“I hope I don’t drop anything. Imagine if someone saw...”
I laugh as he growls. “That’s it.” I feel the leather of his belt as he grabs my wrists. “You’re staying here.”
I feel his hands touch the sides of my face and he speaks directly to me. I imagine his glacial blue eyes, even though I can’t see them. “I know I’m a terrible boyfriend right now, but you’re still mine.”
“Just let me tell him,” I whisper.
“Hell no. I need to do it. I just can’t ever catch the bastard long enough to have a conversation with him. I’m either spending the night with you, or he’s off God-knows-where with Em.” I nod my head and I know he feels it between his hands.
“Soon, I promise.” He kisses me lightly and re-buttons his pants as I readjust my shirt. We both step up to the door and listen quietly for voices. “I haven’t heard them for at least ten minutes. I think we’re good,” he whispers.
I turn and kiss him one more time before we’re forced to play this silly game in front of everyone again. Gradually, I push the pantry door open, hoping it’s not a creaky door. Jace holds on to my h*ps as I step out of the dark room. Instantly, I see Em and Quinn sitting at the dining room table, with their chins in their hands and huge shit-eating grins poised directly at us. Jace’s hands fly off my h*ps and I sigh in frustration.
“I bet that was awesome,” Em adds. “Jax and I will have to try that one. Did you guys do it on the washing machine?” she boldly asks.
My head slightly shakes and Jace says, “I was just talking to her in there.” The guilt drips off of each of his words.
“Riiight, just like you were ‘talking’ to her over winter break in the back of the Camaro, and just like you were ‘talking’ to her when you snuck in her bedroom,” Em says defiantly. Shit. I didn’t tell Jace that they knew. His eyes bug out and he takes a step backward, almost as if he wants to go hide himself in the pantry until we leave.
“Jace, she’s our friend. Newsflash, we’re girls and we talk,” Em says, before he has the chance to get upset.
“Fuck, Em. Let me talk to Jax before you open your mouth,” he pleads.
“Well, seeing as I’ve known about this for awhile now, I think your secret is safe with me. For now.”
Jace nods his head, saying, “Stop dragging him off to your secret lair so I can actually have some time to explain everything.” He drags his hands through his hair in frustration.
“Fine, why don’t you talk to him tomorrow? Everyone’s going to the beach for Mason’s birthday,” she explains.
His face contorts and he says, “I don’t like Mason.”
“Since when? You used to hang out with him all the time.” Em is a freaking bulldog when she’s on a mission. There’s no stopping her either. Although in this case where she’s trying to push Jace to talk to his brother, I’ll let her bully on.
“Since Audrey danced with him at the club, remember?” Quinn pipes in.
“They know about that too?” his voice rises and he quickly looks at me.
“Don’t we have a movie to see?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
With a deep groan and a few labored breaths, Jace says, “Shit. Fine, I’ll be there tomorrow night.”
“Awesome!” Em claps her hands in victory and reaches for her purse. “Okay, now that it’s settled, let’s head out.”
I file in behind them. As we make our way for the front door, Quinn exclaims, “Dang girl, your wrists are red!”
“It’s fine,” I mumble and rub circles around them.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Jace whipping back around from his earlier retreat down the hallway. “Go on ahead, she’ll catch up with you in a second,” he says to Em and Quinn. When they walk out the door whispering to one another, he reaches for my hands. Tenderly, he kisses the reddened skin that rings my wrists. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty damn hot that you have to walk around with this all night, but I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
“You’ll really talk to Jaxon tomorrow night?” I ask, because I’m not concerned about my wrists. He nods his head in response, continuing his soft kisses. “And you didn’t hurt me. I trust you.” I hope he understands the double meaning behind my words.
He kisses me and wishes me a good night as I open the door. Before I can get two feet down the outer hallway, he calls out, “Don’t forget, no bending over! That skirt is too f**king short.”
I laugh at his possessive nature and give a little twirl that causes my navy-striped skirt to billow out, showing way more thigh than I would want anyone besides him to see.
The bar is slow this afternoon so I offer to finish the shift alone if Em wants to go hang out with Jax before he has practice tonight. Not even ten minutes after I suggest it, Jax comes strolling in the door with a wide grin on his face.
“You ready, Beautiful?” he calls out to Em.
“Babe, I was going to meet you. I have my car,” she huffs.
“Let Audrey drive it. That way Lane won’t have to come get her,” he suggests.
“Not at all, but Lane will still come up here to make sure I get out okay. He’s...over-protective. So if you want your car, you should take it.”
“Huh, I heard Jace grumbling about that the other day,” Jax says, appearing deep in thought. “Maybe he’s got a crush on you. You’re not trying to marry another Riley brother, are you?” His tone comes off as purely joking, but I freeze and hear Em gasp.
“That was rude, babe,” Em says, while grabbing his arm and dragging him toward the door. Jax gives Em an apologetic face and begins to whisper to her on their way out. Before they exit, she turns and yells, “I’ll see you tonight! Wear something hot!”
I clutch her car keys in my hand and wonder what would have happened if Jace had been standing here. More than likely he would have headed for the hills. I hope Jax doesn’t say anything like that tonight. I never thought about him not handling it well, since there was never a reason for him to be upset about me dating someone else. I never considered the fact that he wouldn’t want his brother dating me, though it makes sense after all of my history.
Tonight will be the true test. I just can’t continue this charade any longer. It was fun at first, being sneaky and finding hidden places to rendezvous. But I want Jace all to myself now. I want to be able to hold his hand as we walk through the campus and I want other girls to know he’s off limits. I don’t think it’s crazy for me to want Jace to want the same. His brother is either going to be mad about it or not, but it all comes down to how we handle it once it’s all out there. I shouldn’t have let this go on as long as I did. I know Jace is worried about hurting Jaxon, but how long does he plan to put his life on hold based off of what his twin thinks?
Deep in thought, I begin scrubbing the bar top when a little blur runs past me and I look up to see a panic-faced Quinn. She’s looking around frantically for something or someone who’s apparently not here.
“Em. Where’s Emerson?” she breathes out in a rush.
I watch her as she paces back and forth with something clutched tightly in her grasp. Her hands are shaking and her eyes are rimmed in red. I wonder how she got here, since I have the car that she and Em usually share.
“She left early with Jax.” I come around the bar and grab her shoulders to steady her frantic movements. “Are you okay?”
“No!” she yells and then begins to sob into my shoulder.
Slowly, I rub her back and whisper, “Sit down, Quinn. You can tell me what happened or I’ll find a way to get Em back here.” She steps up to sit on a barstool and I take the one next to her.
“Her phone is off. That’s why I came here.” She sniffles loudly into my shirt.
“Quinn, I promise I won’t tell anybody and I’ll try my hardest to help. I know you want Em right now, but I just don’t like seeing you like this. Should I call Cole?”
“Oh God, no. Please, no. He’s the last person I need right now,” she whimpers.
Slowly, she brings her hands up to the bar and hesitantly slides the object in her hands toward me. It takes her a full minute to open them so I can see it. When she does, I gasp in recognition. I’ve seen this before. I’ve held this in my hands before.
While I have seen this exact item in the past, I was nowhere in the same place that she is. She has people who love her and would walk on water for her. They will protect her and take care of any need she has.
“Quinn, it’ll be okay,” I say as calmly as I can.
“Guys usually don’t, but Cole will come around. Eventually, he’ll realize that the girl he loves more than anything in the world is carrying his baby. Soon, you’ll be talking about if it’s a boy or a girl.” A tear escapes from my eye and I quickly swipe it away. “He’ll start getting excited about teaching his son to play football or locking away his daughter from all the other boys.”
Quinn finally lets a laugh bubble up out of her mouth and she furiously wipes away her own tears. “It’s too early,” she whispers.
I reach my hand out and place it over her flat stomach. “He or she doesn’t think so.” She picks up the white stick that clearly has the word “PREGNANT” written on the digital screen. She gazes at it for a few more minutes, and I imagine her thinking about all the positive things this could bring her and Cole. It’s crazy and totally insane to have a child right now; we’re all so young. Our lives are just about to begin. Soon, we’re going to be shoved out into the wild and forced to survive on our own. And Cole and Quinn are about to be shoved out and required to take care of this little person.
I’m jealous. I’m absolutely jealous. I push those feelings into the back of my mind and try to ease Quinn’s fears as much as I can. Fortunately, the bar is beyond slow today, so I’m able to sit and talk with her for the rest of my shift.
As we walk out to the car, I pass her the keys. “You should drive, it’s your car. How did you get here anyway?” I ask.
“Taxi,” she laughs. “I was kind of desperate.”
“I’d say. I’m surprised Cole didn’t see you flying out the door.”
“I’ve kind of...been hiding from him today,” she states shyly.
“When do you think you’ll tell him?” I question, while sliding into the passenger side.
“Can I wait ‘til I’m in labor? That way, I’ll be in so much pain, there’s no way he can get mad,” she laughs uncomfortably. I quirk up an eyebrow at her and she quickly adds, “I know. I know. I’ll tell him soon. Just not tonight. I need a second to soak this in.”
“I know I was searching for Em, but I’m glad I ran into you today, Audrey. Thanks for talking me down,” she states with a smile.
“Em will freak. Prepare yourself.” I begin to cringe at the thought of our friend’s impending reaction.
“Oh, I know she will. I think I wanted someone to freak out with me. But that wouldn’t really have been helpful. This isn’t just going to go away.”
“You and Cole are going to be amazing. I’m so happy for you guys.”
“You get to be an aunt,” she exclaims. “You’ll be his or her aunt, right Audrey? I mean you’re in our little family now. You have to be.”
“Jace will tell Jaxon, and it’ll all be okay.” She pats my knee from across the center console. “All three of them have been close their entire lives. They’re the most honorable guys I’ve ever met. Especially Jace. It’s hard for him to break a promise, but I think there’s an exception to everything. Jaxon will understand.”
I decide to get ready at her apartment with her and we don’t talk anymore about Jace or babies or the future. Although there are still some enormous elephants in the room, it’s fun to just laugh with someone and not worry about what may or may not happen in the next couple of hours.
Max, Danny, and I decide to get to the beach early so we can help Mason hold down our regular spot for tonight. I don’t know why I’m helping out the douchebag though.
“Chill out, man. It’s not like he tried to hit on her after he found out she was yours,” Danny says to my grumbling.
“His hands were all over her. You’d feel differently if you saw your girl getting groped.”
“I touched her, you gonna hate me too? I pulled her shirt up and laid my arm across her chest. You gonna be a pu**y toward me as well?” Max jests, making me remember Audrey’s tattoo experience all over again.
“You’re way too easy today, man,” he laughs, while jabbing me in the arm.
The party begins to grow as more and more people arrive with coolers in tow. Last year, Mason’s party was massive and they held it at the Sig Alpha house. Since they were expecting even more this year, they decided to hold it down here so they wouldn’t have to turn anyone away.
As the sun slowly sets, I watch Max and Danny attempt to surf the few waves we’re getting today. It’s getting dark, but I’ve seen these two surf when there’s a full moon, like there is tonight. The light of the moon will cast a glow across the water and we will be able to see the currents clearly.