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“Emmy . . .” My name was a broken murmur; his voice, raw and husky. “You can’t look at me like that with those pretty gray eyes.” His thumb caressed my cheek. “It brings back too many memories.” He leaned in closer, his lips brushing the outer shell of my ear. “It makes me want to take you to bed and fuck you until you scream my name.”

I didn’t answer. Couldn’t. My voice had failed me. Cognitive thought had failed, too. Acting on instinct, I placed my palm against his cheek, skimming my fingers lightly across his stubble-roughened skin.

His breathing hitched.

I wasn’t saying no. I wasn’t saying yes.

Ben’s eyes roamed to my mouth.

He wanted to kiss me.

I wanted to forget all the fucked up things that had happened and capture what we’d lost. I bit my bottom lip, letting my teeth pull against the tender flesh. Ben growled and his mouth came down on mine. His kiss was frenzied, his tongue stroking mine in a desperate way.

His mouth left mine only to travel down my throat, his tongue leaving damp kisses along my sensitive skin. His hand traveled north from my waist, moving under my shirt to press against my side. His thumb skittered along the underside of my bra but he didn’t go any farther. My heart thundered in my chest, waiting for him to make contact with my achy breasts.

“Emmy . . . tell me this is okay . . . I need to be inside you baby, so bad. . . .”

My sex clenched with his admission. I didn’t know where we stood, didn’t care. I wanted him just as badly. Wanted him to chase away all the hurt and confused feelings, and nothing would do that better than feeling his body overtake mine with raw lust and sensation.

His hazel eyes burned with passion. “If you want me to stop, tell me now.”

I stayed quiet, afraid of what I might say.

Ben lifted me like I weighed nothing at all, securing one arm under my legs and the other around my back, and carried me to his bedroom.

His room was spacious with a king-sized bed in the center, dressed in slate-gray sheets with plenty of fluffy pillows. The last of the sunlight was fading, giving the room a pretty, pink glow.

A cozy-looking, leather armchair was pushed into the corner and had several copies of Vogue scattered around it on the floor. But best of all, it smelled like the crisp, masculine scent of his cologne.

He lowered me to the bed carefully and sat on the edge. His fingers tugged at the hem of my shirt and I dutifully lifted my arms so he could remove it. After a flick of the clasp at my back, he slid my bra straps down my arms, disposing of my bra on the floor at the foot of the bed.

Ben’s eyes left mine to roam down my naked chest. He sunk to his knees in front of me and pressed a soft kiss to my belly. Then his eyes lifted to mine and he began peeling my yoga pants down my hips, taking my panties with them. I lifted up a bit off the bed, and he slowly slid the clothing down my legs, removing it completely. I was exposed and vulnerable, but I didn’t feel that way. His darkened gaze looked over me hungrily, making me feel beautiful and desired. I wanted him to touch me, to put his mouth and hands on me, but he just knelt in front of me, watching my eyes with his hungry gaze.

“Ben,” I whispered, unsure of how to ask for what I wanted. His hands captured my hips and he forced me to lay back against the bed, but I supported myself on my elbows, unsure what he was about to do. Ben crawled up my body, tugging his shirt off quickly. His warm skin pressed against mine and I gripped his strong shoulders. His lips pressed against my collarbone, the top of my chest, my upper arm. He trailed gentle kisses all over my skin, my breasts tingling in wait for him.

Finally his mouth kissed along the swell of my breast, his fingertips making feather-light touches around my nipples. He pressed my breasts together, admiring the generous cleavage it created, and brought his head down to lick and nip at my sensitive nipples. I let out a throaty cry. I didn’t know just how this could feel so good.

I squirmed beneath him, desperate to grind my center against him. But Ben was relentless. He licked and sucked at my breasts until I was writhing and moaning his name. Then he lifted his head and a tiny smile danced in his eyes, like somehow the sound of me moaning his name was his goal all along. Like it somehow made this moment more real.

I sat up and tugged ruthlessly at his belt, fighting to get his pants off. Ben, seemingly in no hurry, lifted onto his knees so I was face level with his groin. My trembling fingers finally succeeded in undoing his pants and I tugged them and his boxer briefs down his hips. He was rock hard and swollen. And even bigger than I remembered. His heavy length stood ready and waiting for me. Leaning forward, I took him in my mouth, sucking at him greedily, gripping him with both hands. As soon as my mouth closed around him, we each groaned. Ben’s palms brushed my cheeks as he watched me work, his eyes half mast and filled with desire.

“Fuck, baby. You give such good head.” I licked all along his shaft, letting him watch the sexy way I was kissing his most sensitive part. I felt like I must be doing something right because he groaned low in his throat, his body making little thrusts into my mouth. “Emmy, ah . . . fuck . . . fuck . . .” He pressed deep to the back of my throat and I felt a warm rush signaling his release.

Still kneeling, he came down on top of me, pressing my back into the mattress once again.

Even after he’d come, he was still rock hard and I felt him nudging against my lower stomach.

His fingertips lightly circled my sensitive clit as he whispered sweet and dirty things in my ear. “You’re so wet for me, baby. . . . Good girl . . . I want to fuck you so bad. . . .”

I whimpered as the pleasure built inside me. Taking him in my hand, I guided him to my entrance. Ben let out a throaty groan as the head of his cock met my warmth. I froze then scrambled toward the headboard and away from him.

His eyes widened. “Emmy?”

I shook my head slowly. “Condom . . . you have to wear a condom.”

His brow knit in confusion. We hadn’t used condoms in months, ever since we’d had the talk.

“I haven’t been with anyone else, baby. Have you?”

I shook my head. Of course I hadn’t. But he had. “Ben . . . you were with Fiona. I don’t trust it. I need you to wear one.”

His eyes dropped from mine to the rumpled sheets. “Fuck,” he cursed under his breath. After a long silent moment, Ben went into the bathroom, leaving me alone on the bed, giving me time to cool off and think. Neither of which were good. I just wanted to lose myself in the moment and not be reminded of all the crappiness of the past couple of months.

I lay still, trying to quiet my thoughts, to silence the doubts rushing in. I was already falling back into him, pulled into his bubble, consumed and unable to walk away. And I couldn’t regret that. This is exactly where I wanted to be.

He emerged a minute later carrying a box of condoms. He met my eyes and I knew he could read my reluctance. I was sure it was written all over my face. Perhaps jumping into bed with him was the exact wrong thing to do. I’d once told him that starting off a relationship with sex would never work. It needed to be built on something stronger in order to last. But the scent of his skin and the way that he touched me was almost enough to make me forget any and all rules. He was too tempting.

He approached the side of the bed then paused, waiting for my lead.

My brain, now working a bit more clearly, knew that this wasn’t the solution. I couldn’t fall into bed with him so easily again and expect our steamy hot sex to blossom into a real, trusting relationship. I lifted my chin and met his eyes. “If we’re going to do this . . . there can’t be anymore hiding things from me. I need brutal honesty between us.”

“There’s no if. We’re doing this, baby. You’re mine.” He stepped closer, tipping my chin up to meet his eyes.

The haunted man I’d grown to care so much about stared back at me. I didn’t argue.

“I think we should take things slow,” I murmured, a statement made all the more awkward by the fact that we were both naked.

“Fuck going slow. I love you. I’m in love with you, and I need you. I’m going to spend every day showing you just how much you mean to me. I’m not letting you go without a fight this time. We belong together.”

Rather than answering him, I tugged the sheet up around my naked chest, hugging it to my body as I maneuvered from the bed to stand before him. “I need to call Ellie. She was expecting me at our apartment.”

Ben stepped closer, but I continued past him, silently grabbing my jeans from the floor and tugging them on.

After dressing, I dug my phone out of my purse and discovered I’d missed six phone calls from Ellie and three texts. The last was:

WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU!?

I stepped out into the living room and stood near the floor-length windows to return her call.

“Emmy, where the hell are you? I checked your flight—it landed on time. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I was reluctant to admit I’d come home with Ben. He was firmly at the top of Ellie’s Dead to Me list. I spun around and met Ben’s eyes. He’d dressed in jeans and a worn sweatshirt that looked soft. “I’ll be home in a bit.”

Ben’s mouth tightened into a line and he shook his head.

“Where the hell are you?” Ellie’s worried tone pulled my eyes away from Ben’s.

“I’m, uh, at Ben’s.”

“What the fuck are you doing there? Better yet, let me grab my pitchfork and I’ll join you.”

“Ellie. I can’t just walk away from him.” Even as I said it, I knew it didn’t explain anything.

“Okay . . .” She paused. “I’m listening.”

I pulled in a deep breath and held it for a moment before releasing it slowly. “We’re talking. I’ll call you in a bit. Don’t worry about me, okay?”

“I just miss you.”

“I know. I miss you, too. See you soon, all right?”

Ellie mumbled her good-bye, and I could tell she was clearly not happy with me. I’d have some friendship mending to do later. Not only had I moved out suddenly last month, but I’d sort of been bad about picking up the phone when she’d called, too. I’d just retreated into myself while in Tennessee. Sleeping a lot, gardening with my mom, and eating plenty of home cooking, enough to offset the obligatory five-pound weight loss I’d experienced when I first got there. Stuffing the phone back into my purse, I could still feel Ben watching me.

“Come sit.” He motioned me toward the sofa and I joined him, being sure to keep plenty of space between us. “Are you hungry? I could order out.”

I shook my head. “I’m fine.” It was late evening, and though I hadn’t eaten dinner, food was the last thing on my mind. I was still spinning over what had just happened in his bedroom. I’d basically freaked out when I remembered he’d been inside Fiona. Maybe I shouldn’t blame him so much—he’d been passed out drunk according to him, but he’d still comforted her, let her spend the night. I shook my head to clear the thought.

“Where were you flying in from today?” I asked, suddenly remembering he was at the airport.

“I had a shoot in Miami.”

Oh. He didn’t say if Fiona was there with him, and I wasn’t about to ask. We were talking, making progress. I didn’t want to shut that down just yet.

“I’m sorry if I pushed you too fast . . .” His eyes wandered to his bedroom door and a shiver raced down my spine.

“It wasn’t your fault. I wasn’t thinking clearly, either. It’s just . . . been so long . . .”

He laced his fingers with mine and gave my palm a squeeze. “Talk to me, baby.”

My shoulders relaxed a little, the stiff posture I’d been holding easing. “It’s just going to take me some time.” I didn’t add that I wasn’t sure we could ever get back what we had, though the thought filtered through my mind.

“I’ve got time. We’ll take as long as you want.” He lifted my hand to his mouth and pressed a tender kiss to my palm. “I’ll wait as long as you need.”

I realized that Ben and I had rushed right into the physical. Again. I had so much to figure out—where we stood, where I was going to work. . . . I needed to sort things out before I could rush back into this.

“I need to go slow.” My voice was firm, and I silently patted myself on the back.

“Slow?” he asked.

“Like, we’ll date . . . and wait to have sex. . . .”

“Waiting . . .” His eyebrows lifted. “Hmm . . . that’s different. . . .”

He’d never waited for sex in his life, that I was sure of. He could have any girl he wanted dropping her panties in a matter of minutes.

“What, you don’t like the idea?” I asked.

“If it’s what you want, I will do it. Gladly.”

I nodded. Good. “It’s what I need.”

“Will you sleep over?”

I chewed on my bottom lip. “I don’t know, Ben . . .” It probably wasn’t the best idea.

“Just sleep. I won’t touch you unless you ask me. Please.”

He looked tired—exhausted, really—and it felt selfish to say no when I knew sleeping beside me worked wonders for his insomnia. Besides, it wasn’t as though I actually wanted to leave. Curling up in his bed, breathing in his scent, feeling warm and secure in his arms sounded fabulous.

“Okay,” I acquiesced.

“Okay?” A lazy smile overtook his face.

I returned his smile and placed my hand in his. Ben pulled me from the couch and guided me back to his bedroom, the room where things had grown too heated just a few moments before.

Ben carried my suitcase into his room, and I sent a text to Ellie telling her I’d see her in the morning. I fished out my toiletry bag then joined him in the bathroom where we brushed our teeth side by side at the dual vanity. Ben cast glances at me in the mirror. I liked being in his space. It felt domestic and very normal after everything we’d been through.

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