Throwback Thursday – BULLET

posted in: Book Excerpts, Various Musings | 0

When I began my journey as an indie author in the spring of 2011, I knew nothing about marketing (I’m still learning and it’s all uphill!). All I knew was that I’d been writing my whole life, and I was a good writer, so I wanted to be read. I’d been traditionally published in everything except for the one thing I really wanted to tackle—what I call big fiction. When all the cards lined up and I discovered the opportunity to self-publish in a major way—where I was the one in control of every detail—I jumped and didn’t look back.

Sorry for all the shitty metaphors. I must be tired.

I was thrilled when I had six or seven readers my first month. Even more thrilled a month later when I got more. I tried various things to raise awareness about my books but knew that I needed to write steadily or no one would care. That wasn’t the problem I’d at first been afraid of. I have had no lack of ideas and keep a running list of things I want to write. It has been a well that has never gone dry, nor does it show any signs of doing so.

But back to the point—as an indie author, I saw my readership steadily increase and, in spite of the fact that I was too naïve and inexperienced to figure out how to “leverage” that reader base, I knew there were people out there who were becoming lifelong readers. Yay! One of you might be reading this now, as a matter of fact!

In the winter of 2012, I wrote Bullet. Thanks to social media, I managed to get huge attention for the book while I wrote it, so that by the time it released, it became an Amazon bestseller.

Times might have changed since then, but I still have a dedicated reader base. I’m wrapping up what became the Bullet series, and I’m educating myself in the ways of marketing. But February 2013, when Bullet came out…wow. Good times! 🙂

Blurb:

What if you discover the man you want is toxic?

She’d tasted a little bit of heaven with him, and now they’ve gone through hell and back, but can their relationship take anymore?

Valerie Quinn is a naïve college freshman when she meets on-the-rise rock star Ethan Richards. He’s an idealistic, handsome, reckless young man, but he’s captured her heart. She doesn’t give up on him and eventually his walls crumble down. By the time Valerie has given herself to him completely, she discovers he’s damaged and may be beyond help. Can she save Ethan and their relationship before he implodes, or will he self-destruct and take her with him?

Chapter Nine from Bullet

“Oh, my God, Val, you look so cute,” Jennifer said as I put the finishing touches on my look. My normally straight, shiny brown hair now cascaded in curls down my back over the flaming red strappy dress I’d chosen to wear. Earlier that morning, I’d walked downtown to a consignment store to look at semi-formal dresses and chosen that little number. It wasn’t tight, but it fit like it had been made for me, and red always brought out the color in my cheeks and eyes. Looking at myself in the mirror one last time, I thought that Ethan had never seen me dressed up before.

No. I had to push him out of my head. I had to forget the emotions I had for him and start over. I couldn’t do that if I thought about him every few minutes. I looked at my reflection again. I really did look pretty. I’d never been one to obsess over her own looks, but I’d done my makeup in such a way that my eyes stood out and I looked almost…glamorous. And the two-and-a-half inch heels weren’t something I’d normally wear either, but they did something for my calves that were just barely peeking out from under the tea-length skirt.

Jennifer was going to the dance with a guy she’d met in one of her classes. She left when he came by to get her, and then I was left all alone with my reflection. Zane should be arriving at any minute, and I had to get in the proper mindset. I had to plan to have fun. He’d asked the day before if I wanted to go out to eat first, but I knew Zane didn’t have a vehicle on campus, so that would mean either walking downtown or going to one of the eateries on campus. Neither idea sounded particularly fun, so I told him I’d just grab a bite at the cafeteria with Jennifer as planned. Zane might have even planned to spring for a cab, but I knew he was a poor college student just like I was, so I wasn’t even going to ask.

When Zane got to the door, I was surprised. He was wearing a suit, and it shocked me. I don’t know what I’d been expecting, but it wasn’t that. And…he looked damn good. He must have thought the same about me, because he smiled and then peeked his head in my room. “Is Valerie here? If she’s not, I’ll just take you to the dance.”

I started laughing. “You look pretty good yourself.”

He grinned. “Thanks, but…” He let out a long whistle. “Jesus. I don’t know how the hell I’ll keep all the guys at the dance off you.”

I blushed and giggled, and I was afraid my cheeks probably matched the color of my dress. “I’m sure they’ll all be plenty tied up with their sweethearts.”

He brought his hand out from behind his back to produce a pink carnation which he handed to me. I smiled as its scent touched my nose. “Oh, Zane…you didn’t have to do that.”

His smile was slight and sweet. “I wanted to.”

“I should have something around here…” I thought Jennifer might have an empty water bottle in her trashcan, and I did see one when I peeked. I filled it almost full at the sink and then placed it on my desk with the carnation in it. “It’s really pretty. Thanks.” And I felt a little shy doing it, but I kissed him on the cheek. An unexpected flower deserved nothing less.

I grabbed my dorm key off my desk and then pulled my long black wool coat out of my closet, tucking the key in a pocket. It was perhaps the only coat I’d ever owned that didn’t completely ruin the illusion of a glamorous dress.

We didn’t say much on our walk toward the ballroom located in the student center. I’d only ever seen that room used for banquets and convention-type activities on campus, so I was looking forward to seeing it used for what it had been designed for. Zane got brave and grabbed my hand. I smiled. After a few more steps, he said, “Bet they won’t be playing the kind of music we usually appreciate, eh?”

“I heard they got a DJ, so we could always request a little Miss May I, don’t you think?”

He started laughing. “Yeah, and I’m sure all the fraternity douchebags would eat it up.”

“They just might.”

He laughed even harder as we reached the outside door, and he pulled it open for me. The student center was always darker at night, but it was just as busy. I knew there was some movie marathon going on in the theater, for starters, but there were bodies buzzing here and there, heading toward different places.

When we got to the ballroom, the dance was well underway. It was dark in there, but there were lots of colored lights bouncing off the walls, and the DJ was lit up against one wall, already playing some slow-moving, sappy song I’d never heard before. Couples were already entwined on the dance floor, swaying to the beat of the music.

There was an untended coat rack by the doors, so Zane slid the coat off my shoulders and hung it up. It might not have been cold inside, but the air made my bare shoulders feel chilly nonetheless. We looked over the sea of bodies, moving as though in tune to a breeze flowing over them. “Might as well get started,” he said and led me to the edge of the crowd. Then he wrapped his arms around my waist.

A slow dance was probably something I was better at. Loving metal music, I’d never had much reason to learn to dance. I could bang my head just as good as anyone else, and even moshing didn’t require rhythm or killer moves. So dancing? Not my thing. But slow dancing…I thought I could handle it. So I placed my forearms on his shoulders as he drew me close, and our motions started resembling those of the rest of the crowd.

Oh, shit. He smelled really good, and I hadn’t noticed until I was up close. His cologne was masculine (for lack of a better word) and tempting and made me want to get even closer. And I hadn’t realized how rock hard his body was until I was up against him. What struck me right then was a couple of things—first of all, I hadn’t been kissed since high school and, really, I hadn’t had much experience at it. I’d had a couple of boyfriends in the past, but they were from my church back at home, so I’m sure you can imagine that our kissing was rated PG-13 at best. Second…I was ready to move into rated R territory. With Zane? I didn’t know. But the way I felt in his arms surprised the hell out of me. My emotional response to him was strong, and I never would have expected that.

He said in my ear, “I wasn’t kidding when I said you look nice.”

His breath right there didn’t help the crazy feelings roiling inside my body, just barely kept intact under the surface. What was going on with me? Was it the flower he’d brought me? The fact that I’d been pining for and rejected by Ethan for so long? But here I was, all willing and eager. I was glad it was darkish in the ballroom, because I was sure I was blushing yet again. “You look great too, Zane.” And was that as inane sounding to him as it was to me? But he really did look good. And just as my consciousness acknowledged it, I realized the rest of me started thinking about Ethan, wondering where he was, what he was doing…if he was actually here at this dance or if he was fucking some girl in his dorm room while Zane was conveniently away.

God, I was just torturing myself, and I needed to stop. I was young and vibrant, and Zane had made it clear that he was interested, even if Ethan wasn’t. I leaned my head on Zane’s shoulder, determined to keep our conversation light and friendly, if indeed we wound up talking at all.

As our bodies turned with the music, my eyes took in the doors to the ballroom. As though fate were mocking me, in walked Ethan with a tall, thin blonde hanging on his arm. Ethan looked cocky and maybe even a little drunk. I wondered if he and the blonde had had a little fun before the dance. I certainly didn’t want to know.

I closed my eyes, angry with myself that I was so upset over what Ethan was doing. I didn’t even know that girl and I already felt like I hated her, and I was praying that Ethan’s relationship with her wouldn’t grow serious.

Poor Zane. I was so glad he didn’t know what I was thinking. I needed to get control over myself, so when the song ended, I excused myself for a just a moment. I felt a tremendous surge of relief that Ethan and his date were no longer near the doors. The hallway was brighter than the ballroom, so I had no problems orienting myself and walked down the hall toward the restrooms. There were a couple of girls in there touching up their lipstick and chatting about the dance. I just needed a place to get a grip on my emotions, so I walked into a stall and just rested my forearm on the side, then pressed my forehead into my arm. And there I stood for a good several minutes just regaining my composure. I promised myself that I’d have fun, no matter what. Zane was a fun guy, nice and good looking, and he was obviously attracted to me. Just because I’d never considered him before didn’t mean he wasn’t worth my attention. I tried to just dwell on him, and suddenly I was transported. I remembered how he smelled and how his soft hair felt brushing my hands when we’d been dancing. Yes…Ethan could have his fun, and I could too.

So, when I returned to the ballroom, I was full of hope. And I maintained that hope even when I saw Zane talking with Ethan near the wall where the DJ was stationed. I took another deep breath, praying that I could be polite. As I approached them, Zane’s smile reached his ears. I smiled back and then looked at Ethan and said hi. I was surprised at his response, because he seemed frozen, as though he couldn’t tear his eyes from me. Oh, shit. Did he feel the same way I did and I was too stupid to ever realize it till now, or was he as shocked as Zane had been at how different I looked? Ethan looked good too, but he hadn’t gone to the same pains Zane had…Ethan was wearing more of an if-a-rock-star-frontman-dressed-up getup. And that was not good for me to see. He looked pretty hot—dark tight jeans and a button-down black shirt. I took a deep breath again, trying to clamp down all the emotions ready to fly off inside me. How could I bury this weird emotion, this one pretending to be love for Ethan if he kept doing little things to stir it up? But I couldn’t let it bother me. I was going to play nice, hide those feelings, and enjoy my date. Could Ethan or Zane see through my façade? They both knew me better than I’d thought, so I hoped I could pull it off.

As I got there, Zane decided to play alpha male and slipped his arm around my waist. “I was telling Ethan what you said, about requesting something hardcore from the DJ.”

I was okay with Zane’s display, because it instantly made me feel braver. I was wondering where the tall blonde was who had walked in with Ethan, but she snuck up behind him and snaked her hands around his waist, kissing him on the neck. That green monster inside me grabbed me by the spleen and squeezed. In direct proportion, I fought to keep the smile on my face. I looked at Zane and said, “I could stand some pretty severe headbanging right now. What about you?”

“Hell, yeah.”

I grinned. “Hang on.” I sauntered over to the DJ’s table, knowing I had their full attention and wondering exactly what the DJ could play here that the sweethearts wouldn’t freak out too much about.

When I got to his table, he pulled off his headphones. He looked bored. “You have a request?”

“Well, kind of.” I raised my voice so he could hear me over the music.

“What’ll it be?”

“Um…my friends and I aren’t really into this music, and I know there’s not a lot you can play with the type of crowd you’re catering to right now, but I wondered…how big is your selection of music?”

He still didn’t appear to be amused, but he pointed down at a laptop computer. “Name it.”

I tried to quickly in my mind think of artists whose music wasn’t so raucous it would scare pop lovers off. Something a little more mellow, less gritty. I knew there were plenty of crossover rock bands although I didn’t listen to them that much, and I knew even some of my favorites had a few lighter tunes. Still…I was grasping at straws. I said, “My friends and I love to listen to hard heavy metal, but you can’t really dance to it, and I don’t want to ruin the fun, but I still want to freak my friends out if I can get you to play something a little more up our alley.”

He raised his eyebrows as if trying to urge me to hurry the hell up.

I was panicking. “Got any Kid Rock?”

This time he actually cracked a smile. “Name it.”

And then a little devil jumped up on my shoulders, just like in the old cartoons. Or at least it felt that way. I could have picked something innocent, and I certainly could have picked something less offensive by Kid Rock, but no. My tongue let it loose before my conscience could wrestle with it. “How about ‘So Hott’?”

“You got it. But, just so’s y’know, the bad words’ll be muted.”

“That’s fine.” Oh, shit, what had I done? “Thanks.”

I started to walk away when he said, “Give me five minutes or so.”

I nodded and kept walking, ready to crawl into a hole. That little devil was about to get me in a bunch of trouble. I could maybe play innocent and blame it on the DJ, but I wasn’t going to do that either. When I rejoined my group, I felt almost giddy. I had a secret, and I was going to shock the hell out of them.

And I figured it would get both men’s attention. Zane asked, “So?”

I grinned and was glad to see Ethan’s little blonde had disappeared again. “So…you’ll just have to wait and find out.”

He smiled at me. “Little tease…”

Ethan was quiet, and I couldn’t read the look on his face. “You look really nice tonight.”

Oh, I should have been nice. I really should have. “Yeah, and the rest of the time I look like shit.” Whoa. First off, I was cussing a lot more having hung out with these boys for half a year but then…had that dig really been necessary? Probably not. “Oh, sorry. Um…you look nice tonight too.” Hot, really, but I wouldn’t have said that, even with the pair of balls I was starting to grow.

“Thanks.” Okay…I couldn’t take looking into those hard green eyes anymore. That usual glint was there, but there was something else too. Desire? I looked away, over to Zane, trying to think of something to say, but I had to break eye contact with Ethan. Yeah, I knew his eyes were filled with desire, but it couldn’t have been for me.

Still…I felt a pull toward him. For the first time since the first day I’d met him, choosing to sit by him based solely on his looks, I could admit to myself that Ethan was an attractive guy. He was gorgeous, and he looked great in black. Zane started to say something when the DJ switched to yet another slow pop song. I was hoping the DJ hadn’t been lying earlier and would actually play what I asked him to. Ethan said, “Mind if I steal your date for a dance?”

I was looking at Zane when he shrugged. “Up to her.” But I could tell he wasn’t too happy about it.

I drew in a deep breath. Oh, Ethan. Why? And why now? When I looked over at him, his eyebrows were raised in question. “Dance?”

I felt awkward as hell. “Um, sure.” He didn’t try reaching for my hand, and I was glad. That wouldn’t have been cool. And where the hell was his date anyway? He led us right to the middle of the crowd, far away from eyesight, considering it was dark and crowded near the center.

My stomach clenched tightly as Ethan faced me on the dance floor and slid his hands onto the small of my back, pulling me close. But I didn’t want to be too close, not after I’d seen the way his eyes had looked at me back there. It wouldn’t be fair to the guy who’d actually asked me out. I wrapped my arms around his neck hesitantly, not wanting to get too close. I was afraid my cool exterior would blow away if I got too close.

And his gaze…oh, Lord, I could barely take the heat of it. I couldn’t look him in the eyes anymore and dropped mine to look at his neck. “I meant what I said back there…you look spectacular.”

Why in hell was my heart speeding up? Don’t look at him! “I meant it too, Ethan. Black’s your color.” What? I really said that out loud?

“So why did you come with Zane?”

Oh, I wanted to say Because someone else didn’t ask me. Instead, I said, “He asked.” There. There could be no misconstruing my words.

“Anything wrong, Val?”

Quickly, I said, “Nope.”

He lowered his head a little, forcing me to look in his eyes or else risk looking like a real jerk. “You sure?” I just nodded, cautious. “You and Zane look pretty good together. Did you plan the outfits?”

I started laughing. “You’ve known Zane a lot longer than I have. Does he look like the kind of guy who’d plan outfits with a girl?”

He grinned. “No. Guess not.”

“You and…that girl look nice too.” I wasn’t sure I meant it, but I needed to be polite.

We were quiet for a few moments, and I rested my head against his shoulder. Then he said, “Mercy.”

“What?”

“Mercy. Her name’s Mercy.”

“Your date?”

“Yeah.” I was painfully aware of his hands shifting position on my back. Then he moved them up farther, pressing me closer, and I felt like I could barely breathe, simply because I was so nervous. I felt his breath against my ear, and he said, “I’m glad you’re my friend, Valerie.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say. Did he even mean it? Or did he mean something else entirely? I just said, “I am too,” but there was no way I was going to look at him. I felt his lips against my neck. Was I imagining that? The fingers of my right hand tensed against his neck so that my nails were pressing into the flesh, and I was tempted…so tempted to look at him. I knew if I did…

But then I heard Zane asking to cut in. Ethan let go, and I could tell he was reluctant. “See you later, Val.” But it was for the best.

* * *

Zane was still laughing as we walked up to his dorm room. The DJ had waited longer than five minutes to play the Kid Rock song, but he’d done it as he’d promised. I played it off, feeling more like my old self again. Zane thought it was hilarious seeing how some of the more prim girls reacted, although there were plenty of other girls (and guys) who loved the song choice. And I was glad he didn’t take it as a signal that I wanted to be fucked, to use the Kid’s word.

He’d wanted to take me somewhere for a soda afterward, but all the on-campus places were closed. I told him that was fine, that I’d had a good time. But then he told me he had a variety of sodas in the little fridge in his room, and he’d been told on good authority that I liked Diet Dr. Pepper and Diet Squirt. “Is that true?”

I grinned as we left the student center. “Is it true you have some?”

“Guess you’ll just have to find out.”

He unlocked the door to his room and turned on the light, then motioned me in. “Hey, thanks for comin’ with me to the dance.”

“Yeah. Thanks for inviting me. I had fun.”

The little refrigerator sat between the two twin beds in the room, and he walked over to it and squatted. He pulled out some cans and said, “Diet Dr. Pepper. Diet Squirt. And a little somethin’ else if you feel like it.” He pulled out a two-liter bottle of Sprite.

I walked closer and giggled. “Oh, yeah. When I’m feeling edgy, I down the regular Sprite. That’s so hardcore.”

He laughed and stood, then unscrewed the lid. He held it in front of my nose, and the smell hit me right away. It was liquor, and when I looked again, the liquid in the bottle clung to the sides longer than water as it moved, one of those telltale signs, and it certainly wasn’t carbonated. “Vodka.”

I nodded. “Oh. Well…I think I’ll stick with Squirt for now if that’s okay with you.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He took a swig from the bottle and then put the lid back on. “But if it’s okay with you, I’m gonna take this damn tie off. Enough already.” He had it off in no time and then he said, “Why don’t you take off your coat?”

“I’m a little cold from the walk.”

He sat on the side of the bed. “Then come here and I’ll warm you up.” He pulled his suit jacket off and draped it on the bed.

I took in a slow deep breath. This was a moment of truth. I’d been pushing my earlier encounter with Ethan to the back of my mind ever since it had happened. Why had he felt the need to confuse me so much? It was unfair, unfair to both me and Zane.

Well, I decided, Ethan had had plenty of chances, and putting the moves on me when I was out on a date with someone else—when we were both on dates with other people—was completely uncool. And for all I knew, nothing between us would ever happen. Zane was sweet and good looking, and I wasn’t going to spurn him for a last minute promise that might lead to nothing. So I walked over to the bed and sat next to him.

God, that cologne still smelled good. It wasn’t too strong, but it was so…woody, earthy, yummy. “Did you want your pop?” I shook my head. I wasn’t ready for a cold drink yet. “You still haven’t taken your coat off.”

I smiled slightly, feeling awkward now, but I shrugged the coat off my shoulders. He helped me slide it off the rest of the way, but his lips were on my shoulder beside the dress strap before I even took the coat the rest of the way off my arms, and it just fell to the bed.

I sucked in a breath involuntarily. I hadn’t expected my response to be as rapid as it was. I’d been suffering from rigid nipples thanks to the cold anyway, but this time I felt them responding to the touch of his lips. This was dangerous. I could tell that just from one touch of his warm lips. And then his hands were around my waist, and he continued kissing a trail up my neck until he reached my lips and I gladly, almost desperately, took him in. Oh, holy fucking shit. Wow. I had never been kissed like that before. The last kiss I’d had was from a guy who’d been wearing braces and was a little sloppy, for starters. Zane, though…well, his mouth tasted like vodka, and that wasn’t bad. I hadn’t been expecting it, but I was okay with it. And he was tentative at first, as though teasing me, and then he full on assaulted me with his tongue. He was in command, damn it, and I was his. That tongue of his stroked me and played with me, and my mind wondered how that would feel everywhere else.

I could hardly keep up, and I was breathless. I had wound the fingers of my right hand in his soft hair, while my other hand curled around his warm neck. And I was so into the sensations he was stirring in my mouth that it took a little bit for me to register that his hands had moved up from the small of my back to the middle, and he was tugging at the zipper.

But that pulled me out of it and back to the present. “Wait, Zane.”

“Hmm?”

“I…uh, I’m not ready for that yet.”

I shouldn’t have worded it that way, because he nodded, stopped unzipping my dress, and began kissing my neck again. But as my eyes closed, enjoying his lips back on my neck, I registered the look in his eyes. God…his eyes had been dark and sleepy looking, sexy. And another wow moment. He somehow knew all the right spots to kiss on my neck and throat, because I was feeling like I never had before…never. He eased me back on the bed until he was on top of me, but he wasn’t trying to unzip my dress anymore. Still…my body was reacting in a way that it never had to a kiss before, and I knew…I just knew if I didn’t stop now, I’d likely do something I’d regret, especially since his hand that had been holding me on the hip was inching upwards.

It was in that moment that I sensed a deep well of passion residing within me, something I had little control of and something that could easily take control of me if I wasn’t careful. Again, too, my background, my naïveté…I wasn’t emotionally ready for sex, especially with someone I didn’t love. Lust? Hell, yeah. Zane had it all over most other guys on campus. But I’d promised to myself a long time before this moment that I wouldn’t have sex with someone I didn’t love.

I must have been pressing against his chest or maybe I was squirming. Maybe I’d stopped responding to his kiss as my brain battled with my loins. But he knew something was up. “What’s wrong, Val? You okay?”

I took a deep breath and tried to sit up. He had to first because half his body was on me, and he did. He looked concerned. I said, “This is getting, uh…pretty hot.”

A small smile crossed his face, but those eyes—they were still dark and steamy. “I know. Don’t you like it?”

I couldn’t help but smile back, but this was serious and I wanted his attention. “That’s the problem. I do.”

“So how’s that a problem?” His voice was gravelly, and one of his hands continued to roam my back, much like a runner continuing to jog in place at a red light not wanting to lose his level of intensity—he didn’t want to lose the point of passion we’d already hit. But I was getting ready to pour a bucket of water all over us.

“I need to be straight with you, Zane.” God, it was hard looking in his eyes, but I had to. “I can’t have sex with you.”

His brows furrowed, but he acted like my words weren’t still fully registering with him through the haze. Still, he was trying to be classy. “Who said anything about sex?”

I felt my mouth open, but there were no words. I hadn’t expected him to say that. “Oh.”

“Why don’t we just see where this leads?”

I would have smiled if it hadn’t been so serious for me. “That’s what I’m talking about, Zane. That is where this is leading.”

I can’t describe the look that came over his face. It was one of shock and triumph, but that passionate animalistic look in his eyes was still there. “Seriously?”

“Doesn’t it feel that way to you?”

He let out a small laugh. “Jesus. You kidding? I’m always ready for sex. Doesn’t take much.”

I started giggling. Had I awakened a monster? “I…uh…just wanted to make that clear.”

His hand stroked my cheek. “I promise I would make you feel better than you ever have before.”

My breath caught in my throat. After the way he had kissed me, I had no doubt that he could make me feel like the woman I was becoming. I lowered my head and closed my eyes. “I know you would. But I’m just…not in the right place.” I didn’t want to tell him about the silly rigid moral code I was living under.

I felt his hand on my chin, urging me to look at him. “It’s Ethan, isn’t it?”

What the hell was I supposed to say? I’d observed many a time that everyone but Ethan was able to see how I felt about the guy. So now I was considering lying to Zane just to be nice, but then I would be insulting his intelligence. No…instead, I was going to skirt the question. But to do that, I’d have to be completely honest about myself. “That’s not it, Zane. It’s…” I took a deep breath. “A long time ago, I vowed to myself that I would never have sex with someone I didn’t love. I came from a pretty religious family, and we would watch TV shows where characters would just have sex because they were attracted to each other, but there was no emotional connection. So my parents stressed that sex is a beautiful thing, but it should be with someone you love.” I put my hand on his. “I do care very much about you, Zane. I consider you my friend and, I think, with time, we could become even better friends. And who knows? Maybe those feelings would grow. But right now…I only consider you my friend. Please don’t take that wrong.”

He didn’t look angry, hurt, or upset, but I did see something register with him. “Oh, God. You’re a virgin, aren’t you?”

Was it that obvious? I’d been as honest as I could bring myself to be up to this point. I wasn’t going to lie now. I felt my cheeks grow pink. “Yeah.”

He pulled me into a hug and just held me close. After a while, he said, “Then I’m glad we didn’t. Losing your virginity in a tiny bed in a dorm room with paper-thin walls and the chance that the roommate could show up at any second wouldn’t be something you’d want to look back on and remember as your first time.”

I giggled. “Probably not.”

He pulled my face up gently with his hands so I could look him in the eye. “You ever decide your feelings are enough that I’m the man, I promise I will treat you right.”

Oh. That knocked the wind out of me. I’d never expected Zane to be so chivalrous, and yet he was above and beyond. It was lame, but I said, “Thanks.” And he kissed me again, but this time it was sweet and without his tongue.

“So…you wanna hang and watch a little TV?”

I was getting the weird vibe that maybe Zane wanted to pursue an actual relationship with me. I would need to think about it. I wasn’t completely against it, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready. I still had the stupid Ethan hang up, and I’d need to dump it before I could fully give myself to someone else. That much I knew. Still…Zane was a nice guy and I respected him. He was sweet and considerate, and he seemed to genuinely care. “I’d like to, but I’m really tired. I should go.”

“You wanna take your Squirt with you?”

I laughed. “Maybe.”

He kissed me again, this time with less passion, but it was slow and sweet. The door to his room slammed open and made me jump.

Yeah, it was Ethan.

I sat up straighter, realizing in that moment that the zipper on the back of my dress was still gaping open, but there was nothing else amiss. My hair was probably a little out of place, but nothing crazy. “Uh…if I’m interrupting something—”

Of course, he was interrupting something, and he knew it. But Zane, ever gentlemanly, said, “Nope. We were just getting ready to walk back to her dorm room.” He stood up and slipped his jacket on, then offered his hand to me. I took it and stood up while he picked up my coat so I could slide my arms in. It would have been so easy for him to make a production out of zipping my dress up, but he didn’t. He was calm and matter of fact. “Let’s get you home.”

“Night, Ethan,” I said.

He said good night back, but there was something in his eyes…and I hoped Zane wasn’t looking, because it wasn’t a look he was meant to see. It was only for me.

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