This was my first—that I remembered—with Carson, and that felt right.
My thumb found his lower lip, and the sharp edge of his teeth grazed my skin. The act was strangely intimate, rough and sensual. My eyes fluttered close, and I waited for my second first kiss….
Carson wrapped his hand around mine, gently pulling it back.
Not what I was waiting for. Damn it. I opened my eyes, confused. “Why?”
“Why? Why is your favorite word now, isn’t it?” Humor laced his words, not annoyance or frustration. “You’re still such a freaking terror.”
When Scott had said that before, it hadn’t sounded like a good thing, but Carson made it sound endearing, fun. I smiled. “I want you to kiss me.”
Heat flared in his eyes, and something inside me knew how to respond to that. The edge of the quilt slipped a little, and I pressed forward, our chests touching. Everywhere our bodies met, my skin warmed in a way that felt completely new.
A sudden deepening of his eyes occurred, and his jaw tensed. “Sam…”
Carson closed his eyes briefly. And then he rolled over me, supporting his weight with one arm so quickly that the air left my lungs in a harsh rush. He stared down at me, eyes a mosaic of every blue possible. “You shouldn’t be asking me that.”
There was barely an inch separating us, and I had trouble focusing my thoughts. “I know.”
He reached down, brushing the thick strands of hair off my cheek. His fingers lingered against my skin, sliding down to my jaw. Staring at his lips, I needed to know how they felt. How they tasted. I inhaled sharply, bringing my chest against his once more. A dizzy rush of sensations cascaded through me, and again, I was struck by the sense of how right this was.
Carson lowered his head, and my heart stuttered. He pressed his lips against my forehead, then my temple, a sweeping brush along my cheek, and then he placed a wickedly chaste kiss on the corner of my lips. He spoke into the warm space between our lips. “You’re not mine to kiss, Sam.”
I felt the extreme urge to pout, and Carson must’ve sensed it, because he laughed softly and cupped my cheek. His body lowered onto mine in a way that said it was completely at odds with what was coming out of his mouth. Wishing the quilt wasn’t between us, I shifted under him. His eyes closed, and the hand beside my head pushed into the mattress as his jaw worked. I moved my h*ps again, and then gasped at the raw shiver that whipped through me.
Carson dropped his forehead to mine again. “Sam, you’re really making it hard to be a good guy.”
I placed the tips of my fingers on his cheek, and his lashes swept up. “What if I don’t want you to be the good guy?”
“I want to be the good guy with you.” He took another breath. “You deserve that.”
“I don’t like Del,” he admitted, staring straight into my eyes. “He’s a dick, and you’ve always deserved better than him, but I’m not that kind of guy. At least, I’m trying to not be with you.”
“But I’m not his.”
His brows rose as he pulled back. His fingers found the silver chain around my neck. I caught my breath when the back of his knuckles brushed over my collarbone as he held the Tiffany’s heart between us. “This says differently.”
Spring had greeted us with a brief rain shower on the morning of Cassie’s funeral, but then the dark clouds parted an hour before and the sun shone, casting light over the large funeral home. School hadn’t been canceled, but it might as well have been, as it seemed the entire student body was there, shuffling up the walkway that separated the old part of the cemetery from the new. Everyone was dressed in black. Some wore slacks while others had dug out black party dresses.
The service…it was what I’d expected, but worse. There were so many tears, even from those I figured Cassie would have never been nice to. I had to squelch the urge to get up and run several times. It was hard to breathe in there. Hard to even think with the remembrances and the songs played. But with Del keeping his hand clamped tightly around mine, and my parents behind me watching like hawks, I didn’t dare move.
For the hundredth time, I closed my dry eyes and dragged in a ragged breath. The sorrow for the girl I couldn’t remember built in my chest, but it wouldn’t break free. Just like I couldn’t break free.
I looked at the well-manicured fingers curled around mine, and in the middle of all this sadness, I felt guilt. Guilt for not being able to shed a tear—for holding this boy’s hand when I’d begged another to kiss me a few days ago. My life was a mess, but as my eyes were drawn to the casket’s polished mahogany, I knew that my life—as screwed up as it was—had to be better than no life.
Tulips surrounded the coffin, and a picture rested in a bed of baby’s breath. I hadn’t gone up during the visitation, but I could see the photo from here.
It was of us.
We were sitting on a bench at school, backs against each other, cheesing it up for the camera. It was the first time I’d seen the picture, and we looked younger in it, our smiles real, connected somehow.
“I took that picture,” Del whispered in my ear, catching me staring at it.
Nodding, I slipped my hand free. Scanning the front of the church, I caught sight of Cassie’s mom. The only reason I knew it was her was because she was sobbing, clutching a picture frame to her chest during the entire service. My heart broke for her.
Even with the tears, Cate Winchester was beautiful. Young. Her light brown hair was cut in a fashionable bob, accenting high cheekbones and a graceful neck. Some of Cassie’s features were there—the lips and the slender frame.
There was a moment of silence as the pastor returned to the podium. The back of my neck tingled. I twisted around in the pew, and my gaze slid to the back row. My eyes locked with Detective Ramirez’s dark eyes.
“Samantha,” my mother hissed, drawing my attention. She looked mortified. “Turn around.”
Scott rolled his eyes.
Biting my lip, I whipped around and faced the front. Del dropped a heavy hand on my knee and squeezed, causing me to jump. Veronica shot me a look over the rim of her sunglasses, and then her gaze dropped. Her plump lips thinned, and she stiffly turned away.
I took a deep breath and lowered my head in prayer. Familiar words resonated through the church. Del’s hand crept up my thigh, and my body locked up. Not just because it was completely inappropriate on about a thousand different levels, but because somewhere over the long weekend, I’d made up my mind that the two of us needed to have a serious talk.
Without any warning, my vision dulled, turning gray. The church, coffin, Del’s creeping hand—everything—broke away, leaving just Cassie and me.
She plopped down on a bed—her bed. “Stop bitching. You’re lucky to have a dad who wants to be in your life.”
I rolled my eyes, sitting on the edge of the bed as I stared down at my toes. A jar of red nail polish was in my hand. Everything else lacked life and vibrancy. I looked over my shoulder. “You can have him.”
“Really?” She rolled onto her side, flipping her long hair over her slender shoulder. “I’ll take him. And that supercute sweater you’re wearing. Oh, while we’re at it, can I also have Del?”
Annoyance flashed and grew in me like a weed. “You don’t even try to hide the fact that you always want what I have. And you aren’t getting my sweater.”
Grinning shamelessly, she watched me with catlike interest. “But I can have Del? Awesome.”
My eyes narrowed as I twisted the lid back on the polish. Standing, I placed it on her bedside table and picked up the music box. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
She sprang from the bed and grabbed the music box out of my hands. Holding it close to her chest, she smirked. “You don’t really want him, but you won’t let him go.”
For a moment, I thought she was going to clunk me over the head with the box. “I’m out of here,” I said.
Cassie laughed. “Don’t be pissy, Sammy. It brings out the lines around your mouth. Wouldn’t want to age yourself prematurely.”
“Don’t be a bitch,” I retorted, heading for the door.
She dashed in front of me, grasping my arms. Her eyes, greener than mine, filled with regret. “Don’t be mad at me, Sammy. I wasn’t being serious. You know that, right?”
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. Part of me wanted to push her away. She thought I didn’t have my suspicions—that I didn’t know. But the other part of me, well, it felt bad for her. After all, I understood Cassie better than anyone else. Knew why she did the things she did, even to me—her best friend.
“Please?” She bounced on her heels.
Forcing a smile, I nodded. “Yeah, I’m not mad at you.”
Cassie let out a squeal and wrapped her arms around me. “You know, when we’re old and ugly, we’re still going to be best friends, right?”
I laughed. “If we don’t kill each other before then.”
Feeling the blood drain from my face, I was abruptly pulled out of the memory when Del’s hand slipped between my thighs. Sucking in a sharp breath, I grabbed his wrist, stopping him from going any further.
He shot me an innocent grin.
Disgusted, I tossed his hand back into his lap. My hands were shaking as I tucked my hair back, focusing on the pew ahead.
“What’s your deal?” Del asked in a hushed voice.
“Besides you fondling me during a funeral?” I hissed back. “I remembered something.”
He drew back slightly, eyes growing wide. “What?”
Veronica was staring at us, so I lowered my voice even more, but I was sure she overheard me. “I was talking with Cassie in her bedroom.”
Del’s brows rose. “Nothing much, then.”
It wasn’t to him, but it was the first time I’d remember anything normal about Cassie. But what had I been suspicious about, and what did I know about Cassie that explained her behavior? The plot thickens. My lips twisted and then my stomach dipped as I remembered the last thing I had said to her.
If we don’t kill each other before then.
After the service, everyone piled out in the parking lot. The graveside service was family only.
I scanned the crowds, looking for my parents.
Mom stood by the Bentley, lips pursed as she pointedly stared out into the cemetery at my dad. He was talking to Cassie’s grandfather, who looked just as forlorn as he had when Carson and I had visited. Shaking the older man’s hand, Dad then turned to Ms. Winchester. His lips moved into a sad, sympathetic smile, and then Ms. Winchester’s face crumpled, and she burst into tears once more.
I had to look away.
My gaze landed on Mom once again. It struck me as odd—and rude—that Mom hadn’t offered her condolences. Glancing over my shoulder, I thought I saw Carson’s familiar dark head, but he wasn’t in the crowd.
Del dropped his arm over my shoulder. “You ready?”
I watched my brother’s eyes narrow as he studied Del’s arm. Was I really ready? No. But Del and I needed to talk. “Yeah, I’m ready.”
In more ways than one.
Turned out, I didn’t get a lot of one-on-one time with my boyfriend. A huge group of kids had gone back to his parents’ “farm” after the services. The farm was really just this barn that had been decked out into some sort of playboy clubhouse.
The bottom floor was full of overstuffed couches around a TV screen that was the size of a Hummer. There was a bar where I assumed the stables used to be, and it was in full use right now. Upstairs, the loft had been divided into three guest rooms.
They were also in use.
Sex, drinking, and death seemed to go hand in hand. Maybe it was the way people dealt with death. Losing yourself when faced with something so final was appealing.
Except I’d already lost myself.
A kid bumped into me, and I moved farther into the corner. All of this might have been my thing months ago, but now I wanted nothing more than to disappear into the walls. Everything was too loud—the music, the conversation, the laughter.
Scott was nowhere to be found, having disappeared with Julie and Carson.
I’d fallen asleep with him beside me on Friday, and when I woke up later, he was gone.
We hadn’t talked since.
Clutching the red plastic cup to my chest, I pressed against the wall, scanning the crowd while trying to get my heart to slow down.
“There you are,” Del called out, shuffling past a couple who seemed to be in a contest to see who could kiss the longest without coming up for air. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
I eyed the bottle of Jack in his hand. The barn wasn’t so big that you could lose someone. “I’ve been here.”
Del leaned in, giving my cheek a sloppy kiss that reeked of alcohol. “Why are you standing in the corner by yourself? Veronica and Candy are right there.”
Veronica and Candy were on one of the couches, surrounded by girls I didn’t recognize. Lauren didn’t come, opting to go home after the funeral. I couldn’t blame her.
“You look so lonely over here,” Del said, dropping an arm over my shoulders as he leaned in. He caught a piece of my hair with his free hand, twirling it around his finger. “Your friends miss you, Sammy.”
I wanted to miss them—really I did—but the only one I could even tolerate now was Lauren, and she wasn’t even here. I looked up at Del, taking in the straight teeth, the square jaw and aristocratic nose. Everything about him was perfect, from the strategically placed highlights in his carefully styled hair to the tips of his shoes. I could see what I’d been attracted to. Who wouldn’t have been? But nothing stirred in my chest.