Tuesday, March 15, 2011
My elbow was locked in a vice grip.
“Ashlyn.” Colin’s voice cut through the club muck like a trumpet. No trace of humor lie anywhere in his face. His bottomless black eyes cut me open, reached into my soul and grabbed hold. He jerked his head in the opposite direction of Danicka’s party tent.
“There you are.” Danicka’s sour breath blew the side of my face. She leaned into Colin for balance but he barely glanced at her. “I was hoping you’d come.” Her long arms wound around his neck and she lifted up to kiss his cheek.
In a swift jerk, he was free of her and leading me away from her and her minions. I didn’t appreciate being dragged. I yanked, but he swung around, faced me. Somebody bumped into him, pushing his body against mine. Before we both fell into the dancing crowd, he took hold of my arms and steadied us. To my right a sweaty bald guy started rotating his hips against mine.
Colin shoved him away. Bald guy glared, but gyrated against the next available body. Frustration drew Colin’s features tight. “Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?” he yelled over the music.
“I wanted to come alone.”
His eyes swept the crowd, his posture ready to pounce. “You’re supposed to stay with me. Do your parents know about this?”
I averted my gaze for a second. Colin’s chest lifted in an exasperated breath I couldn’t hear over the music. “Let’s get out of here.”
Colin took me by the arm, his fingers a steely grip.
“I’m not leaving,” I yelled over the grating beat.
“Ash, if your parents don’t know about this, then we’re not going to be here.” This time he took my hand. I couldn’t stop the fire that raced up my arm. He pushed through the packed crowd again, his fingers tightening around mine. More eyes, more curious stares—this time from women—watching him. Jealousy unhinged inside my heart.
He’s with me. A lie, but we looked like a couple—didn’t we? I shot a glance over my shoulder at Danicka to see if she was watching. She and her friends stood beneath the parted veil, their now-alert interest fastened on us. She’d probably tell everyone at school about Colin dragging me out of the place. Tears of humiliation threatened to burn my eyes and I tugged on Colin’s hand, bringing his attention to me. Purple and gold lights flashed over his face.
“Colin—please—I can’t leave like this,” I said.
He dipped his head closer so he could hear me without me having to yell. His cologne mixed with the thick air in the place, the scent drifting into my head. He studied me a moment, then his gaze went over my shoulder—to Danicka? I wasn’t sure, but he gave me a nod.
He glanced at his watch, then his attention was on me. Again. A luscious feeling of ownership, though false, temporary, and brought on by fantasy, filled me.
“How did you know I was here?” I asked.
“Your friend, Danicka, told me about the party the other day at school.”
“She’s not my friend.” And she stood scowling at me from across the dance floor.
“I can see that.”
Was she that obvious? Or was it me? I cringed inwardly, wondering what he really thought of me.
“Can I get you two anything?” A wiggling blonde bartender dipped and shimmied next to us. The tray in her hand balanced perfectly with eight empty glasses even with her dancing.
Colin shook his head.
“I’ll take a scotch,” I said.
Colin’s eyes widened for a moment. “We’ll pass, thanks.” He took my elbow. I pulled free. He brought himself tight to my chest, his warm breath at my ear when he hissed, “No drinking.”
“Everyone does. They don’t check ID here.”
“Ash.” He thrust a hand through his hair. “What’s going on with you?”
“I just want to have fun.”
“Okay, I get it, but underage drinking shouldn’t be on your agenda. It’s against the law.”
“You never drank when you were underage?” I taunted. “Ever?”
He shifted. Looked at me then out—where? At the dancing couples? I didn’t know what he was thinking, but he was so beautiful in the carnival-colored lights. A buzz wound low inside of me.
“Yeah, I did,” he said finally. “I’m not proud of it. Look, this place is…it’s not the kind of place you should be in.”
“What does that mean? You think I belong at a playground or some pizza place with a jungle gym instead?”
“No, Ash, no. You’re too good for this place.” His hands appeared itchy hanging at his sides. Like he wasn’t sure what to do with them. “Let’s go.”
“I told you, I like to dance.”
“With these idiots? No way in hell.”
“There are plenty of nice guys here.” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Like baldy? Come on.” He reached for my elbow but I stepped back.
“I’m not leaving. I came to have fun and I’m going to dance.”
“These guys’ll eat you alive. You don’t know what they’re capable of.”
“I’m talking about one dance, not sex,” I protested. How naive did he think I was?
His hand threaded nervously through his hair, leaving it mussed. His brown eyes blackened with challenge, sending heat through my bloodstream. He snatched my hand. In a half a dozen long strides we were in the center of the dance floor.
White, purple, and red lights flashed up at us from the glowing floor. I couldn’t believe I was going to dance with him. Colin. A violent tune sliced and chopped the air with insatiable teeth, cutting away the veneer of clothing, stripping bare. The song grabbed hold of my body and didn’t let go.
He danced less than a foot away, his protective gaze jumping around the surrounding bodies scouring faces of both women and men with suspicion. For the first time since I could remember, I was pleased to have a bodyguard.
The leering from older men sent a scratchy creepiness across my skin. And the glaring women—I felt like Colin and I were dancing in a lioness’ den rather than one of New York’s most posh clubs.
Danicka scowled from the tent.
The song ended, but another layered over it, this one sensual. Slow. Like a heartbeat readying for bed.
Colin stopped. An uncontrollable urge to touch him surged through me, and I stepped close. Black flecks in his eyes deepened. My arms trembled as I slid them up and around his neck.
“Ditching me was not cool, Ash.” The corner of his jaw knotted. He didn’t move. One second passed. Three. Then his arms caged my waist. I saw a million questions in his eyes. Or at least I thought I did. What does this mean? This one. Slow. Dance.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Wonderful! Before the print version comes out, e-readers get to purchase copies. The ease of e-pubbing makes this a fast, right move for ravenous readers.
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Ashlyn: A lonely society princess living in New York City.
Daddy hired you to be my bodyguard.
Colin: Childhood enemy, now her protector.
Daddy thought I’d be safe. He thought I’d never fall in love. He thought he could keep me forever.
Charles: obsessed with keeping her safe, keeping her his, he hires the one person he knows she could never fall in love with: Colin.
Daddy was wrong.
I saw him and my heart started racing. His dark hair gleamed in the crowd at the intersection of Lexington and 89th Street. His head was bowed, looking at the street. I had to see his face. Look up. I blinked twice, sure I was seeing a crazy dream. Lots of guys had dark hair.
The light turned green. I wanted to turn and walk another way, but couldn’t. I’d be in deep trouble if I wasn’t home in ten minutes, and home was a good twelve minutes away—at a run. I’d never make it in time. Sweat sprung to my skin.
My phone vibrated in the depths of my Burberry coat. Stuart. I hoped he hadn’t discovered that I wasn’t at the townhouse. He’d kill me when I walked through the door. I didn’t pull my cell out. I might miss seeing the stranger’s face.
I started across the street. So did the crowd sweeping the stranger along. Look up. I want to see your face. His cocky stride and confident posture caused my heart to plunge. It had to be him. He’d always walked with a confidence that shouted he owned the moment and everyone in it. Closer. My pulse jumped. Twenty feet. Look up. Curiosity tangled with an old fear, an apparition floating like ice through my blood.
His head lifted. His dark eyes focused on something ahead, something to my left.
My heart leapt to my throat and lodged. Look away before he sees you. But I couldn’t. As if no time had passed, his magnetism seized my attention. His wolfish gaze scanned and locked on mine. Ten feet away. Six. The look in his eyes shifted to wonder. Intrigue. Do I know you? Have we met before? Questions crossed his brown eyes and angular face like the wind shifting the taut planes of a sail in search of direction.
I lifted my chin, refused to look away. My knees shook but I held his inquisitive gaze and kept walking. Three feet. Bats fluttered in my stomach. One. As we passed each other, our shoulders brushed. The corners of his lips turned up in a smile, like he couldn’t place me, even though he searched my face. His deep dimples flashed.
I looked away. Closed my eyes, swallowed. I opened my eyes, and stepped onto the curb, and continued up Park Avenue, curiosity gnawing at my bones. Had he recognized me? I was probably just another girl. Someone to smile at, to flirt with. He couldn’t possibly remember.
We hadn’t seen each other in over five years.
I glanced back over my shoulder. My heart froze. Colin stood on the corner of Lexington—crowds filing around him—watching.
His smile was gone.
I swallowed the lump in my throat, tore my gaze from his and started into a half-jog toward home. I’d lost two, maybe three minutes I didn’t have to spare. Fear shifted from the run-in with Colin to what awaited me when I got to the townhouse. In the depths of my wool coat, my cell phone vibrated over and over again.
I tapped the security code into the panel beside our double front door, breath racing with my heart. Three minutes late. The green light shone and the bolt slid open. I pushed the doors and entered the townhouse.
Soundlessly, I shut the door, peering up the curved marble stairs to my right, then through the arched hallway in front of me for any signs of life. Mother was out with friends. Daddy was at the firm. Gavin was either at the market or cooking in the kitchen at the back of the house. I sniffed. No scent perfumed the air.
That left Stuart.
When I’d gone, he’d been taking his usual “nap”—something he did every day between three and four o’clock—while I was supposed to be working on homework. From the moans and grunts I heard coming from behind his closed bedroom door, I doubted he was sleeping. The thought rammed a shudder down my spine.
I reached into my coat pocket for my cell phone. Twenty texts—from Stuart. I opened one message. Then another.
WHERE R U????
U KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS!!!
Sweat drenched my skin. He’d probably gone into my bedroom once he’d discovered I wasn’t there—my bedroom was off limits to him—who knows what he’d done once inside.
Hands shaking, I peeled off my scarf, gloves and coat, draping them over my arm. I tip-toed across the marble entry, heart banging against my ribs so violently, I was certain the thuds would bring Stuart from his hiding place. Invisible eyes pierced me from every direction. He was somewhere.
Maybe I could make it up to my room before he saw me, lock the door and—
“Are you out of your mind?” His hot breath hissed in my ear. I whirled around. The presence of his towering bulk pressed me into the entry wall. My pulse tripped. His green eyes glared into mine.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing running off like that without me? You know the rules.” His spit dotted my face and I blinked. Rage sizzled off his muscles, sinews bunched like bowling balls ready to roll and strike out beneath his blue sweater and jeans. “It’s not safe out there.”
It’s not safe in here. “I just went for a walk,” I sputtered, hating that my voice trembled.
He inched closer. “No walks, Ashlyn. No opening that door, taking a breath or blowing your friggin’ nose without me.”
“Get away from me.” I jerked to my left, toward the safety and freedom of the stairs. His meaty palm wrapped around my arm, holding me in place.
“Do you understand?” he growled.
I wrenched free, didn’t answer. I shot him a parting glare and fled upstairs, tears rushing up my throat.
I hated him. Hated my life.
After storming into my bedroom, I slammed the door. Tears sprung free. My shoulders buckled in a sob. I crossed the room, ignoring the temptation to dissolve into an emotional puddle on my bed and went instead to the window overlooking Park Avenue, giving me a view of the street below and the apartment buildings sheltering the townhouse.
My secret escape walk had turned into another humiliating slap meant to keep me on my knees behind brick and mortar and glass. Safely protected.
Below, people dressed in black, gray and plaid coats walked freely on their way like storm clouds passing through sky. No hound dog bodyguards followed them, breathing down their necks, watching their every move.
Even Colin Brennen enjoyed freedom.
Sighing, I swiped away tears. How unfair that a jerk like him walked the streets doing whatever he pleased while I lived under a magnifying glass.
The door flew open. I turned, heart pounding. In my distraction, I had forgotten to lock it. Stuart heaved in the jamb.
"You're not allowed in here."
“I haven’t crossed the line. But you did, sneaking out like some friggin’ dog off a leash. Don’t ever do that again or I’ll tell your father.”
“Go ahead.” My bones quaked at the very idea. But I knew what Stuart was after, and he’d never tell my father about my outing. Stuart wanted this job too much.