Olivia didn’t object when his hand rested on the small of her back as they crossed the street. She enjoyed the reassuring pressure of his fingers. But she only admitted it to herself—she couldn’t tell him. It would make him hope for something that could never happen.

Why couldn’t she be drawn to some man with all the qualities she needed in a mate? Someone of like faith. Someone who didn’t worship money or take wealth for granted? Someone who understood commitment and sacrifice? Someone who understood the true meaning of love? Someone who would make her as happy as Charlie and Josh, or her sister, Grace, and Brad, or her brother, Spencer, and Emily? They’ve all found their soulmates. I’m never going to find mine.

Approaching the well-lit street in front of the library, the solitude of their silent walk was invaded by a steady stream of pedestrians, who accompanied them on their trek. As they reached the subway station entrance, his hand gripped her arm, tugging her into the shadows against the building.

“Wait, Olivia.” Backing her against the wall, his arms stretched on either side, caging her inside. “Before I let you go, I need to know something.”

He was so close, she could smell his minty breath. His nearness made her skin prickle. Her heart thudded against her chest, as loudly as when Olivia had pounded on the closet door after her sisters had trapped her inside.

“I think I’ve said everything there is to say.” Olivia rasped, her mouth so dry her tongue stuck to her cold teeth.

“I don’t want you to talk.” His gravelly voice sent a ripple up and down her spine.

His hands moved, cupping her face, as his head dipped down and his mouth descended toward hers.

I can’t let this happen. I should stop him.

But she didn’t. She stood still, her hands paralyzed at her sides, her feet frozen to the pavement beneath.

His lips touched hers, sending lightning bolts throughout her nervous system. With gentle pressure he teased her shocked mouth until she felt a hunger building and tilted her chin higher, seeking more. It was all the invitation he needed. The tender brush of his lips transformed to a forceful kiss, ravenous and greedy. He was a predator. She was his prey. And it felt even better than she’d imagined, all those times when she tried not to think about kissing him.

He wrenched away, panting like he’d completed a mile-long race. But her own gasping breaths were more reminiscent of when she’d run a half-marathon. She covered her mouth with her fingers, as if she could feel his kiss lingering on her lips.

I should protest. Right? Maybe I should slap him for being so aggressive. Is it hypocritical to act offended after I kissed him back?

“I apologize for my reckless behavior,” he said, with a hint of a grin tickling the corner of his mouth. “But I thank you for answering my question.”

“What are you talking about?” That kiss must have made my brain fog up.

“Olivia, I hope I’ll some day be able to give you an explanation that brings a smile to those luscious lips of yours. But for now, I have work to do. I promise, I won’t be bothering you any more.”

“Okay. That’s good, I guess.”

“But will you do me a favor? Just one favor?”

“What do you want?” She didn’t bother to hide her suspicion.

“Please, take care of yourself.” He waggled an accusing finger in front of her face. “The first part of taking care of yourself is to stop walking alone in a deserted areas. In fact, I’d much prefer you didn’t walk alone anywhere at night, but I know that’s asking too much.”

“Fine,” she replied, not bothering to explain how she wouldn’t have been in such a dangerous area if she hadn’t been chasing after him in the first place.

His hands came up, sandwiching her face, and her breath caught in her throat. The chaste kiss he placed on her forehead left her with a pang of disappointment.

“Goodbye, Olivia.” Flashing a wobbly smile, he lifted his fingers to his temple and tipped an invisible hat.

And he was gone.