Stay with Me / Page 1

Page 1



One


The Hot Guy Brigade surrounded me.


A lot of people believed that the Hot Guy Brigade was a myth. Nothing more than a campus urban legend, kind of like the story about the homecoming queen who’d pitched herself out of one of the dorm windows because she was tripping balls on LSD or crack, or she had fallen in the shower and busted her head open or something. Who knew? The story changed every time I heard it, but unlike the supposed dead chick who haunted Gardiner Hall, the Hot Guy Brigade was a real living and breathing thing—several things to be exact.


Several hot things.


It was rare that they were all together nowadays, which is why they’d become sort of campus lore, but wow-wee, when they got together, it was a whole lot of eye candy.


And it was probably the closest to perfection I’d ever get in my lifetime—that and the miracle makeup called Dermablend, because it almost covered the scar on my face.


We were all piled into Avery Morgansten’s apartment. Based on the rock on her ring finger, she was well on her way to getting a last-name change, and although I didn’t know her well, really didn’t know anyone except Teresa, I was happy for her. Anytime I’d been around her, she was always sweet. She could be a little quiet sometimes and seemed to disappear into her own head, but anyone could tell she and her fiancé, Cameron Hamilton, were deeply in love by the way they watched each other.


Like the way he was watching her now, as if there were no other woman in the world but her. Even though they were sitting together, Cam on the couch and Avery in his lap, those bright blue eyes were fixed on her as she laughed at something his sister Teresa said.


If I had to rank the Hot Guy Brigade, I’d say that Cam was the president. It wasn’t just his looks, but also his personality. No one felt odd or left out around him. He had this . . . warmth that was absolutely contagious.


Secretly, and I’d totally take it to my grave, I envied Avery. I barely even knew her, but I coveted what she had—the gorgeous hot guy, who was also genuinely a good guy, who still could make you feel comfortable around him. That was rare.


“Want another drink?”


I dipped my head to the left and then back, toward the voice of Jase Winstead, and my breath caught a little. Here was the opposite of Cam—extremely good-looking, but totally did not make me feel comfy when my eyes locked with his deep gray ones. With his swarthy skin, longish brown hair, and almost unreal, model good looks, he’d be the lieutenant of the Hot Guy Brigade. He was by far the sexiest out of all of them, and he could be supersweet, like now, but he wasn’t as easygoing or charming as Cam, which was why Cam held top position.


“Nah, I’m good.” I raised my half-full bottle of beer I’d been sipping since I’d gotten there. “But thanks.”


He smiled and then moved off, circling his arms around Teresa’s waist. She cocked her head back against his chest as she placed her hands on his arms. His face softened.


Yeah, I was a wee bit envious of Teresa, too.


I’d never been in a serious relationship. There hadn’t been any dates in high school. The scar on my face had been a hell of a lot more vibrant then, something no miracle makeup could camouflage . . . and high school kids, yeah, they could be unforgiving when it came to very visible flaws. And even if someone could look past that, with the way my life had been back then, there hadn’t been room or time for a date let alone a relationship.


Then there had been Jonathan King. He was in my history class freshman year, really cute guy and we’d hit it off. For obvious reasons, I’d been reluctant to go out with him when he asked, but damn, he’d been persistent and I’d finally said yes. We’d gone out a few times, but as the relationship progressed and he, being a totally normal guy, had made a move on me one night, when we’d been alone in my dorm, I’d been stupidly convinced that since he could see past the scar on my face, he’d been able to see past everything else.


I’d been wrong.


We didn’t even kiss and we sure as hell didn’t go out again after that, and I hadn’t told anyone about him and that disastrous night. I didn’t think about him. Ever.


Well, except for right now, damnit.


As I watched the Hot Guy Brigade being all hot, I was totally aware of the fact I was boy crazy due to my lack of . . . well, of boys in my life.


“Got it!”


My chin jerked up as Ollie rounded the couch, his girlfriend, Brittany, trailing behind him, her eyes rolling back so far in her head I thought she might pass out as she shook her head.


Ollie approached the coffee table and leaned down, holding some kind of box tortoise in his hands. My brows rose as the little guy’s legs wheeled. What the . . . ?


“It’s not a party until Ollie breaks out the turtle,” said Jase, and my lips curved up in a grin.


Cam sighed as he leaned around Avery. “What in the hell are you doing with Raphael?”


“Correction.” Ollie placed him on the table. With one hand, he brushed his shoulder-length blond hair back behind one ear. “This is Michelangelo, and I think it’s pretty f**ked-up you don’t even know which one is yours anymore. You’ve probably sent Raphael into a depression.”


“I tried to stop him,” Brit said, folding her arms. The two of them looked like they finaled in the Perfect Blond Couple Award. “But you know how he is . . .”


Everyone knew how he was.


Ollie was in grad school now, to become a doctor—surprisingly—but his antics were as big a legend as the Hot Guy Brigade. Ollie would be second to the lieutenant. He got a lot of bonus points for coming down to Shepherdstown every other weekend to see his girlfriend and for being a shameless goofball.


“As you can see, I have fashioned a new leash.” He gestured at what looked like a miniature belt secured around the tortoise’s shell.


Cam stared up at him. “Are you serious?”


“You can walk them now.” And then he proceeded to demonstrate this by leading Michelangelo across the table, and I had to wonder if Avery and Cam ate off it. “It’s better than yarn.”


Walking a turtle? That . . . that had to be worse than walking a cat. I started giggling. “It looks like a Barbie belt.”


“It’s a designer leash,” he corrected, his lips twitching. “But I did get the idea while we were in Wal-Mart, checking out the toy section.”


Teresa frowned. “Why were you in the toy section?”


“Yeah,” Jase drew the word out. “Is there something you two aren’t telling us?”


Brit’s eyes widened.


Ollie just shrugged. “I like to check out the toys. They are so much cooler now than when we were kids.”


This statement led to an all-out discussion about how our generation had been sorely cheated when it came to the sophistication and cool factor of today’s toys, and I had to think really hard about the kind of toys I’d played with. There’d been Barbies—of course, there’d been Barbies, but instead of Big Wheels and board games, I had satiny sashes and sparkly crowns.


And then I had nothing.


As the group started talking about summer plans, I tried to pay attention to where each of them was planning to go. Cam and Avery were going to spend their summer in D.C., since Cam had made it onto the United team. I’d never been to D.C., even though Shepherd wasn’t too far from the capital. Brit and Ollie were doing something amazingly crazy. They were leaving a week after school let out and heading to Paris, and they were planning to road-trip across Europe. I’d never been on a plane, let alone overseas. Hell, I hadn’t even been to New York City. Teresa and Jase were in the midst of planning an awesome beach trip to the Carolinas with his parents and little brother. They were getting a condo on the beach, and all Teresa could talk about was soaking her toes in ocean water. I’d also never been to the beach, so I had no idea what sand felt like under my feet.


I really needed to get out more and have a life. Seriously.


But that was okay, because those things, including gallivanting across the continent with a Hot Guy, weren’t part of my goals—the three F’s.


Finish college.


Find a career in the nursing field.


Finally reap the benefits of following through on something.


Goals were good. Boring. But good.


“You’re awful quiet tonight, Calla.”


I tensed up, unable to help myself, and then I felt heat seep across my face at the sound of Brandon Shiver’s voice. Lowering the bottle between my knees, I forced the muscles along my shoulders to relax. It wasn’t like I’d forgotten that Brandon was sitting next to me, to my left. How could I forget that? I was just currently pretending he wasn’t there.


I wetted my lips as I shifted my head so a sheet of my own blond hair fell over my left shoulder, shielding my cheek. “I’m just taking it all in.”


Brandon chuckled. He had a nice laugh. And a nice face. And a nice body. And a really nice ass.


And then there was Brandon. Sigh. Like an extended sigh felt around the world. He would also be a close second to the lieutenant of the Hot Guy Brigade with his brown hair and broad shoulders.


“With Ollie here, it’s always a lot to take in,” he commented, eyeing me over the rim of his bottle. “Wait until he starts talking about the turtle roller skates idea he has.”


I laughed, relaxing a little more. Brandon was hot, but he was also a nice guy, somewhere in between Cam and Jase. “I can’t even imagine turtles on roller skates.”


“Ollie’s either bat-shit crazy or a pure genius.” Brandon shifted on the ottoman. “Jury’s still out on the verdict.”


“I think he’s a genius.” I watched Ollie scoop up the turtle and head back around the couch to the pretty extravagant habitat the little green man lived in. “The way Brit talks, he’s acing all of his courses. Med school can’t be easy.”


“Yeah, but most really smart people are totally insane.” He grinned when I laughed under my breath. “So, has the epic battle for next-semester classes ended?”


I nodded as I grinned again, settling back in the moon chair. With only a semester and a half left before I graduated with my BSN in nursing, getting into classes was like arm-wrestling Hulk Hogan. Everyone who knew my name, or was within earshot, knew I’d been battling my schedule for what felt like an eternity. We were currently a week away from the end of the semester and almost a month since academic advisement for next semester had closed up.


“Yeah, finally. I think I had to give up my right leg to get my classes, but I got all I needed. I have to meet with someone in financial aid on Monday, but I should be good.”


His brows knitted as I glanced at him. “Is everything okay with that?”


“I think so.” I couldn’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t be. “Any plans for this summer?”


One broad shoulder rose. “Haven’t really thought much of it since I’m taking summer classes.”


“Sounds like fun.”


He snorted.


I started to say something else ridiculously not clever since I was doing pretty good with this one-on-one convo with Brandon, but I lost track of what I was about to say when there was a knock. My gaze tracked Ollie to the door. He answered like he’d lived here.


“What up, pretty lady?” he said, and I sat up, my fingers tightening around the neck of the beer bottle.


A pretty, little brunette cruised on into the apartment, a red Sheetz bag dangling from her fingertips. She smiled at Ollie and gave Brit a little wave.


I didn’t know her name.


I sort of refused to learn it, because after the last two semesters of knowing Brandon, I didn’t put the effort into knowing any of the girls he “hung out” with because there were many and they never stuck around long.


But this girl—with her tiny brown pixie cut and ballerina body—was different. They had a class together this semester and they’d started hanging out in March, but this was the first I’d seen her with Brandon outside of campus.


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