Ben turns his head to look down the hallway, straightening up before he looks back at me. “The next time you need to be woken up, it won’t be my son kissing you, Princess Mia.” His words are a promise that I don’t want to react to, but I can’t deny the shiver that runs through me. He has all the confidence in the world that he’ll be the one to wake me up with a kiss. And I want to tell him that I’ll never let that happen, but I can’t seem to find the words.
I scramble out of bed once Ben leaves, and as I’m slipping my favorite summer dress over my head, my mind begins to wander to memories of the old Ben. The boy I remember that never willingly stepped into any room I was in. The same boy that freaked out when he caught me in his.
“You wanna listen to music while we lay out?” Tessa asks as she skims the pool for bugs with the net.
“Yeah, definitely.” I stretch out on my lawn chair, shielding my eyes with my hand.
“Well don’t just lay there, goof. Go get the stereo.”
I sit up and smile. “Where is it?”
“Ben’s room. I think it’s on his desk.”
I lay back down. “Forget it. I’ll just hum to myself.”
She giggles softly. “He’s not home. Just go in there and grab it really quick. I wanna listen to my new Justin Timberlake CD.”
Okay, I can do that. He won’t even know I was in there. “Alright. Be right back.” I swing my legs off the side and stroll into the house.
I stop outside Ben’s room and hesitantly turn the handle, pushing it open. I’ve never seen the inside of his room. It’s off limits, which is fine with me. I don’t want to be in here so I’m going to make this quick. I spot the stereo on the desk and run around his bed to get to it.
“Oh!” I trip over something, falling into the desk and rattling everything on it. Including the stereo. “Oh no.” I reach for it but it’s too late, and I watch with a sick feeling as the stereo hits the hard floor. I clamp my eyes shut, but I hear the damage I’ve done. “Oh no,” I whisper.
“What are you doing?”
My eyes shoot open and I spin around, coming face to face with a very angry Ben. “Uh, I’m sorry. I was just borrowing your stereo. I didn’t mean to…”
He pushes me out of the way and bends down, picking up the scattered pieces. “What did you do?” I open my mouth to speak but he cuts me off. “You broke it. It’s ruined. Why are you even in here? I’ve told you never to come in my room.”
I step back, holding my hands out in front of me. “I’m so sorry. Tessa asked me to grab it and I tripped.”
He throws the pieces of the stereo against the wall. “Stay away from my stuff! Get out! God, I hate you! I hate you!”
I dart out of the room, through the house, and back outside. Tessa sits up and studies my empty hands, tilting her head.
“Where’s the stereo?”
“Your brother’s home. I broke it. He’s really angry.”
Her mouth drops open. “Uh oh.”
“Tessa!” Ben’s voice booms out the sliding glass door I haven’t closed.
We both wince and run for our lives.
I sigh, clearing that God awful memory from my head. That was the last time I stepped foot in Ben’s room. I understood his anger at the time, but it was an accident. And I felt so bad about it, I saved up my allowance and used the money to buy him a new stereo. But that didn’t matter. Not to Ben. He still acted like my very existence pissed him off. And that attitude continued until I moved away nine years ago.
My existence doesn’t seem to bother him now.
I make myself a cup of coffee, moving to stand in front of the sliding glass door as I stir in my creamer. Ben is in the pool with Nolan, pushing him around on a boogie board. He seems like a natural father, and seeing him with Nolan does things to me. Things that I try to ignore. He holds on to Nolan’s hand so he can stand up on the board and pretend he is surfing. They are both smiling at each other, and watching him share this moment with his son shows Ben in a completely new light. It distances him from the Ben I remember from years ago even more. I don’t want to be intrigued by this Ben, but I am. My brain is screaming at me to stay away from him, but the way my body reacts in his presence is becoming harder to ignore. Hell, I practically came in his arms yesterday at the dam. That would’ve been slightly embarrassing. He was barely touching me and I was whimpering like I’d actually die if he stopped. Thank God he spoke and snapped me out of my pathetic state. I really didn’t want to fall apart like that. I wanted him to keep his distance from me. Being in his presence felt dangerous. I didn’t trust my body around him. It seemed to betray me every chance it got. He didn’t even have to work to get me close to orgasm. Just stick him in my general vicinity and I’m immediately firing on all cylinders and holding the starter pistol in my hand with my finger on the trigger. Just pathetic.
I don’t even resist the urge to stare at him while he’s in the pool. It’s a battle I know I’d lose anyway so I might as well save my energy. The sun beams off his chest, and as he turns in the pool, I watch as the muscles of his back ripple with his movements. The dark ink of his tattoo seems to stand out even more in the sun and I want to be close to him. Close enough to study the design and read the words that are etched on his skin. His hair is wet and sticking up a bit, reminding me of the way it looked the other morning after our night together. There is no ignoring how attractive Ben is. And Nolan did resemble his dad, but I’d never label Ben as cute. He is ridiculously handsome, almost too good looking to be real. His words to me from yesterday keep playing on loop in my head. You are mine. He was so sure of himself, so certain that I found myself considering the possibility of actually being his. But I’ve hated him for so long, it seems impossible to let go of that emotion. Desiring someone and actually liking them are two completely separate things. And I can’t deny that I desire Ben. It is the whole liking thing that I’m having trouble with.
“Enjoying the morning view?”
I nearly drop my mug as Tessa comes barreling into my inner thoughts. “Jesus. You scared the crap out of me.” I glance over at her teasing smile, ignoring it as I take my first sip of my now cold coffee.
She waves at Nolan who does the same, smiling wide as he does it. Ben seems to only notice me and I try to ignore that also. “If I were to ask you how wet you were right now, what would you say?” Tessa inquires.
“My God. Is there any topic that’s off limits to you?”
She thinks it over for a moment, twirling her hair around her finger. “Nope.”
I step away from the door and sit down on the arm of the sofa. “Why didn’t you tell me Ben has a kid?”
She shrugs once. “I told you he isn’t the same guy he used to be.”
“Just because someone isn’t the same guy, doesn’t mean they have little dimpled lookalikes running around. Did you really think that was how I’d interpret that?”
She moves to the chair next to me and slumps down in it. “I figured you’d find out eventually, especially if you give Ben a chance and actually hang out with him, Little Miss Unwilling to Let Go of the Past.”