her.
It worked. She turned and followed me to the mini-bar.
I poured her a cup and waited for her to take it, but she just stood there, staring at my fingers around the mug.
“Here.” I placed it on the counter.
It killed me that she didn’t want to risk touching me. It thrilled me too. Because it meant she wasn’t immune to it. But mostly, it killed me.
“Cream? Sugar?” I knew exactly how she liked it. Tea. Coffee. Sex.
“Aren’t you having any?” she asked.
She wanted me to have coffee with her.
In my mind we were fucking. Gloriously, furiously fucking.
I poured myself a cup and stared into the steaming brew of irony, hating myself, hating her. It was the only way I could keep myself from looking at her, because then she’d see it—my endless, boundless need for her.
“Yes?” I took a peek because now she was the one hiding her face, averting her eyes.
“I don’t want coffee.” A tear rolled down her face.
A fucking tear.
“Don’t, Shayda.” It took every bit of restraint, not to take clasp my hand over hers.
“I don’t want coffee,” she said. “Or cream. Or sugar.”
“I know, baby. But it’s all we got.” Because you shut me out. Because the only way I can make this right is to take you away from everyone you love. Because no matter which scenario plays out, someone always gets hurt.
“We’ve got today,” she whispered.
“What are you saying, Shayda?” I held my breath.
“I’m saying, we have now. Here. Today.”
“Quit fucking with me, Beetroot.” I don’t want today. I want all your todays.
But the moment I said her pet name, I knew I was done. She was my Beetroot Butterfly. She might stop to rest on my shoulder, let me hold her for a while, my palms outstretched, let me marvel at her fragile, fleeting wings, but the slightest breeze and she’d be gone, taking with her all my colors.
Because she wasn’t mine to love. Or to have, or to hold. She wore a shiny gold band around her finger, and it wasn’t mine. She had worn it since the first time we’d met.