Scorched, Page 2J. Lynn
“So you say,” he replied, walking down the hall.
I prowled after him, ignoring the exasperated noise coming from Syd. “What? Tanner-man, you don’t want me to go to the cabin?”
“Do I really need to answer that question, Andy?” He headed for the galley kitchen.
My lip curled. I hated that nickname. Made me feel like a dude with big shoulders…and I kind of did have man shoulders. Before I could reply, Tanner said, “It’s Friday night, shouldn’t you be plastered by now?”
“Ha. Ha.” Actually, I was usually a bit tipsy by this point on a Friday night, but Syd was staying in tonight with Kyler, and the rest of our friends were gone.
I can’t go to the cabin.
The moment that thought finished, a slice of panic twisted my stomach and my throat dried. If I didn’t go, I’d be…stuck here. I’d be alone. And if I were alone, I’d just sleep and be…be lame, and if I didn’t sleep, then I’d spend all the time thinking.
Sometimes thinking didn’t end well.
I had to go to the cabin.
Stopping in the entry to the kitchen, I looked down the hall, back to where Kyler and Syd lingered. “When are you guys planning to go to the cabin?”
“Next week.” Syd appeared, her hair mussed and out of the ponytail. Jesus. Kyler was a man of opportunity and a fast worker. “We’re going to leave on Monday morning.”
“Hmm.” I turned to Tanner and smiled sweetly. “Well, since I’m a spoiled little rich girl, it’s not like I have to get time off from work. I’m free next week.”
Tanner reached into Kyler’s fridge and pulled out a beer. Screwing the top off the bottle, he raised it to me. Wisps of cold air rolled up from the neck of the bottle. “Well, since I don’t have a drinking problem, I can have one of these.”
“I don’t have a drinking problem, asshole.”
He took a long and slow drink from the bottle as he rested his hip against the counter. The half-grin was back in full force. “You know, I’ve always heard the first step to recovery is acceptance that you have a problem.”
I drew in another cutting breath and felt the warmth spread across my face. Tanner and I gave each other a hard time, that much was obvious, but for some stupid reason, a knot exploded in the base of my throat and the back of my eyes burned as I watched him take another drink. Embarrassment seeded in my stomach, blossoming into a tree that only bloomed rotten fruit.
I didn’t have a drinking problem.
Tanner lowered the bottle, and the moment our gazes collided, the grin faded slowly from his striking face. His brows knitted as his lips parted, and I quickly turned toward Sydney, my voice embarrassingly hoarse when I spoke. “Count me in.”
I watched Andrea walk into the living room, the normal twitch of her hips absent. No one swayed ass like Andrea, and seeing it gone from her step was answer enough. Our normal whatever-the-fuck-it-was between us had gone further than I intended. No doubt what I’d said had cut her, but shit, it was no different than any other day.
My hand tightened on the neck of the bottle. For the life of me, I had no idea what the hell Andrea Walters’s problem was. Honestly. No fucking clue. One minute, sweet and sugary words parted those pouty pink lips of hers. Next second, she was a fire-breathing dragon from hell—a hot, fire-breathing dragon, but still. Her moods flipped more quickly than cups did during a game of flip cup.
Maybe it was because she was a redhead?
She’d always been this way with me, and the most fuckedup thing about it, there was a part of me that actually looked forward to whatever was going to come out of her mouth. Twisted as fuck. It was like a game between us, to see who could hit the hardest without lifting a finger. If nothing else, it was damn entertaining—or at least, it had been until now. Now, I wasn’t too sure about it.
Those pretty doe eyes of hers had looked suspiciously damp right before she’d looked away, and yeah…that didn’t sit right with me.
Kyler shot me a look as he walked past me and grabbed a beer out of the fridge, but I watched Andrea sit on the edge of the couch, her posture unnaturally rigid.
Sydney leaned against the arm. “We’re thinking about leaving early in the morning, around six.”
My gaze flicked to Andrea, expecting her to make some kind of crack about not getting up that early, but she was abnormally quiet. My spine stiffened.
“That should put us at the cabin between nine and ten in the morning, depending on traffic.” Kyler stood beside me as he screwed off the cap. “Then we’ll be heading back the following Monday.”
“Sounds good to me.” I didn’t take my eyes off Andrea as she fiddled with a strap on her sandals, slipping them onto her feet.
Sydney glanced at me, smiling softly. “You’re definitely off from the fire department?”
I nodded. Kyler had mentioned weeks ago about wanting to hit up the cabin before everyone headed back to class, and I’d requested the time off then. Which had meant I’d pulled a lot of doubles, but I hadn’t minded it. Wasn’t too different from the twelve-hour shifts we worked in the first place, and I’d only be there until February of next year, and then I was off to the academy. Not that I was in any hurry to leave the fire department, but being a cop was in my blood. Except I wanted to be a good cop. I’d probably still volunteer at the fire hall once I knew what kind of schedule I was looking at on the force.
“It makes sense if we drive up together.” Sydney toyed with a strand of her hair. “Kyler and I can pick you two up.”
Andrea had twisted toward Sydney and started to protest the whole idea of taking one car. I zoned out, staring at her as the bottle of beer dangled from the tips of my fingers.
Damn…she was a cute girl. Nah, she was more than cute, and it wasn’t like this was the first time I’d noticed that. From the first time I’d seen her at the bar with Sydney, she’d done more than just poke my interest. Hell, anyone with eyes knew she was a very pretty girl. Lush lips. Freckled cheeks and thick, dark eyelashes. Come to think of it, she reminded me of a girl I’d had a crush on in middle school. Hell, couldn’t remember that chick’s name, but she’d had freckles and red hair. I think I used to pull on her braids or some annoying shit like that. My lips tipped up in a small grin as I lifted the bottle to my mouth. Andrea was a motherfucking firecracker, though, not the kind of girl who was easily tamed.
Hell, not the kind of girl you even wanted to tame.
I did know she dated, but she didn’t stick with any guy for long. There weren’t many who could handle her. There wasn’t even one dude I could think of who could. Well, other than me. I could fucking handle her, if I wanted to.
I hadn’t back then, when I’d first met her. Relationships hadn’t been my thing, but life had a way of slowing down, changing. I wasn’t as interested in random hookups as I was a year or so ago, even though Andrea seemed to think my bedroom was equivalent to the metro station. Shit. It had been months since I’d taken anyone home with me or woken up in someone else’s bed.
The night I’d met Andrea I’d known immediately she wasn’t going to be like most girls. I’d hit on her, more than willing to engage in some fun times with her, and she had looked me straight in the eye, laughed in my face, and told me to keep dreaming.
Of course, I’d only wanted her more after that.
At first, it was the challenge, but then I realized she wasn’t playing any game with me. It hadn’t diminished my attraction to her; however, I spent the vast majority of time utterly confused when it came to her feelings toward me.
At some point, I guessed Andrea had relented to common sense, because she was standing and tucking a gorgeous curl back behind her ear. “Well, I’m going to get out of here.” Those damn brown eyes drifted toward me, lingering for a moment before moving on, and fuck me if they didn’t look wounded. Hurt. She rounded the couch, grabbing a purse the size of a small car off the chair beside the front door. “
You know, head back to my posh apartment paid for by my trust fund and drink until I get sloshed and end up puking my guts up all over my Louis Vuitton purses.”
My brows flew up, and for some damn reason, I didn’t fire back. Didn’t say a damn word as she said goodbye to Kyler and Sydney, and then left. And maybe I should’ve. An odd burning sensation in my gut told me that would’ve been the right thing to do.
“I’m going to…uh, go talk to her real quick.” Hurrying around the couch, Syd stopped long enough to give Kyler a quick kiss and to smack my arm, and then she blew past us. “Be right back.”
When the door shut a second time, I looked at Kyler. He arched a brow at me. “Soooo,” he drew the word out. “I think you really pissed off Andrea this time.”
“This time.” I shook my head, somewhat dumbfounded as my gaze drifted back to the door. Shit.
Kyler eyed me as he leaned against the wall, crossing his ankles. “What is the deal between you two? I mean, seriously? If I didn’t know better, I’d think you two had hooked up at some point and shit didn’t end well.”
I huffed out a short laugh. “Come on, you know nothing like that happened between us.”
He lifted a brow and took another drink. “Maybe you just haven’t told me about it.”
“Syd swears that you two have done something, and y’all are just not sharing.”
A frown pulled at my lips. “Did Andrea say something like that?”
He shook his head. “No. It’s just Syd’s theory.”
“Her theory is wrong.”
“I don’t get her deal with you,” he said after a few moments.
“Me neither. I really have no clue,” I murmured, taking a swig of the beer as I stared at the door. “But you know what? I’m going to find out.”
The music beat overhead, a steady thrum that matched my pulse. My skin was damp and my throat was parched, but I felt good—no, great. I felt great—free and weightless, my head blissfully empty. Smiling, I lifted my arms up, tipped my head back and smiled.
I don’t know what song was even playing and it was probably one I’d be too embarrassed to admit I had on my iPhone, but right now I didn’t care. Tonight was perfect.
“Whoa,” a male voice said from behind me. I think his name was Todd? Tim? Taylor? Tiny Tim? I giggled. The guy lowered my right arm. “You’re going to dump this all over yourself.”
Dangling from my fingers was a slender glass, still half-full. I’d forgotten all about my drink. It was something fruity and sugary and awesome. Wrapping my lips around the straw, I slurped happily as my hips swayed to the music. I closed my eyes again, letting myself get lost in the best possible way. God, I needed tonight because of…of stuff—because of what happened last night at Kyler and Syd’s apartment, because of what Tanner had said and the ensuing pep talk from Syd that happened outside their apartment.
“I don’t think he meant anything by it,” she’d said. “I think he’s just worried. We all are worried…”
A kernel of unease popped in the pit of my belly. Worried? Why were they worried? There was nothing going on, and I shook my head, sending the curls flying. I wasn’t going to think about any of that.
But remnants of that conversation by my car floated through my clouded thoughts. You spent an entire week last month not talking to anyone.
I’d been busy.
You got really sick the last time we went out. It was scary. I was scared.
It hadn’t been that scary.
Do you even know who that guy was you left with?
I didn’t want to think about that guy or that night.
Large hands landed on my hips, and then I felt a warm and sticky breath against my cheek. The scent of beer washed over me, ramping up the unease. “You are so sexy.”
I frowned, for a moment having no idea who the dude was, and then I realized I’d also forgotten about him. Turning my head to the side, away from his, I opened my eyes. “What’s your name again?”
The question didn’t offend the guy. He laughed as his hands squeezed my hips. “You can call me whatever you want,” he said, and even as buzzed as I was, I knew what kind of guy this was. He didn’t care if I could even spell his name. All he was interested in was the likelihood of me going home with him or not. It wouldn’t even matter if I passed out on him. He probably didn’t know my name, and he really didn’t put any value to that. He wasn’t here to meet a girl he saw a future with beyond a few sweaty minutes.
The hands on my hips slid forward and his thumbs hooked through the loops on my jeans. I brought the glass to my mouth, finding it empty. Lifting my gaze, I looked around the bar. Almost immediately, I saw him and the air leaked out of my lungs.
Tanner sat at one of the tall, round tables. Kyler and Syd were with him, but their heads were bent toward each other, gazes fastened together. Tanner…he was staring at me. His blue eyes weren’t lazy-looking. They were narrowed and he looked angry—furious actually. Heat traveled across my cheeks, and I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.
A girl approached their table. I recognized her. I think. She was pretty, blonde with pink streaks in her hair, and it was obvious she worked hard to fit into those skinny jeans she wore. She went straight for Tanner, angling her body toward him. He looked up and the irritated look faded from his handsome face, replaced by an easy and welcoming smile—the kind of smile I was so rarely on the receiving end of.
“I need another drink,” I said, looking away. But it was too late. I couldn’t get that smile out of my mind. It was cute, a crooked type of grin, as if he hadn’t fully committed to a smile yet, but was happy.
“Yeah?” What’s-his-name hauled me against him, my back to his front. “I can get you a drink.”
That sounded perfect for several reasons, mainly because I wanted another drink, but I also wanted my personal space back more. Except that’s not what the guy did. He didn’t let go. Dry lips brushed my cheek as his hips grinded against my rear, and I could feel him, like really feel him.
Okay. I was done with this. I wasn’t that drunk yet.
Stepping forward, I yanked myself free—or at least tried to. I got a couple of inches between us before he pulled me back. I bounced off his chest, almost dropping my glass. “Where do you think you’re going? We’re having fun.”
“I am not having fun.” I twisted, grabbing his hand with my free one. I dug my nails in. “Let go.”
“What?” Spittle flew from his mouth, and my stomach turned a little more. “We’re just dancing. Come on. Let’s have fun.”
“I don’t even know your name,” I heard myself say, which sounded stupid to my own ears, because a handful of moments earlier, I hadn’t cared if I knew his name or not. “And you don’t even know my name.”
“Do I need to?”
I jerked to the side as someone—another couple—knocked into us, but his words held me immobile, recycling around in my head. For some reason, I suddenly wanted him to say something different. That he wanted to know my name—know me. I bet Tanner knew the name of the girl who was talking to him.
This was so dumb.
My foot tapped off the sticky-ass floor at rocket speed. I didn’t know how much longer I was going to be expected to sit here and watch Andrea do whatever the fuck she was doing.
Andrea had been in a weird mood when she showed up at the bar. Quiet—almost shy in the way she had kept stealing quick glances at me. Part of me wondered if she’d been drinking before she arrived, but I really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt and believe that she wasn’t stupid enough to drink and drive. Yeah, she liked to party and could get wild, but she wasn’t dangerously stupid or irresponsible. However, she had started drinking the moment she’d gotten here, and she hadn’t stopped. I’d lost count of how many empty glasses she had racked up.
It was going to be one of those nights.
/> Skin prickling like an army of fire ants was crawling all over me, I’d sat back and done nothing when she announced she wanted to dance. Syd had joined her for a while, but she had returned sans Andrea, who was turning the dance floor into her own personal showcase.
Jesus H. Christ, every pair of male eyes that weren’t on their own girls was fastened on Andrea. We were like fucking heat-seeking missiles when it came to hot chicks, and she was one hell of a flesh-and-blood target.
Those deep-red curls swung in every direction as she raised her arms above her head and swayed her hips to some rock song. Her cheeks flushed prettily and glowed with a fine sheen of sweat. The black shirt she wore rode up, revealing a quick glimpse of pale skin above the band of her jeans—and those damn jeans…they were like a glove made perfectly for her heart-shaped ass. And I still sat there, doing nothing—unable to move or look away, just like the other guys in the bar couldn’t look away. My jeans felt about five times tighter.
When some tall, goofy-looking son-of-a-bitch started grinding all up on her, I’d stayed in my chair, but I’d leaned forward and my attention had shifted. In that moment, I realized that the whole time I’d been sitting here, I’d been hardcore lusting after the girl who’d likely punch me in the nuts instead of grabbing them in a fun way. A different kind of feeling brewed inside of me. It had nothing to do with desire—more with the need to piss around Andrea like some kind of caveman. I had never, in my entire life, felt the need to do that, and I had no idea why I wanted to do it now.
Goofy SOB grabbed her hips.
My eyes narrowed as an irrational anger surfaced. Why in the fuck was she letting this guy climb all over her? He looked like a dumb motherfucker, and she deserved way better than that.