I climbed into bed with my phone and my tablet and opened a book, and my phone rang. Griffin. I flopped back against the headboard and answered.
“Hello, Mr. Kelso.”
“Ugh, don’t call me that. It reminds me of when I was your boss.” I could hear the wince in his voice.
“I never called you Mr. Kelso, did I?”
“Sometimes I heard you refer to me that way on the phone with people. It makes me think of my dad. He is Mr. Kelso,” Griffin groaned.
It sounded like he’d a day from hell, so I shifted the conversation to keep it light. “I mean it with the utmost respect. What should I call you? I feel like giving you a nickname.”
Griff was taken. I knew that, and he didn’t seem to like it when Marisa called him that.
“Master of the Universe,” he suggested with a humorous boom.
I snorted. “Yeah, anything with ‘master’ is right the fuck out.”
“Shit, that’s not—” He sounded stricken.
After a beat of hesitation, Griffin mumbled, “I don’t know. Nicknames have to arise naturally.”
“You’re right,” I chirped. “I’ll think it over and maybe have fresh ideas in the morning.”
“Are you headed to bed already? What time is it there? Nine o’clock?”
“Yeah, it’s a little early, but we had a long day.” I stretched my legs under the blankets, pinning my phone between my ear and my shoulder. I flipped the book over on my lap.
“Your daughter arrived safely, I take it?” he asked.
I smiled. “She did. Katerina and her new fiancé, Adrian, are here. They’re up watching a movie. I thought I’d give them some privacy, so I retired to my bedchamber.”
It was kind of Golden Girls to hit the sheets so early, and I wanted to make sure he knew that I had an excuse aside from my more advanced age.
His sniffling laugh wafted over the phone line. “Retiring to your bedchamber. I like that. So, are you already in bed?”
Curiosity tinged his husky voice.
“I am. I was reading when you called,” I replied.
“What are you reading?”
I stared at the cover of my paperback. A handsome duke gripped a buxom lady around the waist. She eyed him provocatively through lowered lashes. Did I want to tell him I was reading a steamy honeymoon scene in a Regency romance?
No. I did not.
“Just a novel,” I said.
“A historical novel.”
The notion of historical literature prompted an excited recitation of recent publications. “Last week, I finished a fictionalized story about Louis XIV’s court. I can’t remember the name of it. Versailles politics, intrigue. Which one are you reading?” he asked.
My cheek twitched. “It’s a historical romance, actually.”
“Oh.” The word popped with genuine surprise. “Like a sexy one or like one of those Christmas movies where all they do is kiss?”
I swallowed and stumbled. “It’s, you know…there are some…sexy moments in it.”
“Really? Now, I have to know. What kind of sexy moments?” His question sounded like a wink and a wiggled brow.
I gripped the phone in a full panic at the thought of discussing the scene I had read. Even though Griffin had been all over my body like white on rice only days before, I couldn’t get the words out. The thought of talking dirty on the phone nearly made me break out in hives, so I focused on summarizing the plot in the most boring way possible.
“The heroine was compromised and forced to marry the hero. She’s had a crush on him since she was a girl, but he also cheated her father out of some land or so she thinks. Anyway, he never considered getting married, but then his older brother died and he inherited the dukedom and—”
“But there are sexy parts to this?” Griffin sounded incredulous.
“I’m getting to that. So, he’s only marrying her to be protective, but now, it’s their wedding night. She’s a nervous virgin. He’s been a rake. So, he’s got to walk her through it. It’s your typical historical romance.”
I hated dismissing the whole genre, but I longed to change the subject. I noted the page number I was reading and closed the book spread on my lap, then tried to redirect the conversation again. “What did you do today?”
After a long pause, Griffin grumbled, “We had the birthday party for Gregory Jr. It wasn’t much of a party. We had cake after lunch. This morning, I made pancakes with Grace. That was fun. I talked with my father. He’s ready to transition the business to his second in command, and he needs help to convince the board to accept someone who’s not a family member.”
I hadn’t realized that Griffin had much to do with his father’s business. “How are you going to help with that?”
“Technically, I’m still on the board. I gave Dad my proxy, but I do get a vote. I was going to talk to you about this, actually. I don’t want to put my business plans on hold, and I’m still working through the checklist you gave me. I can do both, but I’ll need to do it from North Carolina.”
“What about your job at Lumina?”
“I have a conference call with the executive team on Monday. I’m tendering my resignation.”
That surprised me. A week or so ago, Griffin had hesitated to quit without lining up more clients in the new business. Now, he was jumping in feet first. I hadn’t understood why he waited in the first place, but I wondered about the sudden change of heart.
“Are you sure?”
“The more I think about it, the more sure I get. It’s time, and then you and I will have plenty of time to set up your operations plan. Only I’ll need to be here.”
“We can manage that. We can do conference calls and handle most things via email,” I said. Long-distance business relationships weren’t the problem.
“It’s more than that. I don’t even have the right to ask this, but I was wondering if maybe you couldn’t come out with me for part of the time. It’ll be easier to manage our work that way, but mostly, I like having you around, which is totally selfish. You have your own business to run.”
“I do. I’m booked until almost Valentine’s Day.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to do anything that doesn’t fit with your schedule, but if you could maybe come out for a week even, that would be great. I don’t want to go three months without seeing you,” he said.
The soft desire in his voice got to me, stoking the thoughts I’d already had about visiting him while he was there. “Let me check my calendar. I was already freeing up time in February and March to handle wedding plans with Katerina, so maybe I could come then.”
“Perfect,” he said. “Now, enough of that boring stuff. Let’s get back to your steamy book. We were about to get wild on the virgin’s wedding night.”
I cleared my throat. “I think I’ve pretty much summed that up.”
“No, no, I don’t think you have. We were hovering on the cusp of what sounded like a lesson in rakish, debaucherous sex,” he replied with a glee that sent heat spreading through my belly.
He pressed on with growing humor in his tone. “It must be if you’re avoiding the topic this much. The more you evade my questions, the more curious I become for you to read me a bedtime story.”
“I can’t,” I said.
Well, shit. He wasn’t going to let me squirm off the hook. “It’s kind of an explicit scene, and I really don’t want to read it out loud or tell you exactly what happens. I’m flop sweating here,” I confessed.
“Just a question, but how are you fine with reading it but you don’t want to talk about it?”
“The books don’t make me uncomfortable to read. It’s…saying it out loud or reading it out loud or explaining it to somebody else.” A nervous giggle bubbled out of me. “Especially to you. I could read this to my friend Clarissa, and we’d have a laugh.”
“It’s not like we haven’t, you know, done it.” He purposefully sounded like a teenager and laughed hysterically through the phone. “And see, I’m having a laugh.”
“Are you laughing at me?” I snapped—only half serious.
He stopped immediately, getting control of his breath. His voice soothed. “I would never laugh at you. I’m laughing at your book, maybe. What’s it called?”
“Trapped by a Duke.” I flung a hand to my face.
“And does he trap her? Like a bondage kind of deal?” The excitement in his voice made me deliciously nervous.
“No. There’s no bondage. She’s trapped in the marriage.”
Griffin’s tone turned serious. “Delilah, you can feel comfortable talking about sexy things with me.”
“It’s not like talking about sex bothers me exactly, but I never have before…like this.”
“Talked sexy with a guy?” he asked.
“Not over the phone.”
“Not even with your ex-husband?” His question rumbled low with disbelief.
Now, it was my turn to laugh hysterically. “God, no. Terrence would have sooner died than talk dirty.”
Once, he’d been on a business trip, and I joked about missing his cock. He’d balked and told me he didn’t like hearing me say that word. I told him I didn’t see the problem. Wasn’t he always telling me “the marriage bed cannot be defiled”? Terrence told me that hearing that kind of language from the mother of his child turned him off. Properly chastened, I never did it again.
“I enjoy talking dirty,” Griffin growled. “Especially since I won’t see you for a few more days, and I miss you. But if you don’t, that’s okay, too. It’s too soon, maybe. We need more time for our relationship to develop.”
He missed me. My skin felt warm from head to toe. Reconnecting with him even over the phone titillated, but I didn’t want him to think…
My mind blanked. What was it he’d think? That I was a tramp? There’s nothing I could say that would be any trampier than what I’d done with him on Christmas night.
On Jesus’ birthday! I snickered to myself.
I was already a tramp, and he didn’t care. Why shouldn’t I let myself have fun?
“Okay,” I said. “I’m not reading it, but I’ll tell you what happens.”
“You don’t have to do something you don’t want to do. We can talk about anything you want. We can compare Texas and Carolina barbecue. I called because I wanted to hear your voice,” Griffin said, softly.
“No. I want to.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I miss you, too.”
I swallowed and took a deep breath, ready to lean in and let go.