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“Ellie?” he asked, his tone unsure and worried. He crossed the room and turned on a lamp. Good. He knew something was wrong. Maybe he even regretted his actions. Yeah right, but a girl could hope.

“Is everything okay?” He sat down beside me.

No. In fact nothing was okay. I was good enough to f**k, but not good enough to even take outside. “Did you have a nice dinner?”

His blue eyes squinted at mine. “Yeah. It was fine. Is that what this is about? Me going to dinner?”

He made it sound so trivial, but it was so much more than that to me. I wouldn’t deny how I felt. “I feel hidden away in this room—stashed and out of sight like your luggage or dirty laundry. I just expected we’d spend more time together—on the beach, going out . . . I don’t, doing couple stuff. Stupid of me, huh?” This was it. The final straw. It was one thing to have a mutually beneficial sexual relationship, but it was quite another to feel used and cast aside by a man I was giving myself to completely. I didn’t care what he’d said—it was more than just physical between us, and if he couldn’t see that, he wasn’t worth his weight in salt.

With my heart sinking lower in my chest, I released a heavy sigh. How did I let this happen? How could I have been so foolish? I wanted to be the one who cooked for him, who rubbed his back, played with his hair, and listened to all the nonsense about his day. I wanted to be his somebody, his plus one. But he was keeping me at a distance.

His inability to commit, his indecisive nature, the fact that he wouldn’t even take me for a simple dinner, all meant I shouldn’t be falling for him. He was all wrong for me. I hated how broken he was. I couldn’t take any more of this. I was left to feel lonely and exhausted. Each time we’d shared a playful laugh, each time his mouth quirked up when I put him in his place, I’d fallen for him a little harder. And let’s not even get started on the responses he evoked from my body. Things in that category were downright explosive.

He pressed his fingertips against his temples and let out a heavy sigh. “You know I don’t mean to make you feel like that. It’s just . . .” he hesitated.

“Yeah, I know. You won’t go out in public with me—in New York and here—and you won’t date me or commit to a relationship. Yet you expect me to be faithful and monogamous, right?”

He looked down at the floor, unable to argue.

A hollow feeling filled my chest. I hated how much faith I’d put in him. I’d constantly believed he was on the verge of doing the right thing . . . but I’d given him way too much credit. I’d swallowed every reservation I’d had about entering into this arrangement with him, but I couldn’t do that anymore. I couldn’t put my faith in something so shallow. And that’s what this was. A hollow, meaningless affair.

I rose to my feet and stood before him. “I deserve to be more than just a wet hole to stick your . . .” I paused, fighting to compose myself. “I’m more than just BFFs with your penis,” I blurted, unable to keep the raw emotion from my voice.

“Of course you are.” He stood and smoothed his hands up and down my upper arms. “What are you talking about?”

I shrugged away from his touch. His hands on my skin wouldn’t help me right now. I needed to be thinking clearly. I needed to get some answers from him about where we stood. I thought we’d been building to something more—starting with him asking me to come on this trip with him—but clearly we were no longer on the same page.

He crossed his arms over his chest and studied me objectively, sizing me up. “Despite this arrangement, we’re friends, right?”

“Friends who f**k . . .” I clarified, my tone bitter and harsh.

His jaw tightened. I sensed that he understood he was digging himself into a deeper hole with every word. “What do you want, kitten?”

“I’ve never been to your apartment. We’ve never been out together on a date . . .” And now you’re hiding me in your hotel room like you’re afraid of being seen with me, even though we’re thousands of miles from home.

He scrubbed his hands across his face. “I’m sorry. I should have known this would lead to real feelings. Fuck.” He squeezed his eyes closed and pressed his fingers to his temples.

“I’m sorry this is so f**king hard for you to figure out, Braydon. Let me spell it out for you. I like you and I want more.” I swallowed heavily, having laid myself bare. Adrenaline shot through my veins, warming me and making my hands shake. The ball was in his court. And that terrified me.

He looked down at the floor and licked his lips. “Nothing’s changed for me. I told you from the beginning I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend. I made that very clear. I thought I was honest with you . . .”

“You own me,” I whispered, my voice broken and raspy.

“You think I don’t know that? You think I don’t see the way you look at me? I never meant for this to happen.”

“For what?”

“Real feelings. You getting hurt. I feel like an ass**le, Ellie.”

“I’m sorry me falling for you is such a hardship for you.” I wanted to say loving you, but I held my tongue. I couldn’t say it. Couldn’t put that out there when I knew I’d get so little in return.

“You don’t understand my past.” Angry hands tore through his hair. “Fuck, this is complicated. I just never wanted you to get hurt. I hope you believe that.”

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