I was so tired of waiting. Waiting for him to notice me, waiting for him to make a move, waiting and wondering if he was even interested. Oh, there'd been plenty of signs – subtle ones, like the casual brush of his hand over my shoulder, the quick full-body hugs that left me breathless and weak. But something had always kept us apart.
First it was my boyfriend, the one I'd had for almost a year before I met TJ. Dan and I got along fine, but it was nothing like the fireworks that blew through me when Dan introduced me to his old Navy buddy. TJ took my hand, looked into my eyes and said hello – and I swear the earth fell off its axis.
I managed to cover it well. Too well, apparently. No one except me ever knew of those long, aching nights I spent sweating my way through another fantasy of TJ's dark skin against mine. I longed to feel his weight pressing into me, feel his tongue devour my mouth, his hands roving over every inch of me. I wanted to feel him deep inside of me—ached for it in ways I had never before imagined. But while my nights were filled with visions of hot, soul-shaking sex, my days were spent with me being the good little girlfriend Dan thought he had.
Dan and TJ spent a lot of time together that fall. TJ had just moved back into the area, and Dan took the opportunity to show him around. As often as not they'd end up back at Dan's house, nursing a beer and laughing about their tours in the military. Since I was Dan's girlfriend, and knew how to grill something slightly tastier than Dan's typical charcoal briquette, I found myself spending a lot of time around a man whose slightest grin had me clenching my thighs together in reaction.
I think at some point TJ became aware of the flashflood of desire that ripped through me whenever he was around. He started making it a point to give me hugs when he came over, of opening my door and pulling out my chair – things Dan just never gave thought to. And luckily Dan never saw the subtle shift of TJ's dark hand where it slid from chair back to drift along the curve of my shoulder blade as he stepped back from holding my seat, or how when he held the door for me, he would shuffle marginally closer, so that as I walked through, I was forced to brush against him, breast to chest, thigh to thigh.
One time when he did that I looked up, my cheeks flushed in a combination of pleasure and embarrassment, and found his eyes locked onto my hardened nipples, visible even through my clothing. Well, his rapt attention did nothing to lessen my arousal, and I watched his eyes heat up as he watched my body respond to his gaze.
I found my hand lifting toward him, and to this day still don't know what I would have done, had Dan not walked into the room right then and swirled me up in a huge bear hug. I tried not to grimace at his touch, but it was hard to want my boyfriend's hands on me when the man who shook me to the core was leaned back against the wall, watching, a slight smirk tipping the corners of his lips.
I smoothed my sundress back down over my thighs, pushing my hair back off my face. If I wasn't careful, I was going to ruin the comfortable relationship I had with Dan over the almost violent reactions I was having to his friend's casual flirting. Straightening my shoulders and telling myself to play it cool, I headed for the kitchen to get a much-needed beer and to work on dinner, but Dan caught my hand and swung me around.
As my dress swirled dangerously high, my boyfriend asked me why I was so dressed up. With a sigh of exasperation, I reminded him that I'd had a job interview that day. Dan's sweet, boyish grin tried to make up for the fact that his memory was more like a rusty sieve than a steel trap.
Mentally rolling my eyes, I took my sweater off, neatly folding it over the back of a kitchen chair, not wanting to risk ruining the soft wool with barbeque sauce. I thought I heard a low hiss, but when I looked around, I was alone. Shrugging my now-bare shoulders, I pulled on an apron and got to work, efficiently preparing dinner.
I was wrist deep in meat and sauce when I felt the frisson of awareness that always rippled through me whenever TJ was around. A second later I felt the heat of his body against my back as he stepped a hairs-breadth away from me, his lips grazing my ear in the slightest of touches as he whispered that he thoroughly approved of my dress, but how he'd dearly love to see me in just that apron I had slipped on, and nothing else.
My knees shook, and it wasn't until my vision grew dim that I realized I'd forgotten to breathe. With a gasping, wheezing chuckle, I tried to cover my flustered state, falling back on the easy banter we'd come to share over the past few months. But to my surprise, TJ simply grabbed my waist and pressed full-length against me, one hand sliding over my stomach and the other lifting to tuck stray strands of my hair back into my loose bun before tipping my head and nibbling his way along my neck.
Had he not been pressing me so tightly against the table, I would have slid to the floor in a boneless heap.
Over the pounding of my blood, I heard him murmur that he'd tried to keep his hands to himself, but just had to see if I tasted as good as I looked. Turning me gently into his arms, he held me tight, both of us ignoring the sauce dripping from my hands as he nibbled his way from my ear to my lips, finally, finally claiming them with a thousand times more finesse and style than I had imagined in any of my sweaty fantasies.
I moaned, lifted my hands to his shoulders, shifted his hips into the hollow of mine, and delighted in the explosions rocketing through my body. Tipping my head back in pleasure I took a long, deep breath...and felt his hands in my hair, loosening my bun until the soft weight of it filtered through his fingers to spill against my back. With a groan he grabbed a handful of that silken, fragrant cloud and pulled my face back up to his.
There was nothing even remotely gentle about this kiss. Powerful, possessive, potent – it sizzled through me, leaving my shaken and enflamed in its wake. I licked a questing lip over my swollen lips, slid my still-saucy hands over the front of his shirt, wrapped a knee around his hip, and leaned back over the table, pulling him with me.
I was oblivious to the rest of the world as his weight settled on me, right there on the big butcher-block table in my boyfriend's kitchen. His kisses ravaged my sensibilities, his whispers made me gasp at the images he painted so vividly, and his hands completely controlled my body. I could barely think for the sensations that were doing a good job of drowning out any voice of reason.
I was tugging TJ's shirt out of his jeans when he stopped kissing me, bracing himself on his elbows and pulling ever-so-slightly off of me. I mewled in frustration, trying to pull him back down onto me. Rubbing a gentle thumb against my cheek, he smiled sadly, shaking his head no.
"We can't," he whispered, his eyes going from hot and dark to sad, then back again.
Still thrumming with the pleasure of his touch, I merely whined in disagreement, arching my back, wrapping both legs around his waist and boldly offering what his hard length was clearly interested in having.
Again he shook his head.
"Dan's right outside, getting the charcoal going."
"TJ...." My voice sounded raw and agonized, even to my own ears. Slowly, so slowly, I was becoming aware of where we were, what we were doing...and how wantonly I was still splayed open beneath him, my hips still rocking against him.
I felt humiliation steam-rollering its way over me. Not only had I offered myself to this man on my boyfriend's kitchen table, I had done it while the boyfriend in question was only a few dozen yards away, oblivious to the slut his girlfriend apparently was at heart. Even now, as tears slipped from the corners of my eyes, I couldn't keep from rubbing against TJ's body where he pressed against me.
TJ sighed deeply and stepped back. I lay on the table, dress and apron pushed up over my hips, breasts dangerously close to falling out of the strapless bodice, legs spread wide and chest heaving as I fought to regain some semblance of control. I gasped when I saw the smears of barbeque sauce staining his once-white shirt. Struggling to sit up, I tugged at my clothing, refusing to even look at TJ. A tide of crimson flushed its way over my chest and onto my cheeks, staining the pale skin a bright red.
TJ lifted a hand toward my cheek, but I shrugged it away. I knew if he touched me now, I'd fall right back onto the table and drag him down with me, giving in completely to the desire still raging through me. He sighed and looked away.
"I think I'm just going to call it a night," he said quietly. I didn't see the despair clouding his eyes as he watched me huddle on the table. I kept my head down, swiping away tears as stealthily as possible, sure he thought I was a slut now.
I heard another deep sigh, and a few minutes later the front door closed. Sliding off the table I stumbled to the bathroom, where I buried my face in a towel and let loose a torrent of tears. Quite some time later I made my apologies to Dan, who'd remained completely clueless through this whole disaster. With a weak smile I told him I wasn't feeling well, and wanted to go home. The bright, though concerned smile he sent me irritated me to no end, and when he tried to kiss me goodbye I moved away. My lips still throbbed from TJ's kisses, and the thought of Dan touching me now made my stomach lurch.
I tried, unsuccessfully, to forget about the incident in the kitchen. TJ and I had become careful to never be around Dan at the same time, which only cemented my fears that he thought I was a whore, even as I breathed easier for not having to hide my reaction to him. I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with Dan, however, and three weeks later I broke up with him, saying only that he deserved much better than I could ever give him.
I threw myself into my work, and was well on my way to becoming a respected interior designer when I ran into Dan out of the blue. It had been two years since I had seen him, and even longer since I'd seen TJ, but my heart still did a stutter-step and I had to force myself to not ask after his friend. We talked politely for a few minutes, then his order came up. Adding creamer to his coffee, he mentioned TJ's name and I felt my stomach drop.
"Um, I'm sorry, what was that?" I asked, hoping my voice showed only the casual disinterest I was struggling for.
"I said, TJ's coming back to town for a visit next week,"
"Back to town?" Confusion furrowed a line between my brows.
"Yeah, he moved a couple of years ago. Said he didn't like his new job, and lit out." Dan stirred his coffee, a small, sad smile on darkening his face. "In less than a month I lost my girlfriend, then my best friend." He shrugged a shoulder, then held his cup up in salute. "Well, I'm back to work. It was good seeing you again," he said, and slipped out the door.
I waved distractedly, my heart cramping in my chest. How many nights had I lain in my lonely bed, thinking of TJ, remembering how perfect it had felt to be in his arms, pressed against his body. Nothing and no one had compared to what I felt for him, and I had become near-reclusive, concentrating solely on my work to distract me.
I wondered if I should ask Dan for more information about TJ, then talked myself out of it. I didn't know how to find Dan now that he'd sifted back into the crowd outside, and finding TJ would be even harder. I made excuse after excuse, but my heart and body still craved the man who'd made me feel more alive in those few stolen moments than anyone else had ever done before. I resigned myself to living off of memories, added sugar to my own coffee, and headed back to work, a kaleidoscope of emotion coloring my day.
I tried to put thoughts of TJ behind me again, but it seemed like everywhere I turned, something made me think of him. The only thing that helped was working, and my boss reaped the benefits of my frenzied, fanatical concentration to detail. Customers sang my praises, and my boss threw out the idea of adding me as her partner. Life should have been good, and was actually beginning to feel good – until I picked up the mail off my desk and found a letter in Dan's handwriting.
My hands shook as I slit open the envelope, pulling out a sheet of paper, a photo falling facedown onto my blotter. The envelope rattled as I reached down, and nudged the picture over. My knees buckled and I sank down into my chair, shaking fingers covering my mouth as I stared at the image of me, Dan crowded in on one side and TJ on the other. All of us were smiling big, goofy smiles, and I was holding up the stuffed animal I'd just won at the carnival game.
I traced a finger along the sweet curves of TJ's face, not even realizing tears trickled down my cheeks. In a daze I picked up the letter, and after several tries, managed to comprehend that TJ had again moved back to town, and was getting married. Dan was to be in the wedding party, but didn't want to go alone, so he was asking me to go as his date – in a very platonic way.
...I remember how the three of us used to joke around and have a really good time, and I miss that. My girlfriend is out of town, but she said it was okay with her if I asked you to go, just as friends. I'd appreciate not being stuck at this thing alone, and I know TJ would love to see you.
I snorted. Sure he would, I thought. I wondered if he ever gave a thought to that escapade on the kitchen table. I doubted it, since he was getting married, but the thought that he might sent a tingle through me. Shaking my head, I set the letter down and once again found myself staring at TJ's smile. I put my head down on my desk and wept for what I could never have.
I decided, after a lot of mental agony, that I would go with Dan to TJ's wedding. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see him again, even though it would kill me to know he was getting married. I bought a new dress, a pretty swirl of jewel tones, mentally telling myself that part of its allure had not been the fact that it greatly resembled a strapless sundress.
The day of the wedding dawned bright and clear. Dan picked me up at my apartment, and we rode to the church together, comfortable, easy talk filling the time. He escorted me in, then went off to do his duties. I was sitting alone and unprepared when TJ walked in, adjusting a cufflink. My breath whooshed out of me and my heart stopped. This man was drop-dead gorgeous at the worst of times, but in a full tux he was simply perfect.
Dan walked in behind him, saying something, and the two men laughed. Dan motioned over my way, and TJ froze...then slowly turned around. Our eyes met, and I was right back on that kitchen table. In a daze he walked over to me. Legs trembling, I stood up and we hugged – a full body contact which left me visibly shaking.
I felt TJ's lips brush my temple as he pulled away, and my knees crumpled. He was called away to talk with the minister, and I finally found my breath again. Dan looked at me, understanding dawning on his friendly face. Struggling not to cry, overwhelmed by emotions I could barely understand, much less control, I sat on the church bench and prayed for forgiveness, desperately aching for a man who was about to marry someone else. Dan pulled my head against his shoulder and graciously gave me time to find some composure.
The reception was hell. The only good part of it was that Dan and I talked, and I finally was able to talk to someone about my feelings for TJ. Dan was understandably miffed at first, especially about the table incident, but it had been quite a few years since then, and we'd not harbored any great love between us anyway. In fact, our break up had been friendly on both parts. Dan was more like the brother I would have loved to have rather than the ruling passion of my life, and he felt the same way about me.
He listened as I poured out my confusion, my frustration, the fear and agony and uncertainty I felt. He held my hand across the table and reassured me that I would be okay. I thought it was strange when he reached up and gently caressed my cheek, but it wasn't until I heard a hiss of anger behind me that I realized TJ was there. I panicked quietly, wondering how much he'd overheard, mentally cursing my senses for being overridden by my problems—for the first time I hadn't sensed his presence.
Dan drew his hand away, and I caught the twinkle in his eye, realizing that he'd staged that caress for my benefit – both to reassure me, and to gauge TJ's reaction. Judging by his tight expression and glittering eyes, TJ was pretty upset.
"Dance?" he asked, all but hauling me out of my chair.
I shuddered at his touch, bolts of electricity shooting through me, warming places that had no business being warmed by a groom in his wedding tuxedo.
TJ dragged me out onto the dance floor, pulling me against him as he swung into step. The heat of his hand burned through the silk at my waist, and goosebumps rippled over my skin. I closed my eyes, inhaling his cologne. I had a bottle of it sitting on my dresser, and I used it to spray my sheets. That spicy, sexy aroma teased me now, mixing with his own unique scent, making me tremble with desire. At my first quiver, his hand tightened on my hip.
"So, you're here with Dan, huh?" TJ murmured, his lips nuzzling my ear. I trembled and swayed closer, unable to help my reaction.
"Yeah. But we're just friends," I hastened to add, not really sure why I was even bothering to tell him that.
"I know. And so does Sandra, or she never would have let Dan ask you to come with him," TJ said, referring to Dan's girlfriend.
His hand shifted ever-so-slightly, coming to rest on my lower back.
"Your wife is gorgeous," I whispered, turning to look at the radiant bride, laughing with some friends.
I turned back to TJ, the heat in his eyes burning me before he looked away. His hand tightened, pulling me to him, and I gasped when I felt his arousal press against me.
Mesmerized, I watched as his head lower, watched his lips part as he ever so softly whispered my name. I lifted up on tiptoe, stretching against him, offering myself to him. The world stopped for just a moment, before a voice over the microphone system brought it crashing back down with the giggling invitation for all the single ladies to join in the bouquet toss.
Pulling back, I wanted to cry with frustration. I wanted, needed, to feel his lips on mine, his body on mine, his voice in my ear. But I no longer had that opportunity. He had just given himself to a bright, fun, beautiful woman until death did they part, and I was the last person who would ever ask him to break that vow.
Sensing that I was about to make a dash for the door, TJ reached down and threaded his long fingers through mine, pulling me to the queue of women squealing in delight as they waited to see who would be next to be married. He mumbled a few words in my ear, then shoved me into the crowd before stepping back.
With only the smallest portion of my mind working, I caught the bouquet before it could smack against my face, pasting a smile on my numb lips, TJ's hurried "I love you" still ringing in my ears. Thankful there was not garter to toss and therefore no need for me to remain, I grabbed my purse, told Dan goodbye, and hurried out the door, motioning for the doorman to summon a taxi.
Three years later, that bouquet was still the focal point of my dining room hutch. I'd had the flowers professionally dried and arranged, and would often find myself stroking a fingertip along the curve of a petal, remembering every nuance, every word, every thought and smell and sound.