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Page 24

Author: Kirsty Moseley

He stepped forward and hooked his finger under my chin, lifting my head. “It’s not a game for me either. I’ll stop if that’s what you need, but whenever you decide you’re ready, if at all, I’ll be here,” he whispered, bending forward and planting a soft kiss on my cheek. Then, without another word, he was gone and the gym door swung closed behind him.

I stared at the door for a full five minutes, not knowing what to think. I knew only one thing for sure – next week we were going to be pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend, so we were going to have to get this little sexual tension speed bump out of the way before then.

Deep down, I knew he wouldn’t quit his job before the allotted time was up, which meant I had eight months of his presence to cope with before he would poof into a puff of smoke and the problem would be solved. We needed to set some ground rules if this was going to work and then maybe, just maybe, I could get through the eight months unscathed.

Chapter Eleven

I sloped off to my room and showered, scrubbing all the sweat off me from the workout. When I was out and dry, I pulled on baggy combat pants, a V-neck top and a pair of Converse. Scraping my wet hair back into a messy bun, I took deep breaths, struggling to find the courage to talk to Ashton again. With shaky legs, I made the five steps from my bedroom door to his, hesitating outside before knocking. As I waited for him to answer, every instinct in my body was telling me to turn and run as far away from this guy as possible, because he was the only one that seemed to be able to make me question my ‘don’t get close to people’ plan.

He opened the door with a polite smile, but that quickly fell from his face when he spotted me. I gulped awkwardly. “Hi. I’m thinking that maybe we should talk,” I muttered, picking at the skin on the side of my fingernail. “Want to go for that walk or something?”

His answering nod was a little stiff. “Yeah. Come in, let me just get some shoes on.” He walked into his room, pushing the door open wider in invitation. I hugged myself, barely stepping over the threshold as I watched him push his feet into a pair of sneakers before tugging on the bottom of his jeans and clipping something black to his ankle.

I frowned at it. “What’s that?” I asked curiously. Without answering, he pulled the material up, exposing an ankle holster and black handgun. The air rushed out of my lungs as I recoiled. “Holy shit, Ashton! You could shoot your foot off!” I cried, horrified.

He laughed humourlessly and shook his head. “I have the safety on,” he replied, standing up straight again. “We really should arrange for you to have some shooting lessons so that you know how to handle a gun.”

My eyes were trained on the bump at the bottom of his jeans. “I don’t want shooting lessons.”

He shrugged, picking his cell phone from the side and pushing it into his pocket. “I would’ve thought you’d want to know how to defend yourself,” he countered.

“I don’t like guns,” I admitted, “and why would I need to learn how to shoot, anyway? I’ve got you and that idiot Dean for that.” I smiled weakly, trying to alleviate some of the tension that was in the air.

He smiled in response and motioned towards the door. “So, why don’t you like guns?” he asked, putting his hand on the small of my back as we walked through the house.

I winced. “Carter liked guns. I’ve seen a lot of people get shot.” I immediately tried not to think of the other reason I didn’t like guns, the thing that made me so terrified of guns that it would wake me up in the night. He groaned, and his hand closed over mine tightly. I shook my head, not needing to look at him to know that he felt sorry for me. “Don’t worry about it; I just don’t like the thought of guns, that’s all. The noise scares me,” I added, shuddering.

“Well then, I definitely think you should go for some lessons. You should get used to the sound so it doesn’t scare you anymore,” he suggested. I had a feeling that if he was there with me then I wouldn’t be scared anyway, but I didn’t want to tell him that.

We walked out of the house, and I immediately turned to the left. We had extensive grounds here at the lake house and a few minutes’ walk away, there was an old play park that I grew up using. I could probably use some pleasant and familiar surroundings while we had this conversation.

As we left the house behind us and strolled across the grass, I took a deep breath, knowing I needed to start sooner or later. “So, I need to talk to you. Um... I don’t really know what to say or how to say it, so I’ll just go for the truth, okay?” I offered, looking at him from the corner of my eye. He nodded, watching me intently, his eyes a little apprehensive. “Okay well, I don’t want anything from you. I can’t be with you again like this morning. I just can’t do that, so there’s no point in you thinking any differently.” I frowned because of how uncomfortable this conversation was. “I really enjoyed what happened this morning, I’m not gonna lie about it. That really was my first time in so many ways, so thank you. I just… I don’t want that to happen again.” I actually didn’t believe a word of what I was saying. Physically, I did want it to happen again, but for the sake of my mental health, I needed to set the boundaries because I couldn’t cope with the guilt of it afterwards.

He hadn’t said a word since I’d started speaking. The silence hung in the air as I kept my gaze firmly on the ground. The swing set of the park came into view, so I headed over to it, plopping myself on the seat, knowing I needed to continue. I was only half done with my prepared speech.

Wordlessly, he stepped behind me, giving me a little push on the swing. I cleared my throat, grateful that he was behind me and unable to see me cringe as I set the rules. “As of next week, you’re officially my boyfriend, so I think we need to set some rules and stuff,” I stated, making the word boyfriend sound like a dirty word.

“Yeah, good idea,” he agreed quietly. His tone was a little hurt and defeated, but I didn’t know how to help that.

“Okay, well, hand holding is fine,” I started, “and I don’t mind if you put your arm around me or hug me. But I don’t want you touching me in a sexual way.”

“No sexual touching. Got it,” he confirmed, his voice coloured with amusement. I laughed nervously, leaning back as my swing propelled forward again. Silence hung in the air for a minute and then he spoke again, “Alright, if you’re done with your rules, there are a couple of things I need clarification on.” He walked around to the front of the swings, his lips pursed in thought.

Is there something I hadn’t thought of? “What’s that?”

“Kissing?” He raised his eyebrows in question.

My eyes widened. “I don’t-” I shook my head, not wanting that to happen again. Kissing was classed as sexual touching in my book; it was the start to something that really couldn’t happen again.

He sighed and raked a hand through his hair. “Anna, we’re gonna need to kiss in public occasionally. Couples kiss…”

I nodded in agreement. He was right there; if the boyfriend façade was going to hold, I was going to have to kiss him a couple of times, at least in the first few days. “Okay, yeah I guess.”

“What about dating?” he asked.

Damn it, I didn’t think about that either! “Yeah, of course, that’s fine. We’ll say we have an open relationship, and then that way you can still see other girls,” I agreed, nodding. That way he could still live his life whilst stuck guarding mine.

He burst out laughing, shaking his head. “I didn’t mean me dating other girls!” he choked out, chuckling wickedly.

For some reason my stomach unclenched when he said that. Although it shouldn’t have, a small amount of jealousy had settled over me at the thought of him being with someone else. “What then?”

As my swing propelled towards him, he reached out, gripping my ankles and gently pulled me to a stop as he crouched down in front of me. I sucked in a breath through my teeth, knowing that I might have to rethink the rules we’d just made. Even that little action was sexy as hell, yet it wasn’t sexual at all. I had a feeling it was just his hands on my body that kept sending me over the edge.

“I meant us dating,” he clarified. “We’re supposed to be a couple; couples go out together, don’t they? Movies, dinner, dancing. Do you dance?”

“Yeah, I dance. Well, not really anymore, I mean, I don’t go anywhere to dance so…” I trailed off, looking at the floor. I used to like to dance, but that was the old Anna that was confident in her body, the happy-go-lucky girl that liked to giggle and smile up at the sunshine and eat picnics with her friends.

“So maybe if we ever go out somewhere I might get to dance with you,” he suggested, raising one eyebrow in question. I bit my lip and nodded. I wasn’t anticipating going to parties, but I didn’t want to explain that to him right now. All I was interested in was trying to make it through college without being kicked out again. A boyish grin crept onto his face. “So, I can take you out on dates and dance with you at parties, as long as I don’t touch you sexually. But I can hug you, and kiss you occasionally?” he checked, grinning, seeming like he was struggling not to laugh. “It sounds like we’re an old, married couple.”

I chuckled and nodded. “You’re old, I’m not,” I joked, raising my foot and putting it on his chest, pushing gently. Where he was crouched on the balls of his feet, I caught him off balance and he fell back onto his ass, laughing. I giggled wickedly as he stood up and dusted the grass and dirt from his behind, before taking the swing next to mine.

I smiled over at him, only just realising how much I’d missed just joking around with someone and laughing. For the last three years I’d barely interacted with anyone, choosing to make myself a recluse as I rejected my friends and family. It was nice just having someone to talk to for a change.

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