It was the worst luck they'd had yet.
A freak blizzard had stranded them in their latest safehouse and they had missed their scheduled flight out of the country. Red had been in contact with Dembe to let him know that they would not be able to make it to the airstrip where his private jet was on standby, waiting to spirit them away overseas. The delay would undoubtedly cost them some measure of inconvenience: Red had hoped to be reunited with Dembe by now, Lizzie’s nerves were fraying at the edges, and to top it all off, it was Christmas Eve. He had planned this night much differently for her. He wanted to celebrate this Christmas with her on some remote tropical island, preferably one without a U.S. extradition treaty, and to show her exactly how well he could protect her. Somewhere in the tropics was a fully furnished hideaway bedecked in Christmas finery; a decorated tree had been prepared, eggnog would be chilling in the kitchen, even a stocking hung with her name. He had wanted to preserve some semblance of normalcy for her during her first (and what he hoped would be her last) holiday on the run. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.
Red had chosen their current location and so, of course, there was nothing they lacked. The cabin was luxuriously appointed, with dark wood paneling in every room, opulent furniture in rich tones and fabrics, and a fully-stocked pantry that would enable Red to cook several weeks worth of sumptuous meals. They would be able to ride out the storm in relative comfort, but the extravagance of their surroundings did nothing to calm Lizzie’s anxiety.
Lizzie was restless, nervous tension vibrating off her tense body like she was a tightly-strung bow. She paced the living room in burgundy tights and an oversized, cream sweater, her thick socks padding softly across the floor as she marched back and forth, continuously checking the storm’s progress from the large bay window on the other side of the room from where Red lounged easily in a black vest and crisp, white shirt on the sofa, reading a well-worn copy of War and Peace. She was huffing exasperatedly, muttering softly about the wisdom of trusting a known felon with her safety when his judgement obviously wasn’t very reliable if he dragged her to Vermont in the middle of winter as part of their escape plan. Eventually, her mumblings and twitching, erratic path could no longer be ignored.
“Why don’t you come sit and let me read to you for awhile?” he asked, his offer a means of diversion.
“How can you just sit there?” she exclaimed, wheeling on him. “When the FBI could be out there, combing the woods for us right now? At any moment they could be breaking down our door!” she gestured about her wildly. “It’s freezing out there, we’re stuck here, and it’s Christmas!” she finished bitterly. Red felt a pang of regret at her words. Of course, she would rather be anywhere else than trapped here with him.
“Lizzie, no one is coming for us, no one even knows we’re here,” he replied patiently, lowering the book into his lap. “That was part of the social media diversion, remember? All our tracks lead to California.”
“I’m sorry,” she deflated next to him on the sofa, crumpling from the exhaustion of her tension running so high, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, resting her head in her hands. “I don’t know what to do with myself. We should be running and instead we’re stuck here. I feel like there is something I should be doing. How are you so calm?”
“Years and years of practice,” Red replied conspiratorily. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been trapped in hiding places by various circumstances, with nothing to do but wait. Usually, though, I was alone. I must admit, it’s delightful to have such a pleasurable companion for a change.”
“I don’t think I’ve been very good company,” Lizzie admitted, apologetically. “My mind won’t stop racing and I just don’t know what to think about. I need a distraction.” She thought for a moment. “Tell me a story?”
Red paused a moment, startled by her request, a small, surprised smile on his lips. She normally seemed so annoyed by his stories. Perhaps she was just desperate for something to keep her mind busy? Whatever the reason, he would appease her. There was, after all, nothing he could deny her if it was in his power to give.
“Well,” he began slowly, his tongue working around his mouth as he fought to come up with something that would divert her attention from their current situation and also put her mind at ease. “There was one time in particular that comes to mind….”
An hour later the wind had picked up outside, causing the window panes to creak under the weight of the blowing snowfall, darkness had fallen around the cozy cabin, and Lizzie was finally reclining against the opposite sofa arm, her feet resting in Red’s lap as he finished recounting an amusing story about a long weekend he spent shipwrecked with an Italian opera singer on a tiny Caribbean island during a tropical storm.
“Oh my god, I can’t believe you were stuck for three days with nothing but chardonnay to drink!” she exclaimed, laughing. “You must have been so upset!”
Red covered her toes with his hands, keeping her feet warm, and tilted his head to the side, enjoying the musical tinkle of her laughter, smiling at her in response.
“Yes, well, we made do,” he responded. “As I said before, though, the company has never been as sweet as it is with you,” he told her honestly.
Lizzie smiled back at him shyly and for a long moment they just gazed at each other in companionable silence.
Without warning, the entire cabin went dark and they heard the whir of the heater slowly die.
“The storm’s knocked the power out,” Lizzie pulled her feet from Red’s lap to stand. “I’ll see if I can find some candles.”
Red rose as well, “There is a stack of firewood on the side of the house; I’ll go bring some in,” he explained, pulling on his coat and wrapping a fawn-colored cashmere scarf around his neck.
“Be careful,” she admonished. “It’s colder than it looks out there and it doesn’t take much to get lost in a blizzard.”
Red just smiled at her enigmatically, “Well….I always seem to find my way back to you.” With that, he opened the cabin door and stepped out into the night.
Lizzie rolled her eyes at his back and turned back to her task.
Fifteen minutes later she had located and distributed enough candles on bookshelves and end tables to make it through the living room without stumbling into every single piece of furniture and wall, and Red still had not returned. She glanced out the window into the darkness, becoming worried at his absence. What could be taking him so long? As she went from room to room, checking to make sure nothing flammable was placed too close to the candles, her mind raced from one terrifying scenario to the next. What if he had fallen and was lying out in the yard somewhere hurt? What if he had lost his way and was wandering far from the house? Soon, she could no longer bear the anxiety of his unexplained absence and had decided to go out and check on him.
She had just zipped on her boots when the front door opened. Red, covered in white, his arms loaded with firewood, struggled through the door.
“Red!” she cried, “Where were you? I was getting worried!” Lizzie hurriedly crossed the room to take some of the firewood from his arms and close the door.
“The woodpile was absolutely buried by the snowstorm,” he offered, by way of explanation, carefully placing the logs near the fireplace and shrugging out of his coat and scarf. “It took me nearly twenty minutes just to uncover enough wood to start a fire.”
She helped him stack the wood next to the fireplace, trying to quell the panic she had felt not knowing if he was alright. She knew she was being stupid; he was the most capable person she knew, and yet, the thought of something happening to him had scared her and she didn’t quite know what to do with that emotion.
Red could feel her disquiet though she hadn’t said a word. It had been etched on her features, in the spooked look in her eyes when he came through the door and he was reading it now in the tense, flustered movement of her hands.
“Could you make us some coffee, please, Lizzie? I’m chilled to the bone,” Red requested as he knelt in front of the fireplace. “Let me know if you need help starting the gas stove.”
“Sure,” Lizzie disappeared into the kitchen, grateful to feel useful for a moment. He had taken such good care of her and she had behaved like a spoiled brat, complaining about missing Christmas. She felt a sting of regret for her earlier outburst as she remembered her unkind words. He had been nothing but generous to her, completely solicitous of her needs along this journey. She hung her head in shame for a moment as she stopped to consider their situation: he could have stashed her in some dreary boarding house, he could have simply abandoned her! But instead, he had risked his own personal freedom and the security of his people to see her safely out of D.C. and on every leg of their journey since then. He had given her asylum in some of the most stately hiding places, seen to her comfort on a grand scale, and most of all, offered her absolution from her sins. He understood her, he listened. He allowed her her pain and her rage at the injustice of the Cabal and the perfidy of Tom Connolly that had ultimately broken down her self-control and put them both in danger.
She would do something to show him how much she appreciated his sacrifice and his friendship, she decided as she rummaged through the cabinets, smiling when she came up across the baking supplies. She could do much better than mere coffee.
While she was gone, Red had expertly built up the fire from materials stored in a brass box on the floor next to the fireplace, lighting first the tinder, then arranging thin sticks of kindling above it, and finally feeding in a few logs.
“That looks good,” Red turned at the sound of her voice to find her holding two steaming mugs, one arm extended in front of her offering it to him, a paper bag tucked under her other arm.
Red stood, brushing his the dirt from his hands on the legs of his perfectly tailored slacks. “It’ll do, I think,” he replied modestly. He reached out to take the proffered mug from her, “Thank you; I needed this.”
“Can we sit for awhile?” Lizzie asked timidly.
“Of course,” his voice amiable. They sat on the sofa, reclaiming their earlier positions on opposite ends of the couch. Red took an experimental sip from his mug, eyebrows shooting up at the familiar taste.
“Hot cocoa!” his voice was excited, childlike. “However did you manage this?”
“You’re people are excellent shoppers,” she smiled coyly. “We both know I can’t cook, but Sam did teach me how to make hot chocolate from scratch. We always used to make it around the holidays,” she hesitated, shyly. “It….it felt like Christmas to me,” she finished lamely, embarrassed at her childlike revelation.
“I haven’t had hot cocoa since I was a boy,” he sipped reverently, eyes drifting closed, savoring. “This is truly lovely, Lizzie, thank you,” he told her sincerely.
She took a deep breath, “Thank you, Red. I don’t think I’ve said at all since this all started just how grateful I am to you for what you’ve done for me. I don’t…..without you,....I know I wouldn’t be….” she faltered. She stopped for a moment, remembering what he meant to her; she wanted to do this right. She began again. “You saved me,” she stated simply. “No one’s ever done that for me before except for you. It seems like you’re always saving me,” she said quietly. “I know that I wouldn’t have survived without you. I’ve been ungracious and I’m sorry. You have shown me so much, done so much on my behalf; I want you to know that I notice all the things you do for me and I appreciate you,” she was rushing through her explanation, unable to look at him but feeling his piercing gaze on her. “I hope you know what you mean to me,” she finished finally, staring into her cup.
He was quiet for so long that she plucked up the courage to turn and look at him. His eyes were hooded, dark with secret thoughts that she was certain he would never share. He was watching her so intently, she shivered under his gaze.
“Lizzie,” he began, “There is nothing, and I want you to hear me when I say this, nothing in this world that I would not give to you or do for you if you asked it. Nothing,”he stated emphatically. “You are the sole reason for my crusade against the Cabal, against everyone on the Blacklist. I came out of hiding for you, to make your world safer for you to live your life in it.” He worried the inside of his cheek with his teeth, head tilting to the side. He knew he was revealing too much, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. She had to know how important she was to him. “Everything I have done since the night of the fire has been to protect you, to see you safe. I have been selfish in the course of my plan, but it has all been to secure the armament you would need to live your life the way you wanted to safely. All of it, the Fulcrum, the Blacklist, it was all for you.”
They stared at one another, the intensity of the moment taking on a life of its own, becoming a third participant, sitting between them on the sofa with all its weighty intent. Finally understanding him, Lizzie nodded. Red reached out a hand to her across the couch and she took it without reservation. They sat that way for a time, simply staring into each other’s eyes, her hand in his, the warmth and magnitude of their earnest emotion communicating for them soundlessly. Perhaps, he thought, they had finally found some common ground.
Red tried to convince himself that he was still holding her hand because he wanted to offer her comfort, because she was distressed, because they had shared something important and he wanted her to feel reassured.
But the truth was, the feel of her delicate hand in his was one of the greatest joys he had and one of the few pleasures he allowed himself with her. The rare occasions when she had turned to him for solace and had allowed him to console her this way were some of the most precious moments that he treasured. Her touch assuaged his weary soul in a way that nothing else had and with her hand in his, he could actually believe that forgiveness existed for him. And so he remained, gently holding her hand, her warmth spreading into him far deeper than what their contact should allow.
Lizzie tried to tell herself that she had lingered, clasping his hand because they had shared a moment, a baring of souls, and that this was the expectation. But the truth was, it was comfortable. She was comfortable with him. She enjoyed his touch far more than she had wanted to admit to herself and she liked being close to him. His presence made her feel protected, calm, cherished. And though she had fought that realization for so long, she was ready to recognize that this was what she wanted, too. There was nothing he would not do for her, she knew. More than merely saying it, he had proven it to her time and again. Why keep punishing them both when what she actually wanted most was to let him protect her?
“Do you like s’mores?” she asked suddenly.
“I’m sorry?” he asked, confused by the turn in their conversation.
“S’mores. You know, with marshmallows and chocolate?” she elaborated.
“Oh! Oh, yes, I do actually like s’mores,” Red smiled. “Though I must admit, I haven’t had one in more years than I can remember.” he looked at her quizzically.
Lizzie pulled her hand gently from his to reach down beside her on the floor. “I thought we could make them,” she explained, shrugging, pulling up the paper bag he’d seen tucked under her arm earlier. “I found graham crackers and everything in the cupboard earlier. I guess your grocery shopper thought we might end up using the fireplace,” she smiled sweetly at him, looking younger and more at ease than he’d ever seen her.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” he told her genuinely, pleased that she could find something cheerful in their situation.
Lizzie crossed to the fireplace, selecting two iron roasting sticks from the stand holding a poker and shovel. Red came to sit beside her on the floor, tossing down throw pillows in front of the fire. She expertly speared two marshmallows and handed one stick to him. The smiled at one another, feeding the marshmallows into the flames, turning them until they became a gentle golden brown. Red took both sticks, holding them while Lizzie smooshed each marshmallow between a set of graham crackers, generously heaped with pieces of dark chocolate.
Red’s eyes closed and he let out a soft moan of delight as he bit into the gooey mess.
“Oh, Lizzie,” he drawled, “That tastes delicious.”
Though she knew his praise was for their snack, she couldn’t help blushing as she imagined him saying those very words about her.
Soon their fingers were sticky with melted marshmallow and there were graham cracker crumbs nestled in the folds of Red’s vest. Red felt lighter than he had in years, genuine laughter crinkling his eyes as they attempted to eat delicately and, finding that an impossible accomplishment, making a mess in the process.
Lizzie smiled up at him beside her, her eyes drifting down to his mouth. The laughter died on his face, replaced by an intent look, full of meaning.
“You have…...um…....you have a bit of chocolate,” she told him, her eyes trained on his lips.
The tip of his tongue darted out to lick at the corner of his mouth, eyes steady on her face.
Her breath caught in her throat as images flashed across her mind of what he could do to her with his tongue.
“Did I get it?” the slow gravelly tone of his voice pulling her back to the present.
“Um, no, not quite,” her voice had dropped almost to a whisper, their playful banter of a few moments ago forgotten in the new sort of tension that was building between them.
Her hand touched his face, the pad of her thumb gently caressing the edge of his lip. She was biting her own lip, nervously.
“There,” she murmured.
She withdrew her hand, sliding the tip of her thumb between her own lips, sucking the chocolate away.
His groin tightened painfully and he was pretty sure he stopped breathing for a solid minute.
He could not tear his eyes away from her lips; she was so entrancing. When he found that he could breathe again, he tentatively reached his hand out to her, unsure of her response, softly cupping the curve of her cheek. Her eyes fluttered closed and, like a magnet, she was drawn to him, turning her face into his hand, tenderly pressing a kiss into his palm.
Languidly, she raised her veiled eyes to his, staring intently into their depths.
A million thoughts were running through his head about why he shouldn’t be doing this, but he ignored them all and sought redemption in her kiss instead.
He dipped his head and claimed her lips with his.
Red breathed her in like she was oxygen, his lips taking everything she had to give. They fell back on the floor in a flurry of hands and lips grappling for purchase on the other, legs braiding together, desperately seeking the other’s touch.
Lizzie ended up with her back flat against the floor, Red above her, braced on one elbow, hands in her hair, pulling her close to him. He whispered her name like a prayer each time he took a breath. She was drowning in him and she didn’t want to come up for air.
All at once, it wasn’t enough for either of them. Reds hands began pushing her sweater up, seeking contact with her flat stomach, her tender skin, her glorious breasts. Lizzie cupped him through his slacks, his stiff shaft surging forward in her hand. He breathed in her scent and all of the things he had spent the last two years denying himself suddenly came flooding back. He wanted to bring her to the edge and watch her tumble over. He wanted to own all her pleasure for the rest of her life. He wanted to plunge into her depths and hear her scream his name. The feel of her hand stroking him through his clothing made him want to brand her body with his mark so that no one could refute his claim, that she was his. His need was uncontrollable; he had to have her now. Which was precisely how he knew he shouldn’t.
Immediately, he pulled away from her, smoothing her sweater down to cover her waist, dragging his hands over his head in frustration. Lizzie sat up, confused, watching him regain his composure while she felt completely shattered.
Red held up his hands, palms out, stalling her. “You need to think about this……., before we go any further.”
Firelight danced over her skin, creating tempting shadows that played over her face.
“What do you mean? What is there to think about? I want this; I can have this with you,” she impelled.
“You don’t know what this life will be like. We’re only going to complicate your situation if we do…..this.” Red was exasperated; at her for wanting to pursue something that was clearly such a bad idea, at himself for not wanting to stop her.
“I know that I don’t want to do this without you!” she cried desperately.
“You have me--”
“You know that’s not what I mean!”
He sighed, “You can’t…..undo this once it’s done.”
“I know that. I don’t want to,” she was sure.
“I mean for me!”
Lizzie stared in stunned silence at his outburst. Bewilderment contorted her features, “I don’t…...I’m confused.”
Red scrubbed his palms over his face again, annoyed that he could not express himself to her adequately. “I can’t…..I’m already having enough trouble with the idea that soon I’m going to have to let you go. I am going to clear your name of the Senator’s death, Lizzie, I promise you that, but you will never be able to return to the FBI. There is no getting around Tom Connolly’s murder. And keeping you with me will only endanger you further. Soon, I’m going to have to give you up. And even though I’ve always know that was the endgame, that it was part of the plan, I am having an increasingly difficult time imagining ever being able to walk away from you.”
They stared at each other for the space of two breaths before he continued.
“And I have to, Lizzie, for your safety and my sanity, because I just cannot be this close to you anymore and not be able to have you for myself!”
Another beat passed. He was grateful for her silence.
“And if we do this, if you let me have you, I will never be able to let you go,” he finished quietly.
After what felt like an eternity, Lizzie spoke, quieter than he anticipated.
“Don’t I get a say?”
Red exhaled loudly a breath that he didn’t even realize he’d been holding. Of course she was going to be unreasonable.
“I mean,” she continued, “If this is my life and you’re doing all this so that I can have the life I choose, then don’t I get a say in the choice I make? Because, really, if you’re just going to make all the decisions for me, it’s really no different than having my life dictated by the Cabal.”
He hung his head, “Really, Lizzie, how do you see this playing out? We clear your name and take down the Cabal and you return to work with me by your side and in your bed and no one thinks to question it?” He lifted his face to hers, eyes blazing. “Or are you going to come on the run with me, hmm? Leave your entire life behind, for what? Some glorified Bonnie and Clyde fantasy that you have for us? Are you going to learn the secret inner-workings of my vast criminal empire, become my partner in crime? Are you going to sell your soul as well? Darken and distort yourself in the cave with me so that neither one of us has any hope of ever finding the sun again? Will you take away my only chance at redemption?”
He looked stricken, his features so perverted with grief that her heart broke for him. She was his light. She would help him find his way back to it.
She reached out a hand to touch his face. He shied away from her, flinching, but she was not deterred. She leaned across the expanse of floor he’d put between them and gently, laid her palm against his cheek. “No,” she said simply, in answer to his questions.
Lizzie rose from the floor; he watched her go. She circled the room, blowing out candles one by one.
Red’s eyes followed her path around the room as she blew out each and every candle, save the one that would lead her down the hall to her own bedroom. She would leave him here in the dark, taking the last of her light from his world, as he deserved. He was terrified. A part of him was triumphant that he had convinced her this should not happen, they should not happen. But most of him was dying inside at the knowledge that she was about to leave.
When all but the last candle was extinguished, Red looked down at the floor. He could not bear to watch her walk away from him holding the his last figurative and literal hope of light.
He startled when her stocking feet came into view in front of him. He looked up to see her holding out her hand to him.
“We won’t do…..this tonight,” she conceded. “You’re right, my life is never going to be the same again. I can’t take back what I did to Connolly and I wouldn’t, not if it meant saving you. We do need to talk and we need to make decisions, but we’ll make them together. Like it or not, Red, I think we’re in this for the long haul.”
He stared up at her, disbelieving. She wasn’t going to leave.
“Come on,” she told him simply. “We’ll take it slow. Let’s try cuddling instead.”
Lizzie led Red by the hand to the couch and pushed him down gently, pulling a blanket from the back before settling down in the crook of his arm, tucking her legs beneath her. She rested her head on his shoulder, draping the blanket over them.
“Now what?” he sighed.
“Now, we talk,” she offered.
And so, they did. For hours they talked about their options for the future. Red gave her a basic overview of his business and shared his fears that he would corrupt her further by involving her in his lifestyle. Lizzie admitted that, while she didn’t necessarily want to become a full-fledged criminal, there was an aspect to his life that she found intriguing, even suggesting that they continue to pursue the Blacklisters on their own while feeding information to the FBI. They were miles away from a solution, but they were communicating and Lizzie felt that, through her honesty about her feelings about their situation, Red was finally beginning to trust her.
Over the course of their dialogue they had relaxed into each other again, Lizzie sliding further and further down on the sofa until they ended up spooning on the couch. Red was staring into the flames of the fireplace, lost in his thoughts about their conversation. Perhaps, they could find a way to make this work. He could teach her things about how to survive in his world, he would protect her. He could instruct her so well that someday when he was gone she would still be able to thrive in whatever world she built for herself. He was still uneasy with the prospect of bringing her into his criminal empire, but he agreed with her ideas about hunting Blacklisters outside the authority of the FBI. It would not be so different from what they had already been doing; their work had often required them to operate with autonomy. Now, they would simply be eliminating the bureaucratic red tape, accomplishing takedowns with their own resources and on their own timetable, delivering hand-wrapped criminals to the FBI task force.
She had been quiet for awhile, dozing in his arms. It was late and the fire was dying when Red decided to carry her to bed.
Red pressed a kiss to her temple and began untangling himself from her limbs.
“Where are you going?” she queried sleepily.
“I need to bring in more wood from outside. The fire will be dying soon and the electricity likely won’t be restored until morning,” he drew the blanket down their legs, looking across the room for his snow boots.
“No! Don’t go out in the storm again,” she stopped him with a hand on his arm, her earlier panic returning.
“Lizzie, we won’t be able to keep the fire going all night. There isn’t enough wood to heat the whole house. You’ll freeze in the bedroom,” he reasoned.
“Please, Red, can we just sleep here?” she implored him.
“Oh, very well,” he conceded, knowing he could deny her nothing.
He pulled her close to him, spooning her body with his own and drawing the blanket up over them both. He nestled his head in her hair, breathing her fresh scent, and felt her sigh against him.
“Red?” her voice was so soft it was almost a whisper against his arm beneath her head.
“Hmmmm?” he murmured in reply.
“Merry Christmas,” she breathed, her voice hushed in the stillness of the night.
He gathered her closer, “Merry Christmas, Lizzie.”
Soon, they had both relaxed into sleep, twined together on the couch and Red, for once, at peace with her in his arms.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear. The storm had finally blown itself out, leaving the cabin and the surrounding woods blanketed in a fresh sheet of pristine, white snow.
Red had been awake for awhile, savoring the feel of the woman sleeping soundly in his arms. Propped on one arm, he studied her face, awash in the early morning light, dark lashes resting gently against the paleness of her cheek. The fire had died out hours ago, as predicted, judging by the chill in the air around them, but, wrapped in the warm cocoon of her embrace, he hardly noticed the cold.
Lizzie stirred beneath him, a soft sigh escaping her petal-pink lips as she snuggled closer to his warmth. His body responded predictably, the sound shooting straight to his groin. The couch was too narrow to shift away from her, so he remained where he was, his early-morning erection straining against her hip. Instinctively, she moved against him, still half-asleep, seeking him even now. A low hiss escaped his teeth as she rubbed her body against him.
He allowed his fingers to trace over her lips, bespelled by their impossibly smooth texture. He settled his fingers on her jaw and turned her face to his as he lowered his mouth to gently kiss her awake. She sighed against his lips, still not opening her eyes, and wiggled closer to him again, rubbing her hip against him sensuously.
Red was certain now that she was awake and teasing him deliberately. Grinning at her game, he released her mouth and ran his palm down her arm, caressing her flesh so lightly that it caused goosebumps to form in his wake. He outlined the hollows and ridges of her collarbone gently, learning every detail of satiny skin. He pressed a kiss into the indentation at the base of her throat, his tongue darting out to taste her.
Deftly, he slipped a hand under her tank top. Finger-tips skated over the flat plane of her stomach, skirting her ribs, coming to rest on the supple mound of her breast. He taunted her then, rolling her nipple between two fingers, pulling gently, pinching even, until he heard her breath quicken. Still, she continued their game, pretending sleep.
Red smiled knowingly, and dropped his head to her chest, tonguing her nipple through the thin, ribbed fabric of her shirt. He nipped at her playfully, trying to rouse her, but she doggedly refused to give in, though her squirming had definitely increased, he noted with satisfaction. Skimming his hand back down her body, he dipped below the waistband of her pajama pants, simultaneously sweeping the edge of her panties out of his way. His mouth continued the assault at her breast even as his fingers combed through the dense curls at the juncture of her thighs.
Faintly, he began to stroke her clit, barely touching her, not wanting to rush this, wanting her to feel every sensation. He gradually increased the pressure on her delicate organ, until he was rubbing heavy, slow, languorous circles with his thumb. He gently dipped one finger into her cleft, satisfaction spreading across his expression when he found her drenched and oh-so-ready for his penetration. Still massaging her clit, he began to plunge his finger deeper and faster into her sheath.
She gasped, yet still stubbornly refused to open her eyes.
Grinning with purpose against her breast, he added a second and then a third finger to her body as well.
Lizzie was panting now, moaning soft, wordless cries into his neck, all but the last pretense of sleep gone. Still, he wanted to see her eyes. He wanted to gaze into their bright depths as he claimed her body and cleansed his soul.
He crooked his fingers on his withdrawal, brushing against the most secret place inside her. She writhed beneath his hand, clenching her eyes tightly shut against the onslaught of sensations, the game forgotten.
He knew she was close. She only needed that final push to send her into oblivion and he gave it to her, closing his teeth over her nipple at the exact moment that he anointed her G-spot with his fingers again, sending her screaming over the edge, her eyes popping open at last. He covered her mouth with his, plunging his tongue between her lips with the same frantic energy as his fingers, drinking in her screams of pleasure as he stroked her orgasm higher and higher.
Finally, he withdrew from her and gently kissed each of her eyelids.
“You sweet, impossible girl,” he spoke lovingly.
She was ready for him, her thighs parting to take him inside her, even as he shifted himself to kneel between her legs, his hands firm on her hips.
Suddenly, she gave a shriek of surprise as she found herself flipped over on the couch. He tugged her back until she was resting on all fours, her face on the armrest, her backside pressed against his erection, hands gripping her hips tightly.
“My turn,” he declared triumphantly.
“Wha-” she began, turning her head to see him, only to feel his hand come swiftly down on the back of her neck, gently, but firmly, forcing her head back down.
“Red, please, I want to see you!” she cried.
“Now, now, Lizzie, that’s hardly fair,” he stated calmly. “I very much wanted to gaze into your eyes this morning, but you refused to cooperate,” he feigned disappointment. “And now, you must accept the consequence of your impertinence,” he told her matter-of-factly. Behind her back, he smiled.
He stroked his hands over her smooth back, massaging her from shoulder to hip, his hands and eyes roving over her endlessly. She was whimpering at the caresses his expert fingers delivered, all the while aware that he intended to fuck her without letting her look at him. Her pulse quickened at the thought. Dominant Red was so hot.
When he had reduced her to nothing more than a quivering mass writhing from his touch, Red parted her legs, and nudged himself between her folds. Grasping her shoulder, he thrust deeply into her, groaning her name as he sheathed himself to the hilt inside her delicious warmth.
He heard her cry out in response, her body thrusting back into him. He was so big and, god, he felt good, filling her up, stretching her so that there was no room left inside her for anything else but Red. It was like he was everywhere, all around her, completely overwhelming her senses. She was lost in him, in his scent, in the touch of his hands on her body, in the feel of him buried deep inside her.
Lizzie lowered her head onto her arms, draping herself over the armrest and raising her hips, offering herself up to him brazenly. Withdrawing all but the very tip of his shaft from her body, he paused for a moment before he sank slowly back into her. From the other end of the couch, he heard her whimper again, pushing herself back to take more of him inside her, craving the depth that only he could provide.
Taking a deep breath, he began to move, establishing a rhythm fast and deep, rolling his hip to hit every part of her. He reached around to cup her sex, rolling her clit between his fingers and spurring her towards her release. She was panting his name over and over again in time with his thrusts, the word a breathless chant, a mantra grounding her to the earth as she felt the familiar tension begin to build deep inside her core, the sensation of his rock-hard cock rigorously stroking her G-spot coupled with his fingers that eagerly exploited her most sensitive nerve urging her toward the edge. She could feel herself about to come again for the second time, when he pinched her clit between his fingertips, and stars exploded behind her eyes.
“Sweetheart, I’m going to come!” Red warned, forcefully thrusting into her from behind.
“Yes, come for me, Raymond!” she cried out, her hands digging into the fabric of the armrest for support as he came, violently, inside her with the sound of his given name ringing in his ears.
He stayed, buried inside her, panting for breath, for what seemed like an eternity, his cock pulsing with every heartbeat as their breathing slowed and the sweat cooled on their joined bodies. Finally, with a sigh, he slipped out of her and rolled onto the floor, arm around her waist, bringing her with him. She squealed her laughter as she ended up with her upper body resting on top of him, her head on his chest and his lips in her hair.
“You’re a vixen,” he accused, but she could feel his smile.
“I know what I want and I wanted to get my way,” she teased facetiously.
“That, you did,” Red chuckled goodnaturedly.
She draped an arm over his body and a wrapped one leg around his. They lay together like that, him holding her close. Her fingertips drew lazy patterns on his chest. He was thinking something; she could tell, as their companionable silence stretched on and he grew quiet.
“What is it?” she asked into his chest.
“Are you sure…..about this? About me?” he asked, swallowing nervously, his eyes staring up at the ceiling.
“Yes,” she responded emphatically, raising up on one elbow to watch his response. “More than anything.”
“Good,” he whispered, twining his arm around her shoulder and urging her to rest against him again.
After a few moments of silence, “You said my name, my real name,” he said wonderingly and she could hear that something had changed in his tone. He sounded…..wistful.
“It’s who you are,” she explained simply. “‘Red’ is your persona, the wealthy businessman who deals in crime, the secret benefactor, the mysterious playboy-- and it’s a cute nickname,” she added, “but it isn’t who you really are.”
“And who am I?” he asked her honestly.
“That is something I think it will take a lifetime to learn.”
“Hmmm….” he acknowledged thoughtfully.
After a few moments, she spoke again. “I do know quite a lot about who you are already, though.”
“Oh?” he replied.
Lizzie took a deep breath, “I know you are cultured and sophisticated in a way that sometimes intimidates me. I know that you are a storyteller who knows how to spin a tale in a way that both distracts the listener and manages to teach a much more significant lesson at the same time. I know that you are a person who would risk his life for a child for no reason other than because not doing so would be wrong. I know you have regrets that you hold so deeply that I am afraid I’ll never be able to dig them out and help you repair your heart. I know that you would do anything in the world for me. I know that now we have time for me to learn all the other things about you that I don’t know.” When she finished, there were tears shining in her eyes as she looked down at him.
Red took a shaky breath, blinking the moisture from his own eyes that had collected there while she was speaking, and crushed her to him. “Lizzie,” he breathed. “You are my light, my only salvation,” he told her. “I will give you a lifetime if that’s what you want.”
Lizzie pressed her lips to his in a passionate kiss. He deepened the kiss, his hands coming up to cradle her face. With a fierce, possessive growl, he rolled her onto her back. Suddenly, her stomach growled back noisily. They broke apart, laughing.
“Come on,” he grinned, pulling her to her feet, “It sounds like I’d better feed you breakfast before you devour me!”
Red prepared breakfast while Lizzie showered. When they had realized that it was Christmas day and no one from the power company was likely to be out fixing whatever lines the storm had downed, Red remembered that the cabin was equipped with an emergency generator. He had managed to start it, so they had power again, and he had also restocked the woodpile next to the fireplace so they would be comfortable later when they had to turn the generator off to conserve power.
While the water heated up, she gazed at her face in the mirror. She didn’t look any different, but she felt different since last night, since this morning. A blush crept up her neck as she recalled her wanton abandon this morning. She smiled to herself, running a finger down her neck, over her breasts, remembering. She shivered. It was so much better when it was Red doing this. She shook her head. There would be time for that later; she needed to shower; she was dying to taste the baked french toast Red had promised her.
When she was dressed in dark jeans and a navy tank top, her hair tied back in a loose ponytail, she followed the intoxicating scents of cinnamon and vanilla to the kitchen to find Red clad in a untucked black button-down, sleeves rolled up the elbows and jeans that hugged his backside, a kitchen towel draped over his shoulder. He pulled a casserole dish of french toast from the oven, sprinkling more cinnamon on top and setting it on top of the stove to cool.
“That smells divine,” Lizzie complimented him, climbing onto a bar stool at the counter separating the dining room from the kitchen proper. She rested her elbows on the bar in front of her, looking at him expectantly.
“There should still be some hot water left, if you want to shower,” she suggested.
Red served up a generous helping of french toast for her, adding a dollop of homemade whipped cream on top and passed the plate to her, dropping a quick kiss on her the tip of her nose, before heading to the bathroom.
Lizzie gave a little moan of delight, eyes closing, when she bit into the decadent breakfast, flavor exploding on her tongue. She was so, so lucky to have him. She knew she had never felt so spoiled and she wondered how so much could have changed in the course of just one day. Is this what life would be like, she wondered to herself? If she did abandon the idea of exoneration and simply ran with him, truly becoming his partner, adapting to his lifestyle; it wouldn’t be all jets and gourmet meals, she knew. There would be hiding and the stress of avoiding detection, dealing with criminals and operating at times on the wrong side of the law. Although, she reminded herself, Red had managed to carve out quite the luxurious lifestyle for himself. He was always perfectly tailored, effusing effortless sophistication. He would ensure she was protected, provided for.
She shook her head at her thoughts. None of these musings really mattered, she knew. There could be no turning back for her now, whether they were to spend the rest of their lives in palaces or hovels or caves. She was completely in love with Raymond Reddington. She couldn’t leave him even if he wanted her to. The only question now was whether or not she would have to convince him of that.
She finished her breakfast and washed her plate, staring out the window over the sink into the winter wonderland stretching out before her into the forest surrounding the cabin, lost in her thoughts. She jumped when she felt a strong pair of arms slide around her middle, drawing her close, his face nuzzling her jaw.
“Where are you?” he asked, drawing her out her reverie.
“Right here,” she sighed, relaxing into his embrace. She wasn’t ready to talk about the future again yet. She didn’t want to scare him away; he was already so nervous about their tentative plan and she was clinging so tightly to it. She couldn’t lose him now.
“There isn’t much to do, unfortunately, when in hiding. It’s important to stay busy and keep your mind active. Dembe and I usually play chess. Would you like to read for a bit?” he asked her.
“I think I’m going to paint my nails,” she told him, pulling a bottle of dark red nail polish from the pocket of her jeans. “This was in my toiletry kit,” she said by way of explanation.
“That’s a lovely color,” Red offered. “What’s it called?”
“Oh my god!” Lizzie exclaimed, turning the bottle upside down. “It’s ‘called Come to Bed Red’!” she laughed. “Did you know about this?”
“My, my, that is a coincidence. Lauren did mention that she was doing some consulting for the polish industry….I guess she’s branching out from lipsticks,” he reasoned, a wry smile on his face.
Lizzie quirked an eyebrow at him; only he would have a growing line of cosmetics named for him. “Well, that’s fitting,” she smiled.
She propped her feet up on the coffee table in front of her and unscrewed the bottle’s cap.
“Come here,” he held out his hand. “Allow me.”
She looked askance at him, “Really?” a hint of doubt in her voice.
“Don’t you trust me?” he asked in jest.
“Implicitly,” she stared into his eyes, that one word heavy with meaning.
“Well, then……” he prodded after a moment.
Lizzie swung her legs onto the couch, resting her feet in his lap. She leaned forward to hand him the bottle of crimson polish and then reclined against the armrest to watch him work.
“Did you know that nail polish originated in China?” Red began, carefully painting the toes of one foot. “It was used to denote different classes of Chinese society. The lowly could even be executed for using it.”
She relaxed into the plush cushions, tucking one arm behind her head. As if watching him paint her toes wasn’t sexy enough, she was going to get to listen to his gravelly voice rasp over her, too? Bliss.
Red continued painting, stopping occasionally to fix a mistake or wipe a smear of paint from the edge of her nail.
“Women would dip their hands into an amalgamation of beeswax, gelatin, and egg whites that had been colored with flower petals. They would sit for hours to achieve the look that you are now getting with just a few short minutes of work.” He smiled up at her, lifting her other foot and replacing the first against his leg.
She watched him through lowered lashes, his voice making things curl luxuriously deep in her lower abdomen. God, his voice! She began to lose herself in the sensation of his hands gently gripping her foot, the deep resonance of his voice.
“Now, if we were in Paris, I could pick up a bottle of Black Diamond King for you. It’s the most stunning lacquer you’ve ever seen!” he explained excitedly. “It’s infused with 267 carats worth of black diamonds and costs a staggering $250,000.”
Lizzie’s eyes grew wide at the price. “Surely you could think of better things to do with that kind of money than buy nail polish?” she teased.
He smiled coyly, as if spending a quarter of a million dollars on her toes was not entirely out of the question, and raised her foot higher to blow on the paint.
When it was dry, he tipped her foot up for her approval. “What do you think?” he asked.
“Beautiful,” she smiled. “Definitely my new favorite color.”
Red had trouble focusing when Lizzie began absentmindly stroking him through his trousers with the bottom of one foot, her toes curling to grip him as he grew beneath her touch.
He groaned, “Now, now, you’ll smear your polish,” he admonished her.
Lizzie smirked at him safely from her end of the sofa. “The storm’s lifted,” she pointed out.
“So it has,” he twisted his head around to glance out the front window. “We’ll be on our way by this time tomorrow.”
“Really?” she asked hopefully. She had enjoyed their time at the cabin, but she would feel even more relaxed once they were out of the country.
“Mmm, yes, it will take that long to dig the car out,” Red rolled his tongue around inside his mouth, a nervous habit she had noticed.
“Where will we go next?” Lizzie was curious and anxious again.
“Cuba first, then Belize,” he shared.
Lizzie paused thoughtfully for a moment, “Both of those countries have extradition treaties with the U.S.” she reminded him.
“Yes, well it isn’t exactly ideal, but I have ways to move unnoticed throughout most places in the world if I choose to be unseen,” Red was letting her in, more and more, bit by bit; she was grateful for his honesty.
She worried her bottom lip between her teeth.
“Lizzie,” Red began, cupping her foot in his hand more firmly to remind her of his presence. “I would never let anything happen to you.”
“I know that…..” the worry refused to leave her eyes.
Red studied her for a moment. She said she knew, but she really didn’t. He would try to make her understand.
He took a breath, “I have lived in this world for a very long time, nearly all your life. I know where to go and how to remain unseen. I have spent years cultivating relationships with powerful people in every relevant nation in the world and a few irrelevant ones as well, just for good measure. I have spent decades building an empire that both protects me from the unsavory characters of the underworld and keeps them reliant on me for their own business ventures. I have surrounded myself with people who are both well-trained and well-paid to protect me and my interests. I have killed men who needed killing and I have sent others to prison for the rest of their lives. I have power, Lizzie, power that I have created and stolen and built. I have put plans into motion whose results will not come to fruition for years, but when they do, they will indeed come to bear righteous fruit that the unholy who have wronged us will be forced to sample. And all of that, I lay at your feet, my offering to protect you and to keep you safe. Because I love you, Lizzie, more than my own life, more than anything else in this world.” He paused, “And remember, I am insanely wealthy!” his eyes crinkled on his last comment, teasing her and pulling a smile into her eyes as well.
“Yes, well, you know how much I wanted that quarter-million-dollar bottle of nail polish,” she quipped, to show him he had succeeded in lightening the mood.
Red smiled at her teasing, lifting her foot to his mouth and pressing a tender kiss against her insep and suddenly the atmosphere in the room had changed, their gentle banter and teasing replaced by something far more primal and predatory.
The breath caught in her throat as she watched him, all sensual grace and oozing sexiness from every pore. There was something both tender and voracious in his gaze; as if he hadn’t really decided whether to worship her or devour her. Maybe both.
She had been worshipped by him, now she wanted to him to devour her.
Slowly, he traced the tip of his tongue along her arch, trailing that wet heat to the tip of her first digit. His eyes on hers, he slowly slipped her toe into his mouth, sucking gently. Lizzie’s eyes rolled back in her head and she sank down into the couch, a whimper easing out from between her lips. he continued down her foot, dipping his tongue between each of her toes delicately, sending shivers of heat racing straight to her center, spreading the flames of desire, igniting her passion for him again.
Her eyes fluttered open slightly when she felt his mouth leave her body. His eyes were dark with need, focused on her face. Red leaned over her, swiftly unbuttoning her jeans and peeling them down her legs, dragging his fingertips over her as he went.
Lizzie was mewling softly by the time he began to kiss his way up her leg, from ankle to hip, sweeping his tongue across her flesh until he was angled above her, spreading her knees with his hands for his access.
He pressed his face to her mound, covered by a delicate layer of peach lace. He breathed her in deeply, relishing her secret scent. Putting his tongue to good use, he licked her through the lace, feeling her gasp. He settled into the cradle of her legs, sliding his arms beneath her and bringing his hands to rest on the outsides of her things, dragging her body closer to his mouth.
He lathed his tongue over her clit through the fabric of her panties endlessly, wringing cry after cry from her lips. She was wet and ready for him before he even finished her. Finally, he couldn’t hold off his own need to bury his tongue inside her; he grasped the delicate lace in his hands and pulled, the fabric shredding in his grip. Flinging the impeding scrap of fabric aside, Red plunged his tongue fully into her core, stroking upwards when he reached her center, his teeth scraping over her clit and that was all it took.
She exploded around his mouth, her hips arching off the cushions, her hands wildly seeking his. She clutched at him, her fingers winding around his.
She was stunning in her abandon, all breathless and wanton release. He sank into her again and again with his tongue, riding out wave after wave of her orgasm with her on his lips. He continued to thrust into her until she begged him to stop.
He smiled against her, releasing her from the sweet torment. It pleased him that he could make her feel like this.
He slid up her body to taste her lips. She clutched him to her violently, the force of her arms around him speaking her gratitude for his attentiveness. She kissed him passionately, plunging her tongue deep into his mouth, tasting herself on his lips. She moaned for him, her fingers seeking the front of his jeans, scrambling to release him. Resting his forehead against hers, he sank into her with a groan.
He paused just long enough to allow her to adjust to his size before he began to move inside her. She moaned low in her throat, the sound sending a heady arrow straight to his loins. He shoved the fabric of her shirt up to bury his face in her breasts. She helped him, tugging her bra down so they spilled out over the top of the soft lacy confines. His mouth closed over one nipple, drawing it sharply against his teeth, forcing her head back in a gasp, her hips rocking against his.
“Sweetheart…...please,” she begged him and it was all the encouragement he needed.
He straightened his back, hips arching into hers. His hands clasped her waist, pulling her to him. Lizzie folded her legs around his waist, raising up to meet him. Red increased the pace and depth of his strokes until he felt her trembles begin to reverberate through her entire body. He thrust powerfully into her tight sheath, stretching her with abandon, losing himself as she reached her climax. He pulsed wordlessly inside her, letting her unravel around him, melting in his hands.
Red looked down the length of her body while his breathing steadied, taking all of her in, committing the look of her like this to memory; her face flushed from their exertions, limbs akimbo, one arm thrown across the back of the couch, the other above her head; a fine sheen of sweat cooling on her skin, the sight of his body joined with hers at the juncture of her sweet thighs; and buried deeply inside her still-clenching walls, his seed slipping slowly from his body and into hers. The thought moved him profoundly, the possibility of them reaching into his consciousness in a way he hadn’t truly dared to consider.
She slowly lifted her eyelids to catch him staring intently at her with the most serious expression on his face.
“What is it?” she worried, her own brow furrowing in concern.
Red shook the somber thought from his head, his sedate features replaced by a playful smile smoothing across his lips.
He inclined his head at an angle in that way she loved, his smile beginning to crinkle the edges of his eyes.
“I was just thinking that this is a much better way to pass the time than playing chess with Dembe,” he teased, leaning over her to touch his lips to hers.
Lizzie chuckled into his kiss, winding her arms around his neck and squeezing her legs around his waist.
She looked into his eyes between kisses and softly uttered, “Merry Christmas, Red.”