Breathless Page 13

“Still. No one’s ever done that for me.”

Nick didn’t know what to say to that. Then Adam’s cell phone chimed, and that was enough to distract him from the conversation.

“Wow,” said Adam. “It’s from that guy on the beach. He said he’s sorry his friend got out of control.”

“I’m surprised he’s not begging us not to press charges.”

Adam looked at him. Nick could feel the weight of his eyes in the darkness. “Do you want to?”

Nick shook his head. The last thing he needed to do was draw attention to his family. To say nothing of dragging Quinn into it. She had enough problems.

Adam’s cell phone chimed again, and he read off the screen. “He says he has a little sister, and he took care of her, so he wanted to look after Quinn. He says neither of them hurt her.” A pause, another chime, and Adam guffawed. “He asked if we’d give her his number.”

Nick snorted. “I’m surprised he can text coherently, as hammered as they were.”

“I think there’s a fair bit of autocorrect going on. Every time he tries to say her name, it says Quinine.”

Nick laughed outright at that.

But then he sobered when he glanced over and found Adam staring at him.

Nick knew that look. It was how girls sometimes looked at him, with cartoon hearts practically exploding from their eyes.

It was unnerving.

With girls, he could smile back. Flirt. A glance here, a touch there, a teasing word. It cost him nothing, and it was what everyone expected.

Right now, it left him breathless and uncertain. Because what everyone expected was in direct contradiction with what he wanted.

He locked his hands on the steering wheel and his eyes on the road. “You’ll have to tell me where you live again.”

Adam must have noticed the sharpness in his voice, because he gave the return directions flatly, reciting his address by rote. The hearts were gone from his eyes, and he was studying the windshield with almost as much focus as Nick.

Nick didn’t like that.

He dulled the edge in his tone. “You sure you don’t mind her sleeping it off at your place?”

“Nah,” said Adam quietly. “It’s nothing.”

Adam lived in a basement apartment at one of the aging brick complexes on the edge of Annapolis. The apartment was small, practically an efficiency. One bedroom, one bathroom, and a kitchen–living room–dining room combo. All beige carpet, white walls with dark photography prints everywhere, and minimal furniture. A tiny two-seater kitchen table was tucked into the corner by the oven, and there was a couch and an end table, but no television. Just piles of books everywhere. Cluttered, but neat and orderly.

The air was peaceful here, and Nick took a long breath for what felt like the first time all evening.

“You can put her on the bed,” Adam whispered, though they’d been speaking normally in the car and she hadn’t stirred.

Nick shouldered through the doorway and eased Quinn onto the bed, pulling a black and blue–checked quilt over her sleeping form. Her breathing still felt regular, and the air whispered nothing of danger, so he felt pretty sure she was fine.

Then he straightened and realized he was in Adam’s room. Alone.

It felt quiet and intimate and smelled like oranges and cloves, and Nick didn’t want to leave.

But what was he going to do? Sit here?

God, he felt so selfish. Quinn was lying here, practically unconscious. He should have just taken her to his house initially.

But then Adam wouldn’t have called.

He reached for the normal mental barriers to tell himself to shut up, but here, in someone else’s space, it was a lot harder to lie to himself.

He needed to leave.

Adam stuck his head through the doorway. “I started some coffee. How do you take it?”

This would be the perfect opportunity to decline, to get out and go home.

“Just cream,” he said.

When he was sitting at the little table in the kitchen, his hands wrapped around a mug, he fought for something to say.

But all he could think about was the way Adam’s hands had poured cream into the mugs, or the graceful way he moved about the kitchen, or the shape of his mouth or the brown of his eyes or the—

Adam sat down and Nick jerked his eyes back to his mug. He took a quick gulp.

“How’s the coffee?” Adam’s voice was amused. And close.

This table was too damn small.

“It’s great. Thanks.” Nick still couldn’t look at him. His cheeks felt warm, and he hoped that was just the steam from the coffee. He doubted it.

Adam was silent for a long minute. A weighted minute.

Then he said, his voice completely sober, “When I was seventeen, Quinn told me she had a crush on me. I told her I had a crush on the starting center of the football team. A few days later, someone slammed my face into the corner of my locker. I never saw who did it. But he broke my nose and two teeth. I had to have reconstructive surgery. I didn’t go back to school.”

Nick was looking at him now. “Holy shit.”

Adam shrugged. “It wasn’t that long ago. I’m surprised you didn’t hear about it.”

Nick frowned. “I think—I think I did. I remember something . . .” He shook his head. It was one of those high school dramas, the complete focus of hallway gossip for like five minutes, then gone.

Unless you were the center of the drama, like Adam.

Nick wasn’t entirely sure what to say. That he understood? He’d gotten in enough fights because of being an Elemental that he could relate—but saying so didn’t seem right.

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