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A Dream That I Can Call My Own

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Everything about this night was perfect. The ceremony was perfect—Angela and Wesley’s vows were so beautiful that she even caught Tim wiping a stray tear away. The venue was perfect—the huge hotel ballroom decorated simply with twinkling lights and fresh gardenias. And Angela looked perfect—the kind of perfectly happy Lucy hoped to be someday in the arms of someone she loved.

As Lucy rested her sore feet for a song back at her table, she allowed herself a moment to bask in the sight of her favorite people—her chosen family—looking happier and more relaxed than she’d ever seen them before. The bride and groom were swaying softly to “The Way You Look Tonight,” with Jackson and Sterling dancing nearby—the two couples laughing over something Jackson had just said. Nyla and Donovan were talking in a corner with easy smiles on their faces—Lucy was secretly rooting for those two to find a way back to each other, and she hoped him agreeing to come with Nyla tonight was a start. John and Grace were holding hands and giggling at the DJ’s table—she could only guess what ridiculous song John was trying to convince the guy to play. Even Sergeant Grey and his wife looked lost in their own world as he spun her with surprising finesse around the floor. Everyone was where they should be—and with who they should be with.

“You okay?” His voice was loud enough to carry over the music but still retained that gentle sincerity that seemed to be just for her. When most people asked that question—especially after what Lucy had gone through (and was still going through, if she was being honest with herself, even a year later)—they didn’t really want to know the answer. But when Tim Bradford asked, she actually wanted to tell him because she knew he actually wanted to hear it all.

She looked up at him and nodded. “It’s nice to see everyone like this.” She took the champagne flute from his hand with a quick, “Thanks.”

It felt easy—the same way it felt when he pulled her chair out for her before dinner or when she grabbed them a plate of very fancy cheese to share during cocktail hour or when he let her try some of his mashed potatoes and she gave him the cucumbers off of her salad. They’d fallen into a kind of intimacy that you don’t come back from, and it was both thrilling and terrifying how naturally it had happened.

She expected him to reply with some kind of smartass comment about everyone being drunk, but instead he just looked at her with the kind of rare, unguarded affection that made her hold her breath like she was about to dive underwater. His eyes never left hers as he replied, “It’s good to see the people you love happy.”

It was almost too much—he looked almost too handsome in his best black suit and he smelled almost too good and she’d had almost too much very expensive champagne to be thinking clearly about what all of this meant. So she simply raised her champagne flute to his glass of whiskey and ginger ale. “To happiness—theirs,” she took a breath before meeting his eyes, “and ours.”

He slowly brought his glass to her own, his calf brushing against hers as they both took long sips of their drinks. It struck her that this was what the last year had been like for them—a subtle and then suddenly not-so-subtle game of chicken. It started with walks with Kojo, then coffee after those walks once Rachel had moved and he’d decided not to follow her, then lunch at their favorite diner to catch up once she was no longer his rookie, then drinks when they knew the other needed to blow off some steam after a bad day…

With every smile and casual “Goodnight” text and accidental (or maybe not?) hand brush when he’d pass her an extra pickle or a chai tea latte he’d pick up for her when he knew she was settling in for a long night of paperwork, she could feel the boundaries they’d unspokenly set up around their relationship beginning to give way until she started to forget why those boundaries had ever seemed important in the first place.

“You never struck me as the wallflower type,” he said as he bumped her knee with his. “You should be out there finding some guy with a bad suit and a made-up job to sweep you off your feet.” She rolled her eyes at his continued disdain for any man she ever showed interest in. He was cute when he was jealous.

But there was nothing cute about the way he looked at her as he continued, “It shouldn’t be too hard to find any takers in that dress.” His tone was teasing, but his eyes were anything but as they traveled down her body, following the curves of the long, red dress that covered almost all of her, except her bare arms and two small sections of her torso highlighted by strategically placed cutouts.

For so long after Caleb, she’d felt uncomfortable when men looked at her at all, but this felt different. It didn’t feel like being targeted or objectified. It felt a little like being adored. And it scared her how much she wanted him to keep looking at her like that.

She suddenly felt about 100 degrees hotter than she had 30 seconds before, and she downed the rest of her champagne probably a little too quickly before she shot back, “What about you? There’s gotta be some bridesmaid or cousin of Angela’s you’ve had your eye on all night.”

This was a dangerous game, and she knew it. But she also knew they both had just enough liquid courage in their systems to keep playing.

He dramatically pretended to ponder her question, scanning the room for a long moment before finishing the contents of his glass. “Well, there is someone...Killer smile…” His eyes fell on her mouth. “Killer red dress…” They traveled further down. “Seems like she’d keep me on my toes for sure,” he ended with a smirk that made her heart feel like it had firmly lodged itself in her throat.

“You should ask her to dance,” she replied, her voice sounding lower and softer, like it belonged to someone else. This whole thing was starting to feel like an out-of-body experience. “I have a feeling she’d say yes.”

Just as he started to stand up and slowly hold out his hand to her, the DJ’s voice boomed over the music.

“This next one is going out by special request to Tim Bradford!”

Tim’s hand dropped from her reach as he resumed his normal, less-than-amused position with both arms crossed over his body as the opening bars of “Lady Marmalade” filled the ballroom.

“Do not look at me,” Lucy said, jumping up and pointing a finger in his face before he could even start accusing her. “Nolan was the one talking to the DJ!”

Her arguments were cut short by Nyla yelling, “Bradford, stop flirting with Chen and get your ass out here!” The resulting cheers from their fellow officers would have been enough to mortify Lucy on any other day, but she was just tipsy enough not to care, dancing herself out to the middle of the floor where Jackson was beckoning her to join him and Sterling and calling out over her shoulder, “Yeah Bradford, get your ass out here!”

“Do I want to know what this is about?” Jackson asked her over the music as she danced between him and Sterling.

“Long story!” She laughed as she looked over her shoulder to see Tim making his way to Nyla, John, and Grace, smoothly stepping in and spinning Nyla around before walking her through what Lucy could only describe as some kind of salsa dancing that no white man should have been able to do as successfully as he was doing.

“Did you know he could do that?” Jackson asked her as she stopped dancing completely to watch Tim effortlessly side step his way to cut in on Angela and Wesley, giving the bride a twirl before the two of them started to cha-cha. Tim’s dancing prowess was offset by his terrible singing, and Lucy’s heart melted watching the two old friends laugh and dance without a care in the world.

Before she knew it, the DJ was talking again. “Last call, ladies and gents. We’re down to our last two songs of the night, so I want to see all of you out here on the dance floor.”

The exaggerated pouty face she was making to Jackson in response to knowing the night would soon be over quickly turned into a hopeful smile as she saw Tim approaching while Michael Bublé’s “Save the Last Dance For Me” began.

“Mind if I cut in?” Tim asked, tapping Jackson on the shoulder. He raised an eyebrow in her direction, and she was pretty sure her rapidly beating heart stopped entirely too long in that moment for her to still be standing.

Jackson stepped to the side with a whispered “Have fun!” in her ear, but she was having trouble focusing on anything but Tim’s hand firmly staking its claim on the small of her back.

“Now where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?” His voice was entirely too low to be decent as his free hand found hers. It felt warm and pleasantly rough and big enough to make her head spin a little more than it already had been thanks to the champagne and Jackson’s terrible attempts to twirl her around. Luckily, he was as strong a partner on the dance floor as he was off of it, leading her into a basic cha-cha step that she thankfully remembered from that summer when she was obsessed with doing the Dancing with the Stars workout DVDs.

Even in her heels she had to look up to meet his eyes when they were standing this close. “Tim Bradford can dance,” she said with what was probably too much of a sigh.

“That surprise you?” His voice was light and playful as he spun her out and reeled her back in, pulling her against his chest.

Her fingers started to play with the collar of his suit jacket. “You are full of surprises.”

As they fell into an easy rhythm of front-back-cha-cha-cha, he explained, “A lot of college football programs tell their guys to take some kind of dance elective. It helps with our footwork. Ballroom 101 fit my schedule freshman year, and the rest is history.” He concluded with an wink, and she found herself giggling into his neck.

He kept talking, ever the teacher. “Now spin, and find my face every time.” She did as she was told, and she found herself making an impressive amount of rotations, if she did say so herself, before losing focus and bumping into his shoulder, the two of them laughing for a long moment before his hands traveled down to her hips, holding her close to his body. Her own hands wound their way around his neck. Suddenly, things didn’t seem so funny anymore.

His mouth was hot against her ear. When he gently commanded, “Now, move your feet side to side,” she could feel the vibrations along her skin.

She began to do just that, her hips swaying under his hands. With each repetition of the steps, the space between their bodies shrank. She felt his hands slide up her sides, settling on the skin left bare by the cutouts of her dress. She was suddenly overcome with a wave of emotion as she noticed his thumb—and his gentle, awestruck eyes—paying special attention to the numbers poking out from under the fabric.

I see it as proof that you’re a survivor… She’d believed it when he said it then. She believed it even more when he touched her now.

“Do you trust me?” he asked.

With my life, she thought. “Always,” she said.

With a wicked smile, he dipped her, his steady hand splayed possessively across her back. She forgot for a second that their friends—and their boss—were watching, only focusing on the way that same hand then slid over her ass as he guided her back up.

The spell was broken by the end of the song and the realization that most of the dance floor had turned to watch their little show, the catcalls and applause making her blush. But as the first strains of Etta James’s “At Last” began to play, everyone turned back to their respective dance partners, leaving Tim and Lucy staring at each other, unsure of what to do next.

Lucy knew they had two options: One, retreat back to their table, blame that little show on the open bar, and return back to the comfortable way things had been. Or two…

“Is it greedy to ask for another dance?” His question answered the unspoken one between them, and the soft, affectionate smile she was met with as she shook her head was enough to make her chest feel like it had cracked open and her heart was left exposed for everyone to see.

As she slid all too easily back into his arms, she exhaled contentedly. “I love this song,” she said as Etta sang about her lonely days being over—making Lucy feel like maybe hers would be too.

His fingers started tracing a slow path up and down her spine as she let her head rest against his shoulder. He held her hand over his heart, and she was happy to feel it beating as fast as hers was, despite their slow swaying.

She closed her eyes and started to sing, “I found a dream that I could speak to...A dream that I can call my own…”

I found a thrill to press my cheek to…

He placed his head on top of hers, and she shivered as she felt him inhale the scent of the fancy hotel shampoo she hoped still clung to her hair.

A thrill that I have never known…

She was suddenly struck with a “now or never” feeling in her gut, and the idea of the answer being “never” was unacceptable, so she slowly lifted her head to look in his eyes. “You smiled…” she sang along with Etta as she gently brought her thumb up to the dimple that was deepening on his cheek.

She stopped singing as the feeling of Now resonated from her head to her toes. He leaned in even closer to her, dipping his head so his lips were a breath from hers. All she had to do was push up a centimeter onto her tiptoes and that line they had been making and blurring and making and blurring for almost two years would be gone forever.

They stood there for a long moment, seemingly lost in the anticipation of the great at last. And just as soon as she let her eyes close, feeling his lips barely brush the corner of her mouth, the sound of clapping jostled them both out of the moment.

Their eyes met, and then she sheepishly looked down to where her feet stood in between his. She wondered if anyone else had seen what felt like the most momentous moment of her life, but they seemed to be fixated on sending one last round of congratulations to the bride and groom.

Thank God… Lucy thought. She wasn’t quite ready to explain what had almost happened to anyone—even herself.

“I guess I’ll see you in the morning then,” Tim said with no small amount of regret in his voice as they slowly disentangled themselves from each other’s arms. He bent down to press his lips lightly to her cheek, and she smiled under his mouth. “Good night,” he whispered into her skin.

“See you in the morning,” she replied as she squeezed his hand, already counting down the hours until she’d see him at the brunch Wesley’s mom was hosting at the hotel’s nicest restaurant. She knew she should feel embarrassed by how unashamedly she stared as he said his goodbyes to the bride and groom, but she couldn’t find it in herself to feel anything other than giddy—and a little sad the night had to end when it was starting to get really good.

She soon took her turn giving hugs to Angela and Wesley and thanking them for a beautiful night. Angela responded with a slow shake of her head. “I’ve never known you to give up that easily, Officer Chen.”

Before Lucy could protest, Jackson came up behind her, forcibly turning her shoulders toward the exit. “Girl, go get your man!” her partner teased, and who was she to deny her friends what they all wanted?

----------

Her feet seemed to be carrying her out the door and into the lobby without her even having time to think about what she was about to do. As the sounds of her friends saying things like “About damn time!”, “Finally!”, and “Nolan, you owe me 50 bucks!” faded, she found herself rapidly approaching an elevator that had only one occupant.

“Tim!” Lucy called out, maybe a little louder than she’d intended as she adjusted to not having to yell over music anymore.

“Lucy?” He tilted his head as she rushed to get into the elevator before the doors closed and she lost her nerve. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

His concern was adorable and touching, but she had more pressing matters to deal with.

She turned to squarely face him, summoning all her courage. “You told me once that Tim Bradford finishes what he starts.” A slow nod from him as he stepped closer into her space confirmed that he knew where she was going—always on the same page, no matter where they were.

She took a deep breath before she continued, reaching up to bring her hands to his lapels and her mouth to his jawline. “Is that a promise?”

His whine as the bell chimed and the doors opened to their floor was music to her ears, and they both laughed as they stepped into the hallway on unsteady legs—the dancing and the drinks and the desire catching up to them all at once. Her hand found its way into his without her even thinking about it, and she let him guide her down the path to their adjoining rooms. (Angela really did have this all planned, Lucy realized with a smile.)

“Here we are,” Lucy said as they stood in front of her door. But she made no move to open it. She got on the elevator. It was his turn to make the next move. Tit for tat and all that.

He looked down at their joined hands. “Maybe I should come in for a second? Make sure everything looks safe and secure.” She appreciated how casual he was trying to sound—and how horribly he was failing at it.

“I appreciate the concern, sir,” she replied as she finally opened the door.

Any plans she had to make a joke about a security sweep were gone the second the door shut behind them and she found her back pressed firmly against it. His mouth moved slowly over hers, surprisingly soft and tasting like whiskey. In all the different scenarios she’d imagined (and there had been a lot), she never imagined his mouth being this careful in the purest sense of the word—she felt like he was treating her with care, like she was something precious. His hand came up to cradle her face as her fingernails gently scratched the back of his head.

He groaned into her mouth, and she laughed into his. “You like that?” she whispered, her fingernails resuming their path through his short hair.

He responded by opening his mouth—soft and sweetly careful quickly turning to hot and deliciously dirty as he pulled on her bottom lip with his teeth as his other hand moved from her waist to her ass. His mouth was soon on her jaw, sucking on a particularly sensitive spot near her ear that had always been a favorite of hers. She should have known he’d find in the first two minutes what it took some men months to figure out about her body.

She pressed her hips into him, her body reacting to the thorough, insistent, so very Tim pressure of his mouth on her skin, and now it was his turn to laugh. “Turnabout is fair play, Officer Chen,” he teased, his lips finding their way back to hers, trailing small kisses along her smiling mouth.

“Lucy,” she corrected on a shaky exhale against his lips.

“Lucy,” he repeated with an unexpected reverence, pressing a whisper of a kiss to her forehead, his fingers lacing themselves between hers. The intimacy of the simple gesture made her eyes water embarrassingly. She was frozen in place by the realization of how long she’d been waiting for exactly this moment—and how much better it was than she’d allowed herself to believe it could be.

He brushed the lone tear that escaped away with the pad of his thumb. “It’s been a long day. Maybe we should call it a night,” he said, letting his thumb rub back and forth across her cheekbone.

She felt suddenly afraid that she’d done something wrong—the creeping anxiety of letting him down that she hadn’t felt since she was his rookie returning. “But—”

He cut her off, pressing his lips to hers softly once more. “Believe me, there’s nothing I’d rather do than finish what we’re starting here, but when this happens, I don’t want it to be because we’ve been drinking or because we let an emotional day get the best of us.” He paused, his eyes searching hers. “I want to know you’re not going to have any regrets.”

It hit her like a truck in that moment—Tim Bradford, the most attractive man she’d ever seen, the man who literally saved her life, the person whose opinion mattered most to her in the world—was worried that she might not actually want him in the sober light of day. And if she had to wait to prove to him that he was exactly what she wanted and had wanted for longer than she should probably admit, it was a small price to pay. She shook her head and cupped his stong jaw, relishing in the feel of his stubble under her hand. “Why do you always have to be so fucking sensible?”

He turned his cheek to press a quick kiss to the inside of her palm. “If you still want this in the morning, you know where to find me.” His eyes lingered on the door connecting their rooms.

“What if you don’t want this in the morning?”

He tucked a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “There is never going to be a day when I don’t want you, Lucy Chen.” He kissed her one last time—innocent and quick—and then he was gone.

She heard his door open and shut, and then she heard him slowly unlock and open his side of their adjoining room doors. She did the same on her side, and with that spark of hope ready to keep burning through the night, she allowed herself to take her hair down, step out of her dress and into her oversized UCLA t-shirt, and get ready for what was sure to be a fitful night of sleep.

----------

She had managed to doze off for a few hours (thanks in no small part, she was sure, to the copious amounts of champagne), but the clock on the nightstand said “5:15 a.m.” and she was tired of waiting. She could only hope that he felt the same way.

As she quickly and quietly padded to the bathroom to brush her teeth (She was not having sex with Tim for the first time with morning breath, thank you very much.), she could hear him doing the same. The anticipation and excitement made her feel like she was in an airplane about to take off, her stomach in knots in the best kind of way.

After running a brush through her tangled mess of hair, she approached the doors joining her room to his. She knocked softly as a courtesy only; she was already halfway into his room, her eyes locked on his as he sat, distractingly shirtless in just a pair of boxer briefs that left little to the imagination, on the edge of the bed, watching her with the affectionate head shake and smile that she could describe with her eyes closed—the one that she kept close to her heart because even before she knew it was hers alone, it felt like hers alone.

“It’s morning,” she said in matter-of-fact way, trying to hide her smile as he slowly rose from the bed.

“So it is,” he replied as he started to slowly walk toward her, standing in front of her with a smile that rivaled the California sunrise soon to be peeking into the window.

“And I still want this,” she said, her voice clear and strong. She wanted to leave him with no doubt that she was choosing this, choosing him, with no regrets and no second thoughts. “I want you and me and nights like last night and mornings like this one and everything in between. I want all of it, Tim.”

She took a deep breath, enjoying the fact that she could make him speechless for once. His eyes were shining as he stepped even closer. “You sure you want to break your rule for me?”

She shook her head as she remembered telling him that after she and John had broken up, she’d made a rule for herself: No dating fellow cops. She also remembered the little flash of something in his eyes when she’d said it that made her heart clench almost painfully in her chest.

She took his hand in hers. “A wise man I know once said that rules matter, but some things matter more.”

He smiled down at their hands. “Sounds like a smart guy.” He looked up at her and flashed his cheekiest grin. “And a really handsome one too.”

She tapped her chin, pretending to think about it. “I guess he’s okay.” She took a tiny step toward the door. “But sometimes I think he’d rather be left alone to stroke his own ego in private.”

Before she could take another step, her feet were off the ground and his arms were around her, carrying her to the bed as she shrieked with surprised laughter. “Just okay?” he asked in mock annoyance as he started to laugh at the sound of her giggles. “Just okay?” He tossed her gently onto the bed and crawled so his knees were on both sides of her hips, which thrashed against his legs as he found the most ticklish spots on her sides.

“I’ll show you what I like to stroke in private,” he growled as he tickled her thighs, making her laugh and moan at the same time, a heady combination of sensory overload that made her feel like a live wire.

As one of his hands slowed to a gentle brush of short fingernails up and down the quivering muscles of her inner thigh and the other reached under her shirt to sweep across her ribcage and tease right below her breast, her laughter faded into fluttering exhalations, which he finally, mercifully swallowed with his mouth. He kissed her deeply as his hand on her thigh worked its way up higher. She felt his grin widen against her mouth as his thumb ran along the already damp fabric between her legs.

“Pleased with ourself, are we?” she hissed as his lips started a path down her neck and across her collarbone. She punctuated her words with an arch off the bed as his tongue dipped into the hollow of her throat.

She felt his huff reverberate through her own body. “Not as pleased as you seem to be,” he teased as his mouth worked its way back up to hers. He pushed up on one elbow to look at her with an intimacy that made her feel naked even though they were both still half-clothed. “And just so we’re absolutely clear, I want all of it too.”

“Well,” she started as she sat up, “now that we’re officially on the same page, shall we continue?” He made her feel brave—he always had. So when she pulled her shirt off and pushed him back against the pillows, straddling him, there was none of her usual shyness or insecurity. She wanted him to see her—all of her. And judging by the way he hungrily took in every inch of her, he liked what he saw.

“So you’re giving the orders now?” he asked as his warm hands moved up from her waist to her breasts. Her eyes closed and her hips ground down into him as he deftly worked her nipples between his fingers.

“Yes,” she sighed, and she wasn’t sure if she was responding to his words or his hands.

He took advantage of her momentary distraction to flip their positions, his body now hovering over hers. “We’ll see about that,” he replied. Soon his mouth was moving with purpose over the tops of her breasts, and she forgot what they were bickering about. And when his mouth closed around her nipple, his tongue circling the sensitive skin, she forgot her own name.

“Open your eyes, Lucy,” he commanded her gently, and she was all too happy to obey. She was met with the sight of his lips trailing over the numbers inked into her side. It looked like healing. It felt like hope.

Her breathing was shaky as her fingers carded through his hair—needing touch him, needing to ground herself. She wished she could go back in time and tell that woman trapped in a barrel that it was going to be okay—that Tim was going to find her and save her and one day they would be in his bed and he would be marking her body as his own in a way that felt good and safe.

“It’s okay,” he murmured into her skin. “I’ve got you.”

They were an echo of the words he said to her after he brought her back to life—holding her so close to his body it was like he wanted to shield her from the entire world—words he kept repeating as the ambulance sped through the streets and he sat by her side holding her hand. She watched him repeat those words now with a hushed reverence, knowing that he had his own scars from that day, even if they weren’t as visible as hers.

“And I’ve got you,” she replied, her free hand gently covering his.

His lips kept moving then, trailing down across her stomach, her muscles clenching under his mouth. As he nibbled lightly at her hip bone, just above the red lace of her underwear, she whimpered loudly, stopping him in his tracks.

“You okay?” he asked, his eyes locking on to hers, genuine concern in their depths.

“Never better,” she answered on a deep exhale.

His smirk was indecent as he pressed his lips to her ear, his hands making quick work of taking off her underwear.

“Never better huh?” His fingers brushed against the newly exposed skin. “Challenge accepted.”

His open mouth was hot and heavy as it traveled between her breasts, over her navel, and between her legs. His tongue pressed against her, and it felt like lightning coursing through her veins. And when he sucked on her throbbing bundle of nerves, she held his head in place, wishing she could keep him there forever.

He was relentless in his pursuit of her pleasure and a fast learner, judging by his ability to keep returning to the places that made her grip his hair harder, moaning obscenities into the pillow. She moved slowly against his mouth at first, enjoying the filthy visual of Tim Bradford’s head between her legs and allowing her free hand to come up to her breasts, lazily touching herself.

But once he found a spot that made her hips jump off the bed, slow was no longer an option. She lost any control she once had over the pace of her body against his mouth, riding the waves of want. She was close, and she was feeling greedy. She pushed herself even closer to his mouth, and he took the hint, his tongue moving with even more confidence and pressure, sending her over the edge with one last long, almost pornographic suck of her clit.

Her release came with a shriek of his name that was probably too loud for a hotel room with thin walls, but she didn’t care as he continued to work his tongue over her, easing her through her orgasm. By the time she opened her eyes, he was laying next to her again, his fingers trailing over her arm and his stubble glistening in patches with what she could only guess were the fruits of his labor. He looked very proud of himself, and she couldn’t even pretend that he shouldn’t be.

She traced his smile with her thumb. “Never better,” she repeated.

“You’re gonna make me cocky.” He lowered his mouth to hers, and she tasted herself on his tongue.

She felt almost drunk with satisfaction, her boldness showing itself in her hand trailing down to the very prominent bulge in his boxer briefs.

“It seems like you already are,” she teased, bumping her nose against his.

Now it was his turn to buck his hips into her hand. She took some pride in the way her slow, easy strokes made his jaw clench and his eyes close.

He brought his forehead to hers. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“Challenge accepted,” she said with a wink. “Now, take these off,” she continued as she slipped a finger under the waistband of his Calvin Kleins. When he arched an eyebrow at her, she fluttered her eyelashes, “Please.”

“Well since you asked so nicely…” He moved quickly out of bed, and by the time she sat up to look at him, she was greeted with the sight of Tim’s distractingly muscular ass.

“Like what you see?” He turned slowly to face her, and she inhaled sharply as her eyes trailed down to take in the full picture.

She didn’t want to be that girl—left speechless by the sight of a naked man—but he was so ridiculously perfect that all she could do was nod.

When he climbed back into bed next to her, he was suddenly serious. He pushed her hair back from her face and left a slightly trembling hand against her cheek. “If you want me to stop, I will. If something doesn’t feel right, tell me. You got that?”

He was always protecting her, even now. She wasn’t sure how to tell him that this was the safest she’d ever felt in bed with a man, so she simply laced their fingers together on the bed.

“I want this, Tim. I want you.”

He responded with a kiss that left her breathless as he gently rolled her onto her back. As he worked his way back to her favorite spot next to her ear, his fingers began to tease their way up and down her thigh. The sound she made was close to a purr, and it morphed into a low, long moan as his thumb circled her clit.

She was grinding her hips into his hand before long, and as much fun as the foreplay was, it was time for the main event.

She left a trail of open-mouthed kisses along his jaw. “Tim...I’m ready.”

He was surprisingly silent as he shifted to position himself between her legs, but the intensity in his eyes was enough. They never left hers as he took his time easing into her, letting her adjust her hips as she took in the length of him. He balanced himself on one hand, using the other to hold her chin, his thumb running along her bottom lip.

“Alright?” He sounded nervous, and if she didn’t already love him before, this would have been the moment she fell.

“I’m good,” she sighed, throwing her leg over his hip to allow him to burrow a little deeper into her. The change in the angle made her eyes flutter closed. “I’m really good,” she amended.

He kissed her then, deep and dirty, and she laughed lightly against the dimple on his cheek. “I’ll be even better when you move.”

He shook his head in mock annoyance. “So demanding,” he chided as the hand that was touching her face moved down to playfully squeeze her hip.

He started to move slowly, his hips rolling just as expertly here as they did on the dance floor the previous night. They found a rhythm together almost immediately, their ability to read each other’s bodies, follow each other’s instructions, and predict each other’s movements expertly honed over many months. They may not have been partners on duty anymore, but it seemed they still could put those skills to good use.

He picked up the pace just as she was ready to tell him to go faster, and when she switched their positions for a time so she was sitting in his lap, his hushed, “Fuck me…” seemed to indicate he was enjoying the new angle as much as she was.

“That’s what I’m trying to do here, buddy,” she whispered against his earlobe before taking it between her teeth and gently tugging.

She took great pride in his groan as he flipped them once again so she was on her back, his big hand guiding her other leg up around his hip as his tongue flicked into the space between her ear and her jaw.

She had no idea how the human brain could handle this level of pleasure without short-circuiting. She sighed into his neck, “Tim...

“It’s okay...I’ve got you.”

That was all she needed to push her over the edge, her legs shaking around his body as she came with a long, dawn-out, “Oh God…” panted into his neck.

As she rode out the aftershocks, she could feel that he was close too. He was shaking, his muscles taut under her fingers. As her nails scratched down his shoulder blades, he jerked against her.

“Do that again,” he whined, and she was suddenly smug despite her body feeling like it had melted into the mattress.

“So demanding,” she repeated with a nip at the outer shell of his ear, her nails scratching a little harder this time.

Mission accomplished, she thought to herself as she felt him come, his gruff laughter turning into a moan that sounded like sin itself.

He rolled off of her gently, pressing light kisses to her forehead, her nose, and her closed eyes as their breathing returned to normal.

When she opened her eyes, there he was again—looking at her with such affection that she could have cried if she had any energy left in her body.

“Scale of one to ten?” His voice was even lower than usual, and it made her toes tingle.

“You’re ridiculous…” She rolled her eyes before she realized this was his way of making sure she was okay—that she was happy.

She pushed her forehead against his as she finally answered, “Eleven.”

He wrapped his arms around her then, and she rested her head on his chest. They still had a few more hours to sleep before they had to make an appearance at brunch, and she could tell he was already close to dozing off, the rise and fall of his chest slow and steady under her cheek.

Her whisper was pressed into his shoulder. “Did I wear you out, old man?”

“Watch it, Boot,” he drowsily murmured into her hairline before placing one last kiss there.

As she laid there, warm and sleepy and happy in the arms of someone she loved, she started to hum softly.

And here we are in heaven…

For you are mine, at last…