Julie turned around, and there he was, bare chest, bare feet, weary, bloodshot eyes, razor stubble all over that stubborn chin. His hair was all mussed, a towel knotted hastily around his waist that was likely the only thing he wore, regrets like none she'd ever seen stamped across his face.
Never in a million years would she have believed she'd end up in bed with Zach. She was sure he felt the same. He was the seemingly perfect older brother of her best friend from childhood, a boy who’d always seemed completely out of her reach.
He still was.
“I was... I'm going to go," she said. That was the answer. Go. Without another word. What was there to say anyway?
He nodded toward her skirt barely hanging over her hips, the bra barely covering her breasts, the ruined blouse in her hand. "Like that?"
"No" she admitted as he came closer.
Without another word, he went to her back and carefully, competently raised the zipper and slipped the little button at the top of her skirt through the buttonhole. She tried to stay perfectly still, to not so much as breathe at the slight touch of his fingers against her bare skin, to not feel anything. If only she could manage that.
The bra posed no challenge at all. It seemed he dressed women as easily as he undressed them.
He took the blouse from her trembling hand, frowning at the state it was in. Running a hand through his hair, he looked down at that spot on the floor where they'd started last night and said softly, gravely, "Did I hurt you?"
"No," she whispered.
He came to stand in front of her, took her chin in his hand, making her look at him. "Are you sure? Because I was rough with you. I know I was."
She held his gaze just long enough to say, "I'm sure. You didn't hurt me." Then she went back to staring at the same spot on the floor that seemed to fascinate him as well.
Her skin tingled in places she didn't care to admit. Her back, from being pinned hard beneath him on the carpet. The skin around her mouth, her nipples, even between her legs, abraded by the rough stubble on his face. She felt a slight soreness between her legs deep inside as well, and maybe in the muscles of her thighs. He'd held her, probably tightly enough in moments that she had a little bruise here and there, but it had been sheer desperation driving him, and she understood that. He'd done nothing that needed forgiveness.
He took the blouse from her hand and held it out for her. She slipped her arms through the sleeves, unable to keep from thinking how kind and considerate he was this morning, in contrast with the way he'd taken her last night. Not a typical night in the sack with Zach McRae. She'd have put money on that. He'd even shocked himself with what he'd done.
With the kind of dexterity she couldn't help but admire, he began buttoning the tiny buttons on her blouse, frowning as he got to the gaping hole in the middle where the buttons were gone and her lavender bra showed through.
"Not gonna do much good, is it?"
She clutched the ends together. "I'll be fine. I just have to get home."
"Not like that." He bent over and grabbed his own shirt, which was lying in a pool of stark white on the sofa. He held it out so she could slip her arms inside that, too. Then she quickly stepped back before he could go to work dressing her again.
It seemed he never stopped taking care of a woman. She hastily buttoned his shirt and rolled up the sleeves. She pushed a hand impatiently through her hair, trying to get it to not look so mussed. She stepped into her shoes. All the while he stood there staring at her.
"I don't know what to say," he began.
"Nothing." She gave him an out. "There's nothing to say."
"I'm sure there must be something. I just don't know what it is."
"Look, it was a bad night," she said as evenly as possible, trying to look very much like it was nothing to her, either. "You were upset. You needed to not be alone."
"And that's supposed to make it okay?"
"It's just one of those things, Zach. It happens."
"Not to me."
She stared at him, a thousand questions running through her mind. He'd never once been that lost? Never once reached for a woman just because she was there and he needed to lose himself in her? His life had never been this bad?
Well, hers certainly had.
"It's all right." Stupid, but no harm done, right?
He frowned at her. "That's it? I got drunk and poured out my troubles to you and then we ended up in bed, and all you say is that it's all right?"
“I’m saying I understand. It's awkward, and I'm sure we both regret it and find it a little embarrassing, but people have done worse things. We'll just put it behind us and go right on."
"Go right on?" he repeated.
"What else would we do? I know what it was. Two people helping each other make it through the night. That's it. Now it's morning, and the thing is, problems never look quite so bad in the morning. You go put your life back together, and I'll go do the same to mine." She finally found her other shoe, grabbed her purse and her keys. "I have to go."
He stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Julie, I'm sorry."
"I know,” she said, his touch bringing back a million little memories of the night before, memories she certainly didn't need or want.
Then, unable to help herself, she turned to face him. Which was a mistake. She needed to forget him and this sad, lost look on his face, too. And all that bare skin and him all rumpled and uncertain. She'd never seen Zach uncertain, and it made her want to try to take care of him some more. But look where that innocent little impulse had gotten them both.
She rose up on her tiptoes and gave him a quick, soft kiss on the cheek. "Take care of yourself, okay?"
He nodded bleakly.
"And go home." Jesus, he had people who loved him, people who would take care of him. He didn't have to live like this.
She was going to worry about him, even if he wasn't hers to worry about. He never would be. Just that little piece of him she'd had last night.