With Every Heartbeat
Page 25

 Linda Kage

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I shot her a grateful glance in the rearview mirror, but yeah, looking at her was still a bit too overwhelming, so I quickly returned my attention to the road and pulled into the pizza place’s parking lot.
“Well, thank God there’s more,” Cora went on. “Watching a bunch of hot men in tight pants is a lot more fun than just watching two.” Nudging her elbow into mine, she grinned across the car and wiggled her eyebrows.
I sent her a tight smile, trying not to let her see how much her words hurt...and ticked me off. But didn’t she realize how much she was belittling me? Did she really see me as so insignificant? As I found a parking spot, I blew out a long, steadying breath, telling myself not to obsess over her thoughtless words. My grandmother had always told me it only hurt me—no one else—when I kept a grudge against someone for an unintentional hurt they’d caused.
“Keeping a grudge is like swallowing poison and hoping somebody else dies from it,” she’d always told me.
But still...my stung pride continued to smart as I killed the engine. What was worse than realizing my girlfriend thought so lowly of me was that Zoey was there to witness it.
I cast her a quick glance as we got out of the car. She darted an apologetic smile to me before looking away, and I wondered what she was so sorry about. She’d actually defended me. Or maybe she was trying to apologize for Cora’s sake, since Cora obviously had no idea what she was putting me through.
I shook my head. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to let a careless slight get me down.
Straightening my spine, I followed the girls to the front entrance where Noel and his sister met us at the door. He paused to hold it open and let us go in first, and I couldn’t help but frown at the way Cora tittered and thanked him for his courtesy. I didn’t like knowing she’d placed one of my friends on a higher pedestal than she’d placed me.
“Aspen and my brothers are on their way too,” Noel told me as I was the last to enter. “Hope you don’t mind.”
I shook my head. “Not at all. That’s fine with me.”
As Caroline dragged Zoey in first, Cora caught my arm and murmured into my ear. “Who’s Aspen?”
I froze, not certain how to answer. In respect to Noel, I hadn’t told Cora about his and Aspen’s relationship. I wasn’t sure if he wanted it spread around. But if he didn’t mind eating here with her in public, with Cora present, I guess it was okay to tell her now.
But instead of going into details, I just said, “She’s Noel’s girlfriend.”
Cora frowned slightly. “I didn’t know he was seeing anyone.”
I nodded and grasped her hand to escort her to our seats, only to pause when I caught sight of Ten already sitting at two tables that had been pushed together.
“Hey,” he called with a big grin, waving us over. “What a surprise to see you guys. You all want to sit with me? There’s plenty of room.”
Noel slowed to a stop, scowling, but Caroline merely steered Zoey toward him. So Cora and I headed that way too.
Cora’s eyes narrowed as they settled on my roommate. “You didn’t tell me he was going to be here.”
It bothered me that Ten and Cora so openly did not get along. Even from the very beginning, when I first started dating her, he refused to be polite to her, and she’d been just as eager to hiss and spit at him. He never, not even once, let her stay overnight at our place.
I knew women usually got off on a bad foot with him, but he’d at least been decent to all our friends’ girlfriends. Why couldn’t he have attempted civility with Cora?
Noel reluctantly joined us, but I think he hated the seating arrangement. Caroline ended up directly next to Ten. He smiled at her as she sat, and then he went and politely nodded to Zoey, telling her it was nice to see her again. Then, instead of calling Cora a dirty name, which he usually did, he simply ignored her.
Yeah, it was strange when he was on his best behavior. Kind of gave me the willies, so I could only imagine what it did to Noel.
I was unnerved to end up sitting on the other side of Zoey. My elbow accidently brushed past hers as I sat, which somehow made that mysterious smell of hers invade my nostrils. They flared, trying to figure it out until Cora sat beside me, and her vanilla perfume drowned it out.
The waitress came and took drink requests, but Noel told her we were waiting for three more to join us before we ordered our meals.
Noel and Ten started discussing the first upcoming game of the season and trying to decide how much of a challenge it was going to be to win when Cora gasped and clutched my arm.