It's been a summer for storms, so she should have been expecting this one; but it takes her by surprise, the clouds rolling in so quickly the wind nearly pushes her backward. By the time she's rushed into the nearest shop, she's drenched to the bone.
A bell tinkles somewhere above her head as she pushes the door open. A book store, she notes, rubbing her arms to get some warmth back into them. She's never been in here before, and she takes a moment to glance around curiously.
"Can I help you?"
She whips around. There's a guy standing behind the counter, and he's scowling a bit in her direction. She takes a second to look him up and down--he's attractive in a lean, lithe sort of way, even with the grumpy expression on his face. There's a blank "Hi my name is" tag pinned onto his button-down shirt, and his sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, He's clenching the counter, arms taught and tense, in an almost predatory manner, and--glasses. She's always a sucker for a guy in glasses.
"Well, hello there," she grins, telling herself not to purr like a cat. He's a total stranger for Christ's sake. "I just popped in to wait out this storm. It's raining like nothing else out there, eh?"
He grunts and releases the counter, leaning back and crossing his arms across his chest as he gives her the same kind of once-over she gave him. Her hair is plastered to her face, she can feel it, and her makeup must be running, and her dress is clinging wetly to her thighs, but she forces herself not to make a move to fix anything.
"Yeah, you don't exactly look like our usual clientele," he mutters eventually.
Is that supposed to be an insult? She's not quite sure. "Well, as long as I'm here, might as well look around a bit."
His only response is another grunt, and he sticks his nose into a book.
Someone clearly messed up his customer service training.
She wanders randomly down one aisle, which appears to contain mainly murder mysteries. There are a couple of Agatha Christies that she hasn't read, and she glances quickly at the synopses on the back covers. Much as she would love to read them, she forces herself to set them back on the shelf. If she starts buying books she won't stop, and that's not exactly something she can afford these days. That's what library cards are for.
Turning down another aisle, she hears the guy behind the counter snort. "Don't expect to find anything you'd be interested in over there."
Surprised, she casts him a glance. "Why? What's in this aisle?"
But he just shakes his head and returns to his book.
It's science fiction, she finds. Is he trying to suggest that she wouldn't be interested in scifi? She's tempted to buy some of the books just to prove him wrong, but that would involve buying books, and she's not quite willing to part with that money.
So instead she says, conversationally, "It's kind of odd that you have Tolkien shelved in scifi, here. Or is it scifi and fantasy?"
"Tolkien mostly matches Heinlein's definition of scifi," the guy at the counter replies, not looking up from his book.
She pauses for a moment, racking her brain to remember what Heinlein said about the nature of scifi. "No, I don't think he does. Heinlein always emphasized that scifi should be about a human problem in an extraordinary setting based on realistic possibilities. I would argue that Tolkien wrote about more supernatural than human problems, although human nature definitely plays a large role."
The guy at the counter has taken his face out of his book, although he still isn't looking at her.
"Well, I'm not the one who makes those decisions. I just run the cash."
His words are partially obscured by the loud crack of thunder.
"Sounds like it's getting worse out there," she remarks, moving forward to glance out the shop windows.
He drops his book on the counter and sighs heavily. "You know what? There's a women's clothing store right across the street if you want to wait out the rain in a more interesting place. I'll even lend you an umbrella."
She jerks her head around to stare at him. "What do you mean?"
Taking his glasses off, he rubs at the bridge of his nose. "Look--"
Just then, there's another flash of lightning and crack of thunder, and all the lights in the shop go out.
"Holy--mother of God," she starts to exclaim, trailing off into a mutter as a security light comes on above the counter.
"Everyone stay calm, I'm sure the power will be back soon, et cetera, et cetera," he announces sarcastically, picking up his book again. "And I'm serious about that umbrella."
"I'm not fucking going outside when there's lightning this close. And I don't know why I would find clothes more interesting than books, anyway. It takes ten seconds to look at a skirt and decide whether or not I like it--I could get through that whole store before I got through one of these books."
The only response she gets is another grunt. Curious, she approaches the counter.
"What are you reading, anyway?"
"Nothing!" He slams the book shut and tries to shove it under something, but she catches a glimpse of the cover anyway.
"Wait a second. Are you reading erotica?"
Even in the low lights, she can tell that he turns three shades of red. "Absolutely not."
"On the job? I'm sure that's not allowed. People get fired for watching porn at work all the time."
"I'm allowed to read any book that's sold in the store while I'm working," he snaps. And, after a moment, adds, "And I wasn't reading erotica, anyways. Don't read it at all."
"Really?" She's kind of amused now, and feeling decidedly flirtatious. Something about that unintentional vulnerability--and the glasses--is bringing it out in her. "Do you mind if I look at it then?"
She grabs it from his hands before he can pull away. Sure enough, the cover artwork doesn't lie--hardcore fantasy erotica. She raises her eyebrows at him.
"You're reading erotica."
His shoulders slump a bit, but he tries to take it in stride. "Well, I can't now that you're standing in front of me."
"Shame. I suppose I could always read it. Let's see here."
He grabs for the book, but she steps backward, keeping it out of his reach. Finding the place where he'd left off, she clears her throat and puts on her best narrator voice, honed from five years of drama summer camp.
"'Justinian retreated to his chamber, looking forward to removing his armour and sinking into a steaming hot bath. Standing outside of his door, he caught a drift of a sweet soprano melody, and belatedly remembered that he'd dismissed his squire that morning and replaced him with Magdalena. Hopefully the girl would prove able of serving him in a like manner--the thought made Justinian's body quiver in anticipation, imagining Magdalena's soft hands checking him for cuts and bruises. His manhood was already aching as he stepped foot inside his chamber.
"'The sight of Magdalena made it jump with liquid excitement. She was in a state of deshabille he had not previously seen--apparently she had not been expecting him. Her chemise, the only garment she wore, was slung low across her breasts and rose high on her thighs, and her hair fell like a wild, ebony waterfall down her back. In the light of the fire, she looked golden all over.
"'She looked up when Justinian entered, and her face reddened. "Sir Justinian. Allow me to ring for bathwater to be brought, and then I will help you with your armour." Accordingly--'"
"Okay, that's enough," he mutters. "You can give the book back now, you've made your point."
"But we're just getting to the good part," she taunts, leaning against the counter. "Where were we? Ah. 'Her hands, gentle, firm, soft, warm, ghosted over him, undoing his laces and removing piece after piece of heavy armour. Justinian closed his eyes, revelling in the feeling of it. He could smell her jasmine scent, and it was all he could do not to pull her to him and have his way with her.
"'Soon, another servant came in with the bath water. After the tub had been filled, Justinian and Magdalena were again alone. He cleared his throat. "I know that it is a squire's duty to help his master bathe, but truly, you need not take that duty upon yourself."
"'Magdalena smiled. "It will not be a duty, but a pleasure. I live to serve you now, my master." That went straight to his gut, and Justinian fought to control the reaction of his body to the thought of her serving him with pleasure.
"'She turned her back while he removed his tunic and hose and got into the bath, but then she came to the tub and began to wash his hair, her sure fingers kneading gently into his scalp. Justinian clenched his jaw. Magdalena was probably an innocent, a gypsy girl he'd rescued on a whim, and he had no business being this aroused by her gentle ministrations.
"'Too soon, she finished with his hair and moved on to his back. The sensation of her hands sliding over his slippery skin proved too much for Justinian, and clenching the sides of the tub, he ground out, "That is enough, Magdalena. You had best leave now."
"'"But, Sir Justinian," Magdalena complained, "You are not yet clean."
"'"I am not. But if you continue to bathe me, Magdalena, I fear that you will end up with the bathwater with me."
"'The meaning of that statement was not lost on Magdalena, but she did not stop. Rather, she grinned slowly. "But, master, that has been my intention all along."
"'Reacting to that statement on instinct, Justinian reached for her, and within seconds she was in the tub atop him, soaking wet.'"
It's not until he leans his head back and swallows hard that she realizes that her voice has slipped from narrator to seductress. She can't help it now. The book is affecting her more than she thought it would.
"'Her hair and chemise clung to her body, outlining all the curves Justinian hadn't allowed himself to imagine. The wet chemise allowed him to see her almost as clearly as if she weren't wearing it at all. Tossing her hair and looking up at him with laughing eyes, Magdalena brought to mind a siren from one of the old tales.
"'Justinian reached out and touched her face. Her skin was smooth and soft beneath his touch. He hesitated a moment, but then Magdalena made the decision for him, bringing her face to his for a long, lingering kiss. Justinian allowed his hands to move down her body, slowly exploring each dip and curve of her, before coming back up to knead her breasts. Magdalena gasped, but Justinian kissed her again. She ran her hands up and down his chest almost frantically, as though she were afraid that he would disappear before she got her fill of him.
"'It was fairly safe to say that he wouldn't. Justinian tried to convey that through his kiss, tried to tell her that he would be here until she was fully sated. He had always been known as a wonderful lover, careful to ensure that the ladies he bedded reached their pleasure before he achieved his own--'"
Suddenly, he rips the book from her hands, tosses it to the side, and growls, "Fuck it all."
Before she can comment, he takes her face in his hands and kisses her.
It's not a gentle kiss. It's as violent and urgent as the storm still raging outside, and after a few shocked seconds, she stands up on her tiptoes and kisses him back, giving as good as she gets. When he moves his hand to her hair, she allows herself to purr the way she hadn't earlier, and tries to press closer.
The counter is between them, and in her opinion it's just getting in the way. Without breaking the kiss, she clambers on top of it, sitting and swinging her legs down on his side so that he can move between them. Much better.
She's just started to work on the top button of his shirt when, with aloud buzz, the lights come back on. It takes her half a second to realize what's happened, and then all of a sudden he shoves her off the counter so that she crashes into the floor.
"Security camera. You could have gotten me fired."
"Excuse me?" She turns to glare at him, but it's hard to stay angry when he looks so adorably rumpled. "I think you're forgetting that you are the one who started it."
He opens his mouth, fish-like, but apparently can't find anything to say. Irritated, she pulls herself to her feet, brushing off the dirt from the shop floor.
"Well, it's been fun. Have a nice life."
"Wait a second." She pauses, hand on the doorknob, as he rushes around the counter towards her. "It's our policy to make sure all of our customers have an excellent book-buying experience."
Silence. She stares him down for a bit. "And?"
Blushing a bit and avoiding eye contact--he really is too cute for words--he continues in a slightly embarrassed voice, "Well, since you were inconvenienced by the power outage and… all that… I was wondering if I could offer you… a free bookmark?"
"A bookmark? Really, that's it?"
"Ah… well, I understand that your time here has been… difficult… I guess I could throw in the book as well?"
He gestures to the erotica book, still sitting on the counter. She purses her lips and considers for a second.
"Okay. I'll have the bookmark with the unicorns on it."
Two minutes later, she exits the shop, bag in hand. The rain has slowed to a drizzle, so she pauses for a minute inside a bus shelter to get a better look at her new bookmark. There's a dark spot on the back, and she frowns at it for a minute until she realizes that it's a name and phone number.
She dashes back to the book store. When she opens the door, he glances up, face still a bit pink; his eyes widen when he sees it's her.
"So I was thinking…" Coming closer to the counter, she tilts her head to the side and smiles. "…maybe I could come back next week and read some more of that book with you."
A slow grin spreads across his face.
A/N: So. I'm not dead. I have started no fewer than five different one-shots, and been unable to finish them, since the last time I posted. This is partly because I'm also working on like three novel-length projects right now, partly because in the fall/winter I was working two part-time jobs while attending university full-time. And then since May I've been working full time and also taking up blogging and also I now have a super-active social life which feels really weird.
BUT the good news is now that I am back in the world of posting, and I have all these half-finished one-shots lying around, your reviews make me happy and also make me want to write more! So review if you love me! Or even if you don't, really, loving me isn't a precondition on this whole reviewing thing. Review, review, review!
Also... is it just me or does the ending seem a little... unfinished?