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The panther tattoo on his back moved with him, an absolutely stunning piece of artwork somehow highlighted by the glistening water. Lean muscles along his back flexed as he broke the surface in the deep end. He didn’t see me at first, which was great because it gave me more time to creep on him as he lifted his powerful arms, pushing the water and hair from his face.

My mouth dried as a zing shot from my chest to my core. He was. . . .

Ren’s head swung sharply in my direction. Those eyes were like polished emerald jewels, placed perfectly behind thick, wet lashes.

Tense silence filled the room as we stared at one another. He was the one to break it.

“Hey,” he said, wading away from the middle of the pool, toward the edge where I stood.

I blinked slowly and then got my hormones in check. Okay. Ren was hot and he looked like some kind of God. Whatever. I was not that easily distracted.

“I am so pissed at you right now,” I told him.

“Really,” he replied dryly, dropping a heavy arm on the cement. One side of his lips kicked up. “Is that any different from this morning when you were pissed at me?”

“Oh.” I laughed harshly. “You think this is funny?”

The smirk didn’t fade. “I always think you’re funny, Sweetness.”

Did he now? “Okay. I’ll show you something that’s really funny.”

His other arm came up and landed on the cement. “You have a riveted audience for it.”

Spinning around, I stalked toward the bench and picked up his clothing.


I whirled and engaged full-bitch mode, darting to the end of the pool.

“Don’t you dare. I swear to God, Ivy!” Muscles in his arms pumped as he lifted himself straight out the pool. He was on his feet within seconds. “Ivy—”

“Too late.” I threw his clothing into the pool.

Ren spun, but there was no saving his stuff. His shirt and tactical pants landed with a satisfying splash. He stared at them for a moment.

“Fuck,” he spat.

I faced him, grinning like the Mad Hatter. “That was real funny, wasn’t it?”

His narrowed gaze landed on me. “Are you out of your mind?”

“Nah, but I’m thinking you are.”

“I’m the crazy one? You just threw my clothes into the pool!”

“And I wish I could do it again!” I stalked up to him. Since he was a good foot taller than me, I had to lean my head back to glare at him. “You ratted me out to Tanner!”

Understanding flared in his face and then he rolled his eyes. “That’s why you threw my stuff in the pool? Jesus, Ivy.” He coughed out a short laugh. “I told Tanner this morning before that Summer Prince showed up.”

“Oh, so because you ratted me out before it became irrelevant makes it okay?”

His brows furrowed. “He needed to know in case you didn’t hold to your promise and made a run for it.”

I gaped at him. “Are you serious?”

Shoving his wet hair off his face, he stepped back. “As serious as you throwing my shit into the pool.”

“I’m about to throw you into the pool,” I snapped, struggling to not let my gaze wander from his face, because he was wet and had a lot of hard skin on display. “You didn’t have to tell him.”

A muscle ticked in his jaw as he looked away, and dammit, my gaze dropped. His chest was all wet and hard, and water still coursed down those taut abs. The band on his briefs hung indecently low and they left little to the imagination. Soaking wet, they clung to every long, hard inch. . . .

Wait. Was he hard?

My eyes widened.

Yes. Yes, he was.

“My face is up here,” Ren mocked.

I flushed as my gaze jerked to his. “Asshole.”

“Not that I mind you staring at me like you want to take a bite out of me, but right now, I’m kind of worried you might actually bite.”

I folded my arms over my chest. “I promised you that I’d stay until we learned about the Crystal, and I would have.” My hands curled into fists. “You could’ve trusted me.”

Shaking his head, he looked up at the ceiling. “I trust you, Ivy. I trust you to always do what I least expect.”

My head tilted to the side. “Do you have a death wish right now?”

Ren looked away again, frowning as his pants floated past us. “I’m sorry that you didn’t like that I told Tanner, but I felt he needed to know since he’d given us shelter—not the greatest shelter, but a place nonetheless. Who knows what would’ve happened if you’d left, what effect could’ve rippled back on this place? But no, that’s not something you thought about.” His hard gaze found mine. “You know, with your great escape plan and all.”

Dammit, he had a bit of a point there, but I sure as hell wasn’t telling him that. “Do you know what Merle did?”

“I didn’t tell Merle shit.”

“But Tanner did,” I said. “She showed up just a few minutes ago with a pair of handcuffs. Yes. Handcuffs.”

“What?” He laughed, this time the sound lighter, more genuine. “I would’ve paid money to see that.”

“Are you for real?”

He said something and laughed again, and I swear my vision went white with rage. Storming forward, I slammed my hands into his chest.

His laugh was cut off as he lost his balance, falling backward.

I don’t even know how what happened next went down. Ren’s arms flailed out and he must’ve grabbed my arm, because the next thing I knew I was falling sideways into the pool.

My shriek was silenced by the rush of water swallowing me whole. I sank nearly to the bottom, eyes squeezed tight, mouth full of air.

Holy shit, the water was cooold.

Using my feet against the bottom, I pushed my way to the top, breaking the surface and gasping for air. I could hear splashing next to me, alerting me to Ren doing the same thing. The impact had knocked my hair down, and it covered my face like a red, tangled veil. Using one arm to swim to the side, I used the other hand to push it out of my face.

Ren turned in the water toward me, his eyes wide with surprise. “You pushed me into the pool.”

“You pulled me into the pool!” My feet reached the stairs.

He stared at me for a moment and then did the craziest thing. Ren started laughing—laughing deep, belly laughs as he held on to the other side of the pool.

Something about his laugh was . . . infectious.

My lips twitched and then a giggle escaped. It was like a levee breaking. One soft laugh and I lost it. Our laughter reached the high ceiling, and my stomach cramped from the force of it, because this—us—was ridiculous.

I was gasping for air by the time I made it to the shallow end where I could stand with the water reaching my chest. “We are so stupid . . .” I trailed off because I’d looked over at Ren. He was just staring at me, mouth slightly open like he’d just witnessed a total solar eclipse. “What?”

“I . . .” He shook his head, his cheeks flushing pink. “I just haven’t heard you laugh like that in a long, long time.”

I frowned, my arms floating at my sides. Our gazes connected over the distance. “It . . . feels like it’s been a long time. It’s nice to laugh like that.” I felt like a fool for admitting that, so my cheeks flamed to life.

Ren pushed away from the wall, wading out into the center of the pool. “It was beautiful.”

I bit down on my lip as I watched him come closer. “Really?”

“Yeah.” He reached the end where his feet could hit the bottom. A moment passed as his chest rose and fell sharply. “I just wish I heard it more often.”

My breath caught as a bubble of emotion swelled inside me.

Ren stopped moving. “And all I want is for you to feel it more often. At the end of the day . . . that’s what I wish.”

I opened my mouth to tell him there were so many more important things to wish for, but the words got stuck in my throat because I wanted that too. I wished for that, too.

I could feel my face start to crumple.

“Talk to me,” Ren pleaded quietly, like he always did. “Talk to me, Ivy.”