I shook my head, licked my lips, and looked forward again, too tired to reach out and even touch him. I was struck by the realization that this moment was probably harder than all the tests I’d ever taken in school, every long night in the lab. Science had always come easy for me—I’d studied hard, of course, I’d done the work—but I’d never had to dig this deep and push on when I’d have liked nothing more than to collapse onto the grass and stay there. The Hanna that met Will that day on the icy trail would have never made it thirteen miles. She would have given it a half-assed try, gotten tired and finally, after having rationalized that this wasn’t her strength, gone back to the lab and her books and her empty apartment with prepackaged, single-serving meals.
But not this Hanna, not now. And he helped get me here.
“Almost there,” Will said, still encouraging. “I know it hurts, I know it’s hard, but look,” he pointed to grouping of trees just off in the distance, “you’re almost there.”
I shook the hair from my face and kept going, breathing in and out, wanting him to keep talking but also wanting him to shut the hell up. Blood pumped through my veins, every part of me felt like I’d been plugged into a live wire, shocked with a thousand volts that had slowly seeped out of me and into the pavement with every step.
I’d never been more tired in my life, I’d never been in more pain, but I’d also never felt more alive. It was crazy, but even through limbs that felt like they were on fire, and every breath that seemed harder than the last—I couldn’t wait to do it again. The pain had been worth the fear that I’d fail or be hurt. I’d wanted something, taken the chance, and jumped with both feet.
And with that last thought in mind, I took Will’s hand when we crossed through the finish line together.
Several yards off to the side of the finish line, Hanna walked in small circles, then bent down and cupped her hands over her knees.
“Holy shit,” she gasped, facing the ground. “I feel amazing. That was amazing.”
Volunteers brought us Luna bars and bottles of Gatorade and we gulped them down. I was so f**king proud of her, and I couldn’t hold back from pulling her into a sweaty, breathless hug, kissing the top of her head.
“You were amazing.” I closed my eyes, pressing my face to her hair. “Hanna, I am so proud of you.”
She froze in my arms and then slid her hands to my side, simply bracing there, her face in my neck. I could feel her inhaling and exhaling, could feel her hands shaking against me. For some reason, I didn’t think it was only the adrenaline from the race.
Finally, she whispered, “I think we should go get our things.”
I’d oscillated so wildly between confident and wrecked all week, and now that I was with her, I didn’t particularly want to let her out of my sight. We turned to head back toward the tents; with the race snaking through Central Park, the finish line ended up only a few blocks from where we’d started. I listened to her breathing, watched her feet as she walked. I could tell she was exhausted.
“I’m guessing you’ve heard about Sara,” she said, looking down and fidgeting with her race number. She pulled out the pins, took it off, and looked at it.
“I saw her last night,” she said. “She’s so excited.”
“I saw Max on Tuesday.” I swallowed, feeling so f**king nervous all of a sudden. Beside me, Hanna faltered a little. “I went out with the guys that night. He has the expected look of terror and glee.”
She laughed, and it was genuine, and soft and—fuck—I’d missed it.
“What are you up to after this?” I asked, ducking so she’d look up at me.
And when she did, it was there, the something I knew I hadn’t imagined from the weekend before. I could still feel her sliding over me in the dark guest room, could still hear her quiet whisper-beg, Don’t break me.
It had been the second time she’d said it, and here I’d been the one left broken.
She shrugged and looked away, navigating through the dense crowd as we drew nearer to the starting line tents. Panic started to well in my chest; I wasn’t ready for goodbye yet.
“I was probably going to head home and shower. Get some lunch.” She frowned. “Or stop for lunch on the way home. I’m not sure I have anything edible at my place, actually.”
She gave a guilty wince. “Yeah. I’ve been sort of burying myself in the lab all week. Just . . . good distraction.”
The words came out rushed, pressed together with how out of breath I felt: “I’d really love to hang out, and I have stuff for sandwiches, or salads. You could come over, or . . .” I trailed off when she stopped walking and turned to face me, looking bewildered and then . . . adoring.
Blinking away, I felt my chest squeeze. I tried to tamp down the impossible hope clawing up my throat. “What?” I asked, sounding more annoyed than I meant. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Smiling, she said, “You’re probably the only man I know who keeps his fridge so well stocked.”
I felt my brows pull together in confusion. This had caused her to stop walking and stare at me? Cupping the back of my neck, I mumbled, “I try to keep healthy stuff at home so I don’t go out and eat junk.”
She stepped closer—close enough to feel a loose strand of her hair when the wind blew it across my neck. Close enough to smell the light scent of her sweat, to remember how f**king amazing it felt to make her sweat. I dropped my gaze to her lips, wanting to kiss her so much it made my skin ache.
“I think you’re amazing, Will,” she said, licking her lips under the pressure of my attention. “And stop smoldering at me. There’s only so much I can take from you today.”
Before I could process any of this, she turned and moved toward the women’s tent to retrieve her things. Numbly, I went the opposite way, to get my house keys, my extra socks, and the paperwork I’d bundled in my running jacket. When I emerged, she was waiting for me, holding a small duffel bag.
“So,” I started, struggling to keep my distance. “You’re coming over?”
“I really should shower . . .” she said, looking past me and down the street that led, eventually, to her building.
“You can shower at my place . . .” I didn’t care how I sounded. I wasn’t letting her go. I’d missed her. Nights had been almost unbearable, but strangely, mornings had been the worst. I missed her breathless conversation and how it would eventually fall away into the synchronized rhythm of our feet on pavement.
Her smile faded when she saw I was serious.
“Come over, Hanna. Just for lunch, I promise.”
Lifting her hand to her forehead to block out the sun, she studied my face for a beat longer. “You sure?”
Instead of answering, I tilted my head, turning to walk. She fell into step beside me, and every time our fingers accidentally brushed, I wanted to pull her hand into mine and then pull her to me, pressing her against the nearest tree.
She’d been her old, playful self for those short, euphoric moments, but quiet Hanna reappeared as we walked the dozen or so blocks back to my building. I held the door for her as we stepped inside, slipped past her to push the up button for the elevator, and then stood close enough to feel the press of her arm along mine as we waited. At least three times I could hear her suck in a breath, start to speak, but then she would look at her shoes, at her fingernails, at the doors to the elevator. Anywhere but at my face.
Upstairs, my wide-open kitchen seemed to shrink under the tension between us, caused by the residue from the horrible conversation on Tuesday night, the hundreds of unspoken things from today, the simmering force that was always there. I handed her a blue Powerade because it was her favorite, and poured myself a glass of water, turning to watch her lips, her throat, her hand around the bottle as she took a deep drink.
I love you so much, I didn’t say.
When she put the bottle down on the counter, her expression was full of all the things she wasn’t saying, either. I could tell they were there, but had no idea what those things might be.
As we rehydrated in silence, I couldn’t help but try to covertly check her out. But the secrecy was wasted. I could see her lips curl into a knowing smile when my attention moved over her face, to her chin, and down to the still-glistening skin of her chest, the hint of her br**sts visible beneath her skimpy-ass sports bra—fuck. I’d so far managed to avoid looking directly at her chest, and now it pulled a familiar ache through me. Her chest was my happy place, and I wanted to sit down and press my face there.
I groaned, rubbing my eyes. It had been a terrible idea inviting her up here. I wanted to undress her, still sweaty, and feel the slide of her on top of me.
Just as I was pointing over my shoulder to the bathroom and asked, “Do you want the first shower?” Hanna tilted her head and grinned, asking, “Were you just looking at my chest?”
And because of the ease, the comfort, the f**king intimacy of the question, anger flared in my blood. “Hanna, don’t,” I bit out. “Don’t be the girl who plays head games. Barely a week ago you basically told me to get lost.” I didn’t expect it to come out like that, and in the quiet kitchen, my angry tone bounced around and surrounded us.
She blanched, looking devastated. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Fuck,” I groaned, squeezing my eyes closed. “Don’t be sorry just don’t . . .” I opened my eyes to look at her. “Don’t play games with me.”
“I’m not trying to,” she said, quiet urgency making her voice thin and hoarse. “I’m sorry I disappeared last week. I’m sorry I acted so horribly. I thought . . .”
I pulled out a kitchen stool, sinking down onto it. Running a half marathon didn’t exhaust me as much as all of this did. My love for her was a heavy, pulsing, living thing, and it made me feel crazy, and anxious, and famished. I hated seeing her stressed and scared. I hated seeing her upset at my anger, but even worse was the knowledge that she had the power to break my heart and had very little experience being careful about it. I was completely at her fumbling, inexperienced mercy.
My chest tightened. “I miss you so much, Hanna. You have no idea. But I heard what you said on Tuesday. If you don’t want this, then we have to find a way to be friends again. Asking me if I’m checking out your chest doesn’t help us move past all of this.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, again. “Will . . .” she started and then the words fell away and she blinked down to her shoes.
I needed to understand what had happened, why everything had crumbled so abruptly after we’d made wildly intimate love only one week ago.
“That night,” I started, and then reconsidered. “No, Hanna, every night—it was always intense like that with us—but that night last weekend . . . I thought it all kind of changed. We changed. Then the next day? And the drive back? Fuck, I don’t even know what happened.”
She moved closer, close enough for me to pull her by her h*ps to stand between my legs, but I didn’t, and her hands fumbled at her sides before falling still.
“What happened was I heard what you said to Jensen,” she said. “I knew there were other women in your life, but I kind of thought that you had ended things with them. I know I’d avoided talking about it, and that it wasn’t fair of me to want that, but I thought you had.”
“I hadn’t ‘officially’ ended things, Hanna, but no one has been in my bed since you pulled me down that damn hall and asked to touch me. Fuck, not even before then.”
“But how was I supposed to know that?” She dropped her head, stared at the floor. “And hearing what you said to Jensen might have been okay—I knew we needed to talk—but then I saw the text in the car. It popped up when I was picking out music.” She stepped closer, pressing her thighs to my knees. “We’d had unprotected sex the night before, but then I saw her message, and it seemed like . . . like you were trying to hook up with her right after. I realized that Kitty still expected to be able to be with you, and I’d been trying—”
“I did not have sex with her on Tuesday, Hanna,” I interrupted, my blood racing with panic. “Yes, I texted her asking if we could meet, but it was so I could let her know things were over between us. It wasn’t like—”
“I know,” she said, quietly cutting me off. “She told me today that you haven’t been with her in a long time.”
I let this sink in for a minute and then sighed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what Kitty had told Hanna, but in the end, it didn’t matter. I didn’t have anything to hide. Yes, as someone who values being up front with people, I should have ended things cleanly with Kitty as soon as I told Hanna I wanted more, but I’d never lied to either of them, not once. I hadn’t lied when I told Kitty so many months ago that I didn’t want to dive into anything deeper. And I hadn’t lied to Hanna only a month ago when I told her I wanted more, and only from her.
“I was just trying to stick to your rules. I wasn’t going to bring up the relationship thing again because you’d determined I was incapable of it in the first place.”