In my head, I’d been courting her since middle school, but in reality, I didn’t make a move until late sophomore year. I’d bulked up for football, and I’d learned how to talk to people, how to be interesting. I didn’t fade into the background anymore. We sat next to each other in a class. One of her friends was dating one of mine, so we got thrown together a lot. We started talking. Flirting. And then somehow, miraculously, she was mine.
This girl that I’d wanted for so long. We were together, and it was fucking special.
Until I fucked it all up.
And a girl like that doesn’t give an idiot like me a second chance. She’s way too smart for that.
And Nell . . . she has the same kind of strong features, same figure, same dark hair. From the side, I might even believe she was Lina. And I can’t help but feel like she’s a second chance of a different kind.
When I come back into focus, I realize I must have been blatantly staring at her. She’s determinedly not looking at me and gulping at her drink so fast that she’s nearly polished it off already.
“Hey. Easy,” I say, taking hold of her wrist. “It may not taste much like alcohol, but trust me, it packs a punch.”
“Right.” She nods. “Of course.”
“So . . . you and Dylan are roommates?”
“Yes. Since the beginning of last year.”
“Are you part of her hippy group?”
“You know, all her activism stuff. Is that how you two met?”
“Oh. No. We had a class together freshman year. We both have an interest in making the world a better place, but Dylan does that by working with people. I . . . don’t.”
“Then what do you do?”
“Well, nothing much yet. But I’m studying for a career in biomedical engineering.”
“Biomedical engineering, huh? What is that? Like . . . designing medical equipment?”
Her eyebrows lift, and she turns so that she’s facing me, leaning her hip against the counter. She cocks her head to the side, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing, but I’m suddenly far too distracted by the perfect view I have down her shirt, and those damn pigtails that make my blood rush south.
It’s a good thing I’m wearing a snug pair of compression shorts beneath this damn loincloth.
“It can be, yes.” She sounds impressed, and I’m grateful that all those years spent chasing after Lina made me take more interest in studying. “It’s a growing field, but it can encompass everything from inventing or operating medical equipment to prosthetic design to research. It covers basically anything where the study of machines and technology meets the study of the human body.”
“So, what you’re telling me is that you’re a genius.”
She pushes a loose strand of hair behind her ear and answers, “I’m not a genius.”
“Look around the room, sweetheart.” I pause to let her view some of the alcohol-induced stupidity going on around us. “In this place, I think Darwin would definitely deem you among the fittest to survive.”
A brilliant smile blooms across her face, and I send up a silent thanks to Mrs. Ehrhardt, my high school biology teacher, for being such a hard-ass and never letting me get away with sleeping in her class.
“I think it’s safe to say that you would also be considered in that top tier.” She fidgets with her cup, but doesn’t lift her eyes to mine.
“Oho.” I grin. “A compliment. Softening to me already.” She rolls her eyes and sighs. I lean down until my mouth is close to her ear and ask, “You think I’m fit, girl genius?” All I can think about is how well I think she’ll fit against me. What I wouldn’t give to fill my hands with her perfect curves.
“Don’t be absurd. It’s perfectly clear that you know you’re . . .” She trails off and gestures primly in the direction of my bare chest.
“It’s perfectly clear that I’m what?”
“You’re an athlete. So, of course you’re in very good physical shape.”
“Personally, I prefer your physical shape, but thank you all the same.”
“How do you manage to make everything dirty?”
“It’s the curse I bear. I just can’t help myself.”
“Yes, well . . . I’m going to help myself to some fresh air. I think that”—she pauses to fan at her face a few times—“the alcohol has made me too warm.”
I want to tell her it’s not the alcohol. Or I want to believe it’s not anyway. Surely with all the blushing and her nerves, she must be feeling the same connection to me that I’m feeling to her. Or is it only that I’ve teased her too much? Did I take it too far? Damn it. I just can’t help it. I like the fire in her eyes when she’s flustered. It’s almost as much of a turn-on as that damn outfit.
I finish off the last of my beer, her beer actually, and say, “I’ll go with you.”
“Oh, thanks. But . . . I wanted to make a phone call. I’ll come back in a little bit.”
I frown. I’m almost positive she has no intention of making a phone call, which means I was right. I’m screwing this all up. Again.
With Lina . . . I had years to get to know her, to figure out how to talk to her. We were at ease with each other. Nell is most certainly not at ease with me. And I can already tell she’s a complex girl, and I’m going to have to do a hell of a lot better if I want to get to know her.
“Okay,” I say. “Just be careful. It’s dark out, and there are a lot of people around. If you need anything, come find me or one of the guys.”