“Well,” I shouted over the music and slammed the bowl back down on the stand, “it looks like I can’t leave anyway. My keys aren’t in there.”
“What?” K.C. looked confused.
“They’re not in there!” I repeated, looking around the room. My money and my phone were in my bag. Two lifelines safe and sound. My other escape plan was missing, and the walls felt like they were caving in. Curses ran through my head, and the weariness that got me running before turned to anger. I clenched my fists. Of course, I should’ve known this was going to happen.
“Someone could’ve grabbed them by accident, I guess,” she offered, but she must’ve known that the odds of that happening were slimmer than people leaving the party this early. Accidents didn’t happen to me.
“No, I know exactly where they are.” I locked eyes with Madoc, Jared’s best friend and henchman, at the opposite end of the room by the patio doors. He smirked at me before redirecting his attention to some random redhead he had pressed to a wall.
Stalking over to him, K.C. followed in my wake as she viciously texted on her phone—Liam probably.
“Where are my keys?” I demanded, interrupting the pursuit of his next one-night stand.
He lifted his blue eyes slowly from the girl. He wasn’t much taller than me, maybe a few inches, so I didn’t feel as if he hovered over me like Jared did. Madoc didn’t intimidate me. He just pissed me off. He worked hard to make a fool out of me, but I knew it was all at Jared’s behest.
“They’re about eight feet under right now. Feel like a swim, Tate?” He grinned wide, showing his dazzling smile that turned most girls into puppies on a leash. He obviously loved every moment of my predicament.
“You’re a dick.” My tone remained calm, but my eyes burned from the anger.
I walked out to the patio and peered into the pool. The weather was perfect for a swim, and people were carousing in the water, so I trekked around the pool looking for the silver glint of my keys through all of the bodies.
Jared sat casually at a table with a blonde on his lap. Frustration knotted in my stomach, but I tried to appear unaffected. I knew every ounce of my discomfort gave him pleasure.
Spying the shimmering silver of the keys, I looked around for a pole to grab them. When nothing could be found, I looked to some of the swimmers for help.
“Hey, would you mind grabbing my keys down there, please?” I asked. The guy turned his eyes on Jared, who sat quietly back, watching the scene, and retreated from me like a coward.
Great. No pole, no help. Jared wanted to see me get wet.
“Come on, Tate. Strip down, and go get your keys,” Madoc shouted from Jared’s table.
“Fuck off, Madoc. You threw them down there, no doubt, so why don’t you go get them?” Liam, K.C.’s boyfriend, had joined her and was sticking up for me like he often did.
I slipped off my flip-flops and stepped to the edge of the pool.
“Tate, wait. I’ll do it,” Liam stepped up and offered.
“No,” I shook my head. “Thanks, though.” I gave him a grateful smile.
One whole year, I reminded myself, savoring the promise. I was going to have a whole year away from Jared.
I dove in hands first, and the water cooled my tense skin. My body immediately relaxed at the pleasure of the pool. No sound, no eyes on me. I savored the peace of it, the kind of peace I get when I run.
I continued downward using the breast stroke. Eight feet was nothing, and I reached my keys in seconds. Clutching them tight, I reluctantly ascended head first, releasing the air in my lungs.
That was the easy part.
“Whoo hoo!” An applause sounded from bystanders that weren’t actually cheering for me.
I just had to get out of the pool and face the whole party dripping wet. They would laugh and joke. I’d endure a few comments, and then go home and eat my weight in Swedish Fish.
Swimming gently to the edge and climbing out, I wrung out my long hair and slipped on my sandals.
“Are you okay?” K.C. came to my side, the wind blowing her long, dark hair.
“Yeah, of course. It’s just water.” I couldn’t meet her eyes. Here I was again. The laughing stock. The embarrassment.
But K.C. never blamed me. “Let’s get out of here.” She locked arms with me, and Liam followed behind.
“Just a minute.” I paused and looked over at Jared, who still had his challenging brown eyes on me.
Walking over to him—something I knew was a bad idea—I crossed my arms and gave him a pointed stare.
“I leave in two days and that’s the best you could come up with?” What the hell am I doing?
Jared fixed me with a hostile smile as he doled out the cards at the table. “You have a good time in France, Tatum. I’ll be here when you get back.” His threat made me want to hit him. I wanted to challenge him to deal with me now.
And I was none too comfortable with the thought of his impending wrath hanging over my head the whole year I was away.
“You’re a coward. The only way you can feel like a man is to pick on me. But you’re going to have to get your kicks somewhere else now.” As I dropped my arms to my sides, my fists tightened as everyone around the table and in the general area witnessed our exchange.
“Are you still talking?” Jared snorted, and snickers erupted around me. “Go home. No one wants your stuck-up ass here.” Jared barely spared me eye contact while he continued to deal cards. The girl on his lap giggled and leaned into him further. The crushing sensation in my chest hurt. I hate him.