“I’m not hungry,” I replied, hoping my stomach didn’t growl and give me away. I had been meaning to fix myself something to eat, but the book had sucked me in. Seeing Grant always made me want to escape into one of my stories where guys who looked like him fell in love with girls like me. Not girls like Nan.
“I don’t believe you,” he said, pushing my door open and walking into the room with a tray covered in boxes from the little Chinatown place my dad loved so much. “Help me eat. Just because I dated Nan doesn’t make me tainted. You act like I’ve got a damn disease—and I’ll be honest, it hurts my feelings.”
Really? Was I hurting his feelings? I hadn’t meant to. I didn’t think he would really care. Besides, he was the one who ran off cursing the night we met when he found out who I was after he had made a move on me.
“Dated?” I asked, surprised with myself. “You’re here waiting on her to show up. I don’t think that’s past tense.” I sounded like a schoolteacher.
Grant chuckled and sat down beside me on the bed and set the tray down on the bedside table. “She’s my friend. I’m checking in on her. Not dating her. Besides, I just got word that she’s back in Rosemary.”
See, that. Just that. He was her friend. What normal person was Nan’s friend? None I knew of. “She’s sleeping with the members of Naked Marathon. Surely you’ve seen her in the gossip magazines on Sellers’s arm. Last week she made the news with Moon, and there was all kinds of talk about her breaking up the band. Which isn’t going to happen.”
Grant opened a carton of sweet-and-sour chicken and stuck a pair of chopsticks in it, then handed it to me. “Sweet- and-sour or honey chicken? You pick.”
I took the sweet-and-sour. “This is fine. Thank you,” I replied.
His smile grew. He hadn’t expected me to take it.
“Good, I wanted the honey,” he replied with a wink. I hated that my stomach fluttered. I didn’t need that to start happening. Grant was on the other side of a line that I wasn’t going to cross.
“It isn’t my business who Nan is screwing. That’s over between us. I’m just checking in on her. Making sure she’s not about to go off the grid again. She’s home now, so it’s all good.”
Why would he do that? What had she done to earn that kind of protectiveness from someone like Grant? “That’s nice of you,” I said because I didn’t know what else to say. I took a bite of my chicken.
“You’re gonna hold that against me, aren’t you?” he asked, studying me in a way that only made me want to squirm.
“You can protect who you want, Grant. We’re just sharing some Chinese food. Doesn’t matter what I think.” I replied before putting more chicken in my mouth.
Grant frowned and then a small smile touched his lips. “I feel like we’re doing this crazy-ass dance around each other every time I get around you. I don’t play games. It ain’t my thing, sugar. So let me be blunt,” he said, setting his food back down on the table and turning his body so that he faced me completely. I tried to calm my racing heart. What was he doing? What was I going to do if he got any closer? Guys didn’t flirt with me. They didn’t come into my room. I was Kiro’s weird, awkward daughter. Didn’t Grant get that?
“I don’t want you to hate me,” he said, simply.
I didn’t hate him. I shook my head. “I don’t.”
“Yeah, you do. I’m not used to people hating me. Especially beautiful girls,” he said and flashed me a wicked grin.
He had called me beautiful. Did he really think that? Or was he feeling sorry for me because I was so socially inept?
“Harlow, do you realize that you’re breathtaking? Just looking at you can become addictive.”
“That confused, flustered look on your face is all the answer I need. You don’t have a clue how amazing you are. That’s a shame,” he said, reaching over and taking a strand of my hair and wrapping it around his finger. “It’s a real shame.”
I wasn’t sure that I was breathing. My entire body had shut down. I couldn’t move. Grant was touching me. And even though it was my hair, it felt so nice. I dropped my gaze to his hand and watched as his thumb gently ran over the hair he was holding.
“It’s like silk,” he said in a hushed voice. Like he didn’t want anyone to hear him.
I just watched him. What was I supposed to say to him?
“Harlow,” he said, leaning closer to me. I could feel his warm breath on my skin.
“Yes,” I choked out, watching him closely as he moved toward me.
“I think about you. I dream about you,” he said in a husky whisper against my ear. I shivered and felt my grip on my chicken loosen. God, please don’t let me dump my food on myself.
“You’re too sweet for me, but damned if I care,” he said, then pressed a kiss to the skin under my ear. “I don’t want you to hate me. I want you to forgive me for being with Nan. It’s over.”
The reminder of Nan was enough to snap me out of my trance, and I jumped up from the bed and walked across the room to stand far enough away that I felt safe.
I didn’t look back at Grant. I kept my back to him and stared out the window. Maybe he would just leave. I felt my face grow hot. I had let him get so close. I had let him kiss my neck. What was I thinking?
“I shouldn’t have said her name,” he said in a defeated tone. He was perceptive. “Will you tell me what I can do to prove to you that I don’t want Nan? That she was a moment of insanity and weakness? I was being a guy and she was there. I made a mistake.”
He wanted me to forgive him about as much as I wanted to be able to forget Nan. I liked Grant. No . . . I fantasized about Grant. Since he’d cornered me at Rush and Blaire’s wedding reception he had made it into my nightly fantasies. Even if he was someone I was afraid to trust. I liked looking at him. I liked hearing his voice. I liked the way he smelled and the sound of his laugh. The way his mouth curled up on one side when he was amused. I also liked the tattoos I saw peeking out of the collar of his shirt. I wanted to know what they looked like.
“Can I have a chance? One to prove I’m not like Nan. I’m a pretty damn good friend. I just need you to give me a break.”
I was typically a forgiving person. My grandmother had taught me to forgive. She had raised me to be a kind person and reminded me that everyone deserved a second chance. One day I might need a second chance myself.
I turned around and looked at Grant. He was still sitting on my bed. The dark blue T-shirt he was wearing fit his arms tightly and outlined the ripples on his chest. It also highlighted the color of his eyes. How was someone supposed to not trust him? “I’d like to be your friend,” I said. I wasn’t sure what else to say.
That crooked grin appeared. “You would? You’re going to forgive me?”
I nodded and made myself take a step back toward the bed. “Yes. But don’t . . . don’t . . . do that again.” I said, reaching up and touching the skin that still tingled from his lips.
Grant let out a defeated sigh and nodded. “That’s gonna be hard, but I won’t. Not until you ask me.” He stopped and patted the spot where I had been sitting. I walked over and sat back down. Grant leaned forward. “But Harlow,” he said.
His sexy male scent made me want to inhale deeply. “Yes?” I asked, hoping he wasn’t about to touch me again. I seemed to forget myself when he did.
“You will ask me,” he replied.
I opened my mouth to argue, but before I could he stuck a piece of honey chicken in my mouth. “Don’t say it. I’ll just get to say I told you so when you ask me. And I really hate to gloat. Especially to a girl I want to make smile, not slap me.”
I managed to chew the chicken before the laughter bubbled up and escaped. He really was adorable. What he didn’t realize was I could never give in. It wasn’t fair to him. He didn’t know the truth and I didn’t want him to know. It changed how people looked at me. I couldn’t stand the idea of Grant looking at me the way others had.
I hadn’t seen her since the night I got the call about Jace. The night I’d . . . the night I’d taken her virginity. She’d been a virgin. I hadn’t expected that. It had been a first for me, too. I had never slept with a virgin before. Something about it affected me deeper than I was comfortable with. Even though I knew I wasn’t ready for commitment in any form, I had wanted to stake a claim. I often wondered if that would have sent me running the next day, even if I hadn’t gotten the call from Tripp.
And finally, here she was. No longer kept from me by her father, or whoever else had made sure I didn’t get near her.
“Last night. It was you,” she said, simply.
I took in her pajamas and felt like cursing and slamming my fist through the wall. I wasn’t a violent guy. I never lost my cool, but right now I was close to it. Harlow was here. She’d heard me and Nan. Holy hell!
“You haven’t called. I didn’t realize.” She stopped talking and shook her head. I couldn’t find the right words. There weren’t any. I had no explanation for this that she would understand. I watched as she put the milk back in the fridge and closed the door. She kept her head down and didn’t look up again before walking around the counter and toward the door. I had to say something. I had to explain myself. I had f**king called. They never let me talk to her when I called the house. She never answered my damn calls when I called her phone. But, fuck, she didn’t deserve this. Not when she’d trusted me with something as precious as her innocence.
“I guess it’s me who gets to say I told you so this time,” she said in a quiet voice before walking past me. The weight on my chest felt like someone had set a thousand bricks on it. I clenched my hands into fists and closed my eyes. What had I done? And why? Why was I letting Nan f**k up my life?
Why the hell had I drunk so much damn whiskey last night? I would have never come here had I been sober. And Harlow . . . Harlow . . . why was Harlow here? I turned and looked back toward the staircase. A door clicked closed. There was no slamming or yelling with Harlow. She wasn’t that way. Any other woman would have cursed me and possibly slapped me then stormed up the stairs and slammed her door. But not Harlow. That made this even worse. If that was possible.
Two months and three and a half weeks ago . . .
Harlow stepped out of the house, looking unsure of herself. It had taken me twenty minutes to convince her to swim with me. She had made up all kinds of excuses. But I was pretty damn persuasive when I wanted to be. The oversized Slacker Demon concert T-shirt she was wearing covered up whatever swimsuit she’d finally put on. I had been waiting on her for half an hour. I was almost ready to go up to her room and pull her out here myself. I had just gotten back to L.A. a few hours ago. Being in Rosemary was hard when all I could think about was Harlow’s sweet smile. I was anxious to be near her.
“About time. I thought you were gonna make me swim alone,” I said, standing up from the lounger I had been reclining on while waiting.
Harlow blushed. “I’m sorry it took me so long.”
As if she needed to apologize. There was no way a man could be even remotely annoyed with her. It was impossible. She was too damn sweet and innocently sexy, which was screwing with my head. There was no way she was that innocent. She was in college. She had to have dated before. In high school the guys would have been all over her.
“You’re here now. Let’s swim. It’s warm out here today.”
Harlow reached for the hem of her shirt and I considered diving in and not watching her take it off. It would be the polite thing to do, but hell if I could convince my eyes that looking away was the best idea. They were zoned in on her every move.
We had been . . . I wasn’t sure what we had been doing. This was the strangest relationship—if you could call it that—I had ever been in. Harlow was letting me get closer every day but she still kept up her barriers. I hadn’t managed to get my lips near her skin again.
My eyes drank in her long legs as the T-shirt slowly lifted, revealing a simple high-necked one-piece white bathing suit. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen a girl my age in a one-piece swimsuit. But it was white. Holy fuck. I felt myself harden as my eyes traveled up from her legs to the nipple I could clearly see pebbled beneath the fabric.
I turned and dove into the water before I scared the hell out of her. I swam the length of the pool before coming up for air and turning to look at her. She was walking down into the pool through the sloping entrance. Damn, she was perfect. She lifted her eyes and smiled at me. It was a good thing my reaction to her was hidden under the water.
Once she was far enough in that the water touched her shoulders, she seemed to relax. Having her body on display made her nervous. It had been all over her face. I couldn’t figure out why. It was like throwing me a challenge. I wanted her body completely on display for me. And I wanted her to like it. To want it.
“Come on, pretty girl. Come swim with the big boys,” I teased. Her mouth puckered up in a frown. She didn’t like me calling her pretty girl. Her reaction to it only made me want to do it more.
“I don’t trust the big boys,” she replied. Her head tilted to the side and she raised one eyebrow.
Chuckling to myself, I couldn’t remember a time in my life that one female had entertained me so much. “Are you scared?”
Her eyebrows snapped together this time and I laughed harder. If you wanted Harlow to do something, then taunting her was the way to go. She didn’t back down from a dare or a threat. There was a silent toughness in her that you didn’t know existed until you spent time with her. “My pretty girl is getting all fired up. Come get me.”