In the dim light from the moon and street lamps outside, only the faint outline of McKenna’s curves were visible under the sheets. “Are you warm enough?” It didn’t escape my notice that she’d forgone the sweatpants, dressing only in the T-shirt I’d left for her.

She nodded. “I’m perfect.”

“I agree.”

She chuckled in the darkness. “That’s not what I meant.”

“I know. But it’s the truth. Sometimes I don’t even know why you’re here with me. Why you’ve never judged me the way others do.”

“I’m no one to pass judgment,” she said sadly.

She was the best, the most pure and selfless person I knew. How could she possibly think that about herself? Maybe it was time to learn about the inner demons that plagued her. “Will you tell me about your parents? How you lost them?” She stayed quiet. “You know so much about me and my past, and I want you to know that you can open up to me too, but only when you’re ready. I won’t force you.”

She nodded. “No, it’s okay. It’s time you knew.” She watched my eyes in the dim light as if deciding if she could trust me with the secret that burdened her. “When I was seventeen my parents died in a car accident. A drunk driver broadsided them on their way to church.”

I found her hands under the blanket and laced my fingers with hers. “I’m sorry.”

The shimmering hint of tears in her eyes made my heart clench.

“The worst part about it was knowing that it never should have happened. I fought with my mom that morning – I refused to go with them and I was the reason they got on the road late. It was my fault. And the last words I spoke to them were cruel and hurtful. I can never take that back, you know?”

I nodded. I knew about the finality of death and how it caused regrets and what-ifs to creep inside your brain and refuse to leave. “McKenna.” I squeezed her tiny hands in mine. “That accident wasn’t your fault.” She blinked several times, trying to fight off the tears. It was the damn drunk driver, she had to know that. Seeing McKenna’s pain made me feel guiltier than ever about my own drunk driving arrest. But without that wake up call, I doubted I would have ever met her.

“If I’d just been a good daughter that morning, put my own wants aside and gone with them….” A broken cry escaped her throat. “They’d still be here.”

“Have you heard of survivor’s guilt, McKenna?”

“Knox, don’t,” she warned.

“It wasn’t your fault.” I wish I had better words to say to soothe her pain, but I knew nothing ever would. It wasn’t fair how she’d lost her parents. They hadn’t deserved what happened to them, any more than my mom had deserved the cancer that took her. Instead, I pulled her closer, into the warmth of my body, and held her next to me and let her cry. Her body shook with silent sobs while I held her, wishing there was something I could do. I rubbed her back and let her soak my shirt with tears and whispered to her that it would be okay. Even if whispered softly and meant to soothe, my words were hollow. I knew from experience that a loss that great wasn’t something that ever fully healed. The best I could do was hold her and be there for her. Death and loss made no sense. There wasn’t any explaining it or rationalizing it. An accident like that wasn’t logical, and neither was McKenna’s view on her role. She did nothing to cause their deaths. And I hoped in time I could help her to see that.

After what seemed like close to an hour, her sobs finally quieted and I continued to hold her until the little rasping hiccups stopped, too. She moved from the spot where she’d burrowed in against my neck. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, and attempted to move back to her side of the bed.

My arms closed around her, keeping her close. “Never apologize for that. I’m here. And I know what it feels like to lose your parents.”

She nodded. “Thank you for listening and for holding me….”

“Shh. No need to thank me.”

“Knox?”

“Yeah?”

“This, us what does it mean?”

“What do you want it to mean?”

“More,” she admitted softly.

I had no idea what more meant to her, but I could only assume it involved me fully opening myself up to this process. “I like you, McKenna. You have to know I’m not like this with anyone but you.”

“I like you too, but this isn’t going to be like one of your other relationships.”

“So what do we do?” I traced her cheek and watched her eyes. She would have to take the lead, because I was at a total f**king loss for how to have a real relationship.

“I guess we see where this takes us.”

“I’ve never had anything like this, how do you know I’m not going to mess it up?”

“Because you’re a good man, Knox.”

I pressed a kiss to her lips, surprising her. I hadn’t meant the kiss as anything sexual, just a comforting endearment to show her I cared. But McKenna lifted her lips to mine and kissed me back. Her mouth was warm and soft and a jolt of pleasure shot straight to my dick. Now was not the time to get hard. McKenna’s body was nestled in against mine, just the thin layer of her T-shirt and my gym shorts separating the heat of her body from mine. She tossed her top leg over my hip and pressed herself closer, no doubt feeling every hard inch of me. I wanted her, but not like this.

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