Page 6

Once the end credits began rolling, Bennett straightened himself. But I was still against his shoulder in a feigned state of sleep. When he removed his fingers from my hair, I lamented the loss.

“Avery,” he whispered. “Ready for bed?”

“Mmmm . . .”

He shifted away for a moment before I felt my body being lifted by strong arms. He smelled liked coconuts and white sandy beaches. My eyes remained closed but I nuzzled into his neck, my lips resting against his smooth skin. He stifled a groan.

His lips brushed against the top of my head as he carried me to his bed, and a wave of euphoria pulsed through me. He laid me down facing the wall, the same position I’d slept in last night. I heard his labored breaths as he stepped out of his jeans and removed his shirt. Then he slid in beside me.

He hesitated for the longest time before finally scooting forward. His hand came around and braced my stomach, so warm and strong and protective that I couldn’t hold in my gasp.

“Is this okay?” he whispered. I could only nod, my limbs felt so weak. His breathing intensified and I felt his bulge growing against my back. But Bennett said nothing more and made no other moves. I got the feeling he was trying to hold himself back, and there was no way I was going to throw myself at him.

It was the single most sensual moment of my life.

We lay there for some tense and aroused minutes before I finally heard his breaths soften into sleep. Eventually, I drifted off as well.

Chapter Six

I slept in Bennett’s bed for the next three nights, in much the same way. I’d head up to his place and we’d dine on takeout, watch a movie, or listen to music. I helped him unpack most of his boxes and he directed me where to place his things.

I got a bird’s-eye view of his art. I’d known he was an art major, but seeing his work revealed another side to him. It was earthy and eclectic and stunning, just like him. It was mostly charcoal drawings of city life or scenic landscapes that he somehow transformed into ethereal, picturesque, and peculiar versions of themselves. Like Starry Night meets The Scream.

Then we’d snuggle into bed together, his chest against my back and me aware of how completely aroused he was. If I had an appendage growing on the outside of my body, he’d have known how entirely stirred up I was as well. It was completely nerve-racking and overwhelming yet provocative and comforting all at once.

I had never done any such thing with a guy. And I didn’t know who was more stubborn, me or him.

Neither one of us was willing to make the next move. For him, it may have been because he didn’t want to become one of my friends with benefits. And for me, it was because there was some small desperate part of me that didn’t want him to think I was so easy, or easily led—into commitment, that is.

I asked him about the girl he was seeing, but he never answered me, so I assumed he was having the same problem—no desire to be with anyone else for the moment.

Rob even drunk-dialed me and threatened to show up on my doorstep because he needed it so badly, he said. Obviously I did, too, like I’d never needed it before in my whole damned life, but it felt weird to let Rob come over, especially if Bennett accidentally ran into him. I had no earthly idea where either of us stood or how blurred the lines had become.

So I decided I needed to be the bigger person—the person who had an ounce of control and sense left—and put an end to my sleepovers with Bennett. I needed to sleep in my own damn bed.

So I didn’t go up to his apartment and he didn’t come down to get me and somehow that made me feel even worse. My chest had an ache I couldn’t shake until I fell into a restless night of sleep. I figured he got the message I was sending. That I was no longer interested in whatever little game we were playing.

In the morning I was proud of myself for making it through the night without the help of a man. I needed to get my life back. I was strong and unattached, and I liked it that way.

Mrs. Jackson noticed a difference the following morning in the activity room. “You look resigned today. Maybe with a hint of sadness underneath.”

“Nope, you don’t have me pegged today,” I said, laying down my pair of aces. I’d promised her a quick game of rummy. “I am confident and self-assured.”

“I am woman, hear me roar?” she said, snickering. Her fingers trembled as she balanced her stack of cards. It was a skill that had become difficult for her, given the numbness in her hands since the stroke. “Trying to play the independent game with him, huh?”

She was frustrating as hell and always saw right through me and I loved her for it.

I waved to Mrs. Jackson’s daughter, Star, as she strode through the door for a visit. “Oh good. Now you can complain about how Star and her husband work too much and need more date nights.” I winked as I exited the table.

That night I tried to have a quickie with Rob—at his place, instead of mine. I had so much pent-up sexual frustration I didn’t know what to do. Rob had two roommates, and they were a pain in the ass.

Always high as kites in front of the PlayStation. The place was a disaster, and I refused to ever use the one bathroom they all shared. No way did I want to see nasty public hairs clinging to the wall or yellow trails of pee on the floor. Men had disgusting habits; that was for sure. One of the many reasons I was better off without one in my life.

After Rob brought me up to his room, he immediately lifted my shirt and began pawing at me. No erotic foreplay there. Not that I’d ever needed it before.

His hands were rough, his kisses sloppy, and for the first time I asked myself how I’d ever been with him so many times. It suddenly felt different, and there was definitely no damn fire in my belly.

It might be the first time I’d have to fake it, but I didn’t want to disappoint Rob. We used each other for just this purpose, and if he needed to get off, then I’d oblige. But damn, I needed it, too. My vibrator had been a poor substitute for flesh and bones. Or boner, in this case.

An hour later, I was on my way home and less satisfied than I’d been in a good long while.

*** The second night I slept alone in my bed, I told myself things were finally getting back to normal. I ignored the tightness lodged in my throat that I was missing something—missing someone—and convinced myself that Bennett was fine with it as well, because he never tried to contact me, either.

I was going to a party with Ella and Rachel that evening and was excited about being out with my friends again. But as I got dressed I couldn’t help wondering if Bennett would show up. It was the same frat house throwing the party as a couple weeks ago, and Bennett had mentioned that the one jock was a customer of his. Said he had inked two tattoos on his biceps in the past year.

And so I found myself dressing for Bennett as much as for me. Pathetic. I wore my favorite skinny jeans with a flowing top that I left unbuttoned to the center of my chest. I wore a white cami underneath that had a built-in bra. It made my small br**sts look firm and round.

When we first arrived I begrudgingly admitted to myself that I was disappointed that Bennett wasn’t there. His friend Nate was, but I refused eye contact with him. It didn’t stop me from drinking shots of tequila with Rachel and Ella and having a good time.

The music was pumping, the bodies were wall to wall, and the girls and I danced a few songs. I felt myself letting loose and not thinking so hard. We let a couple of guys dance with us, but when one started getting frisky, I turned him down. Definitely not because of Bennett. I just wanted to ease back into the game slowly.

We sipped the margaritas that Rachel mixed especially for tonight, and they felt good going down.

She leaned toward me and shouted above the music. “A yummy guy keeps looking over here. If you don’t want him, I’ll take him.”

I looked up and saw Bennett leaning against the wall, a beer in his hand. He practically knocked the wind out of me he was so stunning. He lifted his hand in a wave and I smiled back.

“That’s him, isn’t it?” Ella shouted into my ear. “Your neighbor?”

“Yep.” I bit my lip while my heart performed impossible tricks in a jump rope tournament.

“He is smoking hot,” she said, sipping her margarita through a straw.

“Yeah,” I said. “Too bad he doesn’t want to get it on with me.”

“Maybe he does but he’s waiting,” she said, looking over my shoulder and checking him out again.

I rolled my eyes. She was closer to the truth than she knew. Bennett had slept in the same bed with me and never touched me once. “For what?”

“For you to want him in the same way, asshead.”

I hadn’t told her all the details of our nights; just that we had hung out some more. And that it was totally innocent.

“Think about it,” she said, all smug.

Oh, I was thinking about it. Every single day.

And I knew what Ella was getting at.

I did want him.

I wanted to get him out of my damn system already.

Rachel headed toward Bennett like she was on a mission, and I felt my stomach bunch up. She kept her dark hair short, and her face was unbelievably striking—full lips and dramatic green eyes. Guys fell all over themselves to talk to her.

She used her you-are-so-getting-some-tonight smile on Bennett. He was polite and said hello, but kept his eyes trained on me the entire time. Rachel looked back, shrugged, and mouthed All yours before she was pulled onto some huge linebacker’s lap.

Ella tugged at my hand. “C’mon, I can’t find Joel, and I need to dance to this one.”

“Okay,” I said, standing up and taking one last glance at Bennett. He had his back turned and was talking to Nate. Nate said something and they high-fived and chugged back their beers.

We pushed our way to the middle of the writhing bodies and I started swaying my hips in time to the music. I raised my arms in the air and got lost in the slow and sexy song.

A minute later, I felt warm breath stroke my neck and a strong hand brace my stomach. I knew it was him without turning around. Those same long fingers had been splayed against my body all week long. I closed my eyes and savored his skin touching mine.

“I like when you wear your hair down.” He twined his fingers through the ends of my curls and it sent a shiver ricocheting through my body.

“You haven’t come up,” he breathed against my ear.

“I figured it was time to be a big girl and sleep in my own bed,” I said.

“Understood.” He held on to my waist and swayed along with me. His fingers trailed beneath the hem of my shirt and a couple of inches upward. I fought to keep my breaths under control.

“I know this is going to sound crazy,” he whispered. “But I kind of missed you.”

He pulled me flush against him and I sucked in a breath. I felt the hard wall of his chest, the strong and steady thud of his heart at my back. I laced my fingers around his neck and leaned into him.

His fingers blazed a trail along my rib cage and stopped just above my navel. I rocked my hips back and forth in time with the music and he let out a slow groan.

“Jesus, Avery,” he said. Suddenly he pushed away from me. “I need some air.”

He stormed off the dance floor, leaving me speechless and way too aroused. Ella raised an eyebrow at me.

Why the hell was he resisting so badly?

“That boy’s got it bad for you,” she said. “So what the hell just happened?”

“I’m not sure,” I said, my mood having shifted to ugly. “You okay if I just take off?”

“It’s unlike you to get bent out of shape over a guy,” she said. “I think you’re feeling more than you’re letting on.”

I just shrugged and stomped off. That was the problem with friends who’d known you forever. Too perceptive. Especially Miss Psychology Major.

When I got home, I only stopped long enough to pull off my jeans and top before I fell into bed, tipsy and more than a little frustrated. I had enough drinks in me to drift off to sleep.

Chapter Seven

A sharp knock on my door woke me out of my restless sleep. My heart jammed in my throat. Body taut as a rope, my eyes immediately stole to my bedroom window, hoping it wasn’t another neighbor alerting me of a potential break-in. I had managed to get to sleep the last couple of nights without completely stressing over it, especially after taking an extra kickboxing class that morning.

I did however, move the biggest knife from my kitchen drawer to beneath my mattress. And now my fingers were reaching for it.

My blinds remained dark, however, the only pinnacle of light from the streetlamp on the corner. I was safe.

So who the hell was knocking?

I heard his voice before I padded my way to the door. “Avery?”

Bennett stood there, a bit unsteady on his feet.

I folded my arms. “Are you drunk?”

“Maybe a little,” he said, his hand wandering to the back of his neck. “More nervous than anything.”

I had the power to make this beautiful man nervous?

“What the hell are you nervous about?” I asked, hands on hips.

“That you’re pissed at me.” He leaned forward. “That you won’t let me in so we can talk.”

“I’m not mad. Frustrated, maybe.” I opened the door wider to allow him to pass. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I knew I wanted to see him, talk to him, spend time with him. “Were you hoping to test the coziness of my bed tonight?”

He stretched his gaze across my body, and a shiver bolted through me. “More than anything.”

“Well, good.” I turned and walked away. “Because I’m exhausted, and I need to go back to sleep.”

I marched to my room, and felt him follow closely behind. I slid back into the comfort of my sheets while he inspected the photography on my walls and the trinket boxes on my dresser, like he was memorizing everything.