Esther was never sure exactly how it happened. But suddenly, there was a shift. She felt it to the ends of her toes, curling beneath the quilt she had sewn with love over the past six months. The world might not be fair. This pain might be more than she could bear. But she was alive. And for the first time in a long time, she felt it. Alive.
The silence in her tiny bedroom was alive at that moment too. His large hands that held her shoulders began to move slowly up and down her arms. They spread warmth. Perhaps in ways, he did not even mean. Esther clenched her fingers against the springy heat of his chest hairs.
They stayed like that. She was not sure how long she lay there, wrapped in that steely softness of his embrace. It was a moment of decision. One of those times in life when two pathways diverge in the wood, and we must make a clear choice which we will take.
Esther knew that she should ask him to go back to the couch. It was the logical thing to do. The respectable thing. She was at least a decade older than this man. Fast closing in on the half-century mark, she had little to offer a man, any man. It had been a long time since she had even indulged in…well, simply indulged.
But in the dark silence, Esther admitted to herself that she had never felt as safe as she did at that moment. Surrounded by the strength and warmth of his arms, her face inches from the fuzzy steel of his impressive chest. Her fingers did not wait for her mind to decide. They began to caress slowly across his skin.
She felt the low rumble even before she heard it. His voice was husky. “Ma’am, I think we both know that in just about five seconds, this thing is going places that neither of us can take back. So, if you want to change your mind, now would be a good time.”
Esther laughed lightly but did nothing to stop her playful fingers against his heated skin. “I think that you better start calling me Esther and stop the Ma’am stuff, Master Sergeant.”
In the dim starlight, she could see the genuine smile that spread across his face. “Yes, Ma’am. I mean Esther. Then you should try Mike.” The fingers of one hand came up, lifting her chin until she had no choice but to meet his gaze. “You sure about this?”
“I can’t remember the last time I was more sure about anything, Ser…” Her fingers gave up, tracing the patterns in the warm skin near his heart. They trailed slowly up across his chest to those broad shoulders and further still, entwining together in the soft curls that were beginning to form at the back of his neck.
“Now that we have the introductions out of the way, shut up and kiss me, Mike.” She tugged softly, drawing his face closer to hers in the darkness.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he started to say. “Shit. Yes, Esther,” his lips curled into a grin. The grin quickly wiped away as they found other more pleasurable pursuits.
The kiss was tentative at first. It had been longer than she wanted to admit since she had kissed a man. At that moment, she wondered if she ever really had. Indeed, nothing in her limited past had ever felt or tasted as sweet.
The Master Sergeant – Mike’s – lips were firm beneath hers, allowing her to control the pace still. Lightly nibbling at the corner of her mouth. It felt almost like the faint tickle of a ladybug crawling up your arm – was it there or wasn’t it. But is he or isn’t he, was not a game that Esther wanted at that moment.
Now that the decision was made, she did not want to wade safely into this whirlpool of desire. She had always been the type to dive in, sometimes head first, most definitely a cannon baller, and this night especially.
There might well never be another moment like it, and the quiet school teacher be damned for once. Esther wanted to become a heroine like Helen of Troy, whose beauty started a war, or perhaps more accurately Pandora, whose magical box could not be shut once opened. This night was most definitely opening Pandora’s Box, and she did not give a damn.
She jumped headfirst. Throwing back the lid, her tongue snaked out, breaching whatever last defenses he might have. Her fingers trailed across those broad shoulders, fingernails scraping lightly across his skin as she put everything into that kiss.
If she had not acquired much experience as a seductress in her last half-century of life, she made up for it with determination. She could almost feel the tension strumming through his body. The stiffness with which he held himself back was not the type of rigidity that she was interested in at that moment.
Her lips curled into a secretive smile beneath his. She might not be very experienced, but she was very well-read. The words and images of thousands of erotic novels and novellas raced through her mind. She picked through each one as she sought the perfect seduction.
This was war – and Master Sergeant Michael O’Malley was about to meet surrender. Something she was sure would be a new experience for the Marine.
A plan began to form in her mind. With a final deep drink from those soft lips, she made a trail of licks and nibbles along his slightly rough jawline. His fingers tugged softly at her hair as she continued to play down his neck. She sucked softly at the thrumming beat of his pulse she tasted there.
Its rapid beat spoke volumes, giving her the strength to continue along this path. She outlined his collar bone with feathery kisses until the firm ridge of flesh that divided his chest in two called out to her. Her dark fingers blazed the trail that her lips would follow, drawing delicate patterns across the down-covered steel. Pectorals shivered beneath their light scrapes.
Mike sucked in a sharp breath when her talons raked lower across the ridge of muscles that formed his six-packs. Esther stopped her descent for a moment. Her dark brown eyes lifted to meet his steely stare, “This is most definitely going places we cannot take back. So, Mike, if you want to change your mind, you better do it now.”
She toyed with him, her words a gentle reminder of his own chivalry even as her fingers moved lower, belying their warning. She could see the firm muscles in his jaw flex in the moonlight, and for half a breath, her heart was gripped with fear that he might change his mind, might stop this erotic fantasy, might abandon her bed, seeking the refugee of the lumpy couch over her bold caresses.
He held perfectly still beneath her touch; their gazes danced a duo in the darkness. Mike looked at her in the moonlight. Maybe he had been with younger, thinner, more stunning women, but he had never come this close to anyone half as beautiful. Never felt a fraction of what her bold but obviously inexperienced touch was doing to him.
Still, he faced a choice – the toughest one of his whole fucking life, and he had a single moment to make it. Did he do the right and honorable thing, thank her politely but firmly tell her he could not take advantage of her like this? If he did, would she see it as rejection? Probably, Mike knew in his gut this seductive siren role was not something she had played before, but damned was she good at it.
‘Or maybe you just want her to be,’ whispered that voice in his head. That was it – he wanted this. Fuck, if it went no further than this, it was still more than he had ever dreamt was possible with her. Way more than a fucking jarhead like him deserved.
Her every touch felt like heaven, like fucking morphine dulling the pain of a thousand wounds that bled and festered unseen in his dark soul. Like salvation itself. And he wanted it. As selfish as he knew it was, he fucking wanted it. Even if he knew it could only be this once. Even if he feared he was abusing her trust. Betraying the friendship he had shared with her son.
He fucking needed this. Needed her touch. Her kisses. The taste of her lips was so fucking sweeter than he had ever imagined even. And that was just a sample. He wanted it all. He wanted this woman coming apart beneath him. He needed to actually hear what those moans would sound like as he took her body over the edge, showed her pleasure that he would bet she had never known.
The Marines might have taken that fucked up kid and turned him into a man. Given him strength and a code of honor that he had never known. But at this moment, he was neither strong enough nor honorable enough to do the right thing.
No, there was no choice to be made. Not now. He had made that choice on the couch. Set the dye. Now it was only a matter of following the path, executing the battle plan, and doing all that he could not to hurt the woman he loved – more than she already was.
He smiled in answer to her question. “Hell, no, a man only gets to taste heaven once in his life, and I ain’t missing mine.” His fingers became firmer where they tangled into her thick curls. He tried to tug her up, to taste her lips and torture her with his kisses once more.
Esther smiled at his words but was not to be distracted now. She was a woman on a mission with a battle plan to be executed. There was new territory to be conquered, and she was determined that this night she would taste all that life had to offer. She quickly won the battle of wills as his tugging upwards soon gave way to moans.
Her mouth was hot and dry as she blew softly across the thick, dark curls that covered his belly button. She felt his fingers tighten their hold upon her hair, trembling at her boldness. But it was not enough. Bending, she kissed and toyed with him there. Her tongue outlining it as her fingers pushed at the elastic waistband of his sweat pants.
“Esther,” his voice was deeper than she had ever heard it, except in the thousands of erotic dreams that paled in comparison to this moment.
She pulled the thick barrier away from his skin and allowed her lips and tongue to continue their dangerous games. She felt the shiver run through him as she lowered her head. The feel of his fingers threading deeper into her hair was almost painful, but it only added to the tension that played along her spine and sent tingles along every nerve ending in her body.
She put them both out of the misery of anticipation as she lowered her head and drew his hard flesh between the softness of her lips.
“Fuck,” she felt the power of his words curl along her toes. At that moment, she reveled in her feminine powers that had lain dormant for a lifetime. She was elemental. She was all-powerful. She was life itself. She was woman.
She roared quietly as she opened her mouth and drew half of his length deep into her mouth until it touched the back of her throat. Slowly she sucked softly on his flesh, trying to pull him deeper. When that proved impossible, she tried another tactic. Slowly, she retreated up almost the full length of his flesh until just the soft mushroom-shaped head rested between her parted lips.
She suckled softly upon his flesh as her fingers wrapped about the rest of his length. She soon found a rhythm that she could tell sang through his body. She smiled around his firm flesh as she felt another shiver run up his body. She augmented the pace set with her hands by sliding her mouth slowly down, taking as much of him as possible into its warm, wet recesses.
“Fuck.” His words might have seemed out of place in the romance novels that had been her only sexual outlet for most of her life, but she felt the sentiments behind them to her core, and those sentiments overshadowed anything she had ever read.
She tried to return to her womanly games, but this time the fingers still entwined in her long hair were not to be denied. His firm grip pulled her mouth from his flesh and dragged her body slowly up his.
Esther was the one moaning and cursing at the intense pleasure/pain as her nipples grazed against his chest. She swore that she could feel the roughness of his chest hair against the sensitive buds of her nipples even through her nightgown.
When he had tugged her up so that they were eye-to-eye once more, his lips turned upward into a secretive smile. His fingers released their hold upon her hair and slid slowly down the side of her face. Lower still as they trailed along the pulse beating steadily in her throat. His large hands smoothed across her bare shoulders, leaving electrical shocks in their wake.
She was helpless to stop her body as it moved against him. She was straddling his firm thighs; her knees planted firmly on either side of his hips. It was a position that left her completely open, exposed. Her body moved against his, rubbing against his pants’ thick material that still covered most of his lower body. She whimpered at the intrusive barrier. She needed to feel his skin against her, all of her.
As if reading her mind, Mike’s fingers trailed softly down her arms to her fingertips. They continued lower to the offensive material of her old nightgown bunched around her hips. His fingers found the edges and jerked them upwards. She felt the rush of the cold night air as it brushed along heated skin, but it did nothing to cool the passions and fire that were building inside of her.
As her head sprang free of the material, she smiled, tossing her curls about her shoulders. “Now, I think you are the one overdressed.” She matched actions to words as she pushed once more at the thick elastic waistband of his sweat pants, forcing them down his legs.
He kicked them free with a smile, “Yes, ma’am. Fuck.”
Esther laughed at the lapse. Laughter and love were something that had been distinctly missing from her life for a very long time, but they felt like old friends then.
Trailing her fingers up the wiry expanse of his thighs. “We might have to get distinctly kinky with this ma’am thing, Mike. I am, after all, a teacher.” Bending forward, she blew hot air across the surface of his broad chest. “What do you want me to teach you?”
If she was half shocked by her bold behavior, but it was not something that she wanted to analyze at that moment. This night was a miracle. And miracles were not to be missed. There would be days and long nights, a lifetime of them, in which to remember and dissect each word and action. But not now. Now all Esther wanted was to live. Live in this moment with this man who had captured her imagination and her heart so very long ago.
“Where were we?” she whispered against the column of his throat. She watched as he swallowed. The ridge that moved up and down said more about how he felt, what she was doing to him than words ever could. Her hands planted on his broad shoulders, she kissed along that strong column as she lowered her hips to make contact with the heated flesh of his thighs.
Esther had never been one for wearing underwear beneath the distinctly reserved nightgown. It seemed too restrictive, too uncomfortable. It was the bare flesh of her inner thighs that met the naked flesh of his hips as she rubbed against him. Like a cat, she purred as she found the rhythm this time. The rhythm that drove them both to the edge of insanity.
“Fuck,” he cursed again.
Esther smiled against his skin. “That’s what we’re trying for, Master Sergeant,” she teased.
But her teasing caught in her throat as he shifted, lifting his hips, he found the center of her being and surged forward, filling and stretching her. Esther threw back her head and closed her dark eyes. Nothing she had ever felt compared to this moment. No fantasy even touched it. No words on a page or screen ever could.
Her fingers on his shoulders tightened. If she had considered for a moment, she would have realized that she was leaving small crescent-shaped scratches on his skin. But neither of them noticed. Neither cared as the pain mingled with the pleasure slipping deep into its shadows as her body found release and fulfillment like it never had before.
Esther rode out the wave as it broke like the sun upon the shore. She whimpered as her body lost the beat, cried in need for more of this miraculous drug. But her plea was heard. His fingers dug deep into the tender softness of her round hips, and he held her as he rolled them over.
When she opened her eyes, her lover loomed large above her. She could feel the change, the proverbial turning of the tide. The time for games and teasing, testing her feminine wiles, was long past. This man was determined. Firm in his resolve, she could see it in the set of his jaw, the steel of those blue-gray eyes. He was driven.
If she should have shrunk back at the intensity, should have cowered under ancient memories of pain and shame, she did not. She knew this man on some soul-deep level. Knew his honor. And even in his strength, she felt his tenderness as he began to move inside her.
She would have sworn it was not possible. After such a deeply satisfying orgasm, her body should have been replete. Instead, it seemed just the opposite. Every millimeter of her skin seemed charged with his touch. The sight of him as those muscles played beneath the softness of his skin in the moonlight filled her mind and senses, lighting new fires.
Her hands crept about his back, seeking an anchor as he moved deeper, throwing them both into the depths of this ocean of need. They rode each wave. Crested each peak as she clung to him. Until it felt as if he would sweep her away on a tsunami of passion. His body thrust deep as they clung to one another in the darkness. Each utterly alone in their thoughts, yet each melded together on some deeper level that transcended it all.
Her fingers brushed the damp hair back from his face as he collapsed next to her. A gentle smile played at those delicious lips. She could not resist the temptation to taste this new flavor as she brushed her lips across his mouth. She closed her eyes and simply felt. Warmth. Safety. Alive – was the final thought as sleep captured her.
Mike watched her sleep. He could not, though his body was satisfied in some bone-deep way that he could never once in his life remember feeling. It was not even so much a matter of not being able to sleep. For once, he knew on some guttural level that he could rest as he never had. But if he did, he would miss this.
Miss holding her. Miss just watching her sleep. Miss that cute half-smile she did as she snuggled closer to his body. Miss the soft sigh as she found that perfect position, her leg slipping just between his thighs until she brushed against the little traitor that should have been satisfied but kept begging for more.
There would be no more. This much Mike was determined. As perfect as this night had been, it would have to be enough to sustain him in the long weeks, months, perhaps even years to come. Because one thing he knew – she did not give herself lightly. And each time, each taste of heaven would, in the end, only hurt her worse. She was not a woman to be toyed with.
He brushed the hair back from her face, and she gave another of those smiles, shifting even closer to him. Not that he was toying with her. This night meant more to him than any other in his whole fucking, screwed up life.
The taste of her kisses. The feel of her soft hands trailing over his chest and down his stomach. And when they had slipped inside his sweat pants, it was like that priest talked about – all the choirs in heaven singing as the pearly gates opened before him.
Oh, and the sounds she had made when he had opened her pearly gates. Hell, there was no way on this planet or in this solar system he could have ever imagined a sound like that. The way her head had flown back, her eyes closed, her whole body tensed as he felt her muscles tighten around him. He was still not fucking sure how he had ridden out her first orgasm without coming. Only one thing had mattered, making her sound like that again.
And he had. Somehow, he had. He had held out long enough to hear it again and again until he knew she could not take any more. Only then had he allowed the little traitor what he wanted. But as good as that had felt, this felt better. Just holding her and watching her sleep. Seeing those tiny smiles, knowing he had done that. Given her that. For one night, he had given her peace, respite, allowed her body the rest that it craved.
He did something then that he knew he should not, but he could not help himself. He allowed his mind to travel a path he knew would bring him only pain in the end as he drew her body tighter against his and imagined what it would be like – to hold her like this every night. To claim this woman as his own. To spend the rest of his life, making her smile like that.
He brushed a kiss to her forehead as he shook his head. If he were only like Luke. Or the Colonel. Or even Ty. But he was not. He was too damaged. Even before Desert Storm. Before Billy. Or Nairobi, Kosovo, Nine-eleven, Afghanistan, or Iraq. But, like little Joey, he had learned the pain of being ‘inferior’ and helpless as a child.
He had learned the hardest lesson of all – he could never keep them safe. The people he cared about. His mother and baby sister. The men and women he served alongside. He simply could not ever seem to win against this damned thing called Fate that left him behind and alone when it took good men like Billy, Manny, and Tommy with so much more to live for.
He leaned his head against hers and closed his eyes, just for a moment. For once, though, he was grateful to Fate. For this moment. Because if he never, ever felt this way again, and he was sure he would not, this moment alone balanced out all those others. He knew enough happiness in this moment of holding her in his arms to make up for all those years of pain.
Enough to carry him through whatever tomorrow held, and all the tomorrows that were to come between Sebida and that graveyard in Boston. It was enough. She was more than enough. More than he had ever imagined. And for damned sure more than that damaged little boy or that screwed up man deserved. And for this moment, he owed Fate a debt of gratitude. It was enough.