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Butterflies erupted in my stomach. A chill ran down my spine.

“Then why don’t you?” I whispered, barely breathing.

He bit his lower lip, staring at me with hunger. “I might drain your warmth and leave you cold.”

I stared at him. “Just because things went bad with Annora doesn’t mean it will happen again. Remember, part of what happened was her own doing. You said so yourself. Even if you dug your fangs into my throat and turned me into a vampire now—which, by the way, wouldn’t be the end of the world since I’m planning to turn once I’m eighteen anyway—it doesn’t mean that you would ruin me. It would be my choice whether or not to go down her path. Remember, there are lots of vampires in The Shade who aren’t nutcases like her.”

I hoped that calling his fiancée a nutcase wouldn’t offend him, but that was certainly one of the kinder words I could find for her in my vocabulary. She didn’t deserve Caleb, the way she’d shunned him and used his love for her to torture him all these years. In my view, she deserved the fate that befell her.

A small smile curled his lips. I hoped that my words had given him the assurance he needed to let go of the doubts that were binding him and just kiss me. My eyes fell to his firm lips, my whole body trembling with anticipation.

“I suppose you’re right,” he whispered.

He reached out a hand and stroked my face, caressing my forehead and brushing my cheek with his thumb.

“Close your eyes.”

I smiled and obeyed. My breath hitched as he crawled over me, his legs either side of my hips. I felt his cold, uneven breathing inches above my face. My closed eyelids fluttered as his lips pressed gently against them, one after the other.

“Keep them closed.”

His kisses trailed down the arch of my nose, then across my cheeks. They grazed the sides of my mouth, teasing me. I moaned as his lips finally closed against mine. His tongue parted my lips, tasting me. Devouring me. My blood pounding, I reached up and draped my arms over his neck. He pulled me closer.

I shivered.

In his hurry to draw me in, his hand had parted my bath robe and slipped beneath it, resting on my lower back. As the evening breeze touched my skin, I realized that half of my body was bare to him. It was clear that it had been unintentional because he froze, staring at me, gauging my reaction.

I pushed against him and he rolled onto his back, allowing me to sit up. I brushed aside the rest of the robe, revealing the other half of me. My cheeks grew hot as his eyes roamed me. I averted my eyes to my lap, feeling shy and self-conscious. But after five seconds of silence, I could no longer ignore the fire his touch had ignited. I leaned over him, my palms flat against his chest, the tips of my hair brushing against his skin as I dipped down to taste his lips again.

I was like a moth to a flame.

“Rose,” he gasped, as I raised my head for a breath, “I thought we said a kiss.”

“So did I,” I said.

I didn’t know what I was doing. My brain had shut down long ago.

His eyes lit up, as though there was nothing he wanted more in that moment than to accept my surrender. I thought he was about to draw me closer again, but then he sat up, sliding his legs out from beneath me, and looked away.

“I’m sorry—” His voice broke.

“It-it’s okay,” I said, trying to conceal my disappointment. “We don’t have to.”

“You don’t know how much I…”

“I know. I…I can see.” I gulped. “But we don’t have to do this now. We can wait.” I hurriedly pulled the robe back over me. I guessed it didn’t help that I even looked similar to Annora, both of us sharing the same long dark hair. “It’s my fault,” I said. “It’s too soon.” I motioned to stand up.

“Wait.” Caleb slid one arm beneath my knees and the other around my back as he lifted me up and walked back inside. He stopped outside the door to the master bedroom and pushed it open. He laid me down on the king-sized bed, situated directly beneath the center of the glass ceiling. Tugging on my robe, he unwrapped me, baring me to him again.

“Just… lie with me here.” His eyes were hooded as he looked down on me, his voice husky.

I slipped my legs beneath the silk sheets and held them against my chest while he removed his clothes. My heart raced as he walked around the bed toward me. When I saw him fully for the first time, it was all I could do to keep my mouth from hanging open. He climbed onto the mattress and slid beneath the sheets next to me.

He reached for my waist and flipped me beneath him on the mattress. He lowered his mouth to the base of my throat, his kisses soft and lingering. His breathing became more uneven as he reached the most sensitive part of my neck, just beneath my ear. Drawing away, he rested his head on the pillow next to me. I brushed my hands through his hair and down his back, feeling the bumps of his bullet wounds beneath my fingers. He dipped down to kiss my lips again, while his hand found my hip and ran along it.

We kissed and caressed throughout the night. Sometimes he woke me, showering my face with kisses or exploring the curves of my body with his rough palms. Other times I’d wake him, burying my head closer against his chest so I could better hear his heartbeat.

As the early-morning hours approached, I got out of bed and drew the blinds so the sun wouldn’t come beating down on us once day broke. He smiled as I climbed into bed and nestled back against him. His body spooned around mine and kept me cool like he had done back in the truck. We decided to finally sleep through the next few hours until dawn.

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