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She’s quick to climb on top of me and straddle my waist, my dick only a breath away from slipping inside her.

“Wait . . .” I stop her by gently wrapping my hands around her hips and laying her back down beside me on the bed.

Confusion flashes in her beautiful eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing . . . I just want to kiss you a little more first,” I assure her and cup my hand around the nape of her neck to bring her face closer to mine. My mouth covers hers, and I hover over her body, forcing myself to take this slow. With her naked body pressed against mine, I take a moment to appreciate that after all the shit I’ve put her through, she’s still here, she’s always fucking here, and it’s about goddamned time I make it worth her while. I support my weight with one arm and lie on top of her, parting her legs with my knee.

“I love you . . . so much. You still know that, don’t you?” I ask her between strokes of my tongue over hers.

She nods, but for a dreadful moment, Zed’s face appears in my mind. His confession of love for my Tessa, and her thankful acceptance of it. “I love you, too,” she had moaned in her sleep. A slow shiver travels through me, and I pause.

Noticing my hesitation, she pushes her fingers into my unruly hair and takes possession of my mouth with hers.

“Come back to me,” she begs.

That’s all it takes.

Everything fades except for the softness of her body underneath mine, the wetness between her legs as I slowly push into her. The feeling is exquisite. No matter how many times I’ve taken her, it won’t ever be enough.

“I love you.” She repeats the words. I wrap one arm under her so our bodies are pressed as closely together as possible. I lick my dry lips and bury my head in her neck again, whispering dirty things into her ear and moving to kiss her every time she moans my name.

I feel the buildup of pressure rising from my spine, igniting every fucking vertebra. Tessa’s fingernails dig into my back, across my shoulder blades, as if she’s reaching for the words inked across my skin. The words meant for her, and only her.

“I never wish to be parted from you from this day on,” it says. And I’m going to do everything I have to do in order to keep my permanent promise.

I lean up to look at her. One hand still rests under her back; the other travels up her torso and across both of her breasts, and rests just below her throat.

“Tell me how it feels,” I say with a grunt. I’m barely holding on to the pleasure that is coursing though me. I want to keep it there for both of us, to make it last longer. I want to create this space that we can both inhabit.

My movements quicken, and she moves one of her hands down to fist the bedsheets. Every sinful twist of my hips, every violent thrust into her waiting body, intensifies and further seals the power she has over me.

“So good, Hardin . . . so good . . .” Her voice is thick and hoarse, and I swallow the rest of her moans like the greedy bastard I am. I feel her body begin to go rigid, and I can’t wait any longer. With a soft cry of her name, I spill into the condom with slow and sloppy thrusts before collapsing, barely breathing, next to her.

I reach over and pull her body to mine, and when I open my eyes, a sheer layer of sweat covers her silky skin, her eyes are open, and she’s staring at the ceiling fan.

“You okay?” I ask her. I know I was a little rough toward the end, but I also know how much she loves that shit.

“Yeah, of course.” She leans over to plant a kiss on my bare chest and climbs out of the bed. I groan in disappointment when she pulls her white T-shirt down over her head, covering her body.

“Here’s your headband.” She smiles, proud of her corny remark, and she tosses the sweat-dampened T-shirt I wrapped around my head in the gym onto the bed. I roll the fabric up and wrap it around my head again just to get a reaction out of her.

“You don’t like it?” I ask, and she giggles.

“I do, actually.” Tessa is really putting on a show as she bends down to pick up her black panties from the floor and shimmies them up her thighs. That she isn’t wearing a bra is wonderfully apparent as she shakes her body.

“Good. It’s easier this way.” I point to the contraption on my head.

I really need a fucking haircut, but Steph’s friend, a lavender-haired chick named Mads, has always been the one to cut it. My blood begins to boil at the thought of Steph. That stupid fucking . . .

“Earth to Hardin!” Tessa’s voice brings me out of my hateful thoughts.

I snap my head up. “Sorry.”

Back in her pajamas, Tessa snuggles up next to me and, strangely, grabs the remote to the TV and starts flipping around trying to find something to watch. I’m a little dazed, so the cooldown feels comfortable, but after a few minutes I realize she’s sighed quite a few times. And when I look over at her, there’s a deep scowl on her face, like finding a program to watch is more frustrating than it should be.

“Something wrong?” I ask her.

“No,” she lies.

“Tell me now,” I press, and she lets out a quick breath.

“It’s nothing . . . I’m just a little . . .” Her cheeks flush. “Wound up.”

“Wound up? You should be anything but wound up after that.” I pull back a little and look at her.

“I didn’t . . . you know, I—I didn’t,” she stutters. Her shyness never fails to surprise me. One minute she’s moaning into my ear to fuck her harder, faster, deeper, and the next she can’t form a sentence.