It’s been a long time since I’ve been this content. Not that I don’t want more. Because God, I do. But I’m not desperate enough to forsake the need to hold her close, to feel her heart beat against me, to require nothing more than the exquisite fusing of our mouths and the stroke of our fingers over each other.

We lie entwined in the center of the bed, spent from a couple of hours of kissing that set fire to every emotion I’ve ever felt for this girl. I know she can tell that I’ve held myself in check a couple of times, physically—a small crease appears on her forehead, or she affects a marginal withdrawal of her own. I hope she knows there’s no need for her worry. As much as I want her, I’ve been falling in love with her for months, and sleeping with someone you’re in love with shifts everything to a more complex level. I can’t go there alone. I have to know she’s going with me.

As if sensing my heavy thoughts, she turns her face up from my shoulder and stares into my eyes, silent. My fingertips continue caressing her arm, up and over her shoulder, down her back, and I shamelessly examine the distinctive facets of her gray-green eyes, savoring the unguarded way she allows me to study her. My head tells me it’s far too soon to tell her everything my heart wants me to blurt out. The last thing I want to do is scare her away. I’ll take as long as she needs, be more patient than I’ve ever been, if it means she’ll be mine in the end. I’m not afraid of my own feelings. I’m only afraid of misjudging hers.

The words lay on my tongue, unspoken. Waiting. My fingers have wandered up her back, rising and falling over each tiny arch of vertebrae until I reach her neck. Shifting, I lean over her and kiss her gently. My lips are sore and I know hers must be, too, though I’ve tried to use restraint. I smile now, knowing that any restraint I’ve employed didn’t last long. I’ve practically devoured her for the past two hours. From the bedside table, our phones have beeped and buzzed a couple of times each, but neither of us made any move towards them.

“What are you smiling about?” she asks, her voice rasping between regular speech and a whisper, a tentative answering smile on her red, red mouth.

“I was thinking about how sore my lips are, and wondering if yours are, too.”

She nods, her smile expanding. “I don’t think I can feel them.”

“Can you feel this?” I ask, leaning closer to run my tongue over her swollen lower lip, dipping inside her mouth when she opens with a sigh.

“Mmm-hmm,” she says, raising her hand to my face and holding me just so, mirroring my effort. When her small tongue slips inside my mouth, I release a moan that sounds more like a growl and then I’m rattling off baseball statistics and diagramming sentences in my head. (I was so sure last semester’s Advanced Structures of Modern English would never come to any practical use.)

“Maybe,” my voice breaks and I clear my throat, “Maybe we should get dinner… or something.”


She blinks, and I’m glad to see she’s as affected as I am. “Room service and a movie?” She gestures to the television, reading my mind.

“Sounds perfect. I don’t want to leave this room. Well, I mean, not until I have to. Um—”

“Would you… want to sleep here?” Her eyes fall, watching her own hand where it lays on my chest, rising and falling with every breath I take. My heartbeat accelerates with her words; she must feel it pounding under her palm. “We only have a couple of days, and I’ll probably fall asleep if we’re up late…”

She doesn’t mention the biggest impediment—the fact that thanks to the ruse she and Reid are perpetrating, she and I can’t be demonstrative in public. Her room—and mine—are like private islands. The only places we’ll be safe to touch unguardedly.

“And you want me here when you wake up?” She nods, and I kiss her carefully. “I would love to stay with you tonight, Emma.” Tipping her chin up, I look into her eyes. “And I’m not taking that as an invitation for anything other than sleeping next to you.”

After dinner, I walk to my room to grab a toothbrush and clean stuff to wear tomorrow, checking my phone messages on the way. No calls from home, but one missed call and a text from Brooke. Basic Hi babe, are you here yet? stuff. Texting back that I’m all checked in, I tell her I’m going to bed early—using the three-hour time difference as an excuse for my exhaustion.

True to her word, Emma’s out cold before the second movie is over. Cuddled up against my side, she sleeps on her stomach, a pillow flattened under her face and chest, one of her knees drawn up against my thigh and the other sprawled behind her. I grin and shake my head that such a small person can take up so much of a queen-sized bed. Her face angled towards me, her lashes lay across her creamy skin and her lips are parted slightly… and they actually do look a little puffy.

That thought has me contemplating noun phrases (Emma’s lips) and verb phrases (are swollen) and prepositional phrases (from hours of kissing)… which does absolutely nothing to help me. When a groan escapes me, Emma moans softly in response, shifting without waking, her arm stealing across my abdomen. Oh, man. I am never getting to sleep. Still, I wouldn’t trade the feeling of holding her like this for anything.

It’s midnight in LA—3:00 a.m. New York time—and I’m staring at the swirling patterns on the ceiling, trying to concentrate on anything but my t-shirt loosely bunched in Emma’s fist. A few minutes later, or half an hour, she stretches, pulling my shirt askew at the same time. When I glance down, she’s awake, sort of. A drowsy, slowly-blinking stage of awake.

“Hi,” she whispers.

“Hey,” I whisper back. My arm has gone to sleep under her head, so I’m grateful when she moves to lay her face on my chest. “Checking for a heartbeat?” I ask, stretching my arms out, returning one to pull her closer and tucking the other behind my head so I can see her more clearly. Her eyes go to my bicep and I feel like an idiot boy, wanting to flex it and be impressive. She props herself on her forearms, chin on her hands, and stares at me.

“I can’t believe how comfortable I feel,” she says, a confused note in her confession. “How do you do that?”

I raise an eyebrow, equally confused. “How do I do what?”

She breathes out a sigh, her fingers scraping over the underside of my jaw. “Make me feel like… like I can trust you with everything. I haven’t felt like that in so long, with anyone. I’m always afraid of being left. I always hold something back.”

I shrug. “You’re cautious. Maybe… losing your mother did that to you.”

Her fingers still on my chin, she’s quiet for a moment before saying, “Maybe so.”

“Thank you for trusting me, Emma. I’ll be worthy of it. I swear.” In my ears, this seems a too-solemn promise, but somehow it seems necessary in this moment. She doesn’t reply beyond another sigh.

Running my hands over her, I spread her hair across my chest, fingertips trailing the sides of her face, hands kneading her shoulders and folding over her like a blanket. I have no problem falling asleep this time, with her locked in my arms.

Chapter 10


Damn Brooke and her hangover comments. I’d say she knows me well, but I’m no different than any other eighteen to twenty-five in LA, especially the celebrity subset. I suspect she’s the same; she just likes being high-handed with me.

Her orders, texted to me last night: Check into the hotel by TEN. The cars are picking everyone up at 11:30. Look hot. Don’t flirt. Be friendly and sweet. Make her think you’ve forgotten about her rejection.

Rejection. Way to twist the knife there, Brooke… almost as if she doesn’t know she’s doing it. Damn, she’s good.

I check into the hotel at 11:15, after not bothering to answer her texts and calls all morning. She’s got to get one thing straight—I’ll follow her dictates to a point, but only to a point. I don’t trust her enough to blindly obey everything she says, and I’m not stupid enough to ignore the fact that she’ll hit her goal first. For Emma to fall into my arms, Graham has to fall into Brooke’s. And I have no illusions about how much help Brooke will be to me once she gets what she wants. I’ll be on my own.

After checking into my suite, I text Brooke: I’m here.

The lobby is one big Austin déjà vu, and after I step off of the elevator, I stop to observe the interaction of my former costars before joining them. Tadd spots me first.

“Reid, you’ve got to come to Chicago and hang out.” He walks over and we exchange a fierce hug. “My new place is awesome—penthouse right on the river. Oprah is just down the street.”

“I’m sure you’ll be painting each other’s toenails in no time, man,” I laugh.

“So, what’s up?” He tosses his straight pale blond hair out of his eyes, his clear blue eyes flicking to Emma and back.

“Not yet, dude. I’m getting there, though.”

Both eyebrows rise now. “Interesting.”

My eyes trace over Emma. She stands a foot from Graham—nothing outwardly betraying anything between them, though an alert observer would say the way they seem to avoid touch or eye contact is conspicuous. “The studio wants us to maintain an illusory thing until the film’s released. I want less illusory and more thing.”

“Hmm,” he says. “A warning, then.” Shoulder to shoulder, we stand watching everyone else. “There’s a little, I don’t know—chemistry? Going on between her and Graham.”

No need to fake ignorance with Tadd—he’s had my back too many times to count. He likes Emma, but I’m sure he’d come down on my side if it came to that. “Yeah, I’ve been made aware.”

He smirks through the fringe of hair that falls right back down over one eye—a look that probably gets him whatever guy he wants, whenever he wants it. “By who?” he asks, and I glance in Brooke’s direction. She’s deliberately snubbing me, still pissed that I ignored her texted commands, I’m sure. “Really.” Tadd’s eyes widen. “More interesting.”


Remaining hands-off with Graham is more difficult than I expected. I’m drawn to him, as though there’s some sort of gravitational attraction tethering us to each other. I want to press myself into his side. I want him to slide his arms around me like he did last night as we slept. I want to run my hands over him like I did an hour ago in my room, pushing his shirt up and counting his abdominal muscles out loud while he laughed, self-conscious and proud at the same time. This belongs to me, I thought, touching his hard stomach and biceps, kissing his mouth. And this. And this.

When I woke up in his arms this morning, I spent five minutes staring at his flawless, sleeping face. The world had tilted overnight, and everything had fallen into place. I slipped carefully from his grasp and tip-toed to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and when I came back and snuggled against him, he came slowly awake, kissed the top of my head and excused himself.

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