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“I’m not a long-term kind of girl,” I blurt. My eyes fill with tears, but I quickly blink them away. “I’m not even a right now kind of girl.”

Connor grins. “Then what kind of girl are you?”

“I have no freaking clue.”

Brushing his thumb along my bottom lip, Connor searches my face. “You’ve been hurt.” I’m not sure if he’s stating a fact or asking me a question, but I nod anyway. One of those pesky tears that had been threatening to break free finally does, and Connor catches it with his thumb. “Let me tell you what I think,” he says, holding my gaze. “You’ve been burned one too many times. Shutting yourself off was easier than trying again, and now you’re scared.”

My throat feels thick. The familiar burning in my nose signals an onslaught of tears. Despite my best attempt, I’m unable to hold them in any longer.

“Here’s the thing.” He swipes a finger under my eyes before continuing. “Whoever hurt you is a prick. He has absolutely no idea what he lost or gave up. But I see you,” he says, bringing my face even closer. “You’re incredibly strong, independent, funny, and tenacious. I adore all of those things about you. But you’ve also got this gentle side that I think most people don’t see, and that’s what I want to explore.”

Soft lips descend on mine before moving from one cheek to the other as he kisses away my tears. With each press of his lips against my skin, the shattered pieces of my heart are slowly put back together. I realize some of the edges may be jagged and it’ll take time to smooth them out, but I’m hopeful this man will be the one to do it.

“I can assure you that if you step out of the box you’ve holed yourself up in, you won’t regret it. This chemistry between us,” he says, waving a hand between our bodies, “is nothing I’ve ever felt before. I have no idea what it means or what all of this will amount to, but I want to find out.” Connor drops his forehead to mine. “I promise you that I won’t hurt you.”

“I’m not worried that you’ll hurt me.” My voice is shaky. Taking a deep breath, I try to regain some sort of composure.

Connor furrows his brow. “Then what are you worried about?”

“That I’ll hurt you.” Lifting my hands, I wrap my fingers around each of Connor’s wrists.

“How about you let me worry about that.”

“But—”

“Nope.” Connor presses a finger to my lips. “You already told me you were giving this a chance, and I’m holding you to it. This is happening.”

I sigh and Connor drops his finger from my mouth. “Okay,” I breathe, giving him control.

Connor’s smile is blinding. “Okay.”

This girl.

She fucking kills me.

Grabbing Brittany’s hand, I lead her toward my bedroom. Thank God she follows behind without question, because there is no way in hell I’d be able to let her go tonight. Pulling back the covers of what has always been the empty side of my bed, I motion for her to climb in.

“Umm…with my clothes on?” she asks, looking a little unsure.

“Yes,” I say, chuckling. “With your clothes on.”

She slips between the covers like a good girl. I pull them up to her chest, then walk around the bed, and slide in next to her. Situating the pillow under my head, I lie on my back.

“Come here,” I say, holding out my arm. She doesn’t hesitate. Her lithe body cuddles up next to mine. Curling herself into the crook of my arm, she rests her head on my chest. I tangle my fingers with hers and bring her arm across my stomach. Perfect.

“What’s your favorite color?”

Propping her chin on my chest, she examines me. “You brought me to bed so you could ask me what my favorite color is?”

“Oh no,” I counter. “I also want to know how you take your coffee in the morning, what your favorite food is, what types of books you prefer, your favorite childhood memory, where your other tattoo is… The list goes on and on, so we could be up all night if you don’t cooperate.”

Brittany’s eyes twinkle with what I can only describe as pure happiness. “Okay.” She nods, resting her head back down on my chest. “Purple. I don’t drink coffee. Pizza, but it has to be Chicago style. Romance. Cuddling with my mom at night. And,” she says, dragging the word out, “you’ll have to find it yourself.”

“Wow.” I laugh, amazed she remembered the order in which I said everything. “I’m impressed. And trust me”—bringing her hand to my lips, I pepper kisses across her knuckles—“I have every intention of finding that tattoo.”

She doesn’t look up, but I feel her smile against my skin. “What about you? Same questions,” she says.

“Hmmm.” Closing my eyes, I try to remember everything I asked her. “Red. Black with one scoop of sugar. Lasagna. Thrillers, but I’m open to this ‘romance’ that you speak of

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