My fears have always gotten in the way of what I want. But not tonight.
Alicia Keys’s “No One” blares through the custom sound system of Holly Walker’s living room, her house packed with faces I recognize from the hallways of our high school.
The reason I’m here, when I normally avoid these parties like the plague, is because Tyler Morgan said he was coming.
I rode with Zach, a good friend from the Dresslerville Washoe reservation, who attends high school with me and my foster brother, Lewis.
Lewis is a study-o-holic. He doesn’t come to these things, but Zach makes it to all the parties. He’s currently homing in on Ella or Bella—some girl from my English class whose name ends with an a, like those of all the popular girls.
Technically mine does too, but if people know me, it’s for the wrong reasons. Bitch and trash have been linked to my name.
“Zach, you look like you’re ready to pounce,” I say. “There is such a thing as finesse. You could chat with the girl. Get to know her.”
Zach cocks his chiseled jaw to the side. “Why would I want to do that? Ruins the mystique.”
For as long as I’ve known him, Zach has kept girls at arm’s length. Emotionally, not physically. The guy gets around. I can’t fault him. I do the same thing—the emotional distancing, not the hookups. That rumor is false.
He tips his chin up. “You okay here? I’m about to get my swerve on.” He flexes his chest. “How are the pecs? Lookin’ good?”
I shake my head. “You’re lame.”
He hugs me in a friendly headlock. “Love ya, Mir. Go hook up or something. It does a body good.”
My shoulders stiffen. He has no idea how close to the truth he is.
Zach gives me a little shake. “Loosen up, girl. You got all tense.”
I share everything with Zach and Lewis. Except my love life. That would just be weird.
Zach’s manwhoring provides hours of banter, but it’s a different story to talk about me and boys. That’s where having guy friends who are like brothers gets iffy.
“Would ya leave already?” His lingering is making me nervous, and I’ve got enough on my mind.
Zach kisses his biceps and winks before striding off, angling his wide shoulders past the bodies crowding the living room.
I peer out, searching for my own quarry.
Since Tyler arrived an hour ago, I’ve been watching him like a stalker chick. Not really my style, but I’m running out of time. He’s leaving in a few weeks for college, and if I don’t make a move now, I’m afraid I’ll lose my chance.
I run a shaky hand through my long, dark hair, and pull a wavy handful over my shoulder, the ends brushing my upper waist. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch the guy next to me checking me out.
I have no interest in other guys. Only one person holds my attention, and he’s the one I walk toward.
I’m like Zach tonight, in hot pursuit.
Normally, I let men come to me. I may not be popular with the girls, but with boys it’s different.
Lewis and Zach treat me like a sister, but with other guys… Well, they want something. Not that I put out. Despite what some people say, I’ve only kissed a few guys, fooled around with a couple of them, but never given it up.
I’m not sure why I’ve held on to my V-card. No one expects it of me, and I don’t feel pure. It’s possible that living with Lewis and his family has rubbed off on me. That I’ve grown standards without realizing it. But I think I haven’t had sex when the opportunity arose for a different reason.
There’s only one person I want to be with.
My advisor paired me with Tyler as a math tutor over a year ago. I might have requested him when I found out he was looking for students to assist.
The kindness behind Tyler’s clear blue eyes when he scared away the group of mean girls in junior high left a lasting impression. I’ve never forgotten him.
I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember that day. He’s never mentioned it, and I didn’t remind him during our numerous study sessions together.
I watch as Tyler checks the downstairs bathroom just off Holly Walker’s living room. He’s bulked up since junior high—become broader in the shoulder and filled out in the chest. He’s taller than most of the guys at our high school. Handsome too, but that’s not why I like him.
There’s something about Tyler that’s different from other guys. I’m aware of his every move, the way he smells like peppermint and bike oil from the mountain biking he does, mixed with his laundry detergent. He’s laid-back, but attentive, and I like hanging out with him as much as I do with my friends. More so.
When Tyler shows me equations while we study together, I want to smooth my finger over the calluses on his thumb where he holds his pencil too tightly.
Sometimes, when he’s not looking, I’ll stare at the dark stubble on his chin that shines reddish in the light, and wonder what it would feel like to rub my lips against that stubble and kiss his neck.
Tyler will leave town soon. I should wait it out and ignore my feelings.
But I won’t.
I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, and open up. Long enough to lose my virginity to the boy I like.
After trying the downstairs bathroom and finding it locked, Tyler shoves a large hand in his jeans pocket and makes his way to the second floor.
I glance around to make sure no one’s paying attention, and follow him up the stairs.
Tyler is a year older than me, but two grades higher, because he’s super smart and skipped freshman year. Holly’s party may be the last chance I have to make a move before he graduates in a few weeks.
The second floor is crowded as well. Tyler moves up another flight, and I stay back until he reaches the landing.
There are four levels to Holly’s house. Her parents are loaded, their home equipped with an indoor hot tub and an elevator. A gazillion bedrooms litter the upper levels. It can’t be too difficult to get Tyler alone.
He knocks on a third-floor bathroom and enters, closing the door behind him. Most of the party is on the lower floors. Few people wander the top two, so there’s privacy up here.
I walk quickly to the end of the hall and peek inside one of the darkened bedrooms. It’s empty, so I lean in and set my crossbody purse next to the door, closing it behind me.
My chest is pounding. I press my hand to it and breathe deeply, trying to get calm.
I’ve sensed something between me and Tyler. I don’t think he’ll reject what I have to offer, but it will be a challenge to make myself vulnerable around someone other than Lewis or Zach.
I tend to push people away. But Tyler teases me. He doesn’t take me too seriously, the way most guys do. Somehow that makes the idea of opening up easier. I wish I could have more with Tyler before he leaves, but I’ll settle for this.
There goes my heart, racing again.
I swallow and try to compose my face, if not the vital organ ricocheting inside my chest. I walk down the hall and lurk outside the bathroom Tyler entered, psyching myself up for what I’m about to do.
A few seconds pass before Tyler exits with his head tilted down.
Now or never. I step in his path, bumping lightly into him.
“Tyler,” I say, feigning surprise. He grabs my arms to steady us, his face inches away. I smile coyly. “If you wanted to touch me, all you had to do was ask.”
Wow—lame. I need to work on my pickup lines.
His expression is blank, and for a moment, I wonder if I’ve botched it. This whole sexual aggression thing is harder than it looks.
“Mira.” His gaze softens, settling warmly on my eyes. “I thought I saw you downstairs.” He grins—which gets my heart beating faster than ever.
Most people think Tyler’s eyes are his best feature. They are devastatingly beautiful, but I have to go with his smile. It snares the deepest part of me, rendering me lightheaded and dumb.
That smile is a menace. And I can’t get enough of it.
My chest does a clench-flutter thing, my mouth twitching into what I hope resembles a happy expression. “How’s it going?” I say, as if this is the first I’ve seen of him tonight, though I’ve stalked him like a panther.
“Good. You been here long?”
“For a little while.” I grab his hand and tug him down the hallway, keeping my shaky grin in place. “Do you mind helping me with something? It’s just back here.”
His brow furrows in concern. “Sure, anything.”
Yet another reason Tyler is perfect. He spent ridiculous amounts of time helping me with math, until I didn’t just improve my grade, I aced the class.
Me? An A in math? It’s all because Tyler cares when few people have. As though he sees potential in me that most people think doesn’t exist.
I open the bedroom door and walk inside. “It’s just this way.”
Tyler chuckles nervously, but he steps into the room behind me. The light from the hallway frames his tall, athletic build. He plucks at his T-shirt and peers around. “So—what’d you need?”
I reach behind him and shut the door, bathing the room in pitch. I press my chest to his and wrap my arms around his neck.
“Just this.” I kiss him.
His lips are still at first, his body tense. Then his mouth melts. Enflames. A kiss that sends a shiver through my belly.
His tongue teases mine, hands tightening on my waist…
My breath hitches. This is a mistake. I should have picked a different guy. One who doesn’t affect me so much. I like Tyler, and when he leaves…
I pull away.
Tyler’s hands slide to my hips, without letting go. “Mira, what’s going on? I mean, I’m not complaining…”
What am I doing? I’m ruining it. This is what I’ve wanted for so long and I’m screwing it up.
Of course he’s wondering why his aloof tutoring student is hitting on him. I thought he liked me, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure. Based on the intensity of that kiss, I think we’re good in the attraction department. I need to stop freaking out, and go with it.
“Is this okay?” My eyes have adjusted to the dark. I stand on tiptoe and kiss his strong jaw, trailing my lips down his throat, my hands wandering across his wide shoulders and chest to a narrow, flat stomach.
His breath catches and he pulls me closer. “Are you sure? I mean—I didn’t know.”
I silence that thought with another kiss, my mouth parting and taking whatever he’s willing to give.
Tyler is over six feet tall and I have to reach to meet his mouth, but he’s holding me firmly, his lips moving eagerly with mine, sending more flutters through my belly, loosening my body along with my nerves.
The more his kiss gives, the farther those flutters spread and migrate, running out of control. He tastes like breath mints, his lips soft and warm, caressing in a way that has my hands shaking against his chest.
Normally, I’d let the guy take control and stop him when he wanted to go too far. But despite Tyler’s eager mouth, his hands haven’t left my hips.
He’s a nice guy; what did I think would happen?
Obviously, I’m going to have to make the next move too.
I run my fingers beneath his shirt, against his warm, smooth skin, touching the contours of a toned chest, built from hours of after-school sports.
I’m just getting into fascinating chest terrain when Tyler pulls away. My fingers freeze and I look into his eyes, their brightness all but gone. In this light they are dark and murky with startling depths.
“Mira, what about downstairs? The party…”
In answer to his question, I raise the hem of his black T-shirt. His arms go up automatically, allowing me to pull the soft cotton over his head. I drop it to the ground, the dark fabric disappearing in the shadows.
Reaching behind him, I fumble for the door and lock it. I grab his hand and lead him to the bed. “It’s okay. No one will come in.” I sit on the edge of the mattress and gently pull him down.
He doesn’t say anything at first. It might have something to do with the fact that I slipped my top off. I’m bared from the waist up, with the exception of a pretty black bra I splurged and bought on sale from Victoria’s Secret.
Tyler touches my naked shoulder. “Ahhh…?” His eyes remain on my breasts for a second, then flutter to my face and lock on my eyes. “I like you. We don’t have to do this tonight.”
For over a year, I’ve daydreamed about what it would be like to be Tyler’s girlfriend. If he’d take me to the movies, or if we’d hang out at his house with his mom and the sister he’s told me about. But that’s a fantasy.
Tyler would never want me if he knew where I came from and how messed up my past is. We can never be more than we are, except in this one way.
At least by sharing this, I’ll have a piece of him. This moment.
“I’m sure. I want you.”