Careful to keep the boobage below the surface, I reach for a towel. “I feel like I’m melting,” I say.
Ethan hums in agreement. “I’ll get out first and let the therapists know we’re ready.”
He uses his finger to indicate that I should turn around. “Not that we haven’t seen everything already,” he says. I hear him drying off, and the image of it does weird, electric things to my body. “The Bathroom of Doom sort of took care of that.”
“I feel like I should apologize,” I say. “You did throw up directly afterward.”
He laughs quietly, under his breath. “As if that would be my reaction to seeing you naked, Olive.”
The door opens and closes again. When I turn to ask him what he meant, he’s gone.
• • •
ETHAN DOESN’T COME BACK TO get me, and as soon as Diana, our new massage therapist, leads me down to the couples’ massage room, I see why. He seems to be frozen in horror, staring at the massage table.
“What’s with you?” I ask out of the corner of my mouth as Diana walks across the room to dim the lights.
“Do you see two tables in here?” he whispers back.
I look back and don’t get what he’s saying until— Oh. “Wait,” I say, looking up at him. “I thought we were each getting a massage?”
Diana smiles calmly. “You will, of course. But since I’ll be teaching you, and you’ll be practicing on each other, we can only do one at a time.”
My head whips up to Ethan, and we share the exact same thought, I know it: Oh, hell no.
Diana mistakes our terror for something else, because she laughs lightly, saying, “Don’t worry. Many couples are nervous when they come in, but I’ll show you some different techniques and then leave you to practice them, so you don’t feel like you’re being graded or supervised.”
Is this a brothel? I want to ask, but of course don’t. Barely. Ethan stares bleakly at the table again.
“Now,” Diana says, walking around the table to lift the sheet for one of us to climb under, “which of you would like to learn first, and which wants to receive the massage?”
Ethan’s answering silence has to mean that he’s doing the same mental calculation I am: Do we have to stay?
Particularly given his exit line about reacting to seeing me naked, I have no idea how this question shakes down in Ethan’s brain, but given my newfound fascination with his collarbones, chest hair, and abdominals, I’m actually tempted to go through with it. And I’m wondering whether it would be easier to receive a massage first so I don’t have to touch him and pretend to be unaffected. That said, one look at his enormous, strong hands and I’m not sure having those fingers oil-slicked and rubbing all over my naked back would be that much easier.
“I’ll learn first,” I say, just as Ethan says, “I’ll massage her first.”
Our wide eyes meet.
“No,” I say, “you can climb in. I’ll, um, do the rubbing.”
He laughs uncomfortably. “Seriously, it’s cool. I’ll massage first.”
“I’m going to grab some towels,” Diana says gently, “and give you time to decide.”
Once she’s gone, I turn to him. “Get in the sheets, Elmo.”
“I’d really rather do the . . .” He mimes squeezing, like he’s going to honk my boobs.
“I don’t think there will be any of that.”
“No, I just mean—” He growls, wiping a hand down his face. “Just get on the table. I’ll turn around so you can slip in. Naked, or whatever.”
It’s dim in here, but I can tell he’s blushing. “Are you—oh, my God, Ethan, are you worried about getting a boner on the table?”
He lifts his chin, swallowing. It’s a good five seconds before he answers. “Actually, yeah.”
And with that one single word, my heart gives an aching jab against my breastbone. His response was so honest and real that my throat becomes tight at the thought of teasing him.
“Oh,” I say, and lick my lips. My mouth is suddenly so dry. I look over at the table and feel my skin grow a little clammy. “Okay. I’ll get in the sheets. Just—I mean, just don’t make fun of my body.”
He goes totally silent, totally still, before whispering an impassioned “I would never do that.”
“I mean, sure,” I say, feeling acutely the way my voice comes out a little strangled, “except when you have.”
He opens his mouth to reply, brow furrowed in deep concern, but Diana returns with her stack of towels. Ethan huffs out an incredulous breath through his nose, and even when I look away, I can tell he’s trying to get my eyes back on his face. I’ve always appreciated my body—I even sort of like my new curves—but I don’t want to be in a position where I feel like anyone has to touch me and doesn’t want to.
Then again, if I don’t trust him and don’t want him touching me, I could just tell Diana we aren’t up for this today.
So why don’t I?
Is the truth that I really, really want Ethan’s hands on me?
And if he doesn’t want to, he can tell her himself, right?
I look at him, searching for any sign that he’s uncomfortable, but his sweet blush is gone, and instead he wears a look of heated determination. Our eyes meet for one . . . two . . . three seconds, and then his gaze drops to my lips, to my neck, and down the entire length of my body. His brow quirks, lips part a little, and I catch how his breathing picks up. When he meets my eyes again, I hear what he’s trying to tell me: I like what I see.
Flushed, I fumble with the tie of my robe; we’re supposed to be married, which means we’re supposed to know what the other looks like naked, and although we definitely got flashes in the bathroom on the boat, I’m not sure I’m ready for Ethan to get such a lingering, steady look when I drop the robe and hop up on the table. Thankfully, as Diana holds the sheet up and turns her face away to give me privacy, Ethan also makes a show of fiddling with his robe tie. Quickly, I drop my robe and scurry into the warm, soft cocoon.
“We’ll start with you facedown,” she says in a gentle, soothing voice. “Ethan, come stand on this side of the table.”
I roll onto my stomach as gracefully as I can, fitting my head into the foam face rest. I am shaking, excited, nervous, and so warm all over that the pleasure of the heated blankets has quickly worn off and I want to kick them to the floor.
Diana is talking softly to Ethan, about how to fold back the sheet, laughing about how if we do this at home there’s no need for the same kind of modesty. He laughs, too; charming, breezy Ethan is back, and I admit it is easier like this, staring at the floor instead of making eye contact with the man I still hate but also suddenly want to fuck into a coma.
I hear a pump, then the wet sound of oil on hands, Diana’s quiet “About this much,” and then, “I start here.”
Her hands come over my shoulders, kneading gently at first and then with pressure. She talks through what she’s doing, explaining how to move away from the point of muscle insertion, spanning the length and shape of the muscle. She explains where to apply pressure, where to avoid tender places. I’m starting to unwind, to fall deeper into the mattress, and then she gives a gentle prompt: “Now you try.”
More oil. A shifting of bodies beside the table, and a deep, shaking breath.
And then the heat of Ethan’s hands comes over my back, following the path of Diana’s, and I am melting, biting my lips to keep a moan inside. His hands are huge, stronger even than hers—a professional—and when he reaches up with a gentle finger to sweep a strand of my hair off my neck, it feels like a kiss.
“This okay?” he asks quietly.
I swallow before speaking. “Yeah . . . It’s good.”
I feel the way he pauses, and then works lower at her encouragement, shifting the sheet away to expose my lower back. Even with the awareness that Diana is standing beside him, I don’t think I’ve ever been this warm or this turned on. His hands stroke my skin, fingers kneading, slick and warm.
“Now,” Diana says, “when you get to the backside, remember: push together, don’t spread.”
I cough out an incredulous laugh into the face cradle, grabbing a fistful of the sheets. Beside me, with his hands hovering just above my tailbone, Ethan laughs under his breath. “Um. Noted.”
Carefully, he folds the sheets down to my upper thighs. I’ve had massages before, so of course I’ve had my butt massaged by professionals . . . but I have never felt more exposed in my life than I do right now.
Strangely, I don’t hate it.
More oil, more slick sounds of hands rubbing together, and then those enormous hands come down on my backside, pressing the heels into the muscle, doing just as Diana instructs. Behind my closed lids, my eyes roll back in pleasure. Who knew a butt massage could be so awesome? It’s so good, in fact, that I forget to be self-conscious, and instead let out a near-moan, “Who knew you were so good at this?”
Ethan’s laugh is a deep, rumbling sound that sends vibrations through me.
“Oh, I’m sure you knew whether he was good with his hands,” Diana says playfully, and it’s on the tip of my tongue to tell her to scram and leave us to our brothel room in peace.
He makes his way down my legs, to my feet. I’m ticklish, and it’s sweet the way he’s careful, but steadies me, wordlessly reassuring me that I can trust him. He works his way back up, and then down each arm, massaging my palms, and to the end of each fingertip before he slides them carefully back under the blankets.
“Great job, Ethan,” Diana says. “You still with us, Olive?”
“Think you could massage him now?” Diana says with laughter in her voice.
I moan again, longer. I’m not sure I can move yet. And if I did, it would be to roll over and pull Ethan under the blankets with me. The heavy ache low in my belly isn’t going to go away on its own.