When it ended, I relaxed against the mattress, too exhausted to move. Carter was smiling down at me, a look in his eyes that I couldn’t identify and was afraid to, and he rolled his hips against me a few more times, almost too pleasurable in the aftermath of my orgasm, and then his face tightened and he shook apart in my arms.
He rolled off me, and for several minutes we lay together in silence, breathing, sharing space, our hands tangled together between our sweating bodies.
“I could use a shower,” Carter said at last, and I laughed and said, “I could too.”
His bathroom was enormous. I had never seen anything like it. His walk-in shower had a skylight, dark now, and two big shower heads that poured down on us like rain. We scrubbed each other, laughing about nothing, and dried off with his plush white towels.
We went back into the bedroom, and he gave me a bathrobe to wear, and a comb. I sat at his dressing table and combed out my hair. The clock on the wall told me it was only 11—much too early for bed. I usually didn’t fall asleep until around 4. I wondered if Carter would expect me to leave, or expect me to spend the night. He probably had to work in the morning.
Before I could decide if I should say something about it, he solved the problem for me. He came over to me, dressed in a pair of low-slung black pants and nothing else, and took the comb from my hand. He leaned down and kissed me on the cheek. “If you stay here tonight, we can have fresh bagels in the morning, and I’ll have Henry take you back to your apartment.”
“I don’t want you to go to any trouble,” I said. “If you have to work—”
“You could never cause me trouble,” he said. “I don’t want you to think that.”
I looked down at my hands, overwhelmed. He was one of the most powerful men in the city—probably in the country—and I still didn’t believe that I had any right to his time. Whenever he ate dinner with me, that was time he could have spent contributing to the global economic system, as Sadie would put it. I always felt vaguely guilty, like I was preventing him from finding the solution to world peace.
“Regan,” he said sharply. I looked up. “I enjoy spending time with you. I want you to stay here tonight, so that I can see you again in the morning. If you need to go home, of course that’s fine, but I don’t want you to leave just because you think you’re—that you’re imposing.”
“Okay,” I said, and smiled at him, tremulously, to show that I understood.
I didn’t, not really, but I would try.
I wanted to be good for him.
“Okay,” he said. He stroked my damp hair and said, “I never go to sleep this early, and I’m sure you don’t. We could watch a movie, if you’d like.”
I thought about it: curled together on his comfortable sofa, close together in the dark. “I would like that a lot,” I said.
That was what we did: some forgettable action flick, and popcorn Carter made on the stove. I fell asleep partway through, and woke to see Carter gazing at me with a soft look on his face.
“What is it?” I asked, sleepy, rubbing my eyes.
“I’m happy,” he said. “That’s all.”
I knew what he meant. I was happier than I had ever been, happier than I thought I had any right to be, and it scared me. I knew that happiness didn’t last.
I woke up alone the next morning. Judging from the sun pouring through the windows, it was mid-morning—time for me to get going. I had to work that afternoon.
Carter had promised me bagels. I splashed my face with some cold water and made sure my hair wasn’t doing anything too strange, and then I padded out of the bedroom, tying Carter’s robe around me.
I smelled coffee as I made my way down the hall toward the main room of the apartment. Carter, I had learned, was a coffee snob. He ground his own coffee every morning, and I didn’t think he would have set foot in a Starbucks if his life depended on it.
He was sitting at the table with his laptop, but he closed it and pushed it aside as soon as he saw me. “Sleeping Beauty,” he said.
I blushed. “Is it late? I didn’t mean to sleep in.”
“It’s only 10,” he said, smiling at me. “I know you keep odd hours. I didn’t expect you to be up at the crack of dawn. I haven’t been up very long, either.”
Judging from the fact that he was fully dressed and already hard at work, I thought he had probably been up for at least a couple of hours, but it was sweet that he was trying to set me at ease. I said, “Is there coffee?”
He got up and went into the kitchen, and I trailed after him. The tile in the kitchen was cold beneath my bare feet. Carter poured me a cup of coffee and handed it to me, and I leaned against the counter and sipped at it.
“What kind of bagel would you like?” he asked. “I have plain, onion, and cinnamon raisin.”
Did he really think I would eat an onion bagel in front of him and risk onion breath? Maybe that wasn’t the sort of thing men worried about. “Cinnamon raisin sounds good,” I said.
He opened a paper bag on the counter and pulled out a bagel. “Butter? Cream cheese? Orange marmalade?”
“Mm, cream cheese,” I said. Carter sliced the bagel and dropped it into the toaster, and then swiveled to face me, one hand on the counter on either side of my body.
“How’s the coffee?” he asked.
I reached over his arm to set the mug on the counter, and then, feeling incredibly brave, wrapped my arms around his neck and gazed up into his eyes. “Pretty good,” I said.
He chuckled and leaned in to kiss me, slow and sweet—not one of the heated kisses we had shared the night before, but a sleepy morning kiss, fond and familiar. The kind of kiss I allowed myself, for a single, idiotic second, to imagine sharing with him every morning for the rest of our lives.
I squashed that thought, mercilessly, like a cockroach. If I started down that road, I would never find my way back. Better to avoid temptation altogether.
He pulled back and kissed my cheek and my forehead. “How did you sleep?”
“Pretty good,” I said again. “I don’t think I moved all night.”
“You were talking in your sleep,” he said.
I groaned and buried my face against his shoulder. “I still do that?”
“Oh yes,” he said. He stroked one hand up and down my back, slowly. “Something about muffins, I think. Then you started laughing.”