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Which is ridiculous, but Jaxon is totally the guy who balances the whole world on his shoulders and who takes the responsibility of that seriously, even if he never asked for it. So no way am I going to let him see how sore and battered I still feel. Not when that means giving him something else to beat himself up over.

“So what do you want to do?” I ask in an effort to distract him from the fact that I’m limping more than a little.

He’s watching me with narrowed eyes and an expression that says I’m not fooling him. But he doesn’t say anything else, except, “I’ve got a couple of ideas. Why don’t you get dressed and I’ll run and find a few things? I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”

“We can meet downstairs—” I start but break off when he looks at me with both brows lifted. “Oooor we can meet here,” I finish.

“Yeah, let’s do that.” He leans down and drops a kiss on my lips.

It’s meant to be quick, but I can’t help wrapping my good arm around his neck and pressing myself against him as I deepen the kiss.

Jaxon goes still, but there’s a hitch in his breathing that tells me I’ve got him. Seconds later, he slides his hands down to my hips to pull me even closer. And then he scrapes a fang across my lower lip in a move he knows makes every muscle in my body go weak.

My breath catches in my throat as I open for him. As I press even closer. As I give myself up to Jaxon and the explosion of heat and joy and light that he sets off inside me with just a kiss. Just a touch. Just a look.

I don’t know how long we kiss for.

Long enough for my breathing to grow ragged.

Long enough for my knees to tremble with each stroke of his fingers against my hip.

More than long enough for me to reconsider our walk outside now that things inside have gotten so much more interesting.

But eventually Jaxon pulls away with a groan. He drops his forehead against mine, and we just breathe for a while. But then he pulls away, and in a voice gone deep and growly and oh so sexy, he says, “Get dressed. I’ll be back in a few.”

And then, like always, he’s gone between one blink and the next.

It takes me a little longer to recover. A full minute or so passes before my heart rate steadies and my weak knees feel strong enough to support me. Eventually, I get my act together and start getting dressed in the layers upon layers necessary to survive an hour outside in Alaska. My lips tingle the whole time.

Turns out, it’s a good thing I hurried, because Jaxon is back, knocking on my door and letting himself in before I even have my socks on. To be fair, getting dressed takes a lot longer with a dislocated shoulder, but still. Even if I was completely healed, it’d still be impossible for me to compete with Jaxon’s speed.

He’s carrying a backpack, which he drops by the door when he sees me struggling to pull on my socks.

“Here, give them to me,” he says, kneeling down in front of me and gently resting my ankle on his thigh.

And just like that, my breath catches in my throat again. Because if I’ve learned nothing else in the time I’ve been here, it’s that Jaxon Vega kneels for no one. Yet here he is, kneeling in front of me like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

“What?” he asks as he slides the socks over my feet and past my ankles.

I just shake my head because what else is there for me to say? Especially when his fingertips linger on my calf, tracing patterns into my suddenly oversensitive skin.

I must look as flustered as I feel, because he just kind of grins at me as he slides a second sock over the first before doing the same to my other foot.

I shake my head, look away before I end up melting into an actual puddle.

A couple of minutes later, after putting my boots on for me, too, Jaxon stands up and holds a hand out to pull me up.

“Have you decided where we’re going?” I ask as we head for the door.

He picks up the backpack—something I’ve never seen him carry if he’s not going to class—and says, “Yeah.”

I wait for him to elaborate, but this is Jaxon. He almost never shares more than he has to. Then again, as he gives me a wicked grin, I find myself not minding too much. If Jaxon wants to surprise me, who am I to say no? Especially when his surprises are usually so, so good.

We walk hand in hand through the halls and down the three flights of stairs to the front door. Almost everyone else is in the last class of the day—Jaxon should be, too, but he’s ditching—so the common areas are nearly deserted. Which works for me. I’m still not ready to face most of them after everything that has happened.

“Are you okay?” Jaxon asks as we head out into the cold—and down even more steps. Which is great. I mean, it’s not like every muscle in my body aches or anything…

Still, I nod, both because I don’t want him to know that I’m hurting and because the biting cold kind of takes me by surprise. Which sounds ridiculous—this is Alaska; I know exactly how cold it is outside. But it’s still a shock to my system every single time.

I must not be hiding it as well as I’d hoped, because Jaxon takes one look at my face and says, “We could go back in.”

“No. I want to do something with you. Just the two of us.”

His eyes widen at my words, and the guarded look in his eyes drops away. For a second, just a second, I get to see the real Jaxon—a little awkward, a little vulnerable, a lot in love with me—and it takes my breath away all over again. Because I feel all of that and so much more around him.

“Then let’s go.”

We set out in the opposite direction that I went on my walk around the grounds that first day. Instead of going by the classroom cottages, we head across the pristine snow to the forest that takes up a lot of the school grounds.

We walk slowly, partly because the cold isn’t that bad once I start moving and partly because walking in snow really isn’t easy, especially when you were beaten half to death less than a week before. Eventually, though, we get to a little clearing in the forest. It’s not very big—maybe the size of my and Macy’s dorm room—but there are a couple of benches to the side.

Jaxon drops his backpack on one and pulls out a tall black thermos. He takes off the cup at the top, then opens it and pours something into the cup. Then he hands it to me with a grin.

“Hot chocolate?” I exclaim, delighted.

“Yeah, well, I figure you might want to lay off tea for a while.”

I laugh. “You make a good point.” I start to take a sip, but Jaxon stops me. Then he reaches into his backpack and pulls out a small bag of marshmallows.

“I don’t know much about drinking hot cocoa, but I do know that it usually needs marshmallows.” He pulls out a few of the small, homemade-looking squares and scatters them in my cup.

And I swear my heart nearly bursts, right here in the middle of a bunch of trees, as darkness slowly descends around us. Because even after everything we’ve been through, I’m still blown away by how Jaxon always thinks about me. About what I might like or what makes me feel good or what would make me happy. And he’s always, always right.

I take a big sip of the cocoa and am not surprised at all that it’s the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. “So who did you talk into making this for you?” I ask, eyeing him over the rim of my cup.

He gives me a blank look. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But there’s a shadow of amusement in the depths of his eyes that belies his words and makes me laugh.

“Well, whoever it is, please tell them it’s really good.”

He smirks a little. “I’ll do that.”

I take another sip, then hold the cup out to him. “Want some?”

“Thanks, but it’s not really my thing.” Now he’s full-on grinning.

“Oh, right.” Which makes a million of the questions I’ve been accumulating for days rush back into my head. “How does that work, anyway?”

He lifts a brow. “How does what work?”

“I saw you drink tea, but you don’t drink cocoa. You ate a strawberry during the party, but I’ve never seen you eat anything else. Except…” I trail off, blushing.

“Except your blood?” he asks archly.

“Well, yeah.”

“Vampires drink water just like every other mammal on the planet, and tea is basically hot water. You start adding in milk and chocolate and it’s a different story.”

“Oh. Yeah.” That makes sense. “And the strawberry?”

“Yeah, that was totally for show. My stomach hurt for the rest of the night.” It’s his turn to look embarrassed.

“Really? So why’d you do it?”

“Honestly?” He shakes his head, looks away. “I have no idea.”

It’s not the answer I was expecting, but looking at him, it’s obvious that he’s telling the truth. So I let it go. And instead say, “One more question.”

“The blood thing?” He looks both wary and amused.

“Of course the blood thing! And the going outside when it’s light thing. I thought vampires could only be outside when it’s dark.”

He looks uncomfortable for a minute, but then he squares his shoulders and says, “That depends.”

“On what?”

“On what kind of blood they drink. Here at the school, Foster serves animal blood. If we drink only that, we can be outside in the sunlight. If we choose to…supplement with human blood, however, then we have to wait until it’s dark.”

I think about his comment in my room, about how we could go out, since civil twilight had started. “So when I got here, I saw you outside because you were only drinking animal blood. But now—” I blush, and it’s my turn to shift my face away. Not because I’m necessarily embarrassed by what Jaxon and I do but because it feels so intimate to talk about the fact that he—

“You mean, now that I’ve been drinking your blood on the regular?”