More Than Words
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Once our meal was over and the table cleared, Nick glanced at his phone again. “Shoot. I have to go. A client in the States is having a website meltdown.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Callen said.
“Nope. Will you have the waiter put my dinner on my room tab?”
Callen waved his hand. “Yeah. I got it.”
We said our goodbyes and Nick left, so focused on his phone he almost collided with a server carrying a tray of food. I winced at the narrow miss and then smiled over at Callen. “I should get going, too. I’m exhausted and I have another early day.”
Callen moved a piece of hair away from my face, that troubled look back on his face. “Do you have to?”
I stifled a yawn. “Yeah. I do. We could do dinner tomorrow night?”
“That seems so far away.”
“I know. I’m sorry. This job is just …”
“Intense,” he supplied, smiling a tiny smile.
I breathed out a short laugh. “Yeah.”
A frown flickered across his face, and then he smiled again. “I really am proud of you, Jessie … of all you’ve become. You’re exactly who I thought you’d be.”
I smiled. “Thank you. And you, I’m so proud of you, too. Your success is so well earned.”
He shook his head, a grimace skating over his features, as if what I’d said had embarrassed him somehow. It confused me. Surely he couldn’t doubt his own talent? “Thanks, Jessie.” He ran a hand through his hair, looking off into the distance behind me for a moment and then smiling when he looked back. But it didn’t meet his eyes. The waiter appeared with the bill, and Callen signed for it, looking back at me. “I’ll walk you to the elevator.”
“Okay. Aren’t you going up? You look tired, too.”
“Yeah, I never sleep great in new places. I’m going to take advantage of the piano in the ballroom. I’m supposed to be here writing a composition that’s overdue.”
“Oh, I didn’t know. Well, then, I won’t feel bad conking out on you.”
We both stood, walking to the front of the dining room. He took my hand, and we made our way to the elevator and stopped in front of it. The lobby was mostly deserted, but I could hear the voices of the diners down the hall, drifting to where we stood. “Will you text me tom—”
Callen pulled me into a small alcove, cutting off my words as I laughed, but then that died as well when his mouth crashed down on mine, his tongue pressing between my lips as I let out a breathy moan. He responded with a groan, almost pained, and pressed himself against me. My arms came around him, threading into his hair as arousal shot through my veins, fast and hot. Immediate. I’d never felt this kind of sudden sexual excitement and I wanted more. Oh God, I wanted to wrap my legs around his hips, to press into him and feel his skin on mine. I wanted—
Almost as quickly as he’d begun the kiss, he ended it, stepping back, his chest rising and falling rapidly, his lips parted and wet from our kiss, and his expression … distressed, or maybe desperate. “Good night, Jessie.”
“Good night,” I murmured, watching him walk away and feeling confused, foggy. Standing against the wall where his body had pressed against mine only moments before, I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought about the way he’d looked as we’d stood at the church ruins the day before and he’d been humming softly to himself: peaceful, happy. And I pictured the way he’d looked only moments before: upset, troubled. Like my broken prince. I suddenly wasn’t very sleepy. I had a feeling Callen needed me. Perhaps his need wasn’t simply physical, but he didn’t know how to ask for more than that. So he hadn’t asked for anything at all.
I was an idiot. What the fuck was wrong with me?
Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.
I leaned forward and rested my forehead on the top of the piano where I was sitting in the empty ballroom. Opening my eyes and tilting my head, I brought one finger up and played the melody of “Heart and Soul,” laughing, a choked sound that turned into a groan.
I wanted a drink so badly. But a drink would turn into two and two would turn into six and I’d end up in bed with some random woman whose name I’d never remember two days from now even if my life depended on it. And fuck, the real problem was that none of that sounded so bad now that I was thinking about it. I was so goddamned tired. Without the numbing effects of alcohol and the release of sex, I’d barely slept the last few nights. The oblivion called to me, and I wanted to answer that call, was desperate to shut down the words ringing through my skull.
Useless. Half-witted. Disappointing.
My finger tapped out a natural minor scale, the saddest and most depressing of all the scales. It fit my mood. Hell, it fit my damn life at the moment. Except for Jessie. But she was only temporary, and far too busy to indulge me just because I wanted to spend every waking second with her. But I’d learned long ago that as much as I hated the contrived schmoozing with friends night after night, I hated the silence of my own company more. Too much time in my head. Too much time alone.
Because I was lonely.
I’d spent the day in a state of impatient anticipation. The hours had seemed to tick by as I waited for Jessie to be done with work. I’d even—pitifully—stationed myself in a sitting area with a view to the lobby so I’d see her as soon as she came upstairs.
I’d heard Jessie’s and her coworker’s voices as they approached, animated and full of excitement. For a moment I’d remained where I was as they stopped and discussed things so far over my head, I wouldn’t be able to reach them with a ten-foot ladder. Jessie had broken into French a time or two, and the coworker had transferred easily into the same language, their words volleying back and forth, not only on a topic I would never fully understand, but in a language I’d never grasp with any proficiency.
The coworker in question looked like some young professor, a Clark Kent type, and obviously a genius—probably perfect for Jessie. From the jealousy I’d felt when I’d seen him touch her hand, you’d have thought I walked in on them twisted around each other naked. It was immediate and overwhelming, and it scared the living hell out of me.
Then I’d listened as Jessie and Nick had talked about their careers. They were both so full of excitement and passion for what they were building, and though I’d felt proud of both of them, I’d also felt a prick of shame. Because though they were both hungry to succeed, I knew down in my gut that neither one would sacrifice their integrity like I had. Their big break would come from raw talent and a strong work ethic—they’d deserve every ounce of success that came their way. Not like me. And sitting there, I’d felt like an outsider in so many ways, someone who wasn’t even worthy of their company.
And yet despite the roiling insecurity, dinner had been far too short and I wanted more time with Jessie and—
“What do they call that piece?”
My finger came to an immediate halt as I turned to see Jessie standing behind me. I hadn’t even heard her enter the room.
She moved toward me. “Because it sure is depressing.”
I breathed out a laugh, turning fully on the bench. “I thought you went to bed.” My words came out in a rush, and even I heard the faint ring of desperation in my tone.
She used her finger to indicate I should scoot over, so I did. She sat down next to me and hit my knee lightly with hers. “I decided I wasn’t as tired as I thought. And the work I was going to do can wait. Truthfully, it’s probably better if I rest my brain a little. Translating takes a lot of focus. I was hoping you were still available.”
“So what you’re saying is, something mindless sounds appealing. I can provide mindless. It’s what I do best.” I was attempting a joke, but it was too close to the truth for my own comfort and the words faded away, my mouth turning down into a frown before I’d even realized it.
Jessie’s head was turned toward me and she was watching me closely, so I forced a smile. She didn’t return it. She seemed to see something about me I hadn’t intended to show her. Hadn’t that always been the case? Then. Now. “I think you sell yourself short, Callen Hayes,” she said very softly, very seriously.