Off Limits(2)

By: Callie Harper



What had I been doing through it all? The exact fucking opposite. Some of my first memories were of my mom vomiting from too much booze or sleeping off a hangover. I watched her cry into her rum and coke after she got dumped, then a few weeks later clean up all bright, shining and hopeful over some new guy. Repeat cycle.

I vowed I’d never be like her, and so far so good. I kept my head down in high school, as much as possible that was. It was hard to be stick-skinny with flaming orange hair and freckles in a Southern California high school where the rest of the student body was either cool and Mexican (think Latin hip-hop video) or surfer dudes (teen beach movie). I fit right in. Not.

But I used that to my advantage. I had a lot of time on my hands. I studied and then studied some more and what do you know I’d won myself a college scholarship.

I loved it at my safe, small, all-women’s, ivy-covered New England campus. That was my comfort zone. Not black tie galas.

When we got to the party, my mom said, “I want to introduce you to someone. Try not to spill anything on your dress. And don’t disappear on me.” Then she promptly disappeared into the crowd. I watched her and sighed. I was used to it.

I made my way over to a dimly-lit corner and found an inconspicuous spot behind a pillar. I had a glass of champagne to sip, and I settled in to people-watch, one of my favorite pastimes.

That’s when I saw him. The most outrageously handsome, dark and brooding man I’d ever seen in my life. Up until that moment, I’d never really understood what all the fuss over guys was about. While all the teenage girls around me in school had twittered and preened, I’d rolled my eyes.

Now, I felt like I’d been hit by a Mack truck. My knees weak, my pulse instantly racing, it wasn’t just the champagne that made me feel tipsy. I was grateful I was standing in a corner where I could lean against some structural support. From my dark, private spot I took him in, all of him. Standing well over six feet tall, he looked so big, so powerful in his stance with his feet splayed apart, hand in one pocket. Dark hair, dark eyes, massive shoulders tapering down into a slim waist. He stood next to the bar, surveying the scene like he owned the place. He didn’t look too much older than me, but he looked so much more experienced. A bit of stubble played along his strong jaw as if he hadn’t shaved for the party, too cool for that. He looked both perfectly at home in the midst of a wealthy gala and also above it all, glowering and rough.

A shiver traveled down my spine. His hair had that careless look, tousled just enough as if some woman hadn’t been able to keep her hands off of him. I knew how she felt. I was so attracted to him it hurt.

It wasn’t just me, either. I’d heard the phrase before: chick magnet. All he did was stand there looking impossibly gorgeous and strapping and women flocked over to the bar to make eye contact, fluff their hair, and offer a word or two of flirtatious small talk. I took it all in from behind my pillar, spying on him. I gave meaning to my own phrase: wall flower.

I took pleasure in the fact that he didn’t seem interested in any of the women who threw themselves at him. He’d acknowledge them, offer a comment or two in return which would make them laugh and ruffle up their feathers. But then his dark gaze would return to the crowd. He’d sip his drink and, without a word, dismiss them.

He was bored, I realized. Maybe he didn’t want to be there. Like me.

I couldn’t help myself. I made my way over to the bar, too. He had a hypnotic pull I was helpless to resist. I had to draw closer.

It wasn’t as if I thought he would be interested. I’d seen him dismiss women far hotter than me. This was L.A., after all, where young, gorgeous women grew thick on the vines. After the party got going there was bound to be some starlet or teen popstar who’d show up with her entourage, the “it” girl of the moment. Surrounded by buzz, that’s the type who had a shot at capturing his attention.

Ordering another glass of champagne from the bartender, I felt acutely aware of his nearness. He stood so close now I could almost feel his presence, but I couldn’t bring myself to make eye contact.

So I was shocked to hear his voice, deep and sexy like I knew it would be. “Hey, Red.”

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