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How to Fall
By Rebecca Brooks, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Rebecca Brooks
All rights reserved.
Julia heaved her bag off her shoulder and rang the small silver bell. There was no one at the front desk, but she'd already learned that in Brazil, life had a way of taking its time. She set the backpack on the floor and twisted her long hair up off her skin, welcoming the breeze on her neck.
It had been nicely air conditioned on the bus, the first time she'd felt cool since her plane touched down two days ago. The evening heat hit her as soon as she stepped into the street, laden with luggage and unsure where to go. Clutching the map in her guidebook, she'd finally found the turn-off for the hostel hidden behind a row of palm trees, long fronds rustling as she passed. After the twelve-hour ride from São Paulo, through rushing greenery and endless fields, she wanted nothing more than a cold drink and a long dip in the pool.
The pool was why she'd chosen this place. "A delightful option," her guidebook said. "Pousada Iguaçu may be off the beaten path, but with a steady stream of travelers looking to unwind, relax, and explore the waterfalls — the main reason to come to this border town — you'll be sure to leave with new friends from around the world."
New friends? She was sold. Just having someone to talk to would make Iguaçu a major step up from São Paulo. The most social contact she'd had in two days was when an elderly woman waiting for the bus pointed out that Julia had been holding the map upside down.
She took a deep breath. She wasn't alone, she reminded herself. She was a woman traveling solo. Independent. Self-assured. She knotted her hair into a ponytail and rang the bell again.
The sound of a door opening from the garden made her turn.
She told herself that the first thing she noticed were his eyes, clear blue like a tropical sea and looking straight at her. Maybe his tan. Or the curl in his sun-lightened hair.
But no. She hadn't gotten laid in she didn't know how long, and the man walking in from the garden behind the lobby was shirtless, wearing nothing but cobalt blue swimming trunks slung low on his tanned, narrow hips. She wasn't about to miss a single detail as her eyes ran from his sculpted chest down to the ripples cut into his abs.
"You must be looking for André," he said, and Julia blinked in surprise at his Australian accent. His voice made her think of the beach and diving into the pounding waves. She could practically smell the sun on his skin.
She ran her eyes up and down his body like she could feel him just by looking. Every inch of his muscular torso. The softness of his thick, curly hair. A picture formed of its own accord: her fingers hooked under the band of his shorts, yanking him to her with a take-no-prisoners grip. Her mouth pressed against his before he had time to protest.
There was no one around. She could totally do it.
If she didn't die laughing first.
She couldn't believe how blatant she was being. Was there any chance this guy hadn't noticed how much she'd eaten him up with her eyes?
He flashed her a teasing smile.
Nope, there was no way she was off the hook. She hoped he'd think the deep flush in her cheeks was from walking up the hill to the hostel in the heat and not because she was in the middle of the least Julia-like fantasy to ever pop into her head.
"André?" she asked, trying to regain her composure.
"He does check in. Hang on, I'll get him for you." Before she knew it, he'd hopped over the front desk and was calling through a back door, giving her a shameless view of the muscles in his back as they narrowed down to what she'd already guessed would be a very, very fine ass.
Damn, damn, damn.
She swung her eyes up a second too late as he turned around.
"It's hard for him to hear the bell back there sometimes."
She nodded, trying to stay cool, but her eyes were moving again, completely out of her control. She was a kid reaching into a cookie jar. An addict going for that next hit. Shamelessly she drank in the sight of the man's muscular chest, his tanned skin, the curl in his towel-dried hair.
She wondered if there were any private rooms at the hostel, any chance she could wind up alone with him. Maybe she could "accidentally" trip and fall directly on top of him. Or just happen to lose all the shorts she'd packed. And shirts.
And, apparently, her sanity. She didn't know whether to be relieved or dismayed when at last the door opened and a teenager appeared behind the front desk.
"Oi!" he called. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"Oi." Julia tested out her imperfect Portuguese, feeling even more self-conscious than usual.
"Muito bom," André encouraged her, very good, but she was already lost. Two whole days and she'd only mastered that one simple word.
"That's all I've got," she said with a nervous laugh, and the boy shrugged.
"You'll learn more."
"I'm trying," she lied. But it wasn't a mean lie. Somehow in the chaos of packing and leaving and Christmas and celebrating her god-awful birthday with that number she didn't even want to acknowledge, she hadn't once cracked open the books she'd bought.
But there was some luck coming her way — not only did this hostel have surprisingly good eye candy, but there were still a few beds left in the women's dorm. The bathroom was shared, but Julia didn't mind. The place was impeccably clean. She booked two days and two nights and signed her name nowhere near the dotted line, too distracted to look down.
"You'll love it here," the Australian said with a grin, and Julia hoped he wasn't just praising the hostel's shampoo. There was something electric in the way he was looking at her that made her want to know who he was, what he was doing there, and how much she had to actually talk to him before making it clear exactly what she wanted.
If she could make it clear. If she could be the kind of person who for once let her hands do the talking instead.
She wasn't, of course. A week in Brazil didn't change anything about her life. But for two days and two nights she was a stranger in a hostel and could be anything — anyone — she wanted.
It was intoxicating, and for a moment she felt dizzy with the rush of possibility. Maybe this simple place to rest her head was going to be a way out of the confusion and uncertainty she felt. Not just in Brazil, but going back further. Two years now. Two years since Danny looked her in the eyes and told her he was leaving, and she was both released and set adrift.
Julia could feel a current pulling her toward this man by her side. Her best friend, Liz, talked about "the spark," but Julia had never believed her. How could anyone feel instantly connected to someone? Suddenly she believed Liz. Sometimes you knew.
Julia had always been the careful one, the safe one, the one who stayed strong and steady so she could pick up the pieces when things fell apart for those around her. But this man didn't know anything about her. He didn't think of her as Danny's girl or Liz's protector, there to help her friend through the sadness and fear she faced after a high school party went devastatingly wrong. Even when things started to seem better for Liz, it was hard to let go of the watchful eye, the caring shield. It was hard to believe Liz might really be okay.
This man didn't know that, though. Standing before him, Julia could be anyone she wanted. She could grab him and let herself go for it.
But then André counted out her change, and just as suddenly as it had hit her, the feeling was gone.
She looked away, unsure what had come over her and what ridiculous fantasy she'd concocted in three seconds flat. The image of her fingers sliding under the band of his shorts was nothing more than a joke. She had been staring at the man because, yes, he was gorgeous. But that didn't mean he was looking at her or that anything would actually happen. What she'd felt was nothing more than her own desperate loneliness coming back to bite her in the ass.
Which was hardly her preferred form of foreplay, if she could afford to be choosy.
The man scratched at the small of his back as though to remind her of all that she couldn't have. There was no way not to notice how his shoulder muscles flexed when he moved. How easily he could hold her against a wall in a dark corner somewhere, pin her wrists over her head, press his hips to hers ... The fantasy made her legs weak. She was afraid of how much she wanted it to come true.
"Mais cervejas?" André asked the man, startling Julia back to reality.
"Please, por favor."
"I'll bring them out to you. One minute —" André held up a finger to Julia to signal that he'd take her to her room as soon as he brought out more beer.
"No, wait." The man shook his head. "You get her settled first."
Was it her wishful thinking or were his eyes on her, too? She felt herself under his gaze, her too-long legs and arms and hair that she pulled nervously from its ponytail, a habit of fiddling when she was jumpy to give herself something to do. Immediately she regretted it because of the heat. But she told her hands to be quiet. She couldn't very well go putting it back up now that she'd just pulled it out.
"Thanks," she said, unsticking her voice as she bent down for her bag. But he reached across before she could pick it up, and for the briefest moment their skin touched, hers pale and sweaty, his smooth and at ease.
"Let me help you," he said, his accent buoyant and warm.
She tried to cut through her nerves by thinking about how hard she was going to laugh describing him to Liz. This Australian hunk had walked right up to her like he was auditioning for the lead role in some wild South American dream she didn't even know she had.
And? She could already hear Liz excitedly pumping her for more information.
And nothing, Julia would shrug. What, did Liz think anything would actually happen?
In the last few years, Liz had started getting laid like sex was a thing people did on a regular basis and not once in a blue moon. No matter whether she was in a relationship or not, she always had a satisfied smile and a new story to share.
It hadn't always been like that, so Julia didn't begrudge her friend the good times. Liz had been through hell when they were younger and deserved to have fun. But Julia hadn't given up looking out for what could go wrong.
"Totally not necessary," she said primly, trying to pick up the bag first. But he was already there, so close she could see the light hairs on his arms and the thin blue veins where his muscles flexed as he lifted her backpack in one easy stroke.
"You don't have to," she tried again, arms by her side, holding nothing but her light shoulder bag and the hostel receipt as he looked to André to see where they should go.
"I don't have to do anything," he said with a hint of teasing in his voice, his smile reaching all the way to his luminous eyes.
"You know what I mean." But she smiled back, despite herself.
"I want to," he said in that delicious accent, catching her eye again, and there was something in that word — in the idea of him wanting — that made her breath feel hot and trapped inside her.
"You have some strange desires," she tried to joke, and then immediately wished that she hadn't. Her blush was enough to set the whole hostel on fire.
But there it was — that grin again. "I'd be happy to share more of them, if you're willing," he whispered as he turned to follow André out the door.
Julia stood frozen by the front desk. Had he actually insinuated what she thought he had? Did people really say those things?
Quickly she made herself follow the two men out, her face so hot she knew she looked like a lobster boiled alive. Surely there was some kind of snappy response she could zip back, but her voice had left her.
As had her reason. Was he actually flirting with her, or was she so delusional from a long day of travel and an epic dry spell that she was willing to imagine anything to make herself feel good?
They went around the corner, and André motioned them into a long narrow room with two bunk beds on one side and two twin beds on the other.
"So which bed do you want?" the man asked, glancing over his shoulder as he gripped her bag.
Whichever one you're in, she wanted to say, but fortunately her voice still wasn't working so nothing came out.
The two bottom bunks were taken, as was one of the singles, the sheets partway pulled up, bags cinched and leaning against the wall. Someone had left a pink travel toothbrush and travel-sized toothpaste on a washcloth by the pillow. Julia figured it was safe enough to do what everyone else was doing and leave her stuff out; nobody wanted her tank tops anyway. Her passport and valuables she'd give to André to put in the hostel safe.
She walked over to the farthest single bed, back against the wall, and dropped her shoulder bag.
"I guess this one," she said, surveying the room to keep from straying back to the man's chest. It was like there were magnets attached to her eyeballs. It wasn't her fault they couldn't be stopped.
"Good choice." The man dropped her pack next to the bed and extended a hand for her to shake. "I'm Blake."
"Julia." His skin was warm, his whole hand enveloping hers. She couldn't help wondering what it would feel like for him to hold her. Not just her hand, casually like this, but all of her. Completely. To feel his whole weight pressing against her. That wanting he'd spoken of — could it be her?
Danny had always held her like she was something fragile, pulling back like he might hurt her somehow. But Julia didn't want to be safe anymore.
She wanted to be shattered.
Her hand rested in Blake's a moment too long, and she wondered what it would feel like to be his for a night. It wouldn't be delicate. They wouldn't worry about breaking each other. It was as though somehow she knew from his handshake alone that there was nothing he did halfway. The thought sent a shiver from her fingertips all the way down her spine, a mix of excitement and nerves.
But it was impossible. Or at least improbable. What she wanted couldn't change who she was. Julia had spent eight years dating her best friend's brother as together they supported Liz through the most difficult time of her life. Even if Liz was better now and Danny, too, had moved on, Julia had been through too much with both of them for her to ever fully let herself go.
Especially not with a strange man, in a foreign country, five minutes after randomly meeting in a hostel so far from home it felt like it was balanced on the edge of the world.
Or maybe that was exactly why, for once, she could.
André ushered Blake out, but before he left, he stopped by the door and turned.
"Care to join us for a beer by the pool?" he asked.
Us. She felt her stomach plummet, her fantasies dashed against the rocks. Obviously he was there with his girlfriend. This was a pity invite, trying to be nice to the new kid who looked so forlorn.
"Oh, I don't want to interrupt," she said hastily, reaching for her bag as though she had a million things to do at four p.m. in a tiny border town where she didn't know a soul and could barely say hello.
"It's not interrupting." Blake smiled broadly. "We're just a bunch of bludgers hanging around. Jamie and his girlfriend, Chris, are Aussies like me, Lukas is a Dutch photographer, and Dana's from Ireland. She just left for the bus station, but if she can't get a seat tonight, she'll be back soon." He rattled off their names and Julia didn't hear anything in his voice that sounded like spoken for.
"Oh," Julia said. Both her brain and mouth still seemed to be broken. Blake gave her a look that hovered somewhere between a smile and a smirk.
"Tough decision?" he asked, like he could read the thoughts running through her mind. Like he knew exactly how good-looking he was and expected her to jump all over him.
Well, not this girl. She'd been on a bus for the whole day and what she really wanted was to relax. To sit by the pool with a nice cold — shit.
Yes, she very much did want a beer.
"Give me five minutes," she said.
"Take your time. André's rules about the dorms are strict, so I'll meet you in the garden before I'm kicked out for improper behavior."
"For improperly carrying my bag?" The edges of a smile danced around her lips.
"Improper actions, improper thoughts." He grinned. "You never can tell sometimes."
Excerpted from How to Fall by Rebecca Brooks, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2015 Rebecca Brooks. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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