“Nothing really, I’m going—” Words were cut off when those long fingers slipped down the band and pressed in. Sensation flared. A sharp pulse shot through me. I don’t know how I didn’t jump.
Cam tilted his head to the side. “Yeah, what?”
“I’m going to . . .” I placed my bun on the plate as he slid his finger down and then up, tugging on the jeans. The motion increased the intensity, creating an ache deep inside me.
“Going to . . . ?” Jase asked innocently.
What a beastly bastard.
“Going to stay here,” I finished.
“You need to get a car,” Cam said. “Then you could at least go home and visit Mom and Dad.”
Jase’s hand moved to my thigh, and I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved or disappointed. My body throbbed, but my head cleared a little. “Well, I’ll buy the car with my imaginary money from my imaginary job.”
He made a face. “I know damn well Mom and Dad are giving you money.”
“Yeah, like to buy food. Not a car,” I replied.
“You’re leaving your truck here, right?” Avery picked up her water. “Maybe she could—”
“Oh, hell no to that.” Cam looked at Avery like she was crazy. “She is not driving my truck.”
Jase kept his hand on my thigh, and by the time lunch was done, I was torn between wanting to punch Jase and climb up on him, rip his pants open, and—
“Hey,” Cam said, interrupting my really inappropriate thoughts. “I need to talk to you for a second. You done with lunch?”
My stomach tumbled like a baby rolling down the hill. “Sure,” I said as I peeked at Jase. He didn’t look worried. Not that he should be worried. Cam wouldn’t hurt him too badly once he found out, especially since Jase had confided in me.
I said good-bye to Avery and followed Cam outside on my crutches. We didn’t go too far, stopping under one of the large maples that had turned dizzying shades of golds and reds. As Cam flipped his baseball hat around backward, I tugged my cardigan close. The chill in the air wasn’t too bad, but it had a decent bite to it.
“What’s up?” I asked, feeling like I was about to hurl up what little I’d eaten.
Cam smiled, but it faded as he took a deep breath. Unease unfurled in my belly as he looked at me. Oh God, it was about Jase and me. He knew. We should’ve told him. Granted, it only happened yesterday, but we should’ve—
“I’m proposing to Avery this weekend,” he blurted out.
“Wait.” I almost dropped my crutches. “What?”
“I’m proposing to Avery this weekend—on the boat. It’s just going to be her and me. Going to have the boat loaded with flowers and chocolate. The ring . . . isn’t too big. Only two carats.”
“Only two carats?”
“Yeah, and I’m going to put it on one of the roses.” The hollows of his cheeks flushed. “Anyway, I just wanted to let—”
I snapped out of it. Happiness bubbled up like champagne inside me. In my haste, I almost toppled over as I awkwardly maintained my grip on the crutches and got one arm around him. “Oh my God!” I squealed. “Cam, you’re going to get married!”
“Well, hopefully.” He hugged me back, and when he drew away, he was smiling broadly. “If she says yes.”
“Of course she’s going to say yes.” I was grinning so hard my face hurt. “Oh, I’m so happy for you two! She’s such a sweet girl and I love her and I love you!”
Cam laughed deeply and hugged me again. “She’s . . . she’s perfect.”
I nodded. “When are you doing it? Saturday?” When he nodded, I was exceptionally glad I hadn’t said anything to him about Jase. Not when he was about to do this. He needed to be completely focused on Avery and his plans. “Call me or text me when she says yes. You have to promise me.”
I squealed again, earning a few strange looks from people passing on the sidewalk. I gave him one more epically awkward hug, and then I saw Jase exiting the double doors, carrying my bag.
“Here comes your little helper.” Cam smirked as he kissed my cheek. “I’m gonna get back to Avery.”
“Good luck, but you don’t need it.”
The usual cockiness was gone when he glanced back at me. “You really don’t think so?”
I blinked back tears—happy tears. “No. Not at all.”
“Thank you,” he replied. “Love ya, sis.”
Watching Cam pass Jase and sock him in the arm, I took several deep breaths. My eyes were all watery, and there was a good chance I’d start hugging random people. Even the townies.
“So I’m thinking the big-ass grin on your face doesn’t mean that Cam questioned you about us.” Jase slung my bright pink bag over his shoulder. “Have I told you how much I like your smiles?”
My smile grew to epic proportions and I couldn’t contain it. “Cam’s proposing to Avery!”
“He’s done lost his damn mind.”
“What!” Holding on to my crutches, I smacked him on the chest. “He hasn’t lost his mind. He’s found it.”
Jase laughed. “I’m kidding. And I already knew.”
“What?” I shrieked and slapped his chest again. “What do you mean you already knew?”
“Ouch.” He rubbed the spot. “Does it disturb you that I’m kind of getting turned on right now?”
I shook my head. “Seriously?”
“Maybe?” he murmured, dipping his head and causing the ends sticking out from under the skullcap to sway. “I’m pretty erect right now to be honest.”
“Oh my God . . .” I rubbed my hand over my hot cheek. “Okay. Back to the proposal. When did he tell you?”
“About a month ago. Want to smack me again? You could try my ass. I’ll probably like that.”
I stared at him.
He chuckled. “I went with him to pick out the ring. I’m pretty sure the jeweler thought we were getting married.”
“You could’ve told me.” I huffed.
“Hey, he asked me to keep it a secret. He doesn’t want Avery to find out.” When I opened my mouth to argue, he folded his arms. “It’s like when I took you to the doc, Tess. You didn’t want him to know . . .”
I nodded. “You got me.”
Too happy over the recent development to be any bit irritated, I broke out in a huge grin. “I’m so thrilled for them. They really are perfect for each other. You know, like once-in-a-life kind of thing. I know you think that’s pretty stupid, but I believe it.”
“I don’t think it’s stupid at all. I know . . . exactly what you mean.” He unfolded his arms.
His words were laced with a heavy meaning, but my attention was snagged by something else. Since his hands had been mostly occupied during lunch, I hadn’t noticed them until then. The flesh around his knuckles was an angry red, the skin roughed up and swollen. I frowned as I took his hand carefully in one of mine. “What happened to your knuckles?”
He pulled his hand free, glancing down at them with a frown. “I don’t know. Must’ve scraped them on something at the farm.”
“You don’t know?”
Jase shook his head. “Let’s get your pretty butt to class. Come on, hopalong.”
Though a teasing grin had appeared, a dark look had crossed his face. I glanced at his knuckles again, and for some reason, I thought of Cam’s hands after he’d confronted Jeremy. I pushed that thought away because that was . . . that was too weird. Jase said he scraped them at the farm and that’s what had to have happened because there was no other reason to how it could have happened.
Late morning on the first day of fall break, I stood in front of Lightning, gripping my crutches until my knuckles ached. “No.”
“You promised,” Jase reminded me gently, as if he was speaking to Jack.
“I don’t care.”
I glared at Jase, and he grinned. “I can’t get up there with my knee.”
“I’ll make sure you get up there just fine.”
My lower lip jutted out in a way that would’ve made Jack proud, who was currently quarantined to his bedroom and had thrown a Godzilla-sized fit when Jase said he couldn’t come out with us. Jase’s mom was in the shower when we showed up and his dad was somewhere on the farm. I wasn’t sure if he was going to make good on his promise to introduce me as his girlfriend today, but I was nervous for some reason. Maybe it was because that was such a huge step.
But I still felt bad for the little dude. “Can we see Jack before we leave?” I asked.
Jase blinked once and then twice. “Yeah.”
“I feel bad for him,” I explained, shifting my weight on the crutches. “He really wanted to come outside.”
A soft look crept into his eyes. “We can most definitely see him before we leave. He’d like that.” He leaned in, brushing his nose across mine. “I’d like that.”
“But changing the subject isn’t going to distract me. You’re getting up on this horse. End of discussion.”
“I wasn’t trying to change the subject.” Even I recognized the whine in my voice as I looked at Lightning. The horse sniffed and turned his head in the other direction, obviously done with me.
“Stand still.” He pried the crutches from my hands and propped them against the split-rail fence. Giving Lightning one more pat on the nose, Jase picked up the reins as he walked around to the other side. In the bright sunlight, strands of red and gold shone in his hair.
He leaped up on the horse with the grace of someone who’d grown up doing just that. Once on top of the beast, he appeared bigger and larger than life.
And strangely hot sitting astride a horse.
“Lift your arms,” he said.
That was the last thing I wanted to do, but I gathered up my courage and lifted my arms. The muscles in his thighs tensed against the horse as he leaned over, fitting his hands to my ribs. Our eyes met, he winked, and then he lifted me right off my feet and up in the air. I didn’t have time to panic because it seemed like in a heartbeat I was sitting sideways on the horse.
“Bring your left leg over,” he said, his hands slipping to my h*ps and holding tight. “I’m not going to let you fall.”
Gripping his arms, I twisted, keeping my injured leg stationary as I brought my left leg over the wide back of the horse. I bit down on my lip and my heart tripped up as Lightning moved sideways, but Jase didn’t let me fall. I slipped back in the saddle, resting between Jase’s legs.
“Good girl,” he said, his breath warm against the back of my neck, causing me to shiver. “See? That wasn’t too bad.”
My mouth was dry. “I guess not.”
His answering chuckle rumbled through me. He secured his arms around my waist, holding the reins in one hand. “You ready?”
I shook my head and added, “No,” just in case he was confused.
Jase laughed again. “You’re going to enjoy it. I promise.” Dipping his head, he pressed a kiss to the back of my neck, sending a race of tingles up and down my back. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
With the slight movement of his heels, Lightning moved into a slow canter, following the worn-down track that circled the split rail. It took a bit to get used to the bouncing. Jase kept me tucked close as he told me about the first time he’d ridden a horse. He’d been six and had slipped right off the animal, breaking his arm.
“Did you get right back on?” I asked as we made another pass. “Or were you scared.”
“I was scared.” His thumb moved in a slow circle across my belly. “But Dad knew I needed to get back up on there. And I did. I didn’t fall again.”
An image of a young Jase filled my head. I bet he looked a lot like Jack and was just as adorable, but probably more of a handful. It took a good twenty minutes before I relaxed enough that I released my death grip on Jase’s arm. When I eased off, my fingernails had left little indentations in his skin.
“Sorry,” I said hoarsely, staring at the trees.
“It’s okay. It’s only skin.” He kissed the back of my neck again, a quick movement that was most likely undetectable, but then he pressed his lips to the space below my ear.
Our conversation from last night moved to the forefront. A lump formed in my throat. His words still got me all choked up. He wanted to take things slowly. He wanted me to be different from all the other girls—which sounded like an extremely long list, but I would not think of them. He wanted our relationship to start off not being about sex.