Since the first day she stepped into her childhood Southern Baptist church, two truths have been engrained in Kara Marcus’s head: sex before marriage is bad and murder is a sin. And that’s why Kara can never forgive herself for what she did at the age of sixteen.
Now, as second semester of freshman year comes to a close, Kara has stood by her high school boyfriend, Ethan. But as they seem to grow further and further apart every day, Kara realizes that she has feelings for someone else: Ethan’s roommate Colt.
Suddenly, Kara’s clear-cut world shifts out of focus, and she’s torn between what her head tells her is right and what her heart is desperately pushing her to do—even if it means committing another undeniable sin...
Melissa West lives near Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and daughters. She holds a B.A. in Communication Studies and a M.S. in Graphic Communication, both from Clemson University. She pretends to like yoga, actually likes shoes, and could not live without coffee. Her writing heroes include greats like Jane Austen and Madeleine L’Engle.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Let me tell you what the most annoying thing on the planet is: kissing. The kind where lips get suctioned together so tightly, you wonder how either participant can breathe. It’s disgusting. And as annoying as hell.
And it’s the very thing I’ve been trying to avoid seeing in my new apartment for the last month.
I’d decided to move into Charleston Haven with my best friend, Olivia, and immediately fell in love with everything about the complex. The way the landscaping hid the streets around it so it felt secluded like an island within the city. The way they played old movies every Friday night out on the back lawn. The way each building was a different color in homage to Rainbow Row. I’d been thankful Olivia chose to live in the yellow building instead of the green one, because yuck, but now I was beginning to question my decision to move there at all. Seeing your roommate making out heavily with her boyfriend? Not ideal. Seeing your roommate doing it with a guy you once slept with? Awk-ward.
I covered my eyes and went into the kitchen, ignoring the pang in my stomach. I was not jealous of Preston and Olivia. I was not at all wishing Ethan, my boyfriend, kissed me like that. And I certainly wasn’t thinking about anyone else kissing me like that. At least that was what I told myself as I tried to make a cup of coffee noiselessly.
“Oh, Kar, hey,” Olivia said, walking into the kitchen, a rosy flush on her cheeks. I couldn’t remember the last time my cheeks had been that rosy from kissing.
I thought of asking her privately to keep the manic kissing to her bedroom, but after the fallout earlier in the semester when I almost lost her as a friend for good, I decided to keep my mouth shut. A little kissing I could handle. If they decided to go at it like monkeys on the floor of the common room, then we’d have a problem.
“Hey!” I said, more enthusiastically than I felt. “Ready for your quiz today?” I asked, though I already knew the answer. Olivia and tests went together like peanut butter and jelly, one made for the other. Me, on the other hand? I could study for weeks and still barely scrape by with a C. I had begun to wonder if I just wasn’t cut out for a field in medicine. Maybe I just wasn’t smart enough. Or maybe I wasn’t cut out for college in general. The thought settled over me, and I wondered if that was what my parents were thinking, too. If that was why they had asked whether I needed to change majors . . . to something easier.
My eyes burned at the memory, and I smiled wider at Olivia to hide my true thoughts.
“I think I’m ready,” Olivia said. “Thank goodness it’s just a quiz, so I can make up the grade later if it goes badly. You heading on in to campus?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Need a ride?”
She shrugged uncomfortably and motioned to the common room. “No, I’m good. My first class isn’t for another hour, so I was just going to hang out here.”
And have sex, I thought, but again, I plastered on my usual smile. “Cool beans. See ya later,” I said, reaching for my travel coffee mug and dashing for the door. “Later, Pres,” I called, but he was already in Olivia’s room, unable to hear me. I tried to ignore the hurt I felt that he hadn’t said goodbye to me. Six months ago, that would never have happened. But he was in love now, and friendship held nothing compared to love. I reminded myself that I was in love, too, that Ethan and I had been together for two years, that we were serious and madly in love, but the thoughts never settled over me like they should.
I closed the door to our apartment, just as my phone buzzed with a text.
Ethan: Can’t make it this weekend. Big fishing trip and won’t be home until late Sat. I’ll miss you. Maybe next?
My heart dropped into my stomach. I stared at the text, torn between replying with something hateful or something that would make him feel guilty. I decided on the truth. The same truth every weekend for the last month. That’s what you said last weekend.
Ethan: That was something else, but I know. I’m sorry, babe. I love you.
Yeah, love . . .
I made my way into my sociology class and sat down, fifteen minutes before it started. I hated being late, so I ended up rushing to get to wherever I was going and inevitably ended up being super early instead. With doctor parents, there was a constant push to be responsible in every way: punctual, honest, dependable, intelligent. I tried to emanate all those things, though according to my mom, she was head and shoulders above where I am at this age. I didn’t know if she really meant the insult or if she simply couldn’t get past what I’d done. After all, not many parents could get over the fact that their daughter had gotten herself pregnant at sixteen.
I still remembered the look on her face when I told her, the slow change from shock, to hurt, to sadness, to pure anger. She grabbed my wrist like I was a five-year-old and dragged me out of the house, already on her phone calling our ob-gyn. After confirming the pregnancy, she immediately scheduled an appointment to have it aborted. She never asked. She never spoke of her unborn grandchild. And she never looked at me the same way again. I never told Preston that I was forced into the abortion, forced to keep it all a secret, even from him. I wasn’t sure that telling him would have changed anything anyway. My mom always managed to get her way.
I shook my head and sat back in my seat, desperate for something to take my mind off my horrid past. I clicked the Facebook app on my phone and surfed through updates, knowing that I was looking for a particular name, a name I had no right to seek out.
I took in the profile picture first. The look on his face in the photo, like he’d taken it especially for Facebook and wanted everyone who saw it to know that he was judging them for being so obsessed with the site. I tapped Colt Bryan, a grin spreading across my face as I read his latest update: Flying like a bird never appealed to a worm. I read the line twice more, but I couldn’t make sense of it. I wondered if he wrote such nonsense just to see if someone would call him on it. So far, no one ever had. At least, for as long as I had been Facebook stalking him, no one had. I pushed my phone away from me, like it was the problem instead of me.
Colt was Ethan’s roommate and the last guy on the planet I should be thinking about. His arms were covered in tattoos and his chin-length dirty blond hair had this I-just-got-out-of-bed doing-things-you-wish-you-were-doing look. I’d only talked to him a few times, and always with Ethan around; yet still, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering about him. He was mysterious and edgy and too, too hot. The kind of hot that should make you back away as fast as possible because you were bound to get burned.
I glanced at his update again and smiled. It made no sense at all, yet he’d already gotten a few dozen likes and comments, mostly from girls. Surprise, surprise.
I eyed his profile picture, fighting the warmth that spread across my cheeks. I blamed his Australian accent on my complete inability to look at him—or talk to him—without flushing. I knew next to nothing about him because of it.
Not that it mattered. I couldn’t look at him while he spoke anyway. Because if I did, he would know just what I was thinking and I would be banned from Ethan’s apartment for good.
I closed my eyes as guilt washed over me. I should be on Ethan’s page, checking him out, reading his updates. Instead, I was drooling over his roommate. I shook my head. I was so going to hell.
On a one-way ticket.
Later that afternoon, I pushed through the doors of Firehouse Subs, quickly ordered my food, and plopped down at an empty table, my phone already out to email my academic advisor to ask for an appointment. I’d studied psychology for a semester and a half so far and already I’d begun to wonder if I should switch majors. My classes were slowly and painfully killing me. I loved my psychology and sociology classes, but the rest were clearly added as prerequisites just to see if I could stay sane.
I typed out the email to Dr. Hamilton, my advisor, and then set my phone on the table, fighting the urge to check to see if Colt had any new updates. I closed my eyes as the word STALKER flashed in neon lights in my mind and almost missed Sarah sliding into the chair beside me. “I’m thinking of switching majors,” she said as she ran her fingers through her bright red ponytail. Well, at least I wasn’t the only one unsure of my major. I’d wondered a few times if she dyed her hair that red, but I wasn’t brave enough to ask. Sarah had lived across from Olivia and me in our dorm hall last semester, and now she lived in our building at Charleston Haven. We were friends, but not quite the ask-every-question-on-your-mind type of friends. “Biochem is killing me. I need something light, like Art History.” Her gray-blue eyes squinted in thought, before flipping up to the menu on the wall.
I shook my head. “Then don’t go for Art History. I took it last semester. It’s anything but light. Why don’t you take a marketing class or something?”
A guy walked over with my sub just as Olivia arrived, talking away on her phone. She pulled it away from her ear and asked Sarah to order her a meatball sub, before continuing on another minute, then setting her phone on the table in front of mine.
“Preston?” I asked.
She pulled out a menu and began to look it over, though she’d never ordered anything other than the meatball sub. “No, Rose. I had to cancel my appointment today, so she called to make sure I’d be there tomorrow. You know how she is.”
I nodded. Though I’d only met her therapist, Rose, a few times, I knew she kept Olivia on a tight schedule, and was unwilling to relent on their sessions. I wondered if I would be that way, then an idea occurred to me. “Hey, do you think Rose would let me ask her some questions about clinical psychology?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. I can ask her tomorrow for you,” she said.
My phone buzzed against the table, and I reached for it to see a new text from Ethan. Miss you.
My heart warmed. Maybe I’d surprise him by being there when he returned from his fishing trip.
Just then the door to the restaurant opened and Preston swept in; a guy with chin-length blond hair was on his heels, and my heart paused in my chest. I sat up taller, careening my neck around.
“What are you doing?” Olivia asked.
“Oh, I . . .” I glanced at them coming toward us, the name Colt so fresh on my mind that it shocked me to see Taylor with Preston instead. I released a breath and slumped back in my seat, my cheeks growing hot. Colt didn’t go here. Of course it wasn’t him. “Nothing,” I finished. What was wrong with me? I dove into my sub to give me something to do other than focus on my horrid thoughts.
Preston leaned down to kiss Olivia and then pulled a chair up, while Taylor pulled another between me and Sarah.
“Ladies,” he said, grinning. Taylor was one of Olivia’s friends who had quickly become a regular in our group over the semester. He lived in Charleston Haven as well, and though he had once been on the career track for icky guy, he’d relaxed his flirtation this semester, and seemed to have grown up a lot. Or maybe he was just afraid Preston would kick his ass.
Sarah smiled over at him. “Are you always grinning?”
He shook his hair out of his face. “Always.” Sarah watched him for a second longer than she should, and Olivia and I exchanged a quick grin before the Firehouse guy returned with Sarah and Olivia’s subs.
“Have you talked to E lately?” Preston asked. “I sent him a text a few days ago, but never heard back.”
I laughed sarcastically. “Yeah, if by ‘talk’ you mean single-word texts and cancelled visits, then yeah, I talked to him this morning.”
Preston held my gaze. “What’s going on with you two lately? It’s like you’re pissed off at him all the time.”
I sighed. I didn’t want to talk about this right now in front of the whole group. I didn’t want to talk about it at all.
“Nothing. And I’m not,” I said defensively, but I knew Preston was right. I couldn’t stop being angry at Ethan, and it wasn’t just the missed visits. It was his attitude, his entire way of being, as if college was just some place to party. I liked to drink and hang out as much as the next girl, but this was my future. I took it pretty damn seriously.
Olivia started up a conversation with him about his latest fishing trip, saving me from the agony of talking about my dysfunctional relationship. I mouthed a thank-you to her and she nodded once, letting me know that she had my back. Thank God I didn’t screw up my friendship with her. She was the best friend I had.
My phone buzzed, notifying me of an email, and I peered down to see Dr. Hamilton had replied that she had an opening right now before her next class. I quickly typed back, Great! On my way,and then stood and gathered my things. “Advisor meeting. See you later?”
“Yeah,” Olivia said.
“Oh, hey,” Sarah called out before I’d gotten a step away from them. “Party at my apartment tonight. You in?”
I grinned. “Definitely. See ya’ll later.”
I walked into Dr. Hamilton’s office and set down my bag in one of the chairs in front of her desk, trying to ignore the sarcastic look she always threw my way anytime she saw me. I mean, what? Did I have something on my face every single time I saw her? Did I ooze please judge me? I wondered how long it would take me to go off on her. I tried to keep my smart mouth to myself, but it was becoming increasingly hard in her presence, which she seemed to know and test more and more with each meeting. She was a psychology professor. Maybe she liked fucking with people’s minds. She was certainly screwing with mine.
“Have a seat, Kara,” she said, threading her fingers together. “What can I do for you?”
I opened my mouth and closed it twice before I figured out what to say. “I’m worried about whether this is the right major for me. My grades . . .” I shook my head and glanced down, embarrassed to say them out loud.
Dr. Hamilton leaned forward. “Yes. Let’s talk about your grades.” She opened a drawer and thumbed through several folders before pulling out one with my name on it. Shit. Did every professor I have keep record of my grades? Surely that wasn’t legal.
“How do you have my grades? Isn’t that private?”
“I’m your academic advisor.”
My face flushed. “Right.”
“So . . .” She ran her eyes down my fall semester grades and then peered back up at me. “Do you want to know what I see when I look at this?”
No, I wanted to say, so I only stared at her.
“You have high marks in all of your psychology and sociology classes. Nearly perfect marks, to be exact. This tells me you only want to put in the effort when the class interests you. But you need to realize that every course you take here better prepares you for your career, not just your specialized classes.”
I released a long breath. “See, that’s the problem. How do I know if psychology is really the field for me? What if I go through four years only to decide I should’ve done something else?”
She considered me, then spun around to a table behind her and pulled something out of one of the file drawers. She passed a bright pink flyer to me, and I peered down to see the words Helping Hands Counseling Center Seeking Volunteers. “I know the program coordinator. She’s wonderful. Why don’t you give her a call and ask about volunteering there? See if being in the actual field solidifies your interest.”
I eyed the flyer again, reading the bulleted list of disorders the center treated. Depression. Anxiety. Fears. Women and men welcome.
I read the list twice more, my mind beginning to churn. I could really help people there. I could become a role model, the sort of person people looked up to—the sort of person my parents could respect.
I smiled a little, feeling hopeful for the first time all day. “This looks perfect.”
An hour later, I found myself staring up at the counseling center, squinting in the bright sun, torn about whether I really wanted to go inside. Entering would mean that I was committing to something bigger than me, and I had never really committed to anything in my life. What if I was horrible at it? What if they asked me to leave?
I drew a breath and took a step back, when the front glass door opened and a middle-aged woman wearing a Helping Hands T-shirt grinned widely at me. “You must be Kara. I’m Tori. Emily, I mean Dr. Hamilton,” she said with a wink, “said you would be stopping by.”
She considered me, likely sensing my unease. “I know how hard it can be to take on a big project like this, so why don’t we take it one day at a time? Come in. Meet the group. See what you think. If you still like it, come back again this week. Just one day at a time.”
One day. I could do one day, right? “Okay,” I said, nodding. “I can do that.”
Tori led me into the center, which had the look and feel of a doctor’s office. The walls were painted light tan and the floors were covered in neutral tile. Directly in front of us sat a wooden desk with an older woman behind it who was talking to a UPS delivery guy. I peered around at the rest of the open area to find a makeshift waiting room to the left of the door. Chairs were organized in a square around a small coffee table, which had a hundred different magazines scattered across it. Every single chair was full, and I tried not to study the people in each of them too closely. I remembered that the center was nonprofit, which likely explained the full house. The government didn’t often cover mental health costs, so centers like Helping Hands were the only place the people had to go.
I started to look away when my gaze stopped on a young girl in the last chair in the corner. She couldn’t be older than sixteen . . . and she was at least six months pregnant. My heart began to kick up as I watched her, a cold sweat breaking out across my forehead. She stroked her tummy over and over, the look on her face so sad.
“I . . .”
“It’s okay,” Tori said. “You won’t speak to anyone today. Don’t worry.”
I forced myself to breathe, my mind flashing back to the pregnancy test in my hand and the fear that gripped my chest when the two pink lines had appeared. I nodded slowly to Tori, unable to speak. I didn’t want to be in the room with the pregnant girl for another second. She was actually facing what she did, giving life to a tiny person. Accepting her role as a mom. And I had cowardly taken the easy way out.
I tucked my chin down, avoiding the pregnant teen’s eye contact, and followed Tori to a door beside the front desk, determined to stay hidden until I knew the girl had left. I couldn’t think, cope, or even be, just knowing she was in the same space as me. She was a constant reminder of what I had done.
Tori continued down a hallway with doors on the right and left, where I imagined most of the counseling took place, and then opened the last one at the end of the hall to reveal an office—if you could call it that. The office was a scattered mess. Papers were stacked haphazardly on everything. I couldn’t make out where the mess ended and the desk began.
“Yeah, I know,” Tori said with a laugh. “I haven’t had time to clean up my desk. Just . . . here.” She picked up a stack off a chair and nodded for me to sit down. “I’m going to give you some confidentiality paperwork to sign and then some information about the center. Once you’re done reviewing it all, I could use some help organizing files. Does that sound okay?”
My gaze hadn’t left the disarray of her office.
“It’s killing you, isn’t it?” Tori asked with a grin.
My eyes snapped up. Had I been that obvious? Could Tori sense that I had my own issues and had no business giving advice to anyone?
“What is?” I asked cautiously.
“The office. You aren’t the first to bug out over the mess in here.” She laughed again, and I smiled. I liked Tori. She had an easiness about her that made her less intimidating than other people. No wonder she ran the center.
“No . . . It’s fine. Really,” I said, though I couldn’t keep my eyes from scanning the room again. “But maybe I could straighten it for you while I’m in here.”
“Seriously?” she asked. “That would be amazing. I just have no time to do it myself. Are you sure you wouldn’t mind?”
“Not at all,” I said. “I’m sort of a clean freak. It’s almost fun for me.”
She looked at me like I was a crazy person.
“I know.” I laughed. “But my parents are both doctors, so they’ve always pushed the importance of cleanliness and organization and . . . Sorry, I’m talking too much, aren’t I? I’ll just get started.”
She grinned again. “You’re fine. Here’s the paperwork,” she said, handing me a paper-clipped set of sheets. “Fill out the first and sign the next two. Then, this,” she said, motioning around the room, “is all yours. Let me know if you need anything!” And then she was out the door and down the hall before I could ask where she wanted what.
I glanced around the office. Clearly, I needed a lobotomy for agreeing to clean this disaster. I sat down in the chair Tori had cleaned off for me and began to read over the confidentiality document. As my eyes scanned over the boring legal jargon, my mind drifted back to my senior year of high school. Would I have ended up somewhere like this if I’d had time to think through my decision, if I had waited to tell Mom? What would have happened if I’d told Preston first? I no longer had romantic feelings of any kind for him, but it wasn’t lost on me how nicely he treated Olivia and how different it was from the way Ethan treated me. It wasn’t that Ethan was bad. It was just . . . different.
I signed my name to the document and set it on a table by the door, then walked over to Tori’s desk to begin organizing. I tried not to pay attention to the information that was actually printed on any of the documents, beyond reading it enough to know how to sort the papers. I knew I’d just signed a confidentiality agreement, but something told me I shouldn’t be seeing some of the things here. It spoke to Tori’s easiness that she even allowed me inside her office.
I sorted all of the papers on her desk into three neat stacks and placed a Post-it note on top with the contents of each stack—confidentiality agreements, bills, etc. Then I went over and began organizing her tables. My phone vibrated in my pocket, and I pulled it out to find several texts in a row from my mother, who wanted to know whether I was going to stay in Charleston for the summer or come home.
She was likely in her office at the hospital, her lips pursed as she stared down at my name in her phone. I’d avoided the topic of summer vacation every time I spoke to her, even though spring semester was quickly coming to an end. She just wanted me to come home so she could double-check that my moral compass was still pointing due north, but the thought of going back there made me want to curl into a ball and cry for the rest of my life. I kept trying to find reasons for me to stay in Charleston. Responsible reasons. But the only one I’d come up with was a part-time job as a bartender downtown, which, let’s face it, was less about being responsible and more about learning how to throw a liquor bottle into the air and catch it before it shattered on the ground. I still hadn’t ruled it out as a possibility.
I adjusted the rest of Tori’s office, and then peeked out the door in search of the bathroom. I had spotted a restroom sign on a door down the hall and had just left Tori’s office for it, when the door across from Tori’s opened and the teen girl stepped out, her eyes bloodshot and her face puffy. An older female exited the room after her, patting her back, and I assumed she must be the counselor who was helping the teen, but I couldn’t force my gaze away from the girl’s. She glanced up at me and then away, her hands going instinctively to her stomach, like she was trying to shield it from my judgment. I cut my eyes away, wishing I could offer her a smile, a nod, something that said everything would be okay, but all I could do was rush down the hall and close myself in the bathroom, my eyes shut tightly as I tried to keep my own tears from falling.
Maybe working at Helping Hands wasn’t such a good idea after all.
I parked my car outside my apartment, opened the car door, and immediately jerked my head toward the clubhouse, which was teeming with music. It wasn’t unusual for Charleston Haven to have local bands play by the pool or DJs come in to spin at the clubhouse on the weekends.
I glanced up to see Olivia and Preston on the balcony of our apartment. “Hey! What are you doing?” I shouted.
“They’re having a water balloon fight at the pool. Want to go down?”
I eyed the pool closest to us, and sure enough, there were countless brightly colored balloons being thrown around, followed by squeals and laughter as the balloons burst, usually on the girls. I cringed. I just wanted to go upstairs and take a shower and forget the petrified look on the face of the teen girl from Helping Hands.
“We’re coming down. Don’t move!” Olivia called.
I sighed heavily and closed my car door, waiting for them to arrive, and that’s when my gaze landed on the red Jeep parked a few cars away, the University of Georgia sticker plastered on it for all to see.
“Hey,” Olivia said as they reached me.
I grinned up at her. “Where is he?”
She smiled, shaking her head. “You weren’t supposed to find out until you saw him. He’s at the pool. Act surprised.”
I took off running toward the clubhouse, disappearing through the doors and down the steps to the outdoor pool closest to my apartment. My eyes raked over the crowd and then landed on a guy standing just outside the pool, his skin shimmering under water droplets, his hair falling in drenched waves around his face. I tried not to gawk at the tattoos that marked every bit of skin on his arms, or the six-pack that made me want to eat things off his stomach.
I cringed as my thoughts sunk in. Ugh! What was wrong with me?
“Hey there,” a familiar voice said from behind me, followed by the feeling of warm arms wrapping around my waist.
I jumped, and then catching my mistake, spun in Ethan’s arms and rose onto my toes. I kissed his lips, desperate to think and feel all things Ethan, so maybe I could stop thinking and feeling all things . . . Colt.
“What are you doing here?” I squealed.
Ethan grinned. “Preston told me about that party at Sarah’s, so I decided to surprise you since I was going to be gone this weekend. You don’t mind that Colt came up with me, do you? He’s coming with me on the fishing trip, so I thought I’d ask him along for this part, too. That cool?”
I plastered on the fakest smile I’ve ever faked in my life. “Of course! He can crash on the couch tonight.”
Just then, Colt arrived beside us, his golden, wet skin glistening in the afternoon sun. I had to tell myself to breathe, breathe, breathe, because all the blood had rushed from my head—and had gone to other areas—at the sight of him. Thank God this was just an empty attraction and nothing more.
“Colt. Hey,” I said, hoping my voice sounded semi-even.
“G’day,” he said, his voice low and rough. It was the sort of voice that caused a reaction without even trying to. He ran a hand through his hair. “I wouldn’t go in if I were you,” he said, nodding toward the pool. “That water’ll freeze the balls off a brass monkey.”
I grinned. “Why do you sometimes sound Australian and other times American?” Immediately, I wished I could clamp my mouth shut and never speak again. I hadn’t spoken to Colt enough to know the way he talks at all. Saying this just let on how attuned I was to him.
He stared at me for a moment, then looked away, suddenly uncomfortable. “Eh, what can I say? I’m an international mutt. My mum’s from Sydney, my dad’s from L.A. originally, and then he moved me out to Atlanta with him when he got his new job two years ago.”
I wanted to ask why his mom was in Sydney when his dad was here in the States, but I didn’t want to pry and I didn’t want to know any more personal details about him. I could handle an empty attraction. Anything more would be dangerous. But when I glanced up, I found Colt watching me, like he knew I wanted more and was testing me, waiting to see whether I would be like every other person on the planet or whether I would back away from the bait.
I dropped my gaze. “I’ve always wanted to visit Sydney.”
“You should. It’s my favorite place. Well, other than here.”
My eyes cut up to his, and I felt a tingle move down my spine. Did he hold every girl’s gaze like that?
“Who’s swimming?” Preston called from behind me, and then we all made our way over to a section of chairs by the pool that were free. Olivia and Sarah spread out their towels on two of the chairs, and I sat down on a third, Ethan at the foot of the chair between my legs. Sunglasses covered his eyes, but I could tell that he was checking out the girls in the pool, half of them wearing swimsuits made of strings and little else. I knew that I should care that he was looking at them, that I should feel jealous or angry or something, but none of those feelings came. Instead, I felt a surge of relief. Like maybe if he was looking at others . . . then I could, too.
I cursed myself for being such a crappy girlfriend and reached down for the hem of my T-shirt. It was hotter than hot outside, so I pulled the shirt over my head, revealing my white tank top underneath, and leaned back against my chair. I opened my eyes to find Colt standing to our right, his eyes locked on me. I expected him to look away, but instead he walked over and sat in the chair beside me, ignoring the pleas from Ethan and Preston to go into the water. Sarah and Olivia followed the boys, and suddenly, it was just me and Colt, lying in chairs beside one another.
“Why didn’t you ask about my mum?” he asked after a minute.
I draped an arm over my head to help block the sun and squinted up at him. “Because you didn’t look like you wanted to talk about it and it isn’t my business.”
“That’s never kept anyone else from asking.”
“Maybe I’m not like everyone else.”
His gaze settled on my face, steady and sure. “I’m starting to see that.”
“Why do you put those crazy things up on Facebook?” I asked, because I was evidently Kara the Curious Cat. Gah, why couldn’t I keep my mouth shut around him?
He smirked. “Why do you always put up song lyrics?”
My eyes widened. He laughed, and the sound was the most comforting thing I’d heard in a long time. Colt had been on my Facebook page. More than once. Maybe every day.
“They make me feel better,” I said, realizing the truth of my words.
He leaned his head back against his chair and rotated it to face me. “Why do you need to feel better?”
“Don’t you? Don’t we all?”
He opened his mouth to reply when a surge of water landed on both of us. I jerked up to see Ethan splashing around in the water with some girl I didn’t know. Again, I searched my heart for some hint that it bothered me, but the ache never came.
“Doesn’t that piss you off?” Colt asked, his eyes trained on the scene in the pool.
I swallowed. “It pisses me off to look like the fool girlfriend that’s putting up with it, but do I actually care?” I hesitated, glancing back at Ethan, at the smile on his face as he splashed the girl. “That hasn’t bothered me in a long, long time.”
“Is that normal?”
I laughed. Who was I to know normal? “No clue. Would you be angry?”
His eyes swept down me, before returning to my face. “If you were mine, and you were in that pool with some bloke I didn’t know? Hell yes. I don’t play games.”
My breathing had stopped at if you were mine, and now I was struggling to stop looking at his lips, all full and inviting. My eyes lifted back to his, and his expression said that he knew exactly what I was thinking.
“Why aren’t you in there? With them?” I asked.
“Because I’d rather be here. If that’s okay with you.”
I considered him, wishing I had the gall to ask what he meant by that, when Ethan came barreling out of the pool, lifted me over his shoulder, and then tossed me into the water.
I splashed to the surface and pushed my hair out of my eyes. “I’m not wearing a swimsuit!”
Ethan grinned as he swam over to me. “I know. That’s what makes it so funny.” I glanced around to find everyone in and out of the pool laughing. Everyone except Colt, whose eyes were full of something else. Something very different than humor.
I glanced down at my white tank top, and sure enough, my bra was perfectly visible for anyone to see. I ducked back into the water to shield myself, anger surging through me. “Get me a towel. Now,” I said. But it was Colt who showed up at the pool’s stairs with a towel held out.
“Thanks, man,” Ethan said as he helped me out. I wanted to jerk away from him, to go off on him properly, but I didn’t want to cause a scene. Instead, I gritted my teeth together and glared at him. Then sadness engulfed me as I realized that a year ago, maybe even six months ago, I wouldn’t have been angry. I would have laughed along with everyone else. Everything felt different now. Maybe Preston was right. Maybe I was angry with Ethan all the time.
I didn’t want to think about what that might mean, at least not today. Maybe tomorrow I would. There was always tomorrow. Tonight was Sarah’s party, and for once I didn’t want to think about all the stress in my life.