He was glad he’d mentioned it to her and it was clear Angus had been impressed also.
Despite Josh’s continued attempts to exclude himself from the banishment, it was settled. They’d leave early the next day and wouldn’t be back for at least three days. Riley was looking forward to those three days. Just him, Jessica and Angus. Sweet.
When they’d come to his room, Riley got Jessica busy with chess right away. He didn’t want to give himself time to get horny again. It turned out Jessica had played chess before with her family and picked the game up again pretty quickly.
Jessica sat up suddenly and moved her piece.
"Good move." Riley said, leaning forward to study the board.
"Riley … how come you don’t do anything with Max?" Jessica asked.
"Max?" Riley asked lifting his eyes to look at her. "As in the dog?"
"Yeah. You train the other dogs but Max just kind of … exists."
"Well. As you so astutely observed, Max is deaf and blind."
"So, I don’t really have much use for him. Normally I would have put a bullet in his …" Riley caught himself as Jessica’s face contorted in horror. "Normally I would have euthanized him. But I had the feeling you would have been pretty upset about that."
"You kept him alive, for me?" Jessica asked in surprise.
"I sure didn’t need another reason for you to hate me."
Jessica blinked. "That was really sweet."
"Yeah, that’s me … Riley the sweet. What made you think about Max anyway?"
"Max isn’t useless." Jessica said, "I was trying to figure why you weren’t working with him."
Riley shrugged. "You’re probably right. Why don’t you work with him?"
"Me?" Jessica squeaked in surprise.
Riley chuckled. "Don’t be so surprised Jess. You’ve been doing a great job with Baby … He’s yours. Do with him what you will."
"Mine?" Jessica squeaked again. "You’re giving him to me?"
"Oh Riley, thank you!" Jessica said, clapping her hands and then scrambling around the table and climbing on his lap. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She threw her arms around his neck.
He chuckled and hugged her back.
"You’re welcome. And while you’re at it, you may want to decide whether you’re going to breed Baby or not. And with which dog. She’s still too young but it won’t be long before she’s of age."
Jessica sat up and stared at him.
"What?" he asked. She had an expression on her face that he’d never seen before.
"Why am I deciding whether to breed her or not?" she asked.
"Who the hell else would be?" Riley asked.
"Jessica, why would I be deciding something about your dog?"
"My dog? Baby belongs to me?" Jessica looked stunned.
"Hell yes. You saved her … she’s yours. You have a real knack for collecting misfits … What’s the matter?" He asked when Jessica looked like she’d cry.
"Is she really mine?"
"She always was Jessica, I thought you knew that."
"Thank you!" Jessica exclaimed, throwing herself against him again.
"You’re welcome!" he said, laughing as she peppered his cheeks with kisses.
Jessica couldn’t believe it. She owned two dogs. Riley obviously wasn’t as hard a man as she had thought. Maybe his parents were kinder than Angus’ had been.
"Riley …" she said leaning back to look at him, "What were your parents like?"
"Whoa … what?" Riley asked, completely taken by surprise. "That’s a hell of a leap. One second we’re talking about the dogs and the next you’re asking about my parents?"
"Angus’ parents weren’t very nice. I think that’s part of the reason he was so angry. That and Beth … um, Riley, I’m sorry but I told Angus that you told me about Beth. He seemed a little angry. I didn’t think it was a secret …"
"It wasn’t … a secret." Riley said but to himself cursed the secrets that still existed between them.
He grudgingly acknowledged that it wasn’t just Jessica, Jim, Scott and Josh keeping them. He and Angus had spied on them … the newest secret of the bunch … but there was also the fact that Jessica’s uncle had not died in the ambush. He wasn’t sure they’d ever tell her that one. And he was pretty sure Jessica would not forgive them for keeping it.
"But Angus did give me an earful about it." Riley continued as he remembered the berating Angus had given him on the way to town earlier that day.
Angus seldom told Riley off and he was usually a man of few words … But he’d chewed Riley out big time about mentioning Beth to Jessica.
"I can’t say that I blame him." Riley said. "You’re so beautiful." He brought his hand to her cheek and Jessica blushed.
"On the outside and the inside …" he continued. "To mention that bitch around you is just wrong. "
"Was she really that bad?"
"Didn’t Angus tell you?"
Jessica shook her head. "He said he didn’t want to talk about her with me."
"Well. That’s his call to make. And if he doesn’t want you to know, it’s not my place to tell you."
"That’s what Angus said about your parents."
"Well. I guess I deserved that."
Jessica’s face crumpled and she slumped against him. "You don’t want to talk to me about them either?"
"What I want and what I’ll do are two different things." Riley said, "At least in this case."
Jessica leaned in and kissed his lip. Sitting straighter she said. "So were they really mean?"
"I guess you would see them that way. Just like we see your parents as being way too liberal. They were the norm in the clan."
Jessica looked at him. They considered her parents to be too liberal? They considered a woman being equal to her husband as too liberal.
A wave of pity swept over Jessica. Pity for Angus and Riley’s mothers. Pity for Jim’s sister. She began to realize that Josh raping Jim’s sister may have been the last straw for her in a probably unbearable life. What she really wanted to hear was that Riley’s mother had had some say over her life, some control.
For a minute Riley was afraid that she knew it was his mother that was the supposed scapegoat Jessica’s Uncle had spoken about. He really didn’t want to discuss that. It should have been good news … the possibility that his mother was setup and hadn’t in fact sold out his father and the whole clan, but the fact that he’d never know if it were true, seemed a painful long shot to explore.
"What’s up?" Riley finally ventured to ask when she still hadn’t said anything.
"Jessica, you’ve got smoke coming out of your ears you’re thinking so hard. What is it?"
Jessica shrugged. "I’m really not sure I want to bring up the whole marriage conversation. It was a little … intense … with Angus."
"Isn’t everything a little intense with Angus?" Riley asked. Jessica’s lips shifted into a smile.
"Too bad he never became an actor." Jessica said, "I could easily see him doing Shakespeare or something."
"Angus? Shakespeare?" Riley asked, "I see him as more of a slasher film actor."
"Oh, oh! Jack Nicholson in the Shining!"
Riley chuckled, "I could see that. You’ve brought marriage up now … so what about it?"
"I guess I’m just wondering about your mom. Did your dad treat your mom okay?"
"Depends on your definition of okay. For us, it was okay."
"Did he consider her to be his equal?" Jessica had asked the question in complete seriousness but Riley was unable to stop himself from snorting.
"Not hardly." He said.
Jessica wasn’t surprised, but she was disappointed. It didn’t seem hopeful that she would have anything close to what her parents had in her relationships with the men.
She tried to picture their future. Assuming she couldn’t find a way to bring them to justice, she could see herself staying with them for the rest of her life. In theory her day to day living wouldn’t change much from what it was now. But would the way it was now be enough for the men? Would they want … oh God … would they want children?
Suddenly Jessica felt like she was sinking in quicksand. They didn’t want them now, but it was natural that they could want them later. Especially with all this talk about marriage. Could she do that? Could she give them children? Would she be given a choice?
Jessica felt like she was going to hyperventilate.
"Hey, hey … what’s wrong?" Riley asked, grabbing her arms as she bolted upright, gasping for air.
"What is it … what’s wrong? " Riley yelled, shaking her a little. "Jesus Jessica! She didn’t have it that bad … and you’ll have it even better. Jessica!"
Jessica caught her breath and worked hard to calm down.
"What is it?" Riley repeated. As her panic subsided she closed her eyes. "Jessica, you can’t measure our relationship by my parent’s marriage … I’m not my dad, and you are definitely not my mom. Know what?" He said when Jessica looked like she’d was going to hyperventilate again. "Just forget my parents. Forget my fucking parents, okay?"
Jessica shook her head.
"It’s not that … "
"Then what is it? Tell me, what ?"
Jessica exhaled. "H … How … How far into the future have you … thought things through?"
"Future?" Riley asked. "What do you mean?"
Jessica hesitated. She was afraid to mention it … afraid that Riley would confirm her fears.
"Jessica … look at me!" he ordered.
Jessica looked up at him. "Do you see us staying like this … forever?"
Riley blinked. "Of course I do."
"Just us? You’re not eventually going to want … children?" Jessica asked, practically choking on the last word.
"Children?" Riley was so stunned that the word came out as a croak.
God, he hadn’t thought of that.
When they first starting having sex with her the thought of her getting pregnant was horrifying. Even now … the thought turned his stomach. But would he want kids sometime in the future? He honestly couldn’t say for sure.
Then it dawned on him. What he wanted wasn’t the issue. The issue was Jessica. Whether or not she wanted to have children with him. Riley’s heart sank. Given that Jessica looked like she was about to vomit, he was guessing that she didn’t.
"You don’t want children." Riley said in a strangled voice.
Jessica looked up at him. Riley’s face was frozen in an emotionless mask, but his eyes were full of pain.
For a brief moment she contemplated lying. But the consequences of that would be disastrous.
Riley felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. Or kicked in the balls. No, both, punched in the stomach and kicked in the balls.
"No because you just don’t want children, or no because you don’t want to have children with me?"
"I don’t want children." She said. It wasn’t completely true … she didn’t know if she wanted children, hadn’t really thought about it much. But she definitely didn’t want children that would grow up in the environment that she was in now … that Riley and the others had grown up in.
That should have made Riley feel better. But it didn’t. It still felt like she didn’t want to have kids with him.
"Maybe in a couple of years you’ll change your mind."
"Or … maybe in a couple of years you, the Master, will change my, the slave’s, mind for me."
"You think I’ll force you to have a baby?"
Jessica shrugged. "It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility."
"And having my kid would be horrible …" Riley said.
Jessica reached up and touched his cheek. He looked and sounded dejected. Completely dejected.
"I would gladly have your kids Riley, if you and I had the kind of relationship my parents had. If our kid would grow up like I did … without the kidnapping of course. I would want my kids to see their mother being treated equally and with respect."
Riley stared at her. Equality and now she threw in respect. That word reverberated through Riley’s mind. Yes, of course, her mother probably was a feminist. He remembered the news being riddled with feminists decrying pornography as degrading and disrespectful.
Riley’s stomach dropped. Jesus. By that definition, he, and at least Angus degraded her on a regular basis. Master and slave … Christ. That would be the way she would see it … but Riley honestly didn’t think any less of her. She’d be his slave for the sexual interlude but after she was just Jessica. He didn’t feel she was any less of a person because he’d fucked her.
It was clear that Jessica thought less of him. She didn’t see him as appropriate for fathering her children and he couldn’t see how that would ever change. As much as he wanted Jessica to feel equal and respected, he planned to use the veto rule as he felt appropriate. In day to day life, Jessica needed guidance and protection. And in the bedroom … he’d just started being her Master. He liked it too much. He needed it too much.
But, one thing he didn’t feel compelled to do was impregnate her.
"For someone who doesn’t want kids you seem to have a pretty good idea of what you’d want for them. Don’t say anything …" he added when she looked like she was going to argue. "We’ve given you control over your body Jessica. You control the birth control pills … You’re not going to get pregnant unless you want to. I’m not going to force you into having my baby … that I can promise you. And the others …"
And the others what? Mother fucker! He sat up in his chair so suddenly that Jessica almost fell off. She grabbed at his shirt pulling herself back toward him but he clutched her arms and held her at arm’s length so he could see her face.
"What about Scott or Josh Jessica. Do you mind having their kids? What about the love of your life, Jimmy. Would you have his baby?"
Jealousy was suffocating him.
"What? No?" Jessica stammered, surprised by Riley’s sudden fury.
"I see it now. Angus and I aren’t good enough, but those kiss asses make the cut. Why is that Jessica … why? Why do you feel so much more comfortable around them than you do us? Explain that. Explain it … now!"
Jessica was speechless. Riley’s face had turned red and he had it shoved in hers. She tried to reach for his cheek but his hand held her arms in place.
"It’s not true. Riley. I feel the same way about them as I do you and Angus …"
"That …" Riley said, "is not true."
Riley froze. "We saw you." He said.
"Angus and me. We saw you and the other guys. Today. In the clearing … we saw you and we heard you. Your giggling, your joking around, your decision to keep secrets. Tell me, where are our giggles, our jokes, our secrets? Hey Jessica … tell me!" he yelled, his hands grasping tighter and tighter on her arms.
"You heard us?" Jessica asked.
"Better believe it." Riley growled.
"Why didn’t you tell us?"
Riley paused. That wasn’t the reaction he’d expected. Denials, excuses, diversions, yes. Riley exhaled and shook his head.
"That kind of defeats the purpose of spying." He said, but he was beginning to calm down. Jessica’s demeanor took the anger out of him. If he didn’t know better he’d think she was glad that they’d overheard them.
"I’m sorry that you felt you had to spy …" Jessica said so gently that she took any remaining the steam out of Riley’s anger. He dropped his hands to her waist. "But if you overheard us, then you know that I wanted you and Angus there with us. I certainly did not prefer to be with Josh, Scott and Jim."
Riley lowered his head.
"I wish you would have come out and told us you were there." Jessica added.
"It seemed that you had some pretty big secrets you preferred to keep from us."
"So you thought that you’d help us keep them?" Jessica asked completely stumped.
"We were going to ask you about it tomorrow, once the other guys were gone." Riley said but he was beginning to feel like he and Angus were these petty little kids playing stupid games.
"Oh." Jessica said. She lowered her head too and began fiddling with the fabric of his shirt.
"Riley," Jessica said raising her eyes to his, "I can’t tell you the secrets."
"They’re not my secrets to tell."
"You and Angus both made me go to the source when I was asking about Beth and your parents. You said it wasn’t your place to tell me. It’s the same thing with the secrets. They’re not mine to tell."
"Jessica. Are you, or are you not involved in whatever these secrets are protecting?" Riley asked.
Jessica hesitated. She sensed a trap.
"Are you?" he demanded.
"Yes." She said with reluctance.
"Then they are your secrets to tell."
Jessica shook her head.
"I really, really, really, want it to be the guys who tell you. You heard them say very specifically that they wanted to tell you. By going behind their backs now you’re eroding their trust. And they’ve … we’ve, already eroded yours. This can get a lot worse or it can start to get better. The right thing to do is to let them tell you."
Riley stared at Jessica. Man this sucked.
"Okay. Let’s go ask them." Riley said sliding Jessica from his lap and to her feet.
"Now?" Jessica asked, glancing at the clock on the side table. "It’s midnight. Won’t they be asleep?"
"I doubt it, but if they are we’ll wake them up."
"But they’re leaving early tomorrow …"
"Then we’d better get a move on … " Riley said stepping to the side and sweeping his arm toward the door. "Ladies first … "
"Can’t it wait until they get back?" Jessica tried again.
"I don’t want this hanging over our heads while they’re gone. Let’s get it out in the open … and then we can all relax for the next few days. After you …" he said indicating the door again.
Jessica took his hand and moved for the door.
"I hope you’re right." She mumbled.
When they got to the living room, everyone was still up. They were watching some action flick on the TV. Machine guns sounded and intermittent explosions boomed through the sound system.
The men were on the edges of their seats … they looked completely jacked up. Jessica groaned. Angus in particular seemed to be completely into the action.
"Shoot him! Shoot his fucking ass!" He was screaming at the TV … "And that’s how it’s done!" He added and leaned back on the sofa, sweeping his eyes toward the hall. He froze when he saw Riley standing there, Jessica holding his hand but hanging back, just behind him. She looked like she was trying to disappear.
"Riley … Jessica, what’s wrong?" he asked, getting to his feet.
The other men turned to look at them in unison.
Josh sprang to his feet and tried to move to Jessica, but Riley blocked his way.
"Are you okay Jess?" Josh asked, trying again to get around Riley.
Riley planted his hand on Josh’s chest and shoved, knocking him back a few steps.
"Riley!" Jessica gasped.
"What the fuck is your problem?" Josh demanded.
"You are! Why do you assume that if Jessica is with me she has to be hurt?"
"He just assumed something was wrong Riley …" Jim said, "you never come back out once you’ve gone to bed. None of us do."
"Thanks for that insight Jim. Jessica was right, you do have the gift of vision. Since you have an uncanny way of seeing the future … what do you think is going to happen next?"
"Shit …" Scott hissed, sliding his eyes to Jessica who had moved from behind Riley when he’d shoved Josh. Jim and Josh looked at her too, their mouths hanging open.
"Excellent!" Angus growled and moved to stand next to Riley.
"Don’t look at her like that." Riley said, "She didn’t betray you. Angus and I heard everything. And in the interest of building trust I’m now asking you to your face about the secrets you’re keeping … As Jessica suggested it would be wise to do." He added when Angus looked at him like he was nuts … and the others gaped at him.
When no one spoke, Angus moved to the coffee table, picked up the remote and turned the TV off.
"Now spill it." He ordered.
Scott, Jim and Josh looked at one another. They hadn’t really thought about exactly how they were going to explain things to Riley and Angus. But one thing Jim did know was that telling them in front of Jessica was a big mistake. These weren’t little secrets, these were ‘Riley and Angus are going to kick our asses’ secrets. And losing it like that, fighting in front of Jessica, was not going to help Jessica feel any more comfortable around them.
"We’ll tell you." Jim said, "But on one condition."
"I hardly think you’re in any position to dictate conditions." Riley said.
"Stupid shit!" Angus muttered under his breath as he tossed the remote on the coffee table and moved to stand right next Jim, fold his arms and glower at him.
"Actually, believe it or not, I’m doing this for you more than me. I’m trying to keep you from making a huge mistake." Jim said, glowering back at Angus, "But since you mention it, I’m in the perfect position. You obviously didn’t want to wait for us to get back to tell you." He said to Riley. "Why else would you bring Jessica back out here. So if you want us to tell you everything right now, you’ll meet my condition. Otherwise, you can wait till we get back."
"What makes you think you can go anywhere until we say so?" Angus growled, shoving Jim.
"Hey!" Scott yelled, stepping between Angus and Jim and shoving Angus back. "Back off!"
Josh took a step toward Angus but Riley blocked his path.
"Stop! Don’t fight!" Jessica yelled and slipped past Riley and Josh to stand between Scott and Angus, planting one hand on Scott’s chest, and one on Angus’. "You haven’t even heard the condition …" she said to Angus. "Maybe it makes sense … somehow." She added when Angus growled. He looked from Scott to Jessica’s hand on his chest. When he raised his eyes to Jessica’s she shuddered. His eyes were the steel hard grey he used to always get when he was angry at her. Angus covered her hand on his chest with his and squeezed as gently as he was able given how angry he felt.
"Alright." He said threw gritted teeth. "What’s the condition?"
"We’ll talk, you’ll listen. You don’t pass judgment right away. Spend your three days with Jessica, and when we get back, we’ll discuss."
Silence hung in the air. Jessica could feel Angus tensing again and he glared at Jim.
"Fine!" Riley said. "Fine, get on with it."
"You may want to take a seat." Jim said indicating the sofa. He wanted as much physical distance between himself, Scott, Josh and Jessica as possible. Jessica started to move to the sofa but Angus caught her by the waist.
"We’ll stay right here thanks." Angus said pulling Jessica against him. Jessica’s heart was pounding a mile a minute. He lay his hand over her heart. "Easy Jess. Everything is just fine. We’re talking that’s all."
Looking up his eyes fell on Riley. Who was watching Jessica intently.
"Shit, sorry." He said to Riley, remembering that it was still Riley’s night with her. "Go to Riley." He said into her ear and gave her a gentle push in Riley’s direction.
Jessica went into Riley’s arms. "Please don’t fight …" she said in an urgent tone.
"We’re not Jess. Just talking, that’s all." Riley replied. Jessica buried her face in his chest. She didn’t want to watch. She couldn’t watch.
Riley looked up at Jim. "Get on with it."
"Okay. Just keep in mind that none of these things have had an adverse effect. In fact, they’ve helped get us to where we are now. So stay calm … save judgment for when we get back."
"Yeah, yeah." Riley said. "Spill it!"
"K." Jim said taking a deep breath. "Jessica used to be on a competitive rifle team. She’s an ace shot. We’ve been having target practice with her."
"Target practice …" Angus repeated.
"Was that what that crap about your eyes was about?" Riley asked.
Jim nodded. "Apparently I need glasses."
"Keep going." Angus prompted, feeling optimistic that the secrets may not be as bad as he’d feared. Target practices wasn’t so bad … but then Jim began explaining about the wild dogs that Jessica shot … and the neighbors she met. Angus’ mind went blank. He couldn’t get his mind around what Jim had said.
"… they would have been suspicious if we kept her hidden." Jim was explaining.
"She’s met outsiders?" Riley interrupted.
"Riley …" Jessica gasped, his arms had been tightening around her.
"Not a word." He said into her ear but he loosened his grip slightly.
"When?" Angus demanded.
"A few weeks ago." Scott answered. "And Josh and I were worried at first … but Jim pointed out that if we didn’t introduce Jessica and act like everything was normal, they would be suspicious and call the cops."
"It’s been a few weeks now, and no cops." Josh added.
"And Jessica?" Riley asked.
"Aside from being extremely embarrassed by Scott and Josh’s rude and anti-social behavior, she was fine. You can see that for yourself." Jim said.
"Anti-social behavior?" Angus asked.
"We weren’t very friendly." Josh said.
"There’s an understatement …" Jessica muttered into Riley’s chest.
"For Christ sake!" Angus thundered … "You should have sho…" He was on the verge of saying ‘shot their fucking asses’ but Jessica had whipped her head around to look back at Angus. She looked like she knew what he was going to say and was completely horrified by the statement. He couldn’t think of a better way to state the same thing so he snapped his mouth shut.
"Like I said … don’t react now." Jim said.
Angus wanted to deck Jim something awful and his expression must have conveyed that because Jim took a step back.
"Is that everything?" Riley demanded.
"Not quite." Scott said stepping toward Angus. Jim had taken enough flak. And given Riley and Angus’ attitudes he wasn’t in the mood to sugar coat it. "Jessica is racing Ebony for me at the casino next week. She’s been officially entered."
"You’re pulling our fucking legs." Angus said. "No way, no way would you do something that God damned stupid! Letting the neighbors see her, let alone meet her, was asinine, but it happened by mistake. Purposely taking her out there where the whole world will see her … you’re not insane or fucked up enough to do that …" Angus shook his head.
"Sean and Corey did the paperwork. She’s racing." Scott said.
"Sean and Corey?" Riley demanded.
"Yup. Came over and met Jessica too. Wanted to see who was going to win them a few grand."
Riley and Angus stood stalk still and glared at Scott.
"Is that it then?" Riley asked in a monotone voice. "No more insanity to fess up to?"
"That’s it." Jim said.
"Good. Now get out." Riley said.
Everyone froze, including Jessica.
"We’re leaving in the morning." Josh said. His eyes fixed on Jessica.
"No, you’re leaving now. I don’t care if you haven’t packed. Just walk out that door, take your fucking horse, and go. You can buy clothes somewhere tomorrow."
No one moved.
"You heard him." Angus said taking a step toward Jim again.
"No way." Josh said and he looked at Jim. "While we’re gone, they’ll pack her up and disappear. We’ll never see her again!"
Riley gaped at Josh in complete disbelief. Angus turned to face him, mouth hanging open.
"What kind of a paranoid, delusional, fucked up thing is that to say?" Angus boomed. "You’re kidding right? What would make you even think of something like that? How could you dream something that ridiculous up?"
Riley had been looking from Scott, to Jim, to Josh and he saw something in their expressions he just didn’t want to believe.
"They could dream it up if it was something they’d planned to do." Riley said slowly. Jessica groaned into his chest. That and the guilt that slid across the mens’ faces told him all he needed to know.
"When we came home." Angus said with growing horror. "When you had those guns. You weren’t going to clean them … you were going to use them. On us!"
"You were fucking hurting her! Hitting her, grabbing her, raping her!" Josh yelled. "You didn’t look like you were planning on changing any time soon. Christ Riley, Angus, what would you do if one of us was doing that shit to her now? Would you just let us? We weren’t going to shoot you, we just wanted to leave."
"But if we didn’t let you leave?" Angus said quietly, "What then?"
Josh didn’t answer … he couldn’t answer.
"But you didn’t go. Why?" Riley asked.
"Jessica wouldn’t go." Jim said. "She wanted to give you time to come around."
Silence again. For Jessica it was unbearable. She wanted to say something to smooth things over. Make everything better. But, she couldn’t find the words.
"Stay out of the way." Riley growled into her ear and suddenly Riley spun her away from him, and pushed her behind him. Then he lunged for Scott, knocking him to the ground. On cue, Angus smashed his fist into Jim’s face.
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