I smiled back, feeling more comfortable with him. “You know, when you first came in the ER, I thought you were wearing some kind of aftershave because of how you smelled. But you don’t, do you? Wear aftershave?” I looked at him out of the corner of my eye.
Connor rubbed his hand over his whiskers. “No, darlin’. Where would I get it?”
I could taste his amusement, tart and sweet, not bitter like his embarrassment, in my mouth. I rolled it over my tongue.
He grinned and asked, “Why? What did I smell like?”
“Good. Well, you always smell good. Like leather and some kind of spice. Sometimes I think it’s citrus, or pine or, I don’t know. Something wild. I can’t quite put my finger on it …” Suddenly I became shy. “I guess it’s just your natural smell,” I finished, my voice almost too low to hear. I hugged my knees tighter against my chest.
“Glad you like it.” The heat was back in his voice, rushing over my skin in a burning wave and making the step we were sitting on feel much too small.
I stood and faced him, putting some distance between us. I crossed my arms over my chest again, hugging myself and wanting both to touch him and to be as far away as possible from him. I tried to think of some way to get the conversation back on track. “So, if I was a perfume, what notes would I have?” To my relief, I felt the heat ease down like a banked fire, and he looked thoughtful.
“Hmm. The middle notes are easy.” He counted on his fingers, ticking them off, still slouching comfortably on the bottom step. “Vanilla, cinnamon, warm honey.”
“You make me sound like a sugar cookie,” I protested, half laughing.
“Yeah, but that’s just the middle. Now your top note, that’s hard to describe.” He was silent for a moment, concentrating. “Remember that last night at the hospital, sitting on the bench outside by the bushes?”
“Yeah.” What I remembered was the warm feeling of his wet tongue on my knee. My whole body flushed at once, and I tried not to look at him.
“There was this bush out there by the bench, it had these delicate, white flowers, and I remember thinking that was what you smelled like. Soft and pretty and sweet.” His green eyes were unreadable as he straightened up a little on the step, raising his head to look at me.
I remembered smelling the fragrance of the bush that night and thinking that my great-gram had a bush in her yard when I was small that smelled like that … “jasmine! Night-blooming jasmine,” I said triumphantly. “So that’s it? Sugar cookie and jasmine?”
“Nah. You’re forgettin’ the base note,” he said, seriously.
“Sorry. Can’t forget that. So what’s my base note?” I expected him to say something else about flowers or cookie ingredients, but he surprised me.
“Musk,” he said simply.
“Musk? Like a good musk, or a bad musk?” It didn’t sound like a good thing to me.
“Good, definitely. Delicate and feminine, but it’s there. It’s the base that all the rest is built on. Totally and uniquely you, Red. I could live to be a thousand and never see you again, and I’d never forget your scent. You could be in a roomful of people, and even if I was blindfolded, I could still pick you out by your sweet aroma. It’s like nothing else in the world.”
Connor stood up with unnerving speed, suddenly right in front of me, so close I could feel his body as if we were connected. He took my left arm, unfolding it from across my chest and held it up to his face. He rubbed the tender underside of my forearm across the scratchiness of his cheek and the softness of that full mouth and then inhaled deeply. His eyes got a faraway look in them, as though he was remembering the best meal he’d ever eaten … or the most erotic experience he’d ever had.
I let him smell me for a moment, mesmerized by the feeling of his cheek and mouth against my arm and the deep hunger that was coming from him. It reached inside my body and stroked things he shouldn’t have been able to reach, making my breath catch in my throat. Reluctantly I pulled my hand away, afraid of being burned by his heat, consumed by that hunger.
“What else can you tell about people by their smell?” I asked, desperate to change the subject, which seemed to be getting too personal again.
Connor shook himself, and his eyes cleared as though he were coming out of a trance.
“Sorry, Red. It’s just that you smell so damn good.” He took a deep breath. “What else can I tell about people by their smell? Hmm. Where they’ve been, who they’ve been with, what they’ve been doing. Like that.” His eyes still had a little of that far-away look, and, hoping to keep the conversation impersonal, I continued to lead him.
“Give me an example. What about … um … Sylvie? You could smell her when she came in, right?”
“Well, where had she been?” I asked.
Connor grinned, showing sharp, white teeth and looking extremely feral for a moment. “Well, she’s mostly been in bed, as far as I can smell, darlin’.” Amusement was thick in his voice. I felt myself blush once again at his words even as I tasted that now familiar sweet-tart flavor like orange candy.
“You can smell that?” I asked, not daring to meet his vivid eyes. If he could smell sex, then could he also smell desire? I fervently hoped not.
“Sex? Oh, yeah, darlin’. I can’t miss it. Your little friend there has got the mark of another man all over her. It’s like a ‘Keep Out, Private Property’ sign. I’d never bother her, smelling like that. Even if I wasn’t already interested in someone else.” The conversation was getting onto dangerous ground yet again.
I tried to keep going. “How can you do that? Smell all those things and interpret the smells accurately?”
Connor shrugged. “I don’t know. How can I hear better than most people or see in the dark? I don’t remember much of anything about myself, but I know most people can’t see, hear or smell what I can. I know I’m different. How can you feel what other people are feeling?”
“I don’t know,” I said softly, wrapping my arms tightly around myself and looking down. “I still don’t understand how you could tell that about me when no else but my great-grandmother ever knew. She warned me not to tell anyone until I found someone else like me. But I didn’t even have to tell you. You just knew.”
Connor grinned at me. “Did you know I was different right away? ‘Cause I certainly sensed something different about you right off the bat, though it took me a while to figure out what it was exactly.”
“I knew the minute I touched you in the ER that you weren’t like anyone else I’d ever met,” I said, still unable to meet his eyes. “I think that’s the reason I went after you last night. All my life I’ve been waiting to meet someone as different as I am, and when I found you, I wasn’t ready to let you go.” It surprised me to hear myself admitting this, but Connor’s next words surprised me more.
“But you’re not ready to let me in yet, either? Isn’t that right?” He lifted my chin gently, his large hand warm and sure, forcing me to look at him. His eyes searched mine. I felt my face color for what seemed like the thousandth time that day.
I was at a loss for words. Connor put one large hand on my waist and pulled me close to him, so close I could feel every hard angle of his body pressing along the length of mine. Heat rushed over me in a stinging, devouring wave, and I gasped, unable to help myself. I braced my hands against his broad chest and tried to push away, but he wouldn’t let me.
Holding me tightly, he buried his face in my hair. His warm breath, blowing over the nape of my neck, sent me into a helpless spasm of goose bumps and caused my nipples to become hot little pebbles at the tips of my breasts. I knew Connor must be feeling them press against his chest where I was crushed against him.
Panic, like dry cotton, was at the back of my throat, and I stiffened against him, trying to let him know I wasn’t interested. But he continued to hold me until I relaxed, going almost limp in his arms, his uniquely masculine scent of leather and spice filling my nose.
My hands were trembling helplessly, and I couldn’t get a deep enough breath. I tasted the salt of his need like sweat or blood in my mouth, and my heart was beating so hard I could feel it in every part of my body at once. Could hear it drumming in my ears.
“Connor …” I whispered. “Connor, please …” I had no idea what exactly I was begging him for. My body wanted his, pressed so warm and hard against me. I was almost shaking with desire, an urgency I had never felt before I met him, and yet … I just couldn’t. I couldn’t get Douglas ‘s parting words out of my mind. I felt frightened, helpless, lost.
“Please what, darlin’?” Connor’s voice was low, almost a snarl in my ear. Hot waves of desire-hunger-wanting washed over me again, stroking my body, burning me up. I felt his mouth, hot and slow along the length of my throat and his sharp teeth biting me lightly as he kissed and sucked the sensitive curve where my neck and shoulder met. I shivered helplessly against him, digging my fingernails into his heavily muscled shoulders, gouging him through the plain white T-shirt.
“Please don’t. Don’t … don’t do this to me. Not now.”
“Which should I listen to, Red? Your words or your body? They’re sending me two different messages,” he growled, his words drenched in crimson.