Page 10

As if the objects represented all of the stuff between them, cluttering their path, keeping them apart.

Swirls of reds and yellows and purples offset the dull colors of the androgynous figures, as if their lives were colorless in comparison to the bits and pieces in the center. The two characters couldn’t see each other clearly—there was so much in the way. But one of the figures leaned to the side trying to see around all of that stuff, trying to get a good look at the other one.

And the look on this figure’s face was unabashed want and need and desire.

It occurred to me that the drawing could have been a metaphor for Bennett and me. An absurd one, at best, because I was pretty sure it wasn’t at all and that Bennett had created it long before he had met me.

But for some reason this drawing spoke to me. To something deeply rooted inside of me. I was so moved by its intensity, I felt the stinging of tears behind my eyes.

Bennett was directly behind me now, so close I could feel the heat radiating from his body. His mouth moved close to my ear, and my stomach quivered at the feel of his breath on my neck.

“Tell me what that drawing makes you feel in five words or less,” he murmured against my hair.

And as the first tear rolled down my cheek, the words came to me. “Pain, melancholy, beauty, longing . . .”

The sound had whooshed out of the room, like he and I were the only two people standing in the entire place, discussing the brilliance of his drawing. And unlike those two figures he had drawn, we had gotten past all of that stuff and were standing in the space between, close enough to touch.

I turned to him, and he wiped the tear from my cheek with his thumb. “And?”

“Hope,” I whispered.

He said nothing more. Only searched deeply in my eyes for something—but I wasn’t sure what.

Maybe my tattered and bruised heart.

“Is that one your favorite?” he asked.

And then the moment was lost, because there was an announcement and the doors were swung open and the public was let inside. Bennett steered me to one of the chairs behind his table before the pandemonium hit. People mobbed the artwork, asked questions, shouted prices, and moved in herds to the next table and the next. And so the morning passed in that way, with very few lulls. When I returned from getting us a couple of sandwiches for lunch, I noticed Bennett had sold another two drawings to a man who was hunched over the table writing a check. Bennett moved the pictures under the table so he could wrap them in brown butcher paper and have the man pick them up on his way out to his car.

One of the drawings he was storing away was the one I had developed an affinity for. I felt a stab of regret, because all morning long I had considered buying it for myself. But now that it had sold, I was happy for him. Besides, I could barely afford much beyond rent, food, and gas.

As the afternoon wound down, I looked up from the nursing textbook I had finally pulled out only to see Rebecca staring at me from across the way. I turned to Bennett, who was busy playing a game on his phone, and realized she was probably staring at him instead. Or maybe it was me. Maybe she was curious about my relationship to him. As curious as I’d been about hers.

I could understand why. He was one hot boy.

“Your pretty redhead friend is looking this way,” I said as nonchalantly as possible.

Bennett heaved a long sigh. “Remember when I told you there was a time I thought I was in love?”

My eyes widened. “It was Rebecca?”

He nodded and put down his phone.

Now I looked at her in a whole new light. Her face was striking and she had a smoking body—tight butt, bigger boobs than mine. “What happened?”

“She was my girlfriend in high school,” he said, taking a sip of the soda I had brought him for lunch. “My first love, or so I thought. But she cheated on me—more than once, apparently.”

“Hussy,” I said to get a laugh out of him, and it worked. “Should I assume she got to experience the sneaky side of Bennett and maybe even got her hair caught in a certain someone’s zipper?”

“Maybe,” Bennett said, with mischief glistening in his eyes.

I gulped down the green-eyed monster. That was a long time ago. “Does it still hurt?”

“Nah, water under the bridge and all that.” “Well, she’s looking at you like she has some regrets.”

“Doesn’t matter; there’s no going back,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t feel a thing for her anymore.” I couldn’t help wondering if, in a few months’ time, he would say the same thing about me.

Chapter Ten

Exhausted and starving, we headed back to the hotel. We decided on dinner and drinks at the hotel bar.

We shared wings and mozzarella sticks, along with a couple of beers each.

“Gosh, bar food. It’s yummy, but so bad for you. How do you stay in such good shape?”

“I like to work out,” he said. “And to answer your earlier question, only one sport in high school— wrestling.”

He took a giant swig of his beer. “How about you? How do you keep that little rocking body in shape?”

“Kickboxing.” I dipped my head so he wouldn’t see how rosy my cheeks were. “But I’ve always had a boyish figure. I was a late bloomer in the curves department.”

“I’d definitely never call you boyish, Avery,” he said, before throwing his napkin down. “I’m beat—want to head up?”

When we stepped off the elevator, it was hard to miss the couple getting it on in the hallway. His hair shaved short, the guy wore military fatigues and whispered, “I love you” over and over while tenderly kissing the neck of his leggy brunette.

Bennett threw me a sideways grin and opened our door with lightning speed.

“How long do you think they’ve been separated?” I whispered.

“Probably for a long-ass time,” Bennett said. “That would be hard.”

“Oh, it’s hard,” I snickered, and Bennett burst out laughing.

When I stepped out of the bathroom, I noticed the way Bennett’s eyes scanned over my body, despite the fact that I kept my bra on this time and wore long flannel bottoms. Bennett had gone for modest, too, in the pajamas department. He wore black, knee-length gym shorts and a blue YMCA T shirt.

I gave him a quick hug good night, inhaled his coconut scent, and thanked him for bringing me. He held on to me for longer than expected, and I realized how nice it felt to be in his arms again.

He nuzzled his face in my hair, causing a tingling sensation at the base of my neck, then pulled back.

“Did you just sniff me?” I asked.

His cheeks lifted into a crooked grin that blazed a trail down to my toes.

Despite my best attempts, my attraction to him was only increasing this weekend.

Now we stood silent on opposite ends of the room, gazes locked on each other. I was about to say good night when I noticed Bennett close his eyes and swallow forcibly.

I thought about making a crack about our double beds, but he was so concentrated and intense. I couldn’t stop staring at the raw emotions on his face, at his clenched fists—it was completely unnerving.

Every fragment, every substance, every element occupying the space between us, began to pulse and vibrate. There was so much electricity in the air I could almost hear it sizzle.

I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol I had consumed, or if it was that gorgeous specimen of a boy standing across from me, but I became increasingly aroused.

I arched my back and squirmed, my body betraying me, as I imagined Bennett pulling me to his bed, ripping off my clothes, and telling me that he wanted to f**k me senseless.

As the tension between us grew denser, I noticed something steadily swelling across the room.

Bennett attempted to adjust himself, but it was plain as day.

Finally, Bennett turned away, inhaled a deep breath, and then charged toward the bathroom. “I’m going to shower,” he mumbled in my direction.

He was as turned on as I was and trying to get far away from me as possible. “Bennett, it’s okay,” I said. I felt pinpricks all over my body. It was all I could do not to reach out to him.

“Give me a minute.” He closed the bathroom door, and I heard him lean his full weight against it.

“Wait, Bennett.” I had this desperate desire, this powerful need to be near him, to do something about all of this pent-up frustration. If not for me, then for him.

I heard the shower turn on right before he yanked open the door. He stepped back in the room to grab something from his bag, which was on the floor by his bed. “I’ll be fine in a few minutes.”

The spigot was turned on full blast and steam was already escaping beyond the glass shower door.

When he straightened himself, toothbrush holder in hand, I noticed his breathing was labored.

I scanned down his body to his full-blown erection and his shaking hands.

I felt this overwhelming hunger to touch him as he brushed past me, his stride purposeful.

“Bennett,” I whispered. “I want to help.”

He stopped suddenly and sucked in a breath. “Fuck, Avery.”

I took a step toward him “Please.”

One step closer and he didn’t move away. I stood in front of him and saw his dark and hooded eyes, overwhelming desire coursing through them.

I inched my fingers to his waistband and he groaned, the container in his hand clattering to the floor. When the tip of his erection poked out of his shorts and met air, his breathing only intensified.

Edging my hands beneath his shirt, I pulled it over his head.

When he twisted to deposit his shirt on the floor I spotted a second tattoo, low on his back. I remembered what he said about them being well-placed.

I smoothed my fingers down his chest as goose bumps broke out over his flesh. I eased his shorts down and let his erection spring free. Damn. He was taut, smooth, and all kinds of exquisite.

I trailed my hands down his belly to his hips, teasing the area around his erection with my fingers.

He grabbed my face and kissed me with such passion and conviction I was begging for air. His mouth was on fire as his tongue tangled deeply with mine.

“Bennett, you’re beautiful,” I whispered against his lips.

Then I tugged his fingers away from my face and down to his sides. I watched as he balled his fists, but he kept his hands there.

I looked into his eyes. “Can I touch you?”

His response came out in a muffled pant.

I traced my thumb over his silky tip and watched how his chest heaved and his eyes glazed over.

When my fingers grasped the length of him the breath caught in the back of his throat. He felt firm and smooth in my steady hands.

Bennett knotted his fingers in my hair and then skimmed them along my neckline. I relished every touch, every breath, every time he whispered my name.

I pulled his shorts all the way down his legs, and he stepped out of them. “Get in the shower.”

Without hesitation he moved backward, crossing over the threshold of the door, and then under the stream of water. I watched as it cascaded off his shoulders and beaded down his chest. I reached for the hotel soap, unwrapping it and running it under the water stream, despite my arms getting wet. I lathered up and then washed the front of him—his neck, his chest, his stomach. When my fingers traced down below to his dark and curly hair, he squeezed his eyes shut and moaned. My fingers were sufficiently soapy, and when I worked my hand up and down the length of him, he braced the shower wall. “Jesus, Avery.”

As I moved my fingers fast, and then slow, and then fast again, his hands gripped my shoulders and then trailed down to my br**sts. He ran his thumbs over my ni**les, which became instantly hard through two layers of clothing. As my breathing intensified so did my caresses. My hands stroked up and down his warm and soapy shaft.

“Oh God. I’m close,” he panted.

“Come for me,” I whispered against his lips. That was the breaking point as he groaned out his release and tucked his head against my shoulder.

The milky white substance washed off his stomach with a swipe of my hands, and I stepped back, dazed, and more than aroused. His eyes locked on mine, and if they hadn’t loosened their hold soon after, I might have come right then and there.

I turned away from him as he finished his shower. I brushed my teeth and changed into a dry shirt, and then lay down in my bed, facing away from his. He took five minutes more in the bathroom and I nearly fell asleep, except my mind was far too busy processing everything.

When he stepped into the room, I felt his eyes on me, but I didn’t stir. I hoped he thought I was asleep because I didn’t want to have a discussion about what just happened. I didn’t regret it for one moment, but I didn’t want him to read too much into my actions or think it meant more than it did. I wasn’t even sure what it meant at this point. All I knew was that some part of me—some raw and carnal part—longed to reach out to him. Touch him. Please him.

My mattress caved in from the pressure of his knee, and I squeezed my legs together. I was still cooling down from the intense experience of seeing him naked and making him come.

It made me feel powerful in ways I couldn’t explain.

“Avery,” he whispered in my ear. “Why did you do that?”

“I wanted to,” I mumbled. My eyes fluttered open and I stared out the dark window. “I needed to.

God, Bennett, you’re amazing. Just leave it at that.”

I heard a sharp intake of breath, and then felt his warm fingers on my shoulder. “What if I wanted to do things to you, too?”

I shook my head, even though my underwear felt instantly moist. “No Bennett. It’s okay.”