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What Kind of Man

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They stood across the room from one another, like the fifteen feet between them could erase the way they'd just kissed.

Her chest was heaving. In her eyes he could see the way he'd broken her down. It had probably taken years, not that one kiss, but it looked fresh and painful and true in ways he wasn't sure how to deal with. Her lips were parted, like her heavy exhalations were too much more than her mouth could bear. She look half drunk but more likely was stone-cold-sober with the realization that what just happened between them was the kind of explosive you just didn't walk away from. In her eyes were vows and a whole lot of shit they weren't supposed to deal with.

He'd been married and still a woman had never looked at him the way she was doing. It hit him like a cliche. For all he thought he knew about the way they felt about one another, that this -- she -- was absolutely it. She was the last time he'd ever walk down this particular path. No woman had ever looked at him like he was the sunset before. To be the last thing in a long string of things was a heady feeling.

What kind of a man was he? To kiss her like he did? To promise her everything with the spaces between long, slow blinks and puffs of air borrowed from her lungs? An unknown number of years and a war stood between them, stronger than the desire that boiled up and over them.

Like he'd turned the heat on under her, she was rolling, her breath pushing her hips forward and her shoulders back. His body answered hers but he refused to acknowledge the way they moved together beyond noting that they were in perfect, spine-tingling, sync.

Suddenly fifteen feet wasn't far enough so he backed up the last six inches until he could count on the wall to support him. His suddenly weak knees a welcomed distraction from the way she undulated. He turned his eyes away from her, left her hanging there in that space all by herself while he counted to thirty and thought of eagles and oak leaves. It was unnecessarily cruel, he knew, to let her be alone in that for even half a minute.

What kind of man was he? To leave her like that? To let her believe for even a moment he was capable of stepping back from what they'd just done? Rank and duty reared up between them, stronger than the whorl of affection that spiraled out between them more in every passing second.

Her eyes shuttered, she looked gone when he looked back up. Her body still moved, remembering what was instead of what had to be; he clamped down on his own natural, physical reply. She gasped, then choked on the heavy air, strangled on the sound.

He couldn't stand the sounds she swallowed down. She wasn't getting a hold of herself because he wasn't either. He was hiding from himself first, and her second and it left her floating alone in what had happened because he had always been terrible at hiding from either one of them. He told her the truth even when he lied and he spent a lot of time lying to himself. He could fool anyone on earth, except her. She couldn't fool him either. It's what forced them together in the first place, his tongue, his lips, the dark cavern of her mouth. The wet stories they didn't tell.

What kind of man was he? To love her like he did? To love her in a way she couldn't have for an amount of time he couldn't give her? Years passed between them, stronger the more there were and in some ways, weaker. Years that had given way to a moment they weren't supposed to have.

He gathered up the space between them to make an apology. She looked at him, finally, like she understood, and he looked at her like he didn't, but she didn't seem to hold it against him. She understood him better than he understood himself sometimes. They way she looked at him told him exactly what kind of man he was, and it gave him relief.