He was saying something to his friend when he paused. His eyes were cast in my direction, and I could almost feel the weight of his gaze as it trailed up my body. His face was stretched wide in a smile when our eyes met. He froze, and my movement faltered. I should have looked away, but something about his expression held me. It wasn’t lust. I knew that expression well. He looked at me . . . in awe.
He took a step in my direction, and my heart jumped in my chest. I was attracted to him . . . to a guy who was in a whole other playing field. And if I was honest, there was more than just desire thrumming through my chest.
There was fear.
I forced my eyes back toward the ceiling, and made myself concentrate on dancing. If I didn’t look at him, maybe he wouldn’t try to talk to me.
I closed my eyes, and the swing of my hips felt like I’d been set to sea. The shots had definitely kicked in. I was affected by them just enough that I felt warm and my head light. My skin tingled, and I wondered if he was looking at me. My muscles had loosened, and the more I twisted and rolled my body to the music, the better I felt. I imagined the look in his eyes, and it made my blood pump faster.
Trestle had a retro theme, so I didn’t have to dance to any brain-liquefying pop music. With my eyes closed like this, the smell of smoke wafting in from outside, and the undercurrent of desire thrumming beneath my skin, I could almost pretend that it was the 1960s, and I was working here in the go-go bar’s prime.
I opened my eyes and found Cade.
It felt natural, like the pull of gravity.
Normally, looking at someone from up here felt too awkward and intimate. Meeting his gaze was intimate, but it wasn’t awkward. It was exhilarating.
Despite how much he scared me, I felt comfortable with him. It was complicated. Looking at him, I knew this wasn’t the kind of fear that sent you running for the hills. It was the kind of fear that made people jump off cliffs and climb mountains—the kind of fear that told you something miraculous was waiting at the end of it, if you could only get there.
Getting there was the problem though. I wasn’t the climbing mountains kind of girl. As appealing as the summit seemed now, I knew myself well enough to know I’d give up halfway there, and then I’d be left with only the pain of the journey, and none of the reward.
I preferred my life to be as uncomplicated as possible. There was nothing to learn about guys like Mace, and no journey needed to land him. What you saw was what you got. I understood him. And more importantly, he was the kind of guy who couldn’t break my heart, because I would never let him have it and he would never care enough to want it.
But Cade . . .
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand what Cade could possibly want with me. I couldn’t understand why his eyes were burning through the layers of my skin while a pretty blonde sat pouting a few tables away.
I tore my eyes away and threw myself into the music.
Music wasn’t complicated. It was math. Patterns. Highs and lows.
Music made sense to me in a way that life and people didn’t. It was predictable. My hips knew instinctively when to move. The riffs and changes untangled my mind. Time folded in on itself, and I lost myself.
I imagined I was singing up on this platform, too, instead of just dancing. The tension in me ebbed, and I floated away on a melody. I ran my hands across my sweat-slicked stomach, since I didn’t have my guitar. My body was my only instrument. I let the music flow through me, and I danced for what could have been minutes or hours or lifetimes.
Eventually I started to feel the strain in my legs. The hair that lay against my neck was damp with sweat. My throat went dry.
The song changed, and in the few seconds of silence, the world came back to me. The bar intruded on my mind once again. I wasn’t singing, and I wasn’t alone.
Cade’s eyes appeared black in the dim bar, and I could see the rise and fall of his chest from here. I turned and twisted my hips while he watched me. A tickle ran up my spine, the kind that made my whole body shiver in a good way. I must have really lost track of time dancing because there were half-eaten plates of food in front of him and his friend.
I made eye contact with Shelly, one of the bartenders, and asked her what time it was.
“Eleven!” she yelled up at me.
Shit. I should have taken my break fifteen minutes ago. Now it was time for my bartender shift. Katie, who I was taking over for, waved me off and said, “Don’t worry about it. Go take your break!”
I blew her an exaggerated kiss, and waved at the new girl on the other side of the bar to let her know I was leaving. Then I hopped off my platform.
I pushed through the crowd of people trying to flag down the bartenders and escaped through the front door. My sweaty skin tightened under the caress of the cold air. I sighed in satisfaction.
Bouncer Benny asked if I wanted a smoke, and I just moaned in response. He understood. No words needed. I didn’t smoke often, not anymore. But I think today, I deserved a little break. Benny was lighting the end of my cigarette when the door swung open, and Cade stepped out.
My heart sped up in response.
I took a deep drag on the cigarette, and took my time exhaling. Maybe it was seeing him at a place like Trestle or seeing him in a situation that didn’t involve my parents or the connection I’d felt with him as I danced, but he didn’t look quite like the nice guy I’d met this morning.
And that realization was dangerous.
Max was . . . unearthly. Ethereal. Unattainable.
Her pale skin glowed under the low amber light. I didn’t know where to look as she danced. I wanted to memorize all of her. Her eyes were lined with dark kohl that made the blue of her eyes shine and pierce straight through me. I’d seen the branches of her tree tattoo and now the roots. Imagining the art that lay between was maddening. She bore other tattoos, too small for me to identify. From here they resembled runes or hieroglyphs, like she was a goddess. Exotic and forbidden.
That was what she looked like. She was the kind of sight that I would never, could never forget.
The few times her eyes met mine, my blood pumped furiously through my veins, I clenched my fists, and had the urge to do something crazy. I wanted to walk up to her platform and join her, or throw her over my shoulder and take her away where no one else could see her.
I’d always thought of myself as a fairly rational person, not one to be ruled by my desires and emotions. But this . . . nothing was logical about the way this girl made me feel. I’d gone crazy. All the stress of everything with Bliss and moving and this new university—I’d finally snapped.
That was the only way I could explain why I followed her outside when she went on break. I had no idea what I was going to say or do, but I couldn’t let her out of my sight.
She said, “Hey, Golden Boy,” on an exhale, smoke curling from between those ruby red lips.
She walked away from the bouncer, and leaned up against the brick of the building. My eyes snagged on her leg as she propped a heel up on the wall behind her. I forced myself to look away. She was sexy as hell, but I was sure she got enough guys ogling her here.
“Are you stalking me, Golden Boy?”
I stayed where I was, careful to keep distance between us, so that I didn’t do something stupid in my drunken state.
“Only a little.”
She laughed. That was good. I’d made her laugh.
“What are you really doing here? I’ve never seen you at Trestle before, and I’m here more than I’m home.”
I filed away that information for later.
“I’ve never been here. I came with a friend.”
“The Hispanic guy?”
I nodded. “His name is Milo.” I searched for something else to say, but my mind was moving too slowly. God, could I be any more boring? No wonder she called me Golden Boy.
This was a terrible idea. The silence between us stretched into awkward territory, and I was too drunk to hold a decent conversation. The longer I stayed, the harder it became to fight off the urge to touch her.
Time for a tactical retreat.
“I should probably go find him.” She frowned and stared at me as I took a step back. “I only came to say hi.” She looked at me for a second longer, and her eyes widened in shock. Then her lips turned downward, and I saw her disappointment seconds before she swept the emotion from her expression.
I looked behind me expecting to see a mugger or a UFO or a zombie. We were alone on the street except for the bouncer, who stayed silent and still outside the door.
“What?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
My curiosity was too strong to turn around again.
“No, tell me. What was that look for?”
She took a deep inhale, and lowered her heel to the ground.
“It’s nothing. I just realized something is all.”
“And what did you realize?”
Her eyes were still wide, and she sputtered slightly. “I, well, I just realized that you’re in theatre.”
I was drunk, but I could tell that when she’d said “theatre,” she meant something else. “Yeah, I told you I was an actor this morning.”
Her heel scraped at the concrete sidewalk.
“You could have told me the rest, too.”
The alcohol must have been preventing some of the synapses in my brain from firing because I had no idea what she was talking about.
“You know, your friend, Milo. You could have told me about him. I wouldn’t have judged.”
The pieces were coming together, but I wished they weren’t. This was one puzzle that I did not want to solve.
“I’ve had a lot of alcohol,” I admitted. “But if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, you’re wrong.”
She pushed off from the wall and took a step closer to me.
“It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone, Golden Boy.”
I winced. She patted me on the shoulder, and I grabbed her hand and held it between us. “No, Max, I’m not gay.”
She held her other hand up and said, “Jesus, I get it. You love boobs.” She said this loudly, and then leaned close to me to whisper, “But really, Golden Boy, it’s the twenty-first century. The world won’t end if you come out of the closet.”
Two thoughts crossed my mind—one involved a lot of yelling.
I chose the other, and used the hand I was holding to tug her forward into my arms. Her chest pressed into mine, and her lips were millimeters from my own. She exhaled sharply, and I could taste the sweetness of her breath on the air. I saw in her eyes the moment she knew she was wrong, but I wasn’t done proving it to her.
I crushed my mouth to hers.
She gasped, and I slipped my tongue past her lips. She stayed there for a few seconds, her hands still at her sides, then I felt the tentative touch of her hand against my hip, and that was all the permission I needed to continue. I threaded a hand through her hair and wrapped the other around her waist. I walked her backward until she hit the wall. Her other hand came to my waist, and her fingers pressed deeper into my skin. Her lips were soft and full underneath mine, and I eased up enough to taste them. I tried to kiss her softly. I did, but there was something about her that made me desperate, and I kissed her harder.
Her hands slid around to my lower back. Her fingernails dug into me, and I groaned. I used my hand in her hair to turn her head to the side, so that I could kiss her deeper. Up until now she’d allowed me to kiss her, but as I pressed her harder against the wall, she came fully alive. Her tongue tangled with mine, and her mouth pushed harder against my own. My blood rushed south so fast that I felt dizzy. The only thing keeping me steady was my hand propped on the wall behind her, but even so I fell farther into her, until every part of my body was aligned with hers.
It still wasn’t close enough. My winter clothes kept too much space between us. I wanted to conquer every piece of her. The way her hips pressed up into mine made me believe she felt the same way. The kiss was even better than I could have imagined. Her mouth tasted as exotic as she looked, and my every nerve ending seemed to be standing at attention. Her fingers dug harder into my lower back, and I was on the verge of losing my mind. Her teeth grazed my bottom lip, and I used the hand in her hair to tug her head back just enough that I could move my lips to her neck. Her skin was just as smooth as I’d dreamed. I could spend eternity tasting her.