Dazed Page 7

’’Did you know this road took fifteen years to build?’’ he asks.

I glance over at him and can barely hide my amusement. ’’No, I have to say that is not a fact I have stored away.’’

’’Well, it did. It opened during Franklin Roosevelt\s tenure.’’

’’Interesting, since it has been many years since Mr. Roosevelt was in office and this road is still in a state of construction.’’

A gentle glow over the horizon signals the sun will be setting soon. Jagger pulls up to a small grocery by the side of the highway that\s caught his attention. ’’Come on, let\s go in and try the artichoke bread.’’

’’That sounds really disgusting.’’

’’Alice, the sign says it\s the best around and you have to try things to see if you like them. Come on.’’

***

Walking out of the store, we are both puckering our mouths. The bread was absolutely disgusting.

’’Well, they say some things are an acquired taste and I would have to say artichokes must be one of them,’’ he laughs.

’’It tasted like mashed up Brussels sprouts,’’ I comment.

He shrugs. ’’Yeah, it kind of did.’’

We drive for another hour. He puts the windows up and turns the heat on, but leaves the top down. Again we talk with an easy familiarity I don\ remember having with any guy, ever. Time passes quickly and I\m surprised by the darkness. Looking at the inky blackness of the night sky, I stare out into it. It\s deep and pristine with hundreds of diamonds, not clear but rather with a hint of color faint yellows and even a twinkling blue. I tip my head back farther and just stare in wonder.

’’It\s beautiful up there, isn\ it,’’ he says in a husky whisper.

I reach my arm up to the sky and clasp my hand as if trying to catch one of the stars. ’’It is. It\s like you can connect with the universe.’’

He reaches his arm up to do the same and our hands meet. Sparks shoot through me like an electrical shock and my stomach somersaults. I quickly my hand and busy myself with putting my hair back into a knot.

’’We should turn around. It\s getting late,’’ I tell him over the wind as my car careens around the winding road.

He turns to look at me. The escaped strands of my hair whip across my face. He tucks a chunk of it behind my ear. ’’Sure, if that\s what you want.’’

Do I? I have no idea what I want, but it\s getting late and I have to work tomorrow. The water roars in the distance as he heads back to the restaurant. When he parks the car he closes the top and first fastens his side, then crosses over me to do the same. My breathing is hard and I shiver.

’’You\ e cold. Why didn\ you tell me?’’ His voice is full of concern.

’’I really wasn\ cold and I was enjoying the ride.’’

His lips are so close to mine as he fastens the lock in place and I really want to kiss him, and for a moment I think he wants the same, but he doesn\ move any closer. He sits back in his seat and smiles over at me. ’’There, now when someone asks you if you\ve taken the top down, you can say you have.’’

His silhouette is strong against the backdrop of the night as he circles the car and opens my door. His fingers skim the small of my back again as he leads the way to the driver\s side. Before he opens the door for me, he surrounds me with his arms and my pulse races at the closeness of his smoldering se*y grin. His eyes gleam in the moonlight and his warm breath whispers across my neck. ’’Thank you for spending the day with me.’’

’’I had the most amazing time.’’ Then suddenly, it hits me. ’’Jagger, we didn\ talk about my uncle. Oh my God, I\m so sorry. When is your audition?’’

His hand moves up to my face and his thumb moves back and forth across my cheek. ’’You have nothing to be sorry about. It just gives me another reason to ask you out again.’’ He pulls back to look at me. ’’Aerie, will you go out with me again tomorrow night?’’

’’Oh, Jagger. I\m sorry, but I have to leave for Louisville in the morning for work and don\ get back until late next Sunday night.’’ I wish I didn\ have to go because I really want to go out with him again.

His smile fades, but his eyes beam. ’’Then next Monday night.’’

’’Okay, but I\m not sure I\ll be home early enough since that will be my first day back in the office.’’ I intentionally don\ say I have yoga as well. Normally that always works as an excuse to get out of a date but I\m not trying to get out of this one.

’’Then I\ll bring over dinner and we can make the evening a productive work one eat and discuss your uncle. You do eat dinner, don\ you?’’

I nod. ’’Yes.’’ I giggle.

Our bodies are aligned in such a way that I swear I can feel the beat of his heart and the throbbing of his pulse, or maybe it\s mine. His eyes seem to be swirling again, like he\s thinking about something. I\m staring at the curve of his mouth when my tongue flicks out to lick my lips and before I know it his hands move to tangle in my hair and his lips are on mine. I gasp at the contact as he pulls me close. His soft lips move aggressively once our mouths finally meet, and I don\ want them to leave. I open wider, inviting in his tongue. Just like our conversations, this kiss falls into an easy rhythm immediately. Our lips connect, our tongues intertwine, and by the time he pulls away we are both breathless. He tips my head back and slides his lips down my neck and I think I whimper. The heat of his hand against my neck flares within me and a strange urge runs through my body. It\s not a need for human contact;it\s a need for him, for his body to meld to mine. But before I can press my body to his, he pulls away. His hand moves to the door handle of my car and he opens it as I step aside. Ushering me in, I sit in my seat and just stare at him lost in his swirling gray eyes.

’’Goodnight, Aerie. I\ll see you next week,’’ he says, closing my door.

’’Goodnight,’’ I whisper back. I shake in silence in my car as I turn the ignition on and try to figure out what this is I\m feeling.

As I drive away, he stands in place, not moving, just watching me the same way he did last night.

Chapter 4

Hold On, We\ e Going Home

On Monday, a light morning breeze ruffles the leaves of the palm trees surrounding the Sound Music building. I can see the serene Pacific framed in the distance through the large window in my office. The magazine headquarters is thankfully located at the Jamboree Business Center in Irvine, a quick hop on CA-133 to I-5N and I\m here. But I\ve been in a daze the last week and I\ve had a hard time focusing on work.

I avert my eyes from the gorgeous view and look over my desk. The surface is uncluttered. My eyes settle on the photo of Dahlia and me at her wedding. It\s hard to believe that just a few short years ago I was so worried about her. My heart broke as I watched her battle depression. It\s a feeling I know all too well. For a while I feared her falling back into the blackness when Ben resurfaced, but she didn\ . She was much stronger and thankfully proved my fears wrong. Nothing in the world makes me happier than knowing she survived her struggle and emerged with a full happy life in front of her.

Jagger has my mind wandering and I know I can\ let that happen. My mind never rests. It stays busy all the time. It\s who I am. Type A personality. I know it\s not proven that depression is hereditary, but I often think it might be. I prefer to take precautions and keep my body healthy and my mind busy.

But while I was away, Jagger and I spent at least three hours every night on the phone with each other. We discussed the band I was in Kentucky interviewing Whisky Row. They were there to take publicity shots along Main Street and kick off their tour. The Wilde Ones were stopping there as well, so I had already arranged to stay the weekend to catch their concert. Zane and I moved past our tryst and although I didn\ see a blooming friendship there, I still wanted to support the band. I got the feeling Jagger would have flown out if I had asked him. I\m not sure why I didn\ . Now, I wished I had.

I laughed when he told me all about how corn whiskey had coursed through the state starting with judges sampling from barrels to whiskey warehouses anchoring ports along the Ohio Trail. River was right Jagger knows the most random facts. I even told Xander some words of wisdom Jagger had shared with me to order whiskey with a branch. Xander had looked at me with skepticism. But once he swirled, sniffed, and sipped his fine bourbon with the added drop of water, he agreed it did make it taste better.

Jagger and I became well acquainted over the phone. We flirted and danced around seductive statements. We talked about everything from our favorite movies, to pets we had as kids, to places we had visited around the world. We discussed my uncle who he was and how important his career was to him.

’’Two things to always keep in mind,’’ I told Jagger. ’’My uncle was tough, but charming and he called every man \rother\ and every woman \darling\.’’

I also told him about the close relationship my uncle and I had shared. And swallowing back tears, I even managed to tell him about my uncle\s battle with cancer. He shared with me what spurred his move to LA a breakup with a girlfriend.

Feeling restless, I look over my desk again a silver pen, my computer, a Filofax, Post-it notes. Everything was neat and in its proper place, but for some reason I wanted to open the window and let the wind in. Let it blow across everything shake it up a little. I laugh the feeling is so unlike me.

My phone rings and takes me from my thoughts.

’’Hello.’’

’’Hey, how about lunch today?’’ Dahlia asks.

’’Oh, I\d love to but . . .’’

’’No buts. I\m almost to your office. I have to drop off some artwork changes for The Wilde Ones album re-release.’’

’’Okay, okay but only if we eat here. My other half starts today. Her plane is delayed, but I\m supposed to meet her when she arrives.’’

’’Your other half?’’ Dahlia questions.

’’I\ll explain later.’’

’’Okay. Can\ wait to hear the latest. See you at Bowls in fifteen minutes.’’

I place the receiver back on its cradle and push my chair back, surveying my toes. Even though I got back late last night, I canceled my workout for this morning. Instead, after a quick run on the treadmill, I painted my nails and took an extra long shower, making sure to shave my legs and under my arms twice. I\m restless and my mind constantly drifts to Jagger. I pat my hair and make sure the bun in the back of my neck is in place before I leave my office.

By the time I arrive at the restaurant, Dahlia\s already in line. She looks up and waves at me as a huge smile crosses her face. She\s wearing dark jeans with a sweater over a geometric-printed top that looks like it could be pieces of a guitar scattered across it and her tall black boots.

I approach her and her large hazel eyes pop.

Her eyes scan me with unabashed humor. ’’Aerie Daniels, you said you were working today.’’

’’I am.’’

’’It doesn\ look like you are.’’

I roll my eyes.

’’Next,’’ the girl calls from behind the counter.

We approach the register together. ’’Two salmon apple Fiji salads please,’’ Dahlia says.

’’Oh, I think I\ll have the chicken Asian flatbread today,’’ I tell her.

She looks at me puzzled. ’’Sorry make that one salmon apple Fiji salad and one chicken Asian flatbread,’’ she tells the girl. We select our drinks and the clerk slides us a number.

Dahlia puts her hand on my forehead. ’’Are you feeling okay?’’

I purse my lips together and scrunch my brows. ’’Yes, I feel fine. Why are you asking?’’

She slings her arm around my shoulder. ’’Oh my friend, we have so much to talk about.’’

She finds a table near a window and I point to the outdoor patio. ’’Let\s sit there today.’’

’’Okay now you\ e worrying me. You\ve ordered the same salad for lunch since you started working at Sound Music and you never, I repeat never, want to eat outside. So spill it, now.’’

’’I don\ know what you\ e talking about. There\s nothing to spill.’’

We make our way outside and sit under the bright yellow sun. She sets the number stand on the table. ’’Don\ sit down yet,’’ she waves her finger at me as she takes a seat.

I look at her and try not to laugh. I already knew this was coming.

’’Since when do you wear the clothes from the wrong side of your closet to work? If you\ve told me once, you\ve told me a million times,’’ and she air quotes, ’’\My work clothes are on the left and my play clothes are on the right.\ And, Aerie, I know that purple suede dress is from the right side.’’

I laugh. ’’I told you I\m meeting the woman who is going to share the managerial title of the magazine with me today.’’

A cute boy brings our food and I sit down with an exaggerated roll of my eyes and push her bottle of water her way.

’’I\m not done.’’ She grins, tucking her hair behind her ears.

I unroll my silverware. ’’Please continue. This is very entertaining.’’

’’Oh, I plan to. You\ e wearing snakeskin sandals to work and not pumps, you have on your grandmother\s jewelry that you only ever wear on the weekends, and did I mention you\ e wearing snakeskin sandals to work?’’

’’They\ e cute, aren\ they?’’ I push my foot to the side to admire my shoes again. She\s right. I have two sides to my closet and honestly I hardly ever wear anything from the play side to work.

’’Might your clothing choices have anything to do with a certain guy who happens to be living at my house?’’


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