“You know, I’ve noticed something about your flat,” Connor says as I put the kettle on for tea.
“What’s that?” I call from the kitchen, rooting around for a packet of biscuits we can share with the tea.
Connor comes to the kitchen door, leaning again the doorframe casually as he watches me get a tea tray ready. “You don’t have any pictures in your flat.”
I wrinkle my nose in denial. “That’s not true. I have a picture of the Downs, and a portrait of Queen Elizabeth the first, and a painting of a sunset that I thought was pretty. I’m just not much of a ‘decorator’,” I say, making air quotes.
He shakes his head. “That’s not what I meant. I mean, you don’t have any people pictures – no pictures of friends or family. Nothing. Why is that?”
I pick up the tray and walk to the family room, buying myself some time to formulate an answer.
“I don’t have a family,” I say, sitting down and pouring him a cup of tea.
“No one?” He asks softly, and I shake my head.
“My parents died when I was seventeen in a car crash. No brothers or sisters, no extended family – both my parents were only children. I became a ward of the state, and then when I turned eighteen, I got a scholarship to go to school in Paris. I don’t have pictures up of my parents because sometimes it still hurts to see their faces, and know I’ll never see them again, or get to talk to them.”
Connor absorbs this, and says nothing, so I continue.
“And I don’t have a wide circle of friends. I mean, I enjoy the people I work with, but I have a hard time letting people in… trusting people.”
“You trust me,” Connor says quietly, not as a question, but as a statement, and I nod.
“I know,” I say with a small smile. “You’re rather a conundrum for me.”
“I’m glad to be a conundrum, then, because it sounds like you could use a few people in your corner. You’re an amazing person, Emme. Let other people in, and they’ll see it too.”
I sigh and take a sip of tea.
Over the last few years, I’ve decided that it’s too hard to let people in – it’s hard to be yourself when your life in a lie. I have to lie about my job, my travel, my beliefs, everything. And while you can form empty shells of friendships that way, they don’t last. I’ve tried and tried to just be “normal”, but when you have to spend every second of every day covering up who you are and what you do, it becomes exhausting, and isn’t worth the hassle.
Which is why I don’t understand how I keep letting Connor get close to me. He’s the first person in a long time I’ve let in, and it’s scarier than I like to admit.
I’m still hiding who I am, but he’s gotten closer to knowing the real Emme than anyone in quite some time.
And I know I’m playing with fire, because I know…
I know it’s going to have to end.
I’m going to have to let him go, to protect him from my world, and because I have an obligation to the greater good.
The greater good.
I have to remind myself of that.
“I know you’re right, but old habits are hard to break,” I say, shrugging it off. “Can we talk about something else?” I ask in a small voice, and Connor leans back on my sofa, his eyes searching mine.
He knows he’s gotten too close to something, he just doesn’t know what.
“Sure,” he says easily. “What do you want to talk about?”
I laugh. “Anything. The political situation in Tibet or who portrays James Bond the best. Whatever.”
He waits a long moment, his eyes still seeking mine, before he sighs slightly. “Well, I’ve always thought Connery was the coolest…”
Two hours later, the tea in the pot is cold and we’re debating what to do for dinner. After spirited debate, we decide that eating in is better than going out, as a steady drizzle has started to fall outside. Connor has valiantly volunteered to go and get fish and chips, as well as run by his flat for a quick shower and a change of clothes. He promises to be back in less than an hour, and kisses my cheek quickly as he darts out the front door.
I slowly tidy up the tea tray, and halfheartedly pick up a few things around the flat, trying to make it a bit more presentable, even though I don’t really mind Connor seeing the clutter or the piles of mail by the front door.
Somehow, I don’t mind him being in my space at all, which isn’t like me.
I like it.
I like the feeling of him being in the flat, and being so comfortable in my space, and I so comfortable in his orbit, though we’ve only known each other for a few days, it feels like a few weeks, or months.
Without any conscious thought, I seem to have fallen for him.
Which could be dangerous for both of us.
And yet, I’m powerless to stop seeing him.
I want him in my orbit – now I just have to find a way to balance the real Emme with secret agent Emme, and all the strings that go with that shadowy life.
I always did love a challenge.
I’m snuggled in Connor’s arms on the sofa, nearly mirroring the way we woke up only a few mornings before, my head pillowed on his chest, and his arms wrapped protectively around me.
It took all my courage just to get this far, and our lips, or anything else, haven’t even met yet.
It’s different when you have to seduce a man for your job – it’s an emotionless task, just a part to play, and was something that never really bothered me.
But when real emotions are involved, it’s a different kettle of fish…
“You’re awfully introspective tonight, little one,” Connor murmurs in my ear, and I smile at the nickname.
“Just enjoying the quiet,” I reply quietly, and then add, teasingly, “old man.”
His chuckle reverberates in his chest, making me smile wider. “You all right?”
I nod. “Yeah. For the first time in a long time, I’m all right.” I glance at the clock and realize it’s nearly midnight as a yawn threatens to burst forth. “Tired.”
“You’ve had a long few days,” Connor says, and I stiffen automatically, thinking that somehow, some way, he’s found out about my ‘extra curricular activities’ from the last few days. “Injuries always take a toll on the body.”
I relax slightly in his arms, relieved, and trying to buck up the courage for my next comment. I take a deep breath, and then burst out: “I don’t think we should have sex tonight.”
I feel Connor’s muscles tense beneath me, and I squeeze my eyes shut, mortified.
“That came out abruptly. Let me try again. I like you, but I’m not…”
“Em…” Connor says soothingly. “The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.”
In response, I merely lift my head and look at him, one eyebrow raised, and he flushes red immediately. “Oh really? Didn’t cross your mind?”
“Absolutely not,” he replies with an embarrassed smile. “I never think about sex with an attractive girl while she’s lying on top of me.”
“You are quite the paragon of virtue,” I reply, tucking my head against his chest again.
“I’m a saint.”
Both our tones have taken on a teasing edge, and I relax, realizing that Connor knows what I’m saying.
I really do like him, I’m just not… emotionally ready to give myself to him. Not yet.
Not while I still have so many other ties to worlds he doesn’t know about.
And yet, I don’t want him to go…
“You want me to go?” Connor asks quietly.
I shake my head. “No. I want you to stay. I really do. I just…” I trail off, not sure what to say next.
“Well, then,” he says, shifting into a sitting position and taking me with him. “Let’s get ready for bed.”
“You’re sure?” I ask dubiously.
“That I’ll be able to resist you if we share a bed?” Connor jokes, and I blush. “I’ll do my very best, no matter if it kills me.”
“I don’t want to kill you.”
“You kill me every time you look at me with that cat eyes, as though you’re trying to figure out if I’m for real. I’m real, Emme. And I’m willing to wait until that doubt is gone. So… let’s go to bed.”
And as thought flees from my brain, I lean forward and press my lips to his, feeling the electric shock of our touch zinging through my entire body. He answers the kiss, at first tentatively, and then more ardently, his tongue exploring my mouth, my lips nipping at his. Minutes pass, the clock still chimes, and still we sit, mouths pressed together as though we were teenagers in the backseat of a car after a school dance.
Maybe it won’t be so long before I give him my all of my emotions after all.
“Let’s go to bed, little one,” he whispers against my lips. “Before you kill me.”
I pull back and smile, and then stand, tugging him into a standing position, holding his hand. And without another word, we fall into bed to sleep.