I’ve dropped the flashlight, so I can’t see much. But I can feel. I can feel Derek’s strong thighs beneath mine and his large hands circling my waist. I want to feel more, much more. The road to this moment was full of arguments and misunderstandings, but now we’re in perfect sync.

He cups the back of my head and urges me to kiss him. When our lips meet, my insides get all tingly. He places little teasing kisses across my lips until I moan and want more . . . I want him to let go and stop trying to protect me from himself.


I open my mouth for a more intimate kiss in an attempt to make him lose control. Our wet lips and tongues tangle around each other’s.

I break the kiss and lean back. “I don’t want to pretend I don’t want this, Derek. Not tonight.”

“Me neither,” he admits.

Ever since I touched his muscular chest, I’ve wanted to run my hands over it again and again until I’ve memorized each ripple. I slide his shirt over his head and lightly brush my fingertips over his shoulders, then move down and feel the rapid rhythm of his heart beating against my palm. I trace the muscles on his stomach, and lightly rub his nipples until I hear him groan.

I like hearing his voice change. It means I’ve broken through that macho facade and his true emotions are exposed.

Through the darkness, I feel his eyes on me. He lifts my jersey over my head. I close my eyes as I let the rain drip on me and enjoy the sensation of Derek gently and slowly tracing the droplets traveling across my body with his fingertips. He replaces his fingers with his tongue. I start moving against him because it feels amazing and I don’t want to stop. I want to keep going, to show Derek what it means to have a connection that’ll last more than one night.

“You’re beautiful, you know that?” he whispers.

I look away. “No, I’m not.”

“I can’t imagine a more beautiful girl,” he says, then adds, “Even if you are controllin’ and bossy.”

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I lick the crook of his neck and he moans. “Maybe you’ll learn to like controlling and bossy.”

“I think you’re right.” He laces my hand through his, but stills as my charm bracelet brushes his wrist. He feels for the clasp and unhooks it, then tosses it across the campsite. It hits the ground with a clatter.

“That was expensive. London bought it for me.”

“I know. I’ll buy you a new one.” He laces his fingers through mine again.

We kiss for what seems like forever. When he licks the rain off my neck, I swear my body is on fire. I need something to put out the flame. I need Derek to touch me, to hold me.

I look in his eyes and without saying a word he knows what I’m asking. Love me.

“You’re cold,” he says.

“No, I’m not.”

“Then why are you shivering?”

I wrap my arms around his neck and hug him tight. He takes me into his arms and carries me to the tent. The tent is cold, too, but at least it’s dry. He kicks off his wet jeans. Soon we’re both under the covers completely naked, skin to skin. His strong, capable arms wrap around me. My heart stops racing and the heat of his body makes me stop shivering.

He wipes the wet hair away from my eyes with slow, gentle fingers. “I can’t promise you everythin’ you want.”

“Just promise me tonight, Derek.”

Chapter 39


Ashtyn has no clue the effect she has on me. When I opened my eyes and saw her standing in front of me in the rain, I thought I was dreaming. Now she’s lying next to me, her body pressed against mine, and I’m defenseless. I want to make love to her. I want to tell her about my past, that football used to be my life. It defined who I was and who I wanted to be. I want to make this night last forever.

But it can’t.

Dammit, I know I’m getting in too deep. I should run away from this, from her, but that’s not about to happen. Our connection is too powerful and impossible to ignore. She traces my jaw and lips, looking at me as if I’m the answer to everything. I’m not, and I shouldn’t pretend I am.

“Stop analyzing this,” she says.

“I can’t.” There’s too much that’s unsaid between us.

“I know how much you hurt inside,” she tells me. “I see it in your face, your eyes.” She places her hand over my heart. “Right now I see the real you, Derek. The one you try to hide.”

She doesn’t know the half of it. Her words sink in. I’ve never felt this way, but then again, I’ve never been with a girl like Ashtyn.

I kiss her, the soft fullness of her lips sending bolts of electricity throughout my entire body. Her leg wraps around me and I trace the contour of her hip with the tips of my fingers. When she purrs at my touch and arches her body against mine, I feel myself losing control.

“You make me feel so amazing,” she says in a breathless whisper against my chest. Her words seep into my heart.

Shit, this isn’t the way it’s supposed to go. I’m supposed to keep my emotions in check and only hook up with girls who want a good time, not girls who are desperate to make this something more than it could ever be.

But she’s not asking for forever or asking for me to play football again, two things I’d never be able to promise. She’s asking me to be with her tonight, nothing more. I need to just take what she’s offering. I grasp her wrist and bring it to my lips, kissing it gently and feeling her pulse pounding against her warm, soft skin.

I trace the contours of her body with my fingers and follow with my tongue. Her heart races, matching mine, as she moans and pulls me closer with urgency. Ashtyn is amazing and hot and sexy. My fingers play with her body and I kiss her sweet lips as she moves against my hand.

I place her hand on me and she brings my body to a new, heightened frenzy. Now I’m the one moaning. I feel like I’m about to burst.

“You ready to do this?” she asks me.

“Hell, yeah. You?”

She nods. “Yeah.”

I tell myself to calm down. This is just sex with a girl. There are no commitments or expectations beyond tonight, so why is my body reacting like this’ll change the course of my life forever? That’s insane. We’ll have fun tonight and move on tomorrow.

She leans down and kisses me tenderly as her hair falls like a curtain around us. The rain taps on the tent and thunder barks in the distance.

“We’re really gonna do this,” she whispers against my lips. Something suspiciously like a teardrop falls on my chest. It’s dark and I can’t see much, but my sense of touch is super alert.

“Are you cryin’?” I ask.

She doesn’t answer.

I swipe my thumb against her cheek. More tears.

Damn. I can’t do this.

“This isn’t gonna work, Ashtyn.” I sit up and run a hand through my hair in frustration. I was an idiot to think we could hook up for one night and forget it happened in the morning. She might pretend she can be that girl, but she’s not. “I’m fixin’ to leave in January and move back to Cali when my dad gets back. I can’t . . . I can’t be that guy you want me to be.”

She doesn’t say anything.

“Ashtyn, say somethin’.”

“I don’t want to say anything. Just leave me alone.” She sits up and reaches into her duffel for dry clothes.

“Sorry,” I say dumbly. Fuck. I want to say more, but what? I’ll be there for her forever? I’ll be the one she can always count on? It’ll be bullshit, empty words she’s heard before.

She turns her back to me and gets dressed. “Go to sleep, Derek.”

I lie back and sigh. When sunlight streams through the tent, Ashtyn is sleeping soundly with her back still to me.

Chapter 40


When I wake up, Derek looks like he hasn’t slept at all. His hair is mussed and he’s sitting up and rubbing his eyes with his palms. I feel weird and awkward about last night. I went through every emotion, ending with sadness that he couldn’t even pretend to love me for one night.

“Hey,” he says in a scratchy morning voice.

“Hey.” I try to hold in my emotions before they overflow and give me away. Before he says anything else, I hold up a hand. “Don’t ask me if I want to talk about last night, because the answer is no. I never want to talk about it, so just do me a favor and keep whatever you want to say to yourself.”

He nods and leaves the tent without answering.

I wanted to tell him so many times last night how I feel about him. The words almost spilled from my lips outside in the rain, and then in the tent. I teared up because I knew if I told him the truth, he’d run away physically and emotionally as fast as he could.

He wanted to have sex without consequences or commitments, and that’s what I offered him. I guess deep down I expected him to be so overcome with emotion he’d admit his undying love for me. What a fool I was. I was the one so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my cheeks.

Last night was nothing but my stupid fantasy being crushed by reality.

I hug my knees and tell myself not to cry, that in time my heart will stop hurting so much.

I gather my stuff and go outside to wash up. It’s hard to keep my head held high and my emotions in check, so I put on my sunglasses.

Derek isn’t anywhere in sight. When I come out of the bathroom, Derek has already packed up the car and is in the driver’s seat.

We don’t say another word as we drive past Sylvia and Irving sitting at their folding table playing cards. I wave at them and they wave back. It’s bittersweet seeing a couple who’ve beaten the odds and stayed together for so long. My parents couldn’t do it, my sister and Nick couldn’t do it . . . Derek and I couldn’t even last one night.

I look out the window until Derek pulls into a drive-through and asks what I want for breakfast.

“I don’t want anything,” I say without glancing in his direction.

“You have to eat.”

I push my glasses up. “I’m not hungry.”

He orders two glasses of orange juice and two bagel-and-egg combos, then parks the car. “Here,” he says, placing one of the wrapped bagels on my lap. “Eat.”

I toss it back at him and step out of the car.

“Ashtyn!” Derek calls after me.

I walk down the street, ignoring him.


He catches up with me. My sunglasses can’t hide the tears streaming down my face.

“What do you want me to say?” He blocks my path. He’s got a tense, frustrated look as he rakes his fingers through his hair. “I’m sorry you and I have this attraction that won’t go away. I’m sorry you want someone who’ll be there for you when nobody else is. I’m sorry I couldn’t just have a one-night stand when I knew you were cryin’ about it. I’m sorry I’m not the guy you want me to be.”

“I don’t want you to be sorry!” I wipe my tears away. I want you to tell me that I mean something to you. But the words won’t come out of my mouth. I’m a coward, afraid of what he’ll say if I tell him how I truly feel. “And I don’t want a stupid bagel as a consolation prize.”

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