Chapter One

It rained.

It had been raining since sundown. The last beautiful rays of sun were blocked out by cement-hued clouds that looked more menacing than they really were. There was no lightning, no rumbles or cracks of thunder, just rain. Just rain and gross, abrasive humidity.

The phone rang as she watched sweat drip down the side of her beer, pooling in round, wet circles on her kitchen table. Her homework lay forgotten in front of her, notes on medical ethics half-smeared in distracted doodles and tiny scribbled writing. She jumped to grab her phone, which sat just out of arm's reach across the table, eager to escape the dull assignment and nearly knocking over the beer in the process.

"Shit!" she cursed as she reached to steady the rocking bottle.

"Shelby?" Jen answered, confusion and concern breaking though the static. "Have we changed our phone greeting now?"

Beer spotted her homework and with a groan, she searched for something to mop it. "Ha, you're so funny."

"Everything all right?"

A dish towel sat on the end of the table and with the phone tucked between her ear and shoulder, she began to clean her splotched homework. "Yeah. Everything is fine."

Jen gave a hum of approval before speaking. "He stood me up again, Shelby."

The arm on the wall-clock clicked over a minute as Shelby exhaled a puff of breath. "What time was he supposed to pick you up?"

"An hour and a half ago."

"Maybe he's late." The excuse was feeble and half-hearted and Shelby wondered if the static would let through the uncertainty in her tone.

"Maybe hell froze over. Do you even believe it?" Jen's voice sounded neither angry nor annoyed. Amused maybe, but not any emotion that might come from being forgotten. "Why do you even try?"

Annoyance burned unpleasantly in her chest. She wasn't in the mood to be patronized. "Where are you? Why is there so much static?"

"It's not static. I'm outside."

"It's raining."

"So? It feels good."

Shelby twisted to glance at the front door, eyes narrowed. "No way. Go home, Jen."

"Why?" There was a giggle in Jen's voice that made Shelby sneer.

"Because I'm not letting you in, that's why."

"That's okay, I want to go out."

"But I'm staying in."


Jen's tone left no argument and Shelby groaned. She was always bad at their battle of wills. "Hold on." She cut off the squeal of another ungodly giggle as she clicked off the phone and made her way to the door. The door thudded a protest at opening, swollen from the humidity.

Rain fell in sheets outside, but the balcony walkway of her apartment building was dry. Shelby stepped into the thick evening air and leaned against the railing. Water droplets fell from the awning, catching in her hair and slipping under her shirt and a violent shiver followed. In the center of the apartment's grass courtyard stood Jen, soaked and grinning.

"Come down," Jen called, sounding like she had on the phone, half-drowned in the downpour.

"No way. I'm comfortably dry."

"It's not bad. You'll dry off eventually." She paused. "Please."

"Go home, Jen," she yelled into the rain. A grin curled her lips at the sight of Jen, sopping and smiling, as she stood on the apartment complex lawn, phone clutched tightly in her hand. "You're going to catch your death of cold."

"Go out with me tonight!" Jen splashed in the flooded grass. "I want to go dancing."

A groan choked from Shelby's throat. "We went yesterday. I'm tired. I had class all day."

Jen's hair slapped her face as she jumped again and it stuck where it hit. "That's not a real excuse. You had class yesterday."

"Well then, I'm not dressed for it." Shelby leaned further over the railing and more water caught in her hair.

"Well, I can't see that from here. Come down and show me."

"It's raining."

"It's fine."

Shelby's arms crossed tightly over her chest as she steeled herself against Jen's call, but Jen's smile only widened. "Shelby, get down here now." She didn't move. "Shelby!"

This time she didn't deny the order, but walked toward the stairs slowly at a trudge, feeling whipped and malleable. The stairs were slick from the rain and she took them slowly, cautiously stepping on each wet slab of concrete. She stepped off the stairs, still safe under the awning and stared at her friend.

"You see now?" she asked.

"No, the rain impairs my vision."

"You are such a liar." Jen remained silent as Shelby hiked across the grass, water soaking into her thin tank-top. She shivered as she felt it roll down her shoulders. Jen's grin softened to something unreadable as Shelby stopped before her. "Happy now?" she demanded.

"Very," Jen laughed. "Go out with me tonight." She grabbed Shelby by the belt loops, dragging her forward until their bodies met. "We'll dance all night." She rolled her hips into Shelby's.

Shelby's voice caught in her throat as Jen's pelvis shifted against hers. "I'm not dressed to go out," she forced. "And now we're both soaked."

Jen's hands left her belt loops and rolled higher, slipping under her sodden tank top with cold fingers. Shelby shivered. "When has that ever stopped us?" Water rolled into her mouth as Jen's fingers continued to tickle their way up her skin. A smirk appeared across Jen's mouth as she dropped her gaze, moving along the curve of Shelby's neck as she dipped her head. Shelby's eyes closed as Jen's lips descended to her collar bone with a kiss. "We could stay in tonight."

It wasn't a question. Her lips moved up Shelby's neck. She groaned as Jen sucked softly at her neckline. "Wha-whatever."

One more kiss pressed into the skin over her collarbone before hands began to push her toward the safety of the awning. "Inside then, you old prude." The hands guided Shelby backwards, gripping her sides tightly as she stumbled, slippery-footed and blind-sighted in the downpour. They reached the dry awning and the fingers left, sliding across her stomach, across her naval before disappearing and Jen slipped past Shelby to go up the stairs. Shelby followed mutely, voice lodged in her throat as she ran up the stairs.

The door shut with a loud thud that echoed through the room and Shelby followed a trail of dark water spots in the carpet to the living room. Jen stood in the living room, staring at her with playful brown eyes while Shelby stood stock-still at the short foyer entrance, unable to move, unwilling to move or else she'd be stuck falling for every little word Jen whispered.

Like she always did.

"Well," Jen whispered, hand on her hip and head cocked to the side. Her neck glistened in the light of the living room and before she could think, Shelby stumbled forward, allowing Jen to catch her, full on the mouth and stealing the air from her lungs.

Spots dotted her vision before she managed to pull away, licking her lips and gasping. "I'll go make some coffee," she mumbled as she stepped back, the ferocity of lips still fresh against her own. "You can borrow something and get dried off." She turned in retreat and nearly fell over the couch as she knocked into it. Jen's eyes flickered briefly to Shelby's feet before landing back on her face, amused as always, by Shelby's awkward display.

With her head down and her face hot, Shelby willed herself not to run from the room as she moved into the kitchen and settled her movements on autopilot. She shoved the stained pot into the coffee maker and forced her voice though the tension in her throat. "Did you call him?" She cringed. It was like self-abuse asking about him, but she did it anyway, like a punishment. The salt in an ever-present wound.

"No. Why would I go and do that?"

"He stood you up. Don't you want to know why?"

Silence followed for a few long seconds. Finally, "No. I don't want to know." She sounded fragile and unsteady. Jen appeared in the corner of her vision, still sopping and beautiful, mirth present in her face, but vacant from her eyes. "Why did you have to bring him up?"

Shelby pushed herself off the counter and wiped the water from her face. "This is wrong, Jen."

"That's never stopped you before."

She stepped forward, but Shelby stopped her with raised hands. "Don't."

"You don't."

And that was it. She pressed forward and the space between their bodies closed as Jen drove into her, banging her hips into the counter. Their lips met as Jen caught her wrists. Shelby struggled, wide-eyed and unwilling for only a moment. Surrendering was easier and she leaned into Jen's mouth, burning and submissive.

Fuck to defenses.

It was early when the buzz of a cell phone seized her from sleep and she strained to ignore it as she burrowed deeper under the comforter. Beside her, Jen shifted and Shelby whimpered as hands withdrew from her body, sliding across her bare navel. A shiver coursed down her back and she groaned in drowsy irritation. One hand paused on her hip, rubbing soft circles over her hipbone and Jen whispered soft shushing noises. The buzz of the phone ended with a hollow beep that Shelby barely registered.

"Hello?" Jen's voice was thick with sleep and the word slurred. "Hey…I'm at Shelby's. I spent the night…I waited for-" She paused her caresses on Shelby's hip, pressing her palm flat as the speaker cut her off. "It's fine. You're busy. I know…I kept busy too…Don't worry about it." Her voice cracked. "Yeah, of course I'll meet you. Coffee would be really nice right now…Just-just give me twenty minutes, okay…Yeah, see you then…I love you."

The call ended with another low beep and Jen's hands returned, one cool and gentle as it settled on her stomach and the other combed through Shelby's hair. They paused where they rested as Jen continued her soft hushing noises, tickling Shelby's skin as she pressed a kiss to her temple. A moment later, the hands left as Jen rose from the bed and Shelby sat up with a start, opening sleep-filled eyes to the retreating figure moving toward the laundry basket on the far side of the room.

Jen glanced back toward the bed, looking regretful and Shelby felt dirty. "That was him," Jen whispered as she dropped her gaze to search the basket. Shelby nodded, hating the way her throat felt constricted. "I'm going to meet him for coffee." She dressed as she spoke, sliding on a pair of baggy khaki shirts over her naked hips. Shelby watched her with critical intensity. Jen's bra lay on the floor and she turned to face the wall to pull it on. "I'm sorry-"

"Whatever," Shelby cut her off. She pulled the sheet up to cover herself. "If you were really sorry you wouldn't do this to me." Her throat still felt constricted, but she continued, "If you were really sorry you wouldn't wear my clothes like your fucking trophies and you'd promise we wouldn't do this again." Her sinuses stung with the threat of tears and she tugged at the comforter, still feeling exposed under the single sheet.

Fully dressed now, Jen returned to the bed and Shelby fought the urge to move further from her. The bed dipped under her as she took Shelby's face in her hands and pulled her into a sharp severe kiss, a painful crush of puckered flesh that scraped their teeth. Shelby clung to Jen, letting the blanket fall, losing herself in the softness of Jen's lips and the urgency and need of the kiss.

When Jen started to pull away, releasing Shelby's chin, Shelby jumped, catching Jen's face inches from her own. "Please don't go to him," she whispered.

Jen's eyes were closed. "I have to."

Shelby pulled away abruptly, pushing Jen away and grabbing at the sheet again from where it pooled around her waist. "Don't come back then. Promise you won't come back."

Jen scooted closer with a shake of her head, sending loose chocolate-colored tendrils into her face as she pulled at Shelby again. Their lips met gently, without the ferocity and the need of the kiss before and the contact of their skin was tender and warm. When their lips parted, Jen didn't pull away, just rested her forehead against Shelby's, eyes closed and breathing hiked. "I can't promise that," her voice shook.

"Then I guess you aren't really sorry." Shelby's voice steeled as she drew away.

Jen stood without another word, her bottom lip caught between her teeth as she rose from the bed. Shelby's clothes rested loosely over Jen, the way Shelby liked to wear them, but on Jen they weighed down her shoulders and slowed her movements as she padded to the bedroom door. She paused in the door frame to glance over her shoulder, her eyes drifting over Shelby's face, her expression unsettled. "You're beautiful," she whispered back at her like a meaningless apology. Shelby stared at the outline of her feet under the sheet. "I'll see you later."