Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(12)


by Tammara Webber

Then, he smiled. Behind my palm, I smiled back, begging him silently not to make me laugh again—because just under the surface, the repressed hysterics were preparing to mutiny.

“Maybe I should just tickle you and get it over with.” He appeared to mull over the idea.

“Please don’t,” I said, alarmed. Like most people, I wasn’t an attractive sight when tickled. I knew this, because my aunt had filmed my jackass older cousin tickling me into a writhing, pleading mess on my eleventh birthday. My face had turned a blotchy scarlet, spit trailing from the corner of my mouth, and the sounds of protestation I uttered were almost inhuman.

“No?”

“No. Please, no.”

Sighing, he took my hand from in front of my face and pressed it to his chest, leaning forward swiftly and kissing me. I noticed he’d carefully pulled my shirt back down, though that didn’t stop him from stroking his fingertips across my abdomen beneath it, or palming my br**sts through the bra, his thumb stroking over a nipple while his mouth moved with mine, leaving me lightheaded. Against my hand, his heart thumped in time with mine.

I forgot all about laughing.

***

My lips were sensitive and tingly. Touching them brought rushes of gooey memories—his hands, and what they’d done in concert with his mouth—the crazy-making kisses, and the few words he’d spoken. You’re so beautiful.

I wanted to see the sketches, so he showed them to me. They were good. Amazingly good. I told him so and earned his barely-there smile.

“What will you do with them?” I asked, more than a little belatedly.

“Redo them in charcoal, probably.”

I waited for more. “And then?”

He shrugged into his hoodie and stared down at me. “Tack them to my bedroom wall?”

My lips parted, but I had no idea what to say. Bedroom wall?

His eyes returned to the pad, turned to the second drawing. “Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this?”

That statement had a ninety-nine percent chance of meaning what it seemed to suggest, but I wasn’t sure enough to reply in kind, so I said nothing. He closed the sketchpad and laid it on the bookcase near the door. Taking my chin in his hand, he rubbed his thumb across my lower lip, gently.

“Ah, crap.” He pulled his hand away and looked at his fingers. “I forgot what my hands look like after drawing.” He looked at my shirt. “You may have little gray marks… everywhere.”

Assuming I now had a gray lip and possibly faint streaks of gray across my abdomen and the upper curves of my br**sts, I couldn’t think what to say beyond, “Oh.”

He balled his hands into fists, set one under my chin to raise it again and used the other to tug me closer. “Don’t worry, no fingers.” Dragging my body against his, he kissed me, his back against the door to my room. In this position, there was no hiding what his body wanted from me. I pressed against him and he groaned into my mouth and wrenched his mouth from mine, breathing raggedly. “I have to go now, or I’m not going.”

This was the moment for me to say Stay, but I couldn’t. Kennedy flashed through my mind, saying something oh-so-similar not that long ago. Even more insane was the thought of Landon, and a possible email waiting for me. Neither of those things should matter. Not in this moment.

Lucas straightened and cleared his throat. Kissing my forehead and the tip of my nose, he opened the door. “Later,” he said, and was gone.

I gripped the doorframe and watched him walk away, pulling the beanie over his tousled hair. Every girl he passed glanced up. Some turned and watched until he reached the stairwell door, before whipping their heads around to see where he’d come from. I retreated into my room and left them to their speculation.

The interrupting email wasn’t from Landon, it was from Mom—and contained my parents’ itinerary for their ski trip to Colorado. A ski trip that I’d not been invited to join. A ski trip scheduled for the only mid-semester weekend I’d planned to spend at home—a holiday weekend, no less.

Still, I had a difficult time stirring up any real anger when I opened her email, for two reasons. One, I was oddly disappointed that it wasn’t Landon’s name in my inbox, and two, I was so high from being thoroughly kissed by Lucas that I didn’t care about a holiday eleven days in the future, or how I’d be spending it.

***

By Sunday evening, I was eating spoonfuls of peanut butter for dinner, watching He’s Just Not That Into You, and telling myself I was clearly no exception to anyone’s rule. Landon still hadn’t emailed, and I hadn’t heard from Lucas, either.

Erin was due back any moment, and I was eager for her boisterous, colorful presence in our room. Too much quiet left me depressed and consuming condiments for meals.

My inbox dinged and I debated whether or not to pause the movie to check it. I wasn’t in the mood for another of my mother’s efforts to shed her remorse about deserting me on a major holiday. So far, she’d tried logic (“It was your year to go to Kennedy’s.”), emotional blackmail (“Your father and I haven’t had a trip alone in twenty years.”), and one grudging invitation to join them (“I suppose we could get you a ticket. But you’d have to sleep on the sofa or a cot, because the rooms are undoubtedly booked.”). I ignored the first two and said No, thanks to the third.

What next—an attempt to buy me off? A proposed shopping trip wouldn’t be out of the question—she’d used that before. Last week, I’d bookmarked a pair of boots online that my private lesson pay and my allowance wouldn’t quite cover. I paused the movie and clicked my inbox.

Jackpot. But not Mom. Landon.

Jacqueline,

I’m glad you felt confident about the quiz. Whenever you get a draft of your paper together, I’d be happy to look it over before you turn it in. I’ve attached the worksheet for tomorrow’s session, which I just finished making. If you have any questions, let me know.

LM

I reread the email, pouting. There was nothing remotely flirtatious in it. It could have come from a professor. He didn’t account for why it had taken him all weekend to answer me, when he usually answered within a couple of hours, if not sooner. He didn’t tease me about anything, or ask any non-econ related question. I felt as though I’d imagined every shred of familiarity we’d developed over the past couple of weeks.

Landon,

Thank you. I’ll send the draft by Saturday morning. I hope you had an enjoyable weekend.

JW

Jacqueline,

Getting it to me by Saturday is fine. I’ll try to get it back to you quickly so you can get it in to Dr. H before the break. My weekend was good. Especially Friday. How was yours?

LM

Landon,

Good. A bit lonely (my roommate was out of town all weekend, and she just got home and is bursting to tell me all about it), but productive. Thanks again for all your help.

JW

Chapter 9

Once again, Lucas was approached by a girl at the end of class. What the hell? Did every girl in our class feel a need to converse with him? But then a guy walked up next to her, his arm wrapping around her shoulder. Alarmed, I realized what my visceral reaction implied: jealousy. Over a guy I barely knew, with whom I’d exchanged more saliva than sentences.

As I passed the last aisle, Lucas gave me a tight smile with a slight lift of his chin and shifted his attention back to the couple in front of him. Conflicted, I was equal parts relieved and disappointed.

I asked Erin’s advice over lunch.

“He’s holding his cards damned close.” Sipping her typical Jamba Juice lunch, she mulled over possible causes for his reserve. “It’s almost like… he’s resisting being attracted to you. Don’t get me wrong, lots of guys get standoffish—but usually not until they’ve closed the deal.” She gave me a close look. “Are you sure nothing more happened Friday night?”

I heaved a sigh and clunked my forehead with the heel of my hand. “Oh yeah, I totally forgot that part where we had wild sex all night Friday.”

She rolled her eyes, and then her brows rose. “Hey. What if he has a girlfriend?”

I frowned. I hadn’t considered that. “I guess that’s possible.”

My mind went to one thing I couldn’t say: What if what happened the night we met made me appear as pathetic and foolish as I felt, and he couldn’t get past it? Those terrifying minutes haunted me still, and running into Buck a few days ago only amplified the threat. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d see him. He was in the same frat as Kennedy. He was friends with Chaz and Erin, and my entire former circle of friends. He was almost unavoidable.

“A girlfriend would definitely put a kink in our plans,” Erin mused.

Out of the blue, I wondered if Landon Maxfield had a girlfriend. He hadn’t mentioned one, but why would he? There was no reason for him to insert Hey, btw, I have a girlfriend into one of our email exchanges. I could find some way to ask. He seemed so candid that I was sure he’d answer.

“J?” Erin’s voice broke into my thoughts.

“Huh? Sorry.”

She arched a brow, slurping up the last of her smoothie. “What are you thinking about? I know that calculating look, and as your official wing-woman, I need in on whatever you’re plotting.”

I picked at the sandwich in my hand, pulling the tomatoes out and stacking them in the corner of my tray. I couldn’t tell her about Buck. But I could confess my building interest in Landon. “You know my economics tutor?”

She nodded, confused, and suddenly, forming an online-only attraction while attending a university where there were thousands of single guys seemed like the most ridiculous thing ever in the history of ridiculous things.

“Well, sometimes it seems like we’re flirting. And once, he said Kennedy was a moron.”

She arched one brow. “He knows Kennedy?”

“No—I mean he said, ‘Your ex is a moron.’ I don’t think he actually knows him. It was more of a… complimentary statement, to me.” I took a bite of my turkey-bacon-guacamole sandwich.

“Hmm.” Erin leaned both elbows onto the table between us. “Well, it’s a given that he can’t be as hot as Lucas. But he’s a tutor, so he must be smart—God knows that’s right up your alley. Is he cute at all?”

“Er,” I said, still chewing.

She narrowed her eyes. “Oh my God. You’ve never met him, have you?”

I closed my eyes and sighed. “Not exactly.”

“Not exactly?”

“Okay, not at all. I have no idea what he looks like, all right? But he’s intelligent and funny. And he’s been really nice, and helped me so much—I’m almost caught up in class, except for that project—”

“Jacqueline, you can’t fall for a guy without ever seeing him! What if his looks are a deal-breaker? He could look like—” she scanned the food court and zeroed in on a creepy-looking guy in a ratty t-shirt and sweats loping past our table “—that guy.”

I crossed my arms, offended on Landon’s behalf. “That guy looks like a social outcast. Landon is too smart to look like that.”

She covered her eyes and shook her head. “Okay. We’ll make Landon Plan B.” She eyed me, wearing her conspiracy-theory expression—eyes narrowed, lips puckered. “What do you really know about this Landon guy?”

I laughed. “A lot more than I know about that Lucas guy.”

“Except what he looks and tastes like.” She waggled her brows.

“Ugh! Erin. You have a one-track mind.”

She smiled deviously. “I prefer to think of it as target-driven.”

We skipped the Starbucks—part of Erin’s plan, though she lamented the sacrifices she was making on my behalf as we choked down cups of cafeteria coffee. Leaving me with strict instructions not to text or email either of them, she gave me one swift hug before being swallowed by a group of her sorority sisters—all of whom acted as though we were distant acquaintances at best—as they set up an afternoon bake sale.