Just like that.

The first time our tongues touch, we break apart on strangled moans, Jason’s hands like vises on my hips. They slip lower to my bottom and lever me up so I can wrap my thighs around his hips. The changing room wall shudders with the force of his drive and I bite down on my lip so I don’t scream. He’s so thick and ready and right there. Right where I need him.

Our mouths tangle again and this time, there’s more exploration. We’re fighting for ground, trying to best one another with the most thorough taste. I can’t get enough. I can’t—

“Easy,” he pulls back to rasp at my mouth. “Easy, baby. You can’t kiss me like that when I can’t have you. It’s just cruel.”

I nod, common sense dawning slowly but surely. “I j-just…” Lord, his mouth is so sexy. And it’s right there, masculine and wet. He’s looking at mine, too. “You were amazing in there. You were a hero.” I drag my attention to find his eyes. “I’m proud of you.”

“So this is some kind of…what? Reward? I don’t deserve one. It’s what I should have been doing all along.” There’s conflict in his face, but he lets it go with a curse. “Hell, I’ll take what I can get from you.” He leans his forehead against mine and we breathe together. Once, twice. “I wasn’t sure if I said the right—”

“You did.”

“I’m not good with that kind of thing.”

“Bull honkey.”

His laugh warms my whole body, head to toe. “This is the part when I have to set you down and walk away, isn’t it?”

I nod, afraid to admit to myself it’s the last thing I want. I drop my legs from around Jason’s hips and he eases me to the floor with a wince, adjusting himself in his jeans. He shakes his head and growls at me as I back through the curtains…and find us the object of rapt interest to every pageant mama in the changing room. Birdie picks that moment to exit her stall, raising an eyebrow at the disapproval being leveled at us.

“Jason tried to light a cigar. Right there in the middle of the department store,” I blurt the lie, linking arms with Birdie and ushering her out of the dressing room, my chin in the air. “Do you believe the gall of him?”

A glance back over my shoulder tells me he’s fighting laughter, but his smile smooths out fast into something hotter and we mimic each other with a slow release of breath. His hungry expression is one that will probably stay with me for days. A lot like that kiss.

Oh, who am I kidding? It’ll be a lot longer than that.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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Username: IWant2Believe2000

Is Bigfoot an alien? I have a better question for you.

Is Bigfoot NOT an alien? Think about it.

Naomi

I need to get away for a while and clear my head.

No better distraction than marching naked in a parade.

Yes. I am going to the body paint parade today and will be joining as an active participant. I’ve already chosen a design and a local artist. No sense in being spontaneous without a little planning first, right?

Especially since everything else in my life is suddenly up in the air.

After Birdie’s meltdown in the department store dressing room yesterday, I’m not sure where we stand as contestant and coach. Competing might be too hard for her in light of her revelations about Natalie. If that’s the case, I will gladly bow out, wish her well and be on my way. The last thing I want is for her to continue training if it could affect her health and well-being negatively. I’ll miss her. I’ll be sad she never got the chance to compete, since I think she’s better than she realizes, but I won’t push.

Not too hard, anyway.

Every coach-contestant partnership hits a wall at some point. When I was seventeen, I pretended to have the chickenpox for a week so I wouldn’t have to practice. It took a very specific combination of mixed together pink and brown paint to make those spots convincing and they were the very devil to get off. In the end, I was found out. My parents confiscated my car keys for two weeks, leaving me to walk to and from pageant practice. To this day, I still think the punishment was worth lying in bed for a week and watching that Glee marathon.

While I won’t pressure Birdie, I’m certainly not going to let her think I’ve given up on her after one bad afternoon. No, ma’am. Somewhere around midnight last night, it hit me. We’ve been approaching this pageant all wrong from the beginning. We have more than enough time to do it right, if Birdie is game. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Walking out my front door and proceeding down the steps would be a good first move.

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