Poughkeepsie, p.20
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       Poughkeepsie, p.20

           Debra Anastasia

  Come get me, Livia said with her eyes.

  She pulled off her sweatpants and felt the cool air snap at her skin. She walked further and stopped in the center of the clearing next to the miraculous saplings. She now stood right where they’d been before when they’d failed.

  She took her jacket off and let it fall. She created a trail of clothes like little stepping stones to hope. Livia had always been shy about her body. She insisted on a one-piece bathing suit and a towel close to the ladder when she went swimming. But she could do this here, now. She was asking so much of him.

  She pulled her sweatshirt off and stood in her bra and panties. She shook a little from the cold and the risk. She willed him to take the chance as well.

  He hadn’t moved, just stood squeezing the handle of the cheerful umbrella and watching Livia like she was walking a tightrope without a net. Livia reached behind her and unlatched her bra. She added it to her trail of clothes. Blake flexed and closed a gloved hand. Livia slipped off her white panties.

  Now she was here—nude for him—if he could bring himself to walk across the meadow. She shivered and fought the need to cover her chilly skin. Blake kept his eyes on hers, not yet indulging in the sight before him.

  “You’re cold,” he said softly.

  Livia nodded. “I’m cold and alone out here.” She longed to un-write that Sorry on his arm—if he could just take a chance.

  The y in sorry erased as Blake braced himself and stepped into the full sun, leaving the umbrella in the shade. He moved as if walking through quicksand. But his eyes were on the prize.

  Livia struggled to keep her tears to herself. She’d never witnessed such stunning bravery. She could only imagine the full nature of the walls, fears, and pain he climbed over to get to her.

  She wanted to run and meet him in the middle, but she couldn’t. He needed to come to her. I will stay put. I will not cry. Come to me. Come to me.

  And he did. He made slow, steady progress until he stood in front of her.

  Livia said nothing when Blake’s masked face moved in for a kiss; she just turned her head. When he pulled back, she lifted a playful eyebrow.

  He got it and did not try again. He took his piano out of his back pocket and set it reverently on the grass. He held out his leather-covered hands and ghosted her shape—almost touching, but not quite. He followed the lines of her face and arms. Livia bit the inside of her cheek as he outlined her breasts. He knelt in front of her and traced her legs in the air.

  Livia held her breath. Will he stay? Can he stay? Please stay.

  On his knees, Blake kept his eyes on hers as he slowly pulled off his glove, finger by finger, until the sun shone on his bare hand.

  She saw the panic run through his eyes and lips. Livia broke her silence and grabbed his uncovered hand. “I don’t believe your skin is glass, but I believe in you.”

  Blake took another breath and squeezed her hand. He smiled as he looked at their hands in sunlight together. He released her to take off his second glove and stood up. He grabbed both her hands, and they were joined.

  The two rr’s dissolved from his tattoo in that moment.

  Blake took off his jacket and blanketed her undergarments on the ground. He unbuttoned his shirt with the carelessness of a man standing in front of his dresser. His hands never hitched. Livia wanted to cheer as he revealed his chest to the sun. But Blake had other plans.

  He put his chest against hers, and his sun-drenched hands ran from her shoulders to her lower back, pulling her to him with a hard jerk. He was a gentleman, but not necessarily a gentle lover. Their hearts beat as if they were trying to touch from the inside out.

  Blake ghost-kissed Livia, not quite letting their lips touch. She felt his hot mint breath on her cheek. Blake reached for his pants, and Livia longed to release the button for him, but he needed to do this.

  He removed his pants and boxer briefs in one swift motion. He kicked off his socks and shoes. All that remained was the mask. Blake and Livia stood apart for a moment before he gathered her again in his arms.

  With no more material between their bodies, he touched every part of her. He spun her so her back pressed against his chest and he could warm her breasts with his hands.

  “I always wanted to know if your lips were the same color as your nipples. But they’re not. I think the sun has faded your lips just a bit.” Blake’s liquid silk voice tickled her neck.

  Livia could feel the scratch of the ski mask. She remembered that the first time she’d heard his voice it was just like this, from behind her. She begged her hands not to remove his mask. They were having a hard time listening. She squirmed until she and Blake were chest to chest again. She kissed his shoulder instead of his mouth. Blake was glorious naked. Powerful.

  “Livia, I can’t get started if we can’t finish. I can’t trust myself to stop.”

  Livia smiled at his concern and grabbed her jacket, digging in the pocket. “Kyle had one, and I grabbed it.” Livia held the condom up victoriously.

  “Only one? I better make it count.” Blake still had the mask on, so he left it to his fingers to adore her. “I’m going to paint my passion on your skin.”

  Livia used her mouth to warm any part of his body that felt cold. As she sucked his fingers, she heard a decision in his breathing. He would have her here, now. Blake gathered the clothes and helped Livia lay back on the makeshift bed. For a moment he took her in with a smile then he covered her body with his.

  “Lying under me. You’re lying under me,” he breathed.

  Livia felt him enter her and gasped uncontrollably in pure pleasure.

  Alarmed, Blake stopped and looked inquisitively.

  “Don’t stop. Just don’t.” Livia clenched and unclenched her muscles, hugging him from the inside.

  Blake’s green eyes rolled into his head. There was no talking anymore. Just two together, struggling to give and take pleasure in the same movements.

  Blake braced himself with one arm and traced her to where her pulse pounded the hardest against her skin. Livia offered a tangled mix of his name and assorted requests, each of which he indulged. When he lifted her leg to his shoulder, Livia wasn’t sure she was that flexible. Then he moved inside her again, and Livia didn’t care if she was that flexible. Break my damn leg if you have to, just get deeper.

  Wave after wave of an orgasm broke over her, but soon it would be over for him. “Stop,” Livia panted.

  Blake paused as Livia swallowed to try to compose herself. She was here for a reason. “The mask. Take it off. I want you to kiss me.” Livia watched his eyes. He was scared.

  “Blake, you’re inside of me. I’ll keep you safe. You’re inside of me.” Livia squeezed him again, reminding him exactly where he was.

  Blake smiled at the sensation. “Do it for me, Livia. Please.”

  And even though they were naked and locked in the most intimate embrace, this was the striptease.

  Livia went slowly, rolling up the knit ski mask like a stocking. First his jaw came into the light. Livia slowed, tracing its strong line with her finger. Next, his lips lost their frame, then his eyes left their prison. He closed them. Finally, his wild, messy hair was free. Livia tossed the mask aside. And waited.

  Open your eyes.

  After a moment Blake looked around his sunny meadow. A breeze stirred the trees high up, and they released a shower of fall colors. In the silence of the day, the leaves hitting the ground sounded like applause. Quiet applause for a quiet victory.

  The o in sorry vanished.

  Blake looked at Livia beneath him. She smiled.

  “Five hundred ninety-eight,” he whispered.

  Still counting. “Yes! Yes. I knew you could do this. I knew you could do this.” Livia beamed with pride.

  Blake blurred as her eyes became two pools of tears. He kissed her softly, but Livia wanted the rough thrusts back.

  She pulled away and wiped her eyes. “Giddy up!” Livia spanked Blake playfully.

bsp; He gave a little chuckle before he put her out of her misery. If she thought he was going fast and hard before, she was wrong. Blake was almost done when he let Livia’s leg slip from his shoulder. He kissed her with his clever tongue and moaned loudly into her mouth.

  The S was now history. Blake collapsed next to Livia.

  She grabbed his arm and traced the tattoo with her finger. “This Sorry is gone now. This is a new Sorry, and it’s from me to you.” Livia rolled onto her belly so she could see him lying in the sun. “I’m sorry I didn’t say hello sooner. I’ll never get those days I missed back. But I won’t miss any more.”

  Livia kissed his sunny face. Blake held one fist in the air.

  Even after they dressed, Livia and Blake stayed in the clearing. They left reluctantly when they grew too hungry. Livia wanted to stay forever. She knew this victory was one they’d have to fight for again in the real world.


  Her Purpose

  EVE PUT THE FINISHING touches on her outfit. She wore big hair, her favorite spike-heeled boots, black leather pants, and a bra top. Her leather jacket topped off the look. Battle armor. She could be this girl if she dressed just like her. Eve tucked her knives and a gun into their hiding spots on her body.

  A text arrived from Merkin:

  Boss granted bail, wants u 2 pick him up

  Eve typed back:

  On it

  She took her silver crotch-rocket to pick him up. When she arrived, Eve waited outside, leaning against her bike and holding her helmet.

  Beckett pounded down the steps and smiled from ear to ear when he saw her. Eve tried to ignore the tremor she felt, the fracture in her shield.

  “You’re a sight for sore fucking eyes. Are you trying to kill me, hotness?” He walked with a fake pimp limp as he got closer.

  “Yeah, I am.” If he only knew.

  Beckett stood within arm’s reach. She could have her blade in his neck and be a mile away on her bike before he hit the ground. But her hands stayed still.

  “You still an ass virgin?” she asked. “Did you have Mouse knit you a pair of iron panties to wear to jail?” Eve handed him her silver helmet.

  “I’m still as pure as the driven fucking snow. Thanks for caring.” Beckett looked around for another helmet.

  “I didn’t bring one. You wear it.” Eve swung her leg over the seat and hit the kickstand with a clack of her metal heel.

  Beckett stubbornly held onto the helmet, and they merged bareheaded into traffic, disregarding the law. Eve hated the way her body responded to his thick arm around her waist. She countered the feelings with a twist of the throttle, so the speed demanded all her concentration. The bike took the turns like a cheetah. Sooner than she wanted to, Eve pulled into the parking lot at Beckett’s place of business. Beckett bumped fists with his hangers-on and the drug dealers in the parking lot.

  Merkin appeared with an update on his brothers. “Cole’s at the church and Blake’s in the woods.”

  Beckett nodded as if these responses pleased him. Eve followed him into the building. No one would dare frisk her, and she entered Beckett’s inner sanctum fully armed—not that she needed her weapons. They were just reminders about why she was here. Her purpose.

  She closed the drapes and locked his office door. Beckett sat on his couch and kicked off his boots and socks with a shit-eating grin.

  Bet he’s thinking about our kiss. The weakness in that kiss was shameful. Eve let her horror at having wanted to comfort him last night fuel her. Her jacket slipped off her shoulders, and the seduction began.

  A moment of uncertainty passed over Beckett’s eyes.

  “Stand up.” Eve worked to keep her voice calm and in control. Beckett stood and waited with one eyebrow arched. Eve pulled out her favorite blade and smiled. She stepped close enough to feel the heat from his body. There’s just so much of him. Stop. Kill him. You’re here to kill him.

  She tried not to let the sight of his banged-up hands generate any sympathy. Eve cut his shirt from his chest. With a quick slice up each arm she removed the sleeves, letting the blade scrape his skin gently. She put the knife in her teeth and used her hands to rip his shirt open. A bandage covered the wound she’d inflicted on him the night before. She used the knife on his jeans, the razor sharp edge sliding through the material quickly.

  “I’m going commando today, Edward Scissorhands, so don’t cut off anything precious. And leave a wide berth, if you know what I mean.” He winked at her cold eyes.

  Eve ignored his charm. It would do her no good to smile at him now.

  “So that’s how it is. Today’s the big day.” Beckett nodded with a wry smile.

  He knows.

  He was naked now. “How you want me, baby? Execution style? Or you want to look me in the eyes?”

  Beckett put his arms behind his head like a prisoner of war. Eve threw her knife against the wall, where it stuck in the plaster. Here was where she was supposed to deliver her speech. The speech she’d recited so often in her head. She’d run through it over and over while running punishing miles. She’d delivered it after hours on the shooting range. She’d gasped it at the rear view mirror of her car after tae kwon do.

  “Beckett Taylor, you killed my hopes and dreams. Now I’ll kill you and everyone you care about. You’ll leave this earth as empty as I am now.”

  Instead she stood looking at him. He looked around the room impatiently.

  “Come on, sweetheart. I’m letting you do this. Do it.” When she didn’t respond, he added, “Listen, I know it’s easier when they’re not fucking looking at you.”

  Beckett turned and faced the wall. Eve tried to recreate the accident again, but she could only see him letting her have what she wanted. His own head on a platter.

  “I don’t know who hired you, but can I ask you for something?” He talked at the wall.

  Here comes the fast-talking, the mojo, the shout to his employees.

  “Could you make sure Cole doesn’t take credit for his handiwork last night? And can you follow up on that Chris guy?” Beckett turned his head a bit, listening for her answer.

  He still trusts me. He still trusts me with his brothers. I can’t do it.

  She then delivered a very different speech to his back. One she’d never practiced.

  “I was pregnant, and then I wasn’t,” she said softly. “I was in love, and then I wasn’t. You did that. You took those things from me. My family was collateral damage in a drive-by ordered by you.”

  She watched a tremor twitch through his muscles, but she didn’t tense in defense like she’d planned, like she’d always prepared to. “I’ve hated you longer than I’ve done much of anything else. No one hired me. I’m here because it’s the only way I’m still a mother to her. I can still be an angry mother even though she’s not here. But I’m not even doing that right.”

  Eve hung her head in defeat. She felt the numbness crawl over her again. Claim me. I have nothing left.

  Beckett dropped his arms and turned to face her. “Eve.”

  The odd sound of her name on his lips brought her eyes to his face. He was devastated.

  “What’s her name?” Beckett asked in an unsteady voice.

  Eve bit her lip. She’d never told anyone.

  “Anna.” Eve’s long-dry eyes filled with tears.

  Beckett made no move to cover himself or call for help. “That’s a beautiful name. Anna’s very lucky to have such a dedicated mother. Once you’re a mom, that title’s yours for-fucking-ever—like a president.”

  He reached over and chose the quietest pistol from the wall. He held it out to her.

  “No one will hear this one, so you should be able to get out of here. I’m so sorry. I caused you the most unimaginable pain. It would be my honor to die at your hand, if it gives you even a moment’s peace.”

  Eve stared at the gun for a long while. “That’s the worst part,” she whispered, her voice soaked with defeat. “I’m not strong enough. I’ve killed so ma
ny. I can kill anyone. But I can’t kill you.”

  Eve turned her back on the gun and the man. She heard the gun land with a soft thump on his couch.

  He stepped close to her; she could feel his breath on her neck. “Eve, you make me not want to die.”

  She turned to see his face. “I didn’t want to be this, and now it’s all I am.”

  He put his hands on her cheeks. The look on his face did her in. He was kind, caring, and mourning her losses. Tears wet his cheeks. Eve felt a very deep sob choke her. If he was mourning, so could she.

  He pulled her into his arms. “Cry. It’s okay. Cry.”

  Eve felt her knees give. He caught her and carried her to his couch. He petted her hair and let her empty her pain and guilt onto his chest. He kissed the top of her head. For the first time, his actions toward her seemed to have no sexual intent whatsoever.

  Eve let go of a rope she’d clung to for too long. And she fell. She fell right into him. Wrong or right, she gave up judging. Her lips found his, and he kissed her gently, not demanding any more than she was willing to offer.

  Eve added her tongue, exploring his taste. She grabbed the back of his neck with one hand and traced his gunshot wounds with her other. He let her lead.

  My call. Kill him or love him. He’ll allow either.

  Beckett smiled into her kiss when she started to shudder and fidget. She’d chosen passion.

  “Are you sure?” He made her look at him.

  She could only nod. Together they took off her leather armor. Then just before she could straddle him, Beckett stopped her.

  “Shit! Hold on. Let me get rid of this. My luck I’ll blow my balls off right fucking now.” Beckett put the gun on the floor and kicked it away.

  Eve put her knees on either side of his hips. She held herself just out of his reach and broke her last mental barriers. Then she slammed down on top of him with such force, she was sure Beckett was glad she had such impeccable aim.

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