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“The most gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen.” He says it like he wants me to understand the importance.

I am grateful for the dark because I blush. “Thanks.”

A sigh gusts out of him, and when he speaks again it’s a strip of velvet rubbing against the sensitive shell of my ear. I try to glance at him but he tuts.

“But your little red Valentine mouth . . .”

He trails off and makes a noise partway between a groan and a sigh. Goose bumps sweep up my arms. I bite my lip in case I respond. Maybe the more silent I am, the more he’ll let loose.

“This one time, you wore a white shirt and I could see your bra. It was a colored lace. Maybe, like, pink or pale purple. I could see the faintest outline of it. It was one of the days when we had a huge fight, and you ended up leaving early because you were so angry.”

“That could have been a few occasions. You’ll have to narrow it down further for me.” I wish he wouldn’t remind me of moments like that.

“I have lain in bed so many nights thinking about your colored lace bra under the white shirt. How embarrassing,” he confides, shifting a little in his seat.

When he speaks again, his voice coils into my ear.

“And the dream you once told me about? You were only dressed in sheets, with some mystery guy pressed up against you?”

“Oh, yeah. My stupid dream.”

“I thought maybe you meant it was me in your dream.”

“It was all a lie.” It falls out of my mouth.

“I see,” he says after a long pause. “Well done, I guess. You got me wound up over it.”

I’ve damaged the little momentum he had going and I regret it instantly. He begins to pull himself straighter in the seat.

“I did have the dirtiest dream of my entire life. But it wasn’t like I told you.”

He sinks back down into his seat. I can sense his face is turned away. I can imagine his embarrassment. If he’d told me about a dream and let me believe it was about me, I’d feel ridiculous, carrying his lie in my head.

“The dream was definitely about you, Josh.”

Now it’s my turn to talk like he’s not there. The sound of my own voice sounds scratched-up and husky and the rain is falling harder as I drive. I can see the reflective eyes of a forest animal on the roadside as I bring the car around a long curve.

“I’d gone to bed thinking about you, and how I wanted to mess with you by wearing the short black dress. I wanted you to look at me and . . . notice me. I still don’t know exactly why I wanted to wear that dress. And during the night you showed up in my dream. You, pressing me down, tangling me up in bedsheets.”

He breathes out in a rush. I need to get this out.

“It was something you’d said to me during the day at work. You’d said to me, ‘I’m going to work you so fucking hard.’ Any girl would have an erotic dream after you said that to her. Even one who hated your guts.”

Silence. I press on.

“‘I’m going to work you so fucking hard.’ You said it to me in my dream. And you smiled at me, and I woke myself up on the edge of coming.”

“Seriously,” he manages to say.

“I almost came from the thought of you pressing me down and smiling at me.”

I can see out the corner of my eye his hands are in fists on his knees.

“Is that all it would take? Because it can be arranged.”

“I was shocked as hell and I acted all weirded out the next day. Exit the highway here?”

As the off-ramp approaches he makes a sound like a strangled yes. I indicate and exit. He shifts again in his seat. I glance over at his lap. A streetlight helpfully gives me one gorgeous freeze-frame of a hard, heavy angle.

“So why’d you lie then, about your dream?”

“I didn’t want to even say a word, but you wouldn’t let up. How could I confess? I was too embarrassed. I thought you’d tease me. So I lied.”

“Your tiny little dress . . .” He mutters something to himself. We both do identical squirms in our seats. His eyes slide sideways to my lap, and we both understand each other perfectly.

The main street of Port Worth is wide and divided by wide verges planted with mounds of petunias and geraniums that glow red in our headlights and under brass streetlights. During the day, this place is undoubtedly gorgeous.

“It was the same day I thought you were lying about your date. Left here, then follow the road as far as it goes.”

Surely he’ll laugh. It’s sort of funny when you think about it.

“Yeah, I did lie about it.”

There’s a pause, and this time I’m in a hell of a lot of trouble.

“Lucinda. What the fuck? Why would you do that?” His anger is visceral.

“You were sitting there at your desk, looking at me like I was a loser.”

“Fucking hell. Is my face so fucking difficult to read?” When I say nothing, he shakes his head.

“So somehow I caused all of this? Danny sniffing around like a little dog?”

“Yes, it was a lie, but you wouldn’t let it go. You said you were going to the same bar too. How could I sit there alone? I had to go down to design and find someone. He was the one I knew would say yes.”

“You wouldn’t have been sitting there alone. I would have been there. It would have been me.”

My mouth drops open, and he raises a hand to silence me.

“You think he’s your friend, but he wants more from you. It’s painfully obvious. Next time I see him, I’m going to explain a few things about you and me. Just so he’s clear.”

“Is that right? I think you should try explaining things to me first.”

“The entrance is there.”

I pull up in front of the Port Worth Grand Hotel. It glows, opulent and gold, lawns groomed to perfection in the beam of our headlights. A parking valet signals to me and I manage to put the car in park and slide out onto shaky legs, grabbing at my purse.

I go to the trunk, but another hotel guy dressed like a toy soldier is already taking our bags out. Josh looks on with a bored, irritated expression.

“Thank you.” I tip them both. “Thank you so much.”

Josh goes to the reservations desk. The receptionist visibly flinches when blasted by his blue laser-eyes. I turn a full circle in the lobby. Everything is in shades of red; strawberry, ruby, blood, wine. A giant tapestry with a faded medieval scene hangs down one wall. A lion and a unicorn both kneel before a woman. A chandelier hangs above me from the center of an elaborately corniced ceiling. There is a spiral staircase above me, scrolling up about four floors in concentric circles. It’s like being inside a heart.

“It’s something, huh?” A man in a suit says to me from the bar nearby.

“It’s gorgeous.” I have my hands clasped in front of me like a schoolgirl. I look for Josh, but I can’t see him.

“It looks even better from here at the bar,” the suit guy says, gesturing me over.

“Nice try,” Josh says sharply, joining me. He scoops an arm around me and walks me toward the elevator. I hear a laughed apology—Sorry, pal!—behind us.

“How many keys do you have in your hand?” He presses the elevator button and he holds up a single swipe card like he’s got the winning poker hand.

“Only a certain number of rooms were reserved for the wedding. I tried to get you your own room but the entire hotel is booked. This is Patrick’s idea of a joke.”

I know when he’s lying, and he’s not. He’s completely irritated. I look over my shoulder at the receptionist, who is being comforted by his supervisor.

When we find our room, he takes four tries to get the swipe card into the door handle. I take two attempts to get past him when he holds the door open, but when I accidentally bump into him every rounded girly part of me bumps across him like a ball in a pinball machine. Boob, hip, ass.

Our bags are deposited. Josh tips. The door shuts and we are alone.

Chapter 21

The way he lays the swipe card on the dresser to his left is slow and deliberate. I briefly feel fear. He’s a huge, dark, shaking mass walking toward me, atoms vibrating, blurring my vision as he steps to me and presses his toe against mine.

The Staring Game has never before taken place in a locked hotel room.

He releases the button on my coat with the snap of his fingers. The traitorous garment flips open, as if to say Help yourself, mister! He slides his hands inside, and his eyelashes droop a little when I arch into his touch. He anchors his fingers at the small of my back, fingers digging softly into my spine.

“Let’s do this.” I should write sonnets. I hook my hand into his belt and tug him toward the bed. He lowers me down carefully onto the edge of the mattress and cuffs my ankle with one hand. I can feel him shaking. He takes my shoes off and puts them beside the bed tidily.

It’s been forever since I last felt a man’s skin against mine. For as long as I’ve known Josh, I’ve been celibate. I probably have some confusion in my eyes when I realize it. He sees it, and strokes his finger under my chin.

“I was more angry at myself just now.”

He kneels down between my feet. A nice boy, kneeling beside his bed, about to say his prayers.

His dark blue eyes are stubborn when he looks at me again. I am certain he’s about to kiss my cheek and leave, so I hook one leg around his waist and tug him into the cradle of my thighs. A noise like oof falls out of his mouth and I take his jaw in both of my hands and kiss him.

Usually, he likes kissing soft. Tonight, I like kissing hard. I press his mouth open the moment our lips touch. He tries to slow me, but I won’t let him. I nip at him until he pushes his hips against me. I feel a solid thud against me.

If I ever thought I was an addict before, it was a vast understatement. I want to OD on him. By the end of this weekend, I’ll be legless in a back alley, unable to say my own name. At least I understand this lust. I can deal with this, and frankly, it’s the only outlet we’ve got. I am holding him with my legs and arms in an iron grip and it’s a surprise when I feel a dropping sensation. I open my eyes and realize he’s standing up, taking me with him.

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