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“And?” I tilt my head to the side.

Flint averts his gaze and sighs. “Dance.”

“Was he a good dancer?”

“I suppose.”

“You want him to play football.”

“No.”

“No?” My head pulls back a fraction. “Really? He said you played in college.”

He grabs the bucket and heads toward the greenhouse. “He did, did he?”

“Yes.” I chase after his long strides.

“What else did he say?”

“Nothing that I would share with you.”

Flint grunts. “He’s not your patient. I don’t think confidentiality applies to after-school riffs.”

I follow him into the greenhouse. Holy cow! This place is packed with plants. It’s deceiving from the outside. He could feed a small village.

Flint drops the bucket and turns. I almost bump into his chest.

“What’s wrong with you?”

I purse my lips to the side. “What makes you think something is wrong with me? Is this about Mozart?”

“It’s about this.” He nudges the toe of his shoe against the toe of my boot. “I’m evicting you, yet you like to stand so close to me I feel like I’m breathing in the breath you exhale. And you have this need to touch me—my ties, my collars, my sleeves.” His brows knit together.

My heart pounds, pulsing in my ears.

“You’re humming again.”

I swallow hard and silence the noise I didn’t realize I was making. “Do you not like to be touched?”

The crease between his eyebrows deepens. “Not by strangers.”

Thump. Thump. Thump.

I like feeling so deeply that I can actually hear the rhythm of my heart. It’s excited and happy. A feeling so much better than the crushing pain I felt for so long.

“When people touch, they no longer feel like strangers. It’s a feeling. When humans share feelings, they connect on an intimate level. It’s why I love music. It can go deeper than words. Rhythm is the heartbeat of your soul.”

“What about those who don’t have a soul?”

Ouch! That’s hard to hear.

“Well…” I shrug and grin “…those are the bad dancers. Soulless, rhythmless, terrible dancers.” My gaze meets his. “Are you a bad dancer, Flint?”

Something indescribable about this man calls to me. I want to help him. Help him do what? I don’t know yet. I need to feel him—hear him—and then I’ll know.

“You should go.”

My chin drops, gaze fixing to the toes of our shoes touching. “Why?” I whisper.

“Because your shirt is white.”

I look up. He tugs at the fingers to his gloves, dropping one to the ground and then the other.

“You have thirteen days.” He’s counting down the days until he kicks me out of the building.

“Thirteen days,” I say.

“Now get going before I fuck up your white shirt.” His gaze engulfs my whole body.

My pulse thrums along my skin. Flint embodies the opposite of every man I’ve known.

I don’t want the familiar—because it broke me.

I don’t want the predictable—because it’s nothing more than a heartbreaking illusion.

Reasoning hurts too much. I just want to exist in a purely physical state.

“It’s just a shirt,” I whisper.

He grabs my head and kisses me.

It’s rough.

It’s wrong.

It’s the best thing that’s happened to me in years.

Touch. I die a little inside. No need has ever felt this painful—this necessary.

Flint deepens the kiss, pushing me back into a metal table of plants. One of them falls to the floor. I can’t get enough of his body pressed to mine. My eagerness might be more embarrassing if his body didn’t feel just as desperate. Consuming my mouth, he works the buttons to my shirt, ripping a few off with his impatience.

I jerk the button and zipper to his jeans, humming against his mouth. He shoves my shirt off my shoulders and yanks my bra down, palming my breasts as my hand slides down the inside of his briefs.

A low growl vibrates his chest. When was the last time I unraveled a guy with the touch of my hand? I don’t remember and that’s just sad.

He doesn’t slow down the kiss one bit when his hands move down my body, grabbing the hem of my skirt and shoving it up over my waist. As if we’ve acted out this scene a hundred times before, my hands work his jeans and briefs down his hips just enough to release his cock. Flint lifts me onto the metal bench, spreads my legs, and rips my nylon leggings at the crotch.

Emotion tightens like a noose around my throat. No amount of therapy can fill this physical void—this dark hole carved out by years of rejection.

He breaks the kiss.

A small breath.

A heartbeat long enough to let our brains catch up.

I don’t want my brain to catch up. Stupidity. Impulsivity. They have a place and a time.

Now. I need them now more than a million years of wisdom. No one on their deathbed says, “Remember how incredible it felt to make wise decisions?” I want to remember how it feels to physically drown in desire. I want to remember warm lips on mine, moans of pleasure, and the blinding, mind-numbing sensation of coming apart beneath the touch of this man.

Flint’s lips part and I wait for it, the words that feel like someone ripping the TV cord from the wall in the middle of my favorite show. But they never come. Those parted lips land on my neck, biting and sucking before mumbling, “Move your panties out of the way.”

My brain shuts down as I fist his hair with one hand and slide the crotch of my panties to the side with my other hand. To hell with death. I refuse to die until I’ve truly lived. I lean into his body, searching for the ultimate connection.

“Fuck … I can’t.” He steps back, like he’s suddenly afraid of me.

Before I can get my feet beneath me, my hand slips on the edge of the metal bench and my ass lands on the hard dirt floor. “Ouch!” I hug my arm to my chest. It scraped along something sharp on my way to the ground.

“Shit! Ellen …” Flint pulls up his pants.

The long cut on my arm bleeds through the sleeve of my white shirt.

“Let me see.” He squats down and pulls my arm away from me.

Crimson continues to spread.

I seethe as he unbuttons the cuff of my sleeve and eases it up, revealing the deep cut on my forearm.

“Fuck …” He grumbles. “You’re going to need stitches.”

Biting my lip to fight back my reaction to the pain, I nod.

Standing, he rakes his fingers through his hair. “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?” I grimace, leaning a little to the side to ease the pressure on my bruised ass.

He doesn’t answer. Five or so minutes later he returns with help. I figured he’d load me in his car and take me to urgent care. I’m a little surprised by his choice.

Abigail fails to completely hide her surprise as her gaze lands on me for a few seconds before giving a disapproving scowl to Flint. Had I known he was going to bring back company, I would have made some effort to pull my skirt back down over my ass, or button what few buttons are left to my shirt, or remove my ripped nylon leggings.

She lowers to her haunches. “Ellen, are you okay—”

“We agreed no questions.” Flint’s jaw clenches.

Abigail shoots him another warning look. He sighs and glances away.

“My arm is cut.” I ease it from my chest to show her.

She looks at it briefly before meeting my eyes with concern. “Did he…” biting her lips together, her inspecting gaze studies my ripped clothes “…hurt you?”

The pain from the cut takes a backseat to the knot in my stomach as it hits me that she’s questioning if he sexually assaulted me.

Flint takes a small step back, the pain on his face intensifying into something between confusion and regret.

“No.” I shake my head, willing him to look at me, but he doesn’t.

Abigail grabs the first aid kit she carried in with her and tends to my arm. “Let’s run to the hospital and get this stitched up for you and make sure you don’t have any other injuries.” She gives Flint another look.

He keeps his eyes turned to the ground.

With gauze pressed to my wound, Abigail helps me to my feet, pulls my skirt down over my hips, and buttons the three buttons left on my shirt.

“Dr. Hamilton?”

Her jaw clenches as she realizes my shirt won’t cover much with only three buttons left.

“Abigail?” I say a little louder.

She snaps her head up.

“This is embarrassing, not tragic. Okay?”

The worry glued to her forehead tells me she’s not following.

“I left your party because I saw Flint in his garden. I didn’t know he was your neighbor.”

She nods slowly, but I still don’t think she’s following.

I sigh. “Sex. Consensual sex, Abigail. Or at least …” I meet Flint’s gaze as he allows his eyes to focus on me instead of whatever the hell is so interesting about the dirt floor. “It was headed in that direction.”

Why does he look so pained? I’m the one bleeding. I’m the one feeling rejected.

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