I stalked to the door completely pissed off at myself. I swung it open and Bennett charged inside, grasping at my shoulders. “Are you okay? Were you awake?”
I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t awake so he wouldn’t know what a goddamn wuss I truly was. I mean, shit, I could haul ass in my kickboxing class, but I wimped out in a real-life scenario?
“Uh, yeah, the noise at my window woke me up.” He was squeezing my shoulders now, all boy saves-girl, so I backed the hell away from him.
“He ran before I could get to him, but I got a good look at his face and the clothes he was wearing.”
That’s when I heard the siren blaring in the background. Fuck, now the whole goddamn neighborhood would be woken up for this.
“Avery, the police will be here any minute; maybe you should put some more clothes on.” I looked down at my skimpy sleep shorts and white tank top—no bra—my ni**les standing at attention.
And here was Bennett being a complete gentleman again. Shit.
“Right, thanks.” I dashed into my bedroom, grabbed jeans and a black hoodie from my bedroom floor and slipped them on. I headed back to the living room and said, “Better?”
He nodded. “Pretty sure the cops will be able to do their jobs with clear heads now.” My whole body heated at his comment. Even in the middle of all of this.
“Bennett, how did you . . .” I moved to my bedroom door and glanced at my partially open widow.
“Why were you outside?”
He motioned to the sidewalk beyond our building. “I was walking home from Lou’s Bar at the corner of our street and saw him at your window.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “This is so unreal. Thank you.”
Most unreal was how I acted in this situation. Like a f**king damsel in distress.
The lights from the police cruiser blinked eerie shades of red and blue against my apartment walls.
“Guess we should go meet them outside,” I said. Bennett reached for my hand, and I resisted. His eyebrows bunched together, and I felt awful after all he’d done for me. So I let him lead me outside, his hand on the small of my back.
The police were there for a solid hour getting our statements and a description of the suspect from Bennett. Our landlord, Mr. Matthews, showed up, too, and assured me he’d have a locksmith secure all of the first-floor windows in the morning.
Most of the tenants went back to sleep, but Bennett stayed by my side the entire time. He asked the police pertinent questions for me, like how long it would be before I heard anything and how to contact them if I had any more questions. Like he was my flipping spokesman or something. Surprising of all was that I let him be.
My head still swirled from shock and anger and, most of all, fear. Especially about falling back to sleep tonight. I’d decided right then and there that I’d be making my bed on the couch, close to the door and the knives in the kitchen.
When all was said and done, Bennett walked me back to my door. “You gonna be okay?”
I didn’t want my voice to deceive me so I just nodded and inserted my key into the lock.
He must have noticed some hesitation. “Avery, are you sure you—”
“Of course!” I snapped at him. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s been a long night. Thank you for everything.”
“Sure. Good night.” He headed toward the elevator and I reluctantly crossed over the threshold to my apartment. I could feel him watching me, so I thrust my door closed and propped my weight against it.
Suddenly my apartment felt different to me. Dimmer. Lurking shadows in the corners. Sinister creaks from the wind.
There was a light tap, and I heard Bennett clear his throat. “Avery?”
I backed away from the door like I hadn’t been leaning against it that entire time. I took a deep breath and collected myself, then pulled open the door. “Yeah?”
Bennett’s face creased in concern. He held out his hand. “C’mon.” “What . . . where?”
“Up to my place for the night.”
“No, I . . .” I sputtered.
He stared at me impassively with his hand still stretched out for the taking.
Was this guy for real?
Going with him would make me look weak.
Who the hell was I kidding? I was spooked from an intruder who had been almost a second away from dropping into my bedroom.
His hand felt warm and protective. He held my fingers the entire time in the elevator and only broke away to dig out his key and unlock his door.
He gave me a sidelong glance. “Had that happened to my mom or sisters, no way would I have let them sleep there—if that makes you feel any better.”
So, he had women in his life that he cared about. My heart melted a little.
He opened his door to dozens of boxes littered everywhere. “Sorry, I haven’t truly unpacked yet.
Thought I’d get to it this weekend.”
He glanced at the couch, where a huge blue bin took up most of the cushion. DVDs were piled on top and spilling over the sides. “Um, listen . . .”
I was about to tell him it was cool, I’d go back downstairs, but then he grabbed hold of my hand and led me to his bedroom. It was the only room in the apartment not filled to the brim with boxes.
A queen bed sat in the center of the room with a black and gray checkered sheet and comforter set.
Very understated. Very cozy. Very male.
“You can sleep in my bed.”
I blinked back my surprise. Not that I hadn’t been in a man’s bed before, but this felt so different.
Probably because this wasn’t under sexual circumstances. This was a caring and concerned gesture.
He motioned to the living room. “I’m going to sleep out here.” “No way, Bennett, I’m not taking your bed.” I turned toward the door. “I’ll sleep out there.”
“Please, don’t argue the point.” He back out of the doorway. “I’ll be close to the door, so no worries. Besides, we’re up on the fifth floor. Good night.”
Something clicked inside my very core. He wasn’t interested in me in the same way other men were--at least I didn’t think he was—and he wasn’t going to take advantage of me. I actually felt safe, even though I wasn’t in control. At least not in control for the moment.
“Wait.” I looked back at the bed. “Which side do you normally sleep on?”
He pointed to the side nearest the door.
I walked over to the far end of the bed and began unbuttoning my jeans. He gazed at me a second more before shutting the door. I slid out of my jeans and hoodie and slipped inside his sheets. They smelled like him. Coconut, spice, and all boy.
I heard Bennett outside the door sliding boxes around, opening and closing what was maybe the linen closet, and then getting situated. Twenty minutes later I was still awake and feeling restless. I decided on a cold glass of water.
I slid open the bedroom door, tiptoed into the darkened room, and nearly tripped over Bennett. I had assumed he was going to be on the couch, but instead he was on the cold, hard floor. Guilt twisted in my gut.
“So sorry,” I muttered. “Just getting a glass of water.”
His eyes were open, and his gaze caressed my body. I was back to wearing my white tank top and sleep bottoms, and I could have sworn I saw longing flicker in his eyes.
“The glasses are in the cupboard, left side of the sink.”
At least he had unpacked his dishes. I poured a glass and took big gulps of the water, deciding what to do. He was obviously awake and uncomfortable on the floor. He hadn’t even attempted to move the boxes off his couch.
I padded back to him and held out my hand much the same way he’d done to me earlier. “C’mon.” “Huh?” He sat up. He didn’t have a shirt on, and I tried not to stare at his taut chest and stomach. I didn’t quite succeed. I also caught a glimpse of a tattoo on his abdomen, and I made a mental note to ask about it later.
“No questions,” I said. He grabbed hold of my hand and I yanked him up and into his room. He was wearing blue boxer briefs, and I averted my eyes from the front of his shorts. “I promise not to bite, and I’ll stay on my side of the bed.”
He apparently found that amusing, because he shook his head, a grin indenting the side of his cheek. “Are you sure?”
He slid into the sheets and sighed, like he was glad to be back in his own bed. I lay down and turned my back to him, my senses heighted and my body on high alert. The tension between us was palpable. But it was different somehow. I didn’t want him to paw me or screw me senseless.
Instead, I wanted his arms around me, his chin nuzzling my neck, and his lips kissing me slow and soft. I was pretty sure I could get lost in those lips.
Damn, I wanted him. In a totally different way. A way I hadn’t felt since Gavin, my first boyfriend, when I was sixteen years old. Before Tim ruined us. Ruined me.
Maybe I could have him. Just to lose myself in. To make me forget.
“You gonna be able to sleep?” Bennett asked in a raspy, sexy voice that reverberated through my bones. “Are you still thinking about what happened?”
I wasn’t, but I said so anyway. “Yeah.”
He inched his body toward mine and I immediately felt his heat. His fingers reached out tentatively and I almost arched my back to accept them.
Then he rubbed my shoulder in delicate circles. “Shhh . . . you’re safe with me. You can fall asleep.”
My entire body tingled, head to toe. But somehow, after a few minutes, his fingers lulled me into a blissful sleep.
I opened my eyes as sunlight flooded Bennett’s room, creating slanted lines across his bed. Bennett was no longer next to me, but I heard him tinkering on the other side of the door.
Did I really just sleep in this guy’s bed—because I was afraid to sleep alone?
Climbing out of the warm sheets, I eased back into my jeans and hoodie. I padded to the bathroom and saw what a wreck I was. My hair was in tangles and my mascara had traveled beneath my eyes. I splashed cold water on my face to wake me up and then used one of Bennett’s blue hand towels that hung neatly near the sink. Peeking at some of the toiletries on his counter, I discovered his expensive coconut shampoo. I snapped the top open and took a quick sniff before placing it back where it belonged.
When I emerged from the bathroom, Bennett stood in the living room hold a steaming mug of coffee for me. “This is about all I can offer you this morning. Do you take cream or sugar?”
“Black is fine, and you offered me plenty last night.”
“Not a problem,” he said, sitting down on the one section of the couch not littered with stuff. He motioned to the chair across the room, one he had cleared for me, and sipped from his mug. He was already showered and dressed. His hair was less unruly when it was wet, and today he wore gray jeans, a black T-shirt, and black motorcycle boots. More like a tattoo artist.
“You work today?” I asked.
“Yeah, Oliver’s got me scheduled for a full day of tats.” Hearing his boss’s name roll off his tongue made me squirm. Oliver ended up wanting more from me than just one evening. Wanted to take me to dinner the next night, and I’d refused. “You know those frat boys—always want those tats in prominent places to show off their school spirit.”
“I better let you get to it, then; don’t want to keep them waiting,” I said. “I’ve got to get ready for work, too.”
“Please, stay and finish your coffee, at least.”
I hesitated. “Sure, for another minute, so I don’t have to return your cup.”
He was watching me, so I looked around like I was taking in the place. Except nothing was unpacked, so I stared at the contents of open boxes. His entire life had been dumped right here in bins in the living room, and somehow it felt too personal, too intimate to be standing in the middle of it all. “So, no roommate, huh?”
“I actually do have someone moving in next month.”
“A girlfriend?” I didn’t even know why I asked. It was none of my damn business.
“No, no girlfriend. Not yet. I’ve seen someone a couple of times this past month, but we’ll see where that leads.” He watched my eyes as if to gauge my reaction. He didn’t have to offer me any of that information, but I got the feeling he wanted to. Maybe to give a hint that he wasn’t interested. Or that he wasn’t attached yet. I wasn’t sure which.
“Anyway, my friend will be moving in here next month.” He tilted his head. “You know—the one you met at the party?”
I fiddled with the hem of my shirt. “Oh yeah . . . Nate, right?”
Bennett nodded, and then his voice took on a serious tone. “Can I ask you a question, Avery?”
“Sure.” I finally sat down across from him on the upholstered chair he’d cleared for me.
“How come . . .” He looked down, breaking eye contact with me. “How come you didn’t go for my friend? I mean, besides the fact that he was so blatant. But girls usually fall for that.”
Was he asking because he was curious, or because he was interested? Should I go for unabashed honesty here? All at once I stood up and started pacing.
“I don’t know.” So as to not look so obviously rattled, I strode over to the window to stare at his lackluster view of the parking lot. “Normally, I’d be all for that. I’m a no-strings-attached kind of girl.”
As I turned back to look at him, his face showed a flicker of disappointment before he recovered.
Now I was the one trying to gauge his reaction.
I decidedto continue with my honesty. “But I wasn’t interested in him that night.”