Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(6)


by Tammara Webber

I downloaded the worksheets, turning over his last statement in my mind. Whether Landon knew Kennedy or not—unlikely, given the size of the university and their differing majors—he’d taken my side. Me, a girl so absurdly unhinged by a breakup that she’d skipped class for two weeks.

He was smart and funny, and after only three days, I already looked forward to his name in my inbox, our back-and-forth banter. All of a sudden, I wondered what he looked like. God. Just yesterday, I’d left class telling myself to ignore the brooding stares of a guy in class because I needed time to get over Kennedy’s desertion, and here I was daydreaming over a tutor who could look like Chace Crawford. Or… Benji.

It didn’t matter. I needed time to recover, even if Landon was right. Even if Kennedy was a moron.

I clicked on the first worksheet and opened my econ text, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Landon,

The worksheets are definitely going to help. I already feel less scared of failing this class. I did the first two - when you have time, could you look them over? Thank you again for wasting your time on me. I’ll try to get caught up quickly. I’m not used to being the student who’s a pain in the butt.

I had two freshmen from rival schools in competition with each other at regionals. Both asked me, separately thank God, who was my favorite. (I told each of them, “You are, of course.” Was that wrong??) They were very smug with each other when they came to get their basses from my truck, and I prayed that neither would mention the favorite status in front of the other. BOYS.

Engineering? Wow. No wonder you seem so brainy.

JW

Jacqueline,

The worksheets look great. I marked a couple of minor mistakes that could trip you up on an exam, so check those.

Ah, sounds like your freshmen have crushes on you? Not surprised. A bass-playing college girl would have rendered me speechless at 14.

Of course I’m brainy! I’m the all-knowing tutor. And in case you’re wondering - yes, you’re my favorite. ;)

LM

***

Saturday night, Erin was once again threatening to drag me out of our room, ignoring my protests and reluctance. This time, three of us were heading to the strip to hit some clubs with our fake IDs.

“Don’t you remember how the party last weekend went for me?” I asked when she shoved a clingy black dress into my outspread arms. Of course she didn’t remember; I hadn’t told her. All she knew was that I’d bailed early.

“Jacqueline, babe, I know this is hard. But you can’t let Kennedy win! You can’t let him make you a hermit, or keep you scared of falling for someone new. God, I love this part of it—the hunt for a new guy, everything unknown, untried—the mass of hot prospects in front of you, waiting to be discovered. If I didn’t lust after Chaz so hard, I’d be jealous of you.”

The way she described it, the process sounded like an expedition to an exotic continent. I didn’t share her feelings, not in the least. The idea of finding a new guy sounded exhausting and depressing. “Erin, I don’t think I’m ready—”

“That’s what you said last weekend, and you did fine!” She frowned, thinking, and for the hundredth time, I almost told her about Buck. “Even if you did leave early.” She rehung the black dress I didn’t intend to wear, and I held my tongue, losing my chance again. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t tell her. I was mostly afraid she’d be infuriated. More unreasonably, I was afraid she’d be disbelieving. Neither response was something I wanted to contend with; I just wanted to forget.

I thought of Lucas, annoyed that his presence in econ was making that process impossible, because he was irrevocably connected to the horror of that night. He’d not looked at me at all Friday—as far as I knew. Every time I snuck a look back at him, he appeared to be sketching rather than taking notes, his black pencil held low between his fingers, a concentrated expression on his face. When class ended, he stuck the pencil behind his ear, turned and walked from the classroom without a backward glance, first one out the door.

“Now this will show off the goods,” Erin said, breaking into my reverie. Next up was a stretchy, low-cut purple top. Yanking it from the hanger, she tossed it to me. “Put on your skinny jeans and those badass boots that make you look like a gangbanger’s girlfriend. This fits your tough, I’m-a-challenge mood better anyway. You have to dress to attract the right guys, and if I make you too cute, you’ll flick them all away with glares and irritated rolls of your big blue eyes.”

I sighed and she laughed, pulling the black dress over her own head. Erin knew me far too well.

***

I’d lost count of the number of drinks Erin had pressed into my hand, telling me that since she was the designated driver, I was required to drink for two. “I can’t touch any of these hotties, either—so I have to live vicariously. Now finish that margarita, stop scowling, and stare at one of these guys until he knows he won’t lose a limb if he asks you to dance.”

“I’m not scowling!” I scowled, obeying and tossing the drink back. I grimaced. Cheap tequila refused to be concealed by an abundance of even cheaper margarita mix, but that’s what you get for no cover charge and five dollar drinks.

Still relatively early, the small club we decided to occupy for the night wasn’t yet overcrowded with the hundreds of college students and townies it would hold soon. Erin, Maggie and I claimed a corner of the near-vacant floor. Having downed the drinks and dressed the part, I moved to the music, gradually loosening up while laughing at Erin’s cheer poses and Maggie’s ballet movements. The first guy to interrupt us approached Erin, but she shook her head as her lips mouthed the word boyfriend. She turned him toward me and I thought: That’s me: boyfriend-less. No more relationship. No more Kennedy. No more You’re my Jackie.

“Wanna dance?” the guy yelled over the music, fidgeting as though he was ready to bolt if I turned him down. I nodded, choking back the pointless, almost physical pain. I was no one’s girlfriend, for the first time in three years.

We moved to an open space a few feet from Erin and Maggie—who also had a boyfriend. It didn’t take long to figure out that the two of them planned to point every guy who asked one of them to dance at me. I was their pet project for the night.

Two hours later, I’d danced with too many guys to remember, dodging wandering hands and turning down any drinks not handed to me by Erin. Crowded around a tall table near the floor, we leaned hips on the barstools surrounding it, watching the surrounding hookup activity. As Maggie returned from bopping and pirouetting her way to the bathroom and back, I asked if we could go yet, and Erin fixed me with a look she usually reserved for ill-mannered steakhouse patrons. I smirked at her and sipped my drink.

I knew when the next guy walked up behind me, and that Erin and Maggie approved, because their eyes widened simultaneously, focusing over my shoulder. Fingers grazed the back of my arm, and I took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly before turning around. Good thing, too—because it was Lucas who stood there, his eyes dropping to my cle**age for a split second. He crooked an eyebrow and gazed into my eyes with a faint smile, unapologetic for looking. The heels on my boots were killing my feet, but they weren’t tall enough to bring me eye-to-eye.

Rather than raising his voice like everyone else, he leaned close to my ear and asked, “Dance with me?” I felt his warm breath and inhaled the scent of his aftershave—something basic and male—before he withdrew, his eyes on mine, waiting for my answer. An enthusiastic nudge between my shoulder blades told me Erin’s vote: go dance with him.

I nodded, and he took my hand and made his way to the floor, maneuvering through the crowd, which parted easily for him. Once we reached the worn oak floor, he turned and pulled me close, never letting go of my hand. As we found the rhythm of the slow-paced song, swaying together, he took my other hand in his and moved both hands behind my back, gently holding me captive. My br**sts grazed against his chest and I struggled not to gasp at the subtle contact.

I’d barely let anyone else touch me at all tonight, adamantly refusing all slow dances. Dizzy from weak-but-plentiful margaritas, I closed my eyes and let him lead, telling myself that the difference was the alcohol in my blood, nothing more. A minute later, he released my fingers and spread his hands across my lower back, and my hands moved to his biceps. Solid, as I knew they would be. Tracking a path, my palms encountered equally hard shoulders. Finally, I hooked my fingers behind his neck and opened my eyes.

His gaze was penetrating, not wavering for a moment, and my pulse hammered under his silent scrutiny.

Finally, I stretched up toward his ear, and he leaned down to accommodate my question. “S-so what’s your major?” I breathed.

From the corner of my eye, I watched his mouth twitch up on one side. “Do you really want to talk about that?” He maintained the closeness, our torsos pressed together chest to thigh, ostensibly waiting for my answer. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so full of pure, unqualified desire.

I swallowed. “As opposed to talking about what?”

He chuckled, and I felt the vibrations of his chest against mine. “As opposed to not talking.” His hands at my waist gripped a little tighter, thumbs pressing into my ribcage, fingers still at my lower back.

I blinked, one moment not understanding what his words implied, and the next knowing unreservedly.

“I don’t know what you mean,” I lied.

He leaned closer still, his smooth cheek whispering against mine as he murmured, “Yes, you do.” Struck again by his scent—clean and subtle, unlike the trendy colognes Kennedy favored, which always seemed to overpower any scent I wore—I felt an impulse to bring my fingertips to his face and trail them over his freshly shaven jaw, the sexy scruff from yesterday gone. His skin wouldn’t redden mine now if he kissed me, hard. I would feel nothing but his mouth on mine—and maybe that slim ring at the edge of his lip…

The errant thought made my breath catch.

When his lips touched just south of my earlobe, I thought I might pass out. “Let’s just dance,” he said. Pulling back just far enough to stare into my eyes, he drew my body against his, and my legs obeyed where his said to go.

Chapter 5

“Holy f**kburgers. Who was that hot guy?” Erin carefully maneuvered her daddy-furnished Volvo sedan around the people weaving drunkenly through the parking lot. “If I wasn’t stone cold sober, I’d think he was a figment of my sex-starved imagination.”

“Psshh,” I mumbled, eyes closed, my spinning head lolling back against the headrest. “Don’t even talk to me about sex-starved.”

Erin grabbed my hand and squeezed. “Aw, shit. I’m sorry, J. I forgot.”

It had been three weeks since my breakup, but I wasn’t about to disclose the fact that it had been more like four weeks… maybe five, since the last time we’d been at all intimate. I should have seen Kennedy’s lack of interest for the sign it was, rather than giving him justifications in my head—he was busy with frat obligations, while I fit in at least two hours of practice a day—more when I had ensemble rehearsal. He had his straight-A grade point average to maintain, and I had music lessons to give.

A minute later, Maggie piped up from the back seat. “You haven’t answered the question, Jacqueline!” Her speech was almost as slurred as mine, my name pronounced in three distinct syllables, like three separate words. “Who was that beautiful guy, and more importantly, why didn’t you solve your sex-starvedness with him? Holy hell, I think I’d be willing to boot Will outta bed for a night with him!”

“Slut,” Erin said, rolling her eyes into her rearview mirror.

Maggie laughed. “In this case… Hell. Yeah.”

They both grew quiet, staring at me, waiting for me to reveal who he was. I mentally sorted through everything I knew about him. He’d saved me from Buck’s attack, which I hadn’t told anyone about. He’d beaten the crap out of Buck, which I likewise hadn’t told anyone. He’d stared at me all through economics on Wednesday, and then ignored me completely on Friday, which I hadn’t told anyone. He worked at the Starbucks. And he kept asking me if I was okay… but he hadn’t asked me that tonight.