Word Count: 4,352
She'd managed to avoid him for the most part for almost a full week. She couldn't avoid him entirely, of course. Always, though, he was with Nathan so any conversation between them had been limited to generic things that anyone living under the same roof would say. She really didn't go out of her way to avoid him, though she certainly hadn't gone to his apartment again. She wasn't at all sure what to think about that night. The first time at the club was a whim. She was in a self-destructive phase as Nathan and her father liked to call it.
There was no excuse for the second time. She'd sought him out, followed him to the entrance to his apartment and had offered to help him. She knew that spending any amount of time with him increased the chances he'd recognize her.
What was more. God she'd enjoyed it. She'd gone to sleep more than once with vivid pictures of what they looked like together, him sliding into her. And she'd relieved herself of the desire that came with those pictures. She was afraid if she didn't that she'd go to see him just for that and that could be dangerous. He already knew too much about her. About what she could do. Unfortunately, the orgasms she gave herself didn't compare to the two she'd gotten with him. And that thought left her frustrated, which defeated the purpose of going about relieving herself to begin with.
She hadn't planned on saying something so stupid as mentioning she'd known he was a bouncer. She still couldn't believe she'd done it. And a part of her wondered if it wasn't intentional. The sex had been amazing, but she realized the next day she'd told him too much about herself. Her secret. And she wasn't sure what to say now, which led to her avoiding him as much as she could.
Tonight, though, there'd be no avoiding him. Nathan was holding a dinner party to which she was required to attend. She'd known about it for weeks and had invited Adam a while ago. He'd agreed to come under the condition that as soon as humanly possible they get away from the stuffy politicians and those hob knobbing with them. Likely, he knew they wouldn't be leaving before everyone else he just had to be difficult about accepting.
As if she enjoyed these things either, but she had to be there. Even though no one knew who she was, she was a guest in Nathan's home and it wouldn't look right if his own long-term houseguest wasn't in attendance. In addition to Adam, Angela and Peter would be there so the night wouldn't be too unbearable. And she had an incredible dress to wear, nothing too revealing but she felt kind of sexy wearing it. Perhaps the wrong mood to go for having to endure a political dinner, but she'd seen it and had to have it.
Now, though, knowing that both Adam and Taylor would see her, she was questioning the dress. It wasn't revealing and it looked fabulous on her. It was clingy and silky, though. And knowing that Adam wanted to know what was under the dress and that Taylor now knew without a doubt what was under the dress. Well, she was nervous.
And a little excited for him to see her like this. He'd seen her in skirts before, but they were just every day clothes to her. This was special. Fancy. One of those dresses she would put away after tonight and wonder if she'd have a reason to wear it again.
It was times like this that she wished she was a little girl again, no one to look nice for but her daddy. A glance at the clock told her that she was running late. She had no formal duties as hostess or anything, but it wouldn't look right if she was fashionably late in her own house. So, she slipped her heels on after going over her hair one last time with a brush.
She found Taylor in the room immediately. He was hard to miss. Though he still had some bruising, the cuts she'd seen last week were healed for the most part. Except the one on his lip. She imagined it was hard to heal something like that. Right along the edge there, whether he smiled (not that he did a lot of that) or talked it got stretched and irritated.
She smiled a little, averting her gaze almost immediately. As much as she'd rather stand and talk to him, simply because she had nothing in common with any of these people, she couldn't do that. So, she smiled and nodded, talking as little as she could get away with. No one there seemed to mind. In fact, they seemed to relish the undivided attention she apparently gave. She was listening to a judge whose support meant a great deal to Nathan when Adam came in.
How did she know it was Adam? She hadn't seen him yet, so that wasn't it. It was just a feeling she got whenever he was near. Not that she'd ever confessed that to him, or he'd never give up.
She caught sight of him across the room and watched as the guests sort of got out of his way without realizing they were doing it. He had that effect on people. He carried himself in a way that suggested he was exactly what he was.
A centuries old warrior.
A man who'd seen and experienced far too much to be bothered with things like this. And everyone here should be prepared to do his bidding. He didn't talk like that, of course, but there were times with her that he got this odd cadence to his voice that suggested he wasn't entirely accustomed to modern day English.
The judge she was listening to was the only one who seemed unaffected by him. Until he stood next to Claire. That was when he noticed Adam and stopped talking.
"Judge Pollick," Adam said into the silence.
"How are you tonight?"
"Doing well. I didn't realize you were going to be here."
"I'm guest of Miss Bennet's."
"I see," he said, glancing at her as if she'd withheld a big secret or something. "Well, enjoy the rest of your night."
"Thank you," Adam said, sliding an arm around Claire's waist. "I'm sure we will. You do the same."
The judge moved on. They didn't stay alone for very long or often. Adam knew a lot of people in the room and it seemed they all had something to talk about. She found Taylor more than once who always seemed to look at her at the same time. He never looked overly happy and as if Adam had radar she didn't know about or understand he always seemed to touch her whenever Taylor was looking.
Eventually, the cocktail hour was over and they were seated for dinner. Adam was far more attentive to her at the table than he'd been in the other room as far as talking to her. She'd expected that. He knew how to schmooze with the best of them. It was one of the reasons Nathan let him hang around knowing that his interest in Claire wasn't completely innocent.
The night went on forever. Okay, maybe it just felt that way because Claire couldn't leave. What was she going to do? Get up from the table and say she had to go home? Had somewhere else to be? She talked when someone talked to or asked her something, but otherwise she just listened. Nathan told her several times that she'd learn things if she did that, and as much as she hated to admit it he was right. They were things she couldn't sit and talk to her friends about, but with every thing that she went with him to or sat with him at, she learned more so she wouldn't get fleeced by a reporter one day.
And she was so very afraid of that happening. Of her saying or doing something to embarrass Nathan. So, she listened to everyone. She didn't understand everything, but she asked Adam or Nathan later. Or looked it up on the Internet if it was something she thought she maybe should know and didn't want to admit to either of them she didn't know.
And found herself staring at Taylor more than once. She couldn't decide if he spent more of his time looking at her in return or at her hand being held by Adam's throughout the evening. Oh, he didn't always hold her hand. Sometimes, he slid an arm around her, drawing her to him for a private comment. Claire was used to it by now. It was just the way Adam was with her. He liked to touch her, almost as if to assure himself he was really so close to someone like him.
Not just special, because they were around special people all of the time anymore.
Someone who was special in the same way he was.
She knew what it probably looked like to everyone in the room, including the one she'd had sex with twice now. It was the perception that Adam wanted everyone to have. That she was his, belonged to and with him.
She knew this, it had never really bothered her because he knew what her rules were, and he was willing to play by them. He pushed and would probably continue to push, but he was willing to let her live the life she wanted. He just wasn't going to go away quietly or sit back and do nothing to tempt her in an effort to get her to change her mind. And really, could she blame him for pushing? She'd probably push too if she'd been essentially alone for almost four hundreds years.
Adam's presence helped Nathan in a way, and Claire knew that wasn't lost on either man. Heidi wasn't here, as she was missing from most of his things these days. These absences led to gossip about the reason his marriage might be failing. Claire's presence seemingly out of nowhere with no formal explanation that she was his daughter led to even more gossip along the lines of her being the cause of any marital strife there was.
Adam silenced the gossip that Claire was something more to Nathan than she was. To a degree anyway. There was always someone who would think it, but as long as it was someone not Nathan holding her hand, sitting next to her at a dinner table, or dancing with her the gossip was kept to a minimum. It would never go away completely she imagined.
Even if Claire up and disappeared it wouldn't. People would then wonder where she went and gossip about whether Nathan had a problem keeping his women. She wished she could help him, talk to Heidi, plead his case for him. She wasn't exactly sure what their issues were, though, and finding out she was his daughter more than likely would compound the issues rather than improve anything.
She noticed that it had been longer than usual since she'd seen Taylor. He didn't hover in the room all night. He wandered in and out, presumably ensuring the house was secure and no one was trying to get in or anything. He hadn't gone longer than fifteen or twenty minutes without coming back in here, though.
She excused herself, Adam probably presumed she had to go to the bathroom. Let him think that. While she wasn't concerned about Taylor necessarily she was curious. He didn't give much of a reaction whenever she looked at him, but then he wouldn't given the fact he was working.
She found him in the kitchen, being fawned over by one of the staff. Not Carla, she was old enough to be his grandmother. Or pretty close anyway. She imagined that happened a lot. She'd chosen him above everyone else in the club that night after all so she couldn't be the only woman who found him attractive.
"Decided to come slumming?" he said just before taking a bite. For some reason, his food looked more appetizing than hers had. It was the same food so she wasn't sure why that was.
"No, just wanted something to drink."
"Did they run out of water in there?"
She smirked a little, heading to the refrigerator and grabbing a bottle of the wine she liked. She couldn't get drunk she'd discovered, but there were a few things she actually enjoyed the taste of. This wine was one of them. She poured herself a little in a glass and then as an afterthought poured him some, too.
"How's it going?" he asked. The tilt of his head in the direction from which she'd just come seemed to mean he was asking about the dinner.
"Fine, I guess. Ask me tomorrow who any of them were or what they said and I won't remember."
"Hmm," he said, watching as the other girl watched Claire. Claire noticed it, too. She didn't look too happy. Why? Taylor was allowed to eat and it wasn't as if she was here to report back to Nathan anything she saw.
"Just boring political stuff. If you were in there you'd know."
"That's the great part about him having these things here. I can walk around some."
"Is that what you're doing now?"
He shook his head a little as if her answer wasn't the one he'd wanted. What did he want her to do? Tell him she loved him? Went to bed every night this week thinking of him? That he was the first guy she'd had those types of thoughts about. To that extent anyway.
"I got hungry, headed to my apartment, and Iona offered me something I didn't have to cook."
Claire glanced at the woman in question, smiling a little. "How nice for you that you were spared having to cook."
"I know it, right?" he asked, stabbing one of the green beans on his plate with a fork. "It's pretty much tastier than anything I'd make, too," he said, giving Iona a wink. And he had to know she'd see it.
"Not a cook?"
"Not much of one, no."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?"
"I don't know. As if you know anything about me. I didn't always live here."
And she did not want to hear what he had to say about that, because he knew far too much about her. Things he had no business knowing about. She finished her wine and got up to rinse the glass out. There were staff to see to those sort of things, but Claire tried not to rely on them for every little thing.
"There's more wine in the fridge if you want more of it. See ya," she said simply before leaving to return to her spot at the table.
Okay, that hadn't gone at all as she'd expected it to. She wasn't sure what she was hoping for, but something tense and in front of someone else wasn't it.
She must have taken longer than she thought because people started to leave almost as soon as she returned. Not that she was complaining, the night seemed like it had gone on forever. She and Adam were the last to leave the room, letting Nathan get his goodbyes in.
"That went fairly well," Adam said, setting his napkin on his now empty place. He draped an arm over the back of her chair.
"If you say so."
"You know, if you actually paid attention instead of daydreaming you might not have a bad time at these things."
"I wasn't daydreaming. I just don't like to be surrounded by old people who have nothing better to do with their time but talk about laws and business. And how the young people of today are out to destroy everything they've fought for."
"Ouch," he said.
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah, as if I wounded you."
"You do, deeply. If you think they're old. What, pray tell, do you think of me?"
"You don't act old and stuffy. You act more like someone my age."
"And that's complimentary?"
She threw her hands up in the air. "I can't win. What do you want me to say?"
"Nothing, absolutely nothing," he said, standing and pulling her chair out for her. "Where to now?"
"I don't know. It's late and I'm kind of tired."
"Playing nice all evening takes its toll, eh?"
"Yeah," she said, walking with him to the foyer. There were a few stragglers, but most everyone that Nathan didn't think of as a friend was gone. She spotted Peter who waved, but looked as if he was leaving with everyone else. He probably had to work early the next day.
"Walk me to my car?"
"Sure," she said.
They were quiet on the way out. She waved to Peter again as he drove past them. Adam leaned against the side of his car, drawing her to him.
"You look nice tonight."
"Thanks. I'm getting used to having to dress up all of the time."
"The clothes are becoming," he said, running the back of his hand along her hip to emphasize his appreciation of the dress she guessed.
"I think that's the point."
"When did you sleep with him?"
He rolled his eyes, sliding a hand into hers. "Don't play dumb. You heard me."
"I, what makes you think?"
"I'm a man, Claire, I know these things."
"Oh come on, you can't tell me that every guy there tonight thinks that?"
"Well, no probably not. They think you're sleeping with me so wouldn't look for the signs with someone else in the very same room."
"I saw the way you two were looking at one another. He couldn't stop undressing you and I'm well aware of the difference in someone who knows what the other person looks like out of their clothes. He does."
"So, I ask again, when did you sleep with him?"
"Last week," she murmured.
"Did he remember who you were?"
"Yes," she said.
"Before or after?"
"Before. I said something stupid and it made him realize who I was."
"You? I cannot imagine that."
"Very funny. It came out that I knew he worked as a bouncer."
"The rest just happened. He was hurt."
"Hurt? Did something happen to Nathan? To you?"
She laughed a little, remembering that was her first response to seeing him beat up as he had been.
"No, he boxes."
"Oh," Adam said, sounding as if the concept held some appeal to him. "A legitimate hobby. Or is it a career for him?"
"He'd like it to be. He has a friend who's a sports agent who he thinks could help him if he gets to that point."
"So sex and talking about future plans. Sounds serious."
"It was sex!"
"So, anyway, continue on. He was hurt."
"Yes, I couldn't see how badly but I knew he was hurt."
"And of course you couldn't resist offering to take care of him."
"Something like that."
"Has it happened again?"
"No, I don't know that it will."
She shrugged. "I don't know. He hasn't really said anything to me since then."
"Sweetheart, he doesn't have to. He's waiting for you."
"How do you know that?"
"Oh, I can pretty well guess what he's thinking. For starters, he's not sure who I am to you. No matter what you've told him, it's clear I have an interest in you. Tack on, he's just started this rather cushy job. One that I'm sure he doesn't want to jeopardize by doing something stupid like getting caught in a compromising position with the boss' daughter. You left that first night and that doesn't happen to a guy very often, so he's going to wonder if the second time wasn't any better for you if you haven't come back for more by now. So, he's going to take his queues from you."
"Come on, Adam. He can get any girl he wants. And I'm sure he doesn't think it's because I didn't enjoy myself."
"Just as you can get any guy you want. And yet somehow the two of you have found one another twice. I watched him tonight, Claire. He was like a caged tiger, itching to be set free. He couldn't stop me from touching you, but he couldn't stand there and watch me do it either."
"Is that why you did that?"
"Well, no, not completely anyway. I was testing my theory in part, admittedly. I like touching you, you know this."
"And I will continue doing so until you tell me I no longer can."
"You mean it was something that simple to get you to stop?"
"As if you mind. There've been times you've seemed to quite like the way I touch you. As to whether he knows he pleased you, a male ego is a fragile thing. Who did the leaving this time?"
"Well, me. He said he was tired, but offered to let me stay."
"To which you said?"
"No, I knew what happened was sex, I didn't want him to feel obligated or to think I expected him to declare his undying love."
"What if he wanted to?"
She smiled, ducking her head a little so he wouldn't see.
"Ah, playing coy then. All right. So, the question becomes, do you want it to happen again."
"I don't know. That'd be a little weird. He lives here. In Nathan's house and works for Nathan. When would I ever be able to see him?"
"That's a rather odd argument as since he lives here you could see him whenever you wished to. And as he works for Nathan doubly so, anywhere you go with Nathan he'll be there, too."
"Yeah, as an employee."
"Does that bother you?"
"No, but it might get old for him after a while."
"Let him be the judge of that."
"Why are you sticking up for him?"
"Well, living as long as I have, there's something to fate. At least I believe there to be. My path crossed with Peter's for a reason. It led me to you, too early perhaps to suit my needs but that's the way of it. And I'd say the fact your paths have crossed twice under unlikely circumstances says something."
"Plus, the sooner you get this living your life out of the way, the better it is for me."
"I'm not going to marry the first guy who comes along just to please you."
"Oh, believe me when I say your marrying anyone won't please me in the least, Claire. I, however, know when a woman has made up her mind. Yours is, so be it. What's another lifetime when I've lived hundreds already?"
"You make me feel guilty when you say stuff like that."
"And yet, you don't change your mind, so apparently not too guilty."
"No, it's not that. I have to do this. You've gotten to."
"Not by choice! If I had found you three hundred years ago…"
"Don't," she said, holding up her hand to push on his chest. "Don't even go there. You've had a bunch of lifetimes to live, to lead the life you wanted to with. I'm asking for one."
"And I've stated I understand. So, get on with it, Miss Bennet, go live your life. You have at least the possibility in the making right in front of you."
"And what? You're just going to go away? Disappear? For fifty or sixty years?"
He snorted with a shake of his head. "Highly unlikely. I'll be here from time to time, it's not as if I don't have other things to occupy my time."
"Would that bother you?"
She shrugged. "I guess a little, even though I know it's wrong of me to feel that way since that's what I'm asking from you."
"There is a difference. I've had my share, long ago sowed my wild oats. You have not. I have no plans on bedding vast amounts of women, Claire, no."
"I don't expect you to."
"Stay celibate for you? No, I know you don't, but I can get the outlets I need without the ties you currently seek. Sex does not have to be a part of love and love does not have to result from sex."
He released her hand and raised his to her cheek, touching her with the back of his hand before leaning in to kiss her. She sensed somehow it was the last one she'd get from him for a while.
"You're leaving, aren't you?"
"What makes you say that?"
"I don't know, just guessing. You're not going to want to see me with him."
"I'm not going to want to see you with anyone. At least you've chosen someone I know can protect you."
"As if I need that."
"You will always need that. Believe me when I say I wouldn't be encouraging you into his life or bed if I thought he would rollover and die in a conflict in which you were involved. He won't. I don't need to know him to be certain of the fact he'd protect you for all he was worth, love or not."
"I won't let anything happen to me."
"Neither will he. And on that note, good night," he said, kissing her on the forehead this time.
"Good night," she said, not asking the obvious question.
When would she see him again? She knew she would. He said he wasn't leaving, but they could view time a little differently than everyone else. So, he could go years without seeing her and it would be no big deal to him. In the grand scheme of things anyway.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com