Authors: Ryan Parker
“I was planning on it.”
I knew, in that moment, she was going to be my downfall, one way or another.
She turned her head toward me, resting her chin on my chest. She kissed me on my chin, then said, “Which was your favorite? First time or second?” Asking me about the two times we’d just had sex.
“Do I have to pick?”
If this had been anyone but Rachel, I would have been suspicious that it was some kind of trick question, maybe a way of trying to secretly find out if I’d liked it hard and fast or soft and slow.
Truth was, I liked it both ways. And since it was Rachel, that’s how I answered. I added: “But I’d give a slight edge to the first.”
“Because it was the first?”
“No. Because of your reaction when I first entered you.”
She paused for a moment. “Oh, God. Do I even want to know what my ‘O’ face looks like?”
I could have answered that question in a way that would have quietly ended the topic. The answer could have been sweet. But I opted instead for the first thing that popped into my head. “I’ll show you sometime.” I looked down to see her raising her eyebrow.
“What?” she said. “You’re going to take a picture or a video?”
“No. Just trust me. I know what we’re going to do.”
She chuckled. “Of course you do, with all of your experience. I have full documentation of that, by the way. I’ve saved every one of your emails.”
I figured this was as good as time as any to reveal something else I’d been keeping from her.
“Those were mostly stories, Rachel. Fiction. I made up most of them.”
She shifted and sat up, pulling the sheet up to her chest and covering herself. Her eyes narrowed and her head moved slowly side to side. “You bastard.” She gave me a playful slap on the chest. “But I’m glad you really haven’t been with that many women. So how many, really?”
“The number isn’t important. And I won’t ask about, nor do I want you to volunteer your number.”
She shrugged. “Okay.” I could almost see the curiosity flooding her mind. I liked it.
I reached up toward her neck. She probably thought I was going to gently pull her down to me for a kiss. But instead, I grabbed the sheet and tugged it off of her.
“We’ll know everything about each other soon,” I said, cupping the underside of her breast. Without even touching it, her nipple responded by puckering tightly. “But you should never hide these from me.”
She smiled, leaned down, and pressed her mouth against mine. It was a passionate kiss, one that held the promise of a third round of sex.
Out of nowhere she said, “I don’t think you left the room because I asked your name.”
I didn’t say anything.
“I think it’s something else,” she continued.
“And what might that be?”
She looked at me for a moment. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to figure out what to say or how to say it.
She shrugged. “I’m not sure yet.” She bit her bottom lip, as if in deep thought. Her hair draped over her left eye.
I reached up and tucked it behind her ear, not saying anything.
“Can I ask you something?” she said.
“The other night at the hotel, why did you tell me I would be better off staying away from you?”
Her eyes locked on mine, a dead stare. It was as if she thought she could find the answer if she looked hard enough.
“With me, there might be as much pain as there is pleasure,” I said.
She smiled, totally misinterpreting what I meant. “I think I could handle that sometimes.”
I shook my head and started to tell her that she had it all wrong, but as soon as I opened my mouth, she cut me off.
“Just tell me what you mean,” she said. “I kind of had some ideas already, anyway.” Her face turned into a frown.
She shook her head. “Don’t try to turn this around on me.” She managed a slight grin. “If you don’t want to tell me right now, that’s fine. Whatever it is, it can’t be all that bad. You’re here, right?”
“So let’s just take it slow,” she said. “See what happens. We made it this far, right?”
I had my doubts about what she was saying, but I agreed anyway.
She sat back up, then stood, telling me she’d be right back. “I do want to know you.” She looked at me, hard, for a moment before continuing. “Just promise me I’ll know you before too long?”
I nodded. “Promise.”
I sat up and watched her walk down the hall, my mind swimming with curiosity about her past, her present, her future—
future, if there was to be one.
It wouldn’t be long before I would share with her the fact that I owned a rare bookshop.
Of course, that was all a ruse. One that I would eventually reveal to her. After all, I had just promised her I would. So maybe sooner rather than later.
For the immediate future, though, she wouldn’t have a clue that I had an entirely different life. Not a clue that I had only been in the United States for ten years. Not a clue as to exactly why I had come here, and what exactly I was up to.
It was just the way it would have to be—she would have no idea who or what I really was.
Spy? Agent? Operative? Mercenary? Assassin?
Sometimes I wasn’t sure myself.
For the first time in my life, I woke up next to a man.
Finn was still asleep. Or should I say
No, he was Finn to me. That’s how I’d gotten to know him and that’s who he would always be. The Finn who responded to my first email about books, the Finn who intrigued and excited me with his words, and the Finn who lived up to his promise of giving me a mind-blowing sexual experience.
After eating the Chinese food last night, we again went to my bedroom. We had already had sex twice, but there was that third condom he’d brought. It was sitting on my nightstand, within arm’s reach, ready when we were.
But the rest of the night turned out to be short and sweet, with a little idle talking, followed quickly by me falling asleep.
I woke in the middle of the night to find him asleep, but his arms were still snugly wrapped around me. There’s always a little light in my room. I can’t stand total darkness, so I solve it by leaving on my laptop screensaver, a collage of relaxing photos.
We were facing each other, just inches apart, so close I could feel his breath on my shoulders. My leg was hooked over his. I didn’t remember going to sleep that way, so I must have done it during the night.
I studied his face in the light from my laptop as it increased and decreased.
He was only twenty-nine, close to turning thirty, so I didn’t expect to see the lines in his brow. Or the ones at the corners of his mouth. They were faint, but they were there, just below the stubble of his one- or two-day beard.
Was that kind of thing inherited? If so, I would have no idea what I was in for. Or were they from stress? A hard life?
I knew Finn had his secrets, and even though he never gave me the slightest hint about them, I had long ago wondered if he’d been through something terrible. Probably not something exactly like my childhood, but maybe something close? Something that caused him to live a secluded life like mine, something that made him wary of sharing his name, something that drew those lines on his face.
I eventually fell back to sleep, lulled by his gentle breathing.
A few hours later, I woke up next to a man for the second time in my life.
I was proud of myself. I felt truly safe with another human being.
But, dammit, I had to pee. I didn’t want to remove myself from Finn’s arms. I wanted to stay there all day. Into the night. Into forever, if it were possible. I also didn’t want to disturb him and rouse him from what was clearly a deep sleep.
When I tried to move, though, he woke immediately.
I lowered my head back down on the pillow. “Sorry.”
He raised his hand to my face and touched my cheek. “Going somewhere?”
I shook my head no, then thought better of it. “Actually, yeah. The bathroom.”
“Go,” he said. “I’ll meet you in the kitchen. Do you have any coffee?”
I started to get out of the bed. “Crap, no. Sorry.”
“We can go…Jesus, Rachel, I don’t even know if you drink coffee.”
I had stepped into the bathroom and turned before closing the door. “I do. I’m just out.” I almost closed the door, but something occurred to me. “We really have a
to learn about each other.”
. . . . .
We took a quick shower, during which we were able to pull off the miraculous feat of not having sex. It was an intimate shower, no doubt. We washed each other’s bodies, an opportunity to explore his more than I had been able to so far. Same for Finn. He took an unusually long time soaping up my breasts.
“I think they’re clean enough now,” I said, smiling.
“Just making sure.”
He washed my hair. It was something I’d never had a man do before, and there was something mind-bogglingly sexy about it.
After getting dressed, we headed out for coffee. It turned out that Finn and I were the kind of people who couldn’t function without a cup of coffee in the morning. Yet another thing we had in common.
I had suggested that we take it back to my place, but Finn had other ideas.
“Do you have any plans today?”
I said, “You know I don’t.”
“Just checking,” he said, keeping his eyes straight ahead as he drove. “Even if you did, I was going to tell you that you needed to cancel them.”
His facial expression didn’t change and he didn’t cut his eyes at me and grin. He was serious. “Is that so?”
He nodded, sipping his coffee. “I have something to show you.”
I didn’t ask what, or where, and he didn’t volunteer any of the information. He wanted to surprise me, and I wanted to be surprised. Although, I did get a little anxious when I noticed we were on our way to Baltimore.
The ride was quiet. He didn’t say much, and I was perfectly content to just be along for the ride. I was happy to be doing something so exciting on a Saturday. The way my life had been going, anything would have been exciting, but taking off on a day-trip with Finn was the best thing I could imagine.
I hadn’t been to Baltimore before, so I looked out the window and took in the scenery. It wasn’t long before he pulled into a spot along the side of the street.
I looked up at the storefront. “We’re going to a bookstore? Is this your favorite place or something?”
Finn turned the car off and as he was getting out, he said, “Or something.”
He walked around to my side, opened the door, and I stood. I looked at the door and saw the sign. “It’s closed.”
“Yep.” He was moving toward the door, and it was then that I noticed he was fumbling with his key ring.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. “You own this place?”
He unlocked the door and swung it open. “Sure do.”
“Sales. You always told me sales. You sell
“And buy,” he said.
An old woman approached the door holding a plastic shopping bag full of what appeared to be paperbacks.
“Sorry,” Finn told her. “Closed for the day. We’ll be open Monday.”
The old woman huffed and shuffled away.
“That wasn’t nice,” I said.
He turned on the lights. “Today, this is all yours.”
I looked around. Aisle after aisle of books. Mostly paperbacks, some hardbacks. All older looking, definitely used. All meticulously lined up on the shelves. A maze of shelves I could see myself getting lost in for hours.
Aside from that, the first thing I noticed was how cold it was. “Does this place double as a walk-in freezer?”
Finn smiled. “Air conditioning helps keep the humidity down. Any kind of moisture can ruin a book, especially older ones. You know, your eyes are very big right now, and you’re not blinking. Should I rent a U-Haul for the drive back?”
I started toward the first aisle. “Very funny.”
“Go ahead,” he said, “look around. Take whatever you want.”
I took my time browsing. Finn followed me throughout the store as if he were security and I was a suspected thief. But I knew what he was really up to—he enjoyed watching me get a thrill out of finding books that interested me. And after the way things had been going since last night, I didn’t want him far away at all, anyway.
But after a little while, Finn told me to browse around and he’d come find me.
It would have been very easy to lose control and let myself become greedy. So many books. I imagined them on my shelves, perched up there waiting for me, worlds of new places to visit and people to meet.
I spent about thirty minutes browsing. As I looked around I thought about how wonderful it would be to have a job like this and how lucky Finn was to have it. He loved reading just as much as I did, and I could only imagine the enjoyment he got from being surrounded by books all day.
I selected a few titles, ones I’d been looking for online but couldn’t find. I decided to stop with what I had and a few minutes later I found Finn behind the counter, looking at something on the desktop computer.
“What are those?” I asked, startling him. “Oh, sorry.”
“What are what?” he asked, looking a little confused.
I pointed at the books behind the counter. There must have been at least fifty of them, all in a locked glass case.
“Rare books.” He spun around on his stool and unlocked the glass door, taking out one of the books. “This is a first edition of Bram Stoker’s
.” He put it on the counter between us.
“Wow, where did you get this?”
The book had been facing Finn, but he spun it around toward me as he answered. “A guy came in about…two years ago, I think. And I bought it from him for eight-thousand. I can probably get ten for it.”
“Holy shit, are you serious?”
Finn chuckled. “That’s nothing.” He picked up the book and placed it back in the case. Turning to face me, he said, “Those are actually the inexpensive rare books. I have others in a safe in the back.”
I was fascinated by what he was telling me, but I was also doing a quick inventory of my own books, wondering if I had any that were worth some good money. The next thing he said broke me out of that short-lived daydream, though.
“I’ll let you in on a little secret. I have a first edition of
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
that’s worth about twenty-thousand, and a first edition of
War And Peace
that could probably sell for over thirty-five grand.”
“So that’s where the store really makes its money?”
He shook his head. “No, it’s from the smaller sales. The big ones don’t happen very often.”
I noticed a vase with flowers on the counter and it brought back a memory: the rose I had found on my doorstep that night he had left so suddenly from the hotel room. I knew he hadn’t left it for me, and I had already reasoned the other possibilities, but it made me wish it had been from him.
He finally noticed the books I was holding. “Are you finished browsing?”
I nodded, looking at the few books in my arms.
His brow furrowed. “That’s it?”
“For now,” I said, hoping that I’d find myself in this store many times in the future. I reached into my purse. “Let me pay you for these.”
Finn just shook his head.
“I can’t just take them.”
His eyes had gone back to the computer screen. In a flat, matter-of-fact tone he asked, “Why not?”
I looked at the ones I’d picked out. “These have to be at least, what, thirty dollars?”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. You want them, they’re yours. I take whatever I want. It’s a perk of the job and I’m extending it to you.”
“A friends and family discount thing?” I smiled at him, thinking I’d made a pretty decent joke.
He looked up from the screen but his expression didn’t change. “Is that what we are?”
We certainly weren’t family, so I didn’t know what he meant by that. But were we friends? I guess that could have been the case. Yes, we’d had sex a few times, and while I wished our relationship was more than just friends, the truth was that friends did that all the time.
I didn’t have an answer. I was kind of hoping he would provide one. So I stood there silently.
Finally, after a long ten seconds or so, he spoke. “We don’t have to answer that right now. All that matters is that you’re here. I’m glad you are.”
He stood and came around the counter to stand in front of me. He put his hand to my cheek and held my face still as he began kissing me slowly and softly, his tongue feathering across my lips.
He stopped, resting his forehead against mine.
“What’s wrong?” I said, wanting him to kiss me again. Wanting him to kiss me forever, actually.
“I have to stop.” Our eyes were just inches apart, locked in an unblinking stare, and I was terrified by what he might say next. “If I don’t stop, then this...” he tugged on my shirt, “is going come off, and these…” his hand dropped down to the front of my pants and he grabbed the button, “are going to be off, and you…” he kissed my mouth hard, greedily, then gently took my lower lip between his teeth before letting it go and saying, “you are going to be perched on this countertop with your gorgeous legs spread and with my cock inside you.”