The bar was littered with the success and failure of their experiments. The wood panelled space smelled of raspberries, mint, aniseed and the sharp sweetness of whiskey.
Jess cherished their time together. They were lucky that her pub sat squarely in the centre of Ystad, meaning that if Magnus had time off, or if the caseload was slow, they could meet here on fairly short notice.
They were more than friends with benefits. Less than lovers. They fell into that grey space between, unlabelled, complicated, somehow meaning everything to each other without a word said about it.
“And last,” Jess announced, rooting around in the under-bar cupboard and coming up with a squeezy container of honey, “my twist on an Old Fashioned.”
They’d met this afternoon to make cocktails. Jess often experimented with them and her cocktail nights had become something of a miniature sensation in the city.
Magnus raised a brow at her, his mouth solemn. His hair, the colour of caramel spun into gold, spiraled over his forehead, the thick curls framing his lean face like a halo. “I fail to see how you could improve on such a classic.”
Cocking an eyebrow at him, Jess started to methodically set out the ingredients. Water. Bitters. Orange slices, maraschino cherries. Bourbon and crushed ice.
Magnus surveyed the contents and chose a glass for her. “No sugar,” he noted in the voice of James Bond, dipped in a lick of sin.
“That’s where this comes in.” She wielded the Chinese-spiced honey. “Sweet, fruity, with just a little kick. It adds an edge to the drink. I think Don Draper would approve.”
He looked dubious, his blue eyes flicking from her face to the glass. “All right, let’s taste it.”
“Would you put the kettle on?”
Understanding what she wanted, he disappeared into the kitchen and returned with the exact measurement of boiling water. Jess spooned out honey and stirred, watching as the golden liquid dissolved into the steaming water. She set it aside to cool, and, aware of Magnus’s eyes on her, iced the glass he’d chosen. She dropped in a few dashes of the bitters, along with a slice of orange and two cherries.
Choosing a wood muddler from the selection on the bar, she crushed the fruit and ice together, then picked out the orange slice.
“Satisfied so far?”
His gaze met hers and he nodded once. The quiet intensity on his face, the set of his poet’s mouth, the darkness of his azure eyes, made her think of a lot of things.
Mixing drinks wasn’t one of them.
Looking away, she added the bourbon and then a few splashes of the honey syrup, muddling it all again, and adding a handful of ice and a few more cherries. She presented it to him with a mock bow. “Taste.”
His face said he was far from convinced. “I’m a traditional sort of man.”
“Really?” she deadpanned. “You? I hadn’t noticed.”
He took the glass from her and sipped. Surprise paraded over his handsome face. “Jess, that’s…. fantastic .”
She propped a hand on her hip. “Told you.”
“Well. I think that’s nearly enough experiments for today.” He sipped a little more of the drink, then set it aside. She watched his throat move as he swallowed. The button-down, stormy-sky grey shirt he wore was open at the neck three buttons, just enough to expose a few whorls of sunkissed-gold chest hair, and she’d thought more than once about tasting him just there , where his neck met his shoulder. She knew his skin tasted salty-sweet, addictive. Her mouth watered.
“Nearly? What else did you want to try?”
He stepped almost imperceptibly closer. “I want to see if you taste of any of the drinks we’ve made today.”
Her breath hitched. He was so near. Tall, and handsome as all hell. Corkscrew curls and eyes as deep as the Pacific, and just as blue.
Her mouth went dry as a desert. “Wait. What’s your hypothesis?”
His gaze dropped to her mouth. Her lips tingled from that alone.
“Mint, and a little honey.” He settled his hands at her hips. They were warm; his touch light. “Of course, for this experiment I need a willing partner.”
She searched his cerulean eyes. Long ago, she had come to Ystad to find inspiration and adventure, and somehow found both wrapped up in this tall, enigmatic puzzle of a man. He intrigued her. Made her laugh until her stomach hurt. Challenged her brain.
He interfered with her on a basic level. Made her heart pound in her mouth, her head spin. For God’s sake, he interfered with her breathing.
Not to mention her sleeping.
They were drawn into each other’s gravity, and no matter how many partners the other had come and go, they were ever pulled back in the other’s orbit.
“If it’s for science, then I’m in.”
The words had barely left her lips when he captured her mouth with his. His kiss was light at first, testing himself. Testing them both.
He tasted of the riffed cocktail; the fruity honey, the sweetness of the cherries, and when he gently put pressure on her lips, parting them, the bitterness cut through both. The flavours sliced across her tongue, the bitters the perfect foil to the thick, drugging sweetness of the honey and fruit. Their tongues tangled, and Jess sucked in a breath, her hands sliding up his chest.
She caught the tattoo of Magnus’s heart under her palm and then twined her arms around his neck, pulling him deeper into the kiss.
A small sound came from his throat, a sort of half growl, and Jess felt it all the way to her toes. She turned her head, scraping her teeth along his lip, and he made the sound again, this time sliding his hands down to her behind.
He swallowed her small gasp of surprise as he lifted her up, sitting her on the bar. Her legs instinctively parted and he moved between them without breaking the kiss. Jess threaded her fingers through his short hair, her senses aflame.
“I can take my time,” he whispered. “Since you’re not open today. Well.” He slid a hand down to where her legs wrapped around him. “Not to the public, anyway.”
She rolled her eyes at his joke. “Proud of ourselves, are we?”
He scraped his teeth lightly at the jam of her pulse under her jaw. “It’s gotten me this far.”His clever hands slid under her blouse, fingers testing the line of her bra, sliding under it teasingly, then back.
They’d done this dance a hundred times, but Jess never tired of it. Magnus was ever inventive, finding new ways to worship her body with his, to make her bow and gasp under him, to quiver and sigh until her breath ran out.
Jess leaned her head back to give him better access to her neck, and he took advantage, kissing his way to the hollow of her throat, then using his talented fingers to free the buttons of her blouse, parting the fabric.
“Now...” He reached behind her for the squeezy bottle of honey. “When you insist on using ingredients like this, Mess, I can’t help but want to taste them on you.”
The silly nickname he’d given her when they’d first met, Messy Jessy, had now just been shortened to Mess. No one else called her it anymore, and sometimes when Magnus said it she thought of it as a byword for their history, kisses and sex and laughter and strained goodbyes and long conversations over oceans, all squeezed into a single syllable.
He flicked open the front clasp of her bra and upended the honey container, drizzling the aniseed-scented honey on to the slopes of her breasts and then her nipples. Her eyes drifted closed as he braced his forearms on the bar, either side of her hips, and began to feast on her honey-wet skin. Jess tunnelled her fingers through the curly thickness of of his hair, the strands silky on her palms.
Rolling her nipple on his tongue, Magnus’s busy fingers unsnapped buttons on her jeans and she obligingly boosted herself off the bar for a second so he could tug the worn denim down her hips. She was trapped by his body between her thighs, trapped by the material bunched at the base of her hips, but it was a prison she’d willingly stay in.
He bit down on her nipple gently, and she sucked in a quick breath. He took one of her hands and slid it into the waistband of her cotton panties. “Touch yourself.”
Jess did as he asked, her breath hitching at how wet she was for him. She put her other hand to good use, as Magnus abandoned her breast and captured her mouth. Her digits tugged at the zip of Magnus’ dark wash jeans, her fingers working as their tongues danced together, until he fell, hot and hard and ready into her greedy palm.
Magnus bit off a curse as she worked him expertly. After so long in each other’s beds, learning each other’s bodies, they could command orgasms from each other in scant minutes, snatched moments together.
Jess moaned his name into Magnus’ mouth as she stroked herself, then, needing more, grabbed his hand and shoved it where she needed it most, bucking against him as he slid one, then two long fingers inside her. He had barely any room to maneuver, trapped between his own body and hers, constrained by the cotton of her underwear, but the small space created friction that bought them both to boiling point.
Cupping and stroking the base of his erection with her other hand, Jess gripped him tightly, increasing the speed as he jerked in her hand, his fist clenching in the fabric of her blouse as his hips moved helplessly.
They came together in a hot rush, Jess’ name spilling from Magnus’ lips. Jess came down slowly. The smell of sex and honey in the air.
Magnus rested his forehead on hers as they breathed each other in, as their heartbeats returned to normal in the quiet of the closed bar.
One day, Jess thought. One day she’d tell him that he was her world. But just for now, as they helped each other dress again, and as she kissed him and tasted the tang of citrus and the sweetness of honey on his lips, she’d say nothing.
And love him silently.