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Ugly Love(9)
Colleen Hoover

“You’re bleeding again,” I say, looking down at the blood-soaked gauze that’s still wrapped around his hand. I turn to my mother. “Do you have any liquid bandage?”

“No,” she says. “That stuff scares me.”

I look at Miles. “After we eat, I’ll check it,” I say.

Miles nods but never looks at me. My mother asks me about work, and Miles is no longer the center of attention. I think he’s relieved about that.

I turn off my light and crawl into bed, not sure what to make of today. We never spoke again after dinner, even though I spent a good ten minutes redressing his wound in the living room.

We didn’t speak through the entire process. Our legs didn’t touch. His finger didn’t touch my knee. He didn’t even look up at me. He just watched his hand the entire time, focused on it like it would fall off if he looked away.

I don’t know what to think about Miles or that kiss. He’s obviously attracted to me, or he wouldn’t have kissed me. Sadly, that’s enough for me. I don’t even care if he likes me. I just want him to be attracted to me, because the liking can come later.

I close my eyes and try to fall asleep for the fifth time, but it’s pointless. I roll onto my side and face the door just in time to see the shadow of someone’s feet approach it. I watch the door, waiting for it to open, but the shadows disappear, and footsteps continue down the hall. I’m almost positive that was Miles but only because he’s the only person on my mind right now. I release a few controlled breaths in order to calm myself down enough to decide whether I want to follow him. I’m only on the third breath when I hop out of bed.

I debate brushing my teeth again, but it’s only been twenty minutes since I last brushed them.

I check my hair in the mirror, then open my bedroom door and walk as quietly as I can into the kitchen.

When I round the corner, I see him. All of him. He’s leaning against the bar, facing me, almost like he was expecting me.

God, I hate that.

I pretend it’s just a coincidence that we ended up here at the same time, even though it’s midnight. “Can’t sleep?” I walk past him to the refrigerator and reach for the orange juice. I take it out, pour myself a glass, then lean against the counter across from him. He’s watching me, but he doesn’t answer my question.

“Are you sleepwalking?”

He smiles, soaking me up from head to toe with his eyes like a sponge. “You really love orange juice,” he says, amused.

I look down at my glass, then back up to him, and shrug. He takes a step toward me and motions for the glass. I hand it to him, and he brings it to his lips, takes a slow sip, and hands it back to me. All these movements are completed without his ever breaking eye contact with me.

Well, I definitely love orange juice now.

“I love it, too,” he says, even though I never answered him.

I set the glass down beside me, grip the edges of the counter, and push myself up until I’m seated on it. I pretend he isn’t invading my entire being, but he’s still everywhere. Filling the kitchen.

The entire house.

It’s way too quiet. I decide to make the first move.

“Has it really been six years since you’ve had a girlfriend?”

He nods without hesitation, and I’m both shocked and extremely pleased by that answer. I’m not sure why I like it. I guess it’s just so much better than what I was imagining his life was like.

“Wow. Have you at least …” I don’t know how to finish this sentence.

“Had sex?” he interjects.

I’m glad the only light on is the one over the kitchen stove, because I’m absolutely blushing right now.

“Not everyone wants the same things out of life,” he says. His voice is soft, like a down comforter. I want to roll around in it, wrap myself up in that voice.

“Everyone wants love,” I say. “Or at least sex. It’s human nature.”

I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.

He folds his arms across his chest. His feet cross at the ankles. I’ve noticed this is his form of personal armor. He’s putting up his invisible shield again, guarding himself from giving too much away.

“Most people can’t have one without the other,” he says. “So I find it easier to just give up both.” He’s studying me, gauging my reaction to his words. I do my best not to give him one.

“So which of the two do you not want, Miles?” My voice is embarrassingly weak. “Love or sex?”

His eyes remain the same, but his mouth changes. His lips curl up into a barely there smile. “I think you already know the answer to that, Tate.”

Wow.

I blow out a controlled breath, not even caring if he knows those words affected me like they did. The way he says my name makes me feel just as flustered as his kiss did. I cross my legs at the knees, hoping he doesn’t notice it’s my own personal armor.

His eyes drop to my legs, and I watch him softly inhale.

Six years. Unbelievable.

I look down at my legs, too. I want to ask him another question, but I can’t look at him when I ask it. “How long has it been since you kissed a girl?”

“Eight hours,” he replies without hesitation. I raise my eyes to his, and he grins, because he knows what I’m asking him. “The same,” he utters quietly. “Six years.”

I don’t know what happens to me, but something changes. Something melts. Something hard or cold or covered in my own personal armor is turning to liquid now that I’m realizing what that kiss really meant. I feel like I’m nothing but liquid, and liquid doesn’t do a good job of standing or walking away, so I don’t move.

“Are you kidding me?” I ask, disbelievingly.

I think he’s the one blushing now.

I’m so confused. I don’t understand how I’ve pegged him so wrong or how what he’s saying is even possible. He’s good-looking. He has a great job. He definitely knows how to kiss, so why hasn’t he been doing it?

“What’s your deal, then?” I ask him. “You have STDs?” It’s the nurse in me. I have no medical filter.

He laughs. “Pretty damn clean,” he says. He still doesn’t explain himself, though.

“If it’s been six years since you kissed a girl, then why did you kiss me? I was under the impression you didn’t even really like me. You’re really hard to read.”

He doesn’t ask me why I’m under the impression that he doesn’t like me.

I think if it’s obvious to me that he’s different when he’s around me, it’s been intentional on his part.

“It’s not that I don’t like you, Tate.” He sighs heavily and runs his hands through his hair, gripping the back of his neck. “I just don’t want to like you. I don’t want to like anyone. I don’t want to date anyone. I don’t want to love anyone. I just …” He folds his arms back across his chest and looks down at the floor.

“You just what?” I ask, urging him to finish that sentence. His eyes slowly lift back to mine, and it takes all I have to stay seated on this counter with the way he’s looking at me right now—like I’m Thanksgiving dinner.

“I’m attracted to you, Tate,” he says, his voice low. “I want you, but I want you without any of that other stuff.”

I have no thoughts left.

Brain = Liquid.

Heart = Butter.

I can still sigh, though, so I do.

I wait until I can think again. Then I think a lot.

He just admitted that he wants to have sex with me; he just doesn’t want it to lead to anything. I don’t know why this flatters me. It should make me want to punch him, but the fact that he chose to kiss me after not having kissed anyone for six straight years makes this new confession seem like I just won a Pulitzer.

We’re staring at each other again, and he looks a little bit nervous. I’m sure he’s wondering if he just pissed me off. I don’t want him to think that, because, honestly, I want to yell “I won!” at the top of my lungs.

I have no idea what to say. We’ve had the strangest and most awkward conversations since I met him, and this one definitely takes the cake.

“Our conversations are so weird,” I say.

He laughs with relief. “Yes.”

The word yes is so much more beautiful coming from his mouth, laced with that voice. He could probably make any word beautiful. I try to think of a word I hate. I kind of hate the word ox. It’s an ugly word. Too short and clipped. I wonder if his voice could make me love that word.

“Say the word ox.”

His eyebrow rises, like he’s wondering if he heard me right. He thinks I’m weird.

I don’t care.

“Just say it,” I tell him.

“Ox,” he says, with slight hesitation.

I smile. I love the word ox. It’s my new favorite word.

“You’re so weird,” he says, amused.

I uncross my legs. He notices. “So, Miles,” I say. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You haven’t had sex in six years. You haven’t had a girlfriend in six years. You haven’t kissed a girl in eight hours. You don’t like relationships, obviously. Or love. But you’re a guy. Guys have needs.”

He’s watching me, still amused. “Go on,” he says with that unintentionally sexy smirk.

“You don’t want to be attracted to me, but you are. You want to have sex with me, but you don’t want to date me. You also don’t want to love me. You also don’t want me to want to love you.”

I’m still amusing him. He’s still smiling. “I didn’t realize I was so transparent.”

You’re not, Miles. Believe me.

“If we do this, I think we should take it slow,” I say teasingly. “I don’t want to pressure you into anything you aren’t ready for. You’re practically a virgin.”

He loses his smile and takes three deliberately slow steps toward me. I stop smiling, because he is seriously intimidating. When he reaches me, he places his hands on either side of me, then leans in close to my neck. “It’s been six years, Tate. Believe me when I tell you … I’m ready.”

Those all just became my new favorite words, too. Believe and me and when and I and tell and you and I’m and ready.

Favorites. All of them.

He pulls back and can more than likely tell I’m not breathing at the moment. He steps back to his spot opposite from me. He’s shaking his head like he can’t believe what just happened. “I can’t believe I just asked you for sex. What kind of guy does that?”

I swallow. “Pretty much all of them.”

He laughs, but I can tell he feels guilty. Maybe he’s afraid I can’t handle this. He might be right, but I’m not about to let him know that. If he thinks I can’t handle this, he’ll retract everything he’s saying. If he retracts everything he’s saying, that means I don’t get to experience another kiss like the one he gave me earlier.

I’d agree to anything if it means I get to be kissed by him again. Especially if it means I get to experience more than just his kiss.

Simply thinking about it makes my throat dry. I pick up my glass and take another slow sip of my juice while I silently work this out in my head.

He wants me for sex.

I kind of miss sex. It’s been a while.

I know I’m definitely attracted to him and can’t think of anyone else in my life I’d rather have casual, meaningless sex with than my airline pilot, laundry-folding neighbor.

I set the cup of juice back down, then press my palms into the counter and lean slightly forward. “Listen to me, Miles. You’re single. I’m single. You work way too much, and I’m focused on my career in an almost unhealthy way. Even if we wanted a relationship out of this, it would never work. Our lives wouldn’t fit one. We also aren’t really friends, so we don’t have to worry about our friendship being ruined. You want to have sex with me? I’ll totally let you. A lot.”

He’s watching my mouth like all my words just became his new favorite words. “A lot?” he asks.

I nod. “Yes. A lot.”

He looks me in the eyes with a challenging stare. “Okay,” he says, almost like it’s a dare.

“Okay.”

We’re still several feet apart. I just told this guy I would have sex with him without any expectations, and he’s still way over there, and I’m way over here, and it’s becoming clear that I definitely had him pegged wrong. He’s more nervous than I am. Although I think our nerves stem from two different places. He’s nervous because he doesn’t want this to turn into anything.

I’m nervous because I’m not so sure that just sex with him is possible. Based on the way I’m drawn to him, I have a pretty good feeling sex will be the least of our problems. Yet here I sit, pretending to be fine with just sex. Maybe if it starts out this way, it’ll eventually end up being something more.

“Well, we can’t have sex right now,” he says.

Dammit.

“Why not?”

“The only condom I have in my wallet has probably disintegrated by now.”

I laugh. I love his self-deprecating humor.

“I do want to kiss you again, though,” he says with a hopeful smile.

I’m actually surprised he isn’t kissing me. “Sure.”

He slowly walks back to where I’m seated, until my knees are on either side of his waist. I’m watching his eyes, because they’re looking at me like he’s waiting for me to change my mind. I’m not changing my mind. I probably want this more than he wants this.

He brings his hands up and slides them through my hair, brushing his thumbs across my cheeks. He inhales a shaky breath while looking down at my mouth. “You make it so hard to breathe.”

He punctuates his sentence with his kiss, bringing his lips over mine. Every remaining part of me that had yet to melt in his presence is now liquefied like the rest of me. I try to recall a time when a man’s mouth felt this good against mine. His tongue slides across my lips, then dips inside, tasting me, filling me, claiming me.

Oh … my.

I.

Love.

His.

Mouth.

I tilt my head so I can taste more of it. He tilts his to taste more of mine. His tongue has a great memory, because it knows exactly how to do this. He drops his injured hand and rests it on my thigh, while his other hand grips the back of my head, crushing our lips together. My hands no longer have hold of his shirt. They’re exploring his arms, his neck, his back, his hair.

I moan softly, and the sound causes him to press into me, pulling me several inches closer to the edge of the bar.

“Well, you’re definitely not gay,” someone says from behind us.

Oh, my God.

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