Authors: Juliana Stone
I wasn't leaving without her. She just didn't know it yet.
I tried to ignore the butterflies in my stomach, but that was pretty hard to do considering my heart was beating so fast I thought that I was going to pass out.
Caleb Martin was going on and on
about his daddy's cottage and a lake and a boat and a Fourth of July party.
What. Ever. God, he liked to listen to himself talk. And Hailey wasn't any better. She was sitting in Link's lap, listening to whatever was on his mind as if he was Jesus giving a sermon. I had to admit that they looked cute together, but stillâ¦she should be paying attention to what was going on with me. At least a little bit.
Because what was going on with me was pretty pathetic. I didn't know how to act like I didn't care that Drive-In Girl was practically mauling Trevor, so I prayed that no one would notice.
Not that anyone other than Caleb was paying attention to me. I felt like I was in sixth grade all over again. Playing with the big boys and having no clue.
I exhaled. Good. Breathe.
I nodded when Caleb asked me if I liked to water-ski. Um, no, but it seemed easier to just agree with whatever he was saying. He'd been pretty much glued to my side since we arrived nearly half an hour ago. Which was weird. It's not as if we ran in the same social circles, but then, I guess I presented a bit of a challenge. I knew what some of the guys in town thought of me, and I knew that they considered “nailing the pastor's daughter” as some sort of win.
Whatever. It used to bother me, but now it seemed so immature and silly, considering all the other stuff going on in my life.
The bonfire glowed red, and I stared into the flames because I didn't know where else to look. Why had I agreed to come to this party?
Oh. Right. Because Hailey convinced me that I needed to. You know, because it was going to be fun. A blast. A totally epic party, I think she'd said, adding that as a bonus, I could show Trevor Lewis what he was missing.
I'd told her I didn't care what Trevor Lewis thought.
She rolled her eyes and grabbed a skimpy top from her closet.
Her enthusiasm, coupled with the fact that my parents were home but not speaking to each other, made my decision way easier than I would have liked. So I let Hailey dress me up and do my makeup. The end result was that I looked a little on the trashy side and felt a whole lot uncomfortable.
“Do you want to walk a bit?”
Hailey and Link's lips were locked together. “Sure,” I found myself saying. It's not like I was going to be missed here anyway. I felt like an idiot nursing a red Solo cup of Jack and Coke, and I don't care what Hailey saidâit was just as gross cold as it was warm.
Caleb grabbed my hand, and we trudged in the opposite direction of Trevor and Drive-In Girl. We walked past a couple who were half undressed and pushed up against a tree and another couple whose moans made them sound like a bunch of wild animals caught in a trap. Seriously? Pride, people.
It didn't take long for the forest at the edge of the clearing to swallow us up.
“This is much better,” Caleb said.
I wasn't exactly sure that
was, but so far, other than having an extremely high opinion of himself and his father's money, he seemed harmless.
“I don't think I've seen you at one of these bashes before.” His hand was still on mine.
“Jason wasn't exactly a party animal.”
Ha. That was an exaggeration. Jason had been into
, and books. Three things that had been totally fine with me. We'd sort of gotten into some heavy-duty touching and exploring one night after a movie, but I'd been kind of freaked out by my lack of wanting him to touch me, and I don't think I'd hidden it very well.
I guess it says something about our relationship that we continued to date for nearly a year after that, and though he tried for more than a kiss a few times, we'd never progressed to anything beyond that.
Caleb's grin widened, and he reached for the Solo cup in my hand. “You're not liking this?”
I wrinkled my nose. “It's awful.”
He tossed the cup, both of his hands suddenly on my arms. “So, you're like a party virgin.”
“Um, I guess.” He said
in a way that made me uncomfortable.
His breathing was different, and he leaned closer. “That's freaking hot.” I could smell cigarettes and the sweet scent of whiskey.
“Caleb, maybe we should get back to the party.”
“Are you for real?” I asked, trying to yank my arms from his grasp. “Guys still say babe?”
“Calm down,” he said with a smile, and suddenly I knew exactly how he got girls to give him what he wanted. The guy had a great smile. I'd give him that, but his smile wasn't the one I wanted for myself. “Sorry.” He murmured. “Got it. Mental note. Everly Jenkins does not like the word
.” He paused. “But maybe she likes a kiss?”
“Not gonna happen.” Was there something wrong with me? Had I been sending out mixed signals and didn't know it?
“Everly likes to play hard to get. I'm cool with that. I'll take you out in my father's boat on Monday. You'll see. I know how to show a girl a good time.”
Oh. My. God. This guy didn't get it.
“She can't,” Trevor said, startling both of us, and I took the chance to yank my arms from Caleb.
Trevor stood about a foot away, alone and looking more adorable than he had a right to. He wore boots, jeans that fit him way too nicely, and a plain black V-neck T-shirt that showed off his chest, biceps, and abs. How that was possible, I don't know, but there you have it.
His hair waved to the tops of his shoulders, his eyes glittered, and there was a dusting of stubble on his chin. Like I said, adorable. And sexy.
And I didn't care because he was here with Drive-In Girl.
“Dude, who the hell asked you? Uh, the party is that way.” Caleb had a smile on his face but his voice wasn't exactly sunshine. He squared his shoulders and faced Trevor, who kind of did the same thing. Total macho posturing, but it made me realize that they were sort of squaring off because of me.
For some reason I was kind of okay with that.
“Everly and I have a date on Monday,” Trevor said softly.
Caleb's eyebrows shot up. “A date?”
That particular bit of info was news to me too.
“You guys are together?” Caleb asked, his eyes on me and his expression more than a little pissed off.
“No,” I said.
“Yes.” That was from Trevor.
“You could have said something.” That was for me. “Dude, I didn't mean to chat up your girl. I had no idea you guys were hooking up.” That was for Trevor.
“Oh my God, we're not hooking up.”
Okay, so I shouted. And maybe half the kids at the party might have heard me. Whatever. My top was way too skimpy, my jeans on the low side of low rise, and the flats I wore pinched my toes. They belonged to Hales, so it wasn't surprising. I'd worn them because she'd insisted the sparkles would look great with my barely there top.
Most important, the guy I liked had been sucking face with Drive-In Girl, or at the very least, I'd watched her grind up against him.
“Everly,” Trevor said. “Can we talk?”
I could have done one of two things at this point.
Who was I kidding? I was never going to do the second one.
“Sure,” I said sharply.
Caleb muttered a bunch of stuff, and I'm sure none of it was nice, but neither Trevor nor I was paying any attention to him. He took off, and then Trevor and I were alone with only the echoes of the party and the flickering fireflies among the trees.
It was warmâJune usually wasâand the air was heavy. I closed my eyes and dragged in great big gulps of it, trying to calm my butterfly-infested stomach.
He was close. So close.
Slowly, my eyes opened and, well, wouldn't you knowâ¦that big old lump of something was back clogging my throat. I couldn't swallow. Couldn't speak. I couldn't do anything but look up into the face of the most beautiful guy I'd ever seen.
Suddenly, I didn't want to do the whole “I'm going to play games and be mad at you” thing. Not anymore. I wasn't a kid. I wasn't some girlfriend who'd been wronged either, and I guess that was the problem.
Trevor was looking at me in a way that had all sorts of things zigging and zagging inside me. Maybe it was time for me to find out what all of this meant.
“Did you come with Drive-In Girl?” I asked, careful to keep my voice neutral.
Right. No more games. “Jess. Because that's fine, Trevor. I justâ¦”
He stepped closer. “You just what?”
Could he hear my heart beating? Or the blood rushing through my veins like a tidal wave? Or how my breaths were ragged, catching on the emotion inside me as I exhaled?
“You just what, Everly?”
His hands were at his sides, and he kept opening and closing them. It was dark, so I couldn't be sure if the beating I saw at the base of his neck was his pulse or just a play of shadows.
Something in the way he said my name made my knees go weak, and I spoke in a rush.
“I just need to know what this is.”
There. Good. I got it out.
“This?” His voice was low and kind of raspy. Of course it was. Because how sexy was that?
“Us. When you said we had a date on Monday, what did you mean by that?”
“I wanted Caleb Martin to back off.”
“He's bad news, Everly. Caleb is a player, and he's only looking to get laid. He's not the guy for you.”
My cheeks burned at his descriptive use of the English language. “And I suppose you know who is?” Wow, that wasn't leading or anything.
“Yes,” Trevor said. “Yes, I do.”
He moved closer, until there was only a whisper between us. I could smell his cologne, a light scent of woods and something else I couldn't put my finger on. But it was nice. It was more than nice. It was amazing.
Whatever this was between us, whether it was flirting or foreplay or something else entirely, it was exciting, electric, and scary.
I had to tilt my head because he was a lot taller than me, and this angle? Sheer perfection. The stars cast down their light, and the shadows on his face made him appear mysterious and more beautiful than he already was.
“So.” I wet my lips because they were suddenly dry. “Who exactly is the guy for me?”
His hands crept up either side of my face, and I wanted to melt into them. Into him. Then Trevor bent low, his warm breath sending shivers across my skin. His mouth was at my ear, and I shuddered when I felt his lips move there. “Everly, he's standing right in front of you.”
“He's just not sureâ¦”
I could barely breathe, and if you could ache all the way to your bones just from a touch, then I was there.
“He's just not sure that you want him.”
I don't think I've ever wanted to kiss a girl as badly as I wanted to kiss Everly Jenkins. Never. Not even Bailey, and she was the girl I'd dated for nearly two years.
With Bailey it had been about getting to the next level for the sake of getting there as fast as we could. There had been no finesse, not in the beginning anyway, so I guess it was easy to confuse love and sex. And kissing was just a prelude to what was coming next.
But this was different. Everly was different.
And this wasn't the closet at a birthday party in the sixth grade. This wasn't about boasting to my friends that I'd kissed the pastor's daughter. (Can't believe I'd actually done that, but then boys and hormones don't automatically make for smart decisions.)
I wanted to take my time. I wanted this first real kiss between us to matter to her, because it sure as hell mattered to me. Maybe it was the alpha male in me, or maybe I was just an arrogant dick, but I wanted this kiss to be the one she remembered as the best kiss she'd ever had.
I was setting the bar high, but I was cool with that. I had my fair share of practice, but with Everly, everything felt so damn natural. And anticipation rumbled through me, because man, I knew this was going to be good.
She was trembling, her body pressed so close that most of our parts were touching, and I had nothing to do with that. That was all her, and, holy hell, did it feel good.
I cupped her head and stared down at her, eyes resting on a mouth made for kissing. Man, if she knew some of the conversations that had gone on about her in the locker room, her cheeks would be as red as the polish on her fingernails.
Everly was uncharted territory for a lot of guys, but she was the kind of uncharted territory most of them dreamed about. Hot as sin with that sweet side we all dug. She wasn't the girl you scored points with. She was the keeper.
“Open your eyes,” I whispered.
Slowly, they opened, and my hands sunk deeper into her hair. She was wearing more makeup than I was used to seeing, but her eyesâ¦they were dark and mysterious, that mouth was shiny and soft, and her hair was all over the place, wild from the humidity. She wasâ¦
She licked her bottom lip and smiled, a small half smile. “I could say the same thing about you.”
“I don't think anyone has ever called me beautiful.”
It took a second for my words to sink in, and just as the hot fingers of embarrassment worked their way up from inside me, she stood on her tiptoes, her hands now sunk into my hair. She offered up her hot, open mouth, and that was it. I was done.
I was a guy who wanted a girl so badly, and just like any other normal hot-blooded dude, all thoughts but Everly flew out of my head. I slid my mouth across hers. I accepted what she was offering, because right now, in this moment, there was nothing but this kiss. There was no embarrassment or awkward movements or anything that didn't feel right.
She was soft and smooth and pliant in my arms, and as I deepened the kiss, I thought I heard her groan. I cradled her head so that she couldn't move, and I tasted every inch of her mouth. Cherry gloss, spearmint gum. The more I tasted, the more she pushed against me, and I couldn't help myselfâI let one hand travel down her back because most of it was exposed.
All that soft skin, naked and exposed.
I trailed fingers down her spine, and I knew that she wasn't wearing a bra because I felt her pressed against me, and by this point, I was pretty damn sure she felt all of me. Like
I pulled back a bit, because this was going way too fast and we were both breathing hard. Resting my forehead against hers, I struggled to get my shit together. When I thought I was okay to talk, I took a second and prayed that everything would come out right.
“That was pretty amazing,” I said slowly, taking my time. And who was I kidding? My hands were still all over her. It was more than amazing. I don't think the right word had been invented to describe what I was feeling. Where was Nate the poet when you needed him?
In the distance I could hear the echoes of the bush party. Kids laughing and arguing and singing along to Nate, Brent, and Link. Funny, any other time, I would have felt left out. Like who did they think they were, jamming without me?
But right now, with this girl and the stars and the fireflies flickering along the ground, I felt like I was the king of the world.
Total chick analogy, but whatever.
“I think amazing doesn't come close,” she said.
A smile crept across my face. Good to know I wasn't the only one who felt it.
“So, where do we go from here?” I asked, moving my head a bit so that I could see her. She gave a small shrug and was quiet for a moment.
“You're so not the guy that Iâ¦” Her eyes flew to mine, wide and more than a little embarrassed.
“The guy that youâ¦” I prompted.
She exhaled and kind of shuddered. I felt it move down her body, and since we were still pretty much glued together from the waist down, I can't lie, I had a moment where I thought things might get dicey for me. Dicey in a way that wasn't cool for a guy in this situation.
Relax. Chill. Sure I might have been smiling, but on the inside, I was in pain.
“I just never expected a kiss like that.”
I wanted to fist-pump, but I didn't think she'd appreciate that sort of display.
“It was pretty epic,” I said.
A small smile crossed her face. “I'll have to agree with that observation.”
“So what are we going to do about this? About you and me?”
Her eyes kind of clouded over, and she pulled away. It was a gentle maneuver, and I got the feeling that I should maybe give her some space. Truthfully? I needed a moment too.
She was quiet for a long time, and I was starting to get worried. Maybe she wasn't as into me as I thought. Maybe her idea of a boyfriend wasn't some brain-damaged dude who wasn't always the most eloquent.
“I've got stuff going on,” she said softly. “I'm not in a real good place right now, and I'm probably not the best choice for someone to be with. Not exactly the most fun to be around.”
I shoved my hands in my pockets because, God, I needed to do something with them other than what I wanted to do, which was put them all over Everly.
“If I was looking for fun and easy, I'd hang out with Jess. And I'm not dissing her, because there's nothing wrong with that. Hell, even though I feel older than my parents some days, technically we're still teenagers. We're supposed to be having fun, getting crazy, doing stupid things. But you and I are on a bit of a different path from most of the guys back there.” I motioned toward the noise from the party.
She nodded but didn't say anything.
“So maybe we don't have to walk that path alone.”
Okay, my mom would be all over this. How many times had she lectured me on being sensitive and treating a girl the way I'd treat my mother? (That was a bad analogy because, dude, who wanted to think about the girl they were getting busy with and their mom at the same time? That was kind of screwed up, even if I did get her meaning.)
I decided to go the whole nine yards, because by this point, what did I have to lose? Besides, chicks dug this sensitive stuff, didn't they?
“I want to know you, Everly.” I took a step closer. “I want to know what your favorite movie is. What songs you sing. I know you dig Elton John, but what about Billy Joel? Mozart? Alicia Keys? I want to know what you think about at night just before you fall asleep.” I paused, surprised at the tightening in my chest. “I want to know why sometimes you look so sad. I want to know who hurt you.”
And I wanted to kick his ass, but I'd keep that to myself.
She pushed the tangle of hair off her shoulders and gave a half shrug, eyes wide and shiny. “My favorite movie is
“Wow. I had you pegged for a chick flick.
. My sister Taylor watches them over and over again.”
“I'm full of surprises.”
“Good to know. What's your favorite color?”
“My Heart Will Go On.” There was a hint of a smile there.
She was smiling now. “We're talking about music, not the movie. What's yours? Your favorite song?”
She'd moved closer, and I could see the stars reflected in her eyes, which made them seem mysterious. Kind of sexy.
“Simple Kind of Man,” I replied.
She frowned a bit. “I don't know that one.”
“It's Lynyrd Skynyrd. I'll play it for you someday.” The words slipped out of me, but surprisingly, I didn't want to grab them back.
“Okay,” she said.
Man, I wanted to kiss her again. I ran my hands through my hair because I had to do something with them.
“Why do you have a blue streak?” she asked. “In your hair, I mean. It'sâ¦I like it.”
I paused. I'd always been into trying new things with my hair, and my parents had always seen this as an extension of my artistic side. Heck, my mom hadn't complained once, no matter the color. Not even the time I came home with a dark-purple Mohawk. Her only request had been that I leave it down while at home. Said she was afraid I'd poke someone's eye out. But the blue streak? “I was bored and Taylor had some extra dye soâ¦”
“I like it.”
Her hand slipped into mine, her thumb running over my tattoos, and then I pulled her in close for a hug. The girl fit against me perfectly, and I would have stayed like that the whole night.
Her nose was buried in my neck, her body relaxed against mine as I rested my chin on her head.
“I'm glad I came to this party.”
“Yeah. Me too. I wasn't planning on it. Nate pretty much dragged me out of the house. I'll have to thank him later.”
I could feel her heart beating, the warmth of her skin against mine, and I knew that if we didn't leave this secluded space, things would heat up again. Not that I didn't want them to, but there was something to be said for anticipation, and I was already anticipating more. So much more.
“Do you want to meet his girlfriend, Monroe? She's so cool. You'll like her.”
Everly nodded. “Okay. Sounds good.”
“I'm not letting go of your hand. Just saying.”
A heartbeat passed.
“I wasn't going to let go either.”
And she didn't.