Girl You Want
Fandom: Battlestar Galactica
Pairings: Roslin/Zarek, Roslin/Adama, Lee/Dee
Disclaimer: Moore’s the man with the master plan.
Summary: “You knew the risks of dating a competent president,” Laura said with a tone of dry amusement in her voice.
The newsletter handed to Adama by a shaking-his-head Tigh said everything that needed to be said.
THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME?
Beneath it was a photograph of President Roslin, laughing, across from Tom Zarek. Two glasses of wine, a stump of a candle, plates of food. Zarek was grinning appreciatively at Roslin, who really looked lovely (despite the bad copy of the photo) with her head tilted back.
“What do you make of this?” Tigh asked, sounding disgusted.
“Looks like a date,” Adama said.
“That all? Looks like a date?” Tigh said, shaking his head. “That woman’s lost her damn mind.”
Adama shrugged. “He was loyal to the human race, push came to shove. And he’s helped her out of a few tight spots,” he said calmly. “I can see how it works.”
Tigh snorted and dropped into the seat next to Adama’s. “So you really don’t care that Zarek’s dating Roslin?”
“I didn’t say that,” Adama said. “But you don’t deck your lady friend’s date just because you’d like to crack your knuckles on his teeth.”
Tigh laughed, his hardy-har guffaw when something wasn’t really funny. Adama half-smiled and pulled out his bottle of booze and two glasses.
“Women,” Tigh said half-heartedly. “So now she’s your lady friend?”
“I don’t know what she is,” Adama admitted.
“Thought you decided that you weren’t really interested, especially after she blew you off and went to the surface,” Tigh said. “Change your mind after having to leave?”
“Yeah, I did,” Adama agreed. “I love her, Saul. But I respect Laura enough to respect her decision. And if she wants to ‘date’ this yahoo, I can’t get in the way.”
“The hell you couldn’t,” Tigh said. “And I know you, Bill. You haven’t made a single move, have you? Not even a friendly smile that wasn’t about Admiral Adama and Madam President.”
Adama looked at his friend with surprise. Tigh had always been blunt, but giving romantic advice seemed a bit out of character. Then again, after losing Ellen, he supposed things might be different for him.
“What are you suggesting?” Adama asked, pouring them their drinks.
“Show the woman you’re interested,” Tigh said. “I’ve seen Roslin when you haven’t. I even saw her with Zarek. He’s a smooth bastard, I tell you what. But it’s not the smooth. He treats her like a woman. Teases her about being beautiful, respects the woman as well as the leader. And he’s not so damn serious about it.”
“You’re joking,” Adama said helplessly.
“I’m not, but he is,” Tigh replied. He tapped his finger on the damned picture. “That looks like a lady who’s happy to be in the company she’s in. Don’t you think?”
Bill looked at the tilt of Laura’s neck, the smile on her face, the laugh that animated the picture.
“Yeah, I do,” he said grimly.
“You know you liiiiiike me, you know you doooo,” Zarek sing-songed in the presidential stateroom of Colonial One.
“And now everyone else does, too,” Laura agreed, looking at the newsletter. “I look ridiculously happy.”
“What were we saying that had you laughing that hard?” Tom inquired. “I can’t remember. We were talking about the food.”
Laura thought about it, furrowing her brow and wrinkling her nose. “Oh, I remember,” she finally said. “You said you would sing to me. Like you did when you were a young revolutionary.”
“And you said, frak,” and Zarek was about to launch into Laura’s response when a staffer rushed into the room.
“Madam President, Admiral Adama’s here,” he said. Laura sighed, and Tom groaned and got to his feet.
“That’s my cue to leave,” he said, wandering over to the president, who was standing up, slipping on her shoes, and fixing her suit. “See you soon?”
She leaned over for a kiss on the cheek, which Zarek gave without hesitating. “Three days,” Laura said.
“Three days?” Tom asked.
“You knew the risks of dating a competent president,” Laura said with a tone of dry amusement in her voice. “I have a great deal of work to do.”
“I know, but you,” and Zarek managed another kiss, one on the mouth that lasted longer and clearly scandalized the staffer (thus causing Laura to make it last as long as possible), “Deserve a little fun.”
“I do,” Laura agreed, pulling away. “But I’m not Gaius Baltar. Go do something useful, Tom, before I change my mind about three days.”
“Fine,” Tom agreed amiably. “One more smack for the road?”
As he knew she would, Laura leaned in close — and then thwacked him in the nose with her finger. “There,” she said, grinning. “Go.”
He sighed and left, just in time to skirt past Adama, who looked grumpy at the very existence of Tom Zarek. Zarek’s grin as he quickly rubbed his nose didn’t help.
“Admiral Adama,” the president said, her smile gone as she sat at her desk. “How are things on the Galactica?”
“We’re getting the supply chain issues together. Chief Tyrol’s reinstatement has helped enormously,” Adama said, gesturing at a chair. “May I sit?”
“A year ago, you wouldn’t have asked,” Roslin said, favoring him with a smile.
“A lot’s changed in the last year or so,” Adama said, sitting down and looking straight ahead. “Are we still friends?”
“Are we?” Roslin asked, looking at him carefully. “Oh, this is about Tom Zarek, isn’t it? You came all this way to ask me what I’m doing dating a terrorist.”
Adama half shook his head, as stiff as he’d been right after the attacks. Laura gave him a withering look, and he groaned.
“Maybe I am,” he said.
“You’re terrible,” she said, shaking her head with a secret smile on her face. “The anonymous newsletter?”
“Tigh got a copy,” Adama admitted. “Why him?”
“Because if I tell him, a week from now or a month from now, that I don’t have time for sex, dating, and jokes, he won’t grow a mustache and sulk for a year,” Laura said. “He might talk behind my back about my skills in the bedroom, but he won’t hover and growl and show up when I start dating Sam Anders to demand answers.”
Bill stared at Laura, clearly horrified. “Sam Anders?” he whispered.
Roslin covered her eyes and chuckled, groaning. “I’m sorry. I’m still in dealing-with-Tom mode. He knows when I joke.”
“Sometimes I know when you’re joking,” Bill protested.
“Sam Anders?” Laura asked. “Lee — see, that wouldn’t have been funny. Or, hmm. There aren’t many great dating options for middle-aged women of the fleet. But Sam? Next you’ll be sure I’d date Tigh.”
Adama shook his head, disbelieving. “You’re in a strange mood,” he said.
“Yes, I know,” Laura said airily. “It’s called happy.”
He gaped at her. “That was blunt,” he finally managed.
“I do what’s necessary, Bill,” Laura answered. “What did you come here for? To yell at me in my choice of dinner and bedroom companions? To tell me that the Galactica’s almost ready for a Cylon attack? It doesn’t appear you’re here to be my friend. A friend might be happy for my happiness.”
Bedroom companions. Well, there that was. Adama’s mouth twisted involuntarily, and Roslin closed her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Madam President,” Bill said. “I’ve wasted our time here.”
“I see,” Laura answered coolly. “So that’s all. It’s a waste of time to see me.”
“We’re busy people.”
“Yes, and the thought of me sharing my bed with someone other than you means we don’t have anything else to talk about,” Laura said. “So if you’ll excuse me, Admiral. I have work to do.”
“So she flat-out told the old man she was screwing Zarek?” Dee asked in a low voice. “You’re frakking me.”
“He was pushing her pretty hard,” her staffer friend said. “And she was in a good mood until he started ragging on her for Zarek. The whole silent disapproval thing never works on the president, but he still tries. And there was pretty much a confirm on them dating last year and her dumping him.”
Dee sighed, shaking her head. “Lee’s going to freak out,” she said with a groan. “He’s got a weird thing about his father, Roslin, and the two of them together. Plus, my beloved husband has issues with Zarek.”
As if on cue, Lee wandered into CIC, cursing under his breath.
“Well, just wanted to let you know,” the friendly voice on the other end of the line said. “I’ve got to go. Madam President has us prioritizing which ships get sewage repairs first.”
“Have fun,” Dee said. “Galactica out.”
Lee stormed up to Dee, holding a piece of paper. “Did you see this?”
“Yeah, your father’s upset, too,” Dee said. “Zarek and Roslin, sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g, so on and so forth.”
Lee paused, holding up his piece of paper. It was not the newsletter with Roslin and Zarek having dinner. It was the pilot rotation as drawn up by Starbuck, with Apollo’s name crossed off. Reason given, in handwriting?
Denied: too fat for the cockpit.
Dee sighed. “Babe, I’m sorry,” she said. “Everyone’s getting back into the swing of things, I think, and it’s hard for us to handle the changes.”
Lee was still paused.
“Lee?” Dee asked.
“Zarek and Roslin?” he asked. “What?”
“Dating,” Dee said. “Did you not see the newsletter going around? It’s actually kind of innocent-looking, except that the old man’s probably already flipped.”
“That’s all I needed,” Lee said bitterly. “I’m going to go do a thousand sit-ups. Send someone if they need the fatass on deck.”
Dee watched her husband go and heaved an enormous sigh. Things got more and more difficult these days with him, and she didn’t know what to do.
One of these days, he was going to walk away and not come back, and Dee wasn’t sure if she dreaded it or just wanted it over with.
The Astral Queen had never been well-known for delicacy of conversation, but with the publication of the picture, even Tom Zarek was thinking maybe it was a bit much.
“She a screamer, boss?” one of the junior convicts asked. “Think if you gave it to her hard enough, she’d get us a frakking crew for the sewage problems?”
Zarek didn’t have to clock him one — that was taken care of by Michaud, his chief assistant on the ship since so many of the convicts had died in the Cylon occupation.
“I don’t care what gods-damned obscene fantasies get you off at night,” he said quietly as the man shouted and pressed his hand into his face protectively. “You don’t speak disrespectfully of Laura Roslin on this ship. If you’re having a hard time figuring that out — well, talk about her the way you’d talk about your mother, hear me?”
“My mother ain’t frakking you, Tom. She is,” the man replied. “What do you care? She’s a woman.”
This time, Michaud hit him in the stomach.
“Get him out,” Zarek said.
“He was in for exposing himself to a bunch of people in a park,” the other man in the room, guy by the name of Archon McGill, said casually. “He doesn’t understand that women might be people.”
“Yeah, well, if he can’t learn like civilized folks, Michaud’ll teach him better,” Tom said.
Archon nodded. “He is talking the way some of ’em would like to. Maybe Michaud’ll teach them better, too,” he said. “Most of us are curious about more practical issues. You in love with her, Tom?”
Zarek paused. “No, I’m not,” he said. “She makes me laugh. We’re having a good time together, Arch. I know that’s hard to believe, her being a cold one and me always having a plan, but it’s for fun.”
Another nod. “She is awful good-looking when she’s smiling and laughing,” Arch admitted. “What was she fixin’ to bust a lung over?”
“Me singing,” Tom admitted. “I told her I was gonna serenade her and she cracked up. Cutest thing I ever saw.”
Arch smiled. “Yeah, you ain’t in love or nothing,” he said. “Just crazy about the lady.”
“I don’t have anything to promise the lady,” Tom said. “And she doesn’t have anything to promise me. So it’s pretty simple, Arch. A comfortable bed, pleasant company, and ye gods and little fishes, that hair. She can’t stop touching it, and it’s everywhere.”
“If that’s your biggest complaint about Roslin — that she’s got too much damn hair — then you’re a lucky bastard, Tom,” Arch said, pulling a plug of chew out of his bag. “Want some?”
“I don’t have a date for another two days,” Tom said. “So why not?”
Arch offered him the plug, which Tom took part of, before taking the rest and chewing, a slow companionable chew.
“Lucky bastard,” Arch said. “What, you save her life or something?”
“Nah,” Tom said. “She saved mine. Knocked me to the ground.”
“That’s a woman,” Arch replied. “Brave as frak and a steely little thing, too.”
“Don’t I know it. And she can hold on, let me tell you,” Tom said, smiling suddenly. “Well, I don’t think I’ll be telling you.”
Arch whooped with laughter. “Tom, you’re not foolin’ me. You’re crazy about your girl, and good for you,” he said. “Make her happy, keep it simple, whatever you want. But don’t tell me you’re not enjoying yourself.”
“Oh, I’m enjoying myself,” Tom said. “Don’t get me wrong about that. I enjoy that woman’s company in all sorts of ways. But I’m not plotting how I’m gonna swear my undying love and marry her, neither.”
“Good, because I’d rather not get married,” a taunting voice said. “I’m sorry, Mr. McGill. Mr. Zarek, but my engineers need to inspect your sewage system. You’re right on the border of being in the first set of repairs, and I thought I might pay a visit.”
Tom, to his credit, loved playing up how professional he could be in front of everyone else. He got up, walked over to Laura, and shook her hand courteously.
“Madam President, a pleasure to have you back on the Astral Queen,” he said. “It’s good to hear you’ve got us on a priority list for sewer repairs. The upper levels aren’t too bad, but the lower levels are shot, and that’s where most of the men use the shitter, pardon my language.”
“Pardoned,” she answered, trying not to smile. Gods, she enjoyed his company. Especially after the fight with Bill, whose self-righteous disapproval had driven her to say the cruelest things she could think of. “I have three engineers waiting on the main deck for your sanitation chief. Or…whoever knows where the mess is.”
“That’s Brynston,” Arch said. “I’ll get him, so if you’ll follow along, Madam President, we’ll make sure this runs as smooth as a clogged-up system can.”
She smiled and fell into the march of people next to Tom, artlessly.
“Fight with Adama?” he asked.
“Something like,” she answered. “I don’t know what to do about Adama. I care about him. I want to be his friend, but…”
“He’s in love with you,” Zarek said wryly.
“And there’s something insulting about telling a man who loves you — especially a man like Bill — that you’ll ask him to parley, but you’re tossing aside his love for scandalous, fun romps with a former terrorist.”
“Don’t forget I tried to have you killed,” Zarek said. “And I’ve been in jail most of my life.”
“That’s right,” she agreed. “Never mind I’ve been in jail myself recently and possibly deserve the terrorist label myself. And that I don’t love him. And like fun.”
Zarek grimaced sympathetically. “It’s a frakked situation,” he said. “A man’s got pride, but you’ve got a right to your own life and your own fun. And just because he’s pissed doesn’t mean…”
“Frak on toast!” a man’s voice shouted. “She’s gonna blow! Everyone MOVE or you’re gonna be covered in shit like you never seen!”
“To be continued,” Laura said as the two of them ran away from the near-bursting pipe. “Don’t let me get covered in sewage, please? I like this outfit.”
Someone was knocking at his door, and Bill’s head ached.
“Admiral Adama,” the someone said.
“One second,” Bill said, mouth dry. Frak, he’d had something to drink, hadn’t he? More than something. He’d found a bottle of that rotgut they were bootlegging on the ship, snatched it from the recruit, and went back to his quarters to drink himself stupid.
“Bill, you frakking idiot, open the damn door,” Tigh added.
“Keep your damn pants on, Saul,” Bill said.
“You should know better than to drink this rotgut,” Tigh told his CO. “It’s about twice as strong as ambrosia, and foul. Even the gods-damned kids dilute it.”
“I felt like living dangerously,” Adama said dryly. “I didn’t do anything like call the president, did I?”
“Thank the gods, no,” Tigh said. “Went that good, huh?”
“Frak,” Bill muttered. “Tell me again why I let that woman be president? Again?”
“Because she’s got more power than you do, she’s better at what she does than all of us, and you like her, even though she’s frakking Zarek,” Tigh said.
“Yeah, well,” and Bill paused. “I did what you said. Went over to talk to Roslin, man-to-woman. It backfired.”
Tigh paused. “You went over to talk to her? Out of the blue, no warning, to ask her why she was dating that frakface? Did you announce you loved her with all your heart, too?”
“She told me to frak off — and that she’s sleeping with him — before I could,” Bill admitted.
“Thank the gods for that,” Tigh said. “Didn’t you bother to listen to a gods-damn thing I said? Starbuck, get your ass in here, we need to get him to a shower before some green kid sees the old man like that.”
“I heard that,” Kara said. “Hello, sir.”
“Starbuck,” Bill managed. “You heard, I take it?”
“Sir, we all know about you and the president,” Starbuck admitted. “I’m sorry. I know how it can be, loving someone when they don’t quite love you the same way. But Tigh’s got a point, sir.”
“Yeah?” Bill asked as he was helped along by Tigh and Starbuck. It was good to have them back, as war-scarred as they were. He’d missed them, and it hurt him to realize how much more precious these two so-called frak-ups meant to him than his own son.
“Roslin’s not looking for love, sir,” Kara said. “I don’t know how to explain it. Zarek treats her with respect. But they flirt. All the damn time. He thinks she’s hotter than a sinner’s ass in hell, and as devious a bitch ever born, and he tells her so.”
“I’ve met the president, thanks,” Bill said. “I know that she’s an attractive woman, and one with a temper to match. What makes me different from Zarek?”
“You flinch when she gives you a dirty look,” Tigh said tactlessly. “Roslin called Zarek a dirty assassinating terrorist to his face when he pushed her too far, and he laughed at her until she laughed back.”
The rotgut had made his stomach feel flayed, and his head was spinning. Tigh and Starbuck were clearly giving each other looks behind his back, and it was possible that at that very moment, Tom Zarek was having sex with Laura Roslin.
All in all, Bill Adama suddenly understood how his son might have turned to food to handle a world gone crazy.
One of the things that Laura had simultaneously loved and hated about having a long-term affair with Richard Adar was the way a casual touch could make her want to throw decorum out of a window and have her wicked way with the man immediately.
Tom had the same accursed ability. Right now, he was bidding her an amenable good-bye and thanking her people for dispatching engineers immediately for the sewers of the Astral Queen. Even the most desperate scandal-monger would be bored by it; Tom understood work and how to be a gentleman.
Of course, he’d brushed against her hip and thigh before the goodbye, sending a shot of lust right up Laura’s spine, especially when his handshake had included the briefest of swirls of his thumb against the back of her hand.
So now, Laura’s lizard brain was pumping whatever chemicals made her turn to a lust-driven lump of needing sex on the inside while she kept her smile in place.
“Thank you for your loyalty, gentlemen, and good day,” she said, knowing that Tory was probably groaning. Tory would have preferred Bill to Tom as a boyfriend — Tory liked grand narratives, not to mention press-friendly associates for Laura.
And as Laura leaned forward and half-hugged Tom cheerfully, taking the opportunity to whisper to him, “Find a way to see me tonight,” she knew that Tory would be appalled.
But it was better than what Laura wanted to whisper, which was, “Find an excuse to keep our shuttle here for half an hour and then frak me. Now.”
Still. Laura hadn’t made it as far as she had in politics or having quietish affairs by begging the current lover for a quick screw in a corridor. So, walking out in heels while she idly speculated on where he’d drag her for their rendezvous, she kept her composure.
“I thought you were waiting a few days between dates, Madam President,” Tory said acidly.
“I am,” Laura said. “I didn’t set up a date.”
Tory rolled her eyes. “No, just a late night visit. Which are far harder to camouflage.”
“So don’t,” Laura said. “Admiral Adama knows, and he was the primary person I was worried about finding out…”
And of course, as if to mock her, there was Lee Adama, not nearly as chubby as rumor had led her to believe, and glaring at her like she was tarted up for red-light traffic.
“Oh…” and Tory grumbled. “You were saying?”
“I was saying,” Laura said, “I think I’ll go greet my older friend, Commander Adama.”
He hadn’t actually meant to run into the president on this trip; he’d come because some of the ex-prisoners from the Astral Queen were sporting bruises, or so said the latest off-ship observer. His father had asked him to see why they were being maltreated, and implied that cracking Zarek a few times wouldn’t be so bad.
Meanwhile, there was the president, who looked as dismayed to see Lee as everyone did these days.
Gain thirty pounds, become the world’s ugliest fatass. Even in Roslin’s eyes.
“Commander Adama,” she said, feigning lightness. “Gods, that sounds strange.”
“I came to speak to Mr. Zarek,” Lee said. “There are reports a few of the prisoners are being hit, and Galactica wants an explanation.”
“Oh,” said Laura, sounding a little funny. “Well, good to hear that your father’s taking unnecessary violence seriously, though I do question why he’s finally paid attention to those reports my office sent only after he found out I spend my off hours in Mr. Zarek’s company.”
“He’s a busy man, ma’am,” Lee said flatly.
“May we speak privately, Commander Adama?” the president asked, cutting through any chance Lee had for bullshit or escape.
“Yes, ma’am. Of course, ma’am,” Lee said as Laura took his arm and guided him away from the group. Firmly, but politely. “You were saying, Madam President?”
“Oh, cut the crap and talk to me, Apollo,” she said. “I suspect most of the bruised prisoners are discussing the way I look when naked, and I’m sure your father does, too. So why’s he sending you here?”
“Maybe he just can’t stand to see his fat failure of a son,” Lee said, embarrassed. Suddenly the reports made sense, and why Zarek — who was many things, but good with the ex-prisoners, and not prone to hitting them — would bruise his own men. “And you’re suddenly fascinated by sewage?”
“Don’t let’s be coy,” Roslin snapped. “I’m dating Zarek. He is, in fact, sharing my bed. I accept that the Adama family disapproves. I disapprove of Tom hitting people, even over my honor. None of this should have anything to do with the day-to-day work of the fleet. And yet…”
Lee nodded. “I’m sorry,” he said suddenly. “He loves you, you know.”
“I know,” Roslin said sadly. “But I don’t love him. I don’t think I ever could, not that way. And I don’t know what to do. Your father’s a good man, and I owe him my life. But he would be almost as miserable with me as I would be with him. Asking him to be my friend when he knows I’ll be off for a date with Tom, or anyone is something I’m not sure he’s equipped for.”
She was too damn good. Lee could hear the sincerity in her voice; her genuine regret that she didn’t love his father, that she’d hurt him, and yet the resolve was clear. The anger was draining out of him like out of a wound.
“Is that why you sent me away?” Lee asked. “After Kobol. Because you didn’t think I could handle it?”
“You didn’t love me like that,” Laura said, the surprise in her voice genuine.
“A little bit, yeah,” Lee said. “I’m not crazy or anything. I didn’t see us running away for a happily ever after. But, gods, Laura. Dee told me the other day that she loved me because I was like my father, and I understood. Because part of the reason I love her is she’s a lot like you.”
Lee realized that he had deeply surprised President Roslin, down to her very toes. She blinked at him several times before taking a deep breath.
“Well,” she said finally. “It’s good to know I wasn’t the only one with a little crush.”
Lee blushed at that. He’d known, of course, but he’d never been sure. “But that’s not the point. The point is you can’t cut people out of your life because you think it’d be better for them,” he said. “It hurt worse when you pushed me away. I thought I wasn’t good enough for you.”
“I wanted to…I wanted to stop dividing you from your father, and every time you choose me instead of him, there was more distance,” Laura said, shifting. “And I was going to die, then. I didn’t think you should lose your father for the sake of a dead woman.”
“Well, I don’t think my father should lose a friend because she’s got a boyfriend,” Lee said. “He’s not a coward, Madam President.”
“No, he’s not,” Roslin agreed. “But the hurts go deep with him. And I’ve hurt enough people for three lifetimes.”
Lee nodded. “You’re not God, Laura,” he said, trying out the name for the second time. “Don’t decide for someone when you shouldn’t.”
He pulled back from her then, turning and walking away.
“If Tom’s hitting people, tell him to stop,” came the president’s voice behind him. “Please.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lee said, feeling a weight off his chest.
And another when he realized there had been a whole conversation — a whole real conversation — where no one had brought up his frakking weight.
Lee began to walk a little taller. Maybe he could stop being useless. Maybe. If he tried.
She was on the phone for him when he got back from the showers and the half-hour of puking like a raw recruit on his first liberty while Starbuck guarded the door and Tigh alternated between cursing him and keeping him upright.
Adama was feeling better in body but considerably embarrassed in dignity.
“Madam President,” he said formally, trying to recover his all-too-tattered honor.
“Bill,” she said in that rich, shaded voice of hers. “I wanted to apologize for my rudeness in our earlier conversation. It was cruel of me and I was wrong to do it.”
Words he’d never expected to hear. “Wrong?”
“I jumped to conclusions,” Laura said. “I assumed that you were going to disapprove of me no matter what, so I decided to push.”
“I had no right to judge your personal decisions,” Bill said. “You made yourself very clear, last year, about your feelings about me.”
“That doesn’t mean I should go out of my way to attack those feelings,” Laura said. “I want us to be friends, very much, but I understand if you don’t want that, Bill.”
There it was. No declaration of love, no real hope that he could win her even if he played Zarek’s games, but there was honesty in her offer. She wanted to be his friend. She even understood why he wouldn’t want to be friends.
“I wish it could be different,” he said. “But I don’t know if we can be friends.”
“I know,” Laura said. “But Lee found me on the Astral Queen and made me realize that I needed to apologize and give you the choice.”
Bill paused. “Lee?”
“He was very convincing,” she said. “I hadn’t expected much from him, given all the gossip about how Lee’d gotten fat and weak. But I think — I think gossip’s been too hard on him. There’s still a good man there. One who has a pit to pull himself out of, but…”
Her voice trailed off.
“Thank you,” he said. “You’re a better friend than I deserve, Laura.”
“No, I’m not, but I can try,” she said. “I’ll let you go, now. I have to get ready for a…thing.”
“A date?” Bill asked, trying to sound amused even though it tore at his gut.
“Something like,” Laura agreed. “Good night, Bill.”
He held the receiver for a long time, putting it up at last and looking at his hands as if he weren’t sure if he’d been given a blessing or a curse.
She’d clearly given up on him for the night when Tom finally managed to arrive on her doorstep, scrubbed clean and hair still wet from his thirteenth shower of the day.
“I stank like my ship still does,” he explained, looking at Laura hungrily. “And I thought if I couldn’t wait three days, I could wait a week.”
Laura rolled her eyes. “Poor baby,” she said, her glasses on the tip of her nose as she looked at him severely. “Three whole days.”
“Says the woman,” and Tom pulled the curtain behind him, moving in closer, “Who couldn’t wait two.”
Laura pouted, which looked ridiculous on her but damned attractive. “You touched me,” she pointed out.
“People touch you regularly,” Tom said. “You’re a touchy-feely person, I’ve noticed. Why shouldn’t I touch you? What happens if I touch you in public?”
“I hate you so much,” Laura said, leaning back against the bed. “Do I have to tell you every nasty, wrong detail?”
“Oh,” and Tom climbed on the bed next to Laura, quickly scrambling back and fitting her between his thighs so he could squeeze her shoulders. “I like details. You give good details. There’s an artist’s eye there, I think.”
Laura was clearly about to retort, but Tom’s thumbs found that spot on her upper back where all the tension knotted. So instead, she moaned and slumped some.
“Cheating,” she said.
“Cheating terrorist dog,” he said, kneading her shoulders. “But continue your story.”
“Well, you touched me, and I went into full sex-brain mode,” Laura said, moving and shifting to demonstrate where Tom needed to touch her next. Tom acceded, enjoying every moment. “It’s a horrible thing to have happen. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted you. Immediately. Especially because you brushed my leg and I suddenly wished I was wearing a skirt.”
“Mmm, like this?” Tom asked, his hand easing up the nightgown she was wearing. Her answering shudder was a good one. “Oh, I see.”
“It’s horrible,” Laura mourned, almost certainly falsely. “This is why I’m bad at affairs.”
“Yeah, you’re absolutely terrible at affairs,” Tom agreed, putting his mouth on the outside of her neck for a quick nibble while he drew the filmy material toward her hip. “All I have to do is suck on your earlobe like so…”
Laura wailed, arcing her back.
“And you go all nonverbal,” he said softly. “It’s awful. I only wanted you to learn how you talk so pretty.”
He began sucking on her earlobe again, knowing from experience that it was the easiest way to turn Laura to jelly in seconds, as his hand found warm inner thigh and stroked.
As usual, it took about fifteen seconds for her to squirm around and push him down against the bed ardently.
“Too bad for you, Tom,” she growled into his ear, her hips pinned against his and grinding hard. “No pretty talking tonight.”
“Okay,” Tom said, pulling Laura’s nightgown up and over her head before catching her wrists, turning her over, and pinning her. “Pretty screaming, then?”
Laura smirked at him, biting her lower lip. “Sure,” she said. “If you’re up to it.”
Oh, that was it. He was going to show her what he was up to, and if she didn’t love every moment of it, Tom would eat his hat.
“You,” he promised, lowering his mouth toward hers, “Won’t know how to form words for a day after I’m done with you.”
“Promise?” she asked archly.
“Oh, yes,” he said.