The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 19

Growling into her mouth, I jarringly come as I have each time with Kat. I try to curb my booming groans and shouts, but I couldn’t care less if any of them heard. I want everyone to know. I achieved my biggest fantasy of having sex with Kat, but it was more than that. I wanted them to know she’s involved with me and not available to fix up with any asshole they find, Calder included. So, it wouldn’t be a matter of life or Dash’s death to me, which is monumental. I don’t tell them shit about many of my issues, sexual or otherwise.

Nevertheless, Kat doesn’t want Dash, Rio, and that yakking cunt of his to know. I understand that. Though I can deal with the jokes, I’m aware that Dash would also tease Kat about it, which if he wants to keep his ability to breathe and communicate on his own without the aid of machines, then it’d be in his best interest to refrain from doing so.

Kat collapses underneath me as her waves cease. Watching her face relax and her chest rapidly rising and falling, I idly whisper, “Damn, you’re beautiful.”

Her brown eyes glimmer from the effects of her alcohol-laced orgasm. When she blearily smiles, I lunge for her, tasting Katriona Merrick with traces of wine. Running the tip of my tongue along her bottom lip, I then sink my tongue into her mouth, lapping at hers. Before I kiss her again, I say, “You taste incredible, Kit Kat.” Stifling her response with my mouth, I kiss Kat because I can.

I hated leaving Kat this morning in a hurry like I did, but I knew Dash would be excited about fishing and, consequently, be up at goddamned sunrise. I had to stop in the bathroom so I could wait for my boner to fully deflate before going downstairs. I should’ve awoken earlier, but sleeping next to Kat, I fell into a deeper sleep than I usually do. When I woke up to find her gone, I can’t deny that I was hurt. Even if she had mentioned going back to her room, so we didn’t get caught, I felt deserted. All over again.

Christ.

Kat’s giggling over my lips makes me raise my head. “What?”

Her responding grin is bright and boozy. “I did seduce you, didn’t I?”

I smirk. “You wish. I just felt sorry for you.” Slowly, I pull out of her since I’m falling anyway, and I laugh because she has me by the fucking balls, and she knows it.

Kat opens her mouth wide in shock, and I dive in, tonguing her again, which makes her laugh into my mouth.

Moving my mouth to her neck, I lick her there and giggling more she squeals, “Jared!”

Since she’s bombed and probably doesn’t realize how loud she is, I whisper, “Shh,” but continue to run my tongue over her skin, smiling as I do it.

“Haven’t you had enough of me?”

I shake my head into the crook of her neck. “I told you. I’m obsessed.”

“With how I taste?”

Lifting my head to look down at her, I truthfully say, “With Kit Kat Merrick.”

Grinning more, she puts her arms around my neck and whispers, “Jericho is my favorite place to be in the whole, wide world.”

I smile, and she pulls my head down to kiss her again, which I’m more than happy to do.

Hearing a noise in the hall, reminding me we’re not alone, I end our kiss with a sigh against her lips. “I have to go. It will not look good if I sleep in here, especially when you’re drunk.” I’m only looking out for Kat because otherwise, they could all take a hike.

She faintly nods as her smile disappears. “Okay. I… Thank you…”

I smirk. “For having sex with you?” I should be thanking her.

Kat scowls. “Noooo. For… For caring.”

Nodding against her damp forehead, I whisper, “I’ll always care. You’re my Kit Kat.”

I feel her smile on my lips. “You’re my Sonic.”

“Just don’t call me that in bed. It might give me performance anxiety.”

I kiss her smiling lips before standing. Holding out my hand, I help her up, making sure she’s stable before grabbing my wet shorts, which I find are colder and more challenging to put on than to remove.

Kat rummages through her suitcase for something to change into and watching her as I buckle my belt, I tease, “I’d ask you to shower with me, but…”

She slides on a T-shirt and grabs a pair of underwear. “Yeah… A shower might have to wait for the morning for me. I think I’ll fall, and you’d be the only one I’d want to help me.”

I pick up my shirt from the floor. “See. Shower with a friend. It’s safer.”

Her smile wavers, and she turns back to her suitcase. “That’s what friends are for, I guess.”

“I’m such a good friend that I’ll make sure you get to sleep off your hangover.”

With her back still to me, she shrugs. “I’ll be okay. Wine isn’t as bad as hard liquor.”

“So, there’s a difference in your drunkenness with wine and hard liquor?”

She looks over her shoulder at me. “Hard liquor would’ve given you more of a floor show.”

As I yank down my shirt, my jaw goes with it. “There’s a floor show?”

Kat slips into a pair of cut-off sweats. “Maybe just for you, but you did get an express pass to the main attraction.”

Grabbing my shoes, I grin. “Well, fuck the floor show.” She laughs as a door closes in the hallway. “Shit.”

Kat sighs. “Just say we were talking. That’s all.”

“In wet clothes?”

“We lost track of time.” She glances at the floor, and I walk over to her lifting her chin. Before she says anything, I bend to give her a long kiss, not getting enough of them with her.

“And it was the best track I’ve ever been on,” I say lightly but mean it truthfully.

She nods and clutching her arms, I kiss her once more but have to cut it short before I get worked up for her again. “Night, Kit Kat.”

“Night.”

Reluctantly, I let go of Kat’s arms and promptly leave her room without looking back, so I don’t change my mind about staying with her.

I wonder how much of tonight she’ll remember. Will she remember the fantastic sex we had, but also the promise we made to each other? I hope she can remember to keep her end of it because I plan to uphold mine, without a doubt. I don’t want anyone else. I never have.

Fuck. She does own me.

“Morning, Jericho.”

I drowsily scowl at the wall as I go to the kitchen counter and grab two coffee mugs out of the overhead cabinet.

“Didn’t sleep well?”

Suddenly suspicious that he heard something last night, I wake up more. “Why?”

Sitting at the counter, Dash munches on a Pop-Tart. His hair is neatly styled, which is fucking ridiculous. “You were in Kat’s room for a while. Did you have an argument with her or something?” Shit.

I grab the coffee pot and pour myself a cup, shrugging. “We talked some. So?”

“She was pretty much pissed off at you all night. What happened?”

“Nothing.” I’m not up for morning fodder or any other time of the day.

He waves his tart in the air. “She was mad at you, but you have no idea why?”

“I said nothing, not that I didn’t know why.”

“Why’s it a secret?”

“Because you can’t keep one.”

Not true.”

“Right. Because I was supposed to know about your mom’s fake beard collection.”

“That’s just weird. I had to share it with you.”

“And I wish you had shared the bill for the therapy I needed, instead.”

“You can admit it.” Damn. Not shutting up.

“Admit what?”

Dash looks around the kitchen and toward the living room. He then quietly states, “You like her.”

“More than you, even.”

He scoffs, “Friend. She’s my friend. You? I think you really like her.”

I testily roll my eyes. “Are we in middle school? What the fuck? Am I supposed to pass her a note, asking her to check yes or no?”

“If it works.”

“Shut up, asshole. You may look like you’re still in middle school, but I’m not.”

“I wouldn’t go back that far. College, maybe. What’ll you do when you leave? She gets her license, you go, and that’s that?”

“What’s it any of your business what I do about her when I leave?”

He’s like a rabbit fending off a jaguar. “As I said before, Kat’s my friend, one that I’ve kept in touch with all these years. I don’t want you to hurt her.”

“I won’t.” Unlike how she demolished me once.

“You will when you leave.”

Setting my mug down, I look in the cabinets. I don’t find any tea, but I do find a bottle of honey. “Drop it, Dash. I’ll still see her when I come back on some weekends.”

“She’s not the type to have a casual fling. Kat’s a caring person, but she’s not going to take that kind of shit from you.”

I look to the doorway before seething, “Lose the lord-and-protector sequence. We’re friends. Stop making more out of it than there is.”

“Then stop denying that there isn’t.”

I slam down the plastic bottle of honey next to the other mug. “Jesus!” I hang my head back, staring up at the ceiling. Hearing the upstairs shower and not knowing if it’s Kat or the other two, I raise my head to glare at Dash. “When Kat comes downstairs, tell her to drink some coffee and put about six teaspoons of honey into it. That’ll help her hangover.”

“Where’re you going?”

“I need some air.” I take my mug and leave the kitchen, so I’m not around when Kat walks into it. Dash will be analyzing everything I say to her, and I don’t want to give anything away.

There’s also a fear that she’ll think I took advantage of her last night and blast me for it first thing.

Or even worse, she won’t remember anything we did or said to each other at all.

Deciding to do some fishing by myself, I take out my tackle box and sort through some of my lures. Doing this takes longer than I thought it would, and I’m startled when Dash says, “We’re going to the beach.”

Looking over my shoulder, giving him a dirty look, I ask, “Who’s we?”

“Oh. Rio Grande, Liberty Bell, and me if you want to go. Kat’s in the shower. I told her to meet us there if she’s up to it. Liberty feels fine, so maybe Merrick will, too.”

Returning to my sorting, I nod over my tackle but bite my lip to hide my smile. At least we’ll be alone for a while.

Dash walks in front of me, and I peer up to see what he wants. Instead, he goes past me to the Jacuzzi, taking off the cover. “I will be in this at some point today.”

I shrug. “Whatever.”

“It’s had a full change and the filter’s running. It just needs the jets on, and me in it later.” I roll my eyes as he walks past me again. “You can come, too, unless you want to be alone with Kat…”

I make a dubious face. “For what?” Please don’t see through me. Shit.

“If I have to tell you, then maybe you’re not doing it right.”

“Go to hell.”

He laughs. “Join us at the beach. Just leave your bad mood here.”

“Fuck you.”

“That’s better,” he dryly retorts.

Dash goes into the house, and I shut my tackle box. Forget about fishing now.

Putting my tackle back in the shed, I then go into the kitchen and find a pad of paper and an ink pen in the junk drawer. Since we never did exchange numbers, I can’t text her from outside, so I scrawl Everyone’s at the beach. I’m outside if you need me, hoping she takes that as a good sign. I pin the paper to the counter with the salt shaker and go back outside. After last night, she could just tell me to fuck off.

Anxious, I start the jets to the Jacuzzi, needing something to calm me. Though, I have no further game plan than that or swim trunks with me.

Taking a deep breath, I pull off my shirt, looking at the house. I decide to leave my shorts on in case my hopes are erroneously in the atmosphere.

I get in, taking a seat facing the house but closing my eyes and leaning my head on the headrest, trying to relax.

When the sliding door opens, so do my eyes. Kat walks onto the patio and turns to shut the door. Her striped hair is in a bun, and she’s wearing a red bikini top and black shorts. My cock immediately approves.

Walking over, she smiles. “Hey.”

“How’re you feeling?” I ask, checking her out more.

“Good. Thank you for the honey… honey.”

Smiling, I nod. “It was salt-free, too.” Hanging her head, she laughs. “Do you remember anything from yesterday, or is it a total blackout?”

Her laugh becomes a smirk. “I remember. Everything.”

“That’s good.”

Kat licks her lip. “So, is there room in there for me?”

“Just you,” I say, repeating what I promised her last night.

Grinning, she slips off her shorts, revealing the bottom half of her bikini and steps into the tub. As soon as she’s entirely in the water, I grab her hand and float her to me, our lips meeting before our bodies touch.

Putting my arms around her, I tow her closer, and we ravenously kiss like we’re just now making up for not kissing all these years. Our tongues war with each other, and although I don’t want her to feel like I’m using her, I position her over my cock, rubbing it between her legs to prove the effect she has on me.

She makes a humming sound into my mouth, and I use that as encouragement. Letting go of her but not stopping our kiss, I roughly push up her bikini top, exposing her tits, and take them into my hands, grazing her nipples against my palms. The humming sound returns, and I make a deep, throaty sound in response.

Suddenly leaving my lips, she whispers, “Only you, Jared.”

Recognizing what she said to me last night, I smile, holding her tits in my hands. “That’s what I want to hear.”

Kat reaches down and tugs my waistband, liberating me. “Take me. I want you.”

Dropping my right hand, I tear at her bikini and shifting closer, she seizes my dick with her pussy, gliding onto me. Clutching her tit in my hand, I lean my head back and loudly say, “Fuck.”

Kat leans in, kissing my neck as I grab her by the hips with both hands, pushing and pulling her onto me. The bubbly water swirls and swishes around us with our zealous rhythm.

“Goddamn. You feel so good, even underwater,” I say against her cheek, kissing over to her mouth, not giving her a chance to reply.

Leaving my mouth, Kat trails her wet fingers onto my cheek, and we stare at each other, her brown eyes intently studying me like she wants me to read her mind, and I instinctively slow my movements, asking, “What?”

Grinding her hips onto me, she whispers, “You’re mine.”

“Kat.” Taking her face in my hands, I kiss her, but she avidly tongue-fucks me. Gasping, I grip her hips, fucking her faster.

Just then, the door opens. Kat jerks away from me, yanking down her top. My hands involuntarily go into my hair, and my head falls back to the seat as I shoot my load into the water.

Hearing the footsteps coming closer, I reach down and yank up my shorts. “Shit!”

I look at Kat, whose face is flushed, and eyes are unfocused as she stares at the turbulent water.

“Jericho, what’re you doing?” When he rounds the table and chairs, he sees Kat with me, and his confusion deepens. “Hey, Merrick. What’re you doing in here? We were waiting for you.”

Peering up to Dash, she breathlessly says, “Just talking.”

Dash looks from me to Kat as we both try to be casual but are failing tremendously. “You two look like you’re hiding something.” His strained smirk is going to land him in a cemetery.

I glare at him. “Like what? A cake with a fucking file in it? Lay off.”

“Calm down, Jericho.” He looks at Kat. “You coming down to the beach? We’re walking the boardwalk.”

Kat doesn’t look at me, but I wish I could tell her to stay with me so I could finish her off.

Sighing, she reluctantly nods. “Yeah.”

As she brushes past me to get out, I watch her, and Dash asks, “What about you, Jericho? Are you walking with us? We’ll grab some lunch along the way.”

From behind Dash, Kat nods at me with a smile and then clasping her hands together, begging me. I laugh.

“What’s so funny?” He glances back at her, but Kat shows him a straight face.

I roll my eyes. “Didn’t you hear? Libras are annoying as fuck.”

“I’m a Pisces.”

“Whatever.” When Dash shakes his head and looks away, I widen my eyes at Kat and dart my eyes to Dash, hoping she gets it.

She asks, “Dash, can you get us some towels?”

He huffs, “Why did you get in without towels?”

Kat laughs with a shrug. “Living in the moment.”

Still looking confused, he shakes his head. “You’re both weird.” When Dash has his back to me, he must give Kat some kind of look because she swerves her eyes away.

Dash goes into the house, and I jump out of the water. Kat peers over her shoulder before running over to me, and as if we read each other’s mind, I angle my head to kiss her while she does the same.

I frown. “Sorry about Calder. He was even born early, during a strip show.” Not far from the truth.

Kat giggles. “It’s okay.” She gives me another kiss before zipping back to her spot just as Dash returns.

I busy myself with putting on my shirt and running my hand through my semi-damp hair while Kat gets back into her shorts, and she pats her hair bun. I think we do a better job of appearing more relaxed this time, but Dash again is suspicious.

“Something’s off.”

Shutting down the jets, I tilt my head and retort, “Yeah, your head if you don’t cut this shit out.”

Narrowing his eyes, he hands us each a beach towel, and I wrap mine around my waist. Kat uses her towel like a blanket over her shoulders.

Walking to the door, he abruptly stops. “You know, if you two want to be alone, you just have to say so. You don’t have to hide.” Kat gapes at Calder, and I nearly choke him.

I growl, “We don’t, but I might need to hide a body.”

He laughs as he opens the door. “Okay. Okay. I’m only joking. A little.”

We enter the kitchen, and Kat grabs her T-shirt from the counter. I go upstairs to change out of my wet shorts, putting on actual swim trunks just in case we find another Jacuzzi along the way.

Dash nearly caught us fucking. That should spook me. Instead, I’m only wearier of hiding it anymore, until I walk to the staircase, where I overhear Kat. “We were only talking, so stop with the questions. Nothing is going on.”

“Yeah, but—”

“Just stop it, Dash.”

There’s a silence, so I go downstairs, and Kat turns to grab her phone. I say, “Oh. That reminds me. We need each other’s numbers. You know, for your driving times.”

“Yeah.” Don’t sound so excited.

Crookedly smiling at her as we unlock our phones, I take her phone and give her mine. “There’s no escape, Kit Kat.”

“That’s why I’m afraid. Such a ball and chain.” She glances up at my frown and giggles as she puts her number into my phone.

As I grab my hat off a stool, Dash says, “Okay, then. Let’s go.” He hangs his arm around Kat as she puts her sunglasses on, dragging her out the door, and I seriously want his picture to show up on a milk carton.

The short walk is long, and I become more irritated with each step. When we near the sand, Kat peers over her shoulder. “You still with us, Jericho?”

“Yep,” I tersely mutter.

Suddenly she stops, halting Dash’s stride. Turning, she holds out her arm to me.

I hesitantly ask, “What?”

Kat reaches for me, looping her arm through mine. “I want you with me, too.”

I can’t help the smile, and she squeezes my arm against her, which suddenly seems to make the walk bearable.

When we reach the boardwalk, we see Rio and his handler sitting on a bench, looking at a brochure. Most likely for new leashes.

“Hey, Kat!” Liberty shouts, jumping up and pulling Kat away from me for a hug since they only are staying in the same fucking house. “How’s your head?”

“Fine.” Kat returns to my side, retaking my arm, which surprises me.

“I’m good, too, so we lucked out.” She looks at our linked arms, curious, but fortunately not questioning, and politely says, “Jared.”

“Liberty.”

Dash dramatically shivers. “A freezer is warmer.”

I glare at him because I’m genuinely making an effort. Sort of. Enough of one. As long as she leaves me alone, I can keep my mouth shut. Fuck. Maybe not.

I drop my frown for a friendly smile. “Don’t worry, Calder. You’ll be all warm and toasty when I set your bed ablaze.”

Kat elbows me, laughing. “That’s not very nice.” Not pleading a good defense for Dash.

Rio stands, his brown hair randomly blowing in the breeze. “Hey, Jare. Kat.”

I pull on the bill of my Colts cap as we both answer, “Hey.”

Liberty gives Kat another probing look but still doesn’t screech anything more as she takes Rio’s hand. Hopefully, she lost a bet and must refrain from acting like a fucking moron for the rest of the trip. Wishful thinking.

Kat makes no move to let go of me as we all start walking. Dash walks in front of us, rambling about Liberty’s horoscope, which he seems to have an interested audience this time. Apparently, she was born under a moon in the third house of the rising sun when the Devil went down to Georgia in August, which makes her a raving Lunatic. Definitely her astrological sign.

Bored with their goddamn chatter and since I don’t have the nail gun to end it all, with us heading up the rear, I bump Kat’s arm. That makes her retaliate in kind, so I bump harder, and she sways with a laugh. When she looks up, I glance ahead of us before bending to kiss her.

I raise my head just as Dash turns his, asking, “You two still back there?”

I drone, “Yep.”

He grins at Kat. “You can walk with me if you want. My arm is cozier.” I know he’s taunting me. The fucker will pay for that.

“I like it back here. I don’t have to endure a horoscope recap.”

He gawks at her in surprise as I loudly laugh, impressed that she shot him down on all levels. “What the…? I thought you liked the reports!”

She cringes. “Not really, so just—”

“Shove them up your astro chart, Calder.”

He pouts as he yanks out an orange sucker from his pocket. “Jericho is rubbing off on you, Merrick.”

I smirk. “Maybe she wants to rub me off.”

Kat laughs, and this time, it’s Dash who’s shocked. Even Rio laughs, but unfortunately, so does his bitch.

She glances back at me. “You’re kind of funny, Jared.”

When she turns around, I scowl at the back of her head. As a rule, she should never talk to me.

Something catches her eye, and she stops, which holds up all of us. She flits to shirts on a rack, showing some to a boringly patient Rio while Dash checks his phone.

Lifting her sunglasses, Kat lets go of my arm to go into the store, and I follow. Inside, we walk down the seashell aisle, where she stops at the starfish, picking up one. She says, “Look. It’s like the one you found. Even the tip is missing.”

I reach up to touch it but stroke her knuckles with my thumb instead. “I still have that starfish. It’s in my room.”

Her brown eyes shine from the overhead lights as she looks up at me. “You do?” I nod, and she smiles, returning to the shell display.

Glancing behind us, not seeing our warped posse, I move up against Kat, and from behind, I lingeringly kiss her cheek, making her contentedly hum. Liking the sound, I kiss her more. When I kiss down to her jaw, she looks toward the door, and I automatically step away from her.

Kat says, “I swear I just saw—”

Rounding the corner, Liberty smiles, and in her grating voice asks, “What are you looking at in here?”

Dash follows. “Jericho, come look at these lures.”

I sigh as Kat and I are separated by annoying forces. Dash leads me to where Rio is searching through tackle, but I’m distracted, watching Kat from three rows over, through display openings. She doesn’t see me, but she appears as distracted as I do, looking around. Finally catching my eye, she brilliantly smiles at me as I vaguely notice Liberty’s mouth yakking next to her.

“Right, Jare?”

“What?”

Rio peers past me but doesn’t seem to notice where I was looking. “I was saying how saltwater lures are different from freshwater. The metal should be stainless steel or galvanized metal.”

Dash takes the empty sucker stick out of his mouth. “And I said that the paint should be more durable because of the saltwater, but Diet DP says the kind of metal is more important. Settle this.”

Incredulous, I scowl at the both of them as I push up on my fitted cap. “You called me over to argue about this shit?”

Dash laughs as he tosses the stick into a nearby trash can. “Why? What were you doing over there? Picking out a new set of seashells for your kitchen in Philly?” In a nasal voice, probably imitating me badly to piss me off, he says, “I’ll take the scallops in a place setting of one, please.” He laughs more, smacking Rio’s arm, but Rio doesn’t join in his merriment. He knows better.

“No, but I can figure out how to use a conch shell as an ignition source, so if I were you, I’d shut the hell up.”

Still fucking laughing, he says to Rio, “By the way, I caught Jericho and Kat in the Jacuzzi together.”

I’m not amused.

Rio raises a surprised eyebrow. “Oh, yeah?”

Looking around us, noticing Kat isn’t at the shells, I argue, “What’s the big deal? Wasn’t she invited here for me to hang out with? There. I’m hanging.”

Rio grins, which unsettles me, so I search our area again.

Liberty comes up behind Rio, wrapping her arms around his waist. “You getting some fish thingies?”

Smirking, Dash says, “I think only the pros call them that, Liberty Island.”

I roll my eyes and then see Kat leaving the checkout counter with a small bag, tucking it into her loose pocket.

Liberty squawks, “Ready, Kat?”

She nods and follows Rio and Liberty out, with me trailing behind, but as soon as we’re outside, Kat falls back to walk with me.

I ask, “What’d you buy?”

“A thimble for my mom. She collects them.”

I nod as we walk beside each other. She puts on her sunglasses, and the air between us feels cooler.

I lift my hat, running my hand through my hair, and when I drop my arm back to my side, Kat grabs my hand. I instantly look at her as she intertwines our fingers together. It’s unbelievably ludicrous how just the feeling of her fingers locked between mine makes me smile and fight a goddamn erection, especially when she slides her fingers back and forth. I squeeze her hand while we both watch the three snoops in front of us.

With Liberty’s senseless babbling and Dash’s phone ringing, distracting him, I take the opportunity to land my mouth on Kat’s, feeling her surprised gasp when I deeply tongue her, taking more time to do it but still keeping it quick and covert. Moving away, I check if any of them had seen us but not caring if they did. Yet, I need to watch myself more, so I don’t blow it for Kat.

When he hangs up his phone, most likely talking to Mommy, seeing a multiple passenger, double-bike contraption filled with people approaching us on the boardwalk, Dash laughs. As he turns to watch them drive past us, Kat and I drop our hands at the same time.

“Jericho, does your training include showing Kat how to drive one of those things? She might want to bring her husband and kids here someday. She’ll need to know how to handle one.”

Kat says, “I’m still trying to get him to show me how to handle his stick.”

Liberty snorts as again Dash is rendered speechless. Eventually, he laughs. “You’re on it, Merrick. What’s gotten into you?”

Liberty cackles. “Maybe you should ask who’s gotten into her.”

Kat winces. “Okay. That’s enough. I meant his car. I was only joking.”

While Dash talks to Liberty, I lean to whisper in Kat’s ear. “You handle my stick like no one else, Kitty Kat.”

She giggles and checks for clearance before returning the French kiss I gave her earlier, slowing us somewhat, but since we have to keep our kisses short, I maintain a cool level, and we catch up with little effort. It seems we’re inspired to push the boundaries more.

Picking up my hand, Kat coaxes me to her. Raising her mouth to my ear, I lean closer, and she says, “I want your kisses all over me.” I groan and promptly jerk my head away, eyeing the audience in front of us.

Inclining to her again, I whisper, “They’ll get suspicious if we’re gone long. Look what happened earlier.”

Dash shouts, “I’m hungry! Who wants pizza?”

Liberty shrieks, “I do!”

We drop our hands with Kat shoving hers into her back pockets as I push my bill up and mess with my hair again. Dash asks, “What do you two want?” Not this shit.

“A burger and fries.” I turn to Kat, vaguely seeing her eyes behind her sunglasses. “What about you?” Hoping she again can read my mind, but knowing she can’t, I subtly dart my gaze behind us.

She eagerly nods with a sudden grin. “That’s what I want, too.”

Smiling back, thankful she got my message, I say to Dash, Rio, and the nameless wench, “I saw a place back there. We’ll meet you guys here in thirty.”

Dash skeptically tries to figure us out, and Liberty’s eyes widen while Rio coolly grins. He holds my gaze, giving me a slight nod. Feeling like he sees through my scheme, I avert my gaze to Kat, who smiles and says, “Come on.”

Turning the other way, we separately dodge the thick horde of people, losing sight of each other before we come up for air in a clearing. Even though we cleared a mass of tourists, we still look behind us for spies, and I think we both breathe a sigh of relief when we don’t see any. Finding a hamburger and fries stand without a line, I grab Kat’s hand, leading her to it.

After we get our food, we cross the people stream at our own risk, landing on the other side of the walk and finding an open space on the gray wall. Setting down our food, I spin my hat around, and she smiles as she puts her sunglasses on the wall.

Kat tucks stray purple stands behind her ear, but the breeze unpins them, anyway. “I love the smell of the ocean. Don’t you?”

Chewing a fry, I shrug. “It’s nice. It’s not my favorite.”

“What is? French fries?” Picking up one from her cup, she contemplatively looks at it before turning to me, wistfully saying, “I love… these fries. I would die happy if they loved me back.”

I roll my eyes. “That’s quite extreme.”

“Not if you love French fries that much.”

“I’ll pass on laying down my life for them. Maybe hot wings but not fries.”

She heaves a sigh, and I laugh, feeling more relaxed now that we’re alone.

Taking another one, Kat teasingly clamps one between her teeth, dangling it at me. Dropping the fry I’m holding, I impulsively swoop in, biting hers but laughing as I chew it. She laughs with me, but when I begin to talk, she suddenly grabs my face, pulling my mouth back to hers. Forgetting the food, I kiss her without restraint since we’re not under scrutiny for the time being, except for the public, but fuck them.

These French fries taste a million times better with Kat Merrick.

Needing to take a break before bystanders see how turned-on I’m getting, I cut off our long kiss with a short one, then moving my lips to her forehead. Leaving my lips against her, I watch how the sun plays upon the purple in her hair, making it glow.

Kat asks, “What is with you today?”

Genuinely stumped, I straighten and step back to see her face. “What do you mean?”

She puts her hands on my chest. “You can’t keep your lips off of me.”

“I told you that I’m obsessed, and you taste good.”

Her tempting lips smile. “What do I taste like?”

“Kat Merrick.”

She quietly laughs but scrunches her nose. “I don’t taste gross?”

I smirk and grabbing her waist, I whisper, “Nope. I intend to taste more of you.” Leaning down, I kiss her neck, hearing Kat’s faster breathing, even over the crowd and the ocean. I move to her ear. “I want you to fuck my tongue.”

She clutches my shirt and moans, “God, Jared. You can’t say that to me here.”

I shift her so that her back is against the wall, and my back is to everyone. Staring at her lips, I whisper, “What am I going to do with you?”

Looking up at me, Kat smiles, though, seemingly in resignation as she softly says, “Anything you want, Jared.” It doesn’t sound like a sexy tease but more like an endured fact.

She looks to the crowd behind me, but I steer her chin, so she looks at me, and raising my voice, I implore, “Are you hiding something from me?”

Suddenly restless, she props her hands on the wall, leaning against it, so there is more space between us. She looks up at the sky. I peer up but don’t see anything, but alarm slinks into my body. I’ve been all over her since Thursday night. Maybe she only wanted a one-night stand—what I knew I couldn’t do.

“Jared, I…” She sighs, possibly reassessing what she wanted to say.

“What?” I feel like she’s trying to deliver an It’s Not You, It’s Me speech.

“How do you feel about me?”

That’s not what I had expected her to say, but I remain on guard. “You want me to describe what I feel for you?”

Kat cautiously nods. “Just, please. Give me something.”

I scratch my jaw and peer over her head to the ocean. “Uh, I like you. We’re friends.” When I look back to Kat, her lips twitch, but I can’t tell if she wants to smile or frown. “I like spending time with you.”

“But how do I make you feel?”

I roll my eyes. “You sound like my damned shrink.”

Her gaze studies me. “Do you still see one?”

“Uh, no. I stopped going a few years ago.”

“Why?”

I shrug, reaching for a fry. “What’s the point? All I did was rehash old shit.”

Kat’s lips pull to the side. “Oh. Okay. What else do you feel? About me?” What’s this? A fucking pop quiz?

I search the sand behind her for an answer and surprising myself when I confess, “I’m happy when I’m with you.”

“And when you’re not with me?”

Blinking at her as I try to come up with an answer, I ultimately say, “I… I’m not.”

Her smile abruptly takes a dive, and her voice shakes. “So, when you leave…”

“Don’t do that. We’ll still see each other.”

“As what? Friends on the street passing each other occasionally, asking about your life and promising we’ll get together sometime soon, but don’t? Your new job will be even more demanding and stressful. You won’t have time to come back to Annapolis.” Her eyes sparkle more, but it’s not a good thing.

“I’ll make time.” Kat fucking underestimates me.

“Why would you? We’re not in a relationship, long-distance or same-town.”

“Kat…” I sigh, browsing the people standing near us carrying on their own drama.

She grimly laughs. “Your arguments aren’t working for you anymore? You want to be with me, but not with me.”

“We’re not arguing about this anymore. I want to spend time with you, even not talking works for me.”

“We’ve spent enough time not talking since high school.” Frustrated, I inhale the salty air and French fries mixing with Kat’s perfume. She uneasily licks her lips. “It’s not just us talking. I want you to have an open mind. To see things in front of your face that won’t be there before you even realize it. I want you to feel.”

Irritated at her apparent riddle, I scowl. “Feel what?”

“Everything, Jared.” She pats my chest. “Feel with your heart and not so much with your head.” She glances down. “Both of them.”

“What do you want me to feel?” I repeat, struggling with her to give me a specific answer. “See? I can’t live up to your expectations.”

Kat swiftly nods. “Yes, you can. You do.” She reaches down, weaving our fingers together, holding our hands on either side of her hips. “Feel with your heart. Only your heart. Nothing else.”

When I blankly stare at Kat, she patiently waits, but I still don’t know what she wants me to do.

Tilting her head, she whispers, “Like this.” Tentatively, she kisses me. I instinctively kiss her back since I’m like a fucking robot. Her lips are slow and gentle—too gentle—yet I remain steady. I’m trying to understand what she means. However, both of my heads can’t stay out of it.

As we idly kiss, Kat lets go of my left hand to touch my cheek, distracting my unruly thoughts. When she lightly trails her fingertips into my extended weekend’s beard, down to our joined mouths and tracing the edge of my lips, I incorporate the tips of her fingers into our kiss, feeling her smile.

When she pulls away only shortly after we began, probably since we’re in public, we lean our foreheads together. Without thinking, I tell her, “You’re the only one I’ve ever kissed.”

The confusion rolls off of her like smoke, she states, “You’ve had girlfriends.”

“I didn’t kiss them on my own. They always had to kiss me first, and even then, I was never into it. I always cut them short. I hated kissing and avoided.”

“Why is it different with me?”

I shrug. “Because.”

“There has to be a reason, Jared.”

Exasperated from her pushing, I straighten. “Because I like kissing you. After I met you, I refused to let anyone kiss me.” Her eyes widen in shock or horror. Not sure which.

“Jared…” Her eyes drop to my chest. I wish I knew what was going through her head, but then again, it’s probably better that I don’t.

When she looks up, she wipes a tear. Not intending to make her cry, I try to lighten the mood by ruefully smirking. “Obsessed.”

Kat takes a deep breath. “My kisses mean something when I kiss you.”

Looking at her, I warily ask, “And what’s that?”

“You tell me. I want you to feel it.” She lifts her lips to mine, and I take them, hungrier this time and not just for sex.

Blindly taking her hand back, I squeeze her fingers between mine. We try to keep our kiss short, but every time we stop, we start again.

Suddenly, someone from behind clears their throat, and I immediately freeze.

“What?” Kat asks over my lips.

Whispering, “Fuck,” I slowly turn around to see Rio with his arms crossed but with no discernible expression on his face.

Throwing my head back, feeling a weird cocktail of what I’ll call relieved anxiety, I growl up to the sky, “Damn it, Duquesne.”

His only reply is, “Wow, Jared Beckett.”

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