Chloe’s stomach swoops when she sees him leaning against the brick wall behind the theater — Charleston pretty boys like him don’t show up for girls like her. Ash is gorgeous: big, built, enormous blue eyes and that spiky blond hair begging to be messed up. There’s an air of money to him, too, unmistakeable, which makes her bite her lip. You can see it in the way his shirt and jacket fit, in the way the fabric of his khakis fall, in his watch and his class ring. In his haircut. In a thousand little things he doesn’t even notice.
He’s way too old for her. Way, way, too old. Chloe sucks at ages but he’s got to be at least twenty-five. Twenty-six? Twenty-seven, even? That’s too hot to even contemplate. Chloe has a thing for older guys. Probably unhealthy.
They talk for a while. He knows theater, knows it cold, and gives a better analysis of her performance than most of the theater kids could stumble through. He’s smart as hell. Chloe finally asks if he wants to buy her a drink. She isn’t usually the type, but he’s hot, and he’s smart, and the two are so hard to find tied together.
On the walk to Upscale, she drags his obsession out of him. He seems like he never tells anyone about it, that he’s embarrassed and deep down really doesn’t think anyone will find it interesting in the least. Except Chloe was obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid. Obsessed. And here’s this gorgeous guy walking next to her, staring at the ground with his cheeks reddening, saying he’s got real dinosaur bones in his house.
And a turtle skeleton on his dining room table, like a goddamn jigsaw puzzle.
She cannot believe she got this fucking lucky.
But she doesn’t want to let him know that, because then she’ll look like a pathetic little freshman with daddy issues, so she plays totally cool and pretends there’s no way she’d ever go out with him because he’s too old for her. She pretends to think about it. Of-fucking-course she’d go out with Ash. He’s hot. He’s smart. He’s polite. That’s more than she can say for just about any man she’s met in her entire goddamn life. He’s got a turtle skeleton on his dining room table.
He’s also twenty-six: he’ll blow her mind in bed, and Chloe will get to play the cute little kitten, which’ll be super fun. Although if he figures out how little experience she has —as in, none — she’s finished. If Ash knows she’s a virgin he’ll totally bolt.
Once she finishes her beer, she stands up. “Okay, one’s my limit. Show me some dinosaur bones, Ash Prioleau.”
He looks at her with wide eyes. “You seriously want to come over to my house to see some fucking dinosaur bones?”
“Uh, yeah. They’re dinosaur bones.”
Ash sighs. “There’s fossils everywhere and my cleaning lady loses her mind over dusting them. It looks like some mad scientist lives there and I haven’t had anyone over in like, I don’t know how long.”
She tugs at his hand. “C’mon, Ash. You said you have a turtle on your dining room table. Prove it.”
“All right. If you’re so damn determined. Fine. Come over and see my dorkery.” He throws some cash down on the bar without bothering to count it. “You want me to get an Uber, or you wanna drive? If I drive, I’ll get you an Uber back to your place whenever you want.”
“Up to you.”
“I’m close to Charleston School for the Arts, you can probably walk from there. Might as well take an Uber to the car and drive over.”
Chloe’s never ridden in a brand-new Jag like Ash’s before and stares in awe at the self-driving mechanism. “I know, it’s awesome, isn’t it?” Ash grins. “I still can’t believe a car can do all this shit. Watch. It’ll park itself, too.” Which it does, flawlessly.
“Okay, that was amazing.”
Ash unlocks the front door and opens it. “Welcome to my den of iniquity.”
Chloe bites back a gasp. The shelves are lined with books and fossils of all kinds. Some she can identify. Some she can’t. She gapes.
“This is the point where you run screaming.” Ash flops down on a leather sofa and props his feet on a battle-scarred coffee table. The hardwood floors are covered in threadbare Persian rugs.
“This is amazing.” Chloe keeps staring. “My little brothers would go absolutely crazy.”
“You have little brothers?”
“Two half-brothers. Ten and twelve. And two older half-brothers.” She starts reading the titles on the shelves. Orcas of the Gulf. The History of American Whaling. The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex. A complete collection of Horatio Hornblower novels, alongside a set of the Aubrey-Maturin novels. The Terror. Then it goes into natural history, a lot of David Quamann and Stephen J. Gould, then into scientific guides to fossils. Lots and lots and lots of scientific guides to fossils and fossil identification and illustrated books of paleoart. Jesus Christ, this guy has everything. “What about you?”
“Thatcher. An older brother Davis.”
Finally, she tears herself away from the books. “I don’t want to look at anything because then I have to look at everything. Show me the dinosaur bones and the turtle before I get distracted and stand here all night.”
Ash takes her into an adjoining room, probably meant to be some kind of sitting room but also lined with shelves. He takes down a slender bone. “This is a Camptosaurus tarsal. That means it’s a —”
“Foot bone. I took basic anatomy.” To her astonishment, he puts it in her hands. Chloe is holding a dinosaur bone. Oh my God. She turns it every way and runs her fingers over it. “I know it’s mineralized and I know it’s not the same molecules or anything but holy shit, this was a fucking dinosaur. It walked on this. It lived and moved and had its being, like they say. It was real.” This perfect treasure. This beautiful bone.
Ash’s smiling. “Open your hands.” He pours what look like rock fragments into them. “Eggshells. Oviraptor eggshells.”
Chloe hesitates but says it anyway. “Is it weird that I sort of want to burst into tears because this is everything I wanted when I was eight?” Carefully, she pours the eggshells back into his hands. Their fingers brush each other.
“There are more dinosaur bones. But do you want to see the turtle?”
He was right. It’s his entire dining room table, a puzzle of fragmented shell and bone. He tells her about digging it out of a drainage ditch in the summer, of the heat and the mosquitoes, of the careful sifting. He shows her how he’s started to fit them together. And no sooner has he started than Chloe’s fingers start itching. “Can I try?”
She sits down and starts trying to piece bits together. So does he. They sit in silence for God knows how long, trying to make whole an ancient turtle. Ash finally look up at her. “You can leave whenever you want. You don’t have to hang out here and do this.”
“Why the hell would I want to leave?”
“It’s late. I, um, get up early, to go walk on the beach at sunrise, and look for fossils. The tides are kind of late tomorrow, but it’s still almost one in the morning, and I have to get up super early, so if you don’t want to stick around, I get it.”
“Is this your polite way of telling me to get the hell out?” Chloe shifts in her chair.
“No.” Ash seems more relaxed now, calmer — like he knows she’s not going to make fun of him. “I was just warning you.”
“That if you stayed the night, we were getting up really fucking early.”
Chloe laughs. “Who said I was staying the night?”
“I think that was me asking.”
She sort of smiles. “I think I have to think about it.” She doesn’t want to say yes right away. Wouldn’t that be kind of slutty and probably the wrong way to go about it? Not that she has a bunch of experience here, but you aren’t supposed to say yes the first time, right?
They work for another hour in companionable silence. Nothing more than, “What about that piece?” or “Have you tried that one?” or “That looks like it might fit.” Quiet talk. He’s easy to be around. The quiet peace of jigsawing a turtle shell settles something inside her.
“It’s two.” Ash stands and stretches. “I need to head to bed. Am I calling you a car or are you coming with me? I can always take the couch if you’d rather.”
“No.” Chloe bites her lip. “I’d rather you didn’t, if it’s okay with you.”
He shrugs. “I have plenty of room. You want a t-shirt and some pajama pants?”
She laughs. “I think the pants would fall right off, thanks. You’ll have to just be a gentleman and not look.”
Ash’s mouth turns up in a grin. “What if I don’t want to be?”
Her stomach flips. “Then we’ll have to see what happens, won’t we?”
Ash shows her into his room. It’s shockingly plush: all fluffy down bedspread and mounds of pillows on a king-sized bed, with more persian rugs on the floor. He tosses her an old USC T-shirt. She’s about to turn around when he takes his shirt off. He doesn’t bother to turn. Ash has a toned chest with just a small patch of hair in the middle, broad shoulders you could rest your head on, and long, strong arms, thick with hard, smooth muscle, and a beautiful tan. He unbuttons his khakis and drops them, exposing perfect thighs and calves to die for, then pulls on a pair of pajama pants. He doesn’t appear to be putting on another shirt. He grins. “If you’re finished watching, you can change now, too.”
Chloe’s never actually stripped for a guy before — it’s always been the more frantic, pull-your-clothes-off situations. But she kicks off her heels, yanks her skirt down, and unhooks her bra from behind, then fishes it off without losing her T-shirt. She thanks God she’s wearing cute lace underwear with flowers. “I think I’m cool without your shirt. I can just sleep in this.”
“Yes you can.” Ash stares. “Jesus Christ, yes you can, honey. With all that wild dark hair. I love that they let you keep it down for the part. I love even more that you left it that way. I’ve been wanting to get my hands in it all night.”
No one has ever talked to Chloe this way.
“Do I get to kiss you now?” Ash’s voice is soft. “Or are we going to sleep? Your call.”
He sits down next to her on the edge of the bed, but seems to hesitate. “Maybe this is a bad idea.”
“Why?” Chloe makes her eyes big and innocent.
“You’re nervous. Which makes me remember you’re eighteen. Which sounds like a very, very bad idea.”
“You’re nervous.” Chloe forces herself to grin, because she really does want to hook up with him and her stomach’s rollercoastering. She might mess this up.
“When’s the last time you had a girl in your bed?”
“Not a fair question.”
“C’mon. You can tell me. What grade was I in?” She catches her lip between her teeth. “Hm. I’m going to guess tenth.” She flops onto her stomach. “What was I doing in tenth grade? Let’s see. Pining over some stupid senior, wishing I looked old enough to buy a fake ID to get cigarettes, and passing Algebra II.” She bends her knees and crosses her legs at the ankles. Her hair is wild, everywhere, and by the way he’s looking, he loves it. Chloe props her chin on an elbow. “What were you doing again?”
“You’re horrible.” Ash keeps staring. “Oh god, honey, you’re wicked.” He strokes a hand from the base of her neck, down her plain black T-shirt, all the way to her ass. “Don’t make me like it.”
“Like what?” She asks it as innocently as she can manage. Chloe loves this.
“Like you being this young. Tight little ass. No bra. I want to flip you over and see how hard your nipples are before I kiss you.”
Chloe tries to keep her eyes from widening. She’s in way over her head.
Ash grins. “C’mon, Chloe. Let me see.” He flips her like a toy. “Completely hard. But I should be a gentleman and kiss you before I start groping, shouldn’t I?” Suddenly Ash is leaning over her, that heavily muscled chest, those bright blue eyes crinkled up in amusement. One of his hands slips under her neck and tilts her chin back reach her lips. Chloe’s used to lots of hard, rough making out: not this, not this playful movement of his soft, pouty lips on hers, of his sucking in her bottom lip and nipping it until she gasps. He doesn’t even use his tongue, and when he finally does, it skates over her lips, it doesn’t invade her mouth and tangle with her own. This is so hot. This is so, so, so hot. She presses into him, grabs the back of his neck herself, and wraps her other arm around that deliciously bare back.
He laughs. “No one ever kissed you like that, did they, sweetheart?” Ash’s voice is low and husky and right in her ear. “Little Miss Smart Mouth with the perfect memory, who can throw down a beer like a frat boy and recite Shakespeare, but no one’s ever properly kissed her. You are a baby, aren’t you?”
“And you like it.” It’s an enormous risk but to hell with it.
“Oh, fuck it, I do, goddammit.” Ash looks away. “You’re gorgeous and smart and you kiss like a virgin. If I wasn’t agnostic I’d think I was headed straight to hell.”
“It helps if your stepdaddy threatens to kill any boy that touches you.”
“Wait a second.” Ash draws back. “Do you mean you’re actually —”
She gives him her most innocent look and bats her lashes. Might as well. He figured it out, no way to take it back.
“Oh fuck. I really shouldn’t be doing this. For multiple reasons.”
“Why’s that?” Chloe wants to hear him say it. She wants to make him say it.
“Because honey, first, no guy wants the responsibility of fucking a virgin. Second — oh, father fuck me, I can’t believe I’m saying this — the idea of sleeping with a virgin is insanely hot.” He pauses. “Why do I say this shit to you?”
“I told you about the fossils. I don’t tell anyone about the fossils. I just told you the idea of fucking a virgin is insanely hot. No guy in the twenty-first century is allowed to admit that shit, like, ever. Why am I telling you this?”
Chloe grins. “I’m approachable.”
“No, really. Why am I telling you this stuff?” Ash furrows his brow.
“I have no idea. Why am I special, Ash Prioleau?”
“I don’t know.” He flops on his back and looks at the ceiling. “You just seem like you are. And I know I don’t know you and that’s the frustrating part. This is Thatcher’s department. He’s the one who spills his deepest secrets to the fucking mailman.”
“So are you going to fall into an existential crisis of why exactly this is happening or are you going to kiss me again? I promise I’ll be better at it this time.” She uses her sweetest voice.
“I didn’t say you were bad at it.” Ash turns back over and whispers in her ear again. “I said no one’s ever properly kissed you. Because, let me guess. Stupid guys pinning you to the wall and trying to grab your tits. Am I right?”
“If I say yes, do I get points taken away or something? Because this is making me nervous now.” She props herself on an elbow again.
Ash gives her a lazy grin. “Always have to be the best in the class, don’t you?” He traces a thumb down her cheek.
“Someone has to get the best grade. Might as well be me.” His thumb reaches her throat and she shivers.
“Oh, sweetheart. No one’s taken their time with you yet. This is going to be fun. But not tonight. We need to wake up early, especially since I’m either dropping you off at your place or you’re picking up clothes. You can’t go to Folly Beach in a skirt, you’ll freeze.”
“So you want to stop?!”
“Am I that bad of a kisser?”
“No. You’re absolutely delicious. But once we start, I’m not going to want to stop for a very long time, and hopefully, neither will you.”
“Okay. I’m seriously, half-naked in your bed right now, and you’re going to tell me to curl up like a good girl and go to sleep?”
Ash smiles dazzlingly, a beautiful row of perfect white teeth, eyes crinkled up, the kind of smile that lights a room, and kisses her forehead. “But you are a good girl.”
“You kiss your mother with that mouth?” He gathers up the down comforter.
“I’d like to kiss you with it.”
“One more time couldn’t hurt.” He’s clearly talking to himself rather than to her. Ash pulls the down comforter and the softest sheets she’s ever felt up around them. He turns to her. “One more. Then it’s bedtime.”
“Better make it count then.”
They lie face-to-face. Ash slides an arm under her head and pulls her close. Chloe leans against him; his hard cock rests against her. She presses against it and he actually groans as she twines her arms around his neck. Ash kisses her again, that same slow, lazy kissing from before that drove her wild, and she can keep up with it this time: she’s expecting it and what he’s doing. When his thigh nudges between hers, her legs part automatically for him, and suddenly she’s straddling him. His thigh sits against the soft fabric of her panties. If she gets wet, Ash is going to feel it.
His kiss goes on and on. Ash’s thumb starts at her jawline, strokes down her neck, and makes her shiver. He smiles against her lips, but doesn’t stop kissing her. He traces her collarbones, her shoulders. Then his thumb moves lower, skims the tops of her breasts, and Chloe shivers again. Guys grab those. They don’t do —what Ash is doing: moving his thumb closer to her hard nipple, then smoothing it over into a hard little button.
He does the same to the other, then gently pinches each of them in turn, drawing them out into stiff peaks. Now he does stop kissing her and draw back.
“Oh, that’s so hot.” Softly, he draws each one out more. Chloe realizes she’s shamelessly grinding on his thigh. She stops, and resists the urge to hide her head under the pillow. He laughs quietly. “That’s why my thigh’s there, honey. Does it feel good? It must, you’re getting wet.”
Chloe must turn about six shades of red.
“Oh god, this is too much fun. I’m so used to getting in bed with girls who already know what they like and want it perfect the first goddamn time. But this — this is fun. Not watching you get embarrassed. You shouldn’t be embarrassed at all, honey. But you actually like just being touched.”
Chloe laughs. “Who wouldn’t? Jesus god, that feels good.”
Ash grins. “You think that feels good? Oh, sweetheart.”