Chapter Three


His voice is music to my ears, and a warm sense of security fills my heart to the brim, replacing my heartbreak. Stellan always has this effect on me. I just wish I could find a similar guy who isn't a womanizer.

Warmth envelopes me when Stellan sits down on the sofa and pulls me into his arms. I let out a soft sob and howl into his smart grey shirt. I'm thankful to him for not complaining about the damage I'm doing to his clothes. He rubs soothing circles on my back and mumbles reassurances in my ear. When my sobs have stopped, and my breath is steady again, he asks the question I've been dreading. "What happened?"

I close my eyes, inhaling the masculinity that emanates from his cologne. Maybe it's the powerful woodiness or even the hint of lemon; whatever it is, I could bask in it all day. Knowing I can't avoid the question forever, I look up into his hazel eyes and see him watching me. His mouth is dusted with a light frown and his eyebrow is raised. "Isaac gave me an ultimatum."

Stellan pushes his fingers inwards, creating a fist. I place a hand on his shoulder to stop him. This isn't what I need right now. What I need is a friend to talk to and offer comfort — he can leave the macho bullshit to my older brother. I wouldn't like to be Isaac if Rory gets his hands on him. Stellan takes deep breaths, sounding like an angry bull backing out of a china shop before he causes any damage. "What was the ultimatum?"

"Isn't it obvious?" I match his raised eyebrow with one of my own.

"I want to hear you say it."

"He wanted me to go home with him."

Stellan nods, looking unsurprised. "Go on."

"I told him I didn't want to, and he got angry."

"That bastard," my friend hisses, enraged at how I was treated. His anger makes me feel better. I meet his gaze, but he turns his head away. "Sorry. Carry on, Lou."

I almost start crying again when I hear my nickname. Nobody else calls me that. "He said that I was a frigid prude, and his love was slipping away fast. If I wanted to hold on to him, I should go home with him and prove it, or he'd find someone else that would."

"Please tell me you walked out?"

"I walked out. Isaac looked shocked when I did it, and he tried to say sorry. Am I overreacting?"

For a handsome guy, it's amazing how he looks like a bullfrog on a lily pad in that moment. His eyes are almost bulging out of his head as he stares at me, incredulous. "Overreacting? He tried to bully you into sleeping with him! If you ask me, you're not reacting enough. Where's your anger?"

"I don't know," I say with a half-hearted shrug. "On holiday, I guess."

"Well, call it back and let it out. You always bottle things up. It's not good for you."

"I don't bottle everything up," I insist with indignance. It was rich coming from the man who got angry at the drop of a hat. Well, when it came to someone he cared about, anyway.

He holds a hand up in a mock appeasing way. "I can think of many stories where you lost it after a drink or two. Do you need a reminder?"

"No," I huff. The man has a point. My true feelings do have a habit of slipping out of me when I've had a few too many; in vino veritas. "Thanks for the reminder."

"You're welcome," he answers in a breezy tone, his eyes twinkling as he smirks at me, showing off his pearly white teeth. "How are you feeling?"

I preferred it when he was teasing me, but before I can feign tiredness, Stellan pulls me back to him and settles us on the sofa. Once again, his warm body cocoons me, providing a shield against the world. He makes me feel secure in a way that Isaac never did, and a tear escapes me once again. Damn me for being so emotional when Isaac Hartley doesn't deserve one tear, let alone the bucket full I cried earlier.

"There's my answer to that question," Stellan whispers in my ear, brushing my tear away and beginning the soothing circles again. "If you don't want to talk about it, maybe we could watch a film instead?"

"I'd like that," I whisper back, glad my roommate is also a friend. "Can I pick?"

He sighs. "Of course, as long as it's not What If."

I stick out my bottom lip and tilt my head up, giving him my best sad eyes. Stellan is a sucker for this; it works every time. "Go on then. I bet you can recite it from beginning to end."

"Pretty much," I grin while grabbing the remote. I resume my position in his arms and lose myself in the film. As I watch Wallace sitting on the roof and deleting the voicemail from his phone, I feel a kinship with him. Breakups suck; relationships suck; love sucks. When it gets to the fridge scene, I do what I always do. "Love is stupid."

I'm sure he rolls his eyes behind me. But then, he takes me by surprise. "Monkeys," he recites. I love it when he lets me see this side of him.

"Dancing in a slapstick hurricane," I finish off. And here we have it, the famous meet cute. It must be sweet, it must be funny, and sparks must fly. I should know, I've written ten of them.

I stop myself from reciting the words, for once becoming engrossed in the film and letting Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kaftan say their lines without my help. "Wow, I can actually hear them speak for once," the thorn in my side teases.

"Shut up," I mutter, grateful for the darkness that covers my blush.

"I could fry an egg on your cheeks," the cheeky git tells me.

"You're so annoying," I hiss.

"Proud of it," he chuckles. I nudge him and regret it instantly when he grips my side and tickles.

"Stop. Please stop," I gasp through my giggles as I try to fight off his attack with no luck. He gives me a smug look, but he stops. As soon as he does, I try to attack his feet; they are the only parts of his body that are ticklish.

"Oh, you asked for this," he growls, shaking my hands off his feet and pushing me onto my back. Our eyes meet for a moment before he starts the torture all over again. There isn't a sensitive spot on my body that he doesn't miss. My feet, my sides and my underarms all get the same treatment. I squirm and try to push him away. The prat takes a step closer and trips over the remote, flying forward and landing on top of me.

"Oomph," I say as I take his weight. He rests on his arms and pulls away, no longer leaning on me. I should feel relieved, but I get the sense that something important is missing.

"Sorry," he mutters.

"Yeah," I nod, unable to find anything else to say. "You win."

"As always." He hams it up with a wink, managing to make me laugh and ease the tension in one easy move. We move back into our old position and I grab the remote to get back to the scene we were on. My skin feels tingly and I seem attuned to every movement Stellan makes. I'm not sure if I like this feeling, but I don't hate it either. It's just alien to me. Scary and new, with the power to change our friendship if I let it. I don't want anything to change. I'm happy with the way things are, and I'm certain he is too.

He goes quiet again and leaves me to escape into the film. Wallace is meeting Chantry's boyfriend for the first time, and the guy is suspicious. It makes me laugh when he greets Wallace with the knife still in his hand. I giggle and I'm sure I can feel the vibrations of Stellan's silent laughter. I'm sure he likes this film more than he admits. Stellan has a sensitive side somewhere in there.

Stellan and I are friends; that's the way it's always been, and that's the way it will stay. He may be good to me, but he's a jerk to his other girlfriends. It would be foolish of me to want more, and I don't want more anyway. Just friends, forever and always.

A pair of warm arms circles me, picking me up with ease. I sigh and relax against the toned body. A familiar scent ensnares my nostrils; citrus and wood. I can't help it, I must get closer to the source of the intoxicating smell. His skin is firm and warm; the small hairs scattered on his neck tickle my nose, but I don't pull away.

I'm dropped onto a soft, bouncy surface. "Goodnight, Lucy," I hear him whisper. I groan in response and turn to lie on my stomach as my eyes close. I'm sure he says something else before he leaves, but I'm too tired to listen. If I remember, I'll ask him tomorrow.

"Are you sure, Lucy? You're not going to go all frigid on me again, are you?" He plants kisses on my neck, and I know I should feel arousal, but all I feel is repulsion. I push through it.

"Yes, Isaac. Let me prove my love for you." The words feel foreign coming out of my mouth.

The features of my blond ex-boyfriend are perfect, but I see through them to the vile man he is. For some reason, my brain isn't connecting with my body and the words that come out of my mouth.

His eyes gleam like sapphires, pleased by me accepting defeat and awarding him my body as the trophy. "It's about time you let me do this." His hands slip further down, resting on my arse and squeezing hard; too hard. I wince but he doesn't loosen his grip. I think my reaction excites him. Isaac mistakes my shudder for pleasure. "That's it. Relax and succumb to me." His voice is grating, especially when he whispers soft on my skin the way he just did. I want to scrub myself with soap to erase the invisible mark he's left on me.

I don't want to succumb to him. My brain is alert, but my body is sprinting to catch up. His mouth latches onto mine, attaching like a limpet while his tongue slides into my mouth. He tastes bitter, like the black coffee he drinks by the gallon. I prefer creamy latte. His tongue continues to assault my mouth while his hand moves closer to a place I don't want him to touch.

He manoeuvres me until I'm lying beneath him while he stares down at me, resting on his side. I'm his prey to be devoured, that's how I feel as he stares down at me with those hungry eyes. He moves to climb on top of me, shifting his weight onto me without a thought. I struggle to catch a breath as I catch an unpleasant whiff. The aroma of soap I usually get from him is gone, replaced by the odour of someone who hasn't washed in a while. It's wrong and my body finally agrees, pushing against him to get him off me. "Stop!"

Isaac sighs and rolls onto his side. "Frigid prude," he taunts, his eyes cold.

"Fuck you." I never swear, but I'll make an exception for this bastard. As soon as the venom escapes my lips, Isaac fades away, nothing but a distant memory; a mistake. The relief I feel is indescribable. I'm floating on the ceiling and I don't want this feeling to ever end.

The door creaks open and I look up. Stellan is standing there in his tracksuit bottoms; only his tracksuit bottoms. I sit up to see him better. He's the flame and I'm the moth, drawn to him with no fear about what could happen. I'm not afraid, although I should be.

His hours at the gym have paid off. Stellan is toned in all the right places, and I long to run my hands all over his smooth body. He walks further into the room, stopping right in front of my bed. His eyes never leave mine as he stands there, unmoving. "Come closer," I urge. He doesn't need to be told twice, seeming just as desperate as me. Desperate to smell, to touch and to taste. I want more of him. I need more of him.

He kneels at the foot of the bed while I crawl over to meet him there. The familiar smell of his cologne fills my nostrils, so fresh that if I close my eyes I can picture myself standing next to a lemon tree. The strong, masculine aroma of wood combined with the zesty citrus entices me. I don't know how I can get close enough to fulfil my desire.

"Touch me," he requests. His eyes convey his hesitant question, and I answer by holding out a hand to cup his face. Stellan releases a long breath and tilts his head to stare at me with his piercing eyes. I can feel the stubble on his chin and I relish the ragged roughness that contrasts so beautifully with his smooth chest. A moan from me brings out a deep, throaty growl from Stellan, and it's the sexiest sound I've ever heard in my life.

"Your turn to touch me." I try to keep the pleading note out of my voice, but I fail. He smirks before he obeys, placing his hands on my face, mimicking my own movements. I don't know if I'm pleased or disappointed.

"Your skin is so soft, Lucy … so smooth," he rasps out, staring at me with a tender expression that Isaac never used. It startles me, but I can't look away. It's not only the look in his eyes, it's the way he said my name. Coming from his lips, it sounded like a prayer to heaven.

If our lips don't touch soon, the lust I feel for him is going to drive me mad. "Kiss me," I whisper.

"I thought you'd never ask." His lips dance with mine, but not in the frenzied way that Isaac's did. Stellan takes his time, planting soft kisses and always coming back for more. He deepens the kiss, slipping his tongue into my waiting mouth. The minty toothpaste still lingers on his lips, cool and refreshing.

I make up my mind and tear myself away. "More."

His eyes widen for a moment. "Are you sure?"

"I've never been surer of anything."

His lips descend on my once more, and he lowers us onto the mattress, gently placing his firm body on top of mine. I succumb willingly this time, and without Stellan ordering me to do so.

I wake up with a gasp and look around the room. I'm in bed alone and Stellan is nowhere to be seen. I take deep breaths and fall back until my head hits the pillow.

What a sick nightmare. I close my eyes and pray that it won't happen again. If there's any justice in this world, I will get a vision of the guy of my dreams, and not Stellan Scott.