“You okay?” I ask her, waving my hand once in front of her eyes. She finally snaps out of it and looks up at me. “Where’d you go? You checked out for a while there.”

She shakes it off. “I’m fine.”


I don’t like her tone of voice. She doesn’t seem fine.

“Where’d you go, Sky?” I ask her again. I want to know what she was thinking. Or maybe I don’t want to know, because if she was thinking about how she wants me to leave then I hope she continues to pretend she’s fine.

“Promise you won’t laugh?” she asks.

Relief rushes through me because I don’t think she’d ask me that if she was hoping I would leave. But I’m not about to promise her I won’t laugh, so I shake my head in disagreement. “I told you that I’ll only ever be honest with you, so no. I can’t promise I won’t laugh because you’re kind of funny and that’s only setting myself up for failure.”

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“Are you always so difficult?”

I grin, but don’t respond. I love it when she gets irritated with me, so I don’t give her a response on purpose.

She straightens up in her chair and says, “Okay, fine.” She inhales a deep breath like she’s preparing for a long speech.

I’m nervous.

“I’m really not any good at this whole dating thing, and I don’t even know if this is a date, but I know that whatever it is, it’s a little more than just two friends hanging out, and knowing that makes me think about later tonight when it’s time for you to leave and whether or not you plan to kiss me and I’m the type of person who hates surprises so I can’t stop feeling awkward about it because I do want you to kiss me and this may be presumptuous of me, but I sort of think you want to kiss me, too, and so I was thinking how much easier it would be if we just went ahead and kissed already so you can go back to cooking dinner and I can stop trying to mentally map out how our night’s about to play out.”

I’m pretty sure it’s too soon to love her, but shit. She’s got to stop doing and saying these unexpected things that make me want to fast-forward whatever’s going on between us. Because I want to kiss her and make love to her and marry her and make her have my babies and I want it all to happen tonight.

But then we’ll be out of firsts, and the firsts are the best part. Good thing I’m patient.

I set the knife down on the cutting board and look her in the eyes. “That,” I say, “was the longest run-on sentence I’ve ever heard.”

She doesn’t like my comment. She huffs and falls back against her seat in a pout.

“Relax.” I laugh. I take a second to finish the sauce and start the pasta and do everything I need to do to get to a point where I can actually talk to her while I’m not trying to cook at the same time. When I finally get the pasta going, I wipe my hands on the dishtowel and place it on the counter. I walk around the bar to where she’s seated.

“Stand up,” I tell her.

She slowly stands up and I place my hands on her shoulders, then look around the room for a good spot to break the news to her that I’m not going to kiss her tonight. As much as I want to and as much as I now know she wants me to, I still want to wait.

And I know I told her I’m not mean, but I never said I wasn’t cruel. And I’m just having too much fun watching her when she’s flustered and I really want to make her flustered again. “Hmm,” I say, still pretending I’m looking for the perfect spot to kiss her. I glance into the kitchen, then take her by the wrists and pull her with me. “I sort of liked the fridge backdrop.” I push her against the fridge and she lets me. She hasn’t stopped watching me intently the whole time and I love it. I lift my arms to the sides of her head and begin to lean in toward her. She closes her eyes.

I keep mine open.

I look at her lips for a moment. Thanks to the peck I stole while she was sleeping last night, I kind of have an idea what they feel like. But now I can’t help but wonder what they taste like. I’m so tempted to lean in a few more inches and see for myself, but I don’t.

I’ve got this.

They’re just lips.

I watch her for a few more seconds until her eyes flick open when I fail to kiss her. Her whole body jumps when she sees how close I am and it makes me laugh.

Why do I enjoy teasing her so much?

“Sky?” I say, looking down at her. “I’m not trying to torture you or anything, but I already made up my mind before I came over here. I’m not kissing you tonight.”

The hope in her expression dwindles almost immediately.

“Why not?” she says. Her eyes are full of rejection and I absolutely hate it, but I’m still not kissing her. But I do want her to know how much I want to kiss her.

I bring my hand up to her face and trace a line down her cheek. The feel of her skin beneath my fingertips is like silk. I keep trailing down her jaw, then her neck. My whole body is tense because I’m not sure if she feels all of this the way I do. I can’t imagine someone like Grayson could be lucky enough to touch her face or taste her mouth and that he wouldn’t care if she was even enjoying it or not.

When my hand reaches her shoulder, I stop and look her in the eyes. “I want to kiss you,” I say. “Believe me, I do.”

So, so bad.

I remove my hand from her shoulder and bring it up to her cheek. She leans into my hand and looks up at me, her eyes full of disappointment. “But if you really want to, then why don’t you?”

Ugh. I hate that look. If she keeps looking at me like that I’ll lose every shred of willpower I have left. Which isn’t much.

I tilt her face up to mine. “Because,” I whisper. “I’m afraid you won’t feel it.”

The look on her face when I say it is a mixture of realization and regret. She knows I’m referring to her lack of response to other guys and I’m not sure she knows how to respond. She’s silent, but I just want her to argue with me. I want her to tell me how wrong I am. I want her to tell me she already feels like I do, but instead she just nods and covers my hand with hers.

I close my eyes, wishing she had responded any other way. But the fact that she didn’t just proves that not kissing her tonight is exactly what needs to happen. I don’t understand why she’s so closed off, but I’ll wait however long I have to. There’s no way I could walk away from this girl now.

I pull her away from the refrigerator and wrap my arms around her. She slowly returns the embrace by clasping her arms around my waist and conforming to my chest. She willingly leans into me and just feeling her want me to hold her is better than anything I’ve felt this entire year. All she did was hug me back, but little does she know she just knocked a whole lot of life back into me. I press my lips into her hair and inhale. I could stay like this all night.

But the damn oven timer dings, reminding me that I’m cooking her dinner. If it means having to let her go, I’d rather starve. But I promised to cook for her, so I release my hold from around her and take a step back.

The embarrassed and almost heartbroken look on her face is the last thing I expect to see. She drops her gaze down at the floor and I realize that I just disappointed her. A lot. All I’m trying to do is go at a pace that’s best for her. I can’t have her thinking that I’m going slow because it’s my choice. Because if she didn’t have whatever issue it is she has with guys, we wouldn’t be standing in this kitchen right now. We’d be back on her bed just like we were last night, only this time she wouldn’t be reading to me.

I grab both of her hands and interlock our fingers. “Look at me.” She hesitantly lifts her face and looks at me. “Sky, I’m not kissing you tonight but believe me when I tell you, I’ve never wanted to kiss a girl more. So stop thinking I’m not attracted to you because you have no idea just how much I am. You can hold my hand, you can run your fingers through my hair, you can straddle me while I feed you spaghetti, but you are not getting kissed tonight. And probably not tomorrow, either. I need this. I need to know for sure that you’re feeling every single thing that I’m feeling the moment my lips touch yours. Because I want your first kiss to be the best first kiss in the history of first kisses.”

The sadness is gone from her eyes now and she’s actually smiling at me. I lift her hand and kiss it. “Now stop sulking and help me finish the meatballs. Okay?” I ask, wanting reassurance from her that she believes me. “Is that enough to get you through a couple more dates?”

She nods, still smiling. “Yep. But you’re wrong about one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“You said you want my first kiss to be the best first kiss, but this won’t be my first kiss. You know that.”

I don’t know how to break it to her, but she hasn’t been kissed before. Not like she deserves, anyway. I hate that she doesn’t realize this, so I take it upon myself to show her exactly what a real kiss feels like.

I let go of her hands and cup her face, walking her back against the refrigerator. I lean in until I can feel her breath on my lips and she gasps. I love the helpless, hungry look in her eyes right now, but it doesn’t compare to what it does to me when she bites her lip.

“Let me inform you of something,” I say, lowering my voice. “The moment my lips touch yours, it will be your first kiss. Because if you’ve never felt anything when someone’s kissed you, then no one’s ever really kissed you. Not the way I plan on kissing you.”

She exhales a pent-up breath and her arms are covered in chills again.

She felt that.

I grin victoriously and back away from her, then turn my attention to the stove. I can hear her sliding down the refrigerator. I turn around and she’s sitting on the floor, looking up at me in shock. I laugh.

“You okay?” I say with a wink.

She smiles up at me from the floor and pulls her legs up to her chest with a shrug. “My legs stopped working.” She laughs. “Must be because I’m so attracted to you,” she says sarcastically.

I look around the kitchen. “You think your mother has a tincture for people who are too attracted to me?”

“My mother has a tincture for everything,” she says.

I walk over and take her hand, then pull her up. I press my hand against the small of her back and pull her against me. She looks up at me with hooded eyes and a small gasp parts her lips. I lower my mouth to her ear and whisper, “Well, whatever you do . . . make sure you never take that tincture.”

Her chest rises against mine and she’s looking into my eyes like everything I’ve said tonight meant nothing. She wants me to kiss her and she doesn’t care that I’m doing everything in my power not to.

I slide my hand down her back and slap her on the ass. “Focus, girl. We have food to cook.”

“Okay, I have one,” she says, placing her cup down on the table.

We’re playing a game she suggested called Dinner Quest, where no question is off limits and eating and drinking isn’t allowed until the question has been answered. I’ve never heard of it, but I like the thought of being able to ask her anything I want to ask her.

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