His arm disappeared from around my shoulders and he slid out of the booth. Suddenly, a pair of girls, maybe eighteen years old, appeared out of thin air. Mal took a step back as if startled.
“Oh my god, we thought it was you,” gushed the first, giggling.
“We’re your biggest fans.”
“Ah, hey. Thanks.” Mal took the pen they held out and signed their napkins, notebooks, and whatever else. His hand was a blur. Clearly, he’d done this a million times or more. I climbed out after him as Neil helped Lori, his hand to her elbow.
Heads turned and soon more people from the rowdy table joined the two girls circling Mal. The crowd gathered incredibly fast. Flashes went off, blinding me, and I raised a hand to guard my eyes from the glare. There were two, three people between me and him now. Hands pushed me aside and I stumbled into the end of a table, hitting it hard with my hip. A glass smashed on the floor at my feet and suddenly Mal was there.
“You okay?” he asked, steadying me.
“Yes. It just caught me by surprise.” If anything, I was embarrassed.
“Let’s go.” He tucked me in against his side as people around us started to complain and press in once more. One guy tried to shove his phone number at Mal. Mal ignored him, moving us through the crowd mostly by force. When someone yelled right in my face, my heart went boom and I broke out in a cold sweat. These people were f**king insane, well off or not. What would have happened if he’d been recognized at a fast-food joint?
We rushed out of the restaurant, shouts coming from behind us. Neil ushered Lori into the limousine, and we followed fast behind. Hands hammered on the windows as the driver struggled to close the door without maiming anyone. A minute later the limo pulled out into traffic and I could breathe again. We were on our way.
No one said anything and the silence was killing me. Even Lori could only raise a thin smile, apparently running out of steam as Neil had predicted. In the rush to get in, Mal hadn’t wound up sitting beside me. A pity; I could have done with some hand holding.
“That was exciting,” I said.
“Mostly they’re content to just look. But now and then they get carried away,” said Lori. “Don’t let it scare you, Anne.”
No one spoke again.
She kissed me on the cheek before climbing out of the limo once we reached the hotel. The mood from dinner hadn’t shifted. I stared at Mal, willing him to look at me. He hadn’t had time to shave, and the hint of a beard framed his jaw, his mouth. The need to kiss him, to cover the distance between us, made my heart race.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“Yeah. You?” he asked, sitting across from me on the seat stretching along the back. He was the picture of cool, calm, and disconnected. “Sorry about the scene at the restaurant.”
“I’m fine. Not a big deal.”
He scrubbed his face with his hands. “It happens.”
“The food was wonderful. Thanks for inviting me.”
“Your parents were lovely. I really like your mom.”
“Your dad was nice too.”
He nodded, staring off at nothing.
“No, seriously, Mal. What’s wrong?” I blurted out. We needed to go home and get back in the bath. Things had been better there.
This conversation sucked. Somewhere along the line, things had turned to shit and I had no idea how to salvage them. I lacked the skills.
I so badly wanted to go sit beside him, but something held me back. For some reason, I wasn’t sure of my welcome. Tonight was meant to be the night, skin on skin, sweaty sex, the whole shebang. Now I wasn’t so sure. Not about whether I wanted him or not, because I did, the need I had for him made me a foolhardy mess. I just didn’t want to be there alone.
Outside, it started to rain.
“I’m going to go play the drums for a while,” he asked. “I’ll drop you back at the apartment first.”
“There’s a practice session tonight?”
His smile didn’t even get close to his eyes. “No. I just feel like hitting the drums.”
“You didn’t want to come home with me?” I asked, and he knew to what I was referring; he had to know.
Oh, no. No way. He did not just shrug off us finally having sex. This was not a situation where ambivalence could be considered cool in any way, shape, or form. The limo pulled into the nighttime traffic, awaiting notification of our destination, no doubt.
Mal pulled out his cell and started flipping through the screens. I crossed my arms over my chest. Fine, if that was the way he wanted to play it. Outside, downtown Portland passed us by in all its beauty. The trees in one of the little parks were lit up. Everything glistened in the wet weather. Tiny streams ran down the car windows, obscuring the view.
Fuck it; if he really wanted to go and drum he could just go. Obviously, he wasn’t in the mood for company. I opened my mouth to agree to the plan but nothing came out. This wasn’t working. Truth was, I could be a stubborn bitch and horny didn’t really sit well with me. Might be best if I had some space.
“Can you ask him to pull over?” I pushed a strand of carrot-colored hair out of my face. “There’s no need for you to go out of your way. I’ll find my own way home. Catch up with you later.”
His eyes narrowed. “I’m not dropping you on a street corner in the rain, Anne. I’ll take you home.”
He opened his mouth and then shut it again.
He said nothing.
Ugh, avoidance. I knew it so well. I couldn’t keep demanding that he share with me when I had no intention of spilling my whole sorry history to him. No one needed to hear that.
Still, we were better than this. Or we should be.
“Fuck this,” I muttered.
“What did you say?”
He cocked his head.
“Safety in moving vehicles is highly overrated.”
I crossed to the seat beside him. Then went one better, climbing onto his lap, straddling him. He blinked, his hands hovering over my h*ps as if unsure where to set down. His cell fell to the side, forgotten apparently. Thank god I’d worn a skirt. It was shortish and made of a stretchy material, useful for so many occasions but particularly this one.
“What’s going on?”
“The night isn’t ending this way,” I told him, perfectly calm. “I won’t let it.”
He looked at me like I’d started speaking in tongues. Which was actually an excellent idea, given I had no real idea what the problem was here.
I slipped my hands around the back of his neck. Now I got why he always did this, the skin was so soft and warm there. In all honesty, I had no idea what to say; kissing him made much more sense than blurting out the wrong thing again. I brushed my lips against his, plump and perfect. His swift intake of breath was music to my ears. Given half a chance, I could have paid homage to his lips all night. Hooker lips. No other man was this kissable.
“I hate seeing you sad.”
We stared at each other, our faces close. Whatever was going on with him, hurting him, it needed to stay away from the here and now. Mal and I had earned this moment. He’d just forgotten it somewhere along the way, gotten sidetracked. Lucky for him, I hadn’t.
“Whatever it is, let me fix it. Just for a little while …”
I angled my head and kissed him, tracing my tongue over his lips. He tasted wonderful. Already my h*ps shifted restlessly in his lap, seeking more. I was in heat and it was all his fault, so he’d just have to deal with it. With a groan he gave up and opened his mouth. Fuck, I loved the feel of his tongue, the sweet taste of him. It went straight to my head, making me giddy.
He didn’t hesitate. His hands slid up my legs, under my skirt, going straight for the kill, god love him.
“Need something?” he asked, fingers stroking over my thighs.
“Fuck. Anne.” His mouth chased mine, pushing for more, deeper. And holy hell, was I happy to give. The tips of his clever fingers stroked the crotch of my panties, making every corner of me light up in response. If anything stopped us this time, I couldn’t be held responsible for my actions.
“Keep doing that,” I panted, tugging the tie from his ponytail to loosen his hair.
“You don’t want this instead?” The pad of his thumb pressed against my clit, moving in small circles.
“Oh, god.” My head fall back, sensation rushing through me. I was so turned on it was embarrassing. The damp fabric of my panties told the tale. But we’d had days and days of foreplay, really. Long before I’d met him I’d wanted him, though reality far exceeded my expectations. Mal Ericson was my dream come true. The kissathon at David and Ev’s, lying awake missing him last night, these things had already pushed me to the edge. Safety and sensible be damned. I’d get as much of him as I could for as long as I could.
“That’s it,” he murmured.
I pushed forward against his hand, seeking more. He cradled the back of my skull, holding up my head so he could see. “You are so f**king pretty. Have I told you that?”
No idea. And if he expected me to answer, he’d be waiting a while.
“I should’ve told you that,” he said.
I just stared at him, dazed. He was, without a doubt, the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. The elegant lines of his face made me want to write bad poetry. And the sound of his voice, his words, they were all so perfect and good. But then my insides tightened, and there was nothing there to hold on to. I was so horribly empty I ached.
“I need …” Forget talking. I started tearing at his belt buckle instead, ripping into the button and zip of his jeans. My thigh muscles burned from gripping him and if the car stopped suddenly I’d be in serious trouble.
“You can have whatever you want, Anne. Just ask for it.”
“I want you.”
Fingers traced the seam of my sex, making my head swim.
“How do you want me?” he asked, his hand coaxing a moan from me. I rested my cheek against his, lungs struggling for air. “Hmm?”
“Inside me.” Words were a hassle and so was his zipper. “Mal, please … stop playing with me.”
“But you love me playing with you.”
I held his face in my hands, my mouth rigid. “Enough.”
Just as well I was sitting down, otherwise his smile would have floored me. Arrogant, gorgeous bastard.
“Okay.” Mal pulled his hand out from under my skirt. I could have wept for the loss of the lovely pressure. Much more important, however, to get him into me as soon as humanly possible.
“Hop off a sec,” he said.
He lifted me aside and pushed down his jeans and underwear, dug a condom out of his pocket. I stopped dead at the sight of his cock, jutting out large and loud. I needed more time to look. How mad would he get if I tried to take a picture? It would be purely for my own personal use, of course.
“Anne,” he said, breaking my concentration. “Panties off. Now.”
“Right.” My skirt had already bunched up around my waist. I hooked my thumbs in either side and shimmied them down, kicking off my ankle boots at the same time. Coordinated and cool I was not, but only getting myself bare from the waist down mattered.
He opened the condom wrapper with his teeth and rolled it on.
“C’mon.” Big hands gripped my hips, pulling me back over his lap. I grabbed hold of his shoulders for balance and stared at his face, memorizing him. This moment needed to go down in history with every last detail imprinted for all time. From the curve of his cheekbones and line of his jaw to the small dip in his top lip that I was dying to kiss and lick, I didn’t want to forget a thing.