For a few seconds, he just studied me, until I started to get nervous. What was he thinking?
I said, “What are you doing? Are we going in or just going to stand here all night?” If he wasn’t feeling mean what was he feeling? Riley wasn’t as easy to figure out as other guys.
“I’m wondering if I kiss you if somehow your father will know and smite me. That’s the word, right? Smite? Smited? Smitten?”
Smitten? No, that had not just come out of his mouth.
But my body started to tingle in anticipation, relief surging through me. He was asking for encouragement. I could do that, no problem, because I most definitely wanted him to kiss me.
“Are you going to kiss me?” I asked, completely confident he would now, with a little coaxing. “And no, you won’t be smote. My dad is a preacher, not God.”
“So what if I am going to kiss you? Are you down with that?”
“I’m good with it, but I thought you hated me,” I teased him, leaning on the door frame out of his touch, amused that he was asking for permission. It made me feel more confident, less at a disadvantage in that I probably liked him more than he liked me. “You said I’m like a little sister to you.” I wanted him to kiss me, but I also wanted to hear him say out loud that he was attracted to me. Hey, guys aren’t the only ones who need their egos stroked.
“Hate is such a strong word,” he said, reaching out and fingering the cross I wore around my neck, the one that had been a gift from my father for my sixteenth birthday. Pure gold. “I never said I hated you.”
Desire started to simmer as he leaned in close to me, as I anticipated the kiss I had somehow known we’d been heading toward all week, or at least hoping for. I opened my mouth and crossed my ankles, the tight ache between my thighs distracting.
Then he ruined it.
“I mean, I find you annoying and bratty, but I don’t hate you.”
Really? I tried to pull away, but he put his hands on the wall on either side of me, trapping my body against the house as he grinned at me.
“You’re an ass,” I said.
“I’m just being honest. Because you are bratty, even you have to admit that, but I also find you intelligent, sexy as hell, and strong. I like that you’ll take the public bus even though you have no clue what you’re doing and you’re scared. I like that you’re staying in this dump when you could probably call up Daddy and get money for a hotel, even if he doesn’t know where you really are.”
The last bit wasn’t even close to the truth, but I was too busy enjoying his compliments to correct him. Because Riley was right—I was all those things. I could be annoying and bratty, yet I liked to think I was somewhat smart, and I knew I was strong, tenacious. That he saw me for who I was did weird things to my inside that had nothing to do with sex.
“I admire that you’re willing to pitch in and pull up nasty carpet to help me keep my brother.”
“It’s no big deal.” But it was a big deal. All of it. All of this.
His lips barely brushed mine in the most innocent kiss I’d shared since middle school. It made me shiver again.
“Now you can tell me what you like about me,” he prompted, while I stood there struck silent.
It was hard to think with his arms engulfing me like they were, his mouth so close to mine. I wanted to run my fingers through the stubble of his beard and bite his bottom lip. But I managed to focus long enough to say, “You are definitely an asshole, but what I like is that you are so responsible, you take care of your brothers, you do what you have to do, and yet you still laugh. You have a sense of humor, and you don’t take yourself too seriously.”
“I guess we’re pretty fucking awesome, aren’t me?” he asked.
Reprinted by arrangement with InterMix, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Erin McCarthy, 2013.
Erin McCarthy is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 40 novels and novellas in the paranormal, contemporary romance, young adult, and new adult genres. The author is a RITA award finalist and an American Library Association winner of the Reluctant Young Reader award. She lives with her family in Ohio.