“What are you doing here?” I managed.
“I came to see…” He looked around, apparently stumped for words and stalling. He was about to lie. “I was in the area.”
I almost laughed. “That’s the worse excuse in the book.” Already, my mood had improved drastically. “You wouldn’t be here to see little old me on such a special day, would you? Seems you guys have a lot of free time at the FBI.”
He folded one arm in front of him while the other scratched his jawline. He was cute when he was sheepish. Changing the subject, he said, “I saw you with that couple earlier. Were they your parents?”
And he had to foul the conversation just like that. “They were. Do you recognize them?”
He shook his head with a quizzical expression, then moved out of the way as a car passed him. “Hey, uh… School parking lot isn’t a great place to talk. Wanna sit down somewhere?”
With a smirk, I teased, “You mean like a coffee date?”
He studied me for a moment, then smiled. “Yeah. Like a coffee date.” His smile spread into a grin as he added, “If we’re gonna get married, we might as well get to know each other.”
“Fair point.” I looked back toward the football field. My friends were probably looking for me by now, getting ready to head to Coco’s to celebrate. I… wasn’t ready to see them. At least not right now. Plus, I needed to talk to August about our situation anyway. “Why don’t I meet you at the bistro at the corner? I need to get changed out of this poncho.” I gestured down to my gown, and he chuckled.
“Not a fan, I take it.”
“Not at all.”
“Alright, sure. I’ll grab us a table. This better not be your way of ghosting me, though,” he warned playfully, and I just winked at him before heading off.
I had a change of clothes in my car – as I always did, not just for this occasion – and was about to change when I got a text.
**Brie:** Where you at, girl?
**Brie:** You just up and vanished
**Me:** Sth came up. I’ll meet you at Coco’s
I got dressed into a violet t-shirt and blue jeans, tying my hair up in a loose ponytail. Staring at myself in my rearview mirror, I took a deep breath and steeled myself. Fuck Charles for being a bitch. I was going to get the answers I wanted in spite of him. My ponytail gave off the air of a good blend of utility and style, and with how tight my t-shirt was, I expected August to drool at least a little. Alright, show time.
He was sitting with an iced tea while he waited for me, and stood to greet me as I approached. Such a gentleman. Charles had coached him perfectly.
“Hope you haven’t been waiting long,” I said casually.
“We just saw each other,” he chuckled. “It wasn’t much of a head start.”
As expected, his gaze drifted down to my bust, and I had to resist the urge to grin. I ordered a pink lemonade and leaned back in my chair, putting on my usual flirty look. He maintained a gentle smile, twinged with a hint of worry. Worried about what? About me finding out his connection with Charles? About us being forced to marry? About something from work?
“Hey,” he said. “Are you okay?”
Alright, that caught me by surprise. Did I have a strange look on my face? He couldn’t possibly have been worried about me.
“Of course. Why?”
He paused as my lemonade arrived, then continued when the waiter had left. “When you were talking with your parents… you looked…”
Fuck. God damn it, he’d seen.
“Yeah, turns out he’s not getting me a new car for college,” I delivered dryly. “Still pretty torn up about it. I was hoping to get a BMW or something.”
With a dramatic sigh, I sipped my lemonade. He continued to watch me, not saying anything, and it began to bother me. Was this guy soul reading me or something? Or maybe he really was as interesting as a tree stump.
“You don’t need to hide from me, Lexi,” he murmured, and I froze. I just couldn’t catch a break today. I’d been caught out by some of my friends before, like Stef or Coco, but who the hell did this guy think he was?
I let enough time pass to indicate that I was thinking about my response, then said, “No offense, Auggie, but I don’t know you that well. And you should already know me well enough to understand that controlling what people know is my job.”
“So you’re always hiding,” he summed up, and I shrugged. He chuckled and nodded. “Hiding’s great. It’s comfortable. My dad was a sniper, so I imagined he was really good at hiding.” He looked at me meaningfully. “Until one day, when either he didn’t hide well enough, or there was nowhere to hide at all. And somebody found him when he wasn’t ready.”
“Using your dead dad to spin a life lesson,” I commented. “Strange tactic, considering I don’t even listen to my own father.” It was a low blow – cruel, even – but this guy was getting too close. And his presumptuousness was kinda pissing me off.
He took the jab in stride, which was quite impressive. It made me wonder what would be effective at getting under his skin. “If that’s the case, why are you not ignoring the engagement? Why are you even meeting me at all if you could just blow it off?”
“Because Charles can become a massively annoying bastard.”
“To the point where you’d rather marry a stranger.”
I held up a finger. “We’re not getting married, remember? It’s why we’re meeting like this: to figure out what he’s up to so we can rebuff him. Unless, of course, you guys are in cahoots. Then I’ll just go with Plan A and tell you both to go fuck yourselves. Or each other, if that’s your fancy.”
He snorted, unable to hide his smirk. He could laugh at himself. I liked that. Too bad I had to try my best not to like him. I imagined we would’ve been quite good together. In a different life, perhaps.
“Well then, did you find anything out while talking to him?” he asked.
I scowled. “I lost my cool with him. Any subtlety was shot, and I’m pretty sure I’ve revealed my hand. He’s gonna clam up around me if I try to fish any more. He flat out denied both being your benefactor and colluding with you, but then of course he would. And he’s hard to read, so I can’t even tell if he’s lying.”
I clenched my teeth. He wasn’t better than me. He just had an unfair advantage.
*Life’s not fair, Lexi. Sometimes if you wanna win, you gotta make your own rules.*
I know, Jordan. But what did that look like in this scenario?
“I tried shaking a few trees of my own, for all it was worth,” August added. “Casually asked my commander, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know anything either. Then I asked my mom how she talks to the benefactor.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I groaned.
“Typed. Unmarked envelopes. I brought one of them to the lab, pulled a favor. Clean of prints except for mom’s, no traces of saliva. Envelope was sealed by melting the glue with heat. Same with the stamps.”
I narrowed my eyes. “And how does she write back?”
August snapped his fingers. “That’s where it gets interesting. She mails it back. To *your* home address.”
My blood froze in my veins. “What?”
“Yeah.” He folded his arms and frowned down at his drink, lost in thought. “I did a double take when I saw who lived there too. It’s why I dropped by to confirm yesterday. If you’re not receiving them, then somebody else is intercepting them. You wouldn’t happen to have surveillance footage of your mailbox, would you?”
I sighed. “I was too focused on putting surveillance on the *inside* of the house.” My mind was in overdrive. “Wait. You’ve had a benefactor since you were–”
“Seventeen,” he supplied. “So, for five years now.”
Five years ago… Suddenly, I felt reinvigorated. I was back on the trail. No way all this was a coincidence. “I didn’t even have this house five years ago. Where did she mail them before? There had to be a second address.”
He leaned his head back, pressing his knuckles to his eyes. “Shit,” he groaned. “Fine, I’ll check again. Meanwhile, you get some cameras set up and point them at your mailbox. When you’re ready, I’ll have my mom write them again. We’ll see who shows up to grab the letter.”
I nodded. It was a decent step forward. Regardless, my mind was fully occupied by one thought. *Five years ago.* No, it was impossible. Utter bullshit. But in my line of work, there were no coincidences.
“I’ve only had this house for three years. There has to be a different address. And this all means that somebody’s been planning this for years. You and I have been involved in something for a long time coming.”
We sat there in silence, reflecting on the implications.
“Y’know, destiny is usually ordained by some higher power,” August quipped.
I scoffed. “My father would probably consider himself a higher power. Don’t give him any ideas.” I caught him scanning my body again, and I smirked. “Getting a few ideas of your own?”
“Sorry,” he blurted.
“Oh my God,” I chuckled. “You fold that easily? Yeah, we’d never work out.”
He pouted a bit. “I was being polite.”
“Then by all means, be impolite,” I laughed. “C’mon, boy scout. Forget acquaintance etiquette. What would you do to me if we were alone?”
“Probably nothing you haven’t heard before,” he admitted.
The way his gaze glided up to settle on mine made me realize he might not have been as straight-laced as I thought. His voice came out low, and immediately I felt myself heating up. God, his voice.
“I would press you up against the wall. But I wouldn’t kiss you. No, I’m undoing that ponytail of yours, running my hands through those beautiful gold wavy locks. I’d be breathing in your scent, savoring it, engraving it in my mind. Then my hands move south. Ripping that t-shirt right down the middle and letting those puppies spring loose. Bet those big soft naturals fit perfectly in my hands.” I could actually feel my eyelid flutter a bit, and he grin lasciviously. “And now my lips skip yours and go straight to your neck, sucking, licking, nibbling. I pull your ripped shirt down to your wrists and tie them behind you.
“Your jeans are coming off, obviously. I yank them off so quickly, they turn inside out. Then you’re going on that front counter and I’m licking you around your panties, having a taste of you. Having that taste I’ve wanted since I first saw you. I wanted to take you then, you know. Right on the carpet, while your snake watched.”
He had me almost gasping. He was right, it wasn’t anything new, but it didn’t matter. I resisted the urge to shift in my chair. Damnit, I was supposed to be a pro. Simple words weren’t supposed to affect me like this.
“Go on,” I rasped, and he grinned. Crap, he knew he had me.
“Are we here or there, baby?” he drawled.
“Well, you have a very nice desk. It’d be a shame not to use it. So you’re bent over it and feel me rubbing up against you, feeling me glide between your lips. And then I start filling you, agonizingly slow. It doesn’t matter how much you beg, I’m not going faster. You feel every single inch going in, every inch of yourself spreading for me.”
“Do you choke me?” I whisper.
Without an ounce of hesitation, he answers, “Of course.” Good boy. “And I break you, right there in your own office. I go hard because I know you can take it, and I only let you breathe when your eyes start rolling.”
Much to my annoyance, my hand is trembling a bit on the table. Before I can steady myself, August takes it and holds it firmly before continuing.
“I pick you up and hop on the desk, bouncing you on my lap while you try to scream in pleasure. And just when you’re about to explode, your assistant walks in and watches as I cum deep inside you.” I lurch forward a bit and he bites his lip. God damn it, he was making me lose my mind. “He watches cum drip out of his used boss and decides he’ll come back later. It’s too bad, because you want an audience as I slide back into you.”
Perhaps my imagination was a bit too vivid. I could feel my body curling as I tried to hide my arousal from him. The guy almost made me cum just with words. I was losing my touch. Jesus, my head was spinning.
Alright Lexi you slut, put your mask back on.
I took a deep breath, and thankfully my trembling stopped. Swallowing once, I straightened and retrieved my hand from his grasp. He had a neutral expression as he admired his handiwork.
“Well that was entertaining,” I giggled. “Sure you don’t wanna wife me up right now?”
“I’m seriously considering it,” he crooned. Shit, I was getting wet all over again. Gotta get away from him.
“Too slow,” I announced, standing suddenly. “My friends are wondering where I am. Guess you’ll have to wait until next time.” I winked at him and paid for my drink, leaving him at the table without another word. As I walked back to my car, I received a text.
**August:** Lmk when to send that letter
Ah. Right. The intrigue. I’d actually forgotten. I wasn’t planning to actually marry August.
The door opened to Drew, who beamed at me from his six foot three vantage point.
“There you are, Lex! Come on in!”
He hugged me and let me enter, and the little graduation celebration was in full swing. Drew and Coco, Cherry and Leon, the twins and their mom… and their mom’s new boyfriend. I nodded with interest, a bit disappointed that he seemed like an ordinary, wholesome man. Wondered if he knew what his girlfriend’s kids got up to, I thought with a grin.
Brie hopped up from next to Stef and launched into my arms. “Lexi! Where’d you go?!”
“Had some stuff to take care of before we finally cut loose for the summer,” I laughed.
Brie’s eyes widened, and she looked around before ushering me to a quieter part of the house. In a whisper she asked, “Was it with that August guy?”
I raised my eyebrows and looked away meaningfully, and she covered her mouth with both hands. “Oh. My. God. Omigod, Lexi!” Her words were muffled until she grabbed my hands and rapidly tiptoed in place. Good lord, when did she become so basic? Suddenly she gasped and looked at me solemnly, dropping her squeal to a whisper. “Did you fuck him?”
In a manner of speaking. “Despite appearances, I’m not that easy,” I said sourly.
“Did you forget you kissed my brother?” she grumbled, her lips twisted in ire.
“I most certainly did not,” I replied dreamily, grinning. “Can you blame me? I’m sure you’ll agree that he’s pretty good-looking.”
“I hate you,” she growled, folding her arms.
“I love you too,” I said with a wink.
“So anyway. When are you going to see him again?”
From the other room, Cherry called, “Brie! Drew won’t stop leaning on my head!”
Shooting me an apologetic look, Brie excused herself to go save Cherry. “As soon as I can manage,” I found myself mumbling. Shit, August really got me good. It was the stress, I told myself. He’d found me in a weakened state and had no qualms of taking advantage of that fact. If he thought he could whisper sexy nothings in my ear and win me over… Hm. That required further investigation.
“Hey Lexi.” I turned to see Leon walk over, holding a mug of what smelled like champagne.
“Hey Leon. Cherry’s not worried about leaving you with me?”
He chuckled, looking back toward the antics in the living room. Brie was standing between Drew and Cherry, angrily lecturing up at him. Drew cast a sidelong glance at Stef, who was simply watching the entire spectacle unfold. “I doubt she’ll ever be comfortable with it, but she trusts that I don’t have eyes for anybody else but her.”
“Seems like there’s a lot of that around here,” I remarked, tipping my chin up at the other incestuous couples in the house. Leon laughed once before giving me a look.
“How was graduation for you?”
“You ask that as if it was anything short of monumental. You’re a smart man. What are you really asking?”
“Cutting straight to the heart of the matter. Now I *know* something’s wrong.” We both grinned, but maybe I didn’t do so quick enough. His expression softened, and he lowered his voice. “I saw you speaking to a couple that I assume are your parents. Based on what I’ve heard, you don’t think very highly of your father. Did you want to talk about it?”
He nodded and simply stood with me as we watched from the sidelines while Stef and Cherry chased Drew around the room. Helen was laughing and telling Brie to leave the three alone, and Coco was reprimanding Drew as he vaulted over furniture.
“As a father…” I began before cutting myself off. Leon watched me carefully while I restructured my question. Leon was worlds apart from Charles; I couldn’t use his perspective to understand my father. “As a man, what is the most important thing a man must do?”
He thought for a moment, but he had an answer sooner than I expected. “Fulfilling my duty,” he said. “Being whatever the people I love need me to be.”
And what did I need from Charles, that he was doing all this? Perhaps that didn’t apply if he didn’t love me. “And you’re not afraid of losing yourself? Becoming a slave to satisfy wants and needs?”
Leon turned to look at me. “The people I love would never ask me to give up who I am. That’s what love is. It’s accepting the person as they are. Sure, you could nudge them to improve, but it’s okay if they fail. Seeing them happy brings a certain kind of bliss that can’t be replicated.”
“I think…” I whispered. “I think most people don’t share your definition of love. Sometimes they love an idealized version of the people around them. Sometimes they love the idea of love itself, rather than the people. Sometimes… they’re mistaken about what the people they love need them to be. And they end up hurting each other instead.”
Leon nodded. “If it’s true love, they’ll heal each other. If it’s false love, then nothing of value will be lost upon realization.”
I took a shuddering breath, and he put his arm around me, squeezing me into a side hug. “Aren’t you afraid of what your daughter will think?” I tried to laugh. It came out more like a rattle.
“She’ll understand. Besides, I suspect it’s what you need from me too.”
I tried not to cry as I watched the people I loved filled me with the bliss Leon spoke of.