Special thanks to Ann McConnell for the great artwork!
Author's notes: Just read it slowly.
I step nearer to him and feel his arms wrap around me as we begin a slow shuffle. At first he is awkward and there is no pressure in his embrace. He is giving me the chance to change my mind. I could break away from him with no effort at all, if that were what I wanted. It's casual. Non-personal. Formal, even. But I don't change my mind. I don't break away, and soon I feel his hold change. A small change but a significant one - from hesitant to certain.
I settle my hands on his broad shoulders and his hands touch my back lightly. I feel the hand at the small of my back pulling me just the tiniest bit closer and I shift to narrow the space between us. His hold on me is still undemanding, still casual, just . . . pleasant. I savor being held by him, however lightly, as I savor any touch from him. His touch is usually brief and purposeful. This time, though, his hand stays - its soft heat traveling through my clothes to my skin - and allows me to relish the sensation.
We sway together and I feel surrounded by him. He fills my field of vision. His arms are around me, his thigh occasionally brushing mine. I note the line and texture of his throat just inches from my nose. One of his hands rests just under my shoulder blade, warming me more than it should. I am close enough that with just the smallest stretch of my hand I could "fix" a lock of his hair that's not really out of place. I seriously consider it, anticipating the feeling of his silky-rough hair sliding through my fingers.
Then I feel the hand on my lower back begin to move and every other thought leaves my head. His fingers take up a slow, soft rhythm, brushing in circles across my skin as if my clothing isn't there.
Exhilaration zings through me, radiating from my spine and sending distinct tingles to my fingertips and toes. I'm sure I have stopped breathing for a minute. I concentrate very hard on letting my breath out without uttering the sound that is trying to force its way from my throat.
Circle . . . circle . . . circle . . .
It is the tiniest movement, not even particularly intimate, but my telltale heart doesn't know that. It is pounding ferociously in my chest. I feel certain that if I looked down, I could see the fabric of my blouse jolting and my skin pulsing with every beat.
How can he do this? Have I ever felt this intense reaction to anyone's touch before? Every stroke of his fingers feels like it was designed and tested to elicit this response from me. I shift my gaze and catch the extraordinary contrast between my skin and his dark suit. I notice that I have goose bumps all over my arms and I suddenly feel them run over my entire body, the tiny muscles under my skin contracting in response to the delicious, too-faint pressure of his fingers.
Circle . . . circle . . . circle . . .
I can feel my eyes wanting to close, my head wanting to droop. I keep it upright with an effort, but my eyelids feel heavy, lethargic. I try to keep them open but they obey me slowly and then return to half-mast. I can feel movement around us but the shift of his hand is my focal point. After an exquisite eternity he slows the movement, his hand eventually stilling. I almost have time to regret the cessation, but then I feel his palm flatten against me, his fingers spread wide. The feel of his hand covering me is totally voluptuous and I move a little closer to him, closing the gap a bit more.
I risk a glance up at him and encounter his eyes, dark and intense. I smile a little and he nods a little and then . . . I can't look away. I'm trapped in his eyes. His smile, soft and warm, is shining out at me from his eyes. I want to study his features to figure out how he does it, smiling so brilliantly without moving a muscle, but I am mired in the sticky depths of his gaze.
I suddenly feel overwhelmed by what I see in him, but more, by what I am sure he can see in me. With a monumental effort I wrench my eyes away from his. I concentrate on the line of his shirt collar against his neck. I feel the muscles under my hands shift as he bends his head down to mine and rests against my temple. I can't help myself. I need to feel the warmth of his skin. I turn my face and settle my cheek comfortably to his. I can hear his breath in my ear and am pleased to note that his is as strident as mine.
How can I react like this to him? I am a grown woman who has been held by enough men to know that this . . . awareness . . . is not common. That the sensations I am feeling would be absent - or less - if it were anyone else holding me. That his tantalizingly slow movements would just annoy me in another man. But from him, it is the perfect pace. If his fingers brushing the skin of my back makes my heart pound and my skin ripple, if his lightest touch can garner this response, I want to enjoy every tiny step. I want to let each moment exhaust its pleasure before we move on.
He moves his jaw a little, rasping his stubbly cheek against my soft one. Shivers rush through me and I feel his arms tighten, slowly drawing me closer. His hands slide across my back as his arms wrap fully around me, cocooning me in his heat and scent. His arms are crossed over my back. His fingers drift against my ribs lightly and then more firmly, sketching random patterns of delight across my ultra-sensitive skin.
This time the caress is just that, a caress. Deliberate and devastating. My head flops back on my suddenly limp neck. I pull it upright, but like my eyelids, my muscles are feeling sluggish and uncooperative.
I am pressed to him tightly now, sealed to him from cheekbone to thigh. When he moves, I move. Every inch of my body feels sensitized and my nerves are screaming. My eyes close and my arms slide farther around his neck as he drapes himself over me, bending impossibly far to nuzzle the spot where my neck meets my shoulder. I tilt my head against his, wanting to hold him there, to link him to me. One of my hands drifts to the back of his head and my fingers finally slide through the hair that has tempted me so many times. I feather it over and over, scraping my fingernails gently against his scalp until I feel a shudder rack his shoulders. I smile to myself, primally satisfied by his reaction to my touch.
I have wanted this for so long; I have needed to be a little nearer, to have a little more. I feel him everywhere now, his harsh breath in my ear, his chest hard against my softness, his knee insinuating itself between mine with each small step. I want to stay like this forever, wrapped up in his strong arms and unique essence.
My wandering fingers brush past his collar and I don't even try to resist the urge to touch more of him. I slide my fingers down the back of his neck and dip them as far as they will reach into the confines of his white collar. It feels strangely, intensely intimate. I have touched much more of him than this before. I've tended to wounds both physical and emotional. So why is it that this little contact of skin on skin can make me feel so carnal?
I'm still contemplating this question when I feel his arm pulling away from me. I begin to panic, but his other arm still holds me tight and I realize that he's not ending this delicious interlude just yet. His hand pulls across my shoulder blades and then down my side to rest on my waist. I feel his arm moving with the sway of my hip. He tucks his fingertips under the hem of my blouse and sudden heat slams through my body as his thumb brushes back and forth over the bare skin of my side.
This time I can't stifle my gasp and I almost feel absurd for my reaction until I hear a corresponding moan rumble through him.
My feet stop moving and my head falls forward onto his shoulder. I know my mouth is gaping, my jaw muscles slack as I try to breathe, but I don't care. All I feel is that point of contact, one thumb and one tiny patch of skin. I foolishly think to myself that it must be new skin because if it had ever been touched before, it would not feel so sensitive. Would certainly not send these signals of something better-than-heat and not-quite-electricity to my overwhelmed brain.
I feel him urging me to move again, to take up our shuffle where I left it. I can barely make my feet obey me. I feel his arm tighten just a little when I lose the rhythm of the music, but his thumb never stops its back and forth seduction.
I can't concentrate. I can't control or even gauge my reactions. I know that I have never felt like this before; I could never forget this feeling. Instead of the cool controlled woman I am proud to be, I feel visceral - just a pile of nerves, a collection of instincts.
His hand slides a fraction of an inch higher, then a little higher. With each new movement, I feel my breath grow more ragged and harsh and my muscles less willing to move. As his fingers move against my skin - first just one, then two and three - I know beyond a doubt that I will never get my fill of his touch. And I know that I will never want the touch of another man. I have been touched by men before. I have a fair basis for comparison. But those memories seemed pallid and flavorless in comparison to this simple, overwhelming connection.
He draws his hand away until just his fingertips are floating along my skin. It almost tickles, but I wouldn't flinch away from him even if I could. I have lost track of my feet, but I know that he is steering me. I want to touch more of him. I fill my hungry palms with his shoulders, running them over him as far as I can reach without relinquishing my hold on him, regretting the layers of clothing between my skin and his. I feel a tremor run through him and his shoulders heave with a deep breath.
I continue caressing his back and shoulders with one hand and slide my other through his hair. I let my hand rest on the column of his neck, covering his warm skin with my palm and investigating the amazingly soft skin behind his ear with my fingertips. The sound he makes when I caress him is more of a grunt than a groan, and is just as satisfying.
As if mimicking my hand's clasp on his neck, he finally presses his whole hand to my side, his thumb reaching for my navel and his fingers stretching around to the valley of my spine. The heat from his skin burns me and I think I grunt myself. His palm is hard and I am at once satisfied and hungry.
Oh, there will be no pretending to ourselves with this. In no way can this be considered a dance between friends. We are holding each other with fierce possessiveness and a need that cannot be mistaken. And this close together, he can't possibly misinterpret my reactions to his touch, nor his to mine. This will change things. It's not what I expected to do the trick, but the trick is done.
I feel his arms relax their hold and his hand slips from my side, leaving my skin feeling cold and bereft. I clutch at him and mutter, "No," trying to keep him close to me, not wanting reality to intrude on us.
He instantly wraps me up again, pulling me even closer, until I can't breathe. I don't complain. We keep swaying and then, in a rough voice I have never heard from him before, he says, "The music stopped."