Instead of saying something, he kisses my forehead and lies down next to me.

After a few minutes, I say, "I'm sorry. I've been leading you on and I - "

Jesse sits up and presses his fingers to his temples. His words are right - they're the words a gentleman should say - but his tone is off. He sounds scolding instead of understanding. He doesn't look at me as he speaks. "No, don't say that. Never apologize for this." Jesse releases the death grip on his head and stands, running his hands through his hair. He takes a deep breath and looks at me.

"I thought I could," I try to explain things to him. "I thought if it was going to be anyone, that it'd be you."

He turns and looks at me sadly. "So did I. You're beautiful, Anna. Everything I ever wanted - the bombshell body and the brains. I hoped that I'd be the guy who got you over him, but I see that isn't going to happen." His tone shifts from hopeful to angry. It's horrible. I don't know what to do, but it turns out that I don't have to do anything. Jesse grabs his things and leaves without a backwards glance.

Chapter 10

After that dreadful moment, I pull on my dress and sit on the couch, staring at the wall like it's a TV. I'm such a mess. I can't even hook-up with a guy who's nuts about me without messing it up. Why did I have to say something?

I can't stand to sit home. I pull my dress back on and walk down to the bar. This time I order a shot and just sit there, staring at it like it has the power to reveal some hidden message that I'm just too thick to understand. The door opens and I feel the cool night air travel across the room and slip over my skin. The sleeveless dress doesn't do much to keep me warm, but it does lift my ego. I've had three attempts at my number since I walked in. Mental note to self; next time I want meaningless sex, borrow Emma's dress and walk around commando. It's like the guys have X-ray vision and know I've got nothing on. Actually, this is weird for me and the no-panties-thing wasn't on purpose, either. When I went to put on the bra, the panties were missing. They weren't more than a scrap of fabric, but I didn't have anything else that would look right under the lace garter, so I went without. Those were my favorite pair of panties. They fit perfectly and showcased my ass, making it look model perfect. I asked Emma if she'd seen them, but I must have left them at Ma's house with some of my other laundry.

I cross my legs and raise the glass to my lips. Finally, I tip it back. The amber liquid slides down my throat, burning a hot wake in its path. I take a breath and order another. My process repeats. I have no intention of becoming a drunk. I won't order another drink after this shot, so I sit with it longer, allowing the buzz from the first shot to penetrate my foul mood.

I don't know what I'm upset about. So, I couldn't sleep with Jesse. That just means I'm not a slut, right? Wrong. That voice in the back of my head won't shut up tonight. I stare at the bar top. The lights gleam off the shiny surface.

I want my life to change, but I don't make changes. I keep doing the same thing. I feel eyes on the side of my face, but I don't look up. It's another guy wanting my number. I should just tell them that I'm a panty-less fraud, but he'd stop listening at panty-less. I cross my legs tighter, hooking my heel to the back of the stool. I don't look up. Instead, I trace the glow of the light on the bar top with my fingernail, while I keep my other perfectly manicured hand on the shot glass.

The guy sits next to me and it isn't until he orders that I notice who he is. His voice drips over my body like liquid seduction. He has the ability to stir something deep inside of me that makes me hot all over. I don't turn. I don't look at him. I hold my legs tighter together and try to ignore the sensations pelting my body.

Cole glances at me out of the corner of his eye, "Date didn't go well?"

"You're an ass," I reply, still not looking at him. If I turn my head, if our eyes connect, there's no way I'll be able to live through it. I'll throw my arms around his neck and beg him to take me back. I'm not a prideful person, but I can't ask him to take me back. I can't let him know how badly he's messed with my head.

"You say that to all the men." Cole sips his drink. The ice cubes clink together when he places the cup on the bar, empty. Charlie, the bartender, looks at me with questions in his eyes. I look back, willing him to understand that I want Cole to leave me alone, but Charlie doesn't get it. The bartender refills the drinks and leaves us.

"No," I say, "just to you. Did you really have to walk over and give him pointers on getting me into bed? What the hell was that about, anyway?" My skin prickles.

Cole's looking at me, his gaze is sliding over my arms and lands on my chest. Cole watches my breasts swell as I breathe, making no attempt to hide it. "Wow. Did the little guy actually say that?" After a second, Cole looks away from me. His tone shifts from condescending to serious. "That's not what happened, okay? He approached me. I didn't want to talk to him. On my way out, I went to tell him off and you walked up."

"Yeah right. Why would Jesse go talk to you? I was a sure thing, so he goes up to you and says... what?" I can't even imagine why Jesse would do that. It makes no sense. Irritation shoots through me. I don't wait for him to answer. I do my shot and slam it on the bar, before standing, and saying, "You know what? I don't care." I turn to leave, but Cole grabs my wrist.

He holds on tight, like I'll die if he lets go. "He told me that you love me. He said he might have your body, but your heart is somewhere else, with someone else." Cole releases my arm and I freeze.

I can't move. I speak without thinking, "Why would Jesse say that? Why would he do that?"

"Because he loves you. He wants you to be happy, even if it isn't with him."

Mortified, I stare at the floor, refusing to meet Cole's gaze. This can't be happening. I feel a tremor rock through my body. I feel the cool night air against my hot skin. I feel Cole's dark gaze burning a hole in the side of my face, but I remain rigid. I can't move. Neither of us says anything. Neither of us moves. I don't know if I want the moment to end or drag on forever. Suddenly, I ask, "Are you following me?"

He nods, "Yes."

Shocked, I ask, "Why?"

"I wanted to tell you something, but I needed to know the answer to something first. I'd walk to your apartment or come in here, hoping to run into you, but I didn't get lucky until last night." I don't respond. I can't find my voice. My knees are jelly and the fuck-me heels are thinking about making me bend over a stool every time Cole's voice caresses my ears. "Tonight was different. I didn't follow you and him. I wouldn't do that to you. It was a coincidence. I was out with my lawyer going over testimonies for the hearing and your name is on the witness list for Sottero. When I saw it, I lost my mind. Then, I look up and there you are, beautiful and blindingly sexy. God, every man in the room wanted you."

"Not every man," I breathe. "Not the one I want." My words free me and I can move. I don't look at him. I step away, expecting Cole to say my name, but he lets me leave. My eyes are on the floor as I walk to the door. Suddenly someone is in front of me. When I glance up, I suck in air, startled to see Cole.

His eyes lock with mine, pinning me in place. "That's not true." My heart rate jumps, but I can't speak. Cole's blue eyes are filled with emotion. He moves to touch me and then acts like he thinks better of it. He swallows hard and says, "Every man wanted you. Every man in this room wants you." My heart is soaring, but I yank it back like a kite caught in a wild wind, fearful that it'll break apart.

"Desire isn't enough. I'm sorry." I push past him. The bouncer holds open the door. I look into his face and nod, noticing the sheen in his eyes.

I wrap my arms around my waist and walk faster. It makes my boobs climb up my throat, but I don't care. I want this night to end. I can't take another second of it. As tears streak my face, I hear footfalls race up behind me. A hand touches my shoulder, and I whirl around, ready to scream.

Cole's breathing hard, like he'd run after me. "How do you feel about me?"

"I already told you, and I'm not saying it again. No matter how demented you think I am, I have no desire for you to rip my heart out again. Leave me alone, Cole. Go fuck with some other girl's mind."

Cole presses his eyes closed, and his lips crush together. I turn away.

He doesn't move. Cole doesn't follow me. When I hear his voice, I feel it float over me and course through me like Cole is a part of me, "I love you, Anna."

Chapter 11

My spine goes straight as I turn slowly, my hands falling to my sides. Shock lines my face. I stare at him. "I didn't want you pulled into the crap with Sottero. I didn't want you to think I was wealthy and then find out I had nothing. It felt deceptive. I kept you at arm's length, telling myself that those were the reasons - that it was to spare you."

He's walking towards me as he speaks. Uncertainty draws his brows together. Cole looks vulnerable. I see it in his hands, in the way he holds his shoulders back, like the weight of his mistakes is crushing him. "But it was a lie. I kept you away because I thought it'd be easier to never have you, than to love you and watch you leave me when you found out that I'd lost everything."

"I'm not her - I'm not Sophia." The wind blows gently, lifting my hair in the breeze.

"I know, but the fear was there. It's always there. Everyone who - " he bites his tongue and shakes his head. "No, not everyone. Not you. I pushed you away. Everyone else left. It's hard. This is hard. I can't understand what you could possibly see in me. Once the money is gone, no one stays."

I stand there, staring at him. My mind is telling me to walk away, to say that he did this to himself. Live with it. But my heart takes control of my body. I step toward him slowly, like a battered cat, skittish and scared. My heart pounds inside my chest, but I won't release the death grip I have on my arms. Cole watches me, like he knows he lost me; like he knows these mistakes are beyond repair. I stand in front of him, nearly nose to nose thanks to my heels.

The grip on my arms loosens, and I lean in slowly and say what's been on my mind for weeks. "I don't want your money. I want your heart." I breathe the words, fearful that whatever spell he's under will crack and I'll lose him again.

Before I know what I'm doing, I lean in closer, brushing my lips across his. The sensation's so light. Heat sears my skin from being so close, from touching his lips with mine. But Cole doesn't move. The kiss slips across his lips and I nearly step away before his brain catches up with his body. Cole clutches my wrists hard, and he pulls me to his chest. He kisses my face and my cheeks, and finally my lips. My heart pounds harder. I don't know how this happened, how this night turned out this way.

Cole breaks the kiss and presses his head to mine. "You have my heart, Anna. You've had it this entire time." He grabs me, pulling me tightly to his body and kisses me harder. His kisses make my head spin. It feels like I've lost my mind, that this can't possibly be happening, but it is. We realize we're in the street and manage to get back to the apartment. Emma is still out, but will be home soon. We head to my room. Cole pushes the door shut and locks it.

I stand with my feet slightly apart in these insane heels, feeling the cool air drift between my legs. My skin is so sensitive, I can feel every bit of me. I want his hands on me, I want him in me. I keep thinking this is surreal - that I'll wake up and Cole will be gone.