“Cool.” He tosses back a lock of hair. It’s such a perfect move, highlighting his sinewy muscles and showing off his glossy hair, that I wonder if he practices in the mirror. An insane, and unwelcome, impulse tempts me to ask if he plucks out half-assed versions of Crash Into You on the guitar.
I’m blinking rapidly into the stage lights when I see him. He’s standing at the bar, and he’s brought a friend. Although, by the way she rests her hand on his ass, I’m guessing ‘friend’ isn’t the word I should use. He doesn’t seem to mind her groping. His smile is slow and easy as he hands her a beer and leans in to hear whatever it is she needs to whisper in his ear. He laughs a little, the broad expanse of his shoulders shaking.
I should look away. But as usual, my neck doesn’t want to obey. No, I just sit and watch as they chat and her hand becomes more familiar with his ass. It barely registers that Cameron is still playing with the edge of my shirt collar, the tips of his fingers gliding along my skin, or that he’s talking about his favorite bands.
I need to make an effort to drag my attention back to my date. It would suck if Drew saw me staring. I’m almost in the clear when Drew turns, his gaze scanning the crowd in a lazy fashion, and his eyes lock on to me.
Caught, I can only stare back. He’s more than twenty feet away. The air is hazy and dim. Heads bob and weave between us as people walk past the bar. And yet it’s as if he’s right in front of me.
Did he like the book?
Just as Drew had, I’d bought it long ago. But, unlike Drew, I was too chicken to give it to him. Until he’d given me my gift. I ought to have sucked it up and handed it to him in person, but I didn’t have the guts to face him.
The ache in my chest digs in, and my palms tingle. I can’t move, locked in his gaze as I am. I want to go to him so badly that my thighs tense, as if I might rise. But then the connection is broken.
He turns his attention to Cameron. Or rather, to Cameron’s hand. Even from this far away, I know that’s what he’s looking at: Cameron touching me.
Drew’s eyes narrow. His expression isn’t pretty, and it’s so intent that I wonder if it’s what a linebacker sees just before he throws a touchdown pass right over their heads.
Suddenly, I’m angry. He has no right to scowl like that when he’s got some groupie taking hand measurements of his ass. And that lovely thought draws me right into queasiness. Especially when I see Miss Cop-A-Feel wrap her arm about his waist. Now she’s stroking his stomach. My spot.
“Excuse me,” I say to Cameron. “I’ll be back.”
Luckily Cameron doesn’t ask why I need to get away. I don’t look in Drew’s direction as I make my way to the bathroom.
Inside, I run cool water over my wrists. Always go for cooling down the wrists. Splash water on your face, and it’s a given that someone will enter the bathroom. And they’ll know you’re upset. Best, they’ll look at you with pity. Worse, they’ll ask you if you’re okay while looking at you with pity.
The wrists, however? You can easily pretend you’re just washing your hands.
I stand there until my fingers grow numb. I don’t look into the mirror. I don’t know if I’ll like what I see. A few drops of water hit my belly and I flinch, breaking out of my fog. My black t-shirt is riding up, exposing a strip of skin over my jeans. The damn shirt is too tight. This is Iris’s brilliant addition to tonight’s wardrobe choice. Because, in her words, “if you have boobs like yours, you got to display them properly.” Low cut tops, Iris insists, are cheap and uninspired.
“But remain fully covered in something that hugs your assets and guys can’t help but want to see what’s underneath. It’s like the ultimate tease.” Ladies and Gentlemen, the world according to Iris.
Right now, I’d be satisfied with a floppy tee and pajama pants. I want to go home.
Drying my hands, I tug one last time at the bottom of my shirt and then exit the bathroom. Only to walk directly into Drew’s path.
He’s leaning against the wall of the restroom hallway. It reminds me so much of the first time we touched each other that my knees go weak. Beyond him, the club is dark and the music has started. Here, it’s too bright. Every line on his face, the deep gold color of his eyes, the little hint of a dimple on his left cheek, is illuminated. And utterly familiar to me. It’s like history repeating itself, and I wonder how my life would be right now had I simply walked away from him the first time we collided in a dark hall. But I didn’t. And here we are. Here I am, broken.
Seeing him so close is pain. Having his attention, so long denied, now fully focused on me is both a warm blanket and a sharp blade. He talks first, and his butter-rich voice sounds so good I press my palms against the grainy wall to keep from touching him.
“Thanks for the book.” His expression is blank, showing no emotion, except for the creases at the corners of his eyes, as if looking at me burns.
It certainly burns to look at him. “Thanks for the album cover. It was… Well, I love it.” Hell. Now I’m gushing.
He frowns a bit, but then nods his head. “Same for the book.” His eyes meet mine, and his words come out stilted. “I love it too.”
Heat invades me. I can’t do this. I can’t stand this close to him and not touch him. I glance toward the bar, wondering if Cameron can see me, wondering if the girl Drew’s with will come looking for him. This all feels wrong as if it the world has flipped over on its head.
Drew notices the direction of my glance, and he stands taller, his shoulders stiff. His tone turns bitter. “I see you found your emo-boy.”
I affect a careless shrug. “If we’re going for accuracy, he’s more hipster than emo.” When Drew glares, I continue on sharply. “Isn’t your date going to wonder where you are?”
The corners of his mouth curl. It is not a smile. “That’s right, a date. I see you are familiar with the concept, despite all evidence to the contrary.”
“I don’t serial date like some, but I try to get out.” What am I doing? I don’t want to hurt him. I just want to get away.
“Are you keeping track of who I date, Anna?” he asks softly, a smirk on his mouth.
I want to hit that mouth. I want to shout at him for plowing through what amounts to sorority row when less than a month ago he claimed that I was his.
“No, Drew,” I say, suddenly weary. “I just know your MO.”
He pushes off of the wall and is in front of me in a fluid move. And some sick part of me loves when he crowds me. I love being surrounded by his strength and his heat. The familiar scent of him makes my heart ache and my body perk up. Yes, please, it says to me.
He leans in closer, his nose almost touching mine, and his voice rolls through me, making my flesh hum. “I never looked at another girl when I was with you. Never even thought about one. Not once.”
I force myself to meet his eyes, and our mouths are too close. “I didn’t look at anyone either. Only you.”
“Then why—” He cuts himself off with a curse, and his fist slams into the wall.
I jump, ready to escape, but he’s boxed me in, his forehead pressing against the wall as he breathes in and out. He’s so close to me that his chest brushes mine with each inhale. And I shiver with the need to hold him. But I don’t. I can feel his anger. He vibrates with it.
“We could have been so good,” he says.
Before I can answer, he launches away from me with those quick reflexes that make him a star athlete. He’s backing up. Returning to his date.
I move to go the other way, when he grabs me. One hand cups my neck, the other splays against my back, slipping under my shirt to touch my bare skin. His mouth crashes into mine on the next breath. And my body goes supernova. His tongue slides deep, his lips bruise, and it feels so good that I moan behind it all. It’s always like this. I can’t get enough of him. I devour his mouth, play with his tongue. My br**sts crush against the hard wall of his chest. Sweet relief.
And then he’s pushing me away. I’m staggering back. His eyes are dull, filled with pain, regret, and worst of all, disgust.
“So f**king good.” He leaves me there slumped against the wall.
AS FAR AS mistakes go, that was fairly colossal. Fucking stupid is what it was. Damn, I shouldn’t have followed Anna to the bathroom. And I sure as shit shouldn’t have kissed her. My ribs compress painfully at the thought. Holding her, feeling her soft, plump lips once more was both agony and ecstasy. I still taste her in my mouth. I haven’t taken another drink since I kissed her, some desperate part of me reluctant to wash her away. In short, I am insane.
Unfortunately, sanity left the building the second I saw Mr. Yuck put his f**king hands on Anna. It was all I could do not to trample through the crowd and smash Emo Boy’s face in. Holy hell, watching his fingers stoke Anna’s neck while knowing exactly how her skin feels, knowing that I’d never get to do the same, gutted me. Nothing could stop me from seeking her out, from touching her and letting her remember just what she was missing.
A great plan. Only now I remember with perfect clarity what I am missing too.
Having just experienced true jealousy, I can safely say that the emotion is insidious, and I never want to feel it again. But it lingers like a plague, eating through my insides with dull, thick teeth.
I rub the hollow spot in the center of my chest and then pull my head out of the fog I’ve been wallowing in. Christ, I’m out with another girl. I shouldn’t be thinking about the one who didn’t want me.
I take a breath and face… Shit. What is her name?
In the darkness of my car’s interior, her eyes shine as she looks at me. She’s pretty. They all are, these girls I ask out with no intention of letting things go any further than one date. Hell, they all look vaguely similar, same general features, same body type, taste in clothes. All-American, perky sorority girls. Why hadn’t I noticed before Anna? And I accused her of only wanting one type.
Bitterness fills my mouth.
My date smiles, hesitant. “That was…nice.”
Nice. Right. We’d been at the club for all of ten minutes before I disappeared, stuck my tongue down another girl’s throat, and then promptly came back to haul her out of there like the place was on fire. Really nice of me.
“Yeah.” I clear my throat. “Sorry I’m tired tonight. We’ve been practicing a lot.” Lie. But one most girls seem to appreciate.
She’s no different. She smiles again, her eyes sympathetic. “That’s okay. Your dedication is admirable.”
Tell that to the guys, most of whom want to kill me about now.
“Thanks…” Fuck. What is her name? Stacy? No. Shannon! “Shannon.”
I brace for impact just in case I’ve gotten it wrong, but she smiles as if I’ve just given her some great reward.
Having nothing more to say, I turn all of my attention back to the road. Why did I go out with her? It was stupid. Suffocating. I can’t get her home soon enough. I turn on the radio in a desperate attempt to fill the silence. Jack White is singing about falling in love with a ghost he’s not brave enough to kiss. I stab the off button with more force than necessary.
Thank God we’re now in front of her sorority house because I don’t think I can drive any more. I pull over and brake hard enough to send us both rocking forward.
As if she’s been waiting for this moment, Shannon turns in her seat and gives me an expectant look. Her body language is crystal clear, from the way she leans in toward me, to her gaze flitting from my mouth to my eyes. She wants me to kiss her.
My fingers tighten around the steering wheel, and the leather creaks.
I’m not kissing her in this car. Not where I first got my mouth on Anna’s. Just seeing another girl sitting in the passenger seat is a slap in the face. It’s wrong. Anna should be there. In a way, she is. Haunting me with each breath. That my safe haven is now effectively ruined makes me want to punch something.
With a snap of the seatbelt, I wrench open my door and stumble into the cold night air. I suck in a deep breath as I round the car and open the door for my date.
Not deterred, she manages to slide her body against mine when she rises out of the car. Hell.
“So,” she murmurs, resting a hand on my chest, “thanks for taking me out tonight.”
I edge back, shutting the car door with my hip. She follows, and her hand finds my neck.
“Yeah, sure.” I sound like an idiot. I am an idiot. Why did I go out tonight?
Her eyes stare up at me. Waiting.
No. Not going to happen. I can’t even stir up a bit of enthusiasm. But then I think of Anna going home with Mr. Yuck. She’s moved on. Frowning, I bend my head closer to the girl who is willing. Rosy lips part in invitation. I stall out.
Just do it. Do it and move on too. Kiss the damn girl, already.
She takes the decision out of my hands. Her lips mash into mine. They feel wrong, not the right shape. She smells wrong, of sweet flowers instead of warm spices. Wrong, wrong, wrong. My entire body recoils. I rear back, breaking out of her hold in an awkward fumble. Jesus. My dick actually feels like it’s shriveled in my shorts.
“Sorry,” I say just as she does.
Heat floods my face. I ought to have been able to at least go with the kiss. She’s cute, after all. And wiling. Instead, my flesh crawls. And it pisses me off. I’m infected with Anna. I want to punch a hole through the roof of my car.
Giving Shannon an unsteady laugh, I step further away, my ass hitting the car door. “I’m ah…”—completely f**ked—”tired.”