Because of Low
Chapter One MARCUS
Moving back home sucked. Everything about this town reminded me of why the hell I’d wanted to get away. I had a life in Tuscaloosa, and I needed that life to escape. Here, I was Marcus Hardy. No matter where I went, people knew me. They knew my family. And now . . . they were talking about my family. Which is why I had come home. Leaving my sister and mother here to face this alone was impossible. The scandal hovering over our heads took away all my choices and my freedom. Right now few people knew, but it was only a matter of time. Soon the entire coastal town of Sea Breeze, Alabama, would know what my dad was doing—or should I say, who my dad was doing. King of the Mercedes car dealerships along the Gulf Coast had been a high enough title for some little gold-digging whore only
a few years older than me to jump into bed with my dear ol’ dad. The one time I’d seen the home wrecker working behind the desk right outside Dad’s office, I’d known something wasn’t right. She was young and smoking hot and apparently money hungry.
Dad couldn’t keep it in his pants, and now my mom and sister would have to deal with the stigma it would cause. People would feel sorry for my mom. This was already devastating to her, and she didn’t even know yet that the other woman was barely a woman. My younger sister, Amanda, had caught them going at it late one evening when Mom had sent her over to the office to take Dad some dinner. She’d called me that night crying hysterically. I’d withdrawn from school, packed my things, and headed home. There was no other option. My family needed me.
A knock at the door snapped me out of my internal tirade, and I went to see what chick was here looking for Cage this time. God knew the guy had an endless line of females parading through his life. My new roommate was a player. A major player. He put my best friend, Preston, to shame. I twisted the knob and swung the door open without peeking through the hole.
The surprise was on me. I’d been prepared to tell whatever tall, willowy, large-but-obviously-fake-chested female dressed in almost nothing waiting outside the door that Cage was busy with another one very similar to her. Except a very natural, almost curvy redhead stood before me. Red-rimmed eyes and a tear-streaked face gazed up at me. There were no mascara
lines running down her face. Her hair wasn’t styled, but pulled back in a ponytail. She wore jeans and what appeared to be an authentic Back in Black AC/DC concert T-shirt. No belly button drawing attention to a flat, tanned stomach, and her clothes weren’t skintight. Well, maybe the jeans were a little snug, but they hugged her hips nicely. My appreciation of her legs in the slim-fit jeans stopped, however, when I noticed the small beat-up suitcase clutched tightly in her hand.
“Is Cage here?” Her voice sounded broken and musical at the same time. I was having a hard time digesting that this girl was here for Cage. She wasn’t anything like he veered toward. Nothing was enhanced. Everything from her thick dark-copper hair to the Chuck Taylors on her feet screamed “not Cage’s type.” And the fact that she was carrying a suitcase—well, that couldn’t be good.
“Uh, um, no.”
Her shoulders slumped and another sob escaped her. One small, dainty hand flew up in an attempt to mute the sound of her obvious distress. Her nails were even classy. Not too long, with a smooth, rounded tip and soft pink nail polish.
“I left my cell phone”—she let out a sigh, then continued—“at my sister’s. I need to call him. Can I come in?”
Cage was out with a swimsuit model who apparently had a thing for college baseball players. I knew from the way he talked he didn’t intend to come up for air much tonight. He’d never
answer her call, and I hated to see her get more upset than she already was. A horrible thought crossed my mind: Surely he hadn’t gotten this girl pregnant. Couldn’t he see how freaking innocent she was?
“Uh, yeah, but I don’t know if he’ll answer. He’s busy . . . tonight.”
She shot me a sour smile and nodded, stepping around me.
“I know the kind of busy he is, but he’ll talk to me.”
She sounded rather confident. I wasn’t feeling her confidence myself.
“Do you have a cell I can use?”
I reached into the pocket of my jeans and handed it to her, unable to argue with her further. She had stopped crying and I wanted to keep it that way.
“Thanks. I’ll try calling first.”
I watched as she walked over to the sofa and dropped her suitcase to the floor with a thunk before sinking dejectedly down onto the worn cushions as if she’d been here a hundred times. Being as I’d only been moved in for two days, I wouldn’t know if she had been here before or not. Cage was a friend of a friend who had been looking for a roommate. I’d needed somewhere to live fast and his place was nice. Preston was on the same baseball team as Cage at the local community college. Once Preston heard I needed a place to live, he’d called Cage and hooked me up.
“It’s me. I left my phone when I ran. You’re not here, but your new roommate let me in. Call me.” She sniffed, then hung up. I watched, fascinated, as she proceeded to text him. She really believed the male whore I lived with was going to call her right up as soon as he got her message. I was intrigued and growing more concerned by the minute.
She finished and handed the phone back to me. A smile touched her splotchy red face and two dimples appeared in her cheeks. Damn, that was cute.
“Thanks. Do you mind if I wait a little bit until he calls back?”
I shook my head,. “No, not at all. You want a drink?”
She nodded and stood up. “Yes, but I’ll get it. My drinks are in the bottom drawer of the fridge behind the Bud Lights.”
I frowned and followed her into the kitchen. She opened the fridge and bent down to get her hidden drink. With her bent over digging for her so-called drink, the snug fit of the faded jeans over her ass was hard to miss. It was a perfect heart shape, and although she wasn’t very tall, her legs seemed to go on for miles.
“Ah, here it is. Cage needs to run to the store and restock. He must be letting his one-nighters drink my Jarritos.”
I couldn’t keep guessing. I needed to know who she was exactly. Surely she wasn’t one of his girlfriends. Could she be the sister Preston had mentioned dating? I sure as hell hoped not. I
was interested, and I hadn’t been interested in anyone in a while. Not since the last girl broke my heart. I’d opened my mouth to ask her how she knew Cage when the phone in my pocket started ringing. She walked over to me and held out her hand. The girl really believed it was Cage. I glanced down, but sure enough, my roommate had called back.
She took the phone from my hand.
“She’s such a selfish jerk.
“I can’t stay there, Cage.
“I didn’t mean to leave my phone. I was just upset.
“Yes, your new roommate’s a nice guy. He’s been very helpful.
“No, don’t end your date. Get her out of your system. I’ll wait.
“I promise not to go back.
“She is who she is, Cage.
“I just hate her.” I could hear the tears in her voice again.
“No, no, really, I’m fine. I just needed to see you.”
“Don’t. I’ll leave.
She held the phone out to me. “He wants to talk to you.”
This conversation was nothing like I’d expected. The girl had to be his sister.
“Listen, I need you to make sure Low stays there until I can get home. She’s upset and I don’t want her leaving. Get her one of her damn Mexican soda thingies out of the fridge. They’re behind the Bud Lights in the bottom drawer. I have to hide them from other chicks I have over. All females tend to like those nasty drinks. Turn on the television, distract her, whatever. I’m only ten minutes away, but I’m putting my jeans on as we speak and headed home. Just help her get her mind off things, but don’t touch her.”
“Ah, okay, sure. Is she your sister?”
Cage chuckled into the phone. “Hell no, she ain’t my sister. I’d never buy my damn sister drinks and call her back when I’m in the middle of a fucking threesome. Low’s the girl I’m gonna marry.”
I had no response to that. My eyes found her standing over by the window with her back to me. The long thick copper locks curled on the ends and brushed against the middle of her back. She was absolutely nothing like the girls Cage regularly hooked up with. What did he mean, she was the girl he was going to marry? That made no sense.
“Keep her there, man. I’m on my way.”
Then he hung up the phone.
I dropped it on the table and stood there staring at her back. She turned around slowly and studied me a moment, and then a smile broke across her face.
“He told you he was going to marry me, didn’t he?” she said laughing softly before taking a drink of the orange soda with what appeared to have Spanish writing on the label.
“Crazy boy. I shouldn’t have bothered him, but he’s all I’ve got.”
She walked over and sank back down onto the old faded green sofa, pulling her legs up underneath her.
“Don’t worry. I’m not leaving. He’d rip apart my sister’s house searching for me and scare the bejesus out of her if I left. I’ve got enough issues where she’s concerned. I don’t intend to unleash Cage on her.”
I slowly made my way over to the only chair in the room and sat down.
“So, you’re engaged?” I asked, staring down at her bare ring finger.
With a sad smile she shook her head.
“Not in a million years. Cage has crazy ideas. Just because he says them doesn’t make them true.”
She raised her eyebrows and took another drink of her soda.
“So you aren’t going to marry Cage?” I really would love for her to clarify this because I was incredibly confused and more than a little interested in her. She bit down on her bottom
lip and I noticed for the first time how full it was.
“Cage was my ‘boy next door’ growing up. He’s my best friend. I love him dearly and he really is all I have. The only person I can count on. We’ve never actually been in a relationship before because he knows I won’t have sex with him and he needs sex. He’s also real wrapped up in the whole idea that a relationship between the two of us before we get married will end badly and he’ll lose me. He has this irrational fear of losing me.”
Did she know the guy had bagged more than three different girls this week and apparently was having a threesome when she’d called? She was so much better than Cage.
“Wipe that look off your face. I don’t need your pity. I know what Cage is like. I know you have probably seen the kind of girls he’s attracted to, and I look absolutely nothing like them. I don’t live in a fantasy world. I’m very aware.” She tilted her head and smiled at me sweetly. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Well, Marcus Hardy, I’m Willow Montgomery, but everyone calls me Low. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“So, you’re a friend of Preston’s.”
I nodded. “Yes, but don’t hold it against me.”
She laughed for the first time, and the sudden pleasure from such a simple sound startled me. I liked hearing her laugh.
“I won’t. Preston isn’t all that bad. He likes to use those
pretty-boy looks of his to get his way, but I’m safe from his attention. Cage would kill him if he decided to bat his baby blues at me.”
Was it because of Preston’s womanizing or the fact that he was a guy that made Cage protective of Willow? Did he really expect her to wait around until he was ready to settle down and marry her?
“LOW!” Cage’s voice rang out as the door to the apartment swung open. His head snapped around and his eyes went straight to Willow.
“God, baby, I was so afraid you’d leave. Come here.” This was a side of Cage I’d never seen. Apparently the sweet little redhead got to him in a way no one else could. He pulled her up into his arms, reached down and grabbed the forgotten suitcase, then led her back to his bedroom, whispering to her the entire way. If she hadn’t informed me earlier that she refused to have sex with him, I’d have been eaten up with righteous fury at the idea of him touching someone so sweet after having just left the bed of not one but two girls. But instead, I was eaten up with envy because I knew he was going to get to hold her and listen to her musical voice as she spilled out all her problems. He’d be the one to fix them, not me. I’d just met her. Why the hell did that bother me?