I tugged the comforter down and planted my hands on either side of her head, tangling them in her hair. There was a primal part that took over when her hands flattened over the lower part of my stomach. My entire body tightened.

I dropped my forehead to hers. “You have no idea what you do to me.”

She dragged in a deep breath as I lowered my body onto hers. The feel of her softness under me had my pulse pounding like I had run a mile in sand. I clenched my jaw shut as she shifted under me, spreading her thighs and allowing our bodies to meet.

“Fuck,” I growled as a tremor shook me to the core.

Claiming her lips in a kiss that scorched my skin, I slowly rolled my hips against her. Fuck-a-dee-fuck, pleasure rolled down my spine. I wanted to sink into her, completely lose myself in her. Her hands gripped my sides as I rocked against her, trailing a path down her neck, to the swell of her breast and lower with my hand. I hooked her thigh around my hip, settling deeper against her. Our bodies rocked and her sweet, soft moan echoed in my thoughts.

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“I like that sound.” I thrust my hips forward, and she moaned again. “Correction. I love that fucking sound.”

I don’t know what it was about her, maybe it was everything, but it had never felt this good before, this strong and intense with anyone else. Not even my first time when it had felt like I’d jumped over a hundred-story building.

My fingers tangled with hers as her tongue flicked over mine, bringing me to an almost painful point where I thought there’d be a good chance I was going to embarrass myself. Even knowing that, I couldn’t stop. I slid my hand up hers, under her sleeve, over delicate skin and—

My hand stilled as my fingers came to a patch of rough, raised skin. Half of my brain was existing at cock level, but the other part took control. I followed the path of skin, dumbly realizing it formed a thin, straight line down the center of her wrist—the wrist she always covered with a bracelet.

No. No fucking way.

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My heart literally stopped as I lifted my head, staring down into her unfocused gaze.

“Cam?” she said softly, wiggling under me.

I turned her arm over and I looked. There was no mistaking the deep scar that ran several inches up her vein. My thumb followed it as I realized that this cut—oh God, this cut—had to be severe.

An ache formed in my chest, pouring through my veins. Muscles tightened and lumps formed. I wanted to wipe the scar away, to erase whatever it was that had caused this, because I knew she had done this to herself.

“Avery . . . ?” My gaze moved to hers, latching on. I could barely breathe. “Oh, Avery, what is this?”

A moment or two passed when she stared up at me, the blood leaching from her face, and then she tore her arm free. She clambered out from underneath me, yanking her sleeve down with such force I thought she’d tear the arm off her shirt.

“Avery . . .” I twisted toward her, reaching out.

“Please,” she whispered, climbing to the end of the bed. “Please leave.”

Stomach sinking, I pulled my hand back. “Avery, talk to me.”

Her entire body trembled as she shook her head.

“Avery—”

“Leave!” She shot from the bed, taking a step back like a wounded, caged animal. “Just leave.”

Every instinct demanded that I not leave, but the wild, horrified glaze to her eyes was more than I could bear. I went to the door and then stopped, trying once more. “Avery, we can talk—”

“Leave.” Her voice cracked. “Please.”

The muscles along my back tensed at the broken sound of her voice. I did what she asked. Not because I wanted to, but because it was what she wanted.

I left.

Eighteen

The moment I realized that Avery was never coming to astronomy class again, I literally couldn’t believe it. But it had to be the truth. Since the ride back from my parent’s house the Friday after Thanksgiving, I hadn’t heard a peep from her. No response to my calls or my texts. The times that I knocked on her door, there was never an answer even though her car was in the parking lot.

She hadn’t even answered the door for eggs.

When the weekend came again and the following Monday morning passed without Avery being in astronomy, I knew she had taken an incomplete.

A motherfucking incomplete.

It was insane for her to go that far to avoid me, and for what? Because I had seen the scar? I didn’t understand and I wasn’t stupid. She was obviously embarrassed and had gone to great lengths to hide the scar, but it hadn’t been fresh. It was something she had done years ago, so why did she hide from me now?

I talked to Brittany and even Jacob, since Avery didn’t show in the Den for lunch. Neither of them knew what the hell was going on with Avery. I hadn’t mentioned the scar. I never would, but I had hoped that they had some insight. They had none.

It was driving me crazy—the silence and the confusion. And the longer it went, the more acid that seemed to collect in the pit of my stomach, the worse the knots and the ache in my chest were getting.

Short of camping out in front of her door, there was little I could do, but I was determined to talk to her. And it happened on the last day of finals, at the start of winter break. Like a total stalker, I’d been staring out my front window, waiting for Ollie to return with pizza, when I saw her cross the parking lot with her hands full with groceries.

When I heard the soft footsteps in the hall outside, I threw open the door. Avery was in front of her door, her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, and the weight of her bags dragging her shoulders down. There was no doubt in my mind that she was trying to ghost through the door before I saw her.

That hurt.

And that fucking pissed me off.

“Avery.”

Her back stiffened like she’d been shot full of steel. She didn’t turn around or address me, and as my gaze drifted over her, I could see the pink tips of her fingers, strangled from the bags she carried. Some of the steam went out of my anger.

I sighed. “Let me help you.”

“I got it.”

“Doesn’t look that way.” I stepped closer. “Your fingers are turning purple.”

“It’s fine.”

She walked into her apartment and I shot forward. Hell to the fucking no. She was not going to disappear on me.

I took a bag from her, and she jerked like she’d been shocked. She dropped a bag. Items spilled forth. “Shit,” she muttered, stooping down.

I knelt, picking up items I really didn’t see. Her head was bowed as she swiped up a bottle of hair conditioner and then her chin lifted. Our gazes met. Dark shadows had bloomed under eyes, smudges that had not been there before. Was she sleeping? What was she doing during this time? Did she miss me as much as I missed her?

Avery looked away as she snatched a box of tampons from me. “If you laugh, I will punch you in the stomach.”

“I wouldn’t dare think of laughing.”

There was also no way in hell that I would let go of anything else because I was getting in that apartment and she was going to talk to me.

Seeming to sense she wasn’t going to get rid of me, she sighed heavily, like the whole world was about to collapse in on her, and marched into her kitchen.

She sat the bags on the counter, ripping items out of them. “You didn’t have to help, but thank you. I really need to—”

“Do you really think you’re going to get rid of me that easily now that I’m in here?”

“I could only hope.” She shut the fridge door.

“Ha. Funny.” I watched her head back to the counter. “We need to talk.”

She stacked the frozen dinners and headed back to the freezer before she spoke. “We don’t need to talk.”

“Yes, we do.”

“No, we don’t.” Not once did she look at me. “And I’m busy. As you can see, I have groceries to put away and I—”

“Okay, I can help.” I strolled forward, heading to the counter. “And we can talk while I help you.”

“I don’t need your help.”

“Yeah, I think you kind of do.”

Leaving the freezer door open, she spun on me. Her eyes narrowed as cold air wafted out. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Where in the hell did that come from? “It doesn’t mean what you think it does, Avery. Jesus. All I want to do is talk to you. That’s all I’ve been trying to do.”

“Obviously I don’t want to talk to you,” she snapped, picking up a pack of hamburger meat and tossing it into the freezer. “And you’re still here.”

Whoa. Anger pricked over my skin and I struggled to keep control of my temper. “Look, I get that you’re not happy with me, but you have to fill me in on what I did to piss you off so badly that you won’t talk to me or even—”

“You didn’t do anything, Cam! I just don’t want to talk to you.” She spun around, stalking toward the front door. “Okay?”

“No, it’s not okay.” I followed her into the living room. “This is not how people act, Avery. They don’t just up and drop a person or hide from them. If there’s—”

“You want to know how people don’t act?” She flinched, and for a moment, she didn’t speak. “People also don’t constantly call and harass people who obviously don’t want to see them! How about that?”

“Harass you? Is that what I’ve been doing?” I laughed hoarsely, unable to comprehend where this conversation had gone. “Are you fucking kidding me? Me being concerned about you is harassing?”

She took a step back, her eyes wide. “I shouldn’t have said that. You’re not harassing me. I just . . .” She stopped, smoothing her hands over the top of her head. “I don’t know.”

My heart rate kicked up as I stared at her. “This is about what I saw, isn’t it?” I gestured at her arm. “Avery, you can—”

“No.” Her right hand immediately circled the bracelet, as if she could somehow hide what I already knew. “It’s not about that. It’s not about anything. I just don’t want to do this.”

My patience stretched thin. “Do what?”

“This!” She squeezed her eyes shut and when they reopened, there was a fine sheen. “I don’t want to do this.”

Air went out of my lungs like I’d been punched. “Good God, woman, all I’m trying to do is talk to you!”

She shook her head slowly. “There’s nothing to talk about, Cam.”

“Avery, come on . . .” I started to take a step toward her, but stopped when she moved back, away from me. The look that shot across her face was part fear and part confusion, but it was the fear that drew me to a stop.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There was no way she was afraid of me, but the look on her face was like being shot through the heart with an UZI.

That reaction was killer. Had I hurt her somehow? The question was brief as it flashed through my thoughts and I knew the answer. I hadn’t hurt her.

Avery ducked her chin and looked away.

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