I rubbed my cheek on the smooth leather of his car. The top was down on the antique mustang, engine rumbling through the night as it glided along the coast. Traces of sea, salt, and moonlight sand. It smelled like home.
The wind whipped over my face, slowly clearing the haziness of my alcohol-clogged brain. "Tristan," I moaned. "I think I'm going to be sick." I laid my head over my hand on the window's ledge and closed my eyes.
"Not in my car you're not," he grumbled.
Never in his precious car. The only thing Tristan loved more than himself.
And still, I was glad he was taking me home.
It's been more than a year since I'd seen Preston's older brother, and it had been a night I'd never forgotten—the screams, the fists, the blood, the look in Tristan's eyes. I blocked the images and sounds from my mind, letting the sickness overwhelm me. It was far better than reliving that dreadful night.
"Are you cold?" he asked and turned on the heat, not waiting for me to answer.
I wasn't. If anything I was so freaking hot.
I stared at the ink covering his entire arm before it disappeared under the black T-shirt only to reappear at the collar and wind up his neck. His body was a tapestry of art, from the black raven on his arm to tree that covered his back. I itched to kiss the constellation of stars curling around his neck.
And that was how I knew I was drunk.
There would be no doing anything with my mouth and Tristan Malone's body. None!
These twisted fantasies had to stop. Tristan wasn't even nice to me. If anything, this might have been the kindest gesture he’d ever shown me and that was sad.
He was only three years older than me, but sometimes he seemed so mature, far older than twenty-one. He drove like he was born for fast cars and dangerous curves. "Where's the bike?" I asked, thinking about the few times he'd taken me home from school at his mother's orders. I loved the freedom of riding on his motorcycle, the danger and the closeness. It was the only time I could wrap my arms around him without feeling guilty or my cheeks staining with embarrassment.
His fingers clutched the steering wheel, the quote tattooed on his fingers curving with his movements. "I didn't want you falling off the back."
Valid point. In my current state, I wasn't sure I would have been able to handle hanging on or the speed and sharp turns. Tristan didn't do anything safe. "Why were you there?"
He toyed with the hoop at the corner of his lip, the silver glinting in the moonlight. Damn, I hated when he did that or more what it did to me. Drove me crazy. Why couldn't be ugly instead of sinfully hot? "It doesn't matter," Tristan muttered.
But it did to me.
"It's been a long time. How you doing, Ever?" he asked, glancing sideways at me. A slice of moonlight hit the left side of his cheekbone. The edginess of his voice had softened enough for me to notice. He was irritated for some reason, whether it was at me or something else, I didn't know and probably didn't want to know.
I knew what he was asking me, what everyone continually asked since that night six months ago. I didn't want to think about, let alone talk about it, even with Tristan. "Better," I murmured, keeping my eyes hooded as I sucked in a breath of air.
"Liar," he grinned in that wicked way of his.
"What's it matter? No one wants to hear the truth," I snapped, turning that familiar agony into scorching anger. The rage was easy, less painful.
"I do. " The depth behind those words hit me in the chest. Tristan was many things, but a liar was not one of them. He didn't pretend to be anything but who he was. He embraced that dark side of him in ways I only wished I had the courage to do.
My head dropped onto the leather seat as I stared up into the stars, watching them swirl together. Not a cloud was in sight. I was too goddamn drunk to have this conversation. "I don't want to talk about it, Tristan," I pleaded, the fury fizzing out from my voice, leaving me feeling deflated.
"What were you thinking going to one of Lang's parties? Where the hell is Preston? Why wasn't he with you? He damn well knows better," Tristan snarled.
Removing the rubber band I always kept at my wrist, I tossed my hair into a messy bun, the wind already having wreaked havoc on it. "We had a fight."
Those full lips pursed. "Of course, you did. So you decided to punish him by going to this childish summer bash and getting shitfaced?"
"What do you care? I'm grown-ass adult now if you haven't noticed. I can come and go as I please. If it was so childish, what were you doing there?" I pressed again, realizing he'd never gave me a straight answer before.
"I had business to attend to."
Now who was the liar? What was he really doing at Lang's? Lang Taylor had a reputation around 30A. Bad. Bad. Bad. But his parties were legendary and usually ended with the cops breaking it up, multiple people going to jail, only to have their parents money get them a slap on the wrist in court. Then they did it again, an endless cycle of parties, drugs, booze, and god knew what else went on. I'd never been to one before tonight. "What kind of business?"
"The kind where you should mind your own business," he bit out.
Asshole. Tristan Malone was an asshole. Would serve him right if I puked my guts out in his classic car. The thought made my lips twitch.
And then my stomach rolled. My hand flew to my mouth. Oh, God. Why did I think about throwing up? It was as if I'd opened the floodgates to my churning stomach. "Tristan," I barely managed to mumble, feeling my face go green.
"Shit," he swore, jerking the car off to the side of the road and slammed on the breaks. Dust and rocks spit up under the tires.
I fumbled with the door handle, but he was suddenly there, ripping it open and hauling me out of the car. "Get out," he growled.
In my finest moment ever, I stumbled out of the car and dropped to my knees, not caring about the dirt or grass. I hurled what felt like gallons of vomit into the bushes.
I wiped the back of my hand over my mouth. "Not if you keep glaring at me like that."
"Get in. Let's hope your drunk ass can wait until we get home."
Home, my bodied sighed. He meant his home, not mine technically, but I since my father was overseas on business for a few months, I was staying with the Malone's until classes started. My father was afraid to leave me alone since that night.
I banished those drifting thoughts and the deep wound that was still too fresh, especially in my emotional drunk state. The floodgates were just waiting to be opened and it wouldn't take much to push me over the edge.
I managed to stumble my way back into the car, no longer caring why Tristan was at Lang's, only how fast I could get to bed. The relief of purging my stomach was short-lived as Tristan steered the car back onto the road. I always assumed the next time I saw Tristan, I'd be looking my best, put together, mature, without my makeup running down my face or puke snot clogging my nose.
My eyes drifted shut as I curled up into the front seat.
Of all nights Tristan would have to return, he chose this one, when I was feeling lost and wallowing in such self-pity that I had resorted to drowning my messed up existence in alcohol. Portraying myself as normal these last months had taken a toll, not only on my relationship with Preston but on me. The once confident, driven, and social girl of 30A had turned into someone I didn't recognize. I was used to having my shit together, and with college coming up, I should be organizing, shopping, making detailed lists. It was my career on the line and yet, I didn't know what I wanted to do with myself.
And after tonight, I was officially swearing off all future Lang parties. I'd go as far as to say all parties in general, but I knew Sam. She wasn't about to miss out on all those future colleges and I would be dragged along, the dutiful friend.
Faking life sucked.
* * *
An obnoxious stream of sunlight was beaming across my face. The roaring in my head was intolerable and I found it hard to decipher between the waves crashing outside and the ones in my head.
A groan pulled from my lips.
I was dying.
It sure as hell felt that way. Pressing a hand to my temple, I pondered whether it was wise to get out of bed for a bottle of aspirins or if I should just bury myself under the covers until the sun decided to stop being so god awful cheery.
Pills. I needed relief from the incessant pounding in my head. And I needed it like yesterday.
I was about to roll out of bed when I realized something was pinning me down. Now what? I swear God hates me.
With another groan of misery, I lifted a hand to push off whatever was weighing me down and connected with warm flesh. My eyes flung open, blinking rapidly against the bright light that made me regret the hasty decision. Why couldn't it be cloudy or raining?
The room came into focus, bit by bit, like stepping back from a watercolor painting, the images becoming clearer. There was something unusual about the ceiling, even the scent of the room, nothing floral or sweet, but as if Preston had been doused the sheets with his soap or cologne.
No, not Preston. The scent was off.
I scanned my eyes over the dark grey wooden walls, the chair in the corner covered in clothes, and the walkout balcony that overlooked the ocean beyond the open glass doors. I never left my patio doors open for fear of being abducted in the middle of the night.
It became obvious this wasn't my room.
I swallowed, a feeling of dread working its way into my throat. No. No way. This couldn't be...
Oh, but it was.
I'd only been inside this particular room a handful of times, and most of them had ended with Tristan telling me to get the hell out, so how did I end up in his bed?
Then I remembered.
Please, please for the love of God, tell me I'm dreaming.
I had to still be drunk. That was it.
I was afraid to look over at the other side of the bed, afraid who I would see, what I would see. So I glanced down at the tattooed arm slung over my hip, broad fingers splaying over my belly.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
It was like every fantasy I'd ever had turned into a bad episode of Jerry Springer.