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My hands tightened on his shoulders, the blunt tips of my nails digging in. What he was doing was like taking a cannonball to my senses. Every part of me was scattered by the pure pleasure of a kiss, and I’d…I’d never been kissed like this before. Like I was something to cherish and worship. Like Tanner was doing everything to hold himself back from going for more, and I could feel the restraint in the taut lines of his body, in the way his body trembled and his hand clenched my hip.

When he lifted his mouth from mine, a sound I barely recognized came out of me. His answering chuckle was deep, husky, and when he rested his forehead against mine, I blinked my eyes open. I was in a daze.

And I said the first thing that came to mind. “What was that for?”

Tanner laughed again, and I could feel it rumbling through my body. “Only you would ask what a kiss is for.” He slid his hand up to my waist, leaving a wake of shivers in his path. “You’re worth a million times more than what you give yourself credit for.”

All I could do was stare.

His eyes were a brilliant blue, the shade of the sky above us. “And I want to punch myself in the fucking nuts for putting that kind of thought in your head.” He paused. “Well, not right now. I think I’d do permanent damage if I did that at this second.”

I blinked slowly as my hand slipped down to his chest. Under my palm, I could feel his heart beating nearly as fast as mine. “You didn’t…” I swallowed hard. “You didn’t put that thought in my head.”

He cocked his head to the side. A moment passed between us. “Was it there before?”

The truth of what I’d just admitted was like being doused in ice water. Pressing against his chest, relief flooded me as he lifted up and returned to where he’d been sitting before our mouths had decided to get super-friendly with one another. I needed that space in that moment. My thoughts and feelings were all over the place, swirling together and forming a cyclone of messy emotions that whipped away the warmth of the kiss.

I shook my head, wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. I was sure “emotionally unstable” was already added to the list of traits Tanner probably strung together whenever he thought of me, but I really didn’t need to add to it. Actually, he seemed to think highly of me. My heart did a little flip, but my stomach dipped when I realized his good opinion of me wouldn’t last long. It hadn’t before, so why would now be any different?

My lips still tingled from the kiss, but there was a sudden, sharp stabbing pain in my chest that felt so very real. It stole my breath and twisted up my insides. Tanner wasn’t the person who made me feel like…like I wasn’t worth it. Yeah, he’d said some crap that kind of reinforced it, but that thought—that mentality—had always been there, under my skin and dipping every thought in acidic bitterness. To be honest, that…that had always been in my head, ever since I was a young girl. There was no real reason other than me being the reason. I hadn’t been bullied as a child. My heart had never really been broken. Sure, it had been wounded but never shattered. My father had been a drunk, but I’d grown up in a loving family with all the means in the world. I had access to more things than most, but my head…

My head just didn’t work right.

The moment someone like Tanner truly realized that, he wasn’t going to want anything to do with me. And I needed to be so very careful with that, because despite what’d happened when I’d been a freshman and he’d gotten with my roommate, he was the kind of guy who was worth it, and losing someone like him would surely smash my heart to smithereens.

“Andy,” Tanner said as he placed his hand on my arm. “Talk to me.”

Drawing in a shallow breath, I looked at him and I wanted him to kiss me again. I really did. And I wanted him to pull me into his arms. I really wanted that, but that’s not what I did. I sorted through all the emotions churning inside me and I mentally recoiled from the spark of hope and anticipation that blossomed in my chest. I settled on the one tangible thing I always latched onto, the one emotion that protected me no matter what.


It was the wrong thing. I knew that and I also knew the kind of sadness I felt, the restlessness that seemed to invade my very core, it was more destructive than any risk I could take, but I couldn’t…couldn’t do this. “I don’t want to talk to you.” As his eyes widened with surprise, I swung my legs off the lounge and stood. “And I prefer to pretend that nothing happened between us.”

Tanner drew back like I’d kicked him in the face, and I didn’t feel a moment of satisfaction. There was only a riptide of frustration and bitter self-loathing that chewed through me like a cancer.

Our gazes met, and the stark disbelief in his stare was hard to acknowledge, but even harder to look upon was the twinge of hurt I saw lurking in there. Guilt flooded my system, and I turned away.

I’d made it to the door, my fingers brushing over the handle when his voice stopped me.

“Don’t walk away from me,” he said. “Please.”


Coming to my feet, I was prepared to chase her ass down if she ignored me and opened that door. There was no way I was letting her walk away after what’d just happened. No fucking way.

My heart pounded like a steel drum and my pulse was still thrumming. All from a kiss—a simple kiss. Never had a kiss made me feel like that, and I’d be damned if she stomped all over it with absolutely no explanation.