The afternoon had gone from bad to worse. While Jessica nursed her glass of wine over the span of the next hour, she had watched while Myles talked with another girl. And what made things worse was how easy he smiled at her—it reminded her of how off he had been with her since this morning.
Just last night they had been intertwined in the throes of passion, and here she was watching with growing distaste while the girl openly flirted with him and he seemed to be reveling in it. She wanted to leave, but she couldn’t.
She could feign a headache and get a taxi home. The longer she watched that beautiful friend of Rebecca’s flutter her eyelids at Myles, the more she began to consider the option. She downed the last of her wine and headed into the kitchen.
Everyone was outside, so she had a moment to herself while she tried to decide what the best course of action was. Perhaps it was best to admit defeat and leave; then she wouldn’t have to keep watching Myles and the flirty girl, but she was scared that would show him she was more invested in what they had shared than he had been. That wasn’t something she was comfortable with yet, so she decided to stick it out.
But she would need more alcohol. She refilled her glass and stood by the window overlooking the yard as she took another sip and let out a heavy sigh.
“That bad?” a voice said from behind her, and she nearly dropped her glass.
She spun around to see Karsyn standing on the other side of the counter. She pressed her hand to her chest to keep her heart from jumping free while she stood there speechless.
He smiled at her and it brought a rush of mixed feelings. He had a slight bruise on his jaw that reminded her of the events from the day before.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I was invited,” he said, and then she remembered Rebecca’s warning.
“Right,” she mumbled, trying to regain some of her composure.
“You look beautiful,” he murmured, moving closer. His eyes drifting over her in appreciation made her feel way too much.
“Thanks.” She nodded, trying not to let him get to her, but she wasn’t sure how successful she was.
The history they shared would always connect them, and it was difficult to determine what stemmed from that and what didn’t.
He stopped just short of her. He studied her openly and she hoped he couldn’t see what she didn’t want him to.
“You here with my brother?” he asked softly.
“If you mean he gave me a ride here, then yes.” She stiffened. She wasn’t going to allow him to involve himself in something that he had no business in—and whatever did or didn’t happen with Myles had nothing to do with him.
He studied her more closely, like he was trying to determine whether she was hiding something. He knew her well enough…could he tell there was an undercurrent of something? Something to do with Myles?
“Am I interrupting something?” Myles asked from the doorway, his voice hard.
Jessica backed away from Karsyn. “No…I was just getting a drink.” While the brothers sized each other up, she pushed past Myles and went outside to get some air with her glass of wine in her hand.
She took a long sip while she found Rebecca, then stood beside her while through the window she watched the two Shaw brothers talk heatedly.
“Is that Karsyn?” Rebecca asked, finally noticing.
“Yeah,” Jessica murmured, watching as Karsyn came out into the backyard, leaving Myles inside the kitchen. At least their confrontation hadn’t ended up in another bust-up like it had the last time. That allowed her to breathe a little easier.
Karsyn had a bottle of beer in his hand as he walked over to Joe. Joe clinked his beer to his and Karsyn joined the group of guys. Jessica couldn’t look away as she watched Karsyn take a swallow from the bottle.
“I’ll just be a minute,” Rebecca murmured, leaving Jessica standing alone on the other side of the yard, watching as she went to greet Karsyn. They talked for a while before Rebecca headed to the kitchen.
The girl who had been openly flirting with Myles just moments ago seemed to have turned her attention to Karsyn, but the older Shaw brother wasn’t as open to it as Myles had been. He nodded stiffly at the girl as his eyes found hers. She looked away, determined to ignore him as much as she could.
She felt Myles’ presence before she noticed he had approached her. She had the urge to head in the opposite direction, but she didn’t want to cause a scene or give people something to talk about.
“Did I interrupt something?” he asked, standing beside her while his attention was fixed on his brother. Karsyn in turn watched them from the other side of the yard.
“I was going to kiss him and then take him back to a room in the house and screw him senseless.” Her tone was calm.
He spluttered his beer and grabbed her wrist, digging his fingers into her skin. “What the fuck, Jess?” He kept his voice no higher than a harsh whisper.
With all the patience she could muster, she turned to face him without allowing her emotions to get in the way.
“Is that what you wanted me to say?” She lifted her chin defiantly.
“No.” He released her. “Why were you in the kitchen together?”
“Careful, Myles.” She raised her glass and tipped it to take a slow sip while he watched. “You sound jealous.”
The alcohol was giving her the courage to seem detached when she felt rattled inside.
“I won’t play games, Jess.”
She gave him a look of disbelief.
“I don’t know how to play games, Myles. I’m here at a friend’s house enjoying a glass of wine while chatting to a friend I had sex with last night.”
His gaze darkened. “Don’t, Jess.”
“Then I suggest you leave me to catch up with Rebecca. I’m not in the mood for your bullshit.” She held his gaze, refusing to back down. She had hit her limit and wasn’t going to put up with either of the Shaw brothers.
He shook his head before he walked off in Joe’s direction, and she let out a nervous breath, not quite believing she had spoken to him in that way, even if he’d totally deserved it. She gripped the glass tighter in her hand and took a large gulp. At least the alcohol seemed to be helping her deal with this difficult situation. It was easing the tension, and before long she found herself ignoring the brooding brothers who were watching her from afar while she happily talked to one of the girls Rebecca had introduced her to: Gina.
She had discovered Gina was a hairdresser with her own salon.
“I’m terrible,” Jessica muttered, soothing herself. “I haven’t been to a hairdresser in ages.”
“You have beautiful hair,” Gina complimented. “Why don’t you come around to my salon sometime? I’ll do your hair for you.” They swapped numbers and she promised to call.
She finished her wine and headed back to the kitchen. She left her glass on the island in the kitchen and headed for the nearest bathroom. There was no doubt she was a little tipsy. She splashed some water on her face and patted her skin dry with a towel.
For a few seconds she stared at her reflection and couldn’t help thinking about a world where Dylan was still breathing. He was the brother who had that way of making her laugh like no else could, and she missed him so much. A tear trickled down her cheek, slowly followed by another. She let out an emotional breath before straightening up and wiping the wetness from her cheeks.
She wondered what he would say if he knew the mess she was in now. He would probably have teased her about it. She smiled. He had a way about him that she missed every day.
The alcohol she had been drinking intensified her already fragile emotions about the Shaw brother she had lost, and she felt an overwhelming sadness that was difficult to fight her way out of.
A knock at the door startled her.
“I’m nearly done,” she mumbled, and she quickly tried to cover up her mini meltdown.
She opened the door and found Karsyn waiting outside.
“Sorry.” She made a move to walk past him, but he stepped into her path. It felt like no matter where she was, he was always there.
“You okay?” he murmured, reaching to touch her cheek.
She moved back to stop him from touching her. “I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
There was no way she was going to admit to him that she had cried a little over his little brother.
“I can tell when you’ve been crying.”
She swallowed, refusing to look up to his inquiring gaze.
“Who made you cry, Jess?” His voice was so soft and concerned that she looked up at him.
“Girls sometimes cry for no reason at all.” She shrugged. His hand reached to touch hers, but she moved it away. “Don’t.”
She had too much going on to add him into the equation as well. Besides, what did it matter? Once she revealed the secret she held, it wouldn’t matter anyway.
“It’s difficult to be around you and not feel the way I do,” he whispered.
She crossed her arms, refusing to allow him to draw her back in. That was what he did—he would tempt her back only to push her away again. It had happened so many times it was like a reflex. Maybe he even did it without realizing.
“When it counted, you didn’t feel enough,” she shot back, determined not to allow him to walk all over her like a doormat.
He surprised her by smiling, the type that typically would have made her go to mush, but this time it didn’t have the same effect. “You’re right.” He ran his hand through his hair. “I’m not on form tonight and being here just seems to be pissing my brother off.”
Myles was being complicated, and she didn’t know how to do deal with him. Their friendship and closeness had always been easy, but this moody side of Myles wasn’t something she was used to.
“Same.” She sighed, dropping her arms to her side. “If I could have, I would have left earlier.”
He cocked his head to the side and studied her. “I can take you home.”
She frowned at him.
“No, not in that way. Just a lift back to the house.” He held his hands up in surrender. “I promise to behave.”
She should say no, but she didn’t. The last thing she felt like was going back outside and dealing with Myles. She was emotionally and physically tired.
“Fine, as long as you keep your hands to yourself,” she told him, and he nodded.
He followed her down the passage and to the kitchen. She hesitated when she saw Myles through the window talking to the same girl who had been flirting with him earlier. Any intention of telling him she was leaving vanished and she turned back to Karsyn, who was watching her carefully.
“I’m ready to leave when you are.”
He raised an eyebrow but nodded. “Let’s go.”
She followed him out, determined she was doing the right thing. She would message Myles on the way back to the house.
Karsyn opened the passenger door and waited for her to get in before he closed the door behind her. He jogged around the front and got into the driver’s side as she got her phone out of her purse and began to message Myles.
How had her life gotten this complicated? The whole point of leaving Charlie and setting things right was to be true to herself and do what was right, no matter how painful.
She typed a simple text to send to Myles.
I got a lift back to your house.
She also made sure to text Rebecca to tell her she had a headache and had opted to go home.
We’ll catch up again soon, she added.
Her phone buzzed but she refused to look at it. Instead, she put it on silent and shoved it back into her purse.
“Everything okay?” Karsyn asked while he drove.
“Yes. Everything’s fine,” she replied in a longing voice. She was far from fine. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt fine, although last night she had come close—so very close.
She couldn’t help but think about last night. When she had slept with Myles, little had she known things would end up the way they were only a few hours later. Even knowing what she did now, she wasn’t sure it would have changed her decision to spend the night with him.
It was starting to get dark when Karsyn pulled up in front of the house. He walked around to open her door, but she was already getting out.
“Thanks,” she mumbled as he opened up the house. She kicked off her shoes and dropped her purse down on the table before slumping down on the sofa.
“You gonna be okay?” Karsyn asked.
“Yeah,” she nodded, closing her eyes for a moment. “I’m just tired.”
She was exhausted from all the strenuous sex she’d experienced with Myles, but it wasn’t exactly something she could tell Karsyn.
He wasn’t leaving.
“Yes, Karsyn. I’m fine.” She made a point of looking at him. “I’m just tired. Nothing an early night won’t cure.”
“Fine. I’ll see you around, then.” He retreated to the front door.
He stopped and gave her a lingering smile. “You’re welcome.”
The door shut behind him and she sighed before propping her feet up on the coffee table. Finally, she was alone—no brooding males in the vicinity. She stayed there for a few minutes before she decided to take a shower and go to bed.
She didn’t have the energy to deal with anything else. As far as she was concerned, the day was done.
It was dark by the time she tucked herself into bed and switched off the light, snuggling down into her covers and hoping sleep gave her a reprieve from her thoughts.
She listened when the front door slammed, and she stilled, waiting, but she refused to switch on the light in her bedroom.
Footsteps drew near and stopped outside her bedroom door. There was a knock.
She ignored it. She closed her eyes and refused to answer it.
“Jess,” Myles said through the door.
Still she refused to answer him.
Her door opened and she pretended to be sleeping, hoping that would be enough for him to leave her alone.
There was silence for about a minute.
“I know you’re awake.”
“Go away, Myles.” Her back was stiff and she refused to turn to face him.
“Why did you just leave like that?” he asked, his temper hanging off every word.
She sighed. “I didn’t want to be there anymore.”
“You let Karsyn take you home.” The disapproval was clear in his tone.
That set her off and she sat up angrily, switching on the light on the side table. “Are you kidding me?”
She stood up to face him, wearing her flimsy pajama shorts and top. “Is this what this is about? Your brother?”
He rubbed his chin and refused to answer, so she knew what the answer was.
It ignited her temper to a whole other level. “Is that why you came home now? Did you think something would happen between Karsyn and me? Did you come back here to catch us together?”
He didn’t have to answer this time, she read his answer in his eyes.
“You think I’d jump into bed with your brother after sleeping with you?” she asked, feeling hurt that he thought her capable of it. “I don’t hop from one bed to another.” She was shaking, she was so upset. “I’m not like you. I can’t be that close to someone one night and get in the sack with another person the very next day.”
He watched her with a guarded look.
“I think we made a mistake.” She rubbed her head, feeling like she was already getting a hangover. “I think I should go and stay with my parents.”
“No, don’t.” He shook his head. “We didn’t make a mistake.”
She frowned at him. “It was. I can’t do casual. I can’t sleep with someone and still be open to meeting other people. I’m just not built that way.”
He shifted. “I don’t want you to be open to meeting other people.”
“That’s not the message I got this morning when you said it was just sex. I can’t do ‘just sex.’ You probably can, but I can’t keep feelings separate from it.” She sighed, feeling defeated. “I care too much.”
He moved closer. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. He pulled her closer and she allowed her head to rest in the middle of his chest as he embraced her.