It’s like a tiny bomb goes off in me. I think one goes off in him, too. My nerves are gone, and in their place is this ravenous monster of my former self, wanting to get as much of my skin touching as much of his as we can manage. I make a tight sound of impatience and urgency and he pulls back, searching my eyes.
“Talk to me,” he says, pushing my skirt and underwear down my hips. “Is this okay?”
I pull him back down. “It’s fine, it just …” I struggle to find the right words. “It feels like a fever.”
I can tell, from the way he groans and runs a greedy hand up over my chest, that he knows exactly what I mean.
This James is eager but gentle as he unfastens my bra; his mouth is a hot trail from my chin to my neck and down as he kneels. I wonder if I’ll ever get this picture out of my head: his eyes are closed, tongue flicking against my nipple and then, a few breaths later, between my legs.
I am nothing but ache and impatience as he stands and walks me backward toward the bed.
But he stops me just before I sit at the edge. “Wait. No.”
I experience a brief, sharp stab of disappointment, and suddenly the daylight filtering in makes me feel totally exposed. I cross my arms over my chest. “What?”
James shifts me to the side. “We are not doing this on a nasty hotel comforter.”
And I melt. With a sharp tug, he strips the duvet from the bed and then returns to me, kissing my shoulder, my neck, my mouth. James guides me down, pressing my back against the cool relief of the sheets. Our kisses become longer and unfocused. And then he’s there, hovering over me, with a condom in his hand. His hair falls forward as he sucks on my shoulder and with a gentle hand on my hip and one on my side, he’s rolling me over, onto my stomach, the heat of his front all along my back.
“Is this right?” He carefully pulls me to the foot of the bed.
I can hear us both breathing sharply, knowing we’re here. The fronts of his legs are warm against the backs of mine, his hand presses gently to my lower back, and then he’s closer, he’s there, pushing against me, with his capable hands moving to my hips and a kiss placed to the skin between my shoulder blades.
“Yeah?” he whispers again.
I nod, and the starting gun is his deep, relieved groan; he does what he’s promised. He’s moving confidently, hard and fast while he whispers something. Something about being what I want today. Something about how this feels, how he’ll need it again now that he’s had it. I think the same will be true for me—that I’ll need this again tonight, and again tomorrow morning when we have to be quiet and, someday, after work at his place, where there’s no need to be quiet at all.
His hand snakes around my body, sliding between my legs.
“Tell me if you need something else,” he says between sharp inhales, “to come.”
I would, but I don’t, and even if I did, my brain isn’t forming coherent words, only sounds that seem to be growing louder and sharper. He presses his fingers against me and it’s happened so fast—we were frantic after our half-shy disrobing—but the feeling he draws from me is like being poured out of a pitcher, warm and freeing. With a cry muffled by the sheets, I fall to pieces, brilliant color flashing behind my eyes. And with a quiet groan, he shakes and then goes still behind me, breathing heat against the back of my neck.
For a few seconds, we don’t speak or move. It takes several breaths for the room to stop spinning. And then James presses a lingering, gasping kiss to my shoulder before shifting back and disappearing into the bathroom. I take the opportunity to clamber up the bed and between the sheets, pulling them up to my chin. I want to scream in giddiness and excitement … and a resurgence of nerves. There’s no dark room to hide in, no nighttime to fall into.
James steps out of the bathroom, naked. He doesn’t seem to mind the walk to the bed, the daylight, or my laserlike focus on his body.
“Cold?” he asks, climbing in beside me.
He scoffs, kissing my forehead. “Please. You are many things. But you are not shy.”
“Not all of us can saunter naked across a room, Jimbalaya.”
He laughs, squinting over at the clock, and I follow. It’s almost five. “What are we going to do for dinner?” he asks, but in his voice I hear the same hesitation I feel. Beneath the sheets with him it’s so warm and yummy. The last thing I want to do is go anywhere.
“Room service?” I suggest. “We can do rock-paper-scissors for who has to put on a robe and answer the door.”
I think he likes that idea. He pushes up onto an elbow, hovering over me. Brown eyes study my face, and when he translates whatever he sees there his smile straightens. “I’m glad it’s still light out. I like being able to see you.”
And more than just seen, I feel visible for the first time in maybe forever—but it isn’t scary. Being with James is like standing in the softest, most flattering spotlight. “I like being seen by you.”
“So tell me something.”
I snuggle into the crook of his arm. “Something about what?”
“About you.” His brows go up in a question. “I don’t even know where you live.”
“I live in a condo with my adorable landlords, Annabeth and Peyton, off South Jackson.” With a dramatic pout, I add, “They’re in Hawaii right now on a belated honeymoon.”
He squints. “You’re renting a single bedroom?”
The vague, familiar shame blows a shadow across my mood, and I nod. “Where do you live?”
“I’ve got a studio down near where the South Park Loop meets 191.”
I map the distance in my head. It would only take about ten minutes for me to get there.
“Is that close to you?” he asks.
He growls into a kiss. But with the reminder that he’s new to the area, it occurs to me that it probably isn’t easy to start over—especially not when he’s working such long hours. “Have you made any friends in Jackson?” I ask.
“One of my neighbors is a very loud man who comes home around midnight and unwinds to the dulcet sounds of death metal.”
I wince. “Oof.”
“My neighbor on the other side, Edie, is a ninety-year-old woman who knocks on my door with a cane to ask whether I need groceries. So, she’s pretty cool.”
“You should be getting her groceries.”
“Right?” He smiles, fidgeting with a strand of my hair. “Most of my friends are back on the East Coast, but even they’ve scattered throughout New England.” Shrugging, he says with relaxed assurance, “I’ll find my people at some point. Right now the priority has been getting my work life back on track.”
I stare at his mouth, thinking on these words. We’re both alone, and for so long I insisted that wasn’t the same thing as being lonely. Now I’m not so sure.
“What are you thinking about?” he asks.
“I’ve lived around Jackson my entire life and you’ve just moved there, but we both need to find our people.”
With a knowing smile, James kisses me again, but this time he lingers, and it deepens, heating. I love the firm press of his lips, the quiet sounds he can’t seem to repress.
Against my mouth, he asks, “Is the lady satisfied?”
I run my finger down his chin, throat, chest and reach beneath the sheets, gently scratching his stomach. “The lady was satisfied …”
He growls, dragging his teeth over my jaw, and climbs back over me. “It appears I have more work to do.”
Giggling, I throw the sheets up and over our heads. Room service, rock-paper-scissors, and robes can wait.
When I wake up, I know it’s really early. Bird calls haven’t been drowned out by the hum of traffic. The sky still feels like a secret—deep blue-black but illuminated, like a light shining through fabric. Under the covers it’s warm, and my entire body has that heavy, weighted feeling where I can get lost in the sensation of being completely still.
I love this feeling, love becoming aware of different parts of my body, not just my hands. The pillowcase is smooth against my cheek. I slip my feet to a cooler section of the sheets and press back into the warm, naked body behind me.
His breathing is even, but his hand on my stomach flexes when I move, pulling me into him. I’m not sure he’s awake. On a scale of fine to nonverbal for the rest of the tour, how weird is it going to be between us now that we’ve had sex?
At the risk of waking up my body and getting my hands twisting and turning, I roll over to face him and find his eyes open, carefully watching me.
He smiles. “Hi.”
There’s a condom wrapper stuck to his shoulder, and I assume it’s the one he tossed onto the bed that first time. There’s another in here somewhere from the second time; that one was sweeter, quieter, with my arms and legs wound all around him.
I definitely needed the heat and energy of the first time, but I think James liked the second one better. He looked completely wrecked afterward. We skipped the room service after all, and I think we were asleep by eight—no wonder we’re awake at dawn. Now he looks sleep-rumpled and wary, like he’s not sure how I’m going to behave this morning.
“We had sex,” I say.
He nods. “Twice.”
“My first hotel sex. And second.”
A twitch of his mouth. “Congratulations.”
When he reaches up to push his hair off his forehead, I lean back and take a long look down at his naked body. As expected, instead of covering himself, he rolls to his back and tucks a hand behind his head. It’s quite a view.
The silence stretches and, with considerably less bravado, he asks, “Are you okay today?”
Two weeks ago, I would have laughed it off and said Of course. But I don’t know how to answer. I’m okay that we had sex, if that’s what he means. More than okay. I’m just not sure if everything else feels as easy as it used to, and I honestly don’t know what changed. Melly has always been Melly. Rusty has always been Rusty. But maybe I’m not that Carey anymore.