Then he cut his eyes at me, as though waiting for me to say something.

“Your father doesn’t mind you partying?”

“Dads? Nah. He doesn’t care. Though, strictly speaking, it was just his credit card that bought the goods, not the man himself.” He shrugged, gave a little laugh. “What? Don’t look at me like that, Castle.”

I had no idea how I was looking at him, although I suspect it was with pity. Our house could practically fit in his foyer, but it never felt sad and empty like that, despite the distant party sounds. “I—”

“I’m sure you have crazy relatives locked in your attic too.

What family isn’t dysfunctional, right? Come on, let’s get you what you need.”

He poured me another daiquiri and one for himself, then led me back down the hallway. And I followed. That’s the thing, I trailed right after him into this big study, where he waved me to a big puffy couch, all swirly embroidered flowers on a white linen background, then sank into an equally puffy chair across from it, studying me over the rim of his glass. “You really are pretty as hell, Castle. Much hotter when you don’t wear the baggy clothes. Don’t stress about what happened with Sundance. How could he help himself? Besides, it’s just sex. No big deal.”

That’s exactly what it hadn’t felt like. Not just sex. Not no big deal. Not at all. Not to me.

But this was the last thing I was going to let Spence know.

I gulped my drink, shook my head, laughed in what I hoped was a carefree and dismissive way. “I’ve already forgotten the whole thing. Water under the dam.” Was that right? Bridge?

Dam? I should put this drink down now.

He whistled. “Don’t tell Cassidy that. Not in those words, anyway. We guys are touchy. Good to know there are no hard feelings, though.”

“I’m not planning on any heart-to-hearts with Cass Somers.”

“C’mon, Gwen. He’s a good guy. Don’t be mad at him.”

He examined my face more closely, then whistled again, lon-149

ger and lower. “O-ho. You’re not mad. You’re hurt. Damn, I’m sorry.” He sounded as though he meant it, and to my horror, tears sprang to my eyes.

“Oh man. I didn’t think . . . You always seemed so . . . Don’t do this, okay?” Spence set his drink on the coffee table, swept my glass out of my hands, one smooth motion. Then did the most unexpected thing. He leaned forward to kiss the tears away, lifting my hair away from my face, tucking it behind my ears, whispering against my cheek. “Sobbing girls are my weakness. They slay me, every time. Shh. Secret. Word gets out and every girl at school will know how to get to me.”

“No more five chicks in the hot tub, then,” I said shakily.

“Six,” he murmured, still smoothing back my hair. There was a smudge of black on his lower lip from my mascara. “But who’s counting? You have dreamboat eyes, you know that?”

“Did you use that lame line on all six?”

“Nah. Didn’t bother. None of them were looking for a deep and meaningful relationship. Neither, of course, am I. And tonight, I’m betting you aren’t either. Right?”

He was right. I wasn’t. Not that night. Viv and Nic and the hotel—Cass—flashed into my head and then zoomed out as Spence bent toward me, moving forward to my lips this time.

On the drive home from the bridge, Nic keeps glancing over at me, shoulder muscles tense.

“Look,” he says finally. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. I just . . . I mean, you’re pretty, you’re cool, and you’ve never really dated, and . . .” He drums his thumbs on the steering wheel, his mouth open like he hopes the right words will just magically fly into it. Finally: “Did that ass Alex break your heart?”

“Please. Alex got nowhere near my heart. I thought he did back then, but it was nothing. He just hurt my feelings, the putz.”

“Then did Channing . . . ?” He trails off, clearly finding the thought completely impossible.

Hunching back in my seat, I kick my feet up on the glove compartment

“C’mon, Gwen. Talk. Tell me.”

I shake my head. “No, thanks.”

Nic reaches over and tries to pull my head to his shoulder but I’m stiff, edging him away. “I’m good,” I say. “Let’s just drive.”

Chapter Fifteen

But “just driving” is almost worse than trying to explain that party to my baffled cousin, because it reminds me of the worst, most painful part of that night. Which I don’t want to think about. But I can’t stop.

When I woke up, I had no idea where I was—only that everything about it felt bad. I was wedged in an uncomfortable position against a wall, my dress twisted up behind my shoulder blades. My mouth was sticky-sweet and my head heavy and fogged. Someone next to me was snoring.

I lay there categorizing the feelings. 1) I was not at home.

) I didn’t like where I was. 3) I was not alone. Then the soft snoring sound next to me and the long foot looped around mine, the distinctive smell of expensive, musky aftershave and the sickly sweet taste of strawberry pulled it together.

I was at Spence Channing’s party. In a bed with Spence Channing. And yeah, I’d chosen all this.

Unhooking his ankle from my own, I inched slowly—sll-looooowly—down to the bottom of the bed and then blinked at the dim floor, the ladder stretching up, the shelf of mattress above me.

This was a bunk bed.

Spence muttered and groped for my waist for a second, but then rolled onto his stomach and snored louder.

I was in a bunk bed with a boy who drank strawberry dai-quiris. For some reason, probably because I was still a little buzzed, that seemed like one of the most surreal parts. I was in a bunk bed where the sheets were decorated with nautical flags. With a boy who at some point in the night had gotten up and put on paisley pajama bottoms. While across town, my best friends were in a hotel room that probably smelled like roses . . .

Don’t think about that.

I needed to get out of this room.

After bumping my head on the hard corner of a bureau, I finally reached the door, groped for the handle, and let myself out, blinking, into the hallway. The light was dim, but still hurt my eyes. There was a guy—Chris Markos?—slumped against the wall in a half-sitting, half-lying position. Out cold.

Judging from the people scattered on couches and chairs and the floor—all crashed—this was one of those parties that would be described as “epic.” There was Matt Salnitas on the couch with Kym Woo—who I knew was dating his brother.