Jase laughed from his position on the couch, bottle of beer in his hand. “I really don’t think you could appear any badder, Ollie.”

He huffed as he kicked up his legs onto the coffee table. “At least I know ‘badder’ isn’t a word.”

Jase smirked. “That’s about all you know.”

I rolled Shortcake’s present into the outside hallway and then turned back to them, brows raised. “Are you guys going to be here all night getting drunk?”

“Yep,” they replied in unison.

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“Well, have fun with that.” Saluting them, I slipped outside and placed her present beside her door, against the wall. I knocked, fighting an idiotic grin as I heard the soft thuds coming from her gift.

Avery opened the door, her gaze dropping to the rose. “For me?”

“Of course,” I said, handing it over as I stepped inside. “I am really sorry about not being able to take you out tonight, but—”

“It’s cool. I know you have those meetings.” She carried the rose to the vase on her kitchen counter, where the rest of the roses I’d been giving her were. Looking over her shoulder at me, she cocked her head to the side. “What are you doing?”

I grinned. “Stay right where you are and close your eyes.”

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“I have to close my eyes?”

“Yep.”

Excitement flashed across her face, but she was desperate to play it cool. “So it’s a surprise?”

“Of course it is. So close your eyes.”

Her lips twitched. “Your surprises are just as scary as your ideas.”

I scoffed. “My ideas and my surprises are brilliant.”

“Remember when you thought it would be a good idea to—”

“Close your eyes, Avery.”

Her grin spread into a wide smile as she obeyed. Spinning around, I hurried out to the hall and rolled the gift inside. I kicked the door shut. “Don’t peek.”

Her brows rose. “Cam . . .”

“A couple more seconds.” I wrapped my hand around hers, leading her from the kitchen into the living room. “Keep your eyes closed, okay?”

“They’re closed.”

I squeezed her hand and then let go. Stepping up from behind her, I slid an arm around her waist and leaned over her, kissing her temple. Her fingers curled around my arm as she sighed.

“You can open your eyes now.” I kissed her cheek. “Or you can stand there with your eyes closed. I like that, too.”

She laughed, and I knew the moment she opened her eyes. “Oh my God, Cam . . .”

I’d decked out a fifty-gallon terrarium, complete with sand and rock bedding and foliage. Peeking out from a hidey-hole was a small tortoise, craning its neck, checking out its new home.

She made a tiny, squeal-like noise.

I chuckled. “You like?”

“Like?” Shortcake pulled free and placed her hands on the glass. “I . . . I love it.”

“Good.” I moved to stand beside her. “I thought Raphael could use a playdate.”

She laughed as she squeezed her eyes tight and reopened them. “You shouldn’t have done all of this, Cam. This is . . . too much.”

“It’s not that much and everyone needs a pet turtle.” I swooped down, kissing her cheek once more. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Avery spun around and threw her arms around me. She kissed me, stealing my breath. “Thank you.”

I brushed my lips over hers. “You’re welcome.

She slid her arms around my waist and leaned in. “Is it a boy or a girl?”

“You know, I really don’t know. Supposedly you can tell by the shape of their shell, but hell if I know.”

“Well, boy or girl, I’m going to name him Michelangelo.”

I threw my head back and laughed. “Perfect.”

“We just need two more.”

This girl was fucking perfect. “So true.”

She wiggled free, smiling. “Be right back.”

Before I could say a word, she pivoted around and took off down the hall. While she was gone, I pushed the terrarium against the wall and turned the heat lamp on. Hearing her approach, I turned around.

“Happy Valentine’s Day. It’s not as cool as your gift, but I hope you like it.”

A card was shoved at my chest. Smiling, I took it and peered down at her. “I’m sure I will.” Carefully, I opened the card. There was a message written inside.

You mean everything to me.

I stared at the message for probably what was too long. My heart was pounding and warmth flooded my veins. I smiled—I smiled like I’d just been handed a million dollars. And that was before I even saw the tickets.

I held them between my fingers. “This is an absolutely amazing gift, sweetheart.”

“Really?” She clasped her hands together under her chest. “I hoped you’d like it. I mean, I know not playing soccer sucks and I hope this doesn’t make you sad going to the game and you don’t have to take me—”

I caught the rest of her words with my lips and my tongue. I liked the tickets. The gift was great, but I’d never tell her that it was those five words that I loved. “Of course I’m taking you. The gift is perfect.” I nipped at her lower lip, and she gasped. “You’re perfect.”

Those words replayed over and over in my hand as I clasped her hips and pulled her against me. I was fully aroused, which seemed like a constant state of being around her.

My stomach dipped as she looped her arms around my neck. I didn’t have to say anything as I lifted her. Shortcake wrapped those legs right around my waist as I kissed her deeply, drinking her in and refusing to let her go. She moaned, and a painfully intense lust slammed into me.

I was on a mindless autopilot as I carried her back to her room and my stomach was still dipping as I laid her on her back. I stared down at her for a few seconds and then I leaned back, tugging my sweater off and tossing it aside. I leaned over, planting my hands on either side of her head. My chest was rising and falling in uneven breaths. I needed her as badly as I needed the rush of taking a ball down the field, of scoring. Maybe even more so than that.

She traced a delicate, slender finger over the flames surrounding the sun on my chest. “I love this tattoo. Why did you get it?”

“You really want to know?”

Her thick lashes lifted. “Yes.”

“It’s pretty lame.”

She continued to follow the design, sending a bolt of electricity through my body. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

“I got it after the fight with Teresa’s ex.” I slid my hands under her shirt, smiling at the feel of her soft skin and when she lifted up so I could remove it. “I was kind of messed up for a while. Couldn’t go back to school, was stuck in my home, and I’d done that to myself. I was worried that there had been something wrong with me to lose it like I did.”

She lowered her hands to her sides as I placed mine on her bare stomach, mere centimeters under the fragile clasp of her bra. My hair fell into my face as I leaned over, placing my other hand beside her head. “I was depressed. I was pissed off at myself and the world and all that bullshit.” I smoothed my hand down her belly, smiling when her hips lifted just a little bit. “I think I drank just about every liquor my dad had in his bar over the course of a couple of weeks. I knew my parents were worried, but . . .”

The hollow between her raised breasts looked absolutely lonely and distracted me. Lowering my head, I pressed a kiss between them and did it again when she sucked in a soft breath. “Jase came to visit me often. So did Ollie. I probably would’ve lost my fucking mind without them.” Placing my fingers on the clasp, I looked up, my eyes locking with hers. “May I?”

She nodded.

“Thank you.” I lowered my gaze as I unhooked the clasp, leaving the rest in place. I’d never seen her bare there before. I wanted to take my sweet-ass time. “It was something Jase had said to me while I was drunk off my ass. Don’t know why, but it stuck with me.”

Her chest rose as I dragged a finger up the center of her chest. “What did . . . what did he say?”

“He said something like things can’t be that bad if the sun is out and shining. Like I said, that stuck with me. Maybe because it’s the truth. As long as the sun’s shining, shit can’t be that bad. So that’s why I got a tattoo of the sun. Sort of a reminder.”

“That’s not lame.” She smiled.

“Hmm . . .” It was pretty lame, but it had worked. I hooked my finger under the edge of her bra and pushed it aside, doing the same to the other cup.

I devoured her with my gaze. The dusky pink tips of her full breasts immediately puckered, begging me. Staring down at them, I felt like I’d never seen breasts before. I wanted to touch them, lick them, and suck them. All at once.

“God, you’re beautiful, Avery.”

“Thank you,” she murmured.

I gently ran my hand over her breasts, marveling in the feel of them. Her back arched and my gaze flicked up to her face. “So perfect,” I said, the words a rushed, low growl as I captured a hardened nipple between my thumb and finger.

I wanted to see more of her.

Meeting her gaze, I lowered my hand to the button on her jeans. When she nodded again, it was like winning the fucking World Cup. I slid her jeans down, stopping at the skull-and-bones socks. “Nice socks. Very goth.”

When her jeans and socks were gone, I slid the bra down her arms. Within seconds, she was in panties. Rocking back, I admired my handiwork. The length of her legs and the curve of her waist were only separated by a scrap of lace. I almost went to remove it, but instinct told me no.

It didn’t matter what had happened in her past. Either way, I knew beyond a doubt she had no experience in any of this. All of these things—the kissing, the touching through clothes, being naked—all of it was a first for her. And I wanted to experience all of those things right along with her.

I kissed her slowly as I skimmed my hand over her chest, following the swell with my fingers. She moaned softly when I left her lips, trailing a path of tiny kisses down her throat. I hesitated for only a second and then closed my mouth over the tip of her breast.

Lust pounded like rain from a summer storm as her back arched and her hips moved. The taste of her went straight to my cock, blew a hole through my chest, and scattered all my thoughts. I twirled my tongue around the tightened tip as I slid my hand under the lace covering her.

Her legs tensed beside mine as my finger brushed her clit and her head fell back as I moved to her other breast and then worked my way down her stomach. I raised my head, my gaze locking with hers as I slowly slid a finger into her slick wetness. God, she was so tight, so wet.

“Is this okay?” I asked.

She nodded. “Yes.”

A smile played over my lips as I pushed with my finger. Her entire body reacted, trembling and flushing. I was shaking. As I held her gaze, I started a slow pace, thrusting my finger in and out.

“You’re so tight,” I said.

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