Lightning flickered, someplace far off, but not too far.
The flash of light, beautiful and mildly threatening, brought Carlos back to himself. These freak desert storms could be nothing, evaporating in a matter of minutes, even seconds. Or, just as quickly, they could do real damage, dumping enough water onto packed earth that didn’t stand a chance of soaking it in. Flash floods were common when there was enough rain to collect in dry channels and ditches to swell into a torrent.
His first thought was of Rosemary. She wasn’t on the porch, sheltered under the relative safety of the overhang. Was she actually out somewhere in this unexpected shower? Was she safe?
Of course his first thought was of her. He’d been so gone over her for years, she was always at the forefront of his mind. She was his first and last thought of the day, every day. And now she was apparently wandering in some flash rainstorm, which couldn’t be the safest course of action, especially when she was in some kind of turmoil.
He peered into the darkness, wondering which direction to set out in search of her, when he spotted her.
She wasn’t far away, only a handful of yards, really. He just hadn’t seen her at first because of the darkness, and because she was standing perfectly still in the midst of a small desert garden of tall grasses and low trees. If he hadn’t known better, he might have taken her for a statue.
Now that he could see her, he didn’t know how he’d missed her. She had to be soaked through, and cold, but she didn’t appear uncomfortable. She was standing with her shoulders thrown back, her face upturned to the rain and the night sky.
To Carlos, she looked like some kind of goddess. There was such power humming in the strong lines of her body, and such beauty. She looked as if, by staring fearlessly up into the storm, she was commanding the elements to her whim.
He went to her, put out a hand, touched her shoulder.
She turned with a little gasp.
Her face was wet. He could see her features better now that she’d turned toward the house; light from inside filtered out and fell on the planes of her cheeks, on her eyelids. He could see her lashes were clumped together with rain.
He felt the strongest urge to brush his thumbs over her lashes, her cheeks, to smooth away the moisture. But he resisted. It wouldn’t work, anyway. The rain was pattering down harder by the moment.
“Carlos,” Rosemary said again, this time with some kind of urgency.
Before he realized what was happening, she stepped forward, against him. He felt her hands press against his chest. Instinctively, he put his arms around her. He’d never held her close before, not like this—face to face, intimate—but doing so now was natural. She’d pressed her body to his. What else was he supposed to do but pull her close?
She was staring up into his face, his eyes, her expression unreadable, and not just from the darkness. He realized her body was trembling in his arms. She must be freezing. He pulled her closer.
Her arms snaked up around his neck, taking him by surprise.
And then, with a small moan that sounded like surrender, she pressed her mouth to his.
* * *
For an instant, Rosemary could feel Carlos freeze, his whole body still, his mouth unmoving against hers. And for the span of that brief instant, she died inside.
What had she been thinking, going in for a kiss? Of course he was shocked. Of course he wasn’t kissing her back. This was Carlos, her coworker, her friend, not her man—
A split-second later, he was kissing her back with a hunger that felt even greater than her own. His arms banded around her, his mouth devoured hers greedily, and she found herself dying inside in a different way—the kind of dying that was like a sudden, ecstatic orgasm of the soul.
She was kissing Carlos Rubio.
The delicious shock of it, the years-overdue release of finally expressing, bodily, what she’d always taken such great care to hold back, nearly undid her. The French phrase la petite mort flashed to mind. Somewhere along the way, she’d picked up that random factoid: The French referred to an orgasm as la petite mort, which translated to the little death.
Now she knew why. Kissing Carlos—it was everything. If she died right now, this instant, she would die fulfilled.
Heedless of the rain, the cold, of propriety itself, she held on to him as tightly as she could and took everything she had ever wanted from this one kiss, because somewhere, in the depths of her consciousness, she knew this was it: This one kiss. It would be the only one. It had to be, if for no other reason than because she was leaving, and Carlos wasn’t coming, couldn’t come, with her.