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Rush Me, Page 2

Allison Parr

  I stopped just inside the door.

  Usually, I liked Eva’s theatre parties. The people all felt familiar, like favorite books, artsy and open and over-dramatic. Liza Minnelli played between top forty hits, cueing improvisational vocal riffs. But tonight, I could have mistakenly entered an adolescent clothing store. Music pounded through crowded, dimly lit rooms. A hundred perfumes and colognes thickened the air, an extra layer above the sweat and spilled alcohol. Over the heads of dozens of twenty-somethings I took in a wet bar and blasting speakers.

  This couldn’t be right. Maybe the host was a very successful Broadway actor? Or had a trust fund roommate? I was pretty sure apartments this large cost a currency of souls.

  A guy stumbled by me and grinned. I frowned back at him. He had broad shoulders and an oversized sports jersey. Method actor?

  After texting Eva, I made my way toward the bar, scanning the room for anyone I recognized. Everything looked off. A disproportionate amount of large, heavily muscled guys kept company with girls in tight dresses and high hooker heels, their hair long and flowing. I would’ve needed to straighten my curls with an industrial strength iron to fit in.

  With damp, nervous hands I took a rum and soda from the bartender, before looking for a quiet corner to hide in and chain-call Eva. I’d made the wrong choice; now that I was on the opposite side of the room from the exit, the mosh-pit had thickened, and the only hope for silence meant going deeper into the apartment. Turning my back on the pulsing bodies, I ducked down the first hall I found, hoping for a side room or bathroom to hide away in.

  The bathroom was locked, but the second door I tried swung open. I took a step forward, pausing as my sight adjusted to the darkness. I squinted. Furniture wasn’t shaped that way...

  Then I gasped, as the darkness separated into two figures. One tall and standing, the other—rather lower. Holy shit. I stared at the woman.

  “Do you mind?” she finally said.

  I snapped my eyes away and up, staring at the guy. Then I stopped. He was beautiful, like Michelangelo’s David, or the discus-thrower, and by the smirk on his face—or the girl on her knees—he knew it. I gawked at him, and his amusement deepened.

  “Well?” His pale eyes glinted. “Get in or get out.”

  I gasped again and slammed the door. Low laughter filtered through.

  My cheeks burned. Good God. That was actually shocking, wasn’t it? Get in? Was he suggesting...

  My cheeks flamed hotter. Of course he was.

  I pushed back into the main rooms, snagging another drink for fortification. The door remained an unreachable goal, blocked by a hundred drunken, swaying bodies. How was I supposed to get out? Maybe I could place my hands together and burrow between people, like a fish. I bit back a hysterical giggle, steeled my shoulders, and took a step. A girl elbowed me backward. “Hey, watch it,” she shot, her Long Island drawl nasty. The guy at her side, who was closing in on three hundred pounds but missing a neck, glared at me with beady eyes. I stepped away, my gaze washing over the crowd. To my right, a fist swung through the air and connected with another man’s nose.

  What had I gatecrashed?

  A couple girls shrieked. High-pitched, girly shrieks. They teetered away from the altercation.

  Okay, definitely not a theatre party. I’d witnessed gossip and drama, but they were meant to be heard and seen. There were no thickheaded guys battling it out, nor whimpering girls with wide eyes acting like wounded deer.

  Well, now. This was awkward.

  Apparently I wasn’t getting out through the main room. Not with fists flying, and the crowd forming a solid mass. But I couldn’t handle the muddle of cries and music, and strangers. I wanted quiet, and bright lights, and I wanted to be wearing an oversized T-shirt, not a clingy green slip dress

  And I wanted my Ben and Jerry’s, damn it.

  Someone bumped into me. I assumed it was just one of the crowd, but when I shifted back, a hand followed, running up my side. A slurred voice sounded by my ear. “Hey, baby.”

  That was it. I dropped my now empty glass on a table and headed deeper into the apartment, through the hallway and then up a staircase blocked by a doggy-gate with a sign that read YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

  Sorry, Gandalf. I would, and I’d collect my damn two hundred dollars, too, thanks-very-much.

  Steadying myself on the gate, I swung my legs over and headed up into the off-limit floor of the apartment.

  Chapter Two

  The second floor held three doors, and I chose the one in the middle. The lights revealed a bright, comfortable bedroom. Jeans and sweatshirts lay crumpled on the floor. Rumpled sheets and blankets were pulled up in a semblance of tidiness. I draped my scarf over the desk chair as I studied the books on the shelves, the knickknacks and pictures.

  A young black man showed up over and over, as a child with his family, and later with friends and a stunningly beautiful woman. In those, the man’s face shone with adoration. He grew not only taller but broader, his shoulders hinting at an albatross-like wingspan, muscles rippling down his arms. The room’s owner, I presumed. His laptop sat on the desk and I wondered if it would be wrong to go over and check my email.

  Hmm. Yes. Maybe I was tipsier than I supposed.

  Instead, I dragged myself to one of the walls to study a print hanging above the bed. A full moon streaked bright across a lake scene. The white and orange of the shore were painted in familiar, wobbling waves, and I studied it for a minute, trying to make a connection. I’d never quite finished my minor in Art History—or my minor in Classics, or the one in Philosophy—but I’d gone through enough classes to recognize the famous ones. Edvard Munch. There’d been a print of The Scream, a ghoulish Expressionist painting, in one of my classrooms.

  Satisfied that I hadn’t forgotten all of my training, I perched on the edge of the bed and flipped through the magazines on the side table. They were addressed to a Malcolm Lindsey, who I assumed must be the guy in the pictures. I picked up Sports Illustrated, which lay atop Wired and something on cars.

  What was Sports Illustrated even about? I had the vague idea that it pictured lots of half naked women. Or maybe that was only the swimsuit edition? I couldn’t fathom reading an entire magazine on sports, illustrated or otherwise. People running around hitting a ball with their feet, or catching it and throwing it again? Okay. Maybe we should be spending more money on the education system?

  “Reading up on the team?”

  I yanked my head out of the magazine, abruptly aware that I’d snuck into a private room. When I saw the man in the doorway, my stomach plummeted.

  Oh. Great.

  Mr. Get In or Get Out stepped into the room. In full light, I could tell his angelic good looks hadn’t come from my imagination. Tousled honey-blond hair topped a face of sharp angles and smooth planes. Broad shoulders tapered to a narrow waist, and since he’d misplaced his shirt I had an unobstructed view of the well-defined abs and golden glow usually seen on billboard models. An arrow of dusky golden hair pointed below his dangerously low riding jeans. I swallowed sharply and jerked my chin up.

  He moved closer and the door swung shut behind him, cutting off the party’s din. “What are you doing here? This room’s off limits.”

  “Then what are you doing here?” I shot back, my spine stiffening. Queen of debate, that’s me.

  He raised a golden brow. “My friend owns the apartment.”

  Oh. I hadn’t expected a legitimate answer. I watched in silence as he swept open a dresser drawer and yanked a navy T-shirt out. His abdomen tightened and rippled as he pulled the shirt down, and I stared, enthralled, until the fabric blocked out my view. He reached up and gave his hair a rustle. “Are you sick or something?”

  I tore my gaze, once more, from his body and concentrated on the wall behind him. “Uh, no.”

  “Hiding from someone?”

  I frowned. “Who would I be hiding from?”

  “You tell me,” he drawled. “You’re the one hidden aw
ay in a room that’s supposed to be locked. You do get that the party is downstairs, right?”

  “I wanted some quiet.” And for the floor to conveniently open up and swallow me whole. Would explaining I’d accidentally gatecrashed the party be better or worse than pretending I’d retreated here to relax? I looked longingly at the bed, imagining my own feather quilt and the calmness of my room. “I wanted to get away from all those people. I just wanted...privacy.”

  “I see.” He lowered his voice to a murmur and his body down beside me. His thigh grazed mine. Unexpected heat jolted through my body, and I yanked my face up to meet his gaze. His eyes were relentlessly blue, steady blue, like the sky in winter, or the waters off the Italian coast.

  His fingers pushed a curl behind my ear, trailed down my jaw line, and stroked, soft as whispers, down my neck. In a dazed, blue fog, I was barely aware of his other hand cupping my shoulder, his body angling over mine, and my weight gliding down into the quilt cloud. Aware of nothing, really, until lips brushed against mine and shattered the spell.

  Shaken, I lurched to my feet, shoving the blond away. “What the hell are you doing?” I asked, embarrassed to find my voice shaking. I swallowed. God, my whole body trembled. If we’d lived four centuries before I would’ve sworn he’d used witchcraft.

  He looked up at me from a sprawl, and a smile curled his lips. “Oh, come on. You’re looking for privacy in a bedroom?”

  My cheeks flamed. “I know it sounds unlikely,” I said from between gritted teeth. “But I was. And I’m not interested.”

  By the way his eyes narrowed, I could tell that hadn’t been the wisest thing to say. “Really.” He perused my body in a deliberately intimate manner. “You’re sure about that.”

  I shivered and concentrated once more on the wall. “You’re not my type.”

  “And what’s your type?” He rose and came toward me with the slow strides of a big cat.

  Artistic. Funny. Bespectacled. Not a golden, arrogant prince with a warrior’s body.

  But God, those eyes cut through me.

  As though he could read my thoughts, he smiled in satisfaction. Or maybe my face had no originality compared to all the others he had read. And I thought, why not? We were alone. He didn’t know that I didn’t do one-night stands, that I didn’t care for frat boy jock types, that I wasn’t that girl. And he was beautiful, and I was lonely, and maybe, just briefly, I could let down my walls and be carefree and reckless and young.

  “Dammit, Ryan.” A newcomer spoke with the slow, tinged vowels of the South, and my walls slammed right back into place. “I told you to leave my bedroom alone.”

  The room’s owner—Malcolm Lindsey, I presumed—stood in the doorway, his muscles even more intimidating than the blond’s. He shook his shaved head and made to leave. “Just lock the door when you’re done—I forgot earlier.”

  “Oh.” Ryan looked almost disappointed as I was cleared of breaking and entering. “That was you.”

  I took a step away from Ryan. Thank God for the interruption. What had I been thinking? Hadn’t I already proven I was no good at sleeping with people without attachment? Well, I’d had some small—minuscule—attachment to John, but that hadn’t ended well. Fool me twice... “Please don’t leave.”

  Malcolm raised his brows at the blond.

  Ryan grinned. “She’s a little high strung.”

  “I’m not high strung!” Which, admittedly, did not do much to convince anyone otherwise. I took a deep breath. “There’s been a misunderstanding.”

  “Yeah,” Ryan leaned back against the wall. “I thought she was sane.”

  I conjured up my most withering glare. “You thought I was easy,” I corrected, and then I frowned. “Wait, so I’d have to be insane to not be interested in you?”

  Malcolm started to laugh, a low, warm chuckle, opening his mouth to show off perfect orthodontist work before slapping Ryan on the back. “Guess those magic hands finally failed you.”

  “Please.” Ryan’s eyes locked on mine. “She’s just scared of how much she wants me.”

  Hot embarrassment flashed through me at how close he’d come to the truth, and I crossed my arms tightly. “Where the hell did you get such a large ego?”

  Malcolm’s grin grew even larger, and he cocked his head at me. “Probably from being Ryan Carter.”

  “Which means what?”

  The two guys exchanged a disbelieving look. “For the Leopards?”

  The name tickled, like a phrase I’d read a hundred times but never quite committed to memory. Weren’t sports teams often named after animals, and, I don’t know, non-PC Native American phrases? I knew the Patriots and the Red Sox, and the Yankees came along with the latter, but that just about exhausted my sports trivia. But given the wall photos and the builds of these two, I was fairly confident the Leopards were one of New York’s football teams.

  Still, I couldn’t help from playing dumb after seeing their appalled astonishment. I widened my eyes, aware it made me appear young and naïve. “That’s football, right?”

  Their faces slackened as though no proper response could be found for a girl who didn’t know the Leopards. Does not compute. “Sorry.” I bit back a smile and held my hands up, palms out. “I don’t really follow sports.”

  Ryan took a step forward. “You’re lying.”

  His incredulity sucked the humor away. “Excuse me?”

  “What the hell would you be doing here if you don’t follow us?”

  Wow. “You know what that sounds like?” I countered. “Like an egotistical jock who can’t stand believing he isn’t the center of everyone else’s world. So what if you do play for the Leopards? Do you think that makes you a celebrity, or something?”

  Ryan’s lips thinned down to white lines. Malcolm goggled at me, and then turned to his friend. “Where did she come from?”

  “A theatre party,” I finally managed to slip in as Ryan opened his mouth. “Walking into this apartment was an accident.”

  “Then you should walk back out.”

  “Tried that. Turns out it’s hard to squeeze your way through a hundred drunken party-goers.”

  “I’ll say.” Ryan raked his eyes down my body in a way that made me remember how stick thin all the girls out there had been. Football groupies, I realized. Desperate to sleep with pro-athletes. I imagined them being vetted by appearance before their invitations were handed out, and shuddered.

  “So you’re an actress?” Malcolm asked.

  “No. I work in publishing. A Maples&Co imprint.”

  Ryan raised a brow. “So you’re a nerd.”

  He made it sound like an insult, like Sophie Salisbury had in high school. I bristled. “Must be a novel concept. People using their brains for a paycheck.” Well, a theoretical paycheck, currently made up of goodwill and happiness.

  Ryan’s jaw clenched, and Malcolm shifted slightly, catching his gaze. Ryan let out a long breath, and when he spoke his voice had cooled. “You should leave.”

  I shrugged. “Happy to. Just show me the way out.”

  “We have a fire-escape.”

  Oh, please. “Do you treat everyone who doesn’t recognize you like this?”

  His voice was flat. “Everyone recognizes me.”

  “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry. Do they genuflect, too?”

  I’d thought that was a decent enough zing, but amusement sparked in his eyes. “Yeah, usually.” When I started, uncertainly, to smile in response to his reawakened humor, he added: “Weren’t you watching earlier?”

  My smile collapsed.

  His grew, though, pleased with himself. “I’ll get her out,” he said to Malcolm, and then gestured through the open door in a parody of a gentleman. “Ladies first.”

  Would he would grab my arm and yank me through if I refused to move? I shivered, wrapping my arms around my body and wondering why the idea didn’t turn me off. It was damn unfair, the things beautiful people could get away with. It made them dangerous.

cing myself to jump up, I nodded at Malcolm. His friend might be an asshole, but I’d gatecrashed Malcolm’s party and hid in his room. “Nice apartment. I like the Munch. Not his most famous, but I can see why you wouldn’t want The Scream in your bedroom.”

  There was a long stretched silence while the boys gaped at me, and when I realized what I had said I felt myself turn brighter than a stoplight. “The painting...” I fumbled. “I meant the print you have on your wall.”

  Ryan, on the other hand, was filled with even more good humor. “Good. Because I think screams belong in the bedroom.”

  I straightened my shoulders and tried not to run out of the bedroom. Not a prude, I chanted to myself. They’re immature, and you’re not a prude.

  I hated being a prude.

  At the edge of the cacophony, I halted, still not seeing an easy way to the outer door. Ryan stopped behind me. “Okay, I can see why you had trouble getting through.”

  Vindication tasted sweet, and I smiled. Still, I was unwilling to simply plunge into the fray, so I stalled. “Where did all these people even come from?”

  “The party. Most of them are friends. Or friends of friends.”

  Shocked, I turned to look at him. “So this is an after-party? Good God, what was the actual party like?”

  Utter disbelief crossed the perfect planes of his face. “It was for the season opener.”

  “The what?”

  I must have rendered Ryan speechless, because his mouth opened and closed several times before he gave up on me and faced the crowd. “Hey!” His voice cut through the music and high-decibel chatter, strong and demanding and accustomed to being obeyed. “Clear a path!”

  I snorted. But then, slowly, people turned to look, and then, like dominoes, bodies pushed to the side. A narrow aisle cleared, lined by faces beaming at the chance to follow Ryan Carter’s orders. “Must be nice.” I couldn’t stop myself from snipping. “All these lackeys, jumping at your every word.”

  He flashed a grin over his shoulder as he led me out of the apartment, finally making our way into the hall. I took a deep breath, my system shocked to no longer be inhaling warm, perfumed air. “Jealous?” he asked. It should have meant, jealous that I have lackeys and you don’t? Instead, it sounded like, jealous you aren’t one of them?