He moved closer than any two friends should rightfully stand and his spicy scent enveloped me. Oh Lord, if I didn’t get a taste of those full lips I would die on this very spot.
Right this very instant.
When I looked up into his face, his eyes had become hooded.
Words were shouting inside my skull. And then they worked their way onto my lips. They were hanging there, dangling for dear life.
Just take a chance, damn it. Take a gamble, Quinn.
Kiss me and let’s find out what this magic is between us.
But he’d been the one who’d held back that other night, so the ball was in his court.
“It’s not just me who feels this, right?” Quinn mumbled. His fingers curled around my neck, his thumb mapping patterns in the hollow of my throat. “I’m not crazy?”
The words that had been so readily available just moments before had flitted away on the wind. I’d wanted this moment for days. Weeks. Maybe even years.
“There’s something here, Ella. Between us,” he whispered. His lips were a breath away and I momentarily shut my eyes to gain control of my erratic breathing.
“I don’t know what this is or what the hell might happen,” he said, rubbing his finger along the edge of my earlobe. “But I do know one thing.”
Still, I couldn’t move or even speak. I was motionless—hypnotized by his eyes, his lips, his words. Finally, my hands became unstuck and I slid them up his chest to his shoulders as he shuddered against my touch.
“I know I need to put my mouth on those pretty lips and kiss you,” he said with so much conviction, it felt like a swarm of butterflies had been let loose in my stomach. “Do you know that, too?”
His eyes now held me prisoner and all I could do was mouth the word Yes.
Then his lips closed over mine and I hummed against their warmth. His hands shifted upward and clutched at my hair, essentially holding me captive.
We stayed that way—lips joined, gazes locked, and breaths stolen. As if the world had stopped spinning while we branded the memory of each other’s mouths and eyes and hands.
And then his tongue fluttered against my lips, demanding entrance, and I was lost.
Entirely over-the-moon lost.
He groaned as his tongue slid past my lips, filling my mouth so completely, as he explored every inch in a languid rhythm.
And he tasted . . . God, he tasted like the best kind of dessert. Like banana cream pie and fried dough mixed together. As he caressed my tongue, my teeth, the roof of my mouth, I was sure the rush I felt had nothing to do with sugar.
I slid my hands down his biceps to his waist and pushed firmly against him. I wanted to get as near as I could in case this was the first and last time I’d have this opportunity.
He released my mouth and dragged his lips along my jaw and then down to my neck. I felt his hot tongue against my skin as he bit and licked his way to my ear.
His hands slid down my back to cup my ass. “Damn it, Ella. You’re sexy as hell.” He hauled me tightly against him and my entire body thrummed. We fit so snugly together that I could feel his arousal pulsing against my stomach.
I couldn’t help the noise that erupted from the back of my throat.
He paused in his perusal of my neck and looked up at me, his eyes dark. So damn dark.
“You drive me insane when you make that sound.” Then his lips crashed against mine, hard and insistent, as my fingers clawed at his shoulders. His wet tongue probed the seam of my lips and I parted them so he could deepen the kiss.
His hands released my ass and slid back up to my hair. “Did you even realize what you were doing to me that night in the bathroom?”
He pulled my bottom lip into his mouth and sucked it hungrily as I whimpered against him. “Ella, you make me fucking crazy.”
Then he gave me a melting kiss, his tongue slowing us down to its drugging rhythm.
And this kiss. This one.
It made me swoon so completely that I nearly turned liquid and slid onto the ground into a soggy mess. I knew we were in public but I didn’t even care.
No guy had ever told me I was sexy. Made me feel this desirable.
I was the sweet, cute, good girl.
Never gorgeous. Beautiful. Sexy.
But with Quinn, this reckless part of me had transformed into this vixen I had only ever dreamt of becoming. If he’d wanted to lay me down on the grass and rip off my clothes, I would have let him; that’s how incredibly turned on I’d become.
But the saner part of me—the rational part—knew that we’d need to stop. Eventually. Before we put on an erotic show for the world to see.
But for this singular, mesmerizing moment, as the moonlight filtered through the gleaming pine needles, I wanted—I needed—this final, toe-curling kiss.
“Suicide prevention line. This is Gabriella.”
I tried finding my confident voice. “Gabby.”
Even though I didn’t feel like driving headlong into a tree tonight, I still found it tough to dial this number. Gabby had sort of become a salvation for me, and for that I would be eternally grateful.
“Daniel,” she said, her voice laced with worry. Maybe she thought I was holding a damn revolver to my head or something.
“Hi.” I had driven out to the cliff again tonight and now sat perched along the edge.
“Hi.” I heard her swallow. “How are you feeling tonight?”
“That’s kind of why I’m calling.” This time as I looked down into the shadowy water below, I didn’t feel the urge to jump.
“Okay,” she said. “Go for it. I’m here to listen.”
“The last time we spoke, I told you what happened that night,” I said. “The night that changed my life. Changed a lot of people’s lives.”
“Yes, of course. I remember,” she said and it sounded like she took a sip of something. Coffee, soda, water.
I didn’t know anything about her. What she looked like, how old she was, where she lived. Only that she was this calming voice. This peaceful force that permitted me to spill my guts. Spill my soul. There was something about her that felt so familiar to me, but it may as well have been her gentle demeanor, her insightful advice that made me feel so comfortable.
“I’ve been thinking about the power I held in my hands that night,” I said. “I mean, I shift my car one way, crash into a truck, and everybody’s world is turned upside down.”
“And how did that make you feel?”
“Powerless.” I took a deep breath. “It’s so crazy, but that’s exactly how I felt. Because of everything going on inside of me. And inside of the car.”
There was a long silence as Gabby considered what I’d said.
“You were just trying to get your friends home. And struggling to figure out how you felt about a certain girl. Typical stuff that happens in a teenager’s life,” she said. “See, Daniel. That’s why you’re a good person. You couldn’t help everything that happened; it was just an accident. You weren’t trying to mess with anybody’s life.”
This time when she told me I was good, I didn’t even flinch. I didn’t try to fight it. I’d thought about it long and hard since the last time she’d told me the same thing.
She paused and I heard her chair squeak as she adjusted herself. “If your best friend had been in the driver’s seat, how would it have gone differently?”
“Maybe he would have had more control,” I said. “Of his emotions, of the car.”
“You’d never know that for sure,” she said. “Even if someone appears to have it all together all the time, you can never predict the other factors that come into play. Road conditions, state of mind, others drivers’ actions. Everything comes together to create those circumstances. That’s what makes life so mysterious, so fragile, so precious.”
I thought about how many times I’d driven with Bastian when he’d had one too many. It was the exact reason why I’d started laying off the booze and become the designated driver. I was afraid he’d kill us. And instead, I’d been the one to kill him. And I wasn’t even drunk.
“Is that what bothers you—the fact that you lost control of the car?” Gabby asked.
“The uncertainty of what happened in that moment is probably what kills me the most.”
“Uncertainty keeps a lot of people up at night,” she said. “Tell me what you mean.”
“My passenger . . .”
“Yeah. She said that she noticed the truck veering close to our lane as we got on the freeway. So maybe it was my fault. I didn’t notice or react in time,” I said. “For days after she blamed me, screamed at me, that her boyfriend was dead.”
“It’s natural for a person to direct his or her anger somewhere in a time of grief. Even you did that—you directed yours inward,” she said, and I realized how right she was.
Still, I couldn’t tell her that my parents had paid off the truck driver, that he’d admitted his guilt, because it didn’t matter. I couldn’t believe any of that was true. “It all happened too fast. I got on the freeway, the truck was in the lane next to me, and we sideswiped each other.”
“What else do you remember, Daniel?”
“I remember seeing the truck in my peripheral view. But I also remember her fingers interlaced in mine and how that felt. And just being on automatic, driving along, and then boom,” I said as my stomach clenched and the tears loomed at the corners of my lashes, threatening to splash down my face. “The impact. Our heads swinging forward and the car spinning. Her screaming . . . hitting the guardrail and the sound of glass shattering . . . metal crunching.”
My throat closed up and my voice became ragged as I tried to suck in air through my teeth.
“And then silence. Eerie, ugly silence. For hours, it seemed, but it was probably only seconds,” I whispered as I remembered all of it. “And then heavy breathing . . . groaning, as she and I tried to get out of the car. Then the blare of a siren. The sounds of voices . . . shouting . . . a commotion.”
“And what did you think in that very moment, right before the rescue squad got there?” she asked. “What was the one thought that entered your mind?”
“I thought . . . I thought . . .” No one had ever asked me that question before, and, fuck, that moment was so crazy. It was like the very second before a tornado obliterated everything in your life. That’s how singular that moment had felt. “I hoped—I prayed—that the worst thing that’d happened had been totaling my father’s car.”
We fell into silence, while I steadied my trembling hands, my shaky breaths. I’d just revealed my memories and feelings about the car crash. Something that for years had consumed, eradicated, and destroyed me to the very depths of my soul.
After another minute, Gabby asked, “And has that feeling you had in the car—that things might end up being all right—been smothered completely, Daniel?”
“That’s why I called tonight,” I said. “Because you asked me a question the last time we talked.”
“Yes, I did,” she said. “I asked what kept you alive.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And I recognized what it was the other day.”
“What is it?”
“I realize that I still have a tiny sliver of hope buried deep inside me.” It was the emotion I’d experienced the moment I stepped foot in my garage during spring break. Admitting that out loud was freeing. It loosened the mud, the grime, the cement—caked around my guilt-filled grave.
“Hope for what, Daniel?”
“Hope that someday I’ll be normal again, at least a little. That I’ll feel something again, besides numb.” I took a long and deep fortifying breath. One that I hadn’t been able take in so damn long. “Hope that maybe someday I can live again. Really live again.”
I didn’t mention that I also hoped that Ella could be in my life. To help me forget. And make me feel alive. But the thought was certainly there, at the forefront of my mind.
“That’s awesome, Daniel.”
“But . . . how can I live, if he’s dead?”
“Because you just have to. For you. You, Daniel,” she said, and I was beginning to believe her. “To make your life mean something. No matter how small. And it can’t mean anything if you’re walking around dead.”
The weight of the world that had been living and breathing upon my shoulders was suddenly lifting. Gabby’s voice had become the anchor to the new life I could possibly open myself up to.
“Daniel?” she said. “That’s what I hope for you, too.”
“Quinn came to Easter dinner with your family?” Avery asked, primping in the bathroom mirror. “Damn, why did Adam and I have to miss it this year? I would have enjoyed watching the show.”
I rolled my eyes. “Mom said to tell you hello, by the way.”
“I certainly missed her food. My mouth is watering just thinking about it,” she said, smacking her pink lips together. “Did your mom have the potato-and-cheese pillow things again?’
“Pierogies? We made a fresh batch of them that morning,” I said, applying my mascara. “Of course, I brought some home for you. They’re in the freezer.”
“I knew I loved you for a reason, bitch,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “Now tell me about Quinn.”
“He was great. And he seemed to really appreciate being there,” I said, opening my blush compact. “I guess he was raised by nannies and cooks since his parents were always traveling. I was bummed to hear that.”