And so many unspoken words.

I told her everything through that kiss. Every single fucking thing.

I begged her to forgive me. And then I pleaded with Sebastian to absolve me. So I could be with this beautiful girl. And give her all the damn things she deserved.

Ella’s hands rushed down my body to my shorts and she flicked open my top button.

“No, Ella.” I halted her efforts with my hand. “You don’t have to do this right now.”

“Goddamn it, Quinn,” she practically growled. “I want to. Let me.”

And before I could protest and tell her how I undeserving I was, she had my dick in her warm hands and I was panting from the contact.

She forced my shoulders back and yanked off my shorts. Then she knelt down, grabbed a solid hold of me and trailed her tongue in circles along my head. And, damn, if I weren’t hard before, the sudden rush of blood to my nether region made me solid as fucking marble now.

She pumped me in and out of her hot mouth, expertly licking and sucking, and I collapsed against the pillow from the sheer eroticism of seeing her lips around me. I completely lost myself in her again. In this gorgeous girl who wanted to know me, please me, and be with me.

As much as I wanted to be with her.

With her wide blue eyes settled on mine, she ran her tongue up the length of me, drew my tip between those pouty lips, and I was ready to explode.

“Oh God, Ella,” I groaned as the milky liquid shot out, running down my shaft and onto my stomach.

Ella left my side momentarily only to return with a wet washcloth. As she dabbed the warm rag on my abdomen, my fingers traced over her cheekbone. “You’re incredible, Ella.”

Something had passed between us tonight. Something powerful. Commanding. Profound. We were on the cusp of exclaiming our deepest feelings and intentions to each other and both wholly aware of it.

We were standing on the cliff together, ready to take the plunge.

And most of it hinged on me.

Ella climbed into bed and reached for her shirt. I seized it from her grasp and tossed it back on the floor. “I want to feel your skin against mine all night.”

I pulled Ella against me, her back to my front, and I floated into peaceful slumber with her almond scent wrapped all around me.

Chapter Twenty-Five


I woke up hot and sweaty, and I quickly realized that Quinn’s body was swathed so tightly around mine that I didn’t know where our limbs began and the twisted covers ended.

I pulled my arms out from under him, stretched them above my head, and shifted onto my back.

“Mmmm, good morning.” His voice was hoarse and deep and I wanted to stay wrapped up in his embrace all day.

“Good morning,” I said, giving him a chaste peck on the lips. His fingers latched on to the back of my head and he pressed his lips firmly to mine. His tongue flickered against my mouth momentarily before pulling away and leaving me breathless.

“So, you hit the road this morning?” I knew he was headed to his parent’s house for a couple of days and I was already missing him. But yet again, he was acting mysterious. Said he had stuff to take care of at home. And those kinds of answers made me pause, instead of begging him to go all the way, like I had last night.

I was still trying to live in the gray like Avery advised, even though I knew we were beyond that. But we’d never get any further emotionally unless he trusted me enough to let me in. I couldn’t imagine what he could be holding back.

And then my thoughts turned to Daniel. He considered his secret to be pretty big. So large in fact that he wanted to kill himself. He figured he was a disgrace—contemptible even—and the idea of that made my heart crumble.

Daniel’s accident was nobody’s fault. A simple nudge of the steering wheel, a failure to look into traffic one last time. Studies showed that guys tended to hide their low self-worth and loneliness, often leading to higher rates of depression or even suicide.

That very thought roused me straight out of bed. Whatever skeletons Quinn had in his closet, he needed to realize that living was so much better than simply existing.

“I’ll be here when you get back,” I said, sliding into sweat shorts and a T-shirt. “And then maybe we can . . . talk.”

He didn’t even question me, just nodded like he knew it was inevitable. And in my own way, maybe I was giving him a sort of ultimatum. That we needed to lay everything between us out there. In the open.

Because there was something bigger happening here and I didn’t feel like being on the fence any longer. If he wasn’t sure about me, then fine. I’d have to accept that. But, based on what he’d said to me last night, I suspected it had more to do with him than with me.

After Quinn left, I jumped in the shower. Avery and I were meeting Rachel to do a little shopping and girl bonding. It was such a sunny day that we decided to walk to Vine Street to meet her.

“So how was last night with Quinn?” Avery asked.

“Dreamy,” I said. “Damn, he’s so hot.”

“Have you guys gotten freaky deaky yet?” She tucked a smirk in the side of her cheek.

“I want to. Bad,” I said. “I’ve been trying to just go with it, like you said. But he’s holding back and I’m not sure why.”

“You do realize that I understand that kind of logic completely,” she said.

I nodded and let her continue. “He has to feel comfortable enough—ready enough—to share stuff with you, whatever it is,” she said, lacing her arm through mine.

“I know,” I said, frustration seeping into my words. “It’s just annoying because it feels like it’s the one thing holding us back.”

“I can tell that boy is hot for you,” Avery said, leading us across the street as the light changed to red. “So it’s only a matter of time.”

Rachel stood outside of a new shop called Threads. We gave brief one-armed hugs and then turned toward the shop’s window display. It contained gigantic paper mums in pastel colors that were only eclipsed by the colorful vintage-inspired clothing on display.

“I’ve been dying to shop here since this place opened,” Rachel said before we stepped inside.

After the owner greeted us, we perused the racks along the wall and agreed that the prices were reasonable. I was probably the most girly of my two friends. I rarely saw them in skirts or dresses. Rachel found a rack of vintage T-shirts and piled a few on her arm before heading for the dressing room. Avery grabbed two pairs of skinny jeans that she could squeeze her tiny butt into, and I followed behind with a couple of sparkly tops.

“So, have you gotten that boy in your bed yet, bitch?” Rachel said over the dressing-room door.

I pulled a black top with sequins over my head. “Not yet, but I’m working on it.”

“He’s in my marketing class on Tuesdays,” she said, both of us stepping out to check ourselves in the large three-way mirror. “Pretty much keeps to himself. A couple of the girls in the class are hot for him, but he doesn’t give them the time of day.”

I understood that logic now. He didn’t talk to anybody because he somehow felt unworthy.

“As a matter of fact,” she said, tugging the thin material over her belt loops, “I’ve never seen him with anybody.”

“Oh, he’s so into Ella,” Avery called from over her stall. “You should see the way he looks at her.”

“Good to know,” I say in the most laid-back voice I could muster, despite a thrill racing through me. He didn’t seem to notice any other girls beside me. But that still didn’t mean we’d end up being together, not if he wouldn’t allow himself.

And what he’d said last night about not having sex unless I belonged to him. Holy hot damn! That had turned me into a complete mushy mess. No guy had ever uttered those words to me before. It only made me want him more. If that was possible.

“Not sure what that pretty boy’s deal is, but he does seem to be into you,” Rachel said. “So I need to hear the dirt when you finally let him in your pants.”

Little did she realize that it was the other way around.

Chapter Twenty-Six


Sometimes when I walked into my childhood home, it was like stepping back in time. Pamphlets and fliers strewn across the kitchen counter. Mom and Dad prepping for their next event or fund-raiser. Advisors plotting strategies on the campaign trail. Various personalities gathered around the kitchen table, welcomed into our home like close friends.

How was it possible to be surrounded by so many people but still feel completely alone?

It hadn’t always been that hectic or eventful. It was quieter in my younger years. Gentler moments could be plucked from my memory, when my parents were becoming savvier—the idea of politics was just taking hold. When it had all been grassroots and our involvement in the community didn’t feel like a game.

When the campaign trail became our way of life, everything began to blur. We were always on the road, in planes, visiting city after city, the skylines smudging in the background. I’d latch on to other politicians’ kids because they seemed to get it. Get me.

That was the exact reason Sebastian and I got along so well. At least in the beginning. He would have made a great politician. All charm and skill and bullshit. He knew how to build you up, and with the simple flick of an eyebrow, tear you back down. He could command a room just by stepping into it—and everyone gravitated to him like he was the fucking sun or something. Including me.

I’d lost my virginity to a senator’s daughter in the backseat of her daddy’s Range Rover. There was nothing romantic about it. We were both lonely and horny and fulfilling a need. By that time, Sebastian had taken the virtue of more than a few willing girls.

When I stepped inside the quiet of my parents’ home this morning, I realized we were completely alone, just the three of us. And now I’d welcome some sort of distraction. Because my parents had become strangers to me.

My mother was already dressed in her white pearls and crisp cardigan. It was a rarity to see her in anything other than a skirt. She was always on—as if a fucking camera were following her around, documenting her political life or something.

Was it any wonder how paranoid I’d become about revealing too much of myself to outsiders?

“Hi, honey,” she drawled, setting a steaming cup in front of my father, who was standing at the kitchen counter in his shirt and tie. “I laid out your best suit for the event.”

“Yep,” I mumbled and nudged past her to get to my room. But my father’s large hand latched on to my shoulder.

When I looked at him, I saw irritation hidden beneath his eyes. The same impatience I’d seen countless times when I didn’t do what was expected of me. “I hope you’ll have an attitude adjustment by the time we get to the dedication.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” I said, stepping out of his grasp.

“Don’t you think of anyone but yourself?” he growled. My shoulder slumped against the wall, my back to him. “He was your best friend. These people lost their child that night.”

My fingers balled into tight fists and I considered using them on him.

“Are you fucking kidding me—you think I don’t know that?” I turned to glare at him. “You think I don’t live with that every single day?”

“Don’t you raise your voice to me, young man,” my father said, his top lip quivering.

“Or what, Dad? What will you do to me?” I challenged him. “Take away my college funding?”

“Don’t get smart with me.” His voice had lowered, his anger taken down a notch. I had thrown him off by confronting him. He was unsure where this was headed. Good.

“You can’t punish me anymore than I’ve already punished myself,” I said, my rage deflating, sliding out of me into a puddle on the floor. To be quickly replaced by self-loathing. “I mean, shit, Dad. Almost every night, I consider driving myself off a bridge.”

My mother gasped, her hand crashing down on her mouth. And I’d admit, I liked hearing that sound. Of her being shocked. Maybe it meant she still cared.

If not, then maybe I’d done my job of ruining her perfect façade.

“Why would you say such a thing?” my mother said in a low and horrified voice. “What would be so bad that you’d want to tarnish our name?”

I snorted. It always came back to that: soiling our family’s Goddamn reputation.

“I took someone’s life that night, don’t you get it?” I threw the words in her face and it felt so damn good. So fucking perfect. “How do you think people see me? As a pathetic kid or a murderer?”

“Don’t you dare say that, Daniel Joseph.” She only used my middle name when she was serious. When something was important. “He did it—Jacob Matthews—that man who drove the truck. He admitted it and we took care of it.”

I hunched forward like I’d been punched in the gut. The air had trouble making its way down my lungs. I braced the wall and sucked it air.

“T . . . Tell me what happened that night,” I panted out. “The night all the adults met with Sebastian’s parents. What was said?”

“We won’t talk about that night,” my dad said, as if he was having trouble swallowing. “What’s done is done.”

“So it’s okay if your son—your only child—walks around with all of this guilt. Wants to kill himself for it. That’s fucked up, Dad.”

“Watch your mouth,” he muttered, more out of habit than anything else.

A bitter laugh escaped my lips. “Right, because not using profanity is so much more important than the truth.”