I tilted my head up and asked, “What would you do if I kissed you right now?”
He pretended to think about it for an obnoxious amount of time before saying, “I would kiss you back.”
I’d been surviving on crumbs for so long—thoughts of him, memories of us. But now, with him here and close and willing, I realized I’d been starving.
I wrapped my hands around his neck and kissed him softly. His hand grazed the hem of my shirt, and when I felt his skin on mine it was like a storm beneath his fingertips, the rolling of clouds, the snapping of lightning. All at once it was too much and not enough, and I arched against him and kissed him harder, roughly.
You think it can’t get worse than wanting someone and not having them, but it can. You can want someone, have them, and want them more. Still. Always. You can never get enough.
We broke apart to breathe, our foreheads still touching. He didn’t say he loved me. He didn’t need to. I could feel it in the way he pressed my palm against his neck. His eyes were closed, and my heart turned over. He needed me too.
What had happened would always be part of us, but we’d survived it. We were still here. The curtain would fall on us eventually, but I would fight to keep it up as long as I could. For now it was just us, together, and there was nothing in our way.
Still, I heard David’s words replay themselves in my mind, in his voice, as I led Noah back into the house and up the stairs.
“He wouldn’t love you if you weren’t what you are.”
But I am what I am. And he does.
I KNOW WHAT I CAN do to a girl with a word, a look, a touch. And I want to do them all to her.
I PRESSED MY LIPS TO his throat, and he tilted my chin up, my face aside. He whispered wicked things against my ear.
I grinned, and unbuttoned his shirt.
I KISS HER SOFTLY, TWICE. then her head tilts, dips, and her mouth closes over my heart. As she kisses my burning skin, a shock shudders through me.
Mara is the one I never knew I was waiting for, and as long as she’ll have me, I will never let her go.
I SHRUGGED HIS SHIRT FROM his shoulders, and he lifted mine from my chest. We shed everything until skin met skin.
And then Noah Shaw showed me why he had the reputation he had.
I shivered at the delicious sting of his jaw as he trailed kisses down the dip in my navel, at his fox smile as he painted me in feeling. Soft, muted, dreamy colors first—ochre and umber and rose with his tongue. My breath caught, and I needed—I needed—
“Hurry,” I pleaded.
“Slowly,” he said.
I THRILL AT HER RISING, aching, swelling sound as I draw out every torturous kiss. Her muscles tighten and tremble and she grasps the sheets and I glance up, needing to see her face.
She is wild. And I have never seen anything more outrageously beautiful in my life.
But then she threads her hands into my hair and pulls.
AS I DREW HIM UP against me, into me, there was a pinch of scarlet.
“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice gentle in a way I’d never heard.
I breathed “Yes” as the color softened and faded. I pulled him closer.
I SLIDE MY HANDS UP her back, and her ankles lock around my waist and she takes me in with those fathomless eyes. We are connected: hands, limbs, mouths, bodies, souls. I have never known this.
Mara kisses me and it is sugar on my tongue and champagne in my blood; I want to drown in her taste and scent and sound. Hers is the body electric; she is the high I’d been chasing but never caught until now.
NIPPING. PULLING. TEASING. TASTING. HIS strokes were slow, intricate, as they blended and feathered and blushed me into something radiant. The colors glossed and glazed into something bold and bright.
EVERY TOUCH COMPOSES A NEW, unheard measure; I am hypnotized by the texture and timbre of her notes as they trill and turn and beat and slide. The sheets are our world, and in them she is finite and infinite, beautiful and sublime, bound in my arms and boundless at once.
I move and her scale lengthens, stretches, rhapsodic and gorgeously violent as her eyes grow dark and threaten to close.
“Stay with me,” I nearly growl, trying to bite back my desperation, my fear that she’ll slip away. I never want to stop looking at her from here. “Stay.”
They flutter open—she’s still here, still her. “I need to hear you,” she begs in that voice, and I can’t refuse her¸ not anything, not now, not ever. But the words that come aren’t enough for this. For her. So I speak in a language she doesn’t know.
Je t’aime. Aujourd’hui. Ce soir. Demain. Pour toujours. Si je vivais mille ans, je t’appartiendrais pour tous. Si je vivais mille vies, je te ferais mienne dans chacune d’elles.
I love you. Today. Tonight. Tomorrow. Forever. If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If I were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.
THE WORLD DISTILLED TO ONLY the sound of us as we both stretched out on the edge of the world.
The colors shone, burned through. Sienna and crimson and gold, and I swallowed my name from his mouth and he kissed his from my lips, and I was incandescent as I tripped into—
The echo of her pleasure hits my blood and takes me with her. Mara is unstrung, unbound, unleashed in my arms.
AFTER, I LAY AGAINST HIM. Our heartbeats synchronized, and I twined around him like moss on a limb. I was soft in his grasp and he was so solid and warm and real against my cheek. My smile wouldn’t fade, but the colors began to. Violet to cobalt, then indigo, then black.
THERE IS NO SILENCE, BUT the timbre of her sound does change. Grace notes, sweet and blue, sweeping, sliding, falling. I know what they mean.
“Stay,” I whisper into her damp, curling hair, as if it’s the only word I know. “Stay with me.”
But her eyes flutter and shut.
I can’t close mine. Mara falls asleep to “Hallelujah.”
DAWN CREEPS IN THROUGH THE curtains, staining the backs of my eyelids red. I blink once, twice in the near darkness, then stretch. I inhale the scent of Noah’s shampoo and smile as I reach over in bed to pull him closer. My hand closes around a piece of paper, though, not his hair.
I prop myself up on my elbow and yawn, scanning the room for evidence of Noah. When I don’t find any, I turn on the bedside lamp. His bag is here, and his clothes are in them—not strewn around like mine. We were supposed to be leaving New York today, and it looked like he’d already packed. That wasn’t unusual. But not waking up to him beside me was. I bite my lower lip, remembering his mouth on it last night, and draw back the sheets to look for my clothes. The note flutters to the ground beside me. I pick it up.