“Why can’t I keep it on?” I ask softly, eyeing his lips. I watch the way they move when he speaks.
“Because you’ll wear it when I play with you,” he says. “And today, I’m taking care of you.” He gathers my hair in his hand and rubs lotion where the buckle dug into my skin. His fingers dance so skillfully along the tender areas. I muster all of my willpower to stop from moaning and submitting like a drooling puppy.
He caps the lotion, pockets the collar, and leaves the bathroom without another word. I frown, confused at first. But then he returns with another black case, the same size as last night’s. Another necklace?
My eyes widen in excitement.
He doesn’t make me beg this time. He merely opens the box. “This one is for days like today.”
He untangles it from the box, and then he steps behind me, swooping it around my neck and fastening it in place. He’s given me jewelry before: a teardrop necklace when we first started dating. But this means more to me. Not just because a diamond pendant rests against my chest, but because it’s simple and refined, on a feather-light chain that I could wear with almost every outfit. He thought about that, I can tell.
I think I might cry. And I never cry.
I suppose it’s okay to shed tears over jewelry. That doesn’t make me more of an ice queen or a materialistic snob, right? Oh, who the f**k cares?
My tears are apparent.
“Thank you,” I say.
He kisses my lips and slides his arms over my shoulders. “Always.”
* * *
Connor and I spend all morning switching between the Discovery and the History channel, trying to avoid the reality shows in favor of the educational segments. (Yes, I realize this is a little hypocritical, but just because I’m on a reality show doesn’t mean I like to watch them.) We secluded ourselves to the bedroom, and when my sisters asked about me, he told them I wasn’t feeling well. They bought it enough to leave us alone.
His phone rings just as a piece on the Black Death begins to play. “You can’t leave now,” I tell him. “You’re going to miss all the pictures of pestilence and gangrene.”
He looks up from his cell. “Tempting.” He smiles to let me know he means it.
I think back to literature involving the bubonic plague, unearthing the knowledge I’ve stored from college, quiz bowls, and my own leisurely studies. “Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made.” I quote Masque of the Red Death, quizzing him and distracting him in one sentence.
His eyes gleam in challenge, and his hand drops, ignoring the buzz from his phone. “Edgar Allen Poe,” he answers with ease and devours my bait in one swoop.
Connor slides beside me on the bed, his legs nestled against mine. He fingers my diamond necklace, smoothing the thin chain and inadvertently tickling the hollow of my collar. I clasp his hand before the sensation makes me squirm.
He stares at me deeply, whispering, “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
One of my favorite quotes. I turn a fraction, just enough so that our lips don’t suddenly collide. “Shakespeare,” I breathe.
My thoughts migrate to my heart. A kiss is at a breath’s distance, and despite my sore body, I want a repeat of last night.
Love all. Love. I’ve accepted Connor for who he is, even his anti-love beliefs. But why the hell did he have to choose that quote?
“You can’t seduce me with Shakespeare.” I command my thoughts to return to my brain. Come back, Non-Gooey Rose. I put considerable amount of distance between our lips, scooting to the right. “Especially with a quote about love.”
“Darling, I don’t need to seduce you,” he says, “I already have you.”
His face blankets with lust as I narrow my glare. The more I glower, the more I arouse him. I’ve learned that fact over the years, and yet, I still can’t seem to bottle my irritation to win a round.
He licks his lips and delivers another quote. Only he recites the lines with heavy, bated breath. Almost like he’s making love to the words. “We know what we are, but not what we may be.”
Why is that so sexy? And why does intelligence turn me on more than muscles and taut abs?
“Hamlet,” I reply. I sit up straighter, leaning against the headboard, and I try to hide the fact that the spot between my legs thrums with newly lit passion.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
I internally grin from ear-to-ear. Our very first date, we saw this play together. “Easy. The Tempest.”
“All right Miss Highest Honors…” He sets a knee on either side of my waist, not straddling my lap. He stays above me like this, towering as he presses a hand to the headboard and stares down at me. He has sufficiently confined me in his muscular, tall cage. I can’t believe he’s my boyfriend. That’s literally all I can think right now.
“Love is merely a madness.”
It takes me a moment to process his words. “As You Like It.”
He lowers his head. He’s going to touch his lips to mine, but he tricks me, his mouth diverting to my ear. “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” He says each word with such conviction that my heart backflips.
Think. Think. I have to win. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
With one hand still on the headboard, he uses the other to caress my right breast, one that is vastly less sore. “What’s past is prologue.”
“The Tempest again.”
He tilts my chin up and brings his lips down upon mine, his tongue parting them and stealing my breath at once. My n**ples pucker, and he retracts as he recites, “What’s done cannot be undone.”
I watch his hand fall to my neck, rubbing my tender skin. Then to my breast. To my arm. I can hardly concentrate on his words. I’m lost, and my arousal has built all over again. “I…” Shit. “…repeat it.”
“What’s done cannot be undone.”
He gives me a new quote from the same play. “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
I squint as I faintly recall this one. “Did you abbreviate?” He hates abbreviating, and he must have done it to stump me.
I am about to call him a cheater, but he covers my mouth with his hand and says, “I didn’t have to give you a second quote to help you, Rose.”
He kisses my forehead and then says, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets this hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
“Macbeth.” I straighten in pride, and he actually shares it. Instead of sulking in the loss, he grins at my win.
But then he adds, “Time is but a fool as we are to the mercy of its hands.”
I frown. I don’t know this one at all. I glare, not taking this loss as well as he did.
“A Connor Cobalt original,” he tells me.
I throw a pillow up at his face, and he catches it before uncaging me from this spot. I’d be more than okay imprisoned on this mattress all day long by him, and only him.
But he climbs off the bed, his feet setting on the hardwood with his phone in hand. “I’m going to call Frederick back and then we can watch a city die together.” He jabs his thumb towards the television where the Black Death has begun to ravage Europe.
“Are you going to talk about me?” I wonder.
“Yes,” he says. “I’m going to gloat, so I think maybe I should go outside.” He motions to the patio.
“Tell him I said hi,” I say with a tight smile. I’ve met Frederick once, and he was pleasant but short, probably worried he might let something slip. He knows more about me than he lets on, that’s for sure.
Connor disappears out the sliding glass doors, and I find my own phone on the nightstand. I’m about to dial Poppy’s number when I remember it’s six in the morning in Philly. I invited her to the Alps, but she said she’d rather stay home with her daughter. Poppy is only four years older than me, but I feel like we’ve already grown decades apart.
She has her own family and has begun to distance herself from Lily, Daisy, and me in favor of Sam and Maria. Is that happens when you have children? You gain new family members but have to sacrifice the connection of others?
It scares me. The fact that the relationships I have with my sisters now could dissolve when we all get married and start “new” lives. Will this be the closest we ever are?
I hope not.
A fist raps against my door before it swings open to a crack. “Shhh,” Lily hisses. “She could be sleeping.”
I fold my hands on my lap and cross my ankles like a lady, waiting for them to enter, my smile peeking through. If we part ways in a few years, I might as well enjoy this now.
“No…I see her. She’s awake,” Daisy says, craning her neck above Lily’s to look into my room.
Lily opens the door wider, and Daisy slips in front, holding two mugs with marshmallows floating on top.
Lily cups her own red mug in her hands. “We made you hot chocolate.”
“We thought it might help your migraine,” Daisy adds.
She hands me a dark blue mug while they plop on the mattress by my legs.
A migraine? That was Connor’s lie? He could have done better, but I suppose he didn’t want to worry anyone with a fib.
Lily nods to the television where dead bodies are being thrown into big ditches. She looks mildly horrified. “What are you watching?”
I smile into my cup. “The Black Death.” I take a long sip and then feel Daisy’s hand drift to my neck, examining the diamond pendant.
“Is this new?”
I nod. “A gift from Connor.”
“Pretty,” she says with sincerity, delicately placing it back against my chest, but I see a lingering sadness behind her eyes. She tries to conceal anything out of the ordinary by twisting her hair into a giant knot with one hand.
“What’d I miss?” I ask Daisy.
“Besides Scott being a douchenozzle, nothing,” she says easily.
My eyes narrow. “What’d he do?”
“He’s not the douchenozzle,” Lily says, giving Daisy a strange reprimanding look that she rarely produces.
My mouth falls. “Are you defending Scott, Lily?” Did Connor f**k me to another dimension?
She reddens. “No,” she says quickly. “I mean, Scott is still an a**hole. He keeps whispering slut when he passes me in the hallway. But…” She shrugs. “…I’m learning to ignore him like everyone else.” She sets her sisterly glare back on Daisy.
I stiffen. “What is it then?” I connect the dots faster than Daisy forms words. “It’s Julian, isn’t it?”
Daisy shakes her head, but Lily nods and points a finger at her. “He put his hand down your pants, in front of Ryke. That’s not nothing!”
“And I took his hand out of my pants,” Daisy says in a hushed whisper. “No harm done.”
Lily clues me in on the rest. “Ryke almost punched him.”
“I bet,” I say before sipping my hot chocolate.
Lily’s eyes form tiny slits as she scrutinizes me. “You’re calm about this.”
“Julian has been marking his territory since we arrived in the Alps. I’m not surprised he chose to do it by grabbing her ass.”
“Underneath her jeans,” Lily clarifies.
“I’m right here.” Daisy waves her hand.
“You are,” I say. “Where’s the pepper spray I bought you? If you don’t scald his eyes, I’d be happy to do it.”
“He’s my boyfriend. I don’t want to hurt him.”
“Is he really your boyfriend, Daisy?” I ask, a little too icy. But I can’t help that.
“Then describe what it’s like to kiss him.”
Lily points another finger at her. “Aha! You don’t like him.”
Daisy’s shoulders fall. “I’m working on it.”
“Promise me you won’t always be working on it,” I say. “He’s older, and he shouldn’t be trapping you in a relationship.”
“He’s not. I promise. I can get out at any time. I’m just waiting for the right moment to strike.” She pats my leg, dodging quickly. “So how are you feeling, anyway?”
I’ll take her distraction this time, only because that conversation was going nowhere, not until she can reject Julian. And if she can’t, I have absolutely no problem stepping in and burying his face in the f**king snow.
I clear my throat and straighten my neck. “So…I have news…” A few months ago, I made a promise to Lily that I’d tell her when I lost my virginity, only if she agreed not to make it a big deal in return. I try not to smile as I say it. “I had sex.”