“I was, uh... just, you know, starting a load of laundry.”
I caged her in with my arms on either side of her body, my hands pressed against
the top of the washer, and leaned down to bring my face closer to hers. “You’re a horrible liar,
Tatum,” I practically growled. “You’re even worse at hiding something.”
“I-I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“There’s something in here”—I tapped on the lid—“that you don’t want me to
“Just clothes. Dirty, smelly, sweaty clothes.”
I didn’t bother to fight the smirk as I held her stare, silently calling her bluff.
“And socks, too.” Her voice was almost inaudible, felt more in the air that drifted
from her lips to my face than heard in the words she’d spoken. “Lots of socks.”
I no longer believed she hid lingerie, though I was lost at what it could be. “Then
it’s a good thing I walked in when I did, huh? You shouldn’t mix your clothes. You could ruin
them if they’re not separated. But don’t worry, I’ll help you sort.”
I started to pull away so I could lift the lid and end the charade, but she stopped
me by grabbing the front of my shirt. My breathing halted, as did hers, and before either of us
knew what was happening, she tugged me down until our lips met. I paused for a moment, just
in case it was unintentional, and when she didn’t put a stop to it, I parted my lips and
participated in the kiss.
It lasted approximately three seconds—if that. Her balled hands flattened against
my chest right before she shoved against me, forcing me away. She gasped softly, though I
couldn’t figure out if it was caused by the good kind of surprise or bad. And while I stared into
her dark, wide eyes, I licked my lips, tasting her on my tongue, and made sure she couldn’t
question just how good I thought it was.
On the bright side, she was too stunned by her own action to have much
foresight. When I leaned closer, she tilted her head back—more than likely assuming I was
about to kiss her again—not paying any attention to my fingers on the lid. It wasn’t until I had
it up, the contents of the drum exposed, that she realized what had happened.
Tatum twisted in my arms until she had her back to my chest. When I pulled out
the bag of cheese puff balls, she snatched it from my hand, studied it with a concerned stare,
and then turned her deeply creased brow to me. “How’d those get in there?”
I couldn’t stop the laughter from rushing past my lips. I grabbed on to the ledge
of the washer to hold myself up as I let it roll through me. Tatum didn’t seem thrilled, yet she
didn’t break out of the cage I had her in between my arms.
“Kelsey must’ve thrown them in when you weren’t looking.”
She slowly nodded her agreement. “That’s got to be it.”
“Yeah … because this couldn’t possibly be your bag of cheese balls.” I tipped my
chin down and eyed her. “I’m sure someone with your gourmet experience would never stuff
their face with artificially flavored processed food.”
“I wasn’t stuffing my face. More like nibbling.” She rolled her eyes—likely at
herself—and added, “You know … if they were mine. But they aren’t. You said so yourself.”
I couldn’t have wiped off my smile if I’d been paid to. “You really think I’m that
“No. But you can’t blame a girl for trying.”
“Nah, I guess you can’t.” I straightened my spine and lifted my fingertips to her
crimson cheek, where I stroked her heated skin so lightly I wasn’t sure she could feel it.
“They’re my weakness,” she whispered. “It’s shameful, I know. I’d feel a lot better
if you went back to believing they were Kelsey’s.”
“Too late. I can’t unsee that.”
Her eyes narrowed when she asked, “Unsee what?”
I lowered my hand to the front of her shirt. Her breath hitched, yet she didn’t stop
me. I carefully brushed the space in the center of her chest, just below her collarbone, with my
fingertips. “The crumbs.”
“Oh,” she breathed out, not quite a whisper. With her chin tucked, she stood
motionless and watched as I wiped away the faint orange-colored dust. Ironically, even when
the last of it was gone, she didn’t stop me from clearing away invisible residue.
I kept waiting for her to snap out of it or step away. When she didn’t, I forced
myself to stop before I discovered other areas on her body that needed attention. I dropped
my arm to my side and studied her for some sort of reaction, something to let me know if I’d
made her uncomfortable. Two seconds later, I got my answer … just not the way I had
She lifted her head, yet she didn’t look at me. Her eyes landed on the center of
my chest, and when she brought her hand to my shirt, she used her fingertips to trace
imaginary lines in the space over my pounding heart. Soft at first, then with a little more force
as she flattened her palm against my sternum. Soon, her unhurried strokes became confident
touches, driven by palpable urgency. Each sweep of her warm hand across my pecs
heightened my heart rate; every brush of her knuckles increased my already hasty breathing.
There was nothing on me, yet I wasn’t about to point that out. If she realized what
she was doing, she’d stop. And much like with her outright lie about being a hugger, I figured I
could let this play out, too.
When Tatum finished wiping lint off the front of my shirt, she moved to my
shoulders, now using both hands. Every muscle in my body coiled tight as I fought against the
desire to thread my fingers through her hair, tilt her head back, and finish what she’d started
As soon as she reached my forearms, she stilled. Visible panic stiffened her body
for a couple of seconds, and then she seemed to pull herself together. Doing what Tatum did
best, she played it off in the most beautifully awkward way possible. “You, um … you had stuff
on you. Don’t worry, it’s gone now. All clean.”
She nodded and glanced up to meet my stare. “Yup. That’s what it looked
“Yeah, I don’t know how that happened. I don’t have a cat.”
Her eyes widened briefly, the color in her cheeks deepening ever so slightly.
“Someone must’ve been shaving one, and the wind picked it up. Happens to me all the
Well, two can play that game.
I brought my fingertip to her mouth and lightly traced the line of her lips. I was
playing with fire, and if I wasn’t careful, I’d end up in flames. “You had cheese dust on your
She dropped her head forward, hiding her ebony stare and fiery cheeks. It
seemed she had a lot to learn if she thought that would be enough to make me give up. I tilted
her head back with a curled finger beneath her chin, never letting go of her wrist in my other
hand. “Please tell me you’re hiding frosted cupcakes in the dryer.”
The corners of her lips twitched, and when she exhaled, it was like her nerves had
vanished. But before she could reward me with the sound of her confident voice, we were
“What are you guys doing in there?” Kelsey called out from behind me.
I dropped my hands and turned around, finding my cousin eying us cautiously
from the opening to the kitchen.
I stepped away from Tatum—begrudgingly—and moved out of the closet.
“Cheese balls, soap, pressing buttons. You know, the usual.” I winked before passing Kelsey’s