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The whole thing started with a wasted jock and a totaled car. Or so I thought. But as usual, the truth was a bit more complicated….
"So, how does it feel to be free again?" Nash leaned against my car, flashing that smile I couldn't resist. The one that made his dimples stand out and his eyes shine, and made me melt like chocolate in the sun, in spite of the mid-December chill.
I sucked in a deep, cold breath. "Like I'm seeing the sun for the first time in a month." I pushed my car door closed and twisted the key in the lock. I didn't like parking on the street; it didn't seem like a very safe place to leave my most valuable possession. Not that my car was expensive, or anything. It was more than a decade old, and hardly anything to oooh over. But it was mine, and it was paid for, and unlike some of my more financially fortunate classmates, I'd never be able to afford another one, should some idiot veer too close to the curb.
But Scott Carter's driveway was full long before we'd arrived, and the street was lined with cars, most much nicer than mine. Of course, they all probably had more than liability coverage….
Fortunately, the party was in a very good section of our little Dallas suburb, where the lawn manicures cost more than my father made in six months.
"Relax, Kaylee." Nash pulled me close as we walked. "You look like you'd rather gouge your own eyes out than hang for a couple of hours with some friends."
"They're your friends, not mine," I insisted as we passed the third convertible on our way to the well-lit house at the end of the cul-de-sac, already thumping with some bass-heavy song I couldn't yet identify.
"They'd be yours if you'd get to know them."
I couldn't help rolling my eyes. "Yeah, I'm sure the glitter-and-gloss throng is waiting for me to give them a chance."
Nash shrugged. "They know all they need to know about you—you're smart, pretty, and crazy in love with me," he teased, squeezing me tighter.
I laughed. "Who started that vicious rumor?" I'd never said it, because as addictive as Nash was—as special as he made me feel—I wasn't going to toss off words like love and forever until I was sure. Until I was sure he was sure. Forever can be a very long time for bean sidhes, and so far his track record looked more like the fifty-yard dash than the Boston marathon. I'd been burned before by guys without much staying power.
When I looked up, I found Nash watching me, his hazel eyes swirling with streaks of green and brown in the orange glow from the streetlights. I almost felt sorry for all the humans who wouldn't be able to see that—to read emotion in another's eyes.
That was a bean sidhe thing, and easily my favorite part of my recently discovered heritage.
"All I'm saying is it would be nice to get to hang out with my friends and my girlfriend at the same time."
I rolled my eyes again. "Oh, fine. I'll play nice with the pretty people." At least Emma would be there to keep me company—she'd started going out with one of Nash's teammates while I was grounded. And the truth was that most of Nash's friends weren't that bad. Their girlfriends were another story.
Speaking of bloodthirsty hyenas…
A car door slammed in the driveway ahead and my cousin, Sophie, stood next to Scott Carter's metallic-blue convertible, her huge green eyes shadowed dramatically by the streetlight overhead. "Nash!" She smiled at him, ignoring me in spite of the fact that we'd shared a home for the past thirteen of her fifteen years, until my dad had moved back from Ireland in late September.
Or maybe because of that.
"Can you give me a hand?" As we stepped onto the driveway, she rounded the end of her boyfriend's car in a slinky, sleeveless pink top and designer jeans, a case of beer clutched awkwardly to her chest. Two more cases sat at her feet, and I glanced around to see if any of the neighbors were watching my fifteen-year-old cousin show off an armload of alcoholic beverages. But the neighbors were probably all out, spending their Saturday evening at the theater, or the ballet, or in some restaurant I couldn't even afford to park near.
And most of their kids were at Scott's house, waiting for us to come in with the beer.
Nash let go of me to take the case from Sophie, then grabbed another one from the ground. Sophie beamed at him, then shot a haughty sneer at my plain jacket before turning on one wedge-heeled foot to strut after him.
I sighed and picked up the remaining box, then followed them both inside. The front door opened before Nash could pound on it, and a tall, thick senior in a green-and-white-letter jacket slapped Nash's shoulder and took one of the cases from him. Nash twisted with his empty arm extended, clearly ready to wrap it around me, but found Sophie instead. He sidestepped her—ignoring her plump-lipped pout—and took the case from me, then stood back to let me go in first.
"Hudson!" Scott Carter greeted Nash, shouting to be heard over the music. He took one of the cases and led us toward a large kitchen crowded with bodies, scantily clad and shiny with sweat. In spite of the winter chill outside, it was hot and humid indoors, the hormone level rising with each new song that played.
I took off my jacket, revealing my snug red blouse, and almost immediately wished I could cover myself back up. I didn't have much to show off, but it was all now on display, thanks to the top Emma had picked out for me that afternoon, which suddenly seemed much more daring than it had in the privacy of my own room.
Nash set the remaining case of beer on the counter as Scott slid the first one into the refrigerator. "Kaylee Cavanaugh," Scott said when he stood, having apparently noticed me for the first time. He eyed me up and down while I resisted the urge to cross my arms over my chest. "Lookin' good." He glanced from me to Sophie, then back, while my cousin tried to fry me alive with the heat of her glare. "I'm starting to see the family resemblance."
"All I see is you," Nash said, pulling me close when he realized Sophie and I weren't happy with the comparison.
I smiled and kissed him impulsively, convinced by the slow churn of colors in his irises that he meant what he said.
Scott shoved the last case of beer into the fridge, then slapped a cold can into Nash's hand as I finally pulled away from him, my face flaming. "See? Family resemblance." Then he headed off into the crowd with Sophie, popping the top on a can of his own. Three steps later they were grinding to the music, one of Scott's hands around his drink, the other splayed across my cousin's lower back.
"Wow, that was… unexpected," Nash said, drawing my gaze from the familiar faces talking, dancing, drinking, and…otherwise engaged. And it took me a moment to realize he meant the kiss.
"Good unexpected, or bad unexpected?"
"Very, very good." He set his can on the counter at my back, then pulled me closer for a repeat performance, one hand sliding up my side. That time I didn't pull away until someone poked my shoulder. I twisted in Nash's arms to find Emma Marshall, my best friend, watching us with an amused half smile.
"Hey." Her grin grew as she glanced from me to Nash, then back. "You're blocking the fridge."
"There's a cooler in the other room." Nash nodded toward the main part of the house.
Emma shrugged. "Yeah, but no one's making out in front of it." She pulled open the fridge, grabbed a beer, then popped the can open as she pushed the door shut with a toss of one shapely hip. It wasn't fair. Emma and her sisters inherited crazy curves—a genetic jackpot—and all I got from my relatives was a really gnarled family tree.
There were times when I would gladly have traded all my bean sidhe "gifts"—did a glass-shattering screech and the ability to travel between the human world and the Netherworld even count as gifts?—for a little more of what she had. But this was not one of those times. Not while Nash's hands were on my waist, his taste still on my lips, and the greens and browns in his eyes swirling languorously with blatant desire. For me.
Em drank from her can, and I grabbed the car keys dangling from her hand, then showed them to her before stuffing them into my hip pocket, along with my own. She could stay the night with me, and I'd bring her back for her car in the morning. Emma smiled and nodded, already moving to the music when someone called her name from the living-room doorway.
"Hey Em!" a voice called over the music, and I turned to see Doug Fuller leaning with one bulging arm on the door frame. "Come dance with me."
Emma smiled, drained her can, then danced into the living room with Doug's hands on her already swaying hips. Nash and I joined them, and he returned greeting after greeting from the glitter crowd writhing around us. But then he was mine. We moved with the music as if the room was empty but for the stereo and the heat we shared.
I had stolen Nash from a room full of his adoring devotees with nothing but the secret connection we shared. A connection no other girl could possibly compete with.
We'd combined our bean sidhe abilities to bring my best friend back from the dead and to reclaim a damned soul from the hellion who'd bought it. We'd literally saved lives, fought evil, and almost died together. No mere pretty face could compete with that, no matter how much gloss and mascara she applied.
An hour later, Em tapped my shoulder and pointed toward the kitchen. I shook my head—after a month without him, I could have danced with Nash all night—but after Emma left, Nash kept glancing at the kitchen door like it was going to suddenly slam closed and lock us out.
"Need a break?" I asked, and he smiled in relief.
"Just for a minute." He tugged me through the crowd while my heart still raced to the beat, both of us damp with sweat.
In the kitchen, Emma drank from a fresh can of beer while Doug argued with Brant Williams about a bad call during some basketball game I hadn't seen.
"Here." Nash handed me a cold soda. "I'll be right back."
Then he pushed his way through the crowd without a backward glance.
I looked at Emma with both brows raised, but she only shrugged.
I popped open my Coke and noticed that Doug and Brant's argument had become a whispered conversation I couldn't follow, and Emma hadn't even noticed. For several minutes, she prattled about her sister refusing to lend her a blouse that made Cara look lumpy, anyway.
Before I could decide how to respond, someone called my name, and I looked up to find Brant watching me. "Yeah?" Obviously I'd missed a question.
"I said, 'Where's your boyfriend?'"
"Um…bathroom," I said, unwilling to admit that I wasn't sure.
Brant shook his head slowly. "Hudson's falling down on the job. You wanna dance till he gets back? I won't bite." He held out one large brown hand for mine, and I took it.
Brant Williams was tall, and dark, and always smiling. He was the football team's kicker, a senior, and the friendliest jock I'd ever met, not counting Nash. He was also the only other person in the house I would dance with, other than Emma.
I danced with Brant for two songs, glancing around for Nash the whole time. I was just starting to wonder if he'd gotten sick when I spotted him across the room, standing with Sophie in an arched doorway leading to a dark hall. He brushed a strand of hair from her forehead, then leaned closer to be heard over the music.
My chest ached like I couldn't breathe.
When he saw me looking, he stepped away from Sophie and scowled at my partner, then waved me over. I thanked Brant for the dance, then made my way across the room, dread building inside me like heartburn. Nash had ditched me at a party, then showed up with Sophie. Deep down, I'd known this day would come. I'd figured he'd eventually look elsewhere for what he hadn't had in the two and a half months we'd been going out. But with Sophie? A flash of anger burned in my cheeks. He may as well have just spit in my face!
Please, please be imagining things, Kaylee….
I stopped five feet away my heart bruising my chest with each labored beat. Yes, Sophie had a boyfriend, but that didn't mean she wouldn't try to take mine.
Nash took one look at my face, at my eyes, which were surely swirling with pain and anger I couldn't hide, then followed my gaze to Sophie. His eyes widened with comprehension. Then he smiled and grabbed my hand.
"Sophie was just looking for Scott. Right?" But then he tugged me down the dark hall before she could answer, leaving my cousin all alone in the crowd. "We can talk in here," Nash whispered, pressing me into a closed door.
The full body contact was promising, but I couldn't banish doubt. "Were you talking to her the whole time?" I asked around the hitch in my breath as his cheek brushed mine.
"I just went outside to cool off, and when I came back in, she cornered me. That's it." He fumbled for the handle near my hip, and the door swung open, revealing Scott's dad's posh office.
"Do I really need to?" Nash stepped back so I could see his eyes in the dim light of the desk lamp, and I saw the truth swirling in them. He didn't want Sophie, no matter what she might do that I hadn't.
I felt myself flush. "Sorry. I just thought—"
Nash closed the door and cut my apology off with a kiss. He tasted good. Like mint. We wound up on Mr. Carter's burgundy leather couch, and I had just enough time to think that psychiatrists made waaaay too much money before Nash's mouth found mine again, and thinking became impossible.
"You know I'm not interested in Sophie," he whispered. "I wouldn't do that to you or Scott." He leaned down and kissed me again. "There's only you, Kaylee."
My entire body tingled in wave after wave of warm, exhilarating shivers, and I let my lips trail over the rough stubble on his chin, delighting in the coarse texture.
"Oh, blah, blah, blah" a jaded voice said, drenching our privacy with a cold dose of sarcasm. "You love him, he loves you, and we're all one big, happy, sloppy, dorky family."