“You are?” Rochelle smiled. “Do I know her?”
“No, you don’t.”
Boone hesitated. He was so not ready to see the discrimination their class was so well known for in Rochelle’s face or attitude. He didn’t want to be disappointed by her.
Except he wasn’t about to hide anything about the one he wanted. “She’s a civilian.”
“Really?” Surprise flared in Rochelle’s eyes. “Not one of us?”
“No,” he said. “She’s not an aristocrat.”
Rochelle’s stare dropped to the floor, and he braced himself for her response. Damn it, he thought his friend was better than that. More decent than—
“I fell in love with a civilian, too,” she said in a tight voice.
As Boone inhaled sharply, she nodded and smiled sadly. “Yes. Not one of us, either.”
“Why didn’t you say?” he asked.
“How could I have?” She took another deep breath. “Although if I’d known you were this open-minded . . . I might have spoken more about things to you.”
“Did it not work out because of the class difference?”
Rochelle closed her eyes. And then she started to weep openly, an emotion wracking her slim body so hard he worried it would tear her in half.
When Helania’s phone went off with a text about twenty minutes before sunrise, she tossed her needlepoint to the side and grabbed the thing off the sofa before the bing! even faded. When she saw who it was, she smiled—until she opened the message. She read the words twice. And then again.
Putting the iPhone aside, she stared straight ahead. For like, two seconds.
Her hand slapped back on the cell, and she typed out a quick response. Hitting Send, she bolted up off the couch and ran to the bathroom. Flipping on the light, she brushed her teeth, and before she could think better of it, she freed her hair from its band, spreading the red and gold waves over her shoulders.
And then she fluffed them.
She actually . . . fluffed . . . her hair. But it did look even better, framing her small face, giving her character she felt she otherwise lacked.
Staring at her reflection in the mirror, she remembered all the nights Isobel had stood in this exact spot and scrubbed her short hair until it had spiked up. In the background, there had always been Beatles songs playing. Maybe some Bob Dylan. Sometimes Bob Marley.
Isobel had joked when Justin Bieber had come out and she’d liked one of his releases that clearly there had to be a B involved for her to get on board with the downloads.
Frowning, Helania lowered her hands, resting them on the sink’s edge. For no good reason, she considered the amount of time she spent thinking about her sister: What Isobel had done. What she had thought. What she had liked and disliked.
Remembering the dead probably wasn’t a bad thing, especially when you were in the early stages of grief. The problem was . . . she had always done that. Even before Isobel’s untimely, violent death, she had felt more comfortable sitting on the sidelines of life and experiencing things in a filtered fashion, her sister living on the outside and bringing stories home.
Movies, in effect. Except the events and the people actually existed.
That one boyfriend Helania had had? Their relationship had been her sole foray into a life of her own away from this apartment. And even then, if she were honest, she had only been with him because Isobel had told her she really should try to find someone—
The knock on the door was soft, and Helania ripped around, heart pounding.
Although not with fear.
No, definitely not with fear.
She quickly turned the bathroom light off in an attempt to deny that she had spent any time on her appearance. And yet as she all but skipped to the door, she was pulling her jeans up into place and tugging her fleece down so that the soft fabric didn’t have any bunches in it. When she checked the peephole, she inhaled quick.
Opening things, she didn’t bother hiding the smile that hit her face. “Hi.”
Boone looked exhausted. Still, his eyes lit up. “Hi.”
The pair of them stood there stupidly. And then she shook herself and stepped back. “Please, come in. But as I texted, it’s not fancy.”
“It’s perfect,” he said, even though he was still staring at her and not looking around at where she lived.
As Boone came over the threshold and shut the door behind himself, she decided he had a point about the perfection. Because what do you know, with him in her little apartment? The place suddenly felt exciting and fresh. Decorated by a designer. Kitted out with windows that had nice views instead of solid concrete walls that were landlocked.
He was transformative. And not just when it came to her walls and ceiling.
He was also, she realized, the first visitor she had ever had in. “May I get you a drink? I have milk.” What, like he was a five-yearold? “And, um, I also think there’s some orange juice in the fridge—”
“I can take your coat?” She shook her head. “I mean, would you like me to? Take your coat, that is.”
“Oh, right. Yes.”
He shrugged out of his leather jacket, revealing a fine cashmere sweater, and she noted that he was wearing slacks, not leathers. As he passed the heavy bundle over to her, she breathed deeply, catching his scent in the folds.
“I wish I had thought to buy food,” she said as she put the thing on the back of a chair. “I would have—”
The weight of the coat was so great, it pulled the chair over, the whole shebang landing with a thud.
“Sorry,” Boone said. “I . . . ah, I have things in the pockets.”
She got to the jacket before he did, and this time, she laid it out on the table.
A gun? she thought. Or guns, plural. Ammo, too?
It was a reminder of what he did during the nights, and made her wonder, given that he was on a kind of compassionate leave for his father’s death, exactly how long he was going to be off.
As she turned back to him, he was staring at her with an intensity that was not hard to interpret. And as she met his eyes, she was aware that she was saying yes to a question he had not yet voiced.
The silence between them became charged with sexual tension, and Helania knew he was waiting for some signal from her. She was also aware of a reckless buzzing in her head, a surging energy that was as vivid as it was foreign to her. This was all moving very fast. Boone had been a stranger that she didn’t dare trust just a night ago. And now she had invited him here to her apartment, where they were all alone.
For the day.
Unless he left in the next five minutes.
“Daylight is coming,” she said in a husky voice.
“You’re welcome to stay.”
Boone closed his eyes and exhaled. “Thank God. Thank . . . you. I can’t be trapped in that house today. I just can’t fucking do it.”
“My own.” He shook his head. “I don’t want to think about any of it right now.”
Helania approached him slowly, conscious of every movement of her body, from her feet hitting the floor, to her hips shifting, to her shoulders finding the balance of her deliberate steps. When she was in front of him, she looked up into his eyes and put her palms on his pecs.
“Then let’s not talk.”
As the words came out, she had no idea who she was. This was not how she normally acted. Or spoke. Or thought. And yet with Boone, everything felt natural.
“Kiss me,” she said.
Boone closed his eyes reverently, as if he were acknowledging that a prayer of his had been answered. And then he was pulling her into him, his big body fitting perfectly against her much smaller one in spite of the difference in their heights. Tilting her head, she parted her lips, and not just because she was ready for his mouth. Her chest was tight with excitement and need, her heart beating fast, her breath short.
His hands came up the sides of her throat, and then he cradled her jawline with his thumbs. As he dropped down, he eased his head to the side . . . and then he was doing what she’d asked. He was kissing her, soft and slow, the warm, velvet pressure rocketing through her veins and thickening her blood with a sexual drive that was a revelation.
This, she thought, was how it was supposed to feel. Electric and desperate, but nothing that you wanted over anytime too soon.
Arching into his chest, she reached up, way up, and linked her hands at his nape, her fingertips playing in the smooth silk of his hair as their tongues met. When her breasts brushed against his chest, he groaned and tightened his hold on her waist, his delicious scent flaring, those dark spices magnifying the heat they generated together.
Too many clothes. There were way too many barriers between their skin.
Between her core and his arousal—
When he abruptly broke off the contact of their mouths, she was surprised and wondered if she’d done something wrong. But as he tucked back her hair, his smile told her that she was more than okay for him.
“I didn’t come here only for this,” he said gravely. “I need you to know that.”
“I know you didn’t.” But for godsakes, do not stop. “Or I wouldn’t have let you through my door. But I appreciate you telling me that.”
“I just needed to see you.”
Helania stroked his face, feeling his smooth cheeks. She had some thought that he must have shaved again before he came over.
“It seems like I left you nights and nights ago,” she whispered. “But it was only hours.”
“I feel the same way.”
So they were both drunk on each other, she thought. Good to know she wasn’t alone in the crazy.
* * *
Inside Boone’s body, a roar of lust was threatening to override all of his higher reasoning. His arousal was pounding in his pants, his blood rushing through his veins, his hunger for Helania like a knife in his gut.
Putting his hand on her lower back, he rolled his hips into her and brought his lips down to hers again. As his tongue entered her mouth, he tightened his hold on the nape of her neck and kissed her deeper, penetrating her and retreating, penetrating her . . . and retreating. She must have liked the slick, hot rhythm as much as he did because she was suddenly holding on to him, her weight hanging off his body.