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The Charade: Chapter 29


IS THIS REAL? I wondered as Carter deepened our kiss further, sending my mind off into a frenzy where anything before or after this moment didn’t exist anymore. There was only now. Only me and Carter. And only this magical feeling that I knew I would crave for the rest of my life.

I suddenly understood why people could get addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex, because once you experienced such euphoria, you knew just exactly how amazing you could feel and how you would want to suddenly rearrange all of your plans just to get your next fix.

I was in the middle of a kissing session with Carter, but already I was wondering when the next time would be that I could kiss him.

Like, was his schedule already full for the weekend and I would I have to wait several days until I could find myself tangled up in his arms again? Or was he free tomorrow for lunch so I could get a quick fix in the library stacks after scarfing down a bite to eat?

Regardless of how long I had to wait, though, I knew that this needed to happen again. I needed to kiss Carter as often and long as possible.

‘We’ll probably need to leave in a few minutes so you’re not late for curfew,’ Carter said, briefly breaking the lock he had on my lips.

‘I know.’ I sighed, taking a much-needed deep breath. ‘But not a second sooner, okay?’

He grinned, his smile reaching his eyes as he said, ‘Deal.’

He started kissing me again, and as he led my lips in the exchange so hot it was turning my mind to goo, his hands crept along the hem of my shirt and smoothed up across the ridges of my ribcage. I’d never had a boy touch my skin there before, never wanted a guy to become so familiar with me until this very moment, but as his fingers ran across the sensitive skin of my stomach, sparks of electricity sizzled all over my core before spreading to my toes.

It felt incredible.

So freaking incredible.

His hand traveled across my hips and along my back. And as my nerve endings reacted and blood flowed to every part that he touched, I wanted to erase every molecule of air that separated us. I wanted there to be no space where we weren’t connected.

When he rolled me onto my back and covered my body with his, I instinctively arched into him, needing to feel that contact between our bodies. Carter was all hard, lean muscle, and I reveled in everything that he was. He felt amazing. He smelled amazing. And the fact that he seemed to be as into me as I was into him boggled my mind.

If you were to ask me on that first day of school after he’d had me sign that contract if I’d ever see myself doing anything remotely close to kissing Carter Hastings, I would have laughed in your face. But here we were, making out on his bed less than a month into the school year, and he was suddenly the only guy I ever wanted to do this with for the rest of my life.

I knew that once I was back in my room tonight and separated from this intoxicating feeling, that I’d probably think I was crazy for wanting to give all my firsts to a guy I met in high school—to think about building a life together and eventually having babies together. But my current frame of mind didn’t care about logic; it only cared about making sure moments like this kept on happening for the rest of my existence.

It was possible for seventeen-year-olds to fall in love and eventually get their own happily-ever-after, wasn’t it? Those kinds of things didn’t just happen in books and movies, right?

Of course I wouldn’t talk about wanting anything like that with Carter right now, probably wouldn’t even mention it to Elyse since most people considered that line of thinking as insane.

But I don’t know…falling in love isn’t logical, is it?

It wasn’t always something that you could control. And while there was still a lot to get to know about Carter and it was too early to know if we had a chance at a long-term relationship, I knew that I at least wanted to keep moving forward with him.

‘Carter, are you in there?’ Nash’s muffled voice sounded on the other side of the door, followed by a quick knock.

Carter groaned at his brother’s interruption, looking like he didn’t like the idea of cutting our last few minutes together short. But he pulled himself away from the kiss and rolled back so we were simply laying side by side. Then he called out, ‘Yeah, I’m in here.’

I expected Nash to say something more, but he opened the door instead, saying, ‘Can I talk to you about—’

He stopped in his tracks and his eyes went wide when he realized Carter wasn’t alone in here. After getting an awkward look on his face, he turned away and said, ‘Um, sorry.’ He grabbed the doorknob and said, ‘I, um, I’ll just come back later.’ And then he shut the door.

I turned back to Carter worriedly and said, ‘Are we going to get in trouble?’

But Carter just shook his head before leaning his forehead against mine and saying, ‘No. I mean, technically you might get in trouble if we don’t get you into your room in the next twenty minutes, but I’m going to be totally fine.’

I ENDED up making it back to my dorm room just before the dorm parents did their nightly check. After telling Elyse everything that had happened, I went to bed and had the best night’s sleep that I’d had in a long time.

The next morning, my mom called to tell Elyse and me that she had a client with a dress emergency and she would need to fly to California. After apologizing over the fact that we’d have to postpone our girls’ weekend for a few weeks, she promised to make it up to us before hanging up.

As I finished getting ready for the day, I realized that I’d forgotten to ask her once again about her dating Carter’s dad in high school. But then I shrugged it off and went about my day, deciding that maybe it would be best to just ask her about it in person when we were able to get together next.

The next days and weeks went by way too fast. My days were spent in school, my nights and weekends spent with Carter. He showed me more of Eden Falls on the weekends and even took me on a hike to see the waterfall the town was named after.

I’d expected a pretty waterfall, but when we’d first turned the bend and I caught my first glimpse of the gorgeous waterfall, it took my breath away with its crisp blue water and the lush vegetation of the surrounding area. It was definitely the kind of ethereal scene that you’d expect to find in the Garden of Eden—like a place from a dream.

The next weekend Carter took me to the stables at his house and I got to ride a horse for the first time. I’d been afraid that I might get bucked off since the extent of my experience with farm animals was when my mom took me and Elyse to a rodeo in Madison Square Garden when we were eight. But Cambrielle’s horse, Starlight, had known just what she was supposed to do with a beginner rider like me, and we were friends by the end of the afternoon.

Basically, Carter and I spent as much time as we could together over the next two weeks doing homework, going to football games, hanging out with our friends and his family whom I was growing to like more and more as the weeks went on. Nash and Cambrielle were basically the extra brother and sister that I’d always wanted. And while Mr. Hastings was out of the country on a three-week retreat that he did each year to recalibrate and just unplug from the hectic world of a billionaire CEO, Mrs. Hastings had been so sweet to me and almost made me feel like part of the family, which was kind of nice since my own mom was so busy developing her new line at the moment.

‘So, what are we going to do to celebrate your first ever A on a math test?’ Carter asked me one Monday after school. We had just finished doing our homework in the library and had gone up to my dorm room to hang out before he headed home.

‘I don’t know.’ I set my books on my desk and looked to where he sat on my bed. ‘I was thinking dinner at the Italian Amigos might be fun.’

‘I agree.’ Carter nodded.

‘And maybe follow that up with shakes from Charlie’s Food Hut.’ I sat on the bed beside him.

‘Their strawberry shakes are your favorite.’

I nodded. Then leaning closer to him, with a smirk on my lips, I said, ‘But first, I think it would only be right that I thank my tutor properly, since without his help I never would have gotten the A in the first place.’

Carter’s face lit up and a small smile lifted his cheeks. ‘And how will you be thanking your tutor?’

I leaned closer, looking at his lips, and whispered, ‘Like this.’ Then I kissed him. And even though I’d been able to kiss him several times over the past couple of weeks, my body still reacted like it had the first time. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach. And when his lips slowly grazed my bottom lip, coaxing my mouth to part, my stomach muscles clenched followed by a low swooping sensation as I let myself just get lost in this amazing guy whom I got to call my boyfriend.

My actual, real boyfriend.

I ran my fingers along his smooth jaw, and he threaded his fingers into the hair at the nape of my neck.

‘Maybe we should just stay here,’ I mumbled after a moment. ‘I think this might be better than dinner and shakes.’

Carter chuckled against my mouth. ‘Maybe we’ll just have to order in.’

‘Good idea.’

He shifted our positions, so he was leaning against the wall at the head of my bed and I was straddling his lap, and then we were kissing again.

We had already previously decided what boundaries we wanted for our physical relationship for now, so I knew I didn’t need to worry about Carter pushing me to have sex with him before I was ready—but that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy all the other fun things we could do before the big step.

He smoothed his hands along the outsides of my thighs. As the nerve endings under my skin sparked to life, I was glad that I hadn’t changed out of my school uniform yet and into jeans because having his hands on my bare skin there felt amazing.

Carter pulled away from the kiss. ‘I know you don’t like wearing the same kind of clothes every day. But you in this pleated skirt is kind of the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.’ And when he raked in my legs as he moved his hands up and down, the desire in his eyes made my insides feel like they were being scorched by a wildfire. While I knew that Carter didn’t just like me for my looks, I kind of loved that this guy who was on a hotness scale all his own found someone like me sexy.

‘I’m glad you like it.’ I took his tie in my hands and started loosening it for him as I spoke. ‘I was thinking about wearing a pink off-the-shoulder gown to Cambrielle’s soirée this weekend, but maybe I’ll wear this instead.’

‘An off-the-shoulder dress?’ Carter asked, intrigue filling his blue eyes.

I nodded, fighting a smile as I undid his tie the rest of the way. ‘An off-the-shoulder mini dress.’

I’d originally brought the dress to school because Elyse had told me it made my boobs look awesome and I thought it would be fun to wear to a formal dance if I got asked, but now that I knew Carter was more of a leg guy, I figured I should point out the other assets of the dress. I let go of his tie and pointed to a spot a few inches above my knee. ‘It hits me about here,’ I said, peeking to see his reaction. ‘But the slit goes up to here.’ I moved my finger a few inches higher.

Carter’s eyes went wide when I pointed to the spot just a few inches down my thigh. And after seeming to need a moment to respond, he said, ‘I think I might need to see this dress.’ He swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing before he added, ‘Right now.’

I shook my head, grinning from ear to ear since I hadn’t expected his reaction to be this good. ‘Sorry, but you’re not allowed to see it until the day of the party.’

‘But that’s five days away,’ he complained. ‘How about we just call it my early birthday present?’

‘But you don’t like celebrating your birthday, remember?’

‘I changed my mind,’ he said quickly. ‘I love celebrating my birthday. In fact, I think it deserves a week-long celebration.’

I laughed at his sudden change of opinion all based on the promise of seeing me in a sexy dress, but I really did want to wait to make a grand entrance at the party and watch his mouth drop open when I walked down to him. ‘Just wait until Saturday.’

He sighed. ‘Fine.’

WE ENDED up ordering in dinner after all since it started raining and we didn’t feel like going outside. We ate our tacos and salad at the small table in the corner of my room and then cuddled up on my bed to watch the latest murder mystery movie together, alternating between watching it on my laptop and kissing when it got to the slower parts.

The dorm mom, Heather, walked past my room every twenty minutes or so to make sure we were behaving since she knew Carter was in here. But because my room was at the end of the hall and not many other people had a reason to come this far down, it still felt like we had a good amount of privacy for our movie/make-out session.

I was just unbuttoning Carter’s shirt when Elyse barged into the room.

I wanted to remind her about the importance of knocking before swinging the door wide open, which was how we warned each other that someone was about to come in and hopefully avoid walking in on a make-out session. But when her jaw dropped at the sight of Carter and me, I figured her shock was probably a good-enough reminder of its own.

‘You might want to stop what you’re doing,’ Elyse said when she noticed that Carter’s shirt was already halfway unbuttoned, revealing a good amount of his light brown, muscled chest.

‘And why would I want to do that?’ I asked, because I was pretty sure I’d been doing exactly what I wanted to do right now.

But Carter, being the gentlemanly sort, got himself back to a sitting position and turned around so he could sit up on the end of my bed. ‘Is something wrong?’ he asked, buttoning his shirt up again.

It was then that I noticed Elyse seemed more agitated than usual. She bit her lip and held out the papers she’d brought with her. ‘I think I figured out who our dad is.’


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