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Effortless, Page 2

S. C. Stephens

Chapter 2



  We pulled into the parking area of the apartment that I shared with Anna about twenty minutes later. Kellan still had a fantastic smile on his lips as he shut the car off, and I knew he was still a little high from the adrenaline of being on stage. While I could think of no greater torture than being the center of attention in front of hundreds of complete strangers, not to mention singing in front of said strangers, he lived for it.

  He was grinning ear to ear as he met me in front of his car, humming one of his songs. Smiling up at him, I looped my arm through his. I had no desire to live his life, but I would happily bathe in the aftereffects of it. We'd been through so much in our path to each other; his joy now brought me joy, too. I'd much rather see a delighted smile on his face than tears in his eyes.

  After swishing the door open dramatically, he led me to my tiny two-bedroom place here. While it was postage-stamp small, it did have a pretty spectacular view of Lake Union. Following him through the door, I sighed tiredly and switched the light on. Removing my purse from around my body, I set it on a small table while Kellan shut the door. Mere seconds after I was done, my body was jerked forward and then slammed back into the front door.

  I had time to gasp but that was it. Kellan's body pressed against every inch of me, his lips hungrily attacking mine. Without a thought, my fingers snuck up into his hair, twisting around the long strands. My heart surged forward so fast I thought I might collapse to the floor. Kellan's firm grip around me wouldn't have allowed that, though. Everywhere, from his chest, to his chiseled stomach, to his sensuous hips, was flush against mine, pressing into me like he wished we could be closer.

  As the fire in me started to heighten, the arousal I felt for him burning away every other thought in my head, my breath quickened. His breath was quick too between our hungry kisses, our light tongue flicks. Then his hand traveled over my bottom, curving around my thigh to the back of my knee. Shifting us slightly, he grabbed my leg and adjusted it up his hip. Lining us up perfectly, his aroused body pressed into mine, just where I needed it to.

  Groaning, I tightened my hands in his hair and firmly attached my lips to his. A sultry noise escaped his throat, rumbling through his body as our mouths moved together intently. It stoked the fire already in me to a boiling point. I needed him. All of him. Now.

  Arching against the door, I broke away from his glorious mouth. "Kellan," I moaned out, instantly grateful my sister was not here, ". . . bedroom. . . "

  His lips traveled down my throat, his tongue flicking every erogenous zone on the way down. I groaned again, rubbing myself against him, trying to dull the ache somehow. A chuckle left his mouth as the tip of his tongue traced my collarbone. He was enjoying this, enjoying teasing me. Pushing his shoulders back, I frowned at him. He cocked an eyebrow at me, the edge of his lip curving up in a similar manner. It was so incredibly hot, especially with the desire smoldering in his eyes. No one could do bedroom eyes like Kellan could.

  Then his demeanor completely changed. Smiling playfully, he let go of my leg that he'd hitched up his side. Tilting his head as he watched me struggling to breathe like a normal person, he took a step back. "Are you ever going to move back in with me?" he asked, his thumb coming up to trace the line his tongue had slid down earlier.

  I blinked at his sudden change of direction, my head feeling sluggish as it fought against the desire to push him back into the living room and take him on the monstrously ugly orange couch. I was pretty sure he'd let me. Wondering if he'd really just asked about us living together again, I took a side step away from him. It was also a side step toward the hall, toward my bedroom, and the smolder in his eyes came back a little.

  Smiling impishly, he nodded his head that way. "Because I really hate having sex on a futon. " Winking, he added, "Not that I won't, though. "

  Smirking at him, I reached out and grabbed his hand. "You're the one that kicked me out," I said, managing to keep my voice light, even though the memory was a painful one for me.

  Backing us towards the hall, I watched a flash of that pain wash over his face. It was gone instantly though. Shrugging, he laughed out, "Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time. "

  My hallway was a short one, with my room at the end closest to the front door. Anna's room, the larger room, was at the end of the hall with our tiny, shower-only bathroom in the middle. Kellan's place wasn't all that much bigger, but it seemed like a spacious mansion in comparison.

  Stopping us in front of my closed door, I put my other hand on his chest. "No, it was. " My hand traveled up his neck to cup his cheek; he leaned into my touch. "You and I needed space. We needed to get our heads on straight. "

  He smiled a little, then sighed. "Well, now that they are. . . why don't you come back?" His voice lowering, he stepped into my body, his arms wrapping around my waist. "I know we've taken things slow, but I still want to move forward. . . with you. "

  I swallowed at the warmth in his voice, the love in his eyes. I wanted that too, I really did, but, I was trying to be a stronger person, my own person and I knew that if I moved back in with him, he'd be my world again. I'd drown in him.

  Smiling encouragingly, I ran my fingers back through his hair. The serious look in his eye softened as I caressed him. In as reassuring of a voice as I could, I softly said, "I think it's better if we keep waiting. " Switching my hand to run my thumb over his cheek, I added, "I've sort of come into my own being with my sister. I don't want to fall right back into needing a man to feel. . . complete. "

  I bit my lip, hoping he wasn't offended. His insanely blue eyes ghosted over my face, taking in every feature. Inhaling deeply, he squeezed me a bit tighter. "What if I'm the one that needs you?" His face was completely, heartbreakingly serious. Shrugging, a tiny smile broke into his lips. "I hate sleeping alone. "

  Even though he'd said sleeping alone, I knew it was more than that. Kellan hated being alone. Oddly, it was something we had in common. But knowing we needed this, I threw on a bright smile and shook my head. "You'll be alright. " His tiny smile curved into a disgruntled one and I laughed, slinging both of my arms around his neck. "Besides, we almost always end up sleeping together anyway. "

  I flushed bright red after I said it, instantly realizing how suggestive it sounded. He grinned at me adorably, reaching behind me to open my bedroom door. Laughing at my comment, he shook his head. "Exactly. " Pushing my door open, his eyes came back to mine, playful now. "Think of the gas money we'd save. " He tilted his head, walking me backwards into my room. "And rent, you wouldn't have to pay that, living with me. You could work less, concentrate on school more. "

  He smiled and shrugged, like it made perfect sense. And logically, it did. Emotionally though, I thought we were in a good place now and maybe we shouldn't mess with that. Freeing one hand to flick on my light, I sighed. "I like my life, Kellan. I finally feel. . . well rounded. "

  As he closed my door with his foot, his hands slinked down to cup my backside. Smiling devilishly, he murmured, "Yes, I know, very well rounded. " I smacked him on the shoulder as he chuckled. Then he sighed, pulling my body flush to his and kissing me softly. "Fine. "

  I melted into his lips, savoring the taste of him all wrapped up in the smell of him. Pulling apart, he kicked off his shoes with his toes and tilted his head at my lumpy futon. "But that seriously sucks. Can I at least buy you a decent bed?"

  Smiling as I stepped out of my flip-flops, I grabbed his hand and pulled him towards the bed he hated. He was right, it was lumpy, with a heavy bar in the middle that dug into your back, but it was a large one and there was plenty of room on it to. . . roll around. Backing up to the edge of the futon, I grabbed the bottom of Kellan's t-shirt. "Of course. You can even help me break it in. "

  His seductive grin in place, he helped my fingers remove his clothing. "Hmmm. . . you may have sold me on this idea. "

  Laughing, I ran my hands down the wondrously etc
hed lines in his chest. His breath hitched when my fingers traced the black ink of my name swirled over his heart. Nothing in this world was as beautiful to me as that tattoo, except the man bearing it.

  "Anything that ends with sex, sells you. " I giggled.

  Kellan playfully pushed my shoulder back, and I sat down on the bed that sagged a little in the spot that was technically the "sitting" area when it was folded up. Scooting into the center of the bed, the hard support bar apparent under my body, I felt heat rush through me as Kellan leaned over the edge of the mattress. His eyes peering up at me, he huskily murmured, "True. "

  My breath hitched as I watched him crawl over to me on his hands and knees. Leaning over me, my breath embarrassingly faster, he eyes scoured the length of me. Feeling the pure sex appeal radiating from him, I swallowed. It sometimes amazed and mystified me that this man was mine, practically any time I wanted him. It was still a little miraculous to me that out of every person in the world that he could be with, he'd picked me. I still didn't see why.

  Smiling as his lips came down to mine and my hands traveled back up that smooth, perfect chest, I whispered, "Whore. "

  He laughed in my mouth as his body settled beside mine. "Tease," he breathed, his hand coming up to run through my hair.

  I laughed at the terms that we'd once used to hurt each other with, being used as affectionate phrases now. Things were like that with Kellan. Cold one minute, red hot the next. Our going slow was how we were working on keeping the relationship even, consistent. Kellan didn't seem at all worried that we'd burn out, but I sometimes did. After all, he could have anybody. Even if he was experiencing something with me that he'd never had before-a true, deep to his core love-a secret, buried part of me knew that now that he'd been opened up to love, he could find it again with someone else if he wanted to.

  God, I hated that thought.

  Pushing back my doubts, I instead concentrated on what I had no question about. Right now, Kellan wanted me. Right now, Kellan loved me and only me. And right now, my sister wouldn't be home for hours.

  Dressed only in his worn denims that hugged him so perfectly, his sculpted chest above me as he leaned over my body, Kellan worked his mouth softly against mine as the fingers of his free hand spun around a dark lock of my hair.

  My fingers were busy as well. They'd moved up to his wonderfully messy head of hair. It was so much fun to bunch it around my fingers and I couldn't resist giving him a light tug. He grinned against my lips. Then my fingers trailed down his neck, enjoying the lean muscles, and the light pulse of his veins under his skin. From there they decided to swoop up and over his shoulder blades, lingering for a moment on the tensing and releasing muscles as he played with my hair. Their only natural course after that was straight down his back. My lucky fingers delighted in the smooth, lean expanse of skin on the way down to his waistband. Of course, halfway there, they decided to head back up to those shoulder blades and retrace the path down to his waist. But this time, I lightly scraped my nails across his flesh instead of the softer, gentler finger pads.

  "Don't tease me," he muttered as he sucked on my lower lip.

  I laughed lightly as I remembered harshly digging through that perfect skin once before. . . in an espresso stand, no less. I felt my face heat as blood rushed to my cheeks. It was sort of an embarrassing moment for me. Kellan pulled back from our kiss to look over my features, probably noticing my flushed cheeks and understanding my expression. His finger ran along my cheek before sweeping over my lips. "Do you have any idea what that did to me, when you scratched me?"

  His lip twisted devilishly at the memory while my blush surely deepened. Not being able to speak, I merely shook my head. He smiled wider and leaned over to my ear. "I think that's what made me come. "

  My eyes closed for a second at hearing him say it and I chuckled despite myself. "I didn't realize you were so kinky," I whispered.

  With a smirk he laughed out, "You're the one that cut me. "

  I giggled again, feeling my embarrassment slide off of me with the laughter. "You're the one that liked it. "

  He kissed my chin gently before pulling back with a raised eyebrow. "You didn't enjoy doing that?"

  I bit my lip and looked away from the cocky look of self assurance on his face. Of course I'd like it. It had done as many amazing things to my body as it had done to his. A tiny bit of guilt washed through me. I did feel bad for hurting him, for drawing blood. That was a little more than was called for.

  Surprising him, I shoved back his shoulders. He grunted and said, "Hey," as he tried to crawl back over to me. Laughing, I kept him away with one hand while I squirmed out from where I was partially entangled in his legs. Before he could complain, or manhandle me back into position, I straddled his hips.

  As he was facing sideways, he started to flip onto his back, a huge grin lighting his face at my forcefulness in taking the top. I laughed harder as I shoved his shoulder down, keeping his chest on the mattress.

  Once I was firmly seated on his lower spine, he twisted his neck to look back at me. "What are you doing?"

  My hands played over the expanse of pristine flesh before me while I answered him, a little huskily. "Well, I do feel guilty about hurting you. . . "

  He twisted around more as his lips smirked at me. "I did mention that you made me come, right?"

  I felt that flush return at hearing him say that word again-come. It wasn't even a dirty word, really, but hearing it pass his lips reminded me of toe-curling, blood-boiling, life-altering moments of ecstasy. Just hearing him say the word made me want him even more. Smiling, I pushed back that feeling. . . for now.

  "I want to make sure you're not. . . damaged. "

  I ran my hands up his back, leaning over him so my hair brushed his skin. I delighted when I noticed him shiver when my long locks touched him. His eyes flicked over my face and his voice dropped. "I only have one scar that can be attributed to you. "

  His eyes rested on mine and my breath caught at the love I saw in that gaze. I didn't think I'd ever get used to seeing how much he adored me. It made all the flirting I'd witnessed earlier irrelevant. None of those fan girls got that look from him. None of those fan girls got to have this level of intimacy with him. Not anymore. Evan was right, he played with them but his heart was mine.

  I nodded, surprised at how my eyes were misting. My thoughts tumbled over to the memory he was referring to and I bit my lip. It was a long time ago that he'd taken a knife wound while trying to defend my honor. It was one of the most amazing and horrible things that anyone had ever done for me. Amazing that he'd stood up for me, and horrible that he'd been hurt. My fingers traveled down his ribs, touching the mattress as I curled them around his body. I leaned over and kissed the edge of the scar where I felt the roughness cutting into that once smooth skin. He sucked in a breath, his stomach clenching as my lips moved over the old wound.

  I smiled and kissed across his back as I thought of one other major wound he'd gotten because of me. True, this one didn't have an external scar, the fracture having been reset without surgery, but I knew it was damaged, under the surface. My hands ran up his arms, squeezing the left one, where he'd broken it while getting into a fight with Denny so many months ago.

  I leaned forward and kissed that arm and his eyes softened as he watched me. I knew he understood my gesture. "I adore you for all your scars," I whispered as I leaned over and gave him a soft kiss on the lips.

  His hand came up to grip my head, keeping me trapped in the loving softness of his kiss. He deepened it and the fire of anticipation coursed through me when his tongue brushed over mine. My breath sped up and I leaned into the kiss for a moment before I stopped myself.

  Skillfully, I pulled away from his hand trapping me to his mouth. With a playful scowl I smacked his shoulder. "You stop that. I'm not done with my inspection. "

  He sighed and rolled his eyes. "Well, can you hurry up? So I can make love
to you and not this awful mattress?" He pressed his hips against the bed beneath him for emphasis and I laughed. Laughing himself he muttered, "We could switch positions when you're done?"

  Ignoring that, I sat back on my seat at the base of his spine and turned all of my attention to his glorious back. He seemed fine, definitely no thin trails of puckered flesh from me tearing into him. I leaned forward to kiss his skin and then I noticed it. I paused as I looked more closely. It was faint, so faint you wouldn't notice unless you were literally an inch from his skin, like I currently was, but it was there. Thin, white streaks down his back, right where I'd raked him. I smiled inwardly that a part of our crazy, intense night was still with him, maybe forever. As much as I hated that I'd caused him pain, I was a little happy that a reminder would be with him, wherever he went.

  "Ah, found 'em," I muttered.

  He started to ask me, "What?" when I playfully drug the very tip of my tongue over the vague white line. He cut off what he'd been about to say and a shudder went through him. Emboldened, I let my tongue make a trail up between his shoulder blades and up the back of his neck. Kellan squirmed and dropped his forehead to the pillow, his breath definitely faster. Another old memory seizing me, I very gently bit the back of his neck. He groaned.

  Before I could really process it, and definitely before I could stop it, he twisted underneath me, bringing up his arms to pull me down to the bed. All of the air whooshed from my lungs with the force he used to get me off of him. I giggled when he crawled on top of me. His lips attacked mine, his tongue practically searching for my tonsils.

  I pushed him away from me. With desire evident in his smoky bedroom eyes, he growled, "I said don't tease me. "

  I smirked and ran a finger across his parted lips. "Payback. " I raised an eyebrow at him. "At least I didn't do that in a crowded club. "

  His face startled. It was almost like he'd forgotten about that very intense moment when he'd licked me in the middle of a packed dance floor. Denny and Anna had both been somewhere in that club at the time. His brow scrunched together as his eyes turned recalcitrant. "That wasn't very nice of me, was it?"

  I slung my arms around his neck and shook my head. "No, it wasn't. . . but I liked it. "

  His guilty eyes turned playful again as he thought about that night. "I couldn't resist. " His fingers trailed up my arms, raising them over my head and causing delightful shivers to course down my body. "You had your arms up here. " He cocked one over my head and brought the other one above it. Holding both wrists in one hand, he trailed his finger down my nose to my mouth. "You were biting your lip as you danced. " I bit my lip again as I watched his hungry eyes recreate the sight of me that had pushed him over the edge. His finger floated over my lip and down between my breasts. I closed my eyes but he kept going, dragging the finger over my still exposed belly button to my shorts. He played with the waistband before bringing a hand to my hip bone. "And these. . . these hips. . . " He leaned over me to lightly breathe on my face, our lips brushing. "These hips drove me straight to madness. "

  He brought his lips down to mine and released my hands. I wrapped my arms over his head, firmly holding him to me. When we paused for air, I muttered, "You were watching me?"

  He ran his nose along my jaw, flicking his tongue for an occasional taste. "Ceaselessly. " His lips traveled back and forth along my jaw. "I have many things to atone for, and I hate what happened between us later, but I'll never feel sorry for tasting your skin that night. " I gasped and arched against him, lifting my head so his lips could revisit my neck.

  He obliged and feather-light touches made their way down my skin. His mouth still on my neck, his fingers tore at the knotted section of my shirt. In one smooth move he lifted the dark material up and brought it over my head. His eyes lingered over my body for a second before he harshly unhooked my bra and ripped it off of me. My body pulsed with need as his burning eyes visually caressed me.

  With a sigh, he dropped his head to my stomach. "I need this flesh," he muttered as his tongue ran up me.

  Fire shot through me at the contact and I writhed under his touch. "I need you too, Kellan. "

  He dragged his tongue between my breasts. "I need to see your face when I do this. " He flicked his tongue all the way up to my neck and I closed my eyes and groaned in response.

  "I need to hear you when I do this. " He brought his lips, and that miraculous tongue, to my breast, swirling it around the nipple.

  I arched my back and dug my hands into his hair. "God, yes. . . "

  His breath heavy, he brought his lips to my ear. "I need to be inside of you. . . as deep as I can go. " My body ached with his words, my light shorts suddenly horribly uncomfortable as the pleasant tingling between my thighs shifted to a full-on throbbing ache. I moaned loudly and tried to kiss him but he pulled away.

  He hovered above me and I opened my eyes to gaze at the god-like man before me. His expression burning with desire for me, he swallowed heavily. "And I need to hear you beg for it. " His expression asking so much more than his words, he added, "Do you want me?"

  The throbbing that I didn't think could get any worse, intensified, and my mouth found his. "God, Kellan. . . please, yes, God. . . please. I want you. . . I want you so much. " I also meant more than just the words. He was asking me if he was the one I really wanted to be with. I was telling him, as plainly as I could, that he was.

  I mumbled more pleas for him while our mouths enacted what we both wanted. With heavy breaths and frantic fingers we pulled off the remainder of our clothes and he did exactly what he'd said he needed to do.

  Smiling as I woke up the next morning, I yawned and stretched. My arms and legs didn't collide with another warm body in my chilly bed, but I wasn't too surprised. Kellan was almost always up before me. I wasn't sure why, but the boy was an early riser; he got up at the crack of dawn nearly every day. He also was a night owl, usually staying up just as late as I did, even on nights I closed at the bar. The man was sort of miraculous when it came to sleep. It did eventually catch up with him, but he could go for days on very little of it. Then it would hit him like a brick wall and he'd sleep for twelve hours straight.

  Shaking my head at him, I inhaled deep, my smile widening. My favorite smell in the world, aside from Kellan's natural scent, was wafting through the house-coffee. Kellan was brewing a pot in the kitchen. That was definitely one of the perks of waking up with him.

  Peeking an eye open, I saw that he'd left my bedroom door cracked a bit. From the other room I could hear the pot peculating and the sound of Kellan getting cups ready. He was also humming a song. Relaxing back on my pillow, I just enjoyed the sound for a minute. I pictured him out there, singing away in just his boxers. It was a delightful image.

  The sound of a key entering a lock broke the stillness of the morning. It was immediately followed by the front door cracking open. Sitting up on my elbows, I frowned. Was Anna just now getting home? I knew she'd worked late last night and then mentioned she was going out with some of the girls from work, but this was late, even for her. Unless, of course, she'd already been asleep. . . somewhere.

  Maybe she'd met up with Griffin, to congratulate him on his big event. But, it just as easily could have been somebody else that she'd hooked up with. Anna and Griffin had a weird relationship. When they were together, they were inseparable-all hands and tongues and, ugh, grinding. But when they were apart from each other. . . well, you'd never even suspect that they were involved. They were very open to being with other people. It was odd to me, but it seemed to work for them so I didn't say much about it.

  When Anna's bright voice sounded a greeting, I immediately hoped Kellan wasn't in his boxers. I even looked around the ground to see if his clothes were still on my floor. Luckily, they weren't. While he and Anna only ever acted friendly around each other, I didn't need my sister ogling him anymore than she already did. Physically, she'd kept her distance once she found out that we were
involved, but like any fine piece of art, her eyes lingered on Kellan, appreciating the masterpiece before them. I understood. I appreciated him daily.

  "Hey, Kellan, good morning. "

  "Mornin', Anna. You're out late. . . or early. "

  Kellan laughed as Anna sighed, a heavy bag clunking to the floor. "Yeah, went to Pete's. Ran into the guys. "

  Kellan chuckled lightly, probably surmising what I had earlier, that she'd been entertained by Griffin until the wee hours of the morning. It hurt my stomach a little to think about what they'd probably been doing, and as I forcefully made my sluggish body stand up, I tried not to.

  Anna laughed huskily while I grabbed some lounge pants out of my dresser, quickly throwing them on my naked body. "I heard you guys did great at your big show. " Anna sighed forlornly. "I'm sorry I had to miss it. "

  Seeming like it made no difference to him, Kellan replied with, "It was just a show, nothing you haven't seen before. Don't worry about it. "

  I shook my head as I threw on a thin, comfortable shirt. Just another show? He was so casual about the whole thing. I knew that it had meant something to him, though. It had excited him, invigorated him. I'd seen it when he'd shoved me against the door last night. I bit my lip at that thought and quickly ran my fingers through my thick hair a few times, eager to see the passionate man again.

  Stealthily walking out of my room, I immediately saw Anna and Kellan in the kitchen. He was leaning back against the counter, facing me, his arms crossed over his chest as he carried on a quiet conversation with my sister. She had her back to me, her long, luxuriously shiny hair ridiculously perfect for the early hour.

  Watching them, I tilted my head. If my sister had had her way last year, the two of them would have ended up together and I'd be walking up on a couple, instead of a couple of friends. As his lips curved into a small smile while he spoke softly-his hair a distractingly charming mess-I could easily picture them as the gorgeous pairing they would have been.

  Raising my chin, I inhaled a big breath. That wasn't what happened, though. He'd never touched her. My sister had no idea what his lips felt like, what he tasted like, what his fingers felt like, what he sounded like when he was making love. She'd never heard him say I love you. But I had. . . repeatedly.

  That confidence pushing aside my lingering insecurities, I meandered into the kitchen. They both twisted to look at me when I stepped into the small room. Kellan's small smile for her turned into a wide one for me, his deep eyes brightening.

  He smiled down at me as I slung my arms around his waist. "Mornin', sleepy," he breathed, kissing my head.

  Exhaling contently, I buried my head in his neck. "Good morning. "

  My sister sighed. "God, you two are adorable. " Smacking my arm, she rolled her eyes. "It's annoying. "

  I smiled, laughing a little. "Good morning, Anna. Late night?"

  Grinning devilishly, she bit her perfect, red lip and cocked an eyebrow just as expertly as Kellan could. "Oh, yes. " Her finger shifted between the two of us. "And I can guarantee you it wasn't as cutesy as your night. "

  I flushed and looked away from her and she laughed, her voice throaty and seductive in a way that mine never would be. Kellan laughed with her, squeezing me tighter. "I wouldn't say our night was cute, Anna. "

  I flashed my eyes up to Kellan and smacked his chest, my face reddening even more. While Kellan's and my love life might be a bit tamer than he was used to, and my sister for that matter, I didn't need him chatting about it. Grinning down at me, he said nothing further and I relaxed. Kellan wasn't exactly an open book, and he generally didn't talk about his life much. Thankfully, that included our sex life.

  Anna snorted and I looked back at her. Her face in a playful grin, she said, "I know. " She poked my shoulder. "I know how hot you guys can get. " My jaw dropped and my face paled. She laughed and jerked her thumb towards the hallway. "My bedroom is only one room away from yours, Kiera. " Raising her eyebrows, she leaned in and muttered, "Maybe the two of you could remember that in the future?"

  I covered my face with my hand and twisted into Kellan's body. God, sometimes I did forget. Being with Kellan could just be so. . . consuming. Chuckling as he held me close, rubbing my back, Kellan causally answered her. "We'll try and keep that in mind, Anna. Thanks. "

  Laughing, Anna rubbed my shoulder. "I'm just teasing you, Kiera. Go ahead and scream away, I don't mind. " As I peeked at her from between my fingers, I watched her eyes rake over Kellan's body. "Lord knows I would," she murmured.

  Kellan chuckled again, shaking his head before kissing mine again. Winking at him, she patted my arm again. "Well, I'm off to bed. I'm beat. "

  Twisting away from us, she started sashaying back to her room. The tight pants she had on emphasized the curve of her hips. Anna was definitely beautiful and provocative. Sometimes it was hard to live with her never-ending perfection, but she was family, and she'd swooped into my life when I'd needed her the most. She'd helped me get back on my feet when both men in my life had dumped me. She'd helped me find a place to live when I'd had nowhere to go. She'd helped me heal my shattered heart when I was sure I couldn't. She'd even helped Kellan and I get back together. No, whatever her eccentricities, I loved her.

  I was smiling and shaking my head at her when she tossed back, "I'll be out like a light if you guys want to go at it again?"

  I sighed as Kellan laughed. Pulling back to look at him, I smacked his chest again. "Would you stop encouraging her?" He smiled, still chuckling and I sighed again. "I wish the two of you had a better hobby than trying to embarrass me. "

  Twisting me around to face him, he placed a tender kiss on my forehead. "Well, you wouldn't have to worry about it at my place. " Rocking my hips back and forth, our bodies touching and retreating enticingly, he added, "Maybe I'll just embarrass you back to my home?"

  Raising an eyebrow, he grinned crookedly at me. I wanted to smack him again, but that look was too damn sexy. I ended up kissing him instead, which, of course, made him chuckle.

  Kellan stayed with me all afternoon, helping me go over everything and anything that had to do with school. I was starting my last year soon. I had everything ready to go, all my classes lined up, all my books purchased, but going over my plan helped me to not feel so nervous about it.

  I don't know why I was still nervous about the first day of school. You would think that after sixteen grades, I'd be used to it by now, but I wasn't. That first day of school phobia had even made me delay starting college after high school.

  My mom and dad had been furious about that, but I'd just been too nervous to do it. My mom had been going through a small cancer scare at the time, a small lump found that she'd had to have removed. Even though they'd protested, I'd taken the opportunity to stay home with her while she went through treatments. She hated me missing school, but it worked out for me. I got to take care of her and delay doing something that terrified my eighteen-year-old self.

  She was one hundred percent better long before the school year was up, and begged me to quit wasting my time with her and enter late. I'd already deferred for a year, though, so I took all the time I could.

  I may have delayed for another year, but eventually Anna had had enough and had marched me down to the office after my year hiatus and forced me to get registered at the school I'd already been accepted to-Ohio University. And of course, once I was there I was fine. It was getting through the door that was the hard part for me. I was working on that too.

  But I suppose my delay had ended up being a good thing. I probably wouldn't have met Denny if I hadn't taken that year to lounge around my parents' place. And then, if I'd never met Denny, I definitely wouldn't have ever met Kellan. Even though I hated how we started, how much we'd hurt Denny, who was an incredibly good guy who really didn't deserve everything we'd put him through, I was still grateful that fate had led me to Seattle, to Kellan.

  Kellan thought my nerves were cute.
He didn't seem to get nervous about much of anything. He could probably walk into the first day of school, thirty minutes late, completely naked, and be absolutely fine. I smiled to myself as I reconsidered. No, people and places may not affect him, but feelings did. Telling me that he loved me for the first time had sure scared him, probably worse than all of my first day jitters combined.

  Well, it was nice to know that he wasn't impervious to nerves.

  I was majoring in English this year, a fact that Kellan teased me about. He seemed to think I'd be better suited for Psychology. Personally, I think that was because he wanted me to take another class like my Human Sexuality course last year. He was sort of incorrigible when it came to the baser instincts. Not that I had much room to talk, at least, not when it came to him. I just couldn't stop myself from wanting to be all over him whenever he was near.

  After a full day of helping me map out everything, right down to which path I needed to walk through in the quad, it was finally time for me to go to work.

  Smiling as we walked through the apartment's parking lot, I started to grab the keys from his hand. "Can I drive?" I asked playfully, walking backwards in front of him as I tried to jiggle the keys out of the death-grip he had around them.

  Scowling wonderfully, he shook his head and jerked his hand away. "No, you cannot. "

  Stopping and putting my hands on my hips as he walked past me, I stuck my lip out. "Why not?"

  He took two steps and then stopped and walked back to me. His mouth was instantly sucking on my pouting lip. I was instantly no longer pouting. Against my skin, he murmured, "Because. . . that is my baby, and I don't share her. " He growled that to me and my breath quickened.

  "I thought I was your baby," I managed to squeak out.

  Smiling, he grabbed my hips and pulled me into his. "You are. " His lips returned to mine, his kiss deep, territorial almost. When I felt that familiar fire starting to ignite, when I was ready to yank off that bothersome t-shirt and glorify his body with my tongue, he broke apart from me and breathed, "And I don't share you either. "

  As my body was a delightful, gooey warmth of sensuality, I could have melted right there into the sidewalk. He laughed and finished pulling me to the car. I-quite happily-scooted into the passenger's side.

  Still smiling over his declaration of possession, it wasn't too much later that we arrived at my second home here in Seattle. Well, third truly. Kellan's place will always feel like home to me. Even with all of the bad memories that lingered there.

  Parking in the stall that his Chevelle frequented so often that it was unofficially known as "Kellan's Spot," he shut off his mechanical baby. If only he could turn me off so easily. I still felt a little worked up. Not the best way to start my shift, and that was probably the real reason why Kellan had done it. He may call me a tease, but that boy enjoyed making me squirm.

  I stepped out of his car right as he walked around to open my door. He frowned that I hadn't waited, then he held his hand out for me. I took it, like I always did, and we walked hand-in-hand to the large, rectangular building where Kellan found peace.

  While Pete's was comforting and familiar to me, it was sort of solace for Kellan. He came here to play, to get away, to socialize, to, at one time, pick up girls, and I think to shut off his mind for a while. I'd disrupted that peace for him when I was working here while we'd been suffering through figuring out our relationship, but the serenity was back now and the lazy smile that curled around his lips as we stepped through the door clearly showed that.

  Holding one set of the double doors open for me, he gallantly led me in, kissing my hand as it extended away from him. He generally did something physical when we walked through the door. Sometimes it was a peck on the cheek, sometimes his hand snuck around my waist, but there was always something. Some sort of announcement to the room- I was his.

  He'd wanted that when our relationship was secret, and now that it wasn't, he let everybody know it. Including the sulking bartender who was watching us.

  Rita had been here since Kellan first arrived, when he'd come back from L. A. She'd had her sights set on him immediately and, husband-be-damned, sometime in the past few years, she'd successfully had him. It made me a little nauseous. She was at least twice his age, over-tanned leathery skin, over-bleached blonde hair, and a sense of fashion that left nothing to the imagination. I'd never asked Kellan about their hookup. Honestly, I didn't want to know. . . ever.

  Her lips twisted up when Kellan shifted his head to acknowledge her. All he gave her was a slight incline of a greeting, but you'd think he'd just walked up and licked her by her reaction. All sultry smiles and hooded eyes that were, I'm sure, mentally undressing him, she leaned over the aged bar that ran the length of the wall beside the front doors.

  Practically purring, she murmured, "Hey there, Kellan. . . Kiera. " My name was clearly an afterthought.

  I smirked at her and twisted to face Kellan. "I have to go put my stuff away. Usual?"

  I tilted my head and he ran a finger back through my hair, tucking a lock behind my ear as he bit his lip. It was charmingly attractive. "Yeah, thanks, Kiera. "

  Smiling at him, I leaned up to kiss his cheek. Not satisfied with a peck, he twisted and found my lips. My face heated, knowing Rita, and a good portion of the rest of the room, was staring, but I let myself indulge in a small moment of PDA. I immediately stopped the moment when I felt his free hand come around to squeeze my backside. Kellan didn't always do subtle PDA.

  Pushing his shoulder back, I pointed at him in warning. Laughing, he shrugged and gave me an I'm innocent smile. It was a complete and total lie, he was nothing near innocent, but it was adorable and I rolled my eyes and laughed as I turned away from him.

  As I made my way to the hallway, I passed about five sets of tables that all had their eyes glued on where we'd been by the bar. The women at those tables alternated between him and me as he made his way to the far back corner of the room near the stage where the guys traditionally sat. I could feel myself being appraised with every step I took. Self conscious, I kept my head down and walked a little faster. It was one thing for him to be admired by so many people, it was quite another to be judged if you were worthy of him or not. And by the leers and twisted lips I saw, it was clear I was falling short of their expectations. Again, I tried to not let it bother me, but the ego is a frail, tender thing.

  Exhaling in relief when I was through Kellan's admirers, I made my way to the back room, where the employees kept their stuff. Jenny and Kate were coming out of it as I approached. Kate, a tall, graceful girl with the world's bounciest, most perfectly put together ponytail, beamed at me. I'd seen her work a double shift two nights in a row, and her hair had still looked liked she'd just done it five minutes ago. I don't know what she used on it, but she should look into endorsing the product.

  "Hey, Kiera. I hear the show rocked yesterday!" A long, auburn strand curled around her neck as she spoke, a neck so slim and elegant, it was practically begging to be draped in diamonds.

  I nodded eagerly as I worked past them in the doorframe. "It was. They were incredible!" I sighed, thinking how perfect Kellan looked on stage. They say some people are just born to be on one, and Kellan was one of those people. Idly, I wondered what that meant for us. . . long term.

  Jenny tilted her head at me curiously, her red Pete's shirt emphasizing every curve that the men here swooned over. She was the sweetest person, though, and completely loyal to Evan. "You okay, Kiera?" she asked.

  I shook my head. "Yeah, just nervous about school starting up. " And Kellan becoming a bone fide, across-the-globe rock star. It was weird to both want a future for someone, and desperately not want it at the same time. I wished him all the success in the world, but only if I didn't have to share him. Man, one more thing I needed to work on. Good thing college is all about self discovery.

  Jenny smiled and patted my arm. "Don't worry. You're super smart. You'll
do great. "

  I nodded, feeling silly again for even worrying about school. Jenny was right. Kellan was right. I knew the grounds. I knew a lot of people there. I knew a lot of the professors. And I had a scholarship that practically paid for the whole thing. I had nothing to worry about. Nothing to fear but fear, right?

  Kate nodded with Jenny, her light brown, almost topaz eyes wistful. "Yeah, you're so much smarter than me. I gave up after one semester. " I frowned sympathetically, but then she swished her head to look down the hall. "Hey, is Kellan here? I want to ask him about the show. "

  Shifting to a smile as I pictured Kellan leaning back in his chair, people watching while he waited for me to bring him his "usual," I nodded. "Yeah, he's here. "

  I couldn't keep the dorky grin from my face and they both giggled at me before shuffling off together. What? My boyfriend was a super-hot musician with fabulous hair, a rock-hard body, and my name tattooed over his chest. Who wouldn't grin about that?

  I shoved my stuff in a locker and hastily threw my hair up in a ponytail that was nowhere near as perfect as Kate's. Sunday nights weren't too terribly busy, since the band didn't play, but there was still a lot of moving around and not having my hair flopping all over my face was a good thing.

  When I stepped back out to the main part of the bar, I saw that my D-bag boyfriend wasn't alone anymore. Leaning back in his chair, a foot casually propped on a knee, he was chatting amicably with Sam, the bouncer here.

  Sam was a big guy, burly and muscular. He finished off the intimidating scowl he kept on his face by completely shaving his head. It just made him seem all the more menacing. He'd been friends with Denny when Denny had gone to high school here for a year. He'd taken Denny in, after we'd broken up, when Denny just couldn't live with Kellan anymore. Understandable, given the circumstances. From what I heard, Sam and Denny still talked occasionally.

  Kellan had also gone to school with Sam and Denny. It was how they all knew each other. Even though Kellan was a couple of years younger than them, he'd formed tight bonds with Sam and my ex. And Kellan still talked to Denny too. A fact that never ceased to amaze me.

  But now the pair was going over more pleasant topics than last year's drama. Kellan had a huge smile on his face as he spoke to Sam, occasionally flicking his hands in the air, gesturing. Sam listened with a small grin on his usually imposing features. I figured Kellan was talking about the show.

  Shaking my head, I went about getting Kellan the beer he'd wanted. I just couldn't get over the fact that my boyfriend had played a major venue. Even if his band didn't go anywhere else, that would be something that he could tell his grandkids about. I smiled even wider as I approached Rita. Kellan with kids. . . even the thought gave me goose bumps.

  A couple of hours into my shift, the rest of the band strolled in. Kellan was at the front of the bar when they burst through it. He'd finally been cornered down by Kate, who wanted to know everything about yesterday. I heard Kellan try and play it off like it was nothing, but Kate wouldn't let it go and asked him question after question, most of them along the lines of-"Weren't you nervous? Didn't you feel like peeing your pants?" Kellan always laughed at her and told her no, but I don't think she bought his answer.

  After being hounded by her for a while, Kellan almost looked relived when he twisted around to acknowledge his band mates strolling in. Once they were all four together, the bar broke into applause and ear-splitting whistles.

  I joined in with the merriment; I was just as proud of them as the other patrons. Evan smiled as he looked around, his warm eyes grateful and appreciative. Matt seemed horribly embarrassed. His face flushed with color and he quickly looked back at the door, like he wanted to run through it. Kellan chuckled and shook his head as he put his hand up in acknowledgment. They all seemed a little thrown by the attention.

  Except Griffin, of course. He was throwing kisses with his hands in-between deep, dramatic bows. If Kellan hadn't clapped him on the back to make him stop it, I think he would have started in on an Oscar-worthy speech once all the noise died down.

  Still shaking his head, Kellan said a polite thank you to the crowd once it was quiet enough to hear him. Matt immediately darted to their table, thankful to disappear. Laughing at the guitarist, Evan walked over to Jenny, lifting her into a mammoth embrace. Kellan shoved Griffin forward, but not before the bassist loudly exclaimed, "My Johnson is gladly accepting all forms of praise. . . if anyone wants to congratulate me privately. "

  I rolled my eyes and looked away as Kellan smacked him across the back of the head. Seriously, my sister must have a screw loose to date that man. If what they were doing could even be considered dating.

  A few minutes after the guys were seated, Pete, the middle-aged, weary owner of the bar came out to congratulate them. With a thin smile on his lips, he shook hands with each band member. While Pete looked far from unhappy, he didn't seem thrilled either. Kellan had told me once that Pete had no talent in finding bands to put on his stage. It was the main reason the D-bags played here so much. Pete and his business partner, Sal, had made a deal with Kellan and the guys, not too long after the boys moved up here. The two men agreed to let the boys have the exclusive rights to the stage every weekend, if they wanted. It gave the boys a home base to play from, and a safe spot to store their instruments. And for Pete and Sal, it allowed them to stop searching for gigs that would bring in the customers. It was a win-win; the band brought in a lot of customers.

  With a slight frown on Pete's brow as he shook Kellan's hand, I figured he was starting to believe that his act might outgrow him. . . and then he'd have to start looking for talent again.

  Once Pete left the guys to their drinking, clapping Evan on the back as he left, the bar subdued back to normalcy. Most of the people started engaging in their own conversations, only a few going up to congratulate the boys personally. Thankfully, none of those few were women congratulating Griffin in the way that he wanted.

  A few female fans did eye Kellan, but nothing more than the I-want-you eyes I was used to him getting. None of them seemed quite brave enough, or drunk enough, to approach his table, though, and I was just fine with that.

  Throughout the course of the evening, the D-bags eventually left their bar. Matt left by himself an hour or two after arriving, a shy smile on his face as he said that he had plans with Rachel. Griffin rolled his eyes as his cousin left, gesturing obscenely with his hand in the air over his naughty parts. Thankfully, he left about an hour later, some blonde bimbo on his arm. She gave him sultry, seductive eyes as they left, and I was pretty sure she'd give him the praise he'd wanted earlier. I shook my head and ignored the sight of Griffin leaving with another woman. It happened all the time. I'd asked Anna about it once, but she'd only shrugged and said she didn't care. He was free to do whatever he wanted. Her too.

  Evan stayed until closing, escorting Jenny out when she was done with her duties. Kellan stayed, too. Feet kicked up on a chair, he watched me with a deliciously provocative smile while I wiped off some tables nearby. And Rita watched him just as provocatively.

  Yep, everything was back to normal.

  Refusing to sleep in my bed again, Kellan drove us to his place instead. A small, peaceful smile was on his lips as he pulled onto his street. I wasn't sure if that was because he was coming home after a couple of days, or if he just enjoyed having me come home with him. I supposed it was a little of both.

  His tiny, white two-story house was dark as he shut the car off. When we'd all lived there, Kellan, Denny and me, the house had seemed warm and alive with activity. Now that it was just Kellan, the house seemed a little quiet. As Kellan cracked his door, I thought maybe that was the real reason for his smile. Kellan preferred a bustling house. I'd gleaned that out of him when I'd asked him if he'd rent out his room again.

  With a slight frown, he'd told me, "I've thought about it. But I don't know. . . it feels like yours, and I don't want to give it to some
one else. " Those words had warmed me considerably, but when I'd asked him if he needed the rent money, he'd only shrugged and said, "No, renting out the room was never about money. " Sighing, he'd added, "I just don't like being there alone. "

  God, sometimes he just broke my heart.

  Stepping into the entryway, my eyes drifted around the familiar space. It was sort of a double-edged sword for me. I loved being here with Kellan. I loved the memories of cuddling with him on the couch and making love to him in his room, but. . . Denny was here, too.

  His ghost seemed to linger in the spaces he'd been. Leaning against the kitchen counter drinking a mug of tea. Lying back on the couch, watching sports on TV. Showering in the bathroom, sometimes with me. And our room, the first room we'd ever shared as a couple, was the room that Kellan refused to rent out again. The ghosts were heaviest in there. So heavy, that I refused to go in there. I couldn't even look at the door. As it was closed when Kellan and I walked into his bedroom, I thought that Kellan probably didn't go in there either. Like I said, double-edged sword.

  Propping his guitar case in the corner of his room, finally having taken it out of his car from playing at Bumbershoot, Kellan watched me as I sat on his bed. With soft eyes, his vision flicked to the closed door across the very short hall upstairs. "You alright?"

  Throwing on my brightest smile, I leaned back on my elbows. Kellan's face brightened considerably. "Of course, I'm fine. " That was mainly true. I was fine. I'd let Denny go and I'd slowly begun to forgive myself for cheating on him. But being here was difficult for me sometimes and Kellan knew it. I think that was the real reason he didn't pressure me more to move in with him. I just wasn't ready to deal with the ghosts every day.

  Sitting down beside me, he laid a palm on my thigh; it ignited me instantly. "I'm glad you're here," he whispered.

  Sitting up, I laced my arms around his neck. "I had no choice. You wouldn't let me drive your car, remember?"

  He chuckled and leaned in to kiss me. Lightly laughing myself, I threaded my fingers back through his shaggy hair and laid back on his pillows, bringing him with me.

  He was instantly engaged, hands running over my body, his own body sneaking into position alongside mine. As I thought of all of the women who'd wanted him this weekend, women who he'd only briefly flirted with, or politely acknowledged, or in some cases completely ignored, my heart swelled. He didn't want them. He wanted me. He loved me. And God, how I loved him, too.