Keeping Kenzie

Tara Eldana

Keeping Kenzie

By Tara Eldana

Prologue

Kenzie

Damn her nerves. Why did she have to be so shy? Rick – who stood a few feet away from her – kissed more than once. He touched her there and she’d stroked him until he’d pulled her hand away.undefined

He stood talking to Mrs. Kaye, the lady she worked with in the jewelry kiosk at the mall, the only summer job she could find.

He lived on the same street that Mrs. Kaye did.

Did he know she worked there, too?

Kenzie spotted him clear across the mall when she was supposed to be dusting the displays of the costume jewelry they sold. He walked at his usual fast clip with his swimmer’s shoulders and swagger. He wore his chocolate brown hair longer than she remembered so it brushed his collar.

They hadn’t talked much since he broke up with her last year. She saw him two days later with his arm around Lissa, the president of the student congress, who was beautiful, tiny, with long black hair.

Kenzie stood five feet seven, had light brown boring hair and was president of nothing.

She’d dated a couple guys but they didn’t make her feel the way Rick did when he touched her.

She edged closer to hear what he was saying. He said he was going to the University of Chicago in a couple days and planned to do pre-law.

She still had a year of high school left. Her family couldn’t afford an expensive, private school for her with her younger sister two years behind her in high school.

Kenzie’s grades were good, but she didn’t top out at 4.0 and she wasn’t president of the student congress. She had chances at scholarships, but it was unlikely she’d get a full ride to a school like the University of Chicago. She didn’t even know what she wanted to do.

She would be happy to get into the University of Michigan or Michigan State, her older sister’s alma mater.

She swallowed hard.

This was it – her last chance to talk to Rick.

He was leaving in two freaking days.

She could hear her older sister’s voice in her head telling her to just walk over there, look him in the eye with what her sister said were Kenzie’s amazing green eyes, and smile.

Kenzie knew she needed to get some backbone.

What did she have to lose?

A girl with a nose ring stepped up to the counter.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Nose ring’s cell phone rang and she stepped away from the counter to answer it.

She took a deep breath, stood behind Mrs. Kaye, who was all of five feet. She had to stare up at Rick. He stood two or three inches over six feet. He glanced at her.

Had his eyes gotten even bluer and his jawline more sculpted?

He was leaving and no other guy made her feel like he did. She drank him in, his tight black t-shirt, toned arms, six pack and faded jeans.

Her heart in her face, she smiled into his eyes.

His eyes widened and he shook his head, as if to clear it. He nodded then turned his attention back to Mrs. Kaye.

Her heart seemed to separate from her body when she’d seen him with Lissa so soon after they broke up. That was nothing compared to the coldness seeping through her chest now.

She had to get out of there. “I’m taking my dinner break, Mrs. Kaye.” She fled out of the kiosk toward the Coney Island restaurant the Detroit area was famous for.

She heard steps behind her. She clutched her purse closer. Despite being so close to Detroit, purse snatchings at the suburban mall in the safe northern suburb of the city did happen.

“Mac, wait.”

Rick Renfew was the only one who called her Mac. Everyone else called her Kenzie. Only her mother and teachers on the first day of school called her Mackenzie. Lexi, her older sister, couldn’t pronounce Mackenzie when she was little and called her Kenzie and it stuck and Kenzie preferred it.

She twisted her face into her fakest smile and turned to face him. “Hi, Rick. I didn’t mean to interrupt your talk with Mrs. Kaye. She’s known you forever, right?”

His mouth tightened. “No, Mac, I want the real one.”

“What?”

He took her hand and led her to the Coney Island restaurant. “Your smile, I want the real one, not this, whatever it is.” He got them a table and ordered two cokes and an order of chili cheese fries before she could think of anything to say.

“Your favorite, right?” he said.

She was baffled. They had only gone out on maybe three dates. “How did you remember that?”

He didn’t take her eyes off her face. “I remember everything, Mac.”

She dropped her gaze and took a napkin. “No one calls me that but you.”

“Good.”

Her throat tightened and her heart hammered. She forced herself to take even breaths.

The waitress brought their cokes. She took a long sip. Rick was agitated and looked away from her when she took the straw into her mouth. What was up with that?

She fiddled with her hair. “The University of Chicago, huh?” she said.

He picked up a napkin.

“Pre-law?” she said. “Your dad’s an attorney, right?”

He shrugged. “Dad and grandpa are hoping I come into the firm with them. Paul is an architect and Reeni wants to teach. What about you?”

She shredded the flimsy napkin. “I like history or journalism, both very lucrative fields.” She rolled her eyes. “You wrack up all kinds of debt and make nothing. I have to figure it out.”

The waitress came with the chili cheese fries, put them in the middle of the table and set down two plates. He raised his eyebrows in silent question.

She giggled. “Help me eat these, please.”

His breath caught and he smiled back. “Your real one. There it is.”

She ate her fill and he finished them off. She glanced at her cell phone and pulled out ten dollars. “I have to get back.”

His eyes flashed silver. Was he angry? “

“Put your money away, Mac.” He threw three dollars on the table and paid the bill at the register.

“Thanks,” she said, striving to keep her voice even. It cracked when she got upset. She just had to say goodbye.

“Chicago will be awesome,” she said. “Bye.”

He threaded his fingers through hers and led her to the corridor near the lockers. Nobody in the mall could see them.

He looked pissed again. “Don’t come down here alone, okay?”

She nodded. Was he going to kiss her? He took hold of her waist. “Promise me.”

“Yes,” she said. His eyes turned silver again. “Kiss me goodbye?”

She nodded and he touched his lips to hers. She tingled all over. Did he feel it too? He groaned, grabbed hold of her shoulder-length hair, wrapped it around his hand and slanted his mouth over hers, deepening the kiss.

His tongue sought entry and she gave it to him. She wound her arms around his neck as his tongue mimicked what she wanted him to do with his cock inside her. She dug her fingers into his back and pressed against him. Her nipples tightened like pebbles. She ground herself against the bulge in his pants.

He broke away from her. His eyes narrowed to silver slits and a muscle twitched in his cheek. “You kiss all the guys like that?”

“No.” She said it before she could stop herself. He raked his hand through his hair. “What time do you get off?” He took her hand and walked her down the hallway.

“N-nine,” she said.

“Okay,” he said. He turned and left without another glance or word. She lifted a hand to her swollen lips. The rest of her shift was a blur. She nodded and smiled as Mrs. Kaye chattered about her grandkids.

Did he still have her cell phone number? She’d kept his. She tried to delete it but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She checked her phone for a text from him.

Nothing.

At eight-thirty Mrs. Kaye cashed out. The mall was nearly empty and there was no sign of Rick. At nine on the dot they pulled the heavy vinyl curtain around the kiosk to lock it down for the night.

Still no Rick.

She trudged to her car, a used Focus, with Mrs. Kaye. They didn’t have assigned parking spots but they were supposed to park in the same general area so they could walk to their cars together at closing time, although security guards patrolled the lot, people, laptops or purses were stolen out of cars.

Did Rick remember where she lived? Was he waiting for her at her house? She turned into her subdivision, making the series of turns to get to her street in the middle of the neighborhood.

He could look it up. Mary and John McCardle kept their land line so their address was listed. Her cell battery was good. Maybe his died?

She walked into her house, her eyes on her phone.

Her mother looked up from the book she was reading. “Hey sweets.”

“Hey Kenz.” Her dad didn’t look away from the TV, the Detroit Tigers were playing a night baseball game against the Minnesota Twins.

“Are you hungry? There’s pizza,” her mom said.

Her cell chimed with a text. “No, thanks.”

It was her best friend Emma asking if she wanted to hang out.

No. Have headache. Feel like shit. L

She felt like shit for lying to Em. What if she saw her when she was out with Rick?

She sat on her bed and pulled up his number. Hey. Thanx for ccf.

What else should she say? Kiss me again? Want to hang out? She just ended it with Mac and hit send and waited.

Em sent back a test with a sad face emoticon.

Nothing from Rick. She checked to see that her text was delivered.

It was.

Should she call?

She could say she wanted to be sure she had the right phone number. She hit call. It went to voicemail. “Hey Rick, it’s Mac. Not sure if this is still your number. I just wanted to say thanks for the fries and, uh, bye.”

She ended the call and groaned and waited and waited.

At midnight she crawled into her bed, pulled the covers over her head so her younger sister Reeni couldn’t hear her through their bedroom wall, and cried until she had nothing left.

Why did he go after her in the mall?

Why did he kiss her like she belonged to him? Why did she let him?

Why was he pissed at the thought she would kiss and dry-hump other guys like she did with him?

One of her mother’s favorite expressions, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” played over in her mind. At least she hadn’t lied to Em.

When dawn came he head throbbed so much, she could barely move it.

***

Rick

He stared at her text and listened to her voice on his cell for the tenth time.

He wanted, needed her like he needed air in his lungs. He wanted to taste her and sink inside her until she screamed his name. He’d wanted to do those things to her sweet, innocent body during the three weeks when they dated and she would have let him. But she was too young and too sweet.

So he acted like the dick he was, broke it off and made sure she saw him with Alissa or Leesa or whatever her name was. He imagined every girl he’d been with since was Mac. He almost said her name when he was with the other girls more than once.

He avoided Mac and they barely spoke since they broke up.

But he had to see her before he left the state for college. He saw her by chance working in the mall a couple weeks ago. It was closing time and her girlfriend was waiting for her.

So he stalked the kiosk every chance he could.

And there she was. He walked up, hoping to catch her eye when Mrs. Kaye cornered him. Mac wouldn’t look at him or come near him. Then she did.

She looked at him with her amazing green eyes with her soft brown hair hanging in waves around her face and smiled.

It hit him square in his solar plexus and groin. He tried to hide his reaction to her and reverted to full dick mode. When he saw her sweet ass running away from him he chased after her, crazy for a taste, one last little taste of her before he never saw her again.

Then she pressed herself against him and he was lost.

He was leaving.

She was in his arms, finally, and he had to let her go. He ripped himself away from her and slipped into jerk mode again, asking her if she kissed other guys the way she kissed him, as if he had that right.

He could tell by her flushed cheeks and sweet face she was telling him the truth when she said “no.”

If he didn’t put physical distance between them, he was going to lose the rest of his fucking mind. He wanted to drive to her house and take her out for breakfast, take her to a secluded spot at Stony Creek and lose himself inside her.

But she deserved more than a quick fuck in the grass before he had to leave. He would bet she was still a virgin.

He raked his hand through his hair. He had to leave now. His parents were still home. They bustled around the kitchen pouring coffee and munching on bagels.

“I’m going to head out today,” he said.

His mom frowned. “But we were going to Loui’s for pizza tonight.”

“I’ll be eating lots of pizza, Chicago-style, Mom. I’ll have a better chance of finding a place to keep the Jeep if I leave today.” His parents helped him buy a used one he’d found on Craigslist. Freshmen weren’t technically issued parking passes on campus.

“Let him go, Deb.” His father put his hand on his mother’s shoulder.

His mom nodded and walked over to him and held her arms out. He bent down so she could hug him. She ruffled his hair.

He hugged her hard, inhaling her mom smell that carried the faintest trace of perfume, although she wore her bathrobe. She released him and kissed his cheek, blinking back tears. “Be a good boy,” she said.

He nodded, too choked up to speak. His dad hugged him, then thumped him gently on the back and extended his hand. He shook it. “I love you guys,” he said.

His father wore a suit for court. “I’ve got to go talk to the judge for my buddy’s asshole kid who got popped for driving drunk. Take care, junior.”

He grimaced as his dad left. He hated that nickname.

His mom laughed. “He just calls you that to piss you off.”

“Why couldn’t you name Nick after dad?” He was oldest.

She shrugged. “I’ve got to get ready for work. Drive safe, Ricky. Be safe.”

“I will Mom.”

***

Kenzie

She got to the mall two hours before her shift started and walked into the salon. They had a cancellation so she got right in.

“Cut it,” she said. “However you think. And purple streaks.”

Every time she thought of Rick’s hands in her hair she wanted to cry or scream. She was done with that shit. She’d already taken her senior picture looking all sweet and respectable. Now it was time for bad ass Kenzie.

Her oldest sister Lexi wasn’t marrying the douche till next spring. The purple would be long gone for wedding pics. She took a selfie before Geoff, the stylist, got started and sent it to Em, texting big change coming.

She realized too late she texted it to Rick, too.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

What would he think? She shivered in the salon. The air conditioning in the salon had to be cranked to 60 degrees. She looked at her photo and groaned. If you looked hard enough, you could see her nipples against her t-shirt, even though she wore a bra.

For the cold, not you, asshole, she texted, but didn’t send it.

Geoff draped her in a cape and picked up a strand of her boring brown hair. “You sure?”

“Yep.” She leaned back into the shampoo bowl. The hot water felt good. She was washing away his touch, like the song in the play her school put on last month, “South Pacific.”

No guy would ever own the way she let Rick have her yesterday. It would be on her terms or not at all. She wouldn’t settle either, not like her sister Lexi.

Steve treated her sister like spun glass but something was off. She could feel it in her gut. Her sister’s heart and passion was not in this marriage. She couldn’t shake the idea that Steve was using Lexi, but for what, she didn’t know.

They met at Michigan State University and he was pretty much the only guy her sister was with since they’d been there. They planned to get married right after they finished school next spring. But she would swear they’d never had sex. Steve didn’t look at Lexi or touch her like that.

Her sister had glowed during the few short weeks she’d dated Luke Kettering while she was still in high school. She was different after he dumped her, like a light went out inside her.

“Follow me, doll.” Geoff wrapped a towel around her wet hair and pointed to a chair.

She looked him in the eye in the mirror. “Do it,” she said. She watched with satisfaction as clumps of her hair dropped to the floor. He gelled it up and blew it dry.

She liked it. Geoff pulled out artful spikes with some sort of wax. Her hair had enough natural wave, which she had always hated, that it didn’t stay flat like helmet hair. She loved the purple streaks. But she needed heavier eyeliner and some pale pink lipstick to complete her new look, and maybe a nose ring, but not permanent. Her mother would freak.

She left Geoff a good tip and headed for the MAC makeup counter at Macy’s and spent the rest of her cash. She used a heavy hand with the lipstick and eyeliner and took a selfie and sent it to Em.

She answered instantly. OMG WTF.

Kenzie smoothed more lipstick over her still swollen lips and went to start her shift. She didn’t realize her second text went to Rick, too.

Chapter One

Kenzie

Her senior year flew and college rocked. She earned her undergrad with a history major at Michigan State and was accepted at the University of Chicago to do her grad work. She went out with guys at college but still had her V-card, and not for lack of trying to lose it. This earned her the rep as a cock tease.

She was lucky enough to room with Em in the dorms, then live with her in an apartment for the full four years at state. Em found out from some wasted frat boy that some of the bigger assholes had a contest to see who would pop Kenzie’s cherry.

Kenzie never put herself in a situation she didn’t control. Before she left for state, she took a self-defense course at Krav Maga and signed up for boxing lessons at a local gym. She tried to get Reeni, Lexi and Em to go with her but Em and Reeni didn’t want to and Lexi said yoga did it for her.

Kenzie suspected Lexi’s new husband Luke, a prosecutor for Oakland County, knocked her up already and they were waiting to make the formal announcement. She was right.

Luke and Lexi had dated briefly in high school and apparently never got over each other. Thank God Luke came to his senses before Lexi married the douche. Although he cut it close, waiting until Lexi was in her wedding gown, on her wedding day to claim her.

She told herself firmly that she was not her sister. She only thought of Rick when she was alone with Trusty Rusty, her little pink wonder.

Lexi and Luke’s story was fodder for a romance novel.

On Lexi’s wedding day to Marcus aka the douche, Luke kidnapped her and whisked her to a cabin in Northern Michigan after he strong-armed Marcus to call off the wedding. Luke forced Marcus to send Lexi a text an hour before the ceremony. He used his connections with the police he knew to find out Marcus was gay and planned to use Lexi – who he genuinely loved as a friend, as a front to shield himself from his hateful, homophobic father.

Luke and Lexi eloped to Las Vegas two weeks after she would have married Marcus. After two kids, Luke and Lexi couldn’t be in the same room without eye-fucking or touching each other.

Would anybody ever look at her that way?

She ran her fingers through her short hair and stared through the crowd jammed into the sports bar near campus looking for Em, who had been uncharacteristically withdrawn lately. Em’s boyfriend broke up with her last week. They had gone out for two years. Em had been expecting an engagement ring and got dumped instead.

A guy Kenzie had never seen before handed her friend a glass and Em took it. Kenzie barely made it to Em’s side before she lifted the glass to her lips.

“Don’t,” she said. She looked the guy over, tall, brown hair and blue eyes, like Rick, but with a weak chin.

Fuck, she had to stop doing that.

The ass hat wouldn’t look her in the eye. “We’re sticking to beer,” Kenzie said.

“It is,” weak chin said.

“That we open or see opened ourselves.” She pulled Em, whose eyes looked glassy, toward the bar. “What the hell, Em?” She took hold of her shoulders. “Did you drink anything?”

She shrugged.

“Water,” Kenzie yelled. “Now.”

Lara, who Kenzie knew from her English classes, set a pitcher of water and glasses on the bar. Kenzie filled one and held it to Em’s lips. She drank it all and Kenzie poured her another. Em drank half of it and set it down. “I’ll puke if I drink anymore,” She leaned back against the bar and shut her eyes.

“Em, stay with me,” Kenzie said. She had her hand on her phone ready to call 911.

“Kenz, stop, I’m okay.” Tears slipped down her cheeks. “I was pregnant and I miscarried. I took painkillers the doctor gave me.”

“And you thought drinking was a good idea?”

“Yes – no. I was just sniffing it, Kenz.” She put her hand over Kenzie’s. “You raised me right. I just don’t want to feel anything – you know?”

She did. “Did that piece of shit break up with you because you were pregnant?”

“No, I took the test because I was two weeks late, then I started. I went to the doctor because…” her voice trailed off. Kenzie nodded. She could guess why.

“I didn’t tell him. I was going to say I miscarried but before I could he said we were graduating and we should make a clean break.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck. She saw him, Em’s ex, walk into the bar with some girl plastered against him. Em didn’t see him yet.

“Lara, can we head out the back way?”

Lara frowned, then saw Em’s ex and shrugged. “What do I care? I’m quitting next week anyway.” She let them behind the bar and they walked out to the parking lot. Kenzie fished her keys to her used Blazer out of her pocket. “Let’s go back to the apartment, okay?” She made sure Em was sitting safe in the seat and drove back to their apartment.

No fucking way would a guy hurt her like that guy did to sweet Em.

No fucking way.

***

Kenzie stood in her cap and gown as her parents and sisters snapped her picture. Her smile was natural because she couldn’t stop laughing at her brother-in-law’s attempt to keep Belinda, his two-and a half-year-old, happy as he held a squirmy six-month-old Cole in his arms.

“Pwease, daddy?” Belinda looked exactly like Lexi with her blonde hair and turquoise eyes.

“Wait for Mumma, okay Daisy?” Kenzie grinned at Luke’s sweet nickname for his daughter.

Belle, as everyone else called her, crossed her arms and stamped her feet. “No,” she hollered. “Potty, now.”

“I’ll take the big guy.” Kenzie held her arms out for Cole. “There’s a family restroom behind us.”

Luke picked up a bulging diaper bag, took Belinda’s hand and manfully took her into the bathroom.

“That child trained herself,” her mother murmured and resumed snapping pictures.

Em ran up beside her, put her cheek against her, taking care not to jostle Cole and took a selfie of their faces.

She stepped away, checked the photo, and then no doubt posted it on her Facebook page.

Luke, looking pissed, led Belinda back to Lexi.

“Success?” Lexi said.

“Just toots,” Belinda said.

Everyone laughed, prompting Belinda to chant “toots” non-stop. Luke pinched the bridge of his nose. Mary handed her phone to Luke. “Take some pics of the girls for me and I’ll take a walk with little miss.”

They left and Lexi took Cole from Kenzie. Luke snapped a couple of photos, whispered something in Lexi’s ear, then buried his face in her neck.

“Are they always like this?” Em asked.

“Yeah,” Kenzie said.

“Holy hell,” Em said.

“I know, right?” Kenzie said.

“Get a room,” Reeni said.

Luke pulled Lexi back against him and wrapped his arm around her ribcage. Cole let out a wail.

“I didn’t get a chance to tell you yet,” Em said. “My dad’s grad present is three nights at the Drake in Chicago for next weekend.”

Kenzie knew she would have taken her ex if they were together. But she wouldn’t turn down a room in a swanky hotel.

“Thanks Em,” she said. “Maybe we could look at apartments? Not for long, I promise.”

“Sure,” Em said.

***

Kenzie and Em waited for a table at Pizza Uno. They’d spent most of the day shopping on the Mag Mile and were dragging a bunch of bags. The plan was to eat some dinner, go back to the hotel, then go to the top of the Willis Tower, aka Sears Tower for drinks. They finally inched their way toward the front when every cell in her body buzzed to life.

Em turned to say something and stared past her. “Rick?”

Rick? No. Fucking. Way. And how would Em know Rick? It had to be some other guy named Rick.

“Emma?”

It was his voice, the voice that made her toes curl. She had to get a grip.

She took a deep breath, turned toward him and forced a laugh. He wore jeans and a black T-shirt, the same thing he wore the last time she saw him.

Fuck.

Why did she remember that? His chest and arms were broader and more muscled and his hair was shorter and a bit darker than she remembered.

“I’ve got a table for four,” the hostess said.

“Come on.” Rick threaded his fingers through hers and pulled her with him, as if he had every right to, and she was letting him. Electricity arced up her arm and pooled between her legs as he followed the hostess through the packed restaurant.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. The hostess stopped at a booth. She tugged her hand out of his grasp and moved toward Em so she could sit next to her.

Kyle, the guy Rick was with, had Em’s full attention. He was almost as tall as Rick, but leaner. He had sandy brown hair and dark brown eyes. He was seriously hot and Kenzie felt – nothing.

Rick took hold of her waist and moved them so she was sitting next to him in the booth. He smirked when she stuffed her shopping bags between them.

Em held her hands out. “Here, Kenz. They’ll fit inside mine up here.” There was space on a window ledge next to her.

Rick plucked them up, and a thong slipped out. She stuffed it in her purse and felt her cheeks flame. Why did he smell so good? She could smell cologne but it was laced with something else, a scent remembered from the last time he kissed her. Shit, shit, shit.

Why was he still in Chicago? He should have finished his undergrad last year. She almost didn’t apply to the University of Chicago for grad school but she was damned if she was going to let the one-in-a-million chance that Rick would be in the same city stop her from applying to the school she wanted.

“I’ve never eaten here,” Em said. “There’s one near home, too.”

Kyle never took his eyes off Em. She looked beautiful with her new short hair and pink cheeks from all the walking they did. They both wore jeans and Detroit Tiger T-shirts.

“Thanks for recommending this,” Em smiled at Rick.

“What?” Kenzie said.

“On Facebook,” Em said.

Em kept a private page she only shared with friends. She posted daily, sometimes twice a day. She and Rick must be “friends” That meant he would have seen Kenzie’s comments to Em’s posts and all the photos Em tagged her in. Did he know they would be here tonight?

“Yes,” Rick said, close to her ear.

Crap, she said that out loud.

He dropped his voice to a whisper and put his hand on her arm. Electricity arced through her again, flooding her core. Fuck.

“Kyle was crushing on Emma and looked at everything she posted. When she changed her status and said she was coming here tonight – we’ve been here a while,” he said. “This is a total set up. Seems like it’s going well,” he said dryly.

Em was smiling, really smiling, for the first time since her miscarriage. No way could she shit on that. The waitress, a tiny, curvy blonde, came by, eye-fucked Rick and Kyle and took their drink orders. They ordered a pitcher of beer and Kenzie ordered a shot of Jack.

“All around,” Rick said. His leg brushed hers. She inched away and tried to study the menu. Rick, damn him, moved closer and pointed to where it said pizza. “How’ve you been, Mac?”

“Fine.” Crap, she sounded like a pissy teenager.

“Kenzie is going to grad school her for history, University of Chicago in two weeks for summer semester. She’s checking out apartments tomorrow.”

Kyle smiled at her. “Cool,” he said.

Uncomfortable being the focus of attention, she set down the menu and looked at Rick. “Your alma mater, right? Are you in law school?”

He shrugged. “No,” he said. “I transferred to the University of Illinois, architecture. I’m an architect, a great disappointment to Dad.”

She fought back the urge to soothe him. Holy hell.

The waitress delivered their shots, bending over to give Rick a good look at her boobs. He said thanks, but otherwise ignored her. He picked up his shot glass, staring at Kenzie until she did too. “To choices,” he said. His eyes never left her face.

“Choices,” she said, tearing her eyes from his that had turned that amazing silver she remembered.

“I have a two-bedroom apartment in Hyde Park,” he said, drawing her gaze back to him. “I travel a lot and you could stay there.”

She picked up the menu. “Won’t your girlfriend care?” Crap. She did not just say that.

She looked at Kyle and Em, who were oblivious. Love at first sight? Or lust at least.

Rick chuckled. Damn. She blabbed out loud again. He took the menu out of her nerveless fingers. ’They didn’t hear,’ he said. “After we eat, why don’t you come with me and check it out? I don’t think Emma will mind.”

Before she could tell him hell no the waitress came back. Rick ordered pizza and salad while she watched Kyle and Em fall under each other’s spell. She’d never seen Em so happy, not even with her ex. Feeling like an intruder, she looked away. “Another shot,” she called out to the waitress.

“All around,” Rick said, narrowing his eyes at her. “You drink alone, Mac?” His eyes took on that silver cast again.

“Meth, crack, whatever I can get my hands on,” she said.

“She does not,” Em said, turning her attention back to Kyle.

“Why do you care?” Kenzie said.

The shots came. Kyle and Em didn’t notice. A muscle twitched in Rick’s cheek. He looked agitated. “You were still in high school.” He said it so softly she barely heard it. Shades of Luke and Lexi?

No. Fucking. Way. That stuff only happened for her sister and Luke or in romance books.

Kenzie had moved on and from the looks Rick drew from every female in the vicinity – he had too. She reached for her shot glass. His arm brushed hers as he reached for his and that damn spark coursed through her again. “To building things,” she said.

His eyebrows shot up. Where had that come from? Did he think she meant the two of them – that she wanted him? She downed her shot fast. “I mean you’re an architect,” she sputtered. “You’re doing what you want.”

“We’re thinking of going out on our own,” Kyle said. “Our own company, in another year or two.”

The salad came then. The waitress stood as close to Rick as she possibly could. Why did that piss her off? Blondie said something and Rick crinkled his eyes into a smile. Jealousy rose like bile in her throat. Why?

He meant nothing to her and she obviously meant nothing to him if he was smiling at Blondie while Kenzie sat next to him. What was up with the offer she stay in his apartment?

She took Em’s shot and downed it. Her friend didn’t even notice. Blondie took a small coaster out of her pocket and slid it across the table toward Rick. “Jess,” and her phone number were written on it.

Fuck this. “Excuse me,” Kenzie said. “I see someone.”

Rick stood, frowning as she grabbed her purse and scooted out of the booth. “Em, take my stuff back, K?”

Em shot her a puzzled look but nodded. Kenzie headed for the throng of people near the bar. She stayed there until Blondie came back with the pizza for their table, then slipped out the door. She hailed a cab back to the Drake.

She saw no reason not to hang out at Willis Tower like they planned. She pulled out her black, strapless dress and fuck-me heels. She used a flat iron to tame the wave from her hair she’d grown out to shoulder length, used a heavy hand with the eyeliner and red lipstick and switched her stuff from her big purse to a small clutch.

She was buzzed so she opened a bag of potato chips they’d brought for the room. They sat like sludge in her stomach. She brushed her teeth and freshened her lipstick, then slipped the key to the room in her clutch and opened the door.

She walked smack into an immense wall of male. Rick? His cologne mixed with her Poison perfume – worlds colliding.

She wobbled on her heels and his hands spanned her waist. She felt the familiar zing. No.

She pulled away and clicked the door shut. She’d left a tinge of red from her lipstick on his black T-shirt. She touched the smudge with her fingernail, grazing his nipple. He stilled.

She stared into his eyes. He looked furious. “I marked you,” she said. She tried to step around him. “Sorry.”

He took hold of her waist. “Where you headed, Mac?”

She wet her suddenly dry lips. “Willis Tower. I’m meeting someone.” She just didn’t know who.

A muscle twitched in his cheek again. She touched it with her finger and he turned his mouth and pressed a kiss on her wrist. Her pulse raised.

“Who?” he said.

“Don’t know yet.” Her words sounded slurred. She needed fresh air.

Chapter Two

Rick

He shut his eyes. He had to keep his shit together. “So you know, you can mark me anytime.”

She gasped. Good. Worlds colliding. She didn’t know she said that out loud. It was adorable. She was adorable. He was incapable of letting her out of his sight when she would give every guy an instant boner just looking at her. All he wanted to do was press her into the side of the wall and bury himself inside her.

She trembled every time he touched her. She wanted him, too.

But she was fighting it – hard. He laced his fingers through hers. She sighed. His erection pressed hard against his fly. She let him walk her to the elevator then pulled her hand away. “What are you doing?’

“Taking you to Willis Tower. I have my car. Save cab fare.” The elevator opened. It was empty. He touched the small of her back and led her inside.

She wobbled in her damn heels again. He put his hands on her waist to steady her and kept them there. The elevator opened and three guys got on. Their jaws dropped when they saw Mac. He pulled her back against him and she let him. Thank fuck.

He pressed his lips to ear as the doors shut and they turned their backs to them. “That the reaction you wanted?” He splayed his fingers across her stomach. She quivered. He hardened even more.

When they got to the lobby, she pulled away from him. “I’m this way,” he said. She followed him. He handed a ticket to the valet and glared at him when he eye-fucked Mac. The kid brought his Mustang around, handed him the key and took a step toward her, intending to help her in.

He pressed a twenty dollar bill into the kid’s hand. “I’ve got this,” he said.

He settled her into the passenger seat and drove straight to Hyde Park. “Isn’t Willis Tower the other way?” she said.

“I have to stop at my apartment to change,” he said. He parked in the structure instead of dropping her off near the elevator. It would be too easy for her to go to the street and hail a cab if he left her alone and he wasn’t letting her out of his sight. He helped her out of the car. She wobbled again in her heels, right into his arms.

The hard-on he’d been fighting surged to life. He looked at the distance to the elevator and lifted her in his arms and carried her toward the elevator.

“Rick, my dress,” she said, as she tried to tug it down. “Why are you carrying me?”

“So you don’t kill yourself in those shoes.” And so any guy who looked at her would know she was his.

“I like them,” she said. “I splurged.”

He pressed the button for his floor with his elbow. “So do I.”

He put her down when the doors opened and took hold of her hand, unlocked his door and pulled her inside.

What would she think? Would she consider staying here, with him?

“It’s not that far from campus,” he said. “And from what I’ve heard, you don’t want to be closer unless you like frat row.”

He headed for his bedroom, hoping like hell she didn’t leave. He had to play this right. He tried to forget her with too many girls he couldn’t name during his first two years of college. He really tried to with Renee, but even with her he’d see Mac’s face when they were intimate. He said Mac’s name more than once when he found release.

He never deleted Mac’s pictures or message from his phone. He friended Emma to basically stalk Mac. He wanted her here so they could get to know each other. He longed to bury himself inside her until she came, screaming his name.

He lied to her when he said he travelled a lot but he would tell her his job duties changed. He rummaged in his closet for dress pants and a long-sleeved, button down shirt slipping condoms in his pocket, just in case. He ran a comb through his hair, slid his feet into dress shoes and went to find Mac.

She wasn’t in the living room or kitchen. Fuck. Cold sweat trickled down his back. The bathroom was next to his bedroom so he would have heard if she stepped in there. It only left the second bedroom. Thank fuck.

She was curled up on the bed – fast asleep, clutching her purse. Her fuck-me heels were on the floor and her auburn hair fanned out on the pillow. She didn’t stir when he took her purse out of her hands and put it on the nightstand so she would see it when she opened her eyes.

He poured a glass of water and put it on the nightstand next to her purse, turned the lamp on low and, careful not to disturb her, pulled a blanket off his bed. He took off his shirt and pants, pulling the condoms out of his pocket. He pulled on a pair of sweat pants and slipped the foil packets in the pocket and went back to the spare bedroom.

She hadn’t moved. He eased the zipper of her dress down an inch because it looked so constricting. Unable to resist, he climbed into the bed beside her and pulled the blanket over them. It was a long time before he fell asleep.

***

Kenzie

Kenzie felt something warm and hard against her breasts and her cheek was pressed into a hard, muscled shoulder – Rick’s shoulder.

Holy hell. Her mouth felt like it was filled with cotton and her head pounded. Too much Jack and beer. She was such a lightweight.

She inched away from him. He grunted and frowned, but stayed asleep. She smothered a gasp when he looked at his chest. It was smeared with red and black, vestiges of last night’s war paint. She must have burrowed her face into the fine smattering of hair on his chest in her sleep.

You can mark me anytime, he said. She could stare at him forever.

She got out of bed, saw the glass of water on the nightstand, and drank it in one gulp. Although she knew Rick hadn’t touched her, she was disgusted with herself. She broke her own rule about staying in control. What was she thinking, drinking all those shots?

Picking up her shoes and purse, she went into the bathroom, shut the door and turned on the faucet and scrubbed her face clean.

She would have to do the proverbial walk of shame wearing her dress. Was it the walk of shame if you only slept? Maybe she could take something from Rick’s closet to wear over it?

She grabbed a hoodie that said University of Illinois off a hanger and slipped it over her head. It covered her dress, almost. Holding her heels and purse in her hand, she walked barefoot to the door, slipping into her shoes after she snicked it shut.

A little voice niggled through her throbbing head - she could live there, be with him and see where things went. The elevator doors opened and she stepped in. Why had she signed up for summer semester? And why had she not lined up a place to live before her classes started next week?

She hailed a cab and was fairly sure he drove in circles to run up the cab fare. The cabbie pulled up to the Drake. The meter read twenty-five dollars. All she had were three fifties, which he shrugged and said “no change.” She gave him the fifty and walked quickly through the hotel lobby and onto an elevator.

Rick’s hoodie smelled like him. She wasn’t giving it back. She slid her key card in the door, covering her eyes, hoping she wouldn’t embarrass Em.

The room was empty. She pulled out her phone. Em had texted her late last night. With Kyle. See u in the morning. Rick s hot and pissed u left.

She kicked off her heels and rummaged through her regular purse for aspirin. Nothing.

She could call down to the front desk for some, but it would take too long. She pulled the hoodie over her head, unzipped her dress and watched it slither to the floor. She had plans to punch her V-card with the help of that dress.

Would it have happened last night if she hadn’t drank so much and went to Willis Tower to find some guy to do then dump?

The last thing she remembered was trying out the bed. Her lady bits were no different. Rick didn’t take advantage of her, but some random guy at Willis Tower might have. Lesson learned. The zipper on her dress was pulled down a bit but she still wore the same thong she put on with the dress.

She pulled on some yoga pants, Rick’s hoodie and a pair of flip-flops. Her hair was a tangled mess so she scraped it into a pony tail and headed for the gift shop, wincing at her choice of clothes in such a nice hotel.

She needed food. She’d make it quick, grab a Danish and coffee from the breakfast buffet and get back upstairs. She paid for the aspirin and went to the buffet. Her skin prickled with awareness. She quickened her steps and stopped short. About 50 people crowded the buffet line, most wearing placards around their necks and carrying folders.

Strong hands gripped her waist. She gasped until she caught a masculine scent – a tang of cologne mixed with citrus and something else that was only Rick.

“Mac.”

“Rick.” She didn’t turn around. He pulled her back against him. “Nothing happened last night, baby,” he said against her ear. “I wouldn’t –“

Feeling that odd need to comfort him, she put her hands over his. Still she couldn’t look at him. “I know,” she said. “I never drink like that.”

He relaxed against her and they stood that way until she forced herself to pull away to face him. “I know,” he said.

Stubble shadowed his jaw. He wore the same black T-shirt as last night with the smudge of lipstick on his chest. He was so handsome. Her lady parts felt different, now.

Her head throbbed to life. “I need to take these,” she held up the aspirin. “I can make coffee in the room.”

“Or you could take them with water while I make a Starbucks run. That has to be faster than this.”

“Okay” she said. “Room 507.”

She was so screwed. Why was she letting him into her life? She was not the pathetic teenager who cried herself to sleep when he didn’t come for her after he kissed her at the mall.

Damn her hangover. She swallowed the tablets. She should be looking for apartments. She should be gone when he came back – if he came back.

He came after her twice – last night and this morning. He put his hands on her, carried her in his arms and slept in bed with her. But he hadn’t kissed her.

She had to pop her cherry some time. Why not with him? She could stay in his spare room and make it clear she didn’t want him long-term, just for as long as it took her to finish her master’s.

Use him and lose him. He said he was gone most of the time anyway. Then maybe she would meet someone who wouldn’t trample her pride and her heart.

Nobody except her sister married their high school sweetheart and lived happily ever after. But Luke and Lexi had a rocky start. Lexi hadn’t seen him for years and she was about to marry another guy – that day - when Luke kidnapped her.

Her phone rang. It was Em. “He’s amazing and I’m sorry. Do you hate me? I promised to help you find an apartment.”

“Breathe, Em. It’s okay. I think I found a place.”

“Kenzie, Kyle is – I’m afraid it’s not real, that I’m making more of this. What if he’s just rebound guy?”

“Em, just see where it goes.”

“He wants me to stay, Kenz, and find a job here.” Em had a marketing degree. Chicago would be a good place for her to look for a job. “Send out your resume, Em. What have you got to lose?”

“We’d be here together,” Em said.

“Mac?” Rick called her name outside the door.

Em squealed. “That’s Rick. Did you – “

“No.”

She opened the door. “Em says hi.”

Em lowered his voice. “Why not? The way he looks at you – Kenz, holy hell.”

Rick set the bags on the table and took out bagels, cream cheese, Danish pastries and three cups of coffee.

“I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Love you, Kenz.”

“Love you back.” She ended the call.

He pulled out the chair next to the table and motioned for her to sit. She sank into it.

He moved a cup of coffee toward her. “This one has two creams and two sugars. This other one is black. I wasn’t sure how you take it.”

She took a long sip of the one with cream and sugar. “This is perfect.” She couldn’t stop from smiling at him. “Thanks.”

Chapter Three

Rick

He went still. His hand holding the coffee stopped halfway to his mouth. Crap, he had it bad.

His gut clenched when she tossed the words “love you” to her friend. Would she ever say those words to him? Did he want her to? Hell yeah. Then she smiled at him, her real one, not the fake, stiff thing she’d been giving him since he first saw him in the pizza place.

Did she know she sighed his name in in her sleep and rubbed against him? That he fought against sinking into her softness and pounding repeated orgasms from her until she didn’t know her own name? How he settled her beautiful face against his thundering heart to keep a thread of sanity and control? That she smelled of vanilla and flowers?

She picked up a cheese Danish and polished it off in four bites. Her amazing green eyes locked with his. “Oh, sorry. That was the only one with cheese. I should have shared.”

“It’s okay to take what you want,” he said.

She took a long sip of coffee. “What do you want?” she said.

His gaze raked over her fresh scrubbed face. She sniffed his hoodie when she thought he wasn’t looking. “You,” he said.

She choked on her coffee. “What?”

He crouched down and put his hands on each arm of her chair, caging her in so they were at eye level. “I want you, us.” He brushed his lips over hers in a feather touch and forced himself to pull back. “Finish your breakfast.”

She stood up. “I’m good. I need a shower,” she said.

Just peachy. His partially hard dick raged to life at the thought of her naked a few feet away from him. He sat on the couch and picked up the TV remote. “Take your time, gorgeous.”

She grabbed some clothes and scurried into the bathroom. She didn’t lock the door. Thank fuck.

He reached in his pocket for the condoms he kept in the pockets of the sweat pants last night. He waited five years. Did she want him the way he wanted her?

What if she hadn’t decided to go to grad school here in Chicago? What if he’d taken the job offer in Las Vegas instead? What if he hadn’t been able to figure out what she was doing from Emma’s Facebook posts?

But she did and he did. The words to the Steve Winwood song Kyle liked floated though his brain, “See a chance, take it.” This was his chance.

He could not mess it up. He shed his clothes, opened the bathroom door and dropped the condoms near the sink. Her eyes went wide as he stepped into the shower. He picked up her shampoo bottle, poured some into his palm, and then massaged it into her scalp. He never washed a woman’s hair before. He guided her to the spray to rinse the soap off, then lathered up his hands with the scented soap and glided them over her skin.

He didn’t speak, afraid to break the spell. Pulling her back against him, he tweaked her nipples to turgid points before he moved his hand to tangle in her soft curls covering her sex. He slipped a finger into her slit. She bucked and he thrust another finger inside her. She went slack against him. He put his arm around her waist and pressed her clit. He felt her spasm around his fingers. She came then, screamed his name.

He had to taste her. He lowered them so she sat on a bench inside the tub, spread out before him like a feast. He suckled her nipples to stiff peaks before he lowered his mouth to her sex. Putting her legs over his shoulders, he sucked her hidden lips.

She dug her fingers into his shoulders and moaned. But he needed her words. He lifted his head. “Do you want me to stop, baby?”

She shook her head. “No, please, I need –“She writhed beneath him.

He put his mouth on her and lapped her sweet honey until she came again, moaning his name. He lifted them so the water sprayed her sex.

She stared at his erection, picked up the soap, and lathered her hands. She caressed his chest, shoulders and back, then moved her hands lower to his cock. She wrapped her small hands around him. He moaned.

She dropped her hands. “Did I hurt you?” Her green eyes looked turquoise.

“No, baby, just the opposite.”

She lathered her hands up and stroked him from the base to the tip, then cupped his balls. He nearly spilled. Her touch was cautious and tentative. He was happy as hell to think maybe he was the first guy she did this to. He wanted to be the first and last guy she ever touched like this.

She pointed the spray at his painfully hard cock and put her mouth on him. God help him. He allowed her sweet mouth to work its magic briefly before he pulled her into his arms and kissed her, putting everything he couldn’t put into words yet into his kiss.

He broke away, shut off the water, turning cold, and wrapped her in a towel. He grabbed one for himself and palmed the foil packets he left near the sink. Lifting her into his arms, he carried her to the bed.

He bit back the words he wanted to say, that he longed for her, that it was her face he saw when he was with other women. Well, maybe leave that part out. She didn’t trust him yet. But she would.

He wanted her bareback. He’d never not worn a condom, even if the girl was on birth control, and he got checked by a doctor a couple weeks ago so he knew he was clean.

“Are you on anything babe? So we don’t make a baby?” Fuck. He wanted to make a baby with her. The force of his wanting a baby with her stunned him.

She shook her head. He felt pleased and disappointed in equal measures – pleased she likely didn’t have regular sex and disappointed there would be a barrier between them.

He opened the packet and rolled on the latex as she stared at him, her eyes the blue-green he loved so much. Two bright spots of color dotted her cheeks.

“You are so beautiful,” he said.

“So are you,” she said.

He chuckled and stretched out beside her.

***

Kenzie

She should tell him she’d never done this before, that he’d be the first. But she didn’t want him to think she thought this meant more than it did. He was just a random guy who would punch her V-card, right – roommates with benefits.

She’d given him her heart before. He shattered it when he turned his back on her. She would do best to forget about the rest – that he wanted her to live with him and he said he wanted there to be an “us” and take what they both wanted.

He speared his fingers through her hair. “It goes wavy when it gets wet,” he said.

“I hate it,” she said.

“I love it,” he said, pressing his lips to her forehead. He trailed kisses along he jawline, and then nuzzled her neck, then palmed her breasts. “They fit perfectly in my hands, like you were made for me,” he said.

How many other girls had he said that to? She didn’t realize she spoke out loud till he lifted her chin and stared into her eyes. “Only you, Mac.”

He teased first one nipple, then its twin, to a stiff peak, then laved each with his tongue as his thumb teased her sex. She sighed his name and writhed against him. Every nerve ending in her body sang to life.

He stroked her wet slit with his long, blunt finger. “What do you want, baby? I need the words.”

She wet her suddenly dry lips aching for his kiss. “You, Rick, inside me, please.”

He fused his mouth to hers and drank from her like he was starved for her. He lifted his mouth and looked at her like she meant more to him than his next breath. She shut her eyes against his tenderness.

“Open them. I have to see you.”

She did and he entered her in one smooth thrust. She cried out when he breached her membrane.

He stilled and cupped her face. “Why didn’t you tell me, sweetheart?”

“It’s no big deal. It had to happen sometime.” Her words sounded hollow and flat.

He smiled. “My sweet little liar.” He kissed her long, slow and deep while she adjusted to his fullness. When he ended the kiss, they were both panting for breath. He looked deep into her eyes as he pushed deeper insider her. “You’re so tight, baby. I’m trying to go slow. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“That ship has sailed.” He started to withdraw. Why couldn’t she stop saying ugly words?

She wrapped her legs around his waist. “No. I want you. I say hateful things w-when-“

“When what, baby?”

His eyes blazed silver. He looked at her the way Luke looked at her sister, like he’d kill anyone who would hurt her. Rick thought he hurt her.

He had, but not here, not now. It had just pinched for a moment.

Staring into his eyes, she couldn’t be less than honest. She took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut. “Em and my sisters say I go into attack mode when I’m scared. You kissed m-me, then walked away at the mall that day. I was angry so long. I thought I got past it, but it keeps bubbling up. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. We’re just-“

He ground his mouth down on hers and pressed his thumb to her sensitive bundle of nerves. He surged deeper. His lips left hers. He pulled out of her and filled her again.

He pumped into her. “We. This. Us. Matters.” He hit what must have been her G-spot and she was gripped with spasms of pleasure.

He thrust and groaned his release, emptying himself inside the condom. “You come so hard,” he murmured as he pulled out of her. He came back with a warm washcloth that he pressed between her legs.

She glanced down at the sheets and gasped. She bled onto them. Kyle and Em would know.

He followed her panicked gaze. “I’ve got this, baby. But there’s something else.” He sounded worried and looked concerned.

She sat up and drew her knees to her chest. “What?”

“The condom. It busted. Could you be-?”

Her cycle varied. “I’m not sure. It’s different each time.” She turned away from him. “You don’t have to worry.”

He took hold of her shoulders and turned her to face him. A muscle twitched in his cheek. “What do you mean, I don’t have to worry? We do this together, baby.”

“Do you want me to take the morning after pill?” she said.

“Do you want to take the pill?”

“No.”

He hauled her into his arms. “Thank fuck,” he said, rubbing circles on her back. “There’s only a one-day waiting period in Illinois,” he spoke so low, she wasn’t sure she heard him correctly.

She swiveled so she could see his face. “One day waiting period for what?”

He swallowed hard. “Getting married.”

“Wait, what? That’s insane,” she said. “I need to take the pregnancy test before we do anything.”

“No,” he said, taking hold of her shoulders. “I don’t want you to think I want to marry you because I made you pregnant. Take the test later.”

Holy hell. He wanted to marry her.

He laced his fingers through hers. “This, us, you aren’t experienced. Thank fuck for that. But this doesn’t happen. Sex off the charts, our connection.”

The thought of the other women he had been with made her feel like puking. Fuck. This weekend was supposed to be a fast fuck with some random guy – do him and dump him.

This was a dream. All of it. It had to be. She would shake herself free from it when she opened her eyes. Then, she glanced down at the sheets.

Shit. This was no dream. “Listen, Rick. This is insane. I have grad school. I have to find a job and a place to live. We are so not getting married. It isn’t happening, even if I am pregnant.”

He squeezed her hand. “You have a place to live – with me. We’ll get your stuff from East Lansing and get you moved in this week. You had to do that anyway. You go to grad school. Don’t worry about a job yet.”

Marry in haste, repent at leisure. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be,” she sputtered.

Her phone tinged with a text from Em.

5 minute warning. I’m coming up to get some stuff.

“It’s Em. She needs to get in here.”

“Stay there for a second,” he said, striding naked into the bathroom.

Damn. His ass was fine. But so were his six-pack, abs, toned chest and face. Would the baby look like him? What the fuck? She pinched the bridge of her nose. She had to stay in reality.

Rick was running water into the bathtub. He came back to the bed, lifted her into his arms, and then carried her into the bathroom, easing her into the tub.

“Rick, the sheets.” She stared to crawl out of the tub.

“Soak a bit, please, baby? You can talk to Em through the shower curtain. I’ll take care of the sheets.” He put her back in the water and clicked the door shut.

She leaned her tense body back in the warm water and tried to process what he said. He wanted to marry her before she took a pregnancy test. He wanted her to live with him – and that was before they made love, no, she corrected herself. They fucked. She would not make more of punching her V-card than it was. If she actually went along with this ridiculous plan, they would keep it secret.

If she wasn’t pregnant, they would no doubt split up. She heard a knock on the door and took a deep breath. It would be okay.

Em squealed and burst into the bathroom. Kenzie pulled the shower curtain so only her face showed.

“You’re eloping and Kyle and I are going to be your best man and maid of honor.”

Shit. Kenzie sunk her head under the water, then popped up. “Em, you must not post this. I haven’t told my family. I’m not telling them yet. Or never. I’ll tell them later, if this even happens.”

“You went out with him in high school,” Em said. “I forgot about that.” Em’s eyes went wide. “Holy hell, Kenz.” She leaned against the sink and lowered her voice. “It’s been him for you all this time. That’s why you never hooked up with anyone else.”

“Shhh,” Kenzie, said, hoping Rick didn’t hear. “That’s all this was supposed to be,” Kenzie hissed. “A hook up – closure, get him out of my system.”

“Kenzie, the way he looks at you – there’s nothing casual about it,” Em hissed back.

“He’s only doing this because we had a malfunction,” Kenzie said. “And he doesn’t want me to take a test until after.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Em said. “Use your amazing brain. He wants you to marry him whether you’re knocked up or not and he wanted you to live with him before you came back here.”

Kenzie shut her eyes. “Em, in high school I waited all night for him, like a dumb ass, because he said he said – quote- he would see me later. I’m not that girl, anymore. I can’t be that girl.”

“When did he say he would see you later, Kenz? What are you talking about?”

“A-at the mall, in high school. He kissed me before he left for college.”

Em snapped her fingers. “You cut your hair. And got the purple. You were different. You never said why.” She sounded hurt.

“I felt so stupid, Em.”

“Get out of the tub, I won’t look though I’ve seen your girlie bits before. We shared a dorm the size of this bathroom for two years.”

Kenzie stood up and grabbed a towel while Em took her stuff off the bathroom counter and zipped it into a carry-on bag. She pointed at the toilet seat. “Sit.” Kenzie did and Em picked up Kenzie’s brush and worked it through her hair. She pulled the cord on the hotel hair dryer as far as it could go and blew Kenzie’s hair dry, coaxing it straight, the way she knew Kenzie liked it.

When she turned off the hair dryer, Kenzie heard Rick talking to Kyle in the bedroom.

“I’ll clear them out so you can get dressed,” Em said. “Kenz, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. But stop and think. You picked this grad school. You had your choice. You knew or thought you knew this was his college. Meet us downstairs.” She clicked the door shut.

Forcing the thoughts whirling through her head aside, Kenzie wondered what to wear. Em was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and Rick was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. She pulled out a Detroit Tiger’s T-shirt and shorts.

Em texted her. Millennium Park?

Sure.She texted back. She touched her lashes with mascara and smoothed pink lipstick over her still tender lips. The words to one of her mother’s favorite songs, “It’s in His Kiss,” played in her head. “If you want to know, if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss.”

He all but devoured her. She could still taste him. She didn’t need blush, two bright of color strained her cheeks.

Why did she come here for grad school she wondered as she slipped her feet into her Converse and grabbed her purse and room key?

Chapter Four

Kenzie

They watched the video images on Crown Fountain for a bit then did the touristy stuff at Navy Pier and took a boat tour.

Rick touched her in some way all day. He put his hand on her shoulder, or the small of her back. He held her hand and pulled her to his side and put his arm around her. He carried the bags she filled with stuff she bought for her family.

As the boat pulled back into the dock, he drew her face into his neck in a possessive gesture that brought his mouth close to her ear. “Better than looking at apartments all day?” he said.

He smelled like clean male and sunshine. And Rick. She tried to pull apart his essence. She could detect a hint of cologne, citrus and just him, which calmed her and excited her in equal parts.

She sagged against him, absorbing his strength. He held her tighter. “Tomorrow we go to Cook County then ring shopping.”

Ring shopping? She had put money aside for a security deposit – it wasn’t much but she could use that to buy him a ring. But what about a dress?

Crap. It was too much, too fast. She felt light-headed and shook with nerves.

“Kyle, give me your water, now,” Rick said, holding it to her lips. “Drink baby, you’re pale and trembling,” he said.

She guzzled it all.

“You’re coming back with me,” he said. “Could you drop her stuff off, Emma?”

He all but carried her off the boat. “Drive my car back from the Drake?” He pulled a ticket out of his pocket and gave it to Kyle. “We’ll grab a cab,” he said. He and Kyle walked a block up.

“Do you want me to stay with you at his place?” Em asked, squeezing her hand. Concern etched a worry crease between Em’s eyebrows. “Do you need anything?”

“Stop,” Kenzie said, pressing her thumb on Em’s forehead. “No frown lines. They’ll stick.”

“He’s got it bad for you, Kenz,” Em said. “Kyle said he’s never looked at anyone he’s been with the way he looks at you, even Renee, and they were together for a year.”

Renee? “I’ll be fine,” Kenzie said. “You go with Kyle. He’s got it bad for you, Em.”

Rick sprinted back to them while Kyle held the cab. “Can you walk?” he asked.” You look so pale, baby.”

“Yes, I’m fine,” she said.

He took hold of her anyway and put her on his lap in the cab so they could all pile in the back seat. “Hyde Park, then the Drake,” he said.

Why was she letting him take over like this? Why did she like it so much? They pulled up to Rick’s apartment building.

“I’ve got it,” Kyle said.

She took hold of her shopping bags and he lifted her as if she weighed nothing, punched the code and strode into the apartment building.

The elevator opened. “I can walk,” she said.

“And I can carry you,” he said.

Was it only last week she got her diploma? She was getting married the day after tomorrow if Rick had his way. She felt dizzy again. He held her tighter. They got to his floor and he walked to his front door. “I have to put you down to get the key, baby. I keep a spare in my wallet. It’s yours now.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “And probably not even pregnant. Who gets pregnant after one time?”

He eased her against the wall. Plenty of people, doll.” His erection pressed against her sex, rubbing her clit the way she liked. She moaned.

“Stop it unless you want to be fucked against a wall,” he murmured, nipping her earlobe and she slipped he hand under his jeans. Holy hell. He was commando.

“I left in a hurry this morning to find the girl of my dreams,” he said, grinning. The girl of his dreams? Did he dream of her like she dreamed of him?

He jammed his hand in his pocket and pulled out his wallet and took out his key. “Yes,” he said.

Shit. She said that out loud. He opened the door, pulled her inside and backed her up against the wall. She dropped her packages and purse and took hold of his cock. He groaned.

She slid her hands over his broad tip. His pre-cum dampened her palm. He undid his pants and they dropped to the floor. He stepped out of them and he divested her of her shorts.

He looked down at her red thong. “Did you wear this for me, baby?”

She could only stare into his eyes, gone silver, and nod.

“Take them off. If I touch them, I’ll rip them.”

She let him go and pulled them off. He lifted her. She wrapped her legs around his waist. He entered her in one hard thrust, making every nerve ending sing. He felt incredible.

“You’re so tight,” he said.

Crap.

There was nothing between them.

“Rick, stop.”

His thumb teased her clit. “Why? I’m clean baby. I promise.”

“But what if I’m not pregnant? We can’t take another chance.”

“Now, or later, what’s the difference? I want to make you pregnant, repeatedly.” He looked surprised at his own words. “But I’ll stop if you want.” He started to pull out.

“No,” she said.

What the fuck? She wanted this. She wanted him, and God help her, she wanted his babies.

He smiled into her eyes, surged back into her and she was lost.

***

Kenzie

Kenzie and Rick were taking the last of her stuff out of the apartment in East Lansing. Her dad would be here soon to take some of the stuff back home to Royal Oak. Em had already cleared out her stuff and moved it back to her parent’s house until she could find a job in Chicago to be near Kyle. Kenzie had packed her stuff before she left for their Chicago trip.

She stared at her wedding rings. She’d have to take them off before her dad got there. She was not telling him about a marriage that wouldn’t last. How could it?

Rick was driving with her back to Chicago; she in her Blazer and he in his Mustang. Rick had taken a week off work.

Last week was a blur. She was married and maybe pregnant. She hadn’t taken the test yet.

She told her parents she was sharing an apartment with a friend from high school. They didn’t press her for details. But her sisters did. She had been able to evade them so far.

She lugged the last box outside and stopped short. Her whole family, mom and dad and Lexi and Reeni, stood next to her Blazer. Rick walked out and stopped next to her.

“Surprise,” they said. “We came to say good-bye,” her mother said.

Her rings. She hadn’t slipped them off. Her mother saw them first – and screamed.

Her father took hold of her mother. “Mary, calm down. What’s wrong?”

“Mackenzie Marie, did you get married?” her mother asked. Her face was beet red. Not good for her blood pressure.

Rick put down the boxes they carried, wiped his hand on his jeans and held out his hand to her father. “I’m Rick Renfew, Mac’s, Mackenzie’s husband. I would have spoken to you first, sir, but things happened fast.”

Her father looked at Rick’s outstretched hand for a beat before he took it, shook it briefly and nodded curtly. “John McCardle.”

“I’m Mary, this is Lexi and this is Reeni,” her mother said, fighting tears. “When, pray tell, were you going to tell your family?” Her mother took hold of her hand and held it so the diamonds caught the summer sun. Rick moved behind her.

Reeni stared at him. “He’s the high school friend,” she said. “That night, before your senior year, you waited up all night and cut off your hair the next day.”

“Purple streaks,” Lexi said. “You’re new ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude.”

“Language, Lexi,” her mother hissed. “We came to take you to lunch before your long ride.”

“And to see your mysterious roommate,” Reeni added.

Kenzie looked at Lexi. “Where are the kids?”

Lexi seemed uneasy. “With Luke’s parents. He’s getting ready for a case.”

Reeni shot Kenzie a look. What the fuck? If Luke and Lexi were having problems, what hope did she and Rick have? What hope did anyone have?

Her parents spoke quietly to each other. Rick stowed their boxes in his back seat and put his arm around her. “Breathe baby,” he said in her ear. His scent calmed and excited her in equal measures.

Lexi rattled off a bunch of restaurants nearby and they settled on a chain that specialized in chicken wings, her father’s favorite.

Rick steered her to a seat in the restaurant facing her parents, told them he was an architect and hoped to open his own firm soon, adding that his dad and grandfather were attorneys specializing in personal injury cases. “They were disappointed, to say the least, I didn’t follow suit,” he said. His mouth quirked at his pun.

Feeling a need to comfort him, she touched his leg. He captured her hand and held it tight on his muscled thigh.

“Lexi’s husband Luke is an attorney,” her mother said. “He prosecutes cases in Livingston County.”

Lexi’s face looked strained. Kenzie looked at Reeni, who shrugged and frowned. Her parents didn’t notice.

“When do your classes start?” her mother said.

“Tomorrow,” Kenzie said.

“So we need to eat and drive,” Rick said. He smiled at her like she was the only person on the planet. His eyes went all silvery. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from his.

Their food came then and he dropped his gaze. Her mother and sisters stared at her. Reeni mouthed “wow” while her father and Rick dove into their wings. She ate her chicken wrap and fries then went to the ladies’ room. Her sisters followed. It was empty.

“What’s wrong, Lexi?” Kenzie said, concerned for her sister and hoping to deflect too many questions about herself and Rick.

“Nothing, I don’t know.” Tears welled in Lexi’s turquoise eyes. “He’s been so busy with this murder case. It’s his first one. The assistant,” she made air quotes, “he’s working with is, no shit, a former beauty queen. I googled her. How pathetic is that?”

“Why are you worried?” Kenzie asked. “At my commencement he was like he always is when you’re near him.”

“I saw her at a fundraiser pasta dinner for someone who works at the courthouse who’s battling cancer. I stayed with the kids while Luke got us food,” Lexi said. “That bitch sashayed up to him and kept touching him. And at night, he’s been - distracted.”

“When does the trial start?” Kenzie said.

“In two weeks. That bitch is going to be close to him for the next two weeks, and through the whole trial,” Lexi said.

“Lex, you have nothing to be worried about. Find a way to distract him,” Reeni said. Then she turned her attention to Kenzie. Crap balls. “Holy hell, Kenz. Impulsive much? Talk about a whirlwind. And the way he looks at you. It’s shades of Luke and Lexi.”

That’s what Em said,” Kenzie said, darting into the bathroom stall. “I don’t know how to explain.”

“Try,” Reeni said from the next stall.

Knowing Lexi would warn them of someone else, or their mother, came in, she answered her. “He touches me,” she faltered.

“And you lose all threads of time, space and logical thought?” Lexi said.

“Yeah,” Kenzie said, feeling weepy.

“No crying in baseball,” Reeni said, quoting Tom Hanks from their favorite movie, “A League of Their Own.”

“If it was easy, everyone would do it,” Lexi said, laughing as she exited the stall and went to the sink.

“I was so wrecked in high school when he stood me up,” Kenzie said, walking out of her stall and washing her hands. “So when I saw him again, my plan was to use him and lose him.” She lowered her voice. “And finally punch my V-card that weekend with some random guy…” Reenie’s eyes widened. Lexi shot her the WTF look. Time for damage control. “Punch my V-card with some random guy in a safe, sane, consensual fashion with protection.”

Kenzie brushed her hair and smoothed British red onto her lips. Lexi still looked strained under her smile. Kenzie hugged her sisters and went to face her parents.

Chapter Five

Kenzie

He told his parents they eloped. They just returned from a strained dinner with them at a swanky steakhouse. His father continually talked about Rick going to law school. Kenzie moved close to him when his father brought it up and twined her fingers through his or stroked his thigh through the tense conversations. Margaret, his mother, didn’t say anything during the discussion. Margaret was pleasant, but distant with Kenzie.

“Wow,” Kenzie said, facing him when they were back in the apartment. “He is intense. He really wants that for you.”

He pulled her into his arms. “That’s why he wins cases, babe.”

She had homework to do, but she could tackle it tomorrow.

What was she thinking trying to do her masters on one year? The only job she could feasibly do would be working midnights. Her coursework was like a full time job and then some. Every time she talked about getting a job, Rick distracted her, usually with mind blowing sex.

He hadn’t had to travel for work since she started her classes two weeks ago. When she asked about it, he nuzzled her neck and said he was on a project that would keep him in town for a while. “Do you mind, baby?” he asked, tweaking her nipples.

She could only shake her head. Her period came and she felt disappointed. Still they didn’t use protection. She kept meaning to get to her doc for contraception, but something always came up. And her mother was after her to have an after-wedding reception, which Kenzie said would have to be during her Christmas break.

Rick drove her to her morning classes and usually picked her up. She worked on her laptop after her lectures ended until he was finished at his office. She insisted on doing the laundry, shopping and housework since Rick insisted she use his debit card for anything she needed. He worked when she did homework and they watched some Netflix together or ate out when she had free time.

Her phone rang. It was Em. “I found a job. In Chicago.” She squealed so loud Kenzie had to hold the phone away from her ear. “And Kyle wants me to move in with him. We’ll be neighbors.”

Rick walked into their bedroom. Kenzie walked into the kitchen to get a glass of water, hoping it would settle her stomach after the tense, rich dinner.

“Where?” Kenzie asked, thrilled her friend would be close.

Em named a marketing and public relations company she’d never heard of. Em said they had an impressive client list.

“When?” Kenzie said.

“Next week. Kenz, Oh, crap. I’m a shit friend. I forgot to ask, are you pregnant?”

“No,” Kenzie said.

You’re happy about that, right?” Em said.

“Yeah.” How could she be disappointed? Who got pregnant the first time they made love?

Em laughed. Kenzie didn’t realize she’d spoken out loud.

“Plenty of people,” Em said.

Rick came into the kitchen and poured a glass of water. “Em got a job in Chicago.”

“Congrats, Emma,” he said.

As they talked for a bit, she wondered how much of the conversation he had heard. He said he wanted nothing between them when they made love and he wanted to make her pregnant, but he never said he loved her. But, neither, then, had she.

She choked back the words when he pounded climaxes out of her. His eyes never left her face in those moments as though he was waiting. Did he see her love for him on her face when she came?

He’d seen the box of tampons, but they never talked about it. She stared into his eyes. “Being an architect makes you happy, right? Why doesn’t your dad want that for you?”

He lifted her into his arms. “You make me happy.”

She wrapped her legs around his waist and kissed him. He deepened the kiss as she threaded her fingers through his hair.

He walked her into the bedroom and lifted her dress over her head. “I love how you comfort me,” he said. “I should invite them every weekend.”

***

Rick

Mac stood before him in a matching purple bra and thong. Thank fuck he didn’t know what was lurking under her dress when they were with his parents. He’d had to fight off a boner just being close to her and lost the fight when she touched his leg.

“I fucking love this,” he said. “But you need to take them off. If I put my hands on them, I can’t promise to be gentle.”

She shivered.

Did she want him as much as he wanted her? Did she love him? He sure as fuck loved her.

He tried to show her with his touch. But, he needed her to say the words first. He hustled her into this, taking advantage of the possibility she could be pregnant. Was she sorry she didn’t have a big, splashy wedding?

She shimmied out of her bra, then her thong. His vision went hazy. She had shaved or waxed her sex. It was bare and smooth.

She bit her bottom lip. “Do you like it?”

“Are you fucking kidding me? When did you do this?”

“When you were playing golf with your father and your mother was shopping the Mag Mile.”

He caressed the silky skin. “I loved it before. I love it now.’

Shit. He said love three times in ten seconds. Was she getting how crazy in love with her he was? Did she know how hard it was for him to let her go when he had to leave for college after she gifted him with her heart and her body at the mall? Or how hard he tried to forget her?

He was so pleased, on a primal level, to be her first – the only man to possess her. When she turned toward him in the pizza restaurant, his life switched from black and white to color.

He carried her to bed and shed his clothes. Watching him, she wet her finger and touched her sex, writhing under her own touch. He took his cock in his hand and stroked it.

“No,” she said.

“You want it inside you baby?” he said.

“Yes.”

He went to her then, captured her wrists and pinned them above her head. “Say it.”

“Please, Rick, I want you inside me.”

He rubbed his erection against her smooth sex. She moaned and pushed against him.

“Say it, Mac, please.”

She stared into his eyes. He could stare at her forever.

She expelled a breath and shut her eyes. “I love you,” she whispered.

He entered her and stopped. “Say it again.”

She opened her turquoise eyes. “I love you.”

He plunged deep, hitting the back of her womb. He let her hands go and took hold of her hips, lifting her as he surged into her.

“Please, Rick, please.”

He pounded into her, holding back his release until she came hard, screaming his name, milking him dry. He didn’t pull out and eased them on their sides, pressing her face into his neck. She smelled sweet, like a flower he couldn’t name. He shut his eyes and pulled her closer.

***

Kenzie

Rick was gone when she woke up. She had later classes on Monday. She felt stretched and tender and wished he was with her. Her cell phone tinged with two texts, one from Rick, early meeting couldn’t wake u, and from the college saying both her classes that day were cancelled.

She took some yogurt out of the fridge and nearly finished it when it hit her. She told him she loved him and he didn’t say it back. He said he loved her underwear and the way she comforted him, but he didn’t say he loved her.

She had to see him. She showered quickly and decided to go to the office where he and Kyle worked and surprise him. She knew the address. It was on Wacker so she decided to splurge on a cab, rather than try to drive and find a parking space.

She slipped into a knit dress and boots and headed out. There was a fall nip in the air. Mums and marigolds bloomed throughout the city. She paid the cab fare and got out near his building. There was a Starbucks next to it. She decided to surprise him with coffee, went inside and stopped short.

He was there. With a woman. She was touching him and he was smiling at her. Then he threw his head back and laughed.

Kenzie cowered near the door so he couldn’t see her. A couple of women came in and she stood aside and waved them in front of her. She strained to hear what Rick was saying. She heard him say “Renee.”

So she was the girlfriend. She had straight dark hair that fell past her shoulders, brown eyes and a petite, curvy figure. The phrase “pocket Venus” came to mind. She wore a sweater and jeans. Business casual?

Renee put her hand on his face and he pressed a kiss into her palm. Hell no. Bitter bile rose in her throat and she took a step toward them, but stopped. She would not go charging over there like an, unhinged, jealous bitch.

Swallowing hard, she stepped out of the coffee shop and walked down Wacker. She found a coffee shop a few blocks away and sat outside, drenching herself in the mild October sun. Libra sun.
She pulled out her phone. She’d missed two texts from Em and Lexi. Oddly, they both said the same thing. call me

She dialed Em first. She sounded upset. “I’m driving in. I got a hotel because Kyle said he’s out of town. H-he knew I was coming. He didn’t ask me to stay at his place. I don’t know what the fuck is going on.”

“Rick hasn’t said anything,” she said, wincing at the irony of her words.

“I guess I was just a fling and he was rebound guy.”

“Oh, Em. Want me to stay with you?”

“Yes, but won’t Rick -?”

“N-no,’ Kenzie said.

“I’m in Indiana. I should be there in a couple of hours. Room 408 at the Drake.”

She hung up and called Lexi, who sounded equally upset. What the fuck? Was it a full moon?

“I’m on the train to Chicago. Mom and Dad are keeping the kids.”

“What’s wrong,” Kenzie asked.

“I went to Luke’s office to surprise him, in a trench coat, you know? And I saw him with the assistant.”

Kenzie gasped. “What exactly did you see?”

“Can we hang out tonight? Lexi said, ignoring her question.

“Of course,” Kenzie said. She felt numb, from all of it.

“I took the early train and it’s on time,’ Lexi said. “Dodged the freight traffic in Indiana. Can you get me from Union Station?”

“We’re going to stay with Em at the Drake, okay? I’ve got to get going.” She had to get back to the apartment and grab her stuff before Rick got back. “Text me when you’re close.”

She grabbed some clothes and toiletries and met Em, filled her in about Lexi, checked in and dumped her stuff. She drove her Blazer to Union Station to pick up Lexi. Her sister didn’t want to talk about what she saw in Luke’s office, and Kenzie didn’t press her.

Monday night or not, they planned to hit some clubs and dance their asses off. Kenzie’s phone tinged with a text from Rick. Where u at?

She’d normally be back from class by now and he ended early most Mondays.

With Em and Lex at the Drake for the nite. Came to c u today but u were busy in Starbucks.

He texted back ???, then her phone rang.

It was Rick. She let it go to voicemail. She didn’t trust herself to speak to him.

Lexi’s phone rang nonstop. She said she called Luke when she knew he’d be in court and left a message that she’d be in Chicago for a couple days and the kids were with her parents. She couldn’t turn off her phone in case their parents called.

After the tenth call and fourth vodka and cranberry juice she drank in the hotel room while they were getting ready, Lexi answered Luke’s call and accidentally put it on speaker.

Kenzie cringed. She had no choice but to listen. Em was in the bathroom and she wasn’t dressed so she couldn’t leave the room.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” Luke sounded frantic.

“You teeel me,” Lexi said, slurring her words. “I c-came to see you at the office yesterday. In. A. Trench coat. And I saw you with her.”

“What are you talking about?” he screamed.

“Your assistant, the woman sitting on your fucking lap. Ha, ha. Fucking lap. Get it? From the look on her face, I’m guessing you did.”

“It’s not, that wasn’t –“

Lexi disconnected the call and looked sick.

Kenzie grabbed her and pounded on the bathroom door. “Em, we’re coming in.”

Em ran out with a towel wrapped around her and Lexi barely made it to the toilet. Kenzie held her sister’s soft blonde hair back while she threw up, then led her to the couch and hugged her while she wept. “I won’t be, I can’t be that wife, Kenz.”

“What wife?” she said.

Lexi pulled away from her. “The wife who believes lies. I refused to see Steve for what he was.”

“He was going to use you as a front wife to placate his father, Lexi. For what it’s worth, Luke sounded worried and upset.”

“Just. Stop,” Lexi said.

“We should eat, if we’re still going out?” Emma said.

“Hell yes,” Lexi said.

They got dressed in what Em described at slutty chic. Lexi’s phone stopped ringing.

“Did you turn it off or run out of battery?” Kenzie said.

“No.” Lexi sounded disappointed.

They carb loaded at an Italian restaurant, leaving half of the massive servings of pasta on their plates and took a fast cab ride to a bar near Lakeshore Drive. Em sauntered inside first and snagged the last booth.

“You sit on the end, Em,” Kenzie said. “We didn’t take off our rings, we’ll cramp your style.”

They slid into the booth and a waitress came for their order.

Chapter Six

Rick

Rick paced the apartment, stifling the overwhelming urge to put his fist through a wall. Mac came to Starbucks. She must have seen him with Renee. She was inviting them to her wedding. He hugged her congratulations and kissed her hand. That was it.

Mac didn’t trust him. That hurt. But it must have looked bad. And if some guy had touched her, he’d lose it. She had no idea how crazy in love with her he was. Holy hell. Cold sweat trickled down his back. He made her say the words, but he didn’t say it back. Fuck. His cell rang. It was a Michigan number he didn’t recognize.

He answered it.

“Rick?”

“Yeah?”

“It’s Luke, Lexi’s husband.” He sounded pissed. “I got your number from her parents. Is my wife there?”

“No, she’s with Mac and her friend Emma at the fucking Drake.”

“She’s upset about something she thought she saw,” Luke said.

“So is Mac. And she won’t talk to me.”

“I’m driving in,” Luke said. “I’m about two hours out.”

“I’m headed to the Drake,” Rick said. “I’ll text you if I hear anything.”

Rick drove his Mustang and handed the keys to the valet. He sat in one of the bars, nursed two beers and stared toward the lobby for two damn hours. No sign of Mac. He pulled out his cell phone.

Nothing.

An agitated looking guy walked into the bar. His hair looked like he’d been running his fingers through it for hours.

“Luke?”

“Rick?” He stuck his hand out and Rick took it. The guy had a firm grip. Well, so did he.

“Nothing?” Luke said.

Rick stared at his cell phone. “Fuck, I didn’t think,” he said, drawing stares from other patrons. “I’m an ass. Emma is addicted to all that social media shit. She checked in at a bar five minutes from here an hour ago.’

He threw a twenty on the bar. “I’ll drive.”

He took a back way to avoid traffic and pulled his Mustang into a spot some guy in a Lexus had been waiting for.

Luke got out and walked up to the driver of the Lexus. “This spot is really too small for your car. Assholes like us would just hit it. Our wives are in there and they’re pissed at us. Could you give us this one?”

The guy looked from Luke to Rick and threw back his head and laughed. “Good luck. This is the biggest meat market in Chicago.”

They shouldered in past the crowd. Rick saw Emma first. She was on the dance floor. Where the fuck was Kyle? Had he misread that? He took a step toward her when he saw Mac.

She stood at the bar in a tight, short, black dress he’d never seen before. He planned to burn it once he got her out of it. Some fucker was touching her bare arm. He stormed toward him. “You want to live, take your fucking hand off my wife.”

The guy stepped away and shrugged. “Didn’t see a ring.”

Rick picked up her left hand.

It was bare. “Where are your rings, babe?”

“In my purse. W-we took them off so Em-“

He held out his hand. “Can I have them?”

***

Kenzie

Shit.

He wanted his rings back.

But his behavior was at direct odds with wanting to end their marriage. He stalked toward her all caveman-like and threatened that frat boy’s life for touching her arm.

She fished the rings out of her clutch bag and dropped them in his hand. He took hold of her left wrist and raised an eyebrow in question. His eyes were silver slits. She sucked in a breath. She loved him so much. She could only nod, she didn’t trust herself to speak.

He slipped the rings on her finger. She sagged against the bar in relief and he took hold of her waist, pulling her against him. “I love this dress, babe. I want to fuck you in it then burn it so no other fucker can see you wear it, but first we talk. My car’s outside.”

Her feet barely touched the ground as he handed her into the cramped backseat of his Mustang. He got in and pulled her into his lap then took hold of her chin. His eyes glittered through the darkness. “Why did you come to see me today?”

“I never saw your office. I wanted to surprise you. Class was cancelled.”

He kissed her, angry, demanding. She resisted. His tongue plunged deep. The words to the song “It’s In His Kiss” played in her head. He kissed her like he was starved for her.

But he’d held Renee in his arms, too – and smiled, really smiled at her. And he never told her that he was in a serious relationship. She had to hear about it from Kyle. She bit his lip and tore her mouth away.

He was breathing hard. “I love you, Mac. That’s why you came to see me because I made you say it to me but I was so fucking happy I didn’t think to say it back. I’m so bat shit crazy about you I don’t think straight. And it’s always about you.”

He rested his forehead against hers. “Renee called me at the office this morning and said she had good news she wanted to tell me in person. I tried to have something with her, when I thought I’d never see you again, except in Emma’s snapshots. But I saw your face when I was with her. When I said your name when I –“he grimaced. “I ended it. We stayed friendly. She invited us to her wedding.”

White hot jealousy seized her and she jerked off his lap.

“Mac?”

“You’ve been with her. I hate that. How can I smile at her in her wedding dress, knowing you’ve –“

He winced. “I always used condoms. I never spilled my seed inside anyone but you. I never wanted, needed to.”

He pulled her back onto his lap. She sat stiff, although she was sopping wet for him. He had to feel it.

“I hugged her and kissed her hand. That was it.” He pressed her hand against his erection. “I’m yours, babe, only yours. You own me. You own this.”

He pressed his face into her neck. “God, I smell you, Mac. I want to sink inside you so bad, I can’t see straight. But we won’t do it here.”

“The windows are tinted,” she said, stroking him.

He set his jaw and knew he would stand by his word. “Little brat. But, I have to have a taste. I’ve been out of my mind since I came home and you weren’t there.”

“I didn’t. I couldn’t. That guy at the bar. He was the first guy I let near me,” she said. “He was harmless.”

He cupped her bare sex. “I fucking love this.” He pressed on her bundle of nerves and she spun into ecstasy. “It’s mine, baby.” He pressed blunt finger into her slit finding her G-spot. He covered her mouth with his other hand seconds before she came.

When she opened her eyes, she was cradled against his chest. His erection pressed against her bottom.

“Back with me, babe?”

She wiggled against his rock hard cock. “What about you?” she slid off him and caressed his hard bulge through his pants. He groaned. She started to undo his fly but he stopped her. “No Mac, not here where someone can see. Nobody sees you gifting me that way but me. And besides, I didn’t earn it.” He set his jaw again and sat her next to him.

Lexi. She’d completely forgotten about her. “I should check on Lexi.” She made to open the door but he stopped her. “You’re not safe out alone in that dress. Give me a minute.”

She laid her head on his shoulder. “Em said Kyle told her he would be out of town when she said she was driving in. He didn’t offer to let her stay at his place. She got a job here thinking he wanted to be with her. I don’t get it. And Lexi saw Luke with his assistant in his lap.”

“Cluster fuck,” he said.

“Yeah,” she sighed.

“Luke was with me, we went in together,” he said.

“How did you know who he was, or where we were?”

He raked his fingers through his hair. “He got my number from your parents, called and asked to talk to his wife. I said I was waiting for you at the Drake. He said he was two hours out. Some guy walked in who looked as bad as I felt and I figured it was him. Then I thought to check Emma’s posts, and saw where you were.”

They stepped out of the backseat and a guy standing outside the bar snickered. “Did he buy you for the whole night, sugar tits?”

Rick’s fist connected with the asshole’s jaw and the asshole staggered back and slumped in a drunken heap on the sidewalk. Kenzie dragged Rick away and down the street away from the bar.

“I’m burning that fucking dress,” he growled.

She stopped in front of a coffee shop and saw Lexi and Luke. They were in an alley beside the coffee shop. Luke had hold of her Lexi’s hands. Kenzie stepped closer, although she felt like a snoopy little sister. She felt Rick’s breath on her nape. She had to make sure Lexi was okay.

“She’s gone, baby,” Luke said. “She pulled that stunt today and she’s out on her ass. I was so focused on this fucking trial. I turned her down, repeatedly, thinking she’d finally get it. I should have addressed it right away.”

“She was in your fucking lap, Luke. How could you let it get that far?” She made to pull away from him but Luke took hold of her waist.

Lexi stepped away from him, as if his touch burned her. “She was touching you. You were wearing these clothes, weren’t you? I smell her fucking perfume.”

“Fine.” Luke ripped off his shirt and started to take off his pants.

“Holy hell,” Kenzie said. “Rick, change clothes with him.”

Rick looked at her, stunned.

“Do it, please?” she asked.

Rick walked toward Luke. “Fuck, we’ll both be arrested for indecent exposure.”

Kenzie yanked her sister toward her as Rick shucked out of his shirt. “We’ve both lost our fucking minds,” Rik muttered.

“McCardle women. Get used to it,” Luke said.

Kenzie checked her phone while she and Lexi blocked the alley from view. A guy in an orange polo shirt sauntered up to them. “You two available?” Polo shirt said it in a voice loud enough for half the block to hear, flashing a wad of cash.

“Ef off,” Kenzie said, seconds before Luke and Rick ran toward them, wearing only their boxers. Polo shirt yowled in pain and staggered to his knees. Lexi held out a can of pepper spray. “Get dressed, now,” she hissed.

Polo shirt staggered away muttering “bitches.” Luke made a move after him but Lexi pressed against him, hard. “You came all this way for me. You don’t need an assault charge. It’s not worth it.”

“Wrong. You’re worth it and I’ll always come after you. I said before, you can’t run from me, Lexi.”

The guys dressed in each other’s clothes, making sure they had their own keys and wallets. Was this really happening? Would she wake up in their apartment, late for a test?

Kenzie started to lead Rick toward his car. “Need a place to stay?” he asked Lexi and Luke, who tore his mouth away from Lexi long enough to say no.

“Let’s go home,” Rick said. He kept her plastered to his side as they walked back to his car. He handed her into the passenger seat.

She pulled out her phone to call Em. She’d missed two texts from her. Back at the Drake. Safe. Alone. R u 2 ok?

Kenzie texted back. Yes. C u 4 lunch?

Em answered ok.

Kenzie sighed and put her hand across the console and caressed Rick’s thigh. “Em’s okay. Take me home, darling, please? I’ll get my car tomorrow. It’s at the Drake.”

He moved her hand to his erection. “I fucking love when you call me darling.” He sped home and pulled into the underground garage. She started to get out of the car.

He put his hand on her arm. “Wait,” he said. He came around to her side, opened the door, took her hand, shut the door, and leaned her against it. He reached under her dress and pulled down her panties.

She stepped out of them and he stuffed them in her mouth and went down on his knees in front of her. “Scream into those.” She looked around the garage.

It was empty.

“I’ve dreamt of doing this to you.” He pressed his mouth to her sex and sucked hard. The dress was short enough she didn’t need to pull it up. His head hid her from view, although if anyone saw them, it was obvious what they were doing. She had her underpants stuffed in her mouth.

Sending her distress, he said, “I’ll be quick, babe, before anybody but you comes.” He sucked and nipped, then pressed two fingers inside her. Her orgasm came fast. She shut her eyes as her muffled scream echoed through the garage. She would have sunk in a heap if he didn’t have hold of her.

He put his panties in his pocket and kissed her. She tasted herself.

He lifted his mouth. “Sweet like syrup, babe.” He sighed. “As much as I want to fuck you on the hood of this car, it will have to wait till I find the right place, somewhere private.”

He cupped her still throbbing sex. “This is mine. Nobody sees this but me.” He led her to the elevator and punched in the code, keeping a firm hand on her waist until they were inside the apartment. “Bedroom, Mac. The dress and shoes stay on.”

She should bristle at his words and tone. Why was she dripping wet? She laid on the bed and watched as he undid the buttons on the shirt. She licked her lips. He was toned and his six-pack rippled. How did she get so lucky?

He chuckled. “I’m the lucky one, babe.”

She clamped her hand over her mouth. Shit. She didn’t realize she’d spoken out loud – again.

He dropped the pants, stepped out of his boxers and came to her, taking her hand away from her mouth. “I love that you don’t keep things inside.”

His eyes raked over her. “You are perfect.” He tugged on the hem of her dress. “Babe, please don’t wear this unless I’m with you.”

She nodded. He spread her legs and stroked his erection.

“Please,” she said.

“You want me inside you, babe?”

“God, yes.” He kept stroking himself. “I was in hell, Mac, sitting in that bar at the Drake looking for you, hoping you’d come back so I could talk to you, see your face.”

She whimpered. Still he held himself in his hand.

“That’s all you would give me - that you were staying there. Don’t close up on me, Mac. I went five fucking years without you, with only glimpses of your life from Emma online.”

“I won’t, I promise. Please, Rick, I need you.”

What if they’d never found their way back to each other? She shuddered as he entered her in one slick thrust. She gripped his tight ass as he pounded into her. He claimed her mouth. She sucked on his tongue and on his lip where she bit him. He moaned. He lifted his mouth from hers, reared up and pressed his thumb to her sex. She dissolved into ecstasy. He followed her and emptied himself inside her.

“I love you,” he said, easing out of her and wrapping her tight in his arms. “I’ve been yours since you smiled at me in the mall that day. Before that, really. But I was a stupid kid. Forgive me?”

She pressed her face into his neck. “Always. I should have walked into that coffee shop and faced you, fought for us, instead of running away. Forgive me?”

“Always,” he said.

***

Rick

Rick pulled on his high necked tie. Kyle and Luke stood next to him wearing similar tuxedos. It was Christmastime in Michigan. Snow swirled in the air outside the church.

He’d insisted they have a real wedding, to Mac’s mother’s delight. About 50 people sat in the pews watching as Lexi and Mac’s youngest sister Reeni walked up the aisle in cherry red dresses. His father had grudgingly accepted his choice to be an architect, rather than an attorney, and even lent him money to set up his own firm. He was building a decent client list, specializing in restoring historic buildings. Mac planned to help him when she finished her master’s in history.

He dropped her off and picked her up from campus on most days. She joked that he spoiled her so much she would forget how to drive. He loved spoiling her.

He had a surprise for her, an eternity ring he’d slip on her finger with her other ring during the ceremony.

She stepped into the church on her father’s arm. Her dark hair framed her face in the soft waves he loved so much. Her dress was ivory lace and left her soft, toned shoulders bare.

He didn’t take his eyes off her as she walked toward him. She kissed her father and stepped to him, smiling the way she did in the mall all those years ago with her heart and soul in her face for him to see and adore for as long as he drew breath. He took her hand and stepped up on the altar.

Her beautiful blue eyes went wide when he slid the eternity ring and her wedding ring on her small finger. He blinked away tears when her voice broke with emotion when she recited their vows.

The priest pronounced them husband and wife and he claimed her mouth in a hungry kiss. She tasted like heaven and home.

She would always be home. They broke apart and cheers erupted. He walked his beautiful bride down the aisle and into the alcove.

She smiled and waggled her finger at him. “This ring. You surprised me. But it’s too much, Rick.”

“Never.” When he bent his face to kiss her, she traced his lips with her fingers. “I have a surprise for you, too.” She turned her face into his neck. “Don’t tell the priest, but I’m pregnant. I took the test this morning. My stomach has been weird. I thought I was just nervous, but we made a baby.”

She looked into his eyes and smiled.

“Oh, yeah,” he yelled, swinging her into his arms and spinning her around as their guests surrounded them. Nobody noticed that he changed her champagne for sparkling water.

Epilogue

Kenzie

Rick’s parents insisted on hosting the baptism brunch. Kenzie breast fed baby Lexi as Rick stood guard outside his father’s study. She had it down so her breasts were covered but he was adamant about her privacy.

She turned her thesis in just before their daughter arrived, two weeks early. The doctor had just given her the all clear for sex but Lexi had been fussy for the last couple days. Lexi finished nursing, burped and fell asleep on her shoulder.

“I’ll put her down.” Her mother stepped into the study. “There’s a Pac-N-Play set up. Lexi brought one they’re not using.”

Rick scooped Lexi out of her arms and handed her to Mary. Lexi didn’t stir. “Thanks,” he said. He set the diaper bag outside the study. “In case you need it,” he said.

Kenzie stood up to follow her mother out but Rick stepped into the room, shut the door and locked it. His eyes gleamed silver.

She gasped. “We can’t. Everyone will know.”

“I don’t give a fuck,” he said. “The Pac-N-Play is in the den and you know your mother. She will stay in there with her. I, sweet wife, have you all to myself. Are you going to waste time yapping?”

“Yapping?”

He chuckled and shut off her further protests with his kiss.

Her sleep-deprived brain tried to work out what she was angry about, but she lost her thread of thoughts to his taste and tongue. He moved them to a leather couch and undid the buttons on her blouse then lifted her so he could unhook her industrial strength nursing bra.

He palmed her breasts. “Are you hurting, babe?” He tongued her nipples. She threaded her fingers through his dark hair. ”Only for you.”

He lifted his head and licked his lips.

“Leftovers? Is it gross?” she said.

“Are you kidding me? It tastes sweet like sugar. You tell me if it hurts you, okay?”

He put his hand under her skirt and pressed his thumb to her sex and his finger into her slit.

She was wet.

She nodded, aching for him to fill her. She unbuckled his belt and undid his pants so his cock sprang free. She felt a drop of pre-cum on his tip. She’d opted for an IUD right after giving birth so they could space their kids out. She wanted to feel him inside her with nothing between them and he wanted that, too.

He entered her and she moaned in pleasure.

He stopped. Concern etched his handsome face. “Babe?”

“More, harder,” she said.

He grinned. “Insatiable little thing.”

He pumped into her and she sighed. “You made me this way.”

He thrusted deeper. Making her nerve endings sing. “You are so fucking tight and perfect. I love you, Mac.”

“I love you Rick, so much.”

He swiveled his hips and pressed down on her sex. He pressed his other hand over her mouth, muffling her scream as she came, before he followed her, emptying himself inside her.

He lifted his hand and kissed her. She caressed his chest under his shirt, teasing his nipples to hard, tight buds before she moved lower to his happy trail.

He growled and eased out of her.

“What now, darling?” she said. “I can’t walk out of here with cum dripping down my legs.”

He grew hard and she smiled. “You like that idea.”

“God, yes.” He reached above her and produced a baby cloth for spit-ups he must have nabbed from the diaper bag and wiped them clean.

“We’ve got to go,” she said.

“I know.”

He stood up and pulled her to her feet, hooking her bra and buttoning her blouse before he zipped up his pants.

She loved him so much. “Thank God you went to the pizza place that day I was there with Em,” she said.

He pulled her into his arms and she nestled her face into his neck. He smelled like citrus, with a tang of cologne mixed with something else that was only Rick.

“I would have stalked out every place Emma posted until I found you,” he murmured. “I hoped like hell I could make you care for me and want me the way I wanted you.”

“But we didn’t talk, you didn’t see me for five years,” she said.

“Oh, but I did, babe. I saw your face every time – “

She broke away from him and put her hand over his mouth. “Don’t. I know you’ve been with other women. But the thought of you with someone else makes me feel ill and murderous.”

He pulled her back to him and kissed her hand, then moved it to his cheek shadowed with stubble because he hadn’t shaved. “I get hard when you get jealous, Mac. And even when I was with other women, I pictured you and said your name.”

She suppressed a shudder at the thought of someone who wasn’t Rick touching her. “I could have hooked up with someone else, or random guys.”

His erection pressed into her belly. “Short of you being married, it wouldn’t have stopped me trying to convince you to be with me. But I have to say I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I’m the only man you’ve ever and will ever have.”

She wiggled against him. “Pretty sure of yourself, huh?”

“Yes, no. I’ll work to deserve this, you, as long as I draw buildings and breath.”

She smiled at him like she did that day in the mall, trying to show him everything she felt for him in her heart and soul and body.

“I’m okay with that,” she said before she claimed his mouth in a hungry kiss.

THE END