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“I could come over for a little while,” he offered.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I thought this was what you wanted?” Confusion etched into his brow.

I shook my head. Going out was just half of the equation. I wouldn’t give in this easily. “No apartment, no sex.”

“Why is that so important to you?”

“It just is. I don’t want to fall into the same pattern with you. Where you live is a huge f**king deal. Someone’s place says a lot about them. I don’t want to take the next step if you’re going to keep holding back.”

“Can’t I have just one secret?”

“Yes. Harmless secrets, like whether or not you pee in the shower—or if you’ve ever farted on the subway and blamed it on someone else.”

He broke out in laughter, despite the heavy moment. “You’re too much. You know that?”

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“And for the record, I don’t pee in the shower.”

“Yeah right,” I scoffed. “I thought all guys did that. It’s like a locker room thing—crossing streams and playing swords . . .”

He shook his head. “Nope. Not this guy. I use the toilet. While the shower water heats up.”

I chuckled. “Me too.” My foolish brain cataloged that it was just another of the many things we had in common. “Still, this is a big deal to me, Braydon. Huge, in fact. I want us to trust each other. If you can’t even give me your address, then maybe we need more time.”

He nodded. “You’re right. Goodnight then.”

“Night,” I said a bit more harshly than I meant to. I turned from him and slipped into the cab that had stopped at the curb, feeling mixed emotions about the way our first date had ended.

17

Braydon and I continued seeing each other casually—just as friends. Yay, me. We’d met up for coffee, drinks with Ben and Emmy, a couple of movies, and lunch on our own. It was unclear if our outings were just as friends or something more. We hadn’t been to my apartment again¸ and we hadn’t so much as kissed. It appeared we were at a standstill. I needed something beyond the physical, and he’d said he’d missed our friendship, so this seemed to be our new arrangement for now.

Emmy was more confused than ever about things. For all intents and purposes we appeared to be dating, yet we both insisted to Ben and Emmy, separately, that things were platonic.

“Let me get this straight,” she said, setting down her empty champagne glass on the tray of a passing waiter. “First, you weren’t dating but you were sleeping together . . . and now you’re dating but nothing’s happening between you two?”

“Exactly.” I grabbed a cheese puff from the tray of a cute waiter as he whizzed past.

“I don’t get you guys.”

“Welcome to the club,” I muttered, popping the morsel into my mouth. I hadn’t mentioned to Emmy the things I’d learned about Braydon—about his past relationship or his mother’s passing. They felt too private, and I wanted to protect him.

We were in Los Angeles for a fashion event, and Emmy and I were currently mingling at an afterparty, waiting for the guys to arrive. So far, I hadn’t seen much of Braydon—we were staying in separate hotel rooms, and he’d been busy with the fashion show, photo shoots, and appearances. It was all for the launch of a new California lifestyle and surf brand. Braydon, with his messy hair and piercing blue eyes, was the perfect spokesmodel, and he was garnering a lot of positive buzz. For the past two days, Emmy and I had spent our time at the Santa Monica pier, lying on the beach during the days when the guys were working, then joining them in the evenings for dinner. Tonight was our last night there, and I hoped to sneak in at least a little private time with the man of the hour.

“Let’s go see what hors d’oeuvres they have over there.” I pointed to the far end of the room where another banquet table was set with goodies. Emmy chuckled and nodded, following me across the room.

Just as I was biting into the biggest chocolate-covered strawberry I’d ever seen, Ben and Braydon appeared. His eyes zeroed in on my mouth as the berry was suspended precariously between my teeth. A little chill zipped up my spine. He was still watching me, or more specifically, my mouth. His eyes were trained on what I was doing to the strawberry. I felt the chocolate begin to melt at the contact of my tongue. I licked the melted droplet of warm chocolate from my bottom lip, toying with Braydon. I saw him wince. My teeth lightly grazed the flesh of the berry, just like Braydon used to do to me. He’d lightly bite my neck, my collarbone, my ni**les. I shivered at the memory. Sinking my teeth fully into the berry, bursts of sweet juice combined with the flavor of the bitter dark chocolate and caused a low moan to emanate in the back of my throat.

Braydon stalked over in two long strides, completely closing the distance between us, his pulse jumping at the base of his neck. I’d never seen him look so serious, but his gaze was locked on mine as if I’d done something terribly wrong. One hand curled around my hip and the other removed the stem of the berry from my fingers. “Careful there, kitten, or that dessert isn’t the only thing that’ll be in your mouth.”

My breathing faltered. I worried my damn heart was going to give out. The way he was looking at me was pure sex. Like he owned me. My brain screamed for air, yet I remained rooted there, breathless and completely at his mercy.

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