“Incoming,” Jase warned.
I didn’t realize what he was talking about at first, but arms went around me from behind. I knew immediately it wasn’t Avery. I couldn’t get that lucky.
“What are you dressed as?” Steph asked.
“Myself,” I told her, turning around. She was dressed as if Little Red Riding Hood had wandered onto a porn set.
She smiled, twirling the edge of one of her pigtails. “That’s not really a costume.”
“We are too awesome to wear costumes,” Jase said, eyeing Steph’s friend.
I gently untangled Steph’s arms. “You guys look hot.”
“I know.” Steph giggled. “Can we join?” she asked, nodding at the game.
Jase stepped aside, and I knew by the way he was paying attention to Steph’s friend, he wouldn’t be spending the night alone.
My attention immediately sought out Shortcake. I was surprised for a second time that night when I saw what she was doing.
She was dancing.
It shouldn’t be such a big deal, but I had the suspicion that whatever caused her to stop dancing professionally hindered her from doing it at all.
God, she was . . . there were no words.
The song was fast, with a lot of beats, and her hips hit them all. Holding on to Brittany’s hand, the two of them danced together. A smile pulled at my lips as Jacob joined them. Her head was tipped back, arms raised, and she was laughing.
In that moment, I realized I was seeing a very different side of Avery. One I’d never seen before, where she was lively and carefree, and fucking perfect.
“I’m going to marry that girl one day,” I heard myself say.
Jase choked on his beer and bent over, dragging in deep breaths. “Holy shit.”
But it immediately began to fade as some guy came up behind her, slapping his hands on her hips. Avery jumped a good half foot off the floor as she looked over her shoulder.
Tony. That was his name. A freshman who was just initiated into Jase’s frat. He’d been a part of the first group we’d beaten at beer pong—the one who’d almost fallen face-first into the table. I didn’t know him, but I didn’t like him. And I sure as fuck didn’t like what he was doing with his hips.
Avery twisted to the side and Tony was attached to her like a fucking octopus. He was obviously plastered and it was also obvious that Avery didn’t want to dance with him. Every time she pulled away, he tugged her back.
Anger exploded in my gut like buckshot. I started forward, ignoring Jase when he called out to me. I was halfway across the garage when Tony slipped his hand across her stomach.
“Let me go!” she yelled.
The hair on the back of my neck rose at the real fear in her voice. I tripped—fucking tripped—and then I shot forward, plowing through those in the way. I didn’t even see them.
Fury tasted like blood in my mouth as I grabbed ahold of Avery’s arm, pulling her away. Her startled gasp was like thunder in my ears as I shoved Tony back. The fucker stumbled as he backpedaled, hitting the wall.
I was on him in a heartbeat.
I was going to break this motherfucker’s face. It was as simple as that. He was touching her and it was obvious to anyone with a pea-sized brain that she hadn’t wanted to be touched.
Shoving my hand into his chest, I slammed him back into the wall as my other hand curled into a fist. “What the fuck, man? Do you have a fucking hearing problem?”
“I’m sorry.” Tony raised his hands, shaking. “We were just dancing. Didn’t mean any shit by it.”
“Cam,” Avery cried out.
I shoved Tony back as he started to speak again, and Jase was suddenly at my back, grabbing ahold of me. He wrenched me away, and Tony staggered against the wall.
“You need to chill the fuck out,” Jase said.
I tried to duck Jase’s hold. “Let me the fuck go, Jase.”
“Fuck no.” He was in my face, hands on my chest. “You don’t need this, remember? Getting into a fight is the last thing you fucking need right now. So back down.”
My blood boiled with the need to put my fist through the guy’s face, but Jase . . . dammit, Jase was right. I couldn’t get into a fight. My probation would be revoked, and I couldn’t put my family through that, or Avery.
I spun around. A crowd had gathered between us and she stood with Brittany, her face pale and eyes glittering with unshed tears. I started toward her, but Jase blocked me.
“You need to calm down before you do anything.”
Ollie appeared at my side, shoving a beer in my hand. “Jase speaks the truth, man. Avery will be fine, but you . . .” Serious for once in his life, he shook his head. “You need to chill out for a little while.”
I let them push me toward the door and when I looked up, I couldn’t find Avery in the crowd. She was gone.
Sitting on the edge of the bed Jase slept in whenever he stayed in this house, I pulled out my phone, sending Avery a quick text. Jase slammed the door, but I ignored it, waiting for a response. I shouldn’t have let them drag me in here. Right now, Ollie was outside the door, playing guard. I should be with Avery, making sure she was okay.
“What the fuck got into you, man?”
I stared up at Jase. “She used to dance.”
His brows shot up. “What the fuck?” he demanded again. “What in the fuck does that have to do with anything?”
Dropping my head into my hands, I shrugged. I had no idea what the hell that had to do with anything, but I had this feeling that dancing for Avery—for her to do that—was a big deal.
Jase cursed as he spun around and then pivoted right back at me. “What is going on with you, Cam? You don’t get pissed off like this. You don’t get bent out of shape over—”
“Don’t you dare say over nothing.” My chin jerked up, eyes narrowing on Jase as fury roared through me like an out of control freight train. I shot to my feet. “He was touching her, Jase. He was grabbing on her and—” I cut myself off before I said the words I didn’t want to, the ones forming on my tongue.
“Are you fucking serious?” I shot forward, but Jase didn’t back down. He went toe to toe with me. “So? You okay with a guy—”
“Fuck no, I’m not, but Jesus H. Christ in a manger, Cam, he was some drunk idiot freshman and you and I have seen much worse go down than that.” His eyes flashed an intense silver, a sure sign he was about to lose his shit. Good. So was I. Again. “And before you say you’ve intervened in those situations, too, I know. We both have, but you’ve never tried to take a guy’s head off.”
He had a point. What the fuck ever. “This is different.”
“Because it’s her?”
The way he said “her” made me want to put my fist through the wall. “You better be very careful, bro, when it comes to your next words.”
His pupils flared wide as he held up his hands. “Look, Avery seems like a nice girl. She does, but the last time I checked, you two aren’t seeing each other.”
“So?” I threw the word back at him.
Jase looked like he now wanted to put his fist through me. “She’s turned you down how many times? And you’re acting like a pissed-off, possessive boyfriend, and the last thing you need is to get into a fight. Or need I remind you that if you do, you break your probation and you will in up in prison? Not jail, but—”
“You don’t need to remind me.” I turned, shoving my hands through my hair. “You don’t understand.”
He didn’t immediately respond. “You’re right. I don’t understand how this girl is leading you around by your dick. Have you ever considered that’s she playing you, for some fucked-up reason?”
I whirled on him, hands clenching into fists. If he hadn’t been my closest friend, the one to pull my head out of my ass when I was on home confinement, I would’ve broken his jaw. I took several deep breaths before replying. “She’s not like that, Jase. I know that’s hard for you to believe. I get it. You’ve been screwed over in a way I can’t even begin to fathom, but she is not like that.”
Shaking his head, Jase turned and leaned against the closed door. “That’s what every guy says before they are royally fucked over.”
“Avery is different,” I told him, pulling out my cell again. No response. A ball of unease formed in my stomach. “You don’t know her like I do. You don’t know her at all.”
He stared at me as he scrubbed a palm over his jaw. “I don’t know you right now.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that.
“What is it about her?” he asked, sounding like he truly wanted to understand the attraction I could barely figure out. “She’s not like any other girl you’ve gone out with. She’s fucking awkward as hell and quiet. She’s pretty, but—”
“She’s fucking beautiful,” I cut in, daring him to disagree.
He didn’t. “Is she worth this?”
“Yes,” I said, glancing at my phone again. Still nothing. “Yes, she is, and I need to make sure she’s okay.”
“I’m leaving this room right this fucking second and you’re not going to stop me.” When Jase didn’t move, I cursed under my breath and reminded myself that he was only doing this because he was my friend. “I’m not going to go beat the shit out of someone. I’m going to go find Avery. That’s all I care about right now.”
Jase looked away, a muscle flexing in his jaw and then he shook his head. “I’m sure she’s okay, Cam.”
“You don’t . . .” I paused, rubbing a spot on my chest as the white walls in the room seemed to blur. My chest constricted. “You don’t understand, Jase. I think . . . I think something happened to her before.”
Comprehension settled across his face and then he stepped aside. “Aw, shit.”
“Yeah,” I muttered, feeling that horrible sensation along the nape of my neck. “Shit.”
My heart was pounding as I stared down at Brittany. “You haven’t seen her?”
“No.” She shook her head, causing her angel wings to droop. “After you went inside with Jase and Ollie, she said she was stepping outside for fresh air, but she never came back in.”
“Shit.” I glanced down at my phone as I pressed her name on my phone again. Walking out to the driveway, I cursed again when there was no answer. I hadn’t seen Tony inside or anywhere, but I doubted he would’ve gone after her. Jase was right. The guy was just a drunk idiot, but that didn’t tell me where Avery was.
And I had looked everywhere.
Brittany trailed behind me. “She hasn’t answered my calls or Jacob’s. I don’t even think she’s here anymore.” She paused, pushing her hair off her face. “I’m going to go to her—”
“No,” I said, clenching my phone. “I’m going to go.”