Carnival Lights: Chapter Six
Mary looked down at her generous curves and then over at Christina’s much taller and slimmer frame. She grimaced. Snapping her dresser drawer shut, she shrugged. “I’m not I have anything that would fit you,” she admitted, wrinkling her nose. “I kind of hate you for that.”
Christina laughed softly, but her arms wrapped themselves around her stomach self-consciously.
Mary brought a finger up to her chin. “Now, let me think…”
“It’s fine, Mar,” Christina insisted for the umpteenth time, battling a surge of discomfort. “Really. I don’t mind…”
Besides—having Easter dinner with your boss and his family was one thing, but standing inside his bedroom, even with his wife there beside her, riffling through their dressers well, that was weird. And she was absolutely terrified that Mary’s next suggestion would be to unravel the contents of her husband’s dresser for clothing options…
Taking a quick, firm step backward, Christina shook her head. “Honestly. It’s not a big deal. I can sleep in this.”
Mary, on the other hand, obviously didn’t seem to find anything out of the ordinary about having her husband’s secretary in her bedroom. Nor, for that matter, did she consider her next proposal just as scandalous. “Oh. I’ve got it,” she said, snapping her fingers together. “Jason.”
Christina’s eyebrows rammed together. “Huh?”
“Follow me,” Mary said, leading a mildly grateful Christina out of her room and down the hall. Which was how, fifteen minutes later, Christina found herself wearing one of Jason’s old high school T-shirts with a pair of track shorts. Pulling at the blue mesh material of the shorts, which were far too loose around her legs, Christina felt a blush rising against her cheeks.
It had undoubtedly been years since he’d worn the clothes and yet—her skin seemed to break out with every brush of cotton and polyester against her body. It was so intimate. So familiar. So…her stomach tingled deliciously at the thought.
“So it’s not exactly stylish,” Mary said, misunderstanding Christina’s hesitation.
At her prompting, Christina laughed as she was supposed to do. “No? But I thought this was so cutting edge.” Smiling impishly, she struck a pose. “Chic meets sporty.”
“Oh, very trendy,” Mary said drily. Then with a wave of her hand, she motioned Christina toward the door. “All right, all right. Come on. Let’s get out of here before Jason notices…”
Christina chewed on her lip, her eyes skimming over the room. “Yeah, it does feel kind of wrong to be in here without him,” she confessed. She blanched at the words. “What I mean to say is—”
“Oh, don’t I know it,” Mary muttered. “He used to have a no trespassing sign posted outside the doorway.”
Christina rolled her eyes as the woman stepped out into the hallway. “I’ll just bet he did.”
“I wasn’t even allowed to vacuum the floor without his go-ahead,” Mary continued with a tisk, leading Christina halfway down the wide expanse of hallway before coming to a stop two doors down. “But anyway, enough about his room,” she insisted, reaching for the brass doorknob. “Tell me, what do you think of yours?” With that, she thrust the door open wide.
Christina blinked. The room was something all right. Pink carpeting and maple furniture, replete with a lace canopy over the bed and a bay window looking out the back yard. A small vanity sat tucked in a small nook beside the wardrobe; an impossibly frilly lamp sat beside a bowl of flowers on the nightstand.
“Wow,” Christina said. Because what else was there to say? She looked at Mary’s expectant face. “This is…wow!”
“I know,” Mary crowed, her hands clutched against her chest. She sighed in a dreamy sort of way. “I guess it’s because I never got to have a girl.”
Christina giggled. “You think?”
“You don’t think it’s too much?”
Christina would have never admitted such a thing. She loved Mary far too much to hurt her feelings. “What? No way. I think it’s every little girl’s dream.”
“Good. Well,” clasping her hands together, Mary nodded. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
Mary took a half step backward. “You’ll be comfortable for the evening?”
“More so than at my own home,” Christina assured her. Taking a step into the room, she smiled at Mary over her shoulder. “But then, I usually am when I’m here.”
Mary pursed her lips in a pleased sort of way. “What can I say, I love spoiling you.”
“And you do it well.”
“All right,” Mary said, patting the side of the doorway with her hand for effect. “It’s late and we should all be in bed.”
“See you in the morning.” With a decisive nod, Mary turned and walked back down the hall, toward her room. With a weary sigh, Christina shut the door behind her. Leaning against it, she let her head fall back on the ornately carved structure.
The fingers of her left hand played with the hem of Jason’s shirt. “God, get a grip,” she reprimanded herself. But she could feel the soft possess of his shirt like a brand. She felt—woefully juvenile. Like she’d never give the shirt back. Never wash it. Never take it off…
“Get a grip,” she whispered to herself. “Let it go.”
“God. It’s official, you’ve been alone for too long,” she berated herself, pulling her body up off the door. With a whelp of frustration, she flopped face-first down on the bed, groaning into the heavy pink coverlet. “You’ve lost your damn mind.”
He was going to be sleeping two doors down from her.
Like anything could happen.
Like something was bound to happen.
“Oh no,” she whispered, pulling herself up. “Oh no. Definitely not. No. No, no…” With unnecessary force, she brought herself to her feet. Pulling the covers and sheet back with a vengeance, her movements were almost violent as she got into bed. Tucking the quilt over herself with determination, she laid her head on the pillow. “Absolutely not. No good will come from that kind of thinking. Nope. You’re going to bed. Right now.” With exaggeration, she flicked off the bedside lamp and closed her eyes.
Five minutes later she wondered what time it was.
With a peek, she opened one eyelid—her gaze zeroing in on the discreet alarm clock snuggled up tight to the lamp.
She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, readjusted her neck on the pillow, and took a deep breath.
By 10:54 p.m. she gave up the pretense. She’d tried counting. She’d tried blinking really fast. She’d thought about some boring reports she needed to import at work…nothing. She was still wide awake. Opening her eyes, she stared up at the bluish shadows dancing above the lacy canopy over her head. The house was silent. Too silent.
That was probably it. She was used to a tiny apartment where she could hear the constant humming of the fridge, the crack of the tree branches scraping against her bedroom window, the soft thread of the upstairs neighbor who worked overnights.
She just needed a little distraction.
Scrambling out from underneath the warmth of the covers, she pulled herself up and out of the bed. Tiptoeing carefully to the door, lest she should wake someone (and by someone she meant Mary, who’d fret and worry that she’d somehow failed to produce a perfectly sound asleep guest in her home), Christina slowly took herself into the hallway.
Vigilant, she led herself silently to the giant staircase at the center of the sweeping hall. Her bare feet were stealthy on the carpeted stairs as she slowly gained the main floor.
She’d barely stepped off the last thread then she heard it. Quiet, muffled laughter. Shocked, she spun on her heel; her stomach muscles coiling at the sound, the lower timbre of the voice. Because there, leaning up against the couch in the family room just left of where she stood, was Jason.
With a deliberate kind of calm, Christina forced herself not to react. Other than a slight lift of one haughty eyebrow, she remained silent. By this time, Jason was practically bent over double, his eyes dancing with mirth.
“What already?” Christina barked, placing her hands on her hips.
He only shook his head in amusement.
She narrowed her eyes.
“It’s you,” he finally managed to say, his breath ragged. He waved toward her general person. “In that get-up.” He chuckled again. “Are those my old running shorts?”
Christina felt her face flame. She’d almost forgotten she’d been wearing them. Crossing her arms over her chest, she gave him a lowering look. “All right, that’s enough. You’ve had your fun.”
“No, it’s just…I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so,” he shrugged, seemingly at a loss for words. “Casual.”
She rolled her eyes.
“You’ve got nice legs.”
At the words, Christina stilled, her expression taut with surprise. Pulling her shoulders back, she searched for a response…
Jason, however, didn’t seem to have the least bit of squeamishness about his comment. “Really nice.” With a flick, he brought his eyes back up to her face.
Christina couldn’t quite make herself meet that look. “Always quick with a joke, huh?”
But, for once he didn’t respond to her baiting. Instead, he slowly levered himself up to his feet. “So—what are you doing down here anyway? Couldn’t sleep?”
At his change of topic, Christina felt her shoulder blades loosen. She shrugged half-defensively. “Not really.” She glanced up at the clock. It was only a little past eleven. “Honestly, I’m not usually in bed yet.”
He grinned. “Yeah. Me neither.”
She nodded, unsure where to go with that either. She’d worked so hard all these years to never be left alone with him…
But again, Jason was there to fill the gaps of silence. Moving toward the liquor cabinet, he sent her a questioning glance. “Want something?”
Christina hesitated, but only for a second. “Yeah. Okay. Sure.”
He sent her a teasing glance over his shoulder. “You going to stand there all night or come inside?”
Christina frowned darkly. “Of course I’m not going to stand here….” she muttered, stomping quietly into the den. Why was it, he could always make her feel like an overgrown child? Clumsy, off-pitch…
With a look, Christina watched him turn nimbly back to the wet bar; his hands were deft as he poured the drinks. She’d only just sat down on the loveseat when he finished. Coming up to her, he held out a neat whiskey sour.
There was absolutely no way she could take it without touching his fingers. Bracing herself for the feeling that always followed—it was only the rush of the forbidden, she firmly reminded herself, Christina reached for the glass. Her fingers shook a little as she curled her hand around the rocks glass, but it was only the finest of tremors.
“Nervous Christina?” Jason asked quietly, expectantly. He raised his eyebrows richly.
So apparently it hadn’t been that fine of a tremor after all. Cupping the glass with both hands now, Christina tried to play it cool. He was far too close. In response, she leaned back against the cushions. “Of what?”
He nodded at the stranglehold she had on the whiskey. “You tell me.” His eyes narrowed on her hands, the unusual whiteness of her knuckles. “You’re trembling,” he informed her. He was still leaning over her, his breath only inches from her lips. “In fact, you’ve been trembling all night.”
Bringing the glass to her lips, anything to stall, at the last second, Christina lowered her drink. She doubted she could swallow. Clearing her throat, she moved blindly, frantically.
“You know what,” she said, the words coming out too quickly. “I think maybe I’m tired after all.” With a jerk, she twisted her body around his, setting the whiskey none-too-gently on the coffee table as she made to rise.
“Chrissy…” Jason’s hand shot out, forestalling her rushed getaway. Their bodies were so close they were almost, but not quite, touching. He stood towering over her, and she sat half-perched on the couch.
“Let me go” She cried tiredly, tugging at her wrist. Her eyes flinched away from his gaze.
“Not before I get an answer.”
“To what?” she asked, exasperated into glancing up at him.
“A theory,” he said, half under his breath. But before Christina’s wide, shocked eyes could do more than stare nonplussed, before her voice could expand, asking for an explanation, his mouth was on hers, pressing down, his tongue gliding along her lips.