“Am I drunk? Aw, now you’ve gone and hurt my feelings, Syd.”
I smirked. “You don’t have any feelings.”
“Now, now. That wasn’t very nice.” His impossibly long lashes lowered, shielding his eyes as he lifted his head, rubbing his cheek along mine. My fingers dug into his shoulders as desire twisted tight in my center. “I have all these feelings, Syd.”
It took me a moment to respond. “You’re so full of it.”
He rubbed his cheek against me like a cat seeking a belly rub, and I fought the urge to purr. “I’m full of something.”
“Piss and vinegar?” I suggested as I desperately tried to ignore the way my pulse pounded in all the right places.”
He chuckled deep in his throat as he leaned back against the seat he’d taken hostage. “Back to the serious nature of our conversation.”
“Which is: why are you playing Santa right now?”
Kyler’s lashes lifted and his eyes drilled into mine. “Hmm, now that sounds interesting. Have you been naughty or nice this year, Syd?”
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. My cheeks burned as his gaze turned knowing.
“I know what you’ve been.” He kissed my forehead. “You’ve been nice.”
My shoulders slumped. I didn’t want to be nice. I wanted to be naughty like Blondie. When she’d been in his lap minutes before, I doubted Kyler had been teasing her. Maybe I should scoop some ice up and see what he did, except that would require me doing so out of a random glass, and that was just gross, especially after all that herpes talk.
I needed to change the subject. “Is it still okay for me to leave my car at your place tomorrow, and you take me home when we leave Snowshoe?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”
I gave a lopsided shrug. “Just checking.”
And just like that, Kyler was all serious, proving he wasn’t drunk at all. “You don’t ever have to double-check on something like that, Syd. You need a ride at two in the morning, you call me first.”
I ducked my chin. “I know.”
“Though I’d be curious to what you were doing at that time in the morning,” he added, like the probability of me being out that late was unthinkable. “Anyway, if you knew that, then you wouldn’t have to double-check on something like that. I got you.”
Tucking my hair back, I nodded. “Thank you.”
“You don’t need to thank me.” He paused and his arms tightened. “He’s a douche.”
“Huh?” I blinked.
Kyler was staring over my shoulder, eyes narrowed. “Paul. He’s fucking eyeballing us right now. I don’t like the way he looks at you.”
I almost turned around. “He’s not eyeballing us, you ass. He and I were having a conversation before you came along, so he’s probably waiting for me to come back. And he’s not a douche.”
“But I don’t want you to go back.”
I sighed. Was it any wonder why I hadn’t been out on a date in forever, when Kyler was my friend? Well, there were other reasons, but still. Kyler acted like a dad and older brother rolled into one. “You’re being ridiculous.”
He shot me a look that said he knew better. “I don’t like him. I can list all the ways that I don’t.”
“You’re missing a stimulating list of reasons why.” My eyes rolled. “Well, I don’t like Blondie. I have a thrilling list, too.”
One eyebrow arched. “Blondie? Oh. My new friend?”
“Friend?” I laughed. “I don’t think ‘friend’ is the right term for her.”
He sighed as he leaned forward, propping his chin on my shoulder. “You’re right. That is the wrong term.”
“Okay. You must be drunk if you’re admitting that I’m right.”
“You’re such a smart-ass tonight.” He slid his hand up my back, and I shivered. “Cold?”
Since there was no way in holy hell I was admitting the truth, I lied. “A little.”
“Hmm…you know what?”
The little pressure he was placing on my upper back forced me forward. I placed my cheek on his shoulder and closed my eyes. For a moment, it was easy to pretend that we weren’t in a bar that was playing crappy music, and even better, that we were together.
Together in the way I wanted to be with him.
“What?” I asked, snuggling closer, soaking up the moment.
“That chick isn’t my friend.” His breath was warm against my ear, and I loved the feel of that. “You’ve been my closest friend since I can remember. It’s an insult to you to even call her that.”
I didn’t say anything. Neither did Kyler after that. And we sat there for a little while. Part of me wanted to stand up on a chair and shout to the entire bar that Kyler thought more of me than Blondie. But the other part wanted to go home and throw myself in a corner, because it wouldn’t change how tonight would end. I’d go back to my dorm alone and he’d take Blondie back to his apartment.
It was the same thing every weekend, and God knows how many times during the week.
No one could replace me in his life. I knew that. I was the friend who knew everything about him and whom he trusted above everyone else.
I was Kyler’s best friend.
And because of that, he would never love me the way I loved him.
The stupid wheels on the bottom of my suitcase snagged on the cheap brown carpet outside Kyler’s apartment, throwing me off-balance. Hair flew into my eyes as I teetered to the side. I threw my hand out, trying to steady myself, and at the last second the items I’d precariously held in my grip started to slip.
I had to make a terrible choice, and quick. Drop the e-reader or the cappuccino.
Both things were necessary for survival, but the e-reader was like a precious wittle baby, so fragile and important to me.
Tightening my hold on the e-reader, I let the coffee hit the floor and go splat, spreading dark liquid across the carpet like a gruesome crime scene.
Well, the yoga classes I’d been taking two nights a week after my Psychology and Law class apparently hadn’t done crap for my reflexes. I picked up the cardboard cup and tossed it in the trashcan by the elevator.
Taking a deep breath, I rapped my knuckles on the door and shifted my weight impatiently. Several seconds passed and I didn’t hear a thing, not even the soft patter of footsteps. I knocked again, and when there was no answer the second time I turned around and leaned my back against the door.
Kyler was a heavy sleeper. I didn’t even bother trying to call his cell. Nothing short of a nuclear bomb would wake him up.
My gaze flicked to the e-reader. Damn it, I’d lost my page. And it was just getting good. Hades had shown up in a convenience store. Le sigh. Tapping the screen, I went back several—
The door behind me suddenly opened, and I was falling into empty space. I twisted around, my hand colliding with warm, bare flesh. Warm, hard bare flesh. A strong arm went around my waist, catching me before I face-planted on a flat, brown male nipple.
Oh dear God in Heaven…
I jerked back, breaking the hold. Air rushed out of my lungs and my eyes went wide. I was face-to-face with the perfect pecs—the kind of pecs anyone would want to touch. My eyes did this wandering thing without my consent, and there was so much golden flesh on display that it was like a scene from Magic Mike coming alive. Messed-up thing was that I’d seen Kyler half-naked more times than I cared to admit, but doing so never failed to amaze me.
Kyler was an avid runner and skier when the seasons were right, which was reflected in his body. Smooth skin stretched over ridiculously defined abs. He even had those indents on the inside of his narrow hips. There was a little brown mole just left of his belly button. For some reason, I was always fascinated by that tiny dot.
He was wearing boxers—boxers with red Santa hats and multicolored presents on them. Now that was a Christmas package a lot of people wouldn’t mind finding tucked under their Christmas tree.
A lot of people included me.
Heat swamped my cheeks. My brain was so going to get a stern talking to, but Kyler… yeah, he put that ‘oo’ in swoon.
Full lips curved into a half-smirk, like he knew what I was thinking, his brown hair was in a serious need of a brush. It looked like he’d spent the night with someone running their fingers through it.
My stomach dropped. I’d gone back to the dorm last night before he’d left the bar. He wouldn’t have brought Blondie home. Wait. What was I thinking? He so would’ve brought Blondie home.
“You smell like… French vanilla cappuccino.”
I blinked. His voice was deep and raspy from sleep. “Huh? Oh, I dropped my coffee. Sorry.”
A half-smile appeared. “You’re early.”
“No I’m not.”
“You’re early as usual,” he continued, stepping aside. He glanced over his shoulder at the sound of water being turned on in the bathroom. He sighed. “You’re not going to be happy.”
I felt the blood rush out of my face, which was stupid. I totally did not care with a capital D. “I’m fine. I can wait in the hallway.”
Kyler looked back at me with a frown. “You’re not waiting in the hallway, Syd.”
He brushed past me and went out in the hall, completely uncaring that anyone and baby Jesus could see him half naked. I got a full view of the lean muscles of his back. He had a tattoo—an intricate lettering that was mostly slashes—curling down his spine. It was some kind of tribal lettering he’d gotten when he was eighteen. I had no idea what it meant. No one did.
But that wasn’t his only tattoo. My lips split into a grin.
He’d lost a bet with Tanner over a football game and ended up with a red heart tattooed on his right ass cheek.
Kyler was a man of his word.
Grabbing my suitcase, he grunted. “What did you pack in here? A legion of fat and angry babies?”
I would’ve rolled my eyes, but they were glued to the way the muscles in his arm popped. Geez. I needed a lobotomy. “It’s not that heavy.”
“You’ve over-packed.” He set the suitcase just inside the apartment, and then closed the door. “It’s only five days, Syd, not a month.”
“Whatever,” I muttered, daring a glance down the narrow hallway. The water had turned off. “So…”
“Make yourself comfy.” As he swaggered by, he tweaked my nose. I smacked at him, but he easily dodged my hand and laughed. “Whatcha reading?”
“None of your business.” I followed him into the neat living room. For a twenty-one year old guy, he liked to keep things tidy, which was surprising because at home he’d had a maid picking up after him. But it hadn’t always been like that for him.
I stopped behind the olive-green sofa. “Nice boxer shorts. Did your mom get them for you?”
“No. Your mom did.”
“Hardy har har.”