Seriously, I could get lost in his face and enjoy every minute of my journey. Glide across the high plane of his forehead, cartwheel down the sharp angles of his cheekbones, slide along his jaw to land at his mouth. Full lips, slightly crooked at one corner, smiled down at me.
Up close, Shane’s longish hair was a river of brown, from dusky caramel to burnished mahogany, threaded through with shades of henna, chocolate, and deepest umber. He wore a snug black button-down shirt, setting off his tall, buff physique perfectly, the sleeves rolled up just enough to catch traces of ink on his tanned forearms, leaving me fighting an urge to push aside the fabric and expose everything that remained hidden. I longed for a pocket to stuff my hands into, settling instead for awkwardly wrapping both around my sweating glass.
Shane eyed me curiously, as if he knew I didn’t belong. As if he knew the direction of my wholly inappropriate thoughts. “I guess you’re here for me, then.” A grin spread across his face, punctuated by a sexy-as-hell dimple in his left cheek.
“Me?” I choked. What on earth would Shane Hawthorne want with me? I swallowed thickly, my eyes darting around for Piper. I am so out of my league.
With a hand in the back pocket of his ragged jeans, Shane followed the path of my anxious stare. “Expecting someone?”
My focus snapped back to Shane’s face. “No.” I shook my head. “Sorry. This is just so not me. I don’t wind up at Beverly Hills parties talking to rock stars. I mean, this is crazy.” My fingers twitched. There was no part of him I could look at without wanting to touch—especially the two-day growth of scruff covering his strong jaw, which practically guaranteed goose bumps if it brushed along any part of my anatomy.
“Imagine how I feel.”
I tilted my head. “You?”
“Yeah. I’m usually stuck in a tour bus or chartered plane flying to some city I won’t actually see. But tonight I’m at a Beverly Hills party where I don’t really know anyone, besides my agent and a few industry suits, talking to the most gorgeous girl in the place. Pretty lucky, huh?”
Feeling like a complete idiot, I looked around again. And then I pointed at my collarbone with my index finger. “Me?” I repeated.
Shane threw back his head and laughed. Instantly I wished I could record the sound on my phone so I could play it on repeat. Forever. It was the most delicious noise I’d ever heard. “Yeah, you. Where did you come from, anyway?”
“Bronxville,” I squeaked.
Shane laughed even harder. When he finally got control of himself, he brushed at his eyes. “And do you have a name, or should I just call you Bronx all night?”
All night. “Delaney. Delaney Fraser.” I extended my hand.
“I’m Shane.” Offering his last name would have been redundant. Shane’s fingers closed around mine, the pad of his thumb pressing into the center of my palm.
I nearly groaned. Please don’t let go, ever. “Would I sound like a groupie if I said I already knew that?”
He quirked a rich, sable brow. “Are you a groupie?”
I shook my head. “No. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a fan.” Since high school, when lusting after rock stars I’d never meet was safer than talking to boys I encountered in my real life, who eyed my chubby body and frizzy hair with barely disguised revulsion.
“I do love my fans.” Shane’s throaty growl pulsed in my ears, and for a moment I let myself believe he might be flirting with me. But then I looked down, a blush staining my cheeks as a sea of uncomfortable memories rushed in. Get a grip, Delaney. Why would Shane Hawthorne ever be interested you? All those years of awkwardness, of feeling so uncomfortable I almost couldn’t bear it, were still trapped inside me even though my reflection in the mirror had changed.
Shane lifted his other hand to my jaw, pulling my gaze back to him. “Don’t do that.”
His fingertips were hot, controlling my blood flow like some kind of stylus. I could feel it rushing to the surface of my skin, surging to meet Shane’s touch. “Do what?” I asked, my voice a ragged whisper.
“Look away from me. I like feeling your eyes on my face.” He balled his hand into a fist against my cheek, stroking my flesh with his knuckles, each touch erasing a tiny piece of the self-conscious teen living inside me.
Knowing this was probably the last time I would be so close, I studied Shane. Memorized his face. His lips, I decided, were almost too full to belong on a man’s face. Tried to imagine how they would feel on mine.
“If you keep looking at my mouth like that, I won’t be held responsible for what happens next.” Shane’s comment interrupted my perusal.
Color me gullible, but I couldn’t help myself. “What would happen?” I breathed. There was a moment before Shane answered, a moment when I lost myself in his eyes. His pupils were black flies caught within a whorl of amber. My heart thudded inside my chest, trapped by the darkness I saw within the depths of his gaze. Shane Hawthorne wasn’t just some vapid one-dimensional celebrity. He bristled with intensity. And even in the center of a Beverly Hills party, punctuated by popping corks and trying-too-hard laughs, waves of danger rolled off Shane’s broad shoulders, swirling around me like the chilly waters of the Pacific.
I should have been scared. I was, actually. But not scared off. I wanted to meld my body against Shane’s taut length, potential groupie status be damned. Desire filled my lungs, every breath a heady cocktail, and I swayed toward him, catching myself just before crashing into the perfectly carved statue wrapped in tight jeans and a shirt that did nothing to hide his rippling abs.
Shane stood still, watching the flicker of emotions on my face with interest. “Maybe we should go somewhere else. Somewhere with a lot less people. Somewhere we could both be wearing a lot less clothes.”
Pulling my eyes away from Shane’s blistering gaze, I looked down at the trail of feverish skin exposed by the plunging neckline of my borrowed dress. “I don’t think I could wear anything less and still be considered dressed.” I didn’t even recognize myself right now. Was I flirting?
His laugh was a caress, the rich timbre soothing nerves rubbed raw by his overwhelming presence. “That’s my point. Exactly.”
Breath punched from my lungs and I staggered back a step. Shane didn’t mince words, did he? I raised my face back to his, just as he reclaimed the distance I’d put between us.
“Let’s go,” he added, one of his hands reaching out to cup my elbow.
A shiver tore through me at Shane’s blunt command, reality hitting hard from the shock of his palm sliding against my skin. Instinct made me step back, out of reach. I didn’t have room in my life for Shane Hawthorne. He was a distraction I couldn’t afford. There was only one man I should be focused on right now, and he was sitting in a jail cell. Because of me. I was the only one who knew he was innocent, except he’d made me promise not to say anything. I was free because of him, but feeling alive—smiling and laughing and having fun. It had been three years since any of those things felt appropriate, or even possible
Tonight, I did feel alive. And I was smiling and laughing and having fun. God, it felt so good. And so wrong.
There was a woman lying in a cold grave tonight whose laugh I would never hear again.
What Shane was offering—more of this, of him, of feeling this way—terrified me. Spending the night with Shane Hawthorne, or even just a few hours, would either be knock-my-socks-off amazing, or a bitter disappointment. Either way, when he walked away from me without a second glance, I’d be crushed.
I had reached my quota of broken dreams already. One more might break me.
“Sorry. That’s not who I am.” I forced the words out through gritted teeth, the quivering kaleidoscope of butterflies in my stomach launching a winged protest. I’d already started to walk away when Shane grabbed my arm, pulling me so close I could feel the washboard of muscles ridging his abdomen. His touch seared my skin, melting my willpower.
“Who are you?” he whispered in my ear. Shane’s breath was hot along my neck, sending ripples of need racing in all directions before making their way to one spot in particular. Throbbing en masse.
My resolve wavered, desperate to claim the promise shining from Shane’s eyes. The promise that he’d outshine everything in my world for just a few minutes. That he’d make me forget about the wrecking ball that had slammed into my life and shattered everything I’d ever believed in. But this kind of reaction, just from a touch…No. Any more and I’d go into toxic shock.
I glanced around, not wanting to make a scene, wrenching my arm from Shane’s grasp with a small grunt and forcing words past my lips that left a bitter taste in my mouth. “No one you want to know.”
About the Author:
Tara Leigh attended Washington University in St. Louis and Columbia Business School in New York, and worked on Wall Street and Main Street before “retiring” to become a wife and mother. When the people in her head became just as real as the people in her life, she decided to put their stories on paper. Tara currently lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut with her husband, children and fur-baby, Pixie.