KEEP AWAY: CHAPTER 1

CHARLIE
September 2012


There’s a nearly naked man in my room.

A hot one.

Like, really hot.

This is my room, right?

I take a step back and peer at the number on the door I’ve just opened to make sure I haven’t walked into my neighbor’s room on accident. Because I’ve definitely walked into my neighbor Corbin’s room by accident and seen him naked.

Oops.

Yup. Red door. #622. Door decorations with our names on them. Charlotte and Rachel, each written on white paper in the shape of a marshmallow, being roasted over a fire. Such a stupid idea. It’s never cold enough in Southern California to roast marshmallows. Our RA is such a …

Wait.

My eyes fly back to the nearly-naked man sitting in my room.

He’s leaning against my bed, likely because I left mine dropped while my roommate had her bed lofted so she could shove her desk underneath. It takes up way less space, but who really wants to climb up to the top of a bunk bed every day? What are we, ten?

The hot guy is staring at me with a devious little smirk that makes my stomach swoop. But I shake it off, because… well because, yes he may be hot, but he’s in my room and he’s a stranger.

Ignore the abs, Char.

“I’m concerned that you seem quite comfortable sitting on my bed, in my room, in just your undies, and yet I have no idea who you are,” I say, remaining at the door and resting one hand on my hip while the other clutches the knob, readying to slam the door closed and race down the hall to report this person who broke into my room.

But he looks familiar.

And he’s gorgeous.

The gorgeous ones always get away with everything. It’s actually really obnoxious and maybe I should go tell someone that there’s a guy in…

“I’m assuming you’re the infamous Charlie I’ve heard so much about,” the sex-on-a-stick says, standing from the bed and walking towards me. He puts his hand out as he gets close, towering over me. “I’m Jeremy. Rachel’s brother.”

I blink.

Then blink again.

Oh.

My.

GOD.

This sexy-ass beast is Rachel’s brother!? Why didn’t she tell me he was so delicious? Well, I guess that would be super gross. If she told me that. So maybe cancel that thought.

I let my eyes shamelessly flick up and down Jeremy’s body as I slowly extend my hand to shake his. Bare feet. Muscular calves and thighs with just a touch of a tan line. Blue striped boxer briefs that cling so nicely to his hips. Sexy abs and defined pecs dusted with light brown hair. Not a six pack, but definitely close. Thick arms and toned shoulders. A strong jawline. Brown hair in a faux hawk with buzzed sides. And the most earth shattering blue eyes I’ve ever seen. Top it all off with a gorgeous smile that’s making my knees weak, and we can call this a day, ladies!

Damn, he’s gorgeous.

When my eyes finally finish giving him the up-and-down, I notice he’s giving me the same once-over, and he doesn’t exactly look disappointed. The unrestrained interest he’s giving off has me battling a smile.

And we’re still shaking hands.

When I realize too much time has passed since either of us has said anything, I gently pull my hand from his and clear my throat.

“I don’t know about infamous,” I say, laughing lightly and passing Jeremy to walk to my dresser on the other side of the room, swaying my hips. “If my sources are correct, you have a much larger reputation around here than little old me.”

Once I set my clutch down on my nightstand, slip out of my high heels and turn around, I see Jeremy has returned to his spot leaning against the length of my bed, his long legs stretching out in front of him and crossed at the ankle, his eyes trained on me.

“Sources, huh?” he says with a half smile, drawing my attention to his mouth. “What sources?”

I shrug, feigning ignorance. “A girl’s gotta have her secrets,” I reply.

But honestly, what am I supposed to say? I know three girls he’s hooked up with, and they’re all friends with each other, which is kind of gross when you think about it. I know who he is. I’ve just never matched a face with the name. Which is sad because it is one amazing face.

He’s the Jeremy Jameson. He’s the captain of the soccer team and his name has been tossed around campus frequently enough during my first few weeks at Glendale College that I know without a doubt he’s quite the man about campus. But this is the first time I’m seeing him in the flesh. Literally.

I look away from him and take my earrings off, hooking them each carefully into the earring organizer I snagged on clearance from Anthropology during move-in week.

“And what if I want to know your secrets?” he asks.

I glance at him in the mirror and wonder whether I should be playing hard-to-get. But it’s not normally my style, and flirting is much more fun.

“You want to know my secrets?” I ask coyly, running my hands through my hair and pulling the thick locks over one shoulder. When he just nods, I give him a seductive grin. “I don’t share secrets with strange men, whether they’re in my bed or not.”

“So I’m a strange man?” he asks.

“What else would you call a nearly naked man you don’t know in your bed?”

“Me? A prank. You? It should be considered an invitation.” He bites his lip and re-crosses his arms, drawing my eyes to those muscles.

I give him a sardonic smile. “I typically don’t invite men into my bed when I don’t know them, but I do know a secret or two I can share.”

“Oh, really?”

I nod and move towards him, resting my butt on the edge of the bed just a few inches from where he sits. I lean in close, pressing slightly against him. His face is a breath away from mine when I whisper, “RJ snores really loudly.”

His head jerks back and he looks at the full smile on my face before barking out a laugh.

“What? Not the secret you were looking for?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “You’re crazy if you think that’s a secret. We shared a connecting bedroom wall growing up. She’s a chainsaw.”

I laugh, closing my eyes and thinking about the earplugs I have tucked into my nightstand, the lifesavers that they are.

“Nothing about Rachel is a secret to me,” he adds, and I roll my eyes. “What? She’s my sister. I know her better than anyone.”

“Sorry, mister, but that time has come and gone. You might have known our sweet, little RJ since the day she graced the world with her presence, but every girl has secrets. The fact that you call her Rachel when everyone else calls her RJ is just one example of how you might not know her as well as you think.”

He rolls his eyes.

“The whole RJ thing is a college thing. She’ll always be Rachel to me.”

I laugh. RJ hates that he still calls her Rachel.

“And, I can tell you this much,” he adds, leaning into me and pushing my hair that has fallen forward back over my shoulder. “Maybe she can keep a secret, because she has never mentioned how absolutely beautiful you are.”

My breath hitches and my stomach swoops.

And my mind takes a moment to just go completely fuzzy like an old TV on the fritz.

Now, lets make something clear. I’m not one of those girls from a teen movie that doesn’t realize she’s attractive. I know I have a lot going for me. The looks that won me the Elle Girl “Make Me a Model” campaign when I was 14 haven’t faded away over the past four years. Rich, silky brunette hair. Big, caramel eyes, and long legs that make shopping for pants a serious hassle, but definitely attract male attention.

At 5’9”, I tower over a lot of the women on campus, and a fair share of the men, too. It can make wearing heels feel like overkill, since the 4-inch stilettos I was wearing tonight rock me up to over 6’ tall. With the average man sitting at 5’10”, I spend most days feeling a bit like a Sasquatch.

But Jeremy? I had to look up when he sauntered over in his bare feet a few minutes ago to shake my hand. That means he’s at least 6’3”. Six feet and three inches of breathtaking, stunning, startlingly attractive… maleness. And even though I know plenty of guys think I’m hot, which was made painfully clear when my fifty year old gym teacher commented on it when I was a junior in high school – can we all agree how gross that is? Like, you’re married and old enough to be my dad, Mr. Dalton – it’s been a long time since someone has called me beautiful.

“But you said I’m infamous,” I finally get out, leaning away slightly. As much as I’m enjoying being this close to him, it’s kind of overwhelming. “What has my sweet roommate told you about me?”

He tilts his head and taps his fingers against his jaw, as if he’s trying to recall the memory. “If I remember correctly, you’re from Nebraska and you want to be a nurse, right?”

I smile.

“Good memory, but those details hardly make me infamous.”

“I may have exaggerated on the infamous part. A little. But I can promise you that moving forward from right now? It’s gonna be hard work to forget you.”

I let out a small laugh, very much enjoying his ridiculous flattery. “You’re just as charming as all the girls say.” He blushes slightly. “So tell me, Mr. Jameson, what are your secrets?”

He considers me for a second, determining what to share. Maybe trying to figure out my level of trustworthiness. Or trying to decide how to make another innuendo.

“You wanna know a real secret?” I nod. “I’ve had two professional soccer teams reach out about recruiting me in the past week.”

My eyebrows fly up. “Wow, are you serious? I didn’t realize Glendale could produce athletes good enough to go pro.” The minute the words are out of my mouth, I realize how insulting they are.

“Have you ever been to one of our games?” Jeremy asks, thankfully not seeming upset by my foot-in-mouth moment. When I shake my head he laughs. “Why am I not surprised? If you watched us play, you’d understand. We might be a smaller team, but we’re a powerhouse in the college soccer world, regardless of division.”

I nod, making a mental note to pay more attention when RJ talks about soccer. And her brother.

“Is RJ excited about it? I mean, she lives and breathes soccer, so I feel like she would be over the moon for you.”

He shrugs. “I haven’t told her yet, so I’m not really sure.”

My brows furrow. “Then why did you tell me?”

He shrugs again, pausing and looking away from me and out the window that showcases the campus quad, before saying, “I don’t actually know.”

The conversation wilts, then, a silence overtaking the room that is both uncomfortable and yet, at the same time, startlingly calm and soothing.

Growing up attending my parents’ dinner parties, I was always told how quickly a lack of conversation could completely tank an evening. I might be from a little town in Nebraska, but I’m also a Davenport. And in the Davenport house, there is no such thing as a comfortable silence. Davenports lead the conversation, or so my mother says. But while she thinks being well-read and knowledgeable about local politics is the best way save the day, I have my own tried-and-true method of furthering along a conversation.

Flirting.

And while flirting with the upper crust of my small town growing up was pretty taxing, trust me when I say that flirting with Jeremy is no hardship.

I clear my throat and lean back towards him. “So, I don’t watch a lot of soccer,” I say, my voice taking on a slightly different wispy quality. “What position do you play?”

His eyes drop to my mouth, less than a foot from his.

“I’m a striker,” he responds, leaning ever-so-slightly towards me.

“What does that mean?”

“It means I power the ball into the net.”

“Are you good at it?”

“Oh, Charlie, I’m so good at it.”

I giggle. “Would you teach me sometime?”

“Oh, I could…”

The door slams open.

“I swear to all that is holy, if you ever ask me to do that again… oh, hey Char.” RJ’s voice and sudden entrance into the room completely shifts the mood.

Her eyes flit quickly between the two of us, huddled next to each other, my body arched towards Jeremy in a seductive curve, his muscles straining as he grips the bed frame, our faces inches from each other.

“Thanks, Rach,” Jeremy says, stepping away from our cocoon and over to grab an armful of clothes from RJ. “I owe you one.”

RJ huffs, her eyes focused on her brother as he plops his stuff onto her desk and starts sorting through it.

“I don’t want to be a part of your hook up protocol, Jer,” she says, clearly upset. “Next time, you’re out on your ass. Do you know how awkward that was for me? First, to have to go ask Vanessa if I can have my brother’s clothes back, and second, to have to ask for it while her boyfriend is in the room.”

Jeremy smirks, and I frown a little.

Wait, what?

“I won’t ask again, sis. That was a one-time mistake.” He shrugs, then grabs his jeans and starts putting them on. “And honestly, it’s not my fault. She didn’t tell me she had a boyfriend until he barged into the room. Besides, nothing actually happened.

RJ crosses her arms and glares at him. “Did you even ask?”

He stuffs his wallet and phone into his jeans and glances at me. “It seems pointless to ask a girl at a frat party if she’s single after she makes out with you for 30 minutes.”

She waves her hand in the general direction of the hallway. “Well, it’s obviously not pointless, hence, Vanessa’s boyfriend.”

“Inappropriate use of the word hence, Rach.”

She huffs. “No it’s not. And don’t change the subject. When we get lunch on Monday, we will be talking about this.”

But I don’t think he’s paying her any more attention because he’s looking back at me. I’ve barely moved since RJ walked in, but Jeremy’s eyes have me shifting slightly where I still stand next to my bed, watching this little sibling spat.

“So, Charlie, I have a question for you.” He pulls his shirt over his head, muscles flexing. “You want to be a nurse, right?” I nod. “If I need CPR, can I call you for help?”

I can’t help the laughter. It’s the most ridiculous pick up line ever, and way overused in the nursing community. But coming from him, it’s silly, not nauseating.

Well, at least not to me.

I glance over at RJ mid-laugh and catch her making gagging faces behind her brother. I guess she doesn’t feel the same.

“You know, if the RA catches you here after hours, you’ll get in trouble,” I say to Jeremy as he slips his feet into his shoes, “and not the type of trouble I can help with.”

Jeremy smirks. “Charlie, I think you can help me with any of the troubles I’m currently facing.”

I laugh again.

“Alright Jeremy, you’ve overstayed your welcome.” RJ grips Jeremy by the arm and starts dragging him towards the door.

“Fine, fine, I’ll take the hint,” he says.

“It’s not a hint if I’m telling you to get out of my room, you skanky toad.”

Jeremy laughs, then wraps his arm around his sister’s neck to pull her in for a hug. She melts into him, giving in to the tight embrace, and I feel my own heart squeeze slightly at the sibling affection.

For a brief moment, I let myself think about my sister and brother, and how much I wish the three of us had a relationship like Jeremy and RJ’s.

He glances over RJ’s head and winks at me, then motions to the door and mouths 5 minutes. “Bye Charlie. Hope to see you again, really soon.”

And then he’s out the door. Does he want me to follow him? I mean, that’s the official meet me in a second symbol, right?

But before I can process anything that’s happened over the past 10 minutes, RJ is right in front of me, looking nervous but determined and oh-so-precious in her glasses and orange and green turtle pajamas.

“Okay, Charlie. Let me make this as clear as possible. I really like you, and I know we’ve only been living together for a few weeks, but I feel like we could be pretty good friends, so I want to put this out there now.” She takes a deep breath. “Jeremy sleeps with… everyone. No repeats, just a good time until it’s not.”

My mouth drops open and the Davenport in me reaches to clutch the nonexistent pearls around my neck at her boldness.

“I can’t tell you what to do, but I think anyone who goes after him is making a mistake. He’s a good man and a wonderful brother, but would make a horrible boyfriend.”

My mouth gapes wider, and I gasp a little. “I mean, I don’t even…”

RJ lifts an eyebrow, and being the queen of eyebrow lifting, I know this particular look. It’s her I call bullshit look.

And then I can’t hold it in any longer.

“Okay, first of all, how could you not tell me your brother looks like that!?” I say, gesturing to the closed door with both arms in dramatic fashion. “He is the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen! Did you see his abs? And his arms? Oh my god, and his eyes. Talk about swoon!”

She makes a gagging face again. “Jer is known around campus for all of those things and then some. I’ve told you this already. He’s like campus royalty or something. It’s really annoying.” She waves her hand in a way that says it’s all hogwash to her.

I clasp my hands together. “The Jeremy Jameson. I feel like I need to share this with someone but you’re the only person I share things with.”

RJ rolls her eyes. “Well, tough. Consider him a topic we just don’t talk about. There’s politics, religion, and Jeremy.”

I laugh as I grab my towel and shower caddie. “But we’ve talked about politics and religion, weirdo.” RJ smiles at me as I slip my feet into flip-flops. “I’m gonna get in a shower while everyone’s still at Thirsty Thursdays,” I say, walking towards the door.

“You’re the weirdo, lusting after my gross brother,” she says, then shouts out, “And think about what I said!” as the door closes behind me.

Technically, I head in the direction of the communal showers our floor shares. Quite the adjustment, those communal showers, when you’ve had a house large enough to never have to share a bathroom. But, also in the direction of the bathroom is the tiny lounge near the stairs. If Jeremy isn’t there, I’ll shrug it off and take a long hot shower. But if he is…

I peek my head through the lounge door, and a smile creeps onto my face when I see him sitting on one of the red couches, scrolling through his phone.

I clear my throat and lean against the doorway, giving him a flirty smile when his eyes connect with mine.

“You lost, pretty girl?” He says with a wolfish grin, pushing up off the couch and walking towards me, tucking his phone into his front pocket.

I shrug.

“Need me to help you with anything?”

I shrug again, trying to restrain my smile and failing miserably.

And then he’s standing in front of me, so close. Toe to toe, breath to breath.

Jeremy lifts his hand and lightly touches my arm, tracing a pattern down until he reaches my hand, then flirts his fingers with mine. Normally, guys giving me attention provides a little ego boost and nothing more. But this light-touching thing has my pulse racing and my temperature increasing rapidly. I can feel the blood rushing to my chest and neck, surely causing my skin to flush red. Traitorous Irish heritage.

“Look at that blush,” he says in a low tone, barely more than a whisper. “Tell me, pretty girl, how far down does that blush spread?”

I’m certain that my skin has turned beat red, but I’m also shockingly woozy and my breathing turns hard as he leans forward slowly, until his face hovers just at the space where my neck meets my shoulder. My eyes drop closed and I just try to memorize the feel of him so close to me like this.

“Let me take you out, Charlotte. I bet we’ll have a really good time,” he says, his breath scattering goose bumps along my collarbone.

I barely manage to nod and utter an uh huh before he’s taking a step back. When I open my eyes, he’s standing there, looking slightly off-kilter, and I think I see something deeper than lust in his eyes. But then he’s back to the smirking, and he hands his phone over for me to enter my number. After I’ve punched it in, he fiddles around with it.

“I just called you. So now you’ll know who it is when I text you.”

I smile. “So when is this happening?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Really? You’re not gonna ask if I have plans?”

He reaches for my hand and lays a light kiss on the inside of my wrist, which feels at odds with the way he’s staring at me, his gaze smoldering. “Do I sound like a dick if I say you’ll cancel them if you have plans tomorrow?”

His eyes twinkle.

Should I find that arrogant and egotistical? Yes. Do I? Eye roll. I can’t be pissed just because he knows I’m interested. I know how to flirt with the best of them, but like I said, hard-to-get isn’t my thing.

I shake my head slightly. “A dick, maybe, but not a liar.”

He smiles.

“See you tomorrow, Char.”

He winks once, then walks out of the lounge. I hear the stairwell door open, his heavy feet echoing on the concrete steps, before it closes behind him.

I wander in a haze to the bathroom on our floor, and barely remember the shower I take. It’s going to be a long night of no sleep for me.


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