Read Reluctance Online

Authors: Cindy C Bennett

Tags: #Young Adult, #Vampire, #coming of age, #life choices, #dating, #Young Adult Paranormal, #Vampire short story for anthology

Reluctance (4 page)

BOOK: Reluctance
9.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

After Dahlia's failed attempt to walk in high heels, Aster agreed to let Dahlia wear the same boots she'd worn for her first date with Cam.

Looking at herself in the full-length mirror, Dahlia thought she looked like a movie version of a vampire. She'd never felt so uncomfortable in her life.

However, when she saw Jace's face as he spied her coming down the stairs, she grudgingly gave Aster credit for knowing what she was doing. Jace couldn't seem to stop looking at her. And, as much as his look gave her the creepy-crawlies, it moved her toward her goal.

Her parents were beyond thrilled with Jace, though her mother hadn't cornered Jace as she had Cam, but stood conversing with him in the foyer. They'd been pretty happy about Cam, but, in Jace, they recognized a kindred spirit. Jace seemed particularly excited to meet Aster. Even done up as she was, Dahlia still couldn't compete with her exquisite sister.

"So, where are we going?" Dahlia asked as soon as she was secured in the Mustang.

"Uh . . . ." Jace hesitated.

Dahlia looked at him suspiciously. "You don't have a plan?" she asked.

"Well, I did, but . . . ." He glanced over at her. "With you looking so hot, we're going somewhere

Dahlia's mouth dropped open.

"What was the original plan? Hide me in the darkness somewhere so you wouldn't be seen with me?"

Jace didn't look at her, and Dahlia knew she was right on.

"No . . . of course not," he said, though his tone was unsure. He turned and gave her what she supposed he thought was a winning grin. She wondered how many girls actually fell for it. "Don't be angry, baby. I just want to show you off a little because you look so hot."

Dahlia grimaced, controlling the fury that rose within. He had no idea just how strong she was, what she could do . . . .

"Don't call me baby," she growled. Jace only laughed, as if she'd made a joke.

They pulled up to a local night club for the eighteen to twenty-one set. Dahlia had never been, never had a desire to go. It was a place to socialize and dance, neither of which Dahlia was any good at. Jace placed his hand on the small of her back as they approached the doorman, and she had to force herself not to slap his hand away. When she stumbled in the uncomfortable boots, Jace's mouth tightened, but he didn't say anything.

The doorman, obviously familiar with Jace, high-fived him as they approached the door, and let them enter the club ahead of several people standing in line. As those left to wait outside booed and called out to them, Dahlia felt genuinely bad. She came from a family—a people, really—who expected privilege and didn't care who they stepped on along the way. Dahlia had always been embarrassed by that. It was no better with Jace.

Inside the club, the music beat loudly, but was not entirely unpleasant. The only light came from colored spotlights and the strobes.

"Wanna dance?" Jace yelled.

"No, let's sit for a while," Dahlia yelled back, pointing to a table. She knew what a disaster it would be if she attempted to dance. Jace looked disappointed, but led her over to a crowded table. Dahlia definitely didn't miss the withering look that Tabby gave her as they sat at the table occupied by her. Dahlia knew the story of Tabby, Cam, and Jace. She thought Tabby should be thanking her for taking Jace's attention. Dahlia and Jace squeezed in at the table, and Jace ordered them drinks—without asking what she wanted to drink.

When the drinks came, she nearly rolled her eyes at the fruity beverages made to look like their alcoholic counterparts. She took a sip, gagging at the extreme sweetness.

She glanced around at the others sitting at their table. She had nothing in common with any of them. They all talked and laughed, completely excluding her. Jace did keep his arm slung carelessly around her shoulders, claiming her. Dahlia needed a break.

"I'll be back," she hollered at Jace. He looked at her, brows raised at her audacity at daring to leave his side. She bit back a snarl. "I need to go pee." He gave her a terse nod, embarrassed at her bluntness, and turned back to his crew. Dahlia slid out of the booth, hurrying toward the restrooms.

She stood at the sink in the relative silence, splashing water against her neck, wanting to splash it on her face but knowing she'd end up with smeared makeup if she did so. Man, she hated wearing makeup. Within a few minutes, the door slid open and Tabby stepped in. Dahlia glanced at her, but didn't say anything. Soon, she realized Tabby still stood in the doorway, waiting. Dahlia sighed. She also hated confrontation.

"What?" she said, turning to face Tabby. "Is this where you tell me to stay away from your man? Because trust me, if I could, I would." The last sentence was mumbled.

"Yeah, I guess that is what I'm going to say, but not for the reason you think."

Dahlia's brows lifted at this unexpected remark. "Oh, yeah? Wanna enlighten me?"

"Jace is . . . ." Tabby stopped, cleared her throat. "You were dating Cam. Why would you want to screw that up to go on a date with Jace?"

Dahlia laughed mockingly. "Wow.
telling me this? You should know I'm aware of your history with the two of them."

Tabby shook her head. "Then you should listen to me, because I'm talking from experience. Run back to Cam, as fast as you can."

She gave Dahlia one last look before leaving. Dahlia only wished she didn't know how true Tabby's words were, and she wished even more she could follow her advice. She took one last look at the stranger in the mirror before going back out to rejoin her unfortunate date.

She pushed through the crowd in the hallway that led from the restrooms and bumped into someone.

"Excuse me," Dahlia murmured, moving to step around, stumbling once again.

The person she had collided with stepped in her way again and reached out to steady her. Her anger flared as she looked up, ready to shove the intruder out of her way.

The sight of Cam standing before her drained her anger like nothing else could.

He glanced down at her outfit, once, and that single scan shamed her more than all of Jace's predatory looks had.

"Cam, I . . . ." She held her hands out in supplication.

"Having fun?" he asked. His tone was curious, devoid of sarcasm. She couldn't lie and shook her head. He nodded, as if he'd known what her answer would be.

"You look good," he said. He moved as if to leave but then turned back. "But not as good as you usually do." His eyes scanned her outfit again, then her hair, and finally landed on her overly made-up face. "This isn't you."

As he walked away, Dahlia's heart shuddered. It might not be her now, but it was definitely her future.

* * * * *

Dahlia now spent lunchtime with Jace and his crowd. Jace's friends didn't accept Dahlia, of course, but rather tolerated her because Jace had turned his attention toward her. Aster wouldn't let her leave the house each morning without taming her hair and forcing her into clothes that weren't her own. She even managed to wrangle mascara and lip gloss onto Dahlia, which she tolerated only because she knew she had to play the part to ensnare Jace.

She looked longingly at Cam, sitting with some of the other orderlies, surrounded by many of the younger aides and volunteers who weren't welcome with Jace. She burned with a jealousy she had no right to feel each time he spoke to or smiled at one of them. How easily she could take them down, so quickly they wouldn't be able to react before she had them all—

Dahlia wrenched her thoughts away from that line of thinking when her fangs began to extend downward and her senses heightened to the point she could pick out each individual heartbeat. Deep, calming breaths.

Cam noticed her watching; his intent stare tore at her.

Cam wasn't the only one who noticed her watching him. So did Jace. Each time her gaze wandered that way, he would wrap an arm around her, pull her close, demand her attention. She really was beginning to despise him.

* * * * *

Jace was a frequent dinner guest. He felt the power available to him at Dahlia's house, even if he couldn't understand what exactly he was feeling. He also felt Aster's pull. She smiled at him across the table, a smile full of promise and something else he couldn't quite define but instinctively understood anyway.

If he weren't so set on taking Dahlia from Cam, he would toss her aside for a chance with the exquisite Aster. For now, he would content himself with the dull, boring, clumsy, beneath-him Dahlia. But soon . . . . He smiled back at Aster, letting her know she was on his radar. She responded with a smile that took his breath away.

He turned toward Dahlia and saw she'd watched the interplay between him and her sister. He nearly cringed at the game he had to play, but play it he did. He winked at her and slid his hand over hers. He was aware he hadn't ensnared her deeply enough. He knew she still longed for Cam. He knew Cam would take her back in an instant, but he also knew that, as long as she thought she had a chance with Jace, she'd forgo running back to Cam. They all did.

Jace didn't plan to be with Dahlia any longer than necessary. She wasn't worthy of him. Aster was a different story. There was something about her, something in this family, he wanted. They had plenty of wealth; that in and of itself would have been desirable enough for him. But there was something else, too, something indefinable.

Everyone in the family exuded power—everyone except Dahlia.
was what Jace longed for more than anything else. He'd use Dahlia for more than proving his power over Cam; he'd use her to finagle his way into Aster's life, into this family.

* * * * *

Cam watched from across the dance floor as Dahlia stiffened when Jace placed his arm across her shoulders. He couldn't figure out just what was going on with her.

She had completely given herself over to Jace, and yet every inch of her body language screamed distaste whenever he touched her. What power did Jace have over her? Why would she stay by his side when she clearly had no desire to be there?

Cam rarely came to the club, but, knowing he would see Dahlia there, he indulged in masochism, showing up to watch her with Jace. He knew it was his fault she was with Jace, his fault Jace had set his sights on her. But even knowing that, he couldn't figure out what kept her going back to Jace.

Jace looked Cam's way and, with a malicious grin, leaned over to plant a kiss on Dahlia's cheek, his eyes never leaving Cam's. Dahlia shuddered and pulled away, an action that seemed completely lost on Jace, who still grinned Cam's way. Dahlia said something to Jace. He smiled lovingly at her, making Cam want to smash the smile from his face. Dahlia peeled away from Jace and walked toward the restroom. As soon as she was out of Jace's reach, Jace turned his full attention to his groupies.

Cam watched Dahlia. He saw that as she reached the hallway leading to the restroom she looked quickly back toward Jace. When she was certain that Jace wasn't watching her, Dahlia hurried in the opposite direction and out the front door. Cam hesitated for only a fraction before quickly following.

He stepped outside and looked around, not seeing her right away. Then he spotted her, stepping into a small alcove that would hide her from view. He hurried toward her, not wanting her to escape before he could have his say. Aggressively, he stepped into the alcove. He was met by a hard fist to the solar plexus that left him doubled over and gasping for breath.

"Cam!" Dahlia exclaimed in surprise. "I'm so sorry, I didn't know it was you."

She stood next to him, an arm around his back as she leaned down, supporting him with one hand. He held a finger up, silently asking for a minute to catch his breath.

He gulped oxygen desperately. After a few minutes, he was able to gain a bit of his verticality.

"I'm so, so sorry," she repeated, this time the words coming out with a laugh which she tried to swallow.

"You think that's funny?" he wheezed, grinning at her.

"A little," she laughed. "I really am sorry, Cam."

"Guess I don't need to worry about protecting you." He stood up, rubbing his chest where she'd hit him. He was definitely going to be sore tomorrow. "That's a wicked right hook you've got there."

"Protection is something I definitely don't need," she said.

Cam looked at her questioningly.

Dahlia stumbled over her words. "I mean, there isn't exactly a line of guys trying to get at me."

Cam shook his head. "You have no idea just how appealing you are, Dahlia."

Dahlia laughed again, her voice filled with sarcasm. "Right."

"Why are you with him?" Cam asked abruptly.

Dahlia looked at him, then quickly away.

"You don't even like him," Cam continued.

"What do you mean? Of course I do. He's . . . you know, everything." Her words were empty of feeling.

Cam stepped closer to her. She took a step backward, and another, until she stopped, her back against the wall in the alcove, Cam right in front of her.

"You shudder when he touches you," Cam said, his voice low. "Disgust is on your face whenever he's near."

Dahlia shook her head in denial, but didn't speak as Cam caressed her cheek.

"I watch you, Dahlia. You've never looked at him"—he leaned closer, watching as her eyes dilated and feeling her breathing accelerate at his touch— "the way you look at me." Cam stopped a hairsbreadth from her lips, his eyes boring into hers.

"Tell me no," he commanded quietly. "Tell me you want him. Tell me you don't want
to kiss you right now."

Dahlia opened her mouth, but no sound issued forth. Cam waited, and she tipped her head up just the slightest amount, just enough to touch her lips to his. Cam needed no more invitation as he pressed his mouth to hers and put his arms around her waist, pulling her closely against him. She responded immediately, wrapping her arms around his shoulders, answering his kiss with her own almost desperate passion. This was one area in which Dahlia was definitely
a klutz.

When finally he pulled back, far enough to rest his forehead against hers, they were both gasping for breath.

BOOK: Reluctance
9.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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