But even in sickness he’d been in total Dom mode. That’s when the reality of this situation with him began to sink in.
They were at an impasse. Not friends, no longer lovers. They’d be at this turn in the road anyway, even if the loan business wasn’t hanging over them, with the thirty days at an end. So why was she still at a tipping point? Unsure of what she wanted and afraid to tell him?
No. You’re not afraid of Bennett; you’re afraid he’d see right through you when you lie to him.
So an hour later when Ben returned from his trip to town and plopped next to her on his couch after his shower, she had a hard knot in her throat, wondering how she’d keep this discussion matter of fact.
“You’re sniffling. You feel like you’re getting sick again?” he asked with concern.
“No. I was sniffing because you smell nice.”
He lifted a brow. “I’da showered sooner if you’d told me I was stinky.”
“You weren’t. I just like the scent of your soap.” That type of comment is not keeping this neutral, Ainsley.
“Duly noted.” He grabbed the water bottle from the coffee table.
“So your mom stopped by while you were in town.”
He choked on his mouthful of water. “She did? Shit. Sorry about that. She probably was a total pain in the ass.”
Ainsley had wondered how he’d react to Vi’s surprise visit. “No, she was great. We talked about our backgrounds growing up with a father in service to God.”
That startled him. “Guess my grandfather was a real bastard. Kinda sucks that I was named after him. Is your dad like that?”
“No. Just set in his ways. Your mom is an interesting woman. We have a lot in common. I liked her. She asked me out to lunch.”
Ben harrumphed. “She’s a meddling woman.”
“Your mother was a lot warmer to me than Rielle.”
“Jesus. Rielle was here too?”
“Evidently she heard you were sick and brought over a basket of muffins to send you on the road to recovery.” An edge of jealousy crept into her tone despite her intent to curb it.
“Huh. That’s weird.” He pointed to a colorful ball on the chair. “What’s that?”
Why did he blatantly change the subject whenever Rielle was mentioned? “My knitting.”
“Knitting. You knit?”
“Yes. I had to have something productive to do while you were feverish and thrashing around.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Why? Do you think it’s a lame hobby?” Not the right type of hobby for a sub? Are my hands supposed to busy tending to your needs all the time?
Ben shrugged. “Not lame at all. You’ve never mentioned it.”
“We haven’t exactly spent our time talking in the last month.”
“Careful, angel, I might take that as a complaint. Especially when you’re the one who doesn’t wanna talk about stuff.”
Ainsley rested her cheek on the couch cushion. She’d rehearsed this conversation in her head and now was the time to have it for real. “Not a complaint, Ben. Just an observation.”
“I don’t think I’m gonna like this observation, am I?”
“Probably not.” Her eyes searched his. “I like how it’s been between us the last couple days, almost more than I did when we were Dom and sub.”
The wounded look on his face made her feel as if she’d sliced him in two. “You don’t really mean that.”
“Maybe you’re right. But that’s the issue. I don’t know what I mean.” She sighed. “Sex with you… God, I never dreamed a physical relationship could be that all-consuming. And it was between us. Every single time. The amount of intensity varied, but it was always there.” She glanced away, unsure how to finish.
After a minute or so, Ben said, “Can you look at me, please?”
Not a Dom command. She looked at him. In his eyes she saw fear, honesty, trust and power. She saw everything she needed. She saw everything she shouldn’t want. Everything she was too…scared to reach out and take.
“What’s really goin’ on? Did my mother say something to you?”
She shook her head.
His blue eyes snapped fire. “Rielle? Did she open her big mouth? Because—”
Ainsley put her fingers over his lips. “Nothing like that. They were both just curious about why I was at your house. And I didn’t know what to tell them.”
“How about the truth?”
“Which is what, Ben? We met at a sex club? And we were taking a test drive as Dom and sub couple?”
“I just…can’t do this anymore. We aren’t lovers.” She smiled sadly. “You don’t want to be my friend, do you?”
That hurt. “So, it’s all sex or nothing?”
“Yep. I’ve been following your parameters, Ainsley. But when we’re through with the business aspect of this loan? I want a chance to put things back the way they were.”
“You Dom, me sub.”
His hard gaze pinned her in place. “Really? That’s how you saw what we had together?”
“No.” This was not going as planned. “I thought I wanted to talk to you about this and now I see why I don’t.” She pushed off the couch.
“What are you afraid of?”
Ainsley didn’t answer. She just gathered her things and headed for the door.
Ben hadn’t kissed her at all since that night at her house when she’d suggested friendship. When he helped her put on her coat, she wanted to melt into him. She wished he’d go full Dom on her. Demand she stay.
But he didn’t say a word. He didn’t even walk her out to her car.
That’s when she knew it really was over.
This bullshit situation with Ainsley sucked ass. Stuck in fucking limbo. In purgatory.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
He hadn’t seen her for two goddamn days. He’d even called her yesterday at the bank to check on the status of his loan, which was a legitimate reason to contact her because it was getting down to the wire and he’d need the money by the end of the week. For some reason him calling to ask about the loan pissed her off. Then his…request to take her to lunch ticked her off too. She’d said no, she’d be in touch, and hung up on him.
Ben had called her again today. First thing. He’d been nice. Polite. Purposely un-Dom-like. And he’d gotten the same damn response. A polite fucking brush off.
It’d taken every ounce of strength not to march into her office, throw her over his shoulder and drag her to his place, where he could tie her to the bed, and make her listen to him. Make her understand that he fucking loved her. And this waiting to tell her what she meant to him was killing him.
His phone rang. He’d barely said hello, when Kane barked, “Ben? Hope you ain’t busy, but we’re in need of your peacekeeping abilities.”
“What’s goin’ on?”
“Tell and Colt got into it, and now Brandt and Dalton jumped in. I can’t hold ’em all back from beatin’ the shit outta Colt.”
“Where are you?”
“Uncle Casper’s place.”
Ben hit the brakes and spun a U-turn in the middle of the road. “On my way.”
Seven minutes later he reached the turnoff to Casper’s place.
Tell stood nose to nose with Colt. Brandt and Dalton flanked Tell on either side. Kane had positioned himself to Colt’s right. Their focus shifted when Ben skidded into the driveway. He jumped out of his truck, noticing Colt had seized the opportunity to step back a couple of feet.
“Hey, guys. What’s goin’ on?”
“It’s none of your fuckin’ business what’s goin’ on, Ben, so back the fuck off and go home,” Tell snarled.
That threw him off. Tell was the most even-keeled one in the family. “Fine. Me’n Colt and Kane will go.”
“Colt ain’t goin’ nowhere until he gives us some fuckin’ answers.”
Tell started to push into Colt’s face again, but Ben stepped between them. “Back off, Tell.”
“No. Move outta the way.”
“I said. Back. Off.”
That tone caught Tell’s attention. Some of the rage in his eyes momentarily cleared.
Ben pointed to Colt and Tell. “Now someone start talking.”
“Yeah, Colt, you heard what Ben said. Start talking,” Dalton sneered.
Colt’s arms were folded across his chest. “This would be easier for all of us if you’d just move aside and let me get what I came for.”
“Where is he?”
“Where is who?” Ben asked with total confusion.
“Our dad,” Brandt said. “He’s been gone five days.”
“Five days? Why’s this the first I’ve heard of it?” He looked at Kane.
“Hey, it was the first I’ve heard of it too. How come no one told us he was gone?”
“Don’t pretend you give a shit about Casper. None of you even bothered to come by and see him after Mom left,” Tell said.
Ben disputed that statement. “Quinn came by about six months ago and Casper threatened to shoot him. So I’ll hazard a guess you don’t know everyone that stopped by to check on him.”
But Brandt, Dalton and Tell were focused on Colt. Fists clenched. Eyes hard.
“Go ahead and take a swing at me,” Colt said. “Won’t change nothin’.”
“Nobody is takin’ a swing at no one,” Kane said. “And quit fuckin’ taunting them, Colt. It ain’t helpin’.”
“Will somebody please tell me what the fuck is goin’ on?” Ben demanded.
Colt said, “I stopped by to get something Casper asked for. These guys won’t let me in the house to get it.”
“Because he won’t tell us where Dad is.”