More Than Words
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I stood, jostling Charlène, who let out a high-pitched sound of annoyance. “Next up is the john.”
“It’s called the ‘loo’ here in France,” Annette offered.
I ignored her, looking at the reporter who’d infiltrated our group. Not that it would have taken any effort. Half the time I had no idea who the people hanging around me were. “Do you want to come along and see if you can get a picture of my dick while I’m pissing?”
The reporter appeared to consider that briefly before shaking his head. I made a disgusted sound in the back of my throat, teetered momentarily, and walked toward the dark hallway at the back of the bar.
Jesus. I’m drunk. Too drunk.
I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and fumbled with it for a minute as it snagged on a thread. I finally pulled it out, squinting at Nick’s picture just as my voice mail picked up, causing his smiling face to blink away. He was probably calling to congratulate me on the award. I paused in the hallway, watching my phone until it indicated I had a voice mail. When I pressed play, Nick’s familiar voice filled my ear.
Hey, buddy, I just saw online that you won that award. Nice fucking job. I’m proud of you, man. <pause> Take care of yourself, okay, Cal? And call me when you can.
I returned my phone to my pocket, vowing to call him later, knowing he’d be disappointed in me if he could see me stumbling around drunk in a dark hallway to escape the shallow people surrounding me. People I’d made a bigger part of my life than him, my closest friend and the only person I could truly trust.
This is not you, Cal, he’d say. Only it was. It was.
I tried a door but saw that it was a utility closet filled with shelves of cleaning supplies and paper products. I pulled the door shut, looking for another door or a sign with a picture that would indicate where the damn bathroom was but didn’t see anything. I turned the corner and spotted a door at the end of the hall and stepped through. I was on an empty outdoor patio that was either closed for the season or the night. I started to turn back but decided to take a moment to shut out the fake laughter and the idle chitchat, just to breathe.
Take care of yourself, okay, Cal?
Why did that seem like such an impossible task lately? I walked to the chest-high wall that surrounded the rooftop patio and put my elbows on it, bending my neck forward and raking my hands through my hair as I pulled cool air in through my nose. I felt better, a little less drunk, a little less … angry, annoyed. Who knew what the fuck I was feeling anymore? It’d been so long since I’d stopped to really consider it. I only knew that I wasn’t happy.
I heard a noise behind me and turned around to see the brunette waitress standing in the doorway, the door closing slowly behind her. Her eyes were wide and her lips parted in surprise, as if she hadn’t expected to find anyone out here. When the door hit her butt, she let out a small gasp as it propelled her forward.
For a second we just stared at each other across the deck. I tried my damnedest not to sway on my feet.
“I … ah … sorry. I think I took a wrong turn.” I raised my arm, making a movement that indicated the outdoor patio and that it wasn’t where I’d meant to end up. I hoped she spoke English. My French wasn’t very good. Actually, it was awful.
She opened her mouth to speak, but then seemed to change her mind. She stared at me for another moment before saying softly, “I’m here to save you.”
I frowned, leaning back against the wall as something raced through my mind, something I tried to grasp, but it eluded me. She bit at her lip and fidgeted, and I realized she must have been making a joke. She was obviously shy, and I’d just made her feel uncomfortable. I smiled and then chuckled softly, raising one brow. “I appreciate that, but I think I’m beyond saving, sweetheart.”
She let out a breath, and instead of looking relieved that the awkward moment had passed, she looked … disappointed. “Didn’t you see the sign?” She nodded toward the door.
Yes, I had seen the sign. “I don’t read French.”
Her lips tipped up. “It’s in both English and French.”
“I must not have noticed.” Her brows came in slightly, and I moved toward her slowly, drawn to her in some inexplicable way.
She didn’t move, didn’t flinch, didn’t even really look surprised, and when I stepped up to her, she tipped her head back to look at me. The disappointed expression was gone, and now she looked soft and sort of breathless. Expectant.
“You’re American,” I said, realizing suddenly she hadn’t had any trace of an accent when she’d spoken. She only nodded.
My eyes moved over her face, and from up close like this she was more than merely pretty. Her skin was smooth and creamy, and I could see a very light dusting of freckles across her nose. I wanted to kiss those freckles, each and every one, to touch them with my tongue and know if they tasted like innocence. I almost laughed at myself. Innocence. When had innocence ever been appealing to me anyway?
Her large hazel eyes widened, framed by dark, sweeping lashes. Her upper lip was fuller than the bottom and turned downward in a way that gave her a natural pout. Christ, from where I’d sat watching her earlier, I hadn’t been able to see how soft and tempting her mouth was. I very suddenly needed to feel those pink, parted lips on my mouth, on my skin, more than I needed anything else on the face of the earth.
I leaned in, expecting her to stop me at any moment, but she didn’t. My lips met hers, and she let out a whimpering sound that shot straight to my cock. I hardened as I swept my tongue between her lips, tasting her, exploring. Her tongue met mine shyly, tentatively, and though she was obviously unskilled, her kiss set fire to my blood in a way no one else’s had in a very long time, maybe ever. God, she tasted so damn sweet, so fresh and pure.
My cock swelled and pressed against my zipper, causing me to groan and move against her, to pull her closer and thread my fingers into the back of her hair. I felt her ponytail come loose as her hair spilled over my hands, the faint scent of her shampoo filling my nose, something light and clean.
Light and clean.
I wanted her. I wanted her so badly I was shaking with it. What is this? I was almost tempted to pick her up and carry her to one of the deserted tables, to lean her over it and relieve the terrible ache between my legs. Somewhere in my bleary, muddled mind, it even seemed possible that this girl could soothe the deep, dark, pained places inside myself that I had no idea how to access.
Just for tonight—just one damn night—I wanted to lose myself in the sweetness so clear in this girl’s eyes, the pure innocence I could feel emanating from her.
There was no place for sweetness in my life. And definitely no place for innocence.
But, ah, I wanted it so badly. And on that starlit deck on a cool Paris night, I admitted how much, even if only to myself. It beckoned like a sleepy lover. Like a muse that promised to stay longer than a brief moment or maybe two. And I didn’t deserve it, but I didn’t care.
I broke the kiss, trailing my mouth across her cheeks, feathering my lips over those angel kisses scattered so delicately on her skin. “Come home with me,” I whispered, unable to disguise the neediness in my voice.
“You’re drunk,” she whispered back. “I’ve been watching you drink all night.”
“Yes.” I didn’t deny it. “It won’t affect my performance. It never does.”
She stilled in my arms, and I realized how crass my words must have sounded, how common I must have just made her feel. And yet wasn’t she? When it came down to it, wasn’t that exactly what I wanted to make her? Common? Could I really pretend she’d be any different from the rest? Different from the myriad women I was with for a night and never again? I had nothing to offer a girl like this, so why did it feel like something that had been blooming a moment before had just withered inside me? I didn’t know what it might be, but it felt like something. I’d felt something …