I nod, still not saying a word.

“You remember Joel, don’t you?” Jade asks me sweetly. Too sweetly.

Joel. I knew it was one or the other. Hmm, Joel and Jade. Don’t they make a cute couple? I think I’m going to throw up. “Hey,” I tell him, lifting my chin in greeting.

Jade rolls her eyes as Joel asks politely, “How are you, man?”

He appears uneasy and he should. He’s got his eye on my prize. Hell, I’m fairly certain he brought my prize here tonight and while I’m tempted to thank him for bringing Jade to me, I know she wouldn’t appreciate that.

And I bet he wouldn’t either.

Speaking of bets…

“I’m good. Sort of pissed at your girl here for reneging on her part of our bet,” I say, earning a pissed off glare from Jade.

“Trust me, we’re paid up on that stupid bet,” she mutters, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

Big mistake. I see her cleavage, remember how I’ve had my mouth there, kissing along the tops of her breasts and I break out in a sweat.

“You’re really going to hold her to it?” Joel asks incredulously. “That was all talk, bro.”

“Yeah, well I’m sure if I’d lost and didn’t pay you your fifty grand, I could offer up the it was all talk bro excuse and you’d go for it?” When Joel frowns I continue. “Didn’t think so.”

“Let it go.” Jade steps closer to me, her gaze pleading. She doesn’t look mad anymore. No, she looks…sad. It kills me that I put that look on her face. I hate this. What I’ve done to her, what I’ve done to us. If there ever really was an us. “Please?”

“You owe me fair and square,” I murmur, wishing I could touch her. Having her this close, I can smell her, see the freckles on the bridge of her nose, watch as those perfect, juicy peach colored lips part, as if she’s searching for words and can come up with nothing.

I understand the feeling.

“I owe you nothing,” she whispers fiercely. “Go away.”

I stand my ground. “No.”

An exasperated breath leaves her and she turns to look at Kelli. “This was a mistake,” she tells her.

“Wait a minute,” Joel says, touching Jade’s arm. I see red. He can so casually touch her while I can’t makes me want to rip his fingers off, one by one. “Did you come here with me tonight in the hopes of seeing him?”

Jade sends me a look that reminds me of a death sentence before she turns to face Joel. “Of course not. I came tonight so I could hang out with you.”

“Doesn’t look like it to me. More like you just wanted to see this asshole again.” He waves a hand in my general direction, not bothering to look at me. I take a step back and sip from my cup, enjoying the show.

I only have hopes the evening continues playing out in my favor.

Okay this is backfiring big time and I don’t like it. I wanted to drive Shep crazy with lust, but I certainly didn’t expect him to approach me. And I didn’t expect him to say that he wanted me either. God, that had been all sorts of hot, how serious he sounded, the forlorn look on his stupidly handsome face.

You. I want you, Jade.

I shake the words out of my brain and try to focus on reassuring Joel. I’ve already half lost him though. He looks angry, with a little bit of butt hurt to add for good measure.

“I didn’t know he’d be here,” I tell Joel quietly, taking his arm and guiding him a few steps away so no one can hear us talk. And when I mean no one, I’m referring to Kelli and Shep. They haven’t really budged. Kelli’s scowling at Shep and he’s drinking continuously from the cup he’s holding, like it’s bottomless. “I swear.”

That’s the truth. I’d hope he’d show up and he didn’t disappoint. But I didn’t come with Joel to hurt him. I came here to hurt Shep. And maybe I did, maybe I am hurting him, but I’m also taking Joel down along with him.

And that’s not cool.

“Do you like me, Jade?” Joel asks, his voice low, his expression earnest.

I sigh, unsure how to answer. “I do. But just as a friend, Joel. I already told you this. I don’t—it’s not going to work between us anymore. I don’t want to lead you on,” I explain, biting my lower lip. I feel like a jerk. I knew he wanted more and I came to this party with him anyway. All in the hopes of seeing Shep and making him jealous.

I’m awful. I deserve Joel’s anger.

Joel studies me for a long, quiet moment, his jaw tight, his gaze narrowing. Then he does something so unexpected, so un-Joel-like, I have no choice but to take it for a few brief, mind-numbing seconds.

He’s kissing me. Like he’s trying to push my lips off my face, kissing me so hard and so ferociously I have to shove at his chest to get him to stop.

Joel springs away from me, his expression hard, his lips damp. “You’d rather have him than me,” he says accusingly, though he’s not asking, he’s stating it as fact. There’s no use denying my feelings. Though I’m not going to give them all up. Shep doesn’t deserve them.

“I don’t want either of you.” Lifting my chin, I try my best for haughty, aloof ice queen and I think it’s working. At least Joel is falling for it. But then I catch sight of Shep, see the way he’s studying me with a mixture of disgust and arousal, his mouth grim, his jaw tight. He’s angry, most likely because Joel kissed me, but it couldn’t be helped.

In fact, I’m glad he saw that. Maybe he’ll realize that I am desirable, that I can find someone else. I don’t need Shep.

I don’t need any stupid guy.

Without another word I leave them all where they stand, pissed at Kelli for not trying to get me out of there sooner. Pissed at Joel for calling me out on my crap. Pissed the most at Shep for saying such sweet, sexy things and looking so damn good and sad and wonderful and sexy that I want to both punch him and kiss him, though I haven’t decided yet what I’d do first.

Most likely kiss him. I miss those stupid lips of his. I could get around to punching him later.

I shove through the crowds of people, angry that I left my cup of beer back at the stupid table next to where Kelli’s standing and I glance in the direction of the open kitchen, see that it’s incredibly packed with a ping pong table set up in the middle of the room, a bunch of people surrounding it playing beer pong.

Whatever. I’m so glad everyone can have a great time while my world is crumbling around me, thank you very much. I hate boys. They’re the worst. Either they make you feel like an incompetent loser, or they ignore you like you don’t even exist. Or even worse, for whatever reason you suddenly come back into existence in their pitiful little worlds and now they won’t leave you alone.

This is my life in a nutshell.

“Jade.”

I don’t bother turning around, though my stomach dips when I realize that it’s Shep calling me. “Leave me alone,” I toss over my shoulder, never slowing my pace. I should walk right out of this house and let the night swallow me up. Not like I’d do anything exciting. More like I’d stumble back to my dorm room on these stupid wedge heels, praying Shep wakes up with a massive headache and a case of herpes because he let some other dumb girl fuck him into oblivion.

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