‘I can’t believe I did it,’ she whispered, turning her wrist in awe.
‘Since you both got the same design, I’ll give you a discount,’ the artist said, sling-shoting his used latex gloves towards the trash can. ‘And because no one screamed.’
Sasha gave a weak laugh. She might not have screamed, but she’d cussed through the whole process like a sailor who’d been denied access to a whorehouse.
‘You’re still bleeding.’ The artist placed a neatly folded paper towel over her arm and fastened it down with white medical tape. ‘Leave that on for about an hour.’
Sasha nodded once, but couldn’t help glancing at Kevin’s right hip where a matching Celtic knot lay hidden. They hadn’t planned on getting the same design as they left the noisy bar in search of something spontaneous and wild – something Sasha needed desperately, something she hoped would mark forever what it felt like to have a broken heart so she’d be more cautious with the organ in the future. It was only by chance that they chose the exact same pattern. And what did she care if Kevin had the same tattoo as her? They were in college after all. This was the time to be adventurous and do crazy things.
Kevin’s hand lightly touched his hip, pressing into the blue jeans where the tattoo lay covered with his own paper towel to prevent the stiff denim from rubbing. The lightweight white cotton of his long-sleeve, button-snap shirt moulded to his chest and gave hints of a muscled stomach. Tan, navy and blue stripes ran from pointed collar to shirttails.
The tattoo artist recited care instructions, but Sasha barely listened. Blood rushed in her ears, drowning out everything but her own thoughts. She looked at her arm, seeing the design, but in her mind she looked at Kevin’s hip. The angular curve as it dipped into the flat tight flesh of his stomach. He’d been stiff during the tattoo, holding his breath as the needle moved over his skin. She couldn’t help but stare as it happened, her body heating at the teasing trail of hairs leading into the V of his unzipped jeans.
Sasha grabbed the messenger bag she used as a backpack and a purse. Slipping it over her head, she adjusted it so the thick black strap rested on her shoulder and crossed over her chest and back. She tried not to think of his sculpted hip, his serious eyes, his strong hands and how those hands would feel skating up her calf to her thigh. Her mouth dry, she took a deep breath. She struggled to forget the ache in her sex, the longing in her breasts, her need to be kissed. As she watched Kevin give the artist cash to pay for their ink, Sasha realized he’d bought her a tattoo.
Belatedly, she reached to her bag, lifting the flap to find money. Kevin walked towards the door. ‘Don’t worry about it. Consider it a gift.’
‘Um . . .’ She rummaged through her bag, following him out into the cool city air. Instantly, the sound of the busy street surrounded them. The weather should have been hotter this close to summer. Now that she was upright, it seemed the tequila had clouded her judgment more than she wanted to admit. It must have made its way through her bloodstream as she sat for the tattoo. ‘Are you sure? I have cash. You don’t have to pay for—’
‘It’s fine.’ Kevin paused long enough to indicate she should walk beside him. They had to be close to the Washington Square campus because she didn’t remember walking too far to get to the shop. How did she lose track of her whereabouts? People laughed, talked, sang, migrating in parties that filled the streets as groups moved from bar to bar.
By the look of the area, they were still in Greenwich Village. It was easy enough to tell. The Village was unlike any other part of Manhattan. Whereas every other neighborhood was well planned, laid out on an easy-to-follow grid, the Village’s cobblestone streets wove in twisted patterns just like they had been in the eighteenth century. Every nook and alcove along the former farm lanes hid small cafes and family-owned shops. Traditional brownstones matched the old-fashioned ambiance and small parks nestled in the city’s depths.
If she wasn’t mistaken, he looked offended at her trying to pay him back. Though, with Kevin, it was hard to tell what the man was thinking. What was with this guy? Did smiles actually cause him physical pain? Lifting her hands, she said, ‘Fine. Thank you.’
‘No problem.’ The surly Kevin was back. If he was like her ex-boyfriend, she’d know exactly what he was thinking by his expression. Kevin said the right things – mostly – he just didn’t show them. She’d never met anyone so guarded. Well, except for her oldest sister, Megan, who happened to be a New York City police detective. At least Megan had an excuse for being stoic. Sasha didn’t know what Kevin’s justification was. Maybe he just didn’t like people.
They didn’t speak as they made their way down the damp concrete sidewalk. Tiny diamond-like sparkles glistened in the reflecting streetlights. Whatever drizzle there had been started and stopped while they were inside the tattoo parlor.
‘My sister just started a new job at a brewery here in the village,’ Sasha said to make conversation. ‘The Phoenix Arms. How about I buy you a drink? It’s the least I can do for dragging you into the world of body art.’
Kevin stopped walking and turned to her. The bohemian atmosphere of the surrounding crowd faded from her mind as he pierced her with his gaze. She’d never had a man look at her like that, hot and serious, contemplating and maybe even judging. ‘I have an apartment just up the street.’
Sasha didn’t speak, not so much that she was offended, but more because she was stunned that he’d propositioned her. How else could she take the invitation but as an invitation for sex? When she didn’t readily answer, she expected him to get embarrassed, to retract the offer. He didn’t. She decided to play dumb. ‘That’s all right. I have cash. I can buy you a drink. There’s no cover charge where Zoe works.’
‘You’ve been complaining about your ex-boyfriend half the night and moodily thinking about him the rest of it. If the sour look on your face right now is any indication, I’m right.’ He didn’t glance around the crowd, didn’t seem to take in what happened around them. Sasha couldn’t help but glance over the moving throng to see if anyone she knew watched them. No one appeared to be paying attention. Kevin’s jaw lowered. ‘You said it yourself. He’s off with some débutante.’
Sasha bit her lip, her vision blurring as she thought of her ex, Trevor, with his perfect body and his perfect smile fucking the perfect Cynthia Rockman. It would be like watching gods mate. Pain rolled through her at the thought of Trevor in anyone else’s bed. How could he throw away what they had on some socialite airhead his parents wanted him to marry?
She wondered why she’d told Kevin so much personal information. The image of Trevor and Cynthia made her sick to her stomach. Suddenly, Kevin’s offer made perfect sense. It wasn’t like the man was a leper. He was sexy in an irritable sort of way and he wasn’t asking her to love him. Licking her lips slowly, Sasha nodded. She was a free woman. Trevor wasn’t the only one who could get action elsewhere.
Maybe it was the liquor or her anger. Perhaps the images of her ex in the arms of another woman hurt too badly. Or, even more remotely, maybe it was Kevin himself. There was something about him that drew her, had always drawn her. Not exactly a fiery desire like the first time she had seen Trevor, but an interest, a pull, a strange fascination to look at him, watch him, even when she didn’t talk to him. He was the kind of person who captured her notice from afar, kindling her curiosity even as she kept her distance.
‘Do you live on campus?’ Sasha asked.
‘No, but close by. Don’t worry. No one you know will see you.’ He held out his hand to her. As if following his command, her fingers slid over his. He pulled her with him, leading the way down the street.
Sasha’s resolve swung back and forth, like a pendulum, going from sex with Kevin to drowning her sorrows in a pan of brownies covered with a vat of vanilla ice cream. Both would undoubtedly be delicious. The brownies she could work off. Could Kevin be blown off?
Why was she following him? His tone bordered on rude. He didn’t show any affection for her, not really, not like she was used to. What was she doing? She should make her way to see Zoe at work. Her sister would make sure she got home all right.
Sasha kept walking. She tried to read deeper into his guarded expression, quickening her pace so she could see his face in profile. The hard lines of his features were thrown into contrast by the harsh streetlight. Her arm ached beneath the bandage and she pressed it to her side against the messenger bag in a protective gesture.
She must have faltered in her pace because Kevin stopped suddenly. In one motion, he spun to face her. Sasha gasped. He looked about to speak, but instead he came towards her. His hand lifted to her neck, slipping over her jumping pulse. Fingers wrapped along her nape and she trembled, her knees weakly buckling.
Kevin’s lips pressed into hers as he steadied her against his chest. His hard kiss shocked her even as it persuaded her to go home with him. There was nothing gentle about the sawing of his mouth to hers, the deep probing of his tongue or the violent wave of pleasure that shot through her entire body. Sasha moaned and grabbed onto his shoulders. A crowd of people brushed around them, swallowing their joined forms in a sea of blurry movement and boisterous laughter.
Sasha drowned in the passion of his kiss, her body swept into a current that pulled every part of her body closer to his. Her toes curled within her stiff boots. Gripping her bag with one hand, she lifted the other to caress his chin. The stiff whiskers of his jaw scratched her palm. Her lungs burned for air and she tilted her head back to break the kiss, drawing in a loud, heavy breath.
‘You go, girl,’ a woman teased, followed by a loud laugh. ‘Get your freak on.’
‘Come on.’ Kevin covered her hand with his and pulled it from his face. He held tight, walking faster than before as he hurried through the throng. The urgency, so potent and sure, translated in the strength of his fingers, the self-assured weaving of his body as he navigated the thickening crush of bodies.
Her mind spun, trying to convince her body of all the reasons she shouldn’t keep walking. Her body would not listen. Desire filled her until each step echoed in her chest, quickening with the beat of her heart and each thud reverberated in her mind, punctuating the contradicting thoughts.
Her mind raced as she thought, I should run away. I want him. This is crazy. I want him. Turn around. I want him. I want him. I want him. I shouldn’t want him.
‘What am I doing?’ The whisper barely made it past her lips, too quiet for Kevin to hear.
‘It’s a walk up,’ he said, as he turned to go into a brick apartment building. He took out a key, letting go of her hand long enough to unlock the front door. The thick glass shut behind them with a heavy thud, automatically re-latching as he again grabbed her hand. A wall of mailboxes filled one side, their metal squares the only decoration in the sparse lobby. The small room lacked warmth and did not encourage loitering.
Kevin led her to a stairwell, keeping in front of her as they made their way up several floors. Anticipation and trepidation filled her, but they were outweighed by longing. Her senses were heightened and everything became a vivid seduction – the sound of his feet, the dim light caressing the silk of his hair, the warm touch of his hand, the faint drifting of his cologne. Reaching his destination, he pushed open the door leading to a long hallway. It too was undecorated, but at least the white walls and drab brown carpet were clean.
‘Here we are.’ He again let go of her hand to unlock a door.
‘This building looks expensive,’ Sasha said. ‘Well, not Upper East Side expensive, but definitely college student expensive. The location’s great.’
Kevin merely lifted a brow before turning his attention to his apartment. He opened the door and automatically reached for the light switch on the wall. Soft light illuminated the hallway. She made her way hesitantly into the apartment, trying to focus on anything but the man she followed. She had to get her heartbeat under control. Hardwood floors covered an open floor plan, leading into a moderately sized living room and kitchen. Granite counter-tops and stainless-steel appliances could be seen as she walked past the breakfast bar adjoining the two rooms.
‘Is it part of the college housing?’ she insisted. ‘How did you score such a sweet pad? Do you have to share?’
‘No, it’s not part of the college, it’s all mine.’
‘How do you afford this?’ Sasha peered into the darker corners of the living room. ‘Rent must set you back at least three thousand a month, if you’re very lucky.’
Kevin gave a small laugh, flipping on the kitchen light so that it radiated into the living room without making it too bright. ‘You don’t have a filter between your head and mouth, do you?’
‘I, ah . . .’ Sasha shrugged. Did she bother to tell him she babbled when she was drunk and nervous? ‘It’s an unfortunate genetic inheritance from my mother. But there is no need to worry until I bring out the tea leaves for a reading.’ The words came easily, not like when she’d finally told Trevor about Beatrice Matthews and her odd eccentricities. Sasha could still see the stunned look on his face before he quickly changed the subject.
‘Your mom’s into that kind of stuff?’
‘Yep. She sure is. Tasseography, divination by tea leaves.’ Sasha watched him for a reaction. Over the years, she’d had various responses to the idea of foretelling the future. Some people backed away from her like she was crazy. Others wanted to talk about nothing else, not-so-secretly plying for a free reading.
‘So, can you predict the future?’
‘No, sorry.’ Sasha picked at the tape on her arm, curling the corner up before pressing it back down into place. ‘It’s been passed down the family tree, mother to daughter, at least until my generation. None of us really cared to learn. My mother is holding out for lots of granddaughters in the hope that one of them will see the light. She blames my father for teaching us intellectual ways.’