Tyler never used both hands while driving, a complaint everyone he’d ever driven had since he first got behind the wheel. Technically, he knew that the safest way to drive was to have his hands at ten and two, but Tyler had never been a fan of doing things the safe way. He figured life was short and he was going to live his to the fullest, so as he sped down the coastal highway towards his sister’s college, one elbow rested on the open window ledge, his fingers lightly guiding the wheel while his other hand fiddled with his phone over the center console, trying to find exactly the right song to play.
When he had first asked his parents if he could go on this road trip, they had been a bit wary of the idea. Of course, they had no problem with him visiting Jessamine while she was away at school, but they thought flying in might be safer, or at least going with a friend. But his best friend, Lucy, was swamped with her work as the chief photo editor of the school paper and this was the only weekend that Tyler had free before swimming season started again. Once it did, he would barely have time to sleep, let alone see his sister. Besides, Tyler loved driving alone, so he suggested that they think of it as an opportunity for him to learn more about a college to which he was applying and they let him go.
His parents knew that was absolute bullshit, but they figured it was sweet that he was so eager to see the sister who hadn’t been home in six weeks, so they didn’t put up too much of a fight.
Thus, after a few luxurious hours of driving with the windows down, he pulled into the visitor’s parking lot of the apartment complex where Jessamine resided while at school, having successfully navigated himself there using the address she’d texted him the day before. Keeping his promise to his parents, he sent them a quick text to let them know he’d arrived safely after he turned off the engine before finding the message thread which connected him to his sister.
It took her two minutes to respond.
Already?! You weren’t supposed to arrive for another hour.
He grinned at the response. There was a chance that he hadn’t exactly obeyed the speed limits on the highway.
What can I say, I like to go fast.
He imagined her rolling her eyes as she typed back her response.
Clearly. Now come up here and give me a hug.
Grinning, Tyler pushed open the driver’s side door and stuffed his phone in the front pocket of his jeans before walking to the back to get his duffel bag and locking the car as he made his way up the flight of stairs to Jessamine’s apartment, as instructed.
She was standing in the doorway when he stepped onto the landing and she threw her arms around his neck before he had a chance to set his bags down, squeezing him tight and pressing a kiss to his cheek when she pulled away.
“It’s good to see you, baby bro,” Jessamine grinned. “I’ve missed you.”
He probably didn’t realize the genuineness behind those words. Tyler and Jessamine had always been close, but being away from home made her realize how much she loved her baby brother. Though, looking at him now, in all his eighteen-year-old glory, it was difficult to still describe him as a baby. At six feet two inches tall, he towered over her, the long, lean muscles he’d developed from years of competitive swimming making him look quite commanding, even when he was just standing on her front doorstep.
“Missed you too, sis,” Tyler smiled widely, reaching down to pick up the bag he’d let slide off his shoulder when he hugged her and following her into her apartment. “Nice place.”
She laughed as she glanced around the apartment style housing provided by the college, it was small, but it was her home away from home. “We like it.”
He was about to ask what she meant by ‘we’ before remembering that she lived with another girl. He dropped his duffel bag on top of the couch, where he assumed he would be sleeping. “Right, your roommate. She doesn’t mind that I’m crashing for the weekend, does she?”
“Nah, she’s cool,” Jessamine shrugged. “You’ll like her.”
Tyler had no doubt. He liked all girls. But he decided not to point that out to his sister. “I’m sure. So what do you wanna do first now that I’m here?”
Chewing on her lower lip, Jessamine scrunched her nose apologetically, reaching out to squeeze her brother’s upper arms. “I actually can’t hang out right now. I didn’t think you were coming until later, so I told my study group that it was okay to meet.”
“So you’re ditching me?” he deadpanned, crossing his arms over his chest in mock annoyance.
She held in a laugh as she dropped her arms, knowing he wasn’t actually irritated. “Just for a couple hours. You okay just chilling for a while? Feel free to use the tv and raid the fridge. If you want to shower, my bathroom is connected to my bedroom, which is the door on the right. I put out an extra towel for you already, it’s the green one.”
Lifting one side of his mouth in a smile, Tyler leaned down and pecked his sister on the cheek. “I’ll be fine. Have fun at your study group.”
Smiling gratefully, she stood on her tip toes to return the gesture to his cheek and rushed towards her bedroom to collect her book bag and phone before heading out the door, promising him she would be back as soon as she could.
Tyler shook head with laughter when the door slammed shut, pulling his duffel bag off the couch and onto the floor before plopping down on the worn cloth sofa where the bag had been sitting a few minutes before. He hardly ever got free time, so he intended to enjoy the fact that he had absolutely nothing to do. With the corners of his lips turned upwards into a smile, he lay his head back and closed his eyes and drifted off.
There were many things Cassandra Thompson expected when she got back from a long day of classes and meetings. A huge load of laundry that needed to be done sitting in a basket in her closet, shoes strewn all over her bedroom floor, dishes in the sink because neither she nor Jessamine were particularly on top of being clean, and her bathtub to be ready for her to soak in a sea of luxurious bubbles.
What she didn’t expect was to come home to find a male sleeping on her couch. Especially not such an attractive male.
He was tall; she could tell because he took up the entire couch and had to curl his legs to keep them from hanging off. His arms were crossed over his chest as though he was hugging himself, his eyelashes so long that they brushed the tops of his cheeks and his plump lips set into a steady line, which defined his sharp jaw. One dark curl fell across his forehead, poking out from beneath the gray knit beanie he wore pulled over his hair.
Normally…well, actually, she didn’t have a prior circumstance to which to compare this situation. This had never happened before. Sure, sometimes Jessamine had guys over, but she was a decent enough roommate to warn Cassie or let her know that they were going to be around so Cassie didn’t come home to find them inhabiting her living area and have no idea who they were.
Tilting her head to the side, she studied his features more carefully, thinking perhaps she really did know him and she just hadn’t recognized him at first glance, startling a bit when she saw his eyes begin to flutter open.
He woke to the odd feeling that he was being watched and when his eyes finally opened fully and blinked a couple times to adjust to the now fading daylight, they landed on a figure he didn’t recognize. A figure who seemed to be examining him warily. She had curls the color of dark chocolate, worn cut just below her chin so the ends just barely danced over her shoulders as she walked, eyes the color of liquid gold, and freckles sprinkled across her nose and cheeks.
Tyler cleared his throat as he sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the couch, his still desert boot covered feet hitting the floor. “Uh, hi. You must be Jessa’s roommate. I’m Tyler.”
“Nice to meet you,” she nodded, her fingers curling tighter around the strap of the black leather tote bag hanging from her shoulder. He had been hot while he was asleep, but he was even hotter while he was awake. With deep brown, almond shaped eyes and the hint of a dimple in his right cheek, he had the kind of face that could send knees shaking and she was silently glad that she was managing to keep her cool, despite the fact that her heart rate had picked up just slightly.
He got the sense that she still wasn’t sure who he was, but was too shy or polite to mention it, so he explained on his own. “I’m her brother.”
As soon as he said it, she wondered why she didn’t realize that earlier. The family resemblance was striking, especially now that he had pulled off his beanie and was running his long fingers through the thick, dark curls that he wore long in a strip down the middle of his head and buzzed shorter on the sides. The cautious expression on her face immediately broke into one of friendliness as her smile widened. “Oh, yes, your sister mentioned you were coming for the weekend. It completely slipped my mind. I’m Cassandra.”
Intrigued by the way her eyes lightened from gold to honey with her mood, he smiled widely as he pushed himself off the couch and ended up standing a good foot taller than her. More out of habit than flirtation, he reached out to pull her into a hug, squeezing her tightly once before letting her go. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” she whispered, fighting off a blush that would convey how much she’d enjoyed the strength of his arms and the fact that she could feel all of his hard muscles beneath his black t-shirt. “So you’re just staying the weekend?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, shoving his beanie into the back pocket of his red jeans before sticking his fingers into the front pockets to allow his biceps to flex against the sleeves his shirt, his ego appeased when he noted that she glanced at his arms for a moment too long. “You don’t mind me crashing on the couch, do you?”
“Not at all,” Cassie replied, hoping her voice came out sounding more confident than she felt. “It’ll be good to have you here. Jessa really missed you.”
Jessamine wasn’t particularly nostalgic, so although she loved her brother to bits, the only picture she had of him in her room was from when he was a child, a word that most definitely could no longer be used to describe Tyler Copeland.
“I missed her too,” Tyler said, his expression softening at the mention of his sister. “It’s weird being one of the only kids at home.”
Nodding, Cassie moved around the couch and Tyler’s gaze followed her as she dropped her tote bag on the kitchen counter and headed for the fridge, her eyebrows furrowed slightly in confusion. “One of? I thought Jessamine was your only sibling.”
“By blood yes,” Tyler replied. He wasn’t entirely sure how to explain his relationship the other children of the members of Flux, internationally renowned rock band. Generally, people already knew about the band and their families and the special bond they shared, having grown up on the road together, but if Cassandra had no clue, then Tyler felt awkward trying to tell her about it. Saying your father was in a world famous band sounded too much like bragging and that wasn’t something Tyler really wanted to do. He had no problem being confident regarding his own accomplishments, but seeing as he had no part in getting his father and uncles to where they were in the music industry, he felt weird being cocky about it.
It took her a moment, but she soon smiled as she pulled open the fridge and removed a carton of orange juice. “Right, I forgot about the band family. Jessamine told me. That’s so cool that you guys have that support network.”
“We like it,” Tyler grinned in agreement, walking around the couch to lean against the kitchen counter across from her. “Do you have any siblings?”
“Nope,” she shook her head, turning to open the cabinet that held the glasses. “Do you want anything to eat or drink? We just did the grocery shopping, so there’s plenty.”
“I’m good,” he replied, trying not to laugh as he watched her struggle to get a glass from the top shelf. Figuring he’d put her out of her misery, he walked around the counter and stood behind her, reaching up to grab the glass easily and set it on the counter to her right. “There you go.”
She inhaled sharply because she could feel the heat radiating from his body and when she turned from the counter to face him, she found herself staring directly at his chest, her eyes trailing up his neck and settling on his lips for a split second before widening in horror. Shooting her gaze upwards as quickly as possible, she whispered, “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Taking his bottom lip between his teeth, he chewed thoughtfully, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans to keep from reaching out and tugging at one of her chocolate curls.
He wanted to kiss her. Badly. Her mouth was small and serious and begging to be kissed silly.
But he hardly knew her. Which, in all honesty, wasn’t really an issue because Tyler had kissed plenty of girls that he hardly knew.
No, the issue was that she was Jessamine’s roommate. And he knew for a fact that making things awkward between his sister and her roommate would only result in him being the target of a lot of anger emanating from Jessamine Copeland’s petite frame.
Cassandra wasn’t entirely sure she was breathing. Her heart was racing, that was certain, and she couldn’t seem to move a muscle. She didn’t have enough experience with guys to know what to do in such a situation, but she did get the sense that Tyler Copeland was used to eliciting a response from women and she didn’t particularly relish in the knowledge that her current reaction was more than likely feeding his ego.
“You’ll come in handy,” she cleared her throat, grabbing the glass and stepping to the side so that she was no longer feeling his warmth and breathing him in. He smelled like cedar with a hint of chlorine, a combination that shouldn’t have been as attractive as it was. “Neither Jessa or I are tall enough to reach things in high places.”
Despite the fact that his mind was screaming not to go there, he couldn’t help but flirt, it was in his DNA. “I’m sure you can find much better uses for me.”
She froze in her mission to twist off the top of the juice carton, glad that her back was to him so he couldn’t see the fact that she was blushing profusely. Cassie wondered how it was possible that she’d only met him ten minutes ago and he was already affecting her in such a way. She was willing to put good money on the fact that no one had ever been able to say no to Tyler Copeland.
It wasn’t as though she was trying to resist because she thought it was some sort of game and he would be more intrigued if she shied away from his flirtation. In all honesty, she was at a genuine loss for what to do. The last time she’d flirted with a boy, they’d ended up on the world’s most awkward date and now they couldn’t even look each other in the eye and she still took the long way to class just to avoid the natural sciences building. And she had a feeling flirting with Tyler would just end up being even more catastrophic.
Besides, he was her roommate’s brother. That was a relationship that she couldn’t afford to strain, especially if they were going to end up seeing each other repeatedly. Plus, she had grown quite fond of Jessamine and she didn’t want to ruin her relationship with the girl who was slowly but surely becoming her best friend.
Which was why she was more than relieved when the front door opened and Jessamine stepped into the apartment and Cassie was saved from having to respond to Tyler’s flirty remark.
“Oh, good, you guys have met!” Jessamine said brightly, closing the door behind her and walking towards the kitchen, where she dumped her book bag on the granite countertop. She glanced at her brother quickly before settling her gaze on her roommate. “He’s not being too annoying is he?”
Cassie glanced back at Tyler, who had his lips kinked into the slightest smirk as he leaned back against the counter, and her heart rate spiked, so she quickly turned back to Jessamine and shook her head. “Your brother’s cool.”
“Don’t say that!” Jessamine teased, laughing. “His head will get bigger than it already is.”
Lifting the corners of her lips into a smile, Cassie poured some juice into her glass and lifted the carton to silently ask if Jessamine wanted any before returning it to the fridge when Jessamine shook her head at the offer.
“So, hey,” Jessamine said, coming to lean against the counter next to her brother, taking a hair tie from her wrist and beginning the process of twisting her waist length hair into a bun at the crown of her head. “I ran into Peter Abbott on my way back from study group and he said he and his roommates are having a party tonight. Do you guys wanna go?”
“Sure,” Tyler replied automatically, thinking a college party sounded awesome.
“Great,” his sister grinned, her attention now falling on her roommate. “Cass?”
Cassie was wary. On one hand, it was Friday night and she didn’t have much work to do this weekend and it would be nice to unwind from such a long day, but on the other, she wasn’t entirely sure that being near Tyler in an environment that involved alcohol was an entirely good idea. “I don’t know…”
“Come on, Cass,” Tyler pleaded, using her nickname because he had a habit of making himself at home with people he barely knew. “Please?”
He jutted out his lower lip, a move he often used when he wanted something from his parents, but added a twinkle of mischief to his eyes for flirtatious effect. He wondered if she knew how expressive her face was and that he could tell she was fighting hard to keep from showing how much he was affecting her. Part of him was asking because he simply enjoyed flirting in general and part of him was intrigued to see what she would be like in such a casual environment, where she could take the edge off a bit. He had a feeling he would enjoy seeing her let her guard down.
“Fine,” she sighed after she drained the last of her orange juice. “I’m gonna go get ready.”
Rinsing out her empty glass in the sink, she placed it in the dishwasher before walking around the counter to grab her tote bag and disappearing down the hallway, thinking she was in need of a very, very long bath.
Jessamine punched her brother in the arm as soon as she heard her roommate’s bedroom door close, knowing the action probably hurt her more than it hurt him.
“What was that for?” he scowled, rubbing his bicep, despite the fact that it barely stung.
“Stop flirting with my roommate,” Jessamine scolded, pushing herself off the counter and crossing her arms over her chest as she glared at her brother.
“I wasn’t!” Tyler protested, immediately changing his tune when Jessamine sent him another unconvinced glare. “Fine, I was. But that’s just what I do. I flirt with everyone.”
“I’m aware of that,” Jessamine sighed. “But I live with Cassie and I don’t need you making things awkward between us because she falls in love with you and you end up breaking her heart.”
She didn’t add that she also felt a sense of responsibility for the girl with whom she lived. Despite being the same age, Cassie was innocent and maybe a bit naïve and although Jessamine absolutely adored her brother, she also knew that Tyler was a bit careless when it came to the feelings of the girls with whom he interacted.
Tyler’s lips parted in shock. “I would never…” Another unimpressed look from his sister set him straight. “Fine, I’ll back off.”
“Thanks,” Jessamine smiled softly. “Do you wanna shower or can I go?”
“Go ahead,” Tyler nodded, watching as his sister grabbed her book bag and headed towards her room, thinking he would do his best to keep his promise, but also knowing it would be easier said than done.
He wandered around the apartment while the roommates were in their respective showers. Having opted not to shower himself because he didn’t like showering in the evenings, most likely because his mornings were often spent diving into a pool, he’d changed his clothes to shake off the feelings of spending hours in the car.
In truth, he was wearing a variation on the same outfit. He’d traded his red jeans for black ones and his beanie for a black snapback. Instead of Green Day he’d opted for a plain white t-shirt, which he wore under an open pale blue plaid button down, rolled at the sleeves, with his favorite black boots tied at his feet.
It had taken him all of ten minutes to change clothes and spray on a hint of cologne that he wasn’t entirely sure worked because he still always felt like he smelled like chlorine and when he was done, both Jessamine and Cassandra were still in their bathrooms.
So he began his wandering. He started in the living area, which didn’t have much besides a worn out couch and an arm chair which faced a small television. The only piece of decoration was a woven bowl which sat atop the coffee table in the center of the room.
Jessamine’s room was next, but his sister had never been much of a decorator either, so the only things besides clothes and books in her room were one framed family picture from a vacation they’d taken ages ago and her sewing machine. Which is how he ended up in Cassandra’s room.
Tyler had never really considered himself to be a nosy individual, but her bedroom door was partially open and he heard faint singing coming from the bathroom and the next thing he knew, he was staring at a shelf full of, well, stuff.
There were candles that had never been lit and paperweights holding down no paper and plain frames of various colors with no pictures in them. There were small jewel toned jewelry boxes and bottles of scented lotion and a bowl that held nothing but leftover change.
He wasn’t entire sure what he was looking for, but he was certain he wouldn’t have found it in the mess. His gaze drifted over the trinkets on the various shelves, scanning over the bare walls before gazing through the open bathroom doorway, where her back was to him, wrapped in a fluffy purple robe as she leaned over the sink to get her face as close to the mirror as possible to apply eyeliner.
The only reason she didn’t notice him sooner was because she was perfecting her wing tips, but once they were done, she smiled at her reflection in the mirror one second and screamed the next when she found she wasn’t alone.
“Fucking hell,” she gasped, placing a hand on her chest as she turned to face him, her fingers playing with the heart shaped silver pendant around her neck out of habit. “What are you doing?”
His lips parted, a little shocked because he had never heard curse words uttered so sweetly before. “Sorry, your door was open and I was curious.”
“About what?” she asked, clutching her eyeliner a little too tightly in her fist.
Tilting his head to the side, he reached up to adjust the cap that he was wearing backwards on his head and lifted one side of his mouth into a small smirk. “You.”
He held her eye contact for about ten seconds before realizing that he was breaking the promise he’d made to his sister just a few minutes before. “I’m gonna go see if Jessa is ready.”
Before she could get a word out, he was out the door.
For the second time in an hour, Cassandra felt as though she was paralyzed. How did he do that? How did he keep leaving her speechless? She was twenty-one years old and he was a teenage boy; he shouldn’t have that kind of power over her. It was bad enough that she’d spent the entirety of her twenty-minute bubble bath dragging her hands up and down her soapy body and wondering how it would feel if they were someone else’s.
She didn’t need this kind of distraction. Especially now, with exams just around the corner. She had a mile-long list of things that she needed to be focusing on and the younger brother of her roommate should not be on there.
Sighing, she turned back towards the mirror and flattened her palm against the counter to release her eyeliner pencil, shaking her head at her made up face and wondering how the hell she was going to survive the rest of the weekend.
Tyler couldn’t wipe the smile off his face as he strolled into Jessamine’s room to find his sister zipping up the side of a tan suede ankle bootie, her study group outfit of yoga pants and a t-shirt having been replaced by a navy blue floral sundress.
“What’s got you in such a good mood?” she asked as she stood and smoothed out the skirt of her dress, reaching over to grab the purse that was hanging off the post at the end of her bed.
He shook his head and shoved his hands into his jean pockets, not wanting to get another scolding about how he shouldn’t be flirting with Cassie. “Nothing. Just excited for tonight.”
“Me too,” Jessamine smiled widely, believing that excuse because she didn’t want to have to lecture him before they went out. “I haven’t been to a party in ages, but this is perfect timing. We all need to blow off some steam before exams. Especially Cassie. She’s wound so tight sometimes I’m afraid she’s gonna snap.”
Tyler hummed, thinking he’d like to see what was behind that prim façade. His wish was almost immediately granted when Cassie appeared in the doorway of Jessamine’s room, wearing black jeans and ankle boots and a pale pink shirt that fell off one shoulder.
“Hey,” Jessamine greeted, grabbing her phone off her dresser and sticking it in her purse. “You look great. Ready to go?”
Tyler knew better than to compliment Cassie’s appearance in front of his sister, so he settled for smirking in agreement, pleased when he saw her blush.
“Yep,” Cassandra nodded, her fingers curling around the strap of her purse as she completely avoided looking at Tyler. “You look beautiful.”
“What about me?” Tyler asked, sticking his hands in his jean pockets and rocking back and forth in his boots, his eyes shining wickedly. “How do I look?”
Cassie’s lips parted, her eyes widening in horror, but she was saved from having to respond when Jessamine lightly smacked her brother’s stomach and rolled her eyes and said, “You look like a cocky asshole. Come on, let’s go.”
Turning immediately, Cassie stepped into the hallway to hide the fact that she was flustered, keeping her gaze straight ahead and Jessamine between her and Tyler as they walked out the door and began the short journey to the apartment complex next door where the party was being held.
“Hey, Ty?” Jessamine said as they walked. “Do me a favor? If you’re gonna hook up with someone, don’t bring them back to our place. That’ll just be awkward for everyone.”
Cassie was shocked by how casually Jessamine said those words. Gulping, she decided not ask the many questions that were currently racing through her mind, the most obvious one being how often Tyler hooked up with people at parties that Jessamine felt the need to specifically ask him not bring someone to their home.
There weren’t many times when Tyler felt genuine annoyance towards his sister, but now was one of them. Mentioning his active love life was completely unnecessary. Though part of him wondered why he cared so much that Cassie now knew that hooking up was a fairly regular occurrence for him. She didn’t mean anything to him, or at least, she shouldn’t. Plus, he had discovered after his first failed attempt at a relationship that commitment just wasn’t his style, so it was almost better if people found out early on that he was more into casual flings.
“Will do, sis,” Tyler muttered in annoyance, avoiding looking at Cassie, who he could tell was trying to figure him out.
They arrived at the party just as things seemed to be ramping up, getting ushered through a door by a very tipsy looking friend of Jessamine’s and directed towards the drinks in the kitchen. Jessamine immediately found some people she recognized and proceeded to introduce Tyler to all of them and the next thirty minutes were spent repeating the same bits of information about what he was doing in school and what he’d do after high school to groups of people in which he was never quite sure of anyone’s name and he soon found himself completely exhausted from having to borderline yell over the pulsing bass of the remixed rock music playing in the background.
When the opportunity presented itself, he slipped away from the group to which his sister was chatting and headed to the kitchen, knowing he should make the most of the fact that he didn’t have swim practice for an entire week. He had never been much of a drinker, mostly because doing laps at six in the morning while he had a hangover just never seemed too appealing. But his training for the Olympics didn’t start again until the following Monday, so he should make the most of his time off. But after surveying the various liquor options presented on the counter top, he decided to stick with being responsible.
Filling a cup with water from the refrigerator, he looked around for a place to successfully people watch. He wasn’t able to scout such a location, but he figured what he did find was even better: Cassandra leaning against the railing of the outdoor balcony.
He could see her through the dirty sliding glass doors, the gentle breeze lifting her curls and sending them dancing around her neck and cheeks as she stared down at the community pool in the middle of the apartment complex.
Jessamine’s warning rang in his mind, but he needed a bit of fresh air anyways and he had never been particularly good at heeding warnings given to him by his family members, so he held his plastic cup close and pushed aside the glass door and stepped out onto the balcony.
She looked over her shoulder when she heard the music get louder, only for a few seconds while Tyler joined her, before becoming muffled again when the door slid shut. “What are you doing out here?”
Judging from the fact that she’d noticed him chatting easily with everyone he’d talked to inside, she hadn’t assumed he would need a break from the festivities. Cassie, on the other hand, was a bit out of her element. Despite the fact that she technically had interacted with everybody at the party before, she was never quite sure what to say during the group conversations and often found herself just standing quietly and listening. Not that she minded, but after a while, not contributing anything became a bit uncomfortable, so she excused herself to the only unoccupied part of the apartment. Also, she was a bit tipsy, so the chaos of the inside was becoming overwhelming.
“I could ask you the same thing,” he said, resting his forearms against the railing as he leaned beside her, his fingers wrapped around a red plastic cup full of water. He wasn’t in the mood for any more alcohol, but to keep people from constantly offering it to him, he was carrying around the cup as a decoy.
She lifted an eyebrow and brought her beer can to her lips, but didn’t say anything, silently telling him that she wasn’t going to fall for him avoiding talking about himself.
One side of his mouth lifted into a smile and he let out a soft laugh. “Honestly, there’s only so many times you can talk about what it’s like to train for the Olympics before it just becomes irritating.”
She had heard from Jessamine all about how amazing Tyler was in a pool and how exciting it was that he was picked to train for the national team and a part of her did want to know more, but if he didn’t want to talk about it, then she wouldn’t push him.
“I get it,” he continued, the index finger of one hand circling the rim of his cup. “It’s really cool and I’m completely honored that I get to do it and it’s such an amazing opportunity, but I do have other interests besides swimming and I wish people didn’t think that all I am is a good swimmer and wow, I sound like a jackass, don’t I?”
Actually, she appreciated his honesty. Getting chosen to train for the Olympic team was undoubtedly extraordinary, but she imagined that sometimes extraordinary people wanted the chance to experience ordinary things. Tyler was just trying to enjoy his time off and get away from the world he’d have to return to in a few short days.
“Nah,” she replied softly, “You sound like a teenager.”
He knew she was trying to be supportive, but he felt a knot tighten in the pit of his stomach when she pointed out the three-year age gap between them. In the grand scheme of things, three years wouldn’t really matter and they were technically both adults, but he wondered if she thought of him as a child and he wondered why he so desperately wanted for her to think of him as a man.
“I promise you, I don’t do anything like I’m a teenager.” His flirtatious instincts kicked in before he could stop them.
She froze at his words, her heart rate spiking beyond what it had when he’d first stepped out onto the balcony. After only knowing Tyler for a few hours, she gleaned that he enjoyed flirting, so it wasn’t particularly surprising that they’d ended up at this point. Still, she was more prepared for it this time than she had been in the kitchen, so she leaned towards him and lied through her teeth. “You can flirt with me all you want, Tyler, but I’m not gonna fall in love with you.”
Honestly, Cassie got attached to people quite easily, a habit she was trying to break, so if she did end up developing feelings for Tyler, she supposed it wouldn’t be entirely shocking. But she didn’t want him to know that because nothing could happen between them. They both cared about Jessamine too much to risk upsetting her by becoming friendlier than necessary with each other.
Pushing herself off the railing, she turned towards the glass doors and did her best not to look back as she pushed them aside and stepped into the apartment, knowing she was going to throw away the remainder of her beer as soon as possible because a few minutes with Tyler had left her feeling completely intoxicated. She let out a slow breath once the glass door slid closed behind her and rejoined a group of people with whom she’d been talking earlier. Chances were that she still wouldn’t have any idea what to say, but being with them was much less dangerous than spending any more time alone with Tyler.
Outside on the balcony, Tyler glanced over his shoulder to watch her momentarily through the glass door, admiring how she seemed so genuinely interested in the conversation at hand before turning his gaze back to the community pool below and allowing himself to become entranced by the reflection of the moon on the water.
He never wanted girls to fall in love with him. In fact, he was generally careful to keep them at enough of a distance that they never would because it wasn’t fair to anyone involved if he wasn’t emotionally ready to return those feelings.
But Cassie’s words were repeating in his mind and as he drained the last of the water in his cup and stared down at the empty pool, he wondered what it meant that he wanted to prove her wrong.