There’s blood everywhere.
If there was ever proof that I’m not any kind of Suzy Homemaker, the proof is right here, in the gaping wound on my left palm. Hunter suggested a picnic today at Central Park, and I told him I was going to make an apple pie. Two minutes into peeling Granny Smiths, I’m gushing dark red liquid all over my sink.
It probably wouldn’t be such a bad cut aside from the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever even used my peeler, so the blade is still incredibly sharp.
I wash out my cut then try to ease the flow of blood with toilet paper. It is not working at all. The toilet paper is just sticking to the wound, which seems to be bleeding just as much as before. I check my medicine cabinet and find a box of band aids that is totally empty. Way to be prepared for injury, Brooke.
I jam a bunch of toilet paper on my hand, grab my purse, and head out the door. At first, my plan is to go to the drug store two blocks away, but then instead I head for the stairs. Jamie seems like the kind of well-prepared guy who’s got some band aids stashed away, and then I won’t have to stand in line bleeding at CVS.
As I knock on his door, the thought occurs to me that maybe Gabby is with him. Maybe I’ll be interrupting a date. That would be really awkward. I’m sure she won’t love the idea that I just stop by randomly to her boyfriend’s apartment on a whim. But then again, I’m bleeding. I’ve got a good reason.
Anyway, I’ve already knocked.
When Jamie opens the door to his apartment, I can already tell he’s alone. His eyes light up at the sight of me until he notices the blood rapidly saturating the toilet paper on my left hand.
“Brooke,” he gasps.
“I need a band aid,” I say apologetically. “Do you have any?”
He shakes his head. “What did you do to yourself?”
I shrug. “There was an incident peeling apples.”
I shoot him a look. “Aren’t you going to invite me in and dress my wounds?”
He laughs and steps back to let me come in. “Let’s go to the bathroom. I’ve got everything in there.”
I notice when he’s in his apartment, Jamie doesn’t use his cane. He has this way of walking where he grabs onto the furniture or the wall or whatever is next to him to help him keep his balance. I wonder if he strategically placed his furniture to allow him to do this.
I’ve been in Jamie’s bathroom before, and I’d noticed the grab bar he has next to the toilet. He doesn’t own the place, which makes me wonder if it was already an accessible apartment when he started renting it. He also has a bench in the shower because I guess it’s hard for him to stand up to shower.
He catches me looking at the shower and his cheeks color, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he holds out his hand. “Give it here.”
“You don’t want to touch my bloody hand.”
“I said give it here,” he says stubbornly.
I peel back the toilet paper from my wound. He winces. “Wow, you really did a number on yourself.”
I cringe. “I told you, it’s gross. Good thing I’m around blood all the time or else I’d probably be face planting right now.” I study his face. “You’re not squeamish, are you?”
“I don’t think I am,” he says, although he doesn’t sound so sure now that he’s faced with the flap of skin hanging loose from my hand.
He grabs a box of band aids from a shelf in his bathroom while I rinse the fresh blood from my hand. He rifles through it and pulls out a large square-shaped bandage. Then he grabs a tube of something from the shelf.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“Triple antibiotic ointment.”
I roll my eyes. “I don’t need that. Do you think I cut my hand with a rusty hook?”
“If you had,” he says, “I’d be marching you to the ER for a tetanus shot. Come on, just let me put some ointment on it.”
I hold out my hand to him, which is already oozing fresh blood, but at least it’s not gushing anymore. He dabs some ointment on his finger, then spreads it over the cut. Clearly, he’s not worried about me carrying communicable blood-borne diseases.
“Maybe you should wear gloves,” I joke.
I grin up at him. “Cooties.”
He smiles back. “I don’t mind your cooties.”
For a moment, we just stand there, smiling at each other, even as I’m dripping blood onto the white porcelain of his sink. And not for the first time, I wish I weren’t dating Hunter and he wasn’t dating Gabby. He and I should be together. If there’s a guy out there who’s the first person you think to go to when you cut your hand or have a boogeyman in the closet, he should be the guy you’re with.
“Anyway.” Jamie clears his throat. “Let me get the band aid on you.”
The band aid just covers my wound. He fits it to my injured hand, his fingers lingering on my skin as he smooths the adhesive into place. “So,” he says, “why were you peeling apples?”
“Making apple pie,” I say.
“Apple pie, huh?” He raises his eyebrows. “Any special occasion?”
“Having a picnic.”
“A picnic?” His eyebrows go up another millimeter or two. “With your new boyfriend?”
He drops my newly dressed hand. He takes a step back, and this time, his smile is crooked. “Well, I’m sure you can pick up a pie at the supermarket.”
“It’ll probably taste better,” I admit.
He rifles around in his box of band aids and pulls out two more shaped like the one he put on my hand. “Here. Take these for later.”
I grab the bandages from him and put them in my pocket. “Thanks.”
We stand there in the bathroom, neither of us sure what to say. Part of me wants to tell him everything I’ve been thinking about him, but the more sensible part of me knows I shouldn’t.
Finally, Jamie says, “I guess you need to get going then?”
I nod. “I guess I do.”
Hunter is waiting outside his car for me like usual. Since we’re having a picnic, he’s dressed more casually than he has for our previous dates, when he always seemed like he was coming from the office. He’s got on a pair of khaki slacks that look new and expensive, paired with a navy blue shirt rolled up to the elbows to reveal his well-muscled forearms. He looks casual, but Abercrombie and Fitch casual, if you know what I mean. And he’s wearing those Ray Ban sunglasses that he pulls off when I get close.
“Brooke.” He flashes his white teeth at me. “You look beautiful.”
I look down at my navy blue dress which is the same color as Hunter’s shirt—we match. Honestly, I was just trying to find something that wouldn’t show blood if my wound started oozing.
“I brought apple pie,” I tell him, holding it out to him.
He raises his eyebrows. “Did you make it?”
“Sure,” I lie.
Okay, so I went to the supermarket, bought a rustic apple pie, took it out of the container, and traumatized it a little with a fork so it wouldn’t appear store-bought. Oh, stop it. Everyone does it.
Hunter looks down at the apple pie and his dark eyes widen. At first, I’m certain he’s onto my little ruse, but then I realize he’s looking at the bandage on my left hand.
In the hour since I sliced open my hand, I’ve had to change the bandage once because it was completely saturated. The blood flow has eased considerably but the bandage I’ve got on has enough blood on it that you can see it staining the pad.
“What happened to your hand?” Hunter asks me.
He grabs my left hand to get a closer look and I have to lay the pie down on the hood of his car to keep from dropping it. “I slipped with the apple peeler.”
Hunter stares down at the bandage for a moment, then without asking, he peels it off to look at the wound. In a way, I guess it’s sweet? He’s concerned about my injury.
“It’s still bleeding,” he notes as he looks down at my hand.
“A little,” I say. “It stops and starts.”
He brings my hand closer, so that it’s inches from his face. “It’s mostly clotted, but not entirely.” He cocks his head. “All venous blood though. Not arterial.”
He continues to stare at my hand. He’s got it so close to his face that it looks like he’s going to… I don’t know what. Lick it? God knows why he’d do something like that though. If he started licking my hand wound, I’d have to break up with him. There’s a line for what I’m able to tolerate in a relationship, and licking of hand wounds crosses that line.
But instead, he drops my hand and smiles at me. His dark eyes meet mine and I feel a sudden dizzy, trance-like sensation come over me. “Come to me, Brooke.”
I bridge the small gap between us and automatically lift my face to him. He lowers his lips onto mine and kisses me so passionately, I feel my knees go weak beneath me. He’s a very good kisser. An excellent kisser.
He pulls away first, staring down at me, a tiny smile playing on his lips. He traces a line down the side of my face with his finger. “Let’s go have a picnic.”
“Wait,” I say. “I’ve got to put a new bandage on my hand. I’ve got one upstairs.”
Hunter glances down at the open wound on my palm. “Leave it for now. We’ll buy you a bandage later.”
Except we never end up buying those band aids. I spend the entire afternoon with Hunter with my wound open, oozing blood that stains my palm dark red.
Tonight I’ve agreed to come up to Hunter’s apartment after dinner for “coffee,” whatever that means. I told him in no uncertain terms it does not mean sex. I’m not the sort of girl who has sex with a guy after less than a month of dating—I’m going to make him stick to my three month rule. But at the same time, I know we’re not going to actually be drinking coffee. What kind of psychopath drinks coffee at ten o’clock at night?
Hunter has the most amazing apartment I’ve ever seen. My entire apartment could easily fit in his living room. I’m worried that my entire apartment could fit in his bathroom. The furniture is so obviously expensive, from his plush leather couch to the gigantic television with adjacent speakers. He probably has surround-sound.
He also has an incredible view of the Manhattan skyline. After I take in the living room, I make a beeline for the window. I get so close to the glass that my breath makes a cloud of condensation.
Hunter joins me at the window. He sees my breath fogging the window and he quickly makes a heart with his finger, writing “H + B” inside the heart.
“Aw,” I say.
He grins at me. “I thought you were scared of heights.”
“Not when there’s a thick layer of glass protecting me.” I gaze into the bright lights of the city at night. “This is the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen.”
Hunter looks me up and down. “I disagree.”
I laugh, but feel my cheeks redden. I don’t know why Hunter is so into me. He clearly could have any woman he wants. He could be dating nothing but models. Yet I don’t doubt he wants to be here with me. He genuinely likes me—I can tell by the way he looks at me.
He reaches out his fingers for my neck and I flinch instinctively like any sane person would when a man reaches for her neck. But he’s just reaching out to touch the chain around my neck. I’m wearing the necklace Gabby gave me with the cross on it.
“Are you religious?” he asks me.
“No, not at all,” I say. “Are you?”
He’s quiet for a moment, his dark brows bunching together as if the question has angered him. “I don’t believe in that nonsense,” he finally says.
“I’m not a big believer either,” I say, although I don’t know if it’s entirely true. I’m not religious, but I certainly believe in something. I touch the cross possessively.
“If you’re not religious,” he says, “why are you wearing a cross?”
Because my crazy friend thinks there might be a vampire roaming around. I probably shouldn’t say that though.
“My friend Gabby gave it to me,” I say. “I thought it was pretty.”
Hunter drops his finger to touch the cross itself. I don’t know if it proves or disproves anything, but he doesn’t yank his hand away and scream that the cross is burning him. So… Hunter’s not a vampire? I guess?
God, Gabby can be ridiculous sometimes.
“Hey,” I say. “I should tell you that Gabby actually really wants to meet you.”
He drops his fingers from my neck and visibly stiffens. “Oh?”
I shrug. “No rush or anything, but maybe we could double-date with her and her boyfriend.”
Boyfriend. I just called Jamie her boyfriend. It doesn’t sit well with me.
Hunter takes a step away from me. “I don’t know about that, Brooke. I’m not really excited about meeting all your friends.”
I stare at him. “What does that mean?”
One thing I can say for Hunter is that he doesn’t get defensive easily. He knows what he wants and he’s not afraid to say it. “I don’t really feel like having some awkward dinner with your friends,” he says. “I’m dating you—not them.”
“Yeah, but…” I frown at him. “It’s not like I’m asking you to meet everyone I know. It’s just Gabby—my best friend.”
“I’m just not interested right now.”
Well, that says it all.
“So what is this then?” I point to him and then point to me. “We’re just messing around with no interest in the future?”
Hunter doesn’t take his dark eyes off mine. “I didn’t say that.”
“You sort of did.”
“Because I don’t want to meet your friend?”
I let out a sigh. I don’t know why this conversation is even surprising me. Hunter looks like a commitment-phobic jerk and now he’s playing the part perfectly. I shouldn’t have expected anything less. At least I didn’t sleep with him.
“Hey.” Hunter reaches out to take my hand. I try to pull away but he holds tight. “Just because I don’t want to have dinner with Gabby, that doesn’t mean I’m not serious about you.”
“I mean it.” He gives my hand a squeeze. “I like you a lot, Brooke. I don’t want you to think otherwise.”
I lean against the window. If it broke under my weight, I’d fall thirty-two stories to my death. Maybe I shouldn’t lean on it. “Okay,” I say.
“Look,” he says, his eyes never leaving mine, “I think… we should be exclusive. I don’t want to date anyone else but you. And I don’t want you seeing anyone else but me.”
Exclusive. With Hunter T. Stone. He rubs his thumb against my palm and I shiver.
“What do you say, Brooke?”
I smile. “I say, let’s do it.”
He leans in and kisses me. He’s such a damn good kisser. I still don’t feel certain of anything in this relationship, but when he’s kissing me, I can shut my brain down and enjoy the ride.
After making out for a few minutes, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I have to pee, but I also want to reassure myself that Hunter’s bathroom really isn’t bigger than my entire apartment.
It turns out it isn’t, although it’s certainly comparable to my bedroom. I take care of business, then do what I know I shouldn’t do but can’t help myself—snoop.
It’s not hardcore snooping. It’s more like observing. I observe that Hunter uses an electric toothbrush, and he’s also got floss on his sink—it at least partially explains his perfect teeth. He’s got a bottle of aftershave on the sink as well as a hairbrush embedded with a few of his jet black hairs. No gray yet, even though he’s likely in his mid-to-late-thirties.
I look at the medicine cabinet and am seized with the desperate urge to crack it open and see what’s inside. But I don’t. I’m not that big a snoop.
He’s got a shelf mounted on the wall, and it’s got sunscreen on it as well as cue tips, cotton balls, and a razor blade. Finding all this ordinary stuff in Hunter’s bathroom is such a relief. Sometimes he seems so perfect that I can’t fathom him using something as mundane as cue tips.
And then I see something unexpected.
Behind the package of cue tips is a little pile of about five bobby pins.
“They keep my hair from flying everywhere,” Sydney used to insist when we teased her about always having bobby pins stuck in her hair. She’d defend them to the end. She claimed she could also use them to pick locks, but I never saw her utilize that particular skill.
And whenever she visited our apartments, she’d always leave a handful of bobby pins behind. “Just in case I need them when I’m here.” It was like her calling card.
And somehow, Hunter’s got a little pile of bobby pins in his bathroom.
This is hardly an indictment of my almost-boyfriend. Bobby pins are, after all, fairly ubiquitous. Anyone could have left these here at any time.
I pluck one bobby pin off the pile. I notice there’s a hair stuck in it. I look closer and see that it’s a blond hair.
Hunter did not date Sydney. He couldn’t have.
Although he is tall, dark, and handsome. And he won’t meet my friends. And his name starts with H.
At this point, I’ve been in the bathroom far too long. Fortunately, I have a pocket in my skirt, so I shove the bobby pin with the hair in it inside my pocket, deciding I’ll figure the whole thing out later.
When I come back into the living room, Hunter is sitting on his leather sofa, holding a glass of red wine. I see he’s poured a second glass for me, which is resting on his coffee table. He smiles at me.
“I hope you like Cabernet Sauvignon,” he says.
“Sure.” I don’t know anything about wines. I’m only 90% sure that he’s even referring to the wine. Maybe he’s referring to his wall art. “Love it.”
I settle down next to him on the sofa, thinking uneasily about the bobby pin in my pocket. It couldn’t be Sydney’s. It just couldn’t be.
“Can I ask you a question?” I say.
He raises his eyebrows. “You can certainly ask.”
I force a smile. “I was just wondering… were you dating anyone before me?”
For a split-second, his dark eyes grow even darker. But then he chuckles. “I have dated women before you. Absolutely.”
“No,” I say, not allowing him off the hook. “I mean, like, right before me.”
He’s quiet for a moment before letting out a long sigh. “Do we have to talk about this, Brooke?”
“Well, I’m just… a little curious,” I admit. “I mean, aren’t you curious about who I dated before you?”
“Not really,” he says. “I’m much more interested in the future than the past.”
“Were you seeing anyone though?” I press him. “Just… tell me yes or no.”
Hunter glares at me. “No. I hadn’t dated anyone in six months before you.” He shrugs. “Work is busy—there was no time.”
I stare at him.
“Look, I don’t want to talk about any other women,” he says. “All I want to focus on right now is on us. I thought you were on the same page?”
“I am,” I say.
He slides closer to me on the sofa. I feel the heat of his breath on my neck. “You smell so sexy, Brooke.”
There he goes with that “smell” talk again! But actually, I have to say, Hunter smells rather sexy too. It must be that expensive aftershave he keeps in the bathroom. He kisses me again and this time I feel his fingers snaking under my shirt. I don’t stop him. Just because he’s not getting to home plate, doesn’t mean he can’t get past first base.
Or maybe even a little farther than that…
Hunter’s lips are still on mine as his hand cups my breast, and my entire body is on fire. His other hand is on my hair, sliding up my scalp and even that feels intensely erotic. Hunter’s fingers feel like they’re charged with some kind of wonderful electricity.
He gently pushes me down against the sofa, his lips moving down to make contact with that sensitive spot where my neck meets my shoulder. I gasp with pleasure. God, he’s good with his mouth. So good. So, so good.
And even as his lips and his right hand continue to do their magic, I feel his left hand on my knee, riding up my thigh. He isn’t the first guy to try to subvert my rule about three months—they almost all try earlier, and I honestly can’t say I blame them. But usually when that hand starts creeping past the mid-thigh level, I stop the guy. I don’t just let those fingers keep creeping up there.
I know in my head I should stop him. I’ve only known Hunter a month and I made this rule for a reason—because I’ve had too many relationship come to an abrupt halt at one or two months out. I’m usually so levelheaded about this. Usually I don’t let a guy get away with something like this.
But I’m letting Hunter. Not just that, but I want it. So badly. More than I’ve ever wanted anything before in my entire life. I feel like making love to Hunter is my purpose in life. I will surrender to him. I will be his. I will give myself to him.
I wonder how fast Sydney gave in to the guy she’d been dating.
The thought of the bobby pin in my pocket jerks me out of my Hunter-induced haze. I place my hand firmly on his and move it pointedly back down to my knee.
“Oh, come on.” He grins charmingly. “You were enjoying yourself, weren’t you?”
“I was,” I admit. “But that’s not the point. I can’t just… you know my rule, Hunter.”
“Right,” he sighs. He brushes away some black hair that had fallen against his forehead. “Three months. Got it.”
I frown. “You think I’m a prude.”
“You know, three months is not at all an uncommon—”
“Shh,” Hunter says, putting his finger on my mouth. “It’s okay, Brooke. I’m not an animal. I can wait another two months.”
I scrunch my forehead up, studying his face, trying to decide how upset he is with me. He definitely looks frustrated, but not angry. “You sure you’re okay?
“Absolutely.” He smiles and it appears genuine. “You’re worth waiting for.”
And then he leans forward again to kiss me, keeping his hand on my knee this time. I try to recapture the excitement I’d been feeling moments earlier, but somehow I can’t stop thinking about that bobby pin.
To be continued.....