Emotionally she felt...an empty, crushing weight in her chest. The kind he’d spoken of. They’d just been as close as two people could possibly be and she felt alone. More alone than she’d felt in ages, with him right there, the scent of his skin still on her body. It made no sense.
Sex without love.
Yes, that had to be it. Lust. Empty lust that meant nothing.
But it had all seemed substantial in the moment. It had seemed necessary. Now she felt singed inside. Like she’d been burned, hollowed out.
No wonder she’d spent so many years content with...contentment. Happy to feel no brilliant highs so that she could avoid the lows. So that she could avoid this level of emptiness and confusion.
“Let’s not talk,” she said, scrambling into a sitting position and trying to put her clothes back in place. “Let’s just...not.”
“Why?” he asked, doing his belt and the final few buttons on his shirt.
“Because there’s no point. I don’t want to...I don’t want.”
“Do you regret it?”
“I don’t understand it.”
“What’s not to understand? We wanted each other. We acted on it.”
“Didn’t I just say I don’t want to talk?”
“Why not?” she asked, feeling like she was on the verge of tears. “It’s what we’re both best at. We hide from our pain and our issues and from anyone who might hurt us or ask anything from us, right?”
“Sums it up,” he said, his tone hard. “And that right there is my favorite method of running. You have to admit, it’s a lot more exciting than hiding in a convent.”
“It was more something, but I haven’t decided if I liked it or not yet.”
He grabbed her arm and pulled her forward, kissed her hard on the mouth. “You liked it.”
“I did?” she asked, keeping her voice monotone.
“You came pretty hard, baby, you can’t hide that from me. I could feel it.”
Her face heated. “Don’t.”
“Don’t because you want to pretend that you’re just a sweet, good girl? We both know you aren’t.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Xander. Assuming I care about being good. I don’t. I never have. I just cared about hiding. I’ve never needed to be good, and I think if I had, I wouldn’t have given you my virginity on the floor of a cave.”
“Then maybe our marriage will be a success, agape, because if neither of us care about being good, then we might have a lot of fun.”
“More fun like that, you mean?” she asked, her tone disdainful.
“Yes,” he said, “that’s exactly what I mean.” He hauled her against him for a kiss, his lips hard on hers. “And don’t play wounded maiden with me. It doesn’t suit you.”
“What? All my wounds aren’t convincing enough for you?”
He released his hold on her. “Whatever the hell your problem is? Get over it. I expect sex in my marriage and since you don’t want me to have it with anyone else, I’ll damn sure have it with you. Unlike you, running off into celibacy isn’t my style.”
“You are...you are...”
“Your ego is...”
“Yeah, I know. But I don’t need ego in this instance. I know just how much you enjoyed that, so let’s just skip this part.”
She gritted her teeth. “I believe I’m the one who suggested that in the first place.”
“So we’ll continue with it then.”
Layna dressed, careful not to look at Xander as she did, then headed out of the cave and into the sunlight. It was shocking that it was still midday. Shocking that the world seemed so normal outside while everything inside of her was rearranged to the point where she couldn’t find a damn thing!
And, yes, damn again. She blamed Xander for her expanding vocabulary. Not that she hadn’t known the words, just that she hadn’t seen fit to use them until he’d come back into her life.
“For what it’s worth,” Xander said, his voice coming from behind her, “I do feel better.”
“I think I might find that offensive.”
“Don’t,” he said. “Because usually I feel worse when it’s over, and I don’t. Even after we’ve had a fight. Actually, I think I like that we had a fight.”
“Why?” she asked, incredulous now.
“Because we talked. And I don’t want to leave it on a fight because sometimes, you never get a chance to repair it when it’s over.”
Her heart squeezed. “I suppose that’s true.”
“A truce, then?”