Now I wondered if Ella had gotten her ankle tattoo from him. Bennett, I think his name was. I knew the other girl with Ella. Her name was Rachel and she’d hooked up with half the baseball team. She’d tried to make the moves on me twice before. She was gorgeous; I’d give her that, with those green eyes and full lips. I’d made out with her once at a party, but didn’t take it any further. Same reason as always. I’d rather mess around with someone who didn’t hang out with my friends.

Ella’s legs looked a mile long in those tiny cutoffs she wore. The straps of her black bikini top peeked out from under her pink tank and I wondered if she’d take off her top when she got hot enough. I imagined how she’d look standing in front of me in nothing but those damn skimpy shorts. Fuck, I was attracted to that girl.

Her hair was pulled up in a messy kind of bun and my fingers itched to reach up and release her brown waves. Our eyes met across the parking lot as I was soaping up a car bumper and I nodded at her to be polite. But she didn’t give me one of her secret smiles again. Her blond friend eyed me, too, and then looked back at Ella with a smirk. Had Ella told her friend what’d gone down in the bathroom between us?

Joel certainly hadn’t said a word, so I figured it had stayed between us.

And even if Joel had, I would’ve given him an earful about always being blitzed out of his mind when his girlfriend was around.

Joel stood behind Ella with his arms locked around her waist, yet he made sure to eye every chick in a bikini top. What an ass. Ella had to notice how he ogled other girls, and either didn’t care or didn’t care enough. Which was it, Ella?

Or maybe she was more insecure than I’d given her credit for. Why else would she put up with that shit?

Soon enough I got lost in the mind-numbing car wash assembly line. I was on wash detail and Ella was rinsing the cars with Joel. Her blond friend was helping with the cash drawer and Rachel had gone up front with a poster to flash her nice tits to the passing cars.

I heard a high-pitched squeal and looked in Ella’s direction. Joel had the hose pointed at some of the girls and before they could scatter, he started spraying. He got Ella in the face and her clothes became soaked. She manhandled the hose out of his hands with a couple of other girls and got him back good. Her laugh was infectious and I found myself listening for its sound as I continued to work.

Fantasizing about Ella was stupid, but it also let me forget for a little while. I was pretty damn sure I could easily get lost in that girl. And some days that was all that I wanted. But it wasn’t what I needed. And neither did she. Not with someone like me.

We were running out of dry rags, so I ran next door to the frat house to gather more from our basement floor. I slipped inside and bolted down the steps. I waved to two girls who had emerged from the bathroom on the other side of the room. The bathroom was dank and grungy but did the trick for parties and events.

I heard the screen door creak open at the top of the stairs, letting in a sliver of sunlight. Ella came bounding down the steps wringing out her tank top, too busy to notice me. She stood in front of the bathroom door and lifted her wet shirt over her head. I saw the smooth skin of her back, her delicate neckline, and how the baby hairs from her bun had gotten tangled in the knot of her black bikini top.

All I could think about was sliding my hand down the soft skin above her shorts, on the small of her back. I stepped closer and cleared my throat so she’d know she wasn’t alone.

She turned toward me, eyes wide.

“My bad,” I said, my voice coming out hoarse. “Sorry if I scared you.”

Her tits looked fucking amazing in that bikini top and I couldn’t help my jaw from hanging open as I tried to reign in my dirty thoughts.

She stood stock-still as my eyes roamed over her body.

Like she welcomed it. Wanted it. Needed it.

Her breaths became harsher and when my eyes met hers, she held me there, transfixed. I couldn’t have looked anywhere else even if I’d tried.

“You always seem to catch me in some state of undress,” she mumbled.

I moved nearer and noticed how water had beaded in her cleavage. I imagined my tongue lapping up each drop and my hard-on strained against my zipper.

“I’m not much better this time,” I said referring to my shirtless torso and wet cutoffs.

Her eyes skated over my shoulders, down my chest, to the front of my shorts. If she hadn’t had a clue how much she’d affected me, she would now.

Gazes pinned on each other, we both seemed to lose the ability to form coherent sentences. I was close enough to draw her into my arms and kiss the hell out of her, but I restrained myself.

The air between us was charged. It was obvious and imposing. My knees quivered as my urge to hold her amplified. To press my nose along her collarbone and taste her skin.

Ella was biting her lip so hard, I wondered if she’d draw blood.

Looking into her bright-blue eyes, I noticed her dark and thick lashes, the pretty rose color splashed across her cheeks, and the dainty hoop earrings she wore in her ears.

Both of our fists clenched tight, it was as if time stood still. Waiting on something to happen. For one of us to make a move. For someone to walk in and spot us huddled so closely together.

My own breaths were broken and rough and all at once Ella squeezed her eyes closed and inhaled sharply.

“Ella . . .” I closed the distance between us and placed my fingers on her warm arm. “Are you . . .”

I didn’t even know what I was asking. I was lost in her earthy smell, her soft skin beneath my touch, and her lips, moist because she had run her tongue across them.

I noticed how her nipples had pebbled beneath her swim top.

“Do you want . . .” I skimmed my hand up her shoulder to the nape of her neck and she shivered against my touch. She gazed into my eyes and took firm breaths through her nose.

“Say something, Ella,” I mumbled.

She shook her head and then slid her fingers to my waist. Her hands felt like they were on fire and my skin prickled like it might burst into flames.

The anticipation of this moment coiled tight in my stomach as I glided my hip against hers and pinned her to the wall. I was sure she could feel how aroused I was through the thin material of my shorts.

A moan tumbled from her mouth and her head fell back against the brick wall.

I leaned forward and dragged my nose along her jawline, resisting the urge to lick her skin. When I pulled back, the burning desire in her eyes was as palpable as mine.

I knew I shouldn’t take this any further. Not since she was dating Joel. And I figured she knew it as well.

But now I understood without question that she wanted me. And, fuck, I wanted her.

When I heard the screen door slap open upstairs, I took several steps back and turned away. Ella locked herself in the bathroom before two sorority girls came springing down the steps. I grabbed a pile of rags off the floor, moved them to the front of my shorts, and headed back outside.

Chapter Nine


I didn’t know what the hell happened to me down there, in the basement with Quinn. It was as if I’d become immobile and couldn’t get unstuck to save my life.

My body was burning for him and all I had wanted was for him to kiss me, touch me, and claim me as his. Never in my life have I wanted that from someone the way I’d wanted it from him.

And that’s when I knew I needed to break things off with Joel. That it wasn’t right.

That it had never been right.

Even if Quinn and I never ended up together, it was wrong to be dating one person and lusting after another. Joel and I hadn’t had sex in a couple of weeks. We hadn’t even made out. I wasn’t sure why he was hanging on, either, when he could be free to hook up with whomever he wanted.

Despite his dark shades today, I still noticed how Joel reveled in checking out all the skimpy-clothed girls. How he’d always done it, without regard for my feelings. And for the first time, it didn’t bother me. It hadn’t made me feel like I couldn’t compete, like I wasn’t skinny or pretty enough.

In one minute flat, someone else had made me feel like the sexiest woman on the planet.

Something Joel had never been able to do.

I’d get through this day with Joel and then decide the best way to walk away from him.

I made sure to avoid eye contact with Quinn the rest of the morning. I needed to get my thoughts in some semblance of order. Quinn shouldn’t have figured into this decision anyway. Sure, he may have been the catalyst, but that didn’t mean I was breaking up with Joel for him. He’d only helped me see what was right in front of my eyes.

Besides, Quinn didn’t date. So if anything, I’d need to decide if I could withstand a one-time fling with him. Could I walk away satisfied with the experience? Would I be able get him out of my system? I’d never been that kind of girl. But maybe it was time to channel my friends Avery and Rachel, who were experts at that sort of thing.

For the first time, I was thankful that Joel was already buzzed, so I didn’t have to talk to him about anything of substance. Instead, I tuned in to bits and pieces of conversations that involved Quinn and I realized that despite being quiet and brooding, he also was fun and had a charming sense of humor.

And other girls obviously liked that about him, too. He had a parade of admirers swarming him during the car wash. Maybe they realized he wasn’t the type of guy to try anything. And maybe that’s what made me feel so protected in the bathroom that one night. There were no expectations. I could just be myself. My very pukey, sick self.

And even in the intimate moment we’d just shared in the basement, he hadn’t tried to kiss me. I knew he wouldn’t do anything without asking permission. I think he might have been trying to ask, but he couldn’t get the words out. And neither could I.

“There’s a line of cars around the corner,” Lucy shouted. “We need more help up here.”

I handed the hose over to Joel and headed toward the front of the line along with Tracey and a couple other guys.

“Where can I find a spare rag?” I asked, looking around.

“There’s one in the bucket behind you.” Quinn pointed and then got started soaping up the passenger side of a blue sedan.

I hesitated for only a split second before joining him near the rear bumper. “I’ll start up front and meet you in the middle.”

“Sounds like a plan,” he said, stealing a quick glance out of the corner of his eye. My stomach swooped just from that small contact.

I began soaping up the front panel and despite our distance I could feel Quinn’s gaze press on me like a wall of heat. My skin tingled with anticipation. I thought of something to say. Just regular conversation. It had been so easy with him this morning when we had teamed up against the zombies.

But the exchange in the basement had been wholly different, and so my nervous energy had gotten the best of me. All I could think about was his mouth so close to my lips and how it would feel to be wrapped up in his embrace.

Thankfully Quinn had the wherewithal to break through the tension. “So, how long have you been a gamer?”

“Uh . . . not sure I’d call myself a gamer.” I stopped the motion of my soapy rag to look at him. “But I know a thing or two.”

“A thing or two?” he smirked. “You can totally hold your own, Ella. In Skyrim the other night you defeated Alduin at the Throat of the World. That’s damn impressive.”

I stifled a gasp. Maybe he had been paying attention all along.

“Guess I’ve been outed.” I grinned and dunked my rag in the soapy water again. “I grew up playing with my brothers. They loaned me their first-gen Xbox for my apartment—you know, the white console? Suppose it’s kinda what I do . . . in my spare time.”

When I looked up at him, he was watching me intently, his rag barely slopping over the dirty sections on the passenger door.

“You missed a few spots,” I said and stepped forward to help him out. To be closer to him as well. “I figured you’d be way more anal given that hot rod you drive around.”

His eyes lit up in a way I hadn’t noticed before. “Maintaining a vintage car is way more exciting than soaping up these cookie-cutter versions.”

“It sounds like it’s your hobby,” I said, tilting my head sideways as if that would give me a clearer view of him. “Do you restore cars, too?”

“I . . . I used to.” His eyes took on this faraway look, and I instantly wanted to know more. Way more. “But with classes and ball and stuff, it leaves little time.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” I said. “Seems like it’s your thing. And if I’m right about that, then you should find the time.”

His bottom lip hung open as if he was considering what I’d said. Before he could respond, Lucy started shouting again. “Guys, we need to move faster. We’ve got five cars waiting.”

“Guess we’d better step it up,” Quinn said and then rounded the car to finish the back windshield.

As the day wore on and the cars stopped coming, some of the guys fired up the grill and brought out the keg. We cleaned up the parking lot and brought the party back over to the frat house. We dried off, ate burgers and hot dogs, and drank some more beer.

Jimmy and Quinn took off for baseball practice. Quinn hadn’t had had a beer in his hand all morning, which told me how dedicated he was to his sport. Jimmy on the other hand, was cut off about an hour ago. Quinn had to remind him that coach would kick him off the team if he showed up drunk.

I walked home to change out of my wet clothes with Avery and Rachel. I hadn’t had to twist Avery’s arm too hard to help out today. She knew the cause was close to my heart. In fact, she clamped her mouth shut the moment I said the words childhood depression.