And here in this small café in this small German town with possibly the most perfect guy in the world . . . it had finally caught up to me.

A knock sounded on the door.


Jesus. How was I supposed to face him when we both knew he was better off without me? We should just scrap this whole weeklong trip, and go our separate ways. He could continue going wherever he was going. I could go back to Texas and find out if they had rehabs for self-destructive bitches.

“Just a minute.”

He didn’t listen, because a few seconds later the knob was turning, and the door that I hadn’t locked was swinging open.

I rushed to wipe at the mascara under my eyes, and grabbed a paper towel to pretend like I’d been washing my hands.

“Hey,” Hunt said.

“Jesus. Impatient much? If you have to go that bad, I’ll get out of your way.”

I was almost past him when he caught my elbow and turned me toward him.

“Don’t,” he said. “Don’t do that.”


“Do what?”

“Pretend that you’re okay when you’re not.”

Funny thing, that. You have to know what’s real to stop pretending, and I lost sight of that a long time ago.

“I’m not pre—”



His eyes. His goddamn eyes drilled into the very core of me.

“Why do you care?” I was horrified to hear the hitch in my breath.

“Why wouldn’t I care, princess?”

“Because I’m horrible. All I do is screw things up. Including you. You should be running as fast as you can in the other direction.”

“But then who would carry you when you fake-twist your ankle?”

I choked on a laugh, which turned into a sob, and I covered my face with my hands before he could see me fall apart. “See? Horrible.”

He pried my hands away, so I just turned my face down.

“You’re not horrible, Kelsey. You are vibrant and beautiful, and you burn. Burn so vividly. Fires can damage, but they’re also beautiful and vital and they can purify and give the chance to start fresh. You’re not horrible. Not at all.”

I wanted to listen to him, wanted to believe the things that he was saying, but my brain could only seem to zero in on the fact that he knew I was destructive, too. I’d spent my whole life wanting to be something more, to be noticed, to burn like Kerouac’s roman candles, but I’d never stopped to think about the harm I could do.

“I think I should go home,” I said.

His hands on my elbows pulled me in closer, and he said, “I don’t know what to do to convince you.”

“There’s nothing,” I said. “There’s nothing you can do.”

I gave him a sad smile, and the hands on my elbows slipped around to the small of my back, and his lips claimed mine in a scorching kiss.

Except that. You can do that.

I resisted for a second, trying to pull back, but his arms wrapped all the way around my waist, crushing me to his chest, and a few seconds of resistance was all I had in me. I clutched at his back, my fingers scrabbling to hold on to him. His tongue slid between my lips, gliding alongside my own.

This was burning. The heat, the fire between us blazed, and I couldn’t be close enough to him. I let one hand trail down to his lower back, and slipped it beneath his shirt to press into his heated skin. At the contact, his kiss turned frenzied, and I felt the cool porcelain of the sink bump against my lower back. I dug my fingernails into his skin, and a rumbling groan poured from his mouth. The arms around my waist slid to my hips, and he lifted me up and onto the sink.

“I should stop,” he whispered against my mouth.

I hooked my legs around his waist and pulled him into me. I found that spot at the corner of his jaw just below his ear that I knew affected him and pressed a light kiss there. Then I grazed the sensitive skin with my teeth, and heard his hissing breath above me.

I said, “Don’t you dare.”

I returned to his lips and used the hand not under his shirt to pull his face closer to mine. My back pressed against the mirror, and the cool contact sent shivers across my warm skin. His hands slid from my bare knees up my thighs to the edge of my shorts. His fingertips dipped beneath the hem, ticking the skin of my inner thighs, and drawing a low moan from my mouth.

I tipped my head back against the mirror, and his lips trailed down my neck. I was so undone by him that my hands and legs were shaking, but that didn’t stop me from desperately pulling him closer. I traced the firm muscles of his back with one hand, and his hips pressed harder into mine in response.

I could feel the length of him pressed against the zipper of my shorts, and his mouth was working complete and utter magic on my neck, and I was certain that at any moment I was going to fall apart. I was going to burn so hot and so fast that I would just disintegrate in his arms.

His hips rocked into mine, his arousal pushing right at my core, and I arched into him moaning. He kissed from my neck down to my collarbone, and then nudged my shirt aside to place a hot kiss just above the line of my cleavage.

I reached my other hand down, intending to pull his shirt up and off, when a knock sounded on the door.

It was hesitant, and the voice that followed was the sweet café owner.

He said, “Food, sir. Madam.”

Hunt’s head dropped into the cradle of space between my neck and shoulder, and he groaned. “Damn it.”

Was it terrible that I didn’t care about going back out there? Sure, it would look bad, but we were newlyweds. Or they thought we were. I was all for staying in here and finishing what we’d started.

But before I could piece together the right words for this proposal, Hunt had stepped back and turned to face the wall.

I thought of staying there. Maybe I could tempt him back into another kiss. But then he groaned and cursed again, running his hands over his eyes and up to his shorn hair.

He wasn’t embarrassed. I was fairly confident he could have shaken something like that off with a smirk or a shrug. This was different. He was angry at himself. And the sweet glow of desire that had blocked out my earlier insecurities and fears faded, and I felt more ragged, more destroyed than ever.

It was fitting that Hunt had brought me to this particular town with this specific castle when there were so many other castles to choose from. Because this one, though beautiful, had been ravaged by time and left behind, broken and ruined.

I slid down off the sink, my legs still shaky from our kiss, and Hunt turned.

He said, “I’m sorry, Kelsey. I—”

“Don’t, Jackson. Just don’t.” Whatever it was, I didn’t want to hear it.

I reached for the door, and he pulled me back to him once more.

He pressed a hard kiss against my temple, sweet, but still tinged with anger. He said once more, “I’m so sorry.”

Then led me out of the bathroom.

The owner had fled after his little declaration, thank God. Hunt pulled my seat out for me once more, but there was an intensity between us now that hadn’t been there before.

Before there had been attraction and maybe friendship. And those things were there still, but had morphed into something more. The attraction was stronger and tinged with the darkness that only comes when you can’t have what you want.

Each step, each breath took on a voice, and I could hear it whisper why. It wasn’t enough to think of this gap between us as a line or a wall. I needed more than a metaphor. I needed to know what exactly stood between us.

We spent the rest of the evening pretending that the darkness wasn’t there, pretending we hadn’t just shared the most intense kiss of my life. We forced ourselves to talk and laugh over anything that could be even remotely deemed funny, like the fact that the food I’d ordered was some strange soup that looked like a mixture of oil and blood and smelled like whatever dead thing the blood had come from. I used one of my dares to make him switch food with me because if I had to touch that stuff, I was going to be sick all over the table.

By comparison, his meal was mashed potatoes with onions and some kind of blackened, oozing sausage. I would definitely be avoiding the sausage, but the mashed potatoes looked promising. That is until I took a bite and found lumps of something sweet that might have been apples mixed into the potatoes.

Heaven and Earth, my ass.

We kept up our facade through the entire meal. Hunt took my hand as we stood to leave, and we both thanked the owner, who had been smiling like a maniac since Hunt and I stepped out of the bathroom together.

He came forward and grasped our linked hands in his.

He said something in German that I didn’t understand, but I got the feeling it was a blessing, not that we deserved it.

Our hands stayed linked as we made our way through the darkened city to the train station where we’d first arrived.

“We’re leaving now?” I asked.

Hunt nodded. “I thought you’d rather travel through the night. But we can find a place to stay if you want.”

He didn’t look at me as he offered. Clearly, the idea of being anywhere near a bed with me right now was out of the question.

“No, the train is fine. We have a schedule to keep after all.”

I’d like to think I kept most of the sourness out of my tone, but the slow sink of his shoulders said otherwise.


I might have said to hell with Hunt’s issues and demanded we find a place to stay if I’d had any idea what I was in store for that night. I thought we’d be on another overnight train like the one we’d taken from Budapest to Prague. Instead, he’d lined up a series of seven trains. SEVEN. For a total of roughly fifteen hours.

It was a recipe for disaster (me being the disaster, of course).

The first train was just twelve minutes and took us to another station in Germany. From there we had just over ten minutes to jump on board another train to Basel, Switzerland. That one was about two and a half hours and filled with restless attempts to sleep on my backpack or the window or whatever surface looked appealing to my bleary, bloodshot eyes. Because I sure as hell wasn’t talking to Hunt, not without biting his head off.

We arrived in Basel just before midnight with six minutes to transfer to our next train. Hunt had to pick up my bag and pull me along at a run to keep us from missing our train.

I collapsed into the first two open seats I could find and said, “Remind me to never go on The Amazing Race. This is not as fun as you would think.”

We took that train, transferred to another in Olten, and arrived in Bern, Switzerland, roughly an hour later. We weren’t in any one spot long enough to even think about sleeping, which left me plenty of time to seethe in my frustration.

“Just keep thinking of Italy,” he said. “It will be worth it when we get to Italy.”

“Is there a shower, the world’s softest bed, and a professional masseuse waiting for us in Italy? Because that’s the only way I can see this being worth it.”

Exhausted, we arrived in Bern and I said, “Where to, captain?”

He pulled out the printed schedule that the ticket seller in Heidelberg had given him and flipped through the pages of timetables and information.

When he found the page he was looking for he said, “Oh.”

“Oh? What does oh mean?”

“We have a little more time for this transfer is all.”

“How much is a little more time?”

He scratched absentmindedly at his jaw, still staring at the paper instead of meeting my eyes.

“How much more time, Jackson?”

He offered a sheepish smile and said, “Five hours?”

“My brain is too foggy with sleep to pick which way to kill you, but give me five minutes and I’ll figure it out.”


“Sharks,” I said. “I would like to give you a few paper cuts and feed you to sharks.”

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