Dinner was the longest meal of my life and uneventful, at least by the latest standards of my life. The conversation was lively, swirling around me like a cyclone, but the problem was, I was distracted, only picking up bits and pieces, nodding when necessary.
I lost track of the number of times Mr. Malone took jabs at Tristan. Not surprising. And not that I cared. I was starting to think perhaps his family was right about him after all, yet Tristan didn't seem fazed by his father.
It was all normal for the Malone's.
Nothing ever really got to Tristan, not that he ever showed. He had this shield about him that made him untouchable. In high school, Tristan had ruled our school. He was three years older than Preston and I, and even as a Freshman, we knew, no one screwed with Tristan, or Preston for that matter. And because I was Preston's girlfriend, that circle of protection had always extended to me.
No one dared to look twice at me or corner me in the girl's bathroom. Just the opposite. Girls lined up to be my friend for a chance to date Tristan or at least the opportunity to bang his brains out. It used to annoy the shit out of me, and just thinking about it, that irritation flared to life.
Why was I suddenly losing that protection? It didn't make sense why Tristan had all of a sudden changed the rules and made me an outsider. Since he had gone off to college, things had been different. We'd hung out less, lost touch, but that was expected and we hadn't been super close before, so I thought nothing of it. I always noticed Tristan way more than he ever took notice of me.
My hands fidgeted under the table on my lap, twisting and twining my fingers as my knee bounced. I hadn't eaten much and Anna noticed, but kindly kept it to herself. She sensed something was up with me.
God, I couldn't wait to get to college, away from both the Malone brothers. I'd have a fresh start, and it would be good for me. I needed it after everything—to step away from the 30A. Perhaps this was all for the best. Deep down, I knew that I wasn't going to marry Preston. I loved him, but in truth, I wasn't in love with him. I might never have been, but when you were dating someone for as long as we had, there was a comfort neither of us was ready to let go.
I wasn't entirely convinced Preston was in love with me either. He loved the idea of us. The showing me off and having me on his arm when we went places, but beyond that...
I sucked in a breath at the realization that I was a decoration for Preston's arm.
Frown lines gathered on my forehead as I stared hard down at my plate. It was Preston's hand covering my knee under the table that jolted me out of my head. He was used to me drifting away, understood I had wounds that were barely beginning to heal—a joke. For any healing to occur, I would have had to face what happened and I wasn't ready to do that.
With him gone, I was going to have to rely on Sam to keep me from spiraling, a scary thought.
I offered to clear the table to avoid the looks of concern and pity, as well as the questions I could see in brimming Anna's worrisome eyes. Big mistake. Tristan cornered me in the kitchen, a stack of plates in his hands. I didn't bother to glance up at him, a sea of anger and humiliation simmering under the surface of my skin.
He set the dishes down in the sink and propped a hip on the counter, his body too close. I could feel the heat seeping off him and smell the combination of woodsy cologne and sea on his skin. He'd spent some time out on the beach, the color of his skin bronzed from the sun. Another day, that scent would have gone straight between my legs. Tonight, I refused to be seduced by the roguish grin and bedroom eyes, so I clamped legs together, focusing on the rage rising within me, a safer bet. Never again would I trust Tristan. Never. That trust was broken. He had done that to me—to us. Not that there had been an us, but that was beside the point. I had been stupid enough to believe him a friend.
"What?" I snapped when he only stared at me. I tried to keep my voice low. "What do you want from me, Tristan? Did you want me to make a spectacle at dinner and break up with your brother in front of his family?" My hand swept toward the door. "Humiliate him? Well, I won't do it."
Tristan's face was a blank mask. I was getting no reaction out of him and I wondered what it would take. If I dropped my clothes and ran around the kitchen buck ass naked singing I want to fuck you like an animal if he would so much as a blink an eye. I doubted it.
He shoved his hands into the front pocket of his jeans, studying me with a depth that made me feel as I was naked again in his bed. "You're too damn good for him. He doesn't deserve your sympathy, Ever."
My stomach kicked a notched and my fingers clenched onto the counter behind me. "It doesn't matter now, does it? I'm going to do your little dirty deed, but don't expect any thank you's from me. I never want to see your face again. If your parents hate me after this..." I despised that my voice choice that moment to give out on me.
"I'm doing you both a favor. And my parents won't hate you. They couldn't. I'm pretty damn sure they love you more than they love me."
"That's not saying much, is it," I clipped out.
His brows lifted at the iciness in my voice as if he was surprised by it and took a step closer, sucking the air from the room. "It's not like you to be hurtful."
Facepalm. Am I being punked? Did he expect me to come at him with hugs and kisses? I was starting to wonder if Tristan was bipolar. The man was giving me whiplash. "Another thing I have you to thank for," I gritted out.
He folded his muscular arms over the firmness of his chest. Tristan was ripped in all the right places, a fact I shouldn't be aware of, I berated myself.
Tearing my gaze from his, I shoved passed him, forgetting about the dishes. I had to get out of there or risk hyperventilating. There wasn't enough air, not under the glare of his piercing blue eyes. "Just leave me alone."
He didn't follow me out and the irrational part of me was disappointed. Had I wanted him to chase me and make a scene in front of his parents? Force him to tell them what he'd done to me? But that would subject me to more humiliation I wasn't willing to suffer. I was barely holding onto my sanity by a threat, and the night wasn't over yet.
* * *
After I thanked Blake and Anna for dinner and promised to keep in touch during college, Preston walked me to the car. He leaned in, nuzzling my neck as his hands found the sides of hips, massaging lightly with his fingers. "Ev, can't you stay the night? Just this last time? It's going to be weeks before we see each other again."
My butt pressed into the side of my car as I flattened my palms on his chest and gave a slight shove. "About that. Preston, we need to talk." I couldn't believe I was doing this, but here it goes. I didn't expect it to go over very well, but the alternative was too much.
He dipped back forward, cruising his lips along my jaw, clearly not deterred by my serious face or the cut on his lip that was still healing. I never did find out who decided to play hockey with his face, but I could guess. Nipping at my bottom lip, I should have felt something other than mild annoyance at Preston's advances. A flutter in my belly? A zing in my core? A warmth over my skin? Nope. None of the above. "We can talk after you kiss me goodnight," he murmured.
I heaved a sigh. He wasn't going to give up, and besides what would one last kiss hurt? Tristan said nothing about not kissing his brother. I just had to break up with him, so for reasons I didn't fully understand, I let Preston draw me into a kiss. Perhaps I was testing myself. How many times had Preston accused me of being cold or prude? Always in a teasing manner, but the accusations had stuck with me, and now I wondered. Was it me or Preston? Was I that broken?
Where was the passion? The I-want-to-fuck-you-right-here-on-the-car blind lust? Did it even exist? Or something just for entertainment in movies and racy books? I wanted to believe that kind of desire was very real, and I'd believed that Preston and I would have that..someday, instead of this lukewarm thing between us, comfortable and safe.
Okay, so Preston might be having more than lukewarm feelings and thoughts about me at the moment, which circled the problem back to me.
Preston slipped his tongue between my lips. "Do you have any idea how hard you make me?" he moaned as his fingers moved to cup my ass and squeeze. I had a pretty good idea, seeing as he ground his hips against mine. "Stay the night," he whispered in my ear, taking my lobe into his mouth. "I need you."
The test was over. And so was this relationship. I'd been dreading this moment all night. I didn't know what I was doing or why I was letting Tristan dictate this part of my life. Did I really care about the pictures on his phone, or was I using it as an excuse for what I'd been avoiding? Preston and I had talked about what would happen when we both went to college. Although neither of us was thrilled about a long-distance relationship, Preston had promised we'd text, including all the dirty pictures I could take, and FaceTime so much, it would be like we were at the same school.
His roaming hands unbuttoned my shorts and dipped under the waistband. This was going to get out of hand if I didn't stop it now. Better to just get it over with, rip off the bandaid. It would do no good to prolong the inevitable. I angled my head to the side, away from his lips and pressed firmly against his chest again, turning my voice chilly. "What you need is a cold shower and your hand."
A flash of anger darkened his eyes, washing traces of desire, nothing that frightened me, but enough to tell me Preston was thinking a little less with his dick. "Christ, you're a piece of work, you know that? Do you have any idea how many girls would kill to be in my bed?" He took a step back, shoving a hand into his caramel hair.
"You should probably date one of them," I'd advise, wiggling to put more space between us. Once again I was finding it difficult to breathe. Things were about to get ugly. My regret escalated to anger at having all the sluts at school who were more than willing to drop their panties for Preston thrown in my face, something he liked to remind me of now and then as if I was a dog he needed to keep in line. I was no idiot. I knew that girls flirted with him, hung all over him, but I'd always been secure in the fact that Preston went home with me.
His eyes roamed over my face and he could see I was brewing for a fight. It would make what I was going to do easier, and that might have been the cowards way out, but I didn't care at the moment. "Maybe I will. At least my dick would be happy," he retorted, an edge in his voice. Our fights seemed to be more frequent the closer we got to leaving.
I gritted my teeth. This wasn't the first time we'd had the sex conversation, or more appropriately, the lack of sex. I never meant to be an eighteen-year-old virgin and assumed the Preston would be the one, yet for some reason, I always found an excuse. The latest was my mom. Perhaps that should have told me something. "Is that all you care about?" I barked back.
"You know how I feel about you, Ev." He grabbed my hand and cupped it over his junk, which I could indeed verify was more than adequate in the thickness department. "Isn't this proof enough?"
I rolled my eyes and tightened my grip on his balls, making him hiss. "I think you've confused lust with love." I released him, my eyes blazing with rage.
"Jesus, Ev. What is your fucking deal? You've been acting weird all night. What happened? What aren't you telling me? I know something is wrong, that's why you left yesterday."
Oh, how right you are.
My heart stuttered in my chest. "I think we should break up," I blurted. There. I'd said it. Now all I had to do was get in my car and leave.
Preston blinked before he laughed. "You're kidding, right? What is this, some sick joke Tristan put you up to? Ha. Ha. Funny. He is such asswad."
"You're telling me," I muttered under my breath before steeling myself to keep going. "Listen, Preston, it's not a joke. I just think the distance thing is too much. I need some space."
Confusion wrinkled his brows. "From me? Look, I didn't mean what I said. I'm just sexually frustrated and I thought we'd, you know, finally do it before we both went off to different schools."
Well, even if I wasn't breaking up with him, I still wouldn't be in Preston's bed, so either way, he would have been disappointed. "Don't make this harder than it needs to be," I said, fishing in my purse for my car keys. I had to get out of here. Now.
"Does this have anything to do with your mom?" he asked sharply in a way that has my spine going rigid.
The question was like a knife to my gut. He knew bringing up my mom would hurt me. Asshole. "No... Yes. I don't know. Maybe." I'd never broken up with someone before, but I was pretty sure I was botching the delivery. "It doesn't really matter. This is something I need to do. We can still be friends," I added and then felt like a fool. How cliche.
Preston didn't find any comfort in the idea either. "Friends? You want to be my friend?" he proclaimed with a forced laugh that sounded deranged. "Thanks for wasting my time. You're such a cock tease, you know that, Ev."
Cock tease, huh? This conversation was over. Kind of like our relationship. "Piss off, Preston." I spun on my heels and slammed the car door behind me as I got in. Ramming my keys into the engine, my foot hammered the gas, sending my tires peeling over the blacktop. Before I was completely out of view, I stuck my hand out the window and flipped up my middle finger. "Suck on this, you prick!"
And to think, I had thought I was in love with him.