Authors: Erin McCarthy
Tags: #Romance, #dpg pyscho, #New Adult
Finally he realized and paused, turning. “What? It was a joke.”
“No, it wasn’t. It was meant to put me in my place. I already know my place. You don’t need to remind me of it.” My whole life had been about people making sure I knew that I wasn’t good enough, that I was inferior. Defective. “Don’t patronize me,” I said, my voice shaking just a little with anger.
I started to turn and go back to the house but Devin’s voice arrested me. “Wait. Tiffany.” His hand came out to grab my arm and halt my progress but he stopped himself, like he’d remembered my earlier reaction to being grabbed.
His contrition made me pause.
“How old are you?” he asked roughly. “According to my assistant you’re eighteen.”
“Yeah, I’m eighteen. But I’ve been taking care of my grandmother since fourteen, myself since five. I’m not your average eighteen year old.”
“I know you’re not. And I’m not patronizing you. I’m protecting you.”
My heart started to race and I forgot about the sting of the wind, the numbness in my toes. “Protect me from what?”
A shiver rushed over me. “What do you mean? I thought you said I shouldn’t be afraid of you.”
But he shook his head and gave me a rueful smile. “Never mind. I’m just being moody and sulking. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I did mean that.”
Had he meant something more? That he was attracted to me? It was wrong to hope that, yet I was. I definitely wanted that, ridiculous and presumptuous and stupid though it was.
When he started walking, I fell in step beside him again. “Why are you sulking? Bad news?” It was still there. That tension between us. I didn’t fully understand the dynamic, but I was starting to suspect it was sexual. Like he was attracted to me, but didn’t want to be. Like my age was holding him back.
Or maybe it was nothing. Maybe I was imagining it because I wanted him to be attracted to me.
“I came here to escape the bullshit in New York, the whole scene. Fake people, users, cheats. Cristal and bottle service, award shows, crappy music that sells like gangbusters. I just need a breather.”
I couldn’t even imagine that life. “I would think the very things that drew you to the business could get tedious.” I would despise those types of events. In theory, it would be fun to put on a cocktail dress and hit the town, and it would, one on one. But the whole small talk thing? I would suck at it. No experience.
“They do. I know no one who is broke would ever feel sorry for me and I don’t expect them to. This is the life I wanted. I fought hard for my success because I do love the music industry. Taking raw talent and nurturing it… I love that. But I’m just tired.” He gave me a smile. “I think I’m old.”
“Maybe you just need to step back from the business end of things for a minute.”
“That’s why I’m here. To get the creative juices flowing again. I’m staying until right before New Year’s Eve.”
That was three weeks away. My pulse jumped and my nipples hardened. Just like that. Bam. The thought of seeing him every day for three weeks had me walking faster, excited. “I’m sure that will be relaxing for you and whatever.” I wasn’t sure why I added the whatever, but I regretted it. It sounded too young. Too high school.
“Don’t say anything about you moving out while I’m here,” he said. “There is no reason for you to do that. If you don’t want to be around me, you can hide. You’re not obligated to spend time with me.”
“I want the company,” I said. His company.
“Good. Me too.”
We walked around his property in companionable silence, Amelia going for the stick Devin threw over and over again. It was hard to reconcile this man with G Daddy, the brusque and bored producer, traveling around the world on a whim and dropping thousands of dollars on dinner, jeans, his girlfriend.
His girlfriend. Brooke. I’d managed to forget about her.
I’d heard him be G Daddy with her on that awful phone call.
“I saw a picture of you online,” I said. “I subscribe to a gossip magazine’s online version and you were at the beach.”
He glanced over at me in amusement. “You subscribe to a gossip magazine? That surprises me.”
“I like to see what everyone is wearing. And I live in hope that someday I’ll find a hairstyle that will make me look like Halle Berry.”
“Why would you want to look like Halle Berry?”
I snorted. “Because she’s beautiful.”
“So are you.”
“Whatever. I wasn’t looking for a compliment.” It embarrassed me that he might think I was.
“I know you weren’t. That’s not you. But listen, you are beautiful. Gorgeous actually. Never want to be someone else. Just be you.”
Easy for him to say. “Being me wasn’t exactly a stellar thing in a town that is all white.”
“They were just jealous of your exotic beauty.”
Oh, God. I was truly mortified. There was not a damn thing exotic about me. “Now you’re really laying it on too thick.”
Devin pulled me to a stop. We were almost back to the house. “No, I’m not. They’re all ordinary and similar looking. Of course you stand out in a way that would make them jealous. And remember you told me I couldn’t feel sorry for you. Well guess what? You can’t feel sorry for you either.”
Indignation rose in me. What did he know about how it felt to be me? Him of the perfect life and looks? “Where did you grow up?” I asked him.
“White Plains. Sue me.” He reached into his pocket. “No, I didn’t have a hard childhood. Yes, my parents funded my education. I have nothing to complain about. Even knowing that people use me, that I have no genuine friends, I recognize that I’m fortunate. Lucky, even. Is that what you want to hear?”
It made me feel guilty. He didn’t know about my life. Conversely I didn’t know about his. I wouldn’t want people coming at me all the time the way they did to him. “I’m sure you have genuine friends,” I said, feeling bad. “What about your girlfriend Brooke?”
That made him actually laugh out loud. “Brooke is not a friend. Or a girlfriend. She is someone I fuck.”
The crude dismissal should have upset me, but the truth was, I was sickly glad to hear that Brooke meant nothing to him. “Oh.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve ever had someone in your life just to fuck, have you?” he asked, pointing the keys he’d pulled out of his pocket at his car to unlock it.
He was leaving. I shook my head. “No.” I haven’t had anyone to fuck, ever. I couldn’t even imagine so casually sharing my body with someone. I knew a lot of people did and they had every right to do so. I just knew myself. I kept walls up to protect myself and if I was going to have sex with someone, it was going to be more than fucking. It was going to be intimate. I didn’t want to do it just to do it.
“Stay that way,” he told me. Then he opened the passenger door. “Get in.”
I stared at him dumbly. “Where are we going?”
“Nowhere. Just a drive.”
I hesitated and he made a sound of impatience. “What?”
“Is this an official duty?”
“Then ask me. Don’t tell me.” I wasn’t his to order around. I wasn’t anybody’s. For the first time in my life I was well and truly free and I wasn’t going to let anyone take that away.
I knew I was pushing it with him. But I had to start the way I was going to finish and keep what was mine- my pride.
Devin didn’t fire me or throw me out of his house. He just shook his head. “Housesitter and manners coach. I’m being schooled by a child.”
I opened my mouth to protest.
He held up his hand. “Fine. Not a child. And I’m sorry. Would you like to go for a drive with me?”
I nodded. “Sure. Thanks.”
After Devin put Amelia in the house, he drove fast out of the garage, his body relaxed, hand comfortably on the gearshift. “When I was a kid I wanted to get out of White Plains so badly. It made me edgy, passionate, determined. It also made me drive too fast.” He shot me a grin. “You like to drive fast or slow?”
“I don’t have a driver’s license.”
“What?” He looked scandalized. “Why the hell not?”
His outrage made me smile. “Well. Because I wouldn’t have a car to drive for one thing, after I got my license, or to actually learn how to drive in the first place. Plus you need your birth certificate to get your temporary license and I don’t have mine. I could order it online but I never had the money and again, back to the whole lack of car thing.”
“That’s insane. How can you exist without a driver’s license?”
“I seem to be existing okay.” I was actually better than I’d been in a long time. “Don’t sound so horrified.”
“It is horrifying.” Devin slowed the car down. We were still in his long driveway. “I’m teaching you to drive. Right now.”
“What?” I stared at him, no longer amused. “No! I don’t have my temps.”
But he scoffed. “We’re on my property. I’m not going to tell if you don’t tell. We’ll do a few practice sessions while you order your birth certificate.”
“I… don’t want to.” How could I learn how to drive with Devin watching me? Knowing how outrageously expensive his car was?
“Oh, come on. Don’t tell me you’re afraid. I don’t have you pegged as a chicken.”
I was afraid. No question about it. But I didn’t want him to know that. “Fine. But it’s still pointless for me to have a license.”
He put the car in park. “I can’t believe you’re walking around without an ID. How do you get anywhere? The airport, clubs.”
I could see how that might be incomprehensible to him, but to me, it wasn’t that big of a deal. “I don’t. There aren’t exactly a lot of clubs in Vinalhaven. And the only trip my grandmother would have allowed me to take was to hell.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be so shocked. You already told me you haven’t traveled.” He turned the car off. “Switch seats with me. Someday you’ll be able to afford a car and you’ll wish you had your license.”
The whole thing seemed like a bad idea to me. “What if I wreck your car?”
“I have insurance.” Then he reached over and tucked my hair behind my ear. “Come on. There’s nothing you can even hit out here. It will be fine.”
His casual touch had me willing to do just about anything. “Fine. Whatever.”
“I’m striking that word from your vocabulary. It goes to the graveyard of words right along with selfie.” Though he sounded more amused than annoyed.
“Fine?” I teased.
He rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
I laughed. When I got out of the car and moved around the front of it, he passed me. Shifting so we wouldn’t touch, I turned one hip toward the car. But Devin actually dropped his hand down onto my waist.
“Remember not to panic,” he said. “You’ve got this.”
Suddenly the driving seemed less dangerous than Devin himself. There was something about the way he looked at me, like I was important, that I mattered. Like he wanted to spend time with me.
“If I drive us off a cliff I promise not to say I told you so.”
He laughed. “Thanks. That’s big of you. But don’t worry. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
I shivered, but not from cold. He squeezed my waist. “Step one. Get back in the car.”
He was actually a patient teacher. He pointed out all the important parts to the car and had me turn it on. Then put the car in drive and ease off the brake. We rolled forward.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” I said, gripping the steering wheel so tightly my knuckles turned white. “This is the weirdest feeling.”
“Now push the gas.”
I did and we shot forward so fast both our heads snapped. I screamed and slammed on the brake, jerking us again.
“Whoa. It’s okay. Don’t stomp on the gas, just slowly press it down.”
My heart was racing. “Okay. Okay, I’ve got it now.” I took a deep breath and moved my foot, slowly accelerating this time. We crawled forward on the driveway. “Holy shit, I’m driving.”
“You’re driving. I told you it would be fine. You can probably stop making that sound now.”
Huh. “What sound?”
“You’re going ‘oh, oh, oh.’”
My mouth snapped shut. God, he was right. I was. It was a weird little sound of distress.
“It’s not really a sound I want a woman to be making when I’m with her.”
“No?” I wasn’t taking the bait. I was not discussing his sex life with him. It would only make me jealous.
I brought the car to a stop in front of the house and put it in park. I gave a sigh. One of relief and satisfaction.
“That’s the sound I want a woman to make. Or at least one of many.”
“Make up your mind,” I told him, turning his sports car off and fingering the keys in my palm in exasperation. “Am I a kid or am I a woman? You can’t have it both ways.”
“You’re an oxymoron, that’s what you are.”
Or just a moron.
I wasn’t in danger of falling for him. I already had.
Two days later I went upstairs to ask Devin when he wanted dinner. I was having some weird sort of domestic high, cooking and cleaning for him. Sure, I was being paid for it. But I took total feminine satisfaction in watching him pack away whatever I cooked based off another Internet recipe. He ate all over the world in expensive restaurants and yet he had practically motorboated the biscuits and gravy I had made. It was never something I thought I would enjoy, but when you took care of someone who expressed gratitude for it, it was actually damn satisfying.
Cat had always encouraged me to pursue nursing, had said it came naturally to me. I had always figured it was just the only thing I had any experience doing. But now I was growing more confident in that choice because I liked the nurturing and orderly tasks of taking care of a household. Caring for patients would be even that much more satisfying.
It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that it was Devin.
Or so I told myself.
But I knew I was lying.
He was in his studio and I could hear his voice when I went down the hall, raised in anger.
Pausing near the doorway¸ I wondering if I should let him know I was there, or just come back later. But then his words gave me pause.
“I’m not doing this with you again,” he said.
His tone was disgusted. “The fucking tears aren’t going to work. You were totally out of line attacking Brooke like that.”