Main The Loner's Lady

The Loner's Lady

Lyssa had one job. Pretend to be her best friend’s doting girlfriend during a visit with his reclusive, ex-military hero father, John. But who could have predicted she’d be instantly attracted to the intensely rugged mountain man? Or that, despite their age difference, he’d not only want Lyssa, too–forever–but would catch on to the ruse immediately?


No way in hell Lyssa was his son’s actual girlfriend. They weren’t even convincing liars. Forcing them to admit the truth, however, could hurt his son and John refused to do that. One thing he couldn’t refuse, though? His burning hunger for Lyssa. And if he wasn’t mistaken, his son continued to create situations that left him and Lyssa alone. Not touching his golden beauty before the truth comes out might prove to be the one obstacle in John’s life he isn’t strong enough to overcome…
…and the result could be a wild, enduring love for the ages.

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THE LONER’S LADY




Jessa Kane





Copyright © 2019 Jessa Kane





Kindle Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.





TABLE OF CONTENTS




Title Page

Copyright Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Epilogue

Want more Jessa Kane?





CHAPTER ONE




Lyssa

“Oh come on, he can’t be that bad.”

“You want to bet?”

My best friend, Mason, offers me his hand across the console of my Jeep and I eye it with indecision. Was Mason’s father seriously as deranged as he was making him sound? If so, should I be worried that we’re five minutes away from reaching the man’s cabin in the Catskills? “What are we wagering?”

Mason hums thoughtfully. “When we get back to New York, I’ll let you pick where we get takeout for the entire week.”

“God, we never cook, do we?”

“Nope and I’m not about to start. Maybe I should date a chef next to save some money.”

I perk up. “Ooh! Will he cook for me, too?”

Mason snorts. “We’re a package deal, babe. You know this.”

With a smile, I focus back on the road, but it fades when I realize how remote our surroundings have become over the last ten miles. Civilization is firmly in the rearview and I’m losing hope of spotting a decent coffee shop. City girl problems. I have them. “Okay, let’s go over the story one more time. We’ve been dating how long?”

“Eight months. We met when I saved you from being hit by a cab.”

An amused sound trickles past my lips.

“What?” Mason asks. “If I’m already making up our fake romance, I might as well swing for the fences and make myself look like a hero.”

“You are a hero, darling. You save me every single day.” We trade an awww fac; e. “I’m only laughing because you never move above a power walk. To save me from a speeding cab, you’d have to jog at the very least.”

“My father hasn’t seen me in a year, and look around, Lyssa, I doubt the mofo even has an internet connection. Whatever I tell him, he’ll have no choice but to believe.” He ticked off on his fingers. “In other words, you’re my devoted girlfriend, I’m straight as an arrow and I run recreationally.”

I drum my fingers on the wheel. “Mason…you’ve pretended to be my boyfriend a zillion times so men would leave me alone. You know I have no problem faking a relationship in front of your father. It’s your decision when to come out, obviously. Your own time in your own way.” I roll my lips inward to wet them. “I’m just curious if you’ve thought about telling him the truth?”

“Nope. And if I can get away with him never knowing I’m gay, I’ll do it. When you meet him, you’ll understand. He’s an old-school man’s man to the fucking core. He’s a former army ranger who’s been living off the land for years. There is no world where we relate to each other. It’s better this way.”

“Okay.” I reach over and squeeze my best friend’s hand. “I’ve got your back.”

He chews his lip. “So I’ve told you he’s a foul mouthed, military badass, but…I don’t think I’ve quite prepared you for his appearance.”

“What now?”

“Yeah. Let’s just say he’s, uh…intimidating. Large and in charge. Long and hairy, hard to carry.”

“I’m starting to get nervous.”

Mason turns in his seat to face me. “Swear on a stack of Bibles, he won’t hurt you, Lyssa. He looks like he could twist a human being into a pretzel, yes, but please remember I would never, ever put you in danger.”

“Oh my God.” My voice has gone high pitched. “How long are we staying again?”

“Just until tomorrow morning. I have to come up to see him once a year or he won’t continue to help pay for college.”

“Okay.” I blow out a breath. “We got this. We. Got. This. I mean, I’m a New Yorker, right? I’ve gone days without hot water. I’ve had rats the size of toddlers run through my legs in Washington Square Park. I’ve…”

Escaped an attacker in the stairwell of my old building.

Mason shoots me a sympathetic glance because he knows what I’m thinking. He always does. When we met at NYU freshman year orientation earlier this year, I was a mess. I’d been packed and ready to embark on my college journey the day it happened. My single mother raised me in a modest two-bedroom apartment in Kensington, Brooklyn. Our building was small, only inhabited by three families, whom we knew well. Which is why I’d always felt safe in the building.

Until I didn’t anymore.

Since that scary night, I’ve been wary of men, and Mason has been instrumental in keeping every interested male in New York at arm’s length. Needless to say, when he asked me to return the favor and convince his father that I’m his girlfriend, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I’d do anything for my best friend. In a short space of time, we’ve become each other’s support systems and motivators. He also makes me laugh like nobody’s business and tells me the truth when I need to hear it. I’m lucky to have Mason and I will not let some macho mountain man scare me away from doing my duty.

I force some steel into my spine and sit up straighter. “Bottom line, we can handle this. He should be scared of us.”

“I’m going to let you believe that.”

“Thank you.”

Mason consults the GPS on his phone. “Okay, take your next right. That’ll be his driveway, if I remember correctly.”

Tiny nervous bubbles fizz in my stomach, but I don’t let my smile falter. However, it freezes onto my face when I see the sign at the bottom of the driveway. Trespass at your own risk. “He knows we’re coming, right?”

“Yes, I spoke to him this morning. It’s all good.” Mason laughs under his breath. “Although it was more like…I spoke, my father grunted.”

“Cool cool cool.”

We’re driving for a full two minutes up the long, winding driveway when the house comes into sight. “When you said cabin, I pictured a hut with a little chimney. It’s so much bigger than I was imagining.”

“We have our first plus!”

I accept his high five. “We do!”

My legs aren’t shaking at all when I hop out of the Jeep and stare up at the looming, two-story log home. A wind chime hangs from the second story overhang, tinkling in the late afternoon breeze. Beneath the overhang is a porch with a porch swing and a single chair. Beside it is a low, round stump with what appears to be a knife and wood shavings on top.

Trees surround us from all sides and it’s so quiet compared to the city, it takes my ears a few seconds to adjust to the gentle buzz of nature. A crunch of my boot on the earth, the chimes, a bird calling. That’s all there is.

Until the front door of the house slowly creaks open and John Thorne ducks beneath the frame to step out onto the porch—and blood starts to pound in my ears.

He’s lethal.

It’s the first thought that travels through my mind because it’s so obvious this man could flick a finger and topple mountains. It’s the way he carries his gigantic frame and incredible girth. How is he remaining contained inside that white T-shirt and jeans? The garments are stretched to their limit and seconds from ripping, I’m sure of it. My best friend’s father is at least six foot eight and every inch of him is rock hard and rippling. Barefoot. God, that intense glower. It makes me want to confess to crimes I haven’t committed just in case he’ll spare me. His hair is long and unruly, black with streaks of gray running and twisting in the unmanaged length.

My panties should not be growing damp.

My mouth shouldn’t be dry.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but my heart is pounding so hard, I can taste adrenaline on my tongue. What is happening here?

Men aren’t my thing. I’ve established that. Especially violent ones and this guy has definitely strangled people with his bare hands. Why are my nipples peaking eagerly, seeking friction from my tank top?

“Hey, Dad,” Mason calls, throwing me an elbow nudge. “Good to see you.” He gives John his back and widens his eyes at me. “This is my girlfriend, Lyssa.”

A black-gray eyebrow lifts. “Girlfriend.”

Oh no. His voice. It sounds like the deep rev of a boat motor and it should be a huge turnoff, but it makes me want to twist my hips and pull on my own hair.

One afternoon out of the city and I’ve lost it.

“Lyssa,” Mason hisses.

I shake myself. “S-sorry, yes. Yes, hello. I’m the girlfriend,” I say, breathily, trying to hide my puckered nipples by crossing my arms. “It’s so nice to finally meet you.”

John splits a sharp look between the two of us, then slowly turns on a heel and disappears into the house.

Laughing, Mason shakes me gently by the shoulders. “What the hell was that?”

I squeeze my eyes shut. “I don’t know!” Deep breath. “My flight or fight instinct woke up, but I’ve put it to bed. I’m good now! Promise.”

“Great, let’s go.”

As soon as my friend turns his back, I fan myself furiously, sensing my cheeks are bright red. Only to realize John is watching me from the front window.

This is going to be a long night.





CHAPTER TWO




John

Ain’t no way in hell that’s my son’s girlfriend.

I’ve known Mason was gay since he came for a visit during seventh grade. He left a school notebook behind with Tom Hiddleston’s name doodled all over the cover. If that wasn’t proof enough, I’d take one look at his Instagram feed and know. In the last year, he’s dated a personal trainer, a lawyer and a trust fund kid named Spalding. He might have deleted all evidence of these relationships after the break up, but not before I saw the posts.

I’ve spent my professional life with the army chasing down leads and hunting facts. Without the proper information, I wouldn’t be alive today. I make it my business to know everything, especially about my son, who I love. It’s not my fault he thinks I’m too old to work the internet.

I was hoping this would be the visit he told me the truth, but I guess he isn’t ready yet, as evidenced by the knockout blonde he’s got pretending to be his girl. The one fanning her face in my front yard, trying to hide the proof I turned her on, same as she revved my engine.

Goddamn. This one is trouble times ten.

I need to get a lick of that more than I want my next thousand meals.

Our eyes meet through the window and I can feel her gasp deep in my balls. I fist my hand on the sill, imagining that honey blonde hair wrapped around my knuckles while I guide her lips up and down my cock. I’ve never had this kind of reaction to a female. Not in all my forty-two years. This one—Lyssa—she’s way too petite for me. Way too young. And she’s pretending to date my son.

If I make a play for her, I’d be forcing them to give up the charade.

I don’t want to force Mason to be honest with me before he’s ready…

But it’s going to be a struggle to keep my hands off Lyssa. Something about her has my stomach all tied up in knots. I’m not sure what the hell my reaction to her signifies, but I can’t imagine not finding out. I want to touch her. Right now.

She has the nerve to look bored when she finally walks through my door, holding her cell in one hand, tossing her hair with the other. There’s no hiding the fluttering pulse at the base of her neck, however. Or the way she keeps peeking up at me from beneath her long, black eyelashes.

Does she like my place?

Why the hell do I care?

I moved up to the Catskills so I wouldn’t have to be around people or listen to their opinions. Even back in the day, between deployments, I always found somewhere private to hunker down and wait for my next orders. No relationships to steal my focus. Can’t even say I had some great love affair with Mason’s mother. She was just an anonymous one-night stand until she showed up ten months later with a bundle in her arms. The surprise outraged me at first, especially because I never failed to use protection. Then I saw the child and I couldn’t help wanting to protect him. Help him in a way no one did for me.

It’s obvious he hates coming up here to visit me, but I won’t be an absent father. And I like the kid. So he’ll just have to put up with me.

My gaze travels back to Lyssa who is circling the living room, her thigh rubbing against the arm of my easy chair. She bends forward to inspect the book on my coffee table, and her frayed jean shorts ride straight up her ass, showing off two firm, little butt cheeks. Christ almighty. She might as well be going around in panties for all the coverage those things provide. If she plans on going anywhere outside this cabin, she’ll need a lot more protection from the elements.

Inside the cabin, she’ll need a lot more protection from me.

Don’t even think about it, John.

“Sit down,” I grumble, making them both jump. “Stew’s ready.”

“Great,” Mason says, dropping onto a chair. “All I’ve eaten today is a scone.”

Am I not sending him enough money to eat? I start to ask him that question, but hesitate. Would that embarrass him in front of Lyssa? Maybe. While I spoon beef stew into bowls and set them on the table, I make a mental note to ask him about funds later.

Lyssa makes her way over to the table and I move on reflex, pulling out her chair—a terrible mistake. Her perfume smells like fresh berries and hits me hard. Up close, she’s even more mind-blowingly beautiful. Smooth skin. Wide, generous lips. Tits designed to make a man crawl. Huge green eyes remain arrested on my face for several beats before she lowers herself into the chair I’m holding out.

My fingers itch to tunnel into her hair, pull back her hair and feast on her fucking mouth. But I can’t do that. I cannot do that.

I clear my throat hard and take my place at the table, Mason and Lyssa sitting across from me. “How is New York?”

My son laughs. “You can’t even say New York without scowling.”

I tuck into my stew with a grunt. “It’s a disgusting hell hole full of rats.”

“Tell us how you really feel,” Mason snickers. “There are a lot of great things about it, too.” He winks at Lyssa. “After all, it’s where I met this one.”

The stew turns to sludge in my mouth.

“That’s right,” she murmurs, using her spoon to push a carrot around her bowl. “Mason saved me from being hit by a cab. That’s how we met.”

Lie.

I’d like to put Lyssa over my knee and spank her sexy tush as punishment. As soon as she’d had enough, I’d rub the sting from her flesh and patiently explain to her that I’m not easily deceived. My ability to cut through bullshit is only one of the reasons I received so many army promotions. I really don’t like her lying to me—and I might be crazy, but I don’t think she liked lying to me, either. It’s in the way she shifts in her seat and refuses to meet my gaze suddenly.

“Is that so?” I say, satisfied when her eyes snap to mine. “Good man.”

“Thanks,” Mason responds, seemingly unaware that I’m hard as a fucking rock for his supposed girlfriend under the table. “When we found out we were both freshmen at NYU, we couldn’t believe it.”

She’s eighteen. I already guessed she was the same age as my son, but the confirmation is a gut punch. I’m twice her age and then some. Old enough to be her father. Unfortunately, that knowledge does nothing to soften my cock. “Where do you live, Lyssa?” I ask, watching her soft mouth pop open at my use of her name.

“I…um.” She shifts in her chair. “W-we live together. I live with Mason.”

“Yup!” A smile spreads across Mason’s face. “We’re roommates.” Immediately, he backpedals. “I-I mean, not just roommates, obviously…”

“No, we’re much more than that,” Lyssa supplies, nodding at my son encouragingly. This is like watching a bad sitcom. They’re both terrible liars.

“We’re like, all the things,” Mason says finally.

Lyssa smiles brightly. “All of them!”

And then they high five.

Christ.

“So…” Lyssa begins, clearly looking for a way to change the conversation. Finally, she gestures back toward the living room. “Did you carve all those wooden figurines on your bookshelves?”

I grunt a confirmation.

What did she think of them?

“They’re good, right?” Mason chimes in. “My dad is a kickass whittler, in addition to, like, being able to snap bones with a flick of his wrist.” He scoops a bite with his spoon, keeping it suspended in front of his mouth. “Are you still making the walking sticks?”

I nod once. “Some.”

Lyssa perks up. “Walking sticks?”

“Uh-huh,” Mason says. “You have to see them. The carvings are so intricate. Really, Dad. You could make them professionally.”

“I don’t do it for money.”

“My mother has a bad knee,” Lyssa says, arresting me with her big, gorgeous eyes. Everything around me fades. Everything but her. “She’s was riding a city bus one afternoon when it collided with a speeding ambulance. Surgery followed, pins were left behind. But it’s never been the same.” She wets her lips and my dick surges in my jeans. “I’ve actually been meaning to buy her a walking stick. Maybe I can purchase one of yours.”

“No,” I bark, before softening my tone. “You’ll pick one out and take it. I don’t want your money.”

I want you. All of you. Thighs spread, pussy wet.

Lyssa seems to read my mind, or maybe me thoughts are written all over my face, because she pinkens right up to her hairline, her spoon dropping into her bowl with a miniature splash. “If you insist,” she breathes. “Thank you so much.”

Too much time passes before I realize my son is watching us with baffled interest. It’s a struggle to stop staring at Lyssa, but I tear my attention away and finish my stew, all of us silent.

At least until Mason jumps up from the table in alarm, rattling the plates.

“Oh. My God.”

Lyssa gapes. “What? What’s wrong?”

“I didn’t turn in my econ paper. I completely forgot to even write it.”

Lie.

My eyes narrow on my son. What’s he up to?

“When is it due?” Lyssa asks.

“Tomorrow. And it’s worth fifty percent of my grade.” He plows both hands through his hair. So much drama. “Dad, I’m so sorry. There’s no way this professor will give me an extension. I have to go work on it now.” He lays a clearly platonic hand on Lyssa’s shoulder. “Will you be okay without me?”

Her face pales. “How about I come help you?”

“Sorry, babe, but I need total silence to concentrate.” Mason is already jogging to the car, probably to get his laptop. He’s back within thirty seconds, a MacBook tucked under his arm. “Thanks for understanding. Don’t forget to show Lyssa the walking sticks!”

Just like that, I’m alone with temptation herself.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think my son orchestrated this.

That’s a ridiculous notion, though. No one would purposefully leave this sweet, young girl in the presence of a war-hardened loner over two decades her senior. It makes no sense.

And when Lyssa’s gaze finds mine through the fading sunlight, I can see the attraction makes little sense to her, too. But it’s strong as a hurricane—and it’s building with every second that ticks past.

Can we control it?

I’m the experienced adult here. It’s up to me to make sure we don’t hurt Mason’s feelings. Whether their relationship is real or fake, I’m supposed to believe it’s real. If I act on my hunger for Lyssa, my actions would amount to calling my son a liar or exposing a secret he doesn’t want me to know yet.

Yeah. As badly as I want my hands on this girl, I must fight my urges.

But even as I vow to myself that I won’t touch Lyssa, I can already sense myself caving…





CHAPTER THREE




Lyssa

Ohhh, this is a horrible turn of events.

As I watch my best friend hightail it to the safety of an upstairs bedroom, I can feel John’s burning gaze sweeping down my neck and settling on my breasts. Throughout the course of the meal, I’ve become astonishingly wet. So much so that the seam of my shorts is soaked and I can’t stop riding my hips forward and back, trying to give my clit friction from the stitched ridge of denim.

This is bananas.

In my entire high school and college career, I kissed a sum total of two boys. One of them had just eaten an onion bagel. Hello mood killer. The other grabbed my hand and shoved it against his crotch, before we’d even been kissing longer than ten seconds. Hello jumping the gun. Truth be told, I didn’t even want to kiss those dumb boys. It was more a product of peer pressure than anything else. Guys my own age have never interested me. Guys any age, really.

When I was attacked, any budding interest I had in the opposite sex was cut off. The thought of letting anyone make me vulnerable was scary.

It’s almost like my body has been accumulating my missing sexual impulses and has decided to unleash it all for this mammoth of a man. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m aching in places I’ve never touched, even with my own fingers. I’m uncomfortable in my clothes and I just want…to sit on his lap and confess to everything. The lie I’ve been perpetuating with Mason. The attraction I’m battling. And then I want him to hush me, kiss me and make everything better.

Is it crazy to think he would?

John will make everything better. I won’t mind being vulnerable for him.

He’ll treat me with care.

My brain and my hormones seem so positive of these facts.

John is Mason’s father. I’m supposed to be Mason’s girlfriend. If I can’t pull off one measly night on my best friend’s behalf, I’d be a terrible person. I can’t let Mason down. Not after all the times he ran interference for me at bars and parties, or at school.

I rise from table table and carry my empty bowl to the sink. John stands and joins me in the kitchen, towering over me with his giant, muscle-packed frame. “Leave this here,” he rumbles. “I’ll clean it later.”

“You cooked. I can clean.”

He makes quick work of tying back his mass of hair, securing it with the rubber band around his wrist. “No. You’re a guest.”

I let him take the bowl out of my hands and with nothing else to do, I fiddle with the hem of my tank top. “Do you…have a lot of overnight guests?’

Shoot me now.

I seriously can’t believe I just asked him that. Why not just wave a freaking banner with Hot for John emblazoned across the front?

His deep brown eyes twinkle with amusement and my heart wings up into my throat. Good gravy, he’s stupidly hot and male and…God, beautiful on top of it. There’s a scent of the outdoors clinging to him, something that calls burning firewood and earth to mind. Who knew that would appeal to me on such a level?

“I don’t have guests, Lyssa.” His gaze meanders over my breasts and lower, tightening the flesh between my thighs. “Doesn’t mean I don’t know how to treat one.”

“Oh.” Is he telling me he knows hot to treat a woman or am I imagining it? “That’s good of y-you.”

For a brief moment in time, I swear he’s going to advance the final few inches separating us and kiss me. And I want it. God, I want it. My apparent weakness for this man makes me a bad friend, but I think if he ordered me onto my knees right now, my body would obey before my mind issued a protest. I’m almost shaking, I’m so turned on. By his size, his voice, his hands, his eyes, his scent.

I should find somewhere to hide until tomorrow, but I stay rooted to the spot, my neck tilted back so I don’t have to break our heated eye contact.

“Um…” Battle back, Lyssa. Come on. “Do you want to show me your stick?”

He raises an eyebrow.

“Sticks. Plural. Walking sticks.” I press my hands to my face. “Can we do a fifteen-second rewind?”

“Sure thing, sweetness. It never happened.” He gives me a curious look, before turning and exiting the kitchen. “I can pretend if you can.”

My brain doesn’t have the room to interpret his odd tone, because I’m perched on the edge of implosion after hearing John call me sweetness. Is it possible for an endearment to cause an orgasm? Signs point to yes.

With a stabilizing breath, I follow John out of the kitchen, through the living room and down a poorly lit hallway that leads to the back of the house. He enters a room and turns on a light. I hesitate briefly before following him inside. When I see the contents of the room, my jaw drops. There are hundreds of walking sticks in neat rows along the wall. Wood shavings litter the ground, so much that none of the floorboards are visible. An industrial table is pushed up against the wall, covered in tools I don’t recognize and a pair of safety goggles.

John clears his throat hard in the middle of the room, his ripped arms crossed over his huge chest. “Take your pick.”

Still in shock by the magnitude of his operation, I cross to the closest wall and carefully pick up one of the walking sticks. It’s an absolute work of art. The handle of the one I’ve selected has been crafted into the shape of a dragon head. The details are stunning that I discover something new every time I turn it over. “John…”

He exhales in a rush.

Because I used his name?

“Who are you making these for?”

“It’s just a hobby.”

I give him an oh please look. “Who are they for?”

His resting scowl face is firmly in place, but I don’t take back the question. “Wounded army veterans,” he says, finally. Reluctantly. “Soldiers who are having difficulty walking.”

The urge to hug him, touch him in some way, is so strong that a tremble moves through me. “How do you find the men in need?”

“Military hospitals. Veterans associations. Things like that.”

“Have you ever thought of putting them online? Giving family members of the wounded a chance to buy them—”

“I don’t charge anything.”

“Oh.” This man. Who is he? “Maybe you could charge a small amount and donate the profits to wounded veterans.” I shake myself and replace the walking stick, picking up a new one, examining it. “Sorry, I’m majoring in marketing and I should really learn to turn my brain off. They’re just so incredible. People should get a chance to see them.”

John grunts. “Your idea. It’s good.” He scans the wall of walking sticks. “I wouldn’t mind charging as long as the money went somewhere worthy.”

“I can help you,” I whisper. “When or if you decide…”

Several beats pass before he nods.

Knowing I should keep my distance, I ignore my common sense and move closer to John, taking my phone out of my back pocket. “There is a really good website dedicated to handmade items…”

I unlock my phone, intending to open my internet browser.

Instead, it opens right to my Instagram page.

Mortification streaks through my middle. Must I really employ duck face so often? When am I going to outgrow mirror selfies?

I’m scrambling to close the dratted app, when I notice John has gone tense beside me. Slowly, I look up at the man to find his gaze rapt on the screen of my phone. Doing a mental catalogue of the pictures on display, I realize there are more than a few taken in my bathing suit. Even more in sports bras and yoga pants. Mason is the instigator of this. He’s always snapping shots of me and insisting I, “Put them on social asap or it never happened.”

I do the same for him. It’s what Generation Z besties do best.

John’s breathing changes, deepening and accelerating. I love him looking at me in my abbreviated attire, I realize. A heavy throb begins between my legs, my lower body squeezing painfully when he takes the phone out of my hand and starts to scroll through the photos, tapping on certain ones and growling roughly at the full-sized versions. Take the phone back. What is wrong with you?

“You shouldn’t be looking at those,” I manage. “This is wrong.”

He cuts a harsh look in my direction. “No more wrong than what I’ve been thinking since you showed up.”

“John.”

With a muttered curse, he hands me back the phone and backs away, pinching the bridge of his nose between two fingers. “Go to bed, Lyssa. Take one of the upstairs guest rooms and for the love of God, lock the fucking door.”

I flinch at implication that he would enter my room and have his way with me. I’m mostly seriously turned on by it. But there’s another part of me, the part that’s still reeling from my attack, that identifies his words as a threat, even though my heart and instincts are positive John would never hurt me. Still, the memory of that night is already being let in and I can’t avoid it.

John comes toward me, his irritation slowly giving way to concern. “What’s wrong?”

My headshake is so rapid it makes me dizzy. “Nothing.”

“Bullshit.” He runs his hands up my bare arms. “Christ, you’re shaking.” I’m pulled into his all-encompassing embrace and I sag. My sudden, boneless state is involuntary, but God, he’s just so warm and reassuring. His big hand cups the back of my head, his heart pounds in my ears and I never want to leave. “I’ve got you. The safest place you’ll ever be is with me.”

“I know,” I say to his chest, snuggling closer. I’m so wrapped up in the sturdy male feeling of him, something slips out without my permission. “I wish you could have been with me when…”

His hand pauses in the act of stroking my hair. “When what?”

I shake my head.

“You got scared when I made that crack about locking the door,” he rasps. “I want to know why.”

“Are you always this demanding?”

“Yes.” He tucks hair behind my ear, our lips moving closer in orbit. As if pulled by an unseen force. “I can be a mean son of a bitch, but not so mean that I wouldn’t apologize for scaring such a sweet girl. You forgive me?”

I bite my lip and nod, his gentleness making it impossible not to tell him the truth. “Right before I left for NYU, I was attacked in stairwell of my building. I’d just come home from the library and I had my nose in a book…or I would have noticed the man loitering outside the building next door. He caught the door before it could close and lock.”

Cold rage transforms John’s features. “Lyssa. Did he—”

“No. It was close, though. We struggled for what felt like forever and I couldn’t…I couldn’t get away.” I hold up my index finger. “Until I jammed this in his eye, kicked him in the balls and ran like hell.”

Affection radiates from John. And stark relief. “That’s my girl.”

His words bring reality back into sharp focus. That’s my girl.

As much as those three words rock me with joy, I’m supposed to be Mason’s girl. Yet here I am standing in John’s arms, his mouth dangerously close to mine.

You’re betraying your best friend.

With an iron will, I wiggle free of John and flee to the door, phone in hand. I rest my forehead against the doorjamb, the sound of our heavy breaths filling the room. “Did they catch the man who attacked you, Lyssa?”

I turn to find John staring into the distance with a menacing expression. “No. All I remember is he was medium sized and had a Tweety Bird neck tattoo. The police couldn’t find anyone that fit the description…and eventually they gave up.”

A piece of his black, gray-dusted hair falls free of its knot, shielding his eyes. But not before I see them blaze with purpose. “Go to bed. You’re safe.”

“Good night.”

I all but stumble from the room. Every part of my body that touched John is on fire. Yearning like I’ve never experienced pervades me. I want to return to the room and beg for kissing, for touching, for his naked body on top of mine. The thought of being pressed down would have terrified me this morning, but the safety he’d given me allows my brain to break free of the shackles it’s been locked in since the attack. I want to experience so much with John—but I can’t.

I won’t.

And that means I’ll be needing a cold shower before bed.

At the top of the stairs, I quickly deduce which room Mason is occupying as there’s a light emanating from beneath the doorframe and Shawn Mendes plays softly amid the sound of keyboard clacking. Better not disturb him, I guess.

It wouldn’t be a great idea for him to see me this flushed and horny, either, now would it?

Instead, I find an empty bedroom with an en suite bathroom and I duck inside, undressing quickly and stepping under the icy spray. I have no idea my life is about to be threatened. Again.





CHAPTER FOUR




John

When I get to my bedroom, I pace back and forth in front of my computer, knowing I should not do what I’m about to do. With my cock lodged in my jeans like a damn missile, however, I have no choice. I’m more primed to fuck than I’ve ever been in my life. Blood pounds in my temples and my hands fist, unfurl, fist again.

What I wouldn’t give to have Lyssa lying on my bed right now, blonde hair spread out on my comforter, tits spilling out of her pushup bra. I wouldn’t even bother taking her panties off, I’d just rip a hole in them and feed my dick home. Later. Later, I’d eat her pussy like nobody’s business. I’d make her cream on my tongue so many times, she’d lose count. But I’m a man possessed right now. The need to claim her with a hard fuck is burning me from the inside out.

I rake a hand down my face and release a pained laugh. How the hell is this happening? I’ve never wanted a female for my own—and the first and only time it happens, she’s posing as my son’s girlfriend. Worse, I can’t let them know I’m in on the ruse without possibly jeopardizing my relationship with Mason.

“Fucking hell,” I mutter, taking off my shirt and hurling it toward the hamper.

I’m only capable of resisting another five seconds before I unzip my jeans, finally freeing my pulsing erection. I sit down in front of the computer, my fingers hesitating over the keys momentarily before pulling up Instagram and searching Lyssa’s handle—and there she is. So beautiful and bright and young, she makes me feel energized and way too old at the same time. I should be shot for fantasizing about the girl cooing over a puppy in one picture, laughing in another while someone out of frame presents her with a birthday cake, complete with candles.

Nonetheless, I find the picture I’m looking for. The one of her kneeling in the sand at the beach, unpacking sandwiches from a cooler. She’s barely covered in an emerald green thong bikini, her ass cheeks round and spankable. Whoever is taking the picture made her turn her head and laugh, brightening the world around her. She’s a goddamn angel, glowing in the sun.

I’m going to murder whoever touched her.

I’m going to track them down and end them in her honor.

There won’t be a single trace left behind.

I’ll visit her in New York after it’s done, find her in a park some afternoon while she’s studying and tell her she’s safe now…

My head falls back and I grip my dick, yanking on it roughly, base to head.

Christ help me, I’m sick. I’m stroking off to the thought of her looking up at me like I’m her hero. Throwing her arms around my neck and letting me hold her. Letting me rock our bodies together, knowing it’s wrong. Knowing we shouldn’t—

A loud crashing sound above my head freezes my blood.

When I hear a distinctly feminine squeal, my cock is stowed and I’m already halfway to the door, sprinting up the stairs two at a time. Lyssa’s whimpers alert me to which bedroom is hers and I burst inside, ready to strangle whoever scared her with my bare hands. My usual logic has deserted me. All I can think is she’s in danger and I have to save her.

So when I find her huddled naked in the shower—very much alone—I’m extremely relieved, but definitely confused. At least until she points a shaking finger in the direction of the still-running shower nozzle. “Spider. Huge. Huge. Get it, get it, get it. Oh my God. Please.”

Something happens that hasn’t taken place in a long time.

I laugh.

It climbs my rusted throat and cracks like lightning, echoing off the walls of the tiny room. Lyssa’s back snaps straight, her nose in an indignant wrinkle. “Don’t you dare laugh.”

“Sorry.” I hold up my hands and approach the shower, calling on my honor so I won’t ogle her naked. My honor must be out to lunch, though, because my eyes can’t help but catalogue her wet shoulders, shapely thighs—and hell, that sweet, hairless pussy peeking out from between her bent legs. Son of a bitch.

My kingdom for one lick.

Forcing myself to focus on the task at hand—spider removal—I spot the culprit dangling behind the shower head. “Shit, he is pretty big,” I comment, reaching into the shower to turn off the water—which is ice cold.

“I told you. He has at least seventeen eyes.”

I open the shower window, cup my hand around the ugly motherfucker and shoo him out onto the sill, closing the window behind him. “All gone.”

She shivers. “Thank you.”

Hating the fact that she’s cold, I nab the closest towel and wrap her in it, lifting her out of the shower basin. On the way to the bedroom, I count the droplets of water on her eyelashes, study the indent in the center of her bottom lip, and generally pine for this gorgeous girl I should be keeping at arm’s length. It doesn’t help that she’s ogling my bare chest like she wants to touch it, taste it. Doesn’t help when she glances up at me like some kind of hero. I want to be her hero.

Instead of leaving her and going back downstairs—like I know I should—I lean down and press a kiss to her temple, saying gruffly, “You want to tell me why you needed to take a cold shower?”

Her gaze evades mine. “That’s how I like them.”

“Is that right?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“You’re about the worst liar I’ve ever met, sweetness. And I’ve met plenty.”

Her chin drops. “That’s not a very nice thing to say.”

Reluctantly, I settle Lyssa onto her feet, but we make no move to separate. Her bare toes brush mine, my palms chafe the terry cloth at her hips. “Calling you a bad liar is one of the highest compliments I can give you. Means you’ve got a good heart…” My attention falls to her mouth. “And a tongue that doesn’t like being deceptive.”

“Oh,” she whispers. “I guess I’ll let you get away with it, then.”

I chuckle quietly. Damn she’s cute. “What sort of compliments do boys usually give you?”

She pulls her towel more securely around her. “Boys don’t really interest me.” Her head jerks back when she realizes her error. “I mean, b-besides Mason. Obviously.”

“Obviously,” I drawl.

“And speaking of Mason…” Her swallow is audible, her focus back on my bare torso. “You probably shouldn’t be in my room right now without a shirt on. I-I’m in a towel. Someone could get the wrong idea.”

“What idea is that?”

“That you and I are…”

I bend my head, pressing my mouth to her ear. “Dying to fuck each other?”

“Oh man,” she complains. “You had to say it out loud, didn’t you?”

“We’re both thinking it, Lyssa. Both feeling it.” I’m suddenly desperate to get the truth out of her. I don’t want to goad her into betraying my son’s trust, but this whole situation is absurd. We’re aching for each other and can’t give in because of their damn charade. I resent anything and everything that is keeping me from Lyssa. My body, my heart, my mind all know she’s mine. The universe sent her to me and I hate the fucking obstacle in our path to being together. Obliterating obstacles is kind of my thing, but eliminating this one comes at a high price. “Got a question for you.”

“Okay,” she murmurs warily.

I point toward the still-open bedroom door. “Why are you and Mason sleeping in separate bedrooms?”

“He’s writing his econ paper!” Lyssa sputters.

I take hold of Lyssa’s towel where it’s knotted, using my hold to turn her around and pin her against the bedroom wall. “Lyssa…” I groan while looking her over, head to toe. “I’d fail the goddamn class before I lost one night of being balls deep in that little pussy.”

Her mouth forms an O, cheeks pink. “That’s no way to speak to a lady.”

“You going to pretend I’m not making you wet? That’s a lot of pretending for one day.” My lust takes control of my actions, one hand lifting to unknot her towel and throw it down on the floor. “Should we find out the truth?”

Lyssa gasps, pupils dilating with excitement. “Y-you can’t…” Her fingernails scrape through my chest hair, down to my stomach, before scrubbing back up, rubbing my pecs. “We can’t.”

“We could.” My mouth hovers above hers, so close I can taste her delicious breath. “If you were honest with me.”

She hesitates to respond, but she’s wetting my lips anxiously, begging without words for a kiss.

“Maybe you need some practice being honest with me, Lyssa.” I trail my fingertips over her hip to her belly button, teasing the soft skin there before venturing lower to the juncture of her thighs. When I part the folds of her pussy with my middle finger and wetness spills down past my knuckle to my palm, I almost come in my jeans. “You’re soaked, sweetness,” I growl, teasing the entrance of her cunt with the pad of my finger. “That’s an undisputable truth. Repeat it back to me.”

“I’m soaked,” she whimpers, arching her back off the wall, presenting me her lush tits. “I-I’m soaked. Can you…”

Yes. I’ll give you anything you want in this world. “Can I what, Lyssa?” I ask, rimming her clit with excess moisture and making her moan.

Her eyes beg me for relief in the most innocent way. Like she has no idea what relief entails. “Can you make the throbbing go away?”

It takes my last reserve of willpower not to yank her off the wall, throw her on the bed and mount her sweet body. To show her, yes, the hell I can. Over and over again. But her guileless question has just made something else very obvious. Something I hadn’t considered until now. “Are you a virgin, Lyssa?”

“Who me? No way!”

Irritated over another obvious lie, I crowd her against the wall. Hard. I stamp my mouth down over hers to trap any screams—then I push my middle finger inside her. “Ahhh, Christ,” I grit out, as soon as her cry of surprise fades. “This pussy here is as virgin as they come, sweetness. Tighter than fuck, just begging for me to take it on its maiden voyage.” I twist my finger until I find her G-spot and tease it. “Now, you’re going to practice being honest with John. Tell me you’re a tight, little virgin girl.”

Her head thrashes on the wall. “I…I’m…”

“Say it or I’ll let you keep throbbing.”

“No! No.” She licks her swollen lips. “I’m a tight, little virgin girl.”

My cock jerks painfully in my jeans. “No one’s been inside you.” Least of all my son.

“No one,” she sobs, running her hands up to my shoulders and clinging, her perfect pussy starting to pump and thrust against my hand. “John, please. Why do you make me feel like this?”

“I’m your man, Lyssa.” I lick the side of her neck, obsessed with the flutter of her pulse on my tongue. “And you’re the one I didn’t even know I was waiting for. Not until you had the nerve to walk into my house with this unfucked pussy and tell me it’s not mine. I should redden your ass.”

“Later, okay? D-d-don’t stop what you’re doing.” Her teeth start to chatter and her green eyes shoot wide with wonder. My hand is drenched with her lust. She’s the most beautiful creature ever to walk the earth, especially when her thighs start to tremble and she goes for broke riding my hand. “Oh. Oh! John.”

I coax her into a kiss, intending to swallow her screams. I’ve never been much for kissing anyone. But as soon as my tongue is inside her mouth and she’s giving me access to explore, I’m eating at her mouth like a hungry animal. I’ll never be able to live without kissing Lyssa again. It’s an instantaneous habit. Goddamn, nothing is sweeter than the feminine whimpers being released onto my tongue, her lips sexy and plump, writhing over mine.

I need to come.

Oh God, her mouth is my fucking end.

With a guttural sound, I take my finger out of Lyssa’s cunt, spin her around toward the wall and reach over her hip, shoving two fingers this time inside of her wet, dripping pussy. “Get up on your toes,” I growl into her neck. “Couple of humps of that ass and I’m going to blast off in my pants. Your mouth did that, little girl.”

Conforming my lap to her firm tush, I pump my fingers into her slick hole in time with the drives of my lower body. I’m tucked right in between the tight crack of her ass, nothing but denim separating us. My forearm wraps around her belly and lifts Lyssa off the ground, humping her furiously into the wall while finger fucking her. My other hand clamps over her mouth, because I can feel her poised on the edge of a climax, same as me.

“Mine,” I growl in her ear. “Mine, mine, fucking mine.”

It gratifies me like nothing else when claiming her out loud is the final push she needs to orgasm. Her body twists between me and the wall, her screams trapped by my cupped palm, her ass wiggling and rubbing all over my aching cock until it finally gives up the battle of a lifetime and give my balls permission to erupt. “Fuuuuuck,” I groan, darkness and light exchanging places over and over in front of my eyes. Hot, sticky come shoots into the fly of my jeans and down the legs—and still I roll my hips, refusing to give up a single second of the pleasure Lyssa’s body provides. “You work that ass so nice for me, sweetness. All over my big cock. God, you’re making me come like a motherfucker. You and that mouth.”

Finally, my climax to end all climaxes ebbs and Lyssa goes limp against me. I start to settle her onto her feet, but hold her tight when I realize she’s completely boneless. Passed out.

Almost stupefied by affection, I turn her around gently, picking her up to cradle her against my chest. My heart goes crazy inside my chest looking down at her flushed, sleeping face and I want with my entire soul to sleep beside her, but…

I can’t do that.

Christ, I can’t do that.

Not without coming clean to my son and telling him I’m in love with Lyssa. We’ve already crossed the line, but both Lyssa and Mason deserve better than me sneaking around. I have to do this right. Even if it means having the conversation about Mason’s sexuality earlier than he intended.

But how could I have predicted Lyssa? Or the way she’s consumed me?

I lay her down on the bed carefully and cover her with the comforter, taking a few greedy minutes to memorize the beauty of this girl sleeping. Then I close the door to her room and walk down the hall to Mason’s room. Knocking yields no results, so I open the door and look inside, finding him sleeping, too.

My confession will have to wait until tomorrow morning.

Too bad I never get the chance.





CHAPTER FIVE




Lyssa

Oh my God.

Oh my God.

I’m pacing the kitchen the next morning trying to come up with the right words to tell my best friend I hooked up with his father. How did this happen? Things like this don’t happen to me. I don’t get lost in the moment or overcome with lust. And yet, I did. As soon as John ripped off my towel and started dirty talking to me, I forgot about my best friend working on his econ paper down the hall. Depending on me to convince his father that we’re dating seriously enough to live together.

What have I done?

As soon as Mason comes downstairs, I’m going to tell him everything. I could never lie to his face and I wouldn’t want to. As soon as he finishes telling me what a betraying betrayer I am, I’ll beg him to give me another chance to be his best friend. He’s important to me and I won’t lose him without a fight.

Although, it might mean giving up John.

A hot shiver snakes through my body simply from thinking his name.

My fingers sneak up under the hem of my skirt, caressing the sensitive skin of my thighs. All of me is sensitive. That’s how he left me. I can still feel his fingers inside me, hooked and preying on that little undiscovered land. A G-spot. I had to Google it this morning because I’m moving there. Without John to voyage there with me, I’m going to need a vibrator, I guess.

It won’t be the same.

His heat, his hands, voice, his smell and…his heart won’t be there. The safety and affection he radiates. It’s ridiculous to think I’ll get the same kind of pleasure from a toy that I get from someone who I have feelings for.

Serious, ooey gooey feelings.

Oh my God.

This is so bad.

“Hey, babe,” Mason calls, sailing down the stairs with his usual animal grace. “Where is my dad?”

“Not with me,” I blurt. “I mean, I don’t know.”

“Okay,” he says in a drawn-out way, eyeballing me closely. “He’s probably doing his morning workout. He carries tree trunks around and moves tires and shit. Hence the Hercules physique.”

“Oh yeah?” Do not get turned on when you’re about to come clean about the horrible thing you did. Do not think about John doing CrossFit-style activities and sweating down that muscular chest. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“No?” Mason’s head disappears into an open kitchen cabinet. “It’s pretty hard to miss.”

“How is the econ paper going?”

“Almost done,” he reports with a grin. “I need about three more hours this morning and we should be able to hit the road.”

“Three hours?”

No way I can last that long around John without making another mistake.

A mistake that in no way feels like one.

Okay. I have to tell Mason the truth now. No more delaying it. Otherwise I’ll have to spend the morning with John and therein lies ruin.

“Mason, I have to tell you something—”

The front door of the cabin opens and in walks Mason’s father.

He’s shirtless and glistening with perspiration, sweatpants hanging low on his hips, hair in a loose ponytail at the nape of his neck. Muscles bulging…and I don’t know where to look. His unshaven face? His ripped thighs? Those deeply grooved abs? He’s a literal god in our midst and he’s splitting a look between me and Mason while chugging from a metal canteen. “Morning.”

My nipples peak. One word, that’s all it takes.

“Can I talk to you, Mason?” John asks, sending me a hooded glance that says everything will be all right.

“Actually, I really need to get to this econ paper.” My best friend checks an imaginary watch. “It’s due at noon and I overslept. Dad, while I’m working, could you show Lyssa that clearing? The one with the pond?” He shakes his head at me. “She hasn’t posted anything on Instagram in a week. It’s like she died.”

I blink. “What does that have to do with a pond?”

“You’re going to take pictures there, of course.” Mason picks up my phone and waves it at John. “Dad, could you take some flattering shots of Lyssa, since I won’t be there to document her proof of life?”

“We need to talk,” John responds.

“Yes, we definitely will. After I finish my paper.” With a smile, he heads for the stairs with a cereal box tucked under his arm. “Have fun. See you both as soon as I finish. Bye!”

John stare at each other across the room as the bedroom door upstairs clicks shut. Even from a distance, I can see droplets of sweat trickling down his torso and soaking into his pants. “I tried to tell him, too,” I say breathily, battling the need to fan my cheeks. “We don’t have to go to the pond.”

“We’ll go.”

“It’s really all right—”

“Just let me shower off.”

My mouth snaps shut when he turns and vanishes down the hallway toward his bedroom. To my utter dismay, there is nothing I can do to stem the rise of anticipation. I’m going to be alone with John, outside, nothing but time to kill. What will he say to me? How will be look at me?

Will we be able to keep from touching each other?

Yes. I can’t let there be another repeat of last night. Even after spending just a few minutes with Mason, I’m reminded how special he is to me. I have to stop thinking of his father as a sexual being and put him in the off limits category. Like I should have done yesterday.

It’s so much easier said than done.

John joins me in the living room after his shower wearing a fresh pair of dark gray sweatpants and a tight white shirt. He must have put on the tee when his chest hair was still damp, because there are wet patterns on the front that make me remember the springy feel of his chest hair between my fingertips.

Off limits, Lyssa. Off limits.

“Ready to go?” John says hoarsely.

I stand from where I’ve been sitting on the couch waiting, smoothing the light cotton material of my skirt along my thighs. “This is all I brought to wear. Is it okay for the woods?”

His gaze lingers on my legs, slowly ticking up to my thin strapped tank top. “Yeah. We’re not going too far.”

He opens the door and gestures for me to precede him, which I do. “I’m surprised Mason even knew about this place. Central Park is about as outdoorsy as he gets.”

Following me down the porch, John grunts.

“You really hate New York, don’t you?”

“People aren’t made to live in little concrete boxes.”

I laugh, drawing his attention to my mouth. We circle around the back of the cabin and walk side by side down a wide dirt path, quickly being swallowed by the shade of surrounding trees. “I like living in an apartment, maybe because I grew up that way. It’s comforting having people around.”

“Never had much use for people.” He clears his throat. “They’re always talking. You ever notice that?”

Again, he makes me laugh and I find myself wanting to hold his hand. Wanting to feel his fingers slide between mine and hold tight. To have him lead me, protect me, covet me. “Do you mind when I talk?”

“No,” he says without hesitation. “I sure as hell don’t mind that. You’ve got a voice like sunshine.”

My heart triples its speed. “See, now there’s a compliment,” I manage. “Your voice sounds like a boat motor, so I guess I have to find something else to compliment.” John’s hearty laugh stops me in my tracks, it’s so wonderful and rich and male. I want to hear it over and over again, maybe against my belly. I don’t know. “Your laugh sounds like Christmas morning,” I say, dorkily, my face heating. “Can we do a fifteen-second rewind?”

“Hell no we can’t.” John steps closer, his hands lifting and hesitating just above my hips. “Jesus, Lyssa. Couldn’t even make it two minutes without needing to break my vow not to touch you again until this thing with Mason gets resolved.”

“Resolved? Meaning…you think he’ll forgive us?”

“I don’t know.” Finally, his big hands grip my hips and we both groan at the forbidden contact. “But I can’t stay away from you.” He gathers my skirt in his hands, slipping his right hand beneath to knead my butt cheek. “Fuck. I’m so hungry for this.”

I want him to tear my clothes off and maul me, right here on the pathway, but I know I have to overcome the desire. Come on, Lyssa. You can make it three hours without hurting someone who means so much to you.

“We can’t,” I whisper, pushing John away, continuing on shaky legs down the path. John follows me, his breathing heavy. We should go back to the cabin and lock ourselves in separate rooms, but as crazy as it sounds, even in the midst of this physical torture, I can’t stop wanting to be around John. He puts my anxiety at rest and warms me from the inside out. It’s impossible to stay away, despite the danger of being alone.

We walk for another ten minutes before there’s a break in the trees and the most glorious meadow reveals itself. This city girl is so overwhelmed by the beauty of the bounding green field full of dandelions and sunshine that I squeal and do a little dance. “What?” I walk out into the magnificent sunlight. “How come there aren’t a million people here taking advantage of this?”

“They’re all down in New York freaking out over their coffee orders.”

“Ouch. That was uncalled for. And rudely accurate.” I turn to find John right behind me—and I poke him in the chest. “You think you have city people like me all figured out?”

His voice resonates when he responds, “My hatred of the city does not extend to you, Lyssa.”

“I know,” I say softly, butterflies tickling my ribs. “Still, we can be resilient, too. I have to carry my groceries up nine flights of stairs when the elevator isn’t working. Which, thanks to our lazy super, is always.”

John stiffens. “You shouldn’t be in the stairwell alone. Especially not after what happened to you.” He curses and moves past me. “Why doesn’t my son carry the groceries for you?”

“We take turns.”

His tense back tells me he’s not satisfied with my answer. “I don’t like you in that place.” His thick fingers flex and curl into fists. “There are too many ways for you to be harmed.”

“I’m fine.” I reach out, wanting to smooth the angry, shifting lines of muscle in his back, but force myself to drop my hand. “I…we’ll be fine.”

He shoots me a sharp glance over his shoulder, but I can’t interpret it. “Come on,” he says, turning away. “The pond is up ahead. We’ll take your pictures.”

I’m forced to jog after John, his strides are so long. “We really don’t need to do that.” He ignores me. “It’s totally unnecessary.”

My protests are ignored and when we reach the pond, John gestures for me to hand over my phone. I do it absently, my attention absorbed by the stunning body of water spread out in front of us. There are actual frogs at the pond’s edge, hopping around in the mud and rocks. It’s like, nature nature.

A grunt from John reminds me of the task at hand and I turn around, posing for the raised phone with a broad smile, hip cocked. “How’s that?”

“Beautiful,” he mutters at the screen. “I’m going to delete it.”

“What? Why?”

His focus dips to my breasts. “Your nipples are hard and you look like you wouldn’t mind having them sucked. It stays off the internet.”

My core flexes, excited by his possessiveness, whether I should be or not. “You’re not my social media manager.”

“I’m well aware of that, Lyssa. If I was, I’d delete every picture where you look sweet, young and fuckable, which, by the way, is every goddamn shot.”

“Fine. Pose me how you want.”

Too late, I realize what a bad idea that is. Both of us are breathing fast and I can see the outline of John’s plentiful erection. Coming out here alone might have been a temptation neither of us can stand, because I have that damp, achy feeling again. The one I had last night that only he could cure. So when he approaches and his lit firewood and earth scent crashes into me, my knees begin to lose stability.

I remain perfectly still as John lifts a hand and tucks a windblown hair behind my ear. He’s visibly controlling himself, and the quickening flesh between my thighs wishes he wouldn’t. Wishes he’d take away my ability to think and leave only sensation. Only pleasure.

“You’d drive men to obsession no matter how I pose you.” He raises the camera and takes a close up of my face, before handing me back my phone. Then he slowly removes his own device, tapping it against his palm. “Will I take a few for myself now, Lyssa?”

I nod dumbly, loving the idea of John having private photographs of me way too much. “Okay.”

Without taking his eyes off me, he moves his thumb around on the screen and opens his camera. “These are for my eyes only, sweetness. What are you going to show me?”

If we lived in a world with no consequences, I think I would strip for him. I would show him my breasts and I’d let him look beneath my skirt. I’d soak up the way he stares at me, stalks me, like a man infatuated. I would thrive on it.

However, here in this unfamiliar, sun-soaked glen, our own little world, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take a little fantasy to-go. After all, standing in our own little slice of heaven, it feels as though there is no one else on the earth. My fingers are curled in the hem of my skirt, dying to lift—and I do. My fingertips inch up the material slowly and watch John’s eyes darken.

Rebellion beats in my blood. I never knew I could be like this. Naughty. Every inch of me tingles and heats to a fever pitch. I don’t stop lifting my skirt until I’m holding it up around my waist, leaving me in nothing but a thong from the waist down. John’s gaze is locked on the juncture of my thighs, and instead of being embarrassed by the wet spot I know is there, I want him to see it.

John drops to his knees in front of me and raises the phone, taking pictures of my clinging panties, sweat forming on his forehead and upper lip, his breathing labored. “Had my fingers in that sweet, little thing last night, didn’t I?” John rasps. “Tell me I made you come. Use my name.”

“John made me come,” I whisper, my voice trembling.

“Goddamn right I did. Now turn around,” he orders. “Show me the ass.”

I do what I’m told, staring with blind eyes out at the pond. The sound of his camera going off makes me moan, makes me throb desperately. I can’t help but lean forward slightly and show off my bottom for him, looking back over my shoulder to find John wetting his lips like a starving man in front of his final meal.

His heated breaths drift over my backside. “I’d eat you whole. You’d take your poundings like a good, little girl and then I’d spend hours rewarding you afterward with my tongue. You’d spend your life sore, but satisfied.” His forehead presses into the small of my back, rolling to one side and the other. “Turn around again and give me a peek, Lyssa. If I can’t fuck you, I need a picture of that pretty, virgin pussy so I can beat off to it ten times a day.”

John doesn’t wait for me to follow instructions, his hands on my hips spinning me around to face him again. His nostrils are flared, eyes black with hunger when he hooks a finger in my thong, dragging it down to my ankles. I’m bare in front of him, swaying where I stand. My nipples are so puckered, they hurt. I’m whimpering, my flesh clenching, and we’re not even touching.

“Oh my goodness,” I breathe, twisting my skirt in my hands. “I can’t stand it.”

He pushes his face between my thighs, growling. “Set me loose on this pussy. Do it. God help me, I can’t help myself. Need to get my tongue on it now.”

“Yes,” I moan, letting go of my skirt in favor of twining my fingers in his long, unruly hair. John takes my bottom in his hands and pulls me flush with his mouth, snarling with bared teeth against my core, before spearing me with a lick that parts my flesh. As soon as the tip of his tongue meets my clit, my back bows and I lose the ability to stand. Thankfully, it ceases to matter, because John catches me, turning us both and wrestling me down into the grass. “John. I need you.”

He presses his face into my belly and groans, his hands prying my legs open and holding them wide. “I need you, too, little girl. So goddamn bad.”

His huge body moves lower, those muscular shoulders chafing the insides of my thighs. For long moments, he breathes in and out inches from my sex, as if bracing himself. And then he drops quickly, tasting me with gusto, lapping and sucking, grunting and nibbling. His fingers tighten on my knees, keeping them open for his mouth’s erotic treatment and I can’t lie still, my hips shifting all over the ground, trying to lean into the pleasure and run away from it at the same time. It’s so intense. I’m shaking, head to toe. Oh my God.

“Fucking hell,” he says hoarsely. “Your cunt tastes like it looks, Lyssa. Pink and sweet. Like candy.” His thumb lands on my clit, jiggling the swollen button of flesh until I scream. “You’re my little sugar girl, aren’t you? No denying it when your pussy is this wet and ripe for fucking.”

“Yes,” I wail, arching off the ground. “I’m yours, John. More.”

His eyes flash up at me. “You said the words, Lyssa, now deal with the consequences.”

No sooner does John issue what sounds like a promise that he prowls up my body, stopping when our mouths are even to unfasten his pants. His mouth moves over mine furiously, his tongue invading my mouth with mind-blowing strokes, until I can barely hear his zipper being lowered over the pounding of my heart. This man is mine. I’m his and he’s mine and we belong together. Everything inside me swells and expands and reaches for him as proof. Need. Need him now or I’ll die.

My fingers tear at my tank top, yanking the garment to my neck so I can experience his chest hair on my nipples and it’s even better than I imagine. I whine into our frantic kiss and rub my breasts against him, begging, begging. My movements cease, however, when I feel John’s thick shaft prod the entrance between my thighs.

Forcing my eyes open, I wait for the lust to clear and find John studying me with deep longing. “This is where I claim you, Lyssa. This is where we leave your virgin blood in the soil and you become mine. Say my name if you understand me.”

“John,” I whisper. “John, John.”

“I’m here. I’ll always be right here. Needing you. Loving you.” He notches his thickness inside me and bares his teeth, rifling his hips forward. Pain blossoms in my middle, a pressure too uncomfortable to withstand. Involuntarily, my hands shove at his shoulders, my hips wiggling around trying to locate relief from the hurt. “Lyssa, look at me,” John orders hoarsely. “Look at me.”

I order myself to calm down and focus on the bottomless brown eyes blazing down at me.

“Part of me is inside you now,” he rasps, leaning down to graze our mouths together. “It’s going to take your body a minute to adjust. Soon, though, Lyssa. Very soon we’ll both feel incomplete unless I’m planted between your thighs. I won’t be able to breathe unless I’m wrapped up in this tight fucking pussy.”

His words do the impossible. They lessen the intense stretching sensation until it begins to feel good. Really, really good. Now that the pain has faded, I can feel his hard length and with budding curiosity, I test it with a writhe of my lower body.

John hisses a breath. “That’s it, sweetness. Play all you want.” His head bends down, his white teeth grazing my nipple and causing a pleasurable jolt inside me. “God knows I plan to play with you. Constantly.”

I don’t know what’s happening to me, but my skin is unbearably sensitive. I feel every blade of grass touching my bottom; his calloused hands deliver zings to my core every time they shift on my knees. Sex. I’m having sex. With John. This gargantuan loner with a tender heart and gruff personality. And while looking him in the eye and seeing my expression of rapture reflected back, suddenly my heart is positive I was always meant to end up with this man. He’s my soul mate.

“Make love to me,” I say breathily, lifting my hips to tempt him.

He pins them with his own, growling and delivering a mean thrust—but I can see he can’t help being forceful. Can see his control has deteriorated. Good. On the next rough invasion of my body, I dig my fingernails into his shoulders and hold on tight, sensing an oncoming storm. That’s exactly what I get.

John falls on me with a desperate sound, releasing hot, rasping breaths into my neck with each slap of his hard sex entering my wet one. He grunts and sweats on top of me, pushing filthy words through his teeth. Words that thrill me because I know they’re borne of pure lust. For me and my body.

“Come hiking with me in this short skirt? What did you think was going to happen? You barely made it off the porch, little girl. How dare you bring this bratty little pussy into my house? Might as well have had my goddamn name stamped on it. Almost bent you over the kitchen table and fucked you in front of my son. Jesus, this cunt is tight as sin. Go on, sweetness. Moan louder. No one’s going to hear you.”

And on and on it went, his coarseness building along with this shimmery bubble inside me. My eyes fly open when John adjusts his angle slightly, allowing the veiny trunk of his erection to slide against my clit—and oh! Everything twists and trembles below my belly button and I find my ankles wrapped around the small of John’s back. I’m grinding up into his drives and the rhythm changes my life forever. We’re animals rutting in the dirt and I love it. I never want it to stop…

Except maybe long enough for me to get relief. “I need…” I sob. “John, I need…make it stop!”

“Don’t worry, sweetness. It’s coming. That pussy is pulsing like a dream. Just hold on to me—”

My scream of ecstasy cuts him off. Cuts everything off, save the incredible clenching of my flesh, the flood of bliss and completion. I squeeze John’s hips between my thighs and spout nonsense that he seems to understand, because his mouth finds mine and kisses me through the upheaval.

And then he throws back his head and roars like he’s king of the jungle.

His beautiful face, surrounded by his mane of hair, blocks out the sun and if I had any breath left to catch, it would have caught at the sight of him. He’s the ultimate male and I’ve been claimed by him.

His release fills me up and laps up onto my belly, splashes onto my inner thighs, and he keeps pumping, making desperate sounds deep in his throat, going back and forth between desperate animal and sated warrior. Until finally he falls onto me, catching himself at the last second on an elbow. Leaning down to kiss me tenderly on the mouth. “Lyssa,” he whispers, sounding awed.

I know the feeling.

But as we lie there in the meadow, my butt tucked into John’s lap, his breathing evening out in my hair, I remember Mason back at the house. I’ve just betrayed the person who trusts me most in this world. No matter that we’re not actually together and never could be—he asked me for a favor and I couldn’t even manage it for one single day.

How will I bear looking him in the eye? How will I tell him I’ve not only slept with his father, but fallen in love as well?

Once I come clean, he won’t want to see me.

He’ll be disgusted with me.

So I decide to save Mason the trouble of driving back to New York with a traitor. As soon as I get back to the cabin, I’m getting out of Dodge. In time, maybe I have a chance of my best friend forgiving me, but if that’s going to happen, I can’t be in a relationship with John. It just won’t fly.

Tears drop from my eyes into the grass at the realization that I’ll never be held in these strong, perfect arms again.

How will I live without this man now that I know he exists?





CHAPTER SIX




John

Lyssa was quiet on our walk back to the cabin and I didn’t like it.

Something is up.

She let me hold her hand and stop to make out at least a dozen times, but there was a certain light missing from her eyes. As soon as we walked through the front door, she dashed up the stairs, claiming she needed a shower—and I couldn’t really doubt her on that one. Anyone with eyes could see the sticky, pink-tinged trails tracking down the insides of her thighs. Hell, the sight alone made me hard again on the walk home.

That’s right, Lyssa. I was your first—and I’m your last.

Goddamn, there’s no describing what it felt like to ride her wet pussy. To feel her clinging to me, trusting me, encouraging me. Those broken cries of my name will echo in my mind for the rest of my life. All of my senses were attuned to hers, picking up on her changes in breathing or kicks of her pulse. We were one in the meadow and my heart never had a chance. A bond was forged between us I never could have expected but will spend my life strengthening. She will be protected, safe, happy, cared for and untouched by other men. So help me God.

If I wasn’t determined to speak to Mason, I would join her in the shower. I’d get down on my knees and lick away the soreness I caused until the spray turned cold. This conversation needs to happen now, though. Because I’m not letting Lyssa out of my fucking sight. She’s mine. I’m going to make her my wife at the earliest opportunity and for that to happen—as much as it pains me—I can’t wait much longer for Mason to tell me the truth.

A creak signals me to glance up and I find my son hovering on the top of the staircase, his gaze searching the living room below, where I reside. “Hey!” He trundles down a few more steps. “Where is Lyssa?”

“Showering.”

Tongue tucked into his cheek, Mason appears to be subduing a smile. “Oh,” he says breezily. “Must have been a real messy hike.”

His (literal) tongue-in-cheek comment confirms my earlier suspicion that Mason has been pushing me and Lyssa together on purpose. Unfortunately, that means my son thinks I’m the kind of man who’d fuck his girlfriend—and I’ve proven him correct. I let out a sigh. “Do you mind if we talk?”

He falls onto the couch, throwing his arms out along the backrest. “Sure, Dad. What’s up?”

I sit down across from him, hands clasped loosely between my knees. “Mason, I know we’re not very close. Your mother raised you and I was overseas a lot when you were young, but…I love you. No matter what. I just wanted you to know.”

“Oh shit.” His voice cracks a little and I can see the telltale redness in his eyes. I’m not a man who deals well with displays of emotion but I force myself not to look away. “Was not expecting that,” he adds with a watery laugh. “Are you telling me this because you think I’m going to get angry about you and Lyssa?”

My chin comes up. “You knew.”

“Of course I knew.” He throws up his hands. “I’ve been pretending to write an econ paper for twenty-four hours so you guys could be alone.”

“Why?”

He regards me like I’ve got a screw loose. “Seriously? You two almost spontaneously combusted the second you laid eyes on each other. I’ve never seen Lyssa glance twice at a man. When you walked out of the house, her uterus started singing opera. And you…” His voice softens. “You looked at her like she’d just dropped from the sky with a halo over her head.”

Hadn’t she? Without thinking, I glance toward the top of the stairs, starved for the sight of her. “So you purposely put me and your…girlfriend alone?”

Mason is suddenly absorbed by his fingernails. “Who am I to stand in the way of true love?”

“Mason…”

“What?”

I take a breath. “She was never your girlfriend to begin with.”

His gaze shoots to mine. “You sound pretty sure.”

“I am.”

Some of the color leaves his face. “How?”

I don’t answer. I don’t say anything, because I’ve already said too much. The rest needs to be done on his own terms. For long, tense moments, I think my son is going to shut down and end the conversation. But he surprises me by sitting up straighter and squaring his shoulders.

“Dad, I’m gay.”

Pressure ebbs from my chest. “Thank you for telling me.”

“You don’t sound surprised.” His head falls back on an incredulous laugh. “Jesus, how long have you known?”

“Mason, I’m a military trained fact finder. And I have Instagram.” I clear the crowded feeling from my throat. “I love you and I’m glad you told me.”

“Thanks.” He swipes at his eyes. “So you knew you weren’t hitting on my actual girlfriend. Does Lyssa know you never bought our act?”

“No. She never told me your secret. And I think it would make her feel a lot better if she knew you’ve been pushing us together on purpose.” My attention ticks back to the staircase. “I think she’s feeling pretty damn guilty right now.”

Mason waggles his eyebrows. “Must have been some hike.”

“I love her.” I swallow hard, but I can’t dislodge whatever is trapped in my throat. “Think I fell in love before she ever opened her mouth. I’m not going to lie to you, son, we’ve been physical, but it’s a hell of a lot more than that. She’s my girl and I aim to marry her.”

“Excuse me? You’re not dragging my best friend up to the Catskills.”

“You let me worry about the details.”

My son looks like he wants to argue more, but doesn’t. Instead, he cups his hands around his mouth and calls back toward the stairs. “Lyssa! Come here!”

Silence follows.

The shower is still running. It’s possible she can’t hear us.

But when I count back and realize she’s been in the shower for at least fifteen minutes, something sharp prods me in the gut. “Lyssa,” I boom, coming to my feet.

Still nothing.

With my heart thumping in my ears, I take the stairs two at a time and throw open the door, finding her room empty. No clothes or toiletries anywhere. No overnight bag. Panic rips holes in my stomach lining as I advance to the bathroom and kick the door open. There’s no one in the running shower.

My howl is loud enough to wake the dead.

Spinning blindly back into the bedroom, I see the open window and know she’s climbed out. This side of the house is on a slant, so it wouldn’t have been a far drop, but I throw my upper half over the sill anyway, terrified I’m going to find her broken on the ground. But no. She’s not there, she’s just gone. Gone.

Something white on the ground grabs my attention and I stoop down to snatch it up. A note. I unfold it and devour the contents.

Mason, I didn’t mean for it to happen.

But I fell in love with John.

Please know I would never have hurt you for a lesser reason.

I’m so sorry and I hope you’ll forgive me in time.

I’m taking an Uber to the bus station.

Don’t worry about me—and please tell him not to come after me.

Love, Lyssa

She loves me. Even as my heart swells to the point of pain, it’s ravaged by the knowledge that she wants me to let her go. Not on your fucking life, sweetness.

“Uh oh,” Mason says behind me, sitting down slowly on the edge of the bed. “I guess this is what I get for playing games. She took off because she thought she betrayed me, didn’t she?” I confirm with a grunt and he groans, falling backward on the bed. “I should have told her I wanted you two to get together. She thought she was broken or something after the attack, but it’s obvious she wasn’t. Seeing that made me so happy.”

Attack. That’s the only word I can hear, over and over.

Attack.

She’s returning to the city where someone accosted her and he was never caught. The very idea of her being vulnerable to him and a million other threats posed by such a huge, chaotic place ties me in knots.

“I have to stop the bus,” I rasp, lunging from the room. “I’ll find out which one she’s on. I’ll bring her home—”

“Whoa, Dad. Hold up.” My son’s voice brings me up short. “If Lyssa digs her heels in, you’re only going to decrease your chances with her by using brute force. She doesn’t respond well to hostility. I can already tell your plan is to carry her off the bus over your shoulder like a caveman.”

“She said she loved me,” I growl.

“And if you want to keep it that way…” Mason folds his hands in his lap. “You need a better game plan. I know her better than anyone, right? Let me help.”





CHAPTER SEVEN




Lyssa

My pace quickens on the sidewalk, the evening wind kicking up a swirl of leaves around my ankles. Four-story brownstones line the block of a route I know like the back of my hand. It’s one I took every day of my youth, all the way through high school.

I’ve been staying with my mother the last two nights in Brooklyn, ever since hightailing it out of the Catskills. I know I have to face Mason eventually, but the fact that he hasn’t called or texted me speaks volumes. I’ll probably return to our building in the city to find he’s thrown my clothing out onto the avenue. It would serve me right, wouldn’t it?

The subway ran at a snail’s pace tonight and I’m coming home to my mother’s later than usual. Ever since the incident in the stairwell, I make sure to be indoors before the sun sets, but tonight it wasn’t possible.

I hear footsteps behind me and glance back over my shoulder, my stomach rippling with anxiety. There doesn’t seem to be anyone there, but I know first hand how easy it is for someone to hide in the shadows of the numerous doorways. Or the stoops that reach out and bisect the sidewalk like bent legs.

No one is there.

Just keep walking. You’re fine.

I take a long, slow breath and let it out. My anxiety cools by a measly degree, but nothing can be done about my lifeless heart. It’s there in my chest keeping me alive, but the beat has been dull and irregular since I left John behind. How can I miss him so much when I only knew him one day? This intense longing of mine defies logic. I look for him in every crowd, on every subway platform or packed coffee shop. I know he isn’t there, but sometimes I get a whisper of his presence or hint of his scent and my pulse begins to clamor in my ears.

Between classes this afternoon, I sat in the common area, masses of students crisscrossing around me—and I fantasized about John grunting into my neck, my thighs around his waist, his big, rugged body moving over mine.

Fucking me.

My panties grew damper and damper until I found myself walking like a zombie to the ladies’ restroom. I closed myself in a stall and shoved a hand down the front of my panties, masturbating myself in the busy bathroom while whispering his name again. And again. And again. As soon as I’m alone tonight, I’ll need to touch myself again, even though I know the release won’t live up to the one he could give me. Nothing will ever live up to the feel of him, the size and texture of him.

“Christ, you’re shaking.” I’m pulled into his all-encompassing embrace and I sag. My sudden, boneless state is involuntary, but God, he’s just so warm and reassuring. His big hand cups the back of my head, his heart pounds in my ears and I never want to leave. “I’ve got you. The safest place you’ll ever be is with me.”

The memory comes unbidden to my mind and makes my breath hitch. My feet continue to move on the sidewalk—I’m only a block from my mother’s building now—but I feel like I’ve left my heart on the cold pavement.

Again, I hear footsteps and turn around, jogging backward. There’s a figure in the darkness. A silhouette of a man. Are my eyes playing tricks on me? He’s medium-sized. Stocky build. Just like the man who attacked me all those months ago. I turn around and start to run, but when I throw another glance over my shoulder to see if he’s giving chase, I watch in confusion as he’s yanked off his feet by an unseen force, disappearing from view behind a dumpster. A cracking sound follows—and then silence.

Knowing better than to be caught witnessing a crime, I turn and sprint for my mother’s building, skidding to a halt at the base of the stoop and vaulting up the stairs. I make sure to close the main door behind me and with shaking hands, I use my key to open the second, glass door that leads to the carpeted stairs. My mother’s apartment is on the third floor and it seems to take me an eternity to reach it, but I do and let myself in—only to find Mason laughing with my mother at the kitchen table.

“Oh,” I breathe, my eyes filling with tears at the sight of my best friend. “Hi.”

He hoists his glass of red wine. “Hey.”

True to form, he’s giving away nothing. “What are you doing here?”

“Watching Jeopardy. Gossiping with your mother.”

“I’ll give you two a minute,” my mom says, leaving the room.

Only a few seconds of silence make their way past before Mason rolls his eyes and sets down his wine glass. “Oh God, Lyssa, stop being dramatic. I’m here to get you, of course. Why else would I come to Brooklyn?”

I clasp my hands to my breasts and almost collapse with relief. “Really?”

“Yes, really. Now can we get back to Manhattan before I get a rash?” He points at the wine. “Think I can get a to-go cup for this?”

“I missed you,” I wail, throwing my arms around Mason’s neck. “I’m so sorry about everything. I’m a terrible friend.”

“No, you’re not.” His denial is firm. “I’m sorry I haven’t called you since the Catskills. I’ve been…busy with a few things. But trust me. No one is mad at anybody.”

“I don’t deserve you,” I say, stepping back and rubbing at my waterlogged eyes. “I’ll go get my things.”

He picks up his wine and sips with a twinkle in his eyes. “I’ll hunt for an expendable water bottle. No wine left behind.”

“No sir,” I call over my shoulder, already jogging for my bedroom.

In no time at all, we’ve kissed my mother goodbye and are piling into an Uber. After my scare on the walk home, I’m reluctant to return the same direction for the train and Mason doesn’t question me. We catch up on every single thing that happened over the last two days, all the way from Mason discovering the best breakfast burritos in the city to me acing my Advertising 101 test.

There is not one mention of John.

That should relieve me. I should understand why a sore subject wouldn’t come up between me and Mason, but the longer we talk without speaking John’s name, the more sadness and achiness I feel. Was John okay after I left? Was he angry? How is he? There are a million questions circulating in my head about the man I love and while I’m so happy to have my best friend back, I’m suddenly positive I can’t pretend as if John doesn’t exist. As if he didn’t claim my heart, my soul, my body. As if I don’t miss him beyond measure.

My feet don’t want to move when we climb out of the Uber and enter our building, but I put a smile on my face and follow Mason into the elevator, overnight bag in hand. My expression even looks brittle when I glimpse it reflected back in the stainless steel walls, so I give up altogether and stop smiling.

“Hey, are you all right?” Mason asks.

I press my lips together. “I-I think I just need some time.”

A lot of it.

“Some time for what?”

To get over your father.

Is such a thing even possible?

We were connected from the moment we met. We both felt it.

No one is ever going to make me feel like John.

“Nothing,” I croak, grateful when the elevator doors open. I lunge into the hallway, blinking to erase the moisture in my eyes before Mason sees it. “So, um…” My voice wobbles and breaks. “What kind of t-takeout are w-we getting—”

The apartment door across from ours opens, surprising me into silence.

Ducking beneath the doorframe and stepping out into the hall is John.

My John.

He’s in a dirty white T-shirt and faded black jeans, hair wild around his face and shoulders. He crosses his arms, stretching the shirt material to the point of nearly ripping, and oh-so-casually leans back against the doorframe.

His eyes are anything but casual. They eat me alive and I burn under their regard, coming alive after two days in the cold.

“I suppose you can order takeout if you want,” he says gruffly. “But I’d rather you come inside and let me feed you some stew.”

“Hard pass,” Mason laughs. “But I’m willing to bet my best friend here will take you up on that offer.”

“What are you…” Lamely, I point to the apartment he walked out of. “What are you doing in there?”

“Signed the lease yesterday. I’m your new neighbor.”

“What?” My jaw is on the floor. “But you hate New York!”

“Not nearly as much as I love you, Lyssa.”

A sob escapes my mouth, but I hesitate to throw myself into John’s arms like my body is begging me to do. I turn to Mason. “You knew about this?”

“Of course I did.” He grins and ruffles my hair. “Lyssa, you didn’t betray me. Once I saw how you reacted to John, I was scheming to get you and him together. There was never an econ paper. I just wanted to see you both happy—and I should have been upfront about it. Would have saved my father two days of misery.”

I turn my attention back to John and devour every detail of him, down to the salt and pepper in his five o’clock shadow to the bags under his eyes. “I’ve been miserable, too.” Finally, I take a running leap into his open arms, wrapping my legs around his hips and burying my face in his neck. “I love you. I missed you so bad.”

His arms close around me and I feel safer than I ever have in my whole life. Safe and turned on, because his erection is already wedging between us, demanding attention. I can’t help but shift against it and John growls deep in his throat.

“I think that’s my cue to leave,” Mason says dryly, vanishing into our apartment, the door closing behind him.

John backs the opposite direction into what is apparently his new digs, taking my clinging form with him. “You really moved to New York for me? And was that you in Brooklyn tonight? Did you grab the man who was following me? And—”

“Shhh, sweetness, we have forever. I’m not going anywhere,” John says against my mouth, his muscular form flattening mine on the door and leaving my feet dangling a yard off the ground. “And of course it was me. I spent the last two days canvasing tattoo shops in Brooklyn until I found someone who gave a man a Tweety Bird neck tattoo…when I wasn’t checking on you, of course.”

His mouth takes mine in a searing kiss and I almost lose my train of thought. “I knew I sensed you around. I knew it.”

John’s hips thrust up between my thighs and we moan in unison. “I couldn’t believe you walked by right as I was getting ready to move on him. He paid extra hard for following you again, Lyssa.” His brown eyes glitter momentarily with malice. “It won’t ever happen again.”

“I know.” I bite my bottom lip. “You won’t let it.”

“You’re going to let me take care of you.”

I nod enthusiastically at his non-question while he licks a path up the side of my neck. “Didn’t someone live in this apartment before?”

“Yeah. He suddenly had to move.” John winks at me. “Pity.”

“You’re crazy,” I laugh.

“Only when something stands between you and me.”

Keeping me propped against the wall, John strokes a hand down over my right breast, lower until I hear him unzip his pants. I’m all but panting by the time his thick member bobs free and smacks against my belly. “I need you inside me,” I whine. “Please.”

“Impatient little girl. Is your pussy wet enough?”

“Yes. I’m so wet,” I moan, my thighs climbing up and down his hips. “I started getting wet when I heard your voice.”

John’s nostrils flare, his right hand positioning his shaft at my clenching entrance. “Wet enough to take it rough?”

I try to impale myself, but he’s too thick to fit inside me without force—and that’s what he gives me. Catching my mouth in a snarling kiss, John thrusts his hips crudely, the power of his entry slamming my butt against the door. “Yes,” I whimper, my thighs tremoring. “Yes.”

“You will sleep here with me,” he rasps into my ear, driving his huge sex in and out of me. Slapslapslap. “No exceptions. If you want to have your fun across the hall with your best friend, that’s fine. But you will come home to your motherfucking man. I won’t have walls separating us.”

“I don’t want that, either,” I gasp.

“Let me love you,” he grits out against my lips. “Let me spend my lifetime guarding you.”

“I’m yours to guard. Yours to love.” I work myself on his hard sex, rubbing my clit on the ruddy base. Oh God, oh God, I’m so close. Now that I know what my body needs to tempt relief, I find that golden thread so much faster and my intuitive lover senses what I require, clutching my ass in his hands and helping me grind. “I don’t ever want to be apart again.”

“Never,” he vows fervently, loosing a harsh groan into the crook of my neck. “Come for me, Lyssa. I need to fill you up. I’ve been sick without you.”

We stare into each others eyes for several heavy beats, John using his grip on my bottom to hit that spot—over and over—and I pop like a balloon, screaming into the humid space between our bodies, my breasts jiggling like crazy now with the increased force of his thrusts. Those frantic ones that signal he’s at the end. His jaw loosens, his eyes going blind and then he’s joining me, both of us elevating to a place of pure, raw pleasure. And love.

John crushes me within his embrace and trails kisses along my hairline and cheeks. “Thank God I found you.” His gaze tracks over my face with adoration. “What was my life like without you?”

“You’ll never have to find out again,” I whisper, letting his kiss pull me under.





EPILOGUE




Lyssa

Three months later

My professor signals the end of class and I gather up my notes, excitement pulsing in my fingertips. John is waiting for me out in the hallway. I can feel it. I can feel him. The connection we forged in the Catskills grows stronger every day, amazing me sometimes. We can communicate everything to each other with a single look, but the look he’s giving me when I walk out of class is indecipherable. Stoic.

The girls leaving class around me titter and gasp at the sight of John, and while it annoyed me the first time, I’ve grown used to women ogling my big, bad mountain man. John loves to point out that men stare at me, too, but I never notice them. How can I when I’m giving John heart eyes 24/7?

“Hi,” I whisper, letting him pull me onto my toes and into a kiss. “You look even more menacing among a hallway of college students.”

“Good.” He takes my books and guides me out of the lecture building. “I have to make an appearance once in a while so the boys will continue to leave you alone and I don’t have to murder anyone.”

“Practical of you.”

His lips twitch. “I thought so.”

Once his smile goes, he’s back to being stoic and I frown over the shift. “Is it time for another weekend trip to the mountain house?”

When John gets fed up living in a concrete box, we take a trip to the Catskills and I have to admit, the wide-open space is starting to appeal to me more than the city. If it weren’t for school, I would probably beg to go more often.

“Soon, sweetness,” John says, not really answering my question.

A few minutes later we’re walking through Washington Square Park, our fingers laced together. The first time I brought him here, he scowled at the pigeons, the people, the trees, muttering about the rat race. Weird how his grumpy man vibe turned me on, right? I’m even more turned on now that he’s so casually in charge and relaxed no matter where we go in the city. In a short time, he’s become the king of this place and I’m thrilled to be his queen.

True to his word, John doesn’t question the time I spend next door doing facials or bingeing Netflix with Mason. Sometimes he even joins us—and it has been incredible to watch him grow closer to his son than ever before. They even went to a Yankees game together last week, sending me selfies until my heart wanted to burst.

When I’m not bogged down in school work, I help John run his new, online walking stick shop. One rainy weekend, we built a website and organized some advertising for the operation. In no time, we were getting emails from all over the country from people excited to purchase an original creation for the wounded veteran in their life. Each month, we walk to the post box together and drop in a check for one hundred percent of the profits to a military charity and it gives me so much happiness to witness John’s pride in what we built together.

Now, I pull him to stop at an ice cream stand midway through the park. “Want one?”

He shakes his head no, but pays for my vanilla cone, then walks me over to a park bench and sits me on his right thigh, my shoulder pressed to his chest. His big hand works its way into my hair and massages my scalp, those brown eyes of his riveted on my mouth. I’m being kind of shameless, licking my ice cream cone slowly, teasingly, and I can feel the effect it’s having on John’s body. His sex pulses under my butt, thickening with every lick I take.

“Christ, Lyssa, you’re asking to be fucked in broad daylight on this bench.”

I wiggle my bottom in his lap and lean in, smiling against his mouth. “Will you settle for a kiss?”

“For now,” he growls, nipping at my bottom lip. “Later, I won’t settle for anything less than you on your back screaming.”

Heat flares between my legs, pulling at my intimate muscles. “The upstairs neighbors will call the landlord and complain again.”

“No,” he drawls. “They won’t.”

My spine straightens. “John, did you threaten the neighbors?”

He grunts. “I suggested a new place to shove their phone.”

I giggle into his shoulder. “See? You fit right in here, just like I knew you would.” I take a few licks of my ice cream, a sigh of complete contentment leaving me. “I love you so much, John,” I whisper, leaning up to nuzzle my nose against his unshaven chin. “You make me so happy.”

Affection deepens the brown of his eyes. “Thank God for that, Lyssa, because I can’t live without you.” He pulls me down for a long kiss, his tongue traveling into my mouth and coaxing mine into a dance. When we finally break for air, I’m spun in such a web of lust and love, it takes me a few seconds to notice the black velvet ring box he’s holding between us.

My jaw drops.

Before I can sputter an answer, John stands, turns and settles me on the bench. And then he gets down on one knee in front of me. Oh wow. This is happening. He’s proposing to me while I eat ice cream—does life get any better? John is the most heroic, incredible sight I’ve ever beheld, a gorgeous treasure of a man surrounded by the city I’m slowly but surely teaching him to love.

“Lyssa,” he begins gruffly. “You’ve shaken up my life in a way I never could have expected. I’ve had this ring for three months because…I keep wondering if taking you for my wife makes me selfish. See, I’ve never been happy and now I grow happier every damn day, because of you. I’m…overflowing.” He clears his throat hard. “I finally decided to accept that I’m a lucky bastard and be selfish, though I never really had a choice to begin with because living without you is never going to be an option. I’m putting a ring on your finger, Lyssa, and I’m keeping you. Always.”

“How like you to tell me we’re getting married,” I laugh tearfully, throwing myself into his arms. “Yes. Yes, you’re going to keep me. And I’m keeping you.”

John pulls back long enough to slide a big, sparkly diamond onto my finger. Then he picks me up off the bench and spins me in a circle while passersby applaud. It’s the single greatest moment of my life and I know there are many more to come.



John

Five years later

I wait for my wife in the meadow, heart hammering in my throat.

She will forever put me in this state of need. Anticipation. Longing.

Waiting to be alone with her is the hardest part of my life, because she has made everything else so easy. Since she graduated college, we’ve spent the majority of our time in the Catskills. Having more space became especially necessary when she gave birth to our son, Graham, although we still return to our apartment in the city for weekends alone. Mason is happy to babysit across the hall, but when he’s busy, our nanny remains home with our son, as she will do tonight while I make love to Lyssa in the meadow. Our meadow, where I took her for the first time.

Our meadow, where no one can hear our wild moans.

Christ. This lust never wanes.

Most mornings, I have her mounted before our eyes are fully open, rattling the wooden joints of our four poster bed with such force, it’s a wonder the goddamn thing hasn’t collapsed. She’s a constant temptation. More so now than ever. Watching her nurture our child has amplified my protective nature and she’s never safer than when she is in my arms. So that’s where I keep her.

I tip my head back and grunt up at the moonlight, impatience turning over and over in my gut. When I left the house, she was reading our son a bedtime story and preparing to leave him with the nanny, but it must have been a long one.

I want my wife now.

I need her endlessly.

This nightly torture of waiting is the greatest pleasure/pain imaginable. Doesn’t she know how badly I ache every moment of the day? We now work together running our custom walking stick business. My role is to carve the sticks and Lyssa creates the purchase orders, does the shipping and reaches out to our many vendors. Over the last five years, we’ve managed to donate over a million dollars to wounded veterans, all because of her amazing mind.

However, working together means we’re in close quarters all day and her sexy voice taunts me when she speaks on the phone. Every time she turns to smile at me, my cock thickens in my jeans. Forget about when she bends forward to pull a file out of the cabinet, distracting me with her gorgeous ass. Most of the time I can’t stop myself from sitting her atop my desk, stepping between her thighs and pumping my frustration into her.

Just thinking about how she purrs and opens her legs invitingly has me reaching into my pants and stroking my dick. Lord, when will my obsession with my wife stop growing? I keep thinking I’ve reached the height of it and then I do something like pay an ice cream truck thousands of dollars to take daily trips to our house, just so I can watch her lick a vanilla cone. Or steal her panties right off her body in the middle of a restaurant, so I can take them to the bathroom and jerk off into them. She’s infatuated me, obsessed me, and she owns me for life.

My Lyssa.

And there she is, drifting through the moonlight in a little white nightgown, twirling through a patch of flowers, her hair in loose waves around her shoulders. I want to go to her, to meet her halfway, but her beauty renders my legs incapable of moving. Finally, though, she’s in reaching distance and I waste no time pulling her against me. Hard.

“Wife,” I rasp. “What have I told you about keeping me waiting?”

She toys with a button on my shirt. “That it makes you want to play rough?”

Damn right it does. Being kept from my mate turns me into a beast. “Since you’re half an hour late, should I assume that’s what you want?”

Her bottom lip pops out in sexy pout, her fingertips sliding down my chest to unbuckle my belt. “I want to make you crazy.”

“You’re succeeding.”

My groan carries through the meadow as Lyssa falls to her knees and takes out my cock, looking up at me while she polishes the tip with her tongue. Fuck, I can barely stand it when she goes down on me, the pleasure is so intense. Already my balls threaten release at the depravity of it all. My young wife with her innocent eyes and lily-white nightgown suckling my big, purple-headed cock. In this moonlit setting, I feel like I’m defiling a sweet, trusting fairy, but I’m too horny to be ashamed of myself. I’m always so fucking horny for her, like a fever I never want to cure.

Lyssa moans around my flesh, her lips stretching around the girth as she descends down, down, reaching just past the midway point before she chokes a little. God love her, though, she does it over and over again, deep throating me until my hips start to thrust in unconscious movements, seeking the warm suction her lips are offering.

“Good little girl. Suck me as far down as you can.” I gather her hair in my hands and guide her up and back, growling at the sight of her beautiful bobbing head. “Don’t worry. Whatever your mouth can’t take I’ll stuff into your pussy.”

Lyssa’s fingernails claw into my thighs and that’s the signal that she needs her husband’s cock. Now. Thank God, because her mouth is killing me, tempting my climax with every lick of her tongue and graze of her teeth.

Going down on my knees, I flip Lyssa around and yank her back into my lap, bucking against her smooth ass cheeks.

“Ready to play rough, wife?”

Without waiting for an answer, I enter her with a swift thrust, reveling in her gratified sob of my name. “Do we ever play any other way?” she gasps, her body already shaking against mine.

I fall forward and our mouths meet over her shoulder in a desperat