“I’ll make this easy,” Dawson says. “You were at the club last night. You were Gracie. Now you’re here, and you’re Grey.”
I feel a rush of panic, and it comes out as anger. “There’s nothing to explain! You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you? You saw what I do. What else do you want me to say?”
I push away off the counter, but my heel slips and I stumble. Strong arms catch me and hold me, lift me upright.
“Don’t touch me,” I snap, shoving away from him.
“Grey, it’s fine. I don’t care.”
“It’s not fine. I care.” I’m facing the door, with Dawson behind me.
His fingers touch my shoulder and effortlessly spin me around. I duck my head to avoid his eyes, because his gaze is all too intent, all too knowing. Just the touch of his fingers on my shoulder is enough to set my heart thumping. I was leaving, I was walking out, but I can’t move. I can’t pull away. He’s sucking me in to the orbit of his intensity. His touch is a riptide. It sucks me under. It’s a catalyst, igniting the fire of need. I need. Him, his touch, something. Anything. I don’t even know. Just him.
I panic and scramble away from him. “I have to go.”
“Away. I don’t know.” I yank the door open, but his hand catches my wrist and stops me. I jerk free. “I said don’t touch me! This won’t work, Mr. Kellor. I’ll have Kaz—I mean, Mr. Kazantzidis assign another intern for you.”
“I don’t think so.”
I don’t answer. Arguing is futile. I can’t do this. He’s too much. He knows. Working with him professionally, when he knows what I am…no. I can’t.
I go back to the conference room, and everyone asks if I’m okay. “I’m fine,” I say. “Kaz, can I have a word in private?”
He frowns but accompanies me to his office. I sit in the deep leather chair in front of his desk and wait for him to sit. “Is everything okay, Grey?”
I shake my head negative. “No, sir. I…I can’t accept this assignment.”
“Grey, I don’t understand. This is vitally important. This is potentially the biggest film this studio has ever worked on. It could gross billions. What’s the problem?”
I don’t know what to say, how to explain without explaining everything. “I just…I can’t work with Dawson Kellor.”
Kaz leans back in his chair. “God. I was wondering if this would come up.” He sighs and fiddles with his pen, spinning it around his fingers. “I know Dawson has a bit of…a reputation. But I’ve been assured his time away from Hollywood has matured him.”
I have no idea what he’s talking about, at first, but then I remember reading a series of articles in various magazines about Dawson. He had a reputation as a hard-partying playboy, a womanizing type. A dog. There was a scandal involving a married assistant, and then another one with a famous actress, also already married. And that didn’t even touch the endless parade of girlfriends he's been photographed with. He had a different woman on his arm in every photograph, several of whom sold stories to the media about his predilections in the bedroom. He liked dirty sex, according to the stories. And a lot of it. The scandals mounted and swirled around him like a hurricane, but through it all he kept acting, and each role was better than the last, so he kept getting roles. Over time, though, actresses and assistants refused to work with him, which started cutting into the demand for him as an actor. Then there were allegations of rape, and that was when Dawson vanished from the public eye for the last few years. This role as Rhett Butler was going to be his big comeback, his reboot of his career and his image.
“Did he make a pass at you?” Kaz asks.
I want to say he did. I want to put it all on Dawson, let his reputation win the fight for me. But I can’t. I shake my head. “No, it’s not that.”
“Well then I confess I don’t understand. What’s the problem?”
I’m near tears. I breathe and try to focus. “It’s…I just can’t, Kaz. I’m sorry. I just…can’t.”
Kaz pinches the bridge of his nose. “Grey, I like you. You’re hard working, you’re smart, and you really seem to love the business. I want to hire you full-time. I really do. I think you could go far. But…if you refuse this, my hands are tied. Unless you have accusations to level at Dawson, you need to do this. This is the biggest opportunity of your life. It could make your career, but if you don’t do it, it will break it. I’m being honest with you.”
I do cry then, a few tears leaking out. “I get it.”
“Why don’t you go home and think about it?”
I nod. “I will, sir. Thank you.”
Rising on unsteady feet, I leave his office, ride the elevator down and walk the two and a half blocks to the bus stop. I don’t hear him behind me until it’s too late.
“Where are you going?” His voice is right behind me, buzzing intimately in my ear.
I jump, and then hunch forward, away from him, away from his intense presence. “Home.”
“What are you afraid of…Gracie?”
I whirl in place and have to restrain my impulse to slap him. “That’s not my name. Don’t call me that, and don’t touch me.” If he touches me, I’m lost. Something bad will happen. I know what will happen.
He closes the space between us, and despite the scorching early-evening heat, he’s perfectly unruffled. His hair is perfect, his clothes are dry. My armpits are sweating and my forehead is dotted with moisture and my hands are shaking. It’s after seven in the evening and I haven’t eaten since six this morning and I’m getting dizzy. But all this is irrelevant in the face of his proximity. He’s not even an inch away. My breasts are brushing his chest. I remember how his eyes looked at me, how he devoured me with his eyes. He wanted me. But he saw me, too. Saw me, saw into me.
You don’t belong here, he’d said.
And then he kissed me. He’s that close again, and I’m drowning. If he presses his mouth to mine I won’t be able to stop him.
My stomach growls then, and a wave of dizziness crushes me. I sway on my feet, and I’d fall if it weren’t for an iron arm around my waist holding me up.
“You need to eat.”
I shake free of him. “I’m fine. I just need to get back to my dorm.” I stumble again as I try to get away from him. I lean against the bus stop sign and struggle for steadiness and for breath and against the nausea.
“You’re not fine. Let me drive you home,” he says. I wish it was home. It’s just a dorm room; it’s not home. I don’t have a home. I shake my head and cling to the sign.
He glares at me, seeming affronted by my stubbornness. “You’re going to pass out.”
“I’ll be fine.”
He shakes his head and spins on his heel. I hear him mutter under his breath: “Stupid ass.”
“I heard that,” I mumble.
He doesn’t answer, just strides away. I can’t help watch him; he moves like a predator, like a panther stalking through the grass. I clench my eyes closed and push away the unphysical hunger in my gut. Something in him speaks to me, calls me. It’s not just that’s he’s so beautiful as to be beyond words or description. It’s something in him. Some magnetic draw in his eyes and his presence dragging me into him.
Tires squeal, and a sleek mirror-silver car, the one I’d seen in the parking lot, roars toward me. No. No. He’s so persistent and I can’t resist him but I should. I have to.
He skids to a stop in the middle of the curb-side lane, flings open his door, heedless of the traffic piling up behind him, unmindful of the horns and the shouts. His eyes are different. Blue, and angry. He jerks open the passenger door, wraps an arm around my waist, easily and ungently shoves me into the car. The door closes, and then he fills the driver’s side and I’m assaulted by his scent, cologne and sweat. The car is cool, air conditioning blasting. Rock music blares from the speakers, something hard and heavy. I’m dizzy, so dizzy. The world spins, and all I know is Dawson next to me, a bead of sweat trickling down his tan neck and under his shirt collar, and the chugging guitars and thumping drums of the heavy metal and the rocking motion of Dawson’s driving. I’m cognizant of the power of this vehicle, the effortless speed. I glance at the dashboard and he’s doing sixty, weaving through traffic with mad and reckless skill. I remember that he did a movie in which he played a stunt driver, and the rumors were that he did nearly all of the driving stunts himself. I close my eyes as we carve through an intersection, blowing a red light and nearly causing a wreck behind us. I’m pressed against the seat, struggling to breathe, fighting nausea. I would vomit, but I have nothing to bring up. Bile is bitter in my mouth, and I swallow it.
This car is worth more than I’ll see in my life, and he’s driving with an absolute disregard for it, or our safety. I’m flung forward as we skid to a stop. My door is opened, and the belt I don’t remember buckling is unlatched. I’m lifted from the car by powerful arms. Dawson, of course. I smell him, some kind of faint but heady cologne and sweat and man. I recognize the way my body reacts to his presence.
I fight against him. “Put me down.”
I look around me. We’re on the USC campus, and the entire student body is watching, it feels like. I hear whispers. I see people holding up cell phones and snapping pictures.
“Which building?” His voice is silky and intimate, almost gentle. Almost.
I point, and he makes a beeline for it. I’m nothing in his arms. He moves as if unencumbered. “Please. Put me down. I can walk.”
“No.” He pushes open the door and pauses.
“Second floor. Two-sixteen.”
Word has spread and doors are opening as we ascend. I hear whispers, hear the electronic click of cell phone cameras.
“That’s Dawson Kellor!” I hear the shriek of a female voice. “Ohmigod, that’s Dawson! Can I have your autograph! Please? Do you want to come in?”
He ignores her, brushes past brusquely. “Not now, ladies. I’ll sign a few autographs after I leave.” Something in his voice brooks no arguments.
He’s at my door, somehow twisting the knob without letting go of me. I hear the tell-tale moans of Lizzie and her latest boyfriend. “Boy-toy”, as she calls them. They are toys to her, too; she goes through boys faster than she does outfits. The door bangs open, thumping against the door and shuddering noisily as it swings back toward the frame.
“Ohmygod, what the hell—” I hear Lizzie start, and then she recognizes who it is barging through. “Dawson Kellor? Grey, what’s going on? What’s he doing here? Ohmygod, you’re even more gorgeous in person, Mr. Kellor! I love you so much! Can you do the line?”
I feel Dawson tense around me, his hands turning to steel around my shoulders and under my knees. “Not now, Lizzie. I’m not feeling well. Can you give me a minute?”
“But…but we’re—” Lizzie protests.
“Leave. Now.” Dawson growls, and the sound is pure threat.
I’m twisting in Dawson’s arms to see Lizzie fumbling from under the sheet to grab her panties next to the bed, and then her current boy-flavor does the same, but he accidentally kicks away the sheet and they’re both left naked. Lizzie squeals, smacks him on the arm and scrambles into her panties, covering her breasts with one arm. Dawson hasn’t put me down, and even though I’m a solid one-forty, he’s holding me with complete effortlessness. He just waits impassively while Lizzie tugs on her clothes. The boy—who really is a boy, a good-looking blond freshman with a big build which he hasn’t entirely grown into yet—jams his feet into his jeans and hops out with his shirt in one hand and ADIDAS sports sandals in the other. It’s an awkward dance which he does with enough familiarity to make me think he’s done it many times. When they’re gone, Dawson looks around the room for somewhere to set me down. I kick my feet and he reluctantly sets me down on my feet, but his hands don’t leave my arms.
I wriggle in his grip and move away to sit in my desk chair. “I’m fine, Dawson. Really.” My stomach growls again, and his brows furrow.
“When was the last time you ate?” He demands.
I shrug. “I don’t know. This morning?” I don’t lie well, or easily, and Dawson just lifts an eyebrow at me. I sigh, and mutter,“Before class. Six?”
Dawson’s face contorts. “You haven’t eaten in twelve hours? And you walked how many blocks to the office?”
I dig a Powerbar out of my desk and unwrap it, holding it by the wrapper. “I’m fine. See? Dinner. It’s fine. I’m fine. I’m used to it.”
“Used to it? Meaning you routinely go twelve hours between meals?” When I just shrug again, he growls. “That’s not healthy. And a Powerbar isn’t dinner.”
He rummages in the minifridge, but I stop him. “That’s Lizzie’s. Nothing in there is mine.” I open my snack drawer in my desk, where I keep Powerbars, granola bars, a bag of bagels, and some Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips.
Dawson just stares at me. “Where’s the rest?”
“The rest of what?” I ask between bites.
“Your food. What do you eat?”
I shrug again, and then determine to not do it again. I seem to shrug all too often around Dawson, and I’ve only known him for two hours, if that. “I eat. Just not here. I have a bagel in the morning, and I sometimes grab a snack from a vending machine between classes. I have dinner at work.”
I’m getting irritated. I crumple the wrapper and toss it in the little round white garbage can under my desk, which is filled with wrappers. “Why are you so interested in my eating habits?”
Dawson just stares at me. His eyes were a light shade of blue when he was angry, out on the street. Now they’re back to a muted hazel. I can’t look away, can’t take my eyes off his. Off him. His jaw shifts, and I realize he’s grinding his teeth, thinking. He digs a cell phone out of his pocket, and I’m kind of nonplussed to realize it’s an iPhone. After the expensive sports car, I expected him to have some kind of space-age gadget from a scifi movie, not a basic black iPhone 5. He taps at it a few times and then holds it to his ear.
“Hey Greg. Yeah, look I’m on the USC campus and I need some food delivered.” He turns to look at me. “Are you a vegetarian or anything weird?”
I shake my head. “No, but—”
He glances away from me and speaks into the phone once more. “Just a spread of food, I guess. Sandwiches, burgers, whatever. Yeah, campus housing—” he gives basic directions to my dorm room. “Oh, and Greg, bring the Rover and the set of spare keys. I’ll drive you back in the Bugatti. Cool, bye.”
Bugatti. That must be the silvery-mirror car.
He stuffs the phone back in his pocket and slumps into Lizzie’s desk chair. Before I know what’s happening, he has my legs on his knees and his hands and fingers are kneading into my right foot. It’s shockingly intimate, sensual, and not a little scary. I want to take my foot back, but he won’t let go. He holds my foot by the ankle and digs into the arch of my foot with a thumb. It feels so good I can’t stop a groan from escaping. It’s a loud, embarrassing sound, and I clap my hand over my mouth. Dawson just smiles, and the small, pleased grin on his lips makes him so beautiful my breath catches in my lungs.
His touch on my foot is like…it’s sinful. It makes me feel things I don’t understand, makes my stomach roil, makes things flip and twist. Something happens down low, near my core. I can’t help but relax into my chair as he massages my feet. And then I realize I’ve been on my feet all day and they probably stink. I jerk my feet away and tuck them under my leg, keeping the fabric of my skirt modestly draped over me.
“Don’t like foot massages?” He seems amused, a twinkle in his eye.
“No, I just…they stink. That’s gross.”
“Your feet don’t stink.” He leans forward and grabs my foot. His hand is on my thigh, near my backside, as he tugs my feet back out. “Now give them here. I wasn’t done.”
“Why what?” He resumes his slow, thorough massaging of my right foot.
I start to shrug again, and then stop, which ends up in an awkward roll of my shoulder. “Why are you here? Why did you…why are doing all this?”
His eyes are intense, going dark and stormy as he regards me and considers his answer. “Because I want to.”
He doesn’t answer, but instead returns with his own question. “Why are you questioning it?”
“Because you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be rubbing my foot. You should just go home and leave me alone.”
“But that’s not what you want. And it’s not what I want.”
Damn him, he’s right. I want him here. I want this foot massage. His presence is…intoxicating. I’m drunk on his proximity. This is all a dream I’ll wake up from, I’m sure. But I don’t want to.
“You don’t know what I want,” I say. It’s a lie, and I’m a bad liar.
He doesn’t answer again, just sets my right foot down on his thigh and picks up my left, and his fingers slid along my calf, his thumb rolls into my arch, eliciting another moan from me. And then his fingers slide a little higher, toward the underside of my knee, and it’s too much.