“?‘In the end one loves one’s desire and not what is desired.’?” She tilted her head, running her hand through my hair. “Do you think that one is true?”
I swallowed thickly, feeling trapped. I was too wrapped up in my own tangled thoughts to figure out whether she was selecting meaningful quotes about my past or just quoting some classic philosophy. “I think it’s sometimes true.”
“But all that is rare for the rare . . .” she said quietly, looking down at her hip. “I like it.”
“Good.” I bent to even out one letter, darken another, humming.
“You’ve been singing that same song the entire time you wrote on me,” she whispered.
“I have?” I hadn’t realized I’d even made a noise. I hummed a few more bars of it, trying to remember what it was I’d been singing: She Talks to Angels.
“Mmmm, an oldie but a goodie,” I said, blowing a stream of air on her navel to dry the ink.
I looked up at her, searching for her meaning. “A recording? I don’t even think I have that.”
“No,” she whispered. “Live. I was visiting Jensen in Baltimore the weekend your band covered it. He said you guys always covered a different song at every show so you’d never play it again. I was there for that one.” There was something restrained behind her eyes when she said this.
“I didn’t even know you were there.”
“We said hi before the show. You were onstage, adjusting your amp.” She smiled, licking her lips. “I was seventeen, and it was right after you came to work for Dad, over fall break.”
“Oh,” I said, wondering what seventeen-year-old Hanna had thought of that show. It was one I still thought about, even just over seven years later. We had played tight that night, and the crowd had been amazing. It was probably one of our best shows ever.
“You were playing bass,” she said, drawing small circles with her fingers on my shoulders. “But you sang that one. Jensen said you didn’t often sing.”
“No,” I agreed. I wasn’t much of a singer, but with that one I didn’t care. It was more about emotion anyway.
“I saw you flirting with this Goth girl up front. It was funny, how I felt jealous then when I never had before. I think it was because you’d lived in our house, I felt a little like you belonged to us.” She smiled down at me. “God, that night I wanted to be her so bad.”
I watched her face as she walked through the memory, waiting to hear how this night ended for her. And me. I couldn’t remember seeing Hanna when I lived in Baltimore, but there were a million nights like this, at a bar with the band, some Goth girl or preppy girl or hippie chick up front and, later in the night, under or over me.
She licked her lips. “I asked if we were meeting up with you later, and Jensen just laughed.”
I hummed, shaking my head and trailing my hand up her thigh. “I don’t remember what happened after that show.” Too late, I realized how awful it sounded, but the reality was, if I wanted to be with Hanna, she would eventually know the truth of just how wild I’d been.
“Was that the kind of girl you liked? ‘She paints her eyes as black as night now’?”
I sighed, climbing up her body so we were face-to-face. “I liked all kinds of girls. I think you know that.”
I’d tried to emphasize the past tense, but realized I’d failed when she whispered, “You’re such a player.”
She said it with a smile but I hated it. I hated the tight edge to her voice and knowing that was exactly how she saw me: f**king anything that moved, and now her, in this conglomeration of limbs and lips and pleasure.
In the end one loves one’s desire and not what is desired.
And I had no defense; it had been mostly true for so long.
Rolling closer, she wrapped her hand around my semi-erect cock, stroking up, squeezing. “What’s your type now?”
She was giving me an out. She didn’t want it to be true anymore, either. I leaned in, kissed her jaw. “My type is more along the lines of a Scandinavian sex bomb named Plum.”
“Why did it bother you when I called you a player?”
I groaned, rolling away from her touch.
I threw my arm over my eyes, trying to collect my thoughts. Finally, I said, “What if I’m not that guy anymore? What if it’s been twelve years since I was that guy? I’m open with my lovers about what I want. I don’t play anyone.”
She pulled back a little and looked at me, wearing an amused smile. “That doesn’t make you receptive and deep, Will. No one says a player has to be an asshole.”
I rubbed my face. “I just think the word ‘player’ has a connotation that doesn’t fit me. I feel like I try harder than that to be good to the women I’m with, to talk about what we’re doing together.”
“Well,” she said. “you haven’t talked to me about what you want.”
I hesitated, my heart exploding in a wild gallop. I hadn’t, and it was because it felt so different with her from every other time I’d been with a woman. Being with Hanna wasn’t just about intense physical pleasure; it also made me feel calm, and thrilled, and known. I hadn’t wanted to discuss this because I hadn’t wanted either of us to have the chance to limit it.
Taking a deep breath, I murmured, “That’s because with you, I’m not really sure if what I want is sex.”
She pulled away, sat up slowly. The sheets slid off her body and she reached for a shirt at the end of the bed.
Oh, shit. That hadn’t come out right. “No, no,” I said, sitting up behind her and kissing her shoulder. I pulled her shirt from her hands, dropping it on the floor. I licked down her spine, slipping my hand around her waist and sliding up, resting my palm over her heart.
“I’m trying to find a way to say I want it to be more than sex. I have feelings for you that go way past sexual.”
“I don’t?” I stared at her rigid back, my pulse picking up from anger rather than anxiety. “What do you mean I don’t?”
She stood, wrapping the sheet around her body. Ice slid into my veins, cooling every part of me. I sat up, watching her. “Are you—what are you doing?”
“I’m sorry. I just—I have some stuff to do.” She walked over to the dresser, began pulling things from a drawer. “I need to get to work.”
“So I tell you I have feelings and you’re kicking me out?”
She spun around to face me. “I need to go right now, okay?”
“I can see that,” I said, and she limped into the bathroom.
I was humiliated and furious. And I was terrified this was it. Who would have thought I’d f**k it up with a girl by falling for her? I wanted to get the hell out of there, and I wanted to climb out of the bed, pull her back. Maybe we both needed to think about a few things.
I closed the door behind me and took a few deep breaths. I needed some space. I needed a minute to wrap my head around what the hell was going on. This morning I thought I’d been discarded like one of Will’s many conquests, and now he was saying he wanted more?
Why was he complicating this? One of things I loved about Will was that people always knew where they stood with him. Good or bad, you always knew the score. Nothing about him had ever been complicated: sex, no complications. End of story. It was easier when I didn’t have the option to consider more.
He’d been the bad boy, the hot guy my sister fooled around with in a shed in the backyard. He’d been the object of my earliest fantasies. And it wasn’t that I’d spent my youth pining over him—the opposite, in fact—because knowing I could lust for him, but never actually stood a chance, made it easier somehow.
But now? Being able to touch him and have him touch me, hearing him say that he wanted more when there was no way he could actually mean it . . . complicated things.
Will Sumner didn’t know the meaning of more. Hadn’t he admitted to never having even a single long-term monogamous relationship? Having never found anyone who kept him interested long enough? Didn’t he get a text from one of his nongirlfriends the morning after we first had sex? No thanks.
Because as much as I loved spending time with him, and as fun as it was to pretend I could learn from him, I knew that I would never be a player. If I let him into more than my pants—if I let him into my heart and fell for him—I would submerge.
Deciding I actually did need to get to work, I started the shower, watching as steam filled the bathroom. I moaned as I stepped under the spray, letting my chin drop to my chest and the sound of water drown out the chaos in my thoughts. I opened my eyes and looked down at my body, at the smeared black ink on my skin.
All that is rare for the rare.
The words he’d drawn so carefully across my hip were now bleeding into each other. There were marks where the ink had rubbed off onto his hands, and touches that alternated between pressing bruises and feather-light caresses had left a necklace of smudged fingerprints between my breasts, over my ribs, lower.
For a moment I let myself admire the gentle curve of his handwriting, remembering the determined expression on his face while he’d worked. His brows had knitted together, his hair fell forward to cover one eye. I was surprised when he didn’t reach up to push it back—a habit I’d come to find increasingly endearing—but he was so focused, so intent on what he’d been doing he’d ignored it and continued meticulously inking the words across my skin. And then he’d ruined it by losing his mind. And I’d freaked out.
I reached for the loofah and covered it in way too much body wash. I began scrubbing at the marks, half of them gone already from the heat and pressure of the spray, the rest dissolving into a sudsy mess that slipped down my body and into the drain.
With the last traces of Will and his ink washed from my skin and the water growing cold, I stepped out, dressing quickly and shivering in the cool air.
I opened the door to find him pacing the length of the room, running clothes back in place and a beanie on his head. He looked like he’d been debating leaving.
He whipped off his hat and spun to face me. “Fucking finally,” he muttered.
“You’re not the one who gets to be mad here,” he said.
“I needed space, Will,” I said, and, as if to further illustrate my point, walked out of the bedroom and down the hall. He followed.
“You’re doing it again,” he said. “Important rule: don’t freak out and walk away from someone in your own house. Do you know how hard that was for me?”
I stopped in the kitchen. “You? Do you have any idea what kind of a bomb that was to drop? I needed to think!”
“I can’t think when you’re na**d!” I shouted. “There was too much.” I motioned to his body but quickly decided that was a bad idea. “It was just . . . I freaked, okay?”
“And how do you think I felt?” He glared at me, the muscles of his jaw flexing. When I didn’t answer, he shook his head and looked down, shoving his hands into his pockets. That was a bad idea. The waist of his track pants slipped lower, the hem of his shirt moved up. And oh. That little slice of toned stomach and hipbone was most definitely not helping.
I forced myself back into the conversation. “You just told me you don’t know what you want. And then you said you had feelings that went past sexual. I have to be honest, it doesn’t seem like you have a very good grasp on anything that’s going on here. The first time we had sex you basically brushed me off, only to now tell me you want more?”
“Hello!” he yelled. “I didn’t brush you off. I told you, it was jarring to have you be so cavalier—”
“Will,” I said, voice firm. “For twelve years I’ve lived with the stories of you and my brother. I saw the aftermath of you hooking up with Liv—she was hung up on you for months and I bet you had no idea. I’ve seen you sneak off with bridesmaids or disappear at family gatherings and nothing’s changed. You’ve spent the majority of your adult life acting like a nineteen-year-old guy, and now you think you want more? You don’t even know what that means!”
“And you do? Suddenly you know everything? Why would you assume that I knew this thing with Liv was so monumental? Not everyone discusses their feelings and sexuality and whatever comes to mind as openly as you do. I’ve never known a woman like you before.”
I didn’t even know where all this was coming from, and the minute the words left my mouth I knew I’d gone too far.
All at once the fight seemed to leave him and I watched his shoulders fall, the air leave his lungs. He stared at me for a long beat, eyes losing their heat until they were just . . . flat.
And then, he left.I paced the old rug in the dining room so many times I wondered if I was wearing a track in it. My head was a mess, my heart wouldn’t stop pounding. I had no idea what had just happened, but all along my skin and into my muscles I felt tight and tense, afraid that I had just chased off my best friend, and the best sex of my entire life.