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Authors: Christina Lauren

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BOOK: Beautiful Beginning
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I woke up to an otherwise-empty bed. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, and I started to fall back asleep before remembering that Bennett wouldn’t be up working; we were in San Diego for our wedding. My heart exploded in panic and a cold, sick feeling of déjà vu crept into my stomach. What if Bennett was
sick
?

I bolted upright and looked at the light under the bathroom adjoining our darkened bedroom. Climbing out of bed, I moved into the main room of our suite and to the small bathroom adjoining the living area. The light under there was on, and I tiptoed forward, not sure whether I should call out to him or just go back to bed and hope that he was okay.

I blinked, taking a step backward and remembering the only other time I’d seen Bennett sick—the food poisoning incident I’d discussed with Sara earlier.

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” I’d asked him.

“Because the last thing I needed was you in there, watching me throw up.”

“I could have done something. You don’t have to be such a man.”

“Don’t be such a woman. What could you have done? Food poisoning is pretty lonely business.”

Resolved to leave him alone, I started to turn back to the bedroom . . .

Until I heard a quiet groan.

My heart twisted in sympathy and my pulse picked up speed. I moved to the door, putting my hand against the wood. Just as I was about to call out to him, to ask if he needed a Popsicle or some ginger ale, he moaned and sounds of pleasure escaped in his deep voice: “Oh, fuck.
Fuuuuuuuuuuck
.”

I pulled my hand back from the door and slapped it over my mouth, stifling a gasp. Was he . . . ? Did he escape to the nonbedroom bathroom so he could. . . ?

On the other side of the door the faucet turned on, and I stared at the wood as if I could develop X-ray vision if I only concentrated hard enough. How often did he do this? Did he masturbate all the time in the middle of the night? The faucet creaked slightly as he shut off the water and I turned, bolting back into the bedroom.

I hurled myself on the mattress and yanked the covers up to my chin so Bennett wouldn’t know I’d moved from where he left me,
sleeping
. Sleeping while he tugged one out in the other room!

I rolled into my pillow, stifling a giggle. In the other part of the suite, the bathroom door opened, and a slice of light cut across the carpet before everything quickly went black when he flipped off the switch.

I listened intently, trying to slow my breathing as he padded across the carpet and back into the bedroom. Bennett carefully lifted the covers and slid in beside me, curling up along my side and kissing my temple.

“Love you,” he whispered, running his water-cooled hands over my too-hot skin.

I still hadn’t decided if I was going to pretend to be asleep, or bust him for this and give him endless shit, so I sleepily rolled into him, sliding my hand up and over his chest to rest on his heart. His pulse was hammering, racing, positively
pounding
.

Like he’d just had a sneaky, covert orgasm.

I cuddled into him, stretching close to his ear. “You didn’t even moan my name. I’m insulted.”

Beside me he froze, his hand covering mine on top of his heart. “I thought you were sleeping.”

I snorted. “Obviously.” I nibbled at his jaw. “Did you have a nice self-inflicted bathroom orgasm?”

Finally, he admitted, “Yes.”

“Why did you bother going in there? I have a hand and several orifices at the ready.”

With a laugh, he simply said,
“Chloe.”

“Do you do that a lot?” I wondered if he could hear the slight edge of anxiety in my voice.

“I’ve never done it when I’m with you. I just . . .” He brought my hand to his mouth and kissed my palm. “You’re naked. It’s hard to . . .” Laughing, he seemed to reconsider what he was going to say. “It’s just been
hard
for a few hours. I couldn’t sleep.”

I loved his voice in the middle of the night, all deep and gravelly. I loved it even more after he’d had a middle-of-the-night orgasm . . . even if he’d had it from sneaking into the bathroom and stroking himself. His voice was always deeper after he’d come, his words delivered more slowly. He was impossibly
sexier
. “What were you thinking about?”

He paused, his thumb smoothing up and down the back of my hand. “Your legs spread over my face and your mouth on my cock. Like the other night, except without your teasing.”

“Who came first?”

With a groan, he said, “I don’t know. I wasn’t . . .”

I smacked his chest lightly. “Oh please. I know how specific your fantasies are.”

Rolling to me in the dark, he said, “You came first. Of course you came first. Okay? Can we go back to sleep?”

I ignored this. “Did you come in my mouth or on my—”

“In your mouth. Sleep, Chloe.”

“I love you,” I said, leaning to kiss him.

For a moment, he let me take his lip into my mouth and suck on it, nibble it. But then he pulled away and wrapped his arms around my waist, shifting my head closer to his chest. “I love you, too.”

“I don’t want to get up and go to the bathroom,” I said, smiling into the darkness.

I heard his mouth open but it was several seconds before he made a sound. “What do you mean?”

I rolled to my back and spread my legs so one of them was bent and resting on top of his thigh.

“Chloe
 . . .

he groaned.

I found that I was already wet, just from the idea of what he’d done, and what he’d been thinking. I was wet from the memory of his voice in the bathroom when he came: it was the sound of relief mixed with regret, and the fact that I could tell it was more out of necessity than fun made it so much hotter. I slid my fingers over my skin, rocked up into my hand.

Beside me, Bennett held very still until I let out my first quiet moan, and then he shivered and melted against me, rolling so he half covered my body, and ducked to kiss a path from my throat to my breast.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he whispered into my skin. “Tell me every
fucking
thought.”

“It’s your hand,” I said, feeling my pulse quicken with my own strokes, “and you’re teasing me.”

His voice was so deep it was barely more than a vibration when he asked, “How so?”

Swallowing, I told him, “I want you to touch my clit and you’re just dragging your fingers in tiny circles all around it.”

He laughed, sucking a nipple into his mouth before releasing it with a quiet, slick kiss. “Slide just one finger inside. Keep teasing. I want to hear you beg for it.”

“I want more.” My finger was so much smaller than his, and one of his was never enough. One of
mine
was a torment with that voice in my ear and that breath on my skin. “I want faster, and bigger.”

“Such a demanding body you have,” he said, sucking on my jaw. “I bet you’re slippery and hot. I bet I know exactly how you taste right now.”

My fingers circled, still teasing, knowing it’s what he would do. What he
wanted
me to do. I pressed my head back into the pillow, whispering, “Faster. Please, more of
something
.”

“Both hands,” he relented quietly. “Two fingers inside and work the outside. Let me hear it.”

I slid my other hand down my body and inched closer to him, feeling the unyielding shape of his renewed erection against my hip. With both hands, I touched myself, relishing the clean sweat and soap smell of him beside me, the rough scratch of his stubble on my neck and chest as he kissed me hungrily, whispering, “
Goddamn
it, Chloe. Let me hear you.”

My breath caught as he slid his palm over my breast, squeezing it roughly before ducking to pull the peak deep into his mouth. I loved the sound he made when he suckled me. It was desperate, and rumbling; a sound so rich I could feel it behind my eyes, and in the center of my bones.

“Oh, God,” I groaned. “Close . . .”

He released my nipple from his mouth and reached to whip the covers off my body, exposing my skin to the cool air of the hotel room and the blazing heat of his eyes.

“It’s my hand you’re fucking,” he growled. “Show me what you like.” I lifted my hips from the mattress, wanting to please him, wanting him to relent and climb over me, claim me as his.

But instead, Bennett slid one of my legs higher up my body so he could reach down and land a sharp smack on my backside. “I’d do better; my hand would fuck you harder than this. I’d make you
scream
.”

It was a sufficient stand-in, and with his lips pressed to my ear telling me he was going to fuck me so long and so rough on Saturday that the next day I’d
wish
it’d been my own hand instead, I managed to come, hot and pulsing against my fingers.

But it wasn’t even close to what he made me feel.

We fell back against the pillows in breathless, unsatisfied silence.

It wasn’t enough to orgasm, and to feel his breath on my breasts and his filthy words on my skin. I wanted to feel his pleasure when he came
in
me, or on me, or simply with me. I wanted to witness every time he felt that moment of release. He was mine; his pleasure was mine, and his body was mine. Why was he making me wait for it?

But as he ran a big, possessive hand from my hipbone to my shoulder, stopping at every curve along the way, I understood what he was doing.

He was giving me something other than the wedding to think about.

He was being a withholding ass so I would torment him.

He was making me torment him, and pretending to hate it.

He was ensuring that this week would feel like
us
, and we could be outwardly focused on everyone else while staying focused only on each other behind every blink, in every dark room, and in each one of our private thoughts.

Bennett was ensuring that we would see each other at either end of the aisle and know we made the best choice of our lives.

“You’re pretty brilliant, do you know that?” I asked, curling into him and running a hand up over his shoulder and into his hair.

He pressed his lips to my neck and sucked. “You can thank me later, Einstein.”

He turned his head to kiss me and I groaned into his touch. His lips were so firm, so commanding and I gave in to him as he parted them and pressed his tongue inside, sweeping, searching.

I shook when his hands returned to my skin, warm and rough, feeling every curve and dip, every small hollow. I felt the hard press of his cock against my stomach and tried to roll him on top of me.

“I want you inside,” I said. I heard my own voice and it was hoarse and needy. I ran my hands up his neck, cupping his face and trying to pull him closer.

But he inhaled, turned and pulled my fingers into his mouth.

“Fuck,” he groaned, taking each of them between his lips and rolling them over his tongue, tasting my sex. He pushed my hand away, sweeping a frustrated palm over his face and rasping,
“Goddamnit
.

“Ben—”

Before I could hold on and keep him there, he’d rolled out of bed and walked back to the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

Chapter Four

I could barely open my eyes the next morning.

Bright yellow sun filtered through the open balcony door, warming my skin where it cut across the bed. I could taste the salt in the air; hear the sound of the tide as it washed along the beach. I could feel the heat of Chloe’s body where it pressed against my side. Naked.

She mumbled something in her sleep, slipped a smooth leg up and over mine, and shifted closer. The sheets smelled faintly of her perfume and even more of
her.

With a groan, I extricated myself from her grip and very carefully rolled her to her side. Swinging my feet to the floor, I stood, looking down at my very hard, very selfish dick.
Really?
I thought.
Again?
I’d gone to the bathroom on two separate occasions last night—both before and after Chloe’s little one-woman show—and still. Always the traitor.

Chloe thought I was brilliant for having us wait until Saturday, when in reality it was starting to feel like the worst idea I’d ever had. I felt anxious and on edge—aware of a persistent hum beneath my skin and a need for exertion—to fuck until I was too tired to stand or sit, too exhausted to do anything but fall into bed and pass out.

Under normal circumstances I’d have cut off my right hand before considering leaving a warm bed and naked Chloe. But these weren’t normal circumstances, and frankly, my right hand had proven invaluable the last few days.

I’d almost caved last night, and at this point, it would
be like surrendering to the enemy. I needed to get out of here.

I found my phone in the living room and typed a message to Max.
I need to run. You in?

His response came less than a minute later.
Definitely. I’ll grab Will and meet you at the main
pool in 10?

See you then
I typed back, and tossed my phone to the couch.

I’d have time to jerk off, clean up, and escape the room before Chloe was even awake.

Max had most definitely gotten laid. I watched him as he neared the pool, hair a mess and limbs loose and relaxed. It would be easy to hate this guy if I wasn’t so damn happy for him.

Okay, no. I still hate him a little.

“You look disgustingly pleased with yourself,” I said, dropping into a deck chair beneath a bright blue umbrella.

“And sadly, you don’t,” he said back with a smirk. “Your virginity giving you trouble?”

I sighed, rolled my neck, and felt the tension that seemed present in every single muscle. “Is it tomorrow yet?”

Max shook his head, laughing. “Almost.”

“Where’s Will?”

“With Hanna still, I think. He said to wait, that he’d be down in a few.” Max took a seat across from me, bent down to tighten the laces of his running shoes.

“This is good. There’s something I wanted to talk to you about.”

He squinted up at me. “What’s up?”

“Do you remember when Will hired that creepy clown to deliver a singing telegram on my birthday?” I asked, an involuntary shudder moving up my spine. This kind of thing had become the norm in the Will, Bennett & Max Show. After having accidentally hired a transvestite hooker for Will while we were all in Vegas, he’d retaliated by having a couple of goons pretend to bust us for card counting. It had only escalated from there. Chloe insisted it was only a matter of time before one of us ended up in the hospital or jail. My money was on jail.

Max groaned. “Fuck. I thought I’d finally erased that mental image. Thanks for bringing it back.”

I glanced back toward the hotel to make sure I didn’t see Will coming down yet. “I have some retribution in the works.”

“Okay . . .”

“Did you happen to meet Chloe’s aunts last night?”

“The ones that looked like a couple of hyenas circling a lame gazelle? Yes, lovely ladies.”

“I may be partly responsible for that,” I said, waiting for his reaction. He seemed completely unfazed.

“‘Partly,’ Ben?”

“Okay, completely.”

He shook his head, but was clearly amused. “You don’t think they’ll get their hopes up, do you?”

“I got the sense that they were just looking to have some fun. I sort of told them he liked experienced women and that he liked them in pairs. All of which is true, I might add.”

He raised a brow.


Technically
true,” I corrected. “I’m going to hell, aren’t I?”

“Did you give Hanna the heads-up?”

“I’m not a total dick, Max.” When he lifted his brows as if to say
Oh really?
I ignored him, continuing, “I may have suggested she play along. She agreed.”

“That’s it? She’s easier than I expected,” he said, already shaking his head in disbelief. What girlfriend would ever agree to such an evil albeit brilliant plan? Clearly, Hanna was a genius.

“It took a little reassurance that he’d escape unharmed, but yes, she did. I really like her, by the way.”

“Same,” he said with a quick nod.

“So what do you think? Should I call it off? I’ll be honest, I’m feeling a little dirty over this one. They’re Chloe’s
aunts
.”

We heard footsteps move across the deck and both looked up, seeing Will jogging toward us.

Max leaned in quickly and whispered, “Tell him and I’ll kill you.”

There were surfers scattered down the shore and a few runners passed us as we started away from the hotel.

“So what had you up so early?” Max asked from my right, keeping a steady pace with me. Will,
the competitive runner,
was about twenty feet in front of us, shouting insults and patronizingly encouraging remarks over his shoulder every few minutes.

“Just . . . everything,” I admitted. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so exhausted and so keyed up at the same time in my life. You probably don’t want to hear this, but I’m not sure whether I want to sleep for ten hours or fuck.”

Max gave me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “I know the feeling,” he said.

“Like hell you do,” I said back, looking over to him.

He fought a laugh. “Sorry, mate. I don’t mean to mock your pain, and this will most definitely fall into overshare territory . . . but I’ve never seen Sara like this before. She’s always been . . . How should I say this . . . ?” He scratched his jaw, thinking. “She’s always been eager. But pregnant Sara? Jesus, mate. I can barely keep up.”

I’d really have liked to shove Max into the pounding surf, but I had to admit it was a little endearing to see him so flustered and fumbling through his words. “That might be the most inarticulate thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“Fucking right.”

“Really trying not to hate you,” I groaned.

“So, aside from the obvious,” Max said, meaningfully. “How are things?”

“The usual. My mother is texting me every half hour with whatever happens to be her worry of the moment. Chloe’s dad wouldn’t have the foggiest idea where he’s supposed to be at any given time without Julia assigned to Frederick Watch. Bull is waiting for Chloe to decide she wants one last fling. I’ll probably be checked into rehab by the end of the day.”

“And Chloe?” he asked.

“Chloe is Chloe,” I said. “She’s sexy and infuriating and constantly keeps me guessing. I thought I might strangle her last night but we talked. I think we’re finally on the same page.”

“Sounds great then,” he said. But it was too short, too flat, and I didn’t miss the way he kept his eyes trained on Will.

“What?” I asked, watching his expression.

“Nothing.”

“If you have something to say, Stella, say it.”

Will must have realized we weren’t behind him anymore because he’d doubled back. “What’s up?” he asked, using the hem of his shirt to wipe the sweat from his brow and looking back and forth between us, clearly confused.

“We’re talking about Plan Chastity,” Max explained.

“Oh, good,” Will said, turning to face me. “If I may, this sexbargo thing may be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“I—” I began.

“Agreed,” Max interrupted. “I get that it’s all a fucking game with you lot most of the time, but who flies to California to get married, rents a bloody suite on the beach, and then doesn’t bang the hell out of his hot fiancée?”

“Stupid.” Will nodded.

Max gave me a withering look. “Imbecilic.”

“Embarrassing to all men, if I’m being quite hon—”


I don’t know, okay!”
I yelled, my voicing booming down the beach. ”I know it makes no sense! At the time, it made sense. ‘Make it special,’ I thought. ‘Make the tension build,’ I thought. I wanted her to remember how fun it was to be pissed at me all day every day. I wanted her to remember that there really is only one man who can handle her and it’s me,
goddamnit
! Now, it seems like the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. But I’m committed. Do you see this tiny corner I’ve painted myself into? Do you?”

I gestured around me frantically until both of my friends were forced to give me slightly terrified nods.

“I threw down this gauntlet, I have to follow through. This is
Chloe
we are talking about. She already has her fist curled tightly around one of my testicles, at least let me keep the other one! If I fuck her before Saturday night she’s going to think she owns both balls and can wear them as fucking charms on a bracelet. She’ll expect me to
thank
her after she sucks my dick! She’ll think she’s
letting
me spank her! She’ll wear shoes to work that no one has any business wearing even in the bedroom!” I took a huge, gulping breath, lowering my voice, “And then.
Then
I will spend the rest of
forever
trying to convince her that she’s an ungrateful, pain in the ass, harpy shrew who really just needs to be tied to the bed and fucked until she’s thanking me for existing!”

I wiped my chin free of any spittle that may have escaped during my tirade and squeezed my eyes shut, chest heaving.

“You
really
need to get laid,” Will whispered in awe.

Max rested his enormous hand on my shoulder. “He’s right, mate. This is more serious than I thought.”

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” I hissed, shoving his hand away and starting to walk down the beach. “It may be my mistake but you’re all just as fucked. If Chloe wins this week you’re all toast. Every man in the world is toast and will suffer like no one has suffered before. I don’t like it—didn’t plan it—but those are the stakes we’re all now facing.”

Max shook his head, falling into step beside me. “It’s not just you who needs to get laid, Ben. Chloe hasn’t been herself this week, either. Maybe your strategy here is off.”

I slowed to a stop again. “What are you talking about? You saw her last night; she was being a royal pain in the ass. How is that ‘not herself’?”

“All this marriage business has definitely made you soft if you think
that
was Chloe being a pain in the arse,” Max said. “You two are the most volatile people I’ve ever met. Some days it’s like watching two cartoon characters having a go at each other. And the Chloe Mills I’ve heard stories about would have ripped off your tackle and made you eat it to get what she wanted. She would have tied you to a chair and tortured you until you were begging her to fuck you. What’d she do last night? Wear a short dress? Shake her tits in your direction? That’s the same woman that had straight-laced Bennett breaking all the rules and fucking her all over RMG? I don’t buy it.”

“I—” I started, blinking dumbly.

“Will, tell him your nerdy theory,” Max said. “It’s really quite brilliant.”

Will took a step closer, leaning in conspiratorially. “Have you ever heard of the calm before the storm? That moment right before a tornado or large weather occurrence when everything goes completely still?”

“I think so,” I said, absolutely not liking the sound of that and how it could relate to Chloe, but curious despite myself. “Yeah.”

Will got this really intense expression, like everything he was about to tell you was the most fascinating thing he’d ever heard. He sort of bent at the knees, using his hands to gesture wildly, dramatically illustrating any point he might have. “So vapor and heat rise, drawn up toward the center of a storm. The updrafts remove some of the saturated air, forcing it up and over the highest clouds. You following me so far?” he asked. I nodded, feeling a thread of anxiety form in my chest.

BOOK: Beautiful Beginning
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