“It’s second nature. I don’t think about it.” His eyes wandered away and he took a long sip of his beer.

“I know. But I’m asking you to. To really examine it. And open up and share with me.” I knew I was asking a lot of him, and I didn’t know if he was brave enough.

“I will. In time.”

“What do I have to do for you to tell me?” I chewed on my lip, feeling brave.

He smiled. “You want inside my head that bad?”

I waited, silent.

“Fine. Take a shot with me.”

I opened my mouth to argue, then snapped it closed again. I could handle one shot. Couldn’t I?

This time Knox returned with two shot glasses, each with clear liquor inside. He set one down in front of me and kept the other in his hand. “This your first shot?” he asked. I nodded. “Cheers, angel.”

“How do I….” I paused with the shot glass halfway to my lips.

“Tilt your head back. Open your throat. Let it slide down.”

His voice was thick, laced with sexual tension, and my stomach knotted. But I did as he instructed, bringing the glass to my lips and tipping my head back. I felt his eyes on me the entire time, heating up the space between us. The stiff punch of liquor slid down easily, leaving only a slight bitter burn in the back of my throat. I quickly took a sip of my drink to clear away the taste.

“Good girl.” He licked his lips and set his own empty glass down next to mine.

I had a theory that Knox been looking for love and closeness in all the wrong places. His mother died and his father had run off, abandoning the family. And I knew he said he found his peace, if only for a short time, with girl after girl. The feeling never lasted long, though, and so he sought the next girl. I don’t think he knew he was stuck in that pattern until I’d come along and forced his eyes open. But I needed to hear Knox say it and connect the dots.

He grabbed his beer and took another swig, his eyebrows knitted together in deep concentration. “My mom and I were really close. I was a momma’s boy and am not afraid to admit it.” He smiled. I remembered the sketches he’d shown me. I knew he loved and missed her deeply. “When she died, it left this giant hole in me. I began chasing after girls in high school just to feel something. To feel alive. I dated in high school, and slept around a little, but after a while, it just wasn’t enough anymore. I needed something more. I started going out to bars and girls were even easier to pick up outside of school. It was simple. I didn’t really think about it. And when I was with them, I forgot all about my f**ked up life. For a short time anyway. It was a coping mechanism.”

“Didn’t that bother you – using them that way? Those were people’s daughters.”

“If you think they weren’t using me too, you’re more naïve than I thought.” He smirked at me, challenging me to disagree.

I’d never thought about it that way, but I supposed he had a valid point. Knox wasn’t the type to promise them the moon and stars. He was a take it or leave it kind of guy. And they freely took what he’d offered.

He’d been getting love the only way he knew how – by sleeping with anything with a vagina. It was sad, but on some strange level, I understood. Knox had spent many years feeling unloved and not capable of returning love. But I knew he was capable of more. I saw firsthand how sweet he was with his brothers. He’d stepped up to raise them and set aside his own goals and dreams. And I suspected he wanted to change. He’d been attending my sex addicts meetings for over a month now and hadn’t pushed me away, despite my constant questions.

“Still, Knox, you had to know that wasn’t right….”

“It's the only thing I know.”

“Then discover something new.” My eyes were pleading with his and I saw the moment my plea registered. His gaze turned hungry as his eyes flicked down to my mouth.

He leaned closer, his eyes soft and probing. “Meeting you has been interesting for me....”

My heart swelled in my chest and I wanted so badly to hear him continue. But he took a swig of his beer and let his eyes wander out onto the dance floor.

“So assuming you were still…that way, you’d be looking for a girl here tonight?”

“Most likely,” he admitted.

The truth stung, but at least he was honest. We watched in silence as a group of girls, one wearing a tiara and a sash that declared her the Bride, shimmied on the dance floor to the beat of hip hop music.

“So if you were here to pick up a girl tonight – who’s your type?” I looked on as a blond with large br**sts thrust her hips back and forth, too embarrassed to meet Knox’s eyes. I wondered if he’d go for someone so obvious about her body and looks. Someone so completely opposite of me.

“You really want me to answer that?” he asked. I nodded, still unable to meet his gaze. “Look at me,” he commanded.

I did. And his heated stare lit me up from the inside out. I felt my chest and neck flush. I dropped my gaze, sliding my drink toward me and sucking down a big mouthful. “Yeah, I want to know,” I said, finding my courage. The alcohol flowing through my veins was the likely contributor. When he was like this, so dominant and commanding, my body turned to a pile of mush, ready and waiting for his next command.

Knox’s eyes reluctantly left mine and he scanned the dance floor with a bored expression. Not finding anyone of interest, his gaze turned toward the crowded bar. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he said, his eyes not returning to mine.

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