Authors: Anna Katmore
“Yeah. I know that.” Chris stated this with an odd inflection in his tone, which made me wonder what he really meant by it.
I decided I didn't care and hoped he’d leave me alone, but instead he slid into the seat next to me, tipped back to balance the chair on two legs, and stacked his feet on the desk. He started to spin the ball on his finger. “So, what got you in here?”
Since there was no getting rid of him, I put my pen down, turned to him, and crossed my arms over my chest. “You, in fact.”
? Wow.” Chris caught the ball with both hands. “How?”
“My history teacher saw me flipping you off this morning.”
“Yeah”—he furrowed his brows, totally faking a hurt look, when he very obviously had trouble holding back a laugh—“that was actually rude.” For good measure, he waggled a finger at me. “We really need to work on your manners if you’re going to keep going out with my brother.” As he spun the basketball again, his toned biceps twitched underneath perfectly smooth skin, and I wondered why he’d abandoned his leather jacket. It might have stopped me from staring. Chris certainly was a dick, but there was no denying he looked just as mouthwatering as Ethan. Duh!
“Speaking of which,” he continued with an innocent look I didn’t trust—not one bit! “Are you two going to meet up again today?”
“Why are you so interested in your brother’s privacy? You should stop poking your nose where it doesn’t belong. Especially when it’s also concerning
privacy, because I’m not going to tell you shit.”
“Ah, such a cute mouth and such bad words. Now I get why you’ve been put in detention, Miss Miller. Must be a soccer thing with the language, eh?”
When I didn’t get his meaning and pulled my face into a frown, he shrugged one shoulder. “It was a surprise to see you sitting with the Bay Sharks at lunch today. I assumed you’d be with the geek squad.”
“Why would you think that?” I felt like I’d knocked into a wall. But then it dawned on me. “Oh, no, let me guess. The glasses, right? You really think because I’m wearing them I’m a nerd?”
Wary, Chris hummed a sigh. “That was the idea, yes.”
“And Ethan didn’t tell you that I was—
”—I rolled my eyes at my own slip—“on the soccer team?”
“Ethan doesn’t say much these days.”
“For good reason. It’s none of your business.”
“Maybe. But now I’m curious.” Chris made a face as if he’d left one detail totally out of sight. “Why does he suddenly go to soccer practice?”
“If you must know, he’s taking my place for a while because I hurt my knee.”
He sucked his lips between his teeth, and I swear, if it was Ethan doing that in front of me, I’d feel the need to throw myself at him this instant. But this was Chris, and I decided I felt nothing. Not even when his blue eyes turned a shade darker and a bit more mysterious. “Is that so?” he drawled.
“Yes, that is so,” I replied, mocking his lilt. “And for your information, just because someone’s wearing glasses doesn’t mean he or she’s a geek. I only need them for reading, not for playing. And now, if you don’t mind, go and grate on someone else’s nerves. I’ve got homework to do.” I shooed him off with a wave of my hand.
With a laugh, he got to his feet and clamped the ball under his arm. “Just tell me if he kisses you. I’d really like to know.”
“The hell I will. Now go away.”
Chris tossed the basketball to one of his friends, who must have been watching because he was prepared to catch it. Then he leaned across the table toward me and pulled my glasses off my nose, staring straight into my eyes. “My offer for a date in a week is still on.”
He must be crazy. That was the only possible explanation. I reached for my glasses, but he pulled them out of my reach in time. “Give them back, dickhead! And I’ll never go out with you,” I snapped. “Not today, not next weekend, and not in ten thousand years.”
For an infinite moment, Chris studied me. Eventually, he began to smile. “You
go out with me, sweetness. And I’ll show you how fast hell can freeze over when I want something.”
If nothing else, his reducing me to
should have made me kick out under the desk and hit his shin. Maybe it was his smile that hammered all the way through my barriers or his dangerously sweet purr in my face. Who knew, but for that moment I was immobilized, except for the twitch in my throat when I gulped.
“You see?” Chris teased and put my glasses on the desk in front of me, never breaking eye contact. “The fire’s already reducing to a soft glow.” He nudged my chin lightly with his knuckles then straightened and walked away as if he’d just borrowed a pen from me and not made my insides quiver with an unholy foreboding.
With a shake of my head and a hard mental slap, I got a grip on myself again. I knew his kind—he was trouble, the kind that drew looks from every corner when he walked through the hallways and that could turn a girl’s brain to mush with just a dimple in his cheek. But not with me. I was not going to be the next name on his checklist and I wouldn’t let him ruin something as important as my first kiss because he just smelled easy prey.
After I found my dignity again, I cleared my throat and called out, “Hey, Chris!”
Folding his arms on the backrest of the chair he’d straddled by his friends, he cast me an intrigued and self-assured glance over his shoulder. I didn’t give him the time to even think about the word “sweetness” leaving his mouth, but continued, “It takes a little more than a cute smile to get on my good side, and luckily your brother comes equipped with the whole package.” I flashed a sardonic grin that hopefully stung his ego in front of his gang. “You want to freeze hell? Go ahead and try. It’ll get you nowhere with me.”
For a stunned moment, Chris gazed at me. My snappiness had certainly terminated his interest in me. After all, he seemed to be someone after an easy lay and a jolly good time, nothing more. Especially not if that
proved to require serious effort. Right?
Wrong. The left side of his mouth tilted up so slowly that a shudder made it through my entire body before he was done with the smirk. He blinked and ran his tongue along the inside of his bottom lip. The whole class had stilled and all eyes were on him and me now, gazes darting back and forth.
With an audience to quote him later, he stated, “Game on, little Sue.”
WITH THE RING of the bell, I was out of detention and hurried to get home and ready for my date with Ethan. But being trapped in a room with Chris for the past hour had me on edge. His smirk, his voice, and even his vile announcement of making me his next big catch haunted me. It meant nothing, so why the heck couldn’t I get this jerk out of my head?
What bothered me even more than his ego, which was obviously too big to fit in a ballroom, was his remark that his brother was not going to kiss me. Did he really think that Ethan didn’t want to go that far with me? Today was the third day in a row that Ethan had asked me to hang out with him. There must be at least
interest from his end. No one expected him to propose with a ring straight away, but a kiss should be in the stars for us. I’d read too many romance books not to feel it coming.
But just to help things a little, I consulted the expert—my friend, Simone. She came to my place after I called her and prepped me in a way I’d never done before.
“You go shower and blow dry your hair,” she commanded, clearly in her element. “In the meantime, I’ll see what your closet has to offer.” She was already flicking through the hangers bearing the mostly unworn dresses in my wardrobe as I headed out of my room. When I came back, she sat on my bed with a lurid red dress draped over her legs and a wraparound smile that she might as well have stolen from a Disney movie.
“You don’t really want me to wear that, do you?” I said with a skeptical frown.
“Do you want to get kissed tonight or not?” That seemed to be her standard answer to any veto I brought forth that afternoon. With it, she brushed away my protest and put mascara on my lashes, smeared apple-flavored gloss on my lips, and smoothed my waves with a flat iron. When she was done, my hair hung like liquid honey down my shoulders. Kudos to her for knowing what she did. I liked the new me. The girl in the mirror looked slightly older and, heck, tons more sexy.
Now it was time to stuff my slim self into a dress I’d owned since tenth grade but hadn’t worn once. My former lack of boobs would have ruined the effect. The dress had long sleeves but was quite short and showed a darn lot of my legs.
“It’s sending out the right signals,” Simone assured me, when I gave myself a sidelong look in the mirror. “Ethan will be drooling all over you tonight. If that doesn’t earn you a kiss at the end, I don’t know what would.”
Kissing Ethan… I didn’t know what I could want more in the world right now.
It was half past four—time to go if I didn’t want to be late for my date. Gathering my nerves, which were suddenly all over the place, I slipped into my black ballerina flats, picked one of the seventeen purses Simone had brought to match with a possible dress, and headed downstairs.
Mom gave me a hug when she saw me, all new and shiny. “You look beautiful, honey.” She held me at arm’s length with her hands on my shoulders and added in a stern voice, “Curfew at eight. It’s a school night.”
“Ten,” I whined. “Please.”
After a deep sigh, she offered, “Okay, nine then.”
“Oh, come on, Mrs. M.,” Simone rushed to my rescue. “It’s almost the weekend. Nine thirty? They need time for a good-night kiss. It’s Susan’s first, after all.”
While Simone beamed with hope for my mom to give in, I burned with embarrassment. How could she mention my first kiss in front of my mother? But her plan worked out and Mom let me off with a smile. “All right, nine thirty. But I don’t want you to walk home by yourself in the dark. Make sure Ethan takes you.”
“He will!” Nodding, I shoved Simone out the door so as not to give my mom a chance to change her mind. “See you later.”
Outside, Simone stopped in front of her car. “Want me to give you a ride?”
“No, thanks. I’ll walk. My nerves need a cool-down before I meet up with Ethan.” I hadn’t been this nervous since Dad and I got in line for a hug from Mickey Mouse in Disneyland when I was five. And kissing Ethan would be so much better than getting squeezed by a giant stuffed mouse in red shorts.
I was so deep in thought as I ambled down the road to Charlie’s, concentrating on the small craters in the concrete, that I didn’t notice someone falling in step beside me until I heard Ethan say my name. With a gasp, I jerked my head up, then cursed under my breath, and tried to rub away the twinge in my neck.
Ethan’s brows came down in a sympathetic grimace. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump. I just wasn’t sure if it was, well,
He gave me a quick once-over. “You look different.” From his voice it was impossible to say whether he meant
different. Because insecurity trampled over me like a running herd of antelopes, I didn’t want to find out the answer.
“Where did you park your car?” Yes, very clever and very subtle change of topic, I know.
“Um, I didn’t drive here.”
“You walked?” That must have been two miles or more. “Did your car break down?”
“No.” A soft laugh escaped him and now it was his turn to rub his neck, but not because of an obvious kink. He seemed bashful all of a sudden. “I was getting a little nervous this afternoon, so I took the long walk here to kill time.”
Smiling, I clutched Simone’s purse to my chest. “You were nervous?”
Ethan nodded and shoved his hands into the pockets of his black jeans. “I—” He broke off as suddenly as someone would do when realizing he was talking to the totally wrong person. With his gaze on me, he took two deep breaths which might have been accompanied by a racing heart from the look of it. Was he in shock?
“I wasn’t sure if I’d find you here or if you were going to stand me up again. I don’t fancy sitting at the bar alone,” he told me in a more controlled voice, his gaze lowered to his toes.
That was definitely not what he wanted to say before. A frown crept over my face but faded away fast. To nag him about it would only ruin the beginning of our date, and I didn’t want that to happen. It would probably have killed me to be stood up like that, too, so I blew some stray hairs off my forehead that had gotten static from the straightening, and said, “Good that you’re not alone today then.”
We reached the café and Ethan walked in before me. I took the chance to check my reflection in the glass door. Some of my hair on top was still floating up like Simone had rubbed a balloon on my head instead of using a straightening iron. Quickly, I licked my fingers and brushed my hair down, making it stay put.
Puzzled by my delay, Ethan turned around, scrutinizing me with lifted eyebrows. I dropped my hands and gave him an innocent grin.
We sat down at a round table for two near the bar. Ted waved at me when he saw me, then he nodded at Ethan in greeting. Since there wasn’t much going on weekday afternoons, Ted wasn’t only bartending but also bussing tables, something that Tony Mitchell did on weekends. Charlie, the owner of the café, was nowhere to be seen. Since he could rely on his staff a hundred percent, he took more and more days off lately.
Ted came around the bar with a smile, draping a dishtowel over his shoulder in a casual move. “So you brought company today,” he teased Ethan.
For the briefest moment, Ethan looked at me. He turned a sweet shade of pink and lowered his gaze to the pack of sugar he’d started to play with after we sat down. “Yeah, seems all the misunderstandings have been eradicated,” he replied in an awkwardly low voice.
Ted studied him for a silent second and finally said, “Good for you.” He turned to me next, and that’s when I saw that he’d lost his smile. Of course, he made sure to pick it up again immediately. “So what can I get you? A hazelnut deluxe?”
“Mm-hm.” I nodded, my mouth already watering for the caffè latte.
“And for you?” Ted asked Ethan.
“I think I’ll take a cappuccino. Whipped cream, no foam, please.”
Ted gave a quirky arch of his eyebrows, as if this order was especially interesting for him. Why, I couldn’t figure out.
As soon as we were alone again, Ethan leaned forward, propping his elbows on the table, and put on a shit-eating smirk. “Now, spill. What got you in detention?”
Oh my freaking Jesus! That put even my obvious change of topic to shame. I gulped and gritted my teeth. “I’m going to kill your brother.”
“For telling me?” Ethan laughed. “He wasn’t the first. Alex and Tony said something about it today at soccer practice, though they wouldn’t tell me the reason.”
My list of people to deal with tomorrow morning had just expanded by two names. Avoiding Ethan’s gaze, I shrugged it off. “It was nothing.”
“You know you’re just making me all the more curious by saying that,” he teased me. “I’ll just end up thinking some really funny shit about you.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Like you’ve been flashing your hot teacher in class or you’ve been spraying graffiti in the hallways.”
I laughed out loud and smacked him on the shoulder. “You’re crazy, you know that, right?”
“It’s all in your hands.”
“Fine, hear the full story then. One of my teachers saw me flipping off your brother this morning.”
In an instant, Ethan’s amused expression went blank. “Why’d you do that?”
“He seems a little too interested in what you and I do together,” I answered, trying for a casual voice to keep the mood light.
Ethan stroked his index finger over his chin. “Is he now?”
“You don’t have to worry. I told him he wouldn’t hear crap from me.” Somehow, this sounded strange even to myself, so I added quickly, “Anyway, what’s there to tell? I mean we’re friends, that’s all, right?”
Maybe that would change tonight, though. In a heartbeat my hopes got really high again, sending fleecy little balls of excitement down into my gut.
“Yeah.” Ethan leaned back so Ted could put our coffees on the table and murmured, “Thanks.”
I said thanks, too, but Ted only looked at Ethan and nodded.
I scooped up some of the foam in my spoon then squeezed my eyes and lips together and rubbed my nose because my static hair was tickling me again. Ethan reached across the table, surprising me when he twirled a
bunch of my hair around his finger and tucked it behind my ear. There was, however, not half as much sensuality in this move as there was yesterday evening when Chris had done the same thing.
So Ethan was probably a practical-thinking guy, not a ravisher like his brother. All the better. Chris had the charm of a skunk and… Hell, I shouldn’t even be thinking about him right now. What was wrong with me?
Shaking off the chill that had stolen over me remembering Chris’s perfectly shaped torso, I anchored myself in the present by focusing on Ethan’s warm gaze. Silky as my hair was from straightening, it didn’t stay behind my ear for long, and after three more tries of hooking it behind my ear, I simply ignored the strands coming down again over my right eye.
“What did you do with your hair?” Ethan wanted to know.
“My friend straightened it for me.” I rolled my eyes. “She thought it would make me look good for a date.”
“I like it how you usually have it,” he told me in a sheepish voice.
Immediately, I thought
Oh, thank goodness
because—wanting to look good or not—the itchy strands had started to get on my nerves. With a relieved sigh, I brushed my hair out of my face and tied it at the back of my head with a hair tie from my purse. That gesture was enough to take away ninety percent of the tension that had built inside me this afternoon and, all of a sudden, I could breathe again. “Ah, this feels so much better.” Way more myself.
“But I like the idea that you did this for me,” Ethan said playfully, and one corner of his mouth tilted up.
“It was an experiment and it failed, so let’s pretend it never happened,” I teased back and poured some sugar into my caffè latte.
Ethan, playing along, adjusted the collar of his shirt in a perfect mockery of Elvis Presley. He lifted his eyebrows and screwed up his mouth. “I have not the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”
Did I say how much I loved this guy when only his natural self shone through? Never would I have thought that someone could make me feel so comfortable with such little things. I started to believe we weren’t only soul mates, but actually twin souls. Why in the world had I been so nervous all afternoon?
Soon enough, the conversation returned to our favorite topics: music and books. For most of the time we were sitting in the café, we discussed what a great job New Line Cinema had done with the adaption of
Lord of the Rings
and the epic film music. We also talked through some
, which we both adored, but I couldn’t get him to like
. That was okay with me, only it slowed down our conversation until it came to an awkward standstill.
Note to self: never mention sparkly vampires again.
I ran my index finger over my bottom lip, biting my nail, and cut a glance at the next table, where a girl was playing a game on her phone. “Know what I’d love to do right now?” I mumbled.