Avery had handed over a bag of ice, promising that Cam was almost under control. Us being under control was a totally different story. I knew when Avery saw me at the door that she had a good idea what had been going in the room between Jase and me. My hair was a ratty messy, lips swollen and cheeks flushed. She didn’t say anything, but as she turned, I swore I saw her grin.
They were in Cam’s bedroom, and we were in the other. Both Jase and I were back in the clothes we’d worn yesterday, which at least made me feel more appropriate, while I held the ice to his jaw. It hadn’t begun to swell, but it was an angry shade of red.
He eyed me over the bag. “That didn’t go as planned.”
I laughed in spite of everything. “No shit.”
A smile turned up his lips and he groaned, pulling back. “Ow.”
“Don’t smile,” I ordered. I pressed the bag back to his jaw. A couple of moments passed. “Some of it wasn’t bad.”
“Wasn’t bad?” His eyes had been a smoldering silver since he’d rolled off me, and they now burned even brighter. Slipping an arm around my waist, he tugged me forward and down, so I was sitting on his bent legs. “Some of it was stuff wet dreams are made of.”
I made a face. “That’s romantic.”
He curled his fingers around my wrist, pulling my hand with the ice down as his gaze swept over my face. “I didn’t mean to lose control like that.”
“I didn’t mind.” My cheeks heated. “Wish we could’ve finished.”
A deep sound rolled out from him as he wrapped his hand around the nape of my neck, guiding my head down. His lips sealed over mine in a slow, languid kiss that stroked the unspent flames of desire. The kiss deepened as his tongue met mine, twisted and spiraled and, damn, this boy could kiss—
The bedroom door burst open and Cam barreled in. “For shit’s sake, do I need to hit you again, Jase?”
“Damnit,” I moaned, breaking away and casting Cam a dirty look. “Do you know how to knock? It isn’t that hard.”
He looked unrepentant as he glared at Jase. “I came in here to try to talk this out and I walk in, and she’s in your lap and you’re f**king her with your tongue.”
Jase’s mouth opened and I had a god-awful feeling he was going to explain that he wasn’t f**king me with his mouth at this moment.
“Cam,” I started, shifting the ice in my hand. “You really need to chill.”
“And you will need to get out of his lap.”
Avery’s eyes rolled.
“She’s where she wants to be,” Jase replied, voice surprisingly calm. “And I’m going to tell you this. I’m not pissed that you hit me. I deserved it. I should’ve told you the first time we kissed, which was a year ago.”
“Let me finish,” Jase went on, keeping his arm secured around my waist. “We kissed that night before we left early during fall break. Nothing happened again until this fall. I tried to fight it.”
“Yeah, looks like you tried really hard.”
Irritation pricked my skin as I stared up at my brother. “He did try, Cam. And it wasn’t like we’ve been hiding this forever. We planned to tell you on Wednesday, but you had other things going on.” I waited until recognition flared in his gaze. “And then this with Debbie—” My throat closed up, and Jase’s arm tightened around me. “Anyway, it wasn’t like we were trying to hide it from you. There just wasn’t a good moment for it.”
“And they’re telling you now,” Avery said. Apparently she’d become the voice of reason when it came to my brother. “I think this is a good thing.”
“I think it makes me doubt Teresa’s ability to tell the difference between common sense and her hormones,” he muttered, running a hand through his hair.
My mouth snapped shut as I sent him a look that should’ve shriveled his balls right up. Jase, who’d been rather calm during round two, had a totally different reaction. Picking me up out of his lap, he deposited me on the edge of the bed and stood.
A muscle thrummed along his jaw. “Look, I’m not going to hold you hitting me against you, but if you talk to your sister like that again or say shit about her intelligence or, in general, insult or embarrass her, we’re going to have a problem. A big motherf**king problem. I care about her,” Jase said, meeting Cam’s glare when those words apparently didn’t do anything to make him feel better. “I care about her . . . just as much as I care about Jack.”
Cam took a step back and paled like Jase had punched him in the throat. Avery didn’t catch the meaning, but my brother did. He glanced at me, and I raised my brows, signaling that I knew the truth.
My brother looked like he was about to pass out, and I suddenly had the wild urge to laugh. He slowly shook his head and then said, “For real?”
Jase nodded. “For real.”
“Well . . .” He backed off, appearing startled. “I guess I’m . . .”
“Happy for us?” I suggested, tossing the bag of ice up and catching it. “Because I could really focus on the happy stuff right about now.”
Cam looked at me, his features softening, even as Jase returned to the bed and placed a hand on my thigh, squeezing gently. “Shit, Teresa, sorry. I’m just—”
“Overprotective,” Avery suggested, smiling when he looked at her. “And a bit of a douche canoe sometimes?”
I grinned. “Sounds about right.”
“Yeah, okay, I might’ve overreacted, but it’s just because I care about you. You’re my sister and I’m supposed to act like a douche when it comes to guys you’re with.”
“You got that part down to a science,” Jase muttered.
Cam flipped him off, and the tension in my muscles started to ease. If they were flipping the bird to each other, they were back to normal.
“Anyway, the reason why we’re back so early is because we started receiving texts this morning about Debbie,” Avery explained, veering the topic into a less-happy subject, but a necessary one. “We needed to come home.”
“I wish you hadn’t,” I murmured, thinking of Cam’s plans.
“There was no way we wouldn’t,” my brother replied, crouching down in front of me. “Please tell me the rumors aren’t true. That you didn’t find her like that.”
I wrapped my arms around my chest, as if I could ward off the memory of her. “It’s true.”
“Oh, my God . . .” Avery pressed her hand to her mouth. “That’s horrible.”
It was, but not as horrific as what Debbie had done. As Jase explained that I needed to go to the police today to give a statement, I tried to figure out why she would’ve done it. She’d been upset the night before, but she’d also been so full of hope. I didn’t know her extremely well, but there were no signs that she was that depressed or that she would consider doing something so final.
“You can’t stay in that dorm,” Cam decided as he stood. “You can stay here.”
Jase dropped his arm over my shoulders. “I agree with this idea.”
Part of me jumped at the idea, because there was no way I could go back to the dorm, but it was asking a lot. “I don’t want to be a pain in the ass.”
“Cam pretty much lives in my apartment as it is,” Avery interjected. “You’d probably have this place to yourself for the most part.”
“And it’s a great offer,” Jase said, drawing my attention. “I don’t want you back in that dorm. So it’s either staying here or you’re coming to live in the frat house with me.”
The idea of being under the same roof as Erik turned my stomach. “I want to pay rent or something. I’ll get a job once my leg gets better.”
Cam waved me off. “If that’s what you want to do, have at it. No rush. Rent’s paid up till summer.”
Once the decision was made for me to stay at Cam’s, a lot of the dread faded like smoke in the wind. I’d sleep on the streets before I slept in that dorm room. Some people might think it was weird, but I wasn’t sure I could even step foot in the dorm again. Bad enough, I doubted I’d ever get rid of the memory of her . . . of her hanging from the ceiling light.
“Cam and I will go get most of your stuff,” Jase announced. “Tell me what you want and I’ll get it.”
I glanced between the two, a bit concerned about them spending an immediate one-on-one time together. Jase caught my look and winked.
“We’ll be fine,” he said.
Cam smiled tightly as he cracked his knuckles. “Yeah, we’ll be just perfect.”
Sitting beside me on the couch, Avery cringed as she glanced at the wall clock. “They’ve been gone an awful long time.”
I nodded slowly. “Yep.”
Calla had returned from visiting family that morning. Upon hearing the news, she’d texted and made her way over from the dorms not too long after the boys left. She sat in the recliner, brows knitted. “Why are you guys worried about how long it’s taking?”
“Well, there’s a good chance they might kill each other. Cam is not happy about me and Jase being together—”
“Wait. What?” She sat forward, eyes popping wide. “You and Jase are together? When in the holy hell did this happen?”
I picked up the glass of sweet tea. “Uh, it happened last week.”
“But I saw you on Wednesday! Did you not think about telling me?”
Cheeks burning, I glanced at Avery. She focused on the wall. Totally unhelpful. “It just didn’t come up and it had just happened, so I was still feeling the, uh, freshness.”
“Freshness?” Avery murmured.
“Wow.” Calla curled her legs up. “Way to go, Teresa. He’s a hottie-mc-hotters.”
I laughed. “Yes, he is.”
“I love your brother with all my heart,” Avery said, twisting the ends of her hair around her slender fingers. Her cheeks flushed, blending the freckles. “But Jase is . . . he’s something else. I mean, I’ve always been a little intimidated by him.”
She let go of her hair. “Yep. He just always looks so intense, like . . .”
“Like one night with him would change your life?” Calla suggested with a grin. “I’m pretty sure I’ve said the same thing about him.”
I wouldn’t know since I hadn’t made it that far with him, but what I had experienced with him really backed what Calla was saying. I turned my gaze to the tea, oddly proud that I could sit there and call him mine, which was weird. I never felt that way before about someone.
In the silence that followed, I knew what everyone was thinking about. Debbie. Even though we all could talk about other things and laugh, what had happened lingered at the edge of every thought.
“I don’t know why she did it,” I said, only realizing I said it out loud when both girls looked at me. “I don’t understand.”
“Sometimes you never understand,” Calla said, stretching out her legs. A pinched, sad look crossed her face. “More often than not, it’s not just one thing that sends a person over the edge. It’s several things.”
Avery nodded as she fiddled with the bracelet on her wrist. “It’s true. A lot of stuff builds up and while it might be one thing that topples the person over, it’s really a lot of things, big and small.”
“I get that, but Debbie was a happy girl. Except for breaking up with Erik, she was okay.”
“But how happy could she be if she stayed with him so long?” Avery asked. “And I don’t mean she was bad for being with him, but that’s how many years of being treated like that?”
She had a good point.
“We don’t know what other issues she might have had.” Calla paused, casting her attention to her hands she folded in her lap. “My mom killed herself.”
I pressed the heel of my hand to my chest as I exchanged a look with Avery. “What?”
Calla ducked her chin as she nibbled on her lower lip. “Well, not like Debbie. She didn’t do it just one night. She did it over the course of several years.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that, Cal.” Setting the tea aside, I picked up a pillow and pressed it against my tummy. “How?”
“She drank and drugged herself to death. It wasn’t an accident,” she said, looking up. “My mom didn’t want to live. She just chose the passive way out. Anyway, no one really knew she was like that. She had everyone fooled. I’m not saying Debbie wanted out for a long time, but you just don’t know.”