In Dark Wild Night, the third edition of the Wild Seasons series, Lola and Oliver find themselves suppressing their secret desires for one another in order to preserve their perfect friendship. When Lola is thrusted into the spotlight after her sexy novel gains national attention, she seeks comfort in Oliver, leaving room for more sultry temptation.
Will these two be able to stay in the friend zone or will this steamy romance go out of bounds on a leap of faith?
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"Well, do you want to?"
I blink up to his face. "Do I want to what?"
Oliver takes a bite of Rice Krispies, chews, and swallows. "Draw me."
My heart inflates
"It's no big deal, Lola. You're an artist. And I realize I'm a bit of a demigod." He winks and then ducks to take another milky bite of cereal.
Do I want to draw him? Hell yes, and real-talk time: I do it all the time. But usually from memory, or at the very least I do it when he doesn't know what I'm drawing. The idea of having unfettered visual access to that face, those hands, the ropey arms and broad shoulders . . .
"Okay," I squeak.
He stares at me, giving me a tiny lift of his brow that says, Well? and before I can overthink this, I'm off, running to my bedroom, and digging through my desk for my bigger sketchpad and charcoals. I can hear him in the kitchen, putting his bowl in the sink, running the water to wash it.
My mind is a blender, coherent thoughts are chopped and killed. I have no idea what I'm doing right now but if Oliver wants to be drawn . . . well f*ck. I'm going to fill this godd*mn book with sketches.
Sprinting back to the living room, I nearly wipe out on the wood floor in my socks and manage to grip the wall just in time to see Oliver with his back to me, looking out the enormous loft windows. He reaches behind his neck and pulls his shirt over his head and off.
"Oh," I groan.
He whips around and looks at me, mortification spreading over his face. "Were we not doing this? Oh, God, we weren't doing this. We were just doing face and stuff, weren't we?" Holding his shirt to his body, he says, "F*ck."
"It's fine," I manage, looking at a pencil in my hand as if inspecting the quality of the sharp peak. I'm staring so hard I could break it with the force of my eyes alone. Oliver is shirtless. In my living room. "This is totally fine, I mean it's really good to draw you without a shirt because I can focus more on muscle details and hair and nip—" I clear my throat. "Things."
He drops the shirt, eyes still searching mine to check that I'm sure. "Okay."
I sit on the couch, looking up at where he stands near the window. He looks out over the skyline, completely at ease. By contrast, my heart is tunneling a path out of my body through my throat. I spend more time than I should on his chest, the geometry of it: perfectly round, small nipples. A map of muscles, built of squares, rectangles, darting lines, and sharp angles. The triangular tilt where hipbone meets muscle. I feel him watch me as I draw the dark hair low on his navel.
"Do you want my pants off?"
"Yes," I answer before thinking and quickly shout, "No! No. God, oh my God, it's okay."
My heart could not possibly beat any harder.
His mouth is half unsure smile, half straight line. I want to spend a year drawing the exact shape of his lips in this moment. "I really don't mind," he says quietly.
The devil on my shoulder tells me, Do it. Do it. Your geometric style never works with drawing legs. This would help.
The angel just shrugs and looks away.
"If you're sure," I say, and then clear my throat, explaining: "You know I'm really bad at drawing legs and . . ."
He's already unbuttoning his pants, hands working the soft denim, unbuttoning the fly one tiny pop at a time.
It would be good for our friendship if I could look away, but I can't.
Having Lola's apartment so close to the shop has been a blessing and a curse. In the early days when I'd opened the shop, I'd be in Downtown Graffick before dawn and there long after the streetlamps popped to life and all the other stores had long since closed up. At some point after the grand opening Lola handed me a spare key and insisted I was welcome to use it. There have been loads of times it would have been easier to crash on her couch for a bit, rather than drive all the way home to Pacific Beach. But with Lola, from day one it's always been a slippery slope. One little grin when she walks into the store leads to an uncontrollable, face-splitting smile when I find I'll see her again at the Regal Beagle later. A lingering glance leads to outright staring at her milky skin, shiny black hair, perfect curves. If I'm not careful, crashing at her place too regularly would make it a habit and I wouldn't be satisfied until I found my way curled around her, every night spent between her sheets, between her thighs.
I jog down the metal stairs that lead down to E Street and burst out into the bright, January sunshine, tilting my face up. Oxygen, I need it. I stretch my back, taking several deep breaths.
I spend most of the day trying to stay busy enough that I don't replay what it was like to wake up and see her as she looked first thing in the morning: face soft and free of any make-up, tiny diamond glinting just above her full, red lips. Lola has perfect skin; I fantasize about searching for a single freckle or scar. Usually brushed to a shine, this morning her long black hair was mussed and tangled on the right side, telling me exactly how she slept. Her eyes were heavy with sleep and I wanted to turn back the clock, climb into her bed and kiss the warm, swollen red of her mouth before she was fully awake, dig my fingers into her soft, thick hair and roll on top of her.
I've had the fantasy a million times, in a thousand different ways, but in every iteration, we always sleep naked. Sometimes I fall asleep on top of her; very often I'm still inside her. Sometimes we start moving again before we're fully awake, and what wakes me up is her quiet little noises right in my ear, carried by her warm exhales. Sometimes we make love when the sun is just up, because I love a good, slow f*ck first thing in the morning.
Letting the daydream fill my thoughts, I pull a pile of books out of a box and find a razor to break down the cardboard for recycling. It's a quiet moment in the shop—Joe isn't in yet, the lunch rush hasn't been unleashed—and the image loops through my brain, like a skipping song: Lola's hips moving up as I move in, and she's so f*cking warm. Her eyes are locked with mine—grateful for the way I make her feel, and a little cocky that I'm so obviously trying not to come before she does. When Lola loves me in my imagination, she's never shy, never closed off. I can see the intensity inside me matched in her expression.
It's always like this, every fantasy. I once wondered if it was bullsh*t that I bang her in my head more than we have actual imagined conversations, but when I drunkenly confessed this to Ansel, he just-as-drunkenly insisted it made perfect sense: "Well, first of all I'd be fine living out my entire marriage in bed, naked with Mia. I don't have any qualms about admitting that."
"Fair enough," I said.
"But also," he continued, "you talk to Lola all the time. You two have become so close you almost have a secret language. Sex between you guys will be some sort of spiritual experience. All the things you want her to say to you, she'll say without words when you finally sleep with her."
His confidence that it's only a matter of time is alternately reassuring and maddening. I want more than anything to believe him, but even with the jerking, leaps forward in my friendship with Lola—this morning, particularly—I'm just not sure.
But . . . letting her draw me was one fantasy I'd never thought to have.
It felt more wide-open than even the most tender kiss, or the deepest kind of f*cking. I had to just lie there and let her look at me. I itch to dig into the sketchbooks, to see how she isolated each part of me, what parts—if any—she drew again and again.
I knew she was drawing my legs when her charcoal would scratch heavily on the paper. It was quieter when she drew the details of my face, and that was when her breathing would break down into tiny, shallow bursts of air in, and out. And I knew she was drawing my half-hard c*ck when she stopped breathing—so nervous, but so eager to practice.
Was it only nerves, or was it more? With Lola I can't tell. She looks at me in a way she doesn't look at anyone else, but that could be meaningful only because I am her closest male friend, and have carefully, intentionally cultivated her trust. Trust is key with Lola. She closes down if she feels inspected, clams up if pushed.
But it's a delicate, slow process and unfortunately, I want sex, and—maybe more specifically—the intimacy that comes along with it. The truth is that if I can't have these things with Lola, I really should let myself find them with someone else. These are the moments that Finn and Ansel's lectures echo in my ears and I wonder if maybe I should take their advice: keep some of the numbers I'm given at the store—fangirls, as Lola calls them—or say yes when I'm asked out for coffee . . or even flat-out propositioned for a quick f*ck in the storeroom.
My phone buzzes with a familiar tone, and I reach for it across the counter.
It's a text from Lola. Dinner tonight?
Nothing out of the ordinary, but my heart trips into thunder. Sure I type. Where?
I have a really long day ahead of me, can we just hang at your place?
I start to type a simple, Sure, when more words from her pop up: My brain needs more Oliver time.
Lola's apartment is sometimes full of chaos. London blasts music when she's home, Harlow is over most of the time Finn is out of town, and she's more explosive weather event than she is woman. Add Ansel and Mia to the mix and I'm surprised the police have never been called. In addition to our more obvious similarities, Lola also needs a good deal of quiet time. Not just to work, but to breathe. It's one of the reasons we got along so well initially and why we still spend so much time together outside the group.
But we don't usually do it at my place, alone, where I have no roommate or neighbors on the other side of the wall. We have on occasion, sure, but not after I stroked her hair in the bar and spent the night on her couch. Not after she's sketched me and my d*ck.
I'm a bubbling mix of unsure and electrified when I hit send on my end, Sure.
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