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Disclaimer: none of the real ones is ours, just the made up characters.

Rating: NC 17

Chapter Eight

Nina let the scalding shower run over her head, bathe her face in wet fire, and drop in little steaming rivulets from her nose, her chin. She felt it excrutiatingly hot in the small of her back, but she didn't move. She welcomed the heat, the pain.

She felt like absolute shit.

All her life, she'd had this awful habit of letting her tongue run away with her, and it invariably got her into trouble. But never so bad as it had this morning. She could still see Billy's stunned and hurt face when she closed her eyes. The image was burned there on the backs of her eyelids. Did he know how easy it was to see his soul in those bottle-green eyes?

And even after she hurt him like that, he'd given her a chance to make it all better. He'd practically begged for an admission of love, there on the breakfast table. But she'd held back. Why?

Yes, this life was important. She'd spent far too much time and energy building her career and independence to toss it all aside now without a second thought. That sacrifice was too great, and the thought of giving it all up for a man was especially repugnant. Then she'd be exactly what her parents had always wanted her to be: a lovesick, big-eyed, dependent little wuss who couldn't tie her own fucking shoelaces.

Nina felt her chest heave and realized with a start that she was crying. Her tears mingled with the water, enveloping her in a mist of warmth and ache. As the water seeped into her pores, into her ears and mouth and soul, Nina decided that even if she couldn't tell Billy, it was time to stop lying to herself at least. Truth was, she was already that lovesick, big-eyed girl.
Devotion had crept up on her without much warning, and now she was having the most alarming thoughts, things she'd never thought would enter her plans. White dresses, picket fences, and slow dances in the moonlight.

And Billy, staring back at her with those clear green eyes every morning for the rest of her life.

-----------------

Billy pushed hard on his suitcase, forcing it shut, but as soon as he got enough pressure on the lid, he'd move his hand over to secure the latch, and the lid would edge up just a bit. He leaned all his weight on one elbow on the lid, then reached over with the other hand to fasten it shut. He was concentrating so hard on making it all fit that he didn't hear her bare feet on the wood floor.

"Please don't leave, William." Nina's voice caught him unawares, and he stood up hastily. Clothes burst forth like a little volcano of socks and boxers.

She was standing there in jeans and a sweater, her hair still damp from the shower and her thumbs hooked uncertainly in her beltloops. Billy had never seen something so beautiful as his Ginny. He wanted to hold her, but wasn't really sure if he ought to touch her. She'd been understandably jumpy after their encounter over breakfast and had gone out for a long run alone. He hadn't seen when she'd come back, but he had heard the shower running for an hour or more. It was clear that she'd spent the time thinking. Trouble was, Billy didn't know what she'd decided, and he sure couldn't fathom her thoughts from the elusive expression she wore now.

He stepped in front of his suitcase, wondering how he could tell her all the thoughts that were swirling through his own mind. He needed to step back, let her catch her breath, so to speak. He already knew what *he* wanted, but it wasn't enough. He needed her to want it too. And he didn't want to have to convince her.

Some of his confusion must have shown, because Ginny favored him with a slight smile, just a curve of the mouth, but it settled warm and heavy in Billy's chest.

"We still have two days here in New York before we go to Glasgow. I wanna show you my town," she told him.
Billy looked in her face hard, searching for the catch, the lie. But he saw only a softness that was unusual in Nina. He wondered if it was love, or if he was just being naively hopeful.

"I was gonna go on ahead, tae get things ready at home," he mumbled, gesturing toward his packed and bulging suitcase. Ginny's eyes followed, and her brows drew together when she studied the suitcase.

"Please don't," she repeated, turning those honeyed-tea eyes back on him. "It's not just the town, William. I want to show you my life."
Billy hadn't been expecting such honesty, and he pursed his lips, unsure how to respond, confused by Ginny's soft voice and sad eyes.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because you're part of it, now," she replied, her voice barely a whisper. Her eyes were huge, as if every word she spoke was shocking the bloody hell out of her. But she said it anyway, bless her. Billy felt his chest expand.

"Then show me, Ginny. I want tae see all of it."

---------------------

Nina took Billy on the subway downtown, nervous all the way that someone might recognize him. But New Yorkers, true to their apathetic image, either didn't have a clue who he was or were far too elite to mention it. Certainly no one stopped them to ask for an autograph.

Most people going downtown on a Saturday were frustrated, overworked entry-level market whiz-kids who were logging off-time hours like crazy, still thinking that hard work was going to get them to the top. Nina remembered that sense of desperation, the almost physical need to succeed. Strange, it seemed a distant desire now. More immediate was the living, breathing man beside her, who'd somehow managed to grab her hand without her realizing it. She studied their tangled fingers as they climbed the stairs to street level.

Lower Manhattan was a silver porquipine of skyscrapers, prodding the early autumn sky. On a Saturday, though, the usual nervous throb of the Wall-and-Broad financial district was barely a whisper.

Nina's and Billy's footfalls on the concrete sidewalk clattered.

"I was here once, years ago," Billy said, frowning at a boarded-up coffee shop across the street. "It was...busier then."

"Yeah," Nina said. "Lots changed these last couple of years, you know, with the recovery and clean-up and all. Stu's used to have the best chili in New York. They went out of business, or I'd take you there for lunch."

Billy flashed her a look from under his eyelashes.

"Were you here?" he asked. Nina shook her head, knowing what he was referring to.

"Nah. I was on-site with a client in Seattle. Watched the whole thing on TV. Unbelievable."
They walked for a few minutes in silence. Billy's fingers felt very warm and strong: Nina held on for dear life. "Lots of people left after, though, like rats getting off a sinking ship. Some stayed out of defiance, sort of as a fuck-you to the rest of the world, y'know."

"Why did you stay?" he asked.

Nina had to think about that one. It was true, at first she'd felt like running far away, as fast and far as she could go. New York didn't really feel like home anymore. That was part of the reason she'd taken the long vacation, to sort things out in her mind. To try to remember why she'd wanted this life to begin with.

Finally, she shrugged.

"Lack of other options? I don't really know." Her voice sounded wistful, even to her own ears. Which kind of startled her. Was she really that unhappy with her regular life?

The scariest thing was that she could hardly remember her "regular" life. Living, really living, had started for Nina just a few weeks ago, in London.

-----------------

Billy pressed his forehead to the enormous plate glass and peered out over the East River. In the distance, he could see a structure that he guessed was the Brooklyn Bridge.

Vertigo roiled in his stomach, but he didn't want Nina to think he was a wimp. After all, she looked out these windows every day and never fell.

Forty floors off the ground. To call her office impressive would be an understatement. If single-minded focus on career and money bought this, Billy could almost understand why some people chose that life. She even had a bar over in the corner; she was mixing them drinks right now. He could hear the clink of ice and glasses.

"So welcome to my home away from home," Nina said. Billy thought he detected some sarcasm in her voice. He turned from the window slowly.

"It's lovely, Ginny," he told her. It wasn't a lie. Everything was white leather, glass, and stainless steel. Very chic, modern. Very cold. Billy could see that it was expensive and impressive, but he couldn't like it. Was this really her?

"Yeah. Lovely like a museum," she replied, flashing a brittle smile and heading over to the sunken lounge area near the south-facing window. Billy joined her there, accepting a fou-fou mixed drink.

"Long Island iced-tea," Nina said, nodding toward his drink and sipping her own. "Can't get much more pseudo-American than that."

Billy sipped cautiously. It did taste like tea. Sweet, dark, lemony. He still preferred whisky straight.

"So this is all part of your work? I mean, the drinks, the view, the ... atmosphere?" Billy asked.

Nina tilted her head to the side and curved her mouth in that forced, uncomfortable-looking smile again.

"My job is to make our clients completely confident in this company. If that means getting them so drunk they pass out in my leather-appointed office, then that's what I do. Does that shock you?" she replied. Odd. She seemed both entirely at ease and at the same time desperately uncomfortable here. Was she uncomfortable because he was here? Or because she no longer wanted to be?

"No, lass. Ye don't shock me. But I do have a question for ye." Billy said, capturing her eyes with his. She tried to look away, but he didn't let her. Finally, she seemed to give in; she blinked. "If ye could have any job in any town in the whole world, what would ye be doin?"

Unexpectedly, Nina sighed, closed her eyes, and relaxed back against the stiff white leather.

"You'll never believe it," she murmured. The brittle smile was gone, and now Billy could see his Ginny again. She had seemed to freeze in this building, but now she was thawing. Good.

"Try me," Billy urged.

Nina took a long sip of her drink and stared at the ceiling.
"My first major in college was design. I built show sets and did costuming for the theatre department at NYU. It was incredible: the tension of curtain, the backstage flurry, the smell of greasepaint and sawdust and lights burning through their gels. I loved it all." Her voice throbbed with passion.

"Why did ye quit?" Billy asked, softly. Nina had drifted into a reverie and he didn't want to pull her out of it. Her face was beautiful, overlaid with some happy memory. The faint lines between her eyebrows had relaxed, and Billy could see below the strong woman he knew, to the girl she once was.

"Money," she said, slowly. The half smile faded. "And power. I kept watching friends graduate then move on to professional work. More often than not they were living three or four to an apartment, eating ramen noodles and pole-dancing for rent. Then they'd find some junkie rich producer's kid, get knocked up, and think that was the end-all. It always ended bad."

"Not for you, though," Billy said, wishing violently that he'd known her then. He could have told her right off that she'd only seen the unfortunate fates, that life in the business didn't have to be that way. He'd been in theatre all his life, and he could have shown her.

He still could, he realized suddenly.

"Not for me," Nina agreed. "I woke up, got my marketing degree, and started building a more realistic career." She stopped her study of the ceiling and looked around, seeming almost puzzled by the luxury. As if she'd expected footlights and sets. "It's sort of plastic, isn't it?" There wasn't a plastic thing in this whole damn room, but he knew what she meant.

Billy didn't answer right away. His mind was whirring with possibilities, plans. Hopes. If he could offer her a chance to live her dream and promise her that she'd never end up with a junkie rich producer's son, would she take the chance? Could she give up all this luxury for a six-week run and a curtain call?

Billy touched the tip of his tongue to his upper lip.

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