Of course it did. Why, in all the world’s women, did I have to pick the most stubborn of them?
“I need you to disappear for a while. Lay low until we can figure out what the hell a bunch of Immortals I don’t trust as far as I can throw them want with you.” I had more to say, a whole case in my defense I’d outlined in my mind this afternoon, but all that went out the mind’s window when her face fell.
“I can’t do that, Patrick,” she said, looking at me like I didn’t know who she was at all. That look cut right through me. “I’m sorry, but I won’t let fear rule my life anymore. It’s already claimed too much of it.”
Her voice was so strong, her expression so betrayed, I almost broke right there, but I didn’t. I had to protect her. At any and all costs. Loving someone meant you protected them.
“Don’t make me throw you over my back, Emma Scarlett,” I said, giving her the slanted little smile that made her melt.
Except for this one instance.
“Then let me make my own decisions,” she said, taking a step back and crossing her arms over her chest.
I bit my tongue before I said something I’d regret. Lacing my fingers over the back of my neck, I spun around, wanting to bang my forehead against the wall until everything made sense again.
“I’m safe, Patrick,” she said, coming up behind me and resting a hand on my shoulder. “I’ve never felt so safe in my life.”
Then the girl had a screwed up definition of the word safe. It was certainly not staying vulnerable in a known location for an army of Immortal beings that could snap her neck with the slightest muscle twitch.
Safe was not when I was trapped behind bars more hours of the day than I wasn’t, unable to protect her from anything that came within an arm’s length that I didn’t recognize.
If I was honest with myself though, safe wasn’t being in any part of my world.
“You know I’m fighting every instinct not to take you right now and hide you somewhere I know no one will find you, right?” I said, tilting my head back to stare at the ceiling because I couldn’t look at her right now. I couldn’t look at everything I could lose in the span of a breath.
“I know,” she answered, spinning me around to her. She waited, not saying or doing anything else until my eyes shifted down to hers.
“What would you do if you were in my situation?” I asked, giving this one more round.
Her hands molded around my face, their warmth melding into me. “I’d trust you.” And that was why so many songs, stories, poems, and movies were made about love. Because it was so damn confusing when you really looked at the fine print, but so simple when you just let it into your life without questions. Because I loved Emma, I needed to both protect and trust her. How in the hell did I do that in this situation?
Loving Emma was easy, as simple as anything I’d set out to do; it was deciding how to convey that love where it got all screwy. Was protection or trust more important? How would I rate them on the scale of everything love encompassed? How would she rate them? Where they mutually inclusive or exclusive entities? Could I implement one without the other?
My head was about to burst from the pretzel of questions and confusion twisting and weaving its way around, so I took the surest course of action to halt all considerations from a man’s mind.
Grabbing Emma, I crushed my body into hers. Her startle of surprise was silenced by my mouth. My hands ended on her hips, my fingers digging into her body. Her hands roamed up my arms, clasping behind my neck as she pulled me closer. Her entire length fixed against mine, like every peak and valley of hers were intended to fit mine.
Her mouth parted mine, her tongue exploring my mouth. Some sound escaped from my throat and, whether it was a groan, sigh, or moan, the interpretation was the same. I craved more. I wanted more. I needed everything. All of her.
My hands skimmed beneath her shirt, pulling the hem with my fingers as they trailed up her body.
Our mouths broke only for the space of time it took to peel the shirt over her head. Then her hands were at my collar, ripping each button of my jumpsuit free. I had one fleeting thought that I really should have dressed better for the occasion, but it was promptly extinguished when her chest shoved against my now bare one.
Tearing the sleeves free from my arms, Emma’s fingers trailed back up my bare arms, exploring every part of me like her tongue continued to do to mine.
Letting my body do all the thinking, I pressed her back towards her bed because I knew I couldn’t stay vertical for much longer from what her body was doing to mine. Every muscle was tensed, every sense on alert, like my entire body was standing on a ledge, ready to fall and going to do nothing to stop it.
Lifting her, I rested Emma on the bed, immediately following. And now, with gravity pressing my body harder against hers, I felt things I couldn’t believe I hadn’t in two centuries of existence. The way a woman’s softness complemented a man’s hardness, the way Emma’s heartbeat burst into my chest like it was my own, the way desire overtook every other emotion at the moment, the way her h*ps curved into mine.
Emma’s mouth left mine, working its way down my neck, her hands coming around and drawing patterns onto my stomach. Taking the chance to catch the breath I didn’t need to survive, but seemed to need in this instance, I moved my hands from behind her neck. One trailed along the fabric of her bra, diving into the cup at the first opportunity. The other moved for the button of her jeans. I couldn’t take anything, clothing included, being between us right now.
“Not so fast,” Emma breathed, a smile in her voice. “You opportunist, you.” I don’t know how I stopped, but I doubted anything short of an act of God could force me to tap the brakes. “Not fast enough,” I replied, adjusting my face so it was right above her. “And yes, in fact, my middle name happens to be opportunist.”
Trailing her fingers down my back in more a gentle, massage way than the rough and tumble way she had moments ago, the way I preferred, she smirked up at me. “That’s not the middle name Bryn told me.”
“Have I mentioned you shouldn’t believe a word out of Bryn’s mouth?” I grumbled.
“So that whole thing with the eyes and the Immortality purity code, rule, law…whatever she and William explained to me this morning, is all just a bunch of bull too?” Her smirk sharpened, but her hands continued their lazy trails up and down my back. “Something you forgot to mention when you were about to hit a home run last night?”
“Biggest bunch of bull ever,” I answered immediately, angling my face so I could kiss her again.
She dodged me. “If you think I’d risk your life just because we couldn’t wait, you’re gravely mistaken, Patrick Opportunist Hayward.”
More than anything, ten times more than admitting my given middle name to Emma, this was what I found myself most pissed at Bryn and William for divulging to her. I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me what I could and couldn’t do with the woman I loved, most of all a bunch of older than dirt Immortals.
“Em,” I began, ready to break into my side of the argument.
“Don’t ‘Em’ me,” she interrupted, flattening her hands over my chest and pushing. I didn’t budge.
“You really think sleeping together would be worth dying for?”
“Hells, yeah,” I said, my eyes widening. “There is no better or more honorable way for a man to go.” Emma groaned. “Could you stop talking with your hormones for five seconds?”
“No promises,” I replied, wondering where this whole thing had derailed.
“Since you are incapable of thinking rationally about this, obviously,” she said, tucking my hair behind my ears, “I’ll have to do it for both of us.”
“Come on, Em,” I said, lowering my mouth to her ear, hoping I could salvage this mess. I planted my mouth against her neck, sucking the sensitive skin. “Rational’s boring. Throw caution to the wind with me.”
“As I was saying,” she said, shoving on my immovable chest again. “And since you seem impervious to my hinting at this, let me just spill it out for you.” Pausing, she cleared her throat and leveled me with a resolved look. A string of curse words sounded in my mind before she opened her mouth. “I will not have sex with you until we’re married. Or United. Or whatever the hell you people do with my kind of people.” Groaning, I rolled off her and buried my face into a pillow.
“Sorry, love,” she said, kissing my shoulder. “But if it’s any consolation, that was a mind-blowing dress rehearsal.”
“There’s no consolation to a man being denied,” I said, my voice muffled by the pillow. “And just so you know, my people aren’t supposed to marry your people.” So I was pouting like a baby, but damn, this woman did things to me that should be illegal to even think about on Sundays.
“William and Bryn found a way to make it work,” she said, rolling onto her side.
“Yeah, they sure did,” I said, rolling onto my side so I could face her. “Their path to the altar was as smooth as a horny toad’s back.”
“Dramatic,” she scoffed, rolling her eyes. “And you said horny.”
“That wasn’t even a Freudian slip, Em. That’s just what I am,” I said, rolling out my lower lip, giving her my best puppy face.
She laughed and shoved my shoulder. “You’ve got such romantic pillow talk.” I let myself join in her laughter, accepting the new direction tonight was taking. I was here with her now, talking, laughing, and close. It was a good night.
“Nothing but the best for you, baby,” I said, throwing my arms around her and pulling her against me.
“Since you’ve made yourself painstakingly clear, we’ll spend the night together fully clothed, not touching below the waist, and pretending like our hormones aren’t going to split us in half by morning. Sound good?”
Folding into me, she let out a contented breath. “Sounds great.” Emma fell asleep five breaths later. And I cursed the stars that, for the second night in a row, I’d struck out. I stayed up the rest of the night, keeping her folded into my arms, trying to figure out a way to keep Emma safe while I demonstrated the trust I had for her. Oh yeah, and how I would be formally tied to a Mortal.
Solutions were in short order on all fronts.
I didn’t wake Em before I’d left that morning. Partly because it was early and partly because she had this peaceful, contented look on her face that I didn’t want to be responsible for ruining with my goodbye.
So I kissed her temple and succumbed to another day at the pen.
“What’s on the menu today, Hayward?” Mr. Rogers hollered over at me as he lined a row of pans with wax paper while we prepped for dinner.
I stared down into the vat of sustenance that was supposed to qualify as food as I stirred it. “Toxic sludge or toxic muck,” I replied, curling my nose. “I can’t tell how this is going to set up yet to tell for sure.”