“Feels like you can.” Gripped by my own need for release, I rear back and begin tunneling in and out of her snug sex again and again, letting my climax approach, no more holding back. I can’t believe I’ve held on this long without a barrier of latex separating us. “Listen to me, Naomi,” I rasp against her ear. “You’re never going to get it like this again—and I’m never going to give it like this again. Never going to give myself like this again. So take it all, baby. Take it and run away.”

I sink into her one last time and cut loose, my heart squeezing when she wraps her arms around my head and pulls me close, kissing my face and mouth through the tumult of mind-numbing sensation. Mine, mine, mine. It’s a claiming and a letting go at the same time. How is that possible? Fuck. The experience of filling her with everything inside me, holding back nothing…and leaving the outcome to fate has me sucking in droves of air, crushing her to my body while my cock continues to spasm, my hips jerking with disorganized movements.

I’m not sure how long I hold Naomi, but it’s not enough. She slips out of my arms and finds her shirt, her flushed and sated appearance gorgeous in the build of morning light. Once she’s covered and my sweats are back in place, we stare at one another, the distance between us yawning wider even though we’re unmoving.

When she turns and flies back to the staircase, floating up them like a fairy—like the dream I’m convinced I just had—the finality of what just happened settles in and I turn and level a punch at the wall.

Over. It’s over.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

ConspiracyCrowd.org

Username: IWant2Believe2000

To quote The X-Files, “Sometimes the only sane answer to an insane world is insanity.” Definitely supports my Bigfoot is an alien theory.

Naomi

I just have to get through today. I’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

It’s a mantra I’ve been repeating since I woke up from one hour of fitful sleep and forced myself through a shower and a breakfast of oatmeal and sausage. My body is sore all over from the way Jason wrenched my legs wherever he wanted them and attempted to bury me in the house last night. I’m afraid for those twinges of pain to fade. Afraid to lose this proof that I’m not breakable. That there’s someone out there who knew it, treated me like I was durable, fuckable, strong. Is that what he intended?

Stop.

Stop replaying every moment of making love in the darkness and all the words that were spoken in heat. In frustration. If I dwell there, I will never get through this day. I’ll never do what needs to be done. And I have no choice but to do the responsible thing or life as I know it will never be the same.

Ignoring the questioning voice in the back of my head wondering if a shift wouldn’t be so bad…if it would be scary and glorious—I slip a final bobby pin into my hair and smooth my hands down the bodice of my dress. Old Naomi stares back at me from the small bathroom mirror over the sink. The same woman who stared back at me on my wedding day, nothing more than a lump of clay molded in her parents’ hands. There are subtle differences to her, though. Her nose is pink from the sun, her neck has whisker burn.

My eyes mark the biggest difference, though. There’s a weight to them that wasn’t there before. My heart beats faster the longer I look. Perhaps my intentions were frivolous, but they weren’t all for naught, were they?

A lump rises in my throat and I turn from the mirror before hope or satisfaction creep in. I don’t have room for those things today. All I have is duty.

Although, the pageant doesn’t feel like a responsibility. Not at all. I’m excited. I’m nervous on Birdie’s behalf. I’m afraid I didn’t do enough. Or didn’t give her a strong enough chance to succeed. I’m also…confident I did my best. My best is not just adequate, either. In only a couple months’ time, I’ve helped transform a total pageant rookie and—

Again, the hope that I could be something more, something of my own making, begins to inflate, but I shove a pin in it and leave the bathroom, smacking the light off with an impatient hand. Across the room on the bed, my suitcase is packed and closed, my purse sitting neatly on top. I’m going to leave straight from the pageant, so this is my last time here in this room. This room where I’ve been free to get dressed how I choose, eat what I make, stay in bed past a reasonable hour. This room where I resisted falling in love and failed.

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