Home > Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(6)

Easy (Contours of the Heart #1)(6)
Tammara Webber

I frowned. “What does it mean?”

Erin shook her head, smiling. “Come on, J—have you ever in your life been attracted to a bad boy? Or a boy who’s, um, academically challenged? In other words, a boy who isn’t—gasp!—a brainiac?”

My mouth fell open. “Shut up! Are you saying I’m an intellectual snob?”

“No! We didn’t say you were—we don’t mean that. We just mean… you sure didn’t look indifferent to this Lucas guy tonight, while you two danced together for like ever, and it sounds like he’s maybe not your usual type—”

“My only ‘type’ has been Kennedy for the past three years! Who knows what my type is?”

“Don’t get huffy. You know what I mean—you don’t even crush on dumb guys.”

“Well, who does?” I rebelled against the idea that Lucas was dumb. Maybe he was unmotivated in economics, but nothing about him seemed unintelligent.

“Hello!?” Maggie called. “Do you even know Will?” We all dissolved into fits of giggles. Maggie’s boyfriend was a sweet guy, and he could probably bench press a small Honda, but he wouldn’t be winning any acclaim for his GPA.

“Chaz is brainier than me—but that’s not saying much,” Erin said.

I’ve tried repeatedly to get her to quit knocking her B-average intellect, but at some point in her life, she became convinced that she’s not smart. I poked her in the arm, as I have every time she’s spouted that self-deprecating nonsense.

“Ow! I’m just being honest!”

“No, you’re not.”

“Anyway,” Erin continued, “I’ve been known to slum it and shop in the gag-him-and-bag-him aisles, believe it or not.” Maggie hooted a laugh behind us as Erin continued. “Have y’all seen the guy who took me to senior prom?” We’d all seen her photos of that guy—the Adonis in a tux, his arm around her silk-clad waist. “What a body—holy cow, I just wanted to lick his abs. He was in remedial classes, but let me tell you, he was gifted and talented at plenty of non-academic occupations.”

I was pretty sure my face was on fire—as it was whenever my roommate elaborated so explicitly, and Maggie was laughing so hard she was having trouble breathing. They’d both come to college single and sexually experienced. Kennedy and I had been sleeping together since winter break of senior year, but I’d never been with anyone else. I’d had no complaints about our sex life, though the occasional magazine article or something Erin said made me wonder if there was more to it than I knew.

“And all of this proves—?”

Erin grinned at me. “It proves you’re ready for a long-overdue Bad Boy Phase.”

“Ooohhh,” Maggie sighed.

“Um. I don’t think—”

“Exactly. Don’t think. You’re gonna seduce this Lucas guy and rebound the hell out of him. That’s the thing about bad boys—they don’t have any qualms about being the rebound guy because they don’t hang around for long anyway. He probably lives for being the rebound guy—especially in a situation like this, where he’ll get to teach you all sorts of naughty stuff.”

Maggie endorsed Erin’s crazy idea with one heavily sighed word. “Lucky.”

I thought of Lucas’s hands at my waist, his mouth grazing my ear, and I shivered. I recalled his penetrating gaze Wednesday during class, and the breath in my lungs went shallow. Maybe I was experiencing alcohol perspective, and everything would look different tomorrow—but at the moment, Erin’s crazy idea was starting to sound almost not crazy.

Oh, hell.

***

I was a ball of nerves as I approached the classroom Monday morning, unsure if I should initiate the man-snaring strategy I’d agreed to test on my unsuspecting classmate, or abandon it fully while I still could. He walked into the room ahead of me, and I watched his eyes flick over my recently assigned seat, and the vacant one next to Kennedy, who was already seated, thank God. I had about thirty seconds to reconsider the whole thing.

Erin and Maggie hadn’t let up on the thankfully short drive back to the dorm, feeding each other’s enthusiasm and swearing envy over what I was about to do. Or who I was about to do. Since Erin had nothing to drink on Saturday but Diet Dr. Pepper, she’d sprung out of bed Sunday morning unhungover and chock-full of plans for Operation Bad Boy Phase.

I pretended more of a hangover than I had, just to put her off, but Erin with an idea was not readily put off. Determined to impart her how-to-seduce-a-guy knowledge whether I wanted it or not, she’d shoved a bottle of orange juice into my hands as I grumbled and pulled myself to a sitting position. I wanted to tug the covers over my head and plug my ears, but it was far too late for that.

She plopped next to me. “First, you have to approach this with no fear. Seriously, they can smell fear. It totally puts them off the scent.”

I frowned. “Off the scent? That’s so…” I tried to think of a more suitable word than aaauugh, but my brain hadn’t booted up yet.

“That’s so true, you mean? Look—guys are dogs. Women have known this since the beginning of time. Guys don’t want to be chased; they chase. So if you’re going to catch one, you have to know how to make him chase you.”

I squinted at her. Archaic, sexist, demeaning my brain declared, filling in for aaauugh, too late. This viewpoint shouldn’t have surprised me—I’d heard her say these sorts of things before. I just never considered those off-the-cuff remarks to be part of a creed.

I chugged half of the OJ before commenting. “You’re serious about this.”

She cocked an eyebrow. “This is where I don’t say ‘as a heart attack,’ right?”

***

Go time.

I took a deep breath. I had three minutes until class started. Erin said I needed one minute, no more than two. “But two is pushing it,” she insisted, “because then you look too interested. One is better.”

I slid into the seat next to him, but perched on the edge, making it obvious that I had no intention of remaining. His eyes snapped to mine immediately, dark brows disappearing into that messy hair falling over his forehead. His eyes were almost colorless. I’d never seen anyone with eyes so light.

He was definitely startled by my appearance next to him. Good, according to Erin and Maggie.

“Hey,” I said, a subtle smile on my lips, hoping I appeared somewhere between interested and indifferent. According to Erin and Maggie, that impression was a vital part of the strategy.

“Hey.” He opened his econ text, concealing the open sketchbook in front of him. Before he obscured it, I caught a detailed illustration of the venerated old oak tree in the center of campus and the ornamental wrought iron fence surrounding it.

I swallowed. Interested and indifferent. “So, it just occurred to me that I don’t remember your name from the other night. Too many margaritas, I guess.”

He wet his lips and stared at me a moment before answering, and I blinked, wondering if he was purposefully making my loosely-sustained indifference more challenging to maintain. “It’s Lucas. And I don’t think I gave it.”

In the next moment, Dr. Heller entered noisily near the podium, catching his handled case in the door. An audible, “Dammit,” echoed through the lecture hall, thanks to the planned acoustics of the room. Lucas and I smiled at each other as our fellow classmates tittered.

“So… you, um, called me Jackie, before?” I said, and his head tilted slightly. “I actually go by Jacqueline. Now.”

His brows drew down slightly. “Okay.”

I cleared my throat and stood—surprising him again, judging by his expression. “Nice to meet you, Lucas.” I smiled again before turning away and darting to my assigned seat.

Keeping my attention on the lecture and defying the compulsion to peek over my shoulder was excruciating. I was sure I felt Lucas’s eyes boring into the back of my head. Like an out-of-reach itch, the sensation nettled me for fifty minutes straight, and it took herculean effort to refrain from turning around. Unknowingly, Benji helped by making distracting observations on Dr. Heller, like tallying the number of times he said, “Uuummm,” during the lecture with marks at the top of his notebook, and pointing out the fact that our professor was sporting one navy and one brown sock.

Instead of lingering at the end of class to see what Lucas would do (speak to me or ignore me?), instead of waiting for Kennedy to leave (funny, I’d paid scant attention to him for the past hour—that was a first), I swung my backpack onto my shoulder and practically sprinted from the room without looking at either of them. Emerging from the side door into the crisp fall air, I sucked in a deep breath. Agenda: Spanish class, lunch, Starbucks.

Erin: How’d OBBP go?

Me: Got him to tell me his name. Went back to my seat. Didn’t look at him again.

Erin: Perfect. Meet you after next class for more strategizing before coffee. ;)

***

When Erin and I joined the line at the Starbucks, I didn’t see Lucas.

“Rats.” She craned her neck, making sure he wasn’t one of the people behind the counter. “He was here last Monday, right?”

I shrugged. “Yeah, but his work schedule is probably unpredictable.”

She elbowed me lightly. “Not so much. That’s him there, right?”

He came through a door to the back with an industrial-sized bag of coffee. My physical reaction to him was unnerving. It was as though my insides all clenched up at the sight of him, and when they unwound, everything restarted at once—my heart rate accelerating, lungs pumping air, brainwaves running amok.

“Ooh, J, he’s got ink, too,” Erin murmured appreciatively. “Just when I didn’t think he could get any hotter...”

My eyes fell to his forearms, flexing as he sliced the bag open. Tattooed designs wrapped around his wrists, contiguous symbols and script running up both arms and disappearing into the sleeves of the gray knit shirt, which were shoved above his elbows. I’d never seen him without his sleeves pulled to the wrists. Even Saturday night, he’d worn long sleeves—a faded black button-down, open over a white t-shirt.

I’d never been attracted to guys with tattoos. The notion of needles injecting ink under the skin and the confidence of making permanent imprints of words and symbols was foreign to me. Now, I wondered how far the tattoos spread—just the sleeves of his arms? His back? His chest?

Erin tugged my arm as the line moved forward. “You’re botching our carefully crafted indifferent act, by the way. Not that I can blame you.” She sighed. “Maybe we should bail now before he—”

I glanced at her when she fell silent, and watched a devious smile cross her face as she turned to me.

“Keep looking at me,” she said, laughing as though we were having an amusing conversation. “He’s staring at you. And I mean staring. That boy is undressing you with his eyes. Can you feel it?” Her expression was triumphant.

Could I feel his stare? I can now, thanks, I thought. My face heated.

“Oh, my God, you’re blushing,” she whispered, her dark eyes widening.

“No shit.” My teeth were clenched, voice tight. “Stop telling me he’s—he’s—”

“Undressing you with his eyes?” She laughed again and I’d never wanted to kick her more. “Okay, okay—but J, do not worry. You’ve got this. I don’t know what you’ve done to him, but he’s ready to sit up and beg. Trust me.” She glanced in his direction. “Okay, he’s starting a new batch of coffee now. You can do your own staring.”

We stepped closer; there were only two people in front of us. I watched Lucas replace the filter, measure out the coffee, and set the controls. His green apron was haphazardly secured in the back—more of a knot than a bow. The ties drew my eyes to his h*ps in his worn, low-slung jeans, one pocket holding a wallet to which a loose chain was attached. It disappeared under the apron, linking to a front belt loop, no doubt.

He turned then, eyes on the second register as he punched buttons and brought it to life. I wondered if he planned to ignore me as I had him during class. It would serve me right, playing this game. Just as the guy in front of me began his detailed drink order to the girl at the first register, Lucas’s gaze swung up to meet mine. “Next?” The steel gray of his shirt set off the gray in his eyes, the blue disappearing. “Jacqueline.” He greeted me with a smirk, and I worried that he could read my mind, and the devious plans Erin had implanted in it. “Americano today, or something else?”

He remembered my drink order from a week ago.

I nodded, and he flashed a barely-there grin at my bemusement, ringing up the order and printing the cup with a sharpie. Instead of passing it to a coworker, though, he made the drink himself.

He added a protective sleeve and a lid and handed me the cup. I couldn’t read his trace of a smile. “Have a nice day.” Looking over my shoulder, he said, “Next?”

I joined Erin at the pick-up counter, confused and sulking.

“He made the drink for you?” She retrieved her drink and followed me to the condiment counter.

“Yeah.” I removed the lid and added sugar and milk while she shook cinnamon over her latte. “But he just handed it over like I was any other customer and took the next guy’s order.” We watched him interact with customers. He didn’t once glance my way.

“I could have sworn he was so into you he couldn’t see straight,” she mused as we left, rounding a corner to join the mass of people flowing through the student center.

“Hey, baby!” Chaz’s voice pulled both of us from our thoughts. He snatched Erin out of the flow of people and I followed, laughing at her delighted squeal until I noticed the guy standing next to him.

My face went hot, blood pounding in my ears. As our friends kissed hello and began talking about what time they each got off work tonight, Buck stared down at me, his mouth turning up on one side. My breath came in pants and I fought to keep the rising panic and nausea under control. I wanted to turn and run, but I was immobilized.

He couldn’t touch me here. He couldn’t hurt me here.

“Hey, Jackie.” His piercing gaze roamed over me and my skin crawled. “Lookin’ good, as always.” His words gushed flirtation, but all I felt was the threat underneath, intended or not.

The bruises had faded from his face, but weren’t entirely gone. One yellowish streak ringed his left eye, and another brushed along the right side of his nose like a pale smear. Lucas had given him those, and only the three of us knew it. I stared back, mute, the coffee clutched in my hand. I’d once thought this boy handsome and charming—the all-American veneer he wore fooling me as thoroughly as it fooled everyone else.

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