"Baby, you can run but I always catch you."
The words that I wanted to speak were caught in my throat, showing no signs of wanting to escape anytime soon. I shouldn't have been so shocked, having no idea of what I was walking into in the first place. Nevertheless, I was beyond shocked, even embarrassed to see all the female flesh in front of me with pervy men hovering over the with lustful eyes. I couldn't even begin to imagine what kind of women would allow herself to be degraded to such a degree, but that thought stopped dead in its track when I remembered that it all belonged to Ryan and his mind. My now angry eyes turned back to him and searched for answers.
"What do you think?" he asked, his voice now cautious.
My lips parted and I surprised myself by the degree of anger behind my words. "Well what the hell am I supposed to think?"
"Aww babe," he said, stepping towards me. "There's nothing to be angry about."
"What exactly is that Ryan? Who are you and what the hell is all that about?" I motioned towards the front door meaning the photographers and press. The anger and confusion meshed together and I began to feel myself freak out.
He pulled me away from the busy area, where people were looking over at us and sat us in an unoccupied booth. "This is my job Val, I'm a business man. I invest in things. I'm part owner of this place. Tonight is our grand opening and I wanted you to be here with me because it means a lot to me."
"Me being here? Or your fucking strip club?" It wasn't a strip club but I didn't know what else to call it. Surely it wasn't a restaurant, despite the food being eaten of the nearly naked women lying on tables.
I couldn't help the itch of my skin as he pressed me against the leather seat and whispered in my ear, "Of course it's you." One of his hands lifted my chin towards his face. "If you really don't want to be here, I can take you somewhere else." He grinned at his choice of words. "I could take you in the back of the limo if you want."
"Don't," I whispered with closed eyes, trying hard to fight the feeling between my thighs at the simple sexual innuendo.
"Don't what?" he said, his warm breath hitting my cheek and sending a shiver down my spine.
"Don't make me that girl who makes her boyfriend choose between her and work."
Despite the nature of the conversation, his lips tugged upwards.
"You're not making me do anything. I want to do what will make you happy. My girlfriend deserves nothing less." I could see in his eyes that, despite what he was saying, he did not want to leave. My hands fumbled with his collar and I sighed. "I'll stay."
He grinned and pressed his gentle kiss to my forehead. Despite every single person being in that room, I felt as if I was the only person in the room the way that Ryan's eyes shined with his smile. My heart picked up at just the smallest feeling of importance that it gave me and I returned his glowing smile. We almost were in our own world, just sitting there and starring at each other, without any words, until a voice behind him boomed, "Ryan! Trying to hide something over here?"
Ryan's smile turned into a tight frown as my reluctant eyes peered around him to see who the voice had come from. I blinked several times and wracked my brain, trying to figure out why he looked so familiar. He grinned at me, seemingly undisturbed by my silence and curious eyes, and said, "Hello beautiful. You must be the reason why I haven't seen my business partner for more than five minutes at a time. I'll admit, I was quite ready to tell you off, but I can see why Ryan keeps you around. But I can't see why he would move back to Vegas." His hand came out to scratch his unkempt beard as he shook his greasy head and laughed. As he looked back up at us, a different bar scene flashed through my mind, and I realized why he looked so familiar.
"I remember you," I murmured, not sure whether to say exactly how in front of Ryan.
His taunting eyes turned severe and he spit out, "No you don't."
"Yes I do," I said a little more strongly this time. I stepped out from the booth. "You tried to pick me up at the Caesar a couple of months back, but I was with-" I cut off my sentence partly because I didn't want to say Brendon in front of Ryan, but also because of the way Ryan's arm became uncomfortably tighter around my hips.
In front of us, the greaser chuckled and took a step back, but I could still hear the forced calmness behind his words. "I think you have me mixed up with someone else honey. I don't go picking up girls at bars. Especially-"
Ryan threw his arm against the greaser's chest, which thumped loudly before he cringed the slightest. "John, this is my girlfriend Valarie, although it seems you don't need an introduction." His voice was cool, but his expression said it all. I began to regret my decision to say anything when Ryan excused himself and his friend John without looking at me. The second he was gone, there was a burly man next to me.
"Valarie," he stated without hesitation. "I'm Veto, a friend of Ryan’s. He's told me a lot about you. He wasn't exaggerating about your looks. It's a pleasure to finally meet you," his deep voice drawled. His eyes darted around the room and rested on me for no longer than a second.
"Nice to meet you," I replied, not quite sure what I should say or do. He stood next to me but didn't seem to be too interested in talking to me after the short introduction, so I let my eyes roam the scene I was still trying to get used to. It wasn't a strip club at all; I had overreacted on that front. But I was still uncomfortable watching the men lower their mouths to the girls’ breasts and taking a piece of raw meat between his teeth. I had heard about these restaurants before but I never would have thought that I would end up inside one of them. It was a bit too surreal for me to see it in the flesh. As I looked at the girl nearest to me, her eyes flickered to mine. I could see the dignity she was trying to hold onto behind her pale blue eyes, and I had to turn away from her; that look resembled one that I knew not too long ago I wore in my eyes.
Strong arms wrapped around me as I turned and held me where I felt safe. "Where do you think you're going," the soothing voice whispered. "Dinner is about to be served." Ryan led me to a large table that was centered in the room. His business partner, John, was already seated but he did not look at all like he wanted to be there anymore and I figured it had something to do with the quickly bruising eye he had. I felt slightly bad, but thought nothing more about it. He was surrounded by more men and women, all women with coloured beverages clenched in their decked out palms. Their glittery dresses sparkled under the soft light, finding a way to catch the light at the perfect angle every time. I looked down at my own dress and suddenly felt very underdressed, but I had little time to dwell on that because as Ryan sat next to me, he began introducing the men and their dates. I was met with hungry eyes from the men, as well as angry and sceptical eyes from the girls. A few even leaned in towards each other and whispered into the others ear as if I couldn't see them. Ryan squeezed my thigh reassuringly and I turned away from them.
"Are we ready to eat?" Ryan called over the chatter, and people cheered and hit their fists against the table in agreement. He waved at someone over my shoulder and then moved me aside so that a waiter could place a small step stool beside me. I looked over at him for an explanation, but I didn't need one; our female model had arrived and placed one of her long legs up on the step stool. Her long blonde hair covered her bare breasts but she did not seem fazed. She looked over at me and I gasped loudly, falling against my chair; it was Brittinea. Her beautiful eyes grew wide as she looked down over my body and then over at Ryan who had his hands resting along my collar bone, before they slanted downwards and she glared at me. Her lips parted and she said "Valarie."
"On the table," Ryan said impatiently. She tore her eyes away from me to glare at him before she stepped onto the stool and took her place on the table. "I want to hear about that later," he said so only I could hear. I smiled sweetly over at him because I noticed several pairs of eyes on us.
I managed to avoid eating my dinner off of her body, but I didn't miss the glares she shot my way during the course of the evening, nor did I miss the numerous people who seemed to walk past our table just to get a look at Ryan and me. Ryan seemed not to notice any of it, he was busy trying to feed me food that I didn't even know the name of or placing kisses along my neck. I would have loved the fact that he was doting over me if it didn't seem to be annoying every female in the room, especially a blonde sitting at the next table whose face turned red every time Ryan touched me. I pointed her out to him but he looked at her and dismissed it with a shrug of his shoulders. But just after we had finished our food and Ryan was showing me the desert menu, she walked over to our table and finally got his attention.
"Shelbie," he sighed, showing no interest in her. He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer to him. "Please meet my girlfriend Valarie." He squeezed me gently and I brought my hand up for her to shake.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," I gushed sweetly, but she ignored me and focused her eyes on Ryan.
"You're back in Vegas?" her high pitched voice asked as she placed one of her hands on his arm. Ryan shook it off and closed his eyes.
"Yea, I moved back to start up a few more business and to be with my girlfriend. But if you don't mind, I'd like to get back to my evening with her." He turned away without letting her respond and asked me what I wanted for desert but she interrupted my answer.
"You might what to know what you're getting into with him," she said finally acknowledging me. "He seems like the perfect gentleman until you really get to know him. Actually-"
"Am I going to have to get security to escort you out or do you think you can do it by yourself like a big girl?" Ryan’s business partner said, standing up and silencing the table. Her face flushed as she hurried away and the rest of our table laughed. I pressed my lips to Ryan's ear and whispered, "And I want to hear about that tomorrow."
The rest of meal finished without incident, well beside Brittinea being excused from the table and her "accidently" spilling a drink down the front of my dress and then being dismissed from her duties not too long after that. I rushed to the washroom to dry off my dress, grabbing paper towels and shutting myself into a washroom stall to avoid any embarrassment. But just like any cliché drama movie, that's when two girls entered with me as the topic of conversation.
"-can't believe Ryan would be with a girl like that! Did you see her tacky dress?"
I stopped any movement and listened closely.
"A hundred bucks says she’ll be gone by the end of the week. With Ryan's rep, he's probably already sleeping with someone else. I wonder if I can be one of them?" The two girls giggled loudly. "But seriously, she's not even his type. Have you ever seen him with a brunette before? She's not even that pretty."
"I wonder if she knows?" one of them asked quietly, almost a whisper. There was a pause, before her friend answered, "I don't see how she couldn't. Anyone who's anyone knows."
I had heard enough, but I didn't want to face them. They deserved to be yelled at, but I couldn't do it because I was too preoccupied with what they had said. I waited until they were out of the washroom before I left my stall, and didn't bother to finish drying myself off. I wanted nothing more than to leave the restaurant.
I returned to the table and picked up my purse, ready to leave, but Ryan pulled me into his lap. I got up and sat myself down in the chair next to him, but I couldn't bring myself to look at him. If what the girls in the washroom had said was true, then I was suddenly regretting ever telling Ryan I loved him. Apparently there was a lot I did not know about him, and it didn't appear that he was going to tell me anything soon.
"Something wrong?" He brushed the hair off of my shoulder and gently caressed the skin beneath his fingers. I looked around the table to avoid looking at him. He sighed, tucked his fingers under my chin, and pulled my face towards his. "What did I do?"
"Nothing," I said, shrugging his hand off of my shoulder. "I think it's time to go."
His eyes turned serious as he looked on. "Something is wrong. Tell me what happened."
I shook my head. "I don't want to talk about it here."
He nodded and turned to the table. "Guys, it's been great. I really appreciate all your support, but I've got some things to take care of. Have a great night. Dinner is on me." He began to stand up but I placed my hand on his shoulder and gently held him.
"I meant that I am going to be going, I didn't mean you have to leave too," I whispered in his ear. He turned in his seat and smiled up at me.
"I’m going wherever you’re going baby."
"Let me rephrase one more time. I'm going home and I’m going home alone. I'll try and call you tomorrow." I quickly kissed his cheek and hurried towards the door, feeling dozens of eyes follow me. The sidewalk was still crowded with photographers, but they were busy snapping pictures of one of many Vegas socialites, so I slipped past them unnoticed. I already felt better being away from all those watchful eyes, but I should have known I wouldn't be alone for long.
"Valarie!" I heard Ryan say from not too far from behind me. I quickened my pace and waved an arm along the strip to get a cab.
"Baby, you can run but I always catch you. Just stop," he called again. I ignored him and continued down the street but he caught up to me, pulling me back into his arms against him. "Valarie, please," he breathed. "We both need this to work, so just use your words. Tell me what's wrong so that I can make it better."
I pulled away from Ryan but didn't try and run away again. If I had learned anything from my past, it was hat running away was never any good, and he always followed. His eyes searched my face, silently begging for me to say something but I didn't know where to start or how to. I couldn't just ask about his sexual past when mine was too colourful, and I had no idea how to ask about something I knew nothing about.
"Please?" he said again, stepping towards me. "It seems like every time we get to a good place, something goes wrong."
He was more than right. I needed the relationship with him to work. He had already saved me in one sense, but in the bigger picture, there was still much more saving to be done. Walking away from him would certainly not help the cause, so I whispered, "Not here." If I was going to confront him about what I had heard, it needed to be private. Especially with photographers less than fifty yards away. He nodded and pulled out his cell phone, asking the limo driver to come pick us up. I could see that his eyes had lost some of the excitement that they had held earlier, but I ignored the guilt.
We didn't say a word to each other as we waited for the limo, and when it came, he helped me inside and asked the driver to roll up the back window so that we could have our privacy. Then he sat himself across from me and pressed his palm against my cheek.
"Mon ange," he whispered, his soothing voice reaching my ears and making me suddenly shy. "I'm listening."
The tears brimmed my eyes as I lifted mine to meet his. "When I went to washroom, I heard some girls talking about you." He seemed unbothered by this and nodded, urging me on. "They said some things about a reputation that you apparently have. How is it that I'd never of heard of you before we met but everyone else seems to know exactly who you are?"
"There is no reputation," he replied seriously. "I’m nothing more than a businessman. Well, I was. Now I'm a business man and your boyfriend." he grinned and kissed me. I pushed him away and said angrily, "No! They said that-" I turned away from him, not wanting to see the look on his face when I asked. "Did you cheat on your past girlfriends?"
There came no answer from him, so I turned back to find him still grinning. I opened my mouth to get angry with him but he leaned forward and kissed me forcefully, and I found myself pulling him closer rather than pushing him away. I knew that even if his answer to my question was yes, I wouldn't be able to leave him. I was in love with him in a way I had never experienced with Tyler, and in less time. But I still believed that Tyler had been the one I was meant for; I was settling with Ryan.
"It’s nice to see you be the jealous one for a change." His grin slowly faded from his face. "You will not understand this," he said when he had pulled away from me. "I was waiting for you. The other girls were distractions, things to keep me occupied while I waited for you to be ready. I haven't been with anyone else since the night we officially met. You've had me every second of the way."
"Then who was that girl you called Shelbie?"
He sighed. "I regret how things finished between us. She and I were engaged, and it took me awhile to see that I had made a mistake but I didn't know how to tell her. I thought it would be easier if I slept with someone else so she would have to leave me. But that only hurt her more. She left me and we haven't talked since." He shrugged his shoulders and moved next to me. "You have my word that I will never do that to you. I wouldn't even need to because you are everything I need. Trust me, mon ange." I shivered when he brushed his lips against my collar bone.
"What does that mean?" I asked as my body trembled from his touch. He lifted his face, his chocolate eyes sparkling again.
"Mon ange," he whispered again. "It’s French for, my angel." he kissed one cheek, then the other. "Because there is no better way to describe you. You are the light of my life." His smile lit up his face. "Thank you for doing so great tonight. I knew you could handle it, I'm proud of you." There was a ten second silence between us as our fight blew over, and then Ryan asked, “So shall I take you home?”
“Not unless it’s home with you,” I said and pulled him on top of me.
He grinned and said against my lips, “I was hoping you would say that. I love you Valarie Lawrence.”
I didn’t hesitate for a second in replying, “Not as much as I love you.” But he shook his head and wrapped his arms around me. “You silly girl, that’s not possible.”