I closed the door behind me and took a few deep breaths. I needed some space. I needed a minute to wrap my head around what the hell was going on. This morning I thought I’d been discarded like one of Will’s many conquests, and now he was saying he wanted more?
What the fuck?
Why was he complicating this? One of things I loved about Will was that people always knew where they stood with him. Good or bad, you always knew the score. Nothing about him had ever been complicated: sex, no complications. End of story. It was easier when I didn’t have the option to consider more.
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He’d been the bad boy, the hot guy my sister fooled around with in a shed in the backyard. He’d been the object of my earliest fantasies. And it wasn’t that I’d spent my youth pining over him—the opposite, in fact—because knowing I could lust for him, but never actually stood a chance, made it easier somehow.
But now? Being able to touch him and have him touch me, hearing him say that he wanted more when there was no way he could actually mean it . . . complicated things.
Will Sumner didn’t know the meaning of more. Hadn’t he admitted to never having even a single long-term monogamous relationship? Having never found anyone who kept him interested long enough? Didn’t he get a text from one of his nongirlfriends the morning after we first had sex? No thanks.
Because as much as I loved spending time with him, and as fun as it was to pretend I could learn from him, I knew that I would never be a player. If I let him into more than my pants—if I let him into my heart and fell for him—I would submerge.
Deciding I actually did need to get to work, I started the shower, watching as steam filled the bathroom. I moaned as I stepped under the spray, letting my chin drop to my chest and the sound of water drown out the chaos in my thoughts. I opened my eyes and looked down at my body, at the smeared black ink on my skin.
All that is rare for the rare.
The words he’d drawn so carefully across my hip were now bleeding into each other. There were marks where the ink had rubbed off onto his hands, and touches that alternated between pressing bruises and feather-light caresses had left a necklace of smudged fingerprints between my breasts, over my ribs, lower.
For a moment I let myself admire the gentle curve of his handwriting, remembering the determined expression on his face while he’d worked. His brows had knitted together, his hair fell forward to cover one eye. I was surprised when he didn’t reach up to push it back—a habit I’d come to find increasingly endearing—but he was so focused, so intent on what he’d been doing he’d ignored it and continued meticulously inking the words across my skin. And then he’d ruined it by losing his mind. And I’d freaked out.
I reached for the loofah and covered it in way too much body wash. I began scrubbing at the marks, half of them gone already from the heat and pressure of the spray, the rest dissolving into a sudsy mess that slipped down my body and into the drain.
With the last traces of Will and his ink washed from my skin and the water growing cold, I stepped out, dressing quickly and shivering in the cool air.
I opened the door to find him pacing the length of the room, running clothes back in place and a beanie on his head. He looked like he’d been debating leaving.
He whipped off his hat and spun to face me. “Fucking finally,” he muttered.
“Excuse me?” I said, temper flaring again.
“You’re not the one who gets to be mad here,” he said.
My jaw dropped. “I . . . you . . . what?”
“You left,” he spit out.
“To the next room,” I clarified.
“It was still fucked-up, Hanna.”
“I needed space, Will,” I said, and, as if to further illustrate my point, walked out of the bedroom and down the hall. He followed.
“You’re doing it again,” he said. “Important rule: don’t freak out and walk away from someone in your own house. Do you know how hard that was for me?”
I stopped in the kitchen. “You? Do you have any idea what kind of a bomb that was to drop? I needed to think!”
“You couldn’t think there?”
“You were naked.”
He shook his head. “What?”
“I can’t think when you’re naked!” I shouted. “There was too much.” I motioned to his body but quickly decided that was a bad idea. “It was just . . . I freaked, okay?”
“And how do you think I felt?” He glared at me, the muscles of his jaw flexing. When I didn’t answer, he shook his head and looked down, shoving his hands into his pockets. That was a bad idea. The waist of his track pants slipped lower, the hem of his shirt moved up. And oh. That little slice of toned stomach and hipbone was most definitely not helping.
I forced myself back into the conversation. “You just told me you don’t know what you want. And then you said you had feelings that went past sexual. I have to be honest, it doesn’t seem like you have a very good grasp on anything that’s going on here. The first time we had sex you basically brushed me off, only to now tell me you want more?”
“Hello!” he yelled. “I didn’t brush you off. I told you, it was jarring to have you be so cavalier—”
“Will,” I said, voice firm. “For twelve years I’ve lived with the stories of you and my brother. I saw the aftermath of you hooking up with Liv—she was hung up on you for months and I bet you had no idea. I’ve seen you sneak off with bridesmaids or disappear at family gatherings and nothing’s changed. You’ve spent the majority of your adult life acting like a nineteen-year-old guy, and now you think you want more? You don’t even know what that means!”
“And you do? Suddenly you know everything? Why would you assume that I knew this thing with Liv was so monumental? Not everyone discusses their feelings and sexuality and whatever comes to mind as openly as you do. I’ve never known a woman like you before.”
“Well, statistically speaking, that’s really saying something.”
I didn’t even know where all this was coming from, and the minute the words left my mouth I knew I’d gone too far.
All at once the fight seemed to leave him and I watched his shoulders fall, the air leave his lungs. He stared at me for a long beat, eyes losing their heat until they were just . . . flat.
And then, he left.
I paced the old rug in the dining room so many times I wondered if I was wearing a track in it. My head was a mess, my heart wouldn’t stop pounding. I had no idea what had just happened, but all along my skin and into my muscles I felt tight and tense, afraid that I had just chased off my best friend, and the best sex of my entire life.
I needed something familiar. I needed my family.
The phone rang four times before Liv picked up.
“Ziggy!” my sister said. “How’s the lab rat?”
I closed my eyes, leaning into the doorway between the dining room and kitchen. “Good, good. How’s the baby maker?” I asked, quickly adding, “And I was most definitely not talking about your vagina.”
Her laugh burst through the line. “So the verbal filter hasn’t grown in yet. You’re going to confuse the hell out of some man one day, you know that?”
She didn’t know the half of it. “How’re you feeling?” I asked, steering the conversation to safer waters. Liv was married now and very pregnant with the first, oft-heralded Bergstrom grandchild. I was surprised my mother ever left her alone for more than ten minutes at a time.
Liv sighed, and I could imagine her sitting at the dining room table in her yellow kitchen, her giant black Labrador moving to lie down at her feet. “I’m good,” she said. “Tired as hell, but good.”
“Kiddo treating you okay?”
“Always,” she answered, and I could hear the smile in her voice. “This baby’s going to be perfect. Just wait.”
“Of course it is,” I said. “I mean, look at its aunt.”
She laughed. “My thoughts exactly.”
“You guys picked a name yet?” Liv was thoroughly set on not knowing the sex of their incoming package until it was born. It made spoiling my new niece or nephew a lot more difficult.
“We may have narrowed it down.”
“And?” I asked, intrigued. The list of gender-neutral names my sister and her husband had come up with was bordering on comical.
“Nope, not telling you.”
“What? Why?” I whined.
“Because you always find something wrong with them.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I gasped. Though . . . she was right. So far her name choices were terrible. Somehow she and her husband Rob had decided that tree names and types of birds were gender-neutral and fair game.
“Now what’s new with you?” she asked. “How has your life improved since your epic showdown with the boss man last month?”
I laughed, knowing of course she meant Jensen, and not Dad, or even Liemacki.
“I’ve been running, and getting out more. I mean, we came to sort of a . . . compromise?”
Liv didn’t miss a beat. “A compromise. With Jensen?”
I’d spoken to Liv a few times in the past weeks, but had steered clear of my growing friendship, relationship, whatevership with Will. For obvious reasons. But now I needed my sister’s thoughts on all of it, and my stomach clenched into a giant ball of dread.
“Well, you know Jens suggested I go out more.” I paused, running my finger around a swirling pattern carved into the antique hutch in the dining room. I closed my eyes, wincing as I said, “He suggested I call Will.”
“Will?” she asked, and a beat of silence passed in which I wondered if she was remembering the same tall, gorgeous college-aged lad that I was. “Wait—Will Sumner?”
“That’s the one,” I said. Even talking about him made my stomach twist.
“Wow. Was not expecting that.”
“Neither was I,” I mumbled.
“So did you?”
“Did I what?” I asked, instantly regretting the way it came out.
“Call him,” she said, laughing.
“Yeah. Which is sort of why I’m calling you today.”
“That sounds deliciously ominous,” she said.
I had no idea how to do this, so I started with the simplest, most innocuous detail there was. “Well, he lives here in New York.”
“I thought I remembered that. And? I haven’t seen him in ages, sort of dying to know what he’s been doing. How’s he look?”
“Oh, he looks . . . good,” I said, trying to sound as neutral as possible. “We’ve been hanging out.”
There was a pause on the line, a moment where I could almost see the way Liv’s forehead would furrow, her eyes narrowing as she tried to find the hidden meaning in what I’d said.
“ ‘Hanging out’?” she repeated.
I groaned, rubbing my face.
“Oh my God, Ziggy! Are you banging Will?”
I groaned, and laughter filled the line. Pulling back, I looked at the phone in my hand. “This isn’t funny, Liv.”
I heard her exhale. “Yes, it totally is.”
“He was your . . . boyfriend.”
“Oh, no, he wasn’t. Not even a little. I think we made out for like ten minutes.”
“Yes, but there’s some sort of time limit. Or base limit. Like, I think we barely shanked it down the first base line. Though, at the time, I was completely prepared to let him enter the batter’s box, if you know what I’m saying.”
“I thought you were devastated after that holiday.”
She started cracking up. “Take it down a notch there. First of all, we were never together. It was a horny fumble behind Mom’s gardening tools. Jesus, I barely remember.”
“But you were so upset, you didn’t even come home the summer he worked with Dad.”
“I didn’t come home because I’d fucked around all year and needed to catch up on credits over the summer,” she said. “And I didn’t tell you because Mom and Dad would have found out and killed me.”
I pressed my hand to my face. “I am so confused.”
“Don’t be,” she said, her tone changing to concerned. “Just tell me, what’s actually going on with you guys?”
“We’ve been hanging out a lot. I really like him, Liv. I mean he’s probably my best friend here. We hooked up and then he was weird the next day. Then he started talking about feelings, and it just seemed like he was using me as a test subject in some sort of weird emotional-expression experiment. He didn’t exactly have the best track record with Bergstrom girls.”
“So you ripped him a new one because in your twelve-year-old memories he was the man of my dreams and left me, brokenhearted and alone.”
I sighed. “That was part of it.”
“What was the rest of it?”
“That he’s a whore? That he doesn’t remember a fraction of the women he’s been with and less than twenty-four hours after brushing me off, he’s telling me he wants more than just sex?”
“Okay,” she said, considering. “Does he? Do you?”
I sighed. “I don’t know, Liv. But even if he did—if I did—how could I trust him?”
“I don’t want you to be an idiot, so I’m going to do a little overshare here. Ready?”
“Not even a little bit,” I said.
She went on anyway: “Before I met Rob he was a giant slut. I swear to God his penis had been everywhere. But now? Different man. Worships the ground I walk on.”
“Yes, but he wanted to get married,” I said. “You weren’t just banging him.”
“When we first got together it was definitely just banging. Look, Ziggy, a lot of stuff happens to a person between the ages of nineteen and thirty-one. A lot changes.”
“I’ll believe that,” I mumbled, imagining Will’s even-deeper voice, his expertly wicked fingers, his broad, solid chest.
“I’m not just talking about the developing male body, you know.” She paused, adding, “Though that, too. And now that I think of it, you should totally send me a picture of Will Sumner at thirty-one.”
“I’m kidding!” she laugh-yelled through the phone and then paused. “No, I’m serious, actually. Send me a picture. But I really would hate for you to pass up a chance to spend time with him just because you expect him to always act like a nineteen-year-old man-whore. The truth is, don’t you feel like you’ve changed a lot since you were nineteen?”
I didn’t say anything, just chewed on my lip and continued to trace the carving on my mother’s antique hutch.
“And that was only five years ago for you. So think how he feels. He’s thirty-one. There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained in twelve years, Ziggs.”
“Blerg,” I said. “I hate when you’re right.”
She laughed. “I assume your logical brain has been using all this as some sort of a force field against the Sumner charm?”
“Not very well, apparently.” I closed my eyes and leaned back against the wall.
“Oh God, this is amazing. I’m so fucking happy you called today. I’m giant and pregnant and nothing about me is interesting right now. This is awesome.”
“Isn’t this weird to you at all?”
She hummed, considering. “I guess it could be, but honestly? Will and I . . . he was the first boy I fell in lust with, but that’s pretty much it. I got over that two seconds after Brandon Henley got his tongue pierced.”
I pressed my hand over my eyes. “Oh gross.”
“Yeah, I didn’t tell you about that one because I didn’t want to ruin you, and I didn’t want you to ruin it for me by researching how the piercing affected the contractility of the muscle or whatever.”
“Well, this has been a scarring conversation,” I said. “Can I go now?”
“I really made a mess of things,” I groaned, rubbing my face. “Liv, I was a total dick to him.”
“Looks like you have some ass to kiss. Is he into that sort of thing now?”
“Oh my God!” I said. “Hanging up!”
“Okay, okay. Look, Zig. Don’t see the world from the eyes of a twelve-year-old. Hear him out. Try and remember that Will has a penis and this makes him an idiot. But a sweet idiot. Even you can’t deny that.”
“Stop making sense.”
“Impossible. Now go put on your big-girl panties and fix things.”
I spent the entire walk to Will’s apartment trying to dissect every memory I had of that Christmas, trying to reconcile them with what Liv had told me.
I’d been twelve and fascinated by him, fascinated by the idea of him and my sister together. But now that I’d heard Liv’s version of events of that week and what had come after, I wondered how much of it had been real, and how much my overdramatic brain had manufactured. And she had a point. Those memories had made it so much easier to shove Will into a man-whore-shaped box, and almost impossible to imagine him out of it. Did he want more? Was he capable of it? Did I?
I groaned. I had a lot of apologizing to do.
He didn’t answer the door when I knocked; he didn’t answer any of the messages I sent standing there.
So I did the only thing I could think, and resorted to texting him bad dirty jokes.
What’s the difference between a penis and a paycheck? I’d typed. When there was no reply, I continued. A woman will always blow your paycheck.
What did one boob say to the other? And when no answer came: You’re my breast friend. Jesus these were bad.
I decided to try one more. What comes after sixty-nine?
I’d used his favorite number, and hoped this might be enough to lure him out.
I almost dropped my phone when the word What popped up on my screen.
Oh for fucks sake, Hanna. That was terrible. Get up here before you embarrass us both.
I practically sprinted to the elevator.
His door was unlocked, and when I walked in, I saw he’d been in the middle of cooking dinner, pots boiling on the stove, the counter colored in produce. He was wearing an old Primus T-shirt and faded, ripped jeans—looking good enough to eat. He didn’t glance up when I entered, but kept his head down, his eyes on the knife and the cutting board in front of him.
Unsure feet took me across the room and I stood at his back, pressed my chin into his shoulder. “I don’t know why you put up with me,” I said.
Breathing in deeply, I wanted to memorize the smell of him. Because what if I’d really done it—what if he’d had enough of silly Ziggy and her idiotic questions and fumbling sexual encounters and jumping to conclusions? I would have kicked me to the curb ages ago.
But he surprised me by putting down his knife, and turning to face me. He looked miserable, and guilt twisted my stomach.
“You might have had the details wrong about Liv,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean there weren’t others. Some I don’t even remember.” His voice was earnest, apologetic, even. “I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. It’s all sort of catching up with me.”
“I think that’s why the idea of you wanting more terrified me,” I said. “That there have been so many women in your past and I can tell you have no idea how many hearts you’ve broken. Maybe no idea how to not break them. I like to think I’m too smart to join those ranks.”
“I know,” he said. “And I’m sure that’s part of your charm. You’re not here to change me. You’re just here to be my friend. You make me think more about the decisions I’ve made than I ever have before, and that’s a good thing.” He hesitated. “And I’ll admit I got a little wrapped up in our post-coital moment . . . I just got carried away.”
“It’s okay.” I stretched to kiss his jaw.
“Just friends is good for me,” he said. “Friends who have sex is even better.” He pulled me back to meet my eyes. “But I think that’s a good place to stay for now, okay?”
I tried to read his expression, understand why he seemed to be so carefully considering every word he spoke.
“I’m sorry about what I said,” I told him. “I panicked and said something hurtful. I feel like an idiot.”
He reached out, hooked a finger into my belt loop, and pulled me to him. I went willingly, feeling the press of his chest against mine.
“We’re both idiots,” he said, and his eyes dropped to my mouth. “And just so you know, I’m about to kiss you.”
I nodded, pushing up onto my toes to bring my mouth to his. It wasn’t really a kiss, but I wasn’t sure what else to call it. His lips brushed against mine, each time with just a bit more pressure than the time before. His tongue licked out softly, barely touching before he pulled me closer, deeper. I felt him tuck his fingers beneath the fabric of my shirt and stay there, resting on my waist.
My mind was suddenly spinning with ideas of what I wanted to do to him, how much closer I needed to be. I wanted to taste him, all of him. I wanted to memorize every line and muscle.
“I want to go down on you,” I said, and he pulled back, just enough to gauge my expression. “For real this time. Like, making you orgasm and everything.”
I nodded, brushing my fingertips over the line of his jaw. “Show me how to be awesome at it?”
Laughing, he said, “Christ, Hanna,” quietly into another kiss.
I could feel him already hard against my hip and I slid my hand down his body to palm him. “Okay?” I asked.
Eyes wide and trusting, he took my hand, leading me to the couch. He hesitated for a moment before sitting. “I might pass out if you keep looking at me like that.”
“Isn’t that the point?” I didn’t wait for an invitation and kneeled on the floor between his legs. “Tell me how you want me to do it.”
His eyes grew heavy, staring down at me. He helped me with his belt, helped push his pants down his hips, and watched as I bent and kissed the tip.
He paused for a moment when I sat back up, and gauged my expression. And then he gripped his cock at the base. “Lick from base to tip. Start slow. Tease me a little.”
I bent, drawing my tongue up the underside of his length, along the thick vein, and slowly over the tightness of the crown. He leaked a little at the top and it surprised me with its sweetness. I kissed the tip, sucking for more.
He groaned. “Again. Start at the bottom. And suck it a little at the top again.”
I kissed his cock, whispering, “So specific,” with a smile.
But he seemed unable to smile back; his blue eyes turned stormy with intensity. “You asked,” he growled. “I’m telling you step by step what I’ve imagined a hundred times.”
I started again, loving it, loving to see him like this. He looked a little dangerous, and at his side, his free hand had formed a fist. I wanted him to unleash himself, digging hands into my hair, and start pushing hard into my mouth.
He nodded as I surrounded him with my lips, then my mouth, using my tongue to stroke a little.
“Suck more. Hard.”
I did what he asked, closing my eyes for a beat and trying not to panic at the thought of choking on him and losing control. Apparently, I did it right.
“Oh fuck yes, like that,” he groaned when I sealed my lips around him. “Be sloppy . . . use a little teeth on the shaft.” I looked up at him for confirmation, before letting my teeth graze his skin. He grunted, hips jerking so he hit the back of my throat. “That’s it. Jesus. Everything you do feels so fucking good.”
It was just the compliment I needed to take over, suck him harder and let go, unleash myself.
“Yes, oh . . .” His hips moved harder, rougher. His eyes were fixed on my face, his hands pushed into my hair just the way I’d wanted. “Show me how much you like it.”
I closed my eyes, humming around him, sucking in earnest now. I could feel small noises escaping my throat and all I could think was yes, and more, and fall apart.
His deep grunts and choppy breaths were like a drug to me, and I felt my own ache build as his pleasure grew and grew. We fell into a rhythm, my mouth and fist working him in tandem with the movements of his hips, and I could tell he was holding back, making it last.
“Teeth,” he reminded me in a hiss, and then groaned in relief when I complied.
With one hand, he used his fingertip to trace my lips around him, and the other hand remained threaded in my hair, guiding me and, eventually holding me in place while he carefully thrust up. Against my tongue, he swelled and his hand in my hair formed a tight fist.
“Coming, Hanna. Coming.” I could feel the muscles of his stomach jump and tighten, his thighs tensing. I gave his cock one last long suck before I pulled off, taking him in my hands and, sliding up fast and rough, gripping him the way he liked, squeezing.
“Oh fuck,” he warned, hissing in a breath as he came, warm on my hands. I worked him through it, continuing to pull in slow drags until it was too much and he batted me away, smiling as he pulled me up to him.
“Fuck, you’re a fast learner,” he said, kissing my forehead, my cheeks, the corners of my mouth.
“Because I have an excellent teacher.”
He laughed, pressing his smile to mine. “I can assure you I didn’t learn that from experience.” He pulled away, eyes traveling over every inch of my face. “Stay and have dinner with me?”
I curled into his side and nodded. There wasn’t anywhere I’d rather be.