Read The Bride Test Online

Authors: Helen Hoang

The Bride Test (23 page)

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Her heart pounded so hard she could feel her sternum shaking with each beat. This was the first time she’d dared to hug him since she’d crawled into his bed with that nightmare. If he was going to push her away, now was the time.

He didn’t. He kissed the top of her head and hugged her in return, and moment by moment, Esme relaxed into him as the hurt slowly drained out of her.

Eventually, she dared to let her hands roam. She explored his strong shoulders, the swells of his biceps, and everything from the pads of muscle between his shoulder blades down to the twin grooves in the small of his back, and he let her; he trusted her.

Maybe she kissed his neck. And his jaw. His chin. When he turned toward her, their lips met, and sensation sang through her. The kiss started tenderly but quickly escalated into something intense as they tried to get closer to each other. She could hardly breathe, and she didn’t care.

She boldly stroked him through his pants, loving the way he groaned and kissed her harder. And then it was happening. Hungry hands undid buttons, lowered zippers, pushed cloth down. She touched him there for the first time, loving how deliciously different he was from herself, and he touched her in return. His fingertips searched through damp curls and wet folds and settled there, there,
there
. She tore open the box he’d bought with trembling fingers and extracted a foil packet.

“No oral sex?” he asked. “The books I read highly recommended it ... and I wanted to try.”

It took her a few seconds to figure out what that was, and then her blush grew so hot she could feel heat coming off her body in waves. That was not something she’d ever known, and her grandma certainly wouldn’t approve. The thought of him kissing her between her thighs was outrageous.

And intriguing.

“Later,” she said and urged him to hurry. Once he’d rolled the condom onto his length, she pulled him down onto the floor with her. Their bodies lined up next to each other in that perfect way, and he pressed his cheek to hers like he was savoring being close to her.

“Please, don’t let me make you cry,” he whispered in her ear. “If something is wrong, tell me so I can fix it. Please.”

Her heart squeezed, and she hugged him tight. “I’ll tell you.”

He swallowed once before he shifted his hips, and they came together with broken breaths and a long sigh. Filled with him, she couldn’t help arching up, trying to get closer, until he reached between them and touched her. She clenched tightly around him as heat shimmered outward from the place where his fingertips stroked.

“Show me how to make it good for you, too,” he said as he looked at her directly, no trace of shame on his face. “Because I need you to feel the way I do right now.”

At first, she froze with a mixture of embarrassment and inhibition, but then she settled her hand over Khải’s and showed him how to pleasure her. She’d always thought it was bad for a woman to participate like this in bed, but perceptions didn’t matter when it was the two of them. She would be whatever he needed.

When he started to move his hips as he caressed her with his fingers, she couldn’t stop the sounds escaping her throat. Stroked inside and out, treasured, loved. She wrapped her arms around him, holding him in every way she could as their bodies found a rhythm.

He was here. He was hers. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Kisses everywhere, on her lips, on her throat, her shoulder. Temple to temple, heavy intimate breaths, whispers in her ear, answers.

Like this?

Like this and this and this.

Her hips rose sharply off the floor, pressing as close to him as possible, high, higher, higher. Head thrown back. Too much, too good, so good. A trembling moan. Strong convulsions, over and over and over.

And you?

All I need is you.

Her name, her name, her name, her name.

Pure stillness.

In her mind and in her heart.

Warm. Content. Safe in his arms. Him safe in hers. She hugged him tighter. He was bigger and stronger, but she would protect him with everything she had.

K
hai woke up from the deepest sleep of his life and blinked his bedroom into focus. When he saw how bright it was, he glanced at the clock: 10:23
A.M
. Really? He never slept in this late. He tried to sit upright, but a warm weight kept him down. He lifted hands to the mass and encountered long silky hair and soft skin.

Esme.

Memories flooded his mind. Kissing her. Touching her. Being touched by her. Being inside her. Watching her come apart.

As he lay there staring at the popcorn ceiling, he recognized he should be losing his shit— his Sunday schedule was destroyed, and there was a woman in his bed, sleeping on him like a sloth in a tree. But her weight was calming, he’d gotten a full eight hours of sleep, and for the first time in a long time, he didn’t have blue balls. He felt ... good.

He analyzed the odd sense of well-being, not trusting it. Was it due to the oxytocin and endorphins released during intercourse? Was he addicted to sex now ... or was it worse than that? Was he addicted to Esme? Should he get rid of her before it was too late?

The thought of losing her made his stomach drop and his body stiffen in rejection, and he brushed the hair away from her cheek and kissed the top of her head, needing to reassure himself she was still here.

Well, that explained everything.

Khai Diep, CPA, Esme addict.

He was surprisingly okay with it. It was hard to be upset when he had her in his arms. But the day would come when she had to go, and he didn’t know what it would take to readjust to life without her. For now, however, he didn’t have to think about it. The summer was only half over.

His phone buzzed, and he picked it up instantly, grateful for the distraction. An email from Quan’s friend about the list of Phils. Before he could open it, Esme stirred.

“Oh, I’m on top of you,” she said. “Did I sleep here all night?”

“I think so.”

“Sorry.” She eased off him. He was about to voice a protest but got preoccupied with her hair. It looked like she’d brushed it backward, applied hairspray while upside down, or both. She swiped at the extra-volumized strands and self-consciously tucked the only tame tendril behind her ear. “Do you hurt anywhere? From me sleeping on you?”

She patted her hands over his chest like she was searching for something—he didn’t know what, signs of internal bleeding or broken bones maybe— and he covered her hands with his. If she touched him much more, they’d be having morning breath sex, and he wasn’t sure how that worked.

“I’m fine. You’re the perfect size for me,” he said.

She grinned. “You think I’m pretty
and
the perfect size.”

That was obvious, so he changed the subject. “I just got a narrowed-down list from Quan’s friend.” He sat up and accessed the email. “Looks like he narrowed it down to ... nine. There are full names, attendance information, phone numbers, and the pictures from their old student IDs. Want to see?”

“Yes, I want to.”
She grabbed the phone and immediately snuggled up next to him, pulling the blankets over her breasts— a crying shame. Oblivious to his disappointment, she flashed him an excited look before scanning the photographs. When she got to number eight, she grabbed Khai’s far arm and wrapped it around her middle so he was hugging her, and he smiled.

He liked this, the snuggling, her smiles, the fact that she helped him be there for her. He hadn’t known she needed to be hugged, and it was immensely freeing that instead of getting angry with him or sad, she communicated and showed him what to do.

“That’s him,” she whispered. “Number eight.”

Khai considered the photograph skeptically. The man had green eyes, but everyone looked more or less the same to him. How had she settled on this one? “Judging by his 650 area code, he’s local.”

She covered her mouth. “Is it too early to call now?”

“It’s not early. It’s after ten.”

Her eyes widened, and she glanced out the window like she was just noticing the time of day. “We were up late, huh?”

“We were.” As memories of last night flitted through his head, he let his eyes trail over her profile, her fine jaw, and the graceful line of her neck. He cleared his throat and touched his fingertips to the little purple blemishes on her skin. “I, um, may have left marks on you.”

Shit, were they permanent? He hadn’t made them on purpose, though he had to admit he found the sight highly satisfying. Apparently, he was like a dog and felt the need to mark his territory— not with pee, though.

She pressed a hand to her neck and grinned as her cheeks bloomed with color. “They go away.”

He nodded, relieved and disappointed at the same time.

After scrutinizing the other photographs again, she returned to number eight. Her finger hovered over the phone number as she took a deep breath, and then she pressed it and hit the speaker button. She chewed on her bottom lip as the phone rang once, twice, three times.

Four times, five, six ...

Seven, eight, nine ...

“Hi, you’ve reached Phil Jackson. I’m probably busy in the operating room. Leave a message, and I’ll get back to you when I can.”

When voice mail started recording, she hit the end button, and Khai looked at her in confusion.

“You don’t want to leave a message?” he asked.

She shook her head quickly. For a long while, she continued worrying her lip as she stared at the photograph on the screen. “Do you think ... he is a doctor?”

“Maybe. We can check.” He got the phone from her and Googled “Phil Jackson MD.” Sure enough, there was a Phil Jackson in Palo Alto who specialized in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery.

Esme snatched the phone from him and zoomed in on the man’s picture. He looked nice enough with his distinguished white hair, glasses, and easy smile, kind of like if Santa Claus worked out and got a shave.

“He is a doctor,” Esme whispered, but she didn’t look happy about it. Her brow wrinkled, and she kept torturing her bottom lip.

“Is that a problem?”

She ran a hand through her headbanger hair and lifted a shoulder. “A man like that ... for his daughter ... I’m not ...” She gave up and looked out the window.

“You don’t think he’ll like you?”

Her eyes searched his. “You think he will?”

“Of course he will.” How could someone not like her?

She surprised him by tackling him with a hug and burying her face against his neck. After a shocked moment, he tightened his arms around her and rested his cheek against hers. Was she sad? Was she happy? Was she crying? He had no clue whatsoever, so he held her and waited.

But as he waited, he couldn’t help noticing he had a very naked Esme straddling his very naked hips. Her breasts were plumped against his chest, and her sex was
right there
. It took a tenth of a second for his body to respond in the expected manner, and he winced. This didn’t strike him as the right way to react when you had an emotional woman in your arms. He was wishing his erection away, when she brushed up against it, stiffened in realization, and deliberately rubbed herself over his length as she bit his ear.

“Again?” she whispered.

There was only one possible way to answer that question. It looked like they were having morning breath sex after all.

T
he month that followed was the best month of Esme’s life. Now that she’d gotten the hang of things, waitressing suited her just fine, and she saved up enough to either fix her grandma’s house or buy something better. Her grades in school stayed high. She couldn’t become Esme in Accounting, but she was getting
close
.

Best of all, her time with Khải was like a dream. Things had become easy between them. She knew to turn the exhaust hood on when she cooked with fish sauce, and he’d learned to kiss her every morning when she left for work and hug her every evening when he picked her up from class. He still didn’t speak much unless she asked him specific questions, but that was fine. She talked enough for both of them, and he was a good listener. She’d made an offhand comment about wanting to ride on a sailboat someday, and he’d surprised her today by taking her to Sunday brunch on the water in the San Francisco Bay. It had been lovely. Their first date.

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