Authors: Paige James
Tags: #Romance, #Erotic, #Love, #serial, #teacher, #Forbidden
It takes me a few seconds to focus on Ebon when he leans up on his elbow to look down at me. His face is a handsome blur at first, but I can still see his smile.
And his little bit of a frown.
?” he asks.
I blink several times. “Pardon?”
“You just quoted
Lady Chatterly’s Lover.”
It’s my turn to frown. “Did I?”
“You sure did.” Still he watches me. Still, I’m confused.
“Annnnd?” I ask with a slow grin. I don’t get it.
“Since when does Sage Masters quote literature?”
My heart drops through the bed and onto the hardwoods below.
Holy. Effing. Shit.
I keep my casual smile in place as I scramble for some way to excuse the slip. Finally, I roll my eyes and give him a breezy wave of my hand. “I’ve been around Willow too long.”
Ebon’s smile doesn’t waver as he leans in to nuzzle my neck. “Damn,” he says, his breath tickling my ear. “And here I thought maybe I’d fucked you so deep and so hard that you could read my mind for a minute.”
My pulse is racing, but I keep it together, turning my face toward Ebon’s. I cup his stubbly cheek and lick at his bottom lip, desperate to change the subject. “If you think that might be the case, we can always test your theory in the shower.”
His smile turns sleepy. “Mmmm, give me thirty minutes to recover and we will do just that,” he says, kissing the tip of my nose before he urges me onto my side and pulls me into the curve of his body.
I snuggle in, making sure to let him hear my deep, contented sigh. It’s hard to feign such relaxation when, in my mind, I’m frantically hoping that he’ll go to sleep and forget about my quote slip. But when I finally hear Ebon’s deep, even breathing, I’m able to unwind for real.
This time, anyway.
I’ve calmed down enough that I’m nearly asleep, too, when I hear the loud buzz of Ebon’s ring tone. He rolls away from my back and walks to the foot of the bed, bending to retrieve his phone from the pocket of his discarded shorts.
It’s a pleasure just to watch him, to be able to freely enjoy his naked form. His legs are long and muscular with just the right amount of dark hair. His hips are narrow, as is his waist, and his abs are ripped into a delicious six pack. The V of his torso widens as it approaches his shoulders, which are square and strong and would be the envy of any football player. He’s just beautiful, from head to toe and everywhere in between.
My eyes rise to his face, which is where they stop with some small amount of alarm. Ebon is pale and his frown is deep as he stares down at his phone where it rests, unanswered, in his hand.
I know that something is wrong. And, of course, being the only person in the room who is basically living a lie, my first thought is that I’ve been discovered. Paranoia—the cornerstone of any deceitful life.
“Ebon, what is it?” I ask, my chest heavy with dread.
He raises his concerned green eyes to mine, but says nothing at first. My throat constricts and the backs of my eyes burn. I imagined that when he found out, it would start in a way very much like this.
But then he rescues me from my downward spiral. “Sage, I haven’t been completely honest with you,” he says, his words pouring over me like a shower of relief.
I sit up and crawl to the end of the bed, sitting back on my haunches and turning my face up to his. “What is it, Ebon? You can tell me anything.”
I’m actually oddly pleased to hear that he hasn’t been completely honest. It makes me feel a tiny bit—like, a-grain-of-sand-in-an-ocean tiny bit—better that he, too, has fibbed about
I don’t even really care what it is. I’m just glad I’m not the only one with a black soul. Even though this hardly means Ebon is even a bad person, much less that his soul is the color of mine.
When he doesn’t offer anything further, I prompt him. “Who was that?”
Ebon sits down on the end of the bed and pulls me into his lap. I rest my head on his chest and he rubs his chin back and forth over my hair.
“It was my mother,” he replies, dead pan.
Of course, I don’t understand the significance. “Oh,” I reply vaguely, unwilling to admit I have no idea why that would be a bad thing. As Sage, I might be expected to know.
“You don’t remember me telling you about her, do you? About my parents?”
I answer in a small voice, hoping it’s the right choice. “No. I’m sorry.”
I hear a sigh whisk through his chest like a light puff of air might whisk through my bedroom window. “It’s okay. None of it was true anyway.”
I circle my finger lazily through the sprinkling of dark hair that dusts his pecs. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I want him to. God, how I want him to. I want him to open up to me, to tell me his worst fears and his darkest secrets, to trust me and love me. But the thing is, I want him to do those things with
me. With Willow.
But that will never happen. It never can. He isn’t interested in Willow. He’s interested in Sage.
I feel him move and his arm rises. I hear a scratching sound and I imagine him rubbing his hand over his stubbly face. A weary gesture for a weary man. I can feel that as well.
“I…I don’t know. I just…”
I lean away from him to look up at his face. He’s watching me. I don’t know what he’s thinking and his expression gives away nothing. I stroke his strong jaw, all the way down to his chin, and then I cup his lean, warm cheek.
For the rest of my life, I will probably wonder what in the world would possess me to do this. And why now. But I do it. Without thinking twice and without looking back, I do it.
“Ebon, I’m in love with you. I would never hurt you. I would never judge you. I would never betray a confidence. If you want to tell me, tell me. If you don’t, then don’t. But please don’t feel like you
Because you can.” Suddenly, as though my body was somewhere else when my lips betrayed me, I feel a rush of belated emotion. My eyes burn beyond that which I can control and my lip trembles. I just told the man who I’ve loved for months now that I
in fact, in love with him. I’ve never been more relieved and more afraid than in this very moment. “I love you,” I whisper again, my voice cracking on the last syllable.
Ebon is absolutely silent as he searches my eyes. The tension is so thick in the room, I feel suffocated. I pull my hand away from his face, but before I can look away, ashamed and heartbroken, Ebon grabs my wrist and guides my hand back to where it held his cheek.
Still, he says nothing, but he threads his hands along my ribs and under the bend of my knees and he stands with me in his arms. With his eyes on mine, he carries me to the bathroom where he lets me slide down his body until my feet are on the floor.
He looks away only long enough to turn on the shower before he returns his attention to me. Gently, almost worshipfully, he raises his hands to my face. He places his big palms along my jaw, the pads of his thumbs grazing the corners of my mouth.
When he finally lowers his lips to mine, the kiss is different. It’s soft and tender, reverent and pure. It feels like the tears that are spilling down my cheeks. It feels warm yet cool, bitter yet sweet. It feels like the beginning, but also the end.
It feels like love.
And something that can never be.
I don’t know if Sage is simply
this much more
than what I ever expected or thought she could be, or if I’m somehow imbuing her with all the traits of her sister that I find so appealing. It’s getting harder and harder to tell them apart in a lot of ways. But, luckily, that means it’s getting easier to resist Willow, to put my relationship with her in perspective, where it should be, rather than fighting it so hard.
The perfect example is how I’ve been able to concentrate on class more this morning rather than being distracted by thoughts of tasting her sweet body and getting lost in the labyrinth of her mind. When I glance up at her, which I’m still doing far more often than I should, I can easily picture Sage biting her lip as I plunge into her or the shy, sincere way she told me she loved me.
I still don’t know what the hell to do about that. I don’t know if what I feel for Sage is organic or if it is influenced by my fascination with her sister. It wouldn’t be fair to make any kind of declaration before I’m absolutely certain. Besides, I’m not really sure
I feel for her. For either of them. Love is a complicated thing.
I know a big component of what I feel is sexual, right down to the way I want to explore Willow’s inner naughty side. I always suspected she had one. So sweet and innocent on the outside, so dark and dirty on the inside. But reading her story and realizing that I was right upped my curiosity a hundred fold.
But that has lessened a bit since I made such an effort to focus on Sage and give her a chance. She’s proven to hold quite a few inner treasures herself. This time around, she seems to be diving in, no holds barred, to whatever this is between us. And, to a large degree, she’s dragging me along with her. Not that I mind. We’ve had some mind-blowing sex lately.
As I listen to one of my students ramble on about his thoughts on the modernist view of sexuality, I have to force myself to focus on his words rather than continuing along the path that my thoughts
to take. That will lead nowhere good. Well, not without Sage nearby so that I can put thought into practice.
She’s still flirting with the edges of my mind when I dismiss class. As always, I turn back toward the desk to collect my things, one way to keep my eyes off Willow, as I discovered earlier in the semester.
Unless, of course, she seeks me out.
“Mr. Daniels?” I recognize her voice, of course. It’s identical to her sister’s. But with Willow, there’s a hesitancy, a softness that I don’t always see in Sage. Although, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been seeing it more lately than I ever did before. Yet another similarity that’s making it easier to drift toward Sage.
I turn to face her, putting on my most natural yet detached, professorly smile. “What can I do for you, Willow?”
Her answering smile is sweet, but it’s the way she bites her lip—just like her sister—that turns my nuts to rocks. “Did you, uh, did you get a chance to read the pages that I brought? Sage didn’t mention it, but I thought maybe…”
“Not yet. I haven’t had a chance.” I want to. So fucking badly. But I need to figure out what’s going on with Sage first. I need Willow out of my head as much as possible. And reading her work is
a good way to accomplish that. That will only serve to put her back in my head and deeper under my skin.
Although she tries to hide it, I can see that her feelings are hurt. She waves me off as casually as she can. “Oh no rush. I was just curious. I know with you and Sage…”
I’m not sure how she was going to complete her sentence, and when she doesn’t, all I can do is give her a tight smile and wait.
She clears her throat and tucks her hair behind her ear then pushes her glasses up on her nose. “Well, I guess I’ll see you Wednesday then.”
I nod. “Have a nice evening.”
She smiles and nods as she makes her way toward the door. I turn immediately away, more determined than ever to remain unaffected.
That lasts for about all of four hours. After class, I put in a couple of requisite office hours and then I head home. I dial Sage on the way, but she doesn’t answer. That makes me…prickly.
The itch…this damn itch…
I unlock the door to my house, tossing my bag in the chair and my keys on the table. I head straight to the kitchen to grab a beer, popping the top and downing half of it before I even close the refrigerator door. I’m feeling out of sorts and I’m not entirely sure why. My mother’s call? Partly. Sage’s confession? Yes, partly that, too. But when I pass the stack of papers on the table against the wall in front of my bedroom, another thorn in my side makes itself known.
Willow and her damn story. And the disappointment I saw on her face today.
I’m the one who’s been encouraging to write, write, write this story, and then, when she does, what do I do? I blow her off. And not because I want to, but because it’s what I really need to do, for her sake as well as mine.
I retrace my steps and run my finger along the edge of the stack. It’s not very long, just a couple of dozen pages, probably. It wouldn’t take me an hour to knock those out. At least I could give Willow
I take another pull from my beer and pick up the stack, moving to the couch to sit down and read. And maybe to regret it later.
It doesn’t take me long to learn that I might regret this in a much different way than I expected.
When I finish this portion of the story, I have to stop and ask myself if it’s possible that someone other than Willow wrote this. It’s as though it’s been penned by two authors, two different minds. The first one was an intuitive, secretive, deeply sensual person who obviously felt the need to hide. It was easier for me to see Willow being the author than Sage being the protagonist. At least it was then.
however, I can definitely see how Sage fits into the story. There is much more depth and dimension to her than I’d originally thought. The fact that Willow so accurately captured it is a testament to her raw talent as an artist.
But this second portion of the story…God, it’s so different. Not in a bad way. In fact, reading this might’ve made things even more difficult for me. I don’t know who has changed more in this piece—the way Willow sees Sage, or Willow herself. But one of them has.
The protagonist in this section is darker, hungrier. She’s consumed, but she also seems to be a little—or a lot—conflicted. I get the impression that the main character is embroiled in something that’s eating away at her. There’s so much self-condemnation in parts of it. But then, at other places, the story has a lightness to it, a happiness that gives me the feeling of…liberation. Of freedom. She’s a prisoner who has found a weakness in the fence, a bird who has found a hole in her gilded cage. A way out.
Or maybe even a way in, a way
something that has, in some way, set her free.
The question is: Who is consumed? And who is free? And
is eating away at this person?
Like Willow’s words, I find that I can’t get the questions out of my mind. Just like I can’t get these sisters out of my mind.