Jack gave her a slow, unnervingly sexy smile. “No, you’re not.” His white teeth gleamed in his tanned face, those crystal blue eyes knowing, and suddenly a wave of heat washed over her.
Her frown deepened.
“You can’t stay mad at anybody,” he continued softly. “You never could.”
“Well, maybe I’ve changed.” She folded her arms across her chest. She could stay mad. Sometimes. Okay, not often. But being mad at him was a lot safer than the warm tenderness growing inside her.
“We’ll get to the bottom of all that once we track down Carter.”
“I’ll call him at his office on Monday.”
The waiter appeared with their check and Jack reached for it, then slid a platinum credit card into the folder. “Thank you for dinner,” Ally said.
“My pleasure.” He grinned. “I think any other time we went out to eat was either for pizza or burgers.”
“Impecunious college students don’t have money for extravagant dinners.” She smiled back at him. “We’ve come a long way, baby.”
When they got home, she hesitated. It was too early to go to bed. “Would you like a drink?” she offered him. “I’m going to have a glass of wine.”
“A beer would be good, if you still have some.”
She nodded and went to get their drinks while he sat down in the living room. When she came back, she slid a CD of jazz music in her stereo.
“Hey, I like this,” Jack said. “It’s Jeff Greene, right?”
“Yes,” she said, surprised, sitting on the opposite end of the couch from him. She turned sideways and sat cross-legged, pulled a cushion onto her lap and clasped her glass of wine in two hands.
“I saw him play in a jazz club in Paris.”
“Oh. Wow.” She sipped her wine. “Tell me more about the good things you’ve seen.”
So he did. She listened to stories about Paris, London, Athens, the things he’d seen, the people he’d met.
She’d missed Jack so much. Sure, she’d been happy with Carter - for a while - but there had always been an empty hole in her life.
Their eyes met. Everything fell away, the dark corners of the room fading to nothing, the world narrowing to them, on the couch. Even the sultry tones of the saxophone music subsided into the background. Ally felt that feeling that had bothered her years ago, the entire last month before graduation - a yearning, a feeling of wanting something, needing something so badly, but not knowing what it was.
“Do you want to talk about what happened with Carter?”
She stared at him.
Jack lifted a shoulder, looked away. “You didn’t say much yesterday.” He looked like he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know the details.
“I don’t know. You and Carter are friends. I don’t want to talk about him in a way that makes you uncomfortable.”
He nodded. “Yeah. Carter stood by me through the whole pregnancy thing. You and Carter both,” he amended. “You guys showed me what true friends are. But I have to say, I’m a little pissed at him right now, too.”
“Carter is a guy who always needs something new to keep him entertained,” Ally said, rubbing a finger around the rim of her wine glass. “You saw that in high school – how he changed activities, changed courses, changed girlfriends.”
“Like the time he quit the yearbook on us halfway through the school year, to join the debate team.”
“Yeah. Although he was a really good debater.”
Jack grinned. “He just likes to argue. He’d say the sky is green just for the sake of an argument.” Ally returned the smile, although less enthusiastically. Carter’s love of debate had increased over the years, and while it may have served him well in his profession, she’d gotten damn tired of him disagreeing with everything she said.
“I never realized it went so deep,” she said. “I can only guess he got bored with me and needed something ...someone new and exciting.”
Jack snorted. “Dumbass.”
Ally smiled a bit. “It actually happened more than once. The first time, I never did anything.”
“Ally.” His eyes gleamed with understanding, despite the gentle censure in his voice. “I know you don’t like conflict, but come on. He was cheating on you.”
“I know.” She felt a twinge of embarrassment and shame at how she’d avoided the problem. “I was pretty sure he was fooling around, but I thought if I just pretended I didn’t know, it would all just go away. I know, I know, stupid plan.” She sighed. “After that, I was paranoid and suspicious all the time. Apparently with good reason. When I came home one day and found him in bed - our bed - with his...with another woman, that was it.”
“I hope you got a new bed.”
Ally stared at him, then burst out laughing.
“As a matter of fact, I did.”
“Friend or no friend, he’s an asshole to treat you like that,” Jack muttered darkly. “You don’t deserve that.” He shook his head, tipped the beer bottle to his lips.
Again Ally felt that warming, softening, yearning feeling, a need for a hug. Her mouth went dry and she swallowed with difficulty at the thought of pressing her body against Jack’s.
“I think Carter cheated on every girl he went out with,” Jack continued.
“Yeah. I never really knew what the deal was with the girlfriend he left when he moved to Garden City, but for sure in college I caught him a few times with other girls.”
“Oh, yeah,” Ally said slowly. “I remember. He was going out with Shanna and you said you’d seen him with another girl. But you played that down, made it sound like nothing.” Her eyes narrowed. “In fact, I thought he was still going out with Shanna when he and I...got together. I asked him and he told me he’d just broken up with her. I bet he didn’t. Oh, God. What do you think Shanna thought of me?” She closed her eyes momentarily.
His eyes were soft as he looked back at her. “You always saw the good in people,” he said. “I didn’t want to ruin your image of Carter. There were other times I never even told you about.”
Ally could not believe her ears. She picked up the cushion on her lap and hurled it at Jack. Hard.
“Hey!” Jack tried to duck but the pillow hit him in the face. He knocked it to the floor. “What the hell was that for?”
“You could have told me!” she cried. “Jesus, you could have saved me from getting involved with him, if I’d known that stuff.”
Now it was Jack’s jaw that dropped. “I...never thought of that.”
“Damn it, Jack.” She rose up on her knees, furious. “You should have told me.”
He looked like he’d been turned upside down and shaken. “I...I’m sorry Ally.”
Her lips twitched at his apology - was it his hundredth? - and so did his. She sank back down to the couch. “No, I’m sorry,” she said, letting out a long breath. “I can’t really blame you for my mistakes. But seriously. I wish I’d known that.”
They sat there, both breathing heavily, staring at each other. Suddenly, Ally was looking at Jack’s mouth and to her intense shock, when she looked back to his eyes, he was looking at her mouth too. Their eyes met in mutual astonishment. Ally’s lips parted, her mouth went dry. At that moment, the only thing she could think was that she wanted to kiss Jack.
Extreme Close Up Chapter Eight