Author's Note-So this was my main submission to streetlightlove's charity effort, S2SL. I envy artists. I come from a family of artists, but I can't even draw a Hangman game correctly. And painting is such a sensual act, and I won't lie, body painting has fascinated me since I first saw it in Sports Illustrated years ago. Thus, this idea was born.
Many thanks to iLoVeRynMar, streetlightlove, and sohypohetically for reading and assisting, and to atetheredmind for talking through the idea with me when our creative muses seemed to intersect. Thanks as always to the lovely Ro Nordmann for her exquisite banner.
Rated M because duh, the whole point of the charity was sexy stories for Valentines Day.
It's good money, she repeats to herself as she toes off her sneakers and peels away her socks.
It'll pay for Prim's SAT and ACT exams and her sister's junior prom dress, and maybe there will even be a little left to finally repair the air conditioner that went on the fritz last September—just in time for the sticky summer days that are only a few months away.
She tugs her t-shirt over her head and unclasps her bra with trembling fingers.
And it's not like she'll ever see any of these people again after the next several weeks. This university is a several miles away from her own state college, and given the ludicrous cost of tuition, she doesn't think the students who are enrolled here have to slum it at the bars she frequents with her friends.
Silently cursing her fingers for shaking so badly, and she pops the button on her jeans and drags the zipper down, shimmying the denim past her hips before the jeans join her other discarded clothes on the floor.
With a deep breath, she hooks her thumbs into her panties and tugs them down with one shift motion. Turning to the full-length mirror that stands in the corner, she wrinkles her nose and appraises her naked body. Her eyes sweep down to the handiwork of the esthetician who waxed her two days ago. (She had finally been able to put the spa certificate Madge had gifted her with for Christmas to good use.) Katniss had never given much thought to grooming her bikini line extensively, save for shaving during the summer, but now that she's getting used to being nearly bare down there, she has to admit she kind of likes it.
Cocking her head, her eyes drift up, studying her flat, toned stomach before landing on her breasts. Staring at them as much as she has since agreeing to do this has made her realize that she has the kind of tits that look particularly good naked. They're perky and well shaped, and she has damn good nipples. There are some benefits to not having massive jugs after all.
She grabs the fluffy robe that has been draped over the changing panel and ties the sash around her waist with a loose knot—she doesn't trust herself to work free a double knot with her trembling fingers. Her heart starts to knock against her ribs at the first sound of scraping chairs and quiet chatter as the class starts filing into the intimate space.
When she walked into the classroom, she had been dismayed to see only fifteen or twenty easels arranged in a two concentric semi-circles. It's a much smaller area than she had anticipated. (She had honestly expected an expansive sort of lecture hall, though that was a completely stupid thought. If the students are going to be drawing her, they obviously need to see her up close.)
Oh god, this is a terrible idea. Her panic wells and she toys with the end of her braid, sucking the hair into her mouth, a nervous habit she's never been able to shake. She can still back out, right? Fuck the money. She can work a couple of double shifts at Starbucks—at least she keeps her clothes on there.
The noise level behind her rises to a steady hum of voices, but it's rapidly drowned out by the thundering of blood in her ears and the frantic thumping of her heart. What the hell was she thinking when she ripped that little tab off of that flier? She wasn't thinking. She couldn't have been thinking.
And she never should have told Madge. She should have known that her best friend would have known exactly what to say to convince Katniss posing naked wasn't a stupid idea, and it was art, so that made it all okay.
She vaguely discerns the honeyed tone of a male voice amidst the chaos in her head, and there is such a calming cadence to it that her mounting anxiety is somewhat pacified—at least enough to listen more attentively to the professor's directions to his students, and to wait for his cue to her.
She had only met Cinna once before, when they had gone over the expectations for the month long, bi-weekly modeling assignment. Apparently, there was more involved than just disrobing and being naked in front of a room full of strangers. Cinna had reassured her that there was nothing to be nervous about. It was an 'Anatomy of Art' class, and the students were used to nude models.
Even as she left his office on that morning two weeks ago she was wondering what had possessed her to apply for something that was so out-of-character for her. She had every opportunity to call him up and apologize profusely before backing out.
But now there's no going back, because Cinna gives a final few instructions, and then he calls for her. He doesn't use her name, just as he had assured her he would not. It seemed like an odd promise, keeping her identity secret, given she would be completely exposed in every other sense of the word.
She takes a deep breath and steps around the partition, meeting Cinna's kind, amber eyes, and she manages to return his comforting smile. Her gaze wanders to the pedestal at the front of the classroom, and she tries to keep her legs from visibly trembling as she mounts it.
Before arriving, she had told herself to immediately find a point on the rear wall of the classroom to avoid eye contact with the students. But as she gets into position on the pedestal, she ignores her own advice and foolishly does a quick scan of the room. Most of the students are young, her age probably, but there is a woman with bright orange hair who's likely around 40, and another older woman with long, wavy silver locks who looks like she's pushing 70. No one seems to be looking directly at her, which is a relief. Several are fussing with their easels, and one girl mumbles to herself while she arranges her pencils.
As she looks to her right, her line of vision lands on an incredibly attractive guy who is most definitely staring at her with eyes so blue that she questions whether they're real or not. The intense shade is something an artist like him would blend together on a palette.
But that's the only thing she notices, because she averts her eyes quickly, her stomach now flutters anew. She can't glance back at him for a better look. If anything will put her more on edge, it's humanizing the students. She doesn't dare forge any kind of connection with them. She's a naked body to them—nothing else.
"Whenever you're ready," Cinna says gently. She nods absently, fingers like anvils as they locate the knot of the robe. She finally works it free and tries as discreetly as possible to take another cleansing breath while she eases the robe off her shoulders.
As the air hits her bare skin, her body responds accordingly. Her nipples instantly pucker into taut buds. Her abdomen tightens, and goose bumps prickle her arms. A brief shiver claims her entire body, and she swallows past the lump of anxiety crowding her throat.
She finds that spot on the back wall she had hoped for—a soothing poster of the color wheel—and assumes the pose that she'll be forced to hold for the next sixty minutes. Today it's simply standing still, arms at her side, her face angled slightly to the left. (Cinna had told her to keep her expression neutral, to relax her mouth without smiling, and she had wryly replied smiling wasn't something she did freely, so she didn't anticipate it being a problem.)
After ten minutes, she's already run out of things to think about, having mentally made a grocery list, reviewed her notes from psychology for the quiz she has tomorrow, and contemplated what to do about dinner since her fridge is basically empty.
After twenty minutes, her nose starts to itch, and she spends several excruciating seconds willing the uncomfortable tickle to go away, fighting the urge to raise her hand and scratch it.
At the thirty-minute mark, she can't believe she's only halfway done. How is she going to do this for another half-hour, let alone seven more times over the course of the month?
Yep. Definitely the dumbest fucking idea she's ever had.
Inspired by her own stupidity, she keeps herself occupied by running through lines from Dumb and Dumber in her head, and she's just gotten to the scene where they're singing 'Mockingbird' in the Mutts' Cutts van when Cinna's warm voice announces a break to the class. Her hour is up. She exhales in relief as Cinna approaches her with her robe in one hand and that kind smile on his face.
"You did great," he enthuses. "It's very challenging to stand still and look pretty, huh?"
She's not sure about the looking pretty part, because she's never really thought of herself as beautiful, but she returns his smile politely and slips on the robe, cinching the belt.
Cinna tells her that she can go ahead and get dressed, and when she finishes and steps around the partition again, much of the class has vacated the room, temporarily abandoning their easels while on break.
But the guy with the penetrating blue eyes remains seated at his. His blond head is bent over, rummaging around in some kind of satchel, and a moment later he straightens back up on his stool and uncaps a bottle of water. She watches as he takes a long drink from it. The muscles in his jaw clench, and his throat bobs a couple of times. From what she can see of him at this angle, he's indeed very attractive.
He sets the bottle beneath his feet and then leans over again, withdrawing something from a leather portfolio. As he places the fresh paper on his easel, his eyes find hers. He gives her an easy smile, and she immediately looks away, murmurs a hasty goodbye to Cinna, and keeps her eyes cast downward as she rushes out of the room.
When she arrives for her second modeling session on Thursday morning, her nerves are slightly less jittery, and her fingers don't tremble quite as much when she undresses. She makes a concerted effort to avoid eye contact with anyone—especially the handsome blond. It only takes one furtive glance for her to notice he is sitting front and center today.
She realizes only moments into the session that this pose is not a fun one. Her neck and back are arched, bowed upward from where she sits on a hard wooden stool, and her abdominal muscles ache from the strain of keeping her body angled. It's like doing crunches, but like a thousand times worse.
The way she has to hold her head also means she can't use her focal point on the back wall, and there isn't a damn thing to look at on the ceiling. She starts to count the little speckled holes in the tiles, but the longer she counts, she knows she must be making faces as she struggles to keep the numbers straight. She gives up at 374 and tries to think of something more mundane.
One thing that she can't keep her mind off of is the burning sensation spreading through her abs the longer she stays in position. It feels like her midsection is on fire, and after an agonizing hour, she nearly collapses forward when Cinna's dulcet voice announces the break.
She grimaces while rising to her feet, reaching for her robe, and she makes the mistake of looking directly at the blond guy. He stares at her, his lips curved up on the left side of his mouth, sympathy heavy in those big, blue eyes.
God, he's really fucking hot.
She feels a little twinge in her belly, and instantly she's hyperaware of the fact that she's still standing naked before him.
Without even shrugging on the robe first, she hastens behind the divider, throws on her clothes, and scampers out of the room just as quickly as she had left last time.
The next morning, she struggles to get out of bed when her alarm blares just before five a.m. She smacks at the clock, wanting desperately to hit the snooze button instead. She hears the steady cadence of the rain falling outside her apartment window and groans, burying her face into her pillow. It would be so easy to burrow under her comforter and go back to sleep.
When she had made her course schedule for the spring semester, she had thought it would be so nice not to have class on Fridays. She had lofty visions of sleeping in and staying in her pajamas all morning, eating cereal and watching bad talk shows with out-of-control teens and paternity tests. But her manager at Starbucks had different ideas, and she's been on the opening shift every Friday since December.
She crawls out of bed, her abs still aching from yesterday, and the hot spray of the shower doesn't do much to soothe her muscles.
Of course she wonders why she even bothered with a shower by the time she reaches work, as she arrives practically soaked to the skin. She throws her things in the tiny employee lockers, wrings out her hair that the umbrella did virtually nothing to protect, and quickly weaves it into a braid. She probably looks like shit, but whatever. Most customers barely look up from their phones long enough to order their fancy Macchiatos and Frappucinos.
The rain does nothing to slow business, and there's a continuous stream of traffic for the better part of the morning. Just before noon, she hands an older man the change for his white mocha before greeting the next customer in line.
"What can I get started for you?" she asks.
The brief silence is enough to cause her to look up, marker in hand, poised over the cup rack, and she finds herself gazing into those impossibly blue eyes. Shit. The hot guy from the art class looks at her thoughtfully.
"Hi—" the blue eyes flit down to just above her breasts, where her name is embroidered in white on the dark green apron. "—Katniss." He smiles. "It's nice to learn your name."
"Cinna said my name would be kept private," she retorts, and the wounded look that steals across his face suggests her tone came out a little harsher than it needed it to be. Well tough. He doesn't need to know her name. It's not like they're friends.
But his smile returns. "Oh…no…right, I understand that. It's just…I was curious about it. And I imagined that your name was something really beautiful, really unique, like you. And it is."
She rolls her eyes and motions to the line that is growing behind him. Her bullshit meter pings—loudly; she doesn't have time for this guy's lame flirting, even if he is hot. How the hell does he know she's unique? All he knows about her is what she looks like naked. Heat blooms on her cheeks.
"Your drink?" she prompts, hoping he doesn't notice her blushing.
His face falls a little. "Passion tea, no sugar, please. Venti."
She grabs the appropriate cup, marks it, and pauses. "Your name?" She scowls when his eyes light up briefly. "For the cup," she adds.
"Peeta," he replies, and she arches an eyebrow at him quizzically.
"Like the bread?"
She thinks she sees a flush creeping up his neck as he shakes his head. "Ah, no. P-E-E-T-A. Two 'e's."
She scrawls his name just below the lip of the cup, sets it on the counter behind her, and taps the screen. "Is that all?"
He hesitates. "Yeah, that's all." He extends his phone towards her. She picks up the scanner, zaps the barcode on his phone, and gives him a terse smile.
"You're all set. Have a nice afternoon." Then she calls to the woman behind him, "Can I get a drink started for you?"
She meets Peeta's eyes again, and it looks as if he wants to say something else, but he jams his phone in his pocket and steps away from the counter, moving aside to wait for his tea.
She doesn't glance away from the register until she senses he's picked up his beverage, and when she finally does look over, all she sees is the back of a blond head exiting the café.
Madge [7:26 p.m.] —Lets go out tonite bitch! Its been weeks since we let loose!
Katniss rolls her eyes and shoves her Abnormal Psych textbook off her lap as she reads the message.
Katniss [7:26 p.m.]— Studying.
Madge [7:27 p.m.] —Dammit Katniss its Saturday night! Put down the book and lets have some fun.
She sighs and picks up her phone. It's easier to argue with her best friend in real time.
"Kaaaaatnisssss," Madge whines as she answers. "Come on! You've earned a night out. There's no cover charge at The Pearl before nine. If we get in and get a bracelet, we can stay all night."
Madge cuts her off immediately. "Fuck that! Prim is seventeen years old. She can fend for herself. Stop making excuses, throw on that sexy silver halter top you bought last summer and never wear, and some skinny jeans, and be ready to go in twenty minutes."
Katniss sighs. The Pearl is one of the nicest clubs in all of Panem. She's been there twice—once on her 21st birthday, and once to celebrate Gale's college graduation. One of its perks is it certainly attracts a higher-class clientele than the dive bars near campus that she hits with Johanna, and thus it greatly reduces the chance of getting hit on by skeevy frat guys or underage teenage boys with fake IDs.
"Madge, The Pearl is—"
"The Pearl is nothing. And the drinks are on me tonight, since you practically wrote my child development paper for me last week. No more excuses. Get dressed. I'll see you soon." She hangs up before Katniss can issue any further protest.
With another sigh, she changes into the halter-top that Madge suggested, and rather than fight with her only strapless bra all night, she impulsively decides to go bra-less. Funny enough it's been the nude modeling that gives her the confidence that her tits can pull it off. She tugs on her black skinny jeans, finds a pair of heels that won't murder her feet all night, and puts on some makeup.
After saying goodbye to Prim, she waits on the front stoop for Madge, and when she sees Gale's truck pulling up to the curb, she groans inwardly. Madge conveniently left out the fact her boyfriend would be joining them.
Great, now Katniss will be stuck playing third wheel all night.
And that's exactly what she does.
She's nursing her second Asian Pear martini, running her finger along the cinnamon-sugared rim, idly staring off at the crowded dance floor, trying to avoid the sight of her best friends grinding on each other and sporadically making out, when she hears her name spoken hesitantly. She spins around to meet a pair of increasingly familiar blue eyes.
Shit. Of all the clubs, he'd have to be here. Looking attractive. Looking really, really attractive.
"Katniss," Peeta smiles, "I thought that was you."
"Uh, hi." She gives him a demure but measured smile in return. She feels his eyes inconspicuously dart down to her cleavage, and she thinks how ridiculous it is that he's even bothering to check out her cleavage. He's seen her naked already, and as she remembers that little detail, she bristles.
"Are you alone?" he asks, gesturing to the empty stools beside her.
"No," she replies, fiddling with the red cocktail stirrer in her drink, "I'm with some friends."
It seems as if he's waiting for her to invite him to sit down, but when she doesn't say a word, there's a flicker of what looks like disappointment on his face. "Oh. Well, alright then."
He turns to walk away. She can't help but let her eyes wander down to the dark-washed denim hugging his ass, and her eyes are still lingering there when he pauses and faces her again.
"Listen, I want to apologize for yesterday…at the Starbucks…I'm sorry if I, ah, offended you in anyway by calling attention to your name. I feel like we got off on the wrong foot—"
She waves a hand. "It's fine. I overreacted a little. My name was on my apron." She finally plucks the straw out of her glass and tosses it to the table. "As long as you don't go announcing it in class on Tuesday, I'll live."
"Your secret is safe with me. And I am sorry." He pauses before adding, "You look really beautiful tonight."
"A much different view with the clothes on, huh?"
There's a brief flash of that same wounded puppy-dog look on his face, and a fleeting rush of regret runs through her at the sarcasm that she heard in her response.
But his expression quickly shifts, and he aims a disarming smile at her. "Different, yes. But you look just as sexy fully clothed, which isn't easy to do."
She ignores the compliment and narrows her eyes at him. "Listen, if you think lines like that are going to work on me—"
"It's not a line," he interrupts. "Just an observation. When you're an artist, you see so many naked bodies that you become a little desensitized to them. I appreciate a woman who can show just the right amount of skin to make me want to see more."
"You have seen more," she points out, sipping her martini.
He steps closer to where she sits. "I've seen you with an artist's eye. I imagine there's far more to learn about your body than what I see on that pedestal for an hour."
The timbre of his voice is husky in spite of the pulsing music in the club. She chases the bolt of desire that skitters down her spine with the rest of her martini, swallowing hastily as the vodka burns her throat on its way down.
Peeta motions to the empty glass. "Can I buy you another while you wait for your friends?"
She traps him with her eyes while her conscience goes to battle with her libido. She can't decide if Peeta is an incorrigible, cocky flirt, or a genuinely nice guy. She's not sure she wants to find out which it is, given she has three weeks left of the modeling assignment, and she really can't afford to get too attached to him if it's the latter. No feelings, no connections, she reminds herself.
"I can buy my own drinks, thanks." She conveniently leaves out the part that her rich best friend has bought both of her overpriced cocktails tonight.
The defeat is heavy in his clear blue orbs, and just as she's having second thoughts, because holy shit, she needs to make his face stop looking like that, he gives a weak smile and murmurs, "Okay. Well, have a nice night."
This time he does walk away, though he glances over his shoulder at her one final time, and she has to look away when shame bubbles up in her gut.
And the longer she sits by herself, contemplating a third drink, the more she second-guesses rejecting Peeta. It's been ages since a nice guy showed any interest in her. And it was one drink. It's not like he would have expected to her to go home with him. This is why you're single, a nagging little voice taunts.
One drink. She pushes her empty glass across the table, hops off her stool, and starts to scan the crush of bodies on the dance floor for any sign of Peeta.
She sees Gale and Madge first, pawing each other on the far edge of the floor near the bar. Madge's exaggerated swaying motions indicate she's more than a little tipsy, but Gale holds her tightly, their bodies pressed flush together. The way that Gale gazes at Madge sparks a tiny ember of jealousy in Katniss. She's happy for her friends, of course, but to have someone stare at her like that…
But then Gale and Madge shift to their left enough that she gets a perfect view of Peeta standing near the bar, surrounded by a group of guys and a couple of girls. A striking redhead leans into him, her hand flat against his chest. He smiles easily, talking and laughing with her and the others in between sips of his dark beer. When he downs the last of it, he sets his glass on the bar, and the redheaded girl grabs his hand and leads him onto the dance floor.
She has no need to stick around and watch him putting his hands all over this girl, and she simply refuses to acknowledge the surge of envy throbbing in her veins.
Her change of heart completely forgotten, she spins on her heel and walks as quickly as her damn shoes will allow her. She'll call a cab and text Madge.
This is why she usually just stays home.
As soon as she enters the classroom the next Tuesday, her stomach pitches when she sees a small cot in the center of the platform.
The pose Cinna relates to her is erotic and seductive, with her lying on her side, head propped on one elbow, hair spilling across her breasts. He encourages her to find her focal point and think of something sexy in order to get some color in her cheeks and an appropriately coy smile on her lips. When she feels a rush of heat flood her body before she can even conjure up a thought, Cinna laughs softly.
"Well, that worked just fine," he snickers. "Go on and get comfortable. We'll begin in a few minutes."
As she drops the robe and climbs onto the narrow bed, she's aware of Peeta setting up his easel directly in front of her. She swallows, and today she doesn't make much of an effort to avoid looking at him.
He, on the other hand, seems fully engaged in his prep work at his easel, and she can't say she's surprised that his demeanor towards her appears to have changed after the way she blew him off Saturday night.
She spent most of Sunday morning wallowing in a pool of guilt and self-pity before Prim yelled at her to 'get her ass out of bed.' The pounding headache she had awoken with would have been easier to tolerate had it simply been from a hangover. It took nearly all day for the uneasiness cloaking her to dissipate. Once she had decided to approach Peeta after her next session and offer an apology for her rudeness, her conscience was finally placated enough to push him from her thoughts for longer than thirty seconds.
Peeta eventually glances up, and she tries to hold his gaze as she finger-combs her long, loose waves and sweeps them over her shoulder. He stares back, his expression impassive and unreadable, and her gut tightens a little. Then he picks up his charcoal and Katniss watches his eyes slide over to Cinna, who's giving instructions to the class. Cinna murmurs a quiet reminder to Katniss to keep a slight smile on her face this time, and she hears his footsteps leave the platform as he moves to mingle among the students and their easels.
Her lips twitch as she tries to get the right smile to claim her mouth. What did Cinna say—think of something sexy?
Not much to go on there. Her love life lately is the equivalent of pumping a dry well, but it's her own damn fault. She's spent more nights with her hand and late-night soft-core porn than she'd care to fess up to, her moans of pleasure muffled by her pillow.
While her mind reels, her eyes keep wandering to Peeta. For the first time she allows herself to really examine his features—aside from the mesmerizing blue eyes she's already admired. While his face is fixed in quiet concentration, she studies the defined lines of his cheekbones, his nose, the bow of his mouth. His jaw in particular gives her pause, because it looks so symmetrical, so strong, and she blushes when she finds herself thinking what it might be like to hold it in her hands if he were to kiss her.
A ripple of heat flows through her stomach and down to her pussy. Fuck. Where did that come from?
She sucks in a shallow breath, trying not to move too much and distract the students at work, but when Cinna passes by the front of the classroom, he gives her a little smile and a nod of approval.
She steadfastly refuses to look back to Peeta after that. She racks her brain for any sexy scenes from movies that she's seen, and she settles on that one between Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen where they're making love in a lake, though for the life of her she can't remember the name of the damn movie.
At the end of the hour, she's so blissfully tired from her languid pose and from thinking of sex all morning that she could easily lie down and close her eyes. Sluggishly, she swings a leg off the cot and turns to grab her robe when she hears her name spoken in a soft, hushed voice, like a secret.
Other than Cinna, only one person in the room knows it.
She spins around, and Peeta smiles at her shyly, expectantly.
"Can we talk before you go?" he asks softly.
She gapes at him. "Ah…" she reaches for her robe and cinches it around her hastily. "Um…" Shit, why the hell can't she make her mouth connect with her brain?
"It will just take a minute. Cinna only gives us five between models," he explains.
"Sure," she manages to croak. "Let me get dressed."
He grins. "I'm gonna run to the restroom. I'll wait for you in the hall."
Her heart rate accelerates, and she mentally rehearses her apology as she redresses with shaky fingers. She tousles her hair and straightens her sweater, then takes a deep breath and exits the classroom.
Peeta leans against the wall opposite the classroom, scrolling through his phone. He shoves it into his pocket when he sees her, and his handsome face lights up.
"I'll keep this short, promise—" he begins.
"I'm sorry I was rude the other night," she blurts, the words running together in her rush to spit them out.
Peeta looks amused. "And here I was going to apologize to you."
"Coming on a little strong," he answers and clears his throat. "The other night, at The Pearl?"
She plays with the strap of her messenger bag and purses her lips at him. "Oh."
"I feel like every time I get the chance to talk to you, I'm apologizing for something."
"You don't have to apologize," she says, shrugging. "I could have been a little nicer. And I probably overreacted—again. I just…I had intended to keep my real life separate from this little assignment." She motions to the classroom behind her.
"I get that," he says quietly. "Well then, I guess the next thing I wanted to ask you might be out of the question."
A little tremor ripples through her as she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "What's that?"
He shifts his weight and tousles his blond waves. Is he actually a little nervous? "I have something to ask you. A favor. But I'd really like it if you'd have dinner with me so I can explain everything better, and not in so much of a rush."
"Oh…um…" She looks down at her hands and then back up to his face. The thought of what he could possibly want does all sorts of things to her. Don't be stupid, she chides herself. There's no way he wants you like that, not after the way you've acted.
It's those eyes that are her undoing. He looks so much like he did the other night at the bar, and she doesn't want to be the reason that the huge blue pools dim with disappointment again. At the very least, she will have dinner with a really hot guy and not spend a night in front of the television alone.
"Yes, sure," she agrees. "I'll have dinner with you."
The smile that spreads across his face is contagious, and she feels her own mouth tug upward in spite of itself. Then he exhales, a huge puff of air that ghosts across her cheek, and his shoulders relax a little. "Excellent!" he beams.
The sound of Cinna's voice causes them both to turn, and Peeta pulls his cell phone from his pocket. "I've got to get back inside. Will you give me your number so I can call you later this afternoon?"
She rattles off the digits, and with a few taps, she feels her own phone buzz from where it rests silenced in her bag. He gives her one last broad grin and murmurs his goodbye as he slips past her and slinks back into the art room. She continues to watch Peeta until Cinna appears in the doorway, gives Katniss a knowing smile, and closes the door.
The next Friday evening, Katniss taps her foot nervously and traces the scalloped pattern in her tights with her index finger as she waits for Peeta in the lobby of the restaurant he chose. When they had arranged their meeting, Peeta had wanted to pick her up, but that sounded an awful lot like a date, and she didn't want to get her hopes up that Peeta had those kinds of plans for them.
She had changed her outfit five times, much to Prim's amusement. Her sister had not so inconspicuously tromped back and forth past Katniss's room, holding that damn mangy cat of hers, a bemused smile on her face until Katniss had scowled and slammed the door. She had heard the doorbell ring several minutes later, and then Prim yelled up the stairs that Rue was here, and she was leaving for the movies. Katniss was left alone to agonize over her wardrobe before finally settling on a soft, cowl-neck sweater dress and a pair of tights. It was casual but did cling nicely to what curves she did have.
As she sits, her leg still bouncing from her jitters, she suddenly remembers what Peeta had told her about showing enough skin to make him want to see more. She frowns and glances down at her outfit. Not even an inch of cleavage bared. Way to go, Everdeen, she thinks dryly. Brilliant choice.
She startles and looks up. Peeta smiles down at her, and he looks gorgeous. He's wearing those dark-washed jeans from the other night, and a charcoal grey button-down shirt open over a black t-shirt. His hair has that messy-but-still-styled look to it. A narrow brown paper bag is tucked under his left arm.
She leaps to her feet. "Hi."
He grins at her. "Hi yourself. You look beautiful."
She ducks her head at the compliment. He strides to the hostess and speaks to her in hushed tones. The older woman gives him a secretive smile, nods, and she grabs two menus. Peeta turns and extends a hand to Katniss. She hesitates before grasping it, and he squeezes it gently, warmth flooding her palm from his innocent touch.
The hostess leads them towards the rear of the tiny restaurant, and Katniss glances around at the rustic prints of Italian villas and vineyards and the assortment of old empty wine bottles lining the wrought-iron shelves on the walls. It's a charming little place, for sure. The booth that the hostess stops in front of is cozy and intimate, and the woman smiles at Katniss kindly as she gestures for her to sit. Peeta thanks the woman and settles across from Katniss, placing the bag on the table between them.
"Is this okay?" he asks. "It's quiet and the food is incredible, I promise."
"Oh yeah, it's fine," she replies.
Before he can say anything else, a petite, pretty, dark-haired waitress comes over, greets Peeta with a very friendly smile, and begins to rattle off the specials as she pulls the bottle of red wine Peeta brought from the paper bag and uncorks it. She jokingly asks Peeta if his date is legal, and Katniss fights to keep from glaring at her as the waitress pours two glasses of the wine, though the fact she's referred to as his date—and Peeta doesn't say anything to correct the waitress—gives Katniss an elicit thrill.
"I don't drink a lot of wine," he confesses, swirling the ruby liquid around in the glass. "But my roommate swears this is a good one." He smiles at her, amber flecks dancing in his blue eyes from the candle in the middle of the table. He holds his glass out to her, and she stares at him.
"What should we toast to?"
"Ah, oh…I don't know," she stammers, because the dim lighting of the booth and the flame flickering in the votive cast the most delicious shadows on his jaw, and she can just make out the dusting of blond stubble there. Is it wrong to want to lick it? Cause she kind of does.
He arches a brow at her. "How about to friendship?"
"Friendship?" she echoes, that 'date' comment reverberating in her ears.
"It's a start, right?" He clinks his glass against hers, and they both sip at their wine.
After they order, Peeta dominates the conversation. She listens raptly as he talks about everything from his family to his favorite books, and he tells her a lot about his love of art, but she keeps quiet herself, not yet ready to share anything personal.
Before their food arrives, he clears his throat and she sees his throat jump as he swallows. His fingers drum against the edge of the table.
"So, about that favor…"
She dredges another piece of bread through the roasted garlic and olive oil. "Oh, right," she nods. She's been getting so comfortable with him that she's all but forgotten there is an actual purpose he had arranged this meeting—this 'not a date.'
He runs a finger along the rim of his wine glass. "You can absolutely say no if you want. But I thought since you have been modeling for class, that you might be willing to do a little more of it to help me out with a personal project of mine." He pauses, and when she remains silent and keeps picking at her bread, he continues, "I have a piece that I need for my portfolio, for my final project for another one of my classes. And I need a model to paint and photograph."
She swallows a bite of bread and wrinkles her nose. She can't quite make sense of what he's proposing. If he will be painting something, why will it need to be photographed? Wouldn't the painting itself be evidence enough of whatever he needs it for?
He must sense her confusion, and he reaches for her hand to gently take it in his. There's something intimate about the gesture, and she nearly chokes on the bread she's chewing, her face burning, and she feels a little silly for the fluttering in her lower abdomen.
"Katniss, I'd like to paint you."
"Um…okay," she acknowledges. "You've been sketching me for two weeks now, so if it's just the fact that it would just be you and me alone and that's the favor..." she trails off when he shakes his head.
But then the waitress approaches with their dinner.
He takes a deep breath after the server grinds some fresh Parmesan on Katniss's pasta and fresh pepper on Peeta's Chicken Milanese. His eyes lock on hers, and another frisson ratchets down her spine.
"I want to paint you, Katniss. I'd need you to be naked because your body would be my canvas."
"Oh…Oh." She feels more heat staining her cheeks, and Peeta looks at her earnestly, a gentle plea in his eyes.
"I thought it might be easier just to ask you, since like you said, we're kind of already familiar with each other. And if you say yes, I can't really pay you much. We're not allowed to compensate any human models that we use for projects more than a $50 stipend, but I—"
"I don't need your money," she says quietly, fidgeting with the napkin in her lap. "I'll do it."
"You will?" he asks, and his face breaks into such a smile that she'd likely agree to anything at the moment to keep it there. "You will?" He grabs her hand again, rubbing his thumb over the back of it, prickling a path of gooseflesh up her arm. "Thank you, Katniss. That's awesome. I really appreciate it."
In between bites of their meal, he fills her in on the details of his project, and she has to admit she's intrigued by how he's going to be able to pull it off with just her body and some paint. But she supposes that's why he's the artist, and she's a psych student who can't even draw a simple stick figure.
When they finish eating, a man approaches their table, a gleam in his eye and a dish in his hand. "Peeta, buonasera. Your dinner was good?"
"It was excellent, Boggs, thank you."
The man's eyes wander to Katniss and crinkle cordially. "And you, signorina, was your meal satisfactory?"
She motions down to her completely empty plate. "It was wonderful, thank you."
The man grins with pride and sets down the dish before them. Katniss's eyes widen at the massive slice of tiramisu resting atop a swirled ribbon of some kind of chocolate.
"Enjoy," he says as a busboy swoops in to clear their dirty plates.
Peeta gives her a smile and slides the dessert plate towards her. "You go ahead," he says politely. "It's delicious. I've had it many, many times."
"So you bring all your dates here," she says teasingly, reaching for a fork, and then she freezes.
Shit, what did she just say? She did not just refer to herself as his date.
Fuck, she totally did. It was one thing for the waitress to joke about it, but she winces as she waits for Peeta's reaction.
But he doesn't miss a beat. His eyes sparkle in the candlelight as he leans forward a little. "Would you believe me if I told you that you're the first girl I've ever brought here?"
"No," she replies, hoping her cheeks aren't as red as they feel. She plays with the fork, the tiramisu remaining untouched between them.
"You are," he affirms. "My family has been coming here for years. Since before I was born, actually. My father worked for Mags, the owner, and her late husband, when he was in high school. So this place is pretty special to me, and I don't bring just anyone here." He licks his lips and reaches for the second fork. "C'mon. I'm not eating this alone."
She's relieved that he lets her 'date' comment slide. At least, she thinks he does until their waitress brings the check, and Katniss reaches for her purse.
Peeta holds up his hand. "What kind of date would I be if I didn't pick up the tab?"
"Peeta, no, this isn't…I didn't mean…"
"I asked you to meet me here, Katniss. You're doing me a favor. So at the very least, even if you don't think this is a real date, I can still treat you."
Something flickers in his eyes as he places a credit card on the little tray. "Did you want this to be a real date?" he asks, his voice dropping dangerously.
She swallows hard, her body zinging with electricity from the look he's giving her, and she hastily wipes her mouth, sets her napkin on the table, and leaves his question hanging in the air as she excuses herself to go to the restroom.
She doesn't even have to use the bathroom, but the time away from Peeta allows her to catch her breath and gather her thoughts. As much as she hates to admit it to herself, given her emphatic assertion that she wouldn't connect with anyone during the month-long modeling gig, she likes Peeta. She really, really likes Peeta. This has sure felt like a real date—minus the talk about the body painting.
And as she thinks about being naked in front of him, just the two of them alone somewhere, her stomach swoops and she feels that twinge in her lower abdomen. She studies her reflection in the mirror. The pink flush on her cheeks is unmistakable. She waits several minutes for it to fade, then she takes a deep breath, washes her hands out of habit, and then she exits the restroom—nearly colliding with Peeta. His hands land on her waist, and she hears a little gasp escape her lips.
He laughs softly. "Sorry if I startled you. I took your cue and went too."
She wonders if it's only her imagination that his fingers seem to caress her hips slightly before he releases her.
"I paid the bill. We're all set," he adds.
"Oh…okay. Um, thank you." Her chest tightens; she doesn't really want this evening to end, but reluctantly, she follows him through the tiny dining room as he calls his goodbyes to Mags, and he walks Katniss to her car.
"I guess I'll see you on Tuesday?" he asks softly as she fumbles with her key fob.
"Uh, yeah. Thank you again for dinner, Peeta."
"It was my pleasure," he murmurs, and that husky timbre of his voice has her lower body doing things it shouldn't. "I wish you had answered my question before you raced off to the restroom though."
"Wh-what question?" she stammers, her pulse quickening.
"If you wanted this to be a real date," he replies, rocking on his feet a little. "Because I definitely did, and right now, I'd really like to kiss you goodnight."
She can't find any words, or her breath either, but she must give him some kind of nonverbal affirmation, because very slowly he leans in and brushes his lips across her cheek. Her skin tingles like the mint she smells on his breath when he steps back.
He opens her door for her and waits until she's settled inside before he retreats and walks across the parking lot to a small SUV.
It takes a full four minutes before her heart stops racing and she can get it together enough to drive home. She doesn't miss the fact that his car is directly behind her when she pulls away from the restaurant. He waited for her.
A giddy feeling swirls inside her again.
She's a goner.
She's pleasantly surprised when Peeta texts her the next morning. And she's even more pleasantly surprised when he comes by Starbucks while she's at work on Sunday, commandeering a little table in the window, where he proceeds to draw for three hours. Just before three, he packs up his sketchbook and pencils, and he asks her what time she gets done. She's never regretted having to work a double more in her life. He's visibly disappointed when she has to decline having dinner with him, and while she doesn't like seeing that look back on his face, it excites her to know he wants to see her again.
But this burgeoning attraction to Peeta Mellark (she loves the sound of his last name) means her nerves are back with a vengeance when she undresses Tuesday morning and gets into position. It's different getting naked today, and she knows that has everything to do with the blond-haired, blue-eyed man in the front row. She swears she can still feel Peeta's lips on her cheek if she closes her eyes and recalls his face just inches from hers.
She loses the will not to look at him about three seconds after she sits on the stool. As she crosses her legs and angles her torso to the left, she makes eye contact with him. He mouths a silent 'hi' and flashes a smile that must be tethered to the juncture of her thighs with how quickly her pussy floods with heat. But then the pose forces her to look down and keep her gaze fixed on the floor.
The hour passes slowly as usual, and it's her turn to be dismayed when she finishes redressing and discovers Peeta already in conversation with the orange-haired woman to his right. Not that she wants to give any indication to Cinna or the other students in the class that she and Peeta have anything simmering between them, but it would have been nice to say goodbye.
She hasn't even reached the front door of the building when her phone trills with a message alert.
Peeta [10:03 a.m.] — any plans tonight? My roommate is staying at his girlfriends and it might be a good time to get started on my project. :)
She stops mid-reach for the door, and leans against the wall as she skims the text several more times. Her lips tug into a smile when she taps out a 'yes, I'm free' reply.
Peeta [10:05 a.m.] — excellent. Hows 4? It will take a few hours to finish.
Another text follows with his address, but she doesn't hear back from him after that, and she knows his class has resumed.
She has a hard time paying attention in her own psych class that afternoon, choosing to spend most of the time staring out the window, fantasizing about if Peeta's lips had landed a couple inches to the left the other night, claiming her mouth for what she imagines what could have quickly escalated into very heated make-out session, his body pinning hers to the side of her car.
At least she doesn't have to worry about what she's going to wear that evening. She's not going to be wearing it long enough to care. Still, she riffles through her underwear drawer to find the sexiest pair of panties she has, and she changes into the only bra she owns that's not cotton—just in case.
His apartment is easy to find (closer to her campus than his own, in fact), and she bounces on the balls of her feet, excitement and trepidation coursing through her in equal proportions.
"Hey," he greets her warmly, and as he ushers her inside, the soothing aroma of cinnamon wafts past her. It has to be an air freshener or a candle, as it's a strong scent, but it's always been one of her favorites, and it assuages her a little.
He gives her a tour of the place—it's pretty spacious for an apartment. His bedroom is large enough for him to have a makeshift studio set up one corner. There are a few tarps and towels lying on the foot of his bed, and the top of his desk is covered with at least twenty pods of paints and a stack of brushes.
"I thought I could paint you first, and then maybe I could make us dinner, if you're okay with that?"
"Oh, you don't have—"
He silences her with a look. "I know I don't have to. I want to."
"Okay," she agrees.
"Good." He grins and grabs one of the tarps, snapping it out in front of him and spreading it out on the floor. Then he starts to move for the door.
"Where are you going?"
He pauses. "I thought I'd let you get undressed."
She bites her lip and feels her body temperature rise about ten degrees. "You, um, don't have to go. I've got nothing to hide, nothing you haven't seen before."
"Just trying to be a gentleman," he replies softly, crossing back to his desk. "Go ahead then, whenever you're ready."
He busies himself with his brushes as she stares at his back for a long moment, before giving a little cough that she hopes commands his attention enough for him to watch her strip. Sure enough, he glances over his shoulder just as she tosses her shirt to the floor, and she doesn't miss his eyes darting down to her breasts, spilling over the cups of the tiny lace bra she chose. She holds his gaze as she reaches behind and unhooks the clasps. The tension leaves the undergarment, and she peels it off, baring herself to him.
Her body is a live wire when she kicks off her flats, removes her jeans, and stands in nothing but a scrap of fabric that Victoria Secret dares to call underwear (and has the gall to charge thirteen dollars for). But it's worth it, because she definitely feels sexy with him gaping at her, unable to tear his eyes from her nearly nude form.
Just as she loops her thumbs in the sides of the panties, he breaks his trance and looks away, fanning out his sketches for the design that he's going to replicate on her body. He begins to study them intently. She lets out a ragged breath and steps out of her underwear, shoving them aside.
Peeta had explained to her that his assignment is to bring a famous poem to life. His professor had given him Poe's The Raven, and thus, he's going to be literally going to be transforming her into the titular bird, painting her body with plumage.
"So where do you…want me?" she asks.
"Just step onto the tarp please. I'm pretty careful, but just in case…"
He turns and faces her, and she smiles nervously, her arms twitching at her sides.
"Relax," he says gently. "This is going to be a little cold at first," he murmurs. She nods and watches as he dips the brush into a pot of paint. The tip comes back out bluish-black, a bruise blooming across the camel-colored bristles. "I'm going to start on your left arm, okay?" With a quick glance at his sketches, he leans over her, and her body tingles, stringing her nerves like a tightrope.
She jolts at the first flick of his wrist and the wet lick of the bristles across her skin. The brush jumps, and she sees Peeta visibly flinch.
"I'm sorry," she stammers, squeezing her eyes shut.
He chuckles softly, and she feels a warm cloth swab at her arm. "I told you it would be cold."
She opens one eye and peers at him. "The cold I expected. I just didn't think it would tickle so much."
"Ticklish, hmm? I'll make a note of that—add it to the list of things I know about you."
"Oh? What things doyou know about me?" she asks, tugging her lower lip between her teeth, awaiting the touch of the brush to her skin again.
"Well, it's kind of a short list," he says, and she thinks she sees a tinge of pink rising on his cheeks. "You were awfully quiet at dinner the other night when I was going on and on about myself. Consider this," he continues, as he trails the brush in a steady line along her forearm, "I've got you completely naked in front of me, and I don't even know something as simple as your favorite color."
"It's green," she hisses through clenched teeth, fighting the urge to fidget as the bristles move over her sensitive skin. "What's yours?"
He smiles, lifting the brush, dipping it back through the paint. He shakes off the excess before returning his attention to her arm. "Orange."
She must wrinkle her nose visibly, because that warm laugh fills the space between them again. "What's wrong with orange?"
"Orange like the hair of that Effie woman who sits next to you in class?"
"No, much softer than that," he demurs, narrowing those hypnotic blue eyes in concentration as he swirls the brush over her elbow. "A muted orange, like the sunset."
"Oh." She falls silent, and she stares at the ceiling. He has such a way with words. It only makes him sexier to her.
"Tell me something else about you," he prompts, moving the brush into a pod of paint that looks almost identical to the one he was just using, but the color that appears on her arm is indeed a shade lighter than the last inky hue.
"Hmm…you have any siblings?"
"One," she replies, her eyes widening in awe at the feathers starting to take shape on her arm. "A sister. Prim. She's almost seventeen."
Peeta's tongue juts out in concentration as he rotates her arm and continues painting.
She's not sure what compels her to do so, but she begins to open up to him while he works. Words spill from her lips as fluidly as his brush glides over her flesh. She rambles about Prim, and how it's just the two of them now that their mother is gone. Peeta murmurs his sympathies when she relates the details of her mom's death last summer. She's grateful when he doesn't pry about her father, and maybe that's why she keeps talking and explains that he died years ago in a car accident when she was twelve. Peeta's eyes are compassionate, but she doesn't see the pity in them that people usually aim her way.
"All done with that arm." He sits back and a satisfied smile lifts his mouth. "You doing okay?"
"I'm fine, yes."
"Then I'm going to work on your back next, if you'll turn around, please."
She obliges, but she stiffens when she feels his hands slide underneath her hair and gather it into his hands. She doesn't dare move, and there's a slight tug as he shifts and rummages through a drawer. Then she feels him wrapping a rubber band around her long tresses to fasten them into a messy bun.
She closes her eyes. Why does the fact that he just put her hair up affect her so much—why does she immediately think about his fingers carding through her loose waves, massaging her scalp, raking along the nape of her neck?
"Sorry," he murmurs, as if he can read her thoughts, "but I need your hair out of the way."
"It's okay. I should have thought to put it up for you," she says, shuddering when the brush maps a cold trail down her spinal cord. He laughs gently, and his breath skates across the skin, eliciting more shivers.
"You're doing great, Katniss."
"I'm trying," she whispers, screwing her eyes shut when the brush stops just above the cleft of her ass.
It's far more of a struggle to stand still as he paints her back, and it's a much slower process. She need only look down at her completed arm to see the meticulous detail of each feather, and to comprehend how much effort the larger canvas of her back will take.
She's in the middle of a story about how Prim's cranky pet tabby cat, Buttercup, came to live with them when her spine goes rigid as the brush passes down her hip and winds back across her left buttock. Oh god, he's right there…
"Relax," he coos, reaching for her unpainted arm, and he gives her hand a squeeze. "Think about a calming place, if that helps. It usually works for me."
It does help, at least for a little while. She's able to forget about Peeta's hand hovering a few scant inches from her ass, and she loses herself in the rolling meadow where she and Prim used to chase butterflies and gather wildflowers and weave dandelions into crowns when they were children. She smiles at the memory of Prim's chubby little legs flailing to keep up with her longer strides.
But then the image of Prim disappears into a tall patch of grass, and Katniss feels warm sunshine kissing her skin. Something tickles her lower back, and she realizes she's now lying on a mossy carpet of green. When she looks up, her eyes meet brilliant blue, but it's not the sky she's seeing. Peeta looms over her, eyes bright, his golden hair reflecting the amber rays of sun. He gazes down at her, reverently murmuring how gorgeous she is and how much he wants her, before his lips descend on her mouth and his naked body flattens against hers.
"You have the most beautiful smile."
She jumps, his voice startling her out of her daydream. "Oh god, sorry!" she cries. Her eyes fly open, and she sees that he's not even behind her at the moment. He's over by his paints, searching for a different brush.
"Your calming place must be pretty incredible if it can put a smile like that on your face," he continues, selecting a new brush and returning to his position behind her. She clamps down on her lower lip, biting so hard that a pulse of pain shoots through it. She tries to temper her embarrassment—as if he could know that she was fantasizing about him making love to her.
"Oh…um…yeah, I haven't gone there in years," she supplies lamely. "I just got a little carried away, I guess."
"Well, I like seeing you that happy." She feels the wet lap of the brush on the back of her thigh, and she shivers reflexively as he resumes painting. "You always have such a serious expression on your face in class and—"
"Cinna told me not to smile!" she says defensively, and Peeta chuckles softly.
"I didn't mean it as an insult, just an observation."
She presses her lips together and falls silent. She doesn't dare think about the meadow again, so she lets her eyes roam around Peeta's room while she tries to find something to distract herself with. Her vision lands on a photograph on a shelf above Peeta's dresser, one that has to be him with the two brothers he told her about. They flank him, broad grins on all their faces. Peeta wears a wrestling unitard.
"You wrestled?" she asks.
His laugh tickles her thigh. "Ah, yeah, in high school I did. Does that surprise you?"
It doesn't, really. From what she's seen of his body, hidden beneath his clothes, she imagines he has quite the physique, but she supposes she never considered he had other interests beyond art. It was mostly what he talked about the other evening.
She tenses when the brush runs over the sensitive flesh at the back of her knee, by far the most ticklish spot he's covered so far. He murmurs an apology, and she shakes her head, trying not to fidget.
"We're about halfway done," he declares and appears in front of her again. He swishes the brush through a cup of water and dries it on a towel. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"I'm good, just keep going."
He rubs at his neck and then swipes his palm across his forehead. "Okay. Well, um, I'm going to start on your…front now."
It's the first she's seen him flustered, and it raises a blush on her own cheeks.
"Is it warm in here?" he asks.
She gives him a dry smile. "Not when you're completely naked."
He laughs. "Fair enough."
But her blush spreads when he begins unbuttoning his flannel shirt, shrugging it off his shoulders, leaving him in a white graphic t-shirt with some indie band's logo on it. He doesn't say a word, just folds his shirt and places it on his bed.
There's a noticeable change in the air as he stares at her breasts, and she struggles to regulate her breathing so he's not aware of just how frantically her heart now beats and how much of an effort it suddenly is to breathe. He issues a shy smile, and it seems as if it takes the brush an hour to reach her left breast.
The touch is a whisper initially, until he applies more pressure and the intricate feathers he's creating begin to veil her olive skin. She sucks in a breath when the brush circles her nipple, and her knees buckle when she cannot help but wonder what his tongue would feel like mimicking the motions of the bristles. Tendrils of heat furl through her belly, and she clenches her thighs in a vain attempt to keep her arousal from seeping out. She's not sure how much longer she's going to keep it together.
Peeta occasionally steals glances at her from under a fringe of long, gold lashes, and his irises are a few shades darker than they usually appear. But it's probably her imagination—or perhaps wishful thinking, because his hand is perfectly steady as it flicks back and forth, dipping into the valley between her breasts. The coil in her belly constricts. How is she this turned on when it's only a paintbrush touching her? God, what would his hands feel like on her, molding her like she's clay instead of applying paint to her skin?
If only this were one of those stupid movies she sometimes watches late on Saturday night to get off…then he'd be tossing the brush aside and stripping off the rest of his clothes, and their bodies would be a muddled mess of paint and sweat when he takes her right there on the tarp.
A fresh wave of damp heat rushes to the juncture of her thighs.
She wills herself to think of the least sexy thing she can, and she makes it her mission for the rest of the painting session not to look directly at him. And so as Peeta's careful strokes cover her tits and her ribs and her stomach with more plumage, she focuses on the volunteer work she's had to do at the nursing home for her Mental Health of the Elderly course. It's enough to keep her fevered body in check and her mind off of the man presently between her legs, because she's not sure what's wetter: the paint or her pussy.
Peeta reaches her lower abdomen, and she feels her muscles automatically tighten. He must notice her tensing up, because he murmurs, "Go back to that happy place if you have to. I'm getting close to finishing."
Oh, fuck. Wrong choice of words, Peeta, she thinks to herself. His loaded comment and his warm breath contrasting with the chill of the wet brush inches from her arousal send her spiraling back into erotic fantasyland, and she has to stifle a whimper when she imagines Peeta atop her again, pumping in and out of her, gasping her name as he climaxes.
She's thankful for the fact that so little of her skin is showing at this point, because she's sure her entire body is on fire, liquid heat oozing through her veins. Peeta has yet to paint her face, but he's so focused on her upper thighs that he doesn't look up once, and the crimson she feels on her cheeks goes away when he moves down to her knees and shins.
After it feels like he spends an inordinate amount of time on her legs, exacerbated by her constant flinching (because who knew the tops of her feet could be that ticklish?) Peeta frowns and gets level with her crotch again, flicking the brush back and forth a few more times. He straightens up and meets her eyes, giving her a sheepish smile. "Missed a spot."
She can only nod numbly.
He wipes off the brush he had been using and sets it down to dry. "All that we have left is your face."
It turns out she was wrong about one thing.
Having Peeta Mellark staring at her breasts and her ass and every other inch of her body is not nearly as unsettling as the way he looks at her when he starts painting her neck and face. She's acutely aware of each breath that he takes, every blink of those long eyelashes, and the subtle tics of those tiny muscles at the corners of his mouth. He gazes at her in a way that both empowers her and terrifies her.
"You have really good skin," he murmurs, and in spite of herself, she makes a face. That's what he's going to say after nearly forty minutes of silence, with this smoldering sexual tension stifling the air?
A couple last flicks of his wrist, and he steps back, sets the brush down, and appraises her critically. His mouth twitches first, and then his cheeks lift, and his eyes sparkle. "You're perfect," he marvels. "Hold still, I'll get you a mirror, cause you can't move yet."
He hastens across the room and disappears, reappearing a moment later with a massive hand-held mirror that looks like something a beauty pageant contestant or makeup artist would use. She glances at it dubiously when he holds it up and chuckles.
"My roommate has a vanity problem. Go ahead, look."
She gasps at the image revealed in the mirror. She's never liked birds, and so to see her reflection looking so much like a menacing raven would be disconcerting if Peeta's work wasn't so remarkable. He has indeed completely transformed her. His attention to detail is exquisite, and it really does look as if she has feathers all over her body, and her slender nose really does resemble a beak.
"Oh my god," she whispers.
"You look amazing," he praises, and she holds her breath when he closes the distance between them and reaches for her, but she exhales when he reaches around and frees her hair from the rubber band. "I think it will work better down, and your back dried an hour ago."
He motions for her to twist towards the light, and he grabs a fancy camera from his dresser, fiddling with it for a moment, and then he takes one of the sheets and drapes it over a large partition that he slides out from under his bed to fashion a makeshift backdrop. He walks her through several simple poses so he can capture her from a variety of angles.
It seems almost ridiculous how quickly he photographs her, given how long it took to paint her, but he sets the camera back down and gives her a pleased smile. "All done. You did great, Katniss. I can't thank you enough."
"You did all the work," she replies, glancing down to stare at herself again.
"Every great artist needs inspiration. You inspired me," he says quietly. "You, um, probably want to get that stuff off of you now. Follow me."
He leads her into the small bathroom and opens a freestanding cabinet, pulling out two large towels. Then he opens the medicine cabinet, his broad frame blocking its contents from her prying eyes. He closes the mirrored door and extends his hand to her.
"I picked this up for you," he says, handing her a brand-new bottle of vanilla body wash and one of those poof sponge things in a pale green color. She stares down at them and gives him a curious half-smile.
He rubs the back of his neck and smiles back. "I just…I only have my body wash, and it's kind of a guy smell so…"
"I like the way you smell," she murmurs.
They stand in the small space, staring at each other, and his gaze drops to her lips until finally he coughs and motions to the shower. "Well, I'll let you get all that paint off. I can go open a bottle of wine while I start dinner, is that okay?"
"You said you weren't much of a wine drinker, so if you'd prefer a beer, that's fine with me," she says.
His eyes wander to her mouth again, and she's thankful that the paint on face masks her disappointment when he steps back and she realizes that he's not going to kiss her. But he gives her a warm smile and says, "I'm okay with either. I'll let you decide." He lifts his chin and nods towards the shower. "I'll bring your clothes back in and leave them on the sink for you, okay?"
It takes a moment for the water to warm up, but when it's a suitable temperature she steps under the pulsing spray and pulls the frosted door closed behind her. She expects the rivulets of water streaming down her body to automatically turn an inky hue, but such is not the case, and she realizes that it's going to take some effort to get Peeta's handiwork off of her.
But the hot needles pricking her skin feel good, and she lets the water stream down on her for several minutes before she sighs and decides she might as well clean her face first. She forgoes the poof for that, pouring the body wash right into her hands and scrubbing at her face until her skin tingles. Then she goes back to her arm, holding it under the water, and the small patch of feathers where she rubs vigorously starts to fade and disappear. Grabbing for the body wash, she squeezes a dollop onto the poof and works it into a lather, then swipes it along her forearm before rinsing. Her skin finally shows through the sea of bluish-black, and she sighs. This is definitely going to take a while.
She hears the bathroom door open and squints to peer out through the stream-clogged glass. "Peeta?" she calls.
"Just putting your clothes down for you. Did you need me?" he asks, his voice rising over the hissing of the showerhead. She can see his silhouette on the other side of the frosted glass, and it appears that he's leaning against the sink, keeping his distance.
She considers his words. Does she need him? The paint would come off much faster if she had help. And God help her after the last four hours…the thoughts she's been having…the way he's been looking at her…she wants his hands on her any way she can get them.
She takes a deep breath, trying to suppress the fluttering in her stomach. She grabs the shower door handle and cracks it open, mist billowing in a cloud around her as she peeks out at him.
"I do. I need you."
His blue eyes widen and he straightens up instantly. "What's wrong?"
She licks her lips and motions to her body, partially hidden behind the door. "It's harder than I thought to get all this paint off. I, uh…well, it might comes off faster if…I had some help."
"Oh," he says, and she hides a smile at the restrained excitement she swears can see on his face. "Um…yeah, I mean, sure…I can help you, if you want."
He pushes himself off the counter and walks towards her, and she hisses when he opens the door wider and a blast of chilly air hits her bare skin.
"Sorry," he apologizes. He grabs a washcloth from the towel rack and holds it out to dampen it. Droplets of water splatter his t-shirt when he pulls his arm back to squirt a stream of body wash on the cloth.
He wavers for a second before reaching out for her left arm, and her eyes involuntarily slip closed at the sensation of his fingers probing the surface of her skin. It's a brief touch, as she soon feels the washcloth replace his fingers, and she lifts her eyelids, inhaling sharply when she sees how dilated his pupils are and how focused he is on her arm.
He scrubs gently but diligently, and she realizes she's standing there dumbly, not doing any cleaning herself. So she takes the sponge and drags it across her belly. She sees Peeta's eyes follow the sudsy white trail then he cuts them up to meet her eyes. Their gazes remain locked when he raises her arm to the spray. Water sluices down, a smattering of drops peppering his arm and the right side of his t-shirt again, and she edges toward to the open door.
He's so close to her now, and he returns the washcloth to her arm, climbing her bicep. A fresh flurrying of nerves swarms her stomach. She purposefully grazes the poof over her ribcage, feigning an accidental brushing of her knuckles along the back of his hand when it nears the crook of her elbow.
"Hold on," she murmurs, placing her hand on his to stop its movement. She rubs her thumb under his eye, feeling the warmth of his breath on her palm. "Eyelash."
"Thank you," he says, and he leans down. "You're shivering," he whispers.
"I don't feel cold."
His mouth quirks briefly, and she ignores the pounding in her ears as she seizes the moment to tilt her chin up and press her lips to his. The kiss is quick, the pressure of her mouth on his cautious, but when his lips don't respond immediately, she draws back, the water pelting her breasts. She shrinks away from him and tries to quell the mortification she feels. Oh God, what the fuck did she just…
There's a tug on her arm, and he spins her around to face him, and he cradles her neck tenderly. "Why did you stop?" he asks, his husky voice just barely audible.
"I'm sorry, I-I…"
"Don't be sorry. Please, don't be sorry." He brushes his thumb along her jawbone, and she shudders at the intimate caress. He slowly slants his mouth towards hers again. "I've been wanting to do that all day, but I didn't want you to think that I had ulterior motives for having you here as my model."
"Do you? I mean…do you think about me like that when you draw me? Or did you, when you were painting me today?"
"It's all I think about," he confesses. "From the first time you dropped your robe, I've been completely mesmerized by you. It's a good thing I'm always seated behind an easel because the things I've been thinking while I'm studying you and drawing you…well, you have quite the effect on me, and anyone would be able to plainly see how much I want you."
Her stomach is one massive knot of excitement, and the next thing that pops into her mind is such an elicit thought that she can't believe she's going to utter it aloud. But she does.
"You're getting all wet standing out there," she begins. "Wouldn't it…I mean…why don't you just come in here with me?"
He sucks in a breath. "Katniss…I…" His eyes seem to darken instantaneously. "Are you sure?"
She pushes the shower door open fully and nods slowly, running her tongue along the swell of her lower lip again, her body tense despite the hot water flowing down. "Get undressed, Peeta. Come join me."
He stares at her as if in a daze until he wrings out the washcloth and hangs it over the towel bar then tugs his paint-flecked t-shirt over his head.
"You're sure?" he repeats, his fingers stilling on the button of his jeans. "Because I can't be responsible for my actions if I get in there with you. I've been holding back for too long."
The raw timbre of his voice causes her to shudder, and her nipples tighten. She nods again, her eyes drinking in the sight of his broad, bare chest. He's in even better shape than he was in her fantasies, and she wants so badly to put her palms on him. She needs to touch those pectoral muscles, to let her nails rake down to his defined abs and then on to that little trail of fine blond hair that lures her eyes past his navel to where he's unfastening his jeans—where she can see him straining against the fly.
Faced with the visible evidence that he's aroused as she is emboldens her, and she holds him with her eyes, licking her lips purposefully when he steps out of his jeans and he's left standing in just his boxer briefs. She beckons him with a crook of her finger. She sees his chest inflate, and he quickly strips off his underwear. His erection springs free, and she nearly swallows a mouthful of water when she gapes at the size of his cock, the rigid length protruding from a small thatch of blond hair. He loiters in place for one long minute, neither of them so much as flinching or blinking.
When he does saunter towards her, she feels herself getting even wetter between her legs. As he steps inside the stall and closes the door, he nudges the dial a little to left. More steam materializes, enveloping them in a sultry cloud of warmth.
He moves directly under the spray, and the water ricochets off his blond waves, peppering her face as she watches him. Rivulets stream down his face, running along that strong jaw line, and he blinks droplets from his lashes while he looks her up and down. Her stomach flips wildly at the hunger glazing his eyes when he gestures to the green sponge in her hand.
"Should we finish what we started?"
She glances down at the foamy poof, and she desperately wishes that he were alluding to the other thing they seemed to be starting. She passes it to him, and he takes a tiny step towards her, gingerly running the sponge along her arm. A ribbon of white soap temporarily obscures the black feathers until the water washes it away, leaving most of the dark paint still on her skin.
"Just use your hands." She hears the fraught plea in her voice, and she knows he does too from the bob of his throat.
"Katniss…" he warns. "I'm trying to do the right thing here…"
"It was sweet of you to buy this for me." She plucks it from his hand and hangs it over the shower knob. "But I want your hands on me. Please, Peeta."
She steps closer to him, feeling his hard-on poke her thigh until her torso traps it against her belly. Her skin burns where his cock lies, and she is powerless to fight the current surging through every cell. Leaving just a breath's space between their upper bodies, her lips are a curved invitation when she wraps her fingers around his left wrist and brings his hand up to cup her breast from underneath, his thumb grazing her nipple. "Touch me. Please. I need you to touch me."
She's unprepared for the weight of his body colliding with hers, the solid force of him pinning her to the slippery shower wall, his mouth molding to hers feverishly. His palm slides up to cover her breast fully, sparking a new fire to kindle between her legs. His tongue slides out, painting her lower lip with purposeful strokes before wending its way into her mouth.
"You're exquisite," he moans when he unseals their mouths to take a ragged breath. "Your body is…God, to finally be able to touch you like this…" He kneads her breast, and when her head lolls back, his lips attach to the cliff of her jaw, suckling softly. "Let's get you cleaned off so I can explore every inch of you. With my hands…and with my mouth…if you'll allow it."
She keens and rocks her hips against him, nodding eagerly, and he pours a generous amount of body wash into his hand. "Hold out your palms," he commands, and when she cups her hands together, he transfers some of the slippery, fragrant soap to her.
She can scarcely breathe when their hands begin working in tandem to remove the paint from her skin. Peeta starts on her neck while she scrubs at her arms, his hands tenderly working the delicate flesh. The water sluicing down her torso turns black-blue and eddies down the drain, washing over their feet like ink. She only notices this, of course, because she cannot drag her eyes away from the delicious vision of his palms lathering her breasts—except when she sneaks clandestine glimpses at his cock, so hard, so ready for her.
Another moan leaps from her throat when his thumbs circle her nipples. His touch is electric, pulsing right down to her throbbing clit, and she yearns to slip her hand between her legs.
Once her throat is clean of paint, Peeta's head dips to taste her skin, his tongue laving along the arc of her collarbone, and her hand falters on her shoulder where she's been scrubbing. His hands splay across her stomach as his mouth searches for hers once more.
This time, her tongue is the bolder of the two, and she presses it insistently at the seam of his lips, winding one hand into his wet hair when he sucks her tongue into his mouth. He lets his own tongue retreat so she can explore the ridges of the roof of his mouth, the swell of his cheeks, the smoothness of his teeth.
"Turn around," he pants when she breaks the kiss to catch her breath. Obediently she shifts and faces the wall, and she hears the bottle snap open, followed by a sharp squirt. He must lean over to set the bottle down, because hot needles of water stipple her back until she senses him behind her again and she feels his palms rubbing circles over her shoulder blades. He starts applying more pressure, and she arches her back, flattening her breasts against the cool tiles. One hand pushes her saturated hair to the side, baring her neck to his lips, and she whimpers when he nuzzles wet, open-mouthed kisses in a trail from her ear to the nape of her neck.
"You have an amazing ass," he growls, nipping at the shell of her ear as he cups her rear end. "I swear it's taken me five…ten… fifteen tries to get it perfect when I draw it."
She cranes her neck back to meet his lips in another slippery kiss, and she sucks on his lower lip, swathing it with her tongue.
Every nerve ending in her body crackles with energy and her cleaned skin tingles in the wake of his hands scrubbing away the paint as he moves down her body. When he reaches her feet, she bites down on her lip to keep from laughing and fights the urge to squirm.
"Just one spot left." He's back at her ear again, teeth nicking the ear lobe, and she turns around to face him. She glances down and sees that her upper thighs and groin are still plumed with paint. She thinks the bones in her legs might just dissolve when he wrenches one hand between them to coax them apart.
"Is this okay?" he whispers, fitting his palm over her pubic bone.
"Yes," she moans loudly. "But Peeta…please, let me touch you too. I want…oh!" Her plea falls mute when his fingers part her folds and one digit swirls over her swollen clit. "Oh…God…" she stifles another cry, and the sweet ache in her abdomen intensifies with each pass of his fingers.
"Please," she begs again, and he grunts his acquiescence, jutting his cock forward to her waiting hand. A triumphant thrill courses through her when his eyes slip closed and a groan escapes his lips.
"Hold on." He grabs the body wash again and pours more into her palm. "Okay," he whispers and smiles at her as she wraps her hand around his rock-hard length and glides her palm up and down the shaft, aided by the suds from the body wash.
"Good?" she breathes.
"Fuck, yes, Katniss…it's perfect, just like that."
In response to her rhythmic pumps, he lights his fingers over her clit more forcefully, and when he curls one digit inside her, her knees crumble.
The incoherent noises vibrating in her throat are lost in the cascading water, but Peeta's blissful groans rise over the din, and she loves hearing him mumble her name in his lust-choked voice. (How could she ever have not wanted him to know her name?) When she slides her hand up over the tip of his cock, teasing the head with her fingers, he bucks into her hand and descends on her neck, suckling greedily.
Then he adds a second finger, thrusting them in and out of her while his thumb works her clit, and his tongue chases away the sting from his teeth on her skin. She knows she's fast losing control, but she desperately tries to hold off her climax.
"Katniss," he pants, "I'm close…so close…"
She can only whimper in response as she loses the battle with the bliss cresting in her. The coil in her belly snaps, and it feels like every muscle in her body constricts simultaneously. Her walls pulse madly around Peeta's fingers, and her orgasm triggers his own. He jerks one last time, and he quickly moves his other hand to cup the head of his cock and catch the stream of semen spurting out. He leans down and kisses her, and she shudders a second time while his thumb continues to graze the hood of her sensitive clit.
The most serene sensation washes over her, and she feels weightless, vaguely aware of Peeta's fingers slipping out of her while his hands gently caress her upper thighs. She opens her eyes, though receding bursts of color still dot her vision, and she gazes down to see him washing away the rest of the paint from her legs and feet.
"I must have missed a spot or two, but I think that's all of it," he murmurs, placing a kiss directly over her navel as he straightens back up and wraps his arms around her waist. He draws her to him, and she vines her arms around his neck. They stand under the spray for a few moments, just staring at each other, and the pleased expression on Peeta's face provokes a smile on her own lips.
"That was…" his fingers trace the ridges of her spinal column, and she lets her nails comb through his wet hair.
"Amazing?" she supplies.
"I don't think there's an appropriate adjective to describe it. Not that will do it justice," he chuckles, pressing a kiss to the tip of her nose. "Turn around again, please."
She pouts a little, not wanting to break the embrace, because it feels so impossibly good standing like this with him, but she does as he asks. A moan springs from her lips when he tenderly tilts her neck back and his fingers begin weaving through her damp hair, massaging her scalp, and she smells the scent of something fresh and woodsy.
Fuck. He's washing her hair for her, too? Where did this man come from?
She closes her eyes and revels in the indulgent feeling as he lathers and rinses and wrings out her soaking wet tresses. He twists her around to face him and shuts off the faucet.
"I think we'd better get out of here before we both completely shrivel up." He opens the door a crack and steps out, retrieving a towel from the rack. He rubs it over his hair a few times, and she can't help but let her eyes drift down to ogle his cock, which is equally impressive in its flaccid state. As he dries off and secures the towel around his waist, he grabs a fresh one from the cabinet and coaxes her to come out of the shower stall.
When she steps onto the bath mat, he shakes his head when she reaches for the towel. "Allow me," he whispers, and he proceeds to slowly pat the towel over her damp skin before cocooning her in the thick terrycloth. He combs his fingers through her wet hair, searching for knots, and she lets her eyes slip closed for a moment. She could easily freeze this moment and stay like this.
"Why don't you get dressed and I'll start dinner?"
She opens her eyes and gazes into those deep pools of blue. "Why, are you hungry?" she asks, rubbing her thumb along his jawline.
He laughs. "Ah, well, it's after nine, and we worked up quite the appetite, didn't we? Are you not hungry?"
"Oh, I'm hungry," she agrees, rising up on her toes to hover inches from his lips. "But food is the last thing on my mind. I believe you said something about your mouth getting acquainted with my body…"
"Fuck, Katniss," he murmurs, sealing his lips to hers.
"Why don't we just order something in?" she whispers in between heated pecks. "Our time will be better spent in other ways. She arches a brow at him and lets the towel plummet down to the floor.
Peeta grins. "If you say so," he replies, dropping his mouth to briefly flick out his tongue over one stiff nipple before scooping her into his arms and carrying her back to his bedroom.
It's nearly impossible to keep her mind blank on Tuesday when she arrives at the art class, and she's relieved that there is just one session left after today. It's a new feeling shedding her clothes in front of the rest of the room this morning, because she knows Peeta is watching her, and now he knows her body so much more intimately than his classmates. He keeps giving her private smiles, and she keeps wondering if he's getting hard from staring at her naked body, and she'd really like nothing more than for the class to get the hell out and to take Peeta between the changing partition and give him head to relieve his erection.
The color wheel poster is an afterthought now; Peeta's mouth is a far more sensuous focal point, and it certainly keeps a healthy flush in her cheeks when she recalls how well he wielded it the other evening in his bed. His tongue was as wet as the paintbrush, but nowhere near as cold, and he had indeed spent a tantalizing amount of time traversing her skin with open-mouthed kisses and slow, but enthusiastic licks, leaving her writhing and begging for release. When he had settled between her legs and lapped at her pussy, she had shattered again and again until he finally ceased arcing his tongue back and forth over her swollen clit.
Her vivid memories cause the hour to pass much faster than usual, and Thursday goes just as quickly. Before she knows it, Cinna is beside her with the robe in hand.
"You did a great job. Thank you so much for your professionalism this past month."
When she steps around the partition after redressing, she catches Peeta's eye, and he gives her a subtle smile.
"Oh, you might like to know." Cinna places a hand on her arm to stop her from leaving the pedestal. "Tomorrow evening the gallery that I co-own is having a showing, and several of the students in the class will have their portraits of you on display."
He must see her eyes widen in horror because he gives her a gentle smile. "If it makes you uncomfortable, that's fine. I just wanted to extend the invitation to you to join us."
"Oh, I, um, thank you," she stammers. "I'll have to think about it."
Cinna cuts his eyes towards the center of the room. "I know he'd love for you to come. He has several pieces in the show."
Katniss blinks and stares at Cinna, and he gives another warm laugh. "It's hard to miss the way Peeta looks at you. His drawings of you are so markedly different from the other students' work."
"I, um…" She shakes her head and feels the heat rising on her cheeks.
"There's nothing to be ashamed of. I think you two make a lovely couple. In fact—" he winks "—I'm betting on you."
She's not exactly sure what one wears to an art gallery, and after much deliberation, she opts for a pair of skinny jeans and a clingy russet orange silk top. It's the only thing she owns that's close to his favorite color.
The showing opens to the public at seven, and she plans to surprise Peeta early, knowing he should be at his apartment by four, since his class on Friday gets out at three-thirty. She makes a dinner reservation at an upscale little bistro not far from Cinna's gallery, and with one last glance in the mirror, she heads for Peeta's place.
She fidgets when she rings the buzzer for his building, her stomach swooping inexplicably when she hears his voice crackle through the intercom.
"It's me…Katniss," she adds hastily—because are they there yet, where he recognizes her voice instantaneously? This thing is new to her, and she likes Peeta more than any other guy she's casually dated in college. She wants this to work.
He's already waiting for her in the doorway of his apartment, leaning against the doorjamb, his broad chest bare and his blond hair damp. He wears just a pair of athletic shorts, and the smile on his face is so wide that she quickens her pace down the hall and launches herself into his arms.
"This is a nice surprise," he murmurs against the crook of her neck, walking her backwards inside the apartment and slamming the door behind them. He gives her a lingering kiss and then holds her at arm's length. "You look incredible."
"And you look enticing," she teases, tugging at the waistband of his shorts. "Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"Just got out of the shower," he replies. "My afternoon class was canceled so I went to the gym instead."
"Big plans tonight?" she asks casually, running her thumb along the elastic again.
"Ah, no. Well, I have something for my class with Cinna, but I'll be around later, if you want to…" he trails off suggestively, quirking his lips at her.
"Peeta, why didn't you tell me about the showing at Cinna's gallery?"
She says it without any accusation in her tone, but his blue eyes widen in shock, and he steps back.
"Katniss, I...how do you know about that?"
"Cinna told me."
He drops his eyes and rubs at his jaw, and she can see him mentally composing a response, but the last thing she wants is for him to think she is upset with him.
"Peeta, I'm not angry or anything. Please don't think that."
"I didn't think you'd want to go," he answers quickly. "I know how much you wanted your privacy, and how much you guard your personal details, and I just thought if I showed up to the gallery with the model from class on my arm, well, people would ask you questions, and I'd have to make introductions, and that would make you uncomfortable…I just wanted to protect you. If I misjudged that, I'm sorry."
She feels her lips starting to tremble, her heart clenching with something she can't describe, because that is how she probably would have reacted—before him. He can read her like an open book already.
She closes the distance between them. "Peeta, the class is over now—for me, anyway. I'll never see any of those people again. None of them, that is, but the only one who matters to me." She winds her arms around his neck. "And I'd pretty much do anything he asks me to do."
"Oh?" he says, clutching her hips and pulling her against him. She can feel him growing hard, and she juts her pelvis against his a little. "So you really will come with me tonight?"
She doesn't bother to tamp down the tug beneath her navel at his unintentional double entendre. Instead, she splays her palm over his abdomen, ghosting her fingers along his breastbone, and she rises on her toes to murmur, "If that's what you want."
He grins as he nods. "That's what I want." He lowers his lips to hers again, hovering just above them as he whispers, "Thank you." Then he claims her mouth fully, and she melts against him. His tongue begs for entrance, and she parts her lips, welcoming him inside. He swallows one of her moans when he palms her ass and pushes her against his erection.
"You know what else I want?" he rasps between kisses.
"I have an idea," she pants, another moan erupting from her as he dips his mouth to ravage her neck. "I made…dinner reservations…I thought…oh God…we could make a little date of the evening."
Peeta spins her around and she issues a tiny squeal when he unexpectedly reaches down and gathers her into his arms. "That sounds wonderful. But do you have any objections to a slight change of plans?" He captures her lips again. "Because I want you so bad right now…"
Her thighs clench together, and she thinks she mumbles her assent, but expectancy crests in her belly and the sudden thumping of her heart drowns out all words.
He carries her swiftly into his bedroom and slams the door with his foot. "My roommate could come home at any time. Is that a problem?" he asks, carefully setting her down on quivering legs.
She shakes her head and moves to take off her top, but his hands still hers.
"I want to undress you. I wanted to the other day, but I…that wasn't my place then."
She blinks, and he takes her silence as permission, his fingers gripping the hem of her shirt, and she raises her hands above her head, feeling the soft fabric graze her breasts on the way up. Peeta's palms immediately cover the mounds, and she arches into his touch, wishing she hadn't bothered with her bra.
But there's something completely erotic about the way he lowers his lips to the cup, his tongue tracing the edge, laving a trail to tease her erect nipple through the fabric. She cries out and her fingers find purchase with the back of his head, nails scraping against his scalp. He showers the other nipple with equal attention before she feels his hands climb her back, and he toys with the bra's clasp. She mewls her approval when it releases and Peeta slowly peels the straps down her arms, staring at her breasts like it's the first time he's seeing them all over again.
"You're just…god, I'm lucky," he whispers against her skin, his lips brushing over the swell of her breast before his teeth nip at her, sucking the aching bud into his mouth.
Lips still fused around one nipple he walks her backwards, releasing it from his mouth only to cradle her as they awkwardly crawl onto the bed together. He finds the button on her jeans and pops it free, and she shimmies her hips to assist in getting the tight denim down her legs. He tosses her shoes aside and the jeans and her panties soon join them.
From his vantage at the foot of the bed, he gazes down at her, his eyes primal with want. "So beautiful," he praises, and he quickly slides his athletic shorts down, kicking them off, and her teeth drive into her lower lip, her clit throbbing at the sight of his cock.
When he lowers himself to kiss her again, he positions one leg between hers and cautiously presses his torso to hers. She keens softly at the sensation of him so close to where she wants him, and she's so wet, her body craving a release that only he can give her. She lunges up, meeting his mouth in a furious kiss.
"Get a condom," she begs. "I want you now."
His jaw flexes and he hesitates for a moment before reaching across her to pull open the bedside drawer. While he fumbles with the foil packet, the pads of her fingers probe the delicious bows of his shoulder blades, and she stretches up to let her teeth nick his right nipple before he recoils, the condom in his hand.
She plucks it from his hand and pushes him back onto his haunches, extricating herself from under his shins and rising up onto her knees. She tucks her hair behind her ear and ducks down to give the head of his cock a tentative lick, holding the base of his shaft as she rolls the condom down over the smooth skin. He bucks into her hand, and she kisses him feverishly again.
Peeta curls his hands around her hips and rolls them over, landing beneath her, and he stares up at her. She instinctively straddles his groin, her knees digging into the mattress as she hovers over him.
"Is this okay?" he whispers. "I want to watch you ride me."
She plants a hand on his left pectoral and nods, lifting her pelvis enough for him to rub his cock through her dripping folds, and she hisses with pleasure when he purposefully glides the head back and forth along her clit.
He grins wolfishly. "You're almost as wet as you were the other day…I love that I can have this effect on you."
He strains upward, his stomach muscles tensing as he kisses her. "Please what?"
She smacks his chest playfully, but all humor vanishes when he places himself at her entrance and guides her hips to meet his thrust up. She feels the delicious burn of him entering her, his thick girth stretching her, until he's sheathed within her completely, and he falls back, his fingers still gripping her waist.
She swivels her hips, smiling down at him, and his lips lift in a lazy, contended grin as he relinquishes control to her to set their pace.
"Fuck me, you're sexy," he murmurs.
She arcs her back and rises and falls on his cock slowly at first. But when Peeta moves one hand to massage her breast, rolling the nipple between his fingers, tweaking and pinching and sending all sorts of electrical impulses to her core, she speeds up the revolutions of her pelvis, fucking him harder, reveling in the growls vibrating in his throat.
"Oh, shit, Katniss…fuck, yes…"
She gets another thrill at the incoherent expletives falling from his lips. His hand wrenches between where their bodies are joined, seeking her clit, but the way he hits her with each thrust is already stimulating it perfectly. Nevertheless, when he draws fast circles over the swollen cluster of nerves, she cries his name and knows her orgasm is imminent, the familiar tightening spurring low in her abdomen.
"Peeta, I'm—" Her hips falter and her climax cleaves through her, her wails mingling with his raspy groans.
"Katniss," he hisses, and she feels him pulsing within her, her walls clenching him, and he pulls her down against him, their chests heaving together, and she feels his trembling abate only moments before that blissful calm floods her veins. His hand massages the back of her neck, his lips peppering her throat with chaste kisses, and while she feels him soften inside her, she's in no hurry for him to withdraw.
After several quiet minutes, he slips out of her and removes the condom, settling back alongside her when he's disposed of it.
"We should get dressed if you want to make that dinner reservation before the gallery opens," he whispers.
She yawns and nestles against him. "We can cancel it. I'd rather just lie here with you."
He chuckles softly and kisses her temple. "So far we're already oh-for-two on dinner."
She arches an eyebrow at him and rests her chin on his chest. "We could go right for dessert," she purrs, her hand resting atop his cock, squeezing it lightly. "And then we can just grab something after your show."
"I like the way you think," he muses, folding his arms behind his head as she licks her lips and descends on him.
The last four weeks of the semester pass in a blur, and as May arrives, Katniss's excitement mounts at the prospect of spending her summer with Peeta. They'll both have to work, of course, and Peeta's still waiting on word for the internship he applied for, but he's promised her a few lazy days at the beach—and many more nights just the two of them.
She adjusts the neckline of her dress, sneaking a furtive peek around the restaurant to be sure no one is watching her amp up her cleavage. Then she runs her tongue over her teeth to be sure there are no poppy seeds stuck in them from the artisan bread she already pilfered from the basket on the table.
And then she feels his lips on her neck, his hand on her shoulder, and she twists in her seat and looks up to meet his smiling face.
"Hey, sorry I'm late," he says, giving her a proper kiss hello, then he skirts his lips across to her ear. "You look so sexy. How am I supposed to sit across from you for a meal and behave myself?"
"Who said you had to behave yourself?" she smirks, taking a sip of her water, as he takes the chair beside her. "Besides I might not be able to help myself with you in that suit."
"Oh, the lady approves of this?" he teases, running a finger along the lapel of his jacket. Then his hand slips inside the breast pocket and produces a thin slip of paper. She can see that he's trying not to grin as he slides it over to her.
She gives him a quizzical look, and his grin breaks through as he reaches for a piece of bread. Katniss knits her brows and scans the sheet he handed her.
"You got an A on your Raven project!" she says excitedly.
"Read the comment below it," he mumbles after swallowing the mouthful of bread.
Her eyes flit back to the paper. "'See me, Mr. Mellark'?"
His eyes sparkle. "That's why I was late and why I asked you to meet me here—to celebrate. I went and saw Portia. She said she loved my vision, and that I'm 'exceptionally talented' and she wants me to apply for the Guggenheim Fellowship. She said she'd personally help me with the application."
"Oh my God, Peeta! That's phenomenal!" She leans across and grabs his hand. "Wait. What does that mean?"
He laughs and explains the prestigious program to her, and she listens carefully, still not really fully grasping how a fellowship works, but Peeta's enthusiasm is infectious, and she is elated for him.
"It's still a long shot," he hedges. "They don't award many fellowships each year, but Portia seems to think that this kind of art is not only unique, but potentially lucrative for my future."
"You're definitely, to quote your professor, 'exceptionally talented' and these people would be fools not to select you."
He shifts his chair closer to hers and rotates her hand in his so he can stroke the back of it with his thumb. "So would you be up for a few more body painting sessions this summer to pad my portfolio? Portia suggested some other ideas, and no one inspires me more than you…"
"Peeta, like you even have to ask."
"I figured." He smiles. "But I'm thinking this time we should discuss some terms for your modeling fee, Miss Everdeen."
She flashes him a coy smile in return. "Well, as long as the artist will always help take off the paint after he puts it on me, I think we're in business, Mr. Mellark."
"A small price to pay," he whispers, planting an innocent kiss on her lips, but his other hand sneaks under the table, and she feels it climb her bare thigh, inching dangerously closer to her panties. "Now can we order before I have to tell the waiter something came up, and I just take you back to my place to have my way with you?"
She keeps her eyes locked on his, and she frees her hand from his grasp, sliding it under the table to cup him over the groin of his pants. Then she raises her other hand to signal the waiter. "We're ready to order now, but we'll be needing it to-go." She smiles sweetly and rubs Peeta's rapidly swelling cock. "Something's suddenly come up."