A red-hot burn replaced the hurt. My hands closed into fists. No—no way did two beers make him do those things. “You’re not a lightweight. You’d been in full control of yourself. And you had to have felt something when you kissed me, because you couldn’t kiss like that and not feel anything.” The moment those words jumped off my tongue, my heart lurched. Thinking that was one thing, but saying it out loud showed how . . . how naive the words sounded.
“You’ve had a crush on me for how long? Of course you’d think it meant something amazing. Jesus Christ, Tess, why do you think I haven’t talked to you this entire time? I knew you would think there was more behind it,” he said, and heat poured across my cheeks. “It was a mistake. I’m not attracted to you, not like that.”
I jerked back as if I’d been slapped. And God knows I knew what it felt like to be slapped. Part of me would’ve taken that over this. I should have run when he said he needed to talk. Or least limped back to the truck. Screw being brave and confrontational. Hurt and embarrassment crawled up my throat, filling my eyes. Apparently, I was as transparent as a window, so I was thankful for the sunglasses hiding my emotions, but he must’ve seen something in my expression, because he closed his eyes briefly.
“Shit,” he cursed low, the skin around his lips a shade paler. “I didn’t mean it like that. I—”
“I think you did,” I snapped, taking another step back. Jase was right. That night had been a mistake—a stupid kiss that I had attached feelings to and built up in my head during his absence. I don’t think I’d ever felt more foolish than I did in this moment. “You couldn’t be any more clear.”
He cursed again as he crossed the distance between us, dipping his chin and causing several locks of waves to tumble forward. “Tess, you don’t understand—”
I barked out a short laugh as mortification burst through me like a dam breaking. “Oh, I’m sure I understand completely. You regret it. Got it. It was a mistake. You probably don’t want to be reminded of it. My bad. And it doesn’t matter. Whatever.” I was rambling, but I couldn’t stop myself from trying to save face in the worst possible way, and as I went on, I didn’t look at him. I couldn’t, so I focused on his grass-stained sneakers. “It’s not like I’m going to be here for long anyway. As soon as my knee is cleared, I’m out. And that will be sooner than later. So you don’t have to worry about running into me for long or me bringing any of this up again. It’s not like you’re the only guy that’s—”
“Kissed you?” At the sharpness in his tone, I looked up. His eyes were narrowed until only thin, silvery slits were visible. “How many guys have you kissed, Teresa?”
Not many. I could count on one hand and only needed two fingers to count how many went beyond that, but pride had sunk its claws in me. “Enough,” I said, crossing my arms. “More than enough.”
“Really?” Something flashed across his face. “Does your brother know this?”
I snorted. “As if I would talk to my brother about that. Or like he actually has a say on whom or where I put my lips.”
“Where?” he repeated, head cocked to the side as if he had to work that single word through his mind. The moment he decided on what that could possibly mean, his broad shoulders stiffened. “Where are you putting your lips?”
“Uh, like that’s any of your business.”
His stare sharpened. “It’s totally my business.”
Did he live in an alternate universe? “I don’t think so.”
“Don’t call me that,” I snapped, sucking in a deep breath.
Jase reached for me, and I easily dodged his grasp. The last thing I needed was him touching me. Determination settled into his striking features. “Where are you—?”
The door to the front of the house slammed shut behind us, saving me. Jase stepped back, drawing in a deep breath as his little brother raced across the grass and gravel.
From about four feet away, the little boy launched himself at Jase, screaming, “Superman cape! Superman cape!”
He caught Jack and slung him around, latching his little brother’s arms around his neck. Jack hung down his back, sort of like a flesh cape.
“Sorry it took so long.” Cam grinned, unaware of what felt like unbearable tension to me. “Your mom had lemonade. And applesauce cake. Had to get me some of that.”
Jase smiled, but ducked his chin at the same time. “Understandable.”
I stood there like a statue. A bird could’ve pooped on my head and I wouldn’t have moved. My fingers felt numb from how hard I was clenching my hands.
As Jase turned to the side, Jack smiled at me. “Are you going to learn to ride?”
I didn’t realize what he was talking about at first, but when I did, I didn’t know what to say. I doubted Jase wanted to see my face on this farm again, even if I had the lady balls to get on one of those things.
Cam was staring at me, brows raised, Jase was staring at the ground, his jaw tense, and Jack was waiting for me to answer.
“I don’t know,” I said finally, voice hoarse. Willing myself not to make more of a fool out of myself, I forced a smile. “But if I do, you’re going to help me learn, right?”
“Yes!” Jack beamed. “I can teached you!”
“Teach,” Jase murmured, hooking his arms around Jack’s legs. “Like I said, little bud, she’s probably got better things to do.”
“Nothing is better than riding a horse,” Jack argued.
Holding on to his brother, Jase straightened and glanced at me. His expression was shuttered, and I wished I hadn’t mentioned the horseback riding. Jase probably thought I was being serious and trying to find a way to see him.
After this, I honestly never wanted to see his face again.
That hurt to realize I felt that way. Before the kiss, we had become friends—good friends. Texting. E-mailing. Talking whenever he came with Cam. And now that was ruined.
I will not cry. I will not cry. That was my personal mantra as I shuffled back to the truck and climbed in, using my good leg to propel me up. I will not cry over the jerk. I also told myself to stop staring at Jase, but I watched him with his brother up until mine returned.
“You ready to head back?” Cam asked as he closed the driver’s door.
“Ready.” My voice was unnaturally thick.
He glanced at me as he turned the ignition. He frowned. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, and cleared my throat. “It’s allergies.”
The doubtful look on his face was expected. I didn’t have allergies. My brother knew that.
Cam dropped me off in front of the West Woods complex. After asking him to tell Avery I said hi, I carefully exited the truck and headed up the narrow walkway toward Yost Hall as I dug out my key card.
I’d gotten lucky with the dorm situation. Because I was a late registration, all the rooms in Kenamond Hall and Gardiner Hall, dorms usually reserved for freshmen, were full. I almost didn’t get a dorm. The day before classes had begun, I showed up at the residential life department, praying they could put me somewhere—anywhere. My only other option was to live with Cam, and as much as I loved my brother, rooming with him was the last thing I wanted.
Tears were shed. Some strings were pulled, and I ended up in a West Woods suite-style residence hall, which was so much better than the tiny matchboxes called rooms in the other halls.
Using my card, I slipped into the cool air and headed for the stairwell. I could’ve taken the elevator to the third floor, but I figured the walking and climbing were good for my leg since I hadn’t been okayed to really do anything more active. I would be soon, though. I had to be, because if I was going to get back into the studio in the spring, I needed to get my ass back in shape.
I was panting by the time I reached the door leading to my suite. It blew my mind how my body went from being the Terminator to Sponge Bob in such a short period of time.
Sighing, I swiped the card and stepped into the living room of the suite. I wanted nothing more than to climb into bed, shove my head under the pillow, and pretend today never happened.
But that would be asking for too much.
I blew out a breath when I saw the hot pink scarf dangling from the doorknob to the bedroom. Closing my eyes, I groaned.
Pink scarves were code word for enter at your own risk. In other words, my roommate was getting some sweet, sweet lovin’. Or they were inside quietly fighting, and if they were quietly fighting, they would soon be loudly fighting.
At least I still had access to the bathroom.
I hobbled over to the worn brown couch and plopped down with the grace of a pregnant mountain ram, dropping my purse beside me. Kicking my bum leg up on the coffee table, I stretched out, hoping to relieve the dull ache in my knee.
A thump on the other side of the wall caused me to jump. I glanced over my shoulder, frowning at the wall. No more than a second later, a muffled moan raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
It didn’t sound like a happy moan on the verge of the big O kind of moan. Not that I knew what that sounded like. The few times I had sex ultimately ended with me cursing every romance book out there that led me to believe I’d be sailing through the clouds. But it didn’t sound right.
Keeping my leg on the table, I stretched up, straining to hear what was going on in the room. Debbie Lamb, my roomie, was a junior and seemed like a really sweet girl. She hadn’t crucified me for ruining what would’ve most likely been a semester not sharing a room until I showed up, and she was really smart and quiet.
But her boyfriend was a different story.
A few seconds passed, and I heard a very distinctive male grunt. Cheeks burning, I whipped around so fast I almost gave myself whiplash. Grabbing a pillow, I shoved it over my face.
They were most definitely having sex.
And I was sitting out here listening to them like a creeper.
“Oh God.” My voice was muffled. “Why am I in college?”
A dull pain flared in my knee as a reminder.
Slowly, I lowered the pillow. The door across from me, leading to the other bedroom that shared the suite, remained closed. I hadn’t seen our suitemates, not once, since I started school. I was partially convinced that they were invisible or were llamas or under the witness relocation program, forced to hide in their rooms. I knew they weren’t dead because I heard them sometimes while I was in the living room. They always quieted when they heard me moving around in the suite.
Propping the tan pillow against my chest, I reached into my purse and pulled out my cell phone. I briefly considered texting Sadi, but I hadn’t spoken to her since I left the dance studio in July. I hadn’t spoken to any of my friends since then.
Most of them were in New York City. Sadi was starting at the Joffrey School of Ballet, the same school I had a full scholarship to attend. They were living my life—my dream. But the scholarship hadn’t been canceled. The instructors had placed it on hold, promising me a spot next fall if my injury was healed.
I dropped my phone back in my purse and then leaned back, holding the pillow close. Dr. Morgan, the specialist at WVU who’d done my surgery, believed I had a ninety percent chance of healing completely, as long as I didn’t suffer another injury. Most people would think those were good odds, but that ten percent scared the crap out of me, and I refused to even consider it.
Forty-some minutes passed before the bedroom door opened, and Debbie stepped into the suite, running a hand through her shoulder-length brown hair, smoothing the ends down. She saw me, and her face flushed red.
Debbie cringed. “Oh! You haven’t been out here too long?”
“No. Just a couple of minutes . . .” I trailed off, taking a closer look at Debbie while she straightened the hem of her floral blouse. Her eyes were red and puffy. They’d been fighting. Again. They must’ve made up, but they fought so much I wondered how they had any time for anything other than arguing and makeup sex.
Erik appeared, his fingers flying over the screen of his cell. His short, dark hair stuck straight up. He was good-looking, I’d give him that, but I didn’t understand his appeal. At all. He was big in the frat that Jase belonged to, was somewhat of a local basketball star during his high school years, but he had the personality of a cornered hyena.
Sliding his phone into his jeans pocket, he smiled at me, but it was a nervous smile, one that made me antsy.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“Of course she is,” Erik answered, laughing.
I stared at her pointedly, ignoring him, but she nodded quickly. “Yeah, I’m perfect. We’re going to get something to eat before we head to the party. You want to come?”
My mouth opened, but then Erik also answered for me. “She looks like her knee is bothering her, so she probably wants to stay here.”
I snapped my mouth shut.
Debbie looked uncomfortable as Erik started to usher her toward the door. “You coming to the party?”
I hadn’t really been invited, but I knew if I showed up, no one would say anything—no one except Jase, and I didn’t want to see him. I shrugged. “I’m not sure yet.”
She lingered. “Okay, well—”
“Babe, come on, I’m f**king hungry.” Erik grabbed her arm, causing the flesh under his fingers to indent. “It’s getting late.”
A low burn started in my stomach as I looked at that grip. How many times had Jeremy grabbed me like that? Too many to count. Seeing that made me feel nauseated. Made me want to think about things best left forgotten.