Chapter 3 – DIRTY ROWDY THING

Hello our loves!! We are so thrilled to share chapter three of DIRTY ROWDY THING with you today! Thank you all for your preorders and RTs and FB posts and general excitement about this book. We hope you love it! Only 2.5 weeks left before Finn is in your hot little hands! In case you’re coming here for the first time, go read Chapter One and Chapter Two first, okay? See you soon!

You’re back! Did you see our YA debut, SUBLIME, hit stores this week? So fun!! And don’t forget about the Ansel POV audiobook, SWEET FILTHY MORNING AFTER. So many things happening, even we’re having a hard time keeping up!

BUT WAIT, there’s more. We do have some VERY cool news to share here, which is that THE DIRTY ROWDY AUDIOBOOK WILL HAVE AN EXCLUSIVE EPILOGUE!! That’s right! The Finn POV Epilogue will be available exclusively on audio, read by Sebastian York (Audible, iTunes). Now, fear not–the story ends perfectly as-is, but the epilogue gave us a way to revisit Finn and Harlow just for fun, and Simon Audio was happy to record it and include it with the book. We hope you love it!

So, without further ado, here is Chapter Three, Dirty Rowdy Thing (but one more time: we heart you guys).

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A reminder: This is for readers over the age of 18. Any errors you may find are ours, and not in the finished book. 

Chapter THREE
Harlow

I’M STARTING TO see that despite Oliver’s gentle and mildly aloof demeanor, he really is a pretty shrewd businessman. After scouting for months for the best location for his store, he settled on an updated, bright space on G Street in the Gaslamp, nestled between a trendy tattoo parlor and a bar.

The place is amazing, and I can tell this even without the gathering crowd or the row of apparently famous comic artists sitting at a table in the back signing books.

Catching Lola’s eye from where she stands several feet away, I can tell she’s impressed, too.

I can count on zero hands the number of times I’ve been inside a comic book store, but I immediately get the sense that the layout is genius. I expected cluttered and narrow rows filled with floor-to-ceiling racks of brightly colored books and magazines, but Oliver has built-in cube-shelves— asymmetric, with panels of different sizes to look like pages of a comic book—along the walls. They’re filled with books and merchandise, but there’s also lots of open space for tables shaped like a stack of upward-curving pages displaying featured titles. Up front and nestled in a bank of giant windows are a couch and a matching set of bright red leather lounge chairs. A space just for reading.

“Won’t people just sit and read and not buy anything?” I ask Oliver, who’s just finished giving me the tour.

But he’s already stepped away to greet a customer—the place is getting busy—and instead I hear Finn’s voice. “I asked him the same thing.”

The sound is gravelly, and faint, like it was overused last night. I can feel the echo of his fingers on me, the thrill of the dirty things he said, a feeling that only intensifies when I hear him take a step closer.

Turning, I meet his eyes. I expect it to be a little awkward after last night’s cockblock, but he holds my gaze and smiles. His eyes are greener than brown today, and his lashes seem thicker, even darker. His lips look a little swollen, but the effect is to make me want to suck on them, soothe them.

I make out with him in a drunken haze and he gets hotter? Unfair, Universe.

I can tell we’re both trying to play it cool, but I wonder if I’m failing as badly as he is. His attention dips to my lips for a beat before he says, “But Oliver says comic geeks like to have hard copies of their favorite books. He wants people to hang out, maybe find new titles. He wants newbies to feel comfortable taking the time to find a book they’ll want to follow.”

With this explanation, I think Finn has just used more words in one breath than he has with me up to now, cumulatively. “Did you memorize that?”

“Yep.”

“Makes sense. I like the feel of it.”

I pause, waiting. He closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“You okay there, Roberts?” I ask. “You’re passing up a pretty epic that’s-what-she-said opportunity.”

He opens one eye. “Never drinking again.”

This makes me laugh. Finn the Invincible has a wittle hangover? “You’re too old to say that now.”

“Practically middle-aged,” he agrees. “Might as well skip out and go get a beer for breakfast.”

“Breakfast?” I make a point of lifting his wrist and looking at his giant, manly waterproof watch. “It’s almost eleven.”

“I was a little slow to start this morning. Late night,” he growls, smiling darkly. When he looks at me like that, I immediately recall the way he slid his fingers over and inside me—God, when did your pussy get so sweet?—the way his breath warmed my neck. I remember the feel of his hungry mouth sucking at my neck, my shoulders, the hard press of him through his jeans between my legs.

And then he left. And I nearly screamed in sexual frustration.

It shouldn’t feel so easy with him today. Why does it feel so easy?

After a quiet pause, he asks, “Did you get home okay?”

I look past him, my head swimming a little with the jarring transition in mental images his question brings. Bellamy was still up when I tripped in at nearly two in the morning. I found her sitting in the kitchen, staring blankly at the space in front of her. I went out. I tried to just . . . have a good night, she’d said. But I felt sort of like a bobblehead. Disjointed, you know? And now I can’t sleep.

I felt immediately guilty for going out and forgetting everything in the middle of Lola’s kitchen, and with Finn of all people. But Mom kicked me out again after breakfast this morning, telling me she hadn’t seen me indoors on a Saturday since I was an infant and I wasn’t allowed to miss Oliver’s grand opening.

“I slept in Lola’s bed for a little bit, then took a cab,” I tell Finn, giving him a pointed look. “It’s what I do after we hook up, apparently.”

“Right.” He doesn’t seem to think I’m as funny as I do. When he looks over my shoulder at the store beyond, I take the opportunity to check him out. I can’t find a single flaw with the man’s body, and I’m woman enough to admit that I’m completely obsessed with his forearms. They’re roped, thick, every single muscle defined. I want to see him haul a big net onto the deck of his ship. God, he would make majestic fisherman porn.

“What are you thinking?” he asks and I blink up to his face.

“Trying to decide if I want to buy this pair of boots I saw on the way here.” A lie, but one he’d believe. Obviously Finn is comfortable with me in the role of airhead shopaholic, and for sure doesn’t need to know that I was just casting him in the role of Salty Fisherman #1 in the small-screen production of Swabbing the Decks Aboard Her Royal Thighness.

“When in doubt, buy the boots,” he says dryly. “Isn’t that what I’m supposed to say here?”

“I don’t think you need an opinion on the boots.”

“Thank God,” he mumbles and then heads across the room when he sees Ansel and Mia walk in. Such an unceremonious departure. I’m sort of relieved with how easy that was. See? No need to rehash or trip through some stilted, day-after I-was-so-drunk conversation. Finn and I have already done that in much greater magnitude, what with the getting married and sexual consummation. Talk about next-day awkward.

Mia passes Finn, giving him a knowing little wink before handing me a plastic cup with the Whole Foods logo and filled with a green juice concoction.

“Ansel wanted to see what the juice craze was all about,” she says. “So of course he goes purist and gets sixteen ounces of straight kale juice. I thought he was going to vomit in my car.”

I look at my cup with suspicion.

“Yours also has banana, mango, and pineapple.” She nudges me with her elbow. “I hear it cleanses the body of the toxic effects of shady decisions.”

“Actually, last night was a fun decision. Lord, I can’t help but enjoy that physique,” I admit. Instinctively I look over to where Finn has met up with Oliver and Ansel, and he looks over at me at exactly the same time. He quickly blinks away when our eyes meet, and the two other guys lean in to listen to what he’s saying. Clearly he’s doing some sexplaining of his own.

“Did it speak last night?” Mia whispers. “I know how it vexes you when it tries to converse.”

“It spoke some—never much—but it was acceptable. Mostly dirty sex words.” I lean in closer to tell her, “We didn’t have sex, though.”

“Yeah, I figured,” she says, nodding. “Finn sort of drunk-grumbled something about blue balls in the car. Where’s Lola?”

I look toward the side of the store where I’d last seen her, lifting my chin so Mia’s eyes follow mine. Lola is completely absorbed in reading a book and doesn’t seem to realize that an actual celebration is happening, with people talking, pictures being taken, Not-Joe showing customers around, and everyone congratulating Oliver on what he’s pulled off here.

I can tell Finn has successfully assured the other guys that we aren’t approaching Awkward Group Dynamic territory when Ansel comes to join Mia, looping a long arm around her shoulders. He squeezes her to his side before bending for a kiss. She’s so petite, and he’s so tall, that the effect is pretty comical; Mia practically disappears from my view for the length of it.

“Did you guys need some privacy?” I ask.

Ansel speaks against her mouth. “That would be wonderful, thank you. Order everyone away.”

Laughing, I shove his shoulder playfully and he pulls her back up, steadying her. She presses two fingers to her lips as she stares up at him, flushed and a little breathless, and for just a beat—only a teeny, tiny heartbeat—I want what they have so intensely it makes my chest pinch.

And then it’s gone.

“We’re thinking of grabbing some lunch,” Finn says from behind me, and—dammit!—that tiny spike of heat jabs right back through my chest. Mia’s gaze zeros in on my face to gauge my reaction. He’s standing directly behind me and I widen my eyes, telling her with my expression, It’s fine. I’m perfectly fine.

“We only got here fifteen minutes ago,” I tell him, slowly turning. Slow, and cool. “Shouldn’t we stay a little longer?”

He looks around meaningfully. “This place is packed. Friends show up to these things to fill space. We’re just in the way now.”

I should go with them, and I’m sure it would be fun, but I really want to be home, pretending not to hover over my mom.

“Are you leaving tonight or tomorrow?” I ask him. “Um.” He glances at Ansel, who has tilted his head and is wearing the world’s most hilarious expression of amused expectation. Mia is staring at me wide-eyed, as if I’m a grenade and Finn is about to remove my pin.

He reaches up to scratch his jaw. “I’m actually staying with Oliver for the next couple weeks.”

**

MY THOUGHTS ARE stacked like a deck of cards and I have to continually shuffle the top one to the back of the pile.

I can’t obsess about Mom’s surgery on Monday. I can’t think about the possibility of more sexcapades with Finn. I don’t want to shop. I don’t want to surf. I don’t want to eat. And my part-time job is a joke. So, I go to my parents’ house on Saturday afternoon, change into my bathing suit, and head out to the pool to swim until my limbs are like noodles. At least there I can be close by, but not hovering.

Apparently Dad had the same idea. He finishes his lap, surfacing when he sees me and folding his arms at the edge of the pool. Water drips from his salt-and-pepper hair onto his tanned skin and he pushes his goggles onto his forehead before closing his eyes, tilting his face up to the sky. I would do anything to not have to see my father this worried.

I sit down, sliding my feet into the water next to him. We sit in easy silence while he catches his breath.

“Hey, Tulip.”

“Hey, dude.”

I slip the rest of the way into the pool, relishing the mild chill of the unheated water in September. When I break through the surface, I ask, “You hanging in there?”

He laughs without much humor, stripping his goggles off completely and tossing them onto his towel a few feet away. “Not really.” He’s still breathless. Dad is in unbelievable shape; he must have been swimming like a maniac. “You?”

I shrug. For some reason, I don’t feel like I have a right to be as shaken by all of this as Dad is. After all, he in particular has always been my most involved parent. Mom’s career exploded when I was only two and tapered just as I was entering college. Dad’s took off my sophomore year of high school, the first year he won an Oscar. He loves us with a ferocity that amazes me, but I know without question that Mom is his sun, moon, and stars.

“Did you go into the office this morning?” I ask.

He smiles, clearly noting my diversionary tactic. “Only for about an hour. Thinking about getting involved with Sal’s next project. It’d keep me home until April, at least.”

Salvatore Marìn is a producer/director who is Dad’s closest friend and most frequent work colleague. I know the question of work has to have been weighing on Dad: how to balance his career while still being there for Mom in every sense of the word. Dad’s never in one place for long, and so I’m sure the idea of having to leave right now, of missing anything with Mom, must be terrifying.

“That sounds ideal,” I say simply, going for light.

“I think you’d like this one.” His smile changes into one I haven’t seen for a while, genuine and mischievous. “It’s about a bunch of guys on a boat.”

“Very funny.” I splash him. I’ve missed his laughter and his easy smiles, so if letting him hassle me about Finn, or any other boy, makes them happen more often, he can do it as much as he wants.

“So what’d you end up doing last night?”

I dunk underwater quickly, slicking my hair back. “Went to Lola’s.”

I can feel him watching me, waiting. He’s used to getting every detail. “And? Was it fun?”

“It was okay,” I hedge and look at him, squinting into the sun. “Funny thing, actually . . . Finn was there.”

His eyebrows slowly inch up. “Finn, huh?”

I’ve always relied on Dad’s brain to help me sort through my day, my frustrations, my adventures. So of course he knows the PG-rated details of my Vegas trip: We met at a bar, got drunk and married. After a sharp cut-to-black in the version of the story he got, I told him about how we went together to get the marriage annulled the next afternoon.

But he also knows I flew up to visit Finn for less than a day. So when I mention that he was at the party last night, I’m pretty sure my dad puts two and two together.

“It was a good distraction . . .” I mumble, even more quietly admitting, “not that much happened.”

His eyes dance with restrained teasing. “He’s in town for the grand opening?”

I nod, leaving out the part where it seems Finn is staying for a couple weeks. I can’t decide if I’m excited about this news, or irritated. As if I don’t already have enough to think about, now I’m going to be forced into seeing him every time I want to socialize?

Dad watches me as I doodle in the dry concrete with a wet fingertip. I’ve never had to hide my interest in boys, my distress over girl-dramas, or my fears and anxiety about life from him. Growing up, our deal was that as long as I always came to him first with the big things, he would do his best not to lecture, judge, or go into what mom calls his Protective Latin Rage.

“Distractions are sometimes nice,” he says, watching me.

The problem with being raised by such an amazing man is that it’s nearly impossible not to compare every boy I meet to him. Every single one falls short.

I shrug.

“With everything going on in your life, it’s too bad he lives so far away.”

I look over at him. “He’s here for a couple of weeks.”

Dad laughs at my grim expression and lifts himself out of the pool. Water pours off him into puddles at his feet, reflecting a hundred dots of sun on the ground. “I adore you, my beautiful, fierce girl.” He bends for a towel and dries off his chest and arms as he says, “And I know you. I bet you’re thinking of all the reasons why you shouldn’t spend time with him.”

“Of course I shouldn’t—”

He cuts me off with a hand gently raised in the air. “I know you never let anything come before family; that’s how I raised you. But soon you’ll want to be at every appointment, sitting nearby for every possible second. You’ll be online, reading every detail you can find. You’ll be hovering, offering her food, a sweater, movies, gifts. I’ll be doing the same. And together we will drive your mother crazy.” Crouching down in front of me, he whispers, “Please, Tulip, let yourself be distracted when you can. Have some fun. I envy you.”

**

OLIVER’S HOUSE IS a tiny, single-story stucco cottage in Pacific Beach, with ocean-breeze-dulled blue paint and faded, chipped red windowsills. The sidewalk out front is cracked and uneven, and the lawn is a mottled calico of yellow, green, and brown. Unlike his glossy new store downtown, this place isn’t much to look at. But I know the area well enough to guess what it cost him and that being able to climb up to his roof at night and see the sunset over the ocean is part of the appeal.

After swimming for a while, I’d gone inside to find Mom and Dad in the living room, cuddled together on the couch and reading their books in easy silence.

I offered to make them lunch. They weren’t hungry. I offered to run some errands. They had nothing for me to do. So I stood, fidgeting at the perimeter of the room until Dad looked up at me and gave me a sad little smile.

Mom will need me, but she doesn’t need me today. She doesn’t need anyone but her guy, and what he needs is to be her entire world right now.

I drove to Oliver’s in a fog, on autopilot, trying not to second-guess what I was going to do. My father was basically telling me to enjoy Finn—though not in those exact words— and why not? It isn’t like Finn and I have misaligned expectations. We’ve spent a combined total of maybe one full day together, and have been naked for most of that. Before this weekend, our most meaningful conversation occurred when I showed up at his house and he told me to help myself to anything in the fridge while he ran out to get condoms.

I smile at the R2-D2 knocker and rap twice at the door with it.

The house inside is silent, and all around me the ocean wind whips past the tall, willowy palms. Finally, I hear footsteps just in front of the door and it swings open.

Finn pulls a dish towel off his shoulder, using it to dry his hands. He’s shirtless, and his jeans hang low on his hips, revealing the black waistband of his boxers.

“Hey, Ginger Barbie.”

In one heartbeat I’ve gone from relieved anticipation, to hating this moment. I feel vulnerable and on the verge of tears, but there’s nothing particularly sympathetic about Finn. Drunk Finn was an anomaly, all soft expressions and playful. Daylight Finn is efficient and brusque, good for fishing, fucking, and—apparently—washing dishes.

“You know what?” I say, looking at my car parked at the curb. “This was a stupid idea.”

“Wait. You came here to see me, not Oliver?” He takes one step closer.

“Yeah . . .”

“Did you come here to finish what we started last night?” I turn to leave, having no idea what to say to such a blunt question. I mean, yes, I did come for that. But it’s bigger than just wanting to fool around: What I want with Finn is the sex that absorbs me and shuts off my brain. I don’t want to play cat-and-mouse, I don’t want to discuss it. I just want to do it.

I can hear the playful mocking in his voice when he calls, “If that’s what you want, you just need to say it, Harlow.”

I stand, facing the street for several deep breaths. A car drifts by, its frame lowered so it almost touches the asphalt, stereo bass blaring, vibrating up through my feet. The car slows, and the man in the passenger seat lifts his chin to me.

“The next young freak I met was Red,” Too $hort raps from the car, his voice distorted through the crappy speakers.

I square my shoulders, staring down the guys as their attention moves past my face to my chest.

“I took her to the house and she gave me head.”

At the lyric, the man in the passenger seat smiles lewdly, raising his eyebrows at the next line as if to ask me whether it’s true, whether I like to freak, and the car stops, idling in the middle of the street as if the driver expects me to jump in and party with them. I want to walk to my car but feel trapped between these guys and the cocky asshole behind me.

Finn steps out of the house, pulling the dishrag off his shoulder as he comes to stand with one shoulder in front of me, and stares down the men in the car.

“The fuck are they looking at?” he growls under his breath.

I no longer care about the guys in the car. I’ve never had a man other than my father take a protective stance around me. The boys I’m used to would just pretend they didn’t see the car at all, or anxiously whisper-hiss that we should get back inside. Beside me, Finn is huge. I’ve never seen his skin in the sun, but the sun has seen him a thousand times. I’m tall, but he’s inches taller, and nearly twice as wide. His chest is tanned and bulky, clear of a single tattoo, but marked with the occasional tiny scar. A snag here, a cut there. He seems larger than life on this street full of salty surfer boys and skinny thugs.

The car accelerates with a rumble, driving off down the street.

“Those assholes wouldn’t know the first thing to do with you,” he says quietly, looking me over as if I’d been handled. And with that look, I see the same expression he gave me last night—possessiveness, interest, hunger—as if I’m not quite what he’d assumed . . . and that, maybe, he liked it.

My heart is hammering wildly and—with the pulse of adrenaline in my blood—even more than before I want to go inside with him and let him take over every single thought.

“Okay yes. I’m here to finish what we started.”

He waits, thinking. For the first time, I realize he’s not wearing a hat. I can see his eyes in the sun—really see them, without shadow or the diffused light filtered through the heavy marine layer. I find that I like the way he studies things, especially me.

His eyes seem so much smarter than his mouth.

Case in point: “A girl like you is way more trouble than she’s worth,” he says with a little smile.

God, he’s such a dick. But the twinkle in his eyes tells me he’s pretty fucking happy I’m here, and the truth is, he can think I’m a high-maintenance diva as long as he’s able to make me forget for a little while. “I see.”

“We can have sex, that’s fine. But just so we’re clear, that’s all it is.”

I laugh. “I’m here for sex, not some deep bonding ritual.”

He makes a gentlemanly sweep of his arm, indicating I lead us both inside.

It takes my eyes a few seconds to adjust once I’m out of the bright sun. Finn closes the door behind him, leaning against it with his arms crossed over his chest. I turn away, pulse tripping in wild throbs in my neck, trying to calm my thoughts as I pretend to survey the room. The sheer unexpectedness of it all catches me off guard, and for a beat I forget to be nervous.

Light shoots in through the oceanside windows, causing slanted shadows to be cast across the acacia wood flooring throughout the living room and small dining room. The furniture looks vintage, but refurbished, and surprisingly well coordinated. The couch and chairs are various shades of blue. A large Aztec woven ottoman serves as a coffee table. A few framed photographs stand on a side table adjacent to the sofa, and there is a small urn with twisting bamboo growing in intricate curls on a stunning multi-tone wooden dining room table. The table’s made from random cuts of wood, light and dark wood intermingling, and although the long side is smooth and polished, the jagged edges of the short sides give the table a striking, artistic feel.

“Oliver surprises me,” I say. “This place doesn’t look like a bachelor pad.”

Finn laughs. “He’s tidy.”

I glance at the dish towel draped over his shoulder. “You’re doing dishes.”

With a little one-shouldered shrug, he murmurs, “I’m tidy, too.”

“So Ansel is the slob?” I ask with a smile. My heart is beating so hard I can hear the whoosh of it in my ears. I miss the ease of conversation after tequila. His brows pull together, and I clarify: “One of you must be messy . . . based on my completely sexist statistics.”

“Actually, he’s the biggest neat freak I know. Perry is the slob. There goes your theory.”

“Of course she’s a slob. She’s the Beast.”

Finn stays quiet, his expression unreadable. I don’t exactly expect him to start bashing one of his best friends, no matter how horrible she might be.

“Why are you still in town?” I ask finally. “I thought you never missed a shift at work.”

He smooths a hand down his mouth, over his chin, holding my gaze for a beat. “You seem to always be present for the exception to that rule.”

“That’s not really an answer.”

“Business.”

“Business?”

“Yeah.” He takes a couple of slow steps closer to me. “Why are you here?”

“I thought we clarified that outside.”

“I know what you’re here for, but not why.”

“My . . .” I stop, changing my mind against telling him what I’m really doing here. Too heavy. Too much. “I just wanted to get out of the house.”

His brows draw together, and more questions seem perched on his tongue, but instead of asking them, he holds his hands out, taking one last step closer. Palms up, he moves his hands in a seesaw gesture. “Finn . . . shoe shopping . . . Finn . . . shoe shopping.”

“I guess you won.”

He gives in to the smile he’s been fighting. “Tell me why me. You’ve got a city full of rich kids waiting for you to climb between their sheets.”

Heat seeps into my bloodstream and he reaches out, toying with the strap of my dress. “None of them are any good,” I admit.

“Oh, really?” He doesn’t sound at all surprised.

“I’ve never been with a guy who made me come. Without my help.”

I ignore the smug tilt of his lips when I say this. At least, I try to hide the way I’m shaking inside, so desperate for the sensation overload that happens when he touches me. But maybe he should see. Maybe it’ll make him want to outdo himself today.

“So, just to be clear,” I whisper. “I’m using you for sex.”

Finn reaches behind me and I feel my eyes falling closed, my senses rising in anticipation of his first touch. He gently gathers my hair in his hands, barely brushes his fingers against the nape of my neck as he bunches the strands into a twist and closes a single fist around it. “Then start by kissing me.”

He’s holding my head by my hair; I try, but I can’t move any closer.

I try again but he’s holding me still, smiling darkly at my lips. I close my eyes and reach out, running my hands up his bare stomach and over his chest. His skin is impossibly warm. He’s hard and smooth, nipples tightening under my palms, and he lets out a sharp hiss when I scratch my nails over them, loosening his hold on my hair. This feels familiar, and also not: This time the sex isn’t rushed or cramped, drunken or spontaneous.

It’s intentional, and we have all afternoon.

At least, I think we do. Uncertainty about his business here tickles my thoughts, but that evaporates when my hands move up his neck, and I brush my mouth over his. With a groan he slides his lips across mine, easing his tongue inside, and all at once it’s fevered. He pushes me back, turning me, and we stumble down a hall, knocking against a wall, where he stills, pressing the length of his body to mine.

“Last night I wanted to eat your pussy,” he says directly into my ear. “I still want it. I want you wild, squirming all over my face. What do you think of that?”

I think it sounds like an excellent plan.

As Finn pulls away and tugs me down the hall, I count three bedrooms—three tiny bedrooms—with his at the end, on the street side of the house. It’s pretty empty, other than a full-size IKEA bed against one wall and matching dresser against the other. Finn’s suitcase rests just next to the closet door.

Removed from the sun streaming through the windows, this side of the house is cool, and we trip in and stop, only inches apart. His warmth grows and ebbs with each of his heavy breaths. I’m practically gasping, my heart is thudding so hard.

I almost never feel intimidated—and I’ll be damned if I ever let a guy get the upper hand—but if there is an alpha dog in this room, it isn’t me. Tossing the dish towel back over his shoulder, Finn lets his eyes move from my mouth, to my neck, and lower. My nipples harden beneath my thin dress, and he licks his lips, humming.

“I’m going to tie you up this time,” he tells me, slipping one strap of my dress off my shoulder. With his lips trailing across my neck, he asks, “You into that?”

I blink up to him, a little caught off guard. I . . . might be? I’ve never been tied up. But to be completely honest, I’m not all that surprised Finn wants this. In Vegas, and again in Canada, he was rough and tender in equal, drastic measure. He spanked me, pinned my hands over my head, and withheld orgasms, only to push back inside and kiss me so tenderly I came with a scream. And then he pulled out and made me come again with his mouth.

The first night we were together, we only had sex one time before we passed out cold, but he made it last three hours. Finn likes to call the shots, and right now, I’m going to let him.

“I can be.”

“Last time you showed up unannounced, I was just down to fuck,” he says. “Today, I think I want to savor this. Unless you’ve got somewhere to be?”

I shake my head, closing my eyes. It feels so good to just put it all in his hands. To shrug away every single worry and let him tie me up, eat me out, fuck me until I can’t walk. I don’t know him well enough to trust him with anything else, but I trust this man with my body.

“What’s that?” he asks with a tiny edge to his voice, ducking to meet my eyes.

“No,” I say, eyes fluttering open and my voice coming out thick before I clear my throat. “I don’t have anywhere else to be.”

He nods, walking over to the closet and pulling a length of red rope from a high shelf.

“You just happened to have rope in the closet?” I ask, my voice high and reedy.

“Didn’t want to leave it in my truck in case someone took it.” He grins at me. “This is really nice rope.”

I’m pretty sure few people in Pacific Beach would have any idea that the rope in the back of a pickup truck is really nice rope, but I can hardly complain. I’m glad he didn’t have to leave the room to go get it.

But when I look down at it, this rope doesn’t seem like something he’d use on a boat. It’s soft, has the sheen of silk.

“You carry silky rope around in the bed of your pickup? Should I Google you, Finn?”

He laughs a little, dropping it at the foot of the bed. “I was pretty sure I’d get you naked while I was here.” He lifts his chin, silently telling me to do just that.

“How confident of you.”

His eyebrow flickers up, as if to say, Well? and he pulls the towel from his shoulder, walking a slow circle around me as I pull my dress up and over my head. When I slide my underwear down my legs and step out of them, I feel a whisper of fabric against the back of my thigh.

And then a sharp pop against the exact same spot.

With a gasp, I turn and gape at him. He’s snapped the towel at me, like a fucking teenager in the kitchen. The sting turns warm, making me more aware of the cool air in his room.

“Come here,” he says, ignoring my surprised expression.

“You’re not going to whip me with a dish towel.”

“You’re right, I’m not.” When I start to take a step closer, he snaps it again, barely grazing my hip. “I’m going to tease you with it.”

“What happened to just getting naked and—”

He pops me again, this time on my upper thigh. “You came to me, not some skinny-dicked kid in Del Mar. And I’m doing this how I want.” His eyes soften. “It’s not like I’m going to leave you needy, sweet thing. I wouldn’t do that.”

I exhale a jagged breath and nod. Whatever he wants to do . . . it’s why I’m here. I close my eyes, giving in to the semi-drunk sensation I get when I’m this close to him, and he’s the only thing I can sense in the room.

He wraps his fingers around a small lock of my hair and glides them down to the end, tugging gently. “Look at me.”

I blink up to him, eyes wide and focused on nothing but the bow of his bottom lip, the appearance of his ironic little smile as I wait to hear what instruction comes next.

“Kiss my neck,” he whispers, so I do. I stretch on my toes and press my lips against his pulse point. It’s an excuse, maybe, to see how I affect him and whether his blood trips the same way mine does when we are this close. But his pulse is a steady and slow dum . . . dum . . . dum beneath my touch. “Lick me.” His fingers slide up my neck and over my necklace, pressing into my scalp and gripping handfuls of my hair.

My tongue sweeps out, just barely touching his skin, and he groans, a low, hungry sound. He tastes like salt and air, as if the ocean wrapped around him when he was small and never let go.

“Go lie down.” His fingers release me but his gaze doesn’t. Right now, I remember that Finn is ten years older than me; I must look wide-eyed and naïve. I wonder if he has any idea the extent of my inexperience with lovers like him. “I’m gonna tie you up and kiss that sweet pussy for a while. I want to hear you say my name when you come on my lips.”

I back up to the bed and then turn, moving toward the middle. Having grown up on the beach, I’m used to being in bikinis around people, but Finn and I have only ever hooked up in the dark. It’s a little weird to be completely naked— with him mostly clothed—and crawling on my hands and knees on a bed in broad daylight.

When I kneel and wait for him to join me, he shakes his head. “Lie back. Close your eyes.” At my suspicious expression, he says in a quiet, deep voice, “You want it or not?”

Before I do what he says, I blink down to the worn button fly of his jeans, faded and soft over time and now distorted with the shape of him, hard beneath. He’s always made sure my body was ready, and I know that’s what we’re doing, but the threat of panic and fear lingering at the edges, and my need to get lost in something other than my own thoughts, makes me impatient.

He sees where my attention has gone and rubs the heel of his hand down the thick line of his cock, gripping it. “You’ll get it in a little bit. Lie back.”

The pillow is full and hard, but the cotton comforter is soft and warm against my bare skin. Between my legs, the mattress dips as Finn climbs up from the foot of the bed, his palms smoothing up my shins.

Finn drags the length of red rope up over my torso, coiling it around his hand. Reaching behind me, he slides the center of its length under my body and then crisscrosses it back and forth down across my torso. Looping it around one hand he coils it up one arm and then back over my chest to the other side. Wrapping it down around my other arm, he’s softly bound my arms so each of my wrists stays at the sides of my hips. In the center, just below my belly button, he ties an intricate—and beautiful—knot. I watch him the entire time; he’s focused and careful not to bind me too tight. I can tell, too, that he loves what he sees. When he’s done, he sighs, running his hands up over my hips and across my stomach, my breasts, my neck.

“I had no idea you were into this,” I whisper.

He shrugs a little, but doesn’t say anything. My breasts are displayed on either side of an X across my breastbone, and the rope is soft but sturdy; I can feel it pressing into the tender skin all along my torso.

“Is it too tight?” he asks, drawing a finger in a small circle around my nipple.

I swallow back a gasp. “No.”

“Do you like it?”

I hear genuine concern in his voice. I can tell from his trembling hand, intense gaze, and the pressing shape of his cock beneath his jeans that Finn likes this. A lot. But it matters to him that I do, too.

And fuck, I do. I don’t mind having my arms pinned at my sides as much as I thought I would. And I feel everything: the silken slide of the rope as I wiggle a little under his inspection, the cool air over my breasts, the thudding echo of my pulse in my neck, chest, between my legs.

I forgot how rough his hands are, calloused from constant work—rough and so huge he covers much of my body as his splayed fingers slide up my legs to my inner thighs, spreading me.

I resist, and he makes a quiet tsk sound, easily overpowering me as he shakes his head. He’s not looking at my face, he’s looking at me, there, between my legs.

I like to consider myself a pretty progressive woman—lots of talk about being comfortable with anything and trying everything once—but mostly, so far, it’s only been theory. At twenty-two, I’ve never had a lover who was experienced enough to be slow and force me to still under his acute attention. I’ve never been with anyone who was confident enough to be still and calm while he just looks at me. I’ve certainly never been tied up. And I’ve never had someone savor me the way Finn is right now, not even the Finn I thought I knew from before.

He settles, propped on his elbows between my legs, and kisses my thigh, looking up the length of my body at the red rope against my skin. “You look amazing.”

I whisper out a raspy “Thanks,” watching rapt as he bends, lips parted. And, God, I believe him.

He groans a split second before he makes contact, and when he does it’s like a bomb goes off inside me. Something seems to break loose with the wet slide of his tongue. I fall back, arms stiffening in their hold, back bowing off the mattress so I can arch closer. I know now that I haven’t just been waiting for this since last night; I’ve been waiting for it every second since I last felt his tongue between my legs. His mouth is warm and strong. Kissing there like he would my mouth, small kisses and gentle licks release my first cry, and he grunts, pushing his tongue up into me and just . . . losing it.

Finn was always borderline rough and clearly wanted control the two other times we were together, but this . . . this is different. It isn’t just the rope around my arms or the way he has me pinned beneath him. It’s the way it feels like we’ve crossed into a different space—before it was just a one-time thing, a two-time thing, just sex. But this time, it’s like he’s peeling away the layers to show me a secret side of him.

For a flash, I’m aware of how loud he is, sucking and smacking, and how loud I am, crying out and saying his name and other garbled words—but I can’t hold on to the inclination to be self-conscious. I can’t because with the vibration of his groan spreading through me, and the way he uses the knot at my belly to rhythmically pull me against his mouth, I’m coming so soon, so hard it claws up my thighs and explodes like heat and wet and pure fucking bliss, sliding silvery all along every inch of my legs. My skin feels flushed and electric, and I can hear my own hoarse cries echo sharply in the mostly empty room. Finn keeps going, diligently working his mouth over me, but I’m gasping as I come down, my legs trembling and weak. I want to push them together, but his hands spread across my thighs, holding me open, pressing them flat to the bed.

He grunts out a No and reaches beneath me with one hand to deliver a sharp smack on the outside of my thigh.

I’m too far gone to be shocked. When he spreads his hand over where he’s just struck me, and rubs his rough palm in slow, soothing circles as he hums, I immediately want the sharp crack again because of the way it melted into delicious heat under his sweeter touch.

Finn is watching me, his lips pressed gently against my clit, concentrating his gaze on my face. He pulls away just enough to whisper, “Tell me how that felt.”

Does he mean the spanking or the mind-numbing orgasm? Or the way I can barely move after he made every muscle in my body clench? Regardless, the answer is the same.

Blinking, I open my mouth, slowly stringing the words, So . . . fucking . . . good, together in my head. Before I can get them out, he smiles against me, returning to the maddening kisses, the licks and tugging on the knotted rope. I let the words and every thought in my head fall away and push into him, circling my hips closer to his mouth.

My face feels hot, my cheeks flushed. The rope tickles along my skin, pulling up and down in a rhythm that matches the teasing flicks of his tongue. My nipples are hard, aching, and I want his fingers to find them, his mouth to find them. I want him everywhere at once. I feel heavy and desperate, my entire world oriented by where he’s touching me and where he’s not.

I must be saying something because the sound of his voice breaks through the fog. “That’s right,” he says, murmuring softly. “Fuck, look at you.”

But I’m looking at him. His soft hair is between my legs and his eyes, those fucking eyes are staring right back at me, waiting. He curls a finger inside and bends his head to continue sucking, and that’s all it takes. My back arches off the mattress and I cry out, falling to pieces again inside his web of silken rope.

I feel like melted chocolate poured across this bed and moan quietly when Finn’s hands smooth up over my belly, gently unfastening the knot.

“It may tingle a little when I take it off.” He kisses where the knot was, where there’s now an indentation of what almost looks like a flower on my skin. “It’ll be sensitive.”

“Okay,” I say on a long exhale. And it does; as he unwinds the soft rope from my arms, reversing the intricate crisscross pattern across my body, I can feel the air hit the delicate lines on my skin, but only for a split second before Finn’s mouth slides along the same path, licking, kissing, soothing everywhere it feels so sensitive.

It’s overwhelming how good this feels, and how gentle he is. When my hands are free, I slide them both over his shoulders and up his neck, holding his face to my chest as he licks and sucks at the rope lines beneath my breasts.

Finally, he pulls my nipple into his mouth, tongue circling. “So fucking good,” he murmurs, switching to my other breast, fingers ghosting along the fading lines.

His hands find my wrists and he guides my arms over my head, looping the rope around them again.

“Okay?” he whispers.

“Yeah.”

Bound like this, I can leave my arms over my head or loop them around his neck. But for now I leave them where they are and relish the feel of the comforter beneath my back as Finn grips my hips and drags me to the foot of the bed.

Reaching between my legs, he strokes me with two fingers, making a V as he slides over my clit and then inside, repeating the pattern again, and again.

“You’re so damn warm.” He bends, kissing my hip.

Finn pulls away and steps back so I can watch him push his jeans and boxers down his hips, kicking them onto the floor. He grabs a condom from a box in the top drawer of the dresser but doesn’t put it on yet.

Instead, he climbs up on the bed, straddling my chest. Above me, he feels like fire, the heat emanating from his skin unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I feel like I’ve grown extra nerve endings over the parts of my body that were covered by rope.

He braces a hand beside my head, gripping his cock with the other. “Kiss me.”

When the broad head of his cock touches my lips, I let my eyes fall closed at the sound of his groan. I love the tight flare of the crown, the taste of him. I lick around the tip, opening wider when he slides more into my mouth, rocking just in and out while I play, getting him wet enough to slide easily past my lips.

“You like it?” he asks, voice rasping. “The feel of my cock on your tongue?”

Nodding, I open my eyes to see an expression on his face I’ve never seen before: frenzied adoration, as if he’s never seen anything more amazing in his life.

“I never came in your mouth,” he says quietly. “I kept thinking about it, but then I always ended up wanting something else instead.”

Backing away, and proving the point he just made, he straddles my hips as he tears open the condom and rolls it down his length. If this was a movie, I would rewind and watch those three seconds again and again. I like the way he looks down as he puts the latex on, gripping himself, reaching down absently to run his palm across his balls. With a little growl, he moves the rest of the way down my body and stands at the foot of the bed, between my legs.

“Wrap them around my waist. Hold on to me with your legs.”

I do everything he says because I don’t know anything else but that I need Finn inside me right now. He holds his cock straight and rests one palm on the mattress beside my hip, sliding the head just in.

Just out. Just in.

Watching me with his lips parted, eyes heavy, he pulls just out again.

I groan, pushing my head back into the mattress and gritting my teeth.

“I like seeing you so impatient,” he whispers, bending to kiss my collarbone. “You have any idea how you look right now? Dripping wet all over me?”

He knows I don’t have words and doesn’t really seem to expect an answer as he pushes in, inch by inch, reaching down to circle his thumb around my clit, murmuring, “Ah, ah, ah, don’t come yet.”

But when he pulls back, he barely takes a breath before thrusting back in and then I know it’s on. He gives me all of it, his hard thrusts and those low, animals sounds he makes with every one. His hands, so big, curled around my body, holding me steady as he fucks so hard.

I relish this man telling me to wait.

Wait.

Not yet, Harlow. Don’t you fucking go without me. I said wait. I’m close. I’m so fucking close.

He pulls out just when I’ve almost burst into a thousand tiny pieces, and then he eases back inside, whispering, “Wanna come?” against my neck. And I do. I do, please please, I’m begging, and I realize it only on the second, maybe the third please, and he loves it, I can tell, because he’s wild again, and for a tiny, frantic pulse I’m startled by the memory that there is something bigger than this. I squeeze my eyes closed and fall back into feeling like there isn’t anything else in the world but Finn and the way he makes me feel.

Rational thought vanishes as quickly as it peeked in, and I’m screaming as he moves back into me, grinding, grinding, grinding until I come. His palm is cupping my ass to pull me into him, his lips are on my shoulder, and his cock is so deep inside I don’t think I ever knew I could feel so full.

Finn jerks over me, his body tense as he groans against my skin. I feel the twitching of him inside me, the pounding of his heart between us—or is it mine?—I can’t even tell anymore. I have no idea where he ends and I begin.

I’m not sure which of us is more exhausted. Finn did all the work, moving over and into me, pushing and pulling me where he wanted, and yet I feel totally drained. My legs are heavy, my bones composed entirely of rubber. I could sleep for days.

It’s exactly why I’m here.

At some point Finn has unbound my wrists, rubbed his thumb along the faint red marks.

“These will fade,” he says, examining them, a hint of regret in his voice. “Probably within an hour.”

Nodding, I close my eyes, count to ten, and then move to stand. I begin to dress, feeling his eyes on me from the bed.

“Jesus, Harlow. You don’t have to rush off,” he says, his voice thick and sleepy. The sky outside is deep lavender post-sunset. “Oliver won’t be home until late.”

I open my mouth, saying, “I should . . .” and pointing vaguely north, toward home.

He nods, watching me put everything back on before he pats a heavy hand on the bed. “Harlow, you shouldn’t run off.” Pushing to sit at the edge of the mattress, he says, “Stay. Let me . . . fuck, I don’t know. Set up a bath for you, or . . . just stay here. It was intense. Wasn’t it intense?”

It was. It was so intense that I’m suddenly second-guessing everything that brought me here.

As I gather my things to leave, I’m not sure if being with Finn is an escape, or a new dangerous obsession.

~*~*~*~*~*

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