Into the Deep Page 69

We whooped and catcalled as the manager smiled at the guys and then bounced offstage. Matt hit the drums, leading them into one of my favorite upbeat tracks that Beck had co-written with Lowe. Listening to Lowe’s smooth, deep voice, I was lost for a while until I sensed Jake’s eyes on me. Turning my head ever so slightly, I met Jake’s gaze as he approached with beers in hand. He carefully handed Claud hers, eyes still on me, and then he rounded the table. Jake sat down next to me and casually shifted his chair closer. He draped his arm around the back of my seat and just like that, I lost my focus, Lowe’s voice becoming a muffled hum in my ears.

Jake wasn’t even touching me and every single part of me was absolutely aware of every single part of him. We sat like that for four songs and then the guys stopped for a break.

By this point I was having difficulty breathing and when I chanced a look at Jake, his dark eyes were burning. Being close, knowing we both wanted to be closer, and doing our best to be respectful … well, it was a sick kind of torment.

“The guys sound great tonight,” I said loud enough for him to hear.

Jake nodded and leaned a little closer. “They always sound great.” I gave him a teasing smile at his devotion and he shrugged. “I’m a groupie. You know … without the sex.”

“Well, that’s a shame. They’d be lucky to have you.”

He smirked. “That’s true. And they do all want me. I’ve remained strictly friends with all of them so I don’t upset their band dynamic. It’s been particularly difficult for me. They’re all very handsome.”

Lips trembling with laughter, I nodded gravely. “Quite the temptation.” I leaned closer. “But let me in on the secret. Who would you have chosen … groupie.”

Deadpan, Jake quirked an eyebrow. “I thought that would be obvious.” He nodded to the stage where the guys were chatting and taking sips of water. “Matt. Look at him. That’s all raw animal magnetism right there.”

When I turned to look up at Matt, he was rubbing a hand towel under his sweaty pits.

I threw my head back in laughter and turned to Jake to find him smiling at me in that way—that way he used to. That way that said he adored me completely.

Terrified of that look melting every single one of my defenses, I turned back to the stage … and immediately frowned. Beck had jumped off the small platform to talk to a blond girl who’d approached the band. Beck said something with a flirtatious tilt to his mouth and the girl leaned her hand on his chest and laughed, stepping into his body. Eyes lit up Beck continued to chat with the girl, and his hand dropped to her hip to hold her close.

I looked at Claudia. Uneasiness moved through me at the sight of Claudia’s pale cheeks and lowered gaze.

If I, a person on the outside of their bizarre relationship, thought that Claudia and Beck had only grown closer over the winter break, then it came as no surprise that Claudia must’ve been feeling that way too. Unfortunately, Beck was a tool, and I would never understand him. For a guy who seemed so concerned about Claud’s feelings, he sure had a nice way of trampling all over them.

“She terrifies him,” Jake’s deep voice murmured in my ear and despite my anger at Beck, Jake still managed to make the hair on the back of my neck rise.

I turned sharply to him, frowning. “What?”

Jake nodded at Beck. “He cares about Claudia more than any girl. Ever. I know that for a fact. I also know he’s pretty messed up when it comes to women. He doesn’t mean to hurt her.”

Shaking my head, I shot my friend another worried look. “She’s going to have to walk away before he breaks her heart.”

Strong, warm fingers threaded through mine and tightened. “I hope she gives him a chance first.”

Staring up into Jake’s sincere eyes, I knew then he wasn’t just talking about Beck and Claudia. Swallowing past the lump of emotion in my throat, I nodded gently. “I know she’ll try.”

It became quickly apparent that Jake and I had very little self-control. Or at least we weren’t good with temptation.

Our decision to take things slow meant we hung out with our friends like we had for the last few months. There was no kissing or cuddling or anything remotely sexual. Okay, not going to lie … there was a lot of eye-fucking going on.

The first week passed quickly and without incident. Kind of. We’d returned to classes and every day at the university, I’d dreaded bumping into Melissa. I knew from my roommate Gemma that Melissa was having a hard time. I knew this because Gemma hostilely informed me of her condition before endeavoring to treat me like Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter. If I walked into the kitchen and Gemma and one or both of the other girls were there, she’d cease talking as though I wasn’t good enough to be privy to her conversations.

On campus I passed her between classes and she glared at me before murmuring something to her companions that made them wrinkle their nose at me, as if I smelled bad.

I ignored this bitchy, childish behavior because frankly, I couldn’t give a shit what she thought. Unfortunately, I did care what Melissa thought, so when I turned down one of the book stacks on the third floor of the library and came face to face with her, I pretty much wished I were anywhere else in the world.

Our eyes met as Melissa looked up from her book. As I stared into her wounded, broken expression, I felt like she’d punched her fist into my chest and squeezed my heart.

Feeling sick, for the first time in as long as I could remember my bravado failed me, and I trembled a little as Melissa put the book back on the shelf and walked slowly toward me. Not once did I think about dropping my gaze. I owed her that much.

She halted in front of me and I stopped breathing as I took in the dark circles under her eyes, the sharpness in her cheekbones that hadn’t been there before Christmas break.

It felt like forever we just stared at one another, the sounds of pages turning, computer mice clicking, hushed murmurings, and soft footsteps all seeming incredibly loud in the taut atmosphere.

Melissa blinked, the corners of her pretty mouth dipping. “I …” She shook her head, her eyes dim with pain as she continued softly, “I really want to hate you.”

Remembering the days after my breakup with Jake, remembering the ache and needles of pain in every nerve, bone, and muscle, remembering the stifling feeling that came over me as I had to pay witness to Melissa’s relationship with Jake, the only thing I could say was, “I know.”

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