A burst of joy spreads through me when I open the door.
My boyfriend gives me a sultry smile, the one I call the panty-dropper. Unfortunately, we don’t have time for a naked rendezvous since I’m already running late, and I can’t miss my flight home to California or my father will kill me.
I start talking a mile a minute. “Thanks for driving me. I’m all packed. I know it’s a long drive, but...”
He shuts me up with a kiss, and I can’t say I’m inclined to complain.
We’re not even through the front door and his hand is up my shirt.
“Gonna miss you, gorgeous,” he says with a squeeze to my boob.
I stare up into his blue eyes, out of breath.
Our relationship is intense. It started out as a one-night stand, which quickly morphed into an entire weekend of sex.
He eventually admitted he wanted more with me. We’ve been official since December, and I can admit I’ve completely lost my head over this guy.
If the rumors are true, no one ever thought Cal Winston, the star wide receiver for our national champion football team, the Lone Star State Broncos, would ever settle down. But he has! With me.
He has a bad rep for some reason, but I’m a big believer in ignoring gossip. My father is a tech mogul, a little fact I tend to keep to myself, and if I believed all the gossip about him, I’d be too disgusted to ever speak to him again.
I make a point to always go by someone’s actions. By their word. By what I’ve learned about that person from firsthand experiences.
Because the gossips tend to lie or exaggerate, and I’ll be damned if I let a good thing slip through my fingers because of rumors spread by jealous jocks or jersey-chasers.
Since we became a couple, Cal has treated me well, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what matters. He brings me breakfast on Sundays, and we always have fun studying together.
Besides, only a boyfriend who cared would offer to drive me to the airport all the way in Austin. It’s a hike, and the traffic is terrible.
I bat my eyelashes at him playfully. “I promise I’ll make it up to you when I get back.”
We’ll probably go into a sex coma. I laugh to myself. I’ll only be going home for four days, but right now that feels like an eon. I’m not looking forward to the lecture I know my father will lay on me.
Why can’t you stick with one major, Sienna? Why can’t you buckle down for once in your life? Why did you have to go to some no-name school? Was Stanford really that bad?
My dad would have a coronary if he knew I picked Lone Star State by throwing a dart at a map. But going to my father’s alma mater, which also happens to be where my brothers attended and aced every class, was torture, and I needed a change. And picking a school in Texas meant being a thousand miles away from my family and their expectations. Transferring the second half of freshman year was the best thing I ever did, even if it was a little impulsive.
Schools frown upon switching mid-year like that, but if your dad is a regular on the Fortune 500 list, guess what? They welcome you with open arms.
But now my father saves his lectures for my trips home, which is why I’m dreading this visit. It doesn’t matter that I got certified to teach yoga. That’s not the kind of accomplishment my family cares about.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that I’ll join Cal at South Padre Island for the last part of his vacation before summer training starts in August. Cal deserves the break. After clinching the national championship in January, he’s been going nonstop. This will be our chance to relax.
I’ve already packed a small glass container for the sand I’ll collect as a memento on our trip. It’s a silly thing I do whenever I travel somewhere new, but the collection is my favorite possession. It’s a perfect example of how different I am from the rest of my family. My father collects art and retro cars, and my brothers hoard ridiculously expensive first-edition comics, while I prefer recycled bottles filled with sand, the kind that sits just beyond the reach of the waves.
Thoughts of sunny beaches fade away when Cal cradles my jaw. His eyes go soft as he looks me over.
This is it! This has to be it. I’ve been dying for him to admit his feelings for me, to tell me he loves me.
“I’ll hold you to that, to making it up to me.” He leans closer, whispering into my ear. “I plan to violate all of your holes next time.”
My mouth opens and closes.
For once in my life, I’m at a loss for words.
If there’s one ingredient missing from our relationship, it’s this—it wouldn’t hurt if he was as enthusiastic about us as a couple as he is about sex.
Not that I have anything against sex, but I’m starting to worry that’s all this is for him.
Then why would he say he wanted me by his side at the draft? That’s a whole year away. Why would he drive me to the airport? Why would he ask if our lunch breaks align in the fall when school starts up? Guys don’t do that kind of stuff when they don’t care.
A throat clears behind us, and to my great mortification, my neighbor Ben is standing there. Judging by the look on his face, he heard what Cal said.
I must’ve been an asshole in a prior life because karma is a mean bitch, and clearly she has it out for me. Because the only other guy I’ve ever had a hardcore crush on in my entire life is Ben Rodriguez, my former roommate’s brother. Of course, I didn’t know Ben was Gabby’s brother when I signed the lease last August.
For the record, Ben’s now firmly in the “don’t drool over” category. Because friends don’t check out friends’ brothers.
Plus, I’m dating his teammate.
Even if those two things weren’t true, Ben has a neon sign over his head that says ‘No Trespassing.’ He’s one of the most emotionally unavailable men I’ve ever met.
Three very good reasons to stay far, far away from my torturously sexy neighbor who lives across the street.
Ben is basically the opposite of Cal. Where Cal has surfer-boy good looks with blond hair and blue eyes, which are underscored with an easygoing party vibe, Ben has dazzling dark brown eyes, thick black hair, and is broody as fuck.
I pull Cal’s hand out of my shirt where he’s toying with my nipple and laugh awkwardly. “Hey, Ben. Are you here to get the rest of Gabby’s stuff? Rider already sent a mover to pick up the last of it.”
The responding frown on his face isn’t surprising. Ben’s a frowner. But when he scowls at Cal, I tense.
Cal waves toward me. “Haven’t had a chance to tell her yet. Don’t get your panties in a twist.”
I look back and forth between the guys. “Tell me what?”
Cal’s sheepish expression makes me tense. “Babe, I need more time to pack, so I can’t drive you to the airport. Plus, you know how much I hate traffic.”
I stand there silent for a moment. “But you’re the one who offered to take me.” I didn’t ask him. I didn’t so much as suggest it. He’s not even leaving for the coast for another two days, so I don’t know why packing takes precedence.
“I know, but the last few weeks were balls-out. We conditioned at sun-up. Summer school just ended, and I had finals, and I was helping my new roommates move their shit. Besides, Ben said he’d take you.”
My face heats, the rejection scalding me from head to toe. I’m a low-drama girl by nature, so I do my best to shrug it off. I’ve endured enough therapy sessions to know why this is making me emotional.
You’re transferring your emotions to your boyfriend. Stop it.
I turn completely away from Cal to focus on Ben and blink back the sting in my eyes. “Thanks for offering to give me a ride.”
I wish my voice were stronger—it’s barely a croaked whisper—but that’s the best I can do.
The two vertical lines between Ben’s brows deepen.
Cal tosses an arm around me and nods at Ben. “Don’t be a little bitch. Tell her you don’t mind taking her.”
I cringe, hating how Cal talks to Ben. Here’s another pet peeve of mine—I hate how Cal talks to his football buddies. It’s a side of him I never saw the first few months when only the two of us hung out.
Ben’s jaw tightens. “I told you I don’t mind. Go pack... or whatever you’re going to do.” If looks could kill... The one he gives Cal sends shivers down my spine.
Cal kisses my cheek, smacks me on the ass, and saunters down the sidewalk. “See ya next week, babe.”
And then he’s gone.
* * *
The ride is quiet, mostly because I’m too embarrassed to talk. Since Ben’s not a big talker, that leaves a lot of silence.
I shove all thoughts of what happened on my front porch out of my head. I’ll obsess over Cal when I’m safely ensconced in my room back in Cali with some weed and a deep-cleansing face mask. I’ll relax and put everything into perspective.
“Mind if we listen to the radio?” I ask as we reach the outskirts of Charming.
“Go for it.” He rubs his chin. “Let me get the nav system going first or we’ll end up in a corn field.”
I lift an eyebrow. “Did you just make a joke?” They’re so rare, I almost want to jot it down in my calendar.
“Smartass.” His beautiful full lips tilt up, and the sight warms me all over. Ben is so dreamy. His smiles are rare, so when you get one, you know it’s special.
I generally make a point to stay away from him. I’m a big believer in being wholehearted about whatever I do, and right now, well, I’m doing Cal—literally, I think with a snort—and I don’t want anything to cloud that commitment.
We settle on a classic rock station, and I’m pleasantly surprised when Ben starts singing along with me to a Rolling Stones song.
“You have a nice voice, studmuffin. Bet you croon to all the ladies.”
“Definitely need to add ‘crooning’ to my repertoire.” He blows on his nails and buffs them on his t-shirt.
I smile to myself and stare out the window. I’ve heard Ben can be a charming bastard when he wants to be. It’s strange to see this side of him. He’s always so tense around his sister Gabby, and since she and I were roommates until recently, that’s the only side of him I saw.
When we pull up to the airport, I’m shocked because the hour-long ride went by in a flash of belted oldies. The trunk pops open and then he’s by my side before I get a chance to lean in and grab it. “Here, let me get that for you.”
Ben pulls out my small suitcase and helps me maneuver it to the walkway.
The line of travelers winds out the automatic sliding doors and onto the sidewalk, but that’s not what makes me sigh. It’s the sight of a couple making out ten feet away.
I’m the idiot who thought that’d be me and Cal today. I hoped the prospect of me leaving would prompt him to make some kind of declaration, not ditch me with one of his friends.
Although judging by the menacing looks Ben gave Cal this morning, I’m not sure they’re friends.
I’m tempted to ask how Cal wrangled Ben into driving me, but a part of me is afraid to ask. His weird vibe finally dissipated, and I’m not inclined to put Ben in a bad mood again.
His dark eyes sweep across the crowd. “Do you need help checking in your luggage or getting your ticket?”
His thoughtfulness assuages the melancholy that’s been plaguing me since we left Charming. “I’m carrying this on the plane, and I already checked in online.”
He chuckles. “I’ve never known a woman to pack so light for a trip. Even if it’s only four days.”
For some reason, the fact that he knows how long I’m going away sends a fuzzy, bubbly feeling through me. I don’t mention the shitload of clothes I have at home, which is why I’m able to pack so little.
I’m about to lean up to hug him when the sky booms and rain pelts us out of nowhere.
“What the fuck?” Ben grabs my luggage and my arm and hauls me under the awning. “Crazy damn weather.”
“Was it not sunny just sixty seconds ago?” I laugh as I wipe my face with my arm.
“That’s Texas for ya.”
His southern drawl is so cute, I’d pinch his cheeks if he weren’t also a sexy beast who towers over me.
At the sight of his damp t-shirt clinging to his wide, muscular chest, I decide I’ve ogled Gabby’s brother long enough.
“Thanks for the ride.” As much as I want to hug him because I’m affectionate by nature, I decide the downpour that interrupted us was a sign I should keep my hands to myself. “I owe you.”
He smiles—a real one that reaches his eyes—and it’s such a captivating sight, I almost sigh.
“Anytime, Sienna. Have a great trip.”
Ignoring the pitter-patter of my heart, I watch him jog back through the torrential rain to his SUV.
A little voice in my head wonders what would’ve happened if I’d met Ben before Cal.
And then I snort because Ben’s one of the biggest players on campus. I don’t need to listen to the gossip to know this. I’ve seen him in action at the Stallion Station, which is the lovely nickname everyone calls the football pad across the street from my house. He’s just doing me a favor because Gabby would have his balls if he didn’t help me.
As I wait in an obnoxiously long line for the terminal, that gloominess descends again, which means I’m due for some serious self-care therapy. But since I’m stuck in Austin for the moment, I call my BFF Destiny. She and I have been close since we survived a brutal economics class together sophomore year. The only other girl I’ve gotten close to is my old roommate, but Gabby and her boyfriend Rider recently relocated to Dallas after he was drafted.
Destiny moved into Gabby’s old room earlier this summer, but she’s on the volleyball team and had to work out six days a week and juggle classes, so I’ve barely seen her.
She picks up with a giggle.
I wait for her to say something. “Destiny?”
Her laughter stops abruptly. “Oh. Hey! Sienna!” The phone briefly muffles where it sounds like she talks to someone. “I thought you left already.”
The background noise is so loud, I can barely hear her. “Are you at a party?” I mean, it is Friday and the last day of summer school, but I thought she told me she was driving out to see her parents.
“What? No! Just... it’s crazy here. Let me call you back!”
She hangs up before I can say anything else. I frown at my phone, a tingle at the back of my neck making me wonder if I’m missing something.
It’s even weirder when she doesn’t return my call or text or freaking pick up her phone a few hours later when I try her again because my stupid flight gets cancelled.
That’s what you get for flying commercial. When I’m stressed out, that voice in my head belongs to my father, and he’s judgy and pretentious AF. My dad doesn’t get why I want a normal life, far, far away from his tech kingdom.
Outside, the rain comes down in sheets so thick, I can barely see any cars in the pickup line a few feet away. That’s when my phone dies. Because, dunderhead that I am, I forgot to charge it last night. I can’t even call anyone for help because I don’t have those numbers without my phone.
Ugh, I should’ve driven myself. I know this now, but I lost my car once in the LA long-term parking garage, and it took me seven hours to find it. Seven. Hours. Ever since then, I try to snag a ride.
I break out my peppermint essential oil and take three big whiffs to calm down before I hyperventilate.
Somehow I talk a nice man into ordering me an Uber, and I pay him in cash.
“Thank you so much. I swear I won’t drive to Oklahoma or anything.”
He chuckles. “Pretty girl like you could almost talk me into that.”
I give him an awkward wave and brave the rain as I dive into the Uber.
The weather is obnoxious. Several roads are closed due to flooding, and the traffic is intense, but the light at the end of the tunnel is that I’ll get another night with Cal. He’s probably sitting around playing Call of Duty in his underwear instead of packing.
The last few months with him have been crazy but fun. He’s more free-spirited than I am, and that’s saying something. But I like that he doesn’t criticize me. I’m so fucking tired of everyone judging me—for coming to Texas when the rest of my family is in Cali, for being unable to nail down a major, for not wanting to spend my summers in LA.
Plus, I like that he’s kind of a sensitive guy when it’s just the two of us. Sure, he puts on a tough-guy act around other people, but he can be really sweet when we’re alone.
When I reach Cal’s house, which is a few miles from my place, my mouth drops open at the number of cars along the drive.
Okay, it’s weird he didn’t mention he was partying tonight, but perhaps I should’ve assumed it was a given considering it’s a Friday night.
Maybe I should go home. I’m really freaking tired, and I’m not dressed for this. Nothing says ‘party’ like a coffee-stained t-shirt, faded yoga pants, and old Ugg boots.
But the Uber driver won’t change his destination unless I switch it on the phone, which I can’t do because the account belongs to that dude at the airport.
Grateful the rain has died down to a drizzle, I haul my crap out of the car and drag it to the back of the house. I’ll sneak up to Cal’s room, take a shower, and try to feel human again before I brave the crowd downstairs.
That’s the biggest rub of dating a guy like Cal Winston. Beautiful girls everywhere throw themselves at him, so I feel pressured to always look nice. Which I totally get is bullshit. But I guess it doesn’t hurt to put my best foot forward, as my dad always says.
The music is so loud, I can hear it clear on the third floor.
When I pass Derek Fowler, one of his roommates, he does a double-take. “Sienna. Whoa. Thought you were in LA.”
“My flight got cancelled.”
Wide-eyed, he looks past me to Cal’s room and then back to me. “Does he know you’re here?”
“Not yet. Just wanted to drop off my luggage first.”
Shaking his head, he grabs my hand and tries to pull me back to the stairwell. He starts talking really loud, practically yelling. “It’s probably locked. You know how Cal gets when we have people over. Here, let me call him on the phone. He’ll be so excited to see you, Sienna. We’ll track him down first. He might’ve made a beer run.”
What the hell? Why is he being so weird?
I roll my eyes and shrug out of his hold as I reach for the door. The handle turns. “See, it’s unlocked.”
After flipping on the light by the door, I freeze.
I... what... oh, my God.
My heart pounds so hard, I think I might throw up.
My eyes scan the room like it’s a crime scene.
Solo cups everywhere and a half-empty bottle of vodka on the nightstand. Lacy, hot pink and red underwear on the floor next to the comforter. At least three people on the bed. No, make that four.
Three of whom are women.
And they’re all servicing my boyfriend, who is reclined like a king as someone gyrates on his fucking face while two girls work his dick.
He must shove the pussy off his mouth to talk because he yells, “Get naked and join us or get the fuck out!”
His slurred voice makes my skin crawl.
Derek grabs my shoulders from behind. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
I push him off me and wait for Cal to stop his orgy for two damn seconds and notice I’m standing here.
When he doesn’t, some switch in my head flips, and I go from devastated to red-hot raging.
“So anyone can join in? Don’t you have a girlfriend, Cal?”
I hear his muffled laughter. “Sienna’s not long-term. She’s just a really great fuck.”
Just a really great fuck.
My mouth falls open, and I stand there frozen as my heart shatters into a million tiny shards.
I quickly wipe away the tears that escape, noting how none of the girls pause in their ministrations.
That’s when I flip out. “You know what’s really great? Picking your shit off the front lawn in the rain. Compliments of the ‘great fuck.’”
Before I know what I’m doing, I’ve flung open the window by his desk. The first thing I send flying is his precious laptop, quickly followed by his textbooks, phone, and iPad. Hope they all land in big puddles, fucker!
Vaguely, I hear Derek mutter ‘oh, shit’ as I lose it.
“Hey, it’s cold,” one of the dick-lickers says between moans and giggles.
I swipe my arm across the desk and send whatever remains crashing to the ground.
That finally gets Cal Winston’s attention.
“What the hell?” He removes the girl from his face, long enough for me to recognize Destiny, my alleged best friend.
“Oh, my God. Sienna!” She covers her tits as though there’s some modicum of modesty left in her treacherous body. Her eyes are heavy-lidded and bloodshot. She’s obviously drunk, but that’s no excuse to climb onto my boyfriend’s mouth and gyrate her vagina.
Cal’s eyes widen when he sees me. “Sienna. Babe. It’s not what it looks like.”
How damn stupid does he think I am? For fuck’s sake, his mouth is wet. Compliments of my ex-best friend.
One by one, he hustles everyone off him. The other two are women I’ve seen at parties. Girls I’ve asked him about and he’s denied ever fooling around with them. Guess the joke’s on me. Because common sense says this isn’t the first time he’s cheated on me.
I think back to all the nights he had some weird reason we couldn’t get together, excuses that didn’t totally make sense, or instances when he acted suspiciously. How he was “meeting up with his parents for dinner” after a game when the rest of the team was celebrating. Or how he “needed to see his tutor” on a Friday night. That time I heard him whispering on the phone in the bathroom at three in the morning, and he claimed it was a “roommate.”
I’m. An. Idiot.
If I ever needed a reason to think relationships were a waste of time and effort, it’s standing right in front of me with his dumb dick swinging in the wind.
I turn for the door, but he grabs me and pulls me to his sweaty chest. “Don’t go, Sienna. I’m so sorry! They don’t mean shit to me. I love you!”
Nausea roils my stomach as I’m hit with the smell of sex and body odor and my roommate’s perfume. “Let go of me, you asshole!”
I try to twist out of his hold, but he squeezes me tighter. When I open my mouth to scream that he let me go, the words never come.
Because everything suddenly goes dark.