His breath sounded harsh and panting over her ear. His body, though lean and frail-looking, was strong. After she'd called him out on it he abandoned the pretense of being old and worn-down, at least when it came to things like raucous sexual activity. His slender fingers pressing against her ribs, his body holding her in place against the wall. Her fingers digging into his shoulders. Hot breath under falls of hair and then mingling behind frantic mouths. It all blurred together into a puddle of sensation afterwards, no coherent sequence of events.
The contrast fascinated her. After they were both done, after she had both feet on the ground again and he stepped away and they put themselves back together, how she had to look away almost because it seemed somehow not right that someone she had always thought of as aloof and dignified could have, well. All the symptoms of post-sex dishevelment. And it only took him a second or three to re-dress, shaking his jacket even across his shoulders again, combing his fingers through his hair.
One time, she'd reached over, her shirt still undone, and she'd taken on the task of straightening him out. Silk corner in the pocket, jacket nice and smooth where it fell over his chest, hair combed and neat. She half expected him to knock her hands away, but he'd smiled and indulged her.
She still didn't understand him.
Ruby left the pawn shop feeling lighter but no less troubled, feeling the cool air on her skin as a sharp yet neutral contrast to the heat of five minutes ago. Hurried down to her grandmother's diner. Time to put him away in the back corner of her mind and get back to the rest of the world. She didn't even know what she needed from him anymore, at least for herself. Except that that was their fourth or fifth little shindig in the back office of the pawn shop, and he didn't seem likely to stop any more than she was.
Busing tables, taking orders. The diner was commonly accepted as the best in town, which meant that most of Ruby's lovers visited there now and again. If not when she was sleeping with them, then after, when it was even more awkward. Maybe Gold had thought she'd give something away the first time he stopped by, not two full days after they'd had sex the first time, although why he wanted everyone to know they were sleeping together was beyond her. If he even did. Maybe he just wanted to get a reaction out of her.
Too bad for him; she'd gotten very good at concealing her emotions and reactions when it came to men. He came in like any other customer, he got treated like any other customer. With his own little radius of awkwardness and mistrust. But that had nothing to do with the sex and everything to do with him owning the town. Everyone treated him like that.
She nodded when he came in the door, made the twirling have a seat anywhere gesture, and went back to what she was doing.
"Hey, Ruby," Ashley smiled, wan and tired but much happier looking than she'd been in a while. "How've you been?"
Ruby shrugged, smiling, setting her out a coaster and a mug of tea. Ashley'd tried to kick the coffee habit while she was pregnant, and Ruby was all for her staying off of it. "Doing all right. You?" She grinned, folding her arms on the counter and resting her chin on her wrists. "How's the baby? I want all the cutesy details, thrill me." She had a couple minutes before she had to make the rounds again.
And Ashley was more than happy to spill the details. Being cooped up with Sean or the baby or both, not all days but most days, it left her with very little time to socialize with her girlfriends. "And I knew it'd be like this, but... I don't know if I was ready for it, you know?"
Ruby nodded. She could imagine, although she hoped Ashley wasn't having second thoughts the way it sounded like she was. "But there's good parts, right?"
"Oh! Oh, yes, no, believe me, it's... the rest of the time, it's amazing." She smiled, and Ruby squished down the sigh of relief. "It's just, sometimes I miss having an adult conversation with another woman, you know?"
No, she didn't. Well, she could imagine it as an abstract, but she couldn't imagine it as being something she'd choose for herself. Motherhood, children, settling down. She wasn't ready to settle down yet. She hadn't finished exploring her wild side, or the wild side of Storybrooke, wherever the hell that was. There had been a road trip down along the coast she'd meant to take, but that had fallen through. Thanks, Granny. Bad timing all around.
Still, didn't mean she couldn't appreciate chatting with Ashley about her life. Right up until Emma walked in and headed straight for Gold's table. "Hold that thought, I need to make the rounds," she said, touching the back of Ashley's hand. "Be right back."
Making the rounds started at one end of the room and worked her way around, but when she came to Gold's table and Emma seated opposite they both got very quiet. "Get you two anything?" she smiled, aimed it at Gold, and used his showing-teeth trick. I could bite your throat out, it seemed to say. At least, she hoped it did. He was probably better at it than she was, plus there was something about the gold caps or whatever they were that was more than a little unnerving when he got all quiet and hissy.
"The usual's fine," Emma said, forgetting that she hadn't been here long enough to have a usual or maybe just not caring. She didn't take her eyes off of Gold.
He ignored Emma, looked up at Ruby with a smile that didn't seem like it shared their secret but she wasn't sure. "Just tea, thank you."
Ruby nodded, went back around to collect the drinks. Emma's usual was probably that cocoa and cinnamon concoction Mary Margaret also liked. It wasn't until she was coming around with the drinks that she realized she'd automatically prepared his tea the way he did it. Not the way he ordered it here, plain, but the way she'd watched him prepare it in what passed for the kitchenette behind his shop. Steeped, a couple of drops of milk and honey, a little bit of nutmeg. It hadn't occurred to her not to. Something about that bothered her, crawled down her spine and settled in the pit of her stomach.
She dropped off everyone's drinks and didn't dump his damn tea in his lap like she wanted. Back to Ashley and talking about the baby, that would settle her nerves.
Whatever he and Emma talked about, neither of them left angry, so there was that at least. Emma stalked out of the diner after leaving some money for the cocoa with him, jaw clenched and looking as though she were going off to deal with someone else. Gold sat a little bit before he nodded over to her, ready to leave.
She scribbled down his total and a note, dropped it off at his table on her way to deliver Archie's danish and Pongo's water dish. As she straightened, she heard him chuckle behind her. He left a generous tip, and a smiling face beside where she'd scribbled three words, one of them underlined twice: bag. of. hammers.
She caught up with Emma later, as the other woman was walking home after a long day of sheriffing or whatever it was she did at the police station these days. Getting used to the sheriffing, maybe. Ruby figured Emma was kind of at loose ends, Graham had never seemed to have much to do. And with the election business, it didn't seem like Regina was fighting her on it anymore. Of course, she'd traded up enemies.
"Hey, you okay?" Ruby trotted up next to her and tried not to feel guilty about continuing to meet with Gold.
Emma looked around for a second before she realized it was Ruby talking to her. "Yeah, I'm fine. Glad to be heading home," she added, with a wry smile.
Ruby held up her hands. "Hey, no worries, I can take a hint. Just wanted to make sure Gold didn't hassle you or anything."
"Ah-hah." Emma nodded, her smile taking on an edge Ruby knew from, oh, everyone who had ever had to deal with Gold. Even her, she thought. "No, he didn't hassle me, he was asking something about the sheriff election earlier, I was just..."
Giving him an answer, Ruby figured was the rest of that sentence, but the other woman trailed off with a distant look that suggested it wasn't a simple question. Were there any simple questions with Gold? Every time she talked with him, actually talked and not went over there on some pretext and ended up groping on the bed, she came away with the feeling that he was laughing at some private joke that involved her. Or at least as though something, several somethings had happened that she'd missed and didn't understand.
"Well, you let me know if he starts coming after you," she tossed her head. "I'll go break his other knee."
Emma laughed a little. "Is that what..." One hand twisted down at her leg.
Ruby opened her mouth to explain that he was faking and found herself shaking her head instead. "No one really knows what that's about, he's just been using that thing since..." Shrug. Why was she keeping his secret, anyway? It wasn't like Emma didn't know he was wicked manipulative scum. For that matter, why did hide away in that shop, pretending to be innocuous and small? To make people underestimate him was the obvious reason, but there could be more. Knowing him, there had to be more. "Childhood injury, I don't know." There were scars. She'd felt them.
"God, that's a scary thought," Emma shook her head, chuckled. "Gold as a child."
Definitely a scary thought. "I bet he was a horrible child. Getting everyone else in trouble."
Emma laughed. "You're probably right. Look, I appreciate the concern, but..."
"Oh, yeah, no sweat, just checking up," she stepped back, smiling. "And, you know, like I said. Let me know if he starts bugging you. I can totally take him on for you."
"Uh-huh," Emma gave one last indulgent chuckle and headed on down the street. Okay, not too condescending.
And Ruby wasn't sure that hadn't been bravado anyway, but if it came down to it, she was pretty sure she could take a baseball bat to him. He could try all that smooth talking through a jaw wired shut from her swings. These days, Gold seemed to provoke some of the most violent reactions from her.
She'd swear she hadn't been this violent before she took up with him. Okay, she had to think about it a little, but she hadn't always been ready to take a baseball bat to someone's kneecaps or face. Ruby closed the door quietly behind her in case her granny was resting and dropped the keys in the basket by the kitchen door, heading straight for a tall glass of milk. Turning that over in her mind, he brought out some pretty violent reactions of all kinds from her, some of the time anyway. Some of the time when she went over she didn't mean to stay long, and then he looked at her or touched her some way and it was all she could do not to slam him against the wall, kissing so hard their lips bruised.
Maybe that milk needed a shot of bourbon or something.
Ruby shook her head. She needed to stop thinking about him, that was half the problem right there. He occupied her thoughts way more than a casual fling ought to, a guy who wasn't even really a friend but got the bennies anyway because he wasn't bad to look at and was surprisingly hot in bed. Like, really hot. Sometimes the sex was awkward and resulted in scraped knees or bumped elbows but he was better than a lot of guys about making sure she got something out of it, too. Weird.
"And now you're thinking about him again, aren't you," she swore to herself. "Dammit."
Granny's footsteps were closer than she expected. "Thinking about who?"
"No one," Ruby snapped, harder than she meant. Which didn't matter, Granny was used to her snapping about men anyway. "I'm going upstairs," she muttered, fleeing up to her attic room with her spiked milk.
Stretching out on the bed and staring at the ceiling, milk on the bedside table, her mind still wandered back to him. Not the complicated parts, though, this was the sex, this was stuff she could deal with. Filling her mind with memories of his hands on her body, his mouth on her skin, she didn't have to think about what it meant when her skin heated like that. She could just remember, and enjoy. If only everything about him was that simple. Close her eyes and let all the complicated stuff fall away.
It didn't occur to her until a week or two later, how often she stopped by Gold's shop. Looked in his window as she walked past, looked up and over every time she saw a small, slender figure in a dark suit walking down the street. Except it wasn't him, until it was. Distinctive gait and that damn cane.
It bothered her, now that she knew. It almost bothered her more that it had snuck up on her, this gravitating towards him, when she wasn't looking. And she'd been paying attention to her behavior and her thoughts, or at least she thought she had. But a lot of things had been changing lately, Emma acting a little crazy and Mary Margaret and David fooling absolutely no one, which Granny used as a reminder to her why it was a bad idea to go taking up with married men or strange men or any men, for that matter. That last part was Ruby's own addition. At least Ashley and Sean seemed to be getting along pretty well. As well as they could, anyway. They were happy and they were managing, which was more than she could say for herself. In most ways she was managing, but happy seemed a long distance off.
And it was all his fault. No, it was only half his fault, part of it was her fault for going to him in the first place. "I should have known better," she muttered, taking out her frustration on scrubbing the counter. "I swear, nothing good ever comes..."
"Of scrubbing holes in the counter?" Ashley plopped down on the stool, sideways, so she didn't squish baby Alexandra between herself and the counter. "You talking to yourself again?"
Ruby frowned, though it was good to see her friend. "What are you doing out so late?"
"Sean's working late, I told him I'd meet him here after work. ... You don't mind, do you?"
For some reason Ruby breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing that it wasn't anything more sinister. "No, yeah, that's fine. You want anything to drink? We're about to shut the kitchens down, but..." Movement out the window caught her eye. But the gait was too fast, and even. She looked back at Ashley only to catch the blonde girl giving her a funny look. "Sorry, did you say something?"
"Who is he?" Ashley looked like she might have folded her arms over her chest if her sleeping baby weren't in the way.
"Who's who?" No, she couldn't get away with that for long. Apparently she couldn't even get away with that for a minute. "It's no one. Specific. That ..." And she stopped before she could say no one that you know. Because Ashley did know him, didn't she. Better than most. Ashley was part of the reason this whole mess had started, only it hadn't been a mess then. She hadn't meant for it to be quite this messy.
Ashley smiled a little, shifting her baby and reaching out to take Ruby's hand. "Come on, it's okay. How long have we known each other? I promise, there's nothing you can say that would shock me."
"I don't know about that," Ruby muttered. Then took a breath, and it was exactly as hard as she'd expected to tell Ashley that her secret lover was the man who'd tried to buy away her baby. "Okay. Before you say anything, I know it was stupid... it was really, really stupid. I know that now. Well, not what... I mean, what happened afterwards. That was really, incredibly stupid..."
"What happened after what?" Ashley blinked. "Ruby, you're not..."
"I slept with Gold."
Only it all came out in a blurry lump of syllables so she wasn't sure Ashley got it. Her friend blinked at her, but the not understanding part could be because she was incoherent or because even Ruby didn't understand why she was still sleeping with Gold.
"You..." Ashley shook her head. Her hand drifted away from Ruby's and cradled the back of her baby girl's head. "At the party... I thought you were kidding."
That struck all her defensive reflexes. "Well, I wasn't. I'm still... I mean, off and on. Sometimes we just meet up. Usually at his... store. His store." Not his place. She still didn't know where he lived, though she could probably guess. It wasn't that big a town.
"How many... No, you know what, I don't want to know." She slid off the bar stool, moving towards the door. Ruby leaned on the counter and didn't follow her, waiting for her to walk out, but she turned on the threshold. "Is it the sex? Is it something else? Don't pretend, either, I see the way you look up when people pass. The way you look around. I know what that means."
Ruby took a long, tired breath to respond. "I don't know. I don't think about him, not like you're saying. It's just... it's like I'm always waiting to see when he'll come around. Not like I'm waiting for him, I've got my own life, but it's like any second now I'll look up and he'll be there. And I have no idea how I feel about that."
Ashley ducked her head for a second, then looked out when a car horn sounded and startled Ruby almost enough to knock a couple glasses to the floor. She looked back up from righting the glasses into their stack again and Ashley was staring at her.
"You might want to figure it out before you see him again, is all," she said, then shook her head and left.
Ruby dropped her forehead to the counter and laced her fingers over the back of her neck. The worst thing was, Ashley was right. She didn't have a damn clue what she wanted and she should just walk away, but she didn't know how. Or, more accurately, she didn't know how it was she kept finding her way back to that damned front door.
She started counting the days. Maybe if she treated it like that it would go away. Hi, I'm Ruby, it's been three days since my last confession. No, that was a terrible set of metaphors to mix. At four days without going over to his store she started purposefully keeping her head down every time she saw a flicker of movement pass by the front of the diner. Any time she saw someone in the right shade of business goth walking by across the street. She clenched her jaw and focused on the dishes she was collecting, the drinks she was serving, her work. Things that did not involve small, wiry men with near-black eyes and a smile that made her shiver for ten kinds of reasons, not all of them happy ones.
Ashley came by now and again, but their conversations were strained. And she couldn't get over the feeling that Ashley was keeping an eye on her, making sure she didn't do anything stupid or wasn't pining or something like that.
"Too late for that," Ruby muttered, flinging dishes into the industrial washer. "Already did something stupid."
"Lately?" Ashley came in behind her, smiling a little, baby strapped to her chest and toting an armful of table linens.
Ruby shook her head and tried to be more gentle on the glasses. "Eight days and counting. I w--" she stopped herself before she could wonder aloud if he wondered where she'd gone.
Ashley eyed her, waited for her to finish, then nodded. "Eight days. Another two weeks and maybe he'll be out of your system."
"God, I hope," she snorted. "I don't even know what it is about that guy. He's not handsome." But he wasn't unattractive, either. "He's not nice. He's a complete sadist. Not that way," she added, after Ashley's eyebrows shot up and she looked as though she were trying not to say several things at once. "Ew. No, not that way. Ew!"
Both girls dissolved into giggles after another second or two. "Can you really see him..." Ashley started.
"Don't even. I'd rather not." But she'd needed that, a good laugh about the whole situation. Some way to see it as ridiculous rather than troubling. "Plus, he's shady. He's a great one-night stand, anything more than that? Not so much."
"Two- or three-night stand, maybe," Ashley smiled a little. "So let it go at that."
"Mm-hmm," Ruby exhaled, tried to put it out of her mind. Leather and chains sadist Gold gave way to somewhat less ridiculous images of tighter black pants and flowing silk shirts. Which, when pushed aside, revealed memories of nails raking down her back hard enough to feel it despite how short he kept them. The strength in his hands greater than his delicate frame suggested. And he knew how to use them...
She jerked, almost dropped the glass she'd been holding. Ashley sighed. "Does Granny know?"
"No!" Ruby made a face, tossed the soap in the washer and turned it on. "God, no. I hope not." She didn't think she would have missed it if Granny knew. Oh, sure, she knew Ruby had taken up with someone, late nights and coming home at strange hours of the day flushed and flustered, but that didn't mean Granny knew who it was. Plenty of men in Storybrooke Ruby might have taken up with.
Plenty of men she maybe should have taken up with instead of him, but she hadn't meant for it to end up this way. She'd gone there to get him to leave Emma and Ashley alone.
Well, it worked. Now she just had to get him to leave her alone. "You think he'll come after me?"
Ashley leaned against the washing machine. "You're asking me to predict what Gold is going to do next? If I could figure out that man's actions I think we'd be the ones making money off of him, not the other way around." She gave it some thought as she unstrapped Alexandra, who was awake and batting at her mother's breast. "I think he'll play it safe. Like he usually does. He didn't get to be that rich being stupid, right? He probably won't come after you unless he thinks he's got something to gain by it."
"That's comforting." Ruby made a face. "I don't know what he'd have to gain ..." She trailed off, slightly distracted by Ashley breast-feeding, more distracted by the innocent nudity. Which was weird, because she'd never been distracted before. "I mean, I don't know what exactly sleeping with him is going to d-- I'm not making this any better, am I?"
"No, you're not," Ashley chuckled. They both knew the easy answer to what sleeping with Gold would do for him. Except if he really wanted to, he could probably have that from at least a handful of other women.
Her throat swelled on that thought. And it came all too vividly, how he might smile at someone else, anyone else, and talk to them in his velveteen voice. Ruby turned and bounced her head off the wall a couple of times when she realized what she was dwelling on. Not the sex, but the looks. And the firm grip of his small, steely hand on her shoulder. And the tips of his hair brushing over someone else's skin, and the cool sensation of his head on her shoulder except he had never done that. That last part was pure fantasy.
"What is it?" Ashley asked, frowning and wrapping herself and Alexandra back up again.
"Nothing," Ruby muttered. "Nothing. I'm just completely and utterly screwed."
"Nothing, never mind."
She avoided him twice as hard after that.
Didn't go to that area of town, even if it was just a few blocks down. Didn't look up when people passed in front of the diner, it took twice as much concentration to make her rounds and do up people's drinks and police her actions. He came in five times over the next two weeks. Three times during her shifts, and she kept her questions and answers brief and her face expressionless, which he should be used to by now. And even if afterwards she found herself scrutinizing every moment of interaction for some sign of what he thought, she didn't go back to his shop.
And he didn't call in his marker. Which she half expected him to. Just to force her to be around him, but face it, Ruby, you're not that important to him. And that was probably true.
She helped babysit the little one, who decided her red streaks had to be edible. She hung out with Mary Margaret, who still had no clue. She even cleaned for Granny, which prompted a whole lot of suspicious looks and questions about local eligible men. Fortunately Gold wasn't on that list. If there was a list that involved the opposite of eligible he'd probably be on that one.
Twenty six days sober. Ruby thought she could breathe again.
She turned out the lights, made sure she had everything and closed the door behind her, locked it and turned around only to scream and slam back against the glass. The beads on her braids screeched against the door and his smile twinkled in the moonlight. "Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you."
Ruby growled under her breath, but spoke so he could hear. "No you're not, and yes you did. And we're closed."
"I see that. Actually, I wanted to talk to you."
She swallowed back her first response, took a step, tried to think of another response while she took the next couple of steps towards walking away from him. "Oh?" Oh was safe. One syllable, no information.
He didn't say the first thing he thought of either, she could tell. She could interpret silences, too. "You don't like me very much, do you?"
The words dribbled out of her mouth before she could stop them. "If I didn't like you, why would I sleep with you?"
"Why indeed." And she interrupted what he was going to say next, right in the pause he took to smirk. Interrupted him to whirl and get in front of him and grab him by his tie and realize, again, that in her heels she was actually taller than he was.
"Look," she grated out, weeks of pent up frustration and confusion and upset she hadn't known she felt all making a lump in her throat that coated her voice and changed her words. "No, you know what? You're right. I don't like you. I don't like your smug face, I don't like you holding anything you can over anyone you can reach. I don't like being in debt to you, I really don't like ... is there anyone who isn't in debt to you one way or another?"
She didn't give him time to answer that, though he only looked mildly surprised at her outburst. "I don't like the way you treat people, and I really, really don't like the fact that you just go around pulling everyone's strings like we're all puppets to you, to dance for your amusement." And she bit it off there before she said anything else. No need to get personal with this.
His fingers curled around hers to undo her death grip on his tie, and when he swallowed afterwards she realized how close she'd come to strangling him with it. Not that he didn't deserve it, but still. She hadn't wanted him to see how worked up he got her.
"I had no idea you felt that way," he started. She rolled her eyes.
"Only partly." The smile again, not a smirk but a toothy, vicious one. She wondered if it would be better or worse without the gold cap. "But I don't pull everyone's strings. I haven't figured out what makes you tick, apparently."
She didn't believe him there, either, but she wasn't going to say that and give him any opening to prove it. "It's all just a game to you, isn't it?" Soft and calm. Stay soft, and stay calm. "This is all just some big game you can play, you and your secrets that no one else knows..." she stopped when his smile faded.
"But you know. Don't you?"
Ruby ducked her head away, hunched her shoulders and folded her arms so he wouldn't see her uncertainty. She'd been bluffing. Guessing, something hadn't seemed right that first night. The way he moved. Hell, the way he breathed, all of it, it seemed wrong. Like he was a person in the wrong skin. Or maybe the right one, for the first time in a while.
No, this was a bad conversation to be having. She stepped out of the way and let him get on with whatever he'd been going to do. Which was talk to her. Fuck. "What did you want to talk about?" She turned and pretended she meant to pull alongside him instead, unclenching but keeping her arms folded over her chest.
"Have I done something to offend you, or hurt you in some way?" The rhythm of his cane on the sidewalk was oddly soothing. The question, not so much.
"Not that I can think of. Why?"
"You stopped coming around."
And there it was. Several answers, all of which could be possible lies, in four simple words and a half-plaintive, half-calm tone of voice. Soft, again. She hated it when he did that. It pushed all her buttons that said this was a vulnerable person, and she knew he wasn't, and he knew which buttons it pushed and he did it on purpose. "Fucker," she muttered.
"Nothing." She cleared her throat. "Nothing you did. It was a bad idea to begin with."
His turn to stop in mid-step. "I'm sorry you think that way," he frowned. She couldn't tell if he meant it or not. "I suppose..."
"If," she started at the same time, and they both stopped and waited for each other to continued. He gestured for her to go first. "If I keep on, um. With you? It's going to muddy things up. And I'm going to forget what kind of a bastard you are, and it's going to screw me over, and I'll regret it. A lot."
"Is that what you think of me."
She didn't know how to interpret his expression. On anyone else she would have said he looked hurt or sad. "You are a bastard. We both know it, and denying it makes you a liar, too. And..."
"And if we continued our relationship..."
"We don't have a relationship."
"... you might have to think of me a different way."
Ruby took a step or two backwards so she could see him under the streetlight. He did look hurt. Or tired. Or maybe both, but he looked as though he meant what he said about wanting her to think better of him than she did. She didn't know how to take that.
He tried out a shy smile; it looked coy and unreal. "Would it really be such a terrible thing, to see me in a different light?"
Ruby didn't have an answer for that.
The first time they'd been careful of each other, taking it slow and running their hands on each other's bodies by unspoken mutual consent or a similar sense of how to approach things. The few times after that it was quick, ferocious and rough.
Tonight wasn't like either of those times. He kept his arm loose and comfortable around her waist as they walked, and though she felt hotly aware of every point at which his body touched hers he didn't hold her there or pin her down. He kept a loose grip, barely a touch, on her fingers as he ushered her in. He had to leave her side to get them drinks and she took off her shoes and looked around at the house that was both exactly what she had expected and not at all what she imagined. It looked like someone's idea of a rich, fancy place. Not like a home someone lived in. Even a rich person.
They didn't talk much. She settled on the couch and took her shoes off, stretching her toes. Which made him smile a little, and she didn't ask and he didn't explain. She tossed back the whiskey and nursed the water and commented some on the quality of his booze, and he made some noncommittal reply. All of his attention seemed bent on her. It was a hot, heady place to be. More so than the alcohol. They talked about things she didn't remember thirty minutes after they spoke and his eyes went from nearly black to warm and welcoming brown and back again, depending on the angle of his head and the light.
He kissed her once, soft and sweetly, and there were few enough people in her life she would consider as kissing sweetly. He hadn't been one of them. Something old-world decorous in the way he leaned in and touched his lips to hers, chaste, and so light that for a bare moment she couldn't comprehend that he was kissing her at all. And it still left her breathless.
"Come to bed?" he whispered, and she let him take her hand as he led her down the hall to, presumably, his bedroom. Where she had never been. The privacy and intimacy of it sent her shivering all over again.
Everything blurred into itself. She had to stop and think, even if her mind felt fuzzy, was this something she wanted to do. She had to stop and think while his fingers traveled down over her naked shoulder, and that was far more difficult than she expected. But they hadn't said anything about commitments or relationships, right? This didn't have to mean anything she didn't want it to mean. They made no promises to each other. No promises. That was key.
Kisses turned urgent, open-mouthed, a little messy. She was too busy undoing the layers of clothing on his torso to pay attention when he undid her bra, peeling off the suit coat, tie, unbuttoning his shirt with a smirk of her own. By this point she'd straddled his hips and started kissing her way down with each button, while he amused himself tangling his fingers in her hair, twining the red streak around one finger.
"You are beautiful, you know," he told her, still in that half-whisper so she didn't pay close attention. "Why do you cover yourself in so much makeup?"
Her mouth being otherwise occupied, she ignored him. Brushed his shirt open to either side and caught the bottom of his undershirt in her teeth and tugged it up with a playful grin that even got a laugh out of him, and once they were both topless the heat cranked up again. He pulled her close and she thought he got as much pleasure out of holding tight, bare skin on bare skin, as she did. The demand of sex wasn't overpowering yet, but the pleasure of it, the pure and primal joy of feeling another person's warmth as close as possible.
Shucking off the rest of their clothing was much less romantic. And came after many long kisses, much caressing of skin. There was one moment, too, when he'd leaned over with her stretched behind him on the bed and the moonlight coming through the window over his back. A moment when she saw the long lines of paler-than-pale criss-crossing over his back from the top of his shoulder to where the shadows covered him up again.
Ruby had to work to make her face languid and blank again. She reached for him as he turned back around, distracted herself with tangling his legs up in hers. Kissing him kept him from seeing her face as she fought through the incomprehensibility of it to understand that he had been beaten at some point, badly, long ago.
"Mmm?" He pulled back, sensing her distraction. "Did... is something wrong?"
Had he meant to ask if he'd done something wrong? Him, the smirking arrogant bastard? She plastered a coy smile on her face. "Just realizing I've never been to your place before."
He chuckled. "You never asked. I didn't think you wanted..." She kissed him again, and the distraction faded.
Slow burn meant that when they finally came to it, he was scorching. It felt as though her whole body were begging to be touched all over, she couldn't get enough of him, couldn't breathe. Everything tingled, and there was that one moment of shock and as though a switch had been flipped suddenly every touch jolted her senses out of control. Hyperstimulation. She cried out, hiccups and cries and gasps she'd never made for anyone before, ever, she thought.
Shivers crawled along her skin. She fell back against the bed and lost track of him for a minute, lost track of what was happening around her. The next she knew she blinked her eyes open again and he was pulling her into his arms. She settled in against him, resting her cheek against his chest and feeling his smooth, sweaty body against her cheek. Skinny, too. He was so thin it seemed impossible he should look as healthy as he did. Just built that way.
Maybe always built that way. Small and short, it explained absolutely nothing about those scars but it tied in with that to give her a picture of a boy or a young man who'd been used and abused and couldn't fight back. Far from the smirking man who controlled everyone and everything in her home town.
Who combed his fingers through her hair and touched her softly and called her beautiful. Not pretty, and rarely sexy, but beautiful. And where did that man fit in with all this?
She fell asleep wondering. That, and why she felt so safe curled up in his slender arms when she knew he was a bastard and not to be trusted with anything.
Ashley straight-armed the door open this time, though hurling bricks through his windows had definitely crossed her mind. Bricks with nasty notes attached. Gold was behind the counter, fiddling with something. He looked up and didn't seem at all fazed by her entrance.
"Miss Boyd. What can I do for you, today?"
She'd left Alexandra with Sean, but with neither of them around she really wanted to punch him in the face. Instead she stormed up to his front counter and smacked both hands on it. "You can stay the hell away from Ruby, that's what you can do."
His smile widened, like a wound. "Now, you know, it's a funny thing. Because she..."
"I don't care what she said, and I don't care what you think, I care what you did to her. You've got her all twisted up so bad she can't see straight, did you know that?"
He cocked his head slightly to the side but made no reply, didn't confirm or deny it. Ashley went on after a split second, deciding not to give him the chance to come up with some way to justify what was going on.
"You're going to stay away from her, you're not going to talk to her, not going to see her. Until she gets over you and whatever it is she thinks you have together." She stabbed a finger just in front of his chest. "Or I'm going to come after you and I'm going to make you wish you'd left her alone in the first place."
"You realize, of course, that she was the one who approached me in the first place. Yes?" He didn't in the least bit seem fazed by her threat. Mildly annoyed, but not worried.
Her cheeks felt hot, her mouth dry. "I don't care. I'm sick of you screwing with me and with my friends. And I'm done making deals with you. So here's my deal. You don't go near Ruby. I don't beat you to half to death with your own cane and set fire to your store with you in it."
And where that should have gotten more of a response, all he did was frown at her a little more. As though she'd presented him with a not-insurmountable puzzle he hadn't expected. "You do feel rather strongly about this, don't you."
"You have no idea." She'd never seen Ruby like this. About anyone. Quiet, sad, going around in circles. If she were any less held together Ashley really would have tried to beat Gold half to death with his own cane, but Ruby wasn't that bad off. Not yet.
He leaned forward, one hand on the counter. "Fascinating. Did you..."
But Ashley hadn't come here with the intention of listening to him. She'd done that once, a couple of times, even, and it only got her into trouble. "No. I'm not interested in anything you have to offer, and neither is she." She turned and stalked out, tossing one last reminder over her shoulder. "Stay away from her, Gold. I mean it. Even if she's too sweet on you to kick your ass for being a jerk, that doesn't mean the rest of her friends are, too. We see you for the monster you are."
And it was only her imagination, she told herself as she stalked out, that put that look of furious, painful rejection on his face. Nothing she'd said was anything less than the truth, the man was the worst kind of bastard. Ruby was better off without him.