Finding Me (3 page)

Owen was not at all what I’d expected him to be. Instead of a conceited jock, the Owen I spoke to was sweet and humble. He didn’t throw cheesy lines at me, and the way embarrassment flashed across his face when he admitted he walked out of his way just to talk to me was nothing short of adorable.

I let out a long sigh as I climbed the stairs to my English class. I had a feeling Owen would get to me in a big way, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that yet. I smiled to myself recalling the twang in his voice when he called me ‘City.’ If I wasn’t ready for it, there was no crime in enjoying the hell out of it, right?

Because, God help me, I already was.

Bella

THE THUMPING OF THE BASS
out of the speakers was giving me a headache. I nursed my red solo cup of tepid beer and winced every time I brought it to my lips. I hated beer, but needed something in my hands as I wandered around the room. Laura was next to the keg, animatedly chatting with a few friends from her music class as I surveyed the crowd that was here. Your typical frat party, I supposed, even though this was my first one. Scantily clad pretty girls hung all over the hot guys in the room. I studied them with equal parts embarrassment and jealousy coursing through my system. I pictured my ex-boyfriend discovering parties like this after he left for college. Had I really believed he would resist all the new temptation at his fingertips because of me?

Laura bounced over to me. She was having fun and I didn’t want to ruin it. This was part of the college experience, after all, and the only way I would stop feeling like a fish out of water was to jump right in. I took a deep breath and gave her my best face cracking smile.

“Do you want to leave, Bella? You look a little miserable. I’m sorry I dragged you here, but I thought it would be a good way to meet new people.”

“I’m not miserable, Laura. You’re completely right. It’s just . . . a long story. Who were you talking to? He’s hot.”

Laura’s cheeks flushed as she grinned at me. “That’s Connor. He plays guitar too, and just suggested we play together sometime. Some of the music students have jam parties and he said he’d let me know when the next one was.” Laura beamed at me as she shook her head. “Other people who like music and don’t think I’m screwing around studying it in school. I shouldn’t be this happy to be so far away from home, right?”

I chuckled and nodded. “I know exactly what you mean.” I raised my piss warm beer in a toast. “To leaving home for better things, and finding them!”

Laura tapped her cup against mine. “You said it, sister!”

“There she is!” I craned my head as Owen came up behind me and wrapped his arm around my shoulder.

“Who is this pretty girl, Owen? Another one of your groupies?” I recognized the guy next to Owen from campus. He wasn’t bad looking with his dark hair and muscular build, but the smirk on his face made me uneasy. My skin crawled as his eyes traveled up and down my body. Owen’s expression hardened as he gave his arm a possessive yank and pulled me closer. His claiming gesture didn’t make much sense, but I was relieved to have the barrier.

“This is the beautiful angel who’s going to save me in accounting. Bella, this creepy asshole is Richie.” Owen shoved Richie’s shoulder which only made him laugh in response.

“Wow, she really is beautiful. Nice to meet you, Bella.” Richie picked up my hand to kiss my wrist. I tried to cover up my disgust with a forced smile. There was something about Richie I couldn’t put my finger on, but Owen hit the nail on the head with creepy.

“C’mon, Bella. I’ll get you a refill.” Owen put his hand on the small of my back as he led me away.

“Sorry about that,” he whispered when we were out of earshot. “Richie is a little—”

“Slimy?” I raised my eyebrows as Owen handed me a new cup to refill.

He chuckled and shrugged. “That’s one way to look at it. He’s our goalie. Awesome player but a little full of himself, and likes to try to take girls away from me. It’s a sick competition that’s all in his head. Anyway, enough about him. Still okay to meet tomorrow?”

I nodded and took a sip. It tasted just as nasty cold as it did warm. Owen burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” I scowled at him, which only made him laugh harder.

“Not a fan of beer, are you? Every time you take a drink, that cute little face scrunches up.” Owen tapped my chin with his finger. “It’s pretty adorable.”

“Adorable?” I cocked an eyebrow at him and he snickered back.

“You getting mad at me for calling you cute only makes you even cuter. Sorry, City.”

I fought the smile tugging at my lips. “What am I, a puppy dog? Are you going to pet me now?” Owen choked on his beer as I froze.
Oh, God
. Did I really just ask Owen to pet me? My cheeks heated as the humiliation sank in.

Owen’s chest shook with laughter as he leaned in closer. “We can see how much time we have after our study date tomorrow. Although making that kind of an offer already has me pretty distracted.” I shivered at the husky rasp of his voice. The boy was walking sex, and it both excited and irritated me.

“Seriously, Bella. Thank you for helping me. I appreciate it.” He grabbed my arm and ran his thumb back and forth over my shoulder. Gooseflesh broke out across my exposed skin and I jerked away before Owen noticed.

“Hey, OT! We got a good game of beer pong going on. I would
love
you on my team.” A well-endowed blonde in a microscopic denim skirt slithered next to Owen and clutched his forearm.

“Hey, Christine. Maybe later, I was just—”

“It’s okay, Owen.” I turned to leave but he grabbed onto my wrist.

“Don’t leave me, City. I’ll see if I can find you a drink that doesn’t make you cringe.”

I laughed and shook my head. “That’s okay. Go ahead, and I’ll see you in front of the library at four.” I nodded to where Christine was ogling Owen’s back.

His expression fell but he regarded me with a warm smile. “Yes, ma’am.” He brought two fingers to his forehead in a mock salute.

“See you tomorrow!” My words came out quick and jumbled. I met Laura’s gaze across the room and mouthed I was ready to leave. She nodded and pointed to the door.

Owen made his way to the beer pong table and I let out a long sigh. Christine followed him like a horny puppy dog, and every female eye tracked him around the room. How was I going to help him when any interaction we had left me a flustered hot mess? I took one last glimpse behind me as I turned to leave. Christine was pulling at his arm to make him look her way, but he wasn’t paying attention. His eyes were still fixed on me.

Bella

AS I STROLLED TO THE
library, the growing knot that took residence in my stomach earlier today coiled tighter. Why was I so nervous? Owen was just a guy. He put on his pants one mouthwatering muscular leg at a time like everyone else. I tutored students in math all the time in high school. Granted, they were mostly younger than I was. It was ridiculous to feel so on edge. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans when I noticed Owen standing in front of the library.

His smile grew as he watched me approach. The gleam in his eyes made my stomach flop. Maybe this would go better if I didn’t look directly
at
him. He wore the bandana again and looked frigging scrumptious with his ripped jeans and a snug white sleeveless shirt. Explaining ledgers would be a crap ton easier with that glorious body not in my line of sight.

“If it isn’t the world’s prettiest accountant?” Owen’s full lips stretched into a wide grin while I glared in his direction. He sure knew how to lay it on thick.

I rolled my eyes. “No need to butter me up. Ready to go in? We should be able to get a study room on the second floor.”

Owen nodded as he opened the door and held it open for me to walk through. I never saw chivalry in actual practice before. “You want me all to yourself? No arguments here. All yours, City.” He winked at me and laughed as I strolled through the door.

I turned and narrowed my eyes once I was inside. “I thought a separate room would be easier to go over things with you and have you ask questions. I think you have me confused with the other ninety percent of girls on campus who yearn for your undivided attention. I’m here to help you.” Owen winced and guilt immediately washed over me. I was dealing with my nerves by being a bitch. I let out a long sigh and turned back to Owen. “What I meant was—”

“No, it’s okay, Bella. I get it. The room in the corner looks empty.” He nodded to the glass-walled room at the end of the floor. The crestfallen expression on his face made my chest constrict.

I plopped my bag on the table after we made our way into the room. “Okay, so what do you usually have the most trouble with in accounting?” I dug out my notebook. “We can do the homework assignment together and see where you need the most help.”

“Honestly, it’s hard to stay interested. Any math class I’ve had, my mind tends to wander.”

I nodded. “And when that happens, you miss a couple of steps and the rest is hard to grasp. Try it yourself and we can go over it when you’re done. Sound good?”

A small smile spread across Owen’s face; there were the dimples again—
look away, look away
. “You sound like a good teacher. I knew I came to the right place.” I grinned in spite of myself. His playful flirting had an odd sincerity to it.

We worked in silence, and when he showed me his work I was a little impressed. He had a couple of questions but didn’t seem terribly lost.

“Okay, this is good. We can go over the homework when we meet and make sure you remember all the steps from class in case your mind goes elsewhere.” I raised my eyebrows at Owen and he chuckled.

“I like that plan. I feel better already. We can meet in the afternoons after class if you’re free.”

It seemed odd to want to meet twice a week if he really wasn’t lost, but I shrugged and agreed. “If you want, sure. I need to make sure the mighty OT keeps his good grades so he can continue his path to the NHL.” Owen laughed and I felt better about being so mean at the start of our study date.

“I love to play, but I doubt the NHL is where I’ll end up.”

I furrowed my brow at Owen. “Why?”

“First of all, our team isn’t a contender this year. Scouts won’t be gunning for us like they will be for other schools. And my dad was on this path when he was my age, and got hurt and couldn’t keep playing. If he hadn’t kept up with his schoolwork, he would have been screwed.”

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