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God. Just the sound of his voice. “Besides, you’d be breaking your own . . . code. Just . . . go to bed.”

He was silent for so long I wasn’t sure if he hadn’t drifted off to sleep. Finally, he sighed and said, “Good night.” He reached down and placed a hot kiss in the crook of my neck. My shoulders stiffened and I tried unsuccessfully to hold in a moan.

“Damn it, Avery.” Then his tongue was stroking my ear and I almost came unglued. I curved my head toward him, my breaths shooting out in hard gasps. I heard a groan in the back of his throat right before he sealed his mouth over mine.

His tongue performed a slow dance inside my mouth—relaxed, lazy, and all kinds of sexy. The exact opposite of my pulse, which was steadily climbing to the stars.

His hand edged under the hem of my shirt to my stomach and I flinched. His fingers slid to my bra, pushing it up to let my br**sts loose. He nudged me flat on my back and lifted up my shirt, exposing me.

His eyes raked up and down my body before he swung his knee over my stomach to straddle me. Lifting my arms above my head, he held them captive while he kissed me, soft and gentle, trailing his tongue along my lips.

I squirmed beneath him, feeling his hard-on grow against my belly. He tugged off my shirt and unhooked my bra, pulling the lacy material from my arms and then dropping it on the bed. He caressed the length of me with his eyes while my chest heaved.

“Perfection,” he whispered against my lips.

He lay down on his side while his fingers stroked my br**sts and stomach, trailing his nails up and down the center of my chest, driving me insane. My br**sts felt swollen and my need turned to desperation. When he traced his thumb around my ni**les, my fingers fisted the blankets so tight I thought they might gouge holes.

As his hand fingered the edge of my pajama pants I nearly jumped out of my skin. He rose to his knees and gently pulled the pants down my legs and tossed them aside. I had on a pair of pink cotton underwear, and when his gaze moved up my legs and landed on my crotch I was nearly finished right then and there. I knew I was almost a goner. I wanted him so damn much and had for so damn long, all he had to do was keep looking at me like that to make me come.

“You are stunning,” he murmured. I squeezed my eyes closed and fisted the covers again. As his hand moved up my thighs, my legs began to tremble.

“I want to touch you,” he said as his fingers reached the lacy edge of my bikini bottoms.

I sucked in a breath as he shifted my underwear to one side. “Damn, you’re so wet,” he groaned.

He trailed hot and wet kisses up my neck to my mouth. He nibbled on my bottom lip as his finger slid through my wet folds. I gasped loudly and he pulled my tongue into his mouth, sucking it until I reared against him. When he slipped one finger and then two inside me, I whimpered. I knew I wouldn’t last much longer.

My hands reached for his hair, and I yanked him toward me. My tongue darted inside his mouth, lapping greedily against his while his fingers explored me. When his thumb inched up and found my sweet spot, I moaned into his mouth. His thumb pressed and circled and rubbed.

Then his thumb stilled, applying constant delirious pressure—until my entire world came undone.

Bennett held me while I trembled and pulsed and finally came floating back down to earth. He nudged me on my side and pulled my back against his chest, until I fell into a deep and delicious sleep.

Chapter Eleven

When I woke to the sound of Bennett’s phone alarm, I was alone in my bed. Bennett was already dressed and had apparently left the room to get two coffees, one of which he now handed me.

“You’re a lifesaver.” I sat up, keeping the sheet in place against my nakedness.

Bennett glanced at the top of my covered br**sts and then away. “Figured you’d need your caffeine.”

“You figured right.” I smiled and then took a long sip.

He grinned back, and it didn’t feel forced. This wasn’t as awkward as I thought it might be, after last night.

“So we just have until noon today, then we pack up what’s left and hit the road.”

“Sounds good. Maybe I’ll even get more studying in today.”

Bennett was acting a little too calm and collected. Like either he was cool with what had happened between us or he wasn’t planning on bringing it up.

Fine with me. I didn’t want to bring it up either.

I guess part of me figured he’d want to discuss the whole relationship-status thing again, but maybe he knew it wouldn’t get us anywhere. Or maybe he realized I wasn’t going to be that girl. Even if he’d entertained that idea at some point.

So why did I feel so unsettled, so unfinished? My stomach was in knots, and every time he looked at me with those beautiful and soulful eyes, those knots changed to flutters.

Flutters so fierce I felt them down to my toes.

I was afraid to admit that maybe he didn’t think I was good enough for him. That I wasn’t girlfriend material, after all. And I guess, really, I wasn’t.

So get over yourself, Avery.

I raised my coffee cup to him. “Here’s to not having anything to pack up after the exhibit today.”

Bennett had done well yesterday, selling half a dozen of his drawings. He clinked his cup against mine, grinned, and started packing up the things around his bed.

I stood up and adjusted the sheet to fit around me. “I’m going to shower. I can be ready in twenty.”

I felt his eyes on my body, and I pushed back that flicker of desire I felt low in my belly.

Last night was all kinds of earth-shattering goodness. I mean, he got me off with just his fingers.

That’s how worked up he made me. And watching him come—the way his eyes became unfocused, his brow furrowed, his jaw clenched. Hot damn. That image alone would be enough to last me—and my vibrator—a long while.

*** The crowd was thinner at the exhibit that day, and Bennett and I fell into a comfortable silence. I pulled out my nursing textbook and began reading chapter twenty-two sitting in the chair beside him. We still had redhead staring at us across the way, but since Bennett didn’t seem to notice or even care, neither did I.

Something had shifted in the air between us, despite never discussing the previous night. We had shared something so intimate it gave me chill bumps just thinking about it. I was able to make him feel things—really powerful things—and somehow that changed everything.

Even though I wasn’t trying to be closer to him, not in that way. Just in a friend kind of way. And I’d keep telling myself that lie until I believed it. Because I was so not ready for someone as amazing as Bennett Reynolds. And I never would be. I was f**ked up, and it wouldn’t take him long to figure that out and hit the road running.

It didn’t matter, though; there was no chance of last night occurring ever again. We’d had the perfect kind of storm brewing. The hotel room, the passionate couple in the hall, the intense talk on the ride up. It was something that had just happened given our circumstances, and I’d be on high alert to avoid a repeat occurrence.

Except, the truth of the matter was, I felt closer to Bennett as a result. Because I came on this trip and learned new and incredible things about him, and was grateful for that. He’d be an amazing friend for me to have. For anyone to have, really.

Bennett’s phone buzzed, and he fished it out of his pocket. “Hi, Mom.”

I heard her tinny voice and some of what she said, even though I tried not to listen. She was asking if he was coming for Sunday dinner.

“I told you I had an art exhibit this weekend. So I need to skip it this time.”

He listened as his mom’s voice changed to a frustrated tone.

“No, Mom, I—” He huffed and listened some more. “My friend Avery is with me, and I need to get her home.”

He turned his back to me, intent on more privacy, and I pretended to be immersed in my book.

“The girls will see me next week. No . . . Okay, maybe. I’ll ask her.”

He gritted his teeth. “I’ll let you know in a couple of hours. Good-bye, Mom.”

I closed my book. “You look as exasperated as I feel when I talk to my mom.”

“Yeah well, she knows how to push all the right buttons.” He sighed. “Guilt trips have always worked in her favor.”

“Tell me about it,” I mumbled. “You were supposed to do something with them today? Sorry, wasn’t trying to listen.”

“Our weekly dinner. You wouldn’t by chance . . .” He rushed his fingers through hair. “Never mind.”

“Ask me,” I said, my pulse picking up speed.

He took a deep breath. “Would you mind stopping at my mom’s house with me on our drive back? I won’t torture you with a family dinner, but if I stop in I can at least see my sisters and . . . check on things.”

I could tell he was struggling with that last part—maybe how I did with my own brother. Making sure he was okay. He was surviving. He still felt loved.

“Of course I’ll go, Bennett. No problem.”

The surprise in his eyes was evident. “Cool, thank you.”

We were packed up and on the road by twelve thirty. Bennett had sold one of his smaller drawings and he seemed satisfied. I helped him wrap the rest of his artwork in butcher paper and bubble wrap and store the pieces in the back of his jeep.

“Mind if we go to a drive-through? I’m starving.”

“Me, too,” I said, and got comfy in my seat by removing my shoes and propping my feet up on the dash.

He pulled into a McDonald’s and we got two burgers, sodas, and fries to share.

“After that greasy food last night and now this, I’m going to have to eat salads for the rest of the week,” I said.

“See, that’s the beauty of working out,” he said, biting into his burger. “I can eat what I want as long as I work it off at the gym.”

“Yeah, and I’m pretty sure your genes have nothing at all to do with it,” I said, rolling my eyes. I kept my gaze away from his muscular biceps in that blue T-shirt.

We got back on the road and downed the rest of our burgers. I ended up feeding Bennett my fries, only because he grabbed my hand after it came out of the bottom of the bag. When his tongue touched my fingertips I held my breath.

“More, please,” he said, gobbling up the fries.

“What am I, your servant today?” Heat was pulsing low in my belly. “Grab your own damn fries.”

“Hey, I’m the chauffeur, so it’s only fair,” he said yanking the fast-food bag onto his lap and digging in.

Around a mouthful of fries, he said, “Want to play Five Fingers again to pass the time?”

I wasn’t sure if that was such a good idea, but he seemed like he was in a good mood, so I went with it. “Sure.”

“Okay,” he said, wiping his fingers on the napkin I handed him. I resisted the urge to pull them in my mouth one by one and suck the salt off. “Me first.”

I nodded and then braced my hands on my knees.

“Tell me about that tattoo behind your ear.”

My back went rigid. I got the tattoo in that location so that few people would ever notice it. It meant something to me. It represented a time in my life that I’d needed to be strong. The time I made a conscious decision to never be fragile again.

But somehow, around Bennett, I felt all kinds of weak. And that scared me.

Here goes nothing. “Eighteen . . . Gaelic symbol . . . means survive.”

Bennett’s eyebrows rose to his hairline as he considered my answer. I held my breath as he thought about it for long moments. Then his fingers reached for my hair. I felt my skin pebble beneath his touch.

Keeping one hand on the wheel, he brushed the strands over my shoulder, exposing my ear, so he could get a glimpse of the tattoo again. I was waiting for him to say something—anything—like that it sucked, it was ugly, or it was poorly designed.

But he didn’t breathe one word.

“You probably could have done a better job,” I mumbled.

“Nah,” he said. “Would be cool to ink something else on you, though.”

Sparks flickered inside me as I imagined how sexy that would be. Lying on his table, letting his fingers work their magic.

“That reminds me,” I said, glad for the distraction. “My friend Ella needs an appointment with you.

She’s wanted a tattoo forever, but always chickens out.” “Happens to a lot of people,” he said. “Cool, guess I’ll be seeing her soon.”

“Okay, back to our game,” I said, and he glanced over at me. “Turnabout is fair play. Your tattoos?”

His cheeks turned up into this ridiculously sexy smile, as if he was recounting our night together.

Seeing his tattoos on his stark naked body. Damn. I crossed my legs and squeezed my thighs together.

He cleared his throat two times. “An hourglass and a poem.”

Drat, he got out of that too easily. I knew the hourglass was on his lower back, and it seemed to resemble the one in the drawing I liked so much. And the scripted letters—the poem—was on his rib cage. But I needed more information.

“Can I see the poem?”

His eyes expanded. “What—now?”

I shrugged. “We’ve got the time.”

He swallowed thickly and his eyes became hooded. Shit, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But I’d been curious about the tattoo on his rib cage for weeks.

Bennett’s eyes met mine, and he nodded. I unbuckled my seat belt and slid closer to him. He white knuckled the steering wheel like he’d crash if he didn’t pay more attention to the road.

Thankfully, the tattoo was on the side closest to me. With shaky fingers, I lifted his T-shirt, and he sucked in a breath. The poem was written in a heavy black script and it curved inward, in the shape of a mini tornado. It reminded me of his drawing from the exhibit.

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