Holding Her Tightly
Copyright © 2015 Michelle Woods
All rights reserved
All rights reserved
Laney Stewart was done with men. They were all jerks. Every last one of them! Stomping across the sidewalk towards her building, fury burning inside her, she heard the click-clack of her four-inch heels on the pavement. Wearing these damned shoes for that man had been a freaking waste, she mournfully surmised.
Her teeth gritted and her body ached from the tightness in her muscles. So maybe she wasn’t a size two or even a size ten, she contemplated, feeling a vein throb in her temple. That didn’t give men the right to tell her she should eat salad instead of the perfectly acceptable baked chicken she’d ordered at dinner. She. Hated. Men!
Clutching her purse on her other arm, her knuckles white, she remembered how she’d wanted to hit him in the head with the damned thing at the restaurant. She grimaced, glaring crossly at the door ahead of her, her temper making her steps quicker than they usually were.
Men, they all wanted a woman to be a toothpick and she’d had enough of that bullshit to last her a lifetime. She’d been born in the wrong era, that was all, damn it. She had a few extra curves and perhaps that wasn’t fashionable anymore, but fuck them. She liked her body. She was content with the way she looked. Who gave men the right to judge her anyway? So her hips were a little larger than they should be. Who cared? Not her, that was for sure.
She violently jabbed the code into the security pad, her anger reaching a boiling point. She was done with men and their stupidity. Her teeth ground against each other making her wonder if she’d have any left by the time she got upstairs to her pint of chunky monkey. She wasn’t massively overweight; she was only a size fourteen. It wasn’t like she could double as the fat lady at a freak show.
She slammed her hand down on the security pad that was refusing to take her code because it seemed even the door was against her tonight. Stepping back, she took a deep calming breath, and then reentered the code, slowly this time.
The door finally let out a loud beep, and the light turned green, letting her know that she finally managed to enter the code into the pad correctly despite her frustration--thank God.
She was still so pissed she almost couldn’t see straight. She’d wasted her time on another date with a man who’d seemed like a perfectly nice guy two hours ago when he’d picked her up. Only she now knew that wasn’t true, didn’t she?
She might not have told the stupid dick she was calling a cab if the only time he’d been a jerk was when he was telling her to order the salad instead of the baked chicken. No, she might have let it go if that been the only time he was a dick. She let out an imperceptible “grrr” between tight lips before stepping through the door, wanting to jump up and down in frustration.
Nope, when they’d gone to the concession stand at the movie theater before dinner, he’d asked if getting something would spoil her dinner. She snorted, remembering that little gem. Way too pissed to wait on the elevator without going mad, she stormed towards the stairs, slamming the door open.
She winced as it smacked into the wall because she’d opened it so roughly, and the loud noise echoed in the empty stairwell. Ripping off her heels, she began trudging up the four flights of stairs to her apartment, her heart pounding in time to her stomps.
Grinding her teeth again, she puffed out a panting breath. She was losing steam and her steps slowed. She supposed that comment hadn’t been that bad, other than the suggestion that she might be too stupid to realize her limits. She was slightly out of breath now from the vigorous climb. Stopping, she let out a few more small panting huffs before she returned to her inner tirade. When they’d reached the counter, he’d proceeded to ask when she ordered Snowcaps, her favorite movie snack, if she should really eat those before dinner.
How dare he!
She’d glared at him like he’d grown another head and said yes, tightly. He’d then followed that comment with one that had pissed her off even more. He’d actually said to her that he didn’t want her to break her diet. As her friend Tina would say, WTF?
In that moment, if they hadn’t been standing in front of a pimply-faced teenager, who smirked at her, she’d likely have decked the idiot. Instead she’d calmly repeated her order and dared him to say something else about her choice.
He’d wisely chosen to pay for their snacks without further comment. Clutching the railing, she climbed the last few stairs to the door on the fourth floor, wheezing slightly. Thankfully, some of her anger had been expended on the climb. Just because she was a bit larger than the anorexic looking super model on the cover of the latest glamour magazine didn’t mean she was on a freaking diet, she’d wanted to growl at him, but hadn’t. The only reason she kept her mouth shut was because she didn’t think he’d listen to her anyway. He was a man after all. Her head now pounded in time with her pulse, and she was feeling worn down.
She knew she shouldn’t feel bad about her body but these dates always brought back Brad’s hurtful words about her size. She always ate healthy and ran on the treadmill in her apartment complex three times a week. She just didn’t starve herself to live in the perfect body and it was okay that she didn’t. Juggling her shoes in one hand, she dug her keys from her purse as she neared the stairwell door. Clasping the keys, she felt them dig into her palms, letting her know that she hadn’t made it to the depression stage of her tantrum yet.
She was disappointed that she’d allowed herself to date another jerk-off when she’d sworn off men the last time a date had ended in a similar way. Why did men all seem to think that way about women? She didn’t know why they thought they had the right to judge her. Years ago her figure would have been ideal; now she was being punished for a soft stomach and a bit of booty. Her fury was still brewing but not as hotly now; she couldn’t understand why they treated women with disrespect. It had to be because they were told by every ad and magazine that too skinny was beautiful. She was more disappointed and a little hurt now than angry, she realized.
Tina was always telling her that there were men out there who didn’t want a woman who was a size two, but she’d be damned if she’d ever met one. She felt tears threaten her eyes and wanted to scream. This was the cycle of angst she went through every time she went out on another bad date. It was the reason she was done with men. Over it.
She couldn’t keep doing this to herself. She needed off the emotional rollercoaster ride that was involved in dating, and that was why she wasn’t going out with any more men. Moving out of the stairwell, her chest burning from running up most of the stairs, she paused, slipping her shoes back on. She moved to her door, her emotions threatening to overwhelm her. She was almost exhausted from the climb and the fury she’d expended on her mad dash home from the restaurant. She supposed that she’d reached the next stage of her night. Oh goody, she thought grimly, holding her keys in a tight fist as she shook her head.
Shoving the key into the lock, she almost cringed when she heard the door behind her open. Shit, not tonight, she almost moaned, feeling her heart squeeze in despair because she really couldn’t take seeing him tonight. She’d had enough already after dealing with the asshat she’d gone on a date with. God wouldn’t be so cruel as to torture her with a glimpse of her next-door neighbor, not tonight, surely. Only he was she realized when she heard that sexy, masculine voice that sent shivers up her spine come from behind her. She wanted to lean into the door and just sob with the sting of grief her lack of luck with men caused her.
“You’re finally back. Your brother wanted you to call him when you got in to be sure that the pervert you went out with tonight hadn’t molested his sweet, innocent sister,” the mocking voice said with a slight chuckle.
Craig Thomas was her brother’s best friend and business partner. And he was her kryptonite. Her brother had met Craig in the Navy; they were both on the same Seals team. When they got out of the Seals eight years later they opened their own security business. Craig was seriously hot and into leggy blondes if the ones leaving his apartment in the mornings were any indication. The women he liked weren’t size two’s but not one of them was over a size eight, she contemplated despondently. Her heart squeezed again, although her breathing had finally evened out. She didn’t want to turn around because she knew the sight of him would knock the breath from her chest.
He’d been her crush since she was sixteen and her brother had brought him and Eric, their other best friend, home for the holidays. She still remembered that first time when her eyes had met his velvety brown eyes, which crinkled when he smiled. They’d been standing in the front hall. Her heart had felt like it literally stopped in that moment. Her breath had caught and she’d wanted to leap into his arms. Longing suddenly filled her chest, making it ache painfully. She knew it wasn’t because she’d just run up four flights of stairs either. It was him.
She’d gone out of her way to put herself in his path for almost five years after that first meeting. She’d agonizingly realized when she turned twenty-one that he wasn’t interested in her. It was embarrassing that she’d carried a torch for him for years; was still carrying a torch for him, she discerned.
When he’d moved in across the hall, she’d been horrified by all the stunts she’d pulled to put them alone together over those five years. Her heart had shattered into a million pieces when she’d discovered the truth about his feelings that night. She’d believed the feelings were mutual right up until she’d locked them in the pool house; she shuddered, just thinking about it. Her hands shaking on the door handle, she squeezed it tightly to stop them from trembling.
She’d wanted to sink into the carpet and just die two years ago when he’d moved in. She already had enough to deal with seeing him at work almost every day. When she had moved out of her parents’ house five years before, thinking to leave that girlish chapter of her life behind her, she’d never expected to live across the hall from him.
It was her own fault really; she’d known that the apartment was empty and mentioned it to her brother. She didn’t know what she’d supposed would happen, she thought, closing her eyes in remorse. Telling her brother had been a bad decision in a long line of bad decisions and now she had to live with it, or him depending on how you looked at it. She wanted to bang her head on the wall for telling Luke because he’d proceeded to tell Craig that it was available, and now she was tortured by seeing him constantly. They even carpooled!
She was sure that big brother had told him to move in so he could keep a closer eye on his little sister through Craig. She wouldn’t be surprised if Luke had forced the poor man to move into that apartment somehow. Ruefully, she squeezed her hands around the knob, debating entering her apartment without speaking to him. The only thing that stopped her was the idea that he’d only get annoyed and pound on her door until she let him in. By that point she’d likely be in tears. That sight wasn’t pretty; she was a messy crier.
Not the little tiny sobs, or silent tears streaming from her eyes like you see in movies. No, she was the sob your heart out, face swollen, eyes pouring like a faucet, with snot. Lots of unbecoming snot. She was going to end up going through the wringer again, and she knew it was coming. It happened every time she went out with a man who thought she wasn’t good enough. She became incensed, then depressed, and finally came the tears. Having been through this several times, she knew how she’d react. She sighed, leaning her head into the door, wanting to just disappear into it but knowing that she couldn’t.
“Did you hear me, Laney?” Craig asked, as if she couldn’t hear him from ten feet away, she thought groaning. Turning, she plastered a fake smile on her lips, feeling it crumbling at the edges, steeling herself for the view that would likely make her knees weak. Just because she’d sworn off men didn’t mean that she couldn’t look, she supposed.
At the sight of him, sure enough, her knees weakened and her heart picked up in breathless wonder, her stomach doing a little fluttering dance. Lord, he was fine. He stood in his doorway holding the door, wearing only a pair of light grey sleep pants that were tied low on his hips. His washboard abs were displayed, making her body tighten in need they looked so good, lickable good, and his eyes were a velvety chocolate that made her want to melt right to the floor in a pile of wistful desire.
She wondered absently what he’d do if she just walked across the hall and started rubbing all over him like a bitch in heat. She’d bet good money he would toss her on her ass, and slam the door in her face. Likely he’d be afraid she’d had a relapse to the almost obsessive puppy love she’d once felt.
Her hands clutched the doorknob behind her to prevent herself from pouncing on him. His hair, raven black, was slightly wet, letting her know that he’d showered recently. His golden skin made her girly bits whine in protest that they were giving up men. She shut them down with a firm no, and squeezed her thighs together, trying to ease the burning desire she suddenly felt.
“Sure, I’ll call him. Thanks.”
Turning back to open her door, she let the fake smile she’d plastered on her face slide away. She hoped it could be that simple, that he would tell her goodnight and head back into his apartment. Ha, that was a pipe dream. She knew he wouldn’t let it go. He was too damned perfect for that, and too damned perfect for her. She wanted to moan aloud, needing to escape. She was already thinking of the pint in the fridge, and the tears. Good Lord, the tears. Ugg…she needed the treat soon to console her aching pride.
“Your date didn’t come up to see you to your door?” Craig asked before she could escape, letting her know that someone up there had a knack for making bad situations worse by torturing perfectly good people with horrible situations. She was doomed. That was all, just doomed to suffer. Craig, the man who was her ideal lover, was perfect for her. She had to see him everyday without ever getting to have him for the rest of her life. She could already feel the walls closing in on her.
“No,” she replied, hoping that would be the end of that. She willed him to turn around and head back into his apartment, only he didn’t.
“Well that’s not very gentlemanly of him. I don’t think you should go out with him again if he can’t even see you to your door, Doodles.” Craig’s voice had hardened as he spoke and she again had the urge to bang her head against the door.
She knew if she turned around she’d see his eyes clouded with rage at her date’s disrespect. Frustrated desire filled her heart with a pain so deep she thought she couldn’t possibly survive it.
“I won’t be,” she finally told him, glancing at him over her shoulder with another tight smile. A twinge was swelling in her chest at the sight of him leaning in his doorway watching her. She noticed his casual pose was a bit stiff and wondered at it, absently. Only she was too carried away by her own feelings to put much effort into the thought.
“Good. Doodles, you need to find a man who will treat you right. Not some guy who’s too much of an ass to walk you upstairs,” he said, sounding a little cross.
She didn’t fool herself that it meant anything, though. He thought of her like a kid sister and he’d made that painfully clear years ago, making her need to get away from him and his sexy abs even more urgent. She gripped the door handle tightly, squeezing it. Silently, she wished that she could sink into the heavy wood. That name. She really hated it. It made her stomach burn and the humiliation of that night always came flooding back. Her cheeks felt hot and she knew they would be flushed.
“Please don’t call me that. You know I hate it.” She felt her teeth clamp together, this time because of her stupidity. She needed to get inside and cry this out. Resentment clogged her throat, and tears stung her eyes making them burn.
She quickly muttered, “I’m tired. I’ll talk to you later, Craig. I need to get up early in the morning to head out to mom and dad’s. I’m helping with Anna’s baby shower.”
Turning the knob and sliding the door open, she stepped into her apartment. Anna was her other brother Mark’s wife, and was due to have twins next month. How depressing that her brother, who was three years younger than her twenty-eight, was already married and expecting twins next month. Letting out a snort of censure, she remembered when she was in her early twenties that she’d had a life plan. She’d thought by now she’d be married to Craig with kid number two on the way. Only that hadn’t happened, would never happen.
“Okay, night, Doodles,” he said, chuckling at the glare she threw at him over that stupid nickname.
He was likely glad that he didn’t have to make any more small talk with her. After all, what man wanted to spend time with a woman who’d tried to lock him into the pool house with her to kiss him. Hearing his goodnight, she waved at him, throwing a “Night, Craig,” his way before slamming her door shut with a sigh of relief.
She leaned back against it, finally able to allow the tears clogging her throat to come out. Flicking the lock, she turned, pushing away from the door. Throwing her purse and keys on the table just inside the door, she headed towards the kitchen.
Rubbing her hand over her forehead where a headache was beginning to form, she mulled over the fact that she had to plan the damned shower for Anna no matter how unhappy she was about it. One bowl of icy goodness might not be enough, she reflected, sighing heavily. Taking out a bowl, she set it on the counter, getting a spoon. When she’d finally scooped out half the damned pint, she gave up, dumping it back into the carton. Grabbing it, she took the whole damned thing into the living room.
Setting it down on the coffee table, she grabbed her purse. Digging her phone out, finding three bills that she’d forgotten to pay and a tampon that had seen better days, she figured she might need to clean out her purse. If she didn’t, it might decide to swallow her whole when she tried to find something. Setting it aside, she examined her phone, debating what to say to her brother. She was in no mood for his sympathy if she told him about her abysmal date tonight.
Their relationship was odd, she reflected, frowning at her phone. She confided in her big brother almost as much as she did her best friend, Tina. Unsure what to say to him tonight because she was teetering on the edge of tears and calling him would only make her cry fest worse, she considered whether or not she should just text him.
Sitting down on the couch with a huffy sigh of indecision, she didn’t know what to do. She wondered why she confided in him; it wasn’t like he was a good listener. Hell, half the time he didn’t even hear what she was talking about. He was too busy reacting to some perceived slight against her. Maybe it was because he was always willing to listen, even if he wasn’t good at it when he felt she’d been insulted, like tonight. He was, however, never an ass about it. Sighing, she knew she wasn’t able to handle talking to him right now even knowing he’d be on her side, so she settled for a text.
She sent him a quick message telling him that the date had gone fine and she was home before turning off her phone. She felt guilty for lying to him and grabbed the ice cream, digging the spoon in. Tears burned her eyes as she turned on the TV with her other hand. She didn’t want to deal with him or anyone else tonight, she thought, feeling like she’d been wrung out. She needed to wallow in her sorrow over giving up men.
The sniveling started then and she hoped that she could contain the snot that was sure to be running into her carton any minute. She grabbed some tissues, dabbing at her nose with one hand and shoveling the treat into her mouth with the other. Why couldn’t she cry like the movie stars? She’d love to have a single tear slipping silently down her face rather than the huge puffy mess she became. She knew thinking like that would only make the sniveling worse, so she quickly thought of her brother.
She knew Luke would end up in her office grilling her about the date in the morning and he’d likely get it out of her too. She stared at the screen, not really seeing the show she’d flicked on. She shook a little, thinking of how mad he’d be when she finally confessed. He’d want to know why she hadn’t called him. Taking another bite, she decided to think about it later. Her girly bits needed some consoling after swearing off men and chunky monkey would make it all better. Even if it did make her ass bigger, she thought, letting the tears fall down her cheeks and occasionally letting out a hard wracking sob.
Craig Thomas gripped the doorframe hard, his knuckles turning white. He watched Laney walk into her apartment, her hips swaying, filling out those jeans which fit her like a glove, paired with red heels that almost made him whimper. As he watched them sway, his cock stood to attention in his sweats. He loved a woman with hips; those skinny super model types always made him feel as if they were going to break. At six four and a hundred and eighty pounds, he was a big man. He liked to know that his lovers could handle his size without worrying that he’d hurt them. His heart was pounding out a need to chase after her and take her into his arms, to somehow ease that sadness he’d seen hovering somewhere behind that smile. It was her eyes, they always told him when something was wrong. When she looked at him with those expressive green pools, he always knew.
It made him feel a bit insane when he saw anything but happiness when he looked into them, like tonight. He wanted to rip down the door between them with his bare hands, to take her into his arms and demand to know what was wrong. The need to do just that was still so sharp that he had to physically restrain himself by gripping the hard wood tightly.
He was glad the man she’d gone out with hadn’t come up. He didn’t know if he’d have been able to handle her date in her apartment. In the two years he’d lived here, he’d thankfully never had to find out. He felt his stomach twisting in ire at the mere thought of a man with her, alone, in her apartment. It was a feeling he was becoming quite used to when it came to Laney and other men. It was bad enough when she went on a date; he didn’t want to think about them coming home with her. Not ever. His inner caveman roared agreement to that last thought. Remembering the twinge he’d felt when she looked at him while she’d entered her apartment, he wanted to know what had happened on her date. Had the man hurt her? Was he a dick? He made a mental note to make Luke find out.
He leaned on the frame staring at her door. He didn’t like the thought of someone touching her or hurting her, even if it was only her feelings. No, the thought made him burn with a rage so close to the surface he was shocked that she never seemed to notice. His fists constricted, his fingers digging into the door, thinking about how he was so hard for her every time he saw her. His dick might be turning blue. Not his balls, they were already blue, his dick.
Frustrated, he forced his hands to unclench and moved into his apartment with one last glance, wanting to break the barrier between them down with a savage intensity. He had wanted to touch her for more years than he was willing to admit. From almost the moment he’d met her really. He’d walked into Luke’s house that first Christmas, took one look at Luke’s sixteen-year-old sister and thought holy hell. His body had tightened and his heart had quickened with desire. Only she was his best friend’s sister, not to mention that he was four years older and touching her then would have landed his ass in jail. He’d felt like a pervert.
He didn’t know why he’d decided moving in next door would be a good idea when Luke had talked about this apartment being open. His lease still had four months left, but the very next day he’d called to rent this one to be closer to her. He’d told himself it was to keep her safe, but he knew it had more to do with the ache in his cock than keeping her safe. He hadn’t even looked at the damned thing first. Knowing Laney was next door was all he’d needed to know; he shook his head, laughing ruefully at himself.
Torturing himself with the sight of her sweet little ass every-damned-day was dumb. Letting out a loud sigh, because even though he knew he should, he didn’t bother to kid himself that he’d leave in a month when his lease needed to be renewed. Hell no, he’d be right here watching her ass every chance he got, likely burning up with the desire she invoked. He shut his door, moving into the room thinking about that look in her eyes tonight.
What kind of dick didn’t walk his date to the door? He wouldn’t make that mistake. Well, if he dated he wouldn’t; he didn’t date though, so it hadn’t come up. He went to bars and picked up a woman, brought her home, and if they had fun and both knew the score, they might hook up again. That was the sum total of his relationships.
He wondered absently why she’d had to plaster a fake smile on her face. Why she didn’t just tell him what was wrong, so that he could fix it or maybe kill it. He’d be happy to kill any of her dates if they’d upset her. Irritation took up residence in his stomach, the muscles tightening, and a twitchy feeling under his skin made his fists clench. It was like something was trying to crawl out of his flesh. He knew that something had gone wrong on her date. He moved further into his apartment away from the temptation to go after her. He stood beside the couch, debating going back out there to pound on her door and demand she tell him what the hell had happened. Deciding against it when he remembered the slightly pleading look she’d given him over her shoulder, he picked up the remote, unpausing the game he’d recorded. He plopped down on the couch grabbing his beer, tension in every line of his body. Get a grip, he told the infuriated beast in his chest. She was such a beauty and all the men she dated seem too stupid to realize it.
He wasn’t sure why he kept thinking of Laney; he wasn’t ever going to get into her pants. He glared at the TV, thinking on this. He knew he couldn’t allow that to happen. Playing with the label on his beer, he took a long swig, frustration and uncertainty coursing through him. His hand tightened on the bottle thinking of her ass in those jeans she’d been wearing.
Rage that another man got to enjoy that view all night made him insane. Her brother was his business partner and his best friend, for fuck’s sake. What was he thinking? He knew he couldn’t touch her, but desire was complicated and he couldn’t seem to shake it. Luke was very overprotective with his little sister. He was like a junkyard dog on steroids when it came to Laney being even a little upset. Craig being in her pants would likely cause Luke to have an aneurism.
He could remember the warnings he and Eric had received from her brother when they were younger. At the time, those warnings had made him resentful of his friend. He understood Luke’s motivation. He and Eric had been hounds back then and he knew that was why Luke had felt the need to warn him and Eric off.
It didn’t mean he liked it. Annoyance pumped through him making the roaring in his ears worsen. If he’d been with her then he would have hurt her. Not physically, but emotionally. He knew even now having sex with her was a bad idea.
Hurting her was something he wanted to avoid and he didn’t know how to do that if he messed around with her. His idea of a relationship was a few nights between the sheets and a thanks for the good fuck, before seeing them to the door. Yep, he wasn’t what pretty little Laney needed. He let out a snort, knowing that was depressing for his hard cock, his chest aching a bit for some reason, and the annoyance that had coursed through him a moment ago drained away.
Maybe he should call one of his fuck buddies and spend a few nights fucking them senseless while picturing it was Laney wrapped around his cock. Yeah, that was a dick move but he was okay with that, he reasoned, tasting the sour tang of that thought but still not caring. He’d do anything to help rid himself of this all-consuming desire to fuck his best friend’s little sister because he didn’t want to lose two friends by putting his cock where it didn’t belong. Deciding he needed to get his mind off Laney before it exploded, he focused on the TV, yelling when the ref made a bad call against his team.