Home > Stripped (Stripped, #1)(7)

Stripped (Stripped, #1)(7)
Author: H.M. Ward

I think you're asking the wrong person.

I can't ask her. I don't even know her.

But you want to...?

I can picture Cassie's smile—the genuine one that she was wearing for a few seconds today. I want to put that look on her face. I want to know what makes her laugh, scowl, and grin. I want that version of her that I only saw when I shocked the hell out of her and her guard dropped for half a beat. Yeah, I do.

Go over there in the morning. Bring food. Don't leave when she tries to throw you out.


And get to know her, dumbass.

You're so eloquent when you're tired.

Fuck you. TTYL.

A vague plan forms in my mind and I smile. I wonder if it's really that simple. There's only one way to find out.



It's 8:30am and someone is pounding on the metal screen door. It rattles like crazy until the hammering stops. I roll over and pull the blankets over my head. I planned on sleeping for another hour and there's no way in hell I'm opening the door. I'm pretty sure I'm in the 'hood part of the countryside with wild bears, rednecks with rifles, and stuff like that.

The knocking starts again. Moaning, I throw back the blankets and tug my hair away from my face and into a sloppy ponytail. I rub the sleep from my eyes and peer between the mini blinds in my room to look out at the front porch. Fuck. Is he serious? I glance down at my jammies and decide there is no way in hell that I am ever opening the door.

Just as I turn to go back to bed, Jonathan says, "I know you're there, so open the door. I have breakfast."

Padding down the narrow hall, I go to open the door with the idea that I'll chew him out and threaten to hit him in the head with a frying pan if he doesn't leave me alone. My heart thumps inside my chest as I reach for the knob. When I yank it back, I want to kill him. Jonathan looks perfect in his crisp cream T shirt and dark jeans, while I look like I just rolled out of bed. I don't unlock the screen door. Instead I fold my arms over my chest and stare at him through bits of rust. "Are you insane?"

"Probably." He smirks at me, and that smile sends a shiver through my body.

"And you think that's the best thing to say to get me to open the door?"

He waits a beat and then grins, saying, "I promise not to have sex with you."

"You're such an ass." I flick the lock on the screen and let him in. When Jonathan walks past me I get a whiff of his cologne. God he smells good. "Did you drown yourself in a vat of aftershave?"

He nods. "Just for you, baby. I figured, why make it easy for you to keep your hands off of me?"

"It doesn't make it harder, if that's what you think. I don't even like that cologne." Actually, I love that scent and I'm wondering how he found out. I may have to kill Robyn later.

Jonathan places two white bags down on the table and turns around and looks at me. "Eat your breakfast, crazy girl."

He slides a bag across to my seat, opposite him. It has everything from the McDonald's breakfast menu inside. My stomach grumbles at the scent of pancakes and grease. Yum. I pull out the food and dig in.

Jonathan watches me for a little bit before saying, "I've never met anyone like you."


"It's refreshing. You're not trying to impress me and you seriously don't seem to care about my massive fortune. You haven't mentioned my brother killing his wife or asked where he buried the missing gun..." he smiles at me. "You didn't live in a cave or something before you came here, right? Or an asylum, maybe? You know what family I'm from, right?"

"Yes," I laugh and toss a piece of my pancake at him.

He's from the notorious Ferro family. They have too much money to know what to do with and the heir of the family fortune seems to be cursed. First, Sean, the eldest was the heir, and there was that whole mess with his wife. I'm not sure if he killed her or not. Just because someone doesn't cry it doesn't mean they're guilty. The media played up how stoic Sean had been at the time, like it automatically made him a murderer. Then, control of the fortune was passed to the middle brother, Peter. He had something horrible happen and has been mostly off the map. Then there's Jonathan, the youngest and newest heir. The things I've heard about him don't line up with this sock with sandal wearing guy. Maybe the press just makes crap up. Another story, another dollar, another day. Yes, I'm jaded. So sue me.

Jonathan picks at his hash browns for a second. When he glances up, he hits me with those vulnerable baby blues. "Then why?"

"Why what?" I'm not following him, like at all. I kind of wish I was. That look is intoxicating and as I gaze at him, I realize I never want it to end. I'm insane. I blink and look away, then take another bite of food, intentionally stuffing my mouth to look as unattractive as possible.

Jonathan's eyes wander around the little kitchen. He takes a bite of food, chews, and sits back in his chair. "Why the instant disdain? You don't like me, but it seems to have nothing to do with my garish amount of cash, or my last name—so then what is it?"

My words are harsh, but the smile on my face and my sarcastic tone lightens the punch. "You ever think it might just be you?"

The corners of his lips tip up. "Of course not, everyone loves me."

"Everyone is not the correct word."

Jonathan glances up and gives me a look that makes my knees weak. "It will be."



Cassie doesn't let her defenses drop when I'm around. That light laugh and shy smile only come out when Robyn is with us. It drives me insane. It's like she's shut me out on purpose, like she doesn't want to have anything to do with me. Robyn picked a movie last night and we all went. Cassie ended up next to me and she sat there, leaning as far away as possible, stiff as a board. There have been a few occasions where she seems to relax. I love those times. I crave them and I go over to her house every day to try again.

This isn't like me. Normally, whatever I want falls into my lap, but it'll be a goddamn miracle if that happens. Cassie on my lap would make me smile for the rest of the summer. No, I'm not that shallow. This isn't about the quest—it's about the girl. She makes me feel things I've never felt, and want things that I can't have. Everything seems better when she's around, less dismal. Because let's face the facts, no one cares if a rich guy is depressed. No one gets how isolated it is, and how skewed things get. Never knowing who really likes you and who's using you really f**ks with the mind. At some point, everything became fake—even me—but Cassie lured me out. I want to be myself around her, so I try harder.

Handing Cassie the bag of food, I sit down at her aunt's little table. "So, what are we going to do today?" To date, I haven't been able to get her to go anywhere with me. Well, not really. We took a walk once, but as soon as we hit the end of the road that led to the spillway, she refused to take another step. I told her that it's perfectly safe, I even walked over the damn thing once before. Instead of following me toward the bridge over the water, she just burst out laughing.

Today, I'm not taking no for an answer.

"Go somewhere?" Cassie glances over the top of the white bag and arches an eyebrow. "We? As in me and you?"

"Yeah, that's what 'we' means." I lean my elbow on the table and give her a goofy grin.

"Yeah, I don't think so." She takes a fork full of pancake and stuffs it in her mouth.

Sometimes I think she's taking bigger bites to gross me out, but it's a turn-on seeing her mouth open wide, and then watching the food slip over those perfect lips. I've lost my mind. I feel it slipping away from me. No sex in a month and I can't think. Whoever said sex gunks up the works wasn't getting any. My brain worked fine when I was screwing around. This starvation diet is making me mental, but it's self-inflicted. I don't want anyone else. I want her.

I'm staring at her, my eyes locked on her mouth as she chews. "What?" Cassie spews pancake crumbs and grins.

"You're trying to gross me out. Come on, Cassie. I'm not that bad. Give me a chance."

"A chance to do what?" The smile falls off her face as her gaze lowers. A fork full of pancake lingers as she speaks. "There's no scenario in which you and I are anything more than friends."

"So, what's wrong with that?"

Her face lifts and she looks at me. There's a confusion in those dark eyes. "You want to be friends?"

"Yeah, why not?"

Cupping a hand to her ear, she says, "What was that? I think I heard you wrong. Because it sounded like Mr. Love 'Em and Leave 'Em wants to be friends." She laughs, still thinking I'm kidding. Her eyes fall to her plate and when she looks up again, the smile drops. Her voice changes. It's that light uncertain tone she uses with Robyn. "Are you serious?"

I want to claw my way across the table and take her in my arms, but if this is the best I can hope for, I want it. Friends. Glancing down at the table, I intentionally avoid her eyes and pick at my food. "We know each other's biggest secrets. It seems like the start of a friendship to me. Besides, what else are you going to do all summer? Sit here and wait for Robyn to get home?"

My heart is thumping way too fast for something like this. I'm not nailing her, so I don't get why my pulse races when she's around. Hot girls don't get me into this state, so it's something else. My eyes sweep over her face as she gazes at me, considering my words like they're grand jury testimony. "Do you act like this with everyone, Cassie? Is it so hard to be your friend?"

Her smile turns into a smirk. "I don't know. Do you invite yourself over to everyone's house, or just mine?" The corners of her mouth twitch, like she enjoys flirting with me.

"Just yours. There's a recluse that lives here, you know. She refuses to go outside and has the pasty skin to prove it. And I mean pale, like she'd get lost in the snow, albino, kind of pale. Snowball city."

Cassie scowls and folds her arms over her chest, thrusting her br**sts higher as she does it. Do women do that on purpose? You can't jack up your boobs and then yell at us for looking. It's like pointing at them and saying 'don't look.'

I lean back in my chair, and kick my legs out under the table, trying damn hard not to look at those perfect tits. I need a distraction. My foot bumps hers and I grin, until Cassie kicks my shin, hard. "Hey!" I sit up.

Grinning ear to ear, Cassie stands and grabs her trash. "Snowball, my ass."

I stand and follow her to the garbage can. After she throws her stuff in, Cassie turns suddenly, not realizing that I'm right behind her. She gasps and her shoulders tense, like I'm too close. Leaning nearer to her face, I give her my most charming crooked smile. "You did not just invite me to look at your ass."

She laughs, like, actually laughs. "You're such a..." She inhales deeply, slowly, and tilts her head to the side as her lungs fill with air. Dark curls fall over one shoulder before her gaze lowers for half a second. When she glances back up at me, the unthinkable happens. "So, where are we going?"

Blinking like I've been hit in the head with a two by four, I follow her body with my eyes as she slips past me. "I'm sorry, did you agree to go out with me?" I toss my stuff in the trash and turn around, watching that perfect smile light up her face. It's flawlessly girlish, but somehow she makes it sexy at the same time. The woman is a walking oxymoron.

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