He didn’t know what he wanted from me either.

“I want several things from you, Kelsey. But at the moment, I just want a friend and to travel.”

I didn’t even hear the second part of his sentence. I was still hung up on the “several things” he wanted from me, and imagining what they all might be. Maybe I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted from him either.

He wasn’t a hookup. He wasn’t the kind of guy I could walk away from the morning after. But I also wasn’t sure I wanted the kind of thing I couldn’t walk away from. Because I was good at walking away.

I nodded. “Friends. Got it.”

A few hours later, he tugged out my earbuds once more and said, “We’re here.”

“And where is here?”


I looked at him. “Again, I say, where is here?”

“Still in Germany.”

“Okay, then. And what are we doing here?”


He pulled my pack down from the luggage rack for me and said, “There’s something I want to show you. Now, enough questions.”

I followed him off the train. I waited while he asked someone for directions, and then left the train station with him.

Heidelberg was small and quaint, though not that different from several other cities I’d already seen in Europe. There were cathedrals and narrow roads and a river. It was almost sundown, and the city was quiet and almost deserted. Hunt paused and turned in a circle, searching for something. When he found it, he smiled. I followed his gaze to a castle that sat perched on a hill overlooking the city.

It was both decadent and decaying, emerging out of the dense forest, seemingly untouched by modern society.

“You’re taking me to a castle?” I asked.

He smiled. “Come on, princess.”

I stared at him, unsure whether I should be frustrated by even more mixed messages or whether I should just be glad to have someone like him trying to make me happy. I could do worse than a friend like Jackson Hunt.

But he could be even better as something more than friends.

I knew how badly things could turn out when one friend was attracted to another. I’d had a front-row seat for the epic disaster that was my friends Bliss and Cade.

But there was a difference with Hunt. I knew he was attracted to me. I might have been drunk that first night, and I might have forgotten most of the evening at the baths, but I could never forget that. And that kiss . . . damn.

He wanted me. But there was something holding him back.

And not knowing pissed me off to no end.

We were on day two of our weeklong trip, which left me five and a half days to figure out what was holding him back and get rid of it.

Sure, it could backfire in any number of ways, most likely to my detriment. But if I had to get my heart shredded into confetti, he certainly wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

I looked back at the castle, and then at Hunt. I placed a hand on his shoulder and raised up on my tiptoes to place a quick kiss on his cheek.

“Thank you, Jackson.”

I let my hand coast down his chest as I turned away and began walking toward the castle. I heard his slow exhale behind me, and knew my plan was officially in motion.

We made our way through the city, and arrived at the edge of the town just as the sun started sinking below the horizon. A stairway led up toward the castle, and my feet hurt just looking at it.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Come on,” he said. “It won’t be that bad.”

“Um, you don’t get to assume things like that. People assumed the Titanic was unsinkable, and look how that turned out for them.”

“All I’m hearing are excuses, which doesn’t sound like someone interested in an adventure to me. In fact, I dare you to race me to the top.”

“You dare me? Is that supposed to make me suddenly eager to participate?”

“I’m daring you to have an adventure.”

“Well, do I get to dare you to do something later?”

He gave me a knowing look, and I was pretty sure he knew exactly what kind of dare I wanted to give him.

“Within reason, yes. And if you win the race, I’ll even make it two dares.”

I had a feeling that “within reason” was going to bar most of the dares I would think of. I said, “So, this is how this adventure is going to work? You force me to do something I don’t want to do, then I return the favor, and somewhere along the way we both miraculously start to have fun?”

“Sounds about right. It will be an epic montage when they make the movie about our lives.”

“My life, you mean. I’m the princess here. You’re just my guide.”

He rolled his eyes. “Then let me get your bag, your highness.”

He took my pack and his and hid them both beneath the leafy branches of a nearby bush. He said, “Wouldn’t want anything to weigh us down during our race.”

I shook my head and moved toward the stairs. Each individual step had a white painted number on it, starting with a number one on the first step. “How many steps do you think there are?” I asked.

“I guess we’ll find out when we get to the top. You ready?”

I nodded.

“On your mark,” he said. “Get set. Go!”

We took off running, and the little white numbers blurred into unreadable splotches as I took the steps as quickly as I could. I managed to stay with him through the first twenty steps or so, but then he started pulling away.

My killer stilettos kept my legs in decent shape, but not as good as something like, I don’t know, being in the army.

By the time I got to step number seventy-five, my calves were burning. By one hundred and two, my lungs had joined the party. By one hundred and thirty, I was ready to cut off my own legs just so I had an excuse to never take stairs again. I paused for a few seconds, panting, and looked up.

Hunt was God knows how many steps ahead of me. Fifty maybe. And he was just over halfway up the stairs.

“Screw this,” I whispered. I sat down on one of the steps, wiped a little dirt and grime on my hands and my shins, and then gave an elaborate (and maybe slightly overplayed) cry, followed by a low, painful whine. I clutched at my ankle, and bit my lip, and waited for—

“Kelsey? Are you okay?”


I didn’t look up at him, but stayed focused on my ankle. I said “Jackson” just loud enough so that he could hear me, then I sucked in a loud breath.

Thirty seconds later, he slowed to a stop beside me. He knelt on the stair below with hands outstretched and said, “What happened?”

I’d not blinked since I first decided to fake the injury, but I did then and the water that had been building in my eyes ran down my cheek, and I met his gaze.

“I fell,” I panted. “My ankle.”

He touched my leg, just above where I was gripping my ankle with both hands, and I hissed.

He jolted backward, apologizing.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s just tender. God, it hurts so bad.”

I wrung out a few more tears for effect.

“Do you want to go back down?” he asked. “I could carry you.”

“No, I . . .” I paused for effect. “I’d like to see it. I know I acted like a bitch at the bottom, but this was really sweet, and . . . never mind.”

“No,” He said. “I’ll carry you up instead.”

“I couldn’t ask you to do that. It’s a long way. I can try to walk.”

I was going to try to stand, fake another cry and collapse back down, but I didn’t even have to work that hard. Before I could try, he stood and scooped me into his arms. I gave a cry of delight that I quickly masked as pain, and buried my face into his neck so he wouldn’t see me smile.


The ascent to the castle was slow with Hunt carrying me, but I didn’t mind the extra time snuggled up against him. His arms were like bands of steel around me, but his breath against my forehead was warm and soft.

“You still okay?” he asked, and I nodded.

I gave a small whimper just to enjoy the way he pulled me even closer in response. I had both arms wrapped around his neck, and ever so slowly I let one of my hands begin to wander. I used my fingernails to lightly scratch down the column of his neck, and had to hold in a laugh when his step faltered.

He cleared his throat and kept walking.

He walked, and I documented his reactions, like the way his eyes closed for just a second when my fingertips brushed the hinge of his jaw below his ear, and the hitch of his breath when I dug my fingernails into his shoulder after a particularly “painful” jostle of my ankle.

I could feel his fatigue by the time we hit step 250, and decided to take pity on him. I lifted my head and said, “Jackson.”

I wasn’t prepared for how close our lips would come when his head turned toward mine. A knot of desire tightened low in my belly, and my thoughts fled.

“Um . . .I . . .”

The word want didn’t do justice to how badly I hoped he would kiss me again.

His steps slowed to a stop, and my heart went epileptic.

I could have kissed him myself, latched my mouth to his and held him tight. But I wanted him to come to me. I was tired of feeling him pull away. And if I had my way, within five and a half days, I’d have him completely. So I flicked my eyes to his, enjoying the strain I saw in his gaze, and practiced patience. My plan would fall apart faster than Lindsay Lohan post-rehab if I gave in now.

I said, “I can walk now.” Then added, “If you’ll help me.”

He didn’t argue, probably because he was glad for the distance. He set me down gingerly, and then wrapped an arm around my waist. I threw my arm over his shoulder, and then slowly we tackled the stairs again. I had to keep reminding myself not to forget that I was supposed to be injured.

When we hit stair number three hundred, we were only about ten to fifteen steps from the top. I sucked in a breath and winced. Hunt stopped and faced me. “What’s the matter? Did you twist it again?”

“I don’t know. I . . .” He knelt beside me to take a look, and soon as he was down, I took off running up the last of the stairs.

I heard him laugh when I hit step number 310, and I screamed in victory when I hit the last step, number 315.

I turned to find him slowly walking up the steps, shaking his head. His lips were pressed into a thin line, but I could tell he was holding back a smile.

“I won,” I sang tauntingly. “I wonder what I should dare you to do.”

Hunt approached me slowly, like a predator stalking his prey and my stomach fluttered in response.

I paused to pretend to think about possible dares, and I was too busy gloating to notice him run up the last few steps. I shrieked when he lifted me up and threw me over his shoulder.

“Hunt!” I yelled.

“You’re unbelievable,” he said.

I laughed. “I’m going to pretend that was a compliment.”

“Oh, it was, princess.”

“Then, put me down.”

“No can do.”

I struggled a bit, pretending to be unhappy, but the truth was . . . Hunt had a fabulous ass. And I had a fabulous view.

“What are you going to do to me?” I asked.

“I haven’t decided yet. Maybe this place has a dungeon.”

I whistled. “Kinky.” He pinched the back of my thigh, and I yelped.

I couldn’t see much (other than the aforementioned glorious backside), but the sun must have fully set because the sky in the distance was a vivid purple. I glimpsed a few other tourists wandering the castle grounds out of the corner of my eye. I took a wild guess and said, “Put me down, Jackson. People are starting to stare.”

“Let them,” he said. “It’s a nice view.”

Well, at least we were on the same page.

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