With a smirk, I try to decide the best possible way to climb into this tiny excuse for a bed without waking her. My knee hits the mattress and I groan. This isn’t a tiny bed, it’s a f**king futon. I hate futons. There’s always a metal bar in your back that you can’t escape. When the damn thing practically growls under the weight of my body, I wonder if it’ll be able to hold both of us. Fuck it. If I break this thing, at least I can buy her a real bed.

I crawl up behind her and slip under the covers. I stifle a chuckle because unbelievably, she doesn’t move a muscle as this thing creaks and cracks noisily in the quiet room. Tomorrow morning is going to be fantastic; her reaction alone will be priceless.

I lie down beside her and shift to my side so we can both fit comfortably. She mumbles under her breath, and I freeze as she scoots her body closer into mine. Her hair is thrown up messily on top of her head and I’m aching to pull it all down. God, she smells delicious. The faint scent of coconut lingers, and I’m instantly thrown back to our first and only time in my car.

Her mumbling continues and then she murmurs, “Jace…”

Holy hell, she’s dreaming about me. I inch closer, in hopes that if she speaks again I’ll be able to hear every word that comes out of that pretty mouth of hers. My hand slides over a bare hip and I freeze. Slowly, I slide my fingers farther up and feel the tiniest string. If I could smack my forehead without waking her up, I would. She has a f**king thong on and if my instincts are correct, that’s all she has on.

My hand splays out across her soft stomach and I pull her in closer to my chest, burying my nose in her hair. After everything she told me tonight, even though it wasn’t near enough, I just need to hold her tight. I can fight those demons for her, and I need to make sure they never return.

The soft in-and-out of her breathing begins to lull me to sleep. This was a f**king dumb idea. I’m never going to want to sleep anywhere else again. Futon be damned.

On a long moan, my name escapes her lips again. I’m instantly hard and that fucker has no plans to surrender anytime soon. There’s no doubt in my mind as to what kind of dream she’s having… about me. This is going to be the longest and most excruciating night of my life. I’m two seconds away from flipping her around and waking her up, but she shifts onto her back and lets out a contented sigh. Well, at least it looks like Dream Jace did a damn fine job. High-five, my man.

So maybe turning the air conditioner off last night during this September heat wave was not the best idea. But if Lane isn’t here, I always turn it off. I’d rather deal with being uncomfortable than spend unnecessary money on utility bills. Whenever I fall asleep, my inner heater cranks up to its highest setting, so I typically sleep in as little clothes as possible. It doesn’t seem to be helping right now though because my skin feels like it’s on fire.

Slowly, I stretch out my legs and roll my ankles until they pop a few times. It’s a nasty habit, but it feels too good to stop. My hands extend out and touch skin. Not my skin. And Chuck sure as hell doesn’t feel like this either. Panic mode hits me fast and I immediately start kicking to get myself out of the bed. In terror, I launch myself off whoever is in my bed and onto the floor, all while dragging the sheet with me.

A loud, painful sounding grunt comes from the bed. I pull the sheet up over my chest and take in my late-night intruder. The muscles in his arms flex and move as his body collapses inward. His gorgeous chest is one that I am intimately familiar with.

“Ahhhh… Fuuuck... I think I’m gonna hurl!” His hands cover his crotch and his eyes are squeezed shut in pain.

“What the hell, Jace? How did you get in here? And why?” I screech, while trying to keep myself covered. He continues to roll back and forth, groaning in agony. My door instantly slams open with a wide-eyed Lane standing in the doorway. He still has that sleepy look, but his fists are clenched tightly and I can tell he’s ready for battle.

“Audrey?” he huffs out, which further signifies his panic because he rarely calls me by my real name. He scans the scene before him, me on the floor with only a sheet covering my essentials and Jace thrashing around on my bed in pain for whatever reason. The calm washes back over his face as he realizes there isn’t a threat, although I’m still not convinced about that. Jace snuck into my room last night and I want to know why.

“Damn, dude. That does not look like fun,” Lane says to Jace.

“Fuck man, she just used her whole body to launch off my nuts,” he says in a calmer, yet higher-pitched voice.

Lane sucks in a quick rush of air between his teeth, sympathizing with him. “I don’t care what he did, Doll, that ain’t right.” He gestures toward Jace on the bed and leaves the room.

I kicked him… down there? Whoops. Jace still has his eyes closed as I cautiously approach him on the bed, thinking about all the times I’ve been taught what to do when approaching a wounded animal. I slowly sit on my knees beside him, the sheet clutched to my chest, while taking in his gorgeous body. If only I would have known it was him, this wake-up could have gone so much better.

“Don’t worry, I sure as hell learned my lesson.” For the first time this morning, I’m finally gifted with the most striking blue eyes I’ve ever seen.

I had never seen the ocean until I moved to California. I remember the salty marine air hitting me the second I stepped out of the car, and it was unlike anything I had felt before. While walking through the parking lot, I was anxious to see what was causing those amazing, roaring sounds. The second I stepped over the first mound of sand, I was finally able to see the breathtaking sight. The gorgeous, blue ocean immediately made me think of Jace’s captivating eyes. He carries a vast amount emotion and intelligence behind those baby blues, and just like the ocean, they appear never-ending. I wish I could stare into them for hours.

The rasp of his voice pulls me from my reflection. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he whispers.

“Because you’re gorgeous,” I reply truthfully. Damn, my stupid mouth! I feel my face flame up with embarrassment at my answer. I was too busy gawking at him and had no time to create a plausible defense. A smirk begins to pull up at the corner of his mouth, and I try to stop him before he can delve further into that admission. “Why are you here?” I demand.

“To be honest, I don’t know…” he trails off. “After everything you said last night about… your dad, I just couldn’t leave. I needed to be next to you. I needed to protect you.”

“I don’t need protection, Jace. If that’s what I was looking for, then I already found it in Lane.”

His fists clench together next to his hips, and I can tell my relationship with Lane is a sensitive area for him. “Audrey, if you ever need help, I would be there. I don’t care what went down. I would have been there, even back then!” he says, lightly beating his chest with his closed fist.

His eyes are haunted with countless emotions, and I pray to God one of those is not guilt. I want to scream at how irate I am that he never came to me and asked what happened. I want to cry because of everything we could have had. Even after all that, I want to reassure him that he should never feel guilt, regardless of what he assumes my dad did. This is what Jace does to me. He makes me want to smack him and embrace him, all in the same beat of time.

“I don’t need to be saved. I already saved myself.”

“I can see that, and I’m having a f**king hard time with the thought that I should have been the one to do it. You shouldn’t have had to deal with everything all by yourself. I should have been there… I was so stupid… I should have been there…” he rambles.

“Jace,” I cut him off, “what are you saying right now?”

“Go on a date with me, Audrey,” he responds without thought, and then quickly adds, “a real date. Just you and I. All the drama and bullshit set aside for now. Please.”

I shake my head back and forth. “No.”

His mouth drops open, obviously not expecting that answer. “You said you would talk to me. I need to know everything.”

I scoot backward off the bed and stand in the middle of my room with the sheet wrapped tightly under my arms, shielding my na**d body. I begin pacing the length of my room from one end to the next. There is nothing I’ve ever wanted more than to go on an actual date with Jace. I’ve dreamt about this moment for years. But at the same time, how can he ask that of me when he still believes so many horrible things?

He climbs off my bed and the loud creaking and groaning of my futon makes him frown. I giggle at his frustration and he cocks an eyebrow at me.

“Your bed sucks,” he declares, while air quoting the word ‘bed’.

I shrug my shoulders, because I think it’s wonderful compared to the tiny loveseat I use to have to sleep on back home. His hands cup each side of my face, and then he moves them across my temples and over my hair, until they rest on the back of my neck. Completely surrounding me, he tilts my head back so I have nowhere else to look but up at him.

“I’m still so drawn to you. It’s like nothing has changed in the past four years. You still feel like a breath of fresh air compared to every girl I’ve met before. I kept telling myself it was a good thing we didn’t work out, that there was a reason for it. I kept telling myself there was someone better out there for you and for me,” he says, never breaking eye contact. My hands clutch the sheet tighter, wanting to reach out for his amazing bare chest that is only inches away and taunting me.

“But why, Audrey? How come even the smallest of things will make me think of you? How come whenever I catch a whiff of anything with a cherry-vanilla combination, I think of how your lips tasted that first day? How come anytime I have to write my phone number down, I recall sticking my fingers down your front pocket? How come every single long-legged brunette that walks by makes my stomach drop to the floor in hopes that it could be you?”

His words floor me. Literally. I should be lying on the hardwood under my feet and probably would be if his hands weren’t holding me up. “How can you say that and still think so lowly of me?” I whisper.

“Well, first of all, Lane told me that I should talk to you.”

Wrong answer. Why are men so freaking dumb? I shove off of him and turn my back in frustration. That’s a whole other can of worms in itself, so instead of trying to address it, I redirect. “Why did you yell at me last night, after what I said to you?”

With a sigh, he says, “Because you said that I got you out of my system.”

“Audrey, there aren’t enough nights in a lifetime to get you out of my system.”

I squeeze the sheet tighter to my body and pace the small area in front of him. “Then why did you say what you said after we… finished, that night in your car?” He gives me a confused look so I continue, “Do you know how shitty that made me feel?” He stares at me and doesn’t say a word. There’s complete silence for seconds, which soon turn into minutes. Suddenly, I notice that the wheels are turning. He was drunk and doesn’t remember, and now he’s trying to scan back through the night. “Oh my God, you don’t even remember! Do you even recall ha**g s*x with me?” my voice rises in mortification.

He reaches out and stills me by grabbing ahold of my arms and pulling me closer to him. My sheet drops to the floor, but I don’t even care. I couldn’t be more humiliated at the moment anyway. His eyes dip to my chest for a fraction of a second and he immediately looks up at the ceiling. After a few deep breaths, he slowly lowers his amazing blues to look in my eyes, although I can tell it’s a struggle for him to only look in my eyes. If I weren’t so angry, I would laugh at his effort.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. That night, I was on such a high that I don’t remember whatever idiotic thing I said. I was drunk and I finally had you in my arms. And then I passed out so quickly afterward,” he pleads, and then tightens his grip on me to emphasize a point. “But don’t you dare think for one second that I don’t remember every single touch and feeling I had with you. I remember the way every inch of you felt under my fingers. I remember the way your skin tasted, and I sure as hell didn’t forget the way I fit inside you so damn perfectly. It literally makes me ache at the loss.”

Just thinking about that night again is making me throb with need. She may have tried to kick my balls up into my stomach earlier, but that doesn’t mean I’m out of the game. Especially with her standing practically na**d in front of me. I want her to know that this conversation is imperative to me, but my eyes are straining from the effort of trying to keep them on her face. Damn peripheral vision is f**king with me, because I can see her gorgeous tits so close to my chest and I just want to taste them.

“Tell me what I said… please,” I rasp out quietly.

She doesn’t speak, just continues staring at me with her hypnotizing eyes that could suck a guy in and make him hand over whatever she wanted without a second thought. When her bottom lip sticks out a fraction, I press my body up against hers and kiss her deeply. Never mistake me for a man that doesn’t strike when an opportunity arises. Her hands reach out to my chest and it feels as if she may push me away, but then she melts into me and her hands slide across my skin.

My fingers thread through her hair and I grip her scalp tightly as I walk her backward across the floor. When she bumps into the desk, I cup her from behind and lift her onto the edge of the smooth wood. Her little fingers run across my stomach and over my chest, all while her lips devour mine. I sit my ass down in the chair that’s situated in front of her, and thankfully I’m tall enough to still be at the same level as her lips. But sadly, her fingers can’t dance across my skin anymore.