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Nate was standing close to Jessie, motioning to something on the sidewalk. Lila was obviously tattoo girl. I couldn’t help checking her out at a closer distance. Big boobs, high cheekbones, and skinny waist.

Bennett leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Need to borrow one of my words again?”

I elbowed him. “Nope. Not this time.” My jealousy from earlier seemed so ridiculous right then.

Bennett probably worked with plenty of pretty girls. But it was me that he wanted.

And damn, I wanted him. I just needed to be brave about it. Like Adam said.

“Good.” He kissed my cheek, and I felt myself blush.

“See you guys for Mexican tonight?” Bennett asked, backing away from our table to head out the door. “Cool,” Adam said. “Catch you later, man.”

Chapter Twenty

Bennett arrived around seven and we headed out to the Mexican restaurant. He still wore his work attire—dark-wash jeans and black fitted shirt, along with his motorcycle boots. His hair was unruly, just the way I liked it, and when I first laid eyes on him, I stifled a sigh.

We made our way down First Street, Bennett talking about the tattoo parlor and his art, Adam discussing the upcoming basketball season. I felt light, happy, and proud to have my two favorite boys spending the evening together, getting to know each other. I hoped they could each see what I admired in the other. Bennett reached for my hand.

“Can I tag along to one of your brother’s games this season?” He ran his thumb along the inside of my palm, leaving me momentarily breathless.

“That would be really cool,” Adam said.

I could tell Adam liked Bennett. Admired him, even. He seemed to be asking nonstop questions, and looking for college advice, too. And I guess it made sense, since Adam had never really had a positive male presence in his life. Maybe he and Bennett could become friends.

Unless Bennett and I didn’t work out. Which was likely, given my f**ked-up history. But I had a feeling Bennett would remain friends with him regardless.

The thought of not having Bennett in my life filled me with such melancholy that I inhaled sharply through my nose.

I needed to start being honest with myself, because it was undeniable. I was falling for Bennett Reynolds. Fuck me.

At the restaurant we overindulged on chips and salsa, and Bennett and I drank a whole pitcher of margaritas by ourselves. Adam asked if he could have a taste of one and I gave him a stern look.

Bennett shook his head and laughed. “You realize, Avery, that Adam has probably been around beer and weed? I mean, what were you doing senior year?”

“Yeah, sis.” Adam smirked. “Don’t worry; you know I’m responsible. But every now and again . . .”

I covered my ears with both of my hands. “Don’t want to hear about it.”

Bennett’s mouth dropped open and he nudged my knee under the table. “I’ve never seen this side of you.”

I made a face at him. “What side?”

“The protective, motherly side,” he said. “I kind of like it.”

“She can be a bigger pain in the ass than our own mother,” Adam said.

I pointed an accusing finger at him. “Hey, somebody’s got to be.”

Adam and Andrea laughed and then started talking about a huge homework assignment due Monday in one of their shared classes at school.

I felt Bennett staring at me, a lopsided grin plastered on his lips. “What?”


He kissed my hair and then brought his mouth to my ear. “Does this mean there’s a possibility you’d take care of me someday, too? Protect my heart just as fiercely?”

His words stole my breath away.

I swallowed roughly. I wanted to admit that, yes, I was beginning to feel that way about him. I didn’t want to hurt him or see him harmed by anyone else, either.

“There’s always a possibility.” I found I couldn’t meet his eyes.

He lifted my chin with his thumb. I saw my longing reflected in his gaze.

I was overwhelmed by the immediate closeness of him, and the feeling was staggering. His knee brushing mine, his breath against my hair. And in that moment I realized I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world except next to him.

My hand slid to his thigh, and he hissed through his teeth.

“What are you thinking right now, five words or less?” Bennett murmured.

My lips immediately sought out his ear. I couldn’t tell him how I was losing my mind over him.

Losing my f**king brain over my feelings for him. Not yet. So instead, I told him how damn much I wanted him. “I’m . . . wondering . . . how . . . you . . . taste.”

“Jesus, Avery.” His fingers grasped the back of my neck as his forehead angled toward mine. “Now I’m hard as a rock.”

I was so turned on I gripped the armrest to get ahold of myself.

Bennett shifted away from me and adjusted himself.

“I’m going to the ladies’ room,” I said, standing on wobbly legs.

“I’ll go with,” Andrea said.

We stood side by side in front of the mirror, and I noticed my flushed cheeks.

Andrea, who was applying lip gloss, smiled at me. “You and Bennett are so cute together.”

I grinned and dotted my freckles with powder.

“And I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but . . . Bennett is smoking hot.”

I pointed my lip gloss at her. “Hey, eyes on your own prize.”

“No argument there.” She sighed. “You brother is gorgeous, no doubt. I can get so lost in those eyes of his.”

I cringed. “Not sure I can hear this.”

Her cheeks reddened. “Sorry.”

“No, don’t apologize,” I said, and turned to her. “I’m happy Adam has you.”

“That means the world to me.” Her face grew serious. “Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of him.”

But I was already pretty confident that he could take care of himself. *** Bennett dropped us off at my door and gave me a chaste kiss on the lips that didn’t quite satisfy my craving for him. “See you tomorrow.”

I got Adam and Andrea settled in the living room. They cuddled on the couch and clicked through TV channels to find a good movie.

“Just so you know, sis, I’m gonna sleep on the couch, and Andrea’s got the mattress.”

“Adam,” I said. “I don’t care if you sleep on the same mattress. Listen, I’ve been there. Sometimes it’s nice to sleep next to the person you care about.”

My words were strangely reminiscent of Bennett saying how nice it’d been sleeping next to someone after that first night in his bed.

“We’ll figure it out,” Adam said, a bit flustered. “So, um, I really like Bennett.”

“I’m glad. What do you like about him?” I was curious what my brother saw in him. Were they the same things I saw?

“He’s cool, mature, and a decent guy.” Adam ticked off Bennett’s qualities on his fingers as he spoke. “And I can tell he adores you, sis. Do . . . do you feel the same?”

“I . . . I might.” Suddenly I wanted to see Bennett right that instant. To show him how much I craved his company. How much I cared. Maybe even reveal what was deeply hidden— my longing, my doubts, how his nearness was overpowering because it filled up the hollow places inside of me.

“Which reminds me,” I mumbled. “I . . . I’ll be right back. I forgot to tell Bennett something.”

I flew out the door before they could see how flushed I’d become.

I needed to hold him. Kiss him. Taste him. I was nearly blinded by my desire for him.

When Bennett pulled open his door, he seemed bowled over to see me. “What are you—”

Before he could get the words out, my lips were on his. I walked him backward into his apartment, shut the door with my foot, and forced him hard against the wall. “Avery,” he moaned into my mouth.

Yanking his shirt over his head, I saw goose bumps swell across his skin.

I licked and sucked his neck before dragging my tongue down his chest. I stopped to flick against each of his ni**les and watched how they hardened in response.

Bennett knocked his head against the wall. “Jesus.”

I felt powerful in ways I hadn’t experienced before. And it was a major turn-on.

When I continued down Bennett’s stomach, his breaths shot out fast and hard.

I kissed along the path of the tornado on his ribcage, and his stomach trembled in my wake.

Then I trailed my tongue along his hip bone, turning him to continue on to his back. I was determined to get a decent look at his hourglass tattoo.

I studied it, caressing it with my fingers. It was outlined in black, with the sand inside a burnt orange hue. The hourglass itself was misshaped—almost like it was melted—just like the one in his drawing.

“Tell me about this one.”

He was trying hard to control his breathing. “Always been interested in the concept of bending time.”

I slid my hands along his waistline while he panted.

“There’s a saying that goes like this: The hourglass freezes in moments of sorrow. Races along in moments of bliss.” He spun and pulled me to my feet. Cupping my cheeks, he gazed into my eyes. “The very concept of time is a demand. That you own it, savor it, mean it. Before you waste it . . . or it wastes you.”

Then he fused his mouth to mine, his kiss so intense, it was as if I were unraveling from the inside.

Like he was siphoning my breaths out of my body.

He broke the kiss, and we stood gasping against each other.

“That’s totally hot,” I mumbled. He reached around my waist. “You’re totally hot.”

My fingers inched to his waistband, and I fastened my eyes on his. “I want my mouth on you.”

He sucked in a harsh breath.

“I want to taste every part of you. Will you let me?”

“Holy shit, Avery. When you put it like that . . .”

His eyes turned dark with want, and I felt the tickle of need between my legs.

But tonight was all about him.

I worked to unbutton his jeans, then tugged them down, and he kicked them off his legs.

His cotton boxers were molded to his shape, and I could see the anticipation bulging beneath them.

My fingers stroked him through the fabric, and his head rolled back with a shudder.

When I pulled them off, he stood stark naked before me. Never had I seen anyone as breathtaking in my life. “God, you’re amazing. I could look at you all day long.”

He yanked my face to his, and his tongue lapped against mine in a deep and powerful kiss.

I felt him hard and taut against my stomach as I walked him backward to the couch. I positioned myself on my knees between his legs and stared into his hooded eyes. He was devastatingly handsome.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” he whispered. His hand snaked to my neck, and he freed my hair from its ponytail. My blond locks fell around my shoulders like a curtain, and he twirled the ends with his fingers. “You’re like a dream.”

As my fingers traveled up his thighs to fasten around him, his shaft involuntarily twitched in expectation. “I want you to come inside my mouth.”

“Fuck, baby.” I watched his lips tremble as I dragged my tongue up the length of him.

When I swirled my tongue around the head, he closed his eyes and groaned.

Inch by inch I took him into my mouth until I felt him hit the back of my throat.

I thrust in and out in a steady rhythm, my fingers low on his shaft.

“Oh God, Avery.” He fisted my hair in his fingers, careful not to press too hard. “Mmmm . . . you taste good.” When I closed my lips around his tip, his breaths became frantic, and I knew he was close.

“I’ve never swallowed for a guy before.” I looked into his eyes. “You’d be my first.”

I plunged my mouth down the length of him, and that was the tipping point.

He cried out as warm salty liquid shot past my lips and I lapped up every single drop.

He let out a deep groan that made the hairs stand on the back of my neck. “Baby, that . . . no one’s ever . . . that was incredible.”

He pulled me onto to his lap and I straddled him. I held him against me until his breaths became slow and steady.

Chapter Twenty-One

Ella, Rachel, and I were at the coffee shop between classes. I had a shift soon and needed some sustenance. And some girl time.

I’d received a text from Bennett that morning saying that he had a class and would be heading to work after. Since that night I’d come up to his place, things seemed different between us. Cozier, sweeter, more personal—despite us not directly discussing it.

“So, when are we rescheduling our road trip?” Ella asked before taking a huge bite of her blueberry muffin.

“I’ve already asked for two Saturdays off in as little as two months,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I won’t be granted another one for awhile.”

“Let’s try again after the holidays,” Rachel said, and then shot Ella an evil look. “And no boy plans messing it up.”

“Right, asshead,” Ella said. “So, Avery, what’s happening with the police case? Are they any closer to finding the intruder?”

“They said there’d been plenty of break-ins around the area. But so far, no leads,” I said, and then took a bite of my bagel. “He must be in hiding, because the detective said they haven’t had another report since that night at my building.”

“Maybe Bennett spooked him that night,” Ella said. “He got a good look and caught him in the act.”