Beach Read

Page 32

“A lot of people have told me I look like her,” I said.

“There’s no way that’s true.”

“Okay, they haven’t, but they should have.”

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “You look nothing like her.”

“On the one hand, I’m offended. On the other, I’m relieved you probably don’t loathe my face.”

“There’s nothing to loathe about your face,” he said matter-of-factly.

“There’s nothing to loathe about Meg Ryan’s face either.”

“Fine, I take it back. I love her face. Does that make you happy?”

I turned toward him. His head was propped in his hand, his body angled toward me, and the light from the screen just barely caught his eyes, drawing liquidy slivers of color in them. His dark hair was as messy as ever, but his facial hair was back under control, and that smoky smell still hung on him.

“January?” he murmured.

I maneuvered onto my side, facing him, and nodded. “It makes me happy.”

His knee bumped mine. I bumped his back.

A shadow of a smile passed over his serious face, there and gone so fast I might’ve imagined it. “Good,” he said.

We stayed like that for a long time, pretending to watch the movie from an angle where neither of us could possibly see more than half the screen, our knees pressed into one another.

Whenever one of us rearranged, the other followed. Whenever one of us could no longer bear the discomfort of one position, we both shifted. But we never stopped touching.

We were in dangerous territory.

I hadn’t felt like this in years—that almost painful weight of wanting, that paralyzing fear that any wrong move would ruin everything.

I glanced up when I felt his gaze on me, and he didn’t look away. I wanted to say something to break the tension, but my mind was mercilessly blank. Not the blinking-cursor-on-a-white-screen blank of trying to concoct a novel from thin air. The color-popping-in-darkness blank of scrunching your eyes shut. Of staring at flames too long.

The pulsing blank of feeling so much you’re incapable of thinking anything.

The staring contest stretched an uncomfortable distance without either of us breaking it. His eyes looked nearly black, and when the light from the screen hit them, the illusion of flames sparked in them, then vanished.

Somewhere deep in my mind, a self-preservation instinct was screaming, THOSE ARE THE EYES OF A PREDATOR, but that was exactly why nature gave predators eyes like that. So dumb little rabbits like me wouldn’t stand a chance.

Don’t be a dumb bunny, January!

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said abruptly.

Gus smiled. “You just went to the bathroom.”

“I have a really tiny bladder,” I said.

“I’ll go with you.”

“That’s okay!” I chirped and, forgetting I was in a car, sat up so fast I slammed my head into the roof.

“Shit!” Gus said at the same time I hissed out a confused, “WHAT?”

He bolted up and shuffled on his knees toward where I sat, clutching my head. “Let me see.” His hands cradled the sides of my face, tilting my head down so he could see the crown of my skull. “It’s not bleeding,” he told me, then angled my face back up into his, his fingers threaded gently through my hair. His eyes wandered down to my mouth, and his crooked lips parted.

Oh, damn.

I was a bunny.

I leaned toward him, and his hands went to my waist, drawing me onto his lap so that I was straddling him where he knelt. His nose brushed the side of mine, and I lifted my mouth under his, trying to close the gap between us. Our slow breaths pressed us into each other and his hands squeezed my sides, my thighs tightening against him in reaction.

One time one time one time was all I could think. That was his policy, right? Would it really be so bad if something happened between us, just once? We could go back to being friends, neighbors who talked every day. Could I do casual, this one time, with my college crush turned nemesis, seven years after the fact? I couldn’t think clearly enough to figure it out. My breathing was shaky and shallow; his was nonexistent.

We hovered there for a minute, like neither of us wanted to accept the blame.

You touched me first! I’d say.

You leaned in! he’d fire back.

And then you scooped me into your lap!

And you lifted your mouth toward mine!

And then—

His mouth dragged warm breath across my jaw and then up to my lips. His teeth skated across my bottom lip, and a small hum of pleasure went through me. His mouth quirked into a smile even as it sank hot and light against my mouth, coaxing it open. He tasted like vanilla and cinnamon left over from the Ice Cream Surprise, only better than the dessert itself had. His heat rushed into my mouth, into me, until it was flooding through me, racing like a river current baked hot by the sun. Want dripped through me, pooling in all the nooks that formed between our bodies.

I reached for a handful of his shirt, feeling the warmth of his skin through the thin material. I needed him closer, to remember how it felt to be pressed against him, to be wrapped around him. One of his hands swept up the side of my neck, his fingers curling under my hair. I sighed into his mouth as he kissed me again, slower, deeper, rougher. He tipped my mouth up to him for more, and I grabbed for his ribs, trying to get closer. He leaned into me until my back met the side of the car, until he pressed hard against me.

A stupid gasp escaped me at the feel of his chest unyielding against mine, and I ground my hips against his. He braced one hand on the window behind me, and his teeth caught my bottom lip again, a little harder this time. My breaths came fast and shaky as his hand swiped down the car window to my chest, feeling me through my shirt.

I raked my hands through his hair, arched into the press of his hand, and a low, involuntary groan lifted in his throat. He leaned away and flipped me onto my back, and I greedily pulled him over me. A pulse went through me at the feeling of him hard against me, and I tried to will him closer than clothes allowed. That sound rasped out of him again.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been this turned on.

Actually, I could. It was seven years ago in a frat house basement.

His hand slipped up beneath my shirt, his thumb scraping up the length of my hip bone and seeming to melt it as he went. His mouth grazed hot and damp down my neck, sinking heavily against my collarbone. My whole body was begging him for more without any subtlety, lifting toward him as if pulled by a magnet. I felt like a teenager, and it was wonderful, and it was horrible, and—

He tightened over me as light hit us, as cold and sobering as if someone had dumped a bucket of ice water on us. We sprang apart at the sight of the surly middle-aged woman with the flashlight aimed our way. She had a frizzy triangle of gray hair and a bright blue track jacket screen printed with the BIG BOY BOBBY’S logo.

She cleared her throat.

Gus was still propped up over me with one hand tangled in the hem of my shirt.

“This is a family establishment,” the woman hissed.

“Well, you’re doing a great job.” Gus’s voice was thick and husky. He cleared it again and gave the woman his best Evil smile. “My wife and I were just saying we should bring the kids here sometime.”

She folded her arms, apparently immune to the charms of his mouth. Must be nice.

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