The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 18

Kat

After Jared flipped out on all of us, Dash found me hyperventilating, and wishing a freak tidal wave would carry me away.

Hugging me, he said, “Jericho can be an asshole, but his reaction isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Through my tears, I shook my head against him. “How could you say that, Dash? I saw the hate in his eyes!”

“Kat, that wasn’t hate. It was fear. He thought we were making him the butt of a joke, and you were the one throwing the pie in his face. Jared can take a joke, as long as he doesn’t look stupid. We didn’t intend for this to be a cruel joke, but he took it that way. I’m sorry he did.”

“He was so mean.”

“He was protecting himself. Always on his guard. I’ve known him since we were eight, but most of the shit I know about him I had to figure out on my own.”

“Why does he have to protect himself from his friends?”

“Because you’re more than a friend to him.”

“He doesn’t want me to be his girlfriend.”

Dash looked at me, astounded. “You asked him out?”

“I’ve been setting up little dates for us all week without him knowing it. He was shocked. We kissed last night. I asked him if we could be together. He said he doesn’t want a girlfriend.”

“Jared Beckett doesn’t even know what he wants.”

“Shit. He did offer to have sex with me.”

His mouth practically scooped sand. “You’re kidding?”

“He didn’t tell you?”

He shook his head. “Fuck, no.”

“I turned him down.”

Dash slowly nodded. “Oh. Okay. His extra crankiness totally makes sense now. Jared is definitely in love with you.”

“No, he’s not!”

“He might not realize it, or he refuses to believe it, but he sure the hell is. I know it. Rio knows it. Jared’s dad has his suspicions.”

“All of this is torture. I’ve been in love with him since high school, but all he wants me for is a casual fuck.”

As a sad joke, I said, “Maybe I should just sleep with him. He might like me more.”

Dash laughed. “I know this will sound bad, but maybe you should.”

“What the hell?”

“Hear me out. Women tend to want an emotional connection before having sex. Men tend to be the opposite. So…”

“Holy shit, Dash. You don’t teach psychology.”

“Yeah, but one of my best friends—Diet Dr. Pussy, AKA Rio—is a psych major. We discussed this at length over hot wings while waiting for Jared to get off work one night.”

“Does Rio think I should sleep with Jared, too?”

He laughed. “Rio would not advocate that you have sex with Jared for research purposes. Though, he’d probably agree that banging Jericho just might be the key to rock his world. Me? I say do him. See if there’s more.”

I laughed through my tears. “You sound like a pimp.”

“As long as you don’t charge him, then I think I’m in the clear. Use it as a learning experience for both of you. I’ll also be happy to hear your critique of his technique. That’d be great entertainment.”

“Dash, I don’t want to have sex with him as an experiment. I want him to make love to me and mean it.”

“I know, Kat, but you might have to cut through the weeds to get to the meadow.”

“And what if it doesn’t work, and he leaves me, brokenhearted and alone again?”

“It’ll work out. Jared won’t know what to do without you.”

I hope Dash is right.

There’s something about Jared that lures people in. Despite using his apprehension and cynicism as a shield, he’s undeniably the most caring and passionate man I’ve ever met, offering to help me for weeks on end to get a driver’s license. When he thinks nobody’s looking, he’s charming and sweet, and he makes me laugh. And when he thinks I’m not looking, he stares at me, giving me shivers that soon turn to a heat spreading over my body. I’ve gotten to know him even more than before. I’ve tumbled into a cavernous abyss from which there is no escape.

I’m in love with Jared Beckett. Desperately. Yet, it’s not the kind of desperation of needing more and expecting it to happen. No. It’s the desperation of knowing I’m heading for an inevitable heartbreak but am powerless to stop it. I can’t walk away. It’s like I’m on the track of a speeding train, bright lights shining, whistle blaring, brakes screeching, but I stand there, waiting for the end to obliterate me.

I thought I was a strong woman, but when Jared pointed out that I’m letting my accident cripple me, it opened my eyes to the actuality of how far off I am from being resilient. Notwithstanding the pain of losing my grandmother, I thought I was a survivor, even if I didn’t deserve to truly enjoy my life because of her death at my hands.

Jared is here… and then he won’t be. I want to fight for him to give us a chance, but I’m afraid that with this chance I have to fight, we don’t even have a fighting chance. My love for him grows every time we’re together, but so does my anguish.

If I’m giving Jared my body so I can win his heart, I have to show him my love, rather than outwardly say it.

Jared’s eyes sparkle as he thrusts into me so passionately that the bed thumps against the wall, probably announcing to the neighborhood what we’re doing, not that our yelling didn’t already.

We’re finally having sex, and it’s indescribable, but with each thrust he executes, I fight the tears. This isn’t the way I had imagined it happening.

Jared holds me close to him as his hazel-green eyes look right into mine. Even though his hips are proficiently thrashing against me, he’s gentle when he sweeps the hair from my face, and his smile is brilliant in the shadowy room. “How’s my driving?”

I want to return his smile, but I don’t have it in me. On this bed with him, the only things I have inside of me are my sadness and his dick. I want Jared to confess that he loves me. For him to call me his forever. I want Jared’s heart, but I know he’ll return mine, damaged beyond repair.

My hand goes to his face, and the earlier sparkle in his eyes is now a burning fervor as he thrusts faster. I want to tell Jared I love him, but I suppose I’m more than a little disillusioned. Still, I have found myself starting to make my confession, but then stopping before I do.

Countering his moves, I moan, “Fucking awesome. Jared, I… I…” This would be my second attempt where I’ve almost told him, but I’m interrupted by his orgasm, which I take as a signal to shut up.

Jared’s face contorts, and he almost looks panicked, like he’s afraid to come. I hold onto his arms as his breaths become short and sharp. He sucks in air and holds it as he clutches my ass, so I can’t escape, which surprises me since he’s an expert at keeping people away from him. His eyes close, and he groans, “Jesus Christ!” He drives hard into me and then stops. We gasp together as his warm, pulsating rush fills me, and it’s… comforting. I hold that warm feeling because soon he’ll leave me cold.

The thought is too much. It’s the good and the bad all at once. We just made love for the first time—well, I did. It’s only sex for him. I just gave him my body to go with my heart he possesses. He has all of me, but I only have his cum.

He sighs and leisurely, he restarts pushing and pulling his hips, sparking me as if he’s trying to start another fire between us. Looking wholly content, he asks, “What?”

I try to shake the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, but I can’t. Before it overcomes me, I put my hand on the back of his head and coerce our lips to meet, which he eagerly accepts, and we kiss as my tears flow. I can’t stop them, but I do succeed in keeping my sobs hidden within our kiss.

Suddenly, Jared’s lips disappear from mine, and as I open my teary eyes, his are anxious.

“What’s wrong?”

I don’t answer him because my answer will also change things and not for the better on his end. I pull him back to me, and we avidly kiss again.

Eventually, he slowly pulls out of me. Even if he’s on top of me right now, the loneliness I’ve felt all these years suddenly seizes me. With him being semi-hard and before he has the chance to leave, I lift my hips against his and scrounge any friction I can. He doesn’t prod but remains still as I get off on him this time.

I briskly skate over the tip of him. Gripping his shoulders, I gasp, “Jared.”

Putting his left hand on the mattress, Jared reaches down and holds himself firmly to me as I glide up and down. Even as I dig in harder and go faster, he still keeps steady until the ripples roll through me and over him. My fingernails claw into his shoulders as I cry out, “Fuck!” I hear his gasps in my ear as I come over his soft cock.

When my tremors subside, Jared moves his hand to the side of my face, and he kisses my neck. “Damn, Kit Kat. You’re something else.”

I pant against his throat. My tears seem to be dry for now. Moving my arms to his neck, I kiss his lips, but he doesn’t kiss me in return. He leans his head back and asks, “Why were you crying? Is it because of what I said earlier?” He frowns and gives me a soft kiss on my lips. “I wish I could take it back. I’m sorry.”

Looking at the ceiling, I shrug. “I was caught up in the moment for us. We finally…”

Bending his head, his hair brushes my cheek as he nods. “Finally.”

Amazed by what he did for me, I say, “You weren’t hard, and you still made me come.”

He chuckles as he kisses my shoulder. “I guess you do know how to drive a stick.”

I smile, but it’s fleeting. “I’d better go back to my room, so Dash or Rio don’t see me coming out of yours.” I don’t want to leave his bed, but I need solitude if I suddenly start crying again.

He leans in, nipping at my ear, teasing, “You already did come in mine.” If the circumstances were different, I’d laugh with him.

Rolling to my side underneath him, he hovers over me. “Do you really want them to know what we did?”

He shifts, leaning on his left hand to look at my face. “No, but they probably heard us. If so, I really don’t give a fuck what they think.”

“That’s honorable, but don’t you talk about your sexual exploits with your best friends?”

He sourly frowns. “No.”

“Ever?”

“It’s just sex.”

“Oh.” I wince as he goes to sit up.

Hearing my disappointment, Jared suddenly leans close to me again. “Kit Kat. I… You’re… That’s not… Shit.”

As the chill sets in, I wriggle out from under him and get out of bed. Realizing I’m naked and he’s staring, I wrap my arms around me as I search the area for my shirt. “No, it’s fine.”

Jared sits up, and my gaze involuntarily glides down his glorious body. The sheen between his legs from our lovemaking, or fucking if he described it, catches the light from the desk lamp. He rests his hand on his propped knee. “You said… this… would change things.” His light brown eyebrows tighten. “Don’t let it be a bad change.”

I blink out of my trance to continue looking for my shirt. He picks it up from next to him and hands it to me. I take the shirt while still trying to hide with one hand as Jared’s greenish eyes travel my body. “Why’re you covering yourself? We just...” His gaze returns to my face, and he sighs, most likely knowing that no word or phrase he uses will be a good choice at this moment.

I turn away to slip my shirt over my head. As I pull my hair out of the neck, I shrug to the wall. “I’m not. Just cold.”

I hear the bed squeak in succession. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jared reaches for my wrist and swiftly pulls me to him. His look is inquisitive. “We’re still friends, aren’t we?”

My eyes well up and turning away again, I nod at the door. “I need to go to bed.”

Jared gently shakes my arm until I look at him. “You can sleep with me tonight.” His lips curve into a smile. “You know. Actual sleep.”

“I can’t.”

His hands go to my lower back and push me closer to him. It’s so tempting to lift up my long shirt to straddle him until he’s hard and inside me again. Jared sexily whispers, “Come on. I have a big bed that’s screaming your name.” Leaning his head back, he crooks up an eyebrow. “But not louder than me.” He grins when I unwillingly crack a smile.

I roll my eyes at his ridiculous smile, which makes me smile more. “Okay, but I’ll go to my room early, so nobody sees me.”

His smile ebbs. “I told you, I don’t care.”

“I do.” I feel weird about taking Dash’s advice, and I don’t want Dash teasing Jared about us sleeping together. I want this to be just between Jared and me. Talking about sleeping with Jared to get him to fall in love with me is one thing, but to do it is utterly another.

His forehead crumples, and he narrows his eyes. “What do you think they’re going to say?”

I tip my head, and my gaze lands on his dick, quietly waiting for the next round. “They might think I’m easy.”

He disbelievingly laughs. “Easy? Christ. It’s taken me since my junior year to sleep with you. Not easy.”

Looking up, I smile at his exasperation. “You wanted to sleep with me, then?”

He nods without hesitation. “I wanted to drive you, not the fucking car.”

My real smile dwindles in exchange for a forced one. I’ve opened Pandora’s box.

Suddenly drained, I move to get in bed, but Jared clamps his legs onto me, holding me there. His eyes scour mine. “Just so you know—what we did? That was phenomenal.”

“Is that what you say to all the women you have sex with?”

His face crinkles. “I’ve never said that before.”

“But you thought it?”

Still confused, he warily says, “No, Kit Kat. That was a first.” Jared’s hands slide down to my hips, his thumbs smoothing over my nightshirt. He looks up at me, but his eyes subtly shift. “What did you think?”

I want to say I loved it and him, but I instead say, “It was unbelievable.” I lean my forehead against his and whisper over his face, “The best of my life, Jared.”

Almost as if on impulse, Jared slants his head to capture my lips. His mouth moves greedily over mine, and I have to keep up while feeling eager twitching against my thigh. As our kiss heightens, Dash’s voice is heard in the hallway, stealing our attention. Rio’s quieter response follows. Jared sighs against my cheek. “It’s our business what we do.”

Watching the door like it’s going to blow open, I reply, “Not if we’re all in the same house for the weekend.” Jared kisses my cheek, and I turn to him, his lips close to mine. “They’re bound to find out we slept together and will have something to say about it.”

Jared’s lips brush mine. “I’ll deal with them.”

He might, but he doesn’t even know what his friends already think.

After I rocked Jared outside, Rio stopped me in the hall as I went to get a shower.

“Hey. Everything good with you and Jare?”

“I guess. It surprised me how upset he was. This was a bad idea.”

Rio crossed his arms as he leaned against the wall. “Oh, you know how little boys tease little girls when they like them. Some are even downright mean because they don’t know any better. Yeah. That’s our Jared Beckett.”

“You think so?”

“I told you on the ride over he’ll be glad you’re here. And he seems to be now. Jare has been mad at me plenty. Through college and up until three years ago, I had lived with him. When I got a job outside Baltimore and moved closer to work, he wouldn’t talk to me for months. I figured he was feeling abandoned, so I visited him a lot, and he got over it. He had left Dash to move to Baltimore, so it seems Jared can only do the leaving. Not the other way around.”

“You and Dash are such good friends to him.”

“We try, but there’s only so much we can do. It’s not all his fault the way he is. His mother had a lot to do with it. Jare is a great guy. He’s funny, he’ll do anything for his friends, and he’s a good listener, even if he doesn’t want us listening to his problems.”

“I wish we had kept in touch all these years. He never called or looked back.”

“He never looked back because he never moved forward. Jared is unconsciously conscious. He lives without knowing it.”

“Why does he do that?”

“The path of least resistance. Yet, that road’s only leading him to a lonely hell. He’s stuck in the past, and now that his past is in his present, he’s losing it.”

“I wish there were something I could do to help him.”

Rio nodded. “There is. He’s way more apparent than he thinks he is.”

“It doesn’t matter. He’s leaving soon.”

“Do you really think he’ll be able to now?”

“He did it for all these years.”

“But now, he realizes how much he loves you.”

“Jared doesn’t believe in love.”

“Show Jared Beckett what love is. Convert him to a believer. He’ll catch on.”

Easier said than done.

Resisting the need to kiss Jared and inevitably more meaningless sex for him, but more turmoil for me, I untangle myself from his legs and crawl into bed.

Sighing, he stands, grabbing his underwear and shorts, and I settle into the far side of the bed, facing the wall. He says, “I’ll be back.”

The tears quietly fall onto my cheek and pillow. If I keep crying around him without a good excuse, he’ll become suspicious and possibly more distant.

I can’t stomach the thought of him going to Philadelphia and having sex with other women while I’m in Annapolis yearning for him to only share himself with me.

Quickly drying my tears, I remind myself that I’m not a hostage. I could have chosen to only have casual contact with him, but I didn’t. I kissed him and lit a fire within, enlightening me of how much I loved him and still do. It’s both a dream come true, and a harsh punishment rolled into one delusion.

Other women would be happy to be in my place. Random sex with a hot guy who is also a friend. Not me. I thought I would be okay with just having sex with Jared until he leaves, but I’m not okay.

The mattress slopes as Jared climbs into bed behind me, and my body already shivers for his touch. He nestles against me, putting his arm over my side and kisses my neck. As much as I want to turn around in his arms, I feel like I’m prostituting myself without the cash exchange—a barter trade for his driving lessons. It’s my turn to pay up. The fact remains that he’ll never love me the way I need him to.

I lie still, not responding to his kiss, pretending I’m asleep. It’s the only way I can get space from him without leaving him. If we’re friends with benefits, I need to redeem all the benefits I can get.

Fuck. Who am I kidding? This entire situation has loss written all over it.

Since I kept repeating in my head before falling asleep that I had to wake up early, I did. As Jared soundly slept next to me, I stared at the darkened, beige wall the majority of the night.

No longer attached to me, on the physical level, at least, I don’t disturb Jared as I quietly get out of bed and go to the bathroom before returning to my room. With the air conditioning, my bed is much colder than I had expected it to be, so I pull the blankets up and huddle underneath, hoping for a rapid fall into sleep, which I thankfully do.

Dipping and moving over the bed, jars me awake. The room is brighter, and before I’m able to roll over to see who’s in bed with me, a hand yanks the collar of my shirt to the side and proceeds to cover my shoulder with slow kisses. “Jared?”

He mumbles over my skin, “Why’d you leave, Kit Kat? You said you’d stay with me.”

“I thought it’d be better for you if I didn’t.” I still wonder if we were heard last night.

He raises his head, and his voice is still rugged with sleep. “You thought wrong. That wasn’t very nice. Maybe you should receive a demerit. What do you think?”

I smile against my hand, but my stomach tightens. “Like what?”

His hand slides to my breast, and my eyes close as he kneads his fingers into it through my shirt. “We have unfinished business. Don’t we?”

My head falls against his bent arm, and I try not to moan. “We do?”

He drags his teeth along the side of my throat, and his hand moves from my breast. He then traces his fingers over the top of my underwear. “Why’d you put these on, Kit Kat? Did you think once would be enough for me?”

I swallow and squeeze my thighs together but not to keep him out because that’s an unlikely development now. “It’s not?”

Jared inhales a breath next to my temple. “Fuck, no.” His hand delves into my waistband. When his fingers bury into me, I shiver and lightly pant. He groans into my ear and whispers, “I’m fucking obsessed.” Pandora is shaking her head at me.

Doubtful, I ask, “From one time? But you can have any woman.”

He shrugs against me. “Who says? And I don’t want just any. I’ve always wanted you.”

I gasp as his fingers explore. “Why me? My pussy doesn’t glitter or glow in the dark.”

“It’s yours. That’s all I want.”

He finds a more intense rhythm and arching my back against his chest, I sigh. “Oh, Jared. Your fingers feel so damn good.”

“You’re still slippery, but I think you need more. I’ll be hard all fucking day, thinking about how wet you are because of me.”

He works me faster and needing him to be closer, I push down one side of my underwear. Without taking his fingers out of me, he maneuvers his left hand to help push the other side, and I remove them in a rush. As soon as they’re gone, I turn toward him more. My legs open further, and Jared applies more pressure and speed.

His erection prods my naked hip through his shorts. Reaching behind me, I tug down his waistband, and when he’s free, I take him in my hand and curl my fingers around his shaft.

He sharply sucks air in between his teeth. “Kit Kat. Fuck. Your fingers feel so good.” Jared slides his fingers in and out, my hips lifting and falling with his tempo.

I counter his action with one of my own, gripping him more firmly as I glide my hand back and forth. He grunts and huffs into my ear, making me wetter. I notice his minty breath. Not fair!

He whispers, “Can you come quietly?”

I pant harder as I ride his fingers. “Jared. Fuck.”

Kissing the nape of my neck, he says, “I daydreamed what it’d be like for you to come on my fingers. I want you to squeeze the fuck out of them like you did to my cock.” He thrusts his hips against me while I continue to rub him, finding my tempo as well.

“You’re so sexy, Jared. I want you.”

“Tell me again, Kit Kat.”

Sounding too desperate, I say, “I fucking want you. You belong inside me.”

“Fuck right, I do.” He continues to move his fingers, and I feel the build approaching fast.

“I’m close to an orgasm,” I throatily warn.

“You’re going to make me come all over you.”

“Go ahead.”

He shifts onto his knees, yanking his shorts down and taking his cue, I move up with him as his fingers stay inside me. “Nope.”

“Jared, you’re getting me… Fuck.”

“Come on, Kitty Kat.” On all fours, I thrust against his hand and explode. As I do, he roughly takes me from behind. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck,” he loudly whispers and sucks in a coarse breath.

I growl into my pillow as I feel him jerking inside me. When he’s finished, he slowly pulls out, and I return to the curled position as I hear him pulling up his shorts with a snap of his waistband. Leaning down, he whispers, “Still phenomenal. I gotta go. See you later.”

I roll over to face him, but he’s already softly shutting the door behind him. I stare blankly at it as the tears sting my eyes.

Jared just nailed and bailed me. This doesn’t bode well for Dash’s theory, or rather Rio’s, that sex may be the key to Jared’s heart. If so, I must have the wrong one.

Hearing voices downstairs, I sit up, wiping the sudden tears I shouldn’t be crying. Needing some time on the beach by myself, I get out of bed and make it pretty, so I don’t have to see the crumpled sheets, reminding me of what happened. I change my clothes, putting on my swimsuit, then a green sundress over it and head to the bathroom.

When I come out, I hear Dash downstairs, asking, “Did you talk to Kat last night?”

Jared says, “No. She was in her room.”

“Have you talked to her this morning?”

“She’s still in her room, Calder. Do you think we should go fishing? It looks like it’ll storm.”

“It’s not supposed to.”

Rio says, “We need to be back before Liberty.”

I go down the stairs, and I try to avoid looking at Jared, but since he’s standing behind Dash, it’s difficult. Jared’s lips quirk into a faint smile, but I don’t return it. “You can leave the key with me. I’ll let her in. What time is she supposed to be here?”

Sitting at the breakfast table, shoving a bowl away, Rio shifts and stretches his legs out, crossing them at the ankle. “She doesn’t know for sure.”

“Text her my number. She can let me know when she gets here if she doesn’t mind waiting for me.”

Rio smiles. “That’s fine. Thanks.”

With a mischievous grin, Dash nudges my arm. “You just want to go down there to check out guys.”

I smile as Dash and Rio laugh, but notice Jared doesn’t as he bends, putting his arms on the kitchen counter, facing the breakfast nook. His anxious gaze studies me but then rushes away as Dash turns to him.

“Kat could find herself a new driving instructor there. Huh, Jericho?”

Jared’s entire face hardens. “She’s already with me.” But not with him.

Dash spins around again. “Kat, according to your horoscope today, you’re in for an eye-opening experience. So, make it count.”

With my heart stinging from earlier, I roll my eyes. “I can’t imagine that happening here.” Brushing my ponytail over my shoulder, I notice Jared’s mouth twists and his eyebrows furrow as his eyes drop to the counter. I wonder if he’s even marginally regretting using me as he did.

Dash says, “Don’t let any man sweet-talk you just to get in your pants and don’t sleep with them on the first date.” He knowingly smirks, but when I see Jared’s reaction at the counter, his expression says he didn’t find it funny.

Jared irritably pushes off the counter. “Quit telling her that shit, Calder! Jesus!”

Dash fakes ignorance. “What? Just sage advice.”

“From a bleach-blond freak. She shouldn’t be going there alone. I’ll go with her.”

“I’ll be fine. You’re not my boyfriend. I can take care of myself,” I calmly say. I’m anything but on the inside. I glare at Jared and then putting on a smile, I say to Dash, “I hope I find a man with a slick ride. And yes, no sex on the first date. I’ll save it for the second, just as I normally do.” I keep my gaze on Dash, so Jared doesn’t see through my act.

Dash laughs, approving my dig. “Good girl, Merrick.”

The patio sliding door slams, rattling living room walls, and Dash, and I notice Jared is no longer in the kitchen.

Smiling, Dash says, “That went well.”

Rio sighs. “He’ll be a joy, fishing today.”

“Well, have fun with that,” I say, going to the fridge and grabbing a bottle of water.

Dash asks, “You’re not going to talk to him?”

Taking a granola bar from the counter, I look at him, confused. “About what?”

Dash scratches his head and glances at the kitchen doorway. “He’s jealous.”

I grimace. “Of what? Not wanting me when I offered? Makes total sense.”

Rio chuckles. “You have a point, but both of you, go easier on him. He’s already sinking and taking on water. Don’t throw him another anchor.”

Making sure I have my phone, Dash grabs the keys from the counter, handing them to me. “We’ll take the spare hidden in a rock outside.” He turns back to Rio. “What the hell does that mean, Yoda?”

Gathering my beach bag, I say, “I’ll try not to, Rio. Good luck, fishing, guys.”

Hearing Rio and Dash debate his comment, I go out the front door, hoping Jared isn’t hanging out on the porch. When he’s not, I’m strangely disappointed.

I wish I could get my shit together.

“Hey, there!” I lift my straw hat to peer up at Liberty, not immediately recognizing her because of her new pixie cut, which reminds me of Jared not recognizing me.

Her bright smile rivals the sunshine and makes me smile in return. I don’t have any close girlfriends. I’m single but can’t drive to meet anyone for drinks or to go to a movie, and I hate bumming rides all the time. It gets tiresome, on both sides, I can imagine.

“Hi! You were supposed to text me!”

She waves her hand. “I just stopped to eat something and pee. I wanted to get to the beach as fast as possible.”

“Well, have a seat! I love your hair!” I move over, but she sets her bag down and takes out a beach towel.

“Oh, thank you, and thanks for the offer, but my ass will steal your towel. It always happens when I share a seat.” She plops down next to me and stretches her arms over her bent knees.

“Has Rio seen your hair yet?”

She contorts her mouth. “No. I told him I was getting a trim. Oops.”

“He’ll love it.”

She runs her fingers through the short, blonde strands. “I don’t know. It’s shorter than his.”

“But you look so cute with it!”

“I guess we’ll find out. I may be bunking with you.”

I squint at the waves with a laugh. “Stop.”

“I’ve been doing some research about things to do this weekend, besides watching fireworks. There’s a wine tasting at a local winery. Sounds like fun. We should all go.”

“I’ve never been to one.”

“Shit. Me neither, but if one of the guys agrees to be the DD, we can take the opportunity to get trashed again.” Liberty wrangles her phone from her pocket and sighs at the screen. “I’m waiting for a phone call. I interviewed at a big hospital, and they’re supposed to call any day now. So, if I’m extra jumpy, smack me.”

I laugh as I brush sand off my leg. “I’ll do that.” If Jared doesn’t beat me to it.

She drops her phone onto her towel and covers it from the sun. “Are you enjoying your time here with The Lost Boys?”

I shrug, unsure of how to respond. “It’s been… fun.”

She jokingly raises her eyebrow. “Oh, no. What did River do?”

“Yep. It was all him.”

She shakes her head as she opens the bottle of Sprite she brought. “You’re right. He is cute. What did that dickhead do then?”

“Dash?”

She nearly chokes on her drink. “Dash is such a sweetheart! I wish River would leave Jared. Ugh.”

“Jared’s nice but only in small doses and only to a select few.”

“I haven’t been recruited. He’s like one of those 3-D hidden pictures. You have to look really hard until your eyes and head hurt to find anything. Maybe it’s a trick, though, and there isn’t a picture to find, and he’s just a bastard.”

Seagulls squawk over a piece of bread near us. “He has his sweet moments.”

“Kind of like the moment before you swallow a candy bar, and it goes straight to your hips.” I giggle before taking a drink of my water. “I did notice something at the club.”

“What?”

“Jared is undeniably infatuated with you.”

I frown. “How do you know that?”

“You’re all he looked at, except during his song rant. I swear Jared was singing that song to Dash and me.”

“We went to high school together, meeting when I was fifteen, and he was sixteen, but we lost touch. He’s back in town and was helping my mom rebuild her house. We’re just friends.” Every time I say that it’s like another stab to my heart.

“From the way he was staring at you, I’d say he wants to be more than friends.” She laughs and runs her fingers through her short hair. “Maybe you should just sleep with him. Getting him laid might improve his disposition.” What is with everyone pushing me to fuck Jared? I offer the standard, “I wouldn’t want to ruin our friendship.” I realize there’s truth to that superficial lie.

“But you could build a relationship based on the friendship. That’s what River and I did. We were friends for a couple of years.”

“Jared doesn’t want a girlfriend. He doesn’t want to get married or have kids.”

“If anyone could put up with his shit, my hat’s off to them.”

“He is a nice guy.” Why am I fucking defending him now? He had sex with me and left.

“I still need more convincing of that. River said Jared is helping you get your license. How’s that going?”

“Good.”

“The only thing he’d help me do is to pack a bag.”

I laugh as I dig my toes into the sand. “I think he’s afraid you’ll steal his Rio away.”

“Good Lord. I could never pull River away from his BFF. River has grown to love Dash, too, but River and Jared have a special bond. They remind me of those magnetic bears you see around Valentine’s Day.”

“Are you serious?”

She nods. “I mean, not attached at the lips, but I am serious. Their friendship means the world to River. I don’t measure up.”

“Rio would never dump you for Jared.”

“I don’t think he’d want to have to choose, but ultimately, I’d be the one getting the boot if I told him it was Jared or me. That’s why I tolerate Jared because if I don’t, I’ll lose the love of my life.”

“Jeez, Liberty. It’s good that they’re so close, but then you’re left in the middle.”

“Oh, I’m not in the middle. I’m on the sidelines of their bromance. I’ve known that from the start, so it’s my fault.” She shrugs. “I can’t help it, though. I love River, and I want to marry him someday, so as much as it annoys me, Jared is a permanent fixture in my life.”

I sigh, envious of Liberty, for being a part of Jared’s life when I won’t be.

When Liberty’s phone buzzed with a text from Rio saying they were back, we packed up and walked to the house. Liberty suddenly was nervous about her hair, and I reassured her that Rio would like it.

Walking into the unlocked front door just as Dash walks into the living room, he does a double-take at Liberty. “Whoa, there, girl! Look at you! Nice!”

Smiling, she seems to relax a bit. “Thank you.”

Dash shouts, “Rio Duquesne, get down here!”

Rio bounds down the stairs, and when he sees Liberty, he almost trips down the stairs as his eyes bug out of his head. “Lib! Wow!”

“A little drastic, but I like it.”

“I do, too.” Speedily walking to her, he sweeps her into his arms and kisses her. I go into the kitchen with Dash following me.

Looking around the kitchen, I ask, “How was fishing?”

Dash clears his throat and points to his head. “Wet hair?”

“Oh. Sorry.” I laugh but then quietly ask, “Where is he?”

His blue-eyed gaze points to the ceiling. “Upstairs. He’ll probably be up there the rest of the night. Not surprisingly, he was not in a good mood. He bitched me out for this morning, telling me to stop trying to marry you off.”

“He said those words?”

“Aside from other not-so-nice words.”

I lean against the counter and cross my arms. “Tough shit. I don’t belong to him, and even if I did, he could shove that notion up his ass.”

Dash sighs with an eye roll. “He’s just in a bad mood. He did catch more fish than me, though.”

“I’m confused. I thought he only shoves you into the water if you catch more?”

“That’s what I thought.”

Liberty walks into the kitchen. “River said he’ll be our DD if we want to do the wine tasting.”

Dash asks, “Wine tasting? Sign me up!”

Liberty says, “I’m going to get changed.”

“Same here.” I take the opportunity to follow her upstairs, so I’m not accosted by Jared when I’m alone, but he doesn’t even crack open the door.

I need to forget about what Jared did this morning, or what he said to Dash.

In the shower, I scrub my body thoroughly, cleansing as much evidence of Jared on me and in me. My skin prickles in irritation, but it’s a departure from the ache in my heart.

Before I go downstairs, I peer down the hall to Jared’s room, but his door is still closed.

Entering the kitchen, Dash says, “I texted Jared to come out of his room, but he won’t answer.”

Liberty frowns. “Really? He can’t be bothered to answer his door?”

“I didn’t want to try. I just fixed my hair, and he might have a bucket of water.”

Rio says, “Maybe he’s taking a nap.” He did have a tough morning taking advantage of me.

I pick up my purse from the counter and say, “Well, I guess we’ll have to go without him.”

Dash unwraps a blue-and-white, swirled sucker, taking a lick of it before popping it into his mouth just as something behind me catches his eye. With a mouthful, he says, “Hey, Jericho.” Keeping my back to Jared, Dash pulls the sucker from his mouth. “You going with us?”

He irritably replies, “What else am I going to do?”

“You could go to the beach and push people into the ocean.”

“Done.”

Dash pulls on my arm, and when I turn around, I see Jared with his hands gripping the edge of the counter, looking out the window over the kitchen sink. Unable to help it, I covertly check him out, noticing his khaki shorts and bright blue polo shirt. As he shifts, I look down to my purse as I let Dash tow me to the living room.

Liberty grabs Rio’s arm when Dash opens the front door, jingling the house keys, waiting for us to leave. As Rio and Liberty go out the door, Dash says, “Liberty has shotgun since I hate when Diet Dr. Pussy grabs my leg.”

Going down the stairs, Rio says, “Dream on.”

As I follow them out the door, Dash grins. “Save me a seat, Merrick.”

When climbing into the back of Rio’s truck, I pray that Dash takes the center seat. How ridiculous to pray for something so juvenile. I know I may be pouting, but that doesn’t ease the humiliation I still feel.

From the other side of the truck, Dash slides into the back seat, purposefully smashing me against the door, earning him a pinch to his thigh. When Jared shuts the door, Rio backs out of the driveway.

Liberty and Dash spend the beginning of the drive debating the best way to get to the winery. After five minutes of their going back and forth over the shortest versus fastest routes, Jared says, “Jesus Christ. With Dash’s directions, we’ll end up in fucking Rhode Island in fifteen minutes.”

“Stop being dramatic, Jericho.”

“Stop being annoying, Calder.”

Beyond them finally choosing a route, the truck is quiet with only the sound of the radio to fill the awkward silence. Awkward to me, at least.

Each time Dash leans forward, I subtly observe Jared looking out his window or staring at the back of Liberty’s seat. I have to remind myself not to stare too long, but it’s rather a feat. Jared is hot. He always has been, but now that I’ve seen a different side of him, he looks different. His muscles seem more defined, and his facial hair is more conspicuous. Even his ruffled hair is more noticeable, and every move he makes is sexier, be it just leaning his head back on the headrest, or mindlessly tapping on the door handle.

As much as I try not to think about having sex with him, it’s all I can think about, and every thought amplifies now that we have. I know the feel of his hands all over my body, his lips and tongue fighting mine, and his scent lingering on me after he leaves my room.

When we arrive, Jared is out of the truck before anyone else. With Jared in the lead, I walk with Dash as we head to the ticket table underneath a white tent.

I get to flash my new driver’s permit, which makes me smile for a second. Dash tries to pay for my ticket, but even my arguing with him doesn’t help. When the man takes Dash’s credit card, he says, “She’s already paid for by that gentleman in the blue shirt.”

“What?” I peer beyond Dash, only to see Jared’s back as he talks to Rio. Liberty is keeping her distance, already perusing the displayed racks of wine.

Grabbing our tickets, Dash puts his arm around my shoulders. “That’s his way of apologizing for this morning.” I nearly gasp, Jared told Dash about having sex with me?

“What about this morning?”

He grins. “You know. Being jealous.”

I glare at Jared’s back. “He’s infuriating.”

“But you still love him, right?”

Talking to Jared, Rio glances at me and smiles, which inadvertently causes Jared to look over his shoulder, and like a chain reaction, I turn to Dash. “I don’t know. I have to protect my heart, and I can’t do that if I continue to love him. What he said and how he stormed out this morning were ridiculous.” If Dash thinks that to be the reason I’m upset, then that’s good. I don’t need them thinking I’m a whore, even if it was Dash’s idea.

“That’s Jared, though. He was looking after you.”

“Well, he should worry about himself. He’s already helping me get my license.”

Dash puts his arm around me again and leans close. “Everything Jared says or does is because he’s crazy in love with you.” This morning convinced me even more that he isn’t.

“Not likely. I think he’s just crazy.”

“Well, yeah.”

“I love your dress,” Liberty says, coming up to me, which I’m relieved it’s not Jared to start an argument.

“Thanks. I love yours, too.”

“Ladies, I need not be a part of this conversation.”

“Up and away, Dasher.”

He makes a face at her, sticking out his tongue as he walks over to Rio and Jared. “Ding-a-ling, Liberty Bell.”

We laugh, and I ask, “How did Rio like your hair?”

She grins, touching her head. “He loves it. As soon as we were in our room, he had my clothes off, and me coming before I was even on my back.”

“Shit. I need to go to your salon.”

“Yes, you do because my new mission is to find you a man.”

“Oh, no. I’m like a project for people. Ever since my divorce, my mother has been riding me about finding a new man. I’m fine for now.”

“For now, maybe. When was your divorce?”

“Two years ago.”

Her blue eyes pop. “For Christ’s sake, Kat! We need to work on your happiness. First, get your license. That’s Phase One. Phase Two will be all mine.”

“I’m scared.”

“It’ll be fun! I’ll get you laid.” My mouth fails me while she laughs. “I’m guessing you need to.”

Knowing that my one-way street tryst with Jared has to end, I sigh. “Yeah. Maybe I do need your help to find me a man.”

“Yes!”

From nowhere, Jared storms past us, nearly knocking over a trash can and taking out a wine display as he leaves the tent.

Liberty rolls her eyes. “There goes Mr. Sunshine, spreading his light and warmth everywhere.” His warmth. I impulsively squeeze my thighs together, wincing at the sudden reminder.

I watch him swiftly walking away from the tents along the vineyard’s fence, with his hands in his hair. What’s his problem now?

Catching me staring at Jared, Liberty bumps my arm. “Come on. Don’t worry about his newest drama. Let’s get wasted.”

Turning to her, I readily nod. “Fuck, yes.”

Liberty and I stop at the first table of many on our tour. We sample everything more times than we can count, taking turns buying new bottles and carrying them while we walk. Eventually, carrying and pouring becomes too much of a balancing act, so Dash holds our bottle-of-the-moment, giving us refills on demand, and when we finish a bottle, he fetches us something different to try. Thank God he’s an enabler because I really need to be enabled.

Rio follows us but seems to be preoccupied with watching the area around us and stepping to the side to text. I imagine he’s keeping tabs on Jared, but if Jared’s acting like a petulant child, then let someone else worry about him.

Needing a pit stop, Liberty and I head to the main building, where there are signs posted for public restrooms. We hold onto each other, giggling, with Dash hanging outside on the sidewalk, and Rio further back, playing with his phone.

Since Liberty is drunkenly trying to fix her makeup, I leave the restroom and walk along the hallway, looking at wine bottles on display behind glass encased in the walls. I have to concentrate more on not bumping into people. I don’t make it very far when I see a blue polo shirt leaning against the opposite wall, studying his phone.

Without thinking, I leap into the light current of people, dodging and weaving, until I make it to the other side, sneaking up to Jared. “I thought you left us.”

He promptly raises his head, and his eyes slightly widen before they narrow. “What’re you doing here?”

Jared is so sexy, even when he’s ticked off. I smile. “I rode with you. Remember?”

His frown deepens. “I thought you were having a pretty good time out there, so you’d better get back to it.”

I cuddle up to him, leaning my cheek on his bicep, and his muscles tense. He smells and feels good, and I forget why I was pissed off at him. “Why are you in here? You should have some drinks with us.”

Jared shrugs his arm, taking it away from me, and he rolls his dreamy eyes. “No, thanks.” He looks back at his phone, which irritates me.

Crazed, or not in total control of my drunk brain, I shove his hand and step against him, making his eyes pop open this time. I press my breasts onto his chest, and I feel his pounding heart and fast breath as he looks down at me. “I missed you, Jericho.” I slide my hands up to his shoulders, playfully clawing at his shirt. “Don’t you miss me?” His lips are so close, and I want to kiss him, but I know there’s a reason I shouldn’t want to, yet can’t recall it. Fuck. Alcohol can be a spiteful bitch.

He lightly pushes on my shoulders as he peers around our vicinity. “You don’t even want to acknowledge me.”

I hazily ogle him, peeved he’s still a dick to me. “It’s the other way around!”

He adamantly glares at me. “Not even close.”

“You don’t want me for your girlfriend!”

For a moment, Jared leans close to me, and I smell his cologne, nearly knocking me over. “We talked about this. Just go back outside.”

When I cross my arms, he steps back. “No!” Sounding whiny, I demand, “Aren’t we even friends?”

Jared slides along the granite wall, out of my reach. “Just leave me alone, Kat. Go.” He bites down on his lip as he taps into his phone.

I shadow him. “You were okay having your way with me last night and this morning, weren’t you?”

His green-and-hazel eyes blaze with repressed profane sentiments. “We’re not doing this here.”

Feeling bold and stupid, I put my arms around his waist, gripping onto his belt. “That’s okay. Because I want to do you here.” I lick my lip and bat my eyelashes. “I know you want me again.” I know nothing, drunk or sober.

Flinging an impatient sigh, he shoves his phone into his pocket and grabs my arms, trying to pry me off him. “Kat, stop.”

“Didn’t you just tell me to go?”

Jared rolls his eyes. “Yeah. I mean, stop but… go. Jesus!” He manages to unhook me from him and crosses his arms over his chest, keeping me at a distance, not just physically.

Incensed and confused, I shove his arm. “Why do I even waste my time with you?”

His gaze is greener but stone cold. “Yeah. I’ve been asking myself the same question since the day we met.”

“You dick.” He moves his eyes away from me as my tears threaten. Whirling around, I run into Liberty.

She bumps into me, almost taking us both down. “What’s up?”

“Nothing.” I coerce a smile and grab onto her arm. “I was wondering what happened to you.”

“I looked everywhere for you!” Liberty looks past me. “It’s going to storm. We’d better go.”

“Good.” I pull on Liberty’s arm, dragging her to the exit, and when we step outside, the sky is now dark and menacing.

She moans, “I just fucking did my makeup!”

Having sobered me some, I roll my eyes. “You’re drunk. It can’t be that flawless.”

Liberty gasps with a laugh. “Shut it!”

Dash bobs among the throng of people, over to us. “There you are! I thought you got a job here or something.”

I grin. “Taste tester. Absolutely.”

We make our way to Rio, and he takes Liberty’s hand. “Let’s go. Where’s Jare?”

I angrily reply, “Probably telling other people they suck, too.”

Dash asks, “He said that to you?”

Shrugging, I grab onto his shoulder to steady myself. “Something like that.”

He laughs, his blue eyes twinkling with amusement. “You know you’re drunk, right?”

Holding up my fingers, I try to pinch them together but forget which ones to use. “Only a smidge.”

“Christ, Merrick.” He grabs my hand, and I let him lead me as we follow Rio and Liberty to the truck. I peer behind me to see Jared stoically following us. When our eyes meet, he moodily looks the other way. Even with my foggy thoughts, I see the immense distance that has formed between us, and I ache to be in his arms again.

Since Liberty is wearing heels, we walk slower, so it’s not a surprise when the sky bursts open, soaking us. Dash yanks on me, but my motor skills are lacking, and the more he rushes me, the slower I become. Looking over my shoulder again, I see Jared keeping pace with his head down and his hands in his pockets.

The ride home is even quieter, despite Liberty and me having occasional giggle fits from random things said on the radio, which the guys don’t find as comical. Their loss. Shrub is a funny word.

Arriving back at the house, Rio quickly ushers Liberty inside while Dash’s attempts are futile since I’m enjoying the feeling of the drops kissing my face.

“You’re soaked, and it’s lightning!”

“Like anyone would miss me!” I giggle up at the drizzly sky, but doing so seems out of place.

Sticking my hands out, I spin around at the top of the driveway and promptly lose my balance, falling into the house, but I still laugh.

All of a sudden, I’m scooped up, feet and all. “Jared!” I squeal, looking to my hijacker, and trying to wriggle out of his arms.

Dash holds the door open, and Jared carries me into the living room. “You’re not carrying me upstairs! I’m a big girl!” A drunk, big girl.

He sets me down but grabs my hand, towing me to the first step. “Knock it off!” I yelp. Pushing his body into mine, he forces me to climb the stairs as he cages me from behind with his arms. I feel hot even if his shirt is wet against my dress.

Regardless of his effort, I fall up, laughing uncontrollably at the beige-carpeted step in my face.

“Christ,” he mutters, lifting me under my arms to stand.

Dash laughs from below. “Are you sure you’re the best one to teach Kat how to drive, Jericho?”

“Fuck off,” he says over his shoulder as we slowly climb the stairs.

Near the second floor, I yell, “Nightie night, Dashie!”

“Happy hangover!” he yells back.

“I’m not drunk!”

“Bullshit,” Jared contests, which pisses me off.

Reaching the floor, I squirm out of his grip. “Shut up. You wish we hadn’t met.”

He loudly sighs. “You’re exactly right.”

Stopping in the hallway at my door, I hobble as I turn around to look at him. “You do wish that?”

He lightly pushes me into my room. “Night.”

As he turns to walk out of my room, I shriek, “Wait!”

Jared stops but doesn’t look at me. “What now?”

“Aren’t you going to help me change my clothes?”

“No.” I note the surprise in his tone, so I hang on to that.

I yank off my soaked dress, leaving it in a wet heap and walk over to him as I peel down my bra straps. “Really? You can’t unhook my bra?”

“Kat, I’m leaving.”

“Of course you are. You constantly remind me. I’ll be alone.”

He sighs. “I meant I’m going to my room.”

“But I’m not wrong.”

“Goodnight.” But he doesn’t leave.

“Jared, please help.” I try twisting my bra so I can unhook it, but it’s so wet it won’t budge.

“Kat.” He turns around, and though he remains overtly expressionless, his jaw tightens, and his eyes widen a little.

I shrug, throwing my hands out. “See? I’m serious. It’s stuck, and I’m tipsy.”

“Tipsy is an understatement.” He stands in front of the open door, but modesty isn’t my forte at the moment.

Stumbling as I turn around, kicking off my slippery mules, I gather my wet hair to hold it out of the way. Several seconds pass, maybe, before he works on the hooks. His fingers on my damp skin cause my already erect nipples to throb. He releases my bra, and I let it fall heavily to the floor. Letting go of my hair, I say, “Thank you.”

He clears his throat, and I hear him step back. “Yeah.”

Slowly, so I don’t fall, I turn to face him. His eyes flare and drop to my chest, then to my underwear, and my heart races from the heated way Jared is looking at my body. As he openly stares, he loudly swallows. Vaguely remembering the reason I was mad at him, I cast it aside when his intent gaze exposes the wicked thoughts crossing his mind.

“What, Jared?”

He blinks and licks his lips but doesn’t look away from my breasts. “I need to go.”

“Why? Do you regret what happened? Do you not want me anymore?” I look down to his crotch, and it’s apparent he’s turned on.

“Kat, I…” He shakes his head as he brushes his wet hair with his hand. “You’re drunk. I can’t.”

“Why not?” I slowly move closer to him and grasp his soaked shirt, yanking upward. I trail my fingers over his muscles, into the hair above his waistband. “Show me how much you don’t want me.”

Suddenly, he grabs my wrists, holding them, but he shifts and bumps into the open door. When he looks to it, I break out of his hold and reach behind him to shut the door.

I grasp his belt buckle, and he looks down at my hands, again grabbing onto my wrists. He says, “Now you want me around when you’re drunk and horny? How fucking convenient.”

“Convenient?” The word comes out like I’m riding on a bumpy road. “What about you? Nailing and bailing me?”

Releasing me, he puts his hands on his hips with a frown. “What?”

“You fucked me this morning and left. All you want me for is a twenty-four/seven pussy! That isn’t convenient?” I again drunkenly amble over it.

Jared glances at the wall next to Rio’s room, and he lowers his voice. “They were awake downstairs. I didn’t want them looking for me, and I wasn’t in my room or the bathroom. I had to leave. And you’re fucking wrong. I’m not using you. I do care.”

“But not enough to want me as your girlfriend.”

He slowly speaks, talking to me like I’m drunk. “And I told you, relationships don’t work out for me. I can’t live up to your expectations. It’ll only lead to heartache and losing you from my life again.”

My eyes sting as I softly say, “Jared, you will lose me.”

“That won’t happen again. I won’t let it.”

I ineptly roll my eyes. “What expectations do you mean? Is it because you can’t be faithful?” Fuck. These words are making me sound idiotic.

“It’s not that.”

“I didn’t say I want to get married now.”

“But eventually.”

I cross my arms over my breasts, feeling overexposed to him. “Do I fucking mean anything to you?”

He nods, his wet hair bouncing off his forehead. “You do.”

“Right. You care. All you care about is getting laid.” I sadly laugh as he winces away from me. “Heaven forbid you ever have deeper feelings.”

“I do have feelings for you, but I can’t guarantee they’re what you’re looking for.”

“I doubt you know what I’m looking for.” We stand, glaring at each other, silently debating. Still, his words are like a far-away beacon in my alcohol fog, giving me a tiny bit of hope.

Taking a deep breath, I ask, “Are they good feelings, at least?” He warily nods and stepping closer, I tentatively move my arms from my chest to attempt his belt buckle again.

Jared stops my hands once more. “You’re drunk. I’m not taking advantage of you, Kat.”

“Maybe I want you to take me from every vantage.” That was kind of witty for being trashed. “I’m standing here almost naked in front of you. Are you going to leave me like this?”

“I have to.”

Since he’s cockblocking me at the buckle, I go to the source and take hold of him through his wet shorts, rubbing his straining erection, and I smile. “I guess I do turn you on.” His eyes close as he sucks on his bottom lip. “I know what I’m doing, Jared. I want to have sex with you. Get these shorts off and fuck me hard.”

“Kat.”

I whisper, “I’m running on empty. I need a refill of you.” Letting go of his dick, I put my hands on either side of his jaw and get on my tiptoes to kiss him. As much as he’s fighting with me, he instantly gives in to my kiss, almost as if he needs it.

I shift closer to him, and his cold, wet shirt torments my nipples. My right hand goes into his damp hair, and my left returns to his dick. He pauses our kiss to groan over my lips before thrusting his tongue into my mouth, fucking my lips with it.

Our kiss intensifies when I lick his tongue and twirl mine around the tip of his. He whispers, “Fuck,” but it’s swallowed in our kiss.

Having had enough of his indecision, I lean back, clawing at his shirt and panting, “I want you.”

He replies with steady pants, as his eyes wander over me again, with his hardness prominent against me. Taking his hands, I put them on my breasts, and his fingers dig into me as raptly as his eyes do.

I push my hip into his hard-on, and he groans louder. I whisper, “I’m not just wet from the rain.” His thumbs circle my damp nipples, and I moan, “Jared, fuck me.” His thumbs press harder as my hand clutches him more firmly. “I want to feel you possess me from the inside.”

Jared looks up at the ceiling and then around the room. Suddenly decided, he picks me up, and I instinctively wrap my legs around him. He carries me to the brown couch, laying me down, before passionately kissing me and fondling my breasts again. I unbuckle his belt and undo his fly, but when I go to slide my hand into his shorts, he pulls away, his eyes boring into mine.

“I’m drunk. Repeat that.”

“I’m drunk, and I want you to have sex with me. Now. Fast and hard.”

“I can back out at any time. Repeat.”

“I can back out at any time, but I won’t.”

He angles his head with a glint in his eyes. “It’s my fault I’m irresistible, and I knowingly seduced Jared. Repeat.”

I’m charmed but impatiently say, “That’s too long, but yes. I seduced you. My fault.” He smiles slightly.

Standing and towering over me on the couch, he pares off his wet shirt, dropping it with a soppy thump on the floor, and then shoves down his wet shorts and underwear. With his dick within reaching distance, I grasp it, coaxing Jared closer to me like it’s his leash. Giggling, I joke, “I fucking own you, Jared Beckett.”

Instead of laughing or even getting pissed off, he softly says, “I know.”

His downward gaze upon me is dismal, which sobers me somewhat and still holding him in my hand, I lightly stroke him and spontaneously proclaim, “I don’t want this dick inside any other woman. Please… Please, respect me that much.”

He inhales a deep breath and whispers, “Nobody else.”

I modify, “At least until you leave.” If I were sober, I would no doubt be unable to say this to him without tears. Alcohol can also be a deadening lifesaver.

“I promise, Kit Kat. Just you.”

Feeling more turned-on by his assurance, I let go of him and clumsily push down my underwear. As I lift my ass, he unexpectedly thrusts two fingers inside me, pushing deeper when he feels how wet I am. I whimper, and his breathing quickens. “Promise me, too, Kat. I don’t want another man inside you. Don’t do that to me, either. Please, respect me that much.”

I nod. “Only you.”

Prodding his fingers, he whispers, “I fucking own you, Katriona Merrick.”

Our eyes lock, and I open my legs more. “I know.” You always have.

Boiling with desire from his declaration, I grab his chin, pulling him to me, and our mouths eagerly greet each other. I whisper onto his lips, “Make love to me, Jared.”

He quietly sighs against me. “Kat…”

My nipples nudge into his light chest hair. “Fuck me, then. I need you.”

He groans, and since we don’t have a wide playing field, Jared grabs my leg and holds it against him, his fingers digging into my skin. Hovering close, he gauges how wet I am with his tip, and I moan. Nodding to the wall next to us, he says, “Shh.”

Raising my hips, I unsteadily welcome him, but he still only probes, hesitant to take it further. I’m drunk, yet I feel like I’m more into this than he is.

I reach around and push on his ass while I lift my hips. “Like this.” I slip onto him, and he fully executes, shoving into me. I moan louder, and he covers my mouth with his to silence me. As I frantically try to move, Jared traps me on the couch. He then sets a slow but firm tempo, pulling out nearly all the way, and then slowly pushing until he’s completely inside me.

“Go faster,” I slur.

He shakes his head, sprinkling water on me with a breathless grin. “My way. I’ll use that demerit now.”

“Jared, fuck me.” I think I’m whining again.

“I am, baby.” His calling me that breaks through my haze. I enthusiastically kiss him, and he groans into my mouth. He repeats his torturous rhythm as I try to go faster, but each time he forces me to go slower. I think he’s testing me to see if I’ll cry foul.

More determined, I manage to go faster than him, even if it’s a sloppy faster. Breathing over each other’s lips, Jared closes his eyes and tries to suppress a groan. Pressing my left leg into the couch, I take him in as far as I can.

Jared utters, “You’re fucking hot, Kitty Kat.” He hugs my leg to him as his speed dramatically increases, and he bangs into me with enthusiasm. I have to grip the couch cushion above me, so my head doesn’t hit the armrest.

“Oh, Jared,” I repeatedly whisper until my chant turns into a growing whimper, and he kisses me as I come. Even drunk, I’m conscious that I want to confess my love for him but can’t, which is much harder when inebriated. Yet, I succeed.

He loudly whispers, “Kat,” before his grunts fill my mouth as he comes with me, his hips grinding to a halt, but I keep fucking him until my orgasm fades, which is more short-lived than when I’m sober. As he fills me with the only thing he’ll give me of himself, I let his warmth comfort me.

If only for a little while.

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