The Hierarchy of Needs
The Portland Rebels, Book 2
Ebook ISBN: B00VNK4KGQ
[ New Adult Contemporary Romance, MF ]
A “what-happens-in-Vegas” weekend was supposed to get Jamie and Dean’s craving for each other out of their systems. But neither counted on the past repeating itself, drawing them together in even hotter and dirtier ways and dangling the possibility they might both be able to get exactly what they need…
Jamie Matthews paced in the foyer by her front door, as far away from her family as she could get. The house was filled to capacity now that her brothers were home. Two days and it was already too much to handle. Another minute and she was going to strangle someone.
And Krissy was taking forever to get ready.
Trying to corral her impatience, Jamie swung her arms out from side to side. A decade of swimming had hewn them into powerful machines. She’d hoped her shoulders would return to something resembling normal when she stopped competing. No such luck, but she could rock a tank top and jeans like nobody’s business, and she had every intention of looking good tonight.
It was the last Friday of September, and the final bonfire of the season. She’d been itching for the escape for hours, wanting to trade the suffocating weight of her brothers’ presence for a couple of beers, the roaring ocean and a crackling flame.
Not to mention the fact that Dean Trescott would be there.
Jamie’s stomach did a little somersault, which frustrated the hell out of her. She and Dean were just friends now, and good ones at that. Her fluttering pulse was only because he was fun to be around, and she was looking forward to seeing him.
There was nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all.
She bent over to touch her fingers to her toes as feet thundered down the stairs. A pair of sneakers appeared in her line of sight.
“Out of my way, poodle head.” The words were accompanied by a rough scratch to her scalp. She snapped her body upward and glowered at her oldest brother.
“Don’t call me that,” Jamie said, tucking the curls he’d pulled loose from her bun back into place. The ten-year age difference between her and Sean always put them at odds. Despite the fact that they were both adults now, he still made her feel like a child.
She was also the only Matthews child who’d inherited her father’s unruly locks, earning
her the lovely nickname.
“Call it payback for tying my keys to the wind chime this morning,” he said. “Jesus, Jamie. Are you ever going to grow up?”
Jamie gave him her most saccharine smile. She’d been up since five—the result of an internal alarm clock that woke her before dawn even though she hadn’t had practice or a meet since college—and had used the extra time to figure out which member of the family she’d be pranking. Sean was so wrapped up in his fiancée he was obviously the easy target.
“I was bored,” she said. “Besides, someone’s gotta teach Kim the ropes around here.”
The woman in question came down the steps to join them. Kim and her younger sister Krissy were the Matthews’ houseguests for the weekend. Their parents were staying at a hotel, but Jamie’s mother had insisted on putting the bride and her sister up, saying they had plenty of room.
“I appreciated the lesson, Jamie,” Kim said. “But how about we lay off the practical jokes until after the wedding?”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“Jamie,” Sean warned.
“Sean,” she sang back.
The jokes had never gone too far—good-natured ones she’d played on them in the name of sibling fun. Tape on their light switches. Taking the batteries out of their remotes. Resetting their clocks so they thought they were late for school. It stopped being funny when they hit their teens, but it was Jamie’s way of getting hers. Of leveling the playing field when there was no way she could match up to them academically. She’d fallen out of the habit since they’d moved out, but having all three of them home for the weekend, using the nickname she hated and harassing her over her failure to launch, was enough to trigger it again.
Kim wrapped a protective arm around Sean’s waist. Whether it was to comfort him or stop him from throttling her, Jamie wasn’t sure.
She let out a heavy sigh. Sean’s teasing seemed to bring out the worst in her, but she didn’t have to act so childish. She was happy for him, after all. She could fight the feeling that she was still the baby in a group full of successful adults.
“Fine,” she said dramatically. “No more pranks until after you’re married. But only because Kim asked me to.”
A creak on the second floor landing drew Jamie’s attention upward. Krissy finally hopped down the stairs.
“Sorry I took so long,” she said. “I was figuring out what to wear.”
Jamie eyed her clothes. White stonewashed jeans and a plaid button-down topped with a bright red vest. Combined with Krissy’s huge tortoise-shell glasses, the outfit was almost painful to look at. Jamie hadn’t been thrilled with having to entertain Krissy that evening.
She was still in college, her outward appearance so odd Jamie was sure they wouldn’t have a thing to talk about, not to mention the tiny bit of jealousy she harbored over the place Krissy called home. But she hadn’t wanted to argue with her mother when the request had been made, and hanging with Krissy was a way out of this house.
Good thing Jamie wasn’t a Disney character, or her nose would’ve reached Pinocchio proportions. She snatched her jacket and yanked the door open.
“We’re leaving,” Jamie hollered past Sean and Kim, hoping her parents would hear. “Bye.”
They were out on the porch and heading to the sidewalk before anyone had time to reply. Krissy frowned and looked back over her shoulder.
“I feel bad not staying,” she said. “Don’t they need our help?”
Guilt flickered briefly. They’d left behind a table covered with seating cards and lobster shaped lollipops waiting to be affixed together with twine. It was part of the coastal chic wedding theme: the decor was nautical, everything decked out in true Down East flair. They probably could’ve used another pair of hands, but a break before the festivities began was essential.
Besides, crafts weren’t exactly Jamie’s strong point. She didn’t need a reminder of that.
“Nah,” she answered, pulling her jacket on. It was a struggle to fit the denim over her shoulders. “Kim and my mom have it covered.”
Jamie fought with the fabric until it stretched into place, then picked up her pace, leading Krissy in the direction of the shore. She looked straight ahead, ignoring the reminders of the seasonal shift she always dreaded: the pine needles making a brittle carpet on the pavement, the pumpkins decorating her neighbors’ lawns. Autumn was a time to turn away from everything carefree and buckle down, but Jamie didn’t know how to do that. It wasn’t like she’d had an actual career to return to when summer ended. She’d traded lifeguarding at the beach for doubling up on her swim lessons, spending all her time at the community center pool instead of the ocean.
A horn honked as a car passed them. Jamie waved, vaguely recognizing the driver and
“You seem to know a lot of people,” Krissy noted.
“Nah. Just a side effect of having been here my entire life.”
Well, not her whole life. Technically she’d spent four years of it swimming, partying and occasionally studying at the University of New England before moving back into her childhood bedroom. It had been her only option, since the job she’d gotten at the center didn’t pay well. The scenario wasn’t ideal, but she’d learned to be okay with it.
It was only when The Three Doctors Matthews flew back to the coop, blinding everyone
with their golden lights of achievement, that she doubted herself.
The musky scent of burning wood wafted toward them as they reached the cove. Jamie’s skin prickled when she saw an old pick-up truck by the side of the road. It was a red harbinger of the past. One glimpse at it, and she was flooded with memories: night sky, ocean smell, balmy spring air. Beach blankets forming a cushioned barrier between her body and the flatbed. The taste of beer in Dean’s kiss.
His eyes on hers, his hands tangled in her hair. Her wrists pinned above her head. An orgasm so intense she still remembered every shuddering detail.
Her skin came alive, little pinpricks that matched the tightening of her nipples. Six years had passed, and even though they hadn’t had sex, memories of that night still made her pulse race. They shouldn’t have, since Dean had come to her a day later saying it had been a mistake, one born out of hormones and too much beer, and asking, “We still good?”
His rejection was like belly-flopping into an ice-cold pool, but Jamie and disappointment had become old friends at that point, and she’d taught herself how to recover. She’d blown it off with a smile.
The few remaining months of high school had been awkward after that, but they’d settled into a comfortable friendship once she moved back home. Even started flirting again. It didn’t mean anything. Dean flirted with everyone. His inability to commit was actually something they had in common.
Neither of them did relationships, although Dean’s turnover rate was a bit higher than hers. There was always some girl hanging on him, another thing Jamie had learned to laugh at. Sure, it bothered her a little every time she watched him disappear with anyone who flashed him some bare skin, but the competition didn’t matter when you weren’t even in the race. The legendary Dean Trescott possessed a charm few could resist, but his flirting was nothing more than words when it came to her.
It was fine. She didn’t actually want to go there again and risk fucking up their friendship, but that night with him was something she kept on a high shelf in her head. A decadent reminiscence she retreated to when she was alone.
It got her there. Every time.
She’d never known why his rough grip had turned her on so much, or how his playful tug to her hair became a trigger point, a good kind of hurt that rocketed down between her legs until her mind blanked out. Why his stare had seemed to seize her, her body coming alive with a raw, desperate need she hadn’t felt before.
Jamie shook the memory off. It was ancient history. One never to be repeated. Still, it would be awesome if they could escape to some kind of alternate universe for something brief, wild and sweaty, then go back to reality and pretend it never happened.
“Who are we hanging out with tonight?”
Krissy’s question yanked Jamie back into the present.
“Just my friends,” she replied, hoping her blasé expression would mask the restless energy pumping through her. “Three guys I grew up with and have known forever.”
The soft hisses and sizzling pops of the bonfire guided her toward where Dean and her friends were sitting. They made a semi-circle by the lifeguard stand she’d spent the summer perched on, a plume of smoke between them spiraling up toward the sky.
Jamie gripped the peeling white wood and swung her body around it, throwing herself
into a grand entrance. “Hello, boys.”
Dean had the mouth of an open beer bottle by his lips, but paused when he saw her, his lips curling up into a smirk. His chin was masked by the day’s worth of stubble he always seemed to have. His crop of dirty blond hair was cut close on the sides but longer in the front, a few slightly mussed strands hanging down low over his eyes. Every inch of him said confident and relaxed, from his ever-present work boots to the swirling lines of ink that wound like ivy from his wrist to his neck.
He was sex incarnate, a wolf on the prowl in a black T-shirt and jeans.
“Jamie Matthews. My favorite girl.”
“Oh, I’m still your favorite, huh?”
She was no more his favorite than the last piece of ass he’d hooked up with, but she liked the nickname nonetheless. She also liked the way his gaze swooped from her face to her breasts and back up again. It was part of the game they played, one she wanted to lose herself in tonight.
He grinned. “Of course.”
“Good to know.” Jamie dropped to the sand by his side, kicked off her flip-flops and
stretched out her legs. “I guess that means I’m entitled to your beer.”
She snagged his bottle from his fingertips and took a deep, icy swallow.
“Oh, go right ahead.” Dean’s voice oozed with sarcasm, but there was humor behind it.
He nodded to Krissy. “And who’s this?”
“This is Sean’s fiancée’s sister. She’s staying with us for the weekend, and I thought we’d show her how we party down at the shore.” Jamie pointed her bottle toward each of the guys. “Krissy, this is Dean, Connor and Mikey.”
“Krissy, glad you could join us.” Dean angled an arm out toward the cooler. The move lifted his shirt an inch, revealing a slice of skin. His belly wasn’t as firm as it had been back in high school, but it was still sexy to see. As was the soft trail of hair that disappeared into his jeans.
Jamie licked her lips and looked away.
Dean popped open a bottle and offered it to Krissy. She was still standing, looking like she wasn’t sure where to put herself.
“Thanks,” she replied, finally taking the beer and sitting down.
“No problem. Where are you visiting us from?”
She took a sip and winced. “Manhattan. I’m a theater student at N.Y.U.”
Jamie cringed, a move Dean noticed, and she hid her frown with a swig of her drink. Her pipe dream of becoming a fashion designer in New York City was something she hadn’t told him about years ago, and she wasn’t about to now.
His gaze stayed on hers until Connor cleared his throat. On the other side of their circle, Mikey’s mouth was hanging open, and he was all-out staring at Krissy. Connor gave their wiry, black-haired friend a subtle thump on the shoulder.
“Hey,” Mikey sputtered. “Krissy. It’s nice to meet you.”
Dean chuckled into his beer, and Jamie jammed her elbow into his side. He grunted, then laughed. The warm, low sound made her flush with pleasure. Their eyes met, locking for a beat longer than necessary, and her lungs forgot how to work for a second, her belly going tight on a frozen inhale. Whenever he looked straight at her, the space between them somehow seemed to grow smaller, her body pinned in place even though he hadn’t touched her, breath going still as if he had.
Krissy smiled at him, then asked, “How do you all know each other?”
“Detention,” Jamie and Dean answered in unison.
“Seriously?” Krissy looked so shocked, it was hard not to laugh. Her owl-eyes centered on Jamie. “You were in detention?”
Jamie raised her bottle in a toast. “I was the only Matthews child to ever end up there.”
Krissy’s mouth gaped open. “A lot?”
“Once, in tenth grade. We were having a test in history, but I had a meet the night before and didn’t have time to study. So I stole the exams off my teacher’s desk and threw them out the window when he wasn’t looking.”
“And you got caught.”
“Oh, she got caught, all right,” Dean interjected. “And ended up being carted into the
South Portland High Slammer, just like the rest of us.”
He gave her an appreciative smile, one that said Good job, Matthews. Jamie couldn’t
stop herself from grinning back.
Mikey’s hands flew to his chest. “I never got detention. I just hung out with them afterward.”
Connor chuckled. “This isn’t confession, Mikey.”
“I know.” He frowned and stared at the sand. “Just was making that part clear.”
“What did you do?” Krissy asked Dean.
“More like, what didn’t he do?” Connor said. “Detention was Dean’s second home.”
“It was yours too, for a while,” Dean threw back, then turned to Krissy. “We set off fire alarms and didn’t do our homework. We’re the bad boys your mother warned you about. Connor even did some time.”
“A few hours in the county jail doesn’t count as ‘doing time’,” Connor grumbled. “And it was your fault, anyway.”
Krissy’s eyes widened even further. “How’d you end up in jail?”
Dean drew up one knee and leaned back against the lifeguard stand. “We made a mess of the sheriff ’s lawn with my truck. Connor took the rap for it, though.”
“Why’d you get in so much trouble?” she asked. “You didn’t like school?”
Man, this girl asked a lot of questions. Dean didn’t seem to mind, though. He merely shrugged. “School didn’t matter to me. I had a job at my dad’s garage lined up right after. But don’t knock detention. It’s where I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.”
“I’m not familiar with that.”
“It’s this theory on human motivation. Our detention teacher read it to us from a book one day. Most useful thing I learned in all of high school.”
Connor rolled his eyes, muttering, “Here we go.”
“Shut it.” Dean nestled his bottle in the sand and pressed his fingertips together, making a triangle out of his hands. “It goes like this. There’s a pyramid, and all our basic needs make up the bottom—food, water, air, bodily functions…” He grinned, winking at Krissy. “Sex.”
Her eyes darted away, clearly embarrassed. Jamie felt a flash of relief.
“Safety is next. Things that make you feel secure like employment, money, family, health. Then there’s belonging, which—” He pointed a finger. “—is not the sappy shit you girls call love. It’s having people you can rely on, who you know will be there for you.”
“We don’t need love to survive?” Krissy asked.
“Not romantic love.”
Jamie’s stomach twisted, although why she wasn’t exactly sure. She was no more capable of romance than Dean was. And candy hearts and roses weren’t what she wanted with him, anyway.
“The esteem level is all about respect, confidence and achievement,” he went on. “Last is self-actualization, where you’ve become the most complete person possible. Maslow said few people get to that stage, and that’s where the problem is. We strive for something our whole lives, trying to become this perfect version of ourselves, but the reason the pyramid is smallest on top is because almost no one gets there, and if we stopped trying so hard, we’d all be happier.”
Connor shook his head, laughing. “I’m not sure that’s what Maslow was saying.”
“It’s the truth,” Dean argued. “Life would be a lot easier if people weren’t reaching for some unattainable future all the time.”
Jamie took a heavy pull of her beer and stared out at the waves. If giving up on the impossible was the key to happiness, she should’ve been the happiest person around. Swimming had been her ticket to college. She’d broken a record in the 100-yard freestyle as a junior and qualified for the state championships every year, but what she’d really wanted was to get into fashion.
She’d always liked to draw and play around with clothes. All her notebooks were filled with doodles of outfits, ones she eventually made into a portfolio. She applied in secret to Parsons and F.I.T. down in New York City, sending them her best work, but the rejection letters that arrived a few months later proved she didn’t make the cut.
Resigned, she packed away her artwork, dusted herself off and accepted a swimming scholarship, limiting her dabbling with fashion to the magazines she read and what she wore. A liberal studies degree four years later didn’t prepare her for much, and since it turned out competitive swimming wasn’t an option either—she was good, but she wasn’t Olympics good—becoming a coach was the obvious answer.
There. Perfectly simple life. Maslow would’ve been proud.
Krissy cocked her head to the side and looked at Dean. “That sounds like the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard.”
Dean’s eyebrows shot up as he tried to pinch away his smile, but he ended up grinning anyway, especially when Mikey erupted into laughter and crawled around to sit next to her.
“You’re awesome,” he said. Krissy’s blush was as bright as the flames.
Dean leaned over and murmured in Jamie’s ear, “Dork love.”
His breath was hot, his mouth close. A shudder coursed down her spine.
It’s just how he is.
It doesn’t mean anything.
Connor’s phone rang, breaking the spell. One look at his face and it was obvious who
“Wifey’s on the line,” Dean teased.
Connor gave him the finger and stepped away. “Hey baby,” he said into the phone. Jamie smiled. She’d been the one who set him up with her friend Gabriella back in June. A summer-time visitor who’d spent her vacations with her late grandmother, Gabriella was like the sister Jamie never had. She’d returned to M.I.T. to finish her last semester of grad school, but she and Connor were bridging the distance. He was no longer the angry, rebellious kid Jamie had grown up with, doing the nine-to-five at a local web development firm and smiling all the time now.
It was a testament to Jamie’s matchmaking skills. Too bad she hadn’t been so successful with herself.
Dean drained what was left in his bottle and reached for another, throwing an arm around her when he sat back. It wasn’t a big surprise—he got touchy-feely when he drank—but his sudden nearness made her shiver.
“Cold?” he asked.
The lie didn’t bother her as much once he’d pulled her more tightly against him. Dean was thick, stocky. Six feet of muscle with a bit of cushion on top, like a giant teddy bear with the arms of a rugby player.
She settled into his warmth, ignoring the quiet mayday that shouted from her mind. Getting comfortable wasn’t a good idea. She’d seen him casually wrap an arm around plenty of other girls in the exact same way, but whatever. It felt too good to be like this. Sand. Beer. Fire. Dean.
Connor returned, his phone still pressed to his ear. “I’ll hop on Skype as soon as I get home. Ten minutes.” He turned away and uttered a soft “Love you.”
Dean covered his mouth with a fist. The word whipped came out around a cough. Connor gave him the finger again, but wore a grin the size of China when he waved goodnight and trudged back to where his motorcycle was parked by the dunes. Dean nudged Jamie’s shoulder and jutted his chin toward Mikey and Krissy, who’d started whispering across from them.
“You two need some privacy?” he asked.
Krissy threw Jamie an uncertain glance. “We were going to go for a walk.”
Jamie twisted her lips to the side in hesitation. She was supposed to be entertaining Krissy, but that didn’t mean babysitting her. The girl lived in Manhattan, after all. And Mikey was about as dangerous as a kitten.
“Sure. You remember how to get back to the house?” When she nodded, Jamie waved her on. “Go ahead. I’ll meet you there later.”
They unfolded themselves from the sand. Mikey crossed his arms over his stomach, then shoved his hands into his back pockets as they walked off toward the shoreline.
Then it was just Jamie and Dean, alone.