Laughing, I grabbed my cap off the seat and shoved it on, shielding my eyes. “I didn’t know we were dating.”
“My feelings are hurt now.”
“I’ll buy you a beer next time we’re out.”
“That works. I’m easy.”
I grinned. “Don’t I know.”
Jase laughed as he turned, hanging his arms over the side of the truck bed. The easygoing smile faded as he slipped a pair of sunglasses on. I knew that look. Nothing good came from it. Very few people knew just how shitty life could get for Jase. It was easy for everyone to assume otherwise, with how Jase was the go-to guy for fixing other people’s crap, including mine.
I turned the air on and shut the door, then joined him at the side of the truck. The metal was hot against the skin of my underarms as I leaned in, stretching my calves. “What’s up?”
One dark eyebrow rose above the rim of his glasses. “You heading to the gym or something?”
“That’s what I was thinking.” I switched my legs, working out the kink. “You wanna go with me?”
“Nah,” he said. “I’ve got to swing by the farm. Check on a few things.”
A wide smile broke out across Jase’s face, causing a young professor walking past the truck to trip in her heels. “He’s great,” he said, his tone light like it was always was when he talked about his brother. “Told me yesterday that when he grows up, he wants to be Chuck Norris.”
I laughed. “Can’t go wrong with that.”
“Nope.” He looked over, peering at me above his shades. “How you doing?”
“Good.” I pushed back, smacking my hands off the rail. “Why you ask?”
Jase raised a shoulder. “Just checking in.”
Some days that comment pissed me off. Other days it did nothing. Luckily for Jase, it was one of those days when the shit just rolled off my back. “I’m not about to end up in a corner, whispering ‘forever’ anytime soon. It’s all cool.”
“Good to hear.” Jase grinned as he backed off, his head turning toward where the young teacher had disappeared. “Party at your place, right?”
“Why not?” I headed to the driver’s side. “Half the campus will be there I’m sure.”
“True.” Jase pivoted around. “See you later.”
I climbed into the cool interior and headed out of the parking lot. My lazy ass needed to get to the gym on West Campus, but my ass also wanted to get to the couch for a nap.
Turning left at the stop sign, I passed the duplexes on the right as a football flew out one of the doors, smacking one of the guys in the back of the head. Laughing, I reached over for the—
Something red caught my attention.
My eyes were heat-seeking missiles, searching out the source, and hot damn. My gaze narrowed. Was that Shortcake?
A tree obscured my view for a second and then she reappeared, the sun reflecting off the wide bracelet circling her wrist.
Hells yeah, it was.
I didn’t even think twice about what I did next. Grinning, I slid the cap around backward and hung a sharp right, blocking the road.
Avery jumped back onto the curb, her big eyes going round. As I hit the button to the passenger window, rolling it down, her mouth dropped open.
I grinned, happy to see that Shortcake had made it through her first day alive. “Avery Morgansten, we meet again.”
She glanced around her, like she thought I might be talking to someone else. “Cameron Hamilton . . . hi.”
I leaned forward, dropping an arm over the steering wheel. She looked damn cute standing there, fidgeting with her bracelet. “We have to stop meeting like this.”
Biting down on that plump lower lip, her gaze dropped, zeroing in on my tattoo as she shifted her weight from foot to foot.
Shortcake was definitely what I would categorize as awkward. Maybe it came from having a younger sister, because the need to make her feel comfortable rode me hard, but it seemed like fighting a losing battle.
“You running into me, me almost running over you?” I elaborated. “It’s like we’re a catastrophe waiting to happen.”
Try this one more time. “Where are you heading?”
“My car,” she said, proving to me that she could speak. “I’m about to run out of time. She shifted her weight again. “So . . .”
“Well, hop in, sweetheart. I can give you a ride.”
She stared at me like I asked her to get in the back of my kidnapper van. “No. It’s okay. I’m right up the hill. No need at all.”
“It’s no problem.” Never had met a female so damn resistant to common courtesy. “It’s the least I can do after almost running you over.”
“Thank you, but—”
“Yo! Cam!” Kevin came out of fucking nowhere, jogging past Avery. “What you up to, man?”
Oddly irritated, I kept my gaze on Shortcake and resisted the urge to nudge the dude out of the way with my truck. “Nothing, Kevin, just trying to have a conversation.”
Avery raised her hand, wiggled her fingers, and bolted around Kevin and my truck. My gaze followed her as Kevin went on and on about some shit I didn’t give a flying fuck about.
“Shit,” I muttered, sitting back in the seat.
Avery ran again.
And I had the craziest urge to give chase.
Shit got real at our parties the second Ollie had Raphael out of his habitat. Every single fucking time. Standing in the middle of the living room, I watched him, shaking my head.
“Why?” Jase asked, tipping the bottle of his beer back.
I snickered. “Don’t you think if I knew why, I’d find a way to stop him?”
“I think it’s cute,” said a soft, feminine voice.
Jase and I turned toward the couch. No one sat quite the way Stephanie Keith did. One long, shapely tanned leg hooked over the knee of the other in the perfect picture of modesty. But the goddamn denim skirt of hers was as modest as Ollie after taking a shower. If I moved my head just a fraction of inch to the right and tipped my chin down, which I had about three minutes ago, I could see the curve of her ass cheek.
Steph was a thong girl.
Or a no-panties girl depending on her mood, and it was looking like she might be in the mood. Steph leaned forward slightly, crossing slender arms under her breasts, giving me and anyone else who happened to be looking—quick check told me Jase was—a nice view of her tits. And they were nice. I’d seen them up close and personal quite a few times. Those baby-blue eyes of hers promised a happy ending and they were fixed on mine.
Surprisingly, there was absolutely no shrinking of my nylon shorts in the crotch area, which was a damn waste of tits and ass.
Half of Jase’s frat would give their left nut to be on the receiving end of Stephanie’s attention. There was a time I gave my right one, back when I couldn’t even keep track of who was who, but that felt like ages ago, back when the idea of staying with one girl made me want to chew off my own arm. Now?
Well, shit, I didn’t know what I wanted now. Hadn’t for a while, which probably explained why I wasn’t scooping Steph up, taking her back to my bedroom, and dropping pants.
Steph was a good girl, but the time of giving up my right nut had long since passed.
Averting my gaze to where Ollie was dancing in front of the TV, holding the squirming Raphael in the air, I took a drink of my beer. “He’s molesting my tortoise.”
She laughed as she stood. “I don’t think that’s what he’s doing.” One arm wrapped around mine and she put her chin on my shoulder. A sheet of inky black hair slipped over the bare skin of my chest. “But I wouldn’t mind being molested.”
Over the music, I heard the oven timer go off. Gently disentangling myself, I shot Jase a look. An unsympathetic grin crossed his face. Bastard. “Be right back.”
Dodging guys, I trotted into the kitchen before Steph could respond. The girl wasn’t going to be that disappointed with my lack of interest. I’d bet ten bucks she’d moved on to Jase or someone else by the time I got back in.
I sat the beer down on the counter and opened the oven door, inhaling the aroma of freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies. And not that premade crap. This shit was from scratch.
And they would be banging.
Setting the sheet aside, I flipped off the oven and scooped up a cookie. So hot, the dough sunk in, squeezing the tiny chips of chocolate onto the chunks of walnut. I broke the cookie in half and popped it into my mouth.
“Fuck,” I groaned.
Burned like holy fucking hell, but it was worth it. Washing it down with my beer, I stepped out of the kitchen just in time to see Ollie heading toward the front door. With Raphael.
“Oh, come the hell on.” I put my beer down.
“Be free, little green buddy,” he coaxed, kissing Raphael’s shell. “Be free.”
“Bring Raphael back!” I yelled, laughing as Ollie drunk-karate-kicked the front door the rest of the way open. “You fucktard!”
Ollie put Raphael down and gently nudged his shell. “Free.”
Grabbing his arm, I spun him around and pushed him back into the apartment. Laughing, Ollie grabbed Steph’s friend and lifted her over his shoulder. A riot of squeals broke out.
I scooped up the tortoise. “Sorry, Raphael. My friends are complete, fucking . . .” A strange tingle broke out across my neck. I looked to my left and then my right, seeing Avery standing in a doorway, her brown eyes wide. “Assholes. What the . . . ?”
I hadn’t drunk nearly enough to be hallucinating, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Shortcake was standing in my apartment building. The apartment had been empty whenever I’d been around over the summer, but someone, obviously, could’ve moved in.
And based on the way she was dressed, someone she was very familiar with. The cotton shorts were short, ending at the thigh, and my gaze got hung up on her legs. They were long, not too skinny and perfectly shaped. Who would’ve thought Shortcake would be rocking a pair of legs like that? Blood shot straight to my groin. The long-sleeve shirt she wore covered everything, but it was thin.
Hell yeah, it was thin.
Her breasts were soft swells under the shirt, fuller than they had felt pressed against my chest earlier, and those tips . . .
Her cheeks flushed several shades of pink. “Hey . . .”
I blinked and when she didn’t disappear and neither did my sudden, raging hard-on, I assumed she was real. “Avery Morgansten? This is becoming a habit.”
“Yeah,” she said. “It is.”
“Do you live here or are you visiting . . . ?” Raphael started squirming.
She cleared her throat, watching the tortoise. “I . . . I live here.”
“No shit?” Holy crap. I made my way around the railing to the stairwell and toward her door. I didn’t miss how her eyes went to my abs. I liked. So did my cock. “You really live here?”
“Yes. I really live here.”
“This is . . . I don’t even know.” I laughed, somewhat dumbstruck. “Really crazy.”