The conference was over, the presentations done and now she could finally relax. Katniss flopped down on the bed and closed her eyes, exhaled deeply.
"What are you doing?"
Cracking one eye open, she observed Jo coming over and sitting down on the bed, staring down at her. Closing her eye once more, Katniss sighed. "I was going to take a nap."
Katniss sighed, opening her eyes and lifting her brow, knowing her friend had more to say.
Jo gave her a bitchy smile. "You promised."
Fuck. She had promised, last night after they had gotten off the stage, Jo had turned to her and with a wicked glint in her eye made her promise that they'd all go out on their last night to blow off the intense pressure the entire group had been under to perform well in the finals. Jo was the only person she knew who could weasel a promise out of you when everything you had said run the other way. "I hate you."
The shit eating grin on Jo's face got wider. "No you don't. You wish you did, but it's impossible. I'm too lovable."
Katniss snorted, leaning up on her elbows. "In what fucking universe?"
"Bitch," Jo replied without heat, winking at her as she rose from the bed, walking to the mirror. Their eyes met in the glass and they both began to laugh. Katniss grabbed the pillow from the bed and chucked it across the room, nailing the other girl right in the back.
Jo spun slowly, hands on her hips as she arched a brow. "Got a death wish?"
"Yes!" Katniss said, laughing as the pillow came flying back and hit her right square in the face.
"Get your ass up and into the shower, we're meeting the guys in an hour at that bar we passed on our way into town."
Katniss pulled the pillow away from her face and scowled. "That looked like a shithole."
Jo shrugged, turning back to the mirror. "Shithole or not, it's what we've got in this one horse town. There's apparently a local band from the U playing there tonight, so we need to get there early to miss the cover."
Grumbling under her breath, Katniss pushed up to a sitting position. "Do you have some sort of grapevine to get all the insider info?"
A loud peal of laughter filled the room. Jo shook her head. "Try talking to people Everdeen, they might just surprise you."
"I do talk to people," Katniss bitched as she got up off the bed and walked to the bathroom.
"Your sister and I don't count."
Katniss flipped her the finger as she walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind her, Jo's laughter following her in.
The bar was crowded when they walked in, but not so much that they couldn't see the two other members of their BPA team sitting at a table pouring from a pitcher of pale amber liquid into four, tall glasses. Jo nudged Katniss and lifted her hand, making her way through the crowd to the table. "Looks good boys, what are we drinking?"
"Pale Amber Ale," Beetee answered, sliding one of the glasses towards her as she sat down on the tall barstool across from him.
"Thanks, how much do I owe?" she asked as she lifted the glass and took a swallow. It slid over her tongue and down her throat, easing the tight knot of tension that had risen in her stomach at the thought of having to be sociable. She wasn't good in situations like this. Stick her behind a podium with a prepared speech and she could knock them dead, but unscripted – total disaster. When her advisor had suggested that padding her resume with club participation, she'd looked through all of the offerings at the U and finally found the BPA, which would allow her to play to her strengths without having to expend much effort. When she'd discovered they also offered scholarships, it was a no brainer. All she had to do was meet with the team once a month to come up with their concept and then go off and do her thing. Making Jo do it with her had also been a no brainer. The only problem had come when they'd met the graphic designer for the team. From the second she'd laid eyes on him, Peeta Mellark had occupied her thoughts. With his messy blond curls and penetrating blue eyes, he was a distraction she did not need. The second Jo had discovered that Katniss found him attractive; she made it her life's mission to hook them up. This trip was her last ditch effort, having tried everything short of locking them in a room together.
"You can get the next one," Peeta said, smiling at her over the rim of his glass.
Katniss felt her stomach lurch as their eyes met and she looked away quickly. The tension between them had risen steadily all week, and now she could barely even meet his gaze without a flush creeping up her neck. Yesterday, during the web presentation she'd focused so intently on his hands and how much she'd like to have them running over her body that Jo had to nudge her when everyone stood to applaud. She'd managed at least to offer congratulations when they'd all met up again, but the damage had been done and Jo refused to let it go. She was going to do her level best to get them hooked up. Hell, she wouldn't put it past her to have already talked to Peeta, let him know how badly she wanted to touch him. Tilting the glass, she swallowed quickly, downing the pint in record time, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand as she set the glass back down on the table. Jo's loud guffaw earned her a swift kick under the table as Beetee refilled her glass.
"To us!" Jo said, lifting her glass in a toast. Katniss lifted hers, clinking the rim against the other three, her gaze locking with Peeta's once more. Her stomach swooped and danced with butterflies and she gulped down her beer, heat seeping through her belly that had nothing to do with the alcohol.
Jo set her glass down and winked at Katniss. "Time to get this party started," she said, sliding off her stool. "Be right back."
Katniss watched her friend walk across the bar to a rowdy table of guys. Shaking her head, she reached for the pitcher, pouring another glass. The harried waitress walked by and Katniss flagged her, digging into her pocket for her money. Throwing down a rumpled twenty, she motioned towards the pitcher. The girl nodded and hurried off towards the bar.
"Going for the record?"
Katniss nearly choked as Peeta spoke to her. Setting her beer down, she wiped her mouth self-consciously. "What?"
He motioned towards her glass. "You seem in an awfully big hurry to get wasted."
She flushed and shrugged her shoulders, wiping her sweaty palms on her shorts. "Just trying to relax after hell week."
Beetee laughed and lifted his beer, taking a deep drink. When he put the glass down, he had a line of foam adhering to the wispy hairs of his wannabe mustache. "Hell month is more like it," he said with a laugh.
"It was worth it though, second place isn't too shabby with all of our competition," Peeta said, finishing the beer in his glass and killing the rest of the pitcher.
"First would've been better."
Peeta shrugged. "I did my best, and my portfolio is nicely padded, so I'll count it as a win."
Katniss narrowed her gaze at him. "Why are you always so upbeat?"
He frowned slightly. "What?"
She gestured vaguely with her hand. "You're always so damn positive, it gets really annoying."
Peeta laughed. "So says the pessimist."
"I'm not a pessimist."
He laughed even harder. Beetee even joined in, nodding his head enthusiastically. "You are!"
"Shut up and wipe off your damn lip," she snarled, grabbing her glass and draining it again. Slamming the glass down on the table, she glared over her shoulder at the bar, looking for the waitress.
When she turned back around, Peeta had moved to the stool next to her. She inhaled sharply and got a noseful of his cologne, which sent a deep spear of want burning through her. Spicy and earthy, it made her pulse race. "Dammit," she muttered under her breath, wishing that she hadn't finished off the last of her beer.
"Hey," Peeta said softly, drawing her attention. "I didn't mean it like it was a bad thing." His hand slid atop hers and she nearly swallowed her tongue. "The world needs all kinds of people, right?"
She nodded mutely, mesmerized by the feel of his fingers against hers. His were slightly rough and so warm. He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand and her pulse went through the roof. Her stomach was doing the rumba and her mouth was so dry it felt like a desert. Licking her lips, she lifted her gaze, staring at him through the fringe of her lashes. His face was so close she could feel his breath skating across her cheek. If she'd thought his hands were perfection, it was nothing compared to his eyes. Fringed by thick gold lashes, they were like pools of sapphire.
Her eyes dropped to his mouth, loving the way her name sounded coming out of it. Inhaling shakily, she licked her lips again, gaze darting between his mouth and his eyes. He was moving closer, tongue swiping across his lips as he closed the scant distance between them.
"Hey! No macking until later!"
Katniss leapt backwards, nearly falling off her stool as Jo came up between them, slinging an arm around their shoulders. "Let's get this party started," she said, leaning over and pressing a loud, smacking kiss on Katniss' cheek before doing the same to Peeta.
"We are," Peeta said, reaching for his beer and taking a swallow.
Katniss glanced at him and then back to Jo. "What did you do?"
Jo winked at her. "Meet me out on the back deck." She began walking away and turned to look over her shoulder. "Peeta, you come too." Jo glanced at Beetee and he shook his head. She shrugged her shoulders and walked out the door that was marked deck.
Katniss stared at her empty beer glass for a long moment, nearly jumping off the stool when Peeta stood up, his hand landing warmly on her shoulder. "Coming?"
Well damn, this made things interesting. She'd known Jo was going to try to score; it'd been all she'd talked about on the trip out here. The best part of this trip was the fact that weed was legal here so they wouldn't have to worry about doing anything that might cost them their scholarships. What she hadn't known was how Peeta felt about it. Apparently it didn't bother him because he was standing there with an expectant expression, patiently waiting for her to get up off her ass and move towards the back deck. Pushing back from the table, she glanced over at Beetee. He waved his hand distractedly. "Go, I'm gonna stay here and hold the table. Someone needs to be sober enough to start the drive home tomorrow."
Nodding, she turned and walked towards the back deck, hyper aware of Peeta following behind her. Despite the teasing she'd endured the past week, she'd still made sure to wear the jean shorts that made her ass look amazing.
Jo was sitting on one of the deck chairs, blowing smoke into the warm night air. A tall, auburn haired guy stood next to her, holding a joint of his own. They were laughing about something, Jo's loud, exuberant tones audible over the music being pumped out of two speakers near the doors. Katniss glanced over her shoulder, making sure Peeta was still behind her as she moved through the sparse crowd to where Jo sat.
"Took you damn long enough," Jo said as Katniss slid into the seat next to her. "Did you stop to make out?"
Katniss rolled her eyes. "Funny," she said, aiming a kick at Jo's ankle.
"Jealous?" Peeta asked, as he leaned across the table and plucked the joint from Jo's lax fingers, bringing it to his lips and inhaling deeply, letting the smoke settle into his lungs.
Jo arched her brow and snorted. "I'd eat you alive, fingerpainter." Her gaze slid sideways to where Katniss sat. "Besides, I know you've got a hard-on for my bestie, and I don't poach."
Peeta let the smoke spill out of his lips and leaned back in the chair he was sitting in. "What's to say she cares?" He asked as he passed the joint to Katniss.
Katniss flushed crimson, heat shooting through her as their fingers touched. She lifted the joint to her lips and inhaled, closing her eyes and trying to will away the embarrassment.
Jo laughed again, loudly. "She cares; otherwise she wouldn't be trying to ignore you so hard."
"I'm right here," Katniss said, opening her eyes and glaring at them as the fragrant smoke curled around her head. "Stop fucking talking about me like I'm not."
"This is too heavy for me, find me later?" Jo's companion inhaled once more on his joint and then passed it to her.
She looked up and nodded, her eyes already glazed. "Count on it."
Katniss took another hit, pulling the smoke deep into her lungs as she avoided looking at Peeta. She could feel his gaze on her and it was driving her insane. The weed was intensifying the need pounding between her thighs.
Jo stood up, flicking the tiny butt of her joint out into the bushes. "I'm outta here, the band's started," she said as she pushed her chair back out of the way. "I'm going to go dance and get lost in Finnick." She turned to stare at Katniss. "I won't be back to the room till morning," she said pointedly, flicking her gaze towards Peeta, who was leaning back, watching them both with glazed eyes.
"I hate you," Katniss said, taking another toke.
Jo smirked. "I love you too." Flicking the curls on Peeta's forehead, she walked unsteadily towards the bar and the thumping music.
Tense silence rose between them as Katniss silently finished her smoke. Peeta had finished his and tossed it off the side before leaning back against the chair once more, glazed blue eyes never leaving her. Finally, she couldn't stand it anymore. "What?"
He shook his head, giving her a bland smile.
It made her angry and she sat forward, glaring at him. "Bullshit, you've got something on your mind, spill it."
"Are you always this hostile?"
Katniss rolled her eyes. "If I say yes, are you going to run away?"
"You don't scare me."
"I should," she said, slumping back into her chair, picking at a stray thread on her shorts.
He stood up, holding his hand out. "Come on." She looked up, frowning. He smiled, motioning with his hand. "Come on." Lifting her hand, she laid it into his, palm to palm, a shiver dancing down her spine as his fingers curled around her hand and pulled her up. He didn't say another word, just led her into the bar and onto the dance floor.