Beautiful Stranger: Chapter 15

I knew it wouldn’t be good to have every night of the week filled with Max, because it would shatter my ability to think about anything else. On my morning run, I thought back on what we’d done together, and came up with some of the wildest fantasies I’d ever had in my life: crawling under Max’s desk and sucking him off while he spoke on the phone, or having him in the elevator on the way up to his apartment.

It was fun to finally let myself indulge in these sorts of daydreams, and I was starting not to care that he disrupted so much of my structured life. And after what he did for me at the club, I was beginning to realize I’d walk across flaming coals for the man.

I’d been nervous, no doubt. The club felt darkly indulgent and was supported by patrons who’d been thinking about this kind of sexual fantasy maybe longer than I’d been alive. I wasn’t sure if there were unspoken rules I was meant to follow. Don’t speak too loudly. Don’t cross your legs. Don’t look anyone in the eye. Don’t drink your cocktail too fast.

My parents were so wholly innocent next to this world. Their idea of a wild night out was seeing The Vagina Monologues and dinner at some trendy Asian-fusion restaurant. To this day, my father considered sushi just a little too adventurous for him.

And here I was, walking into a secret sex club, and on my first night there, letting Max go down on me where anyone present could watch.

I had no idea, in the end, if anyone had in fact been watching. We left through the back door to the room, where Max’s friend Johnny met us and let us leave through a service entrance. Max watched me carefully the rest of the night, like he was wondering if I was ready to bolt or break down. But in reality, I was shaking so hard because everything about it had felt right. Max had been on his knees, between my legs, and had refused to let me reciprocate. Instead he kissed me for long minutes, helped me dress, and gave me a look so pregnant with meaning that goose bumps spread across my skin.

It was one thing to play in a library, but compared to the club last night, that felt tame. And on the way home after, with Max’s hand on my knee and his lips on my neck, my ears, my mouth, and—finally—his body over and inside me, completely wild on the backseat, I realized how crazy my life had become.

Crazy good.

Crazy amazing.

It’d been so long since I’d been infatuated like this that . . . I had forgotten how fun it was.

“You’re swooning,” George said Thursday morning as I approached his desk. He stuck the end of his pen back between his teeth, murmuring around it. “You’re thinking about your Max.”

How the hell did he know that? Was I grinning like an idiot? “What?”

“You like him.”

I gave up. “I do,” I admitted.

“I saw how he looked at you when he came in here Monday. He’d let you carry his balls around in your pocket.”

Grimacing, I opened my office door. “I’d rather they stay where they are, but thanks for the idea.”

“He was here this morning,” George offered, casually.

I froze, halfway into my office, waiting.

“Seemed sad to have missed you, but I told him you’re kind of a bear in the morning before you’ve finished your seventeen cups of coffee and rarely get in before eight.”

“Thanks,” I grumbled.

“No problem.” He sat up and pulled an envelope off his desk. “He left this.”

I took the envelope into my office to read. Max’s handwriting was tiny, scribbly.


I’m leaving Friday morning for San Francisco for a week for a conference. Might I see you tonight?


Lifting my phone, I swiped my thumb across the screen and pressed his name.

He answered after only half a ring. “Are you still in bear mode?”

I laughed. “No. I’m at cup sixteen.”

“Your assistant is a character. We had quite a lovely chat about you. I’m pleased to know he’s unlikely to be hitting on you while I’m away.”

“I think he’s more of a Max fanboy, if you want the truth. If you had any inclinations to play for the other team you might never be able to get rid of him.”

“I heard that!” George called from his desk.

“Then stop eavesdropping!” I yelled back, and then smiled into the phone. “And yes, I’m free tonight.”


I hesitated only a beat before offering, “My place?”

The line went quiet.

I heard the smile in Max’s voice when he finally growled, “For a bed?”

“Yeah.” My hands were shaking. Hell, everything had changed last night. The idea of being with Max in a bed felt like the wildest adventure yet. I almost wondered if we would survive it.

“Meet you there at eight? I have a late call with the west coast.”


I changed my outfit three times before eight—casual? sexy? casual? sexy?—before finally changing back into the outfit I’d worn to work. I straightened my bed, dusted my entire apartment, and brushed my teeth twice. I had no idea what I was doing and was pretty sure I hadn’t been this nervous on the night I’d actually lost my virginity.

I was still shaking when he knocked at my door. He’d never seen my place, but when he walked in, he barely looked around. His hands went to my face, and he pushed me back against the wall, mouth firm on mine, opening, sucking on my lips and tongue. There was nothing gentle about the way he kissed me. It was hard and desperate, hands gripping shoulders and pulling ineffectually at clothes that just seemed to be in the way, lips that almost felt bruised with how real it all was. He had a messenger bag slung across his chest and it slid forward, hitting the wall with a heavy thump.

“I’m losing my fucking mind,” he said into my mouth. “Losing my fucking brain, Sara. Where’s your bedroom?”

I walked backward, pulling him and his wild kisses down the short hall with me. I only had my bedside lamp on, and it cast a small cone of warm yellow light around the space. White walls, big bed, giant windows—all within a minuscule floor plan.

He laughed, looking around and letting his hands drop from my face. “Your flat is tiny.”

“I know.”

Slipping his bag over his head, he dropped it onto my bed. “Why? You could afford more.”

I shrugged, mesmerized by the way his pulse hammered in his throat. Why were we talking about the size of my apartment? I wanted to know what was in the bag. He only ever carried his wallet, phone, and a house key. “I don’t need more right now.”

His eyes moved to mine and he nodded once, lips tilting in a half smile. “You’re a complicated woman, Sara Dillon.”

Sometimes after I went for a long run, I was so high afterward that I couldn’t do anything but go back out and run some more. I would have so much energy in my blood, I couldn’t stand to be still. I felt like that now.

“Max, I’m . . .” I held up my hand to show him how much it was shaking. “I don’t know what to do right now.”

“Undress for me.” He dug into his bag and pulled out a huge, fancy camera. “I want pictures of everything tonight,” he said, gazing at me through the lens. The sound of the shutter set my heart racing inside my chest. I felt dizzy, lightheaded.

“Including our faces,” I said quietly.

“Yeah,” he said, voice hoarse. “Exactly.”

I looked down at my clothes: ivory silk shirt with small, pearl buttons, and a straight, black skirt.

Undress for me.

I liked having a task to focus on. The weight of last night still pressed on my heart, and the sight of him in my bedroom almost broke me.

I lifted my hands to the top button of my blouse.

My fingers still shook.

It was different like this, in my apartment with no one but his camera to witness. What was I showing him tonight? My body? Or everything beneath my skin: my heart and fears and wild, thrumming longing for him?

I heard the click of the shutter followed by Max’s deep voice. “The way you seem nervous makes me think you don’t know that I’m in love with you.”

I looked up at him, eyes wide and hands frozen.


“I love you, Petal. I’ve known it for a while now, but everything changed for me last night.”

I nodded, feeling dizzy. “Okay.”

He bit his lip and then released it to give me a wicked grin. “Okay?”

“Yeah.” I returned to my buttons, slipping each one free at a time. I fought the world’s most enormous smile.


“You have nothing to say but ‘okay’?” he asked, looking up from behind the camera. “I tell you I love you, and I don’t even get a ‘thanks’ or ‘how lovely’?”

I let the shirt fall to the floor and turned my back to him, reaching behind me to unhook my bra—click—and dropping it.

Click. Click.

I unzipped my skirt, and it joined the other items on the floor as I turned back to face him.

“I love you, too.” Click. “But I’m terrified.”

He lowered the camera, eyes on me.

“I didn’t want to fall in love with you,” I said.

He took a step closer. “If it makes you feel any better, you put up a very impressive fight.”

He didn’t put the camera down when he stepped forward again to kiss me. He just moved his hand to the side and cupped my face with the other, pressing his mouth to mine.

“I’m scared, too, Sara. I’m scared I’m your rebound. I’m scared we’ll cock it up somehow. I’m scared you’ll tire of me. But the thing is,” he said, smiling, “I don’t want anyone else. You’ve rather ruined me for other women.”

He must have taken hundreds of pictures of me as I finished undressing, climbed back on the bed, watched him prowl over me and tell me more of how he felt: distracted, insatiable, like he could thank Andy then kill him, like he was sincerely worried he wouldn’t ever be able to get enough of me. Every reaction I had, he captured, obsessed over.

Hovering above me, he trained the camera on my torso, where his body brushed against mine. I closed my eyes, lost in the way he felt and in the soft sounds of the camera clicking. When I opened them again, my eyes met his.

I reached out, angling the camera toward my neck. He took the shot, letting me lead as I positioned it higher, and higher still. He looked at me through the lens.

His hands shook as he adjusted the focus, taking shot after shot of my face, of his fingers tracing my jaw or cupping my cheek, as he held the camera away to capture us kissing.

And then everything in the moment became about the feeling of his mouth on me, and the feeling of his hair in my hands, his tongue moving over me, his lips pressing words into my skin. I felt every breath he took and every small sound he made. I could feel his mouth get hungrier and more urgent as he moved down my body. Slowly, he pressed two fingers inside me and sucked on my clit in earnest, pushing me to come. I stayed quiet. I didn’t want to hear my voice in my head. I wanted to only feel him.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered when I’d given up and cried out, when I’d finally stilled and he’d crawled over me, kissing me deeply. “It’s staggering how it affects me.”

I reached up and dragged my nails down his chest, urging him to use my body to get what he needed this time, to feel everything he possibly could. My hands moved on their own accord, roaming and scratching, pulling him closer and pushing him back so I could see him when he reached between us to position himself against me. I tickled down his stomach, feeling his muscles clench underneath my fingertips.

I whispered, “Please.”

He groaned, exhaling as he lowered his body over mine and pushed into me fully. The sensation was astounding—everything all at once—the feeling of his chest on mine, of his face against my neck, of my arms around his neck and hands diving into his hair, of his hands pulling my thighs around his waist, of his hips pivoting as he moved in me.

Please don’t ever let this end. I don’t want this moment to stop.

We were out of words, and covered in sweat, and this, I thought, this is what it’s like to make love.

He rolled me on top of him, watched my face until it was too much, too intense, and I let my eyes close as I came. I heard the click of the camera, and the heavy thud of it as it hit the mattress and Max was over me again, wilder now, my thighs pressed up in his hands and his brows pinched together in concentration.

Images of lights and shadows pounded against my retinas but this time I refused to close my eyes.

He fell over me, heavy; his mouth moved to mine and we held them open against each other, breathing and on the edge together. He moved his parted lips over my mouth as he moved on top of me and we both began to speak silently.

I’m coming, we said together without sound, begging. I’m coming.

We’d both skipped dinner, so I watched in rapt attention as Max raided the kitchen.

He wore boxers but nothing else, and I registered that I’d never just stared at his body. Obviously Max was long and sculpted, but he was also easy in his own skin. I liked watching him scratch his stomach as he considered the contents of my refrigerator. I got lost in the way his lips would move as he cataloged everything in the produce drawer.

“Women are bloody amazing,” he mumbled, rifling through an assortment of cheeses. “I have mustard in my fridge. Maybe some old potatoes.”

“I just went shopping.” I’d put on his T-shirt and pulled it up to inhale the smell of him. It smelled like his soap, and his deodorant, and the inherent Max-smell of his skin.

“I suspect I last went in May.”

“What are you looking for?”

He shrugged, pulling out a bowl of grapes. “Snacks.” He grabbed a six-pack of beer and grinned as he held it up. “Stella. Nice choice.”

“I’m partial.”

He piled grapes, nuts, and a few slices of cheese on a plate and nodded to the bedroom. “Snacks in bed.”

Back on the comforter, he slipped a grape between my lips and then took some for himself, mumbling, “So, I have a thought,” around his bite.

“Do tell.”

“I’m hosting a fund-raiser at my flat in two weeks. How about we make that our big coming-out night? Max and Sara: blissfully in love.” He snacked on a few nuts and studied me before adding, “I’ll even make a no-press rule.”

“You wouldn’t have to do that.”

“I wouldn’t have to, but I would.”

It took a while for me to sort out what I wanted to say, and while I thought it all through, Max snacked patiently. It was such a stark contrast from Andy, who always wanted an answer as soon as he’d asked the question. The truth is, my mind had never worked that way. Politicians pop questions and answers like verbal racquetball. It always took me longer to formulate what I wanted to say. And, in the case of Max, it seemed that it took me a couple of months to sort out what I felt.

“I mean, the reason why I felt weird about pictures for so long was that there are so many of me and Andy together. And they’ll always be there, easy to pull up every time anyone wants to. I’ll always feel humiliated when I see my ignorant smile and his fake, lying one.”

He finished chewing his bite before answering, “I know.”

“So I think you’re right. Maybe no press this time. Maybe we can just be around some of your guests, and see how it goes.”

Max leaned forward and kissed my shoulder. “Works for me.”

He fed me another grape and then slid the plate next to a bottle of water on the bedside table before pulling his T-shirt up and over my head.

Our lovemaking was unhurried this time, when the night was at its blackest and the wind roared just outside the open windows. With my legs around his waist and his face buried against my neck we rocked together, him underneath, just feeling and watching.

Nothing had ever been like this.


Max was curled up behind me when the sun barely began to light the sky. He looked amazing. Rumpled hair, and the warmth of his arms and legs wrapped all around me. He was hard and pressing against me; hungry and honest and asking for friction even before his mind was awake.

He didn’t say a single word once he realized I was watching him. He just rubbed his face, looked at my lips, and reached for the bottle of water we’d left on the nightstand. He offered it to me and then took some, before putting it aside so he could run his hands up and over my breasts.

And I was immediately lost in the feel of him as he rolled onto me and rocked forward, holding there, kissing my lips good morning. I was sleepy and he was sleepy, moving down my body and sucking at flesh and ribs and hip bones. I slid my arms and legs around him, wanting to be smothered in his inches and inches of smooth skin. I wanted him naked on top, and his face between my legs, and his fingers everywhere.

His hands were calm and deliberate; he teased. What he started to build under my skin was a slow burn. He kissed me everywhere, giving pleasure with his hands and mouth and words; asking me what I liked as if we hadn’t done this so many times before. But I understood: it was different here, in my bed. Everything had crashed last night, and I couldn’t see anything beyond how it felt to finally open my heart to him.


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