Suddenly, danger zone or not, Mike’s was the last place in the world Todd wanted to be. “Listen, Michelle – ”
But it was all he got out before she shook her head, placed her hand on his thigh. “I’m so, so sorry about running off last night.”
He hadn’t given it more than a second thought. “I told you not to worry about it – ”
“I know you did. But texting an apology isn’t the same as talking. And I needed to say it. I need you to know . . . ” She’d been looking into his eyes all this time, giving him all her attention, potent and intense, but now dropped her gaze.
He tamped down the pulsing tide of worry. “Need me to know what?”
“I’m not that girl,” she said, lifting her chin, her gaze sincere, troubled, as if she feared what he might be thinking of her. He liked that it mattered to her. Liked it a lot. She went on. “I’m not a prude. I don’t run from a kiss. I don’t . . . run.”
“You ran last night.” He didn’t want her to grab onto that one moment and make it bigger than it had been. He’d let it go, and she needed to. Yeah, a kiss would’ve been great. But he was a patient man. And it didn’t hurt to hear that she wasn’t a nun. “But it was dark, and I couldn’t get the really good look at your legs that I wanted.”
Her smile was back, her leg swinging again, her hand on his thigh pressing, her fingertips rubbing tiny circles on the denim of his jeans. “We’re going to have to go running together, you know. I love to do the park trails at night when I can’t sleep. I just don’t want to go alone.”
Yeah, he thought, her touch growing bolder, the circles wider, his skin warmer. Definitely not a nun. “I just looked up some charity runs last weekend. I haven’t registered yet.”
“Ooh, yes, let me know when they are. I ran the St. Patty’s Day race earlier this year. It was my first.”
“Mine was the Capital Hill Classic. I managed ten minute miles with very little training.”
“No, but I’ve gotten a lot better. I like the crowds.” He reached for his drink, swirled the ice in the scotch. “Makes it easy to set a good pace.”
“I’ve wanted for years to have someone to run with,” she said, watching him lift his glass and swallow. “Someone to push me while I push them.”
“Years? So you’ve been at this awhile?”
“I started in college, I guess? Then just kept it up as I got into advertising. That world is wicked intense.” She gave a small shudder. He felt the vibration from her fingertips. “Running made for good stress relief. And therapy.”
“And killer legs.”
She squeezed his thigh, squeezed again when he flexed. “Hmm. You know, I think you’re right.”
There was only one thing he knew. “Why don’t we run right now?”
“Right now?” she asked, letting him go.
Uh-oh. Had he spoken too soon? “Back to my place. It’s too noisy here. Too . . . public.”
Her eyes flashed, a fiery agreement, and she didn’t give as much as a nod to his drink when she asked, “You don’t want to finish your scotch?”
“I didn’t want it in the first place.” And she’d hardly touched her chardonnay.
Still, she frowned. Confused? Concerned? “But you brought me here anyway?”
“I thought you might be more comfortable here, with the crowd. Instead of alone, at home, you know, with just me,” he said, wondering why all of a sudden he was tripping over his tongue.
She shook her head, shook away the frown. “I came here to be with you.”
He tensed, watched her brush her hair from her neck, her fingers toying with her earring where it dangled, and tossed back the last of his drink before reaching for his wallet. “Good. Let’s get out of here.”
They rode home in silence, and this time Todd drove, Michelle willingly surrendering her keys. While caught up in each other and conversation in Mike’s, they’d been oblivious to the noise from outside, where the bulging gray clouds that had threatened all evening had burst into a downpour.
Since Todd was the one familiar with the neighborhood, Michelle had asked him to take the wheel, admitting she wasn’t thrilled with the idea of making her way to his house through the storm. And that was fine with him. There was something primitive about being in charge and protective.
With the only sound as he drove that of the rain on the car’s roof and the rich hum of the engine with each change of gears, the cockpit became a cocoon of comfortable silence, even if it was somewhat tense. Comfortable in that neither felt compelled to talk. Tense in that the lack of conversation gave both time for thought, creating a bit of a strain.
Todd was thinking he was a jerk for rushing her out of the restaurant. Nice job, letting on how selfish he was. But damn if he didn’t want to get her alone, no Friday night crowds disturbing them, no solicitous bartender hovering, no blaring music making it hard to hear.
What he didn’t know was if Michelle was regretting her decision to leave with him when she knew they’d be returning to his house unchaperoned. She’d seemed more than ready to go, and her silence could be nothing more than allowing him to concentrate on navigating the streets and the storm.
As he did so, he cast quick glances toward her, her legs, her hands in her lap, her pulse in the hollow of her throat. The way she caught at the edge of her bottom lip with her teeth, the only clue to her state of mind.
His state of mind was simple. He wanted to hear everything she had to say. He didn’t want to shout above the noise, or censor himself due to eavesdroppers. Or see anyone he might know and have to explain Michelle. He wanted her all to himself. That’s all there was to it. And with that, he pulled into his drive, parked her car behind his.
He turned off the engine and looked over at her. Raindrops, picked up as she’d dashed from Mike’s front door into the car Todd had brought around, clung to strands of her hair like tiny white lights, and her eyes were huge and liquid and blue. He was going to drown in her before the night was over, give up his air and pull in everything she was.
Her expression haunted him, left him aching to know what scared her. Was it him? Was it the anticipation? Was she waiting to be disappointed? Or like him, was she wondering if things had moved beyond fast to rocket-powered before either one of them was ready for blast-off?
He leaned closer. She leaned toward him. The air in the car stood still, grew heavy, as if waiting for the time that had stopped to start ticking again. Todd swore his chest was about to explode, and so he closed the final few inches between them and pressed his lips to hers.
She opened beneath him like a flower, welcoming him, offering herself up, a sacrifice of sweet nectar, and then she was pushing into him, turning in her seat to drape herself over him, and all of it with her mouth kissing his.
She tasted like the glass of chardonnay she’d sipped, like grapes and heady earth and hot sun, like he couldn’t get enough. He slanted his head farther to the right, trying to find the best way to fit. There wasn’t room to get to her the way he wanted, but he did his best to touch as much of her as he could.
His hands roamed her back, gripped her shoulders, held onto her arms and cupped her nape. Her hair was down tonight, and he threaded his fingers into the thick strands that smelled of fresh herbs and mint and cool rain, breathing deep of the scents and of her.
Her hands were just as busy learning him, and when she moaned deep in her throat, he chuckled, not expecting her to pull away at the sound, feeling the loss like a shot to the heart when she did.
“You’re laughing at me?” she asked breathlessly.
“I’m not laughing. I’m enjoying.” And too much so to put into words without fear of scaring her off. The things going on with his body were base and raw and best kept to himself until he was certain she felt the same way.
And then, because he had to, he laughed again, kissed her again, pouring all of what he was feeling into the press of his mouth to hers. She was the sweetest thing ever, the good, good woman he wanted in his life, and he had a hard time letting her go. The rain beat down on the car’s roof, a timpani rhythm creating a safe harbor in the storm.
But then the clouds broke, and the percussion around them calmed to a patter. It was now or never, he decided, leaving her, but only so he could ask, “Do you want to come in?”