Authors: Erin McCarthy
Titles by Erin McCarthy
A DATE WITH THE OTHER SIDE
HEIRESS FOR HIRE
SEEING IS BELIEVING
The Fast Track Series
HARD AND FAST
The Vegas Vampires Series
BIT THE JACKPOT
The Deadly Sins Series
The True Believers Series
THE NAKED TRUTH
(with Donna Kauffman, Beverly Brandt, and Alesia Holliday)
AN ENCHANTED SEASON
(with Maggie Shayne, Nalini Singh, and Jean Johnson)
THE POWER OF LOVE
(with Lori Foster, Toni Blake, Dianne Castell, Karen Kelley, Rosemary Laurey, Janice Maynard, LuAnn McLane, Lucy Monroe, Patricia Sargeant, Kay Stockham, and J. C. Wilder)
(with Susan Sizemore, Chris Marie Green, and Meljean Brook)
THE MAGICAL CHRISTMAS CAT
(with Lora Leigh, Nalini Singh, and Linda Winstead Jones)
OUT OF THE LIGHT, INTO THE SHADOWS
(with Lori Foster and L .L. Foster)
THE PROMISE OF LOVE
(with Lori Foster, Sylvia Day, Jamie Denton, Kate Douglas, and Kathy Love)
(with Kathy Love)
HOT SUMMER NIGHTS
(with Jaci Burton, Jessica Clare, and Carly Phillips)
FANGS FOR NOTHING
(with Kathy Love)
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
InterMix eBook edition / January 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Erin McCarthy.
copyright © 2014 by Erin McCarthy.
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I spent my sophomore year in college partying. I wasn’t even original about it. Just the totally typical pattern of skipping class and going out every single night. If there was a keg party, I went. If there was a shot, I drank it. If there was a guy, I made out with him. I wore short skirts, showed as much cleavage as I could, and I felt sexy and confident while having the time of my life. I threw up in more than one toilet, made out with a taxidermied deer on a dare, and came home without my shoes, dorm key, or phone on a regular basis.
Later, I tried to look back and figure out why I had slid so easily into party girl, but all I could come up with was maybe I just wanted a louder voice, and drinking gave me that. I wanted some attention, I guess, or maybe just to have a good time where there were no rules. Or maybe there was just no reason at all.
It all seemed normal. What you do in college, right? You party. You make superficial friends. You drink. Do stupid things that you laugh about the next day and take pictures that will prevent you from ever being a senator.
It wasn’t anything I felt bad about. I mean, sure, I could have done without some of those hangovers, and I did end up dodging a few guys who wanted to date after I spent a drunken night telling them they were awesome, but nothing to make me feel ashamed.
Until I hooked up with one of my best friend’s boyfriend when she was out of town.
Then I hated myself and the existence of vodka. Because I wasn’t one of
girls. Or I hadn’t been. Never, under any circumstances at all, would I have come even remotely close to doing anything with a friend’s guy sober, so why would I do that? How could alcohol make me cross a boundary so high and thick and barb-wired? I wasn’t even hot for Nathan. I never had been. I mean, he was cute, whatever, but it wasn’t like I nurtured a secret crush or anything.
So how did I end up waking up next to him on his plaid sheets, his arm thrown carelessly over my naked chest? I came awake with a start, head pounding, mouth dry, for a second wondering where the hell I was and who I had had sex with. When I blinked and took in the face above that arm, I thought I was going to throw up. Getting to the apartment, sex, it was completely a black, yawning hole of nothing. I didn’t remember even leaving the party. No idea how Nathan and I had wound up in bed together. All I had were a few flashes that suddenly came back to me of him biting my nipple, hard, so that I had protested, my legs on his shoulders. Nothing else.
As I lay there, heart racing, wondering how the hell I could live with this, with myself, the horror slicing through me like a sharp knife, Nathan woke up.
He gave me a sleepy, cocky smile, punctuated by a yawn. “Hey, Robin.”
“Hey.” I tried to sink down under the sheet, not wanting him to see me naked, not wanting to be naked.
“Well, that was fun,” he said, his lazy smile expanding into a grin. “We should do that again before we get up.”
The thought made my stomach turn. “But Kylie,” I said weakly, because I wanted to remind him that while his girlfriend was back at her parents’ for the summer, she still very much existed. His girlfriend. My best friend.
“I love Kylie, but she’s not here. And we’re not going to tell her.” He shrugged. “I didn’t expect this to happen, but it did and we’re still naked.” He pulled my hand over his erection. “No reason we shouldn’t enjoy it.”
And he leaned over to kiss me. I scooted backward so fast, I fell off the mattress onto my bare ass. “I’m going to puke,” I told him.
Grabbing my clothes off the floor, I stumbled into the hallway, hoping his roommate Bill wasn’t around. In the bathroom, I leaned over the sink, trembling, eyes that stared back at me in the mirror shocked, the skin under them bruised. I didn’t get sick. I wished I would. I wished I could vomit out of myself the horrible realization that I had done something terrible, appalling, unforgiveable, mega disgusting.
I couldn’t use vodka as an excuse. And now I knew Nathan was an asshole on top of it all.
Without asking him if I could use the shower, I turned on the water and stepped in, wanting to wash away the night, the dirty, nasty smell of skank sex off of my skin. I felt like a slut, like a bitch, like someone I didn’t even know, and my tears mixed with the steady stream of water from the shower as I scrubbed and scrubbed.
I spent the rest of the summer sober, far away from parties, guilt nibbling at my insides, making me chronically nauseous, and I avoided everyone. I begged Nathan to stop when he kept sending me sexy texts, and I ignored my friend Jessica, who had stayed in town for the summer and who kept asking what was wrong.
By August I was consumed by anxiety and the fear that someone knew, that someone would tell, that I would be responsible for Kylie having her heart broken.
I slept whole days away and I couldn’t eat. I thought about getting meds from the doctor for sleeping or for anxiety or for depression or for alcoholism or for sluttiness. But what was done was done, and a pill wasn’t going to fix it. Or me.
When Jessica called and said Nathan’s friend Tyler was picking me up whether I liked it or not and we were going to hang out, I tried to say no. But then I decided that I liked to be with myself even less than I liked to be with other people.
Besides, once Kylie got back in a week, I wasn’t going to be able to be friends with any of them anymore, and this might be my last chance to spend time hanging out. I couldn’t be in the same room with Kylie and pretend that I hadn’t betrayed our friendship in the worst way possible. I wasn’t going to be able to sit there and have her and Nathan kissing on each other, knowing that he had spent all summer trying to hook up with me again.
I was going to have to find a new place to live, and disappear from our group of friends.
If only it had been that simple.
If only I had walked away right then and there.
Then I never would have met Phoenix and my life would never have changed in ways I still don’t understand.
Tyler was a good person to catch a ride from, because he didn’t need to talk. He just drove and smoked, and I stared out the window, my art supplies in my lap. I had promised to paint a pop art portrait of Tyler’s little brother Easton, and I had to do it tonight because I might never see him again if I had the guts to follow through with my plan to move out of the apartment. I hadn’t painted all summer. I wasn’t inspired. And I didn’t want to now, but I had promised I would back before the morning after with Nathan.
So since I couldn’t explain any of that, I stayed mostly silent. I did say, “Rory gets back tomorrow.”
It was a stupid comment. Of course he knew his girlfriend was coming back to school. But I wanted to make some sort of effort. It was hot, even for August, and the windows were open, air rushing in and swirling his smoke around in front of me.
“Yep. I missed her. A lot.”
I didn’t doubt he had. And I didn’t think for one minute he would have betrayed her the way Nathan had Kylie. Even if he wasn’t living with his brother and Jessica, who were also dating. Tyler just wasn’t that kind of guy. Both Riley and Tyler were loyal, and I wondered why I always seemed to attract the wrong kind of guy. The liars, the cheaters. My boyfriend freshman year had been a douche, flirting with other girls in front of me, laughing it off when I complained. My high school boyfriend had told me he wanted a girl who had her life together, who had goals. What kind of goals was I supposed to have at seventeen? At that point I already knew I was going to college to study graphic design, wasn’t that good enough? So apparently his way to fix my deficiency was to hook up with his ex at a party and humiliate me.
It was hard to believe that someday there would be a guy in my life who would love me the way my friends’ guys loved them.
Of course, I was never going to find that guy at a keg party. Another reason I had stopped going to the frat house all-nighters. I didn’t have the stomach for the so-called living-in-the-moment fun since I had woken up next to Nathan. So maybe I didn’t have my life all mapped out, but I knew that I was done with the superficial crap. I knew that I had crossed a line I never wanted to cross again and if that meant giving up alcohol forever, then that’s what I was going to do because I had gone from being cheated on to the cheater, and I could barely live with myself.
And if I couldn’t live with myself, what guy would want to?
When we went in Tyler’s house, there was someone sleeping on the couch. I couldn’t see his face since he was turned away from the room on his side, but he had black hair and a serious lack of a tan. “Who is that?” I asked Tyler.
“My cousin, Phoenix. He’s crashing here for a while.” Tyler kept walking past him to the kitchen. “Do you want a beer?”
“No, thanks.” I hadn’t had a drink in ten weeks and I didn’t even miss it.
Jessica was in the kitchen, heating up food in the microwave. It was weird to me that she lived there with her boyfriend and his three younger brothers. I had never been to her parents’ house, but I knew she had grown up with a lot of money, and this was no spacious colonial in the suburbs. The house was small and dark and hot and run-down, but truthfully she seemed the happiest she’d been since I’d met her. Riley came in from the patio and kissed the back of her head, looking at her like he thought she was the most beautiful creature the world had ever created.
“Want some?” she asked me, dishing up rice and vegetables onto four plates.
She switched out plates in the microwave and said, “Then let’s go in the other room. I want to talk to you alone.” She touched Riley’s elbow. “Can you put these in for the boys?”
I followed her back into the living room, and she sat on the floor by the coffee table. “Sit. I want to talk to you about what the hell is going on.”
I did want to tell her. I wanted to get the awful truth out and ask her what I was supposed to do about Nathan. But I couldn’t. All I could tell her was a small portion of the truth. I looked nervously at the sleeping cousin. “He can hear us. I feel weird talking in front of him.”
“He’s totally out. He just got out after five months in jail and he’s been sleeping for two days.”
“Jail?” I whispered, a little horrified. “For what?” How could she say that so casually, like it was no big deal?
She scooped rice into her mouth. “Fuck me, that is so good.” She closed her eyes and chewed. “I’m going to have to step up the workouts, but I think carbs are worth it.”
I didn’t say anything, sitting down on the floor next to her, drawing my knees up to my chest. I was wearing a sloppy T-shirt, and I dragged it over my bare knees, making a tent, cocooning myself.
“Okay, so what is going on? Seriously. You won’t drink, you won’t go out. You’ve lost weight. You don’t answer my texts. You’re even dressing differently. I’m totally worried about you.”
I was worried about me, too. I couldn’t seem to drag myself out of the anxiety that had been following me around. “I’m moving out of the house as soon as I find a new place to live.”
Why the hell would you do that?”
Tears came to my eyes before I could stop them. “I just have to. I need to stop drinking.”
“But, it’s not like Rory is a big drinker. And I’m sure Kylie would respect it if you said you wanted to chill with the alcohol.” She looked hurt. “We would never pressure you to party, God, that’s so not us.”
“I know.” It made me feel even worse. “It’s just I feel like I need to be alone for a while. I was even thinking about moving home and being a commuter. It’s not that far to my parents’, only like a forty-five-minute drive to class.”
“You would seriously want to move home? That just blows my mind.” Jessica stared hard at me, tucking her blond hair behind her ear. “Besides, this is going to leave Rory and Kylie with a whole house to pay for since we’ve both bailed on them. I feel really bad about doing that.”
So did I. But I felt worse about screwing Kylie’s boyfriend. What would I do when Nathan came over to hang out? I couldn’t play it cool, like nothing had happened. I wasn’t drawn that way. “Didn’t Tyler say he wouldn’t mind moving in with Rory?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know if he can actually afford it.” Jessica frowned, picking up her fork. “I guess I can ask him. I guess maybe Nathan could move in there, too, with Kylie. Bill is moving into the engineering frat house.”
I dropped my knees, alarmed. That was not what I wanted to happen. I didn’t want Kylie to become even more dependent and more in love with Nathan.
“This is so weird,” she said. “This is totally not what we planned. It’s like complete roommate shuffle. What happened?”
Rory fell in love with Tyler. Jessica fell in love with Riley. I blacked out and had sex with Nathan.
Not exactly the same happy ending for me. I wanted to tell her so desperately I swallowed hard and clamped my mouth shut. Telling her would only mean she would have to keep a secret from Kylie. From Riley, too. Telling Kylie would only hurt her to appease my guilt.
I couldn’t do it.
Shrugging, I said, “Things change.”
“If you got attacked or something, you would tell me, right? You know you can tell me.” She reached out and touched my arm, expression filled with concern.
And it went from bad to worse. Now she thought I was a victim. I nodded. “I would tell you. It’s nothing like that, I swear.”
“Because it seems like you started acting strange after the party at the Shit Shack. Something is obviously wrong. So if that Aaron guy did something to you, tell me.”
“No, he didn’t.” I shook my head emphatically. Aaron had just been a guy I had danced with, flirted with, kissed. Before he ditched me and somehow I ended up going home with Nathan.
“Did something freaky happen? Did you do something you regret, like anal?”
Not that I was aware of. I couldn’t prevent a shudder. “No. No anal.” Though I did do something I regretted, more than anything else I’d ever done. The person who said that life was too short for regrets clearly had never done something super shitty.