“That was fast,” Riley said the second I came into the living room, his feet up on the coffee table, expression bored. “I guess that’s why they call it a quickie.”
“Shut up,” I said, with more vehemence than I intended. I was feeling bad, and I couldn’t precisely figure out why Bill’s rejection had bothered me so much. I didn’t need Riley judging me.
“What’s wrong?” Rory asked, peeling herself off Tyler’s chest, where she was splayed like plastic wrap.
“I just don’t have anywhere to stay for the next week, that’s all.” I didn’t want to say in front of Riley that Bill had turned me down. It would be like handing him the material for a ten-minute stand-up routine at my expense. No, thanks.
“You can stay here,” Nathan said.
“Thanks, but I don’t think that’s going to work.”
“Why not?” Kylie asked.
I shot her a look, hoping she’d get the hint.
“Did you and the nerd have a fight?” Riley asked. “Is he not putting out enough for you?”
It really wasn’t fair that such a beautiful face was on such an asshole of a guy. Riley was a little shorter than Tyler, just as muscular, but whereas Tyler had a certain hardness to his face, Riley had been gifted with adorable dimples and large eyes. It was almost tragic he was such a jerk-off. I ignored him, but it wasn’t easy, because he seemed to take great pleasure in pissing me off. I really wanted to throw something at him. Like my fist. Right into his cocky face.
“You can stay at my house,” Tyler offered. “The boys and I are going to Rory’s dad’s for a week, remember, so you’d have a bed to sleep on.”
There was a thought, though it was an intimidating one. “Is it safe?” I asked, before I thought about how rude that actually sounded. Tyler and Riley lived with their two younger brothers in a lower income neighborhood in a house the bank was in the process of foreclosing on since their mother had died. Riley had lived in a basement before that, but once his mom overdosed, he had moved back in. I’d never been there, but I was picturing a drug infested neighborhood with drive-by shootings and prostitutes on every corner. My parents lived in a minimansion in a small town, so I didn’t exactly have street cred. My experience with poverty was limited to movies and episodes of Cops on my laptop. It was like a bear walking through the desert. I had no previous exposure.
“I mean, won’t the neighbors think I’m breaking and entering?” I added, as a very lame cover to my initial question.
“Princess, I don’t think anyone is going to think you’ve broken into our shithole and are squatting,” Riley said, rolling his eyes. “If anything, they’ll just think you’ve come over to score drugs.”
“Rory stays with me all the time,” Tyler added. “No one will even notice. People keep to themselves in our neighborhood.”
“I never feel unsafe there,” Rory said. “But then again, I’m never sleeping there alone. Tyler is always with me.”
“I’ve never lived alone,” I said. Even for a week, the thought had a certain appeal. No one’s opinion but my own. No rules. No guilt. No feeling bad that I could never live up to anyone’s expectations. It sounded awesome and scary. I wanted to try it, just to see what it would be like. “That sounds great, Ty. Thanks for offering.”
“Have both of you forgotten something?” Riley asked, picking up his beer.
“What?” I said, wary. I just knew I wasn’t going to like whatever he was going to say.
“I’m not going to Rory’s dad’s to swim for a week like a kid at summer camp. I’ll be here, working. Living in my house.”
Oh, God. I couldn’t help it. I made a face.
The corner of Riley’s mouth turned up. “That’s exactly how I feel about it, princess.”
“I think it will be good for you guys,” Kylie said, an eternal optimist. Or suffering from massive delusions. “You can become better friends this way.”
“Maybe we don’t want to become friends,” Riley told her. “Maybe we like not liking each other.”
I almost laughed. There was a certain truth to that. I basically felt like I’d seen all I needed to see to know I didn’t need to see more. But if I said that Kylie’s head would explode. She was a very honest and kind person, and she didn’t always get my point of view. Or anything involving math.
“How much will you even see each other? You both work and it has three bedrooms,” Tyler said. “It seems stupid to sleep on a floor somewhere when there’s plenty of room at the house.”
“It’s up to Riley,” I said, because that only seemed fair. It was his house. “Maybe he wants some alone time with all of you gone.”
I didn’t mean that to sound quite as weird as it did.
He laughed. “Does that come right after Me Time and Circle Time?” He stood up and moved further into my space than was strictly appropriate.
It was a game of chicken, and I lost by instantly backing up. Damn it. He smirked in triumph.
“I’ll be fine. I can handle it if you can.”
I was playing right into him and I knew it, but I couldn’t stop myself. “Of course I can handle it. What’s there to handle?”
He stared at me, his eyebrows raised, a challenge in his deep brown eyes. The stubble on his chin was visible, and I could smell the subtle scent of soap and a splash of cologne. He looked and smelled very, very masculine, and I was suddenly aware of my body in a way that made me seriously annoyed.
“Bring some beer.”
“I’m not twenty-one.” Not that it had ever stopped me from drinking, but I wasn’t going to give Riley anything I didn’t have to. I did not want to feel like I owed him. It was Tyler who had made the offer of a place to crash, so if anyone deserved thanks, it was him, not his arrogant brother.
For a second, Riley’s eyes roamed over my chest, like he could gauge my age by my boobs. Such a tool.
But then he just said, “You can borrow my ID.”
And I couldn’t help it. I laughed. “Because we’re practically twins.”
He nodded. “Though I am slightly better looking.”
I snorted. “I have better hair.”
“I can drink more whiskey than you.”
“I’m stronger. We should mud wrestle so I can prove it.”
I bit my lip so I wouldn’t throw a scathing response back at him, or worse, laugh. He didn’t deserve the attention, or knowing he’d gotten under my skin, which was what he wanted.
But for a split second I wondered if I should sleep on the couch after all. Because Riley seemed to be the one person who could get an emotional response out of me, even if it was just anger.
And emotions were dangerous.
They led to being trapped, like my mother, in the pretty prison of my father’s house.
I was never going to let that happen.
“I call dibs on the bathroom first in the mornings,” I told Riley.
Then to let him know that he did not intimidate me, and that I was always in control, I turned and walked away.
Jessica Sweet thought going away to college would finally make her free of her parents’ constant judgments and insistence she play chastity club role model for their church events, but if anything, the freedom has made her realize she can’t go home and be a hypocrite anymore. Tired of dodging their questions, she stays at school over the summer and lands in an unexpected crash pad: Riley Mann’s house.
Sarcastic, cocky, and full of opinions, Riley is also sexy personified with tattoos and biceps earned from working as a roofer all day. Not the right guy for her even if Jessica was looking for a relationship, which she is definitely not. But Jessica knows that Riley hides the burden of having to raise his younger brothers behind that grin and as she helps him get his house in order for a custody hearing, they begin to fall hard for each other, and she is forced to question what she’s hiding herself.
Jessica has never had a problem getting naked with a guy, but when it comes to showing Riley how she truly feels inside, her fear of rejection may just ruin the best thing—the best guy—to ever happen to her