The Perfect Manbyradiodemon©
This is my entry for the Valentine's Day competition. Sometimes I think romance novels ought to be reclassified as fantasy, because a lot of time, that's what they are. This is pure fantasy. Yes, there's sex. Very steamy sex. It just takes a while to get to it. Enjoy, and don't forget to vote!
I had never been more uncomfortable.
That's probably not true. There were likely moments in the past I was conveniently forgetting about that were as bad, or worse, as this one. But standing on the not-quite fringes of the crowd, clutching a whiskey and soda like it was a lifeline, I was pretty damn uncomfortable. I never should have let Lucy talk me into this. I definitely shouldn't have let her talk me into the long-sleeve cowl-neck dress I was wearing.
I tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear and tried not to fidget. Luce might have talked me into covering up the tattoos, but there was no way I was re-dying my hair for a single evening. Besides, the red matched the dress, and the black looked good with my skin. I took pride in my hair - it was shiny and as healthy as it could get for being bleached to hell and back, then dyed black and blood red.
This was a mistake. Someone as introverted as me, at a drink-fest masquerading as a Valentine's party for singles? Not only that, but I wasn't even being me. I didn't know what had possessed me to think my friend was right, that my outward appearance scared off the kind of clean-cut men I prefered, but I'd never meet someone if I was uncomfortable in my own skin.
The country club-like venue, with its warm walls and dim lighting, gave the event a sense of class it didn't deserve. Whisky burned a trail down my throat as I surveyed the room. So far I'd exchanged small talk with a couple of guys, and that was the sum total of my interactions that evening. Only one had been even remotely attracted to me, and while he'd been polite and sort of friendly, he'd deserted the field for the first woman to cross his path baring more skin than I was.
Valentine's Day at home, in my pajamas, drinking hot cocoa and watching (500) Days of Summer or some other movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt would have been my preference, but Lucy had been worried about me for far too long, and I owed her, big time. So there I was, trying to pretend I was enjoying myself, because I loved my friend and wanted to show her how grateful I was she'd let me lean on her so hard I was surprised she was still standing.
"Hey." A blond haired, brown eyed man wandered up to me, a faint smile on his lips. I gave him a discreet onceover. Broad shoulders, chest clearly hard and defined under his blue button-up shirt. Little too muscle bound for me, but hey, I had to start somewhere.
"Hey, yourself." I worked up a smile for him, still wishing I was anywhere but here.
"I like the hair." He gestured with his glass.
I lifted a brow but bit back my sarcastic retort. "Thanks. Me too." I held out a hand for him to shake. "My name's Hannah."
"Jake." He took my hand and instead of shaking it, he lifted it to his lips and pressed them to the back. Cute. Contrived.
We made painfully - well, painful for me - awkward small talk. He was in finance and actually seemed quite normal. The crowd shifted around in front of us, and my estimation of him climbed a bit when he didn't bat an eye as a petite brunette with too much cleavage tottered by.
The volume in the room swelled and rose, and the crowd parted for a second, giving me a clear view of the door. I could make a run for it. Lucy had been snatched up early on by some overly-muscley guy. She likely wouldn't notice I was gone until much later.
Before I could make a polite excuse to Jake, the door opened and a man ducked inside, shaking the snow off his coat. He lifted his head, and I almost dropped my glass.
The noise disappeared, along with the crowd. It was replaced with an almost silent whoosh in my ears, and Jonah stood at the end of a tunnel.
Oh. Oh dear lord. I absolutely had to get out of there.
I mumbled something to Jake and edged farther into the back of the room, toward the hallway that had to lead to a back exit. I'd walk home. I could come back for my coat.
I thought I heard my name over the noise of the crowd, and I all but ran for the hallway, desperate for the first door I could find. It didn't have to go anywhere at this point, just give me a place to hide for a while.
The first door was locked. The second one was not. I pushed it open and slipped inside.
"No, don't let it-"
The door clicked shut.
"Close." The voice, the very, very masculine voice, sighed behind me, and I stiffened. I turned around slowly, my heels clicking on the polished cement floor. A man stood about two feet from me, and when he saw me staring at him, he backed away.
"Sorry. I didn't realize someone else was in here." I reached for the doorknob and twisted. The door stayed shut. I tried again. Still closed.
"Fuck," I whispered.
"Yeah. That's pretty much what I've been saying for the last ten minutes." I turned back around to face the man. Tall. Dark hair. Slim but not overly so. Holy crap. He had the most beautiful eyes I'd ever seen. Dark, sleepy-looking, heavy-lidded eyes with long lashes, eyes that immediately made me think of sex and the morning after.
Heat stole over my cheeks. "I'm sorry," I mumbled. I slumped against the door. "How'd you get locked in here?"
"Looking for a place to hide." He grimaced. "There's an overenthusiastic blonde out there, and she wouldn't stop pawing at me. Thought about hiding in the bathroom for a while but found this place and figured it was just as good, and there wasn't anyone in here."
He shrugged. "Women don't have the market cornered on that. I tried walking through the crowd, finding someone else to talk to. She followed me like a damn dog. So I ducked in here. Didn't realize until I tried to leave a minute ago the door locks from the outside."
I frowned. "Didn't you try yelling? Or banging on the door?"
He stared at me. "Do you think if anyone had heard me over the noise out there I'd still be in here?"
"I was looking for something to jimmy the lock open when you came in," he continued. Great. If I'd made just a little more noise, neither of us would be in this position. He slouched against the wall. "You?"
"Hiding as well." I assumed that's what he was asking, anyway, why I was in here and not out there. "Saw someone come in that I'd rather avoid and I panicked, tried to find a place to hide instead of searching for the emergency exit."
His gaze skimmed over me, and the heat returned. I stared at the floor. "No offense, but you don't look like the sort of woman who'd willingly attend one of these things."
My head snapped up. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He snorted. "C'mon. You've seen the women out there. Calling some of those things dresses is a stretch. You..." He waved a hand at my dress. "You're too classy for something like this."
Really? Unsure if it was a compliment, I shoved one sleeve up to my elbow. "Yeah, well, there don't seem to be a lot of these out there, either." I held out my arm, displaying the script rolling across the inside of my forearm.
Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make angry.
I'd gotten the tattoo after Jonah told me he wasn't coming back. He hadn't even had a good reason, just said he liked Berlin and wanted to stay, that he wanted to "reinvent himself" and he couldn't do that unless he was single. Nothing about not loving me anymore. Nothing about another woman, or a man, or that it just wasn't working for him. He was incredibly callous about the whole thing, and it took me months to realize that the man I'd been prepared to spend my life with had slowly, over the two years we'd been together, become a selfish prick.
That was when I started therapy. And then I got the tattoo.
He stepped closer and took my arm, the gentle press of his fingers sending a shiver through me. "Nice." He grinned. "Got any more?"
I blinked, stunned by the charming smile. "Um. Yeah. I've got a couple more, one on my hip, my leg, my foot, another one on my back, and one on my neck."
He released my arm, his hand drifting toward my neck, stopping in mid-air. "Can I-?"
I nodded and turned around, pushing at the cowl of my dress. The small tattoo at the spot where neck met back had been hidden by the thick fabric, and his fingers brushed over my nape as he tugged it down. "Crianacht. What's it mean?"
My tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth. It had been so long... "Wisdom." Heat of a different kind spread over my skin. Heat I wasn't ready for. I stepped forward and moved my collar into place. "Find anything that might bust open the door?"
We searched the tiny room, bodies brushing on occasion in the confined space. A toolbox, buried under a pile of rags, produced a screwdriver. The hammer was missing. "We could try removing the doorknob," I suggested.
He shrugged. "Worth a shot." Screwdriver in hand, he bent over the knob while I poked around the shelves, looking for anything else that might be useful.
The screws were in tight, and there was much cursing involved before the first one came loose. The second one was mostly out when we heard footsteps and a drunken giggle in the hallway. He glanced over his shoulder, stuck the screwdriver in his pocket, and started banging on the door. I hurried over and added my fists to his, the door vibrating under the blows.
The knob rattled loosely, then turned, and I stumbled back, bumping into the guy trapped with me. His hand landed on my waist, hold tightening as my heels caused me to sway. I opened my mouth to thank whoever opened the door, and the words died in my throat.
Jonah stood in the hall, a tall, curvy blonde wearing a scrap of metallic fabric draped over him. His mouth dropped open in shock. "Hannah?"
No. I was seeing things. This was not happening.
The door started to close, and the guy holding me up lunged forward, with me still in his arms, catching the door before it shut us in again.
The four of us stood there, awkwardness spreading like honey, sticky and slow and surprisingly heavy. The blonde recovered first, her eyes narrowing. "You know, it wasn't very nice of you to lead me on like that. Make me think you were into me and then go off and spend seven minutes in heaven with her." She jerked her head at me. It wasn't until the her that I realized she wasn't talking to me, but the man behind me.
Jonah's mouth was still gaping open like a fish. "What are you doing here?" Like he just realized the blonde was clinging to him like a monkey, he pulled at her arms and stepped away.
I, however, did not. The hold my fellow captive had on me had softened and morphed, from a brace meant to steady and hold me upright to a source of comfort and protection. His front was flush against my back, his arm across my tummy, and his free hand on the door. "Lucy made me come," I said.
We stared at each other, and my vision blurred. Why? Why was he here? Now? He was supposed to be in Berlin. Thousands of miles from here.
Lips brushed the tip of my ear, and sharp tingles shot down my spine. "Ready to go?" he murmured. I nodded, and we edged through the doorway and into the hall. The door slammed closed behind us, and I shuddered.
I nodded to Jonah and the blonde. "Have a nice evening." Still secure in his arms, the man and I walked down the hall and into the fray, which had gotten louder and drunker in the ten or so minutes I'd been gone.
"Shit," I whispered. The bullet I'd dodged slammed into me. Jonah had been here for mere minutes compared to me and had already snuggled up to someone new. Although maybe "snuggled" was the wrong word for it. He'd come in, took in the room in a quick sweep, picked off one of the herd, and, unless I was totally mistaken, was ready and willing to hook up with someone he'd met probably seconds before.
And I'd loved him. I was going to marry him. Obviously, my judgement could not be trusted.
Numbness crawled up my legs, and I started to sag. My new friend swore and tightened his arm, preventing me from collapsing in a heap.
He guided me through the mass of bodies toward the coat check near the front. The attendant was leaning on the counter, head bent over a phone, thumbs flying. "Hey, you got a chair in there?" Without waiting for an answer, we shuffled into the stuffy room. Another closet. A giggle bubbled up and burst out, the lone giggle cascading into hysterical laughter. The attendant took one look at me and abandoned her post, phone in hand.
I kept laughing. I laughed because if I didn't, I'd start bawling, and Jonah didn't deserve my tears. I laughed until my stomach ached with it. My laughter subsided, leaving me with the hiccups and a stranger holding my hands like I'd break at the slightest provocation. The concern in his eyes was hard to take, so I glanced around the room. Coats lined the walls, the lighting as dim as the rest of the place. "Another -hic- closet, huh?" I smirked. "R. Kelly would be proud."
He burst out laughing, and my smirk widened to a grin. "Probably. But at least we're not on the fifth floor." He squeezed my hands. "So you're Hannah? Alex."
Alex. Simple. One syllable. "Hi -hic- Alex." He stroked a finger over the back of my hand, and I drew in a sharp breath. "Thanks for -hic- everything. You know." I shrugged and lowered my gaze.
There was a commotion on the other side of the counter, and we both glanced over. Jonah stood on the other side, surprise written all over his face. "Hannah? Hannah." He darted through the door and practically knocked Alex over in his haste to get to me. "Baby, are you okay?"
Alex sidled over and dropped a hand on my shoulder, and I wondered how I'd managed to earn so many good karma points, that a gorgeous man I barely knew had my back, with nothing in it for him. I reached up and fisted a hand in the front of his shirt. "Hey." Hic. "Could you get me some water? Please?"
He regarded me steadily, carefully, then nodded once. After he left, I turned to Jonah. "What -hic- do you want?"
He knelt in front of me, and the gesture was discomfortingly similar to how he'd proposed. "To see how you're doing. You didn't look too good a moment ago."
And here I'd thought I'd handled it quite well. "How was Germany?" Hic.
For the first time since he walked through the front door, he looked uncomfortable. "Fine. Look-"
I held up a hand. "No." Hic. "We're not going to pretend everything's all well -hic- and good between us. You left, decided you didn't want to come back, and -hic- you didn't want me there. It fucking hurt. A lot. I got over it." Mostly. I was firmly in the kicking myself and regretting him stage. "Our story's over -hic- and I wish you the best with whatever, and whomever, you want. But that doesn't mean I'm going to -hic- sit here and listen to you." Alex appeared in the doorway, holding a glass, and I almost wept with relief. I wasn't lying; there was nothing left to say to Jonah. I held out a hand for the glass, and Alex stepped forward, pushing it into my hand.
I drank it in one, long gulp, then stood, locking my knees to keep from swaying. "'Night, Jonah." I placed the glass on the chair, flipped through the coats until I found mine, and walked out of the tiny room.
The voices in the coat room weren't loud enough for me to discern what was being said, and they faded quickly as I headed for the door. Lucy or no Lucy, I was going home and enacting my original plan for the night. Though maybe I'd be daring and order Thai food instead of stuffing myself with popcorn.
I took a moment to loop my scarf around my neck and tug on my gloves - walking outside unbundled was asking for trouble - and Alex appeared at my side. "Please don't leave me to the wolves," he murmured, a teasing light in his eyes.
He wanted...what? Was that not a show? He stepped closer, his gaze lowering to my mouth, then meeting my eyes again. The space between us was tiny. Someone pushed into him from behind, and he jerked forward, the domino effect sending me stumbling backward. He caught me around the waist before I could twist my ankle. I gave him a rueful grin. "I suppose you can walk out with me. Give 'em a show." He pushed open the door and we ducked out, into the cold.
Snow fell in fat, lazy flakes, piling onto the already tall mounds of snow, obliterating the drive. He took my hand and tucked it into his pocket, his own curved around mine, and we headed down the circular drive. "What now?" he asked.
We were mostly out of sight of the entrance, away from Jonah and Lucy and god knew who else who cared about who left with whom. But I left my hand in his, wrapped up and warm, bumping against him as we walked toward the street.
"My grand plan for the evening was sweats, a movie, and a giant bowl of popcorn." I squinted up at him, snowflakes catching on my eyelashes.
"I like your plan. Think I could buy you a drink before I leave you to it?"
Could he? I did owe him. He'd been nothing but kind to me. If anything, I should buy him a drink. "No." His smile faltered. "But I'll buy you one."
His bark of laughter was gun-shot loud in the snow-quieted night, yet it fit right in. "Scared me there." His hand tightened around mine, and he nodded down the street. "Come on. Let's get inside before you freeze."
"I freeze? What about you? Or are you too macho to freeze?" The heel of my boot slipped over a patch of ice, and I flailed, catching myself before I landed on my ass. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to catch my breath, waiting for my heart to return to its usual spot in my chest. "Um. No offense, but maybe I should have my hand free. These boots aren't exactly made for walking in the snow." The knee-high leather kept my legs warm. The three and a half inch heel was pure vanity. I loved heels, and the boots had gone with the dress.
He studied my feet. "They're definitely made for something else," he said, voice rough. His eyes flashed up to meet mine, and the heat there rooted me to the spot. An image popped into my head, the two of us naked, clothes strewn around us as he braced me against the wall, fucking me slow and deep.
And as my legs wrapped around his waist, I saw my boots, the heels digging into his ass, spurring him on.
I wasn't cold anymore. In fact, I was very, very warm.
The distance between us disappeared, and his breath whispered over my lips. His gloved hands cradled my head. "I'm going to kiss you, Hannah. So no falling." The beginnings of a smile were stunted as his mouth pressed against mine.
His mouth wasn't soft. It wasn't hard, either. It fell in that perfect in between, his lips cool, his tongue, when it darted out to trace over the seam of my lips, was warm. He coaxed me into it by increments, a touch here, a flutter there, and my lips parted to let him in. His tongue stroked over mine, slow, firm, making his demands seem more like requests. Yes, I'll tilt my head that way, because it gives you better access. Yes, I'll move in closer, because I need to feel you against me. He could ask me anything right now, in the space of this kiss, and my answer would be yes. Followed by please may I have some more.
I forgot about the snow, freezing my toes inside my boots and icing the skin over my cheeks. I forgot about seeing Jonah for the first time in over a year, and the hook up we'd clearly interrupted. I forgot about the miserable time I'd been having. I forgot that I didn't know this man at all. There was nothing but Alex and his clever mouth, the heat we generated and the loose, languid desire coursing through my blood.