Graphically Novel (Love Hashtagged #3) (7 page)

“Not all that much.” Archer looked at Tori, gaze softening with worry. “I’ll explain later. Watch the shop for a few hours?”

“Sure.”

Archer intertwined his fingers with Tori’s and tugged her off the stool. “Come on.” His voice was gentle. “Let’s de-stress.”

She didn’t resist, as he pulled her up the stairs to his apartment. She was glad she didn’t mind following him, because she’d used up all her arguments for the day. When they were inside, they both kicked their shoes off. He locked the door and then turned her so her back was to him.

He rested his hands on her shoulders and kneaded his thumbs softly into her neck. “You were brilliant today.”

“I was terrified.” She tilted her head forward, moaning at the gentle touch.

“But the important thing is you did it anyway.”

She leaned into the attention, not sure how to respond. His lips brushed the back of her neck, and she gasped in pleasure and surprise.

“Sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“You should have.” She tilted her head to the side, to expose more of her neck. She’d switched off the filter which kept her from speaking her mind; part of her wasn’t ready to activate it yet. Especially with other parts of her turned on by his touch and his skilled lips. “And you should do it again.”

He glided his tongue up her skin until he met her ear, and nipped at the lobe with his teeth. “Have I ever told you how much I like it when you talk like that?” His whisper brushed her skin, sending a pleasant chill through her.

“It sounds familiar.” She gave a light laugh, happy to sink into the moment and leave the rest of the day in the past. She reached behind her, grabbed his hand, and tugged him toward the living room. She pushed him onto the couch and straddled his legs. Draping her arms around his neck, she leaned forward and let her hair fall in a curtain around them.

There was still an element of terror involved with speaking her mind this way, but at the same time, it made her wet as hell. “Make me forget today, at least for a little while?” Her voice was quiet, but steady.

He grinned and rested his hands at the small of her back. He pressed his mouth to hers and then caught her bottom lip between his teeth, before pulling away. “Absolutely.”

Chapter Ten

Every time Tori shifted in Archer’s lap, his cock grew harder. Want rapidly replaced the adrenaline of the afternoon, making the throb between her legs ache for more.

Reason started to sink in, trying to tell her she shouldn’t do this again. That this wasn’t the way
no strings
worked. She ignored every protest. His sturdy legs under hers, his hard length pressing into her mound, and his hands sliding over her hips were enough to erase everything else.

He nudged her back, prompting her to stand, then pointed her toward the hallway. His hands never completely left her, and his chest pressed into her back when he rose. His lips brushed her ear. “We have time. Bedroom?”

She nodded and let herself be directed down the hall. She’d only been in Archer’s room a few times, and the decor always caught her off guard. In contrast to the modern stainless steel and hardwood of the rest of his house, or the garish displays downstairs, this room was simple. Beige walls, dark sheets and furniture, and almost no other decoration.

Unlike everywhere else, it looked like no one wanted to be there. And she knew he really only used the place to sleep. The almost somber feeling tugged at something sad inside. His lips running up the back of her neck chased away the crawling gloom.

She leaned back into him with a tiny sigh, as he glided his palms under her shirt and up her stomach.

She tilted her head to one side, to give him easier access, as he kissed along her shoulder. He traced his tongue along the curve where her neck met her back, and she gasped. She didn’t know what to ask for first. Every inch of her was alive and begging for more attention.

He didn’t wait for her to decide. He fumbled with her bra for a moment, before unsnapping it and pulling it and her shirt over her head. The contact between them broke for a second, and when his bare chest met her shoulder blades, she knew he was losing clothes as fast as she was.

He glided his hands to her breasts. When he grazed her rock-hard nipples, she whimpered and rested the back of her head against his chest. “Harder.”

He obliged on two fronts, sucking on the sensitive skin of her neck, teeth scraping her shoulder, and at the same time, rolling her nipples between his fingers, pinching, and tugging. Pricks of pain rolled through her at the pressure, pooling between her legs.

She squeezed her legs together, grinding her butt against him as he tweaked, pulled, and sucked. Could she come like this?

Disappointment flooded her when all the attention stopped abruptly.

“I know I’ve been asking you to drive things.” His hot breath chased across her skin, and he hooked his thumbs in the waistband of her jeans. “But I’m going to make a request.”

Her pulse screamed in her ears, and her sex pleaded for attention. “Okay.”

“I want to watch you play with yourself. I want to see you make yourself come”—he pressed his hard shaft into her ass—“and I want to stroke off while I watch.”

She thought it was impossible to be more turned on, but the request dialed up her arousal another notch. “All right.”

He pushed the rest of her clothing to the floor, and his knee met the back of hers, nudging her forward.

She stepped out of the discarded pants and turned to face him. He raked his gaze over her as he finished stripping. His cock sprung loose, standing at attention. Damn. That was hot.

She drew her hands down her sides, gasping as her body begged for more contact. She didn’t remember a time her skin had been so sensitive. Her pussy ached when he took his dick in his hand and dropped into a nearby chair.

She backed up to the bed and took a seat. What was she supposed to do now? She closed her eyes, threw her head back, and wandered her hands.

She moved one moved to her breast, following Archer’s path from earlier. His groan filled the room, mingling with hers when she found the hardened nub and squeezed.

She grabbed two of his pillows and positioned them behind her. She lay back, shoulder blades cradled, and propped one foot on the edge of the mattress, dangling the other over the side.

She roamed her free hand down her stomach, spurred on by his, “God, Tori.”

She brushed her outer lips with her fingers, sliding easily over the already slick surface. She dipped inside her folds, trying to stretch out the moment. Stroking everywhere but her aching clit. His grunts made her wetter.

“Do you like that?” The words slipped past her lips without thought, and she realized she liked the sound of them.

“Fuck, yes.”

“Do you want me to come for you?”

“Yes, baby. Finger your pussy. Come for me. Hard.”

She moved her fingers higher, moaning when she found her throbbing sex. “I’m so wet.” She stroked the hard nub, panting disrupting her voice.

She didn’t expect to peak so quickly, but the sensations, combined with the dirty talk, had her climax building inside. “I’m so close.”

“Stroke yourself faster.” An edge lined his voice. “I want you to make yourself scream.”

There was no choice there. She rubbed her clit, still pinching her nipple with her other hand, and an orgasm tore through her. A cry wrenched from her throat, growing louder with shock and pleasure when he gripped her hips and shoved his cock inside her at the height of the moment.

Her yell melded into a series of whimpers, as he stretched her. Her inner walls clenched around his shaft every time he slammed deep inside her.

She wrapped her legs around him, resting her feet on his ass cheeks, and held him close, rocking against him with every hard, pounding thrust.

His groans filled the room, and his rhythm shifted to staccato bursts. “I’m coming.”

She pulled him closer with her legs, the edges of her orgasm finally sliding off. He let out one final roar, and the frantic pace stopped.

He rested his hands on either side of her head, kissing her deeply, tongue and lips hungry. She pressed back, still needing to be as close to him as possible. He finally collapsed on the mattress next to her.

They lay there for a moment, struggling to catch their breath.

His quiet, “Fuck,” made her frown.

“What?” she asked, not liking the nervousness creeping inside.

“Forgot the condom.”

She should be bothered—scared or something—by the news. She sought out his hand next to hers on the comforter and intertwined her fingers with his. “I’m clean. I’m on birth control. You’re clean, too?”

“Absolutely.”

“No worries, then.”

 

*

 

Archer rolled onto his side and gathered Tori to his chest. He draped an arm over her hip and rested his forehead against the back of her head. Her steady heartbeat was soothing and helped bring his pulse back to a regular rate. “Do you have to get home?” he asked.

“I think my place will survive without me for a while.” She snuggled tighter against him, and it tugged at something deep inside.

He shouldn’t be grateful. He shouldn’t even care. It had never bothered him when Riley had to take off. Then again, Riley usually moved in within the first few weeks of them dating.

Not that he and Tori were dating. This was a novelty. A woman, wrapped in his arms, who didn’t expect to move in at the end of the week. This was the only reason holding Tori close and safe was comforting. Because there was no way in hell he was falling for her.

He needed to back off before it was too late. Before history repeated itself, she moved on, and he was left wondering why he’d gotten involved. A nagging in the back of his head insisted losing Tori would hurt more than anything he’d dealt with in the past.

Tomorrow.
He’d work on backing off tomorrow.

 

* * * *

 

Wasn’t her pillow softer? Tori struggled with the thought, as her consciousness was dragged to the front of her mind. She inhaled deeply. She knew that scent.
Archer.
Did she pass out in his guest bedroom again? Her pillow shifted, and a soft moan rumbled through her ear.
It’s not a pillow. It’s Archer.
The pleasant thought warmed her.

Her eyes shot open, and she sat straight up as the night before came rushing back. The tenderness, the soft kisses, and the falling asleep, not ever wanting to leave.

“You okay?” Archer peeled one eye open.

She pulled the sheets up in front of her. Not like being modest mattered; he’d already seen everything. The thought heated her skin and hardened her nipples. She forced neutrality onto her face. “I’m good.”

Except she wasn’t. Half of her wanted to curl up next to him again and fall back asleep, and the other half screamed full volume that she needed to walk away. Now. That she wasn’t going to make the same mistake as she had with her last boyfriend, and that she wasn’t—despite what the rest of her thought—falling hard for Archer.

He reached up, brushing her cheek with one finger when he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and then dropped his hand abruptly. A shadow crossed his face as he sat, and he scooted farther from her. “Good.” A faint strain ran through his voice. “Breakfast?”

No. She needed to get home. To suppress… whatever this was.

Reason softened her panic. A month ago, she would have stayed for breakfast. This wasn’t supposed to mean anything. She was projecting, because she thought sex had to mean love. That was all it was. The reassurance didn’t completely convince her, but it was enough to keep her from bolting. “Breakfast sounds great.”

Besides, he did make wicked-good pancakes.

She couldn’t help but stare when he climbed out of bed—let her gaze trace every line of definition down his back, over his ass and thighs—before he pulled on jeans and a T-shirt. She looked away when he faced her, but not before he caught her eye.

“I’ll see you in the kitchen?” His voice held a tone she couldn’t identify. Exhaustion? Hurt?

She didn’t want to know. She nodded, not sure he was looking at her. “Sure. I’ll be there in a minute.”

She watched his legs and feet shuffle past her, and his footsteps paused. She held her breath, unsure what she was waiting for. A disappointment she couldn’t name washed over her when the patter of feet resumed again. Seconds later the door latched shut.

This was so bad. What the hell was she doing? She needed to obliterate this stupid crush, before things fell apart.

Chapter Eleven

Tori followed Archer down the stairs, from his apartment to the comic shop. She had to focus on the familiar. Their feet on the restored wood, the sunlight striking the side of the building and filtering into the hallway… everything that would be there if she’d passed out, watching bad movies with him.

Her tension was almost gone, that was nice. Breakfast had been normal, as long as she ignored the awkward pauses and unidentifiable looks, and now she was going to hang out and help him do inventory, until the anime club screening that afternoon.

She dropped onto a stool behind the counter, unable to keep her gaze off him as he opened the blinds, unlocked the door, and turned over the
Open
sign in the window. The way he moved, every ripple of muscle as he worked, was a sight she’d never get tired of. She ducked her head and studied her nails when he looked at her.

“I’m thinking today might be the last day I do this.” Disappointment lined his voice.

She stared at him with wide eyes. “You’re serious?”

“I don’t think I can afford to host them anymore. I don’t know how it’s possible, but things are getting tighter every week. This is between us, isn’t it?”

“Of course. Always.”

The bell on the front door chimed. Customers already. Had to be a good sign, right? Tori’s smile froze when she saw Riley in the doorway. The blonde was in jeans and a T-shirt, same as always, but this wasn’t the kind of shirt that hugged her torso and barely covered her waist. This was faded, had an Air Force logo on it, and hung down to her thighs. It had to be Zane’s.

Riley’s flat expression shifted to a huge grin when she saw Tori, and she skipped across the room, to wrap her in a hug.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Riley whispered.

Tori returned the embrace, relaxing with the familiar greeting. “You’re up early for a Sunday.”

“Hey.” Archer’s greeting was hollow.

“Hey.” Riley leaned back next to Tori, bookshelves behind her, glass counter between her and Archer. Her pleasant expression never changed. “I know I don’t have any right to ask this, but I’m going to, anyway. I need a favor.”

Tori couldn’t ignore her relief at the stilted interaction. This was awkward, and it shouldn’t make her happy, but it did.

Archer’s, “Anything,” came too quickly for her taste, though.

Riley crossed her arms and took a step closer to Tori. “Don’t agree to it before you hear me out. I’m here because you’re local, and you deserve the business. Nothing else.”

“You know I don’t charge. Not getting what you want at home?”

Heat and embarrassment flooded Tori, and she wasn’t sure if it was for herself or the other people in the room. Her breakfast churned in her gut. Was he really hitting on Riley?

A low growl rumbled from Riley’s throat, soft but distinct in the room. “Don’t make me regret this. I’m looking for a place to hold my launch party.” Riley had contracted a series of graphic novels, several months back.

“I completely forgot that was happening so soon. Are you excited?” Tori pushed aside the tension settling over the room.

“I’m terrified. And thrilled. And you have to see the swag they’ve got for me. Trading cards, bookmarks”—Riley’s voice dropped in volume—“and this is totally top secret, but if the first few books do well, they’re talking to a figurine manufacturer.”

“No. Way.” Tori clapped once, glee filling her chest. “So incredible.”

“And I was hoping, if I asked really nicely, you might make me some cosplays, like the school uniforms the boys wear. I’ll pay full price. No arguments. One for Zane, one for me, maybe a couple for you two?”

“I love that. Absolutely.” Tori had no idea where she’d find the time, but she’d figure it out.

“Of course you can do it here.” Archer hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. “We’ll order pizza—The Pie or something nice like that—and I’ll get it all set up.”


We
don’t have to worry about ordering pizza,” Riley’s tone was lightly sarcastic. “And The Pie? Really? Don’t worry about breaking the cobwebs on your wallet or anything. I have a marketing budget. I’ll make the arrangements.”

Tori wanted to shrink back on her stool, at the spike of tension. Riley never had trouble speaking her mind, and sometimes it was a lot of fun to watch, but it had never been pleasant to see her clash with Archer.

And he was acting like an asshole. What the hell was wrong with him, alternating between hitting on her and trying to completely control the situation?

“Don’t worry about it.” Archer’s tone was deceptively casual, a strong thread of command running through it. “Save your budget for something else.”

What happened to money being tighter than ever? Tori’s head throbbed.

“I said I’ve got it covered.” Any pleasantry was gone from Riley’s voice.

“Seriously, it’s no big deal.” Archer’s straight posture and strained neck looked like it was becoming a very big deal.

Riley’s snarl of frustration echoed through the shop. “Holy fuck—really?
Jesus.
I’ve been here for less than five minutes, and you’re already pulling this shit?”

“You wanted a favor. I’m offering my help.”

“Then help. Don’t try to dominate the situation.”

Archer narrowed his eyes. “I thought you got off on that.”

Riley clenched her jaw, and there was a pause before she replied, “This was a bad idea. Forget I was ever here.” She turned away, each of her steps shaking the store, as she stalked toward the door.

Tori wasn’t sure whether to congratulate Riley, storm out after her, or slap Archer.

“Lee, wait,” he called to her retreating figure.

Tori ground her teeth at the pet name. This was why she didn’t get involved with guys like him. At least he reminded her all on his own. Elliot had been so very wrong about how Archer felt about Riley.

Tori was on her feet in a second, pace brisk as she followed Riley’s path out the front door.

God, she’d been so stupid. What had she been thinking? She’d go home and bury herself in the punishment of work, until she’d scored into her head what a bad idea it had been to sleep with Archer.


Tori.
Oh, come on.” His pleas hit her back, and she let the door swing shut behind her.

Riley was fumbling with her keys when Tori reached their side-by-side cars. Riley looked up, blue eyes hard and flashing with fury. Her expression softened, and she nodded at Tori’s chest. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I…” She trailed off, furrowing her brow. “That makes this worse. I’m sorry.”

Tori looked down.
Shit.
One of Archer’s shirts. She hadn’t noticed before now. Now all she wanted to do was burn it. She gave Riley a weak smile. “It’s not your fault, but thanks.”

“It kind of is. I wish… You know, I don’t even know.”

Tori shook her head, not wanting to have this conversation or Riley’s pity. “It was my mistake. Lesson learned. Good luck finding a release-party venue.” She didn’t wait to hear if Riley replied. She was in her car and peeling down the road seconds later.

 

*

 

Archer winced at the squeal of tires out front, but not as hard as he had at the first set, when Tori had torn out on the pavement. Uneasiness thrummed through him. He needed to call Tori now or text her or go over to her house and beg forgiveness. An obnoxious voice in the back of his head insisted he did nothing wrong. That he’d been trying to help Riley out, and both women had overreacted.

If that was the case, why didn’t he believe it? He leaned back against the counter, grinding his teeth, frustration pumping through him. He couldn’t believe he’d fallen into the same old power struggle with Riley. It wasn’t that he needed to be right, but something about her refusal to be wrong pushed all his buttons, and not in a good way.

But he wasn’t worried about Riley. Tori’s face kept popping into his head—the red-rimmed eyes, the tight lips, and the fury in every line on her forehead.

He had his phone out in a flash. He should’ve kept a tighter rein on his instincts. Some of his worst habits reared their heads around Riley. How had they lasted any amount of time as a couple, let alone tried it more than once?

And he’d never wanted to put Tori through that. He had to tell her. Even if she was probably still driving, he couldn’t wait. He sent her a series of texts.

I’m sorry.

Come back, please?

You’ll miss anime club.

He hesitated, his thumbs over the touch screen, and he stopped himself from typing out,
I’ll miss you
. There was no reason to dive so far in. Was there?

If that was the case, why was there a giant aching wound in his soul from the entire situation?

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