Besides Debbie, she was probably my only friend. I didn’t count Avery because she was my brother’s girlfriend and had to like me. Mom had said right before I left for school that some of her longest-lasting friendships started her first year in college.
I didn’t think that was going to happen for me.
Even my friendship with Sadi, and we’d been dancing together since we were five, hadn’t lasted.
“You started limping by the time we reached the football field,” she added.
Sweat caused my sunglasses to slip on the bridge of my nose. Pushing them up, I smiled at her. Short and curvy, Calla Fritz reminded me of one of those ’50s pinup girls. The kind of girls who’d dance burlesque and make a lot of money doing it.
But, like me, Calla was far from perfect.
A raised scar covered her left cheek, from the corner of her lips to her ear. With makeup, it was a faint mark. I didn’t know how she got it and I didn’t ask. I figured it would be something she’d volunteer.
“I always limp,” I told her. Hiding my gimp leg was impossible with the nice bright pink cut decorating my kneecap. I would’ve preferred to hide it, but I couldn’t stand the heat of late August. “And I need the exercise.”
She snorted. “What the hell ever, my thighs need the exercise. You need a hamburger.”
“Have you seen my ass? It’s known a lot of hamburgers up close and personal. And it’s on speaking terms with french fries.”
“That’s okay. My thighs make out with milkshakes.”
I laughed and then sighed as we entered the tunnel that connected the two sides of the campus. Since it was underground and lit by track lighting, it was a good twenty degrees cooler.
“I wonder if anyone would notice if I just lay down in the middle of this?” Calla asked.
“Probably, but I’d be right there with you.”
Calla spent the rest of our trip bitching about the fact that she—a nursing major—had to take music appreciation. I didn’t blame her. It was an easy enough class, but not the most interesting. Our professor really didn’t apply himself. After all, almost everyone in the classroom was there because they had to be.
College was so strange. It was like high school with little to no parental influence. We still had to take classes we didn’t want to take, except we actually had to pay for them, which really kind of sucked ass.
The auditorium was half full, and we took our seats in the back. Sitting halfway down the aisle, I swallowed the groan of relief when I sat. My knee immediately thanked me. I popped my sunglasses up, cringing at the fine sheen of sweat dotting my forehead. Nothing like being a sweaty mess for class. I was so ready for fall.
“Wake me up about ten minutes till,” Calla said, sliding down in her seat. She kept her sunglasses on. “Because then I’ll feel like I attempted to pay attention.”
I grinned. “Will do.”
As the class filed in, I started thumbing through my notebook, searching for the section I’d been taking notes in last week. I didn’t realize anyone was heading for the unoccupied seat to my left until I heard the chair creak. I glanced over and my jaw dropped.
Jase Winstead was sprawled arrogantly in the seat beside me, long legs bent and both arms draped lazily over the back of the seats. Dressed in faded jeans and a shirt, he looked like he had every right to be there, especially with his backpack resting against one of his legs.
Except I couldn’t figure out why he was here.
A funny little half smile hitched up one corner of his lips. “Hi.”
I glanced around, making sure I was in the right class. Beside me, Calla stared at Jase as she removed her sunglasses. I was in the right place. “Hi.”
The smile spread about an inch. “You look surprised.”
“I am,” I said, snapping out of my stupor. “What are you doing here?”
He tapped a long finger off his notebook. “Had a meeting with my adviser last week to make sure I had all my credits. Turned out I still needed music appreciation, and this was the only class that wasn’t full. So I did a late add.”
Jase paused as his gaze slowly drifted over my face. His body was the epitome of relaxed, but there was an unnerving level of quiet intensity in his stare. “I was actually sitting in front of you. You didn’t see me, but I saw you.”
There was no way that Jase knew my schedule, and him being here had absolutely nothing to do with me or his late-night visit on Saturday. I totally knew that, but that knowledge did nothing to stop the bubbling of hope and excitement. “Well, that’s . . . um, that’s cool.”
The other side of Jase’s lips tipped up.
My cheeks heated as I hastily looked away. Okay. I could handle this. Jase and I had talked things over. We were cool. Everything was cool. We were friends. And the things he’d said and how he’d felt on top of me Saturday night didn’t matter. He had been drunk. Another mistake. I clung to that, because considering anything else was sure to bring on a world of hurting.
I peeked at him, stealing a sideways glance. His gaze was still fixed on my face, but slowly moved down to my lap. My right leg was stretched out, and the way I held my notebook did nothing to hide the length of the scar covering my knee. I felt the burn in my face deepen as I shifted my notebook to my right leg.
“The class is really boring,” Calla announced, shoving her hand over and drawing his attention away. “I’m Calla, by the way.”
He reached over with his left arm, shaking her hand as his gaze flickered across her face. His stare did not linger on her scar, and for that, he got bonus points when it came to compassion. “I’m—”
“Jase Winstead,” she said, sitting back. “I know you. Well, I don’t know you. I’ve heard of you.”
A faint pink stained the tops of his broad cheeks. Was he blushing? “You have?” he asked.
She nodded and a private, almost knowing smile formed on her lips. “I think every female on this campus has heard of you.”
I rolled my eyes.
He chuckled. “Ah, I see . . .”
“You do?” I arched a brow.
Focusing on the front of the auditorium as the professor strode in, Jase bit down on his lower lip. There was something boyish about the action, but in a strange way, also sensual. The muscles in my stomach tightened at the sudden image of him nipping down on my lower lip like he had on my neck. The skin there tingled as a reminder. An electric-like sensation shot through my veins at the memory of how he’d rocked his hips.
Good God, I needed to get laid or something.
“Some would say I’m quite popular . . .” he remarked finally.
“With the ladies?” I supplied as I pulled a pen out of my bag.
Thick lashes lowered as he sent me a sideways look. “Maybe.”
“Definitely,” Calla murmured under her breath.
I grinned as Jase shifted in his seat. He was uncomfortable addressing his oh-so-stellar reputation?
“So,” I said, unable to resist poking at him. My voice was low as the professor started to discuss the six elements of music. “Would these ladies have good or bad things to say about you?”
He was silent as he scribbled the words rhythm and melody on his notebook. I didn’t think he’d answer. “Depends on who you ask.”
“What would it depend on?”
His grin spread on one side again. “Several factors, but I can assure you that most of them would have many good things to say.” His light gray eyes sought mine out again as he bowed his head until his warm breath danced along my cheek. “Actually, great things.”
My heart stumbled. Was he flirting with me? I swallowed. “Like what kind of things?”
He didn’t answer then, so I forced myself to focus on the lecture. I could feel Calla staring at me. She had no idea how I knew Jase and probably thought I was one of the girls who had many, many good things to say about him.
I wanted to say his comment was made out of arrogance and nothing else, but knowing how damn well he kissed, I was sure that he was just as skilled at everything else. The girls were probably boasting about his prowess on Internet message boards.
Jase shifted in the seat, and I stiffened as I felt his breath on my neck, just below my ear, teasing that sensitive spot that made me want to wiggle around—the same spot he’d nipped, licked, and then kissed. In a low whisper, he said, “I think you know exactly what kind of things they’d say good things about.”
I didn’t have a single clue about what was covered during music appreciation. The awareness of how close Jase sat was wholly distracting. Every time his leg or arm brushed mine, I was completely lost.
And I had an entire semester of this to look forward to.
There was a part of me that wanted to be grumpy about that, but I’d just be lying to myself. Knowing that I’d see Jase three times a week really increased my desire to attend this class.
After all, what was wrong with admiring a little eye candy?
Jase walked out with Calla and me, and it seemed like the temp had increased by ten degrees and the sun’s strength amplified.
“Where are you guys heading?” Jase asked, running a hand through his mess of waves.
“I’m heading back to my dorm,” Calla answered as she adjusted her sunglasses. She glanced at me. “Aren’t you going back to east campus?”
Thinking about the torturous walk ahead, I nodded. “Yeah, eventually. I have a class at one in Knutti. So I have an hour to make my way over there.”
“I can give you a ride over,” Jase offered, stopping at the edge of the pavilion surrounding the arts department. His gaze dipped briefly, but not quick enough that I didn’t know he was checking out my leg. I stiffened. “I can be your personal chauffeur,” he added with a grin that was nothing short of wicked.
For a moment, I got a little lost in that grin and the coils that formed in my tummy, but I managed to shake my head. “Thanks, but you don’t have to go out of your way.”
Jase waved at someone who called his name, but his attention was focused on me. “I’ll drive you. I’m parked over here anyway, in the back lot.”
“It’s not a big deal.” He squinted at the harsh glare off a passing car. “I’m heading over there anyway.”
“That’s really nice of you,” Calla said, sending me a look that said shut the hell up. “Her knee is really bothering her.”
I flushed out of embarrassment. “My leg isn’t bothering me that much. And I need the exercise. Walking is a good—” I squealed as Jase hooked an arm around my waist and bent, lifting me over his shoulder like I weighed nothing more than a sack of sugar. My bag slipped off my arm, smacking the pavement. “What are you doing?”
“Standing here discussing your ability to walk over to east campus in this heat makes me really impatient.”
I gripped the back of his shirt, unable to see through my hair. “Then leave! What the hell does that have to do with picking me up like a caveman?”
“Because you’re not walking over there.” He clamped his arm over the back of my thighs, dangerously close to getting hands-on with my ass. “That’s why.”
Calla laughed. “Well, that’s one way to settle the issue.”
Lifting my head, I glared at her through my hair. “You’re not helping.”
She smiled at me as she picked up my book bag and handed it over to Jase’s waiting hand. “See you later.”
“Traitor,” I muttered.
“Thanks.” Jase pivoted around, and I held on for dear life. He started walking down the road. “How you doing up there?”
“How do you think?” I snapped.
As we passed a group of students, they burst into laughter. One of the guys shouted, “So that’s how Jase gets his girls!”
My entire body went rigid.
He turned suddenly, causing me to squeal. Walking backward, he chuckled. “Some require a more hands-on approach.”
“I’d be down for a hands-on approach,” came a soft, feminine voice. “When you’re not so busy.”
Jase tsked as he spun. “Language, Tess, language.”
Holding on with one hand, I jabbed him in the kidney with my other.
My lips split in a wide smile.
“If my other hand was free . . .”
I knew exactly what he was thinking. “If you even consider for one second you think you can—ompf!” I gasped at the sudden extra hop in his step. “You ass**le.”
“I think you do need a spanking.”
My mouth opened for a blistering response, but he’d reached his car and for some reason being spanked didn’t sound that bad. But he had to be teasing because there was no way he was going to put his hand on Cam’s little sister’s ass.