She glanced at her watch. Ack! She was out
of time and probably too late as it was. David left for school at seven,
and it was already three minutes after. She quickly finished her eye
shadow, having decided to add it at the last minute after applying her
mascara. It would serve her right for her vanity to ruin her seduction.
Seduction? Funny! She stopped, frowned, then shook off the ridiculous thought
and returned the rest of her make-up to her bag. If anything, she was engaged
in a harmless flirtation. A simple testing of the waters that had been swirling
around her ankles now for months. Or that’s what she would have been doing
had she been more on the ball here this morning.
As it was, when she finally pulled open her door it was to the sound of the triplex’s
shared entrance closing downstairs. Well, crap. She was obviously more out of
practice flirting than she’d realized. So much for the best-laid, last-minute
plans, she thought with a sigh.
She hadn’t seen David--or her mother, for that matter--since leaving them
Saturday morning to the leftover croissants. She’d wondered all weekend
whether or not David had even once thought about their kiss. Not that she planned
to ask him, she mused, turning her lock and closing the door behind her. That
would be like the frosting on the cake of her obsession.
She’d only just headed toward the staircase when she heard the door at
the foot of the stairs open. She paused on the edge of the landing, looking down
as David walked inside and glanced up. Her stomach’s resident butterflies
fluttered their wings wildly at the slow lazy smile spreading over his face.
One hand on the staircase railing, she took her first step down. “Forget
He nodded, climbed two steps toward her. “I heard your door.”
The butterflies were joined by dozens of hummingbirds. It was a wonder that she
could still breathe what with all the feathers and wings and the way her nose
was itching. “You came back because you heard my door?”
Another step up, another nod. “I wanted to test my new staircase theory.”
She forced her feet to move, managing to descend two whole steps before the hummingbirds
invited four-and-twenty blackbirds to the party. Her chest tightened. Her throat
ached with her effort to speak. “What theory would that be?”
“It’s pretty simple, really.” One step, two steps, three steps,
four. His eyes glittered and he stopped. He stood almost at eye level now. Only
one lonely step remained untaken. “Now that there’s not so much baggage
in the way, I thought we might want to test out how narrow this staircase really
She pulled in a deep breath. “That baggage has weighed me down for a very
long time, you know.”
He nodded. “I know.”
“I just wanted to be sure that you did. That you didn’t think I’d
forgotten anything that happened.” A shiver coiled sharply at the base
of her spine; her fingers trembled and she tightened her grip on the railing. “That
I’d blown it off as if it were nothing.”
David’s expression softened as he studied her, his hands shoved into his
navy Dockers front pockets. She watched him flex his hands, wondering if he wanted
to reach for her because she so wished he would. “I never thought you blew
off anything, Avery. You’re not that type.”
Curious that he thought he knew her, she mused, tilting her head to one side. “What
type am I?”
He inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly. His knee shook as if he wanted more than anything
to move up that one last remaining step. But he stayed where he was. “Do
you remember when we played that football game in Alpine? Our senior year?”
She smiled. “And it was like ten degrees?”
“More like twenty,” he said with a laugh. “But, yeah. It was
cold. And afterward everyone was on the bus ready to go and yelling at me to
“But your zipper was stuck and you couldn’t get but halfway out of
your costume.” She hadn’t thought of that night for years; funny
how it had stuck so clearly with him.
“Pretty damn humiliating, I gotta say.” The corner of his mouth quirked
enough for his dimples to appear. “But you got off the bus and came around
behind me to--”
She interrupted him with a laugh. “I almost smacked you because you wouldn’t
stand still. It was like trying to help a dog who wouldn’t stop chasing
“You were so close,” he said, his face coloring slightly. “I
wanted to see you. To see what you were doing. I wasn’t used to having
cute girls feeling up my backside,” he added with a grin.
God, but he was so cute, so vulnerable in his admission. Her heart beat harder,
faster against the walls of her chest. “It was your shirt tail. You wouldn’t
have been able to get it loose on your own. You’d probably caught it when
you zipped the tornado top to the bottom.”
Chuckling, he shook his head. “You never told me that.”
She shrugged. “I’m telling you now.”
“Dumping more of that baggage?” he asked, one brow lifting.
She relaxed her death grip on the railing, knowing she was going to have to touch
him and touch him soon or totally go out of her mind. “I don’t think
of all of our shared history as baggage. Only what I caused to happen to you.”
His face darkened. “It was my choice to go after Johnny.”
“You should’ve run for help,” she said because she’d
wished so often that he had.
“You’re kidding me, right?” His voice echoed gruffly, painfully,
as if the choice to intervene had been one he’d never consciously made
but one that had been preordained. “You think I could’ve run off
and left you there?”
“Johnny was almost twice your size,” she said, sensing the argument
wasn’t going to get her anywhere. Not judging by the fierceness of David’s
“Yeah, but I was crazy in love with you.”
The tone of his voice caressed her, a soft breeze stirring the exposed tips of
her feelings, a gentle tug on her heartstrings playing their song. She’d
known of his crush, had recognized the puppy-like affection behind his flirtatious
bids for attention and ignored him, discouraged him.
But love? Crazy in love?
“Oh, David,” she said, closing the distance between them, taking
that one last step, that final step, a literal movement that meant more than
putting them face-to-face as she stood on the stair above.
And then she swallowed hard because his eyes flared with a heat she longed to
feel on her body, a heat she knew would burn her from the inside out.