I started eating my pasta salad, while Micah seemed to think that was a go ahead to explore my body. At least he wasn’t blatant about it. I don’t think anyone even noticed. When he moved my hair away from my neck and started lightly kissing under my ear, I noticed Jaxon come in and sit down in front of Quinn. He took off his ball cap and put it back into his backpack. He was staring right at Micah and me. I was confused by the hard set of his jaw. All of a sudden, the last thing I wanted to be doing was sitting here on Micah’s lap with one hand drifting dangerously high up on my thigh.

“Micah, it’s too hard to eat like this,” I said with frustration, scooting down onto the bench next to him. I was looking directly at Jaxon but he was talking to Cole now about furniture they were having delivered later.

Micah leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Stop staring at him. I hear he’s the male version of you, he doesn’t settle down. Although I’m hoping I can change that about you.” This was exactly why I needed to stop letting Micah touch me, because he thinks he can convince me to change my rules for him. No one will convince me of that.

I looked down the table past Cole. “Hey, Quinn, I’m going to go ahead and go home.”

I made a face that I hoped she would understand that said I needed to get away from Micah; his behavior was scaring me. I didn’t like to be in this territory, where people started thinking you were in a relationship and they expected it from you.

“Emmy, I can’t give you the car. I still have class and I promised I would meet up with my study group later,” she urged back.

Quinn is my stepsister, but we never use the word ‘step’. That implies she is less than what she is; she is my sister and I am hers. My parents got divorced when I was nine and my dad remarried. Thankfully, he married Ellie. She is the most amazing person I have ever met; she saved my life. When they got married, I got a sister, Quinn, who is exactly thirty-four days older than me. We were inseparable from the very beginning. Her dad was never in the picture, so she never had a dad’s house she had to go visit because of custody. Most of the time when I had to spend the weekend at my mom’s house, Quinn would spend the night with me. I loved my mom, but I cherished the times I stayed at my dad’s house.

When I turned fifteen, I was sitting in my English class when Mr. Smith, our high school principal, walked in and asked if he could speak to me. I walked out into the hallway and saw Ellie and Quinn standing against the wall crying. I immediately ran to them to ask them what was wrong, ready to injure whoever hurt these two very special people. In a blur I hardly remember, I found out that my mom and dad had been killed in a car wreck. Apparently, a driver in the oncoming traffic had fallen asleep, because she worked a late shift at the hospital. She hit them head-on. She lived, they didn’t. At first, I was confused and in denial; I mean my parents would never be in a car together. They had to have made a mistake. When Ellie told me there was no mistake, I crumpled to the ground. It was the worst day of my life. That day I learned never to get too close to people. It was too late with Ellie and Quinn, we were already bonded; but I swore it would never happen again. There’s no point in having a relationship, because if they aren’t cheating they’re dying. In my parent’s case, they were both.

My family attempted to fight for custody, since my aunt felt it would be best for me to be with a blood family relative. It didn’t matter to her that I hadn’t seen her since I was seven years old. Once I very passionately explained to her that I would run away every single day to Ellie’s until she let me go, she realized I wasn’t worth the fight. Ellie was beyond happy when I moved in. I’m grateful for her every day that she didn’t hold my dad’s affair with my mom against me. She never really spoke about it to Quinn or me.

All three of us moved out of my dad’s house and into a new three-bedroom home. The third bedroom was meant to be mine, but I basically moved into Quinn’s room. No one argued with me. A year and a half after my parent’s death, Ellie remarried to Charles. He’s amazing; he loves Quinn and me, and spoils us rotten. Quinn and I do have to have jobs while in school because Ellie and Charles felt it was important for us to know the value of college, but they help us with our bills for the most part. Quinn and I both had our own cars back home, but we decided only to bring one with us to college. It usually works out okay, since we’re always together for the most part, or one of us gets a ride from Cole. I usually always give Quinn the car; I would rather be without it than for her to be without.

“Don’t stress, Quinn, I’ll be okay. I don’t mind walking. Besides, if I decide I don’t want to walk, the campus added that new bus line that stops right outside the apartment. I just need to go home.” She stood up like she needed to reassure herself that I was okay and if I needed someone to talk to. I shook my head and said, “I’ll talk to you at home tonight after my shift, kay?”

“Alright…” she said hesitantly, while sitting back down next to Cole, “text me later.” I nodded and waved goodbye to the rest of the table. I tossed my entire pasta salad on my way out the door.

I didn’t know if I was going to walk home or ride the bus yet. I still had to walk across the campus, so I guess I would decide when I got there. I didn’t get more than twenty feet before I heard someone jogging up behind me. If this is Micah, I will seriously lose my manners and go crazy on him. Mercifully, it wasn’t Micah.

“Emerson, wait up,” Jaxon said, easily catching up next to me.

“So you’re sticking with the full first name thing, huh?” I teased, while continuing toward the other end of campus. The end of August was pretty warm in Southern California, but college kids don’t mind. There were girls lying out in the grass, working on their tans, and guys kicking a ball back and forth to one another.

“I was heading home anyway, need a ride?” he asked while dodging my question. He pulled his backpack around to the front and unzipped it. He reached inside and pulled out that black ball cap. He grabbed the bill and slapped it lazily on top of his head.

“If you don’t mind. You should go finish your lunch though; I saw that pile of food on your tray,” I joked with him.

“Yeah, I would have preferred if we both could have finished our lunches. But you seemed upset and since you said you were heading home, and I was going there after lunch, it made sense,” he said, eyeing me.

“Thanks. I just needed to get away from Micah.”

“So you two aren’t together?” he asked, looking confused.

“Seemed like you were having a good time with him when I walked up.” This guy was observant.

“That’s all I want though… a good time. Nothing more. Micah is starting to think I’ll change my rules for him.”

He stumbled for a fraction of a second and turned to look at me. “You have rules?” He laughed and raised one of those sexy eyebrows at me.

“Only three, but they’re pretty important to me,” I said feeling silly talking about this.

He gestured with his hand out in front of him, “Please, do share. I’m intrigued.”

He pulled keys out of his pocket and I was getting a little excited, because I’ve never been on a motorcycle before. But he pointed his keys at a massive four-door black truck and clicked the unlock button. He guided me to the passenger side and opened the door for me. I gaped at him, “What about the bike? I was excited to ride on it.”

“No motorcycle for you babe. Besides, Jace took it today.” What did he mean by no motorcycle for me?

“Are you saying I’ll never get to ride on it?” He reached down and put both his hands on each side of my waist. This unexpected contact caught me off guard. There was an exciting charge between us. My mind didn’t want to respond to him like this but my body wasn’t listening.

When he leaned in toward my ear, my breath caught. I stared straight ahead so I wouldn’t get trapped in those blue eyes. “Motorcycles are dangerous. I would never put you in danger,” he whispered. Then he lifted me up onto the bench seat in the truck. His voice returned to its normal deep tone. “Besides, Cole would kill me. He threatened Jace and me if we put you or Quinn on the bike. Jace and I could take him, but I’m not trying to get on his bad side.” He winked and I knew he was kidding.

“Oh, I’m going to have to have a talk with Coley.”

He burst out laughing while he closed my door. I could see him laughing all the way around the front of the truck to his side. When he opened it to climb in, he said, “Please tell me you call him that in front of his lame-ass frat brothers.” He had a huge smile on his face.

“Of course I do, I’m not embarrassed.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’re not. I mean he must love it,” he stated sarcastically.

“So this giant truck, I mean is it necessary for college in southern California?” I asked, trying to tease him.

Suddenly his face changed from teasing to a little sad, but he quickly pushed it away with a stiff smile. “It used to be my dad’s. But now Jace and I drive it. It was helpful for moving out here with all our stuff, and I could just put the motorcycle in the back.” He pulled out of the parking lot and turned toward our apartments. “You’re avoiding a serious topic here though; I need to know these rules of yours.” He patted my thigh a couple of times.

“Okay, fine,” I said grumpily. “I don’t plan on ever actually being with anyone permanently. My parents taught me that it only leads to heartbreak. I like having fun, and I’m not sure I’m strong enough to come back from something like a broken heart. So my rules are: I don’t sleep with anyone that I know my friends like, I don’t sleep with anyone’s boyfriend, and I never sleep with someone more than three times.”

After a couple of truly uncomfortable seconds he uttered, “I think you’re wrong, you know.”

“I don’t think it’s wrong, I think it protects everyone involved. No one thinks that I’m going to give them more than I have to give. I also don’t want to make any enemies by sleeping with someone’s boyfriend,” I replied softly.

“Not about the rules. About not being strong enough, I can tell you are.”

I sat there with really nothing to say back to that. He didn’t know me. He didn’t know what my parents did to me, to each other, or to Ellie. People break each other’s hearts. It’s hard to believe I’d only just met Jax this morning. I feel like we’ve already said so much to one another; maybe a little too much.

“Well, all I do know is that I don’t require daily phone calls, mushy love notes, bouquets of roses or cuddles every night.”

When we pulled up outside of our building, I unbuckled my seat belt and lunged for the door. I felt na**d around this guy; he sees too much or thinks too highly of me, I couldn’t figure out which one. I just wanted to get to my apartment, take a shower and a nap before my shift tonight. When I came around the front of the truck to walk up the stairs, Jax met me with our bags. He let me walk up ahead of him and he followed me to my door.

Our apartments are pretty decent. I don’t think any other college kids live here. Quinn and I pitch in to help pay for rent and bills, but Ellie and Charles usually cover the majority of it. I don’t know anything about Jace and Jaxon’s family, but I do know that Cole’s dad will basically pay for anything if he stays in the frat and plays football. His dad is a politician, so he likes to present a well-rounded “image”. The apartments in this building all have three bedrooms. While the boys will use their third room as something practical and boring like a bedroom, Quinn and I turned ours into a closet. It’s mostly for Quinn though. I don’t have much of a wardrobe, although Q and I wear the same size, so I guess all the clothes are as much mine as hers.

When I got to my door, Jax walked past me to his door. “Thanks for the ride; I appreciated not having to walk all the way in the heat,” I called down to him.

He stuck the keys in his door and turned to unlock it. “Not a problem, I think we basically have the same schedule on these days. Next time, let’s stay for lunch though.” He smiled at me and started to walk into his apartment.

“Hey, do you want to come in here for lunch? I’ll cook. It’s the least I can do for making you dump yours.”

“I never say no to a home cooked meal,” he said, smiling.

“Well, I’m no Food Network chef, but I can make us some lunch.”

After I had made chicken wings, he helped me to scrub all the dishes off and put them in the dishwasher. We sat on the couch afterward, watching TV.

“Damn, you can cook. That was delicious. We should just eat here for lunch from now on,” he laughed and I thanked him.

I sat on the couch leaning up against him. Then he grabbed my h*ps and pulled me across his lap so I was sitting on the other side of him, but my legs were lying across his. He grabbed the foot I had hurt this morning.

Then he tenderly started running his fingers down the sole of my foot and I realized he was searching. He found where the beer bottle cap had cut me and left an indention. He made slow soft circles around it and then over it. The movement was mesmerizing.

“I noticed you limping on it today, and this morning you were rubbing it,” he whispered.

I didn’t feel like explaining that I hurt it getting out of Micah’s bed. I’m sure he knows exactly what I was doing coming out that frat house this morning anyway. “That feels wonderful,” I sighed, lazily. It was really hard to continue watching TV after he started that. I got lost in the soft circles around and over, around and over.