I put the book back on the shelf. It’s not like I’m going to see him again, so my little fantasy of exploring his body is just that; a fantasy. I go over to the fiction. There are so many books I want to read. I’m tempted to buy a stack of them, but if it’s taken me this long to read just the one, I doubt I’ll find the time to read an entire pile of them. I buy the last copy of Pride and Prejudice on the shelf and head for the park down the street.
It’s a nice day to sit outside and read. The sun is out, but it’s not too hot. The breeze riles my hair and the edges of the pages of the book flip up. Nearby is a guy throwing a frisbee. His dog is running around off-leash, chasing it. At the far end of the park is a kiddy area that’s fenced off, far enough away as to not be distracting with the sounds of screaming and laughter. Except I am distracted. A blended coffee sounds great right about now. And my apartment is a mess; I should be cleaning it instead of reading. There’s guilt that comes along with doing something for myself, something so frivolous to bring me pleasure.
When I think about pleasure, I think about Max, and my mind wanders again. This time back to his loft. I wish I could get him out of my mind. It was just sex. But it was really good sex. It’s been a long time since I’ve had my mind blown like that. I want to ask for more, but how would I do that without looking desperate?
As I watch the dog chasing after his toy, I feel the wind shift behind me. More like a gut feeling than a physical one. Then a voice: “I guarantee what’s happening between those pages is far more interesting than what’s happening in that field right now.”
My heart jolts awake and I scramble to keep from dropping the book. Despite only spending less than an hour with him, I know that voice.
“Sorry,” Max says, coming around the bench to sit next to me. His scent is carried on the breeze, engulfing me, as soft and delectable as a cashmere scarf. I don’t know what the scent is, but I remember it from the pillow on the couch. I want to bathe in it. Capture it in a jar and take it everywhere with me, opening it when I need a fix. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
He’s dressed simply, in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, but he makes simple look so damn good. He could walk right into the pages of a magazine and women would buy whatever he’s selling for their man. No man will ever look that good in those clothes, though.
I try not to show my surprise and elation when seeing him again, and try to replace the smile on my face with something casually indifferent. “You’ve read it?” I ask.
“Of course I have. Austen is one of the greats.”
Again, I try to keep the surprise from my face. “It’s a love story …”
He looks at me with an eyebrow quirked. “And?” he says.
“I didn’t peg you as a romantic,” I admit.
“Way to put me in a box, Fiona.” I like the way he says my name, making sure every syllable is its own island, making it sound distinct and more important. “And here I was about to apologize for being such a dick when we first met,” he says.
He leans back, arms resting on the back of the bench. The tips of his fingers touch my shoulder. He nods.
“Apology accepted,” I say.
“Oh, I didn’t apologize. I said I was going to, but you blew it,” he says.
Laughter bubbles in the back of my throat, but barely makes a sound. “You’re taking it away from me?”
He looks at me with a dead-eyed serious expression. “Maybe if you’re nice I’ll give it back to you.”
“You’re going to make me earn your apology?”
“Nothing in life is free.”
This time my laughter is full-bodied and belly-shaking. His stony face cracks into a smile. “You’re such an ass,” I say. “But I’m sure that’s no secret to you.”
He shrugs. “It’s a bit unoriginal, but okay.”
I shake my head and continue to watch the Labrador play fetch with its owner. Instead of bringing the toy back, he runs away and his owner chases after him. But it’s really hard to focus on a man and his dog when Max is sitting so close to me. The tips of his fingers still touch my shoulder. I wonder if he’s as aware of them as I am. It feels like hot pokers touching me. Not painful by any means, but impossible to ignore.