By: J. S. Scott

Looking at his empty plate across from me, he was probably telling the truth about liking the food, even though he obviously wasn’t impressed with the atmosphere.

His eyes shot back to me, still chewing the last of my burrito. I was full, but I’d be damned if I was going to leave one bite of food on my plate. When a person doesn’t know when they’ll eat again, leaving food when they have it seems almost criminal. I swallowed hard as his molten green eyes seemed to be urging me to move. Trace held out his hand, and I hesitated for a moment before I reached out and clasped it. I was on my feet with a single tug of his strong arm, which was attached to a very hard body.

My breath caught, the feel of his palm caressing mine sending shivers of longing through my body. How long had it been since I’d had the intimacy of a simple touch? How long had it been since someone had looked at me with such focused attention?

I was both relieved and disappointed when he looked away and started pulling me gently toward the door.

When we were back in his fancy black sports car, I gave him directions to my place, cringing as I led him up the creaky stairs to my second floor apartment.

He didn’t comment as I gathered up my clothing and left my key on the small kitchen counter.

“I’ll settle up with the landlord later,” he remarked, his arm propped against the doorway, waiting.

“You’re paying me. I’ll take care of it.” I sounded defensive, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want him dealing with my landlord or any of my other responsibilities.

“You’re on the job, now. Didn’t I say you follow my orders?” His voice was husky and firm.

“Not when it comes to my personal life.” I was starting to get irritated.

“This job is personal.”

I slung my backpack over my shoulder and glared at him. “Look, I want this job. I need it. But you said yourself that this was strictly business. Other than a job and payment, you have no right to interfere in my life. Teach me what you want me to know, how you want me to act, how you want me to look, and I’ll do it. But managing the rest of my life isn’t part of the deal.”

“And if I think you need someone to manage your life?” His question was surly. “It doesn’t look like you’ve done all that well doing it yourself so far.”

Anger surged to the surface as I thought about every dirty, difficult job I’d had in my short working life. I’d survived any way I could. “What the hell would you know about survival?” I spat out at him. “Like you really understand what it’s like to be a woman like me? I’ve worked my ass off since I was old enough to have a job. Do you think I want to be this way? Do you think I want to have to beg for employment, for food?” I took a deep tremulous breath, trying to control my rage. “No doubt you were handed everything you needed, went to an Ivy League college. I’m sure you started with at least a couple of billionaire dollars, a hard beginning for you.” My voice grew louder and was dripping with sarcasm. “I’m sure you’ve never wondered whether you’d be better off dead than to keep trying to survive.”

I’d been down that road so many times that I couldn’t remember how many times I had contemplated the fact that not a single living soul would miss me if I no longer existed.

Trace moved so quickly that I didn’t see him coming. He grasped me by the shoulders and shoved my backpack to the floor, then quickly pinned me against the wall next to the door. “Have you wondered that, Eva?”

I didn’t speak. I was still reeling from the shock of his lightning fast movements.

“Tell me, dammit. Have you thought about that?”

His eyes were like heated liquid jade as they bored into mine. Hyperventilating, I glared at him defiantly, and I suddenly choked back an exhausted sob. I was tired, so tired of killing myself just to stay alive, but the survivor in me would never stop fighting.

He grasped a handful of my inky curls; my hair had come loose in our struggle. “You have considered it,” he concluded from my lack of response. “Don’t ever think like that again. Never. I don’t like hearing you talk that way.”

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