"I mean, what if you don't get over him? What if you just learn how to get on without him? People who've been in love have that haunted look in their eyes. It's like a piece of them is unattainable, forever held back and protected at all cost."

"Like Cole's eyes."

She nods. "I don't know my ass from my elbow on this stuff, but maybe he'll always be a part of you. Maybe you don't get over him, you just learn to get on without him."

Silence fills the air. I agree with her. I need to move on. "You think I should be going out with Jesse?"

Emma pulls her knees to her chest and mirrors the way I sit. "Maybe, that's up to you. But I don't think that you'll get back to your life until you make some changes. If nothing changes, everything stays the same, right?" It was what the professor in our philosophy class said. "If you do what you've always done, you get what you've always gotten. If you want something different, then make something different."

I understand now. I just don't know if I have the guts to do it. Being a workaholic sounds more appealing, but the nights are so unbearable. I feel the shift, the change within me. I accept what I have to do, and I'm lucky that there's already a great guy there who wants me.

Chapter 9

I dress for dinner carefully, making sure I look like a sex kitten. My hair is smoothed and hanging loose in long waves that extend down my back. I borrowed a black dress from Em that fits me a little too snuggly, but it makes my boobs look bigger, so hey, I can deal with it. I pull on inky thigh highs with lace at the top and attach them to my garter belt. That is also black lace. It matches my favorite bra. I slip my feet into killer shoes, meaning they could kill me if I fall from this height, or that I could easily use the heel as a weapon.

When I finish, Em does my make-up and talks to me about her job. "Close your eye. Yeah, like that." A cold wet glob starts to get dabbed across my lashes, liquid liner. "Stacey is easy to work with and after you gave me that exclusive, it really helped. It also made the press disappear which was awesome, because that would have sucked if they stuck around." She's talking too much because she's nervous for me. I never dress up this much. She knows what it means, she knows what I intend to do with Jesse later to move on.

"Look up." She dabs my lower lashes with cold gook and talks as I stare at the ceiling. "He's really patient, too. They didn't teach us a bunch of stuff at college, but he said that's normal - that most of the things you use in real life are learned in real life. That's kind of like what you were saying with opening your studio. It's easier to understand when I'm doing it every day. I guess it's the difference between theory and practice."

She takes a tissue and blots my lips. I look at Emma as her eyes rove over my face, looking for imperfections in my make-up mask. After a moment she grins, and I know she's finished. Emma steps back and says, "Heeellllllo sexy."

I feel different, more confident, more certain. I thank Em and the door buzzes. She takes off to let Jesse inside as I finish up. I hook a pendant around my neck. It dangles above my cleavage and draws attention to the girls. Like they need more attention. I'm practically popping out of this dress.

I smooth the supple fabric over my hips and will myself to relax. This is a good thing. This is what's next. Since speaking with Emma, I realized that I don't have to stop loving Cole to move on. I just have to be willing to try and live my life without him.

"You can do this," I say to the mirror and turn toward the door.

Jesse is standing there with a smirk on his lips. "You always talk to the mirror?"

My cheeks burn at his teasing, but he doesn't comment. His witty retorts died in his throat when I turned around. Jesse's eyes ravage me, drinking in every detail. He steps into the room and his gaze darkens. "You look spectacular."

I smile shyly and it just makes him more taken with me. His eyes lock on my body. Jesse has a hard time keeping his gaze on my face.

"Thanks," I say. "I thought dinner, and then maybe we could come back here after?"

His eyes lift and meet mine, "Anything special you have planned for later?"

"Maybe," I grin back and lift the hem of my dress, showing off the thigh highs, and then lifting a little more so he can see the bottom of the lacy garter belt. "I thought I could show you this and a little more." I drop the skirt and it falls back into place against my thigh. Jesse looks like he's going to race across the room and throw me on the bed.

Instead, he steps toward me and takes me in his arms. He presses a gentle kiss to my lips. When he pulls away, he says, "That sounds perfect."

We go to dinner at some classy little place that Jesse picks out. We talk, but my mind keeps skipping to later. I want his hands on me. I want him to make me forget everything I lost. I wonder if I suck, if I'm a slut for forcing a relationship forward when I can't even feel anything. I hope Jesse's touch will make me feel something. I hope his kisses wake me back up and that I'll feel content in his arms.

Dinner is wonderful. After we order dessert, I excuse myself to use the ladies room. It's clear across the other side of the restaurant. As I walk, my skirt swishes above my knee, drawing male eyes. Their gazes land gently on me and I feel beautiful. Confidence surges through me as I smile. Something strange is happening to me. I'm no longer Anna. I'm this classic sex goddess. Guys never openly ogle me, but tonight, that's all they do. One guy winks at me. I wink back and keep walking.

I spend a little too much time in the ladies room, and when I walk back to our table, I circle around the other way. I see someone - a guy - hunched over our table, blocking my view of Jesse. They're having a tense conversation. When I'm close enough, I catch the tail-end of it.

Jesse's tone is harsh, scolding, "...might be the one fucking her, but you're the one who has her heart."

"Anna doesn't - " he starts saying, but I cut him off, shocked.

"Cole. What are you doing here?" He turns and looks me over, like he disapproves of my outfit.

"That's very different than what you wore last night," Cole says coldly.

My hackles raise. I can't remember most of last night, and the innuendo will piss Jesse off. I breathe and his eyes drift to the swell of my breasts and slowly caress my neck, until Cole's gaze locks with mine. The way he does it sets off an explosion within me. I want him. I feel my body react to him, but I hide it. Cole doesn't see the desire I have for him, and he'll never see it again. "I'm on a date and having you come over and bother us isn't becoming."

Cole's brow raises, "I was just leaving, Miss Lamore. I wouldn't want to ruin your evening." He inclines his head to me and leaves. I watch him walk away, wondering how things got so bad. This is worse than when we first met.

I slide back into my seat and look at Jesse. "How could you say that to him?"

"I didn't mean to upset you. I'm sorry." Jesse looks mortified. He didn't see me walk up to the table either. His eyes won't meet mine. "I know it must have sounded horrible."

I shake my head and cover his hand with mine. He glances at me. "Don't try to explain. I know you're just trying to help me get over him."

"It's more than that, Anna." Jesse swallows hard and threads our fingers together. "I'm not sure how much of a chance I have after him. Everything I do looks weak compared to that guy. I want you, Anna. I want you to give me a chance to make you happy." Jesse rubs my hand with his. Although his words are pleading, his voice is not. He won't beg.

I look at his hand, and then back up at his eyes. "Let's get out of here. I have some more black lace to show you." I smile at him and wink. I don't understand why Cole was at the table, but I'm not letting him affect me anymore.

We walk back to the apartment hand in hand. Periodically Jesse's shoulder brushes mine. I smile at him. Somehow we start talking about my lace. "I noticed you wear thigh highs. They're really sexy, but I had no idea you wore garters, too. That's dream territory, Anna."

My inner sex kitten is fighting to commandeer the conversation, but I keep beating her back. She sees the lust in his eyes and wants to use that to her advantage. "Actually, the bra, panties, and garters were my favorite set."

"Were?" he asks.

I wink at him. "Yes, they were my favorite set until the panties went missing."

Jesse stopped, his eyes not so subtly drifting to my hips. "You're not wearing panties?"

I don't answer. I just smile at him. He stands there panting like a cartoon character and I grab his tie. When we get to my door, I push him up against it and kiss him. I don't do the little chaste kisses he keeps giving me. I push my tongue into Jesse's mouth and slide my leg up his thigh. Jesse kisses me back and I finally feel hot. Pulse pounding, I break the kiss and turn around. Jesse leans against me, pressing me to the door. He rubs his hips against me and I can feel him, hard and ready.

He whispers in my ear. "I want you so badly. You have no idea how much."

I moan, and stay there for a second, feeling him push against me. My heart's hammering in my chest. The thought of Jesse lifting my skirt and fucking me from behind, against the door in public, races through my mind. Oh God. I fumble with my key until the door opens and we stumble inside. His arms wrap around me as his tongue finds my mouth. Jesse kisses me harder and I let him. I don't hold back.

The apartment is empty. Emma left for the night to give me time alone with Jesse. His hand grips my thigh as I slide my leg up. His fingers press into my flesh between the garters and stockings. I lean into him, kissing him harder, forcing my breasts into his chest. I keep my eyes closed, thinking about nothing except the need in my body and that Jesse is there for me. I like him. I want him. This will be good for both of us.

Jesse's hand cups my bare ass, and I moan into his mouth. My hands find his tie and loosen it from his neck. I slowly work at his buttons as we kiss and peel his shirt away, stripping him in the living room. The curtains are open, but it's dark inside. I'm confident that no one can see in unless they press their face to the window.

Jesse pushes me away. Breathless, he says, "I think we need to see the lace that started all of this."

I grin wickedly and unzip the back of the dress. It falls to the floor in a quick swoosh and I'm standing there in a sheer lacy bra, with thick lace garters where panties would be, thigh highs, and fuck-me heels. Jesse's eyes rove over my body and his hands soon follow. The lace garter belt sits right at my hips. If I part my legs, he'll see everything, and have open access to all of me.

Jesse lifts me and moves me to the couch. My legs wrap around him as he trails kisses down my neck and to my breast. I close my eyes, wanting to get lost in lust, but I see Cole's face. My eyes snap open. I won't do that. I won't have sex with one guy and pretend he's another.

Jesse feels me stiffen. "Are you okay, Anna?" His hands are behind my back, his lips gently pressing to the lace of my bra, teasing my nipples.

I nod and he continues, but I'm not okay. As Jesse's hands move over me, I notice how different they feel. I keep comparing him to Cole. It doesn't matter if my eyes are open or closed, I see Cole. In one last desperate attempt to get Cole out of my head, I lift Jesse's face to mine and press my lips to his. The kiss deepens and I hold him tightly to my body. His fingers splay on my face as he kisses me back. When Jesse rocks his hips against mine, and I feel his hard length though his pants, my façade cracks. I suck in a jagged breath and push him back. Jesse is panting. His body is covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Desire darkens his eyes, but when Jesse looks at me, he sees it.