I should’ve fucking known better.
Sydney was always obsessively early. Today would’ve been no different. It all stemmed from the fourth grade when she’d gotten to school late and had to walk into the classroom by herself. Everyone had been staring at her when she’d tripped and dropped her rainbow-colored Trapper Keeper. The class bully—Kris Henry—had laughed at her, which had gotten half the class laughing.
I’d punched him for it. Got called to the principal’s office for that, but it had been so worth it to knock that doughboy on his ass. God, just thinking about it made me want to punch Kris Henry again.
And I wanted to punch myself in the nuts, while I was at it, for this morning.
The last thing I wanted Sydney to do was witness the walk of shame. Wasn’t the first time, but every time it happened I swore it would be the last time. Except there never was a last time.
Rounding the city block, I crossed over to the small park and moved onto the grass. My mind went in a really weird direction. When I’d first met Syd, my life was nothing like it was now. My mom and dad could barely make ends meet running the bar they’d bought. Food stamps were what’d put food on the table and my clothes had been bought at the local Goodwill. As twisted as it was, it was only after my father passed away when I was in middle school that the bar had taken off.
A fucking car accident had stolen his life, and he’d never gotten to see their dreams fulfilled.
Mom invested his life insurance in the restoration business. Now she had money and an insanely successful business, and I’d been prepped to take it over, but you could put my ass in brand new sneakers, designer jeans, and a new car, and I still was the same white trash boy from the trailer park who couldn’t believe the pretty little girl in class wanted to be friends.
My head went in an even weirder direction. I thought about the time I’d climbed the tree to get into her bedroom. She’d been sick with mono and our parents had been keeping us apart for obvious reasons, but I’d been worried about her. Syd had always been small and I’d felt like I needed to take care of her.
I’d fallen out of the damn tree that day and nearly broken my leg.
Our parents didn’t try to keep us separated after that, and it hadn’t mattered, because a week later I ended up with mono, anyway. But she had been so happy when I finally got my dumb ass in her bedroom. Even as sick as she’d been, when she saw me her smile lit up her face and her blue eyes sparkled and shit.
I’d always been a sucker for her eyes.
And it had always been like that. Year after year, when she saw me, she always smiled and her eyes would get so bright and so blue, I couldn’t help but find them beautiful. So seeing her look disappointed when some random girl stumbled out of my apartment was killer.
Man, I’d fucked up this morning. One fuck-up among hundreds, if not thousands, and each time I was scared shitless that it would be the last time. That she would get fed up with me—with the girls, the partying, the whatever—discover that she was a thousand times better off without me, and walk out of my life.
And it was going to happen eventually. I knew it.
Circling the park, I picked up speed as I avoided the patches of ice. Sydney was perfect—the actual embodiment of the perfect woman. She was practically pristine and fresh. She was untouchable.
She was everything to me.
I’d spent the better part of my life trying not to fuck up for Syd, and yet somehow failing miserably. I’d seen the look in Syd’s eyes when Mindy came out of the bathroom this morning and I knew she thought I’d slept with the chick last night. Which didn’t take a huge leap in logic, but it wasn’t like I didn’t have standards or a moral code, for fuck sakes.
I was pretty sure I hadn’t invited Mindy back, but she’d ended up in my place, anyway. I’d deposited her drunk ass on my couch and locked my bedroom door, and that was that. I didn’t blame Syd for thinking the worst, and there was really no point in correcting her assumption.
It didn’t change anything.
Sydney Bell had always been, and would always be, a few pedestals too high for me.
About an hour later, Kyler was freshly showered and wearing clothes. A shame to cover up that body, but he still managed to look good in worn jeans and an old U of M hoodie with his damp hair falling across his forehead.
He slung a black guitar case over his shoulder, and I couldn’t help but get excited—the boy could play. And those fingers? The way he strummed them over the strings had my imagination skipping through the gutter gleefully every time he played.
There was nothing sexier than a guy playing the guitar. Okay. Maybe a guy on a motorcycle. That was pretty hot, too.
I sighed as I followed him outside, tugging my gloves on. I needed to get laid, because my mind was really becoming disturbingly fixated on sex. Pretty hilarious, considering I really didn’t count the first—and only—time I’d had sex. And honestly, I didn’t get what the big deal was. I knew there had to be something, because it was all that anyone ever talked about, and considering the endless supply of girls for Kyler, there had to be more to it than pushing, pain, and awkward noises. Shoving those thoughts out of my mind as we headed outside, I focused on something less embarrassing.
“Do you think that huge storm is going to miss us?” I had watched the news while he’d been out running and they’d run an update on the nor’easter. Earlier in the week they’d said it was going to miss West Virginia, but it looked like the storm was moving further south than expected.
Carrying his luggage and mine, he stopped behind his Durango. “We’re going to a ski resort, Syd, where’s there snow. A little more isn’t going to hurt.”
I went to pick up my suitcase, but he nudged me out of the way. Glancing up at the gray sky, I started nibbling on my fingernail. “But they’re saying this could be the storm of the century, or something like that.”
He chuckled as he reached out and pulled my hand away from my mouth. “Like snowmageddon?”
I grinned. “Yeah, like that. Should we call Andrea and see if they want to wait and find out if the storm is going to miss that area of West Virginia? I know she’s coming up with Tanner and the rest. Paul is driving up by himself.”
The smile slipped off his face as he shut the back window and headed to my side of the car. He held the door open. “Who invited that douchebag, anyway?”
I hauled myself into the passenger seat. “Paul is not a douchebag.”
“He’s a dickhead.” Kyler shut the door. I watched him lope around the front of the SUV and climb in behind the wheel, where he picked up the conversation. “Who invited him? Andrea?”
I’d figured Kyler’s dislike of Paul had been a one night, too many drinks kind of thing. “What’s up with the name calling? Paul’s pretty cool, and he’s been nothing but nice to you. What’s your deal?”
Kyler eased the SUV out into traffic. The set of his jaw was so hard I thought his teeth would crack. “I just don’t like him.”
I frowned, shaking my head. “Okay. Anyway, I invited him, so I hope you aren’t a jerk to him.”
“You invited him?” He cut me a quick look before stiffly returning his gaze back to the road. “You invited him to my mom’s place without asking?”
Staring at him, I had no friggin’ clue where this attitude was coming from. Kyler could be moody sometimes, though. Apparently this was one of those moments. “I totally said I was inviting him weeks ago, and you didn’t have a problem with it then.”
“I must’ve been drunk when you asked me,” he muttered, taking the road leading to the beltway. “Paul? Do you like him or something?”
“What?” I gawked at him. “He’s a nice guy.”
His long fingers thrummed off the steering wheel. “That’s not what I asked.”
It took me a couple of moments to answer. Paul was really nice and funny, and I probably wouldn’t kick him out of my bed for eating crackers. “No,” I said finally. “I don’t like him, like him.”
Kyler didn’t say anything to that and he didn’t say anything until we hit the beltway. “I think he likes you.”
I arched a brow, remembering how he’d accused Paul of eyeballing us last night. “You think he likes me?”
He nodded curtly.
Andrea had said the same thing countless times before, but I’d always thought it was her way of trying to get me to obsess over someone other than Kyler. “How would you even know that, since you obviously aren’t BFFs with him?”
“Why?” Easily hitting the express lane, he glanced at me. “Does knowing he’s got the hots for you change the way you think of him?”
“What?” I threw my hands up, frustrated. “This is a stupid conversation.”
Kyler flashed a quick grin, but his eyes were so dark they almost seemed black. “And I’m a guy. I know when another guy wants a chick. It’s in the way the guy looks at a girl. Says it all.”
I chewed on my thumbnail. Maybe there could be something there, because pining away after Kyler was stupid, and if Paul was willing… “You’re full of it.”
“He stares at you every time we go out.” He paused and reached over, tugging on my sleeve until I dropped my hand. “And if you want to know how he stares at you, it’s like he’s pretty much fucking you with his eyes.”
“Oh. Wow. That’s romantic.” A secret little rush of pleasure zinged through me, because it was nice to know that someone thought I was desirable, even if it wasn’t the one I wanted.
He snickered. “It’s the truth. Though, I don’t know what the guy is thinking.”
I turned to him slowly. “What does that mean, exactly?”
“Trying to get with you,” he finished, eyes narrowing as he peered at the green exit signs. “He’s out of his mind. You’re not…”
A slow burn filled my stomach, traveling through my veins like acid. I knew I wasn’t the kind of girl who had guys dropping their undies for her every day, but I wasn’t so bad off that a guy would have to be out his mind to want to hook up with me.
Anger bubbled up like water boiling over, but a deep hurt festered underneath it, fueling my words. “I’m not what? A girl who doesn’t randomly hook up with guys she meets in bars? Someone who obviously has taste and a sense of self-worth?”
His brows flew up. “Whoa. That’s—”
“That’s the kind of girls you go for,” I cut in, my hands clenching into tiny fists. “And just because I’m not like that, then no other guy could possibly want to be with me? Maybe Paul just has taste and doesn’t have a thing for girls named Mindy.”
“Okay,” he said slowly. A muscle popped in his jaw as he stared straight ahead. “First off, the last time I checked, I have superb taste. Secondly, I’m an adult. So are the girls I hang out with. Thirdly—” How many points is he going to make? “—It’s okay to have fun, Sydney. Fun. As in something that exists outside of reading books and going to class.”