Overload (Chapter Eight)
It was too hot to sleep, despite the high ceiling in the lobby that carried the heat upward. They lay on the cushions and talked, their voices not much more than slow murmurs in the sultry heat. Quinlan's big hands never left her bare body, and Elizabeth suspended her thoughts for this one magic night. She became drowsy, but all inclination to sleep fled when he turned to her in the thick, heated darkness, pressing down on her, his callused hands stroking and probing until she writhed on the cushions. His lovemaking was as steamy as the night, as enveloping. In the darkness she had no inhibitions. She not only let him do as he wanted with her, she reveled in it. There wasn't an inch of her body that he didn't explore.
Daylight brought sunlight and steadily increasing temperatures, but the power remained off. Even though she knew it was impossible to see inside through the glazed windows, she was glad that they could remain snugly hidden in their own little lair. They drank water and ate, and Elizabeth insisted on washing off again in the smothering heat of the rest room, though she knew it wouldn't do any good to clean up with Quinlan waiting impatiently for her outside. Did the man never get tired?
She heard other voices and froze, panicking at the thought of being caught naked in the rest room. Had the power come back on? Impossible, because it was dark in the bathroom. Or had the guard cut off the lights in here before he'd left the day before? She hadn't even thought to check the switch.
Then she heard a familiar call sign and relaxed. The radio, of course. A bit irritated, with herself for being scared and with him because he'd caused it, she strode out of the rest room. "I nearly had a heart attack," she snapped. "I thought someone had come in and I was caught in the rest room."
Quinlan grinned. "What about me? I'm as naked as you are."
He was still sprawled on the cushions, but somehow he looked absolutely at home in his natural state. She looked down at herself and laughed. "I can't believe this is happening."
He started to say, `It'll he something to tell our grandkids', but bit the words back. She wouldn't want to hear it, and he'd promised he wouldn't push her. He held out his hand to her, and she crawled onto the cushions with him, sinking into his arms.
"What was on the news?"
"A relatively quiet night in Dallas, though there was some sporadic looting. The same elsewhere. It was just too damn hot to do anything very strenuous."
"Oh, yeah?" she asked, giving him a sidelong glance.
He laughed and deftly rolled her onto her back, mounting her with a total lack of haste that demon- strated how many times during the night he'd done the same thing. "The news?" she prompted.
He nuzzled her neck, breathing in the sweet woman scent. "Oh, that. The National Guard has been mobilized from Texas to the East Coast. There were riots in Miami, but they're under control now."
"I thought you said things were relatively quiet?"
"That is quiet. With electricity off in almost a quarter of the country, that's amazingly quiet." He didn't want to talk about the blackout. Having Elizabeth naked under him went to his head faster than the most potent whiskey. He kissed her, acutely savoring her instant response, even as he positioned her for his penetration and smoothly slid within. He felt the delicious tightening of her inner muscles as she adjusted to him, the way her fingers dug into his shoulders as she tried to arch even closer to him. His feelings for her swamped him, and he found himself wishing the electricity would never come back on.
Afterward, she yawned and nestled down on his shoulder. "Did the radio announcers say when the power company officials thought the power would be back on?"
"Maybe by this afternoon," he said.
So soon? She felt a bit indignant, as if she had been promised a vacation and now it had been cut short. But this wasn't a vacation; for a lot of people, it was a crisis. Electricity could mean the difference between life and death for someone who was ill. If all they had was a few more hours, she meant to make the best of them.
It seemed that he did, too. Except for insisting that they regularly drink water, he kept her in his arms. Even when he finally tired and had to take a break from lovemaking, he remained nestled within her body. Elizabeth was too tired to think; all she could do was feel. Quinlan had so completely dominated her senses that she would have been alarmed, if she hadn't seen the same drugged expression in his eyes that she knew was in hers. This wasn't something he was doing to her; it was something they were sharing. They dozed, their sweaty bodies pressed tightly together despite the heat.
It was the wash of cool air over her skin that woke her, shivering. Quinlan sat up. "The power's back on," he said, squinting up at the overhead lights that seemed to be glaring after the long hours without them. He looked at his watch. "It's eleven o'clock."
"That's too soon," Elizabeth said grumpily. "They said it would be this afternoon."
"They probably gave themselves some extra time in case something went wrong."
Feeling incredibly exposed in the artificial light, Elizabeth scrambled into her clothing. She looked at her discarded panty hose in distaste and crumpled them up, then threw them into the trash.
"What do we do now?" she asked, pushing her hair back.
Quinlan zipped his pants. "Now we go home."
"How? Do we call the guard service?"
"Oh, I'll call them all right. Later. I have a few things to say. But now that the power's on, I can get us out of here."
While he tapped into the security system, Elizabeth hastily straightened the furniture, shoving it back into place and restoring all the cushions to their original sites. A blush was already heating her face at the possibility of anyone finding out about their love nest, literally in the middle of the lobby. She didn't know if she would ever be able to walk into this building again without blushing.
Quinlan grunted with satisfaction as he entered a manual override into the system that would allow him to open the side door. "Come on," he said, grabbing Elizabeth's hand.
She barely had time to snatch up her purse before he was hustling her out of there. She blinked in the blinding sunshine. The heat rising off the sidewalk was punishing. "We can't just leave the building unlocked," she protested.
"I didn't. It locked again as soon as the door closed." Taking her arm, he steered her around the corner and across the street to the parking deck.
Before she could react, he was practically stuffing her into his car. "I have my own car!" she said indignantly.
"I know. Don't worry, it isn't going anywhere. But we don't know that the electricity is on all over the city, and we don't know what kind of situation you'll find at your place. Until I know you're safe, I'm keeping you with me.''
It was the sort of high-handed action that had always made her uneasy in the past, but now it didn't bother her. Maybe it was because she was so sleepy. Maybe it was because he was right. For whatever reason, she relaxed in the seat and let her eyes close. He had to detour a couple of times to reach her apartment, but the traffic was surprisingly light, and it didn't take long, not even as long as normal. She didn't protest when he went inside with her. The electricity was on there, too, the central air conditioning humming as it tried to overcome the built-up heat.
"Into the shower," Quinlan commanded.
She blinked at him. "What?"
He put his arm around her, turning her toward her bedroom. "The shower. We're both going to take a nice, cool shower. We're in good shape, but this will make us feel better. Believe me, we're a little dehydrated."
Their bargain had been only for the night, but since it had already extended into the day, she supposed it wouldn't hurt to carry it a little further. She allowed him to strip her and wasn't at all surprised when he undressed and climbed in with her. The shower spray was cool enough to raise a chill, and it felt wonderful. She turned around to let it wash over her spine and tilted her head back so the water soaked through her sweat-matted hair.
"Feel good?" he murmured, running his hands over her. She would have thought that he was washing her, except that he wasn't using soap.
"Mmm." He bent his head and Elizabeth lifted hers. If only she could stay this way, she thought. Kissing him, being kissed by him. His hard arms locked around her. Feeling him so close, all worries pushed aside…
The cool shower was revitalizing in more ways than one. Abruptly he lifted her and braced her against the wall, and she gasped as he drove deep into her. There was nothing slow about it this time; he took her fiercely, as wild as he had been the day before on the floor of the lobby, as if all those times in between had never been.
Later they went to bed. She could barely hold her eyes open while he dried her hair, then carried her to the bed and placed her between the cool, smooth sheets. She sighed, every muscle relaxing, and immediately went to sleep, not knowing that he slipped into bed beside her.
Still, she wasn't surprised when she woke during the afternoon and he was there. Lazily she let her gaze drift over his strong-boned features. He needed to shave; the black beard lay on his skin like a dark shadow. His hair was tousled, and his closed eyelids looked as delicate as a child's. Odd, for she had never thought of Quinlan as delicate in any way, never associated any sort of softness with him. Yet he had been tender with her, even in his passion. It wasn't the same type of gentleness Eric had displayed; Eric had been gentle, she realized now, because he hadn't wanted any responding passion from her. He had wanted her to be nothing more than a doll, to be dressed and positioned and shown off for his own ego. Quinlan, on the other hand, had been as helpless in his passion as she had been in hers.
Her body quivered at his nearness. Still half asleep, she pushed at him. His eyes opened immediately, and he rolled onto his back. "What's wrong?"
"Plenty," she said, slithering on top of him and feeling the immediate response between his legs. "It's been at least–" She paused to look at the clock, but it was blinking stupidly at her, not having been reset since the power had come back on. "It's been too damn long since I've had this." She reached between his legs, and he sucked in his breath, his back arching as she guided him into place.
"God, I'm sorry," he apologized fervently, and bit back a moan as she moved on him. This was the way he had always known his Elizabeth could be, hot with uncomplicated passion, a little bawdy, intriguingly earthy. She made him dizzy with delight.
Her eyes were sultry, her lips swollen and pouty from his kisses, her dark hair tumbling over her shoulders. He watched her expression tighten with desire as she moved slowly up and down on him, her eyes closing even more. "Just for that," she murmured, "I get to be on top."
He reached overhead and caught the headboard, his powerful biceps flexing as his fists locked around the brass bars. "No matter how I beg and plead?"
"No matter what you say," she assured him, and gasped herself as her movements wrenched another spasm of pleasure from her nerve endings.
"Good." Quinlan arched, almost lifting her off the bed. "Then I won't accidentally say something that will make you quit."
He didn't. When she collapsed, exhausted, on his chest, they were both numb with pleasure. He thrust his hand into her tangled hair and held her almost desperately close. She inhaled the hot, musky scent of his skin, and with the slightest of motions rubbed her cheek against the curly hair on his chest. She could feel his heart thudding under her ear, and the strong rhythm was reassuring. They slept again, and woke in the afternoon with the sun going down in a blaze of red and gold, to drowsily make love again.
He got up to turn on the television sitting on her dresser, then returned to bed to hold her while they watched the news, which was, predictably, all about the blackout. Elizabeth felt a little bemused, as if a national crisis had passed without her knowing about it, even though she had been intimately embroiled in this one. Intimately, she thought, in more ways than one. Perhaps that was why she felt so out of touch with reality. She hadn't spent the past twenty-four hours concentrating on the lack of electricity, she had been concentrating on Quinlan.
The Great Blackout, as the Dallas newscasters were calling it, had disrupted electrical services all over the Sun Belt. The heat wave, peak usage and solar flares had all combined to overload and blow circuits, wiping out entire power grids. Elizabeth felt as if her own circuits had been seriously damaged by Quinlan's high-voltage lovemaking.
He spent the night with her. He didn't ask if he could, and she didn't tell him that he couldn't. She knew that she was only postponing the inevitable, but she wanted this time with him. Telling him about Eric hadn't changed her mind, any more than knowing about Eric had changed Quinlan's basic character.
When morning came, they both knew that the timeout had ended. Reality couldn't be held at bay any longer.
"So what happens now?" he asked quietly. She looked out the window as she sipped her coffee. It was Saturday; neither of them had to work, though Quinlan had already talked to a couple of his staffers, placing the calls almost as soon as he'd gotten out of bed. She knew that all she had to say was one word, "Stay," and they would spend the weekend in bed, too. It would be wonderful, but come Monday, it would make it just that much more difficult to handle.
"I don't see that the situation has changed," she finally said.
"Damn it, Elizabeth!" He got up, his big body coiled with tension. "Can you honestly say that I'm anything like Landers?"
"You're very dominating," she pointed out.
"You love me."
"At the time, I thought I loved him, too. What if I'm wrong again?" Her eyes were huge and stark as she stared at him. "There's no way you can know how bad it was without having lived through it yourself. I would rather die than go through anything like that again. I don't know how I can afford to take the chance on you. I still don't know you, not the way you know me. You're so secretive that I can't tell who you really are. How can I trust you when I don't know you?"
"And if you did?" he asked in a harsh tone. "If you knew all there is to know about me?"
"I don't know," she said; then they looked at each other and broke into snickering laughter. "There's a lot of knowing and not knowing in a few short sentences."
"At least we know what we mean," he said, and she groaned; then they started laughing again. When he sobered, he reached out and slid his hand underneath her heavy curtain of hair, clasping the back of her neck. "Let me give something a try," he urged. "Let me have another shot at changing your mind."
"Does this mean that if it doesn't work, you'll stop trying?'' she asked wryly, and had to laugh at the expression on his face. "Oh, Tom, you don't even have a clue about how to give up, do you?"
He shrugged. "I've never wanted anyone the way I want you," he said, smiling back just as wryly. "But at least I've made some progress. You've started calling me Tom again."
He dressed and roughly kissed her as he started out the door. "I'll be back as soon as I can. It may not be today. But there's something I want to show you before you make a final decision."
Elizabeth leaned against the door after she had closed it behind him. Final decision? She didn't know whether to laugh or cry. To her, the decision had been final for the past six months. So why did she feel that, unless she gave him the answer he wanted, she would still be explaining her reasons to him five years from now?