Into the Deep Page 61

The town center was quaint with cobbled streets and, a little like Edinburgh, really old buildings sitting next to more modern ones. When we got two taxis at the station to take us to the lodge, we discovered that our lodge was really just a house in among the homes built into the mountain, rising up away from the town center. Despite the snow-capped tops of the mountains around us, there was no snow on the roads as we wound our way through little suburbia.

To be honest, we weren’t too disappointed when we discovered the “lodge” on a street next to residential homes. The view was unrivaled. Inside the main entrance, one set of stairs led up and another led down. Upstairs held the kitchen, a bathroom, two bedrooms, and a huge sitting room, and at the end of that room, patio doors led onto a balcony. Because we were so high up, we had a fantastic view of Fort William and the glistening loch below.

There were five bedrooms outfitted with twin beds. Beck and Jake took one of the upstairs rooms and Lowe and Matt took the other. Denver and Rowena got a bedroom each downstairs and Claudia and I took the bedroom with the French doors that lead out onto a private terraced garden. We had mountains all around us and no neighbors above. It was so unbelievably peaceful, I just wanted to lock myself out there and the rest of my friends inside.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the plan. Despite the five-hour train ride, Claudia let us have only two hours to freshen up before she called a couple of taxis to take us back down the hill into town for a pub dinner and drinks.

Wrapped up in my winter gear, I headed out with Claudia at my side and kept her there when our taxi driver dropped us off at a recommended pub. Inside, the heat from the roaring fire in the huge brickwork fireplace hit my cheeks and helped me relax. As did the fact that when we were seated at a table, Claudia was on my left, Lowe was on my right, and Rowena was opposite me. This made it much easier to avoid Jake.

After a while the excitement of being somewhere new and scenic set in and we were all laughing and joking, swapping Christmas break stories and bemoaning our academic fate when we returned to Edinburgh.

We were just finishing up dinner when my phone beeped. I pulled it out of my pocket to discover a text from a classmate asking me if I’d done the reading for our first week of classes. I smirked at her zeal and quickly text back that I hadn’t.

“So you do know how to answer that thing after all,” Jake observed somewhat caustically.

Our group stopped talking as I stuffed the phone back in my pocket, my face blank as I met Jake’s stare. I was embarrassed he’d brought up our estrangement in front of everyone, even though it was obvious to them all. Still, I didn’t want to ruin this trip for them and definitely not for Claudia because Jake had decided to corner me. The thing about cornering a confused, emotional woman is that she tends to unleash the claws in defense.

“Depends on who is trying to get in touch with me.”

He raised his eyebrows at my answer and shook his head in hurt disbelief, looking away from me as he took a long gulp of his lager.

I ignored the choking feeling around my throat and slumped back against my chair.

“What was it, anyway?” Lowe asked me quietly as conversation between my friends picked up again. “Hot date?”

“With a reading list? Yes.”

His eyes smiled as he dragged his teeth over his lip ring. My eyes dropped to it and he grinned. “Are you staring at my mouth?”

I glanced away, reaching for my pint. “You’re the one who drew attention to it.”

He laughed and I smiled up into his flirting gaze, ignoring the glower blasting my way from Jake’s direction.

An hour later Jake was so wasted, Beck and Claudia took him back to the lodge. Guilt grabbed hold of me as I watched Beck help an inebriated Jake out of the pub. Inebriated Jake was a sad Jake, and I knew I was the cause of his sadness. It took every ounce of willpower I had to stay seated and not help him back to the lodge.

This evidence that he still cared perhaps a little too much was more proof that there was a huge possibility Jake had broken it off with Melissa because he could no longer be “just friends” with me, either.

Holy hell. What a clusterfuck.

I felt warm, strong fingers thread through mine and I looked up into Lowe’s face.

“Don’t,” he told me quietly. “You’re not doing anything wrong here, Charley. You’re just trying to protect yourself and I don’t blame you.”

His assurance made me feel better and I relaxed into him, still holding his hand. We threw back a couple more beers so we were definitely buzzed a few hours later when the pub owner came over to throw us out because he was closing.

Rowena and Denver helped an almost-sleeping Matt into the taxi, and I climbed in beside Lowe, my hand still tight in his. Arriving back at the lodge, we discovered it was dark and silent so we tried our best to be quiet as we maneuvered Matt inside.

We stood in the hall, Lowe and Denver now holding up a passed-out Matt. “We’ll put him downstairs with you, man,” Lowe said to Denver. “It’s easier to get him down there than upstairs.”

Denver nodded and Rowena and I did our best to help them get Matt to bed quietly. Finally, I said goodnight to them all as Denver closed his door and Rowena disappeared into her room. I was just about to head to the room I shared with Claudia when Lowe grasped hold of my hand and tugged me gently toward him.

Not quite as coordinated as I was when sober, I collided with his strong chest. “Oops,” I giggled, tilting my head back to meet his gaze.

He smirked down at me. “You’re a pretty f**king cute drunk, you know that?”

I wrinkled my nose. “I’m not cute.”

“What’s wrong with cute?”

“It’s so … cute.”

Lowe snorted. “Okay, you’re a pretty f**king cute drunk but you also happen to be an incredibly sexy one too.”

I considered that. “Okay. Bette—”

My answer was swallowed in Lowe’s kiss. Shock blew my rationale to hell and … I kissed him back.

“Come to my room,” he murmured against my mouth.

“Oh God,” I breathed.

“Charley?” His questioning eyes searched mine and he leaned back. “Do you not want to?”

My body definitely liked the idea … but my head …

“You’re Jake’s friend. If this was something more, it might be worth hurting him but … not for just a quick … whatever.”

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