I stare at the long plastic “knives” poking out between my fingers. I can’t see my ribs, which is a plus. Like I need any skeletal jokes during Halloween. I suppose the outfit makes my br**sts look a little bigger than normal. But I still don’t like the way the leather rides up my crotch. There’s nothing I can do about that now, and I want to try to be confident in my skin for Lo. It’s his birthday after all.
“I suppose a cape would be sacrilege,” I say.
He spins me back and kisses me hungrily, his fingers leading a fiery trail down my bare stomach. I pull away as they dip below my latex pants again.
“Lo,” I say in a ragged breath. “It took you an hour to put your suit on.” Lo gained muscles in the past few years, and while I was glaring at my costume on the hanger, he asked me if I had any oil so he could slip on his outfit more easily. He ended up rubbing Hale Co. baby oil all over, but it slid on, doing its trick.
Another change from the last time—his lower area seems to be way more prominent. Or maybe I refused to look last time. I try to avert my eyes, but I can’t help but stare every so often.
Like right now.
He smirks. “Afraid it may disappear?”
My arms blush. “Um…no,” I mutter. “I’m actually wondering if your suit will rip if you get…uh…you know.”
“Hard.” Oh God.
His grin widens as I turn my head, trying desperately to restrain any longing that pulsates within me. I want to jump him right now. I do. Truly, I’d love to rip off his suit, but Connor is supposed to be here in less than an hour and I have little time to force Lo’s body back into the unruly fabric.
“I’ll try to contain myself,” he says with a lingering smile. “But there is something I can do without taking off my clothes.”
Huh? My brows relax as he drops to his knees. His hands slide down my h*ps on his way to the ground. Holy shit.
He glances up with his bedroom eyes, his tongue licking his bottom lip, and his heady gaze electrifies my body. He uses one hand to cup my bottom and then folds my latex pants down and down and down. Oh...my…
He pushes my legs, so I fall into my mattress, and he spreads my feet wide open. He still kneels at the foot of my bed, and I grip a handful of his hair, tugging his head back. His firm hands stay on my knees, and neither of us makes a move yet.
I know what he’s about to do. He refuses to remove his eyes from mine, almost challenging me to be the one to look away. I don’t. From my sexual interactions with Lo, I’ve come to enjoy this the most—the staring, the locked eyes, the feeling of being connected beyond intertwined limbs. I’ve never had that before.
Not with anyone but him.
“Breathe,” he tells me.
Right as I focus on inhaling, he runs his hands up my thighs, to my hips, and I buck at his touch. “Lo…” I shudder, and he breaks his gaze to kiss my throbbing spot.
I clench his hair tighter, losing air to these feelings.
I don’t see how this can ever become old.
Connor’s driver, Gilligan, looks nothing like the famed television character. Big boned, bald and more suited to be a bodyguard than personal chauffeur, he passively carts us around Philly, not saying much of anything.
Connor uncorks the second bottle of champagne and replenishes my glass. Every time I take a sip, my plastic blade hits me in the nose. Lo has a much easier time as he grips a flask that’s filled with less bubbly liquor.
The birthday present I gave him clashes with his Hellion costume. Regardless, Lo wears the necklace that almost looks like a beaded rosary, except instead of a cross there’s an arrowhead at the end. Something I found when we took a trip to Ireland, only twelve at the time.
Lo subconsciously touches the necklace as we bump along the street. I smile, glad it means something to him as much as it does for me.
I look back at Connor. “Do you always ride around in a stretch limousine?” I run my hands over the polished black leather seat.
Lo holds my waist, touching my bare hip as he draws me to his body. He chimes in, “Oh yeah, we take limo rides around Wal-Mart’s parking lot just to show regular people what money looks like. Don’t we, dear?”
My eyes bug at Lo’s sarcasm. “We have Escalades,” I try to recover, disentangling his hand from my hip, even if it kills me. His playfulness—while incredibly sexy—will most definitely make Connor uncomfortable. He’s our first real friend, and Lo is about to get us tossed on the street.
Connor puts an arm across the top of the stretched seat, wearing a cape, a cloth mask over his eyes, and a plastic sword. Zorro. “Most people disapprove of the limo, but those people aren’t the ones I’m trying to impress. Do you see how many people this can hold? Plus, I’m facing you. I don’t even have to strain my neck to talk. Those things are valuable to me.”
“I can get along with that.” Lo sets his mischievous eyes on me. “What about you, love?” I thought the teasing would stop after we solidified our relationship. This kind of taunting, I like way too much, and he knows it. He snakes his hand on my knee, running it up my leg, too casually to be taken as something overtly sexual. For me, he may as well have dropped on his knees a second time.
I mouth, stop.
He mouths, why? And he breaks into a gorgeous smile. Lo looks to Connor but he tightens his fingers on my thigh. “You want to hear a story?” Where is this going?
Connor raises his glass. “I’m all ears.”
Lo’s eyes flicker to me, too briefly to make sense of his intentions. “Fizzle has company tours all the time, you know, the ones where they show the history of the soda and then let you try all the imported flavors.”
“Sure, I toured the factory with my ninth grade class.”
“It’s not real, that place. It’s not really where they make the drinks.”
Connor nods. “I suspected.”
“Well, Lily and I were twelve and her father left us in the museum area.”
The memory floats to the surface. I smile and add, “He thought we’d be occupied by tasting all of the sodas.”
Lo looks to Connor. “But Lily had a better idea. She said the real factory was a street over.”
Connor’s brows shoot up. “You went to the actual factory by yourselves? How’d you get in?”
Lo cocks his head at me. “Want to take this, love?” His hand sinks down my inner-thigh.
My breath hitches, not able to form actual words.
“No?” He grins and adds to Connor, “She told them her last name and said her father wanted her to take a mini-tour. When we went in, we darted off in another direction.” He ran so fast. He always does. I struggled to keep up, and he’d slow or run loops around me. As the security started gaining on us, he lifted me on his back. I held tightly to his neck, and he sped towards a giant, spinning vat of dark liquid. We hid out for a little while, and when the footsteps died in the distance, he concocted a masterful plan.
“Did you get in trouble?”
Lo shakes his head. “No, her dad has a heart of gold. He was actually flattered that we wanted to see the factory. If he’d known what I did, maybe he wouldn’t have been too kind. I found some alcohol around the place.” Correction: He took out his flask. “And I dumped it into the syrup.”
“Shut up,” Connor says. “You spiked the soda recipe?”
“They probably couldn’t taste it. There wasn’t really that much compared to the amount of syrup, but I take pride in the fact that a handful of people got a little something extra because of us that day.” He turns to me, and I think, maybe, he may kiss me. He has that look in his eye, the one that trails the fullness of my lips, the one that could tip me over the seat and give himself over to me. And then his phone beeps, breaking the connection.
I sigh, a little deflated. It’s not mere coincidence that the phone all of a sudden rings. My parents and sisters have been trying to wish him a happy birthday since this morning, but Lo would rather listen to the incessant beeping than confront them—or have a prolonged conversation with Rose.
“Just answer them,” I urge.
Lo glances at the screen, and I peek over his shoulder, seeing a photo of his father.
His face sharpens. Unlike my family, he never rejects his father’s calls. Sometimes I think it’s more than fearing the wrath of Jonathan Hale. I know, somewhere deep down, he loves his father. He just doesn’t know what type of love it is or even how to process it. Lo puts the phone to his ear. “Hey.”
In the quiet of the limo, I hear Jonathan’s rough voice through the speaker. “Happy Birthday. Did you receive my gift? Anderson said he left it in the lobby with the staff.”
“Yeah. I meant to call you.” Lo glances warily at me and takes his hand off my leg. “I remember you drinking it when I was younger. It’s great.” His father gave him a bottle of fifty-year-old scotch, Decanter or Dalmore or something. Lo tried to explain the value of it to me, but it whizzed right over my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfect and wrong the present is and if his father knew it too.
“The next time you come over, we can break it open,” he tells him. “I have a couple cigars here too.”
“Sounds good.” Lo shifts his shoulder, closing me off.
“How has the day been for you so far?”
“Okay. I aced an econ exam.”
One of Connor’s eyebrows arch, disbelieving.
“That so?” His father also sounds unconvinced. I must have been the only one who had any faith in Lo’s grades. Now, I think it may have all been misplaced.
“I can’t really talk now,” Lo tells him. “I’m with Lily. We’re headed to a Halloween party.”
“Okay. Be safe…” He pauses, as though he has something else to say. After a long moment, he adds, “Have a great twenty-first, son.”
His father hangs up, and Lo acts casual as he pockets the cell. He tightens his arm around my shoulder, bringing me closer. But his muscles stay taught, a subtle difference that also punctures the amusement in his voice. “Maybe you should just tell your sisters that I said thanks. Send out a mass text or something.”
“Why can’t you do that on your own phone?”
“Because they’ll reply back and then I’ll have to reply to that, which sounds exhausting.”
“He has a point,” Conner tells me.
Uh, shouldn’t he be siding with me? He’s my tutor. “Don’t tell me you find small talk draining. That’s your thing.”
Connor cups his champagne glass. “It sounds exhausting for him. I’d enjoy a talk with your sisters.”
“By the way,” I say. “How was your conversation with Rose? You’re still in one piece, so I presume it went well.”
Lo chokes on a sip of whatever’s in his flask, and I pat his back. “Excuse me,” Lo says. “You talked with Rose? Like had a fully formed conversation?”