I twisted my ankle, checking out each angle of the wretched shoe on my foot. “This is not a good idea.”
“Will you just trust me for once? Adam’s a great guy.” Vicky sighed loud enough to be heard across town.
“I’m not talking about the date, although that’s not a good idea either.” I mimicked her sigh and pointed to the cheap piece of plastic on my feet. “I’m talking about these flip-flops. They’re horrid.”
“That’s what you’re bitching about? Seriously, Rachel, you can’t go to a carnival in Louboutins.” She pushed off the side of her car as Daniel rounded the front. He snaked his arm around her waist, careful not to touch her broken ribs.
“But you can on a blind date?” I countered.
Vicky tossed her hands in the air. She knew there was no winning this argument. Besides, the Louboutins didn’t go with this equally horrid dress Vicky loaned me.
I followed the happy couple a bumper car’s length away, just enough to not lose them and not hear their lovey dovey bullshit. Daniel and Vicky walked so close together the color of their shirts started to blend. A hint of copper slid along my tongue, and I realized I’d bitten my lip. Jealousy was not something I did, but seeing those two into one another, it was hard not to let the green monster take over. I rolled my jaw to loosen the tension.
The sounds of the carnival drifted through the humid air. The rise and fall of happy screams, the eighties music blaring from the rides, and the whirling machinery crammed into my ears.
We stepped into the sunlight, and I saw my “date” standing at a game booth. The first time I’d met Adam Marshall was at Vicky’s house in Hillsdale. Her mother invited a group of us over for a pool party, and Vicky strolled in with Daniel on her arm and Adam trailing behind her with a somewhat pretty blonde. I took in every inch of Adam as he navigated around the edge of the pool, ignoring the glare from the girlfriend. Like I cared. Adam’s hot in an unconventional way. Tall and lanky with a thin face, he made it work when most guys would’ve just appeared awkward.
This time, I stayed a few steps back as Vicky and Daniel approached him, waiting for his reaction. He high-fived Daniel before glancing over Vicky’s shoulder toward me. The hunger of his gaze brought a heat to my cheeks. This was what I knew. Guys wanted me, they just didn’t want to know me. Forcing a grin on my face, I sauntered up to Adam, sliding in beside him.
“Hey,” I said with a breath. I dropped my head, slowly raising it as I checked out every inch of him again. It’d been a few weeks, but he needed this from me as much as I needed him to do the same. “Long time, no see.”
“Nice dress.” He pointed at the floral monstrosity Vicky loaned me.
This blush covering my cheeks was from embarrassment. I felt like a redneck in this green thing, plus it was too tight around the waist. If I hadn’t tripped in these stupid flip flops and spilled diet cola over my white tank and shorts, I wouldn’t have borrowed it.
“We’re going to get some food,” Daniel said as he squeezed Vicky against his side. I threw up a little in my mouth. “Wanna come?”
I raised my eyebrows at Vicky, but she didn’t notice. She wasn’t even looking at me. Gag. “No, thanks. Go ahead. We’ll catch up later.”
Dacky, or maybe Viniel, disappeared into the crowd. They might as well have a stupid nickname since they’d become one person. The thought made me giggle. I glanced back at Adam, but he was focused on something over my shoulder. I frowned when I realized what, or rather who, held his attention. Adam’s girlfriend from the pool party threw a dart at a wall filled with balloons. She missed. When she turned around, she caught us watching her.
Instincts kicked in. I faced Adam and slid my hand behind his neck. He broke his gaze at the other girl and let me bring his head to mine. The kiss was supposed to be brief and just a show of who was with whom, but it turned into something unexpected. My toes curled in the cheap flip-flops, digging my French pedicure into the rubber bottoms. Adam’s fingers dug into my waist, pulling me to him until we were pressed as close as we could get with clothes on.
I drew away first, mainly because we were in the middle of a carnival, but also because this was not supposed to make me want to take him to the nearest hotel. No, this date with Adam was supposed to be two peeps hanging out, not a heavy make-out session within three minutes of saying “hi.”
He pressed his forehead into mine. “What did I do to deserve that?”
The laugh bubbled out even as I tried to swallow it.
“I didn’t think it was funny,” Adam said, leaning away from me. His hands stayed firmly on my waist.
I pursed my lips together when I noticed his serious expression. “Your ex is over there.”
He let go of me and put a bit of distance between us. The frown covering his face caused tiny wrinkles around the edges of his perfect mouth.
Great. I felt slightly bad for being honest. He needed to hear some more. “Let’s get it out in the open, Adam. You may be into me, but you’re still not over her. And there’s the fact that you don’t even know me.” He opened his mouth to interrupt. I held up my hand to stop him. “Don’t. It’s okay. I get it, alright? You need a rebound. You picked me. It’s not the first time that’s happened, you know.”
“A rebound?” He stuffed his hands in his pockets and leaned against the side of the booth.
“Yep. That’s me. Everybody’s rebound.” I spit the words through the bitter taste they left on my tongue. “I’ll hang with you for a couple of weeks, just long enough for the ex to know you’re over it. Maybe we’ll have a little fun along the way. But, eventually, we’ll go our separate ways. That’s how it works.” I crossed my arms, squeezing my chest to force the rest out. “I’ve played the game enough, okay?”
His head fell back as his eyes kissed the sky. I waited for him to tell me I was wrong, even though I wasn’t. The popping of balloons followed by a girly squeal caught my attention. A petite girl threw her arms around her boyfriend, laughing as he lifted her off the ground. The booth attendant held out an oversized stuffed dog with a rose in its mouth. The boyfriend grabbed the dog and passed it on without taking his eyes off his girl. She clutched the stupid thing to her chest as they walked away holding hands. She wasn’t beautiful; she wasn’t even pretty, but I wanted to be her.
I tore my gaze from them and faced Adam.
He tucked his upper lip into his mouth, his teeth scraping along the skin. “Why would you agree to this then?”
Hope. I closed my eyes, unable to speak that truth. When I opened them to answer with a well-considered lie, more truth came out anyway. God I sucked. “I … I’m tired of being the rebound. I thought … it doesn’t matter. Let’s just hang out, maybe go on a ride or two. Then we can forget this ever happened.”
I twisted away, but Adam’s hand gripped my wrist.
“No,” he said, spinning me back toward him.
“What do you mean no?”
His face brightened. “I mean, no, we’re going to do this a little different.”
I raised my eyebrows for him to continue.
“It’s simple, Rachel.” His smile grew as his hand slipped into mine. “You and I aren’t that different. You don’t want to be alone, and neither do I.”
When he didn’t add anything else, I stepped closer, wanting to knock him for a loop. “And?”
“Heather was… I loved her.” He squeezed my hand as his words left an iceberg in my chest. “Getting over her won’t take a week or two. It may not even happen, but I need to move on. And you … you need something I can give you.”
This time I moved away from him, dropping his hand like a hot coal. “Oh, and what’s that?”
“You said you’re tired of being the rebound, right?”
I nodded, and he smiled.
“Then I’m taking you off the market.”
The smell of kettle corn must have addled my brain, because what he said didn’t make sense.
“Like I said, it’s simple. Let people think we’re a serious couple. You won’t be anyone’s rebound. And I … well, I’ve got time to get over her without … complications.” He closed the distance between us, putting his hands on my hips and pulling me against him. “We hang out, let people see us together. Maybe even show our affection.” His grin was infectious, and I matched it with one of my own. “We play the part for a few months.”
“And when you’re ready to move on, or I meet someone else, we part as friends?” This idea grew on me the more I thought about it, but I had to know if this was how it would end.
I tapped my chin with my free hand. “You think this will work? No real strings? No real relationship? Just a fake-out to get you over Heather and reset my rep?”
“No strings. Nothing real.” His lips twitched. “Think you can handle it? I’m a lot of man for one woman.”
I snorted and rolled my eyes, pressing the length of my body against his. “Yeah, I can handle it. The real question is can you?”
Adam slid his arm around my waist and tugged me into the crowd. He leaned toward my ear and whispered, “We’re gonna find out.”