The Bet

By: Rachel Van Dyken

Chapter Three





“Are you out of your mind?” Travis yelled. “You blackmailed and then hired Kacey? As in the same Kacey you used to take baths with? That Kacey?”

Jake wasn’t in the mood to defend himself to his brother. Seriously, why was it such a big deal? So what that he’d called in a favor. “Sorry, man, I have a lot of work tonight. Can we do this later?”

Travis was silent for a while, which really wasn’t a good sign. It meant he was thinking, which meant he was probably going to get a headache and then blame Jake for it in the morning. He and Travis hadn’t talked much in the past few years. That is until their grandmother began meddling in their lives this past year. Poor Travis had been left out of it for the most part, but his number was almost up.

Out of the two brothers in the family, Travis had been the protector, the one who always played by the rules. When Jake and Kacey would set off fireworks at 2:00 a.m., Travis was always the one who took the fall. He never liked seeing Jake in trouble, or Kacey.

Which is why, when Jake messed up so horribly in college with his best friend, Travis had sworn he would never forgive him for being such an ass to the one girl who seemed to have it all. Though Jake hadn’t told Travis the real reasons they had a falling out, he assumed his brother probably thought the worst. If Jake hadn’t been so sure of Travis’s feelings towards Kacey, he would have thought his big brother had a bit of a crush on her.

But that was impossible. If anything, Travis tortured Kacey more than Jake did, which was really saying a lot, because he had pulled his fair share of pranks when he was little.

Travis, however, took the cake. A day didn’t go by where he wasn’t pulling Kacey’s hair, throwing rocks, or starting a Girls are Ugly and Stupid Club, and then electing Kacey as its mascot.

The silence on the other end of the phone broke. “I’m just not sure it’s the best idea, man. I mean, this is the girl who saw you naked before you hit puberty. Mom’s gonna know something’s up.”

“No.” Jake cursed and ran his fingers through his hair. “She won’t know because we won’t be the ones to tell her, will we, Travis?”

“You do realize that out of everyone in our family, I’m the worst liar?” Travis asked.

“No, no, you’re not. Kacey is…”

“Oh well, in that case…” Travis cursed on the other line.

“It doesn’t matter. It means too much to Kacey at this point. Plus, do you really want Grandma to die?”

“Um, she’s going to do more than die if she finds out you’re lying. Ten bucks says she has a stroke then pleads with God to let her come back to kill you herself. Trust me, if anyone’s got the in with God, it’s Grandma. Geez, He’d probably help her plan your demise…”

“Are you done? I wasn’t kidding about the work. If we’re supposed to be in Portland by Friday, I have to get all this paperwork cleared.”

Travis sighed on the other end again, probably cursing Jake to Hell for making him swear his loyalty and silence. “Fine, but when this blows up in your face, and it will, I’m feigning ignorance.”

Jake snorted. “Trust me, nobody’s going to believe you were part of such a brilliant plan.”

“Right, well, good luck. You’re going to need it.” The line went dead, leaving Jake alone with his thoughts.

Perhaps it would be best not to tell Kacey that her childhood nemesis would be present at the weekend retreat with his family. After all, if she knew Satan (her words, not his) was to make an appearance, she’d back out in a minute.

The computer hummed from the cluttered desk. He was all alone in his office with a mountain of paperwork. Paperwork he wasn’t very inclined to finish since seeing Kacey that day.

When had she grown up so much? And filled out the way she had? He let out a groan. Maybe he was just exhausted. He had plenty of other women banging down his door.

Every woman but the one who got away. What the hell? Did he really think that he let her get away? He shook his head.

It didn’t matter anymore. It was for the best. He knew after it happened that he wasn’t good for her, that she would always be looking to him to be something that he wasn’t. Kacey always had such high expectations. He was a guy, and since she had no brothers, he thought it more of a hero worship thing.

Until she gave him the look.

He was done for. The one and only time in his life he had given in to fully ruining his best friend was the same night he lost the only girl he could have ever seen himself with.

He cursed and pushed the papers off his desk.

He would have killed her spirit. She would have slowly died next to him, and he would have resented her. They would have resented each other for not being what each of them needed.

So why, in all of his brilliance, had he decided to call in a favor from her? He could have easily brought Kacey home to Grandma without this farce of an engagement. Sure, his parents wouldn’t have been nearly as happy, but it would have still been fine. Maybe he was subconsciously trying to right a wrong. Being with him could only further her likeability, but he could have paid anyone to spend the weekend with him. Hell, he probably wouldn’t have even had to pay.

Jake’s paperwork stared back at him. He left it on the floor and turned off the lights, locking his office and strolling toward the elevators.

“Why did I pick her?” Jake rubbed the back of his neck.

He pushed the button for the lobby and sighed, answering his own question. “Because she’s the only one my family would believe I had fallen madly and deeply in love with.”

****

“Ready!” Kacey threw open the door to her apartment, wearing tight-fitting running spandex, an oversized sweatshirt that fell quite nicely over her shoulder, and a messy bun.

Every man’s worst nightmare. A girl who actually looks good without trying. “And don’t worry, I packed really light!” She flashed a brilliant smile and pulled out two small bags.

Jake nodded his approval. “I must say I’m impressed.”

Kacey did a little curtsy. “I do live for your approval.”

“As you should.” Jake laughed.

“Now, bring my stuff down to the car, slave. I’m your tired fiancée, so the doting must start.”

“Doting?”

“Yup.” She pulled her door shut and locked it. “You know, you have to actually treat me like you find me attractive, sexy, the best thing to hop into your bed since—”

Kacey froze mid-sentence, a look of pure horror crossing her face. Jake didn’t know what to do, wasn’t sure if he should hug her, ignore her, or just apologize for being a complete ass over everything that went down between them.

“Um, Kace—”

“So, we should get going!” She hit him on the shoulder and jogged past him, leaving him the tedious task of carrying her luggage down three flights of stairs.

In all honesty it was like atonement for his many sins. Really, he would rather be stabbed than have to see that look of pain in Kacey’s eyes. It was as if someone had just told her Disneyland wasn’t real.

By the time he reached the car, Kacey was already waiting next to it. “Nice ride.”

“I, uh…” Why was he suddenly feeling uncomfortable about his success? “It’s good, I guess.”

He opened the door to the new SUV and helped her in. All hints of being upset had left her face. Kacey was now jabbering on about how much she liked SUVs and why he’d made a good choice, but all he could really focus on was her lips as they moved, fast and then suddenly, erotically slow.

“Did you get your lips plumped or something?” Jake interrupted. As the words left his mouth, he seriously wanted to rewind time so he could slap himself.

“My lips? Done?” Kacey laughed. “No, Jake, you’re just confused because you date so many woman who have fake lips, breasts, and hips that you forget what a real woman looks like.”

Throat suddenly dry, Jake turned away. “Right, well. Okay.”

Idiot, idiot, idiot. “So, you sure you can handle the forty-five minute flight?”

Jake thought he heard Kacey mumble “bastard” under her breath but couldn’t be sure.

“I’ll have you know that I’ve flown plenty since that little incident.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I believe you’re referring to the time I saved an old man’s life?”

“Saved his life?” Jake burst out laughing. “Kace, you almost killed him! He had a weak heart, and you kept hitting him across the chest because of the turbulence. You were mom-arming him like crazy! I’m surprised he didn’t sue you!”

“He thanked me.” Kacey lifted her chin and looked out the window.

“Um, he did nothing of the sort. He thanked me, not you. And the only reason he said “thank you” was because I put Benadryl in your soda so you’d stop freaking everyone out.”

“I knew I couldn’t have been that tired!” Kacey nearly shouted.

At Jake’s patronizing look she locked her eyes on the road in front of them and murmured, “I’ve grown up since the last time you saw me. You should know that, Jake.”

Oh, he knew it alright, he just wasn’t ready to admit it — or anything else for that matter. The girl had done a lot of growing up and he was very appreciative of said growing.

“Anyway…” Kacey let out a huff of air. “I’m not afraid of flying anymore.”

“Swear?”

“Swear.” She crossed her heart and winked.

****

Kacey gripped the seat so hard her fingers were numb. What the heck? Why were they taking so long getting the plane ready? If her forehead was pressed any tighter to the window, the glass would break.

“So, not afraid of flying anymore, hmm?” Jake’s breath tickled her ear as he pushed his body next to hers. “Liar.” His deep voice caused fluttering in her stomach. She refused to turn and look at his perfectly chiseled face. Damn him.

“How do we know they’re really doing their jobs? I mean, if checking the plane is so important, why are they all smiling?”

Jake’s warm hand cupped her chin forcefully, pulling her away from her stakeout. “People smile, Kacey, and a happy worker is a good worker. Maybe he’s just really excited about his job.”

“Or our deaths…,” Kacey mumbled to herself. Seriously! Her eyes scanned the rest of the passengers. All of them reading or talking. Why weren’t they on the lookout? I mean, as an American, it’s your job — nay, your duty — to look for suspicious characters. Her eyes darted around the small plane, landing finally on a large man who seemed to be talking into his jacket.

“Holy Hell.” Kacey grabbed Jake’s hand. “That man is talking into his jacket. Do you know what that means?”

“He’s insane?” Jake offered. “Like my fake fiancée? Seriously, Kace, if you can’t calm down I’m going to drug you again, and it’s not going to be Benadryl…”

“Fine.” Kacey leaned back and tried to relax, but the minute she closed her eyes she remembered she was still holding Jake’s hand, and he was holding hers back.

Oh crap. It was like sixth grade skate night all over again.

Only worse, because this time the song didn’t end. It was a forty-five minute plane ride, and she had started the whole thing holding his hand. What could he possibly think of her?

Jake’s thumb rubbed across her fingers delicately.

Another involuntary shiver ran down her spine. It’s not real, Kacey. Just remember it’s not real. He doesn’t really like you in that way. Do it for Grandma!

The plane began to taxi and the pressure of Jake’s hand increased just as her palm pushed into his. If the man had any feeling left in his arm at all, she would be shocked.

“Kacey?” he whispered, again dangerously close to her face.

“Hmm?” She refused to open her eyes.

“Let’s make out.”

“What!” Kacey’s eyes flashed open to see the mocking grin on Jake’s face. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’m dead serious. The way I see it, we need to have some chemistry before we get to Portland. Also, the way you’re going, they’re going to have to saw off my arm because of blood loss. So really, you’re doing me a favor all around.”

Kacey’s eyes squinted. “You’re too good-looking.”

“Wow, nice change of subject. Thank you, but not where I was going with that.”

Kacey closed her eyes again and cursed her smart best friend who had warned her of such things happening. Of course Jake had something else up his sleeve; she just didn’t think it would include him making out with her on an airplane.

Not that it sounded completely horrible or anything.

“We made out in L.A.,” he said still holding her hand.

“Oh, you dirty little liar!” Kacey laughed and pushed his hand away. “You made out with me, and after a while I participated.”

“Your tongue down my throat the minute we took off wasn’t participating?”

“Nope, it was an experiment.”

“You realize you explain everything away with an excuse, right, Kacey? How about this? I dare you.”

Kacey snorted. “To do what?”

“Make out, like we’re in high school.”

“I don’t make out.”

Jake laughed, his dimples dancing on his face. “Neither do I, sweetheart. Neither do I.”

His lips came crushing down on hers with such force that she could only relent and allow him to push her back into her seat. Hot and hungry, his mouth slanted across hers with heady need. Everything was the same. From the taste of his lips to the pressure of his tongue as it pushed into her mouth.

And then, just as she was getting ready to rub her hands through his hair, just as she had made the decision to allow her tongue the luxury of tangling with his, he pulled back.

“See?” He patted her on the hand. “Don’t you feel better now?”

His question was truly the type of thing that guys always say. Are you happy now? Do you feel better now? Wasn’t that great, baby? Seriously, the man should count himself lucky that she didn’t smack him across his gorgeous face.

“I’ve had better.” She shrugged and closed her eyes, feigning sleep, knowing it would be a long shot if he believed her to be able to sleep, flying on a death-mobile through the sky.

“I know you’re not sleeping.” Jake’s deep timbre sparked a nerve within her, making gooseflesh pop up around her arms.

“Leave me alone, man-whore. I’m trying to forget about the creepy man talking into his suit, the way too cheerful plane-checker people, and the fact that I’m willingly going into the lions’ den with a man who pays strippers. I think I deserve some shut eye, don’t you?”

Silence ensued, making Kacey think she had won… that is until she felt Jake brush his hand across her arm. “Why sleep when we could talk?”

“Yes,” Kacey said forcing her eyes to stay closed. I will not look into his hypnotic eyes. I will not look into his hypnotic eyes. “Let’s talk about the fact that you’re manipulating me as well as asking me to convince your entire family that I love you. As if that was possible. And seriously, how are they going to fall for this? Don’t you go home, ever? Aren’t they going to be suspicious when you miraculously show up with me in tow?”

Jake cleared his throat. “Not really. Say, do you need something to drink? Water? Scotch?”

Hmm, deliberate change of subject. What the hell was up Jake’s sleeve? “Jake?” Kacey used her sweet voice. “What makes you think they’ll fall for it? Really, I think I deserve to know.”

Kacey opened her eyes to see Jake staring straight ahead, no movements, just staring. In all honestly she wondered if he was breathing at all, he seemed so tense. The flight attendant showed up in time for Jake to motion for a drink.

He downed two shots of scotch but continued to stare, and the plane hadn’t even taken off yet.

“Jake?”

“Shit…” He looked down at the floor. “They don’t know… about us.”

“What do you mean?” Kacey truly was concerned he was drunk at this point. What the heck was he talking about?

Jake cursed again. “Kace, they don’t know we had somewhat of a falling out. Okay?”

“Okay?” Kacey repeated as she mumbled a curse underneath her breath. “So tell me, what do they know?”

Jake exhaled. “All they know is that we’ve grown apart, yet still managed to stay in touch over the last few years of school, okay? It’s possible I’ve led them to assume we still hang out once a week. I update them about your life and work at the coffee shop, and that’s basically it.”

Kacey laughed. “But how would they know that? I mean, you didn’t even—”

Jake gave her a guilty look and fidgeted with his hands.

“Jake? How do they know all that?”

Grandma Nadine had always sworn that she wouldn’t update the family on Kacey’s life. It was inconceivable that she would break that promise.

“I told them, alright?” Jake all but yelled. “Geez, Kace, stop with the third degree, okay? So what? I’ve kept tabs on you. I know all about you. Just leave it be. It would have killed them to know I screwed—”

“—Your best friend,” Kacey finished.

Jake refused to make eye contact, just continued to stare straight ahead. He said nothing, not that it was all that surprising. It was what he was good at. Saying nothing when she needed him to be saying something — anything to make her feel better.

“This is your captain, we are first for takeoff, so if you’d just sit back and relax, we’ll have you in Portland within the hour.”

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