At any turn, p.24
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       At Any Turn, p.24

         Part #2 of Gaming the System series by Brenna Aubrey
 
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  She’d take the pills after Mom hit her. They’d scream and yell at each other and I’d hide in my room and cry—too terrified to go out and defend her—I was little, after all, and she was a teen. But Mom would hit her and she’d come to our room, take the pills and sob into her pillow while I pretended to be asleep.

  I buried my head in my hands, trying to dam the pain. Holy shit.

  It was happening all over again.

  With a steely determination, I returned to her bag and completely ransacked it. There were two more syringes—these prefilled and unused.

  The pieces certainly were starting to fit. She’d pulled away because she’d known about my own issues with addiction. She’d fixated on Sabrina’s story because of the similarities to her own. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell me for fear of how I’d react.

  Was I angry? Fuck yes, I was. But I was also in problem-solving mode. Hours later, before I lay down beside her, I sent out three different inquiries about rehab by e-mail. In the morning, we’d sit down. We’d figure this out. She’d stay here and I’d convince her that this was the way to go, even if it meant staging that intervention that Alex had jokingly talked about weeks ago.

  Did Heath know about this? I determined to talk to him, too. I glanced up at the clock, after eleven. Too late to call. I’d talk to him first thing.

  Overcoming this would be hard. Ultimately, it would be her fight, her struggle. But I would get her the best help possible. I’d support her afterward, too. I’d gone through the twelve steps myself, after I’d realized my work addiction. I’d done the program by myself, but I knew Emilia would need help. And I’d be there for her.

  I lay down beside her and gathered her against me, still fully clothed myself, but so exhausted I could hardly think anymore. I drifted off to the sound of her peaceful breathing.

  I woke up hours later to the feel of her mouth and hands on my bare chest. Lying on my back, I kept my eyes closed and savored the sensations. It wasn’t just a pleasant dream, thank God. Emilia had unbuttoned my shirt and was kissing me all over. And I was hard as a rock and aching with it.

  I didn’t move, curious as to where this was going. I’d wanted her again since the last time. And this was looking promising. One of her hands drifted down over my belly to cup my hard cock. She fondled me through my jeans and I let out an involuntary groan.

  She didn’t stop touching me, but her head came up. “Darn. I wanted to give you your own sleepgasm. ”

  I cracked my eyes open. It was early morning. The sky was still a pale gray and I could just see her in the predawn light. She still looked so alien to me with that pink-and-purple-striped white hair of hers. I resisted the urge to reach over and grab her, pull her on top of me. I wanted inside her so badly I was nearly vibrating with it.

  “Don’t mind me,” I whispered hoarsely. “I’ll just pretend I’m sleeping and you can go about your business. ” And hopefully that business involved her climbing on top of me and riding me like a cowgirl.

  She unbuttoned and carefully unzipped my jeans, tugging on them. “Why’d you fall asleep with your clothes on, silly?”

  I lifted up and she pulled the jeans off me. “I can’t answer that. I’m asleep, remember?”

  “Oh, yes. It’s too bad you’ll miss this, then. ” She reached inside my underwear and pulled out my stiff cock, her hand traveling up it delicately. She pinched the head and I groaned again and in seconds her hand was replaced by her hot, wet mouth.

  “Fuck,” I rasped as her lips closed around me. Her tongue caressed the most sensitive parts of my shaft. My eyes squeezed shut and all I could do was feel. I had to resist the urge to grab her head and control her movements. I rarely got a blowjob these days and it was understandable that it wasn’t her favorite thing to do, given her history. Every one was a gift, as I saw it. I’d never expected them from her. In the past a man had forced himself on her that way and just the fact that she volunteered to give me one at all told me a lot about her level of trust.

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  I swallowed some guilt at that thought. Trust. I’d gone through her things last night. I’d found—

  It was so hard to think about anything at that moment because her mouth was doing indescribably amazing things to me. She sucked, hard, as she dragged her mouth across my cock. Sliding it in deep—deeper than she’d ever done before. So much so that I half-wondered—in my delirious state—if she might trigger her own gag reflex.

  I mustered the willpower to open my eyes and watch her. Her eyes were closed in concentration as she continued, sliding her head up and down. Her movements were regulated, concerted. Her dark brows furrowed and her gorgeous, puffy lips sealed around my shaft. The sight of it almost made me come.

  But then her eyes flew open and her gaze locked on mine. I couldn’t look away as her head continued bobbing. Burning pleasure was spreading from my groin into my stomach, down my legs. It felt so fucking good. I didn’t want her to stop. I wanted her to keep sucking me until I came. And I wanted to come in her mouth—something I’d never done before.

  I wanted it so badly I was half-tempted not to warn her when I felt that familiar twinge just below my navel. “Emilia,” I gasped. “I’m gonna—” but she didn’t stop and my orgasm was cresting that wave of hot pleasure, convulsing over me. My eyes squeezed closed as I spilled into her mouth.

  Fuck, it felt so good, so hot and intense it was almost painful. She didn’t pull her mouth away. And I was still coming. And she was still sucking. Oh. My. God. I thought the strength of it would blow my head wide open.

  For minutes I was lost in the sensation of convulsing pleasure, but when I was done and her mouth was still sealed around me, I opened my eyes and watched her. I was certain she’d get off the bed and go to the sink to spit. But instead, her mouth still wrapped around me, I watched her throat bob. She swallowed. Everything.

  I closed my eyes and threw my head back, so incredibly turned on that I felt everything starting again. Slowly she pulled her mouth away and she would have gotten off the bed, but I stopped her, hooked my arm around her waist to prevent her from leaving.

  “That was so goddamn hot. I need to have you again,” I groaned.

  She gasped. “You just did. ”

  “Again. And again. Because I’ll never get enough,” I groaned. “I need you. Here. With me. Please. ”

  She stilled. “We should talk,” she said.

  I took a deep breath and let it go. She was going to tell me about the drugs. Good. It was better that this came from her…that she be the one to recognize that she had a problem.

  She bent to kiss me and then got up to use to the bathroom and I laid back, still enjoying that hot afterglow. I glanced at the clock. It was seven on a Tuesday morning. I closed my eyes and was almost completely asleep when she left the bathroom and crawled back into bed beside me.

  Now I had to get up, but one thing was certain—when I came back to bed she was getting an orgasm of her own, one way or the other. With that thought, I got up and showered. Maybe she’d drift off to sleep in the meantime. I spent my time in the shower contemplating the most delicious ways to wake her up. By the time I got out, I had a semi just from all the dirty thoughts going through my head. It was stunning, really, that we could be so distant from each other emotionally and yet so in sync sexually that I couldn’t get the thought of her body out of my mind.

  And soon, after we talked, we’d take care of the emotional stuff. We’d take care of whatever was happening to her and it would be all right. She’d be back with me and we’d face it together, just as we should have done all along.

  I wrapped a towel around my hips and left the bathroom while toweling my hair dry. To my surprise, Emilia was standing beside the bed bent over her bag. She’d pulled practically everything out of it—much as I had done last night. And she was clearly looking for something. I took a deep breath and my stomach dropped. Likely she wa
s looking for one of the prefilled syringes sitting on my desk in front of my computer.

  Well, she’d wanted to talk. So here was our chance.

  “Did you go through my bag?” she said without looking up.

  I hesitated and her fiery gaze met mine. I took a deep breath. “Yes. ”

  She shook her head. “You are unbelievable,” she said between gritted teeth.

  “I’m worried about you. I saw the bruises on your arms and your stomach. ”

  She paled. “You pulled off my shirt?”

  “I saw the bruises on your arms—and the puncture marks. I know damn well what they were so I looked to see if there were bruises on your stomach. And they were everywhere. ”

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  She blinked a few times and then returned to her bag, hastily stuffing everything back inside.

  “I want those syringes, goddamn it. The empty ones, too. They’re a biohazard. ”

  I almost laughed at the irony. Only a would-be doctor would be abusing and simultaneously worry about something like that.

  “Emilia, you have a problem. We need to talk about it. ”

  “No. You have a fucking problem. You just can’t back. The. Fuck. Off. ” With that she pulled the bag closed with a loud zip, tears spilling onto her cheeks.

  “I’m worried about you. ”

  She gave her eyes an angry swipe. “So you say. ”

  “I’m not lying. But this isn’t about me, this is about you. You’re using. ”

  “No. I am not abusing drugs. Now take me home. Now. ”

  I folded my arms over my chest. “We need to talk. ”

  She shook her head. “I’m done talking. You and I are done. You will never trust me and I will never trust you. ” Her voice cut off in a sob.

  “Emilia—”

  “No! Take me home, Adam. ”

  I didn’t move and I didn’t say a word.

  Muttering under her breath, she slung her bag over her shoulder and stalked down the stairs and toward the front door.

  I followed closely behind. “What are you doing?”

  “I’m walking. ”

  “That’s fifteen miles. ”

  “I need the exercise. ”

  “Emilia, stop. ”

  She kept walking.

  “I’ll drive you,” I finally conceded. We strode next to each other across the island. It was a beautiful morning, the sun shining, a cool breeze blowing. I inhaled the pervasive, earthy scent of the Back Bay and the freshly mowed green grass, my mind racing for what to say to her. I followed her to the parking garage, the fresh outdoor scents replaced by the smell of exhaust and old oil. I swallowed, throwing a look her way. Had I completely blown this? Would she turn away my help now, if I offered it? I couldn’t force it on her.

  But, there was nothing to say. She bent over her phone texting furiously the entire time. I surmised she was catching Heath up on everything. When we pulled up into her parking lot, Heath was waiting, his arms clamped over his chest like a bouncer preparing for a brawl. Emilia was out of the car almost before it stopped and Heath came up to stand in front of me while she made her getaway.

  “Emilia—” I said.

  She turned to me, her eyes red. “Goodbye, Adam. ” And she rushed off toward the condo.

  I turned to Heath, who was looking at me with pity in his face. It made me angry. I clenched my fists. “Let me go to her. ”

  “She doesn’t want to talk. ”

  “I fucked up, okay?”

  “Yep. Again. ” He nodded.

  “I think she’s abusing drugs,” I blurted. As if that knowledge would get me a pass with him.

  Heath’s brow shot up. “Why do you think that?”

  “Because there are signs—the change in appearance, the behavior. I found syringes…”

  Heath shook his head. “Because you went through her bag. ”

  I swore, ran a hand through my hair and looked away. “I saw the puncture marks on her arm! What the fuck else was I supposed to do?”

  “She’s not abusing drugs. Okay? Trust me. This is not what it’s about. ”

  “Then what the fuck is it about?”

  His gaze was icy. “It’s not for me to tell you. She was going to talk to you today, but you blew it. She doesn’t trust you, any more than you trust her. You keep fucking it up. ”

  I blew out a breath in frustration. “Tell me what I need to do. I need to make this up to her. ”

  “Back off. Stay away from her for a while. If you pull your head out of your ass, she will come to you. ”

  I clenched my fist again, anger coursing through me. I wanted to take a swing at him. “You said that before. ”

  “And she did, didn’t she? She came to you, but you fucked it up, man. ”

  It was hard to hear. Hard to accept, but he was right. “Fine. But you promise me—”

  “I’ll take care of her. I have been taking care of her. ”

  I shook my head. “You’ve been doing my job. ”

  He looked bitter. “Yeah. I have. ”

  We stared each other down for a long moment.

  I looked down, shaking my head. I’d betrayed her trust again. It didn’t help to explain that I’d done it in a moment of utter panic. That I couldn’t get Bree out of my mind. I took a deep, painful breath. “I’m a fucking idiot. ”

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  True sympathy crossed Heath’s features. He clamped a hand on my shoulder. “I have confidence that you’ll learn. But you need to leave her be for now. ”

  I hated what he had to say and I wasn’t so sure he was right. That look of betrayal in her eyes as she’d turned away. The way she’d told me “good-bye” had sounded so final. Fuck.

  With a stiff jerk I got back in my car and pulled out of the parking lot, speeding my way back to Newport Beach.

  Chapter Eighteen

  We both opted to stay away for Thanksgiving the following weekend, which avoided that inevitable awkwardness. Both Peter and Kim were very vocal in their disappointment. Peter called me and laid it down that under no circumstances would this occur at Christmas.

  “I can’t promise you anything, Peter. ”

  “We’re your family, Adam. Your only family. ”

  I sighed. “I only know what I can do. I’m not sure what she’s going to decide is her limit. ”

  “It’s only fair to tell you that Kim and I are getting serious. I know that’s not the greatest news for you two right now. ”

  “It’s not. But we’re grown-ups. We’ll deal. ”

  Peter sighed. “Kim is very worried about Mia. ”

  She wasn’t the only one. “Tell her she needs to talk to Heath, then. Because I don’t know shit. ”

  ***

  December started with summerlike weather in Southern California while the rest of the country was submerged in a deep freeze. I was informed that a settlement was imminent and that as part of the agreement, I was required to meet personally with the family of the young man who had perpetrated the crimes.

  I was not at all happy about this new development and Jordan had to coax, plead and cajole me into it.

  “Man, I’ll be right there with you. We’ll do it together. ”

  My hands worked at my sides, fisting and relaxing. “Do I have a fucking choice? At all?”

  “We can see if Joseph can work with the insurance guys to get that taken out, but… If the family senses that you are belligerent in any way, they could dig their heels in, maybe even see it as a way to get more money. Then the insurance company will really be riding our asses. ”

  I took a deep breath and blew it out. “I have no idea what to say to these people. This means I’m going to be sitting in a conference room for a half hour listening to them tell me why I am the spawn of the devil who destroyed their innocent kid. ”

  “Adam…you know that shit isn’t true. I know that shit isn’t true. Somet
imes in life we just have to…take our lumps, you know?”

  I pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes, completely miserable. It really grated, this having to be complicit with the assumption that I was guilty of dealing out an addictive substance, like virtual crack. It was personal to me, goddamn it.

  And on top of that, I still couldn’t get the thought of Emilia out of my head. It had been over a week since I’d seen her and now these new developments were going to take me out of state for almost three weeks. I had business in Chicago that had been scheduled for months now. Then this trip to New York City for the insurance settlement paperwork and the meeting with the family. And then it was on to Washington, DC, where I had been subpoenaed to appear at a congressional hearing on the addictive effects of online video games.

  Coming down from the high of DracoCon and of being with Emilia for that short, mostly happy twenty-four hours, I felt like I’d crashed and burned.

  Since I was due on an early flight out the next morning, I chose to text Emilia regarding the Christmas question. It was very possible that I wouldn’t make it back in time to celebrate with my family, but if I did, there’d be no time to work out a truce with her that would satisfy my uncle and Kim’s desire to celebrate together. Like I’d promised him, we’d work it out like adults.

  I texted her and asked her to meet me after work at a nearby café. She took a half hour to respond.

  What is this regarding?

  Fuck. Really? We were going to be like this?

  It’s regarding what we are going to do about Xmas. I’m sure your mom has been in touch about it.

  I waited another ten minutes and was in the middle of typing a long, boring e-mail when my phone chimed.

  I’ll meet you at Carlos Café at six.

  She was there, sitting in a booth in the back corner when I arrived. I walked down the aisle and she looked up from her phone and watched me. There was no smile on her face.

  And she looked like shit. I hadn’t seen her in over a week and she looked…different. For starters, she was dressed curiously, in a long-sleeved jumper type of dress, with tights on her legs. She looked like a schoolgirl with that still-ridiculous white hair and her dark eyebrows and wide brown eyes. She was pale and she had dark circles under those eyes.

 
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