**Part One**

Word Count: 6,865

Chicago

February 1989

She stood, gloved hands clutching the collar of her full-length leather coat tighter. It wasn't that cold, but the wind was brutal and she'd left her scarf at her parents' place. She'd left Luke at her parents' house, too.

Valentine's Day was coming up and Claire expected that a proposal would be the night's grand finale. He'd given her a heart-shaped pre-engagement ring with a diamond when she graduated last spring. She'd been thrilled because he really was quite a catch. She had started buying BRIDE magazine so had a head start on the gown she wanted. She'd been dating Luke since her sophomore year at Georgetown. He'd been a senior and was now beginning his career as a lawyer in Boston. She was in the process of moving to Boston, too, scheduled for an interview with a large advertising firm there next week.

Their future was bright and very promising. At least that's what everyone said about Claire Standish and Luke Baxter. They were here so that her parents could meet him. She imagined at some point he would ask her father's permission to marry her. He was just that way.

So, what was she doing standing outside of FENDER BENDER BODY SHOP instead of enjoying quiet time with Luke? She really couldn't answer the question. Not honestly anyway without feeling guilty. Her parents were both at work and she'd left telling Luke she had a few errands to run. Assuming they were shopping related and he'd be bored he'd chosen to stay at the house.

Five years since that day of detention. She wouldn't be so deep as to suggest it changed her life, but it had been a turning point for her. Mr. Vernon's words had haunted her over the years. She'd wondered about him, where he was and what he was doing. She'd never taken the time to check, though, until today. She'd heard from a friend who'd heard from a friend of a friend that he owned this place. He was the one most likely to amount to nothing so the fact he owned a profitable business, even if it was manual labor, was newsworthy.

And so, here she was.

"You got a problem with your car?"

She spun around, surprised at the voice. His eyes weren't on her, though, they were on her mother's Jag.

"What?"

"I said, do you got a problem with your car?"

"No."

"Well, we are a body shop, lady."

She dropped her hands to her sides with a roll of her eyes. "Well, I know that. Rude much?" Who the hell was this guy? Did he talk to all potential customers this way?

"We don't get too many people look like you hereabouts, so I have to wonder if you're lost. And if you're not, this ain't the place for you. You know what I mean?"

Yeah, she knew what he meant. The neighborhood sucked. If it were any closer to dark, she wouldn't have come.

"I'm looking for John."

"John?"

"John Bender. Isn't he the owner?"

The young guy, couldn't be much older than a senior in high school, assessed her. She was glad she had the bulky leather coat on, because she was sure without it he'd know her more personally than Luke did. His eyes returned to her face.

She knew what he saw. She wasn't a bombshell, but she was attractive. She had thick, pouty lips that she accentuated with dark lipstick. Her hair was a little longer than she had worn it in high school, but not much longer. She'd stayed slim, so the cut was flattering to her.

"You know John?"

"Yes," she said defensively. "Is he here?"

"Yeah, come on back. This I gotta see. Never seen someone like you come here looking for him."

What kind of women normally came looking for him? She was afraid to know, so she followed the guy through the shop part of the building to the back without saying anything more. He knocked on a closed door, opening it after a minute.

"Someone here to see you. Says she knows you," he said, stepping aside and allowing Claire to walk to the doorway.

She noticed he'd changed. But in a good way. He was thinner, not that he'd been fat, but the muscle definition to him was more subtle now than it had been. He had a goatee and his hair was still worn just a touch too long. His eyes flickered with surprise. She thought she saw happiness there, too. And then suspicion. He had to wonder what she was doing here after all this time.

"Hi."

"Hey," he said simply. "What brings you by? Need your Beemer fixed?"

"It ain't a Beemer, boss, it's a Jag."

He snorted. "Of course it is. Thanks Tim."

"Sure thing."

He stood from his desk and walked around it toward her. Her heart stopped for a minute. She hadn't been this close to him in five years, she'd forgotten the effect he had on her. That he still did bothered her. It should have bothered her more.

"Can I take your coat?"

"Sure," she said, allowing him to help her out of the coat. He draped it over a coat rack in the corner. He turned to assess her then. He was much more thorough than she'd been of him. She just wanted to see what he looked like. He seemed to want to memorize every inch of her.

"Engaged?"

"Not yet," she said, lifting her left hand and the ring there out of habit when people asked the question.

He smirked at that. "You sound pretty confident."

"Yes," she said. "He's here to meet my parents."

He took a step or two closer. "So, your car is fine, which would be the only legitimate reason for you coming here."

"How did you get this shop?"

Closer still until he was right there in front of her. If she reached she could touch him.

"Hard work, perseverance and the desire to be something. I scrimped and saved, started out working in whatever workspace I could find, rent, or steal. Eventually, I got a garage and then a bigger garage, and finally this one."

"It's nice," she said softly. She'd never spent time at garages. Her parents had always been in charge of vehicle maintenance and Luke had taken over that duty for her. But he had cars waiting on the lot and the stalls were full.

And then she did it, the thing she shouldn't have done - shouldn't have needed to do. She touched him, brushing the tips of her well-manicured fingers over the back of his hand. Scarred not just due to years of abuse and lord knows what trouble he'd gotten into, but hard work with tools and machines she would never claim to understand.

"Thanks," he said, his voice sounding far more uncertain than he should have just then.

She took hold of his hand, lifting it until theirs were palm to palm. She laced her fingers through his, eyes falling closed at the feeling of electricity that coursed through her with that simple touch. He'd closed his, too. She didn't have this with Luke. There was no spark, no chemistry. He felt it, too. She'd seen it in his eyes before he closed them.

"Too late," she whispered.

This was why she'd come. She had to know if this was a figment of her imagination. It could have been just a one-time thing. She was hoping it was one of those two things. She so didn't want it to be him that she was meant to spend the rest of her life with.

That was her head's response. Her heart pounded out "why not?" He opened his eyes then, looking at her with question. Apparently, she'd echoed her heart's sentiment and spoken the question out loud.

He slid his free hand to her cheek, their joined hands still fused together. She doubted he could have welded them together and gotten a better fit. His hand was rough, his nails while not filthy weren't clean like her dad's or Luke's. He was a man who worked for a living and it showed in everything about him. Yet still, his touch felt comfortable. Right. And he smelled wonderful. Nothing special, soap and laundry detergent. A little cologne, Polo which she loved no matter how common it might be now.

He was getting closer, pressing her so her back was flush to the wall. She closed her eyes as he grazed her lower lip with the calloused pad of his thumb. She let out an involuntary moan as he dipped it in between her lips for a brief heavenly moment.

"If I do this, Princess, if I kiss you I'm not going to let you go this time. You realize that?"

She swallowed hard. Was that what she wanted? The decision forced away from her. She'd never told anyone about John or the feelings he'd invoked in her. They had been her secret for five years now. She'd come here today expecting to find that she'd moved on, that he meant nothing more to her than the distant memory the rest of high school had faded to.

"Aren't you?"

"Look at me," he whispered, his breath warm against her cheek. She opened her eyes and found he was watching her intently. She noticed he wore no earring in his ear. She wondered if he did anymore or if he'd outgrown the need.

"Aren't I what?"

"Involved? Engaged? Married?"

"No. No. No."

"Why not?"

"Do you have any idea what it's like to start a business with nothing but blood, sweat and tears? I didn't have Mommy and Daddy to back me. I haven't had time to do much of anything, certainly not date."

"And now?"

He shrugged. "Still no time, but you're here and I'm not one to lock it out when opportunity knocks."

"I live in Boston." Okay, that was a lie. She didn't yet. She had just gotten out of her lease of the apartment she shared in D.C. with three girls she knew from college. Sorority sisters. She had interviews set up, but really there was nothing saying she had to go to Boston.

"Oh," he said, though he didn't sound as though he believed her.

His hand slid lower, coarse fingertips grazing lighter than they should have been able to over her. They caught just a little on the soft cashmere of her sweater. She'd chosen her outfit carefully, stylish yet not too flashy. She wanted to look nice, successful without flaunting. The Jag hadn't been her first choice in cars, but it was the one her mother had left for her to use.

Her breath hitched as his hand grazed the swell of her breast before reaching her abdomen. His mouth found hers then as he lifted the sweater up, laying his hand flat against her skin. He was so warm, so everything. His thumb stroked her, causing her to bite his lip. And when he slid his hand up higher so his fingertips grazed the underside of her breast she squeezed the hand she still held even tighter.

If she had any doubt the spark between them was just a one time thing she knew now that wasn't the case. Everywhere he touched sizzled. Her arms went around his neck, parting her lips to deepen the kiss and arching into his hand.

He responded to her kiss, hand sliding higher still to cup the fullness of her breast, graze the already hardened peak with the pad of his thumb. She groaned at the feel of his skin against hers there. She'd forgotten what this felt like. Together with him. There'd only been the once. She'd given him her virginity. And to this point he was her only, though she knew everyone assumed she and Luke had. He'd bought her waiting until marriage excuse. When really it was that he just didn't do this to her, make her want him.

He drew away, nipping her lower lip before breaking the kiss completely.

"I can't do this," he whispered.

"Do what?" Did her voice sound as shrill and needy in reality as it did in her mind?

"Our first time was in a supply closet. I'm not going to have our second time, possibly our last time be here in my office with Tim outside the door probably listening."

She swallowed hard. She'd forgotten about Tim.

"Is this why you came here today?"

"I just had to see you. Luke's going to ask me to marry him."

"What's this ring then," he said, gesturing to the ring she wore.

"A promise ring."

"What's the point of that? Looks like an engagement ring."

"I don't know," she said, growing frustrated. "Why are we talking about Luke?"

"I need to know what this is. A quick fix? He not fulfilling your needs so you come here? Morbid curiosity to see if John Bender's dead in a ditch somewhere? What?"

"You really want to know?"

"Yes," he said simply.

And she knew he wouldn't settle for a lie. He'd know if she did. And if she lied? That'd be the end. She'd go on and marry Luke and life would be grand. Wouldn't it? Luke is whom she was supposed to marry. A lawyer, a college graduate. He'd never come home with grease in his hair or smelling like gasoline, unless the gas pump overflowed when he filled the car.

"You're the only person who's ever made me feel anything. That passion, spark. I needed to know if it was just me, that I can't feel that anymore. Or if it was you. Us."

"You mean you and your man?"

"I don't feel alive when he touches me."

"Then why are you marrying him?"

"He's a good guy. He loves me."

"So, I prove that passion, spark, is still there between us and what? You go on your merry way?"

"I don't know. I had hoped it wasn't us. That I'd just become frigid or something."

He smirked at that, sliding his hand to her hip and closing the distance between them again. "You are not frigid."

"For you."

"I'm the type of man that can openly say good to that and not feel ashamed."

"You are, huh?"

"Yes." He kissed her jaw, over to her ear and she thought her eyes were going to slide to the back of her head. "Come home with me."

"What?"

"I get one chance. That's what you're saying, right? One chance to prove it's us. You want me to do that here? On my desk maybe? The floor would work but it's a little dirty."

She blushed, glad he wasn't watching her face just then to see it.

"I…"

"Your boyfriend's waiting?"

"He thinks I'm shopping."

"And if you come home empty handed?"

"I'll just tell him I didn't find anything."

"He'll buy that?"

She snorted. "I do it all of the time."

"Then come with me."

"Can you do that?"

"That's the great thing about being your own boss. You can do whatever you want."

"And if I walk away? If I decide after that I want him?"

"I can at least say I tried."

"And if I don't want to walk away? If I decide that I want you?"

"Then I guess you have some decisions to make. Hard ones. Because while I do okay, Jags are out of my league. Unless you're okay with a used one."

"I don't care about Jags."

"You say that, but I see you dressed like this. Nice sweater, nice skirt, nice boots, nice coat. I'm sure the car outside is just as nice."

"It's my mother's car. I'm driving a Camaro now."

"Of course you are."

"Don't say it like that."

He chuckled. "Come home with me. We'll work it out later."

"I need to know…"

"That I want you? That you're not giving up a promise of something from one guy for the promise of nothing from another guy?"

"Something like that."

"What do you want me to do? Promise I'll marry you?"

"No," she whispered.

"Promise we'll see where this goes?"

"Yes."

"But you're in Boston."

"I'm not really. I'm scheduled to move there next month. I was going to spend a week with Luke after our vacation here to interview for jobs."

"Doing what?"

"Advertising."

"There are advertising firms in Chicago, aren't there?"

"Yes."

"Then come home with me."

"There has to be more to life than…"

"Passion?" He shrugged, grazing her jaw with the side of his cheek. She felt the rub of whisker stubbles and sighed softly. If he rubbed too hard she'd have a mark. She bruised that easily. "There may be, Princess, but to spend the next sixty years without it would truly suck. Don't you think?"

She wanted to argue, disagree. There was more to life than that. She and Luke had a good relationship. Honesty and trust. Until she'd lied to him today about going shopping. Well, she hadn't exactly told him she was going shopping. He'd assumed and she hadn't corrected him.

Could she spend the next fifty or sixty years without feeling this?

"I shouldn't have come here."

"But you did, Claire."

"I don't even mean here today. I mean Chicago. I should have stayed away. I was okay, didn't think about you. About this. I come back here, though, and here I am. Throwing everything away I've worked for the past five years."

"To marry some guy you don't really feel anything for?"

"I do have feelings for him!"

"You want kids?"

"Of course I do. What kind of question is that?"

"Wouldn't it be nice to actually enjoy and get pleasure out of the part that makes them?"

She blushed deeply and he chuckled.

"I mean, if you're going to make that kind of commitment, a lifetime of responsibility for another life. Wouldn't it be nice to have fun while making them?"

She wasn't sure what to say to that. She hadn't thought too much on things like kids. Really, her visions got her as far as her wedding and then things were hazy. Not planned so much at all, beyond her career.

"Come with me."

"I should…"

He released her hand, the one she'd taken hold of and used it to open the door. His other hand slid to her lower back before pulling away.

"Where are you going?"

"To get your coat."

"I don't cheat."

He helped her into the coat and tugged her to him again. He fisted the front of her coat in his hands. "The way I look at it, this is inevitable. Us. We can do this now, find out your answers before you commit to this guy more than you have. Or you can turn around and go home to him. And we'll do this the next time I see you when you are married."

"And I'd see you again when?"

"Reunions. Or maybe I'd show up in Boston."

She grimaced, but she had to admit the idea of him coming to look for her had appeal. Then she'd know he wanted her, really wanted her.

He let go of her and walked out of his office. Tim wasn't anywhere to be seen. So either he hadn't been listening or he walked away when he heard the door open.

"Tim, I'm going to lunch. Page me if anything comes up."

"How old is he anyway?"

"Eighteen. Why?"

"He looks so young."

"He's a natural with cars."

"Is he the only guy that works for you?"

"I have two others, one called in sick and the other is on vacation."

"If this is a bad time…"

"No worse than any other day of the week." He walked with her outside, zipping up his coat once they got near the open stall door. "Here's the plan. I get in my car, you get in yours. You follow me the decision is made. You don't follow me, choose to go back to your parents instead, the decision is made. I have to take lunch one way or the other."

"You sound like you've done this before."

"What?"

"Taken someone home maybe you shouldn't have."

"Not really, just don't want you to feel trapped into a decision." He tugged her to him again, kissing her none so briefly. "This is all you, Princess."

How in the hell did he expect her to respond to that when he just got done kissing her senseless? Of course, that was her answer right there. She walked to her mom's Jag and waited for him to pull off the lot. She gripped her steering wheel, giving one last thought on what she would do and followed him out.

His place wasn't far from the body shop. It was an apartment above one of the local businesses. She had to admit, buildings like these had always made her curious. It was surprisingly spacious, covering the entire area of the building below.

"Wow," she said, taking it in. "This is nice."

"You sound surprised."

"No, that's not it. I've just never been in one of these apartments."

"I'm sure your parents' place is a lot nicer."

She shrugged, no use denying that. He'd know she was lying anyway. He helped her off with her coat and hung it in the closet before doing the same with his.

"You should see the apartment I've been living in for the past year."

"That bad?"

"If you know anything about D.C., you know that it's expensive. There are four of us in a three-bedroom apartment. Really, it's the second floor of a house, sectioned off to an apartment. I was lucky enough to be one of the two that didn't have to share her room, but your coat closet might be bigger than my room."

He smiled at that. "You're kidding right?"

"No, I'm serious. I've been waiting tables and doing some temporary administrative jobs."

"What about the advertising degree?"

"I was waiting. No use starting a job if I was going to leave it in a few months."

"Ah."

"And besides, the four of us wanted to live free for a year before starting our real lives."

He walked toward her, offering her his hand. She took it, welcoming the feel of it in hers. The warmth he offered. "You were close?"

"I pledged with them and the three I've been living with were the ones I got closest to."

"Do you want something to drink?"

"No, I'm fine."

"That you are."

She smiled at that. "Cute."

"I'm not sure I've been described as cute very often."

"Well, you are so you should have been."

"You think I'm cute?"

"Yes," she said simply. "You were then, too."

"I didn't think it was my charming personality that brought you to the supply closet that day."

"And today?"

"Maybe a little of both."

He kissed her again, stopping her from saying anything more. That was probably best. She could talk them both into distraction, and she hadn't come here for that. She still wasn't sure why she'd come. To convince her she needed to be with him. Or did she just want to know it wasn't her that was the problem?

She parted her lips, tongue finding his as his hand found the bottom of her sweater and reached under it. They were right back to where they'd been when he'd stopped in his office. She mirrored him this time, though, reaching for his shirt and lifting it enough so she could touch him. He had a dusting of hair on his chest that she didn't remember being there before. Then again, most of her time with him in the supply closet seemed surreal.

He slid her sweater up, breaking their kiss to lift it over her head and off. She opened her eyes, watching him as he looked at her. She wasn't hugely endowed but he didn't seem to mind. He brushed the top of her breasts with the back of his hand before lowering his mouth to kiss each one. He slid the straps of her bra lower, peeling the lacy fabric away in the process so she was left exposed. He groaned softly and took a nipple into his mouth, sucking it and rolling it between his teeth.

Her head fell back as his hands reached around her and worked the fastening at her back, letting the bra fall loose. She cradled his head with her hands, moaning softly as his tongue and teeth were working her to a horny state. She imagined that was the point.

His hands found her waist, stroking and massaging her. The different sensations he was creating were almost too much for her. Distantly, she knew she should leave. Staying was only asking for trouble. She wasn't going to be able to walk away from this, feeling like this. She just wasn't that strong. And, God, he was right. There should be something there to make a marriage complete. Friendship was good, honesty was important, but sex was important, too.

Funny, her thinking that, since sex wasn't something she had a lot of experience with. She knew it was, though. Sure, when she was seventy she probably wouldn't look at her husband and get all hot and bothered, but until then. That should be there.

She drew his head up, running her fingers through his hair and kissed him. She lifted his shirt up and off as he'd done with her sweater, tossing it aside. She explored his chest with her hands, grazing his flattened nipples with her fingertips as he led her carefully to the other room. His bedroom.

Frantically, she made riddance of his jeans, pushing him to the bed when she realized she'd have to take off his boots in order to get the jeans all the way off. He was a boxers man. That had changed from high school. She liked him in them, though.

"Claire, you don't have to…"

"I want to," she whispered, taking him into her mouth as she slid his boxers off to join his boots and jeans on the floor by the bed.

She hadn't done this that day. She'd never done this, so had no idea if she was any good. Instinct took over, though, and she licked and sucked every inch of him she could manage. Her hand found his sac and she stroked him, cupping and squeezing as she worked his cock in and out of her mouth. He was slick and wet both from her saliva and the precum she tasted.

Hands at her head he lifted her off him, eyes meeting hers. She had put that look there? Arousal, lust. Passion. She'd seen the lust and arousal in Luke's eyes but never the passion. For her.

"I'm not going to last long if you do that for much longer."

"Oh," she said simply. "I didn't…"

"It's all right. It's just been a while and I'm a sucker for a girl going down on me with such vigorous interest."

She blushed again.

"Don't be embarrassed. It felt good."

"Did it?"

"Yes," he said, lifting her into his arms. He slid her onto the bed, working her boots and trousers off. "You're beautiful."

She covered her eyes with an arm, shaking her head. "I'm not beautiful."

"To me you are. I'll never forget that day. What you gave me."

He was between her legs now, kissing her inner thighs before sliding his tongue along her labia up to her clit. She cried out, making fists with the bed covers beneath her as he focused his attention there. Again and again.

He slid a finger inside of her and she arched into him, wanting him deeper inside of her. His tongue was busy, bringing her closer and closer. She could tell by his muffled groans that she wasn't the only one getting excited and that only served to make her more wet. He was getting off on her sounds, her enjoyment.

He slid his tongue inside of her, licking her slick folds before using both his tongue and finger to thrust in and out of her.

"Oh God," she murmured as an orgasm practically tore through her body. It'd been so long since she'd had one, which she supposed made it all the more intense.

He kissed a path up her body, stopping to focus on her breasts again before positioning himself on top of her. Her legs parted of their own will to accommodate him and he nestled himself there. She felt him hard, thick against her and wiggled her hips.

"I love hearing you," he whispered.

"Why?"

"Because you're sincere and it lets me know that I'm doing things right."

"Sincere?"

"Well, yeah, you mean them. You're not just making the noise to try and make me feel good."

"Because you do make me feel good."

"Right back at ya," he said and slid inside of her. She was ready from a physical standpoint, but hadn't been expecting him quite that suddenly. And he slid inside of her in one deep thrust.

His eyes widened. "I thought I'd imagined how tight you were."

"Is that bad?"

"No, God no, did I hurt you?"

She rolled her eyes. "Hurt me? Mm, no."

"He's not going to let you go without a fight."

"Why?"

"You feel like this, I wouldn't let you go."

"That's assuming he knows how I feel."

"He doesn't?"

"No," she said, fighting the urge to look away as she answered.

"Never?"

"No, there's only been one time. This guy I knew in high school…We were kind of stuck together in detention one day…"

His mouth found hers and just like that he was different, he was making love to her. Not that he hadn't been a minute ago, but this was different. Possessive, determined, intent on being as thorough as he could be. Not that he hadn't had her the moment their hands touched in his office. He had to know that. Had to know she wouldn't be able to walk away after this.

He broke the kiss, shifting them both so her legs were propped against his shoulders, cradled in his arms, his hands clutching her hips. She gripped his forearms as he drove into her that way. It was more intense this way. The depth he could reach inside of her, the way her body felt.

He watched her watching him slide in and out of her. It was arousing, then everything about him was it seemed. She liked it anyway especially when he slid almost all of the way out of her. She could see her wetness clinging to his length before he slid inside of her again, deep and hard. That was when she came again. Judging by the look on his face he wasn't too far from doing the same. He reached, lowering his mouth to hers and kissed her hard, thrusting his tongue in and out of her mouth.

The next thing she knew, her legs were tangled with his. The sheets on the bed were somewhere around them, but they'd gotten in the way. And judging by the view out the window, it was dusk.

"John," she whispered, not really wanting to wake him. But she had to. She had to go. His arm went around her, gathering her to him and she was tempted to stay. Tempted to just say screw it and spend the night with him. She couldn't though, Luke deserved better than that. And not only would she not respect herself, John ultimately wouldn't either.

"John, I have to go," she said a little louder.

"Not yet," he murmured.

"It's getting dark."

He groaned softly, opening his eyes slow and easy. He sat up then, kissing her shoulder as he slid his arm around her waist.

"Think Tim figured out we didn't really go for lunch?"

She blushed and he chuckled.

"So did I help you out?"

She cleared her throat. "Excuse me?"

"Your predicament. Have I helped?"

"No!"

"I didn't?"

"Absolutely not. I don't want to go home. I don't want to face him, I don't want to move to Boston, I don't want to marry him, and I don't want to have his children."

"Will you have mine?"

"What?"

He smiled, looking rather proud of himself. "I asked if you'd want to have mine?"

"Be serious."

"I think I am being serious," he stopped talking, seemed to think on it. "Yup, pretty serious."

"One day of good sex…"

"Good sex? Come on, we did more than good sex. The first time might have been good sex, but after that…"

"John, please."

He ran his fingers through his hair and reached for the pack of cigarettes on the nightstand. He lit one, took a deep breath, and exhaled.

"So, you move back to Chicago instead of Boston and we see where this goes."

"You want kids?"

"Sure. Why not?"

Her eyes fell to the scars automatically.

"I'm not my father. I know how it works, the abused grow up to be abusers but I'm not him and I'm not like that."

"I didn't say anything."

"Five years and you've only been with me. That's got to say something."

"I knew I shouldn't have told you that."

He chuckled. "I like it. Don't get me wrong. I like it a lot. It may not be you, it could be him. Maybe he's just not the guy for you."

"I'm supposed to have sex with him in order to find out?"

"You want me to answer that? I'll tell you hell no, but you do what you need to do." He slid a hand along her thigh, dipping a finger inside of her. She groaned softly.

"You're not playing fair."

He chuckled, kissing her shoulder and letting his hand rest at her hip. "You know where to find me now. I'll give you a card with my numbers on it. The rest is up to you."

"Why are you being so casual about all of this? Do you even want me or just want me if I want you?"

"I've wanted you since that day, but never dreamed our paths would cross again. I know my limitations, I know my place in life. And it's not with the Standish's of the world."

She stood from the bed and dressed. She had to. If she didn't now she'd never leave. She looked in his mirror to fix her hair, eyes widening.

"You gave me a hickey!"

"I did not. Where?"

She pointed to it as he stepped up behind her.

"That? You can't even see it."

"But I'll know it's there."

"And that's bad?"

"Right now? Yes!"

"Babe, you're going home with a lot more than just a hickey from me on you. Unless you want to take a quick shower you've got me all over the place."

"That is so crude."

"But it's true! I especially liked when you let me come," he knelt behind her and kissed her butt. "Here."

"Stop!"

"So it's okay to do it but not talk about it."

"I just never…"

"No, I suppose you haven't." He stood then, arms going around her from behind. "Call me from D.C., we'll talk enough to make you blush for days."

She smiled, knowing he could probably make that a reality.

"Or you could just stay here. The bed's warm."

"If I stay any longer I won't be able to sit down tomorrow."

"I asked you a couple of times if you wanted to stop."

She turned to face him then, running her fingers along his cheek. She felt the contrast between the part that was stubble and the other that was his goatee. "I didn't want you to stop. If he wasn't here in town possibly asking my father for permission to marry me right now I'd stay."

"I get it."

He returned to the bed then, pulling on his boxers before laying on it again.

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know."

"You going to marry him?"

"No," she said, sitting on the edge of the bed to put her boots on.

"You going to stay in D.C.?"

"I don't think so."

"Boston?"

"That's kind of out of the equation if I'm not marrying him. I've only been there a few times to visit him, I'm not attached to it."

"Chicago then?"

"It would seem there's reason for me to come here."

"Was it that bad that you didn't want to?"

"No, just no reason to, I guess. I liked living out East."

"Your parents?"

"Are fine without me."

"Listen, if what you want is really out there…"

"I think we've just proven this afternoon that's not the case."

He chuckled. "We did at that."

"Just give me time to sort it all out and do it the right way. Okay? And when I do come back, it's not going to be like this right away."

"Like what?"

"You and me in bed all afternoon."

"It was a nice way to spend the afternoon. Why not?"

"Because I don't know you and I want to."

"You sure about that, Princess?"

"Yes."

He nodded, lighting a cigarette and watching her through hooded eyes. "All right. I guess it's good we got this out of our system then. I'm not waiting another five years, though."

She laughed and stood from the bed. "I'm not either."

"Good."

"And in the meantime, if you know, something happens. You meet someone…"

"I can keep my dick in my pants for a little while. I don't know what kind of guy you think I am, but I'm not a horndog."

"You were at one time."

"I was a different guy back then."

"I know." She walked to the mirror once more to double check that she was at least presentable. "I feel so bad."

"Why?"

She twisted the heart-shaped ring around on her finger. "I'm wearing this. His ring. And I'm basically committing to a possible relationship with you. That's just so wrong."

"Well, we're not getting married tomorrow or the day after you break it off with him, so don't worry about it. What you should be worrying about are your parents."

"My parents?"

"They're going to take one look at me and think you need to be locked up in an asylum."

"They'll deal. And maybe they'll see what I see. I'm not sure my mom likes Luke to be honest."

"Why?"

"I don't know. Just a feeling I have. It's like she knows he's not the one."

"Maybe because she has that kind of marriage?"

"Maybe," she said simply. He had a point. Her parents loved one another, but they weren't in love. And maybe her mother saw that in Claire. Claire had the financial means thanks to a trust fund that she didn't need to marry someone. And hopefully she'd land a job that would earn her a nice salary so she wouldn't need a man to feel secure.

"I have to go," she whispered, walking to the bed again. "I'm sorry. I really don't know what I was thinking would happen, but leaving like this wasn't it."

"It's okay. You'll be back."

"Your number."

"What?"

"You were going to give me your card or something."

"Oh yeah," he said, stubbing out his cigarette. "I'll walk you out."

He walked her out to the living area, stopping at a desk. He took out a business card and wrote on the back of it.

"You can't claim I didn't give you the means to get a hold of me."

"Thanks," she said, eyeing the information on the back. He'd written his home number and address there. On the front were his office and pager numbers.

He helped her into her coat and drew her to him. "I had fun."

"I should hope so," she said.

"No, I mean it. It's been a while since I took an afternoon to myself, so thank you for that."

"You're thanking me?"

"Yeah, funny, huh? I got to get my rocks off multiple times and I'm thanking you for that. Hopefully, I made it at least remotely mutually beneficial for you."

"You did."

"Good." He kissed her, lingering a little before brushing his cheek against her jaw. "Good night, Princess."

"Good night, John."

"Stay safe."

"Thanks."

She looked up to his window when she got to the sidewalk and waved when she saw him standing there. He watched her get into her car and was still standing in the window when she drove away.

She gripped the steering wheel, turning the radio off while she drove home. She had no idea what she'd do or how she'd do it. Moving back to Chicago seemed logical. He was right, while she didn't expect to get married tomorrow she had to see it through. What if he was it? What if she walked away a second time and she realized later that he was the one she was supposed to be with?