I shrugged. I knew it was well past three in the morning. “I guess I should be going home.”
She opened her mouth, closed it, and then tried again. “Be careful when you drive.”
Standing, I stretched my back. “I will.” And before she could freak on me, I bent down and kissed her on the forehead. “Good night, Avery.”
Her eyes were closed, hands balled together in front of her chest. When she spoke, it sounded like she was whispering a prayer. “Good night, Cam.”
I made it to the door before she sprung up like a tight coil, hands gripping the back of the couch. “Cam?”
My heart beat wildly as I stopped. “Yeah?”
She took a deep breath and that heartfelt expression was back. “I had a really good time tonight.”
I smiled and was amazed to see her lips do the same. “I know.” I opened the door, stopping on my way out as I turned to her. She was still there, kneeling on the couch, watching me. “I’ll see you Monday.”
I didn’t want to leave. “Bright and early.”
The smile reached her eyes, lightening them. “All right.”
And for the first time in forever, I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to stay here. I had to force myself out the door.
Jase shocked me with a text before I got out of town, asking if he could tag along. Him going home with me wasn’t so much of a surprise, but I had thought with the four-day break, he’d be at the farm.
He was waiting for me at the house he stayed at when he wasn’t home—a frat-run party central not too far from campus. I’d spent many a night, none recently, passed out in one of the many rooms in the large three-story home.
Climbing in, Jase clapped his hands together, rubbing them. “God, it’s getting fucking cold.”
“True.” I slipped the gears into drive and whipped around in a mean U-turn. “You’re not spending time . . . ?”
He ran a hand through his hair, causing it to flop all over the place. “Got an extra hat?”
“Just the one on my head. Want it?”
“No.” Slinking down in the seat, he sighed as he shook his hair out. “They decided to head up to Pennsylvania to see some cousins or something.
I stole a glance at him as I hit the main route, heading for the interstate. “And you didn’t want to go?”
There was definitely something else behind it, because there was no way that Jase would pass up spending that kind of time with Jack, but if I knew anything about Jase, he talked about shit when he was damn well ready to do so.
Halfway into the drive, Jase passed out and only woke when I hooked a right onto the narrow lane leading up to my parents’ home. Sunlight sliced through the thick trees, casting patches of shimmery light on the road. When we were kids, my sister and I played a mean game of hide-and-go-seek in these woods.
I followed the driveway around the back of the house, parking the truck next to the detached garage I’d help Dad put in during my, uh, extended stay.
The house was silent and toasty warm as we entered through the back patio. There was a faint smell of pumpkin in the air, and I grinned. Mom must’ve been baking. It was still early afternoon though, and neither of my parents or my sister would be home for a while.
Jase and I devoured the freshly baked pumpkin pie over a beer. There was a pensive, brooding look to his face and when he disappeared upstairs to the guest bedroom he typically stayed in; I let him be and headed to my old bedroom.
Mom kept it the way it was when I lived here, except neater. The same bed was butted up against the wall, in the middle of the room. Trophies lined the wall shelving that Dad had built. The TV on the dresser and the desk I rarely used hadn’t collected even a speck of dust.
I smiled as I shuffled toward the bed, kicking off my sneakers. There was a time, after the incident with Teresa’s ex-boyfriend, when I had hated these four walls. I’d loathed this house and this town and this state and myself.
Crashing on the bed, I stretched out and closed my eyes. Things were . . . different now, better. The only problem with coming home, it was impossible to not think about what happened in the house almost three years ago or Thanksgiving morning when Teresa finally told us the truth. The kind of rage that had slipped over me was something I’d never experienced before, but had only read about.
Murderous rage. It really did exist and it really was like tasting blood in your mouth. And that anger hadn’t faded in the hours after learning the truth nor had it really dissipated when I found that living punk ass and returned the favor with my fists. Afterward, that anger had warped into something unmanageable and it had eaten away at me like a cancer.
To this day I wished I had done something different that night, but there still wasn’t an ounce of regret in my veins. The judge, the lawyers, the community service and the weekly meetings had done nothing to change that, but when I thought about Avery, I wished I did feel that way. I doubted that she would want to be around me if she knew the truth.
Mom gave the best hugs.
There was a sheen to her eyes and she stepped back, clasping my shoulders. Still dressed in her white lab coat, she had come straight home after surgery. “I see you found the pie I left you.”
“I had help.”
Her smile spread. “Jase is here?”
I nodded as I leaned against the counter. “He’s upstairs sleeping.”
She smoothed back a few strands of hair that had escaped her twist. “Well, I’m sure a certain someone will be thrilled to see that you’ve brought him along with you.”
My brows lifted and then I groaned. “Please tell me she is not still infatuated with Jase.”
Mom laughed softly as she shrugged off her oversized sweater, draping it along the back of her chair. “I think ‘infatuated’ would be the wrong word to use.”
Rolling my eyes, I groaned. When I’d been on home confinement, Jase had spent almost every free moment up here, pulling my head out of my ass. And Teresa had spent every spare second spying on us and stalking Jase.
Mom drifted over to the coffeemaker, pulling out the empty pot. “Jase is a really nice boy. I think—”
“Do not even think about going there,” I warned, folding my arms. Jase was a good guy—a good guy, with a shit ton of baggage and a long list of broken hearts, who wouldn’t come within ten feet of my little sister. “Where’s Dad?” I asked, deftly changing the subject.
“He’s still at the office, but he’ll be home shortly.” She filled the pot with water. “I was thinking we all could do dinner at Joe’s. I think both you and Jase like that place, and as long as it serves red meat—”
“Dad will be happy.” I smiled, pushing off the counter. “That works for me.”
“Want a cup?”
“Sure.” I came up behind her and wrapped my arms around her shoulders, squeezing her. “Have I told you lately that you’re the best mom ever?”
She laughed as she patted my arms. “I’m the only mom you got, boy.”
“Still,” I replied. “Best mom.”
I let go as she shook her head and was in the process of heading upstairs to wake up Jase’s lazy ass when Teresa came in the front door.
“Cam!” She let out a high-pitched squeal when she saw me in the foyer and dropped her book bag. The pint-sized terror took one step and launched herself at me.
Laughing, I caught her before she knocked me down. “Well, hello to you.”
“When did you get here?” she asked once I sat her down.
She smacked my arm. “You should’ve texted me! I would’ve skipped my afternoon classes and come home early.”
“I heard that!” yelled Mom from the kitchen.
Teresa rolled her eyes, and I laughed. Somewhere in the last two years or so, she’d grown up from a gangly child into a stunning young woman. And every time I saw her, I wanted to pull a paper sack over her head. Everywhere she went, guys looked, and they really looked.
She had inherited the dark hair and blue eyes from Dad, but she had Mom’s delicate features. Her beauty and small frame were really misleading, because she had also developed mom’s snappy, quick wit. When she and Mom got going, no one was safe.
“I’m going to skip dance tonight,” she said, tugging the tie from her hair. It seemed to have grown overnight, falling well past her shoulders.
“You don’t have to do that,” I told her. “I’ll be here all weekend.”
“Yeah, but I never get to see you!” She pouted, giving me the look that probably got her a lot of things. “You’re too busy and too cool to hang out with your sister anymore.”
“Exactly,” I said, grinning.
She smacked my arm hard. “Jerk.”
Facing the stairs, I saw Jase come down before Teresa did. He was as quiet as a freaking ninja and he came to a stop at the bottom, his hair damp and clothing unwrinkled. He hadn’t made a sound, but Teresa stiffened in front of me. Her eyes, so like mine, widened a fraction of an inch.
My gaze narrowed on her.
Teresa whipped around with the elegance of a dancer, and I cringed when she shrieked, “Jase!”
The pensive look that had been on Jase’s face from the moment I picked him up vanished like a bad nightmare. He came down on the landing a second before my sister threw herself at the guy, greeting him in the same way she’d done with me. His eyes were only on her, and while I completely trusted Jase, even he wasn’t immune to her.
I also didn’t like it when he wrapped his arms around her, keeping them both from tumbling backward.
“Cam didn’t tell me you were here!” she cried, clinging to him like a little monkey. “You’re staying here the whole weekend, too?”
Jase smiled down at the top of Teresa’s head—the head that was currently plastered against his chest. “Yeah, I’m here until Cam heads back.”
I knew in that exact moment, Teresa would be bowing out on dance not only tonight, but also the rest of the weekend. I sighed.
Teresa said something that only Jase could hear and his smile spread in a way that had me taking deep, even breaths. Then he looked up, his gaze meeting mine. He shot me a helpless look, and I rolled my eyes, strolling forward.
“Okay.” I grabbed her arms, physically lifting her away from Jase. “I think you can let him go now. He probably wants to breathe at some point.”
Jase laughed as Teresa shot me a look that promised death and dismemberment and yanked her arms free. I stepped back, just in case she was going to try to hit me again. My sister had muscles.
“I think Mom wants to see you in the kitchen,” I said, pushing her in that general direction.
A frowned pulled the corners of her lips down. “What for?”
“Probably something to do with all the classes you’re planning to skip,” I teased.
“You’re skipping classes?” Jase asked, crossing his arms. “You shouldn’t be doing that, Tess. It’s your senior year.