Home > Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(11)

Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(11)
Tammara Webber

I flinched from his vulgar words. I hadn’t gotten a text from Erin yet, but it wasn’t impossible that she was staying with Chaz tonight, or that Buck would know before I would.

One arm snaked around and grasped my hip, squeezing it painfully. The pain was nothing compared to the degradation of being pawed against my will.

“The stairwell is rank and uncomfortable, but doable. Why don’t we go to your room, instead? I’ll make it good for you, baby.”

His threat was obvious. If I said no, he would rape me right here. “S-someone could come into the stairwell any moment.”

He laughed. “True. Too bad you aren’t wearing that little skirt you had on the other night. I could put you against this wall and do you in two minutes without taking a thing off of you.”

My head spun. I strained against him, trying to move, even just a little, but couldn’t.

“Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been caught with some hot little freak in an off-the-wall position. And hey—bonus—if you want to get Kennedy back for dumping you, then turning into the girl who’ll do anything, anywhere, with anyone, would make him crazy.” He shrugged. “You already started with that piece of shit—and who knows who else? So we can do it here, if that’s what you want.”

“No,” I said, and his eyes flared. “My room.” My breath panted out, shaky and hopefully mistaken for horniness in his pea-brained assessment. He smiled, and I almost threw up. I’ve never wanted to vomit more, but my body fought it down instinctively.

Arm around my waist, he turned me toward the door at the top, grabbing the laundry bag from the floor. I asked myself if I was willing to do what I was about to do. If I was prepared to scream, fight and claw him in the hallway, humiliate myself in front of everyone, in hopes that he wouldn’t succeed in getting me into my room. If he did that, I was done for. The walls weren’t sound-proof, but everyone was used to hearing all sorts of noises emanating from neighboring rooms. If anyone even heard anything over their music, televisions and video games, they’d likely think nothing of it.

We emerged into the hallway, and I evaluated the people I was about to depend on. My room was six doors from the stairwell. Two guys at the opposite end of the hall were practicing kick-flips on a skateboard. Olivia stood in the middle of the hall, talking to Joe, a guy from the fourth floor. When she spotted us, her mouth dropped open before she snapped it closed, and Joe looked over his shoulder, lifted his chin at Buck, and turned back to her with a low chuckle. This was bad.

Kimber, who roomed two doors down, came into the hallway with her laundry. I stopped. It was now or never. Buck took a step forward before realizing I was holding my ground. He turned back toward me. “C’mon, J,” he coaxed.

“No. You aren’t going into my room, Buck. I want you to leave now.”

The shock registered on his face. Kimber, Olivia and Joe froze, waiting to witness firsthand whatever was about to go down.

Buck’s hand was at my elbow. “That’s not what you said a few minutes ago, babe. Let’s have this talk in private.” He tried to pull me forward, but I wrenched my arm from his meaty hand.

“I want you to leave. Now.” I glared, my chest heaving.

Indecision played across his features. Five people were watching. He put both hands up, palms out. “Don’t be mad, okay? I tried to tell you that brick would be cold and rough. It’s not my fault you couldn’t wait five minutes.” Tossing the bag over my shoulder, he said, “Call me later when you cool down, pretty girl.” He bumped fists with Joe and sauntered to the stairwell, and I waited until he disappeared through the door to move.

My face burning, I unlocked my door while Olivia whispered not-so-discreetly behind me. “Ohmygod, they just did it in the stairwell? She had some other guy in her room like, Friday night! I wonder if she was screwing around on Kennedy and that’s why he—”

I shut my door, leaned against it, and slid to the floor, quaking. Tears skated in tracks down my face and my breath shuddered out, leaving my chest aching. I wanted to run away. To go home. To be ignorant of getting dumped, of having my dreams dashed, of constantly feeling too inexperienced and stupid to deal with my own life.

I’d outwitted Buck this time, making it twice that he’d not gotten what he wanted, and he was pissed. Popular and good-looking, he could almost take his pick of girls, and from what I’d heard and witnessed, he used that advantage to the fullest. I was no prettier than girls like Olivia, who constantly threw themselves in his path. There was no reason for him to fixate on me.

There had been some early rivalry between Buck and Kennedy, but I couldn’t remember what it was. Something that happened when they were pledges. Would he harass me like this because of some grudge against my ex?

He might, if he thought he could get under Kennedy’s skin by doing it.

I was going to have to tell Erin. She would be furious with me for keeping this to myself, and I dreaded her reaction, but I had no choice. Not anymore.

Me: I need to talk to you.

Erin: I need to talk to you too! Meet me in our room after your class.

“Jacqueline, did you hook up with Buck last night?” Erin hissed as the door to our room shut behind her.

I imagined I could feel the blood draining from my face. “Where did you hear that?”

She made a noise—pshh. “Where did I not hear it? Why didn’t you tell me this morning during astronomy? And why Buck of all people? I mean he’s hot and all—”

“I didn’t.” I swallowed with difficulty, and my eyes were filling. “I didn’t, Erin.”

She blinked at my expression and crossed the room in three strides, grabbing my arms. “J, what’s the matter? What happened?”

I sunk onto my bed and she sat with me, her eyes wide.

“I… have to tell you something.”

“Okay… I’m listening…”

Where to start? Last night? Two weeks ago?

“When I left the Halloween party early—a couple of weeks ago? Buck followed me.” I chewed a loose piece of skin on my lip and knew it was bleeding. The taste of blood brought that night back more vividly and my face flushed hot. “He was drunk. He pushed me into my truck.” I held myself rigidly, forcing the words out as her mouth fell open.

“He what?” Her grip on my arm tightened.

“He was going to r-rape me—”

“Going to?”

I shut my eyes. Licked the blood from my lip. “Lucas showed up out of nowhere. He stopped him.”

“Oh my fu**ing God.”

In the silence that followed, I finally opened my eyes. Erin still gripped one of my arms as she stared at the worn carpet beneath our feet.

“Do you believe me?” The tears wouldn’t stay dammed, though I felt sure I would run dry soon. The last time I cried—before Kennedy broke up with me, before the past month—had been over a year ago, when I fractured my femur snowboarding. Before that, when our old dog, Cissie, died.

“Jacqueline, how can you—of course I believe you! What kind of question is that?” She glared at me, insulted. “And by the way, why the hell didn’t you tell me this before now? Because you didn’t think I’d believe you?” Her lip quivered, transforming her expression from offended to injured.

“Chaz and Buck are best friends, and I thought I could just… avoid him…”

“Jacqueline, this is exactly the sort of stuff women need to share with each other! I don’t give a shit if he was drunk—”

“There’s more.”

She sat, staring and silent.

“Last night, he caught me in the stairwell.” Erin’s eyes grew round and I shook my head. “Nothing happened. I tricked him into coming upstairs by saying we could go to my room. When we got into the hallway, with other people around, I told him to leave.” I covered my face with my hands and choked out the rest. “He made it sound like we’d done it in the stairwell. Olivia heard him—”

“I get the picture,” Erin said, grabbing my hands. “That gossipy whore has no right to spread rumors about anyone. I don’t care about her. But be honest with me, J. Did he hurt you? Did he?” Her eyes flashed.

I shook my head. “He just scared me.”

She sighed, her forehead creased in thought, and then she straightened. “Wait. So that lying bastard ran into Lucas’s fists multiple times, not a couple of homeless thugs?”

“Yeah.”

The hurt crept across her face—I could see it in her eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

My shoulders slid up and down, almost imperceptibly. “I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

Her answer was to put her arms around me. “And Lucas? You knew him before all of this?”

I leaned against her, tucked my head under her chin. “No. I’d never seen him before that night. Our econ class is huge, and it’s not like I was looking around at other guys. I had Kennedy.” My hands flipped palm up on my lap. “Or, I thought I did.”

Erin’s arms tightened. “Of course you did.”

Chapter 10

“Do you go to the tutoring sessions? I’ve only been a couple of times, but I don’t remember seeing you there.” Benji’s voice snapped my attention from Lucas.

“Huh?”

He chuckled as I shoved my econ text into the backpack at my feet, embarrassed at having been caught sneaking a glance at Lucas. Again.

“Tutoring sessions? I wish I could, but I have another class at the same time. We’ve emailed, though—I needed help catching up, after my two-week hiatus from sanity.”

Suddenly I realized—if Benji had attended the tutoring sessions, that meant he had seen Landon. I’d also deduced, from a few deliberately transparent comments, that Benji was gay. So he might not be opposed to answering questions such as Exactly how hot is the econ tutor?

“So you’ve been to a couple of sessions, huh?”

He nodded, and I decided to start with something way more fundamental.

“Is there any chance the tutor is, you know, gay?” I held my breath, waiting for his answer.

“What, like I hand out a survey?” He laughed when I blinked, worried I’d just offended him. “I’m just messing with ya. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t play for my team. Though if he did, he’d be a little out of my league.” He sucked in and patted his stomach, which was made somewhat flat by his efforts. “Nothing a couple of weeks at the gym and giving up bread for the weekend wouldn’t take care of.”

I rolled my eyes. “Shut up.”

He sighed. “I love being a guy. Need to lose five pounds? Go without ketchup for a couple of weeks. Problem. Solved.”

We shouldered our backpacks and trudged up the stairs. “I really hate you right now.”

He laughed, more so when my eyes scanned the space between Lucas’s seat and the door. He was gone. “So, you’re trading emails and intense do-me stares in class. I’m guessing you aren’t the only girl—or guy—in Heller’s class who thinks the tutor’s hot like a spicy tamale—but you may be the only one where the feeling is mutual.”

I heard his teasing words, but nothing registered after I made the connection that had been right in from of me. “Lucas… is the tutor?”

Benji halted with me, both of us buffeted by people parting around us. “I didn’t know his name, but yeah—holy shit.” He dragged me from the heavy flow of foot traffic. “You didn’t know he was the tutor?” He smiled. “I guess you’ll be going to the sessions now, huh? I mean, technically, you’re off-limits, but you aren’t the only one in that staring game or I wouldn’t tease you.” He leaned his face down and looked into my eyes. “Jacqueline? What the hell?”

I considered the emails he wrote to me as Landon, and Lucas’s stares, his texts… and most notably, the sketching and makeout session five days ago. After which he hadn’t texted. Or emailed. Or told me he was Landon!

“I didn’t know.” Like I needed one more damned thing to make me feel like an utter idiot.

“Hello, Ms. Obvious, I sorta deduced that from your dazed and confused expression. Maybe he thought you knew?”

I shook my head. “He knew I didn’t know.” I frowned. “And what do you mean, that I’m off-limits?”

He lifted one shoulder. “My roommate tutored freshman chemistry. Tutors have to attend the class they’re doing sessions for, but they aren’t allowed to, you know, fraternize with those students. Conflict of interest. Not as big of a deal as GTAs or professors—who are advised against hooking up with any student at all. Still, it’s not like it doesn’t happen. We’re all human.”

I stared at the floor. “Am I just completely freaking clueless? How did I not know?”

Benji tucked a finger under my chin. “Um. I’m getting the distinct feeling there’s been some fraternizing going on.” He sighed at the look on my face. “Look, if you never attended a tutoring session, and neither of his alter egos told you he was the same guy, how were you supposed to know, exactly?”

The tension in my shoulders deflated. “I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right. Now what?”

My jaw locked. “No idea. But one thing’s for sure—I’m not telling him I know.”

Benji shook his head, one arm around my shoulders as we merged back into the stream of students. “When I registered for econ, I had no idea that I’d be in for this level of reality-show drama. It’s like a big fat bonus.”

***

Erin: I signed us up for a self-defense class

Me: What??

Erin: Put on by the campus po-po. Saturdays 9-noon, starts this week, skips the weekend after Thanksgiving, then 2 more.

Me: Okay.

Erin: We get to beat the shit outta guys in those big puffy suits!!! I’ve always wanted to really kick the crap outta some guy’s nuts. Now I can do it guilt-free!

Me: You’re a sick girl.

Erin: Guilty as charged. :)

***

On Friday, I didn’t look in Landon/Lucas’s direction once. Not one single time. It had been a week since our university-prohibited makeout. Was that the pull for him? That I was forbidden fruit? I’d show him forbidden.

When we were packing up, Benji looked over my shoulder, his eyebrows rising into the dark curls falling over his forehead.

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