The next morning, Liz wasn’t sure what to expect. She knew she hadn’t seen the last of Zan, but when would he show up again?
He had been living with her for weeks, so maybe he was tired of her and he wouldn’t come around for a while.
With that thought, disappointment and loneliness filled her. It had been nice having someone to talk to. A friend.
She shook her head. She didn’t need him. She didn’t need anyone, and it would be better if she remembered that. She was better alone. It was easier.
The doorbell rang, and her heart jumped.
It had to be Zan, and instantly she was excited but she tried to bring herself under control. She didn’t want to want him. She needed to be strong.
Taking a deep breath, she went to the door and swung it wide, her heart giving another set of wild leaps when she saw him. He was so damn handsome, that was the problem.
A knowing look entered his eyes, and she blushed. It really was no good trying to hide her emotions when he knew what she was feeling, but it didn’t stop her from stubbornly trying.
He smiled. “Morning, princess,” he drawled, as his eyes took in every inch of her. “How are you?”
Her first reaction was anger. He was treating her like she was made of glass, but she reminded herself, maybe she was. He’d had to take care of her for weeks after she’d broken down, and the anger left as quickly as it had come.
She shrugged. “Fine.”
A crooked smile lifted one corner of his mouth, making her want to reach out and touch it, but she clenched her fists at her sides. She wanted to look away from him, but couldn’t. Her unwanted attraction to him made her angry again.
“What do you want?” she snapped.
His expression didn’t change, he didn’t even flinch but answered as if she had just used a normal tone. “I came to see what you want to do today.”
His lack of response to her rudeness made her even angrier. “I don’t want to do anything. I just want to be alone.”
“You need to get out of the house, princess,” he said, “so what’s it going to be, a walk, a run, the beach, or maybe there is something else you want to do.”
She was angry and frustrated but she knew she couldn’t win with him. “Fine, let’s go for a walk.”
She had chosen it because she thought it would take the shortest amount of time, and then he would leave. Maybe if she was able to show him that she didn’t want to spend time with him, and she wasn’t affected by him, he would finally leave her alone.
He smiled. “Somehow I knew that was what you’d choose.”
Going to the door, he held it open and waited for her to go out before closing it behind them. They crossed the street and headed into the park.
Zan set out at a casual pace on the path and she walked silently beside him.
It wasn’t that early but the park was almost deserted, just a few other walkers and joggers. It was actually kind of surprising. There were usually more people around.
Zan answered as if she’d spoken aloud. “People are at home, princess. It’s Christmas.”
For a moment Liz was shocked. She hadn’t realized it was so late in the year. She’d just been sort of existing for the last two weeks since she’d come out of her overwhelming grief.
She realized then that since it was Christmas she’d missed Thanksgiving while she’d been out of it. She’d never even given it a thought. She’d been too consumed with sorrow.
A pang of yearning pierced her as she thought of her old life. She’d never missed celebrating either holiday in the past, and she especially loved Christmas. But everything was different now. She didn’t feel like she would ever celebrate anything again.
Knowing it was Christmas only highlighted how different her life was, but she couldn’t help thinking about what she would be doing if she were home with her parents today.
Even though her family always went to mass on Christmas Eve, they would get up early on Christmas to open their gifts.
It was tradition that her mother gave her pajamas every year. She would try to find more colorful and outrageous ones each year. And each year, she and her mother would pick out a colorful tie for her dad to wear to work. He loved them.
After the gifts, her father would cook them a big Christmas breakfast, and he always included her favorite French toast.
The Crashdown was closed, so after breakfast they would all help get the turkey and other dishes ready, then they would watch some of their favorite holiday shows together. She always looked forward to the Charlie Brown Christmas the most.
Later in the evening, they would have turkey and all the trimmings for dinner. It was the same every year but she loved the traditions.
It made her sad to think that she would never have that kind of Christmas again.
She didn’t deserve it.
Liz felt her hand being squeezed and looked down to see that it was Zan. She wondered how long he had been holding her hand. She hadn’t noticed when he taken it.
Had he felt her sorrow? He must have, and she felt a bit embarrassed. He didn’t say anything, but it made her feel a little better.
She allowed him hold her hand as they walked around the entire park, and he didn’t let go until they reached her door. She wanted him to stay, but she couldn’t ask him.
But she didn’t have to. As usual, he seemed to know what she was thinking.
He opened the door and followed her inside. “How about I make us some breakfast and then we can find something on TV. Maybe the Charlie Brown Christmas is on.”
She burst into tears.
Zan held her until her tears stopped, whispering comforting words and stroking her hair. She had no idea what he said but she got the impression that he was reassuring her that everything would be alright.
She didn’t know if she believed him, but she wanted to.
Now that she wasn’t crying, she felt awkward being in his arms and chastised herself. She shouldn’t have let him comfort her.
“It’s okay, princess,” he said, “I won’t tell anyone.”
Her gaze snapped to his. It still surprised her when he did that. He’d told her that he couldn’t read her mind, but sometimes it sure seemed like he could.
He smiled. “Sometimes I just get a really clear feeling about what you are feeling,” he explained.
She searched his face to see if she could detect any deception but he was just Zan, like he always was.
He waited until she had finished studying him before he spoke. “I will always tell you the truth.”
She saw that he looked very serious and determined for a moment and wondered if he wanted to say something else, but then his face cleared.
“How about we make some breakfast?” he suggested, “I’m starving.”
As they ate, he asked her about how she would spend the holidays with her family.
She didn’t really want to tell him, but as he kept asking more and more questions she found herself telling him. She carefully avoided mentioning Max or her friends and concentrated on her parents and things they had done when she was younger, and after a while she found it kind of soothing to talk about her other life.
When his questions slowed, she asked one of her own. “So did you celebrate Christmas growing up?”
His eyes met and held hers, and she instantly knew why. It was the first personal question she had ever asked him, and she wanted to kick herself for doing it. She didn’t want him to think she was interested in him.
A blush spread across her face and she wanted to look away from him, but she didn’t. She brazened it out, hoping he wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.
After a moment he shrugged. “Not at first. We didn’t know about it, and it’s not like out protector celebrated a human holiday. But after a couple of years, we found out that you got presents.”
She giggled, glad that he had lightened the mood. “So did you have the tree and the whole thing?”
“When we were kids,” he said. “I guess as we grew up we thought it wasn’t ‘cool’ to do all that.”
“That’s sad,” she said, and then realized that before she’d met Zan she hadn’t been planning on doing anything for Christmas. She hadn’t even thought about it at all.
Suddenly she was uncomfortable and stood, gathering the dishes and taking them into the kitchen. She used the excuse of washing them to give herself some time, but she still felt strange when she turned back to Zan.
He smiled, and motioned her over with a bob of his head. “Come on princess. We’ll make our own Christmas.”
She followed him to the sofa and sat down. “What did you have in mind?” she asked curiously.
“Like I said, we’ll find a Christmas show to watch, but first . . .”
He held his hand over some magazines on the coffee table and they swirled up and around and formed into a small Christmas tree complete with ornaments and glowing lights.
“Oh!” she said, completely surprised but pleased. “That’s perfect.”
“One more thing,” he said. Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, he withdrew a wrapped gift and held it out to her.
Her first reaction was pleasure that he had gotten her a gift. Her second reaction was that she should refuse. “You shouldn’t have. What is it?” she asked, looking from the gift to Zan.
He smiled. “You’ll have to open it and see.”
Liz looked at the gift and then at Zan, unsure what to do. She didn’t want to take it, but it seemed rude not to.
The package was perfectly wrapped in dark green paper with red ribbon and a hand-tied bow. She wondered if he had wrapped it or maybe he had it done where he bought it. Of course maybe he’d wrapped it with his powers.
He patiently waited, holding it steady until she finally decided not to make a big deal about it and took the package.
“Thank you,” she said softly.
“Open it,” he urged.
Carefully she peeled the paper off, almost regretting ruining the perfect wrapping. She didn’t know what she expected but was pleasantly surprised and relieved when she saw it was a book. But when she turned it over, tears came to her eyes.
The book was about the ecosystem of California tide pools.
As she examined it, he spoke. “I know you were interested in the tide pools, so I thought you’d like some more information about them.”
She couldn’t look at him and simply nodded. “Thank you,” she whispered, still too choked up to answer louder.
Liz flipped through the book, pretending to look at the pictures, giving herself some time to get composed. She couldn’t believe that he’d done something so thoughtful. He’d paid attention to something she was interested in and shopped for a gift he thought she’d like.
Finally she looked at him. She felt guilty. “I-umm,” she started, clearing her throat, “I-I’m sorry, I didn’t get you anything. I didn’t remember it was Christmas.”
“It okay, princess,” he said. “Just being here and spending Christmas with you is gift enough for me.”
She wasn’t sure if she believed him, but she didn’t have time to think about if for long because Zan used his powers to turn on the TV.
He grinned at her. “Now we just have to decide what to watch.”
A week later, Liz was walking beside Zan in a huge crowd of people. It was New Years’ Eve and he had invited her to come with him to the celebration at the pier.
She smiled remembering that she’d been on the point of denying him because it felt like a date. But before she could object, he’d tempted her by describing the games, rides, food, music, and carnival atmosphere, and of course fireworks.
She’d never been to a big party like that before and she’d actually been looking forward to it.
And that evening before Zan arrived to pick her up, she swore that she had tried on everything she owned looking for the right outfit.
She’d wanted to dress up a little, but not so much that Zan thought she was dressing up for him.
Outfit after outfit she’d rejected. This one too sexy. That one too casual. Finally she’d settled on a cotton sundress that molded her body to the waist and then flared out to swirl around her legs. She topped it with a sweater to keep the ocean breeze off her shoulders, and slid on ballet flats with a tie around her ankles because she knew they would be walking a lot.
And even though she’d told herself she was dressing just for her pleasure, she did feel a rush of warmth and satisfaction when she’d seen Zan’s reaction.
A smile raised the corners of his mouth and made his eyes crinkle in genuine response. “You look beautiful,” he’d simply said.
She’d blushed furiously, but held her head high as she thanked him. She’d also taken the time to look at him.
He was dressed in black jeans and a dark green button-down shirt with a black leather jacket. She thought it was the first time she’d seen him in anything but t-shirts and hoodies, and she had to admit that he cleaned up well.
When they arrived at the pier, Zan insisted that they try just about everything. They had gone on rides, and sampled all kinds of different foods. They listened to bands and watched dancers, acrobats and magicians. He showed her how to aim at targets at the shooting gallery, and how to get the balls into the holes in ski-ball.
After he’d gotten a perfect score on their third ski-ball game, she playfully pushed him and asked if he was using his powers.
He feigned a look of hurt and surprise, and then admitted that he didn’t have to use ‘alternative’ talents because he’d spent so much time at Coney Island and other arcades playing ski-ball as a kid.
They went to trade in the tickets they won, and Zan told her to choose what she wanted. She selected a bookmark shaped like a cat and at Zan’s urging a goofy-looking glass bird wearing a top hat that bobbed back and forth to drink from a glass of water.
Zan got a fedora, which he spun in his hand before placing it on his head at a rakish angle, and a tiara covered with sparkling, plastic gems that he slid onto her head with a wink. “Just what a princess needs at the ball.”
He asked the attendant to give the rest of their tickets to the kids behind them as a surprise. The guy smiled approvingly and handed Zan a plastic ring shaped like a daisy. Before Liz knew what was happening, he’d taken her hand and slid it onto her pinky. “It’s not really my style,” he said, squeezing her hand before releasing her.
She probably would have objected about tiara, but she’d been too confused wondering what the ring meant.
Would accepting it make him think they were together now? But it was just plastic, she argued with herself. It didn’t really mean anything, did it? It wasn’t an engagement ring or anything. And it’s not like Zan choose it and gave it to her. He had probably been truthful when he said it wasn’t his style. But then why did he squeeze her hand?
Finally she told herself that it was ridiculous to spend so much time speculating about it when it probably meant nothing to him.
Midnight was approaching, and he took to a prime spot on the pier and they watched the fireworks that shot out over the water.
The colors exploded above them, and Liz realized that she felt perfectly content for the first time in a long time. She had forgotten about all her sorrows and problems and just had fun for one night.
And it was all due to Zan.
Even though she wasn’t looking at him, she could feel his presence beside her, his warmth. It drew her and frightened her at the same time.
She was brought back to reality as a voice over the loud speaker burst out. “It’s time for the countdown, everybody!” Cheers sounded around them and the crowd excitedly counted along with the announcer.
Suddenly Liz felt anything but excited. She felt almost panicked. She didn’t even dare look at Zan and turned a bit more away from him.
When midnight struck what was Zan expecting? Did he think he had the right to kiss her, especially now that he had given her the tiara and ring? Did she want him to?
It was too fast. She hadn’t had time to prepare herself. She held herself rigid wondering if she should let him kiss her or if she would push him away. She wanted him, but did she really want it to happen?
The crowd erupted in cheers and the fireworks burst in quick succession above them, but Zan didn’t touch her. She waited for a few heart-stopping moments and then released the breath she’d been holding. It was okay. He wasn’t going to insist on rights that weren’t his even if he still claimed that she belonged to him.
She felt her swirling thoughts calm and allowed her body to relax. She didn’t have to make any decisions tonight.
Silently they watched the fireworks until they finally died away, and only then did Liz feel comfortable turning to him.
He met her cautious gaze with a gentle smile. “It will take hours to get out of here with all these people. Why don’t we look around some more while people leave?”
Nodding, she released another deep breath, feeling more at ease.
They shared a funnel cake with strawberries and whipped cream, a deep-fried cheese cake, and played a few more games.
It was after one, and Liz thought they would head back to the car, but as they passed a pavilion, Zan took her hand and pulled her inside.
Music played around them, and it took Liz’s eyes a moment to adjust in the dim lights but then she saw couples dancing slowly, wrapped up in each other.
“Dance with me,” Zan said, twirling her around and not giving her a chance to object.
Before she realized what was happening, he’d swung her into his arms, and they were slowly rocking together on the dance floor. He held her lightly, moving slowly to the rhythm. He had one of her hands in his, and her other hand rested awkwardly on his chest. He’d surprised her and she held herself stiff as they moved.
She hadn’t danced like this since . . . but she didn’t want to think about that.
Have you got colour in your cheeks?
Do you ever get that fear that you can't shift
The type that sticks around like summat in your teeth?
Are there some aces up your sleeve?
Have you no idea that you're in deep?
She felt a bit guilty dancing with anyone besides Max.
But Max is gone
, a voice said from deep within.
That doesn’t make it any easier, she told herself.
He would want you to move on, to be happy.
I dreamt about you nearly every night this week
How many secrets can you keep?
'Cause there's this tune I found that makes me think of you somehow and I play it on repeat
Until I fall asleep
But I have moved on, she argued with herself. I’ve been with dozens of guys.
They didn’t make you happy, and they didn’t mean anything.
Does that mean being with Zan would mean something?
No, she told herself. She couldn’t let it mean anything.
Do I wanna know
If this feeling flows both ways?
Sad to see you go
Was sort of hoping that you'd stay
Baby we both know
That the nights were mainly made for saying things that you can't say tomorrow day
She hadn’t noticed at first but while she’d been having a silent argument with herself, she’d relaxed in him arms, flowing with the easy rhythm and Zan had gradually urged her closer so now their bodies brushed as they moved together.
It did kind of feel nice to be held, and she realized that it was the first time that she’d been in Zan’s arms when he wasn’t comforting her or taking care of her.
A shiver went through her and she didn’t know if it was desire, fright or something else. She was so confused.
So have you got the guts?
Been wondering if your heart's still open and if so I wanna know what time it shuts
Simmer down and pucker up
I'm sorry to interrupt. It's just I'm constantly on the cusp of trying to kiss you
I don't know if you feel the same as I do
But we could be together if you wanted to
Zan drew her even closer to him, holding her tightly against him. She could feel his hard, muscled body against her own from chest to thighs, and it felt good. Too good.
She wanted him so much but she didn’t even want to admit it to herself. Of course she didn’t have to tell him, she was sure he already knew.
Suddenly she had a flash of them in entwined in bed.
She didn’t even have to question if it was Zan and not Max, she just knew. Her body knew, her mind knew, even though they were basically identical, she would never mistake one for the other again.
In her vision, her legs were wrapped around Zan as he surged into her again and again, and she arched against him in pure pleasure.
She could feel their slick bodies sliding together, his thick cock filling her as her inner muscles clenched around him, her climax so close.
She gasped as the sensations rushed through her body and as she suddenly came out of the vision she realized Zan was still holding her. Their bodies were still molded together and she could feel his erection against her. His eyes that met hers were dark with desire and knowledge.
Immediately she was suspicious of the flash and started to accuse him. “Did you-“
He smiled. “Don’t worry, princess,” he growled softly, “nothing will happen until you are completely ready.”
Shaking her head, she started to deny it, but he spoke before she could.
“We both know you want me, so there’s no point in lying.”
His certainty and her unwanted desire made her angry. “You arrogant bastard,” she hissed as she tried to separate herself from him.
But he held her easily and smiled again. “You’re right about both, but you still know I am right.”
She wanted to stomp away in indignation but she couldn’t get away from him until he let her. She might get away if she created a scene, but she wasn’t sure what Zan would do if she tried it. She wasn’t sure what to do. She’d never been in a situation with a guy when she wasn’t in charge.
Finally she decided that it wasn’t a big deal. She was only mad because she didn’t want to admit that she wanted him, even though they both knew it was true. Taking a few deep breaths she allowed herself to relax against him a little.
“That’s right, princess,” he soothed, “just calm down. All we’re doing is dancing.”
Again she wondered if he was reading her mind.
He chuckled. “I told you I can’t read minds, but when we are close like this, I can feel your emotions like they were my own.”
She looked up, seeing the truth in his eyes.
He held her gaze as he continued. “That’s one of the ways I know you want me. And you know I want you. I’ve wanted you from the first moment I saw you. Before even.”
His admission gave her bruised ego a boost, and she relaxed against him even more, settling back into the rhythm of the dance.
They slowly moved around the dance floor for several long minutes, and she felt her anger with him dissipate as her desire grew again. His hard body moving against hers was driving her crazy. It was impossible to stay angry when she was so aroused.
His hand at the small of her back urged her even closer and she found herself pressing her body against him more tightly.
He slowly caressed her back, his hand sliding sensually under the sweater she wore. It felt so good to be touched. It had been a long time.
It was hard to concentrate on anything other than following Zan’s rhythm and the feel of his hand on her body. She clung to him and let him take the lead as she became wrapped in desire.
Vaguely she realized that songs were ending and starting, but she wasn’t aware of how long they danced. Everything felt so right that she never wanted it to end.
Zan’s cheek rested against her temple and he whispered in her ear. “To dance like this is the closest thing to sex with your clothes on,” he purred. “Feel my body against yours, both of us moving to the same rhythm.”
Another shiver of desire ripped through her, and her free hand gripped a handful of his jacket as his words conjured images of them together in her head.
He moved his hips slightly so his erection slid against her. “Feel me against you. Feel how hard I am for you. Feel how much I want you.”
His words were so intimate it scared and excited her. She didn’t know why that was. She’d used much more intimate words with many men but they didn’t have the same meaning. No, she corrected herself, the words she’d used had just been crude sex talk, they hadn’t been intimate at all. They hadn’t meant anything.
But Zan’s words were intimate and filled with meaning and she wasn’t sure why. It was hard to think. All she knew was that she was burning with want.
His hot breath brushed her ear as he spoke again. “You know how good it will be between us. How good it will feel when I finally slide inside you.”
She gasped, almost shocked by the possession and intimacy implied in his words. He’d told her from almost the first time they met that she was his now. She just hadn’t wanted to believe it, and she still didn’t.
But sex and possession weren’t the same thing, and she could have one without the other, couldn’t she?
Zan’s hips moved again, sliding his erection against her, sending ripples of desire throughout her entire body. “That it, princess,” he chuckled, “put up a fight, but in the end we both know it will happen.”
She had the feeling he was reading her mind again, feeling the struggle inside her, and she certainly couldn’t argue with him. She was so turned on that she probably wouldn’t object if he took her right in the middle of the dance floor.
Suddenly he stopped moving, and it took her a few seconds to realize that the music had stopped and the other couples were starting to leave.
He smiled down into her confused face, “The traffic should have thinned out by now. I’ll take you home.”
He released her and stepped away, and she shivered, missing the warmth of his body. It was a shock being so close to him, wrapped in desire, and then to suddenly be free.
But that is what she wanted, wasn’t it?
She was also surprised that Zan could change gears so quickly. One minute she thought he’d been seducing her, but he had just been killing time until the traffic lightened up?
Together they walked back to the car, and barely spoke on the ride home.
Liz didn’t want to examine her confused feelings, and she tried to concentrate on the view outside her window.
It seemed like no time that they were back at her apartment, and Zan walked with her to the door. Suddenly she was panicked again about what he might expect. Would he try to kiss her, or did he want more?
As they reached the door, Zan used his powers to open it, and he waited for her to go inside before closing it behind them.
Liz turned to him, hoping to cut him off before he got the wrong idea. “It’s late and-“
With a crooked smile, he started coming toward her. “Yeah,” he agreed, “it is.”
He looked so intense that she started backing away from him, “A-and I’m tired.”
He continued to walk slowly toward her and she backed up again, hitting the wall.
“You aren’t tired, princess,” he said, stopping inches away from her and placing his hands on the wall behind her on either side of her head. “You are just as turned on as I am.”
Instantly she shook her head, but he spoke up. “I thought we agreed to no more lies.” One hand moved to her stomach and slowly slid down until it covered her sex. “We both know you want me.” With two fingers he barely caressed her clit over her clothes, making her gasp and push harder against him.
His smile widened and he continued his soft touch. “I can feel how much you want me,” he said, moving closer to her. “I know you are soaking wet for me.”
Even with Zan’s barely there touch, she was quickly approaching climax and her wide eyes couldn’t look away from him.
His fingers suddenly stopped. “But I also told you that nothing would happen until you were ready.” He withdrew his fingers and brought them to his mouth, sensually licking the tips. “So I’m going home to a cold shower, and you are going to bed with that little gift I gave you.”
He gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead, and turned and headed for the door. She was so shocked that she didn’t move, she just blinked stupidly at him.
She couldn’t think of anything to say, other than to beg him not to leave, but she would never do that. She just couldn’t believe that he would go when he knew she would have slept with him.
Liz wanted to groan with frustration. He’d gotten her so worked up and he was leaving.
He pulled the door open, and turned to give her a wink before disappearing into the night.
She barely waited until the door closed behind him before she raced into her room and took the Zan’s gift from her drawer. She was pretty sure with him so close he would know exactly what she was doing, but at the moment she just didn’t care.
Zan stopped just as he reached his car. He felt Liz’s quickly rising pleasure reach a pinnacle and then the orgasm took her.
He could feel it so clearly that he almost came with her, and staggered a step, putting out a hand on the car roof to steady himself.
He’d had to use all of his willpower not to take her to bed tonight. It had been harder than anything he’d ever done, knowing she wanted him so much. And he had never wanted anything more than he wanted her, but he also wanted much more than to scratch an itch.