Off Limits

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Chapter One

I have big plans for the summer. Now, if I can make it all come together…

My legs quiver like Jell-O as I clamber over the last boulder on the east side of Eagle Lake.

Eric reaches for my hand, his sandy blond hair slicked back at the roots with sweat. This should gross me out, but for some reason he looks really hot, all sweaty and disheveled. He’s not wearing his shirt, and the close proximity to his muscled chest ignites dirty thoughts of sneaking off behind a boulder and having my way with him.

My gaze rakes his ripped abs. Long cargo shorts hang low on his hips, providing a perfect view of the vee of muscles between his hipbones.

He squeezes my hand and I glance up. His mouth twists. “Naughty.”

“What?” My expression is all innocence, but he knows me. Later, I plan to investigate those muscles with my tongue.

Speaking of later, where the heck is Genevieve? We’ll be up here all day if she doesn’t hurry it up.

It’s our first hike in Lake Tahoe since our arrival a few days ago, but Gen should be in better shape than this. She’s a runner and athletic, whereas I avoid the gym like I’m allergic to spandex.

I should probably cut her some slack. The altitude in Lake Tahoe is higher than what she’s used to, the air thinner. But I won’t, because her reactions are too hilarious when I don’t.

I peek back. She’s just now cresting the stones before the lake. “Light a fire under it, Gen!”

She glances up and swipes her forehead, her chest rising and falling with each deep gulp of air. Her lips pinch and I think her nostrils flare. She crosses her arms and glares.

I smile back.

Instead of moving toward me, though, Gen drops her arms to her sides and takes an unsteady step in the direction of the water. She crouches among the large rocks and I can’t see her anymore. A stone flies from her direction into the lake, sending out tiny waves.

I might razz my best friend, but she can hold her own. Taking a break when she knows I want her to hurry her ass up, a case in point.

This could be a while.

I turn and meander toward Eric, who’s now several feet ahead, the idyllic, small alpine lake providing a perfect backdrop for his masculine beauty. I stop for a moment, taking in the sexy picture, and consider all the things I want to achieve this summer.

My goal in returning to my hometown is to immerse Gen in Lake Tahoe and lift her spirits, hopefully in the form of a cute summer fling. Gen just discovered—brutally, embarrassingly—that the guy she dated during our last year of college had a girlfriend back home. The bastard showed up with the other girl at the local bar during our last week of school.

Gen didn’t cry or drunk-dial him like any self-respecting twenty-one-year-old would; she went quiet, which is worse. He totally broke her heart, and I worry he broke her trust in men along with it.

The only positive is that she never has to see the A-hole again. We’re done with college, and thanks to my Tahoe connections, I’ve secured us jobs at a casino for the summer before grad school.

Graduate school. I squeeze my middle and take a deep breath. For some reason, lately, every time I think about the future, my gut wrenches to the side.

Tahoe is the perfect place to get Gen’s mind off the A-hole and for us to spend quality time together before we go our separate ways in the fall. And maybe it’s the perfect place for me to get my head on straight. Because I need to be excited for what’s ahead. Right now, the idea of law school makes me itchy.

Eric stops at a swath of gravel and yanks off his backpack. He lays out towels and I make my way over. I sit and pull up my knees below my chin, arms wrapped around my shins, trying to not think about the future.

Several minutes pass, and there’s still no sign of Gen. Is she really that tired from the hike?

I glance over my shoulder. I can’t see her, and the water where she’d crouched is like glass. My pulse flutters. It’s been too long.

Rocking forward, I push to my feet. “Gen!”

She stands several yards away and raises her hand, ambling toward me like she’s on a Sunday drive.

I slump back to my spot and Eric steps beside me, his tall figure casting a shadow. “Serves you right for teasing her.” The sound of crunching comes from above, and crumbs rain down into my lap.

I flick off a few with my thumb and forefinger. “Tarzan, you want to take your chow somewhere else?”

“Sorry,” he mumbles, granola sticking to his lips.

I shake my head and smile. “I forgot to mention, my work schedule at the casino will be Tuesday through Saturday.”

We’ve only been here a few days, but Gen and I start work next week and I’m mildly nervous about the counting element of my job as a dealer. Which makes me sound mentally challenged. I’m not—I just seriously suck at easy math. I can write a ten-page essay on the women’s movement post industrialization in under an hour, dissect a frog, or explain Keynesian economics, but ask me to add numbers together and my brain blows a fuse. I tend to overprocess the simple concepts.

The sound of mastication has ceased—the only sign that Eric heard me. He’s moved a few feet away, his back to me as he stares out at the water.

“Saturdays will be good tip nights,” I add, “but it stinks that my schedule will cut into our weekends together.”

Weekdays were too busy with classes and Eric’s fraternity obligations back at school, but we hung out every weekend.

He turns, unloads drinks from his backpack, and takes off his shoes. He stretches his arms above his head with a lazy yawn.

“That won’t be a problem, will it?” I say. “You don’t have classes Friday through Monday. You can still visit on the weekends if you want.”

Though we’re the same age, Eric has been a bit of a slacker. He’s taking summer classes so he can officially graduate.

He shrugs and picks up a smooth, flat rock from the shore. He flicks it with his wrist out at the water. The stone skips across the surface for several beats before sinking. “Work as much as you like. You want to save money for your fancy grad school. I’ll be busy with classes.”

Kind of a noncommittal response, and a bit snarky. Eric’s never been enthusiastic about me attending law school, but he’s also never put me down for it. We haven’t discussed the future, but I figured we’d do the long-distance thing while I’m away.

Suddenly, the rift between us these last couple of weeks—and the sexual dry spell I’d attributed to end-of-school-year stress—takes on new meaning. Was he pushing me away?

I don’t do passive, so I ask, “You think you’ll be able to make it up next weekend?”

Eric rummages around in his backpack. “Probably not.” He raises his head and waves to Gen, who finally nears. “I’ve been assigned my first project. I’m meeting with study partners next weekend. Then there’s a party with the guys.”

We’ve been together for two years and have never been attached at the hip, but the way Eric’s avoiding my eyes and the tension I sense from him has me on high alert. He’d say if something was wrong, wouldn’t he?

Gen drops her backpack on my towel with a thud, her face red, her mouth turned down.

I mentally pause from overanalyzing Eric to consider my BF.

Now Gen’s upset too? I razzed her earlier, sure, but she’s used to that, and she dishes it back in equal doses.

Was she thinking about the A-hole? Is that what took her so long and why she looks like someone stole her puppy?

I lift my chin, eyebrows drawn together, questioning. She shakes her head, but the troubled look on her face remains.

Eric sits beside me and rubs my shoulders a little too roughly. “Going for a quick dip—anyone want to join me?” He looks from me to Gen.

“Too cold,” I blurt absently.

“Didn’t bring my bathing suit,” Gen says without looking up. She scoops a handful of gravel and pours it slowly onto the ground.

Eric leans over my shoulder and grins lewdly. “Feel free to go in the buff, Gen. I don’t mind.”

Gen flinches, and I elbow Eric in the ribs. Ass. Can’t he see something’s bothering her?

He laughs and strides to the water’s edge.

His stupid comment has one positive effect. It’s wiped the depressed look from Gen’s face.

She shakes her head at his retreating back, her expression annoyed. “Do your hormones ever cease firing?”

“Never,” he shouts over his shoulder.

He jogs the last few feet to the water and dives in. The water is cold enough to shrivel his balls into tiny grapes, but he appears unfazed, skimming the lake in smooth strokes toward a giant boulder in the center.

Gen and I sit in silence as Eric climbs atop the rock like he’s Columbus discovering the New World.

She drops the gravel and brushes off her hands on her shorts. “How are things with him?” She balances her arms on her knees in a pose similar to mine, and stares at her feet.

First, the thing she’s not mentioning that’s upsetting her, and now the random question about Eric?

She fumbles with the edge of my towel. “You ever worry about him? With—I don’t know—other girls back at school?” She holds up a hand. “He was joking earlier—about the naked swimming thing. But…”

Seriously, where is this coming from? I don’t like the concerned look on her face. She must be projecting. She’s had a shitty time of it, and now she thinks all guys are like the A-hole.

“We’re good, Gen.”

She lets out a slow breath. “Okay.” She sends me a warm smile and my stomach sinks.

Shit. Are Eric and I fine?

Things didn’t feel fine a moment ago. I’ve never worried about him, but I’ve been busy. Now that school has ended, have things changed?

I give my head a small shake. I’m overreacting. Eric and I will spend time together at the lake and get back on track.

Lines of strain form around Gen’s mouth.

“What about you?” I ask. “Ready to start dating again?”

She digs her heels into the gravel. “Sure. At some point.”

Gen has said this before, but it’s been a month since she got her heart crushed. Not long enough to heal, but sometimes getting back out there is the only way to pull out of a slump.

Eric splashes toward us, droplets running down his toned chest as he exits the water. I smile at him, and he grins back.

Eric and I are good. Of course we’re good. Gen will be good too. As soon as I find her a nice guy.

Gen is smart, beautiful, and funny as hell, though she doesn’t try to be, which makes her even more hilarious. I’m lucky to have a solid boyfriend, and I want that for her.

With the extra seasonal help at the casino this summer, there should be at least a few decent prospects. If not, we’ll scout the local hotspots and see who’s around.

Most of my friends from Tahoe are either still in college or have found jobs in the city, but the populace of a vacation town is ever-changing. Lots of dating possibilities. I’ll find someone for Gen, or at least distract her from the slump she’s in and show her a good time.

Lake Tahoe is all about the high. How can I fail?