Two can play this game. I lift my hand to his cheek, and he freezes. As soon as my palm touches Peter's skin, that overly confident expression fades from his eyes. I trail my hand over his cheek slowly. Neither of us breathes as the pads of my fingers travel over the scruff on his cheek and down to his jaw. I lean in, like I'm going to kiss him. At the last second I push his face aside with the hand that's on his jaw and step past him with a satisfied smile on my face.
I think that's it. In the teasing contest, I'm the clear victor, but Peter catches my wrist. He gently stops me. That confident smile slips off my face as I turn back to him. Peter takes hold of my face with one hand on each cheek and dips his head. My entire body tingles, waiting for that kiss. Our eyes are locked together, each of us daring the other. Peter lets out a jagged breath and inhales again slowly. I feel the warm air on my face.
Last time we were like this, the idea of being with him scared me, but now I'm curious to see if I could do it, if I'd like it. My body is humming, but no one moves. It's like there's a glass wall between us and neither of us can break it. Peter's lips linger just in front of mine, parted ever so slightly. As his lashes lower, his gaze is singularly focused on my mouth. My eyelids feel heavy when he gently touches me. Peter's hands slip back into my hair and down my neck to my shoulders. He lifts one hand and caresses my cheek again.
I'm trembling all over by the time he does that. I don't know what I want. For some reason, I still trust him—but I don't. It feels like there are two women living inside my head. One is touch-starved and the other is too independent to want anyone, for any reason. She's fighting me, wildly throwing every image, every misguided memory at me, but I can't move. I don't want to pull away, so I linger, enjoying his touch and the feel of his breath across my skin.
Peter blinks slowly. Every time his lashes close, I think he's going to kiss me, but he doesn't. My heart pounds harder in my chest, making me feel crazier by the moment. His hand strokes my cheek again, and I clutch the towel hanging over my shoulders harder.
This time when Peter's lashes lower, he closes the distance. His lips brush against mine so lightly that it feels like a breeze. I tense as he does it, but Peter doesn't deepen the kiss. Instead he pulls back and looks into my eyes. The expression on his face makes me press my knees together to stop the current that's pulsing through my body. He makes me want things I never wanted.
It feels like I'm coming undone, but I don't feel scared, not this time. I do something crazy and lean in. I brush my bottom lip to his and shudder as I do it. Peter's hands are on my neck again, playing with the edge of the towel. He watches me for a moment and leans forward slowly. When his lips touch the side of my face, I inhale deeply and close my eyes.
Peter's kiss is so light, so soft that it makes me want more. I blink slowly like I'm half asleep. It feels like I'm floating, and I don't mind so much. It's scary, but the fear isn't choking me the way it usually does. I don't think about anything. I push the thoughts away, because nothing is the same anymore. The way Peter touches me is nothing like Dean…He's nothing like Dean.
The thought frees me. I rise up on my tippy-toes and take his cheek in one hand as I press our lips together. My kiss isn't light, like his. It's breathless and demanding. Peter's palms cup my face as the kiss deepens. I lose myself for a blissful moment. There are no thoughts, no worries. There's just Peter and his warm, soft lips that are kissing me so perfectly that my knees feel weak.
When he pulls back Peter is all jagged breaths. His forehead presses to mine as he watches me from under his lashes. I'm breathing too hard as well, but the more I try to control it, the worse it gets.
Peter's eyes drop to the place where I'm holding the towel around my shoulders. He watches me as he lowers his hand and takes hold of mine. I think he's going to take it away and I tense, but he doesn't. Instead Peter holds it tight and tells me, "Let go. I'll hold it for you."
His words hit me so hard that my jaw starts to tremble. Tears prick my eyes as I try not to cry. I've wanted to reach up and hold his cheek in my hand and run my fingers through his hair, but I can't do any of that if I'm holding on to the towel.
Peter realizes what his words do to me. He leans in and kisses my cheek gently. The kiss gives me courage. I'm so nervous that he'll put the towel down, that he'll let it go, but the offer is too much to ignore.
I'd wanted to touch his face, but when I release the towel and he holds it in place for me, my hands drift down to his chest. I drag my fingers over the toned muscles, feeling him beneath my fingers. Before I drift my hands down his stomach, I rub my thumb over his nipple, feeling the tight little bit of skin under my hand.
Peter inhales deeply, but he doesn't move. He blinks slowly and continues to watch me as my hands drift farther south. I feel each taut muscle of his stomach until I'm stopped by the waistband of his jeans. I trail my thumbs along his stomach and around to his back. I feel the scar on his side as the pad of my finger moves over it. I wonder if he feels the memory when I touch that spot. Scars never heal, and every time one gets touched, the memory that made it flares to life. I'm like that, but this is so different than anything I did with Dean that there are no memories to recall, no scars of tender touches to try and repress. This is new for me.
Peter's eyes close as my hand moves over his waist. I know the memory is flashing behind his eyes because he becomes rigid in my arms. I want to make it better; I want him to forgive himself for what happened. When he opens his eyes again, they lock with mine and his sorrow is no longer hidden. It's reflected in his eyes with so much regret that it's difficult to maintain his gaze. I'm no longer blinking or breathing.
The vulnerability on his face makes me do it. I lift my hand to the spot where he's holding the towel. I take his hand in mine and pull it away. My heart beats harder, but I don't let go of him. Peter doesn't look when the towel slips from my shoulders and falls behind me. I can't hide the tremors that shoot through me. I feel naked in front of him, even though I'm not. Peter's wearing less clothing than I am, but I feel so exposed. If he hadn't reacted that way when I touched his scar, I couldn't have done it.
But I did, and now I'm standing there in a threadbare shirt with my nipples at full attention. I don't want him to look, but I want him to. As I breathe in, my chest brushes against his. The contact without the towel in the way shoots through me like a bolt of lightning. My breath catches in my throat, and when I look up at him, Peter seems equally speechless.
His head dips again and he kisses me harder this time. His hands are on my face and then in my hair. They drift over my shoulders and down my back, gliding over the fabric as his tongue does wicked things in my mouth. The pit of my stomach falls down an elevator shaft and hasn't hit the bottom yet. I can't breathe like a normal person. I sound like I ran a marathon even though I haven't taken a step.
Peter breaks the kiss. Between breaths he presses his lips to the sides of my face softly, gently. His hands remain on top of my shirt. He doesn't lift the hem and slide his hands under. Instead, he presses his body against mine as he kisses me senseless.
I hold on to him tight, digging my nails into his back so he doesn't fade away. Peter nudges my face to the side as he trails hot kisses down my throat. My head falls back and I close my eyes, feeling each kiss as his lips press into me over and over again. When he stops, I look up at him.
Peter's lips are parted, and he's breathing hard. "We should stop."
I nod. "We should." It's something I know in my mind, but my body doesn't want to acknowledge it.
Peter makes the decision for us and steps away. He runs his hands through his hair like it's torture to stop touching me. When he looks over his shoulder at me, his eyes fixate on my chest.
I stand there, ramrod straight, and let him look. I know he can see the outline of my excited breasts and the pale skin tones through the shirt. Nerves swirl in my stomach, but I don't move. Peter doesn't look away. His eyes stay glued on my chest.
After a moment, I manage, "My eyes are up here, Professor."
Peter's gaze lifts slowly and meets mine as a sinful smile spreads across his face. "Say that again."
The corner of my mouth tugs up as I lazily point toward my face. "My eyes are up here."
Peter steps toward me but doesn't touch me this time. He stops within arm's reach. A dimple surfaces on his cheek, and I have the insane desire to lick it. My eyes flutter away from the spot and lock with his. "No, the other part. Call me professor again." Peter looks hopeful, more like the man I met in Texas. The look he's giving me is like the one he had when we were dancing.
I can't help but smile girlishly. I look up from under my lashes and whisper, "Dance with me, Professor."
Peter's smile broadens. He holds out one hand and I take it, while the other hand slips around my waist. If he was anyone else, I'd worry about his boots crushing my toes, but Peter never steps on me. We rock-step a few times before he spins me away. When he spins me back, I twirl into his chest, where he holds me tight. My hands slip around his waist and over the scar. I watch as Peter's eyes fill with memories he can't control. The smile fades like a star in sunlight, until it's completely gone.
Peter blinks a few times, like he's waking from a dream. He releases me and turns away. When he grabs his sweats off the bed, he bends over and picks up my towel. Peter turns back to me and places it over my shoulders and holds it tight in front until I take it.
He gives me a sad smile and says, "Thank you."
I nod slowly, not understanding. It feels like rejection, but in the back of my mind I know it's more than that. He's stuck, trapped in his past as badly as I am, or possibly more.
"I know there's no future for us," he says. "I screwed things up too badly in the past and I get that, but I really need a good friend right now and I know you do, too. This"—he inhales deeply and gestures between us—"can't happen again. I know that, but—"