Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Effortless, Page 3

S. C. Stephens

Chapter 3



  Kellan's room was still dark when my eyes peeled open. Moonlight filtered in through his window, highlighting the objects that he'd collected over his life. There wasn't much-some paperbacks on his bookshelf, a few CDs scattered along the top of it, the Ramones poster I'd picked up for him last summer while out shopping with Jenny. Besides some pocket change and a couple of well-used notebooks, the only thing on his dresser was a bottle of some sort of hair product. Kellan said that a woman from high school had turned him on to the stuff and he'd been using it ever since to "manage the mess. " I was fairly certain from the slight smile on his face when he'd said it, that he literally meant the words "woman" and "turned on. " His high school years scared me a little bit.

  Other than our clothes strewn about the floor from last night, the only other things of note in his room were his guitars. His main guitar, the one still tucked away in its black carrying case, was leaning against the wall beside an older, clearly worn one. Since Kellan never used that one while playing, I figured he kept it for sentimental reasons. Plain and seemingly inexpensive, he'd told me it was the first guitar he'd ever had, and the only possession he'd taken to L. A. with him when he'd run away. It was quite possibly the only thing from Kellan's childhood that was a happy memory for him. And, since his parents had literally tossed everything of his when they'd moved to this house he'd inherited, it was also the only memento of his youth. His childhood scared me a little bit too, just for a completely different reason.

  As I fingered the smaller, silver guitar around my neck, the symbolic keepsake of him that he'd given to me when we'd been breaking off our affair, a keepsake that never left my body, I twisted my head to look at what had awoken me.

  The sheets tangled and twisted around his body, his bare chest silver in the faded light pouring through his window, Kellan moved restlessly beside me. His brow furrowed, his face distraught, he was shaking his head and murmuring something I couldn't make out. I twisted around to touch his cheek, but he flinched away from me like I'd hurt him.

  "Kellan," I whispered, "you're dreaming. . . wake up. "

  His hand fisted the sheets near his hip. His breath picked up as he shook his head again and whimpered. Carefully adjusting my body to a comforting position beside him, I leaned over and soothingly hushed him. Draping my arm over his chest, I could feel how rapidly his heart was racing. Tears pricked my eyes as I wondered what he was dreaming about. With Kellan, it could be any number of horrible things.

  Leaning my head against him, I kissed his shoulder. "Wake up, baby, it's just a dream. "

  He started saying, "No," then, "Please. " His face cringed away from me. His legs drew up to reflexively curl into a ball. Kissing his shoulder again, I lightly shook him. "Kellan, wake up. "

  Taking quick, shallow inhales, his body trembled under my fingers. Just as I considered turning on his lamp to wake him up, he gasped and his eyes flew open. Immediately propping himself up onto his elbows, he shied away from my embrace. Looking around with wide eyes, he seemed lost, like he didn't know where he was. With his breath still quick and his body still quivering, he swallowed over and over.

  I reached out and cupped his cheek, forcing his gaze to mine. His confused eyes narrowed. "Kiera?"

  I nodded, scooting closer to him. "Yeah, it's me. You're okay. It was just a dream, Kellan. "

  His rigid posture slumped back and he closed his eyes and hung his head. "Just a dream," he muttered. My heart cracked a little watching his face. Kellan's bad dreams weren't really just dreams. They were more like memories. I wasn't sure which bad memory Kellan had been reliving, but I knew it had terrified him.

  Inhaling slowly, he took a couple of deep breaths. When he was calmer, he peeked back up at me. Running a trembling hand across his mouth, he shook his head. "I'm sorry if I woke you up. "

  Swallowing the emotion in my throat, I flung my arms around him and crushed my bare body to his. His arms loosely came around me and I could still feel his heart surging as adrenaline coursed through him. "It's okay. " Kissing his cheek, I gave him a few moments to collect himself. When he settled back down to the pillows, his fingers rubbing the bridge of his nose like he had a headache, I propped myself up on his chest. "You want to talk about it?"

  Bringing my hands up to his temples, I pressed my thumbs into the soft spots, taking over his headache reducing massage. He closed his eyes and relaxed into my touch. "I was back at home and my dad. . . " he stopped and swallowed, "it was nothing. . . just a dream. "

  I bit my lip to stop my sigh. His past was just something he didn't like to talk about. In fact, I was pretty sure I was the only human on earth that he'd ever confessed his history to. While Evan was aware that he'd been beaten badly, since Kellan had drunkenly spilled the beans once, and Denny knew about the abuse, having witnessed it himself, Kellan had never told them that his father wasn't his father. No one else knew that his mother had had an affair on her husband and gotten pregnant by another man. Then that horrible woman had claimed that she'd been raped. Because of the lie, or maybe because of the truth, the man who'd raised Kellan had been brutal with him. . . and his mother had done nothing to stop it.

  I hated them both.

  "Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?" I whispered, kissing his jaw.

  He stirred, inhaling deep. Opening his eyes, he gently pushed me off of him and rolled me to my side. Pressing his body into mine, his no longer shaking, he cupped my cheek and tilted my head up. Attaching his warm lips to my neck, he murmured, "Yes, I'm done with talking. "

  My heart picked up its pace as his hand left my cheek to run down my side. I knew he was diverting his mind with my body. I knew it, yet I couldn't seem to stop him from doing it. He pushed me to my back, leaning over me as his lips worked their way down my throat. My fingers automatically locked into that marvelous hair as every section of skin that he touched on me suddenly burned.

  My breath was embarrassingly fast as his hand rubbed a circle into my hip. He was purposely avoiding every spot I most wanted him to touch and it was driving me crazy, shutting my mind off. I shoved his head down a smidge when he kissed along the top of my breast and he chuckled before conceding. All thought of his earlier grief was gone from both of us as his mouth closed around a nipple, his tongue drawing a circle around the peak. Aching, I cried out and rocked my hips towards him.

  A deep sound of satisfaction rising up his throat, he seemed just as pleased being the one giving the pleasure as I was receiving it. As his teeth lightly dragged across my tender flesh, his finger, equally as light, ran right between my legs. I was already ready for him; I think I was in a constant state of semi-arousal just being near him. I arched my back and ran my hands over my face and through my hair.

  "Oh God," I muttered as his finger down below matched the motion of his tongue up above. The two hot spots were making every coherent part of my body melt away. I probably couldn't have even come up with my own name if someone had been around to ask.

  Chuckling again, he peeked up at me with a devilish smile. "No, just me," he whispered. The part of me that could still get embarrassed wanted to smack him, but then he switched to the other breast and my head dropped back, my eyes closing.

  "Oh God. . . yes. "

  Groaning a bit himself, he left my breast and slid his tongue up my throat. His finger also changed position, sliding inside where I wanted him to be. Working his way up to my ear, he sucked in a quick, erotic breath. "I love it when you say that," he whispered huskily.

  I groaned and found his mouth, not even caring anymore that I hadn't brushed my teeth in a while. He didn't either, kissing me back just as fiercely as I kissed him. His finger gently moving into me was joined by another; I moaned, clutching his hair. His thumb joined the action, swirling around the sensitive part on the outside; I cried out again, my hands switching to his shoulders, forcibly trying to move him on top of me.

/>   He resisted, chuckling and groaning almost simultaneously. "I love how much you want me," he muttered, his mouth moving to my jaw.

  My body moving in perfect rhythm with his hand, I squirmed and whimpered. I hated how easily he could reduce me to a begging, quivering mass of hormones. . . and I loved it too. "Yes, I want you. . . now. . . please. "

  I could feel him grinning as he placed kisses along my skin. He did love it when I asked for it. Pressing his body into mine, I could feel how much he wanted me, too. I whimpered as he pulled his hand away from me, but then he settled himself between my legs, the hard length of him resting tantalizingly close, and my complaint shifted to a moan. Then he did. . . nothing, nothing but continue to kiss me.

  It was torture. Pure, blissful torture. Having him so close sent my body into overdrive. I was practically clawing at his back, squirming underneath him, doing anything I could to move him into position. I couldn't, though. He held himself against me, but perfectly out of reach. It drove me crazy.

  And my reaction drove him crazy. His breath was fast, his lips frantic. He groaned as his fingers explored my body. He moaned my name as he dropped his head to rest in the crook of my neck. Barely able to stand it another second, my hand trailed down his chest, his abdomen, the deep V that led straight to what I wanted, what I needed. My hand wrapped around him, hard, ready, pulsing under my fingers. A slight wetness coated my thumb as I swirled over the tip of him and he clutched the sheets again, but in a good way this time.

  "God, I need you," he breathed in my ear. I started to feel like he meant more than just for a physical release, but he adjusted his hips and plunged right into me, and I wondered nothing more about it.

  My hand fell away as he sunk in deep. We both made equally passionate groans of relief. Then we started moving together. In-between fast breaths and soft moans of pleasure, our lips searched the other's. He quickly brought me right to the brink, my cries more frantic with each thrust. Then, right as I was about to go over, he stilled his hips, not moving at all. It was an aching torture that made me dig into his backside, trying to get him to keep going.

  With a strained voice he whispered, "Just wait, Kiera. " I didn't think I could. I felt like I was going to explode. I wanted to whimper, I wanted to cry. Then he moved again.

  Holy hell, the fire that surged through my body. . . I never knew anything could feel that good.

  He did it two more times, stopping, then starting; I even begged him to do it on the last time. Then he didn't stop anymore. Then I didn't think he could, even if I asked him to. With his head buried in my shoulder again, he groaned so erotically, I instantly clenched around him, finally having the release that he'd kept from me for so long. It was. . . glorious.

  He cried out as I squeezed around him and I felt him releasing into me. After a few final thrusts, he stopped moving, breathing heavily as he laid on my chest. I was a little surprised to feel that we were both slightly damp from the exertion. You wouldn't think sex could actually be a workout, but if done right. . .

  Feeling lightheaded, I closed my eyes, wrapping my arms around his head. When our breaths had stabilized and our bodies cooled to normal, I looked down at him still resting on top of me. He hadn't moved at all. He was still. . . a part of me.

  Hoping he hadn't fallen back asleep like that, I poked his shoulder. "Are you going to. . . move?"

  He grunted then stretched, still not pulling out. "No, I'm good. "

  I giggled as I threaded my fingers back through his hair. "You can't stay there, you know. " I felt myself flushing horribly and was instantly glad the room was still dark.

  He peeked up at me, the moonlight glinting off his mischievous eyes. "I'm just saving us time. " He grinned crookedly as he moved his hips a little. He was still sort of semi-aroused and the movement sent a shiver though my body. My eyes fluttered before refocusing on his smugly attractive face. He raised an eyebrow. "You know, for when you're ready for round two. "

  Rolling my eyes, even though a part of me was considering it, I shoved his shoulders off me. He laughed genuinely, finally removing himself and slinking to my side. "I was just being practical," he murmured, nestling into my body and kissing my shoulder.

  His eyes closed as peace washed over his face. Sighing, I kissed his forehead, making his smile widen. Curling into him, I thought of his face before that little romp. What he'd done to block out the memory had been pretty spectacular, but now that it was over, I was thinking about it again. I hoped he wasn't thinking about it anymore. I didn't really want to bring it up, but I did want to make sure that he was okay.

  "Are you alright?" I asked, running my hands up his chest.

  He made a deep, satisfied noise in his throat. "Completely," he murmured, his smile a charmingly crooked one. I smacked his shoulder and he peeked an eye open. Seeing that my face was serious, his smile faded. His finger came out to tuck a damp lock behind my ear. "I'm fine, Kiera," he said, his tone more subdued.

  I nodded, burying my head into his shoulder as he put his arm around me.

  I kept a close watch on him for the next few nights, but he slept soundly from what I could tell. Only the normal nighttime adjustments that we all made during sleep, not the restless thrashing that came from nightmares. I didn't stay with him every night, but more often than not I fell asleep by his side.

  It was comforting for me, having him touching my body as I drifted into dreamland, but I think it was even more of a comfort for him. He would pop into my apartment on nights that he stayed out late, really late, playing other clubs and bars around the Seattle area. He said he didn't like slipping into a cold bed. Well, okay, the way he'd phrased it was, "If I'm going to slip into a bed in the early hours of the morning, I want it to be warmed up by your hot little naked body. "

  I didn't actually sleep naked. Not unless he was there to put me to bed that way. Wearing pajamas was a habit that he was constantly trying to get me to break, telling me, "Why do you need clothes if I'm just going to rip them off?" But the gist of his comment was that he wanted to be warm with me, not cold and alone by himself.

  But after a few weeks of watching him closely as he cuddled next to me, I stopped worrying about the dreams that sometimes plagued him. Instead, I started worrying about my upcoming reentry into higher learning. My schedule this year was the toughest, and I knew I was going to be studying nearly every waking moment I had. While I was one of those weird people that thrived on the challenge of school, I wasn't looking forward to so much of my free time being absorbed with it. But Kellan was patient, and a pretty good study buddy-when he wasn't trying to distract me with sex-and free for the bulk of the day since he "worked" nights, so I knew I'd still get to spend a lot of time with him.

  But I meant what I said when I'd told him that I felt more well-rounded living with my sister, and I tried to hang out with other people besides my boyfriend. In fact, Jenny had decided that she wanted to try her hand at art, and had cajoled Kate and me into taking a class with her. We went every Monday and Wednesday morning, usually stopping for espressos afterwards.

  The Monday before my school started up again was my last class. If I'd been getting graded on this course, well. . . I'd have received my first "F" ever.

  "Well, Miss Allen, it's a very nice use of. . . color. "

  The kind, older woman who taught the course out of her home, used to teach art at one of the local high schools. She patted me on the back, her lips in a tight smile, as she complimented me on the only positive thing that she could say about my elementary level bowl of tropical fruit. While I'd been working on the thing for three weeks, it looked like something a six-year-old had drawn and colored in one afternoon. Artist, I was not.

  As the teacher walked over to commend Kate on her perfectly proportioned apples, I wondered if the retired school teacher had been around when Kellan was in school. Then I wondered if she'd been at his school. Maybe he'd taken her class. Maybe she'd been his teach
er, complimenting him on his study of the female form. Instantly I started to think that maybe she'd "taught" Kellan in more ways than one; a scowl formed on my lips.

  A light laughter broke my train of thought and I looked over at Jenny watching me. "It's not so bad, Kiera. "

  With the end of her pencil, she pointed to my pathetic attempt at realism. "It's sort of. . . Picasso-ish. "

  I frowned, but then laughed with her. Picasso wasn't really what I'd been going for, but then again, art was subjective. One man's garbage was another man's Monet. Maybe I had a future in it after all. Looking over at Jenny's drawing, I reconsidered. No, out of all of us, Jenny was the one with a future. She'd passed up fruit bowls ages ago, and was on to drawing people. What she'd created with just a pencil blew my mind.

  She'd drawn the band. . . our band. It was a close-up of them on stage-Griffin and Matt on their guitars, jamming away, Evan beaming with joy behind his drums, and Kellan, singing away on his microphone. She'd even managed to capture the devilish curl of a smile that Kellan got when he sang. It was breathtaking, and put my sad little bundle of grapes to shame.

  Sighing, I pointed at her drawing. "That's amazing, Jenny. Really, you've got a knack for this. "

  Her face blossoming into a wide smile, she looked back at her picture. "Thanks. " Erasing a minute pencil line on Matt's guitar, she looked back at me. "I was thinking of having Pete put it up at the bar when I was done with it. " She shrugged. "You know, as an homage to his boys. "

  She giggled and I nodded. "No, that's a good idea. " Watching her perfect a shadow line across Kellan's jaw, making the masculine right angle stick out even more, I shook my head. "I think they'd really like that, Jenny. " She nodded as she went back to work on it, and thinking of the bassist she was working on, I snorted a little. "You should probably draw a flasher in there somewhere for Griffin. "

  She laughed. "Yeah, definitely. " Scrunching her pale brows, she shook her head. "What is up with him and your sister anyway? Are they together or not?"

  Sighing as I turned back to my misshapen fruit, I shrugged. "No idea. They don't act like they're together, and they certainly aren't exclusive if they are. " Looking back at her, I shook my head. "But they, um, see each other at least a few times a month. "

  Jenny nodded, her blonde locks dangling around her shoulders. "I know. He talks about it whenever they do. " She shrugged one shoulder. "I asked him once what they were and he said. . . "

  Biting her lip, she didn't finish that sentence. Not sure if I really wanted to hear anything Griffin said about my sister, I raised an eyebrow. "He said what?" I asked cautiously.

  Avoiding looking at me directly, she sighed softly and looked around. I didn't take that as a good sign. While no one was close enough to hear her, she leaned towards me anyway. "He called her his. . . fuck buddy. " Her lips twisted into a grimace and she rolled her eyes.

  My cheeks flamed red hot and the only coherent sound I could make was one of disgust. Seeing my expression, Jenny shook her head again and went back to her pencil drawing of the revolting man. "Yeah, I know," she flicked the image of him on her paper with her pencil, "he's a tool. "

  Adjusting the eraser of the pencil to his waistband she grinned at me mischievously. "Maybe I should just neuter him?"

  I busted out laughing, the entire room of quietly working, artists-in-training twisting to look at me. My cheeks heating even more, I dropped my head into my hands and let the giggles take me over. If only taming Griffin could be that easy.

  Kellan and I had the evening off together, so after art I headed over to his place. Driving over there, I considered how rare it was for us to get a matching night off, unless I asked for one on an evening he wasn't playing anywhere, it usually didn't happen. As school was starting tomorrow and I was a bundle of nerves about it, I began to wonder if Kellan had asked Matt to keep this night open when he'd lined up the gigs for the month. It wouldn't surprise me if he had.

  Jenny dropped me off at his place and she and Kate waved goodbye. I had a car, Denny's beat-up little Honda, but Anna had pretty much taken it over. She always asked before she could use it, but I was actually a little relieved that she did take it so much. It seemed more like her now than my ex boyfriend. Besides, I was horrible with stick shifts.

  Kellan was out when I got there, his front door firmly locked as I jiggled it. As his car was still parked in the driveway, I figured he'd taken advantage of the beautiful, sunny afternoon to go for a run. Pulling my keys out of my bag, I flicked through the ring until I found his. We'd each exchanged keys not too long ago. "The next step," Kellan had called it. Stepping into his home, the coolness of his empty entryway hit me. I set my heavy bag to the floor with a rush of relief. Knowing I'd probably end up staying the night here, I'd packed everything I needed for tomorrow-clothes, books, paper, pens and pencils.

  Examining the book bag with narrowed eyes, I took a mental inventory for the hundredth time. Just as I was wondering if I'd packed the Lit book that I needed, Kellan's front door opened again. I glanced over at him, looked back to my bag, then snapped my head back to him. He'd gotten hot while running and his shirt was draped over his shoulder. His lean, toned body was glistening as he stepped through the door, wiping his face off with the edge of his tee. His breath was heavier from his exercise, and his abs clenched and relaxed in such an appealing way that I could not stop staring.

  I finally did when he chuckled at me. "You're obsessed, you know?" he laughed out, scrubbing dry the edge of his hair with his shirt. I flushed instantly, thinking he meant me staring at his body all the time, but he raised an eyebrow and pointed to my bag. "You're going to be just fine. "

  I relaxed, feeling my embarrassment sliding away. Rolling my eyes, I shook my head. "I know. I honestly don't know why it twists my stomach so much. "

  Grinning, he turned and shut his front door. My eyes darted down his bare back to the loose track pants he had on, but I managed to snap them back up to his face when he turned around again. "I know just how to get your mind off of it. "

  Enjoying the playful look in his eye, I tilted my head as he came up to me, slinging his arms around my waist. "Oh?" I asked, lightly resting my fingers on his damp chest, his skin deliciously soft to the touch.

  Grinning crookedly, he raised an eyebrow and looked down my body. "Yep. " I bunched my brows at the amused look on his face. Laughing, he released my body and kissed my cheek. "Just let me clean up first. "

  Watching him move around me to go upstairs, I nodded, my lips still twisted as I wondered just what he'd come up with to occupy me. Still laughing at my expression, he smacked my bottom before hopping up the stairs two at a time.

  Smiling at him, I shook my head and walked into the living room to distract myself from the thought of him in the shower. It got a little hard to do when I heard the water turn on. I had to turn the television up and force myself to be suddenly fascinated with marine plant life.

  By the time I actually was interested in estuary ecosystems, even leaning over my knees as I focused on Kellan's big screen, he finally came back down. Twirling a lock of hair around my finger, I didn't hear him at first. Not used to being ignored, he grunted and leaned over to kiss my neck. I startled when his lips brushed my skin, then smiled and closed my eyes. I tilted my head to give him better access.

  "Is this how you're going to distract me?" I asked lowly, starting to feel like he could distract me that way all afternoon long.

  Chuckling deep in his chest, he grabbed my waist and pulled me from the couch in one swift, playful move. "Nope. " Smiling, he flicked the end of my nose with his finger. "I have a better idea. "

  Taking in the sight of him dressed in my favorite deep blue shirt, a color that made his eyes seem impossibly beautiful, I pursed my lips. "You're not interested in. . . playing with me?" I'd really thought that would be his plan.

  His lips curved up into a smile that screamed sex, but he shook his head. "Oh, I inte
nd to play with you. " Laughing, he grabbed my hand and led me into the kitchen. Over his shoulder, he added, "Just not the way that you're thinking. " Sitting me down at his table, he leaned over the back of me and kissed my cheek again. "At least, not yet anyway. "

  As I shook my head and bunched my brows, wondering what the heck we were doing, he started rummaging through his kitchen drawers. Humming to himself, a small smile permanently on his face, his hair wonderfully messy and slightly damp around the edges, he opened and shut every junk drawer he had.

  When I was just about to ask him what the heck he was looking for, he finally made a happy noise and grabbed something shoved in the very back of a crammed drawer. A crooked smile on his face, he looked back at me at his table and lifted his hand to show me what he'd found.

  "Playing cards?" Smiling, I shook my head. "Are we playing pinochle all afternoon?"

  Frowning at me, he raised an eyebrow. "Pinochle? Are we sixty?" His grin returning, he opened the pack of cards, tossing the jacket back to the counter. Shuffling the cards, he sat down opposite me at his table. "No, we're playing poker. "

  Shaking my head, I murmured, "I'm really not that good at poker. "

  His smile brightened gorgeously. "Well, that is actually perfect, because we're playing strip poker. "

  Flushing all over, I immediately stood up. Laughing harder, he grabbed my hand. "Come on, it will be fun. " He lifted his eyebrows suggestively. "I promise. "

  Knowing my face was bright red, I slowly sat back down. "Kellan. . . I don't know. . . "

  Leaning back in his chair, he eyed my body across from him very slowly. When he reached my face, he asked, "Have you ever played?"

  I sighed and shrugged. "No. "

  Grinning, he nodded, still shuffling the cards. "Good. Then it will be a new experience for you. " He tilted his head, his lip curling perfectly. "And I like giving you new experiences. "

  The flush from my cheeks rushed down my body as he stared at me intently. I suddenly wanted to play more than I'd ever wanted anything. I couldn't even remember what he was distracting me from, and I supposed that was the point.

  Tucking my hair behind my ears, I pointed my thumb at his wide-open kitchen windows. "What about. . . your neighbors?"

  He shrugged. "What about them?"

  Looking away from the heat in his eyes, I swallowed. "I don't want them looking. . . at me. "

  Laughing huskily, he stood and pulled down some blinds rolled up near the top of the windows. When they were closed, he sat back down and raised an eyebrow. "Better?"

  I nodded, not believing that I was actually considering this. Smiling at me, he laughed again. "Would it make you feel any better if I told you that I'm not very good at this either?" Laughing more, he shook his head. "I'm generally the first one naked. "

  My eyes widened as I flashed down his body. "You've played?" I asked, quite stupidly. It was Kellan I was talking to after all, the man who used to have threesomes like they were everyday occurrences. Of course he'd played strip poker. He'd probably played much more intense games that I did not want to think about.

  He only smiled and nodded to my question, his face amused. Then he started dealing cards and explaining rules. I sighed listening to them, then mentally thanked myself for wearing a bunch of light layers today.

  Over the course of the afternoon, I lost my shoes, socks, jeans and all but one of my short-sleeved t-shirts. Kellan was no better off, having lost his shirt on the very first hand and his jeans on a really bad bluff. Thank goodness girls generally wore more clothes than boys. More relaxed than when we'd started this little game, I laughed as I watched him reach down to take off his last remaining sock, setting down my pair of Queens in triumph.

  Shaking his head, he muttered, "Trumped by the Queen. . . . story of my life. "

  Giggling, I kissed the air then dealt us another hand. Scooping them off the table, he fanned the five slick cards in his hand as he studied them. Kellan had wanted to play traditional poker, not the style that's all the rage on TV now. Much like his car, Kellan liked the classics. His face was expressionless as he leaned back in his chair. Not that I really noticed his face. His bare chest was far too appealing. He looked very comfortable being nearly nude by the refrigerator.

  I tried to match his casualness, since I was still far more dressed than he was, but it was odd to be sitting at the breakfast table in just my underwear. I played with the necklace at my throat while I studied the cards in my hand. Not bad, a low pair, but not great either; I'd have to take three on my turn and hope for the best. Glancing up, I found Kellan watching me with a small smile on his lips. He raised an eyebrow. "Nervous?"

  His eyes flashed to my necklace and I instantly stopped playing with it. So much for tells, although, the thought of taking off my last shirt was making me far more nervous than my lack of cards. Of course, if I won the hand, Kellan's next piece of clothing was those delightful black boxers he liked wearing. And I was pretty sure he wasn't wearing two pairs today.

  Smiling effortlessly, I shook my head. "No?" I glanced down his body and raised my own eyebrow. "You?"

  Biting his lip, he shook his head. "Nope. In fact, I don't even need any more cards. How about you?"

  I contained the frown I felt coming. I really didn't have the best hand, just a pair of threes. Kellan would know that if I dealt myself more cards. I really didn't want to give him that satisfaction, especially when his lips started curving into a smug, seductive smile. Lifting my chin, I reminded myself that Kellan was awful at this game and he probably had nothing. Smiling softly, I shook my head. "Nope, I'm good. "

  He ran his tongue over his bottom lip, then drug his teeth over it. It was freaking hot and my mouth dropped open a little. "Yeah, I know," he whispered, laying his cards down. Blindly, I laid mine down, too.

  Still staring at his mouth, I didn't notice what he had. When he chuckled, I finally blushed and looked down. "Crap. " Shaking my head, I stared at his low pair. . . of fours. He had made me believe that he was bluffing, and unfortunately, I'd fallen for it.

  Sighing, I gave him sad eyes. "Really?"

  Laughing, he leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. "Deals a deal, Kiera. " His smile not leaving him, he blatantly stared at my chest.

  Sighing again, I plucked at the fabric near my waist. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen me before, it wasn't as if I didn't still have a bra on, but there was something nerve-wracking about causally taking off my clothes in broad daylight, with Kellan staring holes through me but not being anywhere near me. It quickened my breath.

  "How did you ever talk me into this?" I muttered, lifting the fabric up and over me.

  When my plain, white, practical cotton bra was exposed, Kellan's eyes started to smolder. Running my hands along my arms, I resisted the urge to hide myself. It helped that Kellan looked like I was wearing the sexiest lingerie on the planet, like my slight curves were the most voluptuous he'd ever seen. Finally peering up at my face, his grin turned devilish. "I love this game. "

  Laughing a little, I tossed my shirt at him. Just as he was inhaling it, a dopey grin on his face, the doorbell rang. I immediately tried to snatch it back, but he stood up with it and took a step away from me. His face lit up as he set it on the counter. "Oh good, food's here. "

  Crossing my arms over my chest and my legs over each other, I was instantly conscious of how little I was wearing. As Kellan stood tall and straight, hands on his hips, he seemed oblivious to the fact that only one piece of dark, loose fabric was hiding him away from the world.

  "What food? What are you talking about?" I squeaked out, feeling my cheeks heat.

  Grinning, he tilted his head at me. "I thought you might be getting hungry, so I ordered some pizza on your last bathroom break. "

  As I gaped at him, he turned to leave the kitchen. "Kellan!" He looked back at me and I flung a hand out at his glorious-but mostly bare-body.

  His hands patted
his chest, then his hips. "Oh. . . right. " Smiling, he walked over to his pile of clothes near the table. I expected him to step into his jeans and pull them up, but he only rifled through them to get to a pocket. Seconds later, he pulled out his wallet. "I should probably pay them, huh?"

  I sputtered something unintelligible, and he leaned up and gave me a brief kiss. As my hand was still gesturing to the expanse of smooth, muscled skin he was showing, he finished standing and hurried out to grab our food. . . in just his boxers.

  Shaking my head, I grabbed his shirt by my feet and held it up over my chest. It wasn't as if I could be seen from the entryway, but if they saw Kellan like that, well, then they would probably assume that he wasn't half-dressed alone. It made my cheeks heat and I sunk my head into my hands. Well, that's what I get for being with a man that had no idea what being self conscious felt like. He knew he looked good, and he didn't really care who else knew it too. Some days, I'd give anything for that sort of confidence. Yeah, that was also on my list of things to work on.

  I heard him open the door and greet someone. Then I heard giggling. . . female giggling. Sighing, I shook my head. Of course the pizza person would be a girl tonight, on the night that Kellan decides to answer the door in his skivvies. I pictured him leaning against the doorframe, every wondrous muscle distinct and defined as pizza-chick drooled over our pepperoni. At least my name on his chest would be distinct and defined for her, too.

  Sorry, girlie, but the hot man handing you a twenty right now belongs to me. See, it says so right there on his pec. I smiled and rolled my eyes at myself.

  The giggling never stopped the whole time she was here, and it seemed like forever as I waited. When the door finally shut and Kellan sauntered back into the kitchen, pizza box in hand, his smile was beautific. It faded a little when he saw that I'd covered up with his t-shirt in his absence. He pointed at me, a smaller box in his other hand. "Uh-uh, that's cheating. You have to stay as naked as you were when I left. "

  I rolled my eyes and dropped his shirt to the floor. "Even when you're flirting with the delivery girl?"

  Setting the larger box on the counter, he twisted his lips at me. "I wasn't flirting. "

  Deciding to try on that self confidence that oozed from him so fluidly, I stood up. His eyes traveled down and back up my body, his smile evening out. "You weren't?" Coming up to stand in front of him, I leaned back on a hip and mimicked a pose that every sexy underwear model used. Pointing at the smaller box in his hand, I asked, "Then what's that?"

  Shrugging, he bit his lip. "She had some extra breadsticks. She said we could have them if we wanted. "

  I shook my head and he chuckled. Quickly setting down the box, his arms wrapped around my waist, pulling me tight to his body. I laced my arms around his neck while his lips traveled up my throat to my ear. "I can't help what women find appealing. " His mouth danced over mine, soft and feather-light, while his hand ducked inside my underwear, cupping my bottom. "But I only find you appealing," he murmured.

  Breathing much heavier, I attached my mouth to his. He could have given her a lap dance for those breadsticks right now and I wouldn't have cared. Well, okay, I would have cared, but I would have let it go. He may be the object of many people's affections, but I was the object of his.

  Just as I was considering removing the last piece of his clothing, he stepped away from me. Grabbing my hand, he twirled me out from him and then back to him. Laughing, my hand touched his chest for a moment before I was swirled away again. His laughter joined my own, and with only the merriment of our joy as music, we danced for a moment in his kitchen. . . in our underwear.

  We never went back to our game after that, just snatched up greasy slices between dips and twirls. Eating and laughing, Kellan completely swept away any lingering nerves I had about the next morning. He completely washed away any thoughts of self-consciousness too. By the time we were a few slices into our pie and through a few of his hard-earned breadsticks, I was shaking my modestly covered booty for Kellan. Nearly in hysterics when he chose to copy my move, I enjoyed finally feeling a small speck of his confidence.

  And he was the reason I felt it. His gaze, his touch, his smile, his laugh, no one had ever made me feel. . . worshipped. . . quite like he did. I felt like I could do anything as I danced in that kitchen with him and I knew, without a doubt, that I really would be fine tomorrow.