A knock has Claire scurrying down the hall, pausing in front of her mirror to check her hair, run chapstick over her lips, and slide her feet into a pair of flats. When she opens the door and sees Owen, she groans. “You have got to be kidding me.”
He’s wearing a crisp white button up, perfectly fitted to his broad shoulders, sleeves rolled up to his elbows to reveal tanned, toned forearms. His charcoal slacks are pressed, the creases falling just right over a pair of almost new black dress shoes.
“You said we were going to do this date your way,” she complains as he steps into her foyer. “I can’t go out with you dressed like that when I’m dressed like this!”
Owen’s eyes run down, taking her in in a way that makes her want to fidget. He smiles that slow, almost mocking smile that tells her he thinks she’s just a little crazy and steps closer to her, sliding his hands under the cashmere of her cardigan and around until they’re in the back pockets of her jeans.
“You look great,” he says, and she scoffs.
“You’re such an asshole, you know that? You show up here in slacks – slacks! – and just –”
His lips are hot against hers, and she takes the barest moment to applaud her foresight with the chapstick before twining her arms around his neck and bringing him closer. Kissing Owen is still a thrill – still makes her want to pull them to a wall so she can wrap her legs around him and feel every single inch of him pressing into every single inch of her – and it isn’t until he kicks the door closed that she pulls back.
“Owen, no,” she says, as his nose traces a path down her neck. “No. You promised. I promised. Our second date isn’t going to be like our first and –”
“It isn’t,” he agrees, guiding her backward down the hallway.
“An examination of the current situation would suggest –”
“The situation,” he breathes against her skin, “is that you can’t go out dressed like that while I’m dressed like this. You said so yourself.”
She gasps as he slides her cardigan off and drops it on the hallway floor, fingers trailing up and down her arms. “Owen.“
“I’m just doing you a favor. You have to change, right?” he argues, pulling her tank top over her head.
She stands there in jeans and a kelly green lace bra, exasperated. “You know perfectly well that –”
“That whatever’s under your jeans matches that bra? Damn right I do. You’re an organized sort of person, if I recall.”
“And, in the spirit of organization and efficiency, wouldn’t you say that it makes the most sense to just proceed straight to the –”
“If you say prize, I swear to God, Grady, I’ll –”
He’s full on grinning now and the force of his smile makes it too hard for her to think. She’s reduced to whining. “You promised.”
“I promised we wouldn’t have a repeat of our last date,” he agrees. “And we won’t. Last time we actually made it out of the house.”
And then she’s laughing as he tosses her over his shoulder and walks to her bedroom, slapping her ass before dropping her onto her bed and leaning over her.
“Dammit,” she groans as he unzips her jeans, and she shimmies to help him reveal that, yes, she is an organized person. “You planned this, I know you planned this,” she grumbles, her fingers fumbling over buttons as his hands slide under the thin fabric of her bra.
“I improvised,” he counters. “Now quit talking. Can you quit talking?”
Her fingers finish with the last button and she yanks his shirt off, pinching his exposed shoulder. “Survival, huh? Pretty sure I’m going to kill you before the night is over.”
“Twenty minutes. Just let me live for the next twenty minutes.”
“Twenty whole minutes, huh?” she laughs. But then his mouth is back on hers, insistent and needy in a way that’s still new, and she forgets all about her promises and his promises and is more than happy to let this date end, at least, exactly like their last.
“This is ridiculous,” Claire complains after their second failed attempt at making it out the door for a second date. This time she’d come to his place, given very strict instructions as to where they were going and what he should wear, but he’d opened his door in nothing but a damn towel and, with a defeated “Fuck it,” she’d pushed him to his sofa.
“What is? How good you are at MarioKart?” Owen asks. “I agree. Ridiculous. I figured for sure you thought spreadsheets were a computer game when you were a kid or something.”
She whacks him with her steering wheel as their next race loads. “Please. Wait till rainbow road. I’m going to kick your ass.”
“Is there anything you’re not good at? I mean, really. Because I’m starting to think –”
“I’m really bad at losing.”
He snorts. “None of this counts, by the way. Number one, you sharked me. Number two, I’m playing distracted.”
Claire grins, scooting next to him on his sofa, her bare thigh grazing his. “Distracted, huh?”
“Cheater,” he accuses, and watches him struggle to keep his eyes on the screen.
“I don’t see what could be distracting you,” she says innocently, bouncing in excitement when she gets a lightning bolt and zooms past his miniaturized Wario, just barely missing squishing him flat.
“You’re buck ass naked on my couch, Claire. Sit still, at least. Shit.”
She just cackles, watching his question mark reveal a super shell and slowing down just in time to let Peach fly by her Toad and take the hit. She races unchallenged across the finish line.
“Ha! Suck it, Grady!” she says, jumping up and thrusting her arms into the air.
“Dammit,” he groans, and then she’s in his lap and moaning as he breathes her name into her hair.
“Third time’s a charm,” Claire mutters to herself, checking her rearview mirror before she exits. She’s a planner. She’s organized. She’s smart. She can outwit her libido. And she has, dammit. Her Mercedes flashes a calendar alert.
7PM. MEET OWEN AT ANTONIO’S.
No way she can be distracted. She’s going to get there fifteen minutes early and already be sitting at the table she requested in the middle of the dining room in the middle of a very, very public space. She’s planned for every eventuality. There’s no way he can seduce her into staying in. There’s no way he can waylay her in the parking lot. There’s no way they can avoid sitting down and having a meal and an actual adult conversation about their actual adult lives short of him taking her right on top of the table, and – she hopes – even Owen Grady isn’t capable of making her lose her mind that completely.
Already parked and at the restaurant, she’s feeling ridiculously smug when her Bluetooth rings and she glances down to see Owen’s sleeping face flash across her phone.
“No way, Owen. You’re meeting me at the restaurant. You’re not showing up in board shorts. We’re going to have a –”
“No, Claire, I –”
“We’re going to have a dinner like two people who have a mutual respect because that’s what a relationship is if I remember –”
“What?” she demands, the hair on the back of her neck rising at his tone and the sound of his frustrated exhale.
“I’m so sorry, but –”
“No way. No way, you are not going to bail. We have reservations, and we are going to have a date if I have to –”
“Jesus, Claire. Stop. I don’t want to bail. I didn’t plan on bailing. I bought a damn tie, for god’s sake, and –”
“You bought a tie?”
“Can you let me get one complete sentence out? Please? I’ll beg if I have to.”
She huffs and crosses her arms, glaring down at her phone.
“Was that your one complete sentence? Because complete sentences usually have a subject, a verb, and an –”
“It’s Blue,” he says all at once.
“The tie?" she asks. His silence sends her heart into her stomach, and she has to remind herself that the Mercedes she’s sitting in is far away from the island and Owen’s raptor. "No –”
“InGen thinks they’ve got a feed, something from one of the paddock cameras. I have to see…I just want to see if she’s ok.”
“I’m sorry, Claire. You don’t know how much.”
“Well,” she says briskly, clenching her trembling fingers into fists. “I hope you find everything to your satisfaction.”
“Don’t be like that,” he says, and it’s his turn to be exasperated.
“I’m not being like anything.”
“Yes you are. You’re doing that frigid ice queen thing because you’re freaking out and there’s nothing to freak out over. It’s not like I’m going back to the island.”
She blanches. “You're damn right you’re not.”
“Shit. Come on. The island happened. You can’t just pretend it didn’t and – ”
“I know it happened. I was there! And I left and it’s over and that’s the end of it.”
“It happened and you need to deal with it, Claire,” he says in the infuriating tone he uses when he thinks he’s being so much smarter than her. “You can’t just stick your head in the sand off the island like you did when you were still on it.”
There’s silence on the other end of the phone and she slams her head back into the headrest. “What am I even doing?” she snaps before composing herself, starting the Mercedes, and backing out of her parking space. “Say hi to your little pet for me, Mr. Grady.”
“Mr. Grady? Are you fucking kidding me, Claire? You know what that dinosaur meant to – ”
Claire hands up with an angry jab of a button. The drive back to her townhouse is a blur, and it isn’t until she’s parked and inside that the reality of the fight that she’s just had hits her. She kicks her heels at the wall, not bothering to pick them up and stomps own her hallway, shedding clothes as she goes. In the bathroom, she scrubs off the makeup she’d so carefully applied not even an hour and a half ago.
Dropping her bra to the floor she pulls on an over sized t-shirt and climbs into bed. Burrowing into her down comforter, she flips discontentedly through her schedule for the next day and the rest of the week. Meeting after meeting with executive after executive, breaking down the park’s assets and insurance and accounting. Briefing damage control team after damage control team. As if she could even begin pretending that the island hadn’t happened. It still consumed her entire schedule when she wasn’t with Owen. And all this was before the inevitable lawsuits started rolling in – before she drowned in a sea of lawyers and subpoenas.
Frustrated and angry with herself and with Owen and with Masrani’s entire board and really pissed at fucking InGen, she turns on her tv, mindlessly flipping channels for what feels like hours until her phone buzzes. Seeing Owen’s stupid face, she hits ignore only to have it immediately vibrate again. She hits ignore three more times before giving up and turning the damn thing off, pitching it into her nightstand.
Barely ten minutes later there is a pounding at the front door. Bolting up in bed, Claire scrambles for her phone, turning it on as she creeps down her hall.
“Open the door, Claire,” Owen shouts. “Open the damn door!”
She’s almost to the door when she stops walking, not moving as he starts knocking again. “I know you’re in there. I can see you. I’m not going away so quit being stubborn for once in you life and let me in. Please. Let me in, Claire.”
Dropping her phone next to her car keys in a little crystal bowl, she unlocks her deadbolt. She’s barely turned the knob when he strides in, slamming the door behind him before pulling her into his chest.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers into her hair. “I’m so sorry, babe.”
Her nose wrinkles a little at the pet name, but the more he says it, the more he repeats how sorry he is over and over, the more she likes how easily he’s fallen into it.
“I didn’t mean it,” he says, pulling back and cupping her cheeks in his hands. “I’m an asshole. You drive me god damn crazy, but I’m an asshole.”
“I’m sorry, too” she says quietly, fingering the tie that he’s loosened but not taken off. Using it to pull him down to her, she kisses him, and her desperation has them stumbling backward. Her back hits the wall and her legs have barely wound their way around his waist when it occurs to her that all her planning was for nothing for a third time.
The next morning, she wakes up with a sleepy smile, stretching out and reaching over, freezing when she finds cool sheets instead of warm skin. She rolls to grab her phone, cursing when she remembers she left it in the hallway.
“Owen,” she calls out, jumping from the bed, not caring that she’s naked as she hurries toward the foyer. “Owen this isn’t funny!”
She’s just snatched her phone when she sees a sticky on the table next to it.
Went home to shower. Be here, 11am. – Owen
Under his name is an address. A glance at her phone tells her she barely has enough time to sprint down the hallway and shower before meeting him. It takes longer to get ready than she’d hoped, but part of her relishes making him wait. For all Owen’s posturing about being laid back and casual, he can’t stand being late for things, and he hates when people keep him waiting.
She pulls on a skirt and sweater, sliding into her heels as she walks past her discarded clothing from the previous night. Resisting the urge to tidy up, she heads for the garage, speaking the address into her GPS system as she heads toward downtown.
When she parks in front of a dilapidated looking diner at 11:07, she rolls her eyes. Grabbing her bag she heads inside, smirking when she sees Owen waiting for her.
“You’re late,” he says.
“For what?” she asks, plopping down across from him.
“For our date.”
“It’s not dinner, but it’s a meal. To be shared by two people with a mutual respect for each other. As promised.”
“I don’t know if I would technically call this a meal,” she says, perusing the sticky menu in front of her.
“I’ve seen the contents of your fridge, woman. It’s not non-dairy creamer or yogurt so be grateful.”
Deciding on pancakes, she drops her menu and watches as Owen stares at his, smiling when he mindlessly takes her hand in his. “So. A date.”
“A date,” he agrees, dropping his menu and waving the waitress over. She takes their orders and leaves them alone. “Pretty sure if tequila is out for a diet, pancakes are too.”
“I figure I burned enough calories last night to justify them.”
Owen hasn’t let go of her hand, has instead started slowly rubbing his thumb over her palm, and she wonders if maybe she was wrong, if maybe Owen Grady could have convinced her to bend over a table in the middle of a restaurant.
“I knew you were thinking about sex,” he says, watching her with a smile.
“I was not!”
“You were. Your neck gets all pink when you’re turned on.”
“You’re a jerk,” she says, but she’s smiling too.
“I’m sorry about last night, Claire. So sorry.”
“Alive. Well. Her scratches are healing.”
“We don’t have to talk about the island. I didn’t bring you here to talk about – ”
“I know you didn’t. But we should. It’s not that I can’t or won’t talk about it, it’s that I’m sick to death of talking about it. It’s all I do all day. And when I’m with you it’s so easy to just turn off the debriefings and the interrogations that I couldn’t help myself.”
He frowns. “You mean you’re still – ”
“What did you think I was doing?” she asked, eyebrows raised.
“I don’t know. Number stuff.”
“Some of it’s number stuff, but I don’t have a park to run anymore. I have a park to dismantle and a logistical nightmare to wade through and it hasn’t even started getting bad yet.”
“If you want to use me as a distraction, that’s fine, I’m more than happy to be of service as long as –”
“I don’t want you to be a distraction, Owen. I want more than that from you.”
He reaches for her other hand, pausing to let the waitress drop off their coffees, before locking eyes with her. “And you can have more. You can have whatever you want. You’re a pain in the ass, Claire, and stubborn as shit, but you got under my skin before everything went to hell. And don’t scrunch up your face. I know you’d say the same thing about me –”
“That you’re a pain in the ass? Absolutely.”
“You know, I always figured I’d hate that pet name – any pet name, really – but no, not so much.”
“See? I bring out the best in you. Already way more open-minded.”
She kicks his boot under the table. “And here you are, wearing actual pants, actually showing up to a date that you actually planned and made an itinerary for. I’d say that we bring out the best in each other.”
“Bullshit. I didn’t make an itinerary!”
She slides her hand out of his grip, pulling a post it from her purse and slapping it on the table. “Itinerary.”
“You’re freaking impossible,” he groans, sliding down in the booth and shaking four sugars into his coffee.
“I know I am. That’s why we had to stop having sex for five minutes and have a conversation. So you’d remember that.”
“I promise to never forget that you’re an impossible pain in my ass.”
“I love the way you say my name when you’re all huffy. But let me cut through the crap right now. I knew you were an impossible pain in my ass when I first met you. I knew it when I watched you in the damn control room every time I was there. I knew it when I asked you out the first time. I knew it when I was flirting with you outside my bungalow. I knew it when you tied your shirt into a stupid knot like that suddenly made you ready to brave the wilderness. I knew it when you pulled a flare and brought a T-Rex to a dinosaur fight because a kid thought it’d be a great plan.”
“Excuse me! It was a great plan and – ”
“I knew it when you ran past me into the jungle wearing those stupid heels, and I knew it when I told you I figured we ought to stick together. I knew it when I asked you for a second date and I’ve known it every time we’ve fallen into bed with each other since. I like that you’re an impossible pain in my ass. You’re a hell of a woman, Claire.”
“Yes, well, I know that.”
“And you know I’m a hell of a guy.”
“So true,” she agrees with a sarcastic nod and he smiles and leans across the table to brush his lips over hers seconds before pancakes are placed in front of her and about ten tons of breakfast meat are piled in front of him.
“Something about this works, Claire. Something besides just the sex. So now we’ve had a second date, and I’ll have a lot of fun drawing out us having a third and we’ll talk about things because this is a relationship now. It’s official. Pass the salt, please.”
Wordlessly, Claire hands him the salt, wondering as he sprinkles it liberally all over everything in sight how he maintains the perfect body she spent last night running her hands all over.
“A relationship. Deal,” she says, pulling out her phone and opening her calendar.
“Are you seriously marking this down?” he asks, pulling a face.
“No, I’m rescheduling my afternoon conference calls.”
“What? Why?” he asks around a mouthful of bacon, and she rolls her eyes and gives him a look.
He grins at her raised eyebrows.
“Eat faster,” he orders, shoveling eggs into his mouth and gulping them down. “And can someone get me the check!”