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That's What You Get For Waking Up In Vegas

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It took Beth a moment to figure out why she woke up when she did. It was early. She didn’t have the kids, and she’d actually been learning how to sleep in.

Rubbing her face against the pillow, she sighed and leaned back into the embrace of - she sat bolt upright, knocking aside the arms wrapped around her waist.

The man in her bed groaned, slowly blinking his eyes open. Then he realized who it was and scrambled away.

Beth stared at Rio. “What are you doing in my room?”

“What are you doing in my room?” he demanded, apparently unconcerned about his nudity. Beth’s cheeks burned as she pointedly didn’t look down. “Shit,” he muttered, rubbing his head.

Things started to come back to her. They weren’t in Detroit, they were in Vegas for business. But they definitely had separate rooms. Beth never would have come if she’d had to spend the whole time with Rio.

But it was the flash of metal on Rio’s hand that made Beth pause.

It’s fine, she assured herself, he always wears lots of rings. Even as she looked down at her own hand, she knew it was bullshit. Seeing a familiar ring on the ring finger of her left hand, Beth let out a strangled noise.

“What?” Rio snapped.

She held up her hand. “I think we got married.”

————————————————

16 Hours Earlier

“To our happy arrangement,” Donna lifted her glass to toast.

Beth and Rio lifted theirs as well.

“To making money,” Rio drawled.

“And new friendships,” Beth added.

They all drank.

“Well,” Donna said, setting down her empty glass, “if that’s all, I have to pick somebody up from a Little League game.”

Beth smiled at the other woman. The first time that they’d met, Donna had been cold, a seemingly impenetrable opportunity. Then she’d caught the tiny happy face stamp on her arm. It had looked like she had tried to scrub it off, but must not have had the time to get it completely off.

“How old?” Beth had asked, tapping her own arm in the same spot.

Donna had flushed, then told Beth all about her son Cassius. Things had been much easier since then and Rio was still pissed that Beth had been the one to set Donna at ease.

She left the suite that they’d booked just for meetings, and Beth slumped into the comfortable couch with a sigh.

Rio snorted, pouring himself another. He held the bottle over her glass as well until Beth nodded.

“To making money,” Beth copied his earlier toast.

“And new friendships,” he said in a perfect deadpan.

“Oh shut up,” Beth said after taking a sip of bourbon.

Rio grinned. “Should I have left you two alone? You coulda gone to Cartier, gotten some nice friendship bracelets.”

Beth glared at him as she drained her drink. “If that’s the attitude you’re gonna have all night, I guess I’ll celebrate by myself.”

“Not a fucking chance,” Rio said, standing. “You think I’d let you wander this town alone? I’d be bailing you out of jail by dawn.”

————————————————

Now

Rio stared at Beth. “That’s mine,” he said.

“No shit,” she muttered. Normally he wore it on his pinky finger, but it fit her ring finger pretty well.

Marriage certificate, she thought. There had to be one somewhere if they had gotten married. She started to hunt around the room.

“What are you looking for?”

“A marriage certificate!” Beth snapped, pulling open the drawers of the nightstand.

Rio groaned and covered his head with a pillow. “Too much noise,” he groaned.

And Beth didn’t exactly disagree with him. She was feeling a little nauseous herself. After finishing the nightstand, she collapsed back on the bed.

“Did we fuck?”

She turned her head towards Rio, who had moved the pillow away from his mouth, but still had it over his eyes.

Blushing, she worked up the courage to answer. “No.”

He took the pillow off completely. “You sure?”

She glared at him. “Considering your absolute inability to ever use a fucking condom and the lack of your jizz inside of me, yeah.”

“My inability?” Rio scoffed. “Last time we fucked, I had one in my hand and you slapped it away and told me to give it to you raw.”

Beth…had no denial for that. It had been a few months ago, after they’d made a particularly lucrative deal with a new supplier. He’d taken her back to his place and bent her over the back of his couch.

It had taken ages for the bruises on her hips and the ache inside of her to fade.

Her energy disappeared, and she collapsed onto the bed beside him. “We didn’t fuck,” she told him.

“You’re sure?”

Beth glared at him. Slowly, a grin took over his face.

“You’re not feeling me, huh?” Rio teased, reaching towards her.

Beth slapped his hand away. “Shut up.”

“Now that I think about it,” he said, looking smug, “I remember you saying something about that. How you feel me for days.” His eyes slid partially shut as he ran his eyes over her.

“Because you have no finesse,” Beth snapped, summoning up enough spite to get off the bed and hunt for her clothes.

She found what seemed to be the dress she’d been wearing the night before and picking it up from the floor, gasped. “What the fuck did you do?” she asked, turning back to Rio and holding up the dress in accusation.

It had been a form fitting black dress with a deep V in the front and a slightly less deep one in the back, but it was ripped down the front now.

She glared at Rio, who was staring at the dress in confusion. “You ripped my dress!”

He started to laugh, then groaned, grabbing his head.

“No making me laugh,” he mumbled.

“I’m not listening to anything you say until you help me figure out what the fuck happened, Rio!”

It took a few more minutes of poking and prodding to get him out of the bed, a few more after that to get him to put underwear on.

“Why?” he asked. “Not like you haven’t seen it before.”

“Underwear,” Beth hissed back.

Beth found her phone first, but it was dead, so she stole some of Rio’s clothes so she could get back to her room for her charger and her own clothes.

Showering seemed like a good plan too, so she did that after plugging her phone in. The hot water wasn’t anywhere near as soothing as she needed it to be and any relaxation she’d gained disappeared when she checked her messages.

She shrieked, slapping her hand over her mouth.

“We got married,” she told Rio after bursting back into his room only to see him holding a piece of paper.

“Yeah,” he drawled, “no shit.”

“I called Annie and I guess I left a message because I have like a hundred texts and five voicemails from her.” Beth groaned, collapsing into one of the overstuffed chairs. “What the hell were we thinking?”

“I have no clue,” Rio sighed, “but I can’t stick around to figure it out.”

“Huh?” She looked up and realized that Rio’s stuff was all packed.

“Rhea was in an accident.”

Beth gasped, sitting up. “Is she okay?”

He nodded. “But she’s got a broken collarbone so she can’t really look after Marcus on her own.”

“Of course,” Beth agreed. “Did you already call to bump up the flights?”

He looked confused. “Flights?”

“Yours and mine, no use in me sticking around here with you gone,” Beth said, gathering the scraps of yesterday’s clothing. “We’ve finished the deal with Donna. We can deal with -“ she fumbled around, then just gestured back and forth between them, “at home. I’ll call the airline.”

She left Rio standing there, still looking a little confused.

It wasn’t until they were on the flight when Beth remembered that she was wearing his ring.

“Oh,” she said, going to take it off.

Rio’s hand came down over hers.

“Nah,” he mumbled, “keep it.”

At the airport, Mick was waiting to pick Rio up.

“I’ll just get a taxi,” Beth said.

“Get in the car, Elizabeth,” Rio demanded, grabbing her bag and putting it in the trunk before she could protest. “Mick’ll drop you off after me.”

Beth looked to Mick, who bobbed his head. She found herself sitting in the backseat, trying to explain what the hell was going on to Annie and Ruby, but it wasn’t going well.

I’M AT YOUR HOUSE, read Annie’s latest message.

She sighed, already dreading that conversation only for a familiar green and white cup to be thrust in her face. She took it before Rio could either take it back or drop it on her and stared at it.

“Caramel macchiato, yeah?” Rio said.

Beth nodded. He had his own cup that he seemed to be nearly inhaling.

“Mick did a pick-up,” Rio said, already turning away from her.

“Thanks Mick,” Beth told him. She was going to have to bake him a tart or something as a thank you.

Dropping Rio off meant that Rio basically jumped out of the car and ran into Rhea’s place as Mick sighed. “I’m gonna take his bag in. Be right back.”

She took the time to move to the front seat so it wouldn’t feel so awkward.

“So,” Mick said when he returned, “you gonna tell me what the boss’ ring is doing on your hand?”

Beth groaned, letting her head thump against the window. “Annie’s waiting at the house to ambush me with that same question,” she admitted. “Mind waiting a few so I only have to do this once?”

Mick laughed.

It wasn’t just Annie waiting for her, Ruby had arrived too. At least she’d had the decency to bring some food.

“Guess it’s a good thing I brought extra,” she commented when she saw that Mick was trailing after Beth. “Now spill, because I got a message saying that you and Rio are married now and you’ve never been happier.”

Mick guffawed as he took a seat at the counter, accepting the box of donuts from Ruby and taking two with a grin on his face.

“How come I didn’t get a message?” he mock pouted.

Beth started to tear apart a sugar twist, eating small bites. “I’d like to die now,” she said.

“And make Rio a widower?” Annie gasped. “That’s just mean.”

Mick’s laughter just got louder.

——————————

The previous day

“And then we got married,” Beth finished the story of her wedding to Dean.

Rio’s shaking his head as he groaned. “Oh come on, you still married him after that? You got shit taste in men.”

Beth snorted, throwing back a shot. “You do realize that since we’ve slept together, that puts you in that category, right?”

Rio considered that for a moment. “You got shit taste in husbands,” he amended his earlier statement, making Beth giggle.

“I’ve had one!” she tried to defend herself.

“Yeah and you’re zero for one. That means you got shit taste in husbands, Elizabeth.”

“That’s not fair,” Beth argued.

Rio shook his head. “Life ain’t fair.” He brightened. “But hey, we’re in Vegas. We could get you a new one.”

“A new what?” Beth leaned closer to him.

“New husband!” Rio said, looking around the bar like he was trying to find something specific.

Beth groaned. “You’re ridiculous,” she scolded him.

“Ok, he’s gotta be from Michigan,” Rio started, completely ignoring her. “Unless you want a long distance husband. You know what, that might work for you.”

She thumped in the arm. “You gonna go around asking everyone where they live?”

Rio looked like he was actually considering it. “What else you want?”

Beth squinted at him.

“In a husband,” Rio said, like she should have already known that. “Come on, play the game, Elizabeth.”

“Tall,” she told him. “Within five years of my age in either direction. Has kids that he has a good relationship with.”

Rio held up his hand and pretended to write on it, making Beth laugh. It was nice like this, when they were drunk and loose with each other.

“No dark and mysterious?” he asked.

She groaned. “Mysterious? Fuck no. Not after dealing with you for as long as I have. Mysterious means uncommunicative brat.”

“Hey!”

But now she’s on a roll, ready with all kinds of things to tell him. “Mysterious means that you break into people’s houses and then when other people do the same to you,” she waved her hand over him, “you get all pissy. And it means that you do this thing where you never admit to anything about yourself when someone does find it out, leading them to wonder what the hell your name even is after years of knowing each other,” she paused for dramatic effect, “Christopher.”

“Oh come on,” he said before waving the bartender over. “You know that’s my name. You think what Rhea uses would be a fake name?”

Beth shrugged. “I don’t know how deep your secrecy goes. Maybe it’s like the Mariana Trench. Or it’s a puddle at the end of my driveway.”

He laughed at that. “So that’s all you want from a guy? Around your age with kids?”

She thought about it. “I don’t know!”

“Come on, tell me your dream man,” he teased.

“Someone who -“ she sighed. “Someone who cares about me. Who’s honest with me. Someone who I can spend time with and who drives me up the wall sometimes, but never about the big things.”

Rio sipped the new drink that the bartender had just placed in front of him. “I was thinking more along the lines of physical,” he told her. “We’re kind of window shopping here.” He gestured around them. “Blonde? Brunette? Dresses like a dad on vacation?”

Beth rolled her eyes. “That stuff isn’t as important.”

“You’re boring,” he muttered, put out.

Fair was fair, so Beth turned it back on him. “And who’s your ideal wife?” she asked. “Got her cup size picked out and everything?”

He scowled. “No.”

“Tell me,” Beth demanded.

——————————

Now

Gretchen looked at Rio across her desk, two days after he returned to Detroit. “I’m sorry, you need what?”

“An annulment.”

Her mouth opened, a strangled noise came out, and then she closed it again. “Who did you marry?”

Rio shifted in the chair, feeling like he was about to get reamed by the principal for setting off fireworks in the gym. “Elizabeth,” he mumbled.

Gretchen started to laugh, then abruptly cut off. “I’m sorry, I could have sworn that you said Elizabeth. Now,” she said, “I only know of one Elizabeth in your life and the idea of you two getting married is…”

“Laugh it up,” Rio snapped, “then draw up an annulment.”

“I can’t.”

“What?” Rio asked.

“Elizabeth is my client too,” Gretchen said. “Remember? It would be a conflict of interest for me.”

Rio rolled his eyes. “Just write it up, it can’t be complicated.”

Gretchen folded her hands in her lap. “Oh, see, but it is. You know why?” Rio doesn’t answer. “Because you’ve got significant assets and without a prior arrangement, she’s entitled to some of said assets.”

Rio froze. “What?”

“She’s your wife, Rio,” Gretchen told him, looking oddly pleased. “My legal advice to her would be to go after at least some of your money.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” he said.

Gretchen’s smile got bigger. “You’re asking me to sabotage my client? I could be disbarred for that.”

He glared at her. “Zorada,” he said.

“Oh, you using my last name isn’t going to make a difference, Christopher,” she said. “I’d be happy to recommend some attorneys,” she told him with a faux sweetness that he mistrusted.

“I’m good,” he snapped, standing.

“I’ll bill this as a consultation,” she called out after him.

He called Beth on his way out of the parking garage.

“You at the house?” he asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“I’m on my way over.” He hung up, tossing the phone onto the seat. They needed to talk.

—————————————

A few days earlier

Beth couldn’t stop laughing.

“Oh fuck off,” Rio said with a scowl.

She shook her head, not stopping. She was loud enough that she was actually drawing people’s attention to them.

“Elizabeth,” he hissed.

Still giggling, she straightened up and tried to calm down. “You just told me that your type is basically just MILF and you want me to stop laughing? No.”

He glared at her. It wasn’t funny.

“Honestly Rio, if I didn’t know better, I’d just think that you were describing me,” she pointed at herself to illustrate her point.

Like he hadn’t already known it. He could feel his cheeks getting warm, but knew that between the dim lights and her own lack of awareness, Beth was unlikely to notice.

“Now, I know that Rhea wasn’t a MILF when you two got together, so you obviously took care of that part yourself,” Beth went on, making Rio groan. “But you’re just as bad at being in a long term relationship as I am, so I don’t know why you’re talking.”

“That’s different -“ Rio started to say.

“Nope,” Beth cut him off, slapping her hand over his mouth. “Your partner to break-up ratio is 1:1, just like mine. You have no high ground.”

Rio batted her hand away.

—————————————

Now

Rio stormed, for lack of a better word, into the house about half an hour after his phone call. She was just cleaning up the last of her prep for dinner, still wearing an apron to protect her sweater. There was something so domestic, so perfect about the image that it all made, quickly transforming Rio’s anger and frustration into something different.

“What are you doing here?” Beth demanded.

“Is that any way to speak to your husband?” Rio asked, hoisting her up onto the kitchen table and tearing down her jeans and panties before lining up with her. He paused and met her eyes, waiting until she nodded before pushing his cock inside.

She moaned.

Rio struck a fast pace, just wanting to come. Ideally, without getting her off. He’d get her filthy and then pull out. Maybe he’d leave. Maybe he’d stay for whatever it was that smelled so fucking good.

“What are you making?” he asked.

“Huh?” Beth looked confused for a second. “Oh, stew.”

Okay, so he’d stay for dinner and then head out to - fuck, was that a pie on the counter?

“What kinda pie?”

“Lemon,” she gasped. “I have to finish the meringue.”

Rio groaned. He fucking loved lemon meringue pie. He’d stay for dessert too.

“I’m so close,” Beth moaned.

That was fast.

“You been thinking about me?” he demanded as he hammered her into the table. She shook her head. “Liar. Bet you’ve been sitting in this house, thinking about your husband as you made dinner. Bet you were measuring out ingredients and thinking about me doing exactly this. You touch yourself?”

She shook her head.

“Why not? I know you got toys,” he said. “They’d stretch you out almost as good as me.”

She gasped. He could feel her squeezing him as she hovered at the edge of coming.

“But you knew I’d give it to you better, huh,” Rio taunted, pushing one of her legs up until it was nearly against her chest. And that did it, making her wail and moan his name until she was milking his cock.

Rio groaned as he emptied inside of her cunt, already picturing what it would look like seeping out of her and drying on her legs. What it would look like after dinner when he took her to bed and held her thighs open.

She was whimpering and twitching under him, drawing out his pleasure.

When he pulled out, she gasped and went to close her legs, but he was still in between them.

“Move,” she told him. Rio stepped back and she closed her legs, sliding off the table and tugging down her shirt.

He watched her walk awkwardly to the box of Kleenex on the counter with a smug feeling. He followed her.

Rio put his hand over hers when she went to get a Kleenex. “Nah,” he said, pressing against her back.

She shivered. “Rio, it’s -“

“No,” he said, more firmly this time. He bent down so that he could pull up her panties.

“Seriously?” she sighed as he pulled her jeans up too. “That’s gonna leave a mess.”

Rio hummed. “I know.”

“You’re a sexual deviant,” she muttered as she did up her own pants and knocked him away to go back to what she was doing.

“Gretchen said she can’t draw up the annulment.”

“What?” Beth said, head coming up from the meringue she was spooning on top of the pie.

“We’re both her clients and she said it’s a conflict of interest for her. Apparently what’s best for you is different from what’s best for me and all that,” he explained. “She said we’d have to deal with it ourselves. Get someone else to do it.”

He let Beth rant and rail at him for a few minutes about how ridiculous that was. He didn’t disagree with her. Hell, half of it was stuff he’d said to Gretchen himself.

It wasn’t until she was sliding the pie into the oven that he realized that she might have been making dinner for someone other than herself. Just the thought of it had his shoulders up. Who would she be cooking for? Dean? No fucking way. Her sister or Ruby, those were a maybe.

“Who you cooking for?” he asked off-handedly.

Beth paused, bent over at the oven still. Slowly she stood up, closing the oven door before turning to face him. “What?”

He pointed to the stove. “Who you cooking for?”

“Myself…” she said slowly.

“You go through all this effort to cook for one?” he asked. Shit, and he thought he had it together when he made pasta at home instead of eating out on nights he didn’t have Marcus.

She blushed. “Not usually,” she admitted, setting a timer. “I was going to take some to Rhea.”

It was still a sore spot, one that hadn’t faded as she and Rio started working closely together again. If Jane wanted Marcus to come over, or if Marcus wanted to play with Jane, it needed to be on Rio’s time with their son. Or at least that’s what he’d thought.

Rio cocked his head as he considered Beth. “She’s gonna think you poisoned it,” he drawled. For all that Rio had mostly forgiven Beth for what she’d done, Rhea hadn’t. “Trust me, that woman can hold a grudge.”

“I did almost make her son grow up without a father,” Beth said. She studied the pot still on the stove intently.

“Yeah, I think she’s more pissed about you lying to her for months.”

She raised her head.

“Making her feel like you were her friend, ‘cept you had ulterior motives the whole time.”

“I liked - I like Rhea,” Beth admitted. “At first, it was checking in on them, but I genuinely liked her. I thought we were friends too.”

Rio shook his head. “Can’t have a relationship if the foundation’s a lie. Gonna just wash away at the first sign of difficulty. You should talk to her though. Grovel a little. Maybe she’ll give you another shot.”

Beth couldn’t help but smile. “You know from experience?”

He turned sheepish, but didn’t answer.

“You know,” she turned thoughtful, “I don’t even know if you two were ever married or not.”

“No?” Rio said, pouring himself a glass of water. “She didn’t tell you all about my cheesy ass proposal?”

“No!” Beth laughed. “C’mon, tell me.”

He sighed. “We never made it to the altar,” he admitted. “But when we found out about Marcus, I proposed.”

Beth groaned. “No, you didn’t. Please tell me you at least waited a little bit and that it wasn’t an immediate knee jerk response to just say “we should get married”. I can’t handle that.”

“That what happened with your sister and her baby daddy?”

Beth made a face at that way of referring to Gregg. “Yes,” she told him. “Neither of them even had a chance to take any of it in and he was proposing. They were seventeen and it was a disaster.”

“Nah, I waited. Knew I had to do it before we told her parents though or her dad woulda fucking murdered me,” Rio said with a shake of his head.

“Was he in this life?” Beth asked carefully.

Rio stared at her. “Rhea’s dad?” He snorted. “Nah, he worked at Ford. But believe me, if that man had wanted me dead, I would have ended up that way. He wasn’t much taller than Rhea, but he could be a tough asshole. Not to Rhea though. He really loved Rhea.”

“He died?” Beth guessed.

“When Marcus was two. We’d already called off the wedding by that point,” Rio explained, “but I think he kept hoping we’d get back together.”

Beth turned a spoon over and over in her hands. “She never told me that.”

“You tell her your life story?” Rio asked. “Or did you just expect her to come out with hers?”

The question was pointed and he could already guess the answer. She hadn’t shared.

Rio watched Beth as she loaded the dishwasher in that particular way that some people had, clearly set on maximizing the number of things that they could shove in there. Rhea did it too, and his mom ever since he’d bought her a dishwasher. Rio didn’t get it.

“Well, you’re feeding me now too.”

“Oh am I?” Beth didn’t look up. “You weren’t invited.”

Grinning, Rio went to where she kept the bowls. He’d put out two and then she wouldn’t be able to kick him out. He knew her. “Wow,” he deadpanned, “my wife won’t even let me come home for dinner.”

“Stop it!” she said, lifting her head to glare at him. “It’s not funny!”

“It’s hilarious,” Rio told her, grabbing glasses while he was there. “You and me, living in wedded bliss.”

“Oh fuck off,” she muttered, sliding the lower shelf of the dishwasher in.

Rio set the dishes on the counter. “I’d rather fuck you.”

They bantered back and forth, but she didn’t kick him out. She even let him have a second piece of pie. It wasn’t until after dinner that she started hinting that he should go.

“You probably need to get your beauty rest,” she taunted him.

Rio just kept washing dishes. When Beth had come back from the bathroom to discover that he’d gone to the sink and pulled on the rubber gloves, from her expression you would have thought that she’d found a Sasquatch in her backyard. “Nah, I’m beautiful no matter what. You too. We’re just a naturally hot as fuck couple.”

Beth grabbed a tea towel and started to dry dishes.

“Besides, was thinking I’d stay here,” he said, “make you breakfast in the morning.”

“What?”

Rio smiled. “I do know how to cook, but I’m better at breakfast foods. You’re always cooking for me, only seems fair that I return the favour at some point.”

Beth turned her head to look at him, eyes wide. Her laugh sounded like it had been startled out of her, but she didn’t kick him out.

——————————————

Several days earlier

“What do I gotta do to shut you up?”

She glared at him. “You were just trying to get me to spill my guts,” she reminded him, “so you brought this on yourself.”

“I always do with you,” Rio sighed, finishing his drink. “C’mon, let’s go somewhere else.”

“Why?” Beth whined even as she gathered up her things. “Everything is so far away.”

When she slid off the stool, she stumbled a little, bumping into Rio. He put his arms out to steady her. “You drunker than I thought?” he asked, turning serious.

“More like these fucking shoes are stupid,” Beth said, pointing to her heeled sandals.

“How many times I gotta tell you, just wear something comfortable,” he pointed her towards the door, “instead of those things.”

“You wouldn’t understand,” Beth snapped. “It’s about fashion.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t understand fashion?” he shot right back. “Last week I saw you wearing two different floral patterns. I think I’m still recovering from eye strain.”

“God, you’re such an ass,” she said, tossing her hair. Still, she didn’t stumble anymore as they moved even though Rio hovered nearby just in case.

The next bar they wound up at had a clientele skewing a little younger than them, but Rio didn’t particularly care who was around. Beth didn’t either, it seemed.

“I’ll be right back,” Rio said once they were settled in.

She nodded, waving him off. I can take care of myself, she was saying.

That he didn’t doubt. Hadn’t for a long time. Maybe it was the booze but he felt downright nostalgic about when they’d first started working together.

As he was returning from the bathroom, he didn’t see Beth at first. Frowning, he moved towards the space that they’d taken at the bar only to realize that someone was sitting in his seat.

That someone was talking to Beth, making her laugh.

Rio lengthened his stride, sliding in behind Beth with an arm around her waist. Rather than stiffening, like he half-expected, she leaned into him.

“Noel was just telling me about how I order my drink wrong,” she told him.

Rio met the guy’s eyes. “Does she now?”

The guy, a solid ten or more years younger than Beth, started to squirm under Rio’s gaze.

“Yup,” Beth answered for him. “Apparently I don’t sound authoritative enough.”

Rio threw his head back as he laughed. He could feel Beth shaking with suppressed laughter as well.

“What did you say your name was? Noah?”

“Noel,” the guy corrected.

“Take it from me, just because she sounds sweet doesn’t mean she is,” Rio drawled, pinching Beth’s ass just because he could. She jumped slightly, then nudged him in the side with her elbow.

Noel disappeared, but Rio didn’t reclaim his seat. He was comfortable enough here, trapping Beth between him and the bar.

She nudged a glass towards him. “Bottom’s up.”

——————————————

Now

Rio checked his messages, which included one from Gretchen. It just had a name in it. When he looked it up, he saw that it was a divorce attorney.

Sighing, he closed the tab on his phone and tossed it aside.

Thing was, he was starting to almost enjoy being married to Beth. It was ridiculous, sure, and the way that it had happened left something to be desired but…

Going to her house, calling her his wife? It was nice. He’d started doing it as a joke and it had only been about a week, but he liked it.

She hadn’t been kicking him out of bed either and he’d gone to her every night since he’d shown up to tell her that Gretchen wouldn’t represent either of them. Sometimes he was early enough for dinner, something that had thrown her the first time that the kids were there too, but the day before, she’d texted to ask if Jane should set a plate for him.

He had needed to say no, had business to deal with, but he’d wanted to. Badly. He’d settled for telling her to leave her bedroom door unlocked for him and going over after. Every time, he’d come inside of her. She was on birth control, she’d said, but Rio didn’t even really give a shit right now. And that should have alarmed him.

He pulled up his texts.

Come over to mine, he sent Beth.

Why? Her response didn’t come for almost an hour, but it made him laugh when it did. She never made things easy.

Because your headboard’s not strong enough for what I’ve got in mind. Leave her to think that over.

Fine.

The speed of that response made him grin, then sit up. He hadn’t actually had anything of the sort planned. He’d mostly just wanted her to come to him for once. But if she was interested…

It took Rio a minute to find the handcuffs, a few minutes longer to find the keys.

He was antsy as he waited for Beth to show up, even though he knew that it would take her some time to drive over. When the knock on his door came, some of the tension melted away and he made himself walk over to let Beth in.

Swinging the door open, he found Beth standing away from the door, looking unsure.

“Coming?” Rio teased.

Beth glared at him.

Rio reached into his back pocket and pulled out one set of cuffs and held them up. “Hurry up and decide,” he said.

She took the steps necessary to bring her into the condo. Rio closed the door behind her and locked it. As he turned to Beth, she was snatching the cuffs from his hand and inspecting them as he pulled her to the bedroom.

Once they were there, he grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled it up over his head, drawing Beth’s eyes to him. She let him undo her jacket, revealing a wrap dress.

“You get all dressed up for me?” he asked.

Beth blushed, meaning yes, but she didn’t respond, just went to work on the button of his jeans.

“I’m surprised that you didn’t answer your door naked,” she said.

“What if you’d been someone else?” Rio said.

She scoffed. “Who? You’re forgetting, I know that no one ever comes to your place. Most people don’t even know where you live.”

She wasn’t wrong, Rio did keep his home pretty secretive.

“Could have been my neighbour,” he suggested, undoing the tie on the dress. Or at least, starting to. The hand not still holding the cuffs clamped down on his wrist. Rio met her eye and raised his eyebrow. “It’s gonna be tricky to get this off you once your hands are tied down, sweetheart.”

Beth shook her head.

“You got a secret way of getting out of it?” he teased. “Or maybe you wanna do this still wearing it. That it?”

“No, you’re getting cuffed down,” Beth told him.

Rio laughed, shaking his head as he pushed her down onto her back. “Nah, that’s you.”

“Don’t think so,” she replied. “Looks like we’ll just have to both be cuffed to the bed.”

Rio pulled back and stared at her. “Elizabeth,” he said, “I don’t think that’s a workable plan.”

Her lips twitched and she started to giggle, raising a hand to put over her mouth, covering her smile. Rio pushed the hand away, watching her mouth move with her mirth.

“Make your case.”

She stopped laughing. “Huh?”

“Make your case for why it should be me tied down,” Rio said. “Convince me.”

Her pupils widened. She liked that.

“Don’t you just want to lie back, let me take care of you?” he tried. “Can’t do anything but enjoy the pleasure that I give you? There’ll be so much, I promise. I’ll make you see stars, you know I can. All you gotta do is put those hands up and let me take charge.”

Beth shivered.

“Unless you wanna convince me,” he finished.

He regretted it almost immediately, because it seemed to remind her of her original plan. She got that stubborn set to her jaw and mouth that just told him he was in for trouble.

Alright, he could let her try. Rolling off of her, Rio sprawled out on his back, tucking his hands behind his head.

Beth didn’t follow right away, although she did sit up. She ran her eyes over his body slowly and Rio watched her expression as she did. She bit her lip when she passed over his stomach, licked it when she got to his thighs.

“When was the last time you just laid back and let someone take care of you?”

Rio blinked.

Her tone was soft, her hand gentle as it came to rest on his chest, lightly stroking. “You’re always in charge, Rio, always taking care of everyone around you. Must get tiring, always having that weight on your shoulders.”

“It’s not bad,” he said. “I think you know how strong I am.”

She hummed. “Not about being strong,” she murmured. “It’s about being able to let go and relax.” Her hand moved down to the skin below his belly button but above the waistband of his underwear. “Don’t you just wish that sometimes someone would take care of you?”

He swallowed.

Her hand settled over the bulge of his cock, just curling around him slightly, but not applying any pressure.

“Trusting someone to help you take off the weight for a while and give you what you need,” she said. “Make you feel good.”

Fuck. That did sound nice.

“Trusting them to let you out at the end,” she went on, the tips of her fingers rubbing gently over his sac. Rio shivered. Nodded.

“All you have to do, Rio, is lift up your hands and let me take care of you. And if you want it to stop, all you have to do is say stop and I’ll let you out.”

Exhaling, Rio lifted his head and extended his arms out towards the cuffs.

Her face lit up when she realized what he was doing and she scrambled to lock him in place, like she was worried he might change his mind. When she’d fastened them, he gave them a tug to show her that he was in.

“There’s a release mechanism,” he told her, wanting her to know all the relevant details. “I can get out of them if I really want.”

“But you won’t,” Beth said, straddling his waist, “will you?”

Rio smiled. “Not unless you’re into something really fucking weird.”

She laughed, shook her head. “Nah. If I was, I would tell you, I promise. And if you feel uncomfortable, tell me and I’ll unlock the cuffs.”

“I know,” he said. He did trust her.

She shimmied back down the bed.

“Take off your dress?” he requested.

“No,” she said, shaking her head and tugging his underwear down. She didn’t do anything else at first, just studied his erection, head even with his belly button.

“Enjoying yourself?” Rio asked.

Beth looked up at him. “You aren’t?” She laughed at the expression on his face. “You never let me take my time with you.”

Rio swallowed. “Never knew you wanted to.”

She shrugged. “Now you know.”

“Gonna tease me forever?”

She shifted closer so that he could feel her warm breath. His cock twitched and she pulled away with a grin.

“I might,” she said, her hand coming to rest on the inside of his thigh. She scratched lightly, then slid her fingers a little higher so that they were brushing his balls. She just ran her fingertips softly along the underside, eyes fixed on her own movements.

Rio parted his thighs a little.

In response, Beth slid her fingers back down his leg. He huffed.

“Like you never tease me,” Beth remarked. Sitting up, she finished undoing the front of her dress and then stood, taking it to the closet to hang up.

His hips shifted restlessly as he watched the door to the closet, waiting for her to come out again.

When she didn’t come out right away, he frowned. “Elizabeth?”

“Coming!” she called out. When she came back to the room, she was wearing one of his button-ups. She’d done up the front in a bit of a haphazard way, barely covering up her breasts. She’d also rolled up the sleeves.

“What?” Beth said when he winced.

“You’re gonna wreck the fabric,” he explained, nodding towards the sleeves.

Beth just shrugged. “You have lots. Besides, I might steal this one.”

Rio chuckled. “What’s mine is yours,” he joked.

“Don’t remind me,” Beth got back on the bed, “or you might wake up with nothing.”

He hummed. “Goes both ways. What’s yours is mine, too.”

“Ahh,” Beth replied, slipping her hand into her panties. “That so?”

Rio swallowed, eyes fixing on her hand where it stretched the lace.

“Including that,” he said, nodding.

Beth moaned. From the sound of it, she’d just slid a finger inside of herself. Which one was it, he wondered.

“That would make this,” Beth ran the back of her hand up the length of his cock, “mine.”

He grinned. “Go ahead and take it, sweetheart.”

Beth shook her head, biting her lower lip and moaning softly.

“Come on,” he coaxed, trying to convince her to come a little closer. “You want to.”

Her next moan was louder as she pulled her hand out of her panties and lifted it to his mouth. Rio let his lips part around her small fingers. The taste still clinging to them was one that he was intimately familiar with and as she set them on the flat of his tongue, he closed his lips around them.

“Maybe I’m just good with this,” she said.

Rio pressed his teeth together, not enough to hurt, but enough to remind her whose mouth she had her fingers in. Her breath hitched.

“So what’ll it be?” Rio asked when she pulled her fingers free. “Gonna touch yourself where I just have to watch? Maybe you want to sit on my face.”

She studied him, moving slowly to straddle him. She was still wearing her panties, but they were thin and he could feel her wetness already as she settled over his cock.

“Or maybe you just want to rub yourself off on me,” he suggested. “Bet you’d love that.”

He could just make out her slight shiver as she realized she was already doing just that and forced herself to stop.

“Don’t stop on my account,” he teased.

With a scowl, Beth pressed her hand over his mouth. “Do you always need to say everything?”

Rio blinked.

“Just,” she sighed, “shush for a little bit, okay?”

He swallowed. Nodded.

“Thank you,” she said, taking her hand away.

He took a shaky breath and made himself relax into the mattress. She must have felt the tension leave his body because she smiled softly at him as she reached up to undo a couple of shirt buttons. He could see the generous curves of her breasts, but they weren’t spilling out. Not yet, anyways.

Lifting herself up a little, she pulled her panties to the side and lowered herself until his cock was pressed against his belly and he could feel her wetness on the underside. She moved a little, her arousal making it easier to grind and move herself against his cock.

She gasped, one hand coming up to slide into her shirt and, if he had to guess, pinch her nipple. She did that for a moment as she glided up and down his cock, making Rio grit his teeth against a moan, especially when she reached the tip and would tilt her hips until it felt like she was going to slide him inside of her only to move back down again.

Beth shivered. “If I’d known that all I had to do was ask nicely,” she told him, “I would have asked you to shut up ages ago.”

Rio chuckled, but stayed quiet. It seemed to be exactly what Beth wanted him to do, because she moved away long enough to shimmy her panties down and then lowered herself onto his length.

He let out a shaky breath as she lined up the tip to her cunt and sank down until he was all the way in. She unbuttoned the shirt the rest of the way, letting him see her.

Rio’s throat was dry as he watched Beth work herself back and forth on his cock. His hands were in tight fists. He kept forgetting that they were being held in position and would try to move them. When he did, the jerk of the restraints shot through his belly, contributing just a little bit more to the pleasure that Beth was already giving him.

“You like that, huh,” Beth said, the hands on his chest pressing down a little harder as she shifted her weight forward.

Rio nodded, eyes fixing on her nipples, hovering just above him.

“You are allowed to talk a little bit,” she told him, smiling with a hint of mischievousness he didn’t see on her often.

“Yeah?”

She hummed.

“Let me suck your tits.”

He wasn’t sure if that was what she was expecting, but she bent a little further until he could lift his head to get his mouth on her nipple. He had never exactly thought of himself as a breast man, although looking at Beth and Rhea, he could see why someone would make that assumption. But it had never really been a thing for him. Until Beth. Until this particular set of breasts.

He scraped his teeth over the soft skin, enjoying the way that it made her clench around him. He wanted to get his hands on her hips, work her to a faster pace.

Rio let his head drop back onto his pillow with a groan.

“Feel good?” Beth asked.

“Uh huh.”

He watched her bite her lip and worry at it. “Tell me.”

He smiled. “Thought you wanted me to shut up. You changing your mind?”

“You know what, I think I changed it back,” she said.

“Nah,” Rio teased. “Now I know what you really want. I know that you want to hear me tell you about how good your pussy feels. How fucking much I want to come in you, make you come on me.”

Beth started moving a little faster and there was a flush growing on her chest.

“You love playing with my cum, don’t you,” Rio murmured. “Love rubbing your fingers in, pushing it back inside. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to get pregnant.”

She swallowed a half moan.

“You like that too, huh? That it, you want me to knock you up, start a family?” Rio could feel his orgasm building in his spine.

Beth came, twitching and grinding in his lap.

“That’s it,” he coaxed. “Don’t worry, I’ll give you what you want.”

She pulled off right before Rio reached his orgasm and he groaned, wriggling his hips and looking for friction to get him the rest of the way there.

“Fuck, Elizabeth, come on.”

She bit her lip but he could still see her smile. “How desperate are you?” she asked. “I’ve never done it before, edged someone. But -“ she paused. “I’ve thought about it.”

Rio scowled. “With that ex of yours?”

She shook her head. “You.”

He relaxed a little.

“How’s it feel?”

Rio shifted a little. “Feels like I was about to come and then you stopped.”

Beth rolled her eyes and gripped his cock again, tight enough that it was almost painful. He grunted and tried to shift his hips away on instinct.

There wasn’t anywhere for him to go and he didn’t actually want her to stop, so he quickly settled again. Beth kept a firm grip, but as she touched him longer, her thumb started to move, stroking what skin she could reach.

He groaned, head going back. “Come on, Elizabeth.”

“Maybe I want you to say please.”

Rio froze. “Huh?”

“Maybe if you said please every now and then, I’d be more eager to do what you want,” Beth said, taking her hand away.

“That’s it?” he asked. “I just gotta say please?”

“And thank you.”

Rio swallowed, looking up at her. “Please let me come, Elizabeth,” he said slowly, rolling her name in his mouth and drawing it out.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Beth replied, holding him in place to sink down on him again. Rio lifted his hips to fuck into her, making her squeak softly.

She set a fast pace, one that was solely for him. All he wanted to do was get his hands on her tits, maybe his lips too, but the cuffs were still in place and he had no intention of saying chicken first.

“C’mon, Elizabeth, please,” he could hear how close he was to begging. He could also see how much that affected her as she shuddered and squeezed around him. “I’m so close.”

Beth kept riding him, her hands kneading at his chest slightly. He was almost at the point of no return.

The noise she made when he started to come was almost a squeak and if he hadn’t been so busy spilling inside of her, he might have teased her about it. But as it was, it was like for the briefest of moments, his mind separated from his body entirely. He could vaguely hear that he too was making noises, moans, but it was muffled by the roar in his ears.

Rio came back to himself as Beth lifted off of him with a little whimper. She was probably sensitive as fuck. She twisted towards the bedside table and grabbed something. Right, the cuffs.

Beth undid the locks, still a little shaky. Rio lowered his arms and rubbed his wrists slightly. It seemed to jolt Beth out of her haze and she took his hands in hers.

“Are you okay?” she asked him.

Rio nodded, pulling one hand free so that he could cup the back of her head in order to draw her face closer.

“I didn’t hurt you or anything?”

“Shut up, Elizabeth,” he said before kissing her.

——————————————

A couple weeks before

“You didn’t,” Beth gasped, clapping her hands in front of her in delight.

“I did.”

“That’s the dumbest thing that I’ve ever heard,” she said. “And it worked?”

“I took truth, didn’t I?” Rio shot back, reclining on the lounger. The rooftop bar was nice, though not the kind of place that he normally went for.

She shrugged, then took a sip of her bourbon. “Just because you picked truth doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth,” she said.

“Whatever. Your turn. Truth or dare.” He sighed. “I don’t even know why I ask. You pick truth like every single time.”

“So do you!”

Rio looked at her. “You dared me to snort vinegar, Elizabeth. What the fuck.”

She giggled. “Fine then. Dare.”

He studied her, trying to come up with something to make her throw in the towel. A thought came to him.

Smirking, he leaned towards her. “I dare you to get married.”

——————————————

Now

Beth was almost embarrassed as she moved around Rio’s space in the morning. She hadn’t meant to stay the night, but then Rio had coaxed into a shower with him, which had taken ages because he’d been particularly affectionate.

He did as promised and made her breakfast. It was even good. Far more than a bowl of cereal and some fruit like she’d been half expecting it to be.

“I’m not completely hopeless,” he told her when he saw the look on her face. “I’ve been taking care of myself for well over a decade at this point.”

Beth snorted. “I think you’re forgetting that I know Rhea.”

Something occurred to her.

“Does she know that we’re married?”

“Fuck no,” Rio said emphatically. “I’d never hear the fucking end of it.” That, he muttered to himself like he didn’t want Beth to hear.

“She still hates me, huh,” Beth concluded.

"You're not her favourite person," he hedged.

To his surprise, Beth laughed. “Oh, I know. But now when we run into each other at the park and I bring her a coffee, she drinks it instead of letting it go cold on the bench.”

“You still see each other?”

“Jane and Marcus are friends,” Beth replied. “The least that she and I can do is not antagonize each other while they play.”

“So you bring her coffee,” Rio said. “And that’s you not antagonizing her?”

Beth sighed. “She was drinking Starbucks, Rio. There’s a perfectly good independent café a block away where I get mine.”

“Did you say that to her?”

“No!” Beth rushed to defend herself. “I just…I liked spending time with her, with another single mom that isn’t my sister.” She looked sheepish as she moved things to the sink. “Maybe we don’t talk much and maybe she hasn’t forgiven me, but if I can make her life a little bit easier, I’m happy to do it. She doesn’t have to say thank you or anything.”

Rio nodded and let the subject drop.

As she watched Rio move through his space, her mind conjured images of him bound underneath her. She flushed at the memory, how he’d sounded when she stopped him from coming, when she’d let him come. The way that he’d shivered a little when she was convincing him to let her tie him up.

“I know that face.”

Beth blinked, focusing on Rio again, who was leaning back in his chair and grinning.

“C’mere,” he said, voice turning husky.

She didn’t bother trying to deny it, just pushed her chair back and went to him.

———————————————

“What?” Ruby asked when Beth was over at her place to help with some costumes for Harry’s school play almost two weeks later.

Beth jumped. “What what?”

Ruby just rolled her eyes. “You’re jumpy and you’ve got this look on your face. What’s up?”

“Does Stan ever -“ Beth stopped, shook her head.

“Is it a sex thing?” Ruby guessed.

Beth hesitated, then nodded.

“With gangfr- Rio?”

Another nod.

“Okay, spill, because I’m not playing the yes/no guessing game about all the things that boy might be into,” Ruby said.

“Does Stan like it when you say nice things about him?”

Ruby tilted her head to the side. “Like, in bed?”

Beth bit her lip, then decided she was better off just coming out with it. “Not just in bed. But like,” she scooted a little closer, “it leads to that a lot. But if I say something, anything, about how he did great, it’s like I told him that we have to fuck.” She flushed at the crudeness of it.

Her best friend leaned back in her seat, taking her hands off the sewing machine. “What’s the context?”

“Like last week, he came over to get something and brought in the garbage cans. I said thank you and then I made a joke about him wanting to show me that he can be a good boy and then -“

She’d doubled down on it as he ate her out, telling him how perfect he was, how strong, how smart. She doesn’t think he’s ever come that fast.

Ruby was quiet for a moment, thinking it over.

“I mean,” Ruby said slowly, “when’s the last time someone told that boy he did a good job?”

Beth frowned.

“It’s not like his bosses are giving him gold stars or performance reviews,” Ruby went on, “and his rivals certainly aren’t telling him how good he is at what he does.”

She considered that.

“Plus,” Ruby started to tap her fingertips against the tabletop, “you’ve got this whole…I dunno, wholesome, Mrs. Cleaver, vibe that he’s obviously into. He ever want you to do the opposite?”

“Opposite?”

“Tell him he’s been a bad boy?” Ruby clarified with a wicked look. “Make him earn your forgiveness?”

“Ruby!” Beth hissed.

“What? He might be into that too!”

Beth didn’t think her cheeks have ever burned this much.

Ruby just laughed. “How’s your divorce going?”

Beth put her head in her hands and groaned. “With getting everything into place with Donna in Vegas, neither of us have had much time for lawyer’s appointments,” she admitted, rubbing her temples. “I was supposed to have one on Monday, but that’s the day that Emma and Danny were both sick and I had to call out.”

“You should deal with that,” Ruby said, adjusting the brown fabric that was being made into a tree costume and starting to sew again. She reached a corner and lowered the needle through the fabric, lifted the presser foot and pivoted the fabric. “Before one of you starts taking that a little too seriously.”

Beth frowned. “What’s that mean?”

“It means,” Ruby sighed, “that right now the two of you are legally married and you’re having sex, playing house together, and sooner or later, one of you might decide that maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe you just…stay married.”

She wasn’t wrong and Beth knew it. Knew that the two of them had been growing complacent with their weird status quo. Wasn’t the first time.

“But B, you didn’t pick this. Not in a way that matters.” Ruby looked at her. “If you two want to give this a real shot, I don’t know that you can do that with a Las Vegas Elvis wedding between you.”

“It wasn’t an Elvis!” Beth protested.

“That’s not the point,” Ruby said.

Which Beth was fully aware of. But she just didn’t want to think about it. She couldn’t think about it. Because then she might start wondering why Rio hadn’t made any moves to deal with it either.

“How’s junior high going?” she changed the subject to Sara’s school and Ruby let her.

After they parted ways, Beth pulled up the email that Gretchen had sent. With a sigh, she picked up the phone and dialled.

“Monroe, Taylor & Associates,” a chipper voice said. “How may I direct your call?”

————————————————

Weeks earlier

“Take this seriously!” Beth smacked his arm.

“I am,” he replied. “Marry someone.”

She sat up. “That’s ridiculous, Rio.”

Relaxing into the chair, he stuck his hands behind his head. “So you’re chickening out.”

“I never said that,” Beth said even as he finished speaking.

Rio grinned up at the night sky. “Want help finding a husband? Normally I charge for that, but I guess I could give you the friends and family discount.”

“Oh yeah?” Beth scoffed. “What’s that? Two percent off?”

“It’s free.”

He felt her poking his side and grunted, but she kept doing it.

“Elizabeth,” he groaned, reaching out to grab her hand only to discover that she was poking him with her heel. “Hey! Are you getting Vegas grime on my shirt?”

“Yes,” she said. “I don’t need your help finding a husband. I picked one.”

Rio laughed. “So go ask him.”

“Ok but it’s your turn.”

He turned to look at her. “What?”

“Truth or dare?” she asked. “But you gotta pick dare.”

“I do?” He raised an eyebrow.

Beth nodded.

“Alright, dare.”

She leaned over the edge of her lounger and broke into a huge grin. “I dare you to marry me.”

————————————————

Now

Mick kept looking at Rio weird.

“What?” he finally gave in. “I got something on my face?”

His friend gave him a long look. “Nothing ‘cept that thing you call a beard.” He picked up his milkshake and slurped it noisily.

Rio had to stop him from telling him to behave like he would Marcus. Mick knew he hated that. “Then why you looking at me like that?”

“How’s your wife?” Mick asked with a grin.

“Oh fuck off,” Rio muttered back at him and picked up his burger.

Mick laughed. “Must be coming up on a month at this point,” he commented. “You gonna take the missus out to dinner?”

Rio just kept glaring at him as he chewed.

“Gonna buy her a house?”

Rio finished his mouthful and took a sip of water, still not speaking.

“Gonna do anything to tell her that you actually give a shit about her?” Mick asked.

He frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“And people think you’re the smart one,” Mick said under his breath, shaking his head. “It means that while you and her have been playing mommy and daddy, have you ever indicated to her that it’s more than sex to you?”

Rio glanced away. Not in so many words, exactly. But he’d trusted her to cuff him to his bed. That wasn’t just sex, it was something more.

“I’m going to assume that your silence means no,” Mick commented. “If you’re not careful, she’s gonna divorce your ass.”

“Annul.”

Mick blinked. “What?”

“She would annul,” Rio said. “The lawyer explained it to me.”

“You went to one of them?” Mick asked, clearly surprised.

Rio nodded. “Right after Gretchen sent their information.”

Mick leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “You tell Elizabeth?”

“No.”

“You’re even dumber than I thought,” Mick sighed. “You know she’s gonna find out, right? She’s gonna find out and she’s gonna take it to mean one thing.”

Rio made a noise in the back of his throat. “I didn’t pursue it.”

“Yeah, she’s probably not gonna take that super well either,” Mick said. “She just doesn’t take things well. Remember when you fired her and she got you arrested? I don’t want to find out what she’ll do if you break up.”

“We aren’t together.”

“Tell that to your marriage license,” Mick replied.

——————————————

Beth came out of the appointment with the divorce lawyer with her head reeling. She rubbed the spot between her brows, wishing that for once, things wouldn’t be quite so complicated.

Her brand new lawyer had explained that Beth would get the paperwork at the house in the next day and that all she and Rio had to do was sign.

I dare you to marry me.

What the hell had they been thinking that night? Her most of all. It had been a stupid, reckless thing to do. She knew how draining it was to dissolve a marriage and she’d decided to have one on a dare?

She could remember feeling almost giddy as they’d gone into the wedding chapel. They’d laughed as they were filling out forms and showing ID to the clerk.

He’d joked about paying to get into a boutique after hours so she could have a dress. She’d shoved him aside and joked that wearing white after everything they’d done together felt disingenuous.

Sighing, she looked at her phone. There was the usual - a PTA group chat that she really should just silence already, a message from Kenny that he was staying late after school.

On autopilot, she went to her car. But she didn’t drive home. Instead, she drove to Rio’s.

She hesitated at his front door, then knocked.

It took a moment for Rio to come and let her in. There was a strange look on his face as he stepped aside, then locked the door behind her.

“Hi,” she said pointedly.

He mumbled something as he rubbed his scalp harshly and Beth frowned.

“What is it?”

“Nothing,” he mumbled, walking by her without making any movement towards her, going towards the bathroom.

Beth turned her head and watched him go. What the fuck was up with him?

On a whim, she pulled out her phone and messaged Mick.

What happened? Rio’s in a mood.

He started to respond almost right away. Went well, he sent, followed by a shrug emoji. Got what we wanted.

Still frowning, Beth followed Rio into the bathroom, where he’d already stripped and was adjusting the water.

She didn’t say anything, just started taking off her clothes too. By the time she was naked, he’d settled on a temperature and was standing under the spray.

Beth joined him, standing in front of him. She reached up and tilted his face down towards hers. “What’s wrong?”

He blinked. “Nothing. Went good. Got him down to 17%.”

“That’s not what I asked,” she replied carefully, kissing his chest right over the faded scar where she’d shot him in the lung.

“Nothing, Elizabeth,” he said.

“Then why are you acting like this?” she asked.

“Like what?” He scowled. “I’m supposed to be happy all the time?”

“No,” Beth said. “But after a deal like that, I would expect…” she trailed off. She didn’t really know what to expect.

He snorted. “Just cuz your hubby took you out every time he managed to do something right doesn’t mean that’s how I operate.”

She pressed a little closer to him. “That was because he wanted praise, Rio,” she told him. “Wanted to show off and have people tell him that he’d done it right.”

His jaw tightened, then relaxed quickly, but Beth noticed. She cocked her head to the side and her conversation with Ruby came to the forefront of her mind.

When’s the last time somebody told that boy he did a good job?

Oh.

She could do that.

Beth put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed lightly. “But you,” she said, “you always do well. Always get what you want. You don’t flaunt it, demand that people praise you for it.”

She stroked her hand down his arm.

“That’s why it’s obvious that you’re a man who knows what real power, real success are,” she went on. “Because you accept nothing less.”

Reaching his hand, she lifted it to her lips.

“You and your boys have long since stopped going out to celebrate those successes.” She kissed his knuckles. “You come home, all pent up. To me.”

He let out a deep breath and when she looked up, she saw that his eyes were all pupil. She smiled as she bit the back of his fingers lightly. He didn’t even twitch. Her other hand came up between his legs to cup his stiffening cock.

“I know how well you’ve done,” Beth said, licking over the bite. “How good you are at what you do.”

She lowered his hand back down and let go of him completely to circle around until she was standing behind him. Pressing herself to his back, she wrapped her arms around his and started to allow her hands to roam over his chest, then down to take him in her hand again.

He hissed when she cupped his balls, rubbed them lightly.

“Does anyone know how good you are?” she asked. “I bet they don’t. Your success relies on going unnoticed by so many people. And the others? The others fear you, admire you in secret. They want what you have, Rio.”

He shivered.

“They want your business, your money, your success. You built it all yourself,” she was nearly cooing at him as she said it and in any other situation, she might have hated that, but now? It was making her just as wet as he was hard. “God, it makes me wet when I think about it, you know.”

Rio groaned, his cock thickening in her palm. Beth nuzzled between his shoulder blades.

“How much you do, how fucking brilliant you are.”

He was close. It surprised Beth, how quickly she’d brought him to the edge.

“Fuck, Rio,” she murmured. “You’re so good, at all of it.”

He came with a grunt and whine. Beth stroked him through it, directing his cum into the water swirling down the drain as he panted through his orgasm.

She bit his shoulder blade, earning another moan and one last spurt from his cock. She slowly let go of him and grabbed a washcloth and the body wash. Rio was exceptionally still as she washed him, even going onto her knees to get his calves and feet. He watched her the whole time, eyes dark.

He didn’t say anything until she was rinsing him off.

“You wet?” he asked, a hint of his usual mischief in his voice.

Beth smiled. “Why don’t you find out?”

He grinned, then slipped his hand between her legs. “Feel wet to me,” he said.

“But I bet you’re gonna take care of that too, huh,” Beth teased, turning off the water.

Rio hummed as he grabbed a towel from the bar next to the shower. “I am,” he agreed. “I’m gonna tease you first,” he wrapped the towel around her, “and then when I’m hard again, I’m gonna fuck you.”

Beth kissed him when he bent down.

“Yeah?”

He nodded. “Gonna tell me how good my cock makes you feel?”

Beth was somehow still capable of blushing despite all the time that she’d spent around him.

“You want that?”

Rio looked considering.

Beth could probably manage some dirty talk. Maybe. She normally left that to him. Her own words were normally suggestive rather than forthright.

“You’d do that?” he asked, looking her in the eye.

She bit her lip, nodded. “I’d try, at least.”

He smiled at that and bent down to kiss her again. “Nah, I’m good,” he said. “You moan enough that I know you like what I’m doing even without you giving me a gold star for it.”

Beth giggled, burying her head in his chest before pulling away to grab a towel to dry him off. He hated it when someone got into bed wet. He did the same with her, and at one point, he started to gently towel dry her hair. It took her a moment to realize that he was doing it with his t-shirt.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “You’ve got more than enough towels.”

Rio gave her a look. “It’s better for your hair,” he told her. “Doesn’t tug so much.”

“Oh?” She lifted a brow.

“I know women,” he said with a laugh. “Some of ’em even tell me about all the weird shit they put in their hair.”

“What women do you know?” Beth scoffed.

“Gretchen -“

“You talk about hair with Gretchen?”

He huffed. “Only because she bitches about drying it at the club. Her rule is no tennis if she’s got actual meetings or needs to go to court that day.”

“Who else?”

“My mom’s got three sisters,” he reminded her. She’d even met one of them once. “They’ve all got at least one girl. You think I haven’t been subject to hair talk at every gathering since the day I was born?” He hesitated. “And when we met, Rhea had long hair. Cut it all off when she was about six months in with Marcus. Said it was too fucking hot.”

Beth laughed. “I remember that. I wanted to get a buzz cut with Emma, but Annie stopped me.”

Rio stopped drying her hair. “I dunno,” he said, stepping back to survey her, “I think you’d look cute with a buzz.”

“We’d match,” Beth commented. She reached up to get her hands on his scalp, stroking up and down. She loved feeling it alternate between soft and hard, depending on the direction her fingers were moving. It seemed particularly apt for Rio.

There was also a little part of her that was reminded of the way that her kids’ hair had felt when they’d been getting cuts like Rio’s when they were little. It was a nostalgic sensation, but one that sent a flutter through her belly.

He kissed Beth, nudging the towel to the ground and backing her up against the sink.

“Is this teasing?” she asked when he pulled away.

“Nah,” Rio answered, “we haven’t even gotten started yet.”

Beth swallowed. Rio caught the movement and grinned, reaching down to grab her by the backs of her thighs and hoisting her up. She yelped, grabbing onto his shoulders.

“You aren’t allowed to do that!” she scowled as he carried her into the bedroom.

“No?”

She shook her head.

“I’ll take that into consideration in the future,” Rio told her.

He dropped onto the bed, holding her in his lap, her legs to one side of his waist. Drawing her head down, he kissed her as he lay back, one of his hands going down between her legs to tease her in the meantime.

She wiggled a little, hoping that he’d push a finger inside, but he had apparently meant what he said earlier. With a chuckle, he rolled her to her back and lifted his head.

“Don’t wanna rush this,” he told her, stroking her bottom lip and then bending down to capture it between his teeth. “Wanna take my time with you.”

Rio’s next kiss was filthy, messy, and had Beth panting for him in seconds.

It was easy to forget where she’d been that afternoon.

———————————————————

“Honey, I’m home,” Rio deadpanned as he stepped into the kitchen.

Beth snorted. “Fuck off, Rio.”

He grinned as he peeked over her shoulder to see what she was doing at the stove, but she elbowed him in the stomach.

“Thought you wanted that Beaver Cleaver shit,” he said, moving to jump onto the countertop rather than sitting in a chair. It made her roll her eyes, but she bit her lip to stop herself from smiling.

After all, she’d kept that spot on the countertop clear, despite the fact that it was right next to the stove, for a reason.

“Very funny,” she told him.

“What’s for dinner?” he asked, swinging his legs so that his feet banged into the cabinets. With a scowl, Beth grabbed the leg closer to her. He blinked innocently at her.

“I wasn’t aware that I was having company,” she snapped. “I have no idea what you’re eating.”

“Aww c’mon.” Rio shook his head, dropping his hand so that it was on top of hers. “Don’t be like that, Elizabeth. Looks like you got plenty.”

“I guess it’s true what they say about strays,” Beth sighed. “Feed them once and -“ she shrieked as he slipped from the countertop and grabbed her around the waist.

“Who you calling a stray?”

“If the name fits,” she said, trying to wriggle free of his hold. “Look, if you’re going to show up at my house and demand that I feed you, the least you can do is set the table.”

“Yes ma’am,” Rio said, squeezing her hip before moving to the table to clear it off.

Beth pulled the potatoes from the stovetop and moved to drain the water into the sink.

She was just adding butter when Rio spoke up again.

“What are these?” Rio demanded.

It took Beth a moment to look up from what she was doing and saw him holding a large envelope, one that she’d opened, pulled out the pages from, then promptly got distracted by the timer going off for her bread.

The divorce papers.

“What does it look like they are, Rio?” Beth said with a roll of her eyes. “I know you can read.”

“Then how about this - why the fuck do you have divorce papers?” He slapped them down on the counter and Beth felt her hackles going up.

“Because we got married as a dare!” she reminded him.

“So?” He crossed his arms over his chest.

“So sign them and we can get on with our lives,” she snapped.

“I’m not signing them.”

Beth stared at him. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” he said. “I’m not signing them.”

“Yes, you fucking are,” Beth informed him, grabbing a pen and tossing it down on top of the papers.

Rio scowled at them. “Just because you give up on everything -“

“Oh that’s rich, coming from you,” Beth cut him off.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Of the two of us, which one is more likely to cut and run, Rio?” she demanded. “Have you lived anywhere for longer than eighteen months the whole time that I’ve known you? Have you ever had a relationship that lasted more than what, three years?”

He jerked back, then set his jaw as he leaned down. “What the fuck does that have to do with anything?”

“It means that you aren’t exactly dependable.”

I’m the one that’s not dependable?” Rio’s laugh was ugly.

Beth could feel her anger building up and all she wanted to do was reach out and strike. She wanted to knock something over, tear something up, wanted to watch something break. But she kept a grip on that desire, no matter how much it rose up.

Without that outlet, she could feel tears building up.

“You’re right,” Rio huffed. “You’re dependable ol’ Beth Boland, huh. You got a problem? Just let Beth deal with it. She’s always happy to lend a helping hand. She might shoot you in the back, but she’s willing to -“

She jabbed him in the chest. “Don’t,” she warned. That was dead, over. If he dragged it up now, so were they, and he seemed to recognize it. She wiped at the tears that were freely falling now.

He softened. “Fuck,” he said, rubbing a hand over his face.

“Just sign them, Rio.”

He scowled. “And if I don’t want to?”

“Just because you keep treating it like a joke, like this is something that you can hold onto for fun so you can fuck with my life whenever you want, doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious to me,” Beth said, trying to wipe away her tears, but failing because her sleeve was already soaked.

“Elizabeth,” Rio tried to interrupt her, “it’s not a joke.”

Beth laughed. “Dean wouldn’t sign divorce papers either.”

Rio stopped trying to touch her.

“Lorded them over my head and acted like I’d never told him to get out, like he hadn’t lied to me for years and then lied even more when I found out. I don’t want that again!”

“I don’t mean it like that,” he tried.

“It doesn’t matter how you mean it, Rio. You’re doing the same thing that he did and you aren’t listening to me.” Beth took a shaky breath. “Just sign those stupid fucking papers, please.”

She went to the bathroom and when she came back out, he was gone, but he had signed his name on the papers that her attorney had given her. So that was it, Beth thought as she put them back in the envelope, we’re not married anymore.

She had expected it to feel like a relief to have it dealt with, the same way that she had when Dean had finally signed their divorce papers. Instead, Beth just felt sad.

——————————————————

Beth did her best to avoid Rio as long as she could, but it wasn’t going to work forever.

Sooner or later, business took precedence over feelings. They weren’t so much a part of the deal that they were sitting on so much as they were witnesses to it. Providing neutral ground.

More than once, she caught Rio giving her almost downright mournful looks across the table. When the meeting wrapped up, Beth didn’t stick around to chat.

After that, he was everywhere. He and Marcus came to the park. Beth sat with another mother to act as a buffer so even when he did come over to sit with her, he couldn’t say much.

He came by the house to drop off her cut of the initial Vegas deal. Beth said she was busy and could he just leave it on the table. He did as asked and left just as quietly as he’d come.

“What’s up with him?” Annie asked after a drop, staring after Rio. “He was looking at you like you stole his puppy.”

Beth glared at her sister. “Nothing,” she said.

Neither Ruby or Annie looked like they believed her.

“You sure that maybe there wasn’t a little more to that Vegas thing than you let on?” Ruby asked one morning.

“No, of course not,” Beth replied. She tried to speak as naturally as she could, but even she could hear how robotic she sounded.

Even Dean noticed that something was up. He didn’t do anything other than ask if she was sick, but he noticed, which said a lot.

Beth was ready to murder the next person to ask her if she was alright.

Somehow, it was still a surprise the night that Rio showed up in her bedroom.

She had just taken a nice, relaxing bath before bed and had come out of the bathroom when she saw him standing just inside the door.

Rio looked tired.

“What?” Beth asked, pretending that he wasn’t in her bedroom.

He sat on the edge of her bed. “I trusted you,” he said. “When you asked me to. I lifted my hands up and I let you put those cuffs on me and I trusted you. Why the fuck won’t you do the same?”

Beth turned on him. “You think I should let you cuff me to the bed?”

He scowled. “No.” He made a noise of frustration. “It’s not just about that. It’s about not expecting the fucking worst of me at all times. I’m not Dean.”

“I know that you aren’t.”

“Really?” Rio snapped. “Because you were having a great time comparing us.”

“I was being honest with you!” Beth replied. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“You said that I wasn’t listening to you, but you weren’t listening to me either,” he said. “I was trying to tell you that -“

He paused for long enough that Beth huffed. “That what?”

“That I care about you!” Rio leaned forward and rubbed his hands over his scalp. “Is that so fucking hard for you to believe?”

Beth stared at him. “That’s not fu-“

“It’s not a joke, Elizabeth. You seriously think I would do that?” When he lifted his head back up, his expression was one of hurt. “Look, I don’t know if I love you, but I think I might. So do whatever with that, I guess.”

Rio pushed himself up and moved towards the doors leading to the backyard.

Beth stepped in his way. “What did you say?”

“You heard me.”

“I’m not sure that I did, because I’m pretty sure that you just said that you loved me and that’s ridiculous.” Beth crossed her arms over her chest.

“Why? Why is that ridiculous?” he asked.

“Do I need to count the reasons for you? I shot you! I stole from you, more than once. We do business together and we never agree on anything,” Beth started listing things off.

“Yes, we do,” Rio cut in.

She glared at him, as if to say, “My point exactly,” but there was a ghost of a smile on his face now. “We got married when we were drunk. Sure the sex is good, but sex isn’t a relationship.”

“You done?”

“No! But I need a minute to remember the other reasons,” Beth admitted.

“Alright,” he said, “then it’s my turn. Know what you doing all that shit means to me? It means you can keep up, you can take care of yourself, that you don’t take shit from people. ‘Cept maybe your ex,” he added. “Ok, maybe we got married when we were drunk and that’s not ideal, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be something. Doesn’t mean that we can’t give this an actual chance.”

“We can’t, Rio.”

“Why not?” Rio demanded. “Why the fuck not?”

Beth just looked at him.

He sighed. “If it’s because you aren’t interested, that’s one thing. But if it’s because you just think it won’t work, that’s giving up before it’s even started and I never took you for someone who didn’t at least fucking try.”

“Maybe I’m worried what will happen if we try and it doesn’t work,” Beth said, taking a small step back. “Maybe I know that if that happens, it’ll be bad for both of us. And the work that we do? If that happens, things will go bad. People will get hurt.”

“I wouldn’t -“

“I’m not talking about you, Rio,” Beth told him. She took a few more steps back and sank into one of her chairs. “You have enemies. We have enemies. You don’t think that they wouldn’t take advantage of any conflict between us? They would try to come into our business and either we’d have to fight them off or just give in and I think we both know that the second one’s not an option.”

His legs entered her field of vision as he followed her, only to crouch in front of her, hand on her knee. “But don’t you want to try?”

Beth swallowed. She did. She wanted to try, she really did. But she couldn’t make herself admit that and so, after a moment, Rio’s face turned blank and he nodded once.

“Right,” he muttered. “I’ll see myself out.”

She meant to say something to him, even if it was just good night, but it was like she blinked and he was gone.

Wiping at her eyes, she tried to convince herself that she wasn’t upset. It was the right thing for her, for them. But as she started to cry, to truly, really cry in a way that she hadn’t in a long time, she knew that it wasn’t going to work.

———————————————————

“Gretchen will see you now,” Stacey, Gretchen’s eerily competent assistant, informed Beth. Even though they both knew that Beth knew exactly where the office was, Stacey led her all the way in.

“Hi Beth,” Gretchen said. “Coffee, tea?”

“No, thanks,” Beth replied. At that, Stacey retreated, closing the door behind her. “How are you?”

“Cut the small talk, you pay me too much for my time for that to be worth it,” Gretchen waved off the attempt at conversation. Beth smiled. She liked Gretchen and her no bullshit, take no prisoners attitude. “You said you wanted to talk about your divorce, but I’ll admit, I’m not sure which one you’re talking about.”

Beth flushed at Gretchen’s obvious enjoyment. Rio had said she’d thought the whole thing was hilarious, but Beth hadn’t seen it herself.

“The first one,” Beth said through gritted teeth.

The lawyer nodded, reaching out to pick up her cup. Beth knew that it was likely some horrific herbal tea that Rio imported for her that cost an arm and a leg.

“I’d like to sell the house.”

Gretchen’s surprise was immediate. “You do?”

Beth jerked her head. “I haven’t spoken to Dean about it yet, but with the repayment schedule, I’d like to make sure that I know how that would work. Legally.”

Grabbing some paper to jot her own notes, Gretchen explained the process of selling.

“You’ll be looking to purchase something, I assume,” Gretchen said once she was done.

“Yes,” Beth replied. “I’ve found a realtor, but I didn’t want to make an appointment with her until I had spoken with you.”

“Good,” Gretchen smiled, “you’re learning.” Not unlike Rio, she liked to tease Beth about jumping in head first. “I won’t be handling the sales, but I have someone in house if you’d like.”

“That would be great,” Beth said.

“Giuliana Apte,” Gretchen said. “Stacey can get you her card on the way out. Was that everything?”

Beth nodded. “That’s it.”

“Then I’m going to do us all a favour and stop the clock on this appointment to tell you something.” Gretchen dropped her pen and pushed the pad of paper aside. “The two of you are idiots.”

Beth’s head jerked back. “Excuse me?”

“You and Rio,” Gretchen said more slowly, “are idiots.”

“And how do you figure that?” Beth snapped.

“From the day I had to bail his ass out of jail because you got into a snit, it’s been painfully obvious that you two are something.”

“Something,” Beth repeated.

“Yes, something.” Gretchen steepled her fingers. “I make a point not to know much about how Rio runs his business, but I know enough to know that if most people had done what you did, they wouldn’t be walking around Detroit. He certainly wouldn’t be introducing them to me as new clients. But you? He brings you into the office and tells me that I’m taking you on as a client because if I don’t, he’ll get new counsel.”

Beth blinked. He had what?

“I’m sorry that he -“

Gretchen shook her head. “I was going to take you, even if it was solely because I was interested, but I think we can agree that Rio has a predilection for dramatics.”

Beth laughed softly. That much was definitely true.

“It’s clear that you feel some kind of way about him too,” Gretchen said. “So just talk to each other, will you? Mick keeps bitching about you.”

“You talk to Mick?” Beth stared at Gretchen. She didn’t think that she’d ever seen the two of them in the same space before.

“We’re in the same book club.”

“You’re in a book club?” Beth asked. Mick, that one made sense. But Gretchen getting together to chat about Oprah’s picks? Beth couldn’t picture it.

Gretchen rolled her eyes. “Get out of my office and deal with it.”

“A book club?” Beth was still stuck on that. “What do you guys read?”

“None of your business. Out.”

Beth drove to Ruby’s. “Did you know that Mick and Gretchen are in a book club together?”

“Yeah,” Ruby said. “Stan’s in it.”

“What?” Beth yelped.

Ruby pointed to a block of cheese. “If you’re gonna be in my house pestering me, you’re helping me prep for dinner. Grate.”

Beth washed her hands and grabbed the grater. “A book club?”

“Yup,” Ruby stirred the sauce that she had going on the stove top, “Mick invited Stan into it.”

“What do they read?” Beth asked, simultaneously offended that she hadn’t been invited and horrified by the idea of going.

“Right now they’re reading Pride and Prejudice”, Ruby said. “I think Stan said that Mick picked it because Gretchen has no sense of romance.”

Beth grated the cheese in a trance, peppering Ruby with more questions. “Where do they meet?”

“Restaurants and cafés. Never the same one twice in a row.”

Did they talk about the books?

Ruby had her doubts, though Stan definitely read them.

Who else was in it?

Stan said he was sworn to secrecy.

When Stan came home from work, Beth ambushed him too.

“No!” Stan said, backing away as soon as “book club” came out of her mouth. “That’s sacred. First rule of book club is that you don’t talk about book club.”

“That’s fight club!” Beth protested. “Wait, do you guys fight?”

Stan made a weird noise, then retreated to the bedroom.

“Oh come on!” Beth called after him. “We’re friends!”

Ruby snorted. “Uh huh,” she muttered. “Keep telling yourself that.”

Beth’s retort was cut off by Harry bursting in the back door with a muddy soccer ball, which - it hadn’t even rained.

“No!” Ruby shouted. “That stays outside!”

“I’m gonna wash it in the bathroom,” Harry started to say.

“Nah uh,” Ruby replied. “You can spray it with the hose. That is not coming inside of my clean house.”

Harry huffed, but went back out.

Beth giggled.

“Oh sure, laugh it up,” Ruby said. “Weren’t you just telling me that Danny tried to bring a cat into the house?”

“Well at least he asked?” Beth shook her head. The younger of her boys had taken to feeding a couple of strays by the library where he was a peer tutor and they’d warmed to him. Which, to Danny, meant that he could bring them home. “I’m going to look into whether or not they accept volunteers his age at one of the shelters.”

“That’s a good idea,” Ruby agreed.

“Sara liking her job at the rec centre?”

“You kidding?” Stan said, coming back into the kitchen. “I think she’d live there if she could. Although that may have more to do with her brother than the job.”

Beth laughed, letting herself get caught up in the Hill family’s happiness for a while.

“You staying for dinner?” Ruby asked. “You helped make it, so I guess you can if you want.”

“I’d love to.”

She stayed for dinner, learning all about Harry’s new fascination with European football. He was glad to have a new audience, it seemed, probably having worn out his parents and sister.

Waving away the offer of leftovers, she pulled Ruby into a hug. “Thanks,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” her best friend replied. “What are you thanking me for this time?”

Laughing, Beth pulled back. “It’s good to remember that families can be good.”

“B,” Ruby started to say.

“I know, I know!” Beth held up her hands. “You aren’t perfect. You aren’t happy all the time. But after Dean and now with -“ she stopped herself from saying his name. “It’s nice to see you and Stan.”

Ruby shook her head, but she was smiling. “He’s a good one, huh.”

“You should marry that man, Ruby,” Beth teased. “Just think of how cute your babies will be.”

“Get off my lawn,” Ruby deadpanned back, nudging Beth towards her car.

“I’m not on your lawn,” Beth called over her shoulder as she walked down the driveway.

“Get off my property then.”

“What are you gonna do?” Beth turned around to ask before she opened her car door. “Call the cops on me?”

The two of them laughed loud enough that Stan stuck his head out the front door. “You two lose it or something?” he asked. “Because that sounded like some real villain laughter.”

“What can I say,” Beth replied, “I’m a bad influence.”

“Understatement!” Stan shouted as she closed her door with a smile. Ruby and Stan waved at her from the porch as she pulled from their driveway and turned towards home.

Except it was quiet there, too quiet. Beth didn’t want to be there.

So instead, she drove to Lucky’s, hoping like hell that Rio wouldn’t be there tonight. She breathed a sigh of relief when she didn’t see his car in the lot and relaxed her shoulders when he wasn’t sitting at the bar.

Mick was though.

He scowled at her as she sat.

“Book club, huh?” Beth asked before he could go in on her about Rio.

“None of your business,” he cut off that line of questioning before she could even get it started. “You know how often I think about how much easier my life would be if he’d let me kill you back then?”

Beth was taken aback, blinking at him as the bartender came over.

"She’ll have a bourbon,” Mick ordered for her, then waved the guy off. “He’s fucking moping,” Mick said. “If I could take a look at his phone, I’d probably find that he’s been listening to every breakup song released since 1932. You realize how depressing it is being in a car with him?”

“That’s not my problem,” Beth snapped.

“Maybe,” Mick said, “but it’s certainly your effect.”

“Oh, so all of this is my fault?” Beth asked, nodding to the bartender when he deposited her glass in front of her. “Rio doesn’t have any responsibility over himself or his actions?”

He scowled at her. “That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.”

“Do I?”

Mick grumbled something under his breath that she couldn’t quite make out.

“What was that?” Beth narrowed her eyes.

“I said,” Mick leaned closer, “that you’re more of a callous bitch than I thought if you can’t recognize that Rio’s been trying to give you everything that you need, trying to tie himself up in knots so that you’ll trust him. All while you sit around and complain about your own life. How no one helps you, loves you.”

Beth stared at Mick. What was he talking about?

“I don’t even think he realizes how loud he’s being,” Mick said.

“What are you talking about?” Beth demanded.

Mick turned his gaze to his drink, then back to her. “You seriously haven’t figured it out yet?”

———————————————————

There was something in movies that Beth’s mom had called a “Come to Jesus” moment. It usually had nothing to do with Jesus, of course. But there was always the moment in a rom com or a romance when the main character sat down with someone and found out something about their counterpart that changed how they saw that person.

Beth had never expected her life to have one of those moments. The closest had been Dean’s mother calming her down on their wedding day with a speech that had ultimately just said, “Do you really think you can do better?”

So she had no idea what to do with this - the knowledge, or at least the suggestion, that Rio genuinely cared about her beyond what was business. She’d tried to tell Mick that he was wrong, but the man had just given her a look and went home, leaving her with the tab.

Now what the fuck was she supposed to do? Go write “I maybe might feel the same way as you may possibly” in flower petals outside his place? Perform an elaborate song and dance routine in the bleachers at school?

“No,” Ruby said. “You should definitely not do any of those things. Those were not documentaries, Beth.”

Annie’s face was contemplative. “What if you take out an ad in the newspaper that incorporates some kind of inside joke between the two of you so that he can - ow! Don’t kick me!”

“I didn’t kick you,” Ruby said. “I nudged your leg with my foot. That’s a terrible idea.”

Annie crossed her arms over her chest. “I think it’ll work.”

“Which one of us has the longest relationship?” Ruby asked pointedly. “Which one of us has a happy marriage? Has worked through problems with their spouse successfully?” She pointed to herself.

Annie looked at Ruby, then Beth. “Yeah, but Marcus doesn’t need a kidney transplant that Beth could - ow! Come on, Beth!”

Beth glared at her sister. “Take this seriously.”

“Grand gestures are only worth so much if you don’t back them up,” Ruby carried on like Annie hadn’t said a thing. “Just think about Dean. He made some grand gestures there at the end, didn’t he?”

Beth stiffened, remembering the desk with the hidden compartment and the cancer and the -

Ruby watched her run through that all in her head, then nodded. “Exactly. Now, I don’t know what the two of you have between you, something that feels like it’s holding you apart or dragging you down, but figure it out and then deal with it. That’s the only way.”

“Or just check Yahoo answers,” Annie said.

Introspection had never been one of Beth’s strong suits. She could admit that. Sort of.

So as she went about the rest of her day, thinking about what to do, she was intensely uncomfortable with the idea that this was not only her responsibility, but also her fault.

If someone could be at fault for getting divorced from the guy that you married in Vegas that you had intense history with. She’s not sure that she would go so far as calling it fault.

She put the kids to bed, reminded Kenny not to stay up too late, and started googling.

Most of the advice was objectively terrible. A lot of it fell under the grand gestures that Annie had been talking about and some of it just didn’t work for their situation. This wasn’t rekindling a romance after years. This wasn’t about the spark fading in a relationship.

Going back to Google, she typed in “i married my business partner in vegas now we’re divorced also i shot him one time advice”. To her complete lack of surprise, there were no results.

Rubbing her eyes, Beth stared at the clock on the stove. It had been two hours. How had it been two hours already? Scrunching her nose, she sighed and gave up for the night.

It wasn’t that easy though. As she prepared for bed, her thoughts were still racing,

Only now instead of focusing on how they’d messed up with each other, her mind was providing her with reminders of how good they’d been together. How much Rio had enjoyed it when she’d praised him that day in the shower. How it had felt when he’d held his arms up for her and let her cuff him to his bed.

Beth shivered at the memory.

God, it had been exciting just to see him like that, trusting her to take care of him and not to take anything too far.

She froze, hand halfway to her face with her night serum. Trust.

An idea started to form.

———————————————————

Unfortunately, life didn’t allow for Beth to act on her idea right away. She couldn’t just take her kids with her somewhere to buy what she needed and they weren’t set to go to Dean’s for a couple more days.

Beth used the time to practice her argument. Proposal?

Friday couldn’t come soon enough.

After checking with Mick that Marcus wasn’t with Rio for the weekend, she was full of nervous energy as she helped pack up the kids’ weekend bags into Dean’s car.

“Are you okay?” Dean asked, looking at her strangely.

Beth didn’t reply.

“Beth?”

“I’m fine,” she said, handing over Jane’s homework. “Bye guys,” she said into the back seats. “Love you all and I’ll see you Sunday.”

She waited until Dean had reached the end of the street before jumping into her own car. She was on a mission.

Less than two hours later, she was standing at Rio’s door and knocking loudly.

Biting the inside of her cheek, she shifted from foot to foot.

She half expected Rio to not answer the door for her, even though she knew he was in.

“Yeah?” he asked as soon as he opened the door, not making eye contact with her.

“Put out your hand,” she said.

Rio looked confused, but did as she asked.

Beth put what she’d just bought into his hand.

It was like he couldn’t figure out if he should be looking at her or the pair of metal handcuffs.

He cleared his throat.

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying,” Beth swallowed, “that I want to trust you. I’m not -“ she sighed. “Can I come in?”

Rio stepped aside to allow her in, but they didn’t move past the foyer.

“I’m not good at trusting people,” Beth admitted. “I’m not used to letting people do things like take care of me. Or if they do, it’s like they want to take care of this person that they’ve imagined I am. You don’t imagine me though. You actually see me.”

“I know,” he said.

“I want to try. With you. I do. That’s why I got the,” she pointed to the cuffs.

Rio’s lips twitched. “That’s not the only way to show someone that you trust them, Elizabeth.” He sounded amused.

“I know that!” She crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s a metaphor or a symbol or whatever!”

“You’ve been watching too many romcoms,” he teased, stepping closer to her.

She glared at him, but softened, lowering her arms as he stood toe to toe with her. His hand came up to touch the side of her face.

“You know,” he said, “I think I actually liked the way we did this last time.” He lifted the cuffs on a finger, then shoved them into the back pocket of his jeans.

Beth could feel her cheeks warming up. It was a little bit of embarrassment, but mostly, it was arousal at the memory of having Rio on the bed beneath her.

“Yeah?” Beth asked, putting her hand on his waist.

He nodded, bending down to kiss her.

“Is that what you want?” she asked when the kiss ended.

“Sometimes,” Rio said. “I think sometimes I might want it to be the other way too. And some days I just want to…” he searched for an explanation, “I don’t know, normal.”

Beth smiled. “I can do normal. Or at least, normal for us.”

His laughter was soft. “Yeah, I guess there’s not much normal about us, huh.”

She shook her head. “We have a bit of a history.”

“That we do,” he agreed. “Guess that’s what happens when one of you’s shot the -“

“You pointed a gun at me first!” Beth insisted, retreading a familiar argument. And when had this happened - this level of comfort with one another where they could joke about this.

“So,” Rio said, “were you thinking we’d use those now or later?”

Beth blushed. “I thought I’d leave that part to you to decide.”

“How generous of you,” he commented, pulling her towards the bedroom. Once they’d crossed the threshold of the room, his hands moved to the buttons of her shirt and started undoing them.

There was no teasing, no comment about her bra or underwear. Rio was silent as he undressed both of them, his eyes intent on hers.

It made her hair stand up on end. She’d never thought that him usually being a talker would mean that when he didn’t, it would feel like this.

Intimate.

Scary.

His hands slid down the back of her panties until he was cradling her ass. He paused for a breath, then pushed them down too. The only clothing left between the two of them was his underwear, which wasn’t doing much to hide his erection.

She reached out to tug on the waistband, but Rio caught her hands on his.

“Uh uh,” he murmured, gathering them up in one hand so that his fingers were circling her wrists.

Only touching her there, he pushed her towards the bed. Beth walked backwards, not bothering to even try looking where she was going. Her legs hit the foot of the bed, his sheets touching her bare thighs.

He let go of her wrists and bent to hoist her up onto the bed, smiling slightly when she bounced on his mattress. His hand on her collarbone pressed her down until she was lying on the bed.

“Hands to yourself, Elizabeth,” he said, hovering over her.

Beth nodded.

He licked his lips, drawing her eyes downwards. He lowered his head slightly and she lifted hers so that he would kiss her, but he drew back.

“Nope.”

Beth collapsed back onto the bed.

His hand cupped her breast and held it in place as he lowered his mouth to suck on the nipple. Beth’s breathing picked up slightly, hitching when he scraped his teeth over it.

He moved down her body slowly, kissing and biting in turns as he coaxed her thighs open and moved her where he wanted her until she was panting up at the ceiling as he knelt beside the bed between her legs, her pelvis right at the edge.

She didn’t dare look down as she felt his arms wrap around her legs and tug her just a tiny bit further down until her legs were over his shoulders and he was the only thing stopping her from slipping off the bed as he breathed over her cunt.

Beth moaned.

She waited for him to say something teasing, ask her if she’d missed him these past weeks. If she’d been able to get herself off as well as he did. But the words didn’t come, just his mouth.

She gasped as his tongue stroked over her, hand flying down to grab the back of his head. He took his tongue away and cleared his throat softly.

Beth lifted her head to look at him, confused. He raised an eyebrow.

Hands to yourself, Elizabeth.

It took a great deal of effort to pull her hand away, but he rewarded her by working his tongue between her folds. Her fingers twitched in the sheets.

It got better - and worse - from there.

His hands stroked up and down her thighs and hips as he ate her out. He stopped twice more when she reached out for him and on the second time, he didn’t start again right away.

“Just use the cuffs,” she started to say, intending to finish with if you want me to keep my hands off, but he shook his head.

Beth swallowed and, lifting herself slightly, pushed her hands underneath her lower back. She let her weight rest on them and hoped that it would be enough.

Apparently it was, because he rubbed her clit with his nose and went back to what he had been doing before.

Her legs twitched as she got closer to her peak, fingers kneading the blankets as she gasped and moaned.

“Rio,” she said, “I’m going to -“

Surely he knew, but she couldn’t help but feel like she was supposed to tell him.

His mouth pulled away and she sobbed. But before she had a chance to beg for him to continue, his arms were tightening around her and hauling her up against his mouth. All that was supporting her bottom half was his shoulders as she clamped her thighs around his head.

She heard him moan even as she felt it against her clit as she came for him, managing little thrusts against his face. He didn’t stop as she started to come down even as she started to whimper at how sensitive she felt.

“Rio,” she gasped. “It’s too much.”

He hummed, then used his hold on her to press her back down onto the bed, his mouth not straying from her slit.

“Rio, Rio, Rio,” Beth said, her hips moving in an attempt to find relief, but there wasn’t anywhere to go as she came a second time, trembling.

This time he did stop, pulling her legs open and raising his head with a gasp of a breath that made Beth think of the noise that people made when surfacing from the water. She moaned.

“Good girl,” he said, moving her up the bed a little as he lowered her legs.

Beth realized that she was still lying on her hands and she pulled them out from under her back, wiggling her fingers.

Rio took her hand in his and started to massage her fingers and wrists. “I think I like it this way,” he told her, “when I make you control yourself.”

She shivered.

“Although I reserve the right to put those cuffs on you one day,” he said with a grin, taking two of her fingers into his mouth and sucking on them.

Beth swallowed.

Once he seemed happy that her hands were fine, he stood up, shoving his underwear off at the same time. Beth watched him palm his erection once it was free.

“How do you want me?” she asked.

Rio grinned, although his expression softened almost immediately. “How don’t I want you?”

Beth’s throat closed up for a second as she blinked up at him in surprise. “I meant right now,” she said, making him laugh.

“On your belly,” he instructed.

She rolled, but apparently that wasn’t quite right, because he manhandled her up the bed until her head was on the pillows. She let him lead her hips up enough for him to slide a pillow under and gasped as he pushed into her from behind.

“Ah!” she muffled her cry in a pillow as his thighs, on the outside of hers, pressed hers closer together and sharpened the feeling of him inside her as he rested more of his weight on her. “Oh fuck,” she gasped as he sank all the way in.

His hands settled over top of hers, twining their fingers together.

“Am I hurting you?” he asked softly.

Beth shook her head. It felt good. Really good. His entire body was pressed against hers and she could feel his breath ruffling her hair.

She felt like she was going to come at any second, already on edge from everything that he’d done to her. With her.

“I’m gonna -“ she whimpered as he withdrew a little before pressing back in.

“That fast, huh?” he asked, kissing the back of her neck.

“Yes,” she admitted as he set a rhythm with his hips. “I’m gonna come, Rio.”

“Yeah?” He nipped her earlobe. “Do it, baby. Come on. All over me, sweetheart.”

Her fingers squeezed his tightly as he kept thrusting.

“Come on,” he said, “that’s it.”

She came like that, moaning as she tried to angle his cock just right. He wouldn’t let her, but it didn’t make a difference as she wailed into the pillow.

His pace picked up and he groaned into her ear.

Beth shivered. “Come in me,” she said, turning her head as much as she could. “I want to feel you dripping out of me.”

His hips were slapping against her now.

“I want you to put your fingers inside of me,” she went on, “get them filthy, then put them in my mouth.”

That did it and Rio came with a moan, his hips bearing down on hers as he ground himself against her while he emptied inside of her.

Beth moaned into the pillow under her head. They stayed like that for a moment, him covering her completely with his body as his breath slowed.

“Fuck,” he muttered before starting to disengage. The loss of his weight made Beth feel unbelievably light, as though she might float off, untethered.

He guided her over onto her back.

“You good?” he asked.

Beth nodded.

“You mean what you just said?”

Beth’s throat felt dry. She nodded again.

Maintaining eye contact, Rio moved his hand down between her legs and slid two fingers inside of her without preamble. Beth’s hips jerked as they curled, then withdrew.

He shifted forward so that he was leaning on his other hand as he raised his fingers to her lips and fed her his cum. For her part, Beth took them both all the way in, sucking and licking them clean.

He did it a second time, pumping his fingers a few times before crooking them and dragging them out as Beth’s legs twitched. Again, she cleaned them with her tongue.

“Fuck,” he hissed, then bent over and kissed her deeply.

She expected his fingers a third time, but instead, he pulled away.

It took Beth a second to realize what he was doing.

She bolted upright with an almost shriek when his mouth descended onto her cunt again. She could feel his tongue push inside of her, then he was pulling away and coming up her body to kiss her again.

This time, his cum was on his tongue and Beth felt herself clamp down on nothing as she took it from him and swallowed.

He did it again and again, moving down her body and fucking her with his tongue and fingers, then returning to her mouth until there was nothing left and Beth was crying as he finger fucked her to one last orgasm.

She could feel the tears sliding down the sides of her face as she wailed his name.

When she finally came down, he kissed her like it was something special, them being together. It was almost enough to make Beth’s heart burst with happiness.

“So,” he said when he pulled away, “guess this means that one day in the future, I might have to propose to you again.”

Beth laughed. “Again? I’m pretty sure the first time was my idea, buddy.”

Laughing with her, he rolled onto his back and lifted his head to slide his arm beneath it.

"Whatever you say, Elizabeth."