The Invitation

The kiss took her by surprise. It was a pleasant surprise. Soft, light on her lips.

She wanted to open her mouth to him, to let him in, to go where he wanted to lead her, but she fought the impulse.

He pulled back finally and she found it hard to take in her next breath. The irony was that she should’ve been used to his kiss, his touch. But it was all new to her.

“I can’t do this,” she said. “I can’t be that girl again. She’s gone. I’m someone else now - someone totally different. I don’t remember her, you...or us.”

He sat back, sighed. “I know. That was an idiotic thing to do. And you’re right. You’re not that girl anymore. But then again, I’m not the bullheaded fool I once was, either. Still, I can’t deny that I still have feelings for you. And your being here right now is driving a lot of these emotions to the surface. But that’s my problem it seems. Not yours.”

Her own emotions were in turmoil. She’d waited a long time for someone to move her this way, but here wasn’t the time, the place, and definitely not the circumstances she wanted to discover the possibility.

He turned back to his steak, allowing her to finish her meal. The food was delicious, but she wasn’t tasting it now. She simply finished out of courtesy for his efforts.

After he was done, he stood. He looked down at her, and the vantage was disquieting.

“You probably want to settle in, get comfortable. I have something planned that should throw Amil off, but it may not be enough. So at least, for tonight, you’re my guest. Your room is through there,” he pointed to a room off the living room. “There’s a Jacuzzi in your bathroom. Let me know what else you might need.”

She stood, also, fighting off the lingering ghost of his kiss that was plaguing her. Telling her she wanted more.

Instead, she said, “I’m going to need a change of underwear. I don’t suppose you thought of that.”

The slow smile was unexpected. “You use to hate wearing underwear...”

She winced. “Okay, don’t tell me anymore...”

“Actually, I did buy underwear. Hopefully I got your size right again and that you like silk and lace.”

Up until now, his tone had been measured and had run the gambit from stern to conciliatory, even apologetic. Now, there was a seductive strain that hadn’t been there before. The way he had said “silk and lace,” as though he imagined her wearing his offerings caused an involuntary shiver.

“I also bought some other clothes for you, just so you can feel free to change up. Obviously, I don’t know your tastes now, so you may not like everything.”

“Liking isn’t important. I just don’t want to have to walk around in the same thing...or naked.”

The slight blush caught her by surprise. But he stepped away, walking toward the room he’d chosen as hers. After a few seconds, she followed. She was tired and needed downtime to digest everything that had happened in these last few hours.

He led her into a moderate-size room showcased by the large king-sized bed. The dark contrasting prints of the drapes and bedcovers almost overwhelmed. Yet, the dim lights in the room soothed what would have been a busy palette of colors.

“Do you want me to run your water?”

He was too close. She stepped back. “I can do that, thanks. So your room is where?”

“On the other side of the suite. But I’m within yelling distance if you need me.”

He left the room, and for some reason it seemed smaller without him. She walked into the bathroom and immediately noticed the set of expensive-looking bath soaps and oils that she knew had not come with the room. She looked over the offerings. Almond-scented bath oil and jasmine soap from Sephora. He’d planned her lockdown well. She loved the smell of almond cookies.

She started the water, took the terry-cloth robe off the hook and walked back into the bedroom to take off her clothes. Five minutes later she was steeped in a hot bath that initially stung, but then began to seduce her skin with invigorating heat. She turned on the jets, felt the pulses against her legs and hips. She hadn’t thought she would be able to relax even a little bit considering the mess her life had suddenly become, but some of the tension began seeping away as she settled back.

The water was soothing and soon the quiet of the luxurious bathroom took her out of her body and she felt her eyelids dragging down. Strangely she heard her mother’s voice calling to her, screaming - “Jerri! Get out! Get out!”

She didn’t know what to do. The flames were at the top of the stairs and her parents were trapped on the second floor. The heat traveled down as the black smoke billowed upward to the landing above. She tried to see her mother, but just as quickly as it had taken her to reach the stairs, the second floor blackened into a deadly night, even though the lights had been ablaze moments before.

“Mama! Daddy!” she screamed and screamed until the smoke forced her back down the stairs. She turned at a sound near the open door and saw him standing there, looking at her in fear. The face so familiar and yet different. He took a step toward her and she stepped back and fell on the steps. Just before she passed out, she saw someone else standing in the doorway, her red hair dripping...

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