Hardwired

Author: P Hana

Page 43

   

When Marie fell silent, I turned to find her shaking her head.

“An old friend, I guess. I can’t remember.”

“It looks like my mother knew him though.”

“Patty had a lot of friends. She was very charismatic. Half the campus was in love with her, I swear.”

“Marie—”

“Erica, I don’t know who that man is. I wish I could tell you.” She collected her purse and touched up her makeup in her compact mirror.

Marie was carefree and energetic, even a little immature at times, but she wasn’t much of a liar. She wasn’t telling me something.  I had a niggling suspicion as to why, but I didn’t push her.

“Sweetie, I’m off. Keep me posted on Mystery Blake, okay?” She smiled as if the past five minutes hadn’t happened.

“I will. Good luck with Richard too.”

She responded with a weak laugh that didn’t give me much hope for Richard. She opened the door and shrieked when Blake met her at the entrance. He looked as surprised as she did.

I laughed and joined them at the threshold. “Marie, this is Blake. Blake, this is my friend, Marie.”

“It’s a pleasure, Marie,” he said, greeting her with a heart-stopping smile.

She mumbled something unintelligible before leaving, waving me off with a knowing grin.

Blake leaned on the doorway, freshly showered and barefoot, his hands tucked into a pair of board shorts paired with a plain white T-shirt. Only he could make something so casual look so impossibly sexy.

“Can I interest you in take out?” he asked.

“Actually that sounds perfect. I’m still feeling pretty wiped out.”

“Me too. Thai?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you upstairs. I need to change.” I gestured to my pajamas.

“You don’t need to. Clothes are optional, you know.”

He smirked, and I rolled my eyes and smacked his shoulder, trying to hide my smile before heading back to my room.

* * *

“Oh my God,” I moaned. “I don’t think I’ll ever cook again.”

“I can’t allow that,” Blake said between his bites, eating noodles out of a tin container.

He thought I was joking but this had to be the best Thai food I’d ever had. We settled back into the couch, exhausted and full.

“Do you want to watch a movie?” he asked.

“You mean, go out?”

“No, we can stay in, unless you want to go out?”

“What about your no electronics rule?”

“It’s more like a guideline.”

He opened a drawer in the coffee table in front of us and reached for one of several remotes. Whatever he pressed pulled a large flat panel television out of a hidden pocket of the mantle.

“Sounds good to me. Pick something out and I’ll go clean up.” I collected our mess and took it to the kitchen. My eyes lighted on a square black velvet box, if only because it was solitary in its place on the counter. I tried to ignore it and focused on putting away the leftovers.

“That’s for you,” Blake said, leaning his hip against the counter on the other end of the kitchen.

My eyes widened in surprise. “That?” I pointed to the box.

“I wanted to give it to you in New York, but we rushed out of there before I had a chance.”

Oh.

“Open it,” he said, his voice low with that sexy rasp that made me forget myself.

I tentatively reached for the box as he crossed the space between us. I held it in my hands, unable to open it. After a few awkward seconds, he popped the lid open for me, revealing two diamond bangle bracelets, each with a tiny charm hanging from the clasp. I lifted one out and identified its charm as a miniature roulette wheel in solid matching platinum.

“For being my good luck charm,” he murmured.

I smiled at the memory. That was pretty lucky, I had to agree.

I lifted the second out. On it hung a delicate woven heart. My own heart started to beat wildly, my nerves suddenly on edge.

“Every charm has a meaning,” he said quietly, setting the box to the side and clasping both bracelets dexterously around my left wrist before pressing a soft kiss into my palm.

“Thank you.” My voice wavered. I admired the bracelets, which were simple and elegant. Knowing Blake, they had no doubt cost a small fortune, but the meaning behind the gift was what took my breath away. I had been running his words from this morning over in my head all afternoon, wondering if he’d said he loved me on a whim, or just to make his point in the heat of the argument. But the gift solidified the sentiment. He’d known it before he said it.

My voice caught in my throat. I wanted to say more. I loved Blake too. Trying to convince myself that I didn’t was beyond ridiculous. The words, and everything they meant, were tearing me up inside. I wanted him to know, but something kept me silent.

I toyed with the bracelets—the cool metal on my skin and the faint clinking of the charms that would always remind me of him, even when we were apart. Before I could say anything, he cupped my cheek and bent to kiss me. I ran my fingers through his hair and kissed him back with every ounce of passion I felt, telling him the only way I knew how. He met my intensity, holding me tight and lifting me to him with his strong arms.

“Erica—”

“Shh.” I pressed my fingertips to his lips before he could say more. I couldn’t bear hearing the words again, knowing I couldn’t say them back right now. Instead I kissed him gently, closing my eyes to avoid his.

He stepped back before we could go further, holding my hand and leading me back to the living room. Relieved, I got comfortable in the nook of his arm as the movie started. We settled in and I relished the moment. I couldn’t remember feeling so completely content with anyone else. No words, no expectations—we spent the next two hours unwinding together, forgetting the drama that had surrounded us the past few days until I fell asleep in his arms.

The apartment was quiet and dark when I woke. Blake carried me into the bedroom as if I weighed nothing. He sat me down on the bed and helped me out of my clothes. Feeling rested from my recent slumber, a quiet energy stirred in me. My skin came alive under his touch.

“I thought you’d be tired.”

“I’m not anymore,” I murmured. I started undressing where he’d stopped. Naked, I shimmied back onto the bed where I waited for him. In the soft light of the room, he undressed slowly, revealing his thick arousal. I bit my lip hard at the sight of him.

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