When I Learn To Fly

ONE

Rain is so much prettier in the summer.

As we drove, fat drops splattered against the car windows. The sun shot through their glossy skins and threw coloured lights inside—like riding in a kaleidoscope. Good job it was this pretty, too; to tolerate another hour in the car with Mom, I needed the distraction.

"Danni?" Esme, my girlfriend, traced the seam along the inner leg of my jeans. "You're quiet. It's weird."

"Just tired, baby." It wasn't weird. I'd been quiet with her a lot lately, but couldn't bear to tell her why.

"I'm sure she's just conserving her energy for the good times ahead." Mom nodded at us in the car mirror as she drove. "Ready to let loose on holibobs, girls?"

Holibobs. Eugh. Esme winced at me, and I rolled my eyes.

"Mom. Seriously."

"Don't pretend you'd rather be at home. I heard the pair of giggling while you packed your bikinis," she huffed.

Holy crap. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed she didn't hear what happened right after Esme tried on the purple stripy one with the string ties, because I swear we tried to stay quiet...

Esme squeezed my hand and shot me an impish smile. She was thinking about it too; the things we did in my bedroom last night. If I sucked my fingers hard enough, I could probably still taste her.

Two months on, and it was still easier to screw my girlfriend than just tell her the truth.

But no matter now. We were off on holiday--my f****y's annual gathering on Anglesey--and after that, Esme and I would separate to start our respective university courses. She was off to Portsmouth, me to Bath. I'd got it all planned: we'd grow apart. Our phone calls and emails would dwindle, and our relationship would feather at the edges. It might take a cruel word or two to tug the thread, but that would be easier when I didn't have to look into her big, beautiful blue eyes while I said them.

Because...yeah. I'm Danni Warren, and I'm a coward. I'm also a cheating cow. There's no support group for any of those things, and saying it out loud didn't make me feel any better. All I wanted to do now was tolerate a week with my f****y in those stupid eco lodges, and pray the wooden walls didn't remind me too much of a little cabin in Devon where I'd spent three intense, desperate nights with someone I could never really have.

I did try to have him, but he panicked and slipped away.

****

"This is our first bedroom, like, together." Esme dumped her rucksack on the double bed with its cheerful yellow sheets, and sank into the mattress. "That's kind of cool, right?"

I glanced around at our timber walls, pine furniture, and at the huge window where the distant view of the Snowdonia mountains spilled in. "It's awesome."

"I mean, it's not what I'd pick for us," she went on. "We'd totally have velvet. And lace. Like in Moulin Rouge."

"This is more like Ikea boudoir."

"But I kinda don't care." She tugged me down beside her on the crappy mattress, and her blond bob cupped her chin as she leaned over me. "'Cause I'm here with you."

"My mum's in the next room, remember."

"Still don't care."

No matter how I felt about her, I couldn't deny that Esme was a tantalising kisser. It was half the reason I'd fallen for her in the first place. Her lips were so soft and her tongue so delicate that I melted right into her mouth every time. This kiss was no exception, and before I even thought about it, I wrapped one arm around her neck and rubbed her buttocks with my free hand.

"Love you, pixie," she breathed.

"Love you too." I did. Kind of. God, it was just so complicated. Esme still turned me on, and I still longed for her company. I missed her when she got tied up at school or her job at the supermarket. But since that weekend two months ago, I'd realised she wasn't The One...and it all stopped being good enough. Now she just thought I was constantly stressed or tired, and I knew she hoped we'd make up for it on this holiday.

Maybe we would. Stranger things had happened, right?

"So." She pulled back to stroke the auburn hair from my face. "What's the plan of action? We checking out the beach, or what?"

"Yeah, can do. We usually all meet at this pub down the road, so we could do beach and then pub for tea."

Esme's nipple stood stiff beneath her t-shirt, and I pushed my thumb against it gently. She had gorgeous breasts—small, tipped with dark pink buds. Sensitive. When I petted them like this, she went all quiet and breathy.

"Well?" I giggled, nudging her. "Hello? Earth to Esme?"

"Yeah. Whatever, pixie." She pulled me in for another warm kiss. "I can't wait to meet your f****y. Finally."

"Oh yeah." I looked down. "That."

"They do know you're a lesbian, right?"

They knew, all right. Only one of them knew otherwise, but f****y gatherings had never been his thing. Fortunately. Or unfortunately. For a brief second, I imagined him shaking hands with Esme, and the three of us making awkward small talk as if nothing had ever happened and I'd never had him inside me. Crap. Crap. No, definitely fortunate that he was all black sheep-esque and wouldn't be there.

"Course they know. You moose." I finished teasing her nipple, and kissed along her collarbone instead. "Although we don't have to go anywhere. We could just stay here..."

"Danni!" She swatted my kisses away. "We've got all night for that. All week. Mmm." She gave my bottom lip a little tug. "I want to do it on the beach."

I'd already done it on the beach, but she could never know that.

"Yeah. Um. Awesome."

"In the dark, maybe. With all the stars twinkling, and the sound of the tide and stuff. So romantic." She sighed wistfully. "I'm so glad your mum let you bring me."

"Mom is very supportive of our girl-love. I think she feels all feminist and PC because ot it." And she did support us, in her own way (although I'd hardly dreaded telling her I had a girlfriend; she was just glad I wasn't pregnant, or on d**gs, or convinced I was a sparkly vampire or something).

If only she knew the truth, eh? (Ominous fade out).

"Cool. Shall we get going, then?"

"I don't want to get off this bed," I complained. "It's too comfy, and now I'm all frisky. You can't let me go out like this, Es. I'll hump a tree."

"Danni. Ew."

Ten minutes later, we'd swapped our trainers for flip flops, and were headed down the stony path to the beach. The breeze tempered the heat, whipped our hair against our cheeks, and our palms stuck together as we held hands.

The four cabins my f****y hired each year sat on the outskirts of a wood just outside Rhosneigr, a seaside village on the coast of the Welsh island. It was fifteen minutes to the pubs and shops, ten minutes to the beach itself, and less than five to the shade of the marshy forest. Not exactly Marbella or New York, but it was good to get away from our crummy little house in Bristol...especially since Mom and Malcolm the moron broke up. I swear, she needed this holiday far more than me.

"Woah." As we emerged from the woodlands and on to the beach, Esme shielded her eyes with a hand and stared out over the expanse of sapphire ocean. She was about to study oceanography at uni, and I knew the sea was kind of her sacred place. "I could stand here all day, you know."

"Well how's about you stand downwind, and I wait here so I can watch your skirt blow up?"

"You get more perverted every frickin' second." She rolled her eyes, although a smile crinkled their edges. "I promise you can look up my skirt later, okay?"

"I suppose I'll cope." How did this work, exactly? Esme felt like my best friend, but I still wanted to lick her, taste her, have her shudder through one of her sweet, cooing orgasms against my mouth. Yet I'd feel nothing but relief once we were over and I was free to chase a replacement...him. It wasn't that she was a girl, no, nothing to do with that. But I wanted things now that only he could give me, and maybe someone a similar shape could do the same?

Esme grabbed my hand again. "Wanna collect some shells?"

"What, like we're five?"

"Yeah. Like we're five. Then we can make daisy chains, and drink Orangina at the pub just because it's in the grown-up bottles."

I snorted. "It's in the textured sex toy bottles."

"Will you get your brain out of the gutter for a minute and come help me?"

But I'd done something dirty with a bottle more times than I should admit. It was still sealed, full of pear cider, and on the corner of the label, a scrawling hand had written for my tln xxx

I'm pretty sure he never meant for me to use it like that, but hey, like I once said: I can't fuck anything worse than my--

"Danni!" Esme waved from across the beach, her flip flops dangling from her free hand as the tide swept around her bare feet. The sun spilled in a yellow glow to frame her, and she was like a toffee apple in that moment, all yummy shades of gold and light brown. I'd break her heart in a few weeks...stupid, ungrateful Danni. I deserved everything I got.

"Yeah?" I called.

"Come look over here! I found a crab."

A crab. Riveting. "One sec, baby. I'm coming."

The sand was still wet from the afternoon rain shower, and I had to pull off my own flip flops in case I sank in. It swamped up between my toes as I squelched over to her.

"Reporting for the crustacean ecstasy tour." I did a little mock salute.

"Oh. You're such a meanie."

Half an hour later, the sun sank further towards the cupped hands of the clouds and we had enough shells to make Esme a new skirt (one that wouldn't blow up). We decided to drop them back off at the lodge before strolling down to the pub, where we'd meet my grandparents, great uncle, aunt and cousin. Somewhere between Esme's elation at finding a crab and me mashing her against a rock for wet kisses, I relaxed a bit. Maybe it was the salt-sweet stench of the ocean and its warm water taste in my mouth, or the hot air on my skin, or the tide song. Or laughing with Esme for the first time in weeks. I don't know...something in me cracked and crawled back inside its shell. Left me lighter.

Until we emerged from the stone path and saw the car in front of our lodge.

Parked next to Mom's waste-of-space Nissan was a muddy black Range Rover. I squeezed Esme's hand so hard, I nearly cut the circulation off.

"Jeez, Danni!" She yanked it away, shaking the bl**d back in. "You know I don't like all that rough stuff."

"I...that's not what I meant." His car. His car. HIS CAR, with a stripy surf board on the roof rack. Half of me wanted to bolt back down and throw myself into the sea, and the other half...crap. I couldn't even bring myself to say it, but it probably belonged in a dirty story. The one where the stupid girl got her heart ripped out and stuffed back down her throat, but she was too busy sucking something else to notice.

"You okay, pixie?"

"Course I am," I lied. With every step, we got closer to my big black hole of want and regret, and she didn't have a clue. Not that I wanted her to, of course--if anyone found out, it would be curtains for me (in the words of Captain Hammer: lacy, gently wafting curtains).

"So come on then. Help me get these shells back before they fossilise."

I followed Esme back up the creaking timber stairs and on to the veranda. She fumbled with her key for a second before realising the door was open, and before we even entered, I heard his laugh. It was so frickin' deep and silly, and...oh God. I was falling all over again, the taste of him surging in my mouth.

"Hey." Mom smiled from behind the kitchen counter as we filed in. "You girls been down to the beach? How's it looking?"

"Gorgeous." Esme held up a flat shell with a rainbow sheen. "We got bounty, too."

"Bounty, huh?" He folded his thick, tanned arms, his legs parted as he leaned back on the stool. He wore the same three quarter length shorts, the same surfy t-shirt in sun-bleached colours. His shaggy caramel hair was just a teensy bit longer and he'd tucked it behind his ears. Silver eyes widened at the sight of me, and he didn't even glance down to hide it--I know mine did the same. Every bit of me ached.

"Esme," I croaked, "this is my Uncle Gabe."

TWO

You have to understand that we never meant for it to happen.

We knew it was stupid. We knew it was "wrong." What with me, just eighteen and twelve years younger than him; I was meant to be all head-over-lesbian-heels in love with Esme, but one look at him and my hot guydar bust a fuse. Kind of shameful, when you think about it. And he might have been my estranged uncle, but he was still my uncle.

I gave him my virginity (the non-lesbo version. Esme was still the proud owner of my holy crap, I like girls! moment). Two intense days later, we confessed our love for each other, and for two glorious weeks, he hiked to get phone signal to call me every day, and sent me four beautiful letters. We planned to steal away together ASAP...but it stopped. I guess he panicked. And the fifth letter I received was only five words long: I'm sorry. We just can't. He never wanted me to leave Esme, and maybe he'd known it had to end. I was just a break from reality, a fantasy come alive for three wet, swollen days.

For these reasons, I bet he never thought he'd be sitting there in our holiday lodge...but there he was in all his buff, heart-breaking glory.

"Danni?" Mom put her coffee cup down, frowning. "Are you all right?"

"I...I'm g-good."

"That pleased to see me?" Gabe raised his eyebrows and attempted a smile. Badly feigned sarcasm was so not his strong point.

"I didn't think you came to these sorts of things," I managed to say.

"I don't. But I figured it was time to make good with everybody. Especially since..."

Since he made more than "good" with me?

"...I'm moving away," he finished.

Oh. No shit?

"Where are you moving to?" asked Esme, all perky and interested.

Gabe looked down. Bad sign. "Canada."

"He's got some big shot grant at a college over there," Mom announced. She looked almost proud.

I couldn't stop blinking. "You're moving to Canada?" Like, eleventy billion miles away Canada? Why would anyone do that? Look at the evidence: Celine Dion. Moose (half deer, half donkey. Plain stupid).

"That's right," he said.

"But—but Canada sucks!"

Gabe gave an apologetic shrug. "I have to go where the research takes me. It's part of my job."

Esme wandered over to the freshly-stocked fridge and pulled out a bottle of orange juice. "What do you research?"

"Palaeobiology. It's the--"

"OhmyGod!" Her face lit up; flushed cheeks, flashing white teeth. "I know about that. It'll be part of my course. Do you lecture?"

"I do indeed." He put his hand out to her. "You're Esme, right? Danni told me all about you."

I watched my girlfriend and my ex-lover shake hands and chit-chat, and numbness spread through my limbs. All this pretence, Gabe's casual fakery, this entire scenario—it was like a body drained of bl**d. Pale. Lifeless. Just like the first time I met grown-up him, a sparky ball of hate burned inside, but this time it was for a different reason: betrayal. Because that was what Canada was.

I was meant to be on holiday in Wales—not the frickin' Twilight Zone.

"Danni?" Esme ran cool fingers along my arm. "You ready to head up to the pub?"

"I s'pose, yeah. Just need to change my shoes." I shot Gabe a glance. I just wanted acknowledgement, a nod, anything...but he sat so still that he blurred in my vision.

****

After that, I thought sitting opposite Gabe in the pub would be painful.

I was wrong.

It was excruciating.

I'm not talking like, popping a big spot or stubbing your toe. I'm talking trying to make conversation with your grandma about school and your job and the books you last read, and trying to be all polite and happy, when all the while her son entertains the rest of the table with his surfing stories, and all you can think about is OHMYGODIHADSEXWITHHIM. And then, oh shit...he abandoned me.

Let me remind you, too, that I could not look at Gabe without seeing him naked, no matter how cool and clever his t-shirts were. Which was all his bl**dy fault; he made the first move. I might have been all hot for him, but I'd never been as brazen and fearless as when he leaned in to kiss me that first time.

There would never be another first time, or last time, or anything inbetween. As I sat there trying to be happy girlfriend Danni, the thought silently slaughtered me.

"Danni?"

I glanced up at Taylor, my preppy, Oxford-bound cousin, who performed the impressive feat of adjusting his glasses and smoothing his short hair at the same time. "Mmm?"

"You look how I feel," he said.

"What, bored and awkward?"

He blushed. Oopsie. "Well...yeah, I s'pose. But I meant on edge."

I rolled a bat mat between my fingers. "What have you got to be on edge about?"

"Um. Well." It was quick—I'd have missed it with a blink—but his watery eyes darted towards Esme, who sat chatting to Gabe. "I dunno. Just hate f****y holidays."

And you fancy my girlfriend, you jammy cock.

"You can't possibly hate them more than me."

"No, I do. Mom made me leave my laptop at home and everything."

At that moment, Esme plonked herself back next to me on the bench, and Taylor lowered his eyes.

"I like your uncle," Esme declared, slightly d***k. "He's all dry and funny. You told me he was a dickhead." She spoke just a bit too loudly, even over the buzz of the bar, and Gabe jerked up to eye me. The harder I blushed, the closer his lips twitched to a bemused smile. Bastard.

"That's not what I said."

"Yeah, it is." She grinned at Gabe, all conspiratorial. "You're such a meanie sometimes, Danni."

"Not all the time," Gabe called over, still wearing that strange almost-smile.

I couldn't bare it. I leapt up, ignoring Esme's squeaks, and hurried to the bar where I bought a wet, cold bottle of pear cider. The first mouthful hit my throat in sweet prickles. God...I needed that.

Back at the table, I placed the bottle firmly in the centre of the bar mat and tried to catch Gabe's eye again. Please let him notice that I'm drinking the same as him—our drink—that I'm peeling off the label in little spirals of damp paper, just like he's been doing for the past hour.

Yes, I watched his fingers. I'd been watching them all frickin' evening because I couldn't stop.

But Gabe didn't acknowledge my message in a bottle. That's if he noticed it. I'm not sure he did.

****

Esme knew something was up. I'd done well to fool her this long, I suppose, but now I was practically unravelling, throwing off ripples as I collapsed. When we got home that night, she closed the bedroom door, leaned back against it and folded her arms.

Here it comes, I thought. The serious face.

"You're a liar, Danni Warren," she said quietly.

I edged back, my legs touching the bed. "Um. What?"

"You keep telling me you're okay, but you're not, are you?"

"I...I guess not."

"So what is it? You going to tell me? I can help, you know." Her serious face melted into a concerned smile. The room was dark, just floodlights casting pearly shadows through the window, and it framed her in this inky, iridescent light. "Is it something to do with your uncle? You went all funny as soon as we met him."

Yes, yes it is, darling. He trashed my little heart like he was stubbing out a cigarette. Erm. "Sort of."

"Sort of? What d'you mean?"

"It's kind of hard to explain," I mumbled.

She strode over, took my hand and pulled me down to sit. Then she pressed it into her lap, her cool, soft fingers tracing soothing patterns. "I've got all night, pixie."

"Right. Well. When I visited, he was asking me all these questions about uni and stuff, because he's like, a lecturer."

"Okay," she said.

"And...he made me question stuff a bit. About what I wanted to study, why I was moving away when I'd save money staying at home and things. It made me a bit uncomfortable."

"Oh, Danni." She squeezed my hand. "And now seeing him has brought it back?"

"Yeah. Sorry, that sounds really lame." A really lame lie!

"No, it doesn't. Course not. But I wish you'd just told me, silly." She ran her hand up my arm and rested it on my thigh. Rubbed gently. "Are you really having second thoughts about studying architecture?"

"Yes. No. I don't know, Es." I couldn't look at her.

"It's a long course. And hard. But you've always seemed so sure about it."

"Yeah."

"Well." She inched closer and teased the hair from my face, her lips just inches away. "I wouldn't mind too much if you wanted to ditch and come to Portsmouth with me. There's always clearing. Just think, going to bed together every night..."

Her kiss was warm as ever, her lip gloss sweet and sticky. I'd already had four or five drinks by that point and felt dizzy, listless...horny. If she wanted to make me feel better like this, I wasn't about to say no.

Esme, out of the bedroom, was kind of passive. Girly and chirpy and cute, just like her choppy, chin-length hairstyle. When we took off our clothes though, she was always the leader. So when she nudged me on to my back, eased my dress up and straddled my thighs, I fell back with a pleased little sigh and smiled as she pressed her crotch to mine. There were two layers of knickers between us, but I could already feel the heat of her pussy. She always got so wet for me.

"Ahem." I tugged up the bottom of her t-shirt, and she giggled as she obeyed. Two dark little nipples spilled forth and I bent up to suck them.

"Ah, Danni..." She raked her fingernails through my hair, over the nerve endings hidden on my scalp. Her breasts were only small, but they were firm too, and perfect for circling with my thumbs as I sucked her. Plus it meant I never had to fiddle around, trying to get her bra off (no, not even lesbians manage that gracefully).

Soon, our clothes were heaped on the wooden floor and we lay in just our knickers, with her mouth on my belly. Esme was ever seduced by the flat expanse of skin there and liked to write pretty words with her tongue. Pixie, she licked, her fingers teasing my inner thighs. Love you. Gorgeous. In a few short minutes, she'd push her tongue into my pussy and I needed that pressure so much, I bucked up to chase it.

Until, that was, she slid my underwear down my legs, and lying there all exposed for Esme, I randomly thought of him.

The first time Gabe saw my bare pussy, he stared. Then he told me how open and ready I looked. Esme's pussy looked like that sometimes, but I never really understood it all until he had me. The swollen lips shaped like a surprised rosebud of a mouth; the plump, dark clit, her sticky sheen; this is how a girl's pussy looks when she's desperate to be fucked. And God help me, I was.

Esme breathed over my clit before she licked it. I usually loved the way she teased, but now I'd been flung miles away, and forgot the girl who pleasured me. The lines of his letters came floating back, and as I heard his deep voice say the words, I moaned.

"Danni," Esme mumbled into my flesh. "Your mum. Shh."

"I...ah...know...sorry..." I pushed my pussy back up to her mouth, and she laved me eagerly, pleased by the soft little sounds I made.

All I can think about is the way you made me feel. I was so in the moment, Danni. Every single fucking moment—we owned them, you and me.

Yes. Like that. I liked these moments with my clit in this wet, sucking mouth. Please--

I know we were supposed to feel connected, but it was different for us. Elevated. Special. The wrong kind of connection, the kind where I couldn't take my eyes off you...why did it have to feel so damn good?

I remembered the way he watched me. The prickles down my spine at the spread of his filthy grin. A connection, yes, like the orgasm beginning to work its way through the walls of my pussy.

"Please, baby." I panted as she eased her fingers in. Esme always stroked, never fucked. God, why couldn't she just fuck me? Why couldn't she be more f***eful with her circling tongue, the way he was?

When I go to bed, I think about how we fucked here before we passed out. When I wake up, I think of how you wrapped yourself around me in the morning, and sighed and came on me while the sun rose in the window. Jesus, I miss you.

Esme took note of my bucking hips and worked her fingers harder. I contracted around them now, coated them in clear, slippery want.

I want to come see you. No, scrap that. I'm driving up on Tuesday. We'll book a hotel. I'll have you seven different ways and you have to promise to laugh lots, because I need to hear your dirty laugh.

Her cheek was wet as she rested it on my inner thigh, as she watched her fingers plunge into me. Esme always withdrew for a moment when she knew I was ready to come; then her mouth returned to work my clit again, and my breaths turned to gasps, aches turned to throbs and tugs and fires. I came with my hands fisted into her hair, my pussy tight around her fingers, my mouth full of badly-stifled yelps, and my brain...full of Gabe.

Miss Warren. Just shut up and let me fuck you.

The comedown hit. I sucked in the air, and Esme trailed little patterns over my thighs with her damp fingertips. Wordlessly, she inched up the bed until she straddled my face, and I bit her pussy lips gently through her knickers. She liked to keep them on in this position, loved the sweet friction of wet lace; I simply pushed them aside. A few months ago, I used to pull her down on to my mouth like this and get utterly lost in the swelling tide of her flesh. Immerse myself in the salt-sweet scent of her. Tonight, it just wasn't happening.

She rode the lies on my tongue anyway, oblivious in her grip on the headboard and the practised skill of her jaded girl.

****

Pale moonlight. Silver shadows on our pillows. Esme's hair thrown across like melted gold, her breasts rising and falling in the soft undulations of sl**p.

I wasn't quite so lucky.

The knowledge that he lay a few rooms away was surreal, d***ken, exhilarating and devastating. I wanted to burst through his door and clobber him over the head with a frickin' pear cider bottle. How dare he just show up after everything? How dare he?

An hour passed. Minutes and pixels melted away on my phone's time display. In the end, I couldn't stand it—I had to catch him while the house was quiet. Get some answers.

I pulled my dress pack on, closed the door behind me and padded down the little corridor to Gabe's bedroom. A soft knock didn't elicit a response.

"Gabe?" I stage-whispered. "You there?"

Still nothing. Gah, was I really going to do this? My fingers were already closing around the door handle, so yeah, I s'pose I was.

His bed was empty. I grew the balls to come find him, and he had the nerve to not be there.

I started at his neatly-made bed, and swallowed hard. We'd all returned from the pub hours ago. It was two o'clock in the morning. It occurred to me for a second that he might have skipped out on us, especially after the awkwardness at the bar, but before my pulse could break through the skin of my wrists, I spotted his battered old suitcase in a corner and his watch on the bedside table.

Well, thank God for that.

But I had to find him, had to talk to him. I hurried back to slip on my flip flops and cardigan, careful not to wake Esme (though the girl slept like a log. Anyone would think I came roofies). The floorboards creaked as I checked the living area: no luck. His car was still in the drive. Maybe he went back to the pub...?

Holy crap. Maybe he went back to go home with someone else. Acid stung in the back of my throat. Surely, he wasn't that crass. All those ours in his arms, in his bed, on the beach--

I knew exactly where he'd be. Of course I did. I knew Gabe better than anyone here.

As I hurried down the stone path, my steps made coarse grating sounds that panicked me after the quiet of the lodge. The night had turned chilly, and I wrapped my arms around my body, let my hair blow around my neck. All the while. I panicked that I was wrong, that he wouldn't be there, and that Esme would wake up and think I'd gone batshit; the low-slung moon and its eerie white spill didn't help, either. Just made the whole journey ominous and foreboding, like I was the unwitting victim in an episode of Buffy.

I blinked once, twice: no, I saw right. A shadow sat hunched on the rock where I'd kissed Esme earlier. It was probably even colder down by the rising tide, but he wore only his shorts and t-shirt. The wind blew his mop of hair about and his profile was startling and perfect against the inky backdrop: gorgeous man, deep in thought.

Bastard.

I sk**ded on a bit of seaweed, and he jerked up to see what the noise was. When he caught sight of me, that vague smile returned, as if he knew I'd come. Like he was just waiting.

"Hey," he said.

I stumbled over to him, still brushing the sand off my cold, bare legs. I stopped a foot away; seemed safest. "Hey."

"Fancy seeing you here."

"I could say the same to you." I wouldn't cry. No, no. Jesus, Danni—hold yourself together! I could barely keep the screeches in: you lying ball sack of a--

"Yeah." He shrugged, unusually robotic. "I'm sorry about that. I'm...I'm sorry about everything."

"Like, for abandoning me?"

"Oh God. Danni." He crumpled back in on himself, his arms around his torso and his eyes pinned to the sand. "Yes. But...no. I'm sorry for being selfish. For encouraging you, leading you on. For the phone calls and the letters. We can never have anything like that—it just wouldn't be right, would it?" His voice cracked. "I'm sorry I couldn't let you go."

Ah, it was no good. A tear escaped, already cold as it hit my cheek. "It doesn't matter, I don't care--"

"You don't care? God, do you have any idea what your mum would do if she found out? She'd fucking crucify the pair of us!"

He was right. With him here, this holiday was a cruel parody of what we might have: clandestine meetings, pretending to dislike each other in front of the f****y. Being separated by just a few inches that morphed into a roaring pit of despair, and all because we couldn't hold hands when we felt like it.

"She doesn't have to find out. Nobody does," I insisted. No matter how sharp these truths were, standing here beside him with the crash of waves in my ears, I felt better than I had for weeks. Better and crushed and worse.

"We can't go through life like that." He sighed, kicked a stone. Turned back to me. "I was cruel to come here and drop Canada on you like this, I know."

"You meant to be cruel," I said, coldly. "You think it's the best way to be kind to me. Like I'm a pet you put down."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"I'm right. You're just here to make a point about how miserable we'd be."

"You're making it sound more twisted than it is."

"We are twisted!" I balled my fists. "But we were happy! I know it was only a few days and a few letters, but we were both so, so happy, Gabe."

Even now, when everything was going to crap, his features lifted when I said his name.

"Esme's something. You're lucky, trouble. You've got a bright, pretty girlfriend waiting in that bed for you—I'm your uncle. What the fuck are you doing down here?"

I sniffed. "Because I love you," I whispered. "And you can't blame me for saying that, you can't. You were the one who said it first."

"I know." He stood, still leaning against the rock, and beckoned with a finger. His brows lurched inward, and he bit his lip in defeat. "Come here."

One minute I shivered, and the next, I fell against his hard body and buried my face into his shoulder. He smelled like leaves and beer and the sea.

"You're going so far away, and we've got a whole week where we can meet up like this." I looked up at him. "Give me this week, Gabe. Please."

"Heh. I remember when it was me trying to coerce you."

"I told you. It's all your fault."

Gabe's hands worked their way along my back, and he shaped his palms around my buttocks to mash my belly against the erection suddenly straining his shorts.

"Did you really think I'd abandoned you?"

"You stopped calling and texting and writing. It was like suddenly, we never happened."

"I still thought about you every minute of every fucking day." He dropped his cool forehead to rest against mine. "I'm still in love with you. I haven't stopped. I just wised up and decided to do what was best for both of us."

Still in love with you. Without thinking, I moved my hips gently against his, rubbing his cock into my stomach.

"Baby," he murmured. "Don't."

"You're going to Canada because of me," I said, cautious. "You're just running away, like you did to Devon to get away from the f****y."

He squeezed my ass tighter. "Something like that."

"Well, stop it! Act your fucking age!"

His mouth fell on mine like smack, bang, crackle, pop. Pear cider kisses—I missed these, missed his curious tongue and the will of his f***eful hands. His lips had been curved around bottles of the stuff all night long, and mine...mine had been on Esme.

"Were you with her?" he said, panting. "Tonight?"

"Yeah." Please don't hate me.

"You know, when you were staying with me, the thought of you fucking a girl was kind of hot," he confessed. "Now that I've met her, I...Christ. I never expected to be jealous."

"But you are?"

"Yeah." He kissed me again, ravenous. "I mean, don't get me wrong, she's a lovely girl...but I was sitting there in the kitchen and all I could think was, can't she tell?"

Despite everything, I beamed up at him. These horrible things I felt, he'd been feeling them too all along. I worried that we barely knew each other, that it hadn't been long enough, that everything we felt was somehow false—but no. He was right: we had an amazing connection.

"She doesn't know a thing," I whispered. "Well. She could tell I was upset about something, but I made up some stuff about you making me uncertain about my uni choices."

"Ah, Danni. I know I told you to stay with her, but you can't keep telling her lies."

"I know it's not fair. I'm just...I'm waiting until we go to uni. Until she sees this different life she could have. It'll soften the blow, right? So yeah. Waiting." I kissed his throat. "Unless somebody gives me a reason not to."

"I wish I could, but I can't."

"So how come you're still trying to push your cock into me?" I grinned. He was unbelievably hard, and though I'd only come a few hours ago, my clit throbbed in response. Got ready for him. "Maybe I should take care of you. On my knees."

I went to kneel, but he caught me. "No. Not here, trouble--"

"But I can? We can be together this week, really?"

"I..." He put a hand over his eyes. "I need to think about it."

"You don't want me?"

"Of course I do. But come on—we've already done all this once. You really want to go through it again?"

"Yeah." The word just crashed out. "Let me make some memories with you. Please. I need them." In a fit of lust and hope, I tried dragging his hand down between my thighs, but he groaned and tugged it away.

"Let me think about it. I'm not sure I can write that letter again, Danni."

He was already broken, really—he just needed a little push, and I could give him that. Seduce him. Back at his little cabin, he'd wanted me so badly that I'd barely needed to smile before he pinned me, defenceless.

My skin tingling with new-found bravery, I stood on tiptoe to whisper in his ear. "Then I guess I'll go back to get into bed with my girlfriend. My naked girlfriend."

"Good," he retorted.

"And if you hear any little sounds in the morning...you know the ones I'm talking about...it's probably because her fingers are inside me."

Gabe said nothing, but he took three gulps of sea air in very quick succession.

"Maybe you can come watch us rub sun lotion on each other tomorrow. We'll be down here, on the beach. In our little bikinis. You've never seen me in one of those, huh?"

"I'm warning you, Danni." He swallowed again and dropped his grasp of my ass. His hands lingered lightly on my hips. "Behave yourself."

"Oh? So now I'm not allowed to make love with my girlfriend and then tell you all about it?"

"Danni!" He laughed, but there was a sadness to it, like the undertow that sucks unwitting swimmers beneath the waves. "Please. You really don't need to do this. My balls are blue enough."

I pouted.

"And no, I don't need to hear about you and Esme." He brushed a little kiss to my lips. "The only people I know who make love are pensioners, and prissy vanilla girls with their sad sack boyfriends. We fuck, Danni." Another kiss, his mouth open this time. His tongue warm. "You get fucked. I fuck you."

I ran my palm down his erection, and he pushed right into it. "With this."

"Keep that up and I could come right now, you know," he murmured.

As much as I longed to let him, I snatched my hand away. Baha. Bastard. See how you like it.

"I need to think about whether that's a good idea," I teased.

He groaned again. "I've created a monster."

"So...so where do we go from here? What now?"

"Well." He tucked wind-whipped hair behind my ear. "Let me sl**p on this--"

"Looks kinda painful."

"Not my cock, you retard. The decision."

"I love it when you get all ranty."

"Yeah. I noticed." He sighed. "Look, Danni. Tomorrow night, same time. If I'm here, I'm up for it, and if I'm not...well. I'm sorry."

He'll be here. I had a sinking feeling those three words were about to be my mantra for the next twenty-four hours.

"Okay. I can cope with that."

But I wasn't okay, and not even the slow depth of his goodnight kiss could soothe me. sl**p wouldn't come since he stopped sending letters, and the night stretched before me, restless and bleak.

THREE

Excitement eviscerated everything (and turned me into an alliterative asshat).

Esme didn't know what the hell to do with me. Unable to sl**p, I was out of bed at seven to make pancakes, dancing around the kitchen to the radio as I went. There may have been humming. Humming without shame. When she sloped through an hour later in her shortie pyjamas, the bemused look on her face was comical.

"Danni? Why aren't you, like, in bed?"

"Because I was hungry. Look." I used the fish slice to gesture to my golden heap of pancake awesome. "I'm amazing." Then I did a little shimmy, and pretended to fight off a hoard of ninjas with my utensil of doom.

"Um, pixie?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you...bi?"

What the very fuck? What? Did I have uncle fucker emblazoned across my forehead in ultraviolet sperm? A shiver of panic shot down my spine. I froze.

"You know." Esme frowned. "Like, bipolar."

"Oh." I laughed, way too hard. "No. I'm just...in a holiday mood."

"Well. For future reference: holidays are for lying in 'til lunchtime and lots of lazy sex. Okay?"

"Sounds like a plan," Gabe said from the doorway. The blue and black wetsuit, still damp, clung to every cut line of his body. His surf-flushed cheeks turned to apples as he smiled.

Esme blushed hard enough to burst a bl**d vessel. Yesterday, I would have winced over this; today, I burst out laughing.

"It's okay, Esme," Gabe said. "I promise not to tell Danni's mother."

"I think she knows what we get up to," I said. "Whether she'd admit it or not."

Esme just padded over and dropped her forehead against my shoulder with a whimper of mortification. I rubbed her back with the fish slice. From the doorway, Gabe shrugged and then shot me one of his naughty little half-smiles. I dropped my gaze to where his cock made a heap of taut flesh beneath his wetsuit, and silently pressed my thighs together.

"Do you want some pancakes?" I managed to say.

"In a bit, trouble. Best go get changed." He cleared his throat. "I'll leave you girls to it." The floorboards creaked as he strode down the hall in bare, sandy feet.

"Is he gone yet?" Esme whispered.

"The coast is clear." I ruffled her hair as she rose. "You're an idiot."

"I am not. That was completely cringeworthy."

"Why?" You want cringeworthy, Esme? Try fucking your uncle and then having to keep it a secret from your girlfri—or, er, something a little less far fetched. Ahem.

"Because I was talking about sex, and he's...a guy."

I ladled another load of batter into the hot pan. The oil fizzed with delight as it hit. "Is this one of those unwritten lesbian rules that I don't get?"

"No, but..." She chewed a strand of hair for a second, then tossed it back out of her mouth. "All they think when they hear lesbians talk about sex is, hot. We don't like boys—we're not supposed to get them off." She folded her arms. "It shouldn't be allowed."

"I'm pretty sure you can't dictate to people what should turn them on."

She stood behind me at the stove, dropping kisses on my bare shoulder. "I don't make love to you just so some dude can wank over it, pixie."

Make love. God. If she could only have heard Gabe last night—you get fucked. I fuck you—she'd be livid.

I coughed, batting the smoke away from the pan. "And that's why we close the door. Es." I reached around to pat her hip. "You're thinking about this too hard."

"Pfft. You just watch Taylor today. Last night, he practically twitched every time I touched you."

I was about to add that's because he fancies you, but it wouldn't have exactly supported my case.

"Es." I flipped a pancake with a jerk of my wrist. "Have breakfast. Have a shower. Put on something that shows off your arse for me. We're having a nice day, whether you like it or not."

"Ooh. I love it when you get all bossy."

****

Welsh beaches are underrated. People forgot that Anglesey was there until Prince William and his bit of stuff moved here for his RAF placement, and then everyone pretended to know it was cool. Cool, it was most definitely not. But there was soft sand, huge, old trees and sparkly waves, and for those reasons, I forgave the stripy old deckchairs and single shitty café.

To be honest, a few months ago, I probably wouldn't have noticed the trees, but since Gabe and his sickening enviro-enthusiasm took a hold of me, I couldn't escape the majesty of branches swept out against the sky. They reminded me of a warm afternoon in his cabin garden, lying naked on the grass while he--

"Hola." Taylor dumped his towel on the sand next to me and Esme. He had a dark lens clip over his glasses and wore short, sporty swimming trunks.

Esme glanced up from her thriller novel and I saw her brows dip. "Um...hi."

"You girls don't mind if I sit with you, right? 'Cause the alternative is hiking with my mom and your mom. And we all know that would suck."

"It would indeed." I glanced at Esme, who gave a tiny, annoyed shrug. "Sit away."

"Cool. Thanks." He shook out his Transformers towel and yanked a fat fantasy novel from his tatty rucksack. "Hey, we're like the book brigade."

"Danni's doesn't count as a book," Esme said. "It's too dull."

I pulled my beloved copy of Why Architecture Matters back into my chest. "It's not dull, Es. It's all about arranging neighbourhoods and sociology and stuff. Architecture isn't just about bricks, you know. And you love my sexy brain."

"I could play some music on my phone, if you girls want," he said. "I've got Kings of Leon, or Paolo Nutini, or the Foos."

"I like listening to the sea." Esme wriggled around, her belly flat against the sand and her chin resting in her palm.

"Oh. Okay then." Taylor nodded and fiddled with his glasses again. I knew he was checking out Esme's tits—they fell in little heaps to squash against the sand, but her purple string bikini pulled them up to a perfect angle. If he shifted around a little more, he'd probably get a hint of dark nipple.

We fell into semi-awkward silence. The sun baked us, the breeze teased our book pages, and Taylor cleared his throat loudly way too often. I shouldn't have been so annoyed by him, really—he came across as smug and nerdy, but he didn't mean to. We'd been best friends when we were little, both only c***dren of the same age. Mom and Aunt Lizzie still had photos of Taylor and I as chubby cherubs, playing in sandpits and sharing baths. There was one of us on the kitchen wall at home with our faces covered in chocolate at Easter. I don't know what happened, but we hit our early teens and kind of just grew apart. I mean, who wants to play World of frickin' Warcraft all afternoon when you can...well. Do anything else?

"Hey. Taylor." Esme hauled herself up. "There's Gabe—you should go join him."

Taylor's face fell. "I should?"

"Yeah. You can, like, do bloke stuff. Or something."

I heard the drag of his surf board over the sand, and I knew he'd arrived before Esme did. Ah, Gabe in a wetsuit: like somebody put muscle and tanned skin and cocky gorgeousness into a bowl, stirred, and stuffed it into the fabric. I loved the way the corners of his eyes crinkled in the sunshine; it lifted his whole face, and he looked just the right amount of older (I'm eighteen, so I'm probably the only one who knows what that means).

"Didn't he already go surfing today?" said Taylor.

"What, there's a limit?" I rolled my eyes at him.

"Get him to teach you." Esme pinned her book to the sand as the breeze ruffled the pages again. "If he can teach Danni to surf, he can teach anybody."

I leaned over her, my fingers toying with her bikini top ties. "I think what Es is trying to say, is that she wants some privacy to ravish me."

"Oh." He coughed, hauling himself up. "Oh. Sorry."

"I was joking, you twit." I grinned at him. "But yeah. Alone time. Girl time."

He shot me a thin-lipped, apologetic smile before trawling off towards Gabe, who'd already put his surfboard against the rocks and was checking out the waves.

"Nice save, pixie." Esme rolled over and rested on her elbows. "He creeps me out."

"He just thinks you're hot." I dropped a kiss on her arm. "Because you are."

She craned her neck to look back at Taylor and Gabe. "They're not allowed to think I'm hot."

I laughed. "We went over this earlier."

She tutted, but rolled on to her side to push up against me. Snuggled together, we carried on reading, pausing occasionally to sip water.

The best thing about sunglasses is that nobody knows what you're looking at. This meant I could stare at Gabe as long as I liked, and Esme didn't have to know about it. He stood propped up against his surfboard with his arms folded, chatting away to Taylor. Next to each other, it became apparent how similar their builds were; Gabe was thicker, sturdier, but when the hell did Taylor fill out like that?

Two soft, warm hands gripped my shoulders and dragged me down to lie on my side. Esme caught my bottom lip between her teeth and sucked gently. I mewed in surprise.

"Fuck it," she whispered. "I've had enough. Reverse psychology—let's just give them the show they're after, and then maybe they'll stop staring."

"Oh." Oh. We shed our sunglasses and with them, our inhibitions.

Esme ran a hand up my inner thigh and cupped my pussy through the spotty blue bikini bottoms. She loved to touch me there when we kissed—a gesture of ownership—though only in private. But if she was going to touch me like this, I'd let her think the guys stared because we were lesbians...not because Taylor just wanted to screw her and Gabe wanted to screw me.

Our kisses deepened. Esme's nipples grew stiff against mine, and she made soft little sighs of pleasure as I pushed my thigh up between her legs. I couldn't see, but I knew Gabe was watching. And jealous. Maybe I should've felt like I was betraying Esme, but I didn't. I felt like I betrayed him. I'm warning you, Danni. Behave yourself. Even then, with this cute girl's tongue in my mouth and her feathery strokes over my bikini-clad pussy, I heard the way his voice dropped to say that...and I whimpered.

"Pixie." She panted warm air against my collarbone. "I need to stop."

"Aww. And we were performing so well."

She stilled her bucking hips. "If I keep riding your thigh like this, I'm gonna come...and I'm not...I can't..."

"Not in front of them."

"No. It's too much."

I kissed her again. "I'll make it up to you later, you big attention whore."

"Shush, you."

"Oh, crap." I peeled myself away from her, sitting up. "They're coming over."

"What?" She glanced around and groaned. "They'd best not be after joining in!"

Turned out Gabe had a you're-in-trouble stare just like Mom's. Must've been genetic. To anyone else, he was just squinting under the bright sun, but I knew that look. God. How much had I pissed him off? He'd still be here waiting for me tonight, right...?

"Not surfing?" said Esme.

"Waves are a bit rubbish. We thought we'd come see what you were up to." Gabe glanced at me. "If that's okay." He plonked himself down on Taylor's towel, his carrier bag landing beside him in a crunch of glass-on-glass. "I brought goodies."

Taylor followed him down to the sand, grinning. "He brought beer."

"You were going to surf d***k?" I said, incredulous. And slightly worried. After last night, I knew he was unhappy, but...

"I was not." He pouted. "Well. One never hurts."

Taylor dug around in the bag and pulled out bottles of cider. "You girls want?"

Esme swallowed, as if to voice her disapproval. She was such a goody two-shoes sometimes. I knew I shouldn't, but the bottles were damp with cold, and it was so frickin' warm...

"Esme will have one," Gabe said, reaching for the bottle opener. "Won't you?"

"I—uh--" She didn't want to refuse him. Him and his annoyingly useful charm. "Why not?"

Taylor took the opener and twisted lids off for all of us. We sat in the sun with the cool glass bottles against our foreheads. The chilled fizz of the cider coated my tongue, sweet and fresh and heady. Taylor must have relaxed a bit because he only looked at Esme's chest once, and that was when I brushed the sand off her left breast. I didn't even think, it was just reflexive—but then Gabe's behave-yourself glare returned in a flash of jealous warning, and I recoiled into my towel.

"This is more like it, eh?" said Taylor.

"I suppose my book was getting a bit abusive of the third person narrative." Esme nudged the paperback now splayed on the sand. "Crappy plot, too."

Taylor choked on his cider. Esme purring third person narrative nearly melted him into a sticky, wasp-seducing puddle of boy fudge. Baha.

"You like that stuff?" he said, awed.

"You mean books?"

"I mean, English. Literature. Criticism, pulling things apart and getting the ideas and just--" He clasped his hands together as if trying to smother an invisible fairy.

"He means, he's a book geek. And apparently so are you," I said.

"Oh." Esme shrugged. "A bit, maybe." She wouldn't give him the pleasure of any more words than she had to. I'd have laughed if it didn't feel mean.

"Taylor would choose books over girlfriends," I teased. "In fact I think he did, once."

"I was eleven!" he protested.

Gabe laughed, deep and throaty. "Tell me it wasn't for a copy of The Hardy Boys."

"Like I'd read that steaming heap. We were here, actually. On holiday. I was talking to this girl I'd met, and were were--" He did quotation marks with his fingers, "going out. We were just chatting and stuff—"

"And holding hands," I supplied.

"And holding hands." Taylor half-smiled. "Anyway, we were on this rock, standing up to watch these birds make a pattern in the sky or something gay like that. We lost our balance and she went head-first into the sea."

Esme frowned. "Gosh. You got her out, right?"

"I dropped a****l Farm into the water at the same time. I had about five seconds to choose, and..." He paused, sighing with shame. "I went after the book."

We split into factions immediately: Esme with her open mouth, and her disgust that mirrored Taylor's; Gabe and I, trying to stem our dirty chuckles.

"That's legendary," said Gabe, clutching his wet-suited self.

"It's horrible!" Esme cried.

I shook my head. "You weren't there. It was hilarious. And the water wasn't deep or anything--she was okay."

Taylor took another gulp of beer to avoid Esme's accusing eyes. "She did cry. Only time I ever made a girl cry, and it was over a book."

"I've never made a girl cry," said Esme, sharing a secret little smile with me.

I'd done it to her. I stood her up not long ago, left her hanging on the end of an empty Facebook conversation because a certain someone called to say three painful, beautiful words. Someone like--

Gabe cleared his throat. "Oh, I've done it. Here as well. Just like Tay."

"Go on then," said Taylor. "Can't be worse than what I did."

"Well." He re-adjusted himself, sitting cross-legged, and the glare of the sun fused around his profile to cast a fuzzy glow. "Back then, mom and dad used to come up in the weeks before Easter because it was cheaper. Definitely wasn't beach weather, so they took us looking for crabs and plants and stuff—we'd be here in our wellies and knitted jumpers."

"Sexy," said Taylor.

"You bet. Anyway. Used to fall around Earth Day, and the local conservation group always had events on and things. I made friends with this Welsh girl—her dad ran the group—and every year, we'd have a kind of thing going on. Our parents teased us something rotten. I hit thirteen though and I'd never even kissed her, despite knowing her for years. One night, we all got together for this newt spotting thing--"

"Newt spotting?" I snorted. "How romantic."

Gabe winced. "Precisely."

"Oh, I don't know," Esme said. "Newts are kind of cute."

"The attractiveness of newts aside, we were all hunched up in sl**ping bags, waiting for these newts to come out. Our parents were getting squiffy, and they'd let us have one beer each. She didn't even like it—she was just taking tiny sips, pretending. Our parents really ramped up the teasing. They were like, go on, just give her a kiss. Don't be scared. And be a man, go in for the kill. It seriously got to me. I should have just laughed it off, but I got so wound up about it that I ended up shouting I don't bl**dy want to kiss her!" Gabe put his face in his hands, and now Taylor was the only one tittering.

"I can see how that'd make someone cry," Esme said. "It's bad enough when you're older, but when you're thirteen..."

"Well. Yeah." Gabe sighed. "She was mortified. I was mortified. I did cry too, actually, but not until much later when we got back to the lodge—because I really did want to kiss her, but she'd never have believed it after that. And there was no way I was doing it in front of our parents, anyway."

I wrapped my arms around my knees. "That's the most cringe-worthy thing I've heard in a long time."

Gabe gave a bitter little laugh. "Yeah. Fucking Earth Day."

Taylor nodded. "Fucking newts."

"So was that the only time, Gabe?" Esme said, her eyes wide and curious. "Or have you repeatedly yelled obscene things at girls you fancied?"

"What, you mean, did I make any more girls cry? I was a moronic teenage boy. Of course I did."

"But not recently," she teased.

It was probably just me. Had to be. But in that moment, it felt like the clouds blotted out the sun and the wind turned cold.

"Recently?" Gabe's eyes narrowed, and just like last time, it wasn't because of the bright light. His silver-grey pupils focussed on me as they dilated, stretched by an oily gleam of guilt and desire. "Now that would be telling."

FOUR

I don't experience emotions in the same order as other people. I'm fucked that way, really. If I was a normal person, when Gabe went all possessive on my ass earlier and started making me feel bad for touching my girlfriend, my first reaction would have been anger—full on, hell-hath-no-fury, bitch please rage. He abandoned me. Blanked me. Cut me off. How dare he try to twist all that to his advantage?

But I didn't feel that way. It didn't even occur to me to be angry until we were making dinner; when I kissed Esme's shoulder, he cleared his throat so loudly, you'd think he was auditioning for a Listerine ad. No, instead, I spent the entire afternoon guilty for making him feel bad. All I knew was that if he'd turned up with someone else and put on that little peep show on the beach, I'd be glued together with nothing but snot and tears.

So while Esme sliced chicken and peppers and wittered on about the sex appeal of newts (I may have that wrong), my thought process went something like this:

oh god he looks miserable

chicken smells good. Smoked paprika?

No, he really does look miserable

WELL MAYBE THAT'S HIS OWN FUCKING FAULT

Can't stand it, need to touch him, even if he is a prick

I mean, I'm a prick too when you think abou--

ooh, is that Esme's nipple?

Who has better nipples, Esme or Gabe?

Esme's are more ethical, they would never leave me out for the wolves like a frickin' Chinese baby girl

Not like HIM

How dare he look at me like I'm murdering a puppy every time I touch my girlfriend?

And what the hell is up with all the cider he's drinking anyway?

Chicken DOES smell good. Needs garlic though

Oh god I've turned him into an alcoholic

And I love him I love him I love him

also I HATE HIM

ARGH

"Danni? Are you all right?" Mom peered at me over her glass of wine, from her perch at the kitchen island. "You've gone awfully quiet."

"I'm fine," I snapped.

"You caught the sun, pixie," said Esme, frowning at me in the avalanche of pink sunset that crashed through the kitchen window. "Let me go get the cocoa butter."

Behind her, Gabe, who sat in an easy chair with a surfing magazine, shook his head at me. No, he mouthed. He didn't want to see Esme touch me like that.

But what the hell did he expect me to do? He left for Canada in a week. I was supposed to throw the towel in with Esme here and now, was I? What a wonderful holibobs we'd all have then.

"I said, I'm fine." I sighed. "I'm off for a shower."

Esme gestured to the wok. "But dinner--"

"Not hungry. I'll have some later."

This was turning into my weekend with Gabe all over again—my only escape was the bathroom. Worse, I had even more shame and confusion to wash off than I did back then, and no amount of scrubbing and lemony soap would do it. I rinsed the nervous sweat from the back of my neck three times but I could still feel it there, prickling, goading. Make your mind up, it sneered. Like I even had a choice to make—I knew Esme wasn't The One, but Gabe would be on a plane this time next week. How was any of that fair?

I won't lie. Since my twilight tryst with Gabe, I'd been hot as hell. Aching for fingers, tongue, cock, something. Esme's little performance on the beach didn't help, but even then, it was just that—a performance. If Gabe had touched me like that down on the sand, every moan and stroke would have been real.

We had no plans tonight. Esme wanted to watch a film, which was basically her code phrase for sex. I couldn't take any more of her gentle pseudo fuckery, not when I knew Gabe would be sweating it out in the next room, wishing I came for him instead. And I wanted that, only that—to come for him. I was practically counting the minutes until I could sneak out and find him against the rocks, peel his shorts down, take him in my fist...

I did what bad girls do with the shower head. I teased my nipples with the liquid fingers, swirled over my belly, then brought it down to massage my swollen bulge of a clit. Then I fell back against the cool tiles, my skin sticking to the porcelain, and rocked my hips up to the spurting contraption of a lover. My pussy pulled in, out, in, preparing for later when I'd squeeze down on him the way he liked it, and I got closer...and closer...closer...and...what the fuck was wrong with me? The orgasm just wouldn't come. I couldn't come.

Nada. Zilch. Just as I reached the peak, every scrap of pleasure fell away and my clit turned raw and numb. Marvellous, really. Of all the places the karma bus decides to stop...my girl parts? Sob.

And then Esme banged on the door, all concerned because I'd been ages, all pissed because Taylor had turned up uninvited for dinner (bless the k**. He just wanted company of his own age). I pissed her off even more for inviting him to stay, but I didn't have the heart to kick him out, and besides—he was a good excuse to avoid the girl sex. Maybe by saving my orgasm for Gabe, I could make up for the discomfort I'd caused him all day.

You can probably guess how our little ménage a trois went that evening. Esme wanted to watch one of her subtitled foreign monstrosities; normally, I vetoed them straight away and she giggled and let me have my way, but tonight she was just plain difficult because of Taylor. He was civil—said he didn't mind what we watched—and it annoyed her no end. We settled on a terrible, tasteless comedy that made none of us laugh, and Esme made excuses for bed before the end.

"Come with me, pixie," she hissed, shoving her elbow into my ribs.

"I should see Taylor out."

She rolled her eyes. "He's been looking down my top all night."

"He's still my cousin." I shrugged. "You go ahead. I'll be there in ten, promise."

With a melodramatic sigh, Esme huffed down to our bedroom in little sweeps of socked feet. Taylor waited for the door to swing closed and then leaned forward on his elbows.

"She hates me, doesn't she?"

"Um." I gulped. "I wouldn't say that."

"She makes all these little comments like I'm beneath her, or something. Is...is it a lesbian thing? Am I allowed to say that? Does she have issues with guys?"

He looked so awkward that I wanted to laugh, but that would have been unfair. "I'm not sure what it is, exactly. I mean...yeah, she seems sensitive about men right now." I paused, pursing my lips. "And she thinks you perv on her all the time."

His cheeks flushed, and he slapped them with flat palms. "I do not! Well, not that much. I can't help it—she wears these little vests with no bra, and her boobs are just there."

Couldn't help it this time. I did laugh, and even though I tried to turn it into a cough, I failed miserably.

"So ladylike," said Taylor, trying not to lapse into guffaws himself. "So how can I become an honorary girl this week? Because that's what I need to do, right?"

"There's a special ceremony where we cut off your penis and feed it to crabs."

"Hardy ha ha."

"Taylor." I hauled myself up to get another Coke from the fridge (needed to stay awake for two hours yet before Gabe). "If it was up to me, you'd be cool. But I think Esme thought it was going to be me and her on this holiday, and she's feeling a bit..."

"Pouty?"

I laughed again. "Something like that. You want another drink?"

"I dunno, aren't you going to bed in a minute?"

I glanced up at the clock. If I went in now, Esme would whinge for a while and then try to go down on me. I wanted neither of those things, and catching up with Taylor was kind of nice. "Nah. I'm going to let her cool off first."

"Then yeah. Beer please."

I cracked the lid off a Budweiser, pressed it into his hand, and perched next to him on the beat-up sofa. "So you not doing blokey things with Uncle Gabe?"

He snorted. "Yeah, right. Everyone knows he's weird, Danni."

"Weird like, how?"

"Like he never comes to f****y things. I haven't seen him since I was about ten, and now here he is, all hey, I'm an awesome surfer dude, watch me pose in my wetsuit and flirt with the beach ladies."

I froze. "What ladies?"

"Oh, I dunno. He just looks like the type."

Thank God for that. "I suppose."

"I mean, he's okay to talk to and that...until he gets on to all that eco crap, anyway. I'm not into that. I've tried, I just..."

"You have no conscience." I grinned.

"I have no conscience. I'm a selfish twat," he agreed.

"Soon to be a selfish, smarmy Oxford twat."

He tucked his glasses back up his nose. "Oh, like you can talk, Miss Architecture! You'll probably end up richer than me, specially if you keep seeing girls."

I sat back and took a big swig of Coke. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

"Well..." He'd gone all clammy and awkward again. "Not as easy to have k**s, is it? And k**s are expensive."

"Lesbians can still have k**s, you dumbass."

"I know that. Just...either you still have to have sex with a bloke, or have one of those clinic procedure things. And they aren't cheap either."

"I could have sex with a bloke if I wanted," I retorted, slightly high on the caffeine.

He raised an eyebrow. "You into that?"

"Like I can't be?"

"I just thought--"

"You assumed." I pointed my glass Coke bottle at him. "Everybody assumes, when they see me with Esme, that I only like girls."

"It's an impulse thing though, isn't it? Like if you saw me with a girl, you'd assume I was straight."

"I wouldn't assume anything. But then I'm me."

Taylor's upper lip twitched, but he broke into a smile anyway. He was enjoying our catch up, too. I kinda felt guilty for laughing at him with Gabe about the whole Oxford thing. Heck, maybe we were both jealous.

"So you get on okay with Uncle Gabe," said Taylor. "Didn't you go stay with him, or something?"

"I did. I made the mistake of telling Mom our house was crappy, and the next thing I know, I'm being packed off to his little shed in Devon to learn to appreciate just how good I've got it."

"So he was your punishment." Taylor tittered to himself, but he didn't know how right he was, and my throat went all acidy at the thought.

"S'pose so. It ended up being cool, though. He's not that bad. Just likes to keep to himself, a bit. He tried teaching me to surf..." I smiled at the memory. "But I was crap."

"I wondered if maybe...you know. He was kind of like a father figure."

My dad had never been around. Mom refused to talk about him. I might as well have been the product of an immaculate (and slightly moody) conception.

"Um...I don't know about that."

"Did you find out why he stopped doing f****y stuff?"

"He fell out with Gran and Granddad I don't know why, exactly. They didn't really approve of him studying plants at uni—I think they never thought he'd amount to much."

"He did have those fucking awful dreadlocks," said Taylor.

"Ha. Yeah. He did. He just found it hard to compete with our moms, I think. And he likes being alone anyway." Or he did until he met me. I thought you liked your own space, I'd told him. You make my space a whole lot prettier, he'd said, and then kissed me with the kind of ferocity saved for starving lovers and snatched goodbyes.

"Well I guess he showed them, what with this Canada thing. What's he going out there to do, again?"

"I don't know." And I didn't want to. If I pretended it wasn't happening, it was a teensy bit easier to cope with. Just. "So what about you then, hmm? Is there a girlfriend at home?"

Taylor blushed again, shrugging. He scratched at the label on his beer bottle with blunt nails. "Nah. Not right now."

"Oh? 'Cause you've sort of filled out, haven't you?"

He squared his shoulders. "You think?"

"Yep."

"Oh. Cheers. I mean, there was this girl a few months ago. We went out and stuff. But it didn't..."

"Didn't work?"

"No." He took another gulp of beer and lowered his glassy eyes. "We were both going away to uni, you know. And she was the s****r of a friend. Would have been kind of tricky."

"I know how that feels," I mumbled.

"I bet you do."

He meant coming out, liking girls. But that wasn't what I meant, and I counted the minutes until everything got trickier and stickier me.

****

I didn't go in to bed for another hour, and just as I expected, Esme was in an awful mood. She pretended to be asl**p at first but then started to make snide little comments as I climbed under the covers. No amount of apology seemed to placate her—and in truth, I really wasn't in the mood—but I needed her asl**p for when I crept out to meet Gabe, and so I gave her one of my professional lesbian massages. Get your mind out of the gutter—I mean I rubbed her back. Soft, girly snores filled the room in ten minutes flat.

I was terrified of letting my head hit the pillow in case I actually fell asl**p; it wasn't like I could set an alarm. So I read Why Architecture Matters until my vision blurred, and though I was early, crept out into the night air just to stay awake.

Tonight, I wore the sun dress he fucked me in before. No underwear, not even a bra, and my breasts were pert and heavy beneath the thin fabric, my nipples plump with nostalgia; he loved me like this. A little jacket protected me from the edge of the breeze, and flat boots made less of a crunch against the stone path.

In my excitement, of course, I'd forgotten there was a chance that he might not be there.

And the bastard wasn't.

No figure hunched over our spot of rocks; no profile of a tall, broad man chucking stones into the waves. I was too nervous to call his name out, so I hissed it in a raw prayer that was instantly swallowed by the groan of the sea. Wet sand churned beneath my boots. I was a bit early, true, but there was only one way to the beach from the lodge, and I'd have seen him on the road, right? What with his broad steps, he'd have caught me up in no--

"Danni? That you?"

I jerked around, trying to locate his voice. Then Gabe emerged on his hands and knees from a cluster of rocks down the beach, and I nearly fell over as I rushed over to throw myself at him.

"I thought you weren't here," I said against his mouth.

He drew back a moment, and the space between us thumped like a heartbeat, the flutter of his eyelashes a butterfly pulse. Then his arms tightened around me, his brows dipped, and his lips dropped to weave two months of want with mine.

"Come on. Looky." He gestured to the clump of rocks he'd crawled from. Stepping forward, I saw how he'd pitched a wind breaker inside the edge of them and then d****d a blanket over the top. Like a little tent. Towels lined the floor inside, and the whole thing had the lure that dark places always do.

"Oh, Gabe." I fell to my knees and pulled myself inside, him close behind me. There was just enough room for us to lie beside each other, though we couldn't sit up without hunching. "It's lovely."

"It's private." He curled around me, smelling of smoky aftershave and sharp sea. "Private enough."

"I was worried you wouldn't be here, after Esme--"

"Shh. Miss Warren." He smiled, his cheek coarse against my collarbone. "Just shut up and let me fuck you."

"Ah...okay." I sucked the air in as his teeth grazed my fabric-clad nipple. "Uncle Gabe."

At that, he groaned. The sound warmed my flesh, fierce in its desire and encapsulating his desperate vulnerability. He might have run from me before, but not now. Too much. Resolve melted in the heat of our bodies, and I loved that he gave in to me, to us, this thing we created without even trying. This thing we owned.

Gabe climbed on top of me, dragging my dress up in the process. He ran a wide palm up my inner thigh and when it hit the bare lips of my pussy, his kiss turned feral.

"Danni. Jesus. Fucking hell."

I giggled. "We're not meant to be talking."

"Are you even wearing a bra?"

Laid back against the towel, hair splayed beneath me, I peeled my bodice down to reveal ample, naked breasts. They spilled from the fabric to slope gently sideways, the peach-coloured nipples sitting skyward and my skin goose-pimpled in the ocean air.

"I wanted it to be like our last time on the beach," I breathed.

"It can't be that, but that doesn't matter. It can be different." He laved my nipple with the widest part of his tongue, warm and wet. "And better."

Before, when our most frantic passions were satisfied, Gabe had spent our slower sessions sucking and licking my breasts. His fingers came into play before long, stroking and stretching and massaging, like I was made of dough good enough to eat raw. Now, he worshipped me the same way, only our urgency translated to rough little bites that drew yelps from my lips, and firm squeezes that made me shiver.

"I missed these," he murmured.

"I...I gathered..."

He shoved my dress further up to bunch at my waist, and his fingers walked down to spread my pussy. I swear my muscles yanked in, jolted, as if they might suck a finger or two in as they moved. God. He found my clit, pressed his thumb to it, and then I bucked up to increase the pressure of every circular rub. I'd waited for this, longed for it, lost hope...

"Wet for me already, huh?" His kiss was warm and hard. "You need me inside, baby?"

"Yes." His thumb dropped to tease my pussy lips, but no twist of my hips was strong enough to guide him in. "Please."

"Well..." He kissed all the way down my belly, pausing to nuzzle the ruched band of dress. "Somebody needs to learn not to goad this poor boy by showing off with her girlfriend."

"I'm sorry." I panted. "I didn't know how to get out of it, I swear I--"

"No matter, Danni. Just don't fucking do it again." He ran the tip of his tongue around the very edge of my labia. "But if I'm going to kiss here, it'd damn well better be mine."

I didn't voice it, but he knew my answer anyway, even if he couldn't translate it from my ragged spill of sighs. He tasted me first, wetting his tongue in the syrup at the gape of my pussy, and then grazed upward until he met my clit. I took his blond hair in fistfuls and swelled right into his mouth.

There were a hundred things I wanted to tell him, like how I'd missed his brash manner and f***eful tongue. But who needs words when they have a very talented man between their legs, with his lips working their clit so rhythmically that if they had to chose between breath and yelps, they'd pick the sweet relief of the yelp every time? A thick belter of an orgasm tugged at my pussy muscles, and I sank back to spread my legs further, to let it get a hold of me and writhe its way out. He could have filled me already, could have me wrapped around his waist as he fucked just for him—but he put this first. God, I--

"What the hell was that?" I hissed.

We both froze at the sound of footsteps, not too far from our makeshift cover. A soft, boyish hum carried on the wind: a Foo Fighters song. Make my way back home when I learn to fly...

"No," I whispered. "No way."

Gabe hurried to pull the dress back down my thighs, then twisted to peer out on to the beach. When he turned to me, he'd gone pale. " Yes, way."

"Oh fuck." I tucked my bodice over my breasts, wriggled down to the entrance, and darted out to check for myself. The smell hit me before the sight did, but there he was: my goody two-shoes cousin Taylor, hunched over a rock...smoking a joint. "How is this happening?"

Gabe wrapped an arm around my shoulders and tugged me back in. "Danni. He might see you."

We inched back to our original spot, lying deep in the cover of our sort-of tent.

"I can't believe Taylor's a stoner."

"I can't believe we were nearly fucking caught," he said, his voice low. "I mean, Jesus. Imagine if we weren't in here." He went to tug my skirt back up, but I caught his wrist.

"Gabe...no. I can't do it with him out there."

He pouted. "Whah?"

"I mean, I want to—seriously--but I can't relax when he's, like, a few feet away from us. What if we get too loud, and he hears?"

Gabe buried his face in my cleavage. "We'll be quiet. Promise."

I stifled a giggle. "I guess your balls are blue enough already, eh?"

"Too right, they are." He gave me a slow, tongue-laced kiss. "Now lie back and come in my mouth. Pretty please?"

"I can't." I sighed. "I'm sorry."

More footsteps outside, scr****g and sinking about in the sand.

"This is freaking me out," I hissed.

"Come here." Gabe rolled me on to my side, and folded himself behind. His arms wrapped tightly around me, and he stroked the hair from my ear so he barely had to whisper. Warm, damp breath drenched my cheeks and shoulders, and I trembled against the firm shape of his body. "We'll wait it out. He won't be long."

"I hope so."

Gabe's hands found my breasts, and they massaged in sweet, feathery caresses.

"That feels nice," I said.

"Good." He shifted about, evidently uncomfortable. "Pixie."

"Don't."

"Not half as catchy as tight little niece."

"That sounds more perverted every time you say it, y'know."

He laughed again, nuzzling into my neck. "I love you."

"Yeah?"

"You know I do." He bit a line of sucking kisses along my throat. "Even if it's mostly my cock talking, otherwise. Hey, if I can't curl up on the sofa with you and talk crap...at least we have this."

I pushed back against him, luxuriating in the feel of his hands. "I love you, too."

What followed was a macabre little parody of my sedation of Esme: Gabe stroked and rubbed every inch of my exposed skin, and as we waited for Taylor to skedaddle, I drifted off to sl**p.

"Hey." He shook me gently. "Don't you dare flake out on me. Danni!"

"Mmph."

At four AM, he carried me home in the pink glow of sunrise, and I mumbled apologies as only a sl**p-d***k lover could.

FIVE

"Rise and shine, pixie!"

Morning. Sunshine. Esme. Drool. Bleugh.

I pushed my face into the pillow and attempted to speak. Then I spat out the mouthful of pillow...when was that ever a good idea? "What time is it?"

"Gone eight." Esme already sat at the dressing table, styling her blonde bob. She wore a sequinned, embroidered kaftan that cut-off mid thigh, and her little string bikini showed underneath. The sunshine kept catching on her shiny berry lip gloss and throwing flashes off the mirror.

"That it?"

"You were up before me yesterday. I'm just trying to catch up." She plugged her hair straighteners in. "What time did you come to bed in the end, anyway?"

"What? I came in not long after you. Massage, remember?" I stretched and yawned.

"Oh...yeah." She frowned in the mirror. "Just I woke up at one point, and you weren't in bed."

Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck. "Must've been in the bathroom," I muttered.

"Serves you right for staying up drinking." She said it as a joke, but sarcasm underscored her tone. "Is Taylor passed out on our sofa after all that?"

"Um...I'm pretty sure he went home." Actually, he went down to the beach for a quick spliff, and almost caught Uncle Gabe going down on me. Ho ho ho. What an evening! Facepalm, facepalm, fuckety facepalm.

"Well at least that's something." She finished doing her hair, and stood up to pull on a pair of tiny white shorts. "Are we still going shopping this morning?"

"If you want."

"Cool. I need new moisturiser." She glanced back at me. "Just the two of us, right?"

I pushed myself to smile. "Just the two of us."

She bent forward to check her make-up in the mirror, and in the shorts, her arse was a perfect peach shape. Gah, I was so ungrateful. "And maybe we can get lunch somewhere cute?"

"We'll find cake," I promised.

"Do we really have to do that barbecue thing later? I feel kind of smothered with everyone around all the time."

The annual f****y beach barbecue. It was all part of our holiday ritual. My granddad and great uncle manned the grill, and cooked my grandma's special recipes: fish in spices, cheese and veggie skewers, burgers made with lots of black pepper and slabs of tomato and bacon. I'd been looking forward to it since we got to the lodge.

"My mom will be really disappointed if we don't," I lied. Well, not exactly lied. Just cast the blame elsewhere. "You might even like it, Es."

"I suppose so." She stepped over and climbed on to the bed, stroking the mess of bed hair from my bare shoulder. "We need to remember your sun block."

"You big OAP."

"Am not. Just worried about my girl." She dropped a kiss on the swell of my cleavage. "Now come on, make a move. I want to get into town early and eat jelly beans for breakfast."

****

My relationship with Esme was built on jelly bean breakfasts. We met while playing on our sixth form college's hockey team, and I would regularly turn up for Saturday morning matches with a huge bag of Jelly Belly's finest. Every week, she came earlier and earlier to share them; I'd never been with a girl before so my gaydar didn't make a peep (if I even had a gaydar, then). Our first kiss had tasted of cola flavour beans, and in our sweeter moments, we liked to re-create the memory.

The only thing I wanted that morning, frankly, was an orgasm. I'd been denied it the previous night with Gabe, and I had the girly equivalent of blue balls. Indigo clit, full to bursting and desperate to come and come. But instead of that, I hauled myself out of bed after just a few hours' sl**p and trawled the shops of Bangor with Esme. While she tried out perfumes, I dosed myself up on nostalgia-inducing aftershaves like an addict sniffing poppers; as she mused over a new shade of eyeshadow, I raided the samples for mascara and foundation to make me look less like a zombie and more like a hot, awake lesbian. (Definitely not a traitorous uncle fucker. But should you come across some poor, harassed teen girl trailing after another, with dark circles like craters and reeking of Chanel Homme, you know what she's been doing).

When we got back to the lodge after lunch, I'd barely dropped our bags before Mom cornered me in the kitchen.

"Danni. Have you got a moment?" She wore a sucky-stomach one-piece with a cut-off denim skirt; Mom was on the prowl after losing Malcolm the Moron.

"What's up?"

"Well. I wanted to ask you." She scrunched back her long dark hair, and secured it in a bun. "You get on well with your Uncle Gabe, don't you?"

"Um...yeah."

"It's just that he's been spending a lot of time alone on this holiday. It's not easy for him—he gets left out when me and Lizzie are around. I think he's feeling a bit lost."

She had no frickin' idea. "I'm sure he's fine, Mom."

"I just wondered if maybe you could make a point of keeping him company. I know you're here to be with Esme before you go off to university, but I'm sure she wouldn't mind."

"I could ask her." I tried so hard to sound vague, unbothered. I just sounded knackered instead.

"Have a drink with him at the barbecue," she suggested. "I know Taylor tries with him, but they don't have a lot in common."

"Okay. I'll try." I glanced up at the clock. "Do I have time to get changed before we head down to the beach?"

"I think so. See you in twenty."

So Mom wanted me to spend more time with Gabe.

Would she still be saying that if she knew the truth...?

****

Is there a better smell than grilling meat, charcoal, and the fresh salt of the sea? The barbecue had been going for an hour now, and Granddad tossed on the first burgers to hit the grate with a satisfying hiss and sizzle. When I was little, I'd watch with huge, hungry eyes and pounce on the first cooked burger, only to slather it in ketchup. Now that I preferred real tomato, the whole thing felt mature and sophisticated (or as sophisticated as burgers get).

Beside me, Taylor made caveman grunts. "Meat. Ooh, sir."

"Hungry?"

"I could tear the flesh off a cow. Literally, I'd like, chase after it and just lunge with my mouth open." He put his beer down on a rock to mime catching a cow like a frisbee, and I dissolved into giggles while Esme rolled her eyes.

"You'll change your mind when you try the Warren burger," I told her.

Taylor, evidently still a bit stoned from last night, gave a dirty laugh. "Pretty sure she gets regular Warren burger."

Esme glared, and I swatted him around the head so hard that his glasses fell down his nose.

"Taylor. Are these two bullies giving you a hard time?" Gabe appeared next to him, a look of amusement pulling at the corners of his mouth. "Because I can sort them out if you need me to."

"I'm okay." He adjusted his glasses. "Just...phrased something badly."

"He made a terrible lesbian sex joke," I announced, trying not to eat Gabe with my eyes. I couldn't wait to be a good little niece and corner him, and I was terrified everyone would take one look at me and understand why.

"Never a good idea, mate," Gabe said. "How's that foot taste?"

"Is it a cow's foot? Nom." Taylor gave us all a d***k grin and then sloped off towards his mom.

"You girls want a drink?" Gabe lifted a cool box that rang with the clink of glass.

"All you do is ply us with alcohol," Esme said. There was her sweet-but-sarcastic tone again, too. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect she actually knew something.

"I don't ply. I offer," he said, looking wounded. Then he pulled a bottle of chilled pear cider from the box, and tossed it in a little somersault. "Danni? You want?"

"Yes please." Just for a second, I allowed myself to catch his big, grey eyes. Danni, you want? For the love of God, please let us have enough time alone together to actually have sex soon.

Let him not run off to Canada and leave me like...this. I was such a mess.

Gabe popped the lid off the cider and pressed the cold glass into my hand. "I'm going to find a thinking spot. Catch you two later." With that, he strode over to the cluster of rocks he'd made the tent in last night, and sat back on his elbows to soak up the sun.

"Danni? You okay?" Esme put her hand on my bare thigh.

I took a big gulp of pear cider and squeezed my eyes shut. Being alone with Gabe in his little cabin that weekend, so isolated—we'd been spoiled. Now the people around us made a cage of barbed wire. Torture. "Just a bit hot. It's baking out here."

"That's what you come to a beach for, Danni." She smiled, teasing her finger along the sensitive skin of my inner thigh.

"I don't tan like you," I grumbled. "It's not the same for redheads."

"I like your red hair, pixie."

"That's because it's awesome."

"I'm gonna go find some more juice, okay? Back in a sec."

"I'll be here." More cider. I closed my eyes again. The sun ebbed away, the sand melted beneath my bare feet, and the world was just fizz, sugar, pear juice and the d***ken twist of the alcohol that tickled my throat. When I blinked, Mom stood in front of me, clutching two fat burgers in napkins.

"Why don't you take one of these over to your Uncle?" she said.

"Um...okay." I tucked the cider under my arm and took the burgers from her, trying very hard not to look elated. I f***ed the smile from my lips and crushed that spring right out of my step. As he saw me, Gabe raised his sunglasses, grinned, and eased up the rock to make space. Like he knew I'd be staying.

"Mom thinks I should be keeping you company," I said.

He took the burger in both hands, checking beneath the bun for fillings. "If you're going to bring me meat, I'm not complaining."

"She reckons you're all lonely and need sympathy food." I tried not to giggle, but it rippled out of me anyway.

"Well. I have been missing somebody this week." He patted the space beside him and I climbed up on to the rock, a measured few inches from the heat of his body. "How very sweet of her."

"It's not really like Mom, is it?" Frankly, she could be a bitch.

"No." He snorted. "But maybe losing this Malcolm guy reminded her she's got a few nice bones in her body."

"Maybe." I shielded my eyes; Esme had walked back to look for me, and when she caught me next to Gabe, her pretty brow furrowed. She wouldn't come over here, I knew that.

I should have hurried back over, but I didn't.

"Esme commented on me not being in bed last night. I told her some crap about being in the bathroom, but..."

He looked up from the burger he was about to devour. "Really? Shit. We need to be more careful."

"We've only got four nights left." I stared hard at my cider bottle, watched the bubbles rise to the surface and die as they hit the air. "It's not long enough, Gabe."

"I know, baby." He dropped his voice to say these things, and we both knew it was risky to talk about them out in the open. But we were forbidden. This was something we could never have. If words were our only rebellion, bitter words it would have to be. "You like Canada?"

I shrugged. "Never been."

"Shame." He smiled faintly. "Nice place for a gap year, Canada."

A prickly heat shot down my spine and unfurled at the base, making me sit bolt upright. "Are you...are you being serious?"

"I don't know," he said sadly.

"Because it was only a few days ago that you were all resigned to running away from...us."

"I changed my mind." He exhaled. "I broke."

"What if we don't get chance to be together, Gabe? What if you leave in a few days and we haven't...I mean..."

"This," he gestured to our cosy little chat position, "isn't enough."

"No." I swallowed. "I'm sorry. I don't mean it like that."

"It's okay, Danni. That's what makes everything so complicated, eh? That we need the physical stuff."

He said need. Not want. Not it would be nice.

Need.

"I could take a gap year," I said.

He nodded, looking ahead as if we chatted about the weather or something. "The visas over there can be a bit complicated, but the people who've hired me might be able to help out. I mean, there are ways."

"I don't know what the hell I'd tell Mom. Or Esme."

"If...if you were to come out there with me, like that, we'd manage it."

"Like that." I pressed my lips together to stop the huge smile. "Like, a couple?" I whispered.

"Nobody would know, would they? We could be normal." He glanced down. "If we were in Canada now, I could hold your hand. Kiss you. We'd just be a gorgeous girl and some lucky old dude."

"Oh, shut up. You're not even thirty."

"Still older than you."

"You love it," I shot back.

"Yeah." He went to touch me, but pulled his hand away. "I...I do."

"We should eat these burgers before we start looking suspicious." I checked mine for tomato; a big wedge sat squashed beneath the bun. When I looked back up, Taylor had accosted Esme. "Esme's giving me evils."

"She knows she's going to lose you." He took a bite.

"What? What do you mean?" I drew patterns in the sand with my toes while I waited for him to finish. "She doesn't know about us. How could she?"

"Not that, sweetie. Just generally. She's clingy, possessive. You said before; she's always been like that. She probably knew the moment you started acting off with her, or maybe even from the time you got together, but now you're both going off to different universities...Danni. She's a clever girl. Of course she knows she can't keep you."

I'd never thought about things like that before, but now, it was so painfully obvious that I couldn't look at either of them. Tears lanced the corners of my eyes. I might have fallen for Gabe, but there was a time not too long ago when I was crazy about Esme, and even more than that, relieved to have someone to be crazy about. She did that for me, and I appreciated it—even if from her point of view, it was all a big heap of crap and lies.

"I did love her," I said defensively. My voice cracked with the restrained tears.

"No, you didn't. But you wanted to." He brushed his palm to my knee very quickly. "That's nothing to be ashamed of. Christ, you're eighteen. Still figuring everything out."

"Not everything." I smiled again, despite the weeping that threatened. "Not you. I'm sure about that." Chemically, my body hadn't let me deny it.

"Tonight. We'll try again tonight. Maybe a little earlier...depends when everyone's in bed."

"Okay." Please.

"But you need to be careful leaving. Don't be gone too long this time."

"Not my fault I fell asl**p," I grumbled. "Frickin' Taylor."

Gabe winced. "Never had him pegged as a stoner."

"We need to make sure he doesn't end up back down here, doing that again," I said. "And maybe we should avoid the beach. We could go into the woods instead, meet outside or something."

"Maybe." He took another bite of burger and chewed slowly. "Let's see how tonight pans out, and I'll send you a text later, yeah? Just be sure to delete it straight after."

"I will."

"Now you better get back to Esme before she burns straight through me with her evil eyes."

I laughed. "I don't know what's up with her, sometimes. I mean, you're privileged—you're a bloke, but she actually likes you. Yet she won't come over here and join in."

"A clichéd man-hating lesbian, eh?" He shook his head.

"It's not like that. She doesn't hate anyone. I think she just feels a bit threatened sometimes, like guys who watch us and get off on it are kind of intruding."

"Because they weren't invited to the party," he mused.

"Precisely." I slipped back off the rock and lingered in front of him, his feet almost brushing my calves. "Guess I'll be heading back, then."

"I'll see you later." He pressed his lips together in a very brief kissing pose. "And Danni?"

"Yeah?" I breathed.

"Maybe...think about Canada, yeah?"

"I will," I promised.

I will, I will, I will.

Like a couple. Nobody would know, would they?

It's like my heart grew a fifth ventricle full of liquor and crack.

****

I couldn't stop thinking about his letters. Our first kiss. The balmy Devon evening when he took my virginity. In heartache years, we'd been apart for at least ten; maybe that's why after just two months, he was talking about running away together. Because that's what it would be.

He was the first person to say the l-word, only two days after we first fucked beneath that tree. But when he stopped writing and texting and calling, I thought it was because he stopped feeling. I blamed myself. I was the one who gave in, in the end. If I hadn't decided to sl**p with my uncle and cheat on my girlfriend, none of this awfulness would have happened, and we'd be spared the void of never knowing what we might have been. If we weren't related, if I wasn't with Esme, if he wasn't going away.

But now he wanted to remove an if. I could, if I grew balls big enough, take away another in Esme. Suddenly, I was playing for keeps.

****

Around ten o'clock, we finally dragged our barbecued-out asses back to the lodge. Gabe plied Taylor with beer after beer, and he ended up spread-eagled and snoring on our sofa. Mom passed out in a chair. Esme wasn't far behind, and another of my patented lesbian massages settled her in ten minutes flat.

I brushed my teeth. Put my hair up. Slipped into a clean dress and cardigan, and out of my bikini bottoms. The clock struck midnight, and I crept out of the lodge to find Gabe leaning up against his car. No words passed between us, not even smiles; he just reached for my hand and tugged me towards the woods.

The canopy of trees made the night thick like treacle. Bracken and old twigs snapped beneath our shoes. Gabe used his phone to light our way, and we followed the trail of pale glow like pixelated breadcrumbs. My hand felt so small in his. When we reached a snug little spot with a round, flat tree stump, he pulled me against him for a cool drink of a kiss.

"I scoped this out earlier," he whispered. "We're in deep enough to be safe, I reckon."

Somewhere not too far away, young voices yelled and whooped. Our party might have ended, but for some, the night was just beginning.

I shoved him down on the tree stump and giggled as I straddled his lap. Then I wound my fists into his soft caramel hair and devoured his mouth again. We could make a little noise here, could be free, and his cock was already firm and desperate between my thighs...only the fabric of his shorts prevented him from entering me. Stupid, stupid shorts.

"Slow down, Danni."

"No. I'm not waiting to be interrupted again." I dragged his hand to my bare, smooth pussy, and gasped at the way he probed me. "See what you do to me?"

"I love how you seem to keep losing your knickers." His face moved along my cleavage in a hot-cold cocktail of stubbly cheek and kisses, and his thumb worked my clit with slow, firm strokes. I wanted to keep still and just think on how wonderful it was to have him touch me, but no use. I bucked and writhed like a puppet on strings.

"It's more convenient." And I knew how much he liked it. Hell, we were already wrong enough, uncle and niece that we were. What was a little slutty behaviour thrown into the mix?

In a fit of need, I shoved his hand away so I could pull open the button fly of his three quarter shorts. His cock sprang up, thick and crimson, and it twitched in my palm as I squeezed.

"God." He struggled for breath. "Do that again."

So I did. Hard. He moaned into our wet kiss. We both knew what the other wanted, and with a twist of my hips, the head of his cock weighed heavily in the open cup of my pussy lips. He thrust up, I slid down, and I shoved my face into his shoulder to muffle my yelps. Two months since I'd had him inside me, and it was like losing my virginity all over again. I kept trying to contract around him and with every ripple, he felt bigger. As I rolled back and forth, he pushed right into my spot, rubbing. This was the stuffed sensation Esme couldn't give me, and this man, his flesh, his sea-liquor smell...only he could give me that.

"Good girl," he mumbled into my neck. "You feel so fucking good."

He yanked my dress up and gripped my bare buttocks, forcing me to take every last inch. I grew braver with every thrust, and my clit mashed into his pubic bone each time I landed; smack, ah, thump, ah. The world snapped in on us and everything else fell away; just me and Gabe and this spasming melt of pleasure, just us and the air we stole breath after breath from as we moved.

We sped up, despite the awkward position and the acid groan of my hamstrings. The ache of impending orgasm flushed heat through every limb, relieved everything, and my soaked pussy coiled and sprang on each stroke.

"Just think." He sucked my bottom lip, let it go, sucked again. "If we went away, we could have this all." Thrust. "The." Harder. "Time."

Oh--

"Gabe...fuck..."

There are all sorts of corny ways to describe orgasms. Fell off the edge, came apart, blow your load, whatever. In Gabe's lap, I split right down the middle as a shrieking flock of shudders fell out, only to plunge and sink their hungry teeth into my clit. Over and over, I trembled. Moaned his name. He kept going until my inner thighs were sticky with his mess.

Still gasping, I pulled his head back and kissed his mouth raw. Only when he seemed to struggle, did I pull back.

"Danni," he hissed.

"Wha...?"

"Danni."

I frowned at him. Wondered why he looked so spooked. Then it hit me like a smack around the head: a sob. Behind us. A great, heaving sob.

I shook as Gabe hurried my skirt back down. Every scrap of heat surged out of my skin, leaving ice burns that only added to the trembling.

"Well?" Esme whimpered. In the dark, her voice cut a haunting path. "Aren't you going to look at me?"

Gabe swallowed. Urged me around. I climbed off, paused while he tucked himself into his shorts, and closed my eyes as I turned. They were the longest five seconds of my life.

When I opened my eyes, I made out Esme's shape just two feet away. She wore her coat over tiny pyjamas. Next to her stood Taylor, shivering in his t-shirt. His mouth formed a thin, drawn line; if she was fury, he was empty. Blank.

"I don't know what to say." I'd been caught cheating...with my uncle. Exactly which bit of that should I panic about first?

Esme began to weep again. Full-on, shoulder-hunching sobs. Taylor put a comforting hand on her arm and she threw it off like a bucking bull.

"Don't you touch me!" she shrieked. "Don't you fucking dare!"

Leaves crunched as Gabe stood. He stepped in front of me, braced for a fight.

"Esme," he said quietly. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry? You're sorry? Jesus Christ." She went to walk to me, but seemed to change her mind. "How could you, with a man? With him? Do you have any idea how sick this is?"

"I kno--"

"We've done nothing wrong," said Gabe, his tone surprisingly steady. "Or at least, not like that. Esme, it wasn't Danni's fault. It was me, I—"

"You're her uncle!" Taylor said it so s**thingly, like we were a pair of moronic contestants on a grisly morning chat show. "I mean, what the fuck?"

Adrenaline still spiked my bl**d and my vision; Gabe's mess still leaked down my inner thighs. His hand sat protectively on my hip. In the space of a few minutes, our relationship had gone from dirty little secret to me and Gabe against the world. Staring at Esme and Taylor's horrified faces, I didn't think we could win this one.

"You said you loved me," Esme spat. "People in love don't do things like this!"

Gabe squeezed my hip. "They do."

"That's not what I meant, and you know it. You sick fuck. I...both of you..." Her bottom lip baulked again.

"People go to prison for this shit," said Taylor. "You know that, right?"

"Yeah." Gabe gave a single nod. "We know that."

Esme shoved past Taylor then, and before I could breath, she had my hair in handfuls, yanking it violently.

"And you don't even have the nerve to speak to me? Talk to me. Talk. To. Me!"

I squealed as she pulled at me, and it took Gabe several moments to get her off. She'd barely got her breath back before she went for him, all claws and anguished grunts. When he retreated, his arms were scored with cherry scratches.

"That's enough! Esme. God. She doesn't deserve that."

"I do." My own tears battled through, slimy on my cheeks. I clutched my sore scalp. "Es, I'm so sorry."

"No, you're not. But you will be. You will be." With that, she tore off back towards the lodge, her footsteps punctuated by raw little sobs.

Taylor glanced between me and Gabe, and Esme's empty space.

"This is some messed up crap," he managed, starting after her. "You better hope she doesn't tell your mom, Danni."

I went to follow him, but Gabe tugged me back. If it was possible, he held me tighter than ever. "It'll be okay," he whispered. "I promise, we'll make this okay."

But the pulse that throbbed in my ears said otherwise. "You can't promise. Not with this."

He turned me to face him, and took my chin in his palms. "I can. I am. Fuck them all, Danni. We'll be gone in less than a week."

He didn't say because we have no choice now, because we're not welcome here, but the truth spiked its forked tongue at me anyway. Of course I wanted to be with him, but I never realised quite how much it could cost (a hell of a lot more than an airline ticket, apparently).

"We should head back," I said.

"Yeah."

"Separately, in case she hasn't told."

"Let's hope so." He began to lead me by the hand.

"Or in case Taylor tells," I added.

"He won't." Gabe squeezed my hand, but it didn't help.

I pulled my cardigan around me, tried to ignore the cold, and traipsed back to the lodge to salvage what was left of my life.

SIX

Empty bed. No Esme.

Fuck.

I couldn't find her anywhere. Mom was still drooling in the easy chair, her snores and snorts peaceful. Mine and Esme's bed was unmade, which was unlike her...she left in a hurry. How the hell did she and Taylor know to come looking for us? It was obviously what they were doing. I mean, how had they even been conscious enough? They were passed out when we left.

Gabe stood outside his bedroom, his arms folded, grey eyes low. I peered out to shrug at him.

"Not there," I mouthed.

He gestured over his shoulder, as if to suggest we look for her. I shook my head. Taylor wouldn't let her get into any trouble, and she evidently didn't want to talk to me. I checked around before blowing Gabe a kiss; he caught it, bit his lip, and mouthed I love you.

Then I climbed into bed, and insomnia's sweaty fist leered down to squeeze. Exhaustion threatened after three nights of broken trysts, but no rest for the wicked.

Story of my life.

****

Somebody was rattling drawers. Throwing clothes about in little swishes. How inconsiderate—couldn't they see I how tired I was?

The somebody was battling tears; she whimpered and snarled at every object she threw into her suitcase.

Esme's suitcase.

Que?

FUCK.

I lunged to sit up, and a hard can of deodorant smacked right off my forehead mid-flight. Esme winced as I yelped, but then the robotics took over again and she went back to packing.

"My dad's picking me up in a few hours," she hissed.

"Oh, Es. Don't leave." Because staying would make everything so comfortable...but what was I meant to say?

"You really think anything you say can make up for what I saw last night? You think I want to be anywhere near you and him?"

"I'm sorry." My voice trembled. Tears stung as they welled in their ducts, as I rubbed the emerging lump on my head. "I never meant for any of this."

"Yeah. Looked like it." Her make-up bag landed in the suitcase with a clatter.

"Where've you been? I...I was worried."

"Bollocks, were you. And I was with Taylor. Turns out, he's good for something."

I glanced between dishevelled Esme, and the door. "With him, with him?"

"Don't be ridiculous." She sniffed. "Not all of us are just playing at being gay, Danni."

"That isn't fair."

"Oh yeah. What was I thinking, offending your sweet, innocent sensibilities? The way I'm talking, anybody would think I saw you fucking your uncle!" she shrieked.

Ohmigod. "Jesus! Keep it down!"

"Wouldn't want anybody knowing that, would you?" She slammed the suitcase shut, panting as she locked the clasps. "Your filthy little secret. Huh."

My forehead still stung. Esme hauled her suitcase off the bed and yanked the door open.

"I'm going back to Taylor's. If you so much as knock on the door, I'll tell everyone about Gabe. Everyone." She turned to look at me. Her eyes were ringed in pink, her nose red, her fingernails scr****g along the plastic handle in nervous snares. "You've ruined everything. Everything."

I recoiled back into the pillows as she stalked down the corridor. I heard her coarse little bleats of sobs at my mom, and Mom's comforting words back. The creak of the front door. What had she told people? Exactly how deep a hole were Gabe and I in?

My phone read seven thirty two AM. A beautiful start to the day, if there was one. But beneath all the crap and the panic, a hope stirred in my belly: Canada. An escape. The unknown.

And Gabe, no doubt asl**p at the end of the hall, with an empty pillow beside him.

****

When I awoke again two hours later, it was because of the slanging match in the living area. Gabe and my mother. Oh God.

The dress I pulled on was a day old, but no matter. No time to brush my teeth. I padded towards the shouts and curses, a cool sweat emerging in uncomfortable places. Time to face the music (if the music sounded like an episode of Sons of Anarchy).

"You just can't help yourself, can you?" Mom spat. Gabe sat hunched on the sofa, and she circled him like a vulture, last night's make-up melted to smudges on her face. "Oh, hello, Danni. Decided to grace us with your presence, have you?"

I just loitered in the doorway, trying not to hyperventilate.

Gabe glanced up at me. Dark circles ate at his eye sockets; he hadn't slept a wink. He wore a long-sleeved t-shirt, no doubt to hide the scratches on his arms. "Danni. She knows."

I nearly wet myself. Words balanced on my tongue, impotent and unmoving. "Knows...what?"

"About--"

"About you and that boy. About how this idiot--" She gestured to Gabe, "has been covering for you. Helping you cheat on Esme. Delightful, really, absolutely fucking marvellous."

Me and a boy. Gabe helping? I glanced between them, and didn't know whether to die of relief or embarrassment. "Oh. That."

"I sent you down to Devon to grow up, Danni. I didn't realise stupidity was contagious."

Gabe rolled his eyes. "Thanks."

"You've broken that poor girl's heart. She's in pieces. Trust me, I know how that feels!"

Malcolm the Moron, a cheater? I was too afraid to ask.

"I'm sorry," I said, my voice hoarse.

"Sorry isn't good enough. Sorry doesn't cut it." She jerked back to Gabe. "And you should know better. Leading her on like that, letting her think this is okay. Do you enjoy screwing things up for people?"

"No," he said quietly.

"Would you like to know a few home truths about your Uncle Gabriel, Danni?"

I trembled, still clutching the door frame. "Um."

"Sit down," she barked.

I didn't dare disobey her, so I scuttled forward and cowered in the easy chair. Gabe and I exchanged sombre, defeated stares.

"We were here," Mom went on, "on holiday. You were just a baby really. Your father and I were talking about getting married. His f****y lived here, see."

"My..." What? We had no pictures of my father. Mom always swore she didn't even know his last name. I just got used to thinking that he was this faceless, absent sperm donor, but now she told me he was around after I was born? "Excuse me?"

"He had a s****r, around Gabe's age," she said sadly. "And Gabe was always flirting with her. Weren't you? You were what, thirteen?"

He grimaced. "If you say so."

The Earth Day girl? Holy crap. No freaking way.

Mom folded her arms as she sat on the arm of the sofa. "He upset that girl one day. I don't know what he did, but she was humiliated. Things weren't good between me and your father, Danni. He was a raging bull of a man when he got angry."

"You've got to be joking, Jess." Gabe laughed incredulously. "You can't still blame me for him leaving."

"I can blame you for being the straw that broke the camel's bl**dy back!"

This was why Gabe was the proverbial black sheep of the f****y? Seriously?

"Danni," Gabe croaked. "I didn't make your father leave, I swear."

"You've got no idea what you did, you and your thoughtless, selfish behaviour," said Mom. "I thought maybe you'd matured a bit, but apparently not."

I was still reeling from the whole "by the way, I know who your Dad is," revelation. Every new thought needed a deep breath and a blink.

"Leave him alone," I said.

"What? Don't tell me you're defending him." She stood up, put her hands on her hips, and sneered in Gabe's direction. "I think it's best if you leave."

"What? Mom--"

"She's right, Danni." Gabe put his face in his hands and sighed. "I suppose I'll get going."

"No. Don't leave. I don't want you to," I pleaded. He shot me a warning look as he stood.

Mom raised her eyebrows as he strode back to his bedroom. "It's for the best."

"Mom, it wasn't his fault!" And how the hell was I meant to spend the rest of the week, alone?

"I don't know what's gotten into you. I don't want to hear another thing about this boy you've been sneaking off with, either. Christ." She shook her head. "You know Gabe was only here to see you."

I froze. Of course he wasn't. Until I broke him, he was preparing to run away.

"Whatever happened between the two of you in Devon," she went on, "was a mistake. My mistake, sending you there. He's a bad influence. I didn't realise you'd become friends."

"I can be friends with whomever I want," I snapped.

"You can screw whomever you want too, Danni, but don't expect me to like it."

Ouch. (Not that she would like it, if she knew who I was really screwing).

"I can't believe you didn't tell me about my dad."

"I told you everything you needed to know. He was a waste of space." She wandered over to the kitchen and filled the kettle with a shrill rush of water. "I was trying to keep you safe."

"Safe? But you know his name, I could look him up, I--"

"Why the hell would you want to do that?" She slammed the kettle on to its stand. "He's always known where we are, but has he ever turned up? No. That tells you everything you need to know."

A lump formed in my throat, thick and rancid. This whole day was just lies and shit and disappointment. Everything I'd counted on in my life a few months ago—f****y, Esme—they'd been stripped away. I was bare bone, and the air felt like sandpaper.

Furious, confused and shaking, I stomped over to Gabe's room. Didn't bother to knock. When I closed the door behind me and sagged against it, his eyes widened over his open suitcase.

"Danni. Jesus, she'll--"

"I don't care! You can't leave me. Not here, not now." The tears broke free, rushing down my cheeks like they rode into battle. Wet little soldiers. "They all hate me. I won't stay on my own."

He clambered over and took my face in his hands, his voice low. "Baby. I know it's awful. But if we're really doing this Canada thing, I have arrangements to make. All the visa stuff, a bigger apartment, flights...everything."

I nodded through the tears. "Okay. But I...I mean, how...?"

"Here's what you're going to do." He pressed his damp forehead to mine, his wavy hair soft on my face. I squeaked as he put too much pressure on my lump. "What the fuck happened to your head?"

"Esme."

He frowned. "She attacked you?"

"She got a bit over-enthusiastic with her packing this morning. Anyway. You were saying..."

"You're going to be a good girl for a few days. And then you'll go home, call your uni, and arrange to defer for a year because you've had the travel opportunity of a lifetime. Okay?"

"Right." Though the thought of spending the rest of the week alone made my stomach churn.

"I'm going to talk to my new department about bringing you along as an assistant. I was meant to hire one over there, and they have rules about stuff like that...but I might be able to wrangle something."

I managed a smile. "What would I be assisting you on, Doctor Warren?"

"I'm going to be a fellow at a museum in Alberta. They have one of the largest Cretaceous plant collections there is. I've got a couple of research projects to manage there, and I'll be teaching at the university. I could use a bright young mind for all my admin. So if you think you can handle a year of my eco crap..."

"I can handle it." My smile grew, and I braved a little kiss, just brushed it over his lips. With him standing over me, his weight against me, the feel of lithe muscle beneath his t-shirt—almost everything felt better. For now. When he returned the kiss, it weighed heavy with promise.

"It's hardly Bath over there, Danni. You need to think about whether you really want that. It'll be slower, quieter. And I won't be around for you all the time."

"I can deal. I can."

"And I need to investigate the visa thing. You might have to fly back a time or two while it's all sorted out...this is a little short notice."

"Doesn't matter." I yanked him closer by his short pockets, pushed my hands in and groped him through the fabric. I loved the way it made him chuckle. "We'll be together. And I'm sure there are a few cool buildings in Alberta I can study, or something."

"I'll email you as soon as I have details, okay? It could be a few days. When I do, I'll talk to your mom."

I sighed. "That's if she'll talk to you."

He tipped my chin up so he could look me right in the eye. "I had no idea you weren't aware about what happened with your dad. I'm sorry it's all come out like this."

"It's...it's not important."

"Of course it is. And I swear to you." He kissed my throat with a laving chase of tongue. "I didn't push your dad away. Your mom, she's always been..."

"Melodramatic?"

"It's a sensitive subject." He gave a bitter little laugh. "Some good me coming here has done, eh?"

"No. I'm glad you came. Gabe." I nuzzled him. "You made me realise what I really want."

"I made you change all your plans. Everything. I just hope you don't end up regretting it."

"Pretty sure I made you change some plans too."

We kissed with grinning mouths, and it was the sweetest, most comforting moment I'd had since his first beautiful letter.

****

I watched Esme's dad pack her up from the window. Gabe left before her, and already, our d***k little bubble of a world grew a stone skin. Mom had showered and changed, and stood with them to commiserate. God knows what she said. I didn't sympathise much, but for her, the whole thing must have been humiliating.

And Esme hadn't told anyone about Gabe. Why would she keep my secret? Was she in denial? Or was a bit of her still trying to protect her pixie, even when I'd turned out to be a sly little imp?

Taylor loitered by Esme, his arms folded and his face blank. As they closed the car doors, he caught sight of me in the window and just blinked, like I'd become a ghost he could look right through.

A ghost was a pretty good description of what I felt like that day. Gabe had gone, Esme had gone, and my planned start at uni had almost fallen away. It was only Tuesday, so there were four nights before we went home and six until the flight to Canada. An earthquake had shaken our holiday, cracking it down the middle to leave me stuck in the void. Now I had days to climb back to the edge I fell from, and the same amount of time to find the glue that would make everything better.

Time is a healer, all the cruddy old songs say. I kinda wish I'd listened to them better.

****

By the next morning, Mom still hadn't said a word to me. sl**p locked me out, prodded me with manic laughter, and I barely sc****d a few hours. I ended up at the crappy little café for breakfast, where I accosted their internet computer and spent an hour pretending to eat my bacon sandwich while I Googled Canada and flicked through my emails.

Esme had already massacred Facebook. Her relationship status said single, much to the surprise and sympathy to the twenty odd people who commented below. Feels like the world has broken, she'd written, with a sad little emoticon beside it. I let the cursor hover over it for a second before I willed myself not to reply.

And I thought about my Dad. How could I not? Mom had been protecting me by lying, she said. But do lies really keep anyone safe? Hadn't worked for me and Gabe; hadn't worked for Esme. I wished I had a name for the guy, a photo. Even if I wouldn't have known where to start with it.

"Whatcha doing?"

I snapped around to see Taylor, who fiddled with the dark lens attachment on his glasses. He had a bottle of Coke tucked under one arm.

"None of your beeswax," I muttered. Like he really wanted to talk to me after...well. I mean, holy crap. He saw me have sex. Saw my bare ass, saw Gabe inside.

"You on your own today too?" he said.

"What's it to you?"

"Thought we could use a chat." He tucked his glasses back on and shrugged. "Could walk down to the beach or something."

"Why?" I tore a bit of bread off my uneaten sandwich, trying not to look suspicious.

"I promise not to be mean, Danni." He picked up my cardigan and held it out. "Okay?"

Gah. Fnar. Bah. Schner...oh, for crying out loud. "Okay."

I stood up, brushed the crumbs off my cut-off shorts, and he d****d the cardigan around my shoulders in an absurd display of chivalry.

We were silent for a good few minutes, weaving around k**s with buckets and spades, enthusiastic grandparents, dads clutching newspapers who were grateful for escape. Several times, he looked ready to talk, but only breath spewed out when his mouth opened. When we reached the stone path to the beach, I gave in.

"So talk," I said through my teeth.

"I dunno what I'm meant to say, Danni."

"Anything. The weather. What you watched on TV last night. How many times Granddad farted."

He tittered. "A lot. Barbecue brew."

"Bleugh."

"Yeah." He glanced around us, shoved his hands into his pockets, and exhaled. "What's that thing on your head?"

"You mean my classy Mount Vesuvius bruise?" I patted the round bump on my forehead that had already turned three different shades of purple. "Esme was chucking stuff around when she packed up."

"I guess it's over with her."

"You could say that."

"She was in a bad way." He pressed thin lips together. "She slept in my bed, you know."

"Lucky you."

"She smells like marshmallows."

"You're a raging pansy, you know that?" I rolled my eyes.

"Slept and sobbed and ranted. Wasn't all that sexy, even if she did smell nice. But yeah...she was in my bed."

"Still a pansy."

He glanced about, checking to make sure we were out of earshot. "If you keep being mean, I'm going to wait until you go to the loo and change your ringtone to that South Park song. How's it go now? Shut Your Fucking Face, Uncle Fucker."

My pulse jumped. Fists balled at my sides. It took every ounce of self control not to wallop him. "You are not funny."

"Sorry." He recoiled. "Seemed like the way to bring it up, humour and that."

"Well, it isn't. So don't."

We stepped through the beach gate and took our shoes off to pad down to the rocks. It was half ten, and still quiet; a few residents walked their wet, barking dogs, and one f****y had set up a few wind breakers. The tide roved slowly in.

Taylor pulled himself up on the rocks overlooking the sea, and I sat a few inches away. He offered me the Coke, but I declined.

"I'm sorry for what I said the other night," he said eventually.

"What the fuck were you doing there, Taylor?"

"Um. Well. I kind of saw you go down to the beach that first night, and I wondered why. And the second night, I was out in the woods about to light up...and I saw you again. So I followed you. Thought you went to the beach, but then I couldn't see you there. I heard some noises but they were, you know..." He grimaced.

"Sex noises." I cringed.

"Er...yeah. But I was a bit stoned, and I was all like, no way is that Gabe and Danni."

"Because that would be ridiculous."

He snorted. "Yeah."

"Carry on."

"At the barbecue, when you were talking to Gabe--it seemed a good way to start a conversation with Esme, asking why you were going to the beach at night, and why you and Gabe looked so cosy."

Heat drained from my cheeks. "Oh God."

"Dick move. I know, okay?"

This was what I got for leaving Taylor out, ignoring my instincts and letting Esme try to isolate him. "So what did she say?"

"Not a lot, at first. Just asked me for beer. But then she was like, we have to pretend to go to sl**p and see if you guys skedaddle again. And you did...so we followed."

A seagull swept over us with a grating squark. It settled a few rocks away like it wanted to eavesdrop. I should have brought my bacon sandwich to throw bits for them...didn't think. Would have been a nice distraction from the evilness of all this.

"We never expected to find what we did," Taylor mumbled. "Didn't even cross my mind. I figured you guys might have been doing d**gs or drinking. Or I dunno, planning something. Just being all chummy."

Leaving him out.

"We were kinda chummy."

"Yeah." He snorted again, trying to contain full-blown laughter. "So I saw."

I put my face in my hands. More facepalm. "I can't believe you saw me like that."

"I did need some brain bleach." He scratched his chin. "Was even worse seeing Uncle Gabe. Hearing--"

"I get it." I groaned. "There's no need, really."

We fell into uneasy silence again. Dogs barked, owners yelled at them in lilting Welsh accents. k**s squealed as the tide ate away at their forts and sandcastles. I didn't bother scr****g the wind-teased hair from my face; the urge to hide from the world was stifling.

"How does something like that even happen?" he said.

"It's weird. It felt weird...at first."

Taylor finished his Coke with a few wet gulps. "Do you, like, want to be with him? As a couple?"

I nodded.

"Woah." He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. "Not going to happen though, huh?"

"We're talking about it."

"But he's going away," he said. "To Canada and stuff."

I squinted at him in the yellow spill of sun. "Can you keep a secret?"

"Another secret, you mean?"

"Another, yeah."

"Is it worse than this one?"

Even I giggled a bit at that. "Not really."

"Shoot."

"I might be going to Canada too."

He tossed the empty bottle from one hand to another. "Fucking hell."

"We're trying to work it out."

"I want to wish you good luck, but...fuck. It's not even legal. And Esme, I mean, she didn't deserve that."

"No. I know." I sighed. "It all got stupidly complicated. I really never meant for it to happen, and Gabe tried end it too, but it wouldn't go away." I dropped my legs, swirling my toes in foamy turquoise water. Water is meant to be relaxing, isn't it? This was the foot spa from hell. "I'm not sure it's meant to go away, you know?"

"I suppose."

"Thank you. For not telling, I mean." And for not hating me. For still being there.

"It's not my place." He glanced over, watched my feet. "Probably shouldn't even have told Esme. Sorry about that."

"You weren't to know."

"Anyway. In return. Please don't tell my mom about the weed."

I threw a light elbow into his ribs. "I won't. You big stoner. Just promise to stay away from my ringtone, okay?"

He began sing, his shoulders bobbing in a jaunty dance. "You're an uncle fucker, yes, it's true--"

"Taylor!"

"Nobody fucks uncles quite like you!"

With a deep breath, I shoved him right off the rocks and into the sea. He flapped around while the seagulls bellowed at him, coughing up lumps of salt water. Like a retarded fish.

"This is revenge for that poor girl." I clutched myself, laughing. "The one you chose the book over."

He climbed back up, clothes drenched, glasses askew. Sea water flew from his nose. "Hardy ha ha."

SEVEN

The email came on Friday.

When the familiar little ping sounded on my phone, I was curled up near the tree stump in the woods—a place I'd spent a lot of time those past few days. Half of me simmered with excitement, but the other half chastised that it was probably spam (as usual).

It wasn't.

From: warren.gabriel@plymouth.ac.uk

To: danni323ginger@gmail.com

Date: 29 August 2011 10:32

Subject: come fly with me

...let's fly, let's fly away :o)

Flight booked. No visa required for now, will sort when there

Looks like I have a new assistant huh

Meet me at the Crown Plaza hotel at the airport, Sunday, any time after 2. Sooner you get there, longer we have all alone in a beautiful room...we fly 8am Monday

Call your mother, call your uni. Maybe not the cavalry

Can't actually believe we're doing this

Trouble, I love you

xxxxx

I pressed my face into my novel, trembled quietly, and then wept hot, stinging tears of relief into the yellow pages.

****

In hindsight, the drive home was probably not the time to tell Mom about Canada. So guess what I did? Ho ho.

She switched the radio off and glared at me in the mirror (the back seat felt like a refuge, since we still weren't talking, really).

"I'm sorry. Can you repeat that?"

"I did a lot of thinking this week," I said, "and I'm going to take a gap year."

She sniffed. "To do what? Work?"

"Uncle Gabe says I can go to Canada with him."

That did it. She practically frothed at the mouth. "You're not serious, Danni."

"Canada sounds pretty cool," I mumbled.

"Don't be like him. Don't run away just because you've had a hard time recently--"

"What d'you mean? Gabe--"

"I'm not talking about him." She sighed. "I'm talking about your father."

I knew nothing about my dad, but was ninety nine percent sure he never switched continents because he fell in love with a hot relative.

"Mom. That's really low."

"Your behaviour this week has been nothing but low," she hissed.

"I'm eighteen, not five. God. Haven't you ever made a mistake in your life?"

She ignored me, yanking the gear stick and staring through the windscreen.

"I leave for the airport tomorrow lunch time," I said.

"Do you really trust him to take care of you? Really?"

I wanted to shout he's never lied to me, not like you! But it sounded so petty and c***dish, and there I was, about to go off in the world like somebody so much older. And Mom might have been a bitch half the time, but I didn't want to leave on bad terms.

"He's not like that. Not when you get to know him."

"You talk like you have some twisted little crush." She bit her lip. "Danni. At least take a while to think it through. I know it sounds exciting but a year is a long time, and Canada is a long way to go. If anything goes wrong, I can't just drive out to get you."

"I leave for the airport tomorrow at lunch time," I repeated. And that was that.

****

It was late afternoon on Saturday by the time we got home. I had less than twenty-four hours to pack, sl**p...and resolve a little unfinished business.

My room was littered with Esme's things: CDs from favourite bands we shared, clothes that still smelled like her sweet shop perfume, unfinished novels with their pages turned down. Silly pens with theatrical feathers. This was the part I dreaded most of all, but Esme deserved to get her stuff back. Deserved to know where I was going, too.

She only had older siblings, and they didn't live at home. I knew her parents played Bingo every Saturday teatime. I leaned against a tree opposite her house and waited for their silver Toyota to pull away before I hauled the box of Esme's things over. The doorbell squealed, and a great heap of memories struck me right on the bruised forehead with all the f***e of a grand piano. The first time I'd visited, it took me so long to work up the guts to ring that doorbell; still, I felt the prickle of nerves as I waited to see if she was home.

All of that felt so stale now. Vacant. Lost.

The version of Esme in the doorway looked like she felt the same way. Dressed in her old hockey uniform, hair unstyled, eyes still red; oh fuck. What had I done to her?

"I—I brought your stuff back," I stammered. What an idiot.

"I don't want it," she said blankly. Like I was a hologram and she barely remembered my name.

"I wondered if we could talk for a second." I stepped from foot to foot. "Just a second."

"You're not coming in." She took thick, hissing breaths through her teeth, as if she opened too wide, something horrible might escape. "So talk."

I put the box at her feet and stepped back. "I know it doesn't mean much...but God, I really am sorry."

"So am I." She gazed at my battered old trainers.

"And I know I don't deserve this, but Es...please don't tell anybody what you saw."

Her little blond eyebrows shot up, but she still wouldn't look at me. "You think I want to do you a favour?"

"No, but--"

"I haven't told anyone because it's bad enough that you cheated. Worse that it was with a man. But Danni, you were with your—your un...." She couldn't say it. Even when she shook her head to loosen the word, it wouldn't come. "I just don't want to think about it, okay?"

"Okay." I pressed my lips together. "Thank you."

"It's not for you," she snapped.

"I know. It's not what I meant."

We stood there in the doorway, avoiding each other's eyes. Our uneven breaths merged in an odd rasp of a symphony. I'd gone on holiday as Danni: Lesbian Architect and come home the queen of i****t and awkward silences. Score, eh?

"I've deferred my course," I blurted out.

"What? Why?"

"I'm taking a gap year. Going...travelling. Need to get my head sorted."

"You're going away?" she whimpered.

I nodded. As much as I hated to tell her another lie, I had to keep Gabe a secret. There was too much on the line now, and what good would it have done for her to know?

"You really don't want to be with me," she said, her voice cracking.

"Oh, Es. It wasn't like that. I loved all my time with you--"

"But not me." She sniffed. "You didn't love me."

"I did."

"Then stay." A single tear caught the light on her cheek, pouring a tiny shadow as it fell. "Pixie...please."

"I really can't. I'm sorry."

She kicked her box of belongings out of the way and threw her arms around me. Her hug was so soft, so familiar...the tears pricked my eyes too.

"I don't want you to go," she wept. "All sorts of horrid things happen to people who go travelling like that, it's not worth it..." She pulled back and brushed the hair from my forehead. "Gosh. Look what I did to you."

"Purple's not really my colour, is it?"

She laughed. "No. Fashion fail."

I gave her a squeeze before teasing her slim little fingers away, though they felt like lead weights. "I fucked things up with us. You deserve someone a lot better than me."

She glanced down at the heap of artefacts from our funeral pyre of a love affair. "I know you fucked up. But loving you doesn't go away."

God, I knew that. I knew just how that felt...but not with her. "Not even after what you saw?"

"No. That's how I know I love you, Danni."

I stared into her wet, glassy eyes, and wanted to tell her I knew how that felt, too. Even the words left unsaid between us were painful, let alone the ones we were brave enough to voice.

"I suck," I mumbled.

"You don't." She scooped up the card box and hugged it to her chest. "God, pixie, take care of yourself. If you get murdered by some weird tribe or d**g dealer, I'm gonna hunt you down and kill you all over again."

"I'll haunt your ass. Beat you to it."

"Maybe," she said softly. "Truth is, you kinda haunt me already."

****

I said goodbye to my room.

It seemed silly, in a way. I'd probably be back in a few months while all the visa stuff was sorted out, and besides, I'd planned on moving away soon, even if just to uni. But Mom was right—Canada, what with it being squillions of miles from here, was that bit further to go. Or to travel home.

Except I was about to make a new home with Gabe. He'd already texted me a picture of our new apartment; bijou, he called it. Which I'm pretty sure meant poky, but so long as it had a bed to call ours, who the hell cared? Couldn't get much worse than his shed-slash-cabin in Devon, though since we made those gorgeous memories there, even that place didn't seem so bad. And it had no internet. Or phone signal.

Weeks ago, when Gabe wrote the letter saying he was coming to see me, I'd brought new underwear for the occasion. Esme loved lacy things and I owned loads of that, but this needed to be different, like thinking about him while I chose made everything sexier. Three hours of shopping later, I'd come home with a jade green push-up bra, and matching boy shorts that said give peas a chance across my ass. He'd love them.

Tomorrow, I'd finally get to show them to him. We had an anonymous hotel room in an anonymous corridor, and if he fucked me like I'd begged him to, nobody would care. We could be noisy, naked, shower together afterwards. Kiss in the hall. Every new thought spiralled through me in a hot wave of excitement, and only my nerves kept my fingers out of my knickers.

The next time I came, it would all be for him.

EIGHT

Mom cried when I left. God, like there hadn't been enough tears in my life recently. Nice one, Mom. I might have cried too, but I won't admit it. So there.

I took the train to the hotel, my big purple suitcase stuffed to bulge at the seams (even though I'd left half my clothes behind because they were purchased on sprees with Esme, and were stitched and soaked in things I wanted to forget). It took two and a half long, travel-sick hours to reach the station, and since Saturday night had been another sl**pless stretch, I could barely keep my eyes open.

The sight of Gabe in the lobby was like a shot of adrenaline, stabbed right in my chest. Amid the buzz and clatter of the clean, modern hotel, he stood like a rock in a blistered rush of river: tall, sturdy, hair tucked behind his ears. His usual surfy t-shirt, this time paired with cargo pants. The ocean-whipped scent of him hit my nostrils before I reached his side.

"Good trip?" The grin split his face, made the corners of his eyes crinkle. So gorgeous.

"I'm knackered," I admitted.

He brushed the base of my spine just gently as he ushered me into the lift. "Not too knackered, I hope," he whispered.

I said nothing, but I blushed hard. Beneath my clothes, the pretty new knickers stuck to the wet line of my pussy.

He'd booked a large hotel room, and the king size bed clad in white sheets took centre stage. A widescreen TV loomed from one wall, and a desk littered with textbooks and files sat in the corner. His suitcase, spilling with its usual disarray, lay slain beside the sofa. Was there anything lovelier than a room slathered with Gabe?

"You like?" He came up behind me as I stared out of the window, and wrapped strong arms around my waist.

"Stunning view of the...tower blocks. And aircraft hangers."

"Cheeky mare." He pulled the hair from my shoulder and dropped his mouth to plant a sucking kiss. The pressure shot straight to my clit, and I backed into him, delighted to find the firm rise of his erection. "Soon, we'll be able to look out of our window and see mountains."

"In Canada?"

"Yep." He slid a hand under my t-shirt and caressed my stomach. Skin on skin...we'd had so little of that. "Just you, me, and the big bad world."

"And bears. They have bears there."

He laughed. "Not in the cities, trouble."

I rubbed my ass back into the hard cock awaiting me. "We're really doing this."

"O, brave new world, that has such things in it." He turned me. Shoved me right up against the wall beside the window, nearly pulling down the curtains in the process. Gabe's mouth on mine, his tongue curious, his thigh shoved between my knees so my pussy sat in just the right spot to ride...ah, I'd missed this so very badly. He knew everything I needed and then some, but it was the some part that made my nerves go soft at the edges.

"If you're going to quote Shakespeare at me," I mumbled into his warm neck, "I may have to suck you."

"Oh, Jesus, Danni. I'm not stopping you."

I was totally proud that I'd recognised Shakespeare, but three times as tingly that he wanted his cock in my mouth so bad (Mom would be impressed with her clever daughter, eh?). I slid to my knees, ignored the slight gristle of carpet, and tugged down the straining zipper of his fly. If it was up to me, I'd have him right then, but he stepped out of his clothes hurriedly.

"Better this way." He panted. "We can take everything off if we want to in here, babe." And he did want to. So did I. I leaned in to inhale the clean, hot scent of him, and remembered the naïve little things I'd said the first time we had sex; can we take our clothes off here? I plan on it, he'd chuckled.

Back then—and it seemed so long ago in desire-steeped minutes—I was the student, and he the teacher. On a balmy afternoon, he taught me to suck him in the syrupy shadows of his cabin. Now I cupped his cock at the thick root, licked my lips, smiled up at him. He reached to pull my t-shirt up and take off the jade green bra. With my breasts spilling out, he was happy...and needed the feel of my throat. So I gave it to him. At his familiar sharp intake of breath, I mewed.

Gabe scooped my hair up in fistfuls, and began to fuck my mouth. He knew just the angle to tip my chin to, just the pace to make me open enough to take all of him. I curved my tongue around his head to catch all the sweet spots, and with every thrust in, his curses grew louder.

"That's it, baby. So good at that." One hand traced down to tease my nipple. "Forgotten just how gorgeous you look on your knees for me."

Already, I tasted his thick little ribbon of pre-come. His cockhead bulged to let go of it, and he moaned with relief as it eased. Such a state I got him into....if only he could see how I'd drenched the new knickers. I'd show him, soon. I'd lie back and spread myself, let him get a good look at exactly what he was throwing on a plane as his.

"Danni..." He caught my chin to still me, the breath spewing from behind his teeth. "God knows, I want to come like this...but I want you to be first."

I licked all the way up his shaft, teasing the frenulum. "I don't mind."

"I do." He pulled me up by the shoulders for a slow kiss. "Let's get you out of those clothes, and on to the bed. I've got two months of frustration to lay on that little ass of yours."

Every muscle in my pelvis lurched inward, at those words. I giggled like a d***k as I yanked my skirt down and then fell on the bed as I kicked off my shoes. Gabe appeared behind me, smoothing his big hands across my ass cheeks.

"Give peas a chance." He laughed. "Very funny, trouble."

I wiggled my hips at him. "You like? I picked them just for you."

"I do." He peeled the gusset away from my pussy and slid a finger right in. It hit my cervix with a blunt thump, and I yelped. "Easy, now."

The finger flexed inside me, searching for the right spot. Another hip wriggle helped him to find it. Then he circled the soft pillow of flesh there, pressing in, rolling over. I didn't recognise my own voice when I squealed for him, but what else could I do when he made me pull so tight?

"Nobody gets ready for me like this," he murmured. "Nobody but you." Then he withdrew, helped me out of the knickers, and tossed me on to my back. I landed on cool sheets with an empty thud of tired mattress.

Gabe came over me, naked, balanced on his hands and knees. I nudged through his cascade of dark blond hair to find the mouth so adept at kisses. I didn't know what I needed more; to be licked, fucked, or just held until my ribcage caved and there was nothing but a bl**dy heap of me. I'd been reduced to similar, denied this for so long.

"The way you came on me the other night," he whispered. "It was beautiful. We should've found a way to do this sooner."

"Doesn't matter."

"Not now, no." He took his teeth to my nipples, grazing the tiny, stiff peaks. "We've been lucky."

I grinned down at him. "I'm feeling pretty lucky right now."

"Mmm." He worked down to the spread of my thighs, where I lay wet and open for him. Prepared for his want. My clit felt sticky in the cool air, but the heat of his tongue soothed that, ushered a new ache.

When Esme went down on me, she'd often lick right beneath the hood of my clit straight away, go in for the rawest spot. It was what she needed to come, after all. Gabe wasn't like that. He stuck to the sides of the little bud, mashing it between his lips until the tease made me buck like a mad thing. Like he encouraged me to just use him, get myself off. This time, his fingers stayed away from the depths of my pussy too; he just toyed with the lips. Pinched. Pulled. Stroked around the edges. I wet him anyway, and when his fingers grew damp enough, they walked along the sopping crack to reach my asshole.

"Gabe--"

"Shh." He used one tip just to stretch the opening, to pull it apart. "Let me touch you here. While I lick you. It's all I've been thinking about."

"O-okay." My thighs trembled as he kept up the pressure on my clit, and now the rest of my body began to shake as he eased a finger in. I'd never been so much as brushed in that spot, so when his mouth left my pussy to trace the rim of my hole, I moaned out loud with the shock.

His finger felt strange, but not unwelcome. Not as weird as I'd expected it to be. There was a heaviness back there, as if he really did intrude—my pussy was made for him, but not my anus. This place, he violated...and when I thought about the nature of our relationship, older uncle with his little niece, it seemed fitting that he should want me there. As if I needed anything else to turn me on...

After a moment or so, he returned to my clit, where his free hand peeled my flesh back so he could eat the bud whole. If we'd been out in the woods then, I'd have scared the a****ls—I just got so loud. He felt good—so good that I begged him to fuck me---but it was more than that. Months of deprivation, desperation. Now he finally had me, and this tease...so cruel.

When the begging got too much for him, he kissed his way up my belly, laid a sucking bite on each breast, and lifted my thighs with the sweep of an arm. I teared up. What the hell was wrong with me? Just the relief of the manoeuvre, the knowledge he'd be in me soon—then his cock hit my pussy lips, all bl**d-stuffed and leaden, and--

Oh. Ohohoh. I'd felt open, but the way he stretched those tissues only a cock could reach, holy crap. Maybe it was the way he had my legs right back, the careful in-and-out roll of his hips, the euphoric give inside me with every new thrust, but just ohohoh. Like that. Faster. Pleaseplease. Right there, please there...

We grew sweaty together. Burned calories and bad memories. I'd never felt so wet in my life; between my thighs, the beads that dripped down my breasts, the sheen of damp on my belly. Even beneath his tan, his cheeks flushed with the effort to please me, and pleasure was a paradox of an orange, wrung in greater quantities the longer we twisted and juiced. After a while, those strong fingers of his crept back to tap my clit soundly, and the burst of my orgasm sent my bunching fists for the sheets.

I still bleated from the aftershocks when he flipped me. My belly stuck to the bed, and it was an odd contortion, my thighs still wide with him between them. He smacked my ass, patted it, rubbed in circles, and then the familiar wet lap of his tongue landed on my asshole.

Oh God, he wanted that. To fuck me there. And I'd let him do it, even if he didn't know that yet. He spat on the ring of muscle, working it in with his finger, that weird heaviness growing deep inside me to meet and ache with his touch.

"Gabe...it-it hurts," I managed.

"Just relax." He kissed along my buttocks as his finger worked. "Trust me. You can do that, can't you, baby? I'll have you so ready..."

He said similar when he took my virginity, and that was a promise he kept. A need underscored his tone, too; we were about to move in together, in a strange place across the world. It called for me to give him something big, and this was it. Like a display of confidence.

When the heel of his hand found my clit again, it became so much more than that.

He laid me so that every time I pushed back on to him, I'd fall forward to massage my clit on his hand. I wriggled for the pleasure of it before his cock thumped against my asshole, and then, when he began to push in...

"Oh my God--"

"Just slow. Nice and slow." He rubbed my ass in soothing circles, easing himself in inch by inch. It did hurt, and I moaned for him, but the hand at my clit served as a pleasing distraction whenever I was tempted to stop. And such a deviant, my evil uncle; he loved my protests. My torrid noise.

"There." He sighed, planted firmly in my ass. "All in. Not so bad, is it, trouble?"

"No, ah--" Then he moved. It felt like going to the toilet and being fucked all at once, like I couldn't put the sensations together.

"Focus on your clit." He pressed his knuckles into it. "Don't even think about where I am."

"Okay...oh..." We fell into a slow, steady rhythm, my next orgasm at one end and my full ass at another. With my eyes closed, I was able to blend the two. Take him. Enjoy him. "Maybe a little faster, just a little..."

"That's my good girl." He groaned. "That's my tight little niece. I'm so far in, you should see..."

Didn't care. I was catapulted back to the d***k place where I came and came, unaware of my name, age, anything. Another climax loomed, thicker and heavier this time, and I had to stay here to find it. Just a little longer, right there, and like that with his fingers--

"Gabe, ah..." My muscles all bunched together and then recoiled, searing me. "I'm coming!"

He thrust harder. Hurt me. I didn't care. Soon the warm spill of his cum filled me—I felt it so much more in my asshole—and though I couldn't see it, I knew he bit right down on his lip while he came. This, this, this. We'd waited two months. Finally.

Then came the sweetest part of all: lying in his arms, our skin stuck together by sweat and sex, his breath pouring down to make my nipples peak. When you're just desperate to have that person inside you, you forget this bit. And then it happens and it's the best. Thing. Ever.

"Do you think this is enough?" I whispered.

"Hmm?"

I rolled over to stroke the hair from his eyes, his pupils still black and swollen. "All this. For Canada, living together, everything."

"You mean is friendship and love and amazing sex enough to keep us together?" He grinned. "Danni. What else could we possibly need?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. Time, I guess."

"To know each other." He kissed my upper lip. "I know you. I spent hours on the phone exploring you, even if we didn't get that much time in the flesh. And God knows, what with our situation...do you think I'd take such a risk for anything less?"

"I'm not getting cold feet. It's not that. I just don't want to let you down."

"Baby. Let me tell you." He wound his arms about me tighter, gave me a squeeze. "We're going to go over there, and we'll just be two people with the same surname. Hell, we'll even spin some line about how it hooked us up. We'll make new friends, and have our own place with our own things..."

"And eat road kill moose while we listen to Celine Dion." I giggled.

"Sounds pretty damn perfect to me."

"Can we barbecue the moose?"

"Whatever you want."

"Can we barbecue Celine Dion?"

"As a matter of public service." He slowed for a real kiss, a hungry one. "You give me somewhere to belong, do you know that?"

I nodded. We weren't just lovers any more; we'd fused to become a time, a place.

"We'll have to tell Mom one day," I said quietly.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. And from Canada...it's a long fucking bridge."

****

The airport thrummed with a hundred different accents, a dozen languages, a pantheon of muted skin. Flight 742 left for Canada in eighty two minutes, said the loudspeaker, and the staff at the luggage check-in mucked up and called me Mrs. Warren twice.

I blushed with heat and panic, but Gabe squeezed my hand and just gave them a nod.

Before I switched my phone off, it buzzed with a text.

Take care of each other. & send me a postcard or something. Tay x

I bashed in a quick thank you, gave Gabe my hand luggage, and we walked on into the duty free. After I'd assaulted the pick'n'mix stand, we stood against the lounge windows and watched planes launch into foamy clouds. I thought about how Gabe screwed everything up for himself (and my mom, apparently) on Earth Day, how he'd been performing a kind of life conservation ever since. And I thought about how if my dad had stuck around, my life would've been different. I wouldn't have been standing here with my uncle at an airport, about to board a flight to a life with new skin.

"Come here." Gabe pulled me into his arms. I was hesitant for a moment, but then I realised: we could do this here. Anything we liked. Nobody knew. And my grin was as wide as his.

Gabe kissed me, his hands in my hair and his teeth at my lips. Teeth belonged in our kisses, reminded us of the edge we teetered on so long until we found the courage to run and soar. As we drew back, the notes of a familiar tune spilled from the radio speakers: Taylor's Foo Fighters song.

Another plane took off and the air roared through its engines. It spewed white lines in the sky, and with Gabe's cheek on mine, we traced them along the glass.

Make my way back home when I learn to fly...

END



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Categories: Taboo
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2 years ago
excellent