My head was spinning when I left the cafe, an hour and more late for meeting the Swan Books rep. Some manager, Jill.
Jennifer had hardly touched her coffee in the end - what was gone from her cup was mostly spilled on the table. She'd paid for it, though, which was one step up from Anna, who never did. Paid for mine, too, tipped the waitress enough to make the girl look embarrassed.
It wasn't how I'd anticipated spending my lunchbreak. In the end I hadn't even managed to get lunch - and my tummy growling the rest of the day kept reminding me of that. Resorted to stealing the complimentary mints from the front counter while Anna wasn't looking. Nasty, and hardly a meal, but probably better than the Starbucks coffee I'd lived on when I'd first moved to the city.
Nothing in the paper again. Circling things I'm not qualified for so I won't feel completely useless. My coffee's going cold on the counter.
Finding an apartment isn't going much better. A mattress on the living room floor of some girl I barely knew in high school isn't what you'd call permanent accommodation. Turning to that section of the paper will be too depressing. A finger tracing down the "Help Wanted" ads leaves me with an ink-smeared fingertip and not much more to show for it.
Reaching for my coffee - it isn't there.
The man at my left sputters, drops his cup, reaches for a napkin to clean up the mess he's made of his white shirt.
"I think that was my coffee."
He looks up at me from his crouch on the ground. "I'm not sure this counts as coffee. How many sugars did -"
"Four." Snatching the empty cup off him as he rises to his feet. "I've got to have something to hide the taste of Starbucks."
His full height is even greater than I was expecting. I'm tall, embarrassingly tall, for a girl, but I'm standing eyes even with his chin. He pushes his steaming cup of coffee across the countertop towards me - "it's black, one sugar, nothing you can't fix" - and his hand is large enough to engulf the cup.
"Couldn't you have drunk that one first up?"
He smiles, a row of white teeth in the dark of his beard. "I have to admit, I wasn't paying attention. How about I buy you a replacement?" His dark eyes flick to the page I'm clutching. "And how about I see if I can set you up an interview?" There's a signet ring on the third finger of the hand he holds out for me to shake. "I'm Robbie."
"What's gotten into you, Jill?" Anna snapped, right in my ear.
I dropped my hand guiltily from the candy jar, still with a half-dozen mints clutched in my fist. "Uhhh ... what do you mean?"
"You're wandering around in a total daze. You've ignored the last three customers who've come in here, and you keep homing in on the candy like you're addicted to the stuff."
Waiting for Anna to pause for breath, I noticed I'd put all the John Grishams in the display upside down. Oh God, my head really wasn't together this afternoon.
"Look, there're no customers here at the moment, so you are going to sit down. Here. Sit." She shoved a stool at me and I sat, obedient but feeling downright stupid: six foot of me on a foot-high kiddie stool, my knees up around my ears. "And tell me exactly why you seem to be off with the damn fairies."
"Well... uhhh..." I was grappling for words but none were coming.
"Failing that," Anna continued, turning back into hyper-efficient tornado wench as the door buzzer signalled the approach of a customer. "You can always straighten up those books."
I dropped the remaining mints back into the jar, and stood up, absentmindedly wiping my hand on my skirt. I was thinking again about how Jen had overtipped the waitress, and it made me smile.
"I thought you'd quit," I said, as the reek of clove cigarettes alerted me to Robert's presence.
"I've got no control over my own bad habits," he retorted, flicking the cigarette butt to the floor and grinding it out under one of his sneakers. "Only yours. What did you want?"
Preamble would have been pointless. "Who is she?"
"Ah." After a brief scan for chewing gum and spilled beer, he lowered himself onto the bar stool. I could hear his joints cracking. "Now the questions start. So, are you going to ask me about the man on the yacht? Or the Italian?"
"They're gone. No point asking."
A little smirk lifted his moustache. "But she's not. So you want all the answers."
I wasn't about to gratify him with anything colourful, so I sipped my beer - my second of the morning - and said nothing.
"You've suddenly realised those have been real people at the other end of the scope all these years, and your conscience is all up in arms about it." Like a lizard, he still hadn't blinked. "I'm surprised it took you this long to notice."
I hunched my shoulders till the fabric of my t-shirt went taut. "None of them ever looked back at me before."
I could still see the jogger's eyes, narrowed with concentration as he pushed himself for the final leg of his morning run. His closeness, through the impassive lens of the riflescope, had been a shock, but his gaze had been oblivious. And then - empty.
"You still have a job to do. You messed up once, and that can be forgiven, but the contract hasn't lapsed."
"Are you kidding?" I retorted. "I can't even drink coffee without spilling it. You expect me to be able to shoot?"
I lean over the table, steadying the cue between the knuckles of my first two fingers. There is a smudge of blue chalk on my thumb. Then my eyes snap to the white ball, to the red three nestled between two stripes, to the far corner pocket.
The red is sunk.
"You're a good shot," he comments, as I tap the six in on top of the three.
I grunt, take a deep breath, smash the thirteen out of the way as the seven falls. "It's not a hard game."
The two bounces out again. I've hit it too hard.
Robert grins, snatches up his own cue with a swing that grazes my shoulder. "That's no reason to get overconfident."
He's making short work of the table. I sip my beer, scarcely interested.
"I didn't mean to tell you all that stuff I said before," I venture, as he's hunkered over the black.
He glances up, his arm tightens, and the eight ball comes off the end cushion straight at my head. It's stinging against my palm before I realise I've moved to catch it.
My glass of beer, abandoned in mid-air, shatters on the carpet at my feet.
"You don't drink coffee." Robert gave me, and my beer, a curious look.
I watched his jaw tighten beneath the scrub of his beard. "You spoke to her."
"Jennifer had coffee with her, yes." I didn't try to disguise my bitterness.
He bit his lip, thoughtful. "This complicates things."
"I'm not going to do it."
He leaned in close, and I could smell beer and cigarettes on his breath. "Now isn't the time to start listening to that fledgling conscience, Corey. We both know the kinds of things you've done. And this is no different."
I straightened on my stool. "The point is, I'm different."
Robert exhaled slowly, and shook his head at the bartender's approach. The spiky-haired young man went back to polishing glasses, and Robert seemed lost in his thoughts.
Finally, ominously, he said: "This is why I warned you," and reached into the pocket of his jacket.
The muscles in my back tensed, knowing what was to come, praying he wouldn't do it here, hoping the boy behind the bar would be spared the sight - but he only pulled out a cigarette and tucked it into the corner of his mouth.
"Sit down," he growled, struggling with his lighter and not bothering to look up. "I'm not going to hurt you." I caught a whiff of butane as the lighter ignited, and then the stink of cloves.
Despite the sign above the bar forbidding cigars and clove cigarettes, the bartender kept his distance. There was something about Robert that no one wanted to tangle with.
"So you're different," he continued, as dragonish smoke trickled from his nostrils. "What does that change? Who does that bring back?"
I was chewing my lower lip, a habit I'd never managed to wean myself from, and the slight sting told me it was bleeding.
Robert was waiting for my answer, but I had none. My teeth peeled loose skin from my lip, my tongue tasted blood and salt and beer. He lifted his head, and I saw myself as he'd first seen me - small, red-haired, sixteen years old, still round-cheeked and stupid as a puppy - as twin reflections in his coffee-dark eyes.
It was always the obvious. "Me."
He closed his eyes, flicked the ash from his cigarette, ground it out on the bar with a twist I would have called vicious if his expression had not been so bleak. His eyes opened again. "Ah," he murmured, and snagged a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket.
Robert's handwriting was worse than a doctor's. I blinked at the scrawl on the back of the coaster until the letters resolved themselves. Jill Tennant, it said. Her name, and an address.
"Go on, then," Robert said, and his voice was harsh. I glanced up at him, my mind still translating his chickenscratch into meaningful text. "See if it helps. Knowing who she is."
There was no point in hesitating. Thrusting the coaster into the pocket of my jeans, I headed for the door.
At his voice, I turned to look back at him. His big hands were steepled beneath his chin, knuckles pressing into the darkness of his beard. There was a desolate slump to his broad shoulders.
"What is it, Robert?" My voice sounded gentler than I had intended.
"She works in a bookshop."
Jennifer, on the doorstep, like a lost puppy.
"Hi..." Out of breath; she'd been running.
"Hello." I kept my hand on the door. "How'd you-?"
She ducked her head, embarrassed, and strands of red-gold fell over her eyes. Her braids were gone. "I asked at the bookshop."
"They gave you my address?" Oh, I felt so much safer now!
"No." Her hand dragged nervously through her pixie locks. "Just your surname. But it wasn't too hard to find you."
"Ah." Very safe, in no sense of the word. If Jennifer could find me, so could anyone. The thousands of eyes were suddenly back, staring at me from buildings, cars and trees. I had to get inside and shut the door.
But Jennifer was still standing there, hand on the back of her neck, awkward as a teenager. I could see her knee through a tear in her faded jeans.
Grasping at the shreds of my manners, I mumbled, "Won't you come in?" and pulled the door closed behind us.
"You changed your hair," I said, to break the stupid silence that followed.
"A change is as good as a holiday." She smiled without it reaching her eyes; she was checking out the apartment. "Nice place. Your fish?" Stalking to the mantelpiece and giving Arthur the eye. Arthur stared right back; no fazing a fish.
I stepped back, giving her room to prowl. My apartment had somehow become her den.
"Arthur. Dent." Trying to keep a grip on something, I turned back to the fishbowl. "As in, 'So long and thanks for all the fish'." I glanced at her, wondering if she'd get the reference.
She was at the bookshelf now, scanning every book. Casing the joint, she had to be. She flicked through my CD collection, unearthed Billie Holiday with a grimace.
"If you're going to rob me, can you at least leave my CDs alone?"
Her head shot up. "I'm not a thief." Billie Holiday went back on the shelf, and her hand ran down the disc's spine to align it with the others.
"Then what are you doing?"
"Standing in your living room." I hadn't picked her for the blushing type. "I had to see you again. I can't give you a better reason than that."
"Okay." I folded my arms, realised I would look defensive, and let them hang at my sides again.
"I don't really drink coffee," she said, sounding guilty.
"So I'd noticed."
"I didn't want to seem rude."
"So you came to apologise?" I must have looked startled. "For not drinking coffee?"
"Essentially." That made two blushes in as many minutes. Red suited her.
I couldn't help but smile at that. "You should have said."
"And miss the pleasure of your company?"
"It's hardly a pleasure."
"You're belittling yourself."
My knees were going weak; I needed to sit down. Of course, if I sat, she'd probably sit too. And we'd be of a height, and those devastating green eyes would be ...
Would be what, Jill? Just the eyes of some woman named Jennifer you met at the bus stop yesterday. Just her eyes.
Oh Christ. I sat. My legs weren't going to keep me up any longer.
She sat. I sat. The restlessness in my limbs was no less; I continued to fight the urge to pace. So much for stillness, Corey. No wonder you missed; you can barely stay in your skin around this woman.
She was staring at me again. "You went to a lot of trouble to apologise to someone you barely know."
"I feel like it was worth it."
If this was a movie, this would be the point at which the leading man leaned across to the leading lady for their first kiss. But I was no leading man. And this wasn't a date.
And she didn't want to kiss me. She was watching me with those big blue eyes, and I was melting.
And I was wrong. She did want to kiss me. She was kissing me. Her mouth was heat. My hands caught in her hair as I cupped the nape of her neck and pulled her closer.
Our mouths, then our bodies met, tangled, crushed against each other with increasing urgency. Now or never. Frantic. My thigh between hers as she arched up against me. Her hands beneath my shirt, her nails dragging welts down my back. I gasped. Her body shuddered with release.
We lay like that for a long time, her thighs slowly easing their desperate grip of mine. My jeans were soaked through, as much from the sweat pouring off my skin as from the wetness within me. Where our bodies still pressed against one another, I could feel her trembling. I was hardly steadier myself - my legs would not have supported my own weight. I slid back from our embrace, sank back into the lumpy sofa cushions.
She was staring at me, still wordless. Her eyes were flame blue, her skin flushed. Strands of her hair were plastered to her temples and the nape of her neck. I smoothed her hair back, and she caught my trailing thumb in her mouth, tracing gently with her tongue.
I was trying to read the expression in her eyes, but could not.
Sally Kovacs is senior editor of the school magazine, a position dependent more on popularity than editorial skill. I am not popular. I follow her like a puppy dog. She is gorgeous, blonde, with hair that turns to ringlets when damp.
Her hair is damp now. She's sweating with me on the long bench out in the breezeway, with the forgotten magazine proofs scattered at our feet.
Her mouth has discovered my breast, exposed by a t-shirt dragged up and a bra dragged down. My hands clutch at the soft wool of her skirt, my body too jack-knifed by sensation to bring purpose to the convulsions of my fingers.
She lifts her head and gives me a look I can't read. My mind is screaming "I understand," my body is shrieking "I want," and she is looking me in the eye for the first time since she kissed me.
A hand on the scruff of my neck drags me from her lap and hurls me across the room.
"You're not welcome in our home," says my mother's voice, while whirling darkness resolves itself into a gout of blood from my nose and a chunk of flesh from the inside of my lip.
I hear the rustling of papers, then the tap of Sally Kovacs' shoes on the stairs.
When I finally raise my head, my mother is standing over me. "Cover yourself," she says, and walks away.
At school the next day, Sally Kovacs will not look me in the eye.
Jill was no Sally Kovacs; her eyes did not leave mine. She gazed hotly back at me, as though she was trying to memorise my face.
I suddenly couldn't bear that intimate scrutiny. What if she saw into me?
The muscles in my back jumped; I twisted aside, scrambled to my feet even as confusion started across her face.
"I'm sorry," I choked, locking my arms across my chest to hide my trembling.
What if she saw through me and wanted to know me anyway?
Next thing, I was running for the door.
Somewhere in the midst of it all she'd left a mark on my neck. Small as my thumbnail, and the faintest smear of purple, but this mark was proof that it had happened. That she and I had touched, more than touched.
Stood in front of the mirror for fifteen minutes, maybe more, just touching the mark with my fingertips, making sure it didn't smudge off.
Wasn't anything but what it looked like.
But she'd gone.
Did she think it was a mistake? I could feel my heartbeat right down into my gut, right down into my thighs. It wasn't a mistake.
And I'd be damned if she was going to run off and try to forget me.
The vodka went down like water and I wondered dimly how many I'd had. Not that it made a difference, my bank account would be unscathed no matter how badly my head pounded in the morning.
I scooped the twist of lemon from the bottom of the glass before the bartender with the nosering could take it from me. It was while I was stripping the pulp from the rind with my teeth that I realised I could still taste Jill's mouth. Even as I was sucking tart drops of lemon juice from my vodka-numbed lower lip the faint tang, the sense of heat, that her kisses had left was still there.
Alcohol had never made me forget a thing.
"You can't be old enough to be here," says a voice.
"So card me." I tighten my grip on my beer. "I have the misfortune to be baby-faced."
He muffles a chuckle, puts his own drink down on the table, and pulls another seat over. He's big - the top of my head would barely reach his shirt pocket - and hairy. Glossy black curls meld into a close-trimmed beard. The hair on his forearms is almost as thick, almost as dark. He is a handsome man in an ape suit.
"You've still got your puppy fat." His dark eyes twinkle.
I gulp my beer, trying to ignore him.
"If you were older than sixteen," he continues, "I'd be surprised."
"Did you come here specifically to insult me?"
He merely looks amused. "These are insults? You must be sixteen." One huge hand engulfs his glass, and he drinks. "And already drowning your sorrows in seedy bars at midday. I'm impressed."
"It's my worldly sophistication coming through." If he's not going to leave, he's not about to out-banter me. I'm riding on three-beer-empty-stomach confidence.
"That would explain the bruises."
My hand rises reflexively to my nose, to the spreading purple of a bruise and the swelling of my lip. "No, that was a misunderstanding."
He sips his drink, waiting for me to continue, and my beer-buzzed mind is happy to do so. My mouth is already three steps ahead, filling in details I don't want to share.
The strange feeling that had settled in the pit of my stomach last summer, noticing my father's jogging shoes gone from the mat by the back door. The knowledge that he wasn't coming back, that he hadn't bothered to say goodbye. How I'd kissed Sally Kovacs, how she'd refused to look at me this morning, and how I still wanted so badly to kiss her again. The revulsion in my mother's voice.
I can't believe I'm telling him these things.
"Do you have any idea how many bars there are around here?"
Her voice was barely audible over the blaring of the jukebox, but it was enough. My head whipped around.
Jill. Looking very sweet, and very lost, in plaid shirt, ponytail and blue jeans. The shadows of the bar did incredible things with her cheekbones, and what light there was shot impossible, electric blue highlights through her eyes.
I was drunk enough that the double-handed shove she aimed at my chest knocked me clear off my stool, and sober enough that the crunch of my tailbone against the floor shot darts of pain up my spine.
It had been a helpless, flailing kind of blow and only dumb luck had rendered it effective.
"It's not fair of you to do that and then go get drunk!" She was angry enough not to wait for me to stand before she went off at me.
There was, however, the length of her denim-clad thigh at my eye level which provided a distraction from both her anger and the alarming fact that she had found me.
If I'd been more sober, I might have had the sense to be concerned, as much at my foolishness as at her tenacity. As it was, the warmth of vodka in my bloodstream drew my rather compromised attention to the length of her legs, to the way the missing button on her obviously well-loved shirt allowed a glimpse of enticingly smooth stomach to peep through the faded blue plaid.
I held my arms out to her, and the familiarity of the way her hands closed around my wrists was almost enough to shock me sober. I sagged into the hollow of her throat, and her chin settled against the crown of my head. She was all curves and heat and smooth long limbs.
"How did you find me?" I murmured, wanting all the while to dissolve into her.
"You looked like you were leaving to do something stupid." The lilt of her voice, deep in her throat, purred against my ear.
"You don't know me well enough to make that kind of call." I concentrated on cutting through the alcohol haze, hoping my voice wasn't slurring. I didn't want to be this drunk. Not tonight.
Took my best efforts to keep my eyes on the road and not on her. Five minute drive back to my place took forever. Glimpses of her profile, the slightly upturned tip of her nose, the white strip of her tummy where her shirt had ridden up as she slouched in the passenger seat. Had the clearest vision of my own hand sliding the length of her stomach.
"You came looking for me."
I could feel her eyes on me, my skin prickling, half memory, half anticipation.
"Yeah, I did." There was a moment while I was changing gears that I thought she might put her hand on mine. For the best that she didn't: I'd have had no concentration left for driving. "And you're hard to find."
White gleam of teeth in my peripheral vision. "Not impossible, though. Apparently."
"Evidently." The tires bumped on the dip in the driveway. I stopped the car, turned off the ignition, twisted to face her. "Why'd you run away?"
Her eyes were so big and green, I wondered just how much she'd had to drink - or even if alcohol was all she'd had. A long minute while she just breathed, sat watching me. She wasn't about to answer the question.
Wasn't even sure I wanted her to. I just wanted to kiss her. "I'm being ridiculous," I blurted. "I'm sorry."
She smelled of tobacco, a bar-room smokiness that clung to her skin and her clothes. The taste of vodka was still on her mouth ...
Hadn't intended that.
I jerked back, hit my head on the rearview mirror.
Her lips were still parted from where we'd kissed, and she sat frozen, startled. I almost expected her to throw open the door and bolt like she'd done before.
"Is this okay?"
Her grin crinkled the corners of her eyes. "We should go inside."
Up the stairs to my apartment, me leaning on Jen, Jen leaning on me - and I was supposed to be sober, for Chrissake.
Supposed to be sober, but this woman ... I had to be drunk on something to want her this badly. This wasn't me.
We stumbled through the door, separated by nothing at all, her fingers curled through mine.
She rubbed her other hand over her eyes, grimaced. "I reek of cigarettes. Can I take a shower?"
So I sat on my bed and waited, heard the water turn on, wondered what her naked body would look like glistening under the shower stream, wondered what she'd look like stretched out beneath me.
And then the bathroom door opened, and steam billowed out, and it was deja vu all over again.
Opening the bathroom door, steam billows out. Robbie's skin is flushed - he has his showers hot - and his dark hair is dripping water down his bare chest. He's got one of my good bath towels wrapped around his waist. Bothers me that he didn't ask if he could use it, but what kind of a protest can I make? Wasn't too many hours ago that it was me wrapped around him.
"Did I wake you up?" he asks, and the way he looks at me I'm suddenly modest, pulling the sheets up to my chin. They stink of sex and his bearish sweat.
"You weren't in the bed." I don't mention that lately he's been this unfamiliar slab of flesh I don't know how to curl up to. And the earnestness he tries for, like he can flick on sincerity like a lightswitch, doesn't hide that. I wonder if he's hollow.
He unwraps a fresh shirt from his briefcase, and I wonder who - not even where, I don't bother with that - he's going to now. "Duty calls," he says, and there are tired shadows under his eyes. He's almost got that one - weary unwillingness - down pat.
I've given up trying to beg him to stay. Used to think maybe there was some job he had to rush to. Now I've given up caring.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," she said, and I must have been staring at her like some gaping idiot.
"I'm sorry. I just ... I was just thinking about something."
"Is that why you're shivering?" The mattress flexed as she sat down beside me. Her hair, wet, was copper-dark, with strands at her temples spiking out like otter's fur.
"No." Reached out a hand to comb them back, felt the warmth of her cheek beneath my palm. Smooth.
She leaned into my hand, closing her eyes. If she'd been a cat, she would have been purring.
I woke to the warmth of a woman's arms around me, and her breathing soft against my cheek. It was almost dawn outside, though it was the faint glow from a streetlight that blurred a line across the foot of the bed.
I rolled over, and found Jill a hair's-breadth away, sharing the same pillow. Her face was peaceful in sleep, so smooth and innocent I found myself doubting she was real.
As I lay watching her, the faint, dull ache of a hangover began at the back of my skull. I'd been drinking - again - and now I was paying for it. The vague pounding in my head demanded water, but the stillness in my limbs wanted to keep me here, lying beside her.
It was the stillness that won out.
I traced the length of her arm from her shoulder to her elbow, feeling the languid curve of flesh and muscle, the honeyed warmth of her skin. She shifted in her sleep, pressing her arm into the hollow of my palm. I slid my hand back to her shoulder, across her collarbone, my thumb drawing the dip between tendon and bone, settling in the notch at the base of her throat. The skin there tensed as she breathed, her sternum lifting against the heel of my hand. If I concentrated, listened in the silence beyond the hush of her breath, my breath, the low growl of cars passing in the street below her open window, I could feel the strong, steady beat of her heart in her chest.
She was real.
Her eyes flicked open, deep velvet blue in the half-light. I recognised the shy smile, the downcast gaze, half embarrassment, half amazement at finding herself awake and naked beside me.
She's never done this before, I realised.
But her stare levelled, she met my eyes - and the trust implicit in the gesture, that was something new to me. Something that kicked me in the chest and left me breathless.
"You stayed," she said quietly, and I heard the little tremor of relief in her sleep-husky voice. "Thank you."
She'd stayed. I'd had this dread that I'd wake to empty sheets and never see her again. But I'd woken and there she was. Staring at me.
I leaned forward and kissed her, and knowing that I could was almost as sweet as the kiss itself. Hadn't understood kissing till kissing her. Her tongue in my mouth was like ten kinds of wonderful, all honey and salt and craziness, and her lips soft, and her skin smooth, and little lightning pinpricks all through me. Her hand at the back of my neck, through my hair, down my back.
Tearing away for breath at last, I watched her smile break like a fever. I could taste her spit in my mouth, and swallowed.
Our second kiss was just barely brushing lips.
"I can't believe you're here," I said, realising the silence hadn't needed to be filled, but feeling the words bubbling out. "I can't believe I want you this badly." Couldn't believe I could say that without blushing, either. A little smirk was playing on her mouth. I had no trouble meeting her eyes, though, no trouble looking into them.
Her steady stare was molten. Found myself quite willing to be an addict to whatever caused that gleam.
Christ, Jill, you're falling for her.
She's naked in your bed! Isn't it a bit late to be worrying about things like that? Isn't it pointless to wonder if she likes you when you've already kissed the taste of yourself off her wet mouth? Oh God...
Is it always like this?
I was sick of it not being real. This was real. She was here with me. The way her body fitted to mine, and the way her eyes sought my face as I leaned into her. These things made me feel solid. Not the floating, underwater silence which descended as I set the stock of the rifle against my shoulder. Not that distant focus. I was aware of the blue of her eyes, the velvet of her hair tickling my cheeks, the sound of her breathing, the perspiration sheen on her stomach as it tensed. Her breathing shallowed as I ran a hand up the inside of her thigh, slid two fingers inside her.
"Jennifer..." she whispered, and I hated the mask I wore.
I saw the question rise in her eyes, deflected it with the motion of my hand. "Say it."
Her back arched, and her nails sank into my thigh. "Jen..."
"I need to hear it." Please. Please, Jill. I wanted her to ask, I wanted her to get under my skin. But first I wanted to hear her scream my name. I needed that affirmation.
She was trembling on the edge of climax, trying to construct a sentence around the tremors I could feel jolting up her spine. "Wait..."
"What?" The muscles in my forearm, my shoulder, ached. She was clenched around my fingers and my hand did not shake.
She clutched at my arm, trying to pull free. "Wait..." Her head was thrown back, her feet flat against the mattress, her body taut as a bowstring. "Who..." She couldn't articulate.
"Corey Liddell," I said quietly, and she sank back against the sodden sheets with a whimper, still twitching as the muscles in her limbs eased. Her skin was slick.
"Corey Liddell," she echoed, sounding fragile as eggshells.
There was nothing gentle in the crack of her palm across my cheek, or the nails that drove into the back of my hand as she pulled away from me. Her voice was small. "Who the hell are you?"
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