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The Boy Next Door

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The Boy Next Door

A Secret Affair Novella

Leddy Harper

Contents

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

About the Author

Also by Leddy Harper

Copyright © 2016 by Leddy Harper

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Edits by: Mad Spark Editing

Cover by: Wicked by Design Covers

Chapter One

&The harsh summer& sun beat down on the top of my head as a trickle of perspiration fell between my breasts, but even with all that, I could still feel his eyes on me. Every morning, while I ran, I could always count on him watching me, tracking my every step. I never did understand why he’d watch me while I jogged around the neighborhood; sweat isn’t attractive. But, without fail, as soon as I turned the corner and made my way up the street to my house, there he was, sitting on his porch with his sunglasses on.

Ash Jenkins…the boy next door.

The thought of having his attention caused the bundle of nerves between my legs to burn and throb. He was sculpted and crafted to perfection with abs I could do my laundry on and arms I fantasized about. But there was one problem: he was only seventeen years old. So instead of feeding into his obsession, I tried my best to ignore it. I jogged past him and rounded the driveway to my front door.

“Hey, Mom.” Kyra’s lips curled into a Cheshire grin as she slinked into the kitchen and bent over the counter, her signature move when she wanted something. “Dana wants to go to the mall. Do you mind if I go with her?”

Dana wasn’t what I considered a good influence on my daughter. However, she wasn’t necessarily bad, either. Kyra was always honest with me—at least I hoped she was—and I knew from her stories that Dana was a bit boy crazy. I knew I couldn’t protect my child from everything, but I didn’t exactly condone her hanging out with a girl who snuck boys into her room. Then again, it wasn’t like I could really say much…I had Kyra two months before I turned seventeen, and I didn’t want my child to learn the same lessons I had to.

“Only you and Dana?”

She rolled her eyes, knowing exactly where my thoughts were. I guess that’s what happens when you practically grow up with your kid. We’d always been super close and very open with one another—sometimes a little too comfortable sharing things. However, I never hesitated to be her mother. I knew when to put my foot down and when to give in. I had mastered the art of picking my battles, and so far, it seemed to have paid off. Kyra was a good kid; she made straight As, never broke curfew, and as far as I knew, never did drugs.

“Yes, Mom, just the two of us. It’s ten thirty in the morning, and we’re going shopping. What exactly do you think we could get into?”

If only she knew she’d been conceived before noon on a weekday at an arcade. But I wasn’t about to tell her that. She didn’t need to know every mistake I’d made in my youth. “Sure, go ahead. Do you need any money?”

With a small bounce on the balls of her feet, she wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed me on my cheek. “No, but thank you. I have some left over from my birthday.” She never accepted money from me when I’d offer it, probably because she knew I didn’t have much to spare. It was yet another reason why I trusted her. She truly was a good kid, and I couldn’t have been more proud of her.

Kyra grabbed her keys from the bowl on the counter and ran out of the house. She’d turned sixteen almost four months ago, and I wondered if I’d ever not get chest pains every time she got behind the wheel of her car. It was hard knowing my baby was growing up—my only baby.

Hoping I could cool off and distract my worried mind with a swim, I put on my suit and headed down the street to the community pool. It was the middle of summer, so I’d expected to see a lot of people there, but for some reason, I was the only one. Couldn’t complain, though; it just meant I had the entire pool to myself. Three laps in, I came out of the water to find Ash stripping out of his shirt.

Good God. His body was the epitome of sin ripped with lines of deep temptation. Had I not been in the pool, I’d be willing to bet my panties would’ve been soaked. My nipples hardened at the sight of him, and I mentally chastised myself for the deplorable thoughts running through my mind.

A seventeen-year-old should not look that good.

Hell, a thirty-three-year-old shouldn’t be looking, but there I was, gripping tightly to the ledge in the deep end, because without it, I’d certainly drown. I couldn’t think straight enough to breathe properly, let alone keep my head above water.

He threw his shirt onto the lounge chair and turned around. His dark eyes locked on mine just before one side of his mouth tipped into an errant smirk, and then he dove in. When he emerged, only a couple feet from where I struggled to remain composed, he brushed his sandy-blond hair—turned dark by the water—off his face and swam to me, never once shifting his gaze from mine.

“Mrs. Abner.” His voice was so deep it could’ve belonged to a grown man. It was gravelly, and as he said my name, it rumbled with a hint of seduction.

This wasn’t the first time I’d ever spoken to Asher. He and Kyra hung out from time to time when she wasn’t busy with her friends or Thomas, her boyfriend. So we’d exchanged words a few times here and there, but nothing remotely close to an actual conversation.

Ash moved in with his dad about two years ago after his mother had a hard time keeping him in line. From what I’d been told—by Kyra, of course—he’d had some issues with drugs and the law, so his mom shipped him off to his dad’s with the hopes it’d straighten him out. It never made much sense to me, considering his dad wasn’t home often. He was some big-time publicist and traveled a lot. Ash was left home alone far more than any kid should’ve been, but especially one who’d already been in trouble with narcotics and the police. Then again, he wasn’t my child, and I was in no position to judge anyone. At least Ash seemed to have pulled himself together. As far as I knew, he pretty much kept to himself and stayed out of trouble—which could’ve had something to do with his older sister, Nell, who came by often to check in with him.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Asher…it’s not ‘Mrs.’?”

His dark eyes narrowed ever so slightly, glistening in the summer sun, and it was almost as if I could read his thoughts. The first time I’d corrected him, his cheeks flushed a faint rosy color. The second time, he’d dipped his chin and smirked. The third time, his reaction left no room to misinterpret his thoughts when he quirked an eyebrow and raked his gaze down my body. Needless to say, the way he looked at me then was highly inappropriate…and oh so hot. That was the day I knew I’d be in trouble when he turned eighteen.

“How many times do I have to tell you it’s not Asher? Just Ash.” The combination of his voice—which reminded me of a man’s first thing in the morning—and the way he stared at me through smoldering bedroom eyes made the water temperature rise about fifteen degrees.

“I’ll try to remember.” I kicked off the wall and prayed I’d be able to make it to the other end of the pool without forgetting how to swim. I needed to get out of there. Being that close to him left me envisioning handcuffs—and not the good kind. The kind that left me behind bars for illegal acts with a minor. Damn the law. No one under the age of eighteen should be allowed to work out or take their shirts off. It was nothing but a false advertisement—or entrapment.

Once I made it back to the steps, ready to climb out and be on my way, he grabbed my hand and pulled me back, away from the exit. I may have spoken to Ash a few times over the last couple of years, and occasionally seen him without his shirt on, but not once had there ever been any physical contact until now. It left me covered in gooseflesh, intense heat filling me, and uncontrollable arousal burning the forgotten place between my legs. His hand was large, the size of a fully grown man’s, and rough, as if he’d spent years doing manual labor. It scratched its way up my arm until he spun me around in the water to face him.

“Don’t go.” This time, instead of gruff words, they were replaced with a pleading baritone bravado. It was desperate, raw, and completely unexpected. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”

This was certainly a different side to Asher Jenkins.

This wasn’t the angry fifteen-year-old who’d moved in next door. It wasn’t the quiet sixteen-year-old who used to sit in the back yard and talk to Kyra, nor was it the lost boy Nell often talked about. Lately, he’d been somewhat of a broody loner, quietly watching me from his porch while I jogged by. But seeing him now, taking in his knitted brow and narrowed, fearful eyes, I realized I didn’t know him at all.

“It’s inappropriate, Ash. I’m old enough to be your mother…and you’re seventeen.”

He nodded and craned his head right and then left, probably to verify we were alone. Apprehension struck me the longer it took him to say whatever he clearly had on his mind, but nothing was worse than when our eyes met. Desire flooded me, my sinister and lewd imagination blinded me, while alarm bells drowned out the world around me.

Satisfied we were alone, he moved a little closer. “Your age doesn’t matter to me, so mine shouldn’t matter to you. It’s just a number, Kristy.” My first name rolled off his tongue like a sexual innuendo.

Feeling my pulse between my legs, I turned back to the steps. “I should go.”

“Have you ever done something you knew you weren’t supposed to?”

I stilled at his words, unable to lock my thoughts onto one thing. “Yes, I have,” I said over my shoulder as I stood with one foot on the bottom step and one hand wrapped around the hot metal rail.

Before I could make another move to pull myself from the now scalding water, he came up to my side, towering over my slight frame. “And what happened?”

“It changed my entire life. Everything became a hundred times harder.”

His eyes squinted as they searched mine, and I swear he heard my thoughts. “Kyra?”

This was not a conversation to be had with someone his age, let alone someone I didn’t even know and had never so much as had a conversation with in the past. “If you must know, yes. Giving in to her father was wrong, and I knew better, but I did it anyway. And look where it got me. I’ve spent the last sixteen years busting my ass to give her a decent life without making her suffer. I had to get my GED and never went to college like I’d always dreamt of doing. So yes, Asher, I have done something I knew was wrong, and it didn’t pan out well for me.”

Like a moth to a flame, his body moved into mine, the space between us disappearing in the blink of an eye. He lowered his head until his mouth was close enough I could feel the heat of his breath along the side of my face. “You have an amazing daughter who loves you more than you’ll ever know. You have a roof over your head and food in your kitchen. You have a job that may have taken you a while to get, but I know it’s something you’re extremely proud of. Doing something you knew was wrong may seem like it hurt you in the end, but from where I stand, it gave you a life you otherwise wouldn’t have had.”

My heart slammed against my ribcage and my breaths grew shallow and panicked. My ears filled with a high-pitched ringing while the outer edges of my vision dimmed. However, I couldn’t take my focus off Ash’s proximity to me. “How…how do you know these things?”

He stepped back and shrugged. “It’s impossible not to pay attention to you, Kristy.” And then he climbed out of the pool, leaving me speechless on the last step, unable to do anything other than watch the muscles in his back flex as he sauntered away from me.

Chapter Two

&A week later&, I stood in my bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror, wondering what in the world Ash saw when he looked at me. There was nothing special about my appearance. I might’ve understood gaining the attention of a physically fit, beautiful male almost half my age had I looked like a supermodel, but I didn’t. The only thing I had going for me was my weight, and that was because I watched what I ate and exercised religiously. Although, that didn’t mean I had a figure worth gawking at.

Why Ash paid me any attention was beyond me.

I left the bathroom after coming to the conclusion I was nothing more than a conquest for him. “Bang the old lady next door” must’ve been on his bucket list. It was the only plausible explanation.

Deciding to get out of the house for the sake of my own sanity, I grabbed a bottle of wine and headed to the back yard. I plopped down on one of the chaise lounges I used to sunbathe, letting the darkness of the night envelop me.

“Mind if I join you?” Ash’s sexy rumble came out of nowhere and caught me by surprise. “It’s okay if you don’t want me to. I’m sure I made things pretty awkward last weekend at the pool, but I just wanted the opportunity to clear things up. If that’s all right with you, of course.”

I nodded, but with no lights, and clouds covering the moon above, I doubted he could even see it. And then, for some reason, his shadow wavered, as if he were walking away. “Where are you going? I thought you wanted to sit?”

“I asked if you’d mind, and you said yes. I took that as you didn’t want me here.”

I shook my head, annoyed with how his deep timbre rendered me stupid. There was nothing more embarrassing than looking like an idiot to someone the same age as your kid. “No, I’m sorry. I meant yes, take a seat.”

I knew better than to allow him to stay. I’d been drinking, which I rarely did, and it seemed to affect my judgment, but he said he wanted to explain things, and it sounded like a reasonable enough excuse to let him sit with me.

In the dark.

While I poured another glass of wine.

This would prove to be a bad idea.

Ash took a seat on the edge of the lounge chair next to mine and faced me. Resting his elbows on his thighs, he leaned in closer, invading my personal space. It left me wanton and confused. “Where’s Kyra?”

The mention of my daughter had the same effect as cold water being splashed on my face. “She’s with her father this weekend.”

His rumbling laughter caught my attention. “You don’t sound very excited about that.”

“Because I’m not. I hate it when she’s over there.”

“Let me guess…you don’t get along with the ex?”

I cleared my throat, questioning how much I wanted to get into this with him. In the end, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to open up to someone about it. Not to mention, it wasn’t like this was secret information. “No. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. He has to make everything an issue, and I spent the majority of Kyra’s childhood wishing he’d just sign over his rights.”

“If he’s not a good father, why didn’t he?”

I shook my head and stared up at the cloud-covered night sky. “He’s a good dad to her…he just likes to make my life hell. She loves him, and he loves her. He never would’ve signed his rights away; I only wished he would’ve so I wouldn’t have had to deal with him. Everything was a fight when she was little. At least she’s older now so I don’t ever have to deal with him much.”

“It’s a Friday night…” he said, his voice even lower than before—which I hadn’t even known was possible. “You should be enjoying yourself. Go out and do something. Be single. You know, do all the things a single mother should be doing when her kid isn’t home.”

I rolled my eyes, but I doubted he could see it. “I’ve spent so many years being a mom I don’t even know how to be an individual. I’ve forgotten how to be single or do things women my age do.”

“You have friends at work, right?”

“Yeah, but it’s not like we all get together or go out for drinks on the weekends. I see them in the office, sometimes we grab lunch together, but once five o’clock rolls around, we all go our separate ways. It also doesn’t help that they are all married, and most have small children. I’m the only single mom with a teenager.”

The cushion made a sound beneath him when he shifted in his seat. “Well, I don’t think your life is over just because your daughter is sixteen and you’re single. If anything, I think your life is just beginning. You are able to do all the things you couldn’t when she was a baby, but now, you’re of legal age to do most of it.” Even without seeing it, I could hear his grin.

As much as I enjoyed talking to him, I knew this conversation could go way off course if I didn’t put an end to it. “You said you wanted to clear the air…so you should probably do that.”

Ash cleared his throat and said, “I was too forward last weekend, and I’m sure that left you uncomfortable. I told myself I’d lay low, but I didn’t. I couldn’t help myself. You were there…in your bathing suit, and I…”

I scooted back on the cushion so I could sit up higher. The way his voice dipped, taking on an air of determined authority, caught my attention and held me hostage. “Ash, listen, I’m flattered you find me attractive…or whatever it is—”

Attractive? You’re beautiful. Gorgeous. Fucking sexy as hell.”

I couldn’t speak, completely stunned speechless. My go-to defense was humor, so with an airy yet awkward laugh, I said, “You have a thing for middle-aged women? Or just the thirty-something-year-olds who have given up on their appearance?”

“Don’t talk about yourself like that…like there’s nothing special about the way you look.”

I threw my head back against the cushion and let out a groan, which I’m sure he took the wrong way. “I’m nothing to look twice at.” I squeezed my eyes shut, knowing exactly the way it sounded, like I wanted a compliment. Except I wasn’t fishing for anything. The wine must’ve gotten to me, along with his words, and my battered ego couldn’t take any more.

“If that’s the case, I wouldn’t look twice at you every single day. I wouldn’t turn my head any time you’re near. Your red hair begs for my attention, and I lie in bed every night wondering what it looks like sprawled out on a pillow instead of piled on top of your head. Your eyes leave me wondering what they look like when you’re touched.”

“Ash, that’s enough.”

“Your voice is soft and smooth, and I can’t help but imagine what you sound like first thing in the morning.”

“Ash…”

“No, Kristy. You need to know you’re wanted. You’re craved by someone. You’re on someone’s mind every fucking day. You don’t give yourself half the credit you should. When you look in a mirror, you should know what I see…what I’m sure hundreds of other men see. Just because they don’t tell you doesn’t mean no one thinks it.”

“It doesn’t matter because nothing will ever happen between us. You should probably find a nice girl your own age. I’m sure you know plenty of attractive girls at your school; you should get to know some of them. Please, don’t waste your time with me.”

He leaned in closer than before, and his sudden nearness left me in a veritable vacuum with no breathable air. “Are we back to the age issue?” he asked, his voice impossibly deeper. “If I were older, would this even be a problem?”

“You’re practically the same age as Kyra.”

“If it’s because I’m seventeen, fine. I can handle that. In nine months, that won’t be an issue anymore. Then you won’t have an excuse. But if this has to do with our age difference, that’ll never change. You’ll always be your age, and I’ll always be mine. There will always be that gap between us. I can’t accept that. I won’t accept it.”

His confidence turned me on—not that I’d ever act on it—and his dominance made me want to hear him out when I knew I should’ve turned him away. It was difficult to do the right thing when he was around. His hypnotic tone, masculine scent, and all-consuming aura left my mind spinning and my moral compass shattered.

“You don’t know me, Ash. And I certainly don’t know you. There’s no reason for you to be so infatuated with me. You’ll see…this is simply teenage hormones. I’m nothing more than a challenge to you—a conquest. I know this game all too well. Don’t forget, I was your age once.”

“Then get to know me. How’s that for a challenge? Talk to me, spend time with me, and then make up your mind if you want to allow our age difference to be an issue. And I know enough about you to say with confidence this isn’t infatuation. You’re not some game to be won.”

“How do you know me, Ash? Huh? We’ve barely spoken ten words to one another.”

“You spend all your time in the morning making sure Kyra is ready for school, and it leaves you rushing out the door for work. That shows me you’re selfless on some basic level. It doesn’t just happen once in a while…it’s five days a week. You don’t leave the house much, and most of your shopping is done on Amazon. I assume that’s because you’re comfortable in your own surroundings, choosing to stay home rather than go out. This is just a guess, but I think you like to read. Your house is always dark by nine, but the lamp in your bedroom stays on until after eleven. I may be wrong, but that’s what I came up with.”

“I don’t know how you know any of that, but it kinda makes you sound like a stalker,” I teased with humor in my tone. I didn’t want to offend him, but it was true. It made me worried he had binoculars in his room and spent his time watching my every move.

He laughed with a slow shake of his head. “My bus picks me up in front of my house, so I’m outside when Kyra leaves for school. She’s always put together, her lunch in her hand, backpack closed up and slung over her shoulder, hair and makeup done to perfection every day. And then about ten minutes later, you run out the front door with your shoes in your hand instead of on your feet, the strap of your purse between your teeth, and nine times out of ten, you drop your keys before you even get to your car. Your hair is always pulled back, and your shirt is untucked more times than not. It doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusions I have.”

“And what about me reading? How do you know which bedroom is mine?”

Ash leaned back on the lounge and folded his hands behind his head. “My room is directly across from yours. Our windows face each other.” The shadows on his face highlighted his broadening smile when my gasp rang out. “No, Kristy…I’ve never seen anything I shouldn’t have.”

“You really shouldn’t call me by my first name.” I was never one to care much about what Kyra’s friends called me. Honestly, I hated being called Ms. Abner. It made me feel old, and having a teenager was enough to make me feel that way, I didn’t want to add to it. But with him, hearing him use my first name seemed wrong. Maybe it was because I’d woken up from an erotic dream starring him as the main character far too many times.

“Sorry. You told me not to call you Mrs., so I’m not. What do you want me to call you?”

“No…I meant don’t call me that because I’m not married. Mrs. Abner is my mother.”

“So you want me to call you Ms. Abner?”

Well, that actually sounded rather ridiculous. I was torn, and the wine wasn’t helping. In fact, him being here clouded my judgment, and the wine made it worse. “You don’t find this at all odd, Ash? I mean, you’re friends with Kyra, we live next door to each other, and while I’m leaving for work, you’re waiting on your school bus to come pick you up. It’s just wrong.”

“Says who? Society?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Says the law. You’re a minor. I’m sixteen years older than you.”

“Like I’ve said…in nine months, I will no longer be a minor.” He ran his hand through his hair, whether out of frustration or habit, I didn’t know. “And age is just a number. What’s acceptable to you? If you were only ten years older, would that be better? Or do you believe a woman can’t be with anyone younger than her?”

My mouth opened and closed, an answer wanting to come out but my brain preventing it from forming into audible words. Truth be told, I’d never really thought about it. He did have a point, though. If I’d only been ten years older, I’d probably still find it wrong, whereas, I wouldn’t think twice about being with a man ten years older than me.

“Listen…Ms. Abner…I’m not suggesting we get married or asking you to jump into bed with me. Just get to know me. See me as Ash Jenkins, not the seventeen-year-old boy next door. Not your daughter’s friend. Just me. Then tell me how you feel about our age or if you even still recognize it.”

“And how exactly do you expect me to get to know you? I’m sure your dad, your sister, and the neighbors might find something wrong with us hanging out.”

“We’re hanging out now, aren’t we?”

“So you want to sneak around in the dark of night like it’s some kind of secret affair?”

“You’re the one with the problem being seen with me. I’d have no issue being with you in broad daylight. I’ll gladly make this work any way you want. Night, day, in hiding, in public…I don’t care.”

I rolled my eyes, even though he couldn’t see me, and groaned. “Fine. But I’ve had too much to drink to start tonight. Come over tomorrow night and we’ll talk.” I turned my head in his direction to reiterate my point. “Talk, Ash. That’s it. Nothing more.”

“I don’t expect more, Ms. Abner.” He stood from his chair and called out over his shoulder, “See you tomorrow night.”

“Kristy,” I said, causing him to halt his exit. “Call me Kristy.”

“Night, Kristy.” Even though I couldn’t see his face, his grin was evident in his words.

Chapter Three

&My stomach had been& in knots all day. I knew it was a bad idea to have him come over, but for some reason, I didn’t have the courage to tell him I’d changed my mind. If I were being honest, the thought of it all was a little exciting—in an I’m-gonna-go-to-jail kinda way. It’d been so long since anyone had shown this much interest in me, and maybe giving in a little exposed my insecurities, but I couldn’t help it. I knew nothing would ever come of it, so I’d convinced myself it didn’t really matter. He’d come over and we’d talk. End of story. No matter what I learned about him, it wouldn’t change anything. I’d still be too old for him, and he’d still be jailbait.

At nine o’clock, I made my way to the chaise lounges in the back yard, bringing a bottle of water this time. Ash was intoxicating enough as it was; I didn’t need to add fuel to that fire. Especially if I wanted to keep my head somewhat level on my shoulders.

I hadn’t been outside for more than five minutes before I noticed his shadow making its way across the yard. His broad shoulders were emphasized by the moonlight, making him appear like the man I knew he’d turn into instead of the kid I wanted to believe he was. It was imperative that I kept his age in mind, and continued referring to him as a boy. It made it easier to remain responsible. However, his swagger about did me in. Guys his age shouldn’t have such a powerful, sexy gait.

“Is your dad home?” I asked, trying to start a conversation to keep me from drooling. I knew it was the wrong question to ask. It sounded silly. It made me feel like a teenager all over again, asking if my boyfriend’s parents were home. It reminded me how inappropriate the situation was.

“Nah. He’s on a date, I think. Not sure. He got dressed up, told me to not leave the house, and then left. Who knows. He never tells me anything. Not even when I ask.”

“Is it true you came here because your mom couldn’t handle you?” I wanted to slap my hand over my mouth, suddenly embarrassed by my random and completely inappropriate question. But then again, he did tell me to get to know him. There’s no better way than to jump right into the hard stuff.

As he sat down, he placed something on the small table between the two chairs. As soon as I heard the familiar flick of a lighter, I knew what it was. The flame burned orange and flickered back and forth until it steadied in the middle, the candle casting a soft, romantic glow around us. It calmed me and allowed me the chance to vividly see his expression as he answered my questions.

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“I guess I don’t see how sending you to live with someone who leaves you home alone so often could possibly help.”

Ash shrugged and leaned back but settled on his side to face me. The way the stark moonlight shone down on him, coupled with the warm glow of the candle, left him seeming vulnerable. For the first time, I found myself wishing I did know him better so I’d know what it was I saw flash across his expression.

“My dad may never be home, but he’s an asshole who doesn’t stand for the shit I pulled with my mom. Not to mention, one of the biggest problems with living with my mom were my friends. I probably wouldn’t have done half the shit I did if it hadn’t been for their influence. And here, I don’t really have anyone I’m close with.”

I turned to my side to face him, feeling the need to get a better look at him as we talked. “You go to school, though. So why don’t you have any friends?”

“There are plenty of people I talk to, but it’s not like I can do anything with them. My dad won’t let me have a car, so I can’t go anywhere, and he won’t allow anyone over. He won’t let me play on the football team—or any other team for that matter. I literally have no freedom.”

I smirked and breathed out a whispered laugh. “But you’re over here. And you were last night. And you went to the pool last weekend. And you’ve hung out with Kyra before. You’re making it sound far worse than it is.”

“He has my phone tracked. I’m literally next door, so it won’t register to him that I’m not at home. He calls me, randomly, so I can’t leave my phone at home and go out, because if I don’t answer his calls, my life will get even worse than it already is. And at the risk of making myself sound like a child, my dad knew I was at the pool. I asked him if I could go. He reminded me he could drive by at any time, and if I wasn’t there…well, you know the drill. My life would get worse.”

“So what was it you were doing when you lived with your mom that got you in so much trouble?” Part of me wanted to apologize for asking him things I’m sure he didn’t care to talk about, but this was his idea. He was adamant about me getting to know him, and if digging up his buried skeletons would help me know him better, then that’s what I had to do. It helped serve as a reminder, regardless of whether he believed age was a factor, he was a teenager, and I was an adult.

“Well, that’s a tricky question to answer, because there were a lot of things I did but never got caught. What did I do that got me shipped out to my dad’s? Drinking and smoking pot primarily, but the final straw was getting pulled over for drunk driving. My uncle is a detective with the sheriff’s department and saved my ass from legal trouble on that stunt. Otherwise, I would’ve been arrested. My mom packed up my shit before I was even awake the next day, and I was here in time for dinner that night. But that’s only what they knew about. It was actually much worse.”

“Much worse…like how?”

He didn’t move, but his gaze fell away, falling to focus on the flickering flame between us. Guilt weighted his eyelids until they almost seemed closed. “Pot was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the drugs I took, and I drank far more than my mom ever knew. One of my buddies worked as a valet attendant, and we used to take the nice cars out for joyrides. They actually got into worse stuff than I did. They’d steal, mostly for drugs, but I never did any of that shit. I stuck to coke and mollies, but they were into the harder shit. Coming here was actually a blessing in disguise. It was only a matter of time before I would’ve given in.”

“What kept you from doing it then?”

“Football. I’ve been playing since Pee-Wee. Not being allowed to play kills me. I was angry as hell when I got here. My dad knows how much the sport means to me, and he took it away. I fought back, and I fought hard. I figured I’d make his life a living hell so he’d give up on me, too. Damn…I tried everything in my power, but no matter how shitty I was, it only made him hold on tighter. I finally realized I was only making things worse on myself, so I gave up. Once I did, I recognized this wasn’t my dad’s fault, nor was it my mom’s. It was mine, and only mine. I can’t play ball because of the choices I made. I can’t go out or have any sort of normal high school experience because of my own mistakes. So I’ve accepted it, and now I’m waiting out my sentence so I can move on with my life.”

“What are your plans for after high school? Do you even know what it is you want to do?”

“I always thought I’d play college ball and then go pro, but since that’s not going to happen, I’m having a hard time figuring out the rest.”

“Well, you have time. You’re still young.”

“You know…” He sat up and squared his body, facing me. “I hate it when you say shit like that. You make it sound like I’m so young and you’re so old. I may be young, I’ll give you that, but I think I’ve gone through things other people my age haven’t. Seventeen or not, I’m not some naïve kid who worries about what video game to play or who I’m gonna ask to prom. And you’re not some old lady, either. You may have a daughter who’s driving and have had to deal with things earlier than most people, but stop selling yourself short.”

As he spoke, I’d eased myself into a sitting position until we were only a couple feet apart. “That’s not what I meant, Ash. I was just saying you don’t have to decide now what you’ll do with the rest of your life. When I was your age, I had a baby. I didn’t have the luxury of figuring out what I wanted to do; I had to settle for anything that paid me enough to cover the bills. All I was trying to say was don’t rush into something, don’t jump into the first field you come across because you feel pressured to get a degree and become an adult. I’ve told Kyra that her whole life. The last thing you want to do is get to your thirties and wish you had done something else.”

He moved to the very edge of the chair and placed his hot palms on my knees to steady himself while he stared straight into my eyes. “If you had the chance to be anything you wanted…what would it be?”

No one had ever asked me that before. Not my parents, not even Kyra. As if no one cared what my dreams were because they no longer mattered. I almost couldn’t respond to him, despite knowing the answer to his question. Emotion clogged my throat, causing my words to sound broken and raspy. “An event planner.”

“Why can’t you do that now? Do you have to have a degree?”

I dipped my chin and shook my head, but then his hands framed my face and lifted it until we were eye to eye. “It’s not that easy, Ash. I could go work for someone, but I don’t have any experience, so I’d have to start from the bottom—if they hired me at all. And I can’t live off the kind of money they’d pay me. I want to have my own company, do things my way, but that costs money…money I don’t have. If the business fails, I fail. And I can’t afford that.”

“You deserve someone who’ll let you live your dreams.”

His matter-of-fact tone made me believe he wanted to be that person. Like he wanted to make my dreams reality. No one had ever made that sort of declaration about me before, let alone looked at me the way he was right now. It did nothing but further cloud my judgment.

His phone rang in his pocket, effectively disrupting the moment. He rolled his eyes as he pulled it out and slid his finger across the screen. “Yes, Dad?” His head hung between droopy shoulders while he sat there and listened to the other end of his call, and I found myself desperately wanting to know what his dad was saying. “Yeah…okay. Got it.”

“Everything all right?” I asked once he disconnected the line.

“Yeah, but I gotta go.” He put his phone back into his pocket and stood up. “Can we do this again?”

“Kyra will be back tomorrow, so if we do, it’ll have to be in two weeks when she’s at her dad’s house again.”

He stared at the ground in front of him while he nodded, as if processing something. “Then I guess I’ll see you again in two weeks. Just as long as you don’t talk yourself out of it by then,” he said with his finger curled beneath my chin, tilting it up so I could see him.

Unfortunately for me, there was no way I’d be able to talk myself out of anything. Our short-lived conversation tonight was enough to make me want to talk to him all the time, even though I knew how dangerous that was.

“He’s just the boy next door,” I repeated to myself as I watched him walk away.

Chapter Four

&The morning& after our talk in my back yard, he caught up with me halfway through my jog. We didn’t talk, but that didn’t mean anything. Every now and again, his hand would brush against mine, or he’d lightly touch my shoulders while he moved around me. Every touch left me aching for him, no matter how much I tried to tamper it down. Having him next to me as we ran around our neighborhood sent me reeling with concern while jolts of excitement coursed through me. Maybe it was nothing more than the thought of getting caught, like I’d somehow turned into an adrenaline junkie. Whatever it was, I was both simultaneously scared and addicted to it.

Every morning, on my way to my car in the driveway, I found him on his porch. He stood there in nothing but gym shorts slung low on his hips with a mug in his hand. Nothing about him was legal. Watching him lean against the siding of his house while he waved me off reminded me of a man ten years his senior…not a senior in high school. And I had to drive to work with my air on full blast in order to cool off.

Saturday, after my jog, we found ourselves at the pool again, but this time, we weren’t alone. We were only able to share stolen glances and an occasional smile. I wasn’t able to stay as long as I’d hoped, because I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes off him. When he was in the water, I found myself wanting to be near him. When he was out of the water, I couldn’t stop staring at the drops of moisture falling down the hard planes of his perfect body.

Every time I saw him, he was the one who sought me out, not the other way around. And it made me feel…special. I hated to admit that, because it reminded me of middle school all over again. It was immature, but I couldn’t help it. Ash wasn’t the first guy to show interest in me, but he was the first one who hadn’t given up after a week.

Over the last sixteen years, I’d probably gone on a total of ten dates and had one boyfriend. Although, he didn’t last very long. That was when Kyra was thirteen, and he said he couldn’t handle the instant family thing, so he left. His loss. Other than that, I had the occasional friends with benefits—typically guys I worked with—and nothing else. It’d officially been two years since the last time I had any kind of sexual contact, so I ate up the attention Ash gave me, even though I knew better.

An entire week had gone by since I’d been around Ash, and Kyra was at her dad’s again. It’d been raining all evening and didn’t show any sign of letting up. I figured we’d have to cancel our plans, but I had no way to get ahold of Ash other than marching over to his house and knocking on his door—which wouldn’t happen. I had no idea if his dad was home, and that wasn’t a chance I was willing to take.

But just as I headed into the kitchen to turn the light off, I heard someone tap on the slider leading out to the back yard. I flipped the switch and found Ash standing there, his clothes soaking wet, his hair clinging to his forehead. As soon as I opened the door and our eyes met, he released a whisper-soft sigh and his shoulders visibly relaxed.

“I figured we’d just hang out tomorrow night since it’s pouring outside,” I said without inviting him in.

“Not gonna happen, Kristy. We said tonight, so tonight it is. Rain or not, I don’t care.”

“But we can’t sit outside.”

“Then we’ll talk inside.”

I cocked my head, already feeling my determination wane. “I don’t know, Ash. That doesn’t really seem like a good idea. At least if we’re outside, no one can accuse us of doing anything. If you come in, there’s no telling what people might say. I don’t really want to take that chance, do you?”

“I’ll take any chance I can to see you. And who the fuck cares what some nosy neighbor might say? We can sit in the kitchen beneath the light, where anyone outside can see us if that’ll make things better. I don’t care if we sit in the pouring rain. I’ve had to go two weeks only able to say a few words to you…don’t turn me away.” He leaned forward until our foreheads nearly touched. “Invite me in, Kristy.”

In that moment, I felt like he was the adult and I was the child. With almost no hesitation, I opened the door wider and stepped to the side so he could come in. “Your clothes are soaking wet. You’re going to get the furniture wet—and before you say anything, you’re not taking them off.”

He ran his fingers through his dripping hair and chuckled beneath his breath. “I wasn’t going to suggest that. I’ll be fine as long as you have something I can sit on to save your seats.”

I conceded, reluctantly, and went back to my room to grab some towels. However, I came back with an entirely different idea. I handed him the oversized terrycloth and an extra large shirt I’d had in my closet ever since my ex left. “Wear the shirt and wrap the towel around your waist. I’ll throw your clothes in the dryer so you won’t have to sit in them and get sick.”

“You want to hang out with me half naked? Nothing more than a piece of cloth around my waist?”

“And a shirt. Don’t forget the shirt.” That was a must. There was no way in hell I’d be able to sit close to him with his pecs and abs on display. I’d go crazy with blind desire and thoughtless cravings. “It won’t be for long anyway. Just until the dryer is done.”

He smirked but followed my directions. In less than two minutes, he came out of the bathroom with his clothes in his hand, his other clutching the towel around his waist. My mouth dried up and my chest tightened. I hadn’t thought this through. I figured if I couldn’t see anything I’d be fine, but I didn’t take into account my knowledge of what was hidden beneath.

I took as long as possible in the laundry room, telling myself whatever I needed to in order to get through this night. I reminded myself—once again—of his age, of mine, of the legal ramifications of acting on the adulterated thoughts I couldn’t seem to shake no matter how hard I tried. Everything about this was wrong…plain and simple. No sane adult should ever be attracted to a teenager. I’d be called a pedophile, a child chaser, when in fact, I’m none of those things. Never before in my life had I ever had any attraction to someone that young. Never. And I’m sure a judge wouldn’t listen to me if I said, “But, Your Honor, look at him. He looks like a grown man and talks like one, too.” They’d slap the handcuffs on me so fast my head would spin.

By the time I finally emerged, I found him sitting at the kitchen table, two bottles of water in front of him, and shuffling a deck of cards. He turned his attention to me, and for no reason at all, my face burned hot, the searing heat creeping down my neck and to my chest. Had he given me some sort of smoldering look, or maybe even one of his signature smirks, my reaction would have made sense, but no. He simply glanced up from the cards in his hand. I was so screwed.

“What are we playing?” I asked as I sat down opposite him, hoping he didn’t notice the way by body shook the closer I came to him.

“Poker.” One side of his mouth quirked up, and he lowered his gaze to the table. “I figured we could play five card draw, but wager truths instead of money.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Okay, so this is how it’s done…” He goes on to explain the rules of the game, as if I knew what he was talking about, and I simply nodded and pretended I wasn’t confused. It sounded simple enough, and I was confident I’d understand after playing a few hands.

He passed out five cards, we looked at them, and then decided if we wanted to bet a truth or fold. We both stayed in the game. I had no idea what I was even looking at and took a gamble, returning three cards to the deck in exchange for three more. From there, we both laid our cards on the table. His cocky smile told me he won.

“So now you owe me a truth,” he said as he gathered the cards to shuffle again. “Are you capable of looking past our age difference in order to give me a chance?”

Somehow, I knew he’d ask something along those lines. “Honestly, I don’t know. As of right now, I can’t get past your age, let alone the difference between us. Nothing will ever happen before you’re eighteen, and I have no idea how I’ll feel about anything after that point. I don’t think you understand the ramifications.” I flicked my finger over the table between the two of us. “People will say I’m manipulating you. That you’re too young to know better. They’ll say that even though you pursued me, I should’ve stopped it, because I’m the adult and you’re the child.”

He reached his hand over the table and placed it on mine, his warmth instantly calming my erratic rambling. “I know, Kristy. I never said anything about right now. Like I’ve said before, I won’t be seventeen forever. All I’m asking is if you’re capable of seeing me as a person, and not someone sixteen years younger than you.”

“And I told you I can’t answer that right now. You asked for the truth, and that’s the absolute truth. As of now, I don’t see the age difference. However, I still see you as a minor. I have to. I can’t allow myself not to.”

“Why not?”

My mouth opened to answer him, but I quickly shut it and let my smile consume my features. “You’ll have to win another hand to get that answer.”

We played another hand, in which I won. This time, we ended up waging two truths instead of one, and my mind spun with the possible questions I could’ve asked. But there was one I couldn’t ignore. “Why me? And don’t give me your weird, stalker-like answers. You’ve watched me every morning while I run and as I leave my house. You’ve noticed what I do at night, down to what time the lights go out in the house. I want to know why. Why me, Ash?”

He leaned forward, his gaze set steadily on mine. No humor registered in his expression as he set in to answer my question. “Why not you? You’re beautiful—gorgeous. That was the first thing to catch my eye. I won’t lie and tell you I fell for your charm or your personality, because I didn’t know you. All I knew was that I’d never seen someone as beautiful as you before, and I couldn’t look away. After that, I started paying attention, and that’s when I noticed the little things most people probably don’t see, because they don’t look close enough. You say I sound like a stalker, and maybe I do, but all I know is you took hold of me and didn’t let go, and because of that, I paid attention.”

My head bobbed up and down because, frankly, I had no response to his answer. He wasn’t the first guy to call me beautiful—it didn’t happen often and had probably been several years since the last time I’d heard it, but he wasn’t the first. However, he said it with enough conviction I actually wanted to believe him. Normally, I’d blush and wave it off, knowing it was only being said as bait, to reel me in. But when Ash said it, it felt genuine, heartfelt. It wasn’t to hook me, wasn’t to get me in bed or make me feel better about myself. And because of that, I was stunned into silence.

“You get another question, Kris.” He used the nickname I’d always hated, but for some reason, hearing it vibrate through his vocal chords, sung with his baritone inflection, I never wanted him to call me anything else ever again.

“You said something before about going through things kids your age haven’t, and it’s made you older than most. What did you mean? Were you talking about the drugs and drinking and getting into trouble? Or something else?” That one question had been plaguing me ever since his confession two weeks ago, but I almost didn’t want to know the answer. If he’d meant the things he did that got him into trouble, then his words held no merit. Drugs and excessive underage drinking didn’t qualify him as mature—it was quite the opposite, really. And if he’d meant something else, I feared what it may have been.

Ash turned his head and took in a slow, deep inhalation before closing his eyes and releasing the lungful of air in one rushed breath. “I’ve never told anyone this before,” he admitted and turned to me again, but steadied his unfocused gaze on the cards between us. “When I was five, my mom had hired a sitter for the summer while my parents worked. My dad didn’t want my mom to have a job; he wanted her to stay home and raise me, but she didn’t want to. She was independent and wanted a career, so she hired this guy to watch me. Through arguments, I learned she chose him over a woman because she didn’t trust my dad. But anyway, this guy started doing stuff to me—he called them ‘games.’ I was too young to really know any better. He didn’t want me to tell my parents because he said they’d have to pay him more, and if that were the case, they’d end up hiring someone less expensive. Money didn’t make any sense to me, but he was an adult so I believed him. I didn’t tell my parents.”

Chapter Five

&“Ash&…” His name hiccuped in my throat as I choked on my breath. I had no idea this was his story, and if I had the slightest inclination, I never would’ve asked. “You don’t have to finish. It’s okay. Let’s just keep playing.”

His gaze lifted and locked onto mine. Sincerity shone bright in his chocolate brown orbs. “No, Kristy. I want you to know who I am, and this is the reason for who I turned out to be. This was my first chapter. My prologue. The beginning of how I ended up here. It’s why I’m not a normal seventeen-year-old. I want you to know this.” He paused and laced his fingers with mine. “When I was in first grade, my parents let me have a friend stay the night. I asked him if he wanted to play a game. When I told him what it was, he cried and asked my mom if he could go home. I didn’t know why he wanted to leave, and my parents just thought it was because we were young and he was homesick. The next morning, his mom called mine and told her about the game I wanted to play.

“My mom was disgusted with me and kept asking where I learned about it, but I didn’t want to get Mr. Charles in trouble, so I kept saying I didn’t know. Finally, after about the fifth spanking and hours in timeout, my dad came home and sat me down to talk to me about it. He ensured I knew it was a bad game and no one should ever play it with anyone. That’s when I told him about what happened every day for the entire summer. He was livid with my mom for hiring the pervert. They fought for months, took me to therapy—where I did nothing but sit and draw pictures, not having a clue why I needed to be there—and in the end, they split up. I always felt their divorce was my fault. Had I not said anything, or lied and said I saw it on TV or heard it at school, then they’d still be together.”

“That’s not true, Ash. You have to know that.”

He gripped my hand harder, silencing me. “I know that now. But growing up, I didn’t. I spent God knows how long going to that therapist, but it never did any good. I was too young. The implications of what that man did to me didn’t register until sometime around puberty. By then, I couldn’t talk about it. No teenage guy wanted to tell the story of a man abusing him. Football saved most of me…drugs and alcohol numbed the rest.”

“And now…?”

For the first time since I questioned him, a smile shadowed his lips. “Now I’m better. After I moved here and did everything I could to make my dad’s life a living hell, he somehow pinpointed where my issues stemmed from. He got me back into therapy, but it wasn’t the sit on the couch and talk about it kind of treatment. He found someone who worked through issues using activities and sports. I still go once a month, but not because I need to…I do it to offer help to other kids dealing with similar problems.”

My heart grew three sizes, pounding away inside my chest until I thought it’d explode. Right then, as I stared at Asher Jenkins, the boy next door, I didn’t see a kid. I didn’t see someone sixteen years younger than me. I didn’t see a minor. I saw a person, someone who’d dealt with things they never should’ve at an age when cartoons and superheroes should have ruled his world. I wanted to get out of my seat and hold him…but not like I would hold a scared child. I wanted to hold him the way I’d embrace a man. A lover. Let him hold me the way I’d always dreamt of, with big, strong arms engulfing me, lips tangling with mine, the heat of our bodies mixing together.

And then his phone vibrated on the table next to him.

My face flamed with the heat of embarrassment, even though he had no idea where my mind had gone. I knew. And it was wrong. But I couldn’t stop myself from letting my imagination drift into the dark waters of the forbidden.

Asher Jenkins wasn’t just the boy next door.

He was someone who’d teach me a whole hell of a lot.

“Everything okay?” I asked when he set his phone down after typing out a few words.

“Yeah…the old man’s just checking up on me.” He grabbed the cards and shuffled them, effectively ending our conversation. No surprise…he won the hand, earning himself one truth from me. “When was the last time you were in love?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in love.”

“Never?”

I thought about it, and then shook my head with conviction. “No. I thought I was in love with Kyra’s father, but I was young and stupid. I had no idea what love was—no idea what it really meant. And I’ve never found it since.”

He nodded as if he somehow understood.

I held the deck of cards in my hand but didn’t pass any out. A question burned the tip of my tongue, and I knew all I had to do was win a hand to ask, but I no longer cared about playing a game just to get answers. “What is it you’re looking for here, Ash? With me, I mean.”

“I just want us to get to know one another.”

“No…like, what is it you want to happen after this? After we know each other. Let’s face it; what we’re doing now is no different than the dating phase of normal relationships. We’re essentially dating, getting to know the other person better. ‘Talking’ as Kyra calls it. But after this…what do you want? Because if you just want to get me in bed, this is all pointless, don’t you think?”

“Why do you say that? Are you saying if that’s all I want we can skip this and just get down to it?” There was no humor in his tone. In fact, I picked up on a hint of sadness, slight disappointment, and it baffled me.

“No, not at all. That’s not what I’m saying. But if that’s your goal, you might as well give up, because it won’t happen. I won’t sleep with you. And waiting nine months to have sex with someone is ridiculous. So if this is your endgame, tell me now so I don’t waste any more time getting to know you.”

“You have it all wrong, Kris. If I only wanted to get laid, there are plenty of willing girls at school. And I could fuck them during school hours to get around my dad’s rules. That’s not what this is…and it’s not what I want—with you or anyone else. I want you. All of you. I want to take you out to dinner, or cook something for you here. I want to surprise you with flowers at work. I want to show you what you’ve been missing and treat you the way you deserve to be treated by a man.”

“So you’re looking to date me?”

“At this point in time, yes.”

“What does that mean? ‘This point in time’?”

Ash ran his hand down his face and took a deep breath. “It means from what I know of you, and how much I like you, right now, I want to date you. I understand that can’t happen for a while, so until my birthday comes around, I have to settle for what I can get. And who knows, I might just fall in love with you. I might realize I don’t want to live without you, and at that point, I’ll want to marry you. But for now, I want to date you.”

I couldn’t breathe properly, and I was sure my heart was about to give out from exertion. He shouldn’t have said those things to me. I shouldn’t have believed them. And more importantly, I shouldn’t have wanted them, too.

“I dated a guy about three years ago. It was great; we got along really well, we had so much in common, and we just clicked…but he couldn’t get over the fact I had a kid. At first, he said he was okay with it, but the longer we were together, the more he realized he wasn’t ready for the whole package. A ready-made family is a lot to take on, but it’s something entirely different for someone your age. Kyra is a year younger than you. Do you understand what that means? Do you see an issue with that at all?” Because I sure as hell did.

“I’m not looking to be her stepfather. Not at all. I like Kyra; I think she’s great. We get along, and she’s been a good friend to me for the last two years—someone I needed when I didn’t have anyone. But she has a dad. And she’s old enough to be her own person. Will others think it’s strange? Probably. But I don’t. You should stop worrying about what everyone else will say and only focus on how you feel.”

“That’s just it, Ash…I think it’s odd. It’s not normal. How in the hell could I date, let alone marry someone the same age as my daughter?”

He abruptly stood up, the chair dragging and scratching along the tile floor. The screeching sound echoed around the room and pierced my heart, which was only magnified by the unexplainable emotion embedded into his expression.

“Ash…” I stood up and reached out for him, my chest aching from the loss of him.

“Just for once, Kristy, can you look at me and not think about my age? Can you think of me without comparing me to Kyra? Huh?” His voice deepened with pain and a twinge of irritation. I knew right then and there I never wanted to be the cause of that again. “I don’t see you as someone in their thirties, so you shouldn’t see me as a child.”

“That’s not what I’m saying.” I reached out to him again and latched on to his forearm. When I pulled him closer, he caught himself on the table between us, leaning over until our faces were inches apart, his breath billowing against my lips. “I don’t see you that way, and I don’t compare you to Kyra. At least, not anymore. But you can’t be mad at me for considering the bigger picture.”

“And what picture is that?”

“What about kids? Do you want your own kids? And if so, how many?”

“Yes, I want them. But I don’t have that shit mapped out, so I can’t tell you how many. I’ll take what I get. If it’s one, then I’m okay with it. If it’s more than that, fine by me. All I want is love, Kris. That’s it. I want to give my all to someone who’ll cherish it, and I want someone to give it back to me. Age, race, the number of kids we have…none of that matters.”

“And what if you don’t have any children of your own? Because the older my daughter gets, the less amount of time I have to bear any more. I won’t have kids younger than my grandchildren.”

“All I want is love,” he repeated, and my heart swelled again.

“You say that now, but you can’t be sure. You shouldn’t make up your mind about such a monumental decision without thinking it all the way through. Regret is an ugly thing to live with, Ash. Trust me…you don’t want to wake up one day and wish you’d done something differently.”

His hand moved so fast I didn’t realize it until he had my cheek cupped in his palm. His fingers splayed out and twined in my hair as he pulled my face closer to his. He dropped his gaze to my mouth briefly before finding my eyes again, and that’s when I completely stopped breathing.

“No regrets?” he asked in a hoarse whisper, his breath licking my lips in heat.

“No regrets.”

And then he closed the gap between us. As demanding as he was, as adamant as I’d known him to be, I was surprised when he took his time kissing me, as if savoring the moment instead of rushing through it. His soft lips grazed mine gently before he sucked in a breath and took my mouth in the most tender kiss I’d ever experienced. By the time his tongue ran a hot trail along the seam of my lips, I was dizzy with emotions I couldn’t decipher.

Had the table not been between us, I’m sure our bodies would’ve been pressed together. The intensity of his ministrations built slowly and left me utterly thoughtless. I couldn’t gather my wits long enough to acknowledge how wrong this was, because it felt so right. So perfect. Unlike anything I’d ever had before, and something I never wanted to give up.

Then the buzzer on the dryer rang out, shrill like a siren, breaking our heated moment. We both jumped back in surprise, not at all expecting the interruption. Heavy panting resounded in the air between us, adding to the tempo of my racing heart.

“I should probably get my clothes and go,” he conceded, giving a voice to my own thoughts.

I nodded, because I couldn’t compose myself enough to speak. In fact, I couldn’t calm down enough to do anything other than sit at the table while he went around the corner to change. I sat there stoically, my fingers delicately placed over my swollen lips, replaying the entire kiss in slow motion until I’d memorized every detail.

When he came back in, he broke me away from my thoughts by handing me back the towel and T-shirt. “I don’t know who this belonged to, but I’d really appreciate it if you threw it out. I can’t explain it, but I don’t like thinking about another man’s shirt mixed in with yours.”

Waving him off, I said, “It’s old. I just like to sleep in long shirts, that’s all.”

“Then I’ll give you a few of mine.”

“Possessive much?”

He shook his head. “Nope. But if this is all we can have for the next nine months, I’ll do what I can to make it as real as possible. And after that kiss, I don’t know how long I’ll be able to last before giving in and kissing you again.”

I took the shirt off the table and tossed it into the wastebasket with a smile. The satisfied smirk on Ash’s face told me he approved, and then he took my hand before leading me to the patio door.

“Until next time, Kris.”

“Until then, Ash.”

He leaned down to press a chaste kiss to my lips and then vanished into the night.

Chapter Six

&I’d woken& up the next morning with a queasy stomach, so I skipped my run. The bowl of soup I’d had for lunch didn’t stay down long before coming back up, and the longer the day dragged on, the worse I felt. I couldn’t help but think it was my punishment for allowing Ash to kiss me last night—or for kissing him back.

The doorbell pulled me off the couch just after one. Ash stood on the other side, concern darkening his eyes as he took me in—my messy hair, my tired eyes, and rumpled clothes. “What’s wrong? You didn’t go running this morning, and you look sick. Are you okay?”

“I think I have a stomach bug or something. Can’t keep anything down and I feel so weak.”

I didn’t invite him in, but that didn’t stop him. He pushed me aside with care and then closed the door behind him. Taking my hand in his, he maneuvered down the hall until he found my room and helped me settle into the bed. I wanted to ask him what he was doing, but I was too consumed by the comfort of having someone take care of me to speak. He left the room for what seemed like forever, but when he came back, he brought with him a bottle of water, a pink pill, and a small trashcan with a plastic bag lining the inside.

“Here, take this,” he said and held out the pill. “It should help your stomach feel better.”

I did so without question, and then let him drag the covers up to my chin.

His burning lips settled on my forehead, where he held them there for a beat longer than normal, and then pulled away to look me in the eye. “Get some rest. I have to get back home before my dad wonders where I went, but I’ll be back later to check on you. I’m sure he’ll be out again tonight.” He took my phone off the nightstand next to where he sat and typed something on the screen. “If you need me, don’t hesitate to call or text.” And then he left.

Being a mom, you never have sick days. They aren’t allowed. There were numerous times when Kyra was little and I came down with the flu or strep throat but still had to be a parent to a small child. I didn’t have the luxury of resting or taking it easy. Her father was too much of an asshole to take her so I could even go to the doctor, and my parents had the mentality of “you got yourself into this mess…” So needless to say, it’d been more than sixteen years since I had someone there for me when I didn’t feel well. And I had to admit, it was a wonderful feeling having it now.

I must’ve dozed off, because the next time I opened my eyes, it was dark outside and a shadow was making its way toward my bed. My breath stilled in my chest and burned my lungs with the heat of a thousand fires. It didn’t calm until I heard his voice. “How are you feeling?”

My head settled into the pillow the instant I knew it was Ash, and I hummed my response. What I didn’t expect was for him to pull the blankets back and flick on the lamp next to my bed. “What are you doing?”

“You need to get cleaned up, and then we’ll get you back in bed. I’ll make you something to eat and get you more medicine while you take a shower. I’ll meet you back in here.” It wasn’t a suggestion, more like a demand, and for some unexplainable reason, it made me swoon.

I couldn’t have been in the shower longer than five minutes, but by the time I pulled a clean shirt over my head and got back to my room, I found Ash sitting on the edge of the mattress, a bowl of soup and a single pink pill on my nightstand.

“I can’t eat, Ash. I tried earlier and it came right back up.”

“This medicine should coat your stomach and help keep it down this time. Just take a few bites. You have no strength and not eating won’t help get it back.” He didn’t speak like a child; he had the maturity of a grown man who’d done this many times before. I couldn’t help but wonder where he’d learned to care for a woman, but I didn’t bother to ask.

I did as he instructed and ended up eating half the bowl before crawling back under the covers. My imagination ran wild while he took the leftover food to the kitchen. All I could think about was how great it’d be to have him here all the time, caring for me, treating me the way I’d always dreamt of being treated, and kissing me until I could no longer feel my own lips. My daydreams only grew stronger when he came back to the room and climbed into bed behind me.

“You shouldn’t do that, Ash. I don’t want you getting sick.”

“I’ll be fine. Just rest. Let me hold you. I won’t stay long.” He pushed one arm under my pillow and slung the other over my waist. I instinctually held both of his hands and curled into his hard body, my back arched against his chest.

It was wrong. So wrong.

But it felt right. So right.

“You don’t have to do this,” I whispered into the quiet, dark room.

“I know, but I want to.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to take care of you. I want to know you’re all right. I don’t like being away from you knowing you’re sick, not knowing if you need something. You’re all alone here, and if something happened, you wouldn’t have anyone. It makes me uneasy.”

His admission left me falling into him more. It worried and soothed me all at once. My mind spun with how to proceed, at war with my heart. I knew what I wanted to do, but I also knew what I needed to do, and those two were vastly different, on opposite sides of the morality line.

“Don’t say anything, Kris,” he said into my ear, his coarse words scratching the skin at my neck. “I know you feel like you should push me away; you’re telling yourself this is wrong and inappropriate. And maybe it is. Maybe I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be taking care of you or holding you right now, but I don’t care. I’m so tired of fighting it because of what others will think or say. I know we can’t do anything about it now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to give in every second of every day.”

“You should worry about what they’ll say.”

The arm over my side, holding my hand, snaked up my body until it rested between my breasts, against my chest. He pulled me closer to him and bent his knees so his entire body curled around mine. It felt safe being in his cocoon. “I worry about what’ll happen if people start to talk now. In less than a year, I won’t give a shit, because their words won’t have any impact on us. But for now…I do worry about what could happen. However, I can’t stay away from you.”

“I wish this didn’t have to be so complicated.” And I did, because the more I was around him, the more I learned about who he was, the more I found myself forgetting all the reasons why we should never be together. Nine months doesn’t seem like a long time, but it’s an eternity when it’s the one thing keeping you from giving in and exploring something so amazing.

“For now, we just have to take what we can get. Stolen moments, fleeting touches, forced separation. If this is what we have to go through in order to be together, then I’ll take it…as long as I get you in the end. As long as once we pass this test, we’ll have all the moments we want.”

“Tell me a story,” I requested, closing my eyes, and he began telling me the story of us.

He told me how things would be once we were free to be together. How everything would magically make sense and no one would question anything. Kyra would be accepting, and we’d be a happy family. Then he went on to tell me about the babies we’d have and the love we’d share together. I didn’t allow my own thoughts to drift into his story, only letting him tell me his version of the fairy tale. Not once did I give in to the voice in the back of my head, questioning how fast this had all been. How anything this amazing doesn’t just happen overnight. Relationships take time and hard work, determination, and practice. I knew from experience that love was an unobtainable emotion at his age, but I didn’t dwell on the reality of the situation and let myself fall into the fictional world he painted for me.

I fell asleep listening to his words, his excitement, the promises he’d never be able to fulfill. And I dreamt of the life he’d told, believing it was possible.

Chapter Seven

&“Dana asked& if I could just stay the night tonight so we can get ready for the waterpark together in the morning and leave,” Kyra said while I stood at the stove making dinner. “Would that be okay?”

I turned around and looked at my daughter—truly looked at her. She seemed so innocent, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d see Ash the same way had I not given into his charm and temptation. I wondered how many other people looked at Kyra and saw something different than I did. And then I questioned whether any men in their thirties saw her the way I did Ash. The thought twisted my stomach and forced me to turn back to the frying pan on the burner.

“I don’t know, Ky. You know how I feel about her.”

“You only feel that way because I told you things I never should’ve. Do you even realize how that makes me feel? I’m honest with you, and then you turn it around on me. It’s not fair. It makes me not want to tell you anything anymore.”

That was a stab in my chest. “I know, and I’m sorry. But ever since you told me about her sneaking boys into her room…I don’t know, it worries me. Okay? How do I know she won’t do that when you’re there overnight? I can’t protect you if you’re not here.”

“You don’t have to protect me all the time, Mom. You only have to trust me. Trust that if she were to have anyone over, I would leave. I’d call you and come home.”

“And what if it’s Thomas climbing through that window?” I craned my neck to peer at her over my shoulder. “Would you leave? Would you tell me the truth? It’s not that I don’t trust you to do the right thing when it comes to others doing something wrong, but I was your age once. In fact, I was your age when I got pregnant with you. Trust only goes so far when you’re faced with something you want but know you shouldn’t have.”

She rolled her eyes and released a puff of air through her parted lips. “You forget the most important thing, though. I know what it was like growing up with a single mom. I remember the nights of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because rent was due and every last penny had to go toward that. You’ve been nothing but honest with me about getting pregnant and not finishing school, and how hard it was to get a decent job. I was listening, Mom. I remember every word.”

I wished I never doubted what a good kid I raised. It was by some miracle she’d turned out so sensible. “I know. But statistics say children of teen parents end up being teen parents themselves.”

“Really? We’re going into statistics now? Well, how’s this for one…teen mothers don’t finish their high school education, but you did. Maybe not the way you would’ve liked, but you finished. So let’s not play this game, please? I know right from wrong. And if Thomas were to climb through her window, I’d give him a kiss, tell him I love him and that I’d see him in the morning, and then make him leave.”

“You’d really do that, or you’re just telling me what I want to hear?”

She cocked her head and placed her hand on her hip, switching roles as she stared me down. “I’d really do that. I love him, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be the only guy I’ll ever love. Why give him something I can’t get back before I know for sure there’s no one else I want to give it to?”

“When did you become so wise?”

She smiled and flipped her hair over her shoulder. “I have an amazing mother who’s taught me everything.”

Pride filled me and left me floating on cloud nine until my phone buzzed beside me, dragging me back to reality. I quickly snatched it up once I saw who the text was from. Ash told me to meet him down at the pool at ten, and to wear a bathing suit. My cheeks burned as I read his words, so I kept my face down, focused on the chicken in the pan while I continued the conversation with Kyra.

“Fine. You can stay the night. But you have to eat supper with me first. And if anything happens”—I turned and pointed at her—“and I mean anything, you better call me and come straight home.”

“I swear. Cross my heart and all that jazz.” She crisscrossed her finger over her chest before wrapping her arms around my neck. “Thank you, Mom! I’m gonna go pack a bag and get my stuff ready for the waterpark tomorrow.”

“Hurry. The food is almost done,” I called out after her.

Alone in the kitchen, I stared down at my cell next to me, chastising myself for being so selfish. I’d allowed my daughter to stay the night with a girl I didn’t care for, just so I could sneak down to the pool for some time with Ash. I shook my head at my own idiocy.

***

&Kyra left& for Dana’s house after we finished cleaning the kitchen. I had two hours before I was supposed to meet Ash. He’d texted again shortly after the first, checking to make sure I was on board. I replied with trembling hands and told him I’d be there. I had no idea what I was doing, and prayed this wouldn’t be the second biggest—or quite possibly the biggest—mistake of my life.

Even though I’d shaved my legs the night before, I hopped in the tub and did it again. It was dark, and I knew the lights at the pool would be off considering it closed at dusk, but I still cleaned up my bikini line. It wasn’t like he’d be able to see it; however, I didn’t want to take the chance. He was young and hot and could have any girl—or woman—he wanted. The last thing I wanted was for him to see me as some old lady who’d let herself go.

I stepped out of the tub feeling even worse about myself.

I suddenly felt like a desperate teen, fawning over the jock with the hope he’d brush up against me in the hallway. It disgusted me to the point I almost sent Ash a text telling him I’d changed my mind. But then I figured I’d go anyway and tell him in person. I put on my most modest two-piece and locked up the house.

When I made it to the pool a few minutes before ten, Ash was already in the water. It was dark, only the moon lighting the way. I could see his shadow, but not his features until I walked through the closed gate and got closer. Silently, he slithered to the edge of the shallow end, staying low in the water, while I set my towel on a chair. We did nothing but stare at one another as I kicked off my sandals and strode to the steps of the pool.

Suddenly, he stood to his full height, the water running down his bare chest, and took my hand. He tugged once and pulled me in. I’d expected him to catch me, but he didn’t. He let me fall into the water, going all the way under, before he pulled me up.

“Wha—” The question died on my lips the second his fingers traced invisible lines on my face, moving my now wet hair off my skin. We both stood straight with his large body towering over mine. This close, I could see him clearly, and I waited in silence while he examined me with a hooded gaze.

“God,” he whispered, “I’ve missed you.”

I giggled, glad he couldn’t see the burning blush in my cheeks. “You just saw me last weekend. In fact, you more than saw me. You held me in your arms until I fell asleep. That should count for something…right?”

“You were sick, Kris. That wasn’t enjoyable for me. The next time you fall asleep in my arms, it won’t be because you’re ill.” His promise coated me with heat that settled in my core where my pulse throbbed and burned, creating an almost unbearable longing.

“Well, we’re here now, and I’m feeling pretty good.”

He continued to touch my face and play with the strands of hair at the side of my head. Then he leaned down until his lips covered mine. I knew it was coming. If I were being honest with myself, I recognized the desire in his eyes before he even made a move, and I did nothing to stop it. I didn’t want to stop it. I needed to feel his mouth on mine again, taste his tongue, and this time, I wanted to know what it would be like without a table between us.

As I melted into him, my fingers trailed down his ripped chest, over the hard plains of his stomach, and down the sides of his hips until I let my hands settle on the sides of his thighs. Every touch remained feather light, and he kept his lips soft and gentle as he explored my mouth with his tongue. It was sensual, something I’d never had before. But the longer he kept it up, the more impatient I became.

I’d gone to the pool to tell him in person I no longer thought this was a good idea. I was turning into some love-struck teenager, and I couldn’t allow that to happen. But instead of backing away, I pushed into him. Instead of ending things, I started them up, I enticed them, I kept them moving forward. With a desperate grip on his hips, I pressed our bodies together. He broke the kiss with a harsh gasp, and his erection grew harder against me.

“Kris…don’t start something you can’t finish…” His voice trailed off in warning.

That was like a bucket of cold water on my head, although the sensitive spot between my legs burned hotter than ever before. “I’m sorry. You just feel so good, I forgot.” I barely got the words out before his lips were on mine again, but this time, his kisses were fevered. The intensity rushed through my body, igniting me from the inside out. My nipples pebbled beneath my top and the nerves at the apex of my thighs pulsated with need.

“Where does your dad think you are?” I asked in broken words between breathless kisses. It sounded like an asinine question to ask while in the middle of a heated make-out session, but the last thing I needed was for him to show up while I had my tongue down Ash’s throat.

He lowered his face to my neck and slowly licked a path to my ear, sending shivers down my spine and turning up the heat below. With a deep, desperate, gravelly voice, he said, “He’s out of town for the weekend. Nell is staying with me, but she’s over at her boyfriend’s. I told her I’d be at the pool and she said that was fine. No one will bother us, Kris. It’s just us. Alone.”

Chapter Eight

&I was& dizzy and intoxicated from his mouth and hands, so my voice came out strangled and pathetic. “Was this your plan? To get me here alone so we could do things we said we wouldn’t do?”

In an instant, he stepped back, his hands and mouth no longer touching me. He stood and took a few deep breaths before speaking again. “No, Kristy. My plan was to get you here so we could be alone, yes…because that’s the only way we can be together. Kissing you was instinct. And it was only meant to be quick, just enough to let you know how much I missed you. Nothing more. Please…stop minimizing my feelings for you.”

I pushed off the wall toward him and wrapped my arms around his neck. It was the first time we’d been in this position, where I could hold onto him this way, and I loved it. It felt perfect, like something I wanted to do all the time. The way I fit against him made it seem like we’d been sculpted from the same piece of clay, to complement each other. When he finally relented and settled his hands on my hips, I pulled myself up enough to press my lips to his.

Before I knew it, my legs were wrapped around his waist, my ankles locked at the small of his back, and he had me pressed against the gritty side of the pool. He’d lowered us into the water enough to allow the brick ledge to rest on the back of my neck, and my head reclined against it, leaving my throat vulnerable to his lips. His hands explored my torso, his thumbs circled my hardened nipples, and his erection massaged my eager clit through our bathing suits.

I wasn’t used to being in this position with someone I couldn’t touch, so I didn’t think twice when I ran my hand down his front and dipped my fingers inside the waistband of his suit. He growled against my skin, and I felt him shutter between my legs. It did nothing but urge me on. I pushed in farther until I had my entire hand inside. He rasped my name into the crook of my neck, and it was enough to send me to the edge. I was barely holding on to my sanity. And then I wrapped my fingers around his large, hard erection. The only thought running through my mind was how he’d feel inside me.

But I didn’t get the chance to say anything, because he interrupted me by pulling my legs from around him and setting me on my feet. I thought he was ending it until he hooked his thumbs into the sides of my bottoms and pulled them down. The water caressed my bare skin, sliding erotically around my body, and I moaned aloud, pleasure spiking every nerve ending. When he stepped back into me and lifted me so my legs regained their hold on him, I realized he’d freed himself as well. The heat of his cock against my bare sex nearly had me begging for more.

And then he began to slowly rock into me. His hips swayed back and forth as if moving to the beat of baby-making music, and the smooth underside of his dick slid against my aching clit. I clung to his neck tighter, trying desperately to hold on to something, knowing how close I was to falling over the edge of ecstasy; he held me to him with my earlobe between his lips. Deep rumbles reverberated through his chest as he groaned into my ear. It was sexy and sensual and wiped my mind clear of reality. The angel on my shoulder, the one who was supposed to steer me in the right direction, had taken a nosedive and must’ve drowned in the pool. Not once did I think about how incredibly wrong it was to have his bare dick bring me pleasure like this.

I was climbing higher and higher, heat flooding my entire system, when I heard a car slowly drive by. Panic slammed into my chest and stole the air from my lungs. “Ash…someone might catch us. We might get caught,” I stammered in fear.

“Then I suggest you hurry up and get off, because I’m not stopping until you come for me, Kris.”

I was torn between putting an end to what we were doing and letting him continue, because it felt too good to stop. I never wanted it to stop. The telltale tingles began to spread out, and I tightened my grip on his waist, squeezing my thighs together. He shifted quickly, and the next thing I knew, I was filled with his length as he pumped in and out. It took two thrusts before I fell apart, coming undone on his cock with a strangled and breathy squeal.

Ash slammed into me once more, using his hold on my body to pull me into him roughly, and then he stilled. His fiery breaths heated my shoulder where he rested his forehead. That’s when reality finally settled in. What we did registered, and I began to panic. Not only did we touch, not only did he kiss me, not only did he get me off with direct contact from his bare dick on my bare clit, but there was full penetration. He fucked me. And I didn’t stop him.

There was no coming back from this. No loopholes or twisting of the story.

I could almost hear the latch of my jail cell locking into place.

I tried to move, but he held me tightly against him, preventing me from disconnecting our bodies. “Ash…Ash…you have to let me go. We have to put our bottoms back on before someone catches us.”

He nodded against my shoulder, continuing to pant heavily against my skin, but waited a moment before releasing me. His softened dick slid out of my core, and my heart slowed, nearly stopping altogether.

I frantically found the bottom of my bathing suit and slid it on, not caring if I had it on backward or inside out. I had to get out of there. I had to leave. I couldn’t think straight much less breathe, and I worried I’d get lost on the way back to my house, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I stumbled two towns over, as long as I was far away from Asher Jenkins.

He called out after me, but I ignored him. I grabbed my towel, wrapped it around my quivering body, and took off on bare feet down the street. Pebbles bit into my heels and the balls of my feet, radiating pain up my legs, but I didn’t stop. My aching feet carried me until I made it to my front door.

I turned the lock and flung the door open, running inside like a serial killer was on my tail. But as I went to close it, something blocked the momentum. I didn’t need to turn around to know it was Ash, but I did anyway, because I needed to verify it wasn’t a cop coming to take me to jail for having sex with my underage neighbor.

“Kristy…why did you run?” He wasn’t at all out of breath, whereas my chest heaved in exertion. “I’m not leaving until you talk to me.”

I stepped back, allowing him entrance. What I had to say could never be overheard by anyone. I waited until he had the door closed before I broke down, holding the towel tighter around my body. “Did you…did you come inside me?”

His eyes grew large as realization dawned on him. “Oh…” he whispered. When he took a step forward, I took one back, and he got the hint I didn’t want him to touch me. “It’s okay, Kris. We can go in the morning to get that pill. The morning after thing.”

I shook my head, annoyed with his ignorance. “First of all, Ash, what do you mean by we will go get it? You can’t drive, remember? And how in the hell would we explain to the pharmacist why I have you with me?”

“I’ll have my sister take me, and I’ll pick it up for you. I’ll tell her I need to grab something. She’ll never know. I’ll get it. I fucked up. It’s my fault, so I’ll take care of it.”

A humorless laugh crept up my chest and bubbled out. “There’s no need for it. I’m on the pill. I learned that lesson sixteen years ago. That’s not what I’m concerned about.” I watched his eyes narrow, confusion settling into the creases on his forehead. “There are other reasons to wear condoms, Ash. Too many to name, but they all fall under the category of sexually transmitted diseases. Did you miss that day in health class?”

His eyes lit up, and the tension fell off him like a brick falling from the sky. “Are you clean?”

I couldn’t believe the nerve of him to question me. “Of course I am.”

“Then you’re fine. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“I’m just supposed to take your word for it?”

He smirked and stepped forward, catching me off guard to the point I didn’t move as he closed the distance between us. “I was a virgin, Kris. I’d never had sex before. I’m clean. I can get tested to prove it. But I know without a doubt I don’t have any sexually transmitted diseases, because I’ve never done anything to contract them.”

I nearly choked on my own saliva as I stood there, blinking rapidly up at him.

“Kristy…think about it. I lasted about five seconds. Either I’m telling the truth, or I really suck at sex. You tell me. Do I suck?”

Hell no, he didn’t. But I wasn’t about to feed his ego. I was still tripping over him being a virgin—well, at least until I let him ride me bareback in a public swimming pool. Let’s see how many things I could do wrong in one night.

“You just lost your virginity? Why? Why now? Why me?”

“I’ll ask again…why not you?”

“But…why haven’t you already lost it?”

He held my neck in his hands, linking his fingers together and tilting my head up so I could look right at him as he spoke. “I told you what happened to me when I was younger. Sex has never been the same for me as it is for most teenagers.”

“So why me?”

“I already told you, Kris. Maybe you were asleep, maybe you just didn’t believe me. But one of these days, you’ll stop fighting it and give in.”

“Tell me what?”

“If you don’t remember, then you’ll have to wait until you just know. Until you have no doubt in your mind. Until there’s no question left as to what this is between us. I’m going to graduate high school, get a degree, and take care of you for the rest of my life. I’m going to give you the life you’ve always wanted and deserved. I’m not letting you go, Kris. It’s not gonna happen.”

“But—”

“But I’m seventeen. I know. You’ve pointed that out more than my own birth certificate has. And I get it. It just means we can’t do anything about it now. But it doesn’t mean I can’t fulfill every promise I’ve made to you, or make every one of your dreams come true. Doubt this all you want, but in the end, I’ll just prove you wrong.”

“How can you be so sure what you feel is real?”

“I’ve had some of the best highs any drug or adrenaline could possibly offer. I’ve had some of the worst lows anyone could ever imagine. And then there’s you. What I feel when I’m with you, or when I think of you, is greater than any high I’ve ever had. And when I think of not being with you, the pain is worse than the lowest low.” He moved his lips to the side of my face and breathed into my ear, “That’s how I know.”

I clenched my eyes closed, unable to take the emotions consuming me and the thoughts at war in my head. He pulled away from my ear and pressed his forehead to mine. “Now I just have to wait for you to know. And I’ll wait as long as it takes. Because I believe with every fiber of my being, this is real, and you’ll see it. You’ll know it. You’ll feel it.”

My eyes opened to find two chocolate orbs staring into me, searching my soul, reading my thoughts. And right then, we both knew the truth.

I already saw it.

I already knew it.

I already felt it.

I’d fallen for the boy next door.

About the Author

Leddy Harper had to use her imagination often as a child. She grew up the only girl in a house full of boys. At the age of fourteen, she decided to use that imagination and wrote her first book, and never stopped. She often calls writing her therapy, using it as a way to deal with issues through the eyes of her characters.

She is now a mother of three girls, leaving her husband as the only man in a house full of females. The decision to publish her first book was made as a way of showing her children to go after whatever it is they want to. Love what you do and do it well. And to teach them what it means to overcome their fears.

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Also by Leddy Harper

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The Boy Next Door

  • ISBN: 9781370948871
  • Author: Leddy Harper
  • Published: 2016-12-08 13:50:12
  • Words: 17756
The Boy Next Door The Boy Next Door