Page 22 of We Were Once

“No. That you’d think I wouldn’t appreciate you.”

Eyeing my bare legs, he says, “C’mere, Fox.”

I push off the wood and go because it benefits me as well. As much as it’s been fun to make out all over campus these past few days, tonight feels different. It’s not about the physical, but the emotional connection. I sit on his lap, and his arms come around me so easily. I rest my hand on his cheek, noticing how my heart skips a beat.

Even in the low light, his pupils widen as he takes me in.

I give him a hard time about all the teasing, but I swear I can hear his heart beating like mine. The quieter time between us is unique, and I savor the silence as we stare into each other’s eyes. Two breaths later, I whisper, “What do you want, Evans?”

The pressure of his fingertips on my hip has my body on high alert. My breathing lags as I feel the buildup of those kisses setting in.

Nuzzling my ear, his breath warming my neck, he asks, “Why do you smell like olives?”

Like the bag, I burst, laughing and rolling closer against him. “I was just digging into a jar before I was rudely interrupted by a thread of texts and a Trojan horse food bag.”

“I’ll make you a deal. Since I tricked you into letting me invade your night, how about I make you something?”

“Make me what?”

Chuckling, he kisses my cheek. “Food. I’ll cook something, and you don’t have to do a thing but lounge here and appreciate the view.”

“I’ll be gold medal worthy with this assignment. Get to it. I’m hungry.”

“On it.” When he flips me onto my back on the couch, my feet fly into the air and the towel unravels, falling to the floor.

Looped into a fit of giggles, I flop my legs down and rest back on my hands. The distance between us gives me the breathing room I need. “What are you going to cook for me?”

Opening the fridge, he replies, “Depends on what I find in here.” He glances back over his shoulder while bent toward the open fridge. “You want to cook with me?”

“For your safety and Frankie’s, it’s best if I stay here . . . on the couch, appreciating the view.” A smile that he doesn’t want to give me can’t hide from his eyes. I grin, big and free. “Your words. Fair game. Anyway, I’m a disaster in the kitchen.”

“I’ll let you off the hook tonight, but I have a feeling that you’re not as bad as you think you are.”

“My dad could argue otherwise, but we don’t need to get into my issues.”

He goes quiet for a moment and then shuffles through the cabinets, eventually returning to the fridge to retrieve the eggs and cheese. I didn’t even know I had cherry tomatoes, but the container is set on the counter. “I haven’t shopped in a few days.”

“It’s okay,” he replies with his back to me. The muscles under the T-shirt raise and lower like the bones of a keyboard as he works through his tasks, focusing on the food.

As much fun as it is to watch a hot guy cook for me, I want to know what’s going on in his head. I pad across the floor and angle against the counter. My wet hair is a mess, but he hasn’t made me feel less than beautiful in his glances and blatant stares. “What do you want to do with economics?”

His eyes remain on the pan in front of him as he scrambles the eggs. “I’m not sure. I’ve been thinking about the restaurant side of business, some aspect of hospitality, but I’d rather be cooking than pushing pens across a desk.”

“Why don’t you become a chef?”

This time, he looks my way. “It’s not on the short list of options my dad will pay for.”

“Sounds like mine.” My stomach drops from the admission, and I turn, holding the cold stone counter behind me.

“Oh, yeah?”

Shoving off, I move to the window. I scoff, waving it off like it’s no big deal.

Behind me, I hear the click of the stovetop and the cabinet open again. Like the first time, his presence fills my space and caresses my back. But it’s not just his presence; his hands caress my shoulders, and he places the gentlest kiss on the side of my neck. “I’m not sure what the situation is between you and your dad, but you can talk to me, Chloe. You can say anything, and it will stay between us.”

“I don’t know why that made me sad. He’s paying my way so I can become a doctor. There’s nothing melancholy about that.”

When his body presses to the back of mine, I feel the heat from his exchanged. I find myself leaning back, relying on him for the support I lack. Standing there for two beats, I finally say, “If I think about it too much, I’ll fall apart, and that scares me more than dealing with it.”

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