In sleep, I got to study him in a way I hadn’t been able to so far. He had a small scar that ran through his right eyebrow, and another on his chin. His nose wasn’t quite as straight as I thought it was, but had a slight bump at the bridge. I wondered if he’d broken it before.

His chest I’d seen several times, but that didn’t make it any less mesmerizing now. It too had several scars, one toward his shoulder that was small and thin, and I guessed was from a surgery. Another on his side was more jagged, and spanned the length of several ribs.

When I’d soaked in as much of him as I could without turning him over or removing those pajama pants that framed his hips so deliciously, I decided to try to catch another hour or so of sleep. Gently, I laid a hand across his abdomen. When he didn’t wake, I laid my head across his chest.

I’d barely released a satisfied sigh when I was flipped over onto my back, and my shoulders were pinned to the mattress. I cried out in shock, and then in pain at the force Hunt exerted on my shoulders. He was strong and all of his weight was bearing down on me, bending my shoulders back in a way they definitely weren’t meant to. His eyes were wild and dark and unseeing. His breath came in heavy, shaky pants, each one punctuated by a little more pressure on my shoulders.

“Hunt,” I said, but he didn’t react. I bent my arms at the elbow, and managed to grasp at his forearms. “Jackson. It’s Kelsey. Wake up.” I whimpered, desperate to make the pain stop. Louder, I said, “Jackson, please wake up. You’re hurting me.”

I don’t know if it was time or my words or something else that snapped him out of it, but he released me, and a look of horror dropped down over his previously blank expression.

Even though it was over, his breathing was still harsh and uneven, and it was several long seconds before he said anything.

“Oh God. I’m so sorry, princess. I’m sorry.”

His expression crumbled, ruins hidden in his eyes, and he started crawling backward to get off of me.

My hands shot out, and I gripped his arms.

“Don’t. Don’t do that.” I repeated the words he said to me in that café bathroom.


“Kelsey . . .”

I tugged on his arms, but they were immovable stone columns. I said, “Come back to me.” I tugged again, and this time the stone gave way. His hip hit the bed beside mine, but his chest draped across mine. He dropped his face into the hollow between my neck and shoulder, and his hands went to my shoulders, his touch now soft and soothing.

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

“Ssh.” I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and held on to him as tightly as I could. I didn’t know what plagued him, but I could guess, and all my guesses put my problems to shame.

“I never wanted to hurt you,” he whispered.

This was why he’d pushed me away. He’d thought I couldn’t handle this or wouldn’t want to. But the truth was . . . I’d grown up in the kind of world where people hurt you on purpose. To prove a point or to play a game. I’d take Jackson’s kind of hurt any day.

“Hey,” I said, pulling his face up until his eyes met mine. “You haven’t hurt me. I’m fine.”

He shook his head. “You don’t know, Kelsey. There’s this thing . . .”

“We’ve all got things like that, Jackson. I don’t care.”

I grasped his jaw and pulled his lips closer to mine.

Millimeters away from my mouth, he jerked back. “You should care. You don’t know anything about me.”

“Then tell me.”

He rolled over onto his back next to me and ran his hand across his face. I shifted onto my side, and laid my head on his chest.

He said, “Kelsey . . .”

I closed my eyes, settling into him. “You’re going to have to pry me off because I’m not going anywhere. And I can be pretty damn stubborn.”

He paused, and then breathed in an impression of a laugh. After a few seconds, breathing became breathing again and the laughter disappeared, but his arms settled around me. And that was enough.

We stayed locked together in bed for the rest of the day. Sometimes sleeping. Sometimes not. But no matter how we shifted or in what positions we lay, we never stopped touching for more than a few seconds.

And each time I was shocked by the ache I felt in those moments. It uncoiled quickly, piercing and pulling and opening a hole in my chest that echoed like an empty cavern until his skin met mine again. Each time I would sigh in relief, and hold him tightly, probably too tightly for a few seconds. But he never said anything. Neither of us did. Not about his dream or the way I was clinging to him. Not about the darkness that was so clearly lurking in both of us, filling up the spaces between the skin and muscle and bone.

We didn’t say a word, and I was reminded of those first few seconds when we’d leapt off the bridge in Prague. There had been so much noise and fear and adrenaline, but most of all there had been a permeating, inevitable, and calming silence as we fell and fell and fell.

When we finally climbed out of bed, we spent the evening walking around Florence. We did get that gelato. And we saw the replica statue of David outside the museum, which was close enough to seeing the real thing for us.

We had dinner on the garden terrace on the roof of our hotel, and we slept in each other’s arms again that night.

But still . . . all we ever did was touch.

And feel.


I was fairly certain that Hunt had meant to leave and jet off to another place the next day, but he hadn’t counted on spending the whole first day in bed. I’d thought once that Hunt was like gravity, but the real gravity was between us. Neither Hunt nor I had anticipated how much that pull would take over.

It was irrational, but I kept feeling like we’d lose whatever this was if we left our little hotel in Florence. Sometimes, I felt like we’d lose it if we even left the bed. It was an awful thing to be terrified of waking up, of standing, of going outside.

It was stupid, and when I wasn’t petrified, I was berating myself for it.

I was not this girl. I was not the girl who let her whole world revolve around a man. But then again, I’d never really let my world revolve around anything else but me. Now that I had stepped out of the center, and put someone else there, it was hard to go back.

So, he didn’t admit it, but I think he changed his plan. Instead of heading to another city, we stayed in Florence. Sometimes we ventured outside the city, like the day we took a bike tour of Tuscany. We spent an entire day, exhausted and sweaty, exploring hill towns that weren’t the typical tourist destinations. In most of the towns, we were the only tourists to be found. Hardly anyone spoke English, but they were so excited to have us.

In one village, we toured an art studio where the artist worked with alabaster, crafting everything from statues to lamps to chess sets. I bought a pale alabaster heart pendant, and looped it onto the necklace I was already wearing.

Outside one walled city, we found the most stunning ruins of a Roman theater. We couldn’t get very close, but we found a great view of it from the wall of the city, and I told Hunt everything I knew about Roman theaters. I told him the Roman names for all the parts of the structure like scaena frons and the cavea and vomitorium. I’m sure he didn’t care, let alone remember what I said a few minutes later, but he listened and smiled.

We biked along the winding roads, sometimes going hours without seeing a car. We stopped and had a picnic lunch in the grass. I stared up at the sky, finding shapes in the clouds while Hunt drew in his sketchbook. Me, I think.

When we saw a town in the distance, we went there, having no idea what it was called or where we were heading. I had the most delicious homemade pasta in someone’s actual home. We’d been looking for a restaurant, and were instead invited inside by Giovanni and his wife.

And even though the day was amazing, and we could have stayed in any of those towns or kept exploring forever, we couldn’t bring ourselves to move on. We rented our bikes for a second day and rode off in a different direction, meeting new people and exploring new places, but both days we were back in Florence by nightfall. Back in our sanctuary of silence where we didn’t have to question or label or analyze anything between us.

It was perfect.

Except for the fact that I was wound so tight from being close to him, from touching him that at times it became difficult to sleep at all.

He fell asleep faster and faster each night, and I stayed up longer and longer, my body aching from neglect. On the fifth night of our weeklong adventure, I couldn’t take it anymore. While he slept, strong and silent next to me, I let a hand trail down my stomach, and into the pajama shorts I’d worn to sleep that night. I was already slick and aching, and just the first touch had me pointing my toes and closing my eyes.

I sucked in a breath and bit down on my lip to stay silent, but my body was buzzing with pent-up energy. It was the same buzz I felt coming off stage, high from the lights and the applause and the attention. Only this all came from him. From

being near him and being unable to have him.

I circled my fingers, my back arching with pleasure.

I was so caught up and focused on my own touch that I didn’t realize Hunt was awake until he gripped my wrist, pulling my hand up and pressing it against the pillow above my head.

My eyes snapped open, and my jaw dropped. I didn’t know what to say. But I knew I was turned on even more by the sight of him leaning over me, and the feel of him pinning my wrist. I whimpered, and his eyes were so dark, they shone black.

Without saying a word, he touched the flat of my stomach, and then replaced my hand with his. The calloused pad of his middle finger pressed against me, and a galaxy sprung up behind my closed eyes as I bucked up into him. He pressed again, circling this time, and I didn’t have to be quiet now. I cried out and with my free hand, I gripped the wrist of the hand that shackled mine above my head.

He leaned over me, his head finding the hollow where my neck sloped into my shoulder. He inhaled deeply, the tip of his nose trailing a line up my neck. His finger swirled around my most sensitive part again, and I was so close already.

My fingernails dug into his wrist, and something like a growl tore from his mouth. He pressed his finger down, hard, and that was all it took to send me over the edge. I came apart with a low cry. Nearly a week of built-up of frustration lit and burned in my blood, and the rush of pleasure started in my head, as bright and deafening as a fireworks show. It shot down my spine to my center, and then flooded out to every part of me.

I arched up into him because the only thing that was missing was his mouth on my mouth, his skin on my skin. But before I could even drag his head up to mine, he rolled away from me and off the bed. He stalked into the bathroom without a word. As I lay in bed, my bones gone soft, I heard the shower switch on.

We woke up on the sixth day of our adventure, and neither of us mentioned what occurred the night before. Hunt’s eyelids were heavy as though he didn’t sleep, and I didn’t know what to say to make him stop feeling guilty. I didn’t know why he should. And every time I let myself brainstorm, my heart seized up the same way it did whenever I had to get out of bed and leave our sanctuary behind.

We only had two days left in Hunt’s week.

Two days.

And even though our deadline was arbitrary, I didn’t think we’d make it past that deadline without talking about something. And I was afraid that something would bring this all to an end.

With my now-routine morning regret, I rolled out of Jackson’s arms. He stopped me with a touch to my elbow. I turned and was struck by how surreal it was to see sheets draped over his bare chest. Our few nights together felt like years, and yet I knew so little about him. It wasn’t unusual for me to share a bed with someone I didn’t know, but it was unusual for me to be bothered by it. Maybe it was because in addition to not knowing his mind, I’d not learned his body either. His hand tickled at my elbow again, and he said, “Sorry about the nightmares.”

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