“Too bad you have nowhere to go with those fancy dresses of yours. You’re such a pretty girl,” Betty says with a sigh, making me blush. Yes, I’ve heard that before but I don’t feel pretty. Not anymore. Pretty little Alexandria McIntosh doesn’t exist anymore. She hasn’t for months, closer to a year.
Now I’m Alex Asher—I took Mom’s maiden name. I like the way it sounds. I’m starting to like who I am as Alex Asher. Studious, quiet, down to earth. The old Alex wouldn’t have given that guy I met at the bar Steven the time of day.
The new Alex actually gave Steven her phone number. He texted last night, asking me if I wanted to go out to dinner.
I accepted. Maybe he’s not my normal type but nothing about my life is normal any longer. Going out with a sweet, average guy might be just the thing I need.
At least he’s not sexy trouble like Tristan Prescott.
“You’re too kind, Betty.” I tug my purse closer to my side and head for the door. “And you’re the beautiful one. See you around.”
The door shuts on Betty’s cackling laughter—I think she liked it that I called her beautiful—and I head down the narrow driveway toward my storage unit. The place is seemingly endless and it all looks the same. Just as Betty warned, it’s gloomy outside, the sky seeming to darken with every minute that passes and I quicken my steps, deciding I need to grab my dresses and go, no dawdling allowed.
I’m gathering up the dress bags when the wind starts up, so hard it slams the unit’s door shut, shrouding me in darkness. I rush to throw it back open, pulling on the little chain that turns on the single light bulb swinging from the ceiling. I buzz around the narrow space, nearly tripping over the stacks of bins full of my belongings. Items that represent my old life, stuff I still can’t seem to let go.
Eventually, I’m going to have to let it all go.
Within minutes I’ve got so many dresses to haul out in my arms I know I’m going to look ridiculous hopping on the bus to head back to my house but I really don’t care. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do and anyway, I don’t have a car. I probably could’ve asked Kelli to help out—she bought a cute used lime green VW bug right before the semester started, but I don’t want to tell her what I’m doing. She’ll think I’m weird.
And then she’ll start asking questions. Questions I don’t want to answer.
Just as I’m locking up the storage unit and fighting against the intense wind, the rain starts to fall. Yanking my hoodie over my head I run for the covered bus stop that sits in front of the storage facility, thankful the dresses are protected by plastic. I hop over quickly forming puddles, splashing water everywhere when I land in a couple, cursing under my breath the entire time. When I finally collapse on the damp bench seat, I press my face into the folds of my sweatshirt, praying the bus will show up soon.
But of course, it doesn’t. Fifteen minutes pass and I’m already freaking drenched. My Converse shoes are soaked through to my socks, as are my leggings up to my knees. The rain hits the plastic garment bags and rolls off, dripping directly onto me. It’s starting to get cold, the shelter a weak buffer against the increasing winds. My legs are shaking and I squeeze the dresses closer to me, groaning when all the beaded raindrops fall off the garment bags and onto my sweatshirt.
I stand and go to the edge of the sidewalk, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bus approaching. My hoodie falls off with the movement at the same exact time a car goes speeding by, so close it tosses up water that had built up around the nearby clogged drain. Splashing me right in the face, making me screech in shock.
Like I’m straight out of some ridiculous, can’t-get-it-right, having-the-worst-day-ever comedy movie.
I wipe the water away from my face as best I can, telling myself I can’t cry. I’m stronger than that. So what that I’m getting soaked by a crazy rainstorm? I’ve dealt with worse. Once I get home I can shed all of my clothes and soak under a nice, hot shower. That ought to warm me up. Make me forget my troubles.
Another car approaches and I step back, shoving my hoodie onto my head. The car slows and comes to a stop directly in front of where I’m standing and I frown, hoping it’s not some pervert asking for directions.
Or worse, asking if I want a ride. I’ve had a few weird guys stop and ask me that since I started taking public transit and it sucks.
The passenger side window rolls down and I see a head peek through. A very familiar head, with rich brown hair and a too-handsome face.
A knot forms in my stomach when I hear his deep, slightly raspy, stupidly sexy voice.
“Alexandria? Is that really you?”
I glare at him. “Go away.”
“It is you.” He grins like a loon. “Get in. I’ll give you a ride.”
“No.” I lift my chin, trying to look as dignified as possible while knowing I resemble a drenched rat. “I’m waiting for the bus.”
“You’re soaked. My car is nice and warm. Come on.” He sounds exasperated which only irritates me further.
Why does he have to see me at my worst moment? I look awful. I’m cold. I just want to go home.
Tristan can give you a ride home…
I press my lips together. Hell no.
“Roll up your window and go away. Find some other girl to kiss on.” I wince the second the words slip out of my mouth. I sound like a jealous shrew. And I’m not one, I swear. He can go make out with whoever he wants.
As long as it’s not me.
Lies, lies, lies.
“You’re being ridiculous.” He throws the car in park and rolls up the window before getting out, dashing toward me in the pouring rain, ridiculously good looking as the rain plasters his shirt to his shoulders and chest, showcasing all of those delicious muscles. Just like that my blood starts to hum. Ugh. “Give me whatever you’re holding and I’ll put it in my trunk.”
I shove the wet pile of dresses into his arms and run to open the passenger side door, sliding into the seat and slamming myself inside. The car is warm and smells faintly of spice and man.
Don’t do it. You’re not a freak. You’re not…
Taking a deep breath, I close my eyes. Freaking Tristan smells amazing. He’s listening to some nineties grunge station on the satellite radio but the volume is turned down low. The interior is immaculate. Black leather seats with silver trim. I assumed his car would be a dump with empty beer cans rolling around on the floorboard but I guess I was wrong.
Why this makes me happy, I’m not sure.
Pushing off my soggy hood, I try to smooth out my damp, tangled hair, pulling down the visor so I can study myself in the lit mirror.
Gah. I look like straight hell. My hair is a wreck, my cheeks are bright pink from the cold and there are black smudges of mascara under my eyes. I wipe them away as best I can, slamming the visor back up when the driver’s side door opens and Tristan climbs into the car. He turns to look at me without saying a word and I study him, my breath lodged in my throat.
His presence seems to overwhelm the small confines of his car and I press my lips together, struggling to say something. But no words come. All I can do is stare, my gaze eating him up. His damp hair, the way it curls around his ears and neck. The scruff on his jaw and chin, the shape of his mouth. His lips are…mesmerizing. Almost the same size, the bottom lip is a little fuller and when his tongue sneaks out to lick the very center of that perfect bottom lip, my brain just—shuts off.