Why did she do it? Nothing, no matter what it was, was worth ending a life over. Tears pricked at my eyes and spilled over. Debbie and I weren’t extremely close, but that didn’t seem to matter. My heart hurt for her anyway.

I heard the door shut softly and quickly wiped at my cheeks. The light beside the bed turned off and there was the sound of clothing rustling and falling to the floor. My heart stuttered. The bed dipped and Jase rose up behind me. Somehow, in the darkness of the room that smelled like coconut and vanilla, his fingers found the tears on my cheeks, brushing them away. He said nothing as he curled his body around mine, securing his arm around my waist.

The warmth of his bare chest pressed along my back and down my legs, but it was like half of my body was in a pile of snow while the other half was cozied up to a fire. I tried closing my eyes once more, but the image of Debbie appeared again and I shuddered.

“Don’t think about it.” He tightened his arm.

“I can’t stop seeing her,” I admitted after a few moments. “When I close my eyes, I see her hanging there—­” I cut myself off. I didn’t want to think about this or feel anything. He shifted behind me, and I focused on the way he felt, tucked so close, his body so warm and hard. I could lose myself in him. Once the idea formed, it seemed like another brilliant idea. Jase could make me forget, even if it was for only a little while.

I wiggled my hips, and I felt him tense. “Jase?”

“Yeah?” His voice was deep and gruff.

My cheeks burned when I spoke again. “Make me forget.”

His chest rose sharply against my back. “What are you asking for?”

He took another deep, dragging breath. “Tess . . .”

“I feel so cold.” I rolled onto my back and turned my head toward him. Our faces were inches apart. “I don’t want to feel that way. Please, Jase, I want to feel warm. I don’t want to think. I don’t want to see her hanging there. Please. Take it away. Even if it’s just for right now.”

I moved, rolling until I was half on him. My right leg, brace and all, slipped between his legs, and I folded my hands against his hard chest. Before he could tell me no, I placed my mouth to his, kissing him. At first, he didn’t respond, like I had shocked him with my boldness. I tried to remember if I had ever been the one to initiate a kiss before; other than the night after the party, I didn’t think I had been. And even that night, I hadn’t kissed him.

To be the one initiating something now after such a tragic event left a bad taste in my mouth, but I pushed that feeling away, shoving it among the other bad feelings I didn’t want to experience.

His lips were firm and warm under mine, absolutely perfect. And then they moved, gently following my lead. I moaned as our tongues met and the kiss deepened, spreading warmth down the front of my body. Tiny flames of desire curled low in my belly.

Jase gripped my upper arms and anticipation swelled, about to burst as I felt him harden against my hip. I expected him to pull me closer, to smash our bodies together, but . . . he lifted me off him.

His features came together in the shadows, taut and harsh. “Not like this, Tess.”

That’s not what I wanted to hear. I pressed my weight down, causing him to groan in a way that made me ache between my thighs. He shuddered as I dipped my head, catching his bottom lip. I sucked and nipped at the flesh until his h*ps punched up, grinding against me. A fire moved through my veins and this—­yes, this—­was what I needed right now. To forget. To be warm. To live.

Jase shifted and without any warning, I was on my back and he was on top of me, his thickness pressing between my legs. Shards of pleasure darted through my veins. My back arched as I lifted my left knee, settling him deeper.

“Jesus Christ, Tess . . .” He caught my wrists, pinning them down. His chest was rising and falling rapidly. “We are not going to do this.”

I rocked my hips, and he pulsed against me. “I think he disagrees.”

When I moved against him again, his grip on my wrists tightened. “Don’t you want me?”

“Fuck,” he ground out. “I always want you. I’ve wanted you for years. I want you in every position known to man.” Pausing, he dropped his forehead against mine. “But our first time isn’t going to be after something like that, when you just want to forget what you saw and what you’re feeling.”

Heart pounding, I stared up into his eyes. “Our first time?” I repeated dumbly, as if it just occurred to me that we hadn’t done the deed yet.

“I want you to only be thinking about me. I want you to focused on me because you want to be and not because you are trying to escape something,” he said, and slowly loosened his grip. “I don’t want what will happen between us to ever be overshadowed by something else.”

I was aching in so many ways, but his words slowly filtered through the haze. He watched me as it all clicked together. What was I thinking? My face started to crumble. “I’m—­”

“Don’t apologize, baby.” He dropped a sweet, quick kiss on my forehead and then eased on his side. “Not allowing this is the f**king hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

I willed myself to pull it together, but my eyes stung and then filled with tears. When they spilled over, it didn’t have anything to do with Jase putting the brakes on my little sexual escapades. I was feeling what I needed to feel right then and there—­sorrow, pain, confusion, and hurt. It all whirled together, forming a maelstrom of violent emotion.

Jase swept his arms around me, pulling me to his chest, his hand cradling the back of my head. He seemed to know why the tears came, and he held me to him until I tired myself out and slipped into the sweet oblivion that was nothingness.

We had to have slept for hours, maybe even sleeping half of the day away, because when I opened my eyes, faint sunlight streamed in from the window behind the bed.

And we weren’t alone.

The cobwebs of sleep cluttered my head as the rest of the room came into view. My brother stood at the foot of the bed, his mouth hanging open. The top of Avery’s red head appeared, and her wide brown eyes peeked over his shoulder. I blinked slowly. What were they doing here? Was I dreaming? Or having a nightmare?

A muscle popped in Cam’s jaw as his gaze moved down the bed. I looked down and my eyes widened. The comforter had been tangled around our legs in the middle of the night. My left leg was outside the blanket and was snuggly fit between Jase’s thighs. While I knew he had his boxers on, it didn’t look that way. Hell, we looked na**d. My borrowed shirt had slipped completely off my shoulder and with the way I’d hogged all the blankets, it didn’t look like I was wearing anything and Jase’s chest was exposed.

Worse yet, I was half on top of Jase.

I stiffened, my gaze meeting Cam’s. His blue eyes were on fire as he snapped his mouth shut. Avery popped out from behind my brother, looking like she was fighting a grin as she clamped her hands under her chin.

Jase’s arm flexed around my waist, tugging me closer. He turned his head, nuzzling my neck. He yawned, a deep rousing sound that echoed through the room. “What’s wrong, baby?”

Every line in my brother’s body tensed in a way that spelled big, mothertrucker kind of trouble. “Baby?”

Jase stilled, but he didn’t remove his arm as he pulled his face out of my neck. He looked toward the foot of the bed and exhaled slowly.

There was a beat of silence and then Cam said, “What the fuck?”

Things could not possibly get any more awkward.

“What in the f**k are you doing in bed with my sister?” Cam demanded.

Jase reached down casually and flipped the blanket so my legs were covered. “Well, we were sleeping.”

Whelp, this just got more awkward. Face burning, I started to sit up, but Jase’s arm was like a band of steel. “We’re not na**d.”

Avery looked away, pressing her lips together.

“And we weren’t doing anything,” I said, and it sounded lame even to my own ears.

Jase glanced at me. “Now, that is a lie.” My heart stopped in disbelief as he sat up, making sure I still stayed covered, which was a good thing. I was pretty sure my shirt was twisted up around my breasts. “We weren’t doing anything right this moment and maybe not exactly last night, but we have done things. Things I’m sure you don’t want to hear about.”

“Actually, I do want to hear exactly what things my best friend has been doing to my sister when I busted my ass to get back here after hearing what happened to Debbie.”

Avery placed her hand on Cam’s arm. “I don’t think this with Jase is any of our business.”

“No,” Jase said. “It is your business and we were going to tell you, but it didn’t happen.”

“Tell me what exactly?” Cam demanded, his hands opening and closing at his sides.

This was so not how I pictured telling my brother about Jase and me. Not while I was in bed with his best friend or when Avery stood in the corner, now looking like she would rather be standing on her head while getting a bikini wax.

“We’re together.” I cleared my throat. Couldn’t I have at least had time to brush my teeth before having this conversation? “Jase and I are together.”

My brother stared at me like I’d told him I was now dating his pet turtle. “Bull. Shit.”

“You are not with Jase,” he said, ignoring Avery when she reached for his arm. It was then that I noticed her left hand—­her ring finger did not have a big old rock on it. “No girl is with Jase—­not longer than a night or a hookup here or there.”

Jase stilled. “It’s not like that with Tess.”

My brother cut him a dark look. “That’s my f**king sister, Jase. This isn’t some f**king random girl. Don’t forget that I know—­I know shit and you’re not getting my sister—­”

“Whoa!” I shouted. “I’m not ‘some f**king random girl,’ and it’s different between us.”

It literally was a nanosecond. One moment Jase was beside me, and the next he was off that bed, standing in front of my brother. Might make me a bad, bad girl, but I got a bit hung up on seeing Jase in his half-­naked glory. The tight, black undies hugged the muscular curve of his ass like a glove. His thighs were perfectly formed, wide but not too much. The cords of the muscles in his back rippled and tensed, causing the knots of his tattoos that reached along his side and shaded into his back to move.

“Now, you can be pissed off at me all you want, Cam, but don’t get in her face. Not after what—­”

“Don’t f**king step to me.” Cam got up in Jase’s face, and my stomach plummeted. I scrambled out from under the covers, tugging the shirt down as my brother’s face reddened. “That’s my little sister—­”

“I’m not a kid, Cam! And you know Jase is a good guy, so stop being such an ass. We were going to tell you, but—­” I gasped as I put my weight down hard on my right leg and my knee started to turn.

Jase whirled and started toward me. “Tess—­”

“I’m fine.” I bent over slightly, placing my hand over my knee.

Cam cursed. “Look at what you did.”

“He didn’t do anything,” Avery said, her eyes wide. “Cam, I think we need to step out for a few and give everyone time to cool off.”

“I agree.” Jase gently pushed me down until I was sitting, which put me at eye level of his crotch, and this whole situation just got f**ked up on a multitude of levels. “I think we both need to calm down.”

“Like I give a fuck,” Cam spat back, running a hand through his hair. He turned halfway, shook his head, and faced us. “How long? How long has this been going on?”

Jase straightened as he turned to my brother. “The first time I kissed her was a year ago—­”

That was all he got out.

Like a speeding bullet, Cam shot forward. Avery shouted in alarm, and I lurched from the bed, but it was too late.

Cam’s fist connected with Jase’s jaw, spinning him back. He hit the wall with a loud curse and slid down, clutching his jaw. “Fuck,” Jase grunted.

I cried out, dropping onto the floor next to him. My leg screamed in pain, but I ignored it. Grabbing Jase’s arm, I glared at my brother. “What the f**k is wrong with you?”

He was breathing heavily as he lowered his hands, blinking rapidly. Avery kept a hold on his straining upper arms. “He shouldn’t—­”

“He shouldn’t what? Be there for me? Treat me like I should be? Be with me? Because he’s doing all those things. So too f**king bad, because he is and I love him. So you can go f**k . . .” I trailed off as tingles swirled down the back of my neck. Slowly I turned to look at Jase. Blood drained from my face so fast that I thought I might pass out. What did I just say? “Oh God . . .”

The right side of his jaw was red, but he stared up at me, his eyes a bright silver. “What?” he whispered.

I loved Jase. I knew that. I’d fully accepted that, but I hadn’t been ready to tell him and especially not in front of my brother after he’d just hit him.