Auden lifts a dark eyebrow. “I said, I want to work with someone willing to wallow with paper and design. Tease out the one-of-a-kind magic.”
His voice is quiet, soothing. It demands I take a deep breath and get out of my feelings.
“I’ve been reminded of how much of an art it is,” I say. “And that I can get by, but you—you have a gift.”
Rosy splotches bloom on his cheeks. “You know what you’re doing, too.”
“I don’t have the rhythm of it like you do. The innate… mastery, I guess. The relationship.”
Auden tilts his head and looks out the front window.
“What?” I ask. “He’s not coming back.”
“I know, but hearing the words rhythm and mastery and relationship when it comes to using a press… I’m looking for locusts, frogs, horsemen—any sign of the apocalypse.”
“Fuck off,” I mutter.
When he repeats the words like that, I’m not thinking of cast iron machines—I’m thinking about sex.
I can’t believe he didn’t call me on how filthy that sounded.
He’s biting his lip, still a little pink in the face.
Okay, maybe he’s thinking it, at least.
“I could show you,” he says.
Meeting his gaze is like swimming in a lake, when you dive down, down on a bright day, and you have the dark depths below, and the streams of light from above, and it blends around you like you’re wearing a crown of green water and sunlight.
Holy fuck. He’s too much sometimes.
“Come here.” He crooks a finger for me to meet him at the Chandler and Price.
Definitely too much.
I join him anyway.
He takes my left hand and places it on the small shelf on the front of the press where we’d normally collect the cards during a run. The wood is smooth. And it would feel exactly like palming a flat piece of wood always does, except his big hand covers mine.
“Artisanry demands that relationship.” His voice is insanely low, but he’s only inches from me, so I don’t miss a syllable.
“I’m not an—”
“You have the artistic talent. You just need a little patience.” He puts his other hand on my right hip and positions me square to the press. He taps his toe against my heel, a silent command to put my foot on the treadle.
“We’re missing some parts.” Paper. Ink. The frame. Everything that actually turns into a product.
“We’re not making anything.” He’s at an angle to me. If he leaned forward three inches, his dick would be pressed into my hip. His left hand is still holding mine to the shelf. The other is a heavy weight just below my waist.
“I don’t understand,” I say.
“Just watch it, Carter.” He sounds amused. “You want to know every quirk. And not to try to learn when you’re rushing through eight jobs at once. When you have time to go easy.”
“Really,” he says. “Grip the wood with your other hand, too.”
“Grip the wood? You’re fucking with me.”
“A little.” I can’t see his face from where he is behind me, but I hear his smirk.
A little? A lot. I grab hold of the shelf anyway.
“Just work the treadle,” he says.
I press my toe into the pedal, making the flywheel whir.
“And listen,” he says. “Watch.”
I do that, too.
I’ve been so damn busy since I got here—paper in, paper out, paper in, paper out—I haven’t actually watched anything I’ve done.
The rollers, mesmerizing as they glide over the circular, iron platen.
“What color’s the ink?” Auden’s hand tightens on my hip. His breath tickles the side of my neck.
There is no ink.
“Green,” I say. I can’t get that sunlit lake off my mind.
(I don’t want to. Ever.)
My tie… Why am I wearing something meant to restrict my airflow? I want to loosen it, but Auden told me to keep my hands on the shelf, so I’m keeping my hands on the goddamn shelf.
“Hear anything in the flywheel?” he says.
Just the whir and clicks and whuffs it normally makes. “Should I be?”
“Nothing unusual, but the more you know the sounds of it, the more you know exactly when to feed the paper.” He taps the top of my hand once. Twice. Again. Matching it up to some sensory memory that’s so ingrained in him, he probably dreams in that rhythm.
Anchored by his touch, I’m the one who leans in the three inches. My shoulder, touching his chest. His breath, much more than a tickle. A caress.
“It’s a pulse,” he murmurs, so gruff, the consonants and vowels mix together. His fingers brush the hollow above my shirt collar. My knees wobble.
“A pulse.” I tilt my head to the side, exposing my neck.
“Aye.” Bending his head, his lips land on the same sensitive spot.
My head’s turning faster than the flywheel.
“See? You know the rhythm.” Oh god, I don’t know anything right now.
Turnabout is a second-chance romance with interfering family, groveling, and a large helping of artisan stationery geekery.
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