The morning air was just crisp enough for Darcy to see her breath as she hurried along the sidewalk to the park. A few early leaves crunched under her boots when she rounded the corner and caught sight of Jane bent over the padlock of their cart, squinting in the gray, pre-dawn light. “Is it stuck again?” she called as she approached. Other vendors setting up around them glanced her way. A few spared a brief wave and smile for her while she hurried to Jane’s side.
“I keep meaning to buy a new lock,” Jane muttered, stepping aside to let Darcy crouch down in front of the partially rusted lock. “You’re here early,” she noted.
Darcy glanced over her shoulder and smiled. “I can go take a couple laps around the block if you want some alone time.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Just unjam the lock, please.”
Darcy smiled and twisted the key, pulling just hard enough, with just the right twist to pop the metal and open the lock. “Unjammed,” she said, standing up with a smile as she pushed open the wooden doors to display the chalkboard menus of Chemistry Incaffeinated’s farmers market cart.
Jane regarded her with a strong side-eye while they got to work setting up the espresso machine and air pots for the morning rush. “You’re awfully chipper this morning,” she said while Darcy made them each an Americano to start the day.
“And you’re awfully suspicious,” Darcy countered. “I just—” she shrugged. “I had a good night last night. Got plenty of rest. Felt like greeting this beautiful fall morning with something other than sleep-deprived misery for a change.” She took a deep breath. Hints of leaves mingled with fresh espresso and nipped at her nose. “Smells like the first day of school.”
“Okay,” Jane held up a hand. “Enough. Before you launch into a Nora Ephron monologue.”
Darcy bit back another smile and handed Jane her drink. “Autumnal cheer is effectively neutralized,” she promised.
The sun had risen by the time they were set up and ready for their first customers of the day. Tracy and Constance, owners of the pastry shop across the aisle were the first to arrive—bartering for coffee as they always did, with fresh apple cinnamon scones. Beside them, a young woman in coveralls unloaded a hand-truck full of blue crates, packed solid with robust greens, bright peppers, dark purple onions, and thick bunches of rainbow carrots. Darcy made a note of who had what this week, reminding herself where to stop before everyone packed up at two.
Spinach and kale from Sundeen, three stalls down. If Dorothy had apple cider this week, she’d need at least one gallon of that and a bag of golden delicious to go with. Another jar of honey from the beekeepers on the other side of market, Darcy reminded herself, debating on whether she’d need to make a list. And if she was all the way across the market anyway, she let her thoughts go on, there’d be no reason she couldn’t stop and get a loaf of bread from a certain vendor. Maybe say hi. Be nice.
She didn’t have too much time to consider the rest of her shopping list as the gates rolled open and the Saturday morning farmers market was opened to the public.
It wasn’t until the first ebb of customers—predictably around eight-thirty—that Darcy could look up long enough to notice him hanging back by the fresh flower stand, debating whether to come up for coffee.
Blonde, built, kind-eyed Steve. Looking way too good in a flour-streaked gray henley with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Steve, who used to set up right next to them with a table full of beautifully crafted bread creations and the absolute best sourdough she’d ever tasted. With whom they used to trade coffee for bagels and jokes back and forth all day.
Darcy offered him a smile and motioned him over with a nod of her head. “Good morning,” she greeted cheerfully when he came closer.
Steve’s smiles were always just a little shy. “Morning,” he echoed. “How are the caffeinated chemists this morning?”
“Chemist,” she reminded as she pulled a double shot and tamped down the grounds. “And you’ll have to ask her yourself. But the underutilized political scientist is perfectly delightful, thank you.” She reached for the vanilla syrup. “You want your usual?”
“Yes please,” his gaze shifted from Darcy to Jane, restocking the cups beside the espresso machine. “Good morning, Jane.”
She glanced up as Darcy started the machine. “Morning.”
“How’s it going?”
Jane looked up again and narrowed her eyes. “Who’s asking?”
Steve shifted his weight. “Does that…” he exchanged a look with Darcy. “Does that change the answer?”
Darcy focused on the latte at hand to keep her eyes from rolling as Jane cleared her throat and stood up straight. “Well if it’s you asking, then everything’s fine. If it’s Thor asking through you, then he can go to hell. Or ask me himself.”
“Right,” Steve nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. “It was—um—it was just me. Asking.”
“Everything’s great, Steve,” Jane clipped as her phone began to ring from her back pocket. “Take care,” she added before she tapped the screen and put it to her ear.
Darcy frothed and poured the milk while Jane stepped away. “Bet you wish you hadn’t asked,” she commented before she secured a lid and reached for a sleeve.
Steve’s smile returned. “Nah, she’s fine,” he glanced behind him briefly. “And I was kind of testing the weather for Thor, anyway,” he admitted before he changed the topic. “What’s the scone of the day over at Tracy’s?” he asked. “I’m starving.”
She grinned. “Apple cinnamon. But I heard Connie say something about ginger with lemon glaze, too,” she said. “And if Thor’s asking,” she said, dropping her voice with a conspiratorial glance over her own shoulder, “tell him the forecast is still pretty stormy.”
The forecast, Darcy didn’t want to tell him, would likely remain stormy for the foreseeable future. When Jane had finally broken up with Thor after almost four years together, it hadn’t been pretty. No tears, no big dramatic scenes in public—that wasn’t Jane. She’d simply gone about cutting him and everything attached to or that would remind her of him out of her life. She’d changed her phone number, requested that their stall be moved to the opposite side of the farmers market, changed the route she took to walk to the café each morning so she no longer passed the bakery where he worked. It was quick, efficient, methodical, just like everything else Jane did.
Only in this instance, it was undercut with heartbreak and disappointment. And Darcy couldn’t help but feel like that was somehow harder to watch than tears and dramatic outbursts.
“Noted,” Steve said with a nod, pulling her attention back to the present as Darcy handed him the coffee cup.
Their fingers brushed when he took it and Darcy bit her lip and pulled her hand away first to tuck back a curl that had escaped her messy bun. “Enjoy your breakfast,” she said when he stepped away.
“I will,” he nodded and took a sip, turning to head toward Tracy and Constance’s stall. He stopped after a few steps and turned back and Darcy felt her stomach flip. “I uh,” he cleared his throat and offered her another half-smile. “I like that shirt, by the way. Looks nice.”
She glanced down with pink cheeks at the faded blue and red flannel shirt she’d pulled on that morning. Tied at the waist and with the sleeves rolled to disguise how oversized it was. “This old thing?” she asked, looking back up with a smirk. “I only wear it when I don’t care how I look.”
He grinned like he recognized her recitation from It’s a Wonderful Life and shook his head before he was absorbed by the crowd on his way to acquire some scones. Jane appeared at her side a few moments later. “Is he gone?”
Darcy did not stop her eyes from rolling this time. “He is,” she said evenly. “And exactly as blameless for your break-up as he’s been for the last three months,” she reminded. “You don’t have to keep painting him with the same brush.”
“It’s easier if I do,” Jane shrugged as she checked the levels in the air pots. “Should I make more decaf?”
She shook her head. “No one drinks it. I can do decaf Americanos if someone asks. And how is it easier? Steve used to be your friend, too.”
“Used to be,” Jane repeated. “Past tense. Thor got Steve and Bruce in the divorce. Therefore they go in the same box as the rest of Thor’s stuff that I no longer want in my apartment.”
“You need to stop calling it ‘the divorce’. You weren’t even engaged.” Darcy chastised before she twisted her lips in thought. “Who ended up in the Jane box?” she asked, tilting her head to one side. They’d all been friends before Jane and Thor had started dating, after all. The rules surrounding this break-up kept getting more and more complicated.
“You,” Jane shrugged.
“That tone,” Darcy snorted.
“What?” Jane asked. “You did. You and…” she frowned. “Scott, I guess.”
“But shouldn’t you get Bruce?” Darcy asked in all seriousness. Her place in the Jane box had been secured from the beginning—sisters didn’t get much of a choice. Even half-sisters who’d only known about each other for the last ten years. But Bruce, Scott and Jane had been in grad school together. Steve was Bruce’s friend and roommate from undergrad, and had worked at the bakery alongside Thor for the last five years. Which, she supposed, would explain Bruce’s place in the Thor box. If Darcy squinted, she could understand Jane’s reasoning.
But after three solid months of these increasingly complex social maneuvers, Darcy was tired.
“I don’t know,” Jane huffed. “I don’t want to keep talking about this,” she said abruptly. “I just want to work.”
“Okay,” Darcy held up a hand in defense. “Your consolation prize is dropping it and returning to work.”
Jane stopped her messing with the air pots and came to stand beside Darcy as she slammed the portafilter against the trashcan. She put her willowy arms around Darcy and hugged her tightly, resting her chin on her shoulder. “Sorry,” she said quietly. “You’re not my consolation prize.”
“I know,” Darcy smiled, ignored the twist in her stomach and turned her head to kiss Jane’s temple. “I’m more like a hostage.”
Jane snorted a laugh as she let her sister go and greeted the next wave of the morning rush.
Darcy waited until they’d sold their last bag of beans and had cleaned and locked their stall before she made the rounds to do her shopping. Jane was long gone by the time she found herself at Bread&Butter, perusing the remaining loaves of baguettes, bags of dinner rolls, and boxes of muffins. Thor noticed her first when he looked up from his end-of-day inventory sheet.
Darcy held up a hand. “If anyone asks, I get my bread elsewhere these days.”
Thor smiled with a nod. “Your secret’s safe with me,” he assured her as Steve appeared with a hand-truck, stacked with crates.
He set it down and glanced at Darcy and smiled. “Hey.”
“Hey,” she echoed, telling herself that it would be rude to let her eyes roam from his face, down his rippling chest and over his arms—all on display thanks to that outrageously mis-sized shirt.
“What are you doing over on our side?”
“Well, technically she’s not,” Thor said, grabbing the top empty crate.
“And if I was,” Darcy said, “I’d just be looking for some sesame bagels…” She let her fingers trail along the edge of the table. “And maybe a recommendation for what’s going to make the best French toast tomorrow.”
Thor bent and retrieved a bag of bagels from beneath the table. “Last one,” he said and then held them back when Darcy reached for them. “Answer a question first.”
She groaned and rolled her eyes. “Yes,” she said plainly. “She still hates you.”
“Not really, though,” he said, a crease of concern in his brow. “Right?”
Steve scoffed and shook his head. “Dude—you fucked up. Accept it.”
“It wasn’t just me—” Thor argued weakly. “She…y’know…was rushing things.”
“Asking to meet your family after three and a half years?” Steve asked with another dry laugh. “Yeah—good idea to pump the breaks on that one.”
“I’m just here for bread, gentlemen,” Darcy reminded, taking advantage of Thor’s distraction to jump and grab the bagels from his hand.
Steve laughed. “The country loaf’s going to be your best bet for French toast,” he added when Darcy turned her eyes to his expectantly. “But unfortunately, it’s really popular and we sold out by eleven.”
She pouted. “Damnit.”
“Sorry,” he shrugged. “They do a decent sourdough over at Saveur,” he suggested, motioning to the other side of the market where the French bakery set up shop each week.
Darcy wrinkled her nose. “They’re not very friendly over there,” she admitted. “I’ll just skip my French toast.” She dug in her pocket for the cash for her bagels and tucked them into her shopping totes. “Well, gents, it’s been real. See ya next week,” she shot them both with a set of finger guns and started toward the gate.
“Darcy!” Thor called out when she’d made it only to the next stand. She turned and waited while he offered her his best and most charmingly gorgeous smile. “Would you at least tell her I said ‘hi’?”
“Aw, buddy,” Darcy pouted in sympathy. “No. Absolutely not,” she assured him, turning around as the sound of Steve’s laughter stayed with her all the way to the gate.
The wind had just started to pick up as she made her way down the sidewalk later that evening. The sun had just dipped behind the brownstones and cast the sky in shades of dark orange and dusty pink. The trees caught her attention as they moved in the breeze. Most of the yellow leaves were still holding on; but with the next good rain, they’d be the first to surrender when autumn officially took hold of New York. She stuffed her hands in the pockets of her jacket, wishing she’d thrown on a scarf or a sweater. But her destination was only a half a block up, she reminded herself with a smile. She’d be warm soon enough.
One of the women from the building recognized her and let her in as she and her partner were leaving for the night. Darcy took her time, lingering in the doorway, trailing her fingers over the antique mailboxes and the names on each one.
“Hey,” a familiar voice pulled her attention away from one name in particular.
Darcy grinned as Steve descended the few stairs from the first landing. “Hey,” she echoed. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“Yeah,” he mirrored her smile before he awkwardly motioned to the stairs behind him. “I mean…it’s a little more surprising for me. Since…y’know…I live here and everything.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Do you?” she asked. “I had no idea—what a small world.” She glanced down quickly. “Guess that explains your lack of shoes.”
Steve laughed softly to himself and shook his head. He twirled his keys on the keyring around his finger. “So, what’s the deal, Lewis?” he asked, taking a step closer. “You just hanging out in my lobby by accident?”
“Oh no,” she shook her head, feeling bolder as he took another step to close the distance between them. “I’m meeting a friend.”
“A friend?” he repeated.
“Well,” she tilted her head to one side as he dropped his hands to her hips. “More than a friend, I guess.” He tugged her closer. “Kind of a…paramour situation?”
Steve nodded, a dangerously sexy smirk stuck at one side of his lips. “Big plans?”
“Well I was promised scary movies and popcorn,” she said slowly, remembering the text he’d sent her earlier. “But,” she pretended to pull a face. “The problem is that he’s distractingly attractive and I don’t know that I’m actually going to be able to pay attention to any movie he puts on—scary or not.”
If she wasn’t mistaken, the very tops of Steve’s ears reddened at her implication. “Sounds like a conundrum,” he assessed. “So, this—paramour, did you call him?”
“Uh huh.” They were close enough now that her nose almost brushed his.
“You wouldn’t happen to have stolen his shirt when you snuck out of his apartment at four o’clock this morning,” he glanced down at her open jacket and the blue and red flannel shirt he’d complimented earlier. “Would you?”
“Stole?” She feigned a gasp of surprise. “I would never.” She seized his hand and ducked under his arm before he could lean in to kiss her. He spun with her as she started walking backwards up the stairs he’d just descended. “I think the word you’re looking for is borrowed, Steven. I borrowed this shirt from my paramour.”
He followed her more slowly than she would have liked, keeping her pulling at his arm impatiently. “So there’s a chance he might get it back?”
Darcy bit her lip as they stopped at his door. He let her pull him close this time, his arms circling around her waist as she leaned her back against the doorframe. “If he asks nicely,” she giggled and placed a hand on the doorknob. “And opens this fucking door, ‘cause kissing in the hallway is against the rules.”
He turned the lock and pushed her inside. The door barely had time to shut before Darcy found herself shoved against it and Steve’s lips were on hers. She ran her hands greedily over his arms and shoulders and bit back a squeal as his stubble tickled her neck when his kisses wandered from her lips to the spot just below her ear. Steve’s hands returned to her hips and he jerked her closer, crowding her against the door so all she could see and feel and smell was him. “I missed you,” she heard him murmur against her skin, making her squirm with a teasing nip of his teeth.
Darcy giggled again. “You saw me this morning,” she reminded, threading a hand up into his hair to keep his lips on her neck. She leaned into his touch and didn’t protest when he pulled her leg up to hook around his hip.
“Saw you,” he echoed, his lips moving back up to her ear. “Couldn’t kiss you,” his tongue flicked her earlobe once before he clutched it between his teeth, pulling a sharp inhale from Darcy’s parted lips. “Couldn’t touch you,” Steve pressed his hips against hers so she could feel how hard he was already. She swallowed back a moan, keeping the sound in the back of her throat as she wriggled against him, trying to rid herself of her jacket. With his free hand, he helped her shove the thin coat down her arms and let it drop on the floor before he met her lips again in a hot, open-mouthed kiss, all hunger and filthy promises that shot a rush of heat straight through her and turned her legs to jelly. He was breathless when he pulled away and pinned his forehead to hers. “You’re driving me crazy,” he admitted, pulling back just far enough to rake his eyes down her body again. He shook his head. “Especially when you do shit like wear my clothes to work.”
Darcy bit her lip and blushed. “I just wanted to make sure you knew I was thinking about you.”
“Is that what you were doing?” he asked, his voice low and deep enough to strike just the right chord in her chest.
She stretched her neck to brush her lips to his. “Do you want me to show you what I was thinking about?” she asked, lifting one eyebrow when he opened his eyes.
Steve nodded as he set her foot back on the ground and reached behind her to twist the lock into place. He let her shove him lightly toward the wide leather armchair. The same place she’d fallen asleep last Sunday afternoon while he’d been in the kitchen shaping ciabatta dough to go with the tomato soup she’d brought from the deli for dinner. When he’d woken her up, she remembered with a smile as she pushed him to sit and leaned over him for a kiss, his hands were still dusted with flour and the whole apartment smelled like fresh bread.
His hands reached for the buttons of her shirt—his shirt—and Darcy let him unbutton them down to where she’d tied the tails together. She stepped back and pulled at the knot she’d tied until she could undo the last of the buttons and the shirt hung open. She smiled as she watched Steve’s eyes roam over her chest and the navy blue satin and lace of her bra. He smirked again and reached a hand up to trail a finger along the lacy edge of one side. “Were you wearing this this morning, too?”
Darcy glanced down at her choice of lingerie. New, uncomfortable, and impractical for everything but dropping on the floor. Push-up cups and thin straps and absolutely nothing like the sports bra she’d been wearing at the market that day. She shook her head and dropped a kiss to his lips. “No; this I put on just for you.”
Steve’s hands slid from her chest up her neck and he pulled her face down for another kiss. “Lucky me,” he whispered when she pulled away.
“You better believe it,” she said with another smile before she reached between them and unbuckled his belt. Steve stretched to kiss her again, but she pulled back, out of reach; she tucked her fingers into the waistband of his jeans and the boxer-briefs he wore underneath, pulling them both down with her when she sank to her knees between his legs. Darcy wet her lips and wrapped a hand around his cock, pumping him a few times before she swirled her tongue around the head once and took him fully into her mouth.
He let out a choked groan as his hands went into her hair and she relaxed her jaw, taking him as deep as she could while her hand took care of the rest. “Jesus Christ,” he murmured, curling his fingers tighter in her hair while as she pulled back slowly, sliding her tongue along the underside, seeking to trace veins and ridges that made his breathing shorten to little huffs and had her growing wetter with each sound he made. “That fucking mouth of yours.” Darcy flicked her eyes back up to his as she came off him a little, pumping her hand in time with her mouth.
She gave into the subtle pull of his hands around her head, letting him set the speed as she tightened her lips and sucked gently, bobbing at the pace he liked, flicking her tongue over the head on every upward sweep. “Darcy I—” the words died on his lips when she pulled her free hand from his trembling thigh and cupped his balls lightly. “Fuck,” he choked, his hips thrusting upward in surprise, shoving his cock farther into her mouth. “Darcy, I’m—”
He was coming a moment later around a moan he tried to smother between his lips; spilling into her mouth as she pumped and sucked him through it, swallowing everything he had to give her. When his fingers finally untangled from her curls, Darcy released his cock and sat back on her heels. She swiped the back of her hand at the corners of her mouth before she licked her swollen lips again and met his eyes with a salacious grin. “That’s what I was thinking about,” she said, “when I saw you at work today.”
She couldn’t help but enjoy seeing him like this: slumped back, breathless and flushed, looking thoroughly undone all because of her. He blinked slowly and focused his gaze back on her. He shook his head and leaned forward to retrieve his underwear from the pants she’d pushed aside. Once he’d pulled them back on, Steve leaned forward and seized her by the arms; he pulled her in for a long, deep kiss that reminded her she’d done nothing to relieve the heat between her thighs.
“Get on the couch,” he said against her lips, pulling her to her feet. Darcy complied and let him push her into the deep cushions of his couch; she leaned forward and into his hands, waiting to pull her face in for a kiss as he knelt in front of her. She let out a little hum of contentment when he dragged his fingers down her neck and chest before he popped the button and undid the zipper of her jeans. He’d just begun sliding her pants down her legs when he glanced up and shook his head. “Leave it on,” he said, stopping her as soon as she’d started slipping her arms out of his shirt, planning to toss it aside.
Darcy grinned and didn’t fight when Steve grabbed her by the backs of her knees and tugged her ass to the edge of the couch. He’d relieved her of her boots, her socks, and her jeans in record time before he ran his short nails up her bare legs and pushed her thighs apart. His hands roamed up her hips and over the dark blue lace where his fingers slipped experimentally beneath the fabric. “Don’t you rip those,” she warned around a throaty laugh. “Your impatience has put a serious dent in my lingerie collection.”
Steve’s cheeks tinged pink. “Sorry,” he murmured with a kiss to her thigh before he carefully slid her panties down her legs to join the pile of discarded clothes beside him. He wrapped his arms around her thighs and dropped his head to kiss just below her navel.
She squirmed when she felt his breath hot against her. “Prove it,” she breathed.
He offered her one more smirk and shifted to slide his tongue through her slick folds. She let her head fall back with another sigh as Steve’s lips brushed her clit. He moved slowly, deliberately, mapping every inch of her with the tip of his tongue, digging his fingers into the soft flesh of her hips as he pulled her closer. She smothered a groan between her lips and slid her fingers into his hair when he thrust his tongue inside her.
Darcy rolled her hips gently, curled her nails against his scalp and inhaled sharply when he flattened his tongue against her and dragged it upward to circle slowly around her clit. Her jaws clenched around a whimper of pleasure as she dropped her heels to his back and let him spread her legs farther to cradle his broad shoulders.
Steve’s lips closed around her clit the moment before he released her thigh to plunge two fingers deep inside and Darcy dropped her head back a second time, unable to stop the moan that fell from her lips. The combination of being fucked by his thick fingers while he sucked on her clit was almost too much. Too perfect. She cried out when he curled his fingers inside her before he sped up his thrusts. It only took one final flick of his tongue to send her over the edge. She came with another loud moan as her orgasm rolled through her like a wave of fire, sending sparks to the tips of her fingers and toes. Steve lapped at her gently, slowing his thrusts while she clenched around his fingers, letting her ride out her release until she fell back on the couch. Breathless and boneless and dizzy with pleasure.
Steve crawled slowly up her body, dropping a trail of sweet kisses from her hips, up her belly and over her sternum, delivering one to the top of each breast before he finally met her lips with his. She met his kiss with a sigh and held his face in her hands when he pulled away. “You’re forgiven,” she said with a smile.
He mirrored her grin and kissed her again. “You still want to watch scary movies?”
“I do, actually,” she admitted, biting her lip when he laughed. “I’m sure that’s not what you wanted me to say—”
“No, no,” Steve pushed himself off her, resting his weight on his hands at either side of her hips. “It’s cool. I did promise you scary movies.”
“And popcorn,” she added, pleased when he laughed again.
He leaned forward and kissed the tip of her nose. “And popcorn.”
Darcy waited until he’d gone to the kitchen before she retrieved her panties and pulled them back on. She left her jeans on the floor where he’d tossed them, along with her boots and socks, and wandered into the kitchen after him. He was rummaging in his cupboards when she stood behind him and slipped her hands beneath the white t-shirt he still wore. Steve stopped rummaging and covered her arms with his, letting her hug him for a long, quiet moment before she kissed him between his shoulder blades and let him go.
“Grab whatever you want to drink,” he said when he heard her wander to the fridge.
Darcy opened the door and peered inside, unable to help her delighted gasp. “You have ginger beer!”
Steve had turned around to lean against the counter, a bag of microwave-popcorn in hand, when she stood up with a bottle. He shrugged. “You said it’s your favorite.”
“It is,” she said, crossing the kitchen again. She stretched up on her tiptoes to brush a quick kiss to his lips. “I just didn’t expect you to remember.”
He took the bottle from her and cracked it open with a quick twist of his hands. “I remember everything about you,” he said softly, kissing her a second time as he handed it back.
Darcy felt a swoop of her stomach that felt dangerously close to a swoon. She stepped away and took a sip, enjoying the crisp bite against her tongue. “Any requests for what to watch?”
He shook his head. “Whatever you want,” he said as he turned back around to locate the popcorn button on his microwave.
I’ve already got everything I want, Darcy almost said before she returned to the living room and found one of the thick, squashy blankets Steve stashed under his end table. She couldn’t say that, though, she reminded herself. Things like that were probably against the rules.
It was hours and two iterations of Paranormal Activity before Steve’s fingers trailed over her cheek. She heard him smile as he asked, “Are you asleep?”
Darcy shook her head and sat up, careful not to spill what remained of the popcorn. She glanced at the credits rolling on the screen. “What should we watch next?” she asked, reaching for her phone to find something new to stream. “I think I’ve had my fill of found-footage for one night—”
To her surprise, Steve reached out and put a hand over the screen, gently forcing the phone down and her attention up at him. “Uh, I was—kinda—hoping we could talk first?”
Darcy’s stomach clenched as she set her phone back on the coffee table. “Okay…” she shifted to be able to face him. She studied his face, trying to read him. “Is this a…good talk or a bad talk?”
Steve smiled briefly, putting her at ease momentarily. “I’m hoping it’s going to be a good talk?”
She took a deep breath. “What’s up?”
“I, um,” Steve paused and picked up the remote to shut the TV off before it jumped to the next thing on the queue. “I don’t want to do this—uh—paramour thing anymore.”
Any ease she’d felt vanished. “Sorry?”
He rushed on. “I mean, I know that you think you’re being a good sister by letting Jane think you’re being—” his hand twirled through the air, looking for the words.
“Single in solidarity?” Darcy prompted, reminding him of the promise she’d made when Jane and Thor had officially called it quits. If you’re single, I’m single, she’d said, full of confidence that at least Jane wouldn’t have to be sad watching someone else be happy and in love while she was so heartbroken. The promise she’d unintentionally broken a month later when she and Steve had run into each other at the bar—when she’d convinced herself that a one-night stand didn’t count.
That promise that she kept breaking, time-after-time, for two months. Because no matter how badly she’d wanted to keep it—to swear off men with her sister, to be supportive and on Jane’s side while she picked up the pieces of the life she thought she was going to have with Thor and help her make a clean break—Darcy could not swear off Steve. She thought she’d been buying herself time; trying to see how long she could hold off from telling Jane the truth while still stealing as many nights with Steve as possible.
“Darcy,” Steve said as he curled his fingers around her hand. “I hate this sneaking around shit.”
“No, it was fun for the first few weeks but,” his shoulders dropped. “Come on. We’re not doing anything wrong. I hate lying to everyone and acting like we’re just friends in public and having all these stupid rules—”
“My rules aren’t stupid,” Darcy insisted, foundering in her search for a decent argument. “They’re…protecting Jane’s already broken heart.”
He leveled a look in her direction. “Jane is a grown woman who is more than capable of understanding that none of this was on purpose or meant to hurt her or whatever.” The corner of his lips quirked upward. “And your rules are kind of stupid.”
“They’re good rules!”
“I’m not allowed to kiss you in the hallway of my own apartment building?” he reminded. “On the other side of town? Where no one knows you? Or Jane? Or Thor? Or gives any kind of shit about what I do?”
“Steve…” she whined. Not because he was wrong. But because she hated the idea of telling Jane that she was so weak-willed. That she’d abandoned her promise of celibate solidarity after exactly two seconds of a good-night kiss from Steve. “It’s still kind of sexy, though,” she prodded. “Isn’t it? Clandestine meetings and flirting in code…” she untangled their fingers to run her nails up his forearm.
He smiled as he shook his head. “I didn’t say it wasn’t sexy,” he said. “And I didn’t care when I thought it was a one-time thing but—” he sighed. “Come on,” he said again, softer this time. “This hasn’t felt like a one-time thing for a while.”
She sighed but didn’t say anything. He was right, of course. She’d stopped thinking of him as a one-night-stand or a booty-call or even friends-with-benefits sometime between that first kiss and the last one he’d placed on her lips a few hours ago. She didn’t know what to do with the feelings she had—it was easier to keep them in box marked Do Not Touch until Jane seemed like she was back on her feet. To act like they were just messing around and that she could stop whenever she wanted to.
“Does that sound so terrible?” Steve continued, not deterred by her silence. “Being able to be honest with our friends?” He ducked his head to meet her eyes. “Not sneaking around like we’re ashamed to be together?”
Darcy blushed and looked away, fighting the urge to fidget. “Why does it matter so much?”
To her relief, Steve laughed lightly. “Because I’m petty,” he said, continuing after she’d snorted an unattractive laugh through her nose. “I want to take you out and make everybody jealous that the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen wants to be seen with me in public.”
“Ohhhhkay,” Darcy rolled her eyes and felt her blush deepen. “Now you’re just sweet-talking—” Steve’s fingers fell over her lips, effectively silencing her deflection.
“Darcy,” he said with a more serious and determined look in his eye. “I’m trying to tell you that I’m in love with you and I don’t want to keep it a secret anymore.”
Her mouth was still open when he dropped his hand. She heard an unpleasant croak from her throat as she tried to formulate a response. Steve’s confession scratched the record in her brain—everything came to a sharp and sudden halt.
“And, I didn’t…” he looked down, flustered. The tops of his ears turned pink again, followed quickly by his cheeks. “You don’t have to say it back or even—y’know—feel the same way,” he said hurriedly before she could find the right words. “And this isn’t an ultimatum or anything. I just thought if the whole point of all this was to be honest then I should start with…” he looked up again, “you.”
Darcy opened her mouth and closed it again. And then a second time before she dropped her shoulders and let out a sigh. “Goddammit.”
Steve’s eyebrows lifted and he nodded his head to one side in consideration. “Uh, okay… That’s…fair, I guess.”
She let out a sound of frustration and covered her face. “I don’t mean—” she shook her head. “I just. I’m so disappointed in us, “ she admitted before she looked up. Steve’s confused expression had only deepened. “We were just supposed to be messing around,” she reminded—more herself than him— “No strings or feelings which made it really easy to keep lying to Jane and making her think I was single too.” She sighed again. “And now look at us. We’re so gross. All in love with each other and stuff which was so not the plan, by the way. I blame you entirely. And now I basically have to tell Jane because who keeps something like this from her sis—”
She would have rambled more, but her words disappeared when Steve took her face in his hands and covered her lips with his. A long, slow kiss that derailed her thoughts and effectively silenced her a second time.
She pulled away after a moment. “Why are you kissing me? I’m in emotional shambles of disappointment.”
“I realize that,” Steve assured her with a small smile. “But somewhere in those shambles, you said ‘we’re in love’.”
Darcy bit her lip and felt herself blush. “Right,” she said. “I did say that.”
“Which would imply that you love me too.”
“That’s… a logical implication,” she said slowly before she made herself go on. “And an accurate one.”
Steve’s smile broadened and Darcy felt that now-familiar flutter in her stomach. “But I am failing to see how this is entirely my fault,” he said, the line of concern appearing between his eyebrows.
“Uh, it is,” Darcy scoffed. “You’re the one who’s so bad at one-night-stands that you made me breakfast the next morning.”
He laughed and moved the bowl of popcorn out of the way. “I was being a gentleman,” he said, indignant. “It’s not my fault you're so easy to woo.”
She gasped in exaggerated shock and let him pull her closer to climb into his lap, forgetting that she’d been so distraught only a minute ago. “I am not easy to woo!”
“You’re the one who texted me the next day,” he reminded with a cheeky grin. “I’d say that’s more indicative of someone who is bad at one-night-stands.”
“I wasn’t like, swooning,” she insisted around another laugh. Her knees fit easily on either side of his hips and he laced his hands at the small of her back. “I think I just said ‘hey’.”
He smirked. “It was a very suggestive ‘hey’.”
“Whatever,” she sighed. “I was trying to be cool,” she shook her head. “Guess the jokes on me, huh?
“I think you’re cool,” Steve assured her, nearly succeeding in keeping a straight face.
“You have to say that,” she informed him as she wound her arms around his neck. “Because you’re in love with me.”
“That’s right,” he said softly. “I am.”
“Convenient,” Darcy said, brushing her nose against his as she leaned in for a kiss. “I’m in love with you, too.”
It was surprisingly easy to say it out loud. Like she’d been given permission to feel all the things she’d been pretending not to feel for weeks.
“Very convenient,” Steve murmured, pulling away briefly.
She grinned against his lips, meeting him for another brief kiss. “So, I’m keeping this shirt,” she asserted, pleased when he laughed again. “It looks better on me.”
“It does,” Steve admitted. He tightened his arms around her waist and stood up, smiling at the squeal of surprise she let out as all four limbs wrapped tightly around him. “But honestly, I think it looks best on the floor.”
Darcy laughed and let Steve carry her back to his bedroom where she had to admit, he was right.