"Why haven't you kissed me yet?"
The question has been burning her lips for a while now.
It's been weeks. No, months. Months since the accident. Months since those few days at the cabin. Months since she alternated between frightened, scared, tentatively reassured, safe, to frightened again. Months since that confrontation at the police station and that awed look in Ben's eyes when she hobbled in on those crutches.
The same look he's giving her right now.
Why does he always have to look at her like she hung the moon?
Why hasn't that look ever turned into a kiss?
He shakes his head, seemingly searching for the right words, but beyond the hard working of his jaw, he stays silent.
"It's because of the rape, isn't it? You think I'm broken, too, right? Damaged goods?"
"Damaged goods?" He spits the words in disgust. "Ciara, no. Never that. You should never use those words to describe yourself. You… You are…"
The kindest soul I've ever met.
The most beautiful woman I've ever seen up close.
"You're not goods, damaged or otherwise. You're Ciara."
"Then why? Do you not find me attractive?"
He can't help but scoff at that. Not attractive? Does the woman not know how freaking gorgeous she is, with that hair that just cascades down her shoulders? Those eyes that sparkle like emeralds. If he had any talent, he would write poem after poem on her mouth alone. Those full lips and the sensual way they move around his name.
He swallows and takes a deep breath. "You're beautiful, Ciara."
She scans his face. Beautiful is a word she'd be tempted to use for him. Though Ben is tall, and his body is nothing but long, lean muscles, his face is soft. Angelic. No matter how odd it is to use that word to describe a man who is essentially a serial killer. She stopped thinking of Ben in those terms a few weeks ago, a week or two after he moved in really, but every once in a while, reality catches up with her brain.
And then there's the fire at the cabin. She believes in his innocence—she does. But the case still hasn't been solved. Ted, Ben's lawyer, is convinced that Hope and Rafe are dragging their feet. Sadly, she doesn't disagree. But she doesn't want to think of her mom right now; doesn't want to dwell on how her mother feels about her new roommate situation. She knows her mom loves her, but all Hope sees is poor little Ciara.
Ben never looks at her like that.
He gazes at her earnestly. "How could I? How could I kiss you, Ciara?"
"So, I was right. It is because of the rape."
He takes another deep breath. They're alone at the loft, sitting on the couch where he was lying down a few weeks ago after Claire hit him with a frying pan. Now, Claire seems to seek out all opportunities to leave him alone with Ciara. He suspects she has an ulterior motive, but he can't complain about the time alone with this beautiful woman. Ciara, she's… everything. And that scares him. She's all he has. She's the only one who trusts him. She's the only one to look at him like a human being. And lately, like he's more than that. Like maybe he's an object of desire.
"It is and it's not." She's about to protest but he cuts her off by putting his hand on her arm. "The rape is a part of you, Ciara. Just like my past is a part of me. And my past weights just as heavily in the balance. If not more. How can I, the serial killer, kiss you, the sweetest person I've ever known? I can't do that."
"Why not?" There's frustration in her tone.
"Because you're all I have!" he exclaimed. And he doesn't miss the way her muscles tense under his fingers. Another reason not to kiss her. He can still scare her so easily. He removes his hand, but she grabs it with hers and brings it up to her face. His palm lingers on her soft cheek, brushes against her hair. That hair, he can almost smell it. Almost feel like he buried his face in it, many times—every time she let him find peace in her and forget about everything else. Except she never did. This only happened in his fantasies. In those five minutes he steals in the shower every day.
Ben's hand wraps around her neck, and they both stop breathing. Just for a beat.
He's right. His past is a heavier weight in the balance. And realizing that is… liberating somehow. She's always worried about bringing the bigger baggage. And now that Tripp knows about this baggage, it always stands between them, like a physical presence. But with Ben…
She takes his hand and brings his palm to her lips. She kisses it, right at the centre, and she feels him shudder, just from that. She can make Ben shudder simply by kissing his palm. How… wonderful is that? She drops his hand and it hangs awkwardly between them until she closes the gap, takes his beautiful face between her hands, and just kisses him.