The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 26

Kat

“I see what he’s done to you. There’s no denying it.”

“You don’t know.”

“You’re in love with that boy.”

I wanted to deny it, but I couldn’t find the words or will to, so I looked away.

“I knew it! Oh, my God, Kat! Since when? Why didn’t you tell me you’re doing more than driving with him?”

“We’re not.”

“Doesn’t he feel the same way?”

“Stop, Mom.”

“Oh, no. Kat…”

After I left the bathroom with Jared, I went back to the corner bedroom, where my mother was. I didn’t have to say anything. From the look on my face, my mom knew I wanted to go home.

I went straight to my bedroom, took off my shoes and shorts, and crawled into bed, not bothering to eat or shower.

It’s painful either path I take, avoiding him, or giving in and having sex with him until he leaves. Choosing the road that allows me to express how much I love him is the only logical choice to make.

Nevertheless, I have to tell Jared I’m in love with him. Every day it gets harder not to tell him, and I bite my tongue so much that I’m getting ulcers. I just don’t know when is the right time to do it, if any, or what his reaction will be. He may laugh at me. He may get pissed off. He may ask me to pass the remote. I hope for the possibility that he would be happy, and he’d tell me he loves me, too, but that’s horribly unrealistic.

Despite wanting to be alone, when Dash texts me that he needs to come over to talk, I stupidly relent. Putting my shorts back on and not fixing my bedraggled hair, I wait for him on the couch. It’s not long until I hear the familiar purr of his car. Getting up, I open the door and flop down again.

Pushing the door open, Dash looks at me and laughs. “Hey, Merrick. Slumming it?”

I cross my arms, giving him the evil eye. “If you’ve come over here to commentate on my appearance, you can just go home.”

Walking over to the armchair, he takes a seat while studying me. “You okay? Jericho said you left.”

I glare at his surfer-boy blond hair. “I took a nap.”

“On a wing of an airplane?”

Frowning at his grin, I snap, “Fuck you.”

He loudly laughs this time. “You sound like Jericho!” I don’t know if that unsettles or comforts me.

Still glaring at him, I nod to the kitchen behind him. “If you want a drink, you’ll have to get it yourself.”

“No, thanks. Are you going to tell him?”

When I can’t come up with something else to say, I sigh. “I don’t know.”

“Do you want me to talk to him about it?” We’re not in grade school, even if it feels like it.

Panicked, I sit up straight. “Hell, no! Dash, don’t—”

He laughs, showing his dimples. “Chill. I won’t.”

I put my elbow on my knee. “Why should I even tell him? It wouldn’t change his outlook on life.”

“Probably not, but he’d know.”

“And what would that do? It could push him further away.”

“How much further can he get, really?”

I frown, resting my chin on my hand. “Thanks, Dash.”

“Kat, he does love you, but he’s too afraid to admit it. And for a brainy guy, he’s pretty clueless. Did you tell him why you were sick?”

“Because I’m hopelessly in love with a man who doesn’t feel the same about me, and I make myself sick over him? No, I left that out.”

“You need to tell him.” Dash suddenly laughs. “You could always ask him to take you up to his apartment for the day.”

“What would that do?”

“You’ll spend time alone together, and maybe he’ll confess his love for you.”

“Remember the last time I took your advice?” He sports a frown while I shrug. “We spend time alone in a car every day, and he hasn’t said anything yet. So even if he did, it doesn’t change him wanting a relationship with me.”

Dash leans back, bouncing his legs. “Jesus. I feel like I could be doing more to nudge him in the right direction. I just don’t know what.” As I stare at the wall, we sit in silence until he says, “Shit. He was so pissed that you and I went to a movie. Too bad we didn’t.” He laughs, and I shake my head.

“I didn’t feel like it. He was mad about us seeing a movie?”

He rapidly nods. “Oh, yeah. If steam could come out of his ears, it would’ve. He’s so obviously in love with you. It’s not even funny.”

“He’ll figure out you’re messing with him.”

“You can tell him about it during your honeymoon.”

“Dash.”

“Mark my words.”

“As crazy. How do you stay friends with both of us? I tell you things I don’t want you to tell him, and I’m sure he tells you things…”

He sighs. “He doesn’t tell me shit. I was friends with you long before I knew you were his reason for living.”

“Dash, stop.”

“It’s true, Merrick. You’re soulmates. Your horoscopes say so. I say so. Plus, your birthdays are both on the twenty-sixth of M months.”

“Oh, no,” I groan and roll my eyes.

“Jericho’s horoscope forecast for the next month predicts he’ll make major life decisions soon.”

“Does mine mention major meltdowns?”

“No. Yours talks about work, keeping an open mind, finding a hobby, and eating right. Boring.”

“I’m going to bed.”

“Do you want me to call Jericho? I bet he’d spoon with you.”

Tossing a pillow at him, I stand. “Goodnight, Dash.”

Getting up, he teases, “Goodnight, Mrs. Beckett.”

I jump back from him as if he showed me a snake. “Holy shit! Don’t do that!”

“Why? That’s what the kids will be calling you, or will you be keeping your maiden name?”

“Because it’s not going to happen!” Opening the door, I smile at Dash. “Go. Have a safe trip. Tell Jared I said hi.”

“If you want me to grab his junk, it’ll cost you, but I’m reasonable.”

Rolling my eyes at his grin, I shut the door and wonder why I even got out of bed this summer.

Monday night, Jared calls me from Philadelphia. “Hey, Kat. How was class? Both hands on the wheel? No playing with the radio or your phone?”

“I did everything you told me to. My mom is impressed.” I grin. “And I was right. My instructor is hot.” Not.

“Huh.” And he leaves it at that. Why did I bother?

“How was your drive?”

“I had to murder Dash at a rest area, so that was a time suck.” I laugh.

I knew that would eventually happen.

Thursday morning, as I look over my special to-do list Tony makes just for me, my mom drops a stack of paint samples onto the card table. “Help me pick colors.”

I frown at her but then shuffle through the cards. “Shouldn’t you be at work?”

“I was—am. I had to run an errand. I forgot to show you these.”

“Purple or blue is good for every room.”

“I can’t wait to see your Smurfy house.” I roll my eyes at her and a red color called Mayday. “You can pick the color for one of the bedrooms since you’ll be the one staying with me the most.”

“Smurfy.”

Mom grins past me for no reason, but before I have a chance to look behind me, I’m picked up and spun around. As I spin, Dash’s bright blond hair flashes by me as he looks on.

“Jared!” I squeal. He sets me down, and when I turn to look at him, I stop short of hugging him in front of my mother. “I’m glad you’re back,” I say with a huge smile.

With a matching grin, he says, “Me, too.” His green-speckled eyes glitter, but when he glances at my mother, the shine somewhat dims as he composes himself, shutting out people.

“Hi, Jared. Did you have a nice trip?”

As I stare at his handsome face, he shrugs. “It was okay. Thanks.” He turns to me, and I look away, making the mistake of seeing Dash’s deliberate smile, Jared says, “I had Dash take me to pick up the Nissan, so I’m ready if you are.”

“Yep.”

Passing Dash, I ask, “I thought you’d been murdered at a rest stop?”

“Don’t believe the rumors.” Dash grabs my arm and whispers, “Don’t tell him you want baby Jerichos. Definitely too dangerous.”

I frown and push his arm. “Shut up.” His pout makes me laugh, though.

Jared hands me the keys, and his fingers graze mine, but he says nothing. When I’m behind the wheel, I ask, “Did you get a lot done in your apartment?”

He nods and looks out the window. “Yep.”

“Do you have a ton left to do?”

Jared restlessly shifts and looks around. “I only took shit out of storage that I’ll need, so not a lot.”

Buckling my seatbelt, I say, “Good. Where do you want me to drive?”

His gaze briefly lands on me before he peers out the windshield. “Just go down to the end of the road here.”

I scrunch my face up at him as I start the car. “Okay. Then where?”

He spins his hat backward. “Just go, and I’ll tell you.”

Making sure to check my mirrors, I pull onto the street and do as he said, stopping in the middle of the road. “Now, where?”

“Pull into this parking lot.” I put on my turn signal since he’ll call me out if I don’t, even on this residential street with no one around, and I drive into the church parking lot.

“Okay…”

“Put the car in park.” Done.

I turn to him. “What now?”

“This.” He reaches over, puts his hand on my cheek, and forcefully tugs me to him, kissing me so hard our teeth clash on impact. The pain is fleeting, and I drown in his insistent kiss.

After minutes of straight making out, he stops to whisper, “I fucking missed you.”

Looking into his hazel-streaked, green eyes, I smile. “I fucking missed you, too.”

He pushes the stray hair away from my face. “Let’s go to your place.”

I look at the windshield. “Um, my brother is hanging out there.” Why in the hell did I say that?

“Pete? Really? Why?”

“His apartment is being fumigated.” That’s what I come up with?

Jared’s voice falls. “My dad’s working from home today.”

I thread my fingers through my ponytail, reeling from why I fed Jared a story like that. I can’t waiver. I said I’d be okay with this, and I am—to a point. I just don’t want him to expect sex on demand like I’m just a pair of open legs, or I’m on his payroll. I have to set some limits to hang onto any shred of self-respect I have left, especially after I nearly fucked him in a dusty bathroom while our parents practically stood outside the door.

Distracted, I ask, “Do you like your apartment?”

Sounding distracted himself, he says, “It’s okay. I want you to see it, though.”

Looking up from the wheel, I frown. “How, without everyone knowing?”

Jared grins, and I want to kiss those lips again. “Dash. He brought up the idea to invite you up and to tell people he’s going with us, too. He said he’ll lie low for the weekend.”

“That’s… Kind of drastic.”

“He asked if we’re having sex again, but I told him no. I said I just want you to see Philly. I’ll sleep on the couch while you take my bed.”

“Okay.”

Leaning closer, he teasingly smirks. “Of course, I’ll take you in my bed as often as possible.”

Smiling, I shake my head. “If I go to Philadelphia, we’ll be fixing up your apartment.”

“I have plenty of time to do that shit. I want to spend time with you.” He reaches for my hand and plays with my fingers.

I laugh, so I don’t moan from the feel of his skin on mine. “We’re doing that now.”

“Not really. How’s class?”

“Good. I don’t have to learn how to drive a stick, but since my instructor is so hot, I may learn.” Yep. I played that card again.

“Is that so?” Jared drops my hand and suddenly sits back. Crossing his arms, he licks his lips while squinting at the windshield like he’s considering that.

I shrug. “I’ll try it. I bet it’ll be sexy, watching him shift gears for his demonstrations. That’ll rev my engine.” I giggle but no real reaction from him.

He nods but doesn’t turn to look at me. “Okay. Get back on the road.” Well, shit. That didn’t go as planned.

Leaving the parking lot, the rest of the drive is quiet, but I can hear his brain working. I just don’t have the password to enter his work zone.

Before we return to my mom’s, Jared doesn’t try to kiss me at the stop sign like he did Sunday. “You okay?” I ask, turning left.

“Yep.”

At the house, Jared and I separate. Dash finds me in the kitchen alone, loading nail guns, which is the biggest task Tony has given me yet. “Did Jericho fill you in on the plan?”

I laugh, looking up at his cherub-like face. “I can’t believe you came up with that.”

He looks over his shoulder and then shrugs. “It’ll give you both some time alone.” Dash points at me with an impish grin. “Just don’t waste it, worrying about his apartment. You have other shit to do. Like him.” So much for being an angel. “Make it count, Merrick. He probably won’t start it but get him to talk to you.”

“What makes you think I can?”

“Because he likes you.”

“He likes you, too. He spared your life in Philadelphia, didn’t he?”

He dramatically pouts, grabbing his back. “Barely. I had to cough up a kidney.”

I laugh. “Not so bad.”

“Thanks. I love you, too.” His mischievous smirk returns as he backs out of the kitchen. “Look. I can say it. I love you, Merrick!”

I glare at him. “I hate you.” His not-so-innocent grin widens to full-blown evil before he exits the kitchen. I then hear him talking to someone in the living room. I see why Dash and Jared clash, almost like good versus evil, but now I’m unsure of who is what. Still, they couldn’t function without each other. Maybe I’m too late, and Jared already has a savior.

“Hey, Kit Kat.”

Hearing Jared’s improved mood, I glance up from the nail cartridges and smile. “Hey.”

He leans his arm onto the counter, peering down at my task. “So.”

I purse my lips and then repeat, “So…”

“I was thinking. Let’s grab dinner tonight.”

My smile brightens. “Okay.”

He looks over his shoulder before lowering his voice, asking, “Why don’t you wear that school shirt you wore when you were sick?”

I’m not so quiet as I suddenly laugh. “That thing? It’s an old shirt I sleep in!”

“Yep. Oh, and your glasses and a skirt.”

My laughter drops like a brick, confused. “Are you serious?”

When Jared responds with a smile, it’s a whole different level of wickedness compared to Dash. “Uh-huh.”

“Why?”

Without missing a beat, he replies, “Because.”

“I’ll need to go home early so I can throw the shirt in the washer. My mom wants me to look at more paint chips with her. She can just take me to class tonight since we’ll be down that way.”

He’s quiet as he mulls that over, but says, “Okay. I guess that works. How about I pick you up around 8:00?”

“You’re not going to tell me why you want me wearing those?”

His wicked smile kicks up again. “Nope.”

“I’m worried.”

Jared laughs and leaning closer to me, he whispers, “You should be.”

My eyes almost leave my skull, and I nervously laugh. “Um, okay. I hope I don’t get kicked out of the restaurant for looking worse than an old traffic cone.”

“Not even possible.” He pushes off the counter. “See you later.”

I nod, but I’m not sure what I just agreed to do later.

When I answer my door, Jared instantly looks at my shirt, and an unabashed grin graces his face. That’s when I notice the maroon, school football shirt he’s wearing. Our school.

“Holy hell! Where’d you get that? It looks new!” My shock turns to giddy laughter.

“It is. All my old shirts are gone, so I got a new one.”

It brings back so many memories. Good and bad. “But why?”

“I told you to wear yours, so I should have one, too.”

I laugh again. “Yours looks so much better than mine.”

“Yeah, but yours is an original.”

“Like you, huh?”

Jared laughs, licking his bottom lip. “I like your glasses. Ready to go?”

I grab my purse, still grinning ear to ear. When I shut the door, he grabs my hand, leading me to a black car, and I stop, which makes him stop. “Whoa. This is your car?”

Jared proudly smiles. “Yep. Dodge Charger, in case you’re wondering.”

“It certainly isn’t the Nissan.”

“Definitely not.”

He leads me to the passenger side, opening the door for me, and I smile, refraining from kissing him since my mother is probably watching from her window. “How sweet, Sonic. All of it. Thank you.”

“Uh-huh.” He shuts the door, and his scent heavily surrounds me. This is Jared’s car. His own space. As I buckle my seatbelt, I notice the stick shift, making me giggle.

When he slides into the driver’s seat, he asks, “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.” Still, I giggle, overwhelmed by it all.

He rolls his eyes. “I don’t even believe you.”

Jared backs out of the driveway, and I nearly squeal out loud, watching him shifting. What the fuck is wrong with me?

As he drives, hitting traffic lights, I can’t help but watch him in fascination. He’s such an expert at this, and I met him when he wasn’t. I could never drive a manual transmission. I want to reach over and hold his hand, but he’s busy, and I don’t know when he’ll have to shift again. Stopping at a red light, he asks, “Why’re you so quiet?”

I blink out of my ogling and smile at him. “Sorry.”

When the light turns green, he looks ahead and stomps on the gas. He then looks my way as he shifts, and the dark look he gives me makes my body tingle, inside and out.

Before I realize it, I say, “I’m not hungry.”

Jared takes his eyes from the road, and I know that he knows exactly what I want to do instead. He raises that eyebrow again. “I am.” Holy hell. He just picked food over sex?

Sighing, I ask, “Where’re we eating?”

“We can go downtown. You can pick anywhere. There’s Italian, Greek, steakhouses, seafood, Mexican—”

“How about Wendy’s?”

He looks at me, almost appalled. “A what? You want to go there?”

“Yep. Let’s get it to go and eat in the parking lot.”

He laughs, but it’s more in doubt than hilarity. “What the hell? In my car?”

“Oh. You’re one of those guys?”

“No. I just thought you’d want to go out somewhere.” Why do I feel like the poles have just shifted?

“We can eat somewhere nice in Philadelphia. Tonight, let’s do burgers and fries.”

“Again? Last time we ate together, it was on the boardwalk, and we didn’t even finish our food.”

“So? I’m a simple woman.”

“Right. With the striped hair, the makeup, and blue contacts. Simple.” He laughs and looks over at me.

I laugh because he’s laughing. “We can sit in the car and talk. Is that so bad?”

“I guess not, but I’m suspicious.”

I lean closer, stretching my seatbelt. “You should be.”

I’m now the one with a wicked smile, and his throat dips and rises before he looks back to the road. How easy was that?

Jared pulls into Wendy’s near downtown, and when I see the toy for the kids’ meal, I tell him I want one.

“Are you fucking serious?”

I eagerly nod. “It’s Scooby-Doo! Come on!”

Jared’s face crumples, making me laugh. “Jesus. It’s like having Calder with me.”

“Except, I don’t have a dick.”

His frown gives way to another laugh. “Neither does he.” I smack his thigh, but he grabs my hand before I pull it away, lacing our fingers together as we wait to order. The smile on my face could permanently etch itself there, but he doesn’t notice, perusing the brightly lit menu.

After we exit the drive-thru, he finds a parking space at the back of the lot, underneath a tall light post, and overlooking another parking lot. Not incredibly romantic, but we’re alone, at least.

Jared turns off the car but leaves on the radio, which I immediately hit the scan button. “Hey! Who said you could do that?”

I giggle at his overly dramatic fury. “I did.” The end of a familiar eighties song fills the car, and I end the search.

“What the hell is this shit?” he asks, trying to be pissed off, but he’s secretly enjoying it.

I shrug as we both unbuckle our seatbelts. “I don’t know the name of it.” I hand him his bag of food, and then opening mine, I pull out a small Mystery Machine toy. “Look here!” I giggle as I study it.

I know he’s rolling his eyes, saying, “I bet there’s a mystery we could solve.” I pick up my bag and lightly shake it. “There’s a lot of greasy food here. I’ll try not to mess up your car.”

“Thanks.”

Putting the Mystery Machine back into the bag, I coolly ask, “What would you do if I did?”

Before taking a bite of his sandwich, he says, “Another demerit for you.”

“What does it entail? Because I liked my last demerit.”

He tries not to smile as he chews, but it seems to be a chore. When he swallows, he says, “I’m still deciding on that.”

Picking up his Coke, he takes a drink, and I abruptly ask, “When did you lose your virginity?” Now, that did come out of nowhere.

Jared chokes on his drink. Between wheezing, he asks, “What?” He coughs some more and setting down his drink, he looks at me as he reaches for a napkin for the wet spots on his jeans.

“You know about mine.”

He frowns at his jeans, finished with his coughing fit. “Just who and the general time period. I don’t know details. I don’t want to know.”

I shift in my seat, angling toward him like he’s going to tell me a thrilling story. “Tell me. I want to know.”

He sighs, picking up his cheeseburger but not appearing hungry anymore. He’s not eager to divulge this information. Therefore, I prepare to be blown off as usual.

“I lost it to an older girl at school.”

“Oh.” I shove my food and toy back into the bag, unexpectedly losing my appetite sooner than I thought I would.

“She, uh, was a friend of Hadley’s.”

I instantly look up, dismayed. “What?”

“One of her best friends. Blair.” He stares at his sandwich while I stare at him in disbelief because it’s not possible to have just heard that.

“Does Hadley know this?”

“To an extent. I changed some details.”

“How’d it happen?”

Still, without looking at me, he continues, “She stayed over one night with Hadley. My dad used to drink beer, and I snuck some into my room. Blair knocked on my door to see what I was doing. Things… happened. Being drunk and that young, I had no idea what I was doing, but I went along with it.”

My heart thuds, but I still ask, “How old were you?”

Jared quietly answers, “I was thirteen.”

I can’t even find words as my heart shatters. “What the fuck? Jared! Why? I mean, I know boys that age are hormonal, but that’s too young!”

“Because… I needed to.” He looks at me but then darts his gaze away. “Do I have to talk about this?”

“Yeah. You do and not because I’m nosey, but because I’m guessing that you… need to.”

“I don’t, but…” He sighs again and returns his sandwich to its box. “My mom left us when I was three. She never looked back. Never contacted us. Although I’m told Hadley, and I look like her, I felt that I needed to do something to erase everything I could of her. So when the opportunity presented itself, I took it. By losing my virginity, I defiled my innocence—that hold my mother had over me.”

I recoil in my seat, wrapping my arms around my stomach as if that will keep me from losing it. “Oh, my God, Jared. Was it just the one time with that girl?”

“It went on for a couple of months. I turned fourteen, and she graduated and left town. I came to find out, she was also fucking Hadley’s boyfriend, Max. Shitty best friend, boyfriend, and brother.”

“You were a kid! She was what, seventeen? What the hell did she see in a thirteen-year-old boy?”

“Booze and a hard-on.”

I shift away. “I’m going to be sick.”

“Kat.”

I vigorously shake my head as my hand goes to my mouth, but I can’t hold back my tears.

Jared asks, “Why’re you so upset? I was almost fourteen. It was way before I met you.”

“That’s not why I’m upset! Jared, my heart aches for you!”

He tightens his hand on the steering wheel. “Don’t pity me, Kat! I did it willingly, and I felt emancipated from that cunt!” I cringe, hearing him say that word. Not because I find it offensive, but because of how much of his past still affects his present. Like me.

“I did a horrible thing to my sister, and she doesn’t even know it! I haven’t been able to talk to Hadley in years, let alone look at her! She used to be my best friend!” I again shake my head, mumbling behind my fist. “I betrayed her! Just like my goddamn mother! Just like her fucking boyfriend, and so-called best friend did! Every fucking day I live with it! I’m the same, worthless piece of shit they are!”

I look into his defeated eyes. “No! You were a kid, and you’re sorry for what you did!” His gaze hardens, forcing me to sink mine.

“I’m such a good person? That I just made a stupid mistake over and over again? Blame it on my hormones, and being a kid, like you just said? Don’t tell me this doesn’t make you think… less of me now!” His voice subtly cracks, but he shows no sign of breaking down in front of me at any rate.

Dropping my hand from my mouth, I stare at him in shock. He looks to the console between us, wretchedly chuckling. “Don’t worry. I’m used to it. My own mother couldn’t stand me, and my father thinks I’m a fuck-up.”

“Jared, he does not!”

Looking up, he spits, “How would you know?”

“He never stops talking about you! I wish you could hear him! He’s so proud of you!”

Sitting back, Jared doesn’t say anything, and we sit in weighted silence, hazily listening to the song on the radio and cars driving in the lot. I sniff, reaching for one of my napkins. Seeing that he’s not going to eat, I set his bag on the floor next to mine. He finally mumbles, “You’re the only one I’ve told, so please don’t say anything.”

“I won’t! God…” I would never.

“So, you do think I’m a fucking lowlife?” No. I love you even more.

Without a second thought, I spring forward, securing my lips to his. My arms go around his neck, holding him to me. He hesitantly responds with only his mouth. I kiss him until he gets it. Until he hopefully realizes that he’s not worthless.

It must work because he returns my kiss. He digs his hand into my hair as he becomes more invested while my fingers rummage through the curled ends of his hair along his neck. We kiss as if we want each other to read something more, and it’s the only way to convey it.

Breaking away, he puts his forehead on mine, breathing hard. From nowhere, he says, “This song sounds familiar.”

Not noticing it before, I listen for a few seconds. “It’s Somewhere Out There, the song from An American Tail.”

“That mouse movie?” I nod against his forehead with a laugh. “We could’ve done this as a karaoke duet.” Listening more to the lyrics, my smile dissipates. “It’s about living far apart, but it doesn’t fit for us.”

“I think it does.”

“If you’re a mouse.” Spontaneously dipping my head, I kiss down his throat, feeling a grumble on my lips. He moves his head, catching my lips with his. We passionately kiss in a fast-food parking lot to a song about a lost mouse while beneath a bright parking lot light, not pale moonlight as sung.

Jared’s hand goes to my shoulder and slowly creeps down to the outer curve of my breast making me softly moan, and just as the song ends, my mouth travels over his cheek. Kissing across his ear, I grip his shirt. “I want you, Jared Beckett. Right now.”

“We can’t here.”

“Find somewhere.” I kiss him again, but before we go too far at a Wendy’s, I force myself to sit back. With us both panting, Jared’s dark gaze returns as he starts the car, making me squeeze my legs together in anticipation.

As he drives, I note the familiar street signs coming into view, and when he turns down a nearby street to an even more familiar building, I gasp, “What are you doing?”

Jared again raises that eyebrow as he looks over at me, his eyes going to my chest. “Don’t tell me you forgot about this place, Kit Kat.”

“The high school’s parking lot?”

“No, but close by. There are cameras all over the lot. Not good.” Jared turns into a small apartment complex and parks next to a row of shrubs in a darkened corner but facing the school’s side lot behind the building.

“Our driver’s ed. lot!” I say with a teary grin.

He nods. “This is why I wanted you to wear your shirt, your glasses… and a skirt. I came up with this last week but didn’t think of it again until you were driving today.”

“Shit,” I whisper, barely able to contain my restrained excitement. “Are you serious? We can’t have sex here.”

Jared glances out the back window, and then to the side windows. “It looks like there isn’t anyone home in those few apartments. It’s dark. We’ll be in the back seat. Those bushes block us some.”

I skeptically look around, too. “I don’t know.”

“Kat, after what I just told you, and you’re still talking to me…” The look in his eyes is tragic. I’ve never seen Jared Beckett so vulnerable before, and I’m astonished by what I see. “I need for us to go back to where it all began.”

I nod, stunned… by all of it. Cautiously, his hand goes to my cheek, and his thumb strokes my bottom lip. “We could go somewhere else, but we need to be here. Make up for what should’ve been. We should have lost our virginities to each other, but...” He sighs. “Erase all that past shit for me. I wanted you so much then, but even more now.”

With tears threatening again, I whisper, “Jared, I want you. Here.”

He pulls me closer to kiss me, but I yank my lips away to leave the car. Still, we manage to climb into the back seat at the same time. After locking the doors, Jared grabs my waist, pulling me down next to him and kissing me as his hand goes up my faded school shirt. “I remember you wearing this shirt. I always wanted to grab your tits while you were wearing it. Any shirt.” Ripping at my bra, he fondles them. “Fuck. Dreams do come true.”

“I wanted you to do this to me in that car we had to drive.”

He eagerly nods. “I would’ve fucked you during class, getting us kicked out and being the talk of the school.”

I groan as I fumble for his zipper. “I wouldn’t have cared. I wanted you to be my first.” And I want you to be my last.

Breathing hard, he pleads, “Grab my dick.”

I reach into his underwear, clutching him, feeling him growing more rigid, which makes me moan with a smile. He lifts his hips and taking his hand off me, he yanks down his pants. “Feel it.” When I stroke his shaft, he takes my hand. “Like this, Kit Kat.” He moves my hand up and down him and then to his balls, where I roll them in my hand. Taking a sharp breath, he says, “All over. Own me.”

I run my fingers around, teasing him and listening to his erratic breaths. “You’re so hot. I thought so back then, too.”

Sighing, he reaches under my skirt and impatiently tugs at my underwear. “Am I hot?”

“Fuck, yes.”

Looking at me as we both take off my underwear, he bites, “Hotter than your fucking driving instructor?”

“You’re the only driving instructor I want to fuck.”

“I better be.” He plunges his fingers into me, easily sliding them in and out. “Goddamn.”

“Let’s cut the bullshit.” I push myself up to straddle him, but he stops me.

“Get up and turn around.”

I want to ask how, but I just do it. From behind, his fingers go inside me again, pushing and pulling, compelling me to ride them. Jared leans forward. “We met in that school. That lot is where we first started driving together.” I nod fast in agreement, breathless. “I had infinite wet daydreams about you, along with a countless number of hard-ons. I had to beat off every night, thinking of you. We were partners then, and now we’re practically in that lot where it all began...” His fingers disappear, and he pulls on my shoulders until I fall back, sliding onto his dick. “Screwing in a back seat.”

“Jared!”

Amidst our shared panting from our rigorous sex, he says, “And what’s more? I’m fucking a teacher.” I moan and push against him at an angle, which makes his loud moans fill the car. “Fuck me hard, Miss Merrick.”

My skirt bounces with every thrust and holding onto the driver’s seat, I use it to anchor me as he holds onto my hips, grating me against him. As we move in a harmonious rhythm, rocking the car with us, Jared heatedly states, “The next time you even think about fucking that instructor, remember how my cock feels inside of you. How you drip with my cum. And how you’re fucking mine.”

As I pull up, I lift off him, and he falls out of me. Twisting around, I climb onto his lap, straddling him, and he quickly slips back into me. “Tell me that last part again.”

Looking up at me, he whispers, “You’re mine, Katriona Elyse Merrick. Mine. All mine.” He pulls my head down and kisses me with a ferocity that matches the tempo of our passionate fucking.

My glasses bang against his face, but when I try to take them off, he puts his hand over mine, stopping me. Jared gasps into my mouth, “Fuck me, Kat. You’re so damn good. Jesus. I’ve never had sex like this.”

Shoving my hand into his hair, I say, “You’re so mine, Jared. I do fucking own you.”

He leans his head back onto the headrest as he clutches my ass, pushing me onto him. “Take it all away for me, baby. Christ.” His thrusts slow down, but I ride him out, feeling his constant jerking.

“Oh, Jared!” I come so hard, it makes me dizzy as I squeal.

“Kitty Kat, give me your cream.” His groans bounce off the interior of the car and most likely can be heard from the school.

Grabbing a handful of the silver football helmet on his shirt, I shriek, “Jared, I l—” But I bite my tongue. Catching my breath, I give him a kiss and whisper, “Thank you for giving more of yourself to me.”

Closing his eyes, he nods but doesn’t reply, and I feel like he’s shutting down again. I redirect to something more manageable. “Do you know how sexy that was of you to plan?”

With his eyes still closed, he smiles. “No, so you probably should remind me tomorrow.”

“You just liked fucking a teacher next to a school.”

Laughing, he opens his eyes. “That, too. I hope I didn’t fail.”

“Passed with flying colors.”

“I’ll gladly do extra credit, too.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” I kiss him on the cheek, but when I start to move off his lap, he grabs my wrist, pulling me in to kiss my lips.

When he finally allows me to move off his lap, I grab my underwear. “We could get arrested for this, especially near a school.”

“Nobody’s around.”

Without thinking, I say, “I need to tell you something.”

Pulling up his jeans, he warily asks, “What?”

Taking off my glasses, I wipe them on my shirt. “I know it’s probably something you don’t want to hear, and it may even make you mad.”

“Just tell me.”

“I’ve kept it a secret for so long, but you should know.” I put my glasses on and close my eyes, preparing myself.

He edgily says, “Kat…” I love you, Jared.

“I think Pete burned down Mom’s house.” I can’t do it. Not here. I can’t ruin how perfect this was with him.

I watch as his jaw drops. “What the hell?”

“It was an accident. She was at my aunt’s, and he had poker parties at her house without asking. I caught him and kicked him out, but the fire had already started. The fire investigation concluded that it started in the breaker box, but nothing out of the ordinary was plugged in at the time of the fire. I had noticed Pete was using fans because he allowed his buddies to smoke cigars.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? You were in that house when it was on fire?” Shit. Is he mad about this? Maybe I should’ve said I’m in love with him.

“Yes, but I didn’t smell anything, and I wasn’t there long.”

“Jesus Christ! You could’ve been killed!”

“I was closer to death after my accident.” Jared rubs a hand over his face. “I want to tell my mom, but I feel Pete should. I’ve already caused her enough grief by killing her mother.”

“That was not your fault!”

I glower at the passenger seat. “Still. I can’t give her more horrible news like that. Maybe it is my fault since I didn’t call her about Pete.”

“No, Kat. Don’t do that. He’s responsible. He was there doing shit when he shouldn’t have been.”

“I’ve been pushing Pete to tell her, but he said she’s had enough shit to deal with in her life. So, I’m torn.”

“Jesus.”

I look over at him, seeing the anxiety on his face. “I’m telling you this because it’s only fair since you just spilled your guts. I want you to trust me. I won’t say a word. It’s up to you if you ever do. Just know that I… don’t think less of you. In fact, I feel closer to you.”

He’s doubtful, but says, “Me, too, Kit Kat.”

Before returning to the front seat, I lean over, putting my arms around Jared, hugging him. I feel his sigh blowing into my hair. He says, “We’ll leave for Philly Saturday morning. Sound good to you?”

I nod, wondering how I’ll feel being in Jared’s apartment for the first and last time.

As I take the kitchen tiles out of the box to inspect them for broken pieces, Dash stops at the table. “Hey, Merrick. Have you seen Jericho?”

Looking up from the glossy, white tile, I say, “No. Why?”

“I haven’t seen him, and he hasn’t texted. I thought you would know where he is.”

Setting down the tile, I pull out my phone to check the screen, but no missed calls or texts. “He didn’t say anything last night about not being here.”

He laughs as I return my phone to my pocket. “Last night? Whoa. What did I miss?”

I shake my head and move on to the next piece. “We ate dinner and went over driving test questions.” These lies are making my head hurt.

“Are you for real? That’s pretty lame.”

“It was informative.” Very.

“You didn’t discuss… you know… with him?”

I sigh. “It wasn’t the right time or place.”

Dash checks the doorway and then quietly asks, “Are you going to Philadelphia with… us?”

I smile. “Yes.”

“Perfect time.”

“No, because if he doesn’t like it, then I’m stuck there. I can’t escape.”

“True, but that won’t happen. You’re just going to keep putting it off.”

“So? He’ll leave, but he’ll also keep coming back. Torturing me.”

“I think it’ll change things for him.”

“Like what? I wouldn’t want him to quit his job to stay here. No good can come out of this.”

He huffs a heavy sigh as he crosses his arms, watching me inspect a tile. “Jesus, Kat.”

“After this, Tony wants me to oil door hinges. How insulting.”

“Tell him you want another job.”

“Grout and tile work. Get real.”

“Okay... Go oil those hinges with pride then.”

I roll my eyes and finish looking over the last tile before heading upstairs with a can of WD-40 and some paper towels. Starting in the bathroom that Jared and I nearly christened, I pull open the closet door, but the closet door suddenly slams shut. Peering up, Jared grins at me.

I laugh. “Hey. Dash was looking for you.”

“I know. He found me.”

“Where’ve you been? Everything okay?”

Jared’s greenish eyes shine. “Forgot to set my alarm. I was worn out for some reason.” His smile is still sleepy, and so sexy.

Looking past him for witnesses but seeing none, I set down the can and move closer to him, smiling. “You’ve been rather busy lately.”

We don’t touch, but his eyes fall to my lips. “No complaints here. I’d like even more work to do.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged.”

“I hope so. It’s a rewarding job.”

“I heard it’s complicated.”

“You just have to know how to push the right buttons.”

“Oh. So anyone can do your job?”

“Nobody does my job. Only me.”

Peering over his shoulder, I push up the bill of his hat and then put my hands on his chest, whispering, “Kiss me, damn it.”

Jared obligingly angles his head, meeting me for a quick kiss. Or so I thought.

When I leave it brief, he disapprovingly whispers, “You call that a kiss?”

I give him another kiss. When I grip his T-shirt, he pulls me closer, and we stupidly lose ourselves on a whim.

“The vent fan in this bathroom isn’t—”

“Holy shit.”

“Well, I’ll be damned.”

Jared and I jump away from each other, but it’s too late. We stare at Dash, Tony, and… Adam.

Adam’s face is a combination of confusion and… glee? “What are you doing?”

Folding in my guilty lips, I point to the side. “I was oiling a door.” Dash laughs, and Tony joins him. Assholes.

Jared tugs down his hat and clears his throat. He asks his dad, “Why aren’t you at work?”

Adam answers with, “Since when are you and Kat dating?”

Jared crosses his arms and looks at the ceiling above their heads. “We’re not.” Still hurts.

Dash says, “Yeah. That looked like not dating.” I narrow my eyes at Dash, and Jared steals the words out of my mouth.

“Shut up, Calder.”

Dash counters, “Stop hiding it.”

Adam looks from Jared to Dash, and then back to both of us, appearing more confused. “You’ve been hiding that you’re a couple?”

Putting his hands on his hips, Jared says, “Don’t worry about what we are. Now, if you could let us out of here, I need to take Kat driving.”

Dash laughs, but the glare Jared gives him shuts him down immediately. My brother just watches, thoroughly entertained.

Adam doesn’t move. “Jared, you want to tell me what’s going on here?”

“If I wanted to tell you anything, I would.” Jared grabs my wrist and plows us through the small ambush.

We don’t talk until we’re in the Nissan. When I shut my door, he says, “Goddamn it. I’m sorry about that.”

“It was my fault.”

“No. I should’ve stopped, but…” He sighs and looks out the window to the house, shaking his head.

“When the word spreads, everyone will assume we’re dating. I suppose we don’t have to pretend Dash is going with us now.”

“Fuck it. We’re adults. Jesus Christ. Who cares what anyone thinks?”

I smile. “Really?”

“It’s too much shit to deal with. And I told you. I’m obsessed.”

My smile is instant. “I am, too.”

Jared licks his bottom lip and tilts his head. “So, you still want to go to Philly with me?”

I nod. “Your apartment needs a woman’s touch.”

His eyes light up, and he whispers, “Fuck. I can’t wait to have you all to myself this weekend.” He leans over and kisses me in the open, not that we just didn’t, but it’s still shocking.

I keep the kiss short this time. “We have work to do, though.”

His gaze drops to my chest, rebounds to my lips, and then to my eyes. “Only in my bed, the shower, the couch, the balcony... Wherever else we fucking feel like it.”

“We don’t have that much time. Balcony? Holy hell.”

“We’ll find the time, Kit Kat.” I giggle and start the car. Leaning away, Jared says, “After your driving, we’ll come back here, and I’ll head to my dad’s so I can pack.”

“I need to pack, too. I’ll just drive to my apartment first.”

His smile fades. “Okay. Both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.”

Ugh. Playtime is over.

Since traffic is somewhat light, and because Jared brought the Nissan to torment me, he has me drive on the interstate for most of the two-hour drive. When we get close to the city, we switch places, which is a good thing. Light traffic doesn’t exist in Philadelphia.

The city is so much everything, just as I had feared, but Jared seems to take it in stride, even occasionally kissing my hand that he holds during his turn at the wheel. His driving the Nissan definitely has its perks.

Walking through the lobby, we pass the common area that boasts a huge TV hanging on the far end wall, many comfortable-looking couches, tables and chairs, and a kitchenette. We also see the gym on our way to the concierge desk.

While Jared registers the Nissan with his building for parking, one of the women behind the desk compliments my hair.

I smile. “Thank you.”

She says, “I wish I were brave enough to do that.”

Jared looks up from his paperwork and kisses the side of my head. “She is brave. Gorgeous, too.” He thinks I’m gorgeous?

“So, sweet!” the woman declares with a smile.

I beam at Jared, but since he’s looking down as he writes, he doesn’t see my reaction. God. I want to hurry this along so we can go up to his apartment already.

She asks, “Are you two married?”

“No,” I answer before Jared. It seems to hurt less when I say it.

“Don’t let this one get away!”

I smile, but don’t comment. He’s already gone. I only have him on loan for a short time.

Once he’s finished, we return to the car to move it and to get our luggage. Jared opens the trunk, seeing the large plastic bag I stuffed into it. “What’s that?”

“It’s mine.”

He rolls his eyes with an impatient nod. “Well, what is it?”

I grab the bag and frown. “I’ll show you when we get upstairs.”

Jared fights a smile as he keeps up his tough act. “Should I be scared?”

I raise an eyebrow. “Absolutely.”

We make our way to the elevator, where we’re alone. Twice, I catch him trying to look into the bag. Swinging it out of his way, I laugh. “You can’t stand it, can you?”

Even though he’s suspicious of the bag, he looks me up and down with his fist propped on his chin. “Nope. It could be a grenade.”

“A rocket launcher.”

“Of course, it is.” Taunting him with a grin, he swoops down to kiss me. His hands go to my waist, pulling me to him, and I hold onto his shoulders, not wanting him to let me go. Ever.

When the elevator dings, we end our kiss and gather our luggage. The walk isn’t far, and when he unlocks 1509, he pushes open the door, ushering me into the room.

Looking around, I say, “This is nice.” When I see the large windows along the back end, I gasp, “That view is fantastic!”

“Just wait until you see it at night from that balcony. The windows are the same in the bedroom.” He walks past me and unlocks the balcony door, and I go out to the glass and metal railing, leaning onto it. There is a balcony above us, so it creates a roof overhead.

From behind, Jared’s arms go around me to hold onto the railing, alongside my hands. He says, “There’s a pool on the other side of the building, next to a small park. Each of their buildings is similar.” I nod as I take everything in. “Well, what do you think?”

“It’s breathtaking.”

He bends to kiss my neck, and I notice he took off his hat. “That describes you, Kit Kat. I meant the apartment.”

Astounded, I watch the traffic from the nearby highway as his slow kisses move down to my collarbone. His lips drag heavily over my skin, and I close my eyes, wanting him to kiss me like that everywhere.

Swallowing, I ask, “Why should it matter what I think? You’re the one who has to live here. I probably won’t be here again.”

His kisses immediately halt. “Why not?”

“Jared. Let’s be realistic. Once we go back to work, our time together is over. We’ve talked about this.”

His lips move against my skin. “Kat…”

“I’m not stating an unknown fact.”

“That’s somewhat negotiable.”

I turn around to face him. His hair is tousled from the occasional wind gust out here. “What does that mean? You said you don’t want a long-distance relationship, let alone a relationship to begin with. I’m not playing some kind of game with you, where you go back and forth, not knowing what you want.”

His frown is instantaneous, and he throws out his hands. “So, you’re willing to run off and marry some random fucker just so you can get pregnant?”

“No. It’ll take some time for me to find someone I want to marry. I want to share my life with someone I love. Damn. I’m not some desperate old maid!” Just desperate for Jared to love me.

“I didn’t say you were.”

I lean my back against the railing, and the breeze whips at my loose hair. “You do know that since you don’t use a condom, you run the chance of knocking me up, right? Birth control is not one hundred percent.”

He scornfully says, “Yeah. I know that.”

I shrug, looking over my shoulder to the distant ground below. “I just hope you’re not mad if someday I send you a picture of a kid who looks like you.”

When I look back to him, his eyes suddenly amplify. “I’d want to know sooner than someday! Jesus Christ! I’d want to know the minute you found out!” Not the reaction I had expected, which is a good thing. With his jaw set, he nods, glancing over my head. “Or maybe we should just stop fucking altogether since you plan on doing that soon, anyway.”

I stare at Jared in incredulity as he returns his annoyed eyes to me. I hear his angry breaths and feel remorseful for agitating him. But it needed to be said.

Needing a break, for now, I say, “I’ll unpack the kitchen, so you have that done before you start work.” Not waiting for him to answer, I move out of his arms and go into the apartment. I stay in the kitchen, unpacking the boxes while he takes the living room and his bedroom.

After a while of getting caught up in Jared’s paltry kitchenware, I devise ways for him to make his morning routine easier, as well as his everyday tasks. I also grab a pen and paper from my purse to make a list of things he needs.

Before I know it, we’ve spent hours away from each other in the same apartment, lost in our duties, without taking breaks to even eat.

As I reach up to put a box into the cabinet above the stove, his hand reaches higher, pushing it for me. “Thanks,” I mumble.

“It looks great in here, so thank you.”

Not turning to look at him, I stack the empty boxes. “I want your kitchen to be ready for your morning routine, and then your evenings after work. I’ll show you where I put everything and why, but you can move it all if you want. At least they’ll be unpacked.”

“I think you did a hell of a job. I’ll leave it the way it is.” He sighs. “I should’ve made reservations earlier for dinner somewhere. It’s too late now for a Saturday.”

“That’s okay. You have spaghetti and cans of soup. No big deal.”

“I wanted to take you out for dinner while you’re here.”

I finally look at him with a weak smile. “We got a lot done. I also made a list of kitchen supplies you need.”

“Thanks.”

I nod. “I’ll make us dinner.”

“I can help.”

“It’s spaghetti, not designing a building’s skeleton.” He smiles, but it’s frail. When I begin making dinner, he leaves the kitchen to clean up more in the living room.

During dinner, we sit at the table, quietly eating. This isn’t how I wanted us to spend time together. When Jared is finished, he says, “That was the best spaghetti and cream of chicken soup ever, Kit Kat.”

“Don’t make fun. That’s all you had.”

His smile becomes more convincing. “I’m serious. I never thought of doing that before.”

I roll my eyes. “And you call yourself an engineer?”

Jared laughs, and I take our bowls to the dishwasher. He says, “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”

“Not a lot of places for me to go,” I mutter to myself as he leaves the kitchen.

As I wipe off the counter, he returns and holds out his hand to me. “Here. I want you to have it.”

“What?” Glancing at his hand, I see the broken starfish he picked up at the beach.

Grinning, I take it, feeling the bumpy arms. “Why?”

His smile is almost shy. “I picked it up for you. It’s yours.”

I suddenly giggle. “I completely forgot.” Holding onto the starfish, I go to my purse, pulling out the small plastic bag I’ve been holding onto since the beach. Presenting the bag to him, I say, “This is yours.”

Jared opens it and pulls out the broken starfish we found in the gift shop. “Kit Kat.”

“I got it when you were talking to Dash and Rio. Now we each have one to remind us of our time at the beach.”

“Perfect.”

I nod to the bag next to his blue couch. “You can also open the big bag.”

His smile flips into a frown, but his eyes are curious. Setting down the starfish, he walks over to the bag and pushes it down, exposing a beige comforter. I say, “I thought you might need one. I wasn’t sure what you have already or what size your bed is. I decided on a neutral color in a king-size, so it’ll still work if it’s too big.”

Picking up the bundled package, he says, “Thank you.”

“I guess you can also use that and remember me.”

Looking at me, his smile is faint. “You’ve never left my mind for me to ever forget.” Damn.

I smile in return just as his phone rings. Stepping over to the coffee table, he looks at it with a frown. “It’s Duquesne. He usually texts.”

Remembering how Rio said Jared is a good listener, I encouragingly nod. “Talk to him.” I just hope Jared keeps an open mind about Liberty if it’s about her.

Jared answers the phone and takes the comforter into his room. Hearing him laugh, I figure his conversation will be a while, so I go out on the balcony. The view is even more stunning at dusk. With the skyscrapers lit up, casting a glow on each other, it creates a halo above them. I suppose it is the City of Brotherly Love, so it’s very fitting.

Leaning on the railing, I’m entranced with the city view for who knows how long. I can’t be dragged into a never-ending vortex with Jared. He wants nothing with me, other than to be his dedicated, hometown fuck.

“Hey.”

I inhale as I feel him coming closer. “Hey. Just looking at the view.”

He puts his arms around me, resting his cheek against the side of my head. “It’s incredible, huh?” Turning around, I notice his hair is damp. Running my fingers through it, he says, “I took a quick shower.”

Watching his wet hair heftily bounce beneath my fingers, I say, “You’ll get to see this view every day.” His eyes drift over my face like he wants to say something. Instead, I sigh with an apologetic frown. “I’m sorry about earlier. I shouldn’t have said those things.”

“You wanted to, though. I know you did, Kat.”

“Things do happen, and it scares me.”

His forehead wrinkles. “Why should it?”

My hand drops from his hair to feel his light beard along his jaw. “I don’t want to be a single parent.”

“You wouldn’t be. You’d have me.”

“We won’t even be living in the same city. We’re not together as a couple. I’d essentially be a single parent.”

He licks his bottom lip and darts his gaze to the side. “You could come live here. In Philadelphia.” What?

I peer over my shoulder to the city landscape. “I can’t live here. It’s not for me. It’s too much. You’re teaching me how to drive, and I’d want to drive. I can’t be thrown into the traffic here like that.”

“You’ll eventually learn how to deal with it. I’d help you.”

I swiftly turn away from the city to look at him. “How? You’ll be working, and so would I. I like the small-town feel of Annapolis. The schools are so different here.” I laugh and shake my head as he studiously watches me. “You don’t have to worry, though. I’m not pregnant. I’m just saying that it could happen.”

He sighs. “Kat, I would never bail on you if it did.”

Putting my arms around him, I smile. “You promise?”

Jared takes my face into his hands, lightly stroking my cheeks. “I swear to God, baby. I know what it’s like to be abandoned.”

His eyes travel over my face like he still wants to say so much more. Instead, he sweeps in to kiss me, and I hold onto him tighter. However, he steps back and says, “I have something to show you.”

Jared promptly leads me to his bedroom, and I smile. “It fits your bed.”

He pulls on my hand as he walks backward to it. “Yep. Come try it out with me.”

I laugh. “It’s my turn for a shower.”

He tilts his head and nods to the bed. “I’ll be here. Don’t be too long.”

“I’ll hurry.” I stuff the things I need under my arm and make a fast exit, finishing my shower in record time, eager to get dressed.

Drying my hair, so it’s not sopping wet, I unfold the lacy, black nightie I picked up when Pete wasn’t looking during our trip to get Jared’s comforter. Since this is the only night I’ll be with him here, I wanted it to be memorable for both of us, even if it’ll be painful to remember.

Looking in the mirror, I’m somewhat satisfied with my see-through appearance. I wish I could nip and tuck some areas, but it’ll have to do. I smooth out the material, down to the flared flounce of lace over my thighs.

When I show up at his bedroom door, his room is dark, except for the glow from the living room and the cityscape, both casting a muted spotlight on the bed. Jared is lying in the middle with his hands behind his head, gazing out the window. My eyes slide down his body, seeing him stripped down to only his underwear, and I grin.

Clasping my hands together behind my back, I clear my throat, and he whisks his head to me. I’ve never seen Jared’s eyes widen so fast, or his underwear stirring to life at the same rate.

After nearly a minute of him staring, I anxiously ask, “Do I look okay?”

Snapping out of his reverie, he moves his arms and sits up some. “Wow, Kat.”

I walk over to the bed and climb onto it. “Is that a good wow?”

His hands go to my hips, and he hauls me closer. Taking my hand, he puts it between his legs. “What do you think? You get me so goddamn hard, it hurts.”

As my fingers move over him, I smile but then wince. “You probably have said that a lot to women.”

Jared frowns as his hand goes to the nape of my neck, and he draws me to him, whispering against my throat, “Fucking never. Just you.” I stroke him through his underwear, and he groans as he kisses my neck. I love hearing how much he’s turned on, which only turns me on more. Sliding my hand up, I pull down his waistband, exposing his fervent erection. As his hot breath quickens, I dip my head, taking him into my mouth.

“Fuck.”

I grip him as I lick the tip, whispering over it, “Tastes so good.”

His hands go into my hair as I bob up and down. “Kat, stop.” Paying no attention, I keep licking. “Not like this.” I lift my head, and he rolls me onto my back. When I look up at him, he takes off his underwear as his stare wanders down my body. Jared moves, hovering above me. “You’re fucking gorgeous.”

Before I can say anything, his tongue is in my mouth. Our kissing is deep, zealous, and all over each other. I kiss his throat, and when I go across his collarbone, he takes my nipple, poking through the lace, into his mouth. “Jared, you’re so sexy.”

Instinctively, I open my legs for him, but remember that I’m wearing underwear. His fingers trail over the lace on my stomach and down to my lace underwear. “Christ. I can feel how wet you are through these.”

My left hand goes into his hair while I brush his bottom lip with my other. “That’s what you do to me.”

He kisses my fingers as he prods into the lace. As I push against him, he tears through it. “Fuck,” he whispers, ripping open the rest of the material and plunging his fingers into me.

As my hips and his fingers counter each other, I gasp, “I want you.”

He kisses me and shifts his whole body, pushing my legs open further. Trying not to lose my nerve, I whisper, “Jared, we’re lovers.” He stops to look at me, and I swear his breathing also ceases. “Just for tonight. Make love to me.”

I wait for his protest, for his argument that he doesn’t know how or that he doesn’t believe in love. Instead, he leans down to kiss me. His kiss is slow and tender, and I cling to him as his hand skims up my side to my breast. He finds my other nipple and teases it with his thumb until I’m gasping against his lips. Jared ends our kiss to take my nipple between his teeth.

I moan, “Baby.”

Letting go of my nipple, he returns to my mouth. He kisses me and whispers, “I need you.”

Show me how you feel.”

I put my arms around Jared’s neck, and he pants over my chest as he painstakingly thrusts deep. We moan collectively. “Kat, you feel unbelievable. I don’t mean just here,” he professes, looking into my eyes as he pushes his hips into me. “I mean everywhere.”

We look into each other’s eyes, surprisingly without fear. Suddenly, Jared pulls out of me, rolling me on top. “It’s your turn.” He reaches up to my head, pulling me down with both hands, and I grab onto his arms as I tip forward. When I’m above his lips, I put my hands on the mattress to steady myself. As he looks into my eyes, I see the trepidation. “Make love to me, Kat.”

Blown away but not wanting to show that I am, I inhale an unsteady breath as I circle my hips around to catch the top of his erection, slowly sinking him into me until he can’t go any further. Our responding groans as I move my hips, pulling him out and then back in, drives us again to the edge. “Feel all of me, baby,” I whisper, kissing his jaw.

“I do. You’re mine.”

I push myself up, and the only place we are touching is the connection at our hips, but it’s a profound one. I glide him in and out of me. Our heavy breathing carries us as we look at each other with so many things being said, yet not out loud.

Jared puts his hands on my hips. “You mean so much to me, Kit Kat.”

“How much?” Tell me you love me.

His eyes widen and then close as he whispers, “Holy fuck.”

“What?”

Unexpectedly, he pushes his hips up and roughly grates me onto him. “Feel how fucking much.”

“Oh, Jared!” I can’t even say more than that as he gives me the most intense orgasm yet.

We pant together, but unlike him, he says nothing when he finally comes, with only quiet grunts signifying his end, and I welcome his warmth.

With our heavy breathing, the only sound heard in his room, I lean down to kiss him before I carefully lift off him and move to his side. When I snuggle against him, he’s still quiet. Turning to me, his lips go to my forehead and his arms around me. Almost like a confession, he whispers, “Kat, don’t leave me.”

“You’re leaving me.”

“We’ll figure it out, baby. Just don’t fucking ditch me.”

“I don’t want that, but you don’t want me the way I need you to.”

“Kat…” He stops, and when he doesn’t go on, I look up at him. From the glow of the city, I see the uneasiness in his eyes.

“What?” He shakes his head but still doesn’t say anything.

Suddenly rolling away and sitting up, he grabs his underwear. “Nothing.”

Getting up from the bed, he quickly puts them on and leaves the room, shutting the door behind him.

What did I do? What didn’t I do?

I should follow him, but I don’t, feeling lonelier after we made love than I did after a quick fuck in the back seat of his car.

I awake early since the blinds were left open. The bright light pours into the room. I had fallen asleep on top of the comforter. Alone.

Going into the living room, Jared is sitting on the couch, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, looking like hot hell. I ask, “Why didn’t you come to bed?”

“I fell asleep out here.” His eyes drift over me. As I start walking, he asks, “Where’re you going?”

“Bathroom,” I say on my way there, but I look back to see him scrutinizing me.

In the bathroom, I throw away the torn underwear and brush my teeth, unsure of what to expect from him this morning. We’ll be leaving this afternoon, so there’s time to kill.

When I’m finished, I walk past him, not meaning to flash my ass, but it can’t be helped. Jared says, “Wait. Come here.”

Going over to him, I ask, “What?” Is he going to explain himself? Apologize for leaving me alone?

Without answering, he stands and pulls me to him. He kisses my neck and then moves down to my exposed nipple, licking, blowing hot air across it.

My panting is sudden, and raising his head, he snarls, “Tell me you fucking want me.”

“I do want you, Jared.”

“I doubt it.”

Gaping at him, I reiterate, “I do.”

His voice is hard and taunting. “Right. Show me how much. Get down on your knees or bend over.”

I look into his eyes, but I don’t see any kind of emotion within them. Only cold nothingness. As I stare at him in shock, he averts his eyes ever so slightly, giving away that he’s hurting.

Reverting to the mindset of reaching him through sex, I slowly turn around, bending over the coffee table, and my nightie slides up to my hips. As much as I try, I can’t hold back the tears that drip down my face and to the table. I’m losing him more than just physically. Now, he’s just using me to get off. I thought we had developed a connection with our time together, even a breakthrough last night, but we lost it in the same breath.

His fingers slide against my pussy, inside, and then back out to wet the lips. With his other hand, I hear him shoving down his shorts. I grip the edges of the table and wait, but I unwillingly catch a sob.

Moving closer, his dick pokes at me, but he doesn’t go further.

“What’s wrong?” I ask toward the table.

“Goddamn it.” I hear shuffling and the bathroom door slamming shut.

Straightening, I retreat to his bedroom, sitting on the edge of his bed, fucking crying again with my stomach in knots. I’m ashamed I was going to let him use me. Yet, my heart aches for him all over again for his shame.

Last night, Jared and I made love. I felt like we truly did for the first time. But today, he’s hell-bent on doing a one-eighty, leaving me in the dust.

When it’s clear that Jared is staying in the bathroom to avoid me, I get dressed. Hearing the doorbell, I go out to the living room, but Jared comes out of the bathroom to answer it. Staying behind, I hear him talking to a man about his lease. The gray-haired man sees me over Jared’s shoulder and smiles. I smile back and go into the kitchen, where I hear, “Is that your wife or girlfriend?”

“Neither.”

Since the kitchen is open at both ends, I go the other way, grabbing my phone from the table, taking it into the bathroom for my turn in there.

Sinking to the floor and making a decision, I call the last person who left me a text message.

Sniffing as they answer, I say, “Hey. It’s time for a change. I need to move on. Count me in.”

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