The cottage was dark except for a small bedside lamp that provided more than enough light for me to write up my case notes. I was lying on my stomach on my bed and doing my damnedest to stay awake as I wrote. A couple of years ago I'd tried to use a Palm Pilot, and then a laptop, but there is something about writing things out longhand that jump-starts my thinking process. At some point during every case, I bow to modern technology and transfer things onto my office desktop for archival purposes and so I can email reports to clients. Until that point, however, I don't feel bad about doing things the old fashioned way and working them out on paper.
But so far this report was boring even me. I tucked my pen behind my ear and yawned, wishing that Keilana would hurry up and get home. It was a little past two a.m. and I was starting to get worried. Yeah, she's a big girl. But after working dozens of missing persons cases, I understood better than most that the world was full of scummy, devouring bastards who would do horrible things to you if given half the chance.
Have I mentioned that really late at night I tend to be a glass-half-empty sort of gal?
I propped my head up on my hands and decided it was best to keep myself occupied by rifling through her things. I know that seems slimy. Okay, it is slimy. But now wasn't the time for the faint of heart. Besides, I had to find out as much as I could about Keilana in as short a time as possible. That way I would reduce the amount of lies I had to tell her and the amount of time I had to spend in her presence. Not that it wouldn't be fun to linger on the Poppenhouses' more-than-generous payroll, but because there was always a chance my cover would be blown before the job was finished, I was racing the clock.
Speaking of clocks, underneath one on the wall were three short bookshelves lined with dozens of paperback adventure, true-life crime, and reality stories. I began thumbing through them, their well-worn covers testifying to the fact that Keilana was an avid reader with eclectic tastes. I pulled one of the few hardcover books off her shelf. Children of Adoption: A Lifetime of Adapting. Well, that answered one of my questions. Keilana was about as Hawaiian as I was.
Then I ransacked her dresser. A chocolate bar in the top drawer. Hershey's Kisses in with her socks. Tootsie Rolls mixed with her undies. M&Ms in the third drawer by her bras. What a sicko! I popped a Hershey's Kiss into my mouth and acknowledged wryly that this could be love.
Still chewing, I checked the short file cabinet next to her desk. She was actually pretty organized for a college student and everything was laid out neatly in manila folders. Her parents were right about her grades, which since the end of last year, have resembled something that should be flushed down the toilet. Another file contained three letters of warning from her advisor and one from the Dean. I was actually a little surprised that the school hadn't given her the boot. Then I remembered who her parents were. She'd probably have to kill someone to actually get expelled. But that didn't mean they'd just hand her a degree.
I shoved that file back and selected another.
Ooo ... I chuckled. Keilana had been a very bad girl. She had a half dozen parking tickets receipts, all showing her illegal parking in and right around one neighborhood. Unfortunately, the area covered several blocks. Even more unfortunate was the fact that I had a passing familiarity of that part of town. I couldn't believe Keilana would drive through it at all. Much less park her fancy BMW there.
I quickly jotted down the addresses from the tickets in my journal, mindful that my roomie could be home any minute. As I wrote, I couldn't help but think about what I hadn't found on my little fishing expedition. No address book. No diary or love letters. No photographs. She didn't seem to own a single personal thing beyond her clothing. And despite what her parents had hinted at, I hadn't found any drugs, booze, or even cigarettes. By all accounts, Keilana was living a helluva lot cleaner life than I had in college.
I also couldn't find whatever it was she used for birth control. Then I remembered she had her personality for that.
I glanced over at the clock. It read 3:37 AM. "Where the hell are you, Keilana? You'd better not be out doing something I'd want to know about!"
Murmuring to myself and yawning, I locked my own journal in the desk provided by the university and picked my blue jeans up off the floor so I could stuff the key in the front pocket. You couldn't be too careful with people.
The sound of a key in the front door lock sent me scurrying back to bed, where I laid down, looked up at the ceiling, and did my best to appear nonchalant. Thank God she was home. Staying awake had been torture.
As she walked past me I got a better look at her than I had earlier that afternoon. She had long limbs and the graceful stride that reminded me of a slender jungle cat. Her eyes were heavy-lidded and instead of being the devastating blue I remembered, they appeared almost purple in the muted light. Her gaze flickered my way and I felt my belly tighten in response.
Uh-oh. I could not be attracted to her. There were a million reasons why having the hots for Keilana would be a bad idea, and I mentally started listing each and every one of them when she let her purse slide to the floor and stripped out of her blouse and bra in one swift motion. Sweet mother of God! Her skin was milky white and invitingly smooth. And her breasts swayed gently as she moved.
Unconsciously, I licked my lips. I knew that I should look away and give her a modicum of privacy by turning my head, but honestly I was too stunned to do more than gape and collect drool.
Surely the weight of my stare was palpable, but if Keilana noticed it, she didn't say. I groaned inwardly when she presented me with her back. Show's over, pervert, I thought a little resentfully. Even though I hated it to end, I was grateful for the reprieve as she tugged a T-shirt from her dresser and slipped it on.
Unable to ogle her, my other senses kicked into high gear and my nose twitched as I detected the scent of cigarette smoke. Interesting. Who were you with, Keilana? I didn't want to appear overly nosy by asking outright, so I schooled myself in patience.
"Hey," I said softly. I had been looking forward to being snotty to her when she got back, but it was so late that most of my anger over what had happened earlier had already burned away.
Her eyes slowly rolled sideways. "Hi," she murmured. Then she really focused on me and a tiny furrow appeared between her brows. Was she missing her old roommate? For a second I thought she didn't recognize me, but then I glimpsed what I hoped was a spark of recognition.
When she said nothing, I sighed.
"You don't remember my name, do you?" I gave her a lopsided grin that I hope covered my bruised ego. "Am I that forgettable?"
"Hardly," she said seriously and collapsed onto her bed. "And I do too remember your name." Her pillow muffled her voice. "It's whore-bitch." A pause. "No wait. That's me."
I rolled my eyes. "So nice to see you're not the type to hold a grudge. I said I was sorry, didn't I?"
"Oh." Oops. "Well, I thought it for a fleeting second or two. That should count for something, right?"
Keilana fought it, but in the end, the corners of her mouth turned upward. "You're Katy." She kicked off her sneakers, wiggled out of her jeans, and snuggled under her bed sheets with an enormous yawn.
I frowned. "It's Cadie."
She rolled over to face me and looked at me for a good minute before saying a word. My heart pounded wildly the entire time. Was she sizing me up? Or worse, was she on to me?
Even through my impending panic, I took the opportunity to give her a less lascivious examination. She looked mortally tired and now that she wasn't moving, I could see that her eyes were bloodshot and surrounded by dark circles. Still, she didn't have that glazed-over look that came with being stoned, or the slurred speech and sloppy movements of someone who was drunk.
"Hi Cadie," she finally said, gently. And to my amazement, for just a split second, every trace of smugness was gone from her voice, her expression painfully open. She looked so young and sweet that I felt my heart lurch. "That's such a pretty name."
I blinked and to my amazement felt my face flush with pleasure. Jesus Christ, what was wrong with me? "It ... um ... I mean, thank—"
Then she rolled over and instantly fell asleep, her light snores filling the room so quickly that for a moment I thought she was pulling my leg. It's part of my job to look after this intriguing, annoying young woman. With the kind of money I was making, that's the least I could do, right? So I padded over to her bedside and carefully lifted a thin blanket over her sleeping body, tucking the edges around her shoulders. She didn't even stir. Whatever she'd been doing tonight had exhausted her.
I only wished I knew what it was.
The next morning the ringing of my cell phone awakened me. "‘Lo," I rasped, pressing it to my ear, and slowly licking dry lips. "I mean, hello."
"Hey, Belinda, the surf is cookin'! Get your butt down here!"
"Russ?" I scrubbed my face and heard Keilana let out few choice words over being awoken at just past dawn. "Why the hell are you calling me so early?"
Oh, right. We always called each other when it looked like the waves were going to be excellent. I though of the hot sun drenching my skin and the cool water lashing against me, and suddenly longed for the rightness and solitude of a perfect wave. I can't explain to a hodad the nearly religious experience of flying on water. You'll just have to take my word for the fact that there are few things better in life.
Drats. I promised myself I would be quick about this case and not drag out my duplicity. I couldn't go play. I needed to stay and work. "I can't, Russ."
"Russ," I warned, my gaze slipping sideways. Keilana had put her pillow over her head to block out our conversation.
"Oh, shit," he said, whispering as though Keilana could somehow hear his voice. "Are you working?"
"But it's Sunday," he complained. "The Poppenhouses don't expect you to break this case in two days, Belinda. Jesus! With what you're being paid, you'd think you'd slow down and take your time."
A little insulted, I said, "You know I'm not like that." I never cheated my clients. Never.
He groaned and I just knew he was rolling his eyes at me. "I wasn't suggesting that you pad your billing. Just take the time you need to do this right. You won't learn everything you need to know about Keilana in a weekend. Besides, school doesn't even start until tomorrow. C'mon," he coaxed, knowing I was a wave-slut. "You know you want to."
I laughed softly. "You're incorrigible."
"I learned it from you." There was a long pause. "Hey, Belinda, I know you're feeling guilty about this job. And when you're feeling guilty about something you tend to push things. Go easy, all right?"
I blew out a long breath.
"You know I'm right," he persisted.
He was right. I hated it when that happened. "Go away, Russ."
He chuckled. "Smelly and I are going away. Away to the beach, as a matter of fact. I'll call you later in the week and check on you. See if you need anything, that sort of thing, okay? We can meet someplace off campus and I'll bring your runt dog for a visit."
Russ, I acknowledged not for the first time, despite our checkered past, had turned into a friend that I could count on. I lowered my voice, "I loooooooove you, Russ."
I had to work hard not to spoil the effect and burst out laughing.
"God, you're evil," he finally spluttered.
I smiled broadly. "I learned it from you. Give Smelly a hug for me, okay?"
"Will do." Then he cleared his throat ominously. "Belinda? There's something important I have to tell you."
Oh, God, he wasn't going to get all sensitive on me, was he? "Yeah?" I croaked, horrified at what my own demonic streak might have started.
"Don't get caught staring at a bunch of eighteen-year-old girls' asses. You'll get a reputation and then nobody will want to take you to the homecoming dance." He started laughing hysterically at his own joke and with a vicious finger, I shut off my phone without saying goodbye. I thought of how I'd stared at Keilana's half-naked body the night before and a wave of guilt crashed over me. She wasn't eighteen years old, but twenty-one wasn't a helluva lot better.
"Jerk," I mumbled, and tossed the phone to the foot of my bed.
Keilana tugged the pillow off her face and gave me a concerned look that fully captured my attention. "Boyfriend troubles?"
She had a serious case of bed-head and her face was creased with a crisscross pattern from her bedspread. I bit back a grin. It is my not-so-humble opinion that good-looking women are at their most appealing first thing in the morning when they're adorably mussed and truly natural. Seeing Keilana painted in early morning sunshine did nothing to dissuade me of that notion.
"Cadie, if you're in any trouble or if ... well, if you need help or something." Shyly, tried to express herself, charming me in the process. "I can ... I can help."
I was relieved that for the first time since we'd met, I'd be able to tell her the truth. "He's a former boyfriend, but there's no trouble. Honest." Then I had an idea. What would work better than to get to know my subject on my home turf? We couldn't go to my favorite beach, but we could pick up Russ and go someplace else. "He wants me to come to the beach today. Wanna come?" Of course, I'd have to call Russ and have him shave his head so there'd be no chance of Keilana recognizing him. But that was a small price to pay for surfing!
I could tell she was surprised that I had asked. Her eyes narrowed just a little as she tried to gauge my sincerity. Lord, Keilana is even more suspicious than I am. My general mistrust of people was a byproduct of my work. There are only so many cheating husbands and wives you can tail before you become jaded. I wondered briefly what had caused her skepticism.
She sat up and cocked her head to the side, her hair falling down around her shoulders. "With you and your ex?" She made a face. "No way." Suddenly, she seemed to realize she was being a little rude. "But ... umm ... thanks for asking."
"Come on," I coaxed, flipping over onto my belly, crawling to the foot of my bed, and propping my head on my fists. Our beds were only about six feet apart and this put me a little closer to her. "It's going to be a beautiful day and Russ really is an okay guy."
She grimaced again. "No ... I don't ..." She stopped and took a deep breath. "I don't like the beach."
"But your family is Hawaiian!" Everyone knew the Poppenhouses were Hawaiian. Poppenhouse pineapple and coconut cookies were one of the most popular cookies in the country and the back of the package featured a map of the islands. "How can someone from Hawaii not like the beach? That's impossible!"
Her gaze cooled instantly and I realized my error. Mentioning her family was obviously a no-no.
"You don't know anything about me," she said briskly.
"Okay." I held up my hands, privately bemoaning the wariness that had rushed back into her voice. "You're right. I don't know you."
She looked like she wanted to say more, but didn't.
"But I'd like to know you. And what better place for that to happen than the beach." I gave her my most innocent smile.
She snorted gently, torn somewhere between amusement and annoyance at my persistence. "I have things to do, Cadie."
This was going good. We were talking, not arguing, and she was tentatively smiling. I suspected she was tempted to take the day off and play, but I wasn't sure how far I could push her. I also had to be very careful or I was going to start flirting. And that was more dangerous than I was willing to accept.
"I have to buy my books," she went on, snuggling back into her pillow and looking like she wanted to do anything but that. She groaned a little. "And get ready for classes. Just, I dunno, stuff ..."
"Of course you do," I said reasonably. "And so do I. But we can do those things and still go to the beach." C'mon, Keilana, make my life easier. "We can't get to know each other if we don't spend any time together, right? If we're going to be roommates we might as well hang out a little. I want to be your friend."
And in that split second, our conversation came to screeching halt. Every bit of progress I'd just made vanished like smoke in the wind. Her body stiffened and I knew I'd crossed some imaginary line in the sand.
"What makes you think I want to be yours?"
It was like being slapped in the face.
All of a sudden, I felt stupid for worrying about her the night before. This girl had claws just waiting to come out and play. "Jesus, I wasn't asking you to sleep with me, just go the Goddamned beach!" I sat up and scooted up the bed, putting a little more distance between us as I crossed my arms over my pajama-clad chest.
She looked away. "You'd have had better luck asking for the sex. That I can handle with no problem."
One more question answered.
"Is it just that you don't like me? Or do you have another reason for acting like such an asshole?"
Her eyes snapped up to meet mine and I saw a mosaic of anger, hurt, and resignation swirling there. My own eyes widened a little in response.
"Isn't that what you expect from me? I wouldn't want to disappoint you."
"I don't expect anything from you. I don't even know you!" But that was a lie. Knowing who her parents were did make me expect she'd be spoiled rotten. And after talking to Shauna's little group of she-devils, I expected her to be just as catty as they were. That might not have been fair, but life rarely was. The "asshole" part of the equation, however, Keilana was earning all by her lonesome.
I could see that I'd pushed her too far, but I'm only human and her outright rejection of me stung more than I cared to admit.
She climbed out of bed and with short, jerky movements dug through her dresser for a fresh set of clothes. She might have been pissed, but then so was I. Only I was angrier at myself than at Keilana. Russ had been right. I'd pushed things too far. But it was so hard to be patient. I'd been thinking about her for days, had met her family, had read everything I could find about her. I'd even tracked down some articles she'd written for her high school newspaper. Too bad I hadn't been able to hunt down a photograph. Then yesterday's meeting would have been very different. She didn't feel like a stranger to me, even though she really was.
To Keilana, however, I was nothing more than that, and if she didn't want to spend the afternoon with me, well, I couldn't really blame her, could I?
I didn't try to stop her and make nice when she marched toward the bathroom. We both needed a few minutes to cool off. But something in the wastepaper basket caught her eye and she stopped dead in her tracks. Her eyes fluttered closed and her face turned red and I remembered what I'd thrown away.
"I smashed my face against the door," I said by way of an explanation.
She was staring at the bloodied washcloth from the day before. "I'm sorry," she said in a watery voice.
I thought she might start crying and my heart picked up a little. Please don't cry!
"I didn't want ... I mean, I didn't think—" She ran into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
So she didn't want to be my friend? Fine. But at least a part of her did want to know me. I could just tell. I'd seen a glimmer of something in her smile earlier, something I didn't understand but that was drawing me forward, and making me want to learn all her secrets. And, one by one, I would.
God, I love my job.
I was five minutes early to my first class, something I'd never managed in my own brief college career. I shuffled into class, feeling the weight of higher learning squarely on my back and thinking I would stick out like a sore thumb. I was wrong. No one looked twice at me except for some preppy kid with a short blond crew cut. He was wearing chinos, a blue blazer, and a white dress shirt with a bow tie. I suppose he thought he was making a statement. Of course, the statement was "I won't get laid till I turn forty or make my first million, whichever comes first," but I still managed to smile politely at him when he flopped down into the chair next to mine.
Madonna Del Mar didn't really have normal classrooms. The room looked more like the den in a rich guy's house, and was filled with leather love seats, chairs, and a few sofas arranged in a semi-circle. I pulled out a notebook and pen and doodled as the students filed in. Oh, goody, lookie who's here. Shauna.
She sneered at me, and I blew her a kiss and winked. She audibly gasped and I snickered, gallantly waving my arm, to offer her the empty seat to my right.
She didn't take it, of course. Instead, she threw her nose in the air and headed for the opposite side of the circle. Adios, bitch.
A few more minutes passed and every seat in the class filled but one. Keilana's. Exactly at eleven a.m. the instructor hurried into the room and plopped down on the tall stool that sat in the middle of the circle. Even though I had no intention of doing anything more than fill a chair during my time in class, my stomach fluttered nervously at her mere presence.
The instructor, Dr. Edith Gallop, began taking attendance. She was at least a hundred and ten years old, but still had garishly-dyed black hair. I shivered. When she said my name I half raised my hand and did my best to smile. She acknowledged me with a short nod and I shivered again, longing for the back row of a huge lecture bowl classroom.
When Dr. Gallop got to the last name on her list, she glanced around, then sighed. Loudly.
Just then, Keilana burst through the door, a book and a few pieces of paper clutched awkwardly in her hand.
"I see Miss Poppenhouse has decided to grace us with her presence. Too bad it appears that she's continuing last year's path to Hell in a hand basket," Dr. Gallop said tartly as she lifted her jaw and gave Keilana a supremely disapproving look.
My eyebrows jumped. Hell seemed a slightly excessive punishment for being thirty seconds late to philosophy class.
"Sorry I'm late," Keilana murmured, taking the only available chair, which just so happened to be right next to me. Heh.
"Tardiness will not be tolerated."
Keilana's lips thinned but she remained polite. "Yes, Dr. Gallop."
"Good. It'll be a fresh start then." She nodded to herself. "I think it's best that we begin."
I looked at my watch. From my own brief college experience I remembered that the first class of the semester usually lasted all of about fifteen minutes. The professor would drone through a few moments of personal and then class information, pass out a syllabus, and then we'd be free until the next class. Apparently, however, that's not the way things worked at Madonna Del Mar.
Dr. Gallop turned a little to face me directly. "We have a new senior transfer student joining us this year." Now that she wasn't dealing with Keilana, her mood visibly brightened. "Welcome, Miss Blaisdell."
I smiled weakly. So much for quietly blending in.
"Let's start by discussing our assignment, the first forty-five pages of Foucault's Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Ms. Blaisdell, whenever you're ready."
My mouth shaped a tiny "O." There was an assignment the first day? The instructor sensed my confusion and pointed to the book in my lap. Then she did something I would have never in a million years suspected. She began speaking to me in tongues! Well, okay, it wasn't exactly tongues, but it was French and that was the same damn thing as far as I was concerned.
Eyes wide, I glanced around at the other students but everyone acted as though things were completely normal.
Was I in the wrong class? Totally bewildered, I stared at her blankly until she said, "Miss Blaisdell?" Ah, some words I understood.
"Yeah?" Some of the other students began to snicker. Keilana's expression, however, was fixed in stone.
"Ms. Blaisdell?" Dr. Gallop was losing patience. Her cheeks were just starting to turn pink. "I said, please stand up when I address you." She did her best to give me an encouraging smile. "It's tradition here Madonna Del Mar to stand when being addressed."
I have a tradition too. It's puking when I'm nervous. I felt my stomach roil, but I forced myself to slowly stand. I am an adult, dammit!
"Let's focus first on the text from page twenty-seven, shall we?"
I hadn't as much as opened my book before class. I'd been busy trailing Keilana around campus the day before and hadn't even bought my books until just before the bookstore closed last night. Nobody has an assignment due the first day. Nobody! When I opened the book and peered at the text, my heart sank. The text was gibberish, more French. At least I thought it was French. Dr. Gallop was speaking so quickly the words sounded like one long string of babbling.
Now, I'm not a total novice at French. I took two years of it in high school and all I can say is a cheesy pickup line that asks my victim to go to bed with me. But somehow I was reluctant to use that phrase with our ancient professor.
Dr. Gallop was now pointedly staring at me and the class was growing restless. Worst of all, Shauna was snickering at me. Keilana wouldn't even look at me. The situation was eerily like a recurring nightmare I'd had all my life, where, to my horror, I had to take a final exam for a class I never actually attended. I glanced around to make sure that none of the other women were topless. Darn. That was always my favorite part of the dream.
I prayed my face wasn't as red as it felt and I opened my mouth to tell the professor I hadn't done the assignment when Keilana jumped to her feet and spoke calmly but passionately. In French, no less. I have no idea what she said but the students began shifting uncomfortably in their seats. My mouth dropped open when she changed back to English for the words "pole smoker."
What the hell?
Dr. Gallop gasped. "That issue will not be addressed this class. Ever! And moreover, it's not relevant!" she snapped, in—thank God—English.
"Isn't it?" Keilana challenged. "Foucault was a homosexual and it's ridiculous to think that that didn't impact his opinions on the human psyche. Maybe you should have the guts to talk about that today." She smiled innocently to take the sting out of her words, a look that I was coming to associate with downright wickedness. "At least that's interesting," she continued.
Then the conversation exploded back into French with several other students rising to their feet and joining in an impassioned discussion. Suddenly, a squarely built guy with glasses told the skinny boy next to him, "I always did wonder about you!"
And there was pandemonium. The professor forgot that I even existed.
I watched Keilana in awe, wondering if that's what she'd intended all along.
After a few minutes of shouting, Dr. Gallop roared, "Class dismissed!" Flustered, she stormed from the room with the students hot on her heels. Keilana and I were the last two to leave the classroom.
Well, at least class hadn't been boring. "Why did you do that?" I asked, truly curious.
Her eyes twinkled a bit. "Because I wanted to."
"And that's the only reason?" I held the door open for her but she didn't walk through. "You sort of saved my butt though I'm sure it was unintentional."
Her eyebrows knitted as she looked me. "Before ... you said you wanted to be my friend, remember?
Huh? "Yesterday, you mean? Of course, I remember."
She licked her lips and I could see the tiny bit of nervousness she was trying to conceal. "Did you mean it?"
I answered honestly. "Sure."
Keilana looked right into my eyes and I felt her gaze to the bottom of my soul. She was standing so close that I could smell her skin and the faint trace of perfumed soap. "I'm sorry about your nose. I didn't mean for you to get hurt."
"My nose?" God, she smelled nice. I had no idea what she was talking about it.
"It's a little bruised." She winced as she reached out cautiously and traced my nose with just the tip of her finger. "I didn't want you to get hurt. I want to back up things between us."
"Back things up?" I was cheering that she wanted to put our bad start behind us. But did she really think she could just rewind life as though it was a big DVD?
"I was wondering if you'd like to go to a movie or something tonight?" She quickly ran a hand through her hair, then stuck it into her back pocket as she awaited my answer. "The girls here are ... well, you've met them. You can't trust most of them." She must have seen the slight widening of my eyes because next she asked, "Can I trust you, Cadie?"
I froze at her words, unable to breathe as the little voice in my head screamed "No! I'm a spy!" But with my mouth the best that I could do muster was, "I ... uh ... I mean—" Not more than a second or two could have passed, but that's all the time it took.
"I see," she said briskly, and she sped past me and through the door, disappointment coloring her words. "Never mind. I'm sure you'll be studying French tonight."
I closed my eyes. Shit. "Keilana!" I hurried after her and we emerged from the building into the hot sun. "You didn't give me a chance to answer." We trotted down the stairs. Damn but she had long legs. "You just surprised me is all." I grabbed her arm, stopping her at the bottom step. "Hey, I'd love to go to the movies or something. Have I done anything that would make you distrust me?"
She sucked in a deep breath. "Not until just now."
If she could always read people this well I was going to be in big trouble. I sighed. Who was I kidding? I was going to be in big trouble anyway.
It was nearly three weeks before we ended up making it to the movies and, oddly, I had settled into a fairly stable routine of being a retard in class, doing only as much homework as it took to get by, and being Keilana's invisible shadow the rest of the time. Much to my frustration, she'd hung around campus or Santa Medina every night for the past two weeks, getting to bed by eleven each night.
Was she on to me? I was truly beginning to wonder. Nobody was that much of a homebody. And yet, if she knew who I was, why not confront me about it? True, she probably got a giggle out of my having to stand up in all our classes and look like I had shit for brains. But other than that, I couldn't see what was in it for her.
While we weren't exactly pals, we'd forged a sort of tenuous ... not exactly friendship, but a part-accepting, part-antagonistic relationship. We were starting to talk a little more and that strained feeling that had been there the first few days had faded.
A few guys on campus had come sniffing around her, but Keilana didn't seem to care or notice. I hadn't seen her with a girlfriend either. She truly seemed to enjoy her own company and I couldn't really complain about that. What I could complain about was that so far, I hadn't been able to figure out what in her life was pulling her away from her family.
That was about to change.
A couple of doors down from the movie theater was a coffee shop and we stepped inside to get a drink. We were greeted by a blast of some of the best smelling stuff on the planet—strong coffee, sizzling bacon, and grease.
"I can't believe you're hungry," I said to Keilana, truly amazed, even though I wouldn't have minded a french fry or thirty myself. "You eat twice as much as I do and you're as thin as a rail."
I had to watch what I was doing or I was going to fall victim to the freshman fifteen, fifteen years late. Keeping a covert eye on Keilana meant that I wasn't getting my normal amount of exercise.
"You're not fat," she said, reading my mind. Then we headed to a booth that had just been cleaned. The place was crowded and we were lucky not to have to wait. After we settled in, she plucked a menu from behind the saltshaker and began perusing it with predatory intent. "It's not like I can help it," she commented, picking up the trail of our conversation even after it was cold. She did that a lot and I was starting to get used to the fact that she needed a lot of time to process things before speaking. "I have a fast metabolism." Then her face lit up. "Ooo ... pie."
The corner of my mouth twitched upward. "You have the metabolism of six men."
She was reading the menu so intently, I'm not sure she realized she was speaking out loud. "You should hear my father. He hates the way I look and is always shoving food my way."
I tried to hide my surprise. This was the first time Keilana had mentioned her family at all. "Really?" I said lightly. "So he doesn't think thin is good?"
Keilana glanced up at me, slightly startled at herself for revealing that tidbit. "Never mind."
"C'mon." I smiled kindly. "Tell me."
She wrestled with herself for a moment before wrinkling her nose. "He thinks that mainlanders are obsessed with being thin and that I'm this way only to spite him and make myself less attractive within our social class."
"What class is that? Richer than God?"
"We prefer to say"—she threw her nose in the air for effect—"Hawaiian aristocracy."
I laughed, enjoying the rare moment of playfulness from her. "I'm sure your parents have your best interests at heart."
Her gaze clouded for a moment. "That makes one of us." Then she flipped the page of her menu and I knew that was the end of that particular line of conversation. There was a lot of hurt and resentment hiding behind Keilana's baby blues and not for the first time I wondered how much of it had been caused by my clients.
"So," she said quietly, after a few minutes. "Did you like the movie?"
I could accept a change of subject gracefully. "No, as the matter of fact, I did not."
She blinked, looking utterly bewildered. "But why? It was fantastic!"
"I'm no fan of the President, but Michael Moore is an obnoxious, slovenly, enormous Muppet. Now Starsky and Hutch"—I smiled unrepentantly—"that was a movie. Action, humor. It had it all."
Keilana looked at me as though I was an alien. "You have imbecilic tastes."
I crossed my arms over my chest defiantly. Just a couple of weeks ago her comment would have set me off. Keilana wasn't shy about offering her honest option, but I'd quickly learned that it was just part of her personality and not an attempt at meanness. "Right back at ya, sister." I pulled out a few sugar packets and began building a tower with them. "So what other movies do you like? Would I have heard of them? Or do they all have subtitles?"
She smiled tentatively and I was relieved that she wasn't bothered by my gentle return tease. "I like popular films too," she said wryly. "But only the good ones."
I arched a blond eyebrow. "Oh, really? Name one."
She arched an eyebrow right back. "New or old?"
Beaming, I said, "That's one of my favorites!"
Her eyes lit up and her smile relaxed into something beautiful. "Really? Mine too. What's your favorite thing about the movie?"
This was more like it. "Same thing everyone likes, I guess. Kick butt boxing. Good music. And best of all, Rocky made his dreams come true even if he didn't win the fight in the end."
"Mmm ..." Keilana leaned back in her seat.
"What about you?" I prompted.
She shrugged and grabbed a sugar packet of her own and focused on it. "I liked the dream part too. But what I liked the most is that he did it with no one, ya know?"
I wasn't sure I did, but I nodded, encouraging her to continue.
A weary bitterness, unbefitting someone Keilana's age, crept into her voice. "He didn't have any real friends who cared about him. Maybe that old guy, but that wasn't enough. And the people who acted like they were his friends really weren't. Adrian's brother, for example. He didn't care about him at all. He only cared about himself and was just using Rocky."
I visibly flinched, a sliver of guilt piercing my chest.
"Rocky was so lonely he was barely living," she said thoughtfully. "His heart was a wasteland. But somehow he dug down deep inside and made it. That's what I liked best."
I swallowed thickly, never having heard such a gloomy assessment of the crowd-pleasing film. Did she think she was all alone, her heart a wasteland?
Then, unexpectedly, she let loose with a hopeful smile. "Kind of makes you think anything is possible, doesn't it?"
I guess it did. But it was time to take things down a notch. We were supposed to be having fun. "You're not going to become a boxer, are you?" I pantomimed a few punches.
She snorted, then when I flopped back into my seat, pretending to take a hard punch on the chin, her chuckles turned into a full laugh. "Hardly." Her voice was as soft and sweet. "Cadie, I'm much more of a lover than a fighter."
My mouth went bone dry. Was she flirting with me? The tips of her ears turned bright red at the same time mine did. She was! She was flirting with me, and I was loving every second of it. This wasn't Keilana admiring my ass. This was Keilana laughing and smiling and opening up just a tiny bit. And it was ten times as effective as her overt attention had been.
Just then, our waitress showed up and I turned over my coffee cup, which she silently filled. I hadn't taken out a menu so she focused on Keilana, who also turned over her cup. "Anything to eat?"
"Strawberry pie," Keilana said, giving a satisfied nod.
My eyebrows popped in surprise. Even for Keilana that was a fairly moderate choice.
"Good pick," the waitress murmured. She finished pouring Keilana's coffee and made a quick note on her pad. "Anything with that?"
The very tip of Keilana's tongue appeared as she thought. She looked like a little kid when she did it, and I privately thought it was endearing. "Yeah, a submarine sandwich and onion rings. The large size."
I smirked at the stunned look on the waitress's face. "I ... um ... I think she meant like ice cream or cool whip or something, Keilana."
She blinked. "Oh. Good idea. I'll take some ice cream." A pause. "But don't forget the sub."
"It's your funeral." The waitress, who was at least fifty pounds overweight, gave Keilana an envious look and headed back toward the kitchen.
I was about to try to steer things back to the topic of her family when I saw the expression on Keilana's face change. Her gaze was fixed over my shoulder and I turned my head to see just what had caused her radiant smile.
A tall, tanned woman with short, raven-colored hair and piercing green eyes strode into the coffee shop as quickly as her tight mini-skirt would allow.
Keilana stood up. "Billie!" She waved the woman over.
"Lana!" she screeched, causing my eardrums to bleed and everyone in the place to stare at us.
I judged the newcomer to be a few years older than me and even though she had the weathered look of someone who had been ridden hard and put away wet, something about her was undeniably attractive. Not to mention the fact that I was certain her breasts would arrive at our booth at least three seconds before the rest of her did.
When Billie sidled up to the table, she and Keilana shared a warm hug.
"I guess you two know each other," I said, trying not to look annoyed that they were both ignoring me.
"Where've you been keeping yourself, Lana?" Billie drew a pointy red fingernail down Keilana's cheek, then throat, in such a brazenly sensual fashion that I felt my cheeks heat.
Keilana grinned wildly. "I've been ..."—her voice cracked on the word—"around."
The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.
Envy. That's what I was feeling at that moment. Billie was doing something I never could. I'm not a violent person by nature, but there was no doubting that I wanted to chop the interloper up into tiny bits and feed her to Smelly alongside his Kibble.
Billie whispered something into Keilana's ear that I couldn't quite make out and I saw Keilana's eyes darken with what I was sure was desire.
I swallowed hard. Oh, yeah, at some point these two were lovers. The only question was, how current was their affair? If Billie didn't know that classes had started for Keilana it couldn't have been too recent, could it?
"I've been busy. School's started," Keilana finally said, putting just a tiny bit of distance between her and Billie as they both sat down. "I'm actually trying to do a little better this semester so I can graduate and get out of there."
Billie smiled at Keilana. "Ah, that makes sense. You're a smart cookie, so I know you'll graduate, Lana. But I admit that I've been missing you and wouldn't mind seeing you every now and then." The genuine fondness in her voice was mirrored by Keilana.
Keilana gave Billie's hand an affectionate squeeze but slowly released it after she said, "Same here."
All right, I let out a relieved breath. "Billie and Keilana" were the recent past, but not exactly ancient history.
Keilana finally gestured toward me. "This is Cadie."
"Hi Cadie," Billie said inattentively, before scooting closer to Keilana. "How about we make up for lost time starting tonight?"
To my disgust, Keilana genuinely seemed to consider the suggestion.
Billie didn't miss the torn look on Keilana's face and her smile turned into a full-on, shit-eatin' grin. Of all the nerve! What made her think that Keilana wasn't my date tonight? I allowed all of the emotions thrumming through me to show plainly on my face.
My expression must have been a sight, because Billie backed away from Keilana as though her skin was on fire. If this was the mainlander scum after my roommate's money, then it would be more than my pleasure to make quick work of her. Besides, she wore too much makeup and perfume, and the smell was starting to make me sick at my stomach.
Keilana glanced back and forth between me and Billie and gave us a confused look. She could feel the tension but wasn't sure of its source. "You'll see me soon, Billie. I just need to get a handle on my classes first. I'll call you."
Billie screwed up her courage and moved close to Keilana again. "Unless you've already got plans, you can still come back to my place tonight. I won't keep you up too late." There was no missing the smoky timbre to her voice.
Keilana squirmed in her seat and I couldn't even blame her. Billie could flip on the sex appeal like few women I've ever met. "I want to fuck your brains out" vibes literally oozed from her pores.
Keilana glanced up at me and licked her lips. "So I guess we're done for the night, huh, Cadie?" She leaned forward a little, watching my face closely. I couldn't tell if she wanted me to agree with her or not. Personally, I was leaning way toward "not."
I wanted to shout out my frustration. How could I break this case if most of my encounters with Keilana were hit and runs? "I dunno," I scrambled for an excuse for us to stay together for the rest of the evening. "I need a ride back to campus at least, and ... well ... I was sort of hoping you could help me with my French tonight before Dr. Gallop skewers me in front of the class again. I've been thinking about asking you to be my tutor." Not bad. I was pretty sure I wouldn't feel so proud of myself when I was roasting in Hell for all this lying. But at the moment I was feeling pretty clever.
To my surprise, Keilana threw her head back and laughed, something that shaved several years off her appearance and made her look like a happy teenager. "Oh, man, and you need a tutor too. Dr. Gallop is killing you!"
I chuckled, then groaned. "I know. And that bitch Shauna is enjoying every minute of it. I think I can deal with the philosophy work. It's the French that is kicking my butt. I really need your help."
"You really need me?" Keilana asked, her forehead creased. "There are other students who are better at philosophy and French than I am."
Uh-oh. "Uh ... I'd rather have you."
Her gaze softened, but I doubted she was aware of it. Billie, however, who was watching her like a hawk, didn't miss a beat. She didn't look too happy. Heh. That's right, bitch. Keilana is coming home with me tonight.
Keilana drew in a deep breath. "Billie—"
They shared slightly uncomfortable smiles as the waitress came by with the food.
Keilana looked truly sorry. "I'll take a rain check on getting together, Billie. See you around soon?"
"Oh yeah," Billie rolled her eyes and sighed. "I'm not going anywhere. And if you change your mind about coming 'round to my place"—she batted her eyelashes—"not just tonight but anytime—"
"I'll call first," Keilana assured her with a broad smile.
Billie stood and smoothed down her microscopic skirt. "Good." They hugged again. "That'll give me time to get Josh to a sitter."
My eyebrows rose. Billie didn't seem the mom type. Of course, Josh could be her poodle for all I knew.
Soon Keilana and I were alone again. Things felt a little awkward, but it also felt like we'd turned a corner in our nascent relationship.
"C'mon," Keilana said, shocking me by standing up, grabbing my hand, and tugging me out of the booth. "Let's go get this French lesson over with."
I looked back at the table as Keilana tossed a twenty-dollar bill onto the Formica. "But what about the food?"
Her eyes met and fiercely held mine, though her voice was feather soft. "That's not what I'm hungry for, Cadie."
My heart began to pound and I silently whimpered, praying she would stop looking at me that way ... never? Nooo ... That's not right. She needed to stop looking at me before we got back to campus and our cottage. Where we'd be alone together. All naked and sweaty.
Okay, that last part was just fantasy. But a woman cannot live on dreams of a water cooler alone!
A slow smile swept across Keilana's face.
God, I hate my job.
To my relief and disappointment, it turned out what Keilana was hungry for was chocolate. And we sat eating it, dressed in our pajamas, soft music playing in the background as I tried to decipher what she was saying. The lights were low and I found myself really relaxing for the first time since I moved in. It was nice. Keilana, when she wasn't wary of my every move, was surprisingly easy to be around.
She repositioned herself on the sofa by throwing one leg over the armrest. "C'mon, Cadie."
"I ... I'm trying."
She blew out a frustrated breath and rolled her eyes. "I know you can do this."
"It's not like I don't want to!" It was painfully clear that I was lost. I repeated the French phrase, stumbling over several words that I was sure I should be able to easily pronounce.
She raised a suspicious eyebrow at me. "You don't speak French at all, do you?"
"Sure I do," I said, a touch defensively. "Sort of." I've always hated looking like an idiot and lately I did little else around my roommate.
She nodded slowly. "Okay." Then she plucked the book from my hands. "So make up your own sentence with more than four words in it." She sat my book on the table and snagged a Hershey's Kiss from the candy bowl next to the book.
My mind raced for a way to exit this situation without looking like an even bigger loser, but I came up completely blank. "I don't wanna." Oh, that was mature.
She focused on the candy as she began to unwrap it. "I think you do."
I stared at her. It was either hate Keilana or do my best to like her as I stumbled through this job. Once I had made that decision to do my best to get along with her, I found that liking her was easier than I thought it would be. But God knows she didn't always make it easy. "I'm not kidding. I can't do this."
Argh! Newman was back! "I can't!"
She popped the chocolate into her mouth. "You don't seem the type of woman who believes in excuses. You can do this. You just need to—"
"Fine!" I exploded. "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?" Oops, I hadn't really meant to shout.
She began to choke on her chocolate and I had to slap her on the back a few times to dislodge it from her throat. "Wh-what did you say?" Keilana spluttered, her face splotchy and red from her near-death experience.
I knew it was stupid to care what she thought, but I did, and I covered my face with my hands, genuinely humiliated. "That's all I can say!" I wailed.
She tried to hold it for a few seconds, but she couldn't help but burst out laughing.
I narrowed my eyes at her. "It's not that funny."
She tossed her own book on the coffee table and smothered her laughter when she saw the angry glint flare up in my eyes. "Cadie, Dr. Gallop's class is the third in a series of classes that were all in French. The others were prerequisites for this one."
All I could think to say was, "Oh." God, I'm brilliant sometimes.
"Cadie," she said softly, "why are you in that class at all if you can't speak stinking French?"
I'd expected her to tease me, not honest curiosity, and I blinked a few times as I adjusted to another case of mental whiplash.
I wanted to say, "I can't spy on you from Pottery 101." Instead, I opted for something safer. "My.. uh ... my folks picked my classes. I didn't have much choice."
Her gaze darkened and she gave my leg a sympathetic pat. "That's happened to me before. It sucks."
"Well, they're paying for all this." I gestured to our undeniably comfortable surroundings. "So I guess it's not such a bad deal. If I don't flunk out, I'll have a degree when I'm finished and I won't have any debt." It had taken me several years to pay off my student loans for the measly amount of time I was in college. No degree and a pile of bills was not fun.
"It's not worth it," she said flatly. "It's only money."
I couldn't help it, I sniggered.
She sat up a little straighter. "What?"
"Nothing." She was glaring at me, but the fire in her eyes wasn't as hot as it had been last week. Still, I could tell I wasn't going to get off the hook until I gave her some sort of explanation for my comment. "Fine. It's easy to say ‘it's only money' when you've never gone without. Not that I have," I quickly added. It was so hard to remember that I was supposed to be her peer. I might have looked the part I was playing, but I sure as hell didn't feel it. "I hear having to scrape to make ends meet can be really rough. I hear some kids live on Ramen noodles and Kool-Aid through college."
Keilana looked at me intently. "You're wrong, you know. Just because I haven't done without myself, doesn't mean I don't know the value of a dollar." Her gaze intensified as she spoke. "I understand just how far people are willing to go to make ends meet and to survive."
My ears perked. "You do?"
Somewhat reluctantly, she nodded. "Yeah. So don't think just because my parents have money that I don't know there's a real world out there where everything isn't as pretty and easy as this."
Ooo ... This was getting good. Talking to Keilana was like opening a can after the paper label had fallen off somewhere. I had no idea what I was going find when I finally pried off the lid.
"You don't see many students struggling here on campus." I picked up a piece of candy, being sure not to look at her directly as I spoke. "Everyone looks pretty privileged. Not getting a new designer dress whenever you want one isn't exactly what I'd call money troubles." Take the bait ...
"I'm not talking about the students here. I don't know a single student who even has a real job. Most of us live on allowances and Mommy and Daddy's credit cards."
Suddenly she looked very uncomfortable.
My digging was pretty blatant, but I was too close to quit now. Hmm ... I wonder ... "You don't have to tell me, Keilana." I gave her an apologetic look. "I didn't mean to pry."
Her shoulders relaxed in obvious relief, the shuttered look on her face quickly evaporating. "I cut up the credit cards."
God, I'm a horrible, rotten, sneaky rat bastard. "Because they can track what you do with them?" I guessed.
"Yeah. And the allowance ... well, let's just say it gets put to better use than my buying expensive shoes and concert tickets."
"But how do you live? You need at least some cash for everyday things. Do you moonlight as a waitress or something?" I wadded up the silver foil candy wrapper and tossed it back into bowl.
"No. I-I-I ..."
I looked up from my chocolate and waited. When she paused, I prompted her with a gentle, "Do you?"
"Not exactly." She glanced down. "Well, it's nothing you'd be interested in. But I guess that maybe I could show you sometime."
Cha-Ching! I was doing "the wave" on the inside even as a part of me was praying she wasn't going to take me to her Meth lab where a truckload of illegal aliens were employed as her minion slaves. I forced myself to sound only mildly interested. "That'd be cool. How about we go now? It's not that late."
She smiled enigmatically. "Not tonight."
Why the fuck not? "But—"
"Tonight you have to learn some French."
I was dangerously near to pouting or crying. And I almost never cry. "But I don't want to."
Keilana seemed to struggle with herself for several seconds before coming to some internal decision. "I have an idea. Stand up." When I didn't move quick enough she reached down and took my hand, tugging me to my feet. She was a lot stronger than she looked. "Okay, close your eyes."
"Why would I do that? I don't want to cl—"
Keilana put her hands on her hips. "For fuck's sake, Cadie, can't you just play along? You're the one who asked for my help, remember?"
My mouth clicked closed. I hated when she was right and I reminded myself that I really should do more to be a good sport. After all, if it hadn't been for me, she and Billie would be probably be ... Well, I really didn't want to think what she and Billie would be doing about now. But I was sure that moaning and the words "harder, baby!" would be involved.
"Good," Keilana said, suddenly smiling again. "Now close your eyes."
Dutifully, I did as she asked, turning my head to follow the soft sound of her bare feet on the floor as she moved behind me.
"Let's start easy. You answer in French." Her voice was velvety soft and she was standing so close to my back that goose bumps broke out across my shoulders. Her breath caressed my skin, causing it to tingle. "What color are my eyes?"
I sighed dreamily, hoping that it didn't sound as dreamy to Keilana's ears as it did to mine. "Beau bleu."
She chuckled softly. "Thank you. How about a whole sentence next time? Now what about yours?"
"What about mine?"
"En français, s'il vous plait!"
I could hear the smile in her words as she mimicked Dr. Gallop.
I chewed my lip as I tried to remember the word for what I wanted to say. I'd been studying for the past couple of weeks and bits and pieces were starting to come back to me. Too bad it wasn't nearly enough. "Umm ... I think ... I mean ... Ils sont des boues."
"Tsk." She tugged a curl of hair that fell just above my ear. "They're not the color of mud. Vos yeux sont la couleur de caramel chaud ..."
This close I could smell the subtle, spicy scent of her perfume, and it was wonderfully distracting. I swallowed hard. "Huh?"
"Your eyes are the color of warm caramel," she purred directly into my ear.
"Yow!" I nearly jumped out of my skin. What the hell was she doing? "Keilana?" I squealed.
"Shh. We're not finished," she said matter of factly, but she wrapped a firm arm around my waist to hold me in place. "Eyes closed and stay still, okay?"
I was starting to get really turned on, but stupidly, I was more curious than cautious, and so I quickly nodded.
She didn't wait a single heartbeat before she molded her body to mine and rested her chin on my shoulder. Damn, that felt great. We were both wearing thin pajama tank tops and shorts, and I could feel her hard nipples pressing against my back and the sudden warmth of her naked thighs intimately touching mine. My heart began to thud wildly and my breathing quickened. But I did as she had asked, remaining stock still with my eyes closed tight.
"What's this?" She plucked at my hem of my shirt.
I was surprised when I heard myself say, "Chemise." The word had popped into my mind without thought.
"Mm-hm. See? You know more than you think you do. And what about this?" Warm fingers circled my wrist.
"Very good. And now?" Her fingers moved to my palm and she gave it a little scratch.
"I ..." My tongue felt thick in my throat. "I have n-n-no idea."
"C'est votre paume."
My heart was beating so loudly I could barely hear what she was saying. "Paume," I agreed absently. "Ri-right."
She snuck her hand under my shirt and stroked my stomach with the tips of her fingers. I was sure she could feel the butterflies that were doing back flips there.
She pressed her cheek to mine. "Skin, Cadie. Soft skin. You know the words. Think."
But I couldn't think! She was seducing me and I was letting her. And when she attached her lips to the back of my neck, I forgot how to breathe. This should not be happening. She's too young for me. It wasn't right, but it was so good! And she's, she's ... so damn sizzling hot my entire body aches for her!
My knees nearly buckled and a low moan was torn from my chest when she used her teeth and tongue to stroke the length of my jugular. Her lips were so soft I melted under their attention. God, if only I could be myself. I would kiss her senseless! If only I wasn't here to spy on her and lie to her and — Liar. Spy. The words were like having a bucket of ice water dumped on my head, and they snapped me out of my lust-induced haze with a near physical force.
I spun around to face my tormentor, whose skin was flushed and whose eyes were dark with passion. Oh, God. I began to stumble backward, mortified that I hadn't put a stop to things sooner. "We ... we shouldn't do this." I scrubbed my face. Fuck!
"Why not?" Her face showed her hurt but she managed to keep her voice even. "Don't tell me you don't like girls. I know better."
My mouth worked for a few seconds. I wasn't even out to my parents and here I was about to tell her? "Well, I do but—"
"And don't tell me you don't want me." Her eyes drilled into mine, and my temperature rose. "I've seen the way you watch me, Cadie. The way you look at me."
Lord, take me now. Please.
"You want me. And I can tell you right now that I want you." She lowered her voice. "Badly." She took a step closer to me and I instantly took a step back.
Even though I was the one being chased, I felt like the fox in the hen house. All right, so I was more snake than fox, but it was still clear that I couldn't be trusted anywhere near her.
"So what's the problem?" She took another few steps forward, and I kept right on backing up until my back was against the wall, and we were standing toe to toe.
"We're roommates," I said lamely, the chilly wall doing little to cool my ardor.
Her eyes smiled. "I won't hold that against you."
"You won't?" I said weakly. "Are you sure? 'Cause you can if you want. I practically insist."
"We're both available and interested." She cocked her head to the side. "Why should we deny ourselves?"
I marveled at her confidence. And why was she being so reasonable? She was the most unreasonable woman I'd ever met! The third day in the cottage I accidentally used her toothpaste and she threatened to set my bed on fire. Now she was being all mature?
"We won't be hurting anyone," she continued.
Relief flooded me. Thank God she'd finally hit on something that wasn't true. We could both get hurt. "Listen, Keilana," I proceeded as carefully as I could. "If we sleep together and it doesn't work out, I would be uncomfortable living here."
She looked unconvinced by my statement.
"I'm too lazy to move!"
That made her smile. "Cadie?"
"If it doesn't work out things would be ... tense." Like they weren't already.
"If what doesn't work out?"
I gestured wildly and only just kept from pumping my hips for emphasis. "You know!"
She gave me an incredulous look. "Are you saying sleeping with me might suck?"
"No! Sleeping with you ..." I closed my eyes briefly in a bid for self-control. "I have no doubt that we'd be great in bed together." Truer words were never spoken. We generated enough heat and tension on a daily basis to run a power plant. We'd barely touched and every nerve in my body was singing. I'd be lucky not to spontaneously combust if she actually kissed me.
"Then I don't get it. I like you, but I don't want a girlfriend. I just want to have sex with you. In case you haven't noticed, we're both young, and healthy, and you're hot enough to have me dripping wet already."
My jaw dropped and my pussy clenched so tightly I thought I might come on the spot.
So let's do it! I groaned. "I'm sorry, Keilana." My eyes conveyed true regret. In fact, the rest of my body would probably never forgive me. "I can't. "
She lifted her jaw and stepped back. She didn't say a word but I could tell that she was disappointed.
"Don't be." But her words were stiff.
Keilana grabbed her car keys from the kitchen counter and slipped into a pair of sandals that were by the door. I didn't want her to leave mad, not to mention in her pajamas. We'd made real progress in the last couple of weeks and I wasn't about to throw that all away over a quick fuck. I blocked her path to the door.
"Move," she said crisply, visible holding back her emotions. "I mean it."
I wasn't sure whether she was really angry, but I was sure that I had hurt her feelings by rejecting her. "Not until we talk some more."
"There's nothing to talk about. I made you an offer." She forced a shrug. "You turned me down. It happens."
I gave her a small, knowing smile. "It doesn't happen to you though, does it?" Her eyes widened just a touch and I knew that I was right.
"I'm not sure why, but it never has before," she finally admitted a little sheepishly.
It was no mystery why to me, but I didn't interrupt.
"There's a first time for everything." She wrinkled her nose. "I guess ... well, I wouldn't have made such a fool of myself if I thought that you'd turn me down." She shook her head. "You seemed ... I mean, I thought—"
"I am very attracted to you. I'd be insane not to be." Didn't she know I'd be taking a thirty-minute cold shower tonight? "I'm also sorrier than I can say. But I don't want a quick lay and then nothing else. I really meant it when I said I wanted to be your friend. And sleeping together now would probably mess that up. Please, please don't be mad."
Her expression softened just a fraction and she pursed her lips.
"Please?" I gave her my best puppy dog eyes.
I could see the wheels in her head spinning. Her eyes still showed a combination of hurt and unspent lust and it was all I could do not to kiss it away.
"All right," she murmured after a moment. "But I reserve the right to try to ask you again at some future date."
I prayed she wouldn't, because I was very sure that I would not have the willpower to turn her down twice. "Deal."
She looked down at her feet and flexed her toes. "I don't have many friends, Cadie."
"Neither do I." It was true. I dated every once in a while, but nothing much seemed to come of it. Smelly, Russ, and a couple of the other dick draggers from my favorite beach were pretty much my entire social circle.
She glanced up from her feet to me. "And you want to be my friend more than you want to sleep with me?" She sounded skeptical and I guess I couldn't blame her.
"I'm clearly insane," I smiled, "but yeah."
"And you don't want any kind of a loan or to meet my father maybe?"
My heart ached for her. She'd obviously been hurt badly by some asshole who was using her. And I swore that I'd finish this job and get out of her life before she ever knew that I was basically doing the same thing. "I don't give a good Goddamn about your loot or the Poppenhouse Cookie dynasty. I don't even like cookies."
A tentative smile appeared on her face and it was as though a weight had toppled off my shoulders. "Everyone likes cookies."
I gave her a guilty look. "Yeah, I know."
"Are you hungry?" she suddenly asked. "'Cause I gave up my sandwich in hopes of something tastier tonight." She laughed softly when my cheeks colored.
I wasn't hungry in the least. In fact, I felt a little sick at my stomach after everything that had happened. Still, I managed to paste on a smile. "I'm starved."
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