It never felt as if I’d had a choice in becoming his friend. It just happened without me even noticing. He’d dragged me along with him to my first party, and after I realized how easily I could immerse myself in this place, in this life, that I could forget about all the pain in a much funnier, way more pleasurable way, I was a goner. From that point on, we’d become a team. When he needed work and found a job at Forbidden, he’d told me they were looking for another bartender too, so I shrugged, thinking why the hell not. From there, my friendships with guys spiraled out of control. I’d gotten close to Pick, and Hamilton, even Lowe, and kind-of-sort-of Hart. But I’d always been careful not to get close to the feminine persuasion. Use them for booty calls and move on, that was my motto.
Women gutted you. They either said shit that tore out your self-confidence, or they got hurt when you should’ve been able to protect them, which left you so broken you wished you were dead. I tried to stay away from all of that “feelings” shit when it came to women. Sometimes I was downright rude to them.
Okay, fine. Most of the time I was rude...and offensive...and overall annoying. But a guy had to protect himself somehow, because women fucking gutted you.
I wasn’t expecting what happened to me to happen when Gamble carried Caroline into my life. I didn’t welcome it either. And I wasn’t very happy about the fact that Hamilton’s woman managed to crawl under my defenses and make me feel things, either. But Midnight Visitor? No. No fucking way. This shit had to stop. Except it was already happening. Texting my hot little bed companion had been fun. And that made me damn nervous.
I was getting too happy and sappy around too many women.
I’d seen Caroline earlier today, walking with Lowe and Lowe’s woman toward the science department. I’d been heading toward them, but I’d ducked out of sight before they could see me. I’d worked with Lowe just last night, and I always loved to say something to piss off his woman—whom I’d dubbed Buttercup. But I couldn’t go anywhere near them just then. Not with Caroline around.
After making my plans with Midnight Visitor two nights ago, I’d been worried about seeing Caroline again. It was as if I was too guilty to face her or something, which was whack. I’d had numerous women since meeting her almost a year ago. I’d never had a problem facing her after a night of debauchery before. But this just felt...different, which is probably what prompted another session of stress drawing.
I was trying to scribble my stupid feelings away when someone jumped me from behind, grabbing my shoulders and shaking me.
“What up, loser,” Gamble called, making me leap out of my fucking skin. “Doodling again, as usual?”
I looked up and tried to cover my drawing pad before he could see what I was making, because I honestly wasn’t all that sure what I’d been drawing; I hoped to God it wasn’t another picture of Caroline. But his eyes were already widening.
I gritted my teeth and hesitantly glanced down. It wasn’t a perfect depiction of his sister’s face, however. Thank God. But to me, it was something so much worse. A sick dread pitched in my stomach as I stared at the four letters I’d drawn and decorated with flames.
Gamble glanced at Ham, who was with him and seeing my notepad, too. Then he turned back to me. “Why are you drawing the name Zoey?”
All warmth and sensation drained from my face. I didn’t know what to tell him. I glanced at Ham, but instead of anger or confusion, a sad kind of sympathy filled his face. I gritted my teeth. “I...I’m designing a tattoo for Ham here.”
There. Yeah. Shit, that actually sounded good.
Gamble lifted his eyebrows to Ham. “You’re getting another tattoo?”
Ham blinked, but returned his attention to the page where his woman’s name was stenciled. Temptation flickered in his gaze. “Yeah,” he murmured. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it.”
I almost groaned, certain he hadn’t thought about it until just now. But now that I’d put the idea in his head, he was actually considering it. Stupid ass. Didn’t he know you didn’t tattoo a woman’s name on you? Even if I did have a feeling he and Blondie would be the lasting kind who stayed together forever, it was just dumb to tempt fate that way. What if Blondie died on him? Where the fuck would he be then?
I slapped the notepad closed. It was about time for me to start toward my next class, plus Gam was sending me the oddest look, giving me the willies, so I stood up and tucked the notebook away.
I was about to bid these two losers farewell when Gamble glanced past me and shook his head. “Great. Here comes trouble.”