“Well I didn’t mean easier, I just meant more beginner-friendly.”

The flag dropped and the sound of revving engines flooded his bedroom. “You’re going down.” I bounced on my knees excitedly, causing the bed to shake.

I pressed the accelerator button and watched my car zoom ahead. I peeked over at Cohen. His face was a mask of concentration and his teeth bit gently into his soft bottom lip. Damn, that was distracting.

I focused on the video game once again, and watched as my car sped around the track. “Cohen, look at me! I’m really doing it.”

He chuckled. “That’s my car, babe. Yours is that one.” He pointed to the lower corner of the screen where another car was repeatedly ramming itself into a wall.

Crap! My cheeks flamed pink and I threw the controller down onto the bed. “This game sucks.”

Cohen smiled as his car crossed the finish line, then he got off the bed to switch off the game console.

I used his absence to roll over to the warm space he’d occupied and curled up with his pillow. “I think I’m getting addicted to your bed.”

He smiled and lay down beside me. “I think my bed is getting addicted to having you in it.”

My heart kicked into high gear. Cohen was lying just inches from me, his gaze locked on mine. I waited breathlessly for him to lean in and kiss me.

As though he’d heard my prayer, he bit his lip again and moved closer.

The shrill sound of his pager pierced the silent room and he instantly pulled back. He grabbed for the device and hit a button, silencing it.

“What is it?”

“Car fire.” He frowned. “On Fifty-first and Macon.”

“Do you have to go?”

He nodded and leaned down, planting a kiss on my forehead. “Be here when I get home?”

I nodded, afraid my voice would crack if I spoke.

He was up and out the door before what had just happened even fully registered.

I didn’t wait around for a man. Ever. But this was different, I tried to convince myself. Cohen was my friend. Yeah right, in what universe?

I grabbed my phone and headed off to pick up Ashlyn for our shopping trip.

***

I’d just gotten back from my early-morning run when Ashlyn called to say they’d be arriving shortly to pick us up for the weekend away. I’d dashed upstairs to let Cohen know. I found him still in bed where I’d left him an hour ago, cuddling with Bob. As was becoming our usual habit, I’d spent the night with him. The one marked difference was the worry I felt while waiting for him to get home safely from the car-fire call he attended to, and the relief I felt when he finally made it home, sweaty and exhausted hours later. I giggled when I saw them. “This is what you do when I’m gone?” I teased.

“Bob, what the—?” He shoved the dog away from him as though he was appalled and tugged me down onto the bed. He wrapped his arms and legs around me, pulling me in tight against him. “That’s better.”

“Cohen, gross. I’m all sweaty from my run.” The jogs I took each morning as an attempt at working off the excess sexual tension in my life were quickly negated by Cohen’s attention.

He rubbed his nose along my jaw. “You smell just fine to me.”

My heart pounded against my chest. This sports bra and tiny pair of shorts didn’t provide nearly the barrier needed against his bare chest and soft, warm skin. I needed a cold shower. That, and probably even an appointment with my B.O.B.

His scent was so intoxicating, his bare chest so delicious, I almost forgot my rule about not starting into anything that would remotely resemble a relationship. Almost. If only I could get Cohen on board with the notion of a no-strings hookup.

But Cohen wasn’t a hit-it-and-ditch-it kind of guy. Not to mention I had a feeling occasional sweaty sex with him would quickly become an addiction hazardous to my stance on singledom.

“Come on.” I shoved against him. “Ashlyn and Aiden will be here soon. I don’t want them to catch us…doing whatever this is we’re doing.”

He sat up and pulled me onto his lap, his face turning serious. “What are we doing?”

I looked down, fumbling with the twisted sheet. He was easy to be around, sweet to me, kind, good-hearted—all of the things, logically, I knew I should want. But something nagged deep inside me. I couldn’t go there. Not with Cohen, not with anyone.

“Eliza?” He tilted my chin up with his finger.

I swallowed hard. “We’re friends, right?”

He laughed, low, under his breath. “If we’re friends, then I’m the friggin’ Pope.” He ran a fingertip across the swell of my breasts, pushed together by the spandex sports bra. “If we’re friends, then why do I feel so tempted by you?”

My breath caught in my chest. Just the lightest of touches from him, and my entire body was humming and ready. I swatted at him playfully. “Come on, we’ve got to get ready. And I need a cold shower.” I cringed. I hadn’t meant to say that last part out loud. Oh, well.

Cohen chuckled again before lifting me off him and rising to begin his weekend packing.

When Cohen left to drop off Bob at his mom’s for the weekend, I headed downstairs to shower and get ready, knowing my packing would be a little more involved than throwing a few T-shirts and pairs of boxers into a backpack. I’d intended to do it last night, but Cohen and I decided at the last minute to go see a late movie, and I never got to it. A smile twitched on my lips. Who would have known that he’d move in upstairs and change my whole routine?

I was drying my hair when I heard Ashlyn come in. I switched off the blow dryer and met her in my room.

“You’re not even packed,” she commented, lifting my empty suitcase from the floor and setting it on the bed.

She helped me sort through the heap of clothes on my bed. After our trip to the mall, I had several pink bags of new bras and panties. I held up a pair of white cotton boy-shorts. “What do you think, something more virginal?”

Ashlyn chuckled. “Riiiight. Like you could pull off virginal.”

I frowned and tossed the panties at her. “Maybe something a little more daring to get his blood flowing to the right place.” I held up a minuscule black G-string with a glitzy pink heart over the crotch.

“Nothing says stripper like glitter on your underpants.”

I stuffed the panties and a few matching bras into my suitcase. At least then I’d have options.

I added a few tank tops and shorts to the pile of clothes, and went to grab my bathroom bag. When I returned to my room, Aiden had joined Ashlyn in my bedroom.

“Hey, bud.”

“How are you, beautiful?”

I smiled at his attention and Ashlyn grinned at him too. He had that rare ability to make everyone around him feel comfortable and happy. I knew from Ashlyn that his memory had never fully returned, which made him even more set on living each day to its fullest without regrets.

Ashlyn picked up the string of condom packages sitting on my bed. “What the hell are these? You better not be planning to take that boy’s virginity.”

Aiden’s eyes went wide, and he held up his hands. “None of my business. I’ll wait in the car.” He picked up my suitcase and left.

I grabbed the condoms from Ashlyn and stuffed them into the drawer on my nightstand. “Better?” Knowing it was a conversation I wasn’t going to win, I let it drop and followed Aiden out of the room.

The three hour drive into Michigan was relatively uneventful. Ashlyn and I sat together in the backseat to chat, and Aiden and Cohen kept up a steady conversation in the front on topics ranging from sports to the stock market to local microbreweries.

Cohen wasn’t a typical undergrad, and actually fit in well with our group. He worked full time in addition to being a student, and that seemed to make him more relatable to Aiden. It was nice to see Cohen getting along so well with everyone, and I realized I was feeling proud and satisfied of that fact. To avoid dwelling on that thought I turned to Ashlyn and started talking about research for school.

When we pulled up to the lake house, my jaw hit my lap. This was much more than a little cabin on the shore. It was a large craftsman-style home with a wraparound porch and stunning views of the endless crystal-blue lake.

The guys grabbed the bags while Ashlyn and I jogged up the steps to the porch. The house was gorgeous. Gourmet kitchen, rustic dining table, a huge sectional couch and a large TV. The master bedroom was downstairs with an attached bath, complete with a whirlpool tub. Aiden set their bags on the large bed. Then we toured the upstairs, which was an open loft containing the twin bunk beds for Cohen and I.

Cohen turned to me and smiled “Top or bottom?”

I entertained myself for a moment with inappropriate images of riding Cohen like a bucking bronco, alternating with images of him hovering over top of me, and gripping his shoulders while he thrust deep inside of me.

“Hm?” I asked, innocently, when I realized Cohen was staring at me, a bemused expression on his face.

“Top or bottom bunk?” he repeated.

Way to burst my fantasy. “Top.”

Ashlyn bit back a grin. She knew how my mind worked.

We had our own bathroom up there too, with a large double-vanity sink and a glass-enclosed shower. It was nice, yet simple.

After a few more trips out to the car, the kitchen island was loaded with grocery bags and more bottles of wine than we could possibly consume in two days. Ashlyn and I quickly worked to stock the fridge and cabinets with enough food to feed a small village.

Since it was still early afternoon, we decided to head down to the beach. Ashlyn and I made sandwiches while the guys dragged beach chairs out from the shed and situated them on the shoreline. Ashlyn carried the plate of roast beef sandwiches, while I carried a small cooler of beer.

When we reached the guys, they’d each stripped off their T-shirts and sandals.

“Wow, look at that view.” I nudged Ashlyn.

“Yeah, the water’s so blue,” she agreed.

“I meant the guys.” I laughed at her innocence. As if noticing to the two shirtless hotties in front of us for the first time, she grinned.

Aiden was a little bulkier and more filled out, and his two tattoos were sexy. Cohen was leaner and hot as fuck. A rush of wetness dampened my bikini bottoms. This was going to be one excruciatingly long weekend. I squeezed my knees together and dropped the cooler unceremoniously in the sand at their feet, Cohen hopping out of the way in time to salvage his toes.

Ashlyn giggled at me and passed out the sandwiches to the guys.

I stripped off my tank top and shorts, grabbed a beer and slid down low into the chair. I hoped my dark sunglasses would keep my perusal of Cohen’s body incognito. I struggled with the twist-off top on the bottle of beer until Cohen, who I didn’t think had been paying me any attention at all, leaned over and removed the bottle from my hands. He easily twisted the top, his forearms flexing as he did so, then handed it back to me.

“Thanks,” I mumbled. In order to survive this weekend I was going to need alcohol. And a lot of it.

Chapter 8

At sunset Ashlyn and I sat on the deck watching the guys grill steaks. We gossiped and stared at their backsides while they discussed grilling techniques. It felt very domestic being here, coupled up like this. It had been a long time since I’d been part of a couple. But I had to remind myself that Cohen and I weren’t a couple. I tucked my legs underneath me and wrapped my arms around my knees, fighting off the chill. A glass of red wine sat untouched in front of Ashlyn, but I was on my third. I was serious about this whole getting-dunk-and-staying-drunk thing this weekend. It was my only defense against Cohen.

At that thought, he looked my direction and frowned. I hadn’t spoken to him much today, whether that was on purpose or not, I wasn’t sure. But he and Aiden seemed to hit it off well and Ashlyn and I stuck together too, which felt good. She was with Aiden so much lately, it was nice to get some girl time in.

Cohen disappeared inside the house and came back carrying his navy-blue fire department sweatshirt. He held it out to me. “Cold, babe?” Instead of answering, I took the proffered hoodie and slid my arms inside the sleeves, snuggling into the warmth. I fought the urge to bring it to my nose and inhale. Why was he always doing thoughtful things for me? And more importantly, why did that bug me?

Cohen pulled the hood up, and kissed the tip of my nose. “Better, Easy E?”

I nodded, obediently.

Ashlyn gave me a strange look, whether it was because of the nickname or Cohen’s taking care of me, I wasn’t sure. But thankfully, she didn’t say anything about it at that moment.

When the steaks were ready, the guys served us at the table. Aiden setting a plate in front of Ashlyn with a kiss and Cohen delivering my plate with a bow. “Eliza.”

“Eliza?” Ashlyn looked at me quizzically. “I never knew your name was Eliza.”

I shrugged. “Cohen. He insists on calling me that.” I couldn’t help the smile that crept onto my lips.

After dinner we sat inside on the leather sectional, soft music playing in the background. Ashlyn and Aiden cuddled together in the center, which left Cohen and I sitting on the two furthest ends, apart from each other. I sipped my wine, and scrolled through Ashlyn’s iPod, skipping through her playlists to find something I liked. Each time I looked up, I couldn’t help but notice Cohen’s eyes were on mine. I felt the tingle of butterflies dancing in my stomach, but told myself to let it go. He knew what he was looking for—and it wasn’t me.

About an hour later, Ashlyn suggested that we go in the hot tub out on the deck, and we all went to change. Cohen and I headed upstairs to our shared loft bedroom. He grabbed a pair of swim trunks from his backpack and went into the bathroom. I pulled my string bikini out from my suitcase and laid it out on the bed. I took my time undressing, finding I was a little uncoordinated from the wine, and buzzing with the secret desire that Cohen would catch me half-naked.

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