|Publisher:||Penguin Random House LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.48(d)|
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By Kate L. Mary
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Kate L. Mary
All rights reserved.
I was doing my best to maintain my pout in the backseat as Dad turned onto George Street. "Tell me again why I have to live in the dorms while Ryan gets an apartment downtown?"
We had two weeks left until school started, but my cousin Ryan had moved into his apartment the previous weekend. At the time I'd been too busy saying good-bye to all my high school friends to help him, but now that they were gone, I was dying to see the place. And I was dying from envy. The dorms were like a prison in comparison.
"You're a freshman and Ryan isn't." Mama didn't even bother looking back at me.
"Plus, he did all that work for me this summer to help pay for it. You went to the beach." Dad's eyes met mine in the rearview mirror and he grinned.
He acted amused by my pouting, which totally sucked. I used to be able to get my way just by sticking out my bottom lip. Of course, I was only four years old at the time, but still!
"You're too spoiled, Cami." Mama shook her head and made a little tsk-tsk sound. She acted like she was trying to figure out where she had gone wrong in raising me. Which was ridiculous. I was the perfect daughter. "We should have made you work for more things when you were little. You expect everything to be handed to you."
Dad's eyes met mine again and they twinkled in a way that made it tough for me to keep the frown on my face. "Ryan would never have asked us to pay for his apartment."
"But you are!" I threw my arms up in mock exasperation even though we all knew it was mostly for show. I was thrilled to head off to college, even if I had to live in the ugly dorm.
"We're paying for half." Dad winked and, despite my best effort, my lips twitched. He knew just how to get to me. "It's less than what we were paying for room and board, that's for sure."
Ugh. I rolled my eyes and relaxed into the seat. There was no arguing with him when he insisted on being so reasonable. Didn't he know how unfair that was?
Dad slowed to a stop in front of the apartment, then backed into the only available spot on the side of the street. I craned my neck so I could look over my shoulder, watching his slow progress into the space. I hated parallel parking, but he did it with such ease. I didn't have a clue how. He'd tried his best to teach me, but that lesson had resulted in me sideswiping a BMW, which then caused a huge spike in our insurance premiums. After that, he declared that I was not allowed to park anywhere downtown unless it was a parking garage, which was annoying. They always smelled like pee.
As soon as the car came to a complete stop, I threw the back door open and hopped out. The humid air made my skin sticky in less than two seconds. I hated the icky feeling of being sweaty, but I was used to it. I grew up in South Carolina, after all, right on the Ashley River. Humid summers, mosquitos, Spanish moss, and gators were just part of everyday life for me. Along with sweet tea, fried food, pralines, and beaches, which seemed to balance all the bad stuff out.
Mama went to the back of the car, and Dad followed. I was too busy eyeing the building to ask if they needed help carrying things. Inspecting it for flaws, really. It wasn't new and it wasn't old enough to have the charm most of downtown Charleston had. The building was made of plain orange brick. It looked like a regular apartment. Good.
"Camilla Jane," Mama called. "Come back here and give us a hand."
I harrumphed as I headed to the back, where my parents were busy unloading all the delicacies Mama had spent the last two days making for Ryan: casseroles to freeze and cookies by the dozens, plus a few sweet potato pies. Then there was the fried chicken she'd made right before we left home. When she handed me that dish, the bottom was still warm. I could smell the greasy goodness through the ceramic and foil, and it was enough to make my stomach rumble and bring me out of my dark mood.
I was more than ready to get upstairs so we could rip into it. There was some corn on the cob somewhere in the car too, and buttermilk biscuits. There weren't many things in this world better than Mama's buttermilk biscuits. But I needed to be careful. Didn't want to put on my freshman fifteen the first week of school.
Mama and Dad crossed the street and I trailed behind them. They'd reached the building and hit the intercom button, and Ryan had buzzed them in before I even made it onto the sidewalk.
"Quit dragging your feet, Cami." Mama's mouth scrunched up and I almost laughed. I made the exact same face when I was annoyed.
We headed up the stairs together, and we had just reached his floor when I thought of the perfect argument as to why Ryan shouldn't be allowed to have his own apartment.
"You know he isn't just ditching me," I said, arching one eyebrow at Mama as we walked down the hall. "He's ditching Chris too. If Chris couldn't afford an apartment, Ryan should have been considerate enough to wait until next year." I flashed her a triumphant smile as we stopped outside the door. If my hands weren't full of chicken, I would have patted myself on the back. Now I was the one with a good point. Chris and Ryan had been best friends forever, and Ryan was a total jerk for ditching him.
Mama rolled her eyes, obviously unaware of my total genius. "Because that's what you would have done."
My chest tightened and I stuck out my chin. "For my best friend? Yes."
She has no clue what she's talking about, does she, Julie?
Mama's eyes shimmered a little as she turned away from me, and her lips tightened. She knocked on the door a little harder than necessary, and it suddenly felt like all the joy of the moment had been sucked away. Just a part of everyday life for me, but Mama was trying to move on. Something I didn't know how to do.
Thankfully, we were saved from the oppressive hallway when Ryan ripped the door open a millisecond later. His smile was so bright, it almost blinded me. Just having him near helped ease the pain inside my chest. Ryan always had been my rock.
"Hey! Come in!" He opened the door wide enough for us to go through, kissing Mama on the cheek and slapping Dad on the back.
Mama gave him a look that oozed motherly love, and her eyes swept over him. She shook her head. "I brought food so you don't starve. You're practically skin and bones already! And you need a haircut!"
Ryan swiped his hand through his wavy, dirty blond hair. "I like it long."
"Don't listen to her, Ryan. She just has that empty nest thing going on," Dad said, giving Mama a push so she'd move into the apartment.
I didn't have a clue what he was talking about, but she was nuts. Ryan was like a brother to me since we'd grown up together, but my friends didn't have a problem drooling over him every chance they got.
Ryan chuckled as he turned to face me, and his gray eyes twinkled. "It's about time you came to visit. Liam was beginning to think I'd made you up."
He took the casserole dish I was holding, then wrapped me in a bear hug with his free arm. When he pulled back and smiled down at me, I could tell he was genuinely excited for me to see his new place.
Damn him and those adorable dimples. He made it impossible for me to stay annoyed about the apartment situation.
"I wanted to come before, but everyone was going away and there were parties to go to."
"I see how I rate," he said in mock-hurt, stepping back so I could go in.
"Don't be dumb, dummy. I get to see you all the time now!" I elbowed him in the stomach on my way by. "I don't get to see the girls again until Thanksgiving."
The apartment was small and pretty much what I expected. He and Liam had furnished it with secondhand stuff, most of which they'd gotten off Craigslist. The couch was plaid and ugly, but clean-looking and not as worn as I'd expected. The tables were dinged up, but sturdy. The only thing they'd splurged on—other than the beer that Ryan had most certainly hidden before my parents arrived—was the massive TV. It almost looked like a movie screen in the tiny living room.
Ryan held the casserole dish up to his nose and took a big whiff, then headed for the kitchen, where Mama and Dad were already unpacking the food and filling the fridge. "Aunt Becky, is this fried chicken?"
"Of course. Now, what in the world do you have going on in this freezer, Ryan?" She pulled out a frozen bean burrito and wrinkled her nose. "This will kill you."
"Like southern food is healthy," Dad said with a chuckle.
Mama put her free hand on her hip and pointed the burrito at Dad. "Excuse me, but my homemade fried chicken has never killed anyone. The chemicals in this thing most definitely have!"
She went off on a tangent, listing the merits of home-cooked meals while Dad named every fried dish she'd ever served us. It made my stomach rumble and my mouth fill with saliva, so I tuned them out and headed to the back of the apartment. I wanted to check out Ryan's room, anyway.
The first door I came to was slightly ajar. I recognized Ryan's bedspread and pushed the door open the rest of the way. It was insanely neat, just like his room at home always was. I used to think he kept it that way to make my parents happy. Like he was afraid they'd leave him, too, if he didn't do everything perfectly. Then I realized that was just Ryan. Mister straight and narrow, always do what's right, don't rock the boat and all that shit. It should have annoyed me, but it didn't. I just couldn't be mad at Ryan. There wasn't a time I could remember when we'd had an argument that lasted more than a few hours. He was too nice. Too good.
Sometimes I hated his parents for leaving him the way they did.
"Snooping?" came a smooth British voice from behind me.
I spun around and the second my eyes met Liam's, my heart beat faster.
Ryan had already told me Liam was from England, and for some reason I'd pictured him being tall and thin, and very pale with a face full of freckles. In my mind he sat around all day watching rugby while he drank tea from a delicate porcelain cup, toasting the queen every chance he got.
That didn't even come close to describing the guy standing in front of me.
Liam's blond hair had a messy look that I found incredibly sexy. As if someone had just run their fingers through it. Boy, did I wish it had been me! His smile was sweet, but naughty at the same time, and his bottom teeth were slightly crooked, just enough to give him a boyish and endearing appearance. He'd obviously been out in the sun a lot over the summer, because he had a small splash of freckles across his nose. But it was cute, and they didn't make him look dorky or washed out, the way I'd imagined in my head. Then there were those eyes. Talk about blue. Like the deep sea or the late-night sky. Something you could get lost in if you stared long enough.
"You must be Cami," he said when I didn't speak.
"I am." That was probably the fewest number of words I'd ever said since learning to talk. I swallowed and tried again. "And you're Liam. I don't know why we haven't met before now. I've met most of Ryan's other friends and he talks about you all the time. I mean, not in a creepy way. He just tells me funny stories about you guys going to bars and stuff. I think he does it to make me jealous, though. He knows I love to go out and have fun and party, and he's just mean enough to rub it in. But not really. I mean, Ryan isn't mean. He's never done a mean thing in his life!" I was talking too fast to really keep track of the words coming out, but I was aware enough to know I probably sounded like a broken record. Why did I keep saying the word mean?
Liam's lips twitched and his eyebrows shot up. I slammed my mouth shut because I knew I was babbling. Most of the time guys hated that about me. I did not want Liam to hate me. It's just that I had a really tough time controlling the stuff that came out of my mouth.
"Nervous talker?" Liam's eyes twinkled like I was the most amusing thing he'd ever seen.
I snorted, and even though I knew it was a really bad idea to let all the stuff swirling around in my head come out, there was no way I could keep my mouth shut after that comment. "No! You must have a pretty high opinion of yourself if you think your British accent and imitation sex hair can somehow make me all tongue-tied and awkward. I just talk a lot. Let's face it, most people don't have many interesting things to say, but I do. I have gobs and gobs of fascinating thoughts going through my head at any given moment, and I feel like it's my duty to share them with the world."
"Imitation sex hair?" Liam pressed his lips together like he was trying to hold back a chuckle, but it forced its way out. It was so adorable, I swear my knees wobbled.
I maintained as much composure as possible as I waved my hand toward his head, almost like I was trying to cast a spell. "Yeah. Isn't that what you have going on there? I'm on to your little scheme. Guys like you have that sexy, messy hair for a reason. It's specifically designed to make girls wonder how it came to be so messy, and wish they'd been the one to help you with it in the first place. Bam!" I clapped my hands in front of his face. "Next thing you know you're in bed together."
"Bam?" Liam smirked and leaned against the wall. "I don't recall that sound effect ever gracing my bedroom."
My cheeks flushed when my mind wandered to what went on in his bedroom and the sound effects that would most likely go along with it. Just like that, I was back to thinking about running my fingers through his blond hair. Damn him and his imitation sex hair!
"I don't need to know about all that," I said, trying to look bored and uninterested. My cheeks were hot, though, and I was pretty sure he could see right through me. "Whatever goes on behind your closed door is your business. I was just pointing out the obvious."
"That I'm sexy?" His smile grew wider while he waited for me to respond.
"That's not what I said."
He shrugged and I did my best not to let his adorable smile hypnotize me. "It was implied."
"I'm sure you're used to American girls falling all over you, but I'm not so easily fooled. Strip away the accent and you're just a guy with freckles who needs to get a tan. I mean, have you ever heard of the sun?"
Liam pushed himself off the wall and took a step closer until there were only a few inches of space between us. His blue eyes held mine, and the corner of his mouth lifted into a very sexy half-smile. If his charms had been lost on me before—which they hadn't—they would have been screamingly obvious at that point. He leaned closer and my heart pounded. The air around us sizzled with sexual tension. He flicked the hair off my shoulder and my skin tingled when his fingertips brushed against my neck.
"I'm not so easily fooled." His eyes trailed over my face to my lips, then back up to my eyes.
I swear, my thighs clenched together on their own. It was like he had some kind of magical sex powers to go along with that sex hair of his.
I smiled sweetly. "Wishful thinking?"
Liam didn't respond. He just stood there staring at me for a few seconds as I waited for some witty comeback. I could tell he had one by the way his blue eyes sparkled.
"Were you done?" he finally said.
That wasn't what I was expecting. "Yes?"
"Just checking. I know how you love to hear yourself talk."
Oh, he had me pegged. "Probably just as much as you like staring at yourself in the mirror."
He threw his head back and laughed. "Because I'm conceited? Is that what you mean?"
"Of course. I didn't think I was being subtle."
"Not at all." He cocked his head to the side and studied me for a few seconds. "So you just say whatever bloody comes into your mind then, is that it?"
"I don't really see the point in holding back. Like I said, I have fascinating things to say." I batted my eyelashes at him innocently.
"Who's conceited now?"
I laughed and it hit me for the first time that I was smiling so much my cheeks actually ached. Not only that, but I wanted to keep Liam in the hallway with me so we could continue our playful conversation. Talking to him was fun, and it didn't have a whole lot to do with his looks. I mean, sure, he was super-hot, but he was charming too. A deadly combination.
I arched an eyebrow at him. "Conceited, no. Confident, yes."
Excerpted from No Regrets by Kate L. Mary. Copyright © 2015 Kate L. Mary. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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