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{You can read the entire story as I write it here; I’ll add a chapter each week, after I post to Instagram.}

Eden realized within the first three minutes that she was in trouble.

From her seat on Jude’s living room sofa she could see the front door clearly. She could make it in fifteen steps. Ten, if she ran. Eden’s soles practically thrummed with the desire to do just that.

The man responsible for her current panic was behind her, somewhere in the kitchen. She could hear the soft thud of a door closing, the measured tread of his feet moving across the floor, then the click of ice against glass.

Jude was getting them drinks, as requested. Eden didn’t even care if the bourbon was good, as long as it dimmed the chatter in her brain. And the itch in her feet.

In the warmly lit room Eden could see the thump of her pulse against her inner wrist. Coming home with him wasn’t a bad idea.

It was a dangerous one.

The earthy tang of Jude’s cologne greeted her a second before long fingers slipped a glass into her hand.

Eden took a sip before daring to meet his eyes.

I love you.

That’s what he’d said that night on the dock. It had been almost two weeks and Eden could recall it perfectly. The unvarnished truth in his voice. The unyielding heat of his body pressed against hers. The ecstatic, terrified race of her blood.

Every night since, Eden had gone to bed with those three words lulling her to sleep.

Words she hadn’t said back. Words she could feel crawling farther and farther up her throat as the seconds passed.

“Drink okay?”

“Yes. Great.” Eden took another sip, focusing on the burn.

His “hmmm” didn’t sound convinced.

Eden shifted, the leather creaking in soft protest beneath her. The sofa was enormous, one of those sprawling yet sleek Chesterfields filling bachelor-centric showrooms throughout all suburbia. Jude could lay across that sofa and they’d still be feet apart, with no risk of touching.

But the fabric of his pants slid across Eden’s legs, exposed below her dress, when Jude took a seat opposite her on the equally spacious coffee table.

“You’re nervous.”

Eden crossed her legs, missing the hard curve of Jude’s calves immediately. “I’m fine.”

“Uh-uh.” Jude shook his head, a wry grin growing. “Don’t forget. I have a mom, an ex-wife, and a teenage daughter. I know that ‘fine’ means anything but.”

Eden’s lips quirked, but she was too anxious for the smile to stick. Her view was now equally split between Jude and the front door and Eden was very aware that the draw of one was quickly drowning out the call of the other. Especially when her muscles had no trouble remembering just how solid that door felt when Jude had crushed her against it with that kiss all those weeks ago.

“I, uh, am just getting my bearings.”

“It’s a house, Eden. Not a orienteering course.”

Unknown and potentially hazardous terrain, all the same. Eden dropped her attention to her drink, forbidding her tongue from tracing her bottom lip. “You wanted to talk?”

“Did I?”

“That’s what you said. Before. On the sidewalk.”

Jude slid forward on the table before propping his elbows on his knees. In that position their faces were level. Eden could feel him studying her. “Hmm, so I did.”

Eden swung one foot and her lids fluttered shut when she met the back of Jude’s leg. She wanted to stay pressed there, skin to cotton, but she let gravity have its way, parting them again. “So, what do you want to talk about?”

Jude was silent for a beat before, “Hedonistic escalation.”

Eden coughed, her bourbon lighting fire in her throat. Finally she managed to say, “What?”

Jude’s tone was soft and low. And serious. “I heard it on the radio, in a conversation about food. About how a complex combination of flavors drives us to take another taste, then another. Then even more, like we are helpless to stop.”

“You want to talk about eating?”

Jude held her gaze, the shake of his head almost imperceptible. “Craving. Not eating.”

She opened her mouth, speechless, then shut it again. Jude set his drink on the table then slipped hers from lax fingers. Seconds later Eden’s chilled skin was blanketed by the warmth of his hands.

“It’s a instinctive reaction that humans have to keep eating, not because they’re hungry, but because they’re driven, on a biological level, to identify individual flavors with every successive bite.”

She swallowed, her eyes drifting to his mouth. “Because of the complexity?”

“Yes. And because of the compulsion.”

Eden squeezed her thighs together, the heat from his grasp and the flutter in her gut coalescing and sinking deep. From the way Jude shifted, his thigh muscles flickering, Eden wondered if he was experiencing something similar.

She had to clear her throat before muttering, “Sounds fascinating. But why talk about that now?”

Jude’s grasp on her hands tightened, the muscles beneath his shirt flexing as he pulled her towards him. “Because I heard about it, Eden, and suddenly everything made sense.”

“Everything?” Eden had to work to hear her voice over the rush of blood in her ears.

“Everything I feel when I kiss you.”

She hadn’t realized she’d stopped breathing until Jude’s fingers found her mouth. His gentle tap on one corner had her lips parting and her lungs filling on a shallow gasp.

“I didn’t know how to explain it before, the overwhelming craving that hits me when I taste you.” He pressed on her lower lip, the rough pad of his thumb catching against the softness.

A desire to lick him, just there, rushed through her so fast Eden’s vision went hazy.

When he next spoke she swore he was plucking thoughts from her own head. “I used to think kisses were simple. Straightforward. Not always a means to an end, but not necessarily things to be savored, either. But with you….” Jude tugged again and Eden could only lean closer. “Sometimes I think I could live off kissing you, the way your breath fills me and your little sighs satisfy me like nothing else in this world can. And my heart pounds, Eden, but my soul is calm. Fuck, maybe even happy.”

“But, other times….” His eyes danced across her face, dark and focused. And beloved. “Other times I can taste the sadness, yours and mine. The loss, the yearning. And it makes me feel desperate, because I want to wipe it all way, every unspoken word and unshed tear. I want to kiss you until the only thing left behind is joy. And comfort. That is when I want to kiss you harder, to make sure you know how much I’ve missed you, how much I want you.” Jude’s thumb dropped from her mouth to her chin, then drifted lower, tracing the column of her throat. “How much I love you.”

Eden pulled her hands from his grasp and pressed them to his thighs, halfway between his knees and the place her fingers begged to be. Jude’s thumb dropped below her clavicle, destined for the valley between her breasts, and his voice seeped into her where they were separated by only fine layers of fabric.

“But even then it’s not that simple. It goes beyond sour and sweet, deeper than just love and loss. Because, always, Eden, you taste of more. There is a darkness, a richness, that I cannot get enough of. You are the woman who can break my heart with silence and mend it with one look and that is the flavor that taunts me at night and teases me every single time we’re together and ensures that one more kiss, one more bite will never be enough.”

Eden felt his hand coast down her chest, air catching and teasing her peaked nipples as he ghosted past but didn’t touch. Then his caress was gone, and she felt, more than heard the whimper that escaped her.

A whimper that turned into the softest moan when Jude found her hands and slowly inched them up his thighs.

“Hedonistic escalation. Undeniable impulse. Chemical, biological, instinctual. Whatever you want to call it, you, Eden, define it for me. You always have. And, God, now that you’re here, I need another taste. Another hundred, another million. Or just one. Whatever you’re willing to give me. Whatever you’ll let me take.”

Eden was barely on the couch, her grasp on his legs keeping her balanced as she catalogued the stern set of his features and the sweep of his eyelashes and the fine lines that weathered his eyes that she guessed had formed over the years that had been his alone and not theirs together.

Jude’s lips hovered above hers and for the first time since Eden entered his house she understood her mistake.

If she’d wanted to feel calm, relaxed, at home, she should never have asked for a drink. She should have just asked for him.

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