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.