Out of breath, p.55
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       Out of Breath, p.55

         Part #3 of Breathing series by Rebecca Donovan
Page 56


  ‘What is it with you and these games?’ Meg demanded. ‘You have a boyfriend. Why would you want to get naked in front of other guys, or see them naked?’

  ‘It’s more about the truth part,’ Serena said carefully.

  Sara suddenly stopped what she was doing. ‘Come with me, Serena,’ she ordered. ‘Em, you stay here and finish your toes. We’ll right back. ’

  ‘I’ll be right there. I’m going to get James,’ Serena replied.

  ‘What the hell just happened?’ I asked, completely lost and slightly annoyed.

  ‘We forgot we were going to make dessert, and since you suck at cooking too, just hang out here. ’ Meg lied terribly.

  They were up to something. That much was obvious. I was just afraid to find out what it was.

  Jogging up the steps in search of water, I found Emma with her knee bent and her short dress tucked between her legs, concentrating on painting her toes. She grimaced in frustration and wiped the toe clean with a damp tissue.

  ‘Stupid toes. Who cares if they’re painted anyway?’ she huffed under her breath. The corner of my mouth rose.

  ‘Where are the girls?’

  ‘I don’t know,’ she griped. ‘Conspiring or something. ’

  ‘Need some help?’ I asked, nodding towards her toes.

  ‘You really want to paint my toes?’

  ‘I could probably do a better job than you are,’ I teased, making her narrow her eyes at me.

  ‘Go for it,’ she said, thrusting the purple bottle at me.

  I sat at the bottom of the lounge chair. ‘Purple, huh?’ I noted. ‘Not pink?’

  A rush of colour filled her face. ‘I haven’t …’ She looked away. ‘Pink’s my chocolate,’ she whispered.

  I raised my eyes to meet hers. The sorrow that reflected in them was difficult to witness. I nodded in understanding and looked back down at her feet, not knowing what to say.

  I gently set her foot against my leg and dabbed the brush on the lip of the bottle. ‘Here,’ I said, handing her the bottle so I could hold her toe. I bent over and concentrated on her feet, doing my best not to glance at the legs attached to them.

  When I looked up to get more polish, Emma was watching me, intent and perfectly still. I grinned and her cheeks pinked. The colour still looked stunning on her, regardless.

  ‘You can breathe, Emma,’ I teased. ‘Stop thinking about me naked and breathe. ’

  ‘Evan!’ she hollered, yanking her foot away. I started laughing. I knew if she’d had something to throw at me, she would’ve. Then I eyed the nail-polish bottle in her hand and jumped up.

  ‘Don’t throw that at me,’ I begged. ‘I was just messing with you. You’ve been so tense since our talk this morning. I figured I’d make you relax a little. ’

  ‘That’s not how you do it,’ she lectured, crossing her arms defiantly. I chuckled.

  ‘Stop thinking about it,’ I told her, trying to keep my tone light. ‘It’ll only make it worse. Think about every reason why I won’t kiss you. ’

  Her eyes dipped. ‘Right,’ she whispered, her shoulders sinking.

  I grimaced. Wrong thing to say. ‘I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant –’

  ‘It’s okay,’ she said, raising her eyes to me. I smiled apologetically. ‘Will you please finish my toes?’

  ‘Sure. I only have a couple left. ’ I sat back down and eased Emma’s foot onto my thigh.

  ‘What the hell are you doing, Evan?’

  I looked up to find Sara glaring at me like I was violating some girl code or something. ‘Finishing what you started,’ I told her, painting the last toe. I eased Emma’s foot onto the chair, before twisting the brush in the bottle. ‘There you go. All … purple. ’

  Emma smiled softly, meeting my gaze. ‘Thank you,’ she said sincerely. I nodded and took off into the house.

  ‘Hey, Evan,’ Meg called to me as I passed her and Serena on the couch. ‘Do you think the guys would be up for playing cards tonight?’

  ‘I can ask. ’

  They looked at each other in a mischievous exchange. Emma was right. They were up to something.


  Brutal Honesty

  ‘TJ, WE ARE NOT LISTENING TO THAT SHIT ALL night,’ Jared threatened, setting a speaker from the entertainment room on the patio.

  ‘We’ll let the girls decide,’ TJ stated. ‘And where are they? Thought you’d show up together. ’

  ‘They’re on their way. And you’re going to be outnumbered, TJ,’ I told him. ‘Meg’s the only one who’s going to be on your side. ’

  ‘Sara –’

  ‘Has a wall of electric guitars,’ Jared finished.

  ‘Whatever. We’ll put your music on when they get here,’ TJ conceded reluctantly.

  ‘Welcome, ladies. ’ I could hear Brent in the kitchen, greeting the girls in his ineffectively flirtatious tone. ‘Hope you’re ready for margaritas and poker. ’

  ‘Which is now. ’ Jared smirked at TJ, and the music instantly changed.

  The screen on the deck slid open, and Brent led the girls down to the patio, carrying two pitchers. I was pushing in chairs around the poker table when Emma came into view. I knew I should keep my distance. But it was virtually impossible. I was drawn to her, needing to be near her, whether it was the right thing or not.

  ‘Hi,’ I said with a grin when she reached the bottom step.

  ‘Hi. ’ She smiled brightly.

  ‘I still think we should play strip poker,’ Brent announced, setting a pitcher of margaritas on each table.

  ‘I like that idea!’ Serena declared. Emma looked at both of them like they were crazy. ‘What, Em?! Regular poker can be so boring if you suck. This could make it more interesting. ’

  ‘I’ve told you how much I love you, right?’ Brent told Serena, putting his arm around her shoulder. Then he eyed James staring him down, and moved away. ‘Sorry, man. ’

  ‘You actually want to play strip poker?’ I asked, waiting for James to react. He didn’t.

  ‘Serena has no objection to walking around nude,’ Meg offered as an explanation.

  ‘Strip poker?’ Jared questioned, not exactly sold on the idea either.

  ‘With a twist,’ Serena suddenly added.

  ‘We play five-card draw. You can replace all of your cards except for one, then everyone lays them down, and whoever wins chooses two people. These people can elect to remove an article of clothing or answer a difficult question,’ James suddenly explained.

  ‘You’re in on this?’ I blurted.

  ‘Serena brought it up, and I suggested a few rule changes so there’s an option to keep clothes on,’ he said nonchalantly. ‘Not exactly stoked about having my girl naked in front of these guys, no matter how comfortable she is in her skin. And another rule: if you touch a girl, I break your face. ’ He stared at Brent, whose eager smile deflated.

  ‘Sure, why not. ’ Emma and Jared both didn’t look very happy with Sara agreeing to this. ‘Don’t worry. I’m good at poker, remember?’ Sara assured Jared.

  ‘You’d better be prepared to be very honest tonight,’ Jared said. Sara kissed him on the cheek and smiled.

  ‘I told you they were up to something,’ Emma murmured under her breath.

  ‘We don’t have to play,’ I offered.

  ‘It’s okay,’ she assured me. ‘Everyone seems to want to do it, so why not? I can answer questions, I guess. ’

  The honesty part was probably going to be harder for Emma than taking off her clothes.

  ‘Are you sure?’

  ‘Yeah, it’ll be fine,’ she responded without conviction.

  ‘TJ!’ Two girls squealed from the top step.

  ‘Hey!’ TJ hollered back. ‘Perfect timing. We’re about to play a new game. It’s a version of strip poker, with truth or dare thrown in. ’

  ‘Strip or truth,’ Nate presented.

  ‘Ooh, sounds fun!’ the girl with
the high ponytail exclaimed with way too much excitement.

  ‘See, they do sell shorts that short,’ Emma mumbled next to me.

  ‘They looked better on you,’ I said automatically. She smacked my arm and walked away.

  ‘Who are those girls?’ Sara asked Meg as I approached them by the poker tables.

  ‘I don’t know. Friends of TJ’s, I guess,’ Meg said. ‘Do we still want to do this?’

  ‘If this is your idea of making things somehow better between us, then it sucks,’ I interjected.

  ‘It’s just a game,’ Sara said, trying to convince me. ‘It won’t be some tortured confess-your-sins thing, I promise. ’

  People began to sit while TJ made the introductions. ‘This is Darcy and Kim. Darcy and Kim, this is … everyone. ’

  ‘Hi,’ they waved in unison, flanking TJ.

  ‘Would it be okay if we shut off the lights?’ Emma requested.

  Nate shut off the patio and pool lights, plunging us into the dark of the hills until he lit a couple of candles. This allowed everyone’s faces to be seen, only giving a hint to what lay below the shoulders.

  ‘Better?’ Sara asked. ‘Are you going to play?’

  I bit my lip, and nodded. But I wasn’t sure what was going to be more torturous, seeing Evan without a shirt, or having to be completely honest about humiliating moments in my life.

  ‘Will you just answer questions with me?’ I leaned over and asked Evan, who was seated beside me.

  He grinned. ‘Yeah, I can do that. ’

  I was trying to counter the girls’ not-so-subtle attempts to interfere with what was happening between Evan and me. As much as it was comforting that the girls cared and wanted me to be happy, they really had no idea just how complicated things were.

  ‘A five-articles-of-clothing limit, and we have to alternate seats, boy/girl,’ Serena explained.

  ‘But I only have on one,’ the blonde in the yellow dress pouted.

  Sara opened her mouth to say something, and from the glint in her eyes, it wasn’t to offer her more clothes. TJ interrupted her assault with, ‘You can count shoes and earrings, Kim. ’

  ‘Oh, good idea. Thanks, TJ!’

  Emma covered her mouth, trying to stifle a laugh.

  Nate shuffled two decks together, and I noticed Emma bouncing her leg anxiously, biting at her lip.

  ‘Here, this will help. ’ Brent handed her a margarita, pulling in his chair so it about touched hers. Emma hesitated, then took a large gulp.

  I shot Brent a warning glance, and he scooted his chair a few inches towards Kim.

  TJ’s ‘friends’ seemed more interested in taking off their clothes than answering questions, so in no time, they were stripped down and in the pool, with TJ and Brent in quick pursuit. So far, the questions hadn’t been horribly invasive, but then again, I hadn’t been asked any either.

  Then, with Serena’s first win, she asked, ‘Emma and Evan, strip or truth?’

  I braced myself. ‘Truth. ’

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