Then just as suddenly, he released me. My feet hit the ground. My head stopped spinning. But I felt dizzier than ever.

He said, “Kelsey, I can’t.”

“You can’t? It seems to me like you just won’t.”

“You don’t understand.”

I stepped out of his arms, and backed away to the other side of the path.

“You’re right. I don’t understand. I don’t understand what about this is not okay.” People were starting to stare, but I didn’t care. “I don’t understand how we can spend every waking moment together, how you can touch me, how we can sleep in the same bed, sleep in each other’s arms, but this? This is somehow not okay? No, I don’t understand that. I don’t understand how you can kiss me the way you kissed me and feel the way I know you feel, and keep pushing me away. But I’m done trying to figure it out.”

I spun and ran through the tunnel, passing the lover’s seat that moments ago had seemed so poignant and perfect a representation of what I wanted and where I thought Jackson and I were heading. Maybe they didn’t choose locks because love is permanent. Maybe they chose locks because emotions bind us into place. They weigh us down. They pull your heart into a thousand different directions until the only option left is for it to break.

That chair was stone, stuck forever in that chaste kiss. It was hard, cold, and lifeless. A lot like Hunt could be at times.

So, I ran, my sandals slapping against the stone path. The tunnel was dark with rectangles of light pouring in through the window gaps. I got far enough away that I couldn’t feel Hunt’s gaze on my back or the gravity that pulled us together. Then, I slowed. My breath rasped like the sound of fabric tearing, threads ripping apart.

And then because the universe has impeccable timing (and because it hates me), a droplet of rain splashed against my forehead. Followed by a second and a third. Then the sky opened, and dumped an ocean on my head.

I yelled, “Fuck! Of course.” I looked up at the sky, raindrops pummeling my face and yelled, “Thank you. Thank you so much.”


The hard path jarred my ankles as I ran, but I kept running, more concerned with finding shelter. I could have turned back and headed for the tunnel, but then I’d have to face Hunt again.

No, thank you. Not after I literally ran away from him. Not after he pushed me away at every turn.

The stones turned slick under the downpour of rain, and my foot slid. I tried to catch my balance, but there was nothing to hold on to. I teetered backward and prepared myself for impact.

But my back didn’t hit rock, well, not the rock path anyway. A familiar pair of arms circled me. I saw Hunt’s soaked tennis shoes first, but I would have known it was him regardless. Even soaking wet and pelted with rain, I felt a shock of warmth at his touch.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

I jerked out of his arms. “I’m fine.”

I continued down the path, walking as fast as I could on the uneven, slippery stones.

“Kelsey, just wait.”

I yelled back. “I’m tired of waiting, Jackson. I think I’m done.”

I followed the path down into the village, and the streets were grimy with mud. I could feel tiny drops flicking up and landing on my calves and thighs.

I reached the home where we were staying, and ran up the rickety stairs that led to the apartment upstairs we’d rented. I threw open the door, and slammed it closed behind me.

I knew it was childish, and I couldn’t keep him out there in the rain, but it felt good all the same.

I tore off my sandals, splattering mud and water on the floor and my clothes. Then, maybe because I was crazy or because I was a mile past giving a shit, I tugged my soaking shirt over my head. It hit the ground with a slap at the same time that the apartment door blew open.

I heard it slam back against the wall once, then again, knocked by the wind. I turned and found Hunt frozen in the doorway.

His eyes went to the bare skin of my stomach, slick with rainwater and pebbled with goose bumps.

Spitefully, I said, “You’re welcome to stay outside. You know, if this is another thing you can’t handle.”

He stayed locked in the doorway, his hands gripping the jamb.

I unbuttoned my shorts and slid them over my hips, letting them fall to the ground.

I said, “Actually, I dare you to come inside. I still have one dare left from Heidelberg. So, I dare you to come inside and kiss me.”

His body leaned into the room, but his grip stayed tight on the entryway, and his feet firmly planted on the porch. His face screwed up like he was in pain, but he dropped his head and looked away.

I scoffed. “That’s what I thought.”

I spun and walked toward the shower in the corner of the room. It wasn’t even a room by itself, just a raised tile platform circled by a shower curtain. I turned the knob, and heard the pipes whistle at the same time the door slammed closed.

I’d thought maybe he’d left, but then I heard his gruff voice behind me say, “Fuck it,” and his hands seized my waist and pulled me back against his chest.

His wet clothing met my bare skin, and I shivered from the cold. His mouth found my neck, and those shivers became tremors. He nipped the juncture of my neck and shoulder, and I stumbled forward into the spray of the shower.

I gasped when the water hit me, and he squeezed my waist, pulling my hips back against his. One of his hands trailed upward and cupped my breast through my wet bra, and my head dropped back against his shoulder with a moan. He spun me around, and my back hit the tile wall just below the showerhead. Water spewed down onto both of his, but he didn’t seem to notice as he dragged my mouth to his.

God, we needed to argue more often.

He kissed me hard, his tongue prying my lips open. He cupped my jaw, and angled my head to kiss me deeper. I grew dizzy with desire as his mouth plundered mine. I grasped his forearms, my fingernails biting into his skin.

I was still frustrated and angry, and so was he. That made the connection between us all the more explosive.

I reached greedy hands for the bottom of his shirt, desperate for skin on skin. I ripped the shirt over his head. Water ran down his face and chest in tiny rivers, and I wanted to taste each one. I couldn’t resist touching him. I started at his chest, pressing both my hands flat against pecs, and he groaned in response. I slid my hands down to his abs, dragging my fingernails lightly over his skin. He growled, his fingers digging into my skin. I dipped my head, and licked at a trail of water at the center of his chest.

He gripped my jaw and pulled my face up to his. “You’re irresistible.”

I would have taken it as a compliment if he didn’t seem so pissed about it.

Okay, maybe I took it as a compliment either way.

“That’s funny,” I said. “Then what the hell took you so long?”

I curled my fingers over his shoulders, and his hands slid down my body. His thumbs pressed into my hipbones hard, his fingers splaying over the curve of my ass. And the only answer I got to my question was him tugging my hips forward to meet his. His strength undid me, sending every nerve ending up in flames.

His arousal pressed against my stomach through his jeans, and I sucked in a breath. He took advantage of my open mouth, his tongue winding and flicking against mine.

His hands explored my body, bold and strong like his kiss. My heart felt like a bird loosed from a cage, like it couldn’t stay perched in one spot in my chest.

He slid a hand up my back, unsnapping the clasp of my bra with ease. He broke our kiss just long enough to pull the fabric from between us, before crushing me against him again. I heard the wet slap of my bra hit the tile floor.

When my bare chest met his, a growl sounded low in his throat. His mouth pressed and pulled and coaxed mine into movement, and time seemed both too fast and too slow at once.

When my lungs burned for air, I pulled back, panting.

I said, “You’re the most confusing person I’ve ever met, and sometimes I hate you.”

Not the most romantic thing to say, but it was honest.

He pinned me back against the wall again, and this time gripped my wrists, locking them in place above me, too.

He growled, “This counts,” before nipping my bottom lip.

I didn’t know what he was saying, but I nodded because his leg pushed between mine, anchored at the juncture between my thighs, and every shift or movement caused something to rend and then mend inside me.

“Say it.”

I arched my body into his, pulling at his shoulders.

“Say what?”

“Say that this is real. Tell me it counts.”

He pressed his forehead against mine, and that thing that tore inside of me was so loud that it had to be real. Something hung in the space between my heart and lungs, detached from where it had been.

“This is real.” I shivered, suddenly cold under the spray of water.

He released my wrists and turned off the shower, pulling me out into the bedroom. Water streamed down our bodies, forming a puddle on the floor, but he didn’t even give it a second glance. He wrapped an arm around my waist and the other around my thighs, lifting me up above him. His head was in line with my stomach. He paused to taste the wet skin just below my breasts, and I closed my eyes. I clenched his shoulders, every muscle in my body pulling tight as his tongue darted out to flick over the sensitive skin of my ribs.

I said, “Jackson.”

I didn’t know what I was going to say next. It could have been more angry words or confusion or a romantic declaration. But I forgot it completely when he lifted his head higher, and took the pebbled tip of my breast into his mouth. I cried out.

Slowly, he loosened his grip, letting me slide down his body the way I had out on the path. But now, our wet skin melded together. My softness pressed against his hard muscle, and all I could think of were four-letter words.

When our faces aligned, he said, “This is what I should have done out there. This is what I’ve wanted to do a thousand times over.”

He claimed my mouth in another kiss.

I opened to him immediately, his tongue tangling with mine. He tasted like warm summer days and hurricanes, like everything I wanted and everything I didn’t know I needed. He caught my bottom lip between his, sucking and nibbling, and I was reminded of the first time I saw him. That terrible kiss in the ruin bar brought Hunt into my life. I never thought I would be grateful for the worst kiss of my life, especially not while enjoying the best.

He kept one arm banded around my ribs to hold me up, and the other dragged down my back to my ass. He cupped me, grinding me against his hips, and I wrapped my legs around his waist for better friction. But then I wished I hadn’t because my legs met his wet jeans, which I wanted off. Like ten minutes ago.

My fingers found the waistband of his jeans. I was pressed too tightly against him to manage the buttons, and I whined into his kiss.

I tugged on his jeans, and felt him begin moving toward the bed.

He dropped me on my back without warning, and I bounced against the mattress.

Shocked, I yelled, “You—”

I swallowed whatever insult had been coming when he flicked open the button of his jeans and slid them down over his naked hips.

When I managed to pick up my jaw, I followed his lead, slipping my underwear over my hips. I kicked them off, leaving us both bare before the other’s gaze. We were getting the sheets wet, but who the hell cared? For several long seconds, we both just stared at each other, drinking in the sight that for so long we’d denied ourselves.

Hunt smiled darkly and said, “My imagination didn’t do you justice.”

“Imagine me naked a lot, did you?”

“Only every other second.”

I smiled and the last of my frustration fled to be replaced by anticipation.

I sat up so that my face was level with his abdomen.

He ran a gentle hand through my hair. I turned into his touch and kissed his wrist. Then I leaned forward and licked a stray water droplet from his bare hip.

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