What he had said earlier still stung like I’d kicked a nest full of hornets, but what he was saying now soothed a little of the burn. “I don’t think that.”
Jase stilled for a moment and then he twisted toward me, his head cocking to the side again. Our eyes locked, and I found that I couldn’t look away. “You’re still so . . . sweet.”
Sweet? I resisted the urge to spit on the ground. Of course Jase thought I was sweet and nice and as innocent and cuddly as an old, raggedy teddy bear. Not exactly how I wanted him to see me.
He broke eye contact first, and the air leaked out of my lungs. Wetting my lips, I ran the edge of my key card over the soft flannel of my jammie bottoms. “So you decided to come over in the middle of the night to tell me this?”
“It’s not exactly the middle of the night,” he said, smiling slightly. “More like early late night.”
My brows rose. “That doesn’t make much sense.”
“If you drank half of an eighteen-pack, it just might.”
I pursed my lips, remembering he was more than just a little buzzed. “Why didn’t you just wait until, I don’t know, you were sober and the sun was out to have this conversation?”
“I couldn’t wait,” he said without a moment of hesitation, so quickly that there was no doubting how important it was to him. “And the party sucked.”
“It did?” For some reason, I couldn’t picture the big luau sucking that much.
Jase nodded and his brows lowered, furrowing together. “This . . . this has been banging around in my head. Tried to drink it out. Didn’t work. Decided I needed to tell you before I developed a mean case of alcohol poisoning.”
So the party hadn’t really sucked, but more of a case of him feeling guilty enough to seek me out. I didn’t know what to think about that or any of this. I’d obsessed over him and was convinced at one point that I was madly, deeply in love with him. And the night when he’d kissed me, I thought . . . well, I thought a lot of stupid things. That he would wake up the next morning and profess his undying love and devotion to me in front of baby Jesus and my entire family. And everyone would be thrilled by the prospect, even Cam. That somehow a relationship between a senior in high school and a college junior could work. Jase would visit me instead of my brother every weekend and he would come to my dance recitals and visit me in New York City when I left for the ballet school and . . .
And none of that happened.
Jase and Cam had left that next morning before I even woke up, and I hadn’t seen him up until I started school at Shepherd. At some point during that last year, I’d thought I’d come to terms with Jase, chalked it up to stupid, naive fantasies, and even dated a time or two, but I’d been really off about all this. I hadn’t come to terms. Obviously. And seeing Jase, being near him, made me remember everything that had drawn me to him—his kindness, humor, intelligence. And even if some of those qualities weren’t so apparent now, I knew they were still there. The fact that it was after one in the morning and he hunted me down to apologize was proof of that.
He leaned back, stretching out his long legs. “Tess . . . Tess . . . Tess . . .”
“What?” I forced my gaze back to him after staring at a square hedge for far too long.
Jase was watching me again, the look on his face completely unreadable. His eyes were so bright now, almost silver, as his gaze dipped. He made a sound deep in his throat, half curse and half groan. I didn’t understand it. My attention followed his, and I drew in a shaky, surprised breath.
That was about when I realized I wasn’t wearing a bra, and the cooler night air and thin tank top did nothing to hide what I had going on.
And right at that moment, I had a lot going on.
My ni**les were hard, pressing against the material. Heat swamped my cheeks and I started to fold my arms, but then it struck me that Jase was looking, like really looking. And for someone who claimed that “the moment” got away from him . . .
Wait. He was drunk right now.
I folded my arms over my chest. “What?” I demanded again.
He dragged his burning gaze up, and I swore it had lingered over my lips. “Why did you come here? To this place?”
The question caught me off guard, and so did the way he asked it, like he’d never in a million years expected me to be here, at the same college as him. “I . . . my leg . . .” Couldn’t I speak in complete sentences? A soft wind picked up, tossing my hair around. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You never planned on doing the college thing, right?”
“No. Not like this.”
“So what . . .” Jase paused, catching a piece of my hair. As he tucked it back, his fingers grazed my cheek, causing a fine shiver to work its way down my spine. His hand lingered for maybe a second, and then it fell into the space between us—a space that suddenly seemed much smaller. “What are you studying?”
It took a moment for my brain to turn over the question. “Elementary ed.”
The corner of his lip curled up once more as he draped his right arm over the back of the bench, still facing me. “That takes a special kind of person.”
“How so?” The major had been a last-minute thing because I hadn’t planned on having a normal career. I’d opened the registration manual and basically picked one. Teaching seemed like a good, stable idea. A plan B that I didn’t plan on using.
“Kids are tough, Tess, especially at that age.”
“You’d know.” I smiled as I remembered how he was with his little brother. “But I like kids.”
A sudden shadow passed over his face. “Yeah, look, I better get going. It’s late and you probably would like to go back to sleep.” He started to lean forward but stopped. “We’re friends, right? You and I? Like . . . like before?”
Like before he’d kissed me. I steeled myself against the sudden tumbling of my heart. This was it. Even if Jase thought I was beautiful and he was attracted to me, he wasn’t going to act on it. Whether it was because of Cam or something else, whatever he felt for me wasn’t going to be enough. And it didn’t matter. I could be friends with him. It wasn’t like I planned on being here for a long time. If I was cleared, I’d finish out the semester and then head back to the studio.
Jase . . . Jase would once more become a memory.
I forced a smile. “Yes. We’re friends.”
“Good. Perfect.” His smile spread, and it was that big smile, the one that didn’t lessen his beauty whatsoever, that probably had panties dropping across the nation. He stood, and I watched him stumble to the left. Jase threw his hands out, balancing himself. “Whoa.”
When he pulled his car keys out of his pocket, I pushed to my feet. There was no pain in my knee this time. “You’re not driving.”
He shot me a look and then laughed. “I’m fine.”
“You are not fine. You can’t even stand straight.”
“Well, it’s a good thing that driving doesn’t requiring standing straight.”
My eyes widened. “Jase . . .”
He took another stumbling step, and I caught his arm, wrapping my hand around his forearm. My fingers didn’t come anywhere close to meeting. He was startled by the contact and his gaze swung toward me. So was I. The feel of his warm skin branded mine, but I took advantage of the situation.
I swiped the keys from his hand and then let go, stepping back. “You’re not driving.”
Jase didn’t make a grab for the keys. “Then what do you expect me to do? Sleep out on this bench?”
I could’ve suggested that he call one of his friends, but that’s not what I said. “You can stay with me.”
His eyes widened, and then he barked out a short laugh. “Stay with you?”
I scowled. “Yeah, what’s so funny about that?”
He started to respond, but then he seemed to rethink what he was about to say. Several seconds stretched out between us. “Cam’s gonna kill me.”
“Cam will kill me if I let you drive off. Besides, there’s a couch in the suite. It’s not like you’re sharing my bed.”
In the light of the lamppost, his eyes glimmered. The look that suddenly filled his eyes had the tips of my ears burning.
“Suite or your bed,” he said finally. “Your brother is still gonna kill me.”
There was a slight chance that Cam might, but he’d be more pissed if I let Jase drive off. And besides, it wasn’t like either of us could call Cam to come get his drunk ass. How could we explain Jase being here? “He doesn’t have to know.”
Jase didn’t look convinced, but when I turned to walk back toward the entrance, he stumbled into step beside me. He was quiet as he followed me up to my dorm and opened the door to the suite.
“Debbie’s not back yet.” I flipped the floor lamp on. “She might be spending it with—”
“Erik,” Jase interrupted, looking around the small sitting room. I so doubted this was the first time he’d been in one of these suites. “They’re still at the party. Who’s in the other room?”
“Don’t know.” I picked up the pillow from the floor and placed it on the couch, by the arm. “I’ve never seen them. I think they’re vampires or something.”
He chuckled as he brushed past me and then sat on the couch. The next second he was on his back, eyes closed and chest rising and falling evenly. Wow. It must be awesome to pass out that quickly.
Sighing, I went into my room and grabbed a quilt my mom had made from off the foot of my bed and then returned to the suite. He hadn’t moved by the time I came to stand between the coffee table and his long legs, but his silvery eyes were open in thin slits.
“Friends?” he murmured.
The twinge of disappointment was lost in the lurch my heart gave as he smiled up at me. I was such an idiot. Draping the quilt over him, I started to back away.
Moving faster than I thought a drunk guy could move, he grabbed my wrist, holding me in place with a surprisingly gentle grip. “Tess?” he said, eyes heavily hooded. “Are we friends?”
My breath caught as his thumb moved in a slow, idle circle right under my palm. The slight touch did crazy things to my brain, completely shorting it out. “Yes. We’re friends.”
“Good,” he said, repeating what he’d spoken outside. “Perfect.”
He didn’t let go, but tugged me down until my hip was resting on the couch beside his. So many thoughts whirled around, and I had no idea why I said what I did next. “How did you know what dorm I was in?”
“I have my ways.” His hand slid up my arm, stopping just below my elbow, where his thumb moved over the sensitive skin there.
What was he doing? I was pretty sure friends didn’t do this. I sure as hell didn’t with my guy friends. But I really didn’t have a lot of guy friends, just a few from the studio. And Jase didn’t touch me like this before. Not even in the seconds before he’d kissed me. We’d been talking and I’d hugged him good night, but when I pulled back, he had held on and . . . the moment had gotten away from him. Was the moment going to get away from us again? He was drunk. It was quite possible and I knew I should pull away for a hundred different reasons, but I didn’t.
And that made me a stupid girl.
I still didn’t move away.
The smooth circling of his thumb sent little jolts of awareness through me. An ache filled my br**sts and moved lower through my body. My lips parted on their own accord. God, I knew better. Honestly I did, but I had never, ever responded this way to a simple touch. I hadn’t even known it was possible for my insides to twist up in such delicious knots from a thumb on the inside of my elbow.
“Friends,” he murmured again, and then he pulled me down.
Pulse pounding, I didn’t resist. The very idea didn’t even cross my mind as his head tilted up and his warm breath danced over my lips and then my cheek. I shivered when his chest rose, brushing mine.
A deep emotion sparked in my chest, and it tasted like panic. Self-control came out of nowhere. A will that surprised me was born, and I pulled away before I really did turn into a doormat that had WELCOME tattooed on my forehead.
Jase held on as I jerked up, rising into a sitting position. The combination of me being off balance, him being drunk, and poor leverage didn’t mingle well with the quilt I had so nicely draped over him. Somehow he got his legs tangled in it. I stepped back and bumped into the coffee table. He kept moving as he pulled me down, half rolling, half sitting up. We tumbled right off the couch.
I hit the floor on my back and Jase’s weight came down on me, pushing the air out of my lungs. A moment passed and then I blinked open my eyes. I was plastered to the carpet, unable to move my legs or my arms.
“Oh my God,” I managed to squeak out. “Are you dead?”