How freaking embarrassing. She was a thirty-six-year-old woman, not a kid with a crush. “It’s not like I jogged here or anything, so no, I guess I can’t do that.”
“Like I said, it’s nothing. I’ll step out and let you get ready, then we’ll get started.”
No point in him stepping out. He’d seen her nak*d…a lot. Except that it would look weird to the others if they happened to notice that he didn’t. She smirked at the thought as he left the room, then stripped off her shirt and bra. How the hell was she supposed to lie under those skillful hands for an hour or so when she now had the remembrance of just how skillful those hands were on other parts of her body?
It was her own damn fault for pursuing him. She should’ve waited until the tattoo was done, at least.
She settled on the table. A moment later, he knocked and reentered with her permission.
He’d done most of the lines that he needed to during her first session. Today would be mainly fill-in to really make this bird fly. She couldn’t wait.
“How have you been?” he asked, and Gabby turned her face toward the direction of his voice. She still couldn’t see him; he was closer to her ankles. Was he avoiding her? “You look great,” he went on before she could answer. “Like you’re in a much better place than the first time you came in here.”
Thanks to you. “Oh yeah, I’ve been awesome. How about you?” Do you think about me? Dream about me? Was it as good for you as it was for me?
There was no way he could not think about it. Why did she care? She’d already decided it was a one-time thing and that she wouldn’t let herself be affected by him. She supposed she hadn’t really prepared herself for the possibility that he wasn’t affected by her.
“I want to touch you so f**king bad.”
She nearly came off the table. Had she heard him correctly? His voice had been so low and husky, it might’ve been a remnant from one of her feverish dreams about him, come back to cruelly haunt her.
She lifted her head and looked back at him. His gaze roamed over her ass, her back where his art waited to be completed, and finally to her face. She sucked in a breath when the full force of those heated eyes hit her. “Ian…”
“I know.” He chuckled, snapping on his black gloves. “We’ll get through this. I’ll even keep my hands to myself, though it’s gonna be f**king torture.”
Somehow, knowing that it was torture for him made her feel better. At least she wasn’t the only one pathetically turned on. She could know that he was right there with her. Smiling to herself, she put her head back down and listened to his movements as he prepared to start.
“It’ll be the same for me,” she murmured.
“Well, I’m gonna shut up before either one of us gets something started that we shouldn’t.”
Aww, no fun. But smart. Very smart.
“Ready? Relax, sweetie.”
Oh God, how could she? That voice slid over her like a warm caress. His warm caress. The tips of his gloved fingers touched her. She closed her eyes and suppressed a groan.
“This healed up really well,” he said. “Beautiful.”
She couldn’t reply. All her thoughts were focused on the ache pooling between her legs and the panic of knowing she had to lie here and take it without moving. The sting of the needle hit her, and she flinched, so awash in pleasure that the introduction of pain was almost more than she could stand.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” she whispered. She had to be strong and get through this, get it over with and done today. Another session with him might kill her. And hearing his voice through all of this might kill her too, but she needed it to take her mind off the pain. “Talk to me,” she pleaded.
He paused to wipe her excess ink. “Hmm. What do you want me to say?”
Are you hard right now? She giggled. “I don’t know. It’s always easy to talk until someone asks you to, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, you’re right about that.”
“How long have you been doing this?”
“About eight years.”
“Wow. What made you want to?”
“At first to piss off my stepdad. I came home with my first tattoo at eighteen, and he told me how trashy it was. I’d always loved to draw, but I’d never considered it as an option until that moment.”
“Ah, rebellion. No wonder you and Brian get along so well.”
He gave a short laugh, but it didn’t contain one iota of humor. “I guess it sounds that way, doesn’t it?”
It seemed like a sore spot, so she let it drop. “Well, whatever your reasons are, I’m glad you could be the one to do this for me. You’ve made a lot of people happy, I’m sure.”
“The honor’s been all mine, Gabriella.”
Unf. Why was it she hated her stupid long name until he let it roll off his tongue in its entirety? Because that tongue of his could make anything better, that’s why.
“Pardon me for saying so, Ian, but you are the hottest thing I’ve ever laid eyes on. It just seems unfair and cruel of me to not let you know that.”
He barked with laughter. “Well, it seems unfair and cruel of me to not let you know that I think you ruined me for all others.”
Oh shit. If she could’ve snuggled him right then, she would have. And most likely, she wouldn’t have let him go for a long, long time.
What the hell were they going to do about this? She was all-systems-go for a repeat. But she would only want another. And another. And another. At some point, it all had to end. She was leaving very soon. In fact, she’d worked it out with Tina next week to stay with her while she looked at apartments. Her old building where she’d lived before moving in with Mark was full, but she’d made some phone calls and found a couple of others with vacancies.
“Thank you,” she said, and meant it so much, more than he could possibly ever know. “Not that I wanted to ruin you for all others, but…okay, yeah I did.”
“Yeah, thanks for that.”
It was a good thing he couldn’t see her, because she was grinning like a fool.
“All done,” he announced over an hour later.
Gabby exhaled and went absolutely limp, just soaking up the bliss of knowing it was over. She’d done it.
“Damn,” he said slowly. “If I do say so myself, it looks fuckin’ sick.”
She’d been around Brian enough to know that was a good thing. “I can’t wait to see it,” she told him, “but I think I need to lie here for…an hour or two.”
“Take your time. Do you need anything? More water?” He’d given her all the breaks she’d needed…more and more as time went on.
“I think I’m good.” Stiffly, she pushed herself up on her hands, not even minding that she was topless. He snatched his gaze away from her as she sat up straight.
“You really might want to cover those.”
“Why?” she asked innocently.
“Because I can’t be trusted around them.”
Laughing, she grabbed her shirt, which she’d been lying on, and tucked it under both arms so her br**sts were covered. “Fine, fine. Men. Faced with a pair of tits and they lose their shit.”
Blowing out a breath, he grabbed a handheld mirror and held it toward her so she could see her back reflected in the large mirror on the wall behind her. And…she absolutely lost her breath.
“Oh God,” she whispered, unable to take her eyes away from the beauty of his work. The colors were so vivid, so strong…blues and greens and purples all fading so effortlessly into each other it was almost impossible to think it had been created with human hands and not born on her. The design as a whole wasn’t huge and overpowering, but soft and feminine, the mythical bird surging into the heavens with a strength she could somehow feel. The movement was incredible. She almost expected to see it soar off her skin and rise up with beating wings.
“Tell me that’s a good ‘oh God,’” he said, leaning in so he could see it exactly as she did.
“That’s a good one. Almost as good as the kind of ‘oh God’ you give me,” she said.
Gave me, she should’ve said. Past tense. But with him hovering near her, his scent teasing her nostrils, his work gracing her skin…
She turned her face to his and caught those lips with hers. His breath shuddered out, and he surrendered, sinking into her kiss.
“Oh God,” he murmured, and despite being so caught up in the taste of him, she had to laugh. Memories flooded her, some she hadn’t even accessed until this moment with his tongue questing for entrance into her mouth. Gabby wanted to tease, wanted not to grant it, but she couldn’t do that to him. She didn’t have the ability, it seemed, to deny him.
“Baby,” he groaned at last, pulling back so that their gently panting breaths mingled. “This is the last place we should be doing this.”
The last place, and the last thing she should be doing. She licked her own lips to collect all she could of his deliciousness and let him go.
Coldness rushed in. Almost as icy, as all-consuming, as that empty numbness she’d felt back in March when everything had been snatched away from her. What was she thinking of doing? The impossibility of them couldn’t be more apparent, despite their raging chemistry. She had a scientific brain. She had to be more in control than this, chalk this up to what it was. Lust. Nothing more. She’d never been in lust before, but if this was what it was, then it sucked as much as unrequited love when the object of your lust was about to be out of your reach.
She still held the mirror handle clenched in a death grip. Turning her head away from him, though it pained her to do so, she lifted it so she could see her ink again.
And fought tears. One last beautiful thing, aside from her memories, to always keep him close to her no matter where she went or what she did or who she was with.
She was the phoenix, but he was the one who’d brought her back from the ashes.
Gabriella opened her eyes to blinding sunlight and the instant, undeniable knowledge that she was about to throw up.
Flinging back her covers, she bolted for her attached bathroom and barely made it.
Then, trembling and groaning, she splashed cold water on her face and lifted her head to be confronted with her ghastly reflection. “Jesus, what is this?” She was rarely sick, and the last time she’d had any kind of stomach virus… She actually couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a stomach virus.
As she dried her face and tried to decide if she even wanted to risk leaving the bathroom yet—her stomach still wasn’t happy—a disturbing thought occurred to her, but she slapped it away.
“No. Couldn’t be.”
Her periods were usually all over the place, and she really couldn’t do the pill because it made her crazy. Mark hadn’t minded condoms while she tried to determine her best option for their marriage, but when that all fell apart, she hadn’t worried about it much anymore.