On top of all that, my nerves were now firing at both ends.
There was a time when Jared’s presence calmed me and made me feel safe. Now, his proximity had me hyper-aware of every time his arm came close to brushing mine or whenever I thought his eyes flashed to me. My head felt cloudy, and my hands clenched.
Annoyed, I twisted to grab my notes out of my binder and bumped a flask off the counter. Heat covered my face as I turned around to try to catch the flask, but instead, watched it shatter all over the floor. With my back to the counter, I stared down at the mess and inhaled deeply. At this point, I didn’t care if he thought I was crazy or overreacting. I needed him gone.
Jared moved in front of me and stared down at the broken glass. “I make you nervous,” he said without looking up at me. His assessment was dead-on. I knew it, and so did he.
“Just go.” My desperate whisper pleaded with him as I refused to meet his stare, which I was sure was now on me.
“Look at me.” Jared cupped my cheek with his hand, his fingers reaching my hair. “I’m sorry.” My eyes shot up to his at the sound of his repeat apology. “I should never have treated you the way I did.” Eyes burning, I searched his face for any sarcasm or insincerity, but came up short. His expression was all seriousness, and his breathing was deep as he waited for my response.
Jared brought his other hand up to cup my other cheek and moved in closer. His hands slid around the back of my neck, and his thumbs grazed my ears. My breathing became shallow as his body pressed gently against mine. His eyes were now concentrated on my lips as his face inched closer. Jared was barely an inch from my lips, but I could still taste him.
He had started so slowly, but I groaned in surprise when he dived in and caught my lips with his. Fireworks started in my mouth and filtered up through the top of my head and down my neck. I was lost as his arm wrapped around my waist and his other hand stayed buried in my hair. He clutched me tighter, pulling me up to my toes. I inhaled him, smelling the wind and rain from his skin, and for a brief moment, I was home.
This is everything I needed. Everything I wanted—on me, around me, inside of me. My hormones were out of control. I wanted to rip his clothes off and feel his na**d chest against mine. I wanted to kiss him until I was too hot and delirious with need. Who was I kidding? I was already aching with desire. It pooled in my abdomen and shot downward to my sex like a damn tornado.
His tongue flicked under my top lip, sending shivers down my arms. I snaked my arms tightly his neck and pressed into him. His hands rubbed down my sides and grabbed my ass. My body loved every touch. I molded into him like a piece of clay. Where he caressed, I melted. Where he pulled, I followed.
His mouth was so hot, and I couldn’t help but wonder how good the rest of him would feel, too.
“I’ve wanted you for so long,” he whispered, his breath on my lips was like a drug drawing me in. “All the times I’d see you next door…it drove me crazy.”
My toes curled at his words. He wanted me the whole time. I liked knowing that. I liked that he desired me.
He took my lips again in a deep kiss, my back pressed against the lab table. As he bit my bottom lip, my head reeled with what was happening. I loved finding out that he never hated me, that he always wanted me. But what was happening between us? Were we getting together? Or was Jared scratching an itch?
“Don’t…” I gasped out and pulled myself back. I didn’t want to move, and I didn’t want to be anywhere else but with him. But I knew why I stopped.
He can’t win. He can’t treat me like shit and then have me.
Jared was breathing hard and stared at my swollen lips like he was far from done. His eyes drifted up to mine, and I saw the intense need, as if he was either really pissed I’d stopped him or turned on to the point of tying me down.
Releasing his hold and dropping me back to my feet, his expression became indifferent as he backed away.
“Then I won’t,” he said coldly. I guess I didn’t expect him to argue to pursue me more. Jared wasn’t a beggar. But I was thrown off balance by how quickly he could go from blazing hot to bitterly cold.
I studied him for a few moments, wondering if I’d ever get around this prideful indifference of his. “What are you up to?” I questioned, narrowing my eyes at him.
He let out a dry laugh. “I want us to be friends,” he admitted somewhat sincerely.
“Why so many questions?” he countered.
Was he serious? He had some explaining to do. “You didn’t think it was going to be this easy, did you?”
“Yes, I was hoping we could move forward without looking back.” His annoyed tone fit perfectly with the scowl forming around his eyes.
“We can’t,” I said flatly. “You go from threatening me one day to kissing me the next. I don’t switch gears that fast.”
“Kissing you? You kissed me back… both times. And now you’re off to the school dance with Madoc. You might say I’m the one with whiplash here.” He stuck his hands into the pocket of his hoodie and leaned against the window sill. His eyes were challenging me, and I barely had a response for his comeback. He was right. I dated Ben, was going to a dance with Madoc, and kissing Jared.
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.” My response was pathetic.
“You shouldn’t go.”
“I want to,” I lied. “And he asked me.” Dismissing him, I turned to my work.
Jared came up behind me as I tried to look busy sorting my papers. “Has he been on your mind, Tate?” His breath fanned my hair. Placing both hands on either side of me, locking me in, he taunted me. “Do you want him? Or is it me you dream of?”
I closed my eyes, remembering my dream the other morning. What the thought of him did to me, and now he was right behind me.
“I said that when I put my hands on you, you’d want it. Remember?”
I turned to look at him. He moved his head up to meet my eyes. “I don’t think it’s any secret that I like it when you touch me. When you’re ready to tell me everything you’re holding back, then maybe I’ll trust you again. Until then…”
His eyes narrowed on mine and anger descended like a black cloud on his face as he backed away.
His back straightened and his fists clenched. Knowing I’d said exactly what I needed to say, I turned back around to my work. My heart was caving to him, and I couldn’t look at him anymore without the fear of giving in. If he wanted me as a friend or for more, then he’d have to give me more. As enticing as his offer of moving on without looking back sounded, I knew that Jared’s story made him the man he was now. I needed to know him.
“Jared?” a female voice whined from the doorway. “There you are.”
I looked up to see Piper with her cheerleading skirt pulled down to show off her hip bones and flat stomach. I think I just vomited a little in my mouth.
“Weren’t you giving me a ride home today?” She brushed her long, dark hair over her shoulder and bit her bottom lip. Oh, please.
“I’ve got my bike today, Piper.” Jared sounded bitter from behind me. He was pissed. With who? I wasn’t sure, but I could guess.
“I can handle it,” she asserted. “Let’s go. It doesn’t look like you’re busy here anyway.” Her gaze fell on me, and anger heated up my cheeks.
Jared was quiet for a few moments, and I felt his eyes on my back as I continued to sort materials for today. Every move was slow and methodical as I struggled not to drop anything else. But pretending not to pay attention was as impossible as not paying attention.
“Yeah, I’m not busy,” Jared finally replied coolly as he walked past me towards the door.
“So, Terrance…” The idiot girl acted like she didn’t know my name. “You didn’t go and give your Homecoming date a black eye, did you? He can barely see. You should really stop beating up on guys or people will start thinking you’re a dyke.”
She was trying to bait me, but I was at a loss. I had no idea what she was talking about. Someone had given Madoc a black eye since I’d see him at lunch?
“She didn’t give Madoc a black eye. I did.” Jared walked past her and opened the door, now not sparing either of us eye contact.
“Why?” Piper’s nose scrunched up as she turned around to exit the door he held open. Jared raised an eyebrow at me and swung the door shut with enough force for the vibrations to travel up my legs.
Staring at the closed door for several moments, I finally realized that Jared had punched Madoc over me.
What the hell?
Well, this definitely wasn’t some joke between the two of them, then. Madoc was interested in spending a little time with me, and that drove Jared crazy.
I let out a hard laugh. I wasn’t interested in Madoc. But, if it bugged Jared, I might be interested in having a little fun, after all.
Slipping in my ear buds, I spent the rest of the afternoon in a great mood.
“Hey, Dad,” I chirped after clicking the Accept Call button on my laptop. “What are doing up so late…or early?” Germany was nine hours ahead of us. I had just returned from a run and beating thoughts of Jared, Madoc, and everyone else out of my head. It was after six, and I’d heated a ham and cheese Lean Pocket for dinner.
“Hi, Pumpkin, I just got off a flight from Munich and am heading to bed now. Thought I’d check in to make sure you’re doing alright without Grandma.”
He looked weary and disheveled. His gray hair stood in half a dozen different directions as if he’d spent the last twenty-four hours running his hands through it, and bags hung under his blue eyes. His white collared shirt was unbuttoned at the top with his tan and blue tie loosened.
“Munich? I didn’t know you were going there,” I said with my mouth full.
“Just a spontaneous daytrip for a meeting. I took the red eye back to Berlin. I have today free, so I’ll sleep late.”
My dad’s idea of sleeping in was seven o’clock in the morning. If he didn’t emerge from his room by then, something was wrong. “Okay, well make sure you actually sleep late. You work too hard, and it’s showing. How will you get a date looking like you do?”
He laughed it off, but there was sadness in his smile. I immediately felt guilty for bringing up dating. Since my mom died, my dad had kept as busy as possible. He worked a lot, and when he wasn’t working, we were both on the go. We never stayed home on vacations, and he rarely spent any free time at the house. We were always off to one event or another: basketball games, dinners, camping trips, and concerts. My dad never wanted to have too much time to think. I was sure there had been casual “girlfriends” over the years on his travels, but he never considered anyone seriously.
“Hey, Mr. Brandt,” K.C. called out as she came out of my bathroom and plopped down in my chair next to the double doors.
She’d come over right when I got home, begging for details about Madoc asking me to Homecoming today, but I got saved by the call from Dad.
“K.C.?” Dad questioned me, since he was unable to see her.
“Yep,” I slurred, taking another bite of my dinner. I still wore my black compression shorts with a white tank top and blue jacket. The smell coming off of me would definitely repel any guy. I should go visit Madoc right now and throw my arms around him, but even I wasn’t that cruel. The fatigue in my muscles filled me with relief, though. I couldn’t think or worry about anything right now even if I wanted to.
“Tatum Brandt. That is not your dinner.” The shock in my dad’s eyes made me roll my mine.
“It’s food. Now be quiet,” I commanded comically. I looked over to see K.C. smile and shake her head.
“I’ll be home in two and a half months. Do you think you can keep yourself alive until then?” Dad said sarcastically.