I had a deja-vu as Jez and I got ready to the New Year’s Eve party. The last time we were getting dressed together was before that dinner at the high-class restaurant. Now, though, we were actually friends and not rivals or something.
Jez’s room was very lively with colors. When I first walked inside this evening I thought I’d walked straight into a rainbow or something, it was that dazzling. But it was homey and nice, and certainly not cold.
I was dressed in my best gray skirt with black tights underneath and leathered black boots. My shirt was scarlet-red and above it I put on a leathered jacket that didn’t look as warming as it actually was. Jez pulled my hair into a high ponytail which was very messy but there was nothing I could do about it. She put on me some make-up that made my brown eyes look seven darker than usual and my lips to look too full for my taste. But I looked good, presentable, and I said nothing.
Jez looked even more beautiful than ever. She had me brushing her dark-brown hair until it shone from silkiness and smoothness. Her eyes looked smoky-blue, like sky filled with clouds – all thanks to the make-up, of course. She looked so perfect and beautiful, especially dressed in a gothic red dress with leathered boots and a warm jacket. She seemed so ethereal I knew even Taryn didn’t stand a chance against her now.
When we were both ready, we made our way to the parking lot without meeting anyone on the way. Jez told me earlier that Henry threatened her to take care of me or else her punishment wouldn’t be pleasurable. I didn’t need her to tell me that “to take care of me” actually meant to keep an eyes on me so I wouldn’t run away or something. Like that was an option.
After everything that happened, with the bakery, with the fact the Prestons could make me surrender in every single way, it was unlikely I would run away. But they couldn’t know that – maybe because they’d probably gotten used to “guests” who tried to run away in any given time.
But I was smarter than that. Not that they’d know that.
Jez drove us in her white BMW downtown, and there she parked her car in the private parking of the tall building where Chase’s friend, Leo, lived and threw the party. There were lots of cars there already – after all, it was ten already – and Jez found a good parking, luckily. We then got out and walked to the building.
We could hear the music from the last floor all the way to the entrance hall. We got into the elevator and got to the last floor, where the music almost blasted our ears off. Leo’s penthouse’s door was open, and we saw people inside. We walked right inside and it seemed like all the Seniors from our school – and the Seniors from the other schools in the city – were there, partying. There were also college-people too, much to Jez’s relief.
The place was filled with booming music, party-girls and boys that drank and made out and had sex in the rooms and on the hallways’ walls, and while it was all so fascinating, I really wanted to find Chase. Jez and I took the stairs – another make-out spot – straight to the rooftop, where the actual party was going on strong. People danced there, boys and girls mingling, and I even saw Isobel and Marcus dancing so close it was almost as if they had sex on the dancing floor.
Then I saw Chase talking to Taryn. My stomach somersaulted – and not in a good way. My hands curled into fists but I kept my eyes on them. Taryn looked beautiful, of course, though Jez passed her big-time (which reminded me that many guys were watching Jezebel expectantly). Taryn wore a slutty blue dress, her platinum hair pulled into a Chinese-style braid. Her baby-blues were sparkling in cunningness as she talked to Chase and by her posture, it was obvious she was trying to seduce him.
“Don’t let her do that,” Jez whispered to me. “Go and get your guy.” She gave me a little push.
I was slightly startled but did as she said. Besides, some hot college-guy, probably twenty years old just like Jez, came over to Jez and started flirting with her. Jez, who seemed to like what she saw, flirted right back, and I knew she’d be alright.
So I made my way toward Chase and Taryn, to make him notice I was there, where he wanted me to be.
He snapped his eyes to me the moment I walked into his field of sight. His eyes grew wide as he took my appearance in, and I grinned a little in triumph. He ignored Taryn’s attempts and taking back his attention, and when she saw me, her eyes were blazing with hatred and even fear and insecurity. Yeah, she was shocked Chase didn’t pay attention to her while I was here, and she felt like she was worthless. Good. At least that way she would know what humiliation is.
“Hey,” Chase said, wonder written all over his face, which made my grin widen. “You look...” he seemed to be at a loss of words.
“You look, too,” I only half-joked. Chase looked fantastic. Even more handsome that usual. His gold, messy hair was still as messy as ever, but it was an organized mess. His deep blue eyes were as carefree as ever, and he wore some expensive-branded jeans, a party-like shirt and a jacket. He looked like the jock he was, the Golden Star of St. Blacksmith High.
And he was mine for the night. I could do worse.
Chase snapped out of his haze, eventually. “I meant,” he said with a truthful smile, “that you look amazing.”
I blushed. “You don’t look too bad, yourself.”
He chuckled and sneaked his arm around my waist and leaned in, until his lips brushed my ear slightly. “I’m glad you’re my date tonight,” he murmured in a lower voice than usual.
That low voice stirred some memory inside my mind, but I shook it of, not wanting to think about anything odd-related. “I’m glad, too,” I told him softly.
He then leaned back and dragged me to the dancing floor. We started to dance to some modern pop song, and, unlike my dancing with Gunner back at the dinner in that expensive restaurant, it wasn’t as sparks-filled and attraction-maddening. It was nice, really nice even, being plastered to Chase Montgomery while dancing, but that was all about it.
I wondered if I could feel any wild attraction to anyone other than Gunner, because right now it seemed impossible. Even with Chase, who was extremely hot and my crush before Gunner stormed into my life, there was nothing except niceness. It was comfortable, but not as fitting, as wild as what I had with Gunner.
We danced in silence for some time, like the two of us were the only ones in the world, and I couldn’t help but think, was this how it was going to be from now on? Every guy I would meet I would feel this niceness except the amazingly wild attraction I wanted?
I didn’t want it. I wanted Gunner to get the hell out of my mind if he wasn’t going to be with me as I needed him to. I wanted this attraction to move to someone else. I needed it to happen. But even dancing with Chase, who was easily the hottest guy in the penthouse and the nicest, easy-going guy I’d ever met, I felt only fine. Nothing more than that.
Gunner ruined any other guy for me.
“Let’s go grab some drink,” Chase said after about half an hour of dancing.
I nodded and we made our way to the “bar” - a table with many drinks. He poured himself a beer and asked me what I’d like, and I said I wanted coke. I wasn’t really an alcohol-lover and the only time I’d ever drunk, I knew I didn’t want to go through it again. I’d embarrassed myself in every way possible, and I didn’t need to do so again, especially with Chase here next to me.
“So Rae,” Chase grinned when we left the “bar” and went to the edge of the rooftop, where we could see the city stretched in front of us. I could see from there the shadow of the mansion, even.
“So Chase,” I mocked him with a small grin of my own.
He chuckled. “How come you look so great tonight?” He asked with a sparkle in his deep-blues.
I flushed a little. “You make it sound like it’s a bad thing.”
He wrapped an arm around my waist and draw me closer. “Quiet the opposite, Miss O’Reilly,” he flirted with a smirk. “I want to know why you look even better. Is it for me?”
A startled laugh escaped my throat. “You don’t really expect me to answer that, I hope,” I grinned at him.
“Nope,” he smiled then, again that true smile that made him look thousand times more handsome. “I’m just really glad you showed up and I’m making a doofus out of myself.” His face pinked a little and I fought a chuckle.
“Don’t worry,” I told him, “after you got that A plus on the hardest exam earlier this week, I don’t think you’re stupid.”
His cheeks still slightly pinked, he looked surprised. “You know about that?” He asked. Out of modesty, I guessed, he didn’t like everyone to know how smart he was.
I nodded. “I heard Marcus tell Jayden that you’re a smartass bastard.”
He chuckled and then looked pleased with himself. “I hope you like ’em smarts, Rae,” he looked at me jokingly, but I could see the seriousness in his deep eyes. He was really self-conscious for some reason, which made no sense – he was always really confident of himself.
“Are you okay?” I asked, searching his face. “You look a bit...”
My question seemed to snap him out of his odd state and he smirked. “Worried about me?”
I laughed, relaxing. “Not a little,” I teased and winked. “And to answer your question – I do like ’em smart, but most of the time those who’re smart don’t like me back.” My good mood dimmed a little at that. Gunner was smart. Really smart. Genius-smart, even. Sure, he may be an uptight asshole and all, not to mention stubborn and harsh and stern as hell, but he had a razor-sharp mind.
I, on the other hand, considered myself average on the scale of smartness. The great example for that is my low grades.
Chase chuckled. “Hey, you’ve got a smart guy right here with an arm around you who feels all kind of things for you.”
Suddenly he froze, his grin freezing on his face as well. I looked at him with puzzlement that turned into wonder when his words sank in. My eyes widened and I felt a blush creeping into my face. Oh God. Had he just admitted his feelings for me?
He seemed to realize the same and looked away, taking his arm off me. “Sorry,” he tried to chuckle it off, but the discomfort was there. “Forget I said anything.”
I wanted to do just that, but I knew it wouldn’t be right. “Chase...” I started but stopped. What could I say to him? That I wish I felt the same? That I wanted nothing more than forget about stupid Gunner and let myself fall for someone else? That I basically used him to get over Gunner?
None of it was an option. Besides, I would’ve never in million years thought that Chase Montgomery would feel something – anything – for me. My plan was strictly to make myself crush back on him, no the other way around. But that’s what happened, and I could only wonder how it came to this.
I didn’t know I had any sex-appeal that attracted someone like Chase, but apparently I did. And for some strange reason, I had enough sex-appeal to attract even Gunner.
If I thought my life had changed when I witnessed a murder, it now changed again at the realization.
“Let’s go dancing,” I said, breaking the sudden awkward silence.
He seemed relieved. “Yeah. Let’s.”
We put our drinks away and went back to the dancing floor. I saw Jez dancing with the hot guy who seemed really smitten with her. She winked at me when she caught my eye and I smiled a little. Marcus and Isobel were now dancing with Leo, who had his arm around Taryn, who didn’t seem to happy about it and kept sending me death-glares. I smirked at her with satisfaction and had the blessing of seeing her getting even angrier.
Chase and I danced, but even dancing became awkward after what’d happened. Yet we still danced, and he still sneaked an arm around me, and I pressed myself to him. The music became a little more erotic, and he used it to grab my waist and move my body along his. It could’ve been much more erotic and sparks-filled had I felt anything for him other than a kind of fondness, like friends.
But I went along with it, and did my best dancing, plastered to him. He grinned a little at me, and I grinned back. He was a good dancer... Though not as good as Gunner had been.
Besides, our bodies didn’t fit. Not like my body fit with Gunner’s. Not like Danger’s fit with Jez’s. The realization saddened me.
Why was Gunner had to be the one I fit to the most?
We kept on dancing and then someone called into microphone it was five minutes before midnight. I didn’t even realize two hours passed.
“Come on,” Chase grabbed my wrist. “We need to find the best place.”
He dragged me to the edge of the rooftop, and next to us appeared angry-Taryn with Leo, Isobel and Marcus, and Jez and her hot fling for the evening. Jez stood right next to me, sending me a knowing grin. It then struck me that at midnight the couples kiss. I forgot all about it.
And from the determined look in Chase’s face, I knew he was going to kiss me.
Oh God. Would it be as fantastic as it’d been with Gunner? Would it be disgusting? Would I feel weird about it? Would I hate it? Was it going to be awkward?
Chase took my hand in his all of a sudden and intertwined his fingers with mine. I gulped, and slowly raised my eyes to him. He smiled at me, and I forced a smile back. Shit. He was really going to kiss me.
Oh God. What should I do? Should I let him just kiss me and get it over with?
No, no, no, no! Stop counting! I don’t have decision yet!
What the hell was I doing here? Why the hell did I care if I would kiss Chase instead of Gunner? It’s not like it was my first kiss. That one’d been taken by Gunner already.
Okay, I did care. For some reason, I wanted my second kiss to be with Gunner as well. But Gunner made it clear he would probably decide against doing anything with me. He was the infuriatingly stubborn.
After all, Gunner had a serious issue with making decisions. I gave myself to him. He held back more than once. Sure, he’d been opened a few times, but any sort of relationship needed more than that.
Maybe... Maybe after what happened with Willow, he didn’t have the will, the desire, to open-up fully again to someone. Maybe when his feelings were crushed because of Willow, he couldn’t get serious with anyone. That’s why he avoided Jez’s open admiration, and Rose’s, Henry’s secretary, and maybe even Miss Summer’s, with whom it seemed he had a history.
He was trying to protect himself from getting hurt again. I was now sure of it. Yet... Yet it hurt me in the process.
Marcus and Isobel started making out already next to us, not waiting for the great moment, and it made me thing, was I waiting for the great moment when Gunner would get over his issues and complexes and come to me? Was I still hoping I had any chance with him, even after I finally realized why he was holding back, why he distanced himself from me?
Chase smiled down at me and I felt tears filling my eyes. The Prestons told me I resembled Willow so much. Gunner maybe so Willow in me, and that was why he felt open with me those few times, but when he realized I was Rae O’Reilly, not Willow, he put a distance between us. Because he thought I had the means to hurt him once again.
I wanted to kiss him, to tell him I wasn’t her and that I was sorry it took me so long to realize what he was really feeling, even if it was his own fault of keeping it all inside and not sharing it with me. But now it was too late.
It was like slow-motion. Chase leaned in to me, eyes locking with my own, teary ones. My heart ached like it’d never ached and my whole body rejected the idea of Chase’s lips on mine.
But then, just before he got too close, a familiar warm hand curled around the nape of my neck, and draw my head away from Chase toward another. And then warm, electric and familiar lips descended on mine, while Chase’s hand left mine, like he’d been burned.
And I felt as if my own lips were burning with the sensation I felt not so long ago. And tears now fell out of my eyes, because he came to me.
And now... Now Gunner was kissing me.