Her eyes drifted shut as her chest rose against mine. “Well, that was . . . really sort of perfect.”

“I’m really sort of perfect,” I teased, untangling her legs and setting her on her feet. “Everyone else knows that. You’re just a little slow on the uptake.”

She laughed, warming her eyes. “What are you going to do?”

“Take a cold shower.”

“Seriously?”

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“Yep.”

Another laugh bubbled up from her. “You coming back over?”

“Always.” I kissed her tenderly, pouring what I felt into the quick, all too brief kiss.

“Okay.” Her smile spread across her face and it was the most divine thing I’d ever seen. “I’ll wait for you.”

Twenty-Two

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“You’re not coming over tonight, are you?” Jase asked, his voice barely audible over the thumping music.

Slipping my feet into my shoes, I held my cell between my cheek and shoulder. “Nah. I’m taking Avery out to dinner. I guess if we get back—”

“No explanation needed. I don’t blame you.” He sounded bored, not with me, but with the whole scene. There was a pause. “Your girl doesn’t seem like the type who’s into the party scene.”

I got hung up on the phrase “your girl” and the rush of pride it sent through me for what was probably a second too long. “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

Jase chuckled softly. “She’s turned you into a changed man, hasn’t she?”

I smiled as I grabbed my keys. Jase might be right. Since I’d met Avery in August, a lot of my habits had changed, even more so during the weeks following fight night. “Something like that.”

“Well, have fun. Don’t impregnate her.”

A laugh burst from me. “Jase, man, come on . . .”

He chuckled again. “I’m kidding.”

Rolling my eyes, I said my good-byes and headed over to Avery’s.

We had a quick dinner in Martinsburg and then headed back to her apartment. I made a pit stop and picked up Raphael, letting him roam around Avery’s kitchen for a bit. The little guy needed his exercise after all. And Shortcake seemed to enjoy picking him up and turning him around in the other direction, so that he shuffled his way back and forth between us. This wasn’t something I ever thought I’d be doing on a Saturday night, but I wasn’t bored or wanting to be anywhere else. Truth be told, I was having more fun doing this than I ever had at one of the frat parties.

“It’s a terrarium,” I corrected her when she called his habitat an aquarium. “And he has a rocking terrarium. Got him a new one for his birthday.”

“You know when his birthday is?” She grinned.

“Yep. July twenty-sixth.” Speaking of such . . . “When is your birthday?”

“Uh, you have a while until you have to worry about that.” She crossed her ankles. “When’s yours?”

“June fifteenth.” I would not be deterred. “When is yours, Avery?”

She sighed. “It was January second.”

“I missed your birthday?” My brows rose as I leaned forward.

“It’s not a big deal.” She shrugged. “I went to the Smithsonian and then I got sick, so it’s probably a good thing you weren’t around.”

Went to the Smithsonian . . . ? It struck me then and I felt like an ass. “Aw, man, that’s why you said you wanted to go there on the second. You were alone? Shit. I feel so —”

“Don’t,” she said, raising her hand. “You don’t need to feel terrible. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I would’ve taken her if she had let me, but it still didn’t set well in my chest. “Well, there’s always next year.”

Her lips split into a wide smile that caused my heart to stutter. Needing a moment to myself before I did something incredibly stupid like get all vagina-emotional, I scooped up Raphael and took him back home, promising to come right back. I planned to talk to her when I did, about what I had done, but when I did return, I discovered Shortcake standing in the hall that led back to her bedrooms with a look on her face that did funny, twisty things to my insides.

The look on her face was part anticipation, part uncertainty, and the driving force behind it was an innocent curiosity that literally blew my thoughts out of my head. I had no idea why exactly it was important to talk about serious shit right now. Since the Sunday we cleared everything up, I’d been taking things slow, so slow I wondered if I could go any slower. Every night I ended up going one on one with myself to the point that my hand was starting to get numb while I took notes in class.

It was worth it though. The last thing I wanted to do was rush her, but right now . . .

Avery wetted her lower lip as I pulled my sweater off, draping it along the back of her couch. Her gaze dipped to the width of skin exposed between my shirt and jeans and a flush spread across her cheeks.

Yeah, Shortcake looked like she wanted to be rushed.

I sat on the couch while she remained by the hall, fiddling with the edge of her sweater dress in the soft glow of the TV. When she had pulled off her tights earlier, after returning from dinner, I’d spent an ungodly amount of time staring at her bare legs like a teen who’d never seen so much skin before.

“You going to come over here or stare at me the rest of the evening?” I asked, grinning as she took a deep breath and approached the couch slowly. I lifted a hand to pull her down next to me, but little Shortcake had something else entirely planned.

My grin faded as she put her knees on either side of my thighs and sat in my lap. My body’s response was ridiculously immediate. I hardened as I curled my fingers around her hips. “Hey there, sweetheart.”

“Hey,” she whispered.

“Did you miss me this much? I was only gone a few minutes.”

She laid her hands on my shoulders as she pressed down, bringing our bodies together in all the right places. “Maybe.”

Moving my hands up her sides, I cupped her cheeks. She had to feel me between her thighs. There was no hiding that. “What are you doing?”

Her tongue darted out, wetting her lips, and I bit back a groan. “What does it look like?”

“I can think of a few things.” I smoothed my thumbs over her cheeks, waiting to see what she was up to. Truth was, wherever she was taking this, I’d willing to plunge headfirst. “All of them have me extremely interested.”

“Interested? That’s good.”

Her eyes met mine for the briefest moment and then her lashes swept down, shielding her eyes as she closed the distance between us. She brushed her lips across mine, making slow and sweet passes. Then she increased the pressure. I let her lead, taking her cues as the kiss deepened. My hands splayed across her cheeks as her mouth opened. I flicked my tongue over hers and she returned the gesture tentatively. Something about that drove me insane. Perhaps it was the knowledge that she was learning all of this with me.

I trailed my hands down her back and she arched into the caress. My hands tightened on her waist as she rocked her hips. Good God, the way she moved in my lap was going to kill me. I shuddered as I balled my right hand into her dress, sliding it up her thighs. I had to touch her.

Sweeping my other hand around her front, I followed the path of her ribs and cupped one breast in my hand. Learning the curves of her body, I smoothed my hand over the tip. Avery broke the kiss, moaning as I circled my thumb over her peak.

“You liked that?”

“Yes,” she breathed.

Ah, that’s what I wanted to hear. I teased her as I trailed tiny kisses down her neck, guiding her head back. She pressed her breast into my hand as her hips shifted again. Intense pleasure rolled up my spine. Making a sound low in my throat, I pulled back, watching the flush of arousal spread over her.

Damn, she was beautiful.

“Tell me what you want, sweetheart.” I covered her other breast, feeling the nipple through her clothes. Wouldn’t want it to get lonely. “Anything. And I’ll do it.”

Her chest rose sharply. “Touch me.”

My body tensed up and then shook. When I spoke, I barely recognized my own voice. “May I?”

I slid both hands under the scoop neckline of her dress after she nodded, slipping the material down her shoulders, exposing her. I pulled it down, freeing her arms and letting the dress gather at her waist.

“Beautiful.” I traced the edge of the lace on her bra. “Look at that blush. So fucking beautiful.”

Lowering my head, I closed my mouth over the tip of her breast, kissing her through the thin satin. A strangled cry escaped her as I gripped her hips, sucking deep. My heart thumped against my ribs as her fingers dug deep into my hair, holding me close as I moved to the other breast. I nipped gently and was rewarded with another breathy cry.

Her body already trembled against mine, but I was nowhere near done with her. I slid my hands under the hem of her skirt, moving them up her smooth thighs as I blazed a trail of kisses to her sweetly swollen lips.

“Tell me something, sweetheart.” I made tiny circles along her inner thigh, coming close to her center. “Have you come before?”

She stiffened in embarrassment and when she didn’t answer, I made those little circles down her thigh. “Yes,” she said. “I have.”

“By yourself?” I moved my hand back up her thigh.

She squirmed closer, pressing down on my erection as she rested her forehead against mine. “Yes.”

I was relieved to hear that, even though I shouldn’t have been surprised. I skimmed a finger across the center of her damp panties. Her body jerked in a tempting way. I kept moving my finger, back and forth softly.

I could touch her forever.

Maybe I would. We could stay right here, one hand deep between her thighs and the other cradling her breast. I could deal with that.

But then Avery moved.

She slid her hand down my chest, over my abs, stopping above the band of my jeans. My cock swelled at how close she was. Part of me wanted to take her hand and finish it off, but the other part worried that I would lose control the moment she touched me. She rocked her hips as I made another pass between her legs, circling the bundle of nerves.

I was totally willing to risk losing control.

Nipping at her lower lip, I stilled under her. “What do you want, Avery?”

“I want to . . . I want to touch you.” A look of surprise scuttled across her face. “But I don’t know what you like.”

Oh God, I groaned at her words and pleasure bubbled up to my tip. I placed my hand over hers. “Sweetheart, anything you do is something I’m going to like.”

“Really?”

“Hell yeah.” I pressed back against the couch, creating space between us. “Whatever you want to do to me, I’m going to love it. You don’t have to worry about that.”

Happiness and heat flared in her gaze and then her lashes swept down as she flicked the button of my jeans open and then pulled down the zipper. I chuckled as she gasped.

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