She glanced over at the Jeep and grinned as she wiggled her fingers. “Have fun.”
Waving good-bye, I took a deep breath and made my way over to where he waited. He leaned over, opening the passenger door from the inside. Several locks of rich brown hair fell forward, brushing the tips of his lashes. Luke Bryan crooned from the radio.
“Hey there, pretty lady.”
“Hey.” I hoisted myself up and closed the door, overly pleased with his greeting. And I figured that wasn’t very healthy. Reaching for the seat belt, I looked over at him again and tried not to gawk.
Jase possibly—and I was willing to bet money I didn’t have on it—had the most perfectly formed body. Even sitting down, his abs were defined and appeared rock hard to touch. My gaze traveled over the ropy muscle of his forearm, visually tracing the intricate knotting of his tattoo.
“Got it?” he asked, giving me a lopsided grin.
Having no idea what he was talking about, I simply stared at him. He laughed softly as he reached over and took the seat belt from my hand. As he drew the strap across me, the back of his fingers brushed my chest.
I sucked in a soft gasp as raw sensation skittered through my veins.
The seat belt clicked into place as he lifted his chin. His eyes flashed silver. “Good?”
Still grinning, he returned to his seat and picked up the pink box I only noticed then. God, I wasn’t observant at all.
He handed it over to me. “I already ate half. Couldn’t wait.”
Smiling, I popped open the box and took a bite. I looked forward to the whole cupcake thing. There was something simply exciting about not knowing what I was about to taste.
One bite and I moaned. “Oh my God, is that Reese’s Pieces in this thing?”
He nodded. “Yep. That’s good shit right there, huh?”
“I want to marry it.”
Jase laughed deeply as he eased the Jeep away from the curb. I didn’t trust myself to speak until I finished off the cupcake and the thrill of his brief, and most likely accidental, touch had stopped racing from my veins, and by that time, we were on the main road, heading toward Martinsburg.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“It’s a surprise.” He slid me a sideways glance. “Though you might end up regretting the jeans. Weatherman was saying it was going to get up to the mideighties this afternoon.”
Which was unseasonably warm for early October, but whatever. “I’m fine.”
That one-sided grin tipped up. “That you are.”
Staring at him, a laugh burst free. “Did you . . . ? That was really . . .”
I shook my head, grinning like a complete fool. “That was pretty bad.”
He chuckled as he reached over, flipping the station to a blues channel. “I thought it was smooth.”
My mouth opened to ask why he was trying to be smooth, but luckily I stopped myself. That question would probably end up making me look like an idiot by the time it was answered.
Forcing my gaze to the window, I clasped my hands in my lap. “So . . . how are your classes going?”
I cringed at how lame the question sounded, but Jase didn’t appear to notice. “They’re going good. As long as I can get into the rest of my classes next semester, I’ll be graduating in the spring.”
“That’s great.” I smiled broadly, maybe a little too widely. I had no idea what Jase planned to do once he graduated, but I doubted he was going to stay around here. It shouldn’t even be a concern of mine. “Where are you going once you graduate?”
Jase shifted in the driver’s seat, keeping one hand on the steering wheel and the other resting on his leg. “Well, with a degree in environmental studies, I really could go anywhere, but I’ll stay here or commute into D.C. if I can get on with the Department of Interior or WVU. You know they’ve got an agricultural research center outside of Kearneysville.”
“You’re not leaving?” My question came fast.
“I can’t,” he said, and added quickly, “I mean, I like it here.”
I didn’t miss the sudden tensing of his shoulders. Nibbling my lower lip, I peeked at him again. “You can’t?”
He didn’t say anything as he reached forward, turning the station back to country music. Someone started singing about a tear in their beer, but I was hardly paying attention. What could he have meant by him not being able to leave? Nothing was holding him here. He seriously could go anywhere, especially if he did get in with the Department of Interior.
Running a hand through his messy mop of hair, he glanced over at me. “What about you?”
“Me?” He was so trying to change the subject.
“Yeah. You. Are you going to stay around here?” The derision in his voice caused me to stiffen. “Teaching?”
Indignation rose at his tone. “What is that supposed to mean?”
He laughed, but for some reason, it sounded dry and harsh. “Come on, Tess, teaching a bunch of elementary-school kids? Seriously?”
Twisting toward him, I crossed my arms. “Okay. I don’t get it. You acted like teaching was a good idea and I—”
“It is a good idea, but it’s not . . .”
“What?” I demanded, getting all kinds of defensive. “It’s not what?”
“You.” He glanced at me as he turned right onto Queen Street. “It’s not you.”
I stared at him and then barked out a laugh. “That’s dumb. How do you know what’s me and what’s not?” Anger flared in me, and I didn’t dare look too closely at why. “You barely know me, Jase.”
“I know you.”
I scoffed. “No, you don’t.”
That infuriating half grin appeared. “Oh, Tess . . .”
“Don’t ‘oh, Tess’ me. I want to know why you’re so convinced that I’d make a horrible teacher.”
“I didn’t say you’d make a horrible teacher.” Amusement danced over his face, and I wanted to know what the hell was so funny. “You’d make a great teacher. Kids would probably love you and maybe you’ll be happy with that, but that’s not what you want.”
“In fact, I like being around kids. Back at the studio, I volunteered to help out with the younger classes.” Staring out the window, I watched the shopping centers and apartments quickly give way to trees and then open fields. “So whatever.”
“Okay. You’re not getting what I’m saying.”
“Obviously not,” I replied tartly.
He sighed. “You’d make a great teacher, Tess, but you’re a . . . you’re a performer. That’s what you’ve always wanted.”
I squeezed my eyes tight, as if doing so somehow blocked out the truth. “That’s not what I’ve always wanted to do.”
“I don’t believe you,” he said. “And here’s why. You’ve been dancing since you could walk. You’re just here until you can start dancing again, right? The whole teaching shit is a backup plan just in case you can’t dance. It’s not what you really want to do. You already admitted that to me.”
My mouth opened and I planned on telling him he was wrong, but dear Lord that was not what came tumbling out of my mouth. “A year ago I didn’t think I’d be sitting here, enrolled in college. It hadn’t even crossed my mind. And you’re right. When Dr. Morgan tells me next month that I’m okay to start dancing in three months or whatever, that’s what I will do, because that’s what I loved to do. What’s so wrong with that? I won’t be here, where it feels like I don’t understand anything.”
Jase was quiet for a few moments. “Nothing is wrong with that.”
Feeling like I stripped bare and did a na**d jig for no reason, I threw my hands up in frustration. “Then what’s the point of this conversation?”
He smiled and shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t know. You started it.”
“I did not!”
Jase retorted, “Yes, you did. You asked me what I was planning on doing. I was just returning the favor.”
I rolled my eyes. “I want to hit you.”
“Even more now.” I shot him a look.
Slowing the Jeep down to turn onto a narrow road that looked vaguely familiar, he tilted his head to the side. A beat of silence passed. “Well, if you do end up being around here and deciding to stick with teaching, you’ll be wonderful at it. And if not, then that’s good, too. I know how much dancing means to you.”
I didn’t know what to say about that, but then I realized where we were. Sitting up straight, I peered at the sign dangling from the chain. “We’re at the farm?”
Sudden nervousness hummed through my veins. “Why?”
“It’s just something I thought about.” He winked, and I bit back a groan as my stomach flopped in response. “You’ll see.”
I turned wide eyes forward as we traveled up the bumpy, uneven road. Beyond the cornstalks and the field where the cows grazed, I saw what I figured Jase was thinking about.
A fissure of fear ran down my spine as I remembered our conversation about dancing and riding horses. “Oh no . . .”
Jase chuckled as he parked the Jeep in front of the barn. “You don’t even know what you’re saying no to.”
Pulse picking up, I rubbed my sweaty palms over my jeans and swallowed hard. The last thing I wanted was to die a horrific death in front of the boy I harbored major feels for. “Jase, I don’t know about this. Horses are big and I’ve never been on one. I’m probably going to fa—”
He placed the blunt tip of his finger on my lips. Surprise jolted through me. “Stop,” he said softly, his deep gray eyes locking on mine. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Okay? You’ve just got to trust me. And you trust me, right?”
Before I could respond, he moved his hand, smoothing the finger along my bottom lip. I shivered as his hand drifted over my chin and then disappeared.
Drawing in a short breath, I nodded, but I’d probably agree to play inside a wood chipper if he touched my lips again. “I trust you.”
“Good.” There was a flash of a quick smile and then he was out of the Jeep.
I tracked him with my eyes, feeling a little dizzy. It was the truth. I did trust him and that was a big deal for me. I really hadn’t trusted any guy since Jeremy, anyone except my brother.
But I had trusted Jase from the moment I had met him.
I wasn’t going to die today. At least that’s what I kept telling myself as I climbed out into the sticky heat. Summer didn’t want to loosen its hold on this area at all.
My hands trembled as Jase joined me. Unfortunately, he tugged a white shirt on over his head, covering up the feast for my eyes. That was a damn shame, because if I was going to end up breaking my neck today, at least I would do so staring at his chest and abs.
The barn door creaked open, and an older man stepped out. Having never seen him before, I still knew right off the bat he was Jase’s father. It was like staring at Jase thirty years from now.
Hair the same rich, brown color, skin dark from either a life in the sun or long-forgotten ancestry, he was as tall and lean as his son. Steely gray eyes moved from Jase to me and then widened as they returned to his son.
He sat the metal bucket he was carrying down on the gravel as his dark brows furrowed. A small surprised smile appeared on his handsome face.
Jase grinned as he placed a hand on my lower back. “Hey, Dad, this is Teresa. She’s Cam’s sister.”
Recognition flared. “Cam’s little sister? Ah, the dancer.”
I felt my cheeks flush. How in the world did this man know that? And if that piece of background news had come from my brother, God only knew what else Cam had told him.
“That’s her,” Jase replied, moving the hand on my back up a notch.
“Hi,” I said, waving my hand as awkwardly as humanly possible.
His father’s smile spread as he strode toward us, his head cocked to the side in a mannerism that reminded me of Jase. “You cannot be related to Cam. There is no way a pretty girl like you shares DNA with that ugly mug.”
A surprised laugh broke free. I think I liked this guy.
“And there is also no way you’re here with this one.” He nodded his head at Jase, who frowned. “You must be lost.”
Okay. I really liked this guy. “You’re right. I don’t even know who this person is.”
Jase’s frown slipped into a scowl as he glanced down at me. “What the hell?”
His father winked, and in that moment, I realized that Jase got not only his looks, but also his personality from his father. “So what are ya’ll doin’ here?” He pulled a red handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his hands as he eyed his son. “Jack’s with your mom, down at Betty’s.”
“I know. He goes there every day after school.” Jase dropped his hand, and the spot along my back tingled. “I’m showing Tess the horses.”
Mr. Winstead eyed his son. “Well, I’m going to be out back if ya’ll need anything.”
“We’ll be fine, Dad.” Jase started to turn.
“Wasn’t tellin’ you.” He looked over at me, mischief in his eyes. “If this boy’s improper with you, you let me know and I’ll take care of him.”