Horses in the City Ch 07
Horses in the City Ch 07
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Her puzzlement grew as they walked closer to her apartment. She'd expected that he might call a cab to go to his place after his words about sitting by a tree. Yet he continued walking down the sidewalk, turning onto her street, and saying nothing. Well, if his idea of a tree is a spider plant, then I guess we'll go to my place.

Luke opened the door to her building and as they went up the stairs, she got the first indication that he was nervous as he pulled at the hair near his collar. She also realized that he looked exhausted. He'd shaved, but there was a light stubble on his cheeks and he had circles under his eyes.

"Luke, are you all right?" she asked as they passed the first landing.

"Me? Sure." He turned back to her and grinned, but tugged at his hair again.

"You've been writing too much." Emma put a hand on his arm. "You've been writing and driving and not sleeping. You should just sleep."

"Maybe later." He covered her hand with his. "I'm fine, Emma, really. Come on."

He stepped back at her door and let her unlock it, but put a hand on the knob before she could open it.

"What?" She looked up at him and he was lost for a minute in her soft brown eyes.

"I just--I hope you like it." He turned the knob and the let the door open.

Perplexed, Emma pushed the door and stepped inside, then stopped. "Oh." She looked around and wondered if she'd stepped into the wrong apartment.

There were lights hung around the windows, and candles on the little kitchen table. An assortment of snowmen, Santas and angels were on the table and the windowsills and a tall, smiling Frosty stood by the door. Emma covered her mouth with a shaky hand as Luke nudged her inside and shut the door. She looked to her left and saw a tree.

It wasn't tall, or wide, but it had a star on top and ornaments on the branches. Garland hung, albeit crookedly, from the branches. She loved it.

Christmas carols floated up as Luke stepped over and turned on the CD player he'd brought earlier.

"Luke, you did this? For me?"

"Only if you like it." He took his coat off and draped it on a chair, then coaxed hers off as well. "If you don't like it, I'll blame it on gremlins."

She laughed and it caught in her throat. "I thought it was elves at Christmas."

"Elves, then." He slid his arms around her from behind and pulled her back against him. Her body felt warm and inviting and when he dropped a kiss on her head, he could smell the fresh scent of her shampoo. "Do you like it?"

"I love it." Emma wiped at her eyes. "I love it. How did you do it?"

"I wish I could say magic, but it involved much begging." He chuckled. "I got in when your neighbor was going in, and then I got your super to let me in."

"The super?" Emma stared at him. "George? He doesn't even like to let his own tenants in."

"True." Luke nodded. "However, his wife is a dewy-eyed romantic and I suspect, under his own curmudgeonly exterior, so is George. So he let me in. After his wife threatened to lock him out."

"Oh, my God." Emma walked over and touched the tree, gently, as though she was afraid she'd break it. "I can't believe you did this."

"I did it for you, and for me." Luke stroked her hair. "I thought we'd both had enough of sad Christmases. My place was too messy, so I decorated yours."

She stared at the tree for a moment, then turned to him. "I can't thank you enough. I love it." Emma wrapped her arms around him and was relieved he did the same to her. "I love you." They were quiet for a moment, and then she realized what she'd said.

"Um. I . . . ." She pulled back and combed her hands through her hair, trying to decide what to say. "I can't say I didn't mean that. But I know it may not be what you want to hear, so if you could just not say anything right now . . . ." She tried to laugh. "Just think of it as a Christmas present for me, okay? I mean, not that this wasn't a great present in itself, but you--"

"Emma, hush. It's fine. It's fantastic. I love you, too." Now that he'd said it, the rest of his apprehension fled. He rested his forehead against hers and said it again. "I love you."

"Oh, Luke." Emma felt tears well up again. She was afraid to believe this was all happening. She hadn't meant to tell him, at least not yet.

"Hey, don't cry." Luke kissed her, long and slow, hoping to use his lips and touch to soothe her. "This is good, isn't it?" He started to sway with the music. "It's a better present that I ever expected."

Emma found herself trying to laugh and cry at the same time. "I wouldn't let myself think about it, or hope for it. But when I saw everything, what you'd done for me. I couldn't help it."

"I have one other present, and I hope it doesn't change your mind." Luke gave her a quick kiss and went over to the tree.

Emma followed and stumbled; she was surprised to see a mattress on the floor, with pillows and quilts. She'd been so surprised with the decorations that she hadn't noticed. She was about to ask him about it when he turned and held up a brown box with a bow on top.

"Here. I'm a terrible wrapper so I decided to save us both the aggravation."

She took the box and opened it. There was a pile of paper, bound at the left. Her jaw dropped as she read the top page. "Count the Stars, by Luke Thornton." She looked up at him. "It's your novel. You finished it?"

"I did." Luke gave in to a yawn. "Remember when I told you it would flow? Well, it did. Like a river. If it weren't for Sol dragging me out to work, I might have just kept going."

"No wonder you look so tired." She reached up and stroked his cheek; he caught her hand and pressed a kiss to her palm.

"It was worth it. At least I think it was." He led her over to the couch and they sat down. "Anyway, we can talk about that more later. The point is that you were my muse, and so I want you to read it first."

"Me?" Emma stared at him, then at the box. "But Luke, I never helped you or anything. You asked me that one day and then . . . ."

He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I think it's better, really, that I just wrote what was in my head and what I researched. You can tell me what's wrong with it, with the parts about music or anything else. But I just can't send it to anyone else until you read it. It's . . . I wrote it for you."

"I've never proof read anything except term papers." Emma hugged the box to her. "I can't wait." She leaned over and kissed him. "I have something for you, too."

"Really?" He gave her a sly grin and stole another kiss. "More of those?"

"No." Emma put the box down and went over to the piano, butterflies swarming in her stomach.

Luke bit back whatever he was going to say. Emma looked so nervous and he didn't want to do anything that might stop her.

She sat down on the bench and lifted the cover. She took a deep breath and forced herself to meet his eyes. "I wrote a song. I wanted to play it for you. It's not much, but . . . ." She cleared her throat. "Well, if you wrote your book for me, then I wrote this for you."

"I can't wait." Luke smiled.

Emma took another breath and willed her hands and voice to be steady as she played. It wasn't much of a song; she had thought it best to start simple. She'd even laughed at herself, thinking that it wasn't as though she was trying to run a marathon. Still, she'd gone for an easy melody and hadn't driven herself crazy with the words either, she just let them flow.

She played a set of scales, settling herself before she started her song.

Luke was quiet, watching her. He'd never seen her with her music before and he was entranced. When she started to sing, he couldn't imagine her doing anything else.

After she finished, Luke waited until she stood before stepping over and dragging her against him. He managed a "Thank you" before capturing her lips with his.

Emma sank into him, into the kiss and felt happier than she had in years. Happier than she could ever remember being. Playing the song for him and his reaction had lifted a weight from her. She had Luke and her music back--what more could she want?

She lost track of time as Luke pulled her back down to the couch, then kissed her and touched her as she did the same to him. His arms were strong and she loved the way his hands felt as they stroked her back, and then her sides.

"This couch is not very comfortable," Luke told her as he trailed kisses along her jaw and neck.

"No, it's not." Emma giggled as Luke shifted, then cursed as a spring poked him in the hip. "Which reminds me. Why is there a mattress on my floor?"

"Ah." Luke brightened and sat up. "That's where we wait for Santa Claus!"

"What?" Emma laughed.

"Hey, I did enough of this as a kid to realize that if you're going to fall asleep while waiting up, you might as well be comfortable. So I brought out the mattress, I have the makings of hot chocolate--including marshmallows and whipped cream--and I thought we could snuggle up and wait for the man."

"Snuggle? And here I thought guys only wanted one thing." Emma stifled a laugh.

"Oh, I want that, too." Luke rocked his hips to prove his point and Emma bit her lip. "Hot chocolate isn't the only thing good with whipped cream."

"Oh. My." Emma blushed, eliciting a deep chuckle from Luke.

"Come on. It's late. Let's get comfortable."

They disentangled and got up from the couch. Emma decided to get a shower and was tempted to ask Luke to join her but decided she wasn't quite that brave. Luke teased her by pretending to invite himself in, but stopped when she covered her face in embarrassment. They both laughed at that.

Luke decided he'd take his own shower after she was done; working with horses, while he enjoyed it, was messy work. If you didn't need a shower afterwards, his brother had often said, you weren't doing it right.

His brother, Luke thought with a sigh. He had to end this standoff with his family, and Keith was probably the way to start. If he went to his mother, no doubt she'd feel disloyal to his father and Luke had no desire to put her in that kind of position. So it was Keith. It's a little early for resolutions, but what the hell.

He heard the water start running and his body reacted as he thought of Emma standing under the spray. He wanted to be in there with her, but this would be better. And, he decided as he turned on the stove to heat the milk for the hot chocolate, the mattress was far less dangerous than the wet tile in the bathroom.

When the milk began to steam, he turned the heat down to low. The water shut off and he closed his eyes, now picturing Emma stepping out of the tub, water running down her arms, her legs . . . I'm going to kill myself if I keep this up. He shook his head and concentrated on finding the chocolate and marshmallows.

"Hi. Shower's yours if you want it." Emma stood in the hallway and looked up at him with wide brown eyes. She wore a plain white robe over a red nightshirt, and her dark hair hung in damp waves to her shoulders. "What?" She felt self-conscious when he frowned.

"Nothing." Luke reached out and toyed with a lock of her hair. To him, she was perfect, but when he made himself look, he saw how old the robe was and how frayed the shirt. He knew money was tight for her--the city wasn't cheap--but he suspected the condition of her clothes reflected what she thought she deserved, and that wasn't much. He'd change that.

"Nothing." He smiled and lifted her hand to his lips, kissed her fingers. "I was just thinking that I'm going to finish that book, sell the movie rights, and then you won't have to do anything but write music. No more waiting tables." He released her hand and ran one of his under the lapel of the robe. "You deserve better."

Emma's heart went into her throat as she realized what he meant, and he was right. Treating herself like this got her nowhere; she would face everything, find her sister and go back to her music. She would do all of that--tomorrow. Tonight was for the two of them.

"I warmed the milk for the hot chocolate. You can put it together whenever." Luke wrapped his arms around her. "And I like lots of whipped cream," he murmured in her ear.

They both laughed and Luke went off for his shower. Emma placed the mugs on a tray, along with some Christmas cookies one of the other waitresses had given her the day before. She was looking forward to . . . snuggling with him. Some doubts nagged at her and she tried to shake them off. She hadn't been with anyone since Sam, and Sam had never been complimentary about that side of their relationship.

Doesn't matter, she counseled herself as she dropped the marshmallows in the hot chocolate. I'm starting over. It's time to look forward, not back. Luke knows what happened before and he doesn't care, so I won't either.

"I'm ready for that hot chocolate."

She turned and Luke was leaning against the doorjamb. He'd gotten comfortable, as she had. He wore gray sweat pants and a flannel shirt, unbuttoned.

"Good timing." She smiled. "It's ready."

She walked over to the mattress and handed the tray to Luke as she sat down. She took it back as he dimmed the lights and came back to sit on the other side.

"How did you know I like that?" she asked.

"Like what?" Luke took his mug and added more marshmallows.

"Sitting with just the tree lights on." She sighed and slid her feet under the covers. "I used to love to get up early after we had the tree done, before anyone else was up and it was still dark outside and turn on the lights. Sometimes I'd even fall back to sleep but that was one thing I loved. Lila wasn't crazy over it--she liked to sleep late--but she'd come with me sometimes."

"You look like someone who needs lights." Luke leaned back against the pillows he'd piled up. "I could see you writing a song in front of a fireplace, or in a room with candles, or maybe out on the balcony with the moon and the stars shining down."

She laughed. "How poetic. You are a writer."

"I try."

They were quiet for a while, listening to the music. Then Emma said, "I used to sit at the window a lot, once I got this place. I'd kind of . . . well, I guess I was feeling sorry for myself. I was lonely, anyway. So I'd sit by the window and look out and not be able to sleep. I'd wonder where Lila was, which didn't help with the sleeping. Then I'd count as many streetlights as I could. You can see fifteen from here, by the way."

He chuckled. "I bet you can." His expression softened and he rubbed her back. "Then what?"

"When I ran out of streetlights, I'd count the windows in the buildings across the street." She moved back, closer to him. "I'd wonder where Lila was and I'd wonder if I'd ever find anyone for me."

"Will I do?"

Emma smiled and set her chocolate down, then snuggled down next to him. "Better than I could have imagined."

"Good." Luke set his mug down and slid his arms around her. "You know, it's a little early for resolutions, but I've decided that after the holidays, I'm going to call my brother and try to straighten all this family stuff out. It may not work but I'll give it one last shot."

"That's great. I'm going to look for Lila." Emma ran a finger along his arm. "Really look. I'm going to get in touch with my mom and make her understand what's going on, if she doesn't already see it. I've been making a list of people we knew, from home and here. She may not want me to find her, I guess, but I have to look."

"I'm proud of you, Emma." Luke tilted her face up to his. "You went through a lot, alone, and you came through. I'm here, though, so don't think you still need to do things alone."

"You just keep on giving me presents."

"And I'm not done." Luke's smile was warm and wicked and Emma felt a delicious answering tingle in her body. "Come on, let's get under the covers."

Emma slipped her robe off and did as he suggested, glad for all the blankets even though she felt herself getting warmer all the time. She laid her head against Luke's chest and heard his heart, racing like hers was.

Luke bit back a groan of relief as Emma's hands touched him, moving idle circles over his stomach. Did she have any idea how good that felt? Her hands weren't smooth--working as a waitress didn't lend itself to soft, silky skin--but he didn't care. They moved over his abdomen and he was torn between wanting her to stop and wanting her to touch him everywhere else. He had to distract himself for a few minutes, at least, and decided a kiss was a good way to start.

Emma sighed as his lips found hers, and his fingers combed through her hair. She wiggled closer to him, anxious to keep him close and feel him next to her. He teased her lips with his tongue until she parted them and then he gave in to his desire and held her in place while he deepened the kiss. He rubbed his tongue against hers, tasting the sweetness of the chocolate and marshmallows. He had an idea.

"What are you doing?" Emma sounded dazed as he pulled away.

"I was just thinking. That shirt is kind of messy. You'll want to take it off."

"What?" Emma looked down. There was nothing wrong with it, aside from age. She let out a surprised shriek as Luke squirted whipped cream on the front of it.

"Ooops. Sorry." Luke didn't even try to feign innocence. "It slipped."

"I'll just bet." She shook her head and blushed a little. "I guess . . . I guess I should take it off."

Luke's smile turned gentle. "I'll help." He did, and they managed to remove it so that a minimum of whipped cream hit the sheets. After she'd put it on the floor, he held the blanket back for a minute so he could look at her.

Emma swallowed. "I don't think this is quite fair. You're still practically dressed."

"True. That's not fair at all." Luke took of his shirt and pants, and then pulled her to him. "This is much better."

"I . . . yes." Emma closed her eyes and drank in the feel of their bodies together. She hadn't been this close to anyone in so long. She hadn't trusted anyone, least of all herself, to get close. It was still a risk, always a risk, but she trusted Luke. "You're so warm."

"Emma." He said her name but anything else fell away as he kissed her. He lingered on her lips for a while, but then shifted and kissed her neck, pleased when she turned her head to make it easier. A drop of whipped cream was on her cheek from before, and he grinned.

"I almost forgot."

"What?" Emma's eyes got wide. "What are you doing?"

"I told you I liked whipped cream, and not just on hot chocolate."

Emma squeaked as he pressed the nozzle and squirted some on her shoulder and then lower on her chest. "Luke, I--oh." He put more drops on her side and hip, and with that same sly grin, on her breast.

"Be still," he said. "Wouldn't want to get this on the sheets."

Before she could say anything else, he began to work his way down her body, making her jump as he licked the whipped cream away. She bit her lip as he licked and nibbled at her side, tickling her but not allowing her to move. When he moved back and took her breast in his mouth, she gasped and arched up to him, startled by the twin sensations warmth of his mouth and the coolness of the cream.

As his tongue flicked over her nipple, he eased her to her back and ran his thumb over the other. Emma closed her eyes and put her arms around his shoulders, both to keep him close and keep herself from floating away.

I'm driving myself crazy, Luke thought. He had thought the cream would be fun, a way to heighten the anticipation for both of them, but now he wondered if he'd even last long enough to enjoy the effect. Emma's body, and the way she responded to him, were more than he'd dreamed of.

He nipped at her shoulder and she sighed. He flicked his tongue over the pulse point on her neck and her nails dug into his arm. The slight sting snapped his control and this time when he kissed her, he didn't hold back. His tongue swept in and he tunneled his fingers into her hair to keep her there for him. She gasped his name when he came up for air and he groaned at the sound, rocking his hips so that his erection slid against her smooth skin.

Emma didn't think she could feel any better, and then Luke's hand slid between her legs and her eyes widened in surprise. For a moment his hand rested there, cupping her, and then his fingers began to explore. She parted her legs at his unspoken request and took a shuddering breath as he moved his fingers in slow motions.

Luke had to stop himself at first, but when he felt how wet she was, he wanted more. It was a fight to restrain himself but he wanted Emma to enjoy everything, and not to scare her. He knew she was nervous, but he wanted to show her it wasn't necessary, not with him.

So he stroked in long, gentle motions before slipping his fingers inside her a little. "Oh." He repeated the move and then brushed over the spot that sent her reeling into orgasm. He kept his rhythm slow and steady, raising up on one arm so he could look at her. The lights from the tree danced on her skin as she shook underneath him and with reluctance, he stopped his hand, although he left it in place.

"Emma, I swear we will do this again, and for a longer time, but if I don't get inside you, I think I'll go crazy." His lips brushed hers as he spoke, and he felt her breathless smile.

"I'd be a liar if I didn't admit I want that myself." Emma's hand drifted down over his back, then moved under his body until she found him, hot and hard and aching. She stroked his shaft with lazy movements, smiling when he hissed out a breath and dropped his head back.

"Emma, you're killing me."

"We don't want that." She put a hand on his face and guided him down so she could kiss him. "I love you."

"I love you, too. Which reminds me." With a small grumble, Luke moved and reached into the pocket of his sweat pants. He pulled out a foil envelope and sighed. "Not to take the romance out, but . . . ."

Emma shook her head, helped him put it on, then leaned back and pulled him to her. "Thank you."

He moved over her and rested his weight on his arms. "I love you, Emma." He shifted as her legs wrapped around his waist and he slid inside her. "Oh, God, you feel so good."

How he managed to pace himself, he wasn't sure, but he did. Her body was warm and wet around him and he didn't ever want to leave. He slid one arm around her shoulders and braced himself on the other as he moved in measured strokes, determined to make it last as long as he could for both of them.

Emma gripped his shoulders and closed her eyes as she came again. She'd never felt like this with anyone, ever. Luke's body over hers, in hers, was like magic. She opened her eyes and saw his half-closed in concentration.

"Luke, you . . . oh . . . ." Another orgasm raced through her and she bit her lip.

"Emma." As her body contracted around him again he let go. He found her lips again with his and refused to let them go as he thrust faster. He felt the wave approaching and let it happen, calling out her name as his climax grabbed him and wouldn't let go.

After a moment of disorientation, he rolled to his side and took her with him. Another few minutes and he felt confident enough to sit up and dispose of the condom. He laid back down and pulled the blankets over both of them, keeping Emma close to his side.

"You feel so good, Emma." He ran a hand down her back, over her hip and along her thigh. "I have wanted to do that for so long."

She gave a quiet laugh but pressed herself closer. "We've only known each other for bout three weeks. That's not very long."

"True." He kissed her forehead, then her cheek, then her lips. "But I've been watching you for longer, wondering what your story was."

"And now that you know?"

"I want to help you write the rest of it."

-- The End --
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