Yves Santiago has always prided herself on knowing how to be alone, but in the wake of her break up with Elijah Weinstein she seems to have forgotten everything she ever learned. Boys and booze don’t seem to fill that emptiness as easily as it had before and as depression threatens to take her under she turns to the one thing that has always buoyed her: writing. That and the kindness and affection of Julian Webster work together to bring her back from the brink.
Elijah is certain that he did the right thing by breaking things off with Yves. He just can’t seem to make his good intentions sync up with the hurt in his heart. And when his ex Shoshanna Rodrigues reenters his life he feels the absence of Yves even more acutely. He’s struggling to keep his distance and maintain a professional relationship with the sex blogger turned memoirist, but when life altering secrets emerge from Elijah’s past, he can’t think of anyone else he would rather confide in. Shoshanna comes back into his life in a way he never expected. But his love for Yves lingers and with the publication date for The Lust Diaries fast approaching, he knows he’ll have to deal with his feelings for her head on.
Yves has found a way to work back toward some semblance of normalcy, but as her book moves toward publication she knows that she will have to face Elijah. Will the confidence she worked so hard to rebuild crumble in his presence?
The wind whipped open Elijah’s coat as he rounded the corner onto the quiet, cobblestone street. He flipped up his collar, pushed his hands into his pockets, and huddled against the winter chill. Dr. Brahm Schulz’s office sat in the middle of the block on a street lined with stark, leafless trees. Nestled in a covered alcove, he found the bell for the outer door. The answering buzz sounded almost immediately, and he stepped inside, closing the door behind him in the small, warm foyer. Just down the hall, Dr. Schulz waved him toward his office.
He gave Elijah a welcoming smile as he ushered him in. “Good afternoon, Elijah.”
“Brahm,” he answered with a curt nod.
“I’m so glad to see you here again.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Sure. We’re all busy. Let me take your coat.”
Elijah shrugged out of his camel overcoat and got comfortable on the couch while Brahm hung it in the hall closet.
As a therapist involved in the kink community, Dr. Brahm Schultz had a special skill set to help people relationships complicated by power exchange, fetishes and non-monogamy—things vanilla therapists often felt needed to be cured. Alexa had recommended him and since then, Elijah saw him bi-weekly. Or at least, he did before meeting Yves.
Brahm lived in the apartment where he saw his patients. It supported a small office with an imposing wood desk positioned near the window at the far end of the room. Down the hall, was a living room and kitchen with a picture window facing a shared courtyard. Adjacent to that was a short hallway that kept the bathroom and their bedroom. It was a cozy and oddly comforting space, not unlike his own except that Brahm’s was so obviously warmed by his wife Elodie’s feminine touch. Elijah settled into the couch, tugging his tie to loosen it a bit.
“So, how have you been since I last saw you here? When was it? Late spring, am I right?” Brahm asked as he took his seat in a leather armchair.
Elijah smirked at his therapist’s attempt at subtly. “You mean since you told me that I shouldn’t get involved with Yves?”
He shook his head and tsked. “I did nothing of the sort.”
“Oh, that’s right. You merely pointed out all of the many ways we were wrong for each other then encouraged me to do whatever I felt was best.”
“So what did you do?”
“I didn’t do what was best,” Elijah admitted.
“You fell for her?”
“And how did that work out for you?”
“I broke things off two weeks ago.” Had it only been two weeks? It felt like a year, a lifetime, an eternity since he’d held her.
Brahm nodded and made a note in on his pad before setting it aside. “And how do you feel about that?”
“I…” Elijah stalled, flicking a bit of lint off his pant leg while he gathered his thoughts. “I know that it was the right thing to do. It just doesn’t feel right.”
The tension in him wound tighter, holding the words in. He fought against it. This was why he was here, wasn’t it? To get this feeling out of him before he made another mistake? “I just want her…I find myself thinking about the strangest things. Like her feet. Her tiny, boney feet in my lap and how they fit in my hand.” Elijah rubbed his face, noting the overgrowth on his chin, cheeks, and upper lip. There was more than a little scruff now. He had the beginnings of a full-on beard. Strangely, he couldn’t find it in him to care about it. Mustering the desire to do anything beyond basic grooming was difficult lately.
“These feelings are completely normal.”
“Are they? Because neither of us seems to be handling it well.”
“Of course, they are. But how do you know how she’s handling it?”
“She’s writing about it on her blog.”
“That’s right. You did tell me that she had a blog. And she’s been writing about the breakup?”
Elijah nodded. The words from last night’s post circled in his mind.
Romances weren’t written for girls like her. No. Romances were for raven hair beauties with milky white skin and blushing pink cheeks. Flaxen-haired girls with curls and big blue eyes. Girls worth saving.
He made her feel that way. Knowing that caused a deep self-loathing that paired with that unknown anxiety to sour his stomach. “And she’s drinking a lot. She gets drunk and ends up at my place.”
“Do you let her in?”
He shook his head. “I usually call her a car and I wait with her to make sure she gets in and goes home.”
“Well, that’s good.”
Elijah leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “But it’s the complete opposite of what I want to do. I just want to make it better. ”
Ah. Now he recognized that feeling. Guilt. That was the feeling in his chest. Guilt about being the source of all the pain spilling out of the words on her blog. Guilt about not being strong enough for the both of them. Guilt for the way he violated her consent. For how he hurt her that morning. How he damn near raped her. Guilt at knowing that some dark part of him thrilled at that moment with her pinned under him. Guilt because he knew that she would forgive him if he asked. The guilty feeling of wanting that forgiveness more than anything even though he knew that he didn’t deserve it. He was barely holding himself together, barely keeping himself from driving across town and climbing into her bed.
“Everything that I want is wrapped up in this woman that is too broken to handle a relationship with me,” he murmured.
“Is that what you really believe?”
“Yes! Why else would I break up with her? She’s got this thing, this mental and emotional bruise that I keep poking accidentally whenever we…” He let the thought trail off. “She wasn’t ready for something like this. I should’ve never allowed myself to get in that deep with her.”
“And that is why you think things didn’t work out between you?”
“Yes. Absolutely, yes.”
“And you told her this when you ended things with her?”
“I see,” Brahm said with a nod and scribbled in his notepad again.
A weighty, protracted silence stretched between the two men. A small clock sat on the mantle over the fireplace. In the silence it’s ticking seemed to grow so loud that it jangled at Elijah’s already frayed nerves.
“Was there something else I should get from this? Something else I should have said?” he asked, breaking the silence. “Because that is the reason. She’s broken. Yes, she was becoming more self-aware, but she still had a lot of work to do. I’m not equipped to be in a relationship with someone like that.”
“So why did you choose her?”
Ben crossed his legs. “Have you ever given any thought to why you continue to pursue what you call damaged or broken women?”
“I didn’t pursue, Yves. I did everything I could to keep things professional between us—”
“Did you? Because here we are several months later talking about a breakup. Let’s consider your relationship with your mother for a moment.”
Elijah clenched his jaw. “What does my mother have to do with this?”
“Her alcoholism and how it affected your childhood. How it made you feel useful and loved to take care of her when she had been drinking because she kept her distance from you any other time.”
He nodded, unsure of where the Doc was going with this.
“We’ve also discussed your innate desire to take care of broken women. And that in Yves and your previous girlfriend you saw some brokenness that you thought you could fix. You are drawn to women you feel need your protection as your mother did from your father’s infidelity.”
“Yes, I’m well aware of my pathology…or whatever the fuck you call it.”
“Does your Yves know any of this?”
“Why would she need to?”
“Let me get this straight,” Brahm leaned forward and looked Elijah in the eye. “You expect her to be completely vulnerable with you, but you haven’t even come close to doing that with her?”
“That’s not it at all—”
“Elijah, if you don’t make yourself vulnerable to your partners, you can only expect this cycle to continue. In your words, Yves was making strides to be a better partner for you. I believe that subconsciously you knew that you could no longer maintain that distance that you’re comfortable with, and that’s why you broke it off.”
He didn’t have a challenge for that. Had he consciously kept her at a distance? No, but this wasn’t the first time someone had told him this. He was cold. Impenetrable. Emotionally distant. But he thought that he was different with Yves. She was closer to him than anyone had been in a very long time.
“I agree with you,” Brahm said. “You are not equipped to be in a relationship with a submissive who has been emotionally and physically abused. If you can’t be vulnerable with her, you can’t be her hero. ”
* * * *
After his therapy session, Elijah just wanted to hide in his office but became obvious that wasn’t an option when he returned to Leaf Press to find the office in a frenzy. The receptionist, Tabitha rocketed out her chair and darted right for him.
“Shit’s hit the fan, Eli.”
He frowned. Did this have something to do with him? “What’s going on?”
“That poet you acquired last month? He plagiarized some of his poems—”
“What?” he barked. “That can’t be right. I did my research. I would’ve found something as obvious as plagiarized work.”
“I know, you’re always very diligent and thorough. But the lawyers are reviewing it right now and from what I saw it looks like he did—”
This couldn’t be right. He had a system he used to vet the online writers that he approached. One that was damn near foolproof. There was no way that this was a mistake he’d made. “Fuck,” he hissed under his breath.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!”
“I know, I know!”
He shrugged out of his overcoat and handed it to her as he strode across the lobby to the elevators. “Where’s Helena?”
“She’s in the conference room with the lawyers. Oh! And one other thing, Eli.”
“There’s someone waiting for you in your office.”
“Who is it?”
“She wouldn’t say.”
Elijah frowned. “Why would you let her in my office if she refused to give you her name?”
“She didn’t exactly refuse. She just said that she was an old acquaintance and that she was willing to wait.”
“Well, she better get comfortable, whoever she is. I’ve got to deal with this shit storm before I can do anything else.”
“Okay, I’ll let her know that it will be a while.”
“And she wouldn’t give you her name?” he asked again as he stabbed the button for the elevator.
Tabitha shook her head.
“Did she say how she knows me?”
“She would only say that she was an old acquaintance.”
Who could this woman be? Was it someone he knew from New York or from The Den? “Whatever,” he said, dismissing the thought. “I don’t have time to think about any of this. I’ll be meeting with Helena most of the day. Push all my calls to voicemail unless it’s extremely important.”
“Of course,” Tabitha responded with a dutiful nod.
He spent most of the afternoon trapped in the conference room with Helena and the lawyers trying to get to the bottom of the plagiarism suit. The poet was called in, and when he was confronted with the accusations, he admitted that he had plagiarized at least three of the poems. His contract with Leaf Press was severed and he was obligated to pay back his advance. Any legal action from that point on would be his responsibility. Elijah was embarrassed and devastated that on oversight on his part had caused all of this. He lingered after the lawyers and the poet had left and tried to retrace his steps. Helena lingered too; quietly watching him.
“Are you feeling all right?” she asked in that syrupy sweet way that rang so false that it made his skin crawl.
She pushed back from the table and stood to walk over to him. Correction: Helena didn’t walk. She slinked like the predatory animal she was. “There has been a noticeable decline in your work. Is there something going on in your personal life that’s distracting you?”
“Three of the submission packets that I brought to the acquisitions team this quarter are headed toward publication. Please excuse me if I question your problem with my work ethic.”
She sighed as she came to stand over him where he sat. Everything in Elijah tightened with apprehension. No one in the office knew about his relationship with Yves, but somehow Helena had intuited that he had not only had a relationship with her, but that it was now over. Her advances had become more direct and he had to be more diligent than ever to never to be alone in a room with her. In all the confusion he’d let his guard down and now he was being reminded of why he needed to be cautious around her. Helena leaned against the table and crossed her legs at the ankle. She did have great legs. Coltish… that was what Yves had called them.
“You’re taking this the wrong way, Elijah.” She scooted closer, moved into his space. “I’m concerned about you. You seem tense and out of sorts.”
“That may be true.” He stood to leave. “But it’s none of your concern.”
Helena stretched out one long and slender leg to block his path. “It kind of is my concern when you bring a plagiarizing poet to our acquisitions table. Listen…” She stood then moved in close to him. “I just want you to know that I am always here for you.”
Not for the first time, Elijah noticed that Helena was an attractive woman. Starkly beautiful with her blunt cut bangs and bob that brushed her jaw. But she was sharp. All corners and angles. Nothing like his lush Yves who filled his palms so sweetly. Helena looked up at him, blue eyes peering through the fringe of her blonde lashes.
“Helena…I’ve said this as many ways as I know how. I’m not interested.” He stepped around her and left her in the conference room alone.
Elijah stopped to speak with the lawyers again on the way back to his office. It shamed him that he was negligent. He had to know how to prevent it from happening again. They tried to assure him that it could’ve happened to anyone, but he wasn’t convinced. He’d looked that young man in the eye and hadn’t seen him for the liar and thief that he was. This would haunt him until he found a way to figure it out for himself.
It was only as he walked down the corridor headed to his office that he remembered the woman waiting for him there. As he entered, he saw a tall, shapely female figure standing by the window. Shadowed as she was but the dim, unlit office, he could see her clearly. But the shape of her was vaguely familiar. Or maybe it was the way that she stood, wide-legged with her head tipped to one side. The door to his office was open so the woman standing at the window didn’t hear him come in until he closed it securely behind him. When the door closed, she spun around on her heel, startled by the sound of the door. Elijah couldn’t disguise the shock that he felt when he saw her face.
“Elijah.” She walked toward him but stopped short about an arm’s length away. “Do you have time to see me now?”
* * * *
This was shaping up to be the shittiest day ever. Elijah was furious that Shoshanna had shown up like this but he left the office and took her to Victor’s, a bar and restaurant a few blocks from his job. The waiter put him at the same booth he and Yves had sat at in the last they were there. Sitting across from Shoshanna in the dark booth where he had kissed and fondled Yves flooded him with the feelings he’d been too distracted to focus on since he got back to the office. Seeing his ex probably wasn’t the best idea when he was feeling so vulnerable, but it wasn’t as if he had a choice. He’d thought about going The Den to bleed off some of the tension. But clubs weren’t his scene anymore. But sitting across from Shoshanna, a woman he had already spanked, fucked and used thoroughly to both their satisfaction, it was hard not to think of burning that energy off with her.
At five foot nine she was hard to miss, but with that dress clinging to her curves and her hair big and curly and free, she drew the eyes of every patron within view. She smiled at him now, her freckled nose scrunching in that adorable way that had always made him want to kiss her. Briefly, he wondered if she still wore that perfume. That same apple scent that made obscene thoughts of her ripeness dance in the dark corners of his mind.
“Would you like a drink?” he asked, not quite ready to launch into an argument just yet. This day was so fucked already. He deserved a sip of whiskey before he heard whatever was on her mind.
“What are you having?”
“Of course, you are. I’ll take one of those.”
He signaled for the waiter as she leaned in and focused her big brown eyes on him.
“The beard looks good on you,” she said with a smile.
“Are we here to talk about my facial hair or for you to tell me whatever it is you came to tell me? I really don’t have time for this.”
“Can’t we be cordial, Elijah?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I am being cordial. I haven’t left yet, have I?”
“I guess that’s fair. You have a right to be angry. Especially after the way we parted.”
“Parted,” he echoed, bitterness coloring his voice in a way that he hadn’t meant to let seep out. She made it sound as if they had parted ways like two businessmen who decided that their joint venture was no longer profitable. That wasn’t what happened at all. She’d crushed him. That anger she spoke of began to escalate from a simmer to a boil.
“I know what we did to you was…cruel. That’s part of why I wanted to see you. To apologize. To let you know that there is much more to the story than what you saw that afternoon. I feel like I need some closure on this, and I’m sure you probably do, too. And there’s something I need to tell you–”
“Nope.” Elijah shook his head. “You don’t need to apologize, and I don’t need any closure. If that’s what this is about, we can settle up, and you can go back to New York.”
“I guess, I deserved that.”
“I didn’t say it to punish you, Shanna. You cheated so obviously you wanted me out of your life. You got it. I’m out of your life.”
“And what would you say if all of that was a huge misunderstanding? There are so many things that happened that summer that you should know about.”
Words. He had none. All he could do was stare at her. Thankfully the waiter delivered their whiskey gingers at precisely that moment.
“Are you folks ready to order or do you need a few minutes?” the waiter asked.
“We need a few minutes,” Elijah said and all but shooed the man away. “What else is there to know, Shoshanna?” he asked once the man was out of earshot. “You fucked my father. Everything else is irrelevant.”
Shoshanna flinched. “I understand why you feel that way, but you never gave me a chance to explain.”
“Explain what? What part of the story doesn’t end with you fucking my father?”
Her eyes scanned the room, hoping that no one had overheard him. “Keep your voice down.”
“Is this why you came here?”
“Elijah…I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I love you.”
His nostrils flared. Years ago he would’ve given anything to hear her say those words. Now it just infuriated him. When he thought about the shame she had made him feel, how he had been so close to spending the rest of his life with her…sorry wasn’t enough. And words like closure, sorry, and forgiveness seemed like a smack in the face.
“I’m going to go,” he murmured then stood to get his wallet out of his pocket.
“So that’s it?”
“Yep.” He fished out a twenty and a ten and tossed it on the table. “You can stay and have another drink if you want, but I’m finished here.” Then he turned and left before she could say anything else.
The evening had turned unbearably cold. The balmy autumn evenings had come to an end, and a northeastern winter was waiting to settle into his bones. Elijah buttoned his coat and pulled the collar up as he made his way back to Leaf Press. Did she think that was all it would take? Show up in a sexy dress with a useless apology and he would be putty in her hands?
“Elijah, wait!” Shoshanna called out.
He heard her hurried footsteps approaching, but he didn’t turn around. He simply lengthened his stride and hoped that she would give up, let him go. But somehow she managed to catch up with him at the corner.
“You can’t keep walking away from me!” The wind caught her hair and made it even more wild and her fair, freckled skin was pink and flushed from the cold.
“We have nothing left to say to each other, Shoshanna.”
“I haven’t said a third of the things I want to say—”
“Whatever they are, I don’t want to hear them. I will not allow you to weasel your way back into my heart. It took me too fucking long to get you out.”
“Well, that sounds about fair because I still haven’t managed to get you out of mine.”
He sneered at her. “And you think that’s all it takes? You show up in this dress, serving your tits and ass on a platter, and I’m supposed to forget everything you said to me and just fuck you?”
She flinched for the second time that night then looked down at her feet. “That’s all I am to you after all that we shared? That’s just—”
“Go home, Shanna.”
“Elijah…please. Be reasonable.”
“Do you need me to call you a car?”
Her eyes went glassy with tears. “I didn’t want to tell you like this,” she said shaking her head. “I didn’t want you to find out about hi standing on some fucking street corner.” She reached in her bag and produced a manila envelope. “I’ve hurt you so much. I hate the thought that this could hurt you more, but I need to do it.”
“The thought of what?”
“Your father…he’s not what he seems to be.” She grabbed his hand and shoved the envelope into it.
Elijah wanted to be dismissive, but something about this felt like it had a ring of truth. “What am I going to find in this envelope, Shanna?”
She shrugged and pulled her coat around her. “Hopefully, everything you ever wanted to know. Call me when the truth of all this sinks in.”
Shoshanna turned to walk away as he tore open the envelope. Inside was a thick ream of paper. He pulled them out and read the document on top. It appeared to be a copy of some medical record—
“Holy fuck,” he cursed under his breath.
It was from a gynecologist—an obstetric gynecologist. This document was one that she would have received after a positive pregnancy test. The date at the top was the September after he left. Nearly a month after he caught her with his father. A square bit of paper floated to the ground at his feet. A black and white sort of photograph full of static with a black void in the middle. He bent to pick it up. A sonogram.
“What the fuck is all this?” Elijah looked up and down the block frantically searching for Shoshanna. How had she disappeared so quickly? He rustled through the papers, staring at the words on the page. One thought circled in his mind, ramping his heart rate up to a frenetic pace.
Shoshanna was pregnant when he left New York.
He had a baby.