And then Logan does something that melts my insides and turns my knees to quivery goo.

He laughs.

And it’s beautiful.

It’s a crime he doesn’t do it more often. Or maybe a blessing. Because Logan St. James is a sexy, stunning man on any given day. But when he laughs?

He’s heart-stopping.

He swaggers confidently back to his side and I sneer at his retreating form. The uniformed paintball worker blows a whistle and explains the rules. We get seven minutes to hide first. I cock my paintball shotgun with one hand—like Charlize Theron in Fury fucking Road—and lead my team into the wilderness.

“Come on, children. Let’s go be heroes.”

It was a massacre.

We never stood a chance.

In the end, we tried to rush them—overpower them—but we just ended up running into a hail of balls, getting our hearts and guts splattered with blue paint.

But we tried—I think Rudy and Charlize would be proud.

One of the birthday moms gave me and Logan a leftover pizza, so we sat at a picnic table to eat together.

“I think you cheated,” I tell him, chewing grumpily.

“Didn’t have to.” He smiles again, looking younger, boyish, and I wouldn’t be surprised if cartoon hearts are floating above my head. “Though I’m not above playing dirty if it’s needed.”

Hearing Logan say “dirty” in his accent, with that full, strong mouth, makes my stomach flip-flop like a fish. I put the rest of my pizza down on the paper plate, pushing it away.

“You like to win.”

He nods. “I do. But you surprised me, Ellie. You did well. You’re a fighter—that’s a good thing to be.”

I pick at the chipping green paint on the picnic table, feeling weirdly shy.

“Thank you.”

And Logan’s voice turns quiet, husky. Almost . . . intimate.

“Did you have fun, Ellie-girl? Was it a good birthday?”

I look up, meeting his gaze. “It was perfect. I’ll never forget it.”

And I sense his dark eyes on me, reading me.

“I’m glad.”

After a moment, he points to his cheek. “You’ve got mud on your face.”

I brush my hand over my cheek. “Did I get it?”


I try a second time but must still miss, because Logan reaches out slowly and runs his fingers over the apple of my cheek, up to my temple and gently down to my jaw. My eyes slide closed at the sensation. It feels like a caress.

And I could totally be imagining it, but—screw it, it’s my birthday, so I’m allowed to dream—it feels like his touch lingers just a little longer than needed.

When I open my eyes he’s looking at me with a kind of thoughtfulness, an intensity—a heat—in his dark brown eyes that I know I’m not imagining.

Best. Birthday. Ever.

Two years later


I’ve suspected as much for a while . . . but now I’m certain of it.

“Five inches! Stupid impulse decision—what was I thinking?”

Ellie isn’t Ellie anymore. Not the girl I knew—with a spark in her eye and a ring to her laugh. The one I had to watch closely so she didn’t walk into traffic, because she was so distracted telling a story.

“What do you think, Liv?”

Or maybe she was never really that girl at all. Maybe that’s what I told myself, focused on, so I’d keep away.

Olivia smiles. “I think you look beautiful.”

These days, I can’t help focusing on other things: like the lovely curve to her hips, the sweet swell of her breasts, that beautiful bubble-arse that I can almost feel against me and a scent that drives me mad with distraction.

Ellie scoffs. “You said I looked beautiful when I was twelve with a mouthful of braces that had bread stuck in them every day after lunch.”

“You were beautiful then too—the bread notwithstanding.”

Ellie rolls her eyes. “You have no street cred.”

I see her in my dreams now. Sometimes we’re in my room, on my bed with me above her, moving deep inside her. Other times we’re at the seashore, in the waves, with her wrapped all around me. And once we were in the fucking throne room at the palace. But most often, I dream of that picnic table, on her twentieth birthday. And in the dream, I kiss her like I wanted to. Like I know she wanted me to. And then I pick her up, plant her on top of that picnic table, slowly rid her of every piece of clothing she has and do a hell of a lot more than kiss her.

“Nicholas, what do you think?”

But that can’t happen. It would change everything. Everything I’ve built for myself. My mates, my job, my whole life. I’ve always wanted to be a part of something bigger—something noble and lasting—and now I am. Messing with Ellie would obliterate that.

And the lass is fickle. Still young. She flits from boy to boy, interest to interest, like a frog hopping from one lily pad to the next.

“You look smashing. Very cute.”

If something ever did happen between us, it wouldn’t last—but the chaos it would bring, that would be forever.

“Cute? Oh God!” Ellie covers her face with her hands.

My gut tells me it’s not worth the risk.

Nicholas whispers to his wife, “Cute is bad?”

So I determined I would shut down this mounting attraction to a woman who’s out of my league. One I’ve got no fucking business looking at twice—let alone a dozen times a day.

“Of course cute is bad!” Ellie yells. “Mice are cute.” She gestures to the small dog sitting on Olivia’s lap. “Bosco is cute!”

Because I always go with my gut—and it’s never wrong.

Nicholas glances at the temperamental pooch. “No. No, he isn’t.”

Olivia covers the dog’s ears and gives her husband a harsh look. He winks back.

And that plan had gone smoothly—until today. This moment. When Ellie came charging through the door, muttering to herself like a madwoman yelling at pigeons in the park.

Olivia mentions giving Bosco a bath, and she and her husband both leave the room.

Ellie looks at Tommy. “Well? What do you think?”

She’s talking about her hair. She went to get it done for her big day—a college graduation makeover, she’d said.

Tommy winks. “I’d do ya.”

I may have to smother him in his sleep tonight.

The bright colors that used to streak Ellie’s blond hair are gone now. Leaving behind shades of deep honey and shiny gold—thick and soft. The kind of hair that begs to be touched and twirled . . . fisted and tugged on.

Ellie clicks her tongue. “That’s not saying much—you’d do a corpse.”

It falls just below her shoulders—exposing her face, making it look more angular, womanly—stunning. Her skin seems tanner, her shoulders more delicate, her tits fuller, her eyes a sweeter blue.

Tommy wags his finger. “Only if she were a pretty corpse. I have standards.”

And then, at last, she settles on me, her delicate features hopeful but hesitant. Her pink tongue peeks out and rubs the fullness of her bottom lip. And I feel it in my cock, the rub of that tongue—the nip and pull of her wet lips—ghosting up and down on my aching, hard flesh.

In my dreams we do that on the picnic table too—often.


I’m so distracted by my musings, I miss her speaking my name, and for a bit, I don’t say anything at all.

“Oh well, it’ll grow back,” she says, embarrassment flushing beneath her cheeks. “Wearing a hat for the next six months won’t be so bad.”

I force the gravel from my throat.


Ellie’s eyes flick back to mine.


I hold her gaze, my tone deliberate and sure.

“You look beautiful, Ellie.”

Her smile is small and seeking. “Really?”

I don’t take my eyes off her. I wouldn’t—even if I could.

“Prettiest lass I’ve ever seen.”

So, so, so fucked.

They hold the graduation party on the garden rooftop of the penthouse—with waiters and Champagne and a trio of string musicians playing in the corner. I stand straight along a far wall, sunglasses on, watching, taking in the whole group. It’s fairly small—good friends, Ellie’s fellow students, her father and a couple family friends, as well as a few business associates from Nicholas and Olivia’s charity whom Ellie has gotten to know over the years. Copyright 2016 - 2023