Pulling her keys out of her purse, Lizzy opened the door to the building and pointed up the stairs. “All the way to the top,” she directed, kicking herself for bringing up that nasty business about the police.
Once there, Lizzy let herself in, expecting Charley would follow. When he didn’t budge, she grinned. “Are you coming in?”
“Yes,” Charley said. “Of course.”
As he made his way up the stairs, she took in his muscular thighs and thick, wavy brown hair. He was a keeper.
She caught the wariness in his eyes as he entered her apartment. “It’s not much, but it’s what I call home. Sorry if it’s a little untidy. I wasn’t expecting company.”
“It’s very nice,” Charley said. “It fits you.”
Lizzy watched him move. He seemed tentative, like walking on glass.
“This is you?” Charley asked.
Lizzy had seen him pick up the framed photo off the bookshelf.
“It is,” she said.
“You’re wearing a Cubs jersey,” Charley said. “I thought you weren’t a Cubs fan.”
“I was young and foolish then.”
Charley smiled. “Who’s that with you?”
“My dad. That was our last time at Wrigley. I haven’t been back since. My father died from a heart attack a year later. I often thought it was the stress of being a Cubs fan that killed him. He never did see the one thing he lived his whole life for.”
“The Cubs win a World Series.”
Lizzy searched through the kitchen cabinets until she found the vase. After filling it with water, she placed the flowers in it. As she set the vase down on the table, she said, “So, I was thinking, since you have no place to stay…well, you are welcome to stay here.”
There, she’d said it. Not too pushy. She hoped not too slutty. She didn’t want to scare him away. But she also didn’t want to let him get away.
“I don’t know, Lizzy, it doesn’t feel right —”
“Listen, I owe you. After all, you did come to my rescue.” By now Lizzy had surmised that if anything was to happen, she’d have to make it happen. Although she preferred her men to be the aggressors, she didn’t mind role reversal at times. This was one of those times. She stepped forward and took his hands. For a couple of moments they gazed into each other’s eyes, until Lizzy lifted her chin with an open mouth. When their lips finally met, Lizzy felt Charley’s strength as he pulled her into him. Her knees buckled. All their flirtatious gamesmanship spilled out in that one passionate kiss.
Acting on instinct, Lizzy’s fingers found Charley’s shirt buttons. In a slow, rhythmic dance they moved from one button, down to the next, until they hit bottom and the fingers of both hands took over, ripping Charley’s jersey out of its cozy resting place. Pressing her concealed breasts against the bare skin of Charley’s stomach made her gasp, and she slid her hands down so that she could feel the heat emanating from below his belt line. With a deft motion, she freed the button at the top of his jeans and latched onto the zipper handle. She was pulling it down when he turned off the sizzle.
“I’m sorry, Lizzy.” He backed away. “I can’t do this. Not right now, anyway.”
Rejection was hard for her to swallow. She’d rarely experienced it, and whenever things didn’t work out the way she wanted, she blamed herself. “Did I come on too strong? Or do you just not find me attractive?”
“Oh, my God, trust me, it’s neither,” he assured. “I’ve been attracted to you since I laid eyes on you. I just don’t think sleeping together is the right thing. I need a friend right now. Sex, love, all that other stuff, I don’t think I’m ready for it.”
“Wait — don’t tell me…you’re gay. That’s it, isn’t it? Of course it is. I mean here I am throwing myself at you like a schoolgirl with a crush. I mean who would —” She cut off her words when she noticed Charley looking down at his hands. How had she not seen the tan line on the ring before? Maybe it had been too dark in the bar. Maybe she just didn’t want to see it.
“Oh, my god,” her jaw dropped and she took a step back. “You’re married.”
Charley shook his head. “No. You don’t understand.”
“Understand? I know what a tan line on the ring finger means, Charley. Get out of here.” She pointed to the door and raised her voice. “Get out! Right now!” She’d been down this road before. She wasn’t going to go down it again.
Her blood boiled as she watched him make his way to the door. She couldn’t bear to look and closed her eyes as she grasped the doorknob. Her eyes went wide when she felt a force against the door just before it closed shut.
“I’m not married,” he said, then let go of the door and turned.
Lizzy bit her lip, as she watched him trudge down the stairwell. “Wait,” she cried out. When she saw him halt, she called out. “If you’re not married, why is there a tan line on your ring finger?”
“Can I come back up? I want you to understand. It’s not at all what you think.”
Lizzy sighed, then nodded. As he brushed past her, she breathed in the salty-sweet smell of his skin. Was she really this crazy? This hooked? This wasn’t like her. Only once before had she fallen like this. And she’d vowed never to let her heart rule her head again. Yet here she was, letting that happen.
When she approached the couch where Charley now sat, she gazed for a moment at this mysterious man. What was it about him that made her think he was different? What was making her take a chance on him? “I know it’s a little early, but I think I could use a glass of wine. Would you — ”
Lizzy made her way to the kitchen, where she tried to slow down her heartbeat. Breathing in and out didn’t work. She couldn’t shake it down. Hopefully, the bottle of Merlot would do the trick.
She returned with two glasses and the bottle. After filling both glasses nearly to the rim, she sat, then scooted a little closer to Charley. They were as close as two people could be without touching. Part of her wanted to move an extra half-inch. But another part of her told her not to. Besides, she still had to hear him out. Not that she would toss him out again — even if he told her that he was still married.
“So where were we?” she said before gulping down an extra dose of courage.
“I’m not married.”
Charley shook his head as he sipped from the glass.
Again, he shook his head.
“Oh,” Lizzy said, now realizing what he had been unable to tell her. “I think I —” All of a sudden she felt light-headed. She blinked to clear the stars in her eyes. Then she stood. “I think… I think I’m going to be sick.” She scurried to the bathroom and retched into the open toilet.
Charley froze at that very moment. He had been here before. The same pattern. He’d lost his first and only love and it started like this. A glass of wine. Followed by sickness. Followed by a trail of events that ended in death. After what happened to Lizzy the night before, the mystery man at the bar, the anonymous call to the police, he had begun to get that sick feeling in his own stomach. Again. Something wasn’t right. He hadn’t escaped from his past at all. Of that he was now sure. But he couldn’t let what happened before happen again. So he put the glass down on the table and rose. Then he walked to the door. As he opened it, he whispered, “I’m sorry, Lizzy,” and then he closed the door behind him. So much for a change of luck.
Randy Richardson is the author of CHEESELAND. An all-new edition of his Wrigleyville murder mystery, LOST IN THE IVY, will be released by Eckhartz Press on Opening Day.