Cole grins at me, while grabbing a set of car keys from a nearby cabinet drawer and says, “Don’t worry about that, pretty girl. All of this will be taken care of later.” He shoves Jaxon on our way out the door and says, “Now this one is a keeper.” Jaxon looks back and gives me a playful grin.
Cole drops us off in front of a beautiful, two-story farmhouse. While this house is also quite massive, it isn’t pretentious like Cole’s. It’s sophisticated yet charming, and has a beautiful wrap-around porch. This house is perfect. I could live happily on the front porch alone. In my head, I picture myself lazing around on the outdoor sectional, reading book after book all day with a glass of sweet tea. Hey, a girl can dream every once in a while.
Jaxon leads me inside the heavy, wooden front door, and before I can fully take in my surroundings, I ask for the bathroom. I need to take a second to compose myself before seeing Jace again.
I hear Cole’s Porsche 911 pull away, and I get up to confront my brother about last night. After I left the party, I spent the remainder of the night in the barn, pounding the heavy bag my dad installed for me two summers ago. I tried to let all of my aggression loose, and was doing a good job of it until I split the leather and had to step away, somewhere around two in the morning. I’m pretty sure I can keep myself in check with Jax now.
As soon as I round the corner near the kitchen, I see a familiar set of beautiful brown eyes looking around, as if she doesn’t know which door to approach first. She’s wearing the same clothes I saw her in last night, and damn if that doesn’t make me grind my molars together in frustration.
I watch as her eyes grow wide the second she realizes it’s me standing in front of her. “Jace?” she breathes out.
“Well, I see that you didn’t forget who I am,” I reply. I know I sound like an asshole, but because I can’t help myself, I add, “Have fun with my brother last night?”
She frowns and rushes toward me, grabbing my biceps. “You never told me you had a twin.”
“What does that have to do with anything, Audrey?”
“Jace, I thought Jaxon was you. I didn’t realize my mistake ‘til this morning.” Her eyes fill up with tears and as they threaten to spill over, my gut clenches. She thought I was arguing with Mike last night, that I was the one kissing her while holding her legs around my waist? Shit.
Instantly, I stalk forward, backing her up against the wall and completely surrounding her with my body, not letting her escape. Lifting her chin, I look down into her eyes and seconds later, I devour her lips with mine.
She lets out a long sigh in between our lips and threads her fingers through my hair while grasping it roughly. My tongue flicks into her mouth and her tongue begins to flirt with mine. It takes me a solid minute to come back down from the high of having her mouth on mine again, and that’s when I think about why she’s here now and where she’s been all night.
“You slept with Jax?” I whisper, while firmly holding her face between my hands. She looks surprised, and when her bottom lip begins to quiver, I know what her answer is. I step away, conscious of the fact that I can’t hold her any longer, but I need to hear her reply. “Answer me,” I growl.
I shouldn’t have kissed her, because I can tell by the shock on her face she thought that I would get over that little part. Only focused on her, I just hadn’t fully comprehended it yet.
“Jace…” she whispers, “I thought I was with you.”
“Did you call out my name?” I ask tensely.
She shakes her head ‘no’ and shocks me by adding, “I didn’t call out anything.”
I step forward, lower my forehead to her shoulder, and groan. This only makes me want her more. She should have been with me. Audrey deserves for someone to make their name rip from her mouth, to drive her so absolutely insane it would be impossible for her to hold it in. What a f**king shame.
“Please…” she whispers, begging me with her glistening eyes to let this go. But all I can see now is that my brother has been here.
“The fact that he even brought you here says that you mean something to him,” I say and try to brush her off.
“No--” she interrupts, but I stop her.
“I can’t, Audrey. I can’t be where my brother has been. That’s a line I’m not willing to cross.”
I can tell the moment she fully grasps what I’m saying and then she steps away from me, spinning on her heel slowly and closing herself inside the guest bathroom.
“Audrey, if you pick up one more damn box, I swear I’ll lock your ass in my closet until I’m done unpacking this truck!” Lane yells at me, as he’s backing the moving dolly stacked with three large boxes through our front door.
“Lane, I’m perfectly capable of carrying my own boxes,” I laugh, while darting around him. Chuck weaves in and out between the two of us, excited about his new surroundings.
“You weigh basically nothing. I’m afraid you’ll snap in half or something carrying these,” Lane says. Once I set the box down, I reach out and pinch the tiny bit of extra skin on his lower back. I’m surprised I can even grasp anything with how tight and toned he’s become. He swats my hand away and says, “Just start unpacking, I’ll unload.”
“I can help--” I insist, while trying to mess up his sandy brown hair.
He cuts me off with a ridiculous pouty lip. “Please, it’ll make me feel better.” No guy his size should have such a look. He knows that he’s won because I can’t resist his begging.
I was more than hesitant about this move, and I wouldn’t have done it for anyone other than Lane. The fact that we were both accepted into the same Masters of Accounting program doesn’t hurt either. Last year, I was shocked when both of our acceptance letters arrived in the mail, considering I had never even applied. Apparently, Lane took the liberty to apply for me. He told me that he didn’t plan on leaving without me, but he needed a reason for me to come along. And besides my cousin, Kennedy, Lane is my only friend so, to be honest, I would follow him anywhere.
The only thing that made me hesitant about moving up here was that I knew I’d now be on the same campus as Jace. It was hard enough living in San Diego, which isn’t too far from LA, for the past three years, but now I run the risk of actually bumping into him on a daily basis. If I see him, I know I’ll act ridiculous again and I can’t chance that. I’ve embarrassed myself enough around the Riley boys.
After more than two years of gabbing about Jace, Lane has finally convinced me to go and do something about it. I’m sweating bullets as he drives me two hours north to where Jace and Jaxon are attending school. I hate that he has to leave and get back to class because this could backfire in my face and I won’t have a place to stay. I realize how bold this is of me to just show up, but this is not something that can be done over the phone, and if I prepare him at all for my arrival, he’ll just shoot me down.
I see their truck parked in a garage outside the apartment building, which tells me I’m at the right place. Lane wishes me luck and drives away with all of my courage sitting safely in his front seat. As I’m making my way up the stairs, Jaxon sees me and hauls me inside his apartment, past the living room, and into his bedroom, without saying a word. Well, this is going fantastic.
I can see by the daggers he’s glaring at me that I’m not welcome here already. He’s still mad at me for things that he never cared to find out the truth about, and I don’t see the need to fill him in just to make him feel better. Plus, it wouldn’t make him feel better. He just wouldn’t hate me as much.
“What are you doing here, Audrey? I don’t need this shit right now. Why the hell would you fly all the way out to California? Isn’t this something you could have picked up a damn phone and called me about?”
I begin to tune him out at this point because he’s on a roll that he apparently needs to get out. He has no idea that I only live two hours away and that I sure as hell didn’t come up here to see him. The only good part about this little tantrum is that I can sit here and take him in.
He’s all grown up now and I can only imagine that Jace has done the same. Typically, a voice like his wouldn’t bother me, but I’ve associated this voice with my big mistake. It was my first hint that something was wrong, the first clue that I should have grabbed onto and shook until I discovered he wasn’t Jace. As I sit here, taking in his large shoulders and long, lean legs, I tune back in to hear him still reprimanding me. If he knew me at all, he would know that I’m an expert at blocking out harsh words. After dealing with it for eighteen and a half years, they just roll off my back now.
“Where’s Jace?” I ask, not caring if I’m interrupting him or not.
He freezes for a second and frowns at me, and I wonder if he’s trying to figure out why I’m asking him about his brother. “Audrey, are you listening to anything I’m saying? This is not a good time. I need to find Emerson, and you can’t be here when I bring her back.”
I don’t know who Emerson is, but damn… poor girl. Jax and I “dated” for three months, and I’m still surprised I stuck around that long. Jax is wild and just too much to handle. He has a nice side, but even that got on my nerves. He could never make a decision to save his life. Every time we sat in his Camaro trying to choose where we should eat, we’d go back and forth, telling the other to just pick something. Meanwhile, all I could think about was that I bet Jace would’ve just taken charge and we’d already be eating by now.
“I don’t need to be here when Emerson comes, Jaxon. Just point me toward Jace.”
“Jace is f**king busy!” he yells. “He’s out there making something out of himself. Shouldn’t you be in Texas taking care of your child and screwing physics teachers?” I know he’s upset, and maybe in his mind, he has a right to be. But something else has to be going on in his life because Jax was never mean. Even when everything went sour between us, he had never been intentionally cruel the way he’s being now.
“You don’t know a damn thing about my life,” I state in a hard tone and stand to make my way toward his door. I may be able to let cruel words roll off my back, but in the last few years, I’ve also acknowledged that I don’t have to listen to them. And Jaxon brought up the one thing I wasn’t going to talk about. Lane is the only person on this planet who knows what really happened. Lane is the only person who ever cared to ask. No one asked. Not my mother, not my father, not Jaxon--no one cared enough to even ask.
As I make my way out of Jax’s bedroom, I find myself face-to-face with the one person that haunts my dreams. I want to hug him and I want to hit him. I hate that I still think about him. I mean, we met, we had coffee once, and we kissed twice. Why after three years do I still feel a connection with him? Have I just built him up in my head? Maybe it’s because he was the first person, outside of Mrs. Thomas and Nico, to show me real kindness. Or maybe it’s the fact that every time I saw him after that fateful day, he looked at me with such longing I swear I could feel it in my bones.
“Audrey…” he whispers in shock. He gives me that look, and I can immediately tell he still feels it. Maybe it’s purely just an attraction, but the electricity buzzing within me proves there is still something between us.
Behind me, I hear Jaxon curse under his breath. “Ignore her, Jace. Get back in here, Audrey,” he says, pulling me back into his room. I almost cry at being so close to Jace, and once again not being able to do anything about it.
This is icy territory that I’m still not sure how to approach. I could just blurt out the truth to Jaxon. I want to, God, do I want to. I want to tell him everything. I want to tell him how I’ve only wanted Jace since the moment I met him. In a way, I know Jaxon won’t care that I had only been with him to waste time. He already knew that.
The morning he brought me back home for breakfast after Cole’s party, he asked me to be his girlfriend. Right away, I refused. But then he explained that he thought I was a cool chick and we could have some fun together. He also wanted to get his mom and brother off his back, since apparently he’d been acting wild lately. He claimed that if he had a steady girlfriend, maybe they would lay off him and not worry so much. Stupidly, I actually considered his crazy idea.
When I later realized that Jace was a lost cause, I explained to Jax that I cared about someone I couldn’t have, and that the only way I would “date” him was if he knew that it wouldn’t be going anywhere. I also wanted to get away from my house more often. He completely agreed, saying he really only needed a buffer to keep his mom at bay. I didn’t have normal parents, so I had no idea what he was talking about.
We crafted this strange sort of relationship and friendship between us. I won’t lie, we had a good time together. But there was always something missing for both of us. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have agreed to it, but I was young and stupid and just trying to find an escape from my home life.
For the next three years, I compared every guy I came across to Jace, and they always came up short. That’s when Lane decided I needed to try and do something about it. I hadn’t seen Jaxon in years and I hoped the fact that we had never been in love would help to sway Jace’s opinion on the matter. Maybe Jace just needed to see that I never really meant anything to his brother and that it had always been him for me.
Nevertheless, when Jaxon pulled me away from Jace and back into his room, I realized it wasn’t my story to tell. This is his twin brother we’re talking about here. If Jace didn’t want him to know, I couldn’t hurt him even more by telling Jaxon. I spent the entire week trying to get Jace alone, but he slipped in and out of the apartment like a ghost and I couldn’t get him to listen for even a second. Halfway through the week, he stopped coming back to the apartment altogether.