Authors: Gail McHugh
“You listen to them?” Amber asks, tapping her finger against the table to the beat.
“You talked. I win,” I inform her with my eyes locked on hers from over the menu, well aware that I sound like a child. “Now tell me, are they red or pink? Lace or satin?” She goes to speak, but I cut her off.
“Wait, let me guess. I’m thinking black lace? Mm. Fuck yeah, black lace.” I close my eyes, a vivid, filthy picture involving spiked heels, body paint, and a video cam flashing in my mind. “Brock, such a lucky bastard. I hope he’s taking care of all of that.”
She rolls her eyes. “Is that all you do, Ryder? Think about sex?”
“As many times in a day as you roll your eyes, Amber,” I deadpan, lifting a dark brow. I can tell she’s fighting the urge to roll those pretty eyes.
She shakes her head. “Just so you know, when we
get around to it—and we
—I’m sure Brock will know what to do with all of this.” She sweeps a vogue-style hand across her body.
I stiffen—or maybe my dick does. I can’t be too sure at this point. Considering I already knew Brock hasn’t sampled everything she has to offer, it’s pretty safe to say she’s jarred my head a little something more than I’m used to.
,” she continues, lifting her own brow, “good luck finding out what color panties I’m wearing.”
I frown. This time it’s an honest-to-God frown.
“Now can you answer my original question?” she asks.
Blank. It’s me shaking my head this time. “What was the original question?”
“Florida Georgia Line,” she reminds me. “You like them? I never pictured a guy like you listening to their music.”
I clear my throat, attempting to rid my mind of several filthy thoughts. “Yeah, I like them. ‘Cruise’ is one of my favorite songs.”
“It’s one of my favorites too.” She shrugs. “Again, I just never pictured you listening to them.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” I drop my eyes back down to the menu.
“Ryder,” she says softly after a moment.
I jerk my head up for two reasons. One: in the short time we’ve known each other, I’ve never heard Amber say
softly, let alone
my name. Two: the sound of this new voice makes me feel strangely relaxed, comforted. Jesus. In a split second, she’s managed to twist me up.
What the fuck? Usually her voice evokes some kind of frustration in me, which then morphs into an uncontrollable urge to throw her onto the closest surface and fuck her until her legs only know how to function while wrapped around my head, shoulders, or waist.
“Amber,” I reply, my eyes pinned on hers.
She looks at the table then back up at me, her voice remaining soft. “There’s a lot I don’t know about you because every time you’re around me, you wind up acting like a certified prick.” She gnaws on her thumbnail. “Is it an act?”
“Why would you think it’s an
?” My tone comes out harsher than intended, causing her to flinch. My stomach tightens with guilt as I gaze into the eyes of a broken, fallen angel.
Christ. What the hell is wrong with me?
I know what happened to her parents. Though it took some hard convincing, I got Brock to give me the details after he hung out with her at the lake. That shit rocked my head, so I can only imagine what it’s done to hers.
Still, a pissed-off Amber Moretti is as hot as they come. Call me an asshole, but since the moment her tight little ass fell into my lap, it’s been pretty simple. I get off on pissing her off.
But I’m not
douche. Sure, some of my reasoning for fucking with her is sexual, but the other is an attempt at eliciting an
smile from the girl. Her whiskey-colored eyes alone are amazing, and ninety percent of the time, they’re drenched in pain. The emptiness beyond them is a mirror of what lies beneath her hardened front—bottomless, polluted torment. It nearly kills me, and had I known the source of her pain, I wouldn’t have laid my shit on as thick as I did.
I wet my lips, trying to buy myself some time. I need to figure out how to respond. “I’m sorry,” I mumble, dragging a hand across my face.
“You should be,” she asserts. “Admit it’s an act, and I’ll forgive you.”
I lean back and seriously think about her request. It
all an act, and though I don’t want her pissed at me, I have
intention of admitting a damn thing. “There’s not a second that goes by that I’m not thinking about you,” I hear myself say. In an instant, my throat seizes up, and I want to slam my head into the fucking wall.
Lips mashed together, Amber’s shocked attention wanders over my face. She remains silent, which causes my suddenly fried brain to continue spilling the truth.
“I didn’t know how to handle you,” I say, remembering the second I set eyes on her.
I knew she was cut from a different cloth from all the rest. I felt it in my bones, in the hollow of my chest. Completely rocked, I felt it in the way my lungs burned, making it hard as fuck to breathe. I don’t believe in premonitions and stupid shit like that, but I saw it all the day she fell into my lap. I saw her not only in my bed but as a permanent fixture in my life. I saw her wrapped in my arms after a long day, felt her lips on mine before I kissed her. It was as if I knew she was supposed to be mine. But I fucked it up, and the only place she wound up, other than hanging out with Brock, was in every waking thought I’ve had ever since.
I shrug. “To be honest, I’m still not sure how to handle you.”
“Why do you feel like you have to
me?” she whispers, pain evident in her confused expression.
“I don’t know,” I mutter, wishing I did. “Look, I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m an asshole, and I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize, Ryder. Not about your feelings.” With a sigh, she pitches her head to the side, her sympathetic gaze and tone burning a hole in my skull. “They are what they are. But stop feeling like you have to
me, okay? Brock told me that you know what’s up with me, but I’m only human. A fucked-up human with a fucked-up past, but still, you get what I mean.”
I nod, wanting to unfuck her spirit, open it up, and release the
girl I know resides beneath the steel she’s wrapped around her heart. She slides a hand through her thick mane and gives me a small smile. Sweet Christ, her smile is the most goddamned beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Pure fucking candy to each and every single one of my senses.
“So tell me something about yourself that I don’t know,” she says, her voice light and airy.
For good measure, I check her eyes for any signs of drug or alcohol use. “It was my fault you tripped,” I confess, inwardly telling myself to shut the fuck up already.
What is this? Spill-your-secrets day? Show-and-tell? I toss another dollar into the jukebox, this time going with “Bleeding Out” by Imagine Dragons since that’s what I seem to be doing. Though I’m not shocked, because I knew she had it in her, this girl has me bleeding out everything I had no intention of ever revealing to her.
Her brows pull together. “What do you mean?”
“When you walked into the cafeteria the first day of the semester,” I say, remembering how I got her in my lap. I chuckle to myself. I had to do it.
“It’s called a dining hall,” she corrects, “but how was it your fault I tripped?”
calls it a dining hall?”
people do.” A smart-ass smile wavers the corner of her mouth.
I lift a brow. “Are you saying I’m
“Maybe,” she answers with a giggle.
God, now I really want to bury myself inside her.
“But, seriously, it’s not called a cafeteria in college,” she says.
I rest my elbows on the table, a grin sliding across my face. “If you want to get technical, no, it’s not. But
when I’m ninety, need Viagra, and my teeth have fallen out will I ever call anywhere I eat a dining hall.”
She purses her lips in thought. “It does sound kind of . . .”
Nodding, she giggles again. “Okay, you win. Now, getting back to the whole
thing and me tripping”—her eyes narrow slightly—“what exactly do you mean?”
“It was my duffel bag you tripped over,” I state simply, trying to conceal a smile.
“Big deal.” She shrugs. “It could’ve been anyone’s duffel bag.”
“True.” I lean over the table, no longer concealing my smile. It’s huge, like the Cheshire cat on crack. “But I purposely tossed mine in front of you when I saw ya walk into the . . .
A long second passes, and her face drops. I stiffen, preparing for one of her infamous slaps.
Another second passes, but this time I’m rewarded with laughter pealing from her gorgeous mouth. “Such a prick.”
Her hand darts out to cup my chin. She gives it a soft, reprimanding shake that not only makes my fucking chest burn from her touch, but has my heart negotiating its next goddamn beat. She must notice the look in my eyes, because as though my flesh singes her fingers, she quickly removes them.
She clears her throat. “You
me fall, Ryder.”
I send her an unpretentious smile. “Did I
catch you, Amber?”
“You did,” she says with an agreeing smile to match mine.
?” I press.
“Not physically,” she returns, her smile melting into a sexy smirk. “I won’t get into the
Before I can question the depth of the mental anguish I may have caused her that day, our waitress finally decides to come take our orders. Considering I used sudden starvation as an excuse for coming here, I go full throttle and order a double cheeseburger platter. I complement it with a vanilla shake. Amber declines anything edible, sticking with water.
While waiting for the food, I study Amber closely. I watch the way, every few minutes, she nervously tucks a strand of hair behind her
ear. Never the left. I watch the way her eyes, caramel and waxy honey in color, curiously move around the diner when a new customer comes in. As vibrant in color as they are, they’re lifeless, a murky, barren filter to a past that holds her hostage. I watch the way her tongue darts out, wetting her lips in increments, starting with the bottom and then circling up to the top. I watch the way her expression, every so often, suddenly goes distant as though crumbling under the septic wreckage of what’s left of her universe.
As a mountain of emotions pile up in my heart, I watch her flip through the music selection on the jukebox. I’m half tempted to stretch out my arm and touch her face, but I know I can’t. She’s off-limits. My best friend’s soon-to-be-kind-of-already girl . . . the ultimate forbidden fruit. Still, I need another taste of her, the urge stronger than ever before. A pull so deep within my gut, I feel as if I’m about to lose my fucking mind. Instead, I continue to watch her, trying to relish the short time I have left.
I rest my forearms on the table, my need to learn anything about her heavy in my chest. “It’s your turn to tell me something about yourself.”
I capture her gaze, and though she smiles, her eyes cloud over in hesitation. “Like what?”
“Anything.” I shrug. “Everyone has a fetish—uh, I mean a . . . thing.”
She hikes up a brow. “A thing, huh?”
“Yeah.” I grin. “What’s your thing, Amber?”
“If I did have a thing, why would I tell you?”
“Because I wanna know.”
“Not good enough.”
“Nope.” She laughs, crossing her arms. “Not working.”
” I slide across the booth, the king of all smirks tilting my mouth. “Do I need to cause a scene to get ya to give me something?”
“God, no!” she gasps, giggling.
“Mm, now you definitely have me convinced that I gotta make a big deal outta this.”
“I like Twizzlers,” she blurts, panic rising in her eyes as I get to the edge of the booth. “That’s my thing. Does that work for you?”
“Nah, momma. I already know you like Twizzlers.” I stand and rest my palms on the table, her cute nervousness awakening my cock. “I need deeper than Twizzlers.”
“Ryder, sit down,” she hastily whispers, curling a jumpy hand around my wrist. She gives it a tug, unsuccessfully moving me. “You’re impossible.”
“I’m curious,” I counter as I straighten and look around the diner. “Now give me something before my curiosity embarrasses the both of us.”
“This is nuts.” Her eyes dart between me and the busy restaurant. Still, she’s smiling, so I must be doing something right. “I’m boring. There’s really nothing to tell.”
“Excuse me, everyone,” I announce, grabbing the attention of several patrons. I’m not looking at her, but I hear Amber inhale a sharp breath. I also feel her tug on my wrist again. “I’m sorry for interrupting your dining experience, but I’m
trying to get this fine-looking peach to give me a little information about herself. But no matter how hard I try, and believe me, I’ve tried, she won’t cave to my request.”
” Amber asks, a nervous smile twitching her lips as she glances at me, then the curious spectators, then back to me.
“Yeah.” I drop my voice, every syllable a slow burn. “A
. . .
. . .
She swallows, her breath faltering. Yup, I’m definitely doing something fucking right.
“Whatever. Fine. This
has a sick, slightly twisted, unhealthy crush on Jared Leto.”
“Jared’s not gonna do it.” I chuckle. “Dig deeper, Moretti.”
“I love thunderstorms,” she tries, getting closer but not quite there.
I drag out the word. “I know you can do better.”
“I hate the smell of cheesecake. It nauseates me.”
I blink. “Cheesecake’s doing better?”