Need You Now
One night or the rest of their lives.
Jake Benefield knows he has to let go of the crush he’s had on Logan Riley for four long years. He leaves to pursue a graduate degree only to discover love and loss.
Home again, the last thing he expects is for Logan to confess his feelings for him.
Can their friendship survive a cold winter one night stand or is Logan looking for more than Jake is ready to give him?
"A toast, to my best friend in the world, Jake Benefield, who finally decided to haul his ass back home, hopefully for good. Glad to have you back, buddy." Logan Riley lifted an overfull glass of wine into the air and saluted. Cheers and clapping and a few "hear-hears" mixed with "fucking-As" erupted in the small room.
I tried not to turn three shades of red at the attention. After all, I'd only been gone for a little more than two years. Even then, I'd come home to visit several times and Logan had visited me as many times as his own schedule would allow. "Come on, cut it out, guys, it's not like I went off to war or something. And I saw all of you at least twice in the past year."
I sat on the ancient low-slung couch Logan and I had "procured" for our dorm room freshman year. The party room. Back then, the couch had legs and the cushions were still firm and comfortable. A spring poked through the cushion I sat on and the thing reeked to high heaven.
"We know, Jake honey, but we missed you so much," Darla Coulter cooed as she tried to climb into my lap. I wiggled her away with a smile. She was just drunk enough to smile back at me with huge blue eyes. Darla was without a doubt my one and only mistake. From high school all the way through college, she'd tried to get my attention and I'd let her go on believing she had it. I sighed when she settled her hand on my knee.
Logan looked at me strangely and cocked his head to the side. At first I thought I detected anger in his eyes, but then Logan smiled that infectious smile of his and held up his now half-empty glass in a mock salute. I returned the smile, hoping Logan couldn't read what I was thinking on my face. Logan seemed so different. Always having a drink handy and too many girls hanging all over him. Well, that was the same, except maybe tonight there appeared to be more drink and fewer women. That wasn't all that out of the ordinary when it came to Logan. No, there was something else. Something not quite right about Logan. I noticed it all night but damned if I could put my finger on what it was.
"And I missed y'all. All of y'all. Glad to be home. And warm. It's cold in New Jersey. Damned cold." I let Darla squeeze my knee, her hand settling inside my thigh. I didn't flinch this time. Let her have her moment of victory. "Nice to be back."
Minutes turned to hours, people came and people went, some drunk, others not so much. I kept to soda or water, pretending to add something with a little more kick when someone came into the kitchen. I didn't drink anymore. Drinking had cost me too much and at twenty-seven that was more than I wanted to deal with. It wasn't like I'd driven that night. Michael had. Michael had been drunk and I'd been drunker. It was amazing that we hadn't killed anyone. The telephone pole survived—Michael hadn't. And I was damned lucky to be alive.
No one knew that. Not even Logan. Especially not Logan. I stopped telling Logan everything about my life the day I decided I couldn't live with the man anymore. Logan hadn't done anything. Anything besides sex on the couch with Darla at one in the afternoon. They'd both been drunk and waiting for me to get out of class, so why not take advantage of all that waiting. Darla hadn't been my girl and it was more than clear that Logan wasn't in any way close to getting a boner for me, so what did I care? But there it was—my high-school best friend and my new best friend fucking on the sofa. Four years. After four years of a stupid crush that would never be returned, I moved out. Darla had thought it was because of her and so had Logan.
Well, it was because of her, but not in the way either of them thought. After graduation, I'd gotten a singles apartment just off campus and went to grad school while Logan went on the search for gainful employment. He'd ended up keeping his job as a waiter while going to bartending school since the economy sucked and a BA in communications was probably the suckiest degree to have in a sucky economy. So he'd become a mixologist, as he called it, as I'd slaved away in the master's program.
We hadn't seen each other often in those two years. I'd gone to class during the day and studied at night. Logan had slept during the day and worked at night. No one had noticed that we didn't have much to say to each other anymore. Except maybe Logan, but he'd been too busy banging bar bunnies to care. Darla had gone back to our hometown and married a guy from school. That was four years ago. Now, she was divorced—divorced and oh so happy that I was home.
I wasn't so sure I was happy to be home. I hadn't planned to come back. But after the accident and after I gave up trying to complete the doctorate, I had to do something. That something came in the form of a teaching position at a private high school back here. History, I was going to teach history of all things. And abnormal psychology. Among other things that tickled me. History and abnormal psych, what a combo.
Logan had shown up at my hotel that afternoon. I'd been so damned happy to see him, I'd let Logan drag me out to the bar he worked at under the guise of catching up, but so many of our friends from school had been there. It had been a setup with Logan smiling like a dufus in the middle of everything. The party had spilled over to Logan's house not far away. That had been hours ago. Most of our friends had long ago gone home. Just a handful remained. Darla included.
"Jake?" I tuned back in when Darla licked my earlobe. "I am so glad you're home."
"Yeah, Darla, me too," I said softly, though I lied. I knew I lied. I didn't want to be here anymore than I wanted to be in Princeton. I wasn't sure I wanted to be anywhere. Here was better than nowhere.
"You want to maybe come stay with me? I know you're looking for a place of your own, but I have a big house and no one to share it with. And we could get to know each other again." Her voice was low, her breath warm on my neck. She smelled of liquor and desperation.
I moved her hands off my shoulder as gently as I could. "Thanks, Darla, I appreciate the offer but right now I'd like to see if I can find something closer."
"Sure, I understand, it's an hour away and I wouldn't want to drive an hour either, just thought I'd offer, you know." Her lush red lips curled into a pout just as Logan started banging his glass with a knife. Shit, not another toast.
"Okay, gang, it's pumpkin time. Thank you all for coming, Jake and I are so happy to see you guys. But now it's time to go home. Drunk people...you need to find a ride. 'Cause I'm not giving you your keys and I know who you are," Logan shouted over the moans and boos. Relief washed over me. I hadn't been in a crowd this large—willingly—in months and was on edge. Too much alcohol, too many hands touching me, too many memories that I didn't want. I was beginning to feel twitchy.
I gave Darla a farewell hug and went to say goodbye to Logan. I just wanted to go back to my hotel and crash. I had an appointment with a realtor in the morning to look at houses. Michael left me a small life insurance policy, enough for a fixer-upper. I hadn't known about the policy. His sister had told me, or rather she'd slammed down the paperwork the day after the accident while she called me a nasty name. After I'd paid for Michael's funeral, the rest was mine to keep. I'd held on to it for a year. Couldn't decide whether to keep it and use it, or donate it to charity. We had only been together for a year. One small, little year.
I touched Logan's arm, drawing his attention away from the petite redhead he was flirting with at the door. He was dangling her keys in front of her face and then taking them away. Funny, I don't recall ever having a petite redhead in our circle of friends.