He laughed deeply as he planted his hands on either side of my arms and lifted his upper body off mine. Air rushed into my lungs. “No. Holy wow . . . are you okay?”
His thick, dark lashes lowered and he grinned. “I don’t know. I think I broke you.”
“I asked if you were okay,” I clarified in a voice that sounded strange in my ears. His weight and proximity had blood thundering through my veins. “Breaking me has nothing to do with that.”
“I’m more concerned about you, but you did break my fall. How sweet of you, Tess.” He chuckled, and dear Lord, I knew he was three sheets to the wind and then some, and damnit, did he have to be an adorable albeit clumsy drunk? Wiggling to get my arms free, he shifted and our bodies ended up pressed together in all the ways that counted. I stilled when a raw, sexy sound rumbled up from his chest. My gaze lifted, meeting his. Neither of us moved. Neither of us spoke. His lips parted on a quick, shallow inhale. My chest rose against his in a deep, shaky breath. I felt him through my thin bottoms, right where he was hardening between my thighs. There was no mistaking it, no hiding his length and thickness.
A sweet and heady burn crawled over my body. Several points in my body throbbed acutely as he stared down at me. Entranced, I watched his eyes turn to a molten silver. Several shivers ran down my spine. The throbbing was intensifying in the very center of me, spreading through my limbs.
There was a slight, unfocused quality to his eyes, and I again told myself he was drunk, but that knowledge did nothing to dampen my arousal or the heat in his gaze.
“This . . . this is unexpected,” he said in a voice that stretched my nerve endings. “Tess, I . . .” His eyes closed, and he let out a deep breath. “You feel good under me, too good.”
My heart skipped a beat and then picked up. His words stirred up the kind of lust I had little experience with or understanding of. All I knew was that I wanted to wrap myself around him and hold on tight.
“Good isn’t the right word. Maybe perfect?” He sounded almost like he was talking to himself. “Fuck,” he growled, and then his h*ps rolled in a slow thrust, pressing against the part where I ached the most. My toes curled and I gasped. A tremble coursed through his large body. “Do you believe in fate?”
The question came out of left field, but it didn’t cut through the haze building in my head. “I don’t know,” I whispered. “Do you?”
“I mean, do you believe that some things are just meant to happen?” he murmured as he dropped his head and his lips brushed my neck. Another strangled gasp parted my lips. “Like no matter what you do, what you tell yourself, things are just going to happen? Some things I don’t think you can stop.”
My body overran my brain, losing what he was he was saying, and I wasn’t even sure he knew what he was saying. My right arm was free and I lifted my hand slowly, resting my fingers against the cool, silky strands of his hair.
His lips grazed my skin again and then the tip of his tongue flicked over my pulse. I jerked, causing our lower halves to press together. He kissed the same spot, nipping at my skin gently enough that it would not bruise, but the sensation was a riot inside me.
“You never knew.” He shifted his weight onto one arm and his hand curved along my cheek, tilting my head back.
A thunder was in my veins, as dangerous as a summer storm. “Never knew what?”
Jase shook his head as the rough pad of his thumb rubbed along my bottom lip. “I didn’t always . . . come up to see Cam. He wasn’t the only reason why I made that trip every weekend.” As shock shot through me, he laughed and then closed his eyes. “I came up to see you. Makes me a bastard, really. How old were you? Sixteen? Fuck me.”
Those words mixed with the feel of him were like an explosion, but there was little time to internalize and obsess over their meaning or to even question it. His head lowered and my body tensed. He was going to kiss me and I wasn’t going to push him away. Not now. Not after what he’d just admitted. Not with the way my chest was swelling, erasing the horrible, wretched feeling from earlier.
His lips grazed the bridge of my nose, and then he pressed a kiss against my forehead as he rolled off me, onto his side. The hand that had been cupping my cheek slid down, between my br**sts, stopping just above my belly button. That sweet kiss seized my chest, but I waited for those lips to move farther south.
But the lips never did.
I turned my head toward his and opened my eyes. My mouth dropped open as realization sunk in. Lying beside me on the floor, Jase was passed out cold.
Forrest Gump had taken up residency in my head. The words stupid is as stupid does were on repeat. I should’ve ignored Jase’s text. I should’ve agreed when he’d called himself a jackass. I should’ve called someone to come get his drunk ass. I shouldn’t have yearned for more than a kiss on the forehead. And I really shouldn’t have been lured in by anything he’d said last night, no matter how badly I wanted to believe him, because he’d been drunk.
A drunk man’s words were a sober man’s thoughts. That’s what my dad always said, but I didn’t think that was true. Not in the bright light of the morning.
I hadn’t been able to get Jase onto the couch last night. So I had ended up shoving a pillow under his head and dropping the quilt over him. I’d sat on the couch afterward, fully intending on getting up and finding my own bed, but I had gotten a bit lost watching him sleep. Like I said, stupid is as stupid does. As I studied the softness in his features that were never present while he was awake, I’d fallen asleep.
When I’d woken up Sunday morning, the quilt that I’d placed over him had been tucked around me. And the pillow had replaced the armrest. Jase had been gone.
There was a huge part of me that wanted to believe that he’d spoken the truth last night and that it meant something, because that kiss . . . it had been so sweet. But he’d been hammered and he wasn’t here now. I appreciated that he’d apologized. We could move forward from here and be friends, but I wanted to kick myself for rushing out in the middle of the night to talk to him like I was desperate and hoping that he’d kiss me.
On any other place except my forehead, but that had been so . . . so sweet.
“Ugh.” I dropped my head into my hands.
But I’d been so surprised by his text. Hell, I’d thought he’d purposely lost my number and . . . well, I was a girl. That was my excuse. We’re just friends. I kept telling myself that over and over again. I needed to get that through my thick skull.
“You don’t look like you had a good night.”
I lifted my head at the sound of Debbie’s voice. She stood in the doorway with two cups of coffee in her hands. “Ahh . . .”
Brown hair tucked up in a neon purple clip, she shoved a warm cup into my hands. “Got a question.”
“Okay.” I sat down on my bed, crossing my legs. “I might have an answer.”
Toeing off her sandals, she flashed a quick grin and then dropped down on the bed opposite of me. “So I got home this morning around . . . hmm, let’s say—around four A.M. and I thought my eyes must be deceiving me, because there was one Jase Winstead passed out on our floor and you were asleep on the couch, all curled up like a little babe.”
A slow burn crept across my cheeks. “Uh, yeah, well . . .”
Debbie giggled as I stumbled over my words. “Now, when I see Jase in unexpected places, I expect him to be in a bed and not on a floor. Just saying, but come on, spill it. What was he doing here? I saw him at the party and he didn’t look like he wanted to be there—oh! Now it makes sense!” Her grin spread. “There was somewhere else he wanted to be and that was here, with you.”
That was a huge leap of logic to take. “It’s not like that.” At her doubtful look, I took a sip of the sugary coffee and resisted the urge to ask what “unexpected places” she had seen Jase in. “I’m serious. We’ve known each other for a while. You know my brother is close friends with him, right?”
“I know who your brother is. Everyone does.” She smoothed a hand over her bangs. “But I didn’t know you were good friends with Jase.”
I shrugged. “He was drunk, so I couldn’t let him drive home. He crashed on the couch. That’s about all. Not an exciting story to tell.”
One dark brow arched. “And why was he here when he was drunk?”
Fuuuuuck. Good question. I bought time by taking a nice long drink of the coffee. “He was seeing someone else or something. And he was drunk and texted me to say hi.”
She scrunched up her nose. “Well, that is boring.”
I laughed. “Sorry.”
“Damn, I was hoping I was going to get some dirty details and live vicariously through you.” She laughed when my eyes widened. “Come on, Jase has this . . . I don’t know, this intensity about him. Like he’d be the kind of guy who f**ks you and changes your life.”
“Fucks you and changes your life?” I repeated dumbly. The few times I had sex hadn’t been that impressive. “That is some serious penis skills.”
Debbie laughed as she flopped onto her back, managing to hold on to her Styrofoam cup without spilling anything. “Penis skills? Oh my God . . .”
I cracked a grin as I held the cup close. “Erik wasn’t with you, was he?”
Tension eased out of my neck. If Erik had been, I was sure he would go back to Cam or one of the other frat brothers. “Can I ask you a favor? Can you not tell Erik that Jase was here? I don’t want people getting the wrong idea—”
“Like they obviously would,” she teased.
“Exactly. And I wouldn’t want Cam to get ticked off for no apparent reason.”
She rolled onto her side, placing her cup on the nightstand. “Cam the overprotective brother type?”
I snorted. “You have no idea.”
“That’s nice though, having someone looking out for you,” she said, stretching her legs. “I bet he’s a pain in the ass when it comes to boyfriends.”
I took another drink and figured it was time to change the conversation. “Speaking of boyfriends, I’m surprised Erik didn’t come back with you.”
She bit down on her lip. “He wanted to go back to the party, so . . .”
So what Erik wanted, Erik got. Just like Jeremy. I glanced down at my cup, wanting to say something, but felt like I’d be overstepping a line. But to remain silent was killer. No one at school had asked questions when they saw Jeremy grab my arm or yell at me for the most insignificant infractions. Everyone had turned a blind eye. It was easier that way.
I squeezed my eyes shut as the feeling of helplessness returned like an old, needy friend you couldn’t get rid of. I wasn’t that girl anymore. I wasn’t a victim.
When Debbie’s phone went off, I opened my eyes to see her quickly pull it out of her pocket. “Hey, babe, I was—” Her words were cut off suddenly, and I stiffened. “I know—yes. Yes! I just left to get some coffee. You—” She twisted at the waist and swung her feet onto the floor. As she stood, her eyes met mine. A crimson stain swept across her cheeks. She looked away quickly as she hurried out of the room. “Erik, babe, I’m sorry. I didn’t know—”
She stopped at the door, bending to pick up the sandals she kicked off. Her cotton shorts rode up her thigh, revealing the skin just below her hip. I gasped, but the sound must’ve been lost in whatever Erik was saying to her.
Bruises in an array of yellow and blue marred her skin. Some old. Some so fresh, so vibrantly purple, that I knew they had to have been created within the last twenty-four hours.
Debbie straightened, sandals dangling from the tips of her fingers. “I’m coming over now. I just need to get gas—I know you told me to get gas last night, but it was late . . .” She sucked in a breath. “I’m sorry.”
Pressure clamped down on my chest as I watched her close the door behind her. I closed my eyes, but I couldn’t erase what I saw or what it meant. All the bruises, a large cluster of blotches, were inflicted where they could not be normally seen.
They’d been hidden.
My shirt was already starting to cling to the middle of my back, and my right knee ached. The walk from history class in Whitehall all the way to music appreciation on west campus was truly a bitch in this heat. Even worse was the fact that if I wanted to eat anything, I would have to walk my happy ass back to east campus.
“You should’ve taken the bus,” Calla Fritz said, shifting her messenger-style book bag to the other shoulder. “There’s no reason for you to walk this far.”
“My bullshit radar just went off.” Calla tugged her long, golden ponytail out from underneath the strap of her bag. I’d only met her last week when I started class. We shared history and music together, but in the short period of time, I discovered she was pretty blunt when she wanted to be.