Page 29

She nods, hugging Elsa, her bunny, to her chest.

Jake shuts the door behind me. I make a quick inspection of him, and he does the same to me as an ambulance pulls up next to the police car.

“Carly …”

Jake shakes his head. “They’ll deal with her. Find her family.”

“Her mom.”

Jake nods several times. “Yes. She’ll be fine.”

I don’t know why, but a sudden wave of emotion hits me and tears pool in my eyes.

Jake keeps his blood-covered hands at his sides and leans down, putting us at eye level. “You’re fine. Okay. Just tell them exactly what happened.”

“Okay.” I nod once.

The police officer asks me a few questions. There’s some back and forth between Jake and the moaning asshole on the gurney. Sure, he’s the one leaving on his back, but he threatened to rape me, and he threw the first punch at Jake—which apparently, he didn’t land. By the time we’re done and everyone has agreed that no charges will be filed, the ambulance leaves. There’s another vehicle here with a lady helping Carly into the backseat. She gives me a shy wave with a smile.

Wow!

Her dad was just hauled off in an ambulance, and she’s smiling. That proves how truly awful he is.

Jake leaves me staring at the departing car. “Let’s go, Ave. Beating a man up because you felt the need to run off on your own is not exactly how I wanted to start my day.”

“What? Are you serious?” I jog to catch up to him. “I went for a run. I didn’t run off. The little girl was lost in the woods, so I helped her back to the campsite. It’s not my fault her dad happened to be a total asshat. And you didn’t have to beat him up so badly.”

Jake grabs soap and paper towels out of the back of his truck and marches over to the spigot outside of the primitive facilities. He scrubs the blood off his hands.

“Seriously? You’re mad at me?”

“You’re my responsibility, Av-er-y. I don’t want to deal with you getting raped or murdered. That’s not the call I want to make to Deedy and your father.”

“Av-er-y? Why are you saying my name like that? And for the record, I was dealing with that prick.”

He scrubs his hands harder. “You were watching him get his dick out.”

“He was a hundred pounds overweight. I could have outrun him.”

Jake shuts off the spigot, shrugs off his gray T-shirt to dry his hands, and pins me with a narrow-eyed scowl. “He could have had five other buddies just around the corner ready to gang rape you.”

I cross my arms over my chest. “His daughter was in the front seat of his truck.”

“Too late, Ave. You’ve already proven you’re too smart to act this fucking naïve.” He makes his way back to our tent.

“I’m a grown woman. Stop making me feel like an errant child.”

“You’re my responsibility.” He opens the tent. Swarley ambles out to sniff around and find all the areas he needs to mark.

“Maybe you didn’t hear me. Maybe you think I’m a child. Maybe you don’t understand that being a smart woman means I know what I’m doing.” I follow him into the tent, crowding the middle where we can fully stand while he grabs another shirt from his bag. “Maybe you—”

“Maybe you should find something better to do with your mouth than nip at my ankles and yip yap at my back.” He turns around, invading my personal space—not that we really have any personal space. Tents are pretty much the anti of personal space.

His gaze drops to my mouth a split second before he kisses me.

“No!” I pull back. “I haven’t brushed my teeth. And my lips are dry.” My hand cups my mouth.

Jake’s eyes widen a fraction. A smile creeps up his face as he drops his chin to his chest and shakes his head. “This … this is why you’re bad at sex, Ave.”

My hand falls from my mouth. “I am not bad at sex. I’m just a little self-conscious and considerate. Don’t you want to kiss someone who has fresh breath and doesn’t smell like they just jogged five miles?”

His lips twist.

I want to kiss those lips. I really do. But my breath probably smells worse than Swarley’s. My skin has to taste like a salt lick. With no makeup on, he’ll be forced to stare at the bags under my eyes because I’m sleep deprived.

“You’re one designer handbag short of most every woman alive.”

I frown.

His head cocks to the side. “You’re also one spontaneous act short of perfection.”

“That’s …” I clear my throat.

Quite possibly the most heart-stopping words anyone has ever said to me.

“I’m going to go for a hike since you didn’t wait for me.” He slips one arm in his T-shirt.

I grab the shirt to stop him. His gaze homes in on my hand.

Everything feels so jumbled in my body.

So vulnerable.

So naked.

Yet so alive. “I don’t need another handbag.”

Jake lets his gaze slide up my body to meet my eyes. He’s unreadable for the longest few seconds. “What do you need?”

I drag my teeth over the corner of my bottom lip, narrowing my eyes into a tiny grimace. “I need you to turn around for ten seconds while I wrestle out of this sports bra. It’s the least sexy thing you’ll ever see in your life. So … let’s spare you of that.”

Jake’s white teeth peek out from his swelling grin as he drops his T-shirt to our feet. “Lift your arms.”

I shake my head.

He raises an expectant eyebrow.

I sigh and lift my arms, angling them toward the very center of the tent. Jake ghosts his fingers over my ribs, making me shiver. He smirks, sliding his fingers under the tight elastic and pushing it up over my breasts. My breath catches, and I hold it as his gaze makes a slow inspection of me before meeting mine again. He doesn’t look away until the bra is almost to my elbows, covering my face.

“Jake …” I seethe in a sharp breath when his warm mouth claims my left nipple. It shoots an immediate need right between my legs.

Even though I can’t see past my bra, I pinch my eyes shut, dizzy from the desire he’s ignited inside of me and equally horrified that he’s tasting the salty, dried sweat on my breasts just inches from my smelly armpits.

Jake Matthews strips me from the inside out, magnifying every self-perpetuating belief that I’ve ever had about my flawed body. I want to shrink. Vanish from his touch.

I want to cry, but I did that yesterday. Jake still called me beautiful.

“Jake …” My voice trembles along with the rest of my body as he sucks and drags his tongue over my other breast.

“Yes, Ave?”

I’m not going to cry today. I don’t need another handbag. Today, I need to be his perfection.

Folding my arms inward, I grab my bra and tear it the rest of the way off. The insecure part of me wants to stand here and wait for his approval, wait for him to tell me what he wants me to do next.

I don’t.

My mouth crashes to his. I don’t taste him. I devour him. My hands claw at his back and shoulders, even my injured fingers bend into his skin, feeling no pain.

“Is that the best you’ve got, Ave?”

He taunts my thoughts.

My tongue battles his. This is my kiss. This is me kissing him.

“You see … the art of sex is all about selfish pleasure.”

I don’t want him to want me. I just simply want him.

“You like what I’m doing … but I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it because I want to taste you … because I want to hear you whimper … because I want to feel you squirm. That gives me pleasure.”

Breaking our connection, I kiss my way down his neck as my fingers curl into his chest before I take his hand and guide it into the front of my exercise shorts. My fingers press over his, using him to give myself selfish pleasure.

“Fuck, Ave …” he rasps with a weakness that is not a Jake I’ve experienced before.

My other hand works the prominent muscles of his back, massaging him. This I know I can do as well as anyone else. I knead each muscle all the way to the inside of his shorts, where he’s not wearing anything underneath. My fingers find all the firm lines of his perfect ass, eliciting a deep groan from him.

My lips pull into another grin along his pec muscles for a brief moment before my teeth sink into them. This sets off a chain reaction. He rocks his erection into my stomach and slides his middle finger inside of me. I clench my hand over his, biting him harder on a soft moan.

“That’s my girl.” He bends his finger inside of me as I lift onto my toes to claim his mouth again because I crave him the way he craved me.

We kiss until neither one of us can stay standing for one more second. He slides his hand out of my pants and holds onto my head, keeping our mouths connected as we sink to the ground. It’s desperate but perfectly slow at the same time. We just kiss—him hovering above me, me rolled on top of him, and us intertwined on our sides.

Naked from the waist up, with his chest pressed to mine and our mouths insatiable, we make out. I have never—ever—just kissed a guy for this long, like we’re having sex with only our lips and our tongues. It’s sensual, erotic, and passionate.

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