Muscles in my stomach clenched. I knew what he was talking about, but didn’t answer.

Dad sighed. “Boy, you know how I feel about what happened. Was it necessarily the right thing to do? No. But if you hadn’t done it, I would have. But you need to tell her if you’re serious about her. Secrets are . . . well, sometimes they are necessary and sometimes they kill things before they have a chance to grow. You get what I’m saying?”

I found myself nodding, but as my gaze drifted to where Avery and my sister had disappeared from, I felt knots of unease twist in my stomach. I knew I wasn’t the only one with secrets.

I was ten seconds from grabbing my sister’s cell phone and throwing it across the room during Thanksgiving dinner. I dumped another mound of yams on my plate. “Who do you keep texting?”

Teresa smirked. “That’s none of your business.”

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I arched a brow. “I’m your brother, it’s my business. Mom . . .” I paused, looking across the table. “You should tell your daughter it’s rude to text at the table.”

Mom sent me a dry look. “It’s not hurting anyone.”

Well, that was no help. I nudged Shortcake with my knee, and not for the first time. “It’s hurting my soul,” I murmured to her.

Avery rolled her eyes as she knocked my leg back.

“That’s sad.” Teresa dropped the phone in her lap. “So, Avery, how did you end up in West Virginia?”

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She whipped her spoon through the mashed potatoes. “I wanted to go someplace different. My family is originally from Ohio, so West Virginia seemed like a good place to go.”

“I have to be honest, I would’ve picked New York or Florida or Virginia or Maryland or—” She looked down when her phone chirped and grabbed her cell.

My eyes narrowed as I knocked Avery’s knee. Curious as to who my sister could be chatting with, I acted like I was grabbing for turkey, but went for the phone instead.

“Hey!” Teresa shouted. “Give it back!”

Avoiding her grabby hands, I leaned over into Avery as my gaze flicked to the screen. Murphy? What the fuck? “Who’s Murphy?”

“It’s none of your business! God.” Teresa grabbed for the cell. “Give me back my phone.”

“I’ll give it back when you tell me who Murphy is? A boyfriend?”

The red cheeks were enough of an answer. Granted, I didn’t expect my sister to stay single forever, but she hadn’t been serious since that dickhead.

She slammed her back into her seat, folding her arms. “Mom.”

“Cam, give her back the phone,” she ordered, and when I didn’t budge, her smile tightened in the way that was rare for her. “We’ve met Murphy. He’s a really good boy.”

I was pretty sure that was what everyone had said about the dickhead.

“He’s really nice and I like him,” Teresa said quietly.

I snorted. “That’s not a ringing—”

“He’s not Jeremy,” Dad cut in. “Give her back the phone.”

Avery had been staring at her plate and when her hand landed on my upper thigh, I suddenly wasn’t thinking about Jeremy the Dickhead or Teresa’s phone.

Her hand was on my thigh, so close to where I wanted it to be, and in that moment, call me what you want, I didn’t give a fuck that it was Thanksgiving dinner. If she just slid her hand up a—

Avery snatched the cell phone from my hands.

Son of a bitch. “Hey, that was so not fair.”

She grinned at me as she stretched around me, handing the phone back to Teresa. “Sorry.”

“Thank you,” she said, smiling at Shortcake like she was the messiah of cell phones.

I shot her a very promising look before I twisted toward Teresa. “I want to meet this Murphy.”

My sister sighed but relented. “Okay. Let me know when.”

I had no idea what Shortcake thought about this and it wasn’t until after the conversation picked back up that I knew this whole situation had to be weird to her. I thought about what Dad said about secrets and there had been plenty of moments today to bring it up, but none of them had seemed right.

How do you explain to a girl that it took months to get out on a date that you beat a teenager into a coma? That wasn’t something you brought up over dinner.

But Dad had been right. I needed to tell her.

I had to.

When I left my bedroom that night to go to Avery’s, I had every intention of talking to her. I felt like I did when I used to play soccer, right before a game started and my stomach was located somewhere between my knees and ass.

Shutting my bedroom door behind me as quiet as a goddamn mouse on Christmas Eve, I jumped a good foot when I heard my name.

“Cam,” Teresa whispered, popping her head out her door several feet down the hall. “You got a second?”

“Sure.” I glanced at Shortcake’s door and then forced myself away from it. “What’s up?”

“I just want to tell you that Murphy’s not really my boyfriend.” Teresa folded her arms along her stomach. “He’s just a good friend and we’ve gone out on a few dates, but it isn’t like that.”

Relief flooded me. I wanted Teresa to wait until she was thirty and knew how to handle a loaded gun before she started dating again. “I’m glad to hear that.”

She nodded, letting out a little breath. “But if you still want to meet him, I can set that up.”

“I’d like that.” No reason not to put the fear of God into a “good friend.”

She rocked back on her sock-covered heels as she looked up at me. “I really like Avery, by the way. She’s so sweet and pretty. And smart, which makes me doubt why she’s here with you.” She flashed a quick grin. “I do like her.”

The change of subject warmed me. “She is. I’m glad you like her.”

“Well, she’s got my seal of approval.” Teresa stepped back into her bedroom, pausing. She looked like she wanted to say something and then shook her head. “Good night.”

I waited until I was almost 100 percent positive my little sister wouldn’t catch me sneaking into Shortcake’s room before I knocked on her door as quietly as I could and then opened the door halfway.

All thoughts of having a nighttime confession went out the window.

Resting on her elbows, Avery Morgansten was a fucking sight to behold. Her hair hung down her shoulders and her face tilted to the side. There was an impish quality to the look she sent me, part seductress, part naïve. I knew she had no idea how damn good she looked lying there, which made her so much hotter.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hi.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

“I wanted to say good night.” That so wasn’t the truth, but I couldn’t remember why I was seeking her out other than I wanted to see her.

She clenched the bedspread. “You already told me good night.”

“I did.” I slipped into the room, closing the door behind me. I was drawn to her like pencil to paper. “But I didn’t. Not in the way I want to say good night.”

Her soft inhale was my undoing, but as I made my way to the bed and sat beside her, I knew that I was always undone around her. And she had no freaking clue.

My gaze drifted over her upturned face, soaking in the slightly flushed cheeks and parted lips, down to the soft swells under the thin shirt she wore. “I’m glad you decided to come here.”

Her eyes were incredibly wide when they met mine. “I am, too.”

“Really?” I leaned over her, placing my hand on the other side of her hip. “Did you just admit that?”

The corners of her lips tilted up. “Yeah, I sort of did.”

My body followed that barely there smile, drawing me toward her until my upper body hovered over hers. “I wish I had my phone to record this moment.”

Her chest rose sharply as she dragged her gaze to mine. “I’ve . . . had a wonderful time.”

“So have I.” I took a breath I didn’t need. “So what do you think you’re going to do for winter break?”

She wetted her bottom lip and a wild bolt of need shot through me. “I don’t know. I thought about taking off for D.C. one of the days. I want to see the Smithsonian and the National Mall. I’ve never been.”

“Hmm, that could be fun.” My mind was coming up with many different things that could also be fun. “I could be your tour guide.”

The grin kicked up a notch. “That . . . that would be fun.”

“It would be.” Without knowing it, I’d moved close enough that my breath teased her flushed cheek. “Pick a date.”

“Now?”

“Now.”

“January the second,” she said immediately, and for some reason, that blush of hers deepened. “Will you be available then?”

My lips curved up. “I’ll be available whenever you want me to be.” My heart thudded in my chest when her smile spread, becoming dazzling. I knew that I hadn’t come in here for this, but I was going to kiss her. There would be no stopping me. “Guess what, Avery?”

“What?”

“Remember how you just said you were having a good time?” I tilted my head so that my mouth slanted over hers. “It’s about to get better.”

“Is it?” she whispered.

My nose grazed hers. “Oh, yeah.”

“Are you not going to kiss me again?”

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Long lashes specked with red swept down as my lips brushed over hers. It was such a gentle kiss, but it was like a clap of thunder in my veins. Dropping my weight onto my other arm, I splayed my fingers along her cheek as I pressed a kiss to the corner of her lips and then the other side.

Sliding my hand along the nape of her neck, I tasted the skin of her jaw, the flesh below her ear. A deep chuckle rumbled through me when she shivered. When I pressed my lips under her ear again, flicking my tongue, she made a sound that blew the thoughts out of my head.

“Good night, Avery.”

I kissed her, pressing my lips to hers, working at the seam of her mouth until she opened, allowing me in. The taste of her skin had sparked a fire deep inside me, but the feel of her warm mouth ignited a blazing fire. I couldn’t get enough of her lips, of her kisses or the soft, breathy sounds she was making.

I groaned as I slid my hand out from underneath her, guiding her onto her back. Her body immediately stiffened, and I knew I needed to tone it down. The last thing I wanted was to scare her.

God, that was the last thing.

Cupping her cheek, I softly kissed her until her body relaxed under mine and then, shocking the hell out of me, her small hand ended up under my shirt, pressing against the bare skin of my abs.

It was like being branded.

Heat roared through my veins as my body jerked on reflex. Air punched from my lungs. She wanted to touch me? Holy hell, she could touch me. I pulled back, reached down and yanked my shirt over my head.

Avery’s mouth parted as her gaze moved over my chest, the tattoo, and then down. It was like a touch, but better. My body was burning to feel hers.

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