Storm Page 38

It just about stopped his heart, too. He couldn\ look at her.

’’What\s up?’’ he said.

’’I really did come to apologize yesterday,’’ she said softly. ’’Hunter shouldn\ have picked a fight with you. Especially after what you what you and your brothers did.’’

He dragged his eyes up. ’’It\s all right. Gabriel shouldn\ have been such an ass.’’

She made a face. ’’I shouldn\ have hit him.’’ She flexed her fingers. ’’My hand still hurts.’’

Chris smiled. ’’Oh, no, I loved that part.’’

She didn\ smile back, so he dropped his.

Awkward silence hung there long enough that he turned back to his notebook.

Then she said, ’’I wish I\d been the one to punch Drew.’’

’’Yeah?’’ He looked over again, his voice angry. ’’Me too.’’

Her eyes widened and he wished he hadn\ said anything. He almost started doodling again, just to give his hands something to do.

’’You know,’’ she said, ’’like four people have walked up to me in the hall to give me a high five. For hitting your brother.’’

Chris snorted. ’’You\ e probably living a dream.’’

Her voice got quiet again. ’’I think more people heard about that than the ... the other stuff. But Vickers made me come see her during first period.’’

Chris looked up again. Ms. Vickers was the guidance counselor. ’’Yeah?’’

’’Yeah. But what\s funny is that I don\ think I need her help now. I finally feel like I can handle Drew, or pretty much anything, on my own. Does that make any sense?’’

He held very still, as if sudden movement would make her realize she was confiding in the wrong guy. ’’Yeah, Becca. It does.’’

She hesitated, then gave him the smallest of smiles. ’’You called me Becca.’’

’’Sorry.’’ Then he mentally kicked himself. Why the hell was he apologizing for using her actual name?

’’No I was just getting used to Becky.’’

Oh.

He had to be reading this wrong. But she stared up at him until he almost couldn\ stand it;he was going to have to touch her, to take her face in his hands and share that moment of breath before

The bell rang. She snapped back, grabbing her notebook, shoving it into her bag.

He\d lost the moment. Beamis was talking;students were clambering for the doorway. Becca was gone before he could figure out what had just happened.

Chris fought his way through the cafeteria, throwing food on his tray without paying attention. Was she just being friendly, offering some kind of truce in the middle of all this crap about the Guide? Or was it something more? She hadn\ looked at Hunter once the entire class;that much he was sure of. It didn\ seem like they\d left together, either, but it was hard to tell in the stampede for the cafeteria.

She\d been pretty pissed at the dude yesterday morning, now that he thought about it.

What she\d said in class it felt painfully personal. She wouldn\ randomly spill that to a guy she hated. Definitely not to a guy whose presence she was just enduring.

A boy she liked?

Chris grabbed an apple by the register. He knew where she sat.

Maybe he\d sit down. Maybe they\d start over.

Money couldn\ leave his hand fast enough, and he almost told the lady to keep the change. He practically shoved other kids out of the way, navigating the maze of people to get to the back of the cafeteria. Just like in a movie, the sea of students seemed to part for a moment.

There she was, spinning a bottle of water on the table in front of her. She was smiling, almost blushing like she\d been in class.

I was just getting used to Becky.

Chris grinned, and told himself he looked like an idiot.

He couldn\ help it.

Then he got closer, and he realized her smile, her blush, wasn\ about him at all.

It was for the guy sitting across from her. Hunter.

’’So are the stories true?’’ asked Hunter.

Becca watched him slice into his grilled chicken. Quinn was taking a makeup exam, so they had the table to themselves. She still wasn\ entirely sure about Hunter. Her mind was having a tough time reconciling his gentle patience with the way he\d gone after Chris in her driveway. It was like seeing a friendly old golden retriever turn vicious. All laid-back kindness, but make the wrong move and you learn those fangs aren\ just for show.

Then again, Hunter had spent the night comforting her and hadn\ tried anything. He\d found her yesterday and apologized then backed off to let her figure out where she stood.

That was a big part of the reason he was sitting here.

’’Depends,’’ Becca hedged. ’’What have you heard?’’

’’That you knocked two seniors on their asses on the soccer field, then flipped off the coach.’’

’’Absolutely true,’’ said Becca, deadpan. ’’I\m surprised you doubted a word.’’

Hunter leaned in, and his voice dropped. ’’Would you feel better if I told you the only thing I don\ believe is the part about the coach?’’

His tone was making heat crawl up her neck. She had to glance away. ’’Too bad. That\s the only part that really happened.’’

He sat back, not convinced. ’’You\ll tell me when you\ e ready.’’

’’Don\ get cocky. I might have to give you a firsthand demonstration.’’

Hunter laughed. ’’You\ e on. Friday night?’’

She almost lost the smile. He\d sure turned that around. Was he asking her out? Or still teasing?

She had to hedge again. ’’You want to spend your weekend nursing a black eye?’’

’’Now who\s cocky?’’ His eyebrows went up, but he was smiling. He dragged his fork through the rice on his plate. ’’Maybe we could save the ass-kicking for the end of the evening, though. Just to be safe.’’

’’Just to be safe?’’ she mimicked. ’’What exactly are you planning?’’

Some of his easy confidence slipped a bit. He glanced away before looking back to meet her eyes. ’’I was wondering if you\d like to go to Homecoming.’’

Her breath caught. She\d sure walked right into that one. Was Homecoming really this Friday? She\d never planned to go even now she had no idea where she could come up with money for a dress. Maybe she could borrow Quinn\s from last year.

If she said yes.

’’No fighting with Chris,’’ she said.

He grinned. ’’I thought you just said I\d be fighting with you.’’

’’I\m not kidding.’’ He lost the smile. ’’I won\ pick a fight with Chris. I promise.’’

She pointed her water bottle at him. ’’Or his brothers.’’

’’You have my word.’’

’’Then you\ e on,’’ she said.

’’For Homecoming or the ass kicking?’’

She smiled. ’’Both.’’

CHAPTER 30

Becca\s mom slid a bobby pin against Becca\s head, securing another curl. ’’Would it be wrong,’’ she whispered, ’’if I offered Quinn a cardigan?’’

Becca rolled her eyes. ’’Mom.’’

’’And maybe a pair of jeans?’’

’’Mom.’’ Becca glared at her in the bathroom mirror. She was sitting on the edge of the tub while her mother created a rather impressive updo. Quinn was painting her toenails in Becca\s bedroom right next door. ’’She\ll hear you.’’

’’That\s what I\m hoping.’’

’’It\s not that short.’’ But it was. Quinn\s strapless baby-doll dress had multicolored rhinestones across the chest, giving everything a nice lift and leaving very very little to the imagination. The skirt flared beneath the bodice, a spray of tropical colors that made her look like a butterfly. The whole thing stopped about six inches above Quinn\s knees.

Her mom slid another pin into place. ’’At least your dress is a little more elegant. I can\ believe Quinn had this hanging in her closet and she bought that thing.’’

’’Yeah, me either.’’ Becca swallowed. Quinn only had this dress ’’hanging in her closet’’ because Becca had used her dad\s emergency credit card to buy it and she hadn\ wanted her mom to know.

The dress was strapless, a pink chiffon gown with a corseted back, laced with a dark pink ribbon that bared a strip of skin down the center of her back. The skirt flared from her waist and fell just past her knees. She\d paired it with strappy silver heels to flash it up, but next to Quinn, she looked downright modest.

’’I think that\s it,’’ her mom said. ’’What do you think?’’

Becca stood and looked in the mirror. Her mom had pinned curls at the crown of her head, leaving tendrils to curl around her face and down her back. Quinn had done her makeup, all shimmering pinks and silvers, and the colors left her gray eyes bright and open. Innocent.

Looking at her own gray eyes made her think of Chris.

He\d been distant since Tuesday. Her father had painted over the pentagram again, and this time it had stayed gone. When she asked Chris about it, he\d looked at her hard and said, ’’So you don\ need to worry about us anymore.’’

Becca wasn\ sure how to take that. He ran so hot and cold. Showing up to offer her a ride to school but making surly comments in her driveway. Defending her to Michael then chasing her off their property. She couldn\ figure him out.

So she\d shut up and focused on class.

She had no idea whether he\d be at the dance.

’’Bex?’’ said her mom. ’’You all right?’’

’’Yeah.’’ She shook herself. ’’It\s beautiful, Mom. Thank you.’’

Quinn wolf whistled from the doorway. ’’I can guarantee you won\ be wearing that all night.’’

’’Quinn!’’ For god\s sake, her mother was standing right here.

But her mom, at least, was used to Quinn\s antics, and she just swept the remaining bobby pins into the box. ’’Come downstairs so I can take some pictures before I have to leave.’’

Her mom was working tonight, sparing Becca the awkwardness of introducing Hunter and forcing him to endure pictures and questions, while guaranteeing herself a bunch of crap tomorrow morning about his piercings.

They posed for the photos;then her mom was out the door, and it was just Becca and Quinn.

They sat on the couch, perched on the edge so they wouldn\ wrinkle their dresses.

’’I like that bracelet,’’ said Quinn, reaching out a hand. ’’Very new age. Where\d you get it?’’

Becca blushed. ’’Hunter. Sort of.’’ She didn\ think twine bracelets worked with the dress but for some reason she couldn\ make herself leave the stones sitting on her dresser, either. So she\d strung them on an old silver chain and looped it around her wrist a few times.

’’He really likes you.’’

She stroked her fingers over those stones. ’’I really like him.’’

’’But you\ e thinking about Chris Merrick?’’

Becca stared at her.

Quinn shrugged a little. ’’I\m not an idiot, Bex. You wouldn\ have dragged me across the field to apologize if you didn\ have a thing for him.’’

’’I do not have a thing for him.’’

’’Please. There\s some serious pining going on here.’’

Becca giggled. ’’I am not pining.’’ Was she?

’’Maybe we should do a side-by-side comparison,’’ said Quinn. ’’Like one of those charts. Best ass. Nicest hands. se*iest eyes. Oh, I know! Biggest ’’

Becca hit her with a throw pillow.

Then the doorbell rang, and Rafe was standing in the foyer, his Hispanic coloring and dark suit making him look suave and debonair.

’’Wow,’’ he said, sounding a bit strangled as he took in Quinn\s appearance. He pulled at his tie. ’’Your dress is you look ’’


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