Strangelove - Part 8
Garrett escorted Jessica to the passenger’s side door of his truck, swinging it open and helping her up and inside as Gwen waived from the front step. The engine roared to life as she secured her seatbelt, butterflies flitting in her belly.
The contract was signed. This was finally happening. She was going to come face to face with the fantasies she’d swallowed back for months.
Glancing to her left, she met Garrett’s eyes as he shifted the truck into reverse. He lifted a brow and she immediately shifted her attention down at her lap.
At the end of his winding driveway, he turned left. She’d come from the right. Buckled in tight, with him at the wheel, she had no idea where they were headed. He was in control now, as he would be from this moment forward.
Her eyes closed, her mind flashing back to the contract. He could hurt her, devastatingly so, and she’d be unable to stop or quell him. He could unleash fury on her, beat and humiliate her, scar her skin and mar her soul, and she’d have no legal recourse.
But she knew he wouldn’t. He’d told her he wouldn’t, and she trusted him to keep his word.
She wanted to start a conversation, to break the silence between them, but no words came to mind. She, for once in her life, had nothing to say.
Alongside her, he chanced the occasional glance in her direction. He couldn’t help delighting in the riveting faces she made, in the debate undoubtedly going on in her mind. She shifted in her seat, eyed the trees whizzing by and bit her lip as the minutes dragged on. Exhausted yet unwilling to give up. And he’d worked too hard, had invested too many hours to let her give up on something she clearly wanted. Step two was critically important. Step three was still up in the air.
His truck continued another half-dozen miles before he turned off down an unpaved road. Closely bundled trees along either side created a dense curtain, their bare branches intertwined and hanging over the road as the truck’s cab passed beneath. As he navigated over a single-lane bridge and down into an even denser bit of woods, he reached out and grasped her knee.
“Almost there. Another minute. You all right?”
“Yeah,” she exhaled, eyeing the isolated surroundings. “But I can see why you wanted me to meet you at your place. This is way off the beaten path.”
“Yep, and you’re the only client I’ve driven here without a blindfold,” he confessed, turning the truck onto a narrow path leading to a single-story pole building nestled among dense bushes and looped by a barbed wire fence. He turned to her after shifting into park. “I usually meet clients elsewhere and blindfold them until they’re inside. Other than the occasional deer hunter that gets too close, there’s no one wandering around. A buck smashed into my A/C unit last year, caused about a grand in damages, and the hunter came dangerously close to going in for a closer look. The fence went up after that. Can’t risk that with the contracts I’ve got in place, can I?”
“No, I guess not. If a hunter busted in in the middle of one of your appointments…”
“They’d walk away with a new appreciation for prey.”
Her snicker was a thin veil of nerves. “But I have to ask, why bring me here without the blindfold? Why show me the way?”
“Because I know you. You’d freak if I blindfolded you. Besides, you’re too decent a human to show up unannounced. I have every faith in that. Now stay put. I’ll be right back for you.”
He left the keys dangling from the ignition as he slipped off the seat, dropping to the ground below. She didn’t move, eyeing the cold steel building’s plain slat siding and broad garage door. He treaded over the muddy ground toward the fence’s broad gate, slipped a key inside the hanging lock and swung it open. Beyond, he lifted a plastic cover off the keypad to the side of the garage door and punched in a code while his free hand hid the numbers from view. He returned to the cab, climbing up and shifting back into drive as the garage door slid up.
Once the truck was inside, he hopped down again and opened her door, helping her down. While he retreated outside to close the barriers again, she tugged at her coat and wrung her hands. The barren garage space did nothing to comfort her.
When he returned, he slid an arm around her middle, edging her toward an interior door.
Behind this door was his playground. Despite her lingering fears, the doubt plaguing her mind, she’d come this far with him at her side. She said she was ready for step two and she was, whether her heart could handle the initial shock of it or not.
He slid the key into the lock with his free hand, her waist still tucked in the other. He nudged the door open and stepped through the doorway with her pressed in close to his side. She held her breath.
“This is my office,” he murmured, flipping a light switch to wash a small square space in white light. A simple wooden desk and chair sat alongside a square iron safe, across the floor from a trailer-sized fridge, another door and an undecorated window revealing the winding road they’d just traversed. “I have to stash your contract. Bathroom’s that way. You want a drink?”
Jessica’s heart was in her throat, her palms damp, but she swallowed hard and turned to him. “Sure, why not?”
“Have at it,” he replied, dropping onto his desk chair.
She sidled to the fridge door, swinging it open to reveal cans of soda, bottles of water and an extensive selection of top-shelf liquors vying for space. Disposable shot glasses and water cups were tucked on the top shelf below a pan of waiting ice cubes.
The Tennessee whiskey called her name though it had never spoken to her before. She lifted the bottle by the neck, pulled the cork loose and downed a giant swig. The spirits burned a path straight down her throat and into her soul as she winced. Holding a disgusted grunt back, she set the bottle back onto the shelf.
He stashed the contract then turned to watch as this fascinating creature. The same gentle soul that cowered from him and reddened at his every word all those years ago was now chugging whiskey in his parlor’s office. He was rivetted by her, bewitched by her, and he hoped his newest conquest wouldn’t pull away before he’d had his fun.
He rose from his seat, meeting her in the middle of the floor. His palms moved to her shoulders as she peered up at him from under feathered lashes. He couldn’t help running a thumb over her silken cheek as her lips bowed up. “You want another shot? Did the first one help?”
“Yeah, kinda. But I hate whiskey. I’ve never wanted it before. And I’m not sure how I got here. This is all so bizarre.”
“You’re right where you’re supposed to be. It’ll only feel bizarre for a few more minutes. You remember what I said before about step two?”
“You’ll show me the equipment. You’ll let me look it all over, you’ll show me how it’s used, and you’ll let me ask questions. And anything I don’t like gets put away.”
“Right, and I can fill in any blanks you have. But I want to clarify. Nothing is getting used on you today. Nothing is happening today. That’s step three, remember? I need you to understand that.”
Her green irises softened in realization. “Oh. When you said I’d see how stuff works, I guess I thought…”
“No way,” he murmured, tucking his palm around the back of her neck and bringing his face in closer. “No way am I rushing step three, Jessica. I wouldn’t do that. You’ve been panicking all morning and probably all week about step three happening, but I wanted to make sure you remembered that this is step two. If we walk through that door and this isn’t okay anymore, if this isn’t what you want anymore, you can and should walk away. Got me?”
The familiar gray stare and insistence in his tone flipped a switch in her brain. “Yes. I understand.”
“Good girl. Now come on,” he cooed, releasing his grasp and heading for the latched door at the far end of the office. “One step at a time.”
She followed close behind, ready to see what he kept so well hidden from the outside world.