Nope, the only person in a hurry was her as she shoved up his shirt, struggling to get him as naked as she. He came up on his knees to help, shrugging out of his shirt. Her hands traveled the now familiar path of muscles and smooth skin, down the length of his torso and beyond.

He was rock solid and gorgeous, and she had no idea how she was supposed to walk away.

“Colbie.”

“Off,” she said, mimicking his much lower voice. “Everything off.”

A laugh rumbled from him and he complied. Then dipping his head, he licked and sucked a trail down her body, taking his damn sweet time about it too, so that by the time he reached her thighs, every cell in her body was alive, waiting for the moment when he’d press his mouth against her.

She cried out when he finally did, fisting her fingers in his hair as his tongue worked its magic, leaving her helpless to do anything but quiver and squirm and whimper with each expert stroke as he took her to the edge and held her there for an impossibly long beat before nudging her over.

While she struggled to remember how to work her lungs, he made his way back up her body, planting a series of warm, wet kisses over her stomach and ribcage and then her breasts . . . and then at last his face was level with hers.

His eyes were penetrating, dark with desire. His breathing fragmented as he pushed inside her, hard and thick. “You’ll remember me,” he said.

Of that she was most certain. “I’ll remember you,” she promised, already halfway to another orgasm. “Always.”

With that, he finally gave her what she wanted and pounded into her, making her writhe against him as she came, crying out his name between shuddered gasps. She knew he came right along with her and reveled in the pounding of his heart against hers as they struggled to come down from the stroke-level intensity.

They fell asleep like that, limbs entwined, sharing air.

When she opened her eyes again, she had no idea how long they’d been out. All she could remember was cuddling under the covers and hearing the question she hadn’t meant to ask escape her lips anyway. “Would you really come visit me?”

“If you ask, yes.”

She thought about that long after he’d fallen asleep. Because with their lives so deeply entrenched in their respective cities, three thousand miles apart, she didn’t see how this could work. She just didn’t. Very carefully, she turned her head and looked at the clock.

Four a.m.

She had to go. Spence was on his back, face turned toward her, entire body relaxed and still, his chest slowly rising and falling.

He was deeply asleep. She could tell he was exhausted. Mentally, physically, and if it was at all possible, emotionally as well.

“I’ll remember you,” she promised and walked away.

Chapter 28

#Mudderfudder

When Spence woke up, Colbie was gone. He knew it before he even opened his eyes; it was in the cold silence of the room. It was in the lack of joy in his heart. It was the pit sitting deep in his gut.

She’d left and it was going to be okay. He was going to be okay. Hell, he’d been okay only three weeks ago, right? Right.

So why did he feel like that time when he was five years old and his grandpa had told him, “There’s no Santa Claus, kid. No one’s ever going to hand you what you want—you gotta do that for yourself.”

Spence blew out a breath and stared at the ceiling. What did he want? That was the easy part.

But he didn’t want someone who could walk away from him, or someone he had to chase. He’d had enough of that for a lifetime, thank you very much. He’d go back to work and he’d be fine.

Just like always.

Colbie sat in the kitchen of her family home, the one that she’d bought with her first big royalty check. She’d settled everyone into it so that she could take care of them as she always had.

It was noon.

No, scratch that. That was California time, but she was in New York now. It was three o’clock here and she hadn’t slept—although blissfully, Cinder had and was in fact curled up on the rug in front of the kitchen sink because that’s where the heat vent was.

She was glad the cat seemed happy. But Colbie needed to find some happy herself. She was exhausted. She hadn’t been able to catch any z’s, not on the plane and not in the hour since she’d arrived.

There was good and bad news. Bad news—she ached for Spence. She ached for him like she’d ache for air to fill her lungs. Not exactly a newsflash.

Good news—her family had decorated. Yes, she realized this was a very small thing in the scheme of all the things, but hey, she had to celebrate the good stuff, no matter how small. Her brothers had pulled the Christmas boxes from storage and thrown everything up. It wasn’t in Colbie’s usual orderly fashion. The stockings had been taped to a wall instead of pinned on the staircase railing. The tree had been put up in a corner instead of in front of the window. And the lights . . . good Lord, the lights. They’d used the outside balcony lights to line the crown molding. The tree lights were on the balcony. And the mantel lights were on the tree. It was all wrong and looked a little bit like Christmas on crack but . . . it made her smile.

“What do you think?” Kent asked, standing in the doorway in nothing but boxers and socks.

“I like it,” she said. “You guys did it on your own.”

He smiled and headed into the laundry room off the pantry, where he grabbed a pair of sweats out of the dryer.

She opened her mouth to get on him about living out of the dryer, but she closed her mouth again.

Because he’d done his own laundry.

He came back into the kitchen and moved to the oven. He turned it off and pulled out what looked like a very loaded casserole dish, and put that on the stovetop.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Linner. Late lunch, early dinner. Put it together last night cuz it’s my turn to cook today and I only had time to make one thing.”

She stared at him. “Okay, who are you and what have you done with my brother?”

He grinned. “I know, right? And wait until you taste it.”

She tried to pull a piece of the melted cheese out and burned her finger. “Mudderfudder!”

He laughed. “You know that we’re legal adults now, right? That we’ve heard every bad word under the sun and have most definitely used them?”

“You use them?”

“All the time. Just not near you so we don’t have to pay.” He gestured to the swear jar on the counter, filled with money she’d put in it. “Maybe,” he said, “it’s time to retire that thing. You could probably go on another vacay with what’s in there.”

She sighed. “I was just trying to make sure you guys knew right from wrong.”

“You were the best role model we could’ve asked for. Of course we know right from wrong.”

She looked at him and he laughed. “Hey, knowing and doing are two different things. We had things to get out of our system.” Still smiling, he came close, pulling her out of her chair and into his arms. “You’re back,” he said quietly.

“I told you I would be.”

He tightened his grip and pressed his face into her shoulder and she hugged him back, feeling a ball of emotion in her throat at the way he was holding her. “You didn’t expect to see me,” she whispered.

Still keeping his face hidden, he shook his head.

She squeezed him, her heart so tight she could scarcely breathe. He, like she, had some abandonment issues, and she’d hurt him by running away. “I’d never just walk away from you guys.”

He laughed softly and lifted his head, flashing her that grin that she knew got him whatever he wanted. “We’d absolutely deserve it if you did.”

“Maybe,” she teased, and then let her smile fade. “But seriously, I was always coming back, Kent. Always.”

His eyes grateful, he nodded. “I’m glad. And not just because Kurt cooks like shit. Oh, and you just got a same-day delivery. It was left at the front door.” He gestured to the package on the table that she hadn’t even noticed. One glance at the return address—Spence’s—had her hurriedly opening it up, heart in her throat as she came to a pretty wooden box. Inside, it was jammed with a huge assortment of small note pads and stickies in every color. She stared at it and started laughing.

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