She recovered quickly and tossed her hair over her shoulder, throwing off her own magical laugh. It was like an angel played the harp on top of a rainbow. So not fair!
“Why are we doing this?” I asked quietly.
“Don’t look now, but that’s my ex over there.”
Surely I’m not the only one who takes “don’t look now” as “there’s no better time than now.” I looked.
“Bad Ali!” Another slap to my arm. “Bad, bad, bad Ali! Have you no self-control?”
“Sorry.” I rubbed away the sting. Did I stop looking, though? No. I stared. Hard.
To the right of us was a group of eight boys. If I’d ever needed a visual definition of serial criminal, I now had one (or eight). They were tall, all of them, and they were stacked with muscle. Most sported tattoos on their arms and piercings on their faces. A few wore chains around their waists, as if the metal links were belts, but on those bodies they could only be weapons.
Proof: two of them had house-arrest anklets on display over their dirt-caked boots.
They were shoving one another, laughing and punching each other on the arms. One of them even rubbed his fist into another’s hair, holding the guy by the waist and forcing him to stay hunched over and take the abuse while others pointed and called him the worst kind of names.
“There used to be more of them,” Kat said. “Two died last year from some disease that turns your blood into a toxic sludge, basically causing you to rot from the inside out. It’s not contagious or anything like that, or so the proverbial ‘they’ say—pamphlets were sent out to all the students because everyone was totally panicking—but it’s weird that two guys got it at the same time, you know.”
I caught a note of…something in her voice. “Did you know them?”
“Yeah, and I thought I’d cry forever. And this might be horrible to say, but I’m kinda glad they went together. They were best friends and you never saw one without the other. And wow, this little chat became morbid. My apologies.”
“No worries,” I said—even though I was worried. I never wanted to think about death and blood again, much less talk about them. “So which one is yours?” I asked, changing the subject back to the living boys.
She snorted with disgust. “The blond, and he was mine. Was. He’s not anymore and won’t ever be again.”
I scanned the crowd. Two were black, one had a shaved head, two were brunettes, one had jet-black hair and two were blond. I wanted to look over the blonds, I really did, but once I spotted the one with hair so black it was almost blue, I was stuck.
He wore a bright red baseball cap. There was writing in the center, but I couldn’t make out the words. He was the only one not horsing around. With his back pressed into the lockers and his arms folded over his chest, he watched his friends with lazy amusement.
He was gorgeous, and I absolutely, no question, had to be drooling. After a quick and hopefully stealthy check—big shock, I wasn’t!—I found myself wondering what color his eyes were. Brown maybe. Or even hazel. Either way…wow, just wow. Deer? Headlights? Hi, I’m Ali.
“Yo, Kitty Kat,” someone called. I forced myself to stop staring at Red Hat and glanced—at one of the blonds. “Come over here and give me a proper hello. You know you want to.”
“What I want is for you to go to hell,” she called back.
“Aw, come on. Don’t be that way, baby.” He was the taller of the blonds, with cold brown eyes and a face that would have made the devil hide in a shadowed corner, sucking his thumb and crying for his mommy. Even though I couldn’t imagine him winning a girl like Kat, I could imagine him cheating. He had to be the ex. “You love me, ’cause you just can’t help yourself.”
“I hope Rina gave you an STD.”
The boys around him snickered, and the fact that he maintained his grin—rather than murdering Kat—surprised me.
“That’s harsh, baby. I was just teasing when I called you by her name.”
Yep. The ex. Sooo Trina the “two-faced, lying, cheating witch” had to be the very same Rina he’d messed around with over summer break. And, honestly? That totally blew my mind. Kat was one of the prettiest, most feminine girls I’d ever met, while that Trina person was hard-core.
Although, so was the ex. Besides that I’m-totally-a-serial-killer face, he had black bands tattooed around his wrists and brass knuckles tattooed over his…well, knuckles.
“I’m not mad, though,” Kat said. “You lied to me, and I lied to you. We’re even.”
Finally he lost the grin. “When did you lie?”
She gave him a Sweet’N Low smile, as if his amusement had been poured into her. “Every time we messed around. I didn’t actually enjoy myself, if you know what I mean.”
“Burn,” one of his friends said.
He shoved the boy away. “Don’t be that way,” he pleaded to her, and I would have bet he was only halfway kidding. There was a desperate gleam in those dark eyes.
“Don’t tell me what to do. And by the way, I’m not teasing when I do this.” Kat flipped him off times two, and all of his friends erupted into a fresh round of snickers.
His confident facade faded, but still he said, “I’ll change your mind and I’ll win you back. It’s just a matter of time.”
“Actually, it’s just a matter of time before I feed your balls to my dog.” In an aside to me, she said, “Remind me that I need to buy a dog.”
The black-haired one finally glanced over at us—yeah, I’d returned to staring at him—and I forgot all about Kat and her problems. Violet, I realized. Those eyes of his were the most amazing shade of violet. I’d never seen so beautiful a color.
Had to be contacts. Right?
He gave Kat a once-over and grinned a hello. I barely stopped myself from chewing on one of my nails, a disgusting nervous tic I’d broken years ago. Would he look directly at me?
The moment our eyes met, the moisture in my mouth dried up and I lost focus of my surroundings. He was all that I could see, all that I wanted to see. And in the span of a single second we were no longer across the hall from each other—
—we were pressed together, his arms wrapped around me, my arms wrapped around him, and we were kissing. Miracle of miracles, he was five inches taller than me, practically dwarfing me. I loved it! And oh, glory, I loved what we were doing....
I had never been kissed before, but his tongue was definitely in my mouth, and my tongue was definitely in his, and we were practically eating each other’s faces.
“Ali,” he breathed as he drew me closer, squeezed me tighter.
“Cole,” I breathed back. I couldn’t get enough of him and never wanted to stop. He was so warm. So very warm, when I’d been so cold all summer. No matter how many blankets I’d piled on top of me, I’d been cold. I wanted to stay here, just like this, forever.
My fingers tangled in his hair, knocking off his cap. He angled his head, taking my mouth deeper, harder.
“You taste good,” he rasped. He smelled of sandalwood and something fruity, like a strawberry lollipop just freed from its wrapper.
“Talk later. Kiss now—”
“—Ali. Ali!” Kat stepped in front of me. She was frowning, waving. “Hello? Anyone home?”
I blinked and realized I was in the same spot I’d occupied before. And with that realization came another. I’d never crossed the hall, never met the boy in the hat halfway—Cole, I’d called him—never plowed my fingers through his hair. Never touched him, and absolutely never kissed him, yet my lips tingled and I was having trouble drawing air into my lungs.
“You okay?” Kat asked, her concern evident.
She was so short I had no trouble peeking over her shoulder at the group of boys. Nearly everyone else had abandoned the hallways. Maybe because the tardy bell had been ringing—and was only now fading. Crap. Crap, crap, crap. How long had I been staring at that boy?
At least he was staring at me, too. Or maybe that wasn’t such a good thing. He was scowling at me, and it was the kind of scowl you saw on a guy in a dark alley just before he crunched your face into the dirt and stole your purse. One of his friends was tugging on his arm, trying to get his attention.
Red Hat snapped his teeth at me and turned away to stomp out of the hall. His remaining friends traveled after him, one of them muttering, “Mind telling us what that was about, my man?”
I leaned against the lockers to find my balance. Only then, with distance between us and his gaze unlocked from mine, did I manage to catch my breath. “The one with the hat,” I said to Kat. “What’s his name?” I probably should have assured her of my mental competence first, but I craved info about him too badly. And really, could I assure anyone of my mental competence just then?
Kat’s head fell forward, as if suddenly too heavy to hold up, but her penetrating stare remained on me. “Why? Are you interested in him?”
My mouth floundered open and closed. I was interested in knowing what had just happened. How I had just…envisioned kissing him. How that vision had seemed so real that I’d felt his heat, his strength. So real that my body had reacted physically.
“Just curious,” I finally said, trying for a nonchalance I didn’t feel. But my words were the straight-up truth. I was curious.
She wasn’t buying. “That’s Cole Holland, and girl, you so don’t want to date him. Trust me.”
Shock blustered through me. His name really was Cole? But…how had I known that?
You heard someone else call him Cole, that’s all. A subconscious thing.
Maybe. Probably. “Why?” I croaked.
“Because I’m totally trustworthy. Hello, you’ve met me, right?”
If I hadn’t been in such a state of upheaval, I would have rolled my eyes. “Not why should I trust you. Why don’t I want to date him?”