Several yards off to the side of the finish line, Hanna walked in small circles, then bent down and cupped her hands over her knees.
“Holy shit,” she gasped, facing the ground. “I feel amazing. That was amazing.”
Volunteers brought us Luna bars and bottles of Gatorade and we gulped them down. I was so fucking proud of her, and I couldn’t hold back from pulling her into a sweaty, breathless hug, kissing the top of her head.
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“You were amazing.” I closed my eyes, pressing my face to her hair. “Hanna, I am so proud of you.”
She froze in my arms and then slid her hands to my side, simply bracing there, her face in my neck. I could feel her inhaling and exhaling, could feel her hands shaking against me. For some reason, I didn’t think it was only the adrenaline from the race.
Finally, she whispered, “I think we should go get our things.”
I’d oscillated so wildly between confident and wrecked all week, and now that I was with her, I didn’t particularly want to let her out of my sight. We turned to head back toward the tents; with the race snaking through Central Park, the finish line ended up only a few blocks from where we’d started. I listened to her breathing, watched her feet as she walked. I could tell she was exhausted.
“I’m guessing you’ve heard about Sara,” she said, looking down and fidgeting with her race number. She pulled out the pins, took it off, and looked at it.
“Yeah,” I said, smiling. “Pretty amazing.”
“I saw her last night,” she said. “She’s so excited.”
“I saw Max on Tuesday.” I swallowed, feeling so fucking nervous all of a sudden. Beside me, Hanna faltered a little. “I went out with the guys that night. He has the expected look of terror and glee.”
She laughed, and it was genuine, and soft and—fuck—I’d missed it.
“What are you up to after this?” I asked, ducking so she’d look up at me.
And when she did, it was there, the something I knew I hadn’t imagined from the weekend before. I could still feel her sliding over me in the dark guest room, could still hear her quiet whisper-beg, Don’t break me.
It had been the second time she’d said it, and here I’d been the one left broken.
She shrugged and looked away, navigating through the dense crowd as we drew nearer to the starting line tents. Panic started to well in my chest; I wasn’t ready for goodbye yet.
“I was probably going to head home and shower. Get some lunch.” She frowned. “Or stop for lunch on the way home. I’m not sure I have anything edible at my place, actually.”
“Old shopping habits die hard,” I noted dryly.
She gave a guilty wince. “Yeah. I’ve been sort of burying myself in the lab all week. Just . . . good distraction.”
The words came out rushed, pressed together with how out of breath I felt: “I’d really love to hang out, and I have stuff for sandwiches, or salads. You could come over, or . . .” I trailed off when she stopped walking and turned to face me, looking bewildered and then . . . adoring.
Blinking away, I felt my chest squeeze. I tried to tamp down the impossible hope clawing up my throat. “What?” I asked, sounding more annoyed than I meant. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Smiling, she said, “You’re probably the only man I know who keeps his fridge so well stocked.”
I felt my brows pull together in confusion. This had caused her to stop walking and stare at me? Cupping the back of my neck, I mumbled, “I try to keep healthy stuff at home so I don’t go out and eat junk.”
She stepped closer—close enough to feel a loose strand of her hair when the wind blew it across my neck. Close enough to smell the light scent of her sweat, to remember how fucking amazing it felt to make her sweat. I dropped my gaze to her lips, wanting to kiss her so much it made my skin ache.
“I think you’re amazing, Will,” she said, licking her lips under the pressure of my attention. “And stop smoldering at me. There’s only so much I can take from you today.”
Before I could process any of this, she turned and moved toward the women’s tent to retrieve her things. Numbly, I went the opposite way, to get my house keys, my extra socks, and the paperwork I’d bundled in my running jacket. When I emerged, she was waiting for me, holding a small duffel bag.
“So,” I started, struggling to keep my distance. “You’re coming over?”
“I really should shower . . .” she said, looking past me and down the street that led, eventually, to her building.
“You can shower at my place . . .” I didn’t care how I sounded. I wasn’t letting her go. I’d missed her. Nights had been almost unbearable, but strangely, mornings had been the worst. I missed her breathless conversation and how it would eventually fall away into the synchronized rhythm of our feet on pavement.
“And borrow some clean clothes?” she asked, wearing a teasing grin.
I nodded without hesitation. “Yes.”
Her smile faded when she saw I was serious.
“Come over, Hanna. Just for lunch, I promise.”
Lifting her hand to her forehead to block out the sun, she studied my face for a beat longer. “You sure?”
Instead of answering, I tilted my head, turning to walk. She fell into step beside me, and every time our fingers accidentally brushed, I wanted to pull her hand into mine and then pull her to me, pressing her against the nearest tree.
She’d been her old, playful self for those short, euphoric moments, but quiet Hanna reappeared as we walked the dozen or so blocks back to my building. I held the door for her as we stepped inside, slipped past her to push the up button for the elevator, and then stood close enough to feel the press of her arm along mine as we waited. At least three times I could hear her suck in a breath, start to speak, but then she would look at her shoes, at her fingernails, at the doors to the elevator. Anywhere but at my face.
Upstairs, my wide-open kitchen seemed to shrink under the tension between us, caused by the residue from the horrible conversation on Tuesday night, the hundreds of unspoken things from today, the simmering force that was always there. I handed her a blue Powerade because it was her favorite, and poured myself a glass of water, turning to watch her lips, her throat, her hand around the bottle as she took a deep drink.
You’re so fucking beautiful, I didn’t say.
I love you so much, I didn’t say.
When she put the bottle down on the counter, her expression was full of all the things she wasn’t saying, either. I could tell they were there, but had no idea what those things might be.
As we rehydrated in silence, I couldn’t help but try to covertly check her out. But the secrecy was wasted. I could see her lips curl into a knowing smile when my attention moved over her face, to her chin, and down to the still-glistening skin of her chest, the hint of her breasts visible beneath her skimpy-ass sports bra—fuck. I’d so far managed to avoid looking directly at her chest, and now it pulled a familiar ache through me. Her chest was my happy place, and I wanted to sit down and press my face there.
I groaned, rubbing my eyes. It had been a terrible idea inviting her up here. I wanted to undress her, still sweaty, and feel the slide of her on top of me.
Just as I was pointing over my shoulder to the bathroom and asked, “Do you want the first shower?” Hanna tilted her head and grinned, asking, “Were you just looking at my chest?”
And because of the ease, the comfort, the fucking intimacy of the question, anger flared in my blood. “Hanna, don’t,” I bit out. “Don’t be the girl who plays head games. Barely a week ago you basically told me to get lost.” I didn’t expect it to come out like that, and in the quiet kitchen, my angry tone bounced around and surrounded us.
She blanched, looking devastated. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Fuck,” I groaned, squeezing my eyes closed. “Don’t be sorry just don’t . . .” I opened my eyes to look at her. “Don’t play games with me.”
“I’m not trying to,” she said, quiet urgency making her voice thin and hoarse. “I’m sorry I disappeared last week. I’m sorry I acted so horribly. I thought . . .”
I pulled out a kitchen stool, sinking down onto it. Running a half marathon didn’t exhaust me as much as all of this did. My love for her was a heavy, pulsing, living thing, and it made me feel crazy, and anxious, and famished. I hated seeing her stressed and scared. I hated seeing her upset at my anger, but even worse was the knowledge that she had the power to break my heart and had very little experience being careful about it. I was completely at her fumbling, inexperienced mercy.
“I miss you,” she said.
My chest tightened. “I miss you so much, Hanna. You have no idea. But I heard what you said on Tuesday. If you don’t want this, then we have to find a way to be friends again. Asking me if I’m checking out your chest doesn’t help us move past all of this.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, again. “Will . . .” she started and then the words fell away and she blinked down to her shoes.
I needed to understand what had happened, why everything had crumbled so abruptly after we’d made wildly intimate love only one week ago.
“That night,” I started, and then reconsidered. “No, Hanna, every night—it was always intense like that with us—but that night last weekend . . . I thought it all kind of changed. We changed. Then the next day? And the drive back? Fuck, I don’t even know what happened.”
She moved closer, close enough for me to pull her by her hips to stand between my legs, but I didn’t, and her hands fumbled at her sides before falling still.
“What happened was I heard what you said to Jensen,” she said. “I knew there were other women in your life, but I kind of thought that you had ended things with them. I know I’d avoided talking about it, and that it wasn’t fair of me to want that, but I thought you had.”
“I hadn’t ‘officially’ ended things, Hanna, but no one has been in my bed since you pulled me down that damn hall and asked to touch me. Fuck, not even before then.”
“But how was I supposed to know that?” She dropped her head, stared at the floor. “And hearing what you said to Jensen might have been okay—I knew we needed to talk—but then I saw the text in the car. It popped up when I was picking out music.” She stepped closer, pressing her thighs to my knees. “We’d had unprotected sex the night before, but then I saw her message, and it seemed like . . . like you were trying to hook up with her right after. I realized that Kitty still expected to be able to be with you, and I’d been trying—”
“I did not have sex with her on Tuesday, Hanna,” I interrupted, my blood racing with panic. “Yes, I texted her asking if we could meet, but it was so I could let her know things were over between us. It wasn’t like—”
“I know,” she said, quietly cutting me off. “She told me today that you haven’t been with her in a long time.”
I let this sink in for a minute and then sighed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what Kitty had told Hanna, but in the end, it didn’t matter. I didn’t have anything to hide. Yes, as someone who values being up front with people, I should have ended things cleanly with Kitty as soon as I told Hanna I wanted more, but I’d never lied to either of them, not once. I hadn’t lied when I told Kitty so many months ago that I didn’t want to dive into anything deeper. And I hadn’t lied to Hanna only a month ago when I told her I wanted more, and only from her.
“I was just trying to stick to your rules. I wasn’t going to bring up the relationship thing again because you’d determined I was incapable of it in the first place.”
“I know,” she said quickly. “I know.”
But that was it; her eyes searched mine, waiting for me to say . . . what? What could I say that I hadn’t said already? Hadn’t I laid it all out enough times?
With a tired sigh, I stood. “Do you want the first shower?” I asked. Things were so weird between us, and even when we were still virtual strangers, running together that first, freezing morning, it hadn’t ever been this way.
She had to step back to let me move past her. “No, it’s okay. Go ahead.”
I turned the water as hot as I could bear. I wasn’t sore yet from the run—probably wouldn’t get too sore anyway—but with the stress of wanting to make love to Hanna and wanting to throttle her at the same time, the hot water and the steam felt amazing.
It was possible she wanted things to be how they’d been before: sex, as friends. Comfortable without expectations. And I wanted her so intensely I knew how easy it would be to fall back into that, to enjoy her body and her friendship in equal measure, to never need or expect it to grow deeper.
But it wasn’t what I wanted anymore. Not from anyone, and especially not from her. I soaped up, closing my eyes and inhaling the steam, washing away the race and the sweat. Wishing I could wash away the twisted mess inside.
I heard the faint click of the shower door only a split second before cold air bit across my skin. Adrenaline slid into my veins, pumping through my heart, filling my head with a wildness that made me dizzy. I pressed my hand to the wall, afraid to turn and face her, and feel all my resolve melt. There was only a fraction of me I knew would be able to hold back. The rest would give her anything she asked for.
She whispered my name, closing the door and stepping close enough for me to feel the press of her naked breasts against my back. Her skin was cool. She ran her hands up my sides, over my ribs.
“Will,” she said again, moving her hands to my chest, and down over my stomach. “Look at me.”
I reached down, gripping her wrists to keep her hands from moving any lower, low enough to feel how hard I was with just this small bit of contact. I was like a racehorse, held back by a single, flimsy gate. The muscles in my arms tensed and jumped; holding her at her wrists was to restrain myself as much as it was to keep her hands from my skin.
Leaning my forehead into the wall, I remained still until I was sure I could face her and not immediately take her in my arms. Finally, I turned, adjusting my grip on her wrists.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I whispered, looking down at her face.
Her hair was loose, and the wet strands clung to her cheeks, her neck, her shoulders. Her brows were pulled together in confusion and I knew she didn’t understand my meaning. But then she seemed to hear me, and a bloom of humiliation spread across her cheeks and she squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m sor—”
“No,” I said, interrupting her. “I mean can’t do what we did before. I won’t share. I don’t want this if you still want to date other men.”
Hanna opened her eyes, and they softened, her breath picking up.
“I can’t fault you for wanting to experiment,” I told her, my fists curling tighter around her wrists at the thought, “but I won’t be able to keep my feelings for you from deepening, and I won’t want to pretend we’re just friends. Not even with Jensen. I know I’d take whatever you’ll give me because I want you that much, but I would be miserable if it was only sex for you.”
“I don’t think it was ever just sex for me,” she said.
I let her wrists go, studying her face and trying to understand what she was offering.
“When you called me your Hanna earlier,” she began and then paused, pressing her hand to my chest, “I wanted it to be true. I want to be yours.”
My breath formed a brick in my throat. Beneath the delicate skin of her neck, I could see her pulse thrumming.
“I mean, I am yours. Already.” She stretched, eyes wide open as she carefully took my bottom lip between hers, sucking gently. She lifted my hand, pressed it around her breast and arched into my palm.
If what I felt now was even a small taste of the fear she’d felt all this time that I’d hurt her, then I suddenly understood why she’d been so skittish for so long. Being in love like this was terrifying.
“Please,” she begged, kissing me again, reaching for my other hand and trying to pull it around her. “I want to be with you so much it’s making it hard to breathe.”
“Hanna,” I choked, bending involuntarily, giving her better access to my lips, my neck. I curled my hand around her, rubbing my thumb over her nipple.
“I love you,” she whispered, kissing down my chin, to my neck, and I squeezed my eyes closed, heart pounding.
When she said this, my resolve shattered and I opened my mouth, groaning when I felt her slide her tongue inside and go over mine. She moaned, clawing at my shoulders, my neck, pressing her stomach into the hard line of my cock.
She gasped at the shock of the cold tile on her back when I turned her, pressing her into the wall, and then gasped again when I ducked and lifted her breast to my mouth, sucking hungrily. It wasn’t that my fear was gone; if anything, hearing her say she loved me was infinitely more terrifying because it brought hope along with it: hope that I could do this, that she could, that both of us could somehow navigate blindly through this elusive first.
I returned to her mouth, feeling wild now, lost in the fever of her kisses and knowing without having to ask that some of the water on her cheeks wasn’t from the shower. I felt it, too, the dissolving relief, followed immediately with a fiery need to be inside her, to be moving in her, feeling her.
Reaching down, I cupped the back of her thighs, lifting her so she could wrap her legs around my waist. I felt the slick warmth of her sex, and rocked there, pressing just inside and out again, falling in love all over again at her raspy, impatient sounds.
“Never done this before,” I murmured into the skin of her neck. “I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.”
She laughed, biting at my neck and gripping my shoulders tightly. Slowly, I pressed into her, stilling when our hips met and knowing in an instant that this would be over fast. Her head fell back against the tile, landing with a quiet thud, and her chest rose and fell with sharp, jagged breaths.
“Oh my God, Will.”
Pulling out, I whispered, “Do you feel it, too?”
Hanna hiccupped, begging me to move, pressing into me as much as she could, trapped between the wall and my body.
“That isn’t just sex,” I told her, sucking along her collarbone. “This feeling that it’s so good it almost hurts? It’s been like this every single time I’ve been inside you, Plum. That’s what it feels like when you do this with someone you’re fucking insane for.”
“Someone you love?” she asked, her lips pressed to my ear.
“Yeah.” I pushed in and pulled out again faster, knowing I was so close I would need to take her to my bed, suck on her pussy, and then fuck her again until we both collapsed. It was too intense, and as soon as I started moving I knew I wouldn’t ever get used to the feel of being inside her without anything between us.
I jerked against her, relishing her sounds and whispering my apology into her neck over and over. “It’s too intense . . .” All of it was overwhelming: the feeling of her around me, her words, and the understanding that she was really mine now. “I’m too close, Plum, I can’t . . .”
She shook her head, nails biting into the skin of my shoulder, and pressed her lips to my ear. “I like when you can’t hold back. It’s how I always felt with you.”
With a groan I let go, feeling myself spiral down
pressing deeper and harder until I could hear the gentle slap of my thighs on hers and her back on the wall, and felt my body flush warm and wet, coming inside her so hard my shout echoed sharply off the tile all around us.
I don’t think I’d ever come that fast in my entire life and I felt both euphoric and mildly horrified.
Hanna pulled my hair, silently begging for my mouth on hers but after only a small kiss I slipped from her with a groan, and fell to my knees. Leaning forward, I spread her with my hands and sealed my mouth around the soft rise of her clit, sucking. I closed my eyes and groaned at the sound of her sweet moan, the feel of her sex against my tongue. Her legs shook—exhausted from the run, probably also exhausted from the rough treatment I’d just given her against a wall—and I slid my arms between her thighs, spreading her legs and lifting her so her thighs rested on my shoulders and my palms gripped her ass.
Above me, she cried out, her arms grappling wildly for something to hold on to, and finally she settled for clutching my head with her thighs and reaching down, bracing her hands on the top my head while she watched me with wide, fascinated eyes.
“I’m so close.” Her voice wavered, hands shaking where she gripped my hair.
I hummed, smiling into her and moving my head slowly side to side as I sucked. I’d never done this before and felt so much like I was loving someone, making love in every way I possibly could. My chest warmed intensely when it occurred to me: this was our beginning. Right here, partially hidden by the steam of the shower, was where we clarified everything.
I could see the moment she started to come, the hot flush bloomed on her chest and spread upward, reaching her face just as her lips parted in a gasp.
I’d never get tired of this. I’d never tire of her. With the most possessive pleasure I’d ever felt, I watched as her orgasm rocked through her, pulling a scream from her throat.
Stopping when her thighs went lax, I carefully slid my arms from her, easing her down on shaking legs. I stood, staring down at her for a beat before she slid her arms around my neck and stretched to hold me.
She was soft and warm from the heat of the water and seemed to melt in my arms.
And it was so fucking different. It had never felt like this—like I was completely connected to her—even when we were in our most intimate moments as “just friends.”
Here, she felt like mine.
“I love you,” I whispered into her hair, before reaching to the side for my soap. Carefully, I washed every inch of her skin, her hair, and the delicate skin between her legs. I washed my orgasm away from her body, and kissed her jaw, her eyelids, her lips.
We stepped out and I wrapped her in a towel before pulling one around my own waist. I led her into the bedroom, sat her on the edge of the bed, and dried her, before urging her back onto the mattress.
“I’ll bring you something to eat.”
“I’ll come with you.” She struggled against my roaming hands, tried to sit up, but I shook my head, bending to suck her nipple into my mouth. “Just stay here and relax,” I whispered against her skin. “I want to keep you here in bed all night long, so you’re going to need to eat first.”
Water from my hair dripped onto her naked skin and she gasped, eyes wide, pupils spreading inky black in the soft gray of her irises. She slid her hands to my shoulders, trying to pull me down and, fuck, I was ready to go again . . . but we needed food. I was already starting to feel woozy.
“I’ll just throw something together.”
We ate sandwiches, sitting naked on the bedspread, and talked for hours about the race, about the weekend with her family, and finally, about how it had felt when we thought things had ended between us.
We made love until the sunlight faded outside, and then slept, waking in the middle of the night starving for more. And then it was wild, and loud, and exactly how it had always been when things were best with us: honest.
For the moment, I was sated, and reached for my bedside table to find a pen. Curling around her, I put her tattoo back on her hip—All that is rare for the rare—hoping that I could be that rare thing, a recovered wildness, a reformed player, that Hanna deserved.