I’m barely through the door of my duplex when my phone rings. When I see it’s my mom, I send it to voicemail. Guilt flashes through me, but I press my eyes shut and lean my back against the door, ignoring it.
My mom and I actually had a pleasant interaction this evening—we laughed and hugged and joked, something we haven’t done in years. I don’t want to ruin it by crying to her, which is totally what I will do if I answer the phone.
It was a struggle not to fall apart during the ride home. The woman who drove me was an absolute sweetheart when I gave her a PG-rated summary of my evening. I considered not talking about it at all, but I figured that would just result in an awkward car ride with me crying silently to myself while she drove. So I just told her that my boyfriend and I got into an argument and left it at that. She offered comforting words, then talked about her kids, which was a needed distraction. But now that I’m home, I can rip off this dress, throw on my pajamas, and cry myself to sleep.
My relationship with Rob is over before it barely began. No, we haven’t had an official break-up conversation, but it’s coming. He’s angry and embarrassed of me; I’m hurt and refuse to change myself for anyone, not even him.
I slide down until my butt hits the floor, sobbing the whole way. I don’t regret taking a chance on us, on seeing things through. It was the most amazing three months. But we couldn’t make it long-term. I can’t make it long-term with anyone, it seems. It’s back to trainwreck first dates and solo nights at home.
I kick off my heels in the hallway and start up the stairs, but stop at the sound of the doorbell. I ignore it and continue walking.
“Babe, please.” Rob’s muffled voice carries from the other side of the door. “I can see you on the stairs. Can you please let me in so we can talk?”
I sigh, annoyed that the window at the top of my front door gave me away.
I trudge back down the steps, wiping my face on the way. When I open door, Rob stands, his face in twisted anguish, like he’s been punched in the gut. A beat passes and his gaze focus. His expression softens.
“Can I come in?”
I step to the side and he walks in. I spin around and cross my arms, making sure there’s distance between us. “What are you doing here?”
It’s all I can say without my voice breaking. If I have any hope of getting over him, we need to end this right now, and then he needs to leave.
He reaches for me, but I shake my head. It’s going to be tough enough getting over Rob. Sexy, smart, funny, kind, incredible Rob. It will be damn near impossible to break up with him if he’s touching me.
A swallow moves through his throat, his eyes glistening as he stares at me. The top two buttons of his dress shirt are loose; his tie hangs undone around his shoulders. Wrinkles mar his suit jacket and trousers. He pulls at his hair, making him look pretty damn disheveled.
“I need to tell you something.”
His swallows hard. “There is no way I could ever be embarrassed or ashamed of you, and I feel horrible that I gave you that impression.” His chest heaves, then another swallow. “I just hate that you felt the need to explain yourself to an asshole like Brooker, and that he now knows the most intimate details of how we met. That was ours, Layla. We might not have been together at the time, but that night meant something to me.”
I let my eyes meet his.
“The reason I walked out was because I came within a second of ripping that bastard’s head off. That would have been inexcusable, especially in front of your family. I got it all wrong when I tried to explain myself. You’re last person in the world I want to hurt, Layla. I’m so sorry.”
Tears burn at my waterlines. I understand. He wasn’t ashamed. He was upset and afraid of causing a scene.
Another swallow, another few seconds of silence hangs between before he continues. “I never, ever want to hurt you again. I love you.”
I open my mouth and a strangled, “I love you too” falls out. I fall into Rob and crush my lips against his mouth, kissing him until we’re both left gasping for air. When I lean my head back to breathe, he crouches down, scooping his arm under my legs. His other arm braces my back, and he’s halfway up the stairs, cradling me, before I can take a second breath.
Again we kiss, our tongues teasing, our breath crashing in hot, wet waves.
“That’s the first time we’ve said that to each other.” The words spill from me in short gasps. Rob simply moans and hums.
A million times we’ve made this walk to my bedroom, but it’s never felt like this before. Because we’ve said the words out loud, everything’s changed. I love Rob, and he loves me.
He lies me on the edge of the bed and stands over me. Just like our first night together, we share unbuttoning duties. I take the bottom; he takes the top.
When he leans down to press his mouth on my neck, I shiver. “I’ve been dying to say that to you, Layla.”
His lips land at my collarbone. “Too long.”
I smile despite the pressure building in my chest. I’ve never said these words to any man I’ve been with before. It’s as overwhelming as it is joyful. Every fiber in my body aches to laugh, cry, and shout all at once. I could fall on the floor in a giggling, teary mass. I could run naked down the street. I could tumble down the stairs and land with a giant smile on my face. Anything can happen, nothing else matters. Because we are crazy in love with each other.
My hands tremble when I reach for his belt. The warmth of his hands over mine causes me to still. Our heated frenzy is on pause while he gazes down at me, the tiniest sliver of sadness lingering in the light green hue of his eyes.
“I’m still kicking myself for turning down your offer of a drink in Taipei all those months ago. If I could go back and redo it, I would.”
Reaching up, I cup his stubbled cheek with my hand. Looking at him now, he looks just as dashing as the first night I saw him. “If I could redo it, I wouldn’t let you leave the bar.”
He grins, then stands me up. He leads me by the hand out of the bedroom toward the stairs.
“Rob, what are you…”
We scale the stairs and head to my kitchen island, where there’s a makeshift minibar on one side of granite surface. He rolls up his sleeves to his elbows before moving a stool to the opposite side of the island.
He gestures for me to sit across from him and sticks out his hand. “I’m Rob. I couldn’t help but notice that drunken prick hassling you. I hope you don’t mind that I got rid of him.”
Now I’m beaming, the grin on my face so wide, it threatens to split my face in half. What an incredibly romantic do-over.
I shake his hand. “Nice to meet you, Rob. I’m Layla. I’m moving my mom from Taipei to the States, and was in desperate need of a drink to unwind after a stressful day of packing and bickering. I have to say, witnessing you disarm that creep was a whole new level of swoonworthy. Can I please buy you a drink as a thank you?”
He nods, and I pour him a glass of my favorite Scotch.
We toast and sip.
“Tell me about yourself, Layla.”
I give my best mock frown. “Well, I’m a freelance designer hoping to work for a publisher designing book covers some day. I’m blessed with a nosy mother and older sister who are constantly pestering me to settle down.”
He raises a brow. “Not into the idea of settling down? Not even for a charming lad who’s dynamite in the sack and worships the ground you walk on?”
I nearly choke on my next sip, I’m giggling so hard. “That’s a bold claim, Rob. I’ll need to test that out before I make a final decision.”
He raises his glass to me. “I have to say, after spending just minutes with you, I’m hooked. You’re brilliant, funny, feisty, and stunning. What do I have to do to land you?”
I stand up, down the remaining Scotch in my glass, and reach across the table for his hand. “You have to like to watch.”
When his jaw bulges, I know he’s biting down to keep himself under control. “I’d love to, Layla.”
This time when we head upstairs, our pace isn’t as frantic. It’s measured and deliberate, like we’re slowly savoring every moment. When I lead Rob to the bed, he lies down next to me, propping himself up on his elbow. His free hand helps me pull my dress off. When I look up, he’s surveying my naked body with hungry eyes. Ravenous eyes. Almost like he’s seeing me for the first time.
Rob leans down, his lips hovering over mine. The barely-there contact sends a sheet of goosebumps over my skin. “Show me, Layla.”
I slide my hand below, closing my eyes so I can focus. I’m not as nervous as the night I realized he was watching me, but I’m close. The mention of love changes everything. It’s one more layer added to our unique beginning, our unlikely reunion, and every glorious day together since.
I sink into the blackness behind my eyelids, easing through a breath. Like always, I touch softly at first, then press until that delicious pleasure comes. I swirl and moan, the heat growing hotter and hotter with every motion I make. I press hard, then let go. I speed up and slow down. The sound of Rob’s ragged breath is my soundtrack. Smiling through the heat between my legs, the fire inside my chest, it’s just like that first night. I can’t see his face, but I know without a doubt he’s enjoying the show.
I speed up, my body aching for release. “What would you have done if you had come to my room that night?”
My question comes out in a broken gasp, but the press of his lips on my neck, the soft scrape of his teeth on my skin tell me he understood just fine. Leaning back, I drag my head against the mattress. Just like I did that first night.
His massive hand lands palm-first on my stomach. “Exactly what I’m doing now,” he growls. Another soft kiss, another soft scrape.
I’m still letting the soft pads of my fingertips do the work. With each tiny, swift circle I make, my breath speeds up, my legs shake, and my toes curl.
I’m close, but Rob doesn’t stop. “I’d kiss down your body while you worked yourself into a frenzy,” he says, his voice a rough whisper.
When his mouth lands on my stomach, I switch to my palm. The hard, hot touch sends a jolt of pleasure up my chest. I’m less than a minute away.
Finally I open my eyes, and I see Rob’s face hovering over my belly button. He gazes up at me, pupils dilated, pale skin flushed, jaw bulging. Softy, he wraps his hand around my wrist, halting my touch. For a split second I’m confused, but then he slides my fingertips in his mouth. The slow, even suck of his tongue against my skin and I’m vibrating, on the razor’s edge of losing it all.
“And then I’d finish you with my mouth because I just couldn’t stand to watch any longer.”
“Please, yes.” They’re the only words I utter before he does exactly what he promises.
It’s a single soft press of his tongue that sends me over the edge. I’m thrashing, shouting, moaning, pulling at his hair with both hands like a possessed creature. But that’s just the beginning. He doesn’t stop, his mouth and tongue working until I’ve slumped into a motionless pile on the bed. And then he sits up, and tears off his shirt and pants in a hot second.
When he slides into me, it’s again not long. A dozen hard and smooth thrusts combined with the swirl of my hand as I touch myself and I’m plummeting off the pleasure cliff once more. As I convulse around him, he loses it too. And then he falls to the left of me, and I cuddle into his chest.
“Would you have stayed for a cuddle too if we had done this the night we met?” I’m so exhausted, I’m practically babbling.
He chuckles, the deep sound echoing through his chest and against my ear. The soft kiss he leaves on my forehead is answer enough, but he tells me anyway. “No question. Absolutely, yes.”
The incessant ringing of my phone is our wakeup call. When I snatch it from the nightstand, I see it’s my sister calling. I turn it to silent and send the call to voicemail.
Rob slides his arm around my waist. It’s as heavy as a tree trunk. I smile at the delicious feel of his solid body. He pulls me against his chest, burrowing his face in my hair.
“Bit early for a chat.” His voice is low and scratchy from that last bit of sleep lingering in him.
I nod. “Screw anyone who calls before 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning.”
He turns me around to face him, teasing my lips with this tongue. The ring of my doorbell is yet another unwelcome interruption. The noise persists and I groan.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Rob chuckles, then presses a soft kiss to my collarbone.
I slide out of bed and throw on a tank dress. “Hang on, let me get rid of whoever that is.”
I scurry down the stairs and throw open the door. Naomi’s sullen face is the last thing I expect to see.
She stands hunched over, her arms crossed. Her eyes dart from me to her loafer-clad feet. She’s the only person I know who would wear leather loafers, cigarette pants, and a cashmere sweater this early on a weekend.
I’m about to take a crack at her choice of outfit when I focus on her expression. Bags rest under her eyes and her lips are pursed. When she looks at me, that worried frown persists. She is not her usual unflappable self.
“What do you want, Naomi?” I’m still angry at how she treated me last night.
“I came to apologize about last night. I’m sorry for how I acted when Darren’s friend insulted you…I was just so thrown off…”
She trails off, but I can’t say anything. That makes two of us in the thrown-off category. It’s been years, probably not since we were teenagers that my sister has given me a sincere apology. Yes, she’s said sorry here and there, but there was never heart behind it. This morning though, as she stands in front me of, I know she means it. I can tell by the unbroken eye contact, the way she stands before me, the tremble in her voice.
She holds up a hand. “Just let me say this, okay?” Her chest heaves with another breath, and she’s finally standing up straight. “After you went off on Brooker, then Darren and me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m your big sister and I should have protected you. But instead I was a complete asshole.”
When I study her eyes, sincerity lingers behind them. It makes my chest ache.
“I know—I know things between us haven’t been great for awhile. But you’re my little sister. I should protect you always. There’s no excuse for how I acted last night. I’m so sorry, Layla.”
A cloud of shock lingers over me. This is so unlike Naomi, to admit her flaws, to humble herself in front of me. Through the cloud, hope peeks through. It’s like a lightness that skims over my entire body. But given our history, I can’t help but hesitate.
“Naomi, I don’t know what to say. What…what brought all this on? It’s like you’ve done a complete one-eighty.”
She sighs, her face still darkened with regret and sadness.
“When you stormed out, it was like a punch to the gut. I felt like I lost you. If you never, ever want to speak to me again after how I failed you last night, I wouldn’t blame you. You have every right.” A slow swallow moves through her throat when she pauses. She looks me dead in the eye. “I just wanted you to know how sorry I am, and that from now on, I’ll always support and defend you. You’re my only sister. You’re one of the most important people in my life.”
It’s a second before I realize my mouth is hanging wide open. I clamp it shut before she can comment. Her display of humility is as shocking as it is touching. My chest aches, and I swallow to stave off the emotion coursing through me. My older sister really does care about me.
“I um…wow. Thank you.”
She clears her throat. “I kicked Brooker out of the house last night. I told him he wasn’t welcome in my home ever again.”
“What did Darren say?”
“He was shocked at first. But then I said no one insults my sister in my home and threatened to kick him out too if he had a problem with it. He agreed and told me to tell you he was sorry, too.”
I nod. “It would mean more if he could say it himself. To my face.”
I hold my breath, wondering if she’ll scold me for my brashness like she normally does. But there’s no lecture. Only a small a smile. “Absolutely. That’s why I’m inviting you and Rob to dinner at our house tonight. We both owe you apologies in person.”
I don’t speak, I don’t even smile back. I simply reach out and pull my big sister in for the tightest hug I can ever remember giving her in recent years. She responds by squeezing the air out of me. I laugh, then cough at the loss of air. Her skinny arms are way stronger than they look. When we pull back seconds later, we clutch each other by the shoulders. Both our eyes are misty, but no tears. Yet.
Naomi starts to speak, but then her eyes dart above my head.
I twist around and see Rob at the top of the stairs. His wide-eyed stare indicates he’s surprised to see the two of us hugging.
“Sorry, I uh…I didn’t mean to interrupt.” He tugs at the hem of his boxers, then hurriedly buttons his open dress shirt.
Naomi lets out a boom of a laugh that makes me laugh too. I haven’t hear that deep, from-the-belly sound in ages.
“You’re not interrupting. Not in the slightest,” she says. “I just stopped by to invite you two to dinner at my house tonight. I’m cooking colcannon and corned beef. Some food from home would be nice, right?”
Rob breaks into a smile. “Sounds divine.”
Naomi pats my shoulder, then fetches a pair of Gucci cat-eye sunglasses from her purse. “Come over around seven, okay?”
We wave her off and watch as she pulls her silver Mercedes out of my driveway. Rob slinks his arm around my waist, and my head falls against his shoulder. “You two made up?”
“I think so.”
“I’m glad. Sisters should be close.”
I let another grin slip free. I can’t remember the last time I smiled this much after talking to Naomi. “We still have a way to go before we’re super tight again, but we’re on our way. I’m happy.” I tip-toe up to kiss him. “And I’m happy you’re here. It seems like everything’s kind of falling into place.”
My career, my family, my dating life, everything has taken a turn for the better these past few months.
Rob runs a hand through my hair, and I moan. That pensive hazel-green stare pins me once more. It’s just as hypnotizing as the first time I saw it, in that dimly lit hotel bar those handful of months ago. I’ll never, ever get tired of it.
“And to think it all started when the two of us stumbled upon each other in that bar thousands of miles away,” he says.
Joy courses through me. I can’t help but beam. A trip I dreaded ended up being the best thing for me. “I owe it all to Taipei.”