A short prequel to The Siren. Events occur approximately fourteen months before the start of The Siren. For those of you who think Wesley is too good to be true, he’s actually based almost directly on one of my dearest friends. I won’t say his name because he’s still a virgin. And still really fucking gorgeous.
SPOILER ALERT – DO NOT READ UNTIL AFTER READING THE SIREN.
by Tiffany Reisz
Wesley stood at the white board in the hallway of his dorm balancing a chemical equation while his friend Josh sat on the floor behind him copying it down.
“You can drop the coefficient if it’s just ‘one’. Does that make any sense?” Wesley capped his marker and turned around.
Josh feigned stabbing himself in the eye with his pen.
“Dude, this is high school level chemistry.”
“I’m a Political Science major,” Josh reminded him. “Politicians don’t actually have to know shit. We just have to sound like we do.”
“I’m so proud to be an American right now.” Wesley sighed and turned back to the board. “Okay, pay attention. I’ll go nice and easy this time.”
He heard Josh snort a laugh behind him. “Is that what Professor Nora said?”
Wesley exhaled through his nose and decided to remain calm. Two more weeks until Christmas break. He could make it two more weeks without killing someone over Nora.
“I would flip you off and call you a ‘jackass’ but I’m too busy doing your homework for you.”
“How did you get so smart anyway?” Josh demanded. “You’re from fucking Kentucky. You talk like a redneck. Or worse–Jimmy Carter.”
“My mom’s from Georgia–it’s not my fault.”
“How can someone the product of first cousin inbreeding be this good at chemistry?”
Wesley tried to not laugh. Josh was always making fun of him for being from Kentucky while he teased Josh about being bad at every subject that didn’t involve bull-shitting.
“You’re a Jew from Southern California. Aren’t you supposed to run the media and have horns on your head or something?”
“I do run the media, but I keep my horn in my pants. Ask Professor Nora if she wants to see it.”
Wesley started to tell Josh exactly where he could stick his horn when Javier stuck his head through the door and raised his eyebrow.
“Are we talking about Professor Nora? Please tell me we’re talking about Professor Nora, and Wes is blushing. I love when he blushes. Let me get my camera.”
“We’re not talking about Professor Nora,” Wesley yelled out and started writing a new equation on the board.
“Did someone say Nora?” Fitz asked as he came out of the bathroom with his toothbrush behind his ear. “The Nora? Young Wesley’s lover–that Nora?”
Wesley softly beat his head against the marker .
“I hate all y’all,” he said.
“Why hate us?” Josh asked. “You’re the one banging the smoking hot prof.”
“Nora’s my teacher. Having lunch with her a couple of times does not mean–”
“A couple of times?” Fitz asked and pointed his toothbrush at Wesley’s chest. “A couple of times a week maybe and for all semester…you two by yourself at your own private table and you both just laugh and carry on and eye fuck each other like Romeo & Juliet,” Fitz said and shivered with pretend glee. “I can only imagine what you two are talking about.”
“Fitz, she’s hilarious. Of course I laugh.”
“Admit it, Wes,” Javier said and slapped him heartily on the shoulder. “It’s not just lunch.”
Wesley took a deep breath. “I told y’all before, I don’t talk about my sex life.”
Fitz bumped his shoulder against Javier’s. “It’s so cute when he says ‘y’all.’”
“It’s really quite precious,” Javier agreed.
“I wish I could speak Kentucky,” Josh said. “That’s probably why Nora’s fucking him. She must like going south.”
“Deep south,” Javier said.
Wesley blushed and tried to keep his face to the white board.
“Maybe it’s the Confederate Flag thing,” Fitz said. “They’re pretty swanky. Horrifically racist but swanky.”
That warranted a marker to the head which Wesley threw and Fitz caught.
“That’s it, isn’t it?” Josh asked. “Nora’s a Flag Hag. That’s why she picked you when she could have had any of us. Well, except Javier.”
“Girls are gross,” Javier, their resident out-and-proud theater major friend, said and shuddered. “I don’t know how any of you have sex with them.”
“Wesley can tell you,” Josh said. “Wes, tell us how you have sex with Nora. I much prefer biology and anatomy to chemistry.”
Wesley picked up the eraser and wiped off the equation from the board. In large black letters he wrote, Wes Railey Does Not Talk About His Sex Life.
“Can you at least talk about Nora’s sex life?” Fitz asked.
“Read her books,” Wesley said and started underlining each word on the board.
“I did. I lost my virginity to one of her books. My god, those things should come with a box of Kleenexes and some hand lotion.”
“That’s it,” Wesley said. “I’m done for the night. I’m going to bed. Good night, and once again, I hate y’all.”
Wesley left his message on the marker and headed to his room. But he hadn’t gone two steps when his cell phone began vibrating in his back pocket. He pulled it out and grinned at the number.
“Holy shit, he’s smiling at his phone,” Josh said and did a little shuffle step. “It’s her.”
Wesley ducked into his room and slammed the door behind him. Fitz was his roommate so no way could he keep Fitz out but knowing him, he’d be in the hall for another ten minutes at least gossiping with the guys about him.
“Hey you,” he said answering the phone and trying to sound casual. “Were your ears burning?”
“Someone was talking about me?” Nora asked and laughed. God, he loved her laugh.
“My entire hall pretty much.”
“Fabulous. I can’t wait to hear all about it. I’ll see you in ten minutes.”
Wesley had started to sit on his bed but stood straight up again.
“Ten minutes? You’re coming to my dorm?” Now he really would never hear the end of it.
“No. You’re meeting me at the pool.”
Wesley grimaced. “The pool closed at nine.”
“It doesn’t close at nine if you’re me. I may be fake faculty but I still get the perks for two more weeks. Coming? I have a surprise for you.”
“Are we swimming?”
“Of course we are. But that’s not the surprise. Ten minutes. Okay?”
Wesley was glad they were on the phone so she couldn’t see the big stupid smile on his face.
“Ten minutes. I’ll be there.” Wesley hit “end” and stood in the center of his room for a few seconds trying to wrap his mind around what just happened. He and Nora emailed back and forth a couple of times a day–they had ever since the semester began when they’d gotten into a debate after her very first class. He’d only signed up for the creative writing class because he wanted to knock out his humanities requirements as soon as possible. Plus the writing class met in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
He’d been told when he registered that an elderly nature writer from Pennsylvania would teach the class. But on the first day of class, Nora walked in wearing a short skirt and very tall heels and apologized for any disappointment her appearance engendered. The elderly nature writer had suffered a heart attack and would be in recovery for most of the semester. She’d been a last minute substitute. Apparently she knew Dean Ward from way back, and since she only lived twenty minutes away from Yorke, she didn’t really have a good excuse to say no. Wesley remembered how Nora had smiled at them that first day like she was some sort of mad scientist and they were all her cute little lab rats. He’d never seen a more beautiful woman in his life–hair that curled and waved and fell down her back like black silk and green eyes that looked at you and into you at the same time. She was short and thin but also muscular and voluptuous, and something about the way she carried herself made him think she could be very dangerous if she wanted to be. He should have dropped the class on day one especially when she introduced herself as “Nora Sutherlin, New York Times Bestselling Erotica Writer–I write it. I live it. Don’t like it? There’s the door.”
He’d stared at the door for a moment while Nora waited for someone to say something. His parents would flip out if they found out he had an erotica writer for a teacher. But no door could hold his attention in a room that held Nora Sutherlin.
When nobody left, she turned around and wrote three words on the board:
“OEDIPUS OVERREACTED. DISCUSS.”
After class he Googled her and found out she was thirty-two years old–fourteen years older than him. His stomach had dropped when he’d discovered their age difference. No way would she ever give a stupid eighteen-year-old kid from Kentucky the time of day. But not only had she given him the time of day, she’d given him her phone number and email address too. They had lunch together every Tuesday and Thursday at the little cafe on campus. And now that the semester was almost over, he dreaded being at Yorke without her.
Wesley shook himself out of his shocked reverie. He dug in his side of the closet and found his swim trunks. Just yesterday at lunch he’d been telling Nora how the only thing he didn’t like about Yorke was its lack of a swim team. He’d been on the swim team at his high school and missed competing. He hadn’t been the best on the team–great at freestyle but terrible at the other strokes–but the guys on the team were some of his best friends. They didn’t care who his parents were, who his family was–they just cared that he showed up and kicked the spray in the face of their rivals at Lafayette.
He shoved his trunks and a towel in his backpack and threw on his heavy coat. The longer winters in Connecticut weren’t high on his list of favorite things about Yorke either, but even though Kentucky was considered part of the south by most people, they had pretty vicious winters there too.
“Where are you going, Young Wesley?” Fitz asked as Wesley emerged from their room.
“He’s meeting his lover for a midnight rendezvous,” Josh said as he drew a rather impressively large penis-shaped rocket on the marker .
“I’m not meeting Nora for a midnight rendezvous,” Wesley said as he opened the door at the end of the hall. “It’s not midnight.”
He heard wolf whistles and chortling behind him as he left the dorm. Let them think what they wanted. He wasn’t about to tell them the truth. Not that he was ashamed but it really wasn’t any of their business. Of course he didn’t talk about his sex life. He didn’t have a sex life to talk about.
He got to the pool and found the door unlocked. Just to be on the safe side, he locked it behind him. His footsteps echoed off the floor as he walked to the men’s locker room. As he changed into his swim trunks, he had the sudden realization Nora would be seeing him without his shirt on for the first time. He wasn’t really shy. He swam in Speedos during swim meets. But Nora was his teacher and he was crazy about her although he tried very hard not to show it around her or anyone else. He also tried very hard not imagine her without her clothes on or him without his clothes on with her, but he did sort of slip on occasion. Of course, swimming together didn’t just mean she got to see him shirtless. It meant he got to see her in her swimsuit–a skimpy bikini most likely.
At least he hoped so.
Trying not to look or act too nervous, he went out the pool entrance of the locker room and immediately burst out laughing. No skimpy swimsuit at all…Nora wore a black racerback one-piece swimsuit and a black swim cap. She waited on a starting block with her goggles on.
“Hurry up, Wes,” she called out. “I’m going to start without you.”
“What are we doing?” he asked as he jumped onto the block next to her.
“You said you missed competing. I was on my swim team in college, and I was pretty damn good. Let’s find out how out of practice I am.”
Wesley only laughed as he bent over and grabbed the front of the block.
“Wait, what event is this?”
“You said you’re a freestyler, right? Let’s do the fifty since I’m old.”
“I’ll kick your butt. I’m a foot taller than you.” And male and eighteen but he decided not to mention that.
“We’ll see about that, Junior. You’re wearing trunks. You’ll have a lot more drag.”
“You didn’t tell me we were racing.”
“I know. I want to win. Ready? On your mark…”
Wesley shook his head and put his hands and feet into track start position.
“I’m so going to win,” he said.
“That’s okay. We can still have sex after. Go!” she shouted and dove off the board.
Wesley’s stomach dropped into the pool a few seconds before his body could catch up with it. He swore at himself all the way down the first length. He knew she’d said that just to throw him off and it had worked. But as they hit the wall and flip-turned he’d already pulled a few feet ahead of her.
They neared the end of the lap and Nora was still only a few feet behind him. When he made the wall he counted only two seconds before she touched the ledge. Not bad.
She pulled off her swim cap and goggles. She ducked under the ropes and came up to him in his lane.
“You cheated,” he said, trying not to notice how sexy she looked with her hair wet and down.
“You won. Who cares if I cheated? Freestyle was never my event anyway. I’m a back stroker as I stroke very well when on my back. Fitting, eh?”
“Very. Want to do your event?”
“I’ll win this one. Sure you want to get beaten by Nora Sutherlin? Be careful how you answer that question.” Before he could answer she dunked under the water again and swam to the shallow end of the pool. He watched her lithe form as it cut through the water like a black snake. He shook his head, dove under, and followed her.
“Okay, maybe I don’t want to get beaten by Nora Sutherlin,” he said when he came up out of the water. She had her elbows on the side of the pool as she kicked her legs out behind her.
“Probably a wise choice.” She turned her head to smile at him. “Like my surprise?”
“Yeah, a lot. I really needed to get out of my dorm.”
“You said your entire hall was talking about me. Should I be flattered or horrified?”
“A little of both.” Wesley crossed his arms on the ledge and kicked his legs out behind him just like she had. “I was trying to help Josh with his chemistry homework, and he and almost everyone else on my hall started interrogating me about you.”
“Well,” he said and hoped she couldn’t see him blushing in the low light. “About us.”
“Us? Do they think we’re sleeping together?” She didn’t sound at all bothered by the idea.
“They want to think that.”
“Did you tell them we weren’t?”
“I told them what I tell anyone who asks me personal questions–I don’t talk about my sex life.”
Nora grinned at him. “Of course you don’t. You’re a virgin.”
Wesley blanched and stared at her in silence for what felt like a full minute.
“How did you know?”
“I didn’t,” she said shrugging. “I do now.”
“Okay, I’m leaving.”
Angry and embarrassed Wesley ducked under the water and started swimming to the opposite side of the pool by the locker rooms. When he came up, he found Nora standing on the edge of the pool where he’d left his towel.
“Wesley, don’t run away. I want to talk.”
“You could have just asked. You didn’t have to trick me.”
She slipped back into the water and stood in front of him.
“I didn’t trick you. It just sounded like I did. Wes, we’ve been hanging out all semester and not once have you mentioned a girlfriend, a girl you like, a guy you like…you wear a cross necklace, you can quote the Bible almost as well as I can, and you look me in the eyes instead of down my shirt when we hang out. I had a pretty good inkling already. Plus, you walk like a virgin.
“You can’t tell a virgin by the way they walk. That’s just an old wives’ tale.”
Nora reached out and brushed a wet lock of hair off his forehead. He hated how much he liked it when she touched him. He dragged his hands through his hair to get it off his face. “I walk just like you do.”
“You walk like someone who’s never done anything he’s ashamed of. I walk like someone who’s not ashamed of anything she’s done. Big difference.”
“All right, fine. Guilty. I am. Give me the scarlet V to wear.”
“Sweetheart, it’s not a bad thing, I promise. I think virgins are amazing. Especially drop-dead gorgeous guys who are virgins by choice.”
Wesley blushed again.
“You think I’m gorgeous?”
“No. I know you’re gorgeous. I have eyes if you haven’t noticed,” she said and blinked rapidly at him.
“I’ve noticed you have eyes, yes. Two of them even. So why do you think virgins are amazing instead of, say, pathetic?”
“A forty-year-old video game addict virgin in his mother’s basement is pathetic. You’re eighteen, incredibly attractive, smart, funny, and sweet. You could have almost any girl in the world by just crooking your little finger at her. The fact that you’re still a virgin means you have amazing self-control and a lot of self-respect and respect for women. A lot of Christian kids wait, or at least try to wait, until they’re married. We Catholics aren’t nearly so well-behaved as you Methodists. At least, we don’t try as hard to hide how wicked we are.”
Christian kid…he hated it when she called him a kid. He knew compared to her he was but she didn’t have to remind him.
“So you don’t think it’s stupid?”
“Not at all. I think it’s very admirable. Plus virgins are some of the most sexually aware people out there. You don’t think about food and water until you’re suddenly deprived of them, right? Virgins are some of the only people who don’t take sex for granted. I’m quite fond of virgins. Of course, they usually don’t stay virgins around me very long.”
“I can imagine.”
Nora raised her eyebrow at him.
Wesley took a short breath and shook his head.
“I am seriously gonna get in trouble with you, aren’t I?”
“Armloads of trouble.” Nora laughed and swam toward him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders as he slipped an arm under her knees. It was ridiculous how good it felt holding her like he was about to carry her across an underwater threshold. In the water she felt weightless as a ghost, and he was half tempted to toss her across the pool just to see how far he could throw her.
“You are really muscular.” She ran her hand down his upper arm and breathing ceased to be on Wesley’s priority list. Was she trying to kill him? He didn’t really care if she was as long as she kept touching him. “Is this just from swimming?”
“I run a little too and do some weight-lifting. When you’re diabetic, you have to take really good care of yourself if you don’t want to end up blind or dead at fifty. I don’t want to end up back in the hospital again.” Nora was about the only person he ever told about his condition. The guys teased him enough as it is. Last thing he needed was Wilford Brimley jokes about having diabetes.
“How did you find out you were a type one diabetic?” she asked with nothing but curiosity in her voice. Nora teased him too but only in ways he loved.
Wesley gave her a grim grin.
“The coma was our first clue.”
Nora stared at him. “You were in a coma?”
“Yeah. Two years ago. I just got really sick one day. We thought it was just a really bad stomach flu but then I passed out. I woke up in the hospital a week later. It’s been four shots a day, lots of exercise, and low carbs ever since.”
“So you’re basically doomed to be on the Atkins Diet for the rest of your life.”
“My sympathies. Ugh,” she said and hugged him close to her. “I hate the thought of you being in a coma. That’s terrifying.”
“I’m not planning on doing it again,” he said, gratified by her sudden display of feeling for him.
“Please don’t. I don’t handle bad stuff well. Anyway, do you want to have sex with me?”
Wesley pulled back from her and just stared at her for a short eternity. “Are you serious?”
“Of course. I’ve already sent in grades. You got an A, by the way, so you don’t have to worry if your performance will affect my judgment. Would you like to?”
Would he like to have sex with Nora Sutherlin? Wesley turned his head and studied the overhead lights as they bounced off the rippling surface of the water. Nora’s arms were still around his shoulders. He had a sudden vision of pushing her against her side of the pool and slowly sliding her swimsuit down and off her and tossing it against the wall. He wanted to kiss every inch of her. What would her mouth taste like? What would it feel like to slip his fingers inside her? To push himself inside her? Would she wrap her legs around his back? There was no one in the world he wanted to have sex with more than her. Of course, shoved up against the side of the concrete pool might seem sexy to him but it probably wouldn’t be very comfortable for her. And as many times as he’d imagined losing his virginity to Nora, never once did it cross his mind that it might happen in the natatorium. He’d really prefer a bed. Her bed ideally, a locked door, a few candles, and all the time in the world.
Just last night Fitz had been complaining to Josh that he couldn’t get his girlfriend off without going down on her for about half an hour. Josh had insinuated it was probably more an issue with his technique than with his girlfriend. Wesley had laughed at them both all the while thinking that going down on Nora for half an hour sounded like the best half hour of his life. And if she wanted to return the favor, he certainly wasn’t going to complain. He thought it was all just a dirty fantasy. Now Nora, the woman of his dreams, had just offered to have sex with him if he wanted.
Yeah, he wanted.
“Nora, we’re not even dating much less, you know—together.”
Nora playfully rolled her eyes.
“You’re one of those guys who wouldn’t have sex with anyone he’s not in love with, aren’t you?”
“Well, yeah. That’s kind of the point of sex.”
Nora rolled her eyes melodramatically. “God, I hope not. I’ve only been in love with one person in my entire life. It would suck if he was the only one I ever got to have sex with.”
“He probably would prefer to be the only person you ever had sex with.”
“Nah. We were polyamorous.”
Wesley stared at her and tried to parse the word.
“Do I even want to know what that means?”
Nora grinned at him. “You sweet vanilla boy, what am I going to do with you? It means we had sex with other people. Openly. Well, actually I was the only one who had sex with other people. He didn’t. He topped other women but he never slept with them.”
“Beat them. Dominated them. Consensually, of course. He’s a pacifist. And a sadist. Odd combination, right?”
“You have got to be kidding me.”
Nora laughed. “I’m completely not kidding you. Clearly I need to educate you on the finer points of the kink universe. The rules are very different there.”
“Apparently. Who was this guy anyway? What guy in his right mind would be okay with his girlfriend sleeping with other men?”
“I wasn’t his girlfriend.”
“We weren’t married.”
“Then what were you?”
“He was my Dom,” Nora said. Wesley stared at her again and waited for any of those words to start making sense. “My Dominant. I submitted to him. He owned me. Long story. I’ll explain the intricacies of D/s relationships to you one of these days. You’ll be horrified.”
“I think I already am. You’re not with him anymore, are you?”
She bit her bottom lip, and Wesley saw something he’d never seen in her eyes before—it looked like sadness but seemed to go deeper. Sorrow maybe? No…grief.
“No, we aren’t. I left him about four years ago. His life is very complicated, and I only made it worse.”
“How? I can’t believe you could make anybody’s life worse.”
Nora leaned her chin on his shoulder. If she didn’t stop touching him, he was going to have to seriously start thinking about his dead grandmother if he didn’t want to humiliate himself in his swim trunks.
“Let’s just say it’s a very long story and leave it at that for now.”
“You have a lot of long stories.”
“It’s why I write novels and not short stories. If it makes you feel any better, he is possibly the best person I’ve ever known. Loving and generous and protective and brilliant…”
“And probably really handsome too, right?” He certainly couldn’t imagine Nora being with anyone less than an Adonis.
“Six foot four. All lean muscle. Blonder and prettier than Sting if you can believe it.”
Wesley winced. Sting was the only man his usually very conservative mother had ever jokingly threatened to leave his father for. Wesley was straight but not blind. He couldn’t fathom how attractive this ex of Nora’s had to be if he was prettier than Sting.
“That’s what I said. Often.”
“Is it okay if I hate him?”
“Sure. I tell him I hate him all the time.”
“You still talk to him?”
“Of course. I’ve known him for, what, seventeen years now, almost eighteen. Almost as long as you’ve been alive.”
“When did you start dating him?”
Nora pursed her lips at him. “I told you, we never dated. Not the way vanilla people date anyway. And I met him when I was fifteen. He was twenty-nine. But we didn’t have sex for a long time. WAY too long if you ask me.”
“He’s fourteen years older than you?” This was actually good news. He and Nora were fourteen years apart…maybe she’d consider being with him despite their age difference.
“Yeah but the age difference never mattered to either of us. Age is just a number. I’ve had lovers as young as you and older than him.”
“Lovers? What about boyfriends?”
“Never had a boyfriend.”
“Are you serious? I’ve even had a girlfriend. Admittedly, I was fourteen, and we didn’t do anything other than kiss a couple of times, but still, I’ve had a girlfriend.”
“I wouldn’t know what to do with a boyfriend. What do you do with a boyfriend when you’re not having sex with him?”
“I don’t know. Talk, hang out, watch movies, ride horses.”
“Ride horses? You ride horses?”
“Maddie and I did sometimes. Of course, her parents or mine were always there so don’t get any ideas in your head.”
“I have nothing but ideas in my head. So people really do ride horses in Kentucky? It’s not just a myth.”
Wesley laughed. If she only knew…
“Yes, we ride horses. Some of us. Western Kentucky is more farm land and Eastern Kentucky is all mountains and coal mines. But Central Kentucky is horse country. I’ve been riding horses since before I could walk. It is probably the most fun thing ever.”
“Ever?” she asked and arched her eyebrow at him. “Only a virgin would call anything other than sex the most fun thing ever.”
“Okay, the most fun thing that isn’t sex ever.”
“That’s better. So if you love horseback riding why did you come to Connecticut for college? Not big horse country around here as far as I know.”
“Upstate New York has some horse farms. And the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame is in Saratoga Springs. But I came to Yorke because I wanted to go to a small school with a good pre-med program and it’s got one of the best in the country.”
“So you want to be a doctor? You are always welcome to play doctor with me.”
“That would be less creepy if I didn’t want to be a pediatrician.”
“Aww, that’s sweet. Why a pediatrician and not, say, a gynecologist?”
Wesley rolled his eyes.
“Well, considering I almost died of a childhood disease, it sort of hits close to home. You
know they still don’t know what causes juvenile diabetes? It’s 2008, almost 2009 and they still have no idea.”
“Pediatricians and GPs don’t actually make much money, you know.”
“That’s what Mom and Dad tell me all the time. You’d think they’d be happy their son wants to be a doctor.”
“What do they want you to do?”
“Equine medicine. Dad and Mom both work at a horse farm. My whole family’s worked with thoroughbreds for generations.”
“You wouldn’t want to be a veterinarian?”
“A normal veterinarian isn’t that bad. You can actually help dogs and cats get better and improve their quality of life. But equine medicine has a dark side. You remember Barbaro?”
“I’m not familiar with this person.”
“He’s not a person. He’s a horse. Won the Derby in 2006 and then shattered his leg a couple of weeks later at the Preakness. Horse with a broken leg—what do you do?”
“I don’t know. Put it out of its misery?”
Wesley started to walk down the lane as Nora trailed her fingers in the water. He couldn’t believe they were having this entire conversation with her in his arms in the freaking school pool. Not that he was complaining…
“Right, of course. But no, he was rushed into surgery and then was in the Equine ICU for months. Millions of dollars were spent trying to save that horse’s life.”
“Well, he was a winning racehorse. They wanted him to race again, right?”
Wesley shook his head. “Horses don’t race again after they shatter a leg. They’re fragile animals, and they don’t recover well from injuries. They get pneumonia, laminitis, colic… If a cat or a dog or a kid breaks its leg, it’ll heal and be fine, and you’ve saved its life. You try to save a racehorse and you’re doing it because you think you’ll get more money from the stud fees than the life insurance. If I’m going to spend years in medical school, it’s going to be to save kids and not, you know, colts.”
Wesley met Nora’s eyes. She was studying him, staring at him like she’d never seen him before.
“You are amazing,” she said and smiled. “Absolutely amazing. You know that, don’t you?”
“And you’re insane.”
“That’s true, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re amazing. I’ve known men twice your age who are married with kids who don’t think half that deeply and wisely about how their actions affect the world. God knows I don’t.”
“Nearly dying two years ago sort of showed me how fragile life is. I try not to take my life or anybody’s life for granted.”
She pulled him close to her and wrapped her legs around his back. Wesley was glad that their intensely personal conversation wasn’t eliciting an intensely personal reaction from him at the moment.
“Your parents will figure it out eventually and be proud of their doctor son. I’m proud of you already.”
“They are proud of me. They just aren’t thrilled by my career choice. Or my school choice.”
Nora pulled back and looked at him. “They don’t want you at Yorke? I need you at Yorke. Yorke is twenty minutes from my house. Kentucky is a little more than twenty minutes from my house.”
“Yorke is insanely expensive and very far from home.”
“They aren’t going to make you transfer, are they?”
“They want me to. There’s UK, Centre, Transylvania…lots of good schools a lot closer to home, wouldn’t have to pay room and board.”
“You can live with me. Then they wouldn’t have to pay room and board.”
Wesley couldn’t speak for a few seconds as his mind tried to process her words.
“Did you just ask me to move in with you?”
“Yeah. Of course. I love spending time with you. It would be fun. I have a spare room. You’d even have your own bathroom. Of course before you say ‘yes’ I have to tell you a couple very long stories. I’ll tell you at lunch tomorrow. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ yet. Just think about it.”
“Nora, it sounds great but, I mean, like I said, we’re not even dating. Do you, I mean…I don’t know what I mean.”
“Yes, you do. You want to know if I’ll make you earn your keep,” she said and gave him a wicked grin.
“Well, I do need help. More than even I may know. The house is chaotic right now. It’s very cute but very chaotic.”
“Sounds like you.”
“We go well together. I’m terrible at maintaining my website. I need someone to help keep me on time for appointments. That’s really it. I’m not going to tie you down and force you to have sex with me. Unless you want me to.”
The sex didn’t sound bad. Actually it sounded amazing. But the tying down part seemed sort of counter-productive. How could he touch her and hold her if he was tied down? He decided to not say any of that out loud. Just the thought of being in bed with her and holding her and touching her was threatening to counteract the effect the cool swimming pool water was having on him.
“I think we should probably just be friends.” At least for now anyway, Wesley decided. Nora was the kind of woman who could get any guy she wanted with a wink and a whistle. If he wanted her to see him as anything other than just another notch on her bedpost, he had to be the one guy who didn’t jump into bed with her the first chance he got. No matter how much he wanted to. God, he wanted to.
“Friends. . .interesting. I don’t think I’ve had an actual just friend since high school.”
“I’ve lived a weird life, gorgeous.”
“Well, you are a weird person. Good weird though.”
“I’m weird? How?”
“Well, you just say everything that’s in your head. You just told me you think I’m gorgeous, that you think I’m amazing, and you’d have sex with me if I wanted to.”
“No one does that. No one just says stuff like that. I’ve never gone up to a girl and told her she was gorgeous. That would freak her out.”
“Are you freaked out I think you’re gorgeous?”
“Well, no. But that’s different.”
“It just is. I go up to some girl and tell her she’s gorgeous and she’ll call the cops.”
“She’ll faint with joy and call every woman she knows. Trust me. Try it. Say something to me that you think you’re too nervous or shy to say. Just spit it out. Tell me you think I’m stupid or ugly or beautiful or that you want to have sex with me or you want to kill me. Just think of something true and embarrassing and say it. It’s a lot easier than you think it is. Rip off the Band-aid fast.”
Wesley took a deep breath and tried to think of something to say. He knew what he wanted to say. He wanted to say, Nora, you’re beautiful and you’re crazy and I want to spend the rest of my life laughing with you and at you and making love to you until neither of us can breathe. I want to tell you everything about me and my family and I want you to tell me you don’t care who they are and you’d love me even if they weren’t who they are and I wasn’t who I am. Oh, and I love you. That’s what he wanted to tell her.
“I really like your eyes.”
Nora snorted a laugh. “Well, it’s a start.”
“No, seriously. They change colors. Sometimes they’re green and sometimes they’re black. It’s really cool.”
“They change with my mood. They’re mood eyes. Green when I’m happy. Black when I’m horny. What color are they now?”
Wesley stared into Nora’s eyes. They shone black as night in the low light of the pool.
“Green,” he lied.
“Well, I am with you. One should be green and the other should be black.”
“You’re doing it again. You have no filter.”
“Only swimming pools need filters. Life is too short to edit yourself. The day I met my ex-Dom, I was fifteen years old, he was twenty-nine, right? He was tall, handsome, and incredibly intimidating. Guess what I told him?”
“I told him I thought he was an idiot.”
Wesley laughed. “Why?”
“Because he was being an idiot. The man had a nice ride. Seriously. And I’m a car whore so I know a nice ride when I see it. And he didn’t even lock the damn thing. Rolled it right up to our church and just left it, keys in the ignition, and walked off. God, spoiled rich kids piss me off to no end, and I told him that.”
Wesley swallowed nervously. Well, she’d fallen in love with that spoiled rich kid once. Maybe she wouldn’t mind that he…no, better to not tell her. No one ever looked at him the same way once they found out who he was. And he really liked the way Nora looked at him.
“What did he say when you called him an idiot?”
“He laughed and said he was trying to decide if God was punishing him or rewarding him. I think he’s still trying to figure that out. You know, he’s the reason we’re here right now.”
“In the pool?”
“Yeah. When I started college he told me that I had too much nervous energy, and I was driving him to distraction. So he ordered me to join a team at school to work some of the excess energy off. Swimming was the only thing I knew how to do. Turns out I was really good at it.”
“He ordered you?”
“Dominant, remember? Anyway, that’s part of the long story I’ll tell you at lunch tomorrow. Better make it brunch. This could take awhile. Anyway, we better do the back stroke so I can kick your ass this time. Ready?”
Nora pushed away from him and swam to the side of the pool and got into a lane. She grabbed the bar under the starting block in perfect backstroke start position. He swam to the lane right next to hers.
“You might win. Back stroke was my worst event. I hated not seeing where I was going. It’s really disorienting.”
“Really? I love flying blind. You can start this time.”
“Okay, ready?” he began, and suddenly something Nora said jarred his memory. “Wait.”
“What’s wrong? Muscle cramp?”
“Did you say you’re Dom, ex-Dom, whatever…did you say you met him at church?”
Nora sighed and let go of the starting block. She swam to his lane and came up right to him. Putting her hands on the side of the pool, she lifted herself out, grabbed a towel, and sat on the edge looking down at him in the water.
“Maybe I should tell you those long stories now.”
The shock still hadn’t worn off by the time he made it back to his dorm an hour later. Thankfully, the hall had emptied out. His hair was still a little wet from the post-pool shower, and he could only imagine the cat-calling he’d get over that. It also didn’t help that Nora had jokingly bit his neck and left a red mark right above his collar. She’d done it after telling him her long stories. He’d been in such shock she said she was just using her teeth to make sure he still had a pulse. The stuff Nora had told him had come very close to blowing his mind…what she moonlighted as when she wasn’t writing, why she did it and why she started doing it. Then she’d told him about her ex-Dom, Søren. Søren…God, he couldn’t even think his name without wanting to find this guy and kick the hell out of him. Wesley didn’t care about Søren did for a living. What pissed him off was what he’d done to Nora. And even worse, this Søren person had done it in such a way Nora not only liked it, she missed it, missed him. He would never get her words out of his head tonight. He’d asked her why she was only on her school’s swim team her freshman and sophomore years in college. Søren and I became lovers my junior year–you can’t hide bruises in a swimsuit.Wesley made a promise to himself then and there that he would never ever hurt Nora in the ways her ex had, and he’d do everything in his power to show her that love didn’t have to hurt.
He unlocked the door to his dorm room as quietly as possible only to find Fitz wide awake and on his computer.
“Hi honey, I’m home,” Wesley said, dropping his backpack on the floor.
Fitz narrowed his eyes at him.
“Your hair’s wet. Post-coital shower?”
“Do we need to have the Wes Railey does not talk about his sex life talk again?”
“We don’t need to, but I think I want to. And that hickey on your neck wants to as well. He’s cute. I’m going to name him Steven.”
“With a V or PH?”
“Maybe an F, maybe Stefan. He’s metrosexual. So I get no details at all?”
Wesley groaned as he stripped out of his shirt and kicked off his shoes desperate to get into bed. He was exhausted after his talk with Nora. Exhausted, shocked, but also excited about what they’d decided. He couldn’t believe he was actually going to move in with her. No way would she ask him to live with her if there wasn’t a part of her that cared about him too.
“You’ve gotta give me something, Wes. I’m begging.”
“I will say this. I’ll miss you next semester.”
For once Fitz looked at him without the sarcastic smile.
“Miss me? You’re not leaving me are you? You complete me. Javier forced me to pick the one guy on campus I’d go gay for. I picked you. You’re my Sweet Home Alabama, my Old Kentucky Home. I need you.”
Wesley only shrugged and tried to suppress the smile that threatened to take over his face.
“Sorry, Fitz. What can I say? I got a better offer.”