Layla wakes up to the sound of shouting downstairs.
That’s the thing about safehouses: you can’t exactly be picky about the neighbors. Through the floorboards, she hears the muffled sound of a raised voice, and then another, different voice rising to meet it. She stifles a groan. After escaping a horde of Ammit’s lackeys, you would think a girl deserves at least a good night’s sleep.
The noise is the first thing she becomes aware of when she wakes up. The second is the light filtering into the room through the gauzy curtains, courtesy of Cairo’s thriving nightlife. The third is the warmth of a broad, solid body pressed right up against her back.
A warm, solid body that was definitely not there when she went to bed.
When Steven had realized that Marc’s erstwhile safehouse only has one bed, he had gone so pale Layla briefly worried he might vomit. He had offered to sleep on the floor, and only when Layla pointed out that the floorboards are unfinished and liable to give him splinters had he—reluctantly—agreed to share the bed.
There’s nothing reluctant about the way he’s draped himself across her now.
His nose is pressed into the cloud of her curly hair and his hand is resting on her hip. Only the hand on her hip feels hesitant, like he’s not sure even in sleep if he is allowed to touch her. It’s funny, how different this is than when he crawled into bed and laid as far away from her as possible just a few hours ago. He had curled onto his side with his back to her, and she had almost laughed at the firm boundary he set with his body language. All they needed was a pillow wall between them, except Marc doesn’t believe in comfort and doesn’t have pillows to spare in the entire flat.
She wonders when Steven turned over in the night and sought her out. Did he get cold? No, it’s Cairo, after all—it’s warm even at night. Maybe he needed her for something else. Maybe he needed comfort after their terrifying day. The idea of Steven turning to her for comfort after a long day makes her skin tingle.
Is it weird to think that she’s proud of him, this man she doesn’t know who shares her husband’s body? Yet she had been proud of him, when he climbed that scaffold and thought fast enough to save them from the undead sorcerer on their heels. Maybe comfort really is all he needs—just someone to be there, a warm body to wrap his strong arms around, a soft voice to reassure him that he’s safe.
Marc Spector might have contacts around the globe, but Steven Grant has no one. Layla feels all of that loneliness in the way he clings to her in sleep.
Then he shifts behind her, and Layla becomes aware of a fourth thing: something stiff and hard pressed right against her backside.
Suddenly, all those warm feelings towards sweet, lonely Steven disappear in a puff of hot air. She knows this feeling, and it’s not Steven—grinding himself against her ass while he’s asleep has Marc written all over it. Didn’t Steven warn her about this? As he clambered onto his side of the bed, he had apologized for what he might do.
I never know who I’ll be when I wake up, he had said.
So it’s Marc sharing her bed. The realization makes everything feel less shiny and new and far more familiar. There have been so many nights like this when they were on the run, their blood always running hot, when Marc would fall asleep and wake up wanting her. She had liked it, then. It had made her feel wanted. Desired. Now, after the revelation in the tomb, courtesy of Harrow…
Marc is lucky that she thinks of Steven’s pain and holds back from stabbing the hand resting on her hip.
Marc shifts behind her, and the slow grind of his erection against her backside is too much to bear. Layla shoves an elbow back, softening the blow only in the off chance that it’s not Marc she’s elbowing.
“Marc,” she hisses. He doesn’t budge, so she digs the point of her elbow in a little more. “Marc.”
The man behind her stirs. He makes a sleep-thick, confused noise, like he doesn’t know where he is or that he’s hard and rubbing himself against her ass.
“Marc?” she asks.
“What?” A thickly accented voice comes from behind her, sounding like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. “No, sorry. Steven.”
All that irritation melts away, and that little flicker of warmth returns.
“Whaswrong?” he slurs. Then, as if noticing the position and condition of their bodies for the first time, he panics. “Oh, God, so sorry. I don’t— I didn’t— oh, God. I’m so sorry.”
Turning over, Layla is greeted by the stricken face of Steven Grant, a funhouse mirror of her husband who never apologizes for anything. “It’s okay, Steven.”
Relief crosses his face. He nods jerkily and starts to scoot away from her, like “It’s okay” means “I’ll ignore it for now.” His desperate retreat out of her personal space only stops when she lays a hand on his chest and lets her gaze flicker downward. The front of his sweatpants are tented and there’s a wet patch on the fabric. She wonders how long he was like this before she woke up.
He’s still rambling. “Sorry, I don’t— I mean, I haven’t— It’s just bodies, innit? ‘s been a while for me, so, um, yeah. I mean, a while is, y’know…”
“Steven. It’s fine,” she repeats. His dark eyes snap up to hers and she smiles mischievously. “Looks like you were having a good dream.”
He frowns, and for a moment he looks like Marc. “I mean, er, yeah,” he says, and sounds nothing like Marc at all.
His heartbeat pounds under the palm she splays across his sternum. “Wanna tell me what it was about?”
Steven swallows hard. She admires the way his throat works with the motion of it. She finds herself imagining what he would do if she kissed him there.
“You,” he rasps. “I was dreaming about you.”
A grin creeps across her face, cat-like and delighted. She scoots a little closer to him, closing the gap he put between them as he skittered away just moments ago. Her hand slides lower down his chest to his stomach. His gaze follows the movement, hawk-like in its intensity.
“Has anyone ever touched you like this?” she asks.
If it’s even possible, Steven’s eyes go even wider. He shakes his head and his dark curls bounce across his forehead. “No. N-never.”
Layla meets his eyes. There’s nervousness there, but she thinks she sees a flicker of desire matching the fire burning in the pit of her stomach. She flattens her palm over the hard plane of his lower belly, where she knows there’s a trail of hair under his shirt leading into his pants. “Do you want me to?” she asks.
Steven’s eyes flutter shut. He wets his lips. “Oh, God, yes. Bloody hell, yes.”
Layla smiles. “See? It’s easy when you ask for it.”
Steven’s stomach clenches as she hooks her fingers under the waistband of his sweatpants. Ducking her head, she licks her palm, and Steven thinks his heart might give out right here and now. He made it out of a lost pharaoh’s tomb today while being hunted by undead wizards and religious fanatics, but he’s going to meet his death watching Layla lick her hand in preparation for sticking it down his pants.
He seizes on the small details to ground himself. She’s still wearing her rings, the shiny ones on her fore and middle fingers. Her nails are unpainted and filed short, which he finds that he likes. It’s very practical. Layla bites her lip as she slips her hand into his pants, and the entire world narrows to a pinpoint of sensation, right where her palm presses against his aching length.
She looks up at him and quirks one of those thick eyebrows. “No underwear?”
His tongue is too thick in his mouth to respond. He nods dumbly.
She bites the inside of her cheek and shrugs. “Easier for me,” she says.
He’s going to die. He is literally going to die.
When she wraps her soft hand around his length, the latent guilt in Steven’s gut flares up with unbearable heat. His hand flies out and holds hers still. Layla jerks her head back and searches his face for discomfort. She tries to ease her hand out of his pants, but his grip is too strong.
“Steven? We can stop. Are you uncomfortable?”
He shakes his head. The words are all jumbled in his brain, like when he wakes up from days outside of his body and has to remember how to control his limbs. “Marc,” he rasps. “We shouldn’t.”
To his surprise, Layla laughs. Her breath puffs warm and sweet across his neck. “That’s what you’re worried about? Marc?”
He nods, his brow furrowed with confusion. “I mean, yeah. Why shouldn’t I be worried about Marc? He’s— he’s your husband,” he protests.
“My estranged husband, who killed my father and tried to divorce me.”
Well, when you put it that way, Steven thinks.
Layla scoots closer. He eases his grip on her wrist and immediately regrets it, because it lets her slide her warm, soft thumb up the sensitive underside of his length, which shatters his focus into a thousand tiny shards of glass.
“Is he here?” Layla asks. “Marc. Is he here?”
Steven blinks. His eyes rove around the room wildly, searching for anything reflective. There’s nothing. Probably on purpose, he thinks. “N-no.”
“Then it’s okay. Stay with me, Steven. Just enjoy it.”
Her voice sinks to a whisper that floats over Steven’s skin like sand caught in a desert breeze. She pushes the waistband of his pants down to free his cock and he fights the instinct to jerk his hand into her grip. If this were his own hand, he would fuck it fast and hard, wringing an orgasm from himself like a punishment. That’s how he feels about it, anyway. Weird, fucked-up Steven, jerking himself off in his attic because he can’t even make it to a second date. That’s how he’s always treated himself.
Except that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that the bravest, most beautiful woman Steven has ever laid eyes on has a soft hand wrapped around his erection, stroking it gently and firmly like she knows exactly what he needs.
She probably does, after all. How many times has she done that with this body? Jealousy burns in Steven’s gut as he imagines all the times Marc got to feel this. Bloody ungrateful wanker—
“Steven,” Layla says, cutting through his silent rant. “You’re wandering again. Stay with me.”
How easy it is to obey that voice. Steven nods and studies her face, those beautiful dark eyes, her full lips and fuller eyebrows. Then she twists her grip and the vision disappears, because he can’t keep his eyes open when she’s doing that. A deep groan tears out of his chest and his abs tighten. His hips jerk forward and there’s an apology on his lips but Layla doesn’t miss a beat.
“Just like that, habibi. Go ahead,” she urges.
Steven lets out a pent-up breath and rolls his hips into Layla’s hand. It’s as instinctual as breathing, even though he’s never done this with anyone else before. She moves with his rhythm, keeping her grip firm but gentle as he ruts into her hand. If this were daytime, perhaps he would have the dignity to be embarrassed by his actions. But it’s not, and he dreamed of her all night, of her sweet smell and the beautiful curls of her hair, and all he can focus on is chasing the high that thrums in his blood.
He can’t last. He can feel it, that telltale need in his veins, the desperate want burning between his hips. Layla must be able to feel it; she can feel his cock throbbing in her grip. Sweetly, like she doesn’t literally have his dick in her hand, she leans in and presses a kiss to his neck right over his pulse.
Steven hears someone whine and realizes it’s him. Layla’s lips dance down his neck, pressing kisses to the thick column of it. Her long eyelashes flutter against his skin.
Oh, he’s fucked.
“Layla,” he gasps. “I— ngh…fuck…Laylaaa—ah, I’m gon’... gonna c-come if you keep doing that…fuckfuckfuck.”
She doesn’t heed his warning. She just hitches her thigh over his hip and pulls him closer. He can feel the heat between her legs pressing against his thigh and her grip tightens and she rubs her thumb under the head of his cock, right where he likes it, and it’s all over.
He comes with a choked cry of her name and sobs out his orgasm into the crook of her neck. He feels his spend splatter over her fist and the filthiness of that realization just drags out his climax, pulling him to the edge and dangling him there as he spurts in pulses over her fingers.
When he cracks his eyes open, he sees some of it on her toned, tanned stomach where her shirt has ridden up. The groan that tears out of his chest is inhuman.
“Sorry,” he slurs into her hair. “Made a mess…’m sorry.”
“Shh.” She shushes him with her free hand wrapped around the back of his neck. Her clever fingers weave through the thick curls there. “It’s okay, Steven. I’ve got you.”
They stay like that for several heartbeats, and it stretches into a long moment of silence as both of them realize they don’t want to move. Steven’s breath is harsh and fast, like he’s sprinted a mile. He isn’t used to this—the after. He always imagined he would be a pity fuck, if anything, that the kind of woman who would sleep with him would leave and not spend the night after getting what they needed from him. But Layla is here, murmuring soothing nonsense against his ear, running her fingers through his hair.
She told him to stay with her, and she’s staying with him, too.
Slowly, he pulls his face out of the crook of her neck. For the first time, he registers the flush on her cheeks and the brightness of her eyes. He recognizes that look, because he’s seen it in himself. She took care of him, and he wants to take care of her.
“What about you?” he asks. “D’you…want…”
That eyebrow again, arching up to her curly bangs. “Are you offering?”
Steven nods vigorously, so hard his own curls bounce against his forehead. “Please. Er, you might have to show me what to do, but…”
Layla returns his nervousness with an easy grin. She wipes her hand on the sheets and takes his hand in hers, slowly removing it from her hip. Steven watches her, a little awed and a little terrified, as she guides his hand to the waistband of her sleep shorts. They’re loose and worn-soft and Steven’s stomach flips as she eases his fingertips underneath the elastic.
“Just like this,” she whispers. Her hips buck forward and Steven’s fingers slip between her legs, and—
His jaw drops. He stares at her. “You’re wet,” he says, like it’s a revelation.
“Well, yes,” she says, stifling a laugh. Her cheeks flush a pretty, deep pink. “I, um, I liked that. Seeing you like that.”
Again, words feel very far away. All Steven can focus on is the hot blush on her cheeks and the slick wetness between her thighs. It coats his fingertips as he presses against her. She’s so soft and so warm there. His fingers feel too thick and clumsy to touch this sensitive part of her, but she seems to like it. Layla’s hand curls around his wrist and Steven registers how much smaller her hands are than his as she guides his fingers to where she needs them.
“Just— just stay like that, okay?” she instructs. She’s starting to sound a little breathless. “Just stay like that…oh…”
Her eyes flutter shut. Her body moves in one sinuous roll, pressing her sex down on Steven’s hand. Grinding on it, he realizes. Steven watches in something like awe as Layla rocks her hips into his hand, coating it with her wetness, squeezing her thighs around his palm with surprising strength.
He thought the Great Pyramid of Giza would be the most beautiful thing he would see in his time in Egypt, but he was wrong. It’s this: Layla, with her pretty eyes drifting shut as she pushes her hips in needy circles against his hand. He follows her instructions to the letter, keeping his hand right where she asked him to, until his eyes fall from her face to her chest.
With the way their bodies are positioned, his face is at eye-level with it. Her sleep shirt is low-cut and her chest flutters up and down rapidly as her breaths get shorter and shorter. He can’t help himself, not now. Leaning in, he presses his face against her chest and skates his lips across her collarbone. He tries to imitate the soft kisses she placed along his neck earlier, but he’s too clumsy and desperate for much grace.
His sloppy kisses are met with a high-pitched gasp from above his head and a fresh rush of wetness over the tips of his fingers.
“Go ahead,” she urges. She tucks her chin to look down. “You can touch.”
Steven groans from the pit of his stomach. He turns his attention lower, moving his mouth from the hard ridges of her collarbone to the soft swell of her breasts under the curved collar of her shirt. Her skin is warm and soft under his lips and he can’t get enough.
The heat of Steven’s mouth thrums through Layla like an endless drumbeat. His touch is so different from Marc’s; she can’t help but make the comparison, what with the same body and all. Where Marc grabs and takes, Steven hesitates and fumbles. Marc likes to bite; Steven likes to kiss. Soon, his attempts at kissing her chest turn into licking, and she finds herself arching her back and pressing her chest against him for more. His mouth is hot and warm on her skin and he opens his mouth wide, laving his tongue over as much of her as he can reach, like he’s thirsty for the sweat of her skin. It’s intoxicating. Still, he doesn’t paw at her shirt or grab at her tits, not like other men would. Steven’s touch is eager but worshipful. It’s a combination she’s never experienced before and she feels drunk on it.
And fuck, she would do anything to feel his fingers inside her. They’re so fucking thick, she knows that from Marc, she knows how full they can make her feel. But it’s too much for Steven’s first time—too much for anyone’s first time—so she settles for rubbing herself shamelessly against Steven’s palm. She could choose to be embarrassed by the neediness of it, except she can still feel Steven’s come cooling on her stomach from a three-minute handjob, so she figures they’re on a level playing field.
Steven’s head pops up from her chest. His lips are red and slick with spit and there’s a wild look in his eyes. “Can I— er,” he says, and looks down at her chest.
“Yes,” she breathes, delirious, not even sure what he’s asking for.
He ducks his head again, but he doesn’t pull at her shirt—no, he attaches his mouth to her breast over her shirt, sucking on her nipple through the flimsy fabric. She cries out with shocked arousal and holds the back of Steven’s head in case he gets any ideas about moving.
“Just like that,” she sighs. It comes out like a prayer, each utterance synchronized with the roll of her hips into his calloused palm. “Just like that, just like that, justlikethatjustlikethat.”
She used to always climax with a cry when she was with Marc, because he liked the noise, but she doesn’t with Steven. She peaks with a quiet gasp and a sob of his name as her thighs tighten around his hand and she tips over the edge.
Her eyes slip shut and there’s nothing in the world except the solid wall of Steven’s chest pressed against hers, the warm heat of Steven’s mouth on her nipple, the thickness of Steven’s fingers between her thighs. There’s no vengeful god trying to hunt them down or noisy downstairs neighbors waking them in the middle of the night. There’s no estranged husband or father-killer in her bed. It’s just Steven, with his kicked-puppy eyes and eager curiosity, and it’s just Steven when she comes down from her high and goes limp against his chest.
“Wow,” he mumbles.
She lets out a breathless laugh.
“Wow, that was…” He trails off. “Bloody amazing, that’s what that was.”
Too tired to laugh harder, Layla instead just rests her head against his chest, hearing his heart pounding in his ribcage. He slips his hand out of her shorts and rests it on her hip, giving her space to scoot closer to him and fit their legs together. When their bodies are sufficiently intertwined, she lets out a happy, sleepy hum.
“‘m serious,” Steven says.
Layla looks up at him.
“That was…perfect. That’s what it was. Thank you.”
Layla finds herself smiling sleepily as she rests her head against his sternum. She feels him lift his chin to let her tuck herself underneath his jaw. “I feel like I should be thanking you,” she mumbles.
Steven scoffs. “Nah. I should be thanking you.”
Her laugh is soft and fond. Sleepiness is already tugging at the edges of her consciousness, and she wonders when was the last time she shared a bed with someone who made her feel as safe as Steven Grant does.
“Mm, no,” she hums. “Thank you, Steven.”
She’s too tired to notice the way that Steven’s breath hitches as the sound of his name in her lovely, exhausted voice, but she’s not too tired to miss the way his arms tighten around her.
“G’night, Layla,” he mumbles into her hair.
She kisses the only place she can reach, right above his heart. “Goodnight, Steven.”
Outside, the distant hum of cars and horns floats up to their window, but all of that is muffled by the sound of Steven’s heartbeat under her ear. Layla falls asleep like that, wrapped up in the arms of a man she just met and has known forever, and finally feels safe.