It was the longest drive I had ever been on. That really wasn’t saying a whole lot, since I had never driven more than sixty miles away from my hometown. Still, by anyone’s standards, the drive was absurdly long. According to MapQuest, it was roughly thirty-seven hours and eleven minutes long. I’m assuming that’s if you’re superhuman and never need a pit stop, of course.
My boyfriend and I were driving away from Athens, Ohio. I had been born and raised there, along with every other member of my family. It was never discussed among our little foursome, but it was a known-from-birth fact, that my sister and I would be attending and graduating from Ohio University. Therefore, it had been a terrible family tragedy when, a few months ago, during my second year there, I’d made plans to transfer out in the fall. What had shocked them even more, if that were possible, was the fact that I was transferring nearly twenty-five hundred miles away to Washington—more specifically, the University of Washington in Seattle. I had landed a pretty nice scholarship, though, and that had definitely helped to sway my parents. Helped, but only a little. Family gatherings were going to be . . . colorful from now on.
The reason for my transfer was sitting beside me, driving us away in his beat-up Honda. I looked over at him and smiled. Denny Harris. He was beautiful. I know, it’s not the manliest way to describe a guy, but in my head, it was the adjective I used most often and it fit him to a tee. He was originally from a small town in Queensland, Australia, and a lifetime spent in the water at that exotic locale had left him tanned and muscular, but not in a beefy kind of way. No, in a more natural, proportioned, athletic way. He wasn’t overly tall for a guy, but he was taller than me, even when I wore heels, and that was enough. His hair was a dark, dark brown, and he liked to have it lightly styled into chunky but orderly pieces. I loved to do this for him, and he adoringly let me, sighing and complaining the whole while that he was just going to shave it off one day. He loved it though.
His eyes were warm and a deep, dark brown and were currently turned in my direction to sparkle at me. “Hey, babe. Not too much longer now, maybe a couple of hours.” The way his accent slid over his words was curiously intoxicating to me. It never ceased to bring me some small sliver of joy, as weird as that was.
Luckily for me, Denny had an aunt who, three years ago, had been offered a position at Ohio University and moved over here. Denny, being the sweetheart that he is, had decided to come with her and help her get settled. Having loved being in the States for a year back in high school, it didn’t take him long to decide to transfer to Ohio U, which to my parents, up until he had swept me away that is, made him the ideal candidate for my affections. I sighed and hoped they got over this college thing quickly.
Thinking I was sighing at his statement, Denny added, “I know you’re tired, Kiera. We’ll just be a minute at Pete’s and then we can go home and crash.”
I nodded and closed my eyes.
Pete’s was apparently the name of the popular bar where our new roommate, Kellan Kyle, was a local rock star. Though we were heading off to be his new permanent houseguests, I didn’t know much about him. I knew that while doing his junior year of high school abroad, Denny had stayed with Kellan and his parents, and I knew that Kellan played in a band. Yep, I knew two whole facts about our mysterious new roomie.
I opened my eyes and stared out the window, watching the thick, green trees blur past me. The numerous streetlamps on the freeway cast an odd orange glow upon them. We had finally made it over the last mountain pass; I had been worried for a moment there that Denny’s old car wouldn’t be able to make it. We were currently zigzagging past lush forests, rocky waterfalls, and vast lakes sparkling in the moonlight. Even in the dark of night, I could tell it was beautiful here. I could already see a new life opening up for me in this picturesque state.
Our departure from my comfortable life in Athens had started several months ago, with Denny’s impending graduation from Ohio U. He was brilliant, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. “Gifted” is how his professors commonly referred to him. They had written him numerous letters of recommendation, and Denny had started applying for jobs everywhere.
I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from him, even if it was only for two years until I finished school, so I applied to universities and colleges everywhere that Denny applied for a job or internship. My sister, Anna, thought that was odd. She wasn’t exactly the type to go traipsing around the country after a guy, not even an attractive one like Denny. But I couldn’t stop myself. I could not bear to be without that boy’s goofy grin.
Of course, being so brilliant, he landed his dream internship in Seattle. He was going to work for a company that, according to Denny, was one of the leading advertising agencies in the world, and was responsible for coming up with a certain golden-arched fast-food chain’s world renowned jingle. He would repeat that fact to anyone who would listen, and he said it with an odd look of reverence, like they had invented air or something. Apparently, their internships are really rare. And not just in how many a year they offer, but also in how involved they allow their interns to be with projects. Denny would immediately be a member of the team, not just a fetching boy. He had been practically giddy in his excitement to leave for Seattle.
I had been a panicky mess. I had downed a half bottle of Pepto daily, until I’d finally received my acceptance for transfer to the University of Washington. Perfect! Then, I somehow managed to swing a scholarship that paid for nearly all of my tuition. I wasn’t Denny’s level of brilliance, but I wasn’t a dummy either. Double perfect! The fact that Denny actually knew people in Seattle, and that one of them had an extra room for us at a fraction of what we were expecting to pay . . . well, it made the whole affair seem like it was fated to be.
I smiled as I watched the names of roads, parks, and small towns fly by us. We were coming upon towns more frequently now, starting to move away from the majestic mountains that I could no longer see behind us in the darkness. Rain spattered our window as we approached a larger city with a sign directing us toward Seattle. We were getting closer. Our new life would start soon. I knew virtually nothing of our new city, but I would get to figure it all out with Denny by my side. I reached over to grab his hand and he smiled softly at me.
Denny had graduated a week ago with a double major in business economics and marketing—the hunky dork—and we’d packed up to leave. His new job required him to be there this coming Monday. My parents had not been thrilled about the all-too-soon separation. Once they had grudgingly accepted my decision to leave, they had been looking forward to having me for one last summer. While I would miss them terribly, Denny and I had been living apart, he at his aunt’s and I at my parents’, for nearly two achingly long years, and I was eager to advance our relationship. I had tried to keep a solemn face while kissing them all goodbye, but on the inside, I had been glowing with the thought of finally being on our own.
The only part of the move I had protested, vehemently, was driving there. A few hours in a plane versus days in a cramped car . . . it really was a no-brainer to me. But Denny had some odd attachment to his vehicle and refused to leave it behind. I supposed it would be convenient to have a car in Seattle, but I got a good half day of sulking out of it anyway. After that, Denny had just made the trip too much fun for me to complain anymore, and of course, he had found numerous ways to make his car quite . . . comfortable. There were a couple of rest stops that are now forever etched in my fondest memories.
I smiled widely at that thought and bit my lip, once again excited at the very idea of a place of our own. The ride had been entertaining and full of many happy memories, but we had driven straight through. Even in my happiness, I was bone-tired. And even though Denny had managed to make his car surprisingly cozy, it was still a car, and I was dreaming of an actual bed. My smile turned into a contented sigh when the lights of Seattle finally showed themselves to us.
Denny had gotten directions on the way over, and we easily found Pete’s Bar. He managed to find an empty space in the it’s-Friday-night-let’s-go-drink jammed-full parking lot and nimbly pulled the car in. The second the engine shut off, I practically jumped out of the door and stretched for a solid minute. Denny chuckled at me, but did the same. Grabbing each other’s hands, we made our way to the open front doors. We were later than we had expected to be, and the band was already playing, their music drifting out to us in the lot. We walked inside the doors and Denny quickly scanned the room. He pointed out a really big guy leaning against the side wall, watching the audience, who were mostly watching the band, and we started making our way through the packed room to him.
On the way over, I looked up at the stage to the four guys performing there. They all looked to be around my age, in their early twenties. Their music was fast, driving rock, and the singer’s voice was perfectly matched to the style, rough, yet really sexy. Huh, they’re pretty good, I thought, while Denny expertly navigated us through a sea of feet and elbows.
I couldn’t help but notice the lead singer first. No one would be able to overlook him—he was drop-dead gorgeous. He had intense eyes that were busy scanning the crowd of adoring women clustered around the front of the stage. His light, sandy-brown hair was a thick, wild mess. It was longer on the top with shorter, shaggy layers all the way around, and he was running his hand through it in a rather adorable way. As Anna would say, he had “bedroom hair.” Well, okay, she would use a cruder adjective—my sister could be a little crass—but it was the kind of style that looked like he had just been ravished in the back room. I blushed as it occurred to me that maybe he had been. . . . Anyway, it was alarmingly attractive on him. Not everyone could pull off that kind of look.
His clothes were surprisingly basic, like he knew he didn’t have to accessorize his looks. His shirt was just a gray tee, with the long sleeves pushed back to the elbow. It was just tight enough to hint at what was most definitely a fabulous body underneath. He wore perfectly lived-in black jeans with black, heavy boots. Simple, yet stunning. He looked like a rock-god.
Even with all that, the most amazing part of him, besides his alluring voice, was his unbelievably sexy smile. He only showed glimpses of it through the words he was singing, but it was enough. A smooth half-smile here and there—flirting with the crowd. Utterly charming.
He was downright sexy. Unfortunately, he knew it.
He met eyes with every one of his adoring fans. They went crazy as his gaze passed over them. Now that I was looking closer, his half-smiles were disconcertingly seductive. His eyes were practically undressing each and every one of the women around the stage. My sister also had a choice turn of phrase for those kinds of eyes.
Watching him seduce the entire cluster of female groupies was making me uncomfortable, and I shifted my focus to the remaining three members.
The two guys on either side of the singer were so similar that they had to be related, probably brothers. They seemed about the same size, slightly shorter than the singer, and thinner, not quite as . . . well built. They had the exact same slim nose and thin lips. One played lead guitar, one played bass guitar, and they were both passably cute. Possibly, if I had seen them first instead of the singer, I would have thought them more attractive.
The lead guitarist wore khaki shorts and a black T-shirt featuring the name and logo of a band I didn’t know. His hair was blond, short, and spiky. He played the difficult-sounding piece with a look of concentration on his face, his light eyes flicking over the crowd every once in a while, then back down to his hands.
His equally light-eyed, blond-haired relative wore his hair longer, down to his chin and tucked behind his ears. He was also wearing shorts, and his T-shirt made me chuckle a little. It simply read, “I’m with the band.” He played the bass with an almost bored expression on his face and kept looking over to the guitarist, who could so easily be his twin. I got the impression he would rather be playing that instrument.
The final guy was tucked behind the drums, so I couldn’t see much of him. I was just thankful that he had clothes on at all, since many drummers seem to feel the need to be nearly naked when they play. But he had the kindest face in the world, with big, dark eyes and buzz-cut brown hair. He had gauges in his ears, maybe half-inch ones. I wasn’t too big a fan of those, but on him, they looked oddly attractive. His arms were covered in bright, colorful tattoos, like an art mural, and he flew through the complicated drum patterns effortlessly, scanning the crowd with a big grin on his face.
Denny had only mentioned that our new roommate, Kellan, was in this band. He had never elaborated on which member he might be. I hoped it was the big, teddy-bear-looking guy in the back. He seemed like he’d be easygoing.
Denny had finally worked us through the crowd to the burly man. He’d noticed us approaching and was smiling broadly at Denny. “G’day, mate! Glad to see ya again,” he yelled over the music, trying to mimic Denny’s accent and butchering it horribly.
I smiled to myself. Everyone always tried to sound like him, once they heard him speak. Usually, nobody pulled it off. It was just one of those accents that sounded phony unless you had lived in Australia. Denny was always trying to get me to use it, because it highly amused him when people tried. I knew I couldn’t, so I didn’t give him the satisfaction. No point in making myself look stupid.
“Hey, Sam, long time no see.” Denny’s year in Seattle as an exchange student back in high school had introduced him to Kellan. Since Sam looked about Denny’s age, I assumed that was how he knew him too. I smiled wider as they gave each other a swift “guy” hug.
Sam was a big guy. He definitely had a beefcake body and wore a red shirt that barely contained his muscles. His head was completely shaved, and if he hadn’t been grinning, I would never have dared to approach him. There was just an air of menace about him, which, now that I noticed the name of the bar across his shirt, seemed appropriate. He obviously worked as a bouncer here.
Sam leaned in closer to us, so he didn’t have to talk quite so loud. “Kellan told me you were coming in tonight. Staying with him, huh?” He looked over at me standing beside Denny. “This your girl?” he asked, before Denny could answer his first question.
“Yeah, this is Kiera, Kiera Allen.” Denny smiled over at me. I loved the way his accent slid over my name. “Kiera, this is Sam. He and I were mates in school.”
“Hello.” I smiled at him, not knowing what else to do.
I hated meeting people for the first time. It always made me a little uncomfortable and very self-conscious. I didn’t feel like I was anything special to look at. Not that I was unattractive, just nothing special. My brown hair was long and, thankfully, thick, with a slight curl to it. My eyes were hazel and I’d been told expressive, which in my mind always translated to overly large. My height was in the middle for a girl, 5'5", and I was pretty lean, thanks to running track in school. But overall, I felt very average.
Sam nodded back at me and looked over to talk to Denny again. “Anyway, Kellan had to start his set, but he left your key with me in case you guys didn’t want to stay . . . . you know, long drive and all.” He reached in his jeans pocket and handed the key over to Denny.
That was sure nice of Kellan. I was dead tired, and really just wanted to get settled in, then sleep for about two days straight. I didn’t want to have to wait for who-knows-how-long a set lasted to get our key.
I glanced back at the band again. The singer was still mentally undressing every woman he spotted. Occasionally, he would suck in a breath through his teeth, exaggerating the sound in a way that was almost intimate. He leaned over the microphone and reached out a hand to get closer to his adoring fans, making them squeal in delight. Most of the men in the bar were farther back, but some boyfriends had stuck close to their girls. Those men eyed the singer with decided distaste. I couldn’t help but think that some day he was going to get his ass seriously kicked.
More and more, I believed the nice-looking guy in the back was Denny’s “mate.” The drummer just seemed like the good-natured, carefree type of person that he would easily bond with. Denny was taking a minute to chat with Sam, asking him what he was up to now. When they were finished catching up, we said our goodbyes.
“Ready to go?” Denny asked, knowing how tired I was.
“Oh, yes,” I said, aching for an actual bed. Thankfully, Kellan had told Denny that the last tenant had left some furniture behind.
Denny laughed a little and then looked over to the band. I watched him waiting to catch his friend’s eye. Denny liked having light facial hair along his jawline and upper lip. Not a lot, and not heavy; he just looked like someone who had been on a long camping trip. It made his could-be baby face seem older and more rugged. It was soft, though, and felt nice when he nuzzled my neck. It was also incredibly sexy. I realized I was ready to leave for more than one reason.
Still intently watching Denny, I noticed him raise the hand clutching the key and nod his chin up. Apparently he had finally gotten Kellan’s eye, and signaled to him that we were heading home. I was so lost in my dreamy thoughts that I’d forgotten to watch who he signaled. I still wasn’t entirely sure which one Kellan was. I glanced over, but none of the four were looking our way.
As we started to make our way back to the door, I looked over to Denny. “Which one is Kellan anyway?”
“Huh? Oh, I guess I never really explained that, did I?” He nodded back to the band. “He’s the singer.”
My heart dropped a little. Of course he was. I stopped and looked back, and Denny stopped with me, watching the band as well. Sometime while we had been walking away, the song had changed. The beat was slower, and Kellan’s voice was lower and smoother, sexier, if that were possible. But that wasn’t what made me stop and listen.
It was the words. They were beautiful, heartbreaking even. It was a poetic declaration of love and loss, insecurity and even death. Of wanting someone left behind to remember him as a good person, a person worthy of being missed. The insipid girls, whose number had doubled, were still clamoring for his attention. They didn’t even seem to recognize the change of the music’s tone. Kellan was completely different though.
Both hands were now curled around the microphone, and he looked out over the crowd, his eyes unfocused, absorbed in the music. His whole body was lost to the words; they seemed to come from deep in his soul. Where the other song had just been fun, this one was personal. It obviously meant something to him. He stopped my breath.
“Wow,” I stated when my breathing started back up. “He’s . . . amazing.”
Denny nodded over to the stage. “Yeah, he’s always been really good at this. Even his band in school was good.”
I suddenly wished we could stay all night, but Denny was every bit as tired as I was, maybe more so, since he had done the majority of the driving. “Let’s go home.” I smiled up at him, loving the way that sounded.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me through the rest of the crowd. I glanced back at Kellan one last time before we stepped out the door. Surprisingly, he was looking straight at me. That perfect face focused solely on me was making me shiver a little. His powerful song still played on. Again, I wished I could stay to hear the end.
He was so different now from the first time I had noticed him. In that first glance he had just seemed so . . . sensual. Everything about him had screamed, I’m going to take you right here and make you forget your own name. But now he appeared deep, soulful even. Maybe my first impression was wrong? Maybe Kellan was someone worth getting to know better?
Living with him was going to be . . . interesting.
Denny found our new place easily; it wasn’t terribly far from the bar. It was on a smaller side street that was crammed with houses. The street itself was so completely lined with vehicles, it was practically a one-way street. The driveway looked just big enough for two cars, so Denny pulled into the spot farthest from the front door.
He grabbed three of our bags from the backseat while I grabbed the remaining two; then we made our way inside. It was small, but charming. The entrance had hooks for jackets, all of them empty, and a half-moon table, where Denny tossed his keys. To our left was a short hallway ending in a door. A bathroom maybe? Off that hallway, I could just make out a countertop. Must be the kitchen. Directly in front of us was the living room. An overly large television set was its most prominent feature. Boys will be boys, I thought. To our right was a set of stairs that curled around to the top floor.
We followed the stairs up and stopped at a set of three doors. Denny opened the right door—the exceedingly messy bed and an older-looking guitar propped in the corner gave it away as Kellan’s room. He shut the door and tried the middle one, laughing a little at our guessing game. Ah, he had found the bathroom. That left door number three. Smiling, he opened it wide for us. I started to look around, but didn’t get much further than the impressively large, queen-sized bed in the middle of the wall. Not one to miss an opportunity, I grabbed Denny’s shirt and pulled him suggestively to that bed.
Alone time didn’t happen very often. We were usually surrounded by so many people—his aunt, my sister, or, ugh, my parents. It was cherished, and one thing I had quickly realized upon inspecting our tiny new home was that we weren’t going to be quite as alone here as I had hoped, especially upstairs; I could tell the walls were very thin, not much in the way of privacy. So we threw our bags in the corner of the small room and took advantage of the fact that our roommate had a night job. The rest of our stuff could wait to be brought into the house. Some things were just too important.
• • •
I awoke early the next morning, still groggy from days of traveling, but refreshed. Denny was stretched out on his side of the bed and looked entirely too peaceful to wake. A small thrill passed through me at waking up next to him. We rarely were able to spend an entire night together, but now we would get to every night. Careful not to disturb him, I stood and made my way to the hall.
Our door looked directly across to Kellan’s room and his door was slightly cracked. The bathroom was in between the two small rooms and the door was shut. My family had never closed the bathroom door unless someone was in there. I couldn’t see a light under the door, but it was bright enough outside now that no light would be needed.
Should I knock? I didn’t want to feel like an idiot, knocking on my own door, but I hadn’t been introduced to Kellan yet, and walking in on him was not the way I wanted to meet him . . . not that I ever did want to walk in on him. I glanced over to his door and listened until I thought a vein might burst. I thought I could hear light breathing coming from his room, but really, I could have been hearing my own. I hadn’t heard him come in last night, but he seemed like the type to stay out ’til four and sleep in ’til two, so I took a chance and turned the knob.
Relief washed through me that the bathroom was empty. Relief, and the intense desire to wash the travel grime from my body. Making sure the door was securely locked—I didn’t need Kellan walking in on me either—I turned on the shower.
Last night, I had hastily scrounged through my stuff for my pajamas before passing out from exhaustion. Now, I stripped off my sleep pants and tank top and stepped into the near-scalding water. It was heaven. I suddenly wished Denny were awake. I wished he were in here with me. He had the nicest body and it was even more so streaming with water. But then I remembered how dreadfully tired he’d looked last night. Hmmm . . . maybe another time.
I relaxed into the hot water and sighed. I hadn’t remembered shampoo in my hurry to the bathroom, but luckily there was a bar of soap in the shower. Not the greatest way to wash my hair, but I wasn’t comfortable using Kellan’s expensive-looking stuff. I luxuriated under the hot steam for a lot longer than I should have, considering the other people who probably wanted a tiny bit of warm water for themselves. I couldn’t help it though—it just felt so good to be clean again.
Finally, I shut the water off and dried away the droplets with the only available towel. It was dreadfully thin and slightly too small; I would need to remember my big, comfy towel next time. Hastily wrapping the small towel around me, I braced myself for the cooler air in the hallway and opened the door. I had forgotten all of my toiletries, not to mention a change of clothes, in my desire to be clean. I was concentrating on remembering which bag in our chaotic pile held my stuff, when I noticed that Kellan’s door was now open . . . and occupied.
He was standing in his doorway, yawning lazily and scratching his bare chest. Apparently, he preferred sleeping in just his boxer shorts. I couldn’t help but be momentarily distracted by the sight of him. A night’s rest hadn’t affected his messy hair negatively at all; it looked downright delicious, going every which way. His body took up most of my attention however. It was as fabulous as I had suspected. Where Denny’s body was great, Kellan’s was just ridiculous. He was tall, maybe a good half foot taller than Denny, and his muscles were long and lean, like a runner’s. And they were very clearly defined. I could have taken a marker and etched every single line.
He was, well . . . hot.
His eyes, an impossibly deep shade of blue, sparkled at me as he cocked his head to the side in a distractingly charming way. “You must be Kiera.” His voice was low and slightly husky from just waking up.
Embarrassment flashed through me as I realized that our first meeting wasn’t that far from how I’d feared it would be. At least we were both dressed, sort of. Mentally chastising myself for not putting the tank top and lounge pants I had slept in back on before leaving the bathroom, I awkwardly extended a hand to him in some feeble attempt at formality.
I mumbled, “Yes . . . hi.”
An adorable half-smile appeared on his face as he shook my hand. He seemed to find great humor in my reaction. He also didn’t seem bothered in the slightest that neither one of us was dressed decently. I felt a blush coming and desperately wanted to flee to my room, but I had no idea how to politely get out of this odd meeting.
“You’re Kellan?” I asked. Dumb question. Obviously he was—only three of us were living here.
“Mmmm . . .” He nodded in acknowledgment, still watching me closely. A little closer than I was comfortable having a strange man stare at me while I was half-naked.
“Sorry about the water. I think I used all of the hot side.” I turned to find our doorknob, hoping he would take the hint.
“No problem. I’ll just use it tonight, before I leave.”
I wondered briefly where he was going, but instead mumbled, “See you later then,” and dashed back into my room. I thought I heard a soft chuckle behind me as I closed the door.
Well, that was mortifying. I guess it could have been worse. Ugh, that’s exactly why I hated meeting people for the first time. I tended to come out of those meetings looking like an idiot, and today was no exception. Denny claimed our first meeting had been endearing. My memory attached a different word to it. I dreaded just how often I was going to have to do this in the coming months. At least for those future meetings, I would have more clothes on . . . I hoped.
I laid my head back against the closed door and waited for the embarrassment to fade.
“You okay?” Denny’s clear, accented voice poked through my thoughts. I cracked my eyes open and saw him propped up on his elbow, watching me curiously. He still looked tired and I hoped I hadn’t woken him.
“Just meeting our new roommate,” I explained sullenly.
Denny knew me so well that he wasn’t too surprised at my reaction over something so small. He knew how embarrassed I would be, running into someone I didn’t know in only a thin towel.
“Ah, come here.” He opened his arms to me and I eagerly crawled back into bed.
I snuggled my back into his warm, comforting embrace and his arms tightly cinched around me, pulling me close. He tenderly kissed my damp head and then let out a long sigh. “Are you sure about this, Kiera?”
I reached back and playfully smacked him on the shoulder. “We’re already here. Isn’t it a little late for that?” I moved so I could look at his face. “I am not driving back,” I teased him.
He smiled a little, but his face was serious. “I know what you gave up for me by coming here—your family, your home. I’m not blind; I know you miss it. I just want to make sure that this is worth it for you.”
I placed my hand on his cheek. “Don’t. Don’t ever question that. Of course I miss my family, miss them terribly. But you are worth it, you’re worth anything.” My fingers gently stroked his cheek. “I love you. I want to be where you are.”
He smiled in earnest. “Forgive me for being a little sappy here, but . . . you are my heart. I love you too.” And then he kissed me deeply and started to unwrap the suddenly bulky towel from around my waist.
I had to remind myself over and over that the walls were very thin. . . .