Monday. Las Vegas.
We’re invited to an Industry party. I’m not excited. I know it’s important for Phoenix Rising that we go to every event we can but my niece, Amanda, has been a jumping bean all day and it’s worn me out.
The party is in a converted ballroom that’s the epitome of trendy over-the-top glam. Metal and glass meets old Hollywood roaring 20s. It’s packed.
“There’s got to be at least two hundred people in here,” Cole says.
“The acoustics are terrible,” T.J. says.
“But the view is great,” Spider says as a model in a skimpy gown walks by. “And they love musicians. Time to give my tongue a workout.”
“We’re here to mingle,” Cole says.
“Like I said.” He gives us a chin nod and disappears into the crowd.
We walk around, Cole introducing us to important people and easily chatting up new ones. I search for Harlow in the crowd, but even with my height, I can’t see her. There’s a few large murals and sculptures scattered throughout. I assume she’s filming Dirt Cherry, hiding in plain sight.
I know she’s here. I can feel her. I miss her. It’s painful. Acid dripping into an open sore.
A group asks me about the band and I focus my attention. They move on and I search again for the only one who interests me.
The crowd parts and I see her. She’s wearing a silky, floor-length purple dress, and it’s backless.
I stop breathing.
Harlow turns slightly, so she’s in profile. I see there’s not much to the top of the dress either, triangles, straps, rows of diamonds under her breasts. My feet move without me telling them to, walking toward her. There’s small cut-outs at her waist. A slit up one side, high up to her hip, closed almost completely and then revealing a tantalizing glimpse of pale skin.
She faces me and I feel like I’ve been knifed. Shot. Ripped open. Devastated.
I don’t know why. Maybe it was being tired during the day, having to make small talk for an hour, wanting her all night and not knowing where she was. But seeing her face, that creamy perfection, makes her rejection hit harder than ever.
I was open; I was intimate.
She threw that away.
I feel a sick squeezing around my heart.
Harlow wasn’t trying to be mean, she just doesn’t have feelings for me. I thought she did. When she sat on my lap in the water in Salt Lake it was perfection but obviously not for her.
Seeing her now, it’s salt in the wound. A Hurt beyond what I thought capable of experiencing.
I turn and walk away.
“Wait,” I hear, but I don’t stop. “Tremor.”
Harlow catches up to me in a hallway and puts a soft hand on my bicep. It burns through my shirt. I turn to look at her. Her beauty, purity, and strength, blow me away. I close my eyes against the onslaught of hurt. The expression must show on my face, because she sounds as upset as I feel.
“Tremor, I want to say again how…”
A man walks by with a huge video camera on his shoulder. Harlow pulls me into a nearby broom closet. Harlow pulls the chain hanging from the ceiling but the bulb is so dim, the glow it casts is more brown than gold. There’s a sliver of bright light from under the door and as my eyes adjust it’s that moon-like glow that highlights her beauty.
It’s crowded in here‑ mops, brooms, one of those carts that maids push, shelves of stuff. My body feels too big for the space, but maybe that’s because I’m suffocating, being close to Harlow, dying to breathe her in yet trying not to inhale.
“Tremor, I’m so, so sorry.”
I close my eyes. Her voice. Her sexy accent.
Harlow grabs my shirt by the top of the shoulders and pulls me closer. Her scent. Everything about her slays me.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. Forgive me.”
I shake my head. Not on purpose. It just happens. I open my eyes. My heart is breaking and I know it’s all right there, but I don’t care if she sees it.
“I’m a big boy. Ya’ don’t want me, just say so. Oh, wait. Ya’ did.”
“It’s not that I don’t want you.”
“What is it then?”
Harlow shakes her head.
I put my hands on her hips, and then I groan because the material is so thin, so slick and soft it feels like skin. “Tell me. Truth. Is it me?”
She shakes her head again. This time it means something different, I can’t tell what.
“It’s not you.” She slides her hands up my chest. They burn like liquid fire. I’m sure she’s going to use them to push me away, but she shocks the hell out of me when she curls fists into my shirt. “Wait, yes. It’s you. It is you. It’s all you.” Then she shocks me even more when she slides one hand to the back of my neck, one hand into my hair, and pulls my mouth down to hers.
I’m so surprised I let Harlow plunder, drink from me like she’s starving. I open to her, too shocked to react other than to let her feed from me. She’s fumbling and hungry, urgent and uncontrolled, sucking my soul into her like a crashing symphony and it unleashes something in me I didn’t even know was there.
Harlow tightens her grip on my neck and groans into my mouth.
The one last brain cell I have says, ‘My God, she can kiss.’
Then I’m lost in it, this frantic kiss is better than all the sex I’d ever had put together. She lifts one leg and wraps it around my hip. I hike her up so she fits me perfectly, almost slamming her against the wall in the need to take it further.
Harlow bites my shoulder hard, then cries that needy wail. Her nails score down my back.
“It’s you. It is you.”
“Baby, I’ll give it to you.” I touch my forehead to hers. “It’ll break me, but I’ll do it. You want to use me for one night and that’s it? That’s your play? That’s what you need? No strings? You need that? I’ll give it to you.” My voice breaks on the last words, but I continue. “I’ll give you anything you need. Anything you want. I don’t matter. You matter. You need that. You take that.”
She buries her head in my neck, but I’m not sure what that means. I touch her thigh, close to her knee, the skin bared by the slit. I’m afraid to move higher because of how she freaked out last time. Harlow’s breathing heavy.
I touch her jaw with my other hand and caress small circles with my thumb.
“Put me down,” she says.
I realize she’s partially balanced on one leg, and that foot is practically on tip toe. I gently lower her and back up a half step.