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Definitely, Maybe in Love: Part 1 – Chapter 5


It was late, and since I couldn’t imagine how my evening could possibly improve, thanks to those ten minutes spent in the arms of Alex, I considered going home, getting a jump on the sleep I wouldn’t be getting until late December.

Before taking off, I figured I should find Mel or Julia and let one of them know. Last time I’d seen them, they were on the other side of the dance floor. Instead of walking around the outskirts, it would be quicker to cut through the center, so I headed into the mass of mingling people. Someone knocked my shoulder. “Sorry,” I muttered, rubbing my arm. Someone else brushed past the other side, knocking my right shoulder. Next thing I knew, an arm looped through mine, much too tightly, and spun me around. Then my other arm was clutched. I was caught in the center of dance traffic—or was it some kind of demented conga line?—and going the wrong way. It looked like the line was headed toward the big sorority house on the corner, the one where Lilah lived. I did not want to end up in there.

But there was no free space or figurative light ahead, so without bothering to look behind me, I disentangled my arm, bent forward, hands on my knees, and started backing up like a reversed torpedo. My body bumped into other bodies, disconnecting them, while other bodies leaped out of my way, cursing as I torpedoed past. I didn’t stop moving until I was out of the core of gridlock and along the periphery of the dancers.

Finally free, I splayed my fingers across my chest and took in a deep breath, my heart pounding hard under my hands. I just needed to stand still for a few minutes, undisturbed, then I’d be okay—

“Impressive mode of escape.”

I squeaked and whipped around, my heart shooting right back up my throat.

“And pretty effective,” Henry Knightly added.

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to reply, even though he’d clearly addressed me. And what was he still doing here? Hadn’t he told Dart that he was leaving?

He tilted his head to one side, taking in whatever my expression was. “You look slightly—”

“What?” I stuck out my chin, bracing myself to hear some kind of insult. If he said one word about my braids, I might deck him…just as soon as the feeling came back in my right arm.

“Slightly anxious,” he completed. “Do you need a…” My hard gaze shifted to the red plastic cup in his outstretched hand. I shook my head. He took a drink, then lowered the cup, fingering it in his hand.

I folded my arms and turned away, attempting to ignore him. My breathing was still a little too uneven to trust myself to head back into the crowd, even if to get away from this guy.

“So…”

Oh, jeez, please no boring platitudes.

“So, how long have you been here?” he asked.

“Since about nine,” I answered, staring forward.

“No.” His voice was louder in my direction. “How long at Stanford?”

“Oh.” I glanced at him. “This is my third year.”

“You’re a junior.”

“Yep.”

Even with the blaring music coming at us from every direction, deafening silence surrounded Knightly and me. I rocked back and forth on my heels, more than ready to take the first step away from him as soon as my body would allow it.

“What did Lilah mean when she asked if you’d saved any more cats?” he suddenly asked.

“Nothing,” I replied. “Long story.”

He tipped his head, dark eyes regarding me. “I saw you.”

“What?”

He shifted his weight, moving closer. “With the cat. I was there.”

I stared back at him. “You…”

“There were a bunch of other people, too. When Animal Control showed up, you left.”

“I was late for class,” I explained, feeling a little stunned. “But I wish I could’ve stayed to find out which animal hospital the officer was taking it to. I want to check on it later.”

“Palo Alto Veterinary Clinic,” he said. “That’s where the cat went.”

“How did you…”

He shrugged. “I asked.”

“Oh.” More than stunned now, I had no idea what else to say. Was this guy an animal lover, too? More likely, he was practicing at being an ambulance chaser.

The song changed. Couples left the dance floor while others took their empty places. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw Knightly shrink back, but only to throw his cup in a trash can. Then he was right back at my side.

“This is a good song,” he said, maybe noticing my unwavering focus on the couples in front of us. “Do you like it?”

“Not particularly. I don’t dance to men.”

“Excuse me?”

Gah. I shouldn’t have said anything in the first place. My self-inflicted music policy had been necessary in order to re-hone my focus, but a pain to explain. It wasn’t like I was anti-men—on the contrary! I was a complete sucker for a good love song, often to the point of distraction. I could waste away countless hours listening to the cheesiest Bruno Mars ballad while thinking about some guy. But right along with braiding my hair, changing my major, and painting my first picket sign, I put myself on a chick-only music regimen. Not having that added distraction was kind of empowering. But I wasn’t about to explain that to a total stranger in the middle of a street party.

“I don’t dance to male singers,” I said.

Knightly blinked. “Oh.” He looked a little relieved, then his face cracked into what might have been a smile, little lines crinkling the sides of his dark eyes.

“Something funny?” I asked, attempting to block out the fact that his smile brought unexpected warmth to his face.

“Um, absurdly funny. I thought you said you don’t dance with men.”

“Oh.” I couldn’t help exhaling a laugh at his mistake.

“Maybe when the song changes, we should go out there.” His voice was confident yet inquiring, his expression serious in a teasing way. The whole picture was very…I don’t know. Sexy? “But only if the song is lacking in masculine presence, of course.”

I liked the elevated way he spoke. Dang him. Here at Stanford, my use of common colloquialisms made me ashamed to be among other intellectuals. Damn it all to hell that he used better grammar than I did.

“Why would I want to dance?” I asked.

He seemed amused by my question. “Appears to be the universal and conforming ritual at the moment.”

“I’m not a conformist.”

“Obviously,” he shot back. I noticed that his brown eyes had flecks of gold in them. And were those freckles on his nose? Good gracious.

Fairy lights blinked behind him like stars; the night breeze blew through his curly hair. The guy looked like a freaking Calvin Klein model holding a pose. I could handle ogling at his hotness from a safe distance out Julia’s window, but honestly, it was unsettling being face to face. What was more unnerving was the way he was watching me, raptly, like I was the only person in a sea of hundreds.

When he leaned toward me, my shoulders tensed, causing a few braids to tumble free. His gaze shot to my hair.

“Careful,” I said. “I wouldn’t want you too close to my snakes.” I gave him a look. “They bite.”

In my not-so-subtle way, I’d broached the subject calmly, opening the door for him to apologize for what he knew I’d overheard. Even though there was no way he could explain away the things he’d said, nonetheless, I was morbidly curious to hear his rationalization.

“I like snakes,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Ha.” I rolled my eyes. “Sure ya do.”

“And I happen to enjoy a good bite.”

I blinked, but his gaze remained fixed on me, the intensity of his dark eyes making my stomach flutter. I was not about to fall for this guy’s game, even if it was completely original.

He moved closer. “Dance with me.”

“I didn’t come here to dance.”

“You were earlier.”

I remembered meeting his eyes briefly when I’d been on the floor with Alex.

“You can do better than him,” he said, evidently recalling the same moment. “And I’d steer clear from him if I were you.”

My mouth fell open.

“Dance with me,” he repeated before I had the chance to tell him off.

I almost laughed. “No.”

“Why?” His eyes did not waver.

“Seriously?” Was this guy for real? “You—someone I just met—are warning me to stay away from a friend I’ve known for two years, like you’re my brother or something, and…and I heard you.” I pointed toward the card tables. “I heard what you said to Dart Charleston about me, about my hair. It was an hour ago. Do you think I already forgot?”

He looked over his shoulder toward where I was pointing, then back at me. “What do you think you heard me say about you?” He stepped forward. If he got any closer, he would seriously be invading my personal space.

“Just keep your opinions to yourself until you get to know someone, and—”

“Is that what you do?”

The nerve of him.

Okay, so yeah, whatever, maybe I had made some snap judgments before I’d officially met him, but so far, weren’t they pretty much true?

“Of course,” I said, planting my hands on my hips.

“And that’s why you flipped off my car earlier tonight?”

My breath caught, much too audibly. “I…I didn’t…flip off your car.”

“You did.” He slid his hands into his pockets, his posture easing. “You were with two other women on the street, you stopped in front of my driveway and gave my Viper the finger. I watched the whole thing out the window.”

Frack.

He’d seen that? Mel, Julia, and I had been on our way to the party. We had to walk past the house across the street, and I couldn’t help…well, I mean, what moxie must a college student have to own a car like that? He had it coming.

“Look, if I did do something like that—and I’m not saying I did—all I meant was…well, our generation has to be more responsible and—”

“So you’re implying my car isn’t responsible or I’m not responsible?”

When I didn’t reply, he took another step, practically right in my face now. Any closer and I’d be forced to dance with him after all.

“Maybe you should take a drive with me.” His voice dropped low. “Then you can make up your mind about both.” His gaze scanned down my face, pausing briefly on my mouth.

Woo-boy.

If only to break eye contact, I dragged my gaze past his shoulder toward the side of the street.

Lilah stood there, watching us, hands on hips. She was flanked by a pair of her sorority sisters wearing matching tight red cardigans. The glare she was shooting at me could freeze fire. To her, I couldn’t imagine what Knightly and I looked like, less than arms-length apart, leaning toward each other, me flushing lustful red like a girl talking to the boy she was crushing on.

Frack. Frack. Frack.

Lilah broke from her group and sauntered our way, death and destruction in her eyes.

I lifted my hands. “I’m out of here,” I announced, backing away.

“Spring.”

Hearing him call me by name muzzled my anger, tripped me up momentarily. There was something in his tone, something unfinished. But I kept walking, not wanting to give us time to finish.


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