Four Bidding For Love
Part 45: Ah, Romance: Once Burned, Twice Shy (4/13/13)
Fearing a retreat would raise Alexia's suspicions, Ross returned to her bedroom just as she exited the bathroom in a cloud of steam, her hair wrapped turban-style in a bright yellow terry-cloth and a matching egg-yolk colored towel wrapped around her waist. Gazing at him with a conspiratorial half-smile, her expression faded and she said, "You look like you've just seen a ghost."
Grasping for a plausible explanation of his shaken state, Ross muttered, "It was just a bit of bad news from my old neighbor. An apartment I was hoping to get fell through."
Drawing close, Alexia murmured, "You don't have to be in such a rush to find another place to stay."
Looking down, Ross stammered, "Well, I just . . . don't want you to tire of me. You know how easily that can happen."
"You've just been burned out of your home, and I have a spare bedroom," she countered sympathetically. "You're very quiet and tidy, and look at the fabulous meals you've made for me. And Hanover likes you."
"I like Hanover, too," Ross noted with a hint of regret.
In a way he could not have predicted, his visible concern for overstaying his welcome touched Alexia as clear proof of his sensitivity and sincerity, and her appreciation of his finer qualities leaped to a new higher state of energy.
A hesitancy to expose tender vulnerabilities colored her voice and she playfully tugged at his towel, saying, "We're having fun, aren't we? I like having you around."
With a pained expression he slowly traced a line from her damp bare shoulder down to her hand and said, "Maybe that's why I feel like I should move out while you still feel that way."
"I know the feeling," she replied quietly. "What's the expression—once burned, twice shy?" With a faint chagrin she added, "With me, it's thrice burned."
Though curious what had led her to offer herself as freely as Kylie reported, Ross looked down at her long shapely legs and stammered, "Given your, um, experiences, I do marvel how uncynical you are."
"I think you bring out my hopeful side," she confided. "Even someone with my history still wants . . . you know, to share something special."
That her vulnerabilities and disappointments had driven her to desperate acts of faux affection and offering herself up for envelopes of cash struck the deepest chords of sympathy in Ross, and he impulsively embraced her.
"You're very sweet," he murmured, and was struck a few seconds later by a gong of alarm at the realization she might have slept with half of Green Street's heterosexual male residents.
Clearing his throat, he said, "I suppose we owe it to each other to get, um, tested, you know, just to be safe."
Alexia chuckled with mild derision. "Don't worry, I won't get pregnant. The doctor told me that a long time ago, when I wanted to have a baby. As for infections, I've only had one lover in the past three years."
Swallowing a desire to ask, is that not counting the sofa-based clients?, Ross said, "That's one more than I've had."
"My, you're skittish tonight," she chided him good-naturedly. "Is the moon full? Don't worry, I've been a very careful girl with everything but my heart."
Awash with jealousy over her secret clientele and the pressing financial need which must have driven her to the sofa, Ross turned to meet her bemused gaze. "You won't have to worry about money once you pay off your mortgage, will you?"
"Do I look like I'm worried about money?" she replied with a small smile.
"No, but I wish you didn't have to do anything for money other than sell shoes."
Moving close so their noses almost touched, she murmured, "You've only been with me for two days and you're already worried that I'm working too much? That is sweet of you, but really, I like my little side business."
With his fevered imagination filled with painful images of her undressed on her sofa with some undeserving client, Alexia's reference to assembling and selling collectables struck Ross as proof of some terrible emotional vacuum. His voice tight with anguish, he asked, "Would you let go of it for love?"
Perplexed, Alexia studied his expression and said, "Don't worry. You're not competing for my time. There's enough of me to go around."
Recalling Kylie's description of Alexia, Ross thought, Great Zeus, maybe she is a sex addict; that was Kylie's first intuition, and that's often accurate. His anguish grappled with what seemed to him a terribly unhealthy desire, and forcing a smile of reassurance he did not feel, Ross said, "Would you like me to sleep here or in my bedroom?"
"Here," she murmured, "unless you make me too hot."
As she demurely loosened her yellow towel and handed it him, Ross's eyes widened and he gulped nervously at the realization she expected him to perform his manly duties for a second time that evening. Raising her arms and arching her back in a very feline stretch, Alexia smiled and slipped beneath the comforter with an inviting sigh.
To his great relief Ross managed to fulfill his duties with imminently satisfactory results for Alexia, and as her labored breathing subsided, he pondered the necessity of bolstering his vitality with herbal supplements. I just hope this holds her until tomorrow morning, he thought worriedly; I can't swing a third home run.
Next: An unstable elixir ready to boil over (Chapter 12)
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