I'm going to work tonight until I have to leave for the deal. Because if I was home alone, I'd go nuts thinking about everything.

My grip on the riveter in my hand loosens and it drops smack in the middle of my forehead. I don't get pissed off at myself, I blame Brittany. And by eight o'clock I'm as angry as anything with my little chem partner, whether it's warranted or not.

CHAPTER 51 Brittany

I'm standing in front of Enrique's Auto Body, doing deep-breathing exercises to keep from being nervous. Enrique's Camry is nowhere in sight, so I know Alex is alone.

I'm going to seduce Alex.

If what I'm wearing doesn't capture his attention, nothing will. I'm giving this my all. . . bringing out all the artillery. I rap on the door, then close my eyes tight and pray this goes as planned.

I open my long, silver satin jacket and the cool night air rushes onto my exposed skin. When the creak of the door alerts me to Alex's presence, I slowly open my eyes. But it's not Alex's black eyes staring at my scantily clad body. It's Enrique--who's staring at my pink lace bra and pom-pom skirt as if he's won the lottery.

Ripped with embarrassment, I wrap my coat around myself. If I could wrap it around twice, I would.

"Uh, Alex," Enrique laughs. "There's a trick-or-treater here to see you."

My face is probably beet red, but I'm determined to see this through. I'm here to show Alex I'm not going to desert him.

"Who is it?" comes Alex's voice from somewhere inside the garage.

"I was just leavin'," Enrique says, slipping past me. "Tell Alex to lock up. Adios."

Enrique walks across the darkened street, humming to himself.

"Yo, Enrique. ;Quien esta ahi?" Alex's voice fades when he reaches the front of the shop. He looks at me with contempt. "Need directions or your car fixed?"

"None of the above," I say.

"Trick-or-treatin' on my side of town?"

"No."

"It's over, mujer. ;Me oyes? Why do you keep droppin' into my life and fuckin' with my head? Besides, aren't you supposed to be at the Halloween dance with some college guy?"

"I blew him off. Can we talk?"

"Listen, I've got a shitload of work that still needs to get done. What did you come here for? And where's Enrique?"

"He, uh, left," I say nervously. "I think I scared him away."

"You? I don't think so."

"I showed him what I was wearing under my coat."

Alex's eyebrows shoot up.

"Let me in before I freeze out here. Please." I look behind me. The darkness seems inviting right now as my blood pumps harder. Pulling the coat tighter around me, my skin puckers with goose bumps. I shiver.

Sighing, he leads me into the body shop and locks the door. There's a space heater in the middle of the shop, thank goodness. I stand by it and rub my hands together.

"Listen, truth is I'm glad you're here. But didn't we break up?"

"I want to give us another try. Pretending we're just chemistry partners in class has been torture. I miss you. Don't you miss me?"

He looks skeptical. His head is cocked to the side, as if he's not quite sure he's hearing correctly. "You know I'm still in the Blood."

"I know. I'll take whatever you can give me, Alex."

"I'll never be able to meet your expectations."

"What if I tell you I won't have any expectations?"

He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. I can tell he's thinking hard about this, because his expression turns serious. "I'll tell you what," he says. "You keep me company while I finish my dinner. I won't even ask you what you have ... or don't have . . . under that coat. Deal?"

I smile tentatively and smooth down my hair. "Deal."

"You don't have to do that for me," he says, gently taking my hand away from my hair. "I'll get a blanket so you don't get dirty."

I wait until he pulls a clean light green fleece blanket out of a closet.

We sit on the blanket and Alex looks at his watch. "Want some?" he asks, pointing to his dinner.

Maybe eating will calm my nerves. "What is it?"

"Enchiladas. Mi'ama makes kick-ass enchiladas." He stabs a small portion with a fork and holds it out to me. "If you're not used to this kind of spicy food--"

"I love spicy," I interrupt, taking it into my mouth. I start chewing, enjoying the blend of flavors. But when I swallow, my tongue slowly catches on fire. Somewhere behind all the fire there's flavor, but the flames are in the way.

"Hot," is all I can say as I attempt to swallow.

"I told you." Alex holds out the cup he'd been drinking from. "Here, drink. Milk usually does the trick, but I only have water."

I grab the cup. The liquid cools my tongue, but when I finish the water it's as if someone stokes it again. "Water . . . ," I say.

He fills another cup. "Here, drink more, though I don't think it'll help much. It'll subside soon."

Instead of drinking it this time, I stick my tongue in the cold liquid and keep it there. Ahhh . . .

"You okay?"

"To I wook otay?" I ask.

"With your tongue in the water like that, actually, it's erotic. Want another bite?" he asks mischievously, acting like the Alex I know.

"Mo mank ooh."

"Your tongue still burnin'?"

I lift my tongue from the water. "It feels like a million soccer players are stomping on it with their cleats."

"Ouch," he says, laughing. "You know, I heard once that kissin' reduces the fire."

"Is that your cheap way of telling me you want to kiss me?"

He looks into my eyes, his dark gaze capturing mine. "Querida, I always want to kiss you."

"I'm afraid it won't be that easy, Alex. I want answers. Answers first, then kissing."

"Is that why you came here naked underneath that jacket?"

"Who says I'm naked underneath?" I say, leaning close.

Alex sets down his plate.

If my mouth is still burning, I hardly notice. Now is my time to get the upper hand. "Let's play a game, Alex. I call it Ask a Question, Then Strip. Every time you ask a question, you have to remove an article of clothing. Every time I ask, I have to remove one."

"I figure I can ask seven questions, querida. How many you got?"

"Take it off, Alex. You asked your first question."

He nods in agreement and kicks off his shoe.

"Why don't you start with your shirt?" I ask.

"You do realize you asked a question. I think that's your cue--"

"I did not ask a question," I insist.

"You asked me why I don't start with my shirt." He grins.

My pulse quickens. I pull down my pom skirt, keeping my long jacket tightly closed. "Now it's four."

He's trying to stay aloof, but his eyes show a hunger I've seen before. And that silly grin is definitely gone as he licks his lips.

"I need a cigarette bad. It's too bad I quit again. Four you say?"

"That sounded suspiciously like a question, Alex."

He shakes his head. "No, smart-ass, that wasn't a question. Nice try, though. Um, let's see. What's the real reason you came here?"

"Because I wanted to show you how much I love you," I say.

Alex blinks a couple of times, but beyond that he shows me no emotion. This time he lifts his shirt over his head. He flings it to the side, baring his bronzed, washboard stomach.

I kneel next to him, hoping to tempt him and throw him off balance. "Do you want to go to college? The truth."

He hesitates. "Yes. If my life was different."

I kick off a sandal.

"Did you ever have sex with Colin?" he asks.

"No."

He takes off his right shoe, his eyes never leaving mine.

"Did you ever do it with Carmen?" I ask.

He hesitates. "You don't want to hear this."

"Yes, I do. I want to know everything. How many people you've been with, the first person you slept with ..."

He rubs the back of his neck, as if there's a tension knot there he's trying to relieve. "That's a lot of questions." He hesitates. "Carmen and I ... so, um, yeah, we had sex. The last time was in April, before I found out she was sleepin' around. Before Carmen is a bit of a blur. That's when I went through a year-long period where it felt like I dated a different girl every few weeks. And slept with most of 'em. It was fucked up."

"Did you always use protection?"

"Yeah."

"Tell me about the first time?"

"My first time was with Isabel."

"Isabel Avila?" I ask, totally stunned.

He nods. "It's not what you think. It happened the summer before freshman year and we both wanted to get the virgin thing over with and find out what all the hype about sex was. It sucked. I fumbled around while she laughed most of the time. We both agreed doin' it with a friend who you treated like a sibling was the worst idea. Okay, I've told you everythin'. Now please take that jacket off."

"Not yet, muchacho. If you've slept with so many people, how do I know you didn't catch a disease? Tell me you got tested."

"At the clinic when I got the staples in my arm, they tested me. Trust me, I'm clean."

"I am, too. Just in case you were wondering." I remove my other sandal, glad he didn't make me feel stupid or give me crap for asking more than one question. "Your turn."

"Do you ever think about makin' love to me?" He slides off a sock before I even answer his question.

CHAPTER 52 Alex

"Yes," she answers. "Do you think about making love with me?"

I lie awake most nights, fantasizing about sleeping next to her ... loving her. "Right now, muneca, makin' love to you is the only thing on my mind." I check my watch. I've got to go soon. Drug dealers don't give a shit about your personal life. I can't be late, but I want Brittany so damn bad. "Your coat's next. You sure you want to keep goin'?"

I slip off my other sock. The only things preventing me from being naked are my jeans and briefs.

"Yes, I want to keep going." She smiles wide, her beautiful pink lips glistening in the light. "Turn off the lights before I . . . take my coat off."

I turn off the shop lights, watching as she stands on the blanket and unbuttons her coat with trembling fingers. I'm in a trance, especially when she looks at me with those clear eyes shining with desire.

As she opens her coat slowly, my eyes are fixed on the present inside. She walks toward me, then trips on a discarded shoe.

I catch her, then place her on the soft blanket and settle atop her.

"Thanks for breaking my fall," she says breathlessly.

I brush a strand of hair from her face, then move beside her. When she wraps her arms around my neck, all I want to do is protect this girl for the rest of my life. I ease her jacket open and lean away. A pink lace bra stares back at me. Nothing else.

"Como un angel," I whisper.

"Is our game over?" she asks nervously.

"It's definitely over, querida. 'Cause what we're gonna do next is no game."

Her manicured fingers are on my chest. Can she feel my heart beating against her palm? "I brought protection," she says.

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