Mistakes. That was what most of Simon Jennings' life had been. Mistakes. One after another.
He looked at the list of them he had made and put Delaney's name at the top. Then he took a long drink of his Scotch, leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes.
Delaney McNeil waited in the foyer of Simon's small, rented house.
"What happens now?" she asked. Her pale blue eyes raced across his face.
Simon sucked in a long breath and let it out all at once. "Hard to tell. So far, nobody's talking. It could ruin my shot at tenure." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Then again, I may just get a warning."
"It isn't fair, Simon. You ought to be able to do what you want, it's your life. We aren't breaking any law."
"But we are breaking policy, Laney. I knew that going in. My mistake. I thought the policy was an artifact. I gambled nobody would really care, and I lost."
"And us?" Her voice had dropped to a whisper. "What happens to us?"
"Laney, I..." he began. What could he tell her?
She twisted a long strand of her black hair around her forefinger in a gesture he had seen countless times before. Then she looked down and her hair fell forward, covering her face.
"Laney, you have to understand. Even if I don't have to tender my resignation, things can't be the same for us. They'll be watching me all the time, breathing down my neck, hounding me. And if they even suspect that you and I are . . ." He set his lips in a tight line. "Do you know what they'd do to you? I couldn’t let that happen."
"It's my life, Si, and I'm willing to take the chance."
"Well, I'm not willing to let you."
"Then that's it? It's over?"
He moved his head slowly, confirming her fear, but he couldn't look at her, because each time he looked, he felt it all over again, a fever within him that burned in his veins, that threatened to eat him alive.
"It's the only way," he said finally. He tried to make his voice sound soothing and reasonable, but it cracked instead and ended in a choke.
Delaney's purse slipped from her fingers to the floor. Then she crossed the space separating them and put her arms around his waist.
He fought the temptation to gather her into his arms. She was tearing him up inside. She was just nineteen. And she was everything he wanted.
"You said you loved me, Si." Tears rimmed her eyes and threatened to spill onto her honey colored skin. Her lips were full and pouty, and blotches were starting on her cheeks, making her look even younger, even more vulnerable.
He closed his eyes and tried to close away her face as well. But Delaney was there with him and her eyes were wide and filled with sadness. He felt tight all over, tight and hot and he couldn't make the feeling pass. He wanted her, he had for weeks, for months.
She put her arms around his neck and drew her small, slim body along the long, lean length of his. He felt the press of her breasts against his chest, felt the fever inside him push his control to the edge. He knew he should stop, but she was there and he knew it would never be like this again.
"You can't know how you make me feel," he murmured against her thick, ebony waves.
He slipped his hand beneath her T-shirt and his fingers brushed skin like cream and silk. He wanted her, he wanted to lay her down on his bed and take her clothes slowly from her body. He wanted to watch her innocent blue eyes as his tongue flicked across each breast, bringing it to a hardened peak. He wanted to drive against her, to feel the pulsing deep within her. He wanted to know he had brought her that pleasure, that he had filled her.
The plane hit an air pocket and took a sudden, sickening plunge. Simon's eyes snapped open. His breathing was rapid and shallow; perspiration clung to his temples and upper lip. His body was on fire.
But Delaney was seven years gone.
He was alone.
Scotch had sloshed over his knuckles and onto the tray table. Before he could signal the flight attendant, she was by his side, dabbing at the mess with some towels.
"Just a little turbulence from Lake Ontario, Mr. Jennings. We're descending through some weather. Here," she said and held out her hand for the glass, "let me freshen that for you."
Simon glanced at his watch. In half an hour they would be at the airport and the minute they touched down nothing would be the same ever again. He reread his list. All mistakes he had made in his life. All serious. All irreparable. He vowed not to mess this up as well. This was too important.