“Since you won’t let me buy you a drink, let me at least have a dance.”

“Okay, just one though,” I hear her say flirtatiously.

I watch a guy in a button-up Affliction shirt guide her toward the dance floor, and I know exactly who’s under his arm. I should have known from the first “y’all” she spoke. The douchebag twirls her once they reach the wooden floor and I see her laugh. I instinctively follow after them so I can get an up-close view and lean up on the railing that surrounds the floor. Why is she here again? And why does she still look so damn beautiful?

There’s something about knowing how it feels to be with a certain girl, yearning for it, and knowing you can’t have her. I’ve had Audrey; she should be a distant memory at this point. But I still crave every dip and curve of her skin. My body knows where she fits perfectly against me and it won’t be satisfied until it has her again.

“Staring pretty hard at my girl,” a deep voice booms from behind me. I already know who it is. Lane. I wouldn’t forget that guy.

Without turning around, I say, “I guess you get off on seeing other guys with your girl. You sure as hell suck at keeping her yours, though.”

He chuckles and positions himself right next to me, beer in hand. He leans his elbows up on the railing and looks out after Audrey. Just like I’m doing. “I don’t know… I think I do a pretty damn good job, seeing as she’s been living with me for over three years now.”

I flinch at the idea of her living with any guy. Unwarranted jealousy flares through my veins and I can’t stop the bombardment of images in my head. What would it be like to have Audrey all to myself, to be able to touch her whenever I wanted, and to see her sleepy face every morning? I rub out an ache in my chest and continue to watch the loser with his hands on her hips, trying to pull her in closer.

“How can you stand it, man? I mean, how the hell can you watch other guys put their hands all over her?” He has to have known what I was up to over winter break when I dragged her off alone. It’s probably best to leave that be. No reason to bring up the best damn sex of my life, which just so happened to be with his girlfriend.

When her dance partner dips her backward and I catch him trying to look down her shirt, I begin rubbing my chest again. And despite what’s happening on the dance floor, Lane’s watching every move I make.

“You act like a lovesick puppy, and yet you’ve never given her the time of day.”

So she’s talked about me to him? That shouldn’t feel as good as it does. “You two have a weird relationship,” I express.

“I guess it would be weird if I were sleeping with her. But I’m not.” My fists clench, because I’m not sure what to think of his words. “She’s like my little sister and I love that girl to death, meaning I would destroy any as**ole that breaks her heart.”

The threat isn’t lost on me. “Can’t break what was never yours.”

Just then, Audrey dances past us and our eyes connect as her idiot partner spins her around. Her head whips back to look again and I can see the confusion on her face, probably wondering why Lane and I are talking. Lane wiggles his fingers at her and she gives him a tense smile.

“She’s worried I’ll hurt you,” he says, still maintaining forward focus.

“I’m sure you could,” I state, “but she should also be worried that you would get hurt while trying.” He throws his head back laughing and it pulls Audrey’s confused glance back to us. I almost want to laugh with him, because her partner is starting to get annoyed at her lack of attention.

“There’s too much shit between us,” I declare.

“Maybe if you took your head out of your ass long enough to hear what she has to say, you’d change your mind.” When I give him a questioning look, he continues, “Have you ever let her talk?”

I shake my head back and forth because it’s true. If I let her talk, she could convince me to do just about anything. Even betray my own brother by dating his ex-girlfriend, who cheated on him and got pregnant by another man. Shit… that’s a hard pill to swallow.

“Fuck…” I continue rubbing because I have a feeling Lane’s about to make me feel like the biggest as**ole known to man.

“She came up here last year to talk to you, not your dickhead brother. But you guys wouldn’t know that, because you never let her say more than two words before cutting her off or ignoring her completely.”

“Oh, and before your ego grows any bigger… she’s been living in California since the day after she graduated high school. She didn’t make this huge trek out to talk to you last year. I sure as hell didn’t want her to waste her time driving even two minutes to see you.”

“You either quit staring at her like she’s holding your next breath or you go talk to her,” he says, ignoring my question and pushing off the railing.

“You’re kind of an asshole, you know that?”

“Nah, just protective of my girl.” I don’t need to turn around to see that he’s walking away. I guess this conversation is over. I wish he would f**king stop calling her his girl though. It’s unnerving how one guy can make you grateful that he’s around and enraged at the same time. If it weren’t Audrey that stood in between us, I think Lane and I could be friends. I can appreciate his no-bullshit policy.

The song is finally ending and I can already see Audrey’s partner trying to persuade her to go another round. Not gonna happen, buddy.

Pete, or Paul, or was it Parker? Whoever this guy is, he reeks of cologne. My nose is stinging badly, my eyes are about to start watering, and my head’s beginning to pound. The entire dance I’ve been begging for the song to just end already, and now I need to tell him to take a hike. He got his one dance. I also need to find Lane ASAP to figure out why he was talking to Jace.

The guy with a name that starts with P is still holding onto my hands as I’m trying to gently pull back. The upbeat country song we were just dancing to starts to blend into a slow song. Hell. No. I can’t have my face that close to his body or I’ll pass out from the toxic fumes. Why do guys insist on spraying themselves down with this stuff? It’s not a magical pheromone that’s going to have the ladies chasing you.

“Mind if I cut in?” Jace’s voice growls from beside us.

I don’t even have to think twice about his question. Immediately, I extract myself from Mr. Smell Good and grab Jace’s hands. I can hear the guy’s protests, but Jace moves us toward the opposite side of the dance floor. His movements are fluid and easy to follow.

“Whatever reason you have for dancing with me, I don’t even care right now. Thank you for getting me away from him,” I say, smiling up at him.

He places his hand on my waist and pulls me in closer. His nose scrunches up in disgust. “Damn, he should have just pissed all over you instead.”

“Oh no,” I groan into his shoulder, “is it on me?”

With my eyes closed, I feel the tip of his nose run from my temple slowly down to my neck. He’s sniffing me and it feels primal, possessive, and way too sexy. It’s everything I’m attracted to in Jace; his commanding touch mixed with his sweet softness. My nerve endings are on fire at the memory of what his touch can do to my body.

“Hmm?” he mumbles, his nose still burrowed in my neck.

It’s difficult to think straight because, unlike my previous partner, Jace smells clean and delectable. Not an ounce of cologne, just soap and aftershave. “Stop, Jace, I’m trying… I just want to get over you,” I stumble out candidly.

The warmth of his breath tickles behind my ear. “I like it better when you’re under me.” I force myself to pull out of his grasp and walk toward the exit. I can’t do this right now. Jace is much too tempting and not healthy for my mental well-being. He grabs my hand and spins me back into his chest. “I’m sorry, I’ll behave.” I place my left hand back on his bicep and my right in his larger hand. We continue dancing in a comfortable silence.

“Who would have thought two kids from Texas would meet back up at a country bar in California?” I ask, trying to lighten the mood.

He smiles and declares, “I have to admit I was skeptical about this place.”

As if on cue, the slow song fades. The lights begin to darken and a fast beat begins pumping through the speakers. It’s definitely not country music anymore. It must change over after a certain time. The crowd descends onto the dance floor as if they were waiting for this music all night. A secret they were all clued in on, unlike myself. The temperature rapidly escalates with the drastic increase of body heat.

“And… that’s exactly what I was expecting,” he chuckles into my ear. I reach back and grasp my hair into a handheld ponytail so I can cool down. Jace grabs onto my h*ps and begins dancing in front of me. I look up into his eyes and he shrugs as if saying, ‘Might as well.’ He spins me around so my back is facing him and then blows cool air across my neck. It feels wonderful and much too intimate at the same time.

Looking around, I watch how others are moving. I’ve danced like this before, alone in my bedroom with the music blasting, but never in public. And never with Jace behind me. I don’t know how to do this with a guy, or how to keep a rhythm. I’m sure I look like a complete idiot just standing here. Jace continues to blow on my neck and I’m so overheated, it feels fantastic. Problem is, it’s creating an unwanted need between my thighs.

“Relax,” his deep, melodic voice whispers from behind my ear. When I shiver, he squeezes my h*ps and pulls them closer to him. Slowly, he begins to slide against me and I mimic his movements in front of him. After watching the girls around me, I soon feel confident enough to turn in his arms and roll my h*ps while looking up into his eyes. Gradually, I loosen up and begin to have fun.

“Every guy here is so damn jealous of me right now,” he says into my ear. I look up and roll my eyes at him, but he’s able to eventually pull a smile from me in the process. An hour passes in the blink of an eye and we’re both laughing and having a good time, but it’s sweltering in here and I need a break.

“I’m gonna grab a water, I’ll be right back,” I holler close to his ear and gesture toward the bar.

“I’ll come with you,” he mouths back.

Shaking my head, I yell, “Just stay, I’ll come back and find you.” Without waiting for his response, I head off the dance floor, welcoming the immediate rush of cool air I feel once I leave the mass of writhing bodies. My skin is damp with sweat and I’m sure my hair is looking less than perfect. I can feel my limp brown curls sticking to the skin of my neck. I push my way to the bar and ask for a glass of water. When the bartender returns with it, I gulp down the refreshing liquid quickly.

“Doll, you’re club dancing?” Lane calls out from beside me. His animated smile tells me he’s either excited for me or he’s drunk. Maybe both. I nod my head because my voice is already getting sore from shouting over the crowd. “With Jace?” he asks and I nod again. “Another checkmark in the box of things you haven’t done yet!” His excitement is contagious.

I pull him in for a hug and laugh. “You look like you’ve been having a good time.”

“Yeah, I have actually. Would you hate me if I headed out with Christine?” He points his thumb behind him to a waiting blonde that I’ve never seen before. “Here are the keys to the car. Will you be alright driving home alone?” I nod my head in shock because this is so unlike Lane. He never just leaves me. “Promise you’ll stay near Jace and that he’ll walk you out to the car?”

“Why do you trust Jace, but not anyone else?”

“I don’t know. I just got this vibe about him, that he wouldn’t let anything happen to you. Should I go talk to him about this?”

“No, Dad, I don’t need a babysitter.” I shove him in the chest playfully.

I stick out my pinky and say, “Promise.” He wraps his smallest finger around mine and kisses my forehead.

“How late do you think you’ll stay?” he asks, while Blondie starts grabbing for his hand.

“No, no, Papa Bear. You’ve done your duty, time to go.” I shove him and make my way back to the crush, pushing his keys into the front pocket of my jeans.

When I left Jace on the dance floor, I had a one-track mind: get water and clear my head from the lust-induced Jace-fog. I never thought about what he would be doing while I was gone. Of course he would continue dancing. Did I expect him to just stand there and wait after I’d asked him to stay? Regardless, seeing him dancing with two other girls, one in front and one behind, still has my heart pounding erratically.

I stop my forward motion and watch from a distance. There’s a split in the crowd that allows a direct view of the show. Jealousy flashes through me at the sight of the girls’ faces that are thick with desire and their hands all over him. His hands are out away from them, but their bodies still connect with each beat of the song.

When another set of hands grab onto my waist from behind, I flinch and look over my shoulder. A tall, dark-haired man smiles down at me.