“Stop. Stop. I’m going to pee my pants.” Andi Miller gasped between bouts of hysterical laughter. She swiped tears from her cheeks as her three obnoxiously adorable roommates demonstrated their best attempts at twerking from various places around their kitchen. Sadly, Simon could definitely shake his ass better than she could. He put on quite a show from his perch atop their rickety table, threatening to turn it into kindling with sharp swings of his hips. The guy could easily have paid his portion of the rent and then some if he’d gotten a job as a go-go dancer.
“We’re only trying to help.” Cooper punched Simon in the leg then grappled him to the floor. If she didn’t act fast, this could deteriorate into another of their infamous wrestling matches. The last one of those had resulted in the annihilation of a beanbag chair. She was still discovering tiny foam beads scattered throughout their apartment months later.
“I mean, it’s not like you’ve come out of your room long enough to pick up any of our moves in the past four years, with all that studying you insisted on doing. You don’t want to get embarrassed on the floor tonight, do you?” Reed asked as he simulated humping a cabinet.
Well, that wouldn’t be a problem, seeing as she hadn’t quite told them the truth about her destination for the evening. Dance club, hook-up spot—same difference, right?
Their over-protectiveness made her white lie necessary.
Besides, she owed them the same courtesy they showed her when it came to keeping their sex lives separate from their home lives.
The guys never brought women to the apartment. Or at least they hadn’t in ages. Not since early in the first semester of their freshman year when one of their one-night stands—to this day, they wouldn’t tell her which of them had slept with the poor girl—had tried to make herself some morning-after breakfast and ended up with a black eye courtesy of Andi’s fist.
Hey, how was she supposed to have known it wasn’t an intruder out there whipping up a frittata before absconding into the night with their meager college-grade possessions? Milk crate furniture might be hot on the black market for all Andi knew. If some of the oomph propelling her swing had actually been fueled by jealousy instead of fear, she’d hidden that pathetic fact as best she could from both herself and her roommates.
Ruining their friendships wasn’t on her agenda. She wasn’t the sort of girl who knew how to screw around then act like sex had been no big deal. Though she had chemistry with each of her roommates, how awkward would it have been to have followed through on it and slept with one of them?
Takeout and movie nights with the others would never have been the same.
Andi admitted it. She was sheltered as fuck. Though her vocabulary had gotten a hell of a lot more colorful as a result of her co-habbing with this trio of idiots for the past four years, she hadn’t done a lot of exploring relationship-wise. After all, she spent most of her free time with Cooper, Reed and Simon. Who would approach her with those three hovering over her, snarling and baring their teeth at any guy who got too close?
God, she was going to miss them.
The thought of giving up their second-to-last Saturday night together had her rethinking her plans. Except this might be her last chance to eliminate her regrets about not having a single fling during her college experience. It would help round out her academic studies and the rewarding social experiment living with three dudes had turned out to be.
This was supposed to be her training ground for the real world.
Now that she’d accomplished the majority of her goals—by graduating at the top of her class and scoring a prime position in her field—maybe she could make some time to fill the emptiness growing inside her as she accepted that she’d be forging out on her own soon. The lack of a relationship hadn’t bothered her so much when she’d had school and her roommates’ friendship to occupy her.
All of that was changing.
So was she.
Andi wanted to be ready for what came next.
“Was it that good for you?” Simon flashed a wicked smile as he teased her.
“Huh?” She snapped herself out of her daze.
“Oh, yeah. Definitely. It was so hot I need to go take a shower.” She rolled her eyes and giggled some more as she abandoned the kitchen for their shared bathroom. If she was sweating a little, it was surely from nerves over what she was about to do, not because they’d affected her.
She scrubbed herself then spent a while drying and curling her hair before applying what dashes of makeup she owned—a bit of mascara and some nude lip gloss. The whole time, she kept wondering what tonight might be like if she could spend it with someone she knew and trusted instead of gambling on a blind date set up by her well-meaning chemistry lab partner.
Andi bit her lip then harrumphed and fixed the damage, at least mentally reminding herself not to rub her eyes before she could wreck them too. She sighed then rested her forehead on the door, praying for some direction. Was she making a mistake? Or would it be an even bigger one to pursue the foolish ideas tempting her to feel out her roommates about her proposition?
Before she could make up her mind, a rap on the door rattled her brains.
“Ouch. Fuck.” She stumbled back.
“Yo, Andi. Quit hogging. I drank three beers with dinner, and I gotta piss,” Reed groaned. “I forgot what it’s like to wait on someone trying to be girly.”
Aaaaaaaaand… That sealed the deal.
They were too much like brothers to ever see her as a woman. Which was exactly how she’d wanted things while they lived together. She grinned as she opened the door.
Reed squashed past her in the doorway, wedging them together when he froze. “Damn. Uh, you look…great.”
“The magic of wearing something other than sweats and one of your roommates’ old shirts sans a bra.” She shrugged.
“I kind of prefer the no-bra part.” Simon waggled his brows from where he scarfed another helping of now-cold pizza for second dinner.
When she turned to him with a smile, he paused mid-bite.
“What?” Andi finger-combed her hair as she stepped from the bathroom so Reed could relieve himself in peace. Not that the guys didn’t invade her privacy often when she was in the shower, or vice versa. The trials of a single bathroom for four people had absolutely played a part in her collegiate years.
“I told you,” Reed shouted through the door.
“They’re right. You’re hot.” Cooper took her hand and spun her around. “I’m not sure we should let you go out like this, young lady.”
“Whatever, Dad.” She chuckled until he finished twirling her, though it hadn’t entirely been a joke. With her parents both gone, these guys had stepped up and filled a huge, painful void as best they could. They were, and always would be, her family.
In the heels Andi had borrowed, she was closer to Cooper’s height. Meeting his warm stare, she caught the spark of something serious there.
Could he actually be attracted to her?
She knew each of them appealed to her in various ways—Cooper’s gentlemanliness and tact, Simon’s playfulness and daring, Reed’s sense of responsibility and control.
As if a sliver of possibility was the only prompt her subconscious required, she blurted the thoughts that had been haunting her for the past hour. Okay, longer than that. At least since she’d agreed to this outing. Probably since the day she co-signed their lease.
“Maybe you guys should come out too?” She prided herself on the fact that she only stammered a little when she said, “Or I could stay home and we could have a private party instead.”
Simon blinked at her, the pizza still lodged half-inside his mouth.
Cooper’s fingers tightened around hers. His other hand landed at her waist to steady her. But he didn’t say anything.
The door opening behind her broke the moment, forcing them apart.
Reed emerged as the toilet finished flushing in the background. It was as if her silly dreams circled the bowl then vanished down their clanky pipes when he grimaced. “What’s that? Don’t back out now. You’ve been looking forward to tonight all week. It’s about time you cut loose. On your own. You’ve earned this.”
“Oh. Okay.” If they noticed the tremble in her faux smile, they didn’t call her on it.
Andi decided to quit fucking around. Playing a game where she didn’t know the rules was a sure way to lose. Reed was right. She had to learn to stand on her own, without leaning on them. Because in a matter of days, they wouldn’t be part of her everyday existence anymore.
Graduation was a week away.
Her new life, the one where she’d be a lab tech in a prestigious pharmaceutical research firm—one that didn’t include her roommates—was calling.
“Go ahead. Have fun,” Simon said around a mouthful of pepperoni. “Besides, we’ve already—”
Cooper cleared his throat, but it was too late. She realized they must have dates. Of course they did.
“Hey, you’ll be fine,” he promised. He looked away before adding, “You don’t need us.”
Andi swallowed around the lump in her throat. She took a step forward and then another before grabbing her wristlet and keys out of the bowl at the end of the countertop. If she was going to do this, she couldn’t linger. Otherwise, she’d never convince herself to leave.
“Be safe!” Reed shouted as she closed the door softly behind her, determined not to let the stinging of her eyes turn into real tears and screw up her mascara.