Extreme Close Up Chapter 31

“Oh, God, Ally.” Jack wrapped his arms around her, pulled her down onto his lap, buried his face against her breast. “Yes. You are. I love you so much.”
Time slowed while they sat like that, their hearts beating together in a hard, steady rhythm. Finally Ally took a big breath and drew back. He smoothed a strand of hair off her face, touched her cheek.
“I can’t leave you,” he said, now sure of that. He’d been struggling with the whole idea of leaving, pulled between his job and his love for his career, and his love for Ally. “I can’t be without you again. I was kidding myself that I could do it. I know that now.”
Her eyes widened more, her mouth open. She blinked, smiled tremulously. “You’re going to give up your job? Stay here?”
“If I have to do that, I will. I have to be with you.”
He met her gaze steadily.
“But you...you can’t do that,” she whispered. “I know you love your job, Jack. And you’re so talented...you’ve won awards. What you’re doing is important. I can’t ask you to give that up.”
“You’re not asking me, I’m offering.” He frowned. “It is important to me, but I’ve come to see there are stories to tell here, too. I can stay here.”
She just gazed at him. Then she shook her head. “No. You can’t.”
He frowned. “Ally...”
“I’d already decided. I’m coming with you,” she said determinedly. “I can do my work anywhere. I can write anywhere. And you know what?” She grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “I’ve realized from hearing you talk that I want to tell those stories too. I want to see the world, not just the nice beautiful places. Although I do want to see those too...maybe sometime we could go to Paris?”
He smiled.
“I’ve never been outside the States, other than a couple of trips to Mazatlan and Cancun. And that doesn’t even count. I want to see more...I need to see more. We can do it together.”
“Ally...” he shook his head. “I don’t know if you realize what you’d be getting into. Sometimes I’m sleeping in tents on the ground, in fleabag hotels. It’s not pretty.”
She nodded. “I know. I’ve seen your pictures, read your stuff. I know what I’m getting into. The thing is...” She looked down briefly, then back up. “I can’t be without you either.”
They sat there, staring into each others eyes. “There’s danger, too,” he muttered. “I don’t want to put you in danger Ally. I can’t do that.”
“You’ve put yourself in that danger all these years,” she said. “How do you think I felt?”
“It’s not the same.”
“It is the same. I may not have realized I was in love with you, but I was, and sometimes I was sick with worry.”
“Then you know how I’d feel with you in that kind of situation.”
“But we’d be together,” she insisted. Her fingers tightened on his.
“How about a compromise?” He looked down at their joined hands. “How about we have a home here in LA and we travel...a little, a lot, whatever we want...wherever we want to go. Paris, the Middle East, wherever the stories take us.”
He looked back up at her. She gave him a luminous smile, her eyes shiny.
“Yes,” she said. “That sounds like a good compromise. As long as we’re together.”
“There’s just one other problem,” Jack said slowly. “What is it?”
“Sarah.” Jack rubbed his forehead. “I thought if Carter and I stayed friends, I’d have a hope of convincing him to donate. Or at least get tested. But I kind of blew that.” He told her about his visit to Carter’s office.
She covered her mouth with her fingers, hiding the smile that tried to break through. It wasn’t funny. Really.
“So...we’ll figure out another way,” she promised him. “Let’s go upstairs.”
Their eyes met and held, the air around them charged with electricity. He nodded. And without another word, he pulled Ally up off the couch and led the way to her bedroom.
In the hall at the top of the stairs he turned, scooped her up into his arms and carried her into the room, then set her down gently on the rug, reached for the lamp beside the bed and flicked it on. Watching her intently, he reached behind his head and pulled off his t-shirt.

* * *

Ally’s mouth grew dry at the sight of his bare chest and she drew the straps of the slip dress she wore down her arms until the bodice fell to her waist. Then she pushed the dress over her hips and off. Slowly, her eyes held captive by his, she unfastened her bra and dropped it onto the nearby chair. At the same time, he stepped out of his jeans. Jack’s underwear went with his jeans, but Ally kept hers on until Jack gestured to them, his eyes warm and admiring, and she shimmied out of the little thong panties.
Then he opened his arms and she was in them, her body crushed to the length of his, skin to s kin, and his mouth covering hers. She wound her arms around his neck and pressed into him. His erection hot and hard between them, his mouth possessed hers, demanding everything. His hands slid down her back and held her hips.
“This feels like the first time we’ve done this,” he whispered against her cheek, nudging her hair aside.
“I know.” She tipped her head to give him access, delicious chills running over her at his touch, his words. “It feels right. Easy.”
They kissed again, then moved together to the bed.
Jack’s hands moved over her everywhere, gentle but hard, his touch thrilling her, making her wet, making her ache for him, and she sought his mouth over and over again, kissing him deeply as if trying to draw his soul from his body and meld it with hers.
Emotion rose in her, almost choking her, and she buried her face in Jack’s neck for a moment.
“Ally,” he murmured. “Ally, look at me.”
He gave her hair a little tug and she lifted her head to meet his eyes in the glow of the lamp. “It’s too much,” she cried softly. “I can’t bear it.”
“Yes, you can. You can. I know, I feel it too. We’re together. It’ll be okay.” He kissed her again, and her tears wet their mouths.
“I love you, Jack.”
“I love you, too, Ally,” he whispered. His thumbs stroked over her bottom lip. “I’ve always loved you.”
Something expanded in her chest, made it difficult to breathe.

He touched a finger to a tear in the corner of her eye then laid his mouth gently to hers. “It’s the truth. I love you. I loved you five years ago when I left. I would have fought for you, but Carter was my best friend. My second best friend,” he amended with a small smile. “He was the one guy I would never fight with over a woman. Even you.” His smile was pained. “I thought if you wanted him, if that’s what would make both of you happy, then I could never stand in your way. So I got the hell out of the way. But, I told you before, there was no fucking way I could stay around and watch you two together.”
“I’m sorry, Jack,” she whispered, another tear escaping her eye. “I never wanted to hurt you.”
“I know.” He wiped the tear away. “I know, Ally.”
“I want to tell you about what happened with Carter and me.”
His brows lowered. “I don’t know...”
“It’s okay,” she said softly. “The day you were taking my grad pictures I felt really strange. Like I was missing something, wanted something really bad, but I didn’t know what. I knew I was feeling anxious about you and your new job because you’d be traveling so much. Then you were acting funny, too. I didn’t know what it meant.” She paused and he nodded encouragingly. “So Carter took me out for pizza and we went back to my room. We were talking about stuff and he kissed me.”

Jack’s eyes closed briefly.
“It was nice. I felt weird and it was comforting. Then you came and saw us. I felt bad because I didn’t know what you’d think. Carter said we’d explain later. But I never saw you again. You left the next day.”
He nodded.
Ally’s eyes were wet. “After that, I guess I turned to Carter because you weren’t there. Carter was telling me he cared about me, and without you around, I just went along with it. I cared about Carter, and I suppose it did grow into something more. But then, like I told you, he started changing.”
“Or maybe you were just seeing the real him,” Jack said with an edge of bitterness.
“Maybe.” She touched his face. “But I have to think he did have some good qualities, or else we never would have become such good friends with him. Both of us couldn’t have been that stupid.”
His lips quirked. “Yeah. You’re right.”
“Anyway, he started changing, or I started seeing the real him, and I didn’t really like a lot of what I saw. That didn’t happen overnight, it took a long time. By the time he cheated on me for the second time, I’d had enough.”
She met his eyes. “I think I’ve always loved you too,” she whispered. “I just never knew it. I was stupid.”
“We were young.” He cupped her jaw and kissed her gently, his mouth warm and firm on hers. She kissed him back, wanting to absorb all the hurt she’d caused him, and all the crap he’d just been through.
“Oh, Jack,” she whispered against his lips, suddenly so overcome with longing her eyes filled with tears. Her emotions were close to the surface and raw after everything that had happened. It was all too much.
“It’s okay, Ally.” He dropped soft kisses all over her face, her eyelids, her nose, her forehead. He kissed away a tear that dropped from her lashes. “It’s all okay. I love you.”
He was so beautiful. She touched his face, brushed his mouth with her fingertips, traced a thick, dark gold eyebrow. “I love you, too, Jack.”
She knew now what it meant to be soul mates. When somebody you loved, loved you with the same level of intensity, when the connection between you went deep and far, when somebody knew how you felt and what you thought without words...that was a soul mate.
“I have an idea. Tomorrow we’re going to see Carter.”