A/N: I know I'm a bit late, but I wrote this for Valentine's. I'm sorry if it feels rushed, because... well, it was. Also, forgive any errors, because I'm a little too lazy (and tired) to proof-read it right now. Anyway, Happy Valentine's, or Single Awareness Day, or whatever it can be called. Please review :)
She let the breath escape her lips in a sigh of exasperation. It came out in a cloud of white smoke, a stark contrast against the black night sky. A streetlamp flickered a short distance away. She kicked out a booted foot, causing a pebble to scuttle a short distance away from her. Other than that, it was utterly still.
She huffed again. It had been three hours. His anger ought to have diminished by now. So where was he?
She dug out her cell phone, glanced at the flashing battery bar, and decided it was probably time to throw aside pride and call him. She didn't want to be stuck here all night, out in the cold.
The call went straight to voicemail and she punched the redial button. She was getting a little antsy. He was her only way home, and this deserted stretch of road was starting to creep her out. She listened as the second call went into voicemail as well.
Her cell phone gave a beep of protest as she tried to make the call again. "Low battery," the screen flashed, before going black without further warning. She shook it once, twice, then stamped her foot in a decidedly childish gesture. Now what was she going to do? Her parents would throw a fit if they found that she was stuck on this deserted highway at two in the morning, instead of studying at a friend's house like she'd told them.
That was the excuse she always used when she went out to meet Jasper.
There was a sudden noise, and she looked up to see yellow headlights peering up from somewhere along the road. Her heart leapt. Had Jasper finally come for her? She stepped back and waited.
The truck sputtered to a halt beside her. The passenger's door swung open, and she looked in to get a better look at the driver, even though she knew it was impossible for Jasper to be driving this monstrous vehicle.
Clear light blue eyes looked out at her, their color almost a complete contrast against the darkness. Jasper didn't have those eyes.
"Amy, was it?"
"M-hm?" she made a non-committal sound. Was this someone Jasper had sent to pick her up?
"I'm Jayden Wellington. My brother said he left you here."
"Oh." She studied him from under lowered eyelashes. So here was the infamous black sheep of the family. From what she'd heard from Jasper, Jayden had barely scraped through high school and, instead of going to college like a respectable young man, had gotten a job at the local garage upon graduation. She could still remember the incredulous way Jasper had described his brother's career choice, the disdain plain in his tone.
Some of that same disdain surfaced in her as she gave him a quick glance-over. Jayden couldn't have looked more different from his immaculately-dressed younger brother. There was an oil smear across his left shoulder on his t-shirt, his jeans were scruffy, and his hair was messy with the just-rolled-out-of-bed look that people spent two hours in front of mirrors to accomplish. His was probably natural, though. He didn't look like someone who would spend too much time on his appearance. She wondered if he even spent enough time at the mirror to brush his teeth.
As if he knew he was being judged, Jayden's expression had morphed into a scowl. "Are you going to get in, or just stand there staring?"
"Excuse me," she said primly, eyeing the truck the same way she would a bug stuck to the sole of her shoe, "but is this the best Jasper could do? I've been waiting for three hours, and he sends me a truck?"
Jayden was staring at her in disgust. "God, you're just like the rest of them! Listen, you'd be here till daybreak, if you're waiting for darling Jasper to come. Wake up! He doesn't give shit about you. You're just another floozy past her expiration date, that's all."
She could feel the anger mounting. "Excuse me?" Floozy? What nerve he had, using that word to describe her! He, who hadn't even gone to college?
He looked bored now. "Are you getting in, or not?"
She hesitated for another prideful moment, before deciding she could live with the company of this uncouth devil better than frostbite. It took a while for her to get into the truck, since it was quite high up and Jayden offered no help whatsoever. He stepped brusquely on the gas the moment she was seated, barely giving her time to close the door. She braced herself against the dashboard as her body jerked forward from the sudden lurch of the truck.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him smirk to himself.
Gritting her teeth, she secured the seatbelt and faced stiffly forward. Silence took the front seat for a long moment, before he said, "You're gonna have to give me directions, you know."
She lifted her chin, "There's no need for that. Just take me to Jasper's apartment. I need to talk to him."
Jayden let out a bark of laughter. "Do you even have any self-respect? Which part of 'dumped' don't you understand?"
"You're the one who doesn't understand," she said in her snootiest voice. "But then, I don't expect someone like you to. Jasper and I had a little fight, that's all. He'll be over it by now."
"Just because I didn't go to college, you think I'm stupid, is that it?" he deduced correctly. He turned his head to flash her a glittering, hard smile. "My brother doesn't know what he's doing, dumping you. You're just perfect for him."
That didn't sound like a compliment. She sniffed and said nothing. She had not been dumped.
Jayden shrugged, as if he'd known was she was thinking. "Suit yourself." Then he swung the truck in a direction that she supposed led to where Jasper lived, in one of the wealthier parts of the city.
Only when the truck rolled to a stop did she realize she'd jumped to an incorrect conclusion. She glanced at the shabby block of apartments – if you could even call that pile of bricks that – in panic. Beside her, Jayden was turning off the ignition. If he even was who he claimed he was. What if she'd unwittingly signed her own death warrant by getting into a stranger's car?
"Where is this?" she snapped, "I thought I said to take me to Jasper's."
"Oh, shut up, Princess," he snapped right back, "it's two in the A.M. and I have work in a few hours. Forgive me if I'm not up to ferrying you around the city just because you're in denial. He would've thrown you out and I would've ended up bringing you home anyway. So let's just skip those steps and speed up the process a little."
Well, that had been quite the speech. She zoomed in on one thing in particular, "I'm not going home with you!"
"Apparently, you just have," he said dryly. "Don't worry, I'm not the slightest bit interested in you."
She didn't know whether to feel relieved or insulted. "Excuse me?"
"The street or my apartment. Your choice, sweetheart." With that, he turned and headed into the building, not even bothering to wait for her. After a moment's deliberation, she hurried in after him.
"How do I know you're who you say you are?" she asked even as she entered the elevator behind him. "You could be lying." But she knew he wasn't. That classic bone structure, so much like Jasper's, had been evidence enough that he was a Wellington. She wouldn't have gotten into the truck otherwise.
"What, you want to see my driver's license?" he said mockingly. She didn't respond, and was a little surprised when he handed over his identification card a moment later. She glanced over the details on the card, more out of curiosity than any need to confirm his identity. He was twenty-three. Then she glanced at the date again,
"Oh. Happy birthday."
He was watching the elevator doors as if he couldn't wait to get out of the enclosed space. "Yeah. Whatever."
She handed back the card, and simply for the sake of argument said, "If that was even real. It's not that hard to get a fake I.D. these days."
She saw him roll his eyes. "There's no pleasing you, Princess."
"Stop calling me that." The little nickname he had for her was starting to grate on her nerves. Especially when he kept saying it in that tone – that tone that suggested he was looking down on her.
"Why? It suits you." The elevator doors chose this moment to open, and he strode out a little too quickly. She followed at a slower pace, fuming. Who was he to judge what suited her, and what didn't? He knew nothing about her. And, for goodness sake – he hadn't even gone to college.
He hadn't even had the basic courtesy to offer her the bed instead of the tattered couch in the living room. Or, more accurately, the space that she supposed was meant to act as a living room.
His apartment really was terribly small. It was one of those studio kinds, with only one bedroom – and so it was understandable that he hadn't shown her to a guestroom or anything of the likes. But he could have offered her the bed, at the very least.
But he hadn't, and that was the reason she woke up with a crick in – well, everywhere.
It took her a while to find the post-it stuck haphazardly to the side of the couch: Work. Back late. Find your own way home.
"Well!" she said aloud to the empty apartment, "At least he knows how to spell." Then she grimaced and left the note crumpled into a ball on the floor. How rude of him to leave her stranded at his place.
Flopping back onto the couch, she fumbled for her phone before remembering the battery was dead. She sat contemplatively for a while, before deciding that Jayden could afford a phone call to his brother. He owed her that much, at least, for leaving her here like this.
She hesitated a little when she found his landline. It was… grimy. "Oh, whatever," she muttered to herself, "at least he even has a phone."
To her surprise, Jasper picked up after five rings. "What, calling to chew me out again?" he said in place of a greeting, that lazy, arrogant drawl of his gliding into her ears.
For some reason, his tone irritated her. It sounded like he wasn't feeling the slightest bit repentant about leaving her by the side of the road in the middle of the night. And his opening statement made it sound like she hadn't been the first girl he'd dumped – alright, she was finally admitting she'd been dumped – and left stranded.
"Jasper," she said, "it's Amy."
There was silence, then she heard Jasper clear his throat on the other end of the line, "Yeah? What're you doing at my brother's place?"
"Really," she said sweetly, "that's none of your business, is it? I don't react well to people leaving me stranded on the highway in the dead of the night." Here she paused deliberately, "But I guess I have you to thank. I wouldn't have gotten to meet Jayden otherwise…" She let her voice trail off suggestively.
"Babe," Jasper was saying suddenly, quickly, "Amy, baby. Listen, I know I made a mistake last night, alright? I'm sorry I left you like that. But that's why I sent my brother to pick you up, see? He should've brought you back to my place instead of his… I'm gonna have a word with him about putting his moves on mygirl."
Amy smiled to herself. "Your girl?" she asked skeptically into the phone, for his benefit.
"Ames, babe," Jasper was all charm now, "I'm sorry about last night. I must've been crazy to screw up the best thing that ever happened to me. Forgive me? Promise I'll make it up to you." This last part was said in a husky sort of voice, and she felt a shiver run down her back. God, but he was sexy when he spoke like that.
"I don't think so, Jasper," she said impassively.
"Give me a chance to make it up to you," Jasper was insistent, she'd give him that. When he wanted something, he went all out for it. "Stay put, I'll be there in ten minutes."
"Well," Amy said slowly, as if she was mulling it over, "if you put it that way…"
"Wait for me, babe," Jasper hung up, but not before she heard the unmistakable jingling of his keys over the line.
She put down the phone receiver and laughed.
And to think Jayden had said she was a floozy past her expiration date. Jasper had practically been begging for her to come back! That just showed how little Jayden knew.
Of course, that was to be expected – the boy hadn't even been to college.
It felt like déjà vu.
"You again," Jayden said, a little tiredly, when he pulled over and saw her standing on the curb.
"You again," she responded, in a muted tone so unlike her that he scrutinized her for a long minute.
"What's wrong?" he finally asked.
She scoffed. "What's wrong? Your brother ditches me and leaves me stranded for the second time and you ask me what's wrong?"
"Now you're starting to sound more like yourself," he said dryly. "For a moment there, I was actually worried."
"Oh, shut up," she muttered. She stood staring at the open passenger's door, but made no move to get into the truck.
"Time's a-ticking, lady," Jayden said mockingly.
Amy looked at him irritably. "You can't possibly expect me to get up there," she tilted her chin up in reference to the truck, "wearing this."
This referred to her clubbing clothes – a glittery top and a mini-skirt, both so molded to her curves like a second skin. She was aware of Jayden's eyes running over her for an overly long moment. She was also aware that he then tore his eyes away like he'd been burned, and cleared his throat before speaking.
"What do you want me to do? Buy a car instead?" His voice sounded normal, snarky even, that she wondered if she'd imagined the previous moment.
She glared at him for his stupidity. "I was thinking more along the lines of giving me a hand up."
"Giving you a hand––" he cut himself off and muttered something under his breath. Then he swung himself out of the vehicle through the open passenger's seat and landed on the ground beside her with the ease of someone who'd done this often.
"You know, there's this thing called opening the driver's door and walking round the truck?" she couldn't help pointing out.
He shrugged. "My way's faster." In one swift move, he picked her up by the waist and all but threw her into the passenger's seat. Then he slammed the door and walked round to the driver's seat like she'd just suggested.
"What the hell was that?" she was all female indignation at being manhandled in this manner.
"That was me giving you a hand up," he enlightened, jerking the truck out of its stationary state.
She bristled. "More like you plucking me off the ground and throwing me into the seat!"
"That works too." He was unrepentant. On top of that, he was focusing so hard on the road that he was barely paying her any attention.
She stewed in silence for the next five minutes.
"You're gonna have to give me directions to your house," Jayden said, breaking the silence. He probably hadn't even noticed her silent treatment. She gave a little huff.
"What if I don't want to?"
"Then I take you home with me." He paused, and when she didn't rise to the bait as expected, he glanced at her in surprise. "What, no objections or accusations?"
Her lips were set in a thin, straight line. "I don't feel like going home right now, is that a crime?"
He knew better to argue when she was in a mood like that. He shrugged. "If you say so."
They'd almost reached his apartment when she spoke again. "You were right," she said then.
"Of course," he had the cheek to say. And after a beat–– "About what?"
It was her turn to shrug, although hers was more of a contemplative action than a flippant gesture. "About… Jasper. And me. Jasper and me."
He gave no reply as he guided the truck into the parking lot. She looked out the window at the pile of dirty bricks that he called home. She went on, "Do you do this often?"
"This?" Satisfied with the truck's position, Jayden turned off the engine, but made no move to get out. Neither did Amy.
"Coming to rescue the damsels in distress after he's ditched them by the roadside at––" she hedged a glance at the digital clock in the truck, "hey, what do you know. It's two in the morning again."
"Coincidental, huh?" His voice held the hint of a smile.
"So, do you?" For some reason, she really wanted to know the answer. Was she just another face in the crowd of countless girls Jasper had so irresponsibly left stranded in the middle of the night? Or was she someone – special?
He didn't pretend to misunderstand. "All the time."
She turned her head away to look out of the window. "All the time, huh."
"I shouldn't have made a habit of it," Jayden said thoughtfully. "Now he just calls every time he ditches a girl by the road, and my conscience won't let me rest until I've cleaned up his mess."
She felt slightly hurt in spite of herself, "So I'm just a mess Jasper left for you?"
He shook his head sharply, as if saying, girls. They infer too much. "What's wrong with you?" he asked instead of answering her question directly. "Since when did you become a puddle of self-pity and angst?"
"God," she said, getting annoyed all over again, "is it so much to ask for a sympathetic ear when you get dumped, twice within three months, by the same guy?"
"It is when I've already warned you away from him," Jayden pointed out, unsympathetically.
"Excuse me," she said heatedly, "but I don't recall you giving advice of any sort. What I remember are the insults and repeated emphasis on Jasper dumping me!"
"You should've read between the lines, then," he said, not quite kindly. It was apparent that her tone and attitude had gotten to him. "Excuse me if I don't feel so kindly towards the girls stupid enough to date my brother and get dumped by the side of the road in the middle of the night and force me to actually cut short my sleeping time to ferry them home."
"Who are you calling stupid? You're the one who didn't even go to college!" A small part of her felt guilt at these barbs she was throwing at him, but the larger overriding part was screaming to attack. "And what are you saying, forced? Nobody forced you to clean up Jasper's messes! Nobody forced you to play the Good Samaritan!"
His reply was short and succinct, and freezing cold. "Then maybe you should get out." His words were spoken lowly, but that didn't detract the impact they had on her.
It was pure obstinacy that kept her going. "Gladly!" She slammed out of the truck and started walking blindly – in some direction, in any direction. She hadn't meant to say what she had. Whatever Jayden's reasons for not going to college, it hadn't been that he couldn't make it in. She'd seen and recognized the intelligence that normally lay dormant behind his eyes. Dormant, but never entirely out of sight. Whatever Jayden Wellington was, it wasn't stupid.
And she, with her airs and prejudices, and Jasper's influence, had slapped a label on Jayden the moment she'd met him. Of course he hated her, especially after what had just transpired.
Congratulations, Amy, she mocked herself inwardly. The most ungrateful snob in the world couldn't have done it better.
Her eyes were starting to feel moist when she felt a hand grab her by the elbow.
"Dammit," said Jayden from behind, "I'd never forgive myself if I let you go now and they found you dead in a ditch in the morning, or something. Look, come back. I'll take you home."
She stopped, but didn't turn around to look at him. "I'm sorry."
"Hey, whatever." His tone was halfway between irritation and indifference. "You're not the first one to say something like that to me, anyway."
She didn't like being lumped in with the other snobs. "Yeah, well, I didn't mean it."
"Yeah, well," he parroted, letting his hand fall away from her elbow, "I said it doesn't matter. C'mon."
She turned around, but he'd already turned back towards the truck.
"What are you doing here?"
He was standing with his hands in the pockets of his jeans, staring at her in disbelief. His shirt was slightly sooty in places, and there was an oil stain at the corner of his sleeve. He looked scruffier than he did the first time she'd met him, but she didn't mind it so much anymore. She'd come to associate that scruffiness with the person he was. It was cute, in a way. Not that she would ever admit it out loud.
She came to a stop beside him and smiled. "Maybe my car needs repairs."
He scowled at her. "Don't be ridiculous, you don't have a car. What are you really up to?"
"Jay!" A voice came from inside of the garage shop, "C'mere a sec."
He looked back and exhaled. "Hold on," he said to her, before heading into the shop.
She tapped her fingernails against the wall and counted the beats until he returned. When he did, she said lightheartedly, "Is that the way you treat all your customers?"
He raised his eyebrows, "Not the real ones." But he was smiling.
He shifted his weight, eyes darting to the entrance to make sure there weren't any of those afore-mentioned 'real customers' before looking to her again. "So, what's wrong?"
She'd had a plan on how to go about doing this, but now that the moment came, she simply blurted out, "Be my date."
He recoiled. "Oh, God, no."
She took that prickle of hurt that sprouted in her chest and channeled it into anger. "What the hell is with that reaction?"
Jayden was glaring at her. "I'm not going to be your rebound while you get over my brother."
"Your broth––" She grimaced at the insinuation and glared back. "For the hundredth time, I'm over Jasper!"
"Uh-huh," he said in a tone that clearly conveyed his doubt.
"It's not like I wanted to ask you, either!" she lied hotly, "But I need a date for this dinner party and… well, I couldn't possibly subject a guy I liked to an event like that."
"And, let me guess," Jayden said dryly, "Jasper's going to be there and you want to rub it in his face that you've 'moved on'."
She gritted her teeth. "Of course not. I wouldn't be as immature as that."
"Right," he said, disbelievingly. "Of course not." There was a pause, then he continued, "The Reeds' party, right?"
She stared at him. "You know about it?" Then she could've bitten her tongue because of course he knew about it. He was a Wellington, after all, almost-disowned or not.
He snorted. "I haven't been invited, if that's what you mean, but I've spent the first eighteen years of my life putting up with people like them."
"I don't usually mix with those people," she felt pressed to clarify, "but I made it onto the Dean's List and…" She trailed off when she saw his expression.
"Dean's List, huh?" Jayden was wearing a mocking smile, "Are you aware that going to the party with the Wellington black sheep will pretty much ruin your chances with those people?"
She was silent. She had thought long and hard about what other people would say, but did it really matter anyway? It wasn't as if she was looking for an in into the upper class society.
He seemed to take her silence negatively, because he sighed. "Don't be stupid; go find a nice college boy––" here his tone turned slightly vehement, before leveling out again, "to be your date. Maybe then you'll be accepted into their social circle and your future will be set."
"I don't care about that," she said.
"Really? Could've fooled me."
She battled with the lump of hurt that had lodged itself in her throat. "You could've just said no nicely, like any normal person!" she spat, turning to go.
"I haven't said no," Jayden pointed out.
She turned slowly, "You haven't?"
His eyes – she could never get over the brilliance of their color – searched hers questioningly. She didn't know whether he found what he'd been looking for in her expression, but he suddenly gave a sharp jerk of his head, as if making up his mind. "I'll go," he said. "I'll go, if you don't mind being the subject of gossip for a long while after that."
She smiled in relief, "I don't mind." And she didn't. She didn't mind at all.
When the midnight blue Mercedes pulled up in front of her house a week later, Amy almost didn't recognize Jayden. Was that him getting out of the car, the figure dressed in a tuxedo and his light brown hair fixed into a semi-coherent mess? She stood gaping at the window.
Her roommate wandered out to see what the fuss was about. "My gosh. That's some date you've got there. You never said how hot he was."
"I––" Amy shook her head to clear it, then shot her roommate a prickly look. "Don't you start getting any ideas, now!"
"Invite him in," her roommate suggested.
Amy was out of the house before Jayden could reach the front door. She intercepted him halfway up the porch, where he stopped and looked at her in surprise.
"Hey… What's the hurry?"
"I'm not one for traditions," Amy said hastily.
Jayden grinned. "Couldn't wait for me to get to the door, could you?"
She glared at him. "You think too highly of yourself," she said with a decidedly snobbish air.
His light-blue gaze was amused. Then his eyes warmed as he swept them over her. She was dressed in a silky blue cocktail dress, a translucent shawl of a lighter shade draped around her shoulders to shield against the light spring breeze. A matching little purse and high heels finished off the outfit. "You look beautiful, Princess," he drawled.
That nickname from so long ago brought heat to her cheeks. "Whatever," she said, trying to downplay her embarrassment. "You don't look too bad yourself."
Jayden let out a laugh. "Aren't we a mass of clichés?" He opened the passenger's door with a flourish, "Here."
Amy eyed him warily. "I never knew you could be such a gentleman. Do you have some kind of motive?"
"Are you kidding? I'm always a gentleman."
She shot him a look of disbelief. He grinned and amended, "Okay, most of the time."
"Try never," she retorted.
"Ouch. So that's what you really think of me?"
When they were both in the car, Amy brought up the question that had been at the forefront of her mind since she'd seen him arrive. "Where'd you get the car from?"
"Borrowed it," he said, with a hint of smugness.
He slid her a glance out of the corner of his eye. "Who else? My darling brother, of course. He owes me a favor or two."
"You didn't have to do that…" She was suddenly uncomfortable at the reminder that the favors Jasper owed his brother probably had something to do with Jayden ferrying Jasper's exes home in the middle of the night.
Jayden's smile had turned slightly sardonic. "We probably wouldn't even be allowed in if I was driving that truck."
"That's so superficial," Amy said. She saw Jayden raise his eyebrows at her statement, and bit her lip. She supposed she had been as shallow and superficial back when they'd first met, with her haughty presumptions and obvious disdain.
She didn't know how to tell him that she didn't feel that way anymore.
The dinner party would've been utterly boring if not for the little drama Jasper provided, towards the end of the evening.
He'd arrived fashionably late, with a beautiful redhead on his arm. Amy had been slow-dancing with Jayden at that time – there was hardly anything else to do when most of the guests were steadfastly avoiding Jayden – and she wouldn't even have noticed Jasper's arrival if Jayden hadn't pointed it out.
"I really am over him," she'd said, in response to Jayden's probing glance. Jayden had looked wary, but hadn't argued.
It was Jasper who, unknowingly or not, challenged that statement.
He sidled up even before that dance had ended. "May I cut in?" Amy looked at the Wellington brothers, standing side by side, and wondered how she'd even fallen for Jasper. Jayden triumphed over him in every way.
"No, you may not," she said, grabbing onto Jayden's arms even as he started to pull away.
Jasper looked flummoxed. "Excuse me?"
She sighed. "Go away, Jasper, and leave us alone. You're neglecting your flavor of the week."
Jasper barely cast a glance in the direction of the redhead, who had grown bored of waiting and was making her way towards them.
"Is that it?" Jasper asked, all smiles now, "So this is about Natalia? Amy, babe, no one could ever mean more to me than you."
Jayden made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat. Amy had a feeling he would've walked away should she not be holding so tightly onto him.
"Oh, get over yourself!" she snapped at Jasper now, "You just always want what your brother has! Well, you're not getting me!"
Both Wellington brothers were staring at her in incredulity for her outburst. The only difference was that a frown was creasing Jasper's eyebrows while the hint of a smile was playing around Jayden's lips.
What Jasper was going to say in response to that, she didn't know, because the next moment the redhead had stomped up and was flinging the contents of a glass of water in Jasper's face. They all stood stunned at this turn of events as the redhead ranted, "Do you even have any sense of decency? Saying something like that to her when I was just across the room!"
"You little…" Jasper swore, and without another word, turned his back on all of them and stomped out of the room. Amy had a pretty good feeling he had just performed his typical run-and-leave-stranded move.
The distinguished guests at the dinner party were, by now, murmuring amongst themselves at the scene that had just transpired. Amy tugged at Jayden's sleeve, "Let's go." In any second, the Reeds would appear and politely but firmly ask them to leave. She wanted to pre-empt that humiliation. Besides, hadn't it all been Jasper's fault?
Jayden looked over his shoulder as she dragged him toward the doors. "Wait," he said, "what about Natalia?"
She opened her mouth to ask who Natalia was, then clamped her mouth shut as realization assailed her. The floozy Jasper had left stranded when he'd all but walked out. And the Good Samaritan in Jayden had prevailed once again.
She tried to hide her irritation, "I'm sure she'll find her own way home."
Jayden shot her a look, "Like you did, both times?" His tone was filled with sarcasm.
Amy looked away. "Maybe she's outside." She just wanted to get out of there before the Reeds came along.
Outside, Amy found to her horror that she'd been right. The redhead – oh, right, Natalia – was evidently at a loss as to what to do now that her date had deserted her, walking along the garden path with her head down. Before Amy knew it, Jayden was steering both of them towards the redhead.
Natalia looked up as they approached. "Oh, hi. You're the ones Jasper…"
"Was bothering," Jayden supplied with a lop-sided grin. Amy thought sourly that he hadn't been half as happy when he'd met her, than he was now. Then again, it had been February and she'd been dressed in a thick winter coat, instead of the skin-tight black dress Natalia was wearing now. It was no wonder Jayden was dazzled by the redhead. And her shoes – those shoes put her on par with Jayden's height. Amy felt like a shrimp next to the both of them.
Natalia smiled and offered her hand. "I'm Natalia, and you are?"
Amy watched with growing resentment as Jayden's large hand closed over Natalia's small pale one.
"I'm Amy," she interrupted, sticking out her hand so that Natalia had no choice but to let go of Jayden's and take hers. "Jayden's date."
Jayden flashed her a muted look of surprise, as if questioning why she'd felt it necessary to tack on that last bit. She ignored it.
Natalia was looking at her with knowing eyes. "I see," she said with a curling smile. "Nice to meet the both of you."
Jayden was smiling again. "You need a ride? I know Jasper has all but left you stranded here."
"Don't I know it!" Natalia shook her head with a laugh. "I'd really appreciate that, if it's no trouble." She glanced at Amy inquiringly.
Amy looked down at the ground as she heard Jayden reassure the redhead, "It's no trouble at all."
Natalia and Jayden had hit it off wonderfully, Amy thought sulkily as she listened to them chatting in front. Growing up with two brothers, the redhead apparently knew everything there was to know about cars, and had engaged Jayden in a discussion about engines or exhaust pipes or – whatever.
Amy glared out of the window. What was so interesting about cars, for heaven's sake? They were just huge lumps of metal that people built and made use of for transport.
Jayden was laughing, smiling, and in all looking so terribly happy that at that moment, she hated him for it. He was never this happy when he was with her. Did it take Natalia and her talk of different types of fuel to bring out this side of him?
The car glided to a stop. "Is this right?" she heard Jayden's voice ask.
"Yes, that's my block. Thank you so much, I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't come along."
"No problem," said Jayden, and judging from the tone of his voice, he was smiling again. "Good night."
"Good night." Amy heard Natalia's door open. Finally, Amy thought.
But instead of getting out immediately, Natalia turned to look at Amy. "Good luck," the redhead said with a friendly smile. Then she slid out of the car, and, with a wave, vanished into the building.
Jayden looked at Amy quizzically. "What was that?"
"Who knows," she replied shortly.
Jayden studied her for a long while, before shrugging and saying, "You wanna move up front?"
There was a little silence, then Jayden opened the door and got out of the driver's seat. After a moment, the back door opened and he slid in beside Amy. She was steadfastly looking out the window on her side, her back to him.
Jayden placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. "Hey," he said softly, "what's this about?"
"Nothing," she said, trying to avoid his piercing light-blue gaze.
"Okay," he said, sounding slightly bewildered. He didn't take his hands off her shoulders. "Um… So… Did you really mean what you said to Jasper back there?"
She pulled away. She was still steaming about Natalia, and he wanted to talk about – of all things – his brother?
"I don't remember what I said."
Jayden moved closer to her. His voice was soft when he spoke. "The part about me having you."
She whipped her head around so fast she almost hit him. "I said nothing of that sort!" But she was blushing.
He'd noticed. He was grinning, his face lit up like a little boy's on Christmas morning, "Oh yeah? I clearly heard you say, and I quote, 'you always want what your brother has, but you won't get me!'"
She glared at him for throwing her words back at her this way. "So what if I said that? I was trying to make a point!"
"Yeah?" He lowered his head and she realized with a shock that their faces were barely inches apart. He was too close, much too close. "And what was your point?"
"That…" His eyes were so beautiful up close, they were throwing her brain into confusion. She blamed her next statement on her suddenly diminished ability to think. "That I like you." Then she blushed again, because it was ridiculous, really. She sounded like an elementary kid with a crush. He probably thought she was stupid.
Jayden laughed. "Really? I like you too." His voice was teasing, and, feeling slighted, she opened her mouth in reproach, but he swooped down and closed the gap between their lips.
When they pulled apart, breathing hard, he said, "God, I could hardly wait for Natalia to get out of the car so that I could do that."
Amy stared at him. It was her turn to grin. "Really? You looked really happy talking to her about cars."
Jayden looked at her in disbelief. "Are you crazy? The only thing I wanted to talk about was what you said to Jasper back at that party."
She started laughing. What a big misunderstanding. She seemed to have a penchant for jumping to all the wrong conclusions. Hadn't she done that with Jayden, too, at first?
Speaking of which… "I'm sorry for the way I treated you when we first met," she said.
He shrugged. "And I'm sorry for calling you a floozy." Then he smiled, "Can we believe we wasted so much time? You had me at 'm-hm'."
She had? A happy warmth was spreading through her at his words. She looked into his eyes, those bright blue eyes that she'd been struck by, even so long ago. "Kiss me again," she whispered.
Grinning – he really was in a good mood, wasn't he? – Jayden obliged.
A detached part of her brain mused that getting dumped by Jasper Wellington on that deserted highway at two in the morning was the best thing that had ever happened to her.