Carabella Ch. 02byDawnJ©
She practically ran out of the office, and didn't stop till she was in the parking lot where her little yellow VW bug was parked. She opened the door using the remote keypad, and threw her things on the passenger seat, before sliding in behind the wheel and resting her forehead on it. She waited for her breathing to calm, and then started the engine. Her hands still trembled slightly as she shifted into Drive, and headed toward the highway.
She felt like a fool now, as she merged into the traffic going northbound on the freeway. What had possessed her to run out as though the demons of hell were after her? She must have looked like a proper ass to Rick -- how easily his name came to her! The nickname suited his sensual good looks and superstar charm. She could so easily imagine him lounging around a Hollywood set, or vaulting fences and tackling bad guys. She let her mind wander along that path until a big semi flew past her with enough wind to make her little bug rock.
Her imagination had always gotten her into trouble, she realized, as she prepared to exit the freeway. If she hadn't gone in all starry-eyed and bowled over today, nothing would have happened, and he certainly wouldn't have kissed her. And yet she felt, as she turned onto the main drag in her small town, as if that that kiss had been inevitable, as if she could no more have stopped him from kissing her than she could have stopped herself from breathing. He was a force of Nature!
She drove into the supermarket parking lot, parked and went in, glad she had remembered she needed a few more items for the casserole she had promised to make for her friend's potluck party. It was her turn to bring the main dish, and she was making her favorite shepherd's pie, following her mother's family recipe. As she collected the items she needed, her mind went to the lunchtime meeting with Rick. It had been unexpected and, she admitted, delightful. If they were a couple, it would have been a romantic little gesture of affection.
She paid for her groceries, including the butter pecan ice cream she planned to indulge in later, after the casserole was done and she had her feet up, watching her favorite BBC shows. Taking a free real estate guide from the rack on the way out the door, she thought about how she would need to move within three months, and how the search for somewhere else to live had been going.
Back on the road, negotiating the lights, she thought of the last house she had visited a month earlier. It had been ideal in all but two important details -- it had five bedrooms, which drove up the price. What on God's green Earth was she to do with five bedrooms? She wasn't even married, for Pete's sake, and the prospect of children was a fast disappearing dream in her mind, so a house of that size would be a ridiculous expenditure!
But she had to admit that she loved the location, at the bottom of a long, dead-end lane, right by the water, no neighbors visible through the trees that cocooned it. It was a deep red in color, with white shutters on the windows, a wraparound porch, and large, spreading shade trees. The yard was wide, the driveway curving, the wooden bridge that led across the inlet to the other side a romantic extra.
Cara pulled in to the parking lot of her townhouse complex, and gathered her bits and bags. Locking the car, she walked up the three front steps to her door. The automatic sensor light had flashed on as she approached, and as she rested her groceries on the bench so she could open her front door, she thought again about how unsafe she felt in this place, despite its many brilliant lights. No one was ever around when she left, or when she returned, and she barely knew her neighbors.
Inside, the front door locked again, she flipped a switch and warm light pooled in the hallway. If only this townhouse was on that road, she thought again as she unpacked her supplies. She saw the message light flashing on the answering machine that she had on the counter, and she reached over to press the button. Her mother called again, wondering when she was coming by for a weekend, reminding her that she owed them a visit. Kate reminded her to bring ice cream as well to the party. Rick said he was coming over.
What? Hands suddenly shaking, she replayed the last message.
"Bella, I hope you're there when I get there, or else I'll have to camp out on your front porch. We have unfinished business."
Oh good grief! What the hell did he think he was doing? And when had he left that message? The time stamp said half an hour before she walked in. It was after seven now, and he had said he would be there till eight. So she had maybe an hour to clam her breathing, settle her stomach, and prepare her arguments against their going any further down the path of that fleeting kiss. Because she knew instinctively that their unfinished business had nothing to do with her dissertation project.
She had homework to do, and tomorrow she had plans to spend most of her day in the library working on the beginning of her dissertation project. The last thing she needed right now was another close encounter with the one man she most wanted to do the naughtiest, nastiest things to her, the man to whom she wanted to return the favor a hundred fold. She looked around her for a moment, remembering the first time he had taken her home. He hadn't come inside, but this time, she knew, unless she was planning to be incredibly rude, she would have to invite him in.
Which meant she needed to get a move on and tidy up a bit. Finishing the unpacking hurriedly, she went in to take a quick shower and then stood naked before her closet trying to decide what to wear.
"Geez, Cara, it's not a date, for God's sake!" She grumbled at herself as she put on cotton panties and a pair of faded jeans. The sleeveless tee she chose hugged her breasts, but she had wasted enough time deciding how to dress down, and she was hungry. Maybe he would be too? Walking barefooted back into the kitchen, she searched around for what to make that was quick. She had some leftover chicken soup from the day before, and she finally decided that she would have that with some hearty bread. If he was hungry, she'd make him a sandwich.
"You're forty-five years old, Cara! You've had men before. This is NOT a big deal!"
She talked at herself as she nuked the soup, toasted and buttered the bread, and sat at her table, legs curled under her Indian style on the chair. The food warmed her, and eating calmed her nerves. As she was finishing the last of the bread, her doorbell chimed. Taking a deep breath, she eased off the chair and walked to the door. Looking through the peephole, even though she knew who it was, she saw a huge bouquet of variegated flowers.
"Who is it?" she asked perversely.
"Who do you think, Bella?" Rick's voice was dark chocolate.
Cara opened the door and stood back to let him pass her. Closing the door again, she turned to find his eyes on her.
"Hi! Come through, please!"
She led the way out to the kitchen and cleared the dishes from the table, placing them in the sink. She'd pack them in the dishwasher later, when he was gone.
"These are for you," he said, and handed her the bouquet. She took it with a smile, careful to avoid touching him, and reached for the vase on top of the fridge to place them in.
"Thank you, they're beautiful, Rick!" As she arranged them, she turned to look at him. "How did you know that I love peonies?"
"I took a chance," he answered immediately, "especially after reading that last story you wrote."
The warmth in his eyes made her shiver, and she turned away, concentrating on the arrangement. She knew she was fiddling with it unnecessarily, and when she felt the warmth of his body behind her, she knew he knew it too.
"Bella," he said, turning her around, "stop running away!"
"I'm not running away!" she snapped, nerves making her shake under his hands. "Let me go, please! I need to..."
"You need to stop running from me!" he insisted, his eyes on her face, a finger under her chin, forcing her to look at him. "We have to work together, so you might as well get used to this."
Cara glared at him defiantly. "There is no 'this'," she said. "The university frowns upon professors and students running together, and anyway, we have nothing in common. And I can always find another dissertation director!"
She tried to pull away from his hands but he held her firmly, and waited patiently until she stilled. Then he smiled at her.
"How long have we known each other, Bella?" he asked. Cara looked at him in confusion. "Three months," she answered. "Why?"
"Three months," he echoed her words. "Three long months, in which I spent a total of three hours working with you alone, and taking you out for a meal. Don't you think it's time to get our feelings out in the open? We'll be working closely together for at least another year, and if we don't face this, every meeting will be uncomfortable. Not to mention, you won't do your best work."
He stopped and turned her face up to his. "Three months of watching you avoid me, of doing everything I could to stay out of your way. And then you went and broke my concentration by volunteering to help me. I don't know about you, but it's not been the same since then. I can't be alone, but there you are, in my mind, seducing me with..."
Cara pulled violently away from him at that.
"I have done NOTHING to seduce you, Professor Montienna, and I resent the implication!" She was indignant and red in the face with embarrassment as much as with rage. She turned away from him, ad walked to her front door. "I'd be grateful if you'd leave now. Thanks for the flowers!"
She waited for him to move, and when he approached her, Cara felt her heart dip in her chest. What was WRONG with her? She WANTED him to leave, didn't she? He had insulted her, and she was enraged with him, so why was the fact that he was doing as she asked making her feel lower than the slugs on the garden wall?
"I thought we'd agreed on Rick!" he commented mildly, reaching her. "And you have seduced me, Bella, whether you intended it or not." He pulled her into his arms, and Cara closed her eyes, not wanting to see the truth in his own. She felt his mouth on hers again, gentle, soft, and her eyes flew open again.
"Please, Rick!" She hated the way her voice sounded like someone who wanted his kisses, instead of someone who wanted to discourage them.
"What?" She was gratified to hear his voice, since it sounded a lot like hers.
"We shouldn't..." she began, but his mouth cut her off again.
This time, the kiss was anything but gentle. It was hard, hot, and loaded with all the sharp incisiveness of a man at the end of his rope. His arms tightened around her, and he deepened the kiss. His tongue burned her, his lips caressed hers, his arms cradled her. Cara tried and failed to stifle the moan of pleasure she felt.
"We should," he said, raising his head. "If I have to leave now, it won't be before I get my fill of the taste of you."
Cara saw his eyes light up, like flames were igniting in them, and she was lost. She opened her mouth when he kissed her this time, letting him take everything he wanted from her, discovering as he ravaged her mouth that she was as ravenous for him as he seemed to be for her. And she had never been kissed like he was kissing her just then. His mouth made her tingle, and his probing tongue made her wet. She trembled violently in his arms, trying and failing to keep her arms at her side.
When she raised her arms to hold him close to her, he inhaled deeply, and groaned, "Oh baby!" The sound ratcheted up her need immeasurably, and Cara echoed his groan. He pulled away from her enough to ask,
"Does this mean I can stay awhile?"
His tone was amused and aroused, and Cara had to struggle to keep the smile from creasing her cheek. She didn't want him to know how completely he had breached all her defenses, and how willing she was to let him stay as long as he liked. She lowered her eyes and stepped away from him.
"As long as we're clear that any seduction is yours, not mine!" She wished her voice sounded less shivery, as though she were struggling to keep her equilibrium. That that was actually the case was neither here nor there, she told herself, as she went to get the vase from the kitchen. The center table in her living room would be ideal for it. If only she could get to it.
Rick stood in her way, unmoving, his solid frame like a planted fortress gate that she did not have much chance of budging. She looked up in frustration as he took the vase from her and put it on the dividing wall between the kitchen and the living room.
"You're still running, Bella!"
Cara stood still then, perversely not wanting to give him the satisfaction of knowing how she quivered inside as he walked her backwards to the sofa and turning, dropped into it with her falling on top of him. She moved at that, definitely sure she didn't want to be in his lap, or anywhere were she could note the evidence of his feelings, or have proof of his allegations.
But Rick would not release her, try as she might to slide off him. She remained on his lap, half turned, her chest to his, one arm thrown by the falling over his shoulder. To keep her balance she had to keep it there, and indeed, she tried her damndest to avoid coming any closer to that wicked mouth. But he held her still, and kissed her again, pulling her other arm around him as well, treating her to a delicious taste of his desire as he sucked deliberately and sensually on her tongue. Finally, when Cara thought she had completely disintegrated into mush, he let her up.
Cara scrambled off his lap and tried to move away from him, but Rick was having none of it. This time, however, he stopped her without touching her.
"Bella, stay...please!" His voice was a hoarse shadow of itself, and it shook her into stillness. She sat next to him, and turned to see if his face showed what his voice said.
"We need to talk about this, before the desire gets out of control, don't you think?" He took her hands in his, and raised them to his lips. "I don't want to keep pretending I don't have an interest in you anymore. I want us to explore this, to find out where it will take us. It's been torture for me, especially since we had dinner a month ago. You have no idea how desperately I have wanted to touch you like I have been doing since I got here."
He stopped, let go of her hands, and stood up to pace away from her across to the door. She looked at him in alarm. He wasn't planning on leaving NOW, was he, when her body was buzzing from his touch, and her mouth still tasted the flavor of his desire on her tongue? But he stopped by the door and faced her, hands in his pockets, and she knew, suddenly, what that gesture meant. And into her mind's eye flashed all the other occasions on which his hands had been in his pockets.
"Rick, I'm sure you know that I'm significantly older than you," she began haltingly, knowing it was time she contributed something other than outraged innocence to the conversation. "What you don't know is that I have two failed relationships behind me, and I'm very wary of a third."
She bit her lip and stopped, not sure what else she could say to warn him off her. She knew how she felt, how she had always felt about him, but she was old enough to know that fairy tales did NOT come true, no matter how hard you wished. Unless you were a character in a story. And she knew that Prince Charming only chose the virginal young princess. Not only was she NOT virginal, but she was far from young, and no princess. Time to face reality. She cleared her throat again, and opened her mouth to continue the speech for the prosecution that would sway the jury against her.
Rick stopped her again. "Before you tell me how old you are, and how unsuited we are to each other, let me just say that in my family, most of the wives are older than their husbands, some significantly. My parents are one example, and they are as happy together now as they have ever been in almost forty years of marriage."
He walked back over to where she sat, watching his face with hungry eyes.
"Stop looking at me like that, if you don't want to end up horizontal tonight!"
His threat held a dangerously sensual promise that sent fire sluicing through her system, flooding her nerve endings and dampening her already damp undies. She looked away from his heated gaze, and he continued,
"Nothing you can say will change what I've been feeling, Bella. So don't waste time trying." He pulled her out of her seat, and held her at arm's length. "So, what are we going to do about this? Aside from me learning how to curb my enthusiasm in public?"
He looked down at his front, and Cara's eyes followed his, noting the significant tenting in the front of his pants. She blushed to the roots of her hair and looked away hurriedly, wishing she could muster the gumption to stop acting like a green girl on her first date. She was a grown woman with a fairly checkered past, of which Rick was entirely ignorant.
The buzz that had started again low in her belly fizzled at that thought, and Rick must have noticed her sudden stillness, because he raised her chin and asked,
"What's wrong?" His eyes held that same intense heat, and worry now, as well.
Cara squared her shoulders and lied. "Nothing!" She forced a note of certainty into her voice, and hoped he bought it. There was no way on Earth that she was going to spill any beans tonight. They had just kissed a few times, and yes, it was obvious he wanted her, but that didn't mean she had to come unglued and lose the control she had prided herself on maintaining over the years, and through all the pain.
"I need to hear you tell me how you feel, Bella," he said, after a long pause in which he searched her face to see if he believed her.
Cara's pulse sped up again. He was not letting up the pressure this evening, and she supposed she understood. In fact, she knew she did. It was how she felt, like a volcanic eruption simmering, waiting, holding itself in.
"You know how I feel, Rick," she temporized, knowing as she did that he wouldn't let her get away with it.
He studied her face, a small smile playing about his ips, and then he shook his head.
"No, I'm afraid I don't. In fact, if I'm to go by appearances, you're afraid of me, and suffer my kisses because you aren't strong enough to resist me. Truth be told, I feel almost like a rapist!"
Damn! Cara's eyes flew to his face, searching to see if he meant it, but he shielded his feelings from her now under hooded lids. She didn't want him to think he was forcing himself on her! She hastened to correct the error.
"No, Rick, no! Please don't think you're forcing yourself on me, because you're not! I..." She faltered, and he only waited, unmoving, his hands on her elbows.
"Come on, baby, is it that hard to tell me how you feel about me?" His voice was a gentle caress. He began a corresponding circling of his thumbs over the sensitive flesh at her elbow, making her insides quiver. She tried and failed to stop herself from shivering, and gave up, angry as she was aroused.
"I'm very attracted to you too, Rick!" she admitted almost in a temper. "And I wanted your kisses." She stole a look at his face, and the emotion she saw there, made her confess the rest. "I love your kisses."
It seemed as though that last sentence was his undoing. He pulled her sharply into his body, like a soldier snapping to attention, and begged her, before he kissed her,
"Kiss me back, baby!"
Cara let go of her fear, her worry, of everything except the pulsing desire that was all but choking her now, and gave him her tongue, before trying for his herself. And when he let her have it, she suckled him like a starving infant, feeling him press himself against her wanting body, feeling the hard thudding of his heart under her questing hands, tasting the flavor of his desire on her tongue. Rick slowly lowered her to the sofa again, and this time, he came down atop her, pressing her into the soft cushions, not letting her mouth go, until they had to come up for air.