“Trust me, he always stays far enough over the line to never do anything improper,” Jen says, rushing to his defense, which is no surprise. She lives with the guy, after all. Talk about improper, but who am I to judge? “He doesn’t want any trouble at work. There’s been drama at his restaurants in the past, especially with the people who’ve worked for him. He has a strict no-dating policy for his employees.”
Oh, I bet he does, so why does Jen live with him?
“And I’m sure you’re wondering what’s going on between us, but it’s nothing. Absolutely nothing,” Jen says as if she can read my mind. “He’s merely kind enough to offer me a place to stay while I get my crap together again.”
“That’s very nice of him,” I say and she rolls her eyes.
“I’m sure you think we’re having some sort of secret love affair.”
“If you say you don’t, then you don’t.” I shrug.
“Just…be careful, Fable. I like you. You’re the nicest person in this place because as you realize, we work with a bunch of bitches.” We both laugh over this. The other girls virtually ignore us. Luckily enough, it’s only T who’s working with us tonight and she’s too professional to be catty. “But Colin considers you on probation, so one wrong move and he might fire you.”
“I won’t make any wrong moves,” I reassure her. No way can I afford to. I need this job.
“Good.” Jen smiles and pats me on the arm. “I need to go check on my table.”
I watch her leave, wondering if she harbors some sort of secret crush for Colin. If she does, I can’t really blame her. I may have feelings for Drew and think he’s the most gorgeous man on the planet, but there’s no denying how attractive Colin is. He’s charming too. I can see why girls might fall all over themselves just for a chance to get with him.
For a brief, shining moment, I almost wanted to get with him myself. He has a powerful allure to him that’s hard to deny. But I’m too wrapped up in Drew to want any other guy.
For once, I feel relatively secure over my feelings and relationship with Drew too. Relatively being the key word, since I don’t quite know what to call what’s happening between us.
I need a definition. Tonight, we’re going to talk, Drew and I. I’m going to get to the bottom of this and figure out what’s happening between us. If he so much as tries to bolt the minute I confront him with this, I just might kick his ass.
The last thirty minutes goes by quick and I’m thankful Drew doesn’t come into the restaurant to pick me up, as shallow and silly as that sounds. But Colin is lingering around the hostess desk, his gaze questioning when I tell him good night as I head toward the door. I’m prepared when he asks if I need a ride home and I offer him a breezy no-thanks as I push open the door and head out in the dark, briskly cold night.
I spot Drew’s truck in the lot and I hurry to it, excitement coursing through me when I see him open the driver’s side door and climb out. He’s wearing jeans and a hooded sweatshirt and he looks amazing.
“Hi,” he says when I approach, offering me a crooked smile. “Nice coat.”
It’s the same stupid puffy coat I wore the night he asked me to be his pretend girlfriend. The one I hate with a mad passion but it’s the warmest coat I own and it’s an extra-cold night. I decided to forget being vain and went with the warmth factor when I slipped it on before I left for work.
“Thanks. I hate it,” I say with a laugh, making him laugh too. “It’s so puffy. It makes me look like a little round ball.”
“It definitely doesn’t make you look like a ball,” he says, his gaze doing a slow perusal of me. “Actually, you look like you have nothing on underneath it, which I know can’t be the case. Unless I’m dreaming and you happen to reveal that you really are nak*d under there.”
I shiver. Not only from the cold, but from his words, from the heat in his gaze. “Keep dreaming. I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you.”
“Damn.” Chuckling, he grabs my hand and draws me toward him, giving me a quick, warm kiss. “You ready to go?”
I nod slowly. I could so get used to this, my boyfriend coming to pick me up from work, offering me sweet kisses and sexy words. Then we can go back to his place and get nak*d together.
Yeah, that sounds like a dream come true.
I climb into the truck and we head to his place, though he does ask me if I’d rather go home so I can be with Owen. I find the offer sweet but reassure him Owen’s at his friend’s house for the night. They’re working on a project together that’s due tomorrow and Wade’s mom promised me she would supervise.
I really love that lady. She’s so good to Owen—and to me, too. I think she knows our mom sucks and is rarely around so she tries her best to help us out. I gave her a Christmas gift to show my appreciation and she practically cried when I handed it to her.
“Are you hungry?” Drew glances at me out of the corner of his eye, saving his concentration for the road. “I’m starving.”
“I could eat, I guess,” I say with a shrug. I don’t care about eating. I could live on the high I get just being in Drew’s presence. It’s exhilarating, having him so close, knowing he’s all mine.
“Do you want to go somewhere? Or we could order something in.” He looks at me when he hits a stoplight, his gaze smoldering.
Um, like I want to draw this out any longer? “Let’s order something in,” I suggest. “Maybe pizza?”
“Pizza it is.” He reaches for me, linking our hands together. “There’s some stuff I want to talk to you about.”
Worry gnaws at my gut and I know it’s written all over my face. He squeezes my hand reassuringly when I don’t answer. “Nothing bad about us. It’s about my dad. And…you know. I had to have an emergency meeting with my shrink earlier.”
“I didn’t know shrinks offered emergency meetings.” It must be bad, what he wants to tell me.
“Mine is extra cool. You’d like her. She likes you,” he says, releasing his grip on my hand.
I miss his touch, as lame as it sounds. “She does?”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve told her a lot about you. She’s glad you’re back in my life.” He doesn’t seem too upset, which is promising. I’m glad he has someone to talk to about his personal stuff objectively. If he mentioned that bitch’s name to me, I’d just want to go and kick her ass.
I really, really hate her.
We talk about mindless stuff the rest of the drive to his apartment. I tell him how dead the restaurant was, how long I’ve worked there, how I’ve made a friend. I also tell him about my breakfast with Owen and how bad he felt about punching Drew.
Okay, the last part is a lie. My brother is still thrilled he clocked Drew in the jaw but I can’t tell him that. How rude is this kid, getting all hopped up over the fact that he punched my new boyfriend in the face for making my life miserable?
I secretly sort of love how quick my brother defended me, though. It’s sweet. And it shows that I have reached him. No matter how frustrated I get or think he’s not listening to me, he is. He loves me and wants to make sure I’m okay. Just as much as I love him and always want to make sure he’s okay too.
Well, I’m probably the more protective of the two, but I’m the older one. The responsible one. I have to watch out for him.
“You’re a good sister,” Drew says as he pulls into the parking lot of his complex. “I hope your brother appreciates everything you do for him.”
“I think he does.”
“How about your mom?”
I’m immediately defensive. “What about her?”
He parks the truck and shuts off the engine. “Does she appreciate everything you do?”
“Half the time, I don’t think she realizes we even exist.” My voice is bitter but I can’t help it. I think of her and I’m filled with instant bitterness. It’s like instant coffee, only worse. “She’s never around. She lost her job before Thanksgiving and now she’s always hanging out with her loser boyfriend instead of taking care of Owen or, you know, working.”
“She hasn’t found another job?” He sounds incredulous.
“It’s not that easy when you don’t have a large skill set.”
“So who’s paying the rent at your place?”
“You’re looking at her.” I jab my thumb at my chest.
“And all the bills? The groceries and whatever else that needs to be paid for?”
“That would be me.”
He slowly shakes his head, the respect in his gaze clear. “Why are you so f**king amazing?”
His words send a rush of warmth through me but I bat the sensation down. “I’m just doing what I need to do. Don’t make me out as some sort of hero.”
“Anyone your age would bail. Seriously.”
“I don’t think so,” I start but he cuts me off.
“I do. You’re only twenty, Fable. And you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You take care of your brother and you pay all the bills. You’re always working and trying your best to keep your head above water.” He shakes his head slowly. “I admire you so much. You’re so strong, no matter what life throws at you.”
“I don’t have a choice,” I say with a shrug. “I do what I have to do to get by.”
“I could take lessons from you, you know that?” He leans over the center console and cups my cheek, pulling me in for a lingering kiss. “We always have a choice. And you choose to stay. Don’t ever downplay that. Most people would run like hell from all that responsibility. I would.”
I gaze into his eyes, see all the admiration and passion and…something else in their beautiful blue depths. “You underestimate yourself, Drew. As usual.”
“Fine. I’ve always run away in the past. But you, Fable. You make me want to stay.”
The minute she walks into my apartment, Fable unzips the puffy coat she hates and tosses it on the chair that sits closest to the door. Revealing a short black dress that fits her so tight, I swear I almost swallow my tongue when I first see her in it. Her body is amazing. Her legs, even though she’s short, look endless and I’m tempted to slowly peel the dress off her body and do every wicked thing I’ve imagined doing to her since I left her with her brother this morning.
Instead I ask her what toppings she prefers on her pizza and call in the order.
After I hang up, she tells me she wants to get out of the dress and wear something more comfortable so I offer up a T-shirt of mine. She follows me back to my bedroom, her sweet scent surrounding me as she stands by my side, and we go through my closet together. When I pull the shirt off the hanger, I watch in disbelief as she casually yanks the dress off over her head, letting it fall to the floor.
Standing in front of me in only a black lace bra and black panties that look more like shorts but are still somehow incredibly sexy, she holds her hand out and wiggles her fingers at me, indicating she wants the shirt. I hand it over, my mouth too dry to speak, and she tugs the T-shirt over her head. It’s old, a pale blue with a Hawaiian design on the front. I picked it up when I went on one of those shitty family vacations to the big island and I rarely wear it since it reminds me of a time—and a person—I’d rather forget.