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Authors: Laura Jardine

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BOOK: Not Just a Friend
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Yes, she’d made a great choice for a friend with benefits.

At least she’d made one smart decision when it came to a man.

*

To Liam, it didn’t feel like a regular Sunday afternoon in bed with Maya.

To start with, it wasn’t the afternoon; it was nine-thirty at night. Then there was the matter of her clothing—both her shirt and undergarments. Plus the jealousy simmering within him, which he kept trying to extinguish. But as he shed his clothes and rolled on a condom, the jealousy disappeared.
He
was the one having sex with her tonight, not Tyler.

Liam slid inside her body, and her breath caught.

Yes
. It felt damn good, to be inside her and feel her respond.

He moved slowly, deeply, speeding up when her breathing grew more labored, and bringing her over the edge just before he finished. He was the one who was with her tonight, and he knew exactly how to bring her pleasure.

When he lay on his back beside her afterward, she pulled up the covers, and he pushed them down so he could see her breasts.

She raised an eyebrow.

“What?” he said. “I want to look at you.”

“You don’t want to turn away so you can pretend you’re in bed with someone else?”

Oh.
Her words had a bit of a bite to them.

When Maya had asked if he wanted to sleep with her last year, he’d immediately thought of Ginny Cuthbert. It almost felt like cheating.

But he wasn’t with Ginny, and he never would be. If he were to sleep with Ginny…well, she would be the one cheating. On her husband. He didn’t want her to do that.

So he told Maya that yes, he wanted to have sex with her, but she should know that he was in love with someone else, and that someone else might cross his mind when they were together.

After he'd said the words, he regretted them. She wouldn’t be able to tell anyway, right? But Liam didn’t like hiding things; he wanted her to know everything before making a decision.

Maya had told him that yes, it was fine if he thought of someone else when he was thrusting into her. As long as it was okay if she thought of Leonardo DiCaprio sometimes. She missed being in bed with a guy physically; she didn’t require an emotional connection.

They’d talked about this all very matter-of-fact, and he’d worried that meant it wouldn’t be very good. But it had been better than he’d expected, and tonight…tonight had been good too, although there was a hint of hurt in her voice now.

“I wasn’t thinking of anyone else,” he said.

This time, the honest answer was probably also what she wanted to hear. Though it surprised him that it bothered her, when she’d previously seemed fine with him thinking about another woman. But he understood. He’d been jealous of Tyler, after all.

“Really?” she said.

“I’m not in love with Ginny anymore.”

He hadn’t thought the words before he said them out loud. He hadn’t realized until he said them that they were true.

But they were.

Liam no longer had a hopeless, pathetic crush on the pretty science teacher who’d started working at his school at the beginning of last school year.
Thank God.

Maya snorted. “Yeah, sure you aren’t.”

“I mean it.”

“It’s okay. It doesn’t bother me that you think of her when you screw me, and when we lie in bed afterward.”

Yes, cover up her feelings. Maya did that a lot.

He placed a hand on her shoulder. “Seriously. I no longer have a stupid crush on a married woman. That’s all it was—a silly crush. I can see that now. I didn’t know her well enough to actually be in love with her. As my friend, you should be happy I’ve gotten past it.”

She regarded him for a moment in silence, her brow furrowed slightly.

“Okay,” she said. “I believe you.”

“I was here. In the moment. With you.”

“Oh my God, Liam.” She covered her face with her hands. “Could you stop saying such lame-ass crap? That was supposed to be another advantage of sleeping with a friend—I wouldn’t have to hear any pathetic lines like that. For some reason, the guys I date are masters at sugar-coated animal shit. But you.” She jabbed a finger into his chest. “You were supposed to be different.”

And that was so much like Maya, too. He laughed.

Yeah, he really liked her.

As a friend, of course.

“Do you still think of Leo sometimes?” he asked. “When I fuck you?”

“I love when you swear.”

“It turns you on?”

“No. I just imagine you swearing in front of your students. Like, ‘Solve for
x
, you dumbass!’ Or, ‘Find the slope of the fucking line!’ And that amuses me greatly.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not how I speak in front of a class.”

She covered her heart—well, her breast—with her hand. “That hurts.”

“It hurts that you don’t want me to see your breast.”

“Fine, fine.” She dropped her hand to her side.

That was better. Now he could see all of her lightly freckled chest—a lot more than she’d shown Tyler. He reached out and caressed her nipple with his thumb, softly enough that she would find it ticklish. After a year, he knew her body well.

She slapped him away.

“Tell me the truth,” he said. “Do you still think of Leo sometimes when I screw you?”

She considered this for a moment. “No. Not when I’m with you.”

He was more pleased with that answer than he should be. But…“Not with me? Does that mean—”

“When I’m alone, sometimes I do.” She shrugged. “What can I say? I can’t get over him just like that, not when I’ve had a crush on him since grade nine. I saw
Titanic
three times in theaters. And I still watch it every year.”

That didn’t sound like Maya. Not the woman he knew now. He was surprised she’d admitted that to him. But the Maya he’d known as a teenager…he could see that girl watching
Titanic
three times, sobbing in the theater.

“Don’t you dare repeat that to anyone,” she said. “Or I will slash your wrists while you sleep.”

Liam chuckled. “I know.”

He raised himself up on his arms, held himself over the woman he didn’t love but liked very much. She was beautiful, her hair falling over her shoulders, a little disheveled after their activities.

“You want to stay over?” he asked. “It’s late.”

Maya looked at the clock. “Nah, I’m good. I’ll leave in a few minutes.”

“I don’t like you walking to the subway alone in the dark.”

She gave him a long-suffering look. “I do it all the time. It’s not far.”

What was wrong with him? It was a safe area, and he could walk with her, if she’d let him. There was no reason for her to stay overnight.

Except that he kind of wanted her to.

No. He
really
wanted her to.

Liam wanted to fall asleep next to her, then have sex with her again in the morning, and eat cereal together. He didn’t want her to leave anytime soon.

Was it possible that he didn’t just like Maya as a friend, but as something more?

“Fine.” She sighed and pulled the blanket up to her shoulders again; he pushed it down. “I’ll stay over, since you seem to want it so badly.”

He did. But he wasn’t sure how he felt about her, and he should figure that out before he said anything.

It was time to keep his mouth shut. Like his teenage self, who’d given Maya a valentine but had been too terrified to write his name on it.

Chapter 4

Liam had first met Maya Gregory in grade nine. They were in the same French class that year, and they had the occasional class together thereafter. But it wasn’t until calculus—which he took in the first semester of his final year—that he really got to know her.

Ms. Devine had them sit in alphabetical order. “Foster” was before “Gregory” on the class list, so they ended up beside each other.

He’d always thought Maya was pretty. But he was a teenage boy; he thought a lot of women were attractive. He was also a shy and somewhat geeky teenage boy, and he’d never even entertained the idea of actually asking a girl out. Just not something he’d be able to work up the courage to do, and not something he imagined going well. Liam was not the sort of boy any girl would be interested in. The acne, his extreme uncoolness—it was clear to him.

But with Maya, it was different. By October, he desperately wanted to ask her out, and he even thought there was more than a snowball’s chance in hell of her saying yes. Not a good chance, but it was slightly more than zero.

Calculus wasn’t a struggle for either of them; they were both good math students. And while Liam had always liked math, that had mainly been because it was easy for him. With calculus, though, it was more than that. It was just so…neat. His favorite class by far.

Or maybe that was because of the girl sitting next to him.

At first they just spoke after class, as they were packing up their books. Later they started talking when they were supposed to be working on questions from the textbook. Even though he had lots of inappropriate thoughts about her, he was able to talk to her without sounding like an idiot.

Asking her out, of course, was a different matter.

They had a friendly rivalry when it came to their calculus tests. He did better than her on the first one, but she beat him on the second one. And she never let him forget it.

Before calculus class, he’d thought of her as a quiet, pretty girl. But soon he thought of her as wildly attractive and smart—and funny, once he got to know her better. When she teased him about that test, it pleased him more than it should that she could joke with him like this.

Sometimes he wished she wasn’t so good at calculus. Then he could offer to tutor her. But most of the time, he wanted her just how she was. The way she twisted her mouth when she was working on a hard problem; the way she could say something sarcastic in a perfectly sweet voice. He wondered if most people could tell how sarcastic she was. Did she even talk to other people like this? Maybe he was special.

For the first time in his life, he got in trouble for talking while the teacher was speaking. Well, all he earned was a glare from Ms. Devine. But for someone who never got in trouble, it was a big deal to earn a glare for whispering to the girl next to him. And it was worth it.

He had moments when he thought Maya was totally into him, but his hopes were always quickly deflated. She often glanced at Josh Lee-Corning, who sat a few seats away. Josh was very much a cool kid, and he was taking calculus only because his parents had forced him to. He had a dark, dangerous edge about him that seemed to reel the girls in. Liam thought it was stupid, but that was the way it was. Girls liked Josh; they did not like Liam.

But maybe he should ask Maya out. Just in case.

The following semester, he made a plan for Valentine’s Day. He no longer had class with her, and God, he missed her. There was an advantage though: if she turned him down, it wouldn’t be as awkward because they didn’t sit beside each other every day.

He had ideas. Oh, he had lots of ideas…but it would be better if they stayed in his imagination. They were the sort of over-the-top things that worked in movies but would probably do nothing in real life except embarrass him. So he went with something a little more low-key.

On February 14, he got to school early and taped a pink rose to her locker. Liam had walked with her down to her locker a handful of times after calculus, so he knew where it was. He’d spent a long time deciding on the color of the rose. Apparently rose colors had all kinds of meanings, and this was the sort of thing women knew. But after a couple of hours of searching online using his crappy internet connection, he was confused by the conflicting information he’d found. Why couldn’t rose colors be simple, like calculus? Well, he’d go with pink. He’d initially thought of red, but some websites suggested that was too serious for someone you had yet to have a first date with. A red rose might scare a woman off.

So he put a pink rose on her locker and slid a cute Valentine’s card in through the top. He’d considered adding a calculus joke—of which he’d found many online—then decided against it. No one recommended calculus jokes as a way to woo a woman.

And if he included a calculus joke, she would know who had given it to her, something he wished to avoid.

Yes, he was being chicken and giving her an anonymous valentine, signed “your secret admirer”—how cliché. He stood down the hall that morning so he could see how she reacted. Maybe, if she seemed pleased, he would ask her out. Perhaps with another card he’d drop into her locker.

Or something like that. Liam felt completely out of his depth here.

Maya arrived five minutes before class started, cocked her head when she saw the rose, and frowned. She opened her locker, and before she could put her knapsack inside, the valentine slid out the bottom. Her eyes scanned the card and she smiled.
Yes.
But when she looked up and down the hall, he ducked into the nearest classroom, embarrassed.

He could still see her, though not as well. Before she went to class, she opened up a water bottle and stuck the rose inside, like she wanted it to last.

Liam had a smile on his face all day—even in English class—and spent far too much time daydreaming about Maya and what he should do next. He decided he would give her another anonymous card tomorrow, asking her to meet him at the large maple behind the school after class.

He walked by her locker at the end of the day; he couldn’t help it. And he saw her put on her winter jacket before carefully taking the rose out of her locker.

Maybe he should ask her out now. But at that thought, his mouth went horribly dry. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to get the words out.

So he just went home.

He’d stick with the anonymous card idea. At least that way if she saw Liam waiting by the tree and found the idea of going out with him repulsive, she would simply leave. No awkward conversation needed.

But he hoped she’d come up to him and kiss him, and the snow would fall lightly all around them.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t what happened.

BOOK: Not Just a Friend
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