Raw and Broken Ch. 06

bysecretsxywriter©

"There's no real entry way. You don't need a foyer, but in this neighborhood, you need something other than...this." I waved my hand around indicating the front porch, picnic table, and kitchen designed more for a Barbie doll than a human being.

"Understood. Make it look like home, but more affordable."

"Your childhood Southampton home, not your mother's Paris one. Although, I'm only imagining the house you grew up in doesn't rival the country estate."

"No, it only has two floors on three acres."

I rolled my eyes and started toward the living room and a set of bookcases on the far wall. But he intervened and quickly guided me to the back of the house instead. When I started to ask what the rush was, he shushed me and moved behind so I couldn't backtrack.

A hallway led to three rooms for sleeping. While they were each a good size, there were way too many beds. Four single ones were lined up along the walls in each room, some of them arranged as bunks. Mismatched nightstands were stuck in between leaving a square of open space in the middle to maneuver around.

"You're going to need a lot of manpower to clear these out."

Stefan scratched his neck. "When is Malcolm coming back?"

"Saturday or Sunday, I think. Maybe he could call Daryl to come help. But that wouldn't be until next week at the earliest."

"I was hoping to get these out of here today or tomorrow. Start ripping up carpet."

"Well, I may be a model, but I'm not afraid to get dirty."

His mouth twitched, then he shook his head slightly as his smile returned. He gestured toward the door and followed me out of the last bedroom.

I groaned as I took in the two cramped bathrooms across the hall from each other. Each had a pedestal sink, a narrow shower, and a toilet but no storage. I'd not seen a linen closet, either, in the hall. No wonder the beach towels were kept on the porch.

"These bathrooms are too small."

Stefan walked into the shower stall, sat on the lid of the toilet seat, then stepped before the sink, all while I stood in the hall. "I can move around just fine."

"You're a guy."

He put his hands on his hips. "And just what does that mean?"

"Just that you don't need a lot of room. But unless you're going with the bachelor pad idea to sell this place, maybe you could think about rearranging the floorplan. Like take out the wall of the third bedroom to make a single, larger full bath and bump the kitchen out into the second bathroom? It would work well for both a rental property or just a single-family dwelling."

Stefan blinked several times. "Tearing out walls? I don't know about that, Daphne."

"Listen, you asked for a woman's opinion. We're all about big kitchens. Ample bathroom space. And bedroom layouts that are not only comfortable but also functional. What you have here is just the opposite of all that."

"I'll have to consider it."

"That's all I'm saying. This really isn't a party neighborhood. We haven't seen the master suite yet, but you could probably get away with just the two guest bedrooms. If your buyer still wants to rent the place out, they could fit a couple of bunk beds in each of the rooms down here to allow for higher occupancy. It just wouldn't feel like a guys' dorm room...or a cabin at summer camp."

"I'll keep that in mind."

As he jotted down some notes, I suddenly wondered if my ideas offended him. This had been his childhood vacation home. Although, it didn't look like something a family from the Hamptons would willing come visit, it seemed to have been special to him. Maybe Stefan came with his less wealthy cousins while his parents were off gallivanting the globe. And it could have been much nicer in the past.

I asked Stefan about the eight extra feet of below the house. If it was a lower living level. Or could be. He didn't remember ever being down there, so it was probably used for storage. The only way in appeared to be through a locked, external door he'd found. He said he would get a locksmith out to open it since he'd already tried the keys he had without success.

Functionality aside, the décor seemed more along the lines of what I had expected to find: white walls—some more worse for wear than others—with white-washed, distressed wood furniture. The floors were either light wood or light tan carpeting. The only true colors were in accents and consisted of blue, pink, and green pastels. It was as if a beach-themed store from the 1980s had exploded in here. Every room had seashell and fish knickknacks on the tables, framed on the walls, embroidered on pillowcases, and printed on the comforters. The candleholders, centerpieces, and decorative bowls were even made out of driftwood. It was enough to make me slightly nauseous.

When we finally trekked back to the living room, I smiled wholeheartedly for the first time in this gloomy house. The sun was rising higher outside, and bright, natural light streamed in from three dirty but strategically placed skylights above. I thought I heard my heart sigh as I stepped closer to the east wall directly across from the entrance.

"Are you glad you waited? I tried to save the best for last."

I just grinned at him and bounced a little on my toes.

Two wide columns of built-in bookcases flanked a window seat big enough to lie down in and an expanse of windows inlaid with grilles that stretched to the second floor. The architectural design was capped with a sunburst circlehead. The entire wall looked like a white-framed glass archway you'd find in a fairytale. Outside, vibrant green trees with a blue sky above the canopy blocked the view of the neighboring house.

At this point in the tour, this wall was the only thing that the builders had done right. I could imagine sitting in that little alcove, curled up with a good book and a real cappuccino any day of the year. Snuggled in a blanket, watching the snow or rain fall. Taking a nap as the sun warmed my face.

"What do you think of the fireplace, Daphne?"

I flinched as the sound of Stefan's voice pulled me out of my daydream.

I studied the monster on the north wall with the gaping, black mouth. Several couches and chairs—which had probably been quite nice at one time but were now faded from the sunlight—were arranged in one large, three-sided conversational square in front of it. A low, oversized table had been placed in the center, as if to anchor the pieces. In this space, though, the furniture seemed to be bowing down to the monochromatic sand-colored stones that covered the source of heat and rose a couple of feet above a driftwood mantle then abruptly ended. I tried not to grimace but failed.

"Definitely keep it. It's always a good selling point, especially if someone were to stay here in the winter. But, I've never liked the look of rounded stones. Even when they were popular. I would replace them with brick or flagstone. Something more rustic. It would be amazing to take it all the way up. Finish it with the angle of the ceiling. Or stop at the mantle. Don't do it half-assed like this."

"Are you sure you haven't done this before? Maybe you were a designer in another life?"

I turned away as he glanced at me, not wanting to cry. To admit what a thrill this was. Drake had not let me decorate out in California. It had been intended to be a spec home that his boss had arranged for us to buy. We'd moved in and kept everything except the secret room exactly the same way it had been designed. Maybe that's why I'd never settled in. I'd always felt like it was on display. That we were. It was the perfect house, therefore we had to be the perfect couple—at least in Drake's eyes.

But now? Even if it was pretend, I was elated that someone wanted to hear my ideas for what I actually liked when it came to a home. It felt so good, my chest hurt.

I thought then of the conversation I'd had with Malcolm and Becca after my return from Paris. That I now had enough money from Drake's 401(k) as well as the sale of the house out west to buy a place of my own. To decorate it the way I wanted. Yet I hesitated to jump at the chance, mostly because I wouldn't be able to afford to live here, by them. Maybe in Delaware still, but I wasn't quite ready to leave them long-term and actually be on my own. Until they pushed me to move out, I would bide my time. Especially, with the baby on the way.

"Daphne?" Stefan's voice whispered in my ear. "Anything else?"

"Hmm?"

"The rest of the room? Anything you'd do differently?"

"Oh, a couple coats of paint would make it seem less dated. And clear out all of this beach shit. It worked thirty years ago, but not anymore." I turned to him with my hands on my hips. "I swear, if you touch those windows and bookcases...they are your only saving grace right now."

"I promise they will stay." His smile was wide. Probably a result of relief that I hadn't suggested a complete overhaul in this room as well, although that fireplace could use it. He gestured for me to lead the way up the stairs on the south wall.

A wide loft walkway wrapped around from the west wall facing the cul-de-sac and partially along the north wall, creating a balcony that overlooked the open space below. Its floor created the ceiling for the dining area, part of the kitchen, and the entrance of the hallway. There were two sets of French doors, one leading onto the second porch, and the other into the master suite.

There was just one space left to review.

I took a deep breath and flung the north set of doors open with flamboyance. Then I doubled-over in laughter. I wiped at the tears in my eyes. "Was it always this way?"

Stefan just stared at the floor. "Well, it seemed much cooler when I was a kid."

It was a huge room that covered the space of the kitchen, hallway, bathrooms, and bedrooms below. What made me laugh was the ship's wheel—a behemoth at least four feet tall and wide—mounted on the wall above the bed. Not to mention the bed itself, if you could call it that.

Instead of the typical rectangular mattress and box spring, there was a circle bigger than two king beds put together that served as the mattress. Beneath it was a circular base covered in the same carpeting as the floor. The spread on top was navy blue and had to have been made with two comforters sewn together. Laid out in the middle was a cream-colored blanket with an anchor emblazoned in the center and red and yellow rope curling around it.

There was a massive frame around the head of the bed that created two deep shelves about two feet apart. At either end was a built-in nightstand with drawers. All of the edges were rounded. The last time I'd seen a headboard like that—albeit smaller in scale and definitely more squared off—was back in the 1980s, but it was white acrylic. This one was made of wood. Which matched the dark, glossy paneling on the walls...and the ceiling.

The whole room looked just like the inside of a boat's cabin. I noticed there were even replica portholes on the wall across from the bed on either side of the French doors once we stepped further into the room. Thank goodness they weren't imbedded into the wall.

There were two low, leather chairs by a fireplace to the left of the doors, which made sense since the chimney from the living room would pass through this room as well. A small dinette set was tucked into the corner closest to the bathroom and across from the walk-in closet that jutted out into the room. But there was still a lot of open space.

To carry on the nautical theme, there were models of sailboats and anchors on almost every flat surface. Including the shelves surrounding the bench and arched windows that mimicked the wall in the living room below. Tall, dark shutters covered most of the glass except for the sunburst above it. What sun did shine in showed off dust particles dancing in the rays. It was also the only indication that we were truly not below deck.

The master bath was no better. The walls were the same glossy wood as the bedroom, and the brown carpeting carried throughout only to stop abruptly two feet before the shower and tub enclosure on one wall. The mirror above the double-sink was an enlarged porthole...and this one opened to reveal a medicine cabinet. Decorative wooden shelves held more sailing regalia, including a ship in a bottle, and the towels matched the blanket on the bed.

It all made me think of the loft area as a boat docked on the beach, which was the rest of the house. It was definitely odd. And my stomach wasn't quite sure if it was on land or a little sea sick.

"My uncle used to call the master suite his private yacht," Stefan said as we stood in the bathroom staring at the shower that was so old and dark, it looked like it had already been buried at sea. His voice was soft. Reflective.

"You could fit a whole yacht up here," I mumbled as we returned to the bedroom.

He was smiling, but his cheek twitched. Before he glanced away, I thought I saw his eyes grow glossy. As if he were going to cry. Which probably meant that I had said the wrong thing.

"I'm sorry, this house holds lots of memories for you. I'm sure it used to be lovely when you were growing up. It's just been neglected."

"No, you're right. My aunt had said it was all cosmetic. One to two weeks tops to repaint and maybe change out the flooring. That's like putting a bandage on a leaky pipe. It definitely can't be sold like this. Hell, I don't even know how we'd get this bed...this thing...out of here."

I smiled up at him. "If it's any consolation, I'm here to help."

"Thank you for your offer." He kissed the top of my head. "And for thinking positive."

"You asked for my opinion. I just don't want to offend you."

"You're not."

"Please tell me if I do."

He nodded. "So, where do we start?"

"We need to clear out the junk and remove the furniture."

"Sounds good. Lead the way, slavemaster."

During the whole inspection, I'd forgotten that he could read the back of my shirt. Now, as he followed me down the stairs, my cheeks heated. I wondered what he thought of the words embossed there about shackles, slaves, and whipping. God, I wish I'd thrown this shirt out long ago.

###

Four hours later, we had managed to move all but one couch down to the garage. One of the chairs wouldn't make it to the donation center. I'd lost my grip as we were going down the rickety front stairs, and it took a tumble. So that went on the side of the garage designated for the dumpster.

When we'd found that the last couch wouldn't fit through the front door, I had suggested we haul it upstairs to the open-air porch and chuck it over the side into the driveway. Stefan had seemed to consider it for a moment, which left me gaping at him. But in the end, we'd decided it should stay for now. Something to sit on since we'd removed all of the other chairs and benches. We had just put it back in place when we'd turned to each other and both said we could have taken the feet off. Oh, well.

We'd also corralled every nautical and beach-themed knickknack into the boxes he'd acquired. Including the treasure trove of broken and neglected artifacts from years gone by we found in the upstairs window seat. Neither of us spoke it, but I'm sure we were both hoping the locked space beneath the main living area was empty.

He took the last couple of boxes down to the garage for the charity side while I began the dirty work: cleaning all of the hard surfaces. Even if most of them would eventually be demolished, I told him he shouldn't have to live in filth until then.

I flopped back on the bed after I wiped down the bookshelves around the master suite's window seat and the countertop in the bathroom. I had over-estimated my own strength when it came to lifting furniture. Maybe we should have left it for when Malcolm could help us. But it was done now. I looked up and groaned. How the hell were we going to get the wheel off the wall? Not to mention dismantle the atrocity beneath me that someone had once considered a good idea. I was contemplating bringing up the chuck-over-the balcony idea again when Stefan returned.

He sat beside me on the bed, breathing heavy, as if he'd run up the stairs. "Does Malcolm have any tools? We'll need them to take apart those beds downstairs. That is, if you're still up for it."

I thought of where the toolbox might be at the mansion. "I'm sure he does. Are you planning to donate, or should we have a bonfire in the sacrificial pit your aunt calls a fireplace downstairs?"

"Funny. I'd like to donate the frames if possible."

I sat up and started to scoot off the custom-made mattress. My muscles begged me not to move, their fervent plea leaving my lips as a long groan. The bed was actually pretty comfortable. I bet I could have a great nap on it. Too bad it needed to go. And I didn't live here.

Stefan grabbed my hand, stopping me. "How about we take a break?"

"What?"

"A rest. A breather. A timeout."

"Oh, okay." I thought about lying down again, but then I considered something. "Are you hungry?"

"Ravenous." He moved his other hand to brush the back of his fingers against my cheek as he whispered, "I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too." I wanted to close my eyes, yet I wanted to look at him. His constant touch made my blood race. I wasn't sure if it was from nerves or desire, though.

We'd sat on the mansion's porch yesterday, and we'd been together all morning. But this was the first I'd had time to stop and think about the implications that we were alone. Really alone. Maybe because this atmosphere was different. It was a bedroom. His bedroom, for now. I'd not been with him in an intimate setting like this since that hidden room in his den. And that encounter had been unsettling.

He inhaled. "You smell..."

"Thanks. I bet you do, too. Glad we got that straight."

His breath tickled my neck as he exhaled. "No, I was going to say you smell wonderful."

I laughed. "Like eau de sweaty model."

He chuckled softly. "I want to ask a favor."

"Mmm?" I nuzzled his hand as he palmed my cheek and stroked his thumb over my lips. I couldn't stop my eyes from closing this time.

"I want to make love on this bed before I get rid of it."

My eyes fluttered open. It took a moment for his words to sink in. To realize what he was saying. Then I sat up straight. "What? With me?"

He nodded slowly.

I gulped. "Like, right now?"

He licked his lips.

I started to tell him no. Absolutely not. But then I asked myself why.

Because I was married? But I wasn't anymore. Because my husband had died? That had been almost eight months ago. Because I didn't want to get into another Master/submissive relationship? Stefan had never indicated he was into that. Because he was going to abuse me? I couldn't use past relationships to judge him.

My body answered for me as his eyes visually stroked downward. My own eyes lowered, and I had to tip my head back to see his face fully. My breath came out of my nose as soft, short snorts. The constant ache from the muscles I'd not used until today suddenly dulled as ones deeper within were roused from a forced dormancy. These could not be ignored as they clenched, instantly remembering with great clarity what it felt like to be manipulated by a man.

Who the hell was I kidding? I wanted him. Badly. And it wasn't like he'd chased me halfway across the world. He hadn't thought he'd ever see me again. This was fate. Still, I hesitated.

"I need a shower..."

"I don't care. I want you just as you are. I've been patient for over half a year. Ever since I saw you again yesterday, I haven't been able to stop thinking about you. I didn't sleep at all last night. And then I've had to follow you around all morning while you're wearing that fucking T-shirt?" He let out a growl.

I gasped. His thumb entered my mouth. A moan escaped as I found myself falling backwards on the comforter. Then Stefan laid down beside me.

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