And maybe I simply wanted him.

I’d wanted him for so long.

I slid my hands down to where the shirt gaped away from his body, slipping my hands underneath it. His skin was scorching, almost like he was suffering from a fever, and he seemed to shudder when my fingers brushed over the taut lines of his lower stomach.

A deep sound rumbled from his chest, like a growl, and something deep inside me answered. I tipped my head back. Our noses touched and then our lips brushed together in an almost kiss. So many emotions rose and scrambled together—awe, hope, lust, and something deeper—something that had always been there.

“Ella.” He breathed my name like it was a cross between a prayer and a curse. Resting his weight on one arm, he cupped my cheek with his other hand. He smoothed his thumb along my lower lip. “I never stopped thinking about you—about us. Not one day.”

My heart rate sped up. “Not one day?”

“No.” He pressed his lips to my forehead and then the tip of my nose. “And I know I won’t stop thinking about us.” A sweet, brief feel of his lips against the corner of my mouth as his lower body dropped wrung a gasp from me.

“Jensen,” I whispered as my body seemed to take on a mind of its own, reacting without thought. My legs inched further apart, letting him in.

I sucked in a sharp breath. The thin material of our bottoms was not much of a barrier, and I felt like I was on fire. My skin was burning and my insides were melting.

His forehead dropped against mine, and for a long moment he held completely still above me. Then he moved, dragging his hand from my cheek down my skin to my waist as his hips rolled.

I dug my nails into his hips and tried to silence the soft sound rushing out of me, but I couldn’t. He shuddered in response, and my body—my hips—responded. Curling one leg around his, I rocked against him, and then he was moving and I was moving. My head kicked back. His face dropped to my throat. I wasn’t thinking about anything, only feeling the heightening tension curling deep inside me. I knew what was coming. I felt it before, but never this intensely. Not with my hands digging into his bare skin. Not with his hands sliding up my front, dragging my shirt higher and higher.

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Jensen shifted slightly. His thigh was pressing hard against a very sensitive spot, and now we were moving more urgently. Our clothes were still on, but this was going to happen. I was chasing the tightening inside me until the tension built, reaching unbearable limits. Then it exploded. Wrapping my arms around him, I cried out as my body jerked and twisted against his.

I was still shaking, trembling when Jensen groaned, his cheek pressed against mine. “Ella, I’m going to have to get up, because I’m about—”

“Don’t.” I held him tighter and turned my head slightly, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “It’s okay,” I whispered in a voice I didn’t recognize, and he seemed to know what I was saying, because he moved until he was stiffening and shuddering, my name a harsh gasp in my ear.

And then we were both finally still, our breaths panting and hearts fighting to slow down in the faint moonlight streaming through the window. I closed my eyes, still feeling like I was floating somewhere near the ceiling. None of this felt real.

Jensen lifted his head. I could feel his lips hovering over mine. We hadn’t even kissed, not really, and . . .”I didn’t plan on that happening, but—”

A loud thud against my bedroom window sent an unwelcomed jolt of surprise through me. My arms slipped off of him as I turned to the sound.

Jensen was off me and on his feet so fast that I wondered if he had wings or was some kind of superhuman. Sitting up, I realized my shirt was shoved up to my neck. I hastily pulled it down as my entire body turned beet red. “What was that?”

“I don’t know.” He prowled around the bed, making an unerring path straight to the window.

I rose to my knees, my heart beating for a different reason. “Jensen! What are you doing?”

“Checking out what caused that noise.” He glanced over his shoulder at me, his features lost in the shadows of my room. “Stay there.”

The heady warmth all but evaporated as he pushed the curtains wide. Icy fear built in my stomach, but I scooted to the edge of the bed as he peered out the window.

“What in the hell?” he muttered, immediately reaching down to slide the window up.

Unable to sit still, I climbed off the bed and crept toward him. Cool night air washed over my legs. I wrapped my arms around my waist. “What is it?”

Jensen didn’t answer immediately, almost like he hadn’t heard me. I reached out, touching his shoulder, and his eyes swung to mine. “I think you should go back to the bed, Ella.”

I held his gaze for a moment, trepidation turning my insides into knots. “What is it?” I asked again.

Under the silvery light of the moon, Jensen’s features were stark as he reached out, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. He pulled me against his side. “It could be a . . . a coincidence,” he said, but there wasn’t an ounce of conviction in his voice.

Craning my neck until I could see whatever it was, my breath started to come in short gasps. My gaze fell to the still form lying on the roof, mere inches from the now open window.

It was a bird.

I pressed my hand against my mouth as I stepped back. Even in the faint light I could tell what kind of bird it was.

It was a cardinal.

NEITHER OF US slept after that.

Jensen carefully disposed of the poor bird as the sun began to rise. He stayed in my house as I quickly showered and got ready for school, and I knew that couldn’t have been comfortable for him because of, well, what happened before the whole dead bird thing. Just like I knew the walk to his house couldn’t have been all that enjoyable.

“I’m not leaving you alone,” he’d said.

I hadn’t argued.

His parents had already left for work when we crossed the driveway to his house. Like mine, it was an old two-story brick home renovated back when we were knee high to a grasshopper. Bright flowers in a cluster of reds, blues, and whites overflowed the flower boxes attached to the porch railing. Rose bushes climbed the ends of the porch, scenting the air.

I lingered on the wide front porch for a moment, struck by how many years had passed since I’d walked through these doors.

“You okay?” he asked, holding the door open.

“Yeah.” I forced myself forward, caught between the past when we were two kids running in and out of this very front door, and the present us—the us that had been in bed together a mere hour or so ago, doing things we hadn’t even discussed.

Drawing in a deep breath, I followed him inside. My first impression was that very little had changed since the last time I was here. His house still smelled of apples and cinnamon. Woven baskets were everywhere, some empty, others holding flower arrangements or odds and ends. His mom was into country—everything wooden and old looking.

“I’m going to take a quick shower.” Jensen stopped at the stairs. “Make yourself at home.”

“Okay.” I placed my bag near the front door and glanced up. Our gazes connected, and I looked away, unsure of what was going on between us.

Jensen got halfway up the stairs and then stopped. Pivoting around, he walked to where I stood and clasped my cheeks with warm, steady hands. My breath caught as he tilted my head back, pressing a quick kiss to my forehead.

“I’ll be right back,” he said.

And he left me standing there like I’d forgotten how to breathe or walk. Raising my hand, I touched the center of my forehead as my heart kicked around in my chest.

What were we doing?

What had we done in that bed?

We hadn’t had actual sex, but that was the closest two people could come to doing it with their clothes on. I had no idea what was happening, but this morning we’d crossed the line of friendship. I didn’t regret it—quite the opposite, but . . . but outside of that dark room and bed there was a past.

Sighing, I moved further into the house, and it was like taking a walk through memories. Everything seemed the same as it had before they’d moved. A few things were in different places, but it was basically the same. I could easily remember racing through the rec room, plopping down on the beanbags that used to be in front of the TV, and grabbing a game controller.