Emeralds releases tomorrow! Yay!
In anticipation, I've posted the first 7 chapters of the book here on my website for free just for you guys! Plus, a chance to win one of 5 signed paperbacks of Emeralds! All you have to do is read the content below and then leave a comment on my blog, Facebook, or Twitter to be entered!
All That Glitters Book 2.5
By: K.A. Linde
Copyright © 2015 by K.A. Linde
All That Glitters Book 2.5
By: K.A. Linde
Copyright © 2015 by K.A. Linde
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Summer Before College
Freedom was the sound of the subway whisking through the tunnels and screeching to a halt at Trihnity Hamilton’s stop in Greenwich Village. It was walking off the train and emerging onto the busy streets of Manhattan above. It was knowing that, in three months’ time, this would be her life.
Trihn sighed happily and maneuvered the busy streets with practiced ease. Her sister, Lydia’s, apartment was right around the block, and Trihn would be moving in at the end of the summer to attend fashion design school. She was already visualizing where all the new things she had purchased would go when she moved out of her parent’s townhouse in Brooklyn.
With her head in the clouds, she traipsed up the stone stairs to Lydia’s building. As she was punching in the code to enter, the door violently swung open. Trihn yelped as it crashed toward her. She jumped backward, just barely missing getting hit in the face.
“Jesus Christ!” she yelled.
The door hit the wall and ricocheted back toward the person who had thrown it open in such haste.
“Why don’t you watch what you’re doing?” she asked.
She picked up her dance bag where it had landed on the stairs two steps below the entrance. She hadn’t even realized she had thrown it, and now, her shoulder was throbbing. Great.
“Oh, shit! I’m sorry,” the guy said. He roughly grabbed the door in his hand and eased it back open.
She rolled her shoulder back and cringed. If she didn’t have the use of her shoulder, she was going to be fucked at ballet later tonight. She could not have this two weeks before the Senior Showcase.
“Yeah, well”—Trihn shifted her dance bag to the other shoulder and winced—“be more careful next time.”
“Sorry. I will. Are you all right?” he asked, taking a step toward her.
Her eyes drifted upward, and she forgot all about her hurt shoulder.
This guy was hot. She’d seen all manner of gorgeous men while modeling during the past two years, but this guy was different—less of a pretty boy with no coifed hair, oil-slicked body, or perfectly waxed…everything.
He wore a fit NYU T-shirt and running shorts that accentuated his muscular physique. He had sandy-blond hair that wasn’t flawlessly groomed. Some of it fell into his electric-blue eyes when he looked at her. Concern was written on his face, and she felt her body humming to its own tune when he smiled at her.
“Um…yeah. My shoulder. Dance.”
Am I even coherent?
He smiled wider. “Sorry about that. I didn’t know anyone was on the other side.”
She cleared her throat and shrugged her dance bag higher. Why is his smile so disarming?
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Seriously, are you sure your shoulder is all right?”
She dropped her bag and then dramatically rolled both shoulders to show him that she was fine. But then she flinched, ruining the effect. “Actually, I’m not sure. We’ll see how it goes.”
“Well, let me give you my number, and if you need to see a doctor or anything, you can give me a call.”
Trihn ignored the flutter in her stomach. “Sure. I don’t think I’ll have to go but just in case.”
Right. Just in case.
Trihn handed over her phone, and he punched in his name and number. Before she could take it back, he clicked the Send button.
He smiled at her again. “Now, I’ll know it’s you,” he explained.
Yeah. Definite flutters.
She glanced down at the screen. “Preston.”
“That’s me. And you are?”
“Trihn. Um…Trihnity, though my friends call me Trihn.”
“You know you have a church named after you,” he joked.
She laughed. “Yeah, so I’ve heard. It’s on the other side of Washington Square Park. And I’m pretty sure it’s not named after me.”
“You’re probably right.” He ran a hand back through his messy hair.
Then, they stood there for a minute in charged silence. He seemed like he wanted to say something else, but he held his tongue. She felt as if her black Louboutin heels should carry her across the short distance into the building, but she didn’t move.
In fact, she didn’t even want to move.
It had been a long time since she had met a guy whom she paid more than a second’s notice. Between school, modeling, and the dance company, she’d had zero time for guys. Sure, she’d had plenty of flings—make-out sessions in Prague, dirty-dancing in London, flirtations across multiple borders—but nothing long term. Lydia always said she was too young to be so serious about her work. Though Lydia was the exact opposite, so Trihn hadn’t even bothered to listen to that.
But now, Trihn had put modeling behind her. In two weeks, her time as a company member at the New York City Dance House would come to a close. There would just be school. Perhaps she should give in to the one guy who had turned her eye.
“Let me get that,” Preston said. He reached down, snatched her bag up, and swung the door wide, holding it open for her. “Here. After you.”
“Thanks.” She bit her lip and pushed her long brown-to-blonde ombre hair off her shoulders.
This was her moment. This was where she should say something, be more like Lydia. What would my wild child sister do? Probably lean into her hip, touch his arm, hold him hypnotized in her captive gaze. She’d toss her hair and casually ask him to dinner without a second thought. It was her way.
Trihn was confident but not like Lydia who would go through boyfriends as frequently as her mood changed and never feared rejection.
Trihn opened her mouth to say something and then closed it.
No, she couldn’t do it.
She wasn’t Lydia. That much she was sure of.
If he wanted to pursue her, then he would. He had her phone number after all. She shouldn’t expect more than that while meeting for the first time even if some intense energy was coursing between them.
“I appreciate it.” She grabbed her bag out of his hand. “I didn’t mean to keep you from wherever you were off to in a rush.”
“Oh, right,” he said as if he had just remembered that the only reason they were talking was because he had nearly slammed the door into her. “Well, I hope you feel better. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Is that an invitation?
“Sure. I’d like that,” she said with a winning smile.
His eyes met hers again, and she felt her stomach do a full-on somersault. Her smile widened, and she looked at him through hooded eyes and dark black lashes. If Preston didn’t know she was interested at this point, then he was the most oblivious man on the planet.
He looked as if he were debating on saying something more. Instead, he finally took a step backward and nodded his head. “It was nice meeting you, Trihn. Let me know about that shoulder.”
“Will do,” she murmured.
As he jogged down the stairs and out of sight, she sighed heavily, losing the bounce in her step from earlier. Damn, maybe I should have just asked him out.
At least next year, there would be plenty of hot guys in the city to go out with. She had just graduated from high school last weekend and would be at NYU starting in September. No need to rush into anything.
She couldn’t help the pang of disappointment anyway.
Trihn trudged up the stairs to Lydia’s second-floor apartment. She knocked on the door and waited impatiently, still on edge about what had just transpired.
How come I could flirt with half a dozen guys in other countries when I was modeling but not have one reasonable conversation with a hot guy I can actually date?
It was so frustrating. This was why she didn’t bother with this shit. Maybe the language barrier was better. Kissing had made so much more sense to her in other countries where the guys all spoke half-coherent broken English.
The door popped open, and Lydia’s glowing face smiled back at her. “Trihn!” she cried. “There you are! I didn’t know if you would still be coming over before dance!”
“Yeah, sorry. I got held up,” Trihn said dismissively.
No point in telling her what had happened. Lydia never would have let Preston get away without a promise of a future meeting.
“Well, get your ass in here. I just had an epiphany about the living room for when you move in!” Lydia said.
Trihn laughed as she followed her sister. “When did you die your hair blonde?”
Lydia shrugged. “Two days ago?”
Lydia would change her hair color with her mood, just like how she’d change the guy she was seeing.
Even though they were sisters, they couldn’t be more different. Trihn and Lydia had acquired different marks from their parents’ mixed ancestry—Vietnamese, Brazilian, and a melting pot of European roots. Trihn was tall, lean, and exotic with high cheekbones, green eyes that slanted upward at the corners just like her mother’s, and her dark-as-night natural hair. Lydia looked more like their father. She was of medium height with dark brown eyes with gold rings and hair that she always parted down the middle. She was energetic, drew all manner of people to her like no one else Trihn had ever met, and had a proclivity for eccentricity.
Trihn usually just called her a hippie to get on her nerves, but today, with the new blonde look, long maroon skirt, and crocheted cream crop, she looked every inch the hippie. Trihn had always been more of a rocker, like how she looked now in the shortest high-waist cutoff jeans she owned, a studded sheer black top, and sky-high designer heels. Yet they were sisters, and for that reason alone, their differences never mattered.
“What epiphany did you have?” Trihn asked. She tossed her dance bag down on the couch and moved her shoulder. It was still hurting. She immediately started doing stretches to try to work out the pain.
“Okay, so I was thinking that once you move in, we could collage this entire wall,” Lydia said, spreading her arms wide. “We could put up pictures from my photography classes and your fashion projects. Oh, modeling shots! We could even do a dance shoot. I’m sure I have my old pointe shoes around here somewhere.”
Lydia disappeared into her room to look for her toe shoes from when she had been a part of the NYC Dance House as well. Trihn just shook her head and followed after her. She plopped down on Lydia’s bed that basically touched the ground.
“Here they are!”
“Ly,” Trihn said, “we have three months to figure out how we’re going to decorate. Shouldn’t we just wait until Tasha moves out? Then, I could move in what I have, and we could see what we actually need.”
Lydia’s shoulders dropped dramatically as she sighed. She tossed the shoes onto her cluttered desk. “Please, Trihn, try to have less enthusiasm about the fact that we’re going to have the coolest apartment in all of Manhattan in a few months.”
“I’m excited. It’s just not happening yet. We both have other things to worry about until then.”
“What do I have to worry about? I have the summer off!” Lydia proclaimed.
“Aren’t you interning?”
Lydia brushed her hair over one shoulder and smiled forlornly. “Right, I’m interning at a fashion magazine in the photography department. It’s just what I’ve always wanted to do…to follow in Mom and Dad’s footsteps.”
That was how their parents had met in the first place. Their mother had been the head of acquisitions for the fashion magazine where their father had sold his work to at the time. Their mom had pulled a lot of strings to get Lydia this opportunity. Of course, she was being blasé about it and would rather spend the summer working on her art.
“It’s a great opportunity.”
“Whatever. Tell me about you! Are you excited about the Senior Showcase?” Lydia asked. Her voice filled with longing. “I so wish I were still in the company.”
“Well, I’ll never outshine you. That’s for sure. We both know that you were always better at ballet than I was.”
“But you love it more,” Lydia conceded.
Trihn smiled brightly. She had always loved dance in all forms. The company focused so much energy on ballet, but she was excited that her dance for Senior Showcase was going to be a contemporary piece from her favorite choreographer at the studio. She would leave it to her best friend, Renée, to perform the beautiful ballet solo.
“I just can’t believe that it will all be over in two weeks,” Trihn said.
“Then, you can spend the whole summer with me.”
“Aren’t you going to be swamped?”
Lydia was such a dreamer. Trihn swore that if Lydia didn’t have to work, she would spend the rest of her life daydreaming, writing poetry, growing a garden, and drinking.
“Oh, right. Work.” She stuck her tongue out and made a face. “Well, that just means you have to find a hot guy to spend all your time with.”
Lydia winked at her, and Trihn’s mind immediately went to Preston. It wasn’t as if he were the only guy in the city she would be interested in. He was just the most relevant at the current moment.
I do have his number. Maybe I should try to reach out to him…
“Maybe, maybe. Always maybe, baby. You need to get out more and date,” Lydia said. She plopped down onto the bed next to Trihn and started braiding her hair without asking if it was all right.
“Speaking of, did you want to go to a party this weekend after I get out of rehearsal?”
“Oh! A party? What kind of party?” Lydia asked.
“Just some of my friends getting together.”
“High school friends?” She sounded dismayed.
“Don’t you know me better than that?”
“Model party?” she guessed.
“Only the best. Some people I know from London who I worked with last summer are going to be in town.”
“Any hot guys?”
“What part of models did you not understand?” Trihn joked.
Not that models were Trihn’s type. They were extremely good-looking, but so many of them were narcissistic to a fault. She couldn’t handle a guy who took longer to get ready and had more hair products than her.
“Okay, I’m in. Can’t pass up on hot models. Though…you’re the one who shouldn’t be passing up on hot models. You’re too serious, and you need to loosen up.”
Trihn rolled her eyes and stood. “I’m going to get my bag and get ready for dance.”
“You can ignore me all you like, but you need a good lay,” Lydia called loudly as Trihn walked out of the room.
She retreated to the shared bathroom and pulled on her tights and leotard under her ensemble. She forced all of her hair up into a high ponytail on top of her head and then removed her box of bobby pins. It took fifty of them to get all her hair up into a proper ballet bun. There was just too much hair for it to cooperate with fewer pins. She sprayed back the wisps around her face. After retouching her blush and mascara, she exited the bathroom and returned to Lydia, who continued to rant about how Trihn was too serious.
“Give it a rest, Ly!” Trihn said in exasperation. “I’m not you. I’m never going to be you.”
“I’m not saying that you have to be!” Lydia cried. “I’m just saying that there’s nothing wrong with casual sex.”
Trihn shook her head. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Feel free to fuck around with whoever you want.”
“Good.” Trihn hauled her bag onto her shoulder and slid into her heels. “I’m going to dance.”
“Hey, don’t be upset,” Lydia said, following her to the front door.
“I’m not upset.”
“You’re clearly upset. I’m your sister. I should know.”
Trihn let out a deep breath. Lydia could push her buttons like no one else. Trihn loved her sister to pieces, but the subject was already a sore one at the moment. It hadn’t helped anything that Lydia was pushing.
“Just say you’ll think about finding a nice guy to occupy your time this summer. You deserve it for all your hard work,” Lydia said.
“I’m not dating someone or fucking someone as a prize for my accomplishments,” Trihn said in frustration. “I want to date someone because I like him, because I could fall in love with him. I want to be with someone who I could marry.”
Lydia’s eyes widened. “You’re eighteen years old, Trihn. Life isn’t that serious. You don’t have to marry anyone for a while, and if you keep talking like that, you’re going to give me gray hair.”
Trihn rolled her eyes. “You’re insane.”
“Probably, but creativity stems from madness. Or does madness stem from creativity?” she pondered. “Anyway, go to dance. Don’t worry about finding someone to marry or whatever horrible thoughts are floating through your head. You’re young and beautiful, and you should have so much more fun before you get married. This weekend, we’ll find someone fun for you!”
“Okay, Lydia,” Trihn said. If she didn’t relent, Lydia would continue with her relentless diatribe.
What she didn’t say was that she’d had plenty of that kind of fun during the past two years.
Lydia thought she was older and wiser; thus, she would be the one to corrupt her younger sister. But the truth was, with all the modeling events Trihn had been to, it had been almost too easy to be casual.
Now that she wasn’t modeling, she was intent on finding something more meaningful.
A week had passed by in the blink of an eye.
Trihn sank down to the floor of the dance studio and started working at the knots on the ribbons of her pointe shoes. She had just spent six long hours rehearsing for the Senior Showcase at the NYC Dance House this upcoming weekend. Her feet were killing her, and she had worn through another pair of shoes. At this rate, she would go through at least two more pairs before the performances and probably one each night next weekend during the shows.
Renée flexed her feet and then pushed up onto the toes of her shoes. “Do you see this shit?” Renée asked.
She moved up and down on her shoes, and Trihn could see that the hard insole of the shoes—normally, a perfect curve to her friend’s foot—had split in half.
“The shank is completely broken. Fucking hell.”
“What the hell am I going to do? I can’t keep spitting out seventy-five dollars every week. I’m not made of money.”
“We’ll work it out. We always do.”
Renée plopped down next to her and mercilessly tore at her shoes. “This wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t in the middle of the fucking Intensive as well.”
Trihn laughed. “My shoes are falling apart, and I’m not doing Intensive.”
Every year, the NYC Dance House would put on a big summer dance workshop called The House Intensive. Dancers from all over the country would come to their studio to compete for dance scholarships. Renée was a scholarship recipient, so her participation in the summer program was required. The studio liked to showcase their prodigies. It helped that Renée had just been admitted into Juilliard for the fall. It was an incredible achievement for anyone but even more so for an African American scholarship student from the Bronx.
“Well, you should be helping with Intensive! There are so many fucking kids, and we need more brilliant-minded choreographers.”
“Ha! You must be joking. We all know that I’m not a choreographer.”
Renée gave her the look. She tilted her head down, cocked one eyebrow, and pursed her lips. “Puh-lease. I know what you do on your days off. That freestyle shit works in contemporary, too.”
“That’s why, in a week’s time, I’m performing my senior piece in contemporary and then spending the rest of my summer doing what I do on my days off!”
“Whatever, hooker,” Renée joked.
Trihn shook her head. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard that one. “I just like to have a good time. Why don’t you come with me tonight?” Trihn asked.
She shoved her shoes in her bag, and they headed to the dressing rooms.
“As much as I’d love to, I can’t. My mom’s expecting me home to watch the boys while she takes the night shift,” Renée explained.
“What is she going to do when you’re out of the house next year?” Trihn asked.
Renée sighed heavily. The choice to move to Manhattan and pursue her dreams had been really tough on Renée. Outside of dance, she’d work her butt off around the house while her mom worked three jobs to try to support their family.
“I try not to think about it. One day at a time,” Renée said. “At least Matthew will be there to help tonight.”
“Oh, I see how it is. You’re really going home to be with the BF.”
Matthew was Renée’s boyfriend of three years. They were pretty much the cutest couple around. He was a jazz musician and swore up and down that he was going to compose a ballet for Renée like nothing anyone had ever seen before.
“Whatever,” Renée cried.
Trihn stepped into a shower stall, peeled off her sweat-soaked tights and leotard, and stuffed them into an empty side pocket of her bag. She turned on the water and hurried under the spray when it was steaming hot. Her hair was still tightly held in its bun. She wouldn’t have time to blow it out before meeting her friends. After washing off the hours of practice, Trihn dried off and changed into a pair of tight leather booty shorts and a low-cut V-neck tank before slipping into her favorite pair of heels.
When she stepped back out, Renée just shook her head. “There’s my hooker. Are you man-hunting tonight?”
“Yeah, right. You know me.”
“Reconsider it. You look hot and could have any guy you wanted.”
Trihn shrugged. “Maybe,” she said, giving the same answer she had given Lydia.
When they had gone out last weekend, Lydia had ended up making out with two different male models who were out with them. Trihn had left empty-handed—again.
They hurried down the three flights of stairs and into the marble-tiled entryway. The revolving door was already locked tight for the night, and all but one light had been left on. The rest of the girls had left the building as soon as they could. Some of the management was still upstairs, but otherwise, it was dead.
“Do you want me to walk with you?” Renée asked.
“No. Don’t worry about me. I’ll catch a cab. Get home to your mom.”
“I’m not looking forward to telling her about the shoes,” she said softly.
Trihn grabbed her hand and stopped her before they exited. “I’ll cover it if I have to. It’s only one more week.”
“What are friends for?”
They stepped out of the building and onto the brightly lit street. Even at eleven at night, people were still strolling the streets, and the sight made Trihn smile. She would never get tired of watching the way her city operated. It was home.
Trihn threw her hand out, and a cab pulled up to the curb. “You take this one,” Trihn told her. She opened the back door and pushed her best friend toward it.
“No! You take it. You have to meet people!”
“I’ll make it. You have farther to go.”
Renée sighed. She could see that she was going to lose the argument, and the cab would leave them if one of them didn’t get in. “Okay, but be careful.”
“I always am,” Trihn said.
She kissed Renée on the cheek, and then after she climbed into the backseat, Trihn shut the door behind her. The car drove off, and she searched for the next cab.
“How’s the shoulder?”
Trihn whirled around in a panic. Her stomach leaped up into her throat. “Jesus!” she cried when she saw who it was. “Don’t sneak up on people like that.”
Preston smiled and held up his hands. “Sorry about that. Can’t seem to get my footing with you.”
“How the hell did you even know I would be here?” she asked suspiciously.
It was kind of creepy, having him show up outside the studio at the exact time that she had finished with dance. How did he even know that I dance here? It was probably about time to get into a cab or else she wouldn’t be heeding Renée’s advice to be careful.
She hedged backward a step.
“I saw your dance bag that day we ran into each other. I was in the neighborhood and thought I would just swing by,” he clarified.
“At eleven o’clock at night?”
“Okay,” he said with a nervous laugh. “You caught me. I actually asked around to see when your class would end, so I could surprise you.”
“You have my phone number. Why didn’t you just call?”
“Can’t a guy surprise a girl anymore?”
Trihn raised her eyebrows. “Probably not at eleven at night after staking out her studio.”
He ran a hand back through his messy blond hair and looked at his feet. This wasn’t going at all the way he had planned it. She figured he had wanted to surprise her and have her think it was cute. And while she couldn’t deny that her heart was beating wildly in her chest at the thought that he had stood out here, waiting just for her, she wasn’t an idiot and didn’t want to end up on a Missing Person poster.
“All right. My bad. I guess…I’ll just head out. I didn’t mean to freak you out,” he apologized.
He shoved his hands down into the pockets of his dark jeans, bunching his black T-shirt up around his muscles and drawing her eyes to his body. He looked back up at her then with those sexy blue eyes, and her stomach dropped out of her body.
“Wait,” she said before he could walk away. “I was just surprised. Why did you really show up anyway?”
“I wanted to check on your shoulder,” he offered.
She rolled it twice. “It was a minor thing. Went away before dance last week.”
“Oh. Oh, okay. Good.”
He smiled again like he might just leave it at that, and in that moment, she decided that she couldn’t let it end. He was undeniably attractive. He had sought her out at dance. There was no way she was just going to let him walk away again. She had been kicking herself for letting it happen in the first place.
“You have plans?” she asked.
“Have something in mind?” He took a step closer to her.
Her body heated at his nearness. Dear God, he was going to be the death of her.
“I’m meeting some friends. You could join…if you wanted,” she offered.
“What am I in for?”
She shrugged, all nonchalant. “Just a regular night in New York City.”
He laughed, and it was beautifully effortless. “This should be interesting.”
It was not a normal night in the city.
It never was when she had friends in town.
And it definitely was not going to be a normal night with Preston seated next to her in the cab on their way to the Meatpacking District.
She couldn’t keep from stealing glances at him. Mostly, it was because she couldn’t figure out how she had gotten up the nerve to invite him along. She never brought guys to these kinds of events. Plenty of other models would bring dates, but that just wasn’t her. But these were her people, and the only other people she wanted associating with them were family and friends, like Lydia and Renée.
Yet she was about to throw Preston into the middle of this. What the hell am I doing?
The cab stopped at the corner of a large brick building, and before she could do anything, Preston paid for the trip.
“Thank you,” she said as she got out of the car.
“Don’t worry about it.” His smile was genuine when he exited behind her. “Are you going to tell me what I’m walking into?”
“I have some friends in town. They’re throwing a little…party.” She cocked her head to the side and tried not to smile too broadly.
“A house party?” he asked dubiously.
“More like a…work party,” she confided. She opened a heavy metal door. “Coming?”
He followed along, clearly intrigued. “And where do you work? The studio?”
She shook her head. “No, I just dance at the studio. I don’t work anywhere right now. I kind of quit.”
“And you still decided to come to the party?” His eyes widened in disbelief.
“It was an amicable break.”
In truth, it was only sort of amicable. She had quit modeling because she was going to college. She had always seen school as a priority as a forward-thinking woman who wanted to make a splash in the world and prove her worth.
He laughed. “Publishing is not like that.”
“You work in publishing?” she asked as they started up the rickety old stairs that creaked under their steps, bringing a smile to her face.
“Yeah, I’m an intern in the marketing department of Glitz magazine.”
Trihn stumbled on the next step and had to catch herself on the railing. Preston reached out to steady her, but she waved him off.
“Glitz magazine?” she asked.
He ducked his chin to his chest, embarrassed. “Yeah. I know it’s a fashion magazine, but internships are hard to come by in publishing, especially while I’m still in school.”
He sounded like he had given this same speech many times, as if he were used to being judged as a man working for a high-end fashion magazine. Well, she didn’t care that he worked for Glitz. In fact, her feminist ideals were screaming with joy at the knowledge. The fashion industry should be more balanced between men and women, especially in the world of fashion and beauty publishing.
However, the real reason she had stumbled was because her mother worked for Glitz magazine. It felt strangely coincidental, and she almost jotted out a text to ask if her mother had purposely put Preston in her path. She wouldn’t put it past her mother. Like Lydia, she believed Trihn was too serious for her age. You would think that she would want at least one daughter to behave.
But looking up at Preston’s concerned face changed Trihn’s mind. She was just being jumpy. The likelihood that her mother had put him up to this was abysmally low. Her mother probably didn’t even know anyone in the marketing department. She was certainly too high up on the food chain to notice a guy in an entry-level position.
Trihn probably should tell him that her mom worked there, but she kind of wanted to have him all to herself in that moment. She had just met him really. Revealing that her mom was a higher-up at the magazine he worked at would not be a good idea. Either he’d freak out or want to somehow use her to move up in the company.
God, she was having negative thoughts. She just wanted this one night to herself without anyone else’s expectations looming over her.
Trihn held her hand up to stop him from continuing. “You don’t have to explain. I get it. Everyone has to start somewhere.”
“Right,” he agreed. He seemed pleased that she hadn’t questioned him. “So, where did you start?”
She raised her eyebrow. “You’ll see.”
They had reached their floor, and she walked him over to the door that led to the party. She knocked twice, and then the door opened. A familiar face smiled back at her.
“Trihn!” Francesca cried. “I knew you couldn’t resist us!”
“Of course I couldn’t,” she said. Trihn enveloped the woman in a hug, knowing that she wasn’t the hugging type.
Francesca patted her on the back. When she saw Trihn had someone with her, her eyes widened. “Well, well, who do we have here?”
Preston turned into a perfect gentleman in the blink of an eye. He straightened, becoming markedly taller than Francesca’s six-foot-tall frame, and stuck his hand out. “Nice to meet you. I’m Preston Whitehall.”
She lightly took his hand in hers and winked. “Oh, the pleasure is all mine. And you can call me whatever you’d like. I don’t discriminate with someone who has a body like this.”
Trihn buried her head in her hands. “He’s here with me, Francesca.”
“Oh, dear!” she said, removing her hand. “I thought you’d brought me a present.”
“Not tonight, I’m afraid,” Trihn said.
“Well, come in, and enjoy the party. Tell me everything! We’ve missed you.”
Trihn and Preston crossed the threshold into a massive open studio with floor-to-ceiling glass windows across one entire wall. Large wooden beams crisscrossed the ceiling, and huge white columns were interspersed across the antique hardwood floor. Everything was white and cheery and full of beautiful people.
“A studio party?” Preston asked curiously, taking in their surroundings. He gave her a serious side eye. “What kind of work were you in exactly?”
Francesca derisively arched a perfectly manicured eyebrow and flipped her stick-straight blonde hair over her shoulder. “Surely you know how talented our little Trihn is. She could have been a superstar if she had just forgotten this silly idea about going to university.” Her South African accent became more prominent the longer she spoke to Preston.
Trihn had to hide her embarrassment at Francesca’s words.
“Please, feel free to enlighten me.”
He crossed his arms over his chest, and Trihn couldn’t help but stare. Even though gorgeous people surrounded them, her eyes were only for him and the very sexy muscles in his arms.
Whoa! Arms. She should stop staring at those arms.
She looked back up into his eyes and could feel a blush touching her cheeks. For once, she was happy for her mixed Vietnamese and Brazilian ancestry that hid the red on her cheeks.
“He knows nothing?” Francesca asked Trihn.
“I wanted it to be a surprise.”
“A surprise indeed,” she trilled. “We just wrapped up a modeling shoot this afternoon for Gucci. Perhaps you’ve heard of the designer. Now, we’re toasting our last night in New York before I begin on a new grand adventure that I’ll have to tell you all about later.”
“Gucci?” Preston’s eyes widened.
“Yep,” Trihn agreed. “I worked for them on their summer line. The shoot today was for their fall line.”
“That unfortunately you were not a part of,” Francesca chastised.
“You’re a model?” Preston asked Trihn, as if he didn’t have the proof right before his eyes.
“I was a model,” Trihn corrected him.
“I would never have pegged you for a model.”
“What does that mean?” she asked indignantly.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said quickly. “You’re beautiful. Of course you could model.”
Trihn felt her body coiling into a knot of tension. Beautiful, of course—she hadn’t needed those words from him. She knew that it wasn’t an insult. It was anything but an insult. However, everyone said she was beautiful. The term was almost an afterthought. But she hated the idea of anyone saying she couldn’t do something she’d put her mind to.
“I guess I’ve only seen the ballerina,” he confessed.
“Well, look closer,” Francesca said. She pointed to Trihn’s feet. “Those are Christian Louboutin. No satin-toe shoes for her.”
“So they are.” He wasn’t looking at her shoes though. His eyes were transfixed on her face. “Seems I have a lot to learn about you.”
Trihn laughed, trying to brush aside the butterflies in her stomach at the mention of him wanting to get to know her—not to mention, that look…like he wanted to eat her right up. “Well, we have all night.”
“So we do.” With the way he’d said it, the words took on a whole new meaning.
“Come on, lovebirds, let’s get drinks,” Francesca said, guiding them across the room.
She busied herself with introducing them to everyone as they traversed the room. Preston smiled and nodded, as if he were going to remember any of the people they’d passed.
Trihn started whispering into his ear the name of the countries the people were from, “Australia. Brazil. California.”
“California isn’t a country.”
She laughed. “It might as well be if you’re from New York.”
He guffawed at her comment and covered it by putting his hand on the small of her back, directing her toward the drinks. “Excuse me, California,” he said with a completely straight face to the busty blonde model in front of them.
“Oh my gosh, you did not just call her California. Do you know who that is?”
He shook his head. “The only person in this room I care about is you,” he breathed into her ear.
Trihn shivered against his touch. Well, this is off to a good start.
She was an idiot for not calling him. He was hot and smart and caring. He worked in publishing—in her industry, no less. Plus, those arms and lips and smile and—
Preston passed her a glass of wine, and he took a beer from the bartender. Then, they milled around the room, talking to people she had worked for earlier this year. It was easy to move back into the swing of things with these people, even with Preston at her side. She had never thought it would be this seamless, but Preston fit right in.
By the end of the night, her girlfriends were enamored with him, the guys were asking him about his workout regimen and promising to get together for gym dates—which she assured him was not entirely what he was thinking—and Trihn found herself completely in thrall with him.
He took her by the hand and pulled her out onto the mostly empty balcony. He twirled her around in place. She laughed and rose onto her tiptoes, spinning in place like a perfect ballerina, before being drawn into his arms.
“This was fun. You seemed worried at first,” he told her.
“I’ve never brought anyone to a model event with me besides my sister and my best friend,” she confessed.
“I’m honored,” he said, leaning his head against her forehead.
A spark ignited in her stomach as she swam in the sea of blue before her.
Everything narrowed down to this one moment—the look in his eyes, the feel of his hands sneaking under her shirt and grasping her skin, the energy igniting between them, their breaths intermingling in the small distance separating their bodies.
She felt herself freeze.
This wasn’t some fling that she would cast aside for the next hottie at a different shoot. This wasn’t some guy she’d make out with in a club after a good drink. This wasn’t a mistake.
This felt right, inexplicably right, in a way she had never felt before.
Their noses touched. She slid her hands up around his neck, drawing him closer. She wanted this. It wasn’t because she was listening to everyone around her, telling her to have a good time, to let herself get lost in something, not to be serious. It was because he made her serious nature seem normal. He made her feel…
That was enough for now. It didn’t have to be more. Just the promise of a beginning.
Their lips slid together, and the entire world disappeared completely, utterly falling away into some other universe. Her heart rushed into her throat, and her whole body contracted at the feel of him pressing against her. His tongue slipped invitingly against her bottom lip, and she opened the invitation with zeal, meeting him halfway. They moved against each other with practiced ease. Her whole body trembled with the heat and desire coursing through her.
Right then, she had never wanted anything more than this kiss. It was both tempting and terrifying because she felt as if she would give up everything to have this again.
As he leaned her against the railing, promising her the world with this kiss, the biggest cost she worried about was her heart.
“What do you mean, you don’t like peanut butter?” Preston asked a week and a half later.
They both stared into the glass counter filled with an array of gorgeous pastries of every variety—cupcakes, cake, macarons, tarts, cheesecake, cookies. The list was endless.
“I don’t like it,” she told him. “I never have.”
“I can’t comprehend this.”
She laughed and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s gross. I don’t even like the smell. So, if you think that I’m going to kiss you after you eat that, you’re crazy.”
He took the peanut butter–chocolate chip cupcake on a small paper plate from the woman and gave Trihn puppy-dog eyes. “I bet I could convince you otherwise.”
“No way.” Trihn wrinkled her nose.
“I have my ways.”
She laughed lightly and then spoke to the employee, “I’ll take a mocha fudge cupcake, please.”
She was handed her cupcake as well, and then they went to the register. Preston insisted on paying for the treats. He grabbed two plastic forks, and then they walked outside to find a bench to indulge themselves.
“Even though you hate my choice in dessert,” he said, pretending to be wounded, “this is for you. Congrats on your dance performance last night. I only wish that I could have been there to see it.”
Preston toasted Trihn with his cupcake, and they both dug in.
Following the model party, she had invited Preston to her Senior Showcase. She hadn’t expected him to be interested in seeing her dance, and she hated admitting that she had been disappointed that he couldn’t come last weekend. But it was just as unexpected that he was doing something like this for her when he hadn’t been able to make it.
“I would have liked for you to have been there, too,” she told him after she finished off her cupcake.
“If only I wasn’t such an overachiever, then I could have made it.”
She held her hand up. “Overachieving, I am very familiar with.”
“The model ballerina?” he asked skeptically.
“Hey now! Modeling and ballet, dance in general, are very strenuous. Anyway, I’m quitting both to pursue a degree in fashion design at one of the best schools in the country.” She didn’t mention how much it pained her to give them up, but it was the right thing to do. She needed to focus on her education to get the kind of job she had always dreamed bout.
“While I’m glad you’re coming to NYU, why does it sound like that’s not what you want?”
She sighed heavily and avoided his knowing blue gaze. He was seeing right through her bravado.
“It’s not that. I guess I just always thought that dance would be a part of my life. I’ve only been modeling for three years, but it also kind of seemed like something I wouldn’t stop until I was too old for the market,” she said with a sad smile.
“Then, why stop?” he asked, his cupcake forgotten.
“I don’t want to stop, but I’ll need to take my studies seriously. I need to place at the top of the fashion design program. I want to design for Bergdorf Goodman and open my own boutique on Fifth Avenue. I can’t do those things and—”
“Have a life?” he ventured.
“You sound like you put way too much pressure on yourself.”
She shrugged. “Maybe, but it was how I was raised. Plus, my sister is a mega genius, one of those people who doesn’t have to try at anything. Hard to live up to that.”
Preston bridged the distance between them and laced their fingers together. “You don’t have to live up to anyone. Just look at you. You’re gorgeous and smart and driven, and you seem pretty awesome to me.”
Her cheeks heated. “You’ve only known me for a week.”
“And I’ve seen all of that in a week,” he said confidently.
“Well, thank you.”
“My father works in investing,” he said after a silent minute. “He always expected me to do something like that. One day, I just decided that it wasn’t for me. I don’t ever want to do something for expectations. I want to earn my place in life because it’s what I want, not what someone else wants. He wasn’t exactly happy that I’d started working for a fashion magazine. But I think he’s going to come around and realize that I go after what I want.” He purposefully looked up at her. “And when I have my mind set on something, I’ll do anything to keep it.”
Trihn bit her lip. “Why do I feel like we’re not talking about work anymore?”
“Because we’re not.”
Then, he kissed her.
It didn’t matter that they were seated on the side of a crowded street in New York City, making a spectacle of themselves. All that was there in that moment was the feel of his lips on hers, the way her heart stuttered to life, and the dizzy feeling clouding her mind.
When he pulled back, he was smirking.
“What?” she asked, flustered.
“I told you I had my ways to get you to kiss me.”
“You’re lucky I like you,” she told him with a shake of her head.
Are you still coming by for our afternoon coffee? I have to get back upstairs soon.
Trihn sighed heavily when she got the text message from Preston. She’d had every intention of meeting up with him for coffee after his meeting with his boss, but Lydia was taking forever. Trihn had agreed to have lunch with her sister since her plans with Preston had been disrupted. It wasn’t often that Lydia had lunch open at a decent time with her new job anyway. Trihn had thought it would be easy to juggle both, but she hadn’t told Lydia about Preston yet, so she couldn’t exactly rush her without raising suspicion.
Lydia finally put her fork down and called for a waiter to bring them a check. Trihn breathed out in relief. She might still make it.
Yes. Just finishing up lunch with my sister. Sorry.
Lydia put her credit card in the black booklet.
Trihn tried to stop her. “Ly, you seriously don’t have to pay for my lunch.” She furtively glanced down at her phone to check the time…again.
“Don’t worry about it. I can see you’re in a hurry.”
“What?” Trihn asked, looking up. “No, I’m not.”
“Well, if you aren’t, then you’re acting really weird.”
“I’m not acting weird either.”
Lydia snorted. “Okay.”
Trihn’s phone beeped again.
No worries. Just wanted to see you.
“So,” Lydia said, “who is he?”
“Who is whom?” she asked.
Her eyes met her sister’s across the table. Lydia gave her an all-knowing look.
“It’s just Renée.”
“Uh-huh.” Lydia rolled her eyes. “I got the check. You run along and tell me about him later.”
Trihn stood up from her seat and shook her head. “Seriously, it’s no one.”
“You act as if I don’t know my sister.”
“I love you, Ly,” Trihn said. She kissed the top of her sister’s head and then began jogging out of the restaurant.
“I want the dirt later,” Lydia cried as she left.
Trihn hopped on the subway and took the train uptown to Preston’s building. Trihn had been to Glitz magazine headquarters more times than she could count throughout the last eight years since her mother had become the executive vice president of the company. It was strange, being on her way there for something…someone else.
She jogged to get there in time, and she was thankful that she had opted for her studded gold flats. Pedestrians gave her evil glares when they managed to look up from their cell phones.
And there he was, waiting for her in a crisp black suit.
A smile plastered itself onto her face at the sight of his dark blond hair and characteristic smirk.
His eyes found her across the short distance on the sidewalk, and he moved toward her like a magnet. “Hey, beautiful.”
“Hey,” she whispered.
His hands fell to either side of her face, and he softly kissed her on the lips. It was intoxicating. She could do this all day. Her stomach dropped out from under her. All she could do was clutch on to him and hope that she would stay standing, despite the fact that he was turning her legs to mush.
He broke the spell and gestured for them to walk into the Starbucks inside the building.
“Sorry about lunch. I thought we would be done sooner,” she told him.
“That’s all right. Just trying to steal more of your time.”
“I don’t mind that at all.”
He charmingly smiled down at her, and she felt that now familiar flutter in her stomach. She had to force herself to look away to avoid getting completely blinded by him.
They ordered their drinks, picked them up from the barista, and then walked back into the building. Trihn stealthily looked around the lobby. The last thing she wanted was to run into her mother. She rarely took lunch out unless she had important meetings, but it still made Trihn cautious.
Preston put his free arm around her waist and leaned into her. “Don’t make plans for lunch tomorrow.”
“I’m all yours.”
“I like the sound of that.” He dragged her against him for another heart-stopping kiss. “I’m not ready for you to leave. Come up, and see the office.”
“Are you sure? Don’t you have to get back to work?”
“Of course I’m sure. It’ll only be a minute.”
“All right. Then, yes!”
Trihn followed him to the elevators. She was excited to see where he spent much of his life. If he wasn’t with her, then he was guaranteed to be working. She was glad that they had started having lunch together nearly every day because most of his nights were occupied. He took overachiever to a whole new level.
The elevator opened onto his floor, and Preston whisked them by an oblivious receptionist. He walked Trihn past a giant wall with the Glitz magazine logo and into the immaculate office space beyond. Nearly every space was occupied with white cubicles. Most of them were empty from the lunch hour, and only a few people had trickled back in already. All-glass meeting rooms were in use across one far wall, and the other wall opened up to the New York City skyline beyond.
“And this,” he said dramatically, “is my desk.”
Trihn giggled. It looked just like every other cubicle on the floor. “Very nice.”
“Seriously, this is where the magic happens.”
“I like it.”
“One day, I’ll be up there,” he said, plopping down into his seat.
“In the sky?” she joked.
“With the bigwigs, making the decisions.”
Trihn bit her lip. “Very ambitious of you.”
“You sound disbelieving.”
“I’m not,” she said earnestly. “If I can become a successful fashion designer, then why can’t you run a fashion magazine?”
He smiled in a way that said she completely understood. And she did. She knew what it felt like to want to make it to the top. She had felt that all her life. Between ballet, modeling, Lydia…all she had ever done was strive to be the best.
Preston grabbed her hand and pulled her down onto his lap. His hands circled her waist as he stared up at her. “You get it.”
“I get that you’d give my designs all the best placements in the magazine,” she joked to defuse the heat radiating between them.
“Oh, you think you’d get special treatment, do you?” he asked.
He trailed a row of soft kisses down her neck, and she shivered all over.
“You might just be right.” He nipped her neck.
Her shivers turned into a full-blown shudder at his touch. She turned her face toward him, and their lips met. His tongue slid into her mouth, and her hands wrapped around his neck. Where they were and what they were doing didn’t seem to matter at that moment.
Then, someone cleared his throat behind them. “Well, what do we have here?”
Trihn jumped up like a shot of electricity had rushed through her. “I’m so sorry,” she apologized immediately.
Preston stood hastily and brushed down his suit. “Sorry about that, Mr. Brown.”
Crap. His boss.
“I was just leaving,” Trihn said awkwardly.
“Perhaps Mr. Whitehall can escort you out, as he should have earlier.”
“Yes, sir,” Preston said quickly.
Trihn hastened her steps back toward the elevators with Preston on her heels. She stared down at her feet as she waited for the door to open. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble with your boss.”
“Hey,” he said, tilting her chin up, “I’m not in trouble. Even if I were, it would be worth it to have a few extra minutes with you.”
She couldn’t help the smile from blossoming on her face.
“Lunch tomorrow?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t miss it.”
The last few weeks had been a blur of Preston.
Trihn had been spending more time in Manhattan than she’d ever had before in her life. Despite Renée’s requests for her help with Intensive, she had been using her new free time to be with Preston. He had work, of course, and she still had to go home at night to Brooklyn, or her parents would freak out. They had already been asking questions about her being gone so much. Leave it to her parents to get overly sentimental about her moving into the city before it even happened.
Even though she’d been with Preston a lot, she didn’t feel overwhelmed like she’d thought she might. In fact, she became more excited each time. She had never felt like this before. Her insides would turn to Jell-O when she saw his name on her cell phone. She’d swoon at the thought of meeting him after work. Her head would feel light at the prospect of kissing him…of doing much, much more than that.
Things she was clearly ready for.
Very ready for.
Things she was hoping would happen tonight.
“How do I look?” Trihn asked Lydia, coming out of her sister’s bathroom.
She had taken way too long in deciding on what to wear tonight and finally ended up on an emerald-green dress that matched her eyes. It hugged her figure like a glove and stopped at mid-thigh. She paired it with nude heels and light jewelry. Her makeup enhanced her beauty, giving her cat eyes and high cheekbones.
“Like you have a date,” Lydia said. She sat up straight on the bed.
“Well, I do.”
“A date you’re excited for.”
“I am.” She bit her lip. “Can you tell Mom and Dad, if they ask, that I’m staying with you tonight?”
“Oh my God!” Lydia shot up off the bed and jumped up and down. “This is so exciting. Who is this guy?”
“No one. I don’t want it to be a big deal. We’re not serious or anything.”
“You’re serious enough for a date in that! This is all-new territory for you!”
“This is the reason I haven’t told you,” Trihn said.
“Because I’d be excited for you?” Lydia looked at her in dismay.
“No, because you’d make me feel like a freak for not having gone on a real date like this before.”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “Whatever. You’re not a freak. You’re just…picky. But who cares? I’m happy for you. When do I get to meet him?”
“How about never?” Trihn said immediately.
“I don’t bite!” she cried. “Plus, I have to approve of him.”
“I don’t need your approval. It’s too new, Ly. I don’t want to scare him off.”
“I won’t scare him! I’ll be a perfect big sister.”
Trihn rolled her eyes. Yeah, right. “Give me the summer. Then, if this is still the real deal when I start school in the fall, then you can meet him.”
“That’s, like…six weeks away,” she complained.
“Less than six weeks away. Now, hand me my purse, so I can head out of here.”
Lydia pouted but handed over the black clutch. Trihn kissed her on the cheek before leaving the apartment. She hailed a cab to Preston’s apartment, and when she landed on the sidewalk outside his place, she shifted anxiously from foot to foot.
Preston came out of the door of his apartment building a minute later. She launched herself at him without a thought, and he chuckled into her ear, holding her tight against him.
“Hey, beautiful,” he whispered.
“I missed you.”
He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her a little bit harder. “I missed you, too. Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah. Are you going to tell me where we’re going?” she asked.
“Oh, I see how it’s going to be. Trying to keep secrets,” she joked.
He raised his eyebrows. “I don’t want to hear it. You walked me into a model studio party with a hundred beautiful people without warning.”
“I probably should have warned you, considering the number of people who hit on you.”
“The only people in that room who hit on me were men,” he confessed, shaking his head and leaning out to hail a cab.
“Wait! What about me?” she asked with a pout.
“Were you hitting on me? I didn’t notice.”
She smacked him on the arm. “I think you noticed. You were making out with me at the end of the night.”
He pulled open the cab door, and as she slid by him into the backseat, he gasped lightly in surprise. “Was that you?”
Trihn shook her head in exasperation. Only this man could tease her like this without her strangling him. “Let me remind you,” she said.
When he sat down, she drew him in for a kiss. He tasted like cinnamon candy, and she just wanted to eat him right up. Their lips melded together, and she felt the world drop away, as it only could with him touching her.
Then, the cab driver cussed loudly, interrupting them, and Trihn pulled away, embarrassed. “Where are you headed? I don’t have all day.”
“Sorry,” Preston said quickly. “Lincoln Center.”
Her head snapped to the side. “What?”
“Ever been before?” he asked coyly.
“Are you kidding me? Do you know how many times I’ve been to Lincoln Center? I’m in love with The Metropolitan Opera House. My best friend just got into Juilliard.”
“Well, I thought this might be up your alley.”
He retrieved a pair of tickets from the inside pocket of his suit coat and handed them to her. She stared down at the tickets with delight. Preston was taking her to the ballet to see Giselle. It was one of her favorites, too.
“Thank you.” She beamed up at him and threaded their fingers together.
He gave her another deep kiss. “Only the best for you.”
The drive Uptown was surprisingly easy, and they made it to Lincoln Center with plenty of time to find their seats inside the theater. They were about midway back on the orchestra level, on the aisle. Preston took the inner seat so that she would have the best view of the stage.
Excitement was already coursing through her body at what she was about to see. She had seen many ballets, but each time it was as if she couldn’t breathe when watching. She could judge their movements, the precision behind their leaps and turns, and the extension of the men and women onstage, but all of that would seem to blur. She would just get lost in the dance. That was all that mattered.
The lights dimmed, everyone rushed to get to their seats, and then the curtain rose, transporting the audience into another world.
Trihn sank back into her seat just as the first ballerina floated onto the stage. As she reveled in the performance, Preston ran his hand up her arm and to her shoulder, sending shivers down her spine. She glanced over at him, and he had this dirty smirk on his face. He wasn’t even watching the ballet. His eyes were solely trained on her.
She swallowed and stared forward, but her attention was torn. His fingers brushed her long tresses off her neck. The palm of his hand pushed flat against her skin and went up into her hair. He gently pulled it, and as her head dipped backward, her eyes closed of their own accord.
With his other hand, he laced their fingers together, bringing her hand to his lips. He tenderly kissed each knuckle before drawing her thumb between his teeth. She inhaled deeply.
He seemed to be enjoying himself as he kneaded the muscles in her neck. He leaned forward toward her and planted a soft kiss on her shoulder.
“Keep your eyes open. You don’t want to miss a second of this,” he breathed softly.
Dear God! He was teasing her. This was sweet, blissful torture.
She could hardly concentrate. Keeping up with two things at once, when one was tempting her with everything she wanted, was harder than it seemed. As the ballet drew to a close, she was glad that she had seen it before or else she would have been entirely lost as to what had happened during much of the performance.
His touch was captivating, and she found she was a lost cause when it came to this man. She hadn’t just forgotten the ballet in front of her face. The world had disappeared all around her. In a sea of people, there was just him.
The curtain dropped unexpectedly, bright lights flooded the auditorium, and Trihn jolted upright. Preston sat up straight, as if he hadn’t just been working her into a frenzy with the lightest touches imaginable. The smirk on his face was the only indication that anything was amiss.
As the curtain rose and the dancers began to take their bows, Trihn stood on shaky legs to give the ballet that she couldn’t remember a standing ovation. Preston applauded at her side. They clapped until everyone left the stage, and people started filing out.
She exited into the aisle, and Preston grabbed her hand again.
“Hey, we’re not done,” he said. The words were suggestive and were accented by his hand squeezing around her waist.
“Oh?” she managed to get out.
“Come on. I think you’ll like this surprise better.”
“Why is that?” she asked.
“Because I’d like to finish what I started.”
Almost everyone had abandoned the theater by the time Preston and Trihn rounded the corner to the backstage entrance.
“What are we doing?” she asked.
He flashed her a toothy grin before pulling out two backstage Press passes.
Her eyes widened. “Where did you get those?”
“Work.” He shrugged his shoulders, as if using Press passes to get them backstage was totally normal.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to use them for this,” she whispered as they approached the door.
“Live a little with me.”
She had no other choice. They were going to the backstage area of The Metropolitan Opera House, a stage she dreamed of performing on. She was excited and decided she didn’t care how he was about to use Press passes. She wanted to go backstage…and she wanted Preston to keep his promise to finish what he had started during the ballet.
Preston flashed their passes to the older gentleman manning the door. He brightly smiled at them and gave them directions to where the interviews were being conducted. The man was so nice that it almost made Trihn feel bad.
Then, Preston grabbed her hand again and began pulling her down the hallway. She giggled and clutched on to his body.
She remained silent as they walked through mostly empty hallways. Preston had this thing down pat. In the midst of their deceit, she tried to mirror his confidence, acting as if they were supposed to be there.
He took a seemingly random turn, fiddled with the doorknob, and then pushed it open. “After you,” he said.
Her eyes darted down the hallway. She was just waiting for someone to come out and notice what they were up to, but whatever was going on after the performance kept others far removed from this room. She entered with Preston on her heels. He shut the door behind her, casting them into darkness.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” she whispered.
His hands grazed her sides. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“We get caught. They kick us out. Someone calls the police. We end up in jail!” she said dramatically.
“We’ll just say we took a wrong turn.” He kissed her exposed shoulder.
“They won’t believe us.”
“People believe anything you tell them with enough conviction.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes. Like right now, I’m going to get you out of that dress that has been tempting me all evening.”
He grabbed her waist and pushed her back against the door. She thudded noisily, and a giggle escaped her mouth. His lips found hers in the darkness, and suddenly, her arms were forced over her head. A groan escaped her mouth. She thrust her body hard against his, grinding her core against his suit pants.
He locked her wrists together over her head and then reached around to slide the zipper of her dress down. It hit the base of her spine, and then the material slid down her narrow hips to pool at her feet.
“See?” he teased.
“Doesn’t count,” she purred. “I wanted you to do that.”
He nipped at her bottom lip. “I think you’re going to want me to do everything else I’m about to do, too.”
She had a feeling he was right.
Now that her eyes had adjusted to the sliver of light coming from the base of the door, she pulled back to get a good look at him. He was just staring at her, almost waiting for permission, which was something he plainly didn’t need. Or maybe he just wanted to make sure she was okay. Normally, she would be drunk, and things would just…happen. It brought a smile to her lips that being with Preston was so different than her life before him.
Her smile must have been what he was looking for because, in that instant, everything shifted. The air between them heated and crackled. His mouth crashed down onto hers, and the world disappeared.
Whatever had been building between them during the performance, building between them for weeks, was crashing down all around them. She couldn’t contain it, nor did she want to. She wanted him to take what was his. She wanted to be his fully and completely.
His hand left her wrists, and she dropped her hands to his shoulders, holding on to the stiff material of his jacket. He wrapped his arms around her and grabbed her ass in both hands. She gasped against his mouth. He took that as an opportunity to delve deeper with his tongue and dig deeper with his fingers.
Time seemed to stretch between them. They were in a hurry due to the circumstances of being locked in an empty room backstage, but still, he seemed to want to explore her body. His hands traveled over her waist, down the backs of her legs, and then up her inner thighs. She shuddered against him as she wrestled with unbuttoning his shirt and getting beneath it to his glorious abs. She started for his belt buckle without pause, but then everything came to a screeching halt when he touched her pulsing center.
“Oh God,” she moaned softly, trying to keep her voice down.
Until that moment, she hadn’t realized how much she’d truly wanted him. Her body was on fire, pulsing and radiating heat at his eager touch. His finger swirled around her clit through the soft material of her thong. She trembled, nearly coming undone right then and there.
“I like you like this.”
“How?” she managed to get out.
“Powerless at my fingertips.”
“I will be like this whenever you want me to.”
He chuckled softly against her mouth and continued his work on her lower body. “I want to feel this,” he said, slipping a digit under her thong and soaking his finger, “all around me.”
“Oh, yes,” she moaned.
At the feel of him, her body convulsed of its own will. She was so worked up that she could barely get her hands moving to undo his belt buckle, pop the button on his pants, and drop the zipper. She freed his cock from his boxers and gave it a few good strokes.
His head fell into the crook of her shoulder. “Fuck.”
The way he’d drawled it out with a deep throaty moan as she grabbed his cock made fuck her new favorite word.
Preston roughly hoisted her up, so that her legs circled his waist, and then forced her back against the door. She held on to his shoulders for support and was glad for her dancer balance.
He yanked her underwear to the side, and their bodies moved together until the tip of his dick was positioned over her opening. He shifted up into her just an inch, and she tensed at the slight intrusion.
It had been…a long time since she had done this, and the first time hadn’t been the best of experiences. She had promised herself that, when it happened again, it would be with the right person, for the right reasons. She had to remind herself that she had no reservations about Preston, and she forced herself to relax.
With ease, Preston pushed up into her slick wetness. Her head tipped back at the feel of him filling her, and she let loose a string of her new favorite word.
He chuckled hoarsely into her shoulder.
“You’re…so—shit,” he said incoherently. “Tight.”
“Mmm,” she groaned back.
He had stolen the rest of the words from her. Then, he started moving, and despite her loss of words, she found that she was loud enough anyway. He covered her mouth with a fierce kiss to try to silence her as he moved in and out. She pushed herself harder against him, meeting his movements as best as she could. His grip on her was firm as he did much of the directing, and she didn’t mind at all.
A rustling outside the door made her head pop up, and her eyes widened in alarm. “Shit,” she whispered.
Preston stopped abruptly and waited to hear what was going on. She could hear voices passing by the door, but she couldn’t make out the sounds. More came and went, and Trihn wondered if the dancers were leaving the building. If they got stuck here, she had no idea what they were going to do.
“Maybe we should go,” she hissed.
He gave her a disbelieving look. “Hell no.”
“There are people out there!”
“They can wait,” he said.
He started moving, and her body fired up all over again.
“Preston…” she pleaded, unsure of whether she was asking him to stop or start.
Her body was enjoying everything he was doing to her.
“They can wait, Trihn,” he repeated quietly. “I have every intention of finishing you first.”
And why would I keep him from that? She prayed no one would hear and that she could keep quiet, but he sure as hell was making that difficult.
The voices outside the room became louder and more frequent as his thrusts picked up pace. She bit her lip to keep from crying out and closed her eyes. Her body was humming. She could barely breathe. She could feel sweat beading on her brow. She couldn’t hold back any longer.
She tightened around him, and then everything released all at once. Her body shook uncontrollably. It felt like a hurricane was ripping through her. And it was pure bliss.
He jerked inside her. His whole body was a knot of tension, and then a euphoric smile touched his lips as he finished. “You’re…amazing,” he drawled slowly.
He pulled back and let her legs drop to the ground. They were shaking from the energy it had taken to hold herself up. She was glad his muscular arms had carried much of her weight. As he righted himself, she pulled her dress on, leaned back against the door, and sighed heavily.
They waited until the voices outside the door disappeared before peeking around the corner and exiting as discreetly as possible. She tightly held his hand and avoided eye contact with anyone they passed. She was sure she looked mussed and freshly sexed. And she didn’t care one bit.
They took a taxi back to his apartment. Before he had even gotten his front door closed, he was peeling her dress off again. She couldn’t seem to get enough of him, and he couldn’t seem to get enough of her. They fell into bed together.
It wasn’t until several hours later that she finally laid her head against his bare chest and felt her body succumb to sleep. It was the first night she had ever stayed at a guy’s place, and it couldn’t have been more perfect.