I suddenly felt more sober. “So…you need to go to her and figure all this out.”

“Ashlyn,” he growled, frustrated by my tone. “You’ve been….you are everything to me. But you deserve more. If I could figure out who I am, stop having nightmares every night, get my life together…I have to try.”

I nodded. I couldn’t deny him that chance, even if it would rip my heart from my chest to see him go.

“When are you leaving?” I asked.

He didn’t answer right away, but even in the darkened room, I could see him frowning.

“Stay tonight. Don’t leave me tonight,” I whispered, shuffling to get closer and climbing onto his lap. I guess I was the needy puppy now.

“Ashlyn,” his tone was frustrated, but he didn’t push me away.

“Please,” I begged. It seemed to work on him before.

He rearranged my body so that I was straddling him. “We shouldn’t,” he breathed against my lips. “There’s too much to figure out right now…”

I didn’t care that he was right. In that moment, I didn’t even care that he’d probably be leaving in the morning. I needed him. I was blinded by my lust for him.

I kissed him harder than ever before, thrusting my tongue inside his mouth, biting his bottom lip to pull him towards me and nibbling his tongue when it met mine. It was partly the vodka I’d consumed, and partly my unadulterated hunger for him.

He didn’t hold back, his hands roamed under my shirt and his fingertips danced across my ribs, and over my bra.

I ran my fingers through his hair and over the stubble on his jaw. I wanted to memorize every detail. The roughness of his jaw, the scent of his light, yet spicy aftershave, the way he made my stomach dance with butterflies when he kissed me.

I worked my hands under his shirt, loving the feel of his solid stomach, rippling with taut muscles. I had the strange urge to acknowledge our twin tattoos. I ran my fingers across his ribs, gripping the skin there as if to remind him. He let out a grunt.

My numb fingers quickly cooperated to unbutton his jeans. I worked my hand inside his boxers, feeling his hardened shaft and released a groan myself.

I tugged his jeans lower on his hips, exposing him to my caresses. He rocked against my hands, taking all the pleasure he could.

He lifted my top over my head and pulled it off, tossing it to the floor. I sat on his lap, in just my bra and jeans and looked at him in the moonlight. This was possibly my last time to see him like this. I couldn’t think about that right now or I would cry.

I wasted no time, and began unbuttoning my jeans. I rose from his lap and thrust them down over my hips. His eyes followed my movements, watching my strip tease. I pulled my undies down next, and deposited them on the floor with my jeans. I perched over him and he tugged me to him with his hands firmly on my ass.

I landed squarely on his lap with his cock pressing against me. I ground against him, moaning. I wanted to feel him fill me up and own me, even if it was only for tonight.

I moved from his lap again, this time perching on my knees to take him into my mouth. His cock caused my jaw to stretch to capacity, but I didn’t dare complain. Tonight he was mine.

I licked and sucked against his swollen head with enthusiasm, planting soft kisses against him.

He grunted and pushed his hips forward to meet my eager mouth. Each time he entered my mouth, I moaned around his thick shaft, and felt myself growing wet.

After several minutes, he pulled me up from my knees and back up to his lips. He began kissing me and bumping against my entrance with his cock. “I want to fuck you, Ashlyn,” he murmured.

I groaned and helped him position himself so he began to slide into me. “Ah, Logan,” I moaned.

He stiffened. “Aiden,” he reminded me.

Oh, shit. I’d just called out her name. It instantly killed my libido, and I lifted myself off him.

“This is too strange, isn’t it?” he asked.

I didn’t answer. Instead, I found my panties on the floor and pulled them up my legs as if to prove my point. Yes, this was fucking weird.

He lifted his hips to slide his pants and boxers back into place and then stood. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“I know,” I mumbled, while tears filled my eyes. “Just go. Go do what you need to do.”

He kissed my forehead, and then was gone. Just as quickly as he’d come into my life, he left. I curled against the couch and sobbed.

Chapter Twenty

The next month passed by in an agonizing charade of classes, research papers, and enduring Liz’s tough love seminars only to fall into my empty bed each night to cry myself to sleep. I’d refused to change the sheets that still smelled like him.

I should have been ecstatic about my paper on amnesia being featured in next month’s Psychology Matters, but I was too torn up over losing Aiden. I found myself wishing, not for the first time that I was the one with amnesia. Forgetting all the painful memories and dumping them into the oblivion would be damn nice. Sadly life was a cruel bastard, and so, of course, I didn’t miraculously forget the pain.

I didn’t forget the feeling of him climbing into bed late at night after painting and curling his body around mine, or the sleepy way he’d wake me up with kisses against the back of my neck in the morning. I didn’t even forget the scent of his shaving cream in the steamy bathroom after his shower, since like a masochist who loves pain, I began buying the same brand he had and using it to shave my legs.

In other small ways, I’d learned how to live with the aching hole in my heart. The first step had been getting rid of all those damn paintings of Logan. Those found a nice home in the dumpster behind my building. I considered having a séance and burning them, but I couldn’t bring myself to so blatantly destroy something he had created. I had also finally asked Liz to take in Tom since seeing him pawing at the door was a daily reminder of how domestic my life had become with Aiden before being snatched away from me just as quickly. Liz had agreed and her cats now completely outnumbered her at three to one.

The sudden disappearance of Aiden from my life had caused feelings from long ago to resurface. My mom had been ripped from my life when I was six years old, due to a car accident, and I found myself calling my dad more often than before, just to say hello or check on him. He might never be the man I wanted him to be, but he was still my dad, and I loved him.

My phone buzzed again against the dining room table. Liz had insisted that tonight was my reintroduction into the wild, and I knew I couldn’t ignore her any longer. I lifted various stacks of paper in an attempt to locate my phone. I checked the caller ID, but it wasn’t a number I recognized. I set the phone back down and continued working, hoping to finish my email to the master’s student upset about her grade on Clancy’s midterm before Liz called saying she was here to pick me up.

After clicking send on the email, I went to change. It was now securely fall in Chicago and last weekend I’d unpacked all my sweaters and scarves from the linen box under my bed. I pulled on a pair of dark washed jeans, and a fitted gray knit sweater. I knew Liz would complain, but whatever, if I was going out tonight, I was going to be comfortable. I pulled on my brown boots on over the skinny jeans.

Expecting to hear my phone again, I couldn’t place the noise at first. It was the doorbell. Someone was buzzing me from downstairs. Liz must be here after all. I jogged to the door and punched the call button. “Be down in a sec, Liz.”

“Ashlyn?” his voice broke through the silence, and straight into my heart.

Aiden.

I pulled open the door, and rushed down the stairs toward the sound of his voice. The anticipation of seeing him for the first time in a month had me tingling all over. However my excitement quickly faded away, to be replaced by fear. What if he was here to tell me he was officially back with Logan? I hesitated for a second before opening the door and drew a deep breath. I was strong. I could do this. Even if I couldn’t, there was always alcohol to numb the pain.

When I stepped outside Aiden was leaning against the side of the building looking down at the pavement deep in thought. When he lifted his head and spotted me, a slow smile spread across his lips. I wanted to rush to him, to throw my arms around his neck, to breathe in the scent of his chest, but my feet stayed planted to the sidewalk. He curled his hands into fists, and slowly released them, causing the veins in his forearms to stand out. Looking into his eyes, I noticed that the skin beneath them was marked by dark circles. Had he been sleeping? I pushed the thought from my mind, that wasn’t my concern anymore. He had chosen to leave.

He didn’t say anything for the first several seconds; he just stood perfectly still watching me like I was the most fascinating thing in the world. Well-dressed and clean shaven, wearing dark jeans, a fitted button down shirt and dark jacket, he looked good. Aside from that though, I could tell he hadn’t been sleeping well. His eyes were stormy and shadowed with darkened hollows.

“Hi,” I finally offered, feeling self-conscious under his scrutiny.

The expression on his face softened, and he let out a nervous chuckle low under his breath. “Hi.”

I let myself take a deep breath and felt some of the tension evaporate from my shoulders.

His eyes wandered from mine, down to my chest, over hips and legs, and settling on my calves clad in the boots he was once so fond of. He swallowed roughly. “You look well.”

“Thank you,” I replied in a clipped tone. Why was he here?

He looked at my outfit and frowned. “Were you headed somewhere?”

I shook my head. “I was going to meet Liz, but…just wait right here.” I sprinted up the stairs and grabbed my phone. I typed out a terribly misspelled text telling Liz that something had come up and I would explain later, then I raced back down the stairs.

He was standing on the sidewalk several feet from where I left him. “Will you join me on a walk? I was hoping we could talk.”

We need to talk could be code for thanks for making sure I wasn’t homeless, it was nice knowing you, or it could be code for be mine forever and have my babies. My stomach twisted into a painful knot. “Sure,” I managed.

The sun was beginning its nightly descent and the sky was burnished a lovely shade of pink. I had no idea where we were headed, but I resisted breaking his concentration, and instead followed beside him, trying to match his determined pace in silence.

We reached what looked like a school and Logan stopped and stood in front of the building.

“What are we doing here?” I looked at him.

He took me by the shoulders, turning me to the right. My breath caught in my throat. It was his mural. I’d recognize his style anywhere. I began walking towards it, needing to get closer.

From left to right, I followed along the wall, trailing my hand as I walked. There was a path through a forest with warped, gnarled trees. It was dark and foreboding. As I walked, the painting got lighter and at the end of the path was a group of several people, of every age and race. They were lending helping hands, supporting each other, some were embracing. Its message of love and hope was clear. In script lettering at the bottom of the mural, it read: You choose.

I stood back in awed silence, admiring his work. He came up behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders. “It’s beautiful,” I commented.

He steered my shoulders to the edge of the wall. “This is what I wanted to show you.”

He bent down near the wall and pointed to some lettering that could only be seen up close. I crouched down to inspect it.

He had translated our shared Latin tattoo and painted it in delicate black ink. I will either find a way or make one. Underneath that, his finger traced the words. For Ashlyn, with love. Always.

It was a very sweet gesture, and I was truly touched, but still I need to hear him, in his own words tell me what he was doing back here, why he had been away for a month. I wouldn’t allow myself to get my hopes up. I stood up and dusted the soil off my knees.

After looking at the mural, we walked along Lakeshore Drive, the breeze from Lake Michigan making the air feel colder, but the crisp breeze washed over me and left me revived.

Aiden saw me hugging my arms around my chest, and started to remove his jacket.

“No, you keep it.” When I stopped him, my fingers brushed against his. It was an innocent touch, but still caused a swell of longing to surge through me. My skin tingled in awareness of him. My damn body was betraying me.

“You’re cold. Let’s stop and get a drink.” He tipped his head to the jazz club directly across the street from where we stood. I nodded and we made our way to it.

Once we were seated directly across from each other at the tiny pedestal table with a flickering red candle between us, I nibbled on my bottom lip. Surely this was it; we were going to have The Conversation now. Just then the server appeared, and Aiden placed our drink order. A bottle of Bordeaux that he said was apparently his favorite and he wanted me to try it.

When our wine came, he signaled the server to pour me the first taste. I brought the glass to my lips while Aiden watched and took a small sip. I swirled the rich, fragrant liquid across my tongue and swallowed. It was tangy and tart with notes of berry. He was right, I loved it. I nodded and the server filled my glass, and then his.

I took another sip of my wine, noting my skin had already warmed from the combination of Logan’s proximity, and the delicious wine.

“What have you been doing for the past month?” I inwardly cringed; afraid he would answer with a single word that would crush me: Logan.

His hazel eyes locked on mine, looking insanely intense. “Putting together the pieces of my life. Trying to become whole again.”

Another healthy gulp of wine had me feeling more like my old self, comfortable and at ease in his presence. “And, what did you find? Do you have a house in the suburbs? An apartment in the city? Wife? Dog? Two-point-five kids?”

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