The first sip is orgasmic. That gem of a thought leads me to memories of Shane and what happened in the stock room last night. Underneath my clothes, goose bumps raise along every inch of my skin. My cheeks feel burning hot. Clearly, my body is sending the signal that it wants more. Before last night, I’d been full of pent-up sexual tension, but somehow the releasing of it hasn’t lessened this twisty hankering for Shane. If anything, it has only grown in intensity. I think of his hand sliding down the front of my underwear, him licking my belly before going lower, the size of him in my hand.
Shit. I’m starting to wish this coffee was ice water so I could dump it over my head. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before me and Shane have sex. Crazy, loud, sweaty, dirty…no-strings-attached sex. That’s all it would be. Just two people scratching an itch. A really itchy itch. No entanglements.
My problem with those rules is they are doing little to comfort me. I don’t know what that means, but it adds a layer of anxiety to the restless need for more. My coffee cup pauses halfway to my mouth when I realize I haven’t thought of Evan once this entire morning. The realization washes over me, more effective than dousing myself in ice water. I came here to get over Evan, to resuscitate myself, but I never expected it to happen so soon. Is it Shane? Is he speeding along this whole unfamiliar process? If so, that’s definitely not going to fly. I didn’t come here to become consumed with another guy, even temporarily.
I’ve never performed this circus act of separating physical attraction from emotional connection. How do I know if I’m doing it right? In two weeks’ time, when I board the plane back to Chicago, I can’t be in worse shape than when I arrived. On top of losing Evan, I can’t be confused over whatever feelings seem to be evolving for Shane. I can’t let it happen.
The trouble with that, of course, is that I want to rip Shane’s pants off.
“All set, then,” Kitty says, entering my line of vision. Excellent timing, since now I can do nothing but envision her son in his birthday suit. “I think I have everything we need.”
I glance down and see Kitty is holding a giant bag of red apples. “What about the fish?”
Over the Kitty’s shoulder, the fishmonger catches my eye, holding up Kitty’s order in his hand, wrapped in white wax paper, telling me she must have made the order and wandered off before it could be completed. Making sure to keep an eye on Kitty, I dig my wallet out of my messenger bag and pay the man. When I walk back over, she is watching me closely.
“Martin usually picks up the fish.”
“He’s sick today,” I explain, certain whoever is listening and judging me will forgive that one tiny lie. Kitty holds out her hand and after a beat, I take it and walk back toward the bus.
“Did I ever tell you Martin kissed me once?”
“No,” I lie again. It’s a slippery slope. “How was it?”
Kitty and I finally reach the Claymore Inn after she has counted each of her footsteps between the bus stop and the front door. Out loud. It’s still only ten o’clock, so the bar hasn’t opened, but I find it odd when Kitty has to knock to be let inside. The fact that one needs keys at all to be let inside during nonbusiness hours confirms my suspicious that I’m the only guest staying at the inn. It’s a good thing I never pulled an all-nighter, or I would have been stuck outside in the rain, shit out of luck.
Still, Kitty lives here year-round. “Why don’t you have keys?”
She starts to answer but Shane yanks open the door, cutting her off and making me jump. His hair is a disaster, pointing a hundred different directions. There is a wrinkle between his eyebrows that isn’t normally there. He looks between me and Kitty like he can’t quite believe we’re standing there. Faith rushes up behind him and gives us the same look, before covering her mouth, barely smothering a delighted laugh. I glance over at Kitty to ask her what’s going on with her offspring, but when I notice the tears pouring down her cheeks, I’m silenced.
“I did it.” She claps her hands together, then throws herself into Shane’s arms. Laughing through her tears, Faith tries to wrap them both in an embrace, but she ends up simply burying her face between their shoulders. “I bloody did it.”
For a moment, Shane still appears stunned, but his body finally relaxes and he begins patting Kitty’s back. “Well done, Kitty.”
She pulls back suddenly, nearly toppling them all to the ground. In her hand, she holds up the bag of apples like a fisherman holds up a giant sea bass. “I got apples. I reckon I’ll bake a pie. I don’t know yet, since I’ve only started thinking about it.”
Faith is still wiping tears from her cheeks. “I’ll help you.”
“Grand.” She giggles like a girl half her age. “That’s grand.”
I’ve been watching this scene play out with a mixture of awe and confusion. The magnitude of what is taking place and why might be lost on me, but the impact of their unexpected happiness is not. Faith’s eyes are luminous, cheeks flushed with excitement. Shane looks astonished, with a touch of pride struggling to get out. And Kitty, well…she looks like George Clooney just walked in and proposed. It’s a moment I wouldn’t even feel comfortable photographing, because it should just exist in this sliver of time, for this family, never to be shared by anyone. Including me. Beginning to feel like a major interloper, I put my head down and bypass them into the pub.
I’m halfway up the staircase when I hear footsteps behind me. “Willa.”
God, Shane never lets me have my damn exit. That should irritate me way more than it does. I don’t pause in my journey up the stairs. “I really have to do laundry.”
“Your laundry is almost done.”
“What?” I whirl around on the top step. “Tell me you didn’t do my laundry.”
“I don’t have a death wish,” he says. “Faith did it. We have machines in the cellar. You can use those next time, instead of finding a launderette.”
“Oh.” This is my chance to redraw the battle lines. I’m surprised to find how reluctant I am to do it, but I don’t have a choice. He’s taking up too much space in my head. “Thank you, but there won’t be a next time. I have enough clothes to last the next week and a half.”
At the blunt reminder that I’m leaving, something flickers in his expression before it disappears. “The offer is there nonetheless.”
I nod, then turn to keep walking. When my fingers close around my doorknob, his hand fits over mine to keep it from turning. I didn’t even hear him move. His silent speed paired with the simple touch of our hands sends a wave of anticipation rolling in my belly. Determinedly, I fight it. I feel like a battle is being waged inside me, between my attraction to Shane and the scarier, unwanted feelings creeping in. It’s no mystery that I will lose the physical battle, but I’m trying to win the overall war. Holding out as long as possible is my only hope. I’m afraid I won’t be able to separate the two, so I’m hoping to limit the fallout. Damage control in reverse.
“Thank you. What you did for Kitty…”
Taking a deep breath, I school my features and turn to face him. God, he really is severely beautiful. Having all that quiet intensity up close and focused on me is daunting, but I’m also beginning to crave it. Trapped in his line of sight is quickly becoming my favorite place. Not good. “You got me in touch with my sister in the hospital. Consider us even.”