Touched Ch. 10bystarscape©
I jumped at the sound of yet another knock on the door.
"It's open," the hunters called in unison, none of them bothering to greet the latest arrivals.
Grant and I exchanged a nervous glance from opposite sides of the room. Somehow, over the course of the evening, we had become separated as wave upon wave of visitors swarmed over us. So many people now filled the living area I started to worry whether the dwelling could withstand the weight. Wiping my sweaty palms on my pants, I took a deep breath and tried to banish the thought of the tree trunk supporting the house giving way, plunging us twenty meters to our deaths.
"Oh wow; it's crowded in here," a woman exclaimed, squeezing past the others.
"Where are they?" a male voice boomed. "Where are the children?"
"There they are—there and there. See, they've changed into normal clothes."
The couple split from their two companions, who headed straight for Grant while they made their way to where I stood, crammed virtually shoulder-to-shoulder, surrounded by chattering strangers.
I flinched when, without preamble, the woman began stroking my hair. "Let me take a look at you. Well, aren't you just the prettiest thing?" She took hold of my chin and turned my head to one side and then the other, examining my features. "Bradley, I think she could be our Melinda's girl. Don't you, don't you think she has your father's eyes?"
The big man peered at me for a long moment, his pursed lips cocked to one side. I'd seen this look before, ever since people started streaming into the hunters' home, each of them hoping to recognize something of themselves in Grant or me, each of them reacting in one of three ways.
The first, and most common, was disappointment. Despite his companion's insistence, I knew the man saw in me no resemblance to his kin. It broke my heart to watch the hopeful light leave yet another person's eyes, shoulders slumping when they realized we weren't who they wanted us to be.
The second, and rarest, was quiet restraint. The way their eyes widened when they looked at us, I sensed these individuals saw something familiar in our faces or bearing, but were not certain enough to make a claim. I wondered if they were trying to spare themselves the disappointment of discovering later they were wrong.
The woman pawing me displayed the characteristics of the third group—those who claimed we had their father's eyes or their grandmother's chin or any other single feature on which they could pin their hopes. I suspected, though, they knew deep down that we weren't one of their own; they just couldn't bring themselves to admit it.
"I'm sorry, Bev," the man said slowly, shaking his head, "but I don't see it."
"How can you say that?" she protested, her voice shrill and tight. She turned my face sideways. "See that profile? That's Melinda's forehead."
He reached out and touched her arm. "I wanted it to be Cassandra, too. But I think we both know she doesn't look anything li—"
"Don't touch me!" she shouted, swatting his hand away. Grabbing my shoulders, the woman hunched over and stood so close our noses almost touched. "You see it, don't you?" she asked me, squeezing my shoulders, her hazel eyes filled with desperation.
"I...I don't know," I replied, struggling to maintain eye contact.
"Bev, stop it. Can't you see you're upsetting her?"
"I'm not upsetting her. I could be her grandmother, for crite's sake." She looked at me again, her lips trembling. "How old are you?"
"I'm thirty-one years." My head swam, and I felt hot and cold at the same time.
"The same age as our Cassandra." The woman gave the man a triumphant look. "I could very well be your nana; isn't that right?"
"I...I don't know," I repeated. My chest tightened as the walls of the house closed in on me. "We've, we've met so many people tonight...and they all want to believe we're...someone they've lost."
"Astrid," a voice said from very far away. "Are you alright?"
"I...don't feel so well," I heard myself mumble just before everything went black.
When I opened my eyes I found myself lying in bed. Grant stood over me, placing a wet cloth on my forehead.
"Grant? What's going on?" I asked, looking into his worried eyes.
"You fainted," an unfamiliar voice answered.
My gaze shifted and settled onto a slender woman with dark hair. She approached and placed the back of her hand against my cheek. "My name is Vivian Reynaldo. I'm a doctor. How are you feeling, Astrid?"
"Tired. A little confused."
"That's understandable. When I arrived there was a house full of people here. Grant tells me it was all very overwhelming. I understand people don't...congregate in such close quarters in the city."
I shook my head.
"Would you like a drink of water?" she asked, holding up a ceramic cup.
"Yes, please." The woman lifted the vessel to my lips and I gulped down its contents.
"Can you tell me what happened just before you lost consciousness?"
I nodded, then recounted my interaction with the loud couple.
"It sounds like you had a panic attack."
"I never should've let them separate us," Grant muttered, brow furrowed as he kneaded the back of his neck. "If I had been there with you, it might not have happened."
"Don't blame yourself," I told him. "You were just as overwhelmed as I was."
"She's right," the doctor agreed. "Taran and the others never should have allowed so many people to swoop in on you like that. They...everyone should have been more sensitive to your needs. I've cleared the house and there will be no other visitors tonight. In the meantime, I want the two of you to stay here and get some rest."
"William told us he might want us to speak in front of the council tonight," Grant explained. "I'm willing to go by myself should he call for us, but what about Astrid?"
"I don't want either of you going out. I'll speak to William about what happened. Now, tomorrow morning, I want the two of you to come see me at the clinic, first thing."
My skin pressed against his, Grant and I lay together in bed, catching up on the past few days. Dr. Reynaldo's instructions to rest quietly until morning provided us an unexpected but welcome opportunity to speak at length about everything that'd happened since we were hospitalized for kissing in the arboretum.
"I can't believe this place, these people exist," I said, stroking his jaw, alternating between my fingertips and the back of my hand. He hadn't removed his facial hair in more than a day, and the increased length of his stubble provided a new sensation to explore. "But most of all, that this is where we come from. I might've believed I was dreaming, but this is beyond anything I could've ever imagined."
Taking my hand, he slid it to his lips and kissed my palm. "I know; it's so surreal. This time yesterday we were strapped down in white, windowless rooms being tortured by a man intent on breaking us of our 'deviancy'. Now we're lying here in a little house high atop the trees."
"Our lives have been always been complicated, and even more so after we found each other, but all this...it's so much to process. I wish we could stay in bed and shut out the rest of the world for a while."
"Me too. All those people tonight..." He shook his head and his voice dropped, almost to a whisper. "I could hardly stand it."
"My whole life I've dreamt of being around people like us. But the reality is nothing like I expected. They were so many of them. They were so loud, and they all wanted to touch us. Some were almost...aggressive, to the point of being intimidating. I never thought I'd feel there was such a thing as too much touching."
Grant nodded. "I wonder what it was like for Zarek when he first got here. It didn't sound like he identified as a sensualist, so it must've been very difficult. I mean, can you imagine how Xen or Errol might've reacted if they'd been here tonight?"
"Or Caley? No; I can't."
"I'd like to talk to Zarek about it. How would you feel about tracking him down tomorrow, maybe after we stop by the clinic?"
"I'd like that. I just hope we'll have the opportunity before people start swarming us again."
Laying my head on his chest, I snuggled against Grant and listened to his heart as it slowed to a strong, steady rhythm. "We have to remember what they've been through," he murmured, "and how much they wanted us to be someone they'd lost."
"That's true." I paused. "Do you think we'll find the people we were born to?"
"I believe we'll eventually meet someone connected to our original family units. I'm not sure how or when it will be proven, but I think much of it will be a process of elimination. Right now, it seems like anyone who lost somebody in the last fifty years is making inquiries, but as word of our ages gets around, that will narrow the pool considerably."
"It'd be strange to meet people you don't remember who remember you. I don't know what I'd say, and yet...I think I'd like to know."
Silence fell over us again. "Do you think they're going to go along with Raja's plan?" I asked a few minutes later. "I'm really worried about Amelia and our friends."
"I'm worried about them too. But really, I don't know what the Outliers will do. Raja's asking a lot of them. Their reaction to us suggests the opportunity to reunite with their stolen children is a powerful incentive. Still, I can't help shake the feeling that the rebels made a mistake by not finding a way to contact the Outliers and include them in the development of this plan, even if it meant delaying its implementation for months, or even a year or two."
I considered Grant's response for a long time. "Taran's reaction to Raja's message surprised me," I admitted. "At the time, I couldn't understand why they wouldn't want to help, why they wouldn't they seize the opportunity to find their own people. But I'm starting to realize it's a lot more complicated than that. I've been viewing this through the eyes of a City Dweller, one who is different, yes, and been forced to hide that difference, but a City Dweller nonetheless."
"The rebels are planning nothing less than a revolution, and, I suspect, have underestimated the impact their actions will have on everyone, both inside and outside the city walls. My guess is this is something the Outliers won't be overlooking."
I lay in the dark listening to the rain pattering against the windows. The house swayed gently, the wind lulling it, if not me, to sleep. Snuggling under Grant's arm, I stroked his chest, savoring the warmth of his skin. I leaned close and inhaled deeply his masculine scent.
"Are you smelling me again?" he murmured, shifting onto his side to face me.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you," I apologized, caressing his face.
He smiled and kissed the top of my head. "Don't be. Having trouble sleeping?"
"Me too. My mind's on overload; every time I start to drift off, I get to thinking and the next thing I know I'm wide awake."
"Maybe you need a distraction to work off some of that nervous energy," I proposed, twirling my fingers through his hair. At this hour, the last thing I wanted to do was revisit the dangers looming before us.
The corner of his eyes crinkled as his lips curled into a smile. "I like the way your mind works."
"To answer your original question, yes, I was smelling you again. I can't help it. I never realized how much the disinfectant alters the body's natural scent." Pressing my nose against his underarm, I inhaled, smiling as a wave of pleasure washed over me. "Mmm. I think I could smell you forever."
He drew me into his arms and buried his face into my hair. "I love the way you smell, too," he whispered, tickling my neck with his chin. "And as long as you touch me, you can do it as much as you want."
"I can do that," I replied, rubbing myself against him. My lips widened into a smile as I felt him grow hard, the heat of his erection burning against my thighs.
"Ryste, woman," he rumbled, his large hands massaging my back as he held me close, groaning when I slid my breasts across his chest. "Can you feel what you do to me?"
A familiar warmth flooded my groin. I lifted my upper leg and wrapped it around his. "Can you feel what you do to me?" I teased, humping his thigh.
He shivered. Easing me onto my back, he smiled and kissed me before slipping his hand between my legs. "I love how wet you get for me," he confessed, exploring my folds. He slid a finger inside and slowly stroked it in and out.
My legs trembled as I spread them wide. "Oh, Grant," I moaned. "That feels so good."
His breath felt hot against my skin as the tip of his tongue traced my ear lobe. "Would it feel even better if I used my lips and tongue?" he whispered, chuckling when I whimpered in response. "Is that a 'yes'?"
"I'm sorry; I didn't hear that," Grant murmured, flicking my clitoris with the tip of his finger.
I groaned. "Yes."
"Yes, I want you to pleasure me with your lips and tongue."
Smiling against my lips, Grant kissed me before slipping beneath the sheets. I closed my eyes and groaned, gripping the covers as he nibbled and licked my pussy. Without the specter of fear hanging over us, we were no longer forced to engage in quick, furtive coupling and could take our time exploring each other's bodies. Still, the necessity of our brief sessions taught us how to pleasure each other in a minimal amount of time. Grant seemed to be taking advantage of that knowledge, bringing me to the brink of orgasm again and again.
I writhed beneath him, moaning, begging him to take me all the way. Instead he paused, pressing my legs to my chest, lifting my bottom into the air. As I lay spread out before him, holding my ankles, I cried out in surprise when his tongue made contact with my anus.
"Uhhh...Grant, what are you doing?"
"Don't you like how it feels?" he asked, swirling his tongue around my puckered hole, making my body quiver.
I groaned. "Yes, but how can you? It, it...seems wrong...dirty."
"We just showered a few hours ago," Grant reminded me. "We don't have to be ashamed anymore, Astrid. I love you and I love your body. There's no part of you I won't touch or kiss or lick if it brings you pleasure. If you don't like what I'm doing, I'll stop. But from the state of your pussy right now..." He blew a stream of air over my swollen lips while his finger teased my anus. "I'm willing to bet you want me to keep going."
I shivered as my heated groin tightened in response. "All...all right," I gasped.
"But...I would feel better about you doing it if I...washed first," I cut in.
"That's really not necessary. I like how you—" He stopped and shifted back up beside me. "Okay. I don't want you to feel self-conscious."
The faint light of the waning moon beamed through the window as Grant took my hand and eased me out of bed.
"Aren't we going to dress first?" I whispered as we crept naked toward the door.
"Listen for a second." As we stood in silence, I noticed the rain had stopped, and the only sound I could hear was house creaking as it swayed in the gentle breeze. "No one's awake. Come on," he murmured in my ear. "Let's be a little bad. I know you've got it in you."
I bit my lip to stifle a giggle and placed my hand on the latch. After I eased the door open, we poked our heads out of the doorway, checking both directions before slipping into the dark hall. The chilly night air raised my flesh as we snuck toward the bathroom.
Grant stopped, and after removing a small cloth from a closet, he closed the narrow door as carefully as he had opened it. But just before we reached our destination, I stepped on a loose plank and stood frozen when the wood groaned beneath my feet.
Giving me a gentle nudge, Grant opened the bathroom door and led me inside. The air whooshed from my lungs as the door clicked shut behind us. I laid my hand on his chest and smiled to discover his heart beating as fast as mine.
He leaned in and whispered, "Wasn't that fun?"
I grinned and nodded against his cheek. Holding hands, we felt our way to the sink. Grant took one of its knobs in his hand and turned it just enough to let the water trickle out. Still, the pipes seemed irritated by our intrusion and squealed in protest.
We cringed, but nothing happened. "Make sure you use some soap, too," I whispered as Grant wet the cloth.
He chuckled. "I did," he replied. I trembled as the tip of his tongue tickled my ear. "You're a funny woman, Astrid. But that's one of the things I love about you."
Nudging my legs apart, he knelt behind me and placed my hands on each buttock. Following his silent instructions, I held them apart, sucking in my breath when the cold wet cloth made contact with my anus. I chewed my lower lip, fighting the urge to moan while Grant's fingers teased me, the thin fabric the only barrier between us.
I groaned when he worked the tip of one of his fingers inside me. Although it felt good, the soap burned a little, and just before I said something, Grant stood up and returned to the sink. I heard the water flowing with greater force and knew he was hurrying to rinse the soap from the cloth.
I sighed with relief when the cold wetness made contact with my skin. "Does that feel better?" he murmured from below me, stroking the area with the wet cloth.
"Yes; much better." I gasped, legs quivering when once again the tip of his finger entered my tight opening.
He must have noticed my reaction, for the next thing I knew, the cloth was gone and replaced by the warmth of his tongue. My sighs escalated into moans when his fingers slipped between my legs and into my wetness, and though my nipples ached, I dared not move my hands from my buttocks for fear he would stop.
"Please, touch my clitoris while you do that," I begged, whimpering when his tongue breached the puckered hole just as his fingers complied with my request.
My head swam as pleasure washed over me. I shook all over and struggled to stand. I no longer cared if the whole world could hear me, see us, all that mattered was the fire blazing through my body, burning ever brighter while Grant's tongue fucked my ass and his deft fingers swirled around my clitoris.
When the orgasm boiled over, I snatched away my hands and took hold of my breasts, squeezing my neglected nipples, crying out my release. My body rocked and as my legs crumpled, I realized I was about to hit the floor, but there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Perhaps by instinct, at the last possible moment I fell backwards. I heard a grunt and a thump and then I felt strong arms around me and the warmth of a body against my back instead of the hard, cold floor.
A muffled voice was asking if I was alright. "I'm fine. Are you okay? Did I hurt you?" I asked anxiously, flipping over.
We choked with suppressed laughter upon discovering my breasts pressed into his face. I scooted down and cradled Grant's head. "Seriously, did you hit your head? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine; it sounded worse than it feels. You just took me off guard. I'm so glad I was able to—"
I heard a heavy thud followed by a blinding light.
"What the—" a voice boomed.
Laughter filled the tiny room while my eyes adjusted. When at last I could see, I looked up and found Taran, Nissa and Kuri doubled over, laughing while Grant and I lay sprawled out, stark naked on the bathroom floor.
Morning came, and I found myself reluctant to leave the privacy of the bedroom.
"I don't think I can face them," I said as I sat in bed, fidgeting with the blanket.
Grant smiled and smoothed my rumpled hair. "Sure you can. Besides, we can't stay up here forever."