He mulled that over, processing it, surprise flickering across his face “Fine. But I do have the potential to hurt you.”

“Let me be the judge. I’m game for you to kiss me. Right here, right now. Trust me, my therapist will be thrilled. Maybe even give me a discount next time I go in.”

“I’m not sure if I can stop if I do.”

I scowled. “Is this my punishment for turning you down?”

“V, I can think of several ways to punish you creatively, and not kissing you is not one. It’s punishment for myself. I—I’ve made a promise to myself that I won’t get involved with anyone.”

I closed my eyes briefly, hiding my disappointment from his searching eyes. “Fine, but if we did—kiss—what do you think it would be like?”

He traced my mouth with his finger. Gentle-like, his thumb pressed on my lower lip, and my tongue darted out to taste his skin. He watched my lips, his own parting.

“What are you thinking?” I whispered. I was thinking of him coming into my house with me.

“That if we kissed, you’d bring out the animal in me, and I’d die to taste every single inch of your softness with my tongue. And not just your mouth. I’d want my lips all over you. I’d lick every corner and crevice. I’d want to eat you raw, consume you until there was nothing left.”

I shivered.

That was … that was. Hot.

Before I could change my mind, I tilted up my head, stood on my tiptoes and kissed him. Just a press of my lips against his pillowy ones. Soft. Tentative. My hands went to his broad shoulders, easing up to the nape of his neck.

He froze, not kissing me back but not pushing me away.

Mortified, I stepped down and stared at the ground. Anywhere except at him. Heat rushed to my face. I counted my toes, noting that the red color on my nails needed to be redone. My hands went crazy against my leg.

How could I have been so stupid?

“V.”

Retreat, retreat, my head said. I gave him my back, forcing my hands to be still.

“V?”

His hand cupped my shoulder and turned me around. “Look at me.”

No.

“Come on, look at me,” he whispered.

I sighed heavily and gazed at him. “I’m sorry.”

His eyes burned into me. “No, I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For this,” he said, wrapping his arms around my waist and tugging me until our chests crushed together. Then his head lowered and his mouth took mine, and there was nothing tentative about it as our tongues tangled together. Immediately, every inch of my skin flared to life. Heat. Fire. I strained toward him as if I needed him to breathe. His full lips razed mine like a man starved, devouring me with each little nip and groan that came from him. He picked me up off the ground, his arms molding me to him. He was a lusty kisser, a man who took what he wanted, who pillaged. Every atom, every molecule inside me ached to inhale him, to swallow him whole and never let him go. I imagined him as a demanding lover, one who took what he wanted as hard as he wanted, but then gave you back a thousand fold. He was exactly what I needed, and I moaned out his name, and he answered by whispering mine, his hands drifting down to my collar to push inside my robe. Yes. I wanted his naked flesh against mine. I wanted him to sink into me and take me hard, drive away the pain of my past and make me feel good. Happy.

I don’t know how long we kissed, but I burned the moment into my head, part of me afraid he would disappear, be yanked from me like everything else. I gripped his hair, my fingers threading through the strands, holding on. It may have been a kiss, but it smacked of more, of something so real I could reach my fingers out and touch it.

“V,” he whispered, his voice rough like it had been dragged over gravel. “I can’t stop.”

“Then don’t.”

He moved without taking his lips from mine, guiding me until my back was pressed against the brick of the house. I parted my legs and he settled in the middle, his kisses becoming softer. Gentle. I ran my hands over his naked chest, my fingers playing with the soft skin of his nipples. He came up for air, his hands cupping my face like I was a piece of fragile glass. He looked wild, his face flushed, lips swollen, and I wanted to bite them they looked so good. I wanted affirmation I was alive. That he was right here in front of me.

“You taste like strawberries,” he whispered as he kissed his way down my neck, sucking on my collarbone.

“Lip gloss,” my strangled voice managed to get out.

“Mmmm,” he said, spreading apart my robe and gazing down at my naked breasts. “I say we take your lip gloss and put it everywhere. Your neck, your breasts, your nipples, behind your knees, on your thighs—”

I moaned and nibbled on his lips. “Yes, it’s been so long.”

He stilled. “How long?”

“Two years … not since Geoff.” Not since the crash.

He sucked in a sharp breath. “Why?”

I swallowed. “Because it hurts to care. People always leave.” Or die.

He set me down gently, took a step back and scrubbed his face, frustration evident in the way he looked at me.

“What’s wrong?”

He paced around the patio. “This—” he motioned between us “—is a mistake.”

What?

He groaned. “Don’t you see—you’re in a fragile place right now, and I’d just end up hurting you too, V. I don’t want that.”

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