Losing My Balance (Fenbrook Academy #1.5) (3 page)

BOOK: Losing My Balance (Fenbrook Academy #1.5)
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I stood up and my chair clattered to the floor behind me. “Who
exactly
do you think I am? And who the hell are you?”

He stepped closer, which made the metal on his boots jangle. Damn, he was tall. My face was about level with his chest. “I’m Neil, Darrell’s buddy. And you’re another goddamn rich society girl tryin’ to land yourself a millionaire.”

I blinked.
“What?!”

“Don’t give me
‘what?!’.
I know how it works. You meet him at some bleedin’ heart fundraiser and you’re all like, ‘Oh! We must save the starvin’ children!’ And then when you get his number you shimmy on in here a few times and get him in the sack, and then you’re
‘Whoops, I forgot to take the pill—let’s pick the weddin’ stationary ‘fore I get too big.’
And then you dump him and take your fifty percent.”

I stood there staring for a full ten seconds. “I’m not a…a…
society girl,
whatever the hell you mean by that!”

“Riiight. I bet you got one of those names that ends in a vowel. What’s your name?”

Damn!
“Clarissa. But—”

“And what’s your friend’s name?”

“Natasha, but—”

“And is that your BMW parked outside,
Clarissa?”

“Yes, but—”

He folded his arms as if that proved his point. The smug look of victory on his face sent me over the edge.

“Listen,
you!
I am not some…
golddigger!
I’m not here to seduce your friend—neither of us are! We’re ballet dancers. Natasha’s here to dance for him, to give him inspiration, and I’m waiting for her!”

The biker—
Neil,
apparently—frowned. “You’re a ballet dancer?”

I gave him a withering glare. “We don’t wear leotards and pointe shoes
all the time!”

He gave me a long look, as if appraising me anew. I could feel heat rising inside me as his eyes swept down my body, the anger tightening my chest.

At least…I was pretty sure it was anger. I hadn’t felt anything like it before—certainly not with Roger. Not with any man I’d known.

“Can you—” he started.

“If you say ‘put your ankles behind your ears,’ I’ll kick you in the balls,” I told him.

He grinned. “I was goin’ to say, ‘Can you pass me a croissant?’” His eyes were skimming down over my body again…no, not
skimming.
It was far too close and intimate a touch for it to be
skimming.
He was damn well
stroking
those big, oil-stained paws right over me in his mind! “But now you mention it,” he asked, “…
can
you?”

I picked a croissant from the basket of pastries and offered it to him at arm’s length, as if feeding a dangerous animal. “You’ll never find out.”

He plucked the croissant from my hand and the tips of our fingers brushed together. He was unnaturally warm. Not warm and sweaty, but warm in a good way, like a hot engine. Like he was raging with energy inside. He felt…

He felt
real.
Solid, in a way that nothing else in my life did.

I tore my eyes off him, picked up my chair and sat down. A second later, he did the same.

“You’re waiting too?” I kept my eyes on
Vogue.

He shifted his weight in his chair. “Don’t want to disturb Darrell while he’s being ‘inspired.’”

I looked up. “What do you mean by that?”

Neil was smirking. “Ain’t that what your friend’s doin’?” he said innocently. “Inspirin’ him?”

“You didn’t say it like that. You said ‘inspired’, like it was something else!”

“You don’t think it is?”

“No! It’s perfectly innocent! She’s just dancing for him!”

“Uh-huh.” He settled back on his chair, his hands behind his head.

“What?!”

“Okay, it’s all innocent. She’s innocently dancin’ for a millionaire in his basement. And he’s payin’ her, right?”

I was flustered, now. “Yes….”

“A lot, right?”

Five hundred dollars an hour,
they’d agreed on the phone. “Yes….”

“But it’s not like he has a thing for her, or anything, right? I mean, he probably just looked up ‘ballet dancer’ online. He didn’t even know what she looked like, right?”

“They’ve met,” I said tightly. “They met and then he hired her, but that doesn’t mean—”

“Uh-huh,” he nodded and smirked until I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream mainly because, when he described it, the idea that this was just an innocent job seemed ludicrous. I’d kind of known that, but I didn’t like having it pointed out to me. “You’re wrong,” I said. “He’s a designer. He needs inspiration. All of the great artists had muses.”

Neil leaned forward. “Do you even know what it is Darrell makes?”

“Nope, and I don’t care. I’m just going to sit here and read and wait for my friend.”

I focused on my
Vogue,
feeling his eyes on me. After a long moment, I heard him sit back.

“Fine,” he said. I watched him out of the corner of my eye and saw him focus on something on the table. The folded
New York Times.
It was closer to me than it was to him.

I’m not sure what was going through my head. Maybe I wanted to piss him off. Maybe I didn’t want us to lapse into silent reading. But just as he started to say, “Can you pass—” I picked up the newspaper and unfolded it. He gave a tiny grunt of frustration.

“Oh!” I managed to look surprised. “I’m sorry—were you wanting this? I was just about to start reading it.” I pushed the magazine across the table. “But you can have
Vogue,
if you want.”

His eyes burned into me like lasers. I could almost feel myself heating up and luxuriated in his anger.
That’ll teach him to presume things about Nat and me.
I looked up at him and smiled sweetly.
Look at him, with his muscles and his attitude and all that long hair. Probably got stoned once too often behind the gym and dropped out of high school.
I found myself wondering what sort of girl he was with. What did they call those biker wives?
Old Ladies.
Probably some tattooed bimbo.

Wait, what do I care what his girlfriend’s like?

We sank into silence and I felt…disappointed, bizarrely. I didn’t understand it, but I had this hot, nervous flutter in my chest, as if we’d started something and I didn’t want to let it die.

I started to read bits from the
New York Times
to him. I wasn’t sure why. I told myself it was because I felt bad about stealing the paper.

I sighed theatrically. “Can you believe this?
The senator said, ‘We need more tax breaks for the have-nots, not the have-plenties.”

No response. No, that’s not true. There was a response, but it was a cold, stony silence. I’d never
heard
someone
be silent
before, but Neil did it very well. It wasn’t the mere absence of noise; it was like all the sound in the room got sucked into it. “What?” I asked.

“You think it’s fair that ten percent of people own ninety percent of the wealth?” he said, his voice low and smoky.

Oh great. Not only a biker, but a hippy, as well.
My dad is the president of one of the largest banks in Boston and, yes, I had a privileged upbringing. That
may
have colored my thinking on income and taxes and so on just a little bit, I admit. But I was still pretty sure I was right. “I think the people who already pay the most taxes deserve some credit, instead of having all their hard-earned cash stripped from them by—”

He stood up—actually quite an intimidating move, given his size. “By who? By the poor? What were you going to call them? ‘Parasites’?”

My mouth opened and closed a few times. I’d actually been going to say
locusts.
“No! I was going to say, ‘a load of bleeding heart liberals,’” I lied. It was weird: I was red-hot angry with him and yet, at the same time, I cared what he thought of me. I’d read to him to bait him. What was going on?

He stared down at me and I stared up at him. Something about his height and his muscles and that voice and all that anger was doing strange things to me. I wanted to stand up. And I wanted to kneel down.

I caught myself.
Kneel down?!

I pushed the
Vogue
towards him. “Read that, if you don’t like my interpretation of the
Times.

He gave a sardonic little chuckle. “I’m not into
fashion.”

I ran my eyes over his all-black biker outfit. “
Evidently.

He lifted his chin as if to say,
Game on.
“Girl…you got a lot of nerve standin’ there criticizin’ my clothes when that skirt you’re wearin’ meant some woman in a sweatshop in China—”

I did stand up, then. No one says that about my clothes. “This is
Prada!
It’s from
Milan!

“Some woman in a sweatshop in France has made a buck eighty-six for a day’s work and a cow has died just so you can waggle your ass at the guys.”

“Milan is in
Italy
and I don’t
waggle
my ass and your boots are made of leather you—”

“My boots have been with me for ten years and they’ll last another five. That’s a good use of a cow. That cow died for a reason. Your skirt’ll be in the trash next season ‘cos it ain’t
en vogue
.”

“Excuse me for wanting to look good.”

“Only place that skirt looks good is on the floor of some rich dude’s apartment—”

“What
is going on here?” said Nat’s voice. “Who is this?”

I looked up and saw Nat and Darrell standing in the hallway, staring at us. I hadn’t even heard them come upstairs. Immediately, I wondered what had happened down there, Neil’s words echoing in my ears. Was it really all just innocent? Then I relaxed. Natasha was sensible. Even if Darrell
was
pursuing her and had made some sort of pass at her, she wouldn’t have let anything happen on a first “date.”

Wait. Was Natasha’s lipstick smudged?

Darrell looked suddenly very tired. “Natasha, Clarissa: this is Neil. My oldest friend.”

“We’ve met,” I said darkly and folded my arms.

Natasha looked between Neil and Darrell, trying to catch up. “He’s…You’re his…”

“We were at MIT together,” Darrell said.

What?!
This reprobate was at MIT?

Natasha had much the same reaction, except she actually blushed. “You were at MIT? God, sorry! I didn’t mean—You just—”

“Dress like a biker?” I asked sweetly.

“I am a biker,” said Neil. “You got a problem with that, too?”

“What started all this?” asked Darrell, and I got the impression that this happened with Neil a lot.

Neil pointed at me. “I walk in and she’s readin’ the
Times,
man, and she’s all, like,
let’s just execute anyone who doesn’t drive a BMW.”

My jaw dropped for the second time. “I said a tax cut here and there for the people who keep the economy going—”

Neil took a step towards me, “Yeah, you just keep gouging it out of the bottom ninety percent with your silver spoon—”

“Enough!” said Darrell. “Neil, please don’t argue with my guests. Clarissa…”

I turned to glare at him. I’d had enough of millionaires and their weird friends. “
What?

He blanched a little. “…nothing.”

“Oh, so it’s all on me?” Neil glared at me again. “She can just sit up here and eat all the pastries—”

“I had
one!
And they were
for me!”
I took a step towards Neil and again I could feel the heat radiating off him. The anger was hot and bright in my mind, swirling red and dangerous, pushing out everything else—even common sense. I wanted to slap him, and yet I wanted to—

No. No, I didn’t. Of course I didn’t want to do that.

“They were for guests who were waiting. I’m a guest who was waiting!” Neil’s eyes didn’t leave mine, and if anything the heat coming off him increased. The tension rose by the second, my heart hammering in my chest.

“OK, OK, enough!” Darrell took a deep breath. “Neil, I’m sorry. I forgot you were coming over. Clarissa, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to introduce you. Next time—”

“Oh, there won’t be a next time,” I told him. “You think I’m going to sit here next time while some weed-smoking drop-out tells me how I should dress?”

“Hey,
one,”
said Neil,

I only smoke for medicinal purposes,
two,
unlike Mr. Millionaire here I
got
my degree and
three,
as for how you should dress…”—he leaned forward and loomed over me—“I got some ideas on how you could dress. You want to hear them?” And he gave me a mocking, wolfish smile that made me want to scream. The anger had built into a hot, tight ache. It had been growing ever since he walked into the room and now it was so powerful that if I didn’t do something drastic
right then,
I swore I was going to lose control. And the weird thing was that the ache wasn’t in my chest or my stomach. It was lower—between my thighs. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure it was anger.

BOOK: Losing My Balance (Fenbrook Academy #1.5)
8.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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