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“Are you going to kill me tonight?” he asks against my mouth, and I kiss him again fiercely.

“I’m going to try.”

My last boyfriend, the last man I had sex with forever ago, was only about five-six. He could never have picked me up. He’d have ruptured a disc in his fragile, boy-sized spine. Josh sinks down onto a beautiful wing-backed armchair I’d only dimly registered when we first came in.

My whole life, before Josh, I’ve scoffed at guys who made displays of their strength. But maybe a little part of me still exists who loves to be carried and coddled. My skirt has slid up so high he can probably see my underwear, but his eyes don’t stray down. The word gentleman flashes through my mind.

He raises a hand and once upon a time I would have flinched, but now I lean into his palm.

“Slow down.”

I shake my head in disbelief, but he looks me in the eye. “Please.”

Doubt begins to spread through me. “Don’t you want to?”

He rolls his hips. The heavy, painfully hard proof is against me. He wants me so badly his eyes have gone their signature serial-killer black. I press my eyebrow to his. We breathe against each other, lips barely touching.

He wants to press his mouth against my skin. Bite. Eat. Devour. He wants me, hands and knees. Wet skin and cold air. Fingers sliding into me. His whispered words barely audible over my labored breathing. Tears of frustration and wet mascara marking a Rorschach pattern on the pillowcase.

I already know what I’ll get from him. Coaxing, tormenting, a darkly worded warning when I get too close. I’ll be rolled into whatever position he feels like, bossy hands cupping, tilting, tightening, and gentling.

But I also know he’ll make me laugh. Sigh. He’ll tease me, chide my theatrics, make me smile even when I want to strangle him. My defiance will earn me a delay. My acquiescence, a kiss.

It’s what he is creating, of course. Delay. He wants to play with me until my orgasm hits me, hours after the first touch. He’s going to make this little Easter egg last for days. Shard by shard. Melting on his tongue. He wants to do it so many times that we lose count, and probably die in the process. He wants to make sure I’m addicted to him. I know what I’ll get from him in bed, all right. It’s what I’ve always gotten from him.

Every single pornographic image is flickering in my eyes because he’s licking his lips and his eyes drop to the sheer lace at the tops of my stockings. He tries to speak but can’t.

I’m unbuttoning his shirt very clumsily, dragging each button through until I hear a thread snap.

“Why do all colors make your skin so lovely? Even the horrendous mustard.” I drop my mouth to his neck. “Beautiful man, inhumanly pretty under fluorescents in the office.”

“Green, the color of envy. I’ve been a jealous psycho lately.”

“Mustard, the color of Colonels. Let’s burn it.”

“Sure, Shortcake. You can burn my shirt. In a barrel, in an alleyway.”

He’s laughing and then sighing against my throat, not making it remotely easy for me as I get as many shirt buttons open as I can. I slide my hands inside.

“You’re like an anatomy poster under all this perfectly ironed business attire. I always suspected it. Clark Kent.”

“Slow down.” He takes both my hands out of his shirt. I struggle a little, but he holds me gently cuffed, and tilts his face to mine.

We begin kissing again; soft as silk, lighter than I could have believed was possible after my rough little paws mauled him so.

His thumbs are pressing gently into my wrists and I’m arched a little, breasts pressed into his chest as we kiss each other, achingly slowly. The wild impatience I was feeling has been checked a little, because maybe he’s selling me on the concept of delay.

“You’ve rushed things in the past, I think,” he tells me, as if reading my mind. “What’s your hurry?”

Being kissed by Josh, his lips tender and ripe, is a pleasure on par with sex. He’s thinking of nothing but me and my reactions, learning what I like, withholding and giving and talking to me wordlessly. When I open my eyes a fraction to take a peek I see he’s doing the same thing.

My stomach bottoms out when he smiles against my lips.

“How You Doing?” he whispers and I bite the words softly off his tongue.

“How would you say I’m doing?”

His hands fall away from my wrists tentatively. When he is satisfied I can be trusted to keep our lazy rhythm, he cups my ass and gives it a firm squeeze.

“You’re doing great. Goddamn, Luce.”

“You betcha.” It’s exhilarating, knowing I can now lay my mouth on him whenever I want. I look over his skin like a warlord, and he’s my new territory. He shivers under my perusal.

“Let’s play a special game,” I tell him. “It’s called Who Comes First.”

“Also known as Gold Medal, Silver Medal.”

We’re laughing. I’m unbuttoning his cuff when his cell phone begins to ring. He ignores it, drawing my mouth back to his. My bottom lip is given a little pinch with his teeth.

“So pretty,” he tells me. “Just so pretty.”

The phone rings on and on. It stops and I let out a sigh of relief. Then it starts ringing again. He flicks his eyes to mine, and I give him a frustrated shrug and climb off.

“I’ll turn it off.”

He digs in his pocket and I survey my handiwork. He’s sprawled in the chair, legs everywhere, shirt unbuttoned, hair completely wrecked, eyes hazed and black.

“You look like a hot virginal dork who’s been defiled in the backseat of my car.”

His eyes spark with amusement. “That’s how I feel.” He unearths his cell and glances at it dismissively, but then looks at it again.

“It’s my mom. Oh, shit. I forgot her.”

I go into the bathroom to hide. Shyness takes hold at the thought of meeting her. I’m not sure what to do next, and I listen to his placating tone through the door. I wash my hands and press my swollen lips and stare at myself in the mirror. I look like the porno version of myself.

He speaks through the door. “Luce. I’m sorry, but I have to go downstairs for a few minutes.”

I open the door. “Is everything okay?”

“Mom’s downstairs. She made table centerpieces from her rose garden apparently, but she can’t find any hotel staff to help her carry them all in and she’s getting upset. Fucking hopeless. I need to go down there and kick someone’s ass.” He rebuttons his shirt.

“Of course. Go on. Make some young hotel worker cry. Do you want me to come and help?”

“No, you’re tired. Do you want me to order you any room service? Bring you back some coffee?”

“No, it’s okay. I might have a shower while you’re gone. I’m sure I’ll be draped seductively across the bed in something lacy for when you get back.”

He winces and adjusts his pants a little. He’s so torn, I feel sorry for him.

“You can’t leave her down there struggling.”

“I don’t know how long I’ll be, hopefully a few minutes. But relax, and I’ll be back soon.”

“It’s okay. There’s no way I’m interested in making out with a guy who wouldn’t go help his upset mom. Go.”

The bathroom is nearly the size of my bedroom. I shower and wash my face. When I’m brushing my teeth, I look at my face, pale and devoid of any makeup, and remind myself he’s seen me like this. In fact, he’s seen me even worse.

He’s seen me sweating, vomiting, feverish, and asleep. He’s seen me angry, frustrated, scared. Horny, lonely, heartsick. No matter how I look, it never seems to faze him. He always looks at me exactly the same way. Knowing this gives me the confidence to walk out in my SLEEPYSAURUS T-shirt and sleep shorts. It seemed like a funny idea at the time, but I catch a glimpse of myself in the dresser. I look about ten years old. Oh, well. Negligee Lucy would be a fake.

Silence stretches on. I check my phone. Nothing. I push back the comforter and slide into the bed. I can’t hold in the groan of relief. After the stress and tension of the last few days, this isn’t as scary as I imagined it would be. The sheets quickly grow warm and I paddle my tired feet in pleasure.

I lean back against the pile of pillows and turn the TV on. I find a channel playing ER and it is strangely comforting. Josh has probably seen this one. I try to watch for medical inaccuracies, but when my eyes become dry and tired I close them. To calm my nerves, I hit Play on my memory and bite back a yawn.

I’m there again. The night I swallowed my goddamn pride and went to his apartment. My own personal happy place in my mind. I’m curled on his couch, the soft deep cushions cradling my back. I feel the dipping weight of him sitting down beside me, and I know as long as he’s there, I will be okay. I don’t know how long we do this. I sit here holding hands with the most intensely fascinating man I’ve ever known. He’s looking at me with fierce tenderness in his eyes. Eyes like he loves me.

Now I know I must be dreaming.

I WAKE WHEN the sun slices through the center of my pillow through a gap in the hotel drapes. My first thought is, No. I’m too comfortable.

My second thought is: I finally get to see Josh asleep.

Lying face-to-face with our pillows touching, we’ve been playing the Staring Game all night with our eyes closed. Each eyelash curves against his cheek, glossed and dark. I’d kill for lashes like those, but they always seem to be lavished upon the most masculine of men. He’s hugging my arm like a teddy bear. I don’t hate him. Not even a bit. It’s a disaster that I don’t. I smooth my fingers over his brow and he frowns. I press away the crease.

I prop up onto my elbow and see the bedside clock reads 12:42 P.M. I have to check several times. How did we sleep past noon? Our mutual exhaustion from the last few days has resulted in a pretty impressive sleep-in.

“Josh.” No point sticking with the formality of his full name when we’re asleep in the same bed. “What time’s the wedding?”