Plausible Deniability

of idiots and surprises

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A horn sounds harshly in the distance, a yellow-dotted snake heading for its depot, and Aila shivers as she makes her way to the front door on quick feet. The string of lights along the ceiling illuminates the entry hall, casting his face into sharp relief. His eyes shine brightly in the dimness.

She shifts her weight between her feet, hands stuffed into her pockets, and shrugs. “Sorry. It isn’t much, but it’s home.”

“You think I lived in that house my entire life?” He snorts and twists the lock behind him. “I shared a room with my brother until he was twenty. But are we really going to talk about our living arrangements?”

“I really don’t want to.”

Aila grins as he advances, predatory and promising. Her arms come up to wrap around his shoulders, and his lips quirk before he kisses her. His hands make quick work of the buttons on her shirt; within seconds, he’s pushing it off her shoulders. Goosebumps race along her flesh, and she inhales sharply when his hands rest on her waist, when he tugs her in closer and his nails bite into her skin.

“Room?” he groans against her lips.

The trek to her bedroom takes eternities, made more difficult by the fact neither will release the other. The silence fills with ragged breathing and a clatter as the end-table topples over. Her small toe throbs from the impact, but his lips have her intoxicated. Enraptured. Addicted.

He pins her to the wall, lips dragging across her cheek and down her throat. A small part of her begs to take this slow—to relish what he’ll give her tonight—but the louder voice says to take it before he can change his mind. Heat spirals up her spine, bleeds through her veins, as they stumble through the doorway to her room.

“Fuck,” he hisses when he begins sliding her slacks down her legs. The grimace tells her it isn’t a good curse. He waves off her concern. “I’m okay.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. Just gotta be more careful than I wanna be.”

Aila takes pity on him: She shoves her slacks and underwear down until they pool at her feet then gets to work undoing his own shirt. The forming scar from the bullet catches her attention, and she sucks in a breath. She hadn’t forgotten. How could she? But she hadn’t imagined seeing the aftermath up close like this.

Swallowing thickly, she continues to undress him before staring at the body she’s exposed. Taut muscle, fine curls covering his chest, scars amongst tanned skin. He’s beautiful.

“Like what you see?” he asks, voice teasing and sharp, and her gaze darts to his face. One brow is raised, and his lips twitch with a hidden smile. “Go on, darling. You can touch.”

“Oh, I’m gonna do way more than touch,” she mutters, more to herself than him.

His laugh breaks the quiet, and Aila clutches tightly to the last of her confidence. He follows where she leads until he’s sprawled across her bed. She barely breathes as she examines his body, a pure work of art holding her captive. He reaches for her, and she goes willingly, straddling his hips.

“You’re beautiful, did you know that?”

Aila nods, smiles against his lips. “I did, actually.”

“Yeah?”

“Mmhmm.” She giggles when he pinches her side gently. “Thank you for saying so, though. I truly appreciate you stroking my ego.”

“No compliment for me?”

“I suppose I can spare a few.”

He rolls his eyes, chuckling, and wraps a hand around the back of her neck. “You’re going to be the death of me.”

The words are too soft, too intimate, to be spoken right now. Aila nearly begs him to take them back. Instead, she leans over until she can pull open the nightstand drawer. Thanking Paisley silently for having a much more active sex life, Aila pulls a condom from the box before sitting upright.

“How do you wanna do this?”

He frowns, running his hands up and down her sides. “I feel like this will work best. I don’t think my hip would enjoy moving repeatedly.”

“Well, then, I suppose we’ll do it this way.”

His chuckle gets lost on a quiet gasp, and Aila bites back a smile as she strokes him slowly. Teasingly. His head falls back against the pillow, fingers tighten around her ribs. Heat puddles in her belly as she watches his face, the jerky rise and fall of his chest, the way his lips form words without sound.

“Darling, you’re killing me," he moans, and she nips at his collarbone.

“Oh, but what a way to go, yeah?”

But Aila stops taunting him. She makes quick work of rolling the condom on and shifting into place. The burn, the stretch, reminds her of how long it’s been. Her breath comes out in a shuddering gust as she eases herself down with jerky motions.

“Are you okay?” he whispers and frowns when she nods quickly. “Aila—”

“I’m fine. Just... been a while, and I don’t think I was fully ready. Give me a moment.”

“Take all the time you need.” He cradles her cheek with a gentle hand. “Told ya I’d wait for you.”

Finally, just when she has started to accept that this won’t happen tonight, the discomfort fades. Aila blows out a breath and stares down at him. Niall’s thumb traces along her hip, his lips curved into a gentle smile. Her hand trembles as she reaches for his face, and she lets her fingers slide down his cheek. The stubble that tickles at her skin, the warmth beneath her fingertips.

“Is this okay?” she murmurs, as his eyes flutter closed.

He clings to her waist, pushing up into her. “It’s perfect.”

The tenderness of the movement, the careful movements, shouldn’t affect her like this. But as he meets her thrust for thrust, Aila can’t help wishing he could always be like this—gentle and sweet, open and inviting. It very nearly makes up for the way he’s treated her since they met.

Her nails leave half-moons in his shoulders, evidence of the way she somersaults in the dizzying waves. Niall cups her cheek and pulls her down for a kiss. Her heart races beneath her ribs, breathing unsteady as she lets the hope consume her. He groans against her lips as his hips snap up once, twice, and he fucks into her until the pulsing stops.

He tries to protest, but she ignores his words and continues cleaning him up. After she’s tossed the washcloth into the hamper, she curls up beside him with a hand on his belly.

“So… what does this mean?”

He huffs out a laugh but doesn’t speak for a moment. When he does, his voice has softened. Warmed. “It means that if you can forgive me, I... I want to be yours. I want you to be mine.”

Aila mulls over his words. Everything in her wants to agree readily, but she knows it will be a horrible decision. She’ll be left just as heartbroken after Colton. And this time, she’d have no one to blame but herself.

“If you go radio silent on me again, I won’t forgive you.”

“I understand.” He trails his fingers along her spine, and she cuddles closer. “I’ll at least give you warning when I can’t talk.”

“That’s all I ask.” And please don’t hurt me.

He kisses her forehead then the tip of her nose before pulling away. Aila sits up and watches him search through the pile of clothes on the floor, coming up with his phone. His lips tug downward when the screen lights up. Tossing the phone onto the bed, he dresses quickly.

“I’m sorry, darling. I have to go.”

“You’re such a busy man.”

“You’ve no idea.”

One chaste kiss, then he’s gone. She sits on her bed and stares at the doorway he disappeared through. The front door closes with a soft click that echoes through the house. She shivers in the chill left behind without his body.

“I’m an idiot,” she mutters as she stands to grab pyjamas.

Unfortunately, she forgets about her shirt left in the entryway. And the toppled end-table. Even more unfortunate is the fact her friends notice it before she can remember. Aila wakes to something soft hitting her face, and she bolts upright amid giggling. Paisley and Angel grin matching grins from where they sit on the bed opposite Aila’s.

“Someone left this in the hall by the door. It isn’t any of ours, so it’s gotta be yours.”

Aila frowns and scrubs sleep from her eyes. The black button-down stares accusingly at her. Sighing, she throws it toward the hamper. Angel moves to sit on Aila’s legs, still grinning.

“Someone get lucky last night?”

“No.”

“You’re a filthy liar, Aila Maleigh.”

“And you’re a nosey brat, Angel Joan.”

Angel shrugs without remorse. “What can I say, I’m invested in your relationship.”

“There is no relationship.”

“Just sex then?”

Aila shoves at Angel’s shoulder until the woman pushes to her feet. The other two trail after Aila, only stopping when she slams the bathroom door in their faces. It doesn’t end the onslaught of questions, even as she starts the water for a shower.

Cheyenne has more decorum. She only passes a plate of waffles to Aila with a soft smile. No questions. No judgement. Just breakfast. Aila slumps once she sits in the chair. She loves her friends. She really does. She hates the interrogation.

“Uh, why is Preston here?”

Aila exchanges a look with Cheyenne and bolts to the living room. True to Willow’s word, the landlord is leading a group of men toward the door. A quick game of ‘rock-paper-scissors’, then Cheyenne answers the quick knock.

Preston’s smile doesn’t reach his eyes. It’s quick, almost fearful, and he ignores them in favour of telling the men what to do. He stays out of the way, content to give orders. His hands remain stuffed in the pockets of his tattered jeans, and his skinny body shakes. The sour stench of body odour wafts through the air.

The women watch in stupefied silence as the old water heater is carried out and a new one settled in its place. Another man removes the outlets, fixes the wiring, and screws in new covers. A third man measures the floors and jots down numbers.

Aila stands back with her friends and wonders just what is going on. The puzzlement grows when the refrigerator disappears through the front door. When a shiny new refrigerator sits in the empty space. Soon enough, the troupe of men leave with a promise to be back tomorrow morning to replace the carpet.

“I know your lease says no changes to the walls, but, uh, you can paint them if you want. O-or I can hire someone to do it for you. Whatever you decide.”

Willow frowns from where she’s perched on the arm of the couch. “I guess we can talk about it and let you know.”

Preston nods, sallow face twisting into a grimace as his gaze darts to Aila’s face, then he’s gone. The front door bangs in its frame. Silence reigns in the living room for a long minute.

“Okay,” Cheyenne starts, drawing out the ‘a’ sound. “Which one of you has a sugar daddy?”

As one, Paisley and Angel turn to stare at Aila. She flushes and shakes her head. This isn’t on her. She certainly doesn’t have a— Niall. He must have done this. But how could he possibly have terrified Preston so badly? She waits until the others have wandered off before heading to her room.

From: Aila (13:21)
<
I appreciate what you’re doing. Seriously. But please no more grand gestures. We’re okay now.

From: Niall (13:22)
>
Paint your walls blue to remind you of me ;)

She snorts and drops her phone to the mattress. Of course he would be behind the surprise renovations. Aila wishes he wasn’t. Him spending his money on her is a discomforting thought. The most expensive thing Colton ever bought her was the engagement ring, and even that was barely over fifty dollars.

Niall proves himself to be a liar when Willow dances into the room an hour later with a vase in hand. Aila’s thoughts stutter to a halt as she takes in the bouquet of chocolate-covered fruit. She takes the vase from Willow, brows furrowing. The card attached only has an initial—N.

“Thought you said you didn’t have a sugar daddy?”

Aila shakes her head and sets the vase on the nightstand, reaching for a strawberry drizzled with white chocolate. “I don’t.”

“I don’t believe you. Wait, is it the guy you had sex with last night?”

“Give me my fruit, and get out.”

Aila’s cheeks burn at her friend’s disbelieving scoff. But Willow obeys, skipping from the room while shouting ‘Aila’s got a fuck-buddy sugar daddy!’ Her giggles ring through the hallway as Aila pointedly shuts the door. Snapping a quick photo, she attaches it to a text message.

From: Aila (14:43)
<
You said no more grand gestures.

From: Niall (14:43)
>
Last one , I promise

She can’t help but roll her eyes. She sticks the strawberry between her teeth and picks up the vase. The others crowd around her once she’s placed it in the centre of the dining table. Paisley rests her hand on Aila’s shoulder, dark eyes pleading and lower lip pushed out into a pout.

“Alright, losers. Dig in.”

“I call pineapple!” Angel shouts.