We left his parents’ house just after noon the next day, and I was more than thankful to be back on the road and headed towards the city.
Teddy and Sarah had already called me three times each, and the messages Teddy had left were less than pleasant.
I noticed Xander seemed even more relieved to be away from his parents than I did. He was even humming along to the irritating pop song on the radio. It was one of those songs that the kids at school were always singing and dancing to. I think some of the older girls had the singer’s pictures on their notebooks with hearts all around him. I couldn’t quite recall, but I think his name was Dex or Max or something along those lines.
“What’s with the face, love?” Xander turned down the grating noise and sent me an amused look.
“You have terrible taste in music,” I muttered, rolling my eyes at him.
“Do I?” I shot him a look, and that only caused him to chuckle sending an unwelcome thrill through my heart. “And what kind of music do you like, teach? Classical?”
“No, is it too much to ask for substance? I don’t like hearing about a pretty faced pop star singing about all the girls he’s slept with and all the expensive stuff he owns.” Xander replied with a booming laugh as he took the turn off to take us back into the city.
“We’re meeting some of my friends tonight,” he announced when he finally composed himself.
“Why?” I grumbled, slouching further in my seat.
“Well, I’ve met yours. It seems only fair you should meet mine.”
“Are they anything like you?”
“What do you mean?” He frowned, cutting off a car as he swapped lanes. The woman driving threw her finger up at him, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Are they arrogant movie stars who think far too much of themselves?”
“Is that what you think of me?” I was glancing out the window when I shrugged noncommittally because the truth was that was exactly how I saw him when we first met but after seeing him at home with his parents and family, I wasn’t so sure.
Once we were back inside the city limits, I asked if we could stop off at Teddy’s before we went back to Xander’s apartment. He begrudgingly drove us there, grumbling about it the entire time. Teddy had made an impact on him, and it had me smirking the whole way there.
Before we even pulled up out front of the gym, I could see Teddy out front with his arms crossed. He moved to open my door and pulled me from the car as soon as it was stationary.
“Hey, Angel,” he greeted, crushing me in a hug before I had a chance to reply. He was only in his training shorts and shirt despite the chilly air, and he was still warmer than I was in my jeans and jacket.
“Is Sarah still here?”
Xander had climbed out of the car by now and was standing at my side with his arms crossed.
“Unfortunately, my guys are still fixing the place up,” Teddy shot Xander a look when he said this, but Xander remained stoic as he watched our exchange. He didn’t look angry, but he didn’t look happy either.
“Can we head in, I’m freezing?” Teddy, quickly, ushered me inside with Xander trailing behind us.
Instantly, I was hit with the familiar aroma of sweat and musty books. It seemed the gym would never lose the spirit of its predecessor.
The first thing I noticed when I entered was that majority of the men were gathered around the central ring, probably watching some practice fight.
“Someone got a fight coming up?” Teddy glanced over at the gathered crowd and let out a chuckle as he led me to my reading corner.
“No, someone just pissed Logan off. They’re getting what they deserve.”
“Logan? Is he new?” I frowned trying to crane my neck, trying to put a face to the unfamiliar name. I knew all of Teddy’s fighters. Half of them had walked me home at some point or another.
“Came in a few days ago. Real hot head,” he smirked, glancing at the ring as a round of jeers went out.
“Do you think maybe you should check on them?”
“Nah, I’m sure it’s under control.” I sat in my favourite cushy arm chair and curled up in the familiar comfort.
Xander took up his post at my side, still eyeing Teddy warily but saying nothing. I had never seen him so quiet, and I was beginning to worry about the thoughts going through his mind. A silent Xander was starting to feel more dangerous than when he was speaking.
“Ma chere,” came Piere’s boisterous voice. He exploded into the gym carrying my regular order. When he caught sight of Xander beside me, his eyes instantly grew wide. He quickly set everything down on the beat up table beside me and launched himself at an unprepared Xander.
Suddenly, pretty boy was wrapped up in the madness that was Piere, and it didn’t look like he was letting him go anytime soon. Xander looked like he was drowning in Piere’s pink and blue polka-dot scarf. The movie star’s fire-red plaid shirt clashing with Piere’s purple floral shirt.
Piere was so excited he was rattling off to Xander in French, and to my utter shock, Xander replied.
“You speak French?”
“There are many things about me you don’t know love,” he smirked, bending down and placing a kiss on my cheek. I was too dazed to move away from him, so I let it happen only causing his grin to grow wider.
I was pulled from my stupor when I heard Teddy grunt beside me. He was glaring at Xander from his chair at my side, with a look that said he would like to go a few rounds with the superstar currently conversing with my tea and croissant supplier.
Thankfully, our attention was drawn from the growing tensions in our group to the crowd at the ring. They had erupted into uproarious cheers as Dan and Tommy, the brown haired, brown eyed man-mountains, hoisted someone up onto their shoulders. My attention was quickly drawn to the fact that Logan, was not, in fact, a man but a woman.
Her raven hair was pulled back into a messy bun with most of it escaping to frame her tanned face. From where I was sitting, her eyes appeared to be black. And judging from the muscles on her arms and her six pack stomach it was no wonder she had taken down one of Teddy’s guys.
“That’s Logan?” Xander’s jaw was hanging down around his ankles, and I couldn’t help but laugh at the spectacle.
“Intimidated?” I smirked, and his jaw quickly snapped shut as his cheeks flushed pink and he mumbled a despondent “yes”.
“She’d wipe the floor with you pretty boy,” Teddy chuckled, getting up to go and congratulate his fighter. Moments later, he returned with her by his side as one of the guys tossed her a bottle of water she caught effortlessly. As she drew nearer, I saw her eyes were not black just a very deep brown.
“Logan, I would like you to meet my Annie,” Teddy smiled, wrapping his arm around my shoulders as I got to my feet. “Angel, this is my new fighter, Logan Ying.”
“I’m Piere,” our bouncing Frenchman announced, afraid he would miss out as he thrust his hand at Logan.
“Where’s Gerry?” Teddy mumbled. Logan was eyeing me keenly with her startling gaze, and it darted towards Xander before it turned back to me with recognition. I couldn’t read minds, but I was pretty sure I knew where her thoughts were going.
“I know you.”
“Ah, yeah,” I awkwardly shuffled on my feet, throwing a look at Xander before looking back at Logan. “I guess you might have seen my face around.”
“I thought you were with him,” she nodded in Xander’s direction and as if on cue he came to stand beside me, glaring at Teddy as he did. His hazel eyes were filled with contempt for my burly friend who seemed unfazed by the movie star’s anger and kept his arm wrapped around my shoulders.
“Doesn’t look like it,” then she walked away with a trail of Teddy’s fighters hot on her heels.
“She’s a treat,” I laughed, shrugging out of Teddy’s hold and slumping back in my chair.
“She doesn’t play well with others,” Teddy shrugged. “But she’s one of the best fighters I’ve ever seen.”
“Better than you?”
“Could be, if she could just keep her temper in check,” he grumbled, shooing Piere out of his chair, who quickly found a place beside Xander and happily chewed his ear off.
“Sweetheart,” I turned to face him, frowning as he rested his hand against my shoulder. “We need to head off.” When my only reply was a more intense frown, he sighed before continuing. “We only have an hour before we’re meant to be meeting my friends.” I glanced at the stairs leading to Teddy’s apartment, and the owner was quick to answer my unspoken question.
“She’s working until midnight tonight.”
“The cafe isn’t open that late,” I frowned, wondering what she could be possibly doing until that time at night.
“She got another job at a bar or a nightclub.”
“What? Why would she do that? The rent is covered until next year.”
“I don’t know Annie,” Teddy huffed, throwing his hands up in defence. “Sparky doesn’t share the inner workings of her head with me.”
“And you didn’t ask?”
“Not my business.” He shrugged and I bit back my angry retort.
“Did you at least check it was in a safe area?”
“Are you really one to be lecturing on safety?” Teddy bit back, glaring at the man standing beside me.
“Teddy,” I warned, and he let out a tired sigh and ran his hands over his shiny head.
“Of course I checked, Angel.”
“Is that where you went last night?” Logan’s rough voice broke into our group as she wandered past, tying her hair again in its loose bun.
I glanced over at Teddy with a questioning look and was surprised to find a dusting of pink across his pale cheeks.
“I just wanted to make sure she got home safe,” my big boxer mumbled, scratching the back of his neck.
“Annie,” this time Xander managed to slip his hand into mine and pulled me to my feet as Teddy continued to flounder.
“I’m guessing he snuck up the fire escape, so she didn’t know he had followed her,” Logan added and she was quickly becoming my new favourite fighter at the gym.
“I am definitely telling Sarah this,” I announced as Xander started to usher me in the direction of the door.
“Do not tell Sparky anything,” Teddy warned, but I was ready busy tapping away on my phone.
Xander looked good. I wasn’t exactly sure where he was taking me, but the dark jeans and charcoal shirt would have had me following him anywhere. I hadn’t been able to keep my eyes off him since he came out of his room back at his apartment and walked me to the waiting car with Greg and Harrod. I felt like a child playing dress up beside him.
I was wearing one of the only three dresses I owned. It was black, cut off mid-thigh and swished nicely if you swayed your hips just right. But next to Xander, I felt unimpressive.
“Sweetheart,” Xander smirked, rolling his head to me until I found myself trapped in his hazel eyes. “You keep looking at me like that, and I’m going to get the wrong idea.”
“Hmm,” there were very few thoughts going through my head other than the main one, which was how soft his golden hair would be if I were to run my fingers through it. Did he wear product in it?
“You’re breathtaking in that little number, love.” He breathed leaning in close and immediately my eyes flashed to the front seat of the car where Greg and Harrod were sitting. It felt as if he were on top of me and his body heat was started to make me flustered.
“Xander,” I muttered, trying to push him away but his only reply was a deep, spine-tingling chuckle before he placed a lingering kiss behind the shell of my ear.
“Tonight is going to be fun.” Then he pulled away, and I was left trying to remember when I had stopped breathing.
All too soon the car came to a stop out front of another well-known celebrity hotspot in New York. Eve was lit up dully in front of a very nondescript sticker clad door. It would be easy to miss if it weren’t for the line that snaked out onto the footpath and around the corner. It was crowded with skinny, scantily dressed women and muscle filled men with shirts two sizes too small. All in all, they looked cold.
What I failed to notice before we stepped out of the car was the parade of photographers swarming the car door as Greg and Harrod tried to stem the flow. As the door opened, Xander wrapped his hand securely around mine and sent me a reassuring smile at the same time the crowd of photographers seemed to surge with renewed determination.
“Stay close sweetheart,” was the last thing I heard before the car filled with the voices from outside. It was louder than a classroom during a wet day timetable.
As soon as my feet hit the sidewalk, I was jostled by the overzealous reporters. Cameras flashed in my face, elbows caught my ribs, and pudgy hands tried to grab my arms, but through it all Xander held on tight and tried to keep me as close to his side as was possible.
I tried to keep my face as neutral as possible because I had already seen how the media could twist the truth into whatever lie was going to sell them magazines but I was pretty sure one of the reporters caught me scowling at a man who managed to catch a handful of my dress. He was seconds away from being caught on the wrong end of a teacher’s rant about keeping his hands to himself when we arrived at the door of the club and were quickly pushed inside by the bouncer.
A big burly man with bulging muscles. He would fit right in with Teddy’s fighters back at the gym. He nodded at Xander as he strode passed and sent me a warm smile and I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of look I had given him in return.
As soon as we were in the club, my senses were overwhelmed by the mayhem. Lights flashed across the thriving, sweaty crowd in time with the pounding music. It felt as if the club had its own heartbeat and it almost made me forget about mine.
My black heels stuck to the floor of the club as Harrod and Greg led us briskly around the edges of the bouncing dance floor. We passed the people slouching on the couches, already tired or too drunk to stand despite it only being early in the night. Others were too wrapped up in each other to notice the movie god walking among them.
Apart from the flashing coloured lights on the dance floor, only dim lights on tables and the ones lining the mirrors along the walls lit up the seating areas. We skimmed passed the edge of the rattling bar, crowded with people shouting their orders in attempts to be heard over the music before we came to a set of stairs hidden behind a red rope and two bouncers, both bald and both tall enough that I had to bend my neck to see their faces. Again, we were allowed passed and up the steep stairs without any hesitation. I felt like I was holding a golden ticket or if you wanted to get technical, he was holding onto me.
I wobbled slightly on my heels as we climbed the stairs and Xander was quick to shift his hand so it was pressed firmly into my lower back and I instantly felt more sure of my footing. I sent him a grateful smile before we were suddenly at the top and I was faced with an entirely different atmosphere from downstairs.
The floor up here was not sticky. And that wasn’t the only difference. Without my realising it, Harrod and Greg had disappeared. Xander kept his hand firmly on the curve of my back and started walking us over to a group of men gathered around a tall table with a small red lamp at its centre. I looked around the rest of the place to see a much less crowded bar with only a few women scattered around it and several men close to their sides. It was all veiled smiles and sultry eyes as the bartenders mixed their drinks.
I was quick to notice that the people up here had a level of sophistication those in the pit below us lacked. I could still hear the raucous noise from the club beneath us, but it was nice to escape the suffocating presence of so many bodies all crammed into such a small space. This must have been the VIP section.
“There’s our favourite movie star,” one of the men said as we approached and my attention was quickly drawn back to the table of men, and suddenly, I felt very small. The four men seemed to absorb us into their group as we approached and I somehow found myself pressed against the table with Xander at my back, his arms caging me in.
“I’ve been busy,” Xander replied smoothly before pressing a kiss against my temple.
“Oh we know,” the one across from me winked, and I fought the urge to frown at his gesture. He was tall like all the others, with a lean build and sapphire eyes. He was dressed in a three piece suit with just the right amount of scruffy stubble to hide the baby underneath. His dark hair was almost shorter than his beard, and yet somehow he seemed to make it work.
“Annie, that show pony is Gant Thomlinson.” Xander introduced, and I reluctantly reached across to take the man’s extended hand not missing the excess amount of rings on his fingers. This man obviously had money and wanted to be certain everyone knew about it. Instantly, I felt my defences switch into overdrive. I released his hold as soon as I could and tried to subtly wipe my hand on my dress to get the clammy feeling from them. His deep blue eyes were leering at me from across the table, and instinctively I tried to step back only to remember that Xander was right behind me.
“The hot head next to him is, Noah McGregor.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet ye, lass.” He smiled, and I was immediately enchanted by his sottish brogue. I’d always had a weak spot for their accent and paired with his brilliant red locks that brushed his shoulders and his brilliant green eyes I was about ready to jump from my movie star’s arms and right into his. “We worked together on the second Nightmare Slayer movie.”
“Not that ye would know that would ye, doll?” He smirked, and I suddenly felt very hot. His voice felt like liquid fire in my veins. “Yer made our boy squirm.” He chuckled, taking a healthy swig of his beer before pacing it back on the table with barely a drop left.
“Maybe I’ll get around to watching them one day,” at least the ones he’s in. I could listen to him talk all day and never get tired of it.
“Ye do that, lass,” he beamed, his eyes lighting with amusement. “Ye better watch that one, laddie.”
I couldn’t be sure, but it felt as if Xander was even closer than he was before and when I felt his hair brush the side of my ear I turned to find him only centimetres away from me, our noses almost touching. Before I could pull back, he pressed a firm kiss on my lips, and one of his hands quickly found its way into the short waves of my hair.
Almost as quickly as he came, he was gone, and I was left slightly dazed and struggling for breath. I heard a deep, rumbling laugh from across the table but I was too lost from the kiss to care. My hand was resting on his firm chest and the other on his side and I was almost afraid that if I let him go, I wouldn’t be able to stand on my own.
I think Xander said something to the other men around the table, but my ears were ringing too loudly to make it out.
He managed to introduce the other two men after that. Thomas Jones was an action star I had seen on a few bus stops around New York. He had bulging muscles and deep brown eyes that matched his equally dark hair. He was much quieter than the rest of Xander’s friends only giving me a muted “hi” before returning his attention to the dance floor below.
Ethan Huntington, on the other hand, was over the top and over confident. He was a trust fund baby with perfect blond hair, perfectly straight, white teeth, perfectly azure eyes and a perfectly tailored suit. He was the definition of spoilt, rich, brat and he owned it.
At some point, a tall, leggy blonde had latched herself onto Grant, and he quickly lost interest with the group and thankfully me, but that didn’t stop the panic seconds later when Xander announced he was going to get us some drinks. He placed a warm kiss on my lips before he disappeared among the building crowd in the VIP room leaving me with three sets of eyes watching me intently. I felt like I was about to be cross-examined.