Best Friend’s Boyfriend
Be My Boyfriend Book 2
Copyright © 2019 by Victoria Snow All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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Sweet Treat (Excerpt)
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Also by Victoria Snow
Wrong. This was so wrong.
So, Dr. Nate Williamson kissed me like I’d never been kissed before.
God. That laugh. That smile. That dimple.
Hell…I should have asked him to stop.
I knew I wasn’t the woman meant for him,
My best friend was.
But then, he offered himself to me on a silver platter, I touched, I tasted, I felt, I couldn’t deny myself anymore…
And all the reasons that I should have said no for, Well…let’s just say ‘wrong started feeling so right.’
And now, my best friend knows my secret,
The one that’s going to be out in nine months.
She just doesn’t know who the father is!
What the hell did I land myself into?
Fabric swirled around me. Chiffon and tulle, velvet and French lace. In sweet nudes and pastels and then vibrant, shocking crimson and chartreuse. It was a storm of color and texture and I was trapped in the middle of it.
I looked down, surprised to see my sharp, fabric shears held in the palm of my hand, and then I was surprised that I was surprised. I always had my tool kit on me, usually tied fashionably around my curv; y waist in the black leather and tasseled bag I had made specifically for that purpose.
The fabric moved faster and faster, more violently as I lurched after it, scissors upraised as I tried to catch it, to cut it, but it was always just out of reach. Suddenly, it was tangled around my ankles, tripping me in my vintage lace up boots.
I tried to catch myself as I stumbled, desperately fighting to stay on my feet. Slashing at the fabric with the shears did nothing. The fabric wouldn’t be cut. It wouldn’t budge. If anything, it just drew tighter and tighter, winding around my wrists and pinning my arms to my sides.
Panic rose like bile in my throat and I could taste it, sour and awful as I tried to open my mouth and scream for help but there was no one else there. Just tons and tons of delicate fabrics, squeezing me to death. I was falling. Lights started to sparkle like fireworks in front of my eyes as the oxygen was slowly cut off from my brain.
“So…pretty.” I whispered hoarsely before falling into a pit of pitch black nothingness.
I woke up with a gasp, kicking violently at the thin material of the sheet that had gotten itself wrapped around my legs, trapping the entire lower half of my body.
“What the actual hell?” I asked out loud, my head throbbing painfully. I was surprised to find my throat sore and rough feeling as I tried to make sense of the room I was in.
It was floor to ceiling beige, and not the good kind of beige that can be paired with leather mules and a skin tight skirt and look chic as hell. It was the bad kind. The knock off, early nineties, tasteful pant suit with shoulder pads beige.
I wrinkled my nose at the offensive hue, continuing my inventory of the sparse space. Blinds covered the windows, making it impossible to tell what time it was. An oversized clock hung next to a placid painting of two ducks flying over a pond, proclaiming it was just after ten. Whether that was am or pm was a mystery to me. I was in a small, uncomfortable bed, with a tiny table next to it.
The beeping distracted me, and I glanced up to see a monitor with numbers flashing in bright red and green font overhead. There were tubes and wires sticking out everywhere, and my gaze followed one all the way down to the I.V. stuck in my arm.
Shock erupted inside me and my hand was reaching to pull out the IV before I even realized I was moving.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. We’ve already had to re-stick you twice because you kept pulling it out in your sleep. It’s going to leave some nasty bruises.”
I looked over in dumb surprise as the older woman walked towards me. She was in her mid-fifties, her gingerbread colored hair pulled up in a messy bun and wearing aqua green scrubs that did nothing for her.
“Where…What…?” I stopped myself, fully aware that I was making absolutely no sense and waited until I was once again capable of forming complete sentences. Besides, I could answer those first two myself. Where? A hospital. What? Me, confused, sore in all the wrong places, and bone tired in this awful hospital bed.
“Why am I here?” I asked as calmly as I could, resisting the urge to tug at the IV. I did not do well with needles. I settled for avoiding looking at where it was stuck into my arm, as if that would somehow make it less real.
The Nurse gave me a look over her oval shaped glasses before glancing at the chart that was hanging at the foot of the bed.
“You passed out, knocked your head pretty bad. A few bumps and bruises from the fall but nothing broken.” She said matter of factly before stepping over to take note of the numbers that still flashed on the screen above my head.
“Wait, I fell and knocked myself out?” I couldn’t remember any of that.
“No, you passed out from exhaustion, dehydration, and stress. You hit your head when you fell. No stitches needed but I’m sure you’ve got one hell of a goose eye.”
I reached up, my fingers gingerly touching the large bump on the back of my head. I winced, blinking away the tears of pain that threatened, focusing instead on getting answers. Because the nurse wasn’t making any sense at all.
“What do you mean I passed out? I don’t have any medical issues. I’m as healthy as…well, as a very healthy person.” I refused to compare myself to a horse. I’d spent my childhood being called names like ‘cow’ and ‘heifer’ because of my weight and I sure as hell wasn’t about to compare myself to a barnyard animal.
I smoothed the thin sheet over my ample hips. After I’d hit puberty, that weight had turned into lush, hourglass curves and even though it had taken me years to get there, I loved my body. Hell, I’d turned a career into loving my body, showing it off as one of the few plus sized models walking the catwalk. And now I got to do what I was truly passionate about. Design high end fashion for women who looked like me. Women with curves, and maybe an extra roll or two. The type of bodies that were usually ignored by the fashion industry.
“I’m Barbara Lewis, by the way. I’ll be your nurse during the day shift while you’re here.” The nurse said, then gave me another one of those looks over the tops of her glasses, “That means I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
I gave her my best, most innocent looking smile. By the look on her face, she wasn’t buying it for minute. Smart lady.
“Ms. Lewis…Can I call you Barbara? Barbara, I really need to get going, actually, so if you could just give me whatever paperwork needs to be signed and maybe tell me where my clothes are, I’ll just get myself right out of your hair.”
The nurse just stared at me and my slipped a little but I wasn’t about to be intimidated, or spend another moment in this hospital. I needed to get back to work.
“That’s not going to happen.”
“What does that mean, exactly?”
“It means that Doctor Williamson has ordered you on bed rest and observation for at least three days. And what the Doc says, I do.”
The name rang several of my bells but I was too shocked at what Nurse Barbara was saying to pay attentions.
“Three days? Three days! That’s…that’s impossible. I can’t stay here for three days. I have work to do! I have…”
“You’ve already been here for nearly one already,” Barbara said with a shrug. “You’ve been out for a while. We’ve been pumping you with fluids to get your hydration levels back to normal. When was the last time you drank any water?”
“Water?” I stared at her dumbly. “I drink coffee.” I actually survived on several pots of strong, black coffee a day but I wasn’t about to tell her that. Especially with the accusing way she was already looking at me.
“Just coffee?” She clicked her teeth, marking it down on the chart, “No wonder your heart rate was through the roof when you were brought in. I’ll let Doctor Williamson know. He’ll be in to see you shortly.”
There was that name again, setting off a tiny orchestra of bells and chimes and whistles, but my head was pounding now, making it hard to focus on anything but the pain. I grabbed my temple and the nurse gave me a look of concern.
“How’s that head of yours feeling, hon? I can give you something for the pain. You fell pretty hard.”
“Yes. Please. Give me something.” I whimpered, swallowing against a sudden wave of nauseous. The older woman stepped closer, adding something to the I.V. that made the pain flee so quickly that I didn’t even care that there was a needle sticking out of my arm. Well, not that much anyway. I still couldn’t look directly at it without wanting to rip the thing out.
As the pain rushed away from the shores of my mind like a tide receding back into the ocean, my thoughts were left muddled and water-logged.
I tried to remember what had happened the night before, how I had ended up here. The last thing I could remember was being backstage at a fashion show, pinning up one of my designs. One of the other models had stepped on the trail of the curve hugging dress with her six inch stiletto heels and ripped a massive hole in the delicate as porcelain lace.
I’d had only seconds to repair the damaged design before sending the model down the runway and then…nothing. I couldn’t remember anything after that, besides waking up lying in this uncomfortable hospital bed. The harder I tried to remember, the more my thoughts fractures, sending dull throbs of pain through my head once more.
My eyes slid shut and I let out a wordless groan, letting my head drop into my hands as I tried to remember.
“Is your head still hurting you? I thought Ms. Lewis had given you something.”
Oh my god. That voice! It echoed through my body in a wave of tingling shivers, its familiar deep, husky rasp sending equal parts dread and joy crashing through me to congregate in the pit of my stomach in a confusing dance.
“Nate?” I asked hesitantly, moving my fingers apart just enough to peek through them. Yep. It was him. Standing right there in front of me. In the gorgeous, olive toned, too handsome for my own good flesh. Doctor Williamson. That’s why the name had sounded familiar. Nate Williamson.
“Nate, I, uh…I didn’t know you worked at this hospital.” I finished slowly, trailing off as I fought the blush that threatened to stain my cheeks a dark cherry red. Damn my fair, freckled complexion.
“Turns out, I do.” He joked on a laugh that all of my lady parts standing up at attention. God, that laugh. That smile. That dimple. It was almost too much for me to take in my diminished state.
He walked closer into the room, and even in the shapeless green scrubs and white doctor’s coat his broad shoulders seemed to take up all the space in the hospital room.
“I was waiting to hear that you’d woken up.”
“You were?” I asked dumbly, staring up at him, so flustered that I couldn’t get any more words out. Which was ridiculous. I always had something to say. Some sharp quick. A sarcastic come back. The last word was my holy grail. But now, laying there in that bed, staring up at him, my tongue felt thick and cumbersome and my thoughts were more tangled now than before.
It was exactly like the first time I’d met him over a year before. Thalia had invited me to one of her parent’s fancy yacht club social climbers’ parties. I didn’t want to go. There was nothing I hated more than having to kiss other people’s asses, let alone in a bikini.
She had convinced me. She’d said it would be the perfect opportunity to network for our brand, get the word out about our new high-end design label and find some backers for our budding business.
I had been chatting with Thalia’s very wealthy aunt about our business launch when I’d seen Nate out of the corner of my eye. Tall, broad shoulders, killer smile, and dark eyes that had melted me on the spot.
Seeing him had made a shockwave fire through my system like a lightning bolt, my tongue dried up, and I froze mid-pitch as I watched him walk closer. And closer. His dark gaze danced over my own deep blue and for a moment everyone else disappeared. No more socialites or wealthy elite. It was just me, and this dangerously edible man in ripped jeans and an old t-shirt.
For that second, as our eyes met, he looked as shocked as I felt. And then Thalia had thrown herself into his arms, kissing him with wild abandon before introducing him as her new boyfriend, Doctor Nate Williamson of the Long Grove Williamsons.
I tried to banish the x rated fantasies that had already started playing in my head but every time I saw him after that just made it harder until I avoided doing anything where the two of them would be there together.
Thalia was my best friend, we’d gone through hell and back trying to make it in the cut throat modelling industry, and the last thing I wanted to do was hurt our friendship. But damn, Nate drove me crazy. He made my body feel like it was vibrating just by being in the same room.
Avoidance had been the better part of valor for me, and I hadn’t seen him in almost six months, so it was a shock to my system to have him standing in front of me now, staring down at me with that grin of his.
Logically, I knew I shouldn’t want him. I knew it was terrible and it probably made me a terrible person but I was damned if I knew what to do about. If anything, the attraction was more intense now that ever, and the pain meds the nurse had given me were starting to make me feel like my inhibitions had taken off and escaped without me.
“Hey there, Poppy,” Nate rasped as he stopped beside the bed, so close I could reach out and touch him. Oh, the places I wanted to touch him.
“Hey there,” I grinned up at him, feeling more than a little loopy all the sudden but it was better than feeling awkward and guilty. “What’s cookin’, good lookin’?”
“I see the meds are starting to work their magic. I’ll make it quick.”
“I should actually…go. Yeah, I should go,” I said, fighting to form the sentence. “I have so much work to do…”
“Poppy, you had a psychogenic episode and gave yourself a very serious concussion.” Nate said, his brows narrowing, his jaw tensing. What I liked to think of as his serious face. It was just so darned cute. “You had a massive panic attack and blacked out, hitting your head in the fall. You’re lucky it wasn’t worse. A few inches to the left you would have landed on a sewing kit full of needles and scissors.”
“I did not have a panic attack,” I scoffed up at him, “I’ve never had a panic attack in my life! That’s just…that’s ridiculous, Nate.”
“I have it right here. And your assistant, what’s his name?”
“Right, Jefferson. He saw the whole thing happen. He said you’ve been working yourself to death for months now, not eating well, not sleeping. Besides the concussion, you were severely dehydrated, your pulse was elevated and thread, you heart rate was too high.”
“I’m just busy,” I answered with a nonchalant shrug. Of course I have been working hard. We were coming up to the end of our first year in business and I wanted to make sure it was going to work. I would make sure that it did, work as hard and as long as I had to.
“It’s more than that Poppy. Busy people don’t pass out due to stress.” He gave me a long look and I shivered under that dark, depthless gaze. I wanted to lose myself in that gaze.
“Nate,” I cajoled, shooting him my best smile, “You know it’s nothing. So maybe I forgot to drink enough water and my blood pressure crashed. No big deal. I really do need to go.”
Jefferson was probably back at the small studio I leased on Olympic Boulevard, near L.A.’s fashion district. He wouldn’t know what to do without me there. We were already behind on the designs for the upcoming fashion show at the Garden Center. I’d have to send him down to Raina to pick up some more of that Italian lace. It was gorgeous, soft, delicate, and the most beautiful dusty mauve color that would complement the designs perfectly…
“Poppy, are you listening to me?” Nate’s voice interrupted my mental to do list and I glanced up at him.
“Yes, of course. I’m listening.”
“So you heard me say that I want you to stay another day or two for observation.”
“What?! No way, that’s out of the question, Nate.” I shook my head and a wave of pain-fueled dizziness hit me but I pushed through it, flipping the thin sheet off of my legs and moving to stand.
Suddenly, Nate was there, standing in front of me. His big hands were surprisingly gentle on my arms as he stopped me from getting all the way out of the bed. The slightest pressure had me falling backwards, drawing Nate even closer until he was leaning over me. His handsome, sharply featured face just inches from mine. His dark eyes melting on mine. The slight shadow of his beard. His lips. Right there. Too tempting for me to resist.
I barely had to move for our mouths to meet, and I drew in a deep, gasping breath as I tangled my hands in the fabric of his shirt, and kissed him.
Lightning and thunder rolled through my body as Nate’s lips pressed against mine and in that one perfect moment, everything disappeared. The ugly beige hospital room, the mountain of work waiting for me, the stress eating me up alive, Thalia. All of it. It was just gone. Poof. As if it had never even been there in the first place. As if there had never been anything at all except me, and him, and the perfect merging of our mouths.
Barbara’s voice echoed from the nurse’s station down the hall and Nate jumped back, guilt shining thickly in his dark eyes. Eyes that I couldn’t look away from. Because as bad as I should feel, as guilty as I should feel, I just…didn’t. All I felt was the electric lust swirling with the drugs in my system making my body feel like it was floating in a pool of steamy water and my thoughts impossible to tie down.
I wanted him. I wanted him more than I’d ever wanted anyone in my entire life. And he wasn’t mine to have.
“Doctor Williamson, can you take a look at this chart? I think we need to make some med adjustments for the patient in 207.”
Nate opened his mouth, his eyes still locked on mine, but after a second, he closed it with a click of teeth not saying a single word. It was okay. I totally got it. I sure as hell didn’t know what to say either.
“I’ll…I’ll be back,” Nate finally growled, his voice low and rough. The words thrilled and scared me all at the same time. He gave me one last long look before turning and rushing after the waiting nurse.
My fingers picked idly at the sheet as I blew out a sharp breath. My thoughts and heart beat were both racing and I couldn’t seem to control either one.
What the hell are you doing, Poppy? My conscious yelled at me. I just shrugged, not knowing how to answer even to myself. It was the same way it always was when it came to Nate. I got within a square mile of the man and everything inside me went haywire. It was seriously annoying, but I couldn’t do anything to stop my reaction to him. That’s why I’d stooped to lying to Thalia just to avoid hanging out with them together. It was just too hard.
It made it even harder, listening to Thalia talk about her and Nate together. The blasé way she spoke about him, the casual way she referred to him as her boy toy, the way she would flirt with other men. Hell, the way she would go out with other men, leaving me to bite my tongue instead of shouting at her that she already had an amazing man, why was she wasting him?
I sighed, staring up at the Styrofoam paneled ceiling. I had known Thalia for over eight years, we had become best friends from the very first moment we met, at that first awful casting room for the Van Nick Holiday fashion show.
As one of the few plus sized models there, I’d felt out of place and awkward. An elephant in a room full of gazelles. And then Thalia had waltzed in, her hair in a messy bun, skin tight black lace Isabel Marant dress paired with oxblood Doc Martin’s.
She walked over to where I was sitting, plopped down beside me and started chatting as if we’d known each other for years instead of literally seconds.
“Have you seen the new Mui Mui line? Plaid? Really? Whoever said plaid was the new black was out of their ever loving minds.”
“Plaid belongs on Scottish hunks and fall accessories. Anything else needs to stay in the nineties where it belongs.”
She grinned over at me, part free spirit fae part rock and roll a la Stevie Nicks.
“I’m Thalia Miller.”
“Poppy Black.” I said, taking her beringed hand and shaking it, smiling back at her. Thalia was L.A. born and bred, her family had a long history of wealthy socialites that grew up, got married to other wealthy socialites and gave birth to a whole shiny new generation of wealthy socialites.
“Not me, though.” Thalia said with a sharp gleam in her pale green eyes. “I want something different for myself. Something better.”
I’d glanced down at the sketch book in front of me, the one I brought everywhere. The one that was full of my dreams and inspirations, ideas and designs.
“Me too. One day, I’m going to be the one in charge. The one making the designs and casting the models”
Thalia leaned over, looking at my designs.
“Those are good.”
“I still have a long way to go.” I said with a shrug.
“No, I mean it. I would wear those. And I have very high fashion standards.”
Neither of us made it through that casting call. Me, for having too many curves, and Thalia for not having enough. It didn’t matter though. I may not have gotten the job, but I’d made a friend. My first real friend since moving to L.A. months before.
That was eight years ago, and Thalia was still my best friend. She’d grown into my roommate, and then business partner when we launched our high end fashion design company the year before.
She was truly one of a kind. Generous and open, free spirited and could make every head turn when she walked into a room. But I also knew that she could be careless, and had no concept of the value of money, not really.
I knew it was because of her family, the Millers. Incredibly wealthy and incredibly well connected. Not that I was complaining. Thalia’s parents had bankrolled the start-up costs for the line and I never wouldn’t gotten that loan without her.
And she was terrible when it came to relationships. Just the thought reminded me of Nate, and the kiss, and had shivers rushing up and down my body quickly followed by a wave of guilt.
“It’s not like she even appreciates him.” I muttered softly, picking at the threadbare hospital blanket that was laid over the curve of my thighs. I knew it was just an excuse to make myself feel better, even it was the cold hard truth.
Thalia was terrified of commitment. Even though she’d technically been dating Nate for a year now, I knew he wasn’t the only man in her life. Not that I could judge. I’d had exactly no man in my life for over a year. A part of me worried it was because of Nate. Because of that instantaneous lightning bolt of lust and desire that had struck me the first time our eyes met. It was more than want though. It had been a knowing. As if I’d met him before but I knew I never had. As if our souls knew each other on sight.
It would be so much easier if I could forget him. Forget all about that moment of intense connection. Except it happened every single time I saw him. Every single time I was in the same room as him. Every time Thalia talked about how boring he was or how he had to work all the time or complaining that he got called in while they were on a date together.
A sharp sigh huffed from lips that still tingled with aftershocks. I knew it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that Thalia treated Nate like garbage and was only still dating him because their families knew each other, and her parents expected her to date another wealthy socialite just like her. It didn’t matter that Nate never seemed that interested in her either. It didn’t matter that my whole body lit up like a freaking Christmas tree whenever he was near me.
Because the truth was, Thalia was my best friend and I would never betray her like that.
You already did, my conscious shouted. It was the drugs! And the concussion! I wasn’t thinking straight! I shouted back, trying to make myself believe that it had just been a combination of the pain killers and concussion that had momentarily made my good sense flee.
A knock at the hospital door was a grateful distraction and I looked up to see my assistant, Jefferson, walk in the room with a black leather bag in one hand and my sketchbook in the other. He was dressed in his standard ripped jeans and t-shirt, his too long sandy blond hair pulled back in a top knot. His thick, dark framed glasses shadowed deep set brown eyes that I knew could catch the tiniest detail or loose thread. Just one of the many things I loved about the man.
He didn’t look like a typical fashion obsessed designer, but he knew more about the history of fashion than anyone I knew, and he was dedicated. He could get obsessive at times, and not just with the job, but that was fine. I could obsess too. Hell, that’s how I ended up in this hospital bed in the first place.
“Thank god! I am so happy to see you!” I squealed in joy as I opened up the bag and saw clothes, real clothes, and I already couldn’t wait to get out of this hospital gown. I froze as a sudden thought occurred to me. I didn’t remember getting to the hospital or taking off my clothes. Had Nate been the one...?
I had to push the thought away as my body flushed hot and cold at the image that popped into my head of Nate undressing me, his big hands stripping my clothes off one piece at a time.
“Poppy, did you hear what I said?”
“What? Sorry, Jefferson. These meds they have me on for my head are making me loopy.” I flushed even harder at the small lie. It was partly true. But mostly, I knew it was just the affect Doctor Nate Williamson had on me, medicated or not.
Jefferson winced in sympathy.
“Yeah. I saw you go down. It looked…painful.”
“Well, luckily, I don’t remember any of it. What the hell happened? The doc said I had some sort of panic attack.”
“One minute you were fixing that evening gown, the one that model carelessly wrecked,” He stopped and shook his head. He was a stickler for caring for fashion, “You were trying to pin the lace, she was about to get called into the lineup for the runway and you just sort of, well, you went all pale and wide eyed, you started breathing really hard and then you, um, you sort of toppled.”
“You fell through the curtain and off the edge of the catwalk. It’s why your injuries were as bad as they are. They said no broken bones though, so that’s good. How the hell do you accessorize a cast?”
He got a little chuckle out me and I let him have it. I knew he was just trying to distract me from the image of myself ‘toppling’ off the edge of the catwalk at one of my first major shows.
“So, you talked to Nate, then?”
“Nate?” He repeated, bristling at the name. He hated the other man and I had a pretty good idea why. “I didn’t know he worked here.”
“He is a doctor, you know.”
“Big deal.” Jefferson muttered softly with a shrug. Ever since Jefferson had started working for me when we started the design company, he had pined after Thalia. Staring after her with those big, puppy dog eyes of his, waiting for her to notice him. The only thing he loved more than design, was Thalia.
He wasn’t exactly her type, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him. Besides, he was the best assistant I’ve ever had and the last thing I wanted was for Thalia to break his heart and send him packing.
“Here is your sketchbook, I though you would want it since your under hospital arrest.” He handed me the heavy black, spiral bound book that I carried with me everywhere I went. Inside, it held beautiful Italian hand made paper the color of fresh cream. It was my baby, held my dreams and inspirations, my greatest treasure.
“You are the best, you know that?”
“I know.” He said with a shrug and a grin that had his single dimple flashing. He really was a nice guy. Intense, sure. Driven, absolutely. But maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Thalia fell for a nice guy for a change, instead of chasing her string of bad boys, all the while leaving Nate waiting in the wings.
I shook the thought off. It didn’t matter. Nate wasn’t mine to worry about. I had to work really hard to convince myself of that.
“By the way, Thalia said she was going to come by later and see how you’re doing.” Jefferson said, his face lighting up when he mentioned her name. He had no idea just how much turmoil his casual statement caused inside me. My gut twisted into knots.
“Oh,” I said on a gulp of guilt. “Great. That’s just great. When is she coming?”
“A few hours.”
A few hours. That’s all I had. A few hours to try and tame the guilt inside me and banish all memories of the kiss. Hah, if only it was that easy. I could still feel it, like a ghost haunting me. That was just great.
“You are a terrible patient.”
I shot my best grin up at the indominable Nurse Barbara.
“I know. I would say I’m sorry but…” I trailed off with a shrug. We both knew there was no remorse here.
“It’s fine. I wouldn’t believe you anyway.” Her sharp look of disapproval melted into a rough chuckle as she shook her head at me, “You remind me of myself when I was younger. Stubborn as all get out and sarcastic on top of it.”
I shrugged again. It was that same stubbornness that had helped me survive moving through the fashion industry as a plus sized model surrounded by size zeros. It was that stubbornness that had made me determined to make my fashion line a success, no matter how hard it was, no matter how hard I had to work or how much I had to sacrifice.
And the sarcasm, well. There really was no answer to that one. I’d had a sharp tongue since I was a little kid growing up in a too small town in the Midwest. It was a skill I was born with.
“You know, Barb, can I call you Barb? You know, Barb, I think a nice deep wine red would work really well with your hair color and complexion. It would bring out your eyes, too.”
She rolled her eyes at me.
“They’re scrubs, honey. There isn’t anything that will make them more flattering. They are comfortable, lightweight, and it’s easy to wash the bodily fluids off.”
I wrinkled my nose in disgust as she cackled at my look of horror.
“Nursing is a dirty job but somebody has to do it,” She gave me another look, “So maybe other people could make my job a little easier by not crying like I’m trying to chop their arm off when I have to draw blood or check their I.V.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, this time actually meaning it, “I just really hate needles.”
“I’ve noticed.” Barbara snorted as she jotted down some numbers on my chart.
That wasn’t the only reason I’d been a terrible patient for the last two days. The only thing I cared about was getting out of that damned hospital and back to work. I was going stir crazy just lying there, getting poked and prodded.
I knew I was being a monster to the nursed, but there wasn’t anything I could seem to do about it. And it really didn’t help that any time Nate came in to check on me, I got all hot and bothered and guilty at the same time because of the feelings I couldn’t control.
He’d only been in a few times, usually for no more than a minute to poke his head in and ask how I was doing, and we still had yet to talk about The Kiss. It was capitalized in my mind now, a moment in my life that would be branded in my memory forever.
Every time I saw him, it all came rushing back. The Kiss. The feel of his lips pressed against mine, just as sharp and just as clear as the moment it had happened. It was a moment I had imagined a hundred times over the past year. Hell, a thousand. All the while knowing what a terrible person it made me, fantasizing about my best friend’s man like that.
That wasn’t me. I wasn’t that girl. I was loyal. I cared deeply about my friendship with Thalia and I would never want to do anything that might hurt her or jeopardize our relationship.
But as much as I told myself that, it didn’t stop the thoughts from rushing through my mind, and it didn’t do a damned thing to still my racing heart beat or get rid of the way my body went all hot and shivery whenever I saw him.
I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t hear the knock on the door or realize anyone else was there until Barbara cleared her throat and tapped me on the shoulder.
“Looks like your friend is here,” The older nurse said gruffly, “I’ll just leave you two to visit for a minute. I’ll be back in an hour to check the rest of your vitals.”
“Hey Poppy, enjoying your vacation?” Thalia joked and I had to grit my teeth. I hated not being able to work and being stuck in this torture chamber was hardly my idea of a relaxing vacation.
I looked up just as Thalia swept into the room, towering in six inch black heeled boots and a thigh skimming velvet dress. Her shoulder length blond bob was tousled and her heavily made up green eyes smudged and shadowed.
“You look worse than I feel,” I said lightly, and she sent me a mock scowl.
“I feel worse than I look.”
Thalia grinned slowly, growing wider and wider like the Cheshire cat, and just as pleased with herself.
“Something like that.” She winked at me, “Let’s just say I didn’t get much sleep, if you know what I mean.”
A flash of anger fueled through me and I had to bite my lip to stop the first words that popped into my mind from escaping. I knew Thalia hadn’t spent the night with Nate. He’d been at the hospital working a double shift all night. In fact, I still don’t think he’d clocked out yet.
“Someone had a good time?” I managed, trying to banish my emotions. Thalia had always been a free spirit, in the entire eight years I’d known her never really settling down with anyone for long, even if she did ‘date’ them.
“Oh yes.” Thalia said on a husky chuckle as she plopped into the green armchair that was pulled up beside the bed. “A very good time.”
“Thalia, can I ask you a question?”
“Of course, love,”
I picked at the fabric of the hospital blanket a moment. I didn’t want to speak again until I knew I had me facial expression under control.
“Why are you still dating Nate?”
Her eyebrows rose in surprise before she gave me a casual shrug.
“Honestly? I keep him around to keep my parents off my back.” She polished her ruby red nails on the fabric of the dress she’d obviously worn the night before. “They keep asking me when I’m going to settle down, get married, and pop out a few kids like my sister. You know I’m not like Juliet. I wasn’t made to be a bored socialite housewife. I like my life and my freedom too much”
Some of my frustration edged away at Thalia’s words. I knew first hand how awful her parents could be to her, especially when it came to living, or not, up to their vaunted expectations.
My mom had been a single parent who had encouraged me to life my dream and go after whatever I wanted, always supporting me. Even when I told her as a chubby eleven year old that I wanted to be a model. She had signed me up for any pageant or casting call that she could afford to and had even helped me save to get my first apartment in Los Angeles.
Thalia’s parents were the exact opposite. They were constantly pressuring her to fit into their perfect vision of what the world should look like, and more specifically what Thalia’s life should look like. She wasn’t kidding about them demanding a perfect marriage and kids, just like her older sister Juliet.
I understood, but couldn’t she have picked anyone else? Any one beside the man that I couldn’t seem to get out of my head, or heart. Any one in the whole world beside…
My whole body jerked in response as Doctor Williamson himself walked into the room as if summoned by my thoughts. I watched in pained silence as Thalia leaped to her feet and flitted towards him as if she hadn’t just told me that she’d cheated on him last night.
He dodged her kiss so that it landed on his cheek before waving her towards the door.
“Poppy needs to rest.”
“But I just got here!” Thalia said on a pretty pout and I had to fight the urge to roll my eyes at her dramatic antics. I loved the lady, but sometimes she was more than my poor frayed nerves could handle.
“It’s okay, Thalia. We’ll catch up as soon as I’m released.”
“It’s not prison, Poppy,” Nate huffed, fighting back a smile and even that small thing thrilled me so much more than it should have.
“I want to see my friend, Nate.”
“And I need to see to my patient.” Nate shooed Thalia from the room, following her out.
Just before the door to my hospital room closed I heard him speak again. “By the way, Thalia, are you free tonight? I wanted to meet with you later.”
“For you? Of course.” Thalia said on a giggle that made my heart sink in my chest. Why, oh why, did I keep torturing myself like this?
“I have to get a boyfriend,” I told myself, determined to get over Nate once and for all. He obviously wasn’t the man for me. And I wasn’t the woman he wanted. My best friend was.
“So, where did you want to go tonight, baby? The Ivy? Or the Castle?” Thalia asked with a small grin as she turned towards me once we were both out of the hospital room. She tried to wrap her arms around me, but I side-stepped her touch. This wasn’t about going out on a date. My stomach sank. I needed to talk to her, and I couldn’t do that at a crowded restaurant or social club.
“Why don’t we just meet up at Jasper’s? I get off my shift in five hours. We can meet there at say, seven?”
Thalia wrinkled her nose. “You want to take me out to that grungy little coffee shop? They don’t even serve booze there, Nate. What’s the point?”
I stared up at Thalia for a moment, clenching and unclenching my jaw. Jasper’s was an amazing little jazz club on Laurel Avenue but the music didn’t start until midnight or later. Until then, they only served coffee and some food basics, but that had never bothered me.
The one and only time I had taken Thalia there she had complained the whole time. What was I thinking, even suggesting it again? Oh right, because it was small, quiet, at least until the music started, and the biggest reason of all, no one we knew be there.
“Just be there at seven, okay?” I said softly, “I need to talk to you about something.”
“Ooh, mysterious.” Thalia said on a tinkling laugh. “Okay, mystery boy, I’ll meet you at seven at the dreary little black hole of a coffee shop you love so much.
I shook my head as I watched her walk away after dodging another kiss. It was obvious she was still wearing the same clothes she’d gone out in the night before, and I could only imagine who she had spent the night with. It certainly hadn’t been me.
No, I’d been here with Poppy all night.
I leaned against the wall of the hallway just outside of Poppy’s hospital room and let out a sharp sigh. Everything inside me was confused and conflicted, guilt-ridden and heavy and twisted all up so that I couldn’t tell up from down or right from wrong. No, that wasn’t true. I knew exactly what was wrong.
The fact that I was dating Thalia, and at the same time wanted Poppy so bad it made my entire body tighten and ache in painful need just at the thought of her.
There was plenty wrong with just that. Not to mention the fact that the last two days straight I had volunteered to work double shifts just to be near her.
I was exhausted, and it had more to do with fighting my own desire to step into that room and kiss Poppy again than the extra hours of work.
Wrong. It was so wrong. But that one moment, when Poppy had stared up at me, her blue eyes as wide and deep and fathomless as the ocean and pressed her lips against mine. That moment had felt more right to me than anything I’d experienced over the last year with Thalia. Hell, even the last five years.
I came from a wealthy family of doctors and lawyers, and I had always been expected to ‘do the family proud’ as my father used to say.
I had gone straight from a well known private high school into college with my whole life planned out ahead of me. Four years at Berkeley, and then four more to get my medical degree. I already knew a top tier job was waiting for me at one of the most prestigious hospitals in California, thanks to my family’s connections.
I would work for a few years, become a well-known doctor and surgeon. Meet a well-respected and equally connected woman. Get married, have a few kids. The perfect life, all planned out for me. And I’d always been fine with that plan, even if it fit a little bit tight now and then.
Only, Poppy Black sure as hell wasn’t a part of that plan.
Poppy was the opposite of everything I’d ever been told to want. She was an artist, a rebel, she worked harder than anyone I’d ever met before. She was dedicated to her job. A little too dedicated, I though ruefully, remembering how she ended up in the hospital in the first place.
Growing up, I had been surrounded by bored socialites just looking for the next thrill to fill their empty, meaningless existence. A lot more like Thalia, who came from a wealthy and well connected family that my own family had known for generations.
In fact it was my mother and Thalia’s that had gotten us both together at that yacht party a year ago. They had set us up on a date, deciding that it was time for both of us to start settling down.
Hell, I was going to be thirty five this year and I had rarely dated since graduating college, and nothing anything serious. Not that I would call what Thalia and I were doing serious, or barely even dating for that matter.
We hardly ever saw each other and when we did, we had nothing to talk about.
I let out another deep sigh. I knew how wrong it was, to be dating Thalia and to lust after Poppy, but I was so damned tired of fighting what I really wanted. And I had wanted Poppy Black since the first moment I saw her, with her espresso dark hair framing a perfectly heart shaped face. Those lips, pouty and plump, the lower one slightly bigger than the top and just begging to be taken, to be tasted.
She had curves in all the right places, curves that I desperately wanted to feel under my hands, on top of me, any way and anywhere I could get them.
I had walked into that party, already bored out of my mind by the numbing small talk when I saw her, standing in one corner talking animatedly with Thalia’s aunt. She was like a beacon of light shining in a room full of pastels. Everyone else was colorless next to her.
And then she’d looked over me, those big, sapphire blue eyes of hers sparkling like gems, the same color as the ocean, and it had felt like a sucker punch straight to the solar plexus. It had knocked me back on my heels and I couldn’t draw a breath. All I could do was stare at her, completely transfixed.
Then Thalia had come out of nowhere, throwing her arms around me and proclaiming that I was her boyfriend. And that was that. I had wanted Poppy from that moment on, but I stayed with Thalia because that’s what my family expected of me, and her family expected it of her. I was sure that was the only reason she was still dating me at all. But that wasn’t enough anymore. It had been fun at first, but the charm had worn off after the first few months. I didn’t have any hard feelings towards Thalis. That was the problem. I didn’t have any feelings for her at all.
And it was getting harder and harder to deny the woman I did have feelings for. It made it more complicated that Poppy was Thalia’s best friend. But I knew Thalia didn’t care about me, not really. She like the idea of me, and she liked that she could use me as a shield to keep her overbearing parents at bay. That was it. That was all that was between us. And it wasn’t enough anymore.
With that thought running through my mind, I turned and walked back into Poppy’s hospital room, shutting the door firmly behind me.
“Hey there.” She said softly from the bed, her eyes looking enormous in her heart shaped face.
“Hey.” I repeated dumbly, then cleared my throat, trying to shake off the spell she always put me under. “I just wanted to check on a few more things before making my rotation.”
“Sure. You can check anything you want,” Poppy laughed, low and husky, and it had every atom in my body tightening with desire for her. For only her.
I grabbed her chart because I desperately needed something to do with my hands, anything but reach for her, grab her, pull her close, repeat the kiss that had happened in this very room, at this very spot, two days ago.
“Looks like your concussion is healing nicely. Swelling is going down. I’m still worried about your elevated pulse but at least your hydrated now and we’ve stabilized your other numbers.”
“Does that mean I can get out of here soon?”
“Give me one more day, Poppy.” The question came out gruffer than I had anticipated and she stared up at me, her eyes going even wider. I wanted to lose myself in those eyes. But then her eyelashes fluttered close, blocking the sight and I felt it like a physical loss.
“Well, can I at least get this damned needle out of my arm?” She shuddered, “I hate needles.”
“You do understand the irony of a fashion designer who hates needles? You work with needles all the time.”
“That’s different. They are tiny little needles that go in machines, they don’t go into my arm or any other part of my body. Unlike these monsters.” She huffed and I fought back a grin. She had a way of doing that. Of making me want to smile no matter what was going on, no matter what the situation was.
“I’ll have Barbara come and take out the I.V. And then, good new, you should be ready to be released tomorrow.” I felt a pang of loss at that and fought to keep it off of my face as Poppy grinned up at me.
“Free at last!”
Her smile made her eyes sparkle again, twin sapphires, and this time there was nothing I could do to stop it, nothing I could do to stop myself.
My fingers speared through her dark coffee colored hair, my lips fell against hers, and I kissed her.
I wasn’t too caught by surprised to react like last time, where I’d just stood there like an idiot as she kissed me. I was totally in control, moving my mouth against hers as I tasted her, licking that pouty lower lip that drove me crazy.
It was more than I had ever imagined it would be, and it wasn’t nearly enough. I felt like I was starving for her. A man drowning in an ocean and she was the only safe shore. I tilted my head, moving to deepen the kiss but the light pressure of her hand against my chest stopped me cold.
“What is it?” I asked, growling the words roughly through a lust induced haze.
“What is it?” She repeated my question, staring up at me and I just shook my head, my thoughts slow and muddled. All the blood in my brain had evacuated south at the first touch of our lips together. “It is the fact that you come in here and kiss me like I’ve never been kissed in my life just seconds after you asked my best friend out on a date, right in front of me!”
A slow smile drew across my face.
“Like you’ve never been kissed in you life? That good huh?”
Her hand hit my chest again, substantially harder this time.
“That wasn’t the point.” Poppy huffed, “The point is that you are dating Thalia, not me. Which means you should be kissing Thalia, and you sure as hell should not be kissing me.”
I shook my head, trying to explain but it was hard with all my thoughts still lingering on the kiss, “I didn’t ask Thalia out on a date. I asked her to meet up with me so we could talk. So I could tell her that I’m ending things between us. Things haven’t been great for a while, hell, they haven’t even been good. She’s been–.”
“Cheating,” Poppy said quietly, her eyes dark with concern. It stung my pride to hear it said out loud but I wasn’t surprised.
“It’s not the first time.” I finally answered with a shrug. And it wouldn’t be the last, not if we kept pretending like we have been for the past year.
“Are you really going to break up with Thalia?”
“Yes. It’s something I should have done a long time ago.”
“You mean it. You’re serious.”
They weren’t questions but I nodded anyway, hoping that she could see just how serious I was, how much I meant every single word. It was long past time I should have ended things with Thalia.
“I’m going to kiss you again.” I gave her fair warning this time, my eyes never leaving hers as I leaned close, looking for any sign of resistance, any hint of her wanting me to stop. All I could see was the same desire in her dark blue gaze that was flooding my system and making my body grow tight and hard.
I kissed her, our mouths moving together in a rhythmic dance that had both of us breathing ragged in ten seconds flat. I wanted to touch her, I wanted to sweep my hand down all of her luscious curves, I was desperate to feel her body, all of her. Outside, inside. I wanted every single beautiful inch.
My hands started moving, sweeping from her shoulder and down, drawn to the sweet curve of her breast. I loved the way she arched into my hand, moaning soft and low into my mouth. I loved the way I could feel her nipple, hard and peaked, poking against my palm and knowing that I did that to her.
It wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. I needed more of her. All of her.
“Wait a minute, Nate.” Poppy whispered roughly against my lips and I stopped. The hardest thing I’d ever done. I drew in a deep breath to get myself under control and I was shaking with the effort.
“I can’t, Nate. Not until you and Thalia aren’t together any more. I can’t betray her like that.”
I nodded, unable to speak past the sharp desire stabbing through me. It took me a few more moments to be able to pull away and I had to force myself to take a step back because standing that closer to her and not touching her was pure torture.
I looked down at her, her cheeks flushed a rosy red and her eyes sparkling with need.
“Okay, not until I end things with Thalia. But then…” I stared at her, letting her see everything, letting her see just how much I needed her, showing her exactly what she did to me, “Then, you’re mine.”
I looked down at the nonsensical drawing marring the page of my sketch book and nearly cursed. It was terrible. It was worse than that. It was all wrong, the angles, the curves. There was no flow to the piece at all. It looked like an amateur drawing of a Barbie dream house dress.
With another curse, I ripped the page out of its binding, crumpled it up violently and tossed it across the hospital room.
Three days. Three entire days I’d been trapped in this hospital and it was driving me insane. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t draw. All I could think about was getting out of there, getting away from Nurse Barbara. And Nate. I have to get away from Nate before I totally lose it.
It was true, I knew it. Every time I saw Nate, that knot in the pit of my stomach drew itself tighter and tighter and pretty soon it was going to get so tight it would just strangle all of my good sense and I would say something really stupid like ‘Oh, Nate, please take off all my clothes and make love to me right here and now. I don’t care that Nurse Barbara could walk in on us or that you’re dating my best friend. Just take me, I’m yours.’
The problem was, that was exactly what I wanted to say. And exactly what I wanted him to do.
Over the past twenty four hours I had replayed that moment over and over again in my mind, when Nate had stormed into this very room and kissed me like his life depended on. Or my life depended on it. And maybe it did.
Because ever since that moment I felt like I couldn’t breathe without him in the room. And then, when he was in the room, I still couldn’t breathe because his very presence made my heart race so fast that it was all I could do not to pass out again.
The words that he left me with were burned into my memory. He’d told me that he was going to break up with Thalia. And then… I shuddered in the hospital bed. Then, you’re mine. I heard those words replay in my mind over and over. You’re mine. You’re mine. You’re mine.
It was everything I had always wanted to hear from him. And it was almost impossible to believe that it was real. That it had really happened. That those words had really come from his mouth. That doctor Nate Williamson had spoken them to little old me.
I looked down at the sketchbook and huffed in annoyance. While my thoughts had been filled to the brim with Nate, I’d drawn little hearts all over the page without even realizing it.
“What am I, in junior high? Get a grip on yourself, Poppy.” I muttered the words before tearing the page out yet again, crumpling it into a ball and sending it flying across the room.
“Hey! Watch where you’re throwing those things.”
“Jefferson! I am so happy to see you! You came to save my sanity and bust me out of here, right? Tell me you came with an escape plan. And possibly a rope.” I paused, peering out of the window, “We’re only on the second floor. We could make it.”
“Uh, no. Absolutely not. I am not jumping out of the window with you.”
“Not jumping. Climbing.”
“Nope. Not going to happen.” He gave me a stern look, “The nurse sounded pretty serious the last time I talked to her, Poppy. You have to take care of yourself or you’re just going to end up right back in here and next time it could be even more serious.”
“I’m fine. You know I’m fine.” I started, but stopped at the look Jefferson gave me over the thick dark rim of his glasses.
“You are my favorite boss, Poppy. I’d like to keep you that way.”
“I’m your only boss.” I answered him, then after a moment let out a dramatic sigh, “Alright, alright. Fine. Just put your puppy dog eyes away. You don’t have to use them on me. I hear you loud and clear.”
“I doubt that.” He said with a chuckle, “You have a habit of only hearing what you want to, which is usually that you’re right and everyone else is wrong.”
“You did just say I was your boss, right?”
“Hah! My favorite boss, who is smart enough to know when her assistant is worried about her.”
I gave him smile, “I know you are, Jefferson. I was worried too. But the doc has said that everything is looking good, and he’s told me what I need to make sure I stay healthy and don’t end up back here.”
Actually, he told me I needed to take a break from my stressful career and recommended that I take a vacation. Hah! I hadn’t taken a vacation in the entire eight years that I’d lived in L.A. I’d dedicated all of my time to making it happen, to making sure that I was stronger and better than anyone else, because I had to be.
As a plus sized model in a cut throat industry, I’d had to toughen my skin. But more than that, I was constantly criticized, constantly at a disadvantage because of my curves, even though they were what I loved most about my body.
And then, starting my fashion design company with Thalia had taken up the rest of my time. We had worked on it for a year and a half before it even became close to a reality and after Thalia’s parents funded our start up capital last year, I’d worked even harder because I knew I wanted to pay them back as soon as possible. I didn’t want their money hanging over mine and especially Thalia’s head. They had enough things to hold over her already, the last thing they needed was more ammunition to use against their youngest daughter.
“Hey there, earth to Poppy. Do you copy?”
“Sorry, I was just…I’m here, and I swear to you that I will be good from now on,” I smiled up at him, “Cross my heart.”
“Yeah, I don’t buy that for a minute. But it’s still good to hear you say it.” He said with rueful grin and I was reminded once again that there really was a nice guy underneath his sharp exterior.
“By the way, I heard you might be getting out sometime soon, and I wanted to bring you some clean clothes.” He showed me the bag he had under one arm and I clapped in delight.
“You really are the best, you know that right?”
“I know.” Jefferson said, handing over the bag. “By the way, I’ve been working at the studio the past few days, trying to retag and repair all the designs that came back from the show. Everything is fixable, but that lace from that last gown, I’m not sure if we can repair it.”
“We’ll figure something out. That’s one of my best designs.”
“We will. After you rest up and get back on your feet. We have weeks until the next show and plenty of time to get things in order before then. You just need to worry about yourself a little bit. Maybe take some R and R.”
I snorted at that, rolling my eyes up at him and he threw up his hands.
“I’m just saying, it’s not the worst thing in the world, to take a little break from work.”
“It’s not just work, Jefferson. It’s my life.”
“I think that’s the problem, boss.” He gave me a shrug, “Well, I got to go. I just wanted to drop these off. I don’t want to see you in the studio for at least the rest of the week.”
“Hey, who’s the boss here?” I said with a smile, taking the bag of clothes before Jefferson gave me a tiny two finger salute and turned to leave.
His words stuck with me though, long after he was gone.
My work really was my life, it always had been. Why would that be the problem. I loved creating. I loved designing. I loved seeing my ideas come to life and transform another woman’s beauty right in front of my eyes.
I knew the power that fashion could have, I always had, even as a child. It was more than just the fabrics or the color, so much more than velvet or lace or chiffon or tulle. It was an outward expression of your inner self, and that could be a powerful thing, especially for someone like me who always felt like an outside, the ugly duckling.
For other women who had ever felt like I had because the world told them their waist size was too big or they had too many curves to ever be beautiful.
That was bullshit, and I had proved it every day as a plus sized model. And I was proving it now, creating exquisite high end fashion so that every woman could express themselves the way they truly wanted, regardless of their measurements or what it said on a scale.
I looked down at the sweats I had been wearing for the last day and a half and suddenly felt the need to change. I grabbed the clothes that Jefferson had brought me and nearly sighed in relief at the feel of soft lace.
“Thank you!” I whispered vehemently as I climbed out of the hospital bed and stripped off the sweats, tossing them carelessly over the chair. I was more than ready to feel like myself again, instead of a prisoner of this hospital bed.
My bra came off next and I let out a sigh of relief as I pulled on the tiny scrap of lace briefs, and reached down to extract the matching bra out of the pile of clothes. I was so lost in the pleasure of putting on the fresh, sexy undergarments that I didn’t hear the door open. Or close again.
“Hey, Poppy, I’m here to…” The deep, masculine, all too familiar voice washed over me and I jumped around in pure shock to see Nate standing there, staring at my nearly nude body. My mouth opened and closed like a fish as I struggled to get any words out but there was only one word that I could say, and it tore from my throat in surprise.
“Hey, Poppy, I’m here to…” I froze as I walked into the room, the door slowly shutting behind me with a soft thud. I didn’t notice. I didn’t notice anything at all except the miles of skin on sudden display in front of me.
“Nate!” Poppy jerked in surprise, jumping around and trying to cover her lush curves with a pitifully small scrap of black lace that made my mouth instantly water. “What are you doing here?”
“I work here, remember?” I had to clear my throat three times before I could I could get the words out. “Me, doctor. Here, hospital.”
“Oh, right. Um, well…I…” She trailed off, her cheeks turning the most delightful shade of deep ruby red and I was fascinated as the rosy blush traveled down her body, highlighting her creamy curves and drawing my attention to the way her breasts plumped up above her arm and her thighs rounded so temptingly, her hips slanted this way and that, just begging for the touch of my hand.
My body went as hard as stone and I couldn’t walk I wanted her so bad. It was painful, just how much I needed her. How much my body needed hers.
The release forms I’d been bringing her to sign so that she could finally get the freedom she so wanted slipped forgotten from my fingertips to land on the floor as I stalked towards her. I couldn’t stay away. All logical thought, all of my good sense, had disappeared the moment I walked through that door and saw Poppy standing there, flaunting every delicious curve. Taunting me. Tempting me beyond sanity.
“You are the most beautiful person I have ever seen,” I muttered the words as I swept her into my arms.
“I’m sure you say that to all of your patients,” She answered back, her blue eyes going wide, but she didn’t resist the pull of my arms or the pressure of my hands to pull her hips firmly against mine.
“Funny enough, you’re the first.”
“I don’t know if I believe that, Doctor Williamson,” Poppy said, her voice going all breathy and low and I could feel her heart pounding erratically against my chest.
“Please, I think under the circumstances, you can call me Nate.”
“Hmm, Nate. I know if I believe that.”
“I…I don’t know. I don’t remember what we were talking about,” Her words were soft and dreamy as her gaze dipped from mine, to my lips and back up again. They were like twin flames, burning the brightest, darkest blue. An ocean of fire all for me. Only for me.
“I’m going to kiss you,” I whispered the words roughly as my mouth hovered just an inch above hers. My whole body was tense and on edge, waiting for her to push me away, waiting for her to stop me.
She didn’t do either of those things. She melted against me, her body as soft as silk and just as luxurious. I wanted to wrap her around me, to lose myself inside her.
The word was barely past her lips before I claimed them for my own.
This was what I wanted. This is what I’d been dreaming about and fantasizing about for the last three days. Hell, the last year, if I was being honest with myself.
This was what I needed, more than I needed anything else in the world.
I speared my fingers through her hair and pulled her even closer until we were pressed as tightly as possibly with all my clothes still on.
The kiss was hard and fast, wiping everything else from my mind except for her. I forgot where I was at. I forgot that a nurse could walk in on us at any moment. I forgot everything but the need to touch her, to taste all of her. To feel all of her.
I kissed her mouth, biting and licking at her lower lip until she opened on a gasp and I could sweep my tongue inside to tangle with hers. Only when I needed to breathe did I leave the haven of her mouth, leaving a trail of hot kissed across her cheek, down her neck. Moving lower still, tasting every delicious inch of bare skin I could reach.
I loved the way she trembled and came apart in my arms just from that light touch. It drove me wild, wondering how she would react to more. I wanted to see. I was desperate to see.
My senses were on fire with her. The way she felt like silk in my arms, the way she smelled like midnight and tasted like pure unadulterated sin. Everything swirled around inside me until I was mindless with need and out of control in a way I’d never been before. Not with Thalia, not with anyone. Poppy had me coming undone at the seems. She did this to me. No one else, and for a for a moment I thought she was the only one who ever would.
And then Poppy was kissing me back, just as hard, just as needy, and all thoughts were gone. There was only one thing I wanted and that was to have way less clothes separating her skin from mine.
I started tearing at the white lab coat I was wearing and tossed it to the floor before stripping off my shirt.
“Wait…wait, Nate.” Her words were so quiet I barely heard them but they froze me where I was, my hands on the waistband of my scrubs and halfway down my hips. I stared at her, trembling with need and desire.
“Wait?” I repeated dumbly, not understanding the word, or why we stopped.
“I can’t. I’m sorry, I can’t do this. Not while you’re still dating Thalia.”
I let out a huff of breath in relief.
“Poppy, I broke things off with Thalia last night. We’re done. And I think we’re both happier because of it.”
“You aren’t dating anymore?”
“Nope. I am officially single.” I looked down at her, trying to be patient, to give her the time she needed to decide what was right for her. It was the longest thirty seconds of my life.
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Poppy said with a sinful grin, “Get over here.”
I was gasping for air, I could hardly breathe as Nate’s kiss set me on fire. My whole body felt like an inferno, burning out of control. And I loved every moment of it.
I wanted him, I had wanted him for so long, never believing that I would ever actually have him and now here he was, with his perfectly side swept black hair and those eyes of his burning a dark, burnished amber as they lit with lust and desire so intense it sent actual shivers down my spine to land in between my thighs.
I grew wetter with every kiss and every touch drew me closer to some invisible shining delicate edge.
“I’ve wanted you for so long.” I gasped as the words popped out of my mouth unbidden and I covered my eyes in embarrassment. Nate’s fingers slowly pried my hand away, cupping my cheek and tilting my face up so that my gaze had to meet his.
“I’ve wanted you since the first moment I saw you, Poppy.”
His husky words shattered through me, leaving electrical currents buzzing in their wake. When we kissed again, it was deeper somehow than last time, and even more sensual as if he was dipping inside some well of pleasure hidden within me, drawing up every last drop of need and desire he could find and coating my body with it until I could hardly stand.
“Nate, I want you now.”
“Me too.” He whispered the words against my lips, “I don’t know how much longer I can wait.”
“Then don’t. I’m tired of waiting Nate. I want you now.”
He growled at hurried words, his hands moving suddenly so fast they were a blur as he stripped off the rest of his clothes, and then tore at the tiny scrap of black lace, the last thing that was barring my body from his.
“Damn, Poppy. You are gorgeous.”
His punctuation was his fingers sliding down between my thighs. I parted them eagerly for him. I wanted everything he had to give me. Every sensation. Every drop of pleasure. And as his fingers found me, already wet and ready for him, we both froze for a moment, shuddering at the intense feeling rushing through us.
Slowly, he teased me with one finger at first, until I was rocking my hips to some ancient rhythm but it still wasn’t enough. I moaned out a little cry of need and his hands slid across my hips, adding another finger, stretching me until I was nearly crying out in his arms.
He kept me there like that, riding the edge of pleasure until it was almost too much to take.
He seemed to know when I was at my breaking point because suddenly he stepped back, grabbed my hips and leaned me against the edge of the hospital bed.
I looked back in concern to see Nate’s brows furrowed and his eyes gleaming in lust.
“What is it?”
“I don’t have a condom.” His jaw was clenched so tight he could barely get the words out. Despite the need running painfully through my body I let out a little laugh.
“You think I would rely solely on someone else to protect my body?”
He gave me a quizzical look and I shook my head.
“I’m on birth control, Nate.”
“Oh, thank god.” He said in relief, his expression transformed once more by pure passion as he stared down at me. The way he had positioned my body, I was completely exposed to his gaze but I’d never felt more sexy, more alive, or more cherished in my life.
He grabbed my hips hard with both hands, and then he claimed me. It was the only way I could describe it as he filled me with his thick, hard erection.
He took me, thrusting deep inside me hard and fast and it felt so good, I couldn’t even believe it was real. I could hardly believe he was real. I had imagined this so many times, and it was so much better than my mind could have ever possibly conjured.
Buried deep inside me, I was overwhelmed with pleasure, and even more by the connection I felt with him. It was like a field of light surrounding both of us, a connection I could feel all the way to my soul.
I hitched my hips so he could pound even deeper, hitting that spot that made my legs shake beneath me and my whole world narrow down to that moment when our bodies were merged together as closely as two bodies could be.
He moved faster and faster, and my fingers fisted tightly in sheets on the bed, hanging on until I couldn’t hang on any more.
With a cry of pure pleasure, I arched my back as wave after wave of electric ecstasy arched through me like lightning, licking across my nerve endings until I saw flashes behind my closed eyelids.
I heard Nate’s moan behind me as I collapsed breathlessly onto the edge of the bed, my lungs working like bellows as sweat slicked my body in a fine sheen.
“Damn.” I sighed on a deep exhale and I felt Nate’s pleased chuckle rumble through me, sending another aftershock crashing through me.
Gently, he wiped a damp cloth that I have no idea where he got, across my body, my thighs before I finally had the strength to turn around.
He was sheepishly holding my torn lace panties.
“I think I owe you another pair.”
“Worth it.” I said with a contented shrug. It was so worth it. I would go through any number of ripped panties for another taste of that man.
“Well, maybe you can let me take you out on a date and I can make it up to you.”
I glanced over at him, still standing there with my ripped panties in his hand, and a slow grin spread across my face.
“I can think of a few ways you could make it up to me, actually.”
“Really?” He smiled back, his dark eyes suddenly burning once more with desire, “I can think of a few ways myself. So, is that a yes?”
I stared at him, biting my lower lip, all the reasons I should say no rushing through my head. But I couldn’t deny myself anymore. I wanted him, damn it. And here he was, offering himself to me on a silver platter.
“That, Doctor Williamson, is a yes.”
“Can you believe this jack ass?”
I looked up from the sketchbook in front of me and over tiny kitchen table at where Thalia was sitting, her feet propped up on the edge of the counter, reading the latest edition of the fashion bible, Vogue.
“What are you talking about?”
“What am I…? Poppy, I know you were in the hospital for the last three days so I’ll forgive you for not knowing.”
“Knowing what?” I asked hesitantly. I had been back at the apartment I shared with Thalia for exactly twenty four hours. My thoughts raced. What could have happened? Had Thalia somehow figured out about me and Nate on her own?
I felt a surge of guilt. I had meant to tell her when I’d come home from the hospital the day before. Well, not everything. Not even most of everything. I was just going to casually mention that Nate had asked me out on a date. But…it had never seemed like the right time. Maybe it was too late, now. Maybe she already knew about us.
“Just, read this. And try not to vomit.” Thalia said as she flipped the magazine across the table towards me and I grabbed it, relieved. I didn’t know what had gotten Thalia’s panties in a bunch but at least it wasn’t finding out about me and Nate.
“Avant Garde Los Angeles based designer Grant Davis is revolutionizing the fashion industry with his innovative and inclusive curvier designs.”
I read the headline, and then scanned over the images with a snort of disbelief. His ‘curvier designs’ were draped over size two models instead of size zero. Not at all like my own designs that were made with real women and their various body sizes and types in mind.
“This is ridiculous. Grant is a trash bag human who doesn’t care at all about advocating for women with curves.” I shook my head as I read the article, my stress level rising with every word. “The only thing he cares about are headlines. And besides, the designs aren’t all that innovative. Unless your idea of innovation is miles of sparkly rayon and ruched seems. That’s a hard pass from me.”
“Did you read the last quote?” Thalia asked, glancing at me hesitantly over the rim of her oversized coffee mug.
I quickly scanned the article, snickering even more at the pompous, self-inflated words from Grant Davis. I had known the man for nearly as long as I’d lived in L.A., and I knew he’d always been a self-important windbag with an inflated ego who couldn’t take any criticism, not even the well-meaning kind.
Finally, I got to the end of the piece. And froze. I read it again, and again. Then one more time just to be really sure that I was comprehending the words correctly and not just hallucinating them.
“I, unlike other fellow designers in L.A. who have cropped up like weeds in plus-sized fashion, rely on my designs to do the talking instead of relying on dramatic stunts, like launching myself from the catwalk of my own show,” Davis went on to say, “I would never stoop as low as others, or take away from the importance of the designs. True artistry doesn’t need antics.”
“What the actual hell?”
“You got to the last bit, didn’t you?”
“That…that jack ass!” I fumed, closing the glossy magazine with a smack and slamming it down on the table. “I can’t believe that he would…that he would…”
“It’s okay, Poppy. Calm down. You were just hospitalized for stress. Deep breaths. Come on, Poppy, just take deep breaths. In and out. In and out.” Thalia inhaled dramatically and then exhaled, forcing me to join her and after a moment I actually did feel my heart rate start to drop back into more normal realms.
“You know Davis is just jealous of you. He always has been.” Thalia said with a snort and I nodded, knowing she was right. It didn’t make it sting any less though.
“You know he was talking about me.”
“Just forget about it. I shouldn’t have showed you.”
“No, I’m glad you did. I can’t avoid anyone and anything that stresses me out. I’m just going to have to learn to deal with it.” I crossed my arms across my chest, tapping my boots sharply on the tile floor. “I did not launch myself off the catwalk. I passed out, for Pete’s sake!”
“I know that. And so does anyone who matters,” Thalia leaned over the table and patted me on the shoulder, “and believe me, Grant Davis sure as hell does not matter. He’s no where near as talented as you are.”
“You’re right.” I said, rising to my feet. “Of course you’re right. I know that. It doesn’t make it feel any better though.”
“I know, doll.” Thalia jumped up, and gave me a hug, “I’m glad you’re home.”
“Me too.” I hugged her back, “Now, I’m going to go put on something cute. I need some clothes therapy.”
I walked to my room, opening my closet full of custom clothes, most of which I’d made myself and let out a sigh. I was a great designer, I understood how the cut and fabric needed to be different to flatter a woman with curves, and I’d learned that from a lifetime of personal experience.
I had learned at a very young age that most clothes weren’t made for girls that were on the bigger size, and shopping for school every year was pure torture, especially after my weight settled into luscious curves. A sixteen year old with double d’s was already bound to be uncomfortable enough and trying to find clothes that fit me and felt comfortable and flattering had turned out nearly impossible. It didn’t help that all my mom could afford was second hand clothes from resale shops.
So, I’d taken things into my own hands. I’d searched the thrift stores and found vintage dresses and outdated blouses that I had to cut the shoulder pads out of. I had pulled out the old sewing machine my mother never touched, and I had taught myself how to sew, how to alter the clothes so that they fit me like a glove.
After that, I’d started getting compliments on my style, fellow students even asking me where I got my clothes and a few asking me to alter some vintage garments for them. And that was when I’d learned the power of clothes. Not in the shallow way, but as a real, deep form of self-expression. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I felt like myself. I felt like I could be myself, comfortable in my own skin.
My obsession had grown from there and I had obsessed over any fashion magazine I could get my hands on. I’d always known that I wanted to be in the industry, I wanted to be one of those glamourous, dolled up models on the glossy covers looking beautiful and strong and powerful all at once.
My cell phone buzzed from my nightstand, drawing me out of my memories and a grin spread across my face despite myself. It was from Nate.
You ready for tonight? I’ll pick you up at 7.
I bit my lower lip. That wasn’t going to work. He couldn’t pick me up. What if Thalia saw? I wanted to be the one to tell her. I didn’t want her to find out any other way.
I’ll meet you. Just text me the address. I sent off the text, hesitating for a moment. I can’t wait.
I tossed my phone on my bed with shaking hands and let out a nervous laugh. I felt like a teenager about to go out on their first date. Exhilarated, excited, and just a teensy bit nauseous.
I looked back at my closet. Now, what the hell was I going to wear? I plucked out a few dresses, finally settling on a deep, scarlet red dress that hugged my curves in all the right way. It was quite modest in the front, with a sweetheart neckline, but the back plunged nearly all the way to my hips, emphasizing the curve of my thighs.
The fabric was as soft as silk as I pulled it on and zipped up the side, shimmying it into place. My hair was a simple affair, just pulling the long, dark locks up into a messy pony and finishing it with a quick spritz of hairspray. My makeup was just as simple, a small cat eye with black liner and a swipe of deep red lip gloss made my baby blues shine in the mirror as I surveyed my handiwork.
“Whoa, glamourous lady. Hot date tonight?” Thalia asked from my doorway and I turned around, knowing that the time had finally come to tell her the truth. To tell her that I was going to go out on a date with Nate.
Before I could get a word out though, Thalia’s face crumpled into tears and she rushed forward, throwing herself on my bed, racked with sobs.
“Thalia? What’s wrong?” I sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for her sobs to subside and after a moment she finally sniffled her last and sat up next to me, crossing her legs as she turned to face me.
“I didn’t want to tell you when you were in the hospital, you were already going through so much, and I didn’t want you to have to deal with my shit on top of all that.” Thalia sniffed, wiping her eyes. Even puffy and red-faced from crying she was still gorgeous. I tried not to be jealous. I just looked like I’d been attacked by a hundred bees whenever I cried.
“What happened, Thalia? You can talk to me.”
“I know,” She said, reaching out and grabbing my hands in hers, “You’re the best, Poppy. I was going to keep it to myself, but…”
“Spill it, girl.”
“Nate…Nate broke up with me,” Thalia said, her chin shaking with every word and she burst into another round of pretty tears.
“He did?” I asked faintly, my ears starting to ring faintly as she continued.
“I know! Can you believe it!”
“But, I mean…” I paused, trying to figure out what to say, “I thought you didn’t love him?”
“Love him?” Thalia snorted, “Of course not. You know why I dated him so long. I thought we understood each other. I thought we had an agreement. But…Poppy, no one has ever broken up with me before!”
She started sobbing once more and I patted her on the shoulder, really not sure what to say now. I knew she didn’t care about Nate, but I also knew there was no way in hell I could tell her about my upcoming date, at least not now. In fact, maybe it would be better if I called the whole thing off, at least until Thalia calmed down and I was a little more clear on what my feelings were too.
“It’s okay, Thalia. There are lots of other fish in the sea. He just wasn’t meant for you.”
“What am I going to tell my parents, Poppy? Nate was the only reason they’d been so chill lately. They are going to be worse than ever now.”
I shrugged, not sure what to tell her. All I could do was comfort my friend. Even knowing that Thalia and Nate never had any real feelings for each other, I still felt a lump of guilt in the pit of my stomach for sneaking around behind Thalia’s back.
“Hey, why don’t you go make a bag of popcorn and we’ll have a girls night, just us, okay?” I said, and Thalia beamed at me.
“That’s a brilliant idea. Just what I need. We can watch cheesy movies and talk about how terrible men are. Especially one man in particular.”
Thalia jumped to her feet and I sent her a weak smile as she rushed to the kitchen. With a sigh, I grabbed my cell phone and sent Nate a text, telling him I couldn’t make our date later that night.
I wasn’t up to answering any questions, so I turned my phone off and tossed it back on my nightstand. I would deal with him later, or never. I wasn’t sure which would be best.
I felt a pang of regret as I traded in my slinky dress for a pair of leggings and a baggy sweatshirt, washed the makeup off my face and went to join Thalia for a night of chick flicks and listening to Thalia bash Nate, all the while knowing that I had to stay silent. It would only hurt her more if I told her. It would have to wait.
Later that night, long after I had dragged myself to bed because I couldn’t take any more rom coms, I was lying in bed, but I still couldn’t get to sleep. I had been laying in the dark for an hour, staring up at the ceiling and relieving my moment with Nate.
Even the memory of him made me all hot and bothered and I tossed and turned for what felt like the thousandth time since I’d tried to go to bed.
I forced my eyes to close, but it didn’t seem to matter one bit. He was there, waiting for me, reflected on the back of my eyelids. With is perfectly swept black hair and dark eyes that could melt me at a hundred paces. His sharp jaw and chiseled features that spoke to an air of confidence and command, and tightly leashed control. But I had experienced first hand just how wild and out of control he could be. And I’d loved it. Every single minute of it.
It helped that he made me feel just as out of control, an odd sensation for me, who was always responsible, always practical, and always, always, in control of myself and my situation.
A sharp sound at my window made me jump in bed and I gasped as I sat upright. What the hell was that?
I peered into the dark and a few moments later, the sharp sound came again. I crept out of bed and walked to the window to investigate and was shocked when I looked down and saw none other than Nate. He was standing below my window with a handful of pebbles and as I watched he threw another one up and hit the brick wall beside my window.
Biting back a hysterical laugh, I opened up the window and leaned my head out into the balmy night air.
“Nate, what the actual hell do you think you’re doing?”
“Yes, it’s Poppy. Were you hoping for someone else?”
“No! No, I wanted you.”
I couldn’t deny the thrill that those words caused inside me, but I tried to keep it out of my voice when I spoke again.
“What are you doing at my apartment? And why are throwing rocks at my window?”
“You cancelled our date.”
“Yes, I did.”
“I tried to call you, and I texted, but you weren’t answering, and I was getting worried. I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“I turned my phone off.”
“Because I didn’t want to have to talk to anyone,” Namely, you.
“No, why did you cancel our date?”
I stared at him for a long moment, shaking my head at myself but there was nothing for it.
“Just, stay right there, alright? I’ll be right down.”
“I’ll always wait for you, Poppy.”
I rolled my eyes at him, knowing he couldn’t see me in the dark, but I couldn’t stop the smile that curved my lips as I threw on jeans and a blouse before heading downstairs to meet him.
Once more, when it came to Nate, I felt like a teenager only this time I was sneaking out of the house, trying to be quiet enough not to wake up my mother. Well, Thalia, in this case, but I figured the outcome would be roughly the same. Tears and accusations followed by a stern lecture about the foolishness of my behavior.
I didn’t care.
The only thing I cared about, as I walked out into the warm evening air, was the look on Nate’s face as I drew closer to him. The way his whole face lit up and his grin widened enough that I could just make out a dimple on his left cheek. I never knew he had a dimple when he smiled.
“Hi,” He said, that goofy grin still stretching across his face. He held out his hand to me and I took it as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He started walking, tucking my hand into the crook of his elbow and pulling me closer beside him in the process.
“Where are we going?”
“There’s a little park down the street. I’m going to take you there. And then, you are going to tell me exactly why you felt the need to cancel our date. In great detail.”
“Nope, not until we get there.” He said, still smiling, but I could see there was something serious in his dark gaze, “Until then, we’ll just pretend that we’re a normal couple, out for a stroll on this beautiful night. Sound good?”
“Honestly? It sounds perfect.” I leaned into him, letting all the stress from the last three days, and particularly the last three hours melt away.
We walked, chatting sometimes, perfectly content to be quiet for the others, holding hands as Nate led me over a small rolling, grass covered hill and into a small but beautiful park. There were palms and ferns everywhere and riotous flowers lined the walkway.
It wasn’t until we stopped that I noticed the bag Nate held in his other hand.
“Oh, I thought I would just come prepared. Just in case I could actually convince you to spend time with me outside of a medical emergency, that is.”
I looked up at him bashfully through a thick fringe of lashes.
“I’m sorry for blowing you off, Nate.”
“I just wish I knew why. Was it something I said? Or did?” He laid out a small blanket and helped me sit before popping open one of the bottles of beer he had stashed away and handing it to me.
I took a grateful sip.
“Man, you really did come prepared.”
“I was in the boy scouts growing up. It’s kind of the motto.”
I peered at him, illuminated by the bright light of the moon overhead, and the slightly brighter antique post lights that dotted the park.
“I was just picturing little Nate Williamson, all dressed up in his little boy scout uniform. It’s cute.”
“I was very cute, I’ll have you know.”
“I never knew you were in boy scouts,” I said after another sip, “What else don’t I know about you?”
“Good question.” He said, settling next to me. He leaned back on one elbow, bring his larger body even closer to mine and it sent a shiver of reaction through me. “Well, I was a pretty big nerd growing up. I loved comic books and I read all the time. My dad hated that I wasn’t good at any of the ‘manly’ sports he tried to force me into. He signed me up for boxing and it…well, it didn’t go great for me. I’ll just leave that at that.”
“Nope, it’s my turn. Why did you cancel our date?”
His question caught me off guard, though I knew it shouldn’t have. I glanced over at him, taking one big gulp of the cold beer in my hand for courage.
“I was all dressed up and ready to meet you. I was really excited about our date.”
“Then what happened?”
“Thalia came in to my room, crying. She told me how you broke up with her and I just…I couldn’t go through with it. I wanted to tell her, Nate. I wanted to tell her about us.” I paused, biting my lip again, “Well, not everything about us. But about the date. And there she was, sobbing into my duvet because you two are over.”
He was silent, contemplating for a moment.
“She didn’t seem that upset when I talked to her the other night. In fact, she seemed relieved to be honest.”
“You don’t need to tell me that. I was the one who dated her for a year,” He must have caught my wince, “Sorry. Too soon? I know we’re moving fast, but,” He paused and then finally shrugged, “It just feels right with you. The last thing I want to do is rush you into something you’re not ready for.”
“And you just got out of a long relationship.”
“Thalia and I never had a real relationship,” He said, shaking his head, “We were just using each other. Means to an end. There weren’t any real feelings between us. I want you to know that.”
It did make me feel a little better, hearing him say it. But it didn’t take away the way Thalia had burst into tears earlier. I could only imagine how she would react when I told her that Nate and I were dating, let alone that we’d slept together.
No, it was too much to even think about.
“So,” I took a determined swig, “It’s my turn to ask a question now, right? Why did you decide to be a doctor?”
“My family has a long lineage of doctors and lawyers.”
“So it was like, choose one or the other?”
“Something like that?”
“Did you ever want to do something else?”
He looked at me from the corner of his eye and took a long sip.
“You know, I think you might be the only person who has ever asked me that question.”
“Really? You must not talk to a lot of interesting people, then.”
He choked on a laugh, “No, I guess you’re right. My family is…complicated.”
“Try me,” I whispered, the words coming out hoarser and sexier than I had anticipated. I cleared my throat, waiting for Nate to answer.
“My family is wealthy, and very well-connected. There is nothing more important than the family’s reputation. That was drilled into me from the time I was a kid. There were only ever two options for me. Go into law, or medicine. I wanted to help people, so I decided to pursue medicine.”
“Geez, that sounds…confining.” I shook my head. My mom had always supported me, no matter what I wanted to try, no matter how crazy it seemed. She’d always made me believe that I could do anything I wanted to. I couldn’t imagine growing up with my entire future being dictated like that by somebody else.
“That’s one word for it. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do. I get to make a difference in people’s lives every single day.”
“That’s very noble of you.”
“And, it keeps the family happy. There’s a lot to be said about not rocking the boat.”
I stared at him for a long moment, “My whole life has been about rocking the boat. As a kid I was bullied, I hated my body. But as I grew up, I realized that different was beautiful, that my body was beautiful and worth celebrating.”
“I agree with that,” Nate said roughly, “I would love to celebrate your body.”
A blush raced across my cheeks and I was thankful it was too dark for Nate to see it.
“I was a plus-sized model trying to make it in an industry that worships size zero, and now I’m trying to make high end fashion accessible to other women who look like me, women with curves, women who don’t fit the standard mold. I couldn’t have done any of this if I’d been satisfied with the status quo.”
“It’s easy for you, Poppy–.”
I interrupted Nate’s statement with a sharp laugh.
“Easy? Nothing about my journey to get here has been easy, Nate. You always had money, you always had connections, you could have anything you want with the snap of your fingers. You’re a lot like Thalia in that way. You both grew up never wanting for anything.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Isn’t it?” I finished my beer and wrapped my arms around my knees, leaning over to look at him wear he was still lounging on one elbow. “Tell me then, Oliver Twist, have you ever been worried about paying rent? Or getting your electricity shut off because you can’t pay your bills?”
“Well, no, but–.”
“Did your parents ever have to work two, sometimes three, jobs just to put food on the tables? Did you have to get a job when you were fifteen to help out with money?”
“No, of course not. I was in school.”
“So was I, Nate. I was in school, and working part time. My mom couldn’t afford to buy me clothes from the mall so she would take me to thrift stores. I learned how to tailor my clothes so they would fit me, because that was all she could buy. And I love her for teaching me those lessons, because that’s how I fell in love with fashion. That’s when I started to realize just how empowering fashion can be.”
“I didn’t know that, Poppy. I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for. People all have their stories, they all come from different places and different walks of life. But you did have a choice, Nate. Just like I did. You chose to go along with your family’s plan for you. I chose to take a risk. The jury’s still out on whether or not it was worth it,” I finished with a soft chuckle.
“Of course it was.”
“This business could fail, Nate. The industry is tough enough, I know that. I worked my way up from the very bottom rung. But trying to be a plus sized fashion designer? That’s even tougher. It’s hard to make people care. And if I fail, then Thalia and Jefferson fail with me. And I’d have to find some other way to pay back the money Thalia’s parents lent us, and then…” I trailed off, my breathing growing heavier and more panicked with every word as my thoughts spiraled into the darkest corners of my worries and fears.
My chest tightened, my heart beat started to pound so hard it hurt.
“Nate, I can’t breathe, I can’t…”
“Hey, it’s okay.” Suddenly he was right beside me, rubbing my back in rhythmic, soothing circles, his voice pitched low and soft as he leaned me forward. “Calm down, it’s okay. Just focus on your breath. Try it with me okay. Inhale slowly. Nice and slow. And then exhale, just as slowly. One more time for me okay?”
We sat like that for another several minutes, just breathing together, the sounds of the city at night dim and far away.
Slowly, my pulse began to slow back to normal and my chest loosened enough that I could breathe again with a sharp, stabbing pain rushing through my body.
“Have you been having a lot of these panic attacks?” Nate asked after a moment.
“They aren’t panic attacks, I just get a little stressed sometimes. I have a lot of pressure on me right now.”
“They are panic attacks, Poppy. And they can happen in different ways, too. Unprovoked mood swings, exploding and lashing out.” He cupped my face with his hands and tilted my chin up to meet his gaze, eye to eye.
“You have to slow down, Poppy. You have to take care of yourself, otherwise, these attacks are going to keep happening, and they are going to get worse and worse until you wind up back in the hospital again.”
“It’s nothing, Nate.”
“No, it’s not!”
I was taken aback by the seriousness of his tone and my first reaction was to pull back, to step away from him.
“I can take care of myself, Nate. I always have, and I always will.”
“You don’t have to do it all yourself, Poppy. Let someone help you. Let me help you!” I could hear a protective note in his voice and it wrapped a blanket of warmth around me, like a cocoon. “I have an idea, actually, if you’re up for it.”
“I’m up for anything, hot stuff.”
He gave me a long heated look in the dark before shaking his head, “I think there’s someone you should meet. Someone very important to me, and I think you’ll like her a lot.”
Her? I thought, fighting a small ping of jealousy.
“Who is it?”
“I’ll introduce you tomorrow. I think she’ll really be able to help you.”
Jealousy reared its ugly head again, but then Nate was leaning down, kissing me soft and so gentle it made my chest ache, only this time for a completely different reason.
“What do you say?”
“If I say yes, do I get something in return?”
“Anything you want.”
I grinned in the dark, wrapping my arms around his neck and pulling him down on top of me, wrapped together in the night, the stars and moon winking down from above.
“I want you.” I whispered, a moment before his lips met mine again, and this time the gentleness was gone, replaced by the same need that ripped through me. Nate pulled back a little, just enough to look down at me and I was rocked by the emotion I saw shining in his dark gaze.
I melted into his kiss once more, as need rose up inside me and we lost ourselves in each other.
I knocked on the ornate, black lacquered door and shot Poppy a smile that I hoped was more encouraging than I felt. After last night together, I’d woke up feeling amazing, not in little part to the incredible sex, but also confident in my plan.
Now, standing in front of that oversized door, staring at the gargoyle headed door knocker, I wasn’t so sure. I wanted to help Poppy. I wanted her to see how destructive her habits and patterns of behavior were, and how serious it truly was. But, another part of me had concocted this whole plan as a way to spend more time with her.
I’d learned last night that I needed to take things slower with her, but I’d been fantasizing about her for a year now, and here I was, standing just a foot away from her and I felt like some invisible wall had grown up between us over night.
Poppy was independent. It was one of the things that drew me to her in the first place. She wasn’t anything like the vapid socialites I had grown up with. She was one of the strongest women that I knew. And I also knew that she hated feeling like she was weak or dependent on someone else.
She wasn’t the type of person to ever ask for help, even if she needed it. I could only hope that she saw that I was trying to help her, to protect her. I glanced back at her and bit back a grin.
Poppy was decked out head to toe in black leather and fringe. Her boots had a three inch heal that still only put the top of her head at the middle of my chest. Skin tight black leather looked painted on her legs, and cupped her ass in a way that had made my jaw drop when I’d seen her walking towards me this morning.
A soft looking, charcoal colored top emphasized the dip of her waist and gave just the slightest hint at the lush cleavage peaking up above the lace that teased me with tantalizing glimpses.
Covering it all was a black leather jacket with long fringe that hung off the arms and swung whenever she moved, wrapping and unwrapping around her body in a way that drove me insane. I’d never actually been jealous of an inanimate object before, let alone a jacket. I was experiencing a lot of new emotions lately, all because of Poppy.
“Whoa, nice house,” Poppy whispered as we both waited nervously.
“Wait until you see the inside. She spared no expense.”
“She must be rich as Croesus.”
“Probably richer.” I said with a small grin.
“So, who is this lady again? I really hope you didn’t bring me all the way out here just to introduce me to some old girlfriend, or even worse, someone who thinks throwing money at problems is the way to solve them. This isn’t something money can solve, Nate, and we both know that this is–.”
The sound drew Poppy up short and we both turned towards the door. An austere looking older woman with pure white hair piled up on her head in a perfectly coifed bun stood scowling at us both from just inside the parlor.
“You both know that this is, what, exactly?” She said, her voice at once smooth as butter and soft as a whip. Age hadn’t dimmed her ferocity at all. If anything, it had made her even more intimidating, which I’d thought was an impossibility.
“Um, that this, uh, a wonderful chance to meet you.” Poppy stuttered and I bit back a laugh at her flustered rosy flush. God she was gorgeous when she blushed. I knew first hand how that rosy red hue would travel down her body, caressing all of her curves in exactly the way I wanted to.
“I’m sure,” The older woman said, before turning to me with the same scowl. “And what do you have to say for yourself?”
“Hi, grandmother.” I fought to hold back my grin as I leaned forward and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“The nerve. It’s been weeks since you came to see me last and then you call up out of the blue and ask if you can ‘drop by’ of all things.” She turned and swept back inside, calling over her kaftaned shoulder, “Well, are you coming in or are you just going to stand there with the door open all morning?”
“Your grandmother?” Poppy hissed at me in a whisper as went walked inside after my grandma, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I shrugged. I wasn’t about to tell her that it had thrilled me to see that little bit of jealousy when I’d told her I had a woman I wanted her to meet.
She led us into one of the large homes many sitting rooms, this one in deep forest greens and gold gilding. Neither of us spoke until she finally gestured for us to sit before taking the velvet covered ch