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Jumping In

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Benson leaned her head back against the edge of the hot tub and closed her eyes, releasing a slow breath in an effort to tamp down her irritation. The couple sitting across from her was pleasant enough, but they were drunk and overly affectionate, and they hadn’t seemed to have any qualms about interrupting her quiet moment alone.

She didn’t really want to climb out and leave; she’d only been in the hot tub for a few minutes, and the heat was just beginning to loosen the knots of tension in her body. She didn’t think there was much chance of them leaving any time soon when they’d barely arrived, though. She supposed she should just give up and head back to her room. She could take a hot bubble bath in privacy.


She opened her eyes and turned her head. Her gaze landed on bare calves and climbed upward, over the white hotel bathrobe, finally reaching Barba’s face. He smiled crookedly. His hands were in the pockets of the robe as he stood looking down at her. His face had a day’s worth of graying stubble; when they’d met up before the conference that morning, he’d been freshly shaved, dressed in a tailored suit, full of sharpness and swagger.

Now, more than a dozen hours later, all of his angles were softened and his swagger had been replaced by something resembling shyness, and she felt a familiar flutter in her stomach as their gazes held.

“Hey,” she answered, smiling.

“May I?” he asked, gesturing toward the water.

“Please,” she said. “But I thought you didn’t have shorts?”

He gave her a look that made her smile widen. “I went to the gift shop. Don’t laugh.”

She shook her head. He rolled his eyes and undid the loop of the robe’s belt with a flick of his hand. He seemed to hesitate for a moment before shrugging out of the robe, but then he was tossing it into the chair where she’d left hers. She glanced downward: the swim trunks were blue and covered with pink flamingoes. She returned her gaze to his, refusing to let her eyes linger on his stomach or the curls of dark hair on his chest or the naked expanse of his shoulders.

“Flamingoes,” she said as he stepped into the water.

“It was these or a Speedo,” he answered, wincing at the bite of hot water as he sank down onto the seat beside her. “I made a judgement call.”

She laughed quietly. “Changed your mind about turning in early?” They’d had dinner after the last lecture of the day, and she’d asked if he wanted to hit the pool. He’d declined with what appeared to be real regret, claiming he didn’t have swimwear and that he was going to head to bed early.

He looked at her. “Yes,” he said. The answer was simple, but the look in his eyes was not. His face was already flushed from the heat, and she was hit by a sudden rush of desire that momentarily stole her breath.

“Hello,” the other man in the hot tub said, drawing their attention. “Dave,” he said, holding out a hand. “This is Candy.”

Barba put his hand on the edge of the hot tub to brace himself as he reached across the steamy water to shake Dave’s hand. “Rafael,” he answered. “Olivia,” he added with a small dip of his head toward Benson, and when he settled back onto the ledge, she could tell by the twitch of his lips that he was amused by the superficial misogyny.

As he sank back, he left his elbow bent on the edge of the tub between them, and his wrist brushed her bare shoulder. She wondered what he would do if she leaned into the touch. “Where are you two from?” she asked the couple to distract herself from inappropriate thoughts.

Dave and Candy smiled at each other. “Phoenix,” he answered. “We’re on our honeymoon.”

“Congratulations,” Benson and Barba said in unison, and she glanced at him as the corners of his eyes crinkled in amusement. He seemed to be in a good mood all of a sudden. Maybe he’d raided the minibar after the wine they’d had with dinner. But, no. He didn’t smell like liquor.

“Where are you from?” Candy asked, but it was clear that the question was just a formality. She barely took her eyes from her new husband and was obviously eager to resume their make-out session.

“Manhattan,” Benson answered.

“I’ve always wanted to go to New York,” Candy said with the briefest of glances toward the lieutenant.

“Ah, we will, baby,” Dave said. “Promise.” A moment later they were kissing again, and Benson looked away. She caught Barba’s twinkling gaze and gave her head a shake, smiling.

His wrist touched her shoulder again, and his curled fingers brushed lightly against her upper arm. He bent his head toward her, and her heart stumbled before breaking into a gallop in her chest. He leaned closer. The weight of his forearm pressed against her bare shoulder for a moment, and his breath fanned her ear as he murmured: “The hormones and confidence of youth.”

Her lips curved into a smile but she couldn’t stop the small shiver that passed through her. He drew back a bit to look at her face, and when their stares locked, she couldn’t breathe. He shifted slightly and his knee touched hers beneath the water. She was suddenly acutely aware of how little clothing they were wearing, and how intimately the swirling water was caressing their bodies.

His eyes dropped to her mouth.

She looked past him, searching for a distraction—not because she didn’t want him to kiss her, but because she did. Her gaze landed on a couple in the hallway, visible through the windows as they headed toward the elevator. Their arms were looped together, their bodies pressed close together.

She nudged her knuckles against Barba’s thigh and gestured with a small tilt of her chin, and he turned his head to look into the hall. “That’s not Mrs. Alvarez,” she said quietly.

“Hmm,” Barba answered. His wrist was on her shoulder, and she took a moment, while his attention was diverted, to study his profile: the sharp slope of his nose, the rough stubble that softened the edge of his jaw, the streaks of gray in his sweat- and steam-dampened hair, the shine of light playing in his color-changing eye. “Guess all those regrets about her being unable to make the trip were—” He turned his head and their eyes locked, and he broke off abruptly. They seemed to realize at the same moment that his fingers were resting against her skin mere inches above the swell of her breasts, and her fingers were on his thigh beneath the water.

“We probably shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” she muttered. She saw his lips tilt upward and realized she was staring at his mouth. She dragged her eyes up to his.

“Once a detective, always a detective, right?” he said. “Then again, some things are pretty obvious.”

“Yeah. A rich, powerful man taking the excuse of an out-of-town conference to cheat on his wife—I’m probably just a cynic.”

“Men are assholes,” he said, grinning when she smiled and rolled her eyes. “Present company excluded, of course,” he added, casting a quick look at Dave, but Dave and Candy were oblivious. Barba chuckled softly.

“Definitely excluded,” Benson said, and his eyes once more found hers. She shifted, and her arm brushed his stomach. When had he gotten so close? The scent of his cologne seemed to be strengthened by the steam, overpowering even the smell of chlorine from the nearby pool. “So…how’s your mother doing?” she asked, desperate to find something to talk about to keep herself from kissing him.

His eyebrows went up, and a smile played across his lips. “My mother?” he asked.

“I haven’t seen her in a while.”

“She’s good,” he answered. “I’m sure she’d love to see you, check up on me. You can tell each other all about my annoying habits. I could take you both out to lunch?”

“Your annoying habits? How long a lunch?” she joked, and he laughed. She put her palm on his leg without thinking about it. “Kidding, of course. I’d never tattle to your mother. But lunch sounds nice.”

He nodded. He looked past her toward the pool and straightened his arm behind her back so his hand was over her other shoulder, and he gestured with his chin. When she turned to look, he pointed and said, “That kid looks like Noah in a few years, no?”

“He does,” she agreed, watching as the boy jumped off the edge into the deep end of the pool. There was only one family—parents and three kids—in the pool. Barba’s arm was resting behind her shoulders, barely touching her. “Noah’s curls are getting out of control, he needs a haircut.”

“My hair gets curlier when it grows out,” he said. She looked at him, surprised. Her shoulder brushed the side of his chest as she turned. God, he was close. It would be so easy to lean forward and kiss him. “Not like his, but still curlier,” he said with a smile. “You can probably see a bit of it now, actually, from the steam.”

She looked up at his hair. It was curling a bit at the tips. “I really like the gray,” she said. “In case I’ve never said so.”

He snorted softly. “It’s never come up, no,” he remarked, sounding amused. He indicated her hair with a brief bob of his head, and said, “I like the bangs.”

She smiled. “They cover my forehead wrinkles,” she joked.

“Please,” he answered, “you have better skin than most twenty year olds.”

“There’s a Jeffrey Dahmer joke in there, somewhere,” she said, hoping the heat of the hot tub would cover the flush of pleasure in her cheeks.

“Hey, so—” he started, but Dave and Candy suddenly rose to their feet, giggling, and Benson and Barba both looked over at the couple in surprise. Benson had nearly forgotten they were there.

“Have a good night,” Candy said over her shoulder as Dave helped her step out of the tub.

“Goodnight,” Benson said, turning her eyes away from the noticeable erection straining at the front of Dave’s shorts as he stepped up after her.

Barba cleared his throat and, as soon as the couple reached the glass door leading into the hallway, muttered, “He should’ve taken a dip in the pool.”

Benson laughed. “I don’t think it would’ve helped. Besides, I have a feeling the problem will be taken care of soon enough.”

“They are newlyweds,” he agreed.

“You were going to say something?” she prompted after a moment. He moved his leg and she realized she still had her hand on his thigh. She wondered how he would react if she casually slid it a little higher, but she didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. Maybe I should just ask him, she thought. She almost laughed at the thought, but: we’re both adults. We could talk about it. I know he feels it, too.

“What? Oh. Yeah—” He stopped again as they realized that the family from the pool was leaving; they’d gathered up their towels and robes and toys and were making their way to the door. In a matter of moments, near-silence descended on the room, the quiet broken only by the swirl of hot tub jets. Barba cleared his throat again and shifted, his arm rubbing briefly against her back. “Breakfast,” he said. “I was going to ask about breakfast, before our flight back to the city. There’s a place across the street—”

“Okay,” she said. She knew she sounded too eager, but her stomach was suddenly full of nervous flutters. Their closeness, their bare skin brushing bare skin, had been one thing while they’d been in the presence of other people. Now the intimacy of their positions seemed to have multiplied, and she wasn’t sure how to react. She wanted him. She knew he would never make a first move, not without explicit encouragement from her, and she wasn’t sure she had the courage to take the step herself.

“Okay,” he echoed. After a moment he withdrew his arm from behind her back. The motion seemed reluctant, and she felt a pang when it was gone. She pulled her hand from his thigh. “I can stop by your room around, say, seven?” he suggested, and she nodded. He regarded her in silence for a few seconds. She knew what he was looking for, but she wasn’t sure she could give it to him. She wanted him, yes, but she wanted all of him, not a night of incredible—and she had no doubt that it would be—sex that they would never mention again.

She couldn’t ask him for more, and she didn’t think she could settle for less.

“I should probably head up to my room,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s getting late,” she agreed, even though it was barely past nine.

He turned his head to look around the room as he slid away from her, putting distance between their flushed bodies. “I’m going to…take a few laps in the pool, I think.”

He should’ve taken a dip in the pool, she thought. “Yeah?” she asked, suddenly grinning.

He looked back at her, his eyes narrowing. “Yes,” he said. He was amused, but also embarrassed, and she chose not to make it worse for him. She didn’t comment when he pointedly kept his back to her while he climbed out and retrieved his robe, or when he held the bathrobe in front of himself as he offered a hand to help her out.

She stepped up to stand beside him. She was self-conscious as hot water sluiced off her body, making the swimsuit cling to her skin, but he didn’t look down. He released her hand and turned away, heading toward the pool. She followed slowly, grabbing her own robe on the way and slipping it on over her wet suit.

He dropped his bathrobe at the edge of the pool and she watched as he braced himself for the shock of cold water. She could see him gathering his resolve. She might’ve expected him to slip in gradually, but he took a deep breath and dove. His form was beautiful and surprisingly perfect, and he went into the water with barely a splash. He came up on the far side spluttering for air, though, grabbing the edge of the pool as he swiped a hand over his face.

Jesus, that’s cold,” he gasped, and she couldn’t help but laugh.

“That was the point, right?” she teased before she could stop herself.

He cocked an eyebrow. “Would you like to come in?” he asked.

Yes, she thought, but she swallowed nervously. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she admitted.

“No?” She could see the disappointment that he tried to hide. “You’re probably right.” He smiled. “You usually are,” he added in an attempt to lighten the mood.

It wouldn’t have to be one night, she thought, looking at him across the pool. Not with him. All you have to do is ask, he’ll say yes. You know he’ll say yes. She wanted to believe that, but she couldn’t ask. She couldn’t risk their friendship, it meant too much to her—to both of them.

“I think I’ll head up to my room, unless you want me to wait for you?” she said, cursing herself as a coward.

He smiled. “No, that’s alright. I’ll be a minute behind you.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” he answered. He tipped his head. She wished he weren’t so far away. “Goodnight, Liv. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Okay.” She hesitated. He’d come down to the pool room because she’d invited him. She felt like an ass leaving him there alone, but riding up in the elevator together would probably make things more awkward. “Goodnight, Rafa,” she finally answered, cinching her robe closed over her swimsuit as she turned away.


*       *       *


Calm down. It’s Rafael.

He opened the door in the same white bathrobe, and she couldn’t help but wonder if he was wearing the wet shorts beneath or if he’d already discarded them. He propped an arm against the doorjamb while holding the door open with his other hand. The smugness in his expression might be annoying if she didn’t know it was an act. She could see the uncertainty in his eyes.

“It was the flamingoes, right?” he asked in a low voice. “I knew they’d be irresistible.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I would’ve paid good money to see you in the Speedo,” she said, and his lips stretched into a grin. “Are you going to invite me in?” she asked, surprised by her own forwardness. Her heart was slamming in her chest, but she knew exactly why she’d decided to knock on his door. The flirtation was fun, but it was time to end her self-inflicted misery. She’d made a decision, and there was no backing down now—not unless he rejected her.

“You know you’re always welcome,” he answered as he flexed his fingers against the door to push it further open, but his gaze was heavy as he regarded her. He moved his arm out of the way as she slipped past him. “Want a drink?” he asked, closing the door behind her.

“No, thank you,” she said. She turned to face him in the narrow space. “I want you.”

His eyes widened for a moment, and she couldn’t blame him for his surprise. She hadn’t meant to come on quite so strong, especially not when it probably seemed to him as though she’d done an about-face in a short period of time. She saw his throat bob, but his pupils widened and his nostrils flared. Yes, he wanted her, too.

She reached for the belt of his robe and paused, her fingers barely touching the fabric. “May I?” she asked.

He answered with a dip of his chin, a half-nod. His eyes were locked on her face as she unfastened the loose loop of his belt and let the ends fall aside. The robe slipped open, revealing the swim trunks beneath, and she smiled.

“Must be cold,” she said, raising her gaze to his. “Thought you’d strip out of them right away.”

“I was going to take a shower but…”


He shrugged a shoulder and raised one corner of his mouth in a self-deprecating smile. “The cold was…helpful,” he said.

“You could’ve come to my room,” she told him.

He was still smiling, but he shook his head slowly. Of course, she’d known that he wouldn’t make the first move; that’s why she’d knocked on his door. She reached out and put her hand on his chest. She’d wanted to feel the soft spring of hair against her palm since he’d first dropped his robe at the hot tub. He stopped breathing, and when she pushed gently, he stepped back until he was pressed against the wall.

She wanted to kiss him, and his lips were parted in invitation, but she resisted. She knew that everything would change irrevocably once she’d tasted his mouth. Instead, she bent her head forward and pressed her lips to his chest. She flicked her tongue against his skin. She could still taste the chlorine from the pool. She slid her mouth down, touching the tip of her tongue to his nipple, and he leaned his head back against the wall, curling his hands into fists at his sides.

She looked up at his face. “Is this alright?” she asked quietly.

His eyes were dark. “Yes. Tell me what you want me to do.”

“Stand here,” she answered with a smile. She ducked her head forward and pulled his nipple into her mouth, relishing the way his breath hitched. She trailed kisses downward, over his stomach, swirling her tongue against his skin as she sank slowly to her knees.

“Jesus,” he breathed. He started to reach for her and dropped his hands back to his sides. “Liv—”

“Is this alright?” she asked again.

“You don’t have to—” He broke off abruptly as her hands settled onto his hips, her fingers at the elastic of his wet shorts.

She looked up at his face. “Do you want me to stop?” she asked.

His mouth worked soundlessly for a couple of seconds before he finally admitted: “I don’t know how to answer that.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Honestly,” she said.

“No,” he said. “God help me,” he added, and she laughed quietly. She kissed his stomach again and tugged the edge of the shorts down just far enough to reveal the first dark curls hidden beneath. She could see his erection tenting the front of his trunks, and she couldn’t resist the temptation. She ducked her head and kissed him through the wet material. He twitched against her lips, and a jolt of desire shot through her. She shifted her knees on the floor; she was already achy with desire, and she was shocked by her own level of arousal. The swimsuit was cold and wet between her legs, but the slick material was tight, rubbing against her as she moved.

She closed her mouth around his erection, but the taste of the pool was cloying, and she wanted to feel his skin against her tongue. He shifted his feet on the floor and pressed his palms against the wall by his hips. She could feel his eyes on her, and she lowered the shorts slowly, taking pleasure in the way his muscles were tensed and his breathing was carefully controlled.

His restraint was surprisingly attractive—his willingness to give her complete control—but she was going to take even more pleasure from making him lose control. His erection slipped free from his shorts, springing to attention, and her belly tightened in response. Fresh heat pooled between her legs, and she shifted restlessly. She wanted to touch herself—she wanted him to touch her—but that would have to wait.

She slid his wet shorts down the length of his legs, and he lifted one foot, then the other, stepping out. She tossed the swim trunks aside without ceremony and ran her hands up his thighs. His skin was cool, clammy from the damp coldness of the shorts, but she knew he would be overheated in no time.

She eyed his erection for a few seconds. “You’ve been hiding a lot inside those tailored suits,” she said, and he groaned low in his throat as his cock twitched before her. She smiled. “Hmm, it likes compliments, huh?” She looked up at his face. She could see the flush of color in his cheeks. “You are beautiful, you know?”

He gave his head a little shake, but his chin tilted up a bit at the praise. Her smile widened. She reached up and smoothed her hand over the soft skin of his stomach and felt it tighten at her touch.

“I have to admit, I’m flattered by the reaction,” she murmured, returning her gaze to his erection. “I’ve been here all of what, two minutes?”

“Are you kidding? I’ve been like this since the hot tub—even that freezing fucking water couldn’t counteract your effect.”

“Huh,” she said. She shifted her knees on the floor. “I guess mine likes compliments, too. It’s a shame you can’t see—but you’ll feel it soon enough.”

“Christ,” he muttered, closing his eyes.

She bent forward and ducked her head, pulling his cock into her mouth, and he gasped, his hips momentarily jerking forward before he forced himself to flatten back against the wall. She sucked lightly at his head, swirling her tongue around the ridge and up his slit. The taste of chlorine disappeared quickly, leaving behind only the unique flavor of him.

She pushed forward, swallowing half of his length, and she felt him hardening, growing in her mouth. She slipped a hand between his thighs, fingering beneath his heavy testicles, and he said her name on a choked groan. She cupped his balls in her hand and forced her head forward, taking as much of him as she could before she gagged. She pulled back to draw a breath and then pushed forward again until he was pressed against the back of her throat. She could feel the tension radiating from his body as he struggled to keep himself from thrusting.

She drew back again, trailing her tongue along his length before giving his head a rough pull between her lips.

“Please,” he gasped.

She let him go and looked up. “What do you want?” she asked. Her voice was hoarse. It had been a long time since she’d had anyone in her mouth, since she’d wanted anyone in her mouth. “Tell me.”

“Please, I want to touch you, taste you.”

She rose to her feet, barely noticing the protest from her knees, and stripped out of her robe. His gaze skated down the length of her body, over the swimsuit clinging to her curves. He shrugged out of his own robe, letting it pool to the floor. He reached toward her shoulder and hesitated, looking at her face for permission.

She reached up and slid the straps of her suit down her arms, exposing her pale breasts to his gaze. He didn’t need further invitation, and he put a hand on her waist as he dipped his head forward. He started beneath her jaw, sucking lightly at the sensitive skin of her throat, before working his way down, licking along the length of her sternum and over the swell of one breast until his tongue found her beaded nipple. He pulled it into his mouth, sucking the bud against his tongue, and her body swayed toward him. She put a hand on his shoulder to steady herself, struggling to keep her eyes open so she could watch him working her breast with his mouth.

His other hand found its way between her legs, and he rubbed at the wet material. She shifted her feet further apart. Her eyes closed in spite of her best intentions, and she barely choked back the sound that bubbled up in her throat. A moment later, his finger slipped under the edge of the suit and found her hot, slick center. She arched involuntarily against his hand, trying to pull him deeper.

“Raf,” she breathed. He pulled his hand back and lifted his head; her nipple glistened with his saliva. He tugged her wet suit the rest of the way down, letting it fall down her legs so she could step out of it. He held her arm while she kicked it aside, and then his mouth was on her other breast and he was steering her backward toward the bed.

When she felt the edge of the mattress behind her legs, she sat on the bedspread. He nudged her thighs apart and sank into a crouch, and she dropped back onto her elbows, unable to bite back her moan when his tongue flicked lightly over her clit without warning. He slipped a finger inside her, making a low sound of approval in his throat when he found her wet and ready for him.

He added another finger, sucking gently, working her with his tongue, and she shifted her weight so she could grab his hair with one hand. She slipped her fingers into his silky, damp hair, tugging lightly. He lifted his head to look at her.

Her breath hitched at the expression on his face. We’ll never recover from this, she thought, her heart fluttering in her chest. There’s no going back. She wanted to tell him that she loved him, but she couldn’t—not now. Instead, she shifted backward, pushing herself further up the bed. She held out a hand, and he crawled up the length of her body without hesitation.

He trailed kisses as he went, pressing his lips to her thigh, the hollow of her pelvis, her lower belly, her breast, her chest, her throat. His hands traced her curves, his palms hot as they slipped over her flushed skin, exploring every inch of her body. He kept most of his weight on a knee and elbow while he nuzzled her throat, but she could feel his erection, hot and heavy, against her thigh. She shifted restlessly beneath him and slid a hand over his back to clutch at the slope of his ass.

“Please, I need you,” she whispered, sliding her other hand between their bodies to find his erection and guide him into place. He adjusted his hips until he was nestled between her legs, ready and waiting. He sucked at her earlobe before kissing his way along her jaw. His lips hovered near hers, and he hesitated, meeting her eyes.

I love you, she thought. She tipped her chin up, touching her lips lightly to his. He drew a breath through his nose and tilted his head. He pressed a second quick kiss to her lips, and then another. He ran his tongue across her lower lip before slipping it into her mouth, and then he was finally kissing her in earnest.

She stroked his erection between their bodies, lifting a leg to curve it around his hips as the head of his cock nudged against her opening. His tongue was in her mouth when he entered her body with a slow, smooth flex of his hips. He swallowed her moan. His thumb found her nipple, massaging gently as he set a slow rhythm with his hips and tongue.

She held onto him, clutching desperately at his sweaty skin as her body arched beneath him. She could feel the pressure building inside her. His movements were restrained, unhurried: he sank into her, hesitated, withdrew, and again. She wanted him to move faster, but she also wanted the moment to last forever.

She knew he felt the same; she could feel him holding back to stretch the moment out, and she could feel his body’s need for release. She tightened her leg around him, trying to pull him impossibly deeper. He filled her completely and stopped, releasing her mouth to look down at her. She could read her own emotions mirrored in his eyes.

“Liv,” he said, his voice rough with desire.

“Please, Rafa,” she answered, pulling his head back down for another kiss. He flexed his hips, and then he was moving without hesitation, filling her hard and fast, again and again, driving them both to the edge in a matter of seconds. She held onto him, her body meeting each of his thrusts until she felt herself tightening around him. She cried out as her orgasm tore through her, but his mouth muffled the sound. A moment later, she swallowed his sound as he came inside her, his body convulsing against hers.

She turned her mouth from his and pulled his head down to her shoulder, and then his body was collapsed against hers, his weight pushing her into the bed as they struggled to catch their breath. She stroked his hair, closing her eyes. I love you, she thought again, but she was afraid to say the words, afraid she’d imagined the look in his eyes.

She felt his body relaxing against hers as their heart rates returned to normal. She didn’t want to ruin the moment, but she ran a hand over his cheek. He tipped his head to look up at her. “I have to get up for a minute,” she said, and he rolled away from her. “I’ll be right back,” she promised, because she saw the concern in his expression.

She slipped from the bed and made her way to the bathroom. She knew he was watching her, but she ignored her self-consciousness. She slipped into the bathroom, pushing the door partway closed. She peed quickly; she could still feel him inside of her. She washed her hands and returned to the bed. He’d folded back the covers and was sitting on the edge of the mattress.

She stepped between his knees and cupped her hands to his cheeks, bending her head to kiss his lips. His hands rose to rest on her hips.

When he broke away from her kiss, he offered her a soft smile and said, “Give me a minute?” She nodded and turned to sit on the bed, watching his naked backside as he walked to the bathroom. While she heard him relieving himself, she crawled up into the bed, slipping her legs beneath the covers. She watched his face when he returned from the bathroom, and she would swear she saw relief in his eyes when he spotted her settling in for the night.

He crawled onto the bed and kissed her before flopping onto his back and holding out an arm. She laid her cheek on his chest, closing her eyes as he wrapped his arms around her. She sighed softly. The scent of his cologne was gone, but she could still smell him, a scent she’d recognize anywhere. He stroked her arm lightly with his fingers and kissed her hair as she drifted to sleep.

I love you.

She thought she heard him whisper the words in response, but maybe it was a dream.


*       *       *


“I don’t want to make this awkward, but we should probably talk.”

“Awkward?” she repeated. He was sitting on the edge of the bed beside her, one foot on the floor and the other drawn up onto his knee as he rolled on a sock. He’d put on underwear, but she was still naked beneath the sheet. Morning sunlight was peeking past the curtains. “Should I be worried?”

His lips quirked as he glanced at her, but she could sense his hesitation as he refocused on his foot.

“Is something wrong?” she asked, and now she was worried by his discomfort.

“No.” He lowered his foot to the floor and lifted his other ankle to begin pulling on the second sock. “I was just wondering…what…” He paused and cleared his throat. “What your intentions are,” he finally said, and she could see the color staining his cheek above the salt-and-pepper stubble.

“What my intentions are?” she asked, surprised. He sighed at the incredulity in her voice and, gathering his resolve, turned toward her, putting his bent leg on the bed beside her thigh. “Are you—” She cut herself off, suddenly struck by an unwelcome stab of insecurity. She fidgeted beneath his appraisal, tugging the edge of the sheet up to make sure she was covered before crossing her arms over the fabric.

“You’re upset.”

“I’m not upset,” she said. The lie didn’t sit well in her stomach; she wasn’t accustomed to lying to him.

“You are,” he countered, but his tone was gentle. “Liv, you’ll have to forgive me for not wanting to assume you’d be eager to, I don’t know, elope or something this morning. I do have to make some attempt to protect my stupid heart.”

She blinked, trying to process—trying to decipher his meaning. “I—What?”

He sighed again and put his hand on her leg; she could feel the heat of his palm through the thin barrier of the sheet, and she was reminded of that heat exploring every inch of her body. “We’re both adults,” he said. “I knew the risk I was taking when I jumped in without asking first, asking what it meant, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But now it’s morning and I just need to know…where we are. So I can act accordingly.”

Elope?” she finally managed.

He grimaced. “Hyperbole,” he said, but he drew his hand back and rested it on his own thigh. “I only meant that if you want to pretend like last night never happened, I’ll respect that. But on the off chance you want—”

“You’re asking me if I just wanted to get laid and you were convenient?” she asked.

He winced and swallowed. For a moment he looked as though she’d slapped him, and then he rearranged his features and regarded her with an air of calmness that she didn’t buy for an instant. “So much for me not making this awkward, I guess,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He shifted his foot to the floor and started to stand, and she grabbed his arm to stop him.

“Rafael,” she said. “I thought—” She hesitated as he sank back onto the bed and gave her a look full of wariness. She chewed her lip for a few seconds. This was her fault. She’d made assumptions and given him room to doubt her feelings, and that was unforgivable. She held his gaze in spite of the nervousness raging through her. “Last night…was you and me,” she said. “It meant more than I could put into words—Words are your thing, not mine. You’re right, maybe we should’ve talked about it first, but I think deep down I was afraid you might reject me if you knew how much it meant. To me, I mean. That I might scare you away. But then…when we were together, I…I thought we were on the same page, you know? I’m sorry if I made you think I was—”

“Me, reject you?” he asked, with a little laugh that made her fall silent. “Olivia, if you asked me to jump off the goddamned Empire State Building, I’d—”

“Please don’t do that,” she cut in.

He released a slow breath and gave her a small smile. “Please don’t ask, then,” he countered. He searched her face. “I do love you, you know?” he said, his voice so soft that she could barely hear him.

She nodded and saw his expression soften. “I love you, too,” she whispered. “Rafael, I want last night…forever,” she admitted.

He leaned toward her, their gazes locked together as he tucked her hair behind her ear. “Well…I guess we’re definitely on the same page, then,” he said, his lips curving into a smile. “May I?” When she nodded, he pressed his lips to hers.