Wicked Sexy Liar: Chapter 4

Luke

“DO YOU NEED me to send them?”

For a beat, I think I haven’t heard Margot correctly, but knowing my sister, odds are I have.

I pull into a parking spot, shut off the ignition, and put my phone to my ear when my car’s Bluetooth disconnects. “Do I need you to mail my law school applications?”

“It’s just that the bulk of them are due Tuesday,” she continues, “and—”

“Margot—”

“—the post office is just down from here so it’s easy for—”

“Margot.” I cut her off as gently as possible. “Seriously. I can handle this. Everything is all taken care of. Listen, I just got off work and am starving. Can we talk later?”

“I’m just excited for you,” she says, mildly sheepish now. “Your application is so strong. I know I’m being super-­controlling, but it’s such a big deal . . .”

I sigh, nodding. I’m lucky to have such an involved older sister, but there are days I want her to have just a few more things in her life to distract her from living mine as well. “I know, Gogo.”

She quiets, sighing as the name I’ve used for as long as I can remember makes her stop and take a breath. “Do you feel ready for all of this?” she asks. “It’s only a few months left here and then somewhere new.”

“Unless I go to UCSD.”

“But you won’t. I know you. I can tell you want to move.”

“Yeah,” I agree. “I think I’m ready for a change.” We’ve had this conversation a hundred times—maybe more—and I do want to prepare her for the chance that I’ll be across the country this time next year. Margot gives me more shit than everyone else in my life combined, but she’s still my best friend. Staying close to her is really the only argument for going to UCSD Law next year. “I mean, sometimes it’s overwhelming. Like, yesterday—”

“Wait, let me conference in Mom.”

I sit up in my seat, eyes wide. “For the love of God, why?”

But she’s already gone.

I stare around the parking lot—home of the most delicious Mexican food in my neighborhood, and where I hope is also the location of my dinner sometime in the near ­future—and watch a handful of seagulls fight over a few scraps of tortilla someone has thrown their way. My stomach growls.

Two seconds later I hear the line click, and Margot asks, “Everyone here?”

“Yeah,” I mumble.

“Here,” Mom says brightly. “What’s going on, Bubbles?”

Mothers and nicknames. Honestly.

“Nothing,” I say. “I honestly have no idea why I’m not eating dinner right now instead of having a conference call.”

“Luke was nervous about applications,” Margot says.

“Margot, I swear I’m not nervous!” I tell her. “They’re all done.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful, honey! Did you mail them?” Mom asks, and I groan.

“They’re due Tuesday,” my mother and sister remind me in unison.

“Funny thing,” I say. “I dressed myself this morning. Had breakfast. Managed to get to work without any help at—”

“It’s easy for me or Daddy to take them down,” Mom says over me.

“Or me,” Margot adds.

“I even shaved without incident,” I tell them, but I know they’re not listening to me.

“Luker,” Margot says, completely undeterred, “did you ever apologize to Mia?”

Oh, my evil bitch of a sister.

“Mia Holland?” Mom asks.

Margot confirms with a chirped, “Yep.”

I close my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose and muttering, “Jesus Christ.”

“Why does he need to apologize to Mia?” Mom presses.

I shake my head. “I should never tell you anything, Margot.”

My sister laughs. “As if you could keep a secret from me.”

“Luke,” Mom interjects, “what happened with Mia?”

“Tell her,” Margot urges.

I let my head thump back against the headrest and try to quickly figure out how much I really want to talk about this right now. I know they’re invested. They truly love Mia, and always will. But life moves on. We’ve moved on.

Mia was my best friend. We didn’t just share our first kiss and first touch and lose our virginity to each other—we were fucking in love. She was calm and quiet; I was outgoing and sometimes wild. She knew me better than I knew myself and that’s so fucking clichéd, but it’s the reality. I told her everything, and if I didn’t tell her something it was only because she already figured it out on her own. That kind of shorthand came from knowing each other as kids and growing up in synch. We shared history. Any other woman coming into my life would get the abbreviated version of me, but get held up to the same yardstick. And I know that, at least for now, any other woman would fail. It wouldn’t be fair.

I close my eyes as the conversation at Fred’s the other night comes back to me.

Mia, introducing me to her husband.

Husband.

She looks older, but not physically. It’s in her eyes, the way they’re steadier now, they don’t blink away as readily. She didn’t stutter or prolong a single word. She introduced him—I couldn’t even hear his name over the sound of blood pounding in my ears—and I was . . .

I was horrible.

“Husband? You’re . . . married?” I’d asked, dumbfounded. We don’t run in the same circles anymore. I knew she was seeing someone, but married? The information floored me. Literally tossed my lungs onto the floor.

Her husband stepped closer to her side as she told me, “We got married in June.”

Ignoring him, I asked her, “After knowing him how long?”

“Not that it’s your business,” she said with a tiny smile up at him, “but, yeah, we were in Vegas and—it just happened.”

I felt my face tighten in disgust. No, not disgust. Hurt. “Seriously? A cliché Vegas wedding, Mia? There really is nothing left of the girl I knew, is there?”

The memory of her expression after I’d said it makes me feel like I’ve been kicked in the chest.

“Seriously, you guys,” I say, shaking my head to clear it. “It was nothing. We ran into each other, I was rude.”

“Rude?” Mom asks, and God love her for seeming unable to imagine such a thing.

“Mia is married,” Margot says in a scandalized hiss. “To a French guy. A law instructor at UCSD.”

“How wonderful!” Mom practically shouts. “I need to send them a gift.”

“Yes, good idea,” I agree dryly. “You guys, I’m starving. Can I go?”

“You should call Mia,” Margot says.

“I’m not calling Mia, you brat.”

“Are you eating out, Luke?” Mom asks. “Why don’t you just come home for dinner? I made chicken and rice.”

“Bye, Mom, I love you. Margot, you’re dead.”

I hang up.

I STEP INTO the restaurant, dodging other customers in my peripheral vision as I scroll through my texts. Just as I get in line to order, I hear a tiny snort and look up, catching the whip of blond hair as the snorter-in-question turns toward the counter.

So I’m left facing the back of a blond head that looks awfully familiar.

I pocket my phone. “Hello, Amsterdam.”

I didn’t expect to see London here, in line at my favorite Mexican joint only a few miles from work. But here she is, and my heart does something unfamiliar: it sort of jumps and then hammers, as if I’m particularly excited to see her.

She looks over her shoulder at me, and then tilts her head down as she does the lengthy inspection of my entire body. “Nice suit.”

“Same,” I tell her. Holy shit, I mean I’ve seen her naked, but catching her in a bikini top, little cutoff shorts, and flip-flops at sunset makes me feel moderately dizzy. “But who forgot to tell you it’s cold outside?”

Tilting her head, she asks, “It’s someone’s job to tell me when it’s cold?”

I open my mouth and close it, realizing I have nothing witty to say. She turns back to the counter with a little smile, leaning forward to order. I can see the curve of her ass peeking out beneath her shorts. Honestly, I could wait in line all damn day with a view like this.

While she waits for her change, she turns a little to look back at me. “I don’t think I know what you do during the day, because I would not have predicted the suit.”

“What would you have predicted?”

“A Speedo?”

“Well,” I say, “the one time I wore a Speedo to court I was fined.”

She fights a smile, and studies me. “You’re a lawyer?”

“Easy, high roller. I’m twenty-three and a half; still only a clerk. I’m applying to law school.”

I watch her fight a groan. “Of course you are.”

“I mean, it’s not surfing all day and pouring drinks all night, but it’s a start.”

Fuck. That was sort of dickish.

I can tell how hard it is for Sunshine London to be outright dismissive of this, but she manages a tiny little fuck you smile as she turns away, grabbing a few cups of salsa and making her way over to the exit. She pushes the door open with her ass, and places the salsa on a table just outside. The words Worthy Opponent flash in my head before she turns and comes back inside to wait for her food.

When she looks up at me, her full mouth curls in a smile. I study her blond hair, freckles, and the whole length of her: forever-long legs in her tiny shorts, breasts somehow contained by the triangles of her bikini top. My attention returns to her face and I catch a glimpse of her open, unguarded ­expression—some vulnerability or curiosity about what I’m thinking—before she slips her defense back into place.

Her number is called and she picks up an enormous plate piled with some unidentifiable food. Holding it up to her nose, she inhales deeply. “I come here for the carne asada fries.” With another little smile, she says, “See you later!” and heads back out to her table.

This girl, I swear.

I hadn’t planned on taking my food to go, and with only four tiny tables it’s a little awkward to sit in the same small restaurant but not together. My number is called, and after a pause, I grab my plate and follow her outside.

“Incidentally,” I tell her, “I come here for the soyriza nachos.”

London looks up as I set my food down in front of her. “What are you doing?”

I get it. This is a little weird, and as much as I might like her, I respect that the other night was a one-time thing. But I’m not going to eat soggy nachos in my car out of a Styrofoam container to avoid this.

“Hopefully eating,” I say.

She laughs, waving her hands palms down over the table. “No. No. Nope. We don’t have dinner together.”

I slow my movements, but continue to sit anyway. “Is that the same thing as ‘can’t have dinner together’? Because I might have missed that in the rulebook.”

Her blue eyes narrow playfully as she watches me unroll my fork and knife from the paper napkin. “Please don’t make me regret sleeping with you.”

“Technically, we didn’t sleep. Remember that time we had sex on my couch, though?” I ask, pulling a large tortilla chip free of the pile. “That was pretty awesome.”

“Yes,” she agrees, pointing an accusing finger at me. “We did have sex on your couch, but—”

“And the floor.”

“And the floor,” she concedes with an eye roll. “But would—”

“And then back on the couch again.”

She sighs, eyebrows raised as if she’s making sure I’m done interrupting. I give her a tiny nod.

“Wouldn’t it just be a lot easier if we avoided each other from here on out?” she asks.

I nod as I swallow, unfamiliar with being on the receiving end of this particular conversation. “Probably.”

She stares me down. I stare back. Her eyes slowly—­meaningfully—drop to my plate and then slide to the empty table next to us.

“Does this mean I shouldn’t expect any naked selfies later?” I ask. “Or even selfies of you in that bikini?”

“I think you get plenty of selfie texts as it is.”

As if to prove her point, my phone buzzes near my water bottle and London smiles, dimples flashing victoriously.

Planting my elbows on the table, I lean in, giving her my most earnest smile. “Look, Fresno—”

“Fresno. Amsterdam. You’re hilarious.”

“—I’m not going to make it weird. But all this worry about it being weird is going to make it weird. We’re in the same tiny restaurant. We’re grown-ups. It’s just food.” I pull a chip free and pop it in my mouth, chewing thoughtfully before saying, “Well, technically it’s just food with a guy who saw you naked a couple nights ago. But if you really want me to move, I will.”

She blinks away, and I can see a tiny flash of guilt cross her features. I’ve seen London interact with other people—she’s bubbly, she cracks jokes and wears a constant smile—so I know this shell she’s built around herself is really about guys and romance, not because she’s an asshole.

At least, not really.

Looking back at me, she narrows her eyes a little as she studies me, and then bursts out laughing. “You have a giant black bean stuck to your front tooth.”

Now that she’s pointed it out, I can feel it. I grin wider, all teeth. “I have to do something to reduce my attractiveness to the ladies. It can’t be full steam all the time.”

London giggles at this as she takes a bite of her fries. “You’re insane.”

I lean in, and she laughs harder. “Can you believe this is the face of a man who, two nights ago, happily gave you four orgasms?”

She looks up at me, mouth straightening as the memory of our night together causes her cheeks to flush. “Three.”

I pull the bean off my tooth and lean back in my chair, staring at her. Waiting. I remember each of her orgasms ­distinctly—the sharp cry one, the gasping one, the oh-fuck-oh-my-fucking-God one, and the sweaty, unintelligible begging one—so I know she is full of shit.

“Okay, maybe four,” she says with a little wave of her hand. And then she looks back up at me, brows drawn. “What’s your point?”

I shake my head. “I don’t have a point. I—”

“I mean, seriously.” She’s flustered now, blushing hotly. “What is your point? What is the point of”—she gestures up and down my body—“of all this? The fancy suit and shiny shoes and the fucking hair.”

“I just got off work!” I bite back a laugh. “Wait, what is the point of my hair?”

“And that smile? You’re . . . just . . .” She digs around for the right word, finally coming up with “absurd.” And I don’t know what it is about that word, but it thrills me. Seeing her pretend to be disgusted with me makes me oddly giddy.

“I don’t think I know what you mean by ‘absurd,’ ” I goad her.

“You’re banging different women every night—”

“Not every night.”

And here we go. Composed London is unraveling. “Did you always want to be the stereotype?”

“The straight-A, water polo player turned pre-law? Yeah, rough path. Scare me straight already.”

She leans to the side, scanning the parking lot. “Do you drive a Hummer?”

“I drove you home in my Prius,” I remind her.

She snorts. “You had a condom in your pocket.”

“I wouldn’t judge you if you had a condom in your pocket,” I volley back.

Her eyes narrow. I have a point and she knows it.

“And I would have been happy to play video games all night,” I add.

She aggressively shoves a fry into her mouth. “You had nothing but Sriracha in your fridge,” she says around it.

“There was also celery and string cheese. And I made you come four times. Four. Do you even bother to do that with your box of toys beneath your bed?”

London chews on her straw, and then says, “What makes you think I have a box of toys under my bed?”

And I swear to God, she’s blushing even more hotly now.

“You deny it?” I ask quietly.

She completely leaps over my question. “You banged someone else last night.”

“Technically, I didn’t.”

She laughs. “So technically Aubrey did give you car head.”

She didn’t—she sucked on my neck and reached for my dick until I gently pried her hand away and walked her to her doorstep. But London’s already got her mind made up, so why bother?

“You didn’t even care that I called you by the wrong name all night!” I fire back. “Why does it matter to you whether I did or didn’t get car head?”

Her eyes go wide. “It doesn’t matter to me whether you got car head. It matters to me that you won’t just let what we did be a fun night, and you insist on”—she makes circular gestures at the table and then in the air—“food.”

I cough out an incredulous sound. “I didn’t follow you here. I’m just trying to be polite. You would prefer that I say a simple hello and take my nachos back to my place? Who’s the manwhore here? It isn’t me.”

She looks to the side, which gives me an opportunity to admire the definition of her jawline, the smooth line of her throat. Her hair is sun-bleached and I can see a few grains of sand clinging to the nape of her neck. What is going on in that head of hers? I can’t even begin to guess.

“You make me insane,” she says quietly, more to herself than to me, as she stabs a fry into some salsa.

It hits me in an instant. “I think you don’t like how much you like me,” I say, unable to keep from smiling. “You can’t fit me into your Barfly Box of Shame. You want to dismiss me as a dickhead player, but then you think I’m hot and fun and you like watching me eat nachos.”

London turns her face back up to me, smirking. “Nailed it.”

“Apt phrase.” I pause, tossing another chip into my mouth before saying, “You sort of want to kiss me right now.”

She leans in, studying my face. “You’re thinking too much on this.”

It’s true. I am thinking way, way too much on this. But I also know I’m right. I bend, eating in silence for a minute, but I can feel her eyes on me the entire time.

“What?” I ask, pushing my plate away before wiping my mouth on my napkin.

“I need to head home and shower before work.”

There’s something there. Some . . . invitation? I feel my eyes go wide, wondering if I should gamble here.

“I live about three blocks away,” I remind her.

London stands, carrying her plate to the trash can before turning to me. “Fine. But you still don’t get to kiss my ladybird.”


LONDON’S COOL IS back in place when she pulls up at the curb behind my car. I watch her climb out and look around my yard as she walks up to meet me on my porch.

“I guess I didn’t give much thought to the fact that you live alone in a house in La Jolla.”

Tilting my head, I ask her, “Where do you live?”

“A loft downtown,” she says. “My grandmother left it to me.”

“Well, that’s something we have in common then,” I tell her, turning to the front door. “This house is Grams’s.” I slide the key in. “She lives in Del Mar now in a fancy retirement community. My sister, Margot, used to live here with me, but now she lives closer to campus with a roommate.”

“Isn’t UCSD, like, four miles from here?”

“Probably less, but she’s in grad school. Biology. She hates to drive and needs to be close to the lab.” I nod to indicate she lead us inside. “Come on in.”

It’s clear London isn’t here for idle conversation. She turns and heads straight down the hall, looking over her shoulder at me when she asks, “Is it okay if I shower in the bathroom down here?”

“Yeah,” I tell her, following. “You want company, or you want to rinse off alone?”

She’s put on a T-shirt for the drive here and turns to me fully, pulling it up and over her head, unties her bikini, and drops it at the threshold to the bathroom. “If I wanted to shower alone, I would have just gone home.”

My brows rise as I stare at her naked chest. “Fair enough.”

This whole thing is weird, and abrupt, but I can get on board with it if it means showering with a wet, slippery London.

She climbs in, turning on the water and watching through the glass door as I undress. I follow her in, suddenly aware of the way my cock grows tight, poking her hip when she turns to kiss my neck.

“I can’t really figure you out,” I admit, closing my eyes when she drags her teeth along my jaw.

“I can’t really figure me out, either, if that’s any consolation.”

It is, actually. She smiles up at me sweetly before turning and picking up the shampoo and putting it in my hand.

“But you’re right: despite my instincts, I sort of like you,” she says, kissing me once and then turning her back to me. “And I bet you give good shower.”

“I like to think so.” I work the shampoo into her hair, piling it on top and massaging her scalp. London leans back into me, and the hot water pounds against my chest. “This sort of reminds me of washing Margot’s dolls’ hair.”

London goes still and then very slowly lifts her head and looks at me over her shoulder. “What.”

I burst out laughing, pressing my face into the warm skin of her neck. “Yeah . . . I can see now that, without context, that was totally creepy. But we used to play doll salon. Being the younger and much-abused brother, I ended up as the shampoo girl. I would bring them to her for blow-dry and style. She would yell at me if I didn’t properly condition.”

“Margot sounds pretty awesome.”

I nod, guiding her head a little to the side so I can massage her neck. “She is. And to this day Sephora is her church.”

“It both thrills and vexes me that you’re a dude who knows about Sephora.”

“And Chico’s,” I tell her, enjoying how easy this all is—even when we’re talking like this in the shower. “Also a place not often frequented by men, but Chico’s is my Grams’s jam. Come to think of it, Mom is a huge fan of Coldwater Creek.” I pause, sudsy fingers deep in her hair. “Jesus, my weekends are dominated by chauffeuring the women in my life.”

“A nice counterbalance to the weeknights dominated by chauffeuring the women in your phone.”

I feel the way we both go still under the water. Just when I think it’s easy between us, just when we’re both unwinding, she goes there.

“Did I say that out loud?” she asks, turning her head but eyes squeezed shut against the slow drip of suds down her forehead.

“You did.”

“And are you glaring at me?”

“No.” But I won’t lie to myself and pretend her impression of me doesn’t sting a little. I put my hands on her shoulders, guiding her around to face me. I wipe the soap from her brows, murmuring, “Rinse.”

I can see in my peripheral vision that she’s watching my face while I coax the water through her hair, rinsing away the suds, but instead of meeting her eyes, I focus on my hands.

“Logan?”

She smiles. “Yeah?”

“Why did you come over here again?” I ask her quietly.

She reaches for the soap and I shiver when her hands press to my stomach and slide up over my chest. “I’m not sure.” She meets my eyes and gives me a sweet, tiny grin. “Sorry I was rude.”

“You were taking your self-loathing out on me, I think. But then, you didn’t have to come over here.”

Her grin turns into a wide, dimpled smile. “You’re not going to goad me into becoming one of the girls in your phone who insist they never do this kind of thing.”

“I’m not trying to goad you. It’s just that in your case, it seems to be true. Even if you hadn’t told me our first night together, I would bet you never do this kind of thing. Not that there would be anything wrong if you did.”

She nods, and watches her hands as she lathers up my chest, my shoulders. I can barely hear her answer over the pounding water: “The sex was good. And I figured you were the kind of guy who can keep it just about sex, which is all I want right now.”

“I can.”

I think.

I mean, it’s never been a problem before, but I’m troubled by how much I want her to like me. “I’m going to be honest, though. You sort of suck at it.” Her mouth drops open when I say this, and I quickly add, “Not the sex part—you’re very good at that part, if memory serves—but the part where it’s just about having fun sex together.”

Her blue eyes flash up to mine. “What do you mean? I’m not getting emotional on you.”

I laugh at her quick defense, tickling her sides. “I mean, you’re sort of a jerk to me.”

She giggles. “I’m sorry! I swear I’m not a jerk. I just . . . I don’t want to date, and the kind of guy I would date anyway is nothing like you, but here I am . . . for sex. So yeah, maybe some self-loathing . . . which makes me into a jerk.”

I’m trying to ignore the insult in there. “What kind of guy do you date?”

She looks up at me quizzically. “I don’t.”

I sigh in exasperation, squeezing conditioner into my palm while she washes my arms. I slide my fingers into her hair, saying, “I mean, you’re saying I’m not your type. What is your type?”

“Bearded. Laid-back. Tattoos.”

“Mustard yellow cord-wearing craft brewer?” I ask, and she laughs. “The kind of man who is heavily invested in his mustache wax, so he can get the upturned points just right?”

“Something like that.” Her hands move back to my chest, down my stomach again. With her eyes on my face, she reaches lower, sliding a soapy hand down my cock.

Her cheeks flush and I shiver, eyes rolling closed as I jump in her palm. I want to tell her it feels good, I want to kiss her, but I’m immediately so consumed by the feel of her touching me that I’m stuck in place, water running down my face.

She lets out a little moan when her hand slides over the head of my cock.

“Not your type at all,” I tease.

Her mouth presses to my collarbone. “Nope, not even a little.”

She works her hand over me, slowly squeezing, and then stretches to kiss up my neck.

I cup her face, tilting her to look up at me. “We don’t have to do this.”

London stares at me, breathing in, breathing out. “We don’t?”

What? “Of course not.”

But she’s teasing me. With a little smile, her lips part as she presses her mouth to mine, tongue sliding inside, warm and slick. Everything in me unravels. I find her breasts with my hands, press her to the tile and deepen the kiss, groaning into her mouth as I make tiny circles over her nipples with my thumbs. When I reach between her legs with one hand, finding her already silky with need, she pulls back from my mouth, letting her head fall back against the tile. I watch her—eyes closed, mouth soft and open, pulse thrumming in her throat—as my fingers move around, around, down, around. Fuck, she’s sexy, and it’s easy to figure out how to make her feel good: she likes being touched on the outside, quick and hard. I bend, sucking the water from her chin, her lips.

Her body slides against mine and I chase her mouth when she pulls back, giving me a tiny brow raise before whispering, “Condom?”

I lean out of the shower, fumbling in a cabinet drawer for one, and somehow manage to stand back up and hand it over without slipping.

She curls it in her fist and reaches for me with her free hand, stroking me, stretching on her toes for a kiss. My mind goes warm and shapeless when I return my fingers to her, and hear her relieved little gasp.

London tears the packet open with her teeth while my fingers stroke and stroke and stroke. I can feel how close she is in the tension in her thighs, so I don’t need her to tell me “I’m close,” but hearing it anyway pushes an electric charge into my blood.

It goes off like a bomb inside my chest when she adds: “I want to come with you inside.”

London looks up into my eyes, smiling almost apologetically for asking for that sort of physical connection with me. “Is that okay?”

I nod, unable to reply aloud because

something

is breaking

wide-open in me.

I rub her bottom lip with the pad of my thumb, nodding again and again.

We’re no longer headed toward a fun fuck, the rutting, confident sex I’ve been enjoying for years. I suddenly can’t muster the out-of-focus tenderness I give so easily. This isn’t even like the other night with her—two people experiencing something completely different, together.

Here, I’m peeled bare.

I want to make love to this sweet, distrustful girl.

It’s confusing to need the reassurance of her mouth on mine, but I bend, taking her lips, sucking and pulling and opening her so I can taste her tongue and draw out those tight, hungry sounds.

She pulls away to focus, and I can feel her breath on my neck and the weight of her attention where her hands work the condom down my cock. Sounds seem to fall away one by one; even with the pounding of the water we’re in a silent room, breathing in, breathing out. She reaches lower, cupping me, and at the sharp grate of my grunt I feel her eyes turn up to my face, taking stock of every detail of my reaction.

You’re so hard. I don’t hear her say this, but I see her mouth form the words, and stare at the water running down her face, tripping from her top lip.

I imagine what she sees: the tightness in my brow, my jaw. I swallow before trying—and failing—to form words. I don’t even know what I would say right now, and everything rising up in me feels too intense to voice anyway. Her blond hair is plastered to her cheeks and down her neck. Her eyes are these enormous circles of turquoise lined with dark blue, lashes clumped together. Impossibly red, her lips are swollen from me. But it’s the way that the caution has melted from her expression that makes something inside me ache.

She’s making me want something I haven’t considered in so long. Connection, stability, something familiar and just ours.

“I like this,” she says quietly, and the way her eyes linger on mine, I know she’s saying more. She’s admitting she likes me.

I groan, knowing there’s no filter remaining in my eyes, nothing hiding the way I’m impatient and needy, breathing so hard I’m panting. I reach for her thighs, pulling her legs up and around my waist and it’s so easy to slide into her, wet like this, soft for me. I could slam deep with one push, fuck us both to satisfaction in a few sharp jabs, but it’s an inch at a time that I want.

I want to feel that slide, the slow easing in.

I want to watch the relief take over every feature one by one.

I want her to see me.

A tiny flash of pain crosses over her face—a twitch of her forehead, a tight gasp—and I bend to kiss her, whispering, “Okay?”

“Yeah,” she says, nodding. Her fingers move up my neck into my hair as a sly smile takes over her lips. “I just never do this sort of thing.”

I laugh at this, but it melts into a groan as she turns into my neck, sucking, biting. When I’m deep in her I stay there and just push deeper, deeper, deeper, rubbing all over her until she’s scratching at my back, pushing against me, slicing these tight, sharp noises straight into my ear.

I knew she was close but I didn’t realize how fast it would be.

I pull back to look at her right when she breaks: her mouth falls open, her pussy goes tight, and shards of sound tear from her throat.

With my face pressed to her neck, something in me falls apart and I’m gripping her, fucking her, sucking at her skin and taking as much as I can get. Her orgasm goes on and on until she comes down, gasping for air and just watching me.

Watching me climb, watching me give in, watching me topple over and come with a rumbling groan.

Fuck, I can barely breathe. My arms are shaking and she’s so slippery I have to adjust my grip so that I don’t drop her. But her hands cup my face, her mouth searches for mine, and then we’re kissing.

We’re kissing and it’s better than anything and I’m still inside her.

Everything is soft, drenched in water and these unwound, relieved touches are making it hard for me to imagine ever turning off the shower. It’s such a simple thing—kissing after sex—but it’s not. If it were simple it would be routine. I wouldn’t roll off right after, take care of the condom before taking care of anything else. I wouldn’t be thinking how long until we can get up, or whether she wants to stay over or whether I should offer her something to eat.

But London isn’t done with me yet and I don’t want to pull out. Not yet. Not quite. I like the feel of her, all pliable in my arms. I like the way it feels to come down in her.

I like the way it feels like we just did something rare together.

She tilts my face in her hands, kissing my jaw, sucking water from my bottom lip. Her blue eyes are bright and glassy, so close to mine. “You okay?”

I nod, whispering, “I think you’re going to wreck me,” before going back in for more of her mouth, but she ducks to the side.

“You’re going to run out of hot water soon.” She stretches, shifting her hips back, and I slide out of her before carefully setting her back on her feet.

It’s been years since I felt the odd sense of ownership over a body, and the awareness jerks through me like a reflex. I run my hands down her sides to her hips. I smooth my palms over her ass when she bends to turn off the water. I let my hands slide back up her sides and to her breasts when she straightens with her back to me. Bending, I suck at her shoulder, biting, wanting to leave a mark that lets everyone else know that I was here. I like the way she fits against me, front or back, it doesn’t matter. We fit.

“Where are your towels?” London looks at me over her shoulder, and she tries to hide a shiver.

“Shit, sorry, hang on.” I climb out, wrapping the only towel on the rack around my hips before jogging to the linen closet to get her a fresh one.

She’s climbing out when I return and hand it to her. I watch her dry off from her feet up her body to her hair. I’m reeling from the sensation that she was my girlfriend only ten seconds ago.

“Believe it or not,” she says, “that was the first time I’ve showered with someone.”

I bring the towel up to my hair, rubbing it dry. “Really?”

She looks up and freezes before coughing out a laugh. “Oh my God, your face. You look so proud.”

“It’s not a huge mystery that guys like to be the first. Discovering America. Inventing shit. Showering with London.”

“That’s pretty sexist. Women also like—”

I interrupt her gently with one hand up. “Yeah, yeah. But maybe not in the pathological way guys do.” I stare at her until she meets my eyes. “Settle down, I’m just happy to be the first. I’m not planting a flag or anything.”

Finally, she gives me a smile. Her eyes soften, take in my whole face before she looks into my eyes again. Fuck me, her expression is so sweet, so . . . happy, and I take a step forward—

She blinks, gaze cooling, and there it is: she remembers that we’re naked under our towels and she’s not supposed to like a guy like me. “Can I borrow some clothes? I need to drive home and change for work but don’t want to put my sandy stuff back on.”

“Didn’t plan very well, did you?”

Her eyes narrow and she tries to look annoyed but totally fails. “I planned on showering at home.”

She follows me to the bedroom, watching as I pull a pair of basketball shorts and a T-shirt out of a drawer.

“Do you want . . . ?” I trail off, holding up a pair of boxers in the other hand.

“Nah.” Taking the shorts, she drops the towel and sits at the edge of my bed. Naked. And now I’m left thinking about how she’ll be wearing my shorts with nothing between her—

“You’re staring.”

I blink out of my trance and say the first thing that comes to mind: “You really never showered with a boyfriend? That just seems so . . . obvious.”

London shrugs, pulling the string at the waist tight. “I’ve only really had one boyfriend,” she says, and looks up as if she expects me to find this weird. For obvious reasons, I do not. I lift my brows to tell her she should finish answering the question. “We were together a really long time, but no . . . we didn’t shower together.”

“What a loser, then.”

“You have no idea.” She laughs, and disappears as she pulls the shirt over her head.

And, ah, I get it. “He cheated, didn’t he?”

When she reemerges from the shirt, she eyes me warily. “How did you know?”

“You have that All Men Are Assholes vibe.”

“It’s been my experience that most men are cheaters at some point.”

I feel my head jerk back slightly. “ ‘Most men’? That seems a little harsh.”

She shrugs. “I’m not really in a business where I meet a lot of sincere gentlemen.”

“Why do you work at a bar, then?” I pause when she doesn’t answer and then wince. “There’s no good way to say this, so here goes: You have a degree. You don’t need to sling drinks for a living.”

“It’s not as easy to find a job as you may be thinking, lawyer boy. Also, I like mixing drinks. The schedule is good. I surf during the day and do some freelance stuff in my free time. Bartending makes good money. Freelancing . . . does not. Not yet.”

“Freelance graphic design?”

“Yeah. Some drawing. Logos. Videos. Websites.” She grows tight; shoulder pulled in, palms pressed together, hands captured between her knees where she sits on my bed. Her body screams, Can I go now?

I recognize the posture. I’ve worn that posture. For some reason, it rankles me after what we just did, and makes me want to keep her here longer. Why is my instinct with her always to push, just a little?

“Well, there’s never any danger of meeting someone if you work from home, or at a bar where you’re sure to never meet anyone you like.”

She looks up at me, and her blue eyes seem to glow in the darkening room. “What about you? When was the last time you had someone you’d consider a girlfriend?”

“Freshman year.”

She gives me an incredulous look. “That’s four years ago.”

“I know. But we were together for a while before then.” I sit at the edge of my bed next to her and bend, resting my elbows on my thighs. I’m still only in my towel.

“Luke?”

I can feel her eyes on my face, and turn to look over at her. Just by her expression I know she’s putting two and two together. “Yeah?”

“How exactly do you know Mia?”

I smile but I don’t feel it move past the twist of my lips. “She’s my ex.”

“Oh.” Her eyes fall closed. “Oh. I’ve heard mention in passing of the boyfriend before Ansel. You were together for a long time.”

“Our first kiss was when we were twelve.”

“And your last?” she asks.

My heart hurts with a phantom limb pain, the way it always does when I remember: we both knew it was the last kiss. “Nineteen.”

London stands, opening her eyes, wiping her hands down her sides, and looking around as if searching for something. “I feel a little weird about this all of a sudden.”

I follow her when she walks into the bathroom, picking up her pile of discarded clothes. “God, why?” I ask. “Mia certainly doesn’t care.”

“She doesn’t know about this,” she says, motioning between us. “I mean, Mia and I aren’t, like, best friends or anything, but we are friends and apparently I’ve been banging her ex.”

“We haven’t really ‘been banging.’ You’ve banged me twice and actually, I’ve done most of the work. You can claim thirteen percent responsibility and then you can shirk that, if you want, since you didn’t know I was her ex.”

She doesn’t even crack a smile at this as she walks out of the bedroom to the kitchen, slipping on her flip-flops. “Still. Ugh.”

I’ve hit pause on the growing interest inside me, shut off any real reaction to this. I like London but she’s got some weird chick force field around her I’m not even going to pretend to understand, and this Mia thing seems to make it stronger.

“Well, regardless, today was nice,” I tell her quietly.

She nods but won’t look at me. “It was.”

I know she won’t use it but I can’t help giving her my number. Tearing the back off an envelope on the counter, I write it down and slide it across to her. “In case you ever want another complimentary shampoo.”

She stares at it before taking the pen from me, tearing off another piece, and writing something down. With a dry laugh, she slides it to me, grabs her keys, and heads to the front door.

In case of emergency.

Logan: 619-555-0127

After I hear her car pull away from the curb, I dial the number and laugh in spite of myself when a deep male voice answers the call: “Fred’s Bar, Fred speaking.”

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