The DJ on the car stereo gives a rundown of the weather, and then James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” starts playing.
He shifts awkwardly as he turns to me. “You want to . . . dance or something?” There’s a nervous insecurity in his voice I haven’t heard before.
“You’d dance with me?”
“Isn’t that what you wanted to do tonight? Dance?” He turns up his palm for a beat then seems to think better of it and drops his hand to his side.
Before he can turn away, I rush forward and clasp my hands behind his neck. A soft, surprised laugh puffs from his lips, and his eyes are smiling as he settles his hands on my hips.
His dark hair has grown out since that first night we met. What would it feel like to slide my fingers through it? We barely move. The only dancing we’re doing is more about shifting our bodies fractionally closer and closer.
When I settle my cheek against his chest, he seems to relax. One hand shifts from my hip to the small of my back. “Why don’t you ask me about juvie or my probation? It’s all anyone else cares about, but you haven’t asked me a single question.”
I don’t look at him, sensing he wouldn’t want me to. “Do you want me to ask?”
“I don’t like it hanging between us. It makes me wonder if you’d run away if you knew the truth.”
For some inexplicable reason, those words make me want to cling to him. “How bad is the truth?”
“Could be worse, I guess. Could be better.” The song ends, and he pulls away. “I don’t want to kiss you again until you know who I am. What I am.”
“You’re Marston,” I say. Feeling bolder after a whole song in his arms, I skim my fingers over his cheek and trace the strong line of his jaw. “The boy who kissed me on my sixteenth birthday and who danced with me by Lake Blackledge in the moonlight.”
“I’m a delinquent and a thief. And I spent most of last summer homeless.” He drops his hands and backs away. My skin feels cold without his touch. “I’m not the kind of guy you should be looking to for dances or kisses or . . .” He turns away and drags a hand through his hair. “Fuck.”
I place a tentative hand against his broad back. “Are you okay?”
“Get in the car. We should go.”
A delinquent and a thief. I wonder if he really believes that’s all he is.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Brinley says. “I’m not going to let you buy my shoes.”
The shop clerk hands my card back, and I tuck it in my wallet. She was more than happy to take it and my whispered instruction that anything the birthday girl wanted was to be charged to me. “It’s already done.”
“Marston!” Even when she’s exasperated, the way she says my name turns me on. There’s just a little of that Southern honey on the first syllable, tugging down and making it a little longer.
“It’s your birthday, and I didn’t get you anything.”
“You didn’t even know we’d run into each other,” she says, blushing.
I shrug, smiling. Ever since she kissed me in the limo, I can’t stop smiling.
She stares at the new shoes and worries her bottom lip between her teeth. I normally don’t care about shoes, but seeing Brinley in these heels with a skinny strap across her toes and another around her ankle, I can understand how a man might develop a fetish. It’s impossible to look at her in these and not imagine her wearing them and nothing else.
I could tell she was trying to talk herself out of them, which is interesting, since I assumed she’d be rolling in family money by now. Hell, maybe she is and she’s more frugal than her parents ever were. Either way, I wasn’t about to let her walk away without them or let her pay for them herself.
“I love them,” she says, “but I didn’t expect you to buy me anything. This is too much.”
“It’s not. Consider it your Christmas present ten years late.”
She lifts her head, opens her mouth, then snaps it shut again before finally saying, “Thank you.”
We only had one Christmas together, and it killed me that I couldn’t spoil her. I bought her a twenty-dollar necklace from Target and even felt guilty about spending that. I had a job with the groundskeepers at Brinley’s parents’ estate and worked in the kitchen with Aunt Lori sometimes, but I used most of that money for gas, insurance on Uncle Henry’s old Civic, and money for Mom. I didn’t feel right having a warm place to sleep and three squares while she was back home trying to clean up her act and struggling to pay rent on that shithole her slumlord called a house.