“I know.” He stopped in front of me, and when he spoke again, his voice was low. “You may never understand.”
I didn’t want to believe that. Something had to have happened to make her do what she did, because I didn’t want this to be something I never understood and had to live with. I wasn’t moving, but somehow I stumbled. The crutches fell to the floor, thudding softly off the carpet. Jase caught my elbow and led me over to the couch.
“You doing okay?” He sat beside me, placing a warm hand against my cool cheek.
I nodded as I closed my eyes, leaning into his touch. The words—they sort of just came out of me. “Maybe I should’ve said something earlier to her about Erik—about what I’d been through with Jeremy. I could’ve helped her. Maybe paid more attention—”
“Stop,” he said, cupping my cheeks with both hands as he pressed his forehead against mine. “There was absolutely nothing you could’ve done to have made any of this different. Do you understand that?”
I wasn’t sure. I had been silent from the start with her and Erik, and Debbie had stayed silent over what had happened. Silence, no matter which way you look at it, destroyed lives.
He made a deep, torn sound. “If she wanted to kill herself, she would’ve done it no matter what anyone did or said, Tess.”
Something didn’t ring true about that, made it hard to believe that she would’ve actually hung herself. Denial was riding me pretty strongly, but there was something in the back of my head that screamed she wouldn’t have done this.
“I wonder if they’ve found a suicide note,” I mused out loud, feeling a heaviness settle in my stomach and chest. “Do you think they did?”
He pulled back, dropping his hands to my legs as he shook his head. “I don’t know. They might tell you tomorrow when I take you to the office.”
That was the last thing I wanted to think about having to do. I scrubbed the heels of my palms down my face. So many thoughts raced through my head that I blurted out one of them. “Did you know Steph lived there? I mean, that she was my suitemate?”
“No. I’ve never been to her dorm. Never asked, either.”
I chose to believe him in that moment, because it was stupid to care about that right now. “She called you?”
“She did and I . . . she said you were really upset—screaming—and she called me.”
I shuddered as those horrible moments after finding Debbie came back. “How did she know?”
He looked at me, confused. “The night at the party—she pretty much guessed that you meant something to me and that something was going on between us.”
Made sense. I turned a little and focused on taking several deep breaths.
“I’m going to see if Cam has something to drink.”
“Make it strong,” I mumbled.
“You sure?” He kissed my cheek after I nodded. “I’m sure he has something.”
Lifting my gaze, I found myself staring at where the crutches had landed on Cam’s beige carpet. A few days ago I’d thought my life was ruined. Not completely, because good things happened at the same time that something so terrible had. I got Jase. Finally, after years of pining for the boy, I had him. Earlier tonight, when I’d been upset with Jase over hitting Erik, seemed so irrelevant. As did my bum knee. Those issues paled in comparison to what had just happened to Debbie and her family. My problems were nothing, because Deb . . . she was gone.
Jase returned with a small glass of amber-colored liquor. “Scotch,” he said, handing it over. “It should help.”
I took a sip and winced as it burned my throat. “Whoa.”
“The second drink will be easier.” He held the entire bottle and took a swig, obviously a pro at drinking the fancy stuff.
He’d been right. The second drink was easier and the third even more so. When I finished, I placed the glass on the coffee table.
“Did it help?” he asked, placing the bottle beside my glass.
Did it? I turned to him. “I want . . . want to sleep.”
His expression softened. “That’s probably a good idea.”
Yes. That did sound like a magnificent idea. “Will you stay with me tonight? I don’t want to be alone.”
“Of course I’ll stay with you. There’s no way I’m letting you be by yourself tonight.”
I scooted toward him and looped my arms around his neck. “Thank you so much for coming.”
He returned the embrace. “You don’t have to thank me for this.”
“But I do. I don’t know what I would be doing if you weren’t here. Probably losing my mind. I just . . .” I didn’t finish. Gratitude swelled in me. “Thank you.”
Jase dropped a kiss to the top of my head, and I found it hard to disentangle my arms from him. I found an old, oversize shirt of Cam’s to wear to bed while Jase investigated the extra bedroom.
“Sorry. I can’t sleep in Cam’s bed. Too weird.”
I limped into the extra room and eyed the full-size bed that had a blue comforter neatly tucked in. “Isn’t this Ollie’s old room?”
Jase glanced over his shoulder. His gaze was quick, but I didn’t miss that he was taking in all the exposed flesh. Cam’s shirt slipped off one shoulder and the material ended midthigh. If I bent over, someone would be getting an eyeful of my undies.
He looked away as he widened his stance by the bed. “Cam actually replaced the bed and stuff because the old one belonged to Ollie. Sometimes I stay here.”
Jase chuckled. “I would not sleep in the same bed as Ollie unless it’s been disinfected.”
My lips twitched. “That’s mean.”
“Uh, you didn’t want to sleep in his bed either,” he pointed out as he faced me. “That boy has been around. His bed has had more action than a subway train.”
I cracked a grin.
His eyes lightened. “There they are.”
“Even better.” He swooped down, kissing the one on my left side and then the right. “I love them.”
In spite of everything, my chest warmed and I knew it had nothing to do with the liquor. The warmth lasted until I climbed into the bed that smelled like fresh linen and Jase disappeared back into the apartment, checking the door and grabbing some water for himself.
Shivering again, I tugged the comforter up onto my shoulder and curled onto my side, my back to the door. When I closed my eyes, I saw a set of pale legs and limp arms.
Why did she do it? Nothing, no matter what it was, was worth ending a life over. Tears pricked at my eyes and spilled over. Debbie and I weren’t extremely close, but that didn’t seem to matter. My heart hurt for her anyway.
I heard the door shut softly and quickly wiped at my cheeks. The light beside the bed turned off and there was the sound of clothing rustling and falling to the floor. My heart stuttered. The bed dipped and Jase rose up behind me. Somehow, in the darkness of the room that smelled like coconut and vanilla, his fingers found the tears on my cheeks, brushing them away. He said nothing as he curled his body around mine, securing his arm around my waist.
The warmth of his bare chest pressed along my back and down my legs, but it was like half of my body was in a pile of snow while the other half was cozied up to a fire. I tried closing my eyes once more, but the image of Debbie appeared again and I shuddered.
“Don’t think about it.” He tightened his arm.
“I can’t stop seeing her,” I admitted after a few moments. “When I close my eyes, I see her hanging there—” I cut myself off. I didn’t want to think about this or feel anything. He shifted behind me, and I focused on the way he felt, tucked so close, his body so warm and hard. I could lose myself in him. Once the idea formed, it seemed like another brilliant idea. Jase could make me forget, even if it was for only a little while.
I wiggled my hips, and I felt him tense. “Jase?”
“Yeah?” His voice was deep and gruff.
My cheeks burned when I spoke again. “Make me forget.”
His chest rose sharply against my back. “What are you asking for?”
“You,” I whispered.
He took another deep, dragging breath. “Tess . . .”
“I feel so cold.” I rolled onto my back and turned my head toward him. Our faces were inches apart. “I don’t want to feel that way. Please, Jase, I want to feel warm. I don’t want to think. I don’t want to see her hanging there. Please. Take it away. Even if it’s just for right now.”
I moved, rolling until I was half on him. My right leg, brace and all, slipped between his legs, and I folded my hands against his hard chest. Before he could tell me no, I placed my mouth to his, kissing him. At first, he didn’t respond, like I had shocked him with my boldness. I tried to remember if I had ever been the one to initiate a kiss before; other than the night after the party, I didn’t think I had been. And even that night, I hadn’t kissed him.
I’d kissed something else.
To be the one initiating something now after such a tragic event left a bad taste in my mouth, but I pushed that feeling away, shoving it among the other bad feelings I didn’t want to experience.
His lips were firm and warm under mine, absolutely perfect. And then they moved, gently following my lead. I moaned as our tongues met and the kiss deepened, spreading warmth down the front of my body. Tiny flames of desire curled low in my belly.
Jase gripped my upper arms and anticipation swelled, about to burst as I felt him harden against my hip. I expected him to pull me closer, to smash our bodies together, but . . . he lifted me off him.
My eyelids snapped open. “Why?”
His features came together in the shadows, taut and harsh. “Not like this, Tess.”
That’s not what I wanted to hear. I pressed my weight down, causing him to groan in a way that made me ache between my thighs. He shuddered as I dipped my head, catching his bottom lip. I sucked and nipped at the flesh until his h*ps punched up, grinding against me. A fire moved through my veins and this—yes, this—was what I needed right now. To forget. To be warm. To live.
Jase shifted and without any warning, I was on my back and he was on top of me, his thickness pressing between my legs. Shards of pleasure darted through my veins. My back arched as I lifted my left knee, settling him deeper.
“Jesus Christ, Tess . . .” He caught my wrists, pinning them down. His chest was rising and falling rapidly. “We are not going to do this.”
I rocked my hips, and he pulsed against me. “I think he disagrees.”
He choked on a laugh.
When I moved against him again, his grip on my wrists tightened. “Don’t you want me?”
“Fuck,” he ground out. “I always want you. I’ve wanted you for years. I want you in every position known to man.” Pausing, he dropped his forehead against mine. “But our first time isn’t going to be after something like that, when you just want to forget what you saw and what you’re feeling.”
Heart pounding, I stared up into his eyes. “Our first time?” I repeated dumbly, as if it just occurred to me that we hadn’t done the deed yet.
“I want you to only be thinking about me. I want you to focused on me because you want to be and not because you are trying to escape something,” he said, and slowly loosened his grip. “I don’t want what will happen between us to ever be overshadowed by something else.”
I was aching in so many ways, but his words slowly filtered through the haze. He watched me as it all clicked together. What was I thinking? My face started to crumble. “I’m—”
“Don’t apologize, baby.” He dropped a sweet, quick kiss on my forehead and then eased on his side. “Not allowing this is the f**king hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
I willed myself to pull it together, but my eyes stung and then filled with tears. When they spilled over, it didn’t have anything to do with Jase putting the brakes on my little sexual escapades. I was feeling what I needed to feel right then and there—sorrow, pain, confusion, and hurt. It all whirled together, forming a maelstrom of violent emotion.
Jase swept his arms around me, pulling me to his chest, his hand cradling the back of my head. He seemed to know why the tears came, and he held me to him until I tired myself out and slipped into the sweet oblivion that was nothingness.
We had to have slept for hours, maybe even sleeping half of the day away, because when I opened my eyes, faint sunlight streamed in from the window behind the bed.
And we weren’t alone.
What the . . . ?
The cobwebs of sleep cluttered my head as the rest of the room came into view. My brother stood at the foot of the bed, his mouth hanging open. The top of Avery’s red head appeared, and her wide brown eyes peeked over his shoulder. I blinked slowly. What were they doing here? Was I dreaming? Or having a nightmare?