I spent four months of my senior year lusting after this body. I watched the way she walked, the way her h*ps swayed, even the way she lounged on the dock out by our pond with Jax. After she disappeared, I spent the last six months of my senior year recalling this figure in my dreams. The curve of her waist, the length of her silky-white legs, and the way her long, brown hair curled up in the humidity.

My chest squeezes at the idea of getting to know every inch of her body and finding out exactly what she wants. I love that her hands are restrained, allowing me to give her all the pleasure. They’re also not in the way of my mouth as I nip and suck my way across her chest. The farther I push her legs forward, the louder she gets. And the harder I push into her, the tighter she feels.

“Jace… Jace… Jace… yes, like that…” she chants without shame.

I need her to let go because I can’t hold off much longer. Drinking tonight was not my best decision, and if I would have known Audrey was going to be grinding underneath me, I wouldn’t have touched the damn stuff.

I reach up and pull the seatbelt to constrict tighter against her wrists. In the next second, her whole body locks up and I feel her contracting around me as she’s screaming my name. Pleasure shoots through me and I ride out the spasms by kissing her face from ear to ear and down to her neck.

I collapse on top of her and then maneuver her body around so she’s cradled in front of me. I reach up and untangle the belt from her wrists, and she slowly flexes them in a circular motion.

I pull her in close and bury my face in her hair, memorizing her delicious scent. My lips kiss the back of her neck for as long as I can stay awake. Squeezing her tighter against me, I hold on for dear life so she can’t go anywhere. It doesn’t work though. I wake up the next morning in the backseat of my brother’s car… alone, with only the scent of coconut that lingered on her skin.

“So how did your first day of graduate school feel?” Lane asks, while wrapping his arm around my shoulders and swinging his backpack up onto his own.

“Pretty much the same as undergrad, honestly.” Though my reaction might not indicate it, I really am excited to continue my education. I just wish Lane had tried harder to attend a school in San Diego, where we were already living and where Jace doesn’t live. Being in the same city and on the same campus as him feels weird, especially the way things were left between us. However, I know I shouldn’t be picky about where I get accepted into highly prestigious programs. It’s still overwhelming sometimes to think about all I’ve accomplished in the last couple of years.

“That’s what you get for being so damn smart. Some people just can’t be challenged,” he interrupts my thoughts with his teasing.

“Look who’s talking, smarty-pants,” I laugh and bump him with my hip. Lane graduated last year with the fourth highest GPA in our class and was only a fraction of a point away from being the second salutatorian. He believes that, just because I graduated within three years instead of the typical four, I’m some kind of genius. Lane was the only reason I was able to accomplish that though. He stayed up to study with me for endless hours on countless nights, and he even helped throughout his winter and summer breaks when I continued taking credits.

“I still think you should have let me sleep with the Dean. I could have been valedictorian,” he complains.

“Ew, Lane… I still don’t believe you would have done that. She was like ninety!” I gasp, while he directs me out to his car.

“She wanted me.” He shrugs his shoulders, as if this is just a simple fact.

“Most girls do.” And to prove my point, a short little blonde walks by with boobs that I know aren’t real, giving Lane her finest bedroom eyes.

“Except you, doll, except you,” he teases, while looking over his shoulder at the passerby. “Hang tight, I’ll be right back…” He heads off to catch up with her. Rolling my eyes, I walk toward his black SUV and open the passenger door. I flip through my new textbooks while I wait for the playboy. A few minutes later, Lane’s giant frame rattles the car as he climbs in the driver’s seat.

“Shit, it’s hot in here. Sorry about that,” he apologizes. I shrug my shoulders because I honestly hadn’t noticed. “Okay, so where were we?” he asks and turns the key in the ignition.

“Hmm… we were either trying to get our dick wet or talking about how I’m not most girls,” I inform him with a smile.

“Jealous, doll? Do you want to join Harmony and me later? Can’t say I wouldn’t like having you there, but it might get a bit weird on the friendship, dontcha’ think?” Then the sarcastic ass has the nerve to flash me his dimples.

“No…” I gasp. “Tell me her name is not really Harmony.” I roll down my window to let some of the cool ocean air in. One thing I’ll never get tired of is the breeze off the coast.

“It sure the hell is and later we’re gonna… harmonize.” He winks and I can’t hold it in any longer so I burst out laughing. Thank God, Lane doesn’t bring girls back to our apartment. I’m relieved I won’t have to overhear that ‘music’ session. “But that’s cool if you don’t want to join us.”

“Hey, don’t act like you’re insulted that I’m not one of your groupies,” I add.

“Well, when we met and the second sentence out of your mouth to me was ‘I’m not sleeping with you,’ I’ll admit I was wounded,” he says, clutching his heart dramatically. “But now I love ya too much, so it’s a good thing I never actually tried to charm you.”

“Something tells me even that wouldn’t have worked,” I chuckle.

Just then, I spot Jaxon walking across the parking lot with his arm wrapped around Emerson. I slouch down in my seat, even though they’re too far off in their own world to see me. I’m honestly impressed that those two are still together. I wouldn’t have guessed that Jax had a long-term relationship bone in his body.

“Ahh… and so it begins. Is that him?” Lane has only ever seen Jace once before, so he doesn’t know how to tell them apart.

“Nope. It’s Jaxon.” My teeth grind together, because I still have some hostility toward him. “I’m hoping to hide out for the remainder of the year, and then we can hightail it out of California unscathed.”

“Good luck with that,” he teases and begins to back his car out of the parking spot. My whole body tenses up when I see him jog down the sidewalk to catch up with his brother. My eyes are glued to Jace as he runs past them, smacking Emerson’s ass in the process. She just laughs, but Jaxon takes off after him and wraps his brother in a headlock. I’d forgotten how amusing the twins were together.

“Stop, Audrey,” Lane says, breaking my trance as he drives off the lot. “Did you ever go check out those bars I told you about?”

I grin at his not-so-sly subject change. “Yeah, I applied to all of them. I actually got a call back for an interview tonight at the one that’s closest to your gym.”

“Good, I prefer that one so I can keep an eye on you.”

“Lane…” I warn, “I don’t need you scaring off every guy I meet.”

“Pick better guys,” he says simply.

The downside of having Lane as your best friend is how intimidating he looks and acts. He may be a whiz with numbers and calculations, but he’s far from being just a number cruncher. He religiously works out at a boxing gym and tries to get in the ring with everyone at least once. We couldn’t even move up here until he found a gym he liked because God forbid there was a small gap in training days.

A couple minutes later, we pull up in front of our new apartment. The white stucco walls and red tile roof still make me smile; this complex is beautiful and I commend Lane on a great choice. We live on the first floor, which is nice because I can let Chuck out easily and our neighbors don’t have to worry about a seventy-pound dog stomping around above them.

I walk beside Lane up to our door, but before he can push it open, a red blur comes dashing out and begins circling our legs. I scratch behind Chuck’s ears and ask him about his day.

Quickly, I run off to the bathroom to shower and get ready for my interview tonight. When I finish, I exit the steam-filled room and walk toward the kitchen in my bra and panties. I had forgotten my clothes were still in the dryer.

I hear Lane in the kitchen, pulling an assortment of vegetables out of the refrigerator. I swear he eats every thirty minutes. He’s also the health food police. Once, I brought home a package of Oreos and let’s just say… my delicious chocolate cookies went straight into the dumpster. Typically, I don’t mind though. It’s nice to eat healthy meals for a change. When I told him I basically survived off of ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches before moving to California, I think he about had a small heart attack.

He glances at me when I walk into the kitchen and does a double take. I pass right by him and walk into the laundry room to grab my clothes for tonight. With the pile in my arms, I make my way back through the kitchen.

“Doll, you know I’m not your g*y best friend, right?”

“Lane, I’ve seen you with too many women to ever think that.”

“Just checking,” he smirks, while blatantly checking me out.

“It’s nothing you haven’t seen before,” I say and roll my eyes.

“Doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate the view,” he replies brazenly.

I stand in the middle of the kitchen and pull on my jeans and a white t-shirt. When I’m fully clothed again, I grin at him and turn to hunt down my own food.

“You really don’t need to work,” he says, and I know exactly where this is going. “I hate when you work the bar late at night, especially when it’s not necessary. You know I can take care of everything.”

“Not this discussion again, please. I like working and I like the atmosphere in bars. Usually it’s lively and upbeat, and I need to be around happy. Besides, it’s kind of empowering to cut off the drunks.”

“Fine, fine...let’s not fight.” He raises his hands in surrender. I walk around the counter and hug him around the waist.

“You know, for someone who fights as much as you do, you sure are sensitive about arguing,” I say and then add, “which we weren’t, by the way.” We actually never argue. He’s a beast in the ring, but outside of it, he’s probably the calmest person I know. I have no doubt I was meant to have him in my life, especially after the years of violence I endured while growing up. “I’m going to go finish getting ready.”

He kisses me on the top of my head and says, “I’ll drop you off on my way to the gym.”

“So I’ll just let you get comfortable with the bar. Feel free to look around and start learning where everything is. Our other bartender should be here soon and she can start training you. Meanwhile, let’s head to the back and see if we can find a shirt that will fit you.”

I haven’t been to many interviews, but I’m pretty sure that was probably the easiest one a person can go to. Ed, the owner and manager, didn’t even ask me for my bartending license or past experience. I don’t know if I should be happy to have such a laid-back boss, or weary that he may be too lackadaisical and thus careless.

Ed walks me back to what looks like a storage room and tosses me a black shirt. “Bathroom’s down the hall. Change over and come out front,” he says in his retreat.

Walking back out to the bar, I tug on the uncomfortable shirt Ed gave me. If I pull it down to cover more of my waist, the V-neck shows too much of my chest, but if I pull it up, it shows my stomach. Screw it, I’d rather show a little stomach than my non-existent breasts. Feeling as uncomfortable as I probably look, I push open the doors.

“Here she is, Em. Train her up.” Ed scoots past me as he departs for his office.

“Ed, you numbskull...her name isn’t Aubrey, it’s Audrey,” Emerson states, enunciating the ‘d’ sound.

“Oh good, you two know each other,” he says over his shoulder.

“No, we actually don’t know each other at all,” I reply, knowing he didn’t hear me.

I slowly walk behind the bar and then decide to backtrack a few steps. Still tugging down on my shirt and then pulling it back up, I say, “I should… go…”

Before I can push the doors open to go and grab my stuff, she calls out, “Audrey, wait.” I spin on my heel to look at her. “We can make this work. You obviously need a job and I need someone to pick up more shifts for me.”

“It’ll be weird. Really, really weird…and uncomfortable.”

“Yes, it probably will,” she acknowledges with a sigh. “Why are you here, by the way? Don’t you live in Texas?”

“I thought Jaxon said...” she starts to say.

I quickly interrupt, “Jaxon doesn’t know anything about me. And to answer your other question, I was just accepted into graduate school here.” I don’t elaborate further and she doesn’t push for more.

We work through the next hour and it’s anything but enjoyable. Emerson points out all the buttons on the register and shows me their protocol for starting a tab for customers. She demonstrates how to open a table and where to put everything when I’m done with it. She points out the black recipe book, but I doubt I’ll need that.