“Oh,” I said, eyes widening. Of course. “You mean you know Max.”
“This doesn’t make me unique,” she said, laughing again. Looking away from her flowers, she asked, “Are you here for flowers? Or do you think perhaps Dominique sent you for something else?”
“My girlfriend is coming tomorrow she was stuck in New York and then they had a strike and now she’s coming,” I blurted out in one steady, awkward word-flood.
“So you’re here for flowers, then.” Mathilde paused, looking around the store. “What a lucky woman she is. You are very handsome.” Her eyes slid back to me. “Perhaps you’ll be sober by then?”
“No?” Her eyebrows lifted and an amused smile spread across her face. She moved back through the store, collecting an assortment of flowers as she walked. “You are charming anyway, Friend of Max. The wine just makes you less inhibited. I bet normally you button up your shirts and frown at people who will walk too slowly in front of you.”
My frown deepened. That did sound a little like me. “I take my work seriously but I’m not like that . . . all the time.”
She smiled, tying some twine around the flowers. Mathilde handed me the bouquet and winked. “You’re not at work here. Keep your shirt unbuttoned. And don’t sober up for your lover. There are nine beds in that house.”
The front door was open. Had Dominique left and not closed it behind her? Panic seized me. What if something had happened when I was in town? What if the house had been ransacked? Despite Mathilde’s advice, I sobered instantly.
But it hadn’t been ransacked. It was exactly as I left it, with just a bit more wind blowing through the open door. Yet . . . I hadn’t come out this way; I’d walked from the backyard to the front gardens.
Down the hall, I heard water running, and I called out to Dominique, “Merci pour l’idée, Dominique, mais ma copine arrive demain.” She should know as soon as possible that I was spoken for. Who knows if she would start inviting women over here? Is that what she did for Max? Dear God, the man hasn’t changed one bit.
As I neared the closest bedroom off the hall, I realized that what I’d heard was a shower. And just inside the door were suitcases.
I could have barreled in there and scared the ever-loving shit out of her. She had, after all, been stupid enough to leave the front door open enough for it to blow wide in the wind, and then climbed in the shower. I clenched my jaw and fists as I imagined what might have happened if someone else had decided to walk into the house instead of me.
Fuck. I hadn’t seen her in days and I already wanted to strangle and then kiss the hell out of her. I felt a smile pull at my mouth. This was us. It was such a familiar battle of love and frustration, desire and exasperation. She would push every button I had, and then uncover new ones I didn’t even know I had, and push those.
Her quiet singing drifted from the bathroom into the bedroom I’d claimed the first night here. As I moved closer, peeking around the doorway to where she stood, I was greeted by the sight of her long wet hair slick and shiny down her na**d back. And then she bent over so her perfect ass was in the air as she shaved her legs, and kept singing to herself.
Part of me wanted to climb in, take the razor from her hand, and finish the job for her, kissing every smooth inch. Another part of me wanted to climb in and make good on the promise to take her from behind, slowly and carefully. But an even larger part of me relished playing the voyeur. She still didn’t know I was there, and seeing her like this—thinking she was alone, singing quietly, maybe even thinking about me?—was like a cold glass of water on a scorching day. I would never get tired of watching her in any setting. And na**d, wet, and in the shower wasn’t too far from the top scenario on the list.
She rinsed her leg and stood, turning to clear the conditioner from her hair, and that’s when she saw me. A smile exploded across her face, her ni**les tightened, and in that moment I almost shattered the glass shower door to get to her.
“How long have you been standing there?”
I shrugged, looking down the length of her body.
“Still a creeper, you mean.” I moved a little closer, crossing my arms over my chest as I leaned against the wall. “When did you get here, you sneak?”
“I thought you just caught a plane in the States? Did you go by portkey after all?”
She laughed, tilting her head back under the showerhead for one final rinse, before turning off the water. “I caught the first one I told you about. I thought it would be fun to mislead and surprise you.” Taking her long hair in both hands, she pulled it over her shoulder and squeezed the water from it, watching me with eyes that grew increasingly hungry. “I think I was hoping you’d come home to find me na**d in the shower. May have been why I stepped into the shower.”
“I’ll admit it’s pretty f**king convenient because I’m ready to be na**d myself.”
Chloe pushed open the door and came directly to me. “I wanted that pretty mouth on me as soon as I heard you were flirting with the flower girl.”
I scowled. “Oh please.” And then I paused. “How did you know about that?”
She smiled. “Dominique speaks very good English. Said she grew tired of your moping and sent you down there because you’re so cute when you’re annoyed. I agreed.”
“I’m glad you didn’t decide to bring Mathilde back with you, though. That could have been awkward.”
“Or it could have been awesome,” I teased, pulling her against me and wrapping a towel from the rack around her shoulders. I felt the water from her br**sts soak into my clothes.
She’s here. She’s here. She’s here.
I bent, brushed my lips over hers. “Hey, sweetheart.”
“Hey,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around me. “Have you ever been with two women at once?” she asked, leaning back and running her hands up under my shirt as I worked to dry her off. “I can’t believe I haven’t ever asked you that.”
“I missed you, too. Answer my question.”
Her hands were cold and her nails felt sharp when she scratched down my torso. “More than two at a time?”
Shaking my head, I bent to run my nose along her jaw. She smelled like home, like my Chloe: her own mild citrus scent and the soft natural smell of her skin. “Weren’t you saying something about wanting my mouth on you?”
“Specifically between my legs,” she instructed.
“I assumed.” I bent, scooped her up, and carried her to the bed.
When I put her down on the edge, she sat up, leaning back on her hands behind her, pulling her feet up on the edge of the bed . . . and spread her legs. She looked up at me, and whispered, “Take your clothes off.”
Holy Christ this woman was going to kill me with views like that. I kicked my shoes across the room, yanked off my socks, and reached behind me to pull my shirt over my head. Giving her a few seconds to reacquaint herself with my bare chest, I scratched my stomach and gave her a smile. “See something you like?”
“Are we giving shows?” Her hand slipped over her thigh and between her legs. “I can do that.”
“Are you f**king kidding me,” I breathed, fumbling with my belt buckle and pulling the buttons of my jeans free in a single movement. I nearly fell over trying to get them off.
Her hand moved away, and then she reached both arms out for me. “On top,” she said quietly, apparently not wanting my mouth after all. “Over me, I want to feel your weight.”
It was perfect, like this, without pretense. We both wanted to make love before we did anything else: looking around, eating, catching up.
Her skin was cool, and mine still felt flushed from the sun, my uphill walk back to the villa, and the thrill of seeing her here so unexpectedly. The contrast was astounding. Beneath me she was nothing but smooth skin and tiny, quiet sounds. Her nails dug into my back, her teeth slid over my chin, my neck, my shoulder.
“I want you inside,” she whispered into a kiss.
Although she let out a little growl of frustration, for a while she let me simply kiss her. I loved the way her lips felt on my tongue, the way her tongue felt against my lips. I was acutely aware of every point of contact between us: her br**sts against my chest, her hands on my back, the tendons of her thighs pressing into my sides. When she wrapped her legs around mine, her calves felt like a band of heat around me. I reached down and wrapped my hand around the back of her knee, pulling it higher to my hip until I felt my c**k slide against her slick skin.
Beneath me, she arched and rocked, getting as much friction as she could without me pushing inside. Kisses would start tentative, maybe playful, and then grow into deep, ravenous, arching hunger before returning to slow and tasting. She let me press her arms over her head, let me suck and bite her ni**les almost to the point of pain. She asked me what I wanted, what felt good, and whether I wanted her body or her mouth first. Her first instinct when we were na**d was always to pleasure me.
This woman amazed me. I’d lost perspective on who she used to be outside of our relationship. With me, she could be anything. Brave and afraid weren’t opposite. She could be sharp and tender, devious and innocent. I wanted to be her everything in the same way.
“I love the way we kiss,” she whispered, the words coming out pressed against my lips.
“What do you mean?” I knew what she meant. I knew exactly what she meant; I simply wanted to hear her talk about how f**king perfect it all felt.
“I just love that we kiss the same, that you always seem to know exactly how I want it.”
“I want to be married,” I blurted. “I want you to marry me.”
And so my entire carefully constructed speech was thrown out the window. My grandmother’s antique ring was in a box in the dresser—nowhere near me—and my plan to kneel and do everything right just evaporated.
In the circle of my arms, Chloe grew very still. “What did you just say?”
I had completely botched the plan, but it was too late to turn back now.
“I know we have only been together for a little over a year,” I explained, quickly. “Maybe it’s too soon? I understand if it’s too soon. It’s just that how you feel about the way we kiss? I feel that way about everything we do together. I love it. I love to be inside you, I love working with you, I love watching you work, I love fighting with you, and I love just sitting on the couch and laughing with you. I’m lost when I’m not with you, Chloe. I can’t think of anything, or anyone, who is more important to me, every second. And so for me, that means we’re already sort of married in my head. I guess I wanted to make it official somehow. Maybe I sound like an idiot?” I looked over at her, feeling my heart try to jackhammer its way up my throat. “I never expected to feel this way about someone.”
She stared at me, eyes wide and lips parted as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. I stood and ran over to the dresser, pulling the box from the drawer and carrying it over to her. When I opened the box and let her see my grandmother’s antique diamond and sapphire ring, she clapped a hand over her mouth.
“I want to be married,” I said again. Her silence was unnerving, and fuck, I’d completely botched this with my rambling nonsense. “Married to you, I mean.”
Her eyes filled with tears and she held them, unblinking. “You. Are such. An ass.”
Well, that was unexpected. I knew it might be too soon, but an ass? Really? I narrowed my eyes. “A simple ‘It’s too soon’ would have sufficed, Chloe. Jesus. I lay my heart out on the—”
She pushed off the bed and ran over to one of her bags, rummaging through it and pulling out a small blue fabric bag. She carried it back to me with the ribbon hooked over her long index finger, and dangled the bag in my face.
I ask her to marry me and she brings me a souvenir from New York? What the f**k is that? “What the f**k is that?” I asked.
“Don’t get smart with me, Mills. It’s a bag. For all I know you have a granola bar, or your tampons, in there.”
My heart was pounding so hard and fast I half wondered if this was what a heart attack felt like. “A ring for me?”
She pulled a small box out of the bag and showed it to me. It was smooth platinum, with a line of coarse titanium running through the middle.
“You were going to propose to me?” I asked, still completely confused. “Do women even do that?”
She punched me, hard, in the arm. “Yes, you chauvinist. And you totally stole my thunder.”
“So, is that a yes?” I asked, my bewilderment deepening. “You’ll marry me?”
“You tell me!” she yelled, but she was smiling.
With a growl, I took the box and dropped it on the floor, flipping her onto her back.
“Are you always going to be this impossible?”
She nodded, eyes wide, lip caught between her teeth. Fuck. We could settle this later.