Previous lovers demanded either subservience or her heart, neither of which are up for negotiation, so Leo Carson’s attitude makes him her ideal match. Handsome, shameless and equally impulsive, he appears to want nothing more than a white-hot overnight liaison.
‘Overnight’ somehow develops into the entire weekend but come Monday morning, pride keeps her back turned and Piper walks away. Denying her own feelings doesn’t mean that Leo has none though, and if she’s going to atone for hurting him she’ll have to admit the ‘one thing’ she now wants is the man she’s in danger of losing forever.
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The empty bedroom inspired nothing but relief when I peeked around the door. While I’d showered, Andrew Kincaid had left the building, possible confrontation too much for him.
A floorboard in the living room creaked, the television sparked to life and my heart sank. No such luck.
He didn’t like me dropping clothes on the bedroom floor so that was exactly where I left my dressing gown while pulling on my oldest pyjamas.
The hairline crack running across my bedroom ceiling winked at me again, a constant companion during times of distress. As now, bracing myself to go confront Andrew. Or as half an hour ago, when he’d coerced me into trying to mend the emotional cracks in our relationship with something a bit more physical. Mend or paper over them, the effect was the same.
I’d asked, requested, told him to stop and his assurance was as empty as his once-adorable smile, familiarity having blurred it to an irritating smirk. “I know what I’m doing.” He got off while I theorised that sex would be much less complicated and much more fun if emotions weren’t involved.
I’d wriggled away from him and his inevitable disapproval.
“Oh come on, Piper.” His weight had shifted behind me as I sat up and the hand on my bare back wrought a shudder rather than a shiver of attraction. “You should have told me you weren’t in the mood if you felt this bad about it.”
Two people were needed for a disconnect to exist but his passivity made it entirely my fault. He’d gifted me the blame in quiet words, wrapped in a ribbon of subtle accusation. Even my intention to shower was another false step.
“Going to wash me off you?”
I hadn’t looked back, let the running water mask my out-loud assurances that I was just tired, my words as empty as Andrew’s.
Though now walking into the – my – living room with arms crossed over my chest was a tad more confrontational than necessary, the discarded dressing gown had given me a taste for rebellion. “Andrew.”
Now dressed in jeans and tee-shirt, he lounged on my settee, channel surfing my television with my remote control. He sighed so heavily the sound morphed into a groan. “Do we have to talk about this now?”
“You acknowledge there’s something to talk about, then?” I didn’t expect to hold his attention for long no matter what I did but that damn television with its talk show audience whooping and cheering stopped me thinking straight. “Can you at least turn the sound off?”
A petulant finger stabbed at the mute button but a groan marred the ensuing silence. “Fine, fine.”
“I’m not boring you am I?”
He inclined his head, shrugged. “I thought it was the other way round. I hardly got a response out of you earlier.”
“You…? Oh, I see. Because I can’t be bothered pretending any more…” I doubted uncrossing my arms would dilute the aggression in my words but did it anyway. “Listen, I-”
“Piper.” He rose and neared me in menacing slow motion, still clutching the remote control, the sight of which made me shiver. Our last fight had concluded with him throwing it across the room, not at me thankfully, and I’d carried out emergency surgery on the casing with masking tape to keep the battery cover on. “Whatever’s wrong we can deal with this, but not now, eh? It’s late. I’m too tired to listen to you fretting-”
“This is how you deal with someone who has serious concerns?”
“I honestly think you’re stressing out too much. All we need to do is ride this out, spend a bit more time together. I’ve been working so hard-”
That one deserved the derisory snort I gave it. “What’s the point if you never want to listen to anything I have to say?”
“Never? Don’t be so absolutist about this, Pipes. I do listen to you.” He patted me on the shoulder with just the right level of condescension and control to make me want to scream. “When you have something to say.”
“I…” Shock trapped the words in my throat. A desire for clarification forced them through. “I beg your pardon?”
Andrew’s hand on my shoulder contracted at the exact moment his jaw set. A thin-lipped, deeply pissed off Andrew Kincaid was a sight to behold. I’d had the headaches, sleepless nights and broken remote controls to prove it. He looked me up and down by just moving his narrowed eyes, not his head, and this icy control may have reassured others but chilled me. Andrew only stored up control to lose it. “We can do this another time.” And he stood back.
“That’s very kind of you. But if I persist, will you throw the remote control again?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” He threw his hands in the air and turned his back. “How the hell are we supposed to talk about the non-existent problems in this relationship when you’re in this sort of mood? Honestly, Pipes, if you just chilled out once in a while-”
His hat trick made me tune out. One, his reaction proved the problems weren’t non-existent. Two, he’d called me Pipes again and three, he’d pushed the ‘chill out’ button, using one of the most irritating phrases known to man.
“No, Andrew,” I said, and he stopped mid-sentence, faced me again. “No we can’t. We either talk about this properly or…” The slow, dawning realisation that I didn’t want to do this another time iced my blood. The outcome would be the same then as now.
“Or what?” He scowled.
Sighing, I looked out of the window. Street lamps and other people’s electrical lights twinkled and I didn’t want to be here with Andrew. I wanted to be out there with them, whoever they were. Meeting new people rather than being smothered by an old acquaintance.
“There’s no need for us to analyse everything,” he said.
“You never want to analyse anything, that’s the trouble.”
“For Pete’s sake, how many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?”
“How many times do I have to tell you not to pick a fight?”
“I am not trying to pick a fight. I’m trying to make you see that this relationship is going nowhere. Neither of us is getting anything out of it, at least I’m not and-”
“Oh, so that’s the bottom line is it?”
“Yes. Yes, it is. I try to talk to you, you don’t listen. What’s the point in trying to get through to you?”
Andrew paused before speaking, looking away from me as he shook his head, his every gesture shrouded in disapproval. Though eye contact made me feel scrutinised, his need to look away from me too was an insult. “Have you any idea, any idea at all, how selfish that makes you?”
“Let me get this straight. You’re accusing me of being selfish because I object to you ignoring my thoughts and feelings?”
“Piper. What is wrong with you tonight?”
If I reacted, he’d accuse me of being pre-menstrual. If I failed to react, I’d be stuck gritting my teeth in fury at my own impotence. “I’m trying to tell you how I feel and somehow that gets twisted round to me being selfish. I have opinions on how two people should act which don’t match up with yours, so-”
“Oh for fuck’s sake!” He tossed the remote onto the settee and grabbed my shoulders. “Not this again. Pipes. Piper. When are you going to realise, there’s nothing wrong here but-”
“Look, just get off me.” Whether I pushed him away or pulled back, somehow I struggled free. But he remained sure-footed and scowling. “Jesus, Andrew. Who do you think you are, shaking me like that?”
“You call that shaking? That’s nothing-”
“You know what? You’re right.” I waved away his thinly-veiled threat, his unspoken I am capable of so much more than this. “There’s nothing to fix.” And I couldn’t bring myself to care.
He nodded, smiling, only with his mouth, his eyes grave-cold.
“Because there’s nothing there at all. Not any more. I’m tired of this, Andrew. I’m tired of trying to get along with someone I no longer even like.”
“I beg your pardon? Now just wait a fucking minute, you-” He moved to grab my arm again, I dodged but he wouldn’t be denied. Pulling me against him, his fingers dug in tightly enough to make bruising in the morning a certainty.
“You don’t listen to my concerns, you’re selfish with our time together, we always have to do what you want to do…” When you want to do it. “Hell, we stay in so much these days I’ve forgotten what fresh air smells like…and every time I try to raise the…” Breathlessness arrested this stream of accusations. I hadn’t even known I’d been storing them up but there they were, taking the first opportunity to escape. The realisation that this was all too much work had unlocked the door. I can’t be bothered and here are the reasons why. “Look, will you get off me? Every time I try to raise the subject you…I’m sick of this. I want out. I-” As soon as his hand came up I yelped, turned my face away, waited for the sting, but it never came. Held breath flamed in my lungs, and an age passed before I dared exhale, a gasp bursting out of me.
Okay, Andrew. This is where you apologise. This is where you say you can’t believe you almost-
He tutted. A sneer of disdain wrinkled his nose and I almost wished I hadn’t found the courage to face him again, had kept my eyes averted. “You’re not worth it. I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, Pipes.”
“Well.” I blinked, trying to process what I’d heard. “It won’t be you ever again, that’s for sure.”
The hand that had nearly slapped me balled into a fist by his side. He caught me looking at it and flexed his fingers. “Perhaps we should both sleep on this.”
Oh God, what if he expects to sleep here, what if, what if-
He grabbed his jacket off the back of the armchair. At first I wondered if he took my long exhalation as a sigh of relief but that’s exactly what it was, a breathy release of tension unknotting my neck and shoulders. His raised hand had shaken me so much because with it came the very real threat of physical chastisement rather than mere mental distress.
“I’ll be off then.” Andrew hovered in the doorway, zipping up his jacket. “I’ll call you.”
Think, Piper. Think. This is where you say something. “Yeah. ‘Bye.”
“Don’t worry about me, I’ll see myself out.” He shook his head slowly, nothing more than a twitch and I wanted him and his contempt out of my home.
The front door slammed and once its echo died, I ran to put the chain on and turn the key in the lock, securing myself indoors with Andrew very definitely out.
Panting with exertion or nerves or excitement or relief, I stood in the centre of my living room clutching my mobile phone, not knowing who to call but needing human contact with someone who wouldn’t lose his temper or raise his hands to me. “Matthias.” As soon as the word was out it seemed obvious. Of course. Matthias.