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Sample includes adult content - 18+ recommended.

Chapter 1

Amy

 

 

With one last appraising look at my reflection, I straightened my shoulders and turned for the door. I was sure my mother couldn’t possibly find fault with my appearance this time. I’d been meticulous, choosing what I was wearing carefully.

As I slowly navigated my way down the stairs, I took a deep breath, making sure I had the mandatory pleasant expression on my face.

Mom lowered the papers she was reading as I walked into the room, her gaze scanning me from head to toe. I tensed the second I saw her eyes narrow with scrutiny. After nineteen years, you would think I’d be used to it. Apparently not.

“Honestly, Amy,” she said, her eyes rolling with exasperation. “Are you really going to wear that?”

I looked down at the pair of designer jeans and pale pink silk blouse I was wearing and blinked. I should’ve known better.

“Yes?” I said, now uncertain.

She huffed and shook her head a little. “If you don’t start making more of an effort, that boyfriend of yours will start looking elsewhere.”

Looking down at my six-hundred-dollar pair of kitten heels, I pressed my lips together, not willing to confess I thought my boyfriend was already looking elsewhere.

Meeting her gaze again, I gave her a reassuring smile and fluffed my hair like she’d taught me. “It’ll be fine. I better be going or I’ll be late.”

She gave me a curt nod and redirected her attention back to her papers. I guess I was dismissed.

Climbing into my practically brand-new Porsche 911 convertible—a horribly ostentatious graduation gift from my parents last year—I drove toward Ryan’s house.

Once on the road, I tried to distract myself from how distant Ryan had seemed with me lately. And the way his gaze seemed to be roaming when other girls were around. And the disappointment I saw every time I wouldn’t let him go past second base.

Sighing, I turned the music up louder and tried to sing along to the song I barely knew.

My stomach fluttered, making me feel sick. I tried to pretend I had no idea why, but I knew it had everything to do with the knowing look he’d given me when he specifically told me his mother was out of town for the night.

Pulling into his drive, I climbed from the car and locked it, throwing my keys into my bag as I walked to the front door.

I’d hoped to take some time to compose myself and make some sort of plan before I knocked, but before I’d even taken a breath, the door swung open, and I was suddenly faced with a grinning Ryan.

My heart stuttered. That smile was always my undoing.

“Hey, you,” he said, reaching for me and pulling me hard against him.

“Hi,” I murmured, wrapping my arms around his neck.

Closing my eyes, I allowed myself to feel. I actually loved the way he felt against me. I loved the warmth, the feeling of being close to someone, feeling wanted . . .

His hands moved over my body, sliding over my ribs until his thumbs were brushing the undersides of my breasts. It felt nice. It did. It was just that I knew he wouldn’t want to stop there. I hated the anxiety that rushed over me at the thought. I wanted to be able to enjoy his attention, let myself relax under his touch, but the worry over how he was going to react when I said no made my stomach clench.

I heard the door close behind me as his lips claimed mine. He kissed me slowly, softly, his tongue moving gently over my lower lip, making the unease inside me fade a little. I exhaled and melted against him a little more.

Ryan chuckled, his warm breath making my lips tingle. Smiling, I opened my eyes. I loved this side of him. This was the Ryan I fell for when we’d first gotten together four months ago.

Taking my hand, he gave me another little kiss before smiling down at me.

“Come on,” he said, pulling me toward the stairs. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”

The unease quickly crept back in. I’d never been up to his room before. It was something I’d always tried to get out of, but the way he was smiling at me made me want to please him.

I allowed him to lead me up the stairs, and he paused at the first door to give me another gentle kiss before opening it and guiding me inside.

I gasped as I took in the room. There had to have been at least two dozen candles placed around the room, casting the room into a soft, yellow glow, and in the middle of the far wall was a queen-sized bed, sprinkled with red and pink rose petals.

Blinking, I took it all in while Ryan’s fingers brushed soft, teasing circles on my hand.

“Wow . . .”

I didn’t know what else to say. It was truly beautiful.

Pulling me into him, Ryan kissed me slow and deep, a passionate kiss that made my insides flutter.

I heard the door close and felt him moving me across the room.

“You are so sexy, Amy,” he murmured against my lips. “You have no idea how much.”

He pulled me even harder against him, and I suddenly found myself being laid out on the bed with Ryan on top of me. Panic sprang up inside me. I couldn’t do this. I wasn’t ready.

A voice inside my head growled, telling me to look around. He’d gone to so much trouble to show me how much he wanted me. We’d been together for four months, for crying out loud. I should be ready for this.

Forcing myself to relax, I let him kiss me until my mind was practically obliterated. I concentrated on the feel of his hands, the way it made my skin tingle. That was good, right?

My blouse slowly crept upwards, exposing the white, lacy bra I’d put on for this exact purpose. Ryan moaned. The sound actually gave me a little thrill. Okay, that was good. Thrill was good.

The sensation of my bra loosening had my little celebration coming to an abrupt halt. Shit.

No. This was okay. I could do this.

I felt my bra peel away from the clasp between my boobs, my mind suddenly very aware of their nakedness.

Of course, they’d been naked for Ryan before. Once. But that one time hadn’t ended well, and as I lay there this time, I had the feeling it wasn’t going to end much better tonight.

No. I couldn’t think like that. I had to give this a chance. Give Ryan a chance.

Clenching my hands in his hair, I pulled him into me, kissing him deeper. Ryan made some little noise of appreciation, then slid his hand over one of my boobs, pinching my nipple, making me flinch from the unexpected twinge of pain the action brought.

I thought nipple tweaking was supposed to hurt in a good way?

He did it again, obviously mistaking the little noise that had escaped me as a moan of pleasure instead of the pain it really was.

Oh, my God. I was so bad at this. Why couldn’t I just tell him it hurt? That I didn’t really like it?

I was so grateful when his hand left my boob, I didn’t comprehend it was traveling south until I felt the button on my jeans snap open and heard the sound of the zipper.

Just relax.

I could do this.

I broke the kiss, trying hard to compose myself. Stop? Go? Shit.

Ryan kissed my neck, his lips soft and gentle, making me even more indecisive. His fingers teased my stomach, drawing soft, swirling, invisible lines just above the lace on my panties.

His thigh pressed between mine, parting my legs even more, then his fingers crept into uncharted territory, breaching that delicate line of defense that seemed to have worked so far in my life.

But it appeared my panties weren’t up to the challenge this time. Ryan’s fingers moved lower, his kisses becoming firmer, his breath coming faster.

Shit.

I couldn’t do it.

“Ryan . . .”

He moaned, sucking on my earlobe, but he didn’t stop.

Turning my head away from him, I pressed against his shoulder with one hand and clasped the wrist of the exploring hand with the other.

“Ryan, stop,” I said, a little firmer this time.

He didn’t.

“Come on, Amy. I promise I’ll make it good for you. Just relax.”

His words didn’t help. I pushed harder at his shoulder and pulled at the hand delving inside my panties.

“Ryan, I can’t. I’m not ready. Please, stop,” I said, my voice betraying me with emotions.

He pulled back to look at me, anger flashing in his eyes when he saw I wasn’t going to back down.

“Are you fucking serious?” he snapped.

Grabbing my hand, he forced it against his crotch.

“Do you feel this, Amy? This is the fucking hard-on you’ve given me for the last four months. You fucking owe me.”

I watched him shove his way off the bed and lurch to his feet. Scrambling, I quickly snapped my bra back together and pulled my blouse back down to cover myself up.

“I’m sorry, Ryan. I’m just not ready. Please, just give me time.”

I flinched at the hatred in his gaze when he turned around to face me. “I’m not doing it anymore, Amy. Either you fuck me now, or we’re done. This is bullshit.” He stabbed his hands through his hair. “I’ve been patient, goddamn it! I’ve been waiting for you to be ready for four fucking months! Do you have any idea how much it hurts to be in a constant state of fucking arousal and not able to do a damned thing about it?”

I sat up straighter and blinked at him.

“Do you?” he barked. “Well, let me tell you, then. It fucking hurts a lot. And you don’t even care. You won’t do anything to help me. All you care about is yourself and what you fucking want—or what you don’t want.”

“Ryan—” I choked, not exactly sure what I wanted to say. What could I say to that?

Ryan shook his head and reached for the doorknob. “I’m done, Amy. Get your stuff and go home. I’m going out.”

With that, he threw the door open and stormed out.

The first of my tears fell as I sat, frozen, listening to the sound of his retreating footsteps on the stairs.

Chapter 2

Daniel

 

 

The sun was just breaking over the horizon when the bus finally reached the outskirts of Sacramento. The ride from San Diego had been long and painful, but it was going to be worth it. I was damned well going to make sure of it.

Thanks to the United States government, with its political dramas and sudden cutbacks in the defense department, I now had close to twelve weeks’ leave up my sleeve, and I planned on making the most of it.

Unlike my other platoon buddies, who’d volunteered to take the unpaid leave, whose plans included getting wild and loose for the entire twelve weeks before we deployed to Australia, I was planning on spending the summer with my mom. The first one since my parents split when I was thirteen.

Yeah, I know. Six years was a long time, but I had my dad and his super fucked-up need to control everyone and everything to thank for that one.

I had him to thank for a lot of the shitty things that happened with the split, really. Like his awesome idea to separate me and my identical twin brother, Ryan. Because what else do you do when your ex-wife’s lawyer states she’s entitled to half of everything? That’s right, you choose to be an asshole and take it literally. Then you do whatever you can to make life as difficult for her as possible. Like deny her the right to take the son she left behind out of the state. Even back to her home across the other side of the country for a vacation. Ever. Pretty nice of the old man, huh?

As the bus rolled to a stop, I grabbed my duffle bag and stepped out into the north Californian sunshine. Having never been to Sacramento before, I was relying solely on Google’s help to get me where I needed to go. I didn’t know if that was wise or not, but I hoped she was going to be kind to me. If she was, it looked like I only had six more blocks to go.

Setting off at a brisk pace, I tried to shake off the nervous energy that was starting to seep into my veins. It had been almost two years since I’d seen Mom, and almost three since I’d seen Ryan, and the lapse in time only seemed to make the small path that acted as our memory lane even narrower, but to me, it was still a sweet path nonetheless. The small amount of time I got to spend with her each year had been like a salvation to me when I was growing up, and I’ll always cherish the memories we created. But this time was going to be different. We were coming together on our own terms. And it felt good.

Walking up the drive, I smiled when I saw the front door swing open and Mom step out still wearing her robe and slippers. She squealed and rushed forward, barely giving me time to put my duffle down before she was wrapping me in a bone-crunching hug.

I laughed. “Hi, Mom.”

She pulled back and cupped my face in her hands. “I can’t believe you’re finally here. I barely got a wink of sleep last night, I was so excited.”

I shook my head at her, but I was smiling just the same.

“Now come inside and let me make you some breakfast,” she said, pulling me by the arm.

Who was I to argue with that?

Scooping up my bag again, I followed her inside, taking in the surroundings as I went. I was a little surprised to see traces of me and my life quite literally everywhere I looked.

There were pictures of me from every year at school hanging in the hall, action shots of me in combat training on the mantle, a montage of me at Jiujitsu, covering every belt I’d earned, right up to the black belt I’d received in my senior year, and many more I never even knew existed.

“Dad send you all of these?” I asked with surprise, nodding my head in the direction of a bunch of photos from last year’s graduation.

She looked up from the pot she was filling in the sink and smiled. “It took some persuading, but yes.”

“Hmm,” I mumbled as I wandered around the dining room.

Sounds of footsteps had me looking up to see Ryan, my twin brother, coming down the stairs. He’d obviously only just woken up because he was rubbing his eyes like they weren’t quite working yet, and his hair was sticking up in a dozen different directions.

He smirked when he reached the bottom of the stairs and saw me. “Hey, Brother. You just get here?” he said, coming over to give me a hard hug and a thump on the back.

“Yeah. Five minutes ago,” I said, thumping him back.

I watched him pull back, his eyes drifting down to my chest. “Jesus, man. What the hell have you been doing? You’re huge.”

Glancing down at my twin, I did a quick comparison. Ryan obviously worked out. He was by no means puny, but all the hard training and twenty-mile runs I did every day had made me more defined and probably slightly bigger than him.

I laughed. “It’s called discipline. You should try it some time.”

Ryan’s eyebrow snaked up and he smirked. It was obviously something he did a lot because he sure had perfected it. It made me want to smack it off his face.

“And miss out on all the fun? No way, man. You can have your discipline. I’m quite happy with the way I’m doing things.” I watched him turn and wander into the kitchen. “Coffee?”

“Don’t touch the stuff,” I said, frowning. I didn’t like the air of superiority he had going on. It was kind of annoying. Like, a lot.

He gave me his award-winning smirk again. “Really?” he asked, like it was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard.

I didn’t bother answering him. Instead, I turned to Mom, who was busy pulling things out of the fridge. “What can I do?”

She looked at me with surprise. “Oh . . . you can get the bacon going, if you’d like?”

My frown deepened. I didn’t like the way it surprised her to have someone offer to help.

I glanced at Ryan, my annoyance with him going up yet another notch. The little leech obviously didn’t ever bother.

I bit my tongue.

Now, as I pulled the rashers of bacon apart, I wondered if I would’ve turned out to be like Ryan if our positions had been reversed and it’d been me who’d come to live with Mom instead. I liked to think I wouldn’t have, but it scared me to think it might’ve been a possibility.

Throwing the bacon into the pan, I looked up at Ryan. He was watching me with the same damn smirk on his face. I was ready to wipe it off.

“So Dad tells me he offered you an internship this summer,” I said, watching the smirk slip clean off his face.

I’d heard all about what Dad had offered, as well as the fact that Ryan had blatantly refused. It was fucking stupid on Ryan’s part. Dad may have been a useless father, but his company was huge, and internships there were eagerly sought after and sparingly given. It would be a good opportunity for him.

“Yeah, I don’t take bribes,” Ryan said distastefully.

Mom straightened and gave Ryan a level stare. “Ryan . . .”

I watched him sneer. “Whatever, Mom. You know I’m right. I’m not going to be the old man’s charity case.”

I blinked at Ryan’s words. Charity case? I wasn’t quite sure what that was about. The old man certainly didn’t give handouts. To anyone. If he’d offered Ryan an internship, it was because he thought he had the brains.

“You’re not a charity case, Ryan,” Mom said, interrupting my thoughts. “Your father thinks you’ve got what it takes to work in his company.”

Picking up his coffee, Ryan smirked at Mom and made his way toward the stairs. “Later . . .”

I gawked at his retreating figure before turning back to Mom. “Does he always speak to you like that?”

She gave me a look that I knew meant she wasn’t prepared to answer me. “I wish he’d just stop being so stubborn and take the damned internship.”

Turning back to the pan, I pressed my lips together. I wanted to tell her just what I thought of Ryan’s attitude, but I knew it wasn’t my place to say. She did the best she could under the circumstances she was given. She gave Ryan everything she could, but Ryan was an adult now. It was up to him to learn how to become a man.

 

 

Chapter 3

Amy

 

 

The whole twenty-four hours since I’d left Ryan’s had been a wash. I’d gone from feeling devastated, to depressed, to pissed off, to relieved, then back to devastated all over again.

If I were to be honest with myself, I think I was in shock over the fact that Ryan had broken up with me solely because I wouldn’t sleep with him. I mean, I knew it happened, but I was pretty sure the guy usually made up some other reason and wasn’t so blatant about it.

Sitting on my bed one whole day post dumping, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about it. One part of me was telling me it was a good thing. If he couldn’t see all the good things about me that were worth sticking around for, then he wasn’t worth my time.

But another part of me was telling me that I just hadn’t tried hard enough. That I should’ve been more accommodating.

A knock on the door brought me out of my head, and I looked up to see Mom standing in the doorway.

“Really, Amy. Are you going to be sitting around like some sort of sloth for the whole day? You could be helping me with the plans for the dinner party tomorrow night. It’s about time you learned the finer details when it comes to hosting. It’s not as easy as I make it look, you know,” she said, sighing as she brushed the hair off her shoulder.

“Now, I’ll need Ryan here by seven o’clock sharp to help your father greet the guests, so can you please at least do me the favor of passing that on.”

I flinched at hearing Ryan’s name. I’d forgotten about the dinner party. This was not going to go down well.

Mom paused, her eyes narrowing as she stared me down. “What?” she said dangerously.

I swallowed. “Uh . . . Ryan and I kind of broke up.”

Her eyebrows shot up, and she sucked in a harsh breath. “What!”

I pressed my lips together, waiting for the explosion.

It was as quick as flicking a switch. Her jaw clenched, and her eyes narrowed into tiny little slits. “No,” she said sternly. “You will not do this to me, Amy. I have already told the Fitzgeralds that Ryan will be here. You know how interested they are to do business with Universal Management. Ryan was their way in. What do you think it’s going to do to my image if he’s not here after I told them he would be?”

She took one hand off her hip to point her long, manicured finger at me.

“I swear to God, Amy, if you ruin this for me, you can forget Paris this Christmas. I mean it.”

I sat staring up at her, a lump growing in my throat. I really wasn’t good enough for anyone, was I? Why couldn’t I just make them happy? What was I doing that was so wrong?

Racking my brain, I tried to figure out how to fix everything. I knew I’d promised her that Ryan and I would be there, but how was I supposed to make Ryan come when he didn’t want to be anywhere near me?

Mom’s sudden shriek had me flinching as she began storming toward my closet. Throwing the doors open, she thrust the garments roughly to the side, dresses falling in clumps to the floor as she went.

Pulling a slinky red dress off its hanger, she threw it on the bed, then grabbed me by my upper arm and yanked me to my feet. “It’s time you grew up, Amy. Stop dressing like a child with your jeans and god-awful tank tops and be the woman Ryan needs you to be. It’s no wonder he broke up with you. I’ve been telling you for weeks the kind of man Ryan is going to become needs a proper woman. Now put the damned dress on and go apologize. Grovel on your hands and knees if you have to. I don’t care. You do whatever it takes to get him here tomorrow night, or don’t bother coming home!”

I gasped, my heart hammering with a slight panic as I watched her stomp out the door.

What the hell was I supposed to do? I tried so hard to make Mom proud of me, but nothing ever seemed good enough. Just once. That’s all I wanted. One time where she would look at me and say, “I’m so proud of you, Amy.”

Glancing at the dress she’d left on my bed, I wondered if it was that easy. Was that all it was going to take? For me to put on a sexy dress and apologize?

Ryan’s angry face flashed in my mind. No. It was going to take a lot more than that. I was going to have to give him my body to get him to Mom’s dinner party, and I wasn’t sure if I could.

I thought of how proud Mom would be if I managed to get Ryan back. The need for her approval made my chest ache. I had to at least try.

 

Chapter 4

Daniel

 

 

“Are you sure you’re okay with me going out tonight?” Mom asked for the third time.

I laughed. “It’s fine, Mom. I’m just going to head to bed early anyway. The bus trip is finally catching up with me.” It wasn’t. But I wanted her to be okay with going out just the same.

“Okay, then,” she said, exhaling lightly. “We’ll do something tomorrow.” Grabbing her keys off the hook, she giggled. “See you in the morning.”

As soon as the door closed behind her, Ryan stepped out from the kitchen. “Finally!” I watched him pull his cell from his back pocket and start tapping the screen. “It’s booty call time.” He grinned and glanced up at me. “Want me to tell her to bring a friend?”

My brother was seriously a dick. For the first time in my life, I hated the fact that we were identical. Knowing people could mistake me for him pissed me off. “Nah, thanks, man. I’m good. I’m going to hit the sack soon.”

Ryan lifted one eyebrow in amusement. “Are you sure? These girls are a sure thing, man.”

I bit back a sharp reply. “Yeah, I’m sure, man. You have a good time, though,” I said, pushing myself to my feet and heading for the stairs. I wasn’t really that tired yet, but I could force myself to go to sleep if I had to. And I really had to get away from Ryan.

Taking a long, hot shower, I forced my muscles to loosen and relax until I was sure I was languid enough I would definitely fall asleep.

Going back to the room Mom had put my things in, I threw on a pair of boxers and climbed into bed, fleetingly wondering why there were flower petals all over the floor, before I quickly drifted off to sleep.

I woke to the feeling of the bed dipping beside me. Over the years at military school, I’d painstakingly trained myself to remain still if woken. That way, I could hopefully give myself time to assess what was going on before anything disastrous happened.

Lying there, I quickly tried to gather my wits. The first thing I noted was that it was still somewhere in the middle of the night. Then I noted the scent. Female. Sweet. It was nice. I wondered who she was.

I felt the comforter being pulled back, then soft, warm skin brushing against mine. Her hand gingerly touched my chest, her fingers hesitantly moving over the contours of my pecs.

Ryan must have ignored my decision and told the girl he’d been calling to bring a friend after all. Well, it was either that or the girl refused to come without a friend. I wouldn’t put it past my brother to ignore my wishes just so he could get a piece.

The girl moved closer, her body pressing more fully against mine. She was so soft and warm, and her breath sent little tingles of pleasure over my skin every time she exhaled. I knew I should tell her to leave, but it’d been so long since I’d been with a girl, I was having trouble denying myself this one pleasure.

Her fingernail lightly drew across my chest, an accident I was sure by the way her breath paused for a moment, but the thrill it gave me caused an involuntary groan to escape me.

Deciding it was futile to feign sleep one second longer, I inhaled and moved like I was rousing. Fuck it. If she was willing to give it, why not go with it?

She burrowed a little closer to me, her smooth leg rubbing against mine. Letting out a soft groan, I slid my hand onto her lower back and pulled her more firmly against me, rolling a fraction so I’d have better access to her lips if she’d let me kiss her.

The little gasp she let out, followed by some sexy-as-hell breathy panting, had me tightening my hold on her.

I slid my hand up her spine while I rolled a little more, my other hand finding the curve of her hip.

The second I discovered she was topless, my control vanished. Pulling her fully against me, I took her mouth. I didn’t consume her like a starved man. Something told me that would’ve been a mistake. Instead, I slowly drank her in. Tasted her. And damn if she wasn’t the sweetest thing.

Without breaking our kiss, I rolled us until she was underneath me, careful to keep my weight off her tiny frame. Slowly, between kisses, I opened my eyes. With the moonlight filtering in through the gap in the curtains, I could just make out her features.

I froze, gazing down at her. She was gorgeous. Stunning.

I disliked the thought of thanking my brother, but I sure as hell would this time.

“Don’t stop,” she breathed, splaying her hands across my shoulders and pulling me back down.

I licked her bottom lip, already drunk on the taste of her. Gently, I caressed her silky skin, running my hand over the predominant bone on her hip, up over the contours of her ribs, cupping the small mound of flesh on her chest.

She stilled under my touch. I kissed her slower, deeper. With the gentlest touch I could conjure, I brushed my thumb over her nipple. She gasped, her eyes popping open with genuine surprise. I did it again and she moaned, arching up to kiss me again.

“Oh, God,” she whispered against my lips. “That feels so good.”

I was positive my cock had never been so goddamned hard. It damn well ached, it wanted her that much.

“I’m so sorry,” she murmured between kisses. “I shouldn’t have said no.”

My head tried to process the words she was saying, but the way she felt under my touch was making it so damned hard.

“I thought I wasn’t ready,” she breathed against my ear as I kissed her neck.

I wanted to lick her nipples. They were obviously very sensitive. I wanted to feel her squirm underneath me as I ran my tongue over them.

“Please say we’re not done,” she whispered, gripping my shoulders tighter as I licked down her chest. “I can do this now. I promise. This feels right. You feel so good . . .”

My need to get to her nipples took over. I had no idea what she was saying. The words seemed to be jumbling up inside my head. Carefully, I ran the flat of my tongue over one nipple.

Her back arched instantaneously. “Oh my God! Ryan!”

I paused. The fogginess of my brain sensing something wasn’t right.

“Oh, please don’t stop. It feels so good,” she panted out. “You were right. I know that now. Please forgive me.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. What the hell was going on? Did she really just call me Ryan?

She dug her fingers into my skin. “I don’t want to lose you, Ryan. Please. I know I shouldn’t have turned you down. I just wasn’t sure I was ready to have sex . . .”

Fucking hell.

I pulled back, my desire shot down in flames. That fucking douchebag twin of mine was going to cop an absolute earful from me in the morning.

“Ryan?” she asked, her voice sounding more and more unsure.

Throwing back the covers, I climbed from the bed. “I’m not Ryan,” I growled.

I didn’t mean for my voice to come out sounding so accusing, but Ryan had really pissed me off this time.

The girl jackknifed up to sit, pulling the sheet up to cover her chest. “What?”

“Shit.” I grunted, running my hands through my hair in frustration. “I’m really sorry. I’m not Ryan. I’m Daniel, his brother. I thought you knew.”

I wasn’t sure how the girl’s eyes got any wider than they already were, but they did. I saw the comprehension come over her, and she covered her mouth with her hand in shock.

“You’re Daniel?”

I dropped my hands to my sides. “Yeah. I really am sorry. If I had known you thought I was Ryan, I would’ve told you sooner.”

Her gaze constantly took me in, sweeping my hair, my face, my chest.

“You look so much like him,” she whispered.

I gave her a humorless grin. “That’s usually what identical means.”

She watched me for a moment, still clutching the sheet to her chest. “How did you not think I was here for Ryan? Do you normally have random girls creep into your bed in the middle of the night?”

Shit. How did I answer that? She obviously didn’t realize Ryan was a major player.

“I . . . uh . . . no, I don’t.” I rubbed the back of my neck uncomfortably. “To be honest, I was ready to tell you to go away, but you kind of smelled and felt incredible. You’re kinda hard not to want.”

Despite the low lighting, I could tell she was blushing from my words. What the hell was she doing with my douchebag of a brother?

“Could you . . . uh . . . maybe turn around or something while I get dressed?” she asked softly.

“Oh, right, of course. Sorry,” I mumbled, turning and running my hands over my face.

I listened to the rustling of clothes as she dressed, only coming out of my head when I heard her soft voice.

“Sorry?” I turned to find her fully clothed in a very tight, very short red dress. It was nice—sexy as hell—but it didn’t really seem like it suited her.

She blinked at me. She looked sad all of a sudden. “This isn’t Ryan’s room.”

It wasn’t a question. I wasn’t sure how she wanted me to answer. If at all. “Uh . . . no. His room’s down the other end of the hall.”

She bit her lip, her gaze falling to one of the flower petals on the floor. Shit. She looked so dejected.

“I’m really sorry. I’m so embarrassed,” she said, putting her hands on her cheeks. “I guess I’ll go try the right door.”

Giving me a small smile, she took a step toward the door. Reality quickly kicked in, and I automatically took a step that way as well. “Uh . . . that’s probably not a good idea.”

She blinked at me and frowned. “I . . . uh . . . I need to apologize to him.”

There were so many things wrong with that sentence, but that wasn’t the issue I needed to deal with just then. “Maybe you should wait until tomorrow. Think about it a little more.”

It wasn’t Ryan I was trying to protect. Hell, if this girl could rip him a new one, I would happily stand back and watch, but for some reason, she made me feel protective of her. She seemed fragile. I didn’t want her to get hurt, and I knew that was exactly what would happen if I let her go down that hall.

“It’ll be too late tomorrow,” she mumbled, almost too quietly for me to hear.

As I processed her words, she stepped up to the door and pulled it open.

“Wait,” I said, a little desperately. “You don’t want to go down there. Trust me.”

She frowned at me. It was obvious I was confusing her. “Why?”

Fuck it all to hell. I was going to fucking kill Ryan in the morning. “He’s not alone.”

It took her approximately three seconds to comprehend what I’d said, and somewhere between the third and fourth second, something kicked her into action and she was off. Not down the stairs and out the front door like I’d hoped, but down the hall to Ryan’s door.

With trained practice, I had my sweatpants on and was out the door, behind her, in three seconds flat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quick enough to stop her from opening the door to Ryan’s room.

I saw the shock come over her face as she stood there, taking it all in. I couldn’t see what Ryan was up to, but going by the noises I could hear, I knew it wasn’t anything this girl would want to see.

She sucked in a sharp breath, her hand going to her throat.

“What the fuck!” I heard Ryan spit out.

Okay, time for action.

“What the fuck are you doing here, Amy? Get the fuck out of my room!”

“We only broke up yesterday, Ryan,” Amy said softly. “Yesterday. How could you do this already?”

Ryan laughed. The fucker actually laughed. Amy flinched, and I saw her throat tighten. I was ready to go knock my twin out.

“Baby, I was inside another girl an hour after I walked out the door. That’s what happens when your girlfriend doesn’t put out.”

He laughed again, and the girl he was with joined in.

Amy took one tiny step back, and then another. Then she was darting past me and down the stairs at a breakneck speed.

Motherfucker. I couldn’t let her go like that. She’d probably have a crash or something, driving in that state of mind.

The last thing I heard as I dashed after her was Ryan’s amused voice calling out, “You could at least shut the door when you leave!”

Asshole.

 

 

Chapter 5

Amy

 

 

I wanted to cry.

Not because I was heartbroken. I think I’d always known I didn’t love Ryan. It was more from humiliation. Seeing Ryan in bed with Kacey had seriously shaken my self-esteem. Did I really mean so little to him that he could move on so quickly?

Had he been telling the truth when he’d said he’d slept with another girl within an hour of us breaking up?

My eyes stung. Had he even cared for me a little?

My mind instantly went to Mom. Even though I’d like to believe she didn’t mean it when she said not to come home if I couldn’t get Ryan back, deep down, I knew she meant every word.

Stopping beside my car, I took a few deep breaths, determined not to let the tears fall.

These were supposed to be people who cared about me. They were supposed to consider my feelings as well as their own. They were supposed to want to make me happy, not push me to do things that made me uncomfortable.

Why couldn’t they do that? Why wasn’t I good enough for them?

“Amy?”

I turned at the sound of the deep voice. A voice so familiar to me, yet I’d only heard it for the first time ten minutes ago.

I watched Daniel walk toward me. Slowly. Like he was frightened of scaring me. Or upsetting me more than I already was.

Goddamn it. He looked so much like Ryan it was seriously hurting my heart.

I studied him, trying to find something that would allow my mind to break the link between them.

He was only wearing a pair of sweats, leaving his chest and feet bare. He was actually quite a bit bigger than Ryan, muscle wise. And his hair was shorter. Not by a lot, but it was definitely noticeable. He also had a tiny little mole on his left cheek.

But the most noticeable difference was the fact that Daniel looked worried. He looked genuinely concerned. There was no cocky smirk, no swagger that spoke of self-importance or excess of confidence. There was only honesty. Loud and clear. That was his tell.

And I liked it.

“Are you okay?” he said, moving even slower still.

The honesty in his voice made me want to give it back to him. “I don’t know. I wasn’t really expecting that.”

He nodded, his gaze never leaving mine. “You were going out with Ryan?”

I let out a humorless laugh that sounded a little crazy, even to me. “Stupid, huh?”

Daniel smiled a little. The same crooked little smile Ryan used to give me that made my insides melt. It looked even better on Daniel. Probably because it was accompanied by the honesty in his eyes.

“Nah,” he said softly. “He’s a good-looking guy.”

It took me two seconds to process his words before I laughed. I actually laughed. How the hell could he make me laugh right now?

“Seriously, though,” he said. “Did he really break up with you yesterday? Because you said no?”

I sighed and looked up at the night sky. “We’d been going out for over four months. I probably should’ve—”

“Don’t.”

My gaze snapped back to his at the firm sound of his voice. He’d moved even closer while I’d been staring at the stars. Now he was only standing a few feet from me.

“Don’t even finish that sentence, Amy. My brother’s a self-righteous douchebag who thinks the world owes him everything because our parents got a divorce. I only got here this morning, and I’ve already felt like smacking him at least three times.” He moved even closer, making my breath catch. “I’ve got a pretty darned good idea what your intention was here tonight, and all I can say is, I’m real happy you ended up in my bed instead. Not because of what happened, but because of what could’ve happened. My brother doesn’t respect a damn thing, Amy. Not even himself.”

I swallowed. Somehow, I didn’t think my mother would see it that way.

Looking down at my clenched hands, I tried to draw in a steadying breath. “I better go,” I mumbled.

When I was only met with silence, I looked up. Daniel’s gaze was intense, but he had that crooked little smile on his lips. “It was nice to meet you,” he said.

My thoughts instantly went to his body pressed against mine, his tongue softly lapping at my nipple, his hands moving over my body, and I flushed, my pulse skipping strangely.

I’m not sure what he saw on my face, but his eyes darkened, and the smile I loved disappeared.

Holy hell.

I swallowed hard, trying to stop my body’s bizarre reaction to Daniel’s intensity. “You too,” I managed to choke out.

Fumbling with my keys, I tried to unlock the car, only to find I’d already done it, and climbed behind the wheel. With shaking hands, I turned on the ignition and reversed out of the drive.

I knew Daniel was watching me. I didn’t know how, but I just knew he was. The thought gave me goosebumps, and not the kind you get when you’re freaked out. It was the kind you get when you find something thrilling.

I tried my hardest not to look as I drove away, but I’ll admit it. I was weak. I just had to know if he really was watching me.

As I glanced toward the house, I found him exactly where I’d left him, his arms down by his sides, his perfectly sculpted torso softly illuminated under the streetlight, and his gaze never leaving me.

It wasn’t until I was a few blocks away that my pulse returned to somewhere near normal and confusion set in. What the hell was that? Was I so upset by everything that had happened that I was clinging to the first person who showed me kindness? Or was it the fact that he was a carbon copy of Ryan and my mind was trying to pretend it was him giving me such intense feelings?

I scowled at the last thought. No. I was done with Ryan. Even if he came to beg for my forgiveness, I could never give myself to him after seeing him like that. With Kacey.

No. It definitely wasn’t anything to do with Ryan. It was just Daniel. It was the way he seemed to genuinely care about how I felt after what I had seen. It was the honesty, deep in his eyes. I’d never seen anything like it. Not from my parents, and certainly not from Ryan.

Ryan could go sleep with every other skank girl we knew and then some, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t care. But that left me with a problem. A real big problem. My parents. Ryan wasn’t coming to their dinner, and they were going to lose face.

And it was all my fault.

The nerves started before I’d even driven through the gates. By the time I’d pulled into the ten-car garage, I just felt sick. I had no idea what Mom was going to do when she found out I’d failed to get Ryan back. I just knew it wasn’t going to be good.

I’d hoped I’d be able to slip on up to my room without being noticed. That was usually how it happened. Neither of my parents usually gave me the time of day, unless they needed me to do something for them. Unfortunately, Mom was waiting for me.

She didn’t even say anything. She just raised her eyebrow with her usual expectation.

I swallowed, standing stock-still just inside the doorway. When I couldn’t bring myself to say anything in return, she snapped.

“Well?”

“I . . . uh . . . I couldn’t. He didn’t . . .”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Amy. Just spit it the hell out!”

My shoulders sagged. “It didn’t work. He’s not coming.”

Her glare caused a lump to grow in my throat. “Unbelievable! Just . . . you’re pathetic. What the hell did I do to deserve a daughter as ungrateful as you? It’s not hard to catch and keep a boy, Amy. They think with their goddamned dicks! Your father and I gave you the best genes possible. I gave you the tools, the know-how, to use those genes to your advantage, and what do you do? You squander it. You absolutely throw it back in our faces! You’re the most ungrateful child I’ve ever met! Thanks to you, your father and I are going to be a laughingstock tomorrow night. You can forget Paris, miss. And don’t think you’re going anywhere with those friends of yours this summer.”

If I needed any further proof of what kind of love my parents had for me, this was it. Strangely, I didn’t feel like crying. I just felt kind of empty and numb. Didn’t they know it wasn’t the trips to Paris, the fancy cars, or the expensive clothes I was looking for?

I’d have given it all up just to have them love me.

Bitterness crept up inside me. “Sorry, Mother. By the time I got there, he already had his dick inside another girl.”

With that, I shouldered past her and ran up the stairs to my room.

Chapter 6

Daniel

 

 

Standing on the front path, I watched the messenger drive off before opening the letter he’d just given me. Scanning the short message, I folded it back up and tucked it back in the envelope it came from.

It wasn’t anything I hadn’t been expecting. Just reiterating what we’d been told about our leave before we left base. Companies Alpha and Delta were due to deploy for Australia September first. That meant those of us on voluntary leave needed to be back on base by August twenty-fourth. A good ten weeks away.

“Who was that?”

I turned to see Ryan standing on the porch. It’d been almost a week since the incident with Amy. I knew I shouldn’t have let it get to me, but the whole thing had left a very bitter taste in my mouth, and it’d been a real struggle to be civil to him whenever we were in the same room together.

I knew Mom could tell there was some tension on my side, but Ryan was as cool as ever, so either he didn’t get the fact that I wasn’t happy with his treatment toward Amy, or he just didn’t fucking care. Both scenarios annoyed me no end.

I glanced down the road, where the messenger’s car had disappeared around the corner. “Just a Marine Messenger.” I held up the envelope. “Reminding us about deployment.”

The smirk disappeared. His gaze snapped up to meet mine. For the first time since I’d been back, I actually saw a genuine emotion in his eyes. “Shit,” he said quietly. “You’re being deployed?”

I narrowed my eyes a little, contemplating the worry in his gaze. This was the Ryan I remembered from years ago. The one who used to be my best friend. “Yeah.” I frowned, ready to tell him I was only heading to Australia, but I was still trying to understand his reaction. “You know that’s kind of expected when you join the Marines, right?”

He shifted on his feet and sighed, looking defeated. “You know, I didn’t actually think you’d do it,” he mumbled.

My brow creased. “Enlist in the Marines? I’ve been telling you for years this is what I wanted to do.”

“I know,” he said sorrowfully. “I just figured you’d find something else before you did.”

I studied him for a while. He was confusing the hell out of me. “Is there a problem?”

He shook his head. “This is full-on, man. What if you get sent to Iraq or some shit like that?”

Trying not to sigh, I gave him a curious glance. “That’s kind of the point, Ryan. I want to be able to protect our country.”

Ryan scowled and stared down at the ground, just as his phone beeped. He swore and pulled it out of his pocket to check the message. “Look, I gotta go. Congratulations, I guess.”

With that, he hopped into his car and cranked the engine, not even giving me another look as he sped off.

I stood there for a while, watching the back of his car disappear down the street, wondering what the hell just happened. Seeing the Ryan I knew from long ago was a bit of a shock to me, but there’d been no mistaking it. That was definitely him. The real him. It made me pause. Was this arrogant, egotistical dick I’d been seeing for the last week merely some sort of cover-up?

I shook my head. No. I remembered the way he’d treated Amy. As far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter. I didn’t care how emotionally fucked up you were from a broken family. It didn’t give you the right to emotionally abuse a nice girl like her.

Tension tightened my muscles. I needed to run.

Tossing the letter inside the front door, I set my stopwatch and took off toward the local park. I’d measured the distance in Mom’s car the first day I’d arrived. It was just over three miles.

Even though I didn’t exactly need to run it in any certain time anymore, I still wanted to keep my fitness up and my time as close to my PB as possible. Twelve minutes was the goal.

I welcomed the burn in my lungs with pride when I finally reached the park. Pressing the button to stop the timer on my watch, I smiled at my new PB. Eleven minutes, fourteen seconds. Ooh-Rah!

Settling in to walk the perimeter, I worked to slow down my heart rate. The PT trainer at recruitment had taught me a technique that helped considerably, and I knew it was something that was definitely going to help me while deployed. People tended to either panic a little or not be able to rely on decision-making skills when they were out of breath. This technique not only allowed me to slow it down faster than most people, but to also pull my focus into line.

A third of the way around the park, I checked my watch, smiling when I saw my heart rate almost at normal level. I’d just passed by the fountain, when the sound of an angry voice had me looking up.

“I have a very sharp and dangerous bone to pick with you!”

I paused when I saw the voice belonged to a tall, slim blonde. And she was marching directly toward me, her face set in a very pissed-off snarl.

“Your behavior has been absolutely appalling. I thought you were a friend. Friends don’t treat other friends like that. I seriously have lost all fucking respect for you. What you did was a complete asshole act.”

I stood there blinking at this very attractive, yet very angry female, wondering what the hell was going on.

Movement behind her caught my attention, and I looked over her shoulder to see Amy slowly coming our way. She had her head cocked to the side slightly, like she was evaluating me, while Blondie continued on her rant.

When she was almost directly beside the pissed-off blonde, who was in the process of taking a breath, she gave me a shy smile. Fuck me, she was even more gorgeous in the light of day. What the fuck was wrong with my brother?

“Hi, Daniel,” she said.

The blonde girl’s mouth snapped shut, and she looked from Amy back to me in confusion before her eyes grew wide. “Oh, shit. You’re Daniel?”

I gave her a slight grin. “Last time I checked.”

Her hands went to her hips and she huffed. “Ah, fuck it. I was really hoping to bust Ryan’s balls.”

I laughed at that. “And I would’ve paid good money to see it,” I said.

Amy stepped a little closer. “Daniel, this is Amber, my best friend.”

Nodding at Amber, I offered my hand for her to shake. She’d won my vote the instant she stood up against Ryan for Amy, even if she got the wrong brother. “Nice to meet you, Amber.”

She smiled. It was complete trouble. “The pleasure is all mine.”

Amy nudged her, and she simply shrugged with a grin, making me wonder exactly what Amy had told her about me.

Turning my attention completely on Amy, I gave her an intense look. “How have you been?” I asked.

I watched her draw in a deep, steadying breath before she answered. “I’ve been okay,” she said. I liked the strength I heard in her voice.

“I’m glad.” And I was. I didn’t like the thought of her hurting because of my dick of a brother.

“Have you been running?” she asked out of nowhere.

A grin slipped onto my lips before I had a chance to think about it. I liked the way she tried to satisfy her curiosity without pause. “I have.”

Her gaze was locked on mine. I didn’t think I could look away if I tried. She was fucking mesmerizing.

“I thought you were on vacation?”

“Kind of, but taking time off training isn’t going to do me any favors when I’m back on base.”

She frowned. “You’re a marine?”

“I am.”

“Where’s base?”

I grinned. “San Diego.”

She took another deep breath, her gaze burning with its intensity. “You’re a marine.”

It wasn’t a question. It was just a statement, but the pride I heard in her voice did something to me. I actually felt my gaze darkening.

“Semper Fi,” I said, meaning it in so many ways just then.

A ghost of a smile touched her lips. “I imagine you would be.”

I stared at her in silence for a while. There was just something about her.

“Well, this is fun!” Amber said loudly, making the both of us jump a little.

I looked back and forth between them and grinned. “Well, I guess I’ll let you two get back to what you were doing before Blondie here decided to rip me a new one.”

Amber winked at me and clicked her tongue. “I’ll think of it as a warm-up. Ryan’s going to be walking funny for at least a week after I’m done with him.” She frowned. “If the pussy ever decides to show his face, that is.”

I chuckled. I really liked this chick. “Should I warn him?”

“Hell no! My wrath only works on unsuspecting victims,” she said with conviction.

“All right, then. I hope you get your chance sooner rather than later.” Turning back to Amy, I softened my gaze. “Hopefully I’ll see you soon.”

With that I turned and left them standing there, but instead of heading back to Mom’s place like I should’ve, I only moved to the other side of the park and sank down on the grass to stretch, under a tree. Don’t ask me why, but I had a slight inkling it had to do with a pretty, brown-haired girl.

Chapter 7

Amy

 

 

“What the hell was that all about?” Amber shot at me the second Daniel was out of hearing range.

I scrunched my brows. “What?”

She gave me a deadpan look. “Amy, I’ve seen people eye fucking before, and what you two were doing was beyond eye fucking.”

I gaped at her. “We were not!”

“Oh, you were definitely eye fucking, babe. What gives? You like him?”

I opened my mouth to deny it, but her statement had switched something on inside me. “I don’t know, it’s weird. When I was with Ryan, there was always something in the back of my mind telling me it wasn’t right. I mean, I liked the way he made me feel—kind of—but when things got serious, it just felt wrong—like a wall popping up.”

I sighed. “But during the mistaken-identity incident with Daniel, there was no wall. All the little thrills I used to get when I was with Ryan were practically meaningless compared to what I felt when Daniel touched me. I didn’t know it could be like that.”

“Hmmm . . . ”

I looked up at the sound of Amber’s contemplation.

“I think this needs further investigation,” she said thoughtfully.

It took me a while to decipher her calculating expression. “You think I should get with Daniel?”

“Uh . . . after witnessing that? Absolutely.”

I turned to watch Daniel across the park as he sank down onto the grass. “I can’t go out with Daniel. He’s Ryan’s brother.”

She looked at me like I’d gone mad. “So what?”

Shit. Why did the thought give me such a thrill? “It’s just . . . wrong. Everyone would think I was trying to replace Ryan or something.”

“Who gives a fuck what anyone else thinks? And no one who matters is going to think that, anyway. The rest can go fuck themselves. Seriously, Amy,” she said, her gaze turning somber and honest. “That look I just saw pass between you two.” She shook her head. “Trust me, that’s an opportunity you don’t want to pass up, babe.”

Her words made my pulse quicken. “But you heard him. He’s going back to San Diego soon.”

She stepped forward and took my hand. “Just do me a favor and at least be open to the idea and talk to him. Please?”

I looked back across the park at Daniel’s solid form leaning back against a tree. “Okay,” I said, almost involuntarily.

“Good. I’ll leave you to it, then,” she said, giving me a quick hug.

Her words sank in slowly. “Wait, what? You want me to talk to him now?!”

“There’s no time like the present, babe.”

With that, she winked and left me standing there.

Glancing over to where Daniel was still lazing under the tree, panic quickly started rising in my chest, but I was also painfully aware that I was now standing in the middle of the park on my own. I needed to make a decision before I looked like a total idiot.

Pushing back my insecurities, I pulled up my big girl panties and started toward him. The closer I got, the faster my heart seemed to beat, but it surprised me to find it wasn’t actually nerves. I was excited.

Could Amber be right? Could there be that little something between us that hadn’t been there with Ryan? I bit my lip at the thought, a sliver of worry creeping in. What would Ryan say if something did happen between Daniel and me? Would he think I was trying to replace him?

Daniel looked up as I approached, his eyes sparking with what looked to me to be happiness. It made me feel like I was making the right choice.

“Hey,” he said, adding that little grin that kept melting my insides.

“Hey,” I returned. “Mind if I sit?”

“Of course not. Has your friend gone?”

I looked back to where I’d been sitting with Amber. “Yeah, she had to go see her brother.” It was true. Kind of. Give or take a few hours.

Folding myself down on the grass near Daniel, I tried to calm my racing heart, but when I looked up and found him watching me with a tiny grin, I gave up.

Clearing my throat, I tried for casual. “So, you’re here for the summer?”

His grin curved up more on one side. Oh, my lord.

“Yeah, until the end of August,” he said softly.

“You’ve never been before,” I said, stating the obvious.

His smile slipped a little, and he looked out across the park. “No. My dad refused to let me leave the state, so Mom and Ryan had to come to New York if they wanted to see me.”

My jaw dropped a little at his words. Ryan had never said anything about that.

“It was hard,” he admitted. “I was pretty angry for a long while. Mom could never visit for long—only two weeks during the summer.”

“Oh, my God. I never knew,” I said. Like it would make a difference if I had.

He smiled again. “Yeah, so I’m looking forward to a whole summer.”

I bit my lip. It was strange. To Daniel, the concept of a whole summer was a long time. To me, when I thought of the time I could possibly spend with him, it was way too short.

“Can I ask how you came to be a marine?”

One side of his mouth curled up, but it slowly faded as thoughts flashed in the depths of his eyes. “I was pretty angry after my parents split. I was angry that Mom left without me. I was angry that Dad wouldn’t let me go visit her. I was just angry. At everyone. I did everything I could to make them both see it too. I goofed off in school, hung out with the wrong people, anything. By the time I was halfway through my sophomore year, Dad had had enough. I came home from being suspended for the fifth time that year, and he already had my bags packed for military school.”

Even though I’d heard Ryan talk about it before, it sounded so much worse the way Daniel said it. I guessed that was because Daniel had the emotion to go with it. The experience of living it. My eyes widened. “Just like that?”

Again, he grinned his crooked smile. “Just like that. What he didn’t know, though, was that he was doing me the biggest favor he ever could have done. It took me a few weeks to settle in and stop being so pissed at the world, but after that, I started to feel like I belonged. I started doing really well at school, getting good grades and good reports. I knew after that first year finished that I’d found my calling. And the best part of all was that I’d beaten my dad at his own game.”

I laughed. As much as I wasn’t a spiteful person, I did like that bit of it. “Is it bad that that makes me happy?”

Daniel laughed too. It was a sexy, gravelly kind of sound. Different than Ryan’s laugh. Deeper. It had a kind of vibration that seemed to touch me in some way. “Not at all.”

Exhaling a contented breath, I gave him a warm smile. “So, have you got many plans for the summer?”

“No. No plans. The plan,” he said, accentuating the word, “was to just enjoy what time I could with Mom and Ryan, while I could.”

His expression darkened, and I was suddenly worried about what had made him go there. “What?”

“I just—” He dropped his gaze to the ground between us. “Ryan. He’s changed. I didn’t see him the last summer Mom came. He didn’t want to come. So it’s been three years since I saw him last. I don’t know this arrogant, self-absorbed dick.”

He sighed and glanced up at me quickly before looking away again. He looked like he wanted to say more but didn’t know how. I got the feeling he didn’t usually talk much, but I loved listening to the sound of his voice. Although it was extremely similar to Ryan’s, it had a kind of depth to it that Ryan’s didn’t.

“What?” I asked again.

His gaze met mine and locked. “I talked to him briefly just before I came here today. He was there—the old Ryan. He does still care, but, ” He shook his head. “I don’t know. I thought maybe this whole arrogance thing is a cover-up—a way to cope with our shitty situation—but then I remembered how he treated you last week, and I realized it doesn’t matter.”

I blinked at him while I processed his words. As I continued to gather my thoughts, I plucked a blade of grass from the ground and watched my fingers as I twirled it around. “I saw that side of him too,” I said quietly. “In my mind, that’s who I was dating. I seriously don’t think I would’ve dated him at all if I hadn’t seen it.”

I looked up to see him watching me with an intense expression. Again, my mouth decided to override my brain, and just say what was sitting on my tongue.

“I know you said you planned to spend what time you could with your mom and Ryan, but if you feel like getting out and doing something different, you’re more than welcome to come hang out with me and the rest of the gang—except, well, most of the guys have just left for the tour, so I guess it’s only half a gang, but you’re still welcome.”

His grin grew broader, but there was a slight look of confusion in his gaze. “Tour?” he asked.

“The guys in the band. Didn’t Ryan tell you about them?”

Daniel nodded as recognition came to him. “Yeah, I remember him talking about some friends in a band. They’re touring?”

My eyebrows crept upward, realizing he didn’t know any of it. “Yeah, one of their songs went ballistic on YouTube, getting over four million views or something ridiculous like that. They just signed a recording contract a few months ago and are now on tour with The Dark Hybrid.”

I had to admit, it did sound like a movie script the way it all happened. I still shook my head every now and again when I thought about it. Almost everywhere I went, I heard someone talking about Fighting Fate, our local celebrities. And they were my closest friends.

Daniel looked impressed. “Huh. Well, there you go. Good for them. I hope they do well.” Pressing his lips together, he studied me, that little grin creeping back in. “So, if I feel like taking you up on your offer to hang out, how should I get in touch with you?”

I felt my cheeks instantly heat. “Oh . . . uh . . . I could give you my number?”

He chuckled softly. “That sounds like a good idea.”

He pulled out his phone and entered my number as I recited it, then shot me off a quick text with a smiley face. I beamed the second I saw it.

Seeing the time, I knew I should probably get going. “Well, I better go,” I said, pushing myself to my feet and brushing the grass off my butt.

Daniel climbed to his feet beside me. “Thanks for coming to talk to me.”

“It was nice,” I said truthfully.

Jiggling his phone, he smiled. “I guess I’ll talk to you soon.”

With that, I gave him an awkward wave and started toward the parking lot. Turning, I began walking backwards as he watched me. “Do you run here every day?”

I watched him grin before starting to jog away from me. Without breaking his stride, he turned his head. “Yep,” he called. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As my brain registered the fact that I really needed a muzzle for my weird outbursts of questions, and then the fact that he had more or less said he’d like to see me tomorrow, I laughed.

Amber was right. I really needed to see where this went.

 

Chapter 8

Daniel

 

 

Feet pounding the pavement, I pushed myself as hard as I could until I’d made it all the way to the park’s entrance. Slowing down to a jog, then a nice, slow walk, I put my hands on my head and tried to catch my breath.

When I’d brought my heart rate down enough, I checked my time.

“So?”

I looked up to see Amy standing a little farther up the path. Today was the fifth consecutive day we’d met at the park. If truth be told, it was the highlight of every one of my days.

“Ten forty-nine,” I said with a grin.

Her brow lifted before her gaze trailed down my chest. “Impressive,” she said with a slight glint in her eye.

As I moved closer, she started for the blanket she’d spread over the ground near ‘our’ tree. I waited for her to fold herself down on one side before sitting down beside her. She immediately held out a bottle of water for me. I grinned, taking it without a word. It was our routine now.

After I’d swallowed more than half the bottle, I turned so I was facing her a little more. “Have you been here long?”

I watched her shake her head, her long hair floating around her shoulders with the movement. “Ten minutes,” she said.

I looked over her features, studying her for signs of stress. The slight darkness under her eyes worried me.

She’d told me all about her parents and their unrealistic expectations over the last few days. While I’d been listening to her, I found it was just like that first night I’d met her when Ryan had been such an asshole. My protective instinct was unstoppable. I wanted to pin every one of them up against a wall and make them apologize to her.

“Are you still going to the mall with your mom this afternoon?” she asked, lying back to look up at the sky.

“No, she got called into work.” I eased back beside her, propping myself up on my elbow and turning to the side a little so I could see her better. “You could come back with me if you want. We could watch a movie or something?”

I watched her carefully. I was going to add that she didn’t have to worry about Ryan being there, but I kind of wanted to see if the idea of Ryan being home would stop her from coming. I wasn’t sure why. I guess I wanted her to want to be with me enough that she’d face that.

But Amy surprised me by giving me a shy smile and answering, with no hesitation, “I’d like that.”

Picking up a section of her hair off the blanket, I softly rubbed my fingers over it. It’d been like this every day. I couldn’t stop myself from touching her in some small way. The memory of that first night we met was always right there, taunting me. I could remember exactly what she felt like against me, practically taste the sweetness of her lips. It was maddening.

Deciding it was time I just asked the damned question that had been plaguing me for the last week, I stopped what I was doing and locked my gaze with hers. “Would you think it was weird if I asked you on a date?”

Her expression didn’t change, but her breath stopped, and if it was possible, I swore her eyes darkened. Slowly, she shook her head. “No.”

“What if I asked if I could kiss you? Right now?” I asked, my gaze automatically falling to her full lips. “Because I can still remember how amazing you taste, and I’m dying to taste you again.”

Her lips parted with a little gasp. “Okay,” she whispered.

Okay? Holy shit, she said okay. I inhaled deeply. It wasn’t that I’d expected her to say no. I just hadn’t really thought past asking her the question.

Taking another deep breath, I reached out and softly brushed my fingers through her hair, suddenly wondering why this moment felt like it could very well be the biggest in my life so far.

Leaning closer, I let my hand rest gently on the side of her face and brushed my thumb across her cheek. She looked so damned beautiful lying there, her big doe eyes never leaving mine. It made something inside my chest hurt.

With slow, cautious movements, I closed the distance between us.

The second I brushed my lower lip over hers, I felt her melt. Her eyes fell closed and she exhaled a little sigh. A flash of some kind of ache coursed through me at the sight. I tried to breathe through it, unsurprised to find my breath a little shaky.

Fingers tensing, I tasted her again, this time deeply. Her lips parted, and she tilted her head back a little, giving me better access. I tried to keep it to a PG version, seeing as we were in the middle of a public park, but damn, it was hard not to just devour her. But after what Ryan did to her, I didn’t want to scare her, either. I didn’t want her to think I was anything like him.

Knowing I should pull in the reins a little, I went to ease back, but then her hand moved over my waist, and she arched her body toward mine. A silent growl coursed through me, and I automatically pulled her harder into my kiss, my tongue taking a stroke against her lip without my consent.

A tiny little whimper escaped her, making me just about lose my sanity altogether. Forcing myself to break away, I rested my forehead against hers and tried to catch my breath. It was harder to do than when I’d just run three miles.

“Damn,” I muttered. “That was better than I remembered.”

I felt her nod her head a fraction, and something that sounded like, “Uh-huh,” came out with her breath.

Pulling back from her, I met her gaze. “You know I’m going to do that again at some stage, don’t you?”

Her answering smile made my heart warm. “I hope so.”

I growled. I couldn’t help it. Knowing she wanted it just as much as I did was like a damned invitation. Before we went there, though, there was something I needed answered.

Sighing, I put a bit more distance between us. “I really don’t want to ask you this, but I need to know about Ryan,” I said, my tone a little defeated.

I watched her blink at me, surprise flickering over her features. “What do you need to know?”

“I don’t know.” I rubbed my hand over my head with frustration. “I guess, I just wanted to know if you ever wanted to be with him . . . like that?”

Her brow creased with confusion before they rose with understanding. She immediately shook her head. “No. Never. I,” She looked past my shoulder into the distance. “I thought there was something wrong with me. I mean, he was nice and he’s attractive,” She gazed back at me and grinned before turning serious again. “But anytime he wanted to go past kissing, it was like a giant wall would pop up—like big, flashing neon signs that said, ‘Stop. Wrong way. Go back.’ It was weird.”

I didn’t realize how tense I’d been waiting for her answer until I felt myself relax. “I don’t like thinking about you kissing him,” I said, surprising myself.

She sighed and reached up to run her fingers through my hair. “I like your kisses a lot better, if that helps?”

Leaning down, I gave her a quick, soft kiss. “Not really, but thank you.”

“Does it bother you?” she asked. “I mean, do you think it could be a problem?”

Running my thumb over her lip, I smiled. “No. I think it’s too late for it to bother me.”

Her lips parted as she gazed at me, and without thinking, I slid my thumb into her mouth, watching her tongue as it caressed my skin before her lips closed around it and gently sucked.

Fuck me.

Every fiber in my being was demanding I kiss her again, but I knew if I did, I couldn’t guarantee I’d be able to keep it PG-rated.

Slowly retracting my thumb, I sucked in a harsh breath. “Come on, you. Let’s go watch a movie before the cops come and arrest me for inappropriate behavior.”

She giggled softly, suddenly making it hard for me to breathe. This girl was going to be the death of me, and I was pretty sure I would be okay with it.

Walking her to her car, like I did every day, this time I helped her into the driver’s seat before walking around to climb in beside her. Every now and again, during the three-mile drive back to Mom’s place, she’d glance my way and smile, reiterating that death threat even more.

I watched her carefully when we made it back to the house. A part of me was expecting her to be a little tense being back where Ryan had been such a dick to her, but she simply smiled at me like she was completely comfortable. I exhaled a silent breath with relief.

“Do you mind if I just go grab a quick shower first?”

Her gaze darkened on me, making me wonder what was going through her pretty mind. Slowly, she shook head. “No, that’s fine.”

“Okay. Make yourself at home.”

Dashing up the stairs, I rushed to get into the shower and wash off the sweat from my run. Quickly drying myself off, I went back to my room to dress.

I was just zipping up my shorts when I heard a knock on the door. “Daniel?”

The sound of Amy’s voice sent a warm buzz through my blood. “It’s okay. You can come in,” I called to her, reaching into my drawer for a shirt.

She opened the door hesitantly, her gaze raking over my bare chest before she blushed. I had no idea what it was about the way she blushed, but it made me want to grab her and kiss her. Hard.

It took me a few seconds to notice she had her phone clutched in her hand. “Everything okay?” I asked, nodding toward the device.

She blinked and looked down. “Oh, yeah.” Sighing, she gave me a defeated smile. “I need to go home.”

Throwing my shirt on the bed, I walked right over to her, taking hold of her hip with one hand and stroking the side of her face with the other. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I said I’d help Mom out with this charity drive.”

I breathed her in. “Okay.”

Her gaze dropped to my chest, and before I could even think, her hands were there, gently moving over my abs, working their way upwards. My breath hitched.

“You’ve got such an amazing body,” she murmured.

A tremor ran through me. “I think that’s my line,” I murmured back.

She gazed up at me, a touch of pink spreading across her cheeks. I kissed her.

I loved the way Amy reacted to my kisses. It was like every ounce of tension in her body evaporated the instant our lips touched. She just melted.

My fingers buried in her hair, holding her mouth to mine. One of her hands moved to clutch my bicep, while the other slid around to softly stroke my back. Every nerve ending in my body was like a live wire. I’d never felt anything like it.

I kissed her deeper, the hand on her hip tightening before moving around to the small of her back to pull her harder against me. She moaned, her tongue flicking out to find mine.

Holy shit, she was addictive.

Giving myself a few more seconds to drown in the taste of her, I finally pulled back, loosening my hold and breathing her in.

Seeing her standing there, her eyes still closed as a soft smile slipped calmly onto her lips, I knew I’d never get tired of this. With her.

“I retract my earlier statement,” she said, her eyelids fluttering open. “I don’t like your kisses.”

I frowned. She what?

She grinned. “I love them. I love your lips. They’re so soft.”

I gave her a little smirk. “Ditto, baby. Ditto.”

She laughed. “All right. I better go.”

“Yeah, I think you better . . .”

Grabbing up my shirt, I took her hand and pulled her out my door, only to stop dead in my tracks as I came face-to-face with Ryan at the top of the stairs.

His gaze jumped from me to Amy before he laughed. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” he said.

Amy stiffened beside me, making me pull her in a little closer.

He let out another harsh laugh and pinned Amy with a hateful glare. “You couldn’t have me, so you decided you’d go for my brother? That’s pathetic, even for you, Amy.”

I felt my whole body tighten. “One more word, little brother . . .”

Ryan’s gaze snapped to mine with surprise. “Are you serious?”

I glared at him.

“Fuck, you are.” He shook his head and glanced between me and Amy. “You’re wasting your time there, man. You won’t get anything out of that uptight bitch.”

That’s all it took for me to snap. Before he knew what had hit him, I had him pinned to the wall, my forearm pressed against his windpipe. “You have exactly three seconds to apologize to Amy,” I snarled.

I saw the defiance in his eyes. I pressed harder.

“Two seconds.”

He gave me a hard stare.

“One second.”

He held my gaze for a split second before glancing over to Amy. I loosened my hold so he could get the word out.

“Sorry.”

I knew it wasn’t heartfelt, and I wanted to hurt him for not meaning it, but I also just wanted to get Amy away from him. Shoving him one last time, I stepped back and took Amy’s hand.

I didn’t spare him another glance as I led Amy down the stairs and out to her car. It felt a bit like the first night I’d met her as I stopped beside the driver’s door.

“I’m sorry,” I said, meaning every bit of the word.

“It’s okay,” she said softly. “And you have nothing to be sorry for.”

Unexpectedly, she placed her hand on my cheek and stretched up to kiss the corner of my mouth. Not one to miss an opportunity, I wrapped my arms around her waist and lifted her against me, taking her mouth with a heated kiss that held all of my frustrations.

Amy kissed me back with just as much heat, wrapping her legs around my hips and her arms around my neck.

Groaning, I pushed her against the door of her car and plunged my tongue into the warmth of her mouth. She was fucking perfect.

The second she loosened her hold and eased back a little, I forced myself to end the kiss. It was fucking hard, but I respected her too much to not honor her limits.

I pressed my lips against her neck, trying to catch the breath she’d stolen from me.

“I think you have the potential to make me forget my own name,” she whispered in my ear.

I swallowed, knowing damned well she had the potential to do all that and much, much more to me.

 

Chapter 9

Amy

 

 

The sound of the doorbell had me scrambling for my bag and down the stairs as fast as I could.

Unfortunately, Mom still beat me to the door. I saw her eyes widen when she saw who was on the other side.

“Ryan?”

I groaned. I hadn’t told either of my parents about Daniel. It wasn’t that I was trying to hide him from them or anything. I just had no interest in telling them about any aspect of my life anymore.

“No, ma’am,” I heard Daniel answer before I got there. “I’m Daniel. Ryan’s brother.”

“Oh my goodness,” she breathed out. “That’s right. You lived with your father, didn’t you?” The interest in her tone had me tensing.

“Theoretically speaking,” Daniel answered.

I reached Mom’s side, slightly out of breath, and gave Daniel an apologetic smile.

“Theoretically? What do you mean?” Mom pressed.

Daniel’s gaze unwillingly went to Mom. “I attended military school, ma’am, so I more or less lived on campus.”

Mom recoiled. “Military school? Why on earth would you go there?”

I watched Daniel’s mouth creep up on one side. He was enjoying this. “I guess I pissed my father off one too many times, ma’am.”

The gasp Mom let out was expected. “But you will be going back to work with him, won’t you?”

Daniel’s eyebrow rose a notch. “No, ma’am. I’m in the United States Marine Corp now.”

“Oh my—” Her hand went to her chest at the horror of it all. “Well, that’s just ridiculous. Why would you throw away the chance of a successful career with your father?”

I blinked at her. Was she serious? Daniel seemed just as dumbfounded. Holding my finger up to Daniel to indicate for him to wait a second, I closed the door on him and turned to face Mom.

“Mom!” I hissed. “Choosing a career defending our country—our way of life—is just as honorable as any company job!”

Her gaze snapped to mine, and her expression darkened. “I don’t think so. And no daughter of mine will date a marine. I forbid it.”

My jaw dropped. I was seriously shocked by her words. “What is wrong with you?” I whispered.

Crossing her arms, she gave me a warning glare. “Watch your mouth, young lady. You still live under my roof, and until such time as that changes, you will do as you’re told. You will not be dating a marine. End of story. Do you have any idea how little money they actually make?”

Ah . . . so there it was. The elephant in the room.

Disappointment and embarrassment washed through me. Sadly, I shook my head. If I had any doubts as to whether I was doing the right thing by taking my own road, away from my parents, they were long gone now.

“I want to feel sorry for you, but I can’t even do that.” Opening the door, I moved past her and took Daniel’s hand. “I’m going out.”

Without looking back, I walked beside Daniel to his mom’s car and waited for him to open the door for me while Mom yelled at me to come back. When we were both seat belted in and on our way out the gates, I touched his hand.

“I’m so sorry.”

He laughed, confusing me. “Why are we always apologizing to each other for other people’s bad behavior?”

I smiled. He was right. Between Ryan and my mother, we were both affected.

“Okay, then. From now on, no more apologies unless they’re our own.”

He squeezed my hand. “Agreed.” Letting his gaze sweep down my body, he inhaled deeply. “You look beautiful, by the way.”

I felt my cheeks heat instantly with his smoldering look. “Thanks.” Clearing my throat, I tried to get the topic off me. “So, are you going to tell me where we’re going yet?”

Giving me a knowing smile, he redirected his attention back to the road. “I’m taking you on a picnic.” He glanced at me, suddenly appearing nervous. “Is that okay?”

Ryan had never done anything like that for me. “That’s perfect.”

His shoulders relaxed, and he gave me a sheepish grin. “Mom helped me pack it.”

I tensed. “Oh, I thought she went to San Francisco,” I said. I wasn’t sure why, but I suddenly wondered what Daniel’s mom thought of us going on a date.

“Stop it,” Daniel said.

I didn’t even pretend not to know what he was talking about. We’d had this discussion many times over the last week. After growing up extremely conscious of other people’s perception of me, it was hard to let go and not worry about what people thought.

“Did she think it was weird that we were going on a date?”

“I said, stop it, but no, she didn’t. She seemed happy about it.”

That surprised me. Every time I saw her when I was with Ryan, she appeared as though she didn’t like me being with her son. “She did?”

“Yeah, she said she didn’t think Ryan was right for you.” He grinned widely.

I laughed. How right she was.

“And yeah, she’s gone to San Francisco. She’ll be back tomorrow. And Ryan’s gone up to Redding—he said something about a party with Corey.”

“Okay.”

He gave me an anxious look. “I thought this was a good idea, but now I’m not so sure.”

My breath stuck in my throat.

He frowned at me, then his eyes widened. “Not the date,” he said quickly. “The date was the most brilliant idea I’ve ever had. I meant the picnic.” He hesitated. “I thought because the house was empty, we could make use of it, you know, watch that movie we missed the other day, but I don’t want you to think I’m just trying to get you alone, which I’m not—I mean, I am, but—”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. He was literally rambling. It was so cute.

He gave me a sardonic look before sighing. “Are you okay with us being alone at the house? I’m sorry. I should’ve asked before now.”

“It’s fine. I’m actually really looking forward to it. It sounds nice.”

He exhaled and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay, good.”

I was nervous when we reached the house a few short minutes later, and I couldn’t help but notice it was a different kind of nervousness to what I’d had when I knew I was going to be alone with Ryan. With Ryan, it was a kind of dread. Trailing Daniel into the house, I was filled with nerves bordering on anticipation. It was exciting yet confusing at the same time.

Taking me into the den, he spread a blanket out on the carpet and placed a few pillows on top. “There you are. Make yourself comfortable and I’ll just go get the food.”

“Do you need a hand?”

“Nope. I’ll just be a minute.”

I watched him disappear out the door before sinking down onto the pillows. He returned a few minutes later with a basket in hand, the sight so contradictory to the big, muscly guy he was, I had to giggle.

Giving me a mock glare, he folded himself down opposite me and began unpacking. The food looked amazing. It was just a big assortment of appetizers, from mini quiches to spinach pastries and beyond. There was even an assortment of desserts.

“Oh my God, this looks incredible,” I said, my stomach already growling at me to hurry up and eat.

Daniel laughed, obviously hearing my stomach’s protest. “Eat.”

Not waiting to be asked twice, I started from one side and tried everything that was on offer. By the time I’d tried it all, I was perfectly full.

Slouching back against the pillows, I sighed with contentment.

“Is that all you’re eating?” he asked, sounding skeptical.

I closed my eyes and sighed again. “Mmm-hmmm.”

“That couldn’t possibly be enough to sustain you.”

I opened one eye and rolled my head so I could see him. “Are we having popcorn and candy?”

He frowned. “Of course.”

“Then I’m perfect. Just enough room left for that.”

The sound of him chuckling brought a smile to my lips. It was a nice sound. I wished I heard it more often.

“All right. Let me just clear this away and I’ll put a movie on. What do you feel like watching?”

I went to sit up, but he was suddenly there, his face only inches away from mine.

“Don’t,” he said, pressing his lips to mine, soft and slow. “I don’t need help. Stay there.”

Slightly mute with clouds in my head, I watched him stack it all back into the basket and carry it out to the kitchen, my heart thumping out an excited rhythm.

When he came back, he moved us up onto the sofa and started flicking through our movie options. I giggled when he stopped to check out one of Joshua Emerson’s movies.

“You know this guy, right?” Daniel asked, reading through the blurb.

“Yeah, he’s kind of an assumed part of our gang, even though he’s never here.”

Daniel gave me an impressed look. “That’s pretty freaking cool.”

Laughing, I shrugged. I never really thought about it, but I guessed it was pretty cool being friends with a movie star. I was just glad Josh chose to keep his roots grounded when he moved to L.A.

“Did you want to watch it?”

Snuggling in closer, I shook my head. “Nah, I’ve already seen it like six times. Let’s watch the Thor one.” I figured the second Thor movie was a fool-proof option. I mean, what guy didn’t like the Marvel movies? And, let’s face it, Thor was just hot. It was a definite win-win for both of us.

I wasn’t sure how far into the movie we were when I started to get distracted. It may have been when he wrapped his arm around me to pull me against his side, or it could’ve been when he started to lightly run his fingers up and down my arm, but I think maybe it was around the time he leaned his cheek against the top of my head and started to breathe me in.

Oh, who was I kidding? I didn’t think I could remember the opening sequence if I tried.

Deciding to throw caution to the wind, I tilted my head back until my gaze met his. I felt his whole body still. I knew exactly what my eyes would be showing him, and I didn’t care. I actually hoped he could read them loud and clear.

It was as though the air around us suddenly exploded with tension. Daniel’s gaze dropped to my mouth, and his eyes darkened.

With a confidence I’d never known before, I reached up and cupped the back of his neck, then gently pulled him down to me, arching up to kiss his soft, full lips.

It surprised me to realize this was the first time I’d actually initiated a kiss. Ever. It made me feel bold, and to be honest, a little proud of myself. Especially when he growled and started to kiss me back.

My hand automatically clenched tighter and my body shifted, twisting to be more in line with his. Daniel’s body moved in response, and as our kisses turned more forceful, I lay back on the sofa, pulling him on top of me as I went.

The weight of his body on mine did strange things to me. Wave after wave of tiny little thrills surged through every part of me. I moaned at the intense feel of it, the sound making Daniel kiss me even harder.

But the pleasure of it soon turned into an ache I’d never experienced. It wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t entirely blissful either. It was a need—like an itch that had to be scratched, but I had no idea how to do it.

Parting my legs, I wriggled so Daniel’s weight settled right where I needed it. I couldn’t control how tightly I was clinging to him. It was a compulsion. A need to have him closer. To make us one. The feeling of it bordered on desperation.

Pushing my hips up, I felt the hard ridge of his cock through his shorts. A deep tingling erupted low in my stomach. I whimpered and Daniel growled.

“Amy,” Daniel said against my lips. His voice sounded a little choked, the broken timbre of it making me clutch his hair even tighter.

Sucking in a harsh breath, I pushed my hips up once more, desperate to feel that tingling in my stomach again.

“Daniel,” I whimpered, not caring how desperate I sounded. I wanted to ask him to help me bring that feeling back, but I didn’t know how.

Daniel’s hand moved under my shirt, stroking over my ribs. I arched into his touch, wanting this feeling to go on forever. His mouth moved over my neck, his tongue lapping, his lips sucking.

Holy mother of mercy!

The tingling started again. I gasped. Daniel stilled, breathing heavy. A tiny whimper escaped me.

“We need to stop,” Daniel said in a pained voice.

Oh, God, no! I couldn’t live with this ache. I needed him to fix it. My hands tensed against him, and I shook my head. “Please, Daniel. I need . . .” Oh, God. I didn’t know! What the hell did I need?! “I need you to do something.” I pushed my hips up again. “It aches.”

Daniel’s hands gripped me tighter, and he growled against my neck. “Fuck.”

In a move that was too fast for my foggy brain to keep up with, Daniel’s mouth came crashing down on mine. His tongue thrust deep inside, stroking against mine with complete abandonment, while he pressed himself harder against my aching center. The aching intensified.

Breaking the kiss, he breathed heavily against my cheek before pulling back to look me in the eyes. “You want me to make you feel better?” he asked, sounding a little disbelieving.

“God, yes,” I answered, unable to stop myself from writhing underneath him.

“Can I touch you?”

I pulled myself up to kiss him. “Yes! Please touch me, Daniel.”

Hearing those words coming out of my mouth was an incredible rush. For the first time in my life, I felt wanton. It was liberating.

This time I was prepared for Daniel’s crushing kiss. I took it and gave it straight back to him, but when he shifted off me, sliding his body to the side, I whimpered with disappointment. I needed him. There.

I was just thinking about pulling him back on top of me, or even climbing on top of him, when I felt his fingers at the button of my shorts. Oh my God, yes! That’s what I needed. Frantically trying to catch my breath between kisses, I painfully waited for him to finish opening the zipper.

As I felt the teeth loosening, the ache inside me instantly became more intense, everything surging straight between my legs. I was sure every muscle in my body was coiled so tight I was about to explode.

I knew what would come next. I was mad with want for it, but nothing I could’ve done would’ve prepared me for how incredible it felt when his fingers began sliding inside my panties.

A garbled kind of sound escaped me while my head swirled, trying without success to process the vast number of sensations it was receiving at one time.

And then his fingers found my center.

It was too much. His kisses, his breath, his touch. Tearing my mouth away from his, I pulled his lips down to my neck, gasping for breath, yet unable to catch it.

He pressed the flat of his fingers against me and started to move them in a circular motion, the movement instantly bringing that wonderful tingling back into the pit of my stomach.

I cried out, a desperate kind of sound that seemed to make Daniel’s fingers work even faster. Parting my legs wider, I pushed myself harder against his fingers while a constant stream of whimpering noises floated out from God knew where.

Daniel’s breath came heavy against my neck, making the tingling intensify beyond anything I could possibly imagine. I whimpered again, my nails digging into his flesh. He groaned, and I was lost, the sound of his voice enough to tip me over the edge.

The cry that escaped me was beyond my control. My body had completely taken over my mind. It was in some kind of celebratory death grip. It was crashing and burning, and spinning and floating, and I had never felt anything so completely satisfying in all my life.

I clamped my legs together, trapping Daniel’s hand so he couldn’t take this away from me while I reveled in the continuous crashing waves.

Then he was kissing me. It was the most perfect kiss ever. It started heavy and loaded with passion, and slowly grew softer and sweeter, until he was simply just resting his forehead against mine. It was like he was trying to softly bring me down from the crazy heights I’d managed to climb to.

When the tingling finally reached a nice, warm buzz, I unclenched my legs, letting Daniel slowly slide his hand free.

Now I’d had time to calm down, I became increasingly shy. My brain ran through everything I’d just done at breakneck speed.

Daniel lifted his head to gaze down at me. His eyes were still dark with desire. I had no idea what to do from here. I knew I’d pretty much reached my limit as far as those things went, but he hadn’t reached a happy ending like I had. I was sure I was supposed to offer him something in return, but I didn’t think I could go there just yet.

“Are you okay?” he asked hesitantly.

I blushed. Even though I was still fully clothed, I felt naked—exposed. I nodded.

Daniel tensed. “Tell me what’s wrong. Was that too soon? I thought that was what you wanted?”

“No,” I rushed, quickly shaking my head. “It was. I’m just not used to this. Being here like this.” I bit my lip. “And . . . you know . . . you didn’t—” I couldn’t finish the sentence. I felt so stupid and inexperienced.

But Daniel’s body relaxed beside mine, and something warm came into his eyes. “You’re worried that I didn’t finish?”

I bit the inside of my cheek and gave him a nervous look before nodding.

The corners of his mouth turned up softly as he drew his thumb across my cheekbone. “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I promise.”

I gave him a skeptical look.

“It’s true,” he said. “I’m actually better than fine. Seeing you like that,” He drew in a long, deep breath. “I don’t need anything else than that right now.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, uncertain. After seeing Ryan’s anger so many times over the last few months because he didn’t get what he claimed he needed, I found it a little difficult to believe.

I caught the fleeting look that flashed through Daniel’s eyes, and I knew he knew what I was thinking. Leveling his gaze on me, he inhaled. “Let’s get something straight. I don’t mind waiting for you to be ready. I don’t care how long it takes, even if you decide you’ll never be ready. Same thing goes for reciprocating anything you might let me do for you. I consider myself fucking lucky that you’re even considering being with me, and even luckier that you just let me touch you like that. I love every minute I get to spend with you. Anything else is just a bonus.”

I let his words sink in slowly. Damn, that boy did things to me. I no longer felt self-conscious about what’d just happened. It felt right. Perfect.

“I loved what we just did,” I said shyly. “I’ve never gone that far before—been like that before—”

He inhaled, stretching out over me, sliding one leg in between mine, while taking my hands and raising them up above my head. “Amy unrestrained and abandoned is amazing,” he said, kissing me below my ear. “Beautiful, incredible, sexy,” he continued as he kept nuzzling my neck.

I giggled.

“I loved watching you fall apart. I want to see it again. And again. I want to taste you. Everywhere.”

My breath hitched. Oh, my lord.

“I bet you taste incredible,” he murmured against my skin.

My skin flushed hot with his words, and my breath quickened.

His hands smoothed over my skin. “If you think my fingers felt good, imagine what my tongue would feel like.”

Oh, God.

“Is that . . . is that something you like to do?” I breathed, my brain already growing fuzzy.

“With you? Definitely.”

I melted. I finally felt like I was where I was supposed to be. Every part of me had been awoken by this deeply intense, beautiful boy. I was home.

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