“I mean, I’m going to miss everyone—you, too—when school ends.”
The truth was that Jensen had always been a bit on the quiet side. Had, being the key word. I had no idea how Jensen was now. I shook my head and then tucked a strand of hair back behind my ear. “Why are we talking about this again?”
“Whatever, then we’ll both be single our senior year. Probably better that way.” Grinning in a way I knew would’ve lit up her dark eyes, she held her bottle high between us. “To our senior year! Cheers, baby!”
Unsure of which beer to toast now that I was the one double fisting, I raised the half empty one and knocked it off her bottle. “This is going to be a great year.”
“Yes, it is. It’s going to be even more great if we stop sitting out here by ourselves like total freaks.”
I laughed. “All right. Let me, uh…” Not wanting to leave a bottle out in the field, I shrugged. “Never mind.”
Rising to my feet, I shimmied my hips until my dress situated itself. “Do I have any dirt on my butt? Or bugs? Are there any bugs on me? You’d let—”
Linds snorted. “There’s no bugs on you, you freak. Here…” She smacked at my butt with enough force to move me a couple of inches. “If you did, not anymore.”
“Thanks.” I turned around, eyeing her. “I feel like I’ve just been violated, by the way.”
“Shut up.” Looping her arm through mine, she grinned. “You liked it. Everyone likes a Lindsey level of butt fondling.”
“That’s what I hear.”
She sucked in a sharp gasp. “Bitch.”
A laugh curled through the night air as her arm tightened around mine. “Love you.”
“Love you long time,” I replied, grinning as we hoofed it up the slight hill and the party came into view once more. Apparently I’d been hiding out for a longer time than I realized. “Wow.”
Bright light streamed over the large patio and packed pool. Little dots fluttered in the stream of light, almost like glitter… if glitter wasn’t in the form of bugs that most likely bit the every loving crap out of you.
I really needed to stop thinking about bugs.
The thump of music was broken up by shouts and laughter. Water sprayed into the air, dousing a cluster of girls in heels that stood too close as a guy who I think was on the football team power bombed the pool, causing a splash big enough to drench half of our senior class.
My eyes scanned for friendly faces and ended up on a whole lot of male flesh. The group of shirtless guys standing near the cooled gas grill was the who’s who of hot guys at MHS. All of them played one sport or the other—football, soccer, baseball or basketball. And all of them took playing sports seriously.
Thank. God and Lind’s baby Jesus for that.
Their dedication to various favorite American pastimes packed on the biceps and cut those stomachs into tight little rolls that made a girl think about doing stupid things. Lots of stupid things.
Whoever said that only boys were visual creatures weren’t looking in the right place, because there was all kinds of eye candy going on in front of us.
Brock was the one closest to the grill, wearing black swimming trunks. His close-cropped dark hair gave him away, as did the way he tipped his head back and let out a loud laugh, and my lips responded to the sound. He was always friendly and fun to be around… when he wanted to be.
My freshman year I might have harbored a split-second crush on him, but he’d been dating Monica Graham —one of the high-heeled and now wet girls by the pool—on and off. He’d never been available to really hardcore crush on, but according to his Facebook relationship status updated two weeks ago, he was single. And when Brock was single, he liked to play. Everyone at school knew that.
Beside him was Mason Broome—a soccer player slash stoner. His blond hair was loose and reached his shoulders. Currently, he was thrusting his hips… at the air. Interesting. Linds had hooked up with Mason over the summer. It didn’t go anywhere, but I think she still had the hots for him based on the way she was eyeing that hip motion.
Across from them, staring into the pool like he wanted to be anywhere than where he was at that moment was the one and only Jensen Carver.
I was totally woman enough to admit that he was at a level of hotness that was code panty dropping. Bad attitude and our past history together aside, he was the best-looking guy I’d ever seen in real life.
Jensen had light brown hair that would almost look dirty blond if he was out in the sun. It was wavy and had a habit of falling onto his forehead. When he was younger, it had been long enough to constantly be in his eyes. He had broad, high cheekbones and a strong, cut jaw and lips that were… well, the kind of full lips on a guy that sort of made the knees weak when the idea of kissing them popped in the head. The slight hook in his nose, an injury from a football game years before, when he played in a different state, somehow added to his looks. His eyes were a light blue; sometimes gray. Not that I paid that much attention to his eyes. And his body?
Boy worked out. Hard, too.
Out of all the guys standing there, he was probably the leanest and the tallest. While Brock and the rest were broad, linebacker style, he was a good foot taller than the rest of them and he had the kind of abs I wanted to poke to see if they were real.
“I wonder if that chick knows I can see her pink bra through her shirt?” Linds commented. “Nice.”
I had no idea who she was talking about now, but I was grateful for the distraction. I didn’t need to be staring at Jensen. Linds shouted something and the boys turned. One of them raised a cellphone.
“Hey!” I raised the bottles and popped out my hip, cheesing it up for the camera right along with Linds. The flash went off like a mini sun explosion. “How stupid did I look?”
Brock cocked his head to the side, assessing me. The look… well, the tips of my cheeks heated. “You look hot. As always.”
So was not expecting that response. My cheeks continued to burn as I lowered the bottles so I wasn’t standing there like a drunk Muppet baby. I glanced at Linds, and her eyes were darting back and forth between Brock and me. “Um, thanks.”
He grinned. “No problem. You drinking for two tonight?”
Instead of saying no and explaining I wasn’t quite sure how I ended up still holding two beers like a total loser, I shrugged. “Sure. Why not?
“Cool.” Brock glanced over his shoulder at something Charlie Lopez said. He was a big guy with a big smile. I had no idea what he said, but Brock nodded.
“You girls having fun?” Mason asked, returning Linds’ earlier look, except he made it seem like she wasn’t wearing any clothes.
She nodded. “Yeah, we’re ready to get this party started.”
I slid her a look that said we are? But the boys opened up into a half circle and somehow I managed to get rid of the warm beer bottle and had enough sense to pass on the jello shooters. I was a lightweight, and since I’d driven myself to the party, I didn’t want to end up some tragic statistic they constantly talked about in health class. The conversation flowed back and forth, with the exception of Jensen. He was now staring into the field I’d just come from, that angular jaw tense.
“You’re not going to WVU, are you?” Brock asked, angling his large body toward mine, surprising me. How in the world had he known? He grinned, and I realized I’d asked the question out loud. Niiice. “Linds must’ve told Mason. He was telling me a few weeks back.”
Made sense. I guessed. “Yeah, I want to get out of the state and see some different faces, you know?”
“True. I get that. If it wasn’t for football, I’d be doing the same thing.” He flashed a perfect smile, which was full of perfect white teeth. And he was closer, his arm brushing mine every time he raised his bottle to his lips. “We’re going to miss you. I know I will.”
My lips curved up at the corners at the unexpected statement, though I doubted the sincerity behind it. “Thanks.” I frowned, wondering what the hell I was thanking him for. His smile spread.
“But we have this whole year ahead of us. We’ve got to make it memorable.” He caught a strand of my blonde hair and tucked it back behind my ear, and I swore the conversation around us grinded to a halt for a moment or two. “Right?”
I found myself nodding as my gaze slid away from Brock’s and collided with Jensen’s. He was staring at me, and it was too dark for me to pick out his current eye color, and now I was staring at him. For the life of me, I couldn’t look away. A muscle thrummed steadily along his jaw as he raised a bottle to his lips, eyeing me over the rim as he took a drink.
And yep, I was still staring at him.
I looked away quickly, blinking rapidly. Monica was now standing at the fringe of our little group. She was gorgeous, just like Shawna and Wendy, her closest friends since the days of the sandbox.
Jensen and Wendy had dated for a whole two weeks last year, after he moved back to town. The perky, tiny blonde had been all over him during that short period of time, turning the cafeteria and hallways into a soft porn set. And now she was beside him, leaning in so close her boobs were practically mating with his chest.
It was a lovely chest to mate with.
Monica smiled at me as she tossed her super shiny mane of black hair over her shoulder, and I wiggled my fingers around the bottle in return, thinking she should be in a Pantene commercial.
Linds’ sudden wild giggle whipped my head around. Mason’s face was buried in her neck. He was either whispering something or licking her. One or the other. Either was possible. Everyone was breaking off into couple-dome, and somehow I was standing with Brock.
What in the world was happening here?
He drifted closer, his shoulder pressing into mine. “You wanna talk for a few? Someplace away from these idiots?”
My mouth dried. Momma didn’t raise no fool. Talk was code word for anything other than talking. As handsome as I found Brock, I was so not going to turn into his friend with bennies until he decided he could no longer live without Monica.
I started to step away just as Jensen turned, tossing his bottle into a nearby trashcan. My gaze tripped across his face and my heart skipped a beat. His complexion looked darker, as if he’d been blushing and his lips were tightened into a thin line.
“I’m out,” he announced, digging a set of keys out of the pocket of his swim trunks.
“What?” shouted Charlie, moving to follow Jensen, dragging Shawna behind him. “You are so not out!”
Jensen kept walking.
“Leave him be!” yelled Brock as he snaked an arm around my waist. “Something’s done crawled up his ass. Let him go spend some alone time with it.”
As Jensen strode down the side of the pool, he tossed his arm up, flipping us off. Brock threw his head back, letting out a loud laugh. With Charlie chasing after Jensen and Linds one step closer to making babies with Mason, I was left alone with Brock.
Whose hand had slipped down the curve of my back and then lower. He squeezed, and I squeaked.
“Jumpy?” he asked, dipping his head dived for my neck. I darted to the side before he could complete whatever he was trying to accomplish. He looked up, frowning. “What? Don’t you want to talk?”
His almost sleepy stare crawled down the front of me once more. “I like the dress. Is it new?”
Actually, it was. I’d gotten the yellow strapless sundress just for this party. My mom said yellow was best for my fair skin and light hair. For once, she was right. Forcing a smile, I took a step back. “It is.”
“It’s nice. You look hot in it.”
“Thank you,” I murmured, bouncing into the flat wall of the pool house.
Brock came forward, the bottle of beer dangling from his fingers. “You’re so hot.”
My eyes widened as he planted his hand into the side of the house next to my head. I darted under his arm. He spun around, frowning again, in a confused way.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’ve got to get home. Curfew and all,” I lied. It had been many moons since I worried with a curfew, but if he said hot one more time I might vomit. “But it’s been fun. Got to go. Bye!”
Brock started toward me, but his gaze darted to the right and his brows slammed down. “Hey!” he shouted. “Who in the hell let you all in here?”
I looked over, spying three skinny underclassmen that looked like they also had no idea what they were doing here. The three boys huddled together, throwing panicky looks at one another. Something about the sight of them pierced my chest, reminding me of—I shook my head, clearing my thoughts.
Brock tossed his beer bottle to the side, where it bounced off a shrub and then shattered on the walkway. “Charlie!” he yelled, grinning in a way that caused my stomach to dip. He looked like a lion about to pounce on a three-legged gazelle. “Look at what we have here.”
I had no idea where Charlie was, but I took full use of the distraction and spun around, hurrying back to the cluster of dancing bodies, dropping my almost full beer bottle in the trash. My eyes searched for Linds, but she and Mason were nowhere to be found.
Deciding it was way past the time for me to make an exit, so I didn’t end up hanging around and doing something stupid, I dipped inside and grabbed my keys from where I’d left them near an unused breadbox. I figured when I got home, I could pick up the last Black Dagger Brotherhood book that was patiently waiting for me on my pillow. I don’t know what it was about gangsta talking vampires that made me about seven different kinds of happy but it did. The only other books to do that were the ones I stole from mom when she wasn’t paying attention. The Kristen Ashley romance books.
They made me want to move to Colorado.
Linds liked to give me a hard time about having my nose stuck in the book, but sometimes I needed to get my head out of real life and reading was the best and quickest way to do it.
Back outside, I headed toward the gate leading to the front of the house. As I crossed the lawn, the sounds of the party faded into the background.
I needed to text Linds, letting her know I’d left, but my cell was in my car. Telling myself not to forget, I passed the tall hedges blocking the yard from the dark road in front of Brock’s house.
His house was the only one for at least a mile on the isolated stretch of road, but tonight, the sides of the street were packed with cars, and I had to park where it felt like a million miles away from the house.
Wrapping my arms around my waist, I picked up my pace. My sandals smacked off the cracked asphalt, echoing around me. As dark as it was, with no street lamps and only thin slivers of moonlight stretching across the road, it was an eerie, too long walk.
I kept waiting for Big Foot to barrel out from the thick stand of trees crowding the road. Or maybe the Mothman, after all, I did live in West Virginia.
A shiver coursed down my spine as I pictured a giant winged creature flying out from the trees and then cursed my imagination. Not what I needed to be thinking about when there was no one around.
When I spotted my car, a wide smile broke out across my face. Almost there. My fingers tightened on the keys as I stopped at the driver’s door, pushing my finger down on the unlock button.
My car chirped a hello.
My sandals still smacked off the asphalt.
No. Wait. Another shiver tiptoed down my spine. I wasn’t walking, so those footsteps… they weren’t mine.
Tiny hairs rose along the back of my neck as I whirled around, quickly scanning the dark road around me. Air caught in my throat as I squinted into the thick shadows between the cars.
I saw nothing.
Seconds past and I didn’t dare move or breathe too loudly. My ears strained to hear the footsteps, but there was nothing but the low hum of insects that came out at night. What if there really was a Big Foot? Or a chupacabra?
Or a giant, flesh eating stinkbug?
Now I was just be
No one was out here. It was just another case of Ella’s Overactive Imagination. Instead of planning on attending college for a law degree, I should major in creative writing. The way I could creep myself out over something so harmless, I could be the low rent version of Stephen King or something.
Laughing softly, I turned back to my car and reached for the door handle. The tips of my fingers brushed over the metal just as a rush of warm air stirred the hair next to my temple.
That was the only warning.
Every instinct in my body flared alive, screaming out a warning, but it was too late. A hand smacked down on my mouth. Jerking back suddenly, my keys slipped from my fingers, clanging off the road.
My brain grinded to a halt, unable to process what was happening. In the next second, my feet were off the ground and space was increasing between my car and me. I was being hauled away—carried backward.
Horror seized my insides in an icy grip, snapping me out of my