Eventually, his phone fell to the blanket and his hands went into my hair, guiding me, keeping me slow. My mouth was moving so slow across him I couldn’t imagine he would come like this, long pulls back and then slowly taking him in again. But he didn’t let me speed up, and his eyes grew darker, and hungrier, and finally he swelled in me.

I hummed, watching his face flush and his mouth open a little as he stared at my mouth on him. The sounds he made when he came were deep, and hoarse, and mixed nonsense with the filthiest words I’d ever heard. I swallowed quickly, focusing on the dazed expression on his face.

“Fuck,” he groaned, smiling. He reached down, pulled me up to his chest.

The sky above had started to darken. It turned pink, and then lavender, and we stared up at the lacy layer of clouds. His skin was warm, and smooth, and I turned my face into it, inhaling.

“I like the deodorant you use.”

I kissed his shoulder, and hesitated, afraid to ruin the moment. But I had to. “You took a picture of my face.”

I felt more than heard his laugh. “I know. I’ll delete it now. I just want to look at it a couple of times.” He dropped a heavy arm to the blanket and blindly searched for his phone beside him. It was under my hip, and I pulled it up, handing it to him.

Together we flipped through the pictures. My hands on my shirt, on his chest. My breasts, my neck. We paused at the picture of my hands unbuttoning his jeans, pulling him out. When we got to one of my thumb sweeping over the head of his cock, he rolled over onto me, hard again.

“No, wait,” I said, the words dying inside his mouth as he kissed me. “Delete the face ones, Max.”

With a groan, he rolled back over and showed them to me. I couldn’t deny they were some of the most sensual things I’d seen: my teeth bared against his hip, my tongue touching the tip of his cock, and, finally, my mouth spread around him while I stared directly into the camera. My eyes had grown so dark it was clear I would suck him as long as I could. With a photo like that, I would remain in that position forever.

He clicked the delete button, confirmed the request, and then it was gone.

“That was the hottest thing I’d ever seen,” he said, rolling over onto me again and kissing my neck. “I really despise that no-faces rule.”

I didn’t say anything. Instead, I pushed his pants the rest of the way down his legs, then he shoved my shorts off and pulled my legs around his hips.

“Actually,” he started, pulling back just enough to look me in the eye, “I was hoping we could move past the condom rule.”

“I have this.” He pulled a paper out from under the blanket. Ah, the ever-romantic test results. “I haven’t gone bare since high school,” he explained. “I’m not f**king anyone else and I want to be bare with you.”

“How do you know I’m on birth control?”

“Because I saw the pills in your purse at the library.” He shifted back, positioning himself to press against me, and rocked his hips. “Is this okay?”

I nodded, but asked, “Aren’t you worried about my history?”

He smiled, kissed along my shoulder, and ran a hand up and over my breast. “Tell me.”

I swallowed, breaking eye contact and looking to the side. He put a finger on my chin, turning my face back to his. “I’ve had one other lover,” I admitted.

Max’s eyes stopped smiling. “You’ve been with one other person?”

“But he f**ked everyone else in Chicago while we were together.”

He let out a quiet curse. “Sara . . .”

“So, if you consider that I’ve been with everyone he was with, then I’ve been with far more than one.” I tried to smile to take the sharpness out of my words.

“Yes.” I shifted my h*ps up against his, wanting this more than I realized. Andy had started using condoms halfway through our relationship; that alone should have clued me in somehow. At the time it felt depressingly distancing, although he told me it was to be sure we didn’t have kids before we were ready. Now I realized he afforded me at least that one courtesy.

But Max was doing it all backward. Distance at first, and then careening headlong into this strange monogamy we had.

Crap, Sara. That’s how most people do it.

I tugged at his hips, lifted to suck at his neck.

“Okay then.” Max moved back, reached between us, and slid inside with a low groan. Slowly, slowly, slowly he filled me. And then he covered my body with his, kissed his way up my neck, and pressed his lips against mine.

“Fucking brilliant,” he whispered. “Christ, there’s nothing like this.”

A strange desperation took over me. I had never felt his weight on me so fully, felt every bit of his bare skin, and it was a completely different type of possession. His shoulders were so broad, every muscle bunched and defined under my hands. Inside and over me, Max felt like his own planet.

He continued to kiss me as he moved, starting so slow, letting me feel every inch. “Someone could look over here. See you beneath me, thighs spread, your bare feet on my legs.” He lifted himself on his elbows, looked down at my breasts. “Think they’d like to see these.”

I closed my eyes and arched my back so he could get a better look. God, there was such a strange safety with Max. He never made it seem weird, or wrong that I liked the idea of people watching us. It was as if he loved it just as much as I did, wanted to get caught, too.

“Think you want someone to watch you get f**ked sometime?” he asked, speeding up a little.

My honesty tumbled forward, breathless: “I like the idea of people seeing you like this with me.”

“I don’t know that I wanted this before I met you.”

He fell over me, heavy and warm. “I’d give you anything you wanted. I love how you transform when I’m f**king you and watching. When I’m taking pictures, you lose your mysterious little shield and open up, like you’re finally breathing.”

I stretched under him, pulling him as close as I could, and looked up at the dark sky just as the first firework shot out over the river. The sound followed the light, and a deep boom shook the roof below my back.

More fireworks exploded in a flurry—stars and flames and lights so brilliant and close that it felt like the sky was on fire. The building under me vibrated, shaking my bones and ripping through my chest.

“Holy fuck,” he said laughing, and moved harder, jerking roughly, growing close. I knew his tells already so well. He was barely hanging on. The sound was almost deafening so near to the river, and the air grew heavy with sulfur, smoke, and light. He reached near my head, raised himself up on his knees, and pounded into me, snapping a picture of where we came together as the lights shone red and blue and green on my skin.

I took a deep breath and fell to pieces, crying out sharply, but my sound was lost in the thundering all around us.

Max drew a blanket from a pile and wrapped it around us both, perhaps less because it was cold and more because we were no longer performing for our imagined audience. We were simply sipping beer, holding hands, watching the fireworks.

“You said you haven’t made a commitment in a while, but is it weird to be monogamous with a sex buddy?” I asked, turning to watch his face.

He laughed and tilted his beer bottle to his lips. “No. I’m not such a wanker that I can’t be with one person if that’s what she wants.”

“ ‘What she wants’? You’d be okay if I was with other men?”

He shook his head and looked back to the river, where the smoke was just now starting to clear. “Don’t think so, actually.” He lifted his beer again, emptied it. “We didn’t use a condom tonight, if you recall. Couldn’t do that if you were with other men.”

He reached over to grab another beer and the blanket fell off his shoulders, revealing his bare back, each muscle tightly defined. I leaned forward and kissed my way up from the middle of his spine to his neck. “When was the last time you had a girlfriend? Was Cecily a girlfriend?”

“Not really.” He moved back beside me and cuddled under the blanket. “I’ve dated a couple of women exclusively since I moved here. But it’s been forever since I loved someone, if that’s what you mean.”

“I had a serious girlfriend at uni for a bit. She went off with a mate of mine. Married him, actually. I was right pissed off at women for a bit after that. Now I just realize relationships are a lot of work, and energy, and time.” He took a sip, swallowed. “And I haven’t had a lot of that, trying to get the company up and running. I’m not opposed to the idea of having someone, but it’s hard to find a good fit in this city, strange as that sounds in a place with like eight million people.”

I felt absolutely nothing when he said this, no pang of hope that it would be me, no worry that Max was hoping to find someone else. For someone like me, who had, if anything, always felt more rather than less, it was jarring. The eeriest hollow sensation bloomed in my chest.

“I should probably go,” I said, stretching and letting the blanket fall away.

Max looked over my na**d body before meeting my eyes. “Why’re you always in such a hurry to leave?”

“Not even on holidays? I could use a morning shag. We can use Mum’s guest room.”

“I would but he always insists on being big spoon. It’s awkward.” He paused. “Wait. You think Will is cute?”

I laughed, taking a final sip of beer and reaching for my clothes. “Yes, but you’re more my type.”

I looked over at him and laughed. “I was going to say you have the perfectly filthy mouth.”

His eyes darkened and he leaned to kiss me. “Stay over. Please, Petal. I want to f**k you in the morning when you’re all sleep-rumpled and drowsy.”

He stared at me for a long beat and then looked away, raising his bottle to his lips, mumbling, “He really did a number on you,” around it.

I felt my smile fade. “It’s better when you don’t try to find meaning in a woman who wants sex to just be sex. Yes, Andy did a number on me but that isn’t why I don’t want to stay over.”

I looked at him for a moment before remembering to pull my smile back in place. “I can’t wait to see what you come up with next week.”

By the time I made it home, the high of being with Max had fizzled into a strange ache beneath my ribs. I tossed my keys and bag to the table in the hall and leaned back against the wall, looking into the inky darkness of my living room. My place was small but in the few short months I’d been in New York it had come to feel more like home to me than had the palatial home I’d shared with Andy for almost five years.

But tonight, with the echo of music and sparklers bouncing off the buildings, and the sound of laughter and celebrations shouted from the sidewalks outside, my tiny space felt lonely for the first time since I’d arrived.

Without turning on any lights, I stripped as I made my way to the bathroom and stepped into the cramped shower. I stood under the hot spray and closed my eyes, hoping the sound of water would drown out the noise in my head.

It didn’t work. My muscles were tense and sore and the subtle ache between my legs made it almost impossible for my thoughts to not continually circle back to Max.

I’d never been the type of girl to obsess over a man before, but that was definitely what seemed to be happening. Max wasn’t only gorgeous, he was nice. And I knew it was the sex that made us truly compatible. I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around my newfound obsession with being watched by him—maybe even also by others—but that need pushed up like steam beneath my skin: warm, and exciting, and impossible to ignore.

And Max seemed to accept it, embrace it even, as easily as he did everything else.

Where my relationship with Andy had been only for public display, Max seemed to have tapped into my unfamiliar desire to be watched while respecting my need for privacy. For as much as Max was the playboy and seemed to be wrong for me in every possible way, he was letting me experience something I never would have felt safe enough to try with Andy. Was it really that simple? Was I keeping Max at arm’s length because it was the opposite of everything I had with Andy? My relationship with Andy had false depth and lacked any spark. My relationship with Max was intentionally simple, and even seeing him from a distance made it feel like a torch ignited in my chest.

I turned off the water, suddenly too warm. For a beat, I regretted not still being with Max. I’d squandered the chance to touch his skin, taste his sounds, and feel his weight over me all night long.

But when I walked into my bedroom and studied my reflection in the mirror on my closet door, I looked suddenly unfamiliar to myself. I stood straighter, blinked less, watched more. Even I could see there was some wisdom in my eyes that hadn’t been there before.

“I still don’t understand why you’re coming with me today.”

I bit back a smile as I met Will’s annoyed expression in the mirrored doors of the elevator, ignoring the curious glances we’d earned from some of the other passengers around us. He hit the button for the eighteenth floor.