Dazed Page 1

Chapter 1

6-2

All of my senses engage as I wait in line and stare through the clear glass the fragrance in the air from the foil wrapped treats wafts under my nose, the beauty of the lines of shelves decorated with tiny dots and colored sprinkles mesmerizes me, and the anticipation of the taste makes my mouth water. Mmmm . . . just thinking of the first bite of bittersweet Belgian chocolate complementing the flavor of the Madagascar bourbon vanilla that oozes from its inside has me trembling. The black-and-white cupcake it\s simply perfection.

Amidst the skyscrapers in Los Angeles\ South Park neighborhood, Sprinkles is a gem tucked away for those of us who seek out a small piece of heaven. I don\ come here often, but when I do it\s for that one special treat. The menu describes it as ’’Yin and Yang.’’ There\s an ancient proverb that simply put says complementary opposites give rise to the other, and it\s true opposites attract. Without the vanilla inside, one would not crave the chocolate as much, but looking at the two parts united has me drooling.

’’You know what they say about staring through the glass,’’ a deep husky voice says from behind me.

His words tingle across my skin and my gaze snaps up. ’’Excuse me?’’ I stop short, in a daze, not even sure exactly what he just said I was so lost in my thoughts.

He chuckles. ’’You know what they say about staring through the glass,’’ he repeats.

My eyes blink and come into focus on the upward tilt of his full lips. Then I notice his smooth pale skin flecked with a light stubble, his sculpted nose even with a slight imperfection in its slope, large eyes with the most unusual gray color swirling from within, and chocolate brown colored hair framing his face I\m not sure if he has just rolled out of bed or if product molds it just so. Either way, he is utterly beautiful.

’’I\m sorry, I don\ know what you\ e talking about.’’

’’Just be careful so you don\ fall in like Alice.’’ He smiles, displaying his bright white teeth.

’’I have no idea what you\ e talking about.’’ I notice his eyes sweep over me and my heart starts pounding.

’’Through the Looking Glass,’’ he responds in a dangerously husky voice.

This time when he speaks I catch a New York accent, ever so slight but extremely se*y. It reminds me of how Robert De Niro talks, just not as loud or fast. I continue to stare, unable to respond. I notice that his physique is long and lean. He\s dressed in worn jeans that fit him perfectly. His orange laced hiking boots scream ’’I don\ conform.’’ A pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses hang from the V of his gray sweater, which clings to his body perfectly. And an outdoor vest tops the outfit. It throws me off. It makes him look more like an Abercrombie model than a James Dean type. It\s navy blue down and quilted with a silver zipper. I don\ know why, but something about his outfit, about this man, captivates me.

’’Number 98,’’ calls the girl from behind the counter.

He steps closer. His warm breath whispers across my neck. ’’Through the Looking Glass is the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. When Alice gets too close to the glass, she falls in and starts on a crazy journey,’’ he tells me as his arm waves in the air with a green ticket on display. Stepping closer, his gaze cuts from mine to the glass case as he hands his number to the clerk, who\s wearing a cute brown apron with the word Sprinkles scripted across it.

’’Can I have a dozen of the black-and-white cupcakes?’’ he asks.

Suddenly alarmed, my eyes dart to the case as I watch the single remaining row of beautifully crafted cupcakes diminish until there are none left. My irritation flares as I glance at my number 97.

The beautiful stranger hands the clerk his credit card and waits to sign the slip.

’’I was number 97, my number was before yours,’’ I announce as he\s handed the bag that holds his treasure.

’’Oh, I\m sorry. Here let me get the sales clerk\s attention so you don\ have to take another number,’’ he says.

I want to stomp my feet. I want to scream. I don\ want her attention. I don\ want another number. I want the cupcakes that he stole from me.

’’Miss,’’ he calls draping his perfectly fit body over the case. She looks his way and with a charming grin, he says, ’’Can you help this lovely lady? She missed her number being called.’’

’’Of course, I\m so sorry. How can I help you?’’ the girl asks, averting her eyes from the man who looks like he should be on the cover of GQ magazine, over to me.

He smiles at me with a face that belongs on a billboard. ’’Don\ fall in.’’

I swear he\s goading me. But then he tips his chin and a se*y, smoldering grin passes over his lips and I\m not so sure anymore. He turns to look at me one more time before he exits, and excitement flushes over my face. I nod a slight cursory acknowledgement, then he disappears and disappointment washes over me he\s gone. Crap. The cupcakes are also gone. Double crap. And now I\m left wondering if he saw me staring at that flavor? Did he distract me on purpose so he could purchase them first? Urrr . . . I\m so angry right now I consider walking out, but when the clerk asks me what I\d like I settle for the vanilla milk chocolate cakes they are the mirror reflection of the black and whites, with vanilla cake and chocolate frosting, but they are not nearly as good.

***

As twilight approaches during my drive, the sky reminds me of his eyes the stormy gray color. My Audi can\ accelerate fast enough for me to erase the image from my mind. I concentrate on moving through the traffic, changing lanes in an effort to think of anything else because the cupcake thief will not capture any more of my attention.

My phone rings and the sound jars me from my thoughts. I reach across the passenger seat and slip my hand into the front pouch of my purse where my BlackBerry can always be found. I check the display and smile. It\s my best friend, Dahlia London. Well, Dahlia Wilde now. She\s the girl who accepted me as her roommate in college despite my obsessive-compulsive habits, and ever since then we have remained friends. We\ve seen each other through so much and I can honestly say that I love her like no one else in my life.

’’Hi, Dahlia girl.’’

’’Hello, Aerie, just checking on you.’’

’’I\m on my way. I got delayed, but I\ll be there shortly.’’

’’Oh, don\ rush. I was just worried. It\s not like you to not be punctual.’’

’’I know. I\m so sorry. The cupcake thief sabotaged my schedule.’’

’’The what?’’ she asks.

’’Never mind. I\ll explain when I get there.’’

’’Okay,’’ she laughs. ’’Oh and, Aerie, River\s cousin is joining us for dinner,’’ she adds.

’’The more the merrier,’’ I chime.

’’See you soon,’’ she replies.

’’Bye.’’ I hit the END button and concentrate on sidestepping the traffic.

After college Dahlia and I both moved to Laguna Beach. She had grown up there and returned to live with her fiancé, Ben Covington. Living in Laguna Beach has been a godsend. If I had to live in LA and deal with bumper-to-bumper cars every day, I would go out of my mind. I don\ know how Dahlia stands it. I\ve never heard her complain, but it must drive her insane. The traffic is so much heavier here than in Laguna and even more so than in Chicago.

Lincoln Park, Chicago, is where I grew up. It was the quaintest of neighborhoods with miles of greenery and tons of old fashion charm. My parents had me late in life and I was an only child. We lived near the shore of Lake Michigan in an old gray stone walk-up. My father was the marketing director and my mother the publications manager at the Cinema/Chicago. Their life revolved around preparing for the annual Chicago International Film Festival. As workaholics, they often towed me along on the weekends when they went to the theater. But I didn\ mind, I loved going to work with them. Come to think of it, walking through the props room of the theater often made me feel like I was Alice in Wonderland . . . why is the cupcake thief still on my mind?

Pushing him aside, the drive over to Dahlia and River\s makes me reflective, thinking about what brought me here. My uncle was diagnosed with cancer shortly before I graduated high school. I wanted to be close to him for as long as he had left, so at the last minute I chose the University of Southern California for college. My parents had already planned to retire to Florida after I graduated, so when they got the call, together we went to help my uncle through his illness. Sadly, he died before I finished my freshman year. After that, my parents decided to move to Florida, but I stayed. I was already entrenched in life at school. And once I finished there, I had no reason to return to the windy city, so I made Laguna my new home base. Actually, I chose to follow Dahlia, which in turn led me back to Laguna. And it all worked out wonderfully.

I was extremely lucky to get a job at Sound Music right after graduation. My uncle had forged an amazing relationship with the owner of the magazine, Josh Wolf, and he hired me as a columnist fresh out of school. By the time Dahlia completed her MBA, I was managing the new releases department and she came to work for me. But then tragedy struck and we thought Dahlia lost her fiancé. With her grief paralyzing her, she wasn\ able to work there anymore. But her fiancéhadn\ actually died. He returned three years later. By then she was already in love with someone else. I was actually the catalyst behind her new relationship. She had met a man years ago in college and I knew she was interested in him. So when River Wilde, the lead singer of the Wilde Ones, agreed to be interviewed by Sound Music Magazine, I knew just the person to conduct the interview. And now, almost two years later, I\m headed to Dahlia and her husband River\s house in the Hollywood Hills for dinner.

We actually haven\ seen each other since the chaos of the holidays and I haven\ gotten to see the wedding pictures or the pictures from their honeymoon in Paris either. I\m looking forward to catching up. Work has been so crazy that I haven\ been around much. The boss\s son has assumed the management role at the magazine and he has me running from city to city in a million different directions . . . interview this person, no wait I\m dumping that label so instead see if this person has a comment. It never ends. I\ve always loved my job, but right now, not so much. Especially since he told me he\s expanding from music to music and entertainment. He even hired some Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from the New York Times to manage the entertainment side. I guess she worked for E Magazine previously so she has an entertainment background. Then he had the nerve to tell me in not so many words that I should be relieved I got to keep the music side. Geeez . . . thank you for that. I\ve only poured my life into my job.

I start to slow down as I approach the cul-de-sac where Dahlia and River live. Their late 1940s-style ranch is suspended high above the city with a large modern circular staircase leading to a beautiful pair of Art Deco double doors. The landscaping is beautifully kept with wildflowers peeking out in between eclectic rocks, and every corner is anchored with palm trees. The house is breathtaking, but Dahlia\s favorite part is the view of the Hollywood sign from her backyard. I have to agree it\s pretty cool.

Dahlia has always been a lover of the outdoors. She runs, hikes, and swims. Me, I\m a lover of the indoors. I jog on the treadmill, work out with my trainer each morning at five a.m., and go to yoga class every Monday and Wednesday night. Dahlia says I have a type A personality and I definitely do. One reason we get along so well is because she\s a free spirit and my quirks don\ bother her. Although living together in college was a challenge. She\s anything but neat, but she made an attempt for my sake. She\d stuff everything away either inside the closet or in her drawers so I didn\ have to see the mess. I just tried not to look on her side of the room. Honestly, it made me a little anxious to see the disarray. Even going to her house gives me anxiety sometimes. It\s just that I believe everything has a place, and let me put it this way she doesn\ .

As I pull into the driveway, my eyes dart first to the garage. The door is open and bottles, buckets, and rags are all over the place. Then I see the burnt orange RX-7 parked behind Dahlia\s car. I thought Dahlia had said River\s cousin was coming to dinner, but now I wonder if she hadn\ meant to say her nephew. Maybe Trent traded in his uncle\s car for that thing. Come to think of it, I didn\ even know River had a cousin.

My patent leather heels hit the pavement and I turn to retrieve the clear Sprinkles bag. The thought of the white, not chocolate cupcakes is still making me seethe with anger when I feel myself sliding across the driveway. I lose my balance and my purse flies in one direction as the bag travels in the other, and I land on my knees. Yuck . . . Oh my God, what am I sitting in?

I slowly stand up and survey the damage. My palms, as well as my knees, are covered in black goo. I glance down at my cropped red jacket, the one I bought to wear next month on Valentine\s Day, which seems to be fine, but the matching sheath dress has a slight tear at the kick pleat. And my shoes, my favorite Kate Spades, are scratched and the patent leather is torn off one of the toes. I blow a piece of hair out of my eyes that must have freed itself from my headband and carefully gather my things, using only my fingertips.

I trudge up the endless flight of stairs as my chunky glass necklace flaps against my collarbone. I ring the bell with my pinky finger.

’’You made it,’’ Dahlia calls out cheerfully as she swings the door open.

She looks beautiful as always. An ivory colored sweater hangs off her shoulder, her jeans have a slight tattered look above her black converse sneakers, and her hair is draped over to one side. I have to say I envy her. It takes me three times longer than her to get ready, and she always looks perfect.


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