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They Say Miracles Are Past (They’re Wrong).

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Manhattan, Spring 2010.

Every time he’s in NYC on business, Patrick wonders whether he’ll run into Kat. Every single time. Even though he has no idea whether she decided to stay in Manhattan after she graduated from Sarah Lawrence and moved to Washington Heights. Last he heard, she was writing reviews for a music blog and playing in an all-girl band. That was at least six years ago, when he decided to stop obsessing about her from afar and move on. He moved on all right, but somehow she’s never been far from his mind, despite his best efforts.

Hence the casual but still-eager scans of his surroundings as he walks around the city, on the lookout for a mane of unruly blonde hair, clever dark eyes and a graceful figure in skinny jeans and clunky boots, or something in that ballpark.

Nevertheless he’s taken unawares when he’s crossing Central Park on a sunny morning, on his way to a tedious meeting – slowly, soaking up the spring sun – and something about the girl jogging ahead of him catches his eye.

It takes him a full minute of staring before he realizes that the reason her ass looks so familiar, clad in a pair of gray sweat shorts, is that he’s seen it naked more times than he cares to count. Her hair is darker than he remembers, sweat-slick and short – a pixie cut if he’s ever seen one – and she’s wearing a sports bra under a cut-off green T-shirt. She’s also getting further away from him with every stride, so Patrick breaks into a run to catch up.

“Kat!” he calls out, and he’s both relieved and shocked to be right when she turns around.

The look on her face, though, is priceless.

“Patrick?”

He nods.

“Patrick Verona? Patrick I-disappeared-off-the-face-of-the-earth Verona?”

Yep, it’s Katarina Stratford all right. He raises his hands.

“Busted.”

“Where…what? How?”

Nice to see her lose her powers of sarcasm, if only for a second.

“Coincidence? I’m here on a business trip and I thought I’d walk through the park. And then, there you were…”

Her eyes soften momentarily. Behind the outrage he can see something else, fleetingly – maybe joy?

“You’re on a business trip?”

She looks him up and down, taking in the button-down shirt and loose tie, the dark gray suit, the black lace-up shoes, and he tries to stay still, represses the urge to wiggle his hips at her. Almost.

“So what is it you do, Mister Hotshot?” she finally asks. There’s a new wariness in her voice.

“I’m a systems designer.”

“Come again?”

“A software engineer?”

“You’re an engineer?”

“Software. I design computer systems.”

She looks blank, and it’s just a touch irritating.

“I’m in IT, Kat. You know, the guys who come and fix your computer?”

“Yes, I get that – I have a brain, believe it or not – it’s just having trouble putting you and IT in the same space.”

Patrick shrugs.

“I was always good with computers. I just didn’t talk about it much at school. And it pays better than being a car mechanic, which is where I was headed.”

“So when you left Seattle… you went to school and became a nerd?”

“I didn’t leave, just moved. I transferred some of my community college credits, made it to U-Dub, lived on campus, got a job there. I just stopped hanging with the people I knew from high school, which wasn’t much of a chore after you’d left anyhow.”

“Yeah, cause you were so popular…” she adds, with a mischievous smile that makes her eyes crinkle, and right there, Patrick remembers why he fell so hard for this woman.

Not that he ever entirely forgot, of course, but he’s been working to keep it buried deep for quite some years now, and it’s annoying how little difference that makes when she’s in front of him.

On impulse, he reaches out for her and pulls her into a hug, as intense as it is short-lived, like a stealth bear hug.

“It’s good to see you, Kat,” he says, and he plows on when he sees her smile in response.

“Listen, I have to get to a meeting in the next half-hour, but I’m staying in the city for a couple of days and…”

“And?”

Still the same Kat – won’t give an inch if she can make him sweat for it instead.

“And, well, are you free tonight?”

She pauses and actually tilts her head at him, making a big show of thinking it over.

“I might be. Where are you staying?”

“The Hudson on West 58th.”

That earns him raised eyebrows.

Nice.”

“Yeah, well. Client pays.”

“So – are you still living in Seattle?”

“I moved to San Francisco after I graduated. Here, have one of these,” he says, extracting a business card from his pocket.

Kat turns it around in her fingers, staring at it for a few beats.

“So what are you doing now?” he asks, trying to stay casual. He’s far more unnerved by her presence than he ever thought he would be. His heartbeat must be rivaling hers, and he’s been walking.

“I’m a copy editor at the New Yorker.”

“Fuck me! That’s… awesome. ”

He is genuinely impressed. Looks like Katarina Stratford is living out her dream.

“You like it?”

“Yes, a lot.”

Her smile is infectious.

“Come on, have dinner with me tonight, we’ll talk.”

And he’ll stare at her all the way through the meal, but that can’t be helped.

“I have to check…”

“Oh, of course. Sorry, didn’t think. Boyfriend?” he asks, hoping against all odds that he doesn’t sound like he’s fishing for information, and that she says no.

She shakes her head. “Just, you know…. Let me call you later.”

As she walks off with a little wave in his direction, it occurs to Patrick that she’s probably just as freaked as he is by this whole situation, and putting a brave face on it. After all, he’s the one who cut all ties, deleted his hotmail address and changed his cell. But after the final messy break-up of their on-again-off-again relationship he needed the space, and the freedom.

Now he’s wondering whether he made a massive mistake.

 

*********************

Kat keeps his card in her hand most of the way home, flicking her thumb over the corner as she rehashes every word of their encounter, but she keeps coming back to the same immutable thought.

Patrick Verona is even hotter than he was at Padua, and that’s just unfair. She can’t even pinpoint what it is. Same chiseled good looks, same piercing stare, that looks straight into her brain; and if anything he’s in better shape then he waswhen she last saw him. His hair’s shorter – and his forehead's grown, if she’s looking for a cheap shot – but the years have been more than kind to him, especially in that suit, which is nothing like the computer geeks at work wear.

It makes her wonder, hard, about why she let their relationship go south after she came to New York. About how small-minded and unwittingly cruel she was then, and about maybe how mercenary she is now – that the sight of him looking like a grownup and handing out business cards makes her weak at the knees all over again. Even if she wouldn’t own up to it out loud.

The trouble is, she wasn’t willing to admit that he had a hold on her, too chicken to face how much he meant to her, how she missed him. So she spent most of her college years fighting it, dumping him every fall, getting back with him on Christmas breaks – drunk on eggnog and sheer lust (because goddammit, Patrick Verona just did things to her); breaking up again a few weeks into the new semester and then trading insults and sexually-charged emails halfway through each year. There were other flings, for him and for her, but whenever they were in the same room again - well, they couldn't keep away from each other.

Until the end of her junior year, when – after a spectacular long-distance fight (she'd chosen to go to Europe that summer instead of coming home, and that was the final straw) – he dropped out of sight. Just vanished. Seven years. Seven long years, and Kat still feels the magnetic pull of his body like they last fucked yesterday. She’s ready to bet that if they meet tonight for dinner, they’ll end up in bed, and the mere thought of it is making her nipples harden under her sports bra.

She picks up speed and runs at full tilt until she exits the park, drowning thought of Patrick’s mouth on her body, his hands touching her, his damn tongue, with exhaustion and sweat and muscle burn.

She still finds herself masturbating under the shower, though, and has to bite back his name when she comes.

***********************************

It’s past two in the afternoon when his cell rings, and Patrick’s spent most of the day cursing himself for not taking her number back in the park. But it’s Kat – finally – and she’s free to meet him at seven in some Mexican joint in the Upper West Side that apparently does the best margaritas in town, or in her neighborhood, he’s not sure.

He’s wondering what to wear out of the meager choice of clothes he brought along and remembers how she looked at his suit. He decides to swap his white shirt for a pale blue one, ditches the tie and pulls on a pair of Chelsea boots. Might as well underline the fact that he’s not the teenage slacker she left behind anymore.

Maybe there is a little residual anger there, he thinks as he pours himself a morale-boosting whisky from the extortionate minibar, and chases it with a no-less-eyewateringly expensive beer (but it’s a corporate client and he’s damned if he’s going to have guilt pangs about screwing the Man). But Kat kept him dangling for so long over the first few years of college – playing hard to get when she was out here, and then falling back into his arms and his bed when she was back home – that it really fucked his head up.

The long fall months were the worst, when the passion of summer wore off and new interests tugged her back into the Sarah Lawrence fold; when work and friends and – no doubt – the attentions of boys on campus left Patrick’s memory a distant second or third. At some point there would be a long anguished phone call (or by the third year, a long anguished e-mail) in which she’d tell him that it couldn’t go on, and it wasn’t him, it was her, and life in New York was so different and they were too far apart.

And then it would be Christmas and she’d be back home, and evidently Patrick was part of the whole home vibe, because it would start all over again. He still can’t believe that it took him three years to stop that crazy cycle, and at the same time he’s still sort of amazed that he managed it. Whether he’ll be able to stop it if it happens again now is another matter entirely – one that he’d rather not investigate at this point.

Especially the way she looks now, he thinks, draining his can and reaching for another in the mini-bar – the short crop perfectly framing her delicate features, and with the same athletic curves that featured in so many of his sexual fantasies. He wonders if her breasts are the same, pale pink nipples that stood to attention at the merest provocation… They captivated him from the first time he saw them, when she flashed Chapin to get him out of detention. With hindsight, that might have been the moment he began falling in love with Kat Stratford.

He’s half-hard now and feeling nostalgic, but it takes another couple of beers (he’s probably sending an honor bar mogul’s kid to college at this rate) before he feels relaxed enough to face the prospect of an evening with Katarina Stratford at which he won’t try to grope her the moment she walks in. Or not unless she starts first, at any rate.

He tries to calm himself down on the subway ride uptown, and fails dismally.

 

************************************

Getting herself off didn’t really help Kat calm down at all. If anything, it’s brought back crystal-clear memories of what she and Patrick used to do back in the day, and by the time he strolls into the bar, ten minutes early and looking like a fucking male model in his suit and open-necked shirt, she feels an irrational burst of anger. How dare he walk into her life again?

He spots her across the room and smiles at her, that familiar crinkly smile which creases up half his face, and she can’t help but smile back. Damn Patrick Verona.

“That your first margarita?” he rumbles when he reaches her, and she nods. He signals to the waitress – who, of course, is already looking his way – and slips into the chair opposite her with cat-like grace. She wishes fervently that those kind of analogies would stop coming to her mind, but apparently she has little control over her brain today. And he’s always had a feline side to him, something she’d managed to forget.

Patrick ordered nachos with his margarita, and she eyes them skeptically for a few seconds before grabbing a few; carbs are a good idea with tequila, especially if they save her from falling drunkenly into his arms.

“So tell me, what have you been doing since college?” he asks, and she wonders where to start, how much to tell, what to hold back.

“Well, you already know about the New Yorker, right? That took me a while to get into. I started writing reviews for a music blog, and sometimes the Voice…”

Patrick nods, sips his drink and keeps his gaze focused on her as she talks her way through the arduous career climb of the past six years, the ups and downs, the lucky breaks, and how she’s really happy now and proud of what she’s achieved.

“What about you?” she asks at the end, and he shrugs and spreads his hands out on the table. His hands, God, she remembers how good he was with them, and not just in those first couple of weeks where she wouldn’t let him fuck her and he had to be creative.

As a futile attempt to tamp down her arousal, she drains the rest of her margarita, and looks up to find Patrick’s eyebrows raised appreciatively.

“Maybe we should get a pitcher,” he suggests, and she sticks her tongue out at him.

“Hang on – are you getting the urge to dance on tables?”

“Patrick,” she complains, huffing.

He laughs, and stretches a hand across the table.

“Sorry. Still too close to the bone?”

She’d swat the hand away but it’s on her wrist, warm and familiar, and she feels like she’s missed him so much all of a sudden, she doesn’t want to break the contact.

“I got over it. Tell me more about your years at U-Dub, and how you became a geek.”

“That’s pretty much all there is to it – I started taking IT courses when I was still at community college, and then things snowballed. My granddad died and left me a bit of money, and I decided to, you know, invest in my future. So I went to U-Dub, kind of broke away from my waster friends and decided to knuckle down and get a degree in something useful that didn’t involve getting my hands dirty.”

He looks at her through his lashes, sly.

“You see, I used to have this East-Coast-intellectual girlfriend – well, ex – who, when she got pissed at me, would accuse me of being lazy and not bothering to do anything with my life. I thought I owed it to myself to prove her wrong.”

“I did not…”

“Yeah, you did.”

“But…”

“And you were right,” he says, cutting her off. “I turned out to be way better at computers than I thought I’d be. So when I graduated, I moved down to California and got a job in a startup. And now I’m a consultant, and my thing is designing complex corporate computer systems. I’m pretty good at it. You want another?” he says, pointing at her empty glass.

“Sure,” she says, still processing what he just told her. “So, are you saying you went to college because I was a bitch?”

“Pretty much.”

He’s smiling again, his eyes twinkling, and she realizes that his hand is still on her wrist and – oh God, she’s so fucked.

“Well, I got married,” she blurts out in a catastrophic attempt at misdirection, and Patrick’s hand pulls away immediately.

“I mean, I was married,” she adds, lamely. “Divorced now. A starter marriage, you know?”

He’s studying her across the table with a frown.

“Really? I didn’t imagine you going for this antiquated ritual of the patriarchal society.”

“You’re right. But, you know, we were young and dumb and in love. And – he was Irish and he needed a green card. I didn’t wear white, though.”

She’s not entirely telling the truth, of course – she did wear an ivory-colored lace blouse over faded jeans, and she carried a spray of pale pink roses and calla lilies – and all in all it felt a hell of a lot more real than she’d pretended even to Dominic and the posse of college friends who turned up at City Hall for the ceremony.

“So… what happened?”

“We grew up? I don’t know, Patrick, I was 23 and barely out of school, and I wouldn’t have gotten married if it hadn’t been for the green card. So we broke up after a couple of years. Still friends, kind of.”

“Hey, I’m sorry…”

“Yeah, well... How about you? Any girl manage to tie you down?” she asks, trying to sound casual.

Patrick’s smile is half-grimace.

“Sorry to disappoint but there’s no ex-wives hanging in the closet, Stratford; I’m not the marrying kind. No one really worth mentioning…”

His shrug is as eloquent as it needs to be. Sure, no live-in girlfriend but plenty of company when his bed felt empty, she’s ready to bet. It shouldn’t bother her, but it does, and something very like jealousy is impinging on her emotions, which is plain wrong.

So she does the natural thing and orders another margarita – which Patrick good-naturedly turns into a pitcher after all, and sets to it with a mission. If she’s going to reminisce about past times with her ex, she’s damn well going to get drunk while doing it, even if it is a strategy bound to end in disaster.

*************************

Kat’s downing margaritas like there’s no tomorrow and Patrick can’t help but flash back to their first-ever date, where tequila played such a starring role. He’s not sure he’d be as much of a gentleman this time around if things turned out the same, tries not to think about it.

He’s still shellshocked about her confession though – and is having the greatest difficulty imagining Kat married to anyone, really, but specifically, to someone that isn’t him. Not that he’s ever fantasized about marriage – he’s not a chick – but Kat pledging her life and love to another man, even for a green card? That makes his blood boil in a decidedly uncool fashion. Who did that Irishman think he was anyway?

“So who are you working for here?” she asks, breaking into his jealous reverie.

“Oh, some bullshit advertising agency. But they pay well, the job’s a lot of fun, and the secretaries are pretty hot.”

“Sounds like Mad Men.”

“Yeah, well, apparently it’s frowned upon to drink whiskey in the morning these days, and I’ve yet to fuck one of the hot secretaries on the conference room couch, but apart from that…”

“You haven’t changed, you know,” she says, a little wistfully, cutting into his riff, and he catches himself.

“You either. Well, apart from the hair – but it suits you.” And he wants to touch it; feel the velvety soft crop at the nape of her neck; run his fingers through the short wisps framing her face. He wonders how she’d react if he did.

“You know what else suits me?” she says, holding out her now-empty glass, and he obliges, raising the rapidly-diminishing pitcher and pouring her just a bit more. When she raises a questioning eyebrow, he smirks at her and points at the table, and she rolls her eyes. Apparently, neither of them has actually grown up much in the past few years.

“Hey, what do you say we order some food?” he says in an effort to do just that, because if she’s not going to stop drinking, that might slow her down.

He’s already feeling buzzed – they really are good margaritas – and he has no idea what her tolerance for tequila is like now. If Sarah Lawrence was anything like U-Dub, it’s probably pretty solid, but he’d still rather spend the evening with Kat, not her drunk alter ego.

“Well… They do good fish tacos,” she says, shrugging, and he flags down the waitress and throws a couple of beers into the order in another attempt to slow down the hard liquor consumption.

“What’s your sister up to?” he asks. He’s been wondering how the poster girl for popular made it outside the gilded cage of high school. Not as highflying as her sibling, he’s ready to bet.

“Bianca? She followed the dream and studied fashion in L.A. – she’s even done a bit of work for a couple of TV shows. She’s trying to set herself up as a stylist.”

“No shit? And I always figured she’d get pregnant and drop out, just to spite your dad.”

“Well, she did get married to Cameron last year, but no baby yet.”

Patrick bursts out laughing. That kid always was determined.

“They got married? You know, I like to think I had something to do with them getting together. They should’ve invited me to the wedding…”

“They tried. You didn’t exactly leave a forwarding address,” Kat says, and she’s no longer smiling.

Shit. He should’ve seen that one coming.

“This whole going underground thing… was it all because of me?” she asks, and that’s got to be the tequila talking, because she looks nervous as hell.

There’s no point denying it, he figures, so he might as well come clean.

“Kind of, yeah. I figured I had to break it off for real, cut loose. I was just hanging around, waiting for you to come back for school breaks, it was stupid. And you hated it when I came over to see you.”

He can see her cringe. It’s true, every word of it. He never went back to Sarah Lawrence after the first year and the excruciating parties at which Kat made all sorts of efforts not to introduce him as her boyfriend. He’s still not sure whether it was because his vague trainee mechanic status didn’t cut it with the Type-A kids, or because he was from home and she was all about the East Coast; or even just because she was interested in other guys. It just sucked.

“Oh God, Patrick… I’m sorry. I was a kid, and I was a bitch, and I didn’t know what I wanted from life. I really am sorry. I guess I treated you like shit.”

“Yeah. And I came running every time you called. That’s why I left.”

He didn’t let go of her that easily – for the first few months he kept track of her, stalking her on MySpace, checking the emails she sent him, but never replying. Eventually he realized that too was fueling the obsession, and went cold turkey. That hurt like hell.

He kept all her photos, though.

Opposite him, Kat is a picture of contrition, cheeks crimson with – he assumes – shame, eyes avoiding his gaze, and she’s chewing her lip nervously in that cute way he remembers from many previous arguments. It was generally a prelude to a rant.

That hasn’t changed.

“The thing is… it was all new and exciting and so different! And I wanted to be in there, do it all, see it all, and forget where I came from and my lame high school, and for some awful reason you got rolled into this whole Seattle thing. I think – with hindsight – I kind of had to reject it all because otherwise I would have been horribly homesick.”

She’s gone from contrite to distraught now, and he’s shocked to see her eyes are glistening.

“Hey, don’t do this – you don’t need to…” he says, reaching for her hand again, but she cuts him off.

“I mean, deep down, I missed my dad, I missed my idiot sister, and God, I missed you so much I had to pretend I didn’t care. It took me a long time to figure that out. And I felt guilty about being a shit to you for so long, and really, Patrick, I am so sorry.”

Kat’s crying for real now, just a few tears, but her nose is starting to get red. He’s torn between a strange sense of relief – vindication, almost – and a surge of tenderness for the girl sitting across from him. She’s still absurdly pretty, even with the tears and the red nose, and he’s getting a terrible urge to kiss her better, which he tries to resist with every fiber in his body. Instead, he focuses on her hand in his, tracing the familiar contours of her palm with his thumb over and over again, in a slow caress that seems to soothe her.

“I didn’t know how to handle it either, Kat,” he says eventually, when she’s calmed down. “I wanted you and I was resentful of Sarah Lawrence for taking you away from me, and I probably wasn’t much fun to be around a lot of the time. It’s not like I had a lot of experience with long-term relationships, let alone long-distance…”

“Hey, me neither. Remember my dad’s dating rules?” she says, and this time there is a hint of a smile through the tears.

“Yeah, well, it looks like you’ve learned since,” he says, tongue in cheek, and she groans.

“You’re not going to get past that marriage thing, are you?”

“Give me a chance. I’m still reeling that you ever saw fit to compromise your feminist principles to that extent. I mean, what would Betty Friedan say?”

“You know you’re still insufferable, right?”

“Come on, you always loved that in me. It matched your self-righteousness…”

“Verona, you’re an ass.”

“And a mighty fine one too,” he cracks, which sets them off into a fit of giggles. He hasn’t giggled in years.

“Jesus, I really missed you,” he says, and she nods emphatically in response.

“Me too. It’s good to see you, Patrick.”

They’re still holding hands, and he wishes they hadn’t ordered food, because its arrival – fish tacos for Kat, chicken enchiladas for him – forces them to break apart. But the lingering sense that they’ve found each other again remains, and the banter continues as they wolf down their respective meals with appetites sharpened by tequila and emotional shakeups.

He’s finishing off his last forkful when she puts her hand on his arm and gives him a squeeze. It’s good to know that she seems to have as much of a problem as he does keeping her hands to herself.

“I can’t believe it’s been seven years,” she says, and there’s an edge of sadness in her voice that echoes with him. Such a waste of time, it suggests.

“Yeah, well, I promise I won’t do that again,” he says, not at all sure of what he’s actually implying, except that he doesn’t want any more of that sadness.

What he does want, on the other hand, is for this evening to go on beyond the predictable coffee and one last drink for the road.

“I have a suggestion,” he says after the waitress has cleared their plates and brought them both mediocre coffees.

“Try me.”

“Come back to my hotel. It’s got a great bar and a terrace with views over Manhattan, and I’ll even let you eat all the minibar candy.”

He’s totally winging it, but he’s hoping there’s enough shared complicity that she’ll take if for what it is – an open invitation rather than a stereotyped move (although he won’t complain if he gets lucky).

Kat leans in towards him, her voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper.

“I’ve always wanted to go there and try some fancy martinis. I blame Sex and the City. But don’t tell anyone I watch it.”

“I swear,” he says, reeling somewhat at the thought. “Well now’s your chance…”

“Deal,” she says, and he’s definitely not imagining the daredevil look in her eye.

**************************

Thank God for food, coffee, and Patrick’s predilection for walking through the city, because Kat is feeling a lot more sober as they approach the Hudson Hotel, and just about ready to try a ginger martini, or a dirty mojito, or whatever the hell is in fashion this year.

She’s glad she succumbed to the temptation to dress up earlier tonight, and dropped the skinny jeans in favor of a short black lace dress paired with silver wedge heels – comfortable enough for walking, but glam enough for parties. The lingering look she got from Patrick as she stood up to leave was vindication enough.

They’ve been walking side by side, companionably, or maybe a little more than that – close enough to rub shoulders, his hand on her arm as they cross streets – and every time they touch she gets a little thrill. They carry so much baggage between them that she doesn’t know what will happen next, but if she knows Patrick at all, the spark is mutual.

The Hudson, when they reach it, is cool and overdesigned, full of Philippe Stark touches that irritate Kat while simultaneously managing to impress her. The oh-so-hip bar is full of oh-so-hip, well-dressed, pretty people – girls in minis and vertiginous heels, guys in sharp suits – and it’s amazing how easily Patrick fits in there when he walks up to the bartender and orders the drinks. Hard to believe this is the same guy who used to play pool in grungy Seattle biker bars.

Then he turns around and winks at her and it’s so him it makes her heart ache.

“I took the bartender’s advice,” he says as he brings back two glasses half-filled with brown liquor to their table. “Try this – apparently it’s the hot cocktail of the moment.”

“What is it?” she says, suspicious.

It smells of tequila and something else, more pungent. The first sip has bite, but mellows into a smoky finish. It’s really strong, but good.

“Oaxacan Old Fashioned. Tequila, mezcal, bitters.”

“Listen to yourself, Verona. You’ve become a bar snob.”

“I.. Yeah, well, I have been living in San Francisco. Lost my edge. Anyhow, you’re in Manhattan – don’t you ever go out for cocktails?”

“Not as much as I ought to, apparently,” she says, and she really means it.

“I can get you a long drink if you prefer. They do a mojito with raspberries…”

“What, because I’m a girl?”

They’ve fallen back so easily into their teasing banter, the seven years that were weighing so heavily earlier seem to have compressed into a few short months, if that. Kat could totally get used to that.

“So what’s it like, living in San Francisco?”

“Pretty good – very laid back. But I’ve been thinking of getting out, maybe moving East,” he says, and damn if it doesn’t make her heart flutter when he says that.

“Really? Isn’t your industry all about the Silicon Valley?”

“What I do I can do anywhere, and I fly across the country a couple of times a month, so no, I’m not tied to a place.”

Kat’s about to ask him more when his cell phone rings, and after a quick check of the number he makes a face.

“I’m really sorry, but I have to take this. It’s my client.”

She waves him away with a smile as he steps out of the noisy bar, and focuses her attention on her surroundings – plenty there to pass the time waiting for Patrick to make it back. Between the backlit floor, the frescoes and the furniture – not to mention the people-watching – she has enough interesting sights to keep her entertained for a while.

Long enough for Kat not to notice the guy elbowing his way to her side and turning a louche eye on her, until apparently he decides he’s leered long enough and he tries to make his move.

“So, nice bar, huh?”

Jolted out of her reverie, she doesn’t answer immediately. When she turns to look at him, the guy is blatantly checking her out, all wandering eyes and smarmy smile. He’s another suit letting off steam after a hard day at the office, but there’s something about his attitude she doesn’t like.

“Can I get you another drink?”

“I’m sorry?”

“I said,” he says, leaning forward to attempt a conspiratorial wink, “what can I get you, sexy?”

Which wouldn’t be so objectionable if he hadn’t also laid a hand on her thigh, a gesture so blatant that she doesn’t react immediately. Of course, he takes that as an encouragement and slides it further up,

She’s done some anger management, so she resists the temptation to slap him across the face.

“You know, the last guy who tried this on me had to have his testicles surgically recovered,” she says conversationally. “You have three seconds to get your paw off me. One, two…”

He might be drunk, and dense, but the guy isn’t completely suicidal and he removes his hand rapidly.

“Hey, I was only asking if you wanted a drink…”

“Sorry, buster, but if you can’t tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, you really shouldn’t be let out in company.”

She’s had enough of the asshole now, and angles her body away from him, turning to the bar and the rest of her drink.

“Frigid little bitch,” he hisses malevolently, and she thinks the anger management might be going down the drain when suddenly Patrick materializes near her, looking as laid back as ever but with a steely look in his eyes. There’s something of the old Patrick Verona there, the high-school tough guy who used to scare the freshmen shitless in the lunch line.

“Okay mate, you’ve had your fun, now I suggest you cool it,” he says to the asshole. “Preferably outside. “

“Mind your own business,” the other guy slurs, obviously too drunk to notice the danger signals.

“I am.”

Kat would object at Patrick’s intervention – it’s not like she needs to be saved by a man, she can handle herself, thank you very much – but Patrick looks so hot standing there, projecting silent alpha-male aggression, that it obviously triggers something in her animal brain. Something hot and molten, coursing through her veins like nobody’s business, making her buzz with anticipation.

“Who the fuck are you anyway?” the guy slurs.

“I’m her date, pal. And the lady really isn’t interested, so adios.”

The other guy looks like he might be itching for a fight, but when he stands up, he’s a good head shorter than Patrick, and that seems to be the final straw for him. He walks off, swearing under his breath, a pathetic figure.

Kat turns to her white knight.

“You know I don’t need you to defend me, right?”

“I know,” Patrick says, reaching for his glass and taking a swallow.

“But… you couldn’t stop yourself?”

“Something like that. And I don’t like guys who insult women just because they won’t let them cop a feel. Gives the rest of us a bad rep.”

“So you took one for the team?”

“Exactly. To remind you that not all men are sorry-ass losers.”

He smiles wolfishly and downs the rest of his drink. Kat’s positively throbbing with lust. It’s appalling and goes against all her principles, but she literally cannot help it.

He’s close to her now, so close, his face inches from hers – those bar stools are pretty high – and they’re not touching but the heat between them is undeniable. Scorching, in fact.

“You still have a little green in your eyes,” she says, almost dreamily, and he doesn’t miss a beat.

“Are you about to throw up on my shoes?”

“Oh, fuck off, Patrick,” she says, but she actually means Kiss me and somehow he understands, because next thing she knows his lips are against hers, tentative for about four seconds and then she’s just melting into the kiss, surrendering to the wave of arousal that washes over her.

It doesn’t last, because he pulls away, breathing heavily, and she remembers that they’re in the middle of a crowded, trendy bar, surrounded by other people – at least two of whom are staring straight at them with a little too much interest. She doesn’t think the management would take kindly to a sex show on the bar top.

“Come up to my room with me,” he whispers, eyes crinkling, and she just picks up her purse and slides off the bar stool, ready to follow wherever he leads.

They don’t touch in the hallway, or in the elevator, which happens to be full, because she knows exactly what will happen if there is any physical contact. They get to his room, and she lets him fumble with the keycard, digging her short nails into her palm to stop herself from reaching for him. If she does, they’ll be fucking in the corridor.

An eternity of fiddling later, and they’re through the door, where she can finally – finally – touch him.

So she does, her hand splaying against his flat stomach, and it’s as electric as she thought it would be. Patrick kicks the door shut with one foot, grabs her by the elbows and pushes her, none too gently, against the wall before kissing her like his life depends on it.

God, but she missed his kisses. In all the years since, she’s never met a guy who could reduce her to a puddle of lust with a single kiss like Patrick Verona did. Does. Granted, there are wandering hands too, sliding up her arms towards her shoulders, leaving trails of fire behind them, but it’s his mouth – his lips on hers, the way his tongue darts and dances, before he becomes possessive and takes over her mouth entirely – that seals the deal.

There might be whimpering at this point (that she has absolutely no control over, even if it issues from her mouth), and even a gasp when Patrick’s hand stops aimlessly petting her and homes in on a nipple, calloused fingers rolling and pinching it through the thin layers of her bra and dress, just enough for her to feel a direct connection to her clit.

He’s pressing her against the wall, blanketing her body with his, the feel of his hard cock on her thigh a tantalizing promise of things to come. The way he feels – his taste, the scent of him – it’s coming back in waves, how in tune their bodies were, are. And it must be mutual, because he shudders when she snakes a hand down and strokes him through his pants, and exhales her name.

“Fuck, Kat…”

They pull apart long enough for her to undo the buttons of his shirt while he shucks his jacket – he’s always had a good body, but he must have be working out these days; his lean frame has filled out, and there’s some impressively defined muscles there, which she runs her hands over, appreciative.

“Been going to the gym, Verona?” she teases, and he retaliates by rucking up her dress and skirting the edge of her lace panties with one hand, while avoiding contact with any important parts.

“Well, we can’t all jog in Central Park every day, can we?” he says with a devilish smile, and pulls his hand back a bit further.

Patrick was always good at this – holding back, keeping himself in check and playing with her until she broke down and begged. Even here, now, the memory of those moments makes her flush. But his self-control isn’t as cast-iron as it used to be, because he’s shaking, just a little.

“Bed?” she says, and he just picks her up like she weighs nothing and swings her around and onto the bed. It’s impressive, even if it’s just a few paces away, the room might be stylish but it’s pretty cramped.

She lands with an oof and braces herself on her elbows, looking up at Patrick in all his bare-chested glory. His erection is tenting the loose fabric of his suit pants and he looks so fucking gorgeous her breath catches. She wants him more than she’s ever wanted anyone, she thinks, and she can’t for the life of her remember why she ever thought that ditching him would be a good idea.

“It’s really good to see you,” she says, hoarse, and his smile lights up his face.

The next thing she knows he’s leaning over her and kissing her again, passionate open-mouthed kisses that are sweeping her up in a frenzy, and his hands are on her back now, unzipping her dress, unhooking her bra and basically stripping her efficiently with no help from her at all, apart from letting him pull off her clothes at will.

Instead, she takes over his wardrobe, and unbuttons his pants, freeing his cock from his boxers with a rush of excitement, and stroking him once, twice, relishing the feel of him in her hand. Every part of his body, as she rediscovers it, is familiar, but his cock – well, it’s personal. Patrick’s the one who taught her what sex was really about – nothing like Joey’s inadequate, self-centered fucking – and actually made her appreciate the male organ. She kind of owes his cock quite a debt of gratitude, if she allows herself to think about it.

He’s busy nuzzling his way down her neck towards her breasts, and making sure she almost comes from nipple stimulation alone, when she decides to take control. She hooks a leg behind his knee and pulls him down onto the bed, using the momentum to roll him over. He lands on his back with a grin, which only gets wider as she begins to mimic his actions from a moment before, kissing and sucking her way from one erogenous zone to the next, until she’s nose to cock, as it were, and Patrick is trembling like a fucking racehorse with anticipation.

Kat’s pretty sure she’s a lot better at blowjobs than she was in high school, but that’s probably not saying much. She starts with a light touch, tongue and lips exploring him, hot breath ghosting over his length, and it’s only when he groans with raw need that she actually takes him in her mouth, slow and deep, one hand holding onto the base of is cock as she descends upon him, hollowing her cheeks.

“Oh, God, Kat,” he moans as she accelerates the tempo, and she gets a total kick out of this, the power, the headiness of it all.

He’s hot and hard, throbbing under her tongue, and she’s half-tempted to let him come in her mouth, just for the hell of it, but he puts his hand on her head and coaxes her off just as she’s considering her next move.

“Nuh-unh, girlie. I’ve waited long enough for this. I want to fuck you. Please?” he says, his voice rough with pent-up desire and emotion, and she nods, afraid that if she opens her mouth she won’t be able to do much more than whimper.

Thank God he has a condom – she resisted the temptation to put some in her purse and has been cursing her stupidity ever since they left the Mexican place – which he puts on swiftly before lying back on the bed, a challenge in his eyes.

“Come here,” he says, arms out, and he pulls her over him, one leg either side of his body, and – oh God she’s so turned on she can feel how wet she is against his skin as she straddles his chest, and his smile indicates he’s felt it, too. He snakes out a hand between her legs, fingers slick with her juices, and teases her clit a few times, making her gasp, before getting a couple of his blunt fingers into her. He was always fantastic with his hands, Patrick, and apparently still is as he corkscrews his fingers up into her and then presses on her G-spot with unerring accuracy, until she cries out.

He brings her to the brink, thumb on her clit, until she’s arched like a bow, ready to break and muttering a string of expletives under her breath that make him smile.

When he lets her come with a couple of quick flicks of her clit, she moans his name, and he takes this as his cue to pull her up and slide her down his erect cock, inch by delicious inch, before he thrusts into her even as she’s still throbbing from her orgasm. He starts slow and measured, but even in her post-coital haze Kat can tell he’s damn close, and won’t keep going for long. His last few strokes are erratic and deep, summoning some last waves of pleasure from inside her, and finally he tenses up and comes with a muffled groan, and she collapses over him, breathless, and listens to his heart hammering through his chest.

It’s like the seven years between them never happened at all.

 

*****************************

Kat is a picture of boneless contentment – stretched across his queen-sized bed in a pile of crisp white linen and feather pillows, looking both demure and deliciously pornographic, especially as he reruns some of the past hour in his head.

God, he’s imagined that scene often enough, and yet his imagination completely failed to do it justice. He had, actually, forgotten quite how good they were in bed together. A few years apart, each of them getting more experience, certainly didn’t hurt. He’d rather not think of Kat fucking other men, but he has to admit there are some fringe benefits.

Patrick shakes his head. No need to dwell on this.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“Just thinking how hot you looked on my bed, girlie,” he says with a sleazy grin and she chucks a pillow at him in mock anger.

He ducks out of the way.

“And glad to see your aim hasn’t improved since your paintballing days.”

“If I weren’t so relaxed, I’d throw something heavier at you, but I can’t be bothered,” she says, and instead stretches her arms in a way that makes her breasts look even more inviting. At this rate, they’re going to have to go for a second round, and soon.

Despite the post-coital glow, Patrick is extremely aware that there’s a minefield of emotions he hasn’t dared think of, but which center on one thought. This has to be a second chance. Worse, he has no idea whether Kat feels the same. Maybe she thought it was a goodbye fuck.

If this is it, he suspects it’s going to hurt even more than the first time. There’s years of unspoken hopes and expectations there, not to mention his rich and varied fantasy life, which helped keep the dream alive. He can’t remember not thinking of her, and of whether they’d ever get back together. If she wants out, he’s so screwed.

“So… did you mean what you said earlier?” she asks, intruding into his thoughts.

“What did I say? That you looked hot stretched out like that? Hell yeah.”

She huffs, but he can tell she’s pleased.

“No. I mean, you know…” she hesitates. “About maybe moving East one day?”

He pauses, collects his thoughts. Jesus, is she asking what he thinks she’s asking?

“Maybe, yes. There’s a few places I’d like to live in one day, and New York’s pretty high on the list. Every time I come here I think about where it might be fun to rent an apartment.”

“The Upper West Side,” she says immediately, and he laughs.

She rolls over towards him and burrows her nose in the crook of his neck, inhaling, and he wraps his arms around her. It’s been so damn long since he’s held her in his arms, and yet it feels just like yesterday.

“You know, I never asked you if you had a boyfriend,” he ventures, and it’s her turn to laugh. It tickles. She pulls her face away from his neck and looks up at him.

“Nice time to ask, but no, I don’t. I thought we’d established that pretty convincingly.”

“It’s nice to be sure.”

“Are you calling me a slut?”

“Surely, an independent woman who’s not bound by the patriarchal rules of our capitalist society?”

Kat rolls her eyes.

“How about you – no significant other, really?”

“Not since you,” he says, honest, and her face is a mask of surprise, and recognition, and something else – maybe happiness.

“I..” she starts, and then,“You know…” and then, “What..?”

She falls silent.

“Maybe we should go on a date,” Patrick says, because, well, they might as well.

“What, next time you’re in town?”

“Actually, I don’t have to be back until Monday,” he says, and she goes quiet again.

It’s a companionable kind of quiet, but he can tell there’s a lot of figuring out going on in her brain, and he feels like he’s balanced on the edge of a razor.

“Well,” Kat says thoughtfully, “the Raincoats are doing a special evening thing at MoMA tomorrow, and I already have tickets. Want to join me?”

She looks at him through her lashes, uncharacteristically shy. The razor’s become a broad highway. He wonders how much longer he can postpone going back to San Francisco, and whether Kat will freak out if he mentions apartment hunting.

It’s official. Patrick Verona is back in the game.