He hands me a red can and I look at it, then look up at him. “You don’t have any diet?”
“Luce,” he starts, his tone a warning.
“Fine.” I crack open the can and take a sip, the carbonation tickling my tongue and throat as I swallow. “Your kitchen is beautiful.”
“I had it redone after I bought the house.” He pulls out a beer bottle and closes the refrigerator door.
“So you own it.”
“Yeah. Solid investment. I can turn around and sell it, earn all my money back and then some.” He twists the cap off the bottle and takes a swig. I watch him drink, oddly fascinated—and aroused—by the movement of his Adam’s apple as he swallows.
Shaking my head, I take another sip of my Coke. Clearly I’ve completely lost it if the sight of a man freaking drinking is enough to get my motor going.
But just about anything Gabe does gets my motor going.
The doorbell rings and without a word Gabe heads to the living room, leaving me alone in the kitchen. I release a shuddery breath, take a huge gulp of Coke and then run my hands over my hair, trying to smooth it out. I’m nervous about meeting Gabe’s friends. Did he tell them I was their waitress from the other night? Would they recognize me? Are they going to play it off or what? God, I feel so awkward. Like I don’t know what to say, what to do and I glance around the kitchen, trying to calm the panic rapidly rising within me…
“Luce,” Gabe calls from the living room. “Get out here and meet Shep and Jade.”
Squaring my shoulders, l leave the kitchen and head into the living room, blinking in surprise when Jade rushes toward me and envelopes me in a warm, fragrant—the girl smells really good—hug. “It’s so wonderful to officially meet you,” she murmurs against my cheek.
I pull away from her, flustered at her enthusiasm. Gabe and Shep are both watching her like she’s lost her mind. “What?” she asks when they continue to stare. “You’ve never seen me be nice before?”
“Not really,” Gabe admits slowly.
Shep bursts out laughing.
“I’m just thrilled to meet the woman who’s somehow tamed the reigning manwhore on campus,” Jade says haughtily, sending me an approving look. “She must be mighty powerful if she can get you under control, Gabe.”
My cheeks are hot. This is so embarrassing. Not like I have him under control. I’ve barely let him kiss me since we’ve reunited. Well, I kissed him. But that was really it. We’re not an official couple or anything like that. Not even close.
“This is Shep,” Gabe says, gesturing toward his friend and I start to take his offered hand but he pulls me into a hug as well.
They are fairly affectionate people, which is nice. At least they make me feel welcome.
“Great to meet you beyond The Shack, which by the way is my favorite restaurant,” Shep says as I step away from him. “I’ve known Barb for years.”
“It’s where he took me on our first date,” Jade adds.
“Really?” I look at the both of them, the easy way Jade goes to Shep and wraps her arms around his middle, leaning her head on his chest. They are both extremely good looking, what with Jade’s vivid red hair and cute freckles all over her face. Shep’s just flat out golden boy handsome and he knows it. I bet he’s quite the charmer.
They make the perfect couple.
“Oh yeah, I know how to impress a woman,” Shep says, making us all laugh.
“What kind of pizza should we order?” Gabe asks, rubbing his hands together. He flicks his chin in my direction. “You mind calling, Luce?”
“Not at all,” I say, pulling my phone out of my short’s pocket. “Just tell me what you want and from where and I’ll make the call.”
His lips curve in the barest smile, his eyes warm as he watches me while Shep and Jade discuss what toppings they want on the pizza. Heat curls inside my belly at the intimate way he’s looking at me and I can’t help but wish the evening would progress quickly.
So I can eventually be with Gabe alone.
I keep checking my phone. I know it’s rude as fuck but I don’t really care. I want Lucy all to myself. I really want Jade and Shep the hell out of here and they still haven’t left. In fact, Shep just cracked open another beer and Jade and Lucy are sitting close together on the couch, in deep conversation across the room.
Seeing them like that makes me nervous. What the hell could they be talking about? Me?
Shit. I don’t even want to know what Jade’s saying. Or Lucy. What if she told Jade about my epic fail moment in the hot tub? Lucy has every right to give me endless shit over how I fell asleep on her mid-kiss.
The constant struggle between us in the beginning wasn’t much fun either. In fact, this thing with Lucy hasn’t been easy from the very start. My normal self would’ve given up on her months ago and found someone easier.
There are plenty of girls out there who are easier. But not a one of them has ever made me feel like Lucy does.
“Think they’re talking about me?” I ask Shep when he approaches, stopping to stand next to me. I’d just tossed the empty pizza boxes in the trash outside when I found Shep in the kitchen in search of more beer.
“The world doesn’t revolve around you, Gabriel,” he says dryly, then pauses. “’But I’d bet money they’re talking about you.”
“Shit,” I mutter, taking the bottle from Shep when he offers it and polishing it off in one long swallow. He glares when I hand him back his empty beer. “Thanks.”
“Jade likes you so I wouldn’t sweat it,” Shep says casually but I’m still wary. She could be offering up all sorts of stories to Lucy about my various interactions with women. She’s seen me in action—only for a short period of time but enough to do some damage. Plus, I have no idea what Shep’s told Jade about me either. And he knows all of my dirty little secrets.
“Girls like to talk,” Shep continues. “I think you’re worrying over nothing.” I send him a look and he shrugs. “You want us out of your hair? So you can get your girl alone?”
“Yeah.” I offer a short nod. Shep gets it. I feel like he’s gotten it from the moment I came back to Santa Augustina and he realized something was up with me. And I was a complete shit to him when he and Jade were getting together. “I gave you endless grief when you and Jade first started seeing each other.”
“I know,” Shep drawls.
“Yeah, and that sucked, man. I’m uh, I’m sorry.” I’ve never been very good at apologies and my stumbling over the words shows it.
“It’s all good, man.” He studies the two women who are now laughing together. The sound literally lifts my heart and I tell myself to get a grip. Who knew I could become such a sap in such a short amount of time? “You understand now, I’m guessing.”
“I get it,” I say, my voice soft, my body going tight when Lucy lifts her head, her gaze meeting mine. Something passes between us in that moment, an unspoken message and the sweet smile she offers me makes my chest expand.
Damn it. This girl is twisting me up inside and there’s nothing I can do about it. Not like I want to stop what’s happening between us but I feel like I’m in free fall and there’s no net to catch me. I just keep tumbling head over feet, not sure where I’m going to land.