Closing my eyes, I cuddled back against him and gave myself to the music. To him—even if it was just for a little while.
Song after song played, from Nickelback to Muse to Coldplay, and still I stayed in Mark’s arms. He was everything real and familiar and comfortable, but sexy too, and I found myself wishing these moments could go on forever. His arms just felt right around me. He felt right and as he held me the fact and fantasy of my life had never seemed so far from each other.
At least until there was a break in the music.
Opening my eyes slowly, reluctantly, my gaze collided with his. As it did, I could swear I felt the ground tremble beneath my feet.
My knees buckled and I probably would have fallen if Mark hadn’t been holding me. But I could no longer feel his arms around me, no longer feel his breath against my neck.
All I knew was Kona’s burning stare, his eyes dark as the stormy sea where I had first seen him as he glared at me in Mark’s arms. I don’t know if he was still mad at how I’d ignored him that morning, or if he didn’t like the way I was currently wrapped around Mark. Either way, it was obvious he was angry. My already shaky confidence plummeted to my toes as my heart skipped a beat. Two.
Kona’s jaw was tight, his fists clenched, and for a moment I thought, maybe …
I don’t know what I thought, what I was thinking, as my world crashed down around my head. Only that in those moments, everything vanished. The house, the party, my friends, my father. Even Mark. They were all gone and then it was just Kona and me and the crazy, mixed-up emotions that throbbed between us. There was certainly nothing comfortable about him—or what I felt for him. Not like it was with Mark.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that—how long we would have stayed like that—but reality crept in with a new song on the stereo. The murmur of voices. A high-pitched giggle from Bri.
I knew the exact moment Mark noticed Kona—and realized that he was staring at me with a mixture of rage and longing. Mark’s body tensed against mine, his biceps turning hard and tight where they rested outside my own. His hands, which had been holding mine so gently, tightened to the point of pain.
Normally I would call him on his jealousy, tell him how ridiculous he was being. But this time I couldn’t, not after I’d betrayed him by kissing Kona. I couldn’t help wondering how I was stupid enough to invite Kona to my party. It didn’t take a genius to figure out this would probably happen.
I winced at the thought, then regretted the involuntary action as I saw Kona react to it. His eyes, already stormy, turned the molten platinum of a hurricane-tossed sea as he started across the room toward us.
He was spoiling for a fight, and as Mark shifted in front of me, I was terrified that Kona was going to get it.
I’m not this girl, I thought frantically, attempting to put myself between them. I wasn’t a tease who played two guys against each other just to see how far they would go.
“Stop it, Mark,” I hissed, wrapping my hands around his arm and trying to tug him out of the path of Hurricane Kona. But Mark was suddenly as immovable as an island. I flashed back to every ocean storm I’d ever heard about on the news, remembering how hurricanes devastated the land masses that got in their way.
Against anyone else, Mark could more than hold his own—he hadn’t gotten his bad-boy reputation for nothing. But with Kona … I just didn’t know. And I didn’t want to find out—I couldn’t stand the idea of either being hurt because of me.
“Mark, don’t ruin my party. Come on, just ignore him.”
“How can I ignore him when he’s coming straight at us?”
“You’re the one who introduced the two of us. He probably just wants to say hello.”
“Yeah, well, when I introduced you, I didn’t expect him to make a play for you.” If possible, Mark’s stance grew even more aggressive.
I glanced around for help, figuring the entire party was watching, waiting for the fireworks to explode in the middle of my living room. But to my shock, no one was paying attention. They were all too busy talking and dancing and laughing to notice that the two sides of my world were about to collide.
What should I do, what should I do, what should I do? The words spun through my brain in a mantra of distress as Kona finally succeeded in negotiating his way through the crush of bodies.
“What are you doing here?” Mark demanded in the most abrasive tone I had ever heard him use.
“Tempest invited me.”
Mark’s fist clenched at Kona’s words and I held on to his arm as tightly as I could, ignoring Mark’s attempts to pull away from me. Though Kona was talking to him, Kona was still looking at me, which I knew was sending Mark’s anger soaring into the stratosphere.
“Yeah, well, I’m uninviting you. Leave.”
The arrogance in Mark’s statement got my back up—this was my party and he didn’t have the right to uninvite anyone. Part of me wanted to tell him to lay off the macho-man act, but I couldn’t—not then. Not without giving Mark, and Kona, the excuse for the fight both looked ready to throw down.
Kona leisurely shifted his gaze from my face to Mark’s and the change that came over him astounded me. And scared me, a little. Gone was any trace of warmth, and in its place was a shocking iciness. Days before, on the beach—before Mark had “introduced” us—they’d seemed like friends. But looking at them now, it was as if the ease of their earlier relationship had never existed.
“I don’t think you get to make that choice.”
Mark bristled. “That’s where you’re wrong.”
“Am I?” Kona raised one sardonic brow as he turned to me. “Tempest?”
I knew what he was asking, but what was I supposed to say? Anything that came out of my mouth was going to sound like I was taking sides. If I let him stay, Mark would be furious enough to take a swing at him. If I asked him to go, I might never see him again. How many rejections could a guy be expected to take, after all?
Pain radiated through me at the thought of either occurrence—not my first clue that I was in serious trouble, but definitely my most powerful one. Which left me in even more of a quandary: what was I supposed to do when it was becoming abundantly clear that I cared for both of them?
“Don’t talk to her.” Mark shoved him, hard, but Kona didn’t so much as flinch. “Talk to me.”
Even with violence looming, the chauvinism in that remark was too much for me to let pass. “Excuse me?”
“Not now, Tempest.”
“Definitely now, Mark.” I knew I was only making things worse, but I couldn’t help it. No way was I going to stand here and be dismissed—especially not when they were making me the rope in their little game of tug-of-war. “You don’t get to decide who talks to me.”
He turned incredulous brown eyes to me. “You want to hang out with this guy?”
“That’s not the point.”
“I’d say that was exactly the point,” Kona interjected helpfully.
“You stay out of this.” I turned on him, suddenly furious with both of them.
“I’m not sure I can do that, Tempest,” he answered, leaning closer to me in a deliberate attempt to provoke Mark.