“Of course you wouldn’t.” She purses her lips, a twinkle lighting in her eye. “And it’s a good thing you told me, so I can cover for you if you go sneaking around later.”
“My face is pink again, isn’t it?”
She laughs. “Magenta.”
Half and hour later, the other girls start to arrive. It’s a mixture of the cheerleading squad and Harper’s friends from the student council. There has still been no sign of Zach, but before I know it, my nerves have dissipated and we’re all sitting in a circle on the den floor gossiping, laughing, passing around chocolate. Of course, everyone is still talking about homecoming. Dinner plans, limousine seating arrangements, after parties.
I never forget that Zach is in the house, not even close, but a shock of delight still runs down my spine when I hear his footsteps creaking down the hallway. My fingers curl into the hem of my shorts and I have to work to keep my breathing even.
He barely even glances into the den when he walks by, but his gaze meets mine for a split second and I almost melt into the floor. God, I love him in those black sweatpants. That tight gray T-shirt with the faded school logo on front. All that cotton molded to his bulk like a loving second skin.
Not for the first time, I’m shocked that none of the other girls are actively drooling over him. Or craning their necks to see where he’s gone. How are they so blind to his perfection? His incredible body and impressive mind? His quiet kindness and maturity?
I stand up. “Does anyone need a soda?”
Harper looks at me knowingly. “I’m good.”
Everyone else declines, too, launching back into the discussion about eye shadow palettes and I head for the kitchen where I can hear Zach getting ice out of the refrigerator. The muscles in his back tighten when I walk inside, but he takes his time turning around. Ever since last night, I’ve been wondering if things are going to be different between us—and I can see now that they are. For one, Zach rarely lets his attention drop below my neck.
Tonight, he can’t seem to stop himself.
He sips his drink, his eyes meandering down over the front of me, cataloguing my black spandex cheerleading shorts and the pink belly T-shirt. No bra. My mother never would have let me leave the house dressed like this if she’d seen me, but she’s on shift tonight at the hospital. Maybe it is a little on the risqué side, but…I’m so scared of last night being a one-time thing and I want him to find me tempting and irresistible. Does that make me terrible? I mean, we’re going to college at the end of this year. What if he goes to some Ivy League school two thousand miles away and this is my only chance to experience him?
His voice scrapes out. “Hey Jilly Beans.”
That big chest of his expands. “You having fun at the sleepover?”
“Uh-huh.” I fuss with my ponytail. “I just came in here to get a soda.”
“Oh.” He ducks his head and steps away from the fridge. “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was in your way.”
“I lied,” I blurt. “I came in here to see you.”
The gutsy girl from last night is back! And not a moment too soon.
Zach tucks his tongue into his cheek to temper a smile. “Came in here to see you, too.”
My heart sprouts wings. “You did?” I breathe wistfully.
He grunts, rubs at the back of his neck.
“You keep to yourself when I’m over at your house these days,” I say, chancing a step in his direction. “You almost never come out of your room.”
He considers me with those soulful green eyes. “Come on, Jilly Beans. All those guys panting after you at school…I didn’t want you to think I was one of them. Breathing down your neck when you’re trying to hang out with my sister. You deserve a break.”
“But…what?” I jog back through everything he just said, landing on all the confusing parts. “Guys don’t pant after me.”
That earns me a rare Zach laugh. “Oh yes, they do. I’ve had to…”
“You’ve had to what?”
The tips of his ears are turning red. “It’s nothing. I just…suggested they stop talking about certain parts of your anatomy. If they want to live.”
I start to ask which parts of my anatomy they referred to, then decide I don’t want to know. Besides, I’m more interested in the fact that Zach has been defending my honor behind the scenes. Could that possibly mean anything? Or is he just being the honorable boy he’s always been? “I didn’t know you were doing that for me. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. Just…” He swallows, his gaze resting on my pebbled nipples. “Please don’t wear that to school. Or I’ll get expelled.”