From the author of Penny in London, Get in the Car, Jupiter, and the Seven Deadly series, comes another delightful standalone novel, and I not only have the stunning cover for you, but together with my blogger sister Vilma’s Book Blog, I also have the entire Chapter One for you!
Part 1: Vilma’s Book Blog
Part 2: Natasha is a Book Junkie (read below)
“Just a slice,” I whispered.
We walked quietly, afraid to kick up the explosive chemistry that lay at our feet, bubbling up, ready to boil over. When we reached the door, he opened it for me and we walked beneath the shop’s revealing lights. Those fluorescents confessed something terrible to me about him. It betrayed every doubt I’d saved up from the moment I’d met Atticus until then. He was, unfortunately, beyond anything I could imagine. His skin more tempting, his mouth, his throat, his hands looked made for me. They weren’t a figment of my imagination. He was real.
We stood behind a line ten people deep. The noise was deafening, a cacophony of shouts, laughs, and yells.
“What’ll you have?” he asked, gesturing to the old-school sign that hung above the service counter.
“A slice,” I answered, afraid to speak, afraid to look at him.
He laughed. “Yeah, a slice, but what kind?”
I took a deep breath to clear my head. “Pepperoni, duh. What other kind is there?”
He nodded. “It was a stupid question, excuse me.” He smiled down at me as I looked up at him.
“Oh no,” I quieted.
“Oh no, what?” he volleyed back.
“It’s happening,” I told him.
“I’ve forgotten why I don’t date musicians.”
His smile fell away. “Good.”
I shook my head slowly back and forth, mesmerized by him. “No, not good at all.”
He didn’t reply as we were next in line and they called us forward.
“What’ll you have?” pizza guy Dave asked.
Atticus signaled for two slices of pepperoni. “Feel like sharing a Coke?”
Oh my God. “Sure.” I was barely able to speak.
“A Coke, please, Dave.”
“What kind?” he asked.
Atticus looked at me. I cleared my throat. “Just regular, Dave.”
“No problem,” he said, sliding two giant pieces of pizza onto paper plates and filling a cup.
Atticus slipped cash over the counter and Dave made like he’d make change. “No,” Atticus said, “keep it.”
Dave nodded at us both and we each grabbed a plate. As I said, the place was packed but regulars knew in the back corner of the restaurant was a steep staircase leading to an upper floor that looked down on the first. It was quieter up there, darker, more intimate. Atticus went straight for the stairs.
Once we’d climbed them to the top, we picked a table near the railing and in the corner. We slid into our seats and laid our plates in front of us. I wasted no time folding my pizza in half and taking a bite. Atticus smiled at me then did the same.
Without a word, he reached over and yanked two paper towels off a holder at the far end of the table. He handed me one and I took it from him. He wiped his mouth then brought the Coke to his mouth, his lips around the straw, his eyes on mine, and took a sip. When he was done, he offered the cup to me. My hands clenched the edges of the table as I leaned forward, wrapped my lips around the same straw he’d just drunk from and took a sip. After I swallowed, I sat back, my hands still at the table’s edge, and stared at him.
“Thank you for the pizza,” I breathed.
He smiled at me and took another bite, wiping his mouth yet again. I followed suit then wiped my own. Slowly, I reached for the cup and brought the straw to my lips before taking a sip. His tongue licked at his bottom lip as I extended my arm and tipped the cup at him. He bent toward the straw and wrapped that incredible mouth over it once more, drinking deep, then sitting back.
“You trying to kill me?” he finally spoke.
“Are you?” I asked him.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he said, “More to drink?”
“No, thank you, I’m fine.”
“That’s too bad.”
After a few seconds’ pause, we picked up our slices again and took another bite. We stared down at the people below us. A few of them I recognized. I stared at a face I knew.
“Who is that?” Atticus asked me.
I looked at him. “Just someone I used to know,” I vaguely explained.
He shook his head and smiled. “How did you know them?”
I sighed. “They’re jackasses. My freshman year, that one,” I said, pointing at a jock-looking idiot with a popped collar, named Brett, “paid me to tutor him,” I explained with finger quotes. “Let’s just say it was a subject matter I hadn’t agreed to.”
“French?” he teased.
I fought a smile. “Something like that.”
“Did your grandmother raise you?” he casually asked me.
This was a forbidden topic. I knew this. Etta knew this. Grandma knew this. But Atticus Kelly didn’t know this.
“Uh, yes, she raised me.”
“That’s cool,” he said.
I nodded, not wanting to talk about it anymore.
“So nothing personal then,” he stated with a small smile.
I tried to smile back. “My mom is an addict who had me at sixteen and is God knows where, and I don’t even know who my father is. My grandma is my only parent.”
“And you love her,” he said.
“More than anyone in this entire world.”
He nodded. “My mom and dad had my oldest brother pretty young as well. Right out of high school, actually.”
“It’s cool they stayed together.”
Atticus snorted. “I guess.”
We finished our pizza and tossed the plates in recycling then stood next to our table, staring at one another. Atticus made a move for our shared cup and brought it to his lips one last time before doing the same for me. As I drank, he leaned over me, his mouth near my ear. “I should get a refill,” he joshed. I pulled away and swallowed.
“Should we?” he asked, throwing a head toward the door. I nodded my answer.
We descended the stairs and made our way toward the exit when Brett recognized me and called out my name. I stopped in my tracks, my shoulders involuntarily hunching up in disgust of the guy.
“Hazel!” Brett shouted. His buddies started laughing at how uncomfortable he made me. “Come on, Hazel, turn around! You remember me, right?”
I cringed. Quietly, Atticus faced me, studied me. Our eyes met and I visibly relaxed.
“Touch me, Atticus,” I begged.
A look of relief flashed across his face. His long fingers wrapped around the small of my back and he culled me into his tall, muscled body, the metal on his jacket rattling in singing chimes. As he led me toward the door, his arm around my body, his scent against my nose, he turned toward Brett and gave him a look to kill. All the bravado left Brett and his idiot friends. Brett sat in his chair, turning toward his food, not another word spoken.
“Thank you,” I told him.
“I can’t accept it, Hazel. If you only knew the thoughts running through my head right now.”
I smiled at him. “Would it help if I told you they probably matched my own?”
He looked down at me. “Maybe just a little.”
He brought his arm out from around me and I wanted to beg him to put it back.
“Should we walk to your next painting?” he asked me.
“It’s cool with me,” I told him before looking on him. “Do you want to? If you’re tired we can call it a night or whatever.”
Atticus stopped, his boots scraped against the bits of gravel on the walk it was so abrupt. “I would stay up for days with you, Hazel. Weeks. Months, if I could. I’d walk the entire city five times over with you if you were willing.”
“Why?” I asked, curious.
“I think you’re the most interesting person I have ever met, Hazel, that’s why.”
“But you don’t know me.”
“I know enough to recognize I want to know more.”
We continued walking.
“Do you want to text Etta?” he asked.
I bit my bottom lip in thought before I answered. “No,” I whispered.
A look flashed over Atticus’s face, something similar to satisfaction, but I didn’t really know for sure. I studied his body. He looked nervous—kept tucking his hair behind his ears, his shoulders lifted rapidly over and over in quick breaths. We kept glancing at one another.
Atticus swallowed audibly. “Where is this new painting?”
“It’s a little ways. A few blocks to Pearl near the cathedral.”
We walked until we came upon the empty parking lot facing the side of a parking garage. The painting was my largest to date at the time and had taken me a total of seven weeks. It was a jumbled mass of words using typography. I studied hundreds of different fonts to find the perfect ones to fit within one another like a giant puzzle. I drew it at least a thousand times on paper before I got it exactly as I wanted. It was beyond tedious.
“What do all these words mean?” Atticus asked.
“There’s a pattern to them. Once you figure it out, it reads like a letter.”
I looked at him. “I can’t, Atticus.”
He nodded. “I can respect that. One day, um, do you think one day you would show me?”
“You think we’ll have more than this day, Atticus?”
He got really quiet then sat on the concrete below, extending his legs away from him, and leaning back on the palms of his hands. He tossed his head to the side, signaling he’d like me to join him, so I did.
“Do you want more than these few hours with me?” he asked.
“What do you want me to tell you?”
“I want you to tell me the truth.”
“I have two answers for you then.”
“What are they?”
“My loud, thumping heart wants to say yes,” I admitted. “My rational, cynical mind says no.”
He nodded and stared up at my painting. “Your heart is the only honest part of you then.”
I bit back a laugh. “How do you know?”
“Because her answer is the only answer you need, Hazel.”
“How about we play it by ear?”
Atticus laid flat against the concrete and stared up into the night sky, so I did the same.
“Fine with me,” he answered. “Hey, Hazel?”
I turned my head to look at him, our cheeks pressed against the warm lot.
“I have to admit something to you.”
“Go on,” I urged.
“I want to kiss you. So bad,” he divulged. He stared at my lips and swallowed before looking into my eyes once more.
“Atticus,” I whispered.
“Yes?” he asked quietly.
“I want you to kiss me too.”
He smiled. It grew and fell then grew then fell, like he was fighting words. “I won’t do it, though.”
This surprised me. “You won’t?”
He shook his head from side to side. “No.”
“So what should we do instead?” I asked. “Stay here? Lay on this parking lot?”
“Yes,” he said, staring back up into the sky.
We sat quietly, the sounds of a sleeping city all around us save for the occasional siren or car passing by. After five minutes’ time, he looked at me once more and slowly raised his hand, turning his palm toward me. “Take it, Hazel.”
Hesitantly, I fit my palm inside his and he threaded his fingers with mine. The heat from our skin—the electricity from our attraction—made the simple act an incredible experience. I had never in my life reacted to someone like I did with Atticus. It was like a bass drum thumped through my chest, making my skin vibrate, my fingers and toes tingle.
“Wow,” I spoke aloud.
He nodded slowly in agreement. “This,” he barely got out, “is insanity.” He peered at me harder. “Is this real life, Hazel?”
“I don’t think so, Atticus.”
“Good.” He looked at me. “Do you feel this?” he asked, squeezing my hand a little.
“Yes, I feel it.”
“What is that?” he asked me.
“It’s attraction, Atticus.”
“No,” he argued, “this isn’t attraction, Hazel. This is gravitation.”
I squeezed his hand a little in return just to feel the intensity rise.
“Are drums the only instrument you play?” I asked him, suddenly obsessed with the idea that I wanted to know everything about him.
He shook his head. “I play all percussion, piano, guitar, bass guitar, banjo,” he said, trailing off.
“Oh, is that all?” I teased.
He smiled at me. “Yeah, just those.”
“What do you do for cash?” I asked him.
“I produce albums at The Sink.”
This surprised me. “That’s kind of cool.”
“It’s a cool gig, yeah.”
“Are you any good?” I asked him.
He squeezed my hand again and my belly floated across the world then back to me. “I’m okay,” he said, though I felt he was probably being modest.
“Could I hear some of your stuff?” I asked him.
He licked his bottom lip, and I followed the movement with eager scrutiny. “Of course, Hazel.”
He let go of my hand then stood up and crouched over my body, offering it one more time to help me stand. He didn’t let go, though, once I was up.
“Let’s go back to the bar. If you’re cool with it, I can drive us over to The Sink.”
I felt a bit shocked because it was then I instantly discovered he could have had said anything at all and I would have agreed to it as long as he still held my hand. “Okay,” I agreed.
The walk to the bar was much shorter than I wanted it to be. The butterflies it gave me increased with every step. He led me to the parking lot behind the bar and pointed at an old black ’64 Impala. It was in rough shape but it was beautiful.
“Damn, Atticus, this is sweet,” I told him.
He smiled at me. “I’ve had her for years. Can’t seem to get rid of her. Every time she breaks down I promise myself she’s going to the junk heap, but I always end up finding a way to fix her anyway.”
He followed me over to the passenger side of his car and opened its door for me. “Thank you,” I told him.
He closed the door behind me and scaled the front of the car, his keys hanging from one of the belt loops of his pants bounced with every step he made, and I followed them as they swung back and forth. Oh my God, I thought.
He opened his own door and slid in next to me. When he did this, his cologne wafted over to my side of the car and I had to stop myself from leaning into him. He turned his key in the ignition and the engine rumbled to life. He went to put the car in gear just as another car peeled into the parking lot at an incredible speed.
Atticus’s hand shot out and landed across the top of my chest.
“Fuck, it’s my brothers.” He turned toward me. “I’m sorry.”
“You’ll know why in a minute.” The car swung itself in front of Atticus’s Impala and four huge guys, who looked a lot like him, piled out. They were all beautiful, if I was being honest. It was really no wonder they each had little kids running around. “At least Aidan isn’t here,” Atticus admitted.
He opened his door and stood but left one booted foot resting inside.
“Well, well, well, look at what we have here. Hello, Atticus,” the driver said, and the other boys laughed.
“Get the fuck out of my way, Cillian.”
“Make me,” the boy he called Cillian responded.
Another boy bent down and eyed me through the windshield. “Oh shit! Atticus has himself a girl in there.”
“Shut the fuck up!” another boy shouted.
They all started to box in around us, so I opened my door and stood next to the car.
“Holy fucking shit. She is hot, Atticus!” one boy yelled.
“Seriously?” Atticus said, his hand going to his face. “You are embarrassing as fuck, Malachi.”
All his brothers laughed. “What’s your name?” Malachi asked me.
“Hazel,” I told them, trying to smile, but it didn’t translate. I was too intimidated, to be honest.
“What kind of name is Hazel?” Cillian teased.
“I don’t know,” I shot back. “What kind of name is Cillian?”
A chorus of oh sang out around me. Atticus laughed loudly and shook his head. “You’re in for it now,” he told me.
I eyed Cillian up and down. “I think I’ll be all right,” I answered, which sent them all reeling.
“You got a problem, little girl?” Cillian asked.
“You’re the only one who seems to have a problem, dude.”
Cillian paused for a moment and looked me over. “I like her,” he finally said, and I rolled my eyes.
“What are you guys even doing here?” Atticus asked them.
“We’re looking for you,” one of the boys, not Cillian or Malachi, answered. “Mom told us to come get you.”
They were all quiet as they stared me over. Atticus snapped his fingers to get their attention. “Feel like telling me what she wants, Liam?”
“Yeah, she’s pissed as shit at you.”
Atticus sighed, exasperated. “What now?”
“She’s mad you didn’t show up to dinner tonight.”
Atticus looked over at me, stared at me. “I had something come up,” he explained.
“I can see that.” Liam laughed. “But you better get your ass home and at least apologize to her.”
“I can’t,” Atticus said.
Malachi and Liam got visibly upset. “You can’t do Mom like that, asshole,” Malachi threw out.
Mama’s boys, apparently.
“I’m sorry, Hazel, it looks like I’ll have to show you the studio some other time.”
“That’s fine,” I lied.
“Unless you want to come over,” Cillian offered.
“Cillian,” Atticus scolded, “she doesn’t want to meet Mom and Dad right now, dude.”
“Hold up, fool, why don’t you ask her?”
Atticus turned to me. “Uh, I’m sorry. He’s an asshole.”
I laughed. “It’s okay.”
“You should just come over,” Malachi urged.
“Yeah, Mom won’t care,” Liam offered.
“I mean, you could come over, if you want. I mean, if you’re cool with that or whatever,” Atticus said.
The idea of meeting his mom and dad at one in the morning felt odd, but I didn’t want to stop hanging out with Atticus. All five boys stared at me with pleading eyes. It would have been hilarious if they hadn’t all looked so dangerous.
“Okay, I guess that would be cool,” I told them all.
All Atticus’s brothers piled back into their car. Their tires squealed as they pulled out of the lot like their car was on fire. Atticus and I got inside his already running car.
He looked at me. “Again, I’m sorry.”
I laughed. “What the hell was that?”
Atticus’s head fell onto the back of his seat. “That was four out of the six Kelly boys.”
“That was insane.”
“I know.” Atticus put the car in gear. “Listen, you don’t have to come. I mean, they’re crazy, so I understand if you want me to just drop you off.”
I looked on Atticus’s face illuminated by the dull lights of the car. “If it’s okay, I’d like to hang out with you a little more, get to know you better.”
I followed the line of his throat as his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down once. “Of course it’s okay with me. I-I want to know your skin again, Hazel. You’re addicting.”
He glanced at me and held his hand out for me, so I took it. When we arrived at a stoplight, he peered down at our hands and memorized the tops of my fingers with his thumb. “You’re so soft, Hazel.”
“It’s the cleanser I use to take the paint off. It exfoliates really well. Because of that I have to use really good moisturizer. It makes for soft hands.”
He brought that hand to his mouth and kissed underneath the bend of my knuckles, which sent shivers throughout my entire body. He let go of my hand and unfolded my fingers before placing them at the side of his neck. My thumb found his Adam’s apple as he swallowed. Atticus closed his eyes when I did this, which made me want to do it over and over again. He took my hand again and kissed the pad of my thumb, making my stomach plummet to my feet.
The light changed, but he kept my hand in his between our seats. “Will your parents care that I’m coming over so late?” I asked him.
“Did you see my brothers, Hazel?”
“Do you think this is the first time we’ve ever brought someone over this late?”
“I don’t know,” I told him.
“It’s not, Hazel. Though,” he cleared his throat, “this is the first time I’ve ever brought someone over.”
All my breath left my lungs in a rush at the thought. “I see.”
“My whole family lives at night. Most of my brothers are bartenders at the bar we met at. My brother Aidan owns it.”
“Ah, it all makes sense now.”
We drove through a part of the city I hadn’t ever really seen before. He wasn’t kidding when he said it was a little run down. We pulled up to a rough-looking house, although it was the best looking on the block, not that it was saying much. The paint was chipping off to the point you couldn’t even tell what the original color was. There were kids’ toys settled all throughout the unkempt lawn. All the lights were on, though, and there were loud voices spilling out from inside. I could hear them all the way in the car.
Atticus shut the engine off. “If this is too much for you, just tell me. I know what it looks like because I lived in it. If you want to turn back, Hazel, I can. I’ll take you home right now.”
I looked away from the house into Atticus’s face. “This is so crazy.”
He laughed. “I know.”
“I’m not going to lie, I’m nervous as shit.”
He laughed again. “As you should be. Tell me, Hazel, do you want to go home?”
I took a deep breath. “What the hell, let’s just go inside. If I want to go, we can always leave.”
“Of course,” he said.
He stared at me for a few seconds before exiting the car. I made a move to open my door but he pointed at me through the windshield to keep me where I was.
“Let me open your door for you, Hazel,” he said, swinging it open.
My hand found his as he helped me out. He closed it behind me and we traversed the overgrown walkway to scary-looking porch steps. Those loud voices got louder and louder as we ascended the stairs and reached the front door. Atticus swung open the creaky screen door and led me inside.
The noise was almost deafening. Boys were shouting and laughing, a television was blaring somewhere. He led me down a short entryway and around a wall to an open living room connected to a worn kitchen. All the furniture looked old but was covered in plastic. The whole place appeared surprisingly clean. In fact, it smelled like lemon Pine-Sol and a baking cake. It seemed as if Atticus’s mom did the absolutely best she could with what she had, and she did a damn good job. The inside, although not new, appeared sweet and homey. It didn’t look anything like the outside. I breathed a little bit easier before I realized the whole house had gone deathly quiet and everyone was staring at us.
Without realizing it, I leaned closer into Atticus.
He cleared his throat. “Everyone, this is Hazel Stone. Hazel, you’ve met Cillian, Liam, and Malachi.” I waved at them and they waved back, making me blush. “That’s Brendan. He was in the car, but I don’t think he spoke.”
“Hi,” I said.
“Hey, what’s up?” Brendan greeted.
“And this is my oldest brother, Aidan,” he said, pointing to an older guy, but Atticus’s spitting image.
Aidan nodded his head at me.
Atticus walked toward two older people, both blond, both handsome, both with happy expressions, and brought me with him. “Mom and Dad, this is Hazel. Hazel, this is my mom, Sarah, and my dad, Casey.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
Sarah and Casey looked shell shocked I was there, and I started to get a little uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry, I realize it’s late, but the boys said it would be okay to come over.” I started to back away, looking to flee. Atticus stopped me by swinging me closer to him.
“Give them a minute,” he whispered in my ear.
After another thirty seconds, they looked at one another then at Atticus. “Atticus, you’re bringing girls home now?” his dad asked him.
Sarah shook her head as if to clear it. “I’m sorry, baby, where are my manners?” She stood and offered her hand out to me and I took it. “Very nice to meet you. Hazel, is it?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I answered.
Casey stood next to her. “You look like a nice girl, Hazel.”
“Casey, oh my God.” Sarah laughed. “I’m sorry, dear, but we don’t get many nice girls come through here.”
“Hey!” Aidan said.
“Except for your Ellie,” Sarah amended, rolling her eyes playfully.
“What are you doing with this bum?” Casey teased Atticus with a wink.
“Oh, I’m just teasing, son.”
“She is too hot for you, Atticus,” Cillian chimed in.
“Cillian!” Sarah chided then looked at me. “I did try to instill some manners into these knuckleheads,” she explained, “but they didn’t stick. Excuse him.” I smiled at her. “Here, here, sit,” she said, dusting imaginary dirt off the plastic couch surface. Atticus and I sat next to each other on the sofa. I was grateful the television was on. Otherwise it would have been dead silent in that room. It seemed they were all waiting for me to speak.
“You have a nice home,” I told Sarah.
Sarah chuckled. “Oh, darlin’, you don’t have to worry yourself with that. I know what it is.”
“Oh, come now, Sarah,” Casey said. “You’ve made it a real home, babe.”
Sarah blushed a little, which I thought was sweet, and smiled. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
“Mom,” Atticus said, “I’m sorry I missed dinner.”
“You should be. It was a good one,” she said, shaking her head.
“I’m sorry. I’ll be here for next week’s. I promise.”
“You say that every time, Atticus.”
“I came last week, Mom.”
“I know, but you’re not consistent enough. I raised you better than that.”
“I know and I’m sorry.”
She leaned forward in her chair and kissed his forehead. “Fine, baby, just be here next week?”
“A promise is a promise.”
She nodded once. “You can bring Hazel if you want!”
“Oh, uh, I don’t know if Hazel is going to want to do that. She might not want to come,” Atticus sputtered out.
“What’s the matter?” Aidan asked. “Embarrassed of us?”
“Yeah,” Liam ribbed with a blazing smile, “we promise to be on our best behavior, Atticus.”
“And a promise is a promise,” Malachi teased.
“This was a mistake,” Atticus whispered under his breath, making me want to laugh.
“What do you do, Hazel?” Casey asked, ignoring his sons.
“I paint,” I told them.
“Lord alive, another artist,” Sarah teased. She winked at Atticus. “I can see why you two would like one another,” she added.
Atticus abruptly stood. “Well, this has been sufficiently embarrassing,” he said, grabbing my hand and pulling me up beside him, “but we have to go.”
“But you just got here!” Casey said, looking confused.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I just came to apologize to Mom. I’ve got to get Hazel home.”
Atticus rushed me through the living room as they all stared after us. “Nice to meet you!” I shouted as we bolted through the door and down the steps.
“She is definitely too hot for Atticus,” one of the boys said.
Atticus opened my door for me and I sat. Within seconds, he was in the driver’s seat and had started the car.
“That was fun,” I told him, and genuinely meant it.
He laughed. “Sure it was.”
“No, really, I thought your parents were wonderful.”
As we sped down Atticus’s parents’ dark street, he smiled at me. “Thank you. I also like how you left my brothers out of your compliment completely.”
It was my turn to laugh. “Your brothers are, uh, interesting.”
“Interesting,” he parroted. “Yeah,” he said sarcastically.
“Where are you going?” I asked him.
“Anywhere but here,” he said, taking a turn down a busy connecting street. He looked at me. “There’s a two a.m. showing at the Anjelika, would you be down?”
“Yeah,” I answered without hesitation. He smiled at me. “This is the strangest night of my life,” I told him.
“It’s a good strange, though?” he asked.
“A great strange, Atticus.”
The Anjelika was just down the road from him, and we bought tickets to a film neither of us really cared to see. The lobby was surprisingly full for two in the morning.
Atticus gestured to the concessions. “You want anything?”
“No, thank you,” I told him.
“Are you sure?” he asked again. “We could share another Coke,” he teased, making my blood race.
“No,” I told him, “we won’t need it.”
He audibly gulped, which made my cheeks warm. He grabbed my hand as we approached the ticket guy. The guy tore our tickets in half.
“Last theater on your left,” he droned out.
The theater was pretty packed already, full of noisy and buzzed patrons. I spotted two secluded seats in the top right section of the theater. We raced up the stairs and sat down before realizing the reason they were empty was because two fence bars obstructed the view.
“I don’t care,” he said.
“I definitely don’t care,” I agreed.
He rubbed the palms of his hands down his jeans and let out a shaky breath as the lights came down and the first preview began to air. He stared at me and lifted the armrest between us. I lifted and bent my left leg on the seat and turned more fully toward him, my right knee resting against his. He turned as well.
“Can I touch you?” he asked.
“Yes,” I whispered.
His incredible hands found my hips and ever so slowly, he slid me closer to him. He memorized my face before he brought his hands up and threaded them through the top of my hair. My head fell back a little, exposing my throat. He moved his hands down the sides of my neck and placed his lips just above the skin below my ear.
“Can I kiss you here?” he whispered.
I made the slightest nod before I felt them on my skin. My hands found the shirt underneath his jacket at his rib cage and gripped the fabric there. He moved his lips down an inch.
“Can I kiss you here?” he asked again.
“Yes,” I whispered.
His lips found my skin once again and my hands tightened even more. He moved his lips another inch.
He kissed me yet again and I began to pull at his shirt, making him laugh into my neck. He moved his mouth to the base of my throat, right at the top edge of my collarbone.
“Please,” I begged.
His kissed the dip there, his tongue darting out for just a moment. “Atticus,” I breathed.
He placed his lips at my ear. “I have never in my life tasted anything as incredible as your skin, Hazel.”
I turned my head so my own mouth found his ear as well, but I had no secrets to tell. Not yet, anyway. Instead, I drew his earlobe into my mouth, running my tongue around the edge. I felt him shudder against my body and smiled at how satisfying it felt to have that kind of power over him.
Atticus’s right hand found the hem of my shirt, his bare fingers located the skin at the small of my back, and a small gasp escaped my lips. His hands scorched me there, branded forever. I committed the feeling to memory, wishing I could relive the experience over and over without cease.
“Haze,” Atticus spoke against the skin of my throat. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“Atticus,” I answered, “neither do I.”
He shot up a like a rocket and dragged me back down the stairs with him. We practically ran through the lobby. Atticus threw open the outside doors and we sprinted to his car. He swung me toward him, tightly against his chest; his hands found my jaw and his mouth found my lips. Atticus kissed me like he was dying, and I found myself wanting to go with him, willing to follow him into a dark abyss if that was where I could find him just so I could know his mouth, to know his hands, to know his skin.
He pulled open the door to his back seat and swung his body inside smoothly, bringing me with him. Shrugging off his jacket, he tossed it in the front of the car. I stopped for a moment and studied the exposed skin there at his arms.
“Oh my God,” I told him. “These are beautiful.”
He swallowed, his chest panting. “Thank you.”
The night was dark, the light was minimal. My hands went to the skin of one bicep and pulled it closer, shoving up the sleeve. “Oh my God, Atticus, this is Bosch.”
“Yes,” he told me quietly, letting me run my fingers up and down the painting he’d had drawn there. “He is one of my favorite painters.”
He dragged a thumb across my forehead, shifting a lock of hair that had fallen there. “Nobody knows Bosch’s work.” He looked on me and smiled. “I guess a fellow painter would know his stuff, though.”
I looked at the floor of his car. It was littered with paperbacks. I picked up book after book after book after book. “You’ve read The Screwtape Letters? And Utopia? And 1984? And The Count of Monte Cristo?”
“Yes, Hazel,” he answered, kissing my cheek.
Hit with the unmistakable feeling I found someone I was destined to find, I also found myself overwhelmed. My hands went to his face. “Are you real, Atticus Kelly?”
“Are you?” he asked, smashing his mouth against mine.
We tumbled backward against the cushion of his back seat.
And that’s the story of the night I, Hazel Stone, lost my virginity.