Poughkeepsie, p.41
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       Poughkeepsie, p.41

           Debra Anastasia

  “Husband, I already promised you that.” She accepted his hand and cuddled into his chest. “I, Kyle McHugh, choose you, Cole Bridge, to be my husband, to respect you in your failures, to care for you in sickness, to nurture you, and to grow with you throughout the seasons of life.”

  “Why did you leave out the good parts?” Cole tilted her delicate face toward his.

  “It’ll be easy to stand next to you during good times. It’s the bad times, the scary times that are tough. I’ll never leave—no matter what life hands us.” A tear shone on Kyle’s cheek.

  Cole wiped it dry with his thumb. “To the bad times then, my divine bride. I pledge my heart to bad times as well.”

  He leaned down, changing his hold so he could pull her body into his and deliver a passionate kiss. She buried herself in his chest when they needed to catch their breath.

  “I have to ask you something—promise me you’ll be open-minded?” She looked tentative.

  He nodded.

  “I’ve got some mad skills. Some mad sex skills. I want to do stuff to you, without you worrying about me.” She looked at him with one eye closed.

  “I can never promise to stop worrying about you,” Cole said, smiling. “You’re all I think about. But I’m sure my body is up to this task. Do as you must. I won’t fight you off,” he said with a resolute sigh.

  Kyle stepped up and unbuttoned his pants. He put his thumb in her mouth. She smirked around it and swirled her tongue in a circle. Kyle kicked off her heels and switched to her dancer’s toes, en pointe. As she unzipped his pants she kicked her leg up to rest a foot on his shoulder. Cole couldn’t keep his hand from tracing the muscles of her smooth leg. Kyle used the moment to arch into a back bend, carefully dragging her legs over in a display of flexibility. She tucked her knees at the last moment to kneel in front of him.

  “Don’t worry.” She watched suspicion cloud his eyes. “I’m going to give you pleasure. And you’re going to take it.”

  She waited until his grin formed, then kissed him everywhere she could reach with her lips. She magicked his pants away from his ankles and slipped off his shoes and socks.

  Now she would show him—show him that she loved him enough to stay with him, to be present as she wrapped her mouth around his length. She looked up so he could see her eyes and be sure of her. She kept her hands busy, increasing the friction and finding the places that made it hard for him to breathe. She could feel him tense with pleasure. Kyle cupped him and adjusted subtly until she found the spot.

  “Damn it,” he gasped as she pressed gently.

  She continued stroking and sucking, planning to finish him still standing, just so she could see his knees shake. But Cole stepped back and away from her tender touches.

  “Get on the bed, Kyle.” His hands trembled.

  “Cole, you promised. I want to do this for you.” Kyle was suddenly worried. Didn’t he trust her?

  “That’s not it. I just—your legs, your head moving, your hands. I need to taste you. Get on the bed.” Cole offered a hand to her, helping her from her knees.

  She smiled when she realized what he meant. Soon they were twisted into each other, unobstructed by clothing in a ying and yang of pleasure. She now had to fight through her own ecstasy to concentrate on his manhood. But this new angle gave her mouth more to work with, and soon together they became a shimmering convulsion of gratification. Cole untangled himself to stand over her, glistening.

  “Mrs. Bridge? Would you care to shower?”

  Kyle accepted his hand and swatted his bottom. “Yes. Mr. Bridge, I would love to.” She giggled and tried to get away as he spanked her in return.

  Cole did the honors of adjusting the water to the perfect temperature. He stood outside the shower as Kyle stepped into the stream. The curtain remained pushed aside as Cole watched Kyle soak her hair, her skin warming and glowing with the liquid heat. She peeked out at him every so often, thrilled every time to find his eyes on her body.

  Droplets of water beaded on Cole’s chest, and Kyle ran her hands over her body. “There’s water everywhere, Cole. Get in. Come inside me this time.”

  Water covered the patchwork of scars on Cole’s back as he pounded into Kyle. She opened her hands to steady herself against the tile as he pressed her high against the shower wall. She was blessed by the hot water, by his touch. He was baptized by the warm, inviting spot inside her.

  The steam that poured out the open bathroom door created a blurry cloud. It seemed to pulsate in time with Cole’s deep thrusts into his bride. Her hands moved from the tile to caress his neck. He sounded almost as if he was in pain as he thundered with the ecstasy of his release.

  After lathering up and rinsing each other, Cole toweled Kyle’s body dry. As he wrapped her in white terrycloth, Kyle eyed his lingering hardness. “Again?”

  Cole turned his bride to hug her from behind, nuzzling her neck. “I’ll have you in my bed next,” he said. “I’m going to make love to you so thoroughly that, tomorrow? You’ll walk like John Wayne.”

  Her laughter sounded so free.

  Far from Kyle’s joy, back in the lonely hotel room, Eve opened the door to find the drunken Beckett. She sat on the bed and leaned her back against the headboard. Beckett could barely manage the coordination it took to crawl to her and set his head on her chest.

  “How wazzit?” he slurred.

  He started to snore between her breasts before she could answer. She stroked his hair, letting his rhythmic noise free her tears. She watched the camera in her brooch project a picture of the TV to the TV, creating a sort of bizarre, M.C. Escher-style modern art—so fitting for the girl whose problems became her answers, which had then become her problems all over again.

  Eve had wet cheeks when she finally answered a completely unaware Beckett. “It was amazing. It was everything I’ll never have.” She leaned down and pressed her lips to his hair. “Loving you is more of a curse than anything else.”



  EVE’S BIKE ATE THE pavement. She didn’t bother with blinkers or inconvenient road signs. She just flew—weaving in and out of traffic. Most of the other drivers didn’t even register her presence until she was long gone.

  The routine she’d established in the last few months would be broken today. She’d have nothing more to report to Beckett. Blake and Eve had made an unlikely pair on his quest for freedom from his paralyzing fear, but this had been her last morning with her cousin.

  Soon after Blake had moved into her father’s building, Eve had been back to check on him—at Beckett’s request. Beckett had been crawling the walls with his desperate need for his brothers’ companionship, so Eve was to be his eyes.

  She’d entered the apartment building and gone downstairs to find Livia standing just inside Blake’s apartment door, her hand on the knob, ready to leave.

  “Blake, I need to make the time. Dr. Lavender said a little at a time, every day, would be the way to go.” Livia seemed angry with herself.

  Eve’s silent ways made eavesdropping part of her personality. She scarcely breathed. She noticed a crack in the hallway had been puttied over and painted, no doubt by Blake the handyman.

  “You have too much going on,” Blake insisted. “I can do this on my own, really. I’ll try tomorrow. I will.” Blake’s voice sounded shaky.

  Eve heard what had to be a gentle kiss.

  “You said that about today,” Livia added softly. “No, don’t look at me like that; I’m so proud of you. This is a huge task, and I want to help.”

  The rustling of clothes had to be a hug.

  “I never want to disappoint you, Livia.” Blake sounded stronger now, determined, but still anxious.

  “That’s not possible. Ever. God, I have to go. The test is tomorrow, and I haven’t even looked at the material.”

  Livia stepped backward into the hall. Eve slid into the cover of another doorway.

  “You should definitely go,” Blake said. “Will you pl
ease call me when you get home? So I know you’re safe?” He closed the door behind them and walked with Livia down the hall and up the stairs, presumably to her car.

  Eve watched silently, and unseen, as they passed, wondering if now was really a great time to be Beckett’s nosy emissary. A few minutes later Blake walked past her hiding place in a furious, stomping rage. She was still debating with herself about visiting when she heard a crash. She arrived instantly at Blake’s slightly open door.

  “Goddammit! Man up and do this. Just do it. How can she be with me? I can’t even…I won’t try hard enough.”

  He was utterly defeated. Eve knew it without having to see the slope of his shoulders.

  She pushed the door open, and it creaked on its hinges. Blake whirled and was instantaneously relived. Eve knew he’d been afraid he’d find Livia. She looked from Blake to the water glass he’d thrown against the wall. He must be seriously twisted up; he treated everything in the apartment like it belonged in a museum.

  “Beckett says hi. Can I come in?” Eve waited until he nodded.

  “Eve, I apologize for this broken glass. It’s an extremely disrespectful way to treat these belongings.” Blake fetched his broom and dustpan, kneeling to gather the destroyed kitchenware.

  “Dude, I blew up Beckett’s strip mall. I’m not judging.” Eve strolled into his kitchen behind him, listening to the tinkle of broken glass as it found its resting place in the trash.

  Blake lifted one eyebrow. He’d been in Beckett’s world too long to be shocked by destruction. He put the broom away and faced Eve.

  “Hey, I overheard part of your conversation with Livia.” She tried to sound friendly.

  Blake shook his head. “Yeah. I’m not doing so great at getting used to the sun.” His hands were restless. “It’s supposed to be little steps at a time, but I…”

  Eve nodded. “I’m going to come tomorrow morning. We’re going to get a cup of coffee at the place down the road. We’ll walk, so be ready.” Eve watched as he calculated the shadows, sun, and shade on the way to Cup O’ Joe’s.

  “I wouldn’t want to trouble you. Thank you for the offer, though.” Blake held his own clenched fist.

  Eve waited. They both looked around the kitchen. Blake cleared his throat.

  “It’s not an offer. I’m going to be here,” she said. “We’re going for a walk. Real simple.” She watched as he changed his fingers’ grip, once, twice, three times.

  He needed convincing.

  “Hey, I’m not your girlfriend. I’m no one you can disappoint. I’ll just make sure we work through the fear that keeps you in the dark. Plus it’ll be good exercise after the gunshot wound and all.”

  Blake looked at the ceiling and blew out a breath. “Why, Eve? Why would you do this for me?”

  His suspicious eyes found her face again. That question caught her off guard. She pulled herself up to sit on the counter. Of course—Blake hadn’t known her before David’s accident. He had no idea she’d once honestly liked helping people.

  “I used to be a human being,” Eve said. “I used to care if people lived or died.” She thought of Mouse and knew her emotions were not entirely buried. “You puttied the crack in the hall. You’re letting my dad be a part of your life. I owe you, and this—helping you get coffee? I can do. You’ll have to trust me.” She hopped off the counter and held out her hand.

  Blake stared, and instead of shaking it, he opened a drawer, retrieved a velvet ring box, and placed it in her extended hand. She opened it while Blake watched the box like it was a bomb. Inside was Eve’s great-grandmother’s engagement ring. She’d know it anywhere. Great Gran wore it every day of her fifty-eight years married to Eve and Blake’s great-grandfather. She’d left it to Ted.

  “Ted gave that to me,” Blake said. “But I want you to have it. It was your great-grandmother’s.” He watched her carefully.

  Eve took the ring out of the velvet slit that held it tightly. A shiver ran through her body. She jammed it back into its box and snapped it shut. The small, perfect diamond had taken a bite out of her soul. She tossed the box back to Blake. He caught it, looking puzzled.

  “I can’t wear that. I won’t wear that.” Eve turned her back on Blake. “I can’t wear stuff like that in my line of work.”

  Blake said nothing, letting the silence ask his questions. Eve realized she was expecting a lot from him. She wanted him to trust her in the sun, so she’d have to do something that scared her as well. Time to show Blake what was left of her tiny, crumpled pink heart.

  “I was going to wear that once. It was going to be mine. My boyfriend and I would have gotten married.” She turned to see his reaction.

  He was waiting patiently.

  “David died in a car crash. It’s a—he was my future, you know?”

  It was the way he received her pain that made her tell him more. He looked at her intently, like what she told him would be part of him forever.

  “I was pregnant with his baby. She died too.” Eve shrugged, but her wet eyes betrayed her casualness.

  Blake took the distance in two quick strides and enveloped her. Eve’s stiff body was ill-prepared for the hug. But Blake held on until she softened against his chest.

  “The sun’s on the inside sometimes, huh?” He patted her back.

  Eve patted his in return. “It burns in there.”

  Finally they parted, and Blake found Eve a tissue.

  “Well, I can’t very well give this to Livia,” he said matter-of-factly, looking at the box on the counter.

  “You’re getting engaged?” Eve smiled at the thought of Blake and Livia.

  “I want to, but I don’t know if I have any right to ask her.” Blake tucked the ring back into its drawer. “Your dad talked me into accepting this ring in a weak moment. He got me talking about my future and—”

  Eve interrupted, imitating her father’s voice and stance. “Don’t put off happiness you can have today. Tomorrow is a hope, not a promise.”

  Blake laughed. “Yes! Exactly. Glad to see it was a real original speech, just for me.”

  “I hate to say this—ever—but my dad is right. I’ll tell you what, I wish I’d married David.” Eve’s eyes got a faraway look. “I wanted to wait until after the baby and when we’d saved up enough to have a real, big wedding.”

  Blake was stoic as she picked the right words.

  “But to have heard him say I do…” She trailed off and ran her hand through her hair.

  Blake touched his heart, perhaps remembering his own brush with death.

  “And that ring deserves another sixty years and more of love on it,” she said, gesturing toward the drawer. “I’d never say this out loud to anyone, but I guess we’re getting all touchy-feely: Livia? She’s the bravest chick I’ve ever met. Let her have it, Blake. Let her have what I never did.” Eve nodded and headed for his door.

  She let him catch up to open it for her, knowing his chivalrous behavior gave him peace.

  “I’ll be here tomorrow.” Eve patted his forearm.

  Blake took a deep breath and nodded.

  It took an entire week to actually get to Cup O’ Joe’s—even with the sun shields Livia had found for Blake. But Eve turned out to be just what he needed: a firm, uncompromising taskmaster. She always seemed to know how far to push him before she’d let him stop and try again the next day.

  One day Beckett asked her what her trick was.

  “His pupils,” she answered immediately. “When a man gets so scared he’s close to losing his mind, his pupils dilate.” She shrugged. “When he gets there, we get to shade.”

  Over the next few weeks, Blake grew stronger and began to set aside his coverings. Now better able to see him, Eve studied him closely as they walked. His eyes never stopped watching the faces of those passing by. He seemed truly astounded that they had no reaction to the sight of him. They couldn’t see his past etched into his skin.

  The day Blake finally made it to the coffee shop uncovered, h
e and Eve touched paper cups of steaming brew in a toast. And they talked for a long time about his mother and what had made his skin glass. Eve tried her best to listen for him the way he’d absorbed her story about David. He seemed to be gaining some perspective on his situation, which Eve believed to be as crucial as the minutes that ticked by with sun on his skin, right out in public.

  As they left, Eve watched him slide the coffee sleeve off the drink and put it in his pocket.

  After they’d walked a few blocks, she questioned him. “Why’d you keep the sleeve?”

  Blake pulled out the cardboard and looked down at it. “Just to remember I could do it.”

  Eve grabbed it from him quickly, ripped it in half, and threw it in a trashcan on the sidewalk. Blake held his hands up and gave her a What the hell? look.

  “Don’t tie your success to anything other than what’s inside you.” She stepped up to him and gently patted his heart. “You did this, Blake. You. Not the coffee, not me, not Livia. You did this.”

  Blake nodded. He motioned for her to continue walking, and she did.

  Building up suited Eve much better than tearing down ever did. She recounted Blake’s careful steps for Beckett each day when she returned to him at the current safe house in the evenings. There was little else she could do to ease the frustration of his imprisonment, other than tend to the sexual beast in him.

  A couple weeks later Blake worked up to walking to the coffee shop by himself—and most other places too. Eve had watched from behind a tree the afternoon she found him sitting on the patio, just basking in the sun. That very night Blake had proposed to Livia with their great-grandmother’s ring. And Livia had said yes.

  Eve had been thrilled, with only a tinge of regret, as Blake recounted his betrothal and early wedding plans over their coffee that day. But now Eve grew uneasy. She had to tell Beckett there was another wedding to attend from a distance. Blake had refused to appoint anyone else as best man. He said it was Beckett’s place, whether he filled it or not. Cole would officiate.

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