Chapter Sixteen: Points of No Return

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Ever so gently, Freddie reached up and touched Theo's face. Exactly as she'd wanted to do at the hospital. Exactly as she'd wanted to do all morning.

He did not pull away. He simply watched her, breath held and lips parted.

Behind them, the car alarm kept blaring. The crickets hummed and crooned.

Freddie brushed her fingers above his stitches—careful not to caress them directly. One, two, three, four. Someone had punched him there.

Davis, she thought, recalling what Theo had said only a few moments ago. Did Davis put you up to this? Theo had also said his life was a fucking mess, meaning something must have happened to him since their kiss on Sunday.

Something awful. Something he needed distraction from.

And something worth kissing her for.

Freddie moved her fingers away from his eyebrow and down the sides of his jaw. With each inch, Theo sucked in air—just a fraction of a breath, his lungs and ribs expanding. His pupils dilating.

Then Freddie's fingers reached Theo's lips, and he went completely still.

"I don't want to hurt you," she murmured, running her thumb over the cut bisecting his upper lip.

Even broken like it was, the skin was soft.

"You won't," he replied, a warm whisper of air against her fingertips.

"Oh." It was the only word she could summon. She wanted to kiss him so badly it hurt. Like a python constricting around her chest. But now that she was standing here, now that she'd caressed his face and he hadn't pulled away—now that she had her fingertips on his lips and his permission to take this further, she found she couldn't move.

She was still so new at all of this. At kissing boys and having them want to kiss her back.

So Freddie simply stared up at Theo, and he simply stared down. Blue, blue, intense blue.

And somewhere, a million miles away, crickets and car alarms still sang.

Theo was the first to finally move. With barely any shift at all, he twisted his head and kissed the tips of Freddie's fingers.

It was like lighting another sparkler. The feel of his lips against the sensitive skin on her fingertips—it sent Freddie's entire stomach rocketing into her eyeballs.

One kiss became two, Theo's gaze never breaking from hers, and Freddie thought she might faint from that stare alone. Then his own fingers slid up, laced gently around her wrist, and he guided her hand to his lips.

He kissed the inside of her fingers. He kissed her palm. He kissed her pulse point. And if it hurt him to do any of that, he gave no sign. He just kept staring and kissing and, Freddie supposed, waiting for her to offer some kind of reaction.

But Freddie didn't know what reaction to give. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't think. Everything had gone so blurry around the edges, and all she seemed capable of doing was standing there while her chest wound tighter and tighter.

Until at last, her ribs were so tight that her lungs snapped in two.

A soft sigh rustled from her throat.

And that seemed to be what Theo had been waiting for.

In a fluid, hungry movement, he pulled Freddie to him, knocked off her baseball cap, and kissed her.

But where she'd expected ferocity, she found only gentleness.

It was the softest kiss Freddie had ever received. Softer than she'd even known was possible. Just a slight brushing of Theo's lips, while his eyes—still open—held hers.

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