He takes his coffee black (no sugar for me, Swan, I’m sweet enough, I’m told), which makes his little performance with the sugar and creamer packets at the coffee cart to strike up a conversation all the more brazen.
“So you are manly enough to drink your coffee as nature intended?”
He winks at her over the top of his coffee cup. “Guilty as charged, I’m afraid.”
It’s 7:15am on Wednesday morning, and they’ve officially been dating for five whole days. They have precisely one hour to shower and dress and get to the train station, and Emma has never wanted to call in sick more in her life. Putting her elbows on the top of her kitchen island counter, she leans forward and assumes the best sultry pose she can manage this early in the morning. “What else have you been hiding from me?”
His eyes widen as his gaze flicks down to where she knows her robe is doing a very bad (good?) job of covering her cleavage, then he puts down his coffee and slides off the wooden stool in one graceful movement. “I’m an open book as far as you’re concerned, love,” he says as he tugs on the loosely tied sash around her waist, his hands warm as they delve beneath the silky robe to palm her bare breasts. “But I have no objection to you doing some hands-on research.”
His mouth is hot and sweet, even without the sugar, and she’s never realised what a perfect height her kitchen countertop is.
They make the train with two minutes to spare.
They fall into a pattern of staying overnight at her apartment half the time, the other half at his, and some nights they don’t see each other at all. Well, that’s always the plan, anyway.
She will tell herself (and him) that they need a night off from each other, that it would be foolish to rush into anything serious too soon (says the woman who slept with the man after their first non-date), and that they need to set clear boundaries about independence and self-reliance. He nods and agrees and tells her that it’s a great idea, he’ll catch up with his mates or get an early night and call her in the morning. Every single time, one of them cracks - my bed is far too dull without you in it, love, there’s nothing good on TV tonight – their texts sometimes arriving at exactly the same time, and they laugh at each other and themselves and then one of them packs an overnight bag.
By the end of their fourth week of dating, she’s cleared out a drawer for him at her apartment.
He goes one better, clearing out one side of the wardrobe in his study and a whole shelf for her boots.
“It’s not a competition, you know,” she rebukes him gently, learning back against him as she admires the gleaming white shelf (God, he’s even dusted it) that will be a perfect weekend home for her footwear.
“I know,” he says as he kisses a path down her neck, his hands tightening on her hips as he draws her back against him. “But I would clearly be the winner if it were.”
They tumble onto his comfortably rumpled bed, laughing, hands already slipping beneath clothes to tease and torment, and she’s so not about to argue the point.
They don’t spend all their spare time in bed, though. At least, not after the first week.
They see movies and take each other to dinner, and on a few momentous Sunday mornings he actually comes with her to the farmers’ markets (at the bloody crack of sparrow’s arse, seriously, love, do we have to get out of bed at the same time as the farmers in order to fully enjoy their wares?). He loads his favourite music onto her iPod, the one that lives in her car, and she returns the favour, a little freaked out at how many times they double up on their favourite songs.
Around the eighth week mark, they hit the clubs (come on, Killian, we’re thirty, not dead) on a Saturday night, catching the last train home while still pleasantly buzzed from one last round of shots, her head on his shoulder, their ears ringing from the too-loud-if-you’re-sober music. “So weird to think that a couple of months ago, you and I were just staring at each other over people’s heads.”
As she speaks, she dances her hand over his thigh, loving the way that the muscles tense beneath her palm. She brushes her fingertips dangerously close to the zipper of his jeans, and hears his sharp intake of breath. Grinning, she does it again, knowing that she’s driving him mad and also knowing that there’s nothing he can do about it until they reach her apartment.
He’s not the only competitive one in this relationship, after all.
He quirks one dark eyebrow at her, his hand covering hers where it’s resting on his thigh. “Oh, I was doing much more than just staring, Swan.” She looks at him, her pulse quickening at the dark glint in his eyes. “For example,” he murmurs, his lips close to her ear, “I spent quite a lot of time imagining what those lovely breasts looked like underneath all those layers, and how soft your skin would be under my tongue.” His soft accent manages to make the blunt words sound like poetry, for God’s sake. “I also devoted a large portion of each journey pondering what it would be like to have those gorgeous legs of yours wrapped about me, and the wonderful noises you’d make as I fucked you so thoroughly that I would bear the marks of your fingernails on my back for a week.”
Speechless, she can only stare at him. Her pulse is pounding in her ears, the tips of her breasts, between her legs. Those tequila shots have obviously loosened both his tongue and his sense of proprietary, because she’s never heard him say these things before, not even when they’ve been in bed. She crosses her legs, because Jesus, she feels as though the seat’s about to catch fire beneath her, and he smirks. Another spasm of desire ripples low in her belly, and she wants to bite that smirk right off his mouth, grab a handful of his messy black hair and pull him off his seat until he’s on his knees in front of her, his face buried between her legs, his mouth hot and hungry, shutting him up in the best way possible.
She gives him as casual a smile as she can manage, then extracts her hand from underneath his. “I’m just going to the bathroom.”
He blinks, obviously disappointed that their game is over before it’s even started, then grins. “Killjoy.”
The bathroom is surprisingly clean and is in possession of a working lock and no CCTV (in her line of work, she knows where to look.) She can’t believe she’s about to do this, but she’s buzzing with tequila and lust and the need to wipe that smirk off his face, so she waits five minutes, just long enough for him to start to worry, then sends him a text.
The lock is stuck, come save me?
It takes him less than thirty seconds to knock on the door. “Can’t believe I had to text you to get you in here,” she whispers as she yanks it open and grabs his arm, hauling him into the small bathroom with her.
He looks adorably bewildered. “Swan, what are you-”
She flicks the lock behind him, then puts one hand flat on his chest, pushing him up against the small washbasin. “You’re a smart guy,” she whispers as the other hand slides down his belly to palm the thick ridge of his erection through his jeans. Seems like she wasn’t the only one who’d become hot and bothered by his trash talk. “You tell me.”
He arches into her touch, one hand gripping the edge of the sink to steady himself. “Bloody hell, lass”
“I mean, seriously, what part of I’m just going to the bathroom wasn’t a clue?” she mutters as he pulls down the scooped neckline of her sleeveless top, his beard scraping her skin as he pushes aside the lace of her bra and finds the tight pebble of her nipple with his tongue and teeth. He bites down non-too-gently, sending a jolt of sensation straight to her groin, and she has the feeling that she’s just lost control of this little contest.
“The part where I thought you just had to use the – oh, fuck, Emma –“ His mouth covers hers in a hot, hard kiss as she rubs him through his jeans, spinning them around as his hands slide down to grip her ass and lift her up onto the edge of the sink. Then he’s pulling up the hem of her dress, his knuckles brushing against the damp silk of her underwear, and she hisses out a quick breath, her hands busy with his belt buckle, because if he’s not inside her in the next five seconds, she just might combust.
It takes ten seconds (they’re a little tipsy and a little uncoordinated), but when he finally sinks into her, the sound he makes is the most erotic fucking thing she’s ever heard in her life. He tells her she’s beautiful and this is the stuff of his filthiest dreams and that she’s even more glorious than he could ever have imagined. All the while his arms are braced on the wall behind her, her dress is rucked up to her waist and her ankles are locked behind his back, each heavy thrust and drag of his cock inside her pushing her closer to the edge faster than she’s ever felt before. “God, Killian, don’t stop.”
“Trust me, love, it would take a bloody derailment.” He slides his hand between them, the rough pad of his thumb finding the spot that has her shaking and arching against him, and she grips two handfuls of his hair and pulls his mouth to hers, biting and sucking at his lips and his tongue until they’re both shuddering. Everything gets faster and slicker and hotter, and it’s suddenly a race to see who can be the first to collapse, limp and sated, into each other’s arms. It’s a close thing, and afterwards it’s hard to keep a straight face as she wipes the lipstick from his mouth and tries to make it look as though she hasn’t just been thoroughly fucked in a public bathroom. She ignores his knowing smirk as she pulls up her underwear with a moue of distaste, and hopes they’re not about to miss their stop.
They miss their stop.
She insists on paying for the taxi back to her apartment. After all, she tells him, it was technically her fault.
When they finally reach her apartment, he barely gives her time to shut the front door behind them before he’s pushing her up against it, his mouth hot on the curve of her neck, one hand sliding underneath the hem of her short skirt. “You lured me into that bathroom under false pretences, Swan.”
“Look who’s talking, Mr ‘I don’t take really take sugar in my coffee’ Jones.” She presses a kiss to his throat, tasting the salty tang of dance floor and illicit bathroom sex sweat. “Were you all set to break down the bathroom door?”
“Precisely.” He presses the heel of his palm against her pubic bone, curling his fingers into the thin fabric of her still-damp underwear in a slow, deliberate caress that has her squirming in his arms. “You deprived me of a dashing rescue.” He rocks his hand against her, and heat pulses between her legs, making her knees quake.
Jesus, again? Already?
“Maybe I can make it up to you.” She bites the curve of his jaw, tasting salt and aftershave and him, and his arms are suddenly around her, lifting her up, not against the wall but over his shoulder. She clutches at him, because she can’t remember the last time anyone picked her up like this, let alone in the middle of a make out session. “Hey!”
“I feel the bedroom is the most suitable location for how I plan to let you make it up to me, love,” he shoots back, one hand smoothing up the back of her thigh, and she sucks in her breath, because every single inch of her skin is on fire and, God, she wants him, wants this, all of it, no matter what he has planned.
As it turns out, his plan seems to involve kneeling between her thighs and driving her out of her mind (apparently tequila loosens his tongue in more than one way) and she’s never been more grateful for its existence.
When the lights are turned out, Emma kisses the back of his neck and ruffles his already messy hair before breathing out a sigh of weary bliss, burrowing deeper into the softness of her pillow. “Now that was a fun night out.”
“You could have gotten me arrested.” His sleepy words might lean towards accusation, but she hears the smile in his voice. “And then I would have skipped bail and you would have had to hunt me down.”
She tangles her bare legs with his, resting one foot on his calf. “You’ll do anything to get me to bring out those handcuffs, won’t you?” A soft snuffle (not exactly a snore) is her only answer, and she makes a mental note to ask the question again when they’re both (a) sober and (b) awake.
Smiling, she closes her eyes, and gives herself over to sleep.
They have their first fight exactly one week later. It’s over something trivial (he’s been getting out of bed in the middle of the night to check his phone, low-voiced calls that he wraps up as soon as she comes into the room) until the moment that it’s not trivial at all (until it’s just like Walsh all over again, emailing and texting her in the middle of the night). He just makes a joke about a secret admirer when she asks if everything’s okay and it goes downhill from there, and to her horror she’s flinging words at him that she hasn’t used in months, words she can’t stop, words like I trusted you and this isn’t going to work until she can no longer speak for the tears that are clogging her throat.
She waits for the sound of the door slamming shut, but it doesn’t come. Instead, she feels his arms around her, pulling her against him, his lips against her forehead. “It’s a particularly busy time at work at the moment, and I’ve had to keep an eye on the market openings in each time zone.” His voice is deep in his chest, and she feels it through her whole body. “I didn’t think to tell you because I didn’t think it mattered. I hate that I’ve upset you, and I’m sorry.” His arms tighten around her. “I don’t know for certain the calibre of men you’d been dating before we met, Swan, but I’m getting rather a clear picture.”
She buries her face against his shoulder, embarrassed and still a little angry. Not at him but at Walsh, and at Neal, for leaving her with this scar on her heart, barely healed and just waiting to split open again at the slightest pressure. “I haven’t exactly dated a heap of Prince Charmings.”
He eases her away from him, brushing her wet cheeks with his knuckles. “Just a lot of frogs, I gather?”
Her laugh comes out as a hiccup. “That’s an understatement.”
He kisses the top of her head, then produces his phone from his back pocket. He puts it in her hand, rattles off his security pin, then kisses her again. “Open book, love, if you wish to have a gander.” He grins at her. “Just don’t sign me up for any dodgy magazine subscriptions.”
She looks at the phone in her hand, then at him, wondering - not for the first time - how she’d managed to unearth someone like him out of the hundreds of men on her morning train. “Actually, I’m good.” She gives the phone back to him, rising up on her toes to press a soft kiss to his mouth. “But thank you for the offer.”
He winks. “My pleasure, love.” Slipping his phone back into his pocket, he offers her his hand, his thumb caressing her palm. “Our first argument.” He tilts his head to one side, two long fingers tapping his lips as if deep in thought. “I do seem to recall that there’s some activity traditionally performed by couples to celebrate the act of making up.”
She has no idea how he’s managed to make her palm an erogenous zone, but it’s totally working for her. “So make-up sex isn’t just an American thing, then.” She sways closer, holding his gaze with hers, wanting to forget the cracks in her heart, wanting to forget everyone who staked a claim before he came into her life. “Interesting.”
He grins, looking at her with such tender longing that her pulse shoots through the roof. “I”ll show you interesting, love.”
They sleep very late the next morning, but it’s Sunday, and they have no train to catch and nowhere to be. It’s been a long time - before Walsh, even – that she’s felt so comfortable doing nothing with someone else. She doesn’t want to jinx it, but to get to this point without the first sign of the guy being a secret fetishist weirdo (not that there’s anything wrong with that, she has her handcuffs, after all) or married or bankrupt (financially or morally) is something of a minor miracle.
“My parents want me to bring you to dinner.”
He pours her a glass of wine, then sets the bottle aside before picking up his knife and fork. “That’d be grand.”
“Seriously?” They’re eating out at the local Italian restaurant ten minutes’ walk from her apartment. It’s become a regular Thursday night thing (a bottle of house wine free with every meal), and she’d been worried that she’d push it too far, too fast, by relaying her parents’ request. Obviously, she’d thought wrong. “No polite discussion about how it might be too soon or how you’ve suddenly remembered that you’re busy every weekend from now until the end of the year?”
He frowns, then his whole face softens. “My estimation of my predecessors in your life has gone downhill yet again, Swan.” He picks up his own wine glass and clinks it against hers. “We’ve been dating for nearly four months now. Why wouldn’t I want to meet your parents?”
“Some men might see it as having too much pressure put on them.”
He waves a disdainfully dismissive hand of the mention of such men, and she can’t help smiling. “Ah, but I’m not them, love.” Abandoning his cutlery, he reaches across the table for her hand. “I’m enamoured of their daughter, Swan. It’s only fair that I pay my respects.”
She stares at him. “God, you really mean that, don’t you?”
“Of course I do.” Smiling, he picks up his fork again (not before squeezing her hand gently) and attacks his gnocchi with gusto. “Name a date and I’ll be there.”
Two weeks later, they have dinner with Mary Margaret and David, and she’s not sure which of her parents develops more of a crush on him by the end of the night. She watches the three of them as they talk, and remembers how Walsh always refused to come with her when she met her parents, even for a quick coffee date, saying that it wasn’t his place to intrude. As if he senses her watching him, Killian looks up, his eyes very blue in her parents’ softly lit living room. His gaze locks with hers, and her heart gives an odd little lurch. Neither of them have said the actual words yet, but she knows what’s in her heart, she sees it in his eyes every time he looks at her, and she’s tired of expecting the worst when the best is right in front of her.
I love you, she tells him silently, and he smiles.
A few weeks before their sixth month anniversary, she has something to tell him. It’s not a situation she’d force on someone she was dating normally, but the timing is what it is and there’s no avoiding the issue. “Hey, can we talk?”
It’s the Monday of a holiday long weekend and they’re at his apartment, a sub-let from his brother Liam, ten minutes further out of the city than her place and not nearly as nice, something he’s cheerfully admitted on several occasions. He looks up from the stove, where he’s busily creating something he’s calling a frittata but she suspects will be a mashed up omelette from the looks of it. “Should I be worried?”
“That depends.” She pulls up a chair at his kitchen table, absentmindedly tidying the scattered weekend newspapers as she talks. “My lease is up in two weeks.”
“Six months already.” Of course, he would remember that she’d moved into her new place the weekend before they’d noticed each other on the train for the first time. Looking more enthusiastic than anyone should this early in the morning, he turns off the heat underneath the frypan and comes to sit at the table beside her. “We should celebrate.” His knees bump against hers as he leans one elbow on the table, his chin cupped in one palm. “Perhaps by signing a new lease?”
Her heart stutters, then starts to thump against her ribs. “You mean together?”
He looks surprised by the question. “Of course, love.” Reaching up one hand, he touches one finger to the tip of her nose. “Wasn’t that the whole point of this discussion?”
Feeling as though she’s had the rug pulled out from under her, she tries to find her footing. “Yes, but I thought it would be-” He’s gazing at her expectantly, waiting for her to finish her sentence, and she realises that she doesn’t want to finish it. She doesn’t want to be the way she was with Walsh. She doesn’t want to expect things to be awkward and hard and unpleasant. “It all sounds so simple when you say it like that.”
His smile makes her bare toes curl against the hard wooden floor. His kiss, when it comes a few seconds later, makes her feel as though she’s stumbled onto something elusive, something fragile and strong in the same heartbeat. “It is simple,” he tells her when it’s over, his thumb grazing lazily over her chin. “I love you, Swan, and I don’t fancy sleeping in a bed without you it in ever again.”
Her heart still doing its frantic dance, she looks at him, struck by a sudden sense of completion. It’s 8:15am on a Monday (she remembers catching sight of him that first morning when she’d leapt onto the train, breathless and determined to never let herself be fooled by a man ever again) and now she takes another leap, a leap of faith. This time, just like the last time, she knows she won’t regret it. “Good.” His eyes widen almost comically, and that’s all she sees before she closes her own eyes, leaning forward to brush her lips against his. “Because I love you, too,” she whispers, her heart suddenly feeling ten times lighter, and his answering smile tastes warm and sweet, even without the sugar in his coffee.