“Harder,” I gasped when he licked me too carefully. “Don’t be gentle.”

He did as I asked, sliding fingers into me while he sucked and licked and it was perfect and frantic and my body chased and chased the feeling until I knew what I wanted, and—

In only seconds he was there, rolling on a condom, needing it, too, and I was consumed by the relief of him pushing into me: heavy, eager, his arms curling beneath my shoulders to anchor him there.

I wanted to see it from above, needed to

because all of a sudden I was thinking of Mark, and his thrusting bum, and how it looked—even at the time, while my heart broke into pieces in my throat—like his movements over the nameless woman were so remote, so detached, like a pivoting machine.

But here, it felt as though Jensen was trying to slide across every inch of me.

His chest over mine, and his thighs to mine, and his cock inside me. He pushed so deep, arching into me as if trying to enter me completely.

It was as if every bit of him needed contact. How could a man so restrained by his own rules not see how much passion he craved?

I gripped his backside, pulling him still deeper, urging him with my voice and my movements from beneath, and we fit—it sounds insane, and I hated this idea, but we did; his body fit mine like we were some sort of carved, complementary pieces—and I could barely keep from biting his shoulder as it stabbed through the air above me.

I was in that space where I didn’t want this to end, couldn’t imagine ever waking up without the feel of this and moving through the day without his skin to my skin and his mouth to my neck and his guttural sounds—so unrefined, nearly savage—hammering in my ear. It made me euphoric, seeing this side of him. It was like being let in to watch the unraveling of the prime minister, a tsar, a king.

My orgasm really was like a revelation: it was a spiral twisting through me, beginning at the center and climbing down and up at the same time, so that I arched and bent beneath him, begging him to not stop, never stop, please, Jensen, don’t ever stop.

But he had to, because his body did the same above me: growing still in the tension, arms gripping me, face pressed to my neck in a posture of relief that felt like giving up and letting go all at once.

They sound the same, but they aren’t. I felt it.

The air around us was warm, and still, and slowly—but not slowly enough—it mixed with the conditioned air beyond, and everything seemed to cool. Jensen pulled from me in a move that made us both groan quietly, and he kneeled between my legs, looking down as he removed the condom and then sat there, chin to chest, breathing heavily.

I’d had flings before. I’d had casual nights with men. Sweet men, distracted men, hungry men; forgettable in many ways.

I knew I would remember Jensen when I was old and thinking back on things. I would remember the lover I had on my Boston holiday. I would remember this tender moment, just here, when he was overwhelmed by the love we’d just had. It may have been a spark, a match struck to pavement and extinguished, but it was there.

I stared at him as he reached across the bed to throw the condom in the bin near the bedside table. He came back over me, warm, tired, and wanting the languishing sort of kisses that are the sweetest prelude to sleep.

It didn’t scare me, but it didn’t quite thrill me, either.

Because Jensen was right: this was all very unexpected.

Our final drive was far north, to the cabin in Waitsfield, Vermont—just southeast of Burlington. We were all groggy, having stayed up far too late in our respective hotel rooms the night before, and maybe more than anything had run out of the low-hanging conversational fruit.

Jensen and I were no longer playing pretend, but something else had settled into place—permission to kiss and to touch, and not for the benefit of someone else or as any sort of game, but because we wanted to.

I dozed on his shoulder in the far backseat, vaguely aware of our position—his right arm around me; his left hand on my thigh, just beneath the hem of my skirt; his body arranged toward mine, curving to make himself a more comfortable pillow. I was aware that he spoke in hushed tones whenever Hanna asked something from the front seat. I was aware of the weight of his kiss when he would occasionally brush his lips across my hair.

But only when he gently elbowed me awake was I aware of the truly magical thing happening: cityscapes had given way to lush wilderness. In their final throes of life before winter, maples lined the two-lane roads densely. Oranges and yellows lingered on the ground, kicked up by the wind as we passed. Faint green could still be found here and there, but otherwise the land was an array of earth tones and dwindling fire with a backdrop of bright blue sky.

I felt Jensen’s attention on the side of my face, but I could barely tear my eyes away.

“Who—who—?” I began, unable to imagine who could live here and ever leave.

“I’ve never seen you speechless,” he said, amazed.

“You’ve known me seven days,” I reminded him with a laugh, finally able to turn and look at him.

So close. His eyes were the brightest things in the car, focused as they were on me entirely.

“You’re beautiful,” he said just as quietly, making his words simple with a small shrug.

“We’re ten minutes out,” Will called from the driver’s seat, and I felt the energy rebound in the car as Ruby lifted herself from her nap on Niall’s lap and he stretched his long arms across the bench seat in front of us.