My heart still racing, I bent down, pressing two fingers inside her and sliding my tongue over her pu**y as she let her eyes fall closed. Her hands went in my hair, her h*ps rocked up to my mouth, and within only seconds, she started to come, lips parted in a silent cry. Beneath my touch, she shook, h*ps rising from the bed, fingers pulling my hair tight.
As her orgasm subsided, I continued slowly moving my fingers inside her, but kissed a gentle path from her clit, to her inner thigh, to her hip. Finally, I rested my forehead against her navel, still struggling to catch my breath.
“Oh God,” she whispered once her hands had eased their grip on my hair, and she slid them up and over her breasts. “You make me feel crazy.”
I pulled my fingers from her and reached to kiss the back of her hand, inhaling the scent of her skin. “I know.”
Hanna remained still on the bed for a quiet minute and then opened her eyes, gazing up at me as if she’d just come back to her senses. “Whoa. That was close.”
Laughing, I agreed, “Very close. We should probably get changed and head downstairs.” I nodded to her skirt. “Sorry about that.”
“Hanna,” I said, stifling a frustrated laugh. “You can’t go downstairs with a giant jizz stain on your skirt.”
She considered this and gave me a goofy smile. “You’re right. I just . . . I kind of like it there.”
She sat up straight as I pulled my pants up, and she kissed my stomach through my shirt. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, holding her to me, and just reveling in the feel of her.
I was so lost in love with this girl.
After a few seconds, the sun passed behind a cloud outside, dimming everything a little, beautifully, and her voice rose out of the quiet: “Have you ever been in love?”
I stilled, wondering if I’d said it out loud. But when I looked down at her, she was only glancing up in open curiosity, eyes calm. If any other woman had said this to me after we just had a quickie, I would have felt the hot flush of panic and the itching need to extract myself from the situation immediately.
But with Hanna, the question seemed somehow appropriate for the moment, especially given how reckless we’d just been. In the past several years I’d grown, if anything, overly cautious about when and where I had sex, and—Jensen’s wedding aside—rarely put myself in situations that would ever require a quick exit or explaining. But lately, being with Hanna made me feel slightly panicked, as if there were a limited number of times I would be able to feel her like this. The thought of having to give her up made me nauseous.
There were only two other lovers in my life for whom I’d ever felt something deeper than fondness, but I’d never told a woman I loved her before. It was weird, and at thirty-one I knew this omission made me weird, but I’d never felt the weight of that strangeness until just this moment.
I grew hyperaware of every blasé comment I’d made to Max and Bennett about love, and commitment. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in them; I just had never been able to relate, exactly. Love was always something I’d find at some vague point in the future, when I was somehow more settled or less adventurous. The image of me as a player was very much like the deposit of minerals on glass over time; I hadn’t bothered to care it was forming until it was hard to see past it.
I shook my head. “I’ve never said ‘I love you’ before, if that’s what you mean.”
Though Hanna would have no way of knowing I said it to her, silently, nearly every time we touched.
“But have you ever felt it?”
She shrugged, and then nodded to the door to the Jack-and-Jill bathroom that I was pretty sure adjoined Eric’s bedroom. “I’m going to go clean up.”
I nodded, closing my eyes, and slumping down after she left. I thanked every lucky power in the universe that Jensen hadn’t just walked in. That would have been a disaster. Unless we wanted her family to know what was happening—and I was pretty sure that since Hanna still wanted this to remain friends-with-benefits—we would have to be way more careful.
I checked my work email, sent a couple texts, and then pulled myself together in the bathroom, with some soap, water, and vigorous scrubbing. Hanna met me in the living room, wearing a bashful smile.
“I am so sorry,” she said softly. “I don’t know what got into me.” She blinked, putting a hand to my mouth just as I started to crack the obvious joke. “Don’t say it.”
Laughing, I looked behind her into the kitchen, making sure no one was close enough to hear. “That was awesome. But holy shit it could have gone very wrong.”
She looked embarrassed, and I smiled at her, making a goofy face. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a little ceramic Jesus statue on an end table. I picked it up, holding it between Hanna’s breasts. “Hey! Look! I found Jesus in your cl**vage after all!”
She looked down, cracking up and started to shimmy a little, as if letting Jesus enjoy this most perfect of locations. “Jesus in my cleavage! Jesus in my cleavage!”
When I heard Jensen’s voice for the second time today, my arm flailed, hand flying away from the vicinity of Hanna’s tits. Feeling as if I were watching it happen in slow motion and somewhere outside my own body, I flung the Jesus statue as quickly as I could, only realizing what I’d done when it landed on the hardwood floor several feet away from me, bouncing and exploding into a million little ceramic pieces.
“Oh, shiiiiiiit,” I groaned, running over to the massacre. I kneeled down, trying to pick up the biggest shards. It was a worthless effort. Some of the pieces were so small they could be characterized as dust.
Hanna bent over, wheezing in laughter. “Will! You broke Jesus!”
“What were you doing?” Jensen asked, kneeling to help me.
Hanna left the room to get a broom, leaving me alone with the person who had witnessed much of my early-twenties bad behavior. I shrugged at Jensen, trying to not look like I’d just been playing with his little sister’s breasts. “I was just looking at it. I mean, at the statue, and seeing what it was. And looking at the shape—of Jesus, I mean.”
I ran a hand over my face and realized I was sweating a little. “I don’t even know, Jens. You just startled me.”
“Why are you so jumpy?” He laughed.
“Maybe the drive? It’s been a while since I was behind the wheel.” I shrugged, still unable to look at him for very long.
With a pat to my back, Jensen said, “I think you need a beer.”
Hanna returned, and shooed us away so she could sweep the shards into a dustpan, but not before giving me a conspiratorial holy shit look. “I told Mom you broke this and she couldn’t even remember which of her aunts gave it to her. I think you’re fine.”
I groaned, following her into the kitchen and apologizing to Helena with a kiss on her cheek. She handed me a beer and told me to relax.
At some point when I’d been upstairs f**king Hanna, or maybe when I’d been madly washing her scent off my dick and my fingers and my face, her father had arrived home. Jesus Christ. With some clarity away from na**d Hanna and a closed bedroom door, I realized how insane we had been. What the f**k were we thinking?
Looking up from where he’d been digging in the fridge for a beer, Johan came over to greet me with his own brand of warmth and awkwardness. He was good at eye contact, bad with words. It usually meant that he ended up staring at people while they scrambled to come up with things to say.
“Hi,” I said, returning his handshake and letting him pull me into a hug. “Sorry about Jesus.”
He stepped back, smiled, and said, “Nah,” and then paused, seemed to reconsider something. “Unless you’ve suddenly become religious?”
“Johan,” Helena called, breaking our moment. I could have kissed her. “Honey, can you check the roast? The beans and bread are done.”
Johan walked to the oven, pulling a meat thermometer out of the drawer. I felt Hanna step beside me, heard her clink her water glass to my beer bottle.
“Cheers,” she said with an easy smile. “Hungry?”
“Don’t just stick the tip in, Johan,” Helena called out to him. “Shove it all the way in there.”
I coughed, feeling the burn of beer as it almost came out my nose. Cupping my hand over my mouth, I urged my throat to open, to allow me to swallow. Jensen stepped behind me, slapping my back and wearing a knowing grin. Liv and Rob were already sitting at the kitchen table, bent over in silent laughter.
“Holy shit, this is going to be a long night,” Hanna mumbled.
Conversation looped around the table at dinner, breaking into smaller groups and then returning to include everyone. Partway through the meal, Niels arrived. Whereas Jensen was outgoing and one of my oldest friends, and Eric—only two years older than Hanna—was the wild child in the family, Niels was the middle child, the quiet brother, and the one I never really knew. At twenty-eight, he was an engineer with a prominent energy firm, and almost a carbon copy of his father, minus the eye contact and smiles.
But tonight, he surprised me: he bent to kiss Hanna before he sat down, and whispered, “You look amazing, Ziggs.”
“You really do,” Jensen said, pointing a fork at her. “What’s different?”
I studied her from across the table, trying to see what they saw and feeling mysteriously irked at the suggestion. To me, she looked as she always had: comfortable in her skin, easy. Not fussy with clothes, or hair or makeup. But didn’t need to be. She was beautiful when she woke up in the morning. She was radiant after a run. She was perfect when she was beneath me, sweaty and postcoital.
“Um,” she said, shrugging and spearing a green bean with her fork. “I don’t know.”
Helena finished a bite and then said, “No, it’s her hair.”
“Maybe Hanna’s just happy,” I offered, looking down at my plate as I cut a bite of roast. The table went completely still and I looked up, nervous when I saw the collection of wide eyes staring back at me. “What?”
Only then did I realize I’d called her by her given name, not Ziggy.
She covered smoothly, saying, “I’m running every day, so yes, I’m a little thinner. I did get my hair cut. But it’s more. I’m enjoying my job. I have friends. Will’s right—I am happy.” She looked over at Jensen and gave him a cheeky little grin. “Turns out, you were right. Can we stop examining me now?”
Jensen beamed at her and the rest of the family all mumbled some variation of “Good,” and returned to their food, quieter now. I could feel Liv’s smile aimed at my face, and when I looked up from my plate, she winked.
The silence grew, and I felt silently inspected. I’d been caught. It didn’t help that Jesus’ tiny decapitated porcelain head was watching me from the sideboard, judging. He knew. Ziggy was a nickname as ingrained in this family as their father’s crazy work hours, or Jensen’s tendency to be overprotective. I hadn’t even known Hanna’s given name when I’d gone running with her nearly two months ago. But f**k it. The only thing I could do was embrace it. I had to say it again.
“Did you know that Hanna has a paper coming out in Cell?” I hadn’t been particularly smooth; her name came out louder than any other word but I went with it, smiling around the table.
Johan looked up, eyes widening. Turning to Hanna, he asked, “Really, s?tnos?”
Hanna nodded. “It’s on the epitope mapping project I was telling you about. It was just this random thing we did but it turned into something cool.”
This seemed to steer the conversation into less awkward territory, and I let go of the little extra breath I’d been holding in. It was possible that the only thing more stressful than meeting the parents was hiding everything from the family. I caught Jensen watching me with a little smile, but simply returned it, and looked back down at my plate.
Nothing to see here. Keep moving along.
But during a break in the chatter, I found Hanna’s eyes lingering on me, and they were surprised and thoughtful. “You,” she mouthed.
She shook her head slowly, finally breaking eye contact to look down at her plate. I wanted to reach under the table with my leg, slide my foot over hers to get her to look back at me, but it was like a minefield of non-Hanna legs under there, and the conversation had already moved on.
After dinner, she and I volunteered to wash the dishes while the others retired to the family room with a cocktail. She snapped me with her dish towel and I flung soap suds at her. I was on the verge of leaning close and sucking on her neck when Niels came in to get another beer and looked at us both as if we had traded clothes.
“What are you doing?” he asked, suspicion heavy in his voice.
“Nothing,” we answered in unison, and—making it worse—Hanna repeated, “Nothing. Just dishes.”
He hesitated for a second before tossing his bottle cap in the trash and heading back to the others.
“That’s twice today we’ve almost been busted,” she whispered.