“I’ll get it,” she said, pulling her shirt over her head. Mischief blazed in her eyes.
“You rein it in, asshead,” I said, still trying to figure out what to do with my hair. “I’ll be out in a couple of minutes.”
I heard Avery let Quinn inside while I started to tuck my hair up in a messy bun.
“So, is this, like, a real date?” Avery asked. No hello, no nothing.
What in the hell was she doing? She told me to live in the gray and then she went and asked him a so-not-gray question. I knew she was just trying to feel him out, but talk about Holy mixed signals, Batman.
“I guess you could call it that,” Quinn said, his gravelly voice rumbling up my spine and warming me in all the right places.
“What are you guys gonna do when you finally run into Joel?”
“Dunno,” he said. I brushed back a piece of my hair, listening to his reply. I couldn’t help myself. “That motherfucker didn’t deserve her anyway, so who the hell cares.”
My hands stilled in my hair. I hadn’t been expecting that response.
“Good answer,” Avery said. I imagined her folding her arms across her chest like a surrogate parent or big sister or something. “Do you think you deserve her?”
A gasp caught in my throat and I sagged against the sink. I was going to kick her ass.
“I’m not sure,” Quinn said and I sucked in a breath. “But I’m sure as hell trying to be worthy of her.”
Shit. What the hell had just happened? Everything suddenly seemed flipped around. Here I was just going with the flow, living in the unknown, and Avery had turned this into something heavy.
Something I wasn’t sure if I had wanted to hear, because it was too perfect. He was almost too perfect. And if it didn’t work out, my heart was going to have a long recovery time.
Joel had nothing on what Quinn had made me feel in just a handful of weeks.
I closed my eyes and inhaled a lungful of air. I needed to get out there before Avery said anything else to embarrass me. Although maybe I should thank her. Maybe Quinn had been feeling the same thing—this compelling pull to be together. And maybe we should do something about it.
I opened the bathroom door and stepped out. Quinn looked stunning in relaxed jeans, a black fitted T-shirt, and canvas flip-flops. I could even see the manly hair on his toes.
He didn’t have his Titans ball cap on today, and his copper hair was twisted upward in a kind of a modified Mohawk. Like he had run his fingers through the mess before walking out the door.
“Just trying to do something with my hair. Sorry,” I said and then shot Avery a look. She shrugged as if challenging me to be mad at her.
“I like when you wear your hair up,” he said, his eyes gliding over me. “Shows off your cheekbones.”
I felt a blush creep up my face. “Thanks.”
“I’m headed up to five,” Avery said, winking at me. “Have fun, kids.”
She left us standing in the living room facing each other. I realized then just how much I’d missed seeing him all week. I felt like skipping our plans, pulling him down on the couch, and spending all evening groping him.
“So, um . . . any idea what movie you want to see?” he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.
We definitely needed to do more than make out like a couple of teenagers. We needed to do real things, out in public, so we could see how we navigated the world together. What we had in common. How well we could discuss things. “I wouldn’t mind checking out the new Star Trek movie.”
“Really?” he rubbed his jaw as if this pronouncement had made his more confused about me. “Video games. Star Trek. You really did grow up in a house full of brothers, didn’t you?”
“Maybe,” I said. “But remember, I’m the oldest, so I influenced them.”
“Point taken,” he said, holding the door open for me.
When I slid into the leather front seat of his car, I said, “So how’s Fury holding up?”
“Pretty well,” he said, his cheeks lifting into a grin. “But she doesn’t like to park in busy movie-theater lots where people will touch her. So she may drop you at the door while she finds a spot away from the crowd.”
I just shook my head and laughed.
At the theater, we bought popcorn, Milk Duds, and large sodas. After we settled in our seats in the crowded room, I opened the box of chocolate caramel confections and dumped them in the large tub.
“Um,” Quinn said, scratching his chin.
“Sweet and salty—it’s a must-have for movie watching.”
“Yes, seriously.” I picked up a Milk Dud, flanked it with two pieces of popcorn, and then brought it to his lips. “Here. I guarantee you’ll fall in love. You’ll never watch a movie without them again.”
“If you say so. . . .” He dragged the sweet and salty mixture into his mouth but kept my fingers enclosed between his lips. I held in a gasp while he ran his tongue over my thumb and then sucked on my forefinger before releasing my hand and chewing what remained.
“Agree,” he said around a mouthful of popcorn. “Wouldn’t want to be without them ever again.”
Quinn’s gaze latched on to mine. It felt like a bundle of feathers had been let loose in my stomach. “Guess you’ll have to come to every movie from now on. So I don’t forget.”
Speechless wasn’t even the word for what I felt in that moment. Dumbfounded might have been more like it, or maybe just struck stupid, because I couldn’t even move my lips to form any coherent words.
When the movie previews began, he turned toward the screen and reached for my fingers, interlacing our hands. Then he leaned close to my ear and said, “I expect you to feed me just like that the entire movie.”
I cleared my throat and finally found my voice. “If I did, we’d never make it through.”
“I’m not sure I’ll be able to concentrate anyway,” he said, kissing the palm of my hand. “With you sitting so close and me not being able to touch you.”
“Quinn,” I mumbled. I didn’t even know what I was going to say—it was just a verbal response to the millions of pinpricks overwhelming my body. Imprinting me with his words. And his voice. And their meaning.
As it turned out, the simple act of lacing my fingers through Quinn’s in a darkened room for two hours straight somehow felt more intimate—real, overwhelming—than one of his kisses. Though I would have welcomed one.
We did, in fact, make it through the movie and proceeded to chat about the special effects all the way to the car, which he had parked in Timbuktu. He’d tried to insist that I wait at the entrance until he picked me up, but I’d refused.
We were so full from our drinks and the large tub of popcorn that we decided to drive around for a while instead of getting dinner.
“Have you ever been to the cliff?” he asked.
“The one on Magnolia Street that overlooks the city?”
“Only once or twice,” I said. “It’s really pretty.”
At the light, he curved around the bend and traveled in that direction. Turning off the main street, he headed toward the cliff. He pulled up alongside the guardrail that prevented cars from flying over. Parking was allowed in this area, as was sitting on the grassy hilltop.
“I come here whenever I can, actually,” he said, and it kind of made it made perfect sense. It fit him and his gentle nature.
I took in the grass, the trees, and the rocky descent to the water. “You’ve been here a lot, huh?”
He shut off the engine and turned toward me. “Does that surprise you?”
“I don’t know.” I pushed open my door to exit the car and he came around the other side. “You seem so busy with baseball and classes and frat house stuff.”
“Right now is a busy time, but not always,” he said, removing two thick blankets from his trunk. “And in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t get involved in too many frat house things. Just when I need to.”
We headed toward the hill. A few people were scattered here and there, mostly couples. He chose a more secluded area near an oak tree and laid a blanket beneath it.
“Why is that, Quinn?” I asked, kicking off my wedges and sinking down on the soft blanket. The night air was cool but not too chilly. The view of the city was breathtaking, with the silhouette of slim buildings, sailboats, and twinkling lights.
The water below was dark and murky. I noticed how Quinn intently studied the shoreline. I was curious what he saw in it. I wondered so many things about him. “What I mean is, why join a frat if you aren’t really into it?”
“I . . . um . . .” he sputtered. But I didn’t want to let him off easy this time. I desperately wanted to get to know him, and I didn’t feel this question was too personal. He’d asked me way tougher questions. “It’s complicated.”
“I mean, I’ll admit, it doesn’t fit you. Doesn’t seem to be your thing,” I said, looking up at him. He shrugged and sank down directly behind me, sliding me between his legs. I couldn’t see his eyes nor his expression and I wondered if that was purposeful on his part. “Or is this another one of those Daddy wishes and you’re doing the frat thing for someone else?”
“Yeah, something like that,” he said, and then he sighed. “I look forward to the freedom of graduation, but I still have a year left. How about you?”
“I’m kind of on the five-year plan. I didn’t do a full load of classes my first year, so I’ve been playing catch-up,” I said. “I’m going straight into the masters program anyway.”
His fingers lightly brushed my knees and my calves and then traced over my dragonfly tattoo. “Bennett did that for me,” I said.
“Yeah?” he asked. “What does it mean?”
“It reminds me of Christopher. Of our childhood,” I said. “Bennett said something to me that day, like—the tattoos people regret the least are the ones that have meaning. So I’m glad I got it.”
His lips found my neck and I wilted against him.
“How about you—ever think of getting something inked?” I muttered, trying to rein in my jagged breaths. His arms came around and wrapped me tight. It felt protective and warm. His mouth brushed light kisses along my hairline, making my skin pebble. “Mmmm . . . you’re trying to make me change the subject.”
“Is it working?” he whispered. He tightened his hold, pulling me flush against him, barely allowing a millimeter of space between us. I felt his heartbeat strong and steady against my back.
“Kind of.” I rested my head against his shoulder and snuck a glance at him. “Just trying to get to know you better, Quinn.”
“I know,” he said, his breath against my hair. “There’s not much to tell. Right now I’m living under someone else’s thumb and I don’t like it. But someday, I hope to break free and do my own thing, be my own person.”
He kissed the top of my head before resting his chin there. I wanted to crawl inside of his skin and stay all night, just like this, nestled against him. His arms acting as a cocoon, a shield, a defense. Us against the world. Like I belonged to him.
Except that I wasn’t his. The circle of his arms provided only a temporary safeguard. Flimsy at best. Because there were parts of him he was keeping from me. Holding back. Parts he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—allow me to see.
Avery had told me to set parameters around what I wanted, if it came to that. And if Quinn and I kept going like this, I’d soon be ready to talk about those things.
Or I’d have to walk away.
But tonight . . . Tonight, I just wanted him to hold me.
“You gonna work on those cars you’re so fond of—after you graduate?”
He stiffened briefly against me. Another wall erected. “Maybe. You . . . kinda helped me remember how important it was to me. “
“Yeah?” I tilted my head sideways and his hot mouth feathered along my jaw. My knees instantly went liquid and I was glad to be anchored by him.
“Yeah.” He lifted my chin and in another beat of my heart, his mouth was covering mine.
The tip of his tongue outlined my lips and I opened my mouth in a sigh. His mouth was hungry and wet and lingered against mine in a slow and sexy rhythm. He cast a seductive spell, completely mesmerizing me, and when his hands trailed down to my stomach, heat pooled low in my belly.
“Ella,” he mumbled, “you’re driving me nuts. Your lips, your smell, your skin.”
I combed my fingers over his cheekbones and through the back of his hair as his lips captured mine again. As the sky grew darker, the full moon made its stunning debut. Our mouths were joined beneath it until they felt bruised, but I couldn’t stop kissing him if I’d tried.
Quinn flipped me around so that I was straddling him, and his hardness was like a steel rod through his jeans. The heavy material separating us created a raw friction that was driving me out of my skull. I kept in mind that we were out in public and were only hidden by an oak tree. But as Quinn’s fingers skimmed beneath my shirt, I moaned into his mouth.
“Ella you are so fucking sexy,” he said. “I can’t wait to taste you again.”
I bent my forehead to his lips and said, “I believe it would be my turn.”
He braced my jaw to look directly into my eyes. “You don’t even know what you’re doing to me right now.” I brushed my fingers against his zipper and he hissed through his teeth.