Joel.

I lift my head to find Dane and Joel standing by our table, Dane bending down so he can drop a kiss on Kelli’s upturned lips. Joel watches me, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans, his expression hopeful. “Hey Jade,” he murmurs.

“Hi.” I try and give him a smile but it feels more like a twist of my lips so I let it fall. “How are you?”

“I’m good. Glad the semester’s almost over.” He rocks back on his heels, a habit he has when he’s nervous. So I make him nervous. Great. “I uh, I’m glad you’re here.”

“Oh?” My voice goes high and I clear my throat, irritated with myself.

“Yeah. I wanted to apologize for how everything went down between us. It uh, didn’t end well and I’m sorry.”

Oh. Well, I didn’t expect that. Though I wasn’t very nice to him either. “It’s okay.” I shake my head, offer him a genuine smile this time. “We all just got—caught up in the moment I guess.”

“Yeah, that’s one way to describe it.” He blows out an irritated breath. “I was an asshole for letting Prescott bet on you though. Guy thinks he can do anything he wants and I let him.”

Just hearing his name makes me yearn for him. So freaking stupid. “He can be pretty persuasive. And really, he’s the asshole for coming up with the bet in the first place.”

“I guess. What really makes me mad is that I thought I was going to win. I figured it was a sure thing, what with the hand I had.” Joel shakes his head, his face etched with regret. It’s really kind of sweet of him, that he’s still so upset over what happened. Granted it was over two weeks ago and I’m the whore bag who forgot all about him in my hot pursuit of Shep, but I’m letting bygones be bygones.

I wave a hand, dismissing his words. “Let’s not rehash it, okay? What’s done is done.”

Joel glances toward Kelli and Dane, who are cuddled up together in their own little world. He indicates the empty chair beside me. “Can I sit?”

“Of course.” I watch as he settles his lanky body into the chair. He looks good. He’s cute, I always thought he was with his close cropped brown hair and his blue eyes. He’s tall—though Shep is taller—and leanly muscled. Guess he used to be on the swim team at his high school. He still looks like a boy though, while Shep is all man.

Ugh. I really, seriously need to stop comparing Joel to Shep.

“It’s just that…I can’t stop thinking about you, Jade,” Joel says the moment he pulls his chair close to mine. “I feel bad for how it ended between us. I hate that it ended.” He pauses, his gaze meeting mine, his expression deadly serious. “I miss you.”

I can’t even believe he’s saying this. I don’t know how to answer him either. Have I missed Joel? Not really. I’ve been too preoccupied by Shep. But if I’m being honest with myself, Joel is more my speed. He’s the type of guy I should be with. Shep is too much, while Joel is just right.

“I feel bad for how it ended too.” Now that’s the truth. I’d been a total bitch to him after it all went down, not giving him a chance to explain but I was so angry over the entire situation. Angry at Shep especially.

Now I’m even angrier with him and I have good reason to be.

“Listen.” Joel scoots his chair closer to mine, resting his arm on the edge of the table so he can lean into me. “There’s a party tomorrow night. I want you to go with me.”

I stiffen in my chair, my gaze automatically going to Kelli. Like she can feel me looking at her, she nods her encouragement when her gaze meets mine, and I know Dane has already told her Joel’s plan.

“What kind of party?” I ask carefully, praying he doesn’t say the gambling house or whatever the hell it’s called. The illegal casino Shep and his cousin and friend run out of that house. That’s the last place I want to go.

“It’s at a frat. One of our friends invited us. Dane and Kelli will be there. I figured we could all go together.” He smiles that cute little boy grin of his I used to find so appealing. I still sort of do. “Come on, J. Say you’ll go with me.”

I don’t want to give him the wrong idea. But why should I sit home miserable on a Friday night when Shep’s already forgotten about me? If he can push me right out of his life, I can do the same. “I’ll go with you,” I say, smiling when Joel hugs me. I pat him on the back, my gaze meeting Kelli’s once more. She offers me a thumbs up and I roll my eyes, noticing the way Dane’s watching me, like he’s just waiting for me to screw over his best friend again.

I don’t plan on screwing anyone over. That hurts too much.

Pressing my hand against Joel’s chest, I create some distance between us, and his arms fall away from me. “We’re going as just friends, okay?”

“Sure.” His smile doesn’t fade. I don’t know if he believes me. “I get it.”

“I’m glad.” I pat his shoulder. I need to quit patting him. I’m acting like a mom or something. “I’m glad we can be friends again.” I mean it too.

“So am I.” His smile fades. “But you need to know I still…want more. I want what we had before Jade. Like I said, I’ve missed you. A lot.”

Oh, crap. My smile freezes on my face and I laugh uneasily. I don’t know what to say to him.

So I don’t say anything at all.

“I didn’t want to tell you this,” Kelli says conversationally as she curls her hair, her gaze meeting mine in the mirror. “But the party we’re going to tonight? Is at Shep’s frat.”

We’re crowded around my makeshift vanity in our room, fighting for the mirror as we get ready for the stupid, stupid party. I drop the mascara wand that I’d just been using, thankful I didn’t stab myself in the eye. “You’re serious.”

She nods, her expression somber. “I bet he won’t be there though. I hear he doesn’t hang out at his fraternity house so much anymore.”

“Last time we went to a party at the house, he was there.” I turn to look at her, dread filling my stomach. That was the time he slipped his hand under my skirt. The pervert. The sexy as hell, rotten, horrible, most excellent kisser I’ve ever met, absolute dickhead. God, I loathe him. I love that word. Loathe. It describes my feelings for Shep perfectly. “I don’t know if I should go now.”

“Oh come on, you have to go. You don’t want to disappoint Joel, do you?” She sets the curling iron down on the table. “Jade, you can’t let Shep win. If he’s going to be a dick, then you’re going to turn into his worst nightmare come to life. I’m serious. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you show up at that party looking smokin’ hot and he sees you? He’ll be salivating after you and you can tell him to go fuck himself. He’ll regret everything and you’ll get some satisfaction by telling him off.”

Is it wrong that I sort of like this idea? Looking sexy as hell and watching Shep’s eyes bug out of his head as I walk into the house on Joel’s arm? Yeah, he’d look at Joel like he was nothing, but it wouldn’t matter. I’d look at Shep like he was nothing.

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