Authors: Ophelia Grey
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Contemporary Fiction
All rights reserved.
All characters are based on the author’s own imagination.
Any resemblance to real persons is entirely coincidental.
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The music thumped a heavy beat that vibrated through my body as Liam held me against him. I could only barely make him out in the dim, smoky light of the club and the occasional flashing strobe light on made it harder for my eyes to adjust.
“Don’t think so much. Just let go and move your body to the music,” he whispered huskily in my ear. The music was loud, but his words were clear. His warm breath against my neck sent shivers through my body.
“I don’t know how,” I said back, but he couldn’t hear me.
I realized that he was right, I was still holding on, afraid to let go. My held felt fuzzy from the succession of rum and diet cokes that I had just downed to calm my nerves. Unfortunately, my body wasn’t used to alcohol and reacted quickly and strongly to the foreign substance. My vision was hazy and my mind felt slow.
It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was here, with Liam. I felt the warm press of his body against mine, his hard muscles pressed up against me, flexing with every small movement.
I let the music lead me and closed my eyes, feeling it wash through my body. I let my hips start to sway, and Liam placed his hands gently against them, gently easing my movements against him. I let the swaying movement travel through my body, from my hips up to my waist and chest, moving my body to the thumping beat.
Liam pressed his warm lips to my forehead as he swayed against me, his hands gently grazing my arms and back, moving closer and closer to the curve of my ass. I willed him to move lower, hold me tighter.
It might have been due to the alcohol, the heat, or even the music, but I felt desire coursing through my body with an intensity I had never even imagined was possible. It was an entirely new sensation and it was both wonderful and horrible at the same time. The aching in me grew and grew as I pressed my body harder against Liam’s strong, muscular physique, trying to fill the void growing inside of me.
Liam pressed back, grinding his body against mine in time to the quickening beat of the music. I could feel the hard bulge in his jeans growing harder and larger against my hip as we swayed faster.
I could feel the hot, sticky sweat coating my skin, and I realized that all I wanted in that moment was to feel the warm press of Liam’s sweaty, naked body against mine. I wanted to trace every hard band of muscle with my tongue, feel his hands touch me in paces that no one had ever seen.
“Let’s get out of here,” I whispered desperately, standing on my tiptoes to reach his ear.
Liam looked at me and his baby blue eyes flashed with dark, hungry emotions that mirrored mine. Then he nodded.
“Fear no temptation if the lord is your guide.”
Pastor Rick’s sermon this week was not particularly inspired, but I still listened closely, my hands folded primly in my lap as I sat between mother and father in our small, wooden church pew.
It was the middle of August and the summer heat had reached its most oppressive level. The fans blowing from the edges of the room did little to stop the hot, sticky trail of sweat that wandered down my back. I was tempted to reach back and lift of my long mess of blonde hair to give my neck some relief, but I knew that would result in a stern look from mother.
As Pastor Rick’s unnaturally high, nasal voice ruminated on how a heart open to Jesus was closed to temptation, I tried to pay attention and make mental notes on how to improve myself in the week ahead. I couldn’t help a small glance to my right though, where the Martins were sitting in their pew. It looked empty, without my friend Grace sitting next to her parents.
When we were younger, she would sometimes make silly faces at me during serious sermons when no one else was looking. I would have to hide my laughter behind fake fits of coughing. I would always scold her later, but she knew that I loved the way she could make me smile, even when no one else could.
Mercy River felt empty now that she was gone. She had left only a few weeks ago, suddenly taking a job out east and leaving in the early morning without saying goodbye to me. I tried to ask her boyfriend Daniel about it, but he had squirmed under my questions, saying that it was a private matter but that she would return home to him soon.
Pastor Rick finally stopped talking and the silence was filled with rustling as everyone started to gather their belongings and stand up. I had missed the end of the sermon and started to feel guilty for not paying closer attention.
“Mary! Are you coming?” My mother was standing in the aisle, looking back at me with a stern face.
I jumped up quickly and followed her to the door as my father ambled along behind us. My little sister, Sarah, had already run ahead to meet her friends by the door. I could see her small, bright blonde head nodding furiously at something her friend whispered in her ear. She reminded me of myself, when I was twelve. She was so happy, innocent, and friendly that everyone loved her. Being good didn’t take much effort. Of course, I had always had my friend Grace whispering in my ear. I wondered if any of Sarah’s friends were secretly wild and rebellious, like Grace had been.
We reached the front door and I breathed a sigh of relief as a cool breeze blew through the crowd, ruffling the long skirt on my heavy cotton dress just enough to provide some relief to my long, sweaty legs. I peeled away the part of the skirt that was sticking to me and turned to find my family who had wandered off into the crowd.
“I could always tell that girl would be trouble. I even heard she tried to
that sweet boy, Daniel. Can you imagine? His brother says he set her straight and even still wanted to marry her, but she still had something of the devil in her.”
The loudly whispered voice behind me stopped as I turned around, but I could see Mrs. Marsh’s face shaking disapprovingly. I knew that people would gossip about Grace now that she had left, but I felt a fierce sting of anger and betrayal at the fact that Daniel had apparently been adding to the gossip. He was supposed to love her and protect her from the world, not turn the town against her.
My cheeks grew pink as sharp anger rose in me, but I turned away and clasped my hands in front of me. Anger was not becoming of a young woman, I reminded myself. I needed to get away from these people as soon as I could so I wouldn’t be tempted to tell them off for gossiping about my friend.
I turned and searched through the thinning crowd for my family. My sister was still with her friends and my parents were chatting with the Hendersons by the square hedges. I slipped up next to them and listened as Mrs. Henderson prattled on about her roses. My mother always loved talking gardens, but the heat seemed to be wearing on her and luckily she excused us after a few minutes, when the sweat started pouring down her forehead.
I turned and caught Sarah’s eye as she was laughing with her friends. Seeing her happy made me smile, but I knew father would be cross if she didn’t hurry so I waved her over. She came running over quickly, her long blonde braid bouncing against her back as she turned and waved to her friends.
I took her delicate little hand in mine as we walked behind mother and father down the road to our house. We only lived about a five-minute walk from the church, and father insisted that we not use the car when we had perfectly capable legs to carry us.
By the time we reached our house, we were all drenched in sweat and more excited for the fans blowing inside than for the hot dinner sitting in the crockpot. Our little yellow house looked like it was wilting in the heat, just like the flowers in mother’s gardens. Mostly, it was just the small cracks in the paint that gave it that impression. Usually, father would pay one of the neighbor boys to help paint the trim and the fence around our small yard, but things were tight ever since Sarah had to have an emergency appendectomy last year.
“Girls, please set the table while I get dinner fixed,” mother called out as she walked into the kitchen. Sarah and I were just about the sink onto the couch for a moment of relaxation and respite from the heat, but we both jumped up and hurried into the kitchen to grab the dishes.
Once we had set the table, the whole family sat down for grace. Our father started us off like usual, thanking God for all the blessings in our lives. I bowed my head and listened quietly.
“And finally, thank you Lord for two godly daughters who follow your word. We pray for the Martins and their wayward girl.”
I stiffened as he finished grace and mother started to ladle food onto all of our plates. I knew that many people in town were gossiping about my best friend, but I thought my parents would be different. They knew that we had been like sisters growing up and that Grace was a kind and intelligent young woman.
I pushed my meat and vegetable around my plate, finding that I had absolutely no appetite. The mixture of the heat and my repressed anger at everyone turning their backs on my best friend turned my stomach.
“Father, you have known Grace her whole life. Do you really think she is a bad person?” I asked carefully, looking up at him as he carefully chewed a piece of roast.
“The devil can find his way through any crack in godliness,” my father said, finally swallowing his food. “Grace opened the way for him. I know she was your friend, but you need to forget about that now. She is no longer who she used to be.” He nodded decisively, picking up another forkful of food. My mother and sister carefully avoided my eyes and picked at their own plates.
“I’m not feeling well. May I be excused? I think some fresh air would help.” I jumped up and pushed my chair in, rushing out of the room before I could say anything I would regret.
“Mary!” I heard my mother call out, but the door slammed behind me and I started running down the long dirt road.
I stopped running when my lungs started to ache. In truth, I wasn’t much of an athlete. I never had been, despite my long, lanky l
egs. I trudged along the road until I reached the end of the main stretch and then turned left to wards the river for which our town was named. Evening was starting to fall and the repressive heat had finally subsided into a warm breeze.
I reached the edge of the river and realized there was nowhere else for me to go. Mercy River was small, just like the town. It was also an ugly, muddy brown and smelled a bit like sulfur. Nevertheless, it was somehow peaceful to sit on the grassy bank and stare out over the water, pretending that I was sitting on the edge of an ocean.
I was pulled out of my reverie by the roar of an engine approaching on the small dirt road. I jumped up and shaded my eyes with my hand, but all I could see at first was a small cloud of dust approaching me.
It wasn’t until he was almost on top of me that I realized it was a muscular, tattooed man on a motorcycle. He pulled up right in front of me, planting his feet on the ground in a seamless dismount that was strangely graceful for a man of his hulking stature.
I stared at him, not sure if I should be afraid. He looked like something that should scare me. The man was tall and broad chested, with tattoos snaking up his arms into the fitter black t-shirt that stretched around his biceps. His jeans and boots looked worn and dirty, but his hair looked freshly washed. It was a dark, luscious brown and fell in long locks into his piercing eyes. Once I looked at them, I couldn’t tear my gaze from his eyes. They were a pale blue, somehow piercingly sharp but also soft and sweet all at once. I couldn’t look away.
“Hi there,” his smooth, deep voice intoned. “Sorry if my bike startled you. Are you from around here?”
I stepped backwards, my head suddenly buzzing with all the warning that my parents and Pastor Rick had drilled into me. Men like this were bad news. They only wanted one thing from a young woman like me.
“I…I’m not alone here.” The words tumbled out of my mouth in a half pleading, half accusation.
The man tilted his head, eyeing me with those strange, beautiful blue eyes that stood out so sharply against his tan skin. A small smirk played at the corner of his lips, causing my heart to beat thunderously in my chest.
I took another step back and stumbled over a small rock. Pain shot up my ankle as I tumbled into a graceless pile on the grass.
The man rushed forward and I closed me eyes, hoping to shut out the inevitable. To my surprise, he gently placed a hand on my shoulder and reached out the other to take my hand and help pull me to my feet. Despite his size and muscle mass, he was surprisingly gentle.
“Are you okay? I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said, sounding genuinely contrite. He let go of my hand and stepped back as if to prove his point.
“Yeah, I’m alright,” I replied, testing my ankle. “I just, I thought…I guess…I’m sorry for making stupid assumptions.” I blushed as the words flew out awkwardly from my mouth.
“Yeah, I’m not a big, bad wolf, honey. But I understand why you made the assumption, given my bad boy look.”
I blushed again, but his smirk seemed playful.
“I’m sorry,” I said again. “It is just that Mercy River is such a small town that we don’t get many unexpected outsiders passing through.”
“Is there anywhere to stay?” he asked.
I nodded, realizing suddenly that I didn’t want him to leave. He was the most interesting thing that had happened in Mercy River since Grace left and I wasn’t ready to head back home to my parents and their judgment right away.
“Yeah, there is a small Inn in the center of town and a motel closer to the highway,” I told him. “But if you’re hungry, I can show you to the café or grocery store first. There isn’t much variety here,” I added apologetically.
“Grocery store and motel would be perfect,” the stranger said with a big grin. “I’m Liam, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you Liam,” I replied shaking the strong hand he offered me. His name felt nice on my tongue, rolling off smoothly. “I’m Mary.”
“Well Mary, you want to climb up behind me so we don’t have to trudge all the way there with the bike?”
I glanced down at my long dress and shook my head. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
Liam looked at me with an amused expression. “You can just hitch it up. I’ll hold onto you.”
I shook my head vigorously. The image of my parents staring as I thundered down the road on the back of a motorcycle with this tattooed stranger filled me was enough reason to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground.
“Alright, have it your way then,” the man sighed. “I’ll follow your lead.”
I took off down the small road as the stranger grabbed his bike and started to pull it along beside him. Even with the extra weight of the heavy motorcycle, the man caught up to me quickly.
“So, Mary,” he started in a playful voice. “I take it you are a very good girl. Are you still young enough to have to obey your parents every command? You look all grown up to me.”
I blushed, feeling his gaze sweep my body, but kept my own focus on the road ahead.
“I’m twenty-two. I don’t have to obey anyone, except for God, of course. My parents help me keep to the righteous path when there are temptations and obstacles.” My voice sounded false in my own ears. It was a variation on the same words I had heard and said, over and over again throughout the years but something about them just sounded hollow this time.
I turned to see him looking at me with a thoughtful expression. I looked away quickly, but not quickly enough that he didn’t notice.
“Not every temptation is bad, you know,” Liam said quietly as we turned onto the main road into town. Twilight was starting to settle and Mercy River almost looked beautiful in the distance, before we could see the dust, cracks, and rusted corners.
I didn’t reply, so Liam continued. “I can tell you have a good heart, Mary. You are being kind to me when you don’t have to be. But it doesn’t seem like you really believe everything your parents try to force you to believe. Do you think they would tell you to walk alone with someone who looks like me?”
I looked at him sharply. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“You’re right. I only know what I’ve observed in the past half hour. But I would like to know more.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. I knew that I should just show him the store and motel and then be on my way, but he was the most interesting person I had ever met. He looked every inch the bad boy, but he was kind and thoughtful. I didn’t want to just watch him ride off and never return.
“Tell me about yourself, first,” I said quietly, looking up at him through the curtain of blonde hair that the gentle evening breeze had blown into my face.
“I’m not all that interesting, Mary. You think I’m some kind of wild criminal?”
I laughed but felt a slight ping of guilt realizing that the thought had crossed my mind.
“Right now, I’m just on my own,” he continued, looking ahead with an almost dreamy expression on his face. “I’m travelling through the country, doing odd jobs wherever I can find them for some cash and then moving on. It is nice to be free.”
“It sounds lonely,” I replied. I tried to imagine my life without everyone I knew, and it seemed impossible. Then I thought of my friend Grace, who had the guts to run away and chase her dreams all on her own. She would have liked Liam.
“It can be. These days.” His voice was clipped and I sensed that there was a story behind it, but decided not to ask.
“And what about you? What’s your story, Mary?” He sounded sincerely interested and it made me feel self-conscious that I had nothing interesting to tell him.
“I guess I don’t have a story. I grew up in Mercy River and I live here with my parents. I’m taking college classes and volunteering at the church. I mostly try to do my best to honor God and my parents and be good.” I felt lame, but it was the truth. I skipped adding the messier tidbits, like how my parents were hoping that I would soon get married to one of the local boys from a good family but I wanted to fall in love with my future husband. No one had ever made me feel the way I knew it was suppose to feel, and I was stalling, trying to find a way to stop myself from falling into my parents’ footsteps. Yet somehow, I felt that Liam could read between the lines.
He looked at me with those shockingly blue eyes and I felt like he read the struggle underneath my carefully constructed exterior in a way that no one in Mercy River ever had.
“You think that being a good girl means you have to obey them all the time. It doesn’t.” The words sounded so simple falling from his sculpted lips, but it was so much more complicated for me.
“Maybe you are right,” I replied skeptically. We had already reached the edge of town. “The grocery store is right over there and the motel is just down the road to the left.” I pointed but his eyes remained glued to my face.
“Will I see you again, Mary?” he asked quietly, sticking his hand in the pocket of his worn jeans and leaning slightly against his bike. In that pose he looked the perfect, tempting bad boy that I knew I should resist. The flutter in my heart protested otherwise.
“How about you come to Church next Sunday?” I replied cheerily. Inviting him to church meant that I was helping bring someone to God’s embrace, not running around with a bad boy. No one could fault me for that.
“Church?” he repeated in a tone that he wasn’t overly fond of the idea.
“Yes. You can see why it is important to me and why things aren’t so simple as you say.”
Liam nodded. “Alright. I will go to church with you on Sunday. I plan to stay at least a week anyway to work and make some money before I ride out again. But a week is a long time. How about we make a deal.”
“What kind of deal?” I interjected. Deals tended to be evil, clever things that involved the devil or possibly lawyers.
“I’ll come to church with you on Sunday if you meet me tomorrow night for a drink.”
“I don’t drink,” I told him, crossing my arms over my chest in my best attempt to look stern.
“It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Mary, will you meet me for a soda tomorrow?” His voice was tinged with humor and I could see a smile tugging at his lips. I didn’t like that he was teasing me, but I wanted to see him again. And if meeting him for a soda meant he would go to church then it wasn’t really a date or anything inappropriate.
“Fine. I will meet you tomorrow evening for a soda. Good night Liam.”
I turned quickly and started walking back towards my house. I tried to ignore the voice inside me that told me to turn back around. When I heard the bike engine start, I allowed myself a small peek over my shoulder. Liam was riding towards the grocery store and even from behind, his body looked like a carved statue.