Home > Sparked(6)

Author: Lili Valente

Because I’m his last resort.

I’m okay with being the last resort, I guess, but I don’t want to be reminded of it every time Sam and I hook up to fight orcs in a gaming party or meet up for coffee while he’s in town.

Besides, he had no trouble doing without The Bodacious Cho in his life for six whole years.

He’ll be fine with one and done.

And if he’s not, he can always say no.

I lift a hand, clarifying, “It’s not that I don’t like you or wish you well. I totally do. It’s just like you said—sometimes you need a fresh start. And I know I’ll need one after something like this.”

“How can you know?” he asks. “If you’ve never done it before? Maybe it will be different than you think.”

“Maybe,” I say in a tone that I hope makes it clear the chances of that happening are comparable to a snowball’s chances in hell. “But I seriously doubt it. And if that’s a dealbreaker for you, I’m happy to be friends instead. That might be best, I guess, considering we could eventually be working for the same company.”

His expression brightens. “So, you’re going to do it? You’ll take the job?”

“I’ll take a meeting with the team or my new boss or whoever’s in charge,” I say, “and then go from there. As long as that won’t be weird for you in the event we end up in a ‘never see each other again’ type of situation.”

His scowl returns with a vengeance, making him look even sexier.

The dumb part of me, the part that enjoyed kissing him more than binge-playing all three Super Mario Brothers games and eating a box of chocolate at the same time, shouts for me to do whatever it takes to convince him to kiss us again. It insists we need his mouth and his hands and all his other parts at our disposal way more than we need a job or food or maybe even oxygen.

But I keep my lips zipped, letting Sam make his own decision.

I don’t want to bully anyone into having sex with me, and I really don’t want him to know how much I want him. I may be a virgin, but I’m no fool. I know all about interpersonal power dynamics and the fastest way to give up your power is to show your needy, horny, desperate-to-be-wanted-in-both-a-sex-way-and-a-more-than-sex-way side too soon.


My neediness and horniness are on a need-to-know basis and Sam doesn’t need to know. He isn’t going to be my boyfriend or even my friend-with-benefits. He’s going to be a one-night stand, and one-night stands don’t get access to all my private squishy feelings.

They get skin and heat and hunger and a cordial goodbye when the sweaty stuff is over.

That’s it.

“Your stubborn face is still exactly the same,” he finally mutters, making my lips curve.

“Good. Then you’ll know better than to waste your breath arguing with me.”

He grunts, clearly still not pleased, but not walking away or saying he’ll skip the sex, either. A part of him must actually want that one night together as much as I do, or at least enough that it isn’t easy for him to take it off the table.

The realization makes my stomach flutter even before he leans in, bringing his nose inches from mine as he whispers, “All right. You win, but I have a condition, too.”

“I would expect nothing less,” I murmur, marveling at how good he smells. And how much the spicy, fresh, lightly sweet scent of his cologne makes me want to lean in and lick him.

“If your feelings change between now and then,” he says, “you have to be honest with me about it. None of that ‘putting blinders on and pushing through to hit my goal as stated no matter what’ stuff you do. This isn’t something that should be forced, not any part of it. If we get to our one night and you decide you want to bail, that’s totally fine. Same if you wake up the next morning, look over at my adorable face sleeping on the other pillow, and decide you don’t want to kick me out of bed and never see me again. It’s not weak or wishy-washy to change your mind, you know. It’s normal. And human.”

I’m not sure what’s more disconcerting—the way his hands have settled on my knees, setting off a tingle explosion, or the terror inspired by the thought of being that vulnerable with another person, even an old friend.

Harlow, Cam, and Evie are the bedrocks of my life, but even with my closest friends, there are things I keep to myself. I don’t want them to know how much being a late bloomer bothers me sometimes or how much I wish I understood modern mating rituals the way they do. If they realized how often I feel like an outsider looking in, wondering if she’ll ever be the main character instead of the quirky sidekick with her head in a laptop and a witty punchline every now and then, they would feel sorry for me.

And that would kill me.

I can’t handle pity or empathy or any of that shit. I don’t want to be “poor Jess.” I’d rather be weird Jess or hardcore Jess or Jess, the girl you turn to when you need brutal honesty softened by a dollop of nerd humor.

Or worst-case scenario, Jess, the last woman you want to fuck with in any capacity.

Given the choice between villain or victim, I’m pretty sure I’d choose villain. Sure, being the all-knowing, all-evil Eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings world looks like a drag, but not as much of a drag as being one of the helpless hobbits limping across Middle Earth barefoot and besieged by bullshit on all sides. Not only do the poor hobbits get the absolute worst of everything; they’re so damaged by the end of the quest that they don’t fit in over in Hobbiton anymore. Their home, the most precious thing to their people and culture, no longer feels like home, which basically means they’ve lost everything they fought to save, even the selves they were before the bad guys put them through the wringer.

And screw that. Screw it hard.

I’m never going to be a hobbit. I’m never going to wake up next to Sam, fresh from sleep, with my guard down and lingering sex feelings making me do stupid things. I’ve seen enough of Evie’s and Harlow’s morning-after grins to know that sex can cause an altered mental state, one that strips away your protective instincts and leaves you weak and goofy in dangerous ways. Once, Harlow went outside in her pajama pants to grab coffee for her and Derrick, and while that wouldn’t be strange for me or even Evie, Harlow never goes anywhere without being dressed to impress. That a close encounter with a penis could cause her to behave so completely out of character is a warning I would be stupid to ignore.

But I know Sam’s expressions as well as he knows mine.

He has his stubborn face on now.

If I don’t agree to his condition, this thing is over before it begins, and I really don’t want that. I want to kiss Sam again—and hopefully do a lot more than kissing—but I also want that time with him. I want to catch up on his news, hear about his adventures, and send him off into the rest of his life with forgiveness for ghosting me the way he did. If I’m honest with myself, losing Sam hurt. Not knowing what the hell happened to him has been a scratchy tag in my collar, making my neck itch for way too long.

It’s time to put all that behind us, and what better way to do that than with a couple weeks of fun and friendship followed by a double V-Card annihilation to send us into the second half of our twenties in style?

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