I like that he doesn’t seem happy about the thought of me leaving. “Yes. And thanks for letting me stay longer than I should have.”
He holds my stare. “Longer than you should have?” He starts chewing again and faces the television. “I don’t think it’s been long enough.”
I don’t know what he means by that. If he thinks I didn’t do enough work while I was here, or if he’s saying it selfishly, like he didn’t get to spend enough time with me.
Sometimes, especially right now, I feel how much he’s drawn to me, but then other times it seems like he works so hard to deny whatever attraction there might be between us. And I get that. I do. But is this how he’s going to spend the rest of his life? Giving up huge parts of himself to care for a woman who is just a shell of the person he married?
I understand he made vows, but at what cost? His entire life? People get married assuming they’ll live long, happy lives together. What happens when one of those is cut short, but the other is expected to live out those vows for the rest of their life?
It doesn’t seem fair. I know if I were married and my husband were in Jeremy’s predicament, I wouldn’t want my husband to feel like he could never move on. But I’m not sure I’ll ever be as obsessed with a man as Verity was with Jeremy.
The show ends and another one begins. Neither of us speaks for several minutes. It’s not that I have nothing to say—I have a lot to say. I just don’t know that it’s my place.
“I don’t know very much about you,” Jeremy says. His head is against the back of the couch and he’s looking at me, casually. “Have you ever been married?”
“Nope,” I say. “Came close a couple of times, but it never worked out.”
“How old are you?”
Of course, he would ask me that when my age will expire in just over an hour. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Jeremy laughs. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because I’ll be thirty-two. Tomorrow.”
“I’m not lying. I’ll show you my driver’s license.”
“Good, because I don’t believe you.”
I roll my eyes and then go to the master bedroom to grab my purse. I bring back my driver’s license and hand it to him.
He stares at it, shaking his head. “What a shitty birthday,” he says. “Hanging out with people you barely know. Working all day.”
I shrug. “If I wasn’t here, I’d just be alone in my apartment.”
He stares at my driver’s license a moment longer. When he runs his thumb over my picture, I get actual chills. He didn’t even touch me—he touched my fucking driver’s license—and it turned me on.
I am pathetic.
He hands it back to me and stands up.
“Where are you going?”
“To make you a cake,” he says, walking out of the living room.
I smile and then follow him to the kitchen. Jeremy Crawford baking a cake is something I don’t want to miss.
I’m sitting on the island in the middle of the kitchen, watching him put icing on the cake. In all the days I’ve been here, this is only the second time I’ve actually had fun. We haven’t talked about Verity or our tragedies or the contract for the past hour. While the cake was baking, I sat on the bar, my legs dangling off the edge of it. Jeremy leaned against the counter in front of me and we talked about movies, music, our likes and dislikes.
We’ve actually started getting to know each other outside of everything that ties us together. He was relaxed the night we went out to dinner with Crew, but I haven’t seen him this at ease inside these walls since I arrived.
I can almost—almost—understand Verity’s addiction to him.
“Go back to the living room,” he says as he pulls the candles from a drawer.
“Because. I have to walk in with your cake and sing you ‘Happy Birthday.’ Give you the full effect.”
I roll my head and jump off the bar, then go back to the couch. I mute the television because I want to hear him singing me happy birthday without interruptions. I keep hitting the information button on the remote, checking the time. He’s waiting for it to turn midnight to make it official.
Right when it hits midnight, I can see the flicker of candles as he makes his way around the corner. I laugh when he starts to sing quietly so he doesn’t wake up Crew.
“Happy birthday to you,” he whispers. He’s cut a single slice of cake and stuck a candle in the top of it. “Happy birthday to you.”
I’m still laughing when he reaches the couch, slowly kneeling down on it so he doesn’t spill the cake or risk the candle being blown out when he sits next to me.
“Happy birthday, dear Lowen. Happy birthday to you.”
We’re facing each other on the couch so I can make a wish and blow out the candle, but I’m not sure what to wish for. I’ve been lucky enough to land a really great job. I’m about to get more money than I’ve ever had in my bank account at one time. The only thing in my life that I feel like I want right now that I don’t have is him. I look him in the eye, then blow out the candle.
“What’d you wish for?”
“If I tell you, it won’t come true.”
The way he smiles at me seems heavily flirtatious. “Maybe you can tell me after it comes true.”
He doesn’t hand me the cake. He makes a show of it, slicing into it with a fork. “Do you know what the secret ingredient is to making such a moist cake?”
He holds out the fork and I take it from him. “What is it?”
I take a bite of the cake and smile. “It’s really good,” I say with a mouthful.
“Pudding,” he says again.
He holds the plate, and I take another bite, then offer him the fork. He shakes his head. “I had a bite in the kitchen.”
I don’t know why, but I wish I had seen that. I also wish I knew if he tasted like chocolate.
Jeremy lifts a hand. “You have icing on your…” He points at my mouth. I brush at it, but he shakes his head. “Right here.” He slides his thumb across my bottom lip.
I swallow the bite of cake.
His thumb doesn’t leave my lip. It lingers there.
Fuck. I can’t breathe.
I’m aching everywhere because he’s so close, but I don’t know what I’m allowed to do about it. I want to drop my fork, I want him to drop the plate of cake, I want him to kiss me. But I’m not the married one here. I don’t want to make the first move and he shouldn’t make the first move, but I’m desperate for him.
He doesn’t drop the cake. Instead, he leans across me and places it on the end table. In the same fluid movement, he brings his hand to my head and presses his lips to mine. Even after all the anticipation I’ve held for this moment, it still feels completely unexpected.
I close my eyes and drop the fork on the floor, leaning back into the arm of the couch. He follows me, crawling on top of me, our lips never disconnecting. I part my lips, and he sweeps his tongue inside my mouth. The slowness of the kiss doesn’t last long. As soon as we get our first tastes of each other, the kiss becomes manic. It’s everything I imagined kissing him would feel like. Radiation, explosives, dynamite. Anything and everything dangerous.
We taste like chocolate as we trade kisses, back and forth, push and pull. His hand is tangled in my hair, and with every second this kiss continues, we become infused with the couch beneath us, him relaxing into me as I melt into the cushions.
His mouth leaves mine in search of other parts of me he seems eager to taste. My jaw, my neck, the tops of my breasts. It’s as if he’s been starving himself of me. He’s kissing me and touching me with the hunger of a man who’s been fasting his whole life.
His hand is sliding up my shirt and his fingers are warm, trickling over my skin like drops of hot water.
He’s back at my mouth, but only momentarily. Long enough to find my tongue before he pulls back and takes off his shirt. My hands go to his chest like they belong there, pressed against the curves of his abdomen. I want to tell him this is what I wished for when I blew out my candle, but I’m afraid any conversation will lead him to think about what we’re doing and how we shouldn’t be doing it, so I remain quiet.