To the point where I know that without a doubt I’m in love with him. Doing exactly what I didn’t want to do, that’s me yet again.
Could I be any more stupid? I don’t think so.
I’m walking across the quad toward the parking lot when I hear someone call out the name Gabe. A feminine, nasally voice. I stop in my tracks, watching as a tall, skinny blonde with giant breasts runs toward the man I thought I could consider my boyfriend, throwing herself at him so hard he nearly stumbles backward.
I watch in horrified fasciation like I’m staring at a train wreck, unable to look away from the carnage.
She loops her arms around his neck and he rests his hands on her hips. Is he pushing her away or is he…yep, I think he’s drawing her in. Oh my God. What an asshole! Anger suffuses me, making me see red and I march right up to the both of them, near vibrating with my righteous fury.
“How dare you?” I breathe when I’m close enough to see that…huh. Maybe I was wrong. Gabe appears to be pushing her away from him, but maybe that’s just for my benefit? His gaze meets mine and he springs away from the blonde as if she just poisoned him.
The blonde turns, her gaze meeting mine and I see nothing but ugly, black hardness in the depths of her eyes. “Aw, honey, don’t tell me you fell for his charms too? You know he’s a one and done type of guy.”
That she even knows about the one and done theory makes my blood run cold. This girl knows Gabe—maybe even as intimately as I know him.
And that realization breaks my heart.
“Luce.” The expression on his face says it all. He’s pleading with his eyes, telling me without saying it that I need to have faith in him no matter what’s about to go down. He practically shoves the blonde out of his way and takes a step toward me. “I’ve missed you.”
Please. We were just together since I stayed the night at his place and that was only a few hours ago. “But I just saw you earlier—” He cuts off my words with a kiss, his mouth claiming mine in the most delicious, primal way. I let him deepen the kiss, my tongue meeting his. Forgetting that the girl is still standing there, that there all sorts of people swarming around us. His arms come around me and pull me in close and that’s all that matters.
He’s putting on a show. Claiming me publicly and I needed that. I needed that reassurance so badly it’s like he read my mind.
“Unbelievable,” the blonde mutters just before she walks away, her impractical, high heel sandals clacking loudly against the sidewalk.
I break the kiss as soon as she’s gone, staring up at Gabe with confusion. “What was that all about?”
“Nothing, I swear to God. Audrey doesn’t mean shit to me. I met her last summer and my parents have been trying to pair us up ever since. I’m so not into her. She makes me crazy,” he mutters, shaking his head.
I frown. “They tried to pair you guys up last summer? As in when we were together?”
He looks uncomfortable, his gaze skittering away from mine. “Well, we weren’t really together at that particular moment.”
Oh. Wow. I guess I need to get used to the fact that this man has women who want him like, all the damn time. And that he can have his pick of any of them, at any given moment. What gives me the right to think I’m so special? What inclinations have I had from him that he’d stick around if I were, for instance, pregnant with his baby?
Nothing. That’s the answer to those burning questions.
Jade corners me in the backyard at Gabe’s house, a red Solo cup in her hand, her expression determined—like she’s going to dig all of my secrets out of me whether I like it or not. “You never texted me the other day.” She pauses, her gaze never leaving mine as she takes a sip from her cup before she asks innocently, “How’d your meeting go?”
She says it like it’s no big deal but I can guess at what she’s thinking.
Glancing around, I make sure none of the guys are around before I grab her by the arm and practically drag her into a deeper corner of the yard, where no one can see us. It’s late September, the nights are getting downright cold yet Gabe decided that it was a perfect night for a barbecue. He insisted that I come and bring my homemade potato salad, a recipe Mama taught me long ago that’s a hit at every outdoor party we bring it to.
“But it’s a summer dish,” I’d told him when he made his request.
“I don’t care. I love it,” he’d said with that adorable grin of his. The grin that could make me forget all my problems, even if only for a little while.
“And you always get what you want, no matter what?” I’d asked.
“You know it, babe.” His deep voice had sent tendrils of arousal coursing through me and of course, I’d catapulted.
Pushing the recent memories out of my otherwise occupied brain, I let go of Jade’s arm and give her the stare down. A look I picked up from Mama and had perfected over the years. “Come out with it then. What do you really want to know?”
Jade gives me a certain look in return, one that is all business, with her narrowed eyes and thinning lips. The girl is seriously intimidating when she wants to be. “How about you let me know what you were doing at the financial aid office?”
I cross my arms in front of my chest. “Can I trust you with this information?” I pray my voice isn’t too shaky. I don’t want her knowing how nervous I am. I feel like I’m putting everything on the line just by talking to Jade. I can’t imagine how I’ll be when I’m finally telling Gabe the truth. I’ll probably faint.
Or drop dead from nerves.
She raises one delicate, perfectly arched brow. “I haven’t said squat to Shep since I saw you there and that was three days ago. I think you can trust me. I hope you can.” She pauses. “I thought we were friends.”
Great. The guilt trip tactic. Works like a charm every time. “I was at the office because I need financial aid to pay for my tuition. Actually, I’m not even getting enough financial aid. I’ll most likely have to get a student loan for next semester and the next two years after that in order to pay for my schooling.”
“So you don’t come from money,” Jade says slowly.
I shake my head. “My mom had me when she was sixteen. I have no idea who my father is.” My throat grows tight. God, that was hard to admit. I don’t think Jade will judge me but it’s hard to let go of those old insecurities.
Jade winces. “So you don’t have a rich father who neglects you and leaves you alone in his coastal mansion so he can tour the world with his young, beautiful girlfriend.”
My mouth drops open. “How did you…”
“Shep told me.” She shrugs. “And Gabe told him. They tell each other everything. That’s what friends do.”
Her words aren’t lost on me, but they make me feel like crap just the same. “I didn’t mean for this to happen. Gabe and I were only supposed to be a summer fling. Nothing serious, just a few weeks of fun. I didn’t realize we would end up at the same school together.”
Or that I’d have to keep up the pretense of pretending to be a rich girl. Not that I’d worked at it real hard. The clues to my true financial status are there, hidden between the lies. Gabe just never noticed.