Storm Page 14

Quinn reached over and turned off the ignition, then put the keys in her pocket. ’’I\m taking your keys.’’

Becca snapped to. ’’What? Quinn I never drink ’’

’’I don\ give a crap if you drink. I don\ want you bolting without consulting me.’’ She smiled and it looked a little vicious. ’’Now get your ass out of the car.’’

When they started walking toward Drew\s house, Becca focused on the narrow strip of asphalt in front of her until it started to feel like a gangplank.

One wrong step and she\d fall.

What the hell am I doing here?

’’You came.’’

The voice spoke out of the shadows to her left. Becca jumped and swore and almost took her friend down.

Quinn grabbed her arm to steady her. ’’Damn it, Bex! God, I should have snuck you one of Mom\s valiums. It\s only New Kid.’’

’’Hunter,’’ he said, but his voice was amused. He was leaning against a late model Jeep Wrangler with the top off, partially cloaked by the shadow of a cherry tree. He\d worn cargo pants and a charcoal long-sleeved tee, and his thumbs were hooked in his pockets.

Casper\s head hung over his shoulder, his tongue hanging out.

Becca widened her eyes, delighted. ’’You brought your dog!’’

Quinn was just as wide-eyed. ’’He ... brought his dog.’’

He reached up and rubbed the dog\s ears. ’’I never really bring Casper anywhere. He gets out of the yard and finds me all the time. I\m always worried he\ll end up under some guy\s tires.’’ He grimaced. ’’It\s easier to let him hop in the car.’’

This was awesome. The dog could be her bodyguard. She imagined Casper tearing into Drew the way he\d done to Tyler.

But then Hunter said, ’’He\ll just sleep in the back of the jeep.’’ As if on cue, the dog lay down and rested his head on the tailgate.

Damn it.

Hunter pushed off the car and stepped closer, and suddenly she remembered this wasn\ a chance meeting on the side of the road. ’’You didn\ want me to drive.’’

She looked up at him, tightening her grip on the strap of her purse. He smelled good, like woods and fresh air and confidence. ’’Is that a problem?’’

’’I thought you might be planning to stand me up.’’ His eyes were bright, his voice gently chiding. He glanced at Quinn. ’’Make New Kid walk in alone.’’

Quinn rolled her eyes. ’’She just wanted a getaway ’’ Becca elbowed her in the side. ’’Have you been waiting long?’’

He shook his head. ’’Shall we?’’

The music pouring from the house seemed to move the sidewalk, and the front door stood wide open. It wasn\ like those high school parties in the movies, where everyone was hot and well dressed and straight sober despite having a drink in hand. In front of Drew McKay\s house, three guys were sitting on the front step, smoking. A girl wearing a fleece tracksuit was already puking in the front shrubbery. The word Juicy was plastered across her ass, and most of the vomit ended up in her hair. She staggered like she might pass out.

One of the smokers jeered and flicked ash her way.

Becca hesitated on the front walk.

’’Leave it,’’ hissed Quinn. ’’Come on.’’

Maybe she had too much of her mother in her, but Becca couldn\ just blow right past that kind of train wreck.

’’Hey. Are you okay?’’ she asked.

The girl looked up, rings of mascara under her eyes. Taylor Morrissey, varsity cheerleader. She swiped at her mouth with the end of her sleeve.

’’Becca Chandler?’’ she whispered.

’’Yeah.’’ Becca tucked her hair behind her ear, very aware of the weight of Hunter\s presence at her side. ’’You want me to get you a towel or a washcloth ’’

’’Why are you here? Did someone pay you to strip on tables or something?’’

One of the guys on the stoop snorted with laughter, blowing smoke through his nose.

Becca jerked back. Despite hearing comments like that on a daily basis, it was still a surprise.

’’Drunk bitch,’’ muttered Quinn.

Then Taylor was laughing, almost hysterically, until she fell on her side in the grass. She narrowly missed rolling in her own vomit. ’’Or wait you just do it for free, right?’’

’’Ignore her,’’ said Hunter, his voice low and close to her ear. ’’She\s hammered.’’

But Taylor\s words had punched her in the gut, and now Becca couldn\ get enough air. She shook off Quinn\s arm and spun for the sidewalk.

Two of Drew\s soccer team buddies were coming up the walk. One had a case of beer under his arm. She couldn\ remember his name, but his eyes didn\ get as far as her face he was staring at her chest. ’’Hey, baby, where you going?’’

The smoke, the laughter, the sheer number of people surrounding her it was all suffocating. She needed to get away. Quinn had her keys, so she bolted through the open door, into the foyer.

Music slapped her in the face, something with a loud, driving beat pounding from the bass speakers in the living room. Some guy she didn\ recognize had shot glasses lined up on the hall table, and he held one out to her.

’’A drink for every lady,’’ he said with a wink.

Liquid courage. Just what she needed. She took the glass from his fingers.

It was like swallowing fire.

It felt fantastic.

He whistled and held out another. ’’Let me see you do that again.’’

Her limbs felt hot and heavy already, as if the alcohol were traveling through her veins to her fingertips. She reached out and took the second glass.

This burn was twice as nice.

Some people from the living room were whistling now. She shut her eyes and felt her body waver, as if a wind had whipped through the hallway.

When she opened them, he\d come around the table and was holding another shot in front of her. She could smell him now, liquor and smoke and male sweat. His voice turned low and taunting. ’’Let\s see you get that down your throat.’’

A hand reached out and took it before she could. ’’Let\s not.’’

Hunter.

She meant to turn, to confront him. Her legs had a different idea. She stumbled and the room tilted sideways. She knew she was falling, but her brain couldn\ get it together to do anything about it. She probably should have eaten dinner.

Hunter caught her. She heard the shot glass rattle on the hardwood of the foyer.

Her veins were still burning. Her knees wouldn\ lock to hold her upright.

Hunter glared over her shoulder. ’’What is that, tequila?’’

’’Dude, it\s not like I held her down ’’

’’Stop it,’’ she said, not wanting to hear any more talk of being held down. She tried to shrug out of Hunter\s hands. The music was still slamming into her body with every beat. ’’Lemme go. I just want I need my keys ’’

’’Here.’’ He backed her up until she was leaning against the molding between the hallway and the living room, then let her go. He looked at the guy with the shot glasses. ’’Get her a cup of water or something.’’

She braced her hands behind her on the wall and stared up at Hunter. She couldn\ figure out his expression, whether he was disgusted, or disappointed, or exasperated.

Maybe Quinn was right. Maybe she was going about this all wrong.

’’Where\s Quinn?’’ she said.

’’I told her to give me a second.’’

Traitor.

’’Isn\ this what you wanted?’’ At least her voice wasn\ slurring yet, but everything felt warm. ’’Now I\m all liquored up. You didn\ even have to work for it.’’

His eyes narrowed. ’’Why would I want you trashed?’’

’’You\ e a guy, right? Isn\ that why you asked me here?’’

He glanced away and sighed.

’’See.’’ She reached out and poked him in the chest. Hard. ’’Monica told you about me. About Drew. That\s why you brought me here.’’

’’Damn. You\ e on to me.’’ He was untying one of the twine bracelets from his wrist.

His words drew her up short. ’’Wait. What?’’

He got one bracelet free and held it between his fingers as he untied another. He shook his head. ’’I have no idea what you\ e talking about.’’

The movement of his fingers had her spellbound. What was he doing?

’’Monica talks too much,’’ he said. ’’I stopped listening.’’ He was on to a third bracelet, and he didn\ look at her. ’’Besides, I prefer to figure things out for myself.’’

Shot Glass Kid showed up with a plastic cup. ’’Here. Drew will shit if she pukes in the hallway.’’

That made her want to stick her finger down her throat right there.

Hunter took the cup and held it out to her. His eyes leveled with hers. ’’Drink.’’

She took the cup and sipped. Water did nothing to tame the inferno in her stomach.

He reached out and started tying one of the bracelets around her wrist.

She was so startled that she let him. ’’What are you doing?’’

The silvery black stone strung on the twine fell against her skin, smooth and cool. It cut through the fire better than the water had. ’’This is hematite. For anxiety.’’ His voice turned wry. ’’And clarity of thought.’’

’’It\s a rock.’’ But the tequila did seem to be having less effect.

The corner of his mouth quirked, and he started tying another one. His fingers were gentle and warm against her wrist. ’’Amethyst. It does a lot of things, but really, I\m just trying to take the edge off so you can walk.’’

He was walking around with a hunk of amethyst on a piece of twine? ’’You\ e giving me a bunch of rocks?’’

’’Not giving.’’ He glanced up. ’’Loaning.’’

’’What, are you afraid you\ll be off balance?’’

’’Something like that.’’ He tied the third bracelet. ’’Quartz. To help the other two.’’

She looked down at the three stones on her wrist and wasn\ quite sure what to say. She sure didn\ feel drunk now. Just a buzz.

She touched her finger to the stones, and new awareness was bringing heat to her cheeks. She felt like a freak. It was probably a miracle he was still standing in front of her.

Then again, he was the one tying on rock bracelets. She glanced up at him from under her lashes. ’’Don\ tell me. You read Tarot cards, too?’’

’’Mock all you want. You feel better, right?’’

She did. Standing in the hallway in this house full of people, with R&B music so loud it seemed part of her body, he somehow made her feel like they stood alone in the middle of a field. At night, under a silent moon.

Becca had to take a deep breath.

’’I didn\ realize coming here would upset you,’’ he said.

She shrugged and looked down into the cup of water. ’’It\s all right.’’

’’My father used to tell me something, when people would screw with me,’’ he said. His voice got kind of quiet, and she had to lean in to hear him.

People used to screw with him? He seemed so ... untouchable. Above it.

She didn\ want to hear some sentimental pep talk, either. But his father had died, and whatever the words were, they were important to Hunter.

’’What?’’ she said.

’’F*k \em.’’

Her head shot up. The edge of a smile played on his lips, but she could read the emotion in his eyes.

’’It helps,’’ he said.

F*k \em. She smiled. It did help.

She looked up at him, standing so close. Her pulse picked up. She licked her lips. ’’I think I\m going to go ... ah ... straighten up.’’

He took a step back and grinned. ’’You all right to walk?’’

Becca straightened and pushed off the wall. Her head still swam, but her legs felt steady. Mostly.

’’Yeah.’’ She took a step into the hallway. Then another. The water in her cup didn\ even slosh.


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