Harlow let out a small growl of frustration. “Stop calling me that.”

“No,” was my only reply.

“You drive me crazy.”

I closed some of the space between us. “I drive most girls crazy, babe. It’s what I do. And they like it.”

A grin tugged at her lips but she was trying very hard to hold her frown. “I can’t imagine why they would like it.”

I stopped when I got a couple of inches from her body. “Same reason you like it. I’m so damn sexy, you can’t stay away.”

Harlow let out a laugh this time. “Is that so? If I recall, it’s you who keeps showing up at my house. I’m not the one unable to stay away.”

She had a point. I had just flown all the way back here from Florida just to see her. I reached out and rested my hand on her hip. Her whole body went rigid under my touch. “Okay, so maybe I can’t seem to stay away, but you keep letting me in the house, pretty girl.”

Harlow sighed. “Guess you got me there.”

“So, see, I’m sexy and irresistible.”

Harlow started to say something then stopped.


“You decide not to argue with me?” I asked, stepping close enough to her that our bodies were almost touching. One move and her br**sts would brush up against my chest.

“What are you doing?” she asked. Her breathing was fast, and the nervous look in her eyes reminded me of a frightened deer.

“Just getting closer. You make me want to get closer.”

Harlow took a deep breath and she glanced down at our bodies before looking back up at me. “I don’t think friends do this,” she said.

I pulled her up against my body, holding her h*ps firmly in both my hands. “They don’t. But I don’t think about my friends the way I think about you, either. Tell me you aren’t attracted to me. Tell me you don’t think about touching me or getting close to me.”

If she said she didn’t, I would back away. It would be hard, but I’d back away. I would give her the room she needed. I just wanted to hear her say she didn’t want me, because I damn well wanted her.

“I’m not sure . . . I don’t think . . . what I want is irrelevant. You and Nan . . .”

“Me and Nan are over. There is no me and Nan. But there is a me and you. Even if you don’t want to admit it, it’s there.”

“I’m nothing like Nan.”

“You think I don’t know that? Damn, girl, if you were like Nan I wouldn’t be here. I ended things with Nan because she’s poison. You’re everything she isn’t.”

Harlow’s body began to slowly ease under my touch. I moved my thumbs against her waist in small circles, gently. “Most guys like me because of my dad. I keep my distance. I don’t want to be a status symbol.”

A sharp pain shot through my chest at her vulnerable words. Damn. Rush had lived with this same problem, but he hadn’t been a girl. He’d been a guy who didn’t care. He hadn’t been looking for someone to want him just for him. Not until Blaire. Thinking about a guy using sweet Harlow just to get near her father pissed me off. If I could hunt down every bastard that had hurt her I would.

I lifted my hand and tilted her chin up so that she was looking me directly in the eyes. I wanted her to see I was serious. I wanted her to believe me. “Never would I use you to get near your dad. I’ve known Kiro all my life. Rush is my best friend. I’m not starstruck by the members or lifestyle of Slacker Demon. This is all about you. I want you. Just you, Harlow. Just you.”

Tears prickled her big hazel eyes and she blinked rapidly. Had no one ever told her that?

“Will you kiss me now?” she whispered.

Damn. I felt like I was in junior high school again with my first crush. Five simple words from her and she had my hands trembling. I never expected her to ask me that. I wasn’t giving her time to change her mind, either. Covering her soft lips with mine was like nirvana. She tasted so damn sweet. It was one of the reasons I’d started calling her sweet girl.

I licked her bottom lip because I couldn’t get enough of her before exploring her mouth. Taking in her heat. Feeling her press her body against mine and her hands tangle in my hair. I was keeping her. I would do whatever I had to do to keep her. Hell, I’d move to L.A. if I had to. I wasn’t letting her go. For the first time in my life I felt home.

“I told you so,” I whispered against her lips before claiming her mouth again.


Present day

He had only called once after his friend had drowned. He’d been drunk and hadn’t made much sense. I had hoped he would call again the next day, but he hadn’t. I knew he was grieving and I decided it was a sign from God that he was fixing things. I had messed it up and allowed Grant to get close to me, and I hadn’t told him. I was lucky he never really cared for me. I had thought he did, and for a moment I let myself live in that fantasy.

I knew better now. The sweet words he’d spoken had all been a ploy, and they had all worked on me. I had taken them hook, line, and sinker. If I could take back that night, I would. I wasn’t going to romanticize it anymore. I had given him a part of myself I couldn’t get back. He had taken my virginity and run. For once I had let myself pretend.

I sat on the bed and stared out the window at the gulf outside. This was going to be an even tougher nine months than I’d first imagined. Not only did I have to deal with Nan, but I had to deal with Grant and Nan. I wouldn’t let it hurt me. I was stronger than that. Grant had taken my virginity but I had already been robbed of my innocence. Loving Jeremiah Duke had done that to me. I’d thought he loved me; I had thought he was my forever. He was so attentive and sweet. He carried my books at school and treated me with such care. I had told him the truth and he had pretended it didn’t matter.

Then I’d found him behind the bleachers after his football practice with Nikki Sharp’s cheerleading skirt pulled up and his shorts pulled down as he screwed her up against the cement wall. That had been it for me. I realized then that I was just Kiro’s daughter, and I was broken. I was only wanted for my social status. Nothing about me was special. That’s all guys saw when they looked at me.

Except Grant.

He had been different. I hadn’t been Kiro’s daughter to him. I’d just been a challenge. Once he got the goods, he was done. My grandmama had always warned me about guys like him. She’d be so let down if she could see me now. I shook my head. I couldn’t think about that. It only made me feel worse. I was a survivor and I didn’t dwell on things. Feeling sorry for myself never got me anywhere. It wasn’t something I did. Wherever I was and whatever situation I was put in, I survived. I was good at it. Grandmama always said, “Girl, you better hold that head up high and don’t let ’em see you fall. You show ’em the steel in that spine. I ain’t raisin’ a spoiled princess. I’m raisin’ a woman. A hard-working, self-sufficient, ‘don’t need no man’ woman. You hear me?” Never once did she act like there was anything wrong with me. She believed I was whole. I was fine. And at times I believed it, too.

Standing back up, I went to take a shower. I would get ready and go to the club and play tennis. They had a tennis pro there whom I could work with. Then I would play a round of golf. I would fill my days with things I could do without friends. Maybe even lie out at the club’s pool. I was going to make it through this.

Two months and three weeks ago . . .

The morning after Grant had kissed me in the pool, he was gone. The way he’d acted after kissing me had been strange. I wasn’t sure what was wrong or if he had just regretted it and didn’t know how to get away from me. Waking up the next morning without Grant there had answered that question.

Dad was also gone. He hadn’t come home from his latest party binge, but then I wasn’t surprised by that. Grant’s running off had hurt me. I hated that I felt anything for him. Kissing him had been a mistake. I wasn’t his type. I never wanted to be his type. Nan was not someone a sane person would desire to be with.

Locking myself up in my room to read didn’t sound as appealing as it had before Grant. Instead, I threw myself into tennis and swimming. I pushed all thoughts of Grant’s face out of my mind the best that I could. Someone should’ve put a warning label on his lips: Beware, don’t touch. They were hard to forget.

Three days after Grant had disappeared, I was outside swimming. Today I had successfully managed to push all thoughts of Grant to the back of my mind. So when my head broke the water to find Grant Carter standing there, looking down at me, I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things or if he was really there.

I pushed my wet hair back and wiped the water from my eyes. Then I opened them again, and there he stood. Still there.

“Hey,” he said with his sexy grin. I wanted to hurl something at him to make that smile go away. It needed a warning label, too.

I wasn’t in the mood to talk to him. “Nan isn’t here,” I replied. She hadn’t been back since she’d left for Rosemary the last time. I was sure that was where Grant had run off to as well. He had gone to find her. Like he always did.

“Yeah, I know,” he replied.

I really should’ve gone back to swimming and ignored him. It was the smart thing to do. But then he could possibly take that as an invitation to join me. “What do you need?” I asked, in the most annoyed tone I could muster.

“I came to see you. It seems once a guy kisses you, you’re hard to forget,” he replied.

Not what I had been expecting. I swallowed the nervous knot in my throat. I would cave and forgive him too easily if he started saying things like that. Where had my backbone gone? I used to be stronger than this.

“You’re mad because I left,” he said.

I thought about retorting and changed my mind. That would only give him more power. He didn’t need to know he affected me at all.

“It was a jackass thing to do. But you scared me. I like to flirt with beautiful girls, but I don’t handle it well when one simple kiss makes my f**king head spin. You make me want things and feel a certain way. I’m not ready for that.”

I was expecting a lame I’m sorry; not that. “Oh,” was the only thing I could come up with. What did it mean, exactly, that our kiss made his head spin? Was that a good thing? It sounded like it . . . maybe.

Grant ran a hand through his long, unruly hair and let out a frustrated sigh. “I shouldn’t have left you without an explanation. It was unfair and I was only thinking of myself. I’m good at that. I just . . . what can I do to get you to forgive me?”

He still wasn’t asking for forgiveness. He was asking how to get forgiveness. Had anyone ever asked me how to get forgiveness before? How . . . unique.

Warning bells were going off in my head loudly, but somehow I ignored that. Because my heart wanted to forgive him. I didn’t want to push him away. No one ever took this much time to get to know me. Being lonely was something I had grown used to. Having someone here who wanted to get to know me bad enough to admit he was wrong, someone who cared to ask me how he could fix it, meant more than he realized.

“Don’t do it again,” I replied.

Grant’s eyes went wide and then a slow smile slid across his handsome face. “I won’t.”

I stepped back as he started tugging his shirt over his head. He threw it aside and slipped off his shoes, and then his eyes lifted to meet mine. “I’m not leaving this time. When you get tired of me, you’ll have to force me out.”

I couldn’t keep the silly smile off my face.

Two months and two weeks ago . . .

When the door to my room clicked behind us, I knew this was it. For a week, we had been kissing and touching. It was hard for us to keep our hands off each other. Grant made me feel things I didn’t know were possible. He showed me what a real orgasm was. He had also taught me that screaming out in pleasure was okay. He liked it when I was loud. It always made him more frantic. His breathing would accelerate and his eyes would almost glow from excitement.

But tonight, I wanted more. I wasn’t going to stop things when they got too far. I wasn’t going to make him keep my shirt on. I was going to let us do what we both wanted. I was twenty years old. It was time I became a real woman and had sex. I was holding on to my virginity like some grand prize, and I wanted to experience a total connection with another human being. I wanted to know what it felt like to have Grant inside me. To get as close to each other as possible. I wanted this experience.

Grant’s arms wrapped around me from behind as his mouth touched my neck and began taking small nibbles. That always made my knees a little weak. “You taste too damn good,” he whispered in my ear, making me tremble. “I want your shirt off. I’ve been thinking about pulling one of your ni**les into my mouth all week.”

His hands found my hem and pulled my shirt up over my head, then he unsnapped my bra. He pulled it from my body and froze. I knew he would see it. I was prepared for that. His hand reached out and ran along the line across my chest that was so faint now, it wasn’t even very noticeable.

“What is this?” he asked.

“I was a preemie. I was born ten weeks too early. I had some surgeries before I was in the clear.” I didn’t want to explain anymore. He didn’t need to know the truth. That was enough. He lowered his mouth to my chest and instead of kissing my br**sts he kissed the scar. I closed my eyes because it made me feel guilty for not being completely honest. Then both his large, tanned hands covered my br**sts and I sighed from the pleasure of it.

“Does that feel good, pretty girl?”

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