A/N: This first chapter is a bit choppy but it is laying down the groundwork for the rest of the story.
Even before she opens her eyes, she knows that she has made a mistake.
She knows that this isn't her bed, the mattress just a bit more firm beneath her then the one at home, the sheets smell of unfamiliar cologne and traces of lingering sweat, and she can feel the cool cotton of the sheets against her completely naked skin.
She almost doesn't want to open her eyes.
Maybe if she keeps them closed, all of this will fade and none of this will actually be real. Maybe if she keeps them closed, when she opens them again, she will be home instead and this moment will be nothing more than the last remnants of a dream lingering in her still sleep-riddled brain, refusing to fade with the rest.
Something – a body – shifts beside her and then there is something warm and heavy pinning across her stomach. Finally, with reluctance, she peels her eyes open. The object is an arm – a man's bare arm – and she slowly follows the limb up to the body it is attached to, almost afraid of who she will find.
She doesn't recognize him. He is laying on his stomach, his head on the pillow but just barely. His face is so close to her shoulder, she feels each exhale of his warm breath onto her skin. She pulls her head back a fraction so she could see his face. He has pale skin and the bed sheet is low on his hips, revealing a bare expanse of back, also clearly naked like she is. He is thin yet in shape, defined muscles evident. His dark hair is cut close to his head and he has a beard. She thinks she remembers that; a beard scratching her skin.
She can't remember this man's name but she remembers his beard on her skin.
She closes her eyes again.
This definitely isn't a dream. She is very much awake. She clearly went home with a complete stranger the night before and now, she had to figure out how to get out of here. Despite her behavior from the night before, she has never done this before. She doesn't know how to survive the "morning after" without waking up the man in bed next to her.
She opens her eyes and takes in her surroundings. She is nearly blinded by the whiteness of everything. The sun is streaming in through windows unguarded by curtains or blinds. The walls, the bed sheets. Too much white and it sears her eyes. She closes them again, almost groaning from the blinding pain.
The man shifts, mumbling something, inhaling and then exhaling the stream of warm air onto her shoulder. It causes goose bumps to flesh across her skin and she nearly shivers. His arm remains across her stomach and it feels like a piece of lumber. She can't move. How the hell is she going to get out of here? She needs to leave before he wakes up because if she doesn't, she will have to talk with him and realize that she really can't remember anything about last night and she's not quite ready to face that fact yet.
Doing this, coming home with a man after a night out, in the light of morning, she feels like she desperately needs a shower. What does she know about this man? They clearly had sex last night. Did they use protection? Were they safe? Was he clean? Maybe he is the sort to do this all of the time but she isn't. She needs to get out of there before she becomes sick. She doesn't like this. She has no idea who he is or where she is and his arm is so heavy. She considers just shoving it away and running from the room. But shit. Where are her clothes?
He is so warm, she can't help but realize. She dares another peek at him. Handsome, too. Warm and handsome and very white – just like his decorating scheme. It occurs to her that she has never been with a white man before. And now, she can't even remember it.
She tries to remember anything from the night before.
There had been drinks. A lot of drinks.
She had gone with her best friend, Jennifer, after work to a bar a few blocks away from their office, both having had horrible days and just needing an opportunity to get their minds completely off of the piles of paperwork that were waiting for them to finish. The drinks had been blue and fruity with paper umbrellas and after three, she was giggly and her head was spinning and she and Jennifer had been dancing to thumping music.
She tries to remember him; tries to remember seeing him for the first time.
She looks at his face again and she watches him sleep and she tries to think of his name.
She jumps suddenly and gasps when a telephone begins to shrilly ring, startling her.
His eyes snap open and her head turns and locks with his. He has blue eyes, piercing and intense, and he stares at her, the phone still ringing but he not making a move to answer it. She has no idea what to do and he isn't moving. She stares at him and she feels as if she isn't breathing. Who is this man and why isn't he saying anything to her?
The ringing stops and there is no answering machine to pick up like she had been expecting and everything falls silent again.
She feels her heart pounding so loudly in her chest, she is certain that he can hear it, too. The rapid thumps are threatening to break through her ribcage.
Now what? He's awake. She can't very well sneak out now that he's awake and he can clearly see that she's awake, too. His arm is still across her stomach and he won't stop staring at her. She wishes she had figured out a way to escape the instant she woke up. Now, she feels as if she's trapped and she doesn't know what to do.
"Want breakfast?" He asks her. His voice is low, a bit gruff, still scratchy with sleep and there is a hint of an accent. British, perhaps.
She isn't sure what she had been expecting him to say but definitely isn't that. She stares at him as he shifts, somewhat pushing himself up, his arm finally moving from across her stomach, and he leans over her to the nightstand next to the side of the bed she is occupying. She watches his every move. He grabs a silver watch and glancing down at it to check the time, he then clasps it onto his left wrist.
"Breakfast?" He asks again, looking to her. Definitely British.
"Is that how this works?" She blurts out.
He looks at her curiously and she feels her cheeks warm. He's a handsome man. A little too handsome. He almost makes her suspicious. He's so casual and comfortable about waking up and finding her – a complete stranger as well to him – in his bed, she concludes that he has definitely done this sort of thing before. He probably has a book and she will be the next number he writes down in a long list.
"I should go," she says as she slips to the very edge of the bed, clutching the bed sheet tightly to her naked form. She peeks over the bed to the floor – dark hardwood with a white square rug framing the bed. She looks back to him. "Where are my clothes?"
His lips quirk, almost as if he wants to smile at her. She quickly adverts her eyes as he slides from the bed and stands up – very naked. The sun shines onto his body like a spotlight and she tries her hardest to keep looking in the opposite direction. She doesn't feel right looking. She obviously had sex with this man but that was in an alcohol fueled darkness. Now, in the blinding light of day, she is sober and the sober version of herself just doesn't go gawking at naked men she doesn't even know the name to call them.
She hears a drawer across the room open and she dares to peek. She watches the muscles in his ass clench as he steps into a pair of black sweatpants, tugging them up. He turns towards the bed and catches her looking. She sits up, still clinging the sheet to her chest.
"I'll see if your dress is dry," he says and she frowns, confused. He notices. "That guy last night, he spilled his drink all over you. When we came back here, I offered to hang it in the laundry room. I'll pay for the dry cleaning, too."
"Why would you do that?" She asks.
What man? What the hell were in those drinks last night. And what happened to Jennifer? Did she get home alright or is she in the very same position she finds herself to be in this morning? She really needs her cell phone and her purse, too.
"It's kind of my fault the man spilled his drink on you. He said something about you and I wound up pushing him for it," he answers.
"Oh," she glances down – her dark skin a stark contrast against the white sheet – and then she looks up at him. He is still looking at her. She takes a deep breath. "I'm Harper. I don't know if you remember…" she feels her cheeks warm. She doesn't like today.
He smiles a little and steps forward towards her. "I'm Marcus."
"Marcus," she tests it on her own tongue, hoping it feels familiar to her. There is a twinge. Like the memory of his beard on her skin. The name isn't completely foreign. She feels a small sense of relief from that. "Did you remember my name?" She then wonders. She slowly slips from the bed as carefully as she can, the sheet staying fastened to her body. She really needs her dress – dry or not.
He seems reluctant to nod but he does. "Only because you went into a fifteen minute explanation of how your mother wrote her masters thesis on To Kill a Mockingbird."
Her cheeks flush a deeper shade. "Wow, I was really drunk last night," she cringes.
He smiles a little. "I was, too. I had a bad day yesterday."
"Me, too," she nods. "I think that's why most people go to a bar on a Wednesday night." She suddenly gasps. "Oh my god, what time is it?" She asks, frantic as she turns to look for a clock, hoping there is one on the nightstand. Her heart plummets to her feet when she reads the green neon numbers of the digital clock. "Please tell me that it's not seven. I really need my dress. I'm going to be late to work. I have no idea where I am. Where do you live? Oh my god, I'm going to be so late." She spots a mirror and she spins towards it. Her hair is a complete disaster – a bird's nest of tangles left over from her obvious roll between the sheets with Marcus – and the black eyeliner she meticulously applied in the office bathroom before leaving the bathroom is now smudged.
"You can use the shower," he points towards a door at the other end of the room. "It will save you some time. Towels are under the sink."
"I couldn't," she shakes her head but she glances towards the bathroom door anyway.
"Go on. I can go to work anytime I want so I'm never in a hurry in the mornings," he steps towards her and his hand finds her back.
Even through the bed sheet wrapped around her, she can feel it. Everything about this man is so warm.
He gently pushes her a step towards the bathroom and then he turns, leaving the bedroom, disappearing down the hallway. She chews on her bottom lip, still hesitating, but then her eyes catch the time of the clock again and it propels her for the bathroom.
Like the bedroom, the bathroom is pristine and white. She can't believe how clean this man is and how orderly everything is. Even the white rug on the black tiled floor is perfectly straight. All of the white towels are hanging all at the same even length on the bar and there is just one toothbrush and cup along with a tray of bar soap on the sink counter. She thinks of her own bathroom and how cluttered with hair products, makeup, and dirty clothes on the floor it all is.
She closes and locks the door behind her and finally drops the bed sheet, the white cotton pooling at her feet as she leans over and opens the glass door to the shower. She stills when she looks at the black tiled wall. She has never seen more knobs or buttons. Is this a shower or will this actually launch her into space? She swallows, unsure, and reaches out to start twisting knobs but she doesn't want to break anything. This shower – and repair costs – probably costs more than rent at her apartment.
She swallows again. "Marcus!" She calls out.
It seems like not even a second passes before she hears him on the other side of the door.
"Is everything okay?" He asks.
"I feel like I need to be of a certain intelligence to figure out your shower and I'm also certain I still have alcohol sloshing around my brain," she answers truthfully and she hears him chuckle softly.
She unlocks the door and steps aside so he can enter. His eyes flicker down to her body and she gasps, remembering that she is now completely naked. She scurries to collect the bed sheet from off the floor and frantically wraps it around herself again. He doesn't look again as he slips past her to lean into the shower. She doesn't watch as he turns the shower on for her, streams of warm water shooting out with a pressure that instantly makes her envious. She hates the shower at her own apartment, each morning praying for just enough hot water and pressure to wash all of the shampoo and conditioner from her hair. This shower even has jets on the walls to give her body a full thorough wash.
"What do you do?" She can't help but ask, looking at him as he turns away from the shower to face her. The wealth in this bathroom alone is evident.
He pauses and looks at her as if she is telling a joke that he is waiting for the punch line.
"I'm an actor," he answers her, still watching her closely though she doesn't entirely understand why. He's a very handsome man and they live in Los Angeles. She should have known that the odds of him being an actor or a model are very high.
She nods and gives him a small smile. "You must be doing pretty well for yourself," is all she can think to say.
She doesn't want to ask if she has seen him in anything. She has been living here for nearly four years and have met so many struggling to break into show business, she admits that she has gotten tired about hearing how a person staring a soup commercial is seconds away from hitting it big. She admires their determination – to go to endless auditions and casting calls and spend so much money on head shots and acting classes. She knows she doesn't have the patience or confidence to keep that up. But sometimes, she just wants to shake one of them and ask if they realize that they're wasting their time.
"Thank you," she then says. "For the shower."
She meets his eyes – his very blue eyes – with hers and something flashes in her mind. A memory from last night. Of him gently laying her down on the bed and his lips – soft and gentle – against hers. Of both of them laughing as he rubs his hands up and down the sides of her body and she says something about cream in coffee.
She looks at him now and she wonders how much from last night he remembers.
"Do you eat breakfast?" He asks. "I have a few things in the refrigerator."
"I'll just grab something on the way to work. I'm going to be so late," she then says more to herself, looking towards the shower.
She knows Jennifer does this often. Is this what happens with one-night stands? The man offers a shower and cooks breakfast? She almost wishes she isn't in such a hurry.
"Thank you for everything," she looks back to him, finding that he is watching her.
"Harper," he says and it is so unexpected, to hear her name from his lips, her head whips over to look at him.
He takes a step towards her, the amount of small space already between them shrinking. He moves slowly – as if she is a wounded animal he is trying to scoop up and help; as if he is waiting for her to back away and stop him.
She is surprised with herself when she stands where she is, almost as if she is waiting.
She doesn't fight or protest when his hands find the bed sheet. He peels it from her body, tugging it away and dropping it onto the floor. She is naked but this time, she is staring into his eyes and she hardly even seems to notice. The steam from the warm shower water floats out around them, swirling around their ankles, and his hands slowly – still moving so slowly – slide onto her cheeks, framing her face. She can't look away from his eyes or his face. Her heart has found its home in her chest again and is pounding away, twisting itself into somersaults as she waits. She doesn't know what to do but he certainly is acting like he does.
Now, she is no longer the wounded animal but she is the prey.
And he is the hunter.
She tilts her chin up and it's an invitation. Being late to work and showers and dresses, suddenly, none of that matters at the moment. She wants him to kiss her. She wants to remember this kiss.
"I haven't brushed my teeth," she blurts out once his lips are mere millimeters from hers.
He smiles and his thumbs are rubbing small circles on the round apples of her cheeks. "I might have a spare toothbrush somewhere," he offers.
"Okay," she nods, swallowing, her heart thumping as his smile broadens, revealing two rows of white teeth. A movie star smile.
She smiles, too. She wonders who he is. She wonders if he should look familiar or if she should just know him upon seeing him.
He steps away without kissing her and she hopes he does have a toothbrush because she really does want to kiss him. She is feeling overheated and she knows it's not from the warm water misting from the shower. He is still wearing just a pair of sweatpants and the muscles beneath his pale skin ripple as he moves, opening drawers and cabinets, searching. When he finds a toothbrush still in its packaging, he spins around and holds it up, triumphant as if it's the Olympic torch.
She laughs and he smiles.
He rips the toothbrush away from the plastic and she is still naked as she stands next to him at the sink. He takes his own toothbrush from the cup and he then squirts a strip of toothpaste onto her toothbrush and then his and standing side by side, they begin to brush their teeth.
She almost wants to laugh. She may not have done this before but this, she knows, is not the normal morning behavior after a one-night stand. She should already be gone, doing the walk of shame down the sidewalk, reading street signs and trying to figure out where the hell she is so she can get home. She is going to be ridiculously late to work.
But the initial panic she felt just minutes earlier in his bedroom has evaporated.
She looks at him through the mirror's reflection and he looks at her and they share small foamy smiles through the toothpaste.
She finishes first and leaning over, she spits into the sink. He follows a second later.
He hands her the cup first and she rinses and then he does the same. They wipe their mouths on the hand towel –white, of course – and then she gasps when suddenly, he wraps his arms around her, hauling her against his chest.
Without a word, no longer moving slowly, he dips his head down and kisses her. The instant his lips touch hers, she melts and her arms find their way to circle around his neck and she is rewarded from a memory from the night before. Of his teeth nipping at her lower lip and his tongue then soothing it, of his lips leaving hers to trail down her body, of his mouth between her legs.
The memory nearly makes her gasp and pull away.
Oh my god, had that really happened? Had this complete stranger gone down on her? She had had two serious boyfriends in her life and she had allowed neither of them to do that. She had never been comfortable and almost felt embarrassed at their heads down there, inspecting the most intimate part of her body.
But Marcus was kissing her, his tongue gently tracing the bottom line of her lip, and she knew that the image in her head wasn't some concoction of fantasy. This man had gone down on her. And she had been so completely drunk, she can still hardly remember it. She can't help but wonder if she had done the same for him.
She can't help but open her mouth against his and his tongue slips inside, finding her own tongue immediately and she moans as he rubs them together. Her fingers try to grip his hair but it's too short and her hands, instead, have to settle for holding onto his shoulders.
His arms are strong, steel bands around her waist and he lifts her up, her toes just barely leaving the floor. She still doesn't protest as he moves them both towards the shower. Her lungs are burning and she needs to breathe but his tongue is swirling around hers and he tastes like mint toothpaste and something else she has never tasted before – perhaps it's just him – and she doesn't want to pull away.
The water has been running for minutes but it is still warm as he steps into the shower. It hits her back and he carefully sets her down on her feet again. She whimpers when he pulls away and her hands take hold of his arms as if she is thinking that he is leaving her to shower alone. Work be damned. She hasn't taken a sick day in over a year and she is suddenly feeling very dizzy and flushed. She might be coming down with something.
He smiles faintly at her and leans back in, pressing his lips to the side of her throat as he removes his sweatpants. He tosses them out into a heavy sopping pile onto the tile floor and then closes the glass shower door, sealing them up in their steam-filled cubicle.
He lifts his mouth and finds her immediately, fusing his lips to hers, and she scrapes her nails over his scalp as she stands on her toes, pressing back, kissing as hard as he gives. He groans and his hands grip her hips as he turns her towards the wall, pressing her back against it, his body pinning her with his.
"Are these tiles heated?" She asks breathless against his lips as she feels the warmth of the wall behind her.
He nods, his hand gripping one of her thighs and lifting it, guiding it against his hip.
"A girl could get used to that," she replies without thinking.
He slides inside of her and she gasps and he groans and her head is spinning. She still feels drunk.
He's almost too big.
She doesn't understand what she's doing. She knows she is having sex with this man – again – but she doesn't understand why.
She has to leave. She has to go to work. One-night stands don't filter into the morning like this. They don't, do they? And this thing between them, it is a one-night stand. It has to be. They met one another at a bar, both intoxicated and both coming back to his house for the sole purpose of sex.
What else can it be?
His phone begins to ring again as he is making her scrambled eggs an hour later. She has already called in to the office, coughing and sniffling and she tries not to let the snippy voice of her boss bother her. She feels guilty for calling in sick and she is paranoid that the boss knows that she truly isn't sick but then Marcus hands her one of his tee-shirts to wear and he asks again about breakfast and she decides to linger for a bit longer. She makes sure to send a text to Jennifer – she has to know that she is alright and she receives a message a few minutes later, her best friend also apparently "sick" for the day.
He is back in another pair of – dry – sweatpants and no shirt and she sits on one of the stools in his kitchen, cinching the ends of her damp hair with a towel and watching him as he moves about, going to the refrigerator and then to the stove and then to the counter and then back to the stove. It's almost like watching him perform a dance and she wonders how many women have sat on this stool before her, watching the same moves.
She doesn't necessarily want to think about it but there's a part of her brain that can't help it. A very handsome actor who obviously has money? In Los Angeles, for many women, there are few things more important than that. Of course there have been a slew of women before her and there will be a whole new slew after her.
"Do you have to get that?" She asks once the phone has finished ringing.
He shakes his head. "They'll call again."
"You're not married, are you?" She asks him, trying to laugh, only half-joking.
"Not the last time I checked," he smirked, the spatula moving as he works on scrambling the heaps of eggs he has just whipped and dumped into the fired frying pan. "But you and me were pretty drunk last night."
She laughs, relaxed again.
It falls quiet between them but it is the comfortable kind.
She looks around the large, bright white kitchen – broken up by a bowl of bright red apples on the counter and a vase of fresh purple hydrangeas on the table.
She notices that there are no personal mementos. No pictures of any kind. She opens her mouth to point it out and ask him about it but she doesn't. She is well aware that it's none of her business.
She slides off from the stool, his shirt coming down to hang to her mid-thighs, and she wanders from the kitchen, entering the living room. The floor is hardwood with a matching white rug like the one in the bedroom. The furniture is dark brown – a mocha color – and there is finally color. Red throw pillows.
The television is flat and ridiculously big, hanging on one of the walls, and there are bookshelves built into the walls on either side of the fireplace but all of the shelves are empty except one. There are five or six books lined there – all paperback and rather worn looking, as if he has read them multiple times and has no interest in reading anything else – but that's not what makes her heart stop beating altogether in her chest.
At the end of the row of books, holding them in place, is something that is instantly recognizable to nearly everyone in the world who has access to a television or magazine.
No. It has to be fake. Maybe it's one of those chocolate ones she has seen at some stores.
She takes a step towards it but she stops herself. She doesn't want to know. It's obvious that it isn't fake. It's too gold, too polished.
She spins away from it, blood roaring in her ears, the room tilting just enough for her to feel as if she is about to fall over.
"Harper!" Marcus calls out from the kitchen. "The eggs are done. Do you want toast?"
Marcus. Marcus. Marcus.
Suddenly, she knows. Of course she has seen his work before. Of course he's an actor.
Academy-award winning actor.
No wonder he had looked at her in the bathroom – confused and curious – when she had asked him what he did. Everyone knows. Anyone would be able to take one quick glance at him and recognize him. She lives in L.A., for god's sake – the Mecca of A-list actors. Why didn't she recognize him immediately? Especially since Jennifer drags her to see every single one of his movies.
Her stomach rolls.
She spent the night with Marcus Nolan.
She just had sex with Marcus Nolan in the shower and now he's cooking her breakfast.
She is wearing Marcus Nolan's tee-shirt.
Her head can't stop spinning.
This is bad. This is very, very bad. And she has to get out of there immediately.
"Hey," he enters the living room, smiling but it fades when he looks at her. "What is it?" He is instantly concerned and approaches her but she takes a few steps back, maintaining the distance between them. He frowns and his forehead crinkles.
He doesn't understand.
How can he not understand?
"Marcus Nolan," she states his name, staring at him.
He doesn't deny it. How can he? She knows now and she feels like she is going to throw up. She doesn't mean for it to happen but tears sting her eyes.
She feels like such an idiot. Now that she knows and she looks at him, she can't see anything but the man always photographed on the red carpet at movie premieres.
"You just told me that you're not married," she says and her arms are shaking as she crosses them over her chest, having them act as a shield against him.
"I'm not," he shakes his head.
"You're engaged," she can hear her voice quivering. "I'm an idiot," she then whispers and shakes her head. She wants to smack herself. She should have known who he was.
"It's complicated, Harper," he tells her and she almost laughs at that.
"I don't know. It seems pretty simple to me," she forces herself to look at him. "You and Amy Mullins got engaged and will be married sometime next year. You met and fell in love on the set of some miniseries and go everywhere together, except apparently bars." Color drains from her face. "Oh god, is it her who keeps calling ?" She asks.
His silence is her answer.
"I have to go," she turns away from him and she hurries down the hallway and she prays that he doesn't stop her. He doesn't. How can he? What can he possibly say to her? She doesn't want to hear anything he has to say?
She feels filthy and her eyes avoid the bed with the still tangled and tousled white sheets as she yanks off his tee-shirt and grabs her black dress that is now dry and he has laid out for her. She needs to go home and take another shower.
This is why she doesn't do one-night stands. This is why she has only dated two men.
This is why she should have shoved his arm away and escaped the instant she woke up.
Please read and review if you made it all the way to end of this chapter. Thank you!