Falling for the Wrong Guy (6 page)

BOOK: Falling for the Wrong Guy
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“I’m up for it, if you are. How much caffeine would we have to drink, do you think, to see if it would affect our performance?” Ruby asked.

Performance at what?
He didn’t even want to think about the double entendre.

“No one on the project team can be one of the test volunteers,” Brad interrupted. “Our job is to record results objectively. You can’t be objective if you’re taking part. Not even in the placebo group.”

Drew exchanged glances with Ruby and could see how hard she was trying not to laugh. Her eyes sparkled while she gritted her teeth and pressed her candy-pink lips together. He doubted Brad would even notice.

Drew would always notice.

After their order arrived, Brad started spouting off, droning on and on, in mind-numbing detail, about the experiment and each step they’d take. Drew’s mind drifted to when he used to spend all his free time with Blake at his house, and how they usually included Ruby in anything they did. Back then, his greatest worry had been his parents’ drinking. And they didn’t seem to drink as much as they did now. Although it could be he’d spent less time at home before the fire, so he hadn’t witnessed it.

“Drew.” Ruby’s elbow in his ribs made him start.

“What?” He scowled in her direction, annoyed that she had caught him unaware, yet again.

“Is that okay with you?” she asked, glaring at him, her eyes wide.

He frowned. “Is what okay?”

“For us to work together enlisting volunteers?” She let out a sigh, her lips in a thin line. He could tell she was losing patience with him.

“Oh. Yeah. Sure.” He could hardly say no without looking like a jerk. But working just the two of them definitely hadn’t been part of his plan. Then again, it wasn’t like they had to get into the personal stuff. There was plenty to keep them occupied with the assignment. He could deal with it. He would have to.

Chapter Seven

R
uby had thought Drew would complain about working alone with her, so she was surprised when he didn’t make any excuses to try to get out of it. And then she panicked. There was something between them, some sort of attraction, and because of the situation with Blake, nothing good could come of it. So, what was she doing engineering a situation where they would be together? She knew that Drew hadn’t been listening to Brad, which is why she’d volunteered to work with him. It seemed a smart move at the time. Now it just felt stupid. She shuddered just thinking about what her brother might say if he found out anything had gone on between her and Drew.

But despite the problem with Blake, she wanted to be friends with Drew. If only because it would make his time at school more bearable.

Drew had gone to the counter to order them both another coffee, and her eyes were drawn to the way his Gap jeans hung perfectly on his hips, hugging his slender thighs and fitting loose on his lean waist—and backside. Yeah, it was all about being friends with him out of the goodness of her heart. Right. Who was she kidding?

He might have looked good, but as he stood in line, his shoulders hunched like he was trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. He tugged at his sweatshirt hood, pulling it further over the scars on his neck in what had become a nervous habit. Every time he did it, she ached for him.

He paid and headed back to their booth, weaving quickly in and out of the tables and not making eye contact with anyone. Instead of sitting next to her, he sat opposite. Which was normal, since it was just the two of them, but she still couldn’t help wanting to be closer to him. She’d liked the feeling of his leg as it pressed against hers when they were seated side by side a few moments ago. Too much.

“Let’s get to it,” Drew said. He took out a pen from his pocket and poised it over a blank page of his notebook. She definitely wasn’t used to seeing this all-business side of him. It could be an improvement, or it could be him trying to use work as a barrier between them.

“Now suddenly you want to work.” Ruby arched an eyebrow. “Having spent every meeting, so far, away with the fairies.”

“Meaning?” He leaned forward and locked eyes with her.

Ruby’s heart did a triple flip. Keeping things in the friend zone was definitely going to be a challenge. One look into his ridiculously green eyes, and she was a hopeless cause. “Meaning, you have deliberately made little or no contribution to this project. Which, I’ll have you know, is very important for some of us.”

Even Ruby was shocked by the fact that she couldn’t have sounded more like her mother if she’d tried. And as much as she loved her mom, she really didn’t want to be a mother figure to Drew. At all. She shook herself to try to get the real Ruby back.

“Whoa,” Drew said, holding up both hands. “What’s got into you?”

“Nothing.” She pulled out her own notebook and flipped to an empty page. “Just ignore my inner geriatric.” She laughed nervously, and before she could contain it, the laugh turned into one of her embarrassing snorts. She clapped her hands over her mouth, mortified—until she glanced across at Drew and noticed he was actually smiling, which softened his whole face and went right up to his eyes.

In an attempt to get herself under control, she drew in a breath and released it slowly. Except then her laughter morphed into a loud hiccup. She kept her hand over her mouth as another one followed. She held her breath for a count of ten. Which seemed to make things worse, as other hiccups followed in quick succession.

“Sorry,” she said, through her fingers. She didn’t need to look around to realize that she was drawing a lot of embarrassing attention from everyone in the café. But Drew didn’t look like he minded—in fact, he seemed to be enjoying himself. And she was enjoying herself so much that part of her didn’t really care.

“Don’t be.” Drew laughed.

“Why not? Everyone is looking at us. And I know how much you love being the center of attention.” The thought of why he didn’t was enough to stop her laughter. She stifled a milder hiccup and her shoulders shook from the effort.

“It’s the first time I’ve properly laughed since…” The fire. The words hung in the air between them, even though he didn’t finish his sentence. But even though they’d both grown more serious, his face still looked more relaxed than Ruby had seen since his return to school.

She hated the thought of him not having laughed at all in nearly a year. She had read somewhere that most people laughed at least twelve times a day. That was a lot of laughing he’d missed.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

“Stop saying you’re sorry,” Drew said, though there was no anger in his voice. “It’s not your fault.”

“Okay, I won’t apologize again. As long as you promise to laugh more.” She hitched in a breath, waiting for his reply.

“I’ll try.” The corners of his mouth turned up in a ghost of a smile. Without thinking, she reached out and placed her hand on his arm, just to show that she appreciated the fact that he would try to pull himself into the light, at least some of the time.

“Okay,” she said, sitting upright and drawing her hand back from Drew’s arm. “Let’s get this sucker started, or we’ll have to suffer the wrath of Brad. Which isn’t scary, but it would be loud and annoying. And I, for one, don’t wish to sit through another speech about letting down the group.”

The smile was back. He was devastating when he smiled. “Definitely,” Drew said. “Don’t worry. We won’t be letting anyone down. I think I still remember how to be a functional student.” He rubbed his chin. “How many volunteers do we need?” he asked.

She leaned back, feeling a bit ridiculous for not having thought of that question before. “Ten, maybe? Twenty? A hundred?”

“Definitely not a hundred. It would take forever to analyze the results,” Drew said.

“Oh yeah. I didn’t think of that.” Maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t had a ready answer. Letting Drew take over this bit would get him more involved than he had been before, which could only be a good thing in terms of pulling him into the present so he couldn’t dwell on the past.

“We need two groups,” Drew said, sketching out some plans in his notebook. “The real group and the placebo group. So twenty would be a good number. Ten in each.”

“Perfect. And where should we get the volunteers?” she asked.

“Depends if we’re dividing them by gender or level of activity. Or both.” Drew frowned.

“I should have read the project guidelines more closely,” she confessed, pleasantly surprised that Drew had given the project this much thought. “Thanks for making me step back and think about this.”

He hitched up a shoulder in a half shrug, though he looked like he didn’t hate the fact that she’d complimented him.

“So,” she continued. “Since we’re measuring athletic performance, we should group them by both. Any ideas?”

He sat forward in his chair, and she loved seeing him so engaged instead of slouching in his chair looking like he’d rather shrink into his hoodie and disappear than contribute. “I think we should just do athletes and divide them into male and female. So that means we will have five in each group.”

“How about approaching the school field hockey and golf teams? Ten girls and ten guys. Boom.” Knowing most of the athletes on the teams, she figured they’d all be up for the experiment, since if they proved caffeine improved their performance, they could just down a few Cokes to gain an edge at game time. “I’ll ask the girls and you ask the boys.”

“Can you—? You’ll have to ask the hockey teams.” Drew’s voice flattened, and he slouched back in his chair again.

“Why?” Ruby frowned, wondering what had caused his abrupt behavior shift. Then it hit her: Blake played field hockey. The boys’ team wouldn’t agree to anything if Drew asked them, and the girls might say no in solidarity, too. “Sure. Not a problem.” She brought her pen to her mouth and chewed on the cap, a slightly gross habit she’d had since junior high. “We could always find volunteers from another school,” she suggested as an alternative.

“No. It would make it much harder to coordinate,” Drew replied.

“Okay, I’ll do all the asking. You can do the spreadsheets,” she reassured him. The tension in his shoulders seemed to lessen, at least a little, at the thought of not having to interact with other humans. “How do we decide who’s going to be in which group?”

“Once we have the names, we’ll divide them up by gender. Five male hockey players, five female hockey players, five male golfers, five female golfers. We’ll assign them a number so the results will remain anonymous. And only the two of us should know the number for each person.”

Ruby felt mesmerized watching Drew talk. It was like the more he got involved in what he was saying the less conscious he seemed of his body and the more relaxed he seemed. His sweatshirt hood had fallen away from his neck, and he didn’t even seem to notice.

“Why does that matter? What about Brad, Ricky, and Jess?” She knew the answer, really. She was just enjoying watching him.

“To stop anyone finding out whether they are on caffeine or not.”

“Aren’t you the scientific one?” Ruby teased.

“Yeah, this is real hard-core science.” Drew laughed.

“You’re good at it,” she added, winking at him. It hit her that he wasn’t the only one loosening up. She wasn’t freaking out constantly over the thought of saying the wrong thing. She couldn’t have wished for it to be any better.

“Hmmm. If you say so.” Drew ducked his head and grew overly absorbed in his notes, but she noticed he was smiling.

“Looks like we have it sorted out,” she said. “Now what? There’s no point in going back to school yet. Why don’t we go for a walk in the park and then get some food somewhere?” Oh God. It almost seemed like a date.

“Let’s go back to my place,” he suggested. Which felt even more date-like. “My parents won’t be there, so we’ll have it to ourselves. We’ll stop at the supermarket on the way and get something to eat.”

Not a date.
Of course
he would feel much better not being outside where people could see him, she realized. Even though she knew there were a hundred reasons for them not to be alone together, she went along with it. “As long as you don’t expect me to cook anything. Making a sandwich is still my limit.” Drew probably didn’t remember how Blake used to tease her about being hopeless in the kitchen. Unlike him. Blake loved cooking, and he was always making meals and baking cakes. Ruby knew that with college looming, she should really learn to make something other than sandwiches and ramen noodles, just so she could look after herself when she no longer had her brother and her mother to rely on. But her mom had never minded that she didn’t cook—just said that Ruby would get the hang of it when she had to. And, of course, she made sure that Ruby always did her share of cleaning up after.

“No, I remember that time you tried to make chocolate chip cookies. I think hockey pucks would have been more edible.” Drew’s lips curled up into a gorgeous, heart-stopping smile. “Don’t worry. I got you.”

And butterflies whizzed around Ruby’s stomach at ninety miles an hour.

Chapter Eight

D
rew couldn’t believe how good it felt being alone with Ruby. He didn’t remember the last time he’d felt this relaxed.

But on the way over to his place, the guilt had come roaring back. She was Blake’s sister, and that fact should have reminded him that he didn’t deserve to be out enjoying himself after the damage he had caused to so many people. Becoming friends—or something more—with Ruby would be nothing short of rubbing Blake’s nose in the fact that he’d cheated with his girlfriend, gotten her killed, and had lived to enjoy a normal life. Things Reese would never do. It would be like a double betrayal.

He glanced across at Ruby who was holding their grocery bags while he fumbled in his pocket for the front door key. He wondered whether he should tell her that he’d changed his mind.

But they still had to do the project together, and they were only having lunch. He’d make sure this was the last time it happened, though.

“Hurry up, before I drop everything,” she said.

“Sure.” Drew turned the key and pushed open the door. He stepped inside the house, and his nostrils were immediately assaulted by the smell of stale alcohol.

“Wait here a minute.” He left Ruby in the hall while he went into the family room and opened the windows, allowing a breeze to filter through. “Let’s go into the kitchen,” he said when he came back into the hall.

“Your folks are still drinking then?” she asked gently. She’d known him long enough to know all about his parents being alcoholics, and she’d been at his house in the past with Blake. Not often, because Drew had always preferred to spend time at Blake’s place and not his own. For all the problems Blake and Ruby had with their father, at least they had a mom who kept their home life steady and predictable.

“Yeah.” Drew shrugged. “It’s okay. There are worse things.” Those worse things hung in the air between them like a lead curtain.

He headed for the kitchen, and Ruby followed. He took the bags from her and put everything away, then poured them both some juice. Then they headed into the lounge since it was too early to make lunch. The room felt warm, so he pulled off his sweatshirt, tossing it onto a nearby chair before he sat down. He tugged at the collar of his white T-shirt. He hadn’t remembered the last time he’d been around someone without wanting to make sure the scars on his neck were at least partially covered. But he felt…safe with Ruby.

She sat beside him on the dark gray couch, and as her leg lightly brushed against his, shivers shot down his spine. He looked at her, wondering whether she had sensed his too-intense reaction. But she didn’t seem to be any different. She pulled the hair tie out of her dark hair, and he longed to run his fingers through it as it cascaded down her shoulders.

“Drew, are you listening to me?”

He hitched in a breath and sat upright, ignoring the way his heart was racing. “Sure. Yeah. What did you say?” He couldn’t allow himself to think those thoughts about Ruby. But they kept forcing their way into his mind, however much he tried to stop them.

“I asked how you were finding school, now.” Ruby bit on her bottom lip in such a cute way, Drew had to ram his hands under his thighs to stop himself from pulling her into his arms there and then.

“You know. It’s school. And it beats being stuck here.” He waved his arm randomly at the room.

“I understand.” Ruby leaned in and touched him gently on the knee.

Anyone looking at his surroundings would never have guessed what his life was really like. His family lived in a large house, thanks to the money his mom had inherited from her parents. The decor was a mixture of white, off-white, and more white, with silver and black accents here and there—looking straight out of a magazine, though he’d always found it cold. And it was always spotless, thanks to the housekeeper who’d been with them for years and was well used to his parents’ erratic behavior. It helped that they paid double the hourly rate a housekeeper would normally get.

“Where are your parents?” she asked.

He never invited anyone over in the past unless he knew for certain that his mom and dad wouldn’t be around. “Dad’s at his office, and Mom always goes to her therapist on Thursdays,” he said, leaning his arm on the back of the sofa so he was half-facing her. He was too close. If she turned toward him, they’d practically be making out. But he didn’t move away.

“So we’re alone,” she murmured, seemingly fascinated by the enormous flat-screen TV that hung on the opposite wall.

“Ruby.” He didn’t know why he said her name. He didn’t know what he was thinking, what he wanted. But something in his voice made her turn her head, and she was so near he could feel her breath on his face. He couldn’t look away. Neither, it seemed, could she.

Desire made his eyelids grow heavy, and it was all he could do not to sink his hands into her hair and pull her forward. He couldn’t speak, could barely think.

Still he didn’t move. The choice had to be hers. “Ruby,” he said again.

Before Drew had time to register what was happening, she’d grabbed a fistful of his sweatshirt, and her lips were on his. The first kiss was soft, tentative. He drew in a deep, shuddering breath, keeping his hands at his sides in case she wanted to back away.

Then she whispered his name and kissed him with so much intensity, it took his breath away.

Finally, finally, he had his hands in that hair. He explored her mouth with his tongue. Probing. Tasting. The sensations running through his body made him feel like he was falling. He lowered one hand, traced the contours of her back with the tips of his fingers. For a few seconds, everything that had happened to him over the last year disappeared. It felt like decades since the last time he’d kissed someone.

Then a picture of Reese popped in his head. She had been the last person he’d kissed. He froze.

And Ruby instantly pulled back from him.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, unable to completely hide the hurt expression on her face.

“I’m just not sure we should be doing this.”

She bit her lip, confusion and sadness warring for domination on her face. He was such jerk for doing this to her. Before he could stop himself, he drew her forward and held her tightly, glad when she relaxed in his arms.

After a few minutes, Ruby gently moved away from him, a resigned expression on her face. “Let’s get some lunch,” she said softly.

She stood up and held out her hand, which he took, allowing himself to be led to the kitchen. He was grateful when she started prepping their salad and sandwiches, acting like nothing had just happened between them. “Dressing?” she asked, taking the rolls from their wrapper and spreading them out on a plate.

“There’s balsamic and olive oil in the refrigerator, top shelf in the door.” Drew busied himself washing the salad. “Give it a shake to mix it up.”

Drew moved toward Ruby just as she shook the bottle, which someone had obviously forgotten to close. The top flew off, and brown liquid shot through the air, covering the front of his shirt.

“Crap!” Ruby exclaimed. She grabbed a cloth from the side and started to pat him with it. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know the top was loose.”

He took the cloth from her and continued wiping at the dressing, although his shirt was too drenched to save. Drops had splattered his face, and he could taste some that had made it into his mouth. He grimaced; it didn’t taste so good when it wasn’t on salad. “Don’t sweat it. I better take a shower, though. I don’t smell too good at the moment.”

“I don’t know. I’ve smelled worse perfumes,” she quipped, wrinkling her nose. “On old ladies.” She ran to the side and stood behind the table.

“Very funny. Wise move getting out of the way, because any closer and you’ll end up covered in eau d’balsamic, too.”

Drew tried to fix Ruby with a glare, but he was laughing too much for it to be effective.

“You’ve gotta catch me first.” She hopped from side to side, her expression daring him to make a try.

He ran around the table and lunged at her, but she jumped backward and all he grabbed was air.

“Missed me,” she taunted.

“I won’t next time,” he promised. He pivoted on one foot and made a grab for her, catching hold of her arm. He pulled her close, and she put both hands on his chest and pushed at him, then grimaced and wiped her sticky hands on his shoulders, the cleanest part of his shirt.

“Urgh. You do stink. Let me go and I promise to wipe up the floor while you get a shower,” she pleaded.

“And lunch?” he asked hopefully.

“I’ll make lunch, too. Even I can manage a couple of rolls.”

“Done.” He laughed again and then headed for his bathroom. He paused and looked over his shoulder at Ruby. She smiled. He fought the urge to invite her to join him.

BOOK: Falling for the Wrong Guy
9.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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