“This is crazy. Where did you get that?”
He shook his head. “You didn’t have to do all this, Ellie. This doesn’t even look like the same apartment … it looks like…”
“Home.” I looked around at all my hard work, grinning.
Tyler kissed me again, pulling my oversized sweatshirt over my head as he backed me toward the bed. His tongued danced with mine, and when I sat, I kept him at bay with my right leg, pointing my fuzzy-socked foot at his chest. He flattened both hands on each side of my ankles, sliding them up past my knees to my thighs, and then pulled back, rolling the socks down and tossing them perfectly into the hamper in the corner.
He took my feet in his hands, kissing my toe, the side of my arch, and then moving up to my ankle, trailing up the inside of my leg with tiny kisses, each one leaving behind a second of warmth before it cooled.
He set my foot flat on the mattress and then reached back with one hand, pulling his T-shirt up. The bottom hem revealed his stomach and then chest, before he yanked it off his head and tossed it while keeping his gaze on me. He had leaned out during fire season, making all six tight muscles of his abs stand out, and the small V protrude, making the path that lead to the bulge behind his cargo pants even more noticeable.
He kicked off his boots, and then shoved down his pants, crawling on top of me wearing just his boxer briefs. His hair was longer, his cheeks a bit sunken in, his jaw more prominent, but his skin was still rough over mine, his tongue still as soft and warm as I remembered.
The weight of him between my thighs made me dig my fingers into his back, bringing him closer, begging him to ram me and come before my heart could feel anything more. Instead, his kisses slowed, and he hovered over me while he balanced himself with one elbow, helping me remove the only two pieces of fabric between us.
I reached above me with one hand to point, holding him against me with the other. “Condoms in the nightstand.”
He grazed my jawline with the tip of his nose, breathing me in. He was contemplating something, deciding just when he reached the skin beneath my ear. “Have you been with anyone but me since Sterling?” he asked.
“I want to feel you,” he said. When I didn’t protest, he held his breath, sliding his bare skin inside me. He closed his eyes, exhaling as he moaned.
An intense euphoria seared through me, crawling just under the skin to the edges of every inch from my head to my toes. He fit perfectly, like he’d been molded just for me. His skin against mine was more powerful than any rush I’d felt before, whether from self-medicating or being on the mountain. Tyler Maddox was the ultimate high.
I pulled the belt of my robe tight and leaned against the doorjamb between the hall and the living room. Tyler was on the other side of the small breakfast counter, standing over a sizzling skillet on the stove.
Tyler flipped a pancake, catching it in the pan, and then set it down to pick up the tongs and flip the bacon. He turned to look at me over his shoulder, flashing the dimple I was falling for, and nodded for me to join him.
I sauntered across the floor, leaning my backside against the counter next to him, my arms crossed. He leaned over to kiss my cheek and returned to breakfast as if it were the most normal thing in the world. I took stock of my feelings, wondering why I didn’t feel like bolting for the door.
“I do not,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“No, but you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in the morning sun.”
I looked down, letting my hair fall into my face.
The dishes clacked together as he loaded them up with greasy food, and then he took them to the tiny bistro table against the wall. Our two plates barely fit, but he put them down, directing me to sit while he poured us two small glasses of orange juice.
He sat down, took a big gulp, and then set the empty glass on the counter behind him. “I don’t want you to look for another place. I want you stay here.”
“It’s a two-bedroom, and Taylor is going to eventually want his bed.”
“No, I want you to live here with me.”
“With you,” I said, watching him wait nervously for my reaction. Feeling so much power over a man would normally be thrilling for me, but a man the size of Tyler squirming was uncomfortable to watch.
“I’m sorry, Ellie,” he blurted. “I couldn’t help it.”
“I woke up this morning with you in my arms.” He chuckled. “Your fucking hair was everywhere. I had a hell of a time getting it out of your face. Then all the strands were fanned out, framing you from the shoulders up. You looked so peaceful. It just happened.”
His face fell, desperation in his eyes. “I fell in love with you. It’s been coming for a while. I tried not to.”
“You’re in love with me,” I said.
“I’m in love with you,” he repeated, more confession than declaration. We both knew what we agreed our relationship was meant to be, and he was shitting all over it.
“I don’t want you to look for another place. I want you to stay. I can’t think of one fucking thing better than coming home to you.” He paused. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
My chin was resting against my fist, partially covering my mouth. All I could do was shake my head.
“You don’t love me,” he said, devastated. He dropped his fork and fell against the back of his chair.
“I don’t know,” I said, my eyes glossing over. “How do you know?”
“Because I’m scared to death if I lose you I’ll never feel like this with anyone else.”
I swallowed, knowing what would happen next. It was the reason I’d worked so hard on the apartment. I wanted to leave something good behind.
“I already know that. When I lose you, I know I’ll never feel this way with anyone else.”
One side of his mouth turned up, but when recognition hit, his grin faded. He nodded and pressed his lips together, looking at every point on the floor before standing and leaving me for his room. The door slammed, and my shoulders tensed, my eyes closed tight.
I walked down the hall, knocking softly on the door. “Tyler? I just … if I could just get my things…”
He didn’t answer, and I pushed open the door. Tyler was sitting on the floor with his knees up, his back against the foot of his bed.
“Just getting my stuff, and I’ll go.”
“Where are you going to go, Ellie? Just stay.”
He looked up at me with the same tired and ruined eyes I had seen so many times before. “You’re the only woman in the world I know could tell me half-ass that she loves me while breaking my heart.”
“I’m doing you a favor. You just don’t know it yet.”
I pointed to the door. “Have you seen your cupboards? Your fridge? Crown, rum, vodka, cheap wine, and beer. I fall asleep wherever I pass out.”
“Not last night,” he said.
“I put Crown in my coffee and take it to work. I’m a drunk, Tyler.”