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Friday, 28 February 2014

First Chapter Friday: Seasons Heartbeat: Spring by Vella Munn

By Vella Munn

Chapter One
Water shot out from the split in the pipe and soaked Alisha Hearne’s jeans. “Figures,” she muttered as she jumped back. Even though she was alone, she stifled her impulse to let go with a few choice four-letter words. Not only wouldn’t cursing stop the leak, she risked totally losing it. Besides, she didn’t want to wake Bruce, the eighty-pound mutt dozing in the sun.
She hurried into the cabin and pulled out the fuse that controlled the well. She turned the fuse over to the OFF position and reinserted it. Now that water was no longer being pumped through the antiquated galvanized iron lines, she went back outside so she could get a closer look at the damage. The split started where the pipe went under the cabin. She didn’t want to think about how far it might extend into the laughingly-called crawl space or whether there was more than one split.
Well, she told herself as she shook off her jeans, did she expect anything different? She hadn’t been to the cabin located in Oregon’s Umpqua forest since last fall and then only briefly. More to the point, the pipes had been subjected to winter’s sub-zero temperatures since they’d been put in in the 1940ies. At least she’d had the forethought to bring several jugs of water with her. She could turn off the valve between the pump and house, attach a hose to the pump, and have access to water that way.
Temporary fix.
A high-powered screaming distracted her from the immediate problem. It was coming from Lake Serene some fifty yards away, undoubtedly caused by a boat going way over the fifteen-miles-per-hour speed limit. Accompanied by Bruce who didn’t care that pine needles were sticking to his short black coat, she headed for the dock, jumping over water streaming from melting snow that had recently been on the roof. At least except for the berms around the cabin, most of last winter’s snowpack had melted. Otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to drive to the one place where her mother had felt at peace.
The dock listed so far to her right she’d probably slide off it and into the icy lake so she remained on the bank. Bruce looked around for a dry spot and sat. Three pines had lost their hold on the bank and fallen in or near the lake. Granted, they’d provide waterfowl with perches but she’d have to find a way to haul them to shore and cut them up.
Add it to the list.
She shielded her eyes and stared out at the still body of water that three weeks ago had been covered with snow and ice. Even with the irritating sound, she mentally slipped back to lazy afternoons spent fishing here with her mother. They’d bonded over trout bragging rights and whose turn it was to clean their catch. As for whether her mother had wished their conversations had gone deeper—no, she wasn’t going to go there on this late May afternoon.
There was the offending boat. Whoever was pushing the motor’s limits was kicking up a constant spray of white as he entertained himself creating figure eights. At least he wasn’t at the lake’s south end with its fish-rich deep hole and the Silent Creek inlet where a dozen or so fishermen were undoubtedly glaring at him.
“Darned moron.”
She started and whirled to face whoever was behind her.
“Sorry. Guess you didn’t hear me for all the noise that fool’s making.”
“Doc!” she exclaimed as she hurried to the path where her closest neighbor stood leaning on his trademark walking stick. Bruce was already sniffing Doc’s coveralls. So much for warning her of intruders. She hugged the man she’d turned to more than once in the past for tools, advice, and sometimes handyman services. Doc, a retired dentist, had understood that her mother couldn’t always pull herself together enough to tackle repairs so had gone out of his way to help the daughter.
“I was hoping I’d see you.” Doc hugged her back. “Our family is so grateful to you.”
“I was just doing my job,” she said when they both knew it went beyond that.
“You worked your tail off. When I think of what might have happened if I hadn’t thought to call you—I’m so glad you stopped my daughter and her husband from getting into a mess with that deal they almost signed on.”
“It was a bad one. Your instincts were right.”
Doc smiled. “She’s my baby girl, always will be. What we’re really grateful for is how much time you devoted to finding them a place they could afford.”
“They’re happy with it?” She saw no point in telling Doc that much of the time she’d spent wearing her realtor hat for his daughter’s family was because she only rarely handled residential properties. She’d found the project to be deeply satisfying—worth the arguments with her father.
“Delighted especially since Rance didn’t have to change schools. And with my son-in-law gone as much as he is, it eases my mind knowing my baby is in a safe neighborhood.” Still smiling, he studied her. “They say women are at their most beautiful when they’re eighteen but they’re wrong. How old are you?”
She gave him a mock glare. “Twenty-eight, not that you have any business asking. I’m sorry I didn’t stay in touch this winter. I meant to.”
He squeezed her arm. “Your dad died. I figured you had your hands full.” He jerked his head at the lake. “That’s the third afternoon that moron’s been at it. I figure he works at the resort. Can’t be a cabin owner or guest. We know better.”
The resort consisted of the main lodge that included a restaurant, meeting rooms, bar, and the reservation office for the various motel rooms, cabins, and studios. Fortunately the complex was more than a mile away by boat and nearly four by vehicle. Except at night when she could see the distant lights, she was barely aware of the commercial establishment’s existence.              
“Have you seen what they’re doing there?” Doc asked. He scratched the top of Bruce’s head.
“No, I haven’t. I wanted to get the cabin open and aired out.”
“Bet it was musty as all get out.” Doc shook his head. “I still have a key, could have taken off the shutters and put on the screens so you can have the windows open if I’d known you were coming. I must have been inside. Otherwise, I would have heard you drive in.”
She looked in the direction of the cabin Doc and his wife had bought when their children were little but could barely glimpse it for the evergreens between the two lots. Ponderosa and other pine seedlings fought for every inch of soil not taken up by mature trees. Beautiful as they were, they also represented a fire danger in summer and needed to be thinned.
Another item for the list.
“The road has more ruts than I remember,” she said, “not that I’m complaining. Not having it paved keeps resort visitors from this side of the lake.”
“That’s going to change if the new owner has his way.”
She’d heard a few things about the proposed improvements the well-heeled owner intended to implement. Some like allowing water skiing on a lake known primarily for its fishing was bound to get a lot of rĂ©sistance. Of course if she decided to sell the cabin, it wouldn’t affect her.
“Darn it,” Doc grumbled. “He’s heading this way.”
Taking her cue from the older man who’d already started toward the shore, she trailed behind him. Doc was right. The crazy boat driver appeared intent on checking out the fifty-some small docks belonging to the private cabin owners starting with those to her south. At least he’d slowed to trolling speed. At the rate he was going, he’d reach her dock in a couple of minutes so she planted herself as close to the listing structure as she dared. She didn’t care what he thought of it. She just wanted to give him a piece of her mind about his disregard for what this high mountain lake stood for.
The motor’s high growl seeped into her and triggered something she didn’t want to examine. Suffice to say, she’d been under a lot of stress lately and didn’t need this idiot adding to it. She wanted him gone and quiet back.
Now that he was close, she realized this wasn’t one of the nearly-derelict boats the resort rented out. At least twenty-feet long, it had both a trolling motor and an outboard she guessed was at least ninety horsepower. Judging by the shiny sides and immaculate pedestal fishing seat, the craft was new.
As it eased around partly-submerged trees and docks, she stopped trying to decide whether the boat was privately owned and focused on the man with his hand on the steering wheel. She guessed him to be in his early thirties. The wind had been having its way with his longish dark brown hair while his slightly canted nose and cheeks looked wind-chapped. He had a square jaw, deep-set eyes shielded by shaggy brows, and a serious slant to his mouth that made her wonder if there might be more to him than a hell-raiser.
Over a blue T-shirt sporting a motorcycle logo he wore an unsnapped grey windbreaker that speed had pushed away from a chest made for physical labor. This was no indulged teenager, not this man with his broad shoulders and big, tanned hands. Because he was sitting low in the boat, she couldn’t see his lower half.
“Where’s your life vest?” Doc called out.
When the man didn’t immediately respond, she wondered if he was debating answering. If he gave Doc a hard time, she’d tell him to leave.
He shifted into neutral and pointed behind him.
“Crazy as you’ve been driving, I’m surprised you thought of safety,” Doc grumbled. “There’s a speed limit here.”
The man shrugged. She wanted to examine his expression, but now that the wind was in charge of its movement, the boat had started to turn away from the shore. For a moment she imagined him a drifter, a lost soul maybe without an idea how to put his life on course. Then he put the motor back into gear and came alongside the dock. He stood and leaned over the boat so he could grab the one remaining cleat. He wrapped a tie rope around it and sat back down.
“This yours?” he asked Doc, indicating the listing affair.
“No,” she said. “It’s mine.”
“Needs work.”
The two words almost made her laugh. “Thanks for pointing that out. Winter’s been a little rough on it.”
He’d turned his attention to her while she was talking, surely time enough for her to get used to the intensity in his eyes. There was something arresting about him. She almost expected him to jump out of the boat and take off at a dead run as a way of dealing with the energy boiling inside him. This wasn’t a man for sitting and contemplating his navel. Just sitting inside a motionless boat was testing his self-restraint.
“It took more than one winter to do that much damage.” The comment wasn’t judgmental, just a stating of facts.
“It did,” she admitted. “You wouldn’t happen to be offering to do a little maintenance are you?” Where had that question come from?
To her surprise he gave the dock a long, appraising look. “Are the pilings wood? They might have rotted.”
“I don’t know. I never thought to—I haven’t stayed here for several years.”
The moment the words were out of her mouth she felt vulnerable. She might have said enough for him to conclude that she was here alone. Determined to get across the point that she could take care of herself, she walked over to where an interested-in-the-proceedings Bruce was studying the newcomer and rested her hand on his head. Bruce was a contender for the Guard Dog of Shame award but with his black coat and bulldog build he looked intimidating.
“This is just a guess on my part,” Doc said, “but I’m thinking you’ve been hired to work on the resort. You aren’t fishing and the campgrounds aren’t open yet. Didn’t your boss educate you about proper conduct on the lake?”
Nothing in the man’s demeanor hinted at his reaction. She could be wrong of course but he impressed her as someone who didn’t divulge any more of a personal nature than absolutely necessary.
“This boat’s built for speed,” he said after a telling silence. “It’d be a crime to rein it in. So these cabins are privately owned? You don’t have anything to do with the resort?”
“That’s right,” Doc answered. “There aren’t that many of them. We look out for each other.”
The man folded his arms across his impressive chest. “I’m not looking to steal anything if that’s what you’re thinking. Believe me, I’d never do anything that might lead to me being locked up”
“I’m not thinking anything. I’m just stating a fact.”
She’d been working for her father’s commercial real estate development business since high school and had become accustomed to intense, sometimes hostile conversations, but this wasn’t work. She was at Lake Serene, land of well-defined seasons, wood stoves, pure well water, moonlight glinting off the lake, and sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows, not confrontation.
The newcomer turned his attention back to her. She hadn’t been to the beauty parlor for what, three months at least and hadn’t bothered with makeup. She wore a faded, oversized flannel shirt, muddy jeans, and even muddier tennis shoes.
So much for making an impression, not that she cared.
“I spotted a couple of newer cabins but most look as if they’ve been here a long time. What’s the appeal?”
“The appeal?” she echoed.
“Yeah. The nearest town of any size is what, eighty miles away.” He leaned forward. Even though a good fifty feet separated them, she felt a connection she hadn’t expected, a need on his part for more than casual explanation. “What do people do when they’re here?”
“Deal with water leaks,” she blurted.
“Plus scraping paint,” Doc said. “Chopping wood, chasing mice out of the cabin and bats out of the attic, replacing shutters, screwing down ridge caps, cleaning chimneys, changing old windows, repairing siding. Why? You looking for a job?”
“Water leaks?” His attention went to her cabin.
“Unfortunately. I must not have gotten all the water out of the lines the last time I drained them.” She shrugged. “Ice swells. Old pipes don’t.”
“The line’s split?”
This was no casual question. He really wanted to know.
“Unfortunately. There are some products that promise to seal—“
“They won’t work. You’ll have to replace the line with something flexible.”
“You sound as if you know what you’re talking about,” Doc said while she groaned. “Are you a plumber?”
“Yeah.” He sat back, again turned his attention to her. “If you want, I can give you husband some suggestions.”
“Tell me.” She didn’t add that just contemplating tackling plumbing problems made her nervous. More to the point, she didn’t have a husband.
He leaned forward. “Why don’t you show me what we’re talking about?”
Her mother had spent most summers at Lake Serene doing little. Necessity had guided Alisha as she tackled maintenance projects. She’d never turned Doc or any of her other neighbors down when they offered to help. When you live the better part of a hundred miles from a hardware store to say nothing of qualified plumbers, electricians, and other trade professionals, cabin owners learn to depend on each other. Maybe that’s why she nodded.
And maybe wanting to learn more about the newcomer factored in.

Warm days are melting winter’s snow at Lake Serene when Alisha arrives at the family’s mountain cabin which is full of memories both good and painful. Should she repair it or sell and never again study the pristine water or hear the wind in the evergreens? 

Lake Serene represents one thing to Nate—a place to earn a living. He doesn’t feel it’s magic. Once his work here is finished he’ll move on as he’s done since a barred door opened years ago. 

Realizing Alisha needs his expertise, Nate steps beyond his self-imposed isolation. Watching the competent, muscular man at work, Alisha feels alive, sexual. She longs to trust him, but Nate hides his emotions and she carries her own inner burdens. 

They bond over a shared love of Alisha’s mutt Bruce and the area’s wildlife. Loneliness and need bring them closer. Leads to lovemaking. 
But are they capable of asking for and receiving forgiveness? 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

HUGE PROMO OPP: 30 Days of Summer Blog Tour

Love, Lust and Lipstick Stains are pleased to announce we are arranging a unique blog tour and promo opportunity. We are looking for thirty romance/erotica authors to join us on this month long blog tour. This will be a great chance to reach new readers and with all thirty authors promoting it, it will be huge and guaranteed to create a great buzz! For those who can't afford a full blog tour, this is a great way of being part of one and connecting with some amazing book bloggers!

What will happen?

On the 1st July, the tour will start. Each author will have one stop each and your cover art will be featured in a large banner on every single tour stop. A schedule will be sent out prior to the start of the tour. Author's stops will feature their book, buy link and excerpt. We will also be running a large giveaway with a chance to gain tons of likes/follows/newsletter subscribers. There will be a month long event running alongside it. Authors will be encouraged to stop by and meet more readers!

What do we need from you?

If you'd like to join the tour, we are charging $5. This is to cover the tour providers costs and their extra admin. To sign up please fill out the form below and pay straight away as we need to make payment asap. Anyone who doesn't pay within seven days of signing up, will not be included. You can pay via the donate button below or send a paypal payment to IMPORTANT: Please include your author name in the payment details so we can keep track of who has paid!

We will then be sending out a form for you to fill in for the tour. After that, you can leave the rest in our hands

Spaces are limited to the first thirty authors only, so sign up quickly!


If you'd like to take part in any of our future promotions be sure to like us on Facebook.

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Hot Hump Day Excerpt: Borderland Bride by Samantha Holt

Purchase from Amazon and ARe
She traced the ripples of his stomach, brushing briefly over the trail of hair that led down into his chausses. He hissed and she darted a look up at him to see his eyes glazed over with desire.
Desire for her.
No one had ever looked at Isabel like that and she doubted anyone else ever would again.
Her eyes fell upon the scars scattered across his chest and she traced them, each one telling a tale of duty and honour. An angry raised welt skimmed across his side, no more than a few finger-widths wide, but she knew it had nearly cost him his life. How could anyone want to hurt Jake, let alone his wife? It was beyond her comprehension and she pitied the woman that could not see beneath his rough manners and warrior-like appearance, nearly as much as she felt for Jake.
He stiffened as she brushed against it and she expected him to snatch her hand away but he allowed her perusal of him, the trust he put in her tugging at her heart.
“God, Jake, you are beautiful,” she murmured, delighting in the fact she could say it out loud.
He chuckled, giving her a disbelieving look.
She needed to see the rest of him. Her fingers tangled in the laces of his chausses, and she yanked impatiently at them. Jake helped her, brushing aside her fingers and hauling down his chausses and braies in one go as he kicked off his boots.
Isabel realised she was staring but she could do little about it. Sweet Lord, he was big. And magnificent. But Lord, he was big! Flicking a look back up to his face, she detected his look of uncertainty. Her heart fluttered. How could such a strong man feel so unsure of himself?
Pressing herself to his chest, his rigid heat prodded her stomach and he groaned as her breasts flattened against him. Jake’s eyes filled with longing and he hurriedly swooped down for a kiss, enveloping her jaw in his big hands. Isabel curled her hands around his shoulders, attempting to cling on as she quivered uncontrollably.

Jake ran his hand down one shaking leg and swiftly picked her up. His fingers bit into her flesh as he clasped at her buttocks, and Isabel wrapped her legs around him, her wet folds nuzzling against his hot flesh. He released an agonised moan as she pitched against him and he sank back onto the bed, his tongue sweeping the inside of her mouth.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Featured Giveaway: Cold Nights/Hot Highlanders Giveaway

Autographed Print copy of Bound to the Highlander

eBook copy Bound to the Highlander

$10 Amazon Gift Card

Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About Bound to the Highlander

Aileana Chattan suffers a devastating loss, then discovers she is to wed neighboring chief and baron, James MacIntosh -- a man she despises and whose loyalty deprived her of the father she loved. Despite him and his traitorous clan, Aileana will do her duty, but she doesn't have to like it or him. But when the MacIntosh awakens something inside her so absolute and consuming, she is forced to question everything.
James MacIntosh is a nobleman torn between tradition and progress. He must make a sacrifice if he is to help Scotland move forward as a unified country. Forced to sign a marriage contract years earlier binding Lady Aileana to him, James must find a way to break it, or risk losing all -- including his heart.

From the wild and rugged Highlands near Inverness to the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle, James and Aileana’s preconceptions of honor, duty and love are challenged at every adventurous turn.

Find out more here

Monday, 24 February 2014

Hot Bargains and Free ebooks

Check out the latest bargain and free ebooks for this week in our comments section! If you love a bargain or a freebie, be sure to visit us regularly. We have only the hottest romance and erotica reads here. Also be sure to like our Facebook page so you never miss out!*

Featured Bargain Title

Price: 99c


When husband and wife tattoo artists persuade the stunning waitress of their fantasies to visit their shop for some ink, they share a titillating experience and forge a new relationship.

Buy from: Amazon

How to submit your book

Authors if you have a book going free or a book priced 99c or under this week, please leave the link to it in the comments for our readers to see, formatting your comments as follows:

Price: Free or under 99c only please.
Dates of promotion:

Any comments not formatted correctly or with irrelevant information, will be deleted.  Sorry, only romance and erotica are accepted. All heat levels and sub-genres welcome!**

*Please check prices carefully before purchasing. Offers may vary depending on the time of posting or your geographical location.

**We also do our best to post your links to our Facebook page. Please stop by and give us a like. Sharing this blog post with your readers and friends will also help us reach more people and spread the word.

If you are interested in sponsoring our weekly post and being a featured bargain title, please email us with your preferred date. (Mondays only.) We promote the post throughout the week. We ask for a $5 donation for this service.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Hot Hump Day Excerpt: Candy Hearts by Elodie Parkes

Thank you for inviting me to the blog today for Hot Hump Day with my new release erotic romance story. Candy Hearts. I wrote the story for Valentine’s Day, but it can be read anytime.

So what’s hot about Tom the leading man that means the story is featured for Hot Hump Day?

He’s good looking, but he doesn’t know it. Has dark hair, dark blue eyes, with the kind of hard muscled body that makes you tingle when you see him naked. He’s intelligent, a risk taker and yet was burned badly in the past by an ex-girlfriend. It shook him.
Now he’s over it, he thinks…

Candy Hearts (a short from Hot Ink Press.)

Tom found a new job, but can he find love?
Working in a surf coast hotel seems like the remedy for his previous unhappiness, but as Valentine’s Day approaches, Tom realizes he’s lonely, and looks around for someone to love.

Horny Hump Day excerpt from Candy Hearts 18+R
Tom stared at her beautiful body in awe. He reached for her hips, just made for him to grab and drag her back to him. He kissed her, but she wriggled away.
She took his tie and jacket off him as she looked into his eyes. Tom helped with his shirt, pulling it over his head when she’d unbuttoned it halfway down. His cock was huge and heavy. His balls tingled. His thighs were weak. He pushed his suit pants and shorts off, taking his socks and shoes with them.
As he did this, Serena stroked his back. Her fingertips reached the crack of his ass and she trailed along it to tease at the underside of his balls as he bent. His stomach muscles clenched so hard that his cock jerked away and back. Tom’s breath came in gasps with the desperate need to fuck.
Serena took his hands, and almost blind with sexual need, he let her pull him to a chair and push him to sit on it. He lifted his gaze to her breasts. She looked so good he almost begged.
She took her panties down her thighs slowly, making him wait as he made soft, low groans. Then she had them to her ankles. She stepped out, took a pace to be in front of him, and sat across his lap. She still wore her spiked heels and used them as leverage, as she skimmed her bottom across his knees.
Tom grasped her hips as she hovered close to his erect cock and then her fingers closed around the shaft and guided the head to the wet entrance of her pussy. Tom felt a frown of need furrow his head. It was painful waiting to feel his cock start to enter her. Her pussy was wet. The head of his cock slipped against it as she circled her hips. He wanted to push his fingers into her. He licked his top lip overwhelmed with the need to thrust his tongue into her pussy too. He moaned.
Then she was sheathing his cock with her pussy. He held her hips, desperate to pull her down hard and fast, but wanting the slow enveloping of his cock just as much.
She leaned her face to his as she sat down on his cock. She kissed him softly with the tip of her tongue just a tease on his.
His cock leaked in her. It was hard to breathe and stop from coming. Sweat beaded on his forehead. He groaned into her mouth.
“Please. This is killing me.” He felt her smile against his lips.

Copyright Elodie Parkes 2014

About the author:
Elodie Parkes is a British author writing romance, erotic, contemporary, and often with a twist of mystery, paranormal or suspense. Her books are always steamy. Her motto being, cool stories and hot love scenes.
Elodie lives in Canterbury with her two dogs. She works in an antique shop by day and writes at night, loving the cloak of silent darkness that descends on the rural countryside around her home.
She has also released titles as an individual indie author.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Featured Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Authors are you running a giveaway? Leave it under the comments for our readers to find! If you have a  giveaway coming up, email us with the details and we will try to feature it.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Hot Bargains and Free ebooks

Check out the latest bargain and free ebooks for this week in our comments section! If you love a bargain or a freebie, be sure to visit us regularly. We have only the hottest romance and erotica reads here. Also be sure to like our Facebook page so you never miss out!*

Featured Bargain Title

Price: 99c

Erotic Romance

When a freak snowstorm strands Lacey at a crowded Oklahoma rest stop, she thinks things can’t possibly get worse. Until she bumps into Trace Allen. Bull rider, ex-boyfriend, and all-around bad boy, Trace plucks her off her feet and invites her into his warm travel trailer. 

But Lacey has her misgivings. Trace is every bit as strong and virile as the bulls he rides--and just as volatile. But when she finds evidence that their bad breakup was a misunderstanding, she begins to question everything she thought she knew about him. 

Could Trace’s temper and bad boy exterior hide a tender heart? And will Lacey end up stranded, or straddled by the hottest bad-boy cowboy the rodeo circuit has ever seen? 

Buy from: Amazon

How to submit your book

Authors if you have a book going free or a book priced 99c or under this week, please leave the link to it in the comments for our readers to see, formatting your comments as follows:
Short blurb or description:
Price: Free or under 99c only please.
Dates of promotion:

Any comments not formatted correctly or with irrelevant information, will be deleted. We don't need to know how many reviews you have or what a review has said, we just want a short, snappy little intro to your book so we know what it's about and can't wait to read it! Sorry, only romance and erotica are accepted. All heat levels and sub-genres welcome!**

*Please check prices carefully before purchasing. Offers may vary depending on the time of posting or your geographical location.

**We also do our best to post your links to our Facebook page. Please stop by and give us a like. Sharing this blog post with your readers and friends will also help us reach more people and spread the word.

If you are interested in sponsoring our weekly post and being a featured bargain title, please email us with your preferred date. (Mondays only.) We promote the post throughout the week. We ask for a $5 donation for this service.

Friday, 14 February 2014

First Chapter Friday: Once by M.S. Kaye



From the outside all was perfect—a peppy cheerleader with straight A’s—but it was all a lie. And I was no closer to understanding how to fix it. All I knew was I couldn’t take another boring political science or government class. If I didn’t figure out what was wrong with me soon, I was going to end up dropping school altogether, and then my family would be sure to disown me.
Maybe I didn’t need any great meaning. Could I find happiness working the counter at a 7-Eleven or maybe as a waitress at a Waffle House on the interstate? At least I'd be sure to meet interesting people—people who wouldn’t expect anything other than a “Have a nice day.” Maybe I could live alone with five cats and not have to fake interest in my girlfriends’ boy troubles. Maybe having zero ambition was the cure. Well, honestly, I didn’t have much of that now—secret and idiotic ambitions, but not realistic ones.
The train to take me back to my life finally pulled up, and I stuffed my notebook back in my bag—the notebook that held all, everything and nothing. I had just the small shoulder bag and a duffle with a few clothes, so it was easy to carry everything myself. I hadn’t bothered with the trendy outfits and make-up on this little excursion to Chicago. It was freeing, but I knew I'd fall back into the same old expected habits once I returned. I was a good girl and I always did as expected—on the outside. Despite my light packing, I still caught my duffle in the doorway of the train.
“Let me help you.”
Someone took the bag from my hand, and I turned to see a man smiling at me, not the usual smile I received from men, but as if he honestly was being a gentleman. And there was something more in his face. Or was it the odd combination of the kindness in his black eyes, and the scar that ran from his eye down the side of his cheek to his ear?
I forced myself to stop looking. “Thank you.”
After climbing the few steps up into the train, I turned to take my bag.
He didn’t give it. “I don’t want you getting stuck in the hall. I may not be there to save you.”
I smirked.
His mouth strained as if he was working to stop from smiling wider. “Which compartment?”
I submitted and led the way, expecting to have to brush him off yet. I opened the door, and then turned, and he relinquished my bag without another word. My hand smoothed across his rough skin, much rougher than I was used to. The guys I knew all claimed to be tough, but most had never truly worked, never manual labor, only football practice. It was funny that football players were supposed to be such tough guys. They always seemed to be the biggest babies.
He walked back the way he had come, and…
Why was I watching him?
I went into the tiny compartment and set my bags on the seat next to me, fully intending to stare out the window at the flat Illinois countryside. Then I pulled my notebook back out. I often wrote sketches of the people I met. I felt like I had to write him down. But what was I supposed to write? I hadn’t really met him, so I decided on capturing his contrasting features.
“He had sleek dark hair that had been grown out, not as a result of wanting to change the style but simply because he’d been too busy and preoccupied to bother with the barber—and he definitely went to a barber, not a salon. Eyes black, startlingly intense but soft somehow as if he’d learned much from a hard life.”
I couldn’t decide on his ethnicity—white but mixed with...Southeast Asian? Maybe Latino? Or perhaps even Middle Eastern.
“His skin was golden from outdoor labor, not dark really, just golden. The labor also shaped his frame, solid but not ripped. He had probably never seen the inside of a gym and would think nautilus equipment ridiculous, lifting for the sake of vanity when the exertion could be used for some good. He was soft-spoken but had obviously gotten into trouble at some point. What could cause a scar like that?”
The train lurched away from the station, and I lay the book on my lap while I wondered if anything I’d written was correct.
I skipped lunch, my eyes glazed from watching the blank farmland, but at least my mind was blank as well for awhile. In the afternoon, I meandered out to the public cars to see if I could coax a snack out of one of the waiters. I found one when I entered a lounge area—a tall gangly boy, an easy target.
Flipping my hair over my shoulder, I smiled pleasantly, maybe a little dull, but it always worked. Intelligence was not a key factor to men.
“Excuse me,” I said.
He turned, and I saw it was working. Actually, I was surprised. I didn’t even have make-up on.
“Um...I fell asleep and missed lunch.” I tilted my head and smiled. “Do you think…”
“Sure,” he said brightly. “What would you like?”
“Water and fruit?”
“No problem.” He left quickly, and I dropped back to my real facial expression.
Laughing from behind me.
I turned. It was the same man from earlier, seated in the corner by the door. I was about to walk away, faking anger but really feeling humiliation and shame.
Then he spoke. “Poor boy didn’t stand a chance.”
I hid the shame with annoyance. “Do you listen to other people’s conversations often?”
“Only if they’re entertaining.”
I thought about leaving, but I really was hungry so I found a seat a few rows away on the opposite side of the aisle, where I could still see him.
The waiter returned shortly, smile hung from his ears, and I dismissed him as politely as possible. His shoulders stooped as he walked away.
My appetite disappeared. I set the plate on the seat and pulled my knees up to my chest as I resumed staring out the window.
“May I join you?”
I knew who it was without looking up. “Whatever you want.”
He took the seat across from me. “Aren’t you hungry?”
The shame had grown with his proximity. I only shook my head.
He paused and then added in the softest voice, “He’ll live, you know.”
I couldn’t pull off the dumb bubbly thing with him so I didn’t answer.
He didn’t push.
The afternoon faded, the horizon a gold backdrop outlining the trees that spotted the fields. The last bit of sun streamed through the clouds filling the train, so bright that it washed out the colors of the compartment. Everything, even the reds, turned a hazy shade of beige.
I was hyperaware of him and noticed he was now perfectly still. I glanced over to see him watching me. He met my eyes and then quickly looked down. He closed his book.
“I’m sorry.” He stood and walked away down the aisle.
Great. I’d managed to cause the discomfort of two perfectly nice men already today, and who knew what the evening might hold.
I sat a little while longer, but then the waiter came back and retrieved the plate of uneaten food. He didn’t talk but silently slunk away. I escaped back toward my compartment.
Apparently, it was my day to be a plague. I stopped as I met someone in the hall. Of course it was the man from earlier. I pressed my back to the wall in the narrow hallway to let him pass. He had to brush against me to make it by.
If I had room to stagger, I would have.
His scent was like nothing I’d experienced before, not cologne, not even scented aftershave. It was like clean linen and mahogany. The slight contact showed me I was right about his having a solid frame. I’d never felt a reaction like this. My heart pounded and everything turned warm. I’d felt attraction before, but this was more than I was equipped to handle.
“Sorry,” he murmured. Then he paused to look back.
I couldn’t move.
“You should have dinner,” he said. “You didn’t eat breakfast or lunch.”
I looked up. How did he know I hadn’t eaten breakfast?
“You didn’t move from that bench at the train station all morning,” he said.
I didn’t answer.
With a small smile and the roll of his eyes, he took my hand as if playfully dragging his best friend. I gripped automatically. He led, and I followed. I had no choice. I had to restrain myself from holding with both hands—from stopping and kissing him right there in the hall.
I pulled at my sanity. What was I thinking? Aside from my father, I never let men lead me, which always seemed to annoy them.
The man managed to find us a little table in the corner of the packed dining car. There was no chair for him to hold, but he helped me take my seat in the booth. My fingers dragged across his up-turned hand, before he slid in across from me. A few seconds of awkward silence passed—well, awkward for me. I was trying to keep my heart in its place.
“I’m Jonathan, by the way.” His voice was quieter than it was earlier. It reminded me of the hum of far-off rushing water.
“Becca not Becky, am I right?”
“How’d you know?” I hated being called Becky.
“You’re too sweet. Never trust a girl whose name ends in Y. I’ve never known a Missy or Stacey I could trust.”
My eyes fell, and I scoffed, “Sweet,” under my breath.
“So, you can control men.” He reached across the narrow table to lift my chin. “That doesn’t make you a bad person.”
I took a breath and tried to smile.
He took his hand away. It felt as though his light touch left a visible imprint.
“So, where are you headed?” I said.
“St. Mary’s University.”
“Where’s that?”
“Baltimore,” he said. “Where do you go to school?”
“University of Virginia.”
“Isn’t this a kind of round-about way to get there?”
I sighed. “I needed time to think.”
“What’ve you decided?”
“I don’t know. I…I don’t know.”
“What do you want?”
His gentle eyes seemed to pull information out of me. I'd’ve told him anything, even the things I wouldn’t admit to anyone else. “I want to write, but…”
“My father wants me to be a lawyer, to take over his firm someday. It’s been his dream since he first decided I was smart enough, and my mother wants it just as much. I’d be the first woman to run it.”
“But you don’t want it.” His tone wasn’t persuasive in either direction, like he was just pointing out facts.
“No, but…”
His expression was calm, patient.
“He’ll disown me,” I said. “Everything’s been planned and all expectations fall on me. It’s not only that I don’t want to, but I’m scared that I won’t be able to. You have to have passion to be good at something.”
“You feel passion for writing.”
“But I know what he’ll say—I can hear the exact tone of his voice—that I can’t make a living with it, that it’s childish and selfish, that I need to honor my family and use the intelligence they’ve given me for some good.”
“Can your pencil do good?”
I looked at my hands on the table. “I think so, or at least in the right hand it can.”
He lightly touched my fingertips with his. “You have lovely hands.” His thumb brushed the patch of thicker skin on my right middle finger. “Written word can transform.”
Finally someone who understood. He seemed to love type on a page as much as I did—his book sat on the seat next to him.
“But he can’t see that,” I said.
“And the money?”
“I don’t need all the things he thinks I do. I don’t care if I have to waitress to pay the rent.” I sighed. “But he’d be embarrassed of me. He wouldn’t say it in so many words, but I'd see it in his eyes.”
“You’re a good daughter, Becca.”
I moved to hold his hand, but he drew it back and looked over at the approaching waiter.
“What can I get you to drink?” Why did it have to be the same gangly boy? He only made eye contact with his pad of paper, and his voice was clipped.
“Wine. Whatever you have that’s red,” Jonathan answered.
“I.D.,” the waiter said, only to me. Thank goodness I just turned twenty-one.
He read the date and then set it on the table, not into my open hand, and walked away.
“When was your birthday?”
“Two weeks ago. Why did he only ask for mine?” I didn’t need to fake annoyance this time. “You can’t be more than twenty-eight.”
He raised his eyebrows. “People usually think I’m older.”
“You only seem older.” He looked perfect—more with every expression and gesture.
Jonathan opened the menu.
I opened mine as well and tried to read the words.
The waiter returned and set a bottle of wine on the table. He didn’t stay long enough to pour.
Jonathan handed me a glass, one of the water glasses, not the wine glasses. “Have you ever drunk?”
“I’m a college girl.”
His lips twitched.
My tone was defensive. “I don’t like the taste of beer.”
“You’ll like this better than stale frat house Budweiser.”
He took a sip, and I noticed another scar, on his wrist and traveling up his palm.
“It’s nothing,” he said as he set his glass down on the table.
I pulled his hand closer to trace it. I was too chicken to ask about the line drawn from his eye to ear.
“Are you all right?” I said.
“It’s not what you think.”
“What do I think?”
He kept my hand but flipped his over, concealed the scar. “It wasn’t self-inflicted.”
I didn’t let go of his hand.
He snatched my license off the table and examined. “Hm.”
The mortification hit as I realized what I looked like in comparison to the picture. Why hadn’t I at least brought eyeliner and a curling iron?
“You’re prettier when—”
I took it back and looked down to stuff my license into my pocket. “I know.” The first man I really wanted to think me pretty, and—
“When you don’t try so hard,” he finished.
I looked back up. No one had ever said anything like that to me before.
He met my eyes for a few seconds.
The waiter reappeared, a skinny white frame, as straight as a flagpole.
Jonathan drew his hand away and then waited for me to order. I picked something at random. Then Jonathan ordered, and the waiter walked away.
Jonathan sipped his wine again but used his left hand.
“Can I ask you something?” I said.
“What would you like to know?”
I almost changed my question. I never understood why it felt rude to ask about family origin. “What’s your ethnicity?”
The corners of his eyes tweaked upward for a split second as if he thought something amusing. Then his expression sobered. “I don’t know.”
How could he not know? I tried to keep the confusion off my face.
“I’ve never met my parents.” He smiled a little. “And what about you? Do those freckles mean you’re Irish?”
I had a dusting of them across the tops of my cheeks, dark blonde to match my hair. I usually covered them with powder. “I’m a mutt—Irish, Swedish, German. Just about any Caucasian bloodline leads to me, a boring white girl.”
His hand twitched as if he was fighting with himself. Then he reached to touch my face, his fingertips tracing my cheekbone over to my hairline.
I couldn’t breathe.
“Certainly not boring,” he murmured.
His fingers curled into my hair, and I thought he was going to...but then he pulled his hand away. He looked out the window for several seconds, at the fading flat countryside.
Finally, he looked back at me. “May I ask you something?” he said.
I only nodded. I was still trying to remember how to breathe.
“Who are you seeing?”
My shoulders slouched. “No one.”
His eyebrows lowered. Confused or disbelieving, or was there…was that frustration? “Why?” he said.
I couldn’t meet his eyes. “They say I’m a tease.”
His lips curved, but only a little, as if he were fighting desperately to hide his amusement. “They’re too easy to control, am I correct?”
I turned away, and of course, ended up looking right at the waiter who brought the plates. Luckily he ignored me—except when he peeked back over his shoulder.
The corners of Jonathan’s eyes turned up—at least his frustration had disappeared. “You do have a talent.”
I stared at the plate, my face tingeing from shame and anger, internal anger. “But I’m not nice.”
His voice turned soft. “Yes, you are.”
I met his eyes. He deserved the truth. “I always hurt them. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. We’ll be dating, and everything seems fine. Nice guy, smart enough, attractive. But when it gets more serious, when we’re alone one night, and I think I’ll finally do it, I…can’t.”
“You don’t want them.”
I didn’t know why I felt the need to tell him so much and attempted to deflect with teasing. “What makes you so immune?”
He laughed under his breath, not the amused kind.
“And what about you?” I fought not to show how uncomfortable I felt. “Who are you seeing?”
“Dating is frowned upon,” he said. “What do you write?”
Frowned upon? I couldn’t think of a way to ask what he meant without seeming rude, especially since he’d brushed by it so quickly. “Nothing important.”
“You seem to have found an awful lot of unimportance. You didn’t stop all morning.”
“You were watching?”
Barely loud enough to hear, he said, “Of course. You were sitting in the sunlight.” His fingers touched a few strands. “Your hair shines gold.”
Unable to stop myself, I held his hand in place—his right hand, then touched his scar with my fingertips. It was hardly noticeable if not in the light, no discoloration.
“You were young when you got this.”
“Yes.” He looked away, out to the scenery speeding by. He seemed as if he was more used to conversations being one-way, with him helping and not sharing of himself.
“How?” The scar wasn’t like the one on the side of his face but jagged as if by ripping not slicing.
“Children can be clumsy.”
“But you never were.”
He turned to me and hesitated. “No.”
“Does it hurt?”
“I’m better now.”
“No,” I said. “You’re not.” I could see it, though buried, pushed down by raw force.
He turned back to the window. He didn’t take his hand away.
“But you will be,” I said. “Eventually.” He had to be.
He looked back at me. In his eyes, there was stress but...hope? His fingers tentatively laced into my hair, and his head tilted slightly, as if he was admiring something. I didn’t understand. He didn’t look at me the same as other men. There was something to him I couldn’t read. His palm rested on my cheek as his thumb traced the blond of my skin.
His face tightened. He took his hand away and stood. “I’m sorry, Rebecca. I have to go.”
I watched him leave.
I didn’t finish the meal but made my way back to my compartment, a roomette they called it. I realized it was much later than I’d thought. The outside was solid ink. I figured out how to change the seat into a bed and lay down without bothering to change or even to remove my shoes. Staring out into the nothing, I tried to get my eyes to glaze, my mind to turn blank.
There was no use. My mind had found curiosity and something else—something more.
I had to distract myself. I placated my curiosity and pulled my phone from my bag. Hopefully, we weren’t too far out in the boonies. The signal was decent, so I clicked onto the internet, waited for it to load, and typed, “St. Mary’s University, Baltimore.” It took forever for the results to come up, and when they did, I didn’t have to click through any more than the first line. “St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore, MD.” It was a Catholic seminary.
“Dating is frowned upon,” he had said. Of course it was.
Boy can you pick ‘em, Rebecca. Finally I found someone I could truly find interesting, fascinating, and he was already taken. Well, not yet. If I remembered correctly, it took about eight years of study before eligibility to take vows. Surely he couldn’t be that far along.
I sighed. No, he was old enough.
But why was he traveling? Or was he just taking a long weekend like me?
I found a website outlining the steps to priesthood and saw that I’d been correct about the eight years and also that a man must, of course, be unmarried and that the final step was a six month deaconship. Was that where he was going? Or coming back from?
We were traveling east, toward Baltimore, returning him home.
I dropped the phone to the floor and rolled onto my side. I prayed for a blank mind. Was it a sin to be attracted to a man who served God? I definitely wasn’t a good Catholic. I wanted him and didn’t care if he had a better purpose.
The thought of being at rest unfathomable, I went to the hall to aimlessly walk the train, confident he had retreated someplace hidden, away from the poison that was me. My worries from this morning seemed ludicrous. All of it was—expectations, opinions, plans, dreams. I knew what my problem was, but wouldn’t allow myself to think the words, more selfish, idiotic dreams. How could this happen so quickly?
Mercifully, I’d brought my notebook of all desires and no consequence with me. I decided to search for a quiet place. If I couldn’t make my mind blank, maybe I could fill it with something else, something shallow and less painful, something that didn’t stab so deeply.
Toward the front of the train there was a cafĂ©-style lounge. Nothing was served at this late hour, but it was still open for the passengers to sit at one of the tiny rounded banquettes. I slid across the red fake leather and opened my book, forcing myself to ignore the last page on which I’d written.
A small group of large people sat squished into the booth toward the other end of the car. They were a lively, smiling, and boisterous group, and I began my sketch, the careless, good-natured humor, the bright laughs and occasional unintentional snorts resulting from uncontrolled giggles. All in all a pleasant group, brightening the room, the red of the seats positively crimson.
But the color darkened as they left, or rather, glowed a dull gold.
His elbow on the table, hand in his hair, he poured over his book as he sat at the furthest booth. He had been hidden from view but was now the only thing I could see. I knew I should leave—leave him in peace, but I couldn’t. He was the torture I had to savor while I could.
“Hello, Jonathan.”
His head jerked up.
“May I?” I said.
He gestured for me to sit.
I took the seat across from him. “It’s late. Aren’t you tired?”
He paused, surely considering saying he was so he could escape. “No.”
“How long have you been at school?”
The pause was longer. “Eight years.”
“And six months?”
He took a breath. “Three days.”
The pain was deeper than I’d anticipated. It tightened my chest.
“I’m sorry, Rebecca,” he said.
Forcing my heart to stay in place, pinned to my ribcage by the point of a knife, I said, “You’re going to be good at it.”
His expression still stressed, he tilted his head slightly, curiously.
“You don’t preach,” I said. “You talk.”
“Thank you, Becca.”
I loved when he said my name like that.
He sighed as his eyebrows pulled together. “I knew I shouldn’t talk to you, but—” His jaw clenched. “You’re so beautiful. I wanted to see into your mind, to see what filled so many pages.”
“I’m glad you did.”
“I shouldn’t have.” His gaze fell, and he moved to close his book.
I put my hand on the page he had been reading and began pulling it toward me.
He laid his hand on mine and reached with the other, palm up. I'd have done anything he wanted and gave him my notebook, clean from the pillaging of any eyes but mine. We cautiously exchanged.
The pages under my fingers, the well-worn pages, made a gentle crinkling sound, the paper as delicate as a snake’s shed skin. Only one passage was underlined, with a deliberate and straight hand. We are to use wisdom and judgment to approve things that are excellent.
He watched me read. Then he turned his gaze to my thoughts spilled onto paper. My description of our previous compartment companions made his eyes smile. Then he turned one page back, to my portrait of him.
“Am I right?” I asked.
He looked up. “Exactly.”
“What’s the answer?”
He paused. “A switchblade.”
With my fingertips, I reached out and traced the scar across his cheek. “Did you win?”
He removed my hand and closed his eyes. “Yes.”
I slid his Book back to him. “This says we can find forgiveness.”
His eyes still closed, his jaw clenched. He bowed his head. “It also says ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”
I took his hand in both of mine, petted his rough skin, and then brought it to my lips. He had a talent for guiding invisibly, but I didn’t know how to do that.
He watched me again. His eyes were intense, like the black of the night sky, and his forehead was furrowed, as if his emotions were scattered, as if he was shocked at my reaction, as if he had been sure his answer would drive me away. But I knew him. Already, I knew him.
“You’re still a good person,” I said.
His jaw clenched. “I’ve been trying to believe that.”
“I have faith in you.”
He continued to watch me. His forehead never smoothed, as if he was fighting for strength, but his eyes softened. He slid around the booth, closer to me.
I didn’t move, not sure what to do, what was right, what he wanted.
He leaned closer.
I only watched him.
He touched his lips to my cheek, the faintest pressure. I struggled to sit still, to keep my hands in my lap, not to grab hold of him. And then his lips were gone, such brief contact that I couldn’t be sure if he had actually kissed my cheek or if I wanted his contact so much that I imagined it.
He spoke in my ear. “You must be some kind of final test.”
My heart pounded into my ribs, against the point of the blade. “Are you going to pass?”
His lips brushed against my jaw. “I don’t know.”
He trailed to my neck, his mouth softly pressing. My hand curled into his hair, the other on his shoulder, holding, clutching. His mouth found mine, barely touching. His warmth invaded my head.
“God give me strength,” he murmured.
The door slid open, and the compartment filled with laughter.
He closed his eyes. Then he slid away from me.
Every beat of my heart punctured.
With a chirpy voice, the woman from the little group of large people said, “Woops.” Her red curls bounced with mirth.
“Good night, Rebecca.” Jonathan stood and was walking away before I could fully comprehend what was going on, that he had kissed me, that he had stopped kissing me.
He slid the compartment door shut behind him.
I forced myself to look away.
His Book, it was still on the table. I placed it on top of my page of Jonathan then stood to leave. My legs felt numb. My whole body felt empty.
Her voice still chirpy, the redhead consoled, “He’ll be back. You’ve got him hooked.”
The blade in my chest twisted.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I ran, no idea to where I was running.
I caught up to him just as he stepped into his room. He met my eyes for a second. Then he disappeared behind the door, out of sight, out of reach.
I continued forward. My vision was blurry.
The halls were empty, almost every room sleeping. In a few minutes, or maybe it was an hour, I sat in my room. His Book in my hands, I traced the indented gold letters.
I hadn’t thought much about God in so long, not since Sunday school, not since my father’s practice had overwhelmed his and all of our lives. I hadn’t been to Mass, other than Easter and Christmas, in forever. Now all I could feel was jealousy. Surely, I’d be going to Hell for thinking like this, for coveting that which was already taken. He had a higher purpose, but I couldn’t stop from wanting him, from needing him. How could one train ride change everything? Everything had shifted clearer. All the decisions I’d agonized over were made. I felt no doubt, no confusion. I knew exactly what I wanted, and once I left this train, exactly what I'd do. But I was still on the train. And so was he.
There was no escaping, and one more thing became clear. My conscience fought it, but there was no point and no stopping me. I wasn’t going to be the good girl. I was going to do what I wanted for a change. I didn’t know if he’d allow it, but I knew for an absolute fact I wouldn’t be a tease with him.
He wasn’t God’s yet. Maybe he could be mine—once.
I brushed out my hair and changed clothes. The only pretty thing I’d brought was a camisole for sleeping, and I threw on my little white cotton shorts with it. I wore nothing more. I was confident I wouldn’t meet anyone in the hall being that it was after one o’clock. Everyone else was sleeping, but I was sure he wasn’t—and hopefully wouldn’t be anytime soon.
As I glanced in the mirror, I wondered what it was he saw. I didn’t do all the things with him that I did with other men—it was impossible to be fake with him—but he seemed to think the real me was good enough. Sweet and beautiful he had said. I prayed he could feel the same after tonight.
The roll of the rails under my feet was the only sound as I made my way to him. I knocked, two almost inaudible taps. His quiet footsteps paused just on the other side of the door.
“Jonathan,” I said.
The door slid half way open to reveal his face, tender but stressed, and half his bare chest. He was built exactly as I thought, naturally well-formed, much more beautiful than men in magazines. He was real.
His voice was subdued. “Aren’t you tired?”
My hand trailed from his shoulder to his wrist. His eyes tilted and chin moved just a fraction of an inch.
“No, I’m not tired,” I said, then brushed against him as I stepped in.
“It’s late.” His chest expanded more fully.
I didn’t bother with talking or explanations—he was smart and already knew what was going on. The real question remained. Would he allow it? I knew he’d most likely turn me away, but I had to try, though the knife would be sure to plunge from my ribs through to my spine.
My hand brushed his cheek, and I lifted to my toes to meet his lips.
He didn’t push me away but didn’t kiss back either.
“We shouldn’t.” His voice barely made sound.
I continued to taste him, and his lips began to move. Then he turned his head to the side, breathing faster. My hand on his cheek, I turned his head to face me. His eyes were closed.
“Please, Jonathan.”
He looked at me. He didn’t move for what felt like forever, as if he was reading me, discerning my intentions. I did my best to hide, to stop him from seeing why I was here, the real reason I was here.
“You want it this time,” he said.
“Please.” A tear spilled down the side of my cheek.
Something changed in his expression.
He took a step closer and met my lips. His hands curved over my neck, into my hair. My heart pounded, and his warmth made the tiny room spin. I'd have fallen if he hadn’t been holding me. Then his tongue slid against mine, and I couldn’t comprehend any other sensations. I’d never really been kissed before; not like this; no comparison.
I moved his hand past my shoulder, brushing against the silk of the camisole, to my waist, and he pulled me closer, pressing. If there had been any doubt or fight left, it was now completely gone. We weren’t stopping.
I pushed him back to sit on the bed and stood in front of him. I lifted the camisole off. He didn’t meet my eyes anymore, and his hand slowly crept up my skin to curve around my breast. Eyes closed, he swallowed.
I touched his forearm to encourage. “It’s been a long time for you.”
“Many years.”
“I’ll teach you the ropes.”
He smiled, then stood, picking me up, and he lay down with me on the narrow bed. “I’ll be doing the teaching.”
For half a second I tried to think of a witty retort, but then he was kissing me.
Time passed—I wasn’t sure how long—and we spent it simply absorbing the feel of each other, his lips at my neck, then trailing down my chest, and back to my mouth, no longer tentative. His touch was perfect. The roughness of his hands as they lightly trailed made my skin tingle, made everything tingle.
He shifted, and so quickly I wasn’t sure how he did it, he removed my shorts—my last article. His hand slid slowly down my skin, but paused before...
“Are you sure you want it?” he said.
I’d forgotten how to speak.
As I sat up, knees bent to the sides, I brushed my hand along his inseam up to his button and zipper.
His breathing doubled.
Gently, I moved fabric out of the way. I’d never actually touched a man, didn’t really know what I was doing, how to make it feel good for him
He found my lips, and with an arm around my shoulders, he lay me down.
This was the moment, the furthest I’d ever gone, and perhaps one brain cell retained enough lucidity to fully understand why boys were so frustrated when I stopped them. To have to stop now would be immeasurable torture.
Hovering over me, he kissed my lips, my jaw, my neck. I barely heard as he murmured, “Things that are excellent,” and before I could put any thought toward what that meant, he slowly began.
My breath pulled in, and my back strained.
He paused to caress me with his fingertips. “Focus on the pleasure,” he said then slowly continued. The pain was almost completely dulled. It quickly disappeared altogether.
I clung to him, moved with him. I tried to understand what he liked, what made him feel the best, what made him moan from his throat.
He was perfect, gentle, giving. He seemed to know my body better than I did. Every touch and movement was better than the last, better than I'd’ve imagined.
The tracks veered and sunlight spilled into the room, washed over us.
He touched my hair and then paused to close his eyes. He was entirely still.
I brushed my fingers along his neck. “I want you to.”
He was still for a second longer, and when he began again, I couldn’t understand exactly what he did.
My head rolled back as I moaned, “Jonathan.”
His head bowed, and his body stiffened as he pressed harder to me.
I held onto him.
Our bodies both slackened, all but collapsing. He lay on his side next to me.
I turned my head and touched his face. “You’ve got to be tired now.”
His lips curved.
I moved to lie facing him so I could caress him to sleep. He watched me with those piercing eyes, but I didn’t meet them, couldn’t meet them. He would see. I focused on the beautiful gold of his skin, the shine of his hair, the curve of his chest and arms, the way he let me touch him, as if his trust was perfect.
His eyes fell lower, and he drifted away. His expression was finally peaceful. I couldn’t pull myself away for several minutes, just touching him, my first but also my once.
I put the note I’d brought with me next to his hand laying on the white sheets and carefully leaned down to kiss his cheek. The tears already flowed, but I didn’t let them touch him as I whispered in his ear, “I love you.”
I ran down the hall.
We had to be close to the next stop, wherever it was. I glanced at my watch once back in my room, just as I felt the train coming to a stop. I threw jeans on over my shorts and my jacket and zipped it all the way up. The corridor had a few people in it now. They jumped back out of my way. The doors were closing when I made it to the exit.
My feet landed on solid ground, and gravity was suddenly too much.
I couldn’t stop and fell to my hands and knees as the train—as Jonathan left. Sobs overwhelmed me, a complete disaster right there in the middle of the platform. Most people stared, and a few offered to help. But I was beyond help.

Her first and also her Once.
Jonathan is studying to become a priest. He is three days from taking vows. He will not be a priest.

Rebecca’s major is pre-law. She is supposed to take over her father’s law firm. She will not be lawyer.

Their paths cross at exactly the right moment, when each most needs to hear what the other has to say. Jonathan’s structured life is turned sideways, but Rebecca also helps him learn how to forgive himself. It was self-defense, not murder. Rebecca finds the strength to stand up to her father, to be the real her. If Jonathan likes her writing, it must be worth pursuing.

They must each struggle to forge a new path without each other’s comfort and strength, with only memories of the one day that changed everything.