flesh he can find. His long fingers dent into her shoulder, slide along her ribs, then down over her hip, and she moans into his mouth as his tongue slips past her lips.
Austin realizes it’s happening before she does—the patter of hot teardrops fall against his cheeks and roll down into his mouth, and pass into Harper’s with a swipe of his tongue. Bitter saltiness, not the savory sort on her skin, cuts through the sweetness and his touch changes instantly. His fingertips stroke softly down the bare skin of her back as she realizes what’s happening, and her hands press hard against his chest. She moves back to sit up, her head hung low. Austin knows what it is—the way her head is bent, her kiss-bruised lower lip quivering, eyes not willing to meet his as they seep tears—and he is understanding, but also entirely fearful. The gentle up and down of her shoulders as her body quakes beneath the burden of sobs calls to him and scares him in equal measure. He places a tentative hand on her shoulder. She bends into the touch, turns her head to press her lips to the backside of his thumb.
“Don’t do that, if you can’t.” The words are soft and calm, composed, though he feels the furthest thing from it. He wants to fix his mouth to hers again and never release it, live there, make a home against her lips. Now that he’s had them, tasted her, he cannot bear to have her lips on his skin again if he can’t have them as he wants them. “If you don’t want to, don’t.”
Harper is silent a long while, her hands folded between her legs, knuckles barely resting upon the pale hairs that dot his stomach. She absently toys with them, watches his eyes as they close at the sensation, and tries to find the words, but none come. The hair, the skin, all of him feels right against the pads of her fingers, against her palms, and the crackling heat she feels is enough to keep her there, keep her hands stroking his skin and making his lashes flutter. She could have him, as he is hers, but it is a constant back and forth of past versus present and what the future holds.
“Always” she whispers as her hands still. “How long, Austin? How long has it been?”
“Does it matter?” A thickness settles into Austin’s throat as the question leaves him. Around it, he chokes out a defeated, “It doesn’t matter.”
“But, it does,” Harper tells him. There’s a tenderness in her voice even she didn’t anticipate, and it only supports her sentiment. “To me, it does. It matters.” Her hands flatten on his chest and press him down onto the mattress once more. He’s hesitant, the muscles in his stomach flexing to keep him partially upright, but she’s insistent, and he will always give in to her. She bends over him, the ends of hair swaying down against his neck and shoulders, and asks him once more, “How long, Austin?”
“Longer than he has,” is all Austin can say, the welt in his throat overwhelming his ability to speak. He needs to be away from her once the words fall away and a mangled sob sneaks free of his mouth, and he moves her off of him with quick hands on her hips. Instead of turning her onto her back and covering her with himself, as he’s wanted to over and over, he only moves her aside and gets to his feet.
It’s just too much—having her and not having her, feeling responsible for what’s happened to her. Since Liam left, Austin has often wondered if she’d be in ruins now, if he had talked to her before Liam had all those years ago. And to have her now, broken, but still so beautiful, he doesn’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse, or if it’s too late for it to not be both.
Harper watches from the bed as Austin begins to pace the length of his bedroom, his hands groping a cigarette from the pack on the table by his bed. As she follows the shadow of his frame back and forth in the darkness, his words ring in her ears.
She pulls a cigarette from his pack after fetching it from where he’s
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