Sighing, I put on lip gloss and some eye shadow. I don’t go crazy with makeup because simple works best on me.
Leah cranks up the radio, and the latest pop songs fill the car. I grin and start singing along with Rihanna. Leah joins me, and now we’re both belting out S&M lyrics.
Before I know it, we arrive at the club.
We walk in like we own the place. Leah gives the bouncer a big smile, and we flash our IDs. They let us through, no problem.
We’ve never been to this club before. It’s in an older, slightly rundown part of downtown Chicago.
“How did you find this place?” I yell at Leah, shouting to be heard above the music.
“Ralph told me about it,” she yells back, and I roll my eyes.
Ralph is Leah’s ex-boyfriend. They broke up when he started acting weird, but they still talk for some reason. I think he’s into drugs or something these days. I’m not sure, and Leah won’t tell me out of some misplaced loyalty to him. He’s the king of shady, and the fact that we’re here on his recommendation is not super-comforting.
But whatever. Sure, the area outside is not the best, but the music is good and the crowd is a nice mix of people.
We’re here to party, and that’s exactly what we do for the next hour. Leah gets a couple of guys to buy us shots. We don’t have more than one drink each. Leah—because she has to drive us home. And me—because I don’t metabolize alcohol well. We may be young, but we’re not stupid.
After the shots, we dance. The two guys who bought us drinks dance with us, but we gradually migrate away from them. They’re not that cute. Leah finds a group of college-age hotties, and we sidle up to them. She strikes up a conversation with one of them, and I smile, watching her in action. She’s good at this flirting business.
In the meantime, my bladder tells me I need to visit the ladies’ room. So I leave them and go.
On my way back, I ask the bartender for a glass of water. I am thirsty after all the dancing.
He gives it to me, and I greedily gulp it down. When I’m done, I put down the glass and look up.
He’s sitting on the other side of the bar, about ten feet away. And he’s staring at me.
I stare back. I can’t help it. He’s probably the most handsome man I’ve ever seen.
His hair is dark and curls slightly. His face is hard and masculine, each feature perfectly symmetrical. Straight dark eyebrows over those strikingly pale eyes. A mouth that could belong to a fallen angel.
I suddenly feel warm as I imagine that mouth touching my skin, my lips. If I were prone to blushing, I would’ve been beet-red.
He gets up and walks toward me, still holding me with his gaze. He walks leisurely. Calmly. He’s completely sure of himself. And why not? He’s gorgeous, and he knows it.
As he approaches, I realize that he’s a large man. Tall and well built. I don’t know how old he is, but I’m guessing he’s closer to thirty than twenty. A man, not a boy.
He stands next to me, and I have to remember to breathe.
“What’s your name?” he asks softly. His voice somehow carries above the music, its deeper notes audible even in this noisy environment.
“Nora,” I say quietly, looking up at him. I am absolutely mesmerized, and I’m pretty sure he knows it.
He smiles. His sensuous lips part, revealing even white teeth. “Nora. I like that.”
He doesn’t introduce himself, so I gather my courage and ask, “What’s your name?”
“You can call me Julian,” he says, and I watch his lips moving. I’ve never been so fascinated by a man’s mouth before.
“How old are you, Nora?” he asks next.
“Almost eighteen,” I admit reluctantly. I hope he doesn’t tell the bartender and get me kicked out of here.
He nods, like I confirmed his suspicions. And then he raises his hand and touches my face. Lightly, gently. His thumb rubs against my lower lip, as though he’s curious about its texture.
I’m so shocked that I just stand there. Nobody has ever done that before, touched me so casually, so possessively. I feel hot and cold at the same time, and a tendril of fear snakes down my spine. There is no hesitation in his actions. No asking for permission, no pausing to see if I would let him touch me.
He just touches me. Like he has the right to do so. Like I belong to him.
I draw in a shaky breath and back away. “I have to go,” I whisper, and he nods again, watching me with an inscrutable expression on his beautiful face.
I know he’s letting me go, and I feel pathetically grateful—because something deep inside me senses that he could’ve easily gone further, that he doesn’t play by the normal rules.
That he’s probably the most dangerous creature I’ve ever met.
I turn and make my way through the crowd. My hands are trembling, and my heart is pounding in my throat.
I need to leave, so I grab Leah and make her drive me home.
As we’re walking out of the club, I look back and I see him again. He’s still staring at me.
There is a dark promise in his gaze—something that makes me shiver.
The next three weeks pass by in a blur. I celebrate my eighteenth birthday, study for finals, hang out with Leah and my other friend Jennie, go to football games to watch Jake play, and get ready for graduation.