Her eyes lit up. “I love Momofuku.”

“So that does get you excited,” I said, teasing her more gently. Also, I could relate—that was a damn fine eatery, the best in this city, and a classic date place. “So, secret romance-lover, why do you pretend you’re not into romance?”

She sighed heavily. “Because of my ex. He was a full-on romantic, and I was kind of swept up in that. A lot swept up in that, actually. But then he opened credit cards in my name, took off, and dumped all his debt on me. Fabulous, isn’t it?”

I sat up straight, spurred on by surprise and outrage. “Are you kidding me?”

She shook her head, her expression strong but resigned. “I wish.”

I snarled. “That’s terrible.”

“I agree, but it is what it is. I’ve been working my butt off to repair my credit, and I’m almost there. But the whole thing made me wary of relationships and romance.”

“I can’t imagine how hard that would have been,” I said sympathetically, lying down again and running my fingers along her arm. Like a book I’d opened, the pages of Kate were coming into focus, and I understood the root of her reluctance. “You said you had a vague idea that you might want to spice things up—when did you realize it for certain? With your douchey ex?” I braced myself, clasped my hands, and muttered a prayer. “Please say no, please say no, please say no.”

I was joshing with her, but spoke the truth. I hoped to hell that jackass didn’t get to see this side of her.

“No. Not with him.”

I exhaled, relieved. “Good.”

“It is good. And honestly, that wasn’t our vibe. It wasn’t like him to ask what turned me on, what I wanted from him. He assumed it was flowers and candles, and while I do appreciate those, don’t get me wrong, I began to realize from the books I was reading, from the fantasies I was having, that I wanted something else.” She ran her fingers down my chest, and for a second, maybe more, it felt like she was subtly saying I was that something else she wanted. And I liked being that something else.

“Did you ever tell him?” I asked, tensing, hoping again she’d say no.

She shook her head, then pursed her lips. “No. But I’d intended to. I trusted him, so I’d been planning to let him in and share some of my fantasies with him.” She took a breath, playing with the hair on my chest. Once she steadied herself, she met my gaze. “But I’m glad I kept those to myself. I’m glad I never shared my fantasies with him. I feel like I kept a more important piece of myself than the money I’ve had to pay. Money can be replaced. Fantasies—you don’t want those corrupted.”

I lay back down next to her, absorbing what she’d just said. “Fantasies are a gift. Letting someone in, sharing with them—that takes an enormous amount of trust. I can understand why you’re glad you didn’t give those up to someone who would never understand how precious they are.”

A smile tugged at her lips. It was so damn endearing, the way the smile seemed to own her. “They are precious. They’re part of what makes you tick,” she said.

Stroking her hip, I pressed on. “Why did you tell me?”

Her grin widened. “You sort of guessed them, Jake.”

My brow furrowed. “Is that the only reason you told me? Because I took a good guess?”

She swallowed, her expression shifting to a serious one. “No, that’s not the only reason why I told you.” The way she said it, quiet and from her heart, seemed like a prelude to a confession.

“Then why?”

Her gaze drifted away, and she stared at the ceiling, like she was lost in thought. Finally, her focus returned to me. “Because I could tell you didn’t want to trick me. Because you’ve been up-front about your interest.”

I arched a skeptical brow. “I didn’t make a move on you until you gave me the green light.”

She chuckled like I’d made a ridiculous claim.

“Hey,” I protested. “C’mon. I was a gentleman.”

Another laugh from her, then she collected herself. “That’s true, but you’ve been pretty flirty in our texts—like, for the last few months. And not just in texts. In person too.”

“Damn. I thought I’d been a good boy, waiting for clues.”

She tap-danced her fingers up my chest. “Maybe you were, but I had a hunch which way your detective work was headed.”

I scoffed at myself. “Guess I wasn’t as subtle as I thought.” Then I shrugged because it had all worked out in the end. She was here, nearly naked, and just a few minutes ago, she’d been screaming my name. “But since the cat’s out of the bag, let me just say—I’ve wanted to get you naked for a while now.”

Tags: Lauren Blakely The Gift Erotic
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