Title: The Queen of Hearts
Characters: Paire, Ensemble, hints of Peter/Simone
Genre: Romance, UST, Humor, Angst
Rating: M (for this chapter)
Disclaimer: I don't own Heroes or any of its characters, nor do I own the lyrics in the summary, which are from the song Desperado.

Summary: "Don't you draw the queen of diamonds, boy. She'll beat you if she's able. You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet." Living with Claire teaches Peter the difference between love and infatuation. AU after Fallout.

A/N: Did you guys think I forgot about you? Alas, I did not. Real life has been conspiring against me, trying to keep me from completing this chapter. If you care to hear my excuses, I'll probably rant about them on my journal at some point. Anyway, here it is, the long awaited Chapter 20. I hope it's worth the wait. And heads up about the elevated rating for this chapter. There's a good chance I might move this fic over to the M section.

To all Wolverine/Rogue shippers: it should become highly apparent that I'm one of you.

Chapter Twenty: Age Is Just a Number

Claire was sitting at Isaac's table with Matt, whom Audrey, after seeing how very real Isaac's gift was, had ordered to stay in New York to wait for more clues while she investigated Sylar's most reason murder. Micah was off spending time with his bandaged up parents while Hiro and Ando sat on the couch, faces glued to the television screen.

Oh, and Simone was back. Granted, Isaac had invited her over, citing that several paintings had been fulfilled during their confrontation with Ted, but still. It wasn't like the paintings would self-destruct if they weren't taken to the gallery immediately, so was it really necessary for her to come today?

Claire seethed, watched as Simone kept smiling and laughing, giving Isaac discreet little touches that weren't actually discreet at all. And didn't Simone tell her yesterday that she was planning on seeing Peter at Nathan's party or whatever tonight?

Claire couldn't help feeling a little bitter. This was who Peter had passed her up for? Someone who couldn't even decide if she wanted him or her ex-boyfriend?

She gazed dejectedly at the woman that Peter had chosen, from the expensive looking pendant dangling around her neck, down her slim body, to endless legs strapped to the little stilettos on her feet. No wonder he wanted Simone. Claire didn't think she'd ever be that beautiful.

"Nonsense," Matt turned the page of his newspaper, "You're already a stunner. Give it a couple years, and you'll leave her in the dust."

"Yeah?" Claire beamed over at him, "I guess I do have better hair."

He grinned, "That's the spirit."


Claire finished washing her hands and dried them on the hand towel before opening the bathroom door and coming face to face with Simone.

"Hello, Claire," Simone greeted her with a smile.

She inclined her head at Simone and decided to take the high road, just to walk away, but with each step she took, she could feel the anger welling up inside her, finally boiling over. She whipped around, "What are you even doing here?"

Simone stood, poised with her hand on the doorknob, "Beg your pardon?" and the words weren't defensive or rude, just questioning.

"I just don't get it," didn't bother trying to keep the accusation out of her voice, "Why are you all over Isaac all of a sudden?"

Simone gave an amused little laugh, "All over him?" but Claire just stared at her, expecting an answer, and Simone sighed before responding politely, "No offense, Claire, but I really don't think that's any of your business."

The little innocent act was getting irritating. "Isaac andPeter are two of the greatest guys I've ever met, and I think it's really low, what you're doing to them.

Simone let go of the doorknob and drew her arms up to fold across her chest, arching a finely shaped brow, "And just what am I doing?"

Her eyes narrowed, "Don't play dumb."

"I think you're out of line, Claire."

And Simone's patronizing tone just pissed her off even more. "Don't talk to me like I'm a child."

Simone responded calmly, "Then stop acting like one."

All those awful emotions she'd been keeping to herself came rushing up all at once, and she just couldn't hold them in anymore, "You know what? You're right; I am young. But that's only temporary. But you?" her eyes bore into Simone's as she finished evenly, "You will always be a bitch."

Then she turned on her heal and stormed off, and though her actions might've been a little on the immature side, they still felt damn good.


Even though Simone was long gone, Claire was still hiding away, fuming about their confrontation. She was curled up in front of the painting of her near kiss with Peter, and she was surely a masochist because she couldn't stop looking at it.

She trailed her fingertips along the painted curve of his face. God, he looked good that night.

This was pathetic. Here she was, still pining away for him, missing him like crazy when he was probably off getting ready for Nathan's event, making sure he looked good for Simone.

"The painting is very beautiful."

Claire turned her head to see Hiro approaching her. He kneeled down beside her and offered her a gentle smile, and she looked at the canvas again, the way the figures were completely wrapped up in each other, the longing on Peter's face as he held her so lovingly in his arms.

She shook her head, couldn't help feeling bitter, "It's all lies."

Hiro looked back and forth between her and the painting. "Peter-kun," patted his hand over his heart, "loves Cheerleader Claire."

Her shoulders slumped. "No, he doesn't."

Hiro looked back at the painting, brows furrowed, then tried to explain why she had to be wrong about Peter's feelings, "You are 'power couple.' Like Cyclops and Jean Grey."

She remembered that movie. "If anyone's Jean, it's Simone. She's the one everyone seems to want," the resentment was clear in her voice, "If anything, I'm the girl with the freaky skin thing, the social pariah who ran away from home."

"Rogue," he supplied.

"That's the one."

A succinct nod. "Then you and Peter-kun can be power couple like Rogue and Gambit."

"Who's Gambit?"

He held up a hand, tips of his first two fingers and thumb pressed together, "Card," mimed what looked like throwing a Frisbee. "Boom."

She gave him a blank look. "I don't remember that."

His face fell. "But – He's her main boyfriend."

Huh? "I thought the ice guy was her boyfriend."

"In movies," he conceded.

Shrugged one shoulder, "I've only seen the movies."

"Oh." Then a victorious little smile emerged on his face. "You and Peter-kun can be Rogue and Iceman from movies."

Because that particular relationship turned out so well. "Doesn't he like that Kitty girl now? And besides, I always thought Rogue had a thing for the sexy claw guy."

"Okay, you and Peter-kun can be Rogue and Wolverine."

She didn't bother pointing out that Wolverine didn't want Rogue, that he only ever seemed to want Jean, whom, incidentally, they'd already established as Simone. Go figure.

Hiro must've seen that she wasn't exactly satisfied with the comparison. "You should have faith in Peter-kun," gave her an encouraging pat on the shoulder, "A hero must have faith."

She let out a self-depreciating laugh. "I'm not much of a hero," and she didn't need advice that sounded like it came from a fortune cookie, especially when it didn't apply to her.

But he didn't share her assessment of herself. In all earnestness, "You are hero. You saved my life," he looked meaningfully down at her hand that had regenerated. "Thank you."

She really hadn't given much thought to what happened with Ted. All her thoughts seemed to revolve around Peter; she was always so wrapped up in everything that was happening between them that she rarely ever thought about anything else.

Suddenly, she felt like a bit of a heel. Hiro had been bending over backwards trying to make her feel better: her teddy bear, the cheer, and his reassurance of Peter's feelings, even if it was riddled with superhero references.

Yet she was still sulking and feeling sorry for herself. God, she must seem so ungrateful right now. She was definitely going to have to work on that, and the first step was to get her mind off of Peter. "Thanks for trying to cheer me up, Hiro, but do you want to know what would really make me feel better?"


After she'd explained to Hiro what she wanted, he'd urged the other guys – Isaac, Ando, and Matt – into the kitchen to hear her request. At first, she'd felt a bit presumptuous for thinking she had the right to ask these guys for anything, but Hiro's encouraging smile made her feel like it was okay.

They were all waiting expectantly so she took a deep breath and began, "I'm having serious self-esteem issues right now, and I need to stop moping and get out of the apartment. That's where you guys come in." The guys, minus Hiro, looked at her warily, and she gave them a bright smile. "You're going to take me out to a nice, fancy dinner, and you're going to fawn over me and make me feel pretty," when Matt opened his mouth to interrupt, "and yes, Matt, that includes you."

"But I don't really have the proper attire…"

Waved her hand dismissively, "That's not an excuse. I'm sure Hiro can help you out; he's better than FedEx."

He shook his head at her, amused, "You're a bossy little thing."

She raised her eyebrow, daring him to continue along that train of thought, and his mouth snapped shut. She gave a slight nod of satisfaction before addressing the whole group. "Now, I'm going to take a shower, and when I get out, you guys better be properly groomed, wearing suits, and ready to buy me a dress."

Ando glanced around at the other guys before questioning, "Buy you a dress?"

She nodded.

Isaac exchanged a wary look with Ando, "And who, exactly, is doing the buying?"

She looked at him as if that was the dumbest question she'd ever heard. "I have four guys taking me out on a date; if I can't sweet talk one of you, I really have lost my touch."


After getting out of the shower, she'd rummaged in the cabinets below the sink until she came out with a hairdryer. At first, she was reluctant to use it since it most likely belonged to Simone – unless Isaac had a penchant for making his hair fluffy – but if Simone could steal her guy, then Claire could sure as hell borrow a hairdryer.

But her reasoning didn't mean much since she couldn't get the hairdryer to actually work. She banged it on the counter a few times – the tried and true method of fixing finicky electronics – but no dice.

She huffed, wrapped her towel more securely around her, and headed out to find Micah. When she reached the main room, Isaac, Hiro, Ando, and Matt were all sitting around, dressed in suits just like she'd requested.

"Where's Micah?" she asked, getting their attention.

They all turned to look at her with raised eyebrows and dumbfounded looks, probably because the only thing covering her was a little piece of terrycloth, and any other time, that might've embarrassed her, but right now, she was on a mission.

She tapped her foot, "Well?" shot a irritated look at the hairdryer in her hand, "I need him to fix this stupid thing."

Matt's eyes twinkled with amusement. "Aren't you getting a little worked up? It's just hair."

She huffed, "Yeah, well, my hair's the only thing I have going for me, remember?"

Isaac finally pointed over his shoulder, "Micah's in the other room with his parents."

Claire nodded her thanks and headed off in the direction he'd pointed, then turned back around with a bright smile on her face, "By the way, you guys clean up real nice," ending with a saucy wink before exiting the room.


"How are you guys?" She asked D.L. and Niki, who were lounging around on an air mattress while Micah tinkered with the hairdryer.

D.L. groaned theatrically. "In pain."

Niki laughed, "Don't listen to him. He's a big baby."

"A big baby who's in pain," grumbled D.L.

Niki shared a smile with her. "So," Niki began, "I hear you've roped the guys into taking you out."

Claire grinned, shrugged one shoulder.

D.L. looked up at her from his position on the mattress. "If I wasn't on enough painkillers to choke a donkey, I'd go just to see the show."


"Hiro's going, right?"

She nodded.

"Then it'll be a show."

Micah tapped her on the shoulder and handed her the newly repaired hairdryer. "Here ya go."

She beamed down at him. "Thanks. That was fast."

The corner of his mouth quirked up into a smirk, "That was nothing."

Claire smiled at everyone and took a few steps back toward the door. "I better go get ready."

"Hope you have fun," D.L. said. "You look like you could use it."

"Gee, thanks," she replied sarcastically, then, more seriously, "It's just… with everything that's going on with Peter…"

He waved her off, "I understand. You know, my offer to kick his ass is still on the table."

"Or I could have Jessica do it," Niki put in. "It'd probably hurt more."

And risk Peter turning all sexy on her again? While the thought had some obvious appeal, she'd have to pass. If Peter kissed her again, there was a good chance she'd lose whatever strength and resolve she'd gained. "I appreciate the offer, but no thanks.

When she headed back into the bathroom, fresh clothes and her makeup bag were waiting for her on the counter, and she smiled fondly at how they must've gotten there. Hiro really was better than FedEx.


Dress shopping with four guys? A surprisingly fun experience.

Ando held up a slinky little red dress. "This one's pretty."

Claire opened her mouth to tell Ando what she thought about it, but Matt beat her to it. "She's not digging the shaded chiffon."

The guys all stopped what they were doing to stare at him, and Isaac finally arched his brow and asked, "How do you know what chiffon is?"

"What?" blank look, "I read her thoughts."

Ando's eyes narrowed shrewdly. "Likely story."

"No no no," Matt waved off their insinuations. "I'm a guy. A manly guy. I have a gun."

Isaac glanced down at Matt's crotch and smirked, "That's good to know."

"Aww." Claire stepped into Matt's side and hugged him around the waist. "Quit picking on the new guy."

Matt wrapped an arm around her shoulders and gave the others a smug grin. "Yeah, guys, quit picking on me."

"Would you look at that," Isaac said to Ando and Hiro, "The guy's been with us a day and already he's trying to steal our girl."

Our girl. Was that how they thought of her? She kind of liked the idea, liked that she was somehow special to this group of misfits, as if they held her up on some kind of pedestal like a beloved younger sister. Made her feel a bit like a princess.

Before, she'd thought they were only going through with her little 'date' idea because they'd felt sorry for her, but maybe there was more to it than that, a suspicion that was pretty much confirmed once she started trying on dresses. No guy would've put up with all her little demands – sending them off for different sizes, having them put the castoffs back on hangers – unless they cared about her.

When she finally emerged from the dressing room wearing a short black cocktail dress with a daring neckline, they whistled and applauded, and she was a little surprised when Ando was the one who offered to buy the dress. "Anything for a pretty girl."

She wondered if Hiro talked to him and made him agree to indulge her this evening, or if maybe Ando was just the kind of guy who really did have a weakness for 'pretty girls,' then decided it didn't matter and planted a kiss on his cheek. Ando rubbed his hand against his cheek, and she laughed when the other guys started complaining about not getting kisses, too.

When they started offering up suggestions on where to go, Ando said he'd found the perfect place in the newspaper Matt had been reading this morning.

"Was some restaurant advertising or something?" Isaac asked.

Ando grinned. "Something like that."


"Um, Ando? I don't think this is a restaurant." She and the others looked over the huge building with the fancy trimmings and tall stone pillars. It looked like it was some grand hotel or something.

"It's perfect," Ando replied. "It's fancy, there is a dance floor, and the food is free."

Hiro furrowed his brows. "How is the food free?"

Ando gave a careless shrug. "It's some big shot party. We can blend in with the other guests."

Isaac looked at him incredulously, "You want us to crash a party?"

"Why not?" Ando responded. "New York is expensive."

"Not to rain on anyone's parade," Matt interjected, "but won't something like this be invitation only?"

Ando clapped a hand on Hiro's shoulder. "That's where Hiro comes in."

Looking out at the imposing building, Hiro swallowed, then pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.


God hated her. Either that or He really liked toying with her. Out of all the places they could've possibly gone, they just had to pick the one that Peter just happened to be at.

She felt so stupid. She should've foreseen this. She'd known that Nathan had this huge event happening tonight, so when Ando had said this was some 'big shot party,' it should've connected that the 'big shot' was Nathan.

Shortly after Hiro used his powers to sneak them in, her eyes had landed on Peter, as if they were somehow programmed to seek him out. Isaac had followed her gaze and immediately told her that they could leave, find somewhere else to go, but she shook her head; she wasn't going to let herself be scared off, didn't want to be that girl.

The massive room was bright and pristine, the kind with the oversized crystal chandelier hanging over it. It was a little stuffy and formal for her tastes but beautiful nonetheless.

People were milling about, chatting, laughing, sipping champagne from delicate little flutes, and Peter was one of them, hair pushed back off his face, standing at Nathan's side, making small talk with a couple grey-haired men. And though Peter looked amazing in the tailored suit he wore, she couldn't help wanting to run her hands through his hair just to muss it up a bit.

On the bright side, he hadn't seen her yet, though that probably had something to do with her hiding behind the guys over by the refreshments, and thankfully, Simone was off mingling with a separate group of people so she hadn't had to watch them fawn over each other.

She sighed. The whole point of this little outing was to get her mind off Peter, which obviously wasn't going to happen if she kept staring at him like this.

Okay. New tactic.

She smiled at her boys, who were munching away on over-garnished hors d'oeuvres. "Are any of you ever going to ask me to dance?"

They all froze and looked over at her wearing the expressions of deer caught in headlights. Their eyes darted around at each other, waiting for someone to speak up so they wouldn't have to.

Claire folded her arms over her chest and suppressed the urge to stomp her foot like a petulant little girl. "Well?"

Isaac finished chewing the food in his mouth and swallowed. "I guess I can."

Glowering, "Don't sound so excited." She looped her arm around his and urged him toward all the other dancing couples.

When they reached the dance floor, she and Isaac stood there, facing each other, and there was a brief fumbling of limbs before they got into the proper position, her left hand resting on his shoulder, his right on the small of her back, free hands raised and clasped together.

Tentatively, they started swaying, shuffling their feet from side to side. Isaac grimaced, "Sorry. Dancing's not exactly my forte."

"You could always break out the Blues Brothers," she teased.

He snorted. "They might kick us out if I do that."

"Aw, come on," she cajoled, "I'm sure there's some nice old lady here who would love to learn the twist."


Smiled, shrugged her shoulder, "I thought so."

He pulled her in a little closer, feeling a bit more confident, and promptly stepped on her toe. "Sorry. You can't say I didn't warn you."

Giggling, "Just – stop focusing so much on your feet." Pointed up at her eyes, "Look up at me."

His eyes still aimed at the floor, "If I don't look at my feet, I won't be able to stop them from stepping on your toes."

She moved her hand beneath his chin and lifted it up. "If you keep looking at them, you're going to step on my toes anyway."

And that's how Peter found them: their bodies close from dancing, wide smiles on their faces, her hand resting under Isaac's chin.

Claire's eyes widened when she saw Peter standing there glowering at the both of them.

"What are you two doing here?" His words were laced with accusation, and Claire immediately felt guilt creep up inside her before remembering that she had nothing to feel guilty about.

So she pushed those feelings down and smiled brightly, "We're dancing."

When she stepped in even closer to Isaac, Peter's eyes narrowed at her. "Can we talk?" a brief glance at Isaac, "Alone?"

Her flippant response, "Can it wait till later? I'm kind of in the middle of something."

Smiling awkwardly, Isaac said to them, "Maybe I should leave you two alone."

Peter glared over at him, "I think that's a good idea."

Peter had always seemed jealous of her friendship with Isaac, but now she wondered if that jealousy was just an extension of his and Isaac's little battle for Simone.

Her grip on Isaac tightened, "You don't have to go," but he extricated himself from her arms despite her protestations.

"I think you two have some talking to do," he told her before offering her a small smile and heading back over to the other guys.

She turned back to Peter, "Are you happy now?"

"Not even close." He took the crook of her elbow and started marching her toward the doors at the back of the room.

Through those doors was an expansive foyer diverting into a wide staircase and two separate corridors. The moonlight flooding through the many windows was the only source of light. She vaguely wondered if they should be wandering around the building like this but didn't dare mention anything to Peter about it.

He led her down one of the corridors, didn't stop until they rounded a corner, then turned to face her. The shadows played off Peter's face, his eyes dark and intent, filled with anger – she'd never seen him so mad. "Why are you doing this?" he hissed.

A burst of self-righteous anger roared up at the way he was behaving, and she jerked her arm out of his grasp. "Why do you care?" she challenged.

His eyes narrowed. "You know why."

Crossing her arms over her chest, she lifted a single brow at him. "No, I don't think I do."

Expression darkening, "You were all over him, Claire."

She scoffed. "Hardly. And even if I was, that's none of your business."

"Like hell, it's not!"

"No, Peter. It's not. I can do whatever I want with Isaac."

His scowl deepened at her words. "So what? You're just gonna drop me and go after him, now?"

"Drop you?" she asked, baffled. "There's nothing to drop! You had plenty of chances with me, but you never took any of them!" So much for trying to act aloof, but he'd hurt her, and she wanted him to know it. "You knew how I felt. You heard it. But you just left me hanging. Do you just like it when I throw myself at you?"

"Dammit, Claire. Do you think this has been easy for me?" He shoved an agitated hand through his hair, "Fuck!" started pacing before her. "I'm twenty-six years old! I shouldn't even think about being with you. I mean, look at you," gestured over her, "you're just a teenager!"

She flinched. "Well, at least now I know how you feel." She brushed past him, and he huffed in frustration before following after her.

She only made it a few feet before she whirled back around. "You know what? I'm sick of having my age thrown in my face!" jabbed her finger at his chest, "Just because I'm young doesn't make my feelings any less real."

He gave her an annoyed look. "That's not what I meant, and you know it."

"How? How do I know? You're, like, the master of mixed signals. One minute you want me and the next, you don't!"

"It's not that simple!" he shot back.

"Isn't it?" She could think of tons of examples to back up her point. "What about those things you said that night I wore your shirt, about me never having to be alone? Huh? Or how 'bout what you told me in the cab?" When he averted her eyes, she felt a smug sense of satisfaction and pressed on, "I thought you meant…" gestured with her hand, letting him fill in the rest. "But you never even mentioned it again!"

His expression grew tender, "Claire."

But she didn't want his tenderness, didn't want to be placated. The dam had finally broken, her feelings spilling out, and she wasn't about to stop just because it was making him feel a little uncomfortable. "And what about our little 'science experiment'? You were all over me, and then you just stopped." His jaw clenched, but she pressed on, gesturing wildly, "And the next morning you avoided me completely!"

He suddenly snapped, getting right up in her face, "That wasn't because I didn't want you! It was because I wanted you too much!"

Her heart flipped at his words, but she was quick to rein it back in. He was with Simone, so God only knew why he was suddenly owning up to his feelings for her.

She shook her head at him, "You can't keep doing this to me, Peter. You can't keep stringing me along," hated the pleading in her voice, "Why won't you just make up your mind?"

Exasperated, "I have!"

His words were like a punch to the gut. But he was right. She just hadn't wanted to accept that he wanted Simone instead of her. For an endless moment, she stared into his stormy eyes, watched as his chest heaved up and down. "Yeah. I guess you have."

Just because she didn't like his decision, didn't mean he hadn't made one. She was the one who kept holding on, the one who refused to let go.

But not anymore.

She could feel angry, resentful tears welling up behind her eyes, but hell if she was going to let him see them. "I gotta go." She hurried past him, desperate to get back to the doors, as if they could somehow protect her from whatever rejection he was about to deal out.

He growled in frustration, "Would you just wait!"

At his words, fury tore through her body, and she spun back around, "I already waited! I waited all night for you in that stupid angel costume! And the whole time, you were out sleeping with her!" And just like that, the fury was gone, leaving her broken and weak. So much for not letting him see her cry. She didn't bother wiping the tears away, just let them fall, didn't have the energy to pretend like she was strong.

He looked stunned by her outburst, and she waited for him to explain his actions, to offer her a reason, make up some kind of excuse, but when he just kept looking at her, her shoulders slumped, feeling stupid for expecting anything from him. She sniffled a little as she tried to walk away again.

He grabbed her arm, "I didn't sleep with Simone."

But his words left her unaffected. She didn't know what to think about him and Simone anymore; she was too weary to even care. "However you feel about Simone, about me –" a careless shrug, "It doesn't even matter anymore."

She drew in a shaky breath and ran a hand through her hair. "I can't keep doing this. I can't. It hurts," and she was tired of hurting, tired of being in limbo with him, and she wasn't going to let herself hope anymore. "I'm so sick of feeling like this, like I'm waiting around for something that's never gonna happen."

She looked up at him tearfully, her voice nearly breaking, "I care about you so much, Peter, but I'm done waiting for you."

This time, when she turned to leave, he made no move to stop her.

She felt lost as she turned her back on him – this wasn't the way things between them were supposed to go. As she walked away, she tried to convince herself that this was for the best, that she needed to cut her ties to him if she was ever going to stand a chance at getting over him, and she was about to round the corner and enter the main corridor when…


She stopped in her tracks – would she ever be able to refuse him anything? – closed her eyes, more tears slipping down her cheeks, before turning back around to face him. "Why should I?"

There was a moment's hesitation before he came to some sort of decision, and out of all the words he could've possibly said, the ones that came out of his mouth were the last she'd ever expected. "You still owe me a kiss."

She stared at him dumbly, unsure if she'd heard him right. "What?"

He started advancing on her, his eyes holding a glint she'd never seen in them before. "It's my kiss, Claire." He drew nearer, a few more steps, and all she could do was stand there, frozen to the spot, as his voice caressed its way over her skin and made his demand. "I want my kiss."

Her heart pounded as he came even closer, the blood roaring in her ears, rushing through her veins, her body trembling in anticipation.

And then he was right in front of her, looming over her, his chest brushing against hers. She pressed her palms against him and took a step back, needing some sort of space between them, not understanding what had come over him at all. "Peter…"

But he pulled her back against him, leaned in close, close enough for her to feel his breath on her face, "You owe me." She sucked in a shuddering breath when he slid his hand up her spine to cup the nape of her neck. "And I'm collecting."

Then he crushed his mouth to hers.

His lips moved over hers hungrily, as if at any moment she might fade away, as if this was his last chance to have her, his only chance to convince her to stay with him.

She'd be lying if she said it didn't overwhelm her, but this was Peter, and he was kissing her, finally kissing her, and she wasn't going to give him any excuse to stop. She pushed her shyness away, reached up and fisted her hands in the lapels of his jacket, pulling him even closer to her.

But there was some niggling doubt festering around in the back of her mind, and as much as she wanted to ignore it, she couldn't; she was so scared he was going to take this back, tell her it was a mistake after all, that they couldn't do this. There were a million questions she wanted to ask him, but the only one she could get out was "What about Simone?"

"Forget Simone." He barely stopped kissing her long enough to answer, as if the issue didn't warrant any attention at all, and the easy way he dismissed her question made her heart flutter in her chest, casting away the last tendrils of doubt.

She surged forward, burying her hands in his hair, arching into him and kissing him more insistently. The reaction was immediate: his eager hands spanned her back, yanking her flush up against him as he plundered her mouth even more urgently.

The way he tasted, heady and rich, was intoxicating. And his scent – she hadn't been lying when she'd said she liked it. Everything about this man was perfect. And she wanted it all, wanted to touch every inch of him, imprint herself on his skin, make it so no one could have him but her.

Her hands moved eagerly over his chest, and as incredible as he looked in this suit, it was starting to frustrate her that she couldn't feel anything through the thick material. Reaching down, she fumbled with the jacket's buttons, finally getting them undone, then smoothed her hands back up to push it off his shoulders. Peter's hands left her body long enough to shake the jacket off, letting it fall haphazardly to the floor, and then they were back on her, running up and down her sides, caressing her through the thin material of her dress, tilting her head to kiss her even deeper.

His reaction to her made her bold. She tugged his dress shirt free from the waistband of his pants and slid her hands up under it to feel the heated skin of his back. He was all hard planes and sinewy muscle, and she couldn't help running her hands all along them, up to his shoulder blades, greedy for the feel of him. When she raked her fingernails across his skin, he groaned into her mouth and kissed her even harder – her every little response was like adding gasoline to the flame, just made him that much more eager.

She felt his hands roving across her back, smoothing up the bare skin of her thighs. "You shaved your legs." The way he said it was almost an accusation. "For Isaac?"

"Don't be stupid," she shot down the notion immediately – the idea of her wanting anyone but him was absurd. "It's you. It's always been you." His eyes darkened, chest heaving, and he hauled her to him, turned, and pushed her up against the wall.

God, she half expected to see Jessica rounding the corner at any moment.

His touches were normally so careful, so gentle, but there was nothing careful or gentle in the way he wedged his leg in between hers, pressing up into the juncture of her thighs, pining her between him and the wall, his hands cupping her jaw, holding her in place as his mouth moved over hers in fervent, bone-melting kisses. And though her shoulder blades pressed uncomfortably against the hard, unyielding surface, she gripped his shoulders, urging him on, reveling in the feel of his body crowding her against the wall, making her feel so small, so unbelievably feminine.

She could feel something, hard and insistent, prodding at her hip, and she had to suppress the urge to blush when she realized what it was – acting like some nervous, inexperienced virgin wasn't exactly the message she wanted to send.

And though he was still kissing her, still clutching her body to his, pressing her hard against the wall, she wanted more. But the last time she'd tried to get it, he'd stopped her.

But this time felt different. She decided to take the chance, pushed her pelvis forward, up along the thigh she straddled, bringing her hips flush with his, rubbing shamelessly against the erection jutting into her belly.

He let out a low hiss. "God, Claire." His hands immediately reached down, landing low on her hips, and she braced herself for another refusal – now was the time where he stopped and pulled away – but he merely dug his fingers into the flesh of her hips and encouraged her to move again.

This time, when she rolled her hips into his, he met the movement with one of his own, then pulled back, using his hands to slide her down his thigh, then back up, dragging her heated core up his thigh till their hips met again. She splayed her fingers across his back beneath his shirt and moved her hips again, grinding against him, meeting him thrust for thrust.

His hands fisted in the material of her dress, bunching the skirt up around her hips to get it out of the way, then slid his hands under it to grip her hips just over the thin straps of her underwear and started guiding her movements, urging her into a faster pace.

And for a while, that was all that existed, just the frenzied rocking of their hips as she rode his thigh, the delicious slide of his body against hers, harsh, gasping breaths, moans their kisses didn't quite muffle. Her whole body felt like it was on fire, like it was being overloaded with sensation: the wet heat of his tongue sliding against hers, her aching nipples rubbing against his chest, his slacks grazing her inner thighs as the slick material of her panties dragged over her clit – it was too much and not enough.

She clung to him and worked her hips, needing something, so close but just out of reach. "Peter," she panted breathlessly, and he seemed to understand exactly what she needed. He reached a hand down between their bodies and cupped her sex, and she gasped when he started rubbing her through the fabric of her underwear. Her grip on him tightened, nails biting into the slick skin of his back as she bucked against his hand. The low heat in her belly coiled even more, winding tighter and tighter; she thrashed around in his arms, her inner muscles clenching, legs trembling, quick, shallow breaths, just a few more strokes…

Then everything flew apart.

Peter hauled her to him and thrust frantically against her while she pressed soft kisses against his throat, tasting the salt on his skin, and it wasn't long before his hips jerked against hers and he joined her over the edge.

His body slumped against her, head resting on her shoulder, and she just held him close, stroking her hands down his back soothingly.

She could feel his warm breaths on the crook of her neck slowly starting to calm back down and even out.

He raised his head up and asked her wryly, "Still think I don't want you?"

And she laughed, let any remaining tension drain out of her body, and soon he was he chuckling with her, his thumbs tracing lazy circles along her hips. Amazed that this man was actually holding her like this, that Peter was holding her like this, she reached up and fingered his hair, it definitely wasn't slicked back anymore, though it was slightly damp from sweat.

God, had that really just happened? Had they really just come in each other's arms? The thought might've made her blush if she had any energy left, but right now, she just wanted to bask, curl into his body, immerse herself in him, and prolong this heady euphoria forever. And it was a good thing his thigh was still pressed between hers because it was the only thing keeping her on her feet.

Peter pressed a kiss to her temple and looked down at her lovingly, "Simone and I – whatever it was between us is done now. I ended things with her. That's why I was so late the other night."

And it was such a new way of viewing things. She thought back to everything that had happened over the past couple days, all the things that had made her so sure that he'd chosen Simone…

Claire's mind whirled, taking apart the puzzle she'd put together based on her assumptions and fitting the pieces back together according to what Peter had just told her.

Simone's behavior, flirting with Isaac, the cell phone – maybe Simone given it to Claire so she wouldn't have to face an awkward, post-break up meeting with Peter.

And the things Nathan had said? Maybe Nathan just didn't know what he was talking about. He was a politician, so that wasn't exactly a stretch.

When Peter had come over to Isaac's, he'd let on that something had happened with Simone, something that he wanted to talk to her about. She'd just assumed he was trying to let her down gently, but maybe she'd jumped the gun. God, had she really misunderstood that badly?

She gazed up at him with a new light shining in her eyes. "You really broke up with her to be with me?"

He let out a sigh. "I'll be honest with you. I didn't want to rush into anything." When she tried to avert her eyes, he tilted her chin back up to make her look at him. "I was going to suggest we take things slow." He glanced down at the intimate position of their hips and added wryly, "But I guess that plan's shot to hell."

She giggled, cheeks turning a little pink, but then his expression turned serious, "Did I go too fast?"

Smiling softly at how concerned he sounded, "No. I mean – I didn't really expect…" struggled vainly for words to describe what they'd done that didn't include dry humping, "that. But no, it wasn't too fast."

"I didn't mean for it to go that far. I just –" he ran a hand through his hair, "you were walking away, and I was afraid I was going to lose you if I didn't make a move." He rubbed the back of his neck and smiled sheepishly, "I guess I kind of got carried away. I didn't scare you, did I?

"No," she was quick to reassure. Smiling, she ducked her head and looked up at him demurely through her lashes, "Actually, it was kinda hot."

"Just 'kinda'?" he asked, sounding a little put out.

"Really hot," she amended.

His hands spanned her ribcage as he playfully brushed his nose against hers, "Yeah?" then tilted his head and caught her bottom lip, nipping at it before coaxing her mouth open and sliding his tongue inside.

He was so gentle this time, tender caresses along her collarbone, her jaw, moving his lips languidly against hers, indulging in wet, lewd kisses that made her all too aware of his thigh still lodged firmly between hers. She rolled her hips into his, felt immensely pleased with herself when he groaned into her mouth. Feeling a bit impish, she asked him, "Does this mean you're my boyfriend now?"

Though her remark sounded teasing, she was very serious. She needed to know exactly where they stood with each other, couldn't bear going back to whatever vague, undefined relationship they'd had before.

Peter chuckled, brushed his lips softly against hers. "Looks like it."

Letting out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, a slow smile emerged on her face, "And I get touching privileges?" smoothed her hands across his chest to emphasize her question.

He grinned at her. "Knock yourself out."

"Really? I can touch you anytime I want?"

He rubbed his body against hers sensually, bringing his hips into firm alignment with hers. "Be my guest."

This had to be the best deal anyone had ever given her. She let out a happy sigh just for his benefit. "I may never take my hands off you."

"Ah. You're going to be one of those clingy girlfriends, aren't you?"

She pouted at his teasing, but he just raised a challenging brow at her till she curled her lips up in a mischievous smile and slowly nodded her head.

Peter leaned back down to her and whispered, "I think I can handle that," then slanted his mouth over hers.

She loved this, loved the way he just leant in to kiss her whenever he wanted. She'd spent so long savoring every little touch from him, but now, he wouldn't stop touching her, as if he'd been just as starved for contact as she was.

She pulled back slightly, breaking the kiss, and smiled at him coyly, "Peter? I was wondering –"

He didn't let her finish, just swooped in and captured her lips again. He murmured against her mouth, "Whatever it is, the answer's yes."

She leaned back, giggling at him. "You don't even know what the question is"

His eyes were trained on her mouth. "Doesn't matter."

"But –" He caught her lips with his, effectively cutting off her words.

"No more talking," he told her in between kisses, pulled back long enough to trace the curve of her face reverently, "I feel like I've been waiting forever for this," then sought her lips out again.

She knew exactly what he meant.

And he made a good point. Kissing was much better than talking. Besides, she could tell him he'd just agreed to buy those condoms, later.