Before Calvin Moore’s murder and everything that came as a result of me being a witness to it, whenever I walked into Starbucks I hadn’t drawn any attention. I’d been just a normal customer who wanted to buy a sweet cocoa drink.
Now, walking into Starbucks for the first time ever since, with none other than Chase Montgomery, every eye was on me. Okay, not all of them were specifically on me, but most of the eyes studied me. They probably thought, What does a boring girl like her do with that hottie? or something like that.
After we ordered what we wanted and Chase gave them his name, we sat together at the table. “Now it’s my turn to ask a question,” he told me, smiling.
I tensed at once, afraid of what he might ask, but said, “Ask, then.”
“Is your hair really red?” he inquired, gazing at my flaming-red curly waist-length hair, that today was braided into a very messy plait.
“Well, yeah,” I said, twirling a red lock around my finger. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“It’s not that,” he shook his head. “It’s just that it’s rare for someone with your skin tone to have such a red hair.” his eyes bore into mine.
A little unnerved by that look he gave me, I averted my eyes to the table. “There’s not much to it, really,” I said. “Just red hair. Nothing uncommon.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, you’re right.” an awkward silence fell on us after that. Thankfully, Chase was called to the counter to take out orders and returned with my cocoa drink and a piece of flan. I remembered calling Flanny upon this cake.
“So tasty,” I mumbled with full mouth, closing my eyes in bliss. We ate and drank in silence for a while, but it wasn’t awkward or something. In fact, I felt quiet comfy with him.
“Hey, Rae,” Chase asked after we finished the delicious cheesecake. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
I had been drinking my drink when he asked this, and I almost spat the drink out in shock. I stared at him, in quiet disbelief, and saw he was cocking his head and looking at me with concentration. It reminded me of Gunner, all of a sudden, and his own concentrating gazes.
It took me a minute to realize he was waiting for an answer. “Er, no,” I replied hesitantly, looking away. “Not at the moment, no.” I flushed slightly.
“Hmm...” he kept staring at me, his expression became unreadable. “Why?”
Shocked, I just looked at him. When he seemed as serious as he could get, I retorted, “Because no one has ever asked me out.” or more specifically, the guys I’d been crushing on throughout the years hadn’t asked me out.
He raised his eyebrows in too-much surprise in my taste. “Really?” the disbelief was obvious in his voice. “That’s odd. Girls nowadays are really experienced in stuff like that.”
Shame curled in my stomach and I lowered my eyes to the table. “Well, not every girl. There are girls like me, too. Besides, why do you even ask me that?” I shot him a look of discomfort.
He shrugged. “Just interested in getting to know you, Rae. Don’t be so uptight.”
“I am not uptight.”
“Yes you are. You’re flushing with anger.”
I was actually flushing with slight mortification. “Not true,” I denied my flush nonetheless.
He smirked, and his hotness had just shot to another degree. “So are you just embarrassed being here with me, Rae?” he winked. “I didn’t know I have such an influence on you - “
“You’re misreading the situation, mister,” I told him, my flush starting to disappear and a small grin grew on my lips. “BTW you did have an influence on me once upon a time.”
That sparked an unhidden interest in his deep-blue eyes. “Really?” he asked, grinning in curiosity.
“Yup,” I said lightly, feeling foolish about the crush I’d had on him anyway. It wouldn’t really matter if I told him about it now that I wasn’t crushing on him or anything, right? “Until a few months ago I had this massive crush on you, like every other girl in school.” I told him with carefree grin.
He raise an eyebrow. “Does it mean you no longer have that crush on me?”
“Nope, it has dissipated already.” I replied easily.
He looked a bit shocked. “How?” he asked, and then hurried to add, “Not that I think you can’t live without crushing on me or anything, but when I had crushes, it was really hard for me to break free from them.”
I couldn’t tell him that I crushed on someone else instead, and besides, I was suddenly very interested in his own crushes. “Did you have crushes?” I asked in astonishment. “That’s new.”
He rolled his eyes and grinned. “Come on, Rae, I’m a teenage boy in his prime. Surely I had some crushes here and there. Besides, I’m crushing on someone right now.”
One moment passed, then another, and suddenly the grin on his face froze. He didn’t plan to say that, I realized with a sudden thought, and he looked like he mentally cursed himself.
I decided not to help him out. My mortification was about to be avenged – rightfully so. “Oh, really, Chase?” I asked with a smirk of my own. “Well, who’s the lucky girl?”
He looked away and I gleefully saw his cheeks pinking a little. “Nobody,” he said lamely.
“Come on, Chase, don’t be like that,” I chuckled. “You can tell me. I’m good at keeping secrets to myself.”
He shot me a glare while his cheeks turned even pinker. “You’re not helping,” he hissed, looking to the sides as if everyone in Starbucks noticed our turn of conversation. But although he got a few appreciative glances from girls, no one was eavesdropping.
“Ooh, Chase Montgomery is embarrassed,” I grinned. “Where’s my camera when I need it?”
“Shut it,” he whispered snappily.
“Please, I beg you to tell me,” I widened my eyes and blinked innocently. “Please? Pretty please? Cherry-on-top please?” I leaned in toward him, so curious it started to annoy me he didn’t just tell me right away.
But then he gave up. “Fine! It’s just that college girl...” he blushed deeply now, and I found myself laughing hysterically.
“You’ve beaten yourself just because you didn’t want to tell me you’re crushing on some girl I don’t even know?” I found it really, truly funny. “You’re a piece of art, Chase.”
“Oh, don’t be melodramatic,” he said irritatedly. “Besides, if I asked you who your crush was, even if I didn’t know him, would you have easy time to tell me?”
At the question I sobered. Telling anyone about my crush on Gunner was out of the question, anyway, so Chase couldn’t really equalize his situation to mine.
Besides, Chase was hot and sexy and handsome. Who didn’t want to date him? Even if the girl he wanted was older, she would’ve probably agreed to date someone who looked like the ultimate Golden Boy.
I, on the other hand, had zero chances with Gunner. Gunner was ten times hotter than Chase or any other guy I’ve ever met. He was hotness incarnate, and I wasn’t exaggerating. He was the ultimate handsome guy, and there was no chance in hell he would pick me as a lover, a girlfriend, even a sexual partner of sorts.
I mean, he didn’t feel a thing when we’d danced together. The whole sexual tension? It was completely me and my stupid crush on him. He didn’t feel the same at all; he actually found it funny that I was so attracted to him. And now... now he was ignoring me entirely.
“You’re quiet,” Chase’s observation jerked me out of my thoughts. “My question makes you think, ha?” he seemed smug about it.
“Not exactly think about you said, but yeah, it did,” I said reluctantly and sighed. “I think we should go back.”
His eyes showed a slight disappointment, but he nodded anyway. We walked out of Starbucks and toward his car when I saw a black SUV parking a few feet away. The moment we’d set foot outside, the SUV roared to life and slid down the road, afar from my sight.
It was odd, because the black SUV was Gunner’s preferable vehicle. But he wouldn’t be here, spying on me, right? And if he did, maybe it was because the Preston Household didn’t want me out of their sight, right? Or maybe it was another person entirely – black SUV is a very common car. Maybe it was just somebody else...
But my gut told me it was Gunner.
“Hey, everything’s okay?” Chase asked me, concerned.
“Y-Yeah...” I mumbled, and took a deep breath. It couldn’t be Gunner after all. He didn’t care about me – he ignored me and disregarded me, like I was an annoying burden, a child who needed to be babysat all the time.
I felt so alone suddenly, and tears came to my eyes. I entered Chase’s car quietly, and didn’t speak when he started driving. The only time I said something was to tell him where to drive me to.
The trip was silent, and when we reached the north hill, where the Preston mansion was, I said my goodbye to him. He still looked concerned, but I wasn’t in the mood to even try to explain my complications to him.
A butler opened the entrance doors and I slid back into this jail. At the same time I’d set my foot inside the house, Jez and Danger popped out of nowhere. “How did it go?!” Jez asked jumpily, more excited than I’d ever seen her.
“You must tell me what was this date all about, redling,” Danger grinned in his evil way, and I knew I could never get away from being interrogated by those two. Not that I liked it very much.
“It was not a date,” I clarified. “He just wanted to pay me back a favor. He’s not interested me and neither do I in him.”
“Oh, come one, you can’t be serious,” Jez rolled her eyes. “Guys like that don’t just take girls to Starbuck and treat them if they weren’t interested!”
“Apparently, some guys do,” I told her.
“Ah, that’s boring,” Danger’s face showed unhidden disappointment, “I was waiting for something better than that.”
“Yeah, Gunner said you looked all lovey-dovey there,” Jez scowled in disapproval.
My heart jumped. “Gunner?” I asked, acting confused.
Danger looked at me with those cattish eyes of his. “Do you really think we would’ve let you out of our sight for that long? Gunner was following you and Mr. Golden Boy to Starbucks and spied on you, giving us reports.” he shrugged.
I knew it could’ve betrayed my feelings for him, but I needed to know. For my sanity. “Why he did it?” I asked. “Why didn’t you, or Ryder, or even Jez?”
Danger’s eyes showed me he was onto me, which was unfortunate but not disastrous. Jez, who I suspected would’ve gone into a fit of envy, thought the question to be legitimate and didn’t suspect a thing, thank God. “No one was available for that,” she said, “only him.”
My heart sank, and I was angry at myself. What did I expect? That he would be jealous or something? It’s Gunner Murray. He wasn’t jealous of anyone, and I couldn’t imagine him feeling anything more than annoyance for me.
Why did I have to crush on someone like him? Why couldn’t I crush on Chase again instead?
I excused myself from Jez and Danger and went to my room. There I took a shower and slid into my comfy pjs, and then sat at the balcony with Flanny and stared at the beautiful view of the city. I was cuddled in the duvet I took to the balcony and let myself just contemplate and wonder about stuff.
I wanted to call Gran and tell her everything, but knew that I couldn’t even if I did manage to call her. This whole situation was too private, too weird for even me to grasp. I was here with the Prestons for about two weeks, and I couldn’t be more upset.
“Is your hair really red?”
Why was that question stuck in my head? I had no idea. But thoughts about it curled in my mind, taking me away from thinking about unwanted things like Gunner and his bullshit.
I didn’t know how long I was sitting there in the cold air of November when I was called to dinner. I walked to the dining hall, feeling like a ghost, and took my seat next to Danger. I grabbed only salad today and barely even ate it. I was that depressed.
“Is everything okay?” Danger asked me quietly.
I nodded mutely. Even though I befriended him, I still couldn’t bring myself to open-up about certain subjects.
Jez tried tentatively to talk to Ryder. After all, their fight was kinda brutal last night, but fortunately Ryder seemed willing to patch things up with her, too.
Henry, Maddox and Gunner weren’t at dinner tonight. I didn’t want to ask about them just not to show how desperate for Gunner I was. I thought that with every day that he distanced himself from me, getting over this foolish crush would be easier, but instead I found myself longing for him, yearning for his presence. Whenever we sparred at training, I wanted to feel his skin brushing mine. Whenever he explained something to me, I wanted to put my finger on his mouth and shut him up so I could smooch him.
Whenever he just was there, I wanted him to talk to me about stuff other than training or business. I wanted him to stop disappearing from the gym right when the training sessions ended. I wanted him to dance erotically with me again.
I simply wanted him, yearned for him. And the worst part was, he didn’t yearn for me back, and never would.
“Redling,” Danger’s rough hand cupped my cheek and raise my head to him. I snapped back to reality and realized that silent tears found their way out of my eyes. Danger looked concerned about me, wrinkles of worry in his forehead. “Please tell me what’s wrong.”
I tried to smile and failed. I couldn’t even fake happiness right now – yeah, that’s how hard I’d stupidly fallen for a guy who would never fall back for me. “I’ll get over it,” I whispered, feeling an ache in my chest. It hurt so much to think about it, about Gunner and his distance. It made me want to hit something.
And for what? I barely knew the guy and I already liked him that much. What did I know about Gunner anyway? Nothing. But I seriously wanted to know.
Danger frowned in worry but didn’t press. He probably thought I was too vulnerable or something right now. Anyhow, I was grateful, because I couldn’t talk about it yet.
Not when there was nothing to talk about.