“Get up” followed by a hard slap to my arm broke into my warm, happy dreams. The same sexy voice that had been begging me, “Don’t stop,” was now yelling at me. Shaking my head to clear it, I slowly forced my eyes open.
Amanda was glaring down at me with a glass in her hands. She stuck her hand into the glass, then flicked cold water at my face. What the hell?
“What are you doing?” I croaked out, moving my arm to cover my face from any more attacks.
“Trying to wake you up,” she replied.
She was annoyed and she was gorgeous. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. No makeup. Nothing. She was perfect. I wanted to stare up at her very perfect body and face, but I was afraid of her tipping the entire glass of water over my head.
“Come on, Preston. Get up,” she begged. I liked that sound. Moving my arm away, I smiled up at her.
“You could always come down here,” I replied, unable to stop myself.
Her eyes flew open and then instantly narrowed. “The only reason I haven’t poured this entire glass of ice water on your head is because Marcus loves this old couch. But I’m about to not care.”
I sat up quickly. As sexy as she looked standing there all pissy, I didn’t want ice water thrown at me. “I’m up, sweetheart. Why don’t you put that glass down?”
“Good. Now get on your shirt and leave. I saw your Jeep downstairs. You don’t need a ride. Bye,” she replied, then spun around. Her cute little ass was barely covered by those cutoff jean shorts. I was weak, and I’d just been woken up by the star of my very naughty dream. I jumped up and wrapped my arms around her waist, pulling her back against my chest. Mmmm, she felt real good.
“What . . . what are you doing?” she asked in a flustered tone.
I hadn’t realized I was going to apologize. I didn’t need to apologize, dammit—I needed her to hate me. But she smelled so good and her bottom was pressing back against my morning hard-on, and I couldn’t let her go without making sure she didn’t hate me for being an ass the other day.
“Why?” she asked in a cautious tone.
“I was an a**hole the other day. I shouldn’t have talked to you that way. I don’t want you to be so angry at me. I was having a bad day, and I took it out on you. I’m so sorry.” I was the one begging now.
She let out a heavy sigh, and her chest rose and fell under her snug-fitting T-shirt.
“Those titties are actually real nice. They’re real, and I’m betting they’re soft and feel like f**king heaven.” Shit, why’d I say that?
Amanda stiffened in my arms. I should let go of her and move away. It was the right thing to do. I’d apologized, and we needed to leave it at that. I was in her brother’s apartment. I had an appointment with a client in three hours. Amanda was too sweet for me to touch.
“Okay,” she said in a whisper.
I could slide my hands up her stomach and cup her tits right now. She was going all relaxed in my arms. Leaning in to me. Ah, so good. NO!
I dropped my hands and stepped back. Amanda’s posture went stiff. She didn’t look back at me. I stood there trying to think of something to say, but nothing came to me.
“Get on your shirt and leave. Willow and Larissa are on their way back. Marcus wanted you gone before they got here,” she said in a flat voice before walking away. I watched her until she walked into the guest bedroom and closed the door behind her.
I sank back down on the couch and dropped my head into my hands. Why did I keep doing this? I had to remember she was off-limits. Why did she have to come to me so easily? Didn’t she know better than to get close to boys like me? She didn’t need to let me touch her—she needed to fight me off. But, damn, knowing she would welcome my touch was driving me f**king insane.
I looked around the room for my shirt and found it folded on the end of the sofa. Willow must have done that. I slipped it on, then felt in my pockets for my phone and my keys. Only my phone was there. My keys were probably in the Jeep. I should just go. Not say anything. Just go. She was right to hide from me.
I moved my feet to walk to the door and ended up heading for the room that Amanda had gone into. I just couldn’t leave it like this.
“Manda,” I called out, and knocked once before opening the door.
She was sitting on the bed with her legs folded up underneath her, staring out the window. She didn’t turn and look back at me.
“I’m sorry,” I said, stepping into the room.
She shrugged and kept her gaze fixed on the window looking out over the water.
“Are you not going to talk to me now?” I asked, taking a few more steps closer to the bed.
“Our conversations don’t typically end well,” she replied.
And that was all my fault.
She didn’t respond right away. I watched her as she sat there. The late-morning sun was shining through the window, making her already perfect face look even more angelic. How did I always mange to hurt her? She didn’t deserve to be hurt. Her dad had ripped her world apart this past year. She needed friends. People who would love her and not continually hurt her. Why couldn’t I do that?
“This time you have nothing to be sorry for,” she said. “I got too close; you moved away. I got the hint. Not really a big deal. I’m fine. Now just go.”
Dammit. She really didn’t understand guys at all.
“Manda, I backed away because I was letting something happen that shouldn’t. You’re too good for me. You realize that, don’t you? I’m f**ked up. My life is one screwed-up mess. As much as I’d like to touch you—because, baby, you’re all kinds of irresistible—I can’t. I will never be good enough for you.”
Finally she turned her head and met my pleading gaze. I needed her to understand this. I’d let her play this game too long, and I’d enjoyed the hell out of it. Having her flirt with me had been something I looked forward to and dreaded at the same time.
“Fine. You don’t want to be good enough for me, then you will never be. I deserve someone who wants to be what I need. It isn’t like you will be my only crush. You were just my first. You taught me a lot about guys.” She stood up and walked over to me. “You’re right. I deserve more. So much more than a guy who won’t even kiss me while he’s sliding in and out of me. I’m good enough to be a quick fuck, but I’m not good enough to kiss? Got it. Lesson learned.”
What the hell was she talking about? We hadn’t had sex. I would not forget hav**g s*x with Amanda Hardy.
“Bye, Preston. We’re done here. Conversation over.”
“Amanda, what are you talk—”
The front door opened, interrupting me, and a little voice started calling out, “Mana! Mana! Are you?” Larissa and Willow had returned.
Amanda walked past me and into the living room.
My head was spinning. What the f**king hell was she talking about?
“Hey you, pretty girl. I missed you,” Amanda cooed.
“Martus at work,” Larissa told Amanda.
“Yes, he is.”
Larissa lifted her green eyes, and she found me standing back, watching them.
“Pweston here,” she replied happily, and clapped her hands.
I couldn’t think through the spinning in my head to carry on a conversation with the kid. I had to get out of here. I wasn’t going to get answers with Willow standing here between us.
“Hey there, gorgeous. You have fun with Manda and Low today, okay?” I told her, then smiled at her as she waved at me.
“’Kay,” she replied.
“Thanks, Willow, for the sofa. Sorry I showed up here. It wasn’t a good night,” I explained.
I couldn’t tell her that I’d been to check on my brothers and sister and found out my mom had been gone for two days and they’d been left alone at night. I’d had to go hunt her down and threaten her with jail if she didn’t get back home. She hated me more and more each day. But at least she was home now. I’d also made sure Jimmy had a cell phone that he could keep hidden in his room so he could call me the next time something like this happened.
I’d ended up drinking too much at the bar because I’d been mad at myself for not going and checking on the kids sooner. I was turning out just like my mom. I had to stop drinking so damn much.
“No worries. It’s always open if you need it,” Willow replied.
“Thanks,” I said again, then headed for the door. I didn’t look back at Amanda. She was done with me. Finally I’d managed to push away the one female who may have actually given a shit. But what had she meant about “lesson learned”? I needed the answer to that.
“The tension was so thick I could cut it with a butter knife. What the heck was that all about?” Willow asked, after the door closed behind Preston. I didn’t want to tell her any of this. She would never understand, anyway. Then there was the chance she could slip up and tell Marcus, which would be horrible. As hurt and as angry as I was with Preston, I didn’t want Marcus to hate him. Marcus was one of the few people who Preston had to turn to. I didn’t like the idea of him being alone.
“He was pissed I woke him up with cold water. We argued. Y’all came back in the middle of him being grumpy.”
Willow didn’t look like she believed me, but she nodded anyway. “Okay. I won’t pry. But let me just say that Preston is dangerous. He is adorable and sweet and fun loving, but something about him is dark. He has had a bad past. I know because he grew up down the road from me. I think he may have had things worse than I did. Just be careful about that, okay? You’re still young, and you have been sheltered from so much. It isn’t my business, but just be careful.”
There was no need for this warning. But I nodded. “Okay.”
“Now, what are we girls gonna do today?” Willow asked, smiling down at Larissa.
“Swim!” Larissa cried out happily.
“Swim it is,” Willow agreed.
I would have to borrow one of Willow’s swimsuits. I started to ask, when my cell phone started ringing in my purse. I walked over to the table where I’d dropped my purse when I walked in, and pulled my phone out. Glancing down at the screen, I sighed when I saw Preston’s name. What was he doing?
“Hello,” I said in the most annoyed tone I could manage.
“I can’t find my keys. They aren’t in the apartment or in my Jeep. Can I have a ride?”
Dang it. When was I going to get some space from him? He was everywhere. I couldn’t get over this thing I had for him if I was always having to be near him.
“Okay,” I replied, and hung up.
I looked back at Willow, who was standing there watching me. “He can’t find his keys. I’m going to drive him home. I’m sure he has a spare set there.”
Willow chewed nervously on her bottom lip. I knew she didn’t like this, but then, neither did I.
“Well, be careful. I’ll let Marcus know you had to give him a ride.”
I understood that innocent warning. It wasn’t meant for me, but for Preston. I bent down and gave Larissa a kiss on the head. “I’ll be back later. Save some water for me.”
“Swim,” she repeated.
* * *
Smiling down at her, I headed for the door and downstairs. Maybe after I got him home I could put some distance between us.
Preston was leaning up against the passenger-side door of my car. He had on his Oakley sunglasses, and his arms were crossed over his chest, making the muscles flex. Why, oh why, did he have to be so freaking beautiful?
Even though I couldn’t see his eyes through the dark lenses, I knew he was watching me. I could feel it. And unfortunately, I liked it. Or at least my body did.
“Sorry about this. Someone must have taken them so I wouldn’t drive. Don’t know who, though.”
I unlocked the doors with my remote. I didn’t have to talk to him if I didn’t want to. I was giving him a ride only.
Sliding into the driver’s seat, I buckled up and ignored him while he got in beside me. The black leather was warm already from the sunshine. Reaching over, I turned on the seat vents to cool them down. My dad may not be good for a lot of things, but he sure came in handy when I needed a car. His owning several Mercedes dealerships assured me that I’d have the best when it came to vehicles.
“What did you mean upstairs about not kissing you while I, uh, did other things?”
What kind of game was he playing? Did he really want to relive this with me?
“Exactly what you think it means, Preston. You were there. You should know.”
He was staring at me. I didn’t glance over at him. I focused on driving.
“I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t as confused as f**king hell right now.”
How was he confused? I had been very specific. He hadn’t kissed me once while we had sex. That was pretty dang clear.
“I really don’t want to rehash this. It happened. We were acting like it didn’t up until just now, so let’s go back to that. M’kay?
I tightened my hold on the steering wheel and turned into the traffic. Neither of us said anything for a few moments. Maybe he’d decided to grant my request.
“Manda, are you telling me that we . . . had sex?”
The disbelief in his voice was my first clue. Well, maybe it was the first clue that I’d picked up on. I had missed the other clues. The ones where he didn’t explain or frowned like I was crazy. But slowly it was dawning on me. He didn’t remember!
If the humiliation could get any worse, it just did. He had forgotten we’d had sex. I’d given the jerk my virginity like an idiot, and he’d been with so many girls he couldn’t remember me. Wow. I thought I was over this rejection, but this new knowledge caused a lump in my throat. How could he?
“Manda, answer me, please. Before I force you to pull this car over and look at me.” Preston’s voice sounded panicked. Why? Didn’t he forget girls he’d screwed all the time? I was now one of many.
“I just want to take you home and leave. Let’s not talk about this.”
“Fuck,” Preston growled beside me, and threw his head back against the headrest. “It wasn’t a dream. It’s a memory. Shit.”
A dream? What was he talking about? Now I was confused.
“Manda, please tell me I didn’t . . .” He stopped and swallowed loudly, then took a deep breath. “Please tell me I didn’t . . . I didn’t have sex with you in a storage room. On boxes.”
I couldn’t exactly tell him that. So I didn’t respond. I kept on driving.
“Fuck me!” Preston roared, and balled up his hands into fists on his legs.
“I already did that. Didn’t end well,” I replied.
“Don’t say that. Please don’t say that.” The emotion in his voice surprised me. Was it that big a deal that we’d had sex? It hadn’t been very memorable for him, obviously. So why was he having a breakdown about it now? I was the one who should be upset. Not him.
“I’m just being honest,” I replied as I pulled into the parking lot of his apartment building.
“I thought it was a dream,” he said in a low voice. His head was still back on the headrest and his eyes were closed tightly. I felt a little sorry for him.
“I’m not going to tell Marcus. If I was going to tell him, I would have done so by now.” I was reassuring him. I couldn’t help myself. I hated seeing him so upset.
Preston opened his eyes and looked at me. “I’m not upset because I think you’re going to tell your brother.” He let out a ragged sigh. “But I guess you’d think that of me. Why wouldn’t you?”
“You have sex with different girls every night. I was one of them one night. Maybe just the first one that night. Who knows?” The bitterness in my voice couldn’t be helped.
Preston’s expression looked tortured. “Manda. I was drunk. Very, very drunk. I woke up the next morning and thought it was all a dream. I’ve actually relived it many times in my dreams since then. I never realized I’d . . . God, I can’t believe I took you to a storage unit behind a bar.” He ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
Okay. I couldn’t take this anymore. He was beating himself up over this, and it was partly my fault. I’d been the idiot, to go outside with him and allow what had happened to happen. I could have put a stop to it.
“I could have stopped it. I didn’t want to,” I said. I wasn’t going to tell him that I’d been fantasizing about hav**g s*x with him for years. That was the one piece of this secret I could keep to myself.
“Why? Why would you let me do that? You deserve so much more than that.” He paused and stared at me intently. “Tell me that wasn’t your first time.”
Did I lie here? Or did I tell him the truth? Lying would make us both feel better. Or at least, it would make him feel better. I would think about it all the time.
“I chose to do it. I wasn’t drinking. I was completely sober that night, and I chose to let it be you.”
Preston slung the car door open and got out. I sat there and watched him as he paced in front of the car. He ran his hands through his hair several times, and I caught myself wishing I could do that. I loved the way his hair felt. That night might be something I regret later in life when I meet the guy I marry, but right now I couldn’t make myself regret it. I had a really good memory of Preston. Even if he hadn’t kissed me and he’d walked away and left me when it was over.
I sat in the car and watched Preston deal with this information more dramatically than I’d expected him to. When he finally stopped pacing and looked at me, I opened the car door and got out.
“I was your first. That night. I took your virginity in a shitty storage unit on a bunch of boxes.” It wasn’t a question. He was just stating the facts.
“Did you know I was completely trashed?”
No. I hadn’t known that. I’d known he had been drinking, but apparently I hadn’t known he had been drinking that much. I shook my head.
“I’m never drinking again. That’s it. I swear. I’m done.” He put both hands on the hood of my car and hung his head. “I can never tell you how sorry I am. You should hate me for the rest of your life. That is no way for you to have lost your innocence. Damn, Manda. Someone needs to shoot me.”
I couldn’t be mad at him. Not when he was like this. I closed my door and walked over to stand beside him. Tentatively, I touched his shoulder. “I wanted it to be you. I realize now that in order for it to be you, the way it happened was the only way it would ever happen. I think I’m okay with it now.”
Preston lifted his head and looked at me. “Why me? Why would you pick me?”
The raw emotion in his voice was the only reason I decided to be honest. “Because I trusted you. I wanted you. I’d wanted you for a very long time.”
Preston shook his head and stood up. “You don’t want me, Manda. You do not want me. Do you understand? I am not for you.”
That hurt. I forced myself to nod. I got it. He didn’t want anything to happen between us. I needed to move on.
“I know,” I managed to say firmly.
“I’m not gonna be able to forgive myself.”
Hearing him say that hurt even more. He was much more upset about this than I would have thought. I’d known he didn’t want to cross any lines with me, but I’d just realized how sincere that desire was. He truly never intended to allow anything to happen with us. It was a painful realization.
“There’s nothing to forgive. I got what I wanted. It’s over,” I told him, then turned and walked back to my car. I was moving on from this now. This was my closure.
He didn’t say anything to stop me. He just stood there and watched me drive away.