People have gladdened me with their reaction to Foster. He’s the toughest hero I’ve ever written (in the sense that he’s closed and difficult), mostly because he feels he has nothing to live for. It’s not angst; it’s blackest despair. He was tough as hell to write, and I was over halfway through the book before his inner landscape lightened even a little bit. He will break your heart, and then kiss it better. We don’t call him BatPunisherMan for nothing.
This is a year after their first encounter in Vegas. Without further ado, one of my favorite scenes:
“Thanks for an…interesting evening.” Mia stood beside her car, poised to climb in and drive away. She badly needed a respite from him and his mixed messages. In the best of circumstances, she’d never been good at reading men, never been skilled at deciding when they were sincere and when they were just using her.
She already knew this man was a liar. Why was she still standing here?
They’d both parked in the side lot, so like a gentleman, he’d walked her to her car. Shadows pooled here, the streetlights lining the drive more than forty yards away. People could see them from inside the restaurant, but they would glimpse only dim figures. She took comfort in the fact that he could hardly toss her over his shoulder and carry her off.
Now she just needed to get through the farewells and get home to someone else’s cat. Mia found the prospect depressing.
“Does that mean it’s over?”
If only he didn’t have a face like a broken plaster saint, rough and chipped but full of heart-breaking beauty. She could imagine him standing watch over a chapel by nights, all icy marble and immovable lines. Only the fierce argent of his eyes gave lie to the indifference of his pose, propped against her car.
“Yes.” Though she tried to make her voice sound firm and certain, she noticed a little waver in the middle of the word.
Unfortunately, so did he. “I promised you a ride in my G37.”
“Technically, you didn’t. You teased me with the prospect of one, as I recall.”
He studied her with nerve-wracking intensity. “How ungallant of me. Surely you must let me make it up to you?”
She’d never excelled at mating games. They made her feel stupid, a rare sensation, to be sure. In her professional life, Mia preferred facts and figures. In her personal life, she took her romance in the form of tragic poetry, where she could let someone else’s pain wash over her without risking her own heart. One such disaster had been enough.
“What do you want?” she burst out, losing patience with him.
He stilled, a sleek silhouette in the moonlight that turned his eyes to quicksilver. Mia had the feeling he would slip as readily through her hands, should she try to hold him. “Do you really want me to answer that?”
She took a deep, steadying breath. “Yes.”
“I want to take you home and strip you naked,” he said deliberately. “I want to tie you down, so you can’t get away and then I want to—”
“Enough,” she whispered, sick. “If you’re just going to make fun of me, forget it.”
His brows arched. “You don’t believe me?”
“I’m not the sort of woman who inspires sexual obsession.”
“And I’m not the sort of man who develops them,” he murmured. “But you have me dreaming about the taste of your skin nonetheless.”
She managed a laugh. “God, you’re such a liar. Just stop already. Whatever you want, you’re not seducing it out of me.”
He stepped into her space then. His hands framed her hips, drawing her up against him in a movement more intimate than a kiss. At first she felt only the warmth of him, and then the world flickered. It was as if he skimmed her few romantic entanglements and plucked a thread at random. For a few seconds, he was Mark Rigby, her college sweetheart, and deliciously aroused, eager as he’d been only in the early days of their relationship.
But this was too bittersweet a fantasy to hold her—the reality of Mark’s abandonment was too indelible for her to dive into a dream where he stayed. Once, she’d thought they were meant for each other. She’d scrawled their names in endless loops, believing the alliteration a sign. But his words still echoed in her head: Mia, I’m sorry. You’re just… I don’t know. You think too much. You have no spontaneity. When I look at you, I see our future scheduled to the last second and it scares the shit out of me. I like you, but you take away the magic. I need someone who doesn’t need to be in control all the time.
Someone like Valerie.
It wasn’t Mark’s fault. The lack lay in her. He was happily married with three kids, and a mortgage. He could commit, perfectly capable of loving someone. Just not her.
The truth could never been changed, no matter what weird ability this man carried. Since she knew what to do now, Mia thought her way past the illusion. She broke it carefully into pieces and cast it away. Within a few heartbeats, she saw his real face again and felt his arousal. That much was true, at least.
She saw the instant he realized. Mia gazed squarely into his eyes, her gaze roving over his features. I see you. She didn’t say it aloud, but she might as well have. A shudder worked through him. He skimmed his hands up to the indent of her waist, where his fingers splayed wide. Mia let him tilt her body, pressing her back against the car door.
“When I touch you, I stop caring about anything else. There’s only you, looking up at me. Don’t dismiss that. Don’t take it from me because… it’s never happened before. It can go no further, or everything is lost, but just for this moment, let me pretend it can.”
“I never liked playing make-believe,” she said unsteadily, fighting the urge to rock against him. “It’s better to accept things as they are.”
Mia imagined the picture they presented to anyone glancing out the window: his body pinning her against the car, and hers, yielding. The idea of anyone witnessing this moment sent a rush of furtive desire cascading through her veins. Tiny pinpricks of heat gathered at the lee of her legs, urging her to move.
“Who did this to you?” he whispered tenderly. “What made you afraid of dreams?”
Life, she wanted to say, but the answer sounded too sad to speak aloud. It seemed too close to self-pity; she loathed how easily he found her vulnerabilities. She stared up at him, sad and shaken, more naked than if he had stripped her and tied her to his bed.
Somehow he read the truth in her face, and his mouth curved into a melancholy smile. “No wonder my curse cannot keep you. I should take you home with me, for who could match a man without a heart better than the woman who cannot dream?”
The gentle gibe ignited her. Instead of shrinking back, she pressed into him. Mia stretched on tiptoes, her mouth a whisper from his. “Do you ever do anything but talk?”