When Ryker showed up on the stoop of Emmie’s apartment Wednesday evening, he brought more than just an artisan crust pizza. Under the Marty’s Pizza box was another, fancier box; inside, an embroidered pink bra and panty set that probably cost more than what Emmie earned in a week peeked out from folds of glossy tissue paper. The silk was smooth against her skin. Miraculously, he’d gotten her size exactly right. She put the set on only to have it removed a short time later, but that time had been glorious.
The next week, he gifted her with a lace corset as well as a new set of Egyptian Cotton sheets for her bed. Along with the material gifts, Ryker gave her something else of indescribable value – repeatedly. Setting her gently upon her bed, thousand thread count sheets now gracing it, Ryker kissed her bare skin from belly downward until his lips and tongue found the most sensitive of flesh. She gasped as fireworks lit inside of her, pelvis arching up towards him.
This was the fourth time in a week he’d brought her to climax in this manner. She could get used to it. She could get used to all of it—the fancy lingerie, the award-worthy climaxes, the feel of Ryker’s taught skin against her own. It worried her though. Ryker didn’t understand how numbered their days together were. She wanted to pass this all off as “fun while it lasted.” But it was increasingly difficult to think in those terms. She saw him every day except for Tuesdays, which she spent downstairs with Trisha and the others bonding over art and wine while artfully whining. Six out of seven days were spent with him. Her life had begun to carve a Ryker-shaped space into it. Soon, though, that space would have to be emptied.
Focus on the fun, she told herself. Stay present.
Three weeks after her arrangement with Ryker had been forged, he bought her an opal pendant. The luminescent stone, set amidst a ring of diamonds, dangled seductively from a rose gold chain.
This was a breaking point for her.
“I can’t accept this.” She resisted the urge to place it around her neck and make a selfie-filled spectacle of herself. Instead, with more than a little reluctance, she handed the box back to him. “This goes against our agreement. It’s too… personal.”
“But the corset wasn’t?”
“No…well, yes you’re right. It was. I shouldn’t have accepted anything, it’s just that this…” She pointed to the box. “You found out opal is my birthstone, didn’t you?”
Ryker didn’t even try to cover up the sheepish grin on his face. “It’s not like your birthday is some big secret. I found out from Iola, so you must have told her at some point.”
“Of course. Trisha knows too. It’s on the application I filled out for work.” Well, sort of. October second wasn’t her actual birthday, but the new one WITSEC had issued. However, it was close to her real date of birth, October ninth. She was grateful to only have a week’s discrepancy.
“See? It’s common knowledge.”
“Okay, fine. But you still went through the trouble of asking Iola about it and then you went to a jeweler and select this particularly stunning and thoughtful necklace. That’s… something boyfriends do. That’s not something you do. Because you’re not my boyfriend.”
His face fell, but soon the corners of his mouth managed to turn themselves up into a strained half-smile. “I’m not trying to act like your boyfriend. I’m just trying to be nice. God, Emmie, it’s not like it’s a diamond ring.”
Maybe not, but there were still close to forty diamonds involved in this gift…
“You’re taking this all wrong. I like the necklace and the gesture is appreciated, but we’ve been seeing a lot of each other over the past few weeks and we must be sure we maintain clear boundaries. For both of our sakes.”
“Is it for our sakes or for Sam’s?”
“Sam?” Emmie had almost forgotten that Ryker had met him. “What does he have to do with this?”
Ryker glanced away from her, eyes grown dark. “Never mind, you’re free to do what you want with whomever you want.”
“Damn right, I am.” Trisha must have said something to him. He must think that she and Sam… “But that fact doesn’t mean I’m running around with every eligible bachelor in Oregon. I don’t know what you think is happening with Sam, but the terms of our agreement haven’t changed. I just want to make sure it stays that way. If either of us feels we’re getting… entangled, we should talk about it.”
“I suppose that’s what we’re doing right now, isn’t it?”
Emmie studied the curve of Ryker’s lower back as he sat on the edge of her bed, elbows on knees. Reaching from behind him, she ran her hand along his side, over his thigh to his groin. Firmly taking hold of him, she pressed the bare skin of her chest to his back. “Do you want to end this, Ryker?”
“It’s so not fair for you to ask me that right now.” He moaned softly and began to respond to her touch. “Do you?”
“I want this to go on for as long as possible.”
Without warning, he broke from her hold, flipped over and brought himself on top of her. “I can definitely go on for ‘as long as possible.’”
She laughed and then gasped as he entered her. Slowly, he thrust, and after she’d been worked up to a frenzy, he surprised her by pulling out, leaving her right on the cusp of an earth-shattering orgasm. She squirmed under him, pressing on his backside, begging him to enter her again – hard, fast, however he wanted it, just as long as he was inside of her again.
Finally, after what seemed an agonizing length of time, he gave her what she wanted – a powerful thrust followed by many more, bringing her to the height of ecstasy.
Afterwards, they lay there together, knowing they should separate, both unwilling to get up or move around. Emmie let herself drift off, the athleticism they’d exerted and the confusing conversation that proceeded it leaving her spent. When she woke to the jarring beep of her alarm, Ryker was gone. On the silver sheets in his place was a red jewelry box, Emmie’s birthstone tucked into the satin pleats within it.
She was a ticking time bomb. At some point, an alarm would sound and her lies would burst out into the world. It rubbed her the wrong way that her child could be thought of as a lie, but Emmie could only deny reality for so long. An omission of the truth was still a lie of sorts.
It wasn’t just Emmie who was dwelling on this subject as of late. Trisha reminded her of it on a slow day at work, when a particularly torrential downpour seemed to be keeping most of Iola’s customers away. Delton was out sick and so Trisha manned the skillet while Emmie kept up with the few orders coming through.
“I can’t believe you’re not showing already, Emmie. It’s just a matter of time, you know. You’re three months along!”
Emmie didn’t need to be told that. Gestational dates leapt out of her brain nearly every morning; twelve weeks, six days. Thirteen weeks. And today, thirteen weeks, three days. It was true that Emmie’s belly had yet to move much beyond the gentle curve it had held prior to her pregnancy, though she had noticed other subtle shifts in her body. Her backside, in particular, seemed to have filled out. She’d almost fallen off the bed the other day when Ryker, who was in the perfect position to observe this part of her anatomy, had mentioned something about it being even more luscious than he remembered.
“So, have you told Sam yet?”
“Hmm?” Emmie was shaken out of what was an alarming but not entirely unpleasant memory. “Oh… Sam. No, I haven’t mentioned it.”
“Mentioned it? Emmie!” Trisha hit her playfully on the shoulder. “You have to! Poor guy, the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be.”
“And better that you tell him now rather than wait until he undresses you one day and discovers it because you grew a baby bump overnight.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works.”
“It’s exactly how it works, and it’s exactly what’s going to happen unless you grow a pair and tell him.”
Emmie sighed. “I’m aware that I’ll have to say something if our relationship continues, but… I don’t really think it’s going to go anywhere.”
Trisha didn’t seem convinced. “You keep telling yourself that, Hun. But if it seems at any point that it is going somewhere besides Splitsville, just woman-up and tell him. If he’s a halfway decent guy, he’ll take it well.”
“Take it well? ‘Hey, we’ve been involved for a month and it sort of slipped my mind until now, but guess what? I’m pregnant. Don’t worry, though, it’s not yours.’” Emmie shook her head. “Honestly, I wouldn’t blame him if he never wanted to see me again.”
“Well, I would blame him. I bet he’ll be more understanding than you think.”
“Just… don’t go looking for china patterns for us, okay?”
“China? My, aren’t we presumptuous! No, Emmie, I’ve already got your wedding all planned, and it’s going to feature Iola’s specialty burgers served with a side of fries in our fancy red plastic baskets. We’ll cut the buns in the shape of hearts. Oh, and instead of you two sharing the first piece of cake, you’ll take a first sip from a chocolate milkshake. The guests can sit in the booths and we’ll toss onion rings at you instead of rice as you walk down the aisle on your way to a lifetime of wedded bliss.”
“You’ve thought about this way too much.”
“Sam’s your ‘yes man.’ Not just because he gives you the best orgasms you’ve ever had. There’s something more to the two of you. I know these things!” Trisha deposited two club sandwiches onto plates and slid them across the counter for Emmie to take. “Anyways, you have to envision the world you want to create for yourself. And my world has me catering your wedding. Deal with it.”
Taking the plates, Emmie did her best to scowl at her friend without bursting into belly laughs.
“You’ll thank me when he proposes!” Trisha called after her as she headed out onto the floor.
Almost dropping the sandwiches, Emmie ran right into Ryker, who had evidently been on his way into the kitchen. “When who proposes?”
Emmie’s eyes grew wide. He’d heard that, dammit! “No one, obviously. Just Trisha being catty. You look like you’ve been through a typhoon.” His hair was slicked back, water dripping from it onto his slate grey Gore-Tex jacket. Shivering, he slid out of it and tossed it onto a nearby chair.
“Have you seen it out there?” He gestured to the outside world. Trees swayed like cornstalks as wind and rain battered against them while streams of water gushed out of the storm grates in the street just beyond the parking lot.
Emmie winced. “I wish I didn’t have to go out in that soon. Hold on a second.” She delivered the sandwiches to a waiting couple, then followed Ryker to a booth in the corner.
“It should calm down.”
“The weather. By the time you’re off work, the wind should have at least died down.”
“Yeah, but I’m leaving early today. I have a doctor’s appointment.”
He slid into the booth. “Is everything okay?”
“Sure! Sure. It’s a regular appointment. You know, just a check-up.”
“But you don’t have a car. Let me give you a ride to the doctor’s office, at least. With all that wool you wear, you’re going to smell like a wet sheep before you reach the corner.”
Emmie’s limbs went stiff. She couldn’t exactly have Ryker dropping her off at the obstetrician’s. Kind of a dead giveaway. “Um, thanks for that. It’s okay, though. Really. I’ve got this.”
“Well, hello there, brother. I see you’ve battled Moon Beach’s biggest storm of the year to grace us with your presence.”
“My appetite is bigger than this storm.” He winked at Emmie, who turned away before Trisha could see how red her cheeks were about to get.
“Uh-huh. Well, with Emmie leaving early and with basically no customers except for Grace and Ed,” she waved to the older couple sitting in a nearby booth, “I’m closing up early today. It’s amazing that we still have power, but I’m not counting on that holding. So, what do you want?”
Ryker gave her his order and she retreated into the kitchen while Emmie attended to Grace and Ed. Since Trisha wanted to shut down the diner early, she began her closing duties while Ryker waited for his food. As she scrubbed out the coffee-maker, the familiar earthy aroma of sandalwood overtook the smell of burnt grounds. She turned to find Ryker a foot away restocking the napkins. “What the hell, Ryker?”
“I thought since you were ignoring me, I’d come over so you could ignore me to my face.”
“You are so full of yourself. I’m not ignoring you, I’m working.”
“No, no… you’re ignoring me. I can tell.”
“That’s because…” She glanced around the restaurant and then lowered her voice. “That’s because you winked suggestively at me, right in front of Trisha. She’s going to know something’s up.”
“First of all, I wink suggestively at a lot of women. Who’s full of themselves now?”
“Still you. And could you use your inside voice please?”
“Secondly,” he said in his shout across the playground voice, “Trisha doesn’t know anything. One little wink is hardly enough of a tell for her.”
“Why do I think that’s not the first time you’ve underestimated her.”
“And it probably won’t be the last either. But seriously, I think we’re safe.” His phone buzzed, prompting him to stop stuffing napkin dispensers long enough to look at the text. “Damn, that’s Dan. Looks like I’m needed back at the office. I’ll just take my lunch to go.” He ducked his head into the kitchen to let his sister know there’d been a change of plans then headed towards his table. “Are you sure I can’t give you a ride?”
Emmie shook her head. “You need to get going anyways.”
He peered outside at the storm, and then glanced back at her, a surprising level of confliction set into his expression. “It’s so nasty out, though. You shouldn’t be walking all over town in this.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t. I’ll ask Trisha to give me a ride.”
Trisha chose that moment to come out of the kitchen, to-go box in hand. She handed it to her brother. “I’m on it. Our Emmie will be escorted to and from the doctor’s office. Happy now?”
Ryker gave her one of his congenial smiles, followed by a kiss on the cheek. With a brief good-bye to Emmie, he jogged out the door, hood up to ward off the rain.
“Oh. My. God…” Trisha crossed her hands in front of her chest and glared at Emmie who stood there awkwardly biting her lip. “You aren’t dating Sam, are you?”
“Please don’t be mad at me, Trisha!”
Trisha narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know if I’m mad or amused or… No, I know what I am. I am totally grossed out! My brother is your ‘yes man!’”