I push open the door to Jamie’s ultra-clean apartment. I’ve teased him before about being a neat freak (unlike me), but I know he mostly keeps it this way because he doesn’t want to snag his leg on a pair of jeans lying on the floor. He’s got a woman who comes to clean once a week.
“Jamie!” I call out when I don’t see him in the living room.
Jamie comes out from the hallway leading to his bedroom and he’s sitting in a wheelchair. I already knew that he uses a wheelchair a fair amount around his apartment, but it throws me off a little whenever I see him in it. On his part, he seems mildly embarrassed.
“Let me just…” He grabs onto the arm of the sofa to pull himself into a standing position. It takes him two tries to get back on his feet, and then when he reaches for his cane, but his left leg starts jumping in place. He holds onto the sofa, waiting for it to pass, but the second he lets go again, the spasm returns. “Shit…”
“Uh, are you okay?” I ask.
“Fine,” he says through his teeth.
But he’s not fine. He can’t get his left leg to stop jumping when he puts any weight on it. I can see the frustration on his face.
I look at his chair, wondering if he’d prefer to use it instead of the cane. I don’t see how he’s going to walk out of here, given the issues he’s having. “Maybe you should use the wheelchair for the party?”
His blue eyes widen. “What? No, I’ll be fine.”
“It’s not a big deal.”
He gives me a look.
“What?” I say. “It’s not.”
He looks down at his left leg again and behind him at the wheelchair. “Fine. Maybe I should…”
His ears are slightly pink as he settles back down into his chair. Despite his reluctance, he seems relieved when he gets back into it. He uses his hands to adjust his legs in the footplate, studiously avoiding my eyes.
As opposed to yesterday, Jamie is dressed casually in a gray T-shirt and blue jeans. It’s really hot out, but I’ve never seen him wear anything besides pants, probably because of those braces on his ankles. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I can see why he might want to hide them.
We take the elevator the one flight to Mr. Teitelman’s apartment. We have to ring the bell twice, but when he finally throws open the door, he honestly looks the happiest I’ve ever seen him. His gray hair is perfectly combed and he’s wearing what I suspect is his nicest tennis shirt. He beams at us.
“Brooky!” He leans in to give me a kiss on the cheek, then he claps Jamie on the shoulder. “And James! I’m so glad you both could make it.” He winks at me. “And together.”
I grin at Jamie. “We wouldn’t miss it.”
“What?” Mr. Teitelman says.
“WE WOULDN’T MISS IT!” I yell at him.
“Let me introduce you to my grandson, Eli!” Mr. Teitelman rushes off into the crowd of people milling about his apartment. He’s got four children and innumerable grandchildren, so even if it’s family only, it’s a full house. He told me that he and his wife Beverly used to have a house out on Long Island, but he gave it up when she passed on. Too much work.
A minute later, Mr. Teitelman is shoving a round-faced boy in our direction, who looks like he wishes he could be anywhere but here. He has the same kind brown eyes as Mr. Teitelman and he’s wearing one of those little round hats on his light brown hair.
“This is Eli!” Mr. Teitelman announces proudly. “Today, he is a man!”
The boy’s cheeks color. This boy does not look like he’s a man. He doesn’t even look like he’s old enough to grow pubes. But he’s staring at my boobs like a man, so there’s that.
“Mazel tov, Eli,” I say. I think that’s what I’m supposed to say. I look at Jamie for confirmation and he just shrugs. Jamie’s not Jewish either—he’s a bad Christian like me.
“Thanks,” the boy mumbles.
“You must get some food!” Mr. Teitelman instructs us as his grandson wanders back into the crowd. “I got it from Katz’s deli. You know, the deli where Meg Ryan had the orgasm?”
“What?” I say.
“You know, in that movie,” he says impatiently. “Where Harold gets introduced to Susan?”
Jamie and I exchange looks. “When Harry Met Sally?” Jamie finally guesses.
Mr. Teitelman nods emphatically. “Yes, that’s the movie. When Harold Met Sally. And she has the orgasm at Katz’s deli. So help yourself.”
I look at Jamie and I can see he’s trying as hard as I am not to burst out laughing.
The apartment is so crowded, Jamie is having trouble maneuvering in his chair. I can see why he would have wanted to be on his feet for this, but that wasn’t an option. He has to keep mumbling “excuse me” to people in his efforts to get to the dining table.
The spread from Katz’s deli is impressive. He’s got piles of pastrami, turkey, chicken, and even something that Jamie tells me is cow’s tongue. There are buckets of mustard and coleslaw and several loaves of various colored rye bread. There’s an entire plate of pickles, cut into quarters.
“Are these knishes?” I ask Jamie, pointing to a pastry sliced into quarters. It looks like potato inside.
“I think so,” he says, ducking his head to get a closer look.
I smile. “I was at a catered party with Sydney about a year ago that had deli food, and she convinced a friend of hers that they were pronounced ‘nishes.’ It was hilarious.”
Jamie grins at me as he puts a plate in his lap. “Was that friend you?”
“No.” I roll my eyes, but then catch site of a bowl of some mushed up brown stuff. “Is that humus?”
He squints down at the bowl. “I think it’s chopped liver.”
“Ew!” I shudder. “I’m not eating that.”
“You should try it,” he says. “Maybe it will end up being your new favorite food.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“You never know…”
Maybe I’m not an adventurous eater, but I can say for sure that chopped liver is not going to be my new favorite food. I just know.
Jamie and I fill up our plates to the brim with deli food before we head over to the sectional sofa. There’s no room to sit when we get there, but when the guests see Jamie, they quickly get up to make room for me to sit with him. I wonder if it bothers him how people always do things like that for him.
Once I’m settled on the couch, I spread mayo all over my rye bread, then layer it with pastrami and turkey. Jamie is watching me and he grins. “Mayo on a pastrami sandwich? Boy, you’re really not a native New Yorker.”
“Why not? Native New Yorkers don’t eat mayo?”
“Not on a pastrami sandwich.” He shakes his head. “That’s blasphemy over here.”
I roll my eyes. “Sorry, Michigan boy.”
“Hey, I’ve lived here longer than you.”
That’s true. Jamie first moved here from Michigan for college. I think he’s about thirty-one, so that means he’s lived here thirteen years to my seven.
“My parents want me to move back,” he says as he crunches on a sour pickle.
He nods grimly. “My mom called me last night because she found out that someone was murdered in our neighborhood. She says it’s not safe here.”
“My parents don’t know about Sydney,” I say. “If they found out…”
Well, there’s nothing my parents could do to get me to move back to Vermont, but I wouldn’t enjoy the hours I’d have to spend on the phone trying to convince them I’m just fine here. Hopefully, they won’t hear about it.
“What are your parents worried about?” I say. “You’re a guy.”
“Like I said to my mother,” he says, “I just won’t date any dark, mysterious men. It’ll be a sacrifice, but…”
I slug Jamie in the arm and he laughs.
We finish off our plates of food then go back for seconds. And then thirds. Ugh. Oh well. This food is worth the food baby belly. Plus I’m having a lot of fun chatting with Jamie. Jamie’s the most fun person I know to hang out with. He’s funny as hell, but doesn’t have that mean edge Gabby has.
Once or twice, our knees brush against each other and I can’t help think of that foot massage he gave me the other night or when we were holding hands yesterday at the funeral. It felt so good at the time, but then I met Hunter right after. And the truth is, it feels like Hunter is all I can think about. Every time I start to imagine Jamie touching me or kissing me, Hunter’s handsome face invades my fantasy. I can’t seem to push it out, no matter what I do.
Maybe Hunter was right. Maybe we are meant to be together—kismet and all that. After all, I’ve never quite felt this way about a man before. I mean, he’s not that handsome.
And as for Jamie, well, I don’t know what to think anymore. I adore Jamie, but that’s part of why the idea of a relationship with him frightens me. Why start a relationship that will ultimately get screwed up and then I’ll lose him as a friend?
And I’m realizing he’s on the same page with all this. After all, he hasn’t made an attempt to touch me since we met up. Well, aside from our knees brushing together a few times. But I’m not sure how much control he has over that.
Jamie leans back in his wheelchair and groans. “I’m so full, Brooke. Why did we eat so much food?”
“I know what you mean.” Actually, I don’t know what he’s complaining about. He’s wearing baggy jeans, while I’ve got on a skirt with a clasp that’s now imbedded itself in my abdomen. I lean back next to him and whisper, “Do you think it would be inappropriate if I unbuttoned my skirt?”
He winks at me. “A little, although I suspect the bar mitzvah boy would appreciate it.”
I don’t doubt that. I caught little Eli staring at my legs fifteen minutes ago.
Across the room, I can see that Mr. Teitelman is lifting one of his littlest granddaughters up in the air. When she’s in his arms, I see him pointing to a photo mounted on his wall of him and an elderly woman with a beautiful smile.
“I think Mr. Teitelman is showing his granddaughter a photo of his wife,” I say to Jamie.
“She must be too little to remember her,” Jamie says thoughtfully. “He said his wife died two years ago.”
I strain my ears and catch Mr. Teitelman saying the words “your grandma loved you so much.” Then he hugs her.
My heart aches. “He must really miss her,” I say. “I think they were married, like, forty years.”
“Can you imagine that?” Jamie shakes his head. “Being married to someone for forty years?”
“I can’t imagine being married for forty minutes.”
“Well…” He shrugs and smiles at me. “I hope someday… you know…”
“Yeah,” I murmur. “Someday.”
I can’t help but think of Sydney again. She’ll never have a husband who shows pictures of her to her grandchildren. She’ll never have grandchildren. She’ll never even have children.
“Hey,” he says, poking me in the upper arm, “I was just thinking, if you can manage to recover from this meal, maybe we could catch a movie tonight at the AMC?”
The deli meat churns in my stomach. Jamie’s asking me to the movies on a Saturday night? That doesn’t entirely seem like a friendly gesture. It’s not like he and I have never been to the movies before, but not on a Saturday night. That’s too date-y a night.
Does he want to go out with me? Maybe I wasn’t misinterpreting everything. Maybe he really does want to take our friendship to another level.
“Um,” I say.
He’s looking at me, not letting me off the hook to suggest another night.
“Actually, I can’t,” I say. “I sort of… I have a date.”
His fingers grip his knees as he stares at me. He looks like I just slugged him in the jaw. “What?”
“It’s Saturday night, so…” I shrug helplessly. “You know, date night. So I’ve got a date.”
“Yeah, but…” He’s shaking his head at me. “I thought… you know, you weren’t seeing anybody right now.”
“Well, I met someone.”
“But I thought you and I…” His blue eyes are glassy now, looking down at his legs.
Damn, this is not what I expected at all. What’s wrong with me? I’ve made a huge mistake. Yes, Hunter has somehow invaded my brain recently, but so what? When I look at Jamie, I know what the right thing to do is. Jamie’s Jamie. He’s the one I should be going out with. Not some handsome investment banker I met in a random sports bar who somehow trickd me into giving him my address.
“I’ll cancel my date,” I say.
His eyes darken. “No, don’t do that. You made a date—don’t cancel on my account. Why should you?”
“No, I get it.” He looks down at his legs. “Believe me—I get it.”
“You should go,” he says firmly, in a voice that leaves little room for argument. “Really. Go.”
I’m not sure what to say to that. He’s confusing the hell out of me. I get the feeling the right thing to do is cancel, but now he’s insisting I go. Also, I don’t know Hunter’s number, so canceling would be physically impossible. I’d have to tell Hunter to his face I can’t go out with him, and somehow I predict that would be harder than I think.
“Listen,” I say, “you should call Gabby and ask her to go with you. I don’t think she has plans tonight.”
Jamie blinks a few times and stares at me. “Gabby?”
“Sure,” I say. “She’s nice and she’s fun. Right?”
He shakes his head. “Yeah, great idea, Brooke. I’ll give Gabby a call.” He reaches for the pushrims of his chair. “I’ll call her right now, in fact.”
He backs up his chair, but smashes into the end table behind him. Someone had put their drink there, and it tips over on impact. Yellow liquid splashes all over the table, threatening to roll over the edge and stain the carpet.
“Goddamn it,” Jamie says under his breath.
I leap up to help him, throwing my decimated plate of food on the coffee table. Both of us look around for a napkin for a few moments before a middle-aged woman rushes over with a stack of them. She briefly rests a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, young man. I’ll clean it up.”
“Thanks,” he mumbles. He shoots me a pained look. “I’m going, Brooke.”
“Don’t go,” I say softly.
He won’t look me in the eyes. “We’ve been here for like two hours.” He rubs his left thigh. “And anyway, I’m not feeling so great right now.”
I bite my lip. “I’ll go too then.”
He shrugs. “Whatever you want.”
“We could catch a movie now, if you’d like…” I’m desperate to make this right again. It’s obvious Jamie’s pissed off at me.
He lets out a long sigh and shakes his head. “No, I’ve got work to do now. Look, I’ll see you later, okay?”
I nod miserably, cursing myself for having read the situation wrong yesterday. It’s obvious Jamie thought there was something between us, same as I did. I want to say that to him, but I can’t talk to him when he’s worked up like this.
Fine. I’ll go out on this one date with Hunter, but that’s it. It’s one date. We’ll surely both realize during the date that there’s zero chemistry between us, and that will be the end of it. Even if we’re not kismet, I’m sure a date with Hunter will at least be entertaining. And then tomorrow, I can make things right with Jamie.
After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
Rule Number One of dating a guy that I randomly met in a bar is I don’t let him up to my apartment on our first date. So when Hunter buzzes me in my apartment, I tell him I’ll be right down. I don’t even give him a chance to ask if he can come upstairs.
I tried on outfits for a pathetic amount of time. I’m embarrassed to admit what I did. Okay, I’ll say it. I took selfies in the mirror of myself in like eight of my dresses so I could do shot-by-shot comparisons. Because sometimes you try on a dress and you’re not sure if it looked better than the dress you were wearing before. So photos help.
Hashtag first world problems.
I finally settle on a pink Nine West summer dress, because I’m the only redhead in the world who loves pink. (It’s a well-known fact that pink clashes with red hair, but I can’t help it—I love pink. The singer and the color.) The dress is very pink. Possibly too pink. I hope Hunter likes pink too.
When I get downstairs, Hunter is wearing a dress shirt and khaki slacks, Ray Ban sunglasses, and leaning against a cherry red convertible Audi. It might be cheesy if someone else were doing it, but Hunter looks beyond cool. I want to throw myself at him.
“Well, hello there, Brooke.” He pulls off his sunglasses to reveal those dark, dark eyes. “You look incredible.”
“Thanks.” My cheeks color. “Nice car. Where are we going?”
He winks at me. “It’s more fun if it’s a surprise, isn’t it?”
He opens the door for me like a gentleman and I climb into this amazing car. I can’t remember the last time I’ve ridden inside a convertible. And Hunter makes the most of the experience, driving as fast as the traffic will allow. I can’t help but think of Jamie and his sensible Hybrid Civic, always driving under the speed limit. Who could blame me for preferring the guy in the cool, fast car?
Then again, it’s not like I’m sixteen years old. There’s more to a man than a fast car.
The bad thing about being in a convertible is that I’m afraid it’s doing horrible things to my hair. I keep touching my hair, patting it down at every red light. I’m afraid by the time we get wherever we’re going, I’ll look like I’ve been in a tornado. Hunter’s hair, on the other hand, looks sexily windblown.
“Are we almost there?” I ask, patting my hair again. I wish I’d worn it up. I think I have a hairbrush in my bag—I can slip away to the bathroom as soon as we get there. Unless wherever we’re going doesn’t have a bathroom. I don’t want to have to style my hair in a porta potty.
He pulls headfirst into a parking spot on the curb. I see we’re in front of a Spanish restaurant that has a long line of people waiting to get inside. I groan. I’m not in any mood to wait in line for an hour to get into a trendy restaurant. I hope this isn’t Hunter’s idea of a good time.
“Um, this place looks a little… crowded,” I comment.
“Are you worried?” Hunter flashes his white teeth at me. “Trust me, it’ll be fine.”
He opens the car door open for me and I climb out. I start for the end of the line, but Hunter shakes his head at me and gestures at the front door. He takes my arm lightly by the wrist and pulls me along with him.
“Hello, Bridget.” He flashes his smile again for the pretty blond hostess guarding the door.
“Mr. Stone!” she breathes. She beams at him. “Please… go on inside… they’re holding your table for you.”
I stare at my date in amazement as we bypass the huge line and another pretty blond girl greets him with equal enthusiasm. She leads us past half a dozen tables to a door containing a narrow staircase.
Hunter looks down at my pink shoes. “I hope you can climb stairs in those.”
“Maybe I should have worn mountain boots for our date.”
“Now that,” he says, “would have been extremely cool.”
What seems like a hundred flights of stairs later (but was probably more like six or seven), the hostess opens a door that leads to what is apparently the roof. But it’s a nice roof—there are tables set up on it and a small water fountain in the middle. None of the tables are occupied, but the middle one has candles and place settings on it.
Hunter turns to the hostess and says something to her in what I think is Spanish. She blushes and nods, “Right away, Mr. Stone.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “What did you say to her?”
“I told her not to disturb us because we’d be having sex up here.”
I stare at him.
He grins at me. “Brooke, I’m kidding. Although I did pull a few strings to make sure we have the roof to ourselves. I told her to get started on the paella because it takes forty minutes to cook. And to bring us a bottle of red wine.” He waves his hand at the railing of the roof. “In the meantime, you should take a look at the view up here.”
I take tentative steps toward the railing, my stomach flip-flopping in my abdomen. We’re at least seven stories up and I’ve never been a fan of heights. Yes, I live on the seventh floor myself, but there’s a thick layer of glass between me and plummeting to my death. Here there’s only… air.
“It’s beautiful,” I gulp, even though I’m trying not to have a full-on panic attack.
Hunter joins me by the railing, his eyes studying me curiously. “You’re scared of heights.”
“No, I love heights,” I say. “In fact, I wish this railing were lower so I’d feel like I was about to fall off the roof at any moment.”
He’s quiet for a moment and I feel a sharp jab of fear in my chest. Only yesterday I was musing how lucky I was that I never fell victim to one of the sociopathic men in this city. I vowed to change my life, so what do I do? I turn down a movie invitation from the one decent guy I know, and instead go on a date with a charming stranger, who immediately gets me all alone on a roof. Also, his name starts with an H! What was I thinking?
But if he pushed me off, he’d never get away with it, right? Everyone would know it was him.
Then again, he could always say it was a horrible accident. Yes, officer, I tried to grab her, but she just toppled over the edge. Nothing I could do.
Hunter’s dark eyes are still on mine. There’s something frightening about him in this moment. I can’t believe I allowed myself to be all alone with him when I barely know him. The best I can say is that he can’t slit my throat up here. At least, I don’t think he can.
He moves toward me and my body stiffens. I think about the self-defense class I took when I first moved to the city seven years ago. I remember something about kicking him in the groin with my knee. And then stomping on his foot. Although the truth is, I can’t imagine myself doing that. If he really tries to throw me off the roof, I’m almost certainly going over.
I brace myself and get my knee ready for a groin kick.
But instead of coming at me, he moves past me to the table set up for us. He pushes it over about a foot so that it’s no longer close to the railing of the roof. He looks back at me for approval. “Better?”
Relief floods through me. Hunter isn’t planning to kill me—he’s just trying to be a gentleman again.
Now that I don’t feel like I’m hanging off the edge of the building, I can focus on my gorgeous date. Who incidentally seems to be able to get us into one of the hottest restaurants in the city and reserve the entire roof while he’s at it. He’s like Batman. No, better than Batman—he’s like Bruce Wayne.
“You certainly seem to have a lot of connections,” I comment.
He smiles. “Impressed?”
“A little,” I admit.
“We do a lot of business here,” he says. “They know me very well. But I can get into any place in the city fairly easily. It’s not hard when you know the right people.”
“Can you introduce me to the right people?”
“I can if you stick with me, baby.” He flashes his pearly whites at me again.
“It depends how this date goes.”
He raises his eyebrows. “How’s it going so far?”
I shrug. “B-plus, maybe.”
“B-plus!” Hunter exclaims, although he’s still smiling. “Well, that’s unacceptable. What can I do to take it to an A-plus?”
I think for a moment. “I don’t know. Fireworks? Could you make a fireworks display?”
“If I could,” he says, “would you kiss me?”
“I don’t usually kiss on a first date,” I say automatically.
He raises his eyebrows. “Is that so?”
I shrug. “It’s just a rule I made for myself. I do hugs.”
I nod. “Nothing wrong with a hug.”
“I agree,” he says, “but I have to be honest with you. I prefer kisses to hugs.”
I stare at the gorgeous man across the table from me who is staring intently into my eyes. He’s certainly intrigued me, more than anyone I’ve been in the last several years. “If you can show me fireworks,” I say, “I’ll kiss you.”
He nods. “Challenge accepted.”
I don’t tell him about my rule that I won’t have sex with a guy until we’ve been dating for three months. If he doesn’t like the no kisses on a first date rule, he’s going to hate that one.
We proceed to have a nice dinner. No, more than nice. We have a great dinner. We share an entire bottle of expensive wine and split an entire pan of paella, which has lots of the cracklings at the bottom that Hunter calls socarrat. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, but it’s hard to concentrate with a charming, handsome man gazing at me across the table like I’m the best thing since sliced bread.
It’s been a little while since I’ve had a first date, and I’m really enjoying what Gabby calls the “me too” game. Hunter and I talk about things we like, and I’m surprised by how much I have in common with this man. Okay, there’s plenty we don’t have in common. For instance, I would definitely not say my favorite movie is The Godfather. (In all honesty, I never saw it. But I can tell even if I did, it wouldn’t end up being my favorite. Much like chopped liver.) But we both agree that Cookies and Cream ice cream is the best and that coffee-flavored ice cream shouldn’t exist. And both of us have the guilty pleasure of watching episodes of Teen Titans Go! on Cartoon Central.
“Who is your favorite of the Teen Titans?” I ask Hunter as I scoop the last of the crispy rice off the pan in front of us. We absolutely decimated this paella—I don’t know how I had room after that giant lunch I ate, but somehow I managed.
“Starfire,” he replies instantly.
“Really?” I laugh. “I would have taken you as more of a Raven kind of guy.”
“Starfire is a redhead,” he points out. “You know I love redheads.”
I smile. “Yes, you mentioned that.”
He hesitates for a moment, then blurts out, “The first girl I ever fell in love with was a redhead.”
I blink in surprise. I didn’t expect him to say something like that.
“Sorry.” Hunter seems almost surprised at himself. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
His smile is crooked this time. “Because, you know, former loves are more of a third-date conversation. Anyway, it was… a very, very long time ago. And I was a different person then.”
His brow creases and for a minute, he’s gone, lost in the memory of a redhead he once loved. I wish I could relate. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved a man before. Not really. I’ve said it, but looking back, I can’t say I ever really meant it.
I want to ask Hunter more about this redhead, but like he said, it’s more of a third-date conversation. And as the night goes on, I’m becoming more confident we’ll get there.
Hunter pays the check at the restaurant, actually laughing at my attempts to at least chip in for the tip. “I’d rather throw your money off the roof, Brooke. I’m paying.” Then he leads me back to his Audi, where he takes off so fast I’m certain he’s left skid marks on the pavement.
“Where are we going now?” I ask him, since we don’t seem to be headed in the direction of my apartment.
“Fireworks,” he says.
I gasp. “No way.”
And now we’re headed for Battery Park City. When he pulls over by the park, I can’t help but think of Sydney and how she’d had her throat slit in a park.
“Where are we going?” I ask him.
“Down to the river.”
I feel a shiver go through me. I barely know Hunter. Is it really a good idea to be alone with him late at night, in a deserted park, right by the river? Isn’t that just a recipe for trouble?
Hunter pulls open the passenger side door like a gentleman and holds out his hand to help me out of the car. Despite the fact that my brain is screaming at me “BE CAREFUL! YOU DON’T KNOW THIS MAN,” I feel myself lifting my legs out of the vehicle and allowing him to pull me to my feet in that same hypnotic way in which I recited my address for him yesterday.
I want to go with him. I want to follow him. I’ll follow him anywhere. I’ll do anything he wants me to do.
He puts his hand lightly on my back and I shiver, but I allow him to guide me toward the Hudson River. I know he’s claiming there will be fireworks, but it still seems hard to believe. Then again, he’s demonstrated during this date that he has tremendous wealth and influence. If anyone can make it happen, it’s him. There’s something about Hunter that’s different from anyone I’ve ever met.
We end up at yet another railing, now on the edge of a river rather than a seven-story drop. Actually, if I had a choice between falling off a building and falling into the Hudson River, it would be a tough call. The Hudson River is beyond disgusting. I think it would burn my skin off.
God, why did I come here with him? I hadn’t meant to do it. But when he held out his hand to me, it was like I couldn’t say no. I felt like I was in a trance. How does this keep happening? And now…
But Hunter won’t hurt me. He likes cookies and cream ice cream and Starfire.
“So are there really going to be fireworks?” I ask him, trying to calm the tremor in my voice. “Or did you lure me here to murder me?”
A smile plays on his lips. “What do you think?”
“Still not entirely sure.”
“You seem awfully calm,” he notes, “for a woman who thinks she’s about to be murdered.”
“My heart is pounding.”
“Is it?” He reaches out his hand and gently presses his fingers against my neck, to where my carotid artery pulses. In all my years of dating, I can honestly say that a man has never once taken my pulse before. But it’s actually bizarrely sexy. “You’re right. Your pulse is racing.”
“See? I told you so.”
His dark eyes meet mine and I feel a jolt of electricity go through me. “I think your heart is racing because you’re about to get the best kiss of your life.”
I shake my head at him. “Not unless I get the fireworks you promised.”
“A woman of principles. I like it.” He nods out at the water. “Okay, I want to you to look out there…”
No way. No. Way.
This man is not really managing to produce an entire fireworks display over the Hudson River with only a two hours’ notice. If he can do that, he’d be better than Bruce Wayne. He’d be magic.
I squint out into the darkness, waiting for the flash of light to appear. Then I hear the bang and a flash of red light and that’s when I see Hunter is holding up his cell phone. He’s got a firework display playing on YouTube.
“That’s cheating!” I complain.
“Nuh uh,” Hunter says with a grin that glows in the light of his cell phone. “All you said was you wanted me to show you fireworks. I have shown you fireworks.”
“Cheating,” I say again, although I’m smiling.
He takes a step closer to me. “I was just taking advantage of a loophole.”
“How come you dragged me all the way to the river then?”
His smile broadens. “Atmosphere.”
I laugh—I can’t help it. Even though I was excited by the idea of getting to see some real fireworks tonight, the truth is that I’m glad he couldn’t actually produce them. The idea of dating a guy who could make real fireworks appear with less than two hours’ notice is a little intimidating. I look back at his cell phone, which is glowing purple now.
“So what do you say?” Hunter presses me. “Do I get my kiss?”
I suppose he gets bonus points for creativity. Plus I’ve been dying to kiss this guy all night.
I tilt my head toward him and he slowly lowers his lips onto mine. His mouth is warm and his breath tastes like the expensive wine we’d been drinking. He slips me only the slightest hint of tongue—just enough tongue to leave me wanting more tongue.
Is it the best kiss I’ve ever had?
I’m not sure. But it’s definitely up there. Top three, for sure.
When our lips part, Hunter is gazing into my eyes. “You smell so good,” he breathes.
I smile. I used the new perfume Gabby bought me for my birthday tonight that she swore made men go out of their minds. Looks like it works.
“Your scent is intoxicating,” he adds.
My scent is intoxicating? What does that mean? I want to smell good, but I’m not sure how I feel about having a “scent.” I’m not a freaking deer.
But at least it was a positive comment. He didn’t tell me I had BO or anything.
“I want to kiss you again,” Hunter whispers in my ear.
So I let him.
To be continued....