Tony stared moodily out
his window at the rain pounding down on his deck and the ocean
beyond. Night was approaching and soon he wouldn’t
be able to see the rain at all, but the soft roar of it was audible
even through the windows. “I’m
“Go play downstairs,” Pepper suggested absently from the couch, tapping away at her BlackBerry. She could text faster than anyone Tony knew, and that included him--he could type like a speed demon but somehow he’d never got the hang of doing it with his thumbs. “Just don’t get dirty--Security could call back at any moment.”
He stuck his hands in his tuxedo pockets, frowning morosely at his own reflection in the window--all dressed up and nowhere to go. “Come on, do you really think they’re going to just cancel a lockdown and let the conference go on as planned?” He glanced over his shoulder.
This time Pepper looked up briefly from her lifeline and gave him a not unsympathetic look. “Probably not, but it’s still early. You’re the main attraction, they don’t want to lose you.”
Tony snorted softly and leaned back the window. “Just another rubber-chicken gala. They’re all more interested in schmoozing than science.” He regarded her, still bandbox-neat in her working clothes, though her hair was working its way loose from its tidy ponytail. “Sure you don’t want to go along? I’m sure I can find you another dress to wear. One that has no back at all, maybe--”
She didn’t so much roll her eyes as make a tiny gesture that was shorthand for the familiar look. “Tempting as that offer is, Mr. Stark, it is, as you said, a gala. You’re supposed to bring a date, not a PA.”
He smirked. “And your point is?”
Pepper’s lips twitched, which delighted him. In some ways, it was harder now to get a rise out of her than it had been before Afghanistan. But she ignored that sally. “I have work to do.”
Tony let the silence go on for about twenty more seconds before whining just loud enough to be heard. “I’m bored.”
Her fingers tightened on the Blackberry, and then she shut it off with a decisive click and set it on the table. “All right, I’ve had enough.”
He opened his mouth, afraid she was going to declare she was done for the day and leave, but Pepper pointed one slender finger at him as she rose. “Stay there.”
Suddenly curious, Tony obeyed. She was back within a few minutes, carrying a deck of cards, and resumed her seat. “Sit down, Mr. Stark. If you’re going to keep me from working, we might as well have fun.”
“Does that mean what I hope it means?” he joked, taking the opposite end of the couch. Pepper gave him a puckish glance.
“Didn’t I just tell you not to get dirty?”
At his startled laugh, she smirked slightly and began shuffling the cards. “What are we playing?” Tony asked meekly. “And is betting obscene amounts of money involved?”
“Gin.” And Pepper dealt them each a hand with brisk efficiency. “And only if you plan to raise my salary.”
“This is totally the wrong sort of gin,” Tony griped, “I’m used to it in a glass, with a little ice, maybe a twist of lime—“
“This is the only gin we’re going to indulge in for tonight,” Pepper replied gently, sorting her hand and concentrating. It was hard to keep her attention on the cards; Tony was sitting across from her, eyeing her legs over the top of his cards. She wondered if her slip was showing.
He drew a card and rearranged his hand, glancing only briefly the new order, then cleared his throat. “Are you sure about those obscene amounts of money?”
“Yeees,” Pepper replied. “Because then you’d have to lend it to me, and that would mean you were playing for your own stakes.”
“You mean playing with myself. My money,” he corrected hastily, big brown eyes striving to look innocent. Pepper nearly laughed because there was a touch of genuine blush to his face as well.
She discarded a card. “Yes, exactly. Not much fun to that.”
Tony considered this a moment, and drew his brows together for a moment. “Then clearly what this game needs are better stakes. Money isn’t enough to make it a challenge, so there must be something else that could add some competitive zest.”
He gave her a meaningful look; Pepper felt heat on her own face.
God Tony was so transparent sometimes!
“How do you know what I was even going to suggest? Are you harboring some hidden unmanifested psychic powers now?”
“Because I know you and the way your brilliant but devious mind works,” she murmured, not daring to look at him now, caught between laughing and trying to look stern. “The answer is no.”
“Not even up for the potential of humiliating me before a major gala?” he crooned gently, laying down cards. “Besting me and knowing I’d be at your mercy? Losing your touch, Ms. Potts.”
She laid down four sets of cards. “Gin.”
He blinked. “Damn.”
Pepper shuffled the cards, forcing herself to concentrate on them so she didn’t fumble and end up shooting them all over the sofa cushions. Tony watched her deal and set the deck down, then picked up his hand slowly.
“When I think of all the times I’ve annoyed you,” he began in a little musing tone. “All the times I’ve irritated and yes, let’s go there—frustrated you—I can’t believe you wouldn’t want a little revenge. Because you do have some mediocre skill for this game--”
“—Mediocre!” This was too much for Pepper, who shot a glare at him over her cards. She laid down two runs and drew, her mouth in a tight little line.
Managing to hide his wince, Tony gave a little dramatic sigh. “Okay, perhaps a bit better than mediocre--”
“I,” Pepper replied firmly, “can beat the pants off you, Mr. Stark.”
He fluttered his long eyelashes at her. “Well, if you insist--”
Hot damn, he’d managed to fluster her at last. Pepper hastily covered her eyes with one hand. “No, Tony. We are not playing strip gin.”
He briefly considered glancing at her cards, but she lowered her hand again, trying to frown. He gave her a hopeful smile. “Why not? You’re winning.”
“Because it would be just like you to play badly until you maneuvered me into the stakes you wanted,” she answered firmly. “Now are we playing or not?”
Grumbling, Tony picked up his cards and scanned them, wishing that she were right. Well, she was right, it was something he’d do, except she really did seem to be much better at gin than he was. And that, he decided, just wasn’t acceptable. Tony Stark played to win, no matter what the game was--cards or dice, luck or life...
He began to plan.
He lost two more hands, one badly and one very close. Since neither of the losses were deliberate, however, it was deeply annoying, and Tony decided that it was time to tip the odds a little more in his favor. Without letting Pepper figure it out too soon, that was important.
So while she reshuffled the cards after his latest defeat, Tony rose and went to get them both beers out of the fridge. On his way he stopped at one of Jarvis’ panels and made a quick adjustment.
Settling back down, he handed Pepper one of the longnecks. “I think we can rule out the gala,” he said offhandedly. “It’s almost nine and nobody’s called.”
Pepper glanced up from her deal. “Do you want to quit?”
Even if he hadn’t had a plan, the hint of wistfulness in her eyes would have compelled him to keep going. “Not on your life. I have to regain my honor here, Potts. My reputation is at stake.”
Pepper snickered unkindly at that last sentence, he pretended hurt, and the game went on.
And the house’s temperature began to rise.
It was natural for Tony to reach up and pull off his loosened tie; if he wasn’t going to the gala there was no reason to wear it. It flew nicely across the room to end up dangling off a thirty-thousand-dollar piece of sculpture.
As he lost another hand he shrugged out of his jacket and cummerbund and tossed them over the back of the couch; Pepper, absorbed in her cards, didn’t even seem to notice when he toed off his shoes.
The French cuffs were trickier, but he managed it by offering to shuffle and then spraying the cards all over the vicinity. Pepper scrambled to gather them up as he apologized, and while she was bent over picking them up he pulled out his studs--while admiring her ass. Never let it be said that I can’t multitask. But as soon as his cuffs were loose he helped her pull the deck back together, and she sat back down, a little flushed but apparently oblivious to his hasty adjustment.
Tony chuckled inwardly with glee. He was going to blow her out of the water.
She was getting hot under the collar; literally. Pepper peeled off her jacket and set it aside between hands. “Is it a little warm in here? Jarvis?”
No response from the computer. Pepper shot Tony a suspicious look, but he shuffled the deck with a fancy flair that almost worked; a few cards fluttered free from his maneuver to fall on the floor. “Ooops.”
“Second time,” she observed. “Butterfingers.”
“Hey, hey—I’m still a Three Musketeers man,” came his reply as he fished them up from the floor. Pepper watched him deal and they played another hand that was trickier for her to win this time. Either Tony was getting better, or she was losing her touch. Absently she tugged on her collar and risked undoing a button.
“I could use another drink,” she murmured, and at that Tony flashed her that damned impish grin of his.
“On the ropes now, Potts? Getting nervous now?” he taunted in that little crooning way of his that always left her feeling slightly damp. She glared up at him through her bangs.
“You know, pride goeth before a fall, Mr. Stark.”
“I wouldn’t know about that, since I’m not proud, I’m arrogant,” he pointed out reasonably. “I think if you polled the majority of people who know me, they’d pick arrogant over proud as the leading adjective to describe me.”
“Along with a few more colorful labels,” Pepper murmured back, setting a few more runs down on the sofa cushion between them. Tony blinked and checked his hand.
“You say it like it’s a bad thing. Have I ever really cared what anyone thought about me? Besides you?”
“I . . .” she hesitated. “I don’t know.”
“There you have it. Gin,” he added as an afterthought. “How many games now to me?”
“Three,” she almost snapped, and regained her composure. Pepper noted that his eyes lingered more on her cleavage than his cards, and feeling defiant, she brushed her fingers against another button on her blouse.
Bingo—his gaze flickered there, hot and sweet as sugared espresso. She let her finger circle the button, noting out of her peripheral vision that Tony was still watching her.
It’s wrong to use feminine wiles to distract him, she chided herself. Utterly, utterly wrong.
Pepper laid out three runs, cards flashing down with a crisp ‘snap.’
Wrong, but fun.
“You know, I think I’ll get us both another drink,” Tony murmured, trying not to sound peevish, and making her laugh just the same. He rose up from the sofa and she watched him go, savoring the chance to watch that trim behind and sexy swagger.
Perks of the job, she told herself. One of the few.
Tony took his time getting the second set of beers, trying to figure out whether Pepper had actually tumbled to his plan, or was enacting her own devious plot. Bending to peer into the fridge and enjoying the cool air on his face, he considered and discarded the idea that she was completely innocent.
She may look like she never had a dirty thought in her life, but I know when a woman’s up to something.
He clanked the bottles onto the counter and closed the fridge, mind flickering back over an ever-changing parade of women, bodies more memorable than their faces and their personalities nearly forgotten. The sensation was not quite regret...closer to distaste. There were many practical reasons why he had not resumed skirt-chasing on his return, but--
The real reason is beating the pants off you at gin rummy, Stark, literally. Somewhere in that clammy, firelit three months Pepper had become his silent reason for wanting to do more than just burn out his captors. Now, though, he wasn’t quite sure how to proceed--he’d never been serious before.
But teasing her seemed to be working nicely tonight, and Tony decided to run with it. Impulse generally served him well, and even if this went nowhere, he might get to see a little more of the usually very demure Ms. Potts than most ever saw.
He’d take what he could get.
Moving quickly, he unbuttoned his shirt, then popped the caps off the bottles on the edge of the counter with habitual skill and carried them back out to the living room and his unsuspecting prey--
One button clicked faintly against his arc implant as he suspended her bottle over the back of the couch. She looked up from the deck and her eyes widened, her hand coming up to take it and her lips forming an automatic “thank you” before she looked abruptly back down. A touch of pink dusted her cheeks, and Tony bit his grin back hard. Score.
Trying to look innocent, he swung around the edge of the couch and dropped into his seat. “What’s the matter, Potts? You’ve seen me in a lot less than...this...”
His tease faltered as he took in her in. The demure, modest Ms. Potts’ blouse was no further unbuttoned than when he’d left, but it was obvious--to him, at least--that somewhere between his leaving the room and returning she had removed her bra. The rise of her arm to sip from her beer set up a subtle, delicious quiver across her breasts that just hadn’t been there before, and Tony immediately started to wonder how. And also where, because there was no sign of the thing--
Pepper’s lips pursed in a tiny, self-satisfied smile, and he did what came naturally when a situation started to get away from him--went on the offensive. “Okay, what did you do with it?”
She raised her brows and began shuffling. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific.”
He leaned forward, dangerously close to her personal space--a tactical mistake, because the scent of her delicate perfume underlaid with warm woman went straight to his backbrain and started stirring up things that were already on the move. “Your bra, Pepper. Where is it?”
Pepper managed to keep that infuriatingly demure little smile on her lips; the one that gave away that she knew something and wasn’t telling. “That? Well, Mr. Stark, that answer will cost you three games.”
“Done,” he snapped, pulling himself back forcefully and reaching for the cards from her hands. “Because once I win them, it will be mine.”
“I doubt it will fit,” Pepper pointed out pragmatically. “At least not around the ribcage.”
“Oh ha-ha-ha,” Tony replied, and she noticed he was having some trouble focusing on his shuffle. “Trust me, I have no interest in cross-dressing . . . unless that turns you on.”
He looked slightly wary, and Pepper couldn’t hide her quick giggle. “I’m afraid not. You already have amazing eyes . . .” she trailed off and cleared her throat. “. . . and besides, you could afford tailored lingerie anyway.”
“Amazing, huh?” he preened at her compliment, and Pepper blamed the beer for her slip, but it was all right. Tony looked shyly delighted for a second, then quickly dealt the cards. “Nevertheless, Potts, I’m winning your brassiere and doing it in three.”
She smiled again, putting all her confidence in it, and settled down into the game.
The first one was quick, both of them slapping down runs and weeding deadwood practically on top of each other, and Pepper lost it only barely, feeling amused and annoyed at the ferocity her boss displayed now. Offering up a prize—even if it was only a Triumph International silk bra—seemed to have lit a fire under him. Pepper refused to let her eyes lead Tony to its hiding spot, and kept her gaze either on the cards or him, saying little as he dealt for the second game.
It had been an impulse, taking it off, and Pepper just didn’t have those too often. But this had been
a . . . fun one, she admitted to herself. Seeing if Tony would even notice. Yup, clearly, he noticed. If Pepper had realized he was going to put the indefatigable Stark drive behind his quest, she’d have worn her Jezebel black lace number with the cutouts. At least that one would have been worth winning, she thought.
“Gin,” Tony interrupted her thoughts, his big brown eyes wide, his stare pinning her down. “Again.”
“Oh please, don’t ‘ah’ me,” Tony replied in a silky voice, tipping his head ever so slightly. “I can see your pulse beating along your throat, Pepper. You’re concerned now.”
“Drink your beer,” she ordered absently, and took the cards. Pepper tried to hide her expression, because adept at Tony was at reading her, he had probably never seen this one before. Out beyond the huge window, the sun had set, and the living room was getting dark. She spoke up again, softly. “Jarvis, lighting three, please.”
“Yes, madam. And a fire?”
“Yes,” Tony countermanded, settling back into his section of the sofa and smirking. Pepper hoped the bra didn’t fall out from behind his cushion.
The gas flames flared into life with a puff, lending the far corner of the room a soft blue glow even as Jarvis brightened the overheads. The honey color of the main lights did wonderful things to Pepper’s skin, Tony noticed; the subtle change made him think of cream, or velvet. Something smooth and sensuous.
He didn’t let it distract him, though, and concentrated on his cards. It was funny, he thought as he discarded two, but as far as he could remember he had never actually played strip anything. Innumerable games of cards, certainly, but when things got private there never seemed to be enough time.
Well, I’m going to savor this one. Tony glanced up just in time to see Pepper’s slender fingers flick open a button. Not at the top of her blouse; at the bottom.
His mouth went dry as the fabric parted, revealing a slender--even modest--strip of skin. Riveted, Tony realized that the tiny shadow half-hidden by the placket was her navel...
He swallowed. “That’s cheating, Potts.”
Pepper lifted one elegant brow. “May I remind you that you started this, Mr. Stark?”
Her pulse was really going now, though her face was still cool and serene. But then, her poker face was part of what made her so good at her job. Tony held her gaze. “The question is, which one of us is going to finish it?”
She didn’t blink, but he saw the corner of her mouth twitch as she bit down on her inner lip. Looking down at his hand, he prayed for the right card, took one...and blessed the fates as he saw what it was. “Gin.”
She bit back an oath, and the color came in a tide now, rising up that long delectable throat. Tony laid out his cards and leaned back, draping an arm over the back of the couch and giving her his best grin. “Pay up, Pepper.”
His PA sighed with annoyance and tossed down her hand. Her hair was still mostly up, a few stray tendrils curling free, but at some point she’d slipped off her heels, and she tucked one stockinged foot underneath herself before leaning forward. Tony’s breath went shallow as she reached toward him, and part of him wondered wildly if she was finally making a move, though most of his attention was on the way her proximity set off every nerve ending he possessed. Her hand reached out...
...And slowly pulled out the scrap of silk that had been right behind him all the time. Pepper dangled it in front of his eyes, then let it go and sat back, her expression mingled chagrin and satisfaction.
Tony caught the bra on its way down. It slid through his fingers, soft and slippery, and he really wanted to lift it to his nose, but something about that just didn’t seem right. So he draped it across his thigh instead, and tried to steady his voice. “Um. Is...is it my deal?”
Pepper had no idea if it was the beer, the setting, some sense of rebellion or some combination of all three that were pushing her tonight, but it was getting close to decision time, and she knew it. Fun as it was to tease Tony—and it was a LOT of fun—the straightforward part of her didn’t want to pull back and hurt him. They’d gone into this game innocently enough, but Pepper knew it was much more than that now, for both of them.
She sat back a little and watched as Tony attempted to shuffle the cards, his movements jerky and unfocused; his eyes were on her, watching with a candor and hint of something painfully sweet in their dark depths.
“I want—” Pepper began; instinctively Tony touched the bra draped across his thigh in a protective gesture.
“—Hey, I won it fair and square--”
“—Your pants, Mr. Stark.”
The look on his face was priceless; a stunned, wide-eyed goggle for the span of a few seconds.
Then— “You’ve been reading my diary, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” Pepper murmured with a straight face. “Dear Diary, today I longed ardently for my personal assistant to abscond with my Hugo Boss dress slacks, even though I’m aware that they’re too short and too large for her—“
“Hey, hey—while you may be marginally taller than I am, I don’t have to take your insults, Ms. Potts. I’ve never used the word ‘abscond’ in my life, although I will admit to having longed ardently.”
“Hmmm,” Pepper replied in a slightly smug tone. She knew her blouse was gaping a little now, but the soft lighting wouldn’t make it easy for Tony to see anything clearly. Picking up her cards, she studied them swiftly, and spoke again. “Your pants will be mine, Mr. Stark.
“You say that like you’re some villain in a Bond movie,” Tony smirked. “Don’t you need a fluffy white cat in your lap? In any case, we could cut the card game and I could just give them to you.”
“Not the same,” Pepper pointed out, laying out several runs in quick succession. “Winning your pants puts the proper emphasis on humiliation.”
“Good point,” Tony sighed. “How is it I missed this competitive streak of yours, Ms. Potts?”
“I hide it well.”
“Intriguing. And at the same time, slightly terrifying, in a ‘good girl gone bad’ sort of way . . .” he murmured, laying down cards and trying not to look as if the competition mattered to him. Pepper watched him out of the corner of her eye, enjoying the way the arc glowed on his exposed chest, and how he concentrated on his hand, looking both tense and very sexy.
Which left her having a hard time concentrating on her cards. But those pants were an incentive, and the fact her boss was now the one feeling the heat was a heady sensation for Pepper. A sensation, she admitted to herself, that she rather liked.
Tony Stark was faced with a dilemma. Did he give Pepper what she wanted, and lose? Or did he keep his pride and his winning streak, and disappoint her?
He breathed out and looked at his hand again, as Pepper discarded one card and took another. And realized that it might not be up to him anyway; Luck, that most fickle of ladies, appeared to be favoring his opponent at the moment. Pepper set down two runs, and he glanced over at her as he discarded two. “Don’t get cocky, Potts. My pants aren’t coming off for anything less than three games.”
“Not a problem,” she replied coolly, and displayed a third run. Tony groaned silently and conceded the game.
The next one was his deal. “The question is,” he mused aloud, shuffling, “what will you do with them if you win them?”
“When,” Pepper corrected, and picked up her beer. “I’m considering displaying them as a trophy.”
Well, if she was going to just hand him straight lines... “Stuffed and mounted?” Tony asked innocently.
He didn’t quite score a spit-take, but it was close. Pepper sputtered, coughed, and turned a charming shade of red, and Tony hastily fished the handkerchief from the breast pocket of his discarded jacket, passing it to her and trying not to laugh out loud.
She mopped her face and glared at him over the linen. “Oh, just laugh and get it over with.”
He leaned back and shouted. Pepper shook her head, and as she lowered the handkerchief he saw she was grinning, albeit reluctantly. Tony made a mental note to move the evening’s video surveillance files into permanent storage before she could get Jarvis to erase them.
Pepper rolled her eyes, and leaned over to pick up the deck he’d been shuffling, but he snatched it up out of her reach, admiring what the lean did to her cleavage. Especially without the bra. “None of that, Potts. My deal.”
She sat back, sighing dramatically. “Then deal already, Mr. Stark. I have two games to go.”
Tony complied, feeling oddly as if he were preparing his own doom. It wasn’t the first time he’d felt that way, but this was definitely the most...intriguing occurrence. He picked up his cards and tapped his fingers absently on his arc implant, realizing with some disgust that this hand was no better than his previous one.
Pepper, on the other hand, was looking smug again.
The second game was a foregone conclusion; the third, a hard-fought battle. But in the end Pepper out-ran him by inches, and Tony tossed down his cards, amusement, annoyance, and a frisson of anticipation all mixing inside him.
In direct and somewhat mocking imitation, Pepper leaned back against the arm of the couch, smirking at him. “Pay up, Mr. Stark.”
He swallowed, and stood. “You know, if you’re going to strip me, I really have to insist you call me Tony,” he told her, and reached for his fly.
She’d won, and for a brief moment, Pepper wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.
The original point of the game was to distract her boss from being a whiny irritation, but things had shifted over the course of the last hour, and Pepper was worried and intrigued about the direction things were going. Worried because Anthony Edward Stark was her boss, although her working day had technically ended two hours ago. Intrigued because Anthony Edward Stark was—well--the most exasperatingly sexy man on the planet.
Pepper wanted to blame the beer, but she knew better than that. Her sense of faith in the man across from her had grown from the small flame deep within her to a steady, quiet blaze, and it was time—more than time, to do something about that.
Tony would never make the first move, she knew, instinctively. He was too afraid of losing or alienating her. She rose up and stepped closer to him, aware of his slightly stunned look again. Carefully Pepper reached down between them for tab of his zipper while keeping her eyes locked on his, her voice low and, she hoped, steady. “I’m not stripping you, Mr. Stark; I’m collecting my winnings.”
His reply to that was a choked little moan in the back of his throat, and Pepper realized how sultry the moment had become. She slowly pulled the zipper down and shifted her hands to his hips, tugging at the pockets. Obligingly the tuxedo slacks slid down, bunching under his sock suspenders.
Tony blinked, swaying minutely. “I . . . I . . .”
“Nice boxers,” Pepper breathed, flushed herself, but amused at having the great and powerful Tony Stark speechless for the moment. “I need you to step out of my prize now.”
His boxers were heavy silk, royal blue, and clearly . . . tented, at the moment. Pepper waited, loving the moment; she should have known he’d like being ordered about.
Shaking himself a little, Tony bent down to pull his pants free, handing them over to her slowly. “This never happened to me before. Not even in all those letters I wrote to Penthouse.”
“What? That an employee beats the pants off you?” Pepper smirked, draping the slacks over one arm and smoothing them with her free hand; stroking them like an ermine wrap. Tony reached over and lightly cupped her chin, recapturing her gaze with his own. There was amusement in his expression, a wry laugh at himself, yes, but deeper too, Pepper saw the bright glow of something very familiar in those rich dark eyes.
“Pep-per—“ It was a light chide, but a compelling one too, an insistence that she acknowledge this shift of relations between them. At any other time, she would have pulled away, turned and run.
Not this time. Instead, she moved closer, letting her eyes half-close in the pleasure of his warmth, and nearness.
Please. It was really the only coherent thought in his head, though there was plenty going on in there. Please oh please oh please.
Because it had to be her choice, her decision, no matter how much he wanted this, and the waiting was driving him insane.
Tony clenched his free hand into a fist to keep from snatching her up. Pepper was so close he could almost taste her, hovering a breath away, smiling gently; and while his hand still rested on her chin, he didn’t dare urge her towards him.
Then, with a tiny sigh, she leaned in those last few inches.
It was a light kiss, almost chaste, but it ran through him like a charge of electricity, and he felt as though she had laid some irreplaceable part of herself in his hands. Reverently--and when had he ever been reverent--Tony let his fingers stroke her temples, her cheeks--
Pepper made a soft sound, almost surprise, and then her hand slid up his chest, past his arc implant, to the back of his neck.
--And suddenly chaste was out the window.
Yes. Tony felt her mouth open under his, and without further thought he pulled her tight against him, one arm banding around her, the other hand still cupping her head. Pepper’s whimper sounded like delight, and her return embrace was as fierce as his own.
He couldn’t get enough of her. He felt like smacking himself for not kissing her years ago, but to do that he’d have to stop, and that just wasn’t an option. This wasn’t another random woman, this was Pepper, warm and alive and complex and stubborn and shorting out his brain. Her mouth might look innocent but it definitely wasn’t, and Tony bit gently down on that delectable lower lip just because he’d always wanted to before kissing her again.
His knees were getting wobbly. He took them both two steps backward, but he’d forgotten just where the couch was exactly, and they tumbled down onto the cushions, Pepper on top. She blinked down at him in surprise, flushed and mussed and utterly, deliciously beautiful, and Tony started to laugh for pure joy, snugging her in close against him and entirely unashamed of what her proximity was doing to his body. It wasn’t like it hadn’t been obvious all along, anyway.
Pepper grinned slowly, propping her forearms on his chest and wiping at his lips with one thumb. “Lip gloss,” she explained, and Tony took the opportunity to kiss her knuckles, since they were right there.
“Ms. Potts, there is a call for you,” Jarvis broke in.
Pepper winced, eyes shutting briefly. Tony whimpered under his breath, and tightened his arms. “Who is it, Jarvis?” she asked, sounding weary.
“Senator Inouye.” Jarvis actually sounded apologetic.
Her mouth tightened. “I’m not available, Jarvis. Period.”
Tony ignored Jarvis’ murmured “Very well,” to gaze at Pepper in growing delight. “Pepper Potts, did you just blow off the Defense Appropriations Committee Chairman for me?”
The look she gave him was wry, and she ran one finger across his collarbone, making him shiver. “Going to make it worth my while, Mr. Stark?”
Tony put one hand behind her head, losing his reply of “Oh definitely,” against her lips.
There wasn’t really any way to boost the adjective ‘delicious’ but it was the best one Pepper could think as she kissed Tony again and again. His mouth was hot; his tongue sly and playful but at the same time Pepper could feel the tension all through out his body. She shifted over him, pulling away from his mouth to kiss along his face, feeling the brush of his beard against her lips.
He sighed with delight and let her, pleasing Pepper enormously. Tony could fight and resist her on so many levels and in so many ways; having him under her now, trembling, was just the sort of ego-boost her libido needed, and she made it a point to pull away his shirt to lightly nip his collarbone.
Tony gave a groan, his hands sliding around her waist in quick response. “Don’t do that—“
“Why? Sounded as if you liked it to me,” Pepper pointed out, breathing into the shell of his ear and enjoying his shudder.
“Ohyeah, I did like it. DO like it, yeahyeahyeah but let’s just say I have . . . heightened responses for the moment,” came Tony’s husky reply.
“I thought you were a man of discipline and focus,” Pepper teased ever so gently. “Even if you can’t win at gin.”
He turned to glare at her, piqued out of the moment and she quickly caught his mouth with hers again just to feel him melt into her kiss. When Pepper could breathe again, Tony gave a sweetly resigned sigh. “Considering where we are, I think winning is really overrated.”
“Really? So I should just be happy with your pants, and not say, other things?”
One of his eyebrows quirked up and Pepper could see him rapidly reassessing his comment. “No, you won them fair and square. As an exclusive bonus, I’m offering up the contents as well . . . okay, that was crass,” he babbled a bit, and Pepper took the opportunity to slip one of her hands under his open shirt to stroke his stomach. The muscles there were tense, and ticklish; he gave another shudder. “Pepper---“
“Shhhh. You don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to say that to you.” Pepper gave a soft chuckle. “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”
“Shutting up now—“ he conceded, pulling her into another open-lipped kiss.
Pepper couldn’t tell how much time passed with the two of them stretched out and intertwined on the sofa, indulging in lingering kisses and gentle touches. At some point Tony managed to undo the last two buttons of her blouse and flick it open; when his warm hand slid up to cup her bare breast she groaned, stifling it against the side of his neck. His pulse there beat hard against her lips, she remembered.
They each lost more clothing, fumbling and whispering all the while, driven by desire but holding back to savor the moments there in the glow of the fire. At one point the cards spilled out and Pepper caught a few; she handed Tony the jack of clubs. He gave a slight nod of acknowledgement and fished until he’d found the queen of hearts, holding it out to her in return.
Pepper smiled shyly, cupped his face in her hands and kissed him again, lingeringly.
She’d thought he would make a move towards the bedroom, and whispered as much to him, but Tony shook his head. “Not there. Here.”
When she shot him a questioning look, he blinked a little, his mouth in a grim line. “Not on that mattress. Not you Pepper. Tomorrow it’s history, and we’ll get a new one, but you deserve better than that. A hell of a lot better.”
She looked at him for a long moment and nodded, then dipped her head and kissed him again until the strain in his face shifted further down his body, and his breathing was loud against her skin. Pepper bent down and gently worried one nipple in her teeth; he arched up for a moment, startled, then smiled at her in hot-eyed lust as the light of the arc shone on her face.
“Here. I want you in me right now, Tony, slow and deep,” she confessed in a shaky voice. “Please.” It wasn’t the sort of language Pepper ever thought she’d use with him, but the ache between her thighs was getting unbearable now. Under her, Tony gave a happy groan and shifted, pausing for a moment to catch her gaze.
“I need to go, um, get something,” he told her, his cheeks red. Pepper bit her lip to keep from smiling.
“You don’t have to—” She replied. “I’m on hormones. For my skin.”
“You have great skin.” Tony blinked, and Pepper’s lips twisted in a grin. She guided one of his hands to the small of her back to touch the little patch there.
“I do now because of this.”
“Ah,” came his quick nod. “Gotcha. Whoa, so um, we can . . .”
She nodded, her hair bouncing a little as she reached down to help shift his boxers down. A small, dark trail of hair ran from his navel to the thicker brush of his pubic hair, but Pepper found her attention focused on a far more delightful sight. Tony blushed.
“No staring. I’m self-conscious enough as it is,” he muttered. Pepper smirked at that, and curled warm fingers around his shaft. Tony gave a helpless little grunt. “Gnahhh!”
“Want you,” she whispered, and shifted to pull down her panties. Two other hands reached to help her, and within minutes Pepper was on her knees straddling his lean hips, taking a deep breath.
Tony rested his hands on her slender waist, his gaze liquid with desire. Pepper loved the look of him against the cushions of the sofa; his hair tousled, skin damp. This was the man she loved in all his human glory, and she gave a soft laugh as she rose up and sweetly, slowly impaled herself onto his turgid shaft.
They groaned at the same time, the same helpless hungry way although in different octaves. Without speaking they moved in synchronization, Tony thrusting up, his hips flexing hard. Pepper dimly caught sight of his dazed expression and wondered if her own was the same; then she let go of that fleeting thought and let herself move in sweet rhythm for a long while, losing herself in the heat. She braced her hands on his warm, damp shoulders, partially for balance, partially to assure herself he was here, and real under her, and Tony reached up, his hands gripping her ass.
“Pepper—” he gasped, and the tone of his voice, thick and slow, barely in control made her wriggle. Tony gave another deep groan, his fingers tightening on the creamy globes of her backside. “—oh Goddddd--”
“Good,” she moaned in a breathless whisper, “So good, yes---”
And the sweet slow roll of her orgasm rippled through her body in a wave of heat and light, making Pepper arch up, hair cascading down her back as her nails bit into Tony’s shoulders and her throat opened, her little joyous cry echoing in the big room. The crest of it left her breathless, and Pepper slumped a little, aware of Tony’s hands squeezing her ass, and of hot pulses deep within her as he gave a shuddering growl of his own.
They lay in each other’s arms for a long quiet while, not asleep but not fully awake either, simply basking in a timeless grace of relaxation and warmth. Pepper rested her head against his shoulder, her hands gliding over Tony’s bare skin in aimless little strokes. His eyes were closed, but she knew he was awake; he smirked periodically, and his contented sighs warmed her.
Finally he spoke. “So that’s what it’s like.”
“You’ve made love before,” Pepper murmured, keeping her tone light. Tony took her caressing hand and brought it to his mouth, lightly kissing each finger before replying.
“Nope. I’ve had sex. Not the same thing, my beautiful, talented, loyal, generous, amazing-in-every-way Ms. Potts. Not by a long shot.”
“Tony--” She began, flattered and startled and a little fearful, “I don’t know quite what to say--”
“Say it was good and meaningful for you too,” he sighed. “Tell me you want to live for moments just like this, and that I’ve got a chance at proving to you that I’m a better man than I was because you’re with me, Pepper. I had to learn the hard way that life is a gift, and I’m not going to be happy with glibness anymore. I want this. I want you.”
Pepper lifted her head to look at him; in the firelight her eyes shone, and the shy determination in her expression seemed impossibly sweet. She laid one slender hand on the arc reactor, keeping her gaze locked with his.
“It was better than good, and means more to me than you’ll ever know, Tony. But you’re wrong about yourself. You’ve always been a good man. I never would have stayed all this time if I didn’t know the core of you the way I do. I’ve always had faith in you.”
Tony blinked, and kissed her fingers again. “Not tearing up here, just have something in my eye,” he rasped, making her splutter into giggles before Pepper pressed her face against his shoulder again and giving into soft little sobs. He held her as she cried, and Pepper felt good, knowing her tears were the last vestiges of her old doubts and fears. They wetted his shoulder and rolled down towards the arc reactor in glittering trails against his skin.
A while later, he whispered to her. “All done? Feel better?”
“Good. Oh and for the record, I’d be happy to lose at gin to you for say, the next fifty years or so. Just so you know.”
Pepper muffled her laugh against the side of his neck, and shifted into a more comfortable position as they both drifted off to sleep.