He raises his brows. “About what?”

“About those rules I established. Though really…they can’t be helped.” I pause, feeling awkward. How do I broach the subject of my period? I’m thinking he must be a mind reader. Buying me coffee, giving me a giant bowl of chocolate ice cream, then staying away for a few minutes while I devoured it all…he must know. Or have a suspicion.

“I know what you’re referring to. And…I get it.” His voice is low, so incredibly deep that I can feel it vibrating within me.

Oh God, I really love his voice, and the fact that he’s making this so easy on me. I feel like such a dork and I seriously don’t get what he sees in me. What he wants from me.

But I’m running with this. I’m sick of fighting it. He’s persistent and I’m giving in. As much as I can, due to the circumstances.

“You get it?” I ask. More like squeak.

He nods. “Yeah.”

Hope lights a tiny flame deep within me. This guy blows my mind. He’s nothing like what I thought he’d be. “Okay. So maybe we could just…make out instead.”

His eyebrows go up even further. “Make out?”

I nod, liking the spark in his gaze. “You know, kiss. Where it leads to nothing else but…kissing. For hours.” My favorite thing in the whole wide world, where there are no expectations beyond kissing.

“You want to kiss me for hours.” He appears perplexed, which is a good look for him, no doubt, but still. He also seems surprised that I’d suggest such a thing.

“Sure.” I’m starting to feel like maybe this wasn’t a good suggestion. He’s staring at me like I’m crazy. I’m starting to feel a little crazy and I blame him. He could have any girl he wants. Could be with any girl he chooses and she’d drop her panties for him so quickly his head would spin.

And then he’d get right down to business. He’s a guy who doesn’t waste time. Who knows exactly what to do when he has a willing female in front of him. But I’m not a willing female. I’m willing to take it only so far and that’s probably a disappointment.

So the fact that pitiful little me is suggesting to him we make out for the night is really just…extremely lame. He’s going to turn me down. He should turn me down, and go to a bar or a party and pick up on some hot drunk chick who’d do whatever he wanted.

That’s the easy route. I’m the difficult route. The route not worth taking. I stiffen my shoulders, prepare for the blow that I know is coming and when I catch a glimpse of his perfect lips parting, I close my eyes and wait.

“If we’re going to make out.” He pauses and I crack open my eyes. “For hours.” A shiver runs through me at the pointed look he sends me. “Then I need to do something first.”

I frown, blinking up at him. “Like what?”

He rounds the kitchen counter so he’s standing beside me, towering over me really. He’s so tall. And broad. I want to climb him like a mountain. I have climbed him like a mountain and had a great time doing it too. “Stand up,” he commands quietly.

Without protest I do as he says, surprised at myself. Usually I’d offer a flippant remark. Maybe tell him to go fuck himself. But I’m too curious to see what he wants from me. Too excited at the prospect that in mere minutes, I’ll be in his arms, kissing him.

Shep steps closer and settles his hands at my waist. His head is bent, as if he’s staring down the length of my body and I want to shrink into myself. Disappear. Do I meet his approval? Not that I need it but I want him to be attracted to me. I want him to find me attractive.

Or is he actually seeing me—the real me—for the first time and realizing that maybe he doesn’t like me after all? With the old T-shirt and leggings, my chipped nail polish and ratty flip flops, I can’t hardly blame him. I’m sure the girls he’s normally drawn to are perfectly put together. Beautiful and smart and flawless.

I know deep down inside I’m none of those things.

My heart is racing and I exhale on a shuddery breath, my stomach clenching with nerves. What does he want from me? What will he say? Oh my God, what is he doing…?

He lifts me up as if I weigh nothing and settles me on the edge of the counter, kicking away the barstool I was sitting on only moments before. When he steps forward, I have no choice but to spread my legs so he’s standing in between them. I keep my head bent though I can see him as he reaches out and grabs hold of the end of my braid.

And slowly pulls the band off, setting it on the counter.

“I don’t know what I like most about you,” he says conversationally as he methodically begins to undo my braid. His fingers sift through my hair, gently tugging and pulling, and it feels so good that my eyelids waver. Unable to help myself, I lean into him. “Your hair, your freckles or that fucking mouth of yours.”

I say nothing. The ability to speak has left me completely. The way he’s touching me, the words he’s saying…I’m undone. No other guy has ever had the ability to make me feel the way Shep does with only a few choice words and seemingly innocent touches.

No one.

My hair falls in heavy waves around my face, past my shoulders and then he’s smoothing it out, untangling it with his fingers and I want to die from bliss. Nothing feels better than someone playing with my hair.

And when that someone is Shep? It’s like pleasure overload. If I were a cat, I’d be purring and rubbing against him. Maybe even writhing around on my back, begging for more.

“I don’t like it when you pull your hair back or put it up,” he says, his voice this low, velvety whisper that washes over me, leaving goose bumps in its wake. “It shouldn’t be restrained. I like seeing it wild.”

He cups my cheeks with his hands and tilts my face up so I have no choice but to look at him. He studies me with those mysterious eyes, his expression serious, all traces of Shep the joker, Shep the charmer, gone. “I want to count your freckles.”

I’m frowning again. Is he for real? “That’ll take all day.”

His smile is faint, just a curve of lips, nothing else. “That’s the plan. You have so many. One in particular drives me crazy.”

I suck in a deep breath when he leans in close and presses his lips to the farthest left corner of my mouth. “This one on your lip,” he whispers, kissing me again at the same exact spot. His lips are so soft it’s like I can barely feel them touching mine. “Right there.”

Never in my life have I loved my freckles more. “I hated them when I was a kid.”

“I love them,” he says without hesitation. “And I love this mouth of yours too.” Another kiss. Tentative. Sweet. He’s saying the word love so casually and I don’t know what to make of that. “For all the sarcastic things you say.” He shifts, his mouth covering mine fully now, and his lips cling. “For the way you taste.” He draws my lower lip between his and sucks gently, making me whimper. I think he already knows how much I like that. “I fucking dream about these lips, Jade.”

“Y-you do?” I close my eyes when he kisses me deeper, his tongue darting against mine, retreating like a tease. Returning like a promise.

He pulls away from my mouth and I open my eyes to find him studying me, his gaze glittering. “Yeah.” His voice is more whisper than words—deep and dark and pulling me in, pulling me closer. I settle my hands at his sides, gathering the fabric of his T-shirt between my fingers. I’m fearful that if I don’t hold on, I might slip right off the counter. “More than once I’ve dreamed that you’re…I shouldn’t say it.”

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