The space wasn’t large but there was a surprising amount of people congregated. As we walked around, I was thankful I had fed Benny well, and expended what was left on Katie’s neck. I was shielding heavily, but in an atmosphere like this, it was impossible to not drink down some of what was filling the air.
Katie made a small squeaking noise and halted in place. Her hands going to cover her mouth.
“What?” I yelped, looking down around our feet for a rodent or giant insect. Something that would have caused her startled reaction.
“Ryder,” she whispered through her hands and nodded ahead of us. He was sitting on a sofa playing with his phone, ignoring everyone around him.
Oh. “Well, yeah. Isn’t that why we’re here?”
She hid her entire face, talking through her hands. “I know.”
I grinned. “Let’s say hello then.” I practically pushed her in his direction as we walked, my hand on her back the entire way.
Once she had shuffled nervously in front of him, he looked up. “Katie!” He immediately jumped to his feet and motioned for her to come sit in his place.
Katie looked at me questioningly over her nervous hands.
“Go on,” I mouthed and made shooing motions at her. She sat tentatively on the sofa and he kneeled down to be eye-to-eye with her. She was still covering her mouth with her balled up fists as she nodded in response to some question he asked. The whole exchange was almost too much to watch.
A familiar voice spoke up beside me, “Finally. If I had to wipe any more tears away while he waited for her… I was going to have to cut my losses and be an only child.” Out of the corner of my eye I watched Hunter shake his head and take a drink out of his cup.
“Oh, good. You’re here. My night is now complete.” I crossed my arms over my chest and refused to take my eyes off Katie to look at him.
He chuckled. “Be still, my heart,” he said into the cup, as he finished off whatever fluid was inside.
We stood there for an eternity of uncomfortable silence. I ignored him to my best ability while he contently stood there, occasionally waving or acknowledging the arrival and departure of partygoers. Meanwhile, he managed to finish off two more cups of whatever concoction was being passed around.
Eventually I sighed, turning to him. “Why are you still here?” I asked.
One corner of his mouth was turned up in a smirk. “Why haven’t you walked away?”
I gave him my best indignant look. “I’m trying to stay close to Katie.”
“She’s fine. Believe me, R isn’t letting her out of his sight.” He looked over at his brother and let out a small laugh, waving his cup toward them. “Or hands.”
I followed his motion to see Ryder was back in his seat. Katie now sitting in his lap. Her hands were clasped under her chin as she watched him intently. He had one arm around her back, holding her waist, and the other was making animated motions as he chattered along.
“Aren’t they cute?” Hunter whispered near my ear, laughing at my startled jump.
Whatever everyone was drinking was strong enough I could smell it on his skin, but underneath was the same sweet scent of vanilla and leather I had caught before. I breathed him in, not moving as he stared into my face from inches away. He was still incredibly beautiful, but without Jessie here acting as a hormonal amplifier, I had much better control. I let out a relieved breath and almost smiled at him.
He straightened up, appraising me for a minute as he reached out to grab yet another cup from someone as they walked by. He held it out to me, but I shook my head. Rule number two, never drink the punch. He shrugged and took a drink himself.
“Do you both live nearby?” I asked.
“Just a mile on the other side of the highway.” He motioned in the general direction.
“How do you all know Katie?” I was hoping the idle chatter would distract me from how close we were standing. My control was better, yes, but no need to tempt it.
“Ryder goes to school with Katie and Jessie.”
I nodded and made an “Mmm,” sound in acknowledgment.
“I hang out with a sixteen-year old because he’s my brother. What’s your excuse?”
“Katie’s my neighbor.”
“Don’t have any siblings of your own to play with?” he asked.
“No. Some of us aren’t that lucky,” I shot back. My tone was angrier than it probably needed to be.
He looked over at me, his face serious now. “Sorry.” He watched me for a moment, then added, “It’s just been the two of us for a while now. We lost our mom and dad in a car accident a while back.”
The over-share made my irritation with his prying fizzle out. I had a lifetime to get used to my parents being gone. My dad had never been around, and let’s just say my mom didn’t make the best life choices and paid heavily for it. Or, rather, my grandfather did, since it left him stuck raising me. “I’m sorry to hear that. My grandfather passed away two years ago. He was the only family I had. I’m glad you and Ryder have each other at least.”
Hunter gave a quick nod as he watched me silently. The conversation had taken an unexpected turn to the serious. This was even more uncomfortable than his flirting.
Trying to shift the mood, I eyed him. “Bit young to be raising your brother alone.”
“Hey, I’m twenty-two.”
I raised my eyebrow, implying I didn’t think that was very old.
He chuckled. “Are you even old enough to drink?” he asked.
Scowling, I admitted, “No.”
He grinned and pointedly took another sip from his cup. His eyes glittered impishly when he asked, “Since we’re sharing, when do I get to hear the story behind your name, Sin?”
His laughter was a deep rolling sound.
Telling the truth had to be better than whatever behavior he was imagining had earned it. “Jessie and Katie decided my name was too difficult to pronounce. Sin was as close as they could get to enunciating the shortened version. Apparently, it’s going to stick.” Even to me it sounded like I was pouting.
“So, what’s your real name?” he asked, sipping the drink a little slower this time. I watched him, his expression pleasant and anticipating, and wondered if the effects of the last several cups were finally hitting him.
He lowered his cup. I braced myself for the scrutiny that was guaranteed to follow. Why did I keep answering him? “Senlis?” he repeated.
My mouth fell open just a little as he pronounced it perfectly. I almost asked him to repeat it just so I could hear it roll over his tongue again.
“Pretty,” he said. I blinked and watched him, surprised that was all he had to offer.
I looked over to check on Katie again. She was still engrossed in conversation with Ryder. Luckily nothing had progressed past them sitting and talking. “How the hell did you get a sofa down here anyway?” I asked.
“Dumped it off the back of a truck.” He pointed to a pick-up parked in the grass behind one of the piers.
“You didn’t strike me as the pick-up type,” I remarked.
He took my shoulders, turning me to face a couple making out against a wall. Pointing, he said, “Nathan.” It took me a moment to recognize it was camo sweater guy and Jessie wrapped around each other. Oh good, the boys found her.
“Huh. I thought she liked the other one?”
“The other one what?” Hunter asked.
“The attractive red head. She was hanging all over him last time.”
“You mean Ian?”
“Sure, Ian. Doesn’t she like him?” If given the choice between Ian and Nathan, camo sweater would not have been my preference. I was surprised he was Jessie’s. She took issue with my socks, how were his fashion choices acceptable?
He let out a short laugh. “I have yet to see someone capable of holding Jessie’s attention for long.”
I laughed despite myself.
“So, Ian’s your type then?” he inquired.
“What?” I asked, turning back to him.
“You called him attractive,” Hunter stated plainly, shrugging one of his shoulders.
“I’m not blind. He’s well dressed and symmetrical. That doesn’t make him my ‘type’.” I shook my head at him.
“Symmetrical?” He was laughing at me now.
As I opened my mouth to respond, someone tripped and fell against my back. The very inebriated girl knocked me into Hunter, who barely managed to get his arms out fast enough to catch me. His cup crushed between us, covering us both in his drink.
“Are you okay?” he asked, as he helped me regain my balance.
“Yeah, fine.” I looked at the girl who had fallen into me. She was on her backside, laughing hysterically on the ground.
“I’m sorry!” she gasped as she tried to suppress the laughter.
Both Hunter and I helped her stand. Once she was mostly upright, he kept his arm around her waist to keep her from falling again.
She thanked us, clinging to Hunter. “I spilled my drink,” she whispered at him and then giggled again. She tried to flick her long, blond, hair and nearly toppled out of his arms.
He motioned for someone nearby to come grab her. The man who stepped up was average height, and clean-shaven, with dirty-blond hair. He didn’t look entirely amused to be here. As they passed her between them, the girl wrapped her arms around her new support system and ran a hand down his face. “Hello,” she giggled.
“Will is going to get you another drink, okay?” Hunter patted her on the back and nodded at the other man as he dragged her away.
“Is she safe to be that drunk with him?” I asked, not sure I was comfortable letting her go off like that.
“Will’s a good guy. He won’t let anything happen to her.”
I watched them suspiciously as Will led her gently over to sit on a crate. He repeatedly moved her hands off his body as she reached to pet at him, while he stood guard to keep her from tipping over. “Alright,” I conceded. I shuddered as a cold breeze passed over the wet part of my clothing.
“I need to get this off,” I said, holding the sweater out from my body in an attempt to protect the tank top underneath from the liquid soaking through.
“Want help?” Hunter offered.
I scowled at him and walked away.
I pulled the sweater over my head as I stood in front of one of the canister fires. As expected, Hunter followed me. “Ugh, I smell like I bathed in disinfectant and fruit snacks. What was in those drinks?”
Hunter shrugged. “Not sure.”
“You make a habit of drinking things without knowing the contents?” I asked, as I gave up and tossed my folded sweater to the ground. With so much alcohol on it, I was afraid it was too dangerous to hold near the flames.
“Why, do I need to be worried you’ll take advantage of me?”
I snorted. “Not likely.”
“What if I said please?” Smiling, he started to lean into me.
I put a hand on his stomach to stop him. I stared at my hand on him, avoiding his eyes. “Your shirt’s really wet. Maybe you shouldn’t be standing so close to the fire.” Hell, he’d had enough to drink his entire body was probably flammable at this point.
“I could remove it, if you want?”
“No, thanks.” I tried backing away from him and he proceeded to advance with me each step. I watched him stalk me until I found myself backed up against the cement pier.
“You really don’t get the whole ‘no is no’ thing, do you?” I asked.
He put an arm on either side of my head and leaned inches from my face, careful not to touch me. “Not true at all.”
“How do you figure?” I retorted.
“My shirt’s still on. You haven’t said ‘no’ to anything else.” He smiled down at me. “Want me to go away?” he asked in an antagonizing tone, clearly not expecting a negative response.
Instead of answering, I watched his mouth as he licked his bottom lip, wetting it slightly. I felt the heat creep up my face. Nope. I did not want him to go away. For his sake, I probably should have.
“You have nice legs,” he whispered. He lowered one hand and traced the back of his fingers along my thigh, just below the hem of my shorts. Without any cloth separating our skin, a familiar electricity moved up my leg and into my chest. When I didn’t protest against his touch, he took my face in his other hand. His palm cupped my cheek, fingertips grazing along my neck just under my hair. He was dangerously close to the birthmark behind my ear, and I fought the urge to move his hand away. Everywhere he touched my skin I could feel a warmth of power pressing into me. A soft moan left his mouth and he closed his eyes, leaning his forehead against mine.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I think, maybe, I drank too much.”
“Don’t get sick on me.” I joked.
He let out a shaky laugh. “Sick is not at all what I’m feeling.”
With some effort, I turned my face to move it out of his grasp and gently pushed him back. It was probably true that the punch was getting to him, but I was also pulling little bits of his soul out of his body. I couldn’t seem to control just how much when we touched. With so much alcohol in his system, any natural defenses he should have were non-existent. As I watched him struggle to compose himself, yelling erupted behind us.
We both turned to see Nathan and Ian in a fist fight. Ian had Nathan on the ground, getting ready to hit him. They were both yelling obscenities at each other. Jessie was standing back cheering with the group that circled them. Figures.
Hunter let out a low growl. “Excuse me.” He took off to break up the fight.
I took a minute to get my bearings and find Katie, who was now standing near Jessie, Ryder protectively by her side. I ran over as soon as I spotted them.
“Katie, we need to go,” I said, taking her by the hand. I barely felt the shock from our skin touching. Compared to Hunter holding me moments ago, Katie’s energy was barely a hum.
She nodded. “Come on, Jessie.” Katie urged as she tugged on her arm.
“No way. I’m not ready to go.” Jessie shrugged her off.
“Just leave her,” I said, as I pulled Katie with me. When a fight breaks out it’s time to go. It usually causes enough of a ruckus someone calls in a complaint, and I didn’t want Katie getting caught out of her house. As far as I was concerned, Jessie was someone else’s problem.
Katie waved goodbye to Ryder, who looked crushed as he watched her go. As we hurried away from the commotion, I caught sight of Hunter leaning over Nathan, inspecting his injuries. As if he could feel me watching him, he looked up and met my gaze. He smiled at me, and I immediately turned away, tugging Katie into a run.
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