*Ben met her in the stacks on a Saturday evening when he showed up at the library an hour before closing, sans kids in tow.
"I couldn't hide behind them forever," he told her as they stood surrounded by book shelves. "And as much as I love having my nieces and god-kids around, there are some things I'd like to say without an audience."
Claudia crinkled her nose in confusion. It'd been on the tip of her tongue to ask after the little munchkins but his statement gave her pause. Finally, was her first thought. In the days following their coffee date there'd been an obvious change in their interactions. After he'd kissed her so sweetly she'd been convinced that they were going to make a go of it, and had been disappointed and hurt when he'd pulled away. More aptly, it felt like he was running away, and the only reason Claudia was able to pick up on it so quickly was because she'd been so damn good at it herself.
What remained a mystery, however, was why. What was the impetus behind Ben's distance? It was like they'd taken a big leap together, only for Claudia to discover he'd never been by her side during the journey.
Later on she got angry. Having to feign indifference at his behavior whenever he came to the library under the guise of being there for the kids; using them like armor to avoid confrontation. How had she misjudged him?
Feeling the weight of his gaze on her was just as suffocating as if he'd been standing right beside her and ignoring all concepts of personal space. That she had to pretend his watchful presence hadn't had the exact same affect it was having right now… it was bloody exhausting, is what it was.
He was standing so close that there was very little doubt of his intentions. And that's all she'd wanted for at least a week: a sign that she hadn't been reading into every little detail since their outing; that she wasn't alone in this, whatever it was that was building between them.
"Do you need a moment to yourself," she teased half-heartedly. She didn't exactly want to make this easy for him.
Ben hesitantly cupped her face in his hands and touched his forehead to hers. "I'm sorry honey," he breathed, and her heart jumped in her chest. "I just- do you have any idea what it's like to stare your future in the face and realize how slight your grasp is?"
Claudia started at that, taking a step back to look at his face. Ben shook his head in wonder, "It scared the crap out of me; you scared me." He was quick to close the distance when she jerked back at his statement. "It wasn't anything you did. It was me. I needed to figure some things out. And the one constant this whole time was you. Just a few hours in your company and you'd already gotten under my skin."
"Wow," was all she could think to say. How profound.
Ben chuckled, obviously not holding her inadequate response against her, and lowered his head. Close enough for her to see the fine lines around his eyes, and damn was he gorgeous when he smiled.
He shook his head again, accent more pronounced than usual as he murmured, "I'll take that as long as you don't run away from me. I've got you right where I want you now."
Oh. Claudia took a steadying breath. His voice did things to her.
And she could have easily turned and walked out on him but she simply didn't want to. She just wanted him.
Ben intertwined their fingers together and asked her out on a proper date, leaving enough space between them so that it looked innocent enough in case any of her coworkers happened to walk by.
She'd wanted this from the moment she'd gotten to know him but still she faltered for a moment. It was a testament to her reflexes in protecting herself, not to mention how well she'd integrated into small town living that she even thought to mentally list all of the reasons she shouldn’t go out on a date with Ben Browder.
Fodder for gossip.
It could all end terribly, horribly wrong.
It could never end at all.
And oh yes, her heart.
All perfectly adequate excuses to disengage, and yet none of them prevented her from saying yes.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Claudia Black thought of herself as practical and sensible. She loved books and children, and so it was no big leap of logic for her to study library science at university. It was a sensible path to take - that word again - and she had no regrets of how her life turned out. Pursuing her MLS led to her current position and what she hoped to be a long-term career choice as head of Youth Services at Hempstead Public Library in Browning, TN. Quite a long ways from where she grew up in Australia, but she'd always wanted to live in the states.
She just never quite believed she'd wind up in a small town, standing out from the locals with her accent as she often did, instead of blending in with the crowds as she'd once hoped. Fantasized about, really. Somewhere in upstate New York, or keeping up with the frantic pace of the city and commuting from her home in one of the boroughs. Yet life rarely happens in the exact way one plans, so it wasn't entirely surprising to Claudia that she ended up in a city in Tennessee that barely had need for a city bus, never mind a subway system.
In the four years Claudia had lived in Browning, she'd come to adore her town and the people in it. She loved her job and the life she'd built, but every once in a while she yearned for a bit of action to shake up the monotony. She often felt living in Browning had made her predictable, when she'd always been the carefree, driven by impulse sort. She remembered the spontaneity of her youth with her mates, or hell, during her years at uni. What immediately sprang to mind was the indecent exposure incident that happened her first year of graduate school, narrowly escaping being kicked out of the MLS program.
Am I boring now? Claudia wondered. She led a comfortable life in Browning, had a great - if small - circle of friends, and occasionally had fantastic sex. Well, mostly just good sex, but there'd been some mind-blowing orgasms mixed in between.
And yeah, she could attribute the changes in her life to growing up, becoming more career-oriented. Of course her outlook as an adult woman would be light years ahead of those lofty or sometimes unrealistic goals she'd had as a girl at university. So, armed as she was with that knowledge she still felt as though she were waiting on something that seemed like the inevitable, but she couldn't parse the ending. Whatever the event, it would keep her waiting until it knocked her on her ass when she least expected.
She'd dated a couple of nice upstanding hometown boys who'd spent most of their formative dating years in Browning, attending themed singles night events at Shiloh Baptist Church.
James was a bank manager who hated getting wrinkles in his clothes but always rolled up the sleeves of his shirt before ducking his head between her legs, like he had a serious job to do down there. And bless his heart - as people here were fond of saying – he was so good at it.
Marcus, she'd met while getting her car serviced at the mechanic's. He'd had grease beneath his nails and a tattoo on his chest that danced when he fucked her. That was all she'd needed from him, just sex, and their relationship such as it was lasted a little over two months. Their interactions now were a bit awkward, to say the least. Whenever she needed to get her oil changed or her tires balanced and rotated, she thought of Marcus and felt her face flush with memories.
Since then there'd been various dates with few connections. In a town like Browning, everyone who wasn't already in your business wanted to be. There'd been too many occasions to count, of surprise set-ups and anvil-sized hints at the available men in town. (And women too, according to one of her neighbors; if she were into that sort of thing.)
She almost wished she were.
Gigi, her closest friend and fellow librarian, was the worst perpetrator of them all. Claudia had had enough one night during dinner at Cantina Laredo when their booth had turned into a turnstile of uninvited guests (two men in total but still, absolutely unwanted) who were only interested in her while suspiciously ignoring her friend's presence.
Claudia told Gigi as much and watched with interest over her margarita glass as her friend fumbled for an excuse. "Maybe, once they set their eyes on you it's over. Bam!" she clapped her hands, "tunnel vision."
Claudia sighed. For as long as they'd known each other Gigi had always been a terrible liar.
"You can't possibly know this many available men," Claudia said with exasperation. She caught sight of a man heading towards their table and waved him off. Saved herself the trouble of having to turn him down politely.
Gigi nodded her head. "I know a lot of people," she stated matter-of-factly. "And, I hook up my other friends all the time. You should take advantage of my match-making skills."
"Gi, don't help me anymore."
"On the contrary, I think if you considered at least one of the guys I sent over you wouldn't be afraid to deposit a check at the bank." Gigi gave her a pointed look.
Claudia glared across the table, but the other woman wasn't wrong. She admitted her judgment may not have been sound to sleep with two people she'd need to do business with. Her only excuse was that she'd still been thinking in terms of big city circumstances, paying no mind to how her conquests would affect her small town life reality.
Note to self: don't fuck the cute pharmacist at the drug store. Claudia made a face and laughed at herself. He was probably married, which removed him from temptation full stop.
When she drank the last of the margarita in her glass and set it back on the table Gigi was glancing at her with a peculiar look on her face, one finely arched eyebrow raised. "Another round?" was all she said.
A few minutes of silence fell over them as they waited for the server to return with their drinks. Claudia pressed her finger into her bottom lip and then smiled. "So, this rule wouldn't extend to library patrons, would it?"
Gigi groaned but a wicked grin soon took over her face. "Don't tell me you've set your eyes on a handsome single father."
"I might fancy someone," Claudia began slowly. "I don't know about the single or father part, but he's a handsome one. Almost pretty, actually."
Gigi dropped her chin in her hands and looked imploringly at her friend. "Tell me more please."
"Well," Claudia sighed, "I first saw him a few weeks back. By himself, looking for a particular children's book. I let Rachel help him while I just observed from my office."
"I'll bet you did."
Claudia cut her eyes. "Hush, I'm telling a story. So anyway, I see him a week later, browsing once again and decide to offer to help him. And Gi…" she trailed off, waiting as their drinks were placed before them and the server walked away.
She continued, "The most amazing blue eyes, brownish blond hair, this adorably goofy laugh."
Claudia could have been describing anyone as those features weren't specific at all, but the honest truth was that Browning wasn't that big a town and everyone knew everybody else. She expected Gigi to give her a name just on those small details alone.
But Gigi just shrugged and said, "Sounds endearing."
"Could probably charm my knickers right off," Claudia laughed, only she wasn't joking. If she ever considered having no-strings attached sex with a stranger he'd be at the top of her list. "Oh, and he has a freckle beneath his right eye."
Gigi sat up straighter in her seat, wrinkled her brow as if considering what to say next. "Brownish hair, blue eyes, freckle," she muttered to herself. She caught Claudia's eyes and said, "Is he sort of tall, built like a football player?"
Claudia leaned back as she took a sip of her drink. He definitely had a nice build to him but not suited to play- "Oh… you mean American football don't you?" At Gigi's nod she answered, "Then yes, from what I remember." Which was a lot, even to her mind.
"You met Ben."
"I don't know a Ben."
Gigi smirked. "You do now."
Claudia exhaled slowly as she ran a finger over the rim of her glass. It certainly helped to put a name to his gorgeous face. She leaned in and gestured for Gigi to do the same. "And how do you know Ben with no last name?"
Her friend giggled. "Browder. And I went to school with his sister." She shrugged, "He was quite popular back in the day, never lacked for attention. He and his high school sweetheart went off to college together. I heard they got married."
Claudia deflated and looked down into her margarita that was halfway gone. She felt like she'd just experienced a huge letdown at the news, which was strange because she didn't even know the man. Wasted potential, she supposed.
When she looked up Gigi had a teasing smile on her face. "What?"
"More recently, I heard they were divorced." Gigi actually cackled when she saw that Claudia had to visibly fight the grin spreading on her face. "The look on your face right now!" she laughed.
Claudia shoved her drink glass in her face, waving off her friend's further teasing.
Gigi wagged her finger as she playfully implored, "Let this be a lesson to you: pay more attention to town gossip."
What an understatement, Claudia thought. The week following that very revealing dinner proved fruitful in satisfying her curiosity about Ben, and exposed a truth: she wasn't nearly as observant as she thought she was. Through the grapevine she'd learned that Ben had moved back to Browning the year before, having lived 10 years in Atlanta. He taught English Comp at the community college, and as Gigi had already confirmed, he'd been divorced for two years, with no children of his own.
And apparently he was renting his home, according to some of the older librarians who knew seemingly insignificant details about the lives of everyone in town.
For example, Claudia didn't know exactly how they'd discovered that she'd moonlighted as a bartender in undergrad since she'd never added it to her resume, but they'd learned of this within her first three months of employment at the library.
After that, Claudia made an effort to stop listening to the gossip surrounding Ben. Any other details about his life she hoped to learn from the man himself. And because he'd been coming into the library more often as of late, she was determined to make her wish come true.
* * *
Ben climbed out of his truck and stared at the two-story brick building before him. He wondered again for the third time that morning what had possessed him to willingly come to the library on a Saturday morning. He could've slept in since he didn't usually teach class on the weekend, or invited the guys over for a cookout, or a game of football at the park.
He knew why. The same reason he'd gone to the library between and sometimes after classes several times over the last two weeks. He'd wanted to see her again, and because he hadn't worked up the nerve to ask her out yet he'd had to rely on subterfuge. Even then, the ruse wasn't completely fabricated. His searching for children's books were legit, but if he'd gotten them all in one visit he'd never have need to return to the kids section of the library. At least he didn't look like a creep that way.
To be perfectly honest, it was all Chris' fault for enabling him.
Chris Judge had been his best friend since high school. Even after Ben and Fran had moved away they'd kept in touch, and Ben was eventually named as the godfather of Chris' kids.
Ben felt his mood sour at the thought of his ex-wife and he pushed it to the back of his mind. They were on pretty good terms considering the circumstances, but he didn't like thinking about her if he didn't have to. It still felt like the wounds had just scarred over.
He was pulled out of his head by the cutest little voice distorted by a window he'd ever heard. Or close to it. Ben shook his head with self-deprecating humor. If Chris or his brother had seen him just now they'd probably never allow him to visit with the kids without supervision.
Ben trotted to the rear cab of his truck and jerked the door open. Four small faces stared at him with varying levels of concern. He bit his lip to keep from laughing. "Hey guys, sorry about that."
"We thought you forgot about us!" his oldest niece Bridget told him, with all the righteous indignation a six-and-a-half year old could muster.
"No darlin', never that."
Ben quickly got them out of their seat belts and had them make a chain holding hands while he locked up the truck. He couldn't help but smile at the picture they made. His nieces, Bridget and her five year old sister Alison stood on either side of the four year old Judge twins, CJ and Camille. Protecting the little ones, he thought with pride.
Ben guided the kids from the parking lot to the front entrance of the library and through the double doors. It was like the first floor came alive as soon as they rounded the corner to Youth Services. Kids were all over, from the building blocks display to the crates of overflowing books, toys spread out on a large multi-colored rug, and even on the kids-safe computers along the wall. Ben spared a glance at his watch and noted the time. Ten minutes until the rowdy group was settle down for story time, and he still hadn't seen her.
Ben thought it was typical that during the one conversation he'd had with the woman he hadn't thought to ask for her name, or at least look at her work badge. He watched as several librarians began setting up the area for story time and kneeled down to speak to his niece. "All right Bridge, I need you to be a big girl and watch out for the others a while. I'll be right over there," he said, pointing to a cluster of chairs and two tables not far from the youth section. "I'll be watching," he warned.
Bridget nodded, her expression serious as she seemed to tighten her grip on CJ's hand. One of the librarians came over to guide the kids to the rug and Ben watched until they were seated. Then he turned his attention to more adult pursuits: operation seek out sexy librarian. He didn't have a name or job title, but he knew who he was looking for. Lush, black hair, grey eyes and a striking face. He just hoped he'd be able to find her.
* * *
Claudia swiped her badge at the employee entrance of the library and entered, head down as she was preoccupied with sending a message on her phone. A movie with friends or a quiet Saturday evening at home? Tough call, though it pained her to admit it. Browning was turning her into quite the little hermit.
Perhaps her day was thrown off when she realized earlier this morning she'd have to come in to work for a few hours because she'd forgotten to run a statistics report following one of the more recent teen programs that turned out to be a huge success. If Youth Services wanted to have more like it then they had to show proof of attendance, and a bunch of other tasks that made Claudia's eyes glaze over just at the thought of doing on a sunny weekend.
No matter, it was her fuck up and not her librarians' fault, so she'd suffer the consequences and try not to make her staff feel guilty for it next week.
Claudia had dressed down today but wore what she thought to be appropriate managerial attire: slacks and a sleeve-less shell. She could never bring herself to wear jeans to work, even on Fridays. Plus, she figured since she'd only had the energy to pile her hair on top of her head in a messy bun it was an even trade-off.
She waved to the staff manning the circulation desk as she passed by on her way to her office in Youth Services. It was only when she got to the area that she remembered story time was being held. She'd definitely be working with her door closed, she decided. She was disappointed really, because she loved watching the children play and get absorbed in the tales that were read to them. Their expressive faces reminded her of why she went into this field in the first place.
Claudia sighed forlornly and shut her door quietly. It was time to get to work.
* * *
Even with his head bowed low in concentration as he worked on a lesson plan, Ben didn't miss the woman walking swiftly by his table. He'd lifted his head just in time to see her round the corner to the youth section. He hesitated a few seconds before rising from his chair to follow, hoping to god he wasn't making a mistake. It looked like her, he surmised, but he'd only seen her from the back so he couldn't be certain.
Only one way to find out, he told himself.
When he came upon a set of offices near the back on the left he paused. Only one of them was closed, with the words YOUTH SERVICES MANAGER engraved in a metal door sign. He walked slowly to the door, stumbling over the words he'd say once he got the courage to knock. Suppose it wasn't her? Suppose it was and she stared at him over her sexy librarian glasses, daring him to make a move? Suppose none of that shit happened and he stood in front of her gaping like an idiot. The latter was certainly more likely.
Just as Ben lifted his hand to knock he heard the rhythm of little feet stomping towards him, and crying. He turned to see Bridget rushing towards him. Camille held tightly to his niece's hand as she trailed behind her, face wet with tears.
Ben quickly kneeled down and held his arms out, making soothing noises in Cami's ear once she wrapped her small arms around his neck. "What's wrong Cami-bear?" he murmured in the little girl's ear. She shook her head and continued to cry in his neck, so he looked to his niece for an explanation.
Bridget shrugged. "Uncle Benny, I don't know what's wrong," she said, ending the sentence in more of a question than a statement. "She wouldn't stop crying."
His niece sounded so adorably confused at the situation that it took everything in him not to laugh, which would not have been a good idea given his armful of crying toddler. "S'okay Bridge, go on back over with the others. I got her."
Bridget ran back and Ben rose to his feet, rubbing Cami's back until he only heard sniffles. And then the click of a door opening behind him.
This is not happening.
Alas, it was. Ben forced himself to turn around. It was just as well that no amount of coaching would've prepared him for this moment. It already seemed like she was meant to throw him off his game.
Her face was free of makeup and her hair was in a bun, and it looked as though she'd stuck her glasses on top of her head in a hurry before she opened the door. In short, she was just as pretty as he remembered. Strikingly so, he amended.
"Is everything all right?" she asked, and if Ben were a gambling man he'd bet that her voice would be his downfall. Jesus. He didn't even know how to describe it. Raspy? Whiskey soft? Why in hell was he thinking about liquor at a time like this.
Ben continued to rub circles on Camille's back as her breathing evened out, and truthfully, it helped calm him some too. "Yeah, sorry for the interruption," he said, lowering his voice. "She'll be fine, she just- actually, I don't know what happened. I was reading a book and then I was here and my niece came running over with Cami who was crying her heart out…"
He was rambling. He knew he was rambling but he couldn't seem to stop talking.
She gave him a soft smile and tilted her head to get a look at Cami's face. Ben turned to the side to accommodate her view. "Hi sweetheart," she greeted the little girl, "Were you given a scare?"
Ben couldn't tell if Cami had given her an answer but the woman seemed satisfied with his god-daughter's response. "You seemed to have done a fine job calming her down."
Ben subconsciously hugged the girl tighter and gave a bashful smile. "I guess I've got the godfather's touch."
Ok, that was corny even for him. But the woman laughed quietly and Ben's eyes were drawn to her pretty mouth before he glanced away with an embarrassing cough.
Lord, don't let me say or do anything inappropriate.
* * *
When Claudia opened her office door to find Ben fucking Browder standing before her with an adorable little girl in his arms, she was certain it was all Gigi's doing. At that moment she wanted to call her friend and either curse her or thank her. Possibly both. But she put it all in the back of her mind once she heard the child crying. Claudia was defenseless against tears no matter who shed them.
She'd thought about meeting him again and replayed different scenes over in her head, wondering which pieces of gossip would be confirmed and what truths uncovered. Claudia trusted Gigi so she'd already had it in her head that he was divorced and wasn't in fact pining for his ex-wife.
However, she'd assumed he had kids because he'd come to the library so many times searching for children's books. It wasn't an entirely baseless assumption. To hear him ramble on about his niece and godchild made her heart melt. She didn't want to believe that Ben was perfect because no one was, but it was a very near thing.
Their small talk faded into silence that was a bit awkward, Claudia discovered, only because they were both doing a poor job at checking each other out on the sly. As they stood in the door way of her office while story time continued around them.
She'd caught his eyes falling on her mouth more than once and felt her cheeks warm, fought to keep from grinning. "Would you like to come inside," she asked, gesturing at her office behind her.
"Sure." Ben crossed her path and she closed the door behind him.
Ben was attempting to read a business card that lay flat on her desk, facing away from him, and she was reminded that while she knew plenty of information about him to start with, he didn't even know her name.
"I don't believe we've formally met. I'm Claudia Black, youth services manager here at the library." It would be silly to offer a handshake considering his were full but that didn't lessen the urge she had to feel his hand in hers.
He seemed relieved, though, to hear her name when he responded, "Ben Browder, pleasure's all mine. And this," he said with a gesture to the bundle in his arms, "is Camille Judge. She's four." He whispered something in the little girl's ear and she twisted in his arms to face Claudia, then gave a small wave.
Claudia smiled. "Hi cutie."
Camille smiled and hid her face in Ben's chest and the adults laughed.
Claudia fought back a sigh. Sweetheart, I don't blame you.
"When you were here before, looking for books.. they were for your niece and Camille?"
"Yup, and my other niece Alison, and Cami's twin brother CJ."
They talked until Claudia glanced at the clock on her wall and announced that story time would be ending soon. By that time Camille wanted to walk on her own and Ben held her hand as Claudia escorted them out of her office. She watched as Ben instructed the little girl to rejoin her brother and the girls before he turned back to her. That's when it hit her.
This moment was slipping away from her. That interminable wait she'd felt weeks ago was back, and she was losing it the further Ben moved away. She needed to do something and blurted out, "would you like to go out for coffee sometime?"
Ben stared at her and said nothing, and then it seemed he was saying too many things at once. She found it so damn endearing the way he stumbled over his answer.
"Yeah, yes, absolutely! I mean, that would be great."
Claudia hid a laugh behind her hand.
They exchanged phone numbers and soon after Ben went to gather the kids. He gave her one last wave as they left and Claudia shut her door quietly, collapsing into her chair with a wide grin on her face.
She couldn't wait to tell Gigi what happened.
The best part of their coffee date happened when it was over.
This was not to say that Claudia didn't enjoy herself. They'd talked for nearly three hours and she'd spent a good chunk of that time laughing herself silly. She loved Ben's sense of humor. He'd also shared his love of teaching and how much he was enjoying his position at the community college. And when she'd tentatively asked about his marriage his response was brief, but it explained so much.
"The divorce," he breathed, scratching the back of his head and looking slightly uncomfortable at the topic. Claudia opened her mouth to take back the question when he tried again. "For now I'll just say that the the divorce was a long time coming." Ben looked out the window as he sipped from his coffee cup and Claudia wanted to facepalm at her own stupidity. There was a reason you didn't ask about exes on the first date.
Ben eventually met her eyes and gave her a half smile. "Ask me again in a few months and I might tell you the full story."
After she'd apologized multiple times for putting her foot in her mouth she still felt like she owed him something to make up for her gaff. She'd contemplated what she could offer when the door opened to the coffee shop and James, the intensely focused pussy-eater, walked in. His eyes widened when he saw her but he did stop to exchange a few words with Ben.
The entire time neither she or James acknowledged one another. When Ben asked her about it later it was like the answer had fallen into her lap.
As first dates went it was fairly average. When they finally gathered their things to leave Ben deliberately cupped her hand in his and led her outside. Claudia had never considered herself a romantic at heart but she did appreciate romantic gestures. And Ben taking her hand in his made her heart do wicked things in her chest, caused her face to hurt from smiling. It made her uncharacteristically happy for such a small thing, and she wondered what it'd feel like to fall for Ben Browder.
She may be well on her way to finding out.
"This is me," she said when they got to her car, feeling nervous and suddenly unsure of what to do next. Not like her at all.
Claudia leaned against the driver side door facing Ben, her fingers itching to grab his shirt to pull him closer. He did it for her, moving forward until she almost felt the rise and fall of his chest against her.
"I had a great time," he murmured, looking down at her with a soft expression on his face.
"So did I," Claudia replied. Her eyes dropped to his mouth.
She licked her lips and Ben's followed closely after, brushing gently against hers. He cupped his hand around her neck, his fingers slipping into her hair at her nape. She was trapped by his other hand bracing his weight against the car until he was impossibly close, so she settled her arms around his waist.
He kissed her chastely, never letting his mouth linger long enough for her to do anything about it. Ben pulled away and opened his eyes, staring down into her face. He eventually nodded and she wondered what it was he saw in her eyes that finally made him kiss her like she'd been anticipating, hoping for. There was no holding back this time.
Claudia opened her mouth to him, swept her tongue inside to deepen the kiss until he moaned and pressed her more firmly against the door. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been kissed so slowly and thoroughly, as if he'd had all the time in the world to taste her.
They pulled apart slowly, both taking in gulps of air. Claudia leaned her head into his chest, his heartbeat a weirdly soothing staccato rhythm in her ear. She felt his breath ruffling her hair as he came down and she felt grateful that she wasn't alone in this effect he had on her. It was easier to fall when you had someone falling with you.
* * *
Claudia said yes.
She listened to him ramble and didn't reject him, and Ben was so fucking grateful for a second chance that he vowed not to get in his own way again.
He only hoped he could keep that promise.
Ben wanted to take things slowly after fucking up so badly with Claudia the first time. Even though he didn't see that he'd had other options at the time - besides the obvious, of course, which was to talk to her before things spiraled out of his control - the last thing he'd wanted to do was hurt her. But that's exactly what happened. Sure, they'd talked at the library and she seemed to have forgiven him but now she was holding herself back. Just a little, and not even enough to call attention to, but he'd definitely noticed.
And he couldn't blame her one bit.
When he'd asked her out he was hoping they could start over with a clean slate. He made reservations at one of the classier restaurants in Browning, and made sure to keep his hands to himself as they walked to the entrance, though it was tempting. Claudia looked beautiful.
It started to go downhill from there.
Later on, Claudia described how the experience made her feel as if she was on display, through no fault of his nor because of the malicious intentions of anyone they came across. But hell, people could be thoughtless without much effort.
First there were questions about his ex-wife. They were so good together, and the entire town had been routing for them, hoping they'd make it. "No children? What a shame."
Ben couldn't decide if the curious stares and awkwardly stated compliments were much better. "How cute are you two! I'll just bet you'll make the prettiest babies together."
He found himself apologizing profusely afterwards as he drove her home. He'd partly expected this reaction because he was used to it. "It's not your fault," she replied. "I've lived here four years Ben, I'm not completely unaware."
"Ok. I just hope you don't take the part about me and Fran too personally. Lotta history there, you know?"
She hummed her agreement and stared out the window while he felt like a helpless idiot.
Claudia laughed unexpectedly. "The look on your face when Mrs. Baker said we'd make pretty babies was just adorable."
Ben just knew his face was red, if the coy smile on her face was anything to go by. She fell into a fit of giggles that lasted the rest of the drive to her house.
A few weeks later Ben woke up with a sudden realization: he was dating again.
He was in a relationship. With Claudia Black. Just the thought of it made him want to kick his heels or some other equally dorky gesture.
He'd forgotten what it felt like to court someone, and had to reacquaint himself with what it was to discover details about a person for the first time. He felt brand new in some respects, and was content to let Claudia be his guide. They went on dates of course, but they also went jogging on Sunday mornings, or met at the park for lunch when the weather was nice and they could get away from their jobs. She'd even sat in on one of his classes. Ben knew he'd never forget that feeling of accomplishment when she'd told him he was where he needed to be in that classroom. "Brilliant, babe."
He'd grinned sheepishly then kissed her until he couldn't breathe.
* * *
Claudia had recently concluded that taking things slowly with Ben had gone on long enough and she was ready for something more. It was the way he looked at her sometimes, like he wanted to eat her up, and she wanted to let him so badly. Some of her more vivid fantasies involved her spread out on her desk while Ben went down on her. And those fantasies got decidedly more graphic.
She was horny; consumed with thoughts of getting him naked and being pounded into on her very large bed. Ben seemed to be on the same page but they'd only get so far before hitting an invisible boundary. She wasn't entirely used to being this sexually frustrated while in a relationship.
Claudia meant to change that sooner rather than later.
They met up for lunch on Saturday with the intention of spending the rest of the day together. It was a sunny day so they found a bench and curled up together, people watching as they munched on snacks. She let her head fall into the crook of his neck and sighed contentedly, then closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, Ben was staring down into her face, or more specifically, at her mouth. Claudia curled her fingers into the soft hair at his nape and pulled him close, slanting her mouth over his.
Ben's lips parted and she flicked her tongue teasingly against his. When he leaned in to deepen the kiss she forgot all about their surroundings.
They left a while later, her hand tucked into his much larger one, and she thought about the expanse of his fingers on her bare hip, driving her down on his cock until her voice broke from the pleasure of it.
His fingers traced the edge of her panties under her straight skirt, on a Tuesday night. He'd picked her up directly from the library, told her he didn't mind if the evening wound up short because she had work the next day, or that she'd spent over 8 hours in the same outfit. He just wanted to spend time with her.
An hour or so later Claudia didn't much care about her unkempt appearance.
Ben sucked on her neck while his fingers stayed busy. He drew his thumb over the damp center of her panties and she rocked her hips a little with the movement, straining against the material of her skirt. She was so warm all over, breaths coming out in gasps as he licked a trail down her throat while he slipped one digit beneath her underwear.
Claudia didn't have it in her to be embarrassed by how turned on she was, how wet he made her when he'd barely touched her down there yet.
Ben's accent drove her crazy. His drawl, the way he said "girl…" hotly on her skin made her feel like one. All of her experience seemed to vanish once his fingers were sliding against her clit and he was talking. Stuck a thick finger inside her and she whined his name, a pitiful sound to her ears. She clutched his forearm with her hand, whispered, "another one," like she was frantic for more and he was two digits deep inside. All she could do was hold on and thrust her tongue in his mouth as she fucked his fingers.
After she came he squeezed her tight, fingers still snug between her legs. He kissed her again, biting her bottom lip, his sigh heavy against her. "Damn Claude," he murmured. "You are something else."
She ducked her head, brushing her cheek along his jaw. Wanted to have another go at it.
A week later, after a particularly long day at work Claudia wanted nothing more than to down a glass of wine and fall into bed. She was checking her voicemail on her mobile while starting up her car when she heard Ben's voice on the other end. He was inviting her over for dinner, and he'd missed her and hoped she'd take him up on his offer.
She was still tired but she wanted to see Ben more so she drove to his house without a second thought.
Ben answered the door after her first knock and immediately wrapped her in a tight hug, dropped a kiss beneath her ear.
"Baby you look exhausted. We could've done this another night," he chastised lightly.
"No," she sighed, "I wanted to come. Besides, like I'm going to turn down your offer to feed me."
She watched him cook, tasting things along the way, and helped him set the table when the food was ready. They'd emptied one wine bottle and had just opened another when she yawned widely – the events of the day at last catching up with her.
Ben watched her over his wine glass as he took a sip. "You should stay here for the night," he suggested. "I don't want you driving when you're sleepy and been drinking."
Claudia nodded in agreement. She hadn't been looking forward to the drive home anyway. She stood from her seat and pulled the pins from her hair, sighing as it fell down over her shoulders. Plucked her glass from the table and took a big gulp as she leaned against the wall. Called quietly to him, "Ben, come here."
Suddenly sleep was the last thing on her mind.
He rose from his chair and drained his glass, setting it on the end of the table. When she downed what remained in her glass he took it from her hand and sat it down as well. Claudia pulled gently at his t-shirt and dragged him to her, standing with her legs apart so he could settle between them comfortably. She kissed him slowly and parted her lips, impatient for his sweeping tongue. Ben's hands cupped her face as he licked her mouth playfully before deepening the kiss, huffed out a laugh when her hands squeezed his ass.
Ben's mouth crushed against hers, his kiss bruising and needy. She got her hands between them and unzipped his jeans, tugging them down below his hips so she could touch him. His underwear was tented, his hard length arching into her hand.
Claudia panted, "wait," and pushed him back until she had enough room to unzip her skirt, then wiggled her hips until it fell to her ankles. She kicked the material away impatiently and pulled him back, hooking one leg around his waist.
Much better, she thought with a sigh. Two layers of cloth separated their skin but she could feel him now. Ben rubbed himself against her, pressing the damp crotch of her panties into her already wet cunt. Jesus, they were basically humping each other against the wall in his dining room at that point.
He bit at her lips and soothed the hurt with his tongue. "Oh god," she moaned against Ben's mouth when he lifted her arms over her head and held him against the wall with one hand – his other cupping her breast outside her blouse, his thumb against her nipple making her tingle all over.
He fucking thrusted against her and it felt so damn good she was close to coming. "I want you, I want you," she chanted, breathless.
Her legs began to shake. Ben tucked his head into the curve of her neck and sucked on her ear, his voice thick. "C'mon baby, lemme get inside you," he pleaded, and she whimpered in acquiescence.
He was thick inside her. Painful thrusts that kissed her cervix and made her breath stutter in her chest. Her thighs rested high on his hips as he pounded into her, dragging his swollen lips from her nipples and up her throat to latch onto her mouth. She dug her nails into his back as he teased her orgasm from her, left her feeling like he'd snatched her voice when it was over.
"Oh lord," he drawled, still full inside her, and she motioned for them to switch positions. On her hands and knees, he slide back in and already her limbs were unsteady. His thrusts pushed her down flat on the bed and he was so deep she sobbed out his name. Ben pushed her hair over her shoulder and sucked on the back of her neck, mumbled as his hips sped up.
She whimpered, felt helpless. "Please," she moaned, throwing her hips back, that feeling welling up deep inside her again.
"I know baby," he groaned, jaw tight. Sucked in a breath on a downstroke, fisting her hair and then, "- oh, yeah.. here, here, take it," he said faintly and fucked hard into her as he came apart.
* * *
Ben tugged on Claudia's hand as she passed him and drew her on to his lap. Just a short while before the table he was sitting at was host to a game of Spades, and he and Chris had just narrowly won the game, collecting seven books to the other team's six. They were taking a break until the next round.
He'd watched her for a while, running around Chris' back yard, helping Cami catch lightning bugs with a glass jar. Something had settled over him at the image of her playing with his god-kids, fitting in with his rowdy group of friends who were like family to him. And they'd all fallen for Claudia in no time at all.
She wiggled her hips and he gripped her in his hands, stilling her movement. Wide grin on her face when he looked at her. "You tryna get me in trouble," he said lowly, took a pull from his bottle of beer.
Ben chuckled and touched his forehead to hers. "That's all right, I'll get you back later."
Claudia kissed him briefly and combed her fingers through his short hair. She glanced around her and then leaned in until her lips brushed his ear. "I have a surprise for you."
Ben pulled back, licked his lips as curiosity settled on his face. Claudia's surprises were legendary. And kinky. His baby had quite the imagination.
He remembered the hushed snicker that escaped her lips when he told her those pencil straight skirts and lacy blouses with modest buttons, and soft cardigans she wore to work were sexy as hell to him. They'd spent a week living out his dirtiest fantasies with her in those clothes. Her pleated skirt tickling his cheek as he licked her pussy; riding him with her glasses on, silk blouse unbuttoned so he could put his mouth on her breasts.
Fuck, he was hard just thinking about it.
Ben cleared his throat, ignoring the knowing smirk on her face. "Let's leave right now."
Claudia looked poised to say no but shrugged and stood up from his lap. "All right."
Ben flipped off Chris on their way out the door, ignoring their friends' lewd teasing comments with smiles on their faces.