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Skylar watches my face as we enter, and I pretend not to notice. But I know what he sees. My mouth dropping at the sight of the cathedral ceilings, my eyes brightening as they scan sky scraping towers of books.
“This place is really getting you off, isn’t it? I can't help but wonder if you’d look this worked up after a raging orgasm. Let’s find out, shall we?”
I ignore him. I’ve gotten used to his in inappropriate banter. Mostly. When he whispers dirty things to me in public, and especially in close proximity to our roommates, I still blush. And worse, used to it or not, Skylar Martin affects me. My stomach tenses at his request. He’s only half kidding, maybe not even half. My heart beats a little heavier against my chest and I work hard to appear unfazed.
We trade under the table kicks and above the table flirty jabs for the next hour while I study. At one point I catch him watching me chewing on my pencil as if I’m purposely seducing him with my nerdy habits.
When the witty banter subsides and the tension thickens between us to a point where I can barely sit still, I stand and make my way to the reference stacks in the back of the room.
“Corin,” he says evenly from behind me once I’ve reached a dead end between rows. “Stop, please. I want to talk. Actually talk.”
I turn around and smirk at him. “Funny, I don’t think you’ve stopped talking since we got here.”
He shakes his head. “No. I want to cut the bullshit for one night. Say something real, dammit.”
“Something real, dammit,” I repeat.
His eyes are bright, emergency flares in the darkness aimed at me with a ferocious intensity that presses me further against the wall. “No more games, Corin. Not tonight.”
Realizing I’ve been holding my breath, I exhale and then inhale deeply, causing my chest to graze lightly against his. My nipples practically high-five his. God, he smells so good. I would drink whatever body wash he uses with a straw.
“What do you want me to say, Skylar? That I'm attracted to you? That I want you? That every time you open your mouth I wish it was on me? I'm not going to say any of that. Because you already fucking know it.” My teeth are clenched in frustration but voice is so breathy that it’s embarrassing.
“That’s a start. Either you’re in to me or you aren’t, Corin. If you aren’t, say the word and I’ll leave you be. But I’m done playing this mind-fucking game with you.”
“You’re what? A virgin? Saving yourself? What?”
I shake my head. He wouldn’t understand. You don’t tell a guy you have a minor flirtation with that you had a miscarriage after your piece of shit boyfriend “accidentally” knocked you down a flight of stairs in your shitty apartment. Or that you ran away at fifteen to escape a mother who treated the living room like a brothel only to end up exactly like her. You sure as hell don’t tell him how the guy who knocked you up pimped you out to his friends for money or that being pregnant at eighteen made you feel like you might actually have one good thing in your life. But you lost that too so you ended up here trying desperately to create some semblance of a future for yourself. No, no way in hell.
“I’m celibate,” is all I give him because it’s all I have to give. “For personal reasons that are none of your business.”
He scoffs, and I’m overcome by the urge to slap his handsome face.
“Don’t scoff at me, Skylar. I’ve had sex. I know what it’s all about. There’s nothing wrong with it. I’m just not going to do it again until I decide to.”
His brows thread inward. “And what do you think will make you decide to? Tequila?”
Bastard. My hands thrust out and shove against his hard chest. “Move, asshole. Better yet, go to hell.”
“Not until you tell me why—why you’re celibate and why you look at me like you want to eat me alive only to dip out immediately after any conversation or moment that ventures beyond surface level.”
I bite my lip hard because I did not know he’d caught those looks. Or my tendency to duck and hide to avoid intimacy. Turns out you’re not as smooth as you thought, Connelly. He’s been paying closer attention than I realized. But I’m still not ready to cut myself open and let all the ugly fall out.
“I’m not like Layla, Skylar. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, a lifetime’s worth already, ones I’m trying very hard not to repeat. I don’t want to get sidetracked by sex-that’s not what I’m here for.”
“What are you here for, Corin? I’m not trying to be a dick. I genuinely want to know. I feel like we talk around everything but never actually about anything.”
I tilt my chin up because everyone else who knows me would laugh if they knew why I was really here. “I want to go to law school—and before you burst out laughing—yes, I’m serious. I want to be a child advocate. It’s a job I heard of where you’re like a legal voice for kids who need someone to make sure they end up somewhere good and safe. Not all of us had that growing up. So I’m sorry if your precious male pride is wounded because my legs didn’t fall open the second you indicated that you were interested. If that’s what you’re looking for, look elsewhere.”
He gapes at me and I do an internal fist pump at leaving his arrogant ass speechless for once. Taking advantage of his moment of stunned weakness, I move past him but somehow his hand shoots out and catches me. Strong warm fingers encircle my upper arm, gripping tightly enough to dent my flesh but not enough to hurt.
“Corin. Stop. I need you to listen to me very carefully.”
My skin tingles to the point of searing where his fingers are. I glance down and stare at our joined flesh.
“You listening, sweetheart?”
Swallowing hard, I nod.
“I am not every other guy you’ve been with. Yes, I am attracted to you. Yes, I would like to fuck your sweet body into submission because you are always fighting me and what you feel for me. But rest assured, I do not put this much effort into anything or anyone that I don’t care about. I like you. I want to continue getting to know you. And maybe I’ve done a shit job of showing it with the innuendos and teasing, but I respect the hell out of you.”
His words have a direct line to whatever body part controls my heart rate. I make a mental note to ask in anatomy class.
He smirks as if I’m ridiculous not to realize this and releases my arm. I breathe a little easier though I kind of miss the contact.
“Of course I do. You’re smart, and funny, and beautiful. You’re a loyal friend to your roommate from what I’ve seen and even though I’ve never heard of what you want to be when you grow up, I know it’s a hell of a lot nobler than my career choice. So yes, baby. I respect you very much. I just wish you weren’t so closed off sometimes.”
I’m closed off because you wouldn’t respect me if you really knew me.
The words “I would like to fuck your sweet body into submission” just keep circling my brain on a constant loop. How easy it would be to let him. To give up control and just let go and let him give me what we both know I need. But I know how that vicious cycle plays out. Soon I’d be using sex to validate our relationship and then I’d be using it to gage my own self-worth.
I will not be that girl again, not even for this beautiful man who swears he respects me.
“I’ll work on that,” I finally say, easing the tension just a fraction. “I’ll try to at least.”
His eyes cloud over, his gaze growing darker by the minute.
“Do you want me to leave you alone, Corin? Because I’m tough enough to take it if that’s what you want.”
I can’t help but think of the accident, the way he had Landen’s back without hesitation, and how much fun we had later that night, just hanging out. As much as I’ve prided myself on not needing anyone, on not needing a man in my life period, and is certifiably crazy as this particular man makes me, the thought of him leaving me alone as he put it is painful.
“No,” I whisper. “I don’t want that. I just want…”
What the fuck do I want?
Apparently Skylar wants to know the same thing.
“Well…what the hell do you want?”
My mouth tugs upward at our similar line of thinking. I keep picturing Ryan Gosling screaming a similar question at Rachel McAdams.
Taking a deep breath, I close my eyes briefly. “I want…I want to know where we stand at all times. I need boundaries. I want to know that you aren’t going to hook up with the next thing that walks by just because I’m not giving it up. I want us to draw a line, I guess.”
“A line?” He arches a brow and folds his arms over his chest. “What kind of line?”
“A friendship line,” I say, formulating my theory as I’m speaking it. “I want us to be friends who are getting to know each other like you said. And I want to keep it at that until we reach a mutual decision about whether or not we want to be more. But even if we decided to be more, I still might not be ready for a sexual relationship. Do you think you can handle that?”
Please say yes. It’s a lot to ask of a red-blooded American nineteen year-old male. I know this. I just need a little more effort. And some patience.
Skylar strokes his chin thoughtfully. He’s making me sweat—dragging it out the same way I’ve done to him. I examine my Lincoln Park After Dark manicure as if I couldn’t care less what his answer is.
But I care, God do I care. And he apparently has more patience than I do.
“For God sake’s Martin, say something.”
His lips twitch. “I’m thinking it over. For the most part it’s a reasonable enough offer, but my dick thinks you’re a mean, mean, girl.”
My eyebrows lift and I flash him an amused smile. “Well my body thinks you’re overestimating your ability to fuck it into submission.”
I win. Skylar looks like I just hit him with a flying throat punch.
Tension ripples his angular jaw line and I have the strangest urge to lick it. Damn hormones. They are not cooperating at all.
“Corin…I’m going to back down on the inappropriate comments the best that I can.” He leans into my space but I refuse to budge. I remain statue still as he moves my hair off my left shoulder. “But trust me when I tell you, I could do things to your body that you don’t even have names for. And I feel it, the way you tremble when I touch you unexpectedly, the way you clench your delectable thighs together when I say those dirty things in your ear. So please, inform any parts of your anatomy that doubt me that I will be proving them all kinds of wrong as soon as you give me permission to do so.”
His erotic promise lingers in the air between us. It wraps around me like a boa constrictor, starting at my throat and squeezing hardest low in my stomach.
“So the line,” I choke out.
“Yes, Red. You can have your line.” He winks, gracing me with a wicked grin. “For now.”
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Book Summary & Pre-order links
A weekend in her hometown.
Skylar Martin is used to getting what he wants. Growing up in a world of privilege has made his life easy, which is exactly how he likes his women. But when a feisty redhead tells him no, he becomes determined to figure out what makes her tick. And what she's hiding.
Spending a weekend together will change everything they think they know about each other. The closer they become, the harder it is to hide the mistakes they thought they'd left behind--mistakes that will stand in the way of what they both want.
Corin and Skylar will have to stop hiding from the darkness in their pasts if they want a bright future together. But how can you love someone if you can't forgive them?