But watching Jensen here, as he worked his way down my body, eyes open, hands honest and hungry, I felt like I’d never really been touched by a man before. Boys, plenty. Never a man who cared to take his time and explore. And what made it different wasn’t only the way he touched me, but the way I felt when he did: like he could take anything, and I would give it to him without question; like when we were alone like this, I had no reason to hide a single inch of my skin.

It was barely dark out yet, but even with the sounds of our friends getting dinner started, laughing through glasses of wine, upstairs Jensen and I took the time to touch, and taste, and play. He came in my mouth with a helpless groan. I came against his tongue with a cry muffled by the back of my own hand, and we kissed, and kissed, and kissed for another hour until I wanted him beneath me, overtly aroused, body slightly frantic with greed. I tied his hands to the headboard with my blouse and relished the look of excitement in his eyes, the tension in his muscles, tight from restraint as he watched me fuck him.

He still wasn’t a talker. His noises seemed to be given up under duress—the quiet grunts and moans, the surprised “Fuck” that escaped when I came and he felt it, the panting breaths. I wanted to bottle his sounds and eat them later. I wanted to bottle his scent and roll in it.

After untying him to let him play with my body the way I knew he liked, I slid my palms over the sweat on his skin: up his chest, along his neck. I was tired; he was close, and his hands lifted me, his hips fucking up hard and fast. The bed protested, groaning, tapping the wall. My thighs burned and the vein in Jensen’s forehead grew more prominent as he got closer, and closer, his teeth gritted in the drive toward pleasure, hands digging into the flesh of my hips.

It was honest to God fucking, and it was, without a doubt, the best of my life.

When he came, panting, gasping beneath me, I watched his face the entire time, etching it into my memory. He wasn’t thinking about his inbox, or his team, or whatever merger mishaps awaited him on Monday. He was thinking only of the slide of my body around his, about his need to come, in me.

He fell flat against the bed, arms splayed out to the sides, chest heaving. “Holy hell.”

Bending to kiss him, I licked up his neck, along his jaw, tasting the salt of his skin.

“Holy hell,” he said again, quieter now. “That was intense. Come here.”

He found my mouth with his, sucking sweetly at my bottom lip. I was sore between my legs, in my joints, and Jensen rolled me to the side, pulling me with his hand cupped on my ass so that I didn’t stray too far. He kissed me slow and sweet, like a lover who has all the time in the world. A lover who has time to come down quietly, grow soft inside, and hard again.

A shame, really, because from the smell of it at the top of the stairs, it was a good one.

“I hope you two had fun up there,” Ruby said later, grinning at us as we descended into the kitchen. “Because Will made paella, and I’m telling you . . . I may eat this and only this for the rest of my life.”

“Is Will coming home with us?” Niall asked her from the kitchen.

“It was an excruciatingly competitive game of chess we had going,” I said. “Neither of us was willing to give up until it was over.”

Will’s smile was sneaky. “I see, chess? Because it sounded like you were hanging pictures.”

Niall nodded. “Something was definitely getting nailed up there.”

I laugh-coughed down at the floor.

“Well, Pippa isn’t a very good sport. She lost, it turned violent,” Jensen joked, leaning over the stove and peeking at the wide pan still half full of paella. “Excellent. You saved some for us.”

Will laughed. “I think this could have fed seventy people. We all ate until we were bursting.” He reached for the spoon while Niall grabbed two bowls from the dish rack, and soon Jensen and I were bent over the breakfast bar, shoveling food into our mouths like we hadn’t eaten in weeks.

“You guys ready to head home?” Hanna asked the group, leaning against the counter near the sink.

We all mumbled some form of refusal, no one wanting to give the end to the trip any oxygen on which to thrive. It felt a bit like we were leaving summer camp, all of us having made these quiet internal promises and external declarations to be best friends forever, to never fall out of touch, to do this together at least once every year for the rest of time . . . but the reality was that this was a tiny detour from real life. For Jensen most of all, who hadn’t taken a real holiday in years, this trip was an anomaly not soon to be repeated. He would leave here and return to the workaholic, structured man he was. And every bit of the outer shell he’d managed to chisel away, revealing the passionate, playful man beneath, would be gone.

I looked over at him just as he seemed to be looking up at me, and our eyes caught. I saw it there, too, the unspoken acknowledgment that it had been so good.

It had been . . . unexpected.

For the most part, my habit of waking early had served me well.

An eternal early riser, I often wondered whether it was just the way I was wired or some direct result of growing up in a house with six other people. Being out of bed before everyone else meant a hot shower, dry towels, and a level of bathroom privacy—or any privacy, really—that was unheard of after seven. In college it meant I could party until the early hours of the morning, drag myself back to my dorm, and still get up early enough to tear through homework or study for an exam before class.

It was only on this vacation that I’d somehow learned to stay asleep, rousing only when Pippa’s warm body began to stir next to mine and the smell of butter and berries drifted from downstairs. Most mornings we slept until ten. One morning—after a particularly memorable night in bed—we didn’t wake until after eleven.