Chapter 9 - Melody
Three days later, a parcel arrived for me in the mail. Hailey knocked on my door and left the parcel in front of it, not bothering to wait for me to open it. Which wasn’t unsurprising, because she’d been avoiding me like the plague since that run-in with Connor over the weekend, where she completely got the wrong idea about things between us.
I sighed as I picked up the parcel, and thought it might have been a pair of shoes I’d ordered online. But when I opened it, there was a beautiful box inside and a handwritten card.
My heart stopped when I started reading it...
“Snow, wear this on Saturday night. I’ll find you.”
A thrill skated down my spine, seeing his handwriting on a card. Then I opened the delicate box and I gasped as there was an intricately decorated gold Venetian mask inside. It was beautiful and delicate and I knew it must have cost a small fortune, because it was clearly hand-crafted and quite simply, of exquisite taste.
He must’ve gone through one hell of an effort to find something like this on short notice, and my heart fluttered because it was quite a grand gesture to send something magnificent like this to a girl he barely knew.
There was an address written in the same handwriting on the back of the card, together with the time and dress code: masquerade.
Part of me was surprised that he knew exactly where I lived, too, but then I realized that he clearly knew a hell of a lot about me. How - I wasn’t sure. But what was clear, was that we likely moved in the same circles. We knew the same people. We must have met before. But most of all: he could find me, easily, if he really wanted to.
And then his words haunted me again, like they had been over the past few days... “I’m trying to stay away from you, Snow, but I don’t know if I can.”
Which begged the question, why was he trying to stay away from me? And why did he warn me that this couldn’t end well? His warning didn’t deter me though, if anything, it only added to the mystery and intrigue. Damn - what the hell was wrong with me? I had no idea who this guy even was. What if he was right, and I was disappointed when finally, the masks came off, and the mystery was gone?
Despite all my unanswered questions, that feeling of anticipation built and I was flirting with the idea of confiding in Hailey, but she was still avoiding me, and no matter how hard I tried talking to her about Connor, the moment I mentioned his name, she shut down and walked away. She was a damn brick wall these days. And her unusual behavior confirmed my earlier suspicions that something must have happened between her and Connor, for her to react so intensely.
I called Connor because he was the only person who knew about the whole thing with Angel. And I just needed to talk to someone so damn desperately about this latest development, because it felt like I was going crazy.
“It’s not a smart idea to go alone, Mel. I know that the guy hasn’t given you any reason to believe he is up to something, but still... the whole thing about you not even knowing who he is, makes me uncomfortable. What if he’s some sort of serial killer, who has been laying a trap for you?”
My eyes widened, because I hadn’t thought of that. But instinctively, I just knew that I could trust Angel. I felt safe when I was with him. Perhaps it was because he’d saved my life, and I felt this sense of debt and gratitude to him. Perhaps it was because I was falling for the guy, and his intoxicating kisses, despite knowing nothing else about him, except that he was built like a god, and had impeccable timing.
“It’s just a residential address not far from here, actually. I’ve looked it up. It seems like a nice house, in a nice area. But I get where you’re coming from. Did you... did you want to come with?” I asked hesitantly, wondering if it was a good idea to show up with Connor, while Angel clearly had reservations as to whether I was seeing Connor or not.
“I think you should take someone with, Mel. Either me or someone else. And even though fancy dress parties aren’t really my thing, I’ll go with you if you want me to. What if you turn up, and you feel uncomfortable? Someone needs to know where you are, in case you get into trouble.”
Connor was making a convincing argument. Objectively, it was the smart thing to do. And I thought again that he was one hell of a stand-up guy.
“Okay. Thank you. I haven’t told anyone else about him...” I started, but Connor already knew what I was going to say.
“I’ll go with you, then. Pick you up at eight?”
“Thanks, Connor. I appreciate it.”
“Don’t mention it. You helped me out the other night when I needed a date for the awards dinner, I’m happy to help you out too.”
He sighed, his tone more somber all of a sudden. “Have you... have you talked to Hail yet?”
“I’ve tried to, but she refuses to listen to me. I’ll keep trying, I promise. She can’t avoid me forever, it’s kind of inevitable that she’ll have to talk to me sooner or later,” I tried to make a joke.
“Yeah,” he sighed, sounding defeated.
“What really happened between the two of you, Connor?” I asked softly.
There was silence for a few seconds, before he responded, his tone terse. “If Hail hasn’t told you... then I prefer not to say anything either. It’s between me and her.”
And just with everything else in my life, the plot seemed to thicken, yet again, and I was nowhere closer to getting answers.
The rest of that week dragged by, but finally, it was Saturday night. I actually went out and bought a new dress - something that Hailes would approve of. I couldn’t well ask to borrow one of her outfits, because one - she wasn’t talking to me - and two - then she’d want details. The dress was black and tight-fitting, and the relatively plain design of the dress made the intricate design of the gold Venetian mask stand out even more.
Finally, Connor and I arrived at the address on the card. The party was already in full swing when we arrived, and everyone was wearing some form of disguise. The house was a two-story, modern mansion, and upon first impression, it definitely wasn’t your typical student digs. It was nice - way nicer than what you’d expect from a place where students lived.
We pushed our way through the crowded lounge room and saw people already dancing to the pumping music in an adjacent room, which had been largely cleared of furniture, and was dimly lit to create an intimate atmosphere. Connor motioned to the bar, which was even more crowded.
“I’ll go get us a drink. Wait here.”
I looked around the room, somehow hoping that I’d recognize him, or anyone I knew, but it was a near-impossible task. A guy bumped right into me on his way in and apologized before he headed straight for the bar, and I decided to move towards the wall, to get out of the way a little.
And just as I was about two steps away from the wall, I felt a strong pair of arms circling me from behind. Immediately that almost-illicit thrill slivered through me from my skull to my toes, and I just instinctively knew his touch...
All my senses sprung to life within a second, and his hands were burning through the fabric of my dress.
“Snow... you came,” his breath cascaded down the skin of my neck.
“Of course I did...” I said breathlessly, then turned around, facing him.
The room was dimly lit and he wore a mask - a male version of the one I wore - so I couldn’t make out much of his features, except that he had eyes the color of the ocean at its deepest, dark hair, and as I already knew, he was at least half-a-foot taller than I was, with an extremely athletic build.
“You look beautiful - you always do,” he said again, his hands finding mine and entwining my fingers with his. And then, I felt this crazy endorphin rush, and I was almost immediately on a natural high from it.
“Thank you.” And all of a sudden I was at a loss for words... except for the one question that was burning on my mind... “Who are you?”
He laughed. “We’ll get to that. I have a bit of explaining to do, actually.” But then his smile faltered a bit. “Was that Connor Blake that you arrived with? I couldn’t be sure with the disguise...”
“Yeah, it was. He’s just a good friend of mine, who didn’t want me to turn up alone at a party at a stranger’s house,” I explained and he nodded.
“I promised you a dance, Snow, because I missed out last time.” He motioned towards the adjacent room which was filled with couples dancing to the music.
"Right now. I’ve been kicking myself for not asking you to dance last weekend,” his voice was low, almost suggestively so.
“Okay,” I whispered, and he led me to the dancefloor.
“When will the mask come off?” I asked, and then his hands landed on my hips, and I circled my arms behind his neck, as we started moving slowly to the beat. And all of a sudden, the air between us became thick and palpable, and my pulse was wrestling in my throat. I was so damn aware of him, of his scent, male and musky and sandalwood, and of every single movement he made against me.
“So many questions,” he teased, seemingly extracting pleasure from drawing out my agony, pulling me closer into his hard body.
My skin was on fire everywhere we touched. I was afraid he’d be able to hear my heart race inside my chest, it was pulsing so damn fast.
“Whose party is this?” I asked, and his hand moved to the small of my back in a slow, sensual stroke that made me crave the feel of his hand on my bare skin.
“Isabella’s,” he murmured against my ear.
“Who is Isabella?”
Fuck. It felt good the way our bodies moved together. It was like we belonged - we moved in perfect sync. I just wanted to stay like this...
“She lives with me.”
My eyebrows shot up, and I pulled away from him, looking at him quizzically. “You live with a girl?”
He smiled. “Yes. And with another guy. I should’ve worded it better. We’re housemates. It’s her parents’ place, but they’re stationed overseas for two years at the consulate in Rome, and she wanted company.”
I nodded as he jerked me right into him again, and he eliminated the unnecessary space between us.
“Jealous, Snow?” He seemed amused.
“No,” I lied, and he just chuckled, I could feel the soft vibration of his laugh against my body.
“So... you live here?” I asked again, piecing the puzzle together slowly.
“Yes, I do.”
“Well, it’s only fair that I know where you live, because you seem to know a hell of a lot about me,” I said dryly.
“True,” he agreed, still sounding highly amused.
And as that song progressed, it became hotter and hotter inside that room. I was rapidly starting to burn against him, my skin felt feverish. Damn - why did this guy have such an effect on me?
“I want to kiss you again, Snow...” he whispered against the shell of my ear, and I nodded. And thank God, because I was desperate for him to kiss me again, too.
“But I don’t want to do it in front of all these people. Let’s go upstairs to my room...”
And right then, I threw caution right overboard...
And that, right there, was really the start of a trajectory of events that would change my life irrevocably. I’d found out exactly who he was, that night. I’d see his face, without a mask. But I’d also give up a part of myself that I’d never get back again, I just didn’t know it as yet.