But who’s counting?
You are. Esben chided Edward.
Ignoring the voice inside his head, Edward sat on the bottom step of the staircase near the grand front door of his main residence, gripping his hands in anticipation. This was the first time Lysandra would be spending time with him, while other people were around. It felt like a new stage in their quickly developing relationship. He checked his watch, it was just after seven p.m. It had only been two minutes since Lysandra called him from the gate. He should have gone with the security guard to greet her.
He sprang from the step and dashed into the sitting room where a large mirror hung over the hearth. He raked his dark curls with his fingers and smoothed the wrinkles from his shirt.
Would you like a dose of serotonin? With a melatonin chaser? Esben offered.
“No. Thank you. I’m fine.” Edward said aloud, and went back to the front door. He paced back and forth in front of the entry table, flexing and unflexing his fingers.
In the past Edward would have taken Esben up on the offer. Esben wouldn’t even have to ask. After being separated from the Elbie in India, Edward realized he had grown dependent on his internal partner. It had been uncomfortable, even torturous being bombarded by every feeling that hit him and there had been a lot of them. Overwhelming. As a host for the last several years he needed to relearn how to control himself. When it came to Lysandra, he wanted to feel everything.
“What’s going down, boss?” Nolin shouted from the middle of the hallway. In his arms he hugged a ludicrously large bowl of popcorn. L’heilh leaned against his shoulder with two wine glasses in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. The two of them waited for his answer with anticipation on their faces.
Edward waved them on. “Don’t wait for us.”
“Ya sure?” Nolin threw popcorn in his mouth and crunched loudly.
Edward rubbed the back of his neck. “Remember what I said, if we do join you?”
“We know sweetie,” L’heilh put her forearm to Nolin’s back. “No teasing.”
“Best behavior and all that.” Nolin assured.
Edward nodded. “Thank you.”
L’heilh pushed Nolin forward and they moved out of sight.
Edward continued his pacing. He pulled on the bottom of his linen shirt. He felt weird in casual clothes. He had gotten so used to presenting himself in a professional manner at all times, but Lysandra had asked for a low-key evening. She had sounded tired on the phone but insisted on still coming over anyway.
The familiar sound of tires crunching on the gravel driveway caught his ear. Edward cracked his knuckles and leaned against the edge of the entry table. Act casual, he chanted to himself. Esben chuckled.
A car engine cut off.
Last chance. Esben said, referring to the chemical boost.
Go away. Edward thought at the Elbie with some irritation. As previously decided, Esben would not nest in Edward’s head as he normally did. Instead he would circulate in his nervous system. Even though Esben would still know everything that was going on, it made Edward feel more like he was alone with Lysandra.
Car doors slammed.
Esben’s presence drained from his mind. His nerves began to tingle as Esben merged with his body's natural electrical flow. Maybe he should have taken the serotonin boost.
The front door opened. The security guard he had sent to the gate walked in and held the door open. Lysandra stepped in from the darkened porch. She had on black jeans and a fitted t-shirt in a deep burgundy color that clung to her body in all the right ways. Edward loved that color on her. Even dressed down, she looked amazing.
“Hey.” She glanced at him. Dropping her backpack on the floor, she leaned against the wall and started removing her combat boots.
“Anything else, Mr. Drake?” The security guard looked at Edward.
“That will be all. Thank you.” Edward stood straight and held his hands behind his back.
The guard left. Edward strolled up to Lysandra. “Miss Carlisle.” he bowed his head cordially at her. What he really wanted to do was sweep her into arms and kiss her.
Lysandra set her boots aside and stood. “Mr. Drake.” She smiled wearily and wrapped her arms around him, resting her head against his chest. “Thank you for the night in.”
“Of course.” Edward engulfed her in his arms and rested his chin on the top of her head, breathing deeply. “Rough day?”
She sighed heavily. The heat of her breath warmed his shirt. “Yes.” She lifted her head. “But it’s over now.” A genuine smile lit up her face. “So happy to see you.” She kissed him lightly on the lips.
Tingles moved down his spine and arms anytime she touched him. His world had utterly been turned upside down by this woman. “Pleasure’s all mine.” He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand and kissed her, letting his lips linger a little longer on hers. “Hungry?”
She blinked up at him. “Starving.”
“I’ll have the cook prepare–”
She grabbed his hand and started walking. “Not waiting around for that.”
She led him into the kitchen and went straight to the fridge. “What’s left over from dinner?” She threw open the fridge doors and started stacking storage containers on the counter.
After scraping together a plate, she sat on the marble counter, happily munching away on leftover salad and baked salmon that had been cooked early that evening. Edward had suggested moving to the dining room but she refused. So they stayed in the kitchen, only the light above the stove lit the cavernous room. Her eyes roved around the room as she ate. It was clear to him that she was comfortable in his house. It made his heart happy that she felt so free to be herself with him.
He brought a glass of wine over to her and leaned against the counter next to her, sipping from his own glass. “Nolin and L’heilh are watching a movie downstairs. We can join them if you’d like.”
He knew she wasn’t a movie person, nor was he, but it would be exactly the kind of relaxing activity she had requested.
She swallowed her last bite, set the plate aside, and took a huge gulp of wine. “Are they going to be all weird? About us?”
“Of course not. They’re adults.”
“L’heilh, yes. Nolin, I’m not so sure about.”
Edward chuckled. “He does like to point out the obvious sometimes but he will behave. I promise.”
“Can I punch him if he says anything?”
“I’m afraid you’ll have no choice.”
“Good.” She took his face in her hands and kissed him. The red wine was still fresh on her tongue. His head swirled as she wrapped her legs around him and deepened their kiss. His hands gripped her hips and pulled her closer.
After a few minutes she broke off the kiss and took another drink. She kept her gaze fixed on him as she finished off the glass.
“Missed you too.” Edward grinned.
They left the dishes in the sink. After refilling their glasses with wine, they headed downstairs.
The stairs creaked as they descended into the basement. The only light came from the movie screen. There were three rows of plush seating facing the wall sized image. Nolin and L’heilh sat in the row against the wall, the monster bowl of popcorn between them.
“Oi!” Nolin shouted as they hit the landing. “You came!” He threw his hands in the air.
The front row had a couch at the center with reclining chairs on each side. Edward let Lysandra sit first. Her eyes were drawn to the screen. “What are we watching?”
“Jason Bourne two.” Nolin threw popcorn in their general direction.
Edward settled in next to her.
“Who’s Jason Bourne?” Lysandra looked around and found some buttons.
“A super slick spy.”
“I thought his name was James Bond.” The foot rest extended out.
“This bloke’s American,” Nolin rained more popcorn down on them.
Lysandra shrugged. Brushing the popcorn off her and Edward, she snuggled up to him and relaxed into his arms. Their last few dates had been frenzied as they pretended to be interested in whatever event was happening, only to shed every scrap of clothing the second they were alone. A comfortable warmth pooled in his stomach as he recalled those moments. But this easy comfort, now fully clothed, was its own kind of wonderful.
With one arm around her and the other resting on the arm of the couch, Edward allowed himself to sink into the cushions and savor in this simple moment. All the success and achievements he had gained couldn’t compare to this. He would give it all up if it meant ending every day with her in his arms.
Despite the action on the screen and the surround sound system shaking their seats, Lysandra fell asleep. Edward let himself doze in and out of consciousness. He had waited all day to be with her. He hoped she felt the same.
At one point she turned in her sleep. Throwing one leg over his, stretched her arm across his stomach, and pulled herself half on top of him. A year ago he had not thought this moment was possible. She had declared her outright hate for him on a couple of occasions. She might have forgiven him in time, but if it had not been for Xander’s terrible intervention, Edward was sure this moment would not be happening so soon.
The movie ended. As the credits started to roll Nolin and L’heilh left the room, laughing at him for being trapped under a sleeping woman. Edward waved them off. Once the credits finished the projector shut itself off, leaving them in almost total darkness. While the couch could recline, it would not be a comfortable way to spend the night.
“Lysandra.” He whispered and shook her shoulder. She groaned but was nowhere near waking. He did his best to sit up. “Come on, sweetheart, movie’s over.” She stirred more this time and hugged herself to him in silent protest. He shifted again. “I’ll call a car to take you home.”
“Hmmm.” She finally moved. Only this time she pulled herself into his lap. Settling into him she nestled her head into the crook of his neck. “There.” She said sleepily.
“There what?” He asked, genuinely perplexed.
Lysandra lifted her hand and patted his chest. “Home.” She murmured.
He put his hand over hers and listened to her breathe. Edward wasn’t even sure she was awake. He couldn’t bear the thought of sending her away. Ever. Longing ached in his chest. Shifting his arms, he cradled her against him and managed to get off the couch. He carried her through the darkened house and up to his room. Resting her on the bed, he pulled the covers over her, and got ready for bed.
Afterward, he slipped under the covers next to Lysandra. Turned on his side, he watched her sleep still too awake to sleep himself. He reached out for her hand and held it. This is how every night should end.
Lysandra squeezed his fingers and scooted closer to him. Her hand wandered across his chest until it found his face. She pushed up on her elbow and brushed his lips with a light kiss. “Love you.” She rolled into his side and snuggled down. And then she had the audacity to be asleep instantly.
Edward was thunderstruck by the spontaneous declaration.
They had yet to speak openly about their relationship in any way. Not even to not label whatever it was they were. A couple? Partners? Frenemies? She did work for an organization that kept tabs on him after all.
She loved him.
She. Loved. Him.
If he knew one thing to be true on this whole planet it was that he loved her too.
Help please. Edward pleaded inwardly.
Esben bled back into his thoughts. Trouble sleeping?
Edward did not answer. Esben knew one hundred percent what had just happened and how he felt about it.
In the morning, Edward got dressed. Lysandra had not even stirred as he went about the room preparing for the day. As he ate breakfast with Nolin and L’heilh in the dining room, he kept expecting Lysandra to stumble in but she never made an appearance. If there were two things on this whole planet, he knew to be true, the other was that Lysandra Carlisle was not a morning person.
He had held off the inevitable as long as possible but he had a full day ahead of him. Edward went up to his room one last time. Bending over her side of the bed, he planted his hands on either side of her, leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. “Have a good day, Miss Carlisle.”
She propped up on her elbows and squinted at him with one eye. “What time is it?”
Edward sat on the edge of the bed. “Seven-thirty.”
She groaned and dropped back onto the pillow.
Edward laughed. “Breakfast and coffee are in the dining room for you.”
She stretched her arms over her head. “Mmm. Coffee.”
Pushing away the memory of her in that sexy red dress from the other night, Edward moved to get up.
She snagged the cuff of his suit. “Stay.”
Longing ached in his chest. It took all his restraint not to pull her into his arms. “I have to go to work. Security can call a car when you’re ready to leave.”
“What?” All sleepiness suddenly shed as she visibly tensed up. “I can’t stay here. By myself.”
“Why not?” She belonged here. He had felt that from the moment they met.
“It’s your house. Won’t that be weird?”
He reached out and caressed her cheek. “You said it yourself last night. This is your home.”
Lysandra sat up. “I would never say something that sappy.”
“You most certainly did, Miss Carlisle. Would you like to see the footage?” He held up his hand.
Lysandra scowled and pushed his hand away. “Are you making fun of me?”
Edward drew his shoulders back. “Never. But that is what you said.”
“All of my stuff is at the DPA.” A weak argument at best.
“Some of your stuff is here. In your room.” His eyes flicked to the shared wall between his room and hers. “Besides, I doubt ‘home’ has ever been a location to you.”
She’s embarrassed. Esben assessed. Given the color in her cheeks and her refusal to look at him, Esben’s evaluation was unnecessary.
“Lysandra, I want you to think of my house as your house. I’ll leave a key–”
“Stop.” She threw off the covers and got up. “You can drop me off on your way to the office.”
Edward followed her as she stomped out the door. He gave chase as she jogged down the sweeping staircase. Panic balled into a rock in the pit of his stomach. Her sudden turn felt like it had erased all the progress they made over the last couple of weeks. “Help me understand what just happened.” No response.
At the bottom she grabbed her boots and sat down on the steps to put them on. Edward waited in silence as she unlaced her boots enough to slip them on. The black laces whipped back and forth and she worked them.
He leaned forward and stilled her hand. “Talk to me, Lysandra.”
Lysandra froze. She didn’t pull away, but she wouldn’t look at him. “It’s fine. I’m just… not there yet.” She met his gaze.
That was huge for her. It always took her some time to process her feelings. Edward nodded, but he didn’t like being cut off from her emotionally, it was the worst form of punishment. Perhaps she couldn’t admit her feelings to herself, sleepy Lysandra was certainly less restrained. There was no way he was going to even mention the last thing she had said to him the night before.
He caressed her hand. “The invitation stands.”
“Okay.” She forced a smile. “Thank you.”
Coffee was put in a travel mug for her as they left for the day. Edward and Lysandra sat in the seat facing forward. Nolin and L’heilh sat across from them. Lysandra clung to her coffee with both hands, scrunched in on herself. She stared down at the floor nodding absently as Nolin chattered away about whatever passed through his head, unaware that his audience was focused on other things. L’heilh flipped the pages of a fashion magazine ignoring all of them.
Edward had his arm around her shoulders but the warmth he had felt from her the last couple of weeks had completely vanished. The sudden change in her demeanor had completely thrown him off. He tried not to take it personal, but it would cast a pall over the rest of his day.
The car pulled up a few blocks from the new DPA home office. Lysandra gathered all her stuff. “Have a great day, guys.” She kissed Edward on the cheek. “Call you later.”
“Have a good day, Miss Carlisle.” Edward called after her.
Lysandra stepped out on the sidewalk. The door slammed shut and the car pulled away. As the car passed her, he waited for her to look back or wave but she did neither. He would definitely be spending the rest of the day trying to pinpoint what he could have done differently and knew it was too late to change any of it.
Lysandra never called.