she’s glowing at my words.

Which makes me want to be a little more wild.

“You are so beautiful, you know that?” I say, wanting her to bathe in my words, to wrap herself in the kind words she deserves to hear. I keep a straight face, experimenting. “You’re fucking smoking, and if you hadn’t gotten yourself drunk tonight, I would tear your little ass up.”

I sound like a damn idiot, but according to most erotic novels, this is what girls are into.

Dakota bursts into laughter. She holds one hand up and looks at me.

“You would tear my little ass up?” She cracks up. Her eyes are closed and I can’t help but join in.

“Hey!” I try to breathe, but my stomach aches from laughing so hard. “I read it in a book and wanted to see what it sounded like to say it.”

Dakota pauses and struggles to hold her laughter in. “Let’s just stick to the plain stuff that you’re good at and leave the sexy stuff to the books.” She covers her mouth and dips her head, snorting laughter.

Plain stuff I’m good at?Hey, I know we haven’t experimented very much, or ever, but that’s not because I wasn’t willing. She never brought it up, and once, after I tried to talk about porn to her, she broke up with me for three days. So if any of the things that I’m good at are “plain,” they’re not that way for my lack of trying.

“I’m not that plain,” I retort, defending my skills, but making sure to keep my voice down. I do not want Tessa or Nora to hear this.

I sit down on my bed. Dakota walks over, her mouth still turned up into a smile. She pulls the corner of her lip between her teeth. “Um, maybe now you aren’t, but you were with me.”

Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I feel like she’s diminishing every intimate time we’ve had together. Our sex was teenage sex, rushed and quiet, even though I was hopelessly in love with her. It’s not like I could’ve taken her any way that I wanted to with Carter in the next room, or her dad asleep downstairs. I never felt shortchanged with her, and I don’t remember feeling like anything was missing in our sex life. I thought we were active and happy and satisfied.

Apparently not.

Dakota sits down on the bed next to me and crosses her legs. She puts on a pair of my socks sometime between teasing and laughing at me.

She clears her throat. “How many girls have you been with since we broke up?”

When I look at her, she’s twirling a chunk of her hair between her thumb and forefinger.

“How many? None,” I scoff, trying to force a nonawkward laugh.

She raises her eyebrow at me and cocks her head. “Really? Come on, I know—”

“You have?” I interrupt.

If she’s acting this surprised that I haven’t slept with anyone, how many people has she slept with?

Dakota shakes her head. “No. I haven’t, I just assumed you did.”

“Why would you assume that?”

And sitting here in the night, bringing all of these things up, I’m starting to think this woman doesn’t know me at all. Dakota doesn’t say anything, she just shrugs her shoulders and lies down with her head propped up against the headboard. She stares up at the ceiling before finally proclaiming, “Today was not fun.”

I should change the subject. I finally got her in bed and calm and mostly sober.

“It’s fine, it’s over anyway. It’s gotta be like two a.m. by now,” I tell her.

She smiles and I lie down and turn off the lamp.

“Thank you for everything, Landon. You’re always my safe place,” she whispers in the dark.

I can feel her eyes on me even though I can’t see them.

“Always,” I reply, and gently squeeze her hand.

Today wasn’t fun, she’s right. Today was stressful.

I started the day thinking I was going on a first-date-like thing with Nora, but then ended up with