Audrey Tanner suddenly understood why people hated Mondays. Sure, she’d dreaded them sometimes, maybe even been frustrated by them. But now she fully grasped the sheer loathing of them.
She stretched, savoring the warmth of the covers, and thought to heck with the day job. Eyes closed, ignoring the daylight streaming against her lids, she debated calling in. Faking sick. Telling the high school that she was under the weather and they should call a substitute. They could feed the kids in her gym classes Doritos and Mountain Dew for all she cared.
She never used her sick days, but then again she never used her body like she had last night, twisting it around Kieran Callaghan in such a way that their cries of pleasure rattled the windowpanes. She smiled to herself, hoping the neighbors hadn’t heard. Then thinking she didn’t care if they had.
Reaching out, she felt across the bed for Kieran. For the body she’d only just discovered but felt like she’d known for years. Her fingers spread, anticipating the hard planes of his muscled flesh, every valley and contour both new and achingly familiar at the same time. How was it that they’d only just met two weeks ago? Kieran was a jumble of contrasts that should have left her reeling and confused, but instead everything about him only made perfect sense. Being with him created an incomprehensible rightness that her affordable house and her steady job and her sensible grocery list had never come close to.
She smiled sleepily, anticipating his touch all over again, even though they’d been up long enough the night before to see the stars fade. Even though she had to go to work. Even though she was supposed to be helping with the Good Shepherd Walk later that afternoon.
Oh, but she’d throw it all into the Birch River for him. She’d shed every part of her practical life to feel this much excitement—this much love, if she was honest—every day.
When her hand reached his side of the bed, she expected warm skin and hard muscle. But all she came up with were cold sheets.
The fog of sleep dissipated instantly. Audrey opened her eyes and squinted against the bright May sunshine streaming through her curtains. There was a dent in the pillow where Kieran’s head had been resting next to hers. The thought of his dark red hair flaming in color against her plain sheets made her smile. She strained, listening for the sound of him making coffee. Brushing his teeth. Cooking them eggs.
But the house was quiet.
Throwing back the sheets, she padded quietly to the bathroom, thinking she’d find him outside tinkering with his Harley. She’d just have to beckon him back to bed is all. She’d pull his workman’s hand away from the engine and lace her fingers with his. “Ride me instead,” she might whisper.
An unthinkable phrase from her lips two weeks ago. Now, double entendres seemed a natural part of her vocabulary.
Her naked skin prickled in the morning air, her muscles ached in the most delicious way possible. You didn’t get this feeling after a typical workout, she thought.
Of course, last night had been anything but typical.
She belted the cotton robe she’d left hanging behind the bathroom door and wondered about getting something silky. Something naughty. She pictured lace and leather and the way Kieran would undress her with his eyes when she wore it. She shivered, savoring the thrill of emotions he churned up inside of her. He ignited an electric current, as if a part of her that had been shut off was suddenly thrown on, casting white-hot light on everything.
Like the narrow table in her hallway, for example. She could picture him lifting her on top of it, slamming it into the cream-colored walls with the force of their bodies coming together.
Or the white stools around the small island in her kitchen. She studied them as she entered the room. He could sit her on top of one and spread her wide, doing unspeakable things that pulled her apart and put her together again so she felt like a Picasso painting. Altered and magical and beautiful.
Or the kitchen counter where—
She stopped. A small yellow post-it was stuck next to the coffee maker. She smiled, wondering at his thoughtfulness. How was it possible that a man clad in so much leather, who rode the biggest motorcycle she’d ever seen, could know the words that would open up her heart? He’d been leaving scraps of poetry around the house all week.
Bright star! Would I were as steadfast as thou art!
She’d had to google the line. John Keats, as it turned out.
The fullness of your bliss, I feel—I feel it all.
She’d googled that one too. William Wordsworth.
She pulled the post-it off the counter, musing whether he’d left her Shakespeare or John Donne. Instead, her vision rippled as she took in the two words he’d penned.
She blinked, then blinked again.
Sorry for what?
She looked around. Kieran was of course here and would explain all this momentarily. She called his name in the quiet house, but there was no answer.
Her heart pounded. Adrenaline surged.
Sorry for what?
Walking quickly to the front door, she threw it open just as Kieran’s motorcycle rumbled to life. The noise was deafening on the quiet street. A distant, practical part of her wondered if the neighbors would be angry.
The most present part of her wondered what in the hell Kieran was doing. He was astride his bike and had it pointed down the street, away from the house. His saddle bags were zipped and buckled, his chin thrust forward.
“Kieran!” she called. His head turned sharply toward her. He revved the throttle like he was going to speed away, and her stomach lurched. No, she thought. What are you doing?
She wanted to kick herself for the crazy way she was acting, running down the sidewalk in her robe like some madwoman. Except that her fear wouldn’t relent. Not when Kieran’s pale green eyes stayed so far away when he looked at her, and not when his body went stiff under all that leather.
Dirty jeans. Scuffed boots. Rugged and wild. She thought she’d harnessed his attentions, the same way he’d brought out some of the wild girl in her, itching to break free. They’d balanced each other perfectly.
“Where—where are you going?” she managed, raising her voice slightly above the engine’s purr.
“I have to go.”
Their staccato words were too short, too sharp. Underneath them was a mountain of dialogue that terrified her. What was he saying? Where was he going?
“What is this?” she asked, raising the post-it into his line of vision. He winced as if she’d flicked scalding water at him.
“I don’t expect you to understand.”
“Try me,” she said, thinking of how they’d bared their souls to each other these past two weeks. How underneath his Harley leather and her P.E. teacher track pants they’d both been so much alike. She’d let him into her home, into her heart, into her bed. What was there left to hide? Surely nothing they couldn’t tackle together. They were a team. A unit. She knew this as surely as she knew he was sitting in front of her at this very moment, about to make a terrible mistake.
“I have to go. I’m not coming back.”
Her body seemed suddenly too heavy. As if it couldn’t support her.
“No. Whatever you think you need to do right now, you don’t. Just slow down. Let’s talk.”
“It’s—I can’t—” Kieran swallowed several times. And then, to her horror and dismay, he kicked the Harley into gear and sped down the road.
His name was a scream on her lips as she raced after him. Her legs pounded the blacktop. She would catch him at the next stop sign. Or at the light in town. She was fast. Athletic. Fit. She could do this. Because there was no alternative. If he left, he took a part of her with him that she’d never get back. He would leave a fathomless black hole where for two weeks there had been nothing but stars.
She sprinted, muscles burning, lungs heaving. If neighbors stared at her, eyes wide, she didn’t notice. If commuters rolled past her, eyebrows raised, she paid them no mind. Kieran was her goal. Her destination. Both the starting and the ending point.
It was a sliver of glass that had finally stopped her. A piece so jagged and dirty that she couldn’t quite tell where the glass ended and the blood and dirt started. She glanced from her heel to the point on the horizon where the road disappeared into sky.
The pain came then. It wasn’t just one wave, it was two—first physical, then emotional, both of them so black and thick that she almost lost her breath. She was half naked, barefoot, at least a mile from home. People were staring at her.
She wanted to duck in shame. To hide her head and never emerge. Instead, she forced herself to feel everything. To let the pain focus her rattled mind and sharpen her senses.
She’d chased him like a dog running after the family station wagon, and he’d never let up on the throttle. Not once.
Oh, God. Had she really been so stupid? So foolish?
So wrong about everything?
Surely not. What they had was real. Which meant he’d be back. He just needed time. Give it a day or so. He would come rumbling back and she’d be furious, but she’d forgive him.
That’s what people in love did. They made mistakes, and then gave each other the grace to make things right again.
She turned back toward home, limping until a neighbor asked if she was okay. His glasses were square. She thought his name might be Andy. Maybe-Andy offered to give her a lift. She started to wave him off, then thought better of it. She should get home. Clean up. Get ready for Kieran.
Because he’d be back. He would.
She wobbled unsteadily up the front walk, pushed inside the door that she’d left ajar.
She called into work after all. Told them she was sick. It wasn’t as much of a lie as it would have been fifteen minutes ago.
And then she stayed home and waited, ears straining for the sound of Kieran’s motorcycle as each passing hour melted into the next.