By eight o'clock that night, the rain was coming down hard and the thunder had started booming, lightening zigzagging across the sky.

I sat huddled in my room, Phoebe on my lap. The feeling of that night came flowing back over me as I sat there. I had a better handle on it now, but I knew that that loud booming above me would always remind me of feeling alone and helpless.

I had several candles burning around my bedroom in case the power went out. Normally, candles provided a calming, romantic atmosphere, but tonight the shadows they cast on the walls surrounding me made the storm even scarier, more unnerving.

I heard a soft knock at my door and startled. Phoebe perked her ears up and barked softly. Who the hell was that?

I had already had him in the forefront of my mind because of the storm, and so my heart rate accelerated as I slowly got up off my bed and tiptoed down the hall, Phoebe at my heels.

I went to the front window and peeked out the curtain where I could just barely see my porch in front of the door. Archer was leaned back, looking at me as I stared at him. My heart started pounding as I took in his drenched form, his jeans and white t-shirt plastered to his body. Oh God, he must have walked here in the downpour.

I only hesitated for a second before I hurried to the door and flung it open to the sound of the rain pounding the ground in front of my porch. A loud clap of thunder shook the cottage and I jumped slightly, causing Archer to take a step toward me.

What are you doing here? I asked.

You don't like thunderstorms, he answered.

I tilted my head, confused. You walked a mile in the rain because I don't like thunderstorms?

He hesitated for a second, looking away, frowning slightly. Then he looked back at me and said simply, yes. He paused, his expression pained. I know I'm probably the last person you want to see right now, but I just thought if I sat on your porch, you wouldn't be scared. You wouldn't be alone.

Oh God.

I couldn't help it, my face crumpled and I started to cry.

Archer took a tentative step toward me and silently asked permission as he looked into my eyes. I nodded at him, acknowledging his unspoken question, and he took me in his arms and pressed me to him.

I brought my arms up around him and buried my face in his neck, breathing in his clean, rainy scent. I cried silently in his arms for several minutes as he held me, rubbing circles on my back, his warm breath on my ear, his drenched clothing soaking me too. For those few minutes, I was oblivious to the thunder and rain coming down noisily all around us–for those few minutes, it was only me and him, and nothing else.

I wasn't sure what to think. I only knew that this felt right. He was still my best friend, my sweet, silent boy, and I had missed him so desperately that I ached. He had hurt me and yet I clung to him as if my very life depended on it.

After a few minutes, I leaned back, looking up at his face. He looked down at me so sweetly and tenderly that my heart squeezed tightly in my chest.

You hurt me, I said, stepping back.

Sadness filled his expression and he nodded, acknowledging that he knew he had.

Let me fix it, he said, please. I want to fix it. What can I do?

I breathed out, dropping my shoulders. You had sex with another woman, Archer.

He shook his head, I didn't have sex with her, I just… was with her.

My brows furrowed and I jerked my head back. What? I thought you were… wait, what does 'you were with her' mean exactly? I didn't know what he was going to tell me, but relief washed over me when I realized that he hadn't gone all the way with her.

He sighed, running a hand over his wet head, and then shaking his hand down at his side. I… Is this… he sighed again. She took me in the back room and kissed my neck and brought my hands to her breasts. My body… reacted. He closed his eyes for a couple beats and then opened them. She told me Travis had paid for her to have sex with me, but it didn't feel right and so I left. That's what happened. I'm so sorry. I knew it wasn't right, I didn't want that. I mean… I … God. Shame filled his face as he looked down again.

I released the breath I'd been holding and laughed softly, shaking my head. Archer took my chin in his freezing cold fingers and tilted my head up. He looked at me with questioning eyes.

You got a lap dance, Archer, and it went too far. But you said no to her and left. I studied him for a second. Why did you say no? Tell me.

He didn't say anything for a few beats and then, Because I don't want to be with anyone except you. I didn't want her, I only want you. I only want you, Bree.

As we stood there in my doorway, looking into each other's eyes, I noticed that he was trembling and his lips were turning blue, a pool of water on my dry porch beneath him.

I pulled him inside. "Oh my God, you're freezing," I said, my hands busy pulling him. "We have to get you warm."

I walked him into my bathroom and turned on the shower, warm steam immediately billowing out into the small room. I started pulling his clothes off, his sweatshirt and his t-shirt, and he let me, his eyes trained on my face, only helping out where I needed him to. He kicked his shoes off, and I knelt before him and peeled his wet socks off his feet and then stood up again, my eyes moving up his abs to his chest as I came slowly upright. The room suddenly seemed even warmer. I bit my lip and looked up into his beautiful face.

You get in the shower, I said when he was standing in nothing but his jeans. I need to change too, I said, looking down at my wet nightshirt.

He nodded, and I turned jerkily and left the bathroom. I shut the door behind me and leaned against it for a second, biting my lip again. I groaned softly. "Only you, Bree," I said quietly. "Only you would fall in love with the local, mute loner." But then I grinned. Yes, local, mute loner, but my local, mute loner.

I changed out of my wet clothes and put on a new–cuter– nightshirt. Then I went to the kitchen and put on the kettle. I stood there looking out the window at the rain, waiting for the whistle.

A couple minutes later, I heard the shower turn off and a minute after that, the door opened and I called softly, "In the kitchen."

Archer came in with only a towel wrapped around his narrow hips, rubbing a hand over his hair and looking at me a little self-consciously. I took in his drool-worthy naked chest and the way the towel left little to the imagination as far as his assets went and swallowed.

"I'm just finishing up the tea," I said, opening a couple tea bags. "If you want to gather your clothes and put them in the dryer–it's right in the small closet in the hall."

He nodded and left the room as I finished up, and then re-joined me as I was bringing the tea into the front room. He took one of the mugs from me and we sat down on the couch together, sipping our hot tea in silence for several comfortable minutes.

Finally, he put his mug down on the table next to the couch and turned to me. Can I say something?

I looked at him, and tilted my head, and said, "Of course," and then took another small sip of my tea.

He took a deep breath and seemed to be gathering his thoughts. I've been thinking a lot these past couple of days and… I was trying to be what you want me to be, but… it's a lot for me, Bree. He shook his head slightly. I hated that night–the noise, all the people, the fact that I can't talk. He was silent for a beat before meeting my eyes. I want to make you happy, more than anything, but… He ran his hand over the top of his hair again.

I sat my tea down on the coffee table in front of us and moved closer to him. Archer, I made you feel like you were a project to me. I made you feel like you, just as you are… you weren't enough. I looked down and then back up into his eyes. I'm so sorry.

He grabbed my hands, squeezed them and then let go. No, it's not your fault. I know that you were trying to… expand my world. I just need to do that as I'm ready to do that, okay? And I don't know when I'll be ready to do that. It might be a long time, Bree.

I nodded, tears in my eyes. Okay. I laughed lightly and climbed onto his lap, straddling him and leaning forward, squeezing him tightly to me. "Just one thing though," I whispered into his neck, not willing to let go of him just then.

He waited. I leaned back and said, "The only woman who gives you lap dances is me."

He grinned, his eyes dancing. I felt like that grin could easily cause me to fall over and die of heart failure brought on by an overdose of his beauty. I grinned back and leaned forward and kissed him deeply.

The thunder boomed and a bolt of lightning made the room pulse with light for several seconds. I sighed contentedly and slid my tongue into Archer's warm mouth. He tasted like a mixture of cinnamon from his toothpaste and honey from the tea. His tongue met mine, sliding along it deliciously, eliciting a moan from deep in my chest. He took my face in his hands and tilted my head so that he could go deeper, taking charge of the kiss and exploring my mouth slowly and thoroughly until I was panting and rubbing myself on his thick, hard erection.

Archer was shy and unsure so much of the time, but when it came to something he had taken time to master, he was steady and confident about it. I wondered if he even noticed that about himself.

I broke the kiss, sucking in air and tilting my head back to give him access to my neck. He kissed and nibbled down it lightly as I ran my fingers through his hair.

His hands came up to my breasts and he rubbed my nipples lazily over the thin cotton of my nightshirt. I sighed with pleasure, grabbing handfuls of his hair.

I felt his erection grow even harder beneath me–nothing separating us except for the now-wet material of my underwear and the terrycloth towel.

I reached down between us and trailed my fingers lightly down his tight abs. He inhaled a breath, his muscles clenching at my touch. I moved my hand down further and stroked him over the towel as he looked at me with heavy-lidded eyes, his lips parted slightly. Oh God, he was stunning to me. Wetness pooled between my thighs and a furious pulse of need beat there, wanting to be filled.

"Archer… I want you," I whispered.

Without hesitating even a portion of a second, he scooped his arms underneath me and stood up, heading toward my bedroom. I laughed, bringing my arms up around his neck. "I guess that's a yes," I said.

He smiled at me, looking slightly strained and just a little bit nervous.

When we got to my bedroom, he laid me gently on the bed and stood looking down at me, gentleness and desire meeting in the expression on his face. My heart thundered in my ears.

Archer turned to the wall and flipped the overhead light off. The candles were still lit and they cast a dreamy glow to the room. What a difference a half an hour made, I thought, remembering that I had been sitting in this very room just a little while ago, feeling alone and scared.

Archer turned and dropped the towel from around his waist, and I got a brief look at the full vision of his naked body before he put one knee on the bed and lowered himself down to me. Good lord. Building stone patios, chopping wood, and walking everywhere was a workout video he needed to put on the market. ASAP.

He brought his mouth to mine again and kissed me deeply for long minutes, bringing his mouth to my neck after we both broke to gulp in air. He sucked on the skin gently, and I leaned my head back even further, giving him more access and pressing my hips upward into his hardness. He sucked in a breath and brought his head up, looking into my eyes.

He was leaning on his forearms, holding himself over me and so he couldn't use his hands to talk, and I chose not to speak either. The look on his face told me everything I needed to know. There was nowhere else on earth he'd rather be than right here with me, doing what we were about to do. And as I gazed up at him, his eyes dark with lust and his expression tender with emotion, I knew there was nowhere else on this earth I'd rather be either.

I reached my arms up, indicating that he should lift my nightshirt off. He leaned up and took hold of the hem and raised it slowly, sliding it up my arms and over my head and tossing it on the floor next to the bed.

Then he stood up again and watched my eyes as he hooked his pointer fingers in each side of my underwear and dragged them down my legs. I looked from his eyes down to his hard, straining cock and the pulsing in my core picked up in intensity.

He stood staring down at me, and I began to squirm slightly as his eyes raked up and down my body. I had never simply stayed still as someone studied my nakedness, but when he met my eyes and said, You're so beautiful, I relaxed. I noted that his hands were shaking very slightly.

"So are you," I whispered as he came back down on top of me, the muscles of his forearms flexing again as he held his weight off of me and leaned his head in to meet my mouth again.

I ran my hands slowly up and down the hard ridges of his arms and then over his broad shoulders. Then I traveled down the smooth skin of his muscled back, ending at his ass where I lightly ran my hands over it, grabbing it lightly and pushing him down into me. I felt him smile against my mouth.

I broke free from his lips smiling, too, as he kissed my neck again. "You like it when I grab your ass?" I asked, grinning. He smiled into my neck.

So I brought my hands back to his hard ass and kneaded it lightly, pressing my hips upward into his erection, laying hard on my belly, the heat of it burning into my skin deliciously and making me tremble with my desire for him.

He moved his head down to my breasts and took one nipple into his warm mouth and circled his tongue over it. "Oh, Archer," I gasped out, "please don’t stop."

He brought his other hand up and played with one nipple while he sucked and teased the other one with his mouth and his tongue and then switched sides.

I moaned and pressed my hips up, seeking relief from the aching need between my legs, my * so swollen, I thought I'd probably come the minute he touched it.

Archer brought one hand down between my legs and dipped his finger into my wetness, bringing some of it up and over my small bundle of nerves as he used his finger to make slow circles on it, just like I had shown him. I gasped and moaned, rolling my hips upwards, pressing into his hand, begging for the release that was so close, I could feel the beginnings of it like little sparks of static electricity.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God," I chanted, moving my head back and forth. I felt Archer's cock jump against my belly and that's all it took to send me over the edge, the orgasm hitting me hard and fast, rolling through my body with delicious slowness as I gasped and moaned through it.

When I opened my eyes, Archer was looking down at me, that look of awe and tenderness on his face that I loved so much it hurt.

"I want you inside of me so badly," I whispered.

He kept looking into my eyes as he moved his hips between my legs and took himself in his hand and guided his cock to my entrance. He swallowed heavily as I brought my knees up and opened my legs wider so that he had easier access.

Our eyes met again and something passed between us–that same indescribable something that I had noticed the first time we met–only now intensified tenfold.

I leaned up on my elbows, and we both watched as he entered me slowly, pushing inside me inch by inch, stretching and filling me. When he paused, I looked up at his face, and the look of pure pleasure there was so stark and raw that I could only stare, spell bound. I was putting that look on his face. He throbbed inside me and then with one thrust, pushed fully into me. I fell back, moaning softly and he started to move in and out, slowly. I stared up at him, mesmerized by all the emotions flashing across his face as his thrusts increased in tempo–awe, hunger, an attempt to retain control, and then finally, surrender to the pleasure as his eyes drooped, and he thrust into me harder and deeper, his breath coming out in sharp pants.

I tilted my hips up and brought my legs around Archer's back. His eyes flared for a brief second before he buried his face in my neck. His thrusts grew jerky as he gave one final deep thrust and then pressed into me, rolling his hips slowly, milking his pleasure.

We lay together for long minutes, Archer breathing harshly into the side of my neck, me smiling up at the ceiling.

Finally, I brought both hands down and rubbed my fingernails over his ass, then squeezed it gently. I felt him smile against my skin, but he didn't raise his head and he didn't attempt to move, his body laying half on me, and half on the bed so I wasn't being crushed.

"Hey," I said softly, "you alive there?"

I felt another slow grin against my neck and then he shook his head, no.

I laughed softly and his head came up, a sweet smile on his face. He took my face in his hands and kissed my lips gently for several minutes before he sat up.

I sat up too. I needed to go clean myself up.

I cupped my hand over his cheek and kissed him softly again and then stood up to walk naked to the bathroom. I looked back at Archer and he was watching me, his eyes roaming over my naked backside. I scurried to the bathroom and cleaned up and then walked back to the bedroom where Archer was still sitting on the side of my bed, looking a little unsure.

"This is the part where you cuddle me." I grinned at him. He smiled back and breathed out and folded my covers back. We got in bed and he pulled me against him as I brought the blankets up over us. We were turned toward the window and the rain was still falling, although a little more gently now.

I had left the blinds open–there was only the lake beyond, no one could see inside. Thunder boomed in the distance, and a flash of lightening lit up the sky a few seconds later, but it was moving away from us now. I sighed out contentedly as Archer pulled me even more tightly against him.

We lay like that for long minutes until I finally turned toward him and whispered, "I missed you so much these past few days."

He nodded at me and rolled to his back and signed, Me too. It made me feel crazy.

I leaned over and kissed his chest and laid my head there, listening to his heart beat for a few minutes as he played with my hair.

Wanna know the first thing I thought about you when we first met, other than how beautiful you were?

I watched his hands move next to me and then lifted my head, looking up at his face questioningly. He gazed down at me, warmth lighting those beautiful amber eyes.

You acted embarrassed in front of me, bashful–you even blushed–about all those candy bars. He smiled and leaned down and kissed my forehead. My heart picked up speed.

He continued. It was the first time in my life anyone had acted embarrassed in front of me. People had acted embarrassed for me, but never because of something they'd done in front of me. It made me feel like a real person, Bree. It made me feel like something about me mattered.

I swallowed heavily. "You are a real person, Archer. You're the best person I know," I whispered, lying my head back down on his chest.

He hugged me to him again, and we lay like that for what seemed like a long time, just enjoying holding each other, skin to skin, heart beat to heart beat.

After a little bit, I pressed my nose into his skin and inhaled, drawing in his clean, masculine smell. I smiled against him and kissed his skin again. He reached his hand down and grabbed my ass, and I startled and laughed out. When I looked up at him, he was grinning. "Hey, that's your thing." I laughed.

What's your thing? he signed, and then he rolled me over and grinned down at me again, holding himself up on his elbows on either side of me so he could use his hands to talk. My own hands were trapped and so I responded, "I'm not really sure–I bet you'll figure it out though." I smiled up at him, and he raised one eyebrow, accepting my challenge apparently.

I reached down under the covers and stroked him gently, feeling him stiffen beneath my touch. "So, was it everything you hoped it would be?" I grinned up at him.

He smiled back down at me and then drew in a sharp breath when I ran one finger around the head of him. He nodded vigorously and then signed, More.

As I watched him, his brow furrowed slightly and when I asked, "What's wrong?" he answered, I think I should go to the store and get some condoms. He looked down at me a little nervously.

I stared up at him, wondering if his uncle had talked to him about birth control–thinking that it was probably something I should have brought up.

They're ninety eight percent effective in preventing pregnancy, he said, still looking in my eyes. It says so right on the box at the pharmacy.

I couldn't help it, I grinned up at him.

He raised an eyebrow and smiled down at me. Are you laughing at me? he asked, but he didn't seem upset.

I put my hand on his cheek, going serious. "No, never." I shook my head. "I'm on the pill."

The pill?

I nodded. "It prevents me from getting pregnant."

When he just kept staring at me, I went on, "I've just refilled the prescription because it makes my periods lighter and… so…"

He nodded and leaned his face down and nuzzled his nose against mine, kissing my mouth and then both eyelids and then the tip of my nose. He smiled down at me and my heart squeezed in my chest.

He brought his hands up and pushed a few strands of my hair aside as I gazed up at him. He studied my face for long minutes as if he was memorizing everything about me.

"What are your dreams, Archer?" I whispered, wanting to know what was in his heart.

He looked at me for another couple beats and then pushed himself back onto his knees and pulled me up so that I was straddling his lap. I smiled at him, wrapping my arms around his neck, but pulling back to let him speak.

He brought his hands up and said, I didn't know enough to dream you, Bree, but somehow you came true anyway. How did that happen? He rubbed his nose along mine, pausing and then pulling back again. Who read my mind and knew exactly what I wanted, even when I didn't?

I breathed out, smiling around the lump in my throat. I smiled against his lips and said, "I feel the same way. You're my dream too, Archer. Just as you are."

He looked into my eyes again, and then pulled me to him and kissed me deeply, his tongue swirling inside my mouth, tasting me everywhere.

I felt him swell and harden beneath me, and I sat up slightly and guided him to my entrance and then lowered myself down on him until he was buried inside me completely. He sucked in a breath and held me loosely around my waist as I started rocking slowly, moving up and down on his hard length.

Every time I came down, my * hit his groin, sending delicious sparks of pleasure through me. I started gasping out each time I came down, throwing my head back and riding him faster and harder.

Archer leaned forward and sucked one nipple into his mouth, now right at the level of his face, and swirled his tongue around, adding to the pleasure shooting through my body. I could feel an orgasm right within reach and I raced to claim it.

His breath was coming out in sharp pants against my chest as he moved between breasts, licking and sucking at the stiff peaks, making me crazy with lust.

My body tightened and pulsed around him as an orgasm washed through me, and I cried out Archer's name, shivering with bliss.

I opened my eyes and looked into his, half closed and dark with desire. He took over and thrust up into me as I held onto him and moaned out at the small aftershocks he was inducing.

After a couple thrusts, I felt him swell even more inside of me and his lips parted and his eyes lowered further as he climaxed, his chest rising and falling in heavy pants.

He was so beautiful. I felt something catch in my chest and knew it was just him, taking my breath away.

I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him to me, and I stayed seated on him for several minutes as our breathing slowed.

Then I leaned up and pulled off of him, making a small noise of loss that made him smile up at me. I smiled too and collapsed back on the bed, sighing contentedly.

Archer laid down next to me and signed, Is there any reason we need to leave this bed for the next… three months or so?

I laughed, looking over at him and signed, Nah, not really. I mean, other than that I'll get fired from my job and won't be able to pay my rent, and this bed will be out in the road at some point.

He grinned, his chest rising and falling in a silent chuckle. For a portion of a second, I wished desperately that I could hear that chuckle–I'd bet it was deep and throaty–a beautiful sound. But almost as quickly as the thought came, I dismissed it. I wanted him just as he was. I'd never hear his chuckle, but that was okay. I had his heart, and his thoughts, and him. And it was more than enough. In fact, it was everything.

I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed him and then pulled back and said, Come take a shower with me.

He smiled and followed behind me to the bathroom where I quickly pinned my hair up, and then turned the water on to hot and climbed in.

Archer followed behind me and we took turns washing each other's bodies. He touched me tenderly, almost reverently, as he rubbed body wash over my skin. He cleaned every part of me, even between my toes as I giggled and pulled them away, signing, Too ticklish!

He grinned and stood up and kissed me hard on the mouth, and I grabbed the body wash from him and washed him from shoulders to toes as well, spending an extra bit of time on his muscular ass–but that was purely selfish. He had an exceptional ass.

When the water started cooling, we rinsed off one final time and stepped out, drying each other off.

I blew the candles out and then we climbed under the covers together, naked. Archer pulled me into him as I rested my head on his chest, drawing lazy circles on his skin with my pointer finger.

Outside, the rain was falling down gently now, and the moonlight over the lake shined in, casting just enough light that I could see Archer's hands when he raised them and said, You're my everything, Bree.

I leaned up and looked at his face in the semi-darkness. How was it that he looked happy and sad at the same time? "You're mine too, Archer," I said. "Everything."

"And now," I said sleepily, drifting toward sleep, "when a thunderstorm comes, I'll think of you, not anything other than you."