The wild child who lives next door...the young girl who’s always desperate to make him smile – that’s how Jason thinks of me but no more. I’m eighteen now and Jason needs to understand that I’ve never thought of him as a substitute father – or even a brother. He’s my life, my best friend – there’s no guy whom I could ever more.
In an all-out bid to win his love, I risk everything on a bet: for every secret date we have, I must date another boy after. Jason says it will help me realize someone out there is better for me. What I don’t realize until it’s too late is that Jason also thinks someone out there is better for him...but it is not me – and it might never be me.
Keanne Summers had come a long way in the four years they had been friends, and it was not just because she had finally shed off the baby fat, ditched the glasses for contacts, and found the right treatment for her hair to be glossy and her skin acne free.
Even though she still had not come down, all eyes were on Keanne’s SUV, which – like its owner – was unapologetically attention-grabbing. Her ride was a Volvo S60R with a hot pink custom paint job because - as she had once seriously told a perplexed Jason – Keanne wanted to be the girl version of Edward Cullen, whatever that meant and whoever that Edward may be.
The door opened and out she came, fashionable and sexy in a sixties-inspired dress with its high collar and long loose sleeves. Of course, it was also short enough for it to effectively display her shapely legs and killer red heels. She was the picture of youthful fun and glamour, with not the smallest hint of the bitter and disillusioned teenager she had once been.
Their gazes met.
A playful smile immediately curved on Keanne’s lips even as her fingers brushed her chest, using the private sign of communication they had once designed out of desperation. That simple touch over her heart meant one thing. I am here for you, mon bébé.
The silent words numbed the agonizing wound inside him, enough for Jason to regain a little of his sense of humor. A few minutes ago, he had thought it would take him forever to smile. But with his little spitfire in front him, he didn’t just want to smile. He found himself able to forget.
Jason made Keanne wait, just to provoke her. His cue came when her forehead started to furrow, and Jason swiftly crossed the street to get to her side. When he reached Keanne, his hot-tempered little doe was scowling.
He grinned, unable to help it.
She threw her hands up at the sight, a very French gesture that made Jason’s lips twitch unexpectedly. “You made me wait!” Angry sparks shot out from her gray eyes. “Why do you always insist on making me wait?”
Jason’s grin turned into a full-fledged laugh, a dark seductive sound that had women all around them wishing they were the one who had elicited it. If they had, then perhaps one of them might have had the luck to spend a night in the divinely gorgeous Jason Christakos’ bed.
“But of course I must make you wait, ma petite. How else are we to ensure that you do not become like one of your peers?” Jason’s faint shudder was not altogether feigned. “I do not want you to think you are all that.”
Keanne snorted. “Oh, you mean between the two of us, you’re the only one allowed to have an ego?” Even as she spoke, Jason’s hand had already comfortably gone to the small of her back, guiding her to the entrance of the club, where the line of waiting guests had already wrapped around the entire block.
As the club’s guards immediately waved them in, their faces alone guaranteeing their entrance, Jason said arrogantly, “I am Greek. Of course I am the only one that should have an ego. And as a woman, you must pander to me.”
She spouted French curses at him, and she was still doing so despite Jason’s laughter by the time they were escorted to one of the private second-floor lounges reserved for VIP guests.
He waited for her to slide first into the tiny velvet-seated booth before following, folding his long jeans-encased legs under the black mirror-surfaced table.
Keanne fell silent when Janet, the sexy brunette who identified herself as their personal server, finally left, the subtle message which she imparted about what “personal” meant still lingering in the air.
Her sudden withdrawn attitude bemused him. “Ma petite?”
In seconds, she had closed the distance between them, her arms going around him. "Je suis désolée,” Keanne whispered against his neck.
“You remember your promise, no?” Her words were strongly accented, just like his own English would hint of his Greek bloodline when his emotions ran high, threatening to overcome his rigid self-control.
She did not wait for him to answer. “Quand cet homme méprisable…” Keanne inhaled sharply, willing herself to stay under control. When she spoke again, she returned to English, using it as another shield for her feelings. “When that despicable man came to my school, demanding to see the principal, wanting me to be expelled – do you remember that day?”
They both did.
“Do you,” she asked fiercely, “remember what you told me when I called you in tears?”
Jason’s eyes closed as the painfully bittersweet memory came into life with vivid clarity.
Her sobs had been heartbreaking to hear, but he had steeled himself against it, knowing that the time had come for her to save herself.
“Please come here s'il vous plait,” Keanne had begged, her words a jumble of English and French. “Please, please, please---”
She had begged him over and over, crying her heart out, and he let her. But when she fell silent, Jason said flatly, “No.”
Her moan was full of betrayal, and everything in him wanted to go to her – his little dove, the one thing in his world who was right. He had fucked up so many times with all the people he had loved, but with Keanne he had made sure he would do everything right – and he would be damned if he would let pity sway him to doing otherwise.
“Listen to me.” Those were the very first words he had used to command her when he was young, to train her to be as strong and as ruthless as he was in clawing her way back to the top.
Her sobs quieted, and his chest constricted at the way Keanne was doing her best to follow him.
“Later, when you come home, I will be waiting for you, ma petite. In my arms, you can cry – I want you to cry, I want to comfort you. I want to be there for you. With me, you can be weak – but not with anyone else.”
“Oui,” she whispered, but her voice still shook.
It made Jason bite out sharply, “No more tears!”
He heard her swallowing hard, and when she spoke her voice was still hoarse but firmer. “Yes.”
Good. She was speaking in English now. Her shield was up, and that was exactly how it should be.
“Only with me, Keanne. Never forget that. You cannot be weak with anyone else. All these years that I have helped you become strong will be for nothing if you give up now.”
She did not answer.
He did not allow it. “Do you understand, Keanne?”
An eternity passed. “Yes.”
“Then go. Remember that you are stronger and better than what everyone may say. They do not deserve your tears – do not deserve to see you flinch even the smallest way.”
This time, her answer was stronger, colder. “Yes.”
“Make me proud, ma petite. And when you come home, only then you can cry.”