Authors: Autumn Markus
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Fiction
“So you were doing the horizontal bop even then?”
“No! Dork!” She whapped Travis with a couch pillow. “We talked on the bus sometimes. He just…he saved me from our pervy team captain once.” She smiled, her eyes growing soft at the memory of the first time she’d realized Nicholas had noticed her, too. “He walked me back to my dorm, and he was so sweet…He read poetry to me…”
Her eyes grew far away as she remembered the casual way Nicholas had reclined on her bed, snagging the copy of Shakespeare’s collected works that was perched precariously atop the stack of texts on her tiny desk. He’d quizzed her with mock seriousness on the play she had marked before flipping silently through the book and wondering aloud if she’d like to hear his favorite. Jena had nodded and smiled wryly, expecting to hear “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?” or some snippet from
Romeo and Juliet
that he remembered from tenth grade English, carefully chosen for its ability to make a girl’s heart flutter. Instead, she’d felt the grin fading as he came up with something unexpected, Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXXX.
was a weak word for what had begun in her chest as he’d read, punctuating every complimentary phrase with a glance into her eyes or a slight smile.
“I thought he might kiss me,” Jena continued slowly, sighing, “but a friend interrupted and…”
Jena shook herself out of her memories when she heard Travis snort laughter.
“Poetry?” he asked skeptically. “Seriously?”
“Shut up,” Jena ordered, glaring at Travis as he looked at her, both eyebrows now raised. “And nothing happened then. Satisfied?”
“Sure. Were you?” Travis shot back with a sharp laugh. “I can’t believe you set yourself up for that one, Jen.” He held up his hands against another attack.
Jena lay back on the couch and covered her face with her pillow. “Travis, am I a ho?” she whined.
His voice suddenly became serious. “Did anyone promise anyone any money?” His chortle was muffled by the furious onslaught of Jena’s pillow.
Eventually disarming her, Travis held her hands together in one of his. Laughing, he said sweetly, “No, Jena. You’re not a ho.” He released her after giving her a smacking kiss on the forehead, sauntered to the door, and turned for his final words.
“You are, however, as my grandmama would say, a hoochie.”
and shining hair filled his mind as Nicholas drifted up from the best dream he’d ever had. He smiled, clutching the sweet-smelling pillow tighter and settling back to try to re-enter REM sleep.
“Hey, Screaming Beauty! If you don’t get your ass out of bed we’re going to miss our plane.”
Nick started to turn over to tell Conor exactly what he thought of him when Conor yelled, “And pull the blankets up, for God’s sake. I’ve already seen your ass and have no desire to view your junk.”
That brought Nick’s eyes wide open, and he jerked his head up only to just as quickly lay it back down. “I’m dying, Conor. Get the fuck out of here,” he muttered. Moving as slowly as he could, so as to jar his aching head as little as possible, Nick groped around until he could pull the sheet up over himself. “What time is it?”
“Eight thirty, man. Our plane leaves in a little over two hours, so you’d better get moving.”
Opening one eye, Nicholas glared at his best friend as Conor lounged shirtless in the doorway, hands gripping the top of the doorframe. He grinned at Nicholas, and Nick groaned, knowing the shit was coming his way.
“Have fun, sweetie? I caught a glimpse of your little honey as she scurried out the door a couple of hours ago. Nice.” Conor said.
Nick searched his memory, wishing he could remember anything about her. He vaguely remembered dark hair, but that was about it.
“Who the hell was she, Con? I can’t remember a damned thing after about ten o’clock last night.”
Conor busted up. “How should I know? You just said something about knowing her from college the last time I saw you before you disappeared. That club was so dark she could have been Quasimodo and I wouldn’t recognize her on the street today.”
Nick flopped back on the bed and put his arm over his eyes. “Which college? I’ve gone to three so far. And what the hell is poking me in the back?” He reached underneath himself and pulled out a pink, lacy bra.
Conor’s eyebrows shot up and then his eye caught something on the floor, almost behind the dresser. He reached out and plucked up a scrap of matching lace that was masquerading as underwear.
“Holy crap, Nick! You can’t remember the chick that wore these? You sad bastard!” Conor laughed again, flinging the scrap to join the bra in Nicholas’s outstretched hand. “I can assure you though, you both had an absolutely great time, if that makes you feel any better. I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and left to get a cup of coffee at about four, and all was quiet when I got back a couple of hours later.”
Nicholas shook his head and then winced. He had to remember not to do that again. “So you just sat here all night and got to listen to me have great sex, huh? What happened to the lady killer?”
“Oh, I went back to the room of your Mostly Naked Girl—remember her?” He laughed when Nicholas gingerly shook his head. “Sad. Tall, built, nasty as all get out…” Conor smiled wistfully, lost in memory. Nick laughed, thinking that she sounded like Conor’s type, and Con jumped. “Those of us who didn’t try to drink our weight in Jäger last night just have the good sense to know when to call it a morning. That shit gives me a headache,” Con said in a lecturing tone before grinning. “Though, if we’d started on tequila, I would probably look just as crappy as you do right now.”
“Thanks, Conor, for your editorial comments. I’m sure I’ll come up with a witty reply when my brain stops exploding.” Nick looked at his friend again, back at his station in the doorway. Chucking a pillow at him, Nicholas said, “And will you please stop posing?”
Conor grinned, dropping his lanky arms from above his head to flex. “You’re just jealous, Dickolas.” He kissed both of his scrawny biceps. “We
don’t we, guys?” Conor escaped a thrown shoe, laughing loudly as he left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Sitting up gingerly, Nick looked at the underwear in his hand. Pretty hot indeed. He searched his mind once again for some clue as to who had been wearing them at the beginning of last night, and came up with nothing more than the same impression of hair and skin and voice. No face. No
even, for God’s sake. Nick shook his head in disbelief then winced, cradling his forehead between gentle hands. While he wasn’t a virgin, he certainly had never slept with a total stranger before.
Of course, Nick knew this girl, according to the idiot. He just didn’t know from where. Which college? He’d gone to UC Santa Barbara for his freshman year, transferred to University of Oregon for his sophomore and part of his junior year, and finished up back home at Northeastern after his dad had a stroke in the middle of his junior year. Three schools equaled a lot of possibilities, and that didn’t even include medical school. Even if he narrowed it down to the closest and most likely, U of O, there was a lot of ground to cover.
Rising gingerly from the bed, he impulsively brought the lacy jumble in his hand to his face and inhaled. That was definitely a smell that couldn’t be easily forgotten, earthy and herbal-floral. He realized that his nighttime visitor’s smell lingered in the room as well, and inhaled again. Nicholas had a sudden flash of nuzzling his face in the hair that draped across the crook of her neck and trailed over her collarbone to cover her breast. Nick shook his head sharply, accepting the pain that came with the motion because he had to shut that shit down or he’d never make his plane.
As he adjusted the temperature of the water, Nicholas tried to reason out how he’d gotten into his current position of cluelessness.
How a quick vacation trip to check out the University of California at Davis had turned into…
…was mystifying. A quick reconstruction of events would logically never have brought him to this point: first he got restless with his job as an EMT, then he started thinking about going back to medical school, then he researched schools with a good emergency medicine program, then he decided to check out the campus over winter break to see whether the lifestyle change from big city to earth-crunchy college town would be acceptable. Conor had some vacation time saved up at the firehouse and had decided to tag along. That was it. Simple enough. No indication of trouble. He’d even been sort of excited when Conor suggested that they travel down to San Francisco for New Year’s Eve. The rest was history.
Nick grimaced as he stepped under the shower’s spray, trying to piece together the night before. He remembered hitting a string of open parties raging in the club district and then deciding to try the hotel party. Things got hazy quickly after that, largely because, relieved of the responsibility of either one of them having to drive anywhere, Nicholas Cooper decided to cut loose for once in his life. He groaned just thinking about it. The liquor was flowing, the music was loud, and the girls were hot; he’d just lost himself somewhere in there. He didn’t want to even think of the seven kinds of shit he was going to catch at the firehouse when Conor told the story. As Nick knew Con would inevitably do. With relish.
The only good thing was that almost no one was going to believe that straitlaced, quiet EMT Cooper would ever drink until he couldn’t remember anything. And especially not that he had brought an amazing girl back to his room for wild sex.
Nick was just assuming he’d done that, based on Conor’s story and the delicious ache all over his body. Which brought him back to his first problem. Who was she? Just thinking about the long hair that streamed down her back in the shower, the water leaving trails down her derrière, trails that curved inward when they hit her taut thighs to disappear between her legs…
Nicholas nearly dropped the soap as he jumped.
What the hell was that?
They’d showered together? He had an impression of a hand playing with his chest hair, and twisted the handle to full cold, yelping as the icy water hit his overheated skin. “Get a fucking grip, Cooper,” he muttered.
Quieting his body was easier in the arctic blast, and Nick hurried through the rest of his shower, toweling off roughly when he was through. He leaned down to dry his lower legs and spotted the telltale foil wrapper that told him that they had, indeed, showered together—and more. He wondered…
Yep. There was another one on the nightstand, alongside a box of twelve with four missing.
Four? And where did they come from?
Fascinated, Nick searched until he found another wrapper under the bed and one between the sofa cushions in the living room.
I guess it should be some comfort that I was a responsible stupid drunk.
Chuckling ruefully, Nick quickly dressed and decided the first order of business was a huge glass of water, massive amounts of ibuprofen, and coffee. In that order.
“Hey, Con? Got any pain meds with you?” he called as he carried his bag out into the living room of the suite.
Conor laughed, opening his door and pulling out his wheeled suitcase. “Feelin’ it, are you? Sorry, man, used the last aspirin myself a couple of hours ago. I think there’s a store in the lobby, though. Want to shoot down while I take the bags to the car?”
“Thanks. Yeah, I will,” Nick answered, tossing his suitcase on the couch. He headed downstairs to find out if the shop sold sundries or just tourist crap. With any luck, there would also be a coffee shop, and he would be set.
There was a small crowd inside the store, so he grabbed a coffee while he waited for the tiny shop to clear a little. Nicholas sipped gingerly, hoping that the coffee would stay down. He was relieved that the hangover seemed to be centering in his head and leaving his stomach alone. The last thing he wanted was to spend hours in an airplane toilet.
After a couple of minutes, Nick was able to enter the shop and snag the last bottle of ibuprofen. Waiting for the customer ahead of him to pay for her purchases, he noticed that the girl behind the counter was taking quick glances at him and flushing a little more each time. When he finally reached the counter, she was a vivid crimson. Whatever her problem was, he needed to pay for his medicine and get out of there, so he tried to catch her eye while looking as harmless as possible.
“Hi,” he ventured, pulling his wallet from his pocket.
Another glance. “I’m sorry,” she squeaked, dashing into the back room, where Nick heard a sharp round of giggles and a whispered conversation.
What the hell?
he thought, trying to inconspicuously look at his reflection in the glass counter. He looked okay—a little hungover, maybe, but nothing to send a girl out of the room in fits. Sighing, he turned to go without the Motrin. Before he could reach the door, an older woman exited the back room and came to the counter.
“I’m sorry for my daughter’s behavior. May I help you?” she said pleasantly, but Nick noticed a tiny smile trying to turn her lips up.
“I just need to pay for this,” he muttered, getting out his wallet again.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the girl peek out the door and heard her “eep” when she saw him notice. She quickly drew back, and Nicholas once again heard giggles.
“What is going on?” he demanded.
“Britney!” the older woman reprimanded the younger. Turning to Nick, she seemed to be barely holding back a grin. “Well, we were open late last night because we thought we might get a little extra business from the party that was going on.” Nick didn’t like where this was going already. His mind went to the unexpected box on the nightstand.
“Let me guess. I was one of your customers?” He winced.
“Britney recognized you from your hair. It’s such a contrast with your skin, you know. You made quite an impression on her.”
Nicholas felt the flush creeping up his neck. “I am
sorry for whatever I said or did. I don’t usually drink, and last night…Well, I’m just sorry. Did I look terrible?”
“Look? Oh, you mean how she recognized your hair but not your face?” Now the counter lady was giggling, too. “It was a little hard to see your face with the girl’s legs wrapped around your waist. We could mostly see the back of her head.” Tears of laughter were starting to roll down her cheeks. “Oh, you should just see your face now. I didn’t think it could get any more red than it was a minute ago, but—”
“Thanks,” Nicholas muttered, shoving a ten at her, grabbing his meds, and practically running out the door.
Conor was already behind the wheel of the rental car with the engine running when Nick slumped into the passenger seat. He looked at Nick curiously, shoving a pair of sunglasses at him. “You’ll need these, sunshine. What the hell happened to you?”
“Just drive.” Nick slid on the proffered glasses and leaned his head back against the cool leather seat.
Shaking his head as he entered the apartment he shared with Conor, Nick tossed his bag aside and gratefully sank down on the leather sofa. It was ridiculous to have spent the whole flight back to Boston dwelling on almost-memories that assaulted him from the side every now and again. Best to let a random one-night stand go and move on to his real life, which included a shift at the station in approximately ten hours. Sure, it must have been great, and it would be nice to know that for certain, but he couldn’t even remember the girl’s face, much less her name. It would be nothing short of a miracle if they ever met again.