Chapter 18 - Paris

Paris. How I love this city. Sure, it doesn't smell so great, and no one can forget that at one point of time it was a massive open graveyard that led to the creation of the Catacombs. Still, I mean, the food. And it's got that big-city vibrancy in the air, the same feeling you get in the streets of London, New York, Hong Kong, but it's tinged with something that's uniquely French and delightful.

We boarded the train to Paris at eight in the evening yesterday, and were hustled straight into the hotel for a quick change of clothes before being rushed to the concert venue. I'm sitting in a corner of the room playing Temple Run while the band tunes up and does a verbal run-through of the performance.

"… so then we'll go straight into Dusk…"

"Alright, and then after that we can move into Wine Memories…"

Shanks is stonily silent throughout, stretched out on the sofa with his eyes shut and a bottle of water hanging loosely in his grip. I'm sure I heard him throwing up in the bathroom earlier. His sticks are lying on the coffee table, the shine of the varnish long worn-off by use. Dom is standing slightly apart from Kian and Caleb, quietly playing some funk on his bass. Gladys is as usually striding around in her pointy heels, micromanaging, while Terrence lurks in the other corner sorting through some papers.

The concert tonight is in one of the biggest venues of the tour. Since Under the Eaves still flies relatively under the radar, the venues aren't the music festival or 10000+ capacity stadiums that bigger artists must book. Around 6000 people are expected for today's concert, and 200 of those will have paid an extortionate price for the backstage meet and greet after the show. Doubtless, there will be paparazzi there too, which is making me slightly wary.

Kian meanders over to me as the meeting breaks up, snuggling up behind me and watching as I beat my high score.

"No one plays Temple Run anymore," he sneers at me. I wave him off, starting a new game as my character gets swallowed up by fire.

He wrestles the phone from me to loud protests, and tucks it in his pocket. Grabbing me around the waist to still my struggling, he plants a soft kiss at the back of my neck.

Like the noodle I am, I immediately melt.

"You're very happy tonight," I note, stroking his lower lip with the tip of my finger.

"I'm excited about this concert," he admits as I fiddle with the lip ring. "It's a big crowd, and the stage is bigger than we've played on so we're going to have backup musicians. It's just going to sound so much more complex and beautiful tonight."

"I'm looking forward to it too," I say, taking a sip of the orange juice sitting next to me. "When's the next Intimate session?"

"Tomorrow evening."

"But –"

"It will end before the dinner," he promises me before I can remind him that we have dinner with my dodged-a-bullet in-laws.

I groan with the fresh reminder of this torturous dinner. "I can't thank you enough for agreeing to come with me," I say gratefully. As glad as I am that he's coming, however, I'm already reeling from how incredibly awkward it's going to be.

"Band needed backstage now! Opening in five," the stage manager calls.

Kian rises from his seat and picks up one of his electrics, slinging the strap across his chest. His prized acoustic is already backstage, ready for the exclusive acoustic version of their song Brightside, which they'll be unveiling later tonight.

He leans over to give me a quick kiss, which I immediately try to take advantage of, but he gently pushes me back with a grin. "Limpet."

I scowl. "Fine. Leave."

He kisses me again. "See you after, baby."

"I'll be in the wings the whole concert, stupid," I respond, stroking the strings of his electric. It's a beautiful instrument.

He's about to respond when Shanks' voice calls out for 'loverboy' to 'move his bloody arse'. I haven't heard Shanks speak more than two words in succession since Calais, so this comes as a shock to all of us. Kian follows his bandmates out of the room with one last gorgeous grin in my direction.

I wait five minutes before following them. It's another concert hall, another layout, another complicated labyrinth of passageways and rooms of dusty equipment. At this point, however, I'm starting to get the hang of it. Plus, can't go wrong by following the sound of music. Eventually, I turn a corner and see Gladys click-clacking her way determinedly in what I assume is the direction of the stage, so I follow her.

The wings of the stage are as cluttered as you might expect from any concert hall. Piles of amps and miles of cables create a dangerous obstacle course which I carefully pick my way through, I nudge what looks like a box of ramen noodles gently out of the way with the tip of my shoe, and peer out past the curtain.

The boys look more excited about performing than they have in a while. There's an undeniable electricity in the air. Paris is probably the band's strongest fan base, as they were originally signed by a Parisian label before switching over to Centro. The band's enthusiasm also probably has to do with the new songs they're unveiling tonight. Most of them were recorded at Centro, but even I haven't heard the acoustic version they'll be playing.

We all expected a massive response from the crowd, but this is beyond our wildest dreams. Gladys and I stand backstage, slightly shellshocked by the sheer volume of the cheers. I can tell the band is overwhelmed, and happiness radiates from Kian as he steps up to take the mic.

"It's great to be back here in Paris, where we first got signed. We're so grateful for your love and appreciation – without you, we wouldn't have got to where we are today."

The crowd's screaming rises to a whole new level as the band breaks into their tribute to the city, For Paris, which they wrote shortly after getting signed to Centro. I smile wistfully as I remember working late in the studio on a cut of the song.

Song after song passes by with no sign of the eagerly-awaited acoustic cover. All the regular crew members, including the bodyguards, have been kept in the dark about this cover. The band kept it strictly between them, and even the backup musicians will be exiting the stage for it.

And finally, Kian announces it.

"We have something special for you tonight. It's an acoustic version of our recently released single – you may have heard it – hope you like it, here's Brightside."

I've heard the song probably hundreds of times in the studio, more than I'd ever care to hear it if we're being honest. But this is something else. The acoustic version takes out the anger in the song and replaces it with melancholy so strong that I hug myself and sit down, especially as I remember that the lyrics were written by Shanks.

It started out with a kiss

How did it end up like this

It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss

But she's touching his chest

Now, he takes off her dress

Now, letting me go

The final chords die away and a slow roar builds in the crowd, like an aeroplane revving before take off. Then the cheering starts, and even the crew are screaming praise from the wings of the stage. The boys are pretty much radiant with success and excitement, all except for Shanks, who is looking down at his hands, and seems to be shaking.

My heart goes out to him and my cheering dies away as I watch him. I notice him looking up at Kian, who seems to understand and swiftly calls the concert to a close.

"It's been a real pleasure performing for you tonight," he calls out, greeted by a wave of cheers. "Unfortunately that's all the time we have for tonight. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, and we'll see you again real soon."

Cries of "Encore!" erupt behind the band as they leave the stage, but Shanks is genuinely shaking and Kian takes him back to the green room. After a whispered discussion, Caleb returns to the stage for a brief solo performance, before apologising, saying goodnight, and rushing backstage.

I can understand the rush. Shanks needs to be there for the meet and greet, and he can't if he's having a breakdown.

Gladys intercepts me at the door. "Stay here," she instructs.

"But I've gotta –"

"Stay here." I open my mouth to protest, but she talks over me. "Listen to me. I've got to go handle this situation and get it sorted before the backstage pass holders arrive. In sixty seconds, ten of the best journalists in the city will be coming to the conference room down the hall, expecting their questions to be answered."

I gasp as her meaning sinks in. "You mean I have to handle them?" I squeak.

"Well, Terrence will be there. No doubt they will have some questions about you and Kian, so just answer them to the best of your ability. Don't worry about it."

She makes to sail off, but I grab her by the sleeve. "You say that now, but when some other horrible article comes out about us, you'll change your tune, I know it."

With a sigh, she turns back around. "Don't start this Nadine, I really don't have the time. For now, suffice it to say that those were inconsequential journalists, fleas on a dog. These are trained professionals, they write for established news media, and they will not badger you nor deliberately try to make you look bad. Does that make you feel better?"

I step back, surprised. "Yeah. It does."

"Well, get moving then!" she snarls, before whipping her sleeve out of my grip and barrelling down the corridor.

I'm taken aback for a second but then I hustle down to the conference room. Terrence is waiting outside, looking hassled, and I can see a small congregation of people with steno pads and recorders inside.

"Ah, you're here. Good." He ushers me inside and to the podium with a smile.

"Let's begin. Thank you all for coming," he says, addressing the journalists.

An Asian woman in a stylish suede trench coat raises her hand. "Thank you. Valerie Li, France Morning Press. I have a question for Ms Campbell, if I may?"

I nod, gulping, and step to the podium.

"We've received very little information on you as a person from the local media in your area. What is your profession and how did you come to meet Kian Tate?" she asks professionally. Her attitude and genuine interest in me rather than my scandalous doings makes me loosen up a little.

"I work at Centro, actually, where we had the music festival a few months ago. That's how I came to meet him."

Not very eloquent, but screw it.

"Follow up," she says, raising a delicate finger. "In what capacity? Did you work in the stadium or the studio?"

"Both, really," I reply with a shrug. "I've been dabbling in audio mixing since my teens, my father's friend owned a studio, so the majority of the work is there. But I do take over some administrative work for the stadium as well, on occasion."

Another journalist raises his hand. "Peter Vaxley, Paris Daily," he says in a pleasant British accent. "Is it true that Centro Stadium is facing an inquest after you fell from twenty feet after climbing to fix a light?"

I blanch. I don't know how to handle this.

"Um…" I stammer. "If it is true, I'm not aware of this. The local media aren't quite as professional as you all are, and I've been trapped indoors for quite some time."

A light chuckle goes around the room, breaking the tension.

"Martina Moreau, Agence France-Presse," says another woman, lifting her hand. "Question for you, Terrence. Would you say that the exponential growth of smaller bands such as Under the Eaves represent greater commercialisation of the industry? And if yes, what effect could this possibly have on profits and on the quality of music produced?"

Terrence clears his throat, leaning forward. "A very good question, Ms Moreau," he begins. "I would certainly say that this kind of rapid growth represents more than anything a greater demand for music than we've seen historically. I'm not at liberty to talk about finances or speak for other artists, but we at Centro always ensure that the integrity of the music is never compromised. The band writes their own songs, with minimal suggestions from trained professionals like Ms Campbell here in the mixing room."

"Thank you," Moreau responds as she frantically scribbles notes on her steno.

The conference proceeds smoothly afterwards. No more questions are posed to me, but I listen interestedly to Terrence's answers, since some of them are news to me as well.

We all file out of the room within half an hour, and I'm stopped by a gentle hand on my elbow. I turn, and it's the beautiful Asian reporter, Valerie Li.

"You haven't done a press con before, have you?" she asks with a smile.

"I haven't, no," I admit, admiring her trench coat again.

"It's from a boutique in Paris, I'll give you the address," she says as she notices me leering. "Anyway, I thought you handled yourself very well. I am interested in knowing more about this inquest, though… how did you manage to fall?"

Alarm bells ring in my head as I think about Kian knocking the ladder aside. I telegraph panic at Terrence with my eyes and he comes rushing over with an affable smile.

"No questions outside the conference room, if you please," he says kindly, taking her by the arm and leading her towards the exit.

"Of course," she says, turning back one last time to hand me a business card. It's the name and address of the boutique she mentioned. As she leaves, however, I discover her own card behind it.

Well, I'll add it to my growing pile of journalists' cards. So far, it just includes hers and Asher Wellington's, but I have no doubt it will grow.

"You did well," Terrence assures me. "Very well, in fact."

"I thought it was going well until she started asking me about the fall…" I say, thinking about how impressed I'd been with the calibre of questions asked.

"Yes, well… I suppose she was hoping to get a little bit more out of you. You did the right thing by alerting me."

I shake my head, still panicked from the close call. I look down at the cards in my hand and impulsively shred Valerie's. I'm keeping the boutique address, though. Nadine needs that coat.

"All okay?" I ask Kian after the meet and greet wraps up. He shuffles over and hugs me, burying his face in my neck.

"All good," he says, voice muffled. "Shanks is now exactly where he wants to be – on the way to passing out drunk."

He straightens, cupping my face and putting us nose-to-nose. "And I am exactly where I want to be as well." He looks around the dingy green room. "Well maybe the where is debatable, but I couldn't ask for better company."

I smile and snuggle close to his side as we're shepherded out to the cars. Dinner is quiet and enjoyable, free from the tension that Shanks has been bringing to the table lately. I worry about him, but the guys assure me that he's in his room being watched by Paolo the bodyguard.

We watch a movie afterwards, and it's all so pleasant that it's almost enough to make me forget about the terrible dinner tomorrow night. Almost.

I wake the next day with a deep-seated feeling of dread that stays with me through breakfast, lunch, band practice and the evening's Intimate session. This venue is even fancier than the last, and we're seated in a booth close to the back of the room, where we can enjoy the performance inconspicuously. I suspect the booth is tucked away like this to give the band members some privacy when they're done. If last night's concert proved anything, it's that Parisians really love Under the Eaves.

I stay light on the drinking despite the open bar and the unlimited tab, mindful of the fact that I need my wits around me for the minefield to come. However, I do throw back a couple of strong vodka-crans to fortify myself.

Kian pops up just as I'm starting to get edgy about the time. He looks nice tonight, in a pair of light-wash jeans and a tucked-in shirt with a pattern of tiny anchors. He's clearly trying to make a good impression, but he's also left the lip ring in, so I sense there's more to it. Such as, maybe, the fact that we're going to meet the man my family quite rabidly tried to force upon me in matrimony.

Still, we both hide our nerves pretty admirably as we step into a car with a couple of bodyguards. The ride to the restaurant is quiet; we share Kian's iPod and listen to some quiet Wake Owl songs. The car pulls up in front of – you guessed it – an Indian restaurant. Indians are serious homebirds, and that combined with the various dietary restrictions (ranging from no meat, to no root vegetables, to no eggs) means that many desis usually hunt down the local Indian place before doing anything else when travelling.

The Yajnanarayans are at a table in the far corner, the mother dressed in an elegant red-trimmed black saree and the men dressed much like Kian is. I briefly wish I'd worn something dressier, but looking around, I can see that most of the women are wearing simple clothing like mine.

They all stand up to greet us, causing a loud screeching of chairs that attracts the attention of everyone in the restaurant. Hastily, I shake hands and do namastes and introduce Kian.

"So, this is the boy who stole you away from our Rohan!" Mr Yajnanarayan says loudly, but good-naturedly.

I smile tightly, already struggling to breathe through the tension. Rohan smiles sympathetically at me.

"That's the one," I say as nicely as I can, using all my power to avoid rolling my eyes.

Mrs Yajnanarayan sniffs loudly.

"How are you, Nadine?" Rohan asks, and I sigh in relief. He, at least, is one sane person.

"I'm very well, thanks," I reply with a genuine smile. "And you?"

"I'm fine… but clearly not living life like you are! How are you both enjoying the tour?"

Kian looks at me nervously, and I nod in encouragement.

"It's been a blast so far," he says. "I've been to Calais and Paris before, but travelling never gets boring. And of course, it's a different experience to be travelling with a band and crew, and of course, Nadine."

This amount of light conversation seems enough to break the tension, and soon everyone's chatting amiably enough about things to see and do in Paris, and the ski lodge we'll be visiting for a couple of days next week. We're all still on tenterhooks, though, so I'm prepared for it when Mrs Yajnanarayan finally goes full-on passive-aggressive.

"We are so proud of aawar Rohan," she says snootily. "He is just now getting the promotion in the office, and we are finding for him a nice girl with whom to marry."

I can feel the venom in her statement, but I actually am quite happy for Rohan, who is quite a nice bloke. "That's great!" I say enthusiastically. "Congratulations!"

"We have not found a nice girl yet," Mrs Y. says sharply, clearly misunderstanding.

"No, ma, she means about the promotion," Rohan explains. I take a large gulp of water from the excessively large glass to hide the relief on my face, and allow myself one tiny eye-roll.

I emerge from my glass pleasantly neutral once again and try to resume the conversation.

"This butter chicken is fantastic. Have you come here before? How did you know to order it?"

"It was recommended –" Rohan begins, but Mrs Y. is not to be deterred.

"And aawar Ricky is becoming very successful musicians!" she says loudly over him, patting her younger child soundly on the back. He snaps to awareness, alert for the first time since the dinner began. His eyes are so red that I can readily understand why he's been so out of it.

"You like the musicians, don't you, Nadine?" Mrs Y. says in biting tones.

I take a deep breath and try not to let it get to me. Kian squeezes my hand reassuringly; he was in deep conversation with Mr Y. and unfortunately tuned in just in time to hear the barb.

"Mum…" Rohan admonishes quietly. She subsides into bitter silence, biting savagely into a chunk of chicken.

"Nadine, has Kian heard my album?" Ricky wants to know.

I raise an eyebrow. "Why don't you ask him?"

Kian intercedes. "I haven't, actually. Is it on iTunes? I'll look it up when we get back to the hotel."

"It is," I answer for him. "Apparently it's the next big thing, but I only heard a snippet of it in the mixing room."

Ricky smiles at me, the wide, over-friendly smile of the stoner, and I'm unendingly grateful that I'm on the other side of the table.

As we wait for dessert, I'm hit by a sudden desperate urge to pee. Probably the vodka cran.

"D'you know where the loo is?" I enquire of Rohan, because I secretly want to talk to him away from everyone else and make sure there are no hard feelings.

He stands up immediately, the astute guy. "I'll show you."

Feeling guilty about throwing Kian to the wolves, I look back, but he's engaged in a conversation about touring and being in a band with Ricky. Deciding that he'll do okay for the time being, I follow Rohan through a swinging door and away from the main restaurant.

He turns to face me. "Did you really need to pee, or did you want to talk?"

I dance from foot to foot like a loon. "Really need to pee, but talk after. See you in a tic."

I dash off inside the bathroom and finish my business, checking my makeup quickly before leaving. My lipstick needs a touch-up, so I dig it out of the purse and apply generously.

When I exit, Rohan is waiting sweetly outside, texting someone.

"Hey," I say as I near him. "I mainly just wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings."

"Of course not," he says, and I sigh in relief. "Well, maybe on my mother's part. I'm sorry she's being so touchy about this."

"I don't blame her. I didn't want to get into this whole dating Kian thing, it just… happened. I feel bad for her. Even though, you know…"

"You weren't interested in marrying me either," he finishes for me.

"Or anyone else," I'm quick to add. "It wasn't about you. You're a very nice guy. I mean, if it were a couple of years later and your brother was less grabby, I might've considered it."

He frowns. "Grabby?"

I pale, realising my mistake, but sigh as I realise the cat's already out of the bag.

"Uh… yeah. He sort of tried to feel me up under the table. Multiple times."

"Oh man." He holds a hand to his eyes, muttering Hindi curse words. "I'm so sorry. I've had people tell me this before but I had no idea he was still doing it, I've told him so many times…"

"It's fine, whatever," I say dismissively, although it's not fine or whatever. This conversation has taken an uncomfortable turn, and I'm more than ready to eat dessert and get the hell out of dodge. "Let's go back in?"

He agrees, and we rejoin the party, which has become suspiciously quiet in our absence. We take our seats nervously and I look at Kian for some indication of what took place, but he avoids my eyes.

Dessert is extremely uncomfortable, with just a few passing comments as we eat kulfi, an Indian type of ice-cream. Everyone is clearly itching to leave, as Mrs Y. calls for the bill the second the last spoon has been set down. I'm deadly curious, but I also have a strong feeling that Kian's not going to tell me what happened.

Kian offers to pay, but Mr Y. does the Indian thing where they fight over the bill and grab it from each other. Never having dined out with a desi, Kian is understandably a little taken aback, so much so that the bill ends up being paid by the Yajnanarayans. We hastily thank them for the meal and make many promises to meet up in Huntleight, which I fervently hope will never realise. Pleasantries done with, we dash for the outside.

The car is silent for the first five minutes.

"I think that went alright –" I begin, just as Kian says, "That was just as awful as you said it would be."

"What?" we say together.

I wait for him to talk.

"I need a drink first," he says in response, and makes for the hotel bar like a guided missile as soon as we arrive.

After knocking back a substantial amount of whisky and clipping and lighting one of his special clove cigars, he finally is inclined to talk.

"After you and Rohan left to the loo, the mum seemed very smug about something. She seemed to be convinced that he would seduce you en route, even though you were so desperate to pee you were shaking the whole table with your leg-jiggling."

I scowl, but refrain from commenting.

"And then," he continues, "the dad said what a lovely girl you are, and so pretty, and that was all fantastic but then the younger brother chimed in saying you have great legs and a great arse… and then the mum started talking about how that's the only way you'll find a man now and that's obviously how you trapped me…"

"And then?" I ask, not entirely surprised at this attack on my character and morals. Narrow-mindedness is an epidemic in the Subcontinent.

"And then I may have told her politely that I admired how you're bright and funny and career-minded, and she said that careers are for loose women, and pointless because women aren't as smart or capable as men and belong in the house, at which point I lost my temper a little."

"Oh my god," I say, aghast. "All this took place in the five minutes it took me to pee and talk to Rohan?"

"Yeah, so then I very politely told her that maybe she was looking for a maid for her son and not a wife, and if she wanted a two-in-one deal she could possibly ask her cleaning staff if any of them were interested."

I gape. "You're joking."

He puffs morosely on his cigar. "No, unfortunately I'm serious." He puts the cigar down on the ashtray for a minute and takes my hand. "I'm really sorry if this gets you in any kind of trouble, Nadine," he says seriously.

Laughing, I kiss his cheek. "My parents would never want me to marry into such a useless family anyway," I assure him. "It's not an issue."

He shakes his head so hard that I'm a little concerned.

"Careful there," I tell him, stilling his head movements. "You might hurt yourself."

"If I do, I hope I lose all my memories of this terrible incident," he replies. He shakes his head again and stands, saying, "Restroom" before dashing off.

In his absence, a guy maybe twenty years older than me who's been eyeing me for the past half hour takes his chance to sidle over and offer me a drink.

"Can I buy you a drink, sweetheart?" he says with what he clearly thinks is a charming smile.

Without smiling, I motion to my glass of rum and Coke.

"Aww, c'mon, you can finish that in two little gulps and I can get you a refill," he cajoles. "C'mon, what is that? Rum and Coke? Beautiful drink, and a beautiful girl like you should be drinking it! Why aren't you drinking it?"

I drain the glass abruptly and stand. In the heels I wore tonight, I'm taller than him, and he takes an involuntary step back.

"Try it on someone else, buddy," I say dismissively. "Try twenty years older and with much lower standards."

I make to stride off, but the sudden grip of a hand around my elbow has reminded me why I usually tolerate this kind of crap from men.

Because when you turn them down, they get dangerous.

Abruptly, Kian's right beside me, outwardly calm, but he betrays his anger when he jerks me roughly behind him.

"Ow," I mutter, attempting to rub my grabbed elbow and my yanked wrist at the same time.

"Fuck off," he says plainly, clearly not in the mood for banter. He makes an impressive sight, tall and pierced and tattooed as he is. The guy backs off, muttering to himself.

Before I say anything.

Kian's hand closes again around my wrist, pulling me out to the lifts. I am prodded unceremoniously into the elevator and the doors close with a sigh.

"Thanks," I say eventually, really glad that he was there. I wouldn't normally be this stupid about turning down useless old men.

"You're welcome." There's a pause. "I'm going to hit something."

I wait, but no elaboration is forthcoming. "Why?" I prompt.

"Because he was touching you."

"No, he was talking to me. I mean, I don't think he would've tried anything right there in the bar…"

"He was touching you, and you clearly didn't like it. I hate arseholes like him."

He's so tense that I realise there's nothing I can really do except try to distract him.

"Is this caveman behaviour a product of your sexual frustration?" I ask cheekily, sliding closer to him. He twitches away, although his frowning mouth softens slightly. I run my fingers up his arm, cupping the hard muscle before stroking his Hindi tattoo. He shivers, a low growl from his throat sending hot flashes to all the right places on my body. "Fuck," he groans as my nails rake down the side of his neck. "Stop it. Stop it. There are cameras here."

I ignore him, scooting closer to line my body up against his. Screw his sexual frustration – I am so full of my own that I could milk it and sell it in a Gujarati bazaar.

My fingers trace his abdomen, making him jerk in surprise and want, moaning despite himself as I cup him through his jeans. Shifting uncomfortably, he sends me a glare, his eyes dark with lust and so damn hot that I can almost feel my eyelashes melting off. My lips burn as I lean in teasingly, stopping just shy of his jaw before withdrawing to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. Growling with frustration, he swiftly exacts revenge by yanking me forward by my belt loops, our hips fitting snugly together just like before. I attempt to wiggle away but his hold on me is tenacious.

"Princess, if I were you I wouldn't wriggle around like that in a position like this," he growls, nipping sharply at my earlobe. My hiss of breath is drowned out by the ding of the elevator coming to a halt.

As soon as the lift stops, he drags me out, hardly stopping to check the area for passer-by before shoving me up against the wall and capturing my lips. I gasp into his mouth, feeling the familiar fiery passion light up in my extremities. His hands leave trails of searing heat as they slide under my shirt, fingers curling around my hips and then dipping below the hem of my skirt to stroke my skin.

"Your – goddamn – shorts," he mutters when his roaming hand encounters them instead of my panties. I laugh despite myself and the heat of the moment, but as I clutch at his hair, his deep, rolling groan prompts one of my own. His kiss is feverish and almost desperate, bruising my lips and sending my heart rate skyrocketing.

Our teeth clash as I pull him closer still but I'm too far gone to care; the only thing I can focus on is how soft his lips are and how they contrast completely with the pure male dominance he's showing. Feminists around the world will give up on me at this point, but I'm not going to lie – it's a turn on like nothing I've ever experienced. I'm one hundred per cent aware of every angle of his body at the moment – his hard muscle against my soft flesh, our synchronised breaths, the way his hands automatically tangle into my hair and tug when I slide my hands into his back pockets and squeeze –

"Room – now," he rasps, pulling away with a gasp and fishing around in his back pocket for the key card. He quickly encounters my hands instead, which are still ensconced within his jeans. Grabbing the key card, I slip it into the metal slot and kick the door open behind me, yanking him forward to kiss him again.

The door closes behind us, sliding shut with a muted click as we crash onto the bed, his mouth searing and possessive on mine as his hands deftly unbutton my shirt. Nothing – nothing – will stop us now.

A/N: First things first – disclaimer: I totally did not have it in me to write lyrics, mostly because I was rereading this story to catch myself up and my lyrics in earlier chapters made me cringe. So, all credit for these lovely lyrics goes to The Killers. The song is Mr Brightside.

Phew. It's been a whole entire YEAR (more than, actually) since I last updated. Long story short, work built up, I went through an extreme phase of stress, anxiety, depression, what have you – and I endured a crippling bout of writer's block. I tried to get a couple of chapters down before I started posting again, so that I can post in one-to-two week intervals and keep writing in the interim. Hopefully this double-update appeases those who have been asking! You have no idea how sorry I am. I genuinely do want to follow through with this, though! And I actually wrote these two chapters in 24 hours, this chapter entirely in a day. It was mad and I'm very, very hungry because I put off dinner to post this, but I'm back and it was worth it.

Not sure if there were any of you who wanted a more graphic sex scene but to be honest I'm just not comfortable writing very explicit things, especially because sex to me is a deeply personal experience, and putting it on paper (computer?) feels weird. Not that that's ever stopped me from reading smut, but y'know. I mean, if anyone's in the mood to write the scene, I may post it as an outtake!

Once again, I'm ever so grateful for anyone bearing with me till this point; I've genuinely become the FP authors I love to hate for taking so long to update. Cheers!