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“Can you stay over here? With me?” I asked, conscious of my parents being in the next room over.

He gave me a small smile and I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. Goddamn it, what happened to the Maximus who asked me out on dates and was always flirting with me?

“I don’t have any of my belongings on me.”

I nodded and looked down at the greasy lemon chicken.

“But you could come over to my place. If you’d like. I’d like you to.”

I brought my head up sharply and ignored the vice-like feel in my head. “You mean it?”

Why didn’t I just add Gee, golly at the end of it? But despite sounding like a fawning idiot, the fact that I didn’t have to stay in my house was like music to my ears.

He nodded quickly and smiled wide. “Of course I mean it, Perry. I’d love it. I just have a one bedroom, though, but I can take the couch. It’s super comfy and light as a good beignet.”

I didn’t know what that meant but I gave him a grateful smile and got up to get my stuff together and escape the confines of my house of horror.


Maximus lived in a small apartment in a sleek tower of new apartment buildings by the freeway. The sound of cars zipping past on the I-5 was as comforting as a warm bath; how could anything go wrong when the comings and goings of civilization were just outside the door?

“This is pretty nice,” I said, putting my duffle bag down on the ground and taking off my shoes.

He shrugged. “You reckon? I don’t know. Where’s the character?”

He walked into the middle of the room and looked at the wal s, which were white and barren. His head twitched with disgust.

“I wasn’t sure how Iong I’d be here for, so I took a place with a month-to-month lease. Otherwise I would have scooped up one of the older brick beauties. Something with heritage. History. Oregon has nothing on Louisiana.

Everything is so…new.”

“Wel , tel that to the ghosts in the Benson hotel,” I said, remembering the old building with its sordid history and hauntings.

“Darling, if you think something a hundred years old is old, you’ve got something coming to you.”

I stacked my boots in the corner and put my hands on my hips playful y.

“Oh yeah? And what’s that?”

He grinned. “I’d say it involves beer. Do you want one?”

“I’l have several.”

He disappeared into the kitchen and I fol owed him. Like the rest of the apartment it was cramped, but it stil looked snazzy and streamlined. Maybe that’s why I liked the apartment; there didn’t seem to be any history here to haunt me.

As he fished a six-pack of Blue Moon out of the fridge I asked him, “So do you know yet if you’re going to be staying here? You know, for good?”

He straightened up and slammed the side of the bottle top against the edge of the counter. The cap flew off and landed in the sink with a rattling noise. He looked down at the counter and at the small impression the force had left in the cheap material. He ran his fingers over the damage approvingly.

“There. Now it has more character.”

He handed me my beer, slammed open another beer and raised his bottle to mine.

“To Portland then,” he said.

“To answering my question,” I replied, keeping my bottle close.

He took a quick sip of the beer and sighed. He ran a hand through his hair, being extra careful not to mess up the slight pompadour at the top, and walked into the living room, plopping his big frame down on the “beignet-soft”


I leaned against the kitchen wal and stared at him, waiting.

“Wel , Perry,” he said slowly. “I’m not sure how long I wil stay here. If I’m going to start doing other stuff for Jimmy, then being in Seattle might be the best option.”

It was a shame that the word Seattle now brought about involuntary flinching from me.

He looked up at me hopeful y. “But if you agree to doing the show, then I’d be more than happy to put down some roots here.”

I let out a small sigh and looked down at the zesty bubbles in the beer. “So, real y, I’m what’s keeping you here?”

Maximus didn’t say anything, just gave me a quick smile and took another large gulp of beer. But I knew it was the truth and it made me feel unbelievably pressured. And so not worth it.

“So what do you say, darlin’?”

“Do you real y think I could give you an honest answer about the show right now? I mean, considering I’m actual y being haunted myself.”

“Actual y….” He trailed off and turned his attention to the window where the lights of the city glowed outside.

“What?” I asked, and came closer to him. I stopped in front of the couch, forcing him to turn his attention back to me. “What?”

“Don’t you reckon this is the perfect time to be filming all of this?”

I laughed, angrily and to myself. “Are you serious?”

“Wel , yes, Perry. There is obviously something funny going on. Why shouldn’t this be on the show? It would be bril iant. We can stil get to the bottom of things; we’l just have it all on camera. It might even help your case if things…er…escalate.”

My mouth was hanging open slightly so I snapped it shut, feeling bitter venom coursing through my veins. “You are unbelievable, you know that?”

He looked shocked. “What did I say?”

“You are just like him,” I spat out, and it looked like I just slapped him in the face. “Both of you are exactly the same.

Both of you don’t give a shit what happens to me; you just want to use me for your own profits. You should be ashamed of yourself. I thought you were different!”

I placed my ful beer down on the coffee table and took off for the door. I was insulted and furious and so close to putting a fist through his wal . That would give his stupid apartment some character, wouldn’t it?

He got up and in a few strides of his long legs he was down on his knees in front of me, grasping both of my arms in his hands.

“I’m sorry, please don’t go,” he said.

“Oh, save it,” I said, trying to remove myself from his grasp. I’d heard that before.

“I’m serious,” he said in his steady drawl. “I was being an idiot. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how insensitive I was. You’re absolutely right, Perry. I guess I just thought you were used to it.”

“You never get used to it,” I said quietly, and was surprised to find my vision blurring, tears well ing up quickly in my eyes.

“Oh, Perry,” he said, and stood up. He brought me into his chest and wrapped his arms around me. I stood stiff and stil until I relented and the tears spil ed out of me. I didn’t even know why I was crying. I was mad and frustrated more than anything else. Angry at the world, angry at Maximus and angry at Dex. Most of all , I felt angry at Dex.

Without him, none of this would have happened and I could have been living a remotely normal life. I had demons in my past and skeletons in my closet and he had to come along and dredge everything up and let them loose to play.

At that moment, as I sniffled my nose on Maximus’s warm, green plaid shirt, I couldn’t have hated Dex more.

And that’s when it happened. The hot lava that swirled inside of me concentrated deep in my bel y, lighting up my bottom half. My head swam against my myriad emotions and as if the air pressure in the room changed, Maximus noticed it too. He pul ed back slightly and I stared up at him, at his ful lips, scattering of freckles and green, green eyes.

Then he kissed me.

And as before, I kissed him back but with a feverish urgency this time. He tightened his grip around me and soon I was clawing back at him, feeling his hard arms and broad chest, squeezing the strength in his shoulders. The man was built like an ox and I felt like a dainty, little fairy in his hold.

But as we continued, and the world around us dropped away, I felt less like a dainty fairy and more like a woman on a mission. A woman who wanted control. And a woman who would get it.

We fumbled our way to his shoebox bedroom as he deftly whipped my tunic and leggings off, leaving me in mismatched bra and underwear. I didn’t care, though. I tore open his shirt, the buttons unsnapping in a row with a satisfying sound.

I had to pause to admire how well built he was, like a cowboy from the old west. He looked natural y built, like he got his pecs from hauling huge bales of hay and his arms from branding cattle. He took advantage of my admiration to scoop one arm around my waist, and, like I weighed nothing at all , he threw me onto the bed. I landed with a soft thunk and stared at him excitedly through the curtain of messy hair that cascaded in front of my face.

“So you like it rough, do you?” I said to him in a mean voice that startled me. It was low and throaty and not at all like my own.

Maximus didn’t appear to notice. He just grinned, his eyes blazing, and took off his jeans, flinging them across the room. The fact that he was going commando was enough of a surprise to take my mind off my strange voice deviation. Not so surprising was the fact that he was very well endowed (which I already suspected; I mean look at the size of the man) and hard as steel.

In the blink of an eye, the condom was on and he was on top of me. I relished the feeling of his large, weighty mass.

He brought his wet lips to my neck and worked his way down. I know the doctor and pamphlets said it was OK to have sex a week after a miscarriage, and even though it had been longer than that, I stil didn’t feel comfortable with him in that region. At least not with his face.

I arched my back in pleasure as he licked down my hip bones, I grabbed the side of his head. I gave it a tug, trying to get him to stop his journey down below and come back up to me but he was so wrapped up in his pursuit that he ignored me. I tightened my grip around him and tried again, to no avail.

A low moan escaped from my lips as a rush of power, desire and anger rushed up from the bottom of my gut. I crunched up, brought my hands underneath his armpits, and with one startling motion, I yanked him up.

I yanked him up so hard that he landed up next to me on the bed, bouncing from the impact.

“Darlin?” he gasped, staring at me in a mix of fear and surprise.

I couldn’t believe my own strength but I didn’t have the want to dwel on it.

He tried to sit up and with one hand I shoved his farthest shoulder back down onto the bed; then, with some newly found agility, I sprang up and jumped on top of him, straddling him tightly with my thighs.

I leaned down on him, my breasts pressing against his chest, and I smiled sweetly.

“Is this too rough for you?”

His eyes narrowed momentarily. “Is that how you want to play?”

I chuckled and started attacking his neck with my tongue.

I don’t know what had come over me; it was almost like I was playing a different role, a part in a play. It was scary, just taking a backseat to all of this as I lightly raked my nails up and down his arms, but it was strangely liberating. I wasn’t myself at all , and for once I was OK with that.

In fact, part of me welcomed it. Maybe a little too much.