I stopped, bending to catch my breath. “You said so yourself.”
“When would I ever have said I was the ‘pussy expert’?”
“Don’t you remember telling us that? You said Jensen was good with the saying. You were good with the doing. And then you wiggled your eyebrows.”
“That is horrifying. How in the world do you remember all this?”
I straightened. “I was twelve. You were a nineteen-year-old hot friend of my brother who joked about sex in our house. You were practically a mythical creature.”
I shrugged, looking past him at the now-crowded trail. “Probably for the same reason.”
“I don’t remember you being this funny, either. Or this”—he took a moment to covertly look me up and down—“grown-up.”
He reached behind him, pulling his sweatshirt up and over his head. For a brief moment, his shirt underneath was pulled up with it, and a long stretch of his torso was exposed. I experienced a full-body clench at the sight of his flat stomach and the dark hair that trailed from his navel down into his shorts. His running pants hung low enough for me to see the carved lines of his hips, the enticing suggestion of man parts, and man legs and . . . holy crap Will Sumner’s body was unreal.
When he tugged the hem of his shirt back down, he broke my trance and I looked up to take in the rest of him, arms now bare below the short sleeves of his shirt. He scratched his neck, oblivious to the way my eyes moved over his forearm. I had a lot of memories of Will from the summer he’d lived with us while working for Dad: sitting on the couch with him and Jensen while we watched a movie, passing him in the hallway at night wearing nothing more than a towel around his hips, inhaling dinner at the kitchen table after a long day at the lab. But only from the evil influence of dark magic could I have forgotten about the tattoos. Seeing them now, I could remember a bluebird near his shoulder, a mountain and the roots of a tree wrapped up in vines on his bicep.
But some of these were new. Swirls of ink formed a double helix down the center of one forearm, the etching of a phonograph peeked out from beneath his sleeve on the other. Will had grown quiet and I looked up to find him smirking at me.
His tongue darted out to lick his lips, and we turned to start walking again. “Don’t be sorry. I wouldn’t have them if I didn’t want people to look.”
“And it’s not weird? With the business job and everything?”
Shrugging, he murmured, “Long sleeves, suit jackets. Most people don’t know they’re there.” The problem with what he said was it didn’t make me think about the most people who remained ignorant to his tattoos. It made me wonder about the ones who knew each and every line of ink on his skin.
The Danger of Will Sumner, I reminded myself. Everything he says sounds filthy, and now you’re thinking of him na**d. Again.
I blinked away, searching for a new topic. “So what about your life?”
He eyed me, wary. “What do you want to know?”
“Do you like your job?”
I acknowledged this with a smile. “Do you get to see your family often? Your mom and sisters are in Washington, right?” I remembered that Will had two much older sisters who both lived close to their mother.
“Oregon,” he corrected. “And yes, a couple of times a year.”
He furrowed his brows as if he hadn’t quite understood what I’d asked. After a moment he answered, “No.”
His adorably confused reaction helped me forget how inappropriate my question had been. “Did you have to really think about it?”
“No, smart-ass. And no, there is no one I would introduce to you by saying, ‘Hey Ziggy, this is so-and-so, my girlfriend.’?”
He pulled his hat from his head, running his fingers through his hair. It was damp with sweat and stuck up in a million directions.
“No one woman has caught your eye?”
“A few have.” He turned his eyes on me, refusing to shrink from my interrogation. I remembered this about Will; he never felt the need to explain himself, but he didn’t shy away from questions, either.
Clearly he was the same Will he’d always been: often with women, and never with just one. I blinked down, looking at his chest as it widened and retracted with his slowly-steadying breaths, at his muscular shoulders leading to a smooth, tan neck. His lips parted slightly and his tongue peeked out to wet them again. Will’s jaw was carved and covered in dark stubble. I had a sudden and overwhelming urge to feel it on my thighs.
My eyes dropped to his toned arms, the large hands relaxed at his sides—holy shit what those fingers probably knew how to do—his flat stomach, and the front of his running pants that told me Will Sumner had plenty going on below the belt. Good sweet baby Jesus, I wanted to bang the smirk off this man.
Silence ticked between us and awareness trickled in. I wasn’t living behind a damn two-way mirror and I’d never had a poker face. Will could probably read every single thought I’d just had.
His eyes darkened in understanding, and he took one step closer, looking me over from head to foot as if inspecting an animal caught in a trap. A gorgeous, deadly smile tugged at his mouth. “What’s the verdict?”
I swallowed thickly, closing my fists around sweaty hands, saying only, “Will?”
He blinked, and then blinked again, stepping back and seeming to remember himself. I could practically see the realizations tick through his mind: this is Jensen’s baby sister . . . she’s seven years younger than I am . . . I made out with Liv . . . this kid is a dork . . . stop thinking with your dick.
He winced slightly, saying, “Right, sorry,” under his breath.
I relaxed, amused by the reaction. Unlike me, Will had an infamous poker face . . . but not here, and apparently not with me. That understanding sent a jolt of confidence through my chest: he might be nearly irresistible and the most naturally sensual man on the planet, but Hanna Bergstrom could handle Will Sumner.
“So,” I said. “Not ready to settle down, then?”
“Definitely not.” His smile pulled up one corner of his mouth and he looked completely destructive. My heart and lady bits would not survive a night with this man.
Good thing that’s not even an option, vagina. Stand down.
We’d circled back around to the beginning of the trail, and Will leaned against a tree. “So why are you diving into the world of the living now?” He tilted his head as he turned the conversation back to me. “I know Jensen and your dad want you to have a more active social life, but come on. You’re a pretty girl, Ziggs. It can’t be that you haven’t had offers.”
I bit my lip for a second, amused that of course Will would assume that, for me, this was about getting laid. The truth was . . . he wasn’t entirely wrong. And there was no judgment in his expression, no weird distance around such a personal topic.
“It’s not that I haven’t dated. It’s that I haven’t dated well,” I said, remembering my most recent, completely bland encounter. “I know it might be hard to tell behind all this smooth charm but I’m not very good in those kinds of situations. Jensen’s told me stories. You managed to get through your doctorate with top honors and what sounds like a whole lot of fun. Here I am, in a lab with people who seem to consider social awkwardness a field of study. Not really that many jumping in the boat, if you know what I mean.”
“You’re young, Ziggs. Why are you worrying about this now?”
“I’m not worried about it, but I’m twenty-four. I have functioning body parts and my mind tends to go to interesting places. I just want to . . . explore. You weren’t thinking about these things when you were my age?”
“Of course you weren’t. You’d lift an eyebrow and panties would hit the floor.”
Will licked his lips, reaching to scratch the back of his neck. “You’re a trip.”
“I’m a scientist, Will. If I’m going to do this I need to learn how men think, get inside their head.” I took a deep breath, watched him carefully before saying, “Teach me. You told my brother you’d help me, so do that.”
“Pretty sure he didn’t mean Hey, show my kid sister the city, make sure she isn’t paying too much for rent, and, by the way, help her get laid.” His dark brows pulled together as something seemed to occur to him. “Are you asking me to set you up with a friend?”
“No. God.” I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to laugh or crawl into a hole and hide for the rest of forever. Despite his DEFCON 5 degree of hotness, what I needed was for him to help me bang the smirk off other men. Maybe then I’d be properly degeeked and socialized. “I want your help to learn . . .” I shrugged and scratched my hair beneath the hat. “How to date. Teach me the rules.”
He blinked away, looking torn. “The ‘rules’? I don’t . . .” He shivered, letting his words fall away as he reached up to scratch his jaw. “I’m not sure I am qualified to help you meet guys.”
“Yeah, and? That was years ago, Ziggs. I don’t think they offered this in the course catalog.”
“And you were in a band,” I continued, ignoring that last part.
Finally, amusement lit up his eyes. “What’s your point?”
“My point is that I went to MIT and played D&D and Magic—”
“My point,” I said, ignoring him, “is that Yale-attending, lacrosse-playing former bass players might have ideas about how to improve the dating pool options of bespectacled, nerdtastic geeks.”
“Are you f**king with me right now?”
Instead of answering, I crossed my arms over my chest and waited patiently. It was the same stance I’d adopted back when I was supposed to be rotating through several labs to help decide what type of research I wanted. But I didn’t want to do lab rotations for my entire first year of graduate school; I wanted to get started on my research with Liemacki, immediately. I’d stood outside his office after explaining why his work was perfectly positioned to move away from viral vaccine research into parasitology, and what I thought I could work on for my thesis. I’d been prepared to stand like that for hours, but after only five minutes he’d relented and, as the chair of the department, made an exception for me.
Will looked off into the distance. I wasn’t sure if he was considering what I was saying, or deciding whether he should just start running and leave me wheezing in his snow-dust.
Finally, he sighed. “Okay, well, rule one of having a broader social life is never call anyone except a cab before the sun is up.”
He studied me, eventually motioning to my outfit. “We’ll run. We’ll go out and do stuff.” He winced, waving vaguely at my body. “I don’t really think you need to do anything but . . . fuck, I don’t know. You’re wearing your brother’s baggy sweatshirt. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that’s pretty standard attire, even when you’re not jogging.” He shrugged. “Though it is kind of cute.”
“I am not dressing like a hoochie.”
“You don’t have to dress like a hoochie.” He straightened, messing up his hair before tucking it beneath his beanie again. “God. You’re a ballbuster. Do you know Chloe and Sara?”
I shook my head. “Are those some girls you’re . . . not dating?”
“Oh, hell no,” he said with a laugh. “They’re the women who have my best friends by the balls. I think they’d be good for you to meet. Swear to God you’ll all probably be best friends at the end of the night.”
“So wait,” Max said, pulling out his chair to sit down. “Is this Jensen’s sister you shagged?”
“No, that’s the other sister, Liv.” I sat across from the Brit and ignored both the amused grin on his face as well as the uncomfortable twist in my stomach. “And I didn’t shag her. We just hooked up a little. The youngest sister is Ziggy. She was only a kid that first time I went home with Jensen for Christmas.”
“I still can’t believe he took you home for Christmas and you made out with his sister in the backyard. I’d kick your ass.” He reconsidered, scratching his chin. “Ah f**k that. I wouldn’t have given a shit.”
I looked at Max, felt a small grin pull at my mouth. “Liv wasn’t there when I came back a few years later for the summer. I behaved myself the second time around.”
All around us, glasses clinked and conversation carried on in a quiet murmur. Tuesday lunch at Le Bernardin had become a routine for our group in the past six months. Max and I were usually the last ones to the table, but apparently the others had been held up in a meeting.
“I suspect you want an award for that,” Max said, studying his menu before closing it with a snap. Truthfully, I’m not sure why he even bothered to open it in the first place. He always got the caviar for his first course, and the monkfish for the main course. I’d recently surmised that Max kept all of his spontaneity for his life with Sara; with food and work, he was a quiet creature of habit.