The paint smell disappeared when the heavy door closed behind me. I started up the stairs. I could smell garlic sautéing before I was halfway there.

I heard the tap of her feet as she walked in my direction. When I reached the top of the stairs she was there to greet me. She was breathtaking. Damn, it was good to be here.

“You’re here!” she said grinning at me as if I wouldn’t show up. Then she waved her hand out and spun around. “This is it. What do you think?”

The space was the ultimate bachelor pad. Lila had added a lot of soft yet colorful female touches to subdue its masculinity. However, the industrial look with the exposed beams had to have been designed with a man in mind. Nothing fancy. Just wide open and durable.

“I think I’d like to rent that room if Ophelia backs out,” I said teasingly.

“It’s great, isn’t it? I love my view and the feel of the place.”

I nodded. “Yes, it’s great.” So was my view. Lila had on a short white skirt with a sleeveless blue top that showed off her tan. Her hair was pulled up on her head in a messy knot. She wasn’t wearing makeup, but she didn’t need it.

“I don’t have a bed in Ophelia’s room yet but the sofa has a pullout bed, and it’s a good one. I had checked before I bought it.” I looked over at the living area; she had a tan leather sofa that was plush and wide. Two red and brown striped chairs and a large rectangular ottoman sat in the middle. The flat screen was massive, but then it could be seen from anywhere throughout the large flat.

“That looks comfortable enough to sleep on just like it is.”

“It may be. But you’re tall,” she pointed out.

I’d try it out later. “Whatever you’re cooking smells amazing. Can I help with anything?”

“Yes, you can slice the zucchini. I hate slicing vegetables,” she said. “Put your duffle over by the sofa and come tell me about all the current happenings in Sea Breeze. I monopolized the conversation last night. I never heard what happened with Jude and Micah getting arrested.”

I walked over to drop my bag by the couch as she walked back toward the kitchen.

“Damon, Micah’s best friend, went and got them out before they called their dad. Micah may be twenty-five, but Jude is barely twenty. His dad would have been furious. They’re both dumbasses for doing anything with Saffron. She’s always looking for trouble.”

“Saffron had invited them to go swimming at a friend’s house she was supposedly house sitting for. There were topless girls there. They were a few of Saffron’s stripper friends, although Saffron herself wasn’t a stripper. Micah and Jude showed up, and the party had underage drinking. It got loud. The cops came. Micah told Saffron to hide because her father was a crazy ass son of a bitch who would lose his shit.”

Eli continued. “Saffron hadn’t been house sitting. They’d all been there without the owner’s knowledge. It had been one of the stripper’s ex-boyfriend’s house. The ex-boyfriend and his wife were on vacation.”

“Is the owner of the house going to press charges?” Lila asked as she handed me the zucchini.

“No. The stripper he had an affair with threatened to out him to his wife.”

Lila laughed then. “Wow. Okay, that sounds like a movie. Sea Breeze is more lively than Rosemary Beach. We rarely have drama. Nothing that interesting.”

“That’s because you don’t have a Saffron Corbin.”

Lila brushed by me twice to get something from the spice rack. I was trying not to assume she was doing it on purpose, but when she moved in close the third time I decided that was an invitation. I sat the knife down and grabbed her waist to pull her against me.

“I hope this is okay,” I said in a whisper before claiming her mouth with my own. She was frozen at first, and then slowly melted against me, her arms going up around my neck. This was better than I remembered.

I heard the olive oil in the pan behind us sizzling. I knew I had to let her go, but the feel of her in my arms was so damn right it was hard. When she pulled back, she gave me a shy smile. “The onions will burn.”

I let her go reluctantly, and she hurried over to move them around with a spatula. “You ready for the zucchini?” I asked still a little high from that kiss.

She glanced back at me over her shoulder and nodded.

I used that as an excuse to get near her. I took the vegetables then stood so close to her back that our bodies were touching. I bent my head and whispered in her ear. “I’ll put them in there. You stir.”

Lila shivered and then nodded. Pleased that I was affecting her this way, I began slowly pouring the sliced zucchini into the skillet. She was breathing rapidly, and I could see her pulse jumping in the curve of her neck. I pressed a kiss there unable to help myself.

A sharp intake of breath then she shivered again.

I reached over and turned the burner off then grabbed her and picked her up to set her on the bar. Spreading her knees open, I stepped between them and pulled her flush up against me before taking her mouth again. I could stay like this all night.

Her legs wrapped around my waist and she grabbed my face and kissed me back with just as much passion as I felt. It was intoxicating. Every touch, scent, sound she made drove me crazy. My biggest regret was having slept with her drunk like a one-night stand. She was special. I wanted to remember how it felt to be inside her. To know what her face looked like when she cried out with an orgasm.

Her hands moved down to my chest, and she ran them over my abs. Feeling each one as she kissed me. Our tongues tangled together. Our breathing synced. I ran my hands up her thighs wanting to touch her and watch her squirm and beg. To have her scent on my fingers.

She opened her legs more and the short skirt she was wearing slid up her thighs until it was all bare. I could see the white satin and lace of her panties. The damp fabric was clinging to her, and like a caveman, I wanted to beat on my chest that I had done that. I’d made her wet with just a kiss.

Running a finger over the thin, delicate fabric, I watched her face as her eyes flared and her cheeks became flushed. Slipping a finger inside, I groaned from pleasure at the heat that touched my finger. I could smell her arousal. She wanted me to touch her. She wanted this too.

“I kissed you here,” the memory came back just that clearly. The smell hit me and with it came the memory of her legs thrown over my shoulders as I feasted on her like a fucking buffet I couldn’t get enough of.

“You came on my tongue,” my voice had gone husky with need.

I started to lower to my knees, and she grabbed my arms. “No. Don’t.”

I stopped and looked at her. I waited for a reason not to. I’d never had a female ask me not to taste her there.

She took a deep breath. “I’m not ready. I need time.”

She wasn’t drunk. We weren’t at a bar. And I was acting like a sex-crazed maniac.

“I’m sorry. I got carried away. The memory . . .” I trailed off.

“It was amazing. But . . . I’ve been through other things since then. I need time. I like you, Eli. You make me smile. I don’t want to mess this up. My head and heart need to be in the same place.”

This wasn’t just about taking our time. It was about Cruz Kerrington. I had his memory to compete with. But I wasn’t afraid of that. He had hurt her. I never would. I could help her heal, and I was patient. God, was I so fucking patient. Lila fit me. We complemented each other. We had the same ideas, likes, beliefs, and we would make an excellent couple. I’d never let her down.