Page 12

Author: Cora Carmack


Max was honest. Unafraid. She was so comfortable in her skin.


And it was sexy as hell.


“Let me get a new cloth.”


She stood and took the washcloth and water into the kitchen with her. I sat on the couch, and did my best to adjust myself so that my predicament wasn’t glaringly obvious.


I’d tried to talk her out of the song because I thought it was a bad idea. I thought it would bring up memories of Bliss, but it didn’t. In fact, singing it hadn’t made me think of Bliss at all. I could only think about Max, and that caused an entirely different problem than the one I’d expected.


I kept my eyes focused forward when she returned because I didn’t trust myself not to touch her again. She pulled one of her knees up onto the couch, and slid closer to me. Her knee pressed against my thigh, and all I wanted to do was grab her other leg and lift her over onto my lap.


I searched for something, anything, to distract me, but there was nothing in this apartment to look at. There was only us and the electrifying heat that filled the space between us.


Her fingers touched my chin, and she turned my face toward her. She was staring at a wound on my forehead, so I had a few seconds to drink her in without getting caught. Her cheeks were flushed, probably from the pain, and her lips pulled down into a frown as she surveyed my injury. And her eyes were the kind of light blue that you only see on wild, untouched beaches.


“I should have taken care of you first. You’re still bleeding a little.”


I was? It didn’t even hurt anymore. There were too many other things on my mind.


Her fingers shifted on my chin, brushing across the stubble that I hadn’t bothered to shave this morning. Her eyes met mine for a flicker of a second before she pulled away and began dipping the washcloth in the water.


I watched her small hands and delicate fingers as they wrung out the rag, and then folded it into a small rectangle. She slid even closer when she turned back to me, so that her knee was almost resting on top of my leg. I was already facing her, but her hand found my jaw anyway. She cleaned the area around the wound first, and then started dabbing at the cut just along my hairline.


She used the hand on my jaw to tilt my head down slightly to give her a better look. It pointed my eyes straight to the delicate architecture of her collarbone, which had been the last place I’d kissed her.


I was dying to pick back up again where I left off.


That must not have been enough to give her a good look because she shifted, and rose up on her knees next to me. Her chest was level with my gaze, and her body swayed toward mine.


I closed my eyes and thought about multiplication tables and recited lines from plays that I’d been in over the years. Her breath fanned across my forehead, and I could feel the warmth of her skin only inches away from mine. She stopped dabbing and just pressed the cloth to my forehead, probably to stop the bleeding.


Her voice was low and warm when she said, “You wrote that song for a girl?”


“Is this you implying that I’m gay again?”


She laughed, and I wanted to sweep her into my arms, lay her down on this couch, and map out every bit of her skin with my mouth. I wanted to taste every tattoo, and know what they meant to her. I wanted to unlock the secrets that lay behind her guarded expression.


“No, I just mean . . . was she a girlfriend?”


I shook my head. “No, she wasn’t. By the time I decided to do something about it, she was already with someone else.”


“So you gave up?”


This was not what I wanted to talk about, but I guess if it kept my mind off of kissing her, it worked.


“There was no point,” I said. “I couldn’t compete.”


“Bullshit.” She pressed down a little harder, and jerked my face a little closer to her own. “You’re Golden Boy. You’re good at everything. You’re sweet, gorgeous, and probably stop to help little old ladies cross the street. If you can’t compete, the rest of us are completely fucked.”


I smiled. Hearing her say I was gorgeous was a pretty good consolation prize.


“The other guy is British.”


She tossed her head back and laughed, and my eyes caught on the smooth line of her neck.


“Yeah, you’re shit out of luck, Golden Boy.”


It felt good to be able to laugh about this with someone. I hadn’t even been able to do that with Milo or any of my friends back home. This morning losing Bliss had seemed like a weight shackled to my feet, and now it felt like what it was—a memory.


She was still smiling when she lifted the cloth from my forehead.


She hummed and said, “Looks good.”


She sat back, and the hand on my face dropped to my thigh. She used it to brace herself as she reached for the gauze. Sweet Jesus.


I searched for something, anything to say. “It’s been an . . . interesting day.”


Considering I’d only met her this morning, and I was ten miles past fascinated into obsessed territory, yeah. I’d say the day had been pretty damn interesting.


“Tomorrow will make today look like a cakewalk,” she said.


She cut a piece of gauze, and raised back up on her knees to place it on my head.


“Why do you hate the holidays so much? Do your parents go way overboard?”


She pressed tape to the edges of the bandage and started smoothing it down, and her other hand rested on my shoulder for balance.


“It’s hard to explain.”


“I think I can keep up.”


She reached for the rag again and started cleaning more blood off my face. With her eyes focused on her work, she said, “The holidays bring up bad memories for us. My parents think if they pretend enough and have enough decorations and food that they won’t think so much about the things they don’t have.”


“And that doesn’t work for you?”


Her eyes met mine for a few seconds.


“Nothing works for me. But music.”


I brought my hand up and placed it over hers that rested on my shoulder


“I’m sorry.”


She looked down at me, and her eyes searched mine. “Normally, I hate it when people say that, but . . .”


The damp rag skimmed across my cheek to the cut on my mouth. Her eyes were dark, and her lips parted. She dabbed at the cut carefully. I watched the movement of her throat as she swallowed.


Slowly, so slowly that it felt like a dream, her hand turned so that the backs of her knuckles trailed across my lips. Her eyes were open and clear. We were both sober. One of my hands found her hip, and her chest brushed against my shoulder as she leaned over me.


I could feel her breath on my lips, and her eyes were dilated with desire. She bit her lip, and I held in a groan. Her eyes dropped to my lips, and the rag dropped to the floor.


Then her phone rang.


She jumped back so quickly that she was across the room before I’d released the breath that had been caught in my chest.


She picked up her phone, and her expression was blank as she said, “It’s my boyfriend.”


I swallowed, but my mouth still felt as dry as the desert.


The universe was doing us both a favor. I didn’t want to make her into a cheater. Kissing her earlier had been bad enough.


“I should be going anyway.”


I crossed to the door as quickly as possible, and she called back to me, “Cade!” I pulled the door open wide, and looked back at her. She held the phone in her hand, ready to answer. She said, “I’m sorry.”


“Don’t be. I’m not.” She took a small step toward me, and I turned. “I’ll see you in the morning.”


14


Max


This was a catastrofuck of colossal proportions.


I hit accept and said, “Hi, babe.” The sound on his end was garbled and booming. He must have been in some kind of club because the music was blasting. “Mace?”


“Maxi Pad!”


And . . . he was drunk.


“We’ve talked about this, Mace. There are funny nicknames, and there are atrocious ones. That one is the latter.”


“Maxi . . . Come meet me at Pure.”


Shit, if he was there, he’d probably been popping pills rather than downing beer.


“I can’t, Mace.”


“Yes, you can. Christ, Max, this shit is awesome. You have to come try it.”


Just as I thought. I wasn’t judging him. I’d done too many screwed-up things over the years to do that, but I didn’t have room for that kind of stuff in my life. If I dealt with my pain that way, there would be no reason to put it into my music instead, and then I’d be left with nothing.


“Listen, Mace, I had a really rough day at work.”


“I’ll take your mind off of it.” His voice was gravelly and slurred. His voice normally made me weak in the knees. Not tonight. I wasn’t up for any kind of solution he had to offer.


“No, Mace. I’m just going to go to sleep.”


“Fuck, Max. First, you bail on me this morning.”


“My parents are in town, and you bailed on me.”


He didn’t even listen to me, just kept right on talking. “Now, you won’t even come out when I won’t see you at all tomorrow.”


I couldn’t deal with this right now. It took all of my control not to just hang up the phone.


“I can’t, okay? We’ll talk when you’re sober. Good night.”


I clicked the phone off and sank down onto the couch. I pressed the cool phone screen to my heated cheek, and placed my other hand on the cushion beside me. There were so many thoughts running through my head—thoughts about Mace and Cade. But it had been a long, emotional day. I wasn’t stupid enough to let myself make a decision in the heat of the moment. Even if I could still feel Cade’s hands on my back, and his face beneath my fingertips when I closed my eyes.


Catastrofuck. Definitely.


All I wanted to do was take a shower, but then I’d screw up the bandages on my back. Instead, I shucked off my clothes and fell into bed and oblivion.


He tugged on my hair, and I felt the pull run down my spine all the way to my toes. He pulled my head back, and his lips came down on my neck. He dragged his mouth softly down the column of my throat, and then his teeth grazed my collarbone.


I moaned embarrassingly loud.


He rewarded me with another nip of his teeth.


I burrowed my hands underneath his shirt, and dug my fingers into his lower back. His hips pressed forward into mine, and I could feel his muscles flexing beneath my palms.


He left my collarbone, and nosed aside my shirt, kissing down my sternum. His tongue dragged across one of the branches on my tattoo, and I felt like I was burning alive. His stubble scratched against my sensitive skin, and my legs went weak.


“Please,” I begged.


“We shouldn’t,” he whispered.


I pulled his mouth to mine, determined to convince him. I wrapped an arm around his neck, and a leg around his hips, and pulled him into me. He steadied himself with one hand against the wall, and the other on my ass.


“Yes,” I hissed between kisses.


His kiss was intoxicating. Slow and fast. Soft and hard. I melted into him, happy to follow his lead.


He pulled back again. “You’re sure?”


Dear God, yes!


I nodded, and he spun me from the wall onto a bed. His hands ran up my legs, raising goose bumps and making me squirm. His fingers hooked around the fabric of my panties and pulled them down gently. My shirt was already gone, disappeared somewhere in the frenzy. He pressed his hips into mine, and my eyes rolled back in my head. Then the whole world rolled, and I was astride his hips. His messy hair looked so good against my pillow, and his brown eyes were so dark they were nearly black.


He slipped his hands underneath the frills of my skirt, gripped my thighs, and said, “Ride me.”


What was it about a nice boy saying naughty things that was so damn hot?


I threw my head back and groaned.

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