I gnaw on my lip. “I can’t figure out if you’ve been put off by that,” I whisper. It feels like a decade passes before I decide to push the next words out: “Or turned on by it.”
He shifts beside me, angling his body into mine. When I realize what’s about to happen, my heart is no longer a heart, it’s a gloved fist, punching the wall of my ribs again and again. Andrew lifts a hand, so unhurried, and rests it on the side of my neck.
His breath shakes when he exhales. “Turned on.”
And just like that, Andrew’s lips are on mine. Again, he breaks it too soon, but even in that single, perfect second, his touch was hungrier, playful. It was nothing like the public moment under the mistletoe.
And even though our lips are no longer touching, the intensity continues to ratchet higher because he stays right there, maybe only an inch from me, and he’s struggling to breathe just like I am. It’s dark in here, compressed and warm. A few of his shirts are on hangers—slid to the side so they bracket us—and they smell like him. Those same shirts have been on his skin when he’s worked and sweated, napped and played cards with me in the basement, and now they’re brushing against my back just after he kissed me.
“Is this okay?”
“It’s better than fine,” I whisper.
He laughs, breathlessly, and this here—breathing with him, deliciously anticipating what comes next—is easily the most erotic moment of my life.
I stretch forward just as he bends again, and his mouth is there, lips parting. When his arms come around my waist, pulling me into him, I moan and he takes the opportunity to sweep his tongue across mine.
I get it. I will no longer snort derisively at descriptions of women in novels falling to pieces with barely a touch. I can’t imagine what kinds of noises I’d make if I ever managed to get this man naked.
Heat blazes a path from my mouth down my throat, across my pounding chest, and down the center of my stomach. A million times I imagined this, but my brain is an uncreative disappointment in hindsight, because this is beyond anything I’ve conjured. Andrew tastes like peppermint and chocolate, smells like the smoke from the wood in the fireplace, and feels like sunshine. If you put all my favorite things in a Willy Wonka machine, I’m pretty sure Andrew Hollis is the candy that would come out. It’s all I can do not to press my hips against his and push that flannel shirt off his shoulders.
“You look growly,” he says on his own growl.
I’ve never known this side of him, but it’s like being shown a glimmering, dimly lit hallway. Gemstones line the floor. Gold winks on the walls. Let’s see where this goes, a voice says. For just a breath, I panic that this isn’t the right path. That kissing Andrew in a closet isn’t what I’m supposed to do.
But then he bends, nipping at my jaw, and the hesitation dissolves.
“I feel growly,” I admit.
“Whoever thought Maelyn Jones would be totally fucking irresistible,” he muses to himself, kissing down my neck.
His hand grips my hip and slides up over my waist, stopping painfully far from my breast. “For so long, you were just a kid,” he says. “And then a couple years ago, you weren’t.”
I’m out of words. Instead, I just reach forward, running a finger down his neck to his collarbone.
“I’d had a sex dream about you,” he says, and then breaks out laughing.
“In the bunk bed,” he admits. “Mortifying.”
“When we were all here?”
Andrew nods. “You know how when you have a dream like that, it just stays with you all morning?”
“After breakfast, you and Theo were wrestling on the floor, and you were screaming laughing. Having the best time. I just had to push the thought aside—of seeing you that way. I couldn’t give it any more space to breathe.”
Every word he says requires me to rewrite my mental history. “If I knew that back then, I would have happily reenacted the dream.”
Andrew laughs. “And now you told me you wanted me, and I remembered the tarot cards, and—I don’t believe any of that, or at least I didn’t think I believed it, but I just thought—‘What if all this time, she’s been right in front of me?’ It felt so obvious. When we were on the sled?” he says. “And you smelled like caramel and sweet shampoo?”
“Yeah?” I’m in an Andrew trance.
“I almost leaned forward and kissed your neck. Just like that. Just out of the blue.”
Without thinking, I make a gentle fist in the front of his shirt, pulling him closer. When he lets out a quiet grunt, his breath mixes with mine and suddenly I want to take this sunshine man and do very, very dirty things to him.
“I’ve had almost the identical thought,” I say. “Many . . .” He stretches but then diverts away from my lips. His open mouth lands on my neck, sucking, teeth sinking gently in. I can barely think. “. . . many times.”
Andrew’s hand slides down over my ass to the back of my thigh, and he pulls my leg over his hip, leaning in. A slow grind. I feel him, the heat of his hips against my legs, the solid weight—
Bright light slices across us, and a small body bolts into the closet.
Andrew drops my leg, jerking backward. I throw my hands up like I’m under arrest. We are both breathing so hard and fast we sound like we just did closet CrossFit.
“Found you!” Zachary whisper-screams giddily.
“Oh—hey!” Andrew takes a deep, steadying breath and reaches up, adjusting the neckline of his shirt. “Took you long enough, squirt.”
Even in the dim light I can see the flush on Andrew’s neck, the quick flicker of his pulse beneath the skin. I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked down and found that my skin was on fire.
“I thought you’d be in the Boathouse,” Zachary says.
Andrew guides him to sit between us and closes the door with a gentle click. “There’s nowhere to hide out in the Boathouse.”
Zachary sounds dejected. “That’s what Uncle Ricky said.”
“Where’s Kennedy?” I ask.
“Still looking.” Zachary’s dark eyes shine when he looks at me over his shoulder. “But don’t call her a loser, okay?”
“I would never,” I assure him.
Over the top of Zachary’s head, Andrew and I stare at each other. I feel hot and achy all over. Unsatisfied and jittery.
“To be continued?” he whispers.
Oh, without question.
Andrew pulls out a chair for me when we get to the table, and I have to do a mental double take, trying to figure out if this is normal behavior. Have we ever reached the table in unison before, and if so, has Andrew pulled out my chair for me? A restrained laugh is still shining in his eyes and I know he wants to give me so much crap for being patently uncool right now, but does he not still feel my mouth on his? I certainly still feel the imprint of his kiss.
Benny catches my eye and slowly raises a single brow. I look away.
Objectively, dinner is terrible. The table is cluttered with plates of unidentifiable food: a mass of red and brown that I suspect is an attempt at meat sauce, a bowl of pasty white noodles all clumped together. Charred garlic bread cut into uneven chunks. Limp, suffering greens drowning under what must be a cup of ranch dressing.
The kitchen looks like a bomb went off, Miles and Theo have broken at least four dishes, and I know I’m going to have to clean the mess up later, but fuck me if it isn’t the best meal I’ve ever had. Andrew said to be continued! I’d happily eat glue right now.
“Seriously,” I sing, “this is delicious.”
Andrew’s elbow makes a gentle nudge to my side.
Ricky takes about a teaspoon of meat sauce and passes the platter on. “What does everyone feel like doing tonight?”
I nearly choke on a bite, and Andrew politely pats my back, answering with a casual “We could play Clue?”
“Ooooh.” Mom likes this idea. “We haven’t played Clue yet.”
“We haven’t been here that long,” I remind her—and myself. Frankly, it feels like it’s already been a month. I quickly do the math: seven days of original holiday, plus another six in the Land of Repeats.
The sauce makes its way around the table. Zachary mimes throwing up when it moves in front of him, and Aaron doesn’t even chastise his son. Instead, he studies the sauce suspiciously before offering a vague “Probably should take a pass since I’m on a diet,” and then hands it to Dad, bypassing Kyle entirely.
I’m sure he’s trying to save his husband from having to eat it, but Kyle chases it with a hand. “Come on now, I have to work for these curves.” Everyone laughs—because Kyle is nothing but muscle and sinew—and Aaron apologizes with a kiss.
The moment is so simple and sweet. I look away in time to catch Mom and Dad exchanging a knowing look. Dad tucks his chin to his chest, his shoulders shaking.
“Okay.” I point between them. “What’s happening here?”
“When I was barely pregnant with you,” Mom explains with suppressed laughter, “I asked your dad if I looked pregnant yet and he said, ‘No, it just looks like you’re letting yourself go a little.’ ”
Dad covers his eyes. “As soon as the words were out, I wanted to drag them back in.”
“You’d think a man who interacts with pregnant women for a living would be smarter,” Ricky teases him, and then immediately shrinks at the wry look from his wife. “Oh no.”
Lisa points an accusing finger at her husband. “Do you remember when I started taking that pottery class at night, over at the U?”
Ricky slides lower in his chair, letting out a giggling and ashamed “Yes.”
She turns to the rest of us. “I told him I felt so old and frumpy around all these young college girls, and he said, ‘That’s okay, honey, I love you anyway.’ ”