Page 23

Author: Tracy Wolff

I should let him go, let him walk out of here right now before this thing turns as ugly as I know it can. But I’m not that strong. Not tonight, when the emptiness is yawning inside me.

I’ve worked so hard not to miss Remi, not to feel the pain of losing him. But it’s there, whether I feel it or not, shredding me from the inside out. So why shouldn’t I say to hell with it? Why shouldn’t I let Z make me feel good, just for one night?

Just for one night.

“Why does this have to be so complicated?” I demand. “I want you. I think you want me. Why can’t we just make each other feel good?”

“Is that it?” he asks.

“What do you mean?”

“Is this just about sex? Just about feeling good?”

I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone, like everything is topsy-turvy, upside down and inside out. This is Z Michaels—the fastest zipper in the West—asking these questions. Z Michaels who’s been with more girls than either of us could probably count if we had a year to do it in.

“I don’t understand,” I tell him. My voice is shaking now. I’m shaking, and I don’t know how to fix it, how to hide it. I don’t know how to fix anything anymore. “I just want … I just want to feel good for once. I just want—”

“Shh, baby. It’s okay. I get it.” Z shifts, turning us until we’re stretched out on the bed. Then he trails soft kisses along my jawline, down my neck. “I’ll make you feel good. I promise.”

He presses a kiss to the top of my head, then one to each of my cheeks. As he does, he mutters something about having sympathy for Hamlet under his breath. I don’t quite catch it, but heat crawls up my cheeks anyway.

I hate my name and all the implications that come with it.

Hamlet’s fragile girlfriend who’s driven insane by design and circumstance.

Who loses herself in the demands and machinations of the men in her life.

Who dies a terrible death because she can’t face the reality of what they’ve done to her—of what they’ve made her become.

When I first read Hamlet in school, I flat out asked my mom if she’d been drunk when she named me. Or if she just hated me. She hadn’t understood, but it turned out she’d never read Hamlet. She’d just liked the sound of Ophelia, and the idea of naming me after one of Shakespeare’s characters.

Go, Mom.

Too bad she hadn’t chosen Katharina from The Taming of the Shrew. My whole life might have turned out differently.

But she didn’t, and here I am with a guy who is guaranteed to mess with my head if I let him. Which I won’t. This is about pleasure, I remind myself. About losing myself for a little while. About feeling something after going so long without feeling anything.

Z continues pressing soft kisses across my cheeks, down my jaw, over my collarbone. At the same time, his hands skate around the waistband of my jeans, his fingers delving beneath denim to caress my abdomen and hips and ass.

They’re simple touches, but they feel good. Really good. Relief shudders through me as I arch beneath him, as I wind my arms around his neck and pull his mouth to mine. His eyes, his beautiful, mysterious eyes, meet mine, and there’s something there. Something I don’t understand. Something that sets warning bells ringing in my head.

“Z, I—”

This time he’s the one who presses his fingers to my mouth. “It’s okay, Ophelia. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

And then he’s kissing me and kissing me and kissing me. Everything I’m thinking, everything I want to say, disappears in a maelstrom of desire as I give myself up to him. To this.

The second our bodies touch, sparks start flying all over the place. I take a deep breath, try to ground myself, but all that does is fill me with the spicy cinnamon and icy snow scent of Z. He smells good, really good, and I want nothing more than to burrow closer. To bury my face in the curve of his neck and just breathe him deep inside me.

He closes his eyes on a half laugh, half groan, then pulls me more tightly against him. I go willingly, even as a part of me wonders at how right this feels. His breath is hot against my cheek, his body hard against my own, and touching him feels good in a way nothing has for a very long time.

“What are you doing to me, Ophelia?” he murmurs after a few moments.

“I don’t know.” The words come out small, shaky.

“Yeah.” He presses a soft kiss into my hair. “Me neither.”

Then his hands are everywhere, everywhere, and I gasp as he flips us again, pulling me on top of him, helping me sit up with my knees on either side of his hips. I lean over, start to flip the light off, but he rests one big, scarred hand over mine.

“I want to see you,” he tells me.

“No.” I turn the light off.

He reaches over and turns it back on. “Okay, Ophelia. You’re going to need to tell me what’s going on, because I don’t understand this whole I-can-only-touch-you-in-the-dark thing. What are you so afraid of me seeing?”

For long seconds I don’t answer. I just stare at him, biting my lip as I figure out how much I want to tell him. Or, more specifically, how much I can get away with not telling him.

“Don’t hurt yourself.” He reaches up, presses on my lip until I let it slip out from between my teeth. “You don’t have to tell me.”

“I was in a car accident. About a year ago. I’ve got some scars. They aren’t … they aren’t very pretty.”

“Are you all right?”

I close my eyes against the sudden burn of tears. Of course he would be the one to ask that, this man who acts so hard and callous but who has a secret, vulnerable center that he doesn’t let anyone see. “I’m fine.”

“Good.” Once again he brings my hand to his lips, presses kisses to it. “Do you really think your scars will make you less attractive to me?” He brings my hand to his stomach, runs it up and down those gorgeous washboard abs of his. “Feel those?” he asks, rubbing my hand on a particularly slick patch of flesh. “I have lots of scars. Yours don’t mean anything to me, except that I know you suffered for them and I’m sorry for that. Really sorry.”

God, is this guy for real? I thought this would be easy, thought we could just f**k and be done with it. But nothing about this situation, nothing about Z, is turning out quite as I expected it to. “What do you want from me?”

“What do I want? Just to see you, touch you. Make you feel good. I think the question is what do you want from me?”

I thought I knew what I wanted, but he’s so different from how I imagined him to be when I dumped that coffee on him the other day. And now that I’m here with him, everything seems upside down. I don’t know what I want from him anymore, only that I do want him.

Slowly tentatively, I pull my T-shirt over my head. It’s harder than I thought it would be, more nerve-racking, to sit here waiting for his judgment. The scarring isn’t terrible, but it’s not great, either. I had surgery on a collapsed lung and a ruptured spleen, numerous surgeries on my arm, which was shattered in the wreck, and a number of deep cuts from flying windshield glass. The doctors say it’s a miracle I have only a small scar on my face from the glass, but my torso is another story. All told, there’s something like fifteen scars, small and large.

Z looks me in the eye for long seconds, not even bothering to drop his gaze to my chest and stomach. I know what he’s doing, know he’s trying to show me that it really doesn’t matter to him. But it matters to me and I just want to get it over with.

Finally, finally, he looks. His expression doesn’t change at all, even when he runs his hand over the largest scar—a long, reddish purple one that runs from just under my breastbone to just below my navel. The doctors assure me that it will fade with time and turn the soft, opaque white of all scars. But for now it’s still vivid, still ugly, and I hate looking at it. Hate even more that I resent it when I at least have my life, which is more than Remi got.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” he says.

I nod, look away. “Yeah. Me too.” And right now I really am, even if I sometimes forget it.

Z curves a hand around my neck, pulls me down until my lips meet his. And he kisses me like he wants me. Like the scars don’t matter. Like I’m the most desirable woman in the world to him.

We kiss for what feels like hours, until I forget about everything but him and the way it feels to be held and touched and kissed by him.

When I’m panting and trembling and no longer care about anything but being with him, Z finally reaches for my bra, his skilled fingers unhooking it and peeling it off in the space from one breath to the next. I freak out for a second, slap my hands over my breasts. No one’s seen me like this since Remi, and suddenly it scares me. In making love to Z, I’m taking an irrevocable step away from my past, from who I used to be and whom I used to love. It’s harder than I thought it’d be.

Especially since Z seems totally inclined not to rush me or push me into anything. I can feel him pressed up against my sex—all hard and hot and even bigger than I remembered—and I know that he must want to get this show on the road, especially after how I left him last time. But he doesn’t move, doesn’t try to take my hands away. Doesn’t do anything but lie there and watch me out of eyes turned almost black with desire and something else I don’t recognize.

Slowly, so slowly it almost feels like a dream, I lower my hands. Rest them on his chest. And then I wait. Just wait.

“You sure you want to do this?” Z asks finally, his eyes locked on mine as his hands slide up my arms to cup my jaw.

I start to speak, to say yes, but my voice breaks, so I just nod instead, praying it’s enough for him.

It must be, because after long moments of silence, of stillness, his fingers slide into my hair. Then he’s pulling out the pins I use to keep it out of my face while I’m at work, tossing them onto the floor, one by one, until my curls tumble down around my shoulders and onto my back and breasts.

“You’re so beautiful,” he tells me as his hands follow the same path as my hair, stroking, soothing, gentling me in a way I never would have expected from him.

“So are you,” I answer, gliding my hands up and down his long, lean torso. “Your tattoos are the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve wanted to lick them pretty much from the first second I saw them.”

“Really? You could have fooled me. You seemed singularly unimpressed that first night at the coffee bar.”

“What was I supposed to do?” I ask, leaning down to press openmouthed kisses over the ink on his shoulder, down his pec. “Fall on the floor and beg you to do me right there?”

“It would have saved a lot of time,” he answers, arching beneath my attentions. “We could have been doing this days ago.”

“In front of the entire lodge.”

“I would have taken you into the changing room,” he jokes, right before sliding his thumbs over my nipples.

My breath hisses out of me and it’s my turn to arch, to press my br**sts into this hands. “Wow. You’re a real class act,” I tease.

He smiles, that wicked, wild grin of his that turns my blood to lava and my willpower to mush. “I do what I can.”

“Oh, yeah?” I move against him, rocking my pelvis against his c**k until we’re both covered in a light sheen of sweat. “Because I think you can do more.”

“You might be right.” He wraps an arm around my shoulders and another around my hips and then he’s flipping us yet again. Only this time I’m on the bed and he’s on the floor between my knees. “I should probably start by getting these jeans off you.”

He starts with the button, then peels the zipper down. As he does, he presses soft kisses to my stomach, following the line of the zipper until he runs into the top of my bikini underpants.