His hand tightened in my hair, and he exhaled sharply.

I circled my hand around him, and he choked out a groan. He stayed still for a few seconds, his eyes directed toward the ceiling.

“Why didn’t you?” I asked. “If you thought about me so much, if you wanted me . . . why push me away?”

He pulled my hand away from his body, kissing the back of my knuckles instead.

“I couldn’t do this lightly. Not with you. I needed it to mean as much to you as it meant to me.”

He leaned down and kissed me sweetly on the lips. So sweet it burned, like sugar around the rim of a Molotov cocktail.

Gripping my hips, he slid me back farther on the bed, until just my feet were dangling off the edge. I sat up on my elbows and watched him as his eyes surveyed me from head to toe.

He picked up my right foot, and placed a tender kiss on the inside of my ankle. That kiss started a fire deep in my bones that ran through the rest of me like a lit fuse. As he kissed my calf and the inside of my knee, my bones melted down to liquid. His hands started at my heels and ran up the backs of my legs, tickling the sensitive skin. I squirmed, pulling my knees together, and he placed a hand low on my abdomen stilling me.

“Patience, princess.”

I had no patience left. Especially not if he was going to do the same thing he did every other time and pull back when he came to his senses.

I said, “You’re not going to change your mind, are you, Jackson? Because I can’t keep doing this.”


He said, “I hope you can keep doing this. Because I don’t plan on letting you out of this room until my seven days are up.”


His mouth trailed up the inside of my thigh, and I was breathing so heavy that I was on the verge of hyperventilating. One of his hands still pressed into my stomach, and the other pushed my knees apart. His teeth grazed my skin, and my hips bowed up.

He was going to kill me.

I could actually die like this.

“Please,” I said.

“Please what, princess?”

His breath fanned across my inner thigh, and just that was enough to send shockwaves of pleasure through me. The hand on my stomach slid down to the juncture between my thighs, and I completely lost it.

I turned my head to the side, and swallowed a moan.

His fingers drew me to the edge, working me until all I could do was whimper and breathe, whimper and breathe.

“Tell me what you want,” he said.

My body clenched around his fingers, and all I could say was “You.” His thumb pressed hard against my most sensitive spot just like it had the night before, and I said, again, “Oh God, you.”

All I knew was that he was too far away, and I didn’t need any more foreplay. Our whole damn relationship had been foreplay. I wanted him now.

I reached a hand down toward him, and he laced his fingers with mine. I tugged, and he stood from where he’d been kneeling. I pulled again, and he put his knee on the bed between my thighs.

He hovered above me, his body lean and muscled, and his eyes predatory. He looked like he wanted to devour me, and I was all too willing to be his victim.

I released his hand to touch his waist, and then I pulled his body down on top of mine. I threw my head back and moaned at the contact.

His mouth went to my shoulder, tracing along the line of my muscle to my collarbone. His thigh pressed up and against my center, and I held my breath. He lifted his head to look at me. When our eyes met, he pressed against me again, and the breath I’d been holding tore from my lungs.

He bent to taste my lips, gentle and focused. I clutched at his back, marveling at the way his muscles flexed and moved as kissed me.

“Please,” I said again. “Please Jackson.”

His eyes softened, and he pressed his forehead against mine. His eyes closed, and he took a slow, deep breath. Then he leaned down and placed a kiss on my sternum, between the swell of my breasts.

“Give me a second.”

He slid off of me, and I felt like I was drowning every second that it took for him to grab a condom and come back to me.

I rose up on my elbows, and he crawled above me. He kissed me sweetly, slowly, and the frenzy of our previous moments disappeared. There was a level of intimacy in just kissing him that I’d never experienced, and it left me excited and terrified of what came next.

Sex had never been a big deal to me. But everything about Jackson was a big deal. I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, afraid that I wouldn’t know how to have the kind of sex that meant something. What if when it was over, he regretted crossing that line?

His hand smoothed over my cheek and he said, “Don’t. Don’t do that.”

I didn’t know if he knew the exact line of my thoughts or just that I was worried, but it soothed me all the same.

He kissed me, and then slowly eased me back on the bed. He lay beside me, and I turned on my side to face him. I laid my head on his arm, and he pulled me into his chest, just holding me for a moment. We’d held each other like this before, but this time was different. My heart was thundering, and my skin sang. His hand traced down the line of my spine, and I arched into him. He continued over my hip and down my leg, his fingers curling behind my knee. A zing of electricity shot from my knee up to my core as he pulled my leg over his hip.

Our mouths met and he said, “God, I love the way you taste.”

He leaned into me, situating his leg between mine, and aligning our hips. He pushed inside me, and for a moment my whole body seemed to forget how to work. My blood forgot to pump, my lungs forgot to breathe, and my hips forgot to move.

His hands tightened on me, and he released a low groan into my neck.

He growled, “I love the way you feel.”

Laying on my side like this with our legs twined together, he reached deep inside me. I’d never had sex like this, wrapped up in another person until it was impossible to find the divide between us. His hips withdrew and then pushed again, and the friction had me arching my back.

My hips stayed aligned with his, but I bent backward until my head and half my back rested on the bed. Jackson leaned with me, curling around my body. His mouth burned a hot path from my collarbone down into the valley between my breasts. He kept a hand at the small of my back and used it to pull me in every time he surged forward.

He rained kisses down on my chest, and I clutched the back of his head, needing to feel him, to hold him against me.

He trailed up again, flicking his tongue over my collarbone and scraping his teeth against the column of my throat. My skin broke out in goose bumps, and I shuddered in his arms. He placed a kiss on the underside of my jaw, and I dipped my head down to meet his.

His tongue plunged into my mouth, mimicking the deep movement of the rest of his body, and I clung to him as he wrung pleasure from my body with each slow thrust.

“Kelsey,” he whispered.

I had to pry my eyes open, and even then each time his skin slid against mine I had to fight to hold up my eyelids. He pressed his forehead into mine, and rather than falling into his dark eyes, they seemed to pour something into me. Confidence, maybe. Or affection. Whatever it was, I stopped worrying about how this would play out. I stopped thinking of the ways I was inadequate. I stopped everything that didn’t have to do with this moment.

He said, “God, do you have any idea what you do to me? Any idea how long I’ve wanted you?”

I didn’t have any ideas about anything, except that I was so close.

I hooked my hand around his hip, my fingers splaying from his lower back to the curve of the rest of his body. I pressed my fingers into his skin, my fingernails spurring him on.

“Harder,” I begged.

His hips pushed forward, and I felt it all the way to my toes.

He slid the arm out from underneath my head and lifted himself up. He kept one knee between mine, and our hips fitted together. He used the leg I’d had around his hip to guide me onto my back. Then clutching my leg to his chest, he gave me exactly what I asked for.

His hips rolled into mine first, as I adjusted to the new position, then rocked forward harder. On his second thrust, I reached up and pressed my hand flat against the headboard.

His pace shifted from slow and steady to fast and hard and the bed creaked beneath us. I sucked in a breath, holding it as I drew closer and closer, and then I was falling all over again. Falling from that bridge. My heart in my throat. Falling for him. My heart in my hands. Falling apart. Falling together.

Falling into place.

It felt like hours before my heartbeat slowed, and I was strong enough to open my eyes.

When I did, my head was both clouded and clear. I couldn’t have remembered fractions or the state capitols or maybe even my name. Those things had been locked behind a wall of bliss. But Jackson’s face above mine? That was clear, as was the way just the sight of him made my heartbeat pick up again.

He lowered my leg to the outside of his hips, so that he was cradled between my thighs.

He leaned down and teased my tired lips with his own.

He said, “I could watch that a hundred more times. A thousand.”

I scrunched my nose up, certain that I’d probably made some hideous face in the throes of the moment. He smoothed the lines on my forehead with his thumb and said, “ I want to memorize the way your eyes clench shut and you bite down on your lip, so that I can sketch your expression from memory. I want to know the exact angle of the way your neck curves, and how many times your heart beats a minute. I want to know everything.”

I swallowed, my heart speeding up when it should have been slowing down. There were things about myself that even I didn’t want to know, let alone share them with him.

Changing the subject, I asked, “So you don’t regret crossing that line?”

His mouth trailed across my jaw, and he hummed under his breath.

“I can still think of a few other lines I’d like to cross before the night is through.”

He rolled, pulling me on top of him, our bodies still intimately connected. The friction teased my sensitive skin, and I had to steady myself with my hands on his chest.

He traced the curve of my body from my breast to my waist to my hip and said with a wicked grin, “You’re adventurous, right?”

Now, this was the kind of adventure I was always on board for.

Hours stretched into days, and we only left the apartment in Riomaggiore when we had to. We got whatever food and supplies we needed, but we never lasted very long before our tastes turned away from food.

Our seventh day came and went, and neither of us made any move to leave or end our time together. And I began to understand the Via dell’Amore a little more, that chair and all those locks. I realized it wasn’t the lock that mattered so much as the fact that it required a key.

Jackson had found every little sensitive nook that made my toes curl and my eyes roll back in my head. He knew what made me hold my breath and what made me cry out his name. He unlocked my body, and in doing so unlocked doors that held nothing but stale air and bad memories.

If I believed the stories I learned growing up, God made the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested. I wondered if, like me, the eighth day was when he watched it all begin to unravel.


I woke, my breaths pushing from my lungs like broken glass. Jackson wasn’t in bed beside me, and I curled into a ball, glad for his absence.

Pieces of my dream were slipping away, and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to try to hold on to them to examine or to push them away so I wouldn’t have to.

I’d been twelve again, but in that way that dreams don’t make sense, I was also twenty-two. Mom and Dad were arguing in the kitchen, and Mr. Ames, Dad’s business partner, had come upstairs. He said he was looking for a bathroom, but there were two on the bottom floor. He touched my shoulder. He told me I was soft. And like those animated flip books I played with as a kid, the sheets of my dream began to fan, and it wasn’t Mr. Ames’s hand against me, but the boy I’d lost my virginity to just a year and a half later.

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