He releases my wrists and covers my hands with his, fingers threading through mine so I'm still pinned to the bed. His breath is hot on my cheeks, and I recall that our lips have touched once before.

His lashes are the same light copper as the hair on his arms, and they flutter almost closed as his face lowers. His full lips graze mine, but it's a whole different kiss. Warm and gentle, like he might break me. Holy shit his lips are soft - softer than mine in this post-Burt's Bees garden of delights.

His nose traces my cheekbone, raising chill bumps across my arms and chest. When his lips touch mine again, they press and form a seal, and my battle-scarred and hardened flesh is transformed into overcooked spaghetti. The warm moisture of the kiss works its way into every rusty spring and hinge, and by the time our lips open to allow deeper contact, my body is humming like an Italian twin-cylinder.  

My hands slide up his back, pressing his shoulder blades, and his breath goes ragged. There are still a couple layers of denim between us, seam rubbing seam, and it's crazy how hot this makes me. He raises his head to cradle my cheek in his hand, elbow brushing the outside of one breast. I glance down between us, following the line of his chest and waist where they press against mine. I can hardly breathe from wanting - I feel like a teenager in the backseat of a car. It no longer matters why we're doing this.  

At least not to me.

Levi ducks his head and kisses the skin just below my left earlobe. It could be the sexiest thing a man's ever done to me. Or it could be I'm out of my head with lust and wouldn't know the difference. But when he draws up to look at me, I can see he's not out of his head, and I ache between my legs from the emptiness my gut says is going to continue.

And sure enough he rolls off me and directs his gaze at the ceiling. I watch his chest settle as the pace of his breathing slows.

"You're killing me," I grumble.

"Me too."

"So stop."

His head rolls my direction, and as our gazes lock, a warm little shudder vibrates in my belly.

"I can't, I'm sorry."

"A minute ago you said you weren't strong enough not to do it."

He gives a dry chuckle. "I don't think I'm strong enough to do it. Not very well, anyway."

I roll to my side and lay my hand on his chest. "Then let me do the work." Hard as I fight the impulse, my gaze drifts below his waist, and the niggling fear that he's decided He's Not That Into Me is erased by visible evidence to the contrary. I swallow.


I tear my gaze from the gratifying display of lust, murmuring, "Sorry." Even though I'm totally not.

He covers my hand with his. "Tonight might be the first night in years either of us has really slept."

I know he's exhausted, but it doesn't stop me reading shit into this anyway. "I hear you," I mumble, sitting up and fishing my tank top off the floor.

"I don't think you do," he says to my back.

I pull on my shirt and stretch out next to him, stung by what feels like rejection when I know the truth is I'm being a selfish asshole. "No harm no foul, Red. Let's get some sleep."

I don't know who falls asleep first. He has more cause, but I don't think more than a few seconds pass between me mumbling that last word and embodying it. As those soft waters take me, I'm aware I'm sinking deep, and if a flesh-eater armada materializes out of the darkness this story will end right here. 


But what happens instead is I sleep hard until the very edge of dawn, when a gentle wind sets our boat to rocking. My arm is asleep, and as I try to shift my body, I discover I'm bound hand and foot. But before the cry of panic leaves my throat, my eyes come to rest on the thick cord across my chest.

I'm completely encased in Viking - arms and legs coiling around me, nose pressing into my neck.

My sleeping arm is forgotten, because I can't remember the last time I felt so safe. I don't want either of us to move. I'm suddenly afraid if we do, I'll fly apart into a million pieces.

I am so fucking tired of this fight. As the feeling takes hold, I realize this is exactly why he scares me. Why I want to fuck him and be done with it. Because I can't afford to slow down like this. When you slow down in the After, it all catches up with you. And you just can't lug that shit around. Not if you want to survive.

So I twist in his arms, breaking his hold on me, and it's the hardest thing I've done in a very long time.

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