"Are you going to share that popcorn
or do I have to get my own?"
She slapped his hand away when
he reached toward her lap. "You said you didn't want any popcorn. That's
why you bought the Milk Duds.">
Yeah, but that was before the bucket
of popcorn had been sitting where it was sitting. "I changed my mind.
I'll share if you'll share."
"Hmpf," she muttered, then shushed
him as the lights went down and the curtain rose.
When the original preview trailer
for The Philadelphia Story began to play on the screen and Chloe got
her first glimpse of Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant,
she seemed to forget all about Eric's wandering hand.
She didn't even appear to be breathing.
She didn't move a single muscle, even the ones it took to blink. And
Eric would have noticed had she batted an eye. His gaze was focused
on her face and not on the black-and-white action of the trailer. And
then she smiled. A killer smile that hit him where it hurt.
She was beautiful. A fact that
he'd realized for as long as he'd known her but for some reason had
never fully appreciated until the last few weeks of her company. Even
now, with only the flickering film for light, he could see what he'd
It was her vulnerability that was
doing him in. The soft edge to her hard insistence on continually busting
his chops-and those of anyone who crossed her. She tried so hard to
be tough. And she was tough. He'd seen her play volleyball, he'd seen
her stand up to Poe.
But he also saw what he imagined
her girlfriends saw, the traits that drew their loyalty and affection
and solidified the friendships that had endured, not only the years,
but the stresses and hardships of working together and building the
business of gIRL-gEAR.
Those were the traits that brought
him back even after it seemed she'd whacked him off at the knees. She
had a lot going for her. But she had just as much going against her.
And he couldn't help but think that her attitude about men was going
to be what eventually ruined their friendship or their chance at anything
He needed to have fun with a woman
and Chloe never failed to show him a good time. He needed great sex,
which he knew their eventual coming together would bring. What he didn't
need was to fall for a woman struggling with "issues". He'd promised
himself at the first of the year no more damsels in distress.
A soft noise brought his attention
back to the movie. An Affair To Remember, he thought the marquee had
said this one was. Apparently a classic, though he wasn't much into
these old productions. Even the ones that had been made in color .
. . or was this one colorized? Hard to tell, the print was so grainy.
He turned to ask Chloe, figuring
she would know, finding that she'd grown perfectly still at his side,
her hand hovering over the bucket of popcorn in her lap, her eyes wide
and unblinking as she stared straight ahead.
And then he heard it again, a cross
between a sniffle and a sob, so tiny, nearly imperceptible, and had
he not seen the hitch in her chest he might not have realized she was
the one who was crying.
Chloe crying. What the hell was
there to cry about? Oh, he wasn't up to dealing with this. Nope. He
wasn't. But he did shift in the old-fashioned seat and lean toward
her, slipping his arm around her shoulder.
He didn't even have a chance to
pull her close because she was moving his way on her own, tucking her
shoulder up into his armpit, her head into the crook of his neck. She
was cold, that was it. Her bare arm was dimpled with goose bumps. He
rubbed his palm up and down her skin.
She was cold and probably premenstrual,
what with the crying coming from nowhere.
And the sappy movie wasn't helping,
not that he'd paid much attention to what was going on between Cary
Grant and the actress. But now it looked like someone had died, and
there was an old lace shawl that meant something to Grant's character.
Eric brought his lips close to
Chloe's head and whispered, "I'm sorry."
She looked up, her expression one
of confusion, her eyes wide and wet and intoxicating in the inconsistent
lighting thrown by the film.
"For what?" Her question was mouthed
more than spoken.
"I should've picked out something
more upbeat." He nodded toward the screen, lowered his whisper another
notch. "But I knew you liked this stuff. I thought it would be fun.
I didn't think it would make you sad."
"Don't be so stupid." She reached
over and laid a hand on his cheek, her soft touch at odds with her
name-calling. She leaned even closer and whispered, "I'm not sad. I
love this movie. It's so romantic."
Romantic he didn't know about since
he hadn't been paying much attention to the story unfolding onscreen.
But even now what was happening with the film was nothing compared
to what was happening here, with Chloe's breath heating the skin of
his cheek just below his ear, where even now she seemed to be nuzzling
with her nose.
A soft nuzzling. A gentle brush
of her chilly skin to his that was warmer, and rougher. He really should've
shaved. But the bristle of his beard didn't seem to be a problem. Chloe
hadn't backed away. And when he shivered at touch of the tip of her
tongue, she cuddled even closer.
"You're missing the movie," he
muttered, and she responded, "I don't care," tearing him up as she
said it. He wanted her to stay right where she was. He wanted her to
climb into his lap. He wanted her to turn her attention back to the
screen and leave him alone with his honorable intentions.
He pulled back to look into her
eyes, to see if she'd stopped crying, if she was using his cheek to
hide her tears or just as a toy for her tongue. And if he hadn't been
sitting against the wall with a dozen legs between his seat and the
aisle, he would've popped up and out for a drink he didn't need.
What he saw cracked open his vow
to avoid all damsels in distress with frightening ease. It bashed against
his resolve to leave her at her front door at the end of the night.
Ripped apart his determination to pay attention to the rest of the
film so they could talk about what they'd seen later over drinks.
As it was, he couldn't pull his
gaze away from her face. And when she raised her head, her eyes questioning,
her lips trembling and seeking, he lowered his mouth to hers.
It was the first time they'd kissed
and he knew he'd remember it forever because she tasted like salt and
warm buttered popcorn.
They'd once shared a kiss meant
for show while under the influence of an audience and too much tequila.
But this wasn't that kiss. This kiss was real, possessing more true
intimacy than the sexual encounters they'd shared.
Her lips were soft and tentatively
searching, as if she wasn't sure he'd want to accept the sweet offer
of her mouth. As if she was afraid he'd turn her away. He'd never known
a woman so contradictory, so confounding, or a woman he wanted to kiss
He settled his mouth over hers and
answered her unspoken question. The kiss was nothing more than a brush
of contact, a moment of simplicity and innocence. But it stabbed Eric
in the gut with its sharp insistence that simplicity and innocence
weren't what they appeared to be.
Chloe had never been innocent.
He knew virtually nothing about her past but he tasted her strong desire
to be wanted, her deep piercing need for acceptance. And he knew. As
her tongue touched his lips and moved into his mouth, he knew.
It didn't matter that she claimed
to know men, that she professed to have experience in relationships,
that she said she knew all about romance. Eric knew better. He knew
the truth. Her mouth told him.
With the gentle rubbing press of
her lips over his and the tender caress of her tongue, her mouth told
She was simply looking to be loved.