This is from a project that’s currently on hiatus. Emily is a single mother with a troubled teenage son. Gus is a Greek god whose power is in words. She doesn’t know this, of course — she just knows he’s a guy interested in her. After leaving her abusive ex-husband, she’s unsure of any guy.
By the time Gus came through the doorway, she’d drawn her feet up onto the chair.
Her mouth was dry, and she couldn’t even form a question about how their “talk” had gone.
He studied her for a long moment, leaning back against the molding on the archway. “I did not harm your son.”
Of course he could see right through her. She looked away from him, lifting a hand to trace the stem of her glass. “I’m sure you think I’m nuts.”
“No.” He paused. “As you said, your life is complicated.”
Like she hadn’t given him fair warning. She still didn’t look up. “Well. You know where the door is.”
Another pause, longer this time. Then he straightened and stepped into the kitchen. “There is fear in your voice, Emily.”
She snapped her eyes up, uncurling her legs. For a moment, he was standing over her, and instinct almost had her shoving the chair back.
But he was only pulling another chair away from the table, sitting to face her eye-to-eye. His gaze was intense, unflinching. “Are you afraid I will stay, do you think?”
He sat close, his knees almost brushing hers, the way they had in the coffee shop. She swallowed, feeling heat spark on her cheeks.
“Or,” he continued, “are you afraid I will leave?”
There didn’t seem to be a safe answer to that. She wet her lips and hated that her voice sounded rough. “What—what did you say to Max?”
“We traded insults and debated philosophy.”
She scowled, feeling off-balance. “Is that supposed to be a euphemism?”
His eyes were amused. “Quite literal, in fact.”
Was he making fun of her again? She looked down at her fingers, the way her nails were digging into her jeans. His hands were close, resting on his thighs, relaxed, a juxtaposed mirror of her own.
“I’m sorry for what Max said to you,” she said. “Some of it isn’t—it’s not his fault. He’s just—”
“You owe me no apology.” He paused, and his voice was careful, matching the weight of her own. “Does he strike at you often?”
Emily jerked her eyes up. “What? No—that’s just—it’s—” She stopped herself.
Gus was waiting, watching her. It wasn’t challenging, just a level look.
She held her breath.
His eyes seemed to darken, and he leaned in just a bit. “You want to tell me,” he said, and his voice was almost reverent. “I can feel it.”
She grabbed her wine glass from the table and took a long swallow. His closeness, his intensity, it was so unsettling—and not in an altogether unpleasant way. She remembered the quiet strength in his grip when he shook her hand on the street, the connection she’d felt in the coffee shop. She longed to feel his hands, the warmth of his skin against hers.
That was terrifying.
“I just met you, Gus.” He seemed closer somehow, and her cheeks were burning. She was going to choke on her words again. “This is all—it’s so—”
The oven timer went off.
She sprang from her chair, launching herself at the oven, struggling to punch the buttons to silence the buzzer.
You’re being an idiot.
He hadn’t moved, but she could feel the weight of his eyes as she slid a shaky hand into the oven mitt. Somehow she got the roasting pan onto the stove without burning herself.
But when she flung the mitt on the stove and turned, he was right there, standing in front of her.
She sucked in a breath and kept a tight grip on the counter, leaving her back pressed against the edge of the refrigerator.
He was very close, trapping her in that small corner. She could feel the warmth from his body, could catch that faint scent of cinnamon and vanilla. The attraction there was potent, strong enough to pull her forward, to unclench gripping fingers. But she couldn’t ignore his height, the breadth of his shoulders, hating that the very things that would designate a man as a protector could also mean the absolute opposite.
Was this intentional? Did he mean to intimidate?
Or did he mean to draw close, the simple act of a man approaching a woman?
The uncertainty was almost debilitating. With Scott, feeling his grip on her arm or his fist on her jaw was a type of relief she could never explain—it represented an end to the waiting, to this uncertain limbo that only questioned when, not if.
Thinking of Scott cleared her head a bit. She gritted her teeth and searched for the angry words that had kept Gus at arm’s length so far.
“Shh, Emily.” His voice was very soft, and he did not move closer. “Do not seek words you do not mean.”
She shook her head and frowned. “How do you—”
“Would you let me touch you?”
Her breath caught.
The word almost escaped, as if one true touch would settle this war in her mind, would put Gus into the appropriate column and eliminate all her tension. But it carried too much risk—allowing one touch simply invited another, and she knew from experience that once she said yes, no might never be heard again.
But he hadn’t moved, hadn’t taken her silent indecision as assent.
He was waiting?
She struggled for words, for coherent thought. “I don’t—you’re asking permission?”
“I am.” His eyes traced the line of her face, and there was warmth there, as sure as running a finger along her cheek. “You shy from my hand, and I thought…if I touched you…perhaps….” His voice trailed off, and his hand lifted, but he did not touch her.
She almost closed her eyes and leaned her face into his hand.
“Perhaps?” she whispered.
“Hmm.” He shook his head slightly, looking a bit rueful. “You make me forget my words, Emily, and that is no small thing.”
He was closer now, so if she moved, she’d touch him. She could almost feel his breath on her lips as he spoke, inviting her to close that small distance. Part of her wanted to duck away—but a bigger part wanted to touch his arms, to pull him against her body, to let him whisper secrets against her ear.
If she fell for this man, where would that leave Max?
Her eyes clenched shut, and she turned her face away. She brought her hands up, knowing this refusal would make him try harder, would make him touch her, just to prove he could. “Please, Gus—please just—stop—”
“As you wish.”
Then he was gone, moving so swiftly that she had to open her eyes to keep from stumbling into the empty space, leaving her wondering if she’d imagined the attraction, the intimidation. He was already sitting at the kitchen table, taking a sip from his glass.
And he hadn’t laid a finger on her.