“What? Fuck no.” In the dim light, he shrank back. “I told you it wasn’t—”
“He’s been in there. So have you. So by association, you two have had sex.”
I grinned. “What’s disgusting is that you’ve both been up in there and—”
“Can we not talk about this?”
My smile went up a notch. There was a good chance tomorrow morning I wouldn’t find any of this funny, but right now, I loved how he squirmed. “Perhaps you’ll think twice about doing what you aren’t quite proud of.”
He arched a brow and then fixed his gaze on the empty bed across from us. “I was telling the truth, Tess. I’ve known Steph for years, and, yeah, we’ve fooled around a couple of times, but nothing since the end of last semester. And I . . .” He tipped his head to the side and sighed. “And I haven’t ever kissed her. That was the truth, too. I hadn’t kissed a girl since . . .”
Jase shook his head and then let out a short, dry laugh. “Since a really long time.”
I watched him in silence. A change came over him. I wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but a distant, almost sad look crept into his features, tightening the lines of his face that would drive an artist crazy to sketch.
I knew he was talking about Jack’s mother, and he’d been hurt, nursing a broken heart for all these years.
God, maybe I was drunk, because I had no idea if he had even been in love with her. Jase was a dude. Dudes didn’t harbor old love wounds. They either drank or screwed them away.
My eyes became too hard to keep open. “I wish I had that cupcake now.”
He laughed as he slowly shook his head. “You would have loved it. I got another Snickers one. I guess you’re just not meant to eat that one.”
There was a pause, and then I felt his finger drift over my cheek, scooping up a strand of hair and tucking it back. “I’ll stay until you fall asleep.”
“That won’t be very long.” I willed my eyes open, but they wouldn’t. “And we need to talk . . .”
“Sleep, Tess. I promise”—the bed shifted and I felt his lips press against my forehead—“we’ll talk tomorrow . . . if your brother doesn’t kill me first.”
There was a small person living inside my head and it was banging on my skull with a sledgehammer. Moaning pitifully, I rolled onto my side and blinked my eyes open.
The small window by Debbie’s bed let way too much light in and I winced, pressing the heel of my palm against my throbbing forehead.
“Ow,” I moaned, sitting up. The quilt slipped down to my waist, revealing the clothes I’d slept in last night.
A soft laugh floated through the room. “I was wondering when you were going to wake up.”
My tortured gaze swung to the doorway. Debbie leaned against the frame, grinning. Mouth tasting like I made a series of bad decisions last night, I glanced at the clock. “Holy crapola.”
It was almost one in the afternoon.
She laughed again. “Did you overindulge last night?”
Debbie pushed out of the doorway and headed to the small fridge. Digging out a small bottle of orange juice, she then grabbed another bottle off the desk. She walked them over to me and sat down on my bed.
My brain felt fuzzy, like it had grown tiny hairs during the night, as I watched her pop out two aspirins.
“Take them.” She handed over the OJ and aspirins. “It will help.”
I would take a shotgun blast to the head if it helped. Swallowing the pills, I followed it up with a healthy gulp of OJ.
“You’re officially a college student now,” she said, screwing the lid back on the aspirins.
She nodded. “You’ve got your first college hangover. It’s a tradition.”
“It sucks.” I pressed my hand against my head. “Big time.”
“Hey.” She patted my bent leg. “At least you haven’t vomited.”
“What happened to you last night?” Debbie asked, twisting around and sitting cross-legged. “I saw you go upstairs, and then you never came back down. About an hour later, Cam came in looking for you.”
My eyes widened as last night came back in a rush. Cold doused my skin, and then heat.
I had engaged in a bit of oral play with Jase.
Was this my life? A memory of his mouth and his tongue on me, in me, whipped through my brain. I flushed as my heart rate picked up. A different kind of ache filled my breasts, and then dipped much, much lower.
Yep. This was my life.
Turning swiftly, I ignored the fierce slice of pain between my temples and snatched my cell off the nightstand. I didn’t remember putting it there. Jase must’ve gotten it out of my pocket. There were no missed calls from Cam. I assumed Jase had gone back to the frat house and told him that he’d taken me home. And left out a lot of detail.
As much as I wanted Jase—and I did want him—I didn’t want to cause problems between him and my brother. Huh. Which would make having a relationship in the open difficult.
If we were even going to have a relationship.
There were also no missed calls or texts from Jase.
My stomach twisted, and I dropped the phone on the bed beside me. “I came back to the dorm,” I said finally.
“That much I figured. Did something happen to cause you to leave?”
“No.” I forced a casual shrug and took another drink. “I just wanted to come back.”
“Oh.” She bit down on her lip, and then she took a deep breath. “Erik didn’t say anything to you?”
“No.” I downed the rest of the juice. “Why?” Once I asked the question, I thought it could be because I called him a dick. Guilt rose. “Debbie, I’m sorry for calling him a dick. I just—”
“Don’t apologize.” She waved her hand. “He can be a dick. Anyway, he went to use the bathroom not too long after you’d gone upstairs, and I was worried he said something to you.”
A lock of brown hair slipped out of her hair clip and brushed her forehead. She knocked it away. My mind was whirling, centered on Jase and that wonderful, wicked tongue of his, but I thought of the bruises I’d seen on her legs, and the way Erik talked to her.
I needed to say something to her. Tell her that I knew what it was like. Someone needed to step up because I knew personally that when no one did, it only got worse. My skin burned. It was hard, though. Even now it was difficult telling someone I’d been in a relationship like that. It was more than the guilt and the embarrassment. It was that . . . that f**king fear that never really left, that festered like a rotten wound in the memories.
I averted my gaze to the empty bottle. “Debbie, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” She smiled as she tossed the bottle of pills up, catching it. “Ask away.”
Squaring my shoulders, I looked up. “Does . . . does Erik hit you?”
A second or two passed and then she laughed. Too loudly. “What? No. W-why would you even think that?”
I fiddled with the lid on the bottle. “Because he isn’t very nice and—”
“Just because he says ignorant stuff every once in a while doesn’t make him an abuser.” She unfurled her long legs and shot off the bed. Folding her arms, she faced me. Her cheeks were molten. “He doesn’t hit me.”
Denial. God knows I tried that when Mom saw the bruises. Pushing the quilt off me, I swung my legs off the bed. Our gazes locked, and she looked away. I took a shallow breath. “I saw the bruises on your legs.”
All the color drained from her face. “Bruises?” She then glanced down at her jeans. “What?”
“The other day. You were wearing shorts.”
Her brows furrowed as her mouth opened and then snapped shut. “I walked into the side of the bed a few days ago. That’s probably what you saw.”
Then she must’ve repeatedly walked into the bed several times over. I sat the bottle on the nightstand. “Debbie—”
“Look, thank you for being concerned, but there’s nothing to be concerned about.” She grabbed her phone off its charger and picked up a knit cap lying on her narrow bed. “I’ve got things to do. I’ll see you later.”
I pushed to my feet. “I need to talk to you—”
“Please. You don’t understand. I’m not trying to upset you or be judgey. I just want you—”
“To know that I know what it feels like,” I muttered to the empty room.
Well, that went over well. Sighing, I plopped back down on the bed. The ache in my temples had decreased, but I felt like a film of grossness was covering my skin. Which was sort of appropriate considering I now felt like a douche canoe after talking to Debbie.
But I knew my suspicions weren’t off.
Gathering up my shower stuff, I headed to the bathroom. While I stood under the steady, hot stream, I replayed last night over in my head. The girl in his room. Me leaving like a lunatic. Jase in the Jeep. The taste of him in my mouth, and then him, his dark head bowed between my legs.
That image of him was forever seared into my brain.
I slid my hands down my face as I turned, letting the water hit my back. A flutter in my chest moved to my belly, and a smile peeked out from behind my fingers. The way I felt was . . . strange. Like I woke up with not only a possible hangover, but I also felt different somehow. As if I grew up a little overnight. I really didn’t know what to make out of it. It was stupid because o**l s*x didn’t change lives.
Well, it had been rather life-changing.
I giggled as I slid my hands through my wet hair.
As the foam from my body wash gathered on my toes, I bit down on my lip. Last night had really happened, and as I remembered, Jase hadn’t pushed me away afterward. He’d stayed until I slept. He hadn’t apologized or said that it shouldn’t have happened.
I climbed out of the shower and quickly dried off. Slipping on a pair of comfy lounge pants and a shirt, I padded through the suite, stopping to glance at the door to the other dorm, ears tingling.
Holding my breath, I listened. The sound of footsteps neared the door and then faded away. I crept to the door, clutching my shower stuff to my chest. “Hello?”
I shook my head after waiting a few seconds and returned to my room. The first thing I did was check my phone. Nothing. A niggle of unease curled low in my stomach as I sat on my bed and grabbed my laptop.
If that conversation with Debbie hadn’t been awkward enough, she returned in the late afternoon with Erik. By that point, I’d spoken to Avery and told her the same thing I’d told Debbie. There had been no mention of Jase.
But, right now, I wasn’t really thinking about him.
Erik stood in front of the desk while Debbie packed up a small overnight bag. I sat my laptop on the pillow. She didn’t look at me as she shoved a change of clothing into a small brown-and-pink bag. “You’re not staying here tonight?”
“No,” Erik answered, sending me a snotty look. “She’s staying with me.”
My temper snapped. “I was asking her.”
“Do I look like I’m deaf?” He turned to me, brow raised, and I wanted to knock that cocky smile right off his face. “Or stupid? I know you were talking to her, but—”
“Erik.” Debbie sighed. She zipped up her bag and turned around, her cheeks flushed. “Can we not do this?”
Her boyfriend’s pupils dilated as he turned his head slowly. “Did you just interrupt me?”
The fine hairs on my body rose as I stood. The hardness and challenge in his voice threw me back several years. Muscles in my stomach twisted. I wanted to flee the room because in that moment I saw Jeremy standing there, face contorted in rage.
I don’t know what happened next.
Erik grabbed for Debbie’s bag, but she held on. Maybe she didn’t know what he was trying to do, but it set something off. Redness swept over his face as his bicep flexed. He yanked the bag back, throwing Debbie off balance as the strap was ripped from her hand. Out of instinct, I shot forward, intent on grabbing her arm so she didn’t fall. An angry retort burst from Erik as he swung the bag around. It smacked into my hip, knocking me back. I wasn’t thinking as I stumbled back, arms flying out to catch myself, but fingers grasping air.
All I saw were Debbie’s round eyes as I put my weight on my dominant leg—my right leg—without thinking.
My right leg immediately went out from underneath me as red-hot pain exploded in my knee. A strangled cry escaped me. I went down, landing on my ass as the air punched out of my lungs. The pain was vicious, like someone had taken a knife and shoved it through muscle and cartilage.
Tears sprang to my eyes, and I squeezed them shut, refusing to look at my knee. I couldn’t. Oh my God, I couldn’t look at it.
“Is it your knee?” Debbie asked. “Oh my God, is it your knee?”
Clenching my jaw tight, I nodded. The world outside—the door and the room—all constricted, closing in.