“Sometimes I think you don’t give me enough credit,” she said instead.
“What?” I sat up. “I just . . . look, okay, maybe I’m feeling a little punchy. It’s late. But I don’t want you to feel like you have to act a certain way, or impress anyone. We’re impressed already. You don’t have to act like you like my mum, or my sister, or where I live—”
“I like your flat.”
“It’s the size of your lab at school—”
“I like your flat because you grew up here,” she said, looking at me steadily, “and I like eating your dinner because it’s yours, which makes it better than mine. And I like your sister because she’s smart, and she worships you, which means she is very smart. You talk about her like she’s a child, I’ve noticed, but the fact that she’s attempting to explore her nascent sexuality by listening to a lot of droopy-voiced boy sopranos isn’t something you should tease her for. It’s certainly safer than the alternative.”
The conversation had taken a turn I hadn’t expected. Though maybe I should have seen it coming from the moment the words “you’re pretty” slipped out of my mouth.
She’d pushed herself up to face me. Her sheets were twisted around her legs, her hair rumpled, and she looked like she was in some French film about illicit sex. Which was not something I should be thinking. I ran through a familiar list in my head, the least erotic things I could think of: Grandma, my seventh birthday party, The Lion King. . . .
“The alternative?” I repeated.
“It’s rather better to dip in a toe before you get dragged underwater.”
“We don’t need to talk about this—”
“I’m so sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable.”
“I was going to say if you don’t want to. How did we even get here?”
“You were trashing your upbringing. I was defending it. I like it here, Jamie. We’re going to my parents’ house next, and it won’t be like this. I won’t be like this.”
“Like what, exactly?”
“Stop being dense,” she snapped. “It doesn’t suit you at all.”
For the record, I wasn’t being dense. I was trying, repeatedly, to give her an out. I knew she was skirting right around the edges of something we didn’t ever talk about. She was raped. We were framed for that rapist’s murder. Whatever feelings she had for me were caught up in that trauma, and so whatever feelings I had for her were on ice for the time being. While I might, on occasion, spiral into some stupid reverie about how beautiful she was, I’d never voiced those thoughts. While I’d given her openings to talk to me about the two of us, I’d never pushed her. The closest we’d come were these elliptical conversations at dawn, where we circled around the subject until I said something wrong and she shut down completely. For hours after, she wouldn’t even look at me.
“I was just trying to say that I won’t go there if you don’t want me to,” I said, and by there, I meant Sussex, and Lee Dobson, who I routinely fantasize about digging up and killing again, and talking about the two of us, which frankly, I am not equipped to do, and even though your hair keeps brushing your collarbone and you lick your lips when you’re nervous, I’m not thinking about you like that, I’m not, I swear to God I’m not.
The best and worst thing about Holmes was that she heard everything I didn’t say along with everything I did.
“Jamie.” It was a sad whisper, or maybe it was too quiet for me to tell. To my complete shock, she reached out and took my hand, bringing my palm up to her lips.
This? This had never happened before.
I could feel her hot breath, the brush of her mouth. I bit back a sound at the back of my throat and kept myself still, terrified I might scare her away or worse, that this might break apart the both of us.
She ran a finger down my chest. “Is this what you want?” she asked me, and with that, my willpower broke completely.
I couldn’t answer, not with words. Instead, I dropped my hands down to her waist, intending to kiss her the way I’d wanted for months—a deep, searching kiss, one hand tangled in her hair, her pressed up against me like I was the only other person in the world.
But when I touched her, she recoiled. A rush of fear went across her face. I watched as that fear turn to rage, and then to something like despair.
We stared at each other for an impossible moment. Without a word, she pulled away and lay down on her mattress, her back to me. Beyond her, the bruised colors of dawn spread out across the window.
“Charlotte,” I said quietly, reaching out to touch her shoulder. She shook off my hand. I couldn’t blame her for that. But it twisted something in my chest.
For the first time, I realized that maybe my presence was more of a curse than a comfort.
THIS WASN’T THE FIRST TIME SOMETHING HAD HAPPENED between us.
We’d kissed. Once. It had been brief, a brush of a thing. I’d been sort of dying at the time, so the kiss might’ve come from pity; we were at the end of our murder investigation, so it might have come from a misplaced sense of relief. Either way, I hadn’t really seen it as a promise of things to come. She’d said as much. Even if she did want something romantic with me, it wasn’t hard to see she was working through a metric ton of psychic damage. Like I said, I had no intentions of pushing her. I didn’t know if I wanted to push past this, if I’d shatter the strange, fragile thing that we’d spun between us, if we’d be worse off. After last night, it seemed like we would be.