Free Me (Page 43)

Free Me (The Found Duet #1)(43)
Author: Laurelin Paige

But since it wasn’t something he was pushing, I let it go. “Whatever. Fine. What was it you had in mind?”

“How about a little mischief?” He tossed an orange up in the air and then caught it again.

“I can’t even begin to imagine where you’re going with that.” Because I was even more opposed to an orange in the bedroom than a cucumber. Unless he was planning to squeeze it and lick it…

Okay, maybe oranges were okay.

But apparently he had other plans. His expression turned impish, and he did a rather obvious sweep of his surroundings. “Ever did any shoplifting?”

“Oh, no.” I mean, I had, but no. This was not on my agenda for today. Or ever.

“Come on. It will be fun.” He scanned the crowd again.

“Have you ever shoplifted before?” I was not going to teach him. Was not. Was definitely not.

“Nope. First time.” He practically did a full turn this time as he looked to see if anyone was watching.

“That’s not…” I put a hand over my eyes and peeked through my fingers as JC began stuffing an orange in his pocket. “Oh my God. You’re embarrassing yourself. That’s not how you do it.” I grabbed the orange from his pocket and stuffed it back in the crate.

“How do you do it, then?”

“First of all, you can’t look around like that. That’s how you alert other people that you’re doing something that you don’t want them to see. You have to be coy. And look straight at the person closest to you and smile while you’re dropping it in your bag. In the bag you already have. Not your pocket where it will stand out for everyone to see.”

“That’s brilliant. How do you know this stuff?”

I hated how much I adored his praise. “It’s not brilliant. It’s logical. And I know because I’ve done it.”

“You’ve stolen fruit?”

“Well. Yes.” Farmers’ markets were one of the easiest places to get food. But there were other places we’d stolen from. Convenience stores. A restaurant once.

I occupied myself with straightening the oranges—straightening oranges, really?—while I explained. “We were poor and sometimes my dad forgot to feed us. So we got good at this. And we never did it just for fun.”

“Then this will be your first chance. You can teach me how to—”

He reached for another orange, and I blocked him. “No way.” It didn’t matter how much I loosened up, I refused to steal again.

But when he tried to reach over me to grab another, the whole crate, which was on the end of the table, fell to the ground. Oranges spilled everywhere, rolling under the tables and out into the walkway.

“Oh. Fuck,” JC said. “Now what do we do?”

“Run!” I don’t know why I said it. Obviously, the best thing to do—the responsible thing to do—was stay and help clean up the mess. Explain that it was an accident.

But the unexpectedness of the event paired with the general naughty feeling I had anytime I was with JC, not to mention that I had stolen in the past, made me automatically feel guilty. And I reacted by bolting.

JC was on my heels, the La Perla bag full of scanty underwear and vegetables for my sister’s breakfast banging against his leg as we ran through the long halls of Port Authority. No one followed us. No one even called out after us, but we kept going until we were out the doors and around the corner.

The cool air of the March day perhaps was all I needed to knock some sense into me. I stopped running and leaned against a cement pillar to try to calm my breathing. JC put a hand on the pillar to steady himself.

He met my eyes and we burst into laughter.

We laughed like I’d never laughed before, and I knew that the cause was much more than the knocked-over bin in the Greenmarket. It was from a lifetime of not laughing. A release of all the crap that had been my childhood and the parts that had followed into adulthood. I’d always thought I grew up in a drama, but now, in this moment, it felt more comic than any sitcom I’d ever watched on TV.

It felt like letting go. And it was exhilarating.

Next to me, JC laughed just as hard and just as long, and if I hadn’t figured it out before, I knew now that he must have the same sorts of hurts built up that needed as much of a release as mine. I wondered about them as I wiped tears from my eyes. I wondered how it had been so easy for him to recognize them in me and why it had taken me longer to figure out the same about him. I wondered how he knew that spending the day with me was exactly what we both needed. How he knew to ignore our non-attachment rules and connect instead.

I glanced at him doubled over, the La Perla bag dropped at his feet, and suddenly I had a revelation. It might be what he needed, but it wasn’t what JC wanted. Just like me, he hadn’t wanted to get intimate. He hadn’t planned to take me out into the world and test my boundaries. He hadn’t planned to ask me questions about my personal life. He hadn’t planned to look at me with an emotion that was so much more than want. And when he had, he panicked. Stealing the oranges had been his way of trying to regain his composure. It was his reminder that the world could fuck off. It hadn’t been for me at all. It had been for him.

And it hadn’t worked. Because behind the amusement in his eyes was the same emotion he’d tried to hide. More vibrant now. More pure.

So a minute later when we’d finished laughing and we’d somewhat found our breath again, it wasn’t a complete surprise to find him moving toward me and me toward him. Our lips met and locked.

He cupped his hand around my neck and brought me closer to him, holding me firmly. As if he were frightened I’d pull away. Gently, he kissed first my bottom lip, then my top. Then his tongue swept in, teasing me. Tasting me. With sweet surrender, I opened for him. Sweeter still, he opened for me.

We kissed with the exploration of a first kiss. Tentatively at first, then with complete and utter focus. Because even though we’d had our mouths on each other before, it had always been in the context of sex. And while there was enough passion in this embrace to lead there, it wasn’t the reason for it.

We lingered in this kiss. We lavished. We luxuriated. I wrapped my arms around his neck to draw him nearer, then clung on tighter to support my weak knees. I fell into him. I melted.

And he melted into me. Filling my spaces, smothering my emptiness. Making me whole. Making me free.

Chapter Eleven

This time, in the cab back to the hotel, JC didn’t chat with the driver. He gave directions then turned to look at me, his eyes burning and blazing with want and affection. And I, usually one to buckle up and pray during a taxi ride through the city, climbed into his lap, straddling him. Again, our lips met. His hand tangled in my hair and my hands cupped his face as my tongue traced love notes along his. The ante was upped now. No longer was this kiss not about sex. Now, it was foreplay. The most tender, sweet foreplay that I’d ever experienced. Even with the cabbie shouting obscenities at the road behind me.