Daisy Morris tapped her fingers on the porch railing, took a long drink of her wine and continued to fume. It might be freeze-your-nips-off weather here in North London, but she wasn’t feeling the cold. Her ire was evaporating the snow in mid-air.
She’d had to drag herself out to her parents’ annual Christmas party tonight. If it hadn’t been six months since her previous visit, she probably would’ve bailed. She’d stared at her PJs for ten minutes, before, with a little pathetic sob, she’d shoved them under her duvet and got dressed to come here.
She hadn’t wanted to come because she’d known – oh, she’d known – what would be waiting for her here. Every year it was the same, just in different outfits. Cardboard cutouts of what her mother thought she should be doing with her life. And every cardboard cutout that was presented to her carried a placard saying: ‘Your life isn’t good enough.’
You aren’t good enough.
This year it was financial advisor Kevin Shaw, with his side parting, chinos and checked, button down shirt. She’d lasted just under five minutes before she’d snorted in disgust and walked away. She didn’t have to look at her mother to see the angry disappointment in her eyes. The familiarity of it was tattooed in her brain. The knowledge of it a tight knot in her chest.
“What are you doing out here? It’s freezing.”
Matt O’Connor, great. Her humiliation was complete. Daisy closed her eyes and prayed for patience.
Not bothering to look at him she said, “I’m fine. Go back in.”
Completely ignoring her, he stepped beside her. “I saw you talking to Kevin what’s-his-face. I timed it: you lasted four minutes and twenty-nine seconds.”
Still not looking at him, she huffed out a laugh and muttered, “I knew it.”
“Would I be right in saying he didn’t ring your bell?”
“Please, don’t talk about my bell.”
Matt laughed softly. It was like the palm of his hand stroking over the curve of her behind. Rolling her eyes discreetly, she stomped her feet and shook off the feeling.
After a quiet moment he said, “Jesus, your mother is relentless. You need to tell her to stop.”
“What? You mean you don’t think I should be more accommodating?”
Matt snorted his amusement.
“Jack’s laying bets that you’re going to stop coming around.”
Her brother could well win that bet.
“Tell your best mate he can sod off.” She tried to take another drink and realised it was empty. She needed a refill. “And I want fifty percent of any money he makes off me.”
Finally turning her head to look at him, she found him grinning, his dark blues eyes sparkling down at her.
“Will do,” he said taking a drink from his bottle of beer.
It took a while for him to look away.
She rolled her shoulders.
They both stood quietly looking out at the softly falling snow. The white blanket covering the ground looked pristine and perfect. She wanted to run through it and churn it all up.
“What are you going to do?”
“About my mum?”
“Yeah, she needs to back off or she’s going to lose you.” He cleared his throat and took another drink. “I can see how close you are to saying ‘fuck it!’”
“Probably, but then I have the opposite problem. No one gives a shit who I date.”
She’d bet money there were words literally carved into the tip of her tongue.
Instead, she said, “Lucky you.”
He shrugged as he raised the bottle to his mouth. “Not so much.” Taking a final drink before setting the bottle down on the table beside him.
Her head turned at his overly nonchalant tone.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” she snapped. “No-one’s questioning your life choices, your career, your age, your single status. No-one’s pressuring you to get married and have a kid or six. No-one’s looking at you and pitying you. No-one’s interfering in your goddamn life.”
She took a deep, shaky breath. “You can do whatever the hell you want and no-one will question it because you’ve got a dick.”
“Hey! Leave my dick out of it. Especially when you’re so angry. He’s scared and doesn’t know how to deal with that much aggression.”
She had to bite her lip to keep from laughing and gave him the side-eye. “Well, your dick’s blatantly never lived. There’s nothing wrong with a good bout of sexual aggression.”
“Is it weird that that turns me on?”
“Oh, forgodsake, Matt!” She laughed, her eyes drawn to him. She hated how he always made her feel better.
He waggled his eyebrows. “I can just see you in heels and a corset with a crop in your hand, right now.”
Ok, hold on, there’s no way he could know about that, right?
She gave what she hoped was a convincing laugh. “You wish.”
“I do actually.”
Her heart stopped. Literally stopped. Then did a huge, alarming thud in her chest before continuing to pump an overload of adrenaline around her body.
“You might have to work up to the crop though.”
“What the hell?” she said quietly as she turned to him.
“I think we should start off steady. You know go out on a few dates before you-”
“This isn’t funny,” she whispered hastily, finally meeting his eyes. The humour she’d expected wasn’t there. Well, it was, but it was muted. There was an intensity though that made the hairs stand up on the back of her neck.
What was happening?
She suddenly felt laid bare, naked, under a spotlight on a stage; her needs and desires available for everyone to see. To be dissected and analysed, pitied and dismissed.
“I don’t know what you think you know, but…” She watched a snowflake melt from his hair and run down his temple, “… you don’t know it.”
Well, that told him.
His cheek creased in a smile and the drop of water ran off on a different course.
“I know plenty, Daisy Morris.”
“No. You. Don’t.”
She dared him with her eyes to push this. Normally it worked. This time, she was more than a little shaken to see that he was picking up the gauntlet.
His body turned and moved into hers. She wanted to step back but the body that she’d always prided for its control remained rigidly still. Waiting.
She watched his hand move slowly towards her face and flinched when his cold fingers touched her cheek, sliding over her cheekbone to her temple, and into her hair. Every millimetre of her skin felt like it was suffering from a static shock. Too much sensitivity: too much anticipation.
There had never been a moment when she didn’t want him, but after watching the third, fourth, fifth sweet, unassuming girlfriend paraded past her, there had come the realisation that she would never be what he needed. The loneliness that had taken up residence in her heart a long, long time ago was a permanent fixture now. A deep crevasse with his name on it. That was the price she’d paid for refusing to compromise who she was and she was more than ok with that. Most of the time.
But now he was touching her and looking at her like she was more than just Daisy Morris, his best friend’s sister.
What the ever loving hell?
“What are you doing?” She wished her voice sounded stronger.
“What I should’ve had the guts to do years ago.”
She shook her head. “No! You don’t get to do this. You don’t get to mess everything up.”
His other hand came up to hold her head still. “Nothing’s going to get messed up.”
She’d never seen him so intent, so serious. Her gaze was locked with his and he could see everything. She could see the knowledge in his eyes.
She tried to pull away. A last ditch attempt to respond to her survival instinct that was telling her to get the fuck out of there. “I can’t do this.”
His fingers tightened infinitesimally. A flicker of fear within the deep blue. She realised she could see everything too.
She held very still, her eyes burning with the need to blink, but she wanted to see it all. The tension around his eyes, the firm set of his beautifully shaped mouth, the tick in his cheek that revealed his clenched jaw.
She blinked and whispered. “What is this?”
His nostrils flared a little as he took a deep breath, but his eyes never left her face. She felt them travel over her lips, felt the skin burn in the winter night.
“This is me trying to persuade you that we should be together, that you should take a chance on me. I want you just the way you are, Daisy. I don’t want you to change a goddamn thing.”
“Oh.” The wave of acceptance stole her breath and her words.
His dark eyebrows shot up. “Is that it?”
Her brain stuttered. “I need a minute.”
“Why? We’ve already wasted years.” He stepped closer, his warm breath a cloud between them in the cold night air. “Kiss me, Daisy. Don’t think right now, just please give me what I’ve needed for so long.”
She didn’t know what to do with the burst of excitement that shot through her body. She was worried she wouldn’t be able to harness it and she’d scare him away, but she couldn’t take her eyes off his mouth.
She was going to have him. She was finally going to kiss him. Here on her parents’ front porch in the freezing cold. Their lips would probably freeze together. Maybe they’d be better off going full Eskimo and rubbing noses? She tried to suppress the slightly hysterical laughter that wanted to escape.
He must have seen the hysteria because his fingers spread behind her neck and began to draw reassuring circles. They felt good, but the worry she saw in his eyes didn’t.
Her spine straightened. Her eyes fixed on his and she let him see her decision. She didn’t want there to be any doubt. She watched the lines of tension around his eyes relax. She watched his lips soften and open a little, felt her mouth water with anticipation.
“Come here.” Her words clear and sure.
Stepping into him, she brought their bodies together and curled her hand around the back of his neck. She briefly felt the juxtaposition of his familiarity and the strangeness of holding him as a lover, but it soon passed as she concentrated on his mouth. She felt his hands fall to her back, holding her close.
Bringing their mouths together, feeling the soft heat of his lips, she fell into their kiss.
He followed her lead, opened his mouth and let her taste him. He gave her a little moan to keep when she pressed him closer, kissed him deeper. She couldn’t go easy. It wasn’t a pretty kiss, teeth clashed and lips were bitten. Eventually, she pulled back to see his glazed eyes and trace his red, puffy lips with her thumb. His tongue flicked out to lick the tip and she had to lock her knees.
“You want this?”
“Yes,” he breathed.
Reading the certainty in his eyes, she made her decision.
“One hundred percent or nothing. Do you understand?”
He nodded. “I’m all in. I just want to be yours, Daisy.”
Jesus! She was humbled by his openness. She was going to give him anything he wanted. She could just see it.
“Can you drive?”
“Yeah, I only had that one beer.”
“Good. Go inside and say your goodbyes. I want you at my place in thirty minutes.”
The excitement and eagerness he couldn’t hide made her laugh softly. She watched him walk into the house. He’d need to get better at hiding that.