Crushed Page 27

For one brutal moment, the loneliness threatens to surface.

I shove it back, partially because it’s futile, partially because I hear footsteps behind me.

For once, I’m actually eager for the distracting presence that is Chloe Bellamy.

Hell, I’m even tempted to confide in her. Somehow I suspect that if anyone understands being lonely in a crowd it’s her.

But it’s not Chloe who settles beside me on the dock. Not Chloe who swings her legs over the side and dangles her feet over the water.

It’s not Chloe who sits with a hip touching mine, even though there’s plenty of room on the dock.

It is a bikini-clad Kristin.

Neither of us says anything, but she reaches over and plucks the beer bottle from my hand, tilting it back to her lips. It’s probably supposed to be a sexy, casual move, but there’s something artificial about it, as though she’s hoping someone is watching.

Say, perhaps, her boyfriend?

“Wasn’t expecting my tennis pro to show up at my parents’ lake house,” she says.

“I’m not your tennis pro this weekend,” I say, turning my head just slightly to look at her. “I’m Chloe’s friend.”

I can tell by the way her nose scrunches up, just slightly, that she doesn’t like this. She takes another sip of my beer, and this time it’s less contrived. Like she needs it to wash a bad taste out of her mouth.

“She’s lost weight,” Kristin says, handing my beer back and leaning over just slightly to watch her feet swing back and forth over the water.

Her parents had said the same thing—not in Chloe’s hearing—but whereas Mr. and Mrs. Bellamy had said it with delight, Kristin’s tone is something else entirely. Not quite begrudging, but definitely thoughtful.

“She’s lost a few pounds.” I roll my shoulders and set the beer aside.

Kristin’s nails tap against the wood of the dock. “How many?”

Why does it matter?

I crack my knuckles. “It’s not about the weight loss.”

She gives me an incredulous look, and I don’t think it’s my imagination that she straightens a little to better display the full impact of her slim frame. As Chloe promised, Kristin is wearing the red, white, and blue bikini.

And she’s wearing it well.

Her smug smile shows she knows it.

“Chloe’s got killer curves, whatever the weight,” I hear myself say.

Kristin’s smile slips.

It’s not that Kristin doesn’t have curves in all the right places; she does. But for some reason I want her to know that some guys might prefer Chloe’s hourglass figure.

“You sound like a chick,” she snaps. “What’s next, a girl-power anthem?”

I smile and lift my beer. I’ve been goading her for weeks now, knowing it piques her interest, but today is different.

Today I’m goading her because her tone when she talks about her sister pisses me off.

“Where is Chloe?” I ask, very deliberately fueling the fire. “She was supposed to meet me down here.”

“For what?” she asks. “Is this like a friends-with-benefits thing?”

The specification is an insulting one, and I turn to look at her, pinning her with a gaze that’s sharper than before. “How do you know we’re not dating?”

She opens her mouth but clamps it shut again when she sees the expression on my face.

Despite her silence, I think I know full well what she isn’t saying.

It wouldn’t occur to her that I could be interested in Chloe for real. I mean, I’m not …

But a big sister should be standing up for her younger sibling, not tearing her down.

I grind my teeth in irritation. I think I’ve known all along that Kristin doesn’t exactly have a heart of gold, and I haven’t given a shit. My thing with Kristin is purely about the challenge.

And yet, looking at her perfect features, I’m suddenly having a hell of a time remembering why I found her attractive in the first place.

My need to defend Chloe is fierce and uncomfortable, and I’m about to deliberately give Kristin the wrong idea—that I do have a thing for her sister—when I realize the lie won’t help Chloe’s cause.

Chloe doesn’t care whether I discover Kristin’s true colors; she cares that Devon does.

I take another sip of my increasingly warm beer, and just as I’m firmly ordering myself to stay the fuck out of this stupid melodrama, I remember the carrot I dangled in front of Chloe earlier.

Her wearing that ridiculously tiny swimsuit tomorrow in exchange for my help with Devon.

I still don’t know why I offered, but what the hell … might as well get a head start.

“Where’s your boyfriend?” I ask Kristin.

She’s recovered some of her composure and gives me a tiny, secret smile. “Why so interested?”

I shrug. “Just figured wherever he is, I can find Chloe.”

Once again, her smile pulls a vanishing act.

This is almost fun.

“What do you mean?”

I lift a shoulder. “They’re tight, aren’t they? I see them talking all the time at the club.”

“They’re friends.” Her voice is cautious.

I nod, as though I’m thinking this over. “Did they ever, you know … date?”

“God! No!” She lets out a little laugh. “Why would you even think that?”

I shrug. “Just checking.”

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