My capacity to be social-butterfly girl having officially been exhausted, I eke out one last polite smile and excuse myself under the guise of needing to use the little girls’ room. Taking the narrow wooden staircase up to Ben’s master suite, I almost make it to the top when I have to close my eyes and slump against the wall, completely drained.
I never got into the whole superhero craze. It’s the hero part that turns me off, what with all the hard work and unavoidable notoriety. No, thanks. Superpowers, on the other hand, I can totally get on board with.
When I was six, I thought walking was the most boring thing ever, so I wore a cape each time I left the house, just in case I developed the ability to fly. A few years later, I read Matilda for the first time and started staring at random objects, convinced I could move them with my mind. And in high school...well, what pimply redhead with excessive orthodontia wouldn’t kill to be invisible?
These days, more than anything, I’d love the power to clear my mind. Wipe every last obsessive, disruptive thought from it, leaving only total silence. I think the scientific term for that is brain dead, but I call it bliss.
No superpowers here, though, just a fully functioning brain. Or a malfunctioning one. I’ll leave that for the experts to decide.
Shoving off the wall, I clear the final step and have a fucking heart attack when I see a tall, broad silhouette blocking one of the windows.
At the sound of his name, he looks over his shoulder, wearing a heart-stopping smile meant just for me.
Simply put, the man steals my breath, leaving my lungs empty and aching. In the dim light of the room, he’s dark and handsome from head to toe, with his glossy black hair, black dress shirt, and charcoal gray pants. Until this moment, I thought only my grandmom and black-and- white movie stars used the word debonair, but Andy DelVecchio is very much here and now and debonair as fuck.
His beauty both lures me in and screams danger, kind of like the first time we met. Only I didn’t know him then, and he didn’t know me. I’m starting to think we were better off that way.
“Peach.” His deep voice caresses my nickname, making my heart stutter, and my hand flies to my chest, clutching my literal pearls. “I saw you down there. You really are an angel tonight,” he says, gesturing at, well, all of me.
My knee-jerk response is to reject and deny his words, but instead of keeping that response to myself, my impulsive mouth sets it free. “I’m no angel. Trust me.”
Why I blurt that out is beyond me. It’s not my usual M.O. to open myself up to further discussion about my flaws. They exist. They’re obvious. No need to poke at them.
Stepping farther into the room, I perch on the edge of Ben’s bed, crossing my ankles and folding my hands in my lap. Andy sits beside me, so close our thighs almost touch. I freeze, keeping a watchful eye on the two inches of space between us to make sure they don’t get any radical ideas, like shrinking or disappearing altogether.
“Nobody’s perfect, babe. Some people just come closer to it than others. Benny’s practically a saint, and you...” His rich, brown eyes meet mine, and I can’t look away. I’m trapped by his gaze, with no real desire to break free. “Like I said, you’re an angel. You’ve just got a few broken feathers. That’s all.”
Try a few hundred.
“Ben might be close to perfect, but I’m...” I trail off, shaking my head to finish the thought. Best to keep sidestepping that conversational landmine. “You should hear the way he talks about you, though. It’s embarrassing, really. He’s all, ‘Andy’s super talented.’ ‘Andy’s so much cooler than I’ll ever be.’ ‘Andy’s the absolute shit.’”
Okay, so I’m paraphrasing a bit, but the sentiment is pretty accurate.
Andy’s booming laugh fills the room with pure, concentrated awesomeness. It’s impossible to hear that sound and put up a decent fight against fangirl-level giddiness. I dare anyone to try. It can’t be done.
I watch his hand comb through his dark, silky hair, then drop into the small but precious gap between his leg and mine. When his knuckles graze my outer thigh, every muscle in my body stiffens. He jerks his hand back.
The shame on his face causes me real, physical pain because there’s nothing I can do to take it away. I can’t touch his cheek, I can’t hold his hand, and I certainly can’t tell him it’s okay. We both know it’s not.
For better or worse, I’m incapable of lying to Andy. Something about his bold, fearless nature strips me bare. Bare and exposed, like my cleavage. Stupid breasts...
“Benny’s got it backwards, believe me,” Andy says, getting us back on topic. The topic of Ben—our mutual friend, whom we both like and respect. “I don’t know where I’d be without the guy, and I’m not just sayin’ that. I’ll never be able to repay him for all the things he’s done for me, but I’m gonna spend my life tryin’.”
After a beat of heavy silence, his voice takes on a note of finality. “I can’t ever betray him.”
His words bypass my brain and shoot straight to my heart, but I refuse to pay any attention to the ache they cause. No good can come from it.
“What about you?” he asks. “You must really like my boy, if you’re willin’ to put up with my obnoxious ass all the time.”
My throat constricts, and I have to swallow a few times before I can answer. “Ben’s amazing. How could I not like him?”
Truth is, I more than like Ben. I’ve more than liked him since day one, when I couldn’t bring myself to kick him off my blanket at the park. He’s witty and kind and gentle, but with an underlying passion that draws me in and refuses to let me go. Everything about him is magnetic, and I’ve been stuck on him from the start.
“He likes you, too, you know.”
Andy’s gaze goes all hot and intense, and I get the uneasy impression he’s willing me to hear something he’s not saying. That maybe Ben’s not the only one who...
No. If he won’t say it, then I don’t need to stress myself out over it. Especially since that’s not something I could handle hearing. Not now, not ever.