Chapter 4: Lauren

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"I know, Mom. I appreciate it." Embarrassing or not, her mother cared enough to ask and that meant the world to Lauren.

Mom's smile thinned as she nodded. "Now. Before your father gets home, can we discuss Josh Alexander? I've seen the pictures of you two from Prom."

"It's no big deal." Lauren tried to figure out what Mom was getting at. "I told you he stepped in after Bruce dumped me."

"Yes. Well." Mom took a sip from her mug. "Billie came over for coffee this afternoon."

The dots connected suddenly and her heart raced. "We're just friends, Mom."

Mom smiled. "I know it can be exciting when an older friend pays special attention to you, but I don't want you to get hurt. It's easy to become attached to someone you're intimate with."

Mom's warning echoed the one she'd given herself daily over the last week. It was just chemistry, she told herself. Fun while it fizzed, then flat when it fizzled. Lauren had forced herself to accept the limits of what Josh had offered. In fact, she never intended to contact him until he showed up at his parents' house Wednesday night. Knowing he was across the street had fueled her imagination until she gave in to temptation and texted him.

Despite the pretense she'd offered when she got there, Josh had made a good sounding board for Breezy's situation. The impulsive invitation to join them on Saturday had leapt out of her mouth. Then she found out his college friends had given him a hard time because he'd taken her to Prom. Even worse, Gillian had asked to meet her. The idea made Lauren want to gag. It was bad enough knowing he hooked up with her, but Lauren would rather claw Gillian's eyes out than do that.

"Trust me, I'm not attached." Lauren's chest tightened. She was trapped between the amazing connection she felt to Josh and his three rules. It was time to escape. "He was just a friend-in-need."

"But Billie thought —"

"Look, Josh was really good in bed, okay? That's it." Lauren dropped that on the table to halt the discussion and Mom's mouth snapped shut in response. "I don't want a relationship with him," she lied.

"Okay," Mom whispered as she pulled out her cell phone. "Just promise me you'll be careful."

"I will." Lauren stood. "I'm gonna get started on my homework before I have to go babysit."

She grabbed her books on the way out of the kitchen. The tightness in her chest relaxed when she entered her room. She dropped the books on her bed and toed off her sneakers as she sat in her desk chair.

Moving the mouse to wake her computer, she entered the password to unlock the screen. Dozens of message notifications demanded attention, so she quickly scanned through them. Ever since Prom she'd been inundated with friend requests. The last two days had broken all records and she had no idea why other than maybe people had heard what happened at Prom.

One name in the request list stopped her—Gillian Connors. Lauren clicked to see her profile out of morbid curiosity and saw she went to the same college as Josh. It had to be her. She was cute, but Lauren had imagined someone tall, blonde, and gorgeous. The picture on her profile page showed someone sandy-haired, with a scattering of freckles across her nose. She was more athletic than slim, with broad shoulders and a larger bust than her own.

It was almost a relief to see what she looked like, but then doubts began to eat at her heart. Josh had kissed those lips. She'd probably fucked him a hundred times. Had he been as tender with Gillian as he had been with her? Had he cum the same way, pouring himself into her body with that warm splash of pleasure Lauren loved? Is he with her tonight?

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