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Sugar Plum Isabella Starling, Jenika Snow 2022/8/5 16:59:14

He looked over his shoulder at me and smirked.

He walked over, handing me the glass. I gratefully accepted it and took long gulps of the ice-cold water, my gaze still on his.

“I don’t have someone like you to make the place more my own. I know how much your dad appreciates your help around the house.”

“Someone has to,” I muttered and looked at the now empty glass. I hated that the words sprung tears to my eyes. I missed my mom. She’d been the one who took care of the house before me. Every time I so much as moved a plate in our kitchen, I thought of her. Everything in that house was a reminder of what we’d lost.

“Oh, Holly.” Bastian approached me, wrapping a comforting arm around my waist. I should have known he’d be able to read me so easily. He had always been able to. “I know it’s hard. I know you miss her. But she’d be so proud of you, baby girl.”

I nodded, my throat too tight to say anything in response. I sniffled, fighting back the tears. “Mom would’ve made you unpack too, you know.”

He laughed softly, kissing my forehead and sending shivers down my spine. Was he even aware of the effect he had on me? Did he know how excited his presence made me? Was every touch like this for him too? A mix of being forbidden, so very wrong but so right at the same time, making me crave so much more than he wanted to give me?

God, it was a wonder I survived in his presence. He woke up an innate need in me—this desire to be his, to take care of him like he did of me. I wanted Bastian. I wanted this. Us. Together. Against the odds.

I swallowed every reply I had for him, managing a weak smile instead. But it didn’t escape him, and he furrowed his brows. “What’s wrong, sugar plum?”

“Nothing,” I muttered.

“Don’t lie. Not to me, Holly. You know you can always be honest with me.”

I groaned in frustration. Either the man was totally clueless or he freaking loved torturing me. “I don’t want to say.” I was tired of hiding how I felt, pretending like this wasn’t agonizing every time I saw him, was in the same room as him.

He tucked a stray strand of hair behind the shell of my ear. “Tell me,” he said gruffly. His touch was painful. Being around him was torturous. All because I couldn’t act on the feelings clawing their way through me. I wanted him. I needed him. I couldn’t be without him anymore. “You never have to hide things from me, baby girl.”

“Please don’t,” I begged him, so very close to my breaking point. “Just… don’t.”

“Why do you think I brought you here?” he asked me firmly. His hand lingered on my hip, gently rubbing me there, inches away from where I needed him most. “What do you think you’re doing here in the middle of the night?”

I turned my gaze to his, my heart pounding harder than ever. “Because you always take care of me.”

“I guess I’m not as obvious as I thought.” Bastian chuckled humorlessly. “Come on, sugar plum.”

“Where are we going?” God, was that my voice, so breathy, so needy?

He pulled away from me and walked toward the front door. “I’m taking you home.”

“What?” I felt my eyes widen, and self-righteous anger took over. “Why? Why even bring me here if you won’t let me stay?”

“I brought you here, because I didn’t want your dad to be mad at you for drinking a bit too much,” he explained, shattering all my hopes with those words.

“I thought you brought me here, because….” I bit my tongue before I could tell him too much. “Never mind. Let’s go.”

My bottom lip quivered as I walked over to the front door, but Bastian’s hand on my wrist stopped me from taking another step. Every touch we shared, every moment between us was electric, filled with too much tension to stand it.

“Don’t touch me.” I stepped away from him as if I’d been burned by his fingertips. “I can’t stand it. I can’t handle it. I can’t live like this.”

“What do you mean, sugar plum?” His voice was dark, strained.

Our gazes locked, and I swallowed the reply I desperately wanted to give him. It was right on the tip of my tongue, my confession, the truth, but I swallowed it back down every single time. I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t reveal my true feelings, which were so much… more than what I’d confessed in my bedroom.

“What are you so afraid of?” he asked gently, his hand finding its way to mine again, gently rubbing the pulse point in my wrist.

“I’m not,” I insisted, barely able to fight back the tears. “I can’t do this anymore.”