Grace Newell tugged at the strap of her black singlet and let out a sigh. She couldn't believe she was actually going through with this. She rapped her knuckles against the door and took a step back. Her heart thudded so loud the beats pounded in her ears.
She smoothed her hands over her denim skirt and turned to gaze at the quiet street. Sunlight bounced off the windshield of her parked car. A dog barked in the distance and the smell of a barbecue wafted on the wind.
The breeze lifted her blonde hair. She flattened her palm against her churning stomach, closed her eyes and concentrated on deep breaths. As the seconds ticked by, she considered the wisdom of running away and pretending this had never happened.
It was a stupid idea anyway -- really stupid. Grace opened her eyes and took a step towards the edge of the porch. She bit her lip and hesitated, the pull to disappear just as strong as the urge to stay.
Her stomach dipped. The door swung open at her back, making her decision for her.
"Horse Face, what brings you here?"
Grace summoned the courage to turn and look into the blue eyes of Tom Jackson, her best friend Alison's older brother. The rumpled state of his coffee-coloured hair gave the impression he'd just climbed out of bed - at two in the afternoon. His muscled arm rested on the door frame above his head and the breeze caressed the dark hairs sprinkled across his chest. He wore black boxer briefs and nothing else. No matter how long she stood here, Grace knew she'd never tire of looking at him.
She sighed inwardly at his ability to always ruin the moment by speaking. "It's Grace, Tom. It's always been Grace." He'd given her the annoying nickname back when she'd worn braces and kept her long hair in a ponytail. She'd changed over the years -- considerably - but he'd never seemed able to lose that image of her as an awkward teenager. She elbowed her way past him and stalked into the house.
She dropped her purse and keys onto the hall table and turned to take in the living room. Her hazel eyes swept over the coffee table littered with wine glasses and empty beer cans, the beige couch with a pair of jeans draped over the back. She knew Tom had invited his family over last night to celebrate his recent promotion at work. Being a family of seven, their nights often turned into rowdy ones.
The door clicked closed behind her. Grace flinched at the finality of the sound. She paced the wooden floorboards and nibbled her thumbnail, then yanked her hand away when she remembered she'd given up the habit years ago.
" Gracie, stop for a minute." Tom snagged her elbow and turned her toward him. "What's going on? Is something wrong with Alison?"
"No. What?" Grace blinked. "No. She's fine. There's nothing wrong with her."
Tom released his hold on her. "Why are you here then? You never come by without her."
"I had to see you on my own. You can't....please don't tell her about this." Grace covered her face with her hands. She massaged her forehead and took a couple of fortifying breaths. Was she really going to do this? "I have a question to ask you."
"Must be a good one. You can't even look at me."
Grace forced her hands away and met his eyes. He'd moved over to the couch and sat on the edge with his hands dangling between his knees. His watchful eyes followed her every movement.
She huffed out a breath. "I'm just going to come out with it, okay?"
"That's usually the best way." He waggled his thumb at the empty space beside him. "Do you want to take a seat? You look like you're about to pass out."
Grace shook her head. "No, I'm fine. I just really need to say this." Her heart hammered and the pressure built inside her until the idea of telling him almost became appealing. "Tom...I'm a virgin."
He leaned back against the couch and clasped his hands behind his head. Amusement glimmered in his eyes and a lazy smile played about his lips. "Gracie, with your uptight, highly strung personality, I'd never have guessed."
A flush warmed her cheeks. "I knew you'd react this way."
"Then why did you tell me?" He kept his eyes on her.
It took some effort, but Grace managed to push her embarrassment aside and approach the coffee table. She shoved a couple of empty beer cans out of the away and perched on the edge facing him. Her attention flickered to the living room window. She briefly considered crashing through the glass to make her escape. "We've known each other a long time. I've been thinking a lot lately about-"
"Stop stalling." He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He stroked her leg with his fingertips. "Out with it."
Grace blew the hair from her eyes and glanced down at her hands. "The thing is, Tom..."
"I want you to take my virginity."
The sudden silence weighed heavily in the room. Grace held her breath and trained her attention on her fingernails. Now it was out there, there was no taking it back. She waited for him to laugh, to ridicule her, but nothing happened. "You're not saying anything." She glanced up and saw his guarded expression. "Why aren't you saying anything?"
"Jesus, Gracie, I'm in shock." Tom dragged a hand down his face. "You can't just throw it out there like that."
"You told me to!" She pressed her lips together and focused on staying calm. "I just want to get it out of the way. I'm twenty-three years old. I'm sick of having this hanging over my head."
His eyes passed over her. "I'm sure you could find plenty of men willing to help you out with your 'problem'."
"I don't want just any man." Grace chewed her lower lip. She closed her eyes and held her breath for a moment. When her gaze met his again, she found some of her courage had returned. "I want you."
Tom cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. "Why?"
"I want my first time to be amazing." She saw the heat flare in his eyes and it gave her hope. "I know with you it will be."
"I'd ask if you were serious, but in all the time I've known you I've never heard you crack a single joke."
Grace slapped her palms on her knees and pushed herself up to stand. "I knew it was a risk asking you a question like this. I half expected you to say no." She stepped over his bare feet and forced her shoulders back. "I was an idiot to even ask."
Tom gripped her wrist as she passed by, tugging firmly enough to bring her back a step. "I didn't say I wouldn't do it."
Grace felt her breath catch. "You'll help me out?"
"Yeah, it'll be a real chore. I'd like to say I'm the type of guy who wouldn't take advantage of a woman in your situation, but who would I be kidding?" He fought a losing battle to keep the smile off his face. "I can't believe my life has come to this."
Grace yanked her wrist free from his grasp and scowled at him. "This is one of the reasons I chose you; your ability to have sex and move on as if nothing happened - also because you annoy me enough I'm not likely to develop any feelings for you."
Tom stood and flicked his fingertip down her nose. "You underestimate my appeal, Gracie." He propped his hands at his waist and looked her over. "So, are we doing this now, or did you come here to make an appointment?"
She raised her eyes to the ceiling and blew out a loud breath. "I'm beginning to wonder why I came here at all."
Tom laughed and gave her upper arm a quick rub. "Why don't we just get it over with?" He intertwined his fingers with hers and pulled gently.
Despite her better judgment, Grace gave in and followed behind him.
She discovered his bedroom was filled with modern, masculine furniture. Sunlight crept around the edges of the closed drapes, giving the room a pale, muted glow. The bed was unmade, she'd expected that, but everything else had its own little place. A faint smile shaped her lips as she glanced around at his things. She'd never had cause to be in here before. It made her feel closer to him.
Grace wandered over to the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress. She flicked off her sandals and curled her toes into the beige rug. The sound of running water pounded on the other side of the ensuite door. Her leg jiggled and queasiness settled in her stomach.
"You could join me, you know." Tom's deep voice echoed in the shower stall.
Grace shook her head at the humour in his tone. "I think I'll just wait here," she called back.
She smiled absently and glanced over her shoulder at the bed. The navy linen looked cool and inviting. She knew the pillows would smell of him. Grace nibbled on her lower lip and weighed up her options. Should she undress and climb in, or wait until he came out of the shower? She decided lying naked under the covers appealed to her more than sitting here growing increasingly nervous.
Grace stood and moved into the centre of the room. She drew a breath, crossed her arms over her body and tugged at the hem of her singlet. As the bundle of black cotton fell from her fingertips, she tried not to dwell on the sexual experience his former girlfriends must have had, or worry too much about her awkwardness killing the mood.
She adjusted the strap on her black bra and peered at herself in the dressing table mirror. Her breasts swelled above the intricate lace cups. Her cheeks were flushed with anticipation and her stomach muscles contracted with each quick breath. She gathered her hair in a thick bundle and shook it out behind her.
Grace unsnapped the button on her skirt and hooked her fingers in the waistband. She pushed it down her thighs and stepped from the puddled denim. Dressed only in her bra and a pair of black lace panties that rode low on her hips, she gazed at her reflection. With the unfamiliar room at her back, it almost felt like she was watching someone else.
She blew out a controlled breath and reached behind her to unsnap the clasp on her bra. The flimsy material slackened across her chest. She slid the straps down her arms, letting the bra drop from her dangling fingertips. Cool air whispered over her skin.
Grace closed her eyes and tried to imagine how Tom's hands would feel roaming her body, touching places only she had touched; his weight pressing down on her, his hardness pushing into her. She tentatively stroked her nipples, sighing when they tightened beneath her touch.
She knew Tom would do everything possible to make this moment pleasurable for her. The knowledge stirred a deep longing inside her. Grace grew bolder and smoothed her palms over her breasts, lifting and massaging the tender flesh.
Her hand slipped over warm skin and textured lace. She trailed her fingers between her thighs, knowing that soon his fingers would be there, teasing, stroking. She knew what it was like to reach that sensual peak, to feel control slip away. It would be different letting Tom take that control from her.
Her head tipped back and she breathed softly. She wanted this, it thrilled her to realise - she wanted him. If she could just push aside her anxiety, everything would be perfect.
"I'm actually at a loss for words."
Her eyes shot open at the sound of Tom's voice. Embarrassment washed over her as she spun around to face him. No matter how much her fingers itched to protect her modesty, Grace forced her hands to stay at her sides. "I didn't know you were there."
"I know." He stood in the open doorway with a towel wrapped around his waist and his damp hair in disarray. His eyes flickered over her. "That's what made it so damn sweet."
Grace felt her cheeks grow hot. Gone was the teasing expression she'd grown so used to over the years. Gone was the laughter in his eyes. His jaw clenched as he walked toward her. She watched him approach, taking in every detail so she could relive this moment later on in her mind. When he stopped before her, she drew in a shuddering breath.
He reached out his hand and stroked the hollow at the base of her throat. His eyes met hers and he ran his fingertips lightly between her breasts, trailing further down to her navel. His touch was so soft it barely registered, so intense it left shivers in its wake. "You're stunning," he said.
She pressed her lips together to stop them trembling. "Thank you," she whispered. Her forehead was level with his jaw and she had to tip her chin to meet his gaze. "You'll have to tell me what to do, teach me what you like. I really don't know what-"
"Grace." Tom clasped her face in his hands, brushed his thumbs over her cheeks. He dipped his head and pressed his lips to her ear. "Relax."
She sighed at the calm assurance in his tone. He encircled her in the strength of his arms, holding her close, his fingers flexing against her spine. She drew in the scent of him. She'd never been so turned on by the simple smell of soap before.
His mouth moved over her throat, dropping lingering kisses here and there. "You've got nothing to worry about," he said. "I'll take care of you."
"I know." She closed her eyes and leaned against him. "I know you will."
He cupped the back of her head, nibbled her lower lip. He flicked his tongue over the closed seam of her mouth. Now his arms were around her, Grace found it wasn't all that difficult to let go of her unease. She linked her fingers at the back of his neck. She pressed her lips to his to feed the desire welling inside her.
Tom made a small hum of approval. His mouth moved with hers in a kiss so slow and thorough her body loosened and melted against him. Her tongue ventured inside his mouth. He groaned and shoved his fingers into her hair. His other hand swept down her back to curve over her rear. He pressed her to him, rubbing her firmly against his erection.
Grace closed her eyes at the sensation, pulling her mouth from his to explore the line of his jaw with her lips. She kissed his throat, nuzzled his stubble covered chin. She discovered a sensitive spot behind his ear that made him shudder. It pleased her that despite her inexperience, she could still do that to him.
"More." He breathed the single word against her cheek and dragged her lips back to meet his. His tongue plunged inside her willing mouth, caressing and exploring the moist depths. He slipped his hand under her heavy fall of hair, cradling the back of her neck as he slid his lips over hers. His cock pressed snugly between them, a tantalising promise of things to come.
Grace whimpered as she clung to him, overwhelmed by his passion. They were so close she could feel his heart race against her chest. She swept her hands over the muscles of his back, wanting to touch every part of him.
He tore his mouth from hers, breathing heavily as he gazed at her. "You're driving me crazy."
Grace skimmed her hands over his chest and smiled uncertainly. "I know how you feel."
Tom looked at her for one long, breath-stealing moment. He kissed her hard and quick, then urged her around until her back was pressed against his chest. They both faced the mirror and her smile disappeared as she blinked at the image staring back at her. Her cheeks were flushed and her lips swollen and pink. Her eyes had a wild look about them. He'd wrapped his arm around her waist and her breasts jutted upwards over his hard flesh.
She'd never seen this woman before.
"Look at you." Tom swept her hair aside and licked the back of her neck. "You're beautiful."
She sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder. "When you look at me like that, I feel beautiful."
He ran his hands over her flat belly in slow, hypnotising circles. Grace watched the movements as if in a dream. Her skin warmed under his touch and her nipples hardened almost painfully, desperate for his attention. She saw the way his eyes had darkened with need, noticed the steely line of his jaw as he held his desire in check.
He cupped her breasts, running his palms lightly across her nipples. Her mouth parted and a soft moan slipped free. He massaged her flesh with firm strokes, lifting and pushing her breasts together. The sight of his tanned, masculine hands cupping and caressing her with such care almost pushed her over the edge. He thumbed her nipples, pinching the buds gently until she cried out.
Tom continued his ministrations on her breast while his other hand slid down her belly. His fingers dipped into the waistband of her panties. Grace held her breath as their gazes meshed in the mirror. Although she knew what was coming, it didn't stop her from jolting against him when he cupped her pussy. Her back arched and she bit her lip. She'd never been touched by a man so intimately before.
"Gracie," he said, "You feel wonderful; so soft and smooth." He held his hand still and kissed her neck.
It didn't take her long to start moving against him. He massaged her gently. He pushed his finger through her lips, sliding it up and down the length of her, spreading her moisture in agonizingly slow strokes. She knew without touching herself how wet she'd become, how wet he'd made her.
She unconsciously pressed her arse harder against him. Her pussy ached for more. He groaned and dipped his finger inside her. Grace closed her eyes and let her head drop forward. Her blonde hair swept over her shoulders, draping around her in a silky curtain. "Oh, Tom...that's..." She couldn't put into words the feelings he stirred in her -- not just the touch of his hands; his presence, his strength, the knowledge he'd keep her completely safe.
He moved his attention to her clit, teasing and taunting the swollen bud. She jerked softly and sighed out his name.
"Look at me, Grace," he said. His voice was husky and deep, thick with desire.
She lifted her head and shoved her hair from her face. Grace met his eyes and leaned back on him. Her hips rocked against his hand. Her lips parted as pleasure raced through her.
She raised her arms and clasped her fingers behind his neck. The change in position caused her breasts to rise and her nipples to thrust out proudly. The intensity built until her belly tightened and her legs grew weak. His fingers moved over her with such ease she knew it wouldn't take long.
Grace's breaths grew heavy as they panted from her. She could feel the bulge of his cock against her lower back. She was on the verge of begging him to put it inside her. He rubbed her moisture over and around her clit, his fingers sliding through her wetness. Sensation grew inside her until she didn't think she could take any more. "Tom...I'm..."
"Let go," he whispered against her ear.
That was all it took in the end, the sound of his voice coaxing her toward orgasm. Her hips bucked against his hand. She wanted to double over at the intensity. He held her firmly upright as their eyes met in the mirror. She strained against his hold and let out a long, low groan through clenched teeth. It ripped through her, so powerful her legs would have buckled if he hadn't been supporting her.
He kept rubbing, extracting the final few tremors from her. She gripped his forearm and whimpered as the waves subsided. His fingers grazed her sensitive clit as he pulled his hand from her panties. Grace shuddered and turned in his arms. "That was amazing." She swept her hair back and fought to catch her breath as her eyes flickered over his face.
"God, you turn me on, Gracie. Watching you, touching you...I almost lost it when you came."
Grace basked in the warmth of his gaze, her body glowing with the pleasure he'd given her. He dipped his thumbs into the waistband of her panties and shoved them over her hips. She stepped from the bundle and her arms wound around his neck as he walked her lazily backward. He swept his fingers down her side and skimmed over her breast. His mouth captured hers, stifling her moan of pleasure.
He pulled her close and let his lips roam languidly over hers, building the fire inside her all over again. As Grace took the opportunity to rid him of his towel, her reaction to him suddenly registered. She'd never expected it to be like this. She'd been prepared for awkwardness, for her inexperience to lessen the moment. Tom didn't seem bothered by it at all.