Dani’s eyebrows went sky high. “You think Cole hates you?” she said, grabbing my elbows and giving me a little shake. “You think Cole hates you.” This time, it wasn’t a question. It was more a statement uttered to make me feel like an idiot.
“No. I know he does.” I glanced over at the rest of the group longingly. I’d rather be heaving a ball down a lane than having this conversation with Dani right now.
“Well, that confirms it then,” she said, patting my cheek.
“Confirms what?” I dodged away from her other hand when it moved to pat my other cheek.
“You really are a stupid, stupid girl.” Without another word, she rolled her eyes at me and marched over to the ball rack. I glared at her while she took her time selecting a ball, rubbing a few in an inappropriate fashion when some of Logan’s teammates stopped to check her out.
If the ball stroking didn’t do it, her outfit did. Dani had showed up in her standard issue garb: tight shirt, short skirt, and loose standards. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of Dani; that wasn’t it at all. I was jealous of her. She knew who she was, was proud of it, and didn’t let anyone push her around. If someone didn’t like her, then forget ‘em. Moving on.
I was envious of the way she’d molded and shaped her life to her liking, but happy for her at the same time as her best friend. I knew I could never express it to Logan. He’d have a coronary if I told him I wanted to be more like Dani, but it was true. I wanted to be more like Dani, in the Elle Montgomery way.
Whatever way that was.
The games were starting, so I headed over to pick out a ball. I was contemplating whether I wanted a pink, light ball or a heavy, dark blue one when the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
I felt that familiar energy in the air. I felt him.
My breath caught in my chest when I looked up and saw Cole saunter into the bowling alley with a few of his fellow smokejumpers. Complete with a flock of girls following them. Almost a three to one ratio, and Cole seemed to be the favorite, judging from the cluster of batting eyed floozies frolicking around him.
My stomach churned for what was possibly the hundredth time today.
Cole came to a sudden stop as the few other guys continued on towards a lane a couple down from ours. His harem skidded to a stop along with him. Meeting my gaze, his mouth curled up in a way that made me feel a little faint and not in the good kind of way. Extending both of his elbows, Cole glanced between the handful of girls around him and waited.
He didn’t wait long.
Before I could narrow my eyes, two girls had glommed onto his elbows. He peaked a brow my way. That eyebrow said it all. You were just an appetizer. Why should I settle for one when I can have five?
I couldn’t look away. Cole was a walking train wreck I couldn’t turn away from.
“Hey.” Dani popped in front of me and snapped her fingers. “Ignore the bastard. He wants to play games, you can too.”
“I don’t want to play games,” I whispered.
“No one wants to play games,” she said, grabbing the heavy, dark ball before winding her arm through mine and towing me back to our lanes. “But game playing is just part of the package. He’s trying to make you jealous. Insanely jealous right now. What you’re going to do is ignore him and throw that jealous shit back in his face.” She hitched a hand on her hip and took a breath. She was riled up. She was fighting a war and wasn’t taking prisoners.
I wanted to tell her Cole had no reason to want to make me feel jealous. He felt nothing for me, so why would he go out of his way to make me jealous? He wouldn’t.
But it was working.
Especially when he reclined in one of the lane chairs and let a curvy redhead occupy his lap. Bile rose in my throat. I thought we were at a bowling alley, not a strip club, but she was clearly and unabashedly giving him a semi-lap dance.
“Show that bastard two can play this game,” she said, getting her finger in my face. “And show him you play it better.” Grabbing my shoulders, Dani spun me around and shoved me with such force I lurched into the arms of the person in front of me.
“I wasn’t really in the mood for bowling anyways.” Logan smiled down at me, wrapping his arms around me.
My mind melded with Dani’s, as scary as that was, and I knew what she wanted me to do.
It was wrong, it wasn’t what I’d do, but I was going to go with it.
“Me either,” I whispered as I ran my hands up Logan’s chest.
His face didn’t have a chance to iron out with surprise before I popped up on my toes and crushed my mouth against his. I slid one hand behind his neck and the other fisted into the material of his shirt.
Logan tensed at first, he wasn’t used to these kinds of public displays, but it took all of one second of my lips moving over his for him to relax and reciprocate. His hands gripped my face and he kissed me back. Harder than normal, almost frantically. A few of Logan’s teammates gave a few hoots, but Logan didn’t back away from the kiss. His tongue even slid across the seam of my lips before we pulled back from each other.
Logan was breathless and his eyes were excited. This was a side of him I wasn’t used to seeing. I’d almost never seen it. But this kiss hadn’t been about Logan, it had been about Cole. Winding my arms around Logan’s neck, I looked over my shoulder.
Cole’s eyes bored into mine and, if they were weapons, Logan would be dead at my feet right about now. I inhaled sharply and couldn’t look away from him quickly enough.
Dani’d been right. That public makeup session had certainly gotten his attention. Although the attention it had gotten from him made me want to take the whole thing back.
“Wow,” Logan said, tapping the tip of my nose. “I’m not sure what that was for . . . but thanks.”
I doubted if I told him what that “was for” he’d still be smiling at me like I was the eighth wonder of the world.
“You’re welcome,” I said, using Logan’s body as a shield from Cole’s continued glower. After that first flash of murder, I hadn’t looked back at him, but I could intensely feel his eyes from my head to my toes.
“Do you want to stay and play or should we get out of here?”
I’d never heard words like those come out of Logan’s mouth. Was he suggesting we ditch his teammates and friends? Was he hinting he wanted to pick up where we’d just left off a minute ago? Or yesterday afternoon?
The sideways smile on his face suggested that he was. I’d managed to waken the seemingly dormant sex drive in Logan Matthews after two years.
The timing couldn’t have been worse.
“We should probably stay and show them how a proper gutter ball’s done,” I said, unable to look into his expectant face any longer.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” he said. “It’s a good thing one of us is totally selfless.”
The dagger of guilt just drove deeper.
My smile fell flat.
“Maybe later, then?” he said, winking as he headed over to pick out his bowling ball.
I pretended like I hadn’t heard that.
“Damn, that was perfect,” Dani said, popping up behind me and smacking my backside. “You should have seen Cole’s face. I didn’t think that level of pissed could be reached by mere mortals.”
“Remind me why I listen to you and actually take your suggestions?” I muttered.
“Because when it comes to the species that is man,” she made a clicking sound with her mouth, “I’m the pro.”
“And who’s the judge of that?”
“Your sexy ass lover over there who hasn’t taken his eyes off of you yet,” she said, looking in Cole’s direction and grinning.
Then she waved.
“Dani,” I hissed.
“What?” she hissed back, waving again.
I didn’t need to look to confirm Cole was not waving back. If anything, she was getting a different kind of hand gesture.
“I don’t know,” I sighed, feeling like this could be my life’s current theme song. “I just don’t know anymore.”
“You can thank me when you do know again,” Dani said, giving my backside another smack before going up to take her turn.
She got a strike on her first turn. I scored a nice gutter ball that had our whole group chuckling.
That was the way the rest of the evening went. Gutter ball after gutter ball after shameful gutter ball.
After yet another gutter ball, I plopped onto the back benches in a huff. We were in the eighth frame and a big fat zero sat beside my name.
The ironies just wouldn’t quit.
“That was an impressive show.” A low voice sounded behind me, making me almost jump out of my seat. I didn’t need to look to confirm who it was, but I did. I missed having him close. “But you can cut the act out. If you keep that up, our poor old Logan is really going to have some prayers of forgiveness to make tomorrow morning after he rubs out that killer hard-on you’ve been giving him all evening.”
I stiffened. Taking a quick look around to make sure no one was within earshot, I cleared my throat.
“But who knows? You’re a wild little thing at the snap of a finger. Maybe you’ll rub him out yourself like you did for me last night.” Cole’s face was so cold I could feel the ice. If I still had any doubts about how Cole felt about me, this confirmed it: he hated me.
“Me last night. Him tonight . . .” His eyes darkened even more. “I guess I’m up tomorrow night. Same place? Same time?”
I had this crazy urge to slap him. It was so intense, my hand was actually tingling. I wasn’t sure if I was more sick about the expression on his face, or the words coming from his mouth, or the fact I’d thought we shared such a special thing that meant nothing to him.
“I’ll let you get back to your . . . game.” The word rolled bitterly from his mouth. “Just thought I’d let you know you can stop trying to make me jealous. It won’t work.”
Turning in my seat so I could face him straight on, I wouldn’t let myself hold back the next words. “Is that because it would require an actual soul to feel an emotion like jealousy?”
Half of Cole’s face flinched, like my words had hit their intended mark—hurt— but that was quick lived. That twisted smile that could twist my stomach into knots every time formed. I’d seen that smile ten too many times today.
“In order to feel jealousy over someone, you have to actually care in the first place.” Staying just long enough to witness the pain crease over my face, Cole turned and left just as suddenly as he’d appeared.
Just when you thought there wasn’t a big enough chunk of your heart left to break . . .
After that, I did my best to ignore the increasingly loud group a few lanes down. I tried to pretend Cole was nothing to me, like he did with me.
He was much better at it than I was.
“Eww,” Dani sneered, crashing down beside me after scoring yet another strike. “Why doesn’t she drag him into the men’s bathroom and blow him already? I’m getting sick of watching the bowling alley p*rn show.”