Beth startles when she notices me, and she stops walking, so I make up the distance still between us. She looks adorable as all hell in those tight jeans and loose racerback tank top. Her bra shows at her sides and I’m equally turned on and annoyed by it. She never did have any kind of self-awareness. At least not when it comes to how goddamned attractive she is. And it bugs me that every guy that’s passed her today has caught a glimpse of that black lace.
I shove my hand through my hair. “Beth,” I sigh.
I wait for her to go off on me again, but she doesn’t. She just kind of looks up at me, her resentment a palpable thing. I can’t stand to see her look at me like that. But what makes my lungs burn is knowing that I deserve her resentment. She has no idea how much. Fuck, I hope to God she never will. Especially not now that she’s come so far—that she’s doing so well. Well enough to tell me off in public, at my own party, anyway.
But not tonight, it seems, and when she still doesn’t say anything at all, I make my attempt. “Look, I’m sorry, okay? I thought I was protecting you.”
“I don’t need protection,” she counters.
I nod. “I know. I just thought…Falco being around would give you an excuse to hide away in your dorm, and I wanted you to experience…”
“Experience what, David?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. Fucking life, I guess.”
Beth looks down at her shoes. I hate that she won’t even look at me. “Okay, whatever,” she murmurs.
“Whatever?” I repeat incredulously. Here I am, apologizing—something I’m not exactly fucking known for—and all she has to say is whatever?
“Yeah. Whatever. I get it. It just sucks, you know?”
I take a much-needed deep breath. “I know, Bea.”
At last her eyes meet mine, hostility finally gone. I take the opportunity to retrieve my new peace offering from my back pocket. Well, not new. My worn and weathered copy of Hamlet, riddled with years’ worth of my own highlights and notes, its pages filled with more of my own words than those of the author himself. I hope it will help in her Shakespeare class. If nothing else, it will give her an invasive insight into who I am and how I think, just like all the other books I’ve given her over the years, and I wonder if she realizes just how personal it is.
She takes it, her thin brows pinched together in confused awe. “This is your copy,” she breathes.
Suddenly I feel too vulnerable, uncomfortably exposed. “Thought it could help in your class,” I half-lie. Because it’s more than that, and I suspect she knows it.
Her pretty pink lips twist into a small smile, her cheeks going even rounder than usual, and it hits me right in the chest. Not for the first time I tell myself the affection I feel for her is strictly familial. More lies.
I smile. “You eat dinner yet?”
She shrugs. “I was gonna heat a cup of noodles and study.”
Cup of fucking noodles? “Fuck that. Come to the Stu-U. Let’s get some real food.”
Beth rolls her eyes. “Fine. But just some quick food, okay? I really need to study.”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Bea,” I smirk at her, and she sets free a short giggle. There it is. I take her girly-ass backpack and slip it over my shoulder, giving her no choice but to follow me. But as soon as I turn around, my eyes catch on that same guy, just as he’s averting his gaze. Only this time he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at Beth; I’m sure of it. Rage rushes through my veins, and I grit my teeth. I don’t know who the fuck this guy is, but there’s something off about him, and there’s absolutely nothing good about Beth drawing his attention.
My jaw clenches. I slip my arm protectively around her shoulders, despite just having been scolded for being overprotective. “Beth, in two seconds, I want you to subtly glance to your left, between buildings B and C, okay?”
Her brows pinch together again. She looks so damned cute when she does that. She doesn’t wait the two seconds, and her “subtle glance” is more of a full-on stare. “Glance,” I whisper-growl. I wait until she’s facing forward again, and then start leading her from the quad.
“Did you see that guy?” I ask her.
She nods hesitantly.
“Do you know him?”
“Yeah. I mean, no. He’s in my Abnormal Psych class. And I saw him last night.”
“Saw him doing what?”
“The same thing. Standing around smoking cigarettes like a fucking creep.”
“I think he was looking at you,” I admit.
So this isn’t the first time that guy’s been staring at Beth. Unease swirls in my gut. “Stay away from him,” I warn her.
“Do you know him?” she asks uncertainly.
“No. But I don’t like the way he was looking at you.”
Of course, I’ve never liked the way any guys have looked at her.