Sweet Filthy Boy: Chapter 13

I DON’T HAVE TO open my eyes to know it’s still dark out. The bed is a nest of warm blankets; the sheets are smooth and smell like Ansel and laundry detergent. I’m so tired, floating in that place between awake and dreams, and so the words being whispered into my ear sound like bubbles rising up from underwater.

“Are you frowning in your sleep?” Warm lips press to my forehead, a fingertip smoothing the skin there. He kisses one cheek and then the other, brushing his nose along my jaw on his way back to my ear.

“I saw your shoes by the door,” he whispers. “Have you walked all of Paris by now? They look nearly worn through on the bottom.”

In truth he’s not that far off. Paris is an unending map that seems to unfurl right in front of me. Around each corner is another street, another statue, another building older and more beautiful than anything I’ve seen before. I get to one place and that only makes me want to see what’s beyond it, and beyond that. I’ve never been so eager to become lost in a place before.

“I love that you’re trying to learn my city. And God help the poor boys who see you walk by in that little sundress I saw hanging in the bathroom. You’ll have admirers following you home and I’ll be forced to chase them off.”

I feel him smile against the side of my face. The bed shifts and his breath ruffles my hair. I keep my features relaxed, my exhales even, because I never want to wake up. Never want him to stop talking to me like this.

“It’s Saturday again . . . I’m going to try and be home early tonight,” he sighs, and I hear the exhaustion in his words. I’m not sure I’ve fully appreciated how difficult this must be for him, to balance what he sees as his responsibility to me, and to his job. I imagine it must feel like being pulled in every direction.

“I asked you to come here and I’m always gone. I never meant it to be this way. I just . . . I didn’t think it through.” He laughs into my neck. “Everyone I know would roll their eyes at that. Oliver, Finn . . . especially my mother,” he says fondly. “They say I’m impulsive. But I want to be better. I want to be good to you.”

I almost whimper.

“Won’t you wake up, Cerise? Kiss me goodbye with that mouth of yours? Those lips that get me in trouble? I was in a meeting yesterday and when they called my name I had no idea what anyone was talking about. All I could think about was the way your cherry lips look stretched around my cock, and then last night . . . oh. The things I’ll imagine today. You’re going to get me fired and when we’re penniless on the street you’ll have no one to blame but that mouth.”

I can’t keep a straight face anymore and I laugh.

“Finally,” he says, growling into my neck. “I was beginning to contemplate pulling the fire alarm.”

EVEN AS I wake alone, a couple of hours later, I remember the way he whispered against my shoulders, and finally into my ears. I’d rolled to my back, eyes still closed as I wrapped myself around him in a drowsy hug, the fabric of his suit rough, the silk of his tie suggestive as it dragged between my naked breasts. Had I been more awake I would have pulled him down, watched as he matched his fingertips to the bruises pressed into my skin.

Ansel left me breakfast. There’s coffee and a wrapped croissant waiting on the counter, and along with the lace cap that went with my maid costume, a new list of scribbled phrases rests beneath my plate.

What time is it? Quelle heure est-il?

What time do you close? A quelle heure fermez-vous?

Take your clothes off, please. Déshabille-toi, s’il te plaÎt.

Fuck me. Harder. Baise-moi. Plus fort.

I need the large dildo, same size as my husband. Je voudrais le gros gode, celui qui se rapproche le plus de mon mari.

That was the best orgasm of my life. C’était le meilleur orgasme de ma vie.

I’m going to come in your mouth, you beautiful girl. Je vais jouir dans ta bouche, beauté.

I’m still smiling as I step into the bathroom and shower, memories of last night running on a reel inside my head. The water pressure in Ansel’s apartment is terrible and the water is barely lukewarm. I’m reminded once again that I’m not back in San Diego, where the only person I needed to battle for hot water this late in the morning was my mom after her morning yoga class. There are seven floors of people to take into account here, and I make a mental note to get up earlier tomorrow, and sacrifice an extra hour of sleep for a hot shower. But that’s not the only thing I’d miss out on. Those few, unguarded moments in the morning when Ansel thinks I’m still sleeping might just be worth a cold shower. Lots of them.

GRUESIMONE IS OUTSIDE having a cigarette when I walk past the patisserie toward the métro. “Today has already been a fucking nightmare,” she says, blowing a plume of smoke out the side of her mouth. “We sold out of the scones everyone loves and I spilled a fucking coffee on myself. FML.”

I’m not sure why I sit with her for the duration of her break, listening to her vent about the trials of being a poor twenty-something in Paris, how her boyfriend can never seem to shut the coffee off before he leaves, or how she’d give up smoking but it’s cigarettes or customer homicide—their choice. She isn’t very nice, to anyone, really. Maybe it’s that she’s American, and it’s comforting to have regular conversations with someone who isn’t Ansel in a language I actually understand. Or maybe I really am that starved for outside human contact. Which is . . . really depressing.

When she’s finished her last cigarette and my coffee has long grown cold, I tell her goodbye and head toward the métro, and then explore as much of Le Marais as I can in a morning.

Here there are some of the oldest buildings in the city, and it’s become a popular neighborhood for art galleries, tiny cafés, and unique, pricy boutiques. What I love most about the neighborhood are the narrow winding streets, and the way tiny courtyards pop up out of nowhere, begging to be explored, or simply for me to sit and fly through a novel, getting lost in someone else’s story.

Just when my stomach is rumbling and I’m ready for lunch, my phone vibrates in my bag. I’m still surprised by the delicious lurch in my chest when I see Ansel’s name and face—the dorky selfie of him with pink cheeks and wild grin—flash across my screen.

Is it fondness I feel? Sweet Jesus, I’m definitely fond, and whenever he’s close I basically want to molest him. It isn’t just that he’s gorgeous, and charming, it’s that he’s kind and thoughtful, and that it would never occur to him to be sharp or judgmental. There’s an inherent ease to him that’s disarming, and I have no doubt he leaves a trail of unintentionally broken hearts—male and female—wherever he goes.

I’m almost positive the old woman who runs the store around the corner from our apartment is a little in love with him. In truth, I’m pretty sure almost everyone Ansel knows is a little in love with him. And who could blame her really? I watched her one evening tell him something in rapid-fire French and then pause, pressing her wrinkled hands to her face like she just told the cute boy about her crush. Later, as we’d walked down the sidewalk eating our gelato, he’d explained that she told him how much he looks like the boy she fell in love with at university, and how she thought about him for a moment every morning when he stopped by for coffee.

“She thanked me for making her feel like a schoolgirl again,” he’d said a little reluctantly and then turned to me with a flirty little smile. “And was glad to see me married to such a pretty girl.”

“So basically you make the old ladies a little frisky.”

“I really only care about this lady.” He’d kissed my cheek. “And I don’t want to make you frisky. I want you naked and begging to come all over my mouth.”

I’ve never known someone who is such a mixture of brazen sexuality and feigned innocence before. So it’s with a combination of excitement and fear that I read his message now, while traversing the busy sidewalk.

Last night was fun, it reads.

I chew my lip as I contemplate my response. The fact that he understood what I was doing, that he played along and even suggested we do it again, well . . .

I take a deep breath. So fun, I reply.

Was it nice to get outside your head a little?

The sun is high overhead and it’s got to be close to eighty-five degrees outside, but with one sentence he’s managed to make goose bumps erupt along my arms and legs, my nipples tighten. Somehow talking about it like this, acknowledging what we did, feels as dirty as seeing that tiny costume hanging in the closet this morning, beside the clothes he wears to work every day.

It was, I type, and if a text could come across breathy, that is exactly how this would sound.

There’s a long pause before he begins typing again and I wonder if it’s possible he’s wound as tight as I am right now. Think you’d want to do it again?

I don’t even have to think about it. Yes.

His answer comes slowly; it feels like he’s typing for an eternity. Go to the Madeleine station, line 14 to Chatelet. Walk to 19 Rue Beaubourg-Centre Georges Pompidou (the large museum, you can’t miss it). Take the escalators to the top floor. Wait at the bar at Georges Restaurant 19h00 (7:00 pm). Best view around.

I’m close enough to walk there, and a giddy thrill inches its way up my spine and slips like a warm bath along my skin. My limbs suddenly feel heavy, my body aches, and I have to step into an alcove in front of a small bookstore to pull myself together. I imagine this is what a sprinter feels like in those last moments before the starter pistol cracks through the air.

I have no idea what Ansel is planning, but I’m ready to find out.

THE CENTRE POMPIDOU is easy to find. Thanks to Google, I know it’s centered on Paris’s Right Bank, and sits in an area known as the Beaubourg neighborhood. After my days of exploring, I have a pretty good sense of where I am. But although I saw a photo of the museum online, I’m in no way prepared for the monstrous, skeletal curiosity that seems to rise up from the city around it.

It’s as if the massive building has been stripped of its outer layers, revealing the very pieces that keep it erect just underneath. Brightly colored tubes in green, blue, yellow, and red are interspersed with metal beams, and look as much like a piece of art as the items housed inside.

I follow a sign that leads me to a large paved plaza, filled with students and families and groups of tourists strolling about. Performers sit surrounded by small crowds and children rush by, their laughter echoing in the hulking empty spaces created by the enormous building.

Just as Ansel instructed, I take the largest escalators I’ve ever seen to the top floor. The entire ride up is encapsulated in Plexiglas tunnels, giving me a view of an enormous expanse of Paris, with buildings in the distance I’ve only ever seen in books. I spot the Eiffel Tower immediately, set against a backdrop of bright blue sky.

My reflection winks back at me, dressed in my simple jersey shift dress, my dark hair glossy in the late afternoon sun. My face is flushed with anticipation and I’m pushing away the tremor of anxiety that I have no idea what is happening, and I’ve left Ansel completely in charge. Am I still his maid? I pause, mid-step between one escalator and the next, as the possibility sinks in. Our balance of power is already skewed since we arrived here. What am I heading into?

But, I reason, when you let go last night, he took over and gave you the most intensely erotic night of your life. Trust him.

With a deep breath, I step off at the top and make my way into the trendy restaurant. A beautiful woman with tomato-red hair and a short white dress leads me through a space that looks more like a sci-fi movie set than a place to have dinner. Everything is brushed metal and gleaming white, steel beams and polished cavelike sculptures. The tables are sleek and industrial, each one topped with a ruby-red long-stemmed rose. The outdoor dining area is protected by low-slung glass so as not to hinder the view because wow . . . what a view it is.

I thank her and take a seat at the bar, checking my phone for any messages. I’ve just begun a text to Ansel when I feel a slight tap on my shoulder.

“Would you mind if I sat here?” he asks, nervous. And oh. This isn’t the same game as last night. The confusion must show in my expression because he continues, “Unless you’re waiting for someone, of course.”

Strangers. This I can do. This we know.

“No. Um . . . not at all. Be my guest,” I say, and gesture to the seat on my right.

Ansel folds all six feet, two inches of his frame onto the brushed aluminum stool and toys with the neatly folded cloth napkin. I didn’t get to fully drink in the sight of him before he left this morning, and try to covertly check him out as he fidgets, playing this new role.

He’s wearing a shirt I’ve never seen on him, deep green with a pattern so delicate I have to peer closely to even make it out. His black dress pants fit him perfectly; there’s a touch of stubble lining his jaw and his hair seems a bit more disheveled than normal, falling forward over his forehead. I have the sudden desire to twist my fingers in it while I pull his face between my legs.

I actually have to look away to catch my breath. This guy is my husband.

You look amazing, I want to say.

How did I find someone so easy and perfect in Las Vegas of all places? I want to ask.

But instead, I stay quiet and let him show me how this night is supposed to go.

“I think I was stood up,” he says, and now that I’ve composed myself, I turn back to face him.

“That’s terrible. They didn’t call or text?”

He shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair, righting it again. “It’s probably for the best,” he says with a resolute lift of his chin. “I don’t think we are that compatible anyway.”

I angle myself toward him. “Was this supposed to be the first date?”

He shakes his head and opens his mouth to speak, pausing when the bartender stops in front of us. “Un whisky-soda, s’il vous plaît,” he says to the man before turning to me expectantly.

“Um . . . gin et . . . tonic?” I phrase it as a question and the bartender smirks before walking away.

Ansel gives a lingering stare to the bartender’s back, then clears his throat before continuing. “We’ve been together for a while but—” He stops abruptly, shaking his head. He leans closer, dropping his voice when he says, “No, ignore that. I don’t want to pretend to cheat.”

I bite my lip to hold in my grin. Jesus, he’s cute.

“What I mean to say is that we had talked on the phone a few times?” he says, his eyes searching mine as if this cover story works better. “It never felt totally right but I thought if we met in person . . .”

I hum in response, shaking my head in sympathy. “Sorry she’s not here.”

He takes a deep breath before relaxing his shoulders, and his lips push out in an edible pout. “What about you? You said you’re not meeting anyone. Are you dining alone?” Holding up his hands, he adds, “And I ask that in the least stalkerish way possible. Please don’t call security.”

I laugh, spinning my phone on the bar in front of me. “I’m new to town,” I say. “It was a long day at work and I needed a drink. A friend said this place had the best view around.”

“‘A friend’?”

“Just this guy I know,” I tease.

Ansel smiles and looks over his shoulder. “Your friend might be wrong. Not sure you could beat the view on top of that,” he says, motioning to the Eiffel Tower.

The bartender sets our drinks in front of us and I reach for my glass. “No alcohol up there, though.”

“Ahhh, but yes. There’s champagne on the top level. Served in the finest plastic stemware around. Don’t want to miss that while you’re here.”

“You make me want to brave the terrifying lines and claustrophobic elevators.”

“You must make sure to do it before you leave,” he says. “It’s a touristy thing, but it’s sort of required at least once in your lifetime.”

“Actually, I did see the top,” I admit, and take a sip of my drink. “I went alone on one of my first days in town. I didn’t know they had booze there, though, or I’d have stayed a lot longer.”

“Maybe someone can go with you next time,” he says quietly, apology darkening his expression. He’s guilty that I’m alone so much. I’m guilty for interrupting him. We’re both living so much in our own heads, no wonder we pretend.

“Maybe,” I answer with a smile. “And you live here? In Paris.”

Ansel nods and takes another sip of his drink. “I do. But my mother is American. And I traveled around the States after college.”

“Just traveled around?” I tease. “Backpacked your way across America?”

“Close,” he says with a laugh. “The summer before law school I participated in a program called Bike and Build. Have you heard of it?”

I shake my head a little, saying only, “I’ve heard the name . . .” Of course Ansel has mentioned it before, but I feel a bit guilty never having asked him more about it.

“It’s basically a group of people—mostly university-aged—cycling across the country for three months, stopping en route to work on various building sites.”

“I went to Vegas after I graduated from college. I think you win.”

“Well that could be fun, too,” he says meaningfully, eyes teasing as he takes a drink from his glass. “I hear there is plenty of adventure to be had in Vegas.”

“Yes,” I say and smile. “But three months? On a bike?”

Ansel laughs. “Three months. Well, eleven weeks to be exact. Riding about seventy miles a day.”

“I would be dead. You’d have to call my mother to collect me by about day four.”

He makes a show of looking me up and down appreciatively. “You look like you could handle it.”

I shake my head. “I assure you, I am not good on two wheels. So, tell me. Did you sleep in hotels or . . . ?”

“Sometimes,” he answers with a shrug. “Some groups stay in churches or other places. Maybe a group of families. My group had a sort of . . .” He pauses to search for the word, his brows drawn together. “Sleeping outside in a tent?”

“Camping,” I say with a laugh.

He snaps his fingers. “Right. We’d usually be in one place for a few days while we worked, and so we’d set up a kind of traveling camp. Three or four of us sharing a canvas tent, sleeping on the worst cots you can imagine.”

I look at him now, in his crisp shirt and pressed dress pants, and have a hard time imagining him even as he was, dressed down in Vegas, let alone sweaty and working on construction sites. I let my eyes linger on his neck and enjoy the fantasy for a beat. “That’s pretty intense.”

He nods in agreement. “Four of us, together all day long. Sometimes it was excruciating, the heat. How humid it could be and we would all just keep pushing until night. It was hard, but it was the most fun I’d ever had. I don’t know that I’ll ever know anyone in the way I know those three friends.”

Fascinated, I break character for just a moment. “You mean Oliver and Finn and Perry.”

A shadow falls over his face and he nods slowly.

Shit. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

But he’s already holding up his hand. “No. Those relationships are some of the best and . . . complicated of my life. Does that make sense?” I nod. “I rode next to them for sometimes eight or ten hours a day. I slept three people deep in a space no bigger than your average bathroom. We missed our families together, we comforted each other, we celebrated some of the proudest moments of our lives. Practically living in each other’s pockets at that age made three months feel like a lifetime, and it . . . I guess maybe it’s hard when lives change in ways that aren’t how we imagined or hoped.”

Whatever this Perry is going through, it’s obviously something Ansel is having a hard time dealing with. He’s quiet for a moment, attention zeroed in on his glass. I’m not used to seeing him like this, and it presses like a bruise in my chest. I didn’t realize how hungry I was for more details of his life until we were here, pretending to be sharing these pieces with the safety of a stranger. “You don’t have to talk about it,” I say quietly.

“It’s just that there’s nothing I can really do to fix what Perry’s going through, and . . . I don’t mean to sound self-important, but that’s not a situation I’m familiar with.”

“Whatever he’s dealing with,” I say, “you can be there, but it is his life. You can’t make it perfect for him.”

He studies me for a silent beat, opening his mouth and then closing it again. “No . . . It’s just that”—he pauses and draws in a deep breath—“I know. You’re right.”

I want to tell him I understand, that I know what it’s like to be so close to someone, to feel them drift away and be unable to pull them back, but I can’t. The closest people in my life have always been Harlow and Lorelei. They’re my constants, and have been since we were in elementary school. By the time Luke and I broke up after the accident, I was ready to let him go. And while I might feel the occasional hollow spot from where he used to fit into my life, I think I always knew I wasn’t going to be with him forever.

Wanting to change the subject, I whisper, “Well, from where I’m sitting, whoever stood you up tonight was a total idiot.”

Understanding washes over his expression and he turns on his stool to face me completely, one elbow propped up on the bar.

“I don’t know,” he says finally, biting his bottom lip. “I’m beginning to think she might have done me a favor . . .” He leaves the sentiment hanging meaningfully between us, and we continue to sit there in silence, the pulsing bass of music overhead thumping all around us. “Do you have a boyfriend?” he says suddenly.

“Boyfriend?” I shake my head, fighting a grin. “No.” It’s technically true. “Girlfriend?” I ask in return.

He shakes his head, eyes flickering to my mouth before blinking up to meet mine again.

Once the conversation about Bike and Build moves on, all traces of sadness and regret seem to disappear from Ansel’s eyes and it’s just like the first night we were together: the two of us, talking for hours. It helps me remember every detail that hadn’t yet returned. Like the way he talks with his hands, pausing only when he forgets a word, his brow furrowed in concentration, before I laugh, a mini-game of Charades breaking out as I help him find the right one. Or the way he listens so carefully he tilts his head toward me, eyes continually inspecting my expression. He makes me feel like I’m the only person on the planet. He looks at me like he’s one second away from devouring me.

No wonder I proposed.

He asks me about my life in San Diego, and listens with the same rapt attention as if the night in Las Vegas never happened, and he hasn’t heard every detail before.

“And you loved dancing,” he says, smiling, his empty glass abandoned on the bar in front of him. It’s not posed as a question, but an observation.

“I did.”

“And performing.”

I sigh. “I loved performing.”

Ansel’s eyes narrow, a beat of meaningful silence stretching between us before he says, “I’m sure.”

He’s completely unashamed by the way he scans my body, gaze lingering at my breasts. I feel goose bumps spread along my skin, my nipples hardening at his suggestive tone, at the hunger in his eyes.

“But business school,” he says, blinking back up to my face. “It doesn’t hold your interest the same way.”

I laugh. “Uh, no.”

“Then why will you do it? Spend so much of your life on something that makes you clearly unhappy?”

A spark of panic flares in my chest, but I manage to quickly tamp it down. This is my safe place—this strange space that Ansel and I have found—where I can say or do or be anyone I want.

And so I choose to avoid answering at all, directing the focus back onto him. “Lots of people are unhappy with their jobs. Do you love yours?”

“Not this particular one,” he says. “No.”

“But you continue to do it.”

“Yes . . .” he says thoughtfully. “But mine is temporary. I know what I want to do with my life; this job is simply one door that will lead to another. This job will let me have my pick of positions anywhere in the world. Two more years of school is a long time, and I saw the way you reacted when I brought it up.” He laughs softly. “Like your life had just flashed in front of your eyes. If the prospect of school makes you unhappy . . .” His voice trails off and he watches me, waiting for me to finish the sentence myself.

“I can’t dance anymore,” I remind him. “Screws through my leg and three centimeters of metallic alloy artificial bone aren’t something I can overcome if I just try hard enough. It’s not mind over matter.”

He spins his glass, widening the dark ring of condensation that’s formed on the coaster beneath it. The ice clinks against the walls of the empty tumbler, and he seems to be considering something carefully before he says it. “Not professionally,” he adds with a shrug.

I shake my head but don’t offer more. He doesn’t understand.

“Your career as a stripper, extinguished before it ever began.”

A laugh bursts from my throat. “Which sucks because I had a name picked out, monogrammed pasties ordered and everything.”

Ansel leans against the bar and turns toward me. His eyes scan my face before slipping to my mouth and down . . . down again. It’s such an obvious, silly attempt at seduction that I can’t hold in my laugh. This is the guy I couldn’t take my eyes off in Vegas, the one who drew my attention no matter where he was in the room. The one I told my entire life story to in the span of a few hours, the one I married, the one I’ve had sex with many times.

“I’m really glad you got stood up,” I say, hoping the way I’m looking at him makes him feel half as wanted as the way he’s looking at me.

He brushes a single finger over my knee. “So am I.”

I’m not sure where to go from here and so I decide to try out brave. “Would you like to leave?” I ask. “Maybe go for a walk?”

He doesn’t hesitate, just stands and motions to the bartender to pay our bill.

“I’m going to run to the bathroom,” I say.

He watches me with hungry eyes. “I’ll be here waiting for you.”

But when I step out of the large, art deco bathroom, he’s right there in front of me—head down, face obscured by the lack of light. Dangerous. He looks up at the sound of the door and his features look stronger here in the shadows, hard, thrown into sharp relief under the neon glow. In this dimly lit corner his cheekbones resemble carved stone, his eyes shadowed, his lips lush and exaggerated.

He doesn’t give me time to hesitate, just crosses the tiny space to back me against the wall.

“I couldn’t wait,” he says, gripping my neck, his palm cool and steady while his thumb presses to the pulse beating wildly in my throat. It’s a possessive hold, and so different from the Ansel I know that it sends a silent thrill of fear up my spine. In this game we’re playing, he’s a stranger again. He doesn’t know me and beyond what he’s told me in the last hour; I’m not supposed to know anything about him, either.

A smart girl would walk away, I tell myself. A smart, quiet girl would pretend she has friends waiting and head right out the door. She wouldn’t stand in a darkened hallway with a man she doesn’t know, liking the way he’s manhandling her so much it never occurs to her to leave.

“I can hear you thinking,” he whispers, tightening his hold. “Let go. Play with me.”

And it’s exactly what I need. I relax my shoulders as my head clears. The tension melts from my body as I lean into him.

Even though I’m in heels and he’s inches above me, I only have to lift my chin and he’s there, the tip of his nose brushing over mine.

“I don’t usually do this,” I say, lost in the idea of a one-night stand. Of letting this sexy stranger do whatever he wants to me. “I hardly kiss on the first date, I never—” I close my eyes and swallow, opening them again to find him smiling down at me.

“I know.” His grin says, Except that time you married me in Las Vegas.

Except that.

He presses a thigh between my legs and I can feel how hard he is already. I relish the small shifts of his hips as he rocks against me.

“Want you,” he mumbles, kissing me, chaste and soft. He pulls back, licks his lips, and moves forward again, moaning softly into my mouth. “Can I?”

“Now?” My heart takes off, pounding so hard beneath my breastbone that I swear I can feel my chest move from the force of it.

He nods into the kiss. “Here. It’s getting busy,” he says, motioning back toward the restaurant. “We’d have to be quick.”

It feels like someone lights a match inside my chest and I wrap my fingers into the fabric of his shirt, pulling us both back into the empty bathroom. He follows without a word, kissing me until the door shuts behind us and the lock clicks into place.

I’m suddenly overheated, oversensitive. I can feel every inch of clothing that separates us. His hands grip my face, tongue slipping against mine, and he tastes so good, I’m almost light-headed.

The room is dark, lit overhead by another strip of neon pink. It’s so easy to pretend in here, lost in light that makes everything look like make-believe, surrounded by sounds on the other side of the door. I feel the beat of the music push up through the floor and into my feet, and it’s only this that reminds me there are other people on this planet beyond our kisses, our frantic hands as we try to get closer, push clothes out of the way.

My dress comes up, his shirt pulled from the waist of his pants so I can scratch my nails over his stomach. I gasp as cool air finds my skin, where my panties are damp between my legs. He moves a palm down over my navel, fingers slipping just beneath the skimpy lace waistband until he’s cupping me, dragging his fingers between and over, everywhere but the place I want him.

“Want to taste this,” he says.

I rock against his hand, crying out at the way the tip of his fingers tease in and out of me, gathering wetness, moving back and forth over my clit.

Picking me up, he walks us to the counter, setting me down before he kneels between my parted legs. I watch as he leans forward, looking up at me through his lashes while he reaches out, pulls my panties to the side, and flicks the tip of his tongue over me.

“Oh,” I cry out, too loud and breathing so heavy I fear I might actually pass out. On instinct my hand moves to the back of his head, holding him to me and God it’s so dirty to see him like this, head down and washed in neon while he licks me out, moans against me.

I try to stay still, not to rock my hips or be demanding, but every nerve in my body is focused on his tongue as it drags over my clit.

“Fingers,” I gasp.

He swears, two fingers sliding deep, his tongue moving in practiced movements, tiny flicks alternated with long, slow licks.

“Oh God . . .” I say, on the edge of something that starts in my stomach, slips up along my spine. I twist my hands in his hair, hips rocking against him as it grows stronger. I look down and watch, nearly losing my breath when I see his hand down the front of his pants, his arm jerking in a blur of movement.

“Come up here,” I say, breathless. “Please.” I’m so close—so close—but I want us to come together.

“God yes,” he says, and stands, pushing his pants down his hips.

His hair is a mess and color blooms across his cheekbones and down his neck. I feel the head of his cock as he slides it over me and I’m so wet that with just the smallest step forward he starts to slip inside.

With a gasp, he tucks his head into my neck, takes deep, steadying breaths. “I need a second,” he says, and holds my hips still. “S’il te plaît.”

When he straightens again, he reaches a hand over my shoulder, bracing himself against the mirror.

“You feel too good,” he explains, pulling out slowly before pushing in again. “So fucking good.”

He builds a rhythm, hips rocking against mine, the sound of his belt clanking against the counter as he fucks me. I wrap my legs around his waist and he reaches up, holds my face in one hand before pushing his thumb between my lips. I can taste myself on his fingers, on his mouth, but he can’t seem to focus long enough to kiss me.

“I want to watch you come,” he whispers, eyes moving across my face. He pulls his thumb back and paints a wet line across my lower lip. “I want to feel you squeezing me and I want to eat your greedy little noises.”

I gasp, wrapping my fists around the hem of his shirt, pulling him harder into me.

“Say what you want,” he growls.

“I want it rougher.”

“Make it dirty,” he says, licking my mouth. “You can pretend you never have to see me again. What is your most shameful thought?”

My gaze drops to his mouth as I tell him, “I want someone to hear us fucking.”

His pupils dilate, reflecting the neon back to me, and he grips my thighs tightly before he begins slamming hard and slick into me, grunting roughly every time his hips press to my inner thighs.

Someone knocks on the door and the timing is perfect. It’s locked, but if they walked inside they would hear the slapping of his skin on mine, see my legs on either side of Ansel’s hips, my dress pushed up my body while he fucks me.

“Hurry,” I cry—louder than I probably should—reaching back and gripping the faucet. My fingers feel slick around the cool metal, my skin flushed and damp with sweat.

I feel so full, stretched, with limbs loose. His body fits perfectly inside and against me, the jut of his pelvis rubbing against my clit with every thrust. The tight feeling in my stomach grows, warmer and hotter until I throw my head back, crying out as I come, lost to everything but the way my body tries to pull him in as I fall apart around him.

He follows only a moment later, movements becoming jagged and frantic, stilling against me with a muffled groan into my skin.

THE EVENING BREEZE ruffles the back of my hair and the ends tickle my chin as the scent of bread and cigarettes drifts from a café we pass on our way to the métro.

I glance over my shoulder to where rows of motorcycles are parked at the curb. “Where’s your bike?” I ask.

“Home,” he says simply. “I dropped it off earlier so that I could walk with you.”

He doesn’t say this to earn a reaction, so he misses the way my eyes turn up to him. We didn’t really talk about the accident tonight, though it feels like a constant companion anytime the subject of school and life ahead is broached. But he’s shown me that he’s always aware of what happened and won’t ever push, unlike my father, who got me a bike for my first birthday out of the hospital and repeatedly suggested I get back on the horse. Ansel’s frankness is still something that takes me by surprise. Where I tend to agonize over everything I say—worrying whether I’ll be able to say it at all—Ansel never filters. Words seem to tumble from his candy-colored mouth without even a second thought. I wonder if he’s always been this unguarded, if he’s this way with everyone.

The busiest part of the day has come and gone but we’re still lucky to find seats together. We sit side by side on the crowded train, and I watch our reflection in the window opposite us. Even in the grimy glass and beneath the harsh, often flickering fluorescent lights, it’s impossible to miss how beautiful he is. It’s not an adjective I’ve ever used to describe a guy before, but as I look at him, taking in the angles of his jaw, the prominence of his cheekbones offset by his soft, nearly feminine mouth, it’s the only one that seems to fit.

He’s loosened his tie, unbuttoning the top of his dress shirt to offer up a triangle of smooth, tan skin. The open shirt frames his long neck, the tempting hint of collarbone peeking out just enough to make me wonder why I never thought of collarbones as sexy before.

As if sensing my gaze, Ansel’s eyes shift from the passing blur of track on the other side of the window, and meet mine in the glass. Our reflections rock with the movement of the train and Ansel watches me too, a small, knowing smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. How is it possible to sit here like this in calm, companionable silence, when only an hour ago I had him inside me, my hands slick with sweat as my fingers fought for purchase on the faucet?

More passengers board at the next stop and Ansel moves, giving his seat to an older gentleman with heavy bags in each hand. They share a few words in French I obviously don’t understand, and he takes the spot in front of me, his right arm raised to grip the handrail suspended from the ceiling.

It gives me an exceptional view of his torso and the front of his dress pants. Yum.

The sound of laughter draws my attention and I see a group of girls seated only a few rows away. They’re probably in university, I think, and just a few years younger than me. Too old for high school but clearly still students. They sit with their heads pressed together and if their hushed giggles and wide-eyed stares are any indication, I know exactly what they’re looking at. Or, rather, whom.

I blink up to find him looking down at the older man, listening and oblivious to the leering glances being cast in his direction.

I don’t blame them, of course. If I saw Ansel on a train I’m positive I’d practically break my neck in an attempt to get a better look, and now the night I saw him across the bar in Vegas feels like a lifetime ago. It’s in these moments I find myself wanting to congratulate past-me for doing or saying whatever it was that caught Ansel’s attention in the first place and—by some act of God or alcohol I still don’t understand—held it. Sometimes, I think, past-me is a genius.

He laughs a deep, masculine laugh at something the man has said, and heaven help me, the dimple is out in full force again. I immediately glance over like the jealous girlfriend—wife—I’ve become and sure enough, every head in that gaggle of girls is turned, eyes wide, mouths wider, swooning over him.

And although I’ve said absolutely nothing, I’m beginning to wonder if every thought I have is somehow projected onto a screen above my head. Because it’s this moment Ansel chooses to glance down at me, eyes soft and warm as he reaches to brush a single finger along my bottom lip. Possessiveness sparks like a flare in my chest and I turn into his hand, pressing my mouth to his palm.

Ansel is beaming when the train comes to a stop at our station. He takes my hand as I stand and pulls me out the door, fitting his arm around my waist as soon as we’re on the platform.

“You left work early,” I say.

He laughs. “Are you only now realizing this?”

“No. Well . . . yes. I didn’t think about it before.” What he told me about his boss and his job replays itself like an echo inside my head. “You won’t be in trouble, will you?”

He shrugs in that way he does, easy and loose. “I can work from home,” he says. “I went in before everyone else, and even leaving as early as I did, I still worked a full day. It just wasn’t a fourteen-hour one. They’re going to have to adjust.”

But clearly they won’t have to adjust yet. Ansel kisses me sweetly when we walk into the flat, and then moves to his desk, booting up his laptop. As if on cue, his phone rings and he shrugs at me apologetically before answering it with a clipped “Âllo?”

I hear a deep male voice on the other end, and then, instead of his weary work expression, see a happy smile spread over my husband’s face. “Hey, Olls,” he says. “Yeah, we’re home.”

I wave, tell him to say hi to Oliver for me, and then turn to the bedroom, grabbing my book from the couch before closing the door behind me to give them some privacy.

The bed is wide and perfect, and I lie the wrong way across it, spreading out like a starfish. I can hear sounds from the street filtering up, and let the smell of bread and roasting garlic filter through my senses while I stare at my book, idly thinking about what we might do for dinner. But of course I can’t focus on a single word on the page.

Partly it’s the way Ansel’s smile into the phone lingers in my vision, or the way his voice sounded—so deep, relieved, relaxed—so different from how I’ve heard him the past few weeks. Even though he’s never awkward, and we just spent the most amazing evening out together, he’s still the tiniest bit formal with me, and I only see it now with the intimacy of a best friend on the other end of the line. It’s exactly how I am with Lola or Harlow: unguarded, unfiltered.

I listen to his voice through the door, wanting to absorb the velvet smoothness of it, his deep belly laugh. But then I hear him clear his throat and his voice drops. “She’s good. I mean, of course she’s amazing.” He pauses, and then laughs quietly. “I know you think that. You’ll think that even when we’ve been married for thirty years.”

My stomach does a delicious pirouette but it dips uncomfortably when he says, “No, I haven’t talked to her about it.” Another pause, and then, quieter, “Of course Perry hasn’t been over. I don’t want any of that mess to threaten Mia.” I stop, leaning closer to hear better. Why didn’t he tell Oliver that Perry was here banging on the door just last night?

I hear the unfamiliar edge of frustration in his voice when he says, “I will. I will, Oliver, shut the fuck up.” But then he laughs again, removing any tension from the conversation I’m hearing through the door, and I blink, completely confused. What is the story with Perry? What is this unknown mess of him, the unanswered questions surrounding why he wasn’t in the States, and how could he possibly threaten me?

Shaking my head to clear it, I realize I either need to walk out there and let him know I can hear him, or leave. Or both. We already have enough unintentional secrets . . . at least he does.

I open the bedroom door, stepping into the living room and putting a hand on his shoulder. He jumps slightly at the contact, turning to me and then lifting my hand to kiss it.

“I can hear you,” I tell him, wincing a little in apology as if it’s my fault. “I’m going to go to the corner and pick up some dinner.”

He nods, eyes grateful for the privacy, and then points to his wallet on the entryway table. I ignore it and slip out the door, finding I’m able to really exhale for the first time once I’m closed inside the tiny elevator.


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