Not the Friend with Benefits: A BBW New Adult Serial Romance (Not the Hot Chick series Book 3)

Contents

 

Title page

Not the Friend with Benefits

Connect with N. Raines

Kindle Titles by N. Raines

Dedication

Copyright page

Not the Friend with Benefits

(Book 3 in the Not the Hot Chick Series)

N. Raines

Not the Friend with Benefits

"So what do you feel like doing tonight?"

Layla Messner smiled at the man sitting across from her. So nice to have someone to spend time with. Who wanted to spend time with her.

They were just finishing breakfast at their favorite coffeehouse on Elmwood Ave. "I'm open to suggestions," she answered. "What would you like to do?"

Her companion scanned the events page of the
Gusto
. "We could check out a movie. A couple of new ones are playing at the Galleria."

"Mm-hmm." Layla took a sip of coffee and cradled the heavy mug as she gazed at Drew. How'd she get so lucky?

They'd met in the teachers' lounge of a local elementary, both doing the substitute gig, and had bonded over the feeling of being outsiders among a staff that had worked together for years. Their chat led to an exchange of phone numbers, and after that a series of dates. They had clicked right away.

It would be hard not to click with Drew Halligan. He was cute, smart, and funny. He loved teaching, as did she. Something else to bond over. There wasn't much not to like about him.

His mouth moved, but it took a moment for her to register that he'd spoken. "Hello? Earth to Layla." He waved his hand a few inches from her face.

She blinked and laughed. "Sorry. What'd you say?"

"I said, there's a new band playing at that place we went last week. We could check it out if you feel like it."

"I'm up for that. Sounds good." So good, in fact, that she threw caution to the winds and said, "Let's do both. A movie and then stop for drinks, check out the band."

Drew gave her a wide-eyed look of approval. "All right! Damn, girl, you're living large."

She grinned. "You said it."

Why shouldn't she live large? She and Drew had been seeing each other a couple of months now. They hadn't slept together yet, but they were certainly more than just friends. Though they hadn't discussed it, Layla felt they were moving into boyfriend/girlfriend territory.

So why aren't you discussing it?
A little voice inside, her pain-in-the-ass conscience, asked.
And why haven't you two hooked up yet? You want to, don't you?

Of course she did.

Then what's the holdup? Is it because you'll have to decide about Cam?

Cam. Her friend. And he
was
her friend, regardless of the fact that she'd hooked up with him twice. But that had been months ago. Now their relationship was strictly platonic.

If it's so innocent, so platonic, how come you've never mentioned him to Drew? Hmm?

Because there was no need to. Drew hadn't told her about all his friends.

Maybe because he's not still hanging out with his former hookups. It's a little different in your case, isn't it?

Not at all. There'd been nothing sexual between her and Cam since before she even met Drew. And that's how it had been ever since she'd told him she wanted to dial their relationship back.

Uh-huh. And are you happy he's stuck to those terms or disappointed?

Shut. Up.

Drew's voice roused her. "You're doing it again."

"Doing what?"

"Zoning out. Am I that boring?" His mouth hitched up in a smile, but there was a shadow of doubt in his expressive blue eyes.

Guilt pinged her. She placed her hand over his on the wooden table. "Not boring at all. Guess I'm just spacey this morning." She glanced at his bowl. "You all done with your oatmeal?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Such a disgustingly healthy meal." She'd finished off her cinnamon bun a while ago. "You're so good at resisting temptation."

He held up his arm and made a fist, bulging his biceps. "Breakfast of champions."

In spite of his clowning, she couldn't help but admire the size of his muscle. Though he was of stocky build, he certainly had plenty of muscle mass. He wasn't as tall as Cam, but he had no trouble topping her five feet two. With his light brown hair and blue eyes, and the dimple that flashed in his cheek when he smiled, he certainly wasn't hard to look at. Maybe Drew didn't cause women's heads to turn, as Cam did, but he was good-looking in a boy-next-door way. Layla felt comfortable with him. They matched, not just in interests and profession, but in appearance—pleasant and presentable, but not likely to knock off anyone's socks.

That little pain-in-the-ass voice started up again.
If you and Drew match so well, why do you keep comparing him to Cam?

This was stupid. She was not going to keep arguing with herself.

Because you know you'll lose.

She forced her attention back to Drew, who had gestured to their server for the check. "We can firm up our plans for tonight a little later. What time will you be done with your game?" Drew and some of his friends planned to shoot hoops at the YMCA.

"Not sure. We've only got the court an hour. We'll probably hang out for a while after that. How long will you and your friend be skating?"

"Two or three hours. However long it takes for Cam and me to freeze our butts off." She held her breath, waiting for Drew to question her further. This was the first time she'd ever mentioned Cam by name.

He didn't pick up on it. "Okay. Careful of that butt. Don't want it to get too cold." He winked.

She smiled reflexively, but that pesky voice wouldn't leave her alone.
Tell him. It's the perfect time. Say: oh, by the way, have I mentioned that Cam's a guy?

But instead she merely said, "Will do."

"So. I'll text you later?"

"Why don't you just come by my place?" Was it guilt at her omission or shame at her cowardice that had her make the offer? "I have an extra key.
You can let yourself in if I'm not back yet, make yourself at home. My roomie's away for the weekend, so you'll have the place to yourself." She slipped the key from a secret compartment in her purse and held it out to him, then stopped when she caught the expression on his face. His eyes bulged and his mouth gaped as if he'd witnessed the second coming.

Whoa. Had she screwed up by offering him a key? Maybe he thought she was pushy, rushing things when they hadn't even slept together yet. "I just—"

She fell silent when she realized Drew wasn't looking her way at all. Perhaps hadn't even heard her offer. He was staring at someone behind her. She quickly swiveled in her chair.

Jessi Wallace, whom Layla hadn't seen in months, was standing there. A smile curved her lips as her gaze rested on Drew, then traveled to Layla. "Hello, there."

Now it was Layla's turn to stare open-mouthed. She felt as if she'd just been slapped in the face with a dead fish.

After a few moments of awkward silence, she found her voice. "Jessi. Hi."

Jessi had once lived in the same apartment complex as Layla, directly across the hall. Though they hadn't been friends, they'd parted as enemies. Jessi had never forgiven Layla for hooking up with Cam when Jessi wanted to get there first.

It wasn't as though Layla had planned it, and Jessi had no special claim to Cam, the hot bartender they'd met that night. But Jessi couldn't stand the thought that her chubby little neighbor had first crack at what she, the hot chick, considered hers.

"Uh, how are you?" Layla stammered, not knowing where to take the conversation or why Jessi had bothered to stop by their table.

"Fine. Just in town to visit a few friends." She flicked a strand of lustrous chestnut hair over her shoulder as her gaze landed on Drew. "Well, Layla, never pictured running into you."

I'll bet you didn't.

"So who's this?" Jessi asked, indicating Drew. "I don't remember seeing him before."

"Uh, this is my friend Drew. Drew, this is Jessi Wallace. We used to be neighbors, I guess you'd say."

Drew stood at the introduction—a perfect gentleman, Layla noted as jealousy knifed her. Jessi had just stopped by to say hello? She didn't buy it.

"Nice to meet you." His voice was low and as smooth as caramel. She couldn't blame him for being taken by Jessi's beauty. Any normal guy would be impressed. At the moment she just wished Drew weren't quite so normal.

"Nice meeting
you
."

Layla gritted her teeth. How did Jessi manage to make a simple greeting sound seductive?

What the girl did next surprised her. "Layla. Could I have a minute with you?"

"I'll take care of the check," Drew said, offering them the chance to be alone. If only he weren't such a gentleman. She really didn't want to be alone with Jessi.

Jessi smiled at him, which made his chest swell. "Thank you."

"Uh…" Layla realized the apartment key was still in her hand. She gave it to Drew. "Take that. You can stop by my place when you're done with your game."

He palmed the key and slipped it into his pocket without comment. Jessi watched him walk to the cash register, then turned to Layla. "Can we step outside?"

Layla shrugged into her jacket, gathered her purse and gloves, and trailed Jessi outside into the February cold.

"Cute guy," Jessi remarked, her breath turning to vapor in the frosty air. "Your boyfriend?"

Layla didn't want to discuss Drew with the girl—it felt like a jinx. Still, she didn't see how she could avoid the question.
Keep it vague, keep it simple.
"We've been dating for a while."

"Uh-huh. Seems like a nice guy."

It was a pleasant enough remark, but Layla's stomach clenched. She knew the other shoe was about to drop.

Jessi didn't disappoint. "More your type than that bartender."

There it was. But Jessi wasn't satisfied to leave it there. "What was his name again?"

Layla was silent. She was pretty damn sure Jessi didn't need reminding.

"Oh, Cam, wasn't it? That's right. Tell me, how's he doing?"

Layla started, slicing Jessi a look of surprise. How did she know…?

She doesn't. She has no way of knowing you and Cam still hang out. She's just fishing for information, trying to get under your skin. Don't let her.

Layla pinned the other girl with a piercing stare. "Did you want to say something to me, Jessi?"

Jessi pulled the collar of her red jacket tighter, tossed her hair back. "Oh, yeah. I just wanted to say sorry for being such a bitch before."

Which time?
Layla wondered.
There are so many to choose from.

"I mean, all that stuff about the bartender. The way I acted after you screwed him. It was lame." She shrugged. "Hey, I never put a sign on it, 'property of.' You got to him first. Good for you."

It rankled Layla the way Jessi spoke of Cam as though he were, indeed, property. A piece of meat instead of a person.

It wasn't much of an apology, and Layla couldn't bring herself to say, "It's all right." Still, it was something. "Okay, well…"

"Does your guy know?"

Layla blinked in confusion. "What?"

"Your boyfriend, there. Does he know about the bartender?"

"We haven't talked about our pasts." She spoke through clenched teeth. "He hasn't asked about mine and I don't care about his."

"Oh, I get it." Jessi winked. "Sure. What he doesn't know can't hurt him. I feel you. Every girl needs her secrets, right?"

Layla wanted to slap her. Jessi behaved as though they were complicit, bonded by some kind of nasty secret. She glanced over her shoulder through the plate-glass window of the coffee shop, searching for Drew. Where the hell was he?

Her breath whooshed out in a sigh as he came through the door. He looked from Jessi to Layla. "All ready to go?"

"Ready," Layla said. More than ready. She couldn't wait to get away from Jessi.

Why? Because she's a little bit right? You won't be honest about Cam because you're scared to tell Drew too much. Scared he won't want you to see Cam any more. And you don't want to give him up.

"Well, it was nice seeing you, Layl." Jessi's smirk was that of the proverbial cat who swallowed the canary. "Good catching up." She cast a different kind of smile entirely on Drew. "Good meeting you, too, Drew. Layla's a lucky girl."

In silence, they watched her walk her away.

Drew cocked an eyebrow at Layla. "That was nice, she stopped to say hi."

Layla stared at girl's disappearing figure. The day had started out so well, but Jessi's unexpected appearance had cast a pall over it, the way a storm cloud would block out the sun.

Storm cloud? Come on, Layla. Dramatic much?

She rattled you, which is exactly what she wanted to do. Don't let her get to you. Shake it off.

Resolutely, Layla shook it off and gave Drew a smile. "You have a good time today. Make a couple baskets for me."

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