Lily jumps to her feet the second the seat belt light shuts off, popping open the overhead compartment and pulling out a bag. A laptop bag, from the size of it.
With the coveted laptop most likely lying inside.
I curl my fingers into my palms, resting them on my knees. I want that bag. No. Scratch that. My client wants that bag—more like what’s inside of it. So I want it, too.
And I will do anything to get it.
I FELT HIM before I saw him. his gaze on me. assessing. Watching. I let him look his fill, keeping my head bent, my eyes firmly locked on the magazine lying open on my propped thighs. It’s ruining my chance to get an even tan, so I’ll need to ditch the magazine soon, but for now, it’s the perfect ruse.
Pretending to read while I look to my left to catch him staring. He doesn’t realize I know yet. And he’s good. No one would be wise to his covert spying.
But I am. I’ve been spied upon my entire life. The media has trailed after my sisters and me, my father, and my grandmother since I can remember. We’re public figures, given accolades when we do something good and torn to shreds when we do something awful.
Well. Most everyone in my family does good. I’m the something-awful one. I do stupid things on a regular basis. I should know better by now but then again, why give up my reputation? I’ve worked hard putting it together since I was in my early teens. Besides, it’s the perfect front.
After all these years of being such a publicly mocked figure, I know when someone’s got his eyes on me. It’s like a sixth sense or something. And when I know people are watching, sometimes I put on a show. On rare occasions, I confront them and send ’em running—or snapping away with their cameras so they can capture me enraged with headlines like “Lily Fowler’s Lost It Again!”
Most of the time, I pretend I don’t know they exist. I act like I’m blissfully unaware some shitty photographer is ready to snap a picture of me sunbathing topless (yep, that’s happened more than once) or about to kiss and grope a guy at a nightclub (that’s happened, too).
This guy, though … he’s not giving me the paparazzi vibe. He’s probably older than me, but not beyond thirty. His hair is dark. Cropped fairly close on the sides though a little longish on top, with a slight wave. An alluring wave that softens all those hard, harsh lines. His jaw is firm, his expression like stone, and his lips … they look like they might be soft as well, but he’s too far away to get a good look. Sunglasses hide his eyes, but I don’t need to see them.
I can still feel them on me.
He’s wearing black swim trunks with a subtle white tropical print and nothing else, sitting on a large white towel from the hotel on the scorching-hot sand, his knees bent, his looped arms resting on them, acting like he doesn’t have a care in the world. His shoulders are broad, his body trim and fit. A young couple go running by him, chasing each other like they’re little kids and kicking up sand as they pass and he makes a tiny grimace every time, but otherwise, no reaction. He’s alone. There’s no other towel beside the one he’s sitting on. No woman asking him to put more sunscreen on her shoulders, no friends hanging out with him.
Could he be a photographer? Part of the paparazzi? I recognize a lot of them by now, so I doubt it. Unless he was sent as a ruse to trick me, but damn it, I’m pretty untrickable by now. Besides, I look nothing like my usual self, so I doubt I’m being followed. The Lily Fowler party-girl persona is back in New York where I left her a few days ago. I of course had to book my flight under my real name, but the airlines don’t release that information to freaking reporters, so ha ha on them.
The minute I stepped off the plane yesterday and felt the warm air caress my skin, I took a deep, cleansing breath and felt like I’d shed my armor. Here on Maui, I am nothing but a simple girl on vacation. No makeup, no flashy jewelry, no expensive clothing, no guys trying to get in my panties, no girls trying to be my friend in the hopes I’ll make them popular. I left the trappings behind, like a snake shedding its skin.
Reborn. Fresh and unsoiled.
My thoughts almost make me laugh. In fact, a giggle escapes me and I press my fingers to my lips, suppressing it. “Unsoiled,” that’s a joke. I gave up the goods long, long ago in the hopes that I’d find someone to love me. My beautiful mother loved me with all her heart, or so she claimed.
But she didn’t love me or my sisters enough to keep herself alive. She’d chosen to be dead rather than raise her children. And that hurt. Daddy didn’t love me anymore, if he ever did. I became a burden. All three of his daughters did. We were just reminders that he had a wife and she left him in the cruelest way possible.
Instead of seeking love and approval from my family, I sought it in other ways. Boys. Partying. Alcohol. Drugs. By the time I got my shit together and was ready to do right by the world? No one cared. They still saw me as Lily the party girl. So I decided to give them what they wanted and kept it up. Why disappoint them?
Glancing out of the corner of my eye, I see he’s still watching me, though he averts his head quickly when I look his way. Hmm. Interesting. Could he be just a regular guy on vacation who thinks I’m pretty? He’s alone, I’m alone; it would make sense that maybe we could get together. The resort we’re at does cater to singles and young couples …
Huh. I doubt it. He’s too good-looking to be out trolling for a woman, unless he’s a complete creeper, which he might be. Is he the type who goes on vacation by himself to pick up a woman? That seems like a lot of extra effort. And I’m not here on vacation. I’m on the run. In hiding. Just for a little bit. I pissed off the wrong people—or person; I’m not sure who all knows what I did. So rather than face my problems head on, I got the hell out of Manhattan, stat.