“Hell, I don’t know, Jess. I just wanted to get to know you better,” I said, not used to being put on the spot in that way.
Her eyes, so blue in the sunlight, locked on mine in challenge. “Know me better? You don’t know me at all.”
“Why do you keep stopping me then?”
“Because of your boyfriend?” I spat out the word as if it tasted bitter on my tongue.
“He’s not my boyfriend.”
When she stared down at her feet, I knew she was keeping something from me.
“Did you guys break up?”
“Something like that.” She brushed her hand over her dress, not meeting my eyes.
Despite the fact that her tone was still off, I wanted to break out into a little dance like an idiot. This was my in, my chance. I couldn’t let her walk away so easily this time.
“When’s your next class?” Hopefully, she had a break long enough for me to take her to lunch.
“Not for ninety minutes.”
She finally lifted her gaze, focusing on something behind my shoulder. I half wondered what the hell was so interesting beyond me, but I stopped myself from turning around to look.
“So you have time then.”
Her head cocked slightly as her eyes finally met mine and stayed there. “Time for what?”
“Time for us,” I said, and watched with amusement as her smile faltered for a second before returning. “Come on, spend the next ninety minutes with me.”
I was nothing if not persistent. Jess had become a bit of a challenge, and I owed it to myself to see if that’s all she was, or if there was something more there.
She studied me. “I’m afraid if I tell you no, you’ll just ask again.”
Her lips twitched. “Then how can I refuse?”
“You can’t. Let’s go; we’re wasting precious minutes here.”
As she gave me a big smile, I had to fight to hold in my own so I didn’t look like too big of a wimp. The two of us walked through the student union, each eyeing the various fast-food concessions before agreeing on the campus’s only fresh deli.
After waving my hand, I followed behind her toward the short line. I moved to grab a tray for her, but she reached for it at the same time and our hands brushed before she pulled away. It was a small thing, our fingers touching, but it sent shots of what could be and what if throughout my already tense body.
I handed her a tray before grabbing one for myself and sliding it across the metal countertop close to hers. A second later, I changed my mind and returned my tray to the stack.
“We’ll just put it all on one tray, okay?” I asked Jess, who was now staring at me with a confused expression.
Her cheeks turned pink as she looked away. “Okay.”
The guy working the counter was short and had his longish blond hair pulled up on his head in some sort of cross between a ponytail and a bun. He brightened at Jess with a smile that seemed a little more than just normal politeness as he asked, “What can I get started for you?”
When he leaned toward the glass that separated them, his smile not dimming in the slightest, I wanted to pick him up by the shirt collar and toss him across the room, just for the way he was looking at her.
“I like your man bun,” Jess said with a polite smile of her own.
Man bun? There was an actual fucking term for this dude’s hair? Man bun? Seriously? What kind of douche wears his hair in a man bun?
“Thanks. I like your dress.” The dude winked before scanning the length of Jess’s blue sundress, noting the way it clung to the curves of her breasts and her hips.
Furious, I cleared my throat, wanting to remind him that not only was I in the room, but I was standing right fucking next to the girl he was flirting with.
Man Bun shot me a murderous glare. “Be with you in a minute, bro.”
“That’s not why I was clearing my throat, and I’m not your bro,” I shot back, annoyed at his disrespectful behavior and a little confused by my violent reaction to it.
Jess looked at me with a crooked smile and nudged my shoulder with hers before she turned back to the man-bunned douchebag. “I’ll just take a turkey Swiss on sourdough with lettuce, pickles, and mustard.”
He made her sandwich slowly, methodically, as if he was making love to the damn thing, then had the nerve to throw in a bag of chips on the house. Man Bun was asking for a beat-down.
Jess took her wrapped sandwich and bag of chips and set them on our shared tray.
Man Bun made my sandwich with the hands of a man going to war, slamming the bread down hard enough to leave finger dents in it before stacking the ingredients haphazardly. I eyed him the entire time to make sure he didn’t include a side of spit. Lucky for him, he didn’t. And he didn’t toss in any free chips with my order either.
I reached for Jess’s bare shoulder as she stood next to me, wanting to show the douchebun that I was allowed to touch her and he wasn’t. Bread Boy needed to know who was in charge.
“Can you grab us a couple of drinks, Jess? I got this.” I reached for my wallet before she had a chance to protest.
“It’s okay. I can pay for mine,” she insisted.
She was adorable. I wanted to kiss her square on the lips for being so fucking cute.
“I got this,” I repeated as she tilted her head at me, obviously weighing her options. “I want to.” I pitched my voice at its most sincere, doing my best to calm whatever storm was currently raging behind her blue eyes. “Just grab me a Pepsi, please. And whatever you want.”
“You’re sure?” she asked one last time.
She walked to the glass-front fridge as I attempted to pay for our stuff. I say attempted because I got distracted by the sight of Jess’s sundress rising up her thighs as she bent over to grab a drink from one of the lower shelves.
“It’s ten eighty-three, please.”
The cashier’s voice pulled my attention away from the gorgeous pair of legs for only a moment. But it was a moment too long because when I glanced back, Jess was already heading my way, two drinks in hand and a smile on her face.
“Hey, Nick, come here.”
A girl I’d dated briefly last year called to me as we crossed the crowded student union and I stopped, fully aware that my presence here would attract too much attention, too many questions, too many other people. It was how it had always been with me. I had information and knowledge that people wanted, so when they ran into me, they all wanted to pump me for it.