Chapter no 25

Never Lie

I never expected to end up in bed with Luke Strauss. Dinner? Maybe. A few drinks? Possibly. But not this. It came as a complete surprise.

But not an unpleasant one. Just the opposite. I had thought of myself as the sort of person who could go indefinitely without physical affection, but the second Luke kissed me after I goaded him into it, I realized I was kidding myself. I wanted this. I wanted it so badly that even when he respectfully tried to slow things down, I wouldn’t let him.

Whatever you want, Adrienne.

I got exactly what I wanted. A night of passion with a man who surprised me by very much knowing what he was doing. He did a good job installing my security system. He did a better job in the bedroom.

I feel utterly satisfied.

But now it is over. Luke has his arm around my shoulders and my naked body is pressed against his, and all I can think about is, How am I going to get him to leave? It’s after midnight—surely he expects to spend the night. I like him, but I don’t want him in my bed anymore. I don’t want him tossing and turning and snoring and trying to cuddle me while I sleep. I need my sleep.

I also sense that it would be tacky to turn to him and say, Hey, that was fun. How about you run along home now? I might be stuck with him. The entire night.

“You know what?” Luke murmurs into my hair. “I’m starving.”

At his words, my stomach growls loud enough for him to hear. He laughs. “I guess that means you concur.”

“Do you want to get some food downstairs? We can raid my fridge.”

“Sounds good to me.”

He might not say that when he discovers the meager contents of my refrigerator. But then again, I sense he won’t be too bothered. Luke is very agreeable. I haven’t decided whether I am fond of that quality about him or not.

Luke climbs out of bed and gathers the clothing that was tossed around the room in a fit of passion. As he’s zipping up his pants, he notices that I’m watching him and looks up at me with a grin. For the first time since I saw that video on my phone, I feel a flash of happiness.

That video. EJ. That asshole.

No. Don’t think about it. Not now.

Luke throws his partially buttoned shirt over his head but doesn’t secure the rest of the buttons. Then he grabs his tie from the floor and lets it hang loose around his neck. I consider getting dressed in my clothes from earlier today like he has, but then I decide to hell with it. I grab my red fleece robe and wrap it around my body.

He smiles in approval. I bought the robe because it’s warm, but it has the added bonus of being red. I swear I didn’t consider that when I purchased it, but perhaps subconsciously I did.

The contents of the refrigerator are even more abysmal than I feared. I have a loaf of bread, but when Luke picks it up, there’s green mold growing at the bottom. There’s a bottle of ketchup. There’s dry pasta in one of the cupboards, but no pasta sauce. Only ketchup.

“I eat out a lot,” I say apologetically. “I would hope so.”

He opens another cupboard and finds a package of only slightly stale saltines and some peanut butter. It’s not exactly the dinner of champions, but it will do. I have a pack of water bottles at the bottom of the fridge, and I retrieve one for myself and hand the other to Luke, who is busy making peanut butter and saltine sandwiches.

“Sorry,” I say.

“Don’t be sorry.” He pauses to lick peanut butter off the butter knife. “This was my favorite meal from ages seven through ten.”

I smiled to myself, imagining Luke as a freckle-faced second grader. “I bet you were a cute kid.”

“I was,” he assures me. He slides one of the saltine peanut butter sandwiches over to me. I take a bite—it tastes about as you would think it would. “I didn’t become a handful until I was a teenager.”

I arch an eyebrow. “You gave your parents a hard time?

That’s hard to imagine.”

He licks some peanut butter off his upper lip. “Not exactly. I got into some trouble though. Legal trouble.”

“Legal trouble? Really?”

He hesitates as if considering lying about it even though he just told me it was true. I’m sure Luke Strauss has a tell, but I haven’t found it yet. “Yes.”

“Like what?”

“Hacking.” He winces. “I thought I was so smart… until I got caught. I got in a shitload of trouble. Luckily, I was a minor and my parents got me a good lawyer. I just did community service and they made sure it didn’t end up on my permanent record.”

“Wow. I’m impressed.”

“Impressed that I was a hacker? Or impressed that I stayed out of jail?”

“Both. But mostly, the first.” I crumble a bit of cracker under my fingertips. “Can you still do it?”

“Do what?”

“Hack into computers.”

He chuckles. “Maybe, but we are not going to find out. Nobody will ever hire you to do any legit computer work if you get caught doing something like that. I’m old enough to know not to take any stupid chances like that anymore.”

I already knew Luke was skilled with computers. But this is an interesting piece of information. I file it away in my brain for later.

“I bet you were perfect when you were a kid,” he comments. “I bet you were the kind of kid that every adult was in love with. A teacher’s pet—am I right?”

“Not exactly.”

His left eyebrow arches up. “Is that so?”

“A lot of teachers don’t like you,” I say, “when you’re smarter than they are.”

Luke stares at me for a second, then he chuckles. “Yeah, I’ll just bet you were.”

I’m pleased that he found my assertion amusing rather than arrogant. It is, after all, simply a fact. Very early on, my intellect exceeded everyone who was tasked to teach me. And a lot of adults indeed resent a child who is smarter than they are.

A lot of parents do as well.

I brace myself for more questions about my childhood and family, but they never come. Instead, we sit quietly in my kitchen, chewing our saltine peanut butter sandwiches. Even if I wanted to make conversation, it would be hard with all the peanut butter stuck to the roof of my mouth. Perhaps that is why Luke stopped asking questions and not out of respect for my privacy. He looks around the house as we eat, a slightly amazed look on his face.

“Big place you got here,” he finally says. “Yes, it’s just me.”

He runs his tongue over his teeth. “I didn’t ask.”

“You didn’t have to.” I drum my fingers against the kitchen table. “People look at this house and assume I must

live here with a husband and children. And when I defy that expectation, it upsets them. People dislike when things don’t meet their expectations.”

“Well,” he says, “I want you to know that you exceed

my expectations.”

I allow myself a smile. “Do I?”

“You do. And also, I’m pretty glad you don’t have a husband. Obviously.”

I shift my weight in the wooden kitchen chair. “How about you? You told me you used to be married.”

It’s amazing the way Luke completely shuts down when I bring up his previous marriage. That’s exactly what happened when I was trying to interview him earlier. His eyes wall off and his lips set into a straight line. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I see.”

He’s not being fair. He’s thirty-six years old and a widower. He must realize that such a revelation is enough to make people wonder. How do you lose your wife at such a young age?

He sees my expression and lets out a sigh. “She was in an accident. It was… awful. And I hope this doesn’t sound cold, but it’s honestly the last thing I want to think about when I’m here with you.”

“I understand.” And I do. It’s not like it would be better if Luke was going on and on about his dead wife. He claims he’s over it, and I believe that. But I still can’t help but wonder. What sort of accident was it? Was he involved?

In any case, I’m not going to find out the answers to my questions tonight.

Between me and Luke, we polish off the rest of the saltines and peanut butter. I glance at the clock on the microwave—it’s nearly one in the morning. Even though he put his clothes back on, his shirt is still mostly unbuttoned. He lives all the way in the Bronx, and he’s never going to

want to make the hike back to his apartment this late. He’s going to want to stay the night.

He’ll probably want to cuddle all night. A cold sweat breaks out on the back of my neck.

“So.” I clear my throat. “This was nice.”

“Yeah.” A smile plays on his lips. “It really was.”

“I wouldn’t mind doing it again sometime,” I say. That part is true. But next time at his place so I could leave when it’s over.

“I’m on board.”

“Any other time. Just… you know, text me.” “I will.”

“Yes. So.”

A long silence hangs between us. Finally, Luke breaks the silence. By bursting out laughing.

I stare at him, affronted. “What’s so funny?”

He wipes his eyes. He’s laughing so hard, there are tears. “You want me to leave so badly, but you’re too nice to say it.”

“Well…” I fold my arms across my bare chest. “I’m just used to sleeping alone. And don’t you prefer your own bed too?”

“I absolutely do.” He leans forward to brush his lips against mine. “Honesty, I’ve got to be at another hospital in the city tomorrow morning and I wasn’t looking forward to running home at the crack of dawn to shower and get fresh clothes. I would’ve stayed if you wanted me to, but I’m good with going home.”

My entire body sags with relief. “Thank you.”

“But.” He holds up a finger. “You have to let me take you out to dinner.”

“I’m the one who owes you dinner. Remember?” “Except no way. I want to take you out to dinner.”

From an evolutionary perspective, females are more reproductively valuable than males. After all, we can only carry one pregnancy at a time while men can spread their

seed more freely. As a result, male mammals must “earn” female reproductive access by offering gifts. It’s certainly not unique to humans, although I would say sheep or cows rarely find themselves in this particular conundrum.

From a social psychological standpoint, traditional gender roles are often internalized for men. They feel obligated to make decisions and take control while women follow. By setting a precedent such as paying for a meal on a first date, the man is establishing himself as the dominant leader in the relationship and relegates the woman to the passive role.

I consider explaining all this to Luke, but then he leans back in the kitchen chair, which groans under his weight. “I’ll stay here all night if I have to, Adrienne.”

Fine. If he wants it that badly, I will not argue. Despite my distaste at the prospect of falling into traditional gender roles, I’m a little flattered. “All right then. You may take me out to dinner.”

I walk Luke to the front door. Just before he leaves, he grabs me one last time and kisses me. It’s a lovely kiss that makes me tingle down to my toes. I can’t wait to see him again.

And as he heads out the door, the thought flits through my head that maybe Luke could help me out with the EJ problem.

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