Reckless Love: Episode 3
reckless Love: Episode 3
I didn’t notice how incredibly handsome Leo was until he insisted on helping me out of the car. He stood outside my door with his hand extended and all I could do was drink in the black suit and red tie, the way it was cut to accentuate his shoulders and trim waist. I loved that he always bought shirts made of the finest fabrics.
“Your tie matches my shoes.”
“And your lips.” He gave my hand a little tug and then I was in his arms. “I like it when we match.”
It was so very couply and sweet. “I like that you like to match me.”
“Good.” He placed a kiss behind my ear. “Tonight you can return the favor and match me in bed.”
“You mean naked.”
“What else could I possibly mean?” he chuckled.
He had me distracted and laughing so much I didn’t have time to panic before we were inside with a hundred of my father’s closest business contacts. Seeing Marie already sipping a drink with her husband Greg kept that panic from rising. “Let’s say hello.”
But Leo slowed his steps and leaned in to whisper. “Are you wet for me?”
The dull ache in my core created by the constant presence of the plug, combined with his refusal to satisfy me, had indeed turned me into an aroused heat factory of desire.
In short, yes, I was quite wet for Leo. “Take me to a dark alcove and find out for yourself,” I whispered back.
He groaned, placing a kiss behind my ear. “I’ll take that at as an emphatic yes. I love that I’m the only one here who knows how ready you are for me. Trust me, Darling. I will reward you.”
Marie was understandably wary of my relationship with Leo so I didn’t take it as an insult when she forced a smile at us. “Hey you two.”
She knew me, my family, and how incredibly complicated it all was. More importantly, how that complication could impact the lives of the people around us. It was probably why my brother never got serious with anyone. I could only imagine how that conversation would go.
Hello darling. I’d love to introduce you to my father. He’s the devil incarnate, makes me work insane hours, expects my complete allegiance, and will probably try to sleep with you at some point. Shall I set us for dinner on Tuesday?
Yeah no. At least William had the good sense to keep whatever romantic interests he might have far, far away from Edmund. Unlike me. The idiot who’d just brought the only person she cared about into the maelstrom. I’d hate myself for it but Leo made it impossible. It was either ditch him and break his heart or accept that he would be part of this, fire and all.
Greg rolled his eyes at his wife’s fake laugh and shook Leo’s hand. “It’s been a while since you’ve been over for dinner. Why don’t you two come by on Wednesday. I’ll make my fettuccini and get us all drunk on wine.”
This was the other side of the coin. Leo’s life. He had friends and connections and relationships (healthy ones!) with all kinds of people. Going to dinner sounded so incredibly normal it damn near terrified me.
And that was really fucking sad.
Leo slipped his arm around my waist. “Only if my boss let’s me leave the office.” He smiled at Marie.
A little of her ice melted and she elbowed him in the ribs. “I guess it depends on how nice you are to your boss.”
“I’m always nice,” he quipped.
They traded a few more teasing insults before Marie—much to my surprise—grabbed my arm. “Let’s get a drink.”
“You already have a drink.” I pointed to the wine in her hands.
She handed the mostly full glass to Greg. “I don’t anymore.”
Greg shrugged. “Works for me. I like expensive reds.”
Leo gave my hip a squeeze and let me go.
Marie gave Greg a flirty smile before steering me towards the closest bar. “You two are cute together.”
“Cute?” I wasn’t so sure I wanted to hear us described as cute. Beautiful, sure. Lovely worked too. But cute? That was something you said when your five year old had a playground crush on another five year old.
“Yeah, cute. You’re both so stylish and does his tie match your lipstick?”
“And my shoes.” I held out my foot. “He saw me pick them out this morning. He must have chosen his tie when I wasn’t looking.”
I ordered a Blanton’s on the rocks while she ordered another merlot. I’d never really known Marie as an adult so this was weird. In my head she was still my brother’s friend from down the street, a mysterious, rebellious role model. In so many ways we were alike. We both came from privileged families with overbearing parents. We both pushed back against the expectations. For me that meant shocking my father in every way possible. For Marie, it meant having a child in high school.
Marie beamed. “Awesome. She’s in France working for her father for a few months then she’s scheduled to be back here at the university for grad school.”
“Really?” I drew the word out more than necessary but come on, I had no idea Natalie was part of my world.
“Yep. She’s moving on to her master’s degree already. I can’t believe it!”
“No kidding. She was a baby yesterday, wasn’t she?”
“Yes she was,” Marie sighed. “And you were the kid sister next door. I’ve really got to get it through my head that you aren’t that little girl anymore.”
I kind of wanted to be that girl again. Back then my father hadn’t figured out he could use my brain. I hadn’t started making choices solely because they were the opposite of what was expected. In many ways I liked that Marie saw me that way.
“You don’t want me dating Leo.”
Her eyes darted away and her shoulders stiffened. “It’s not that. Not exactly.”
“Your fears are justified.” So incredibly justified. “The fact that I’m standing here, inside this house, is proof.”
“Esme.” She put her hand on my arm and looked around the room, her gaze landing on a quiet corner near the patio. “Let’s talk.”
The evening breeze was light tonight and the doors were open letting the salty scent of the bay inside. “I tried breaking up with him. Several times. He’s just so . . . stubborn.” I honestly felt like if I kept talking she’d eventually understand.
“I don’t think he knows any other way to be. You’re his first. And men like Leo, they have tunnel vision. They find their woman and that’s it. There is no other option.”
“He’s . . . determined.”
Marie smiled. “And probably thinks he can solve every problem. That’s a man for you.”
Some of my nervous energy dissipated. Maybe Marie and I could start a brand new relationship after all. “He definitely thinks some persistence and action will fix everything.” In so many ways I was relieved he finally knew everything, but every so often his tenacity exhausted me. There was only so much I could do. I had the data, I knew what was happening, but until I put the pieces together or some new piece of information came forward, I couldn’t do anything else.
We both felt tonight held a great deal of opportunity. I was exhausted but determined. Leo was fresh faced and ready to fight.
“I understand,” she smiled across the room at her husband. “I’m married to a persistent man. They can be a handful but they’re worth it.” Then she blinked back at me. “I do worry what it will mean for Leo to have Edmund in his life, even if it is from a distance. I warned him to avoid you.”
“I don’t blame you. I would have done the same.” If William appeared with a woman on his arm that I genuinely thought wanted to be with him, I’d warn her away too.
“I know you would have,” she said quietly. “There are things Greg and Leo will never understand. Maybe that’s why we need them.”
Did I love Leo just a little bit more because of that? Yes, I probably did. Being with him meant being completely freed of my past and that was addictive. “You know what I want?” I waited for Marie to meet my gaze. “I want to close the book on this part of my life entirely, even if it means never speaking to William again. I want to be free to fully embrace my life at the university. My research is my life. I never want to be dragged down again simply because of my name or who my father is. I want to be with someone and not worry my past will ruin their future.”
That was what really ate at me. It was one thing to take the punishments I deserved. I committed crimes and acted out. Those choices were on me. But the idea that so much was out of my control, that I had no way of knowing how or if or when everything might come crashing back down, was unacceptable.
Marie’s gaze sharpened and I knew she’d heard at least some of the rumors. “I heard a few things about you. I had a kid so I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention but . . . they’re true, aren’t they?” She studied me and I could see her dawning realization as things clicked into place. “If you did ruin your father’s business I don’t blame you. You always were a smart kid.”
The way Edmund dropped everything and appeared at my college was well known in our circles, but with no facts the rumor mills took the information and created their own stories. The gossip involved everything from me gaining access to my trust and burning through it, to hacking into my father’s servers and destroying one of his companies, to faking my own kidnapping for ransom money. I really enjoyed that one because it was almost as ludicrous as the truth.
“And I never knew what to think of the other rumors.” She cocked her head to the side, her gaze unfocusing with thought. “Does Leo know?”
“Yes,” I said simply. My heart started pounding in my chest because this part was true and if Marie judged me for it there was nothing I could do. The truth was the truth.
“I guess that makes sense.” Her eyes refocused and she smiled. It was kind of sad but not at all judgmental. “Leo’s a very caring guy but I understood. The more caring you are the harder it is to be truly vulnerable. His one night stands and weekend sex parties made sense even if I did want him to find something deeper with someone. What about you, Esme? Were you hiding or protecting yourself or what?”
There wasn’t a drop of accusation in her voice. If anything Marie was hoping to be helpful. There was so much care in her words and tenderness in her eyes. I wanted to hug her but didn’t.
“I was with Luke and Daniel to save myself as much as I was with them to tear my world apart,” I whispered.
She nodded. “And after? Is that part true too?”
“Yes. That was survival.”
She smiled softly at me. “And now?”
I sniffled because damn it all I was tearing up just thinking about how happy I was with Leo. “I think you know how we met. I’m as surprised as anyone at where we are now. I love him and I want to make him happy.” I glanced around the room until I found him smiling and laughing with Greg. “If I have my research and Leo then I have pretty much everything I could ever want.”
There were parts of my past that were incredible. Being in a long-term relationship with Daniel and Luke had its up and downs but at the core, we were three people who were desperate to survive and only knew one way to get through our pain. I was never in love with them and they were never in love with me. There were times when I didn’t think I’d ever be happy with one person, that it wasn’t possible to be in a relationship over many years because of how often circumstances changed. But now I knew there were some people who were more than a friend, more than a partner in the bedroom, more than a companion in life. There were some people, like Leo, who were your other half.