Cam only looked placated when Avery wrapped her arm around his knee. “How did it happen anyway?”
I sat the tea on the coffee table. “It was just an accident. I was standing up. Got hit in the hip with a bag and I tried to step out of the way and I came down on my knee wrong.”
Saying it like that sounded innocent enough. Even I could believe it when it was thrown out like that.
Cam smoothed his hand over his baseball cap, tugging the bill down. “Shit, Teresa . . .”
As I sat back, Jase’s fingers slipped under my hair and spread out. My eyes widened as he started to move his hand up and down.
“The doctor really thinks you won’t be able to dance anymore?” asked Avery. She rested her head against Cam’s leg, her eyes wide with sympathy.
Taking a breath that got stuck in my throat, I nodded and then told them what Dr. Morgan had explained. By the time I was done with the sad story, Avery was close to tears and Cam was kneeling beside her, his chin lowered and gaze fixed to the carpet. “So that’s . . . that’s it,” I said, wincing when I heard my voice catch. “I can’t dance anymore.”
Speaking the words cut with a swipe of a hot knife.
“I really am sorry,” she said.
I shifted my weight, wishing the coffee table was high enough to shove my leg under it. “Thanks.”
Twenty kinds of awkward silence descended in the room. This was probably the worst part of it all. No one knew what to say because there wasn’t anything to say.
Jase slid his hand off my back and leaned forward. “Anyone hungry? I’m starving and I’d do some terrible, nasty things for some Aussie cheese fries.”
Avery laughed. “Do we even want to know?”
He opened his mouth.
“No,” Cam answered immediately, standing straight. “You do not want to know what Jase has already probably done for cheese fries.”
“All I have to say is desperate hookers ain’t got nothing on me,” Jase said, and he winked when Avery flushed the color of the throw pillow I was leaning against.
I laughed. “Wow. That’s . . . well, that’s disgusting.”
His grin turned mischievous.
The muscles in my back eased as Cam glanced over at Avery. “What about you?” he asked, and I whispered a little prayer of thanks that the conversation had switched gears. “Want to go grab something to eat?”
She nodded as she tugged her coppery hair around her shoulder. “I’d love some fries. And ahi tuna.”
“Mmm,” I said, stomach rumbling.
“Then let’s go.” Cam took Avery’s hands and hauled her up. “Outback trip for the win.”
Jase was up and had my crutches by the time I stood. Our eyes met as he handed them over, and I felt my cheeks burn. I looked away quickly, catching Avery watching us closely. I forced a casual smile. She grinned back at me as we headed out to the landing.
I grabbed Jase’s arm, stopping him as Cam and Avery walked down the stairs, planning on bringing her car around to the front. I kept my voice low. “Maybe we should wait until he’s in a better mood.”
Jase nodded absently. “Was it an accident?”
A muscle popped along his jaw. “Erik and the bag?”
I was confused to how we’d gotten back to that. Erik was the last person I wanted to think about. Not after breaking my bum leg news to Cam and the fact that the four of us were going out on our first double date . . . that the other two didn’t realize they were on. A stupid, silly grin loomed as my mind took a rapid detour back to the lake and our conversation.
We were together.
“Tess?” he queried quietly.
I shrugged as I gripped the handles on my crutches. “Probably.”
“Are you guys coming?” Cam’s voice floated up the stairwell. “Or is Jase doing some of those hooker acts of desperation for cheese fries?”
I cocked my head to the side. “What exactly will you do for extra cheese and bacon?”
“I’d get on my knees and get right up between your pretty thighs and eat you out like you can only dream of,” he whispered, causing my mouth to drop open. Holy hotness, I felt warm all over as he shouted, “Yeah. We’re having problems with the crutches!”
I made a face.
He ignored it and asked in a much lower voice, “What do you mean by probably?”
“He was pissed at Debbie and he was pushing her. I got in the way.” I shrugged again. “And he swung the bag around. End of story.” I paused as concern trickled through me. “Don’t tell Cam. He will fly off the handle. You know he will. He doesn’t need to know that. Okay? Promise me.”
Jase’s eyes turned a hard, stormy gray as he took a deep breath. “I won’t say a thing to Cam.”
Dinner with Cam and Avery made me feel like a voyeur who was watching a couple who were only minutes away from getting it on like two rabbits who’d been forced into celibacy. During dinner, I counted five kisses on the cheek or temple. Four kisses on the lips. At least ten times when Cam’s hand seemed to disappear under the table and half of that when Avery’s arm moved far to the right of her.
By the time dinner was over, they were too caught up in playing grabby hands to question why I crutched my way over to Jase’s Jeep instead of catching a ride with them. Spending all this time with Jase wouldn’t go unnoticed for too long, but it wasn’t a conversation we could have in the parking lot between Outback and a Christian bookstore.
Although Cam and Avery had no problem with fusing their mouths together in said parking lot.
The ride back to my dorm was quiet. The radio was turned to the ’90s channel, volume low. It was still early in the night, but I had to keep covering my mouth with my hand. So much had happened today. So much had changed in the last three days. There was a bone-deep weariness in my core. I glanced over at Jase, his striking profile dark. Extreme giddiness swept through me when I realized that Jase and I . . . well, we were together. He was my boyfriend. There was a label, and I felt like I was seconds from breaking into a fit of giggles like I was thirteen.
Sadness snapped on the heels of the happiness, and I returned my gaze to the passenger window. I closed my eyes against the sudden burn. I couldn’t dance anymore. The loss of something that had been so important to me was like a dark shadow creeping over everything else. It had been this way during dinner. I’d feel happy. I’d smile and laugh and then I’d remember what I lost today.
All my plans. My goals. My hopes. My future. All gone.
I didn’t want to focus on the crap part of my life, but pushing it out of my head was hard, and those thoughts lingered in the recesses of my mind.
Jase rode the elevator up with me at the dorm, took my key card, and opened the door to my suite. He stepped inside, flipping on the light so I didn’t slam my crutches into anything. As usual, the door to our suitemates’ room was closed. On the dry-erase board by the desk, there was a note from Debbie with today’s date, saying she was spending the night at Erik’s.
“Do you want to stay?” I blushed because it sounded like an invite for some bow-chicka-bow-wow. Not that I was entirely against that, but standing there with crutches didn’t make me feel sexy. “I mean, you’re welcome to hang out.”
Welcome to hang out? God, I sounded like an idiot.
Jase grinned as he sauntered in. “There’s really no other place I’d rather be.”
My lips split into a wide smile, and I turned before he could see how obviously happy that made me. “Be right back.”
Leaving the crutches in the corner, I carefully gathered up my nightclothes and bath stuff. I changed into a pair of cotton sleep pants and a shirt, forgoing the bra. The shirt was black, so it didn’t show much. I left the brace on and quickly washed my face. After pulling down my ponytail, I ran a brush through my hair and then returned to my room.
Jase had made himself comfortable on my narrow bed. Stretched out on his back, the remote control to the TV that sat on our dresser rested on his flat stomach. He’d even kicked his shoes off. Seeing him there caused a flutter deep in my belly, which only increased when he patted the spot next to him.
“Should you be walking around without the crutches?” he asked.
Ignoring the ache in my knee, I slowly made my way over to him and sat. “It’s not that big of a distance. Besides, these rooms are too small to use crutches.”
He settled on the ID channel and then rolled onto his side, dropping the remote onto the nightstand. He cupped his hand around my elbow and tugged as he peered up at me through thick, dark lashes. “Lie down with me?”
How in the world could I resist that request? With him on his side, I was able to lie on my back beside him. The moment my head touched the pillow, he smiled in a way that made my toes curl.
“How you doing?”
“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.
“Understandable.” He scooped up the strands of my hair, brushing them back from my face. “You’ve had a lot going on today—the last couple of days.”
“Yeah. My head is going in different directions.” My chest rose sharply as he traced the outline of my lower lip with his thumb. “Everything feels different now.”
I nodded and then stilled as his hand drifted down the valley between my br**sts and then stopped just below them. Sharp tingles followed his hand, and the tips of my br**sts tightened. I knew he noticed because his gaze dipped, and he sucked his bottom lip between his teeth. His lashes swept up, and our gazes locked.
He curved his hand around my ribs. “You talking about us or . . . ?”
“Both,” I whispered.
His gaze traveled over my face, lingering on my lips. Heat moved from my belly and seemed to pool between my thighs. There was a moment where the only sound was my pounding heart and the low hum from the TV. “It’s going to be okay.”
I smiled as I placed my hand over his. “I know.”
“About us. The difference? Good or bad?”
“Good. Very good.”
He tipped his head down and brushed his lips over my forehead. A shiver coursed over my skin. “We’re going to have to do better than good.”
“Uh-huh,” he murmured, and then he kissed me.
There was something different about this kiss. Maybe it was because it was taking place in my bed or it was our first real kiss after our conversation. Or maybe it was something else. Either way, he sipped from my lips, drank from my mouth. The kiss went on forever as he tasted and explored. I never knew it was possible for a kiss to be so powerful, but it was.
“How about that?” he asked, a slight tremble running up his arm as his lips brushed mine.
My body seemed to sink through the mattress. In that moment, with my lips still tingling with the touch of his, I didn’t—couldn’t—think about all the things that were wrong. “That was better than good. That was great.”
He kissed me again, but this time with a slow, sweet sweep of his lips. It was those soft, dragging kisses that affected me beyond the physical that caused the swelling warmth in my chest that spoke of love and forever and other tender, silly things I didn’t want to admit out loud.
But it still got me on a physical level. Even with the constant ache in my knee, the ache in other parts of my body hadn’t diminished. I wanted Jase on an almost painful level. The very idea of nothing between our bodies, of him inside me, nearly drove me crazy with the desire to explore.
Jase lifted his mouth from mine, breathing raggedly as he settled on his side beside me. I expected him to touch me. My br**sts felt swollen and full with his hand so close, but he did nothing.
I turned my head toward him. His eyes were a fierce silver as he groaned deeply. “You keep looking at me like that, I’m going to strip the clothes off you and get so far deep inside you that I’ll never get out.”
Everything in my body tightened, and the muscles in my lower stomach spasmed in response to his words. “I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
He made that deep, sexy rumble again, and I burned partly due to my own boldness. “You make this so hard.”
“I do?” I reached for him, and as my fingers brushed the visible line in his jeans, he caught my wrist in a gentle grasp. In confusion, I raised my gaze to his.
His eyes squeezed closed. “Yeah, you make me hard. All the f**king time. I’m a constant walking erection around you, but I . . . I want to do this the right way.”
My fingers curled in as he held my hand near his chest. “The right way?”
When his eyes reopened, a slight pink flush stained his cheeks. “The right way. You know. Us not being just all about sex.”
My lips parted, but I didn’t say anything. I was stunned by the fact Jase was blushing and from what he’d said.
The hue in his cheeks deepened. “As hard as it is to go slow with this, because damn, baby, I want you in every way imaginable.” He lowered my hand and pressed his erection against my palm, proving his next words. “I want you so badly right now it’s killing me, but every girl I’ve been with since . . . since a really long time has only ever been about sex. Getting in. Getting off. Then getting out.”
“Like Steph?” I blurted out before I could stop myself.
He cringed. “Yeah, like Steph. And that was okay with her—with them. Because as much as a dick as this makes me sound like, I didn’t care about them. Not like I care about you, Tess. I want this—I want us to be different. I want us to mean more than sex. I need us to mean more than that. Okay?”