Sunday, September 11
Why does it always happen to me? What did I do to piss off the Fates so badly? I stared down at my puke-covered Mary Janes and winced. Eww, gross. So much for my brand new shoes.
“Come on, Kay, let’s get you home.” I pulled my best friend up and put my arm around her. She smelled like stale beer and vomit. Rancid breath. I should leave her here, I thought spitefully. I hadn’t even wanted to come to the stupid party to begin with. It was just another one of their attempts to get me into the fold, but I had no intention of getting involved in any that nonsense. Just look what it had gotten me tonight—Jeff hit on me yet again…ugh… and then my shoes were ruined. So wrong.
“S-s-sor-ry,” Kay slurred as she focused on putting one foot in front of the other.
“Where’s your car?” I asked as I scanned the vehicles parked too close together on the fringe of the lake.
Perfect, I groaned to myself. I’d seen her sister earlier arguing with her loser boyfriend, but didn’t know she’d already taken Kay’s car and left. I used my cell to try and call her, but wasn’t surprised it went straight to voicemail.
Just fabulous. It’s not like I could even call Kay’s boyfriend. His parents had cornered him into some kind of family night.
I searched the mass of bodies looking for someone who’d loan me their car. The raucous laughter of teens filled the air as they danced around the mummy of the headless horseman they’d built, his pumpkin head ablaze, to usher in the month of October and the ritual of Samhain. Bonfires decorated the shore to welcome our most celebrated holiday.
The haze from the bonfires made it hard to see anyone. Jeff caught my eye and waved. I could ask him, but Neighbor Boy would think I owed him. Uh, definitely not. He was one of my best friends, but he had a serious crush on me. Loaning me his Jeep would equal a date in his eyes. Not gonna happen. I didn’t see anyone else that I knew well enough to ask.
Kay made a horrible retching noise and threw up all over my shoes again. Why me?
“Looks like we’re walking.” Thank the Fates she didn’t live far.
I half dragged the semi-conscious girl away from the lake and towards the outskirts of New Salem. I still couldn’t believe I was stuck hauling her drunken ass home. She owed me big time.
It was dark, but I knew my way through the woods. I’d spent enough time in them growing up to be able to walk through blindfolded. Kay, however, made it more difficult. I had to stop every few minutes to let her throw up. By the time we finally reached the first house on our street, Gallows Lane, I really was ready to leave her.
She groaned and pitched forward, dragging me with her. Now I could add scraped knees to my list of things that had gone wrong tonight, I thought as I fell. Fingers curled around my arm and yanked me backward before I could hit the ground. Kay fell flat on her face.
I turned around to say thank you, but the words froze in my throat. I looked up and up. The light from the street lamp illuminated hair the color of rich, dark chocolate. It swept down almost to his shoulders in a perfect mess that framed a face of sharp angles and strong features. Sculpted perfection was my first thought. Gray eyes that reminded me of the fog swirling over the mountains after a rain, stared steadily down at me. My mind focused on one fact—he was absolutely gorgeous.
“Are you okay?” he asked. His voice was deep and gravelly. I liked it.
I nodded, not trusting my own voice. I was in full ogle mode.
He looked down at Kay and sighed. He lifted her into his arms and turned to me. “Where does she live?”
“Just up the lane,” I told him, grateful my voice didn’t crack while I admired the way his muscles rippled under the tee shirt as he shifted his hold on Kay. “Thanks.”
He nodded and motioned for me to show him the way.
“I’m Cassie Jayne Bishop,” I told him as we walked. “CJ.”
Crap, why I had I told him my full name? We were taught at an early age not to tell strangers our full names. To us it was the ultimate taboo. Oh well. It’s not like I believed in that nonsense anyway.
“Ethan Warren,” he said and quickened his pace.
Okay, so maybe he didn’t want to talk to me. Or he could just be in a hurry to get away from the stench of dried vomit and beer. I hoped it was the latter. Then I remembered my shoes. I probably reeked too.
We reached Kay’s house in record time. His long strides ate up the sidewalk. I found myself running to keep up with him. He had to be at least four or five inches over six feet. I barely reached his shoulder.
Fate decided to forgive me. Her Dad still wasn’t home. Neither was Jess. I opened the back door with the spare key they kept buried in the gravel. I turned around to take Kay, but he was already entering the house. I led the way upstairs to her room so I could open the door for him. He dumped her on the bed. I pulled her shoes off and tucked a throw around her.
“Come along, Cassie Jayne Bishop. I’ll walk you home.” He turned and headed out the door.
I stared after him. Who was he? I found him waiting at the back door when I came down. After locking the door and pocketing the key (hey, he’d seen me take it—how was I to know he wouldn’t come back?) we started up the lane toward my own smaller, more meager house.
“Why weren’t you drinking?” he asked me as we walked.
“You were at the party?” I looked up, startled.
He nodded. “Yeah. I saw you and Drunk Girl arrive, but I never saw you drink anything all night.”
“No, I don’t drink.” And I didn’t. I’d seen what it did to my dad. Watching that train wreck was enough to deter anyone from ever wanting to touch the stuff themselves, including me. My dad was great, except when he drank.
Then the impact of what he’d asked sunk in. How did he know I didn’t drink anything? Had he been watching me? I peeked sideways at him and felt my mouth go dry. It was indecent the way his tight, green tee-shirt hugged his abs.
“Interesting,” he said after a moment.
Interesting? What did that mean? Did he assume I was like Kay and drank myself into a stupor on a regular occurrence? Please don’t think I’m that much of an idiot, I begged silently. Why did I even care what he thought anyway? It wasn’t like he was interested in me or something. Was he? Did I want him interested? Oh, yeah, you bet your ass I did.
Guys tended to notice my best friend, Makayla Martin, first. It didn’t bother me, though. I had just as much confidence in myself as she did. I always got anyone I wanted. Kay and I were the same in many ways, but we were also as different as Gucci heels were to a pair of Payless stilettos.
She was tall with dark, onyx hair that glowed like black fire. Her eyes, always full of life, shone like the hazel eyes of a cat. An olive complexion gave her an exotic look. Guys fell all over themselves for the chance of a smile.
Me now, I was a bit of a different story. I was short, petite, and full of the fire that is inherent in a redhead with an Irish ancestry. My hair stood out. It wasn't auburn or even that ugly orange shade some red-heads ended up with. No, my hair was blood red like a Coca-Cola can. My golden colored brown eyes flashed with the same confidence of Kay’s. I could turn heads just as easily as she could. And I knew it.
Our personalities were just as different. Kay had this insane need to be the center of attention. She was literally a force of nature. I was usually content to be the fashionable sidekick with the kickass shoes. I didn’t need every single person clamoring for my attention just so long as I got the attention of the person I wanted. Like the boy walking beside of me. And I would have him. Maybe. The stench could be a hurdle. Kay was so gonna get it tomorrow.
My mind flashed to my sister and for a second, her face danced in front of my eyes. If only she could see me now. She’d be laughing herself silly.
“This is my house,” I told him as we came to the old yellow Victorian home. It was just a bit run down, but I still loved it. He followed me up the steps and stopped under the porch light. “Thanks for walking me home.”
When he didn’t say anything, I looked up to see him staring at me. A smile flirted with his lips. Dimples. He had dimples.
“Don’t worry about it. I figured you might need some help when I saw you staggering away from the party. Does she always get that drunk?”
So he did look at Kay as possible girlfriend material! Of course he would be worried about her getting drunk all the time. I sighed with irritation. This could be a problem. There were times I really hated my best friend.
“No,” I lied, my BBF skills kicking in despite my irritation. Kay did get drunk a lot. I coped with problems at home by writing in my journal. She coped with her problems by drinking. I frowned, a thought occurring to me.
“Wait, you followed us? A bit stalkerish don’t you think?”
He grinned. My knees turned to butter. “Yeah, that’s why I decided to follow you and only give you some help if you needed it. You’re a tiny bit of fluff. I’m surprised the Amazon didn’t bowl you over before you reached the lane.”
“You’re rude.” Tiny? Why did he have to remark upon my shortness?
His smile widened.
“And Kay doesn’t always act like that.”
“You’re a loyal little thing aren’t you?” he laughed.
A little thing? Yet another remark upon my stature, my one bone of contention with my appearance. It irked me. He irked me. Maybe I didn’t want him after all.
His eyes sparkled with laughter. He was irritating me on purpose.
“She’s my friend.”
His lips turned up in a half smile and his eyes darkened to steel. “Did I say something to upset you?”
“Of course not,” I replied coolly. I couldn’t seem to drag my gaze away from his eyes. They fascinated me. I’d never seen eyes that could turn so many shades of gray in a matter of seconds.
“And you’ve got a bit of a temper,” he mused. His face wore an odd expression as he reached out and pushed a stray strand of hair behind my ear. I almost hyperventilated.
Normally, I would have evaded any guy who tried to touch me, especially one I didn’t know, but not this one. I wanted him to touch me. Very weird.
His fingers were warm as they continued down from my ear and brushed my cheek. I felt a little spark of electricity shoot across my skin.
“Anything else you’d like to point out while you’re doing such a bang up job of it?” I tried to work up a good glare. He looked at me like he couldn’t quite figure out how I fit into the whole puzzle. I was the odd piece that just didn’t work no matter which way you turned it.
His face turned serious as he thought about it. “Your face gets all red when you get angry.”
Oh, he did not.
“And you make a funny choking noise when you’re trying not to yell.”
My fist clenched.
I turned and unlocked the door. No way was I going to stand here and listen to this.
His hand found mine before I could open the door. He pulled me back to him.
“And despite all that, you’re still the cutest little thing I’ve seen in ages,” he told me with a devilish grin.
My mouth fell open. He thought I was cute?
“I’ll see you around, Cassie Jayne Bishop.” He tweaked my nose and then sauntered back the way we’d come.
I watched him until he disappeared. Cute? He said I was cute? Mr. Melt In Your Mouth Gorgeous thought I was cute? I smiled. Then I caught site of my Mary Janes. Ugh. Kay owed me a new pair of shoes.
I shivered as the cold wind blew through the trees and wished it was just a bit warmer. The wind faded and I could feel heat radiate around me. The heat pump must have kicked on, I decided. At least Mom had remembered to turn it on.
My gaze flitted back to the spot where he’d disappeared. I hadn’t actually seen him turn the corner. It was more like he’d…faded. Odd. My eyes must be really tired, I decided, but I smiled. I could still feel his fingers where they’d grazed my cheek and my hand tingled from the warmth of his.
Things might definitely be looking up.
That is if I could forget October 15th and stay out of the town’s clutches.
*** To find out what happens between Cassie and Ethan, buy The Promise by Apryl Baker, available at Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com ***