“Not really,” he says.
“Yeah, me neither.”
Shit. This is awkward. As far as I can tell, we’re still broken up. Despite everything we’d been through with each other over the past few weeks, I don’t know how to approach the subject. I mean, I stood outside the Kappa house and shoved a knife through this chest. He came back to help me in a time of need, but that doesn’t mean all is forgiven.
“We can, um, watch a movie?” I suggest. Baby steps.
Conor nods. Then an almost imperceptible smirk dances across his lips. “You inviting me to Netflix and chill?”
“Damn, you’re easy. I mean, jeez, Conor, have some respect for yourself. You’ll never find a good woman if you’re always giving the milk away for free.”
He sighs dramatically. “My mom keeps saying the same thing, but I never learn.”
We laugh, still standing all stupid and nervous in the middle of my apartment. Then his expression sobers.
“We should talk,” he says.
He leads me over to the couch to sit. Facing me but staring at his hands in his lap, he struggles to find a place to start.
“I don’t know where your head’s at or what your expectations are. I don’t have any, I want you to know. You’re going through something, I get it, and I want to be here for you, but only as much as you want me to.” He shrugs awkwardly. “Whatever that looks like.”
I open my mouth to interject, but he holds a hand up to say he isn’t finished yet.
After a deep breath, he continues. “I made out with another girl last night at a party.”
I briefly close my eyes. “All right.”
His throat dips as he swallows. “I got hammered and it happened. She took me to a bedroom to do more, but I couldn’t go through with it—physically or emotionally. Honestly, though, it was more of a physical impairment. I might’ve gone through with it if the equipment was working.”
I nod slowly.
“I wasn’t thinking straight. Then afterward, I felt sick about it. It wasn’t like I set out to find a revenge lay or to get over you with someone else. I was hurt, confused, pissed off, so all I wanted to do was drink my feelings. Shit got out of control.”
“We were broken up,” I tell him sincerely. “You don’t have to explain.”
“I do. I want to. Because I don’t want any more secrets. Not mine, anyway. I don’t want you to ever have a reason to doubt or mistrust me.”
“I do trust you.”
He looks up, and in his cool gray eyes I see the wounds I’ve inflicted. The insecurity I’ve instilled. A month ago I would have said Conor Fucking Edwards was impervious to everyone and everything. Completely immune to heartache.
I was wrong.
“Then why?” he asks roughly. “Why did breaking up seem like the only solution?”
“Because it’s what I’ve always done. I hide.” Shame clamps around my throat. “Hiding felt like the safer option, the path of least embarrassment. Just cut ties and escape and everything will be okay.”
“I wish you’d trusted that I would be there for you.”
My eyes widen. “God, no, you don’t get it—I had no doubt you’d be there. That was the one thing I knew I could trust. But I didn’t want to put you through all that.”
I swallow hard because suddenly my throat feels too tight and dry.
“I need you to know something,” I start. Gulp again. “I didn’t mean any of those awful things I said to you. I only said them because I needed you to accept the breakup. It was wrong and hurtful and I’m so sorry I didn’t have the nerve to tell you the truth.” Tears sting my eyelids. “I was afraid of what you’d think of me, that you’d be embarrassed by me. It was humiliating enough to deal with all this myself. I didn’t want to make it your problem, too. Didn’t want you to see me differently.”
“I only see you.” He takes my hand, rubbing his thumb over the inside of my wrist. “Just as you are. I don’t imagine you as some impossible ideal. To me you’re…real.” His lips quirk in a half-smile. “Stubborn, opinionated, pushy, funny, intelligent, kind, too hard on herself, snarky, sarcastic, jaded, yet somehow a closeted optimist. I fell in love with you for you, T. Nothing you could say or do would embarrass me. Ever.”
“Considering how we met, right?” I say, smiling.
“I knew you were nervous. Scared shitless, even.” His thumb continues its soft caresses across my skin, lulling me into a calm I haven’t felt in days. “Still, you were brave and so refreshingly honest. I was having dirty thoughts about you right away, but my favorite thing about you that first night was that you were completely unpretentious.”
“Yeah, it was pretty much the hair for me,” I say solemnly. “Oh, and the abs. The abs are good too.”
Conor laughs, shaking his head. “You’re such a brat.”
“For real, though, I’m sorry. For all of it. I freaked out and made a rash decision. It just seemed like the only thing I could do at the time.” I put on a firm tone. “I need you to know that I’m on board with whatever career path you choose. You do have prospects, and whatever you decide will always be good enough for me. That bullshit I fed you when I ended it was just that—bullshit. I didn’t mean a single word of it.”
He laces his fingers through mine, squeezing. “I get it. We both made mistakes.”
“Thank you for sticking by my side even though I was pushing you away. For not turning your back on me.”
Leaning in, I place a kiss on his lips.
He hesitates, just for a beat. Then, as if he’s suddenly convinced it’s really happening, his hands go to my ribs and pull my body against his. His kiss is soft but greedy. Sweet hunger and gentle need.
“I still love you,” he whispers against my mouth.
“I still love you,” I whisper back.
Getting to my knees, I straddle his lap as he slides to lie back against the armrest. My fingers tangle in the long, silky strands of hair at the base of his neck.
“Is it too late to plead temporary insanity?” I ask.
“I thought we were going to pretend the whole breakup was a vivid fever dream.” Conor’s thumbs drag slow, agonizing strokes under my breasts.
“I could go along with that.”
I kiss along his jaw, his neck. In response, his fingers dig into my skin. He’s hard between my legs, hips rising to meet me. I pull his shirt over his head and toss it aside. Then, with unhurried attention, I explore his bare chest with my mouth. I kiss those glorious abs, nip at the skin just above the waistband of his jeans until he shudders and his sinewy muscles contract.
“Can I?” I murmur, tugging at his belt.
Conor nods tightly, jaw clenched, as if it’s taking all his effort to lie still. It’s that coiled, kinetic strength of him that’s always attracted and intrigued me. A man so at once peaceful and dynamic.
I free his erection from his jeans, stroking the thick length as his hands reach above his head to grip a throw pillow. He watches me with anticipation, rapt and eager. “Fuck, Taylor, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”