Ashland was breathless when she rejoined him on the walkway. Damon quirked an eyebrow. “Letting someone know where you’ll be?”
Her cheeks flushed rosy again, but she didn’t look away. “Well, yeah. I mean --”
He held up a hand. “Don’t worry. I’m glad. Let’s face it, you don’t know me from” -- he grinned -- “well, from Damon.”
Ashland laughed, a deep, rich sound, pleasantly startling. “True.”
Damon led the way to his Jeep, frowning as he opened the door for her. “You’d probably like the top on.”
“Are you kidding? On such a gorgeous morning?” She shook her head. “What’s the use of having a car like this if you can’t enjoy it?”
His sentiments exactly, but not many of the women he’d dated felt that way. Usually, if he left the top off, they worried about their hair during the whole ride.
To his delight, Ash wasn’t like that at all. She smiled and leaned into the breeze, appearing to enjoy the wind rushing past. She didn’t try to force conversation either, content to let him drive while she watched the passing scenery.
Once they were inside the restaurant and had placed their orders, she sat back and regarded him frankly. “So, which branch of the military?”
Damon chuckled. “How’d you know?”
“It’s the way you carry yourself, I think. My dad and granddad are both retired military. You remind me of them.”
He nodded. “Makes sense. I’m Air Force, stationed at Lackland.”
“Just now?” She flashed a smile at their waitress as the woman delivered their drinks.
Damon took a sip of his orange juice, then set it aside. “Actually, no. I’ve been at Lackland for a couple of years, living on base. But I’m going to be here a while, so I decided it was time for something…I don’t know. A little more private, I guess. Less like a hotel room, more like a home.”
Ash nodded in understanding. Their eyes met, and Damon stared into hers, thinking again how beautiful they were, so bright and open, with flashes of green glinting in their bronze depths.
She blushed and turned her head, staring out the window, apparently embarrassed by this deep scrutiny.
“Are you married?” Damon blurted out.
She took in a quick breath and turned back to him. “No.”
Maybe the red in her cheeks hadn’t been embarrassment, as he’d assumed, because she met his gaze without the slightest bit of coy reluctance. “No.” She tilted her head, her expression bold and openly curious. “Why?”
Damon reached out to where her hands rested clasped upon the table. He tugged one loose, turning it so that it faced upward, then lightly drew his fingertips across her palm. She shivered, and her cheeks reddened again, but she didn’t look away. So. Not embarrassed, after all.
“I think you know,” he said.
She frowned, but didn’t pull away. “Honestly, I’m confused.”
The waitress appeared with their meals. At that, she did
start to pull away, but Damon tightened his grip. After a slight hesitation, she relaxed, leaving her fingers wrapped in his.
“Just set them there, thanks.” Damon smiled and waited while the woman deposited their plates. After she’d retreated, he turned his attention back to Ashland. “Confused?” he prompted again.
Ash nodded. “Friday, when you were moving in, I got the distinct impression you weren’t interested in me in the slightest. Not even as a neighbor you would wave to in passing. As a matter of fact, I thought you would have preferred not to have met me at all.”
Damon frowned, at a loss as to what to say. He couldn’t tell her, Oh, well, that was just because I didn’t want you to see the BDSM paraphernalia in that box
. He decided to improvise. “I know. Look, I’m sorry. That was the last box. I’d been moving all day, and by that time I was tired and hungry and not in a very good mood.” All of which was true, actually.
He slid his hand along hers, cupping her forearm and rubbing his thumb gently across the pulse point at her wrist. She shivered again in response, though she appeared to realize what was happening and stiffened quickly, trying to hide it. “But Saturday morning, I saw you again from my window, speaking with an older man who was walking his dog. I took a good long look, and something clicked. After that, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
Her flesh was warm in his. He raised her hand and turned it, brushing his lips ever so lightly across her knuckles, his gaze never leaving hers.
Her eyes widened. She took a deep breath, then blurted, “Why?”
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “But I’d like to find out.”
Ashland snorted, eyeing him suspiciously. “Damn. If that’s a line, it’s a good one.”
He laughed. “Well, I’ll tell you up front…” He leaned even closer to her, enjoying the banter. Her eyes were glued to his, her palm sweaty, her pulse racing. He felt a surge of satisfaction. He knew, though she hadn’t said it yet. He could feel in his bones that the answer was going to be yes -- to dating, to him
. They’d known each other all of thirty minutes, and he was already in control. It was a rush, almost as invigorating as a good D/s session. Maybe he couldn’t return completely to his old lifestyle, but would a bit of psychological domination cause any harm? Maybe he didn’t need the sexual D/s to get back on an even keel.
Ashland waited, brow furrowed, for him to finish his thought. He flashed a wicked grin. “My intentions are absolutely not
honorable,” he growled.
She wanted him. He could see it in her eyes. She wanted to say yes, but there was a hint of uncertainty there. Maybe she was afraid of ending up with her heart broken, or maybe she was just worried about getting involved with someone she’d just met, but she wasn’t sure what to do.
So he told her. “Say yes, Ash.”
As though he’d flipped a switch, her brow smoothed. “Yes, Damon,” she whispered.
A thrill of triumph swept through him. Damn! He hadn’t been this assertive with a woman since…well, since about six months into his time in Balad. That’s when he’d started questioning his lifestyle. He’d toned himself down, started letting the woman take the initiative, even though that wasn’t really his nature.
felt good. Familiar.
Damon sat back in the booth, letting go of her hand reluctantly. He smiled, and she grinned back.
Decision made, she seemed completely at ease. No regrets, no lingering concerns. She raised her eyebrows, darting her gaze to their plates. “Our food’s getting cold.”
“Mm-hmm.” Damon continued looking at her, enjoying the slight flush that rose in her cheeks, traveling down her neck, kissing the bit of cleavage her V-neck tee revealed.
“Damon,” she murmured, sweeping her gaze out across the restaurant as though to ask what people would think.
He didn’t care what they were thinking, but he was
hungry -- for more than just breakfast. “You’ll kiss me later.” He made it a statement, not a question, just to see how she’d react.
She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, nodding. “If that’s what you want.”
“It is,” he said and pushed their platters over so they could eat.