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“Just …” My breath evaporates from my chest. He does that. Jake is a thief who takes breaths, slays words before they fall from my lips, and steals hearts.

Yeah, he’s stolen my heart.

“Just what, Ave?” He pushes my shirt—his shirt—up, eyeing my exposed breasts and wetting his lips. Raw masculinity delivers his words. Even on a whisper, his deep voice reverberates along my skin.

Commanding.

Arresting.

Seductive.

I shiver with anticipation seconds before everything burns with need. Jake doesn’t just reside in my head and my heart. He lives in every cell of my body.

“I’m not bad at sex.”

He grins. It’s arrogant for two seconds before his eyes shine with something that feels like adoration—maybe even love.

“No? Would you like to back that statement up with proof?”

My head eases side to side. “I want to give you a massage.”

“A massage?” His thick eyebrows lift up on his forehead a bit.

“Yes. I’m good at it. I want you to know I’m good at something.”

“Your fingers are injured.”

I hold up my hand, bending and flexing my fingers several times without pain, but a stiffness remains. They may never be the same, since I left town instead of visiting a physical therapist. “But I’m fine.”

After several slow blinks, his grin returns.

“Jake …” I close my eyes on a weak protest as he plants open-mouth kisses along my neck, rocking his pelvis an inch—an inch that draws a sharp breath from my chest. “I’m serious.”

He takes his time dragging his skillful mouth up my neck, along my jaw, halting at the corner of my mouth.

The Jake Effect feels like what I’ve always imagined resurrection to feel like—minus the throbbing need between my legs.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Please forgive me for thinking of you and an orgasm in the same thought. But if we’re not meant to have this kind of pleasure—a lot—then why give women a clitoris with over 8,000 nerve endings? DOUBLE what you gave the penis! Sometimes I feel like we just walk around trying to act normal—human—when all we really want to do is have an orgasm because it’s the BEST feeling. Why make it so amazing? And if it’s only meant for reproduction, then why does it feel good all the time? Why not make it feel good only when the body is primed to reproduce? Did you mess up? I mean … you created the world. THE WORLD! Surely you could have put this pleasure mechanism on a timer. Why leave cookies in a cookie jar if we’re not supposed to eat cookies all the time?

On that note … my research has led me to discover that a lot of the animal kingdom masturbates, so what’s up with that? I thought humans and their insatiable sexual needs possibly stemmed from the fiasco in the Garden of Eden, but that doesn’t explain the animals. Any who … just things that will need to be explained when I see you someday.

“Ave?”

“Hmm?”

“Where were you?” Jake whispers, feathering his lips over mine.

“Just … talking to God.”

His eyebrows knit together. “About Swarley?”

“Um … yes.”

I’m going to Hell. But that’s not a newsflash.

On a sympathetic sigh, he rolls to the side, pulling me into his body for a hug. “I feel like an ass for trying to seduce you while your mind is clearly on Swarley … where it should be tonight.”

Rubbing my lips together, I leave my focus on my hands pressed flat to his chest. If I look at him, he’ll know. He’ll see my lies, my perversion. My sins.

“Do you pray for him to live or do you pray for him to find peace as well as your sister and her family?”

I’m a terrible person.

I pray that God will provide him with a soft blanket to hump in his afterlife.

“I’m going to Hell,” I whisper.

“No. Why would you say that?” He slides a leg between mine, bringing us even closer.

I push away. “Naked and on your stomach.”

His lips twist into a restrained but sexy grin.

“One sec.” I fetch a towel from the bathroom and toss it to him. “Cover your goods with this.” I turn my back and retrieve lotion from my bag.

He chuckles. It’s playful, and I could listen to it forever like a song that speaks to the heart, making it overflow with bliss. “My ass? Is that what you’re calling my goods? And is there a reason you have your back to me?”

Squeezing my legs together, I clear my throat and cross my arms over my chest. “I’m trying to be professional.”

“Professional Avery. I like where this is going.”

“Just …” I roll my eyes. “Are you ready?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I turn. Damn … he’s six feet, two hundred plus pounds of raw sex appeal on his stomach with his to-die-for ass mostly covered with a much-too-tiny hand towel. Coincidence? I think not. “What kind of pressure do you like?” Kneeling beside him on the bed, I draw in a slow professional breath and squirt lotion onto my hand.

He rests his head on the opposite cheek, peering back at me. “You know I like it hard, Ave. Just like you.”

Harnessing my poker face, I nod. “Firm pressure. Noted.”

He smirks, but I cling to my stoic expression, even if I’m drowning in my own arousal in other areas.

My hands, forearms, and elbows go to work on his back. He moans, eyelids drifting shut. My knees pull inward to stave off the desire that’s out of my control. After twenty minutes of working on his back, I wipe the sweat from my brow.

This might have been a bad idea. I’m a good massage therapist. Clients pile up on waiting lists to see me, but Jake might not see my amazingness shine through because I’m a bitch in heat.

Rules of massage: focus all your thoughts on your client, let go of extraneous thoughts.

Done.

I’m all about Jake right now.

Powerful messages—palpable sensations—can be transferred from my fingers and palms to my client.

Done.

By now Jake should know I want to touch him everywhere with every part of my body. I want to give pleasure and take some of my own as well.

Moving on to his legs, I scoot off the bed and stand at the end, working my thumbs deep into his muscles.

“Ave … you’re so … fucking … incredible,” he mumbles like a drunk.

“I know.” I grin, but if I’m honest, Jake’s approval of my skills makes fireworks explode inside of me. His moaned words trump every glowing review I’ve ever received.

After another thirty minutes, I’m not sure he’s awake. Stilling my hands on his calves, I give his legs a gentle shake. “Roll onto your back.” I turn, flexing and bending my fingers, rubbing them to relieve the stiffness.

“Ready,” he says.

“Oh!” I cover my mouth, eyes wide.

Jake grins without opening his eyes.

I was wrong. He’s far from being lulled to sleep. He’s very much awake. I toss a pillow over his midsection because the towel lost the battle with his stiff cock.

After I work my way back up his body, I kneel just above his head, massaging his scalp. His eyes blink open. He just … stares at me with an unreadable expression. I lose the stare-off and look away while my fingers continue to make tiny circles.

“Come closer,” he whispers.

I pause, meeting his gaze again.

No smiles. No telling expressions.

My head descends a few inches.

“Closer.”

I don’t know what it is, but it’s like something just shifted between us, and it happened in a single blink. And now … I’m scared and vulnerable and just … naked to my bones.

Moving closer, the tips of my damp hair brush his face, our lips a whisper away.

“I love you.”

Sucking in a shaky breath, tears race to fill my eyes, blurring his beautiful face.

“I live in L.A.” Panic rides in on its giant horse, drawing its sword to slay my dreams before disappointment takes me hostage.

“I love you.” He doesn’t give my reply the tiniest of flinches.

“I love shopping and cheese,” I whisper as his hand cups the back of my head.

“I love you.” He brings our lips to meet in a patient kiss, a slow dance. An unbreakable promise.

Fear and lack of worth bleed from my eyes in big tears. He pulls my body around to face his, losing the towel and pillow seconds before sliding his shirt from my body.

Yeah, something has shifted. The earth tips the other way on its axis and starts spinning in the opposite direction, obliterating my sense of being. Gravity no longer exists in my world.

My back arches, eyelids heavy, body surrenders as he pushes into me. When he stills, stealing my breath on a heavy moan, I force my eyes open.

Intense blues greet me.

My fingers find his hair when he dips his head, leaving a trail of kisses along my jaw as he moves inside of me. It’s familiar. Our bodies connected is familiar and easy and … perfect.

“Oh god … this is it,” I whisper.

He stops. “This is what?”

Our gazes lock. “This is what it feels like to be in love—deeply … uncontrollably … eternally in love.”

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