Authors: Stephanie Rowe
Tags: #Ever After#2
Those dark, expressive eyebrows of hers shot up, and she lifted her chin. "Beautiful sunsets get my adrenaline going."
"Do they?" They were so close to each other that he could feel the heat from her body. "Shouldn't they calm your soul and ease the stress from your body?" He moved closer, easing across the boulder. "Are you afraid of me, Astrid? I won't hurt you."
She blinked, and he saw doubt flicker across her face again. "Don't touch me," she whispered.
Instead of moving his fingers away from her throat, he traced her collarbone. Goose bumps popped up on her skin, and she sucked in her breath.
Awareness leapt through him at her transparent response, at the realization she was as affected by the touch as he was. Sudden desire blasted through him, along with raw, physical need that leapt straight to his loins. Jason froze, shocked by the pulse of desire that shot through him. Son of a bitch. He hadn't responded to a woman in years.
"Jesus, Astrid," he whispered. "What is it about you?"
She shook her head once, her eyes so wide that he could read every nuance of her emotions. Unexpected, powerful desire, coupled with a fear so deep that it came from her soul. Excitement. Anticipation. Uncertainty. Vulnerability. "It's not me," she whispered. "It's you."
He spread his hand over the back of her neck, basking in the sensation of her skin beneath his palm. She felt so alive, vibrating with life, and yet at the same time, her skin was so delicate and soft that protectiveness surged through him. A need to be the strong male and take care of her, in the way that his former wife had never allowed him to do. His fingers tightened on her neck and he drew her closer. "No. It's both of us."
Astrid braced her palm on his chest, blocking him. "Don't," she said. "Please, don't."
"I can't help it." He couldn't tear his gaze off her eyes, off the myriad of expressions racing through them. He couldn't breathe. He felt like his soul was screaming with desperation, frantic for one chance, one moment, one kiss with this woman. As if the brush of her lips could save him from the free fall threatening to consume him. "I need to kiss you, Astrid. Now."
* * *
It felt so good to be touched.
Astrid had forgotten what it felt like to have a man's hand on her skin. To feel the warmth of another human touch. To feel the sensual caress of his fingers across her skin. To stare into the eyes of a man who was looking at her as if she was the only thing on the entire earth that mattered to him.
She'd never belonged. She'd never fit in. She'd spent a lifetime on the fringe, trying desperately to find that niche that felt right, struggling to figure out what she had to do to become accepted, to be admitted into the club of belonging. She'd thought she was on her way in this town, but the eviction had changed everything.
Home was an illusion. A sense of place that was an elusive illusion that never came true. And yet, standing there on her favorite rock, beside her favorite house, under the glow of a beautiful sunset, she'd always found peace and solace.
But to be here, with Jason's fingers caressing her neck, his body so close against hers, and to see such desperate need in his dark eyes...she felt like she'd finally come home, as if this were the moment she'd been running desperately toward her whole life.
"Kiss me, Astrid," he whispered, his voice deep and rough as it rolled through her. "I need it."
I need it.
The raw truth of his words plunged past her defenses, and tears filled her eyes. The depth of his pain was so evident, a reflection of the constant ache in her own soul. They were the same, this flashy doctor from New York and the transient from a thousand different towns. He understood her, and she understood him, because they were the same.
Yearning swelled through her, a need to fall into his spell and let him sweep her away from her life, from the memories, from the terrifying thought of losing her home. For a minute, for a day, for however long it lasted, she knew that Jason could fill that emptiness inside her, and she knew she could fill his.
His hand grew heavy around the back of her neck, asking her to yield, to allow him to pull them together.
"I can't," she whispered, even as her body succumbed to his unspoken request, letting him tug her against him. Her breasts touched his chest, and electricity leapt through her, a sudden pulse of desire so intense she felt her blood burn through her veins.
Jason's eyes darkened, and she could feel the steady beat of his heart against her chest. "I came here to find you," he said, his voice rough with emotion that plunged straight into her heart. "I knew it the moment you walked into my restaurant."
Astrid swallowed, fighting to stay above the swell of desire and need trying to consume her. "I don't even know you. You're a stranger—"
He brushed his lips across the corner of her mouth, and Astrid closed her eyes, her body soaring at the tender intimacy of the touch. Dear God, how long had it been since a man had kissed her like that? As if she were a treasure that he planned to spend the entire night cherishing, inch by inch by inch?
"We're not strangers," he whispered as he kissed the other side of her mouth. "Can't you feel the connection of our souls? As if an invisible thread has been pulling us together and we finally were able to find each other? It's like our souls have been incomplete, and now they've found the part that was missing."
Astrid squeezed her eyes shut and gripped Jason's shoulders as he trailed a row of the most delicate kisses along her jaw. "I don't believe in that kind of thing," she whispered, unable to keep the emotion out of her voice. Dear God, the words he was saying were so beautiful, she wanted to cry. How could there be someone saying those kinds of things to her? And sounding like he meant it? She wanted it to be real, to be able to open her eyes and discover that this man, with all his depth and his passion and his fire, really meant it, that something had happened to her to make this really be true. But it wasn't. She knew it wasn't. She didn't live in a fantasy world anymore. She knew better than to delude herself. "Life is just a series of incidents you survive—"
"Fuck that." Jason pulled back, and she opened her eyes to see fire blazing in his. "I won't live like that anymore. I fucking won't. And you shouldn't either."
She stared at him, and for the first time in forever, she felt a breath of hope. "I don't want to," she whispered. "I want the magic and the fairytale."
He grinned, a wicked smile that plunged right to her soul, and she knew in that moment that Jason was her magic. He was her fairytale. He was her moment.
His smile faded, and raw desire flashed in his eyes at her expression. His fingers tightened on the back of her neck, and his other hand slid down her back and wrapped around her lower back. One quick tug, and her hips were against his, the hardness of his erection pressing into her belly.
She swallowed, and she knew this time, she wasn't going to stop him. She needed this man. She needed to be touched by a man who saw her pain and answered it with his own. She needed to be kissed by this tormented male who was so desperate for what she could give him.
He wanted nothing from her, nothing but to find relief from his demons, which was exactly what she needed too.
This time, he didn't ask. This time, when he lowered his head, she knew it wasn't going to be a demure kiss on the corner of her mouth. This time, he was going to unleash all that depth inside of him into the kind of kiss she'd been waiting for.
And she was ready.
The moment his lips touched hers, Jason knew he was lost to Astrid, to the kiss, to the passion that exuded from her.
He couldn't keep the kiss gentle. He couldn't be the refined suitor. He couldn't offer the restraint he'd always shown when he kissed a woman. Everything was lost the moment he kissed Astrid, everything that had defined him his entire life. Gone was the discipline, the focus, the dignity. In its place was a raw, untamed passion that tore through him like an inferno gone mad, and it felt unbelievable.
Astrid's body was warm and soft against his, her breasts crushed against his chest, her kiss just as fervent as his. He could taste her need, and he knew that she burned for it as much as he did, as if he was the very same relief for her that she was for him.
Lust raced through him at the realization that she needed him, that the kiss wasn't a one-sided, empty routine offered only to appease him. God, no, Astrid's fingers were clenched in his hair, her mouth as desperate as his, her body burning with the same heat that was searing his veins.
He slipped his hand beneath her tank top and spread his palm over the bare skin of her back. Electricity seemed to burn his palm, and Astrid trembled against him. Her response was intoxicating, the way she welcomed his touch and deepened her kiss when he gripped her hips, the way she whispered his name so frantically against his lips, the way she tore his shirt out of his jeans and slipped her hands beneath the fabric.
"Jesus, Astrid," he almost lost his footing on the rock at the feel of her hands on his bare chest. God, it had been so long since he'd been touched like that, since a woman had run her hands over his skin as if she couldn't get enough. She was the light that he'd been searching for, the one that would tear through the blackness trying to consume him. She was the passion that had died from his soul so long ago, before Lucas had died, back when his marriage had started to decay, before his wife had died while he stood there and let her go—
"Shit!" The guilt and the loneliness flooded back over Jason, tearing him away from the respite Astrid had given him. Son of a bitch. He didn't want to go back there. He couldn't go back there. He wouldn't survive it.
Suddenly, the kiss with Astrid wasn't enough. The kiss, the clothes, the skin. He needed more. He needed all of Astrid. He needed to bury himself so deeply in her that the past wouldn't be able to destroy him. She was his beacon, his guide to get where he was struggling so hard to go, and he was losing his grip on her.
With a growl, Jason scooped her up in his arms and tumbled them both off the rock onto his lawn. He didn't let them land on their feet. He took them all the way down to the earth, trapping Astrid beneath him without even breaking the kiss.
The grass was cool and damp on Astrid's back, the soft blades like nature's blanket cradling her as Jason lowered himself on top of her. His body was heavy and hard, his kiss relentless and intoxicating, his shoulders rippling with muscle beneath her fingers. He was all male, so strong and powerful, and he seemed to know exactly how to kiss her, how to touch her, how to ignite the part of her that made her a woman.
It had been so long since she'd been with a man, and it felt so unbelievable to be held and kissed with such passion, as if his entire soul was burning for her. And she knew it was. Maybe it was just for this moment, for this connection that had brought them together, but she had felt the depth of his pain and his need for her, and she knew that every kiss and every touch was real, that his need wasn't a lie, that Jason was as desperate for her as she was for him.
Not just for sex. But for
Tears filled her eyes, and warmth seemed to blossom in her chest, chasing away years of aching loneliness, loss and guilt.
"God, Astrid. I need more." He broke the kiss, his dark eyes riveted to her face as he tugged her tank over her head. "I feel like I can't breathe without you." Then he was on her again, tearing off her bra between kisses, as if he couldn't stay off her long enough to disrobe her.
Then his mouth closed on her breast, and she gasped, shocked at how amazing it felt, by the intensity of her body's response to him. It was as if he had the magic key to her soul, and his every touch and every kiss triggered another level of response from her. Her body felt out of control, twisting and writhing as he grazed his teeth over her nipple. Never had it been like this before. She'd always been in control with a man, too much control. Never had anyone been able to wrest her away from her mind and thrust her into a haze of desire and lust, of feeling so intense that reality seemed to disappear, until all that was left was skin and desire and passion and
This wasn't sex. This was
Somehow, someway, this stranger from New York had reached into her soul and found a way to call to the depth of who she was. He'd taken her away from the noise of her mind, from the ache of her heart, and carried her into a world of magic and passion.
Need pulsed at her, a need so deep she couldn't even name it, but Jason seemed to understand. Without words, without an acknowledgment of what they both needed, he unfastened her jeans and tugged them off, his dark eyes fastened on her as he ditched his own pants.
Astrid caught her breath as she watched him. His body was lean and well-muscled, no wasted fat, just raw, hard male. His chest was dappled with hair, his quads rippling with muscle. Jason grinned as he lowered himself back onto her. "Every man dreams of being looked at the way you just looked at me." He cupped her face, and she saw something flash in his eyes. Vulnerability. Naked, agonizing vulnerability. "Thank you, Astrid."
And this time, when he kissed her, it was more than passion. It was more than lust. There was a tenderness that made her throat tighten. How could this man feel as empty as she did? How was it possible there was someone else who seemed to understand how she felt, who seemed to need her as much as she needed him? She didn't understand how she could have found the man who understood, who lived in the same hell she lived in.
"Kiss me," Jason said, his mouth hovering over hers. "Kiss me, sweet Astrid. Let me take away your shadows."
She couldn't stop the tears this time as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Damn you, Jason. No one is supposed to notice my shadows." And no one had ever offered to take them away.