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The nightgown, the slip, is a delicate textured lilac, scalloped at the edges, trimmed in a frivolous little ribbon tie. She stopped at a corner shop in Paris and bought it, flushed as she passed a handful of euros over the counter, as though it radiated what she was thinking. She isn't even sure what she was thinking.

(Frank proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower and Nancy saw it in his eyes, the way he wanted the night to play out, the champagne on ice and the hotel bedspread pulled back. And she ran as fast as she could, as far away as she could.

There are epiphanies but that wasn't one, that was just sheer instinct, she felt like a panicked deer, and there are no words for it, no words for how her chest tightens when she imagines Frank.

She thought she knew the words for how Ned made her feel, comfortable, safe, adored, but those words aren't right either.)

It's another hotel room; Nancy was summoned here, to a little town on the other side of Toronto, with a patch of clear lake visible through the trees and carpet so plush her bare toes sink into it and dig there. She's meeting with her contact in the morning. Hearing French makes her stomach tighten. Her entire body radiates tension.

She's in the bathroom, rinsing her freshly brushed mouth out, when the electronic key reader beeps. She knows she's flushed, she can barely hear anything over the sound of her own heart, but Ned shuffles into the room carrying his own bag and lets out a soft inquisitive sound. She steps out and he is solid and real and warm, standing there in the doorway with the door propped against his broad shoulder, and for a brief second her heart stops. She had no idea how badly she missed him, missed the familiar sight of him.

"I— Nan? Am I in the wrong room?"

There was a time when he wouldn't even have asked, he would have given her a nervous laugh and walked back out again and been charmingly flustered when she found him in the lobby later. But things have shifted since then. His brown eyes are flicking down to the hem of the gown, her long bare legs. Her index finger and thumb keep rubbing the scalloped edge, nervously.

"No." She clears her throat. "You can shut the door."

He takes a quick step forward and the door drifts shut behind him, with a soft, final click.

"There is a case, right?"

Despite her nervousness, she smiles. "You honestly think I made up this big elaborate case about poisoning at a cooking competition, in Canada no less, just to get you alone in a hotel room, Nickerson?"

He finally releases his suitcase and unzips his coat, slides his hands into his pockets. "Stranger things have happened."

"I would've just asked."

Ned's eyebrows go up. "Oh, so that's all it would take?"

"For you, I'm sure."

Ned snorts. "You make me sound so—"

"Flexible?"

"Not quite." He shrugs out of his coat. "I—" He glances at the gown again, his gaze never moves from it for long, and hesitates. "I had a bag of pretzels on the plane, and to be honest I'm famished. You're not hungry, are you?"

"Starving."

She's almost relieved, but Ned slides his scarf off, and she can only take a single step before his gaze pins her there. It makes her feel even more naked than she already is.

"You're hungry?"

The deliberate path his gaze takes back up her body sends a shiver up her spine and she reflexively crosses her arms over her chest. "There's room service," Ned replies. "Plus, call me crazy, but I have a feeling that if I let you change clothes, I'll never see that," he nods at her, "again."

She drops her arms to her sides. "You like it?"

"Can I answer that after I order us something? What do you want?"

She finally relaxes, for the first time since she walked into the room. "I can always count on you for your great priorities," she mock-sighs.

Ned groans when she pulls on a robe, but she snuggles up to his side as they eat their room-service artisan-crafted hamburgers off fine bone-white china. She notes each layer as it comes off, his shoes toed off, the belt and wallet and watch on the table. The television drone fades with the rising rush of blood in her ears as Ned's warm palm lands on her knee.

"Let me see it again."

She straightens her shoulders and looses the sash, but before she can shrug it off Ned's hands are there, he's so close she can see the faintest stubble on the underside of his jaw, and he leans back to take it in again.

"It doesn't feel fair."

"What?"

"Well, see, I had this planned."

"The trip to Canada?"

He shakes his head. "A romantic candlelight dinner. Very expensive. Lots of wine." He draws the sleeve of her robe down, his fingertips sliding down her smooth skin. "Candlelight is supposed to be nice."

His voice is a whisper at the end of it. Her chest is heavy until she remembers to breathe, her gaze rising from Ned's mouth to his eyes.

"And then what," she whispers.

"And then this." His fingers slide up under the hem, up over her thigh. "I just— feel like I skipped ahead, somehow."

She can hear the hesitance again, but she scoots closer. "Are you complaining?"

He cups her cheek, brushes his thumb over her mouth. "Maybe you're just reading my mind," he says. "So what are you wearing under that, Miss Drew?"

She stands up on her knees, catching the hem between her fingers.

"See, you're supposed to say, 'Nothing,'" he ends in a high, breathy falsetto, drawing a surprised laugh from her as she strips the gown over her head.

"Forget what I just said."

The cream-colored lace bra and panties fit like second skin. The straps are whisper-thin satin, and the panties narrow to another string below the lace triangle just beneath the small of her back. The dusky pink of her nipples and the darker curls between her thighs are shadowed, visible beneath the loose mesh of the material.

She can't keep the anxiety off her face, but the look on Ned's face is nothing less than hungry, and it has nothing to do with the room service.

"Can you... just get up and slowly walk into the bedroom? Please?"

The blush has swelled until it's reaching parts of her body it has never explored before, but she gathers up her hair as she slides off the couch. She lets her hair fall and swings her hips, and doesn't look back at him, but the whispered sound of skin and fabric tell her all she needs to know.

She's standing in front of the plush, quilted bed, the moonlight reflecting off the lake and playing over the planes of her flesh, and she can feel the cool coming in through the window before Ned steps in behind her, and his palms come up to cover her breasts through the bra, the lace rubbing against her hard nipples.

"You sure about this, Nan?"

His erection presses against her, through his boxers, but otherwise his bare skin radiates warmth, and she closes her eyes. "Do I seem unsure?"

"You've been shaking since I walked through the door."

"Guess you just have that effect on me, Nickerson."

He unhooks her bra but leaves it loosely covering her breasts, trails his hand down until it covers her abs, lower, and she can feel his breath against her ear, her own breath coming in a quick hiss, as Ned's hand cups between her thighs, her knees brushing the edge of the mattress as they go weak.

"Why now, Nan."

She needs to hold onto something; she stretches her arms up to slide them around his neck and the cups of her bra catch her nipples as they rise, and she grinds against his hand and Ned growls under his breath, his cock hard against the curve of her nearly bare ass.

He catches her earlobe in his teeth. "Why not prom night," he whispers, stepping forward so she's trapped between his body and the mattress, her hips loose, the rhythm slow. "Why not graduation, why now."

"I wasn't ready."

"And now you are?"

His fingertips slowly brush, lightly, down the front of her panties, ghosting over the slit between her thighs.

She bites her lip, and when she says she is, her voice is trembling a little.

"Calm down. It's not like we haven't been like this before."

"Yeah, except it won't be your fingers this time..."

He drops a kiss on her shoulder and slides the bra down her arms, then turns her around so she's facing him.

"I love you."

"I love you too."

He smiles. "That, I believe."

She puts her arms up around his neck, pressing her breasts to his chest. "I do want this. With you."

He nods, and then his arms are around her waist and he's lifting her so her face is on level with his. "I've had a hard-on for you for five years."

"And why are we not in bed?"

He kisses her breastbone. "Is this about Paris, Nan?"

"Is what about Paris?"

Her body, without her will, is stiff in his arms, even though she releases a tiny whimper when he licks her nipple, sucks it into his mouth and teases it with his tongue, too briefly.

"I don't... I don't need to know."

Now, the trembling in her voice isn't anticipation or fear. "Are you trying to ask me if I slept with Frank while we were in Paris?"

His gaze meets hers and he doesn't say anything, anything at all, but his grip on her is strong, and when she squirms it just tightens.

"I can't believe you."

"I have wanted you for years," he says softly. "Fucking years, Nan. Just tell me he didn't get there first."

For a moment she isn't sure why she's so angry, and then the coin drops. Because she thought about it, and he can probably see it on her face.

He lets her go, slowly, the balls of her feet touch the carpet first, and every sensitized inch of her skin touches his, the tips of her nipples, the friction pulling the thong taut between her legs.

"It was supposed to be French food and candlelight, Nan," he whispers.

She wants to storm out, wants to rail at him, but there was a time when she didn't know, she didn't know, and she's angrier at herself.

"If that's what you want," she says softly. "But there is no one else. Not him, not anyone. Only you."

He lets out a breath and she pushes her panties down, stands before him totally naked.

"And I want you, Ned."

He slowly pushes down his own boxers, and despite herself Nancy's gaze drops to that part of him, the part of him that she has felt under the covers, through his clothes, straining to touch her. His cock is swollen red, curled up to his belly, and while she's never thought it looked particularly beautiful, the thought of touching him, feeling him fill her, almost brings her to her knees. From the look of him, he's not far behind; his gaze is centered below her navel, on the part of her that is already slick for want of him.

"Just..."

"What?" His handsome face, gaze sharpened by desire, tightens.

"Can you... maybe do it with your fingers first?"

He chuckles. "Yeah," he murmurs. "Yeah, I think I can do that."

--

"What about you?"

They brushed their teeth, rinsed their faces, and she is wearing the gown again. She couldn't walk around the room naked; Ned is entirely unselfconscious about it, although something like a pleased smirk quirks his lips when he catches her gaze on him.

They are sliding into bed (odd, how it's a given now, they are sliding into bed together and they are going to sleep together) and he glances up at her.

"What?"

"Is this going to be as entirely awkward for you as it will be for me?"

"It won't be awkward. We've done everything. Except that last part."

"That last part is pretty big."

He intentionally misunderstands her and this isn't supposed to be so comfortable, and on some level she isn't, but this is Ned, and she's known him for so long that it almost feels like forever.

"No. There hasn't been anybody else."

"And you asked me..."

Her breast is loose, under the gown; she is naked and keenly aware of it, and his hand cups her breast and he watches the way it shifts under his touch. The lightest brush of his thumb and her nipple hardens, rising to him.

"Frank proposed to me."

His touch sends ripples, hot waves radiating through her, but the rest of him stills, his gaze hard on hers. "What," he says softly.

"And I realized that that's not what I want. That... is how he saw things ending, with us. It was like—" She shook her head. "It doesn't matter, does it."

"And that's why we're here?"

"Have you always known, Ned?" When he doesn't flinch away, she draws the backs of her fingers down the side of his face, to his jaw, loose and supple beneath them, the anticipation, the desire singing and humming through her. "This, us, like this? Is this the only way you've ever seen it?"

His gaze drops to her mouth, and he brings the thumb teasing her nipple up to brush her lips. "Yeah," he says, his voice almost hoarse. "It's always only, ever been you, Nan."

"Damn you," she whispers, her eyes burning, as his mouth closes over hers.

She threads her fingers through his hair, and when he shifts over, kneeling between her open legs, she brings her knees up and cradles his hips and the lilac silk rides up and it's amazing, terribly amazing, how little else she can focus on when he is so close to her.

"It's not supposed to be this fast, is it."

She gasps between the kisses, arching up, afraid that if she stops she will curl up and this won't happen, and she can't explain how she knows that they have to do this, they have to. She's afraid of falling, afraid of losing herself, and if he—

His cock touches bare skin and she cries out a little, into his mouth, and he jerks back almost immediately.

"Hang on. Unless you have some in here—"

It takes a few seconds before she has any idea what he means. "You mean..."

He smiles. "Weren't you a girl scout? 'Always be prepared'?"

"Actually, no, I was never a girl scout. Long story," she says, to his surprised look. "Besides, that's the boy scout motto."

He shakes his head and disappears into the living room. When he comes back he's turning a foil packet over and over in his fingers.

"Check the date?"

"It's up to date," he says, without looking, and she has to laugh, pushing herself up on her elbows.

"Who's prepared now."

"Never hurts." He takes the hem of her gown in his hands and she shifts her weight and he draws it over her head, tossing it to the ground, keeping his gaze on her. "God, you're so fucking beautiful."

"You're not too bad, either."

He shakes his head in a swift dismissive gesture and slides into bed, kneeling over her again. "I don't know how to not hurt you," he whispers, close but not touching, only radiating warmth. Her hips, her feet tense, and she wants to press herself up against him, wants to rub herself against that very male part of him until he gives in, no more words, no more explanations.

"I've heard lube is supposed to help."

His eyebrows go up a little. "And you have some?"

She shakes her head. "Candlelight and roses, right?"

"Guess I'll just have to make sure you're... ready," he says, his knees sliding her thighs wider. "And where have you been reading about lube?"

"Bess really likes to read Cosmo aloud."

"Sure," Ned says softly, and when he sinks to her, his body pressed to hers, he kisses her ear, her neck. "And that gets you hot?"

"Actually, wondering what all those little tricks would do to you, that makes me hot."

"Like what?"

"Something about tugging on your balls while I give you head?"

He freezes, then pulls back so he can look into her eyes. "You do that, and I might punch you. Really."

"So the hot wax and nipple clamps are out?"

"Not if you try them out first. And let me watch."

They smile at each other, and he holds her gaze as one hand drifts up to cup her breast, to fondle the hard tip of her nipple. He covers her other breast with his hand and she squirms, slightly, under him.

"How have you always seen it, Nan?"

"Us?"

"The first time."

She slowly bends one knee, lazily draws it up. Her inner thigh brushes his hip. "We're stranded on a desert island," she says, and her fingertips drift from the crown of his head, down his neck, over his shoulders, his shoulder blades. "We're alone. No phones, absolutely nothing to interrupt us, and my dad has no idea where we are. Our luggage was lost in the crash. We take driftwood and use the last match to start a fire."

"On the sand, on the beach? That's how you see it?"

"Under the stars," she replies, and as his thumbs stroke down her nipples she parts her legs and opens to him, her hips loose. They have been here before; she has been naked under him. But her mouth is trembling a little. "We find a blanket."

"At least that's something." He slowly kisses one nipple, then the other. "And you're on top, aren't you."

She shakes her head. "You are."

"Oh." He slides forward and his hips brush between her open legs and he closes his eyes.

"But..." It takes her a long moment for her to remember what she's saying. "But I doubt we're about to be stranded on a desert island, so do you want to order a bottle of champagne?"

"Maybe later," he manages, and his hips brush against hers again as he leans down and parts her lips with his.

She has seen enough sex scenes in movies, has been in bed with him enough times; she has a faint idea that she needs to wrap her legs around him, but when she draws her knees up, her inner thighs brushing against his sides, he groans into her mouth and she buries her hands in his hair and shivers as his cock brushes between her thighs.

She sweeps her nails down his back, over his ass, and when he shifts and their mouths part she flicks her tongue in the hollow at the base of his throat. He laughs and the sound vibrates between them, and then he pushes himself up and teases the sensitive flesh of her inner thighs with light ticklish brushes of his fingertips, slow, tracing between her legs. He parts her and curves his fingers up inside her and makes a soft noise when he finds her wet, and he takes his time finding her clit. He brushes it with his thumb and slides his long finger inside her and she tenses under him, her mouth falling open.

"Okay?"

She swallows, hard. "Come here," she whispers, and his finger slides in and out of her, slowly, as she arches and lets her legs fall fully open to him. She whimpers as he catches her lower lip in his teeth and nibbles it softly, and she lifts up off the bed to kiss him, hard. She rotates her hips instinctually against his touch, and the pressure, the slow swell of desire his touch is teasing in her, suffuses her, aching in her hips, aching along the path of his fingers.

"Nan."

"Please," she whispers, and he strokes the slick of her arousal over his erect cock before he rips open the condom and rolls it on. "Please, Ned."

Her first thought is that she must be splitting in half. His fingers dig into her hips as though to distract her from the pain, and she sobs out a breath because she somehow still wants him, still needs him inside her. He whispers apologies into her scalp and she digs her nails into him and when he pushes up and slides smoothly, firmly back into her, they groan at the same time, but pain sharpens her voice.

"Nan, baby..."

"God," she whimpers, as his hips press her thighs apart and his cock fills her again and oh, oh God, he finds a rhythm and—

And he somehow manages to find her clit again and the pain becomes exquisite, unspeakable. She writhes under him, her breath ragged, her heels slipping as she tries to brace and push back against him, and her body trembles with his every thrust. She sweeps her hair out of her face and cries out his name, rocking under him, against him, grasping his shoulders.

"I love you so much."

She nods, her eyelids creased in concentration as her slick inner flesh first contracts hard around him. "Oh, oh God, I love you too."

"Oh fuck," he groans, and the agony draws another breathless cry from her as he bears down hard between her thighs, pinning her to the mattress. She wraps her legs around him, loosely, twining around him as his cock pulses deep between her thighs and he pants in harsh breaths against her temple.

He has been still for a long moment, and the aftershocks are slowing when she whispers, "Holy God, I'm going to break in half."

"I'm so sorry," he says immediately, pushing off her, and she groans as he pulls out of her. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Are you okay?"

"I think so."

"You think so?"

She smiles and pushes herself up as he rocks back. "I'll be okay. Are you all right?"

He vanishes for a moment, into the bathroom. "Need anything?"

"A glass of water would be great."

"Champagne?" He chuckles.

Nancy picks her gown up off the floor and slides it back on, wincing when she flexes her sore thighs. "Maybe later."

He walks back to the bed and her gaze is lazy as it takes him in. He is her lover now. Her lover. And no proposal or case or cold feet will ever change that.

"Tell me you're okay."

She reaches up for him, draws him back into the bed with her, and his mouth is warm and sweet against hers.

"I am now."