Deep in the Heart of Me Ch. 01byBrunne©
© 2012 Brunne
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For those of you have read my other story, 'Under My Skin', this story is kind of 'Part 2' and covers many of the same events, but in a slightly different style and from Jarod's perspective this time.
For those of you who haven't read my other story, please note that reading 'Under My Skin' may contain quite a few spoilers for this story. But if you're wanting Stephanie's perspective, it's all there, so please do read it before or after this one -- up to you!
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The sudden shock of Frank Sinatra's crooning voice filling his ears nearly made Jarod fall off the treadmill. He stumbled, fighting to regain his stride, his hand searching blindly for the kill switch.
"...tried so...not to give in...I said to myself...this affair never will go so well-"
Switch found, the treadmill belt finally slowed, then stopped, its relieved passenger bending at the waist, breathing hard.
"...but why should I try to resist when baby I know so well-"
"What the FUCK-?" he growled, ripping the MP3 player off his belt and punching violently at the pause button. The warbling music died, but the words continued to ring in his ears. Where the fuck had that come from? He straightened, tipped his head back, waiting for the burning in his calves to subside before turning his attention back to the player. He'd been mid-sprint and desperately needed a cool-down before his legs seized up.
"Who's been fucking with this thing?" He squinted, swiping with the back of his hand at the perspiration that stung his eyes. But there it was. Frank Sinatra, mixed in with the usual blend of angry metal that got him through the nasty part of interval training. Fuck. He bent over again, bracing his hands on his knees, feeling a cramp creeping up on him. Gotta keep moving, he thought wearily.
Hitting the resume-programme button, he worked up to a jog, forcing the playlist along to the next track and putting the glitch from his mind. A faulty MP3 player was the least of his worries right now. He switched the programme up a notch, determined to drown out all those worries, at least for a little while.
* * * * *
All the eyes around the boardroom table were fixed on him. No wonder, as he'd just dropped the bomb. The new web platform wasn't going to be ready in time for the release. He ignored the nervous throat-clearing of his team members on either side of him, the helpless shuffling of paper. He didn't know what they were so worried about. As their manager, the shit was on him, after all.
"Sorry folks, what can I say?" he said, raising his hands in mock surrender, careful to keep his tone neutral.
The managing director took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Jarod knew the man was holding his words in check. The rest of them looked dumbly down at their notes or to him, as if he might have the answer up his sleeve and was just possibly, maybe, having them on. He didn't, and he wasn't.
What frightened him most wasn't the fact that he had a business-critical time-bomb on his hands. Or the fact that if they didn't find a solution in the next week he'd have hell to pay. It was that some part of him was just watching it all, detached, cool, unconcerned. It was always a bad sign (a very bad sign), when he became disinterested in problem solving.
All he had to do was offer the usual promises to 'escalate' and 'delegate' and 'collaborate' and he could escape the room. Satisfied nods from a somewhat defeated managing director, panicked whispering among the small clutches of staff as they all filed out of the meeting room, and he was free.
Not until his office door was closed behind him could he take a proper breath. Again, this wasn't anything to do with script testing or buffers or any of the usual technical bullshit. Why he'd taken his eye off the ball in the first place was the real issue.
It had come and gone over the years, and he'd actually thought it had finally subsided after the last disastrous attempt. But he couldn't kid himself any longer. It was starting to affect his work.
A soft knock on the door behind him interrupted his thoughts. He dropped his head for a moment before turning and swinging the door open wide. Angela, the managing director's PA, stood there primly, eyes narrowed as was her custom, as if assessing him through her verifocals.
"Angela!" he said, attempting a brightness of tone he didn't feel.
"Richard wants your final draft of the monthly report and the content he requested for the board meeting by four o'clock."
"Of course, I'll get on that right away," he said, before the devil got to him. "May I say, you're looking particularly delightful today..."
He smiled sweetly through the dirty look she shot him as she turned on her heel and stalked away, chin held high. This little game usually cheered him up; instead the whole day was sitting on his chest like a dead weight. Fuck.
Slumping his tall frame down into his desk chair he rested his head in his hands, staring, mesmerised, at the steady blink of the cursor on his laptop's security logon screen. He should get to work on that report. But his peripheral vision had already picked up on movement somewhere across the open-plan office.
Leaning back in his chair, he allowed himself a slow scan of the banks of desks, and sure enough, it was her. The dark shoulder-length hair, the demure skirt and the ever-present sensible shoes. The distraction.
She walked towards and then past his office, quick darting steps, oblivious to his idle scrutiny. Or not-so-idle, as the case may be. Cautionary thoughts about deadlines and the stress lines on his managing director's face stood little chance against the distraction. It drew him. He was at the door to his office before he was fully conscious that his body was in motion.
It had grown, steadily and imperceptibly, over the past months and weeks. At first he'd thought it was a general gnawing. It'd been a long time...a very long time since he'd been with a woman. That was all it was, right?
It always started the same way. He'd be engrossed in a project and work and getting on with the daily grind. Then he would start to notice. Curves, lips, breasts. Women. Most of them would be instantly dismissed. The others would just float around in his mind day by day until he'd be sitting in a bar and someone would catch his eye and he'd end up scratching the itch just to get the distraction out of his head. It always left him with a bad taste in his mouth. The vague dissatisfaction and the feeling that he'd just lost a little bit of himself would linger for days, maybe weeks.
But this time was different. This time when everything female and skirted and lipsticked had flooded his senses he'd done everything he could to think of anything but that. When his head had done the switch-over from the free-for-all into the more-selective phase and then drifted into relative silence, he'd thought he'd succeeded. Won. Overcome the distraction.
That was until he'd stood next to dark hair, demure skirt, sensible shoes in the lift. Until the soft scent of flowers drifted towards him and he had to catch his sudden intake of breath. Until a sudden hunger had blossomed where he thought he'd lost all taste, leaving him dizzy, stunned.
That's when he realised that everything in him that was still capable of noticing anything female was now completely and irrevocably focussed on one particular target. When, for fuck's sake, had that happened?
So now he trailed after her, casual, nonchalant. Drawn like a scent hound after prey. Ignoring the twinge of excitement in his gut. Ignoring his own good sense. Go back, Jarod. Now. But he was already leaning against the doorframe of the employee kitchen, studying her as she pushed at the buttons of the poor soft drink machine. She had small hands. Such small hands. Lucky soft drink machine. His mind spun, trying to sort out what he was even thinking, taking in the defeated slump of her narrow shoulders, the soft sound of her sigh. Any second now she was going to turn, and she'd catch him loitering there, staring at her small hands. The words were out before he'd really processed them.
"Sometimes if you kick it, it helps."
Her eyes flashed towards him and he read the surprise in them before she drew herself back. Staring into those brown eyes set off some sort of depth-charge somewhere in the vicinity of his solar plexus and he had to push off from the doorway and move past her in a hurry to cover the shock of it. With some relief he grabbed at the paper cups, suddenly dry in the mouth and in need of something to cool the whorls of heat churning in the pit of his stomach. The cool water from the filter tap wasn't putting them out though, no matter how fast he drained the cup. Shit. What was he doing? Was he ill?
After her initial surprise had come embarrassment. He'd caught that much. Even with his back turned he could practically feel the heat from her cheeks radiating towards him from across the room. What the fuck, Jarod? Are you just trying to torment her because you couldn't help but admire her small hands? Or because of what you'd like those small hands to be doing...
Fuck. He turned and made a beeline for the door, barely allowing himself a peripheral glance at her as he stalked out of the kitchen.
* * * * *
It was late. Really late. He stretched back in his desk chair, massaging his aching eyes with the heels of his hands. Even the cleaners had long gone, and he'd had at least three nodding exchanges with the night security guard as he made his plodding rounds.
Every time he thought he'd gotten his head buried deep enough in spec documents and capability analyses, he'd feel the pull. He'd catch himself staring out across the darkened office towards where she sat each day with the other personal assistants. He didn't even know what her job was. He wasn't sure he even knew her full name. He was far from sure whether it was a good idea if he found out.
A trip to the printer was enough excuse for his subconscious to triumphantly bring him close enough to her empty desk to inspect it. He tapped his fingertips against the surface, taking in the carefully organised folders and trays. He blinked for a moment at the small pink sheep statue that held up a list of contact numbers on its little metal clip. It was at once charmingly feminine and frighteningly young. Muffled footsteps could be heard off by the stairwell, and his head snapped up. Stepping away from her desk as if it had scalded him, he back-pedalled in the direction of the printer.
He braced himself against the whirring machine, watching the printed sheets collate, the plastic warm under his hands. Her named blinked at him steadily inside his head, burned onto his optic nerve from the nameplate on her desk. Not Steph, like he'd heard others call her. Stephanie.
Maybe he'd just been working too hard. Too much pressure. Maybe his mind just needed a diversion. It was the only thing that could explain it.
The thing was, she...Stephanie, was one of the 'wallflowers'. That's what he'd started calling them in college. There were the regular girls, the noticeable girls...and then there were the wallflowers. Regular girls came up to you at parties and made you laugh and drew you out of yourself. Wallflowers were some other sort of creature altogether. It was as if they were somehow designed for invisibility. Stillness. They didn't take up space. They seemed to observe life rather than participate in it. Wallflowers, in Jarod's experience, were to be avoided at all costs.
He'd gone out with one once. Jenny. Slept with her too. But they'd only been teenagers and it was both their firsts and he'd soon fled her penetrating gaze and bleeding heart. He was sure he'd hurt her enormously, but the trapped-animal feeling had just been too much and he'd run away far and fast and hadn't looked back.
And like all wallflowers, Stephanie had stood there, cheeks flushed and looking like some small lost thing, and he'd barely said a word to her.
So why did that demure skirt keep sashaying its way through his brain when he least needed it? Thumping his hand on the printer didn't help, apparently. It just made his hand hurt.
* * * * *
"Finally," he groaned, waiting impatiently while the new data architecture maps loaded up on his screen. It wasn't a solution, but it was the start of an idea of a solution. Urgency and stress had given him a blessed respite from all other thoughts for a few days in a row. He'd avoided opening his office door if he could help it and made a concerted effort to make sure he was never wandering the halls during danger hours. He had to get this thing back on track.
Beautiful. This was what he was exactly what he was looking for. He skimmed over the documents, hitting the print button on each file in quick succession. The glimmer of hope had him bounding out of his chair and heading towards the colour printer before even sparing a thought for his usual covert behaviour.
He cut across behind the pillar near the printing area and stopped dead. There she was, frowning at the machine, hands on hips. One glance at the flashing lights on the control panel told him it wouldn't be printing his documents, or hers, anytime soon. The part of him that enjoyed being gainfully employed did its best to switch his body into reverse and pointedly reminded him of the location of equally qualified colour printers on other floors, but it was already too late for that.
He was close enough to catch a subtle hint of flowers. She was wearing her hair up, pulled into a loose bun. If he could just tear his eyes away from the dark, baby-fine wisps of hair that were escaping and drifting along the nape of her neck...
Now, Jarod. Now's the time to stop. But the other mad voice overrode the command. And just as it had in the kitchen, it tried to goad her. Prick at her. Get her to just react in some way.
"Maybe you should try giving it a little kick..."
She whirled towards him, that same look of wide-eyed surprise on her face. Seeing it filled him with a strange, stinging disappointment. Wallflowers.
But those deep brown eyes changed, narrowing, sparking with...anger?
"I'll kick you if you say that again!"
He flinched internally at the defiance in her voice. He could only stare at her as she faced him, hands on hips, glaring up into his eyes. Fuck. He didn't know what shocked him more. The fact that one of the invisible ones was fighting back, or the particularly staggering effect it was having on him.
She'd tripped a switch, somewhere deep down. Maybe it was the unexpected challenged in her eyes. Maybe it was more the feeling that some slender thread of golden light appeared out of the darkness, flared and in an instant, connected. The blaze of it filled his vision. His body stopped obeying conscious commands.
He had to get nearer. He needed to keep feeling this brightness. Had to capture this thing, just for a moment. But they were in the middle of the fucking office. He looked away from her only long enough to spot the open door of the stationery cupboard, his lungs burning in his chest. He headed for it, grabbing for her wrist, tugging her behind him into the privacy of the small room. Some part of his mind registered the fact that she didn't even resist.
He seemed to be able to hold two things in his mind simultaneously. One half considered risks of discovery, scanned the hallway quickly, took care in closing the door behind them. The other half was experiencing the velvet softness of her skin, the delicacy of the bones in her wrist, the fluttering pulse beneath his fingers.
She wasn't exactly fighting him, but he needed her to face him, to stay still. Pressing her wrist against the shelving above her head, he could only stare down at her, watching the naked, shifting emotions flowing in the depths of those brown eyes.
The smell of flowers again, mixed with some mysterious other thing. Her.
The cool logic half of his mind told him he didn't have long. But I need to feel...to taste, he pleaded, just once. Mesmerised, he stared at the base of her throat where her pulse beat, thrumming like a little bird, all that life rushing through such fragile structures. He bent his head, his mouth finding the soft flesh on her neck. He meant just to taste...just one small taste, but the surge of possession took him over, and he was biting down, nipping the silky skin, caressing it with his lips, claiming it.
He felt her body arch at the sting of the bite, but she didn't fight him. She didn't fight him, but the disappointment never came. Because, he realised, she wasn't not fighting him. She was actually absorbing him, drawing him in. The thread of light intensified, burning behind his closed eyes, threatening to consume him whole.
Fuck! He jerked backwards, away from her, stunned. Voices, outside, said the logic half insistently. Leave now. He was through the door, closing it carefully behind him before he'd even decided to, chest heaving with a strange breathlessness. Heat flooded through his body, and he was suddenly conscious of how incredibly aroused he was. Wildly, nearly painfully, aroused.
Shit, shit! His mind screaming in circles, finally reaching the safety of his office, he shut the door behind him and just rested against it.
When rational thought returned and the raging heat in his body began to subside, a few sobering thoughts occurred to him. Such as, he'd just fled and left her there. Secondly, and more importantly, that what he'd just done was tantamount to sexual assault.
He knew this. Rational thought told him this. But he couldn't shake the memory of her soft gasp as his teeth bit into her skin. The barely audible moan. That strange feeling that she was accepting him in, utterly and completely.
Fuck, FUCK. He left his position behind the door only long enough to peer out through the glass wall partition in the direction of her desk. She was just returning to her seat. Sitting down. Her hair wasn't tied up anymore, and she brushed it, self-consciously, along her neck. Against the place he'd put his teeth and left his mark. Her gaze drifted in the direction of his office and he jerked his head back from the glass.
He buried his face in his hands, barely restraining the urge to pound his fists into the resisting wood of the door.
He would just have to watch, and wait. Wait for the polite request from Human Resources. Wait for his whole existence to go down the toilet over one moment of madness.
* * * * *
It didn't come. The summons. It never came. More than two weeks passed, and nothing. When there was a spare moment to spend on anything other than solving the glitches in the web platform, it surfaced in his mind, churning at his stomach in a slow sick way. He woke up in the night in sweats. Several times he even came close to reporting himself. Never...never had he done such a thing to a woman. He'd been a bastard, broken hearts, preyed on their affections. But nothing physical like that.
He'd been raised with that ultimate code. No matter what logger-heads he and his father found themselves in when he was still alive, that was one thing he had taken away from it. You didn't hurt women. You didn't raise your hand...you most certainly didn't bite them. For fuck's sake, you just didn't do that.
Only the glimpses of her, smiling and laughing with the other women at the office, kept him from marching over to the head of HR and confessing all. Either she hid her trauma well, or...what? She enjoyed it?
He didn't miss the silly scarves she wore, even though it was the middle of summer. She had to be boiling with all that silk around her neck every day. He knew she was just trying to cover up what could only be a rather nasty bruise, but to him it was like waving a red flag to a bull. It caught his attention even more than before, and he cursed her for reminding him every day what he'd done. But then, didn't she have a daily reminder of it too?