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My heart throbbed in my chest as I watch him unbuckle his belt and then unzip his pants. His gaze remained locked on mine the entire time, like this striptease was for me, and me alone. So damn sexy.

He took off his jeans, flicking the material down one muscular leg at a time to reveal his blue boxer briefs. Then he reached for the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head. The light from my bedside lamp highlighted his ripped biceps and his lean abdomen. I caught a glimpse of the tattoo on his rib cage. Swirls of black letters curled along his smooth skin, and I hoped for the chance to examine it more closely one day.

“So you do sleep on that side,” he said matter-of-factly as he slipped into my bed. “Not just at my place.”

We lay facing each other. Studying each other. Drinking each other in.

“Bennett,” I said, taking a deep breath. “What happened to that girl you were seeing?”

“Dunno. Haven’t talked in a while,” he said. “Guess I’ve had other things on my mind.”

He reached out and skimmed his fingertips over my shoulder and then up to my jawline, sending a bolt of electricity through me. Anticipation coiled into a tight ball in my stomach. I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted him. I needed him.

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever been more desperate to kiss someone.

Chill bumps broke out on my skin and raced up and down my arms and back.

“Avery?” Bennett stroked my lips with his fingers, and the heat from his touch shot straight through my stomach and whispered a trail along my thighs. I panted out a breath. “Yeah?”

“I don’t know what this is or what the hell we’re doing,” he said. “But if I don’t kiss you right now, I might explode.”

His fingers curled over the nape of my neck and into my hair, tugging me nearer.

“God, Bennett.” My voice was breathy and my head rolled back against his fingers.

He whispered soft kisses against my neck, along my jaw, and below my ear. Then he nipped at my bottom lip, and I fought for air. He slid his thumbs over my cheeks and stared deeply into my eyes, right before his lips brushed over mine, so gently that I shivered.

Did this man have to take everything in measured steps? I was dying a slow erotic death.

He positioned his body over mine. “I love your eyes. They remind me of a rainstorm.”

My hands rested on his chest and I moved them up to his hair. It was silky-smooth, and I closed my fists around the velvety strands.

Then the soft pillows of his lips hummed in concert against mine.

When his tongue slipped between my lips, I whimpered. He explored my mouth slow and careful, and all the nerve endings in my body began to pulse against him.

He reached into my hair, tightening his hold and deepening the kiss.

His tongue lapped against mine like his life depended on it. Something that sounded like a growl emerged from the back of his throat and sent another heat wave ripping through me.

Bennett was kissing the shit out of me and I couldn’t breathe but I didn’t care because if this is what kissing him felt like, I could get my fill of oxygen later.

He pulled my lower lip into his mouth, and then my top lip, taking his time sucking each one as my fingers dug deeper into his neck.

His hands never traveled south even though I would have welcomed them. All of his focus was on my lips. And then on my neck. And then on my ear. His hot breath making my toes curl.

This man knew how to kiss. He shifted again and the entire length of him covered me. I felt every place on his body that touched mine—his chest, his stomach, his pelvis. Bennett claimed a patch of skin at the base of my throat and drew it into his mouth hungrily. The ache between my legs intensified and I tilted my hips against his.

His tongue slid back inside my mouth, wet, deep, and forceful. Like he was starving and I was his last meal. I fought to keep my breaths steady. They were as reckless as my thundering heart rate.

An eternity passed before Bennett took a breath, but I immediately grieved the loss of his tongue.

My lips were swollen and my face stung from his stubble, but I’d welcome him back in a heartbeat. No questions asked.

He looked into my eyes for a long, silent moment before kissing the hell out of me again. His mouth captured mine in a desperate, frenzied, heated rush. I was jumping off a cliff, sinking, drowning, and couldn’t have cared less about being saved as long as he kept kissing me.

I was aroused, flying sky-high, and could barely take anymore. I wanted this man, if he’d have me.

He pulled me on top of him, and I could feel his hard-on bumping against the thin material of my underwear. He was hot and throbbing and I was panting and desperate from need.

I traced my hand down his stomach to the top of his shorts, and he shuddered out a breath.

He latched on to my hand to stop me. “Avery, I don’t know what you’re doing to me.”

“The same thing you’re doing to me,” I said between heavy breaths. “Bennett, I want you.”

His whole body stiffened. And then he moved from under me. “I . . . I can’t.”

“What do you mean, you can’t?” My voice had raised an octave. “Why the hell did you come over, Bennett?”

“Because I can’t stop thinking about you.” He placed his head in his hands. “You’re the sexiest woman I’ve ever met.”

This man was the personification of sexy, so Bennett thinking the same about me was mind bending. A shiver of gratitude raced through me, only to vanish, like that vivid moment when a snowflake lands on your fingertip, pure and whole, the second before it dissolves.

“What’s the problem, then?”

“Avery.” He reached for his shirt on the floor. “I’m . . . waiting.”

“Obviously,” I said. “Waiting for what?”

“For the right girl,” he said, sitting up.

So he did think I was some kind of whore. A sexy whore, at that.

I balled my fists and considered using them on him. “Oh I get it, I’m nice to sleep next to and grope on the dance floor . . .”

I didn’t know what I was getting so uptight about. He had clearly explained to me that he wanted a commitment. And I had made it clear I wasn’t girlfriend material—so why did it upset me that he didn’t think so, either?

“No! You don’t understand, Avery,” he said. “I want you. Damn it, I want you like I’ve never wanted anyone before.”

“But . . . ?”

“But . . .” The look in Bennett’s eyes was resigned, dutiful even. “I’m a virgin, Avery.”

I slumped forward as if I’d been sucker-punched in the gut. “What do you mean?”

“I’m pretty sure you don’t need a definition,” he said, rushing his fingers through his hair.

I stared at him for what seemed like hours, thoughts ticking through my brain. A slide show of our time together. The party, the sleepovers, the dance floor.

“Go ahead, get it out,” he said, arms crossed over his chest. “I’ve heard it all.”

I shook my head, not sure what he wanted.

His voice went up a register to sound distinctly female. “Maybe I’ll be the one to break you, Bennett . . .”

Hadn’t I tried to break him? My pulse pitched at that realization.

“Or how about this one—I’d rather be with someone who knows what they’re doing.” That last girly imitation made me sit all the way up. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” he said, looking crushed and angry all at once.

“Okay, I get it,” I said. “This is like breaking headline news for some women, including me.”

“Obviously.” He pulled his shirt over his head and then brought it down over his smooth chest.

“I guess I just want to understand.” I fisted the sheet in my hand. “Can you explain it to me?”

He narrowed his eyes. “Do I really have to?”

“No, you don’t; I’m sorry.” I averted my eyes, feeling like an idiot. “You have the right to your own privacy. That was stupid.”

“No Avery, I’m the stupid one,” he huffed. “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I want to know you, I crave being around you. But you’ve made it clear you don’t do relationships.”

“And you’ve made it clear that you do. So I’m to blame as well.” I wanted to tell him I hungered after him, too, that I felt the exact same way—but the very thought of sharing that was terrifying and would have blurred the lines even further.

“Look, I’ve been taking care of my mom and sisters for as long as I can remember. My mom was a teenager when she had me, and we had to live with my aunt for a while,” he said, explaining himself after all. And I didn’t want him to stop talking, so I kept my mouth shut. “My mother’s been in so many crappy relationships. Men treated her like garbage.”

“Same with my mom,” I whispered, more to myself than to him.

“And what a great role model she turned out to be, because my sister got pregnant at sixteen, too.”

He was up and pacing at this point. “I swore to myself I would never have casual sex and knock a girl up. I’ve always worked odd jobs to help Mom pay the bills. No way in hell was I going to support my own kid, too.”

“But don’t you think that’s extreme?” I asked. He rolled his eyes, like he’d heard that one before, too. Probably from the hordes of girls that wanted him so badly. But still, I tried making my point.

“There’s plenty of good birth control out there, and lots of people are having sex and not getting pregnant.”

“Like you?” he said before a look of regret shot through his eyes. “Damn it. I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. Guess I’m feeling defensive.”

“I deserved that,” I said. “And for the record, I don’t always have sex. But I’m not ashamed of wanting it sometimes, either.”

“I hate that you saying that makes me jealous.” He stared at me, distress in his eyes. “Shit, this is so messed up.”

A guy jealous over me was a feeling I wasn’t accustomed to.

“But it’s more than all of that, Avery,” he said. “I saw how casual guys were with my mother, how they threw around the word love to get what they wanted, when I knew it was all a bunch of bullshit.”

I nodded, knowing full well what he meant. I’d seen it plenty in my house, too.

“I want something real,” he whispered. “And I’m willing to wait for it.”

My throat closed up at his words.

“Are you . . . waiting for marriage?”

“No.” He looked me dead in the eye. “I’m just waiting for love.”

Those words rocked me hard. He sounded so honest and sincere and brave.

“Have you never been in love before?” I asked.

I had, once only. Gavin and I were sixteen and about to make love for the first time. And then Tim ruined it for me. For us. Like a big dark shadow that turned our love into fear, and eventually hatred.

If I could have a redo of my first time, I’d take it in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t be so scared, so distrustful. Maybe then Gavin wouldn’t have been so shitty to me after all was said and done.

“I thought I was in love once, but then I realized how very wrong I was,” he said. “So I don’t plan on making that mistake again.”

Here was a guy who actually valued women. And he had to meet someone like me.

“Believe it or not, Bennett,” I said. “I respect you so much more now.” “Is that all you feel for me—respect?” he asked, inching toward me. “Because the way you were kissing me . . .”

He wanted something from me that I couldn’t give him. Not now. Not ever.

Man, this was tough. I wanted him, bad. But there was no way in hell I could have him. Not when our goals were so vastly different. So why did the idea of walking away slice somewhere deep inside my core?

He was just another guy. A hot and deep and irresistible guy. Who happened to be a virgin. And happened to live in my building, where I’d be forced to run into him all the time. Fuck my life.

“I feel . . . horny,” I said. He shook his head and his jaw ticked. “I’m sorry you have to be attracted to someone like me. I can’t be that girl for you, Bennett.”

His eyes drilled a hole through me, trying to reach inside and grasp on to something. “You can’t, or you won’t?” I shut my eyes tight against the truth. “Both.”

Chapter Eight

“He’s a virgin?” Ella screeched. I ducked my head from probing eyes.

Rachel, Ella, and I were back at the campus coffee shop in a cushioned corner booth in between classes.

Rachel was a business major, and after Bennett’s declaration that one day in the laundry room that my field of study should have been something more cutthroat, I couldn’t help thinking it was the perfect major for her.

Ella was a psychology major, and she liked to use her mumbo jumbo terms on me, saying that I was repressing my feelings about Tim and projecting them onto men everywhere.

“Holy crap!” Rachel said. “You realize how messed up it sounds that he just happens to be attracted to a bitch-ass like you?”

I rolled my eyes. “Geez, thanks a lot, dickhead.” I may have acted nonchalant, but I wanted to pound her one. Was it really that farfetched of an idea?

“She didn’t mean it that way,” Ella said, giving Rachel big eyes. “You’re a lot of things, Avery. A lot of wonderful things—for a bitch-ass.”