Then it was my turn. I paused to study the board, trying to re-familiarize myself with which pieces were the so-called "easy ones”.
“Come on, Donnelly,” Lewis goaded. “This guy is dying on the table!”
I glanced up to shush him right as Luke stepped into the room, causing my words to freeze in my throat. I’d been doing a pretty good job of not thinking about him all night, but one glimpse of his gorgeous smile and everything came rushing back. Unlike with Carter, I didn’t need to convince myself I wanted to kiss him. I happily would’ve done it right then and there.
“Okay, okay,” I said, forcing my attention back to the game. Though we hadn’t really acknowledged each other, I knew Luke still lingered, having joined the group watching; I could feel his eyes on me.
Butterflies in stomach.
I moved the tweezers over to the wish bone.
I sighed heavily. “Fine. Pass me a shot.” My gaze flickered to Luke as I took the shot, then bent down to slide one sandal off. He crossed his arms over his chest and stared back at me, his expression difficult to read. Then it was Damien’s turn.
We went around the board a few more times. More shots, more clothing removed. Meera stayed behind me, now holding both of my sandals.
It was my turn again.
“No offense, Donnelly,” Carter said, smiling slyly. “But I really hope you fuck this up.”
I tried not to, but again my eyes found Luke, only for a moment before returning to the board. He continued to watch intently, his face still a blank slate.
I let the tweezers hover over the water on the knee for a moment before closing their tips around the handle of the bucket. I was so sure I had it, but then my grip wavered, and I hit the side with another buzz.
Almost everyone in the room applauded wildly, except for Luke, who held his stance. Eden glared at Damien. I took my shot and instantly felt dizzy, but also brave enough to do what came next. I slipped my top over my head, glancing down to ensure the pale lavender bra I wore underneath was properly in place, and looked, well, at least semi-decent.
Meera appeared near my naked shoulder and whispered in my ear. “You can stop playing if you want.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “It’s just—that last shot really went to my head.”
She lingered, as though waiting for me to say more, but then we were both distracted by Eden chastising Damien over some comment he must’ve made.
“Are they together?” Meera asked.
I shrugged, then sloppily pushed the game board toward Damien, catching Carter’s ambitious gaze, before swaying back in my seat.
“Okay,” I said. “I think I’ve proven I’m not a coward. But I also think I need to take a fiver.”
“Are you okay?” Carter asked, his expression shifting to one of concern as he pushed his chair back from the table.
“I’m fine,” I said, the words not sounding quite right as I got to my feet. “I’ll be right back,” I added to Meera, then pushed past her toward a small room that exited off the den, dragging the door almost closed behind me.
I’d hoped the dimly lit room might be a bedroom, somewhere I could lie down, but it looked more like a library, or an office. There wasn’t a bed, but there was a small leather couch, which I veered toward, then landed on, sitting sideways with my head against the cool leather back. Ah, that felt better.
A moment later, the door cracked open. I expected it to be Meera, but then sat up a little straighter when I realized it was Luke.
“Hey,” he said, his voice soft as he stepped into the room. “You feeling okay?”
I placed a hand on my head, willing it to clear. “Yeah. I just need a minute to make the room stop spinning.”
“I brought your things,” he said. “Meera was going to, but then I asked if she minded…” He crossed the room until he was standing in front of me, his gaze conspicuously wandering over the curve of my bra before landing on my face. I could hardly blame him for that, but I hadn't felt self-conscious until then. I’d been something of a drunk idiot. Not a loud, crazy one, but still. He was holding my shirt. Which I’d removed while playing Strip Operation. Surely, that counted for something in the drunk idiot category.
I reached out to retrieve it from him but was surprised when he instead took a seat beside me, setting my shoes on the floor before helping me ease my shirt on over my head. He sat back against the couch as I clumsily slid my arms through the arm holes and smoothed out the front to cover my breasts and belly. Then I fell back against the couch, landing a bit closer to him than I’d intended. But he didn’t flinch; in fact, we rested against each other, our arms touching in the almost dark room, the only light and sound sneaking in from the door, which stood slightly ajar.
“Carter also seemed interested in checking on you,” he said, his bare skin vibrating against mine as he spoke, his voice low and gravely. “I stopped him. I hope that’s okay.”
He turned to look at me, his face inches from mine as our eyes met.
“Yeah,” I said softly. “That’s definitely okay.”
We stared at each other for the briefest moment before he looked away, spurring me to do the same. Carter didn’t matter anymore. That stupid idea to distract myself with him didn’t matter anymore. I couldn’t lie to myself like that. I didn’t want Carter. I wanted Luke. I wanted this. Even if it was wrong.
“I had this dream the other night,” I said, the words tumbling without thought or censor. “I don’t remember how it started. It was one of those dreams that jumps around a lot. School. Home. Whatever. But by the end of it, you were there. And…I don’t know. Maybe you were supposed to represent someone else. Or maybe I was. But it was you. It was definitely you. And we were like, sitting very closely together—”
“Like this?” he asked, referring to our current state.
“Kinda, but more like,” I paused, liquid courage in my veins allowing me to grab his arm and place it around my shoulders so I could really lean into his body. “More like this. And then when I woke up, it occurred to me that it didn’t feel weird. It didn’t feel unusual, or unnatural. It felt nice. It felt like somebody really cared about me.”
He turned to look down at me, his dark eyes gleaming in the filtered light. I rested my head against his shoulder and sighed. The room wasn’t spinning anymore, but I felt like I was floating. Like I was dreaming again. I turned my face into his neck, just enough to breathe him in.
I really didn’t want this to be wrong.
He shifted slightly, not brushing me off, but repositioning himself, so his face was closer to mine—his mouth achingly close. I could feel his hot breath against my lips as I met his gaze again, his expression etched with longing. A nervous laugh escaped with my next breath. And then the door swung wide, flooding the room with light.
“Shit,” Meera said, her silhouette dark in the doorframe. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…”
But Luke and I had already straightened on the couch.
“It’s fine,” I said, reaching for my shoes, to give me something else to focus on. “No problem.”
“Yuvin is waiting for us outside,” she said. “I figured you weren’t feeling well, so I called him.”
“Yeah, that’s fine,” I repeated. “That’s good.” I glanced over at Luke, who looked like someone had knocked the wind out of him. “I’ll see you later,” I said.
He nodded, then ran a hand down the length of my arm as if to say, I don’t want you to leave, while his lips actually said, “Yeah, okay.”
IT FALLS APARTBy: Kate Pawson StuderE-book release date: June 28, 2018Publisher: Kindle Direct Publishing