Which is an odd thought to have, and makes me very aware of the enclosed space. “Being in here is sort of like burrowing into a piece of bubblegum,” I say nervously, glancing at the closet’s pink wal s.

He doesn’t answer, staring at me like he’s analyzing a complex riddle. Uncrossing his arms, he hooks one hand in his front pocket while the other lifts, his fingers catching a strand of hair too short to stretch to the elastic pul ing the rest of my hair back. He slides it behind my ear, grazing the tip with his finger, and suddenly there’s no sound but the pounding of my heart. This is where I should put my hands up between us like I did before. This is where I should say excuse me and get out of here.

His hand drops to his side and he stares down at me, making no movement towards me or away. I suck my lower lip into my mouth, a nervous habit leftover from childhood, and his gaze drops there, sticks. A minute passes before he braces a hand on the wal just over my shoulder and leans closer, his eyes flashing to mine. “Tel me what to do next, because I’m not sure what you want.” His voice has gone rusty and low, like he hasn’t used it in weeks.

I know what he’s asking, despite the words threading across this scene: this is not happening. I shake my head, barely moving. Thoughts tumble through my mind, blurred, flashing in and out, opposites: kiss me, don’t touch me, come closer, move away.

“Al I’m asking,” his knuckles brush along my jaw, “is that you tel me, Dori, what… you... want.”

When he straightens and begins to back away, I almost protest, biting my lip to keep from doing so. This movement betrays me, though, because again, he stares at my mouth a long moment before his gaze shifts to my eyes.

“Or maybe, just tel me if I do something you don’t want,” he says quietly. And then his palms are skimming down my arms, and his mouth is on mine and he’s kissing me, sliding his arms around me and pul ing me up against his chest, hands pressing my lower back. Gently, his lips play over mine, teasing and testing and it feels so incredible, but somewhere in my mind is the tiniest nagging disappointment that he’s kissing me like Nick did, the few times he’d kissed me— safely—the last thing I expect from Reid.

Chapter 23


The last thing I expect is for her to open her mouth, almost imperceptibly, so subtly that if I wasn’t paying attention I might miss it. I’m al about paying attention. Even stil , her response is such a shock that I almost pause, but instinctively I know that if I give her a fraction of a second to think, this is over.

Careful y, I run the tip of my tongue across her lower lip and she gasps, opening wider, receptive. Permission to enter granted, and God knows she doesn’t have to indicate that twice. Sweeping my tongue across hers, I pul her in tight and hard when she responds perfectly and in kind. I suck her lower lip into my mouth and she mimics this the moment I release it, adding the slightest graze of her teeth.


Her hands are on my back, kneading and stroking while I’m doing the same to her. And then she makes this sound—a cross between a sigh and a moan, like a soft, subtle, wordless yes, and it’s al I can do not to come undone.

I can’t say if this is the best kiss ever. I’ve kissed a lot of girls. But I can say that I don’t remember another girl or another kiss in this moment. I can’t remember my own name in this moment. And I don’t want to stop kissing her.

Ever. And then my hands shift under her shirt at her waist, fingers brushing over the soft, warm skin of her lower back, and she tears her mouth from mine. Shit. Too far, too fast.

The warning hits my brain too late.

“Stop, stop,” she says, gasping. Her eyes are glazed over and I can’t hear anything beyond our mingled, panting breaths and her muted words. “Oh my gosh.” I’m waiting for her to shove me away but her eyes are closed now and she’s stil holding onto me so I’m not moving. I want to kiss her again and I’m exerting every ounce of self-control to stand here, unmoving, and watch her come back to earth. Shit, she is going to be so pissed in about three seconds.

Make that one second.

Her hands fal from my sides abruptly, like she’s just realized where they were. I loosen my hold on her gradual y, as though I can keep her from remembering where my hands were and what they were doing if I move slowly enough. I shouldn’t have put my hands under her shirt. I had no intention of going anywhere with that, I just wanted my hands on her skin, a tactile connection, like grounding wires, while our mouths fed the current between us.

Now her eyes are wide open and she’s staring at me, but I can’t read her expression. This is something new, something more than alarm or anger or exasperation. I don’t know what she’s thinking, and I don’t dare ask. She’s shutting down, like shades lowering, and then she’s ducking under my arm and I can’t do anything but lean against the wal , pound it once, hard, with my fist. “Fuck.” She whirls around. “Why do you have to use that word?” Ah, the almighty F-word. “It’s just a word, Dori.”

“Wel , I don’t want to hear it.”

I turn to face her, the judgment in her tone, which I can’t even begin to reconcile with the girl who was just kissing me like she was drowning in me. Like she wanted to. “So when I say fuck, it real y bothers you.” I’m not even saying it at her, but I swear to God, she flinches before she nods.

“Why? It’s just a word.”

Refusing to meet my eyes, she bites her lower lip (which only makes me want to kiss her again) while I stand here watching her, equal y silent. When she speaks, her voice is barely audible. “Because it takes something sacred and makes it into something ugly and insignificant. That’s what bothers me.”

“So you consider fu—sex as something sacred?” I can’t wrap my head around this. “Sex isn’t sacred—not under usual circumstances and probably not ever, between mental y balanced people. It’s just a physical need, like eating or breathing.”

She looks up at me, her eyes bright, though she’s not crying, thank God. “I understand that it’s physical, something we’re biological y driven to.” (Now there’s an unanticipated and annoyingly hot viewpoint for her to have.)

“But when people love each other, it’s different. It’s like—

like eating for pleasure, not just gorging yourself on whatever c-crap comes along.”

She can’t even say ‘crap’ without stumbling over it, and her argument is absurd. Eating for pleasure—Jesus, I could make al kinds of comebacks to that. She turns and runs from the room, the front door opening and closing quietly behind her a moment later. Because of course she isn’t going to make a scene leaving the house.


I’m driving home shaking. I’m angry, yes. At myself. But I’m not shaking from anger. I’m shaking from something else altogether.





generates a similar physical response. And yet not.

Reid thinks he knows who I am, because he’s made the same assumptions everyone else makes about me. That I’m a proper, straitlaced good girl. That I always have been.

But you know what they say about assumptions.

I met Colin Dyer during my first week of high school.

His family attended our sister church—the one with the architectural y impressive sanctuary located in a better neighborhood, with parishioners to whom giving back only ever means opening a wal et. Our church is their charity project, their contributions providing enough additional funds to pay for building repairs and help support our neighborhood programs.

Colin’s mother was my school counselor, and I was her office aide during fourth period. Getting an aide job as a freshman was unheard of, unless you had connections, and freshman was unheard of, unless you had connections, and thanks to Dad, I did. Being selected as Dr. Dyer’s aide was a highly coveted privilege. She was easygoing, and her office was quiet and comfortable. Her aides had firsthand knowledge of which students were troubled or in trouble, so not just anyone could work the front desk. She needed someone trustworthy and caring. I was both.

I worked the class period after lunch. By the end of that first week, I’d covertly inspected the family photos in her office while making copies or clearing her fax machine of junk faxes, so when Colin stopped by, I recognized him immediately. A senior and on the swim team, he was tal and slim, but muscular. His dark hair was cut very short, making his hazel, almond-shaped eyes even more striking in his olive-toned face. He walked and swam with equal grace, and possessed a confidence I craved and admired.

“Wel , hel o,” he said, his brows raised slightly, his gaze warm and focused. “You’re new.”

I frowned slightly, confused. It was only the first week of school, so anyone in my position would technical y be new.

“I haven’t seen you around at school before, so you’re either a new transfer… or a freshman. Or, in upperclass-speak, fresh meat.” He smiled, his teeth perfect and white, smal dimples denting adorably at the sides of his mouth. I felt my face heat. I had no idea how to respond, and though I knew I should be offended, I wasn’t.

“Colin,” his mother said, coming in with a stack of folders and a bag from Wendy’s, the aroma of French fries fil ing the office. “You’l need to pick up those goggles yourself. I couldn’t make it by today. I had to stop by the orthodontist to get Tara’s new retainer.” Tara was Colin’s seventh grade sister.

“Didn’t you just get her a new retainer?”

She smirked. “Yes. That one lasted a month before she

‘misplaced’ it.” She walked into her office to prepare for the afternoon’s onslaught of distressed teenagers and/or their parents, her voice trailing off. “If only they put little strings on those things like they have for bifocals and children’s mittens…”

He laughed, and I tingled, head to toe. I’d never felt so attracted to a boy before. As he turned back to me, I turned away to switch on the oscil ating fan behind my desk.

“So, fresh meat, what’s your name?”

My face warmed again. “Dori.”

“I’l be seeing you, then, Dori.” He quirked an eyebrow and was out the door.

I watched him in the hal ways between classes—senior and junior girls constantly orbiting him like planets caught in his gravitational pul , freshman and sophomore girls sighing as he walked by, other guys high-fiving him or throwing out plans for the weekend as they passed. He was extroverted, popular. I was al but invisible.

Whenever he noticed me, he’d smile broadly. “Hey, fresh meat,” he’d say, anyone within earshot tittering. I was embarrassed and thril ed. Once or twice a week, he’d show up in the counseling office to talk to his mother, but he always stayed after, leaning a hip on my desk and talking to me in teasing tones.

One day, he walked in carrying a dark pink rose. Dr.

Dyer was in a staff meeting, and I was alone. “Hey, Dori.” His eyes roamed over me. “You look hot today.” I stared at the desk, never sure how serious his compliments were. He smiled, moved closer, held the rose to my ear. “Yep, I was right. The exact same shade.”

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