Graham clears his throat and glances down the table at her. I’m crossing my fingers that he at least forgot all about her for the space of that little literary exchange, even if he’s recalling her existence now. When he smiles and winks at her, I want to emit a sharp little scream and stomp like I used to do as a small child whenever someone told me no. His eyes swing back to mine and I swallow that outburst and smile instead.


Graham is leaving California in the morning. I’m enjoying interacting with everyone, celebrating MiShaun’s engagement to David, but I’m hyper aware of the hours and minutes ticking away. His wink is a tiny electrical zap, darting a zing of pleasure through me.

He’s sitting at the other end of the table, with Brooke hanging on his every word, and I’m trying not to be jealous—or concerned.

That attempt isn’t going so well.

I tell myself that I’m only jealous of the time I’m losing with him, which rings half-true and half-hollow.

“Emma, I hear you and Reid are doing Ellen?” Meredith snaps me out of my gloomy trance.

“Yeah, in a couple of weeks. I’m scared to death.”

“No need to be scared,” Reid says, swinging his attention to our conversation. “She’s just as nice in person as she seems.”

“You said that about Ryan,” I accuse, smirking. “Are you going to tell me that every time?”

“I was right, wasn’t I? And no, if someone’s going to be tough, I’ll give you a heads up.”



He hooks my pinky with his. “Promise. And for the record, I’ve never broken a pinky swear.”

“And how many pinky swears have you made, Mr. Alexander?” Meredith asks, arms folded loosely over her chest as she leans back to watch our discussion play out in front of her.

“Meredith,” he says, “that’s classified information. Top secret. Plus I tried the Boy Scout promise on her months ago, and she promptly accused me of never having been a Boy Scout. Imagine.” He blinks innocently and we can’t help but laugh. This far away from the humiliation of last fall, his wicked reputation feels less personal.

Lips flattened, Meredith says, “Yes, imagine. I’m thinking this is numero uno pinky swear for you, buddy.”

Our fingers are still hooked on the table in front of Meredith, who angles one eyebrow in question before I withdraw my hand and give Reid a stern look. “Okay, I’m choosing to believe you and your pinky swear. Don’t blow that trust.”

He looks back, steadily, suddenly more serious than he was seconds ago. “I won’t.”

It takes forever for the hallway in front of my door to clear. Graham’s room is on the same floor, but two turns and a couple dozen rooms away from mine. I text him when everything grows quiet and I haven’t seen a soul pass my peephole in five minutes. It’s nearly 2 a.m.

When he walks up to the door, I swing it open silently, and try to close it just as quietly. He’s wearing jeans and canvas flip flops and holding the ice bucket from his room. “This is your idea of subterfuge?” I whisper, pointing at the bucket and trying not to laugh.

He pretends offense. “The vending area is between our rooms, so I thought it made more sense than pretending to be lurking in the hall for no apparent reason.”

I take the bucket from his hands. “It’s still empty.”

He rolls his eyes. “Well, duh, I wasn’t going to waste time getting actual ice.” I’ve left one small lamp glowing in the corner, and his black eyes regard me in the dim light. While waiting for the hallway to clear, I changed into a dark violet shorts and tank set from Victoria’s Secret that Emily gave me before I left town. Purple is the I’m-a-woman version of pink, she cautioned, fixing me with a knowing look. Graham’s slow perusal is like a caress, leaving me breathless and feeling somehow powerful and vulnerable at once. He raises one eyebrow. “Unless we need it for something kinky.”

My blush is immediate, and I turn to put the ice bucket on my sink counter in an effort to hide it, in case the low lighting isn’t low enough. His arms slide around me from behind, his cheek nuzzling and stroking my hair back from my neck. His lips are warm and I’m glad he’s supporting me, because my legs feel boneless as he places light, sucking kisses from the curve between my shoulder and neck to the sensitive hollow behind my ear.

“If I traced an ice cube along this line,” he murmurs, “it would melt instantly, because your skin is so hot.” I gasp lightly, imagining his tongue following a line of icy water sluicing down my neck. Turning me gently, his hands are in my hair and then his mouth is on mine, so gentle and slow that kissing him feels like a dream. I don’t want to wake up.

A minute later, I find my calves hitting the edge of the mattress as they did two nights ago. I scarcely have the capacity to register the question of how he manages to transport me all the way across a room without my notice before he lifts me into the center of the bed, still kissing me.

Rolling to his back, Graham’s strong hands pull me halfway over his body, one palm on my thigh and the other cradling my head. His jeans are rough against my bare legs, but he’s kicked off his shoes somewhere between the door and the bed. My knee falls between his legs as he angles up, never breaking his mouth from mine for more than half a second. His hand runs along my back from shoulder to waist, lightly over my hip and down the leg that presses between his.

His heart hammers beneath my hand, matching the tempo of my own, and I’m not content to lie here and let him find his equilibrium. When I lift my hand from his chest and slide it under his shirt, he makes a noise between his teeth—tsss—like I’ve burned him. “God, Emma.” His hand covers mine with the t-shirt between us. I spread my fingers over his abdomen and his breath catches.

At first, he doesn’t loosen his hold, stilling my hand with his. Distracting him with kisses, I wait until his grip goes slack, and when it does I set my fingers to roam slowly over his sleek skin and hard muscle, moving under his shirt soundlessly. He holds himself very still, but when my fingers glide lower to the waistband of his jeans, his eyes flash open and stare into mine, his hand clasping mine again.

“You can’t sleep in your jeans,” I say, repressing the urge to giggle at this deceptively rational argument for why he should remove his pants in my bed.

“I probably should.” We’re both whispering, as though everyone in the hotel will be able to hear us if our voices rise to regular levels.

“Graham, I’m not going to take advantage of you. I promise.” I hold up two fingers, Reid’s silly months-ago vow still front-and-center from our conversation earlier tonight. “Scout’s honor.”

“Oh my God,” he says, laughing softly. He caresses my face, his thumb moving over my lower lip as his expression transforms from amusement to want. “I can’t promise the same thing. And that’s why.” My eyes slide from his and he takes an unsteady breath. “Besides, I didn’t bring anything with me tonight—as in, ah, protection.”

He didn’t bring condoms, which means he wasn’t just assuming we weren’t going to, he was actively planning that we weren’t going to. I bite my lip. “So you don’t want…?”

“I want. Hell yes, I want. Three weeks, remember? I need to, um, get tested when I get home, too.” When my eyes widen, he adds, “I’m sure everything is fine, because I’ve always been careful.” His mouth twists. “Well, ever since Cara I’ve been careful. I was a whole lot of stupid before that, because you always believe that stuff is never going to happen to you, until it does.”

I find myself wondering how many girls there’ve been. And then I wonder if Brooke was ever one of them, even if it didn’t result in a relationship, even if it was casual. I want to ask, but the questions are stuck in my throat and won’t get near the surface. I shouldn’t be surprised—he’s much too good at this to have been celibate since his daughter was born. He hasn’t asked me about my sexual history at all, and I wonder if he doesn’t care, or if my inexperience is just that freaking obvious.

“Hey.” He takes my chin between his fingertips, obliging me to look at him. “I just… I need both of us to be sure.” His finger traces the frown line on my forehead. “Please don’t worry whether this has anything to do with wanting you. It doesn’t.”

I don’t ask about the multitude of girls I imagined parading through his bed. I don’t ask about Brooke. I just sigh and curl up against his chest, though I don’t remove my hand from under his shirt. Gained ground is gained ground. “Okay.” I feel distinctly pouty.

Laughing quietly, his arms encircle me. “Hmm. I’m not ready to stop kissing you, you know,” he says.

“I didn’t know,” I mumble into his shirt.

“Well, now you do.”

I lean my head back on his arm, my eyes meeting his. “So many warnings, so little action…” I sigh.

He growls and flips me onto my back, and we don’t fall asleep until close to 4 a.m. In the end his jeans are in a heap on the floor and my tank is decidedly askew and he’s taken at least three very serious breaks. Inexperience or not, I’m reasonably certain this adds up in my favor.

Chapter 15


I was convinced Emma would cause me to internally combust last night.

It’s a lucky thing my sense of responsibility is so unswerving, because at some point between arriving in her room and falling asleep, I no longer cared whether or not she loved me—the desire was so powerful and overwhelming that my sense of emotional self-preservation was prepared to toss itself out the window and to hell with it. I must have suspected that weakness skulking below the surface, which was why I left my wallet (and the condom inside it) in my room when I went to hers. I know myself that well, at least—using protection is second nature. Not once since Zoe have I had unprotected sex.

I promised Emma three weeks, and I’ll willingly keep that promise, as worried as I might be that she doesn’t feel as strongly as I do. I suppose love is never a sure thing, no matter what words are spoken. Love requires a leap of faith into the abyss, every time.

I scribble a sappy note to leave on her nightstand. My sisters call me an old-fashioned boy. Perhaps this is the result of too much close-reading and analyzing of eighteenth century literature. Even still, there are romantic, old-school sides of myself I’ve never fully unleashed, and for some reason Emma brings every one of them to the surface.

Zoe didn’t care to be courted. When I left notes in her locker or under her windshield wiper, she asked if she had to respond in kind, and also why couldn’t I just text her like a normal person? And though she appreciated having an armful of carnations delivered from the Choir Cupid on Valentine’s Day, she paid little attention to the attached poem that took me a week to write.

Relatively sure that I was past such unmanly silliness by the time I met Emma, my feelings for her slammed into me, unexpected and inspiring. All of a sudden I found myself rivaling Keats and Rilke for romantic musings.

Most Popular