Authors: J.L. Weil
Zoe lightly bumped her shoulder against mine. “Let me give you a word of advice. That one leaves scars. Stare too long at that one and you’ll get burned.”
If I was being honest, a chance to see him was the entire reason I’d come. And wowzer. He was mind-bendingly gorgeous. “Do you speak from personal experience?” My head felt like it was floating in the clouds.
Zoe giggled. “Zane? Not exactly.”
“Does he have a girlfriend?” I wanted to hit my head on the wall as soon as those words left my mouth. God, I was acting a little too desperate. What was wrong with me? It was like I’d never seen a guy before.
What a way to make a first impression, Pipe.
If Zoe thought I was odd, she didn’t show it. “Not that I know of. But he doesn’t always tell me. Brothers tend to suck that way.”
Didn’t I know it?
My face flamed ten different shades of red.
Oh God. I had more or less admitted I had the hots for her brother. “I’m so embarrassed.”
She laughed lightly. “You shouldn’t be. I’m used to it. He has that effect on the female population, but then he opens his mouth and poof, the drool-factor is shattered. I’m warning you, Zane is a prickly bastard.”
I didn’t know if I should thank her or hide my head in the nearest sand hole. “Duly noted.” It wasn’t like I had come here looking for a spring fling, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t have a little fun. Warnings kind of rolled off me like water off a duck’s back.
Zoe waved at a girl with perfect auburn ringlets. “Come on. Let me introduce you to everyone.”
Why not? I mean, how much more could I humiliate myself in one day?
Moving closer to the roaring fire, I was hyper aware of Zane. I could feel his eyes on me, but I kept mine averted, knowing I would probably stumble and face-plant in the sand. Lord knows what he already thought of me. It was my mission to erase any preconceived notions that might be swirling in that head of his, because there seemed to be a lot of assumptions about Rose’s granddaughter.
No doubt, they had me all wrong.
Zoe rattled off names while we weaved in and out, but it was the small group around Zane that I would remember, and not because they were all incredibly good-looking, which they were, but because they were all family.
“Did you bring in another stray, Zoe?” The light-hearted timber belonged to a dark-haired cutie. He was as breathtaking as Zane, but there was a playfulness in his aqua eyes that Zane lacked.
“This bonehead is Zach. My twin,” Zoe informed me.
“Twin?” I looked between the two of them measuring their features. It was obvious by their coloring they were related. Same midnight hair and aquamarine eyes, a stunning contrast.
“Trust me. It’s not as cool as it sounds,” Zach said teasingly. “Just wait. Zoe drives everyone around her crazy.”
She pinched Zach, rolling her eyes. “Don’t listen to him.” A mischievous glint lit her eyes.
Her smile brightened. “This brooding eye-candy is Zane, my slightly older brother.”
I coughed, trying not to let my cheeks turn a cherry red. I was going to kill her later, if I didn’t die from mortification by the end of the night.
Our eyes engaged. Before this moment, I wondered if seeing him would bring forth those tingles of interest and lust. It was strange. I’d never had such a sharp reaction to anyone. My heart caught in my throat, a mess of emotions slamming into me, turning like the tides.
Well, I guess that answered my question. Hell yes, seeing him brought a mess of emotions, and I thought for sure my knees were going to buckle.
The color of his eyes was mesmerizing, reminding me of a frozen cavern. Hues of crystal blue refracted from the firelight. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was drool dripping from the side of my mouth. He looked edible, even in just jeans and a T-shirt.
“We sort of met.” He was frowning, but the sound of his voice did funny things to my belly.
“You failed to mention that you two met,” Zoe added, giving me an inquisitive glance, the kind that said “we are so going to talk about that later.”
I angled my head, meeting Zane’s cool gaze head on. “Right. The country club. I was warned about you.” I couldn’t believe I sounded so calm and flirtatious, especially, since I was quivering inside.
“For good reason.” A chill settled over his words, hardening those eyes to chips of ice.
Zoe thumped him on the chest in warning. “Ignore him. He’s always an ass.”
“But I’m not,” said an amused voice to the right of Zane.
Zoe’s smile widened. “How could I forget about my big brother? Oh wait, I can’t. He always makes his presence known. This, Piper, is Zander.”
What the heck was with all the Zs, and how many were there?
And good grief, did they all have to look like dark Celtic gods? The accents…Irish? Welsh? I was no scholar. It was faint, but enough to make most girl’s hearts wobble. Zoe had a trio of troublesome brothers. I didn’t know whether to envy or pity her. So of course, instantly, I liked them, well, except for Zane. My feelings for him were undetermined. “Please tell me there aren’t more of you.”
Zoe handed me a drink. “That is a loaded question.”
I gave her a puzzled glance.
Zach chuckled. “Zoe is just sore that I’m older by five minutes. She hates being the baby, but uses it to her advantage at every single chance.”
“Hey,” she protested. “That is not entirely true.” But her tone wasn’t very convincing.
“So what do think of Raven Hallow?” asked Zach.
I swirled the yellowish liquid in my cup, which I figured was lemonade and probably vodka. Parties were my thing, but drinking, not so much. I hated the fuzziness and tripping over my feet. Add in the puking my guts out and the killer hangovers, and one time was enough for me. Poor Parker. I didn’t know what I would have done without him watching out for me and taking care of me.
The memory made me miss him that much more. “It’s not home.”
Zach pulled a swig from his cup. “I’m going out on a hunch here, but you don’t seem like the typical summer girl.”
“Summer girl?” I echoed.
He waved his drink in the air with his movements. “Yeah, you know. The rich girls who come here for the summer, looking for a righteous tan and a hook up with a local.” The smile on Zach’s lips said he had been one of those local hookups more than once.
“I am definitely not one of those,” I assured him.
“Gross.” Zoe wrinkled her nose. “Are you hitting on my new friend?”
Zach wiggled his brows.
I laughed, pegging him for a harmless flirt. Anyway, I was more interested in another Hunter. There was a strange pull inside me, confusing and unnerving. I didn’t understand why my body was on high alert when it came to Zane. We’d barely met, and yet I was ready to go under the dock with him for some intense, reckless lip-locking. What I wouldn’t give to get my hands on his totally touchable abs. Perfection.
I’d never even had a boyfriend before, and then, overnight I became a hussy. Not likely. I had standards, and it was time I took control of my raging hormones. Taking a sip from my cup, I hoped it would clear my head.
“Ignore him,” said a husky voice. It belonged to Zander, the eldest Hunter. “He hits on everything with a skirt.” It took me a moment to realize he was talking about Zach, not Zane.
“Good thing I left all my skirts in Chicago.” Needing to steady my legs, I took a seat in one of the empty lawn chairs beside Zoe.
She laughed. “I knew I was going to like you.”
Me too. Zoe was very easy to talk to, and normally girls and I didn’t mix, too much jealousy and drama. I didn’t need either in my life. Thank goodness for Parker, but having a guy for a best friend had complications in itself.
Zander took the seat on the other side of me. A piece of me was hoping Zane would have occupied the empty seat, but he couldn’t be farther from me.
The party was pretty tame compared to the ones I normally attended. No blinding rainbow lights. No Parker. No skimpy-dressed-boyfriend-stealing-bimbos. And someone had a serious love-fest with Brantley Gilbert as another one of his hits pumped over the beach. Most of the people were nice, but standoffish. The ones who did talk to me did so for only a minute for polite chitchat or a nod, before speaking with Zander. If it weren’t for Zoe, Zach, and Zander, the triple Zs, making me laugh, it would have been the pits. Zane didn’t say two words to me, but I caught his eyes on me constantly, and each time his scowl deepened.
What was with this guy?
I was starting to think all he had going for him was his extraordinary face. He had the look of a guy who left a string of broken hearts in his wake, and I didn’t want to be one of his victims. Or did I?
The next time I caught him glaring at me, I held his with one of my own, raising a challenging brow, not that I thought he was the kind of guy who backed down from challenge. And he wasn’t.
Glowering, he didn’t look away, and I hated to admit that his arctic glare was making me uneasy. I blinked. It must have been a hell of a blink, ’cuz the next thing I knew, he was standing in front of me, blocking the heat from the crackling fire.
“Zoe, she shouldn’t be here,” he snapped.
I was taken aback by his harsh tone. It made the kitty cat inside me throw out her claws. “Are you always this welcoming, or are you just a classic douche?”
“Oooh,” his other two brothers chorused, bumping fists.
He shot me with icy daggers that were probably very intimidating to most, but I didn’t back down easily. Parker could attest to that and all the sticky situations he’d gotten me out of, except this time I was on my own.
“Douche,” he repeated. “How charming.”
I lifted my chin. No one pushed me around or told me where I could or couldn’t be. I wasn’t one of those placid girls. The sooner Zane Hunter realized that, the better, or we were going to be having many more confrontations. “I call it like I see it.”
Zane’s eyes flashed similar to the blue center of a flame.
“Take a chill pill.” Zander stood, putting himself between the son of Satan and me. They were almost the same height, topping over six feet. “Nothing is going to happen with me around.”
What did he think I was going to do?
It was clear from Zane’s straight expression that he wasn’t convinced. “Oh, how could I forget? Zander is above the laws. It’s your funeral.” And with that lingering unpleasant thought, Zane sauntered his jean-clad butt into the shadows, giving me his back.
I didn’t know why I was even thinking about his butt. Asshole. I mentally flipped him off. “What the hell was that about? What is he talking about?”
Zoe offered the lamest excuse I’d ever heard. “I told you my brother was moody.”
I wanted to shake her. Moody? That was downright rude, hurtful, and senseless. “Maybe I should go. I don’t what to cause problems.” I shifted in my seat to get up before I made a bigger scene.
Zach stopped me. “Don’t let him get to you.” His eyes narrowed at Zane’s back. “He’s the black sheep of the family.”
“He’s heinous,” Zoe added with a cute pout that would have looked ridiculous on me.
I don’t know what it was about her, but I felt like I might have just made a legit “girl” friend. Look at me. Two days on this island and I’d made a friend and an enemy without even trying. I decided to stay.
“So what’s it like living in that enormous house?” Zach asked, smiling at me. The light from the fire caught strands of his raven hair. The Hunters all had that in common, dark, dark hair. And the accent.
Toying with my necklace, I replied, “I wouldn’t call it a house. It’s atrocious.”
For the next hour, the triple Zs kept me busy with the thousand-question game. The sun had completely disappeared over the oceanic horizon, and the burning wood snapped.
pretty much stayed out of my way and I his. As the crowd began to thin and the fire dwindled, Zane emerged from the shadows, appearing beside me.
And just like that, my body was on pins and needles again. Damn him. I wrapped my arms around myself, trying to chase the sudden chill that prickled my skin.
Zach nudged him in the shoulder. “Zane, stop sulking for two seconds and give the lady your hoodie. She’s cold.”
I started to protest, but he had already scooped it off a wooden log and handed it to me. “Here,” he said, dark and sinfully beautiful.
I hated it. Hated him.
Liar. Liar. Pants on fire.
My subconscious chanted.
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him I didn’t need his stupid hoodie, but before I could utter the words, a shiver tore through me. It would be pointless to pretend, but what he didn’t know was the shudder was more because of his presence than the cold breeze blowing in from the oceanfront. “Thanks,” I grumbled, slipping my arms into the sleeves and tugging the soft material over my head. The fabric hung past my fingertips. Then, as if someone else claimed my body, I lifted the ends to my face, inhaling.
My heart missed a beat. It smelled of summer rain, smoky firewood, and a scandalous Zane. The three blended in an exotic fragrance that teased all the senses, making me completely forget myself. I lifted my eyes, and I wanted to climb into the nearest sinkhole.
Zane had been watching. He arched his brow.
I couldn’t believe I’d gotten caught sniffing his hoodie, especially after he made it very clear he didn’t want me here. Classic. Only me. My cheeks flamed. The darkness hid most of my face, but still, it was awww-kward.
“You’re in over your head, rich girl,” he murmured.
The claws came back out. “Good thing I’m not a rich girl.”
He snorted. “The big-ass house you’re staying in says otherwise.” He leaned forward, his face inches from mine. “You even smell like money.”
I exhaled the breath I’d been holding, his nearness causing a fleet of somersaults. That was funny, because I knew for a fact that I smelled like a five-dollar bottle of Pantene. “Show’s how much you don’t know about me.”
“Why are you here?”
What’s his deal?
“Did I do something to piss you off?”
His eyes roamed curiously over my face. “You should leave before you get hurt.”
“Hurt?” Was he…? “Is that a threat?”
He shook his head. “No. A warning. One you should take seriously.”
Did I detect a hint of sadness? Of regret? I wasn’t sure anything could break his frigid exterior, so to hear actual emotion did something funny to my belly. “And that’s my cue.” I stood up. “I would like to say it’s been a pleasure, but it hasn’t.” Then I turned to leave, but not before I thought I caught a glimpse of a smirk.