The aim of the game is to do this for the rest of your life. Screw human civilization and all it entails. This elevator is home now. This is what we do now.
Do not fucking stop.
He tests me and pulls back a fraction. The cardinal rule broken. I pull his mouth back to mine with my hand fisted at the scruff of his neck. I’m a quick study and he’s the perfect tutor.
He tastes like those spearmints he’s always crunching. Who chews mints? I tried it once and burned my mouth out. He does it to annoy me, flickers of amusement in his eyes at my irritated huff. I nip him now in retribution, but it urges him closer against me, body hard, warming me everywhere we connect. Our teeth chink together.
What the fuck is happening? I ask silently with my kiss.
Shut up, Shortcake. I hate you.
If we were actors in a movie we’d be bumping against walls, buttons flying, the fishnet of my stockings shredded, and my shoes falling off. Instead, this kiss is decadent. We’re leaning against a sunlit wall, dreamily licking ice cream cones, rapidly succumbing to heat stroke and nonsensical hallucinations.
Here, come a little closer, it’s all melting. Lick mine and I will definitely lick yours.
Gravity catches me by the ankle and begins to drag me off the handrail. Joshua hoists me up higher with a hand on the back of my thigh. From this tiny loss of his mouth I growl in outraged frustration. Get back here, rule breaker. He’s wise enough to obey.
The sound he makes in reply is like huh. The kind of amused sound people make when they discover something unexpected yet pleasing. That I-should-have-known sound. His lips curve and I touch his face. The first smile Joshua’s ever had in my presence is pressed against my lips. I pull back in astonishment, and in one millisecond his face has defaulted back to grave and serious, albeit flushed.
A harsh burr comes from the elevator speaker, and we both jolt when a tinny voice ahems. “Everything okay in there?”
We freeze in a tableau entitled Busted. Joshua reacts first, leaning over to press the intercom.
“Bumped the button.” He slowly sets me down onto the ground and backs away a few paces. I hook my elbow on the handrail, my legs sliding out on roller skates.
“What the fuck was that?” I wheeze with the last of my air.
“Right-o.” The elevator slides down about three feet and the doors open. If he’d waited another half second, it would have never happened. My coat is in a crumpled mess on the floor, and he picks it up, dusting it off with surprising care.
He walks off without a backward glance. My earrings are caught in my hair, tangled by his hands. I look for an exit. There are none. The elevator doors snap shut behind me. Joshua unlocks an arrogantly sporty black car and when I reach the passenger door we face each other. My eyes are big fried eggs. He has to turn away so I don’t see him laugh. I catch the reflection of his white teeth on a nearby van’s rearview mirror.
“Oh dear,” he drawls, turning back, dragging his hand over his face to wipe away the smile. “I’ve traumatized you.”
“What . . . what . . .”
I want to sprint away but my legs won’t hold me up.
“Don’t even think about it,” he tells me.
I slide into his car and nearly fall unconscious. His scent is intensified in here perfectly, baked by summer, preserved by snow, sealed and pressurized inside glass and metal. I inhale like a professional perfumer. Top notes of mint, bitter coffee, and cotton. Mid notes of black pepper and pine. Base notes of leather and cedar. Luxurious as cashmere. If this is what his car smells like, imagine his bed. Good idea. Imagine his bed.
He gets in, tosses my coat on the backseat, and I look sideways at his lap. Holy shit. I avert my eyes. Whatever he’s got there is impressive enough to make my eyes slide back again.
“You’ve died of shock,” he chides like a schoolteacher.
My breath is shaking out of me, and he turns to look at me, eyes poison-black. He raises his hand and I flinch back. He frowns, pauses, then twists my closest earring carefully back into position.
“I thought you were going to kill me.”
“I still want to.” He reaches for the other earring, and his inner wrist is close enough to bite. Painstakingly, he tugs the caught strands of hair until my earring hangs properly again.
“I want to. So bad, you have no idea.”
He turns the car on, backs out, and drives as though nothing happened.
“We need to talk about this.” My voice is rough and dirty. His fingers flex on the steering wheel.
“It seemed like the right moment.”
“But you kissed me. Why would you do that?”
“I needed to test a theory I’ve had for a while. And you really, really kissed me back.”
I twist in my seat and the lights ahead go red. He slows to a stop and looks at my mouth and legs.
“You had a theory? More like, you were trying to mess me up before my date.” Cars behind us are beeping and I look over my shoulder. “Go.”
“Oh, that’s right, your date. Your imaginary fake date.”
“It’s not imaginary. I’m meeting Danny Fletcher from design.”
The look of shocked surprise on his face is magnificent. I want to commission a portrait artist to capture it in oils, so I can pass it down to future generations. It. Is. Priceless.
Cars begin to pull out from either side behind us, horns bleating and wailing. A string of road-rage obscenities manage to jerk him from his stupor.
“What?” He finally notices the green light and accelerates sharply, braking to avoid hitting a car swerving in front. He wipes one hand over his mouth. I’ve never seen Joshua so flustered.
“Danny Fletcher. I’m meeting him in ten minutes. That’s where you’re driving me. What is wrong with you?”
He says nothing for several blocks. I stare stubbornly at my hands and all I can think about is his tongue in my mouth. In my mouth. I estimate there’s probably been about ten billion elevator kisses in the history of mankind. I hate us for the cliché.
“Did you think I was lying?” Well, technically I was lying, but only at first.
“I always assume you’re lying.” He changes lanes in an angry swerve, an ominous black thundercloud of temper settling over him.
Here’s a fact. Hating someone is exhausting. Each pulse of blood in my veins takes me closer to death. I waste these ending minutes with someone who genuinely despises me.
I drop my lids so I can remember it again. I’m shimmering with nerves, heaving a box onto my desk at the newly minted B&G building, tenth floor. There is a man by the window, looking out at the early-morning traffic. He turns and we make eye contact for the first time.
I’m never getting another kiss like that again, not for the rest of my life.
“I wish we could be friends,” I accidentally say out loud. I’ve held those words in for so long it feels like I’ve dropped a bombshell. He’s so silent I think maybe he didn’t hear me. But then he casts me a look so contemptuous that I feel a painful twist inside.
“We’ll never, ever be friends.” He says friends like he’d say the word pathetic.
When he slows the car at the front of the bar I’m out and running before he’s even come to a complete stop. I hear him shout my name, annoyed. I register that he calls me Lucy.
I see Danny at the bar, bottle of beer dangling from his fingertips, and I pinwheel through the crowd and fall into his arms. Poor old Danny, who has turned up early like a gentleman, with no idea what kind of crazy woman he’s agreed to spend an evening with.
“Hi.” Danny is pleased. “You made it.”
“’Course!” I manage a shaky laugh. “I need a drink after the day I’ve had.”
I hoist myself like a jockey onto the barstool. Danny signals to the bartender. Identical baseball bats swing on huge screens positioned above the bar. I feel the memory of Joshua’s mouth on mine, and I press my shaking fingertips to my lips.
“A big gin and tonic. As big as you can, please.”
The bartender obliges and I empty half of the contents into my mouth and maybe a little down my chin. I lick the corners of my mouth and I still taste Joshua. Danny catches my eye as I lower the glass.
“Is everything okay? I think you need to tell me about your day.”
I take a good look at him. He’s changed into some dark jeans and a nice button-down check shirt. I like that he’s made an effort to go home and change for me.
“You look nice,” I tell him honestly, and his eyes spark.
“And you look beautiful.” His tone is confidential. He leans his elbow on the bar and his face is open and without malice. I feel a weird bubble of emotion inside my chest.
“What?” I wipe my chin. This man is looking at me like he does not hate me. It’s bizarre.
“I couldn’t exactly tell you at work. But I’ve always thought you were the most beautiful girl.”
“Oh. Well.” I probably turn bright red and I feel a tightness in my throat.
“You don’t take compliments well.”
“I don’t get many.” It’s the honest truth. He just laughs.
“It’s true. Unless it’s my mom and dad on Skype.”
“Well, I’ll have to change that. So. Tell me all about you.”
“I work for Helene, as you know,” I start uncertainly.
He nods, his mouth quirking.
“And that’s about it.”
Danny smiles, and I nearly reel backward off my barstool. I’m so badly socialized I can barely converse with normal human beings. I want to be at home on my couch with all of the pillows piled on my head.
“Yes, but I want to know about you. What do you do for fun? Where’s your family from?”
His face is so open and guileless. I think of children before the world ruins them.
“May I go and freshen up first? I came straight from the office.” I swallow the other half of my glass. The faint mint on my tongue deadens the flavor.
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