He walked back to her bedroom, knowing that she’d reached the same conclusion he had the second he opened the door and found her dressed in a pair of sweats and an old T-shirt instead of naked and wanting. A slow roiling anger rose, totally and completely irrational. “What are you doing?”
She twisted the hem of the shirt with nervous fingers and wouldn’t quite look at him. “That was fun.”
“Yes, fun. But I think we’re on the same page about where this is going or, rather, where it isn’t.” She finally looked at him, and he went cold at the way her eyes shone. “I can’t sleep all tangled up in you like I used to. Maybe you can, but I just…” She swiped a hand at her face. “God, look at me. I’m a total and complete mess. I’m taking a shower.”
“Wait.” He stepped in front of her even as he asked himself what the hell he was doing. “Jessie, just hold on a damn minute.”
“I can smell you on me.” She jerked back, and he let her go. “Jake, please. It was good. So good. But I didn’t expect it to hurt so much.” Her tone left no illusions—she wasn’t talking about physical pain.
And because she wasn’t, he stepped aside and let her flee the room.
Rationally, he hadn’t done anything wrong. She was the one who made the first move earlier, and she’d been with him every step of the way. Knowing that didn’t make him feel any less like a piece of shit. That feeling was made worse by the realization that he was even more of a dick because she had no idea that he owned Diamond Dates and had orchestrated being here as her date.
I’m batting a thousand when it comes to Jessica Jackson.
It just went to prove some things never changed.
Jessica hadn’t thought she’d be able to fall asleep, even after her thirty-minute shower. She’d stayed in there until the hot water went out, because she was a coward and had hoped that Jake would magically be asleep when she got back to the room. At least one thing had gone right, because that wish had been granted. It had still been too weird for words to lay next to him and listen to the steady sound of his breathing.
Add to that the sheets smelled of the sex she’d just scrubbed off her body, and her mind was on a hamster wheel there was no escape from.
Exhaustion eventually had taken hold, because the next thing she knew, she opened her eyes to the sun bathing her room in morning light. She stretched and winced. Between the running and the sex, she was sore in more than a few places.
She stared at the ceiling for a few minutes. The bed had gone cold on the side Jake slept on last night, and though a crazy part of her was disappointed by this, she needed the time alone to figure out what the hell she was going to do.
The reunion was tonight and her entire plan—crappy, though it’d been—was in shambles. She was just going to have to deal with it. As attractive as hopping a plane back to LA was, it wasn’t really an option. She was here. Whatever would happen, would happen.
Jessica closed her eyes and tried to think of at least one good thing that would come from the reunion. There had to be at least one person she was looking forward to seeing.
She’d been friendly enough with Kate Williamson in high school—or as friendly as Jessica had gotten at the time, which meant the probability of the woman considering them friends was low. God, I was a right asshole. Most people had to have at least a couple people they looked forward to seeing at their high school reunion.
Jessica had one—and even then, she’d been dreading seeing Jake as much as she’d been looking forward to it.
That was it. One.
A funk threatened to take hold, but she forced herself out of bed. There was nothing left to do but face her demons. It took longer than necessary to get ready, mostly because she was stalling like a coward. Jessica stared at herself in the mirror. You can do this.
She looked nothing like the girl who’d moved out of this house at eighteen—the one who’d terrorized Catfish Creek High School. Back then, she’d been a bottle blonde, because her mama insisted that blondes had a higher percentage of wins in the pageant circuit. Jessica had finally looked that up when she was thirteen. Those “statistics” her mama was so fond of quoting were total crap.
But then, a lot of what her mama drilled into her head growing up was crap.
She hadn’t been allowed to go to school unless she was wearing full war paint. Being a cheerleader was a requirement, not an option. Though she couldn’t blame that last one totally on anyone but herself. She loved being a cheerleader. She’d loved the energy of the crowd, being front and center at the games, the way that people’s eyes followed her when she wore her uniform.
I wonder if I still have it?
She wrapped the towel around herself and peeked into the hallway. All clear. Jessica hurried to her room and closed the door softly behind her. It wouldn’t be long before someone came looking for her, but she wanted to do this, first.
Or maybe I’m still stalling.
She walked to her closet. It was like a blast from the past. There were half a dozen formal dresses, all packaged and sealed on their hangers. Her prom dress was still wrapped up just like she’d left it—the one she’d worn when she was named Prom Queen. It had felt like such an accomplishment at the time. She’d walked onto that stage and stood next to Jake, sure in the fact that the world was at their feet.
And then it’d all gone to hell two months later.
Jessica ran her finger over the plastic covering her prom dress. It was a sequined number in the mermaid tale fashion that had created curves where she hadn’t had any, and the heart-shaped bodice had done wonders for her cleavage. And it was a startling, show-stopping white.
She’d never admitted it aloud to anyone, but she’d thought of that dress as her pre-wedding wedding dress. Her five-year plan had her married to Jake—after college, of course—as he accepted his draft pick into the NFL.
She’d been so focused on the status that she’d stopped seeing the man. Jessica could blame her upbringing or her mama’s voice in her head that only years of therapy had taught her to combat, but the truth was that no one had put a gun to her head and made her leave Jake. That was all her. Forcibly setting aside the past, she pushed the dresses to the side.
There it was.
She shot a look over her shoulder, but no one had snuck into the room while she wasn’t paying attention. Then Jessica grabbed the hangar that her cheer uniform had been draped over and took it out. The red and blue uniform had been such a status symbol when she first got it, but holding it now, she couldn’t ignore the fact that there were so many memories tied up in these two pieces of cloth.
Jake’s first game starting and her first game cheering as sophomore. He’d thrown the winning touchdown with only seconds left on the clock, and she’d about lost her voice from cheering so loud. And then they’d given their virginity to each other in the cab
of his truck out at the drive-in theater.
His crazy way of asking her to prom, which had involved his entire football team stealing their rival school’s mascot, and a kiss that still ranked on her top three.
She’d been wearing this uniform when she went to the hospital, so twisted up inside her head with worry for Jake and the soul-deep fear that she’d turn out just like her mama if she stayed in Catfish Creek, and told him that she was destined for greatness and he no longer was.
Jessica dropped the uniform like it’d burned her and shut the closet door. It all came back to that. If she hadn’t been such an idiot then…
She didn’t know anything about what Jake’s life looked like now. Did he move to Dallas before or after her started working for Diamond Dates. Did he make enough as a fake date to pay his bills or did he have another job?
She dressed quickly, needing to be around people and get out of her head. Even if those people were Jake and her parents. She’d found the dress while out shopping with Cora, and Jessica had fallen instantly in love. It was cut like the old pin-up dresses—a square neckline and sleek fit that was only broken by a bow that tucked in her waist. It was sexy, but in a classy sort of way.
Best of all, it was black.
The party tonight was a masquerade ball, because of course. She had a feeling the woman who put the whole reunion together, Karly Stocker, had read Fifty Shades Darker a few too many times. The invitation had been explicitly clear about dressing up being a requirement of attending—the command had Karly written all over it.
There was nothing left to stall with. She headed downstairs. The house was eerily quiet, and she found herself instinctively avoiding the squeaky boards. The living room was empty, everything clean and looking like a show room. It’d been like that, even growing up—both house and family ready for company at the drop of a hat.
What would the neighbors think if they came by and there was something as offensive as a book laying on the couch cushion?