***Chapter Seven***
Word Count: 3,927

He didn't sleep real well, waking up more than once. He supposed that wasn't unusual since he couldn't remember the last time he'd slept with someone. Well, sleeping without sex coming beforehand anyway. It just wasn't something he did. Intentions would get cloudy, misconstrued with that added into the mix. He just tried to avoid those kinds of headaches at all costs.

So, when the sun started peeking through his curtains he should have gotten out of bed immediately. Why didn't he then?

He couldn't say.

The first time he'd woken up she hadn't moved from the spot she'd been in when he came to bed. Even her hand was next to his back. He knew that only because he felt her fingertips underneath him when he'd shifted a bit. He'd never had anyone touch him like that before ever. Usually, as sorry as women might feel for him, they just avoided doing anything to his back or torso. It was as if they thought by not touching him there they'd go away. Certainly he couldn't recall someone touching him for the express goal of doing that and nothing more.

She probably thought he was all kinds of rude or weird for turning his back on her. She wasn't here for anything beyond sleeping. He wasn't going to make a complete ass of himself and let her see that having her in his bed, something he'd thought and dreamt of more than a few times over the years, had an effect on him.

The next time he'd woken up she'd moved. She was on her side, too, facing his back pressed against him so tightly he couldn't be sure where he stopped and she began. Her arm was draped around him, hand settled against his abdomen as if it belonged there. He'd liked her there, sleeping next to him like that, so he'd fought the urge to move closer to the edge of the bed and away from her. The urge was there because having her this close was probably dangerous. He liked kissing her way too much. He could only imagine how good the rest of it would be with her.

He'd woken up a few more times after that and she hadn't moved from that spot. He drifted back to sleep rather quickly. He never slept real well when a woman spent the night, but this was different for some reason he couldn't quite put his finger on.

Now, though, he wasn't sure he'd be able to get back to sleep. The sun was out and his alarm clock told him it was going on eight o'clock. She'd moved away from him since the last time he'd woken up. She hadn't moved far but there was space between them now where there hadn't been.

He turned then so he was facing her, regarding her. He hadn't really ever been this close to her. Not like this. He was free to peruse or just stare as he wanted to. He did for a minute and then remembered why she'd come to him last night and felt kind of guilty for in a roundabout way violating her, too. Her sleeping here wasn't granting him permission to look his fill. He couldn't stop his body's natural reaction to her being in bed with him, but he hoped that would go away fairly quickly because he absolutely wasn't going to do anything about that problem this morning.

Her hand was still on the bed just inches away from him. He liked the idea somehow that she wanted to touch him, that even if she couldn't admit it to herself her body's instinct was to want to be close to him. The rest of her hadn't moved much either during the night for that matter. He probably should've woken her up a time or two, but he didn't have it in him to when she seemed to be sleeping soundly. Backwards thinking perhaps since sleeping soundly could be bad for someone who potentially had a concussion. He'd been thrown against a wall a few times in his life, hitting his head in the process and he'd survived, so he used his judgment based on his own experience that she would be okay. One of the times had resulted in stitches and no one had woken him up during the night despite the doctor's warnings.

He ran a fingertip along her left ring finger. He'd noticed the night she bailed him out of jail and the day she came to see him at his studio that she didn't wear a ring on that one. No lines either to indicate she ever did. She did on her right hand, though. He'd seen a couple of different ones on her fingers now that he'd seen her a few times this year. He found that kind of interesting because he knew women wore them on that finger regardless of their relationship status. (He'd in fact gotten very confused by one in particular a couple of years ago because the ring she'd been wearing sure looked like an engagement ring but had turned out not to be.)

"Good morning," she murmured.

"Hey," he said. He slid his hand away, feeling guilty that his touch somehow woke her. Then again if she was that light of a sleeper, getting out of bed would have woken her up he supposed. "Sorry if I woke you."

"You're fine."

"How are you feeling?"


"No dizziness or blurred vision? No feeling like you're going to throw up?"

"No, no, and no."

"Good," he whispered.

She yawned, stretching a little. Her fingertips touched his. He didn't move his hand away this time.

"Why are you awake so early?" she asked.

He shrugged. "I'm not sure." He had absolutely no reason to be awake before eight o'clock in the morning considering he'd been up until three o'clock tending to her.

"Do you have to work again?"

"No," he said with a chuckle. "I wouldn't have scheduled something for today. I knew it was going to be a late night. The wedding was out in Algonquin."

"Really? No wonder you got in so late."

"Sorry about that."

"It's not your fault."

"If you were really hurt, like had a concussion or something and something bad happened to you sitting here waiting for me."

She smiled a little at that, closing her eyes again. "Still wouldn't have been your fault," she murmured.

"Why aren't you with somebody?" he asked unable to censor his thoughts.


He lifted his hand again, tapping on her ring finger. "Why aren't you with somebody?"

She shrugged. "I haven't met anyone I want to be with?"

"Why not? You have to have met hundreds of suitable candidates."

"I don't know. None of them excite me," she said. She opened her eyes and looked at him and he sensed somehow she stopped herself from saying more. "And he should excite me, shouldn't he?"

"The comments I could make to that, Princess."

She laughed softly, lacing her fingers through his. He certainly didn't mind the contact. It was strange, very foreign to him to lay in bed with someone and talk like this.

"I'm sure you could make plenty. I don't mean that kind of exciting."

"That's too bad because that's the best kind of exciting."

"You would think that."

"Of course I do."

She sighed softly, regarding him.

"I think your version of exciting and mine are probably pretty different."

"Maybe. Maybe not. You might learn to like my version of exciting, Princess."

"I'm not sure I'd be ready for that."

He chuckled softly at that. He was admittedly a little confused by her and what she'd said before. She'd stopped things from happening between them that day at school because he'd scared her not because she hadn't wanted to. That was what she'd been saying. Right? He couldn't really ask her for clarification, but that was certainly the impression he'd gotten. He'd spent the last four years assuming … well, all sorts of shit about her and why she'd stopped him from doing what he thought she'd wanted to do just as badly as he had. They'd passed the time until four o'clock very well without that.

"Do you need some more Tylenol?" A much safer topic to talk and think about than her and the type of guy that would excite her.

She closed her eyes and he wasn't sure if she was ignoring him or falling back to sleep. He didn't repeat the question, though, if she was that tired he'd just let her sleep and offer it to her again when she woke up.

"No," she said finally. "It still hurts, but it's bearable."

"That's good," he said.

"You didn't wake me up."

"I didn't. If he'd knocked you against the wall more than once maybe I would've, but you made it out here from wherever you were downtown. You sat on my porch for close to two hours. If you had a concussion I probably would've found you passed out on my porch or throwing up in my bushes or something."

"As if showing up here wouldn't have been embarrassing enough. I don't think I'd ever be able to see you again if that'd happened."

"It wouldn't have been your fault if it had happened."

"I know, still embarrassing. You would've thought I was drunk or something and laughed at me."

"Yeah, I probably would've until you'd told me what happened and then I wouldn't have been laughing anymore." If he had been home when she'd gotten here he probably would've found out what club she'd been at and gone there himself to take care of the asshole. "Whatever the guy's intentions were, to rob you or do something worse, you're very lucky."

"I know," she said.

She scooted toward him then, running a finger along his hand that had been touching hers.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"For what?" he asked with a frown.

She leaned in and kissed him then, settling her hand against his chest in the process. He slid his arm around her, drawing her closer against him and kissed her back. He wasn't at all unhappy or put out by this turn of events. Her hand at his chest moved a bit, lower so her fingertips grazed one of his nipples and he groaned a bit. Her touching him like that surprised the hell out of him. She deepened the kiss, he waited for her to do it because he didn't feel like pushing her.

She broke the kiss and he groaned in disapproval at the loss of contact with her. She found his jaw then and then his ear where she did some pretty nice – and exciting – things to him there. Her hand at his chest slid lower, fingertips sliding along his chest and abdomen to his shorts. He hissed as she reached into the waistband of them.

He slid his hand over hers, stopping her from reaching further. To this point she hadn't actually touched a part of him she wouldn't see at the beach or if he was in his yard mowing his lawn this summer.

"Princess," he whispered.

"Hmm?" she murmured, finding his shoulder with her lips.

"Claire," he said.


He knew saying her name would get her attention because he so seldom used it. Why he had no idea. He knew she wasn't that girl anymore, but the nickname still suited her in ways.

"I can't do this."


He laced his fingers through hers, settling them against his abdomen. It probably wasn't far enough away from the area she'd been reaching for a second ago, but he absolutely could not do this with her this morning.

"You came here last night because you trust me."


"I wouldn't be very trustworthy if a few hours after you were attacked I let something happen between us."


"I can't do it. You'd leave here thinking. Well, I don't know what you'd think. You'd wonder later if I thought you made it all up or something."

"I wouldn't…"

"I'd still rather not risk it."

"You mean you…"

"Don't you dare say I don't want to. I know you can see very plainly that I want to. Wanting to is not the issue. Doing the right thing is the issue. I don't have many chances to do the right thing and I very seldom do the right thing even when I know what I should do."

"Why do you want to now then?"

He sighed softly.

"Because when we get to the point of having sex I want it to be for the right reason."

"What's the right reason?"

"Both of us being on the same page, in the same place. I don't know how hard you hit your head last night. I don't want you coming back a couple weeks from now saying you weren't thinking clearly."

"I wouldn't do that."

"It's not a chance I can take with you."

He leaned in and kissed her, tempting fate by drawing her to him. He groaned as she pressed against him, sliding a foot over his calf so she fit comfortably against him. If she had the shorts off he'd given her he'd be able to enter her so very easily right now.


This was such an incredibly terrible idea, having her here. Having her in bed with him. Having her this close to him.

She certainly seemed as if she knew exactly what she was doing. She'd said she wasn't dizzy or anything. She'd been the one initiating. He hadn't even suggested or indicated he wanted anything from her.

Stop it.

That was not the thought process he needed to be following right now.

He shifted them so he was on top of her. Her arms went around his neck as if she was trying to prevent him from breaking the kiss. He had no desire to do that, but he liked knowing she didn't want him to. She felt good underneath him like this. He'd imagined various reasons for having her in his bed with him over the years. This wasn't one of them. She gasped softly when he stopped kissing her for a minute, finding her jaw and her throat.

He wished he could explain it to her. Why it mattered that she didn't leave here thinking she didn't mean anything. She'd meant something since that day, maybe even before that day if he wanted to get deeply philosophical about it. For whatever reason they had a connection, an attraction that years apart hadn't done anything to stop or lessen.

His mind made up that he would only go so far it wasn't as difficult to just kiss her. Not to say it wasn't tempting to do more. He wanted her so badly he was pretty sure he'd curse himself all sorts of names later for telling her no.

Eventually they stopped and he moved beside her again. She settled next to him as he drew the top sheet back up around them. He didn't think it was going to get as hot today as it had yesterday so they'd be fine in here for a while. This room always got real hot, which he hadn't known when he bought the place. He'd have to figure that out at some point if she ever spent the night again.

"You're not mad at me?" she whispered, glancing at him over her shoulder.

He kissed her shoulder, rubbing his cheek against the spot he'd kissed. She was facing away from him with her back pressed against him. He liked her here, laying in front of him like this. She fit comfortably against him.

"No," he replied.

"I thought…"

"I'm not mad."

"You asked me to stay the night with you in February."

"I did," he said with a soft chuckle.

"What's so funny?"

"Leave it to you to throw a spur of the moment thought back at me."

"You only thought of it at the last minute?"

"Yes. I hadn't seen you in years. You drove downtown in the middle of the night to bail me out of jail, which I can understand you probably weren't overly surprised to get a phone call from me for that reason. So, thinking of asking you to spend the night with me didn't occur to me until you kissed me."

"Oh," she said.

"That was different though. We hadn't seen each other in years."

"And now?"

He shrugged. "I can't just have sex with you, Claire. I can't say I would've been able to in February honestly. I don't know, you may have agreed and we got where we are right now and I may have done the same thing I did this morning."


"Because you deserve better than that."

"The others don't?"

"The others aren't you."

"Those two I saw spent the night here and you said you still see them."

"We didn't sleep much."

She sighed softly.

"And it's different. Again. They're not expecting anything from me because they don't want anything from me. It works for us. I mean, they're not here every weekend or anything."

"I kissed a woman once."

He closed his eyes, not at all wanting to hear that because he had to admit it turned him on watching Tina and Lily kiss one another maybe more than it turned him on watching them do the rest of it. There was something very intimate, personal about kissing and they weren't afraid to let him see that aspect of their relationship.

"Why?" he asked finally, realizing she was obviously wanting some sort of reaction to that statement.

"I was curious, I guess."

"About other women?"

"I guess. I don't know. I thought maybe…"

"You're not a lesbian, Claire."

"I discovered that then, yes," she said softly.

"Hmm. How did the woman react?"

"She got kind of mad. I don't know. I just wondered if there was a reason I'm not attracted to anyone I go out with."

"Maybe you're just going out with the wrong guys."

"My brother's gay," she whispered.

That wasn't at all the response he was looking for to what he'd just said.

"What?" he asked. Surely he'd heard wrong.

"I guess I thought maybe if he was I was too."

"I see."

"That's why things are the way they are with the company."

"And why you try to keep the attention on you and what you're doing with your life?"

"Yeah," she whispered.

"Claire," he said. Jesus, talk about pressure. "Your dad knows?"

"We're not sure he does, but we are pretty sure he does. He's never said and certainly Christopher's never admitted it."

"And he'd bypass him for you because of that?"

"You don't know my parents very well."

"I guess not."

"I think, too, he'd probably react differently if it was me interested in women instead of Christopher interested in men."

"Why?" John asked with a frown. "What difference would it make?"

"Well, my parents only had one boy. I have male cousins who could still produce Standishes I guess, but as far as my father is concerned."

"Oh," John said. "No more males if your brother isn't married, making babies."


"Why did your dad get the company over your uncles?"

"He was the oldest and the smartest," Claire said.

"Really? Or are you just saying that because he's your dad?"

"No, really. None of my uncles have an ounce of business sense. They all work for the company, but they couldn't handle more than the responsibilities they have."

"I see," John said.

"So, yeah, that's why I live the way I do. Well, not really. I really would like to get away from some of it. It's just not so easy. I've kind of become the face of my dad's company in a way. I mean, if I go to a club that Dad owns the property of it does better. If my friends and I go to a new restaurant the first night or two it stays busy for weeks longer than if I didn't ever go."

"I get it. And your dad will rely on you then to produce those male babies Christopher can't?"

"I imagine so," she said. "They still wouldn't be Standish's though, obviously."

"It's just a name. Isn't it the blood that counts anyway?"

"I think it's both."

"I guess, but he doesn't have a choice."

"No, he doesn't."

"You don't think Christopher would, you know, pay someone to…"

"No! Who would he find to do something like that without telling anyone else?"

"I suppose. People do wonder why he leads such a quiet existence and you don't."

"I know."

"I'll call the lawyer on Monday, but you know we don't really need him."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, what you need is some positive attention instead of constantly negative. It'll take a while for people to believe you're doing those things because you want to. You realize that, right?"

"But I've always done them!"

"You know that, I know that, but people will see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe."

"I know," she said with a sigh.

"So you tell me what you're doing and where and we'll work something out."

"But Mr. McMillan will need to draw up some sort of contract with you so you get paid."

"I don't need money, Claire."

"But you said…"

"Yeah, I know what I said. As long as the things you're doing don't interfere with my actually working I'll be fine."

"John, I feel like I'm taking advantage of you."

"Maybe I just want an excuse to take your picture, Princess."

"My clothes will remain on."

He chuckled softly at that. "You were going to take them off earlier."

"Not for you to take pictures of me!"

"I know." He kissed her shoulder again. "Get some more sleep, Claire."

"Are you?"

"I'm going to try, yeah. It's Sunday. It's a good day to sleep in."

"Sleeping in would require us getting more than five hours of sleep."

"I agree, so let's try for some more. I'll even make you breakfast later."

"Mm, that sounds great."

"And then maybe take you to your car."

"Oh God, I forgot about that. Thank you!"

"Don't mention it."

She turned her head again, glancing at him over her shoulder and leaning toward him a bit. He met her halfway and kissed her.

He closed his eyes, letting the warmth of her skin under his hand at her stomach lull him to sleep. The things she'd told him about her brother cast a new light on her situation. And the role he could play in that situation really. He shook his head slightly at that, dismissing those thoughts. He wasn't even sure she wanted him to play a role or that he'd be able to. He'd never tried being in a relationship with someone.

It'd been a while since he fell asleep thinking of his dad or the things the man he was named after had done to him growing up. He worked very hard to put things behind him, not to dwell. There was nothing he could do anyway, but every once in a while things happened or were said that brought things back. This morning was one of those times. He'd laugh if his old man could ultimately cause him to not be able to be with the one woman he ever wanted to be with.

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