Authors: Jo Raven
Kiss Me Goodbye
(Inked Brotherhood, #0.5)
Prequel to ASHER and Inked Brotherhood series
by Jo Raven
At fourteen, Audrey has the perfect life: great parents, great buddies, and her best friend, Asher. Only lately Asher has begun to change. He seems distant and standoffish, ignoring Audrey.
Not all of the changes are bad. He’s growing from a pretty boy into a handsome man, and Audrey is all too aware of that. But if they cross the line from friends to something more, will things stay the same or will she lose her best friend forever?
This is not an erotic story. It is the prequel to the events that unfold in “Asher” and set up many of the characters of the Inked Brotherhood Series.
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Kiss Me Goodbye
(Inked Brotherhood, #0.5)
Copyright Jo Raven 2014
Cover art by Nathalie Aynié
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, events, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
KISS ME GOODBYE
My best friend. My partner in crime. My savior in math class.
Chewing on my lower lip, clutching my backpack to my chest, I watch him from across the school yard. I’m worried.
He’s changed. In many ways. Lately he’s become distant, quiet. Doesn’t sit with me on the school bus. Doesn’t sit with me in English class. Doesn’t seek me out during break. Doesn’t share his chocolate bar with me, something he’s done ever since he moved into my neighborhood and became my best buddy five years ago.
There’s a hardness in his blue eyes that wasn’t there before. A stiffness to his posture. It’s as if he put on a steel armor with spikes that keeps me away.
As if I’ve grown invisible to his eyes.
“Audrey!” Dylan jogs toward me, grinning. “We’re going for ice-cream. Come on.”
The September sunlight is warm on my face, and ice-cream sounds good. Rafe and Zane are walking toward us, discussing something, their heads bent together.
“Where’s Tess?” I ask, distracted, trying to buy some time, see if Ash will come talk to me. I’ve been looking right at him for a while, but he’s pretending to be checking his cell phone.
I knew he’s pretending. Has to be pretending. I’m sure he’s seen me. He can’t
care. That isn’t possible.
An ache settles in my chest.
“Audrey?” Dylan is staring at me. “Tess can’t make it today, her mom is visiting her. Are you coming?”
“Go ahead. I’ll find you there.”
Dylan sighs and without looking, I know he’s disappointed. “Ash acting up again?”
“What’s up with him anyway?” Dylan and Ash are buddies in the soccer team. Best friends.
“You tell me.”
“He’s just being weird lately.”
Tell me about it.
Dylan gestures at Rafe and Zane and they depart together, leaving me to solve the Asher Devlin riddle.
Drawing a fortifying breath, I walk toward Ash.
Yeah, he’s changed in many ways, and I have to admit, not all of them are bad. He’s always been a tall boy, but now he’s begun to fill out, his shoulders broad and his chest strong. His jaw is now square and it makes the softness of his mouth all the more...
? Heat rolls up my neck. What’s wrong with me? He’s a boy. Boys aren’t interesting. They’re stupid, arrogant, ugly, awkward and stinky.
“Ash,” I say loudly and stand in front of him.
His eyes flick up, ice-blue, framed by dark lashes, and okay, maybe this boy isn’t ugly. Or awkward. Or stinky. He smells way too good, like clean sweat and spice.
As for the stupid and arrogant part... The jury’s still out on that one.
“Auds,” he say, his low voice both familiar and alien, deeper than usual. Then again, it’s been deepening for a while now.
No reason why it should make me shiver. “Hey, Ash.”
He has a dark smudge on his jaw. Is it a bruise? Tess says she heard Ash was in a fight after classes yesterday.
I can’t believe it. Ash isn’t like that, but the smudge sure looks like a bruise the more I look at it.
I clear my throat. “Wanna come for ice-cream? Zane, Rafe and Dylan are going.”
“Nah, I’ll pass.”
His voice always has a rasp to it, and today for the first time I can feel it on my skin, like a physical touch. How is that possible?
Then his gaze dips to my chest, darkening, and holy crap, I know what he’s doing. Ash is checking me out.
The shock sends me back a step. I’ve seen boys do that all the time, but he’s never done it with me. At least that I’ve noticed.
. Best friends don’t do that.
Then why am I fascinated by his mouth, its beautiful shape, the way it tips up on one side in a crooked smile? His eyes are now fastened on my face and he leans toward me, a hand lifting as if to touch my cheek.
Then he shakes himself as if from a dream and lets his hand drop. “Gotta go.”
And with that, he pushes past me and strides out of the school gates.
The cafeteria is crowded. Nevertheless, Tessa and I find a half-empty table at the end of the long room and set our trays down. She got burger and fries, her standard fare. Girl likes cheap, greasy food. If I ate like that I’d go up three sizes.
She also rocks ripped jeans and dirty sneakers. Everything her parents don’t let her have when she’s home with them, in Chicago. The way she tells it, when she’s with them, she has to dress up in skirts and high heels, do her hair up and act all grown-up.
And rich. Because she is. That is, her parents are. But when she’s here in Madison, living with her aunt, she can do whatever she likes, and she’s quite wild. She has a list of TBK (to-be-kissed) boys and she’s been striking them off one by one. Nobody has come back to complain so far.
Only there’s that one boy who’s not on the list and yet he’s the one Tess really wants: Dylan. I know this because she flushes whenever he’s around and peeks at him whenever he’s not looking.
And the funny thing is, he does exactly the same thing when she’s not looking.
It’s too cute.
I have a plan to bring them together during Rafe’s birthday party at his house this Saturday. Okay, so it’s not really a
plan, but an idea.
Fingers crossed it will succeed. I want to see her happy. Dylan, too. That boy has a list of his own, that much is obvious. It’s as if they’re both working their way through the school and around each other, making sure they never meet. I’m about to foil their carefully laid-out plans.
And this is one mission I don’t plan on failing.
The thought makes me grin and I turn to filch a fry from Tessa’s plate. Then I see Ash. He’s sitting down to eat a few tables away, together with a boy I don’t know. I raise my hand and wave at him, gesturing for them to come sit with us.
His gaze is right on me and I lower my hand, waiting for him to stand up, pick up his tray and make his way over. We always eat together. Well, apart from the times he never showed up, more and more often lately.
But he just sits there, working his jaw. Then he turns his gaze back down, to his tray, and picks up his fork and knife.
My jaw hangs slack. Why is he doing this? To me, his best fiend? I can feel everyone looking at me as I make a fool of myself—waving like an idiot and then my face crumbling when he ignores me as if I’m dirt under his shoe.
“Just ignore him, Aud. He’ll come around. Full circle.” Tessa tugs on my arm. She must be going through her Buddhist phase again. It happens, like, once a year.
I struggle not to let the tears burning in my eyes fall. “You think? He’s been like this for weeks now. Giving me the cold shoulder.” Though it’s the first time he ignores me completely in a public place. The first time he won’t even eat with me. I lift my ice-tea and take a sip, willing its coolness to fill my veins with ice.
“Except when he’s looking at you. Then his eyes go like X-rays, shooting flames and everything.”
I choke on my ice tea. “What?”
“He just stares at you when you’re not looking, and he has this really intense expression on his face, like he’s suffering. Like you’re tearing his heart out of his chest and then—”
“Tess, shut up!” I shove her until she flops in her chair. “You’re watching too many soap operas.”
“I’m so not. He really does look at you like that.”
But it makes me feel a bit better. I can’t forget the way he looked at me that day in the school yard, the heat in his gaze. I don’t understand why it unsettles me and pleases me so much. Why I want to see that look on his face again.
Can’t understand what is happening to him. Why he’s so contradictory when he’s always been the most stable thing in my life.
Zane slips into the seat next to mine. His dark hair is spiked in the middle and his dark, slanted eyes widen. “What are the long faces for?”
I bow my head over my food and swallow hard. My appetite is all gone. Then I look up again because I swear I feel a gaze on me, and sure enough, it’s Ash, staring right at me, his eyes bright.
He flinches when our eyes meet, and he turns away.
He’s acting so weird, honest.
“Coming to Rafe’s party on Saturday?” Tessa points a fry at Zane. “Say yes.”
“Yes.” He grins. “It’s gonna be awesome. Everyone will be there and it’s gonna rock ’cause his parents are out of town.”
“Alcohol?” Tessa asks.
Zane’s grin widens. “Didn’t I say it’s gonna be awesome? Dylan will be late but he’s coming, too, and Ash...”
“Who cares if Dylan’s coming?” Tessa frowns and stuffs her mouth with burger.
Zane shakes his head and grabs his coke. “What’s the deal with you and Dylan? I swear I don’t get you, fuckers. You either love or hate each other, and I don’t know which it is.”
“Hate,” Tessa says around the burger. “All out hate.”
Zane snorts. “And why would you hate him?”
Tessa shrugs and swallows. “Why not?”
“Right, what’s there not to hate?” I say under my breath. Dylan is tall and handsome, built like a god, his blond hair mussed. When he grins, he has a dimple. A very sexy dimple. Girls swoon over him all the time.
Come to think about it, maybe this is what Tessa hates about him. Makes sense.
I only need to shove them together so they kiss. I have this weird notion in my head that when you kiss someone you know immediately if he’s the one for you. Like a magical connection unfurling through the kiss.
Maybe I’m the one watching too many soap operas.
“Hey, Ash!” Zane twists around in his seat and waves.
Ash, who’s standing up from his table, lifts a hand. His gaze flicks toward me, and he suddenly beams a megawatt grin at me and winks.
Leaving me speechless.
What was that?
“Ash is coming to the party, too,” Zane says, turning back toward us. “I think he needs some cheering up.”
“What he needs is a kick in the nuts,” Tessa says cheerfully, and I laugh, giddy—because he grinned at me, and he winked.
Am I going crazy? Shouldn’t I be mad at him for ignoring me before? But my face is hot and I can’t stop smiling.
This boy confuses me so much.
“What has the fucker done now?” Zane asks.
“Acting weird,” Tessa says.
Zane doesn’t comment, digging into his spaghetti. And it strikes me that he’s acting weird, too. As if he knows Ash is not himself, as if he knows
—and doesn’t want to share.