Shallow Page 8

I heard him huff through the phone. “I think Payton made it clear she doesn’t plan on going out with you and I’m not letting you hold her to that hinky bet.”

“Come on, Boone, she was too trashed for us to have a real conversation last night and all I need is half a chance to convince her to go out with me. I bet there wasn’t anyone who thought you were right for Claire and look how wrong they were.”

I heard silence on the other end and I knew he was thinking it over. “I’ll give you her number, but I’m telling you now that she doesn’t do Collinsville dudes. She likes her guys preppy and rich so be prepared for rejection because she doesn’t sugar coat anything for anybody.”

I was positive that there was a time when Claire didn’t do Collinsville guys either, but look at who was living with her and climbing into her bed every night. “Consider me forewarned.”

I hung up from making plans with Jessie about meeting up before Dane’s party and looked at Payton’s number. I felt nervous when I thought about calling her but it didn't stop me from dialing her number. I listened to five rings before it went to voicemail and then realized calling her this early after the drunk she pulled last night was a stupid idea because she was probably still in bed nursing a hellacious headache.

I couldn’t convince myself to hang up before I had the chance to listen to her sweet voice on her voicemail recording say, “Hi, leave me a message and if I don’t call you back, it means I’m not interested.” Even her voicemail greeting was smart ass.

I hung up without leaving a message. I told myself it was probably better to wait and see her tonight at Dane’s party instead of waking an angry beast but the truth was that I was scared. I was afraid of leaving a message and never hearing back from her because she wasn’t interested in me.

I was busy thinking about my next move when I heard Jake tap on my bedroom doorway. “Hey, Dickhead! I’m taking the boat out on the lake today. You wanna come?”

I probably needed a way to pass the day so I didn’t spend it fixated on a beautiful blonde with honey brown eyes. “Sure, I’m in.”

“Okay. I’m leaving in half an hour if you’re riding with me.”

“I’ll be ready.”

An hour later, we were on the water. I always had a blast at the lake with Jake, Gabbi and her hot friends but today was different. It seemed to drag as I impatiently waited for Dane’s party tonight.

I felt a fist to my upper arm. “Dayum, little brother. What is with you today? You haven’t said two words and you’re not hitting on any of Gabbi’s friends. What gives?”

I shook my head but stared ahead. I was not telling him that I had become obsessed with a chick. “It’s nothing.”

Jake plopped down in the sand next to me and I knew that meant he wasn’t leaving without an answer. He shook his head like a dog and then shoved his wet hair away from his face. “Don’t lie to me, you little Piss Ant. Something is up with you and I want to know what it is.”

Fine, he could laugh if he wanted. “It’s a chick.”

“Let me guess. The leggy blonde you were with on the dance floor last night at the club?”

I didn’t care for his description of her, even if it was dead on. “Yeah, that’s the one.”

“She was one smokin’ hot chick, but is she hot enough for you to break your own rule?”

I knew exactly what he was talking about, but I pretended I didn’t. “And what rule would that be?”

“Come on, Nick. Everyone knows that you don’t have any use for a chick after you screw her and I know for a fact that you walked out the front door with her and didn’t come back for almost two hours.”

I could see how he might get the wrong idea about me and Payton. “I didn’t sleep with her.”

Jake started laughing at me. “Since when do you call it sleeping with them?”

“Since I met her, okay?” I reached for my sunglasses on top of my head and put them over my eyes so I could hide behind them. “She’s different.”

“I get why you’re sniffing around her but she’s not the right kind of different for you, kiddo. She’s a hot piece but what makes her different from the chicks you usually do is that she’s a different breed. I took one look at her and knew she was rich and uppity. Take my advice and stick to what you know and what won’t get you in trouble.”

I dropped my head as I shook it and stared at the wet sand. “I don’t think I can stay away from her.”

“Like always, you’re thinking with the wrong head, Little Brother, but make no mistake. Your fascination with screwing this uptown girl is going to get you into serious trouble.”

“This isn’t about sleeping with her. Don’t get me wrong. I definitely would, but that’s not what I’m after.”

“You don’t know this chick. You just met her. You can’t possibly think you’re falling for her.”

I continued to look ahead and didn’t comment either way but I could see his stare out of my peripheral vision. “Shit, Nick. She’s just like Mom and look at how things turned out between her and Dad. He was never good enough for her or her rich family and she left all of us because of it. You and Dallas don’t remember what it was like when she left because y'all were so young, but I won’t ever forget it. This chick is trouble and you’d be doin’ yourself a favor to not forget that anytime soon.”

“Duly noted, Brother” I replied through my clenched teeth as I refused to look at him.

The rest of my day at the lake consisted of avoiding Jake because I didn’t want to hear how he thought he knew everything about Payton Archer and her type. He didn’t have a clue what he was talking about when it came to her. Payton was nothing like Mom, even if she did call me Saint Nick.

≈ ≈ ≈

I met Jessie and Claire at a convenience store in Franklin and followed them in her fancy convertible to Dane’s house on the most Eastern side of town. As we drove, it became more and more apparent that the further east you lived, the richer you were so it was an understatement to say that Dane’s family was very Eastern.

After we parked on the side of the driveway stretching to Dane’s house, I looked at the enormous mansion before me. I studied it as we walked up the drive and wondered why anyone would need a house that size. I looked at every luxury car we passed on the walk toward the house, but not a one of them was Payton’s Lexus. “Is Payton already here?

“She should be. Dane and his brother, Paxton, came by around four and picked her up.”

It didn’t sit well with me that Payton left Claire’s house with two guys but I guess I didn’t have much of a say about it.

We walked around to the back of the house through a gate where there was a huge crowd of people hanging out. I immediately began to scan the crowd looking for the only one that drew me here, but I didn’t see her anywhere.

“Looks like I’m gonna have a bigger turnout than I expected.”

I recognized Dane’s voice and turned to see him standing next to us with two red plastic cups of beer in his hands. They both were fresh pours because each had huge foamy heads floating just below the rims and he passed one to me. “Here, have a beer.”

There was no way I’d be able to fit all these people at my place. “Yeah, this is a pretty big crowd to have at your house at one time.”

“If they keep showing up, I may have to send my bro’ for another keg. Speaking of which, I probably should check on it and see how fast the beer is going because it would totally suck to run out.”

“Hey, ya’ know where Payton is?” I called out to Dane as he walked toward the keg.

“Inside,” he called over his shoulder and pointed to a window to my left.

I looked through the window and saw Payton in the kitchen. She was sitting up on the countertop picking at the label on the bottled water in her hand and I took that as a sure sign she was probably still not feeling well from last night’s attempt to forget the pansy in the pastel shirt.

She looked as though there were a thousand places she’d rather be and I dreamed of how I might be the one to take her to any one of them.

“Don’t be fooled by her moping act.” I turned and saw Claire by my side. “She was never into Cooper.”

“I think you need to convince her of that,” I argued.

“She’s a smart girl. She’ll figure it out.”

I looked back at Claire’s beautiful best friend through the window and winced.

“It would take a little while for her to get over all of this nonsense on her own, but I think a little help from the right guy could have her over it by tomorrow.”

What was that supposed to mean? Was she encouraging me to go after Payton? “What are you telling me, Claire?”

She took a drink from her glass, peered over the rim at me and then nodded in Payton’s direction. “I’m telling you to be the right guy. Be the one that makes her see that she never cared ‘bout Cooper and she’s mourning something that was never there.”

I was sure I looked like a deer in headlights as I stared at her and I wondered what Jessie would say about all of this. “Why would you encourage me to go after your best friend when I know Jessie has told you about me? I’m not known for being inexperienced.”

“It doesn’t matter what Jessie has said because I’ve seen the way you look at her.”

What could she possibly know about the way I looked at Payton? “And just how do I look at her?”

“The way Jessie looks at me.” A feather could have knocked me over as she described her observations to me. “Like just now when you were watching her through the window, you were smiling and I bet you didn’t even realize it.”

No, I hadn’t realized I was smiling, but I had realized how happy I was to find her.

I was sure that Claire didn’t know about the things Payton and I had discussed last night. Her best friend didn’t want me because of the way I had treated girls in the past and I didn’t blame her. She had no guarantee she wouldn’t become the next unidentifiable number and it was my own stupid fault.

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