Back in his room, I knelt on the floor in front of my suitcase to locate some pajamas. My mom had insisted on washing everything before I packed so I didn’t arrive back in New York with my luggage full of dirty laundry. I pulled out a pair of navy silk sleep shorts and a pink tank and saw Ben frowning as he emerged from the master bath.
Surely he wouldn’t forbid pajamas. He’d said this was just sleeping.
He crossed the room to the tall chest of drawers and pulled out a T-shirt. “I want you in my clothes or nothing at all.” His voice left no room for argument. He handed me the shirt. It was ultrasoft cotton and smelled like his laundry soap. I resisted the urge to bring it to my face and inhale. “Thanks.”
Ben cut the lights while I quickly undressed in the darkness.
When I stood, he was still standing beside the bed waiting for me. His eyes lowered to the hem of the T-shirt that hit me midthigh. “Beautiful,” he whispered.
He peeled back the sheets and covered us with the fluffy white down comforter that was folded over the end of the bed, wrapping us both in warmth.
In the moonlight, I saw Ben smile. “Everything okay?”
“Fine.” My voice was a tiny whisper.
“Thanks for staying.”
“Have you been taking your pills again?”
He nodded. “They haven’t worked for shit, but yeah.”
My heart tugged for him. For us both.
“Come here,” he whispered, opening his arm so I could move close to him. “I want you close. I need to hold you.”
I rolled onto my side and edged closer. Resting my head against his chest, I felt it rise and fall steadily with each deep breath he drew. His hand trailed along my side until it rested on the dip in my waist. Something about him touching me grounded me, made me feel whole. Ben’s hand glided down to my hip then slowly smoothed back up to my ribs.
“God, baby. You have no f**king idea how much I missed you.”
There was still a lot for us to talk about, but I missed him, too. “I’m here, Ben. Just sleep,” I whispered.
“I feel bad that I got off and you didn’t. Let me take care of you, honey.” His hand trailed along my side again, moving down to caress the skin at my hip under the T-shirt. His rough hand on my bare skin sent a warm tingle through my belly, and my breath caught in my chest. “Then starting tomorrow, we’ll begin the waiting . . .” he added.
“It doesn’t work that way.” I needed to remain strong. If only to prove to myself that I could, and that there was more to our relationship. My libido had taken a backseat when I realized we needed to use a condom. I didn’t know where Fiona had been, and I wasn’t taking any chances. Besides, that realization had killed the mood completely. Now with Ben touching me, promising to make me come as I knew he could . . . my judgment was slightly more clouded.
His thumb traced a light pattern along my hip, caressing me in slow circles. “You sure you don’t want this?” he asked, his voice deep and husky.
“I’m not ready yet,” I admitted.
He removed his hand from under the T-shirt, hugged me close, and kissed my forehead. “Okay. Sleeping only. And cuddling. I just didn’t want to be a dick and leave you hanging.”
I chuckled silently. “It’s fine. I just don’t want to rush things this time.”
“I told you, we’ll take all the time you need. I’m not worried. The most important thing is that you’re still here with me.”
I tangled my legs in between his and snuggled into his broad chest.
He curled himself around my body, nestling in snuggly. The warm weight of his calf draped over my thigh pinned me to the mattress. His chest rose and fell in long steady breaths, signaling that sleep was already pulling him under.
“Don’t leave me, Tennessee,” his sleepy voice rasped.
I squeezed him tighter. I didn’t know how a relationship could survive the threat of Fiona’s psychotic presence looming in the background, but I’d try. I had little choice. I needed this man. And it seemed he needed me.
I exhaled heavily and burrowed my face against his neck, breathing him in. His delicious, masculine scent filled my lungs and relaxed me.
“Emmy . . . mine . . .” he murmured in his sleep.
For now, I thought. My wrecked heart wasn’t ready to sign up for this, but my body wouldn’t heed the sensible advice. I was his. He was mine. This beautiful, damaged, intense man was mine. For better or worse. I needed to see what happened next.