“I was only speaking the truth. You’re going to have to get used to people telling you that you’re beautiful,” he says.

Like that’s going to happen all the time. I am nothing special. “I don’t even know if I can take what you say seriously. Everything’s like a big joke to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You always look like you’re ready to burst out laughing. Your life is so easy. Nothing bothers you. It must be nice.”

His eyes flicker with some unrecognizable emotion. Could that have possibly been…hurt? Anger? “You have no idea what you’re talking about. My life is the farthest thing from easy.”

My mouth goes dry and I return my focus to the menu even though I already know what I want. I feel like a jerk. He’s been nothing but nice to me tonight and I’ve been nothing but a jerk to him. I’ve probably blown my chance at another date with Shep, even though that was already blown the moment I agreed to go out with him.

He must hate me.

Why’d I have to get all serious on her? I’m annoying the shit out of myself, let alone Jade.

But she doesn’t know who I am or what my life is like. I get tired of everyone thinking I have it easy. I don’t. Dad is an asshole, Mom medicates herself to function and my sisters got their asses out of the house as fast as they could. I have no plans on going back either. I chose this college for a reason—it’s on the complete opposite coast of where my parents live.

Barb shows up and takes our order, shrimp baskets for the both of us. The moment she leaves Jade blurts out, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—upset you.”

“Don’t worry about it.” I wave a hand, dismissing my mood, her words, all of it. “I don’t want to talk about me. Let’s talk about you.”

Her expression goes from contrite to uneasy. “There’s not much to tell.”

“I barely know you. There’s plenty to tell. Where are you from?”

“A small town about two hours north of here.” She shrugs, drawing my attention to her chest. If I could will her to take off her sweater with my mind, I’d be working it hard right about now. “I lived there all my life. It’s very boring.”

“This town isn’t much better.” Santa Augustina isn’t awful but it’s a small, typical coastal college city.

“More exciting than where I grew up, trust me.” She flashes me a small smile, then turns it on Barb when she shows up to deliver our drinks. “I haven’t lived all over the world like some people sitting at this table,” she says pointedly after she takes a sip of her drink.

My gaze is now locked on her lips. Those fantasy-inducing, bee-stung lips that look damn good wrapped around a straw and would look even better wrapped around my…

“You have any brothers or sisters?” she asks, her sweet voice breaking through my dirty thoughts.

“Two older sisters,” I answer before I grab my beer and down half of it in a few swallows. I need to get my shit together and stop acting like a leering jackass. Considering Jade’s strung pretty tight, I don’t want to piss her off.

“So you’re the baby of the family.”

I smile. “The prodigal son.” With all the expectations and bullshit that comes with it.

“Did your sisters dote on you?”

“If by doting on me you mean did they paint my fingernails and toenails and put makeup on my face, all while having me model their clothes? Yes, they totally doted on me.” They were mean even when they were young. Not that I was much better. I was a holy terror—direct quote from Mom.

“Aw.” She smiles and it’s genuine. I can tell because it lights up her face and steals my breath so all I can do is stare at her. “I bet you were an adorable girl.”

“Gorgeous,” I agree, never missing a beat. “I missed my calling. Maybe I should’ve become a drag queen.”

“Then you could share shoes and clothes with your girlfriends,” she jokes, that smile still in place.

“I don’t have girlfriends, remember?” The smile fades and I feel like an ass. Way to remind her I’m nothing but a player who only hooks up.

“Then you could share clothes and shoes with your sisters,” she suggests with a little shrug. “Makeup tips. Braid each other’s hair.”

“No braids. Only wigs will do. Those giant ones, made with the finest hair you can buy,” I correct, making her lips curl. Now I’m determined to make that smile reappear. “I’m sort of tall for a woman so I’d want to stand out, you know? Add a few inches with a wig. And heels.”

“Four inches?” she asks, raising one delicate, perfectly arched, perfectly red eyebrow. I have never had a thing for redheads before. I don’t know if I’ve even hooked up with one before…have I?

I don’t think so. What a prejudiced bastard I am, discriminating against redheads. Might make my hooking up with Jade that much sweeter.

Because I will hook up with her. Get her naked. Get her beneath me. However you want to say it, it’s going to happen. By the end of tonight, preferably.

“Is that as high as they go? Maybe five inches? With platforms or whatever?” I ask.

The smile is back. Subdued but there, lighting her eyes, lighting up her entire face. “You sound like you have more knowledge about women’s fashion than you should admit.”

Leaning across the table, I lower my voice, “There are things you don’t know about me, Jade.”

Her eyes widen the slightest bit. “Like what?”

“Like I’m a kinky bastard who enjoys wearing women’s panties in my spare time.” The horrified shock that washes over her face makes me burst out laughing. “Kidding. I swear.”

She slowly shakes her head, her smile turning into a smirk. “Very funny.”

“It was pretty funny, the look on your face,” I agree.

“You’re just proving my point.” She takes another sip of her water and I die a little inside. Fuck, her mouth. It should be outlawed. “Everything’s a big joke. Ha ha, so funny. Har har.”

“Better to laugh than be sad all the time?” I ease back against my chair, trying my best to hide the smile that wants to happen but failing. “And did you just har har me?”

Her cheeks turn crimson. I love that I can make her blush. I love her pale skin, something I never found attractive before. I’m struck again with the question—just how many freckles does this girl have? Will she let me spend enough time counting each one?

The thought of her naked and sprawled across my bed as I meticulously count every tiny freckle on her body is exceptionally appealing.

“You’re a pain in the ass,” she mutters, making me laugh.

Oh, yeah. I like this girl. A lot.

“Har har,” I tell her and she looks ready to throw her glass of water on my face. Thank God Barb shows up at that precise moment with our dinner.

“Listen, I don’t know why you’re putting me through all of this torture, but I’m done,” Jade hisses at me the moment Barb is gone. “We’ll eat dinner, you’ll take me back to my dorm, and that’s it. The date is finished. We’re finished.”

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