These are things Jordan Waters avoids.
At least until a semi-naked punishment leads to a chance encounter, which ends in a mind-numbing kiss. For the twenty-one-year-old guitarist, this is a problem, as the owner of the other set of lips wants nothing to do with him.
Callie Henders is an enigma Jordan is dedicated to deciphering—for a while anyway. With a complicated life as her only explanation for staying away from him, he finds a challenge he’s all too willing to accept. But in the process of uncomplicating her life—and getting her into his bed—he discovers there’s more to Callie than she wants anyone to see.
Invisible wounds tell Callie’s real story with certain people leaving more than their fair share of marks.
Jordan can’t have the girl without accepting her scars, and being in her life might mean taking on a few of his own.
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A drum literally receives a beating anytime someone uses it, but hurl it into one concrete wall, and the shell cracks. This severe design flaw continues to run through my head while I run through the courtyard. I secure the towel around my waist and survey the students walking to class for any new faces.
Johnny’s standing on the roof above me, watching my time tick away on his phone. We’re closing in on the two-minute warning that he’ll all too happily yell out. Excited for me to walk home in a lime-green thong, he wants me to fail, but the joke will be on him when he has to drive me to the hospital for hypothermia. My extremities are already aching and turning red.
This punishment system is archaic. We need a better method for settling shit between bandmates—at least during the winter. Even without a cold front dropping the temperature to sixteen degrees, February’s not the month to run around sans clothes.
“Two minutes,” he shouts, enjoying himself. “Pick it up, dude.”
I sprint around the building where I hope to find an ample number of people, one of whom wants to act as savior to a random guy in a towel. First up, a petite blonde in a sleek black jacket with one of those saggy hats.
I skid to a stop in front of her and, for the eighth time, deliver my line. “Can I kiss you?”
She smiles, and my luck changes the moment her gaze lowers.
She’ll say yes.
I glance up to ensure Johnny’s witnessing my impending victory. He flips me off. For someone who spends so much time without a shirt on, he should know better than to discount the power of a toned chest and abs.
My eyes move back toward the blonde but stop just short of their destination when a bright flash of color enters my field of vision. A red coat stands out against the white snow, dull gray buildings, and all-around lackluster surroundings of campus. The stark contrast draws me in, but the brunette wearing the coat makes my damn eyes refuse to look away.
“You want to kiss me?”
“What?” I ask, my stare hovering over the blonde’s shoulder.
Her gaze follows mine straight to the beautiful girl in the red coat. When her head turns back around, she’s no longer smiling. Understandable, considering she caught me checking out another girl at the same time I was trying to convince her to kiss me. She folds her arms across her chest, and I don’t bother waiting for her no before running off.
Since she cost me a sure thing, my sights set—or reset—on Red Coat. On my way over, I only see one other person in the area other than her and her friend. Shit, where is everyone? Any other day, coeds are crawling all over this place.
By the time I reach her, I’ve entered full-blown panic mode. “Can I kiss you?”
Wide blue eyes give nothing away. Lips show no hint of a smile. She offers no indication of a yes. Nothing. Damn.
I reluctantly direct my tenth attempt at the bundled-up friend. “Can I kiss you?”
My new target looks at my original target, who shrugs, indifferent. Then my new target examines her feet and blushes through her freckles. So, a no from her.
I’m tempted to stay longer to convince Red Coat to overlook the towel, but my last shot walks some twenty yards away, and in a few seconds—
“Not helpful, Johnny,” I shout as I dash away.
He laughs, and from three stories off the ground, he begins flirting with the two girls I left behind.
Really not helpful.
This blonde, in a drab brown coat, appears unamused when I saunter up. If ever there’s a time for my confidence to save me, this is it. I take a breath, smile, and attempt a calmer tactic. “Hi, my name’s—”
“Jordan,” she says.
Shit. Do I know her?
A scowl on her face says I know her, but I don’t know how I know her.
“Two weeks ago?”
My mind blanks.
“After your gig downtown?”
An absolute void.
“One minute ten seconds.” Johnny’s reminder further increases the awkwardness of my current situation.
She sighs. “Samantha?”
“Of course. I’m so glad I ran into you.” I continue smiling even with zero recollection of her. “Can I kiss you?”
Her eyes widen, and she plants her back foot. I brace for her to slap me, which will be a fair ending to my morning. But she huffs and walks off, sparing me at the last second. At least she has permanently ingrained her name in my mind.
I drop my head back and try to massage away the tension in my forehead. My resource pool has dried up with one minute remaining.
I jerk my head back up when I get a glimpse of Red Coat. She peers at me over her shoulder. One minute offers plenty of time for a last-ditch effort, and she’s just given me an opening if I ever saw one.
My muscles are sluggish to respond, but I manage a burst of speed in their direction and come to a stop in front of them. “Ladies, I apologize for earlier. I understand the oddity of my behavior and will gladly explain—”
I flip off Johnny for interrupting my Hail Mary pass. “My name is Jordan. I love dogs, tolerate cats. I have a weird affinity for late eighties slash early nineties music. Is this getting me anywhere?”
“Thirty. You’re screwed, man.”
“Shit, uh…” I rub my hands together as the cold further compresses my nervous system. Shivers are more and more evident, my fingers are gaining a blue tint, the brief surge of energy wanes, and I can’t think straight.
Screwed is right.
“What happens if time runs out?”
My eyes snap to the girl. “What?”
“When his countdown ends, what happens?”
“I lose the towel and am down to a G-string.” I tack on a grin, aiming to win her over.
She shakes her head, but I can’t gauge her response beyond that. Does she find me funny? Charismatic? Deserving of sympathy? Creepy enough to call the police?
“Fifteen … fourteen…” Johnny continues counting down to my defeat as another uncontrollable shiver shudders through me.
She rolls her eyes. “I have a strict policy against weirdness before coffee, but kissing you wins out over seeing you in a thong.”
“Five … four…”
She steps forward, and holy shit, she’s going to kiss me. I lean down, still in disbelief she’s going through with it until her warm lips press against mine. They burn in an incredible way, reigniting my dulled senses. Profanities rain down on us from Johnny, but his voice fades out when my body feels the heat coming from her.
Primal survival instinct takes over.
I need her close.
One hand finds her lower back, pulling her to me. The other slides underneath her scarf, seeking the warmth of her skin. Our extreme temperature difference scorches the tips of my fingers. It makes her break the kiss, jerking back from me, and I’m colder than before, my mind slowing.
“Here.” She unravels her fluffy purple scarf and vibrant pink hat. “Keep them. I don’t want you to die of hypothermia.”
Not my usual style, but I don’t hesitate to accept. Once I wrap the scarf around my neck and pull the hat on, she fights off a smile. Even in a state of half-shutdown, I am confident in my ability to pull off such a ludicrous outfit and manage a grin. She responds with the most abrupt exit I’ve ever witnessed. The friend has to rush to catch up with her, saying Red Coat’s name, but my teeth chatter so loud that I miss it.
I consider following after them, but they’re walking in the opposite direction of my clothes—my warm clothes in a warm bathroom a few warm buildings over. The anticipation of thermostat-controlled air hitting me when I open the door moves my feet before my brain issues any instructions. I almost start running again, and the more my muscles work, the more my mind clears.
I forgot to thank her.
Once inside, I offer a tight-lipped smile to the disapproving stares as I cruise through the hallway. Everyone acts like they’ve never seen anyone wander through the science hall in only a towel, scarf, and the boldest hat imaginable.
Johnny’s laughter spills into the hall when I push the door open to the men’s room. “The dude is introducing himself, telling them he likes cats and shit. Totally worth the broken tom.”
“Which I already paid for,” I shout to whomever he’s talking to on the phone.
I slam the button on the hand dryer. The heat burns my stiff fingers, and even the mostly room-temp air hitting my feet stings. After finger function improves, I’ll need to double-check the symptoms of frostbite.
“Hey, Jordan.” Johnny snaps a picture when I raise my head.
I rip off the hat and scarf and toss them on the counter by the sink. He digs my phone, wallet, and keys out of his pocket while I swipe my T-shirt and jeans off the counter. Socks and boxers are noticeably absent, but I accept this. My punishment could have been far worse, given the gravity of my offense.
A few weeks earlier, when Johnny dropped Gavin’s bass guitar, Gavin made him jump into the lake and refused to let him bring a change of clothes. The poor guy formed icicles on the walk back to the van. I like to think the experience softened him to my benefit, if only slightly.
As I use a mirror to tame the dark mess on my head into its proper level of disorder, a security guard steps in. He closely monitors us as he checks for feet under the stalls. Johnny threatens to laugh, so I shoot him a warning glare. I’m not about to go down for his choice of punishment. Any trouble with the university would disrupt my parents’ plans for my future, and I prefer not to deal with them.
“You boys see anyone come in here with a towel on?” he asks.
I move in front of the one on the counter and nudge it into the sink behind me. We both shake our heads, Johnny overplaying his hand with a shoulder shrug. The security guard leers a few seconds longer before leaving. The door swings shut, and Johnny’s hysterics resonate through the stalls.
When we step into the cold air again, we head toward the parking lot. Heat pours from the vents in my Jeep, the engine still warm after my ten-minute excursion into the land of public indecency. An ache creeps into my toes as sensation returns.
“This picture of you should be all over Easton’s campus by this afternoon. Maybe we can use it as the band’s new flyer.”
Johnny’s comment reminds me of the hat and scarf in my coat pocket. I pull them out, and the front seat fills with the scent of … coconut maybe? No non-creepy way exists to smell someone else’s clothing, so I commit and press my nose to the hat. Still not sure.
“Dude, smell this.” I shove the hat in Johnny’s face. “Coconut?”
“Hell if I know, but it smells good.” He snatches the scarf from my hand and sniffs. “I detect a hint of eucalyptus.”
I’m not even going to tread on why he knows that.
With the scarf about halfway to my nose, I become conscious of the lady eyeing us from her parked car. I drop the scarf and throw the gear shifter in reverse before she calls campus security, and they search the vehicle for a body.
Shit. I missed her name. Haley? Molly? Who kisses someone without asking for their name?
Now that my brain is working outside of survival mode, I want to find her. At least to return her things and thank her. Maybe explain I’m not a nudist or apologize for kissing her longer than appropriate. But between the warmth radiating off her and those soft lips, I blocked out the unusual circumstances.
“Did you recognize those girls?”
Johnny grunts a no, helpful as always.
This part of campus includes the science building and freshmen dorms. Neither offers much information to go on. Freshmen females plus girls enrolled in science classes equals, you tool, why didn’t you ask for her name?
The answer’s obvious; I never think further ahead than five minutes.
I remember she mentioned coffee and flip on the blinker to turn right toward a new coffee shop on Anna Street. Johnny’s phone stops him from noticing our change of direction. He’ll carefully monitor the response to the picture for the rest of the day. Beta Void has a few gigs on the horizon that the guys have wanted to draw more attention to. So glad I could provide for them.
“You want anything?” I ask, parking across from Java Quest.
Another no grunt answers me.
Such an articulate individual, but his tattooed bad-boy persona more than makes up for it with the ladies. None of them care if he can put his emotions into eloquent words when he wails on the drums, shirtless, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
I leave the keys and stick the hat and scarf back in my pocket. Crossing the street, I have no clue what I’m doing. I kissed a random girl, bloodhound-smelled her clothing, and tracked her across campus. Hi, Jordan Waters, psycho stalker, sounds like a pretty accurate description of me at this point.
The place is crowded for so early on a Monday, almost every seat with a body in it. I scan the tables up front without luck. A few more steps in, and my eyes catch on a red coat slung over an empty chair in the back. I would bet my life a pair of blue eyes accompanies the brunette one seat over.
I take advantage of a lull at the counter and mull over opening lines while the barista fetches my order. At a gig, meeting girls requires minimal output on my part—eye contact, a slight nod, smile as I set down my guitar, and then I walk past her and wait for her to find me. Foolproof. Any work outside of that, and I bail.
“Hey, Jordan, love the winter wear.”
A nod thanks the person following the band’s social media. A few more peek up from their tables as I breeze through.
Yes, that is me wearing a towel.
I recognize the friend with her red hair pulled back from a young face. Eighteen, nineteen at most.
The perfect line hits me, and I slide into the last empty chair at their high-top table. “The craziest thing happened to me this morning, let me tell you.”
I sip my coffee and watch the girl over the top of the lid. Dark layers frame her face as vivid blue eyes focus on her cup. She looks older than the friend, more mature. Her lips press together, suppressing a smile. A challenge I accept.
“So, as I was saying…” I turn in my chair to talk to the friend. “My temper got the best of me over the weekend, and I broke something that wasn’t mine. Even though I replaced the drum, my buddy chose to punish me. Consequently, I ended up running around campus, wearing nothing but a towel, trying to find someone to kiss me in under five minutes.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I check on her but only find pretty eyes blinking. Damn, she roughs up the ego. The friend, on the other hand, giggles and gives the reaction my performance deserves.
“See, Callie? I told you there was a good reason.”
And I have a name. Callie. Unreadable, beautiful Callie.
The friend is my in.
“Officially, I’m Jordan Waters. And you are?”
“Felicia. Felicia Gibson,” she says. “This is Callie Henders.”
I look back to Callie and present her with the hat and scarf from my pocket. “I believe these belong to you.”
“Thank you.” She tucks them in her coat.
“Thank you for not letting me die of hypothermia.”
A polite smile is her only response, and she returns to staring at her cup. She wants nothing to do with me, so it’s time to retreat and lick my wounds. I scrape the chair over the linoleum, loudly announcing my exit. Everyone in the vicinity grimaces at the sound with one exception. Callie rewards me with a genuine smile.
Mission accomplished. Even though it only lasts a second.
“Ladies.” I pause next to her, and she looks up. “I want you to know that I plan on being fully clothed for all future encounters.”
A catcall and three fist bumps from strangers later, I push out the door.
Johnny remains unmoved, eyes on his phone when I return to the Jeep. “Pic has been retweeted, reposted, shared, liked, hearted, and made into a meme. This chick and her coconut hat added a hundred followers in twenty minutes.”
“Callie,” I say.
“Well then, Callie, wherever you are, sweetheart, thank you.” He jerks his head around, confused. “Where the hell are we?”
I chuckle, pulling into the street, and chance a glance out the window, toward the coffee shop.
No blue eyes.
No idea how I’m going to get her out of my head.
What type of person has no social media presence? Serial killers? Cult leaders? Beautiful girls who want nothing to do with me? Despite an extensive search last night, I search her name again.
I flop back on my bed and stare at the ceiling, thinking about her. This adds to the two days’ worth of classes and most of the night I’ve already spent wondering why she would kiss me and then not want to talk to me. If I made an asshole comment or maybe, off the top of my head, checked out another girl in front of her, I would understand.
The door opens without a knock, and Benji waltzes in. He goes straight to my dresser, checks his blond bun in the mirror, and nods at me on his way out.
What the hell?
I attribute his strange behavior to him being Benji. He’s a fantastic front man and singer but a peculiar guy nonetheless. Also, the best friend a person can find.
My thoughts drift to later and the frat party we’re scheduled to play. With Gavin a member at one of the houses, we receive plenty of invites to parties, along with opportunities to play shows. A gig’s a gig, but I wish we’d quit playing college keggers. We should perform at more clubs and bars. Several feature live music on the weekends, one of which I want to check out when we go out for my twenty-first birthday.
The door opens without a knock, and Benji waltzes in—wait, this seems familiar. This time, he plops down on the bed, leans back against the headboard, crosses his ankles, and rests his hands behind his head. “You’re welcome.”
I sit up on the edge of the bed and turn toward him. “What did you do for me?”
“Vanessa was downstairs, looking for you, so I checked your room to see if you were here. You weren’t.”
“Thank you,” I say, and I mean it.
Vanessa plays a role polar opposite to the one of Callie Henders. She won’t stop talking to me after our hook-up over winter break. It’s been over a week since she asked me to call her. It’s also been over two weeks since I deleted her number.
In comes Johnny, and without hesitation, he stretches out on the bed between Benji and me. Fresh out of the shower, he’s ready for the night with his black hair spiked down the middle, holes in his jeans, and a white button-down he’ll only keep on through our first song.
I’m struggling to remember when exactly I enacted an open-door policy to my room. “Can I help you?”
“Was Vanessa here?”
“Apparently.” I scoot further down my suddenly crowded mattress.
Benji tugs on his lip piercings. “She’s shown up twice now. Jordan needs to find a better way of getting his point across.”
“Or get his point across her sweet ass one more time,” Johnny says. “Unless you’re still in a mood.”
“It’s not a mood,” I snap, doing nothing to help prove my point.
“What’s not a mood?” Gavin asks on his way in.
“We’re talking about Jordan’s mood the last two days.” Johnny shifts closer to Benji to make space for him.
“Oh, yeah. What’s up with that?” Gavin sits down and reclines into a similar position to Benji’s.
He rubs a hand over his buzzed hair. We’re still adjusting to the new look, and Johnny reaches over to touch his head, too.
So weird. It feels like I’m hosting a damn sleepover for a bunch of preteen girls.
“It’s not a mood,” I repeat.
“I think he’s bored,” Gavin says.
“Why would he be bored?” Johnny asks. “The kid does whatever the hell he wants.”
Benji gets in on it, shaking his head. “That’s exactly the problem, man. He’s not being challenged.”
Oh, great. Here they go.
“He needs to do something new.”
“Or someone new.”
“No, he does that every week.”
“Maybe he needs a hobby.”
“Something he commits to for once would be good.”
“Let’s not get carried away, boys. We’re talking about Jordan here.”
Jesus. Throw a blonde wig on Gavin and add a few comments about how I’m a disappointment, and we’re at a family dinner at my parents’ house.
I get to my feet and go to the door. “Can you guys decide what I need in my life in any other room of this house?”
They stare at me for a second before picking up their conversation again. I walk out and down the stairs to the living room. The merry band of misfits has successfully driven me out of my own room. They do this—talk about me like I’m not there and sort through all the parts of my life they deem need fixing. I collapse on the couch to wait them out.
A new addition to our wardrobe for the night sits on the coffee table. The color shows through the translucent plastic bag, catching my eye. I reach in and pull out a pink hat. And another. And another. And one more. All are identical to Callie’s, but none smell like coconut. Three of them go back in the bag, but I stick the fourth down in the couch cushions. I’m over the color pink, hats, and beautiful cult-leading serial killers who want nothing to do with me. More importantly, I’m done letting it put me in a mood.