He chuckled. “Yeah.” His head fell back against the pillow and he closed his eyes. “I don’t know if this is such a good idea, Eliza.”
I bristled at his use of my full name. “Because you’re seeing someone?”
He opened his eyes again and looked at me. “Actually, no. We only went out a few times, and I haven’t talked to her since I met you.”
Since he met me? “Oh. Then…?” What’s the problem? I added silently.
His hands moved from my shoulders to my waist and he tugged me in a little tighter toward him. I took it as a sign and angled my mouth to meet his, then waited.
Cohen’s lips brushed against mine, barely touching, his warm breath mingling with my own. It was incredibly hot and made me anxious for more. “I know I shouldn’t, but God I want you.”
Without further protests or explanations we continued kissing for several minutes. I found myself on my back with Cohen hovering above me, kissing and nibbling on my collarbone, jaw, and neck. I rocked my hips against him, eager for more contact. I forgot this kind of foreplay existed. My appointments with Stu were usually straight to the point, insert object A into object B. And most other guys I’d been with were the same way.
“Fuck, you feel good,” I murmured in between short breaths.
I felt him smile against my skin.
I was two seconds away from begging him to fuck me when he suddenly stopped and pulled back to look at me. “You. Are. Trouble.” He peppered my lips with kisses, punctuating each word.
I couldn’t help but grin. It’d been a long time since I’d been told I was trouble. Guys typically appreciated that I was an instigator. Sensing that Cohen wanted to stop, I scooted out from under him and up toward the headboard until I was half sitting. He sat next to me, propped up in the same way, trying to get his breathing under control.
I felt dizzy and confused. I tried not to frown and adjusted my shirt, which had ridden up to expose my belly. Cohen’s eyes flashed hungrily at my skin, before looking away. I didn’t understand what was stopping Cohen from wanting more with me. Was I not his type?
“Are you okay?” Cohen asked.
I nodded, not trusting my voice.
He ran his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he took my hand and turned to face me. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I know you’re not looking for a relationship.”
I sensed he was trying to find the right words, but it was also something more.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun though, right?”
He let out a ragged breath. “You’re toxic to my willpower,” he whispered, as if talking to himself. “Growing up with a single mom, who was only a teenager when she had me, she drilled into me to never to get a girl pregnant. The way he left her… God.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.” He stared up at the ceiling and pulled in another breath. “I vowed to make something of myself. I’ve been working full time since I was fifteen, became a volunteer firefighter when I was eighteen, and I vowed to never treat a woman the way my mother was treated.”
“Cohen, I don’t understand. I’m not worried about getting pregnant, I’m on the pill.”
He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. “I…”
“Cohen?” I placed my palm flat on his stomach. “Tell me.”
“I’m waiting for the girl I love.”
“Waiting,” he said firmly.
Oh, fuck. Waiting! I felt like the breath was knocked out of my lungs. A virgin? This good-looking, beautiful man? Was there something wrong with him I was unaware of? Deformed? Small package? Oh, please don’t let him have a small package.
I pushed away the crazy thoughts swirling inside my head. It was an honorable thing he’d chosen. He clearly loved and respected his mother, and he didn’t want to repeat his father’s mistakes. But wasn’t this a little extreme? I didn’t know anyone who’d chosen to remain celibate for so long. Well, except for Ashlyn. She once admitted to me she was a virgin until she was twenty-two.
“Eliza? Say something.”
“Are you waiting for marriage?” I asked.
“No. I’m, just waiting for the right girl, I guess.”
I knew it wasn’t an idea I should even entertain, but part of me wondered if I could be the right girl for Cohen, if I would be his first. I pushed the thought away as quickly as it appeared. He and I were interested in two very different things. I couldn’t allow myself to get attached to anyone. And Cohen wanted the full package. Love, romance, marriage. He was more traditional in his views, maybe because he grew up without all that. I knew no one could make me happy but me and to not put stock in something that might not last.
He picked up my hand and laced his fingers with mine. “I just wanted to be up front. Other girls have had strange reactions and gotten pissed…” he tapered off.
“They’ve gotten mad?”
“Yeah. One girl I went out with a few times last year got pissed when I wouldn’t and she started screaming at me and left in the middle of the night.”
“Yeah.” He traced his finger down the length of my forearm.
Hm. I could see his choice hadn’t always been an easy one, but he’d stuck to the decision he made. It was commendable, even if I couldn’t understand it. “Well, thank you for telling me.” I pressed a soft kiss to his cheek. I wasn’t sure what this new information meant between us.
He took my face in his hands and brought my mouth to his, pressing a gentle kiss to my lips. “Goodnight, Eliza.”
“Night.” I laid back and closed my eyes, but there was no way in hell I’d be falling asleep anytime soon with all this new information swirling around inside my brain. Not to mention the weight of Cohen’s warm body next to mine and his steady deep breaths were a constant reminder of something I could never have.
I needed an appointment with Stu the following day. Desperately. Lying all night next to the sexy-but-oh-so-off-limits Cohen had me all worked up.
I showered and dressed at my place after leaving Cohen lying in bed, grabbed a large iced Americano on my way, and arrived a few minutes early for a meeting with my advisor. I used that time to text Stu about meeting up at his office later.
I was on edge all day long and my afternoon appointment with Stu couldn’t come fast enough. I knew he couldn’t completely satisfy me—not when what I wanted was Cohen—but it was something to take the edge off.
When I arrived at Stu’s office, the door was sitting partially open. I knocked lightly and peeked inside.
Stu was talking to a student. I was about to duck back out and allow them to finish, when the student turned to face me. It was Cohen.
“Eliza?” Cohen’s expression was one of confusion. “How’d you know I was here? Everything okay?”
I swallowed roughly, like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “I’m here to meet with Stu— Um, Professor Gibson, actually.”
“You two know each other?” Cohen asked, looking between Stu and I.
“Yeah.” I offered no explanation and Stu stayed silent as well.
“And how do you two know each other?” Stu inquired a tense moment later.
“We’re neighbors,” I said.
Cohen looked suspiciously between me and Stu.
“Okay, well, thanks for the extension on the midterm paper,” Cohen said, standing and picking up his bag.
“No problem. Just let me know anytime your volunteering interferes with your studies. I think it’s admirable what you’re doing.”
Cohen stood facing me and smiled. “See you at home tonight?” He smiled.
“Of course,” I whispered, breathless.
Then he was gone and Stu was staring at me wearily. Seeing Cohen here had unnerved me. Now it felt wrong to be doing whatever it was I was doing with Stu. If I closed the door now and continued on with what I’d originally come to do, Cohen could be lurking outside and I just couldn’t do that to him.
“Sorry Stu, something came up and I’m not going to be able to keep our appointment.”
“Does this have anything to do with your neighbor?” The word dripped with innuendo.
“Something like that.” I released a deep sigh and headed back out into the hall. Cohen was nowhere in sight.
Since it looked like sexual relief wasn’t on the agenda today, I texted Ashlyn. I needed some girl time. Stat.
We met up a short while later for happy hour at a small pub halfway between her new apartment and my townhouse. She and Aiden had bought a place together, wanting to start over fresh. It was a beautiful loft with modern touches. It was half Ashlyn, with mismatched furniture and bright colors and half Aiden, with classy paintings hung on the walls. I’d been over there a handful of times to visit and to see Thomas, their cat who I’d fostered for a little while. Owning three cats was practically announcing to the world that I was an aspiring cat lady, which I was—but still. That was my business.
I had already ordered a glass of Shiraz when Ashlyn came bounding through the door, her hair spinning around her face as the wind caught it. I waved and she started toward me.
She hopped up onto the stool next to me and smiled. I could read her like a book. “You just had sex, didn’t you?”
She blushed wickedly. “No comment.”
I signaled the bartender and ordered a glass of Bordeaux for Ashlyn, knowing it was her favorite. “Thanks.” She grinned and accepted the glass, bringing it to her lips. “So what’s up? Your text made it sound like there was some type of emergency.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. It’s nothing really, just guy trouble.”
She took another sip. “With you, guy trouble is never nothing. Now spill.”
I chuckled, knowing she was right. “You know how I’ve been sleeping with Stu?”
She nodded, and rolled her eyes. I knew she didn’t approve.
“Well, now this little hottie moved in upstairs and I’ve spent the last two nights with him.”
Ashlyn never judged me or made me feel bad about my behavior with men, but she did try to poke and prod me into a normal, healthy relationship whenever she got the chance.
I swirled the wine in my glass. “Sleeping. Not fucking.”
She pursed her lips. “That doesn’t sound like you.”
“I know. He’s a volunteer firefighter, a junior in undergrad, a good boy, yet sexy as hell. Visits his momma every Sunday.”
“Wow, a volunteer firefighter? How much can one girl take? Does he rescue puppies too?” she joked.
I chuckled. Knowing Cohen, he probably did. He seemed to be an animal lover. “Here’s real the kicker—he’s a virgin, waiting for the right girl.”
Ashlyn choked on her last sip of wine and broke into a coughing fit. I glanced around the bar, and all eyes were turned our way at the commotion. I patted her back and she lifted one hand. “Sorry, wrong pipe,” she croaked.
“Get together, girl.” I swatted her backside playfully, and she shot me a look.
“Don’t spring that kind of shit on me, mid-swallow. You. And a sexy, innocent virgin? Oh, hell, no.”
I laughed and took another healthy sip of my own wine, finding my stomach currently doing somersaults, and needing something to distract me. Was hanging around Cohen as bad of an idea as Ashlyn made it seem? No, I didn’t think so. We were both adults. We could choose what we did and didn’t want to do. It wasn’t like I was going to purposely tempt him into sleeping with me. Much.
“I’ve got it under control, Ash.”
“So you guys are…friends?” she scoffed, clearly suspicious.
She let out a hearty laugh. “Okay then. Let me know how that works out for you.” She continued shaking her head, trying to contain her laugh as her expression turned more serious. “Gosh, Liz, you’re more jacked up than I give you credit for sometimes.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You choose men that are so unavailable to you. It’s almost comical how you find yourself in these situations. I’d just like to see you have a normal relationship at some point.”
“You know I’m not looking for that.”
“I know you’re not. But I reserve hope that someday maybe you’ll grow out of this.” She waved her hand in my general direction.
A few minutes later Ashlyn’s hand on my forearm snapped my attention back to her. I don’t know how long I’d been silently staring off into space.
“You can’t give up on having a real, meaningful relationship just because there are a few jerks out there.”
I gave her a pointed stare. “I do have meaningful relationships. There’s you,” I counted off on my fingers, “my cats, and my vibrator.”
She shook her head. “I meant something with a penis.”
I avoided mentioning my flesh rocket in the night table by my bed, and instead pressed my lips into a line, sure that Ashlyn would only add on the stipulation that the penis be attached to a living, breathing male. Pfft. Overrated. I’d been taking care of myself, including all my needs, for several years now. There was no reason to mess with the system. I firmly stood by the saying If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I fiddled with the stem of my wine glass. “Enough about my non-existent love life. Tell me what’s new with you.”
She patted my knee. “You know I love you, sweetie. As long as you’re happy, I’m happy.”
“I’m happy.” I plastered on a smile, hoping she wouldn’t notice the way my mouth twitched at the corners. The truth was I hadn’t been happy in a long time. Five years to be exact. That was when after one fateful night, I fought to turn off all emotion. And I intended to keep it that way.