It felt wrong to just let her go, turn away from her and head for his truck. He sat behind the wheel while she drove off with Avery, both of them laughing at something as they did.
Tate felt strangely empty inside all of a sudden. Alone.
He turned out of the parking lot and started for home, in the opposite direction of Avery’s place. In his rearview he watched Nina’s taillights disappear around the corner behind him, a sense of urgency growing inside him.
He hit the brakes without thinking, stopping there in the middle of the street. Seconds passed, the sense of urgency expanding in his chest until it ached.
“No, dammit,” he muttered, and cranked the wheel around.
He turned the truck and drove after Nina. He had no plan, wasn’t even sure what the fuck he was doing or going to say, just that he couldn’t let her go out with some asshole who didn’t deserve her time.
She was already out of her vehicle and around the corner of the house just as he pulled up in front. If Avery saw him parked there, she’d wonder why he was here, but he didn’t care.
He got out and strode along the brick path that led around back to Nina’s suite. Without giving himself time to second-guess what he was doing, he rapped on her door.
She pulled it open moments later, a startled smile on her face. “Hey.”
Damn, she was pretty. He felt less cold inside just seeing her. “Hi.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Did you…want to talk to me about something?”
“Yes,” he said, unable to keep the irritation from his voice.
“Okay.” She looked at him expectantly.
“Don’t go out with that guy again.”
Her face went blank with surprise. “What? Why not?”
“Because he’s not gonna give you what you’re looking for, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” He couldn’t stand the thought of someone so kind and full of joy getting her heart bruised.
Her face softened, her eyes filling with a tenderness he wanted to drink in. “You’re worried about me.”
“Yeah, I’m worried.” Frustration pulsed through him. “I know you won’t think so, but romance is overrated. And besides, you even said you’re not attracted to the guy.”
Her expression cooled. “I said that might grow with time.”
He shook his head sharply. “It won’t.”
She folded her arms, annoying him more with the way it pushed her breasts up and together. Making it harder to keep his eyes on her face. “No? And you’re an expert on these things, even though you haven’t dated in what, a year?”
Touché. Maybe he deserved that. His face heated. “I’m just saying, you should be more realistic.”
“Yeah?” She studied him a moment, her physicist brain performing calculations about him and coming up with her own answers. Probably that he was being an overbearing asshole. “Well, you’re lonely and don’t even realize it.”
He faltered, becoming flustered as her words hit home. Okay, yeah, maybe he was a bit lonely. But that wasn’t the point here. Stopping her from making a mistake, from getting hurt, was.
“This isn’t about me. And sorry to break it to you, but life isn’t a fairy-tale. There’s way more important things in a relationship than flowers and romantic gestures.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him, the gesture somehow condescending. Almost like she was giving him enough rope to hang himself. “Like what?”
His frustration hit critical mass, her challenge triggering something territorial in him. “Like this,” he answered, stepping forward to wrap a hand around her nape and covering those tempting lips with his own.
She stiffened for a split second, her hands flying up to the front of his shoulders. But she didn’t stop him or push him away, so Tate didn’t let go. Instead he wrapped his free arm around her back, hauling her in close.
The feel of her softness pressed against him lit his blood on fire. He slanted his mouth across hers, captured her tiny gasp on his tongue as he drank her in, his entire body going hard as he tasted her.
Nina moaned softly, her hands curling into his shoulders. The kiss had started out dominant and forceful, but now it slowed and softened. Becoming something more than he’d intended, shocking him with its brutal honesty. The raw need it exposed.
He drew back, stunned that she’d broken his control so easily. Nina gazed up at him uncertainly, her big brown eyes searching his.
Shit. He hadn’t meant to kiss her. He just hadn’t been able to stop himself from touching her, tasting her, driven by the primal need to wipe the thought of any other guy out of her pretty head.
What the hell had he done?
His jaw tightened. “Just…don’t go out with that guy.” He started to turn away.
She laughed. He stopped dead, whipping around to stare at her. He was dead serious, thinking of her best interest, and she’d laughed.
She folded her arms, and he had to wrench his focus up to her face. “You don’t get a say in who I can and can’t go out with.”
The reprimand hit home, making him wince inside. Fuck, he was acting like a damn caveman. If any guy had spoken to Tala or Rylee like he just had, Tate would be tempted to punch him in the face. “I know,” he bit out. “But I don’t want you to get hurt.”
She softened, gazing at him equal parts amusement and sympathy. “Say I consider canceling my date on Friday. What’s in it for me?”
His mind had stopped functioning. She’d short-circuited his fucking brain. “Sorry?”
“You gonna take me out instead?”
The idea was a lot more appealing than he wanted it to be. “Maybe I will.”
Her eyes sparkled with silent laughter. “So you’re a closet romantic after all.”
What? No. He opened his mouth to refute it, but that soft look in her eyes and his actions made denying it pointless. He huffed out a quiet chuckle. “Cancel your date. I’ll pick you up Friday after your last class.”
She nodded once. “All right. I’m looking forward to it.”
Damn, he was too, God help him. “Okay. Good night.”
“Good night.” She shot him one last smile that warmed him all the way to his bones before shutting the door.
Tate walked back to his truck in a sort of daze, still not sure what had just happened. Was this a bad idea?
Yeah. It was definitely a bad idea.
He wasn’t the kind of romantic she was looking for, but damned if she didn’t suddenly have him wanting to put aside his cynical views and make the effort for her.
Cross, Kaylea. Lethal Edge. Kaylea Cross Inc. Kindle Locations (1130-1186). Kindle Edition.