Authors: Autumn Markus
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Fiction
Nicholas chuckled, and Jena flushed again, thinking
, I should just paint my face red and save my body the effort.
“Excuse my language. My verbal filter—”
“—is for shit,” Nicholas finished, grinning. “I remember.” He reached out and ran a finger over her rosy cheek, seeming to surprise himself, before he slowly drew his hand back. “I remember that, too.”
Leisa looked from Jena to Nicholas, eyes avid. “While you were off contemplating your crappy-ass day, Jena, I volunteered us to help Nicholas unpack some of his stuff tomorrow. We’re the only other people he knows here besides his roomie, and…Conor, was it?…has to go for a job interview. You have the day off, right?”
Jena’s first impulse was to say no, but she knew Leisa would use her influence with Travis to get the truth and, worst-case scenario, make him switch with Jena if she really had to work. Normally Jena would laugh her ass off at the very idea of Trav doing anything of the sort; he loved his free days too much. Leisa, though, had some sort of funky vaginal hypnosis thingy going on that had Jena’s formerly self-centered and lazy roommate doing amazing things. Like “cleaning up his pigsty,” “calling his mother,” and “being nice to Jena.” It was scary.
“I have some paperwork to do,” Jena hedged, but stopped when she saw the stink eye. No one flung that around like Leisa; it made you want to check your entire body to see where the dog crap was splattered. “But I guess I can do that on Sunday.” Jena sighed and turned toward Nicholas. “What time and where?” She spotted Travis on his way over, still looking down at Nicholas’s chart.
“Hey, Jen. Forget our deal. I’m bushed. Still want to pick up some Thai?” Travis looked up, startled to see Nicholas still standing with Jena and Leisa. “Oh…hey. Sorry, I didn’t see you there, Nicholas.”
Nicholas looked between Jena and Travis, a slight frown drawing his eyebrows down. “You two are…?” He gestured back and forth between them.
“Not if he wants to keep his nuts,” Leisa said, slipping her arm around Travis’s waist. “Jena and Trav are just roommates. No benefits.” Nicholas’s brow cleared, and he smiled. “Travis, sugar,” Leisa wheedled. “Jena and I are going to help our old friend Nicholas unpack tomorrow. I know you’ll want to help us, too, right?”
Now, ordinarily an assumption like that would be ludicrous. Travis did only what was strictly necessary or pleasurable, or sometimes funny. Leisa’s pussy-mojo was strong, though, and Jena saw Trav’s eyes glaze over when he looked down at his girlfriend.
“Sure,” he murmured dreamily. “When?”
Nicholas looked at Jena with raised eyebrows, and Jena shrugged. “You’re the boss, Cooper. Give us our orders.”
After a quick exchange of phone numbers and Nicholas’s address, he said goodbye and headed out, looking back to wave when he got to the door.
Jena thumped her head on the desk, trying for that concussion again. “
Do not say a word.
Either one of you. I mean it.”
Jena stalked into the dressing room to change into her street clothes, taking her time brushing out her hair and carefully not looking in the mirror. She hadn’t felt this insignificant in years, but now Jena felt exactly like the insecure freshman she had been when she first met Nicholas. So much for the self-confidence of age.
When she finally judged that Leisa and Travis had been standing out there long enough to have gotten irritated and leave, she stepped out of the locker room.
She judged wrong. They were still standing where Jena had left them, Leisa browbeating Travis in hissing whispers.
“What’s up, guys?” Jena asked tiredly. “I thought you had plans tonight.”
Travis wrapped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed gently. “We do. We’re getting Thai with you, watching
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
, and drinking Captain and Coke until someone passes out.”
Jena’s eyes wanted to tear up. The sacred shitty day ritual lived. “Thanks, Travis.” Jena squeezed his waist and elbowed her friend. “And Leisa.”
After that, Jena’s evening passed well, aside from one small blip when, after a fifth of the Captain, an encore showing of
, and several choruses of Morris Day and the Time songs, Leisa finally got up her courage to mention Jena’s humiliation. “You know, Jena, maybe you should remind Nicholas. You could—”
Jena cut her off. “Cement my sterling reputation as his most forgettable fuck? Not a chance. And let us never speak of it again.” Jena tossed that ole stink eye right back at Leisa, and it must have had some effect because Leisa eventually nodded and let the topic drop. Eventually, once Leisa puked and passed out, and Jena could finally drop into bed with some hope of sleeping through the night.
She spent the night in sweaty dreams of sapphire eyes, long fingers, and positions she couldn’t even think about while awake without giggling and blushing. As a result, she woke up hung over, frustrated, and wanting to be anywhere but near Nicholas. Jena had no idea how she was supposed to spend the day with him and not attack him.
One cold shower later, Jena was dressed and making coffee when Leisa straggled into the kitchen with a hand over her eyes. Her usually perfectly styled blond hair was sticking out in all directions, and the T-shirt of Travis’s she was wearing had slipped off one shoulder.
“Why the fuck is it so bright in here?” she muttered, grabbing a cup out of the cabinet and glaring at the coffeemaker that wasn’t quite finished brewing her drug of choice.
“It’s called ‘morning,’ sweetums.” Travis walked slowly into the room and sank down in a chair, resting his elbows on the table and dropping his head in his hands. “Jen, remind me why that’s our shitty day ritual.”
Jena grinned. “Because today will be so awful that yesterday will seem bearable, I think. Breakfast, anyone?”
Travis groaned and rested his head on the table, while Leisa actually growled. Jena was feeling pretty perky now that she’d had time to wake up and take a couple Tylenol. She poured herself a bowl of cereal, got coffee for them all, and studied her friends, who were both curled up in quasi-fetal positions, hunched over the coffee cups they clutched like lifelines.
“Since I wasn’t paying attention, what time are we supposed to be at Nicholas’s?” Jena tried to sound uninterested, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Both Leisa and Travis whined as she spoke, and Leisa hissed, “
Stop screaming, Jena, for the love of God! He said he’d call—”
At that moment Jena’s phone trilled, and they both screeched and ran for Travis’s room. Jena yelled after them, “Take a shower—
—and get dressed, you two. You got us into this.” She flipped the phone open on the third ring said hello.
It was Nicholas, and after a brief conversation it was established that, yes, they were still coming over, and, yes, he would be providing lunch and beer, whether they expected him to or not. He and Conor had dinner plans, so whatever could be done before four o’clock or so would be great.
There was a short silence where Jena thought Nicholas would say goodbye, then he started talking again. “So…are you guys really sure you want to do this? I mean, I can probably manage okay. Leisa sort of takes over, doesn’t she?”
Jena replied sarcastically, and then she chuckled. “You shouldn’t have much trouble with her taking over today, though. She and Travis have hangovers from hell. We had a little too much fun last night.” An image of Travis doing the “oak tree” while Leisa rode on his back whooping flashed in Jena’s mind, and she laughed aloud.
“Did you guys go out last night after work?”
“Nah. Just Thai food, Silent Bob, and lots of rum here.”
“Sounds like fun,” he said wistfully. “How do
“Surprisingly well for someone who was dancing around in her underwear just a few hours ago.” Jena winced when her mind caught up to her mouth.
Nicholas was quiet for a second, and then he chuckled. “Jena, I hope your verbal filter never starts working. The visuals…” He groaned, and Jena laughed.
“All right, pervy, enough of that. We’ll see you in a little while.” Jena hung up, grinning. Maybe this would be okay. She’d just have to pretend that night in San Francisco never happened, and maybe they could be friends like they had been years ago.
Just as Nicholas had predicted, Jena and her friends found that his roommate had unpacked the kitchen utensils he needed, all the video games in the world, and his own room, and left everything else in the boxes in which their possessions had traveled. Nicholas did what he could and directed Jena, Leisa, and Travis in setting up the other rooms. By the time Conor came home in the afternoon as a newly employed firefighter, the apartment was more or less set up.
Nicholas introduced everyone, and Jena recognized the cropped red hair and broad shoulders she’d seen over the back of the couch in the hotel room. She held her breath, not knowing how good a look at her Conor had gotten that morning. When he greeted her with a wide, friendly smile and then turned to greet Leisa and Travis the same way, Jena finally exhaled. It seemed that she had dodged that bullet.
Within a few minutes, Travis and Conor were bonding over
Call of Duty
on the Xbox while Leisa cheered them on. Apparently, they were recovered from their debauchery, because they cheered again when Nicholas entered the room carrying a six-pack of Henry Weinhard’s and tossed one to each of them. He walked toward Jena, holding the leftovers up in their cardboard carrier and raising an eyebrow. She nodded, and he gestured to the door leading from the living room onto the balcony.
They settled down in a pair of faded Adirondack chairs. Jena flipped her ponytail over the back of her chair and lifted her face gratefully into the breeze. She soon started to feel watched, so she turned her head to the left and caught Nicholas staring at her profile. He flushed and quickly turned his eyes to the front, taking a long pull on his beer. Watching the muscles of his throat work as he swallowed, Jena licked her lips and forced back thoughts of running her tongue up from the hollow of his throat to the point of his chin. She knew exactly how he’d taste. Salty and tangy and sweet…
“Thanks for doing this, Jena.” Nicholas’s low voice broke into her fantasies, and she looked up from her close study of his throat to see him watching her with a smirk on his face. Oh yeah, he knew she was looking at him.
“No problem.” Jena took a quick sip of her beer and then gestured toward his bottle with hers to deflect his attention. “That’s not a great idea, Nicholas. I know Call has to have you on
Nick grimaced and set the bottle aside. “Party pooper.”
Jena laughed and shrugged. “Occupational hazard.” She decided to take advance of the relaxed atmosphere and change the subject. “How’d your roommate think he could get away with unpacking nothing?”
Nicholas laughed. “Because he’s Conor. And he was right, wasn’t he?”
Tipping her bottle toward him, Jena laughed, too. “Touché.”
Nicholas looked off the edge of the balcony. A tiny smile lifted the edges of his mouth as he said, “Speaking of roommates…You and Travis never…” At her eyeroll, he held up a hand with a grin. “This can’t be a new question for you.”
Jena sighed and leaned back into her seat. “Unfortunately, no. And no, we never. Trav was the guitarist in an old boyfriend’s band. The guy didn’t work out, but Travis and I hit it off. When we turned out to be in the same classes and both of us needed a roommate to make ends meet, it seemed like a godsend. He’s my best friend. End of story.”
Nick smiled. “Fair enough. Your turn to ask an awkward question.”
“Oh, is that how this goes?” Jena considered for a minute. “What happened to you that night of Diane’s party? It was weird how you disappeared.”
Nicholas’s expression became serious. “It was actually a good thing I left the party alone. When I got home, there was a message that my dad had a stroke, and I needed to leave right away. I went back to Boston that night and stayed there until a couple of days ago. Finished college at Northwestern, a couple of years of med school there, a couple of years of working as an EMT, then I started thinking about finishing med school…” He shrugged. “Davis has a great program for emergency medicine, so here I am. I guess I finally realized that living in the same city had no bearing on what might happen to my parents. What’s gonna happen is gonna happen.”
“Very smart man.” Jena watched Nicholas lift the hem of his shirt to wipe sweat off of his chin and sighed as his firm abdomen with its dark line of hair came into view.
Nicholas glanced over and caught her looking, and a wicked smile crossed his face. “Dancing in your underwear, huh?” He chuckled as Jena flushed. “Wish I could have been there. You know, I asked Diane to invite you to that party specifically in hope of seeing your underwear.”
Jena smiled and took a last long swallow of her beer, feeling a tiny drop escape her mouth and run down her chin before trickling down her throat. “I might have heard something about that just lately, in fact.” She jumped when Nicholas’s finger swept from the neckline of her tank top to her chin, gathering up the beer residue before he licked his finger clean.
He looked at her, eyebrow raised. “I don’t think a little taste can hurt me.”
Jena stopped breathing for a second and then had to gasp to get the air moving again. She got the feeling he knew exactly how crazy-sexy that little move was, and if he didn’t, it was certainly visually apparent on the front of her shirt. He laughed again as Jena tried to casually cross her arms over her chest.
Her voice was uneven as she surprised herself by saying, “Maybe you can join us for the next shitty day ritual. You never know what could happen.”
Nicholas stood up, pulling Jena to her feet with his good hand. “I have an idea,” he murmured, shifting his weight forward—
“What the hell time do we have to be at the doc’s house, Nicky?” Conor’s voice bugling from the living room disturbed the moment, and Jena jumped back. What was she thinking? Hadn’t she decided earlier that they might be able to be friends if the whole sex thing was taken off the table?