Home > Stripped (Stripped, #1)(6)

Stripped (Stripped, #1)(6)
Author: H.M. Ward

"So, what'd you do?" Robyn stops working and looks over at me. "Come on, spill, Cassie."

"It's not what I did, it's what it looked like—and it embarrassed the crap out of her. I went to a graduation party for my friend and fell asleep in his bed. I didn't come home until dawn. Some kids took pictures of me sleeping on his bed and Grant climbed in and gave the thumbs up, like he nailed me." I make a face. "Everyone knows Grant's gay. He was just messing around. Short version, my mom saw one of the pictures and sent me down here to pull my act together."

Robyn is staring at me with dish plate eyes. "So, this is some sort of punishment?" I nod. "What about your Dad?"

"My mom was spitting bullets about it—what will the neighbors think," I mock her polite voice. Needless to say, Mom and I aren't BFFs. We barely manage to keep things cordial. Dad is the family glue, the peacekeeper, but he didn't stick his neck out for me this time. "Right before I left he came into my room and said some time away would be good for me." So here I am, staying with my Dad's little sister, a relative that I almost never see.

"Harsh." Robyn laughs and bumps her shoulder into mine as she mashes together the contents in the bowl. "Hey, wouldn't it be hysterical if you ended up in the papers for screwing Jon Ferro? Your mom would shit herself. There are worse things than having a snapshot of you in bed with a g*y guy. She needs to get a little perspective."

I nod and smile tightly at her. My mom needs something, like a different daughter—one that is more like her perfect son. Toby is two years older than me and the perfect child. He's one of those guys that excels at everything and everyone loves him. I'm the opposite. I worked hard to get my grades. I still pulled A's, however since it wasn't without effort, it doesn't count for my mother. Toby is all smiles and confidence, where I'm shy and quiet—a wallflower, forever plain as my mom says.

Today was the first time that I didn't feel plain. The way Jonathan looked at me, well it was like I was worth looking at. I'm so positively average that no one glances my way twice, so when he did those things that should have gotten him slapped, I felt flattered. I'm such a head case.

My aunt works crazy hours to keep this little trailer. I guess the politically correct term is mobile home—or manufactured housing—I forget, but it's her house and she's been so nice to me since I walked off the plane. Robyn and I decided to make her dinner since she works late. We ran to the grocery store before coming home and have been getting dinner ready ever since. The conversation drifts all over the place, but Robyn brings it back around to sex.

"So," she says carefully, as she finishes setting the table. "What's with the no sex thing? Is that your Mom's idea—"

I cut her off. "No, it's my thing."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to pry, it's just that I don't know anyone who's proud to be a virgin and you seem to be, so I was wondering what I was missing. That's all. Don't be all pissy at me for weeks. I won't be nosy again. Promise."

I glance up at her and smile. "You're such a dork."

"Shut up, virgin."

The tension between us is gone. I debate how much to tell her, because I want to say something. I know it sounds strange, but it makes sense to me. "At some point, I don't remember when," my voice wobbles a little because I remember exactly when I decided this, and the events around that day are trying to claw their way out of the box in the back of my head. I mentally shove them back down and continue with a smile on my face. "I decided that I wanted my first time to be on my wedding night. It's not religious or anything like that, I just liked the idea of being each other's first and only. It's romantic."

A male voice rings out behind me, "It's never going to happen."

Whirling around, I see Jonathan Ferro standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Dark jeans cling to his narrow h*ps as he leans against the jamb with his sculpted arms folded across his chest. His head is tipped to the side with that mess of dark hair falling into his eyes. My heartbeat races like someone is going to kill me. I stare at him with my mouth open, wondering why he's here.

"Hey, Jonny," Robyn says, as she crosses the kitchen to the sink.

"Hey, Rob. Your cousin here is really cute, but you need to get some things through her naïve little head before some big nasty boy crushes her heart." He pushes off the doorway and walks into the room without looking at me. I hate the way he talks about me like I'm invisible, like I'm a child that's too stupid to know better.

"It's not naïve," I counter, glaring at him.

"It is too." He reaches for the bowl on the table and pops an olive into his mouth before he rounds on me. Leaning back against the old beat up island, he says, "Think about it for a second, you're only interested in putting out for a guy that's never had a chick before? That's going to land you a g*y guy or a liar. Every guy has had sex by the time he's our age. You're looking for a guy that doesn't exist." His cobalt eyes burn into mine. It feels like I've been scolded, slapped across the face.

"You're an a**hole. Who invited you here anyway?" I sneer at him, clutching my fingers by my sides. He has no right to judge me. He doesn't even know me.

Grinning, he says, "Your aunt likes me." His hands move behind his back and he rocks on his toes. It's a juvenile gesture that's as clear as sticking out his tongue and nah-nah-ing me.

I take the bait. "And you'll lower yourself to schlep food from the dinner table inside a trailer? How kind of you."

"Cassie," my aunt's voice rings out behind me. Damn it. Why is everyone sneaking up on me today? "Mind your manners. Really." She hangs up her coat on a hook by the door. The floor creaks as she crosses the narrow room and heads for the kitchen.

I try to apologize but she just holds up her hand. "People live in different kinds of homes, Cassie. It's not the castle that makes the man, it's the heart. Kindhearted people can be kings or paupers." Her old gray eyes lock with mine. My Dad has those eyes and they do the same thing when he gives me that look.

My stomach grows cold and I nod. "Yes, Aunt Paula." I don't mean to, but I glance up at Jonathan. I expect to see a smug look on his face, but it isn't there. Instead, his eyes flash with concern and his lips are parted just enough to ask if I'm okay—after I acted like an a**hole.

Robyn breaks the tension and slaps the hot dish down on the table. "Sit, eat. Stop arguing and act like a goddamn family."

Aunt Paula sighs, "Language, Robyn." Robyn pulls out Aunt Paula's chair and scoots her in.

"Sorry, I forgot. I haven't been out here in a while."

"You're welcome anytime Robyn." Aunt Paula smiles at my cousin who isn't really my cousin anymore. She's my ex-step-grandfather's wife's granddaughter. She's not blood, but she doesn't need to be. If something were horribly wrong, Robyn would be there in a blink. I can't even say that for my own mother.

Water is thicker than blood, at least that's true for me.

Aunt Paula's table is a small circle. We bump elbows, and normally I don't care, but Jonathan is on one side. I swear he's bumping me on purpose, first with his elbow and then with his knee. I take a bite of my dinner and look at him. "So freeloader, what are your summer plans?"

Jonathan grins. "You're my summer plans." He doesn't elaborate. Instead, he stuffs half a quesadilla into his mouth and chomps away.

Robyn gives me a lopsided smile. "You might have to make other arrangements Jonny-boy. My girl Cassie here seems to think that you're only after one thing."

Aunt Paula looks appalled. Her food falls to her plate as her jaw drops. "Robyn!"

Jonathan reaches out and pats my aunt's hand. "It's all right. I have a bad reputation, Ms. Barrett. Robyn is just looking out for your niece."

Aunt Paula eyes him and leans back in her chair. "So, out with it. What'd you do this time?"

Jonathan has a sheepish look on his face. "What makes you think I did anything? Maybe I just wanted to visit my uncle for the summer and have dinner with you fine ladies."

Aunt Paula shakes her head. "God bless your mother. You're a real handful."

Jonathan has no witty comeback, no quick retort. Instead, his eyes drop and he just nods. Someone has some serious mommy issues. I wonder what they are and if they're as screwed up as mine.



Those lips are burned into my mind. Dreams flutter behind my eyelids, making it impossible to sleep. Her impossibly sinful mouth, and the fact that Cassie seems to detest me, makes it hard to stop thinking about her. She's crazy, she has to be with notions like hers. I start to drift off again and see those perfect porcelain legs walking away from me. My mind replays the day again, always starting on Cassie and working backwards through the memories. Soft skin brushes against my lips as I kiss her cheek, and I inhale deeply. The light, sweet, scent she wore fills my head and makes me want her.

Mind wandering, I drift off picturing her next to me. Her face above mine, before she slowly sits up. Her clothes are gone and so is that irritating smile. Cassie looks down at me and slips her hand over my bare stomach, her perfect little fingers tracing each muscle. I watch her body as she breathes, happy to be near her. When she leans over, my pulse skyrockets. Her hair tickles my skin as her lips trail kisses down my chest, and past my waist. When her hot lips wrap around me, I can't control myself. I try to hold her, to give her what she wants, but the scene shifts and I know I'm dreaming.

I'm in my old room. The lights are out and the voice in my ear isn't Cassie's. It's hers—Monica's. "Does that feel good, baby?"

I dart upright, my heart racing too fast, with my body covered in sweat. What would've happened next is a f**king nightmare. My mind recognized it as soon as Monica's voice snaked through my mind. Pushing off the bed, I walk to the bathroom and splash water on my face.

When I head back to bed, I can't sleep. Guilt gnaws at me like it just happened. "Sex doesn't matter," I tell myself. It doesn't, it can't. It's something to do to pass the time. It means nothing and it never will.

After a second, I text Robyn. U up?

A few seconds later she writes back, No.

Your cousin hates me. I don't know why I'm telling her this. I just type whatever comes to mind. It's too late to be bothering her, and having written proof of anything is stupid, but it's Robyn. What's the worst she can do, show her cousin and Cassie laughs at me?

I hate u 2.

Ignoring her, I type, Is she serious?


Did you really just ask me that? About the virgin thing. Telling a guy that she's holding onto her V-card, no you can't have it, and then gloating about it like virginity is something special—it's totally insane.

What do you want, Jonny?

What do I want? I want to nail your cousin. No, well, I do—but that's not the main thing. I need to know how she got there, why she's nearly twenty and actively refusing sex. It's insane. Doesn't she want it? How does she handle the urges? I picture Cassie with her hand down her panties and, oh fuck—that was a mistake.

Clearing my mind, I focus on why I'm bothering Robyn in the middle of the night. It's because she has something that I want. Then it hits me, I want to know Cassie better. I want to know why she thinks the way she does.

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