***Chapter Nine***
Word Count: 6,294

July 1988

He was home well before one o'clock this Saturday. The reception had been held in the church's basement so there were much stricter guidelines on how long the reception could continue. Most reception halls didn't care so if the party was still going strong and whoever was paying the band or deejay was willing to shell out more money for another hour it wasn't a problem. She was not here when he got home, but he'd expected that. She was downtown somewhere since he wasn't going to be home until late anyway.

They'd had dinner on Monday and seen of all movies Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Kind of ironic that the movie featured a hot red head that someone pretty much not deserving of her attentions lusted after. In Roger's case, Jessica had married him. John was pretty sure that wouldn't be happening between him and his redhead, but it was a nice thought while it lasted.

He was biding his time. He supposed if he was a good guy he'd bail out of this before it went anywhere too serious. He wasn't a good guy he guessed, because he didn't want to do that. He'd probably get the heart Ronda wanted him to invest in someone broken along the way, but she was worth it. He knew how it was going to go, though, so it was his own fault if it happened.

Once she actually started working for her dad the pressure would be put on her to clean-up her life. He was pretty sure that was the reason the lawyer was in favor of what John had suggested and offered to do. Sooner rather than later now clients would have to look at Claire and see a serious businesswoman, heir to the Standish's corporation and the fortune that went with it versus the party girl they likely considered her to be. With that clean-up of her life and image she'd have to look to not just her future but that of the business and her family, which essentially was the same thing.

Well, he'd have to tell her if and when they got to that point. He figured between now and whenever that happened he could enjoy the time he got with her. Lord knew he'd fucked it up with her four years ago when he'd had the chance. He couldn't believe then someone like her would be interested in him so he'd used his usual defense mechanism and treated everything like a joke. By the time he'd realized she really was into him it was too late for him to backpedal and let her see the real him.

They hadn't even had a date back then, he'd been too chicken to ask her out. Chicken because he had no car to drive her to a date in, the money he earned was not made legally, and he couldn't help but think he was just a curiosity to her. So, he'd never asked. That meant Monday night was their first one. He hadn't seen a cartoon in years and could honestly say he wouldn't have seen it if it wasn't her choice in movies. It was funny and he had to admit overall a good movie, but he wouldn't have chosen it himself. He'd been hoping for Bull Durham or the recent Rambo movie. He could see that maybe that wouldn't be the choice of most women, though.

He'd had her home on Monday at a very reasonable hour. Not that it mattered because her parents were (as usual) out of town. He wondered how her dad ever got any business done gone as often as he was gone, but obviously the business was still making money and he'd probably worked pretty hard to this point to be able to afford some time off. Maybe he was traveling a lot now knowing when Claire started working for him he wouldn't be able to as much. Hell if John knew. He just knew it seemed as though her dad put in a lot of three and four day work weeks. (As someone who very rarely had as little as a five day work week, John was a little envious truthfully.)

Taking pictures at the local elementary schools she volunteered at proved a bit more troublesome than he'd anticipated. There were forms to fill out explaining what the pictures would be used for and so on. So, that wasn't a possibility until he got approval to take pictures on district property. He'd taken school pictures a couple of years ago, but that was a different thing altogether. This was random pictures of someone's kids so he understood.

So, he'd shown up at the church she belonged to when they were having a drive for charitable donations. They'd be sold at an annual sale to raise money for various things throughout the church's year or something. John hadn't even been aware she went to church, but then he supposed most people did. It wasn't glamorous or earth shattering, but she was there all day on Tuesday sitting beside grandmas and fathers, mother and sons, a couple of nuns (John didn't realize they even still existed), and the priests. He'd thought it was a nice, casual place to start. If the big papers weren't interested in these type of pictures he could find somewhere else to print them and at least get the ball rolling that she wasn't out every day, all day partying her life and father's fortune away.

It was kind of fascinating to watch her interact with other people really. Her church served many people in Shermer, old and young, rich and poor. He'd driven past – or walked back when he was in school - it more times than he could count over the course of his lifetime. The majority were her type of people, but the church was an old one and therefore had a diverse congregation. There were children there offering up unused toys to widows offering up their deceased husband's clothes and everything in between. Some people also brought things like bedding and towels, having perhaps nothing else to contribute to the parish's cause but wanting to add something. Food items were also given, though those would be distributed now rather than wait for whenever the fundraiser was to be held.

John hadn't gone to church. He remembered vaguely being dragged somewhere as a very young boy, but perhaps his mother realized the demons inside her and her husband were too much for even God to cure them of because they'd stopped before John had ever started school. He had sketchy recollections of it, though, sitting in the pews, looking at the other children around him in their Sunday best. John and his mom had only had Sunday good, which for Shermer wasn't close to best. He still wasn't sure how his parents had ended up here because they sure didn't belong. Somehow though they managed to sustain their existence and continue living here. He remembered the stained glass windows most. He couldn't name the church his mother had taken him to or any of the people he'd seen there, but he'd remember the windows to this day if he ever saw them again.

At the end of the day she took a load of clothing and bedding with her in her car to drop off at a local cleaners. Of course everything would be cleaned before they held the sale whenever that would be. He'd driven separately since he'd had to come from work so he met her at her house afterward where they had dinner. Dinner consisted of her ordering in, but it was still something they did just the two of them so it was okay. After they'd eaten they'd watched TV for a few hours. John couldn't say what they watched because they hadn't watched more than a few minutes at any given time. She certainly loved to kiss, which made him wonder why she hadn't done it much over the past four years.

After the picture on Monday morning of the two of them he wasn't entirely sure he was ready to venture out with her publicly. He hadn't thought much about it when he'd invited her to dinner and a movie Monday night, but after he'd dropped her off Monday he'd thought some on it. What if they'd taken her car to go out? Or he'd met her somewhere and more pictures had been taken?

He doubted anyone in their right mind would be able to figure out he was the guy she was kissing in the picture. However, he had a business to run and like it or not she was not well-liked by some people because of her reputation. He wouldn't not go out with her because of it, but he certainly had to think about himself at the same time. At least until he knew what was happening between them. If he was just a casual curiosity to her for this week and the next, fine but he wasn't going to have his picture out there because of her carelessness.

Tonight was a perfect example of how different their lives were. She could've been here at his house all night, hanging out and watching TV or God forbid, reading a book. She couldn't do that, though. She had to go out. Her friend called and she'd in turn called him asking him how late he thought he'd be at the wedding. He sort of looked forward to coming home to her instead of an empty house, but he couldn't say that so he'd answered her question and let her make her plans. In the back of his mind was the thought that she could very easily blow him off and it'd be his own stupid fault.

The perils of dealing with a fairly prominent social butterfly. Not that he stayed home every weekend himself, but summers were difficult. There were weddings every damned weekend it seemed. They paid good money, but they required pretty much an all-day commitment so like today he'd left his house before nine o'clock and got home after midnight. True, he had a bit of time on his hands during the actual ceremony because most churches wouldn't allow live photographs being taken during them. Occasionally a priest or pastor would allow him to snap a photo or two of the vow exchange as they were doing it, but that was very rare. He couldn't leave the premises or anything, though.

So that meant during the summer his weekends were generally not his own. He was a slave to his job. His own fault. He could hire somebody, another photographer. He'd long ago suspected (and Ronda agreed with him) that he wouldn't use the other photographer to free up his own schedule but instead to take on more business during the busier spring and summer season.

It was, honestly, the main reason he'd never considered establishing a more stable relationship than the ones he formed. He had no time and women, in his experience and through the observation of his friends' experience – well, they demanded time and attention. He didn't have an abundance of either of those things.

He loosened his tie as he grabbed a beer from his fridge. He was pretty sure she'd said she was going to use the limo service tonight so he wasn't expecting her to show up in her car. He also wasn't sure what state she'd be in when she got here if she didn't have to worry about driving. Really, he should just get ready for bed and if she showed up great. However, going to bed when he'd just gotten in after telling her he'd be out until about one o'clock seemed as if he was implying he wanted her to come to bed with him. While certainly not a bad thought that wasn't his goal tonight.

He brought the beer out to the porch. God he loved this room probably more than he loved any part of the house otherwise. This porch was worth every damned penny he'd spent on the place. He hadn't gotten to enjoy it too much last fall when he first moved in here. He'd been so busy unpacking and with work that he'd maybe sat out here a couple handfuls of nights. This summer, though, it was barely even into July and he couldn't remember a night he hadn't sat out here for at least a few minutes. He didn't care how hot or humid it was out. He liked sitting out here, looking over his yard from his porch. His. He'd earned these things. It was just nice, peaceful, and quiet; a nice way to unwind after his day. If he shut the front door and had his windows closed he couldn't even hear his telephone ring. Some nights before going to bed he liked that.

He'd thought about getting a dog when he bought the house, but it was days and nights like this he was glad he hadn't done it. Being gone for over twelve hours wasn't fair to an animal. He could probably talk Ronda into taking any dog he might get for the day, but that still wasn't really fair. It wouldn't be so bad to have one sit out here and wait with him on a night like tonight, though. He figured he'd give her until about one thirty and then go on inside. For all he knew she forgot she even was going to come here tonight. He had given her a key when he saw her Tuesday. That was days ago, though. Who knew what her mindset was. Her phone call yesterday suggested she still planned on coming, but he was competing with a nightlife that seemed to call to her.

She showed up about when he was ready to go inside. He watched as she got out of the limo.

"Night, Claire," someone called from inside the car.

"Night guys," she said. "Oh hey, I need my purse."

He chuckled softly as she waited evidently for someone to hand it to her before shutting the door on the limo and making her way up his sidewalk. He could tell even from here in the dark that she looked nice. She always did, of course. Some nights she looked better than others. Perhaps it was seeing her up close and personal, in the flesh, versus grainy newspaper photographs.

"Sorry I'm kind of late," she said when she got to the steps leading to his porch.

"It's all right. There was no set time."

"Debbie and Lori didn't want to leave even though I told them I had to."

"You did?"

"Yes, only like over an hour ago."

"You hired the limo, didn't you?"


"Well, maybe you should just leave them next time."

"How would they get home?"

"I don't know, but I bet they wouldn't do it again."

She slid her shoes off almost as soon as she stepped into the porch.

"Long night?" he asked.

"I'd like to say yes, but I know you've been awake since like eight o'clock if not earlier."

"I have been."

She took a seat next to him. It was a small couch designed for porches like this. The cushions were washable, weather resistant (when it rained the screens didn't stop the rain from coming in), and stain resistant (screens also didn't stop things like pollen from coming in). It was about as big a piece of furniture as he could get out here without having it take over the entire porch. He didn't usually have company so it hadn't mattered to this point. He'd just liked having somewhere to sit out here. There was a rocking chair that went with the couch, but he rarely sat in that. He wasn't much of a rocker as it turned out, but they'd been a match set it seemed stupid to split them up.

He reached for her leg, gesturing for her to shift on the couch. She hesitated, but slid so her back was against the armrest and he was able to set her foot on his lap. He worked his thumb along the bottom of her foot and she made the most, God help him, arousing sound in the world as he touched her.

"How was your night?" he asked.

"Long, but fun."

"Yeah? Your blouse is intact so that's an improvement over last weekend I guess."

"It is."

"Good," he said.

"How was your day?"

"Long, but good. Not nearly as good as yours was but the bride and groom are enjoying their honeymoon suite I imagine as we speak."

"Where are they going?"

"Hmm," he said, sliding a thumb along her ankle. "Niagara Falls I think."

"Really? How common."

He chuckled at that. "Not everyone has had the opportunity to go to Niagara Falls, sweets."

"I know, that's not what I meant. It's just how unimaginative. Everyone goes there for their honeymoon."

"Really? Everyone?"

"Well, sure."

"Where would you want to go?"

She shrugged. "Somewhere not common? I don't know. Or less common anyway. Ireland. France. Italy. Greece. Greece would be a great place to go on a honeymoon."

"I'll take your word for it."

"Did you take good pictures?"

"I always take good pictures. That's what they pay me for. Of course sometimes the subjects aren't that great, if you know what I mean, but I still take good pictures."

"You're so mean."

"Says the person who just criticized their honeymoon spot! Maybe it's all they could afford after the wedding."

"Maybe. I still would've chosen somewhere else. Let's see. Niagara Falls is like five hundred miles from here. They could've gone to New Orleans or Memphis or somewhere out west."

"They could've. Maybe they didn't want to. I don't know. I didn't choose it for them."

"I know. It just seems like poor planning to me."

"Maybe they really wanted to go there. Maybe they wanted to live the cliché."

"Maybe," she said. She grew quiet as he stopped rubbing one foot and took the other one into his hand.

"That feels so good."

"That's the point. I don't know how you women wear the shoes you do."

"You like them."

"Well, sure, there's nothing better than a nice leg being accentuated by a nice bit of heel, too."

"I bet you say that to all the girls while you're rubbing their feet."

He chuckled softly. "You caught me. You do have nice legs, though."

"Thank you."

"Sure. It's an easy compliment to give when it's the truth."

She settled back more against the arm of the couch, closing her eyes he noticed. He wondered how much she'd had to drink.

"Were you waiting up for me?" she murmured. "You didn't even change out of your suit."

"I was sort of."


"I don't know it seemed sort of rude to invite you over here and then be in bed when you got here."

"I like your bed."

"You do, huh?"

"Uh huh."

"Better than yours?"

"I don't know about that," she said with a laugh.

"I bet."

"You're in it, though."

"I could be in yours, too, if you invited me."

"My parents would never allow that."

"But you can sleep anywhere else you want?"

"They can't stop me."

"I guess not."

"I don't want to think about my parents tonight."

"Bad day?"

"No, I'm just not in the mood."

"All right," he said. "Does the limo mean you were probably not followed here?"

"That's a pretty safe assumption."

"Why don't you take them all the time?"

"It depends on what we're doing. If we're going barhopping I like to, but if we're just going to one place it seems sort of pointless. It depends, too, on how much I plan on drinking."

"I suppose. You were barhopping tonight?"

"No, but I had a reason not to drive tonight."

"What reason was that?"

"Having the limo bring me here means you have to take me home tomorrow."

"I see. Trickery."

"Yes," she said, flexing her foot as he continued rubbing it. "You worried about photographers hiding in your bushes?"

"While I'm rubbing your feet? Not particularly. However," he said as he leaned toward her and tugged on her leg to bring her toward him. She came willingly and he slid his arms around her to settle her on his lap. "When I do that I'd rather not be seen."

"Hmm," she said. "I guess I can understand that."


"Does that mean you're going to kiss me again?"

"I could."

"I promise no one else will know about it."

"In that case, since you promised," he said, leaning in to kiss her. God, he loved the taste of her. The liquor was potent enough he knew she'd had a good time tonight. His beer he'd finished when she pulled up had been his first of the night.

He slid his hands along her hips, discovering as he moved them there that she wasn't wearing a dress at all but a kind of layered top over a skirt that gave the illusion of being a dress. The feel of her skin beneath his fingertips was evidence it wasn't all one piece.

She slid her hands around his neck, drawing him deeper into the kiss. She pressed herself into him, too, in the process. He slid a hand to the small of her back, fingertips sliding along her spine there and then lower. His other hand worked its way under her top and up. She was moving against him in his lap, telling him very plainly she enjoyed what they were doing at the moment. He did, too, and he was pretty sure she knew that.

She gasped into the kiss when his fingertips finally touched her. He was hesitant at first, starting with the swell of her breast and working up before he could cup her with his palm completely. In part, he was waiting for her to tell him to stop or something. Nothing resembling no or stop left her mouth. Some very arousing sounds did, though.

He broke the kiss and found her ear.

"No bra, Princess? You are very naughty."

She giggled softly. "I took it off in the limo. It's in my purse. I'm not quite that brave."

"Your friends didn't wonder why you were taking it off?"

"They were too drunk to notice what I was doing or where the driver was taking me."

"I see. I think I like the idea of you out there all night without it better."


He shrugged. "Because it's kind of naughty."

"Have you not read the papers?"

"Not that kind of naughty, sweetness. The good kind of naughty, a thing about you no one but I would find out."

"Oh," she said. The utterance was timed with his running a thumb along her peak so he wasn't sure if it was in response to that or what he'd said. "I've never done that."


"Nuh uh," she murmured as he found her neck and kissed her there.

"I think I'd rather you not do it when I have a wedding until one o'clock in the morning."


"Because I'd like discovering how naughty you were for a couple of hours at least."

She gasped softly, reaching for the front of his pants. She worked the zipper down pretty quickly, sliding her hand inside of them. He groaned when he felt her hand slide along his length through his boxers.

"We should go inside, Princess."

"It's nice out here."

"Yeah, but I sort of promised your lawyer that we wouldn't do anything but kiss in public."

"We're at your house! There's no one here."

"Are you willing to take that risk?"

She whimpered softly, but she still wasn't letting up on touching him. He couldn't say much because he hadn't stopped touching her either. His hand fit nicely around her breast. He'd known since that day at school they would fit perfectly around her. He'd only gotten that one day, though.

He slid his mouth to her shoulder, kissing and sucking on the skin there. She moaned softly as he did it, scooting herself more on his lap.

"There are better things you could be kissing, John."

He couldn't agree more. There were places on her he wanted to kiss and lick for hours. Her shoulder wasn't his first choice, but she did seem to like it. He pushed her top up further along her torso, skimming her abdomen with his free hand as he slid it up to join the other one in touching her. She cried out as it slid over her other breast so he was touching both of them now.

"Sorry," she whispered and he chuckled softly at that.

"Nothing to be sorry for," he whispered. He had to taste her. "So help me God if this is in the paper tomorrow."

"It'll be worth it," she said as he pushed the top up with his forearms out of his way. He dropped a hand to her ass, cupping her there as he brought his mouth to a breast. He found her nipple, sucking on it almost greedily. He loved the feel of it hardening in his mouth as he sucked and licked it. He bit her gently as she slid her hand into his boxers to touch him directly.

She whimpered softly when he drew away.

"Walk or I carry you, but we're going inside now. I don't know my neighbors' habits well enough yet to know who's awake and who might be outside walking their dog. Grab onto my neck if you don't want to walk on your own." She did and he stood carefully. Her legs went around him once he was upright. Thankfully she had only unzipped his pants so he could walk with her that way just fine. He kicked the front door closed once they were inside, pressing her up against it as he found her mouth again. She slid a hand from around his neck between their bodies and into his pants again, closing it around his hard-on.

He broke the kiss, reaching for her top with a hand to slide it up and over her head, dropping it beside them without thought as he took one of her peaks into his mouth again. He released her slowly, drawing away only to allow them to move to his bedroom.

She slid his tie out from under his collar, draping it over a chair he had in there before unbuttoning his shirt front and the cuffs.

"An undershirt, really?"

He shrugged. "It's sort of expected with a suit, isn't it?"

She chuckled softly as she slid the button-up shirt off and then worked on ridding him of the undershirt, too. God, he loved her hands on him, doing the same thing to the front of him she'd done to his back last weekend. She sat on the edge of his bed and he thought she looked pretty damned good there. She touched, running her fingers along the skin there. He could tell she was curious. She'd touched him a bit that day at school years ago but not once his shirt had come off so she'd never actually looked before.

She leaned in, kissing his abdomen and he groaned softly. He slid his hands to her head, running his fingers through her hair as she lifted her mouth from his skin only long enough to settle her lips against another spot. Over and over she did that while she worked the fastening of his pants. They were still unzipped so she didn't have to do much. She slid his pants down and he stepped out of them, glad now he'd at least bothered to take his shoes off when he got home.

She slid his boxers down a bit, sliding her tongue along the head of his shaft. He cried out, he couldn't help it. He'd pictured her doing this to him too many times over the years, particularly the first few months after that day of detention, for him not to react to one of his fantasies coming true. She licked and sucked him, not taking him too far into her mouth. He'd been told more than a few times that he was a bit thicker than average. It turned him on like nothing he ever thought could to see her mouth working its way around him.

The thought crossed his mind to find out just how much she'd had to drink, but she hadn't walked from the limo to his porch as though she was inebriated or anything. Her hands at his hips worked his boxers down further and he stopped her from sliding them off altogether.

"What?" she whispered. She grazed his inner thigh with her tongue before nipping the skin there.

He didn't answer her. Well, not with words anyway. He drew her panties down and off and then knelt in front of her, sliding his arms under her knees to draw her to the edge of the bed before sliding his tongue over her nub. She cried out and he couldn't help but chuckle a bit at that, doing it again. She gave the same reaction so he did it again, dipping his tongue lower afterward sliding it over her folds. He groaned softly at the taste of her, how wet she already was for him. He slid a fingertip over her nub, grazing it lightly as he licked and sucked at her lips and opening there.

She pressed into him, prompting his tongue to slide inside of her deeper. He certainly didn't mind her showing him what she wanted or needed just then. He more than didn't mind it, he liked it a lot. He wanted to do for her exactly what she wanted and needed. He loved her reaction when she came, quivering around his tongue. He kept going, bringing her off again before drawing away. He reached into his nightstand to grab a rubber packet.

"You know, this isn't why I invited you here tonight," he said, regarding the packet. He hadn't opened it yet. She reached for him then, touching him again. He was already hard so she certainly didn't need to help him along in that department. She slid her hand to the waist of his boxers again.

"Really? You invited me to your house at one o'clock in the morning for another reason?"

He grabbed her wrist then, stilling her hand from pulling them down any further.

"Is that what you think? That by agreeing to come here that means I get sex out of the deal?"

"Well, no, but…"

"But nothing. I really just asked you here to spend the night again," he said.

"Really? That's all?"

"Yes, really."

"I thought you…"

"Oh, I do want to. That doesn't mean I have to and it certainly doesn't mean you have to. You're invited to stay here sex or not."

"I want to," she whispered. He let go of her hand then, letting her push his boxers down and out of the way. She slid her skirt off once his boxers were off. He was pretty sure there wasn't much more consent he could get out of her.

He tore the packet open, tossing the wrapper onto the floor before sliding it over his length. She shifted on the bed while he did that before he joined her. He kissed her then, groaning into the kiss at the eagerness of hers. He was never sure of the reaction to a kiss after he'd been going down on a woman. Some wouldn't let his mouth near theirs. Some were indifferent. Very few were like Claire and didn't seem to care or even maybe seemed to like it.

He slid inside of her, letting her adjust to the size of him. He thrust the head of him in and out of her slickness until she was used to him. He slid further into her, a little harder and faster, reacting to the sounds she was making while he did that. Confident she was ready for him to be all the way inside of her, he finally slid himself into her deep and hard, crying out the same time she did when he felt himself push through the barrier there.

He had absolutely not been expecting that. He stopped then. It was crazily difficult to just stop. He wanted to be inside of her as deep as he could be. He would do that, just not quite yet. He pulled back a bit.

"What are you doing?" she whispered.

"I, uh, don't want to hurt you."

"You're not!"


"I mean, for a second maybe, but it's fine now."

"You're sure?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Fuck," he whispered, pressing back into her a little further. His breath caught a bit, trying not to thrust too fast so she could adjust to him.

"John," she hissed as he drew back again. "Please."

"God, Princess, you feel too good."

"Isn't it supposed to?"

He chuckled at that, kissing her deeply as he pressed into her a little deeper again.

"It is supposed to," he said. "But for both of us. Just relax."

"I am."

"No, I mean, there," he murmured, finding her neck. "You're kind of clenching, that doesn't help."

"Oh," she cried out. Whether it was because she understood what he meant or because he slid a little deeper inside of her than he meant to just then. Slowly, he worked himself in and out of her, setting a pace that she didn't seem to mind. A couple of times he slid too deep and she gave a soft hiss. She didn't tell him to stop or not to do it, but he tried to be mindful of how deeply she seemed to be able to tolerate him for now.

He took one of her peaks into his mouth, a hand sliding between their bodies to touch her there. There was no way he was going to last long. She felt too good, too incredibly tight around him, and he had to be too careful and mindful. She pressed into his hand and he followed her lead on how she seemed to want him to touch her.

He finished right after she did. He couldn't stop himself. Well, maybe he could've, but he didn't want to. Not this time. The next time or the time after he could be a little less conscientious about it. He lay on top of her, sucking at the underside of her breast. He was leaving her a hickey, which he wasn't sure she'd be bothered by or not. He couldn't stop, though. Feeling her around him, clinging to him still inside of her. God, he wanted to stay right there, but he had to get up and go to the bathroom.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, returning to the bed with a washcloth for her.

"I don't know. I didn't want to?"

"Fair enough. I just may have been a little nicer about it."

"You were fine."

"Well, thank you, but I still feel bad."

"Don't, please. I'm fine. What are you doing?" she asked when he set the washcloth between her legs.

He chuckled softly. "Nothing bizarre, Princess, just you know cleaning you up a bit. It's been a while since I've been in this situation, but I think I remember being told warm water felt kind of good afterward."

"Thank you."

"Yeah sure," he said, tossing the washcloth toward his closet where his laundry was before sliding back into bed with her. He slid a hand over her abdomen, circling a nipple and the area where he'd left the hickey with a fingertip. "I have a million questions running through my mind right now. Do you realize that?"

"I'm sure you do," she whispered.

"I guess the most important question is are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"You're sure. I didn't hurt you or anything?"

"No. What are your other questions?"

"Hmm. Where have you been all of my life?"

"You know exactly where I've been."

"True enough."

"Any others?"

"When can we again?"

She laughed softly, turning to face him. She ran a hand along his chest, watching him as she did. He tried not to react. It was just an instinct for whatever reason.

"Ask me in the morning?"

"Well, you know where to find me if you have an answer before I ask."

"I do," she whispered.

He leaned in to kiss her, sliding his tongue along her lower lip before kissing her jaw.

"This is the best sleepover ever," he whispered.

"I'm glad you think so."

"You going to be okay sleeping naked or do you want another one of my shirts?"

"If you keep giving me your shirts you won't have any left."

"That's my plan. I'll give them all to you and then I'll have to go shirtless for the rest of my life."

"That wouldn't be a bad thing, John."

"No?" he asked, surprised by her answer.

"Not at all. I'd like to see that."

"Well, you can see it any time you want."

"Any time?"

"Well, you know, my customers may object but any other time."

"I'll remember that."


"Good night, John."

"Good night, Claire," he said.

"I like when you say my name."


She shrugged. "It almost sounds like a nickname coming from you instead of the other way around."

He chuckled softly. "I'll work on it."

"No, don't. I like it."

"Yeah? You like being my princess?"

"I do."

"Good," he said.

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