But that I was so damn scared of it happening.

I remembered what Shanna had told me just two nights ago:


That’s what it boils down to: you’re afraid to get hurt. And especially by the one guy in the world who can really, really hurt you. Just so happens, he might be the one person who can make you really, really happy, too.

The last 24 hours had been all about not getting hurt. Hell, in some ways, my whole life had been about not getting hurt. When I walked away from Derek four years ago, I was trying to protect myself. Yeah, I had told myself at the time that I was a good girl, that I wasn’t my mother, that I didn’t want to be a cheater, that I didn’t want to hurt Kevin –

But really?

Deep down?

I was afraid of getting hurt.

I’d been hurt – deeply – by what happened after my mother’s infidelity. The savage way it had ripped our family apart.

More than not becoming my mother, I just didn’t want to hurt anymore.

And even more than the hurt… I was just afraid.

Afraid of the unknown.

Afraid of the possibility of pain.

Afraid of what might lie around the corner.

I could have called Kevin and laid it on the line, and gone back to Derek with a clear conscience.

I could have canceled my plans to go to Syracuse and stayed in Athens.

Hell, it didn’t even have to be that extreme; I could have just spent the summer. Or a month. Or two weeks – even two days. Just to see what happened.

Derek had asked me for that – he had begged me for that.

But I had been afraid.

Afraid of not being able to control everything.

Afraid of tossing out the neat, ordered plans I’d drawn up for my life.

Wasn’t that why I stayed with Kevin?

Because he was safe?

Because he was the ‘known quantity’?

Because I didn’t have to take a chance?

Because I ‘knew’ how it would all turn out?

I was never amazingly happy when I was with Kevin, but I was rarely miserable.

Okay, the first breakup was really, really bad. But after that they just rapidly became annoying.

And trying to convince him to take me back after my indiscretion with Derek had been soul-wrenching – but that was more about my guilt and shame than it was about losing Kevin.

Nothing had ever hurt as much as hearing Derek’s voice that day in the car in Savannah, and realizing what I had thrown away:

Happiness.

Or at least a shot at it.

That’s all it ever really is, isn’t it?

Just a shot.

No promises.

Just maybe… maybe… a chance.

I remembered something else Shanna had said two nights ago.

You want to go out and live life and write about it, right? So go out and live life so you can write about it, dumbass.

I walked across the room, pushing my way past celebrities and rock stars, until I stood next to him. He was talking to two chicks, both of whom seemed ready to drop their panties at a second’s notice.

I tapped him on the shoulder.

He looked over at me. I could see my dim reflection in his Maui Jims.

“Yeah?” he asked neutrally. He might have been curious, he might have been slightly annoyed – I couldn’t really tell. Not with those fucking sunglasses in the way.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?” I asked.

I had meant it to sound nice, but it was pretty noisy in there. With my voice raised, it came out more demanding and clipped than I meant.

“Can it wait? I’m kind of in the middle of something here – ”

Without waiting for an answer, I grabbed his arm, turned around, and pulled him after me.

If he’d really wanted to stay, there was no way possible I could have moved him.

But after a second’s hesitation, he followed along behind me, through the crowd, and out of the room.

The women in a line outside screamed as we exited – so I pulled him in the opposite direction, deeper into the hallways behind the amphitheater. I think the security guys had to restrain them, but I didn’t care, as long as none of them followed us.

I didn’t say anything and neither did he until I turned left into a deserted, dark corridor.

He sighed in annoyance as I came to a stop and turned around. “Okay, so what’s so fucking important that it couldn’t have waited until after – ”

I stood on my tiptoes, reached up, took his face in my hands, and kissed him.

Just laid one on him.

POW.

JESUS it felt good.

I’d been wanting to do that for four whole years.

He was shocked – I could feel his whole body tense up – and there was a split second where I was like, Uh oh, did I just make a big mistake?

And then it was like a volcano unleashed.

He grabbed me, burying his hands in my hair, and pulled me passionately against him, kissing me like his life depended upon it – his lips against mine, his mouth opening, his tongue searching for mine –

And I opened up, totally and completely, and let him kiss me.

Deep.

Passionate.

Raw.

My head was spinning.

He took my breath away.

The kiss only lasted maybe five seconds when he reached down, grabbed my ass, and hoisted me into the air.

I shrieked, half-surprised, half-elated – and then just automatically wrapped my legs around his waist.

Then he kissed me again, our faces at the same level, his lips feverish, his mouth insistent. He stumbled forward and pressed me against the wall like he wanted to fuck me right then, right there.

I kissed him harder, like I couldn’t get enough.

I gasped as he broke off and buried his face in my hair, his mouth against my neck, and licked and kissed and bit me all at once, like a wild animal.

His hands were kneading my ass, clutching at me, deranged with need.

He shifted me higher, effortlessly, so that his face was level with my breasts, and buried himself in the open neck of my blouse, licking my cleavage, kissing my skin, then switching to my neck, biting me, kissing me with abandon, then back to my mouth, savage and primal and sex personified.

I felt one of his hands start to pull up my skirt –

“No,” I gasped. “Not here.”

He pulled away and looked at me, but I still couldn’t see anything because of his stupid fucking sunglasses.

I pulled them away from his face and pushed them back into his hair – and there they were, those gorgeous green emeralds, now dark and smoky with desire.

“The bus?” he whispered, his voice hoarse as he kissed me again.

“No,” I said, pulling my face away but letting him continue to ravage my neck with his lips. “Somewhere else… somewhere away from all this…”

“Okay,” he whispered in my ear. “Anywhere you want.”

“What about the after-party?”

“Fuck the after-party. I’ve been waiting four years for this.”

I laughed. “Then let’s go now.”

He grinned at me, set me back down on my feet – gave me another deep, animalistic kiss – and then pulled me by the hand into the hallway, both of us running at full speed.

35

We burst out the back, running like two kids in high school after the police have raided a party – delirious, screaming, laughing. We raced past startled crew members and out into the night.

The amphitheater was set off by itself, connected by a small, winding road to absolutely humongous parking lots. We ran through the darkness, and when I began to stumble on my high heels, Derek stopped and hunched over.

“Get on!” he ordered.

“What?” I asked, confused.

“Piggyback ride – come on, get on!”

I jumped on his back, screaming, laughing, and he took off again for the headlights in the distance.

It was almost an hour after the concert, and the last stragglers were leaving. We raced past cars, Derek running as fast as he could, carrying me like I was weightless, until we were almost to the end of the parking lot. There was a convertible up ahead with its top down – a beat-up, rusty Le Baron, probably 30 years old. Three college-age kids were in it – a male driver, a female passenger, and another guy in the back. They looked like nice, sweet kids – a little on the stoner side with the guys all wearing long, floppy hair and the girl sporting a knit beanie, but more clean-cut than grungy.

Derek ran up next to them and banged on the side of the car. “Hey man, can you give us a ride?”

The driver looked up in mild surprise, like he wasn’t expecting hitchhiking requests, much less such forceful ones.

Then he realized who was doing the asking.

His mouth dropped open. “Oh my God – OH MY GOD – IT’S DEREK KANE!”

The girl in the front seat put her hands next to her open mouth like McCauley Culkin in Home Alone. The kid in the back was silent, but his mouth was open big enough to stick a tennis ball in.

It was all pretty hilarious.

“Shh, keep it down – can you give us a ride?”

“Wha– yeah, of course! Get in!”

“We can’t do that!” I protested, giggling.

“Sure we can – this guy here – what’s your name, dude?”

“M-me? I’m Gary.”

“Gary here’s gonna give us a ride! Come on!”

I got off Derek’s back, and then he lifted me up like a groom does a bride, hoisted me over the side of the car, and dropped me laughing next to the backseat kid. Then he vaulted over the side himself and plopped down next to me.

“Thanks, Gary!” Derek said as he slapped the driver on the shoulder in a friendly ‘bro’ kind of way.

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