I WAKE WITH A blanket over my head and a naked chest pressed to my back, bare hips and thighs curled all along mine. My stomach and legs protest at the slightest movement, and I have to stifle a groan as I sit up, carefully extracting myself from the tangle of sheets that seem to barely cling to the bed.
I feel gross: sweaty from exertion and spending the night wrapped around another human being, and sticky from . . . other things.
It’s too early to be up but I need a shower. Luke has barely moved and I tiptoe across the floor and out of his room, down the hall toward the bathroom.
The door closes with a soft click behind me and it feels like I can finally breathe again. Though even that hurts a little, too. I remind myself to congratulate Luke on a job well done . . . later.
The bathroom is large for such a small house—definitely remodeled—and I’m so anxious to clean myself up that I ignore the chilly morning air and jump beneath the spray before it’s even had a chance to heat up.
“Shit,” I squeak, bracing myself against the tile and then melting as the water starts to warm. The last time I was here Luke washed my hair. I think about that as I reach for the same bottle, the scent of his shampoo mixing with steam to fill the shower.
I realize now that that day is when my plan first derailed. I’d tucked Luke into a nice little box, labeled him and written him off as a good time, and thought that was it. He was fun, a way to scratch an itch, but nothing more.
I hadn’t counted on stories about doll salons and shopping with his mother. I hadn’t expected him to be so attentive and charming. I hadn’t expected the sex to be so good in part because he was so genuinely into me. And I never, not in a million years, expected him to say he loved me.
That last one takes me by surprise all over again and I’m momentarily frozen, blinking away the water as it runs down my face. I’m not sure what to do with something like that. Luke is twenty-three and used to fucking whoever he wants. It’s hard to silence the voice telling me he’s simply infatuated. That he’s forgotten how infatuation can feel a lot like love.
I ignore the way the admission twists my stomach and shut off the water, reaching for a towel before climbing out.
The air is cold on my damp skin, and it reminds me of a morning I’d gone to visit Justin our junior year. He’d been up late studying the night before and was asleep when I got there after closing out the late shift at work. I took a shower and wrapped myself in a towel, realizing I’d forgotten my toothbrush. I opened the drawer, thinking I’d just use his. There was a purple toothbrush there, right beside his familiar blue one. I hadn’t thought much of it at the time, but much later I realized of course it was Ashley’s, the girl he’d been sleeping with for almost two years by then.
That memory circles around in my head as I stand at Luke’s bathroom counter, looking up at my reflection and telling myself for the thousandth time that not every guy is Justin. Luke is not Justin. Not every guy cheats.
It’s just so hard to break the instinct to keep my arms locked over my chest, guarding my heart.
There’s no way I’m looking for Luke’s toothbrush. Instead, I do my best to make some order of my hair and brush my teeth with my finger and a tube of toothpaste on the counter.
With a towel wrapped securely around my body, I open the door, intent on finding my clothes and getting home, maybe even trying to slip out before he wakes up.
But walking down the hall toward the bathroom door is his sister.
Margot, the one he was talking to last night. The sister who more than likely spent the night listening to us having sex.
She stops, meeting my eyes. “London. Hey, I didn’t know you were up.” She looks like she got only marginally more sleep than I did.
I adjust my towel. “Just needed a shower. You’re up early.”
A slow, teasing smile spreads across her face. “Actually, I never really went to sleep.”
I groan a little.
She laughs. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Want some coffee?”
I look back toward Luke’s room, where the door is still pulled shut, and nod. “Sure.”
“Sweet. Let me use the bathroom, and I’ll meet you in there.”
She steps around me and closes the door, and I walk down the hall to the kitchen.
The sun is just starting to come up, the sky beginning to brighten on the other side of the window. I’ve been here enough times to know where Luke keeps his dishes and I pull two mugs down from the cupboard, opening doors until I find the coffee. I hear the toilet flush and the water run in the sink and then Margot is there, her taller form hovering beside me as she reaches for the filters.
She looks so much like Luke that it’s a little unnerving. They share the same thick dark hair, the same full brows and perfect cheekbones. But it’s the intensity of their gaze that’s the most pronounced. If I thought Luke was intimidating before he smiles, he has nothing on his sister.
We stand in silence while the coffeemaker gurgles and hisses in the background, and I search my mind for things to say, an icebreaker that doesn’t begin with I’m sorry I kept you up because I was so loudly banging your brother.
The scent of fresh coffee fills the air and when the machine chimes to signal it’s done, it spurs me into action. “So you live closer to campus?” I ask.
She nods, holding out her mug for me to fill. “I still come over to hassle him when I need to. Maybe do some laundry or steal his towels to take to the beach.” She pulls back her full mug with a quiet “Thanks,” eyes dropping down to my body briefly. “That’s a nice one, by the way. One of my favorites.”
I follow her gaze and realize I’m still wearing Luke’s Stone Brewery towel. “Oh, boy,” I say with an embarrassed smile. “I’m practically naked. In your brother’s kitchen.”
She waves me off. “Are you kidding? That’s the tamest thing I’ve seen here first thing in the morning.” Margot looks momentarily horrified with what she’s just said, but I smile, trying to hide the way my heart and lungs take a nosedive into my belly.
“Yeah, well,” I say, floundering. “I was just going to get dressed and head home when I ran into you.”
“Ahh.” She slips a piece of bread into the toaster and adds, “Were you going to leave without telling him?”
There’s a hint of protective big sister in her tone, and while I get it, I’m not really sure how to balance that against the scores of possibly naked shenanigans she’s just alluded to.
I really like Margot: we share the same hobby in teasing Luke, and my friends absolutely adore her, but after talking to Harlow and Lola two days ago, I’m more and more convinced that I don’t have to explain myself, or what’s happening between her brother and me to anyone, even her.
“I hadn’t really decided yet,” I admit, holding my mug up to my nose to inhale the pungent, nutty odor. “Is this the part where you tell me what a great guy he is?”
Margot doesn’t get defensive on his behalf. Instead, she snorts, laughing to herself as she rips off a paper towel and sets it on the counter. “No way.”
“My brother is a great guy,” she says with a shrug. “He’s honest when it counts, undeniably loyal, and has a huge heart. But I know he’s been a player. It’s not really my place to convince you of anything.” The toast pops up and Margot reaches into the fridge for the butter dish. “That’s his job. You’re a smart girl, and it’s obvious he has feelings for you. But you know what you need more than I do.”
The knife spreads butter across the toast with a quiet scratching sound, and Margot smiles at me over her shoulder. That smile melts away any worry I had that she was trying to make me feel unwelcome. In fact, it makes me think she’s glad I’m here.
“I really like you, London,” she says. “You’ll figure it all out.”
THE SOUND OF Margot’s car pulling out of the driveway drifts through Luke’s open window. He’s still in the same place I left him, stretched out on his side, sheet barely covering his hips. I can see a dark trail of hair low on his navel. His bicep peeks out, full and firm, where his arm wraps around his pillow.
I’m still not sure whether I should go, and pace back and forth a few times, glancing over my shoulder at him. His hair is a mess and standing straight up from whatever he had in it the night before, and I laugh a little as I walk over and smooth it back down. One minute turns into two and my fingers slip through the strands, over the side of his face, past his ear and down, tracing his spine.
Luke has a great back. His shoulders are broad, lats flaring along the edges, long torso tapering in at his waist. He’s nothing but miles of smooth, tan skin and a map of dips and edges. He’s also warm and somehow manages to still smell good after all of the hand jobs and cuddling and sex-without-a-condom and sleeping intertwined.
I really don’t want to leave.
With the conversation with Margot still ringing in my ears, I drop the towel and climb back into bed.
I loop my arm around his waist and he stirs almost immediately.
“London?” he mumbles. He finds my fingers where they rest on his stomach and rolls to face me, sleepy eyes blinking open and then squinting at me in the bright room. “Hi.”
His hair is standing up and he has pillow creases across his cheek. “What is happening with your hair?” I say, reaching out to smooth it again.
“I was asleep,” he says, just before he smiles. “With you.”
I look at the mess around us and laugh. “It looks like a storm passed through here. Don’t you have to get to work?”
“I’m going to take my first personal day in a year,” he says. In a rush of movement he pushes me to my back to hover over me. His eyes make a sleepy circuit of my face and I just honestly can’t process the emotion there.
It looks so real.
“Did you shower?” he asks.
“I hope that’s okay. I felt sticky.”
I could be wrong, but he looks a little proud of himself.
“You can do anything you want here,” he says, and tucks his face into my neck and groans. “Fuck, you smell good.”
“I hope so,” I say, giggling as his stubble tickles my neck. “It’s your soap.”
He sucks at my throat and then pauses, lifting his eyes to mine. “Was Margot still here?”
“She just left. Is it a matter of genetics that she only made one piece of toast?”
Luke laughs at this as he moves to press more small kisses to my throat.
“Who eats one piece of toast?” I ask. “Do you Sutters have something against eating bread products in pairs?”
Groaning, he says, “Logan. I don’t really want to talk about my sister right now.”
He shifts, lowering his body so he’s pressed against me, hips already moving in experimental circles.
We’re both naked and the sensation is so startling at first—the gentle drag of skin on skin—that I suck in a breath. This isn’t our first time being naked together—not by a long shot—but it’s still new enough that it’s a shock to the system: so much of his bare skin connecting with so much of mine.
The room is cool; it’s near the back of the house and shaded by a couple of large eucalyptus trees that grow just outside the window. Even so, streaks of sunlight still manage to break through, and they catch the dust motes in the corner, warming the foot of the bed. They make Luke’s skin look golden, like he’s lit from within.
He seems to note this, too, as he looks down our bodies, at how we fit together, the color of his skin against mine. My breasts are so much lighter than the rest of me, the traces of at least three different swimsuits outlined by the sun. Maybe he’s used to girls who spray-tan or stay out of the sun altogether, but he seems to marvel at it, how the stark cream of my breasts contrasts with the rest of me.
He places a palm over my nipple and circles lightly, the friction just enough for it to tighten under his touch, have my toes curling against sheets. I’ve always liked my nipples played with—something he seems to have figured out already—loved the direct connection they seemed to have to between my legs. Each touch or pinch is like a jolt of electricity straight to my clit, and I can feel how wet I am already, that part of me slick and aching for more.
Seeing my reaction, Luke moans and says my name again, biting along my collarbones and back down to my breasts. He’s relentless, sucking on one while pinching the other, and it’s enough to have me opening my legs to make more room for him, pushing my knees up around his sides.
He moves up to kiss me, tasting my top lip and then my bottom, pulling away just hard enough for it to sting. My lips tingle, and as he moves down along my throat and between my breasts to my ribs, I reach up to feel them, how warm and slightly swollen they are.
“I swear I’m progressive and not a caveman and, thanks to the women in my family, I’m probably the biggest feminist around, but fuck, I like the way my soap smells on your skin.”
I laugh and run my fingers through his hair as he kisses down my stomach, whispering how good I taste, smell, feel. When he reaches my hip bone the instinct to stop him bubbles up in my chest but I can’t seem to say anything.
Luke hesitates, too, lingering there, sucking at the soft skin of my navel. I want this, and every particle in my body pushes against my skin in an attempt to move him lower. Lower.
Luke circles his tongue around my belly button and I rock my hips up, using my grip in his hair to guide him, to show him what I want.
His eyes fly to mine, wide and slightly unfocused. “Logan?” he asks.
I think about Luke trusting me enough to get on that surfboard and how sometimes we have to jump. I think about how he said he loves me.
I want to jump.
I nod and there’s a moment of understanding between us before he smiles. “I’ve thought about this more than is probably healthy.”
I feel my face heat. “I probably have, too.”
He shakes his head like he can’t believe what’s happening. “Will you do me a favor?”
“Will you make a lot of noise, Dimples?”
“That’s a dollar,” I tell him, pinching his shoulder.
“My wallet is in my pants, take whatever you want.”
He doesn’t wait for anything else and my head falls back against the pillow, spine arched in anticipation as he moves down between my legs. His first touch is tentative: lips pressed against my pubic bone in several small kisses, and then lower, mouth soft and partially open, directly over my clit.
The air leaves my lungs and I cry out.
“Like that?” he says against me, after taking me into his mouth and sucking gently.
“Yeah,” I say, nodding. “Again.”
He does it again, using his fingers to gently hold me open and suck on my clit, a little harder this time. It’s on the edge of being too much and not enough and I can barely breathe, can barely think of why I waited so long to let him do this.
He alternates between kisses and little licks, broad stripes of his tongue that have my hips lifting from the mattress, rocking up to meet him.
“God, yes,” I whimper. “I can’t . . . please . . .” I don’t even know what I’m asking but words bubble up in my throat. “Fuck, right there.”
I realize I’m tugging on his hair but when I try to ease up, he shakes his head, meeting my eyes a moment before sitting up on his knees.
“Don’t,” he says, panting. His cheeks are pink, neck flushed right down to his chest. His mouth is red and wet, and as my gaze flickers down his body, I see he’s touching himself. He gives his cock a few long, slow tugs as he looks at me, tongue flicking out to taste. “Don’t think. Don’t censor. You want more?”
I’m already nodding, lifting my lower legs to pull him back down.
He kisses my hip bones and then each knee before sliding my legs over his shoulders. “I want you to pull my hair,” he says. “I want you to scratch my back and fuck my face and do whatever you want to me.”
“Okay,” I gasp, unable to process his words or look away as he leans in again, tongue swirling around my clit.
I have to remind myself to breathe as he pushes one finger inside me, in and out, before adding another. I squeeze my eyes closed and focus on the way it feels; on the sounds he’s making and the way they vibrate against me.
“I want to do everything to you,” he says, pulling his middle finger out and letting it trail lower, until it’s pushing against me, pressing gently.
I buck my hips, unable to articulate a thought beyond his name and how good this feels, how I don’t ever want him to stop. I’ve never done anything like this before and now it’s all I can think about, letting Luke have this part of me I’ve never shared with anyone else. He doesn’t move any further, just a constant pressure that leaves my thoughts in a tangle of static.
I move one of my hands from his hair and bring it to his face, down along his cheek to his mouth and where it’s moving against me. My skin is slick, slippery, and he moans as my fingers slide over it, back and forth alongside his tongue. I’ve never felt anything like it, so many sensations that I’m unable to tell where one starts and the others begin.
Luke whimpers against me and I catch sight of his shoulder moving, his arm flexing beneath him. The idea that he’s as worked up over this as I am, so far gone that he has to touch himself, sets tiny fireworks off along my skin. Heat travels up my spine and I’m not sure if he’s crying out or if it’s me but my orgasm is there, ripping through me red-hot and endless, arching my hips off the bed until I’m shaking, rocking against his mouth.
With enormous effort, I lift my head to see him kneeling over me, hand working over his gorgeous cock.
“Let me,” I tell him, and he blinks up, lips turned down as he tries to work out what I mean. “Come up here.”
It’s only now I realize how out of practice I am, and how long it’s been since I’ve actually done this. I tap his hip and guide him toward me, a leg on either side of my ribs. He reaches for another pillow and sets it behind my head and then he just waits, eyes wide and chest heaving. There’s so much skin and muscle, abs clenched tight like he’s holding his breath. His cock is perfect like the rest of him and so hard, already wet at the tip.
“Come here,” I say again, and open my mouth, watching the way his hand shakes as he holds the head against my lips. I reach out with my tongue to taste him and he whimpers. A feeling of power surges up in me and any trepidation I had seems to fall away.
Luke pushes into my mouth, so gently at first. I curl my hands around his hips and look up at him in a way I hope conveys what I want him to do. I don’t want him to think or censor himself, either.
“You want me to—” he starts to ask, and I moan around him. He starts to give himself over to it, spurred on by my sounds and the way I grip him tighter, encouraging him to use me.
His cock slips over my tongue, grazes occasionally against my teeth. Those moments seem to make it even better for him and he swears, fingers pressed against my jaw and my skull as he pushes himself in and out of my mouth.
“London, yes—oh, God, perfect,” he says, words stuttered out between shaky breaths. He braces one hand on the headboard just over my head and looks down at me as he moves. “Fuck, I’m not going to last.” His ass flexes beneath my hands and he’s shaking his head, like he’s sad it’s going to be over soon. “No. Fuck. Coming,” he gasps, and tries to pull away. “London, move. I don’t—”
I make a sound of protest and tighten my hold as he starts to come against my tongue. Up to this point he’s been so careful not to go too far but I hear him smack the wall overhead, grunting and swearing as I swallow around him.
He’s shaking when he finally falls to my side, hands greedy as he pulls me to him and kissing my chin, my mouth, and my nose. I look up to see that his eyes are closed, lashes curled against flushed cheeks. My jaw aches and my heart is pounding so hard he has to be able to feel it.
I want him to tell me he loves me again, but am also terrified of hearing it and being unable to believe him. I hold my breath as he shifts, leaning into my neck and exhaling a shaky breath. I already know it’s coming, though, and my heart seems to swell in my chest.
His voice is scratchy: “I really do love you.”
I anticipate the sensation of overflowing, of relief . . . but it doesn’t come, and I don’t know what to say.
So I tease Luke about practically collapsing after he comes, and he kisses me with sleepy lips and arms that seem to barely hold him up. He’s happy, and boneless, and falls back asleep within minutes.
I’M IN THE middle of a pretty big order when I hear someone yell his name. It’s only around eight o’clock, and a handful of his friends have been playing pool in the back for the last hour, but it’s like some group alarm has been tripped as soon as he steps into the bar and comes into view, and a bunch of them look up, shouting at him. There are a few girls I recognize now, a couple of guys I’m sure I’ve seen him with before, but only Not-Joe who I really know.
Luke waves in their direction but doesn’t stop, looping an arm around Not-Joe’s shoulder as he bypasses his friends completely and makes his way to the bar.
I put two beers on coasters as they take a seat, and line up a few wineglasses for another order. Luke looks happy and rested.
“Did you sleep all day?” I ask. Teasing him seems to be my default, and it calms the butterflies and nervous energy that have erupted since his arrival, brings me back to my baseline. His adorable, sheepish smile doesn’t hurt, either.
Not-Joe doesn’t really seem to get our inside joke, but he laughs just the same, happy to take part in any Operation Give Luke Shit he can find.
“I’m going to assume you tease me for the same reason Dylan here used to snap girls’ bras in gym class,” Luke says.
Not-Joe gives him a puzzled look. “Because she wants to see your boobs?”
Luke brings his beer to his lips and looks at me over the top of the bottle. “Something like that.”
I shake my head, feeling the resurgence of butterflies as I uncork a bottle of wine and fill the glasses. With a nod toward a waiting table, I pick up the tray and deliver the drinks, actually happy for a bit of breathing room away from his flirty smile and meaningful glances.
I don’t get much of a reprieve, however, because on my way out of Fred’s office with a spool of receipt tape only a few minutes later, I find Luke standing in the dark little hallway, waiting for me.
“What are you doing?” I ask, even as he’s moving closer, crowding me into the corner.
“Am I allowed to do this?” he says, leaning in, mouth hovering just over mine.
My stomach does a somersault as I look up at him. “You’re asking?” I breathe, brain scrambled by his proximity.
“I’m not sure what the rules are,” he says, and pulls aside my shirt so he can bend and taste my collarbone. “Whether this is something I can do out there.” He motions back over his shoulder, but I know he means outside his bedroom, out in the real world. “Because I can think of only two things that would make me happier.”
“Two things? What are they?”
“One is falling asleep together in your bed, and the other is what we did this morning.”
Oh. He crowds into my space a little more and the words hang heavy and meaningful between us. I squeeze my thighs together, hoping to take the edge off the little ache I feel just thinking about what we did this morning, but it doesn’t help.
I know what he means but I want to keep him talking, keep him close to me. “You mean like if Fred is aroun—” I start to say, but he’s already shaking his head.
“I don’t mean Fred, I mean what do you want? Am I allowed to tell you you look pretty tonight? Am I allowed to kiss you hello? I really want to.”
I want him to, too, and so I nod with a shaky breath, thankful he’s pressed up against me or I’d probably be on the ground at his feet: a London puddle.
Luke smiles and brushes the end of his nose against mine. “Hi, Logan,” he says.
His mouth is so close that I can taste his breath. He leans in, closing the space between us. It’s absolutely not a kiss that’s suitable for my place of business, all soft lips and slick tongue and warm hands moving everywhere. I wonder if I could pull him into the bathroom, lean against the wall, and ask him to fuck me all over again.
I’m about to ask when a door slams nearby and Luke pulls away, panting. “Holy shit.”
I can hear the phone ringing at the bar, the sound of customers talking, and calls from a football game playing on one of the overhead screens. I don’t care about any of it.
He takes a deep breath and lets it out. “You need to get back, and I’m going into the men’s room to rub one out.”
I laugh. “Okay,” I say. “But you’re staying?”
He nods, kissing me once more, a tiny, soft peck. “I’m staying.”
It starts to pick up again and Fred stays at the bar to help. Luke’s been back and forth between his group and up here with me, but when someone shouts his name, he points in their direction. “Think I’ll hang out and watch the game since you’re busy. What time are you off tonight?”
I fill up a shaker with ice and look up at him. “Same as always. We close at one.”
“Do you want to come back over? Shorter drive for you . . .”
“In need of another nap?”
He leans an elbow on the bar and looks up at me with wide, brown eyes. “With you? Always,” he says. “What time will you actually be able to cut out of here?”
Goose bumps rise along my skin at the idea of another morning waking up in his bed. “It might be later,” I say. “It depends on the cleanup.”
“Just let me know.” He looks around the bar and leans in a little closer. “I’d like to hear you make those sounds again,” he says, and my arm freezes, the bottle I’m pouring held in midair. “If I leave, you can text me when you head over. I’ll still be up. Okay?”
My brain has basically deserted me and I nod, watching as he smiles and then walks away.
The group Luke is with has grown, practically doubling in size and volume. Fred has handled them for the most part, leaving me to cover the bar and run the register. Luke is standing next to Dylan, hassling him over how he’s going to shoot the seven ball into a corner pocket, when I see a girl slide into the space next to him.
Old habits are hard to break, and I can’t seem to look away, watching every move he makes and comparing it to what I think it means. Old habits are obviously hard for him to break, too, because more than once I see him looking down at his phone, or pulling it out of his pocket to read a text.
It pokes at a bruise inside my chest, some thing that’s still there, lurking under the surface.
I’ve been in sort of a spiral, pretending not to watch Luke, pretending not to care how often he still looks at his damn phone, imagining what’s going on inside it and wondering if it’s even possible for that girl to get any closer without actually sitting on his lap, when Fred tosses a towel on the bar in front of me.
“Why don’t you head out early?” he says. “Luke’s still here and I can handle the rest. Take your boy home and show Miss Tube Top back there that he’s taken.”
I feel irritation flare somewhere deep in my gut. I look back in his direction and see he has his phone out again, reading through a message before he puts it away again. Does Luke ever contact the women he’s with after he sees them? What’s even the point of giving his number anyway? Is it just a douchey sort of ego boost? I remember Justin’s phone going off on occasion and he’d answer it, slipping out to the garage or backyard to talk, and now I feel vulnerable and gross. Will there ever be a time when that sort of thing doesn’t set me off?
“He’s not taken,” I say.
Fred looks at me, surprised. “Funny, he sure looked taken when he was sitting up here. He follows you around like he’s a puppy and you’ve got his favorite treat in your pocket.”
I ignore him, bending to pull a couple of Coronas out of the beer cooler.
Fred gives me his I’m picking my battles sigh, and then moves to help someone else.
I keep myself busy, restocking the cooler and deciding that staying behind the bar and staying busy is an excellent idea.
At some point I get a message from Luke, Had to rescue Margot. Don’t forget to text when you’re leaving.
I pocket my phone and go back to work, watching as the bar slowly empties.
At one, Fred turns off the outside lights, and I text Luke a quick, Leaving in about ten. You still up?
I check five minutes later. No answer.
When the last glass is washed and the bar lights are turned out, there’s nothing left to do but make my way to my car. Luke still hasn’t answered, and I know that I’m stalling because if I text him again and am met with nothing but silence, I’ll think too much about what it means. I wave to Fred and wait another five minutes before typing, Headed home. Exhausted. Let’s talk tomorrow.