“I didn’t say I was a seamstress,” said Ashley. She leaned forward and there was a snapping sound as she bit the thread with her teeth.
“Christ…” Norman shifted the lamp along the table. “Do you want some scissors?”
Ashley looked up at him, blowing puffs of air to get rid of the loose thread on her lip. “Well it’s too late now.” Shadows from the window danced on her face as rain battered the hotel. She looked down again, hunched over the jacket. Norman leaned over her, studying her work.
“Really, it looks like a child did this,” he said. He heard Ashley sigh heavily.
“All that matters is nothing falls out and it doesn’t come undone,” she said. “Anyway, it’s on the inside. No one’s going to see it.”
“I’m going to see it,” said Norman. Ashley sat up quickly, and Norman found himself nose to nose with her. He felt his face flush as the nervous twinge hit him again.
“You really want a fifty dollar job on four inches of fabric?” She blew a rope of hair out of her face. Then she looked down again, giving Norman some time to calm his heart. “I thought of you as a frugal kind of guy.”
Norman laughed lightly, then felt a slow dread fall over him. He’d almost forgotten what it was like to simply enjoy a moment without the urgency of time pressing on him. Although there had been some strange comfort in it. An excuse to pull him away and focus on anything but the current situation. And now that he had all the time to spare, he suddenly wished he had a place to hide again.
Ashley straightened, folding the jacket closed. “Alright. Let’s see it.”
Norman stepped back as she pushed away from the desk and stood up. Her form was broken in the dim light, and it took a moment for Norman’s eyes to adjust as she swung the jacket over her shoulders. She fitted her arms in the sleeves, and then plunged her hands into the pockets.
She glanced up at him, then rolled her shoulders. “Me-tested.” She smiled, stretching her arms into the pockets.
Norman moved forward, trying his best to shake his nervousness. He pulled the jacket back from her shoulders, leaning forward into her as she drew her hands from the pockets. The subtle peach scent caught his attention, and he avoided her gaze as he swept the jacket around her thin frame.
He put his hand in the pocket, roughing it a bit. The rolls of the thread ran along his fingers, but the pocket stayed solid. He looked at Ashley. “And me-approved.” He spun the jacket around and hung it on the edge of the desk.
“What─ serious?” There was a flurry of movement as Ashley stepped in front of him and scooped the jacket up. “No wonder your clothes are falling apart. Are you sure you were nearly killed or do you just throw your stuff anywhere?”
She moved away from him, and Norman watched as she crossed the room. She’d put her hair back into a short ponytail, falling into the same ponytail, black shirt and jeans profile that Norman had come to know. What he hadn’t expected was to end up here, fixing a jacket that he didn’t care about, and alone with her in his hotel room.
There was a rumble as the closet door rolled open, and Ashley leaned inside. “What’s the point in getting the presidential suite if you’re not going to use any of this?”
“It’s not the presidential─” Norman ran a hand over his face. “It was paid for.”
Ashley paused for a moment. Then she leaned back, twisting to look at Norman with her wide brown eyes. “By who?”
“By… Washington─ look, why does that matter?” Norman moved toward her as she leaned into the closet again. He heard her muffled laughter as she unhooked a clothes hanger.
“Well, it didn’t. But now I’m curious.” She threw a glance at him over her shoulder, sending her hair sweeping back. “Did they pay for your car, too?”
Norman sighed, tilting his head back. “No, it’s mine.”
“What about your gun? Is that yours?”
“What kind of question is that?” Norman gripped her arm, and she turned slightly to face him. A pang of shock hit him as he gazed at her, and he let her arm go quickly. “Look, what are you doing?”
Ashley blinked, her eyes growing wider. “I’m hanging up your jacket.”
“Not that. I mean…” Norman let out a heavy breath, leaning his shoulder against the wall. “Are you trying to make me uncomfortable?”
Ashley’s hair fell sideways as she tilted her head, her eyes glinting in the dim light. “Yes?”
“Please don’t,” said Norman. He ran a hand through his hair, straightening as he realized Ashley had folded the jacket on her arm and was staring at him. He dropped his arm at his side. “What?”
The corner of her mouth rose, and she shifted her weight. “I didn’t know. All this time I thought I had you figured out.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Norman. Ashley turned again, reaching into the closet.
“That you’re scared of letting someone into your personal space,” she said. “I thought this whole time you were scared of everyone else. But that’s not what you’re really scared of.”
Norman leaned off the wall, trying to ignore the peach fragrance. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah.” She turned back again, throwing him another squinted smirk. “It’s you.”
A numb feeling washed over Norman’s body. He swallowed heavily as Ashley hung the jacket onto the rail and pushed it back.
“I mean, it all makes sense considering the whole anti-social jerk thing.” She slid the closet door closed and turned. “You and Blake could’ve been best friends─”
The nervous twinge burned in Norman’s chest, paralyzing his senses as he moved forward into her, holding the side of her neck in one hand and closing his mouth over her lips. It took him a moment to realize where he was as he breathed against her skin, the peach scent threatening to overwhelm him. He paused a moment, letting her pull away slightly so that she rested her forehead against his. It came on slowly. That familiar debilitating closeness. That feeling of terror and excitement at the same time. And for a second, he didn’t feel he was ready for it.
Ashley moved back, her face coming into view. A nervous energy burned in her eyes, and Norman felt his heart race in panic. It was the same doubtful expression he’d seen when she left his office. Her brows slightly furrowed, and a hesitant glint lit her brown eyes. Norman desperately tried to hold onto the space before she could break it again. He ran his thumb along her jawline, savoring how close his mouth was to hers. He needed to remember this. If it was the worst mistake he’d ever make, he needed to hold onto it forever.
Ashley’s eyes narrowed slightly. Norman felt his breath quicken as he waited for her to pull away. Then her face disappeared, and a wave of numb energy fell over him as she pressed into him, her lips meeting his again.
Without thinking, he pulled her into him, clutching the small of her back and leaning into her. Pressure along his chest told him she was sliding her hands up, and he felt her wrap her arms over his shoulders. He caught each closing of her mouth with desperate energy, smoothing his hands over her back as if he couldn’t draw her in close enough. This woman─ this person that he’d known for such a short time. She made him so angry. So confused. So happy. So utterly ashamed. And he needed all of it. Everything at once.
He took small pauses, resting his forehead against hers before tightening his arms over her back and finding her mouth again. Her shaken breath warmed his skin, and the drift of her hand through his hair as her arms tightened caused goosebumps to rise along his neck. The sensation was overwhelming. He could hardly believe he’d been living without this.
Her hands slid over his shoulders, and he felt her fingers graze his jaw. He paused against her again, his nose pressed against her cheek, and he tilted his head sideways to close his mouth over hers. He felt her fingers tighten along his jawline as she leaned into him, and her chest rose and fell heavily with each breath. Her breathing seemed to fill him with energy, and he pulled her tighter into him as her hands fell along his neck. He was almost completely absorbed in the sensation, and it took him a moment to realize the tug at his collar.
He relaxed his grip on her and pulled away slightly. In the dim light, he found her face again, her brown eyes alight in energy. He struggled to reorganize his thoughts in the midst of his overwhelming euphoria. She’d done something with his collar. No… a cascade of shocking realization fell over him. She was loosening his tie.
Her mouth tensed and her eyes wrinkled slightly in the smallest hint of a smile. Norman felt her fingers work again, and his collar loosened around his neck. Then she moved into him again, breathing in as her mouth closed against his, and he felt the tie slide free.
A strange sense of surrender seemed to take over his body. He held onto her waist as her hands moved down his shirt, undoing the buttons one by one. His heart pounded, and he thought his chest would burst as he arched into her, pressing his mouth against hers. As her hands reached his waist, she leaned into him, pulling his shirt loose from underneath his belt. He felt her straighten, and then she gripped his shirt and coat at his collar. Norman rolled his shoulders back, and she pushed it away from his chest so that it fell along his arms onto the floor.
His skin was chilled, though he couldn’t be sure if it was from the cold air or the electric sensation he was experiencing. He pulled her into him again by the waist, pausing again to let his senses catch up with him. He felt her hot breath against his skin, travelling down his cheek as she tilted her head into his neck. A soft brush along his chest sent a shiver through his body as her hands drifted down his midsection, exploring the bumps and ridges of his waist. He’d never wanted to be so exposed. So vulnerable. And at the same time, he’d never felt safer in his life.
He drew in a sharp breath, a wave of ice flowing through him as he felt the shocking warm wet touch of her mouth on his shoulder. The peach fragrance overtook him as he pressed his mouth to her hair. Her slender body moved against him, and her hands left his waist. Then her body arched back, her elbows drawing up in front of her, pulling up the black fabric of her clothes. It swept over her head, and she lowered her arms as her shirt dropped, leaving her slender upper body bare in the soft light.
Norman stood somewhat frozen in front of her, a sweet terror keeping him still as she slowly moved into him. He caught a glimpse of her face as she slid her hands over his shoulders, her brown eyes focused on his in a determined gaze. Then her head fell sideways and she pressed into him again, her breath warming his cheek. Her slender body locked against his, brushing against his bare skin, and he carefully allowed himself to slide his hands up her waist. He traced the contours of her torso, a nervous thrill burning through him as he ran his thumbs over the outer curves of her breasts. She was really giving herself to him. Completely and willingly. He hardly felt worthy of it.
He slid his hands over her back, drawing in the details of her skin and how her muscles flexed as she moved against him. She was so slender. So delicate. And yet perfect in every way. He pulled her into him as her hands drifted down over his chest again. She twisted slightly, fumbling with something. He felt her pull his arms, covering his hands on her sides with her own. She paused against him, breathing heavily against his neck, and then Norman felt her push his hands down. His fingers swept over the curves of her body, smoothing down to her waist until they touched the top of her jeans. He gripped her sides, his heart pounding so heavily he thought it would burst from his chest. Then she pushed down again, sliding his hands under the hem of her jeans so his thumbs hooked onto it, and he traced the slope of her hips as he pulled the jeans low enough until they fell free onto the floor.
There was a light shuffle as Ashley pushed him backward slightly, stepping up to him with her eyes locked on his. She reached up again, twisting her head slightly as she fumbled something behind her head. Her hair fell loose, falling over her shoulders in a sweep of messy locks and framing her face in a curtain of brown. Norman slid a hand over her neck, brushing away part of the curtain as he moved into her again. Her trembled breaths betrayed her surrender to him. It shook what little remained of his own sense of control, and he dared to run his hand down her neck, over her delicate collarbone, and over her breast.
A brush of warm air hit him as Ashley exhaled. She pushed into him again, and Norman felt a tug at his hips as she unbuckled his belt.
A surge of energy flowed through him, and a powerful hunger took over. Without hesitating, he pulled her to the side, walking her backwards as she continued to loosen his pants. She worked with almost desperate intent, and he felt a tremor as she pushed her fingers into his pants, pulling everything free from him.
He immediately leaned forward, pushing her back onto the bed with a new sense of urgency. She pulled herself further onto the bed, her hand against Norman’s neck as if guiding him to her. He followed, hovering over her as she stopped, her face barely visible in the light and her hair splayed back over the sheets in soft waves. Her wide brown eyes gleamed in the darkness, reflecting a desperate glimmer of the clueless expression he’d fallen so hard for. Sharp breaths escaped her lips, her mouth open slightly and her chest heaving as she gazed at him. She was completely undone. And it was all for him.
Norman lowered himself down onto her, finding her mouth again. Her body arched against him and he felt her leg slide against his hip, sending another wave of powerful desire through him. He ran a hand along her body, brushing it against her other leg and hooking his fingers under her knee, slowly bringing it up. Her heavy breaths were almost sending him into a frenzy, urging him not to stop. He could taste the desire on her skin and feel it in the tense strain of her muscles, filling his core with burning pressure. He closed his mouth against her jaw. Then he arched his hips, pulling her leg up as he slid himself inside her.
An encompassing warmth captured him, starting at his pelvis and slowly spreading. He felt Ashley rise slightly, her mouth falling open and a heavy sigh leaving her, broken by her soft voice. It spurred him on, and he gently rocked his hips into her. Each pulse gradually fed this warmth, filling him with stronger purpose. This was where he’d always wanted to be. All of the doubt and uncertainty he’d experienced… it all led to this. Being here with her, completely exposed and wrapped up in her at the same time. And every fiber of him was urging him for more.
He pulled her knee up so that her leg locked over his waist, and he pressed his nose into her cheek as her desperate breaths echoed in his ear. He felt her hands slide down his chest and brush against his tense waist, clenching slowly over his back. The sensation made him rock harder, deeper into her. The burning energy was taking complete control, moving his body automatically against her as if it was the only thing he had left.
He pressed his hand against her neck, tilting her head towards him to find her mouth again. She breathed in deep against his skin and then opened her mouth, her heavy breaths warming his lips. Her voice broke through with each breath, feeding the energy that kept him moving. He slid a hand down her waist and and cupped her jaw with the other. She was falling over the edge. All because of him. And it was intoxicating.
He pressed his mouth against hers and rolled sideways onto his back, carrying her with him clenched to his body. Her hair fell forward and encircled his face, brushing against his skin. He pushed it back behind her ear, bringing light to her brown eyes. An exhausted energy burned in them like he had never seen. She gazed back into his eyes for a moment, and then she began to roll her hips back and forth into him, bringing back the burning pressure in his core.
He gripped her waist, clenching his hands with each motion as she slowly raised herself. Her eyes fell closed and her head tilted, causing her hair to fall sideways. Her hand drifted along his chest, propping herself up, and her bare body glowed in the dim light. She was perfect. Her slender body curved at her hips, tapering up to her delicate bare arms. Her collarbones glistened with fresh sweat, and her round breasts were smooth and firm. Norman ran a hand over her body as she continued to roll her pelvis into him, and his fingers brushed along the jagged sutures in her lower abdomen. The only thing marring her perfect form.
She hissed in a breath of air and jolted slightly, her legs tensing on either side of him. An icy cascade flowed through him, and he pressed his hand to her neck as her hips slowed. She didn’t deserve to have that on her body. Her muscles and skin were too perfect to have that gash. But somehow, Norman felt himself burn deeper for it.
Ashley reached up, lacing her fingers over his hand against her face. He watched as she pulled his hand down to her hip, and pushed up, gliding over the sutures. His hand slid over the contours of her waist, and then she pushed his hand against her breast, clenching her fingers between his.
Her head fell back, and her pelvis rolled into him with renewed energy. The surge of warm pressure filled his body, and Norman tightened his fingers over her breast, watching her knuckles turn white. Her voice returned with each breath, her chest heaving as her body worked harder onto him. The burning urge in his core was growing with an overwhelming desperation, and he found himself breathing heavier.
He pulled her down onto him again, closing his mouth over hers as he rolled on top of her. He pulled her knee up as she wrapped her arms over his shoulders, and he rocked his pelvis into her with greater force. He needed her to lose control. To give up everything until it was just him driving her over the brink. And she needed to take him with her.
Ashley raised her body into him, her hands clenched on his back as her exhausted voice filled the room. Her legs bent, and he felt her lock them over his hips, bringing him further into her. Her breath moistened his skin as her mouth opened against his, her nose pressed into his cheek. Her body was growing tighter around him, warming the pressure at his core. He slid his hand over her leg as he rocked himself into her. It was building. And as she breathed heavier against him, he felt her body suddenly shake.
She drew her knees up further, and her hands clawed into his skin. A desperate moan escaped her as she arched her back, driving him deep into her. Norman let out a sharp breath as a jolt of energy shot through him. She was losing it. Losing everything. He pushed himself against her, and the pressure in his core suddenly released in a euphoric wave.
His body seized, and a light groan left him. He felt himself push deeper, the release igniting his senses until he lost all thought. It was nothing and everything at once. It was ecstasy.
Norman rocked slowly into her as the wave faded, leaving him mildly dazed. His chest pressed against hers as exhaustion overtook him, his breath mingling with hers. He felt Ashley’s body relax under him, and her hands drifted over his back as she breathed heavily into him. For a while, neither of them moved.
Slowly, Norman shifted sideways, resting slightly on top of her, his nose overlapping hers as he laid his head on the pillow. He slid his hand to her neck, running his thumb over her cheek. He could just barely make out the outline of her face in the darkness, her eyes closed and her chest heaving. Her hair was pulled back from her face, revealing the delicate line of her neck and shoulders. She seemed completely oblivious─ lost in exhaustion. And despite himself, Norman felt a swell of pleasure.
He smoothed his thumb along her jawline as her breathing calmed. Sweat beaded her body, causing her skin to glisten in the low light. Norman couldn’t help but study her, taking in the detail of her skin and the curve of her body. He’d never felt so complete as he was laying with her, totally spent physically and mentally but in a way that he’d give again in a heartbeat. And in place of what he’d given was everything he didn’t know he wanted. Every part of him that had caused him fear and doubt was now filled by her.
His mind swam as her soft breath warmed his cheek. He could never have imagined that three days would lead him here. Three days of dodging the subject, wrong impressions, and mistakes on all sides. There was nothing that mattered more than this. Nothing that could pull him from her ever again…
A deep dread crept slowly into his chest. He paused as he brushed his hand over her cheek. There was something. Time was working against him. Everything was finished. The Origami killings were over. And Norman’s time here was going to be over soon as well.
It seemed such a trivial thing. He struggled even to comprehend it. Three hour’s distance was nothing. And at the same time, it terrified him. He smoothed his palm over Ashley’s neck, gazing over the soft curve of her jaw and the angle of her nose. She meant too much to him now. He needed this. He needed her. And there was no compromise he’d settle for if it meant leaving her behind.
Ashley shifted slightly, her nose brushing his. Norman felt his heart skip a beat.
“Come to Washington with me,” he said.
It took Norman a second to realize what he’d said. Ashley’s brown eyes opened, blinking with weariness as she focused on him. She shook her head slightly.
“What?” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Norman smoothed his thumb over her cheek. “Come back to Washington with me.” A slight panic burned through him as he gazed at her through the dark. It didn’t matter what happened later. She simply needed to say yes.
Ashley stared at him, her eyes studying as if she were reading him. Then she closed her eyes, a small smile forming on her lips. “Are you asking me this now because I’m in utter ecstasy…”
Norman pressed his thumb and forefinger to her jaw, drawing her attention back. “I want you to come back to Washington with me,” he said. “I’m in love with you, Ashley.”
Her eyes burned with renewed focus. Through the dark, he saw her throat work, sending beads of sweat trickling down her neck. She lowered her gaze, and Norman’s heart raced. There was nothing left to hide from her. He was completely exposed. And somehow he felt more vulnerable than anything he’d experienced that night.
Her eyes met his again, and for a moment, his breath was caught in his throat. She bit her lip.
“Okay,” she said. Her mouth parted in a smile, and a hint of the clueless expression danced in her eyes. “Sure.”
A wave of relief washed through him. He breathed a small laugh, running his thumb over her jaw. She shifted closer into him, lowering her gaze again.
“I can’t say no to you anyways,” she said. Her eyes met his. “I love you.”
For a moment, Norman was still as a numb cascade fell over him. Then he pulled her forward, closing his mouth over hers. His heart pounded in his chest, and he felt her wrap an arm around him.
He pulled away slightly, resting his forehead against hers. “Say it again.”
Ashley’s breath warmed his mouth as her chest rose and fell. She pressed her hand against the side of his neck. “I love you, Norman Jayden.” Then her hand slipped through his hair as Norman slid onto her, the warm pressure burning through him once again.