Jase kissed the tip of my nose.
My eyelids flew open, and I giggled as he pulled back. The skin around his eyes crinkled as he smiled down at me. “Now here comes the scary part,” he said, taking a deep breath. “We need to tell your brother.”
And that would be terrifying. For Jase. But I smiled. “Maybe I’ll just update my Facebook to ‘in a relationship’ and tag you?”
Jase snickered and then dropped another kiss on my forehead. “That should go over well.”
Sadness filled Avery’s gaze as she handed me a glass of sweet tea. After one sip, I knew Cam had made it. The overabundant amount of sugar was a dead giveaway. I took another drink as I peeked over at Jase. He sat beside me on Avery’s couch, with a respectable three or so inches between us.
When we’d left the farm, I’d texted Cam and asked him where he was. Surprise. Surprise. He was over at Avery’s. My stomach had been in knots as I hobbled up the stairs to her apartment, but the reason for us coming here had taken the backseat the moment Cam saw me with the crutches.
Cam stood in the corner of the living room, beside a moon chair. His arms were crossed on his chest, expression clouded. “Why didn’t you call and let me know that you were hurt?”
I opened my mouth, but he wasn’t done.
“I would’ve come and gotten you, Teresa. You didn’t need to call Jase.”
I snapped my mouth shut.
“And I would’ve taken you up to Dr. Morgan,” he continued, and I held back a sigh. “You know that, right? Have you even called Mom and Dad?”
“She called them,” Jase answered, throwing his arm over the back of the couch. Mom had cried. It had been a terrible, hard call. “And I texted her yesterday because she wasn’t in class. She didn’t call me.”
“So you lied and told me you were sick when you weren’t?” Cam demanded.
“I think you know the answer to that,” I said.
The look on his face would’ve sent most people running and he turned it on Jase. “And you didn’t call me? Man, that’s f**ked up.”
“It’s not f**ked up,” I jumped in, holding the glass of tea tight. “He’s not required to tell you. I am. And I am telling you. I just didn’t want you to worry needlessly. You’ve got a lot on your plate right now. I wanted to be sure of what was wrong with my knee before I said anything.”
“Still,” Cam said, staring at Jase. “You should’ve told me.”
Jase held my brother’s gaze with his own steady one. “I could have, but she wanted to go to the doc first before she got anyone upset. I respected that decision.”
“I can understand that,” Avery said diplomatically, plopping into the moon chair. “Jase was being a good friend.”
“I was being a great friend,” replied Jase, and I almost choked on my tea when I felt his fingers tangle in my hair. From our positions, Avery and Cam couldn’t see what he was doing.
Cam only looked placated when Avery wrapped her arm around his knee. “How did it happen anyway?”
I sat the tea on the coffee table. “It was just an accident. I was standing up. Got hit in the hip with a bag and I tried to step out of the way and I came down on my knee wrong.”
Saying it like that sounded innocent enough. Even I could believe it when it was thrown out like that.
Cam smoothed his hand over his baseball cap, tugging the bill down. “Shit, Teresa . . .”
As I sat back, Jase’s fingers slipped under my hair and spread out. My eyes widened as he started to move his hand up and down.
“The doctor really thinks you won’t be able to dance anymore?” asked Avery. She rested her head against Cam’s leg, her eyes wide with sympathy.
Taking a breath that got stuck in my throat, I nodded and then told them what Dr. Morgan had explained. By the time I was done with the sad story, Avery was close to tears and Cam was kneeling beside her, his chin lowered and gaze fixed to the carpet. “So that’s . . . that’s it,” I said, wincing when I heard my voice catch. “I can’t dance anymore.”
Speaking the words cut with a swipe of a hot knife.
“I really am sorry,” she said.
I shifted my weight, wishing the coffee table was high enough to shove my leg under it. “Thanks.”
Twenty kinds of awkward silence descended in the room. This was probably the worst part of it all. No one knew what to say because there wasn’t anything to say.
Jase slid his hand off my back and leaned forward. “Anyone hungry? I’m starving and I’d do some terrible, nasty things for some Aussie cheese fries.”
Avery laughed. “Do we even want to know?”
He opened his mouth.
“No,” Cam answered immediately, standing straight. “You do not want to know what Jase has already probably done for cheese fries.”
“All I have to say is desperate hookers ain’t got nothing on me,” Jase said, and he winked when Avery flushed the color of the throw pillow I was leaning against.
I laughed. “Wow. That’s . . . well, that’s disgusting.”
His grin turned mischievous.
The muscles in my back eased as Cam glanced over at Avery. “What about you?” he asked, and I whispered a little prayer of thanks that the conversation had switched gears. “Want to go grab something to eat?”
She nodded as she tugged her coppery hair around her shoulder. “I’d love some fries. And ahi tuna.”
“Mmm,” I said, stomach rumbling.
“Then let’s go.” Cam took Avery’s hands and hauled her up. “Outback trip for the win.”
Jase was up and had my crutches by the time I stood. Our eyes met as he handed them over, and I felt my cheeks burn. I looked away quickly, catching Avery watching us closely. I forced a casual smile. She grinned back at me as we headed out to the landing.
I grabbed Jase’s arm, stopping him as Cam and Avery walked down the stairs, planning on bringing her car around to the front. I kept my voice low. “Maybe we should wait until he’s in a better mood.”
Jase nodded absently. “Was it an accident?”
A muscle popped along his jaw. “Erik and the bag?”
I was confused to how we’d gotten back to that. Erik was the last person I wanted to think about. Not after breaking my bum leg news to Cam and the fact that the four of us were going out on our first double date . . . that the other two didn’t realize they were on. A stupid, silly grin loomed as my mind took a rapid detour back to the lake and our conversation.
We were together.
“Tess?” he queried quietly.
I shrugged as I gripped the handles on my crutches. “Probably.”
“Are you guys coming?” Cam’s voice floated up the stairwell. “Or is Jase doing some of those hooker acts of desperation for cheese fries?”
I cocked my head to the side. “What exactly will you do for extra cheese and bacon?”
“I’d get on my knees and get right up between your pretty thighs and eat you out like you can only dream of,” he whispered, causing my mouth to drop open. Holy hotness, I felt warm all over as he shouted, “Yeah. We’re having problems with the crutches!”
I made a face.
He ignored it and asked in a much lower voice, “What do you mean by probably?”
“He was pissed at Debbie and he was pushing her. I got in the way.” I shrugged again. “And he swung the bag around. End of story.” I paused as concern trickled through me. “Don’t tell Cam. He will fly off the handle. You know he will. He doesn’t need to know that. Okay? Promise me.”
Jase’s eyes turned a hard, stormy gray as he took a deep breath. “I won’t say a thing to Cam.”
Dinner with Cam and Avery made me feel like a voyeur who was watching a couple who were only minutes away from getting it on like two rabbits who’d been forced into celibacy. During dinner, I counted five kisses on the cheek or temple. Four kisses on the lips. At least ten times when Cam’s hand seemed to disappear under the table and half of that when Avery’s arm moved far to the right of her.
By the time dinner was over, they were too caught up in playing grabby hands to question why I crutched my way over to Jase’s Jeep instead of catching a ride with them. Spending all this time with Jase wouldn’t go unnoticed for too long, but it wasn’t a conversation we could have in the parking lot between Outback and a Christian bookstore.
Although Cam and Avery had no problem with fusing their mouths together in said parking lot.
The ride back to my dorm was quiet. The radio was turned to the ’90s channel, volume low. It was still early in the night, but I had to keep covering my mouth with my hand. So much had happened today. So much had changed in the last three days. There was a bone-deep weariness in my core. I glanced over at Jase, his striking profile dark. Extreme giddiness swept through me when I realized that Jase and I . . . well, we were together. He was my boyfriend. There was a label, and I felt like I was seconds from breaking into a fit of giggles like I was thirteen.
Sadness snapped on the heels of the happiness, and I returned my gaze to the passenger window. I closed my eyes against the sudden burn. I couldn’t dance anymore. The loss of something that had been so important to me was like a dark shadow creeping over everything else. It had been this way during dinner. I’d feel happy. I’d smile and laugh and then I’d remember what I lost today.
All my plans. My goals. My hopes. My future. All gone.
I didn’t want to focus on the crap part of my life, but pushing it out of my head was hard, and those thoughts lingered in the recesses of my mind.
Jase rode the elevator up with me at the dorm, took my key card, and opened the door to my suite. He stepped inside, flipping on the light so I didn’t slam my crutches into anything. As usual, the door to our suitemates’ room was closed. On the dry-erase board by the desk, there was a note from Debbie with today’s date, saying she was spending the night at Erik’s.
“Do you want to stay?” I blushed because it sounded like an invite for some bow-chicka-bow-wow. Not that I was entirely against that, but standing there with crutches didn’t make me feel sexy. “I mean, you’re welcome to hang out.”
Welcome to hang out? God, I sounded like an idiot.
Jase grinned as he sauntered in. “There’s really no other place I’d rather be.”
My lips split into a wide smile, and I turned before he could see how obviously happy that made me. “Be right back.”
Leaving the crutches in the corner, I carefully gathered up my nightclothes and bath stuff. I changed into a pair of cotton sleep pants and a shirt, forgoing the bra. The shirt was black, so it didn’t show much. I left the brace on and quickly washed my face. After pulling down my ponytail, I ran a brush through my hair and then returned to my room.
Jase had made himself comfortable on my narrow bed. Stretched out on his back, the remote control to the TV that sat on our dresser rested on his flat stomach. He’d even kicked his shoes off. Seeing him there caused a flutter deep in my belly, which only increased when he patted the spot next to him.
“Should you be walking around without the crutches?” he asked.
Ignoring the ache in my knee, I slowly made my way over to him and sat. “It’s not that big of a distance. Besides, these rooms are too small to use crutches.”
He settled on the ID channel and then rolled onto his side, dropping the remote onto the nightstand. He cupped his hand around my elbow and tugged as he peered up at me through thick, dark lashes. “Lie down with me?”
How in the world could I resist that request? With him on his side, I was able to lie on my back beside him. The moment my head touched the pillow, he smiled in a way that made my toes curl.
“How you doing?”
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.
“Understandable.” He scooped up the strands of my hair, brushing them back from my face. “You’ve had a lot going on today—the last couple of days.”
“Yeah. My head is going in different directions.” My chest rose sharply as he traced the outline of my lower lip with his thumb. “Everything feels different now.”
I nodded and then stilled as his hand drifted down the valley between my br**sts and then stopped just below them. Sharp tingles followed his hand, and the tips of my br**sts tightened. I knew he noticed because his gaze dipped, and he sucked his bottom lip between his teeth. His lashes swept up, and our gazes locked.
He curved his hand around my ribs. “You talking about us or . . . ?”
“Both,” I whispered.
His gaze traveled over my face, lingering on my lips. Heat moved from my belly and seemed to pool between my thighs. There was a moment where the only sound was my pounding heart and the low hum from the TV. “It’s going to be okay.”