Tonight Jackdown wasn’t playing. It was a country night. Some country band from Tennessee was onstage. They were good with the cover songs they played, but their originals were pretty damn impressive.
Marcus sat back down with a beer. It was rare I got him without Willow these days. When he’d called and wanted me to meet him at Live Bay for drinks, I’d been surprised. Then he’d explained that Willow and Amanda were out shopping for the wedding dress. That explained it. Marcus was rarely anywhere without Willow.
“You seen Amanda around campus any?” Marcus asked before taking a swig of his beer.
“Yeah. We have calculus together.” That was the only response he was getting. I didn’t want to talk about Amanda with him. He’d see through me real fast. Then he’d beat the shit out of me.
“I would never tell her this, but I am so glad she didn’t go off to Auburn. I want to enjoy this wedding planning stuff with Low, and I would have been worried about Amanda all the time. Not knowing if some guy was taking advantage of her or if she was safe. This way I can enjoy this time with Low and keep my eye on Amanda in case she needs me.” I almost choked on my beer.
I hadn’t thought about it being unsafe for her to be so far away at college. I’d been so anxious to get her away from me, I hadn’t considered Auburn might be dangerous for her. I was suddenly relieved she hadn’t left. I might be bad for her, but I sure as hell wouldn’t let anyone hurt her. Shit. Now I wasn’t going to be able to watch her go off next year. Why’d he have to make me think about it?
“What are you scowling about?” Marcus asked, breaking into my thoughts.
“Sorry. Just thinking about homework. I got shitloads.”
Marcus chuckled. “You haven’t found a few girls to get that handled for you yet? Preston Drake is losing his touch? Say it ain’t so.”
Normally, I didn’t do my homework. I got girls in my classes to do it. I’d flirt just enough to keep them happy, and maybe screw around with them toward the end of the semester. I’d been doing this since high school. The guys found endless entertainment in it. Especially when the semester ended and I had a hard time letting the girls down. It was drama I wasn’t in the mood for this year. Ever since I’d had my hands and mouth on Amanda’s body, my thoughts had centered on her. It was hard to concentrate on anyone else.
“Cutting back on the drama this year,” I explained.
Marcus let out a low whistle. “Never thought I’d hear that from you.”
I couldn’t tell him all about the girl tying me up in knots. I’d listened to him go on and on about Willow when she’d come into his life. But now I had someone driving me crazy I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t get drunk in front of Marcus and spill my guts. Not if I wanted to live. He’d kill me. I had no doubt.
“Hey, Preston. It’s been awhile. Where have you been hiding?” A blonde with a really big pair of fake boobs sidled up next to me and ran her hand up my chest. Yeah. I’d probably slept with this one. She had all the assets, and she was comfortable enough with me to touch me.
“Been busy,” I said with a forced smile.
“Well, I’ve been missing you. Come dance with me,” she purred in my ear.
I started to turn her down when I saw Marcus watching me. He was expecting me to say yes. That is what I would normally do. She’d be an easy lay. She was hot enough. If I told her no, then Marcus would start asking questions. I didn’t want him asking questions. He knew me too well. If I said anything to tip him off that I was tied up in knots over his sister, he’d be furious. I had to dance with this girl. I didn’t have to fuck her. Just dance with her. Act like my old self a little bit so no one questioned my sudden change. Besides, it wasn’t like I had to be faithful to Amanda. I had no chance in hell of ever having a relationship with her. She would keep her distance now. I’d pushed her too far the other night.
I stood up and rested my hand on her lower back, and I led her out to the dance floor before Marcus could notice I wasn’t interested at all.
I followed Willow into Live Bay. Marcus had texted her and told her to have me bring her here. He was waiting on her and having drinks with Preston. Which was why I was going inside too. I just needed to see his face again before I said yes or no to Jason’s text.
Preston was like a drug I couldn’t seem to walk away from.
“There’s Marcus,” Willow said, walking through the crowd toward the table they always occupied. No one was at the table other than Marcus, which was odd. Normally, one of the other guys was still here. I knew Preston was here. Marcus had just texted Willow. If he wasn’t at the table or the bar, then he was with a girl. I refused to look out at the dance floor. Not yet. I needed to compose myself first.
“Hey, baby.” Marcus beamed at Willow and stood up to pull her into his arms. The kissing immediately started. I didn’t really want to watch my brother stick his tongue in someone’s mouth, so I took a seat and mentally debated whether or not I should scan the room for Preston. What if he had a girl up against a wall dry humping? Could I handle that? I mean, I had no claim on him, but would it hurt too bad? Yes, probably.
“I missed you,” Marcus said, pulling back from his attack on Willow’s face.
“I missed you too, but I have a dress I really think you’re going to like,” she replied, then glanced over at me. “I don’t know how I would manage all this without Amanda. I’m so glad she didn’t go off to school.”
Marcus turned his attention to me and winked. “I’m glad she’s here too.”
“We, uh, talked about the wedding location today, and Amanda said I should have it where I wanted. Not to let your mother convince me otherwise.”
Marcus frowned and turned back to stare down at Willow. “She’s right. This is our wedding. I thought you liked Mom’s idea of the church, but if you don’t, then tell me. We’ll get married wherever you want.”
That was my brother. He was perfect. Guys like him were very hard to find.
“I really want to get married on the beach,” she told him.
“Then it’s done. I’ll tell Mom to cancel the church, and we’ll start looking at beach houses to rent.”
Willow squealed and grabbed his face and began kissing him again. I turned my attention away from them and looked out at the dance floor. It didn’t take long to find Preston. His blond hair always stood out. The almost naked girl he was dancing with also stood out. I knew I should look away, but I couldn’t. I wanted to see him with someone else. I knew he treated me differently, but I wanted to see exactly how differently.
The girl ran her hands through his hair, and if he’d let her, I was pretty sure she’d hump his leg. They couldn’t get any closer. When she pulled his head down to meet her lips, I jerked my gaze away. I would not watch that.
“You want a Coke, Amanda?” Marcus asked, and I looked over at him and realized he and Willow were both sitting now and no longer kissing. I was more in the mood to leave, but I decided staying and watching Preston all over another girl might be just what I needed to get him out of my system.
“Yes, thanks,” I replied.
“Where is everyone else?” Willow asked.
Marcus nodded toward the dance floor. “Preston is dancing. Dewayne is on his way. Rock and Trisha are hanging out at home. Cage and Eva are probably locked up in Cage’s apartment, where they always are lately.”
Willow laughed. “Leave them alone. I love seeing Cage like this. He’s so happy.”
“Trust me, baby, I love seeing him obsessed with someone too. Makes me breathe easier.”
Willow rolled her eyes.
As the song ended I glanced back up at the dance floor to see Preston walking toward us with the girl he’d been dancing with following close behind him. At least he wasn’t touching her. Normally, Preston had his hands all over the girls he played around with.
His focus was on me, and I was extremely grateful that Marcus’s back was turned to the dance floor. The waitress placed a coaster and my Coke down on the table in front of me. I dropped my eyes from Preston’s and took a sip of the cold soda.
“Hey, Low,” he said once he got to the table. “Amanda.”
I didn’t lift my gaze to his. I simply replied with “Hello” and kept drinking.
“Hey, Preston,” Willow said cheerily. “Haven’t seen you on campus yet. We must have no classes together.”
“Guess not,” he replied.
“I want a beer,” the girl said as she took the empty seat beside me. “Hi, I’m Jill.” It took all my restraint not to shove her off the stool.
“Amanda. It’s nice to meet you,” I replied. The politeness was trained into me. My mother had drilled it into my head. I could feel Preston’s eyes on me. He was watching me. Did he think I would be rude to her? Just because he’d chosen her to screw tonight instead of me? I’d have to dislike the entire town if that was the case. He’d slept with most of the women in it.
“Oh, you’re Marcus’s little sister. I remember seeing you with Sadie White.”
She knew Sadie? “How do you know Sadie?” Because she was not the kind of girl Sadie made friends with.
“I don’t know her. I know of her. I’m a huge Jax Stone fan.”
That made more sense.
“Amanda is dating Jax Stone’s brother,” Willow chimed in, smiling brightly.
“You are?” the girl asked in a disbelieving voice.
“No, not really,” I replied, shaking my head and wishing to God that Willow would shut up.
“He is trying real hard. He was texting her today and making her smile awfully big.”
This was my cue to leave. I reached for my purse and didn’t make eye contact with anyone.
“Jason Stone is still contacting you? Didn’t he leave with Sadie and Jax?” Marcus asked curiously.
Crud. I wasn’t going to get away from this.
“You’re still talking to Jason?” Preston asked, surprising me. I hadn’t expected him to pipe up in this conversation. Not with Marcus sitting here. I looked at Marcus to answer. I would not look at Preston. This was not his business.
“Yeah, he’s in LA. He just wants to see if we might could see each other again sometime.”
Willow covered up a laugh with a cough. I shot her a pleading look to please not say anything more. She understood and nodded.
“He wants to date you?” that girl, Jill, said. “His picture is plastered all over the place with models and actresses.” The disbelieving tone of her voice was grating on my nerves. I was well aware that I couldn’t exactly compete with his normal choice in females, but surprisingly, Jason Stone liked something about me. Even if Preston Drake didn’t want me.
“I need to go. I’ve got a paper to write, and I need to check in on Mom,” I said, standing up.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up. Don’t leave because of my big mouth.” Willow sounded concerned.
I smiled at her reassuringly. “Really, I didn’t mean to come in and stay. I just wanted to say hello to everyone. Now Preston can have my seat.”
I didn’t glance over at him.
“Thank you so much for today. You were so much help, and I had so much fun with you,” Willow said, standing up to hug me.
“I loved it,” I replied, and hugged her, then stepped back and made one big sweep of the table, including Preston, who was still standing on the other side of Jill, watching me.
“Bye, y’all.” I waved, then turned and headed for the door. I could not get out of here fast enough. This was a bad idea. I wouldn’t be back here. Not for a while. Pretending like Preston wasn’t a man whore was easier when I didn’t have to witness it. Tonight was a reminder I needed but really wanted to forget.
“Manda,” Preston’s voice called out from behind me the moment I touched the handle on my car.
What was he doing?
I could act like I didn’t hear him and open the door and get inside and drive away. Or I could see what had him running out here to talk to me. My decision making only gave him time to reach me. My escape plan was no longer possible.
“What do you want?” I asked, lifting my gaze to meet his.
He shook his head, and the sad, confused look was there in his eyes again. Dang it. I hated that look.
“Are you going to see him again?”
This was about Jason. Really?
“Probably,” I replied, and jerked my door open.
“No, wait.” Preston walked closer to me and blocked my entrance into the car.
“What are you doing?” I was growing impatient with him. He was back to his hot-and-cold thing again. I couldn’t keep up.
“Do you want to see him?”
What was this? Did he want me to just want him? No one else? He liked having little innocent, stupid Amanda panting after him. Well, he could kiss my ass. I was over that. And I wasn’t so innocent anymore, thanks to him.
“Yeah, Preston. I do. He likes me. He wants to be near me. He doesn’t push me away.”
Preston stepped closer to me, and his worried expression became a scowl. “How close has he got to you, Manda? Has he touched you?”
This was not happening. I was dreaming this insanity. Preston was not getting possessive of me when he didn’t even want me.
“Move, Preston. I’m done with this. I can’t do it anymore.”
Preston grabbed my waist and pulled me up against him. “I’m sorry I can’t be who you need me to be.”
A few weeks ago I’d have wanted to prove to him he could change. I’d have believed I was the girl to change him. But I knew better now. He couldn’t even enjoy touching me sober. I was not the one to change him.
“That’s fine. I get it. Now move. I want to go home.” I pushed at his chest, but he didn’t budge.
“I want to change. You make me want to change everything. I just can’t.”
I let out a weary sigh before looking back up at him. “I know. One day someone will come along and you’ll change for her. She’ll be the one you can’t live without, and she’ll be more important than anyone or anything else. When that happens, you’ll change. I’m just not her. Now please, just let me go home. We’re done here.”
Preston gritted his teeth and shook his head as if to keep from saying something, then let out one long breath before stepping away from my car door and letting me get inside. He stood there watching me as I closed the door. I backed out of my parking spot, and he was still standing there watching me. Once I pulled out onto the road, I glanced into my rearview mirror and he was still there. A week ago I’d have turned around and gone back to him. But I knew better now. He’d only send me packing after he tried to make it work with me and couldn’t bring himself to do it.