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The Works and Days of Hands

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The Works and Days of Hands

In the split second before speech, Tony felt breath on his ear. Every bit of him tensed in the presence of the ghost of another life.

"Don't move. You don't know me," the voice whispered. The words kept him pinned in place, but the voice snapped him back, not just to the time before what had happened, but to the Before that came first and the aching absence that structured the years in between.

He did not turn, and he did not look, but as he listened to that voice order coffee and a roll he couldn't help fingering the case file in his lap, internally shouting in triumph. As the moment stretched on and coffee and roll steadily disappeared, his breaths quickened until his shallow gasps threatened to give way to the torrent of questions, demands, supplications, and declarations which had piled up in the years of anticipating this moment. In the shadowy edge of his peripheral vision he saw the vehement shake of one finely manicured finger and forced himself to wait one more second, one more minute, one more hour, one more day - however long it took for her to be safe. What else was this all for, Tony, if you make her unsafe? His hand spasmed under the counter and clenched the cuff of his long coat sleeve where it lay across his palm, retreating even further inside where it could not succumb to the temptation to touch.

He sat there with her for an endless age, and in the lull could almost forget that they had ever been apart. They were here on holiday, as they'd wistfully dreamed together so many times. He'd gone to sleep thinking of cases, students, travel brochures, and her, and woken up to the sound of a ringing phone, secure in the belief that she would be on the other end wanting to speak with him of local history, cases, breakfast, and their plans. He closed his eyes and he could see them meeting that morning and every morning before, spiraling out years into the past, bleary with sleep but lit from the inside out by each other's presence. He opened his eyes, the memory of warmth in his chest, the phantom touch of a comfort he had taken for granted.

In the corner of his eye the finely manicured finger shook once again, as if to dispel the fog of fantasy, and nudged a piece of paper toward him. He knew not to open it until she left. That reminder of the danger of their circumstances brought him back to the present with a jolt. The paper laid heavily on the counter between them, weighed down by what she'd done, what he'd done, and the passage of time.

Letting her walk away without reaching out to stop her, without calling her name, without any certainty that they would see each other again took every bit of resolve he possessed. It felt like the most wrong thing he'd ever done. Really, Tony? The *most* wrong? But he smothered the urge to drop his file folder on his unfinished eggs and careen after her, painstakingly measuring the moments between tell tale urgency and nonchalance, which could give the game away. At last he counted out familiar pounds printed in unfamiliar patterns and snatched up the note to hurry back to his hotel where he could read in privacy.

The paper was small, but he had hoped for an explanation, some indication that seeing him again meant something to her, even if it wasn't the same as the frenzy of doubt, anger, and elation that made him fumble his key three times before the electronic lock agreed to allow him into his room. Instead, when he at last opened the paper, all he found written there was "Calton Hill, Dugald Stewart, 3:45pm," and the sickening sense of disappointment and crashing adrenaline weakened his knees as he sank to the floor.


He'd seen Carol again.

He'd seen Carol again and she'd hardly seemed to know him.

How could she, Tony, after what you've done? She never knew who you really are.

He shook his head to clear the thought. This wasn't about him, it was about Carol. He opened the file and pulled out a well worn newspaper clipping, dated a few months ago. He skimmed it once again, reabsorbing bits about the dissolution of the police exchange between Britain and South Africa, eyes drawn to the line that stated "All British police personnel will return to their previous postings," but which to him read only as "Carol will return to Bradfield."

And yet, Carol had not returned to Bradfield.

For the first few days after the appearance of that article he expected her to walk through the doors of the station at any moment. But as the days passed and she did not come, he chalked up his growing unease to the realization that she could have been transferred or promoted nearly anywhere, not to the letter from CID headquarters demanding a formal psychiatric evaluation that he binned with unnecessary force, nor to the uneasy glances Alex kept casting in his direction until the day he took a formal leave of absence from police work during his university sabbatical and she said it was for the best. He needed the extra time to find Carol, that was all.

Returning the clipping to its place, Tony flipped through the assembled scraps of Carol's life: banking records, phone calls, plane tickets, visa applications. After six years of police work he'd gained a grudging respect for the power of a paper trail. According to his records, Carol had left South Africa almost two years ago, long before the end of the exchange made her position redundant. But she hadn't come home.

Instead, he held a long trail of border crossings, zig-zagging across Europe. If a pattern structured her wanderings, all that he could see was the avoidance of anywhere even remotely near the Northwest of England, and a trail of high profile arrests containing no mention of her name, yet which followed in her footsteps. No real pattern until three months ago, when a series of trips to Edinburgh began, leading him here, to those traffic cam photos of her going to breakfast every morning at a tiny café off the Royal Mile.

He spread all the pieces of her out in front of him on the rough hotel carpet, waiting for a picture of her to emerge, reorganizing and reordering them, trying to force these traces of her to tell him why Edinburgh, why that café? Why not Bradfield? Trying to ready himself to meet her on Calton Hill and say all the things that had gone so long unsaid.

Nothing clicked into place. Nothing focused. He could answer all the questions except the one he was trained to answer: He knew where she had been, with whom, and doing what, but why had she done it? Why leave South Africa before her deployment ended? What you mean is, why leave Bradfield in the first place? But Tony, be honest, you've always known.

He dropped the folder in a flutter of clippings and stalked to the sink to wash away the cloying tug of memory. Drying his face with a hand towel, he looked into the mirror, into his own eyes, and shuddered as he descended the fractured depths he found there. These eyes are new eyes; she does not know them. These hands are red hands; they must not touch her. He backed away from the mirror, watching the man reflected there with a curious, cautious tilt of his head, until he carefully shut the door between them, and turned to leave him behind.


He arrived on Calton Hill long before their meeting, and took a winding path through the cemetery as the sky darkened in an early, near-solstice sunset. He peered between the wings of angels and the gaps in worn monuments to watch the lights of the city blink to life. The Royal Mile glowed, a glittering river flowing from the castle in the distance to the parliament just below. When she appeared, her bone-white hair glowed as well, and he wondered now at all the little changes such a short time had scrawled across her body. The harshly bleached hair matched her pinched, thin cheeks, and the resolute cut of her black coat. He reflected on his own unchanged appearance, puffy parka, blue bag, and scuffed loafers all still in attendance. Yet what mattered, of course, lay beneath.

She approached slowly and did not stop until she stood quite close. He froze under her scrutiny as she studied every inch of his form, until finally a rueful smile split her face.

"Oh Tony," she said, reaching out to cup his cheek with her gloved hand. "What's happened? You look dreadful."

Perhaps not so unchanged after all, he thought, but he had little time to dwell on the miscalculation because she drew him to her, wrapping her arms around him and resting her chin on his shoulder. He gasped and his arms hung limp for an interminable interval before elation won a pitched battle with shock, and he allowed himself to forget and sink into the sensation of warmth and oneness. His arms wrapped around her and he threw himself into the gesture, clinging with a tinge of desperation, although his hands remained balled inside of his jacket sleeves. Her solid frame easily absorbed his agitation, and she held them steady, one hand smoothing up and down his back, forcing relaxation into his tense, resisting muscles. She would let go at any moment, he thought, but she did not, and so they stood, wrapped up in each other long after the interval required for a reunion between estranged friends, until he sighed and melted further into the strength of her arms.

"I missed you," she whispered, and he shuddered. Then why didn't you call? Why didn't you write? Why did you leave me? "I more than missed you," he replied.

Pulling back so they could see each other, she smiled in satisfaction, "But you've found me now. What took you so long?"

He looked away, and then quietly ventured, "I wasn't sure of my reception. I'd never made someone move half-way across the globe to get away from me before."

He did not hear her sigh, but he saw the icy smoke of her breath float into the space between them a second before her hand returned to his cheek to gently tip his head back up. "Tony, I didn't go to get away from you. I left to find out whether there was anything worth staying for."

Tony stared back in incomprehension, and she shook her head sadly as horrified understanding dawned across his features while the last of the sun faded across the horizon. "You were waiting for me to follow you," he gasped. "I was waiting for you to call and you were waiting for me to follow. All this time, I could have been with-" his voice broke and he painfully pulled in cold air past the bitter awareness that clenched his heart. "You were the first person to so definitively divide my life between before I knew you and after you left. It was a different era, a different world when you were gone. I'm a little slow with people who don't want to brutally murder anyone – It took me months to realize what I'd lost when I lost you."

"But now?" she asked intently, and he knew that this would be the start or the end of things. There would be one chance and he had to get it right this time. Their eyes locked and she asked, "Are you ready now? Are you finally ready for me?"

He winced. No more obfuscation, no more delay, no more sleight of hand. She had to know – maybe not the whole of it, but the heart of it, the heart of him. He thought of a day a lifetime ago when he had watched Carol in the sun, holding his own mortality in a jar, when he knew for the first time that he wanted nothing more than her. He thought of risk and paragliding and held on to that feeling while he leapt.

"I need you more than I'm afraid of anything else," he affirmed, and she trembled where her hands still lay on his shoulders, but he plunged on, because it was time for the truth. "But I am still afraid. You have to know what I've done, who I am, how my life has divided again since you left."

"Tell me" she whispered, and her eyes promised that she would catch him as he fell.

"I killed a patient."

He waited for her to see into him, to put together the pieces of his twisted, monstrous mind and recoil. He waited for his world to end again, for the last time.

"Angelica?" she asked incredulously.

"No, a new patient," he said, barely audible.

"And you just walked in one day and decided to kill him?" she prodded.

"Of course not," he spat, frustrated. Was she not taking this seriously? Did she not believe him capable of it?

"He was trying to kill you or someone else at the time, wasn't he, Tony? But you don't remember that part, you don't tell it that way." She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against his. He had to close his eyes as well. He couldn't focus with her face so near to his own, her mind so near the fracture in his own. Her voice didn't waiver as she continued evenly, "Did you enjoy it?"

He gasped and tried to pull away but she held him fast. He shook his head and hers shook with him. The words tumbled out frantically, "I don't know. I don't know what I felt. I was glad. He's dead and I'm alive. I felt his hands slip from my neck and the life fade from his eyes as I tightened my tie around his throat and I only squeezed tighter. I killed a monster and awoke one at the same time."

"I'm sorry," she cried, and he readied himself to watch her straighten and walk away down the path through the cemetery and slip away for good, vanishing between the gravestones. But she went on, "When I pulled you into my work I knew there would be risks, but I told myself that we needed you, that you were inured to the worst things human beings can do by your research and your patients. But you should never have had to go through what happened with Angelica, or with your student, and now this. We can deal with the bodies, the bad people, the relentless evil all around us, but it's when we're required to do the worst, that's every copper's nightmare. And I've plunged you into it."

He tried to protest, to tell her it had always been within him, but he was brought up short by the feeling of something hot and moist on his cheek. Surely not, surely he had not pushed Carol to tears.

She breathed deeply and her voice hardened, "Tony, when I asked if you enjoyed it, I don't mean to ask if you felt relieved, if you felt proud for taking a killer out of the world, if you felt triumph that you survived while he did not. Every copper who kills in self-defense feels that. It's ugly, and brutal, but we'll live through it. I only need to know this. Tell me the truth. Did it make you hard, Tony? Did you come when you saw his body? Do you look at people walking down the street and see corpses? Do you look at me and want to kiss my lips only when they're cold?"

He choked on disgust. "No," he coughed out, forcefully expelling the word. Are you lying Tony? Are you lying to yourself? He again tried to shake himself free from her hold as he tested himself, picturing Michael spread out beneath him, picturing her face drained of color, drained of life, drained of blood. He stumbled as the horror of it clenched his gut. "No," he pleaded. "No, no, no, no."

They sank to the ground together on shaky legs, and she placed a chaste kiss on his forehead. "I know, Tony. I've always known," she said simply, easily, with no trace of doubt. "And now you know it too."

"How do you know?" he implored. He brought his covered, balled fists between them and slowly pulled down his sleeves to reveal shaking fingers. "How do you know I won't hurt you with hands that have killed?"

She very deliberately covered his hands with her own, twisting their fingers together and replied, "These hands have killed too."

He looked at their entwined fingers, and despite Carol's admission could think of nothing but the times when her touch had soothed his restless thoughts, coaxed him away from a crime scene, and told him again and again that he was not alone. He leaned forward and kissed along the seam where their tainted, worn, gentle hands joined.

She tipped her head back in satisfaction at the long awaited feel of his lips. "I'll come back to Bradfield," she said. "One last case that we've nearly wrapped up, and I'll accept a transfer back to Bradfield."

The rush of gratitude and contentment overwhelmed him, making "thank you" sound woefully inadequate, but he offered it to her nonetheless.

She nodded, and her smile softened the stern lines of her thinned cheeks. Then she pulled back to stand and offered him a hand up. "I've got to go," she explained. "One last meeting should be the end of it. The suspect is about to crack."

"Tell me about the case," he demanded, chilled by a wave of sudden foreboding.

Her brows set into a frown and she opened her lips on a protest, but then she shrugged and offered, "I've been stringing him along for months, keeping him hooked on promises of a business deal and slightly higher slits in my dress. He's a smuggler and human trafficker, moving goods and people from Eastern Europe into the UK. I am supposedly in charge of a British operation which can set up his refugees with papers and short term underground employment." She shook her head, and added with a grimace, "Basically I run sweatshops and he supplies slave labor. It's a match made in heaven. Tonight he'll take me to dinner and the theater, then he'll finally show me his base of operations and we can nail the bastard."

His stomach churned and he knew something was off, in the same way he always recognized the particular imprint of a sick psyche in the details of a crime. "Whatever happens, no matter what your team plans or what you think might benefit the case, don't be alone with him tonight," he pleaded.

"What?" she sputtered, startled. "Tony, I've been alone with him before. My cover is solid."

He nodded in insistence and went on, "Yes, and he's been more aggressive each time. If this is the night when he shows you his operation, it's also the night when he'll stop taking no for an answer. He'll want all of you or nothing at all. Meet him at the restaurant, don't let him drive you. Say you've had a death threat and bring a bodyguard for extra security. Carry a wire in your purse. Anything to make sure that backup can be with you instantly if things go wrong."

She shook her head. "It could compromise the investigation, Tony. You know how it's done."

At once he straightened, drawing himself taut while his shoulders rolled back and his hands drew up along Carol's arms to settle on her clavicles as he crowded closer into her body. "I've wanted you for too long," he intoned, "and you've done nothing but tease. You can't expect me to go along with your plans and provide the benefit of my expertise without giving me anything in return." Swiftly he grasped her nape and forced her head back, exposing the long line of her neck. He leaned in to whisper across the delicate skin behind her ear, "You're strong, but I'm stronger. I'm going to have you, and nothing will stop me."

"Is that a promise?" she gasped.

He flinched and let go of her head, but insisted, "He'll be frustrated, desperate. You won't be safe with him tonight. Don't let your team put the case above your safety."

Their gazes locked, and she held him pinned in place by the fire in her eyes. "You make me that promise," she demanded. "You make me that promise, and I'll wear a wire."

His mouth went dry and panic thrummed through him as a wave of heat spread from his fingertips to his chest to his cock. He couldn't, couldn't possibly, and yet he heard himself say, "I promise."

She nodded solemnly. "Then I promise too," she said. "I'll keep him in public for as long as possible, I'll carry a wire, and I'll find you when it's done." With a last lingering look, she turned and began to wind her way back down the hill to the city below.

"How do you know where I'll be?" he called after her.

"Novotel, in the Old Town, room 214" she called back, turning to look over her shoulder. "I'm not a copper for nothing, and you never were able to spot a tail." Then with one last grin she walked down the lane and disappeared into the darkness.


He stood at his window where Edinburgh Castle shone under a hundred spotlights, rugged and beautiful, its rounded walls enclosing a great and terrible history. It should have captivated him, but all he could see was a winding passage somewhere by the docks, or in the New Town, where Carol lured a monster into the open. A trafficker doesn't see people, merely commodities, and Tony knew how Carol must look: a thing with the audacity to believe it couldn't be bought. She was an irresistible taunt.

Please wear the wire, Carol. Please keep your people close. Please have told them what I said. Please trust me again.

10pm – The theater let out at 10, so the critical time began when she would have to allow the suspect to take her away from the safety of strangers' eyes to find where he had hidden his guilt. Tony splayed one hand against the cool window as if he could send his presence to her by sheer force of will. Somewhere in the city beyond that glass Carol walked down an alleyway or through a cobbled close with a monster, but she wasn't alone; she knew he'd be watching. He slid his hand down the glass and hoped she could feel him there with her.

10:30pm – He thought about the look on her face when they'd first met and he'd gotten out of the car to speak with her just as she'd gotten in. He thought of the taste of her fingers when she'd stopped him making a fool of himself at the dry cleaner's. He thought of her face over the rim of a wine glass in the soft light of a fire. He thought of her spread out across a bed in a Parisian hotel on the weekend that never was. Logically, it was neurons randomly firing under the pressure of his tumor, but he couldn't believe that hallucination was random, and, real or not, he still remembered how she looked, naked, yearning, and beckoning for him.

11pm – An hour wasn't long to find a hidden criminal lair and then deal with the bureaucratic nightmare of processing one. The post-interviews and paperwork alone could take ages. But an hour was a very long time under torture, or in fear of your life, or lying alone bleeding. An hour was forever. He pictured the fuzzy moment when he'd first seen Angelica and recalled how the pain that burned through his shoulders felt like a vague buzz behind the roar of panic and desperation as he'd hung there, exposed. He remembered the moment when he'd given in to the agony of Matthew's lethal grip and stopped fighting, letting the air bubble out of his lungs and the water rush in. Where was Carol? He pushed away from the window and began to measure a path between the bed, the loo, the couch, and the window. The bed, the loo, the couch, the window. Bed, loo, couch, window. Where was Carol?

11:30pm – He rolled up his right sleeve. She's an excellent police officer. He rolled up his left sleeve. She's done just fine without you for three years across twelve countries and three continents. He unrolled his right sleeve. She carried the wire – she promised. He rolled his left sleeve even further up, and wandered the hotel room, completely askew.

11:45pm – He returned to the window to peer down at the maze of lanes and closes trickling down from the castle. Maybe he'd be able to see her coming.

11:55pm – This was stupid; she could come from any direction.

Midnight – Perhaps he should wait in the lobby? He set about in a frenzy of purposeful action, gathering his key, shoes, and jacket.

12:03am – Half way down the hallway, it occurred to him that after this long working undercover she might prefer to avoid the lobby and come through a service entrance. Damn. He returned to his room, and settled in to wait.

12:18am – The cold window against his cheek, tiny nameless people scurrying through the city below, Carol's scream, Angelica's fierce eyes, the castle's silent testimony to time's passage, a knock at the door, his loose button smooth under his fingers, a few lights slowly blinking out as the city slumbered, Carol slipping from unconsciousness into eternal sleep, the whirrr of the radiator scratching like fingernails down the oversensitive nerves along his spine, a knock at the door – Oh!

He bolted from the window, tripping over his discarded shoes, and lunged at the door. He missed the handle entirely on his first try, then yanked it open an inch to slam against the security chain, only to fumble with the little metal disc for an eternity until he could open the door again to see her standing there, fingers smothering a laugh that burst out once she saw him. He looked down to see one sleeve still pushed up to his bicep, one button hanging forlornly at the end of a long thread, and his pants creased in every conceivable direction. He drew his hand back through his hair and found it rumpled.

Carol said, "That's exactly how I pictured you, when I told myself what I was looking forward to."

She stepped into the room as the door clicked shut behind her and raised her hand to draw her knuckles across his lips, asking, "Were you there with me?"

"Yes" he said, and breathed in the same taste he remembered from her touch at a dry cleaner's six years ago.

"I knew you would be," she affirmed. "I knew you'd be watching as I put the wire in my purse, felt you just behind me as I told the team to stay closer than usual, to be ready to strike. And you were right, just the same as you used to be." Her lips twitched in humor and fondness, and he felt himself slip back into her life, just like that, back where he belonged. "He tried to hurt me, in his apartment," she continued, voice gone low and soft, "but I was prepared, and the team expected it. They came in the moment they heard my password through the wire. Of course, he was on the floor by then with the heel of my shoe nearly through his foot. Very dangerous to attack a woman in heels after taking your shoes off."

She pulled him to her and his hands slipped along the silk of her dress as she nuzzled into him. "Thank you," she said, and he thought of all the times she'd come storming in with Kevin, Paula, Don, and Annie to find him just in time. "You never have to thank me," he implored, "just let me stay." She pulled back to frame his face with both of her hands, meeting his eyes, and he saw her resolution. "For as long as you like," she said, and leaned in to deliver the kiss they'd deferred for six years.

She filled him completely, the feel of her hair vanishing into the smoothness of her silvery dress, the warmth of her skin where she held his neck, the smell of a perfume, a soap, a shampoo, an essence that he'd thought long forgotten, and the slick heat of her lips and tongue, biting, pulling, pressing into him and opening him up. He drowned in a cloud of her, startling when she tipped him back onto the bed, unaware they had moved, unaware of anything but the hundred places on his body that could feel, smell, hear, and taste her. She straddled him as they kissed and slid over him, dragging her breasts down his chest and pressing her thigh into his hardening cock. He groaned and tried to hold on, but she slipped through his fingers like smoke, so he surrendered himself to the assault on his buttons and her softly commanding lips.

She heaved and pulled his shirt free from his trousers, only to find herself thwarted by an undershirt and the logistics of removing both in their current position. She flipped them over and he found himself looming above her as she pulled his shirts over his head. For a moment, all was white as the shirts blinded him. When he was free he looked down where his hands bracketed her face on the bed, and saw a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. He saw a different face beneath him, felt meaty fingers clutch his throat and gasped as he reached out to pull and pull and pull until that face purpled, manic eyes daring him to pull again, to end him.

He blinked, and there was Carol again, looking up at him with fire and longing, and there, his hands framing her face. He went cold and still, and he knew she felt it as his cock softened against her hip.

"Tony?" she questioned, and he pulled away, turned his back to her, collapsed in on himself. She would leave now, or perhaps offer to try again later, but there would be no later when the monsters inside of him quieted. He thought of her ex-boyfriends: the tall, broad-shouldered lawyer, and the one he'd never seen who'd nearly gotten her pregnant. You thought you could do this for her? Be this for her? Oh Tony, what a joke.

Warm silk and hot skin enveloped him from behind, cradling his constricted body, and her nails pricked his sides while the point of her chin coaxed the tense line of his shoulder into release. It seemed hollow and meaningless, but he couldn't hold in the plea. "I'm sorry," squeezed out of his heavy chest. She whispered, "You don't ever have to apologize to me. Just stay."

"But-" he began, and her fingers rested over his lips to silence him. She held him for a moment before she spoke again.

"Do you think I only want you for your cock?"

He breathed in sharply, but did not reply.

"Do you want to please me Tony?" she teased and he moaned in frustration.

"Of course," he replied weakly.

Her fingers left his mouth to rub warm circles into his leaden knuckles. "Then these would do just as well," she told him. Her fingers left his hand and returned to play at the seam of his lips, "And this," she insisted arching her back to rub herself against him in one long cat-like slide. "I'll show you, then there's all the time in the world for me to learn how to please you." She gripped his shoulders and encouraged him to turn, to look into her still radiant face. Not ashamed, not disappointed. He couldn't breathe. Hope had lodged too heavily in his throat.


She moved back to lay herself out on the bed, shimmery fabric bunched around her like a silvery aura to expose the flesh of her thigh, the swell of a breast. She held one hand out, beckoning him forward, and the doubleness of it caught him. "Tell me about what we did when we were in Paris," she prompted, and although he didn't know if he'd ever say the words, he admitted to himself then that he loved her.

"We slipped away for a long weekend," he explained, moving alongside her. "We never left the hotel. Soft light streamed in through the windows across a bed where you lay in a pile of cream sheets. There was a table with roses and the remains of champagne, and oysters, and chocolate. We made love all weekend," he stopped to break his eyes from her gaze, looking instead at where his hand rested on her abdomen, "and you still held out your arm to pull me back."

She tickled the delicate skin between the fingers of that hand and said, "Of course I did, Tony, of course. And how did we make love? How did I touch you?"

His arms straining against the headboard, his nipples on fire in her grasp, her smell, her body, her possessive touch everywhere, and himself lost in the center of it all.

"You pushed me into the mattress," he moaned, "and you touched me like, like-"

"Like you belong to me?" she asked softly, and the hairs at the back of his neck prickled as he closed his eyes and inhaled sharply. Then suddenly the world shifted and he found himself flat on his back, his hands immobile above him, Carol's body covering every inch of him. "Don't move them," she said as she released his wrists, "not because I'm making you or demanding it of you, but because you want to. This is what you want, isn't it, Tony?" He could not speak, could only look at her with wonder and the dawning blush of arousal, but his countenance said yes clearly enough, so she smiled knowingly, and leaned back to kneel over his thighs.

Reaching down she pulled her dress slowly up her legs, past little lace panties, over the smooth skin of her torso, and over her head, revealing small rounded breasts topped by rosy nipples. The dress must have fallen to the ground, but he could see only her, the broad expanse of her shoulders, the long planes and sharp angles of her, and his arms strained in delicious self-denial of the urge to touch. She leaned low and kissed from his brow to his lips, where she plundered with hunger that shattered him. Then she left his lips to tease a path down his neck to his clavicle where she nibbled delicately before asking, "Do you want my teeth on you, Tony? I think you do."

"Yes," he gasped. When she bit down, bruising him, he bucked and nearly unseated her. She abandoned the mark to find his peaked nipples and he looked down his body to watch her contemplating them, savoring the sharp sense of anticipation as she decided his fate.

"I think you'd like my nails too," she speculated darkly, and pinched one nipple between the nails of her thumb and forefinger. The sensation sliced through him like a knife and he could barely think, barely breathe as she pinched and suckled, nibbled and bit across his chest, leaving him swollen and aching, filled with want.

Before he could even register the shift her hand grasped him through his pants and he realized for the first time that he'd been hard since she pushed his wrists into the bed. She worked at his belt and suddenly it was all too slow, all too little. She pulled down his pants and boxers and he released little noises of protest at the delay, fingers gripping tight against the sheets. He watched as she removed her panties, returned to the bed, and dragged her fingers from his ankles to his knees with agonizing slowness. By the time she'd lowered herself to cover him once again his whole body quaked. She grasped his right hand where it clutched desperately above his head and brought it down between them, touching herself with him, rubbing their joined hands along his cock then through the lips of her sex. She spasmed and let out little desperate pants above him, while their lips met awkwardly, seeking each other but too overwhelmed for dexterity.

Then she stilled their hands, arranged two of his fingers together, and plunged them inside of her. Her hips circled and shook, pulling him in, wrapping him in heat and passion. "Tony," she cried, "Tony," and the intensity of her desire swallowed him whole.

She adjusted his thumb to rub against her clit, and moaned. "I'm going to come shockingly hard any second now. Do you want it this way, or do you want to be in me?" she asked.

"I want to feel you everywhere around me," he said as he withdrew his hand. She flung herself up, toying with her own breasts as she positioned herself over his cock and sank down, engulfing him completely. There was no breath left for words, only the slick sound of their bodies striving against each other and their rapid breath. His hand found her clit just as his world whited out and bliss steamed through his body, blocking out even his awareness of her. He only vaguely registered her continued pressing against his fingers and spent cock until moments later she shook with her own release.

He drifted as she draped herself along his side, fluffing the covers over their cooling bodies. "Sleep," she said through the haze of contentment, "I'll still be here in the morning, and every morning after." A long series of mornings spinning off far into the future, he thought, and he closed his eyes and let himself glide into sleep because he believed in her.