Dazed Page 3

’’It\s more like a batcave, now that you mention it,’’ Jagger jokes.

’’It\s design aesthetics,’’ River says, entering the room on Dahlia\s heels.

Jagger\s mouth quirks. ’’That\s up for debate, but I\ll let you have that one. It does fit perfectly with the architecture of the house.’’

I feel a little at a loss. I know nothing about this cousin, but he seems to have become close to them. I know I\ve been busy with work, but I begin to wonder if I\m letting work get too much in the way of my friendships.

Jagger strides toward me with an ease only a man full of confidence could possibly carry. He takes the pile of towels under one arm. And with his smile wide again, he extends his other hand. ’’Come on, I\ll show you the trick. It\s in the descent.’’

Without thinking, I take his hand and a shiver runs straight through me. He drops my hand as he hits the staircase and goes first. Once he\s about five stairs down, he turns, as I stand frozen at the top, my bare feet at his waist.

’’You like red?’’

I\m confused.

’’Red dress, red nail polish. Sometimes a red face.’’

He\s teasing.

’’I guess I do. But my face doesn\ turn red.’’

’’Okay, if you say so. Now give me your hand,’’ he says, as if he thinks I\ll just do as he says. And I do. I take a deep breath and stand on my toes. I close my eyes, willing away my fear of heights.

’’Hey, look at me.’’

Again, his tone is commanding and again I don\ hesitate to do what he says, which is so not like me. But there\s something in the way his voice dips low that urges me to follow.

’’Now keep your back straight and step down. Don\ lean forward. That\s the trick.’’

I do as he says and before I know it, my hand drops from his grip and I\m clutching the railing. I did it, and without falling.

He grins. ’’See, nothing to it.’’

I smile. ’’You\ e right. Nothing to it.’’

The color of his stormy gray eyes seems to intensify. He turns and takes the rest of the stairs, then waits for me at the bottom. ’’And your face didn\ even turn red this time.’’

’’My face does not turn red.’’

’’But it does. And you want to know something?’’ he says, leaning forward like he has a secret to tell.

’’I\m not sure,’’ I whisper back.

’’I know it turns red when you\ e upset, I\m just not sure when else.’’

My eyes flicker over his face.

’’What?’’ He smirks. ’’Don\ be mad. I think it\s cute.’’

I roll my eyes. ’’Go!’’ I order. ’’Let\s put these towels in the washing machine and get back upstairs before Dahlia burns the house down.’’

***

The Hollywood sign is clearly visible in the star-filled night sky from where we sit. Heat lamps keep us warm and votive candles flicker around us on the top pool deck. Half-drunk glasses of Chianti, a large bowl of leftover spaghetti carbonara, a dish of lime wedges, and crumbs from the basket of garlic bread litter the table.

I grin as I watch Jagger squeeze a lime into his beer. I\d seen him do the same with his glass of water earlier and my curiosity peaks.

’’Do you put lime in everything?’’

He smirks, lifting one side of his mouth. ’’Yeah, I guess I do. Anything liquid, anyway. I\m not sure why.’’

I shrug. ’’Maybe just because you like the taste?’’

’’Maybe. Funny thing is I\m not sure I can taste it. It\s just a habit.’’

’’That makes sense. I put ground pepper on all my food.’’

He raises a brow. ’’All your food?’’

’’Well except for sweets.’’

He nods and his eyes focus on me.

Needing to escape his scrutiny, I push my plate aside. ’’Natalie really outdid herself this time. That has to be the best pasta dish I\ve ever had.’’

Dahlia turns to me. ’’Oh, Natalie didn\ cook.’’

’’You did?’’ I question.

She laughs. ’’Aerie, you know me better than that. No matter how hard I try I can\ even make grilled cheese without burning it.’’

I laugh. It\s so true. I lift an eyebrow and c**k my head toward River.

He puts his hands up in surrender. ’’Takeout and the microwave, that\s my idea of cooking. You know that.’’

Fingers tap on the table as my head twists. My heart pounds steadily. Wavy hair, a se*y, slender frame, broad shoulders, and those dimples blaring full force, baring a grin that says it all are staring at me.

’’You made the spaghetti sauce?’’

’’Yes I did,’’ Jagger proudly answers.

I blink. ’’Tell me again where you came from?’’

’’In my house you either learned to cook or ate PB&J every night.’’

During dinner I was brought up to speed on how River\s cousin came to stay at their house. Jagger Kennedy grew up in New York City with his father. His mother, Celeste, and River\s mother, Charlotte, are sisters. Celeste lives in Paris and works for Hermès. I knew the orange laces of his boots looked familiar. Celeste visited Jagger whenever she traveled to the city on business and he visited her, but he was never in France when River and his family visited. Jagger\s father works for Tom Ford and his parents met while his father was in Paris for fashion week many years ago. A short-lived affair led to an unexpected pregnancy and neither his mother nor his father wanted to give up their jobs. Celeste\s career was very demanding and so she was okay with allowing Jagger\s father to raise him in the states. He seems to not harbor any animosity about the situation.

River and Dahlia met Jagger when they were on their honeymoon in Paris and he was visiting his mother. What brought him to LA we haven\ gotten to yet. But I have learned he is fluent in French, and since I took four years of it in high school, we conversed a little in the language of love. Well, to be honest, very little my French is really rusty.

Dahlia stands up. ’’I\m going to make some coffee, and Aerie I bought a new flavor of tea for you.’’

I smile and then look at her hand mitted in thick white bandages. ’’Let me do it.’’

River rises. ’’No, let me. This could be fun. I see a lot of trading in our future,’’ he says grinning at his wife.

When she steps into him, she\s almost as tall as he is. She wraps her arm around his neck and whispers into his ear. The grin that slides across his face does not leave me wondering what was said. When she drops her hold, her voice takes on a seductive tone. ’’Come on, lover boy.’’

He nips at her lip and I swear he growls as he circles around her. ’’Your wish is my command.’’

Jagger lazily stretches back in his chair, throwing his arms behind his head in a way that places his long, lean body even more on display. He doesn\ comment on the abundance of cuteness shown by those two, so he must be immune to it, just like me.

The dishes are scattered around the table in front of us and I start to gather them. His hand reaches for mine and a slight laugh escapes his mouth. ’’Sit down. Let\s have dessert and then we\ll clean up. Do you think you can do that?’’

I stare openmouthed at him. Then, raising a brow, I answer, ’’Yes, I can do that.’’

’’Good,’’ he says.

’’So you\ e a chef?’’

He laughs. ’’No. I can cook maybe three dishes well. All compliments of watching my grandmother in her kitchen.’’

’’So what do you do?’’

He brings his arms to the table and leans his elbows on it. ’’I\ve been modeling.’’

My mouth falls open again. So I wasn\ wrong. Because he\s gorgeous, and of course a man with looks and a stance like his is a model. I can just tell he has to have a natural ease in front of the camera.

’’Have you always modeled? Since both of your parents worked in fashion?’’

’’F*k, no. I stayed as far away from their world as I could when I was growing up.’’

’’So how did you become a model?’’

He slides his chair closer to mine and my pulse starts throbbing again. ’’The opportunity just kind of fell into my lap. I went to the New York School of Film thinking someday I\d move to California and work for a movie studio. Then after I graduated college I was waiting tables in the city trying to figure out what I should do stay in New York or move to LA when a woman I was serving asked me if I had ever thought about being a model. I laughed. But she was serious and asked if she could snap a few pictures of me. I figured what the hell. Why not? She left me her card. I glanced at it and tossed it away I didn\ think I\d ever hear from her again.’’

’’But you did I take it. Who was she?’’

He shrugs with a hint of a smile. ’’She was an agent for Witham Modeling Agency. She submitted the test shots she took of me into their male search competition. And wouldn\ you know I won. That year I appeared on the cover of E Magazine, shot by none other than Lourdes Madrid.’’

’’Lourdes Madrid? Wow, she\s a legend.’’

’’I know. I got really lucky. She saw something in me and for whatever reason took me under her wing. Everything just catapulted from there. One minute I was learning how to do quarter turns toward the camera, the next I was in a Calvin Klein ad, and then before I knew it I was walking the runway in Paris at Fashion Week.’’

’’So you came to LA to model?’’

’’Well, actually no. I decided family connections might not be so bad, so I asked my dad to see what he could do to get me in touch with Tom Ford himself. He pulled a few strings and before I knew it I had a small part in his film project A Single Man.’’

My mouth drops. ’’You\ e in that movie? It was nominated for an Oscar.’’

He laughs. ’’They cut me before it hit the screen. But it paved my way to hopefully play some good parts in the future.’’

’’Here we go,’’ Dahlia says, opening up the glass doors for River, who\s carrying a tray in his hands.

Jagger bobs his chin toward River. ’’I don\ know if it\s cute that you\ e so domestic, or if you look like the barista at Starbucks.’’

’’F*k you, man,’’ River responds instantly setting the tray down.

’’No f**k you, twice,’’ Jagger says.

The two of them go at it and I look at Dahlia who just rolls her eyes. She places a teacup in front of me. ’’These two hit it off from the minute they were introduced. You would never know they just met a few months ago and that they haven\ been friends their whole lives.’’

’’That\s kind of sweet,’’ I say.

’’Yes, it is,’’ she answers, pouring something in my cup from her cute clear teapot. ’’Chocolate Chai,’’ she announces, and the scent makes my stomach curl. Dahlia is definitely adventurous. She\ll try anything new coffee creamer flavors, new drinks at Starbucks, new entrees at our favorite restaurant in Laguna. Me, I stick with what I know I like chamomile teas and grilled salmon.

’’Oh, I almost forgot dessert,’’ I announce, rising from the table.

’’Oh, that\s right,’’ Dahlia says.

Jagger stands and looks at me. ’’Yes, dessert. I think we both brought cupcakes.’’

’’Yes, we did,’’ I respond curtly.

The thought of my white cupcakes turned upside down causes my anger to bare its nasty little face.

A sly grin appears on Jagger\s lips.

I avert my eyes. ’’Stay put,’’ I tell Dahlia. ’’We\ll do it.’’

Jagger follows me. He reaches for the door first and slides it open. I tilt my head to look at the chaos in the kitchen. At least I\m comfortably dressed so I am ready to attack this mess the minute we are done. I changed my clothes before dinner since I felt disheveled after the fall. Luckily, I always keep an extra set of yoga clothes in my trunk in case I run late and can\ go home before class.

’’Alice? Did you hear me?’’

I turned. ’’No, I\m sorry. What?’’

’’You turned red again.’’

I look at him. His lips are so close to mine. All I\d have to do is stand on my toes to kiss him. What? Why am I even thinking that? ’’Why do you keep saying that? And please stop calling me Alice.’’

’’You don\ like it? I find it endearing.’’

My hands go to my hips. ’’Well, I don\ .’’

’’It\s happening again you know.’’

And it is. I turn away because I can feel the flush creeping up my body and I really want it to stop. I open a lower cupboard and pull out a dessert plate. The cupcakes I bought are still in the bag on the counter, but I don\ see his bag anywhere. Just as I\m about to ask where it is, Jagger opens the refrigerator and pulls out his beautiful pristine box of black and white cupcakes and hands it to me. ’’Here, put these on the plate. You should always keep cakes in the refrigerator. It keeps the icing set and makes the cake\s flavor come alive.’’

I look at him skeptically.

’’It does,’’ he says. ’’I promise.’’

’’Sounds plausible,’’ I answer.

He chuckles at me. ’’You\ e so serious.’’

I shrug with a small, self-conscious laugh but agree. ’’Yes, I am.’’ I set the box down on the table.

He puts his hand over mine and again I shiver. ’’Hey, I didn\ know when I bought those that you were upset, but I know now. So, Alice, please forgive me for stealing your cupcakes.’’

Oh my God. The things his touch does to me. I don\ know if I should melt away out of embarrassment or jump for joy out of elation.

***

By the end of the evening, I\ve almost chewed my thumb raw out of nervousness, my jaw aches from laughter, and I think I\ve spent more time socializing in this one evening than I have in months and I\ve actually enjoyed myself. Jagger makes me nervous and makes me laugh at the same time. I have to say he\s unlike any guy I\ve ever met witty, smart, and so good looking. I can\ get over how he can look like he does and still come across as all guy.


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