“Jessie, if your parents don’t believe this, no one else will, either.”
The sinking in her stomach said he was right. Frustration welled up, a vicious bubble inside her that she couldn’t—wouldn’t—let free. If she did, who knew what she’d do? Start screaming like a lunatic or maybe deliver the soul-crippling snarky comments she’d been so good at back in the day.
Neither was an option.
“Fine,” she spoke through gritted teeth.
“Well, hell, Jessie. You get prettier when you’re spitting mad just like you did when we were eighteen.”
She slammed the door, resisting the urge to kick it only because she was wearing sandals, and in a competition between foot and truck, the truck always came out the winner. That didn’t stop her from snatching her carry-on from the backseat and marching for the front door without waiting for him.
It opened as she climbed the steps of the covered porch, revealing Jennifer Jackson. Her mother had always been one of those women who couldn’t leave the house without being perfectly put together, from her big bottle-blonde hair to her day makeup to her perfectly pressed dress. When Jessica was living in the house, she’d been a mini-Jennifer in almost every way.
She didn’t have to look in a mirror to know what her mother would think of her messy hair—now it’s natural dark brown—and the fact that she was wearing—God bless her—a maxi dress. “Hey, mama.”
But her mother wasn’t looking at her. She peered out the screen door, her eyes narrowed. “Please tell me that isn’t Jake Davis I see heading this way with his suitcase.”
Jessica spun around. Sure enough, he was already at the steps, suitcase in hand. There was none of the sneaky asshole he’d been just minutes ago. Now, his green eyes were wide and guileless just like they always were around her parents. Damn him. “Afternoon, Mrs. Jackson.”
“Jessica, explain this.” Her voice rose at the end, a clear indication that she was in danger of having one of her fits.
This was the deciding moment. All she had to do was to make a joke or come clean and it would all be over, which would derail any potential hysterics on her mama’s part.
It would all be over.
That was the problem. She’d committed to this plan, for better or worse—and it was looking like they were in worse territory.
“Jake and I have…reconciled.” The word tasted foul in her mouth, but she managed a smile despite it. If pageant training was good for something, it was being able to smile while you lied yourself out of uncomfortable situations, and this one was nothing if not that.
“Jessica Jackson, you’re going to put me in an early grave. First you do that…that…commercial… And now you’re seeing him again.” Her mother pressed her hand to her heaving chest. She fanned herself and swayed—which was no mean feat with her clinging to the doorframe. She suddenly stopped and narrowed her eyes. “Are you on drugs? Are you smoking meth?”
For God’s sake.
Jake made a sound suspiciously like a snort, but she didn’t bother looking back. Instead, she went with the tried and true method of dealing with Jennifer Jackson’s hysterics. “Mama, you look a little pale. Are you feeling faint? Do you need to go have a lie down?”
“I really don’t feel well.” Her mother still hadn’t taken her gaze off Jake, like she was afraid if she blinked, he’d muscle past her into the house.
Jessica couldn’t even blame it on something Jake may or may not have done in the last ten years. The truth was, her mama had always looked at him like he was dirt on the bottom of her shoe. And her daddy wasn’t much better, though he rarely bothered to show interest one way or another in either of his children.
She injected some sugary sweetness into her tone. “Mama, you’re keeping us out on this porch like we’re strangers. What will the neighbors think?”
That got her mother moving. She shoved off the doorframe, the back of her hand dramatically glued to her forehead. “I suppose you’ll have to come in.”
This was it. They’d just shot straight past the point of no return.
She lifted her chin, hoisted up her carry-on, and walked into her parents’ home.
Jake kept his head down and didn’t press his luck as Jessie’s mama disappeared in the direction of the master bedroom, still muttering under her breath. She paused in the hallway, frowning in a way that barely made a dent in her forehead. Rumor had it that she got Botox injected when she took her “spa days” down in Dallas. “Make yourself comfortable in your room, since apparently, you’re content to send me to an early grave.” She shook her head, her voice ratcheting up a notch. “And look at your hair. Just look at it. All the time and effort I put into making you a success and just look at you.” She wobbled a little on her feet, and a very uncharitable part of Jake wanted to shove her into her bedroom and lock the door for the duration of Jessie’s time home.
If anyone was responsible for filling Jessie’s head full of stupid shit and messed up priorities, it was her mama. Ten years hadn’t changed a damn thing.
Jessie took a deep breath and threw her shoulders back. “Well, I guess that’s all there is to it.” She didn’t comment on the hurt her mama’s words must have brought, and he didn’t even know where to begin.
A growing horror took the place of his earlier smugness as he followed her up the stairs. It was only when he stood in front of the door to her bedroom that he realized just how in over his head he was. “I thought your parents would have us set up in different rooms.” The few times he’d stayed overnight in this house for one reason or another, the rules had been strict—he was in Drew’s room and Jessie was safely in hers. He’d just assumed that arrangement would still stand.
He’d been wrong.
“I thought they would, too,” she whispered.
Since she seemed to be frozen in place, he slid past her and opened the door. Her room was identical to the last time he’d seen it, and he couldn’t help looking at the bed and thinking about all the things they’d done there. Her window overlooked the side of the house, and the wraparound front porch offered the perfect place to climb onto the roof in a spot that couldn’t be seen from the front of the house. He’d snuck in here more times than he could count. Ironically, the sleepover nights had been the only innocent ones.
But that was before.
Jessie pushed him fully into the room and closed the door behind her. “This isn’t going to work.”
“Sure it is.” But even as he said it, he didn’t quite believe it anymore. Pretending to be her boyfriend was one thing—sleeping in the same room as she was another thing altogether. He’d lost his damn mind in the truck when he’d pulled her close. If she hadn’t told him to back off, he would have kissed her.
He never had been able to trust his control around Jessica Jackson. That hadn’t changed.
“No, it won’t. You can’t sleep on the floor. They’ll know. And you cannot sleep in the bed with me.” She shoved her hands through her thick dark hair, sending the hair pins flying. “This is crazy. Beyond crazy.”
“No, you don’t get to Jessie me and sm
ooth this over. Maybe you can share a room with me and it doesn’t affect you, but I’m not a robot.”
Heat flared through him. Before common sense could take hold, he’d stepped closer to her, crowding her back against the pretty desk that had been her grandmother’s. It was still sturdy enough to not shake when he put his hands on the edge, bracketing her in. “You want me.”
“Well, duh. I mean…look at you.” She waved her hand, and then jerked it away when her knuckles brushed his chest.
He felt that tiny touch through his entire body. Jake leaned in, the clean scent of her wrapping around him and chasing away what little common sense he had left. Jessie smelled like lemons and summertime, and if memory served, she tasted just as sweet.
She licked her lips, her gaze on his mouth, and if that wasn’t a clear invitation, he didn’t know what was.
Jake still took his time, lifting one hand to slide it along her jaw, making his intentions clear and giving her plenty of time to tell him where to shove it. But she just leaned into his touch a little.
So, he damned them both and kissed her.
She opened for him at the first touch of his tongue, and he wasted no time closing that last bit of distance between them. He wrapped his other arm around her waist and hitched her up onto the desk so he could step between her thighs.
They both gasped at the contact.
You have to stop this shit.
He didn’t want to. Fuck, he did not want to do anything to jeopardize the little movements she made with her hips, as if she was as desperate for him as he suddenly was for her. As if she couldn’t wait another second until he was inside her.
Jake stroked her tongue with his, using his hand to adjust the angle so he could take the kiss deeper. He let go of her waist long enough to slide his hand along her right ankle, bunching the fabric of her dress as he worked his way up her leg. She actually fucking quivered when he hit the sensitive skin just above her knee.