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One of the things that Caroline Banks liked best about Jason Cooper was that he was so different from any other guy she knew. He wasn't at all like the boys she went to high school with, or even like the Stanford University law students who frequently came over to the house to help her father handle his caseload, in the hopes of obtaining a judicial clerkship. Despite their ambitions and their wealthy families, they were all just boys. Jason was unique.
Her dad, a superior court judge, apparently thought so, too. After Jason had made numerous appearances in his courtroom for various juvenile offenses, Judge William Banks had made an offer to the then sixteen-year-old: stay in school and get good grades, and he would help Jason attend college. The alternative was juvenile detention and-once he turned eighteen-the very real possibility of hard jail time. If he messed up even once, the offer would be withdrawn.
That had been five years ago, when Caroline had been just eleven years old. She still remembered the defiant, angry boy that Jason had been back then. At sixteen, he'd been taller than most boys his age, but he'd looked half-starved, and he'd sported visible scars on his face and body. But when she'd asked her father for details, he'd simply pinched her cheek and told her there were some things a little girl didn't need to know.
Now Caroline lay in the darkness of the guest bedroom and listened as the footsteps outside the room drew closer. She glanced at the bedside clock. Nearly one in the morning. She'd been battling her nerves for more than two hours, waiting for Jason to come upstairs and wondering if she'd have the nerve to remain in his room until he did. She'd had a crush on the reformed bad boy for as long as she could remember, and although he might act as if he didn't know she existed, Caroline knew better.
He'd just graduated from UCLA School of Law, and her father couldn't have been prouder than if Jason had been his own son. William had invited his protégé to stay with them at their beach house in Santa Cruz, in order to celebrate his success and discuss his future plans. Caroline hoped Jason would be blown away by how adult she looked; after all, she was now almost seventeen. That afternoon, she'd deliberately joined her father and Jason for lunch on the patio, wearing nothing but a string bikini. Her father had caught sight of her over his newspaper and scowled.
"What?" she'd demanded, widening her eyes. "I'm going to the beach right after I eat."
"Well, cover up until then." He'd glanced at Jason, whose eyes were resolutely focused on his plate, and snapped his newspaper in irritation. "Unlawful contact with a minor is still a punishable offense, even if it is provoked."
With a huff of annoyance, she'd returned to her room for a cover-up. When she'd come back to the table, Jason was gone.
"He's too old for you," her father had commented from behind his paper.
"Daddy," she'd grumbled in protest. "I'm not doing anything."
Her father had lowered his newspaper and removed his glasses. His blue eyes had been shrewd as he considered her. "It's times like this that I wish your mother was still alive," he'd finally said. "But she's not, so I'm going to say it like I see it. Jason Cooper is a fine young man, and I don't blame you for being attracted to him. But please stop tormenting him, and go practice your wiles on a boy your own age."
He'd risen to his feet and stopped by her chair long enough to drop a kiss on top of her head and tweak a strand of her blond hair. "You're old enough to know exactly what you're doing to him and young enough to be forgiven for it. But he's just a man. Test him any further, and you may find the consequences more than you can handle. For his own sake, it's probably a good thing he's leaving tomorrow."
Now Caroline drew in a shaky breath and listened to Jason's approach. She knew she was doing the right thing. Her father had all but said Jason found her attractive. But he was leaving in the morning. She wasn't about to let him go without telling him how she felt.
The windows of the beach house were open, and the gauzy curtains billowed softly with the warm breeze that blew in from the Pacific, carrying with it the salt-tinged fragrance of the sea. In the distance, she could just hear the rhythmic pounding of the surf. Caroline curled her fingers around the sheet and waited. The pillowcase beneath her cheek smelled faintly of Jason-dark and woodsy. She breathed deeply, and the familiar scent lent her some courage.
When the door finally opened, she saw him silhouetted briefly in the hallway before he stepped inside and drew it closed behind him. Caroline's heart beat so hard and fast in her chest that for a moment, she wondered if he might hear it. In the dim light of the room, he didn't see her lying quiet and still in the bed, but her eyes were accustomed to the darkness, and she could see him clearly.
He walked past the foot of the bed toward the open windows, unbuttoning his shirt as he went. He finally peeled it off and dropped it onto the back of a nearby chair. He stood at the windows. Pale moonlight slanted in through the open casement, illuminating his body and revealing the strong slope of his shoulders and the muscled definition of his arms. Her eyes widened as she caught sight of the tattoos on his shoulders and across his back. She couldn't make them out clearly, but the black ink was unmistakable against his skin. She'd known he had them-had caught sight of them once as a young girl when he'd taken a late afternoon swim in their pool. But when he'd realized she was watching him from her playhouse in the corner of the yard, he'd quickly pulled himself out of the water and dragged a shirt over his head. She'd never seen the tattoos again, and she wondered if he deliberately kept them covered because he was ashamed of them.
He braced his hands on the sill and leaned forward, letting his head drop, as if torn by some inner conflict. He stood like that for a long moment before straightening and scrubbing a hand over his hair.
Toeing his shoes off, he shucked his jeans and walked toward the bed. Caroline knew the precise instant that he became aware of her presence. He reached for the sheet that covered her and then recoiled.
"Jesus." His voice was a shocked rasp, scraping across her senses like rough velvet.
Terrified that he might leave, Caroline surged to her knees on the bed, hands reaching for him as the sheet fell away. "Please don't go. I need to tell you something."
He caught her wrists when she would have touched him, but he didn't thrust her away, as she'd half expected. Emboldened, she leaned toward him. He wore a pair of boxer briefs and nothing else, and she could smell the scent of his skin. As always, it turned her thoughts to dark, forbidden acts. She had zero experience in that department, but her imagination was rampant with images of how it would be with him.
"Caroline, you shouldn't be in here." His voice was low, tense.
"I had to. You're leaving tomorrow." She scooted closer on her knees, until she was at the very edge of the mattress. "I wanted to tell you that I-I love you. And I want you to be my first."
In the stunned silence that followed her declaration, Caroline could hear the whooshing of her own blood in her ears.
"No." He pushed her hands away and took a jerky step back. "You don't. Jesus, you're just a kid."
"I'm not. I'm almost seventeen. All my friends have already lost their virginity." She stepped off the bed and, before he could retreat, pressed her body against his. When she slid her arms around his lean waist, he went rigid in her embrace. "Please, Jason," she entreated, smoothing her hands over his skin. "You're all I think about."
He grasped her shoulders and tried to shove her away. His voice sounded strangled. "Are you naked?"
"Not yet. I'm still wearing panties."
"You need to go back to your own room. What if your father comes in?"
"He won't," she assured him. "He never comes upstairs."
William's bedroom was located on the first floor, at the farthest end of the beach house. He typically went to bed in the wee hours of the morning, but once asleep, Caroline knew that very little would wake him up.
"I can't stop thinking about you," she continued. "Please kiss me."
His eyes, the exact shade of tempered glass, glinted in the indistinct light, and she shivered at the heat she saw reflected there. "Caroline-"
"Please, Jason." She raised herself on tiptoe and pressed gentle kisses against his collarbone, his throat and anywhere she could reach. He tried to hold himself rigidly away, but Caroline pressed herself against him until her breasts were flattened between them. She let her hands stroke over his back and lower. When she smoothed her palms over the firm mounds of his buttocks and raised her hips to his, he gave a harsh groan, and she felt his restraint give way like the moorings of a storm-tossed ship.
The word came out like a plea, and she felt her heart leap. Then he thrust his hands into her hair and bent his head to cover her mouth with his own; his taste surrounded her. She'd been kissed before, but never like this. He swept his tongue past her lips, stroking the inside of her mouth until heat blasted through every cell in her body, and she felt boneless with pleasure. She drew in a shuddering breath when he released her mouth and dragged his lips along the side of her throat.
"So sweet," he muttered against her skin. "So soft and so damned sweet."
When he cupped one bare breast in his hand, Caroline gasped. He caressed her gently, kneading and rolling her nipple in his fingers. "Oh, my God," she breathed. "That feels so good."
Nobody had ever touched her so intimately, and she had no idea that her breasts could be so sensitive, tightening beneath his touch and sending a jolt of sensation to her groin, where moisture simmered.
When Jason dipped his head and drew her nipple into his mouth, the feeling was so intense that Caroline clutched at his shoulders and gave a helpless moan. Beneath her palms, his body was sleek with muscle and his skin radiated heat. He laved her with his tongue, while he squeezed and fondled her other breast.
She closed her eyes, swamped with sensation, her body restless. This was finally happening, and the reality of it exceeded all her fantasies. How long had she dreamed of this? Each time he came to visit her father, especially over the past year, her yearning for him grew, until there was only him. She hadn't been sure he would want her-he was always so distant with her. Maybe this didn't mean anything to him beyond a momentary physical release, but right now she didn't care. The way he made her feel-she couldn't stop even if she wanted to.
And she definitely didn't want to.
And now that she'd had a taste of him, she didn't think she could ever be happy with anyone else. With Jason, there was no awkward groping or wet kisses. Everything he did was done with confidence. Even at twenty-one, he was no stranger to sensual pleasure.
She was unprepared when he lifted her in his arms and laid her down on the bed, following her with the length of his body. He braced himself on one elbow while he continued to nuzzle her breast, and one thigh insinuated itself between hers.
"Yes," she breathed and instinctively raised her hips to rub herself against him. The contact sent a flood of moisture to her center. She could feel him, hard and hot, against her stomach, and the knowledge that he was aroused caused her pulse to quicken until she could feel the need for him throb through every vein in her body, all the way to her fingertips.
He kissed her again, deeper this time, and slid his hand over her stomach to the waistband of her panties. But instead of slipping his fingers inside, he cupped her through the fragile material. Caroline widened her legs to give him better access.
"Yes," she whispered against his lips. "Touch me."
Jason made a groaning sound and eased the elastic aside. Then his fingers were there, skimming over her sensitized flesh and parting her folds.
"Jesus," he said, his breath harsh against her cheek. "You're so slippery."
Caroline made a sobbing sound, desperate for him to touch her there, where she craved it the most. When his fingers swirled her slickness over her quivering flesh, she gave a soft cry, and her hips jerked reflexively. Then he eased one finger inside her, and Caroline felt her muscles contract around him. The sensation was unlike anything she could have imagined. She felt stretched and tight, aching for something just beyond her reach. Desperate, she clutched at his shoulders, mindless with need. She needed She needed so much, and she was so afraid that if she didn't take this now, she might never have another chance. When he began moving his finger, she arched into his palm.
"Oh, my God," she panted. "That feels so amazing. I want you inside me."
His hand stilled.
When he drew it away, Caroline thought he meant to pull her panties off, and she reached down to help him. Instead, he carefully disentangled himself from her limbs. Standing up, he scrubbed both hands over his face.
"Get dressed." His voice was low and harsh.
Still throbbing and unfulfilled, Caroline was too bewildered to do more than lie there. He turned to look at her. Even in the darkness, she felt his eyes on her, as palpable as a physical touch. With his dark hair and glittering eyes, and the tattoos that snaked over his shoulders, he looked a little like a pirate. Caroline shivered.
"Jason what's wrong?"
"All of this. I'm not the right guy for you, Caroline, and you don't want this. Not with me."
She sat up. "I do! I want you to be my first."
"You have no idea what you want, and if your father ever knew about this, he'd kill me. Or have me thrown in jail."
"No!" Caroline rose to her feet, but when she would have touched him, he warded her off. "I won't tell anyone," she promised. "I'd never do that."
"I. Can't. Do. This." He bit the words out between gritted teeth. "Don't you get it? You're sixteen! I'm twentyone."
"I don't care," she cried, reaching for him. "I'm old enough! This is what I want."