Jase kissed my stomach and then his tongue dipped into my navel as he lowered himself onto his knees. My back arched off the wall, sucking a breath and holding it until my skin tingled.

He reached down, easing my feet out of my sneakers and then removing my socks. He grinned as he held one. “Elves? On socks?”

“Cute.” He tossed them over his shoulder. His nimble fingers found their way under the sweats Cam had picked up for me to change into. As Jase slid them down my hips, my pulse pounded. “There we go,” he said, kissing just below the band of my cotton panties. A rush of wetness hit me. He peered up through thick lashes. “You know how I like to eat sweet things.”

With a deep chuckle, he hooked his fingers under the band and tugged them down. I was almost na**d and he was completely clothed. The difference made me feel vulnerable as he rose like a predator. His hands slid around my back, unhooking my bra. With his teeth, he drew the straps of my bras down, grazing my skin in the process.

Stepping back, he admired his work. “God, baby, you blow my mind. Look at you.” He placed a tanned hand on my hip, anchoring me as his head dipped. The edges of his soft hair brushed the swell of my breast, heightening my nerves.

But then he drew my nipple into his hot mouth, and every nerve in my body flared. I gasped as pleasure rolled through me in tumultuous waves. My fingers dug into his hair as his free hand slipped between my thighs, fingers brushing over where I throbbed with every fast heartbeat. I moaned as my head fell back against the wall.

He lifted his head, nuzzling my neck, just above my shoulder. “I love you, Tess. I love you so much.”

My body clenched. Hot, tight shudders racked me. His fingers were barely touching me, and I was already close to falling over the edge. “I love you, Jase.”

“Say it again,” he murmured against my cheek. “I need to hear you say it.”

“I love you. I love you.” I repeated it over and over, lost in pure sensations. My h*ps surged forward, grinding against his thigh and his hand.

A satisfied smile split his lips. “Fuck, I love hearing that.” Pleasure spiked as he slipped a finger inside. “God, you’re so wet.” He growled low in this throat as he smoothed over the tight concentration of nerves. My body jerked in response and was flooded with heat. “You like that?”

His dark hair tickled my ni**les as his lips drifted over my collarbone. A tiny feminine sound caught in my throat as he knelt on his knees once more, easing my legs wide until I was completely exposed to him. Lightning rushed through me as his tongue glided from my navel to my center.

“So sweet.” He kissed my inner thigh. “So beautiful.”

The air left my lungs as his head lowered again and he sliced me open with his tongue. I shuddered, my fingers clenching and unclenching in his hair. He captured my flesh with his mouth, alternating between determined strokes of his tongue and sucking deep as if he needed my taste to survive.

I cried out, h*ps thrusting against him as he worked me quickly to release. The fierce heat built and then exploded. I couldn’t breathe as every muscle locked up and waves and waves of pleasure rolled through me, and he kept on, holding me up with his hand as he soaked up every response until the aftershocks died off.

Jase rose then, his lips moist and swollen as he drew me to his chest. His eyes burned with lust and love when he cupped the nape of my neck, titling my head back. The length of his hardness burned through his clothes, pressing against my stomach.

“Now I’m going to make love to you.”

Jase scooped me up into his arms and carried me back into the bedroom, gently lying me down in the mound of pillows I’d accumulated since I’d moved in.

He stepped back, his eyes riveted on mine as he undressed. Watching him reveal his exquisite body one article of clothing at a time was probably one of the most sensual and exciting things I’d ever seen.

The first time we were together had been a glorious rush. Not that it hadn’t been marvelous and mind-­blowing in its own way, I just knew that this time was going to be different.

Nerves stretched tight, I shook, because we were truly about to make love and I’d never done that before.

Shucking off his briefs, I felt my breath catch. Jase had the kind of body fantasies were made of. Seriously. Broad shoulders, a well-­defined chest, and abs I could flip quarters off of. His h*ps were narrow, legs lean and long, and what hung between his thighs was pretty damn impressive. He was fully aroused and he wanted me.

And he loved me.

Jase prowled forward, climbing up on the bed and only stopping once he hovered over me, his arms caging me in. “Touch me,” he urged, voice dark.

He didn’t have to ask me twice. I placed my hands on his chest, running them down the rigid muscles of his stomach, following the thin trail of hair until I wrapped a hand around him. He flexed against my palm, eliciting a thrill.

Kicking his head, he groaned hoarsely as I stroked his length. “Oh God . . .”

I smiled as his chin lowered and his jaw loosened. “You like that?”

“I like everything you do.” He dropped a kiss to my forehead and then peppered little ones all over my face—­my cheeks, my eyelids, even the tip of my nose. “Everything.”

Emboldened by his statement, I slid my hand up, squeezing gently as I reached the tip. His h*ps punched into the motion, and he made another deep, ragged sound.

“Yeah,” he ground out, arms shaking as he swelled against my hand. “You keep that up and this is going to be over before it gets started and you don’t want that. Trust me.”

“I don’t.” But I didn’t want to stop touching him.

I craned my neck as I held him, pressing a kiss to the underside of his jaw and then making my own path down his throat, tasting the saltiness of his skin. His chest rose and fell sharply as I moved my hand slowly, teasing him until he moved away.

He chuckled as his breath moved down my throat. “Be patient, baby. You’ll have all of me soon enough, but first . . .”

His tongue circled the hardened tip of my breast and then closed over it, sucking deep and drawing me clear off the bed. I gripped his head, my h*ps moving restlessly as he moved to the other breast, paying it the same amount of attention. Rife and powerful desire built like a fierce storm.

He clasped a possessive hand around my hip as he lifted his head. Features strained, he took a deep breath. “I don’t think I can wait any longer. I need you, Tess.”

Jase started to ease himself between my thighs, but stopped. “Shit. I don’t have a condom.”

I placed a hand on his cheek. “You know I’m on the pill and you’re the only person I’ve been with since, well, since like forever.”

“I haven’t been with anyone else in a long time. I’m clean and I’ll pull out just in case.” He paused, lining up above me. “I’ll do whatever you want.”

I slid my hands over his shoulders. “I want you. Now.”

His lips brushed over mine as he rolled his h*ps forward, probing my entrance. He kissed me sweetly and so tenderly that I wanted to wrap myself around him for years. Resting his forehead against mine, he slowly pushed in, stretching me in a delicious way. I held on to him, bringing my knees up to his sides, giving him access and he slid in deeper, filling me. I let out a moan when he was in, and he shifted his weight onto his arms.

Our bodies were flush, chest to chest and hip to hip. I could feel him inside me, throbbing as he held himself still above me. “Jase,” I whispered, dragging my fingers down his arms.

He gently kissed my parted lips. “God, you feel so damn good.”

“So do you.” I skated my fingers back up, to his cheeks. “It feels so right.”

Body trembling, he slowly withdrew and then rocked his h*ps forward, causing my toes to curl. He set a slow pace that was both sweet and torturous. With each deep, smooth thrust, I tilted my h*ps to meet his. There was a seduction in the act of love, a quality missing when the heart wasn’t involved. Every shift of his hips, every kiss he bestowed, and every brush of his hands and fingers meant something infinite.

He held my gaze as we made love, taking and giving to each other. The slow build went deeper than the crazy intenseness of our joining last time. I could feel him swelling and tightening inside me. I breathed every breath he took, shivered along with every shudder that coursed through his body.

But our bodies soon demanded more. My heels dug into his back, urging him to move faster, and he did. The speed of his thrusts picked up as did our breathing and my pounding heart. Wasn’t too long before the headboard was hitting the wall again with the power of how he was moving.

When my body tensed up and the coil that had formed deep inside me started to unfurl at a dizzying rate, I gasped out. “I love you.”

Whatever control Jase had at that point broke as the rawness of the act took off as his h*ps matched mine in a tempo that was shattering. I came, experiencing a powerful release that spread out from my core, shocking my body in tight shivers that had me crying out his name until my voice was hoarse.

He pulled out only when the last of the cl**ax was easing through me, his arousal pulsating against my stomach as he dropped his head to my shoulder, kissing the bare skin as his h*ps twitched. I held him close, savoring the feel of his body on mine.

His skin was damp and his body still trembling when he lifted his head, kissing the corner of my lips. “I love you, Teresa.”

We stayed wrapped together while our breathing returned to normal. In those moments of silence, the strangest thing happened to me. Something . . . something fragile broke inside me. Like an old, rusted-­out lock finally opened.

I don’t know what it was exactly that did it. Could’ve been the last year or so of my life and all the changes I’d gone through. From believing I only had one life ahead of me, to finally accepting there was more out there than dancing. Maybe it was seeing Jase and experiencing every up and down with him. It could’ve been Debbie and what her loss symbolized. It might have been Erik and the horror of that time in the dorm room and what it reminded me of.

And maybe . . . just maybe it had to do with Jeremy and the abusive relationship I’d been a part of, that was a part of me, and I finally fully understood that it would always be there with me, but it didn’t make me who I was today. It shaped me, but it wasn’t me. Before I knew it, my cheeks were damp.

Jase lifted his head. “Tess? Baby?” He cupped my cheek, smoothing the tears away with his thumb. “What’s wrong?”

I wasn’t sure how to put it into words and when I didn’t answer, his face paled. “Did I hurt? I should’ve waited. This could’ve—­”

“No,” I croaked out. I tried to smile through the haze of tears. “It’s not you. It’s just . . . everything and it’s been a lot to wrap my head around.”

He ran his thumb under my good eye again. “It has been a lot, Tess. And you’ve been handling everything. You’re so strong—­the strongest person I know.”

I choked out a laugh, and then the tears fell harder. Jase made a deep sound in the back of his throat, and then he gathered me up, tucking me against his chest as he held me close.

“I’ll never forget what it was like to be with him,” I said, and somehow Jase knew who I was talking about. “And that’s okay, isn’t it? That doesn’t make me weak or a victim.”

“No.” He dropped a kiss to the top of my head. “You are neither of those things.”

“It’s not who I am now, but it’s a part of me and . . . and I’m okay with that.” A shudder worked its way through me, and between the tears, we talked about Jeremy and we talked about Debbie and Erik. We talked about dancing and we talked about teaching, and he wrapped himself around me, holding me until there were no tears left, until the burdens I knew I’d carried and the ones I hadn’t really realized I’d been shouldering all this time lifted and faded away.

A buckass na**d Jase making soup for me so I wouldn’t irritate my bruised jaw literally had to be one of the top five things in life I wanted to see in person. Even coming ahead of watching the San Francisco Ballet perform onstage.

Good God, he had the most perfect ass I’d ever seen.

We sat on my bed, the sheet tucked under my arms as we shared the large bowl of vegetable soup. One spoon and two mouths made for an interesting in-­bed experience. A bit of broth escaped down my chin, and Jase caught it with his tongue. “Hmm, how about you lie back and let me eat the rest of the soup like this?”

I laughed, feeling lighter—­feeling better in spite of the fact that I was stuffy from all the tears. “That would get a bit messy.”

“But it would be fun.” He swirled the spoon around, catching the tender chunks of veggies. “More?”

Being fed seemed stupid. Unless it was a na**d Jase feeding you. Then it was incredibly hot. I opened up, swallowing the broth and chewing what I could. “Thank you.”

He shrugged a tan shoulder and lifted the spoon to his own mouth. Chewing thoughtfully for a few moments, he chased after a piece of meat. “You know, I really planned on talking to you first before I got you na**d.”

“But you did plan on getting me na**d?” I couldn’t resist teasing him.