I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. Eyes so gray they were almost silver, hair as black as those summer nights had been, the rich sound of his laughter at something witty my friend, Sara, had said. All of this floated around me, my pulse dancing. But his laugh faded into the moment and he looked at me, the remnants of a smile still on his lips. It was then I felt it. An indescribable sensation at the time, but something I would soon come to know as an energy. A force with the power to take me under, willing or not. His gaze lingered on mine for a moment, a brief, fleeting, substantial moment, and then the connection was gone. His friends enveloped him in their attention, and I watched as the group returned to their table at the other end of the bar. This wouldn’t be the only time I’d see him—a fate I’m still not certain was a blessing or a curse.
Three years have passed since that summer I spent at Sara’s family’s beach house in a town so small South Carolina needn’t have bothered putting it on the map. Three months we were there. Sara on summer break from law school, me on break from my life. You see, artists are never truly satisfied unless they are immersed in their passion, and graduating with an accounting degree because you are too chicken shit to pursue what you really want doesn’t exactly pave the road to creativity. A free summer financed by Sara’s parents was just too good of an opportunity to pass up. I left that office with my pitiful little box of belongings before common sense had a chance to do its job. I promised myself this wouldn’t be a mistake. The time I would spend on hiatus from nothing would clear my head and I would know in which direction to go.
At the time I made the decision I had no way of knowing what that summer would bring. I wouldn’t have been able to imagine the things I would be capable of, the lengths to which I’d end up going. The intensity with which I would yearn. I had no way of knowing about him. The problem with addiction is you crave what you need—whether it is good for you or not.
So, I’ll tell you my story but you must promise not to judge, for what you will hear will not always paint me in the best light. I will come off, at times, as a woman who should have known better. I was told, after all. But if you allow yourself to succumb to a dark place, if you become truly lost, you will do anything…anything to end the pain—if only for a moment.
I watched him walk away from the bar, my pulse slowly coming under control. Sara sat next to me, oblivious to the chaos rioting through my bloodstream. Taking a sip of my merlot I turned to face her, trying to shake off what had just transpired.
"So, what do you think of this place?" Sara asked, practically lit up by her excitement of returning to the small beach town where she had spent every summer of her life.
"Great. Crowded," I replied, glancing over my shoulder at the table in the corner.
Sara laughed. "Always. In a town you can barely turn around in there aren’t too many places to hang out."
I smiled, placing my wine glass on the bar top. When Sara began speaking to the bartender, I turned slightly, feigning a stretch. Our eyes met then. His gaze was unwavering, as if staring down a complete stranger was a commonplace event. But if it was so terribly inappropriate, why couldn’t I look away? Who knows how long we stared at one another, but I eventually broke the contact, unnerved to my very core.
Placing my hand on Sara’s arm I cleared my throat. "Hey, I’ll be right back. You said the bathrooms were over there to the right?"
"Yeah, just past the entrance to the restaurant and then down the hall."
I nodded and hopped off the stool, heading in the opposite direction of the molten gray stare I felt on my back as sure as I was breathing. Once I entered the restroom I let a long breath escape, walking to the mirrors. Studying my reflection, I finger combed my mahogany waves and began to silently count. Not a good sign. When numbers became necessary to calm my nerves, I’d already moved one step too far into something I shouldn’t. Shaking my head I retrieved a lipstick from my purse and reapplied, its color nearly matching the deep flush spread across my cheeks.
Somewhat under control, I left the sanctity of the ladies room. I stopped short when I saw him leaning against the wall, drumming his thumb against his jean-clad thigh to the thrum of music emanating from the bar area.
"I knew you’d have to come out of there eventually," he said as he walked toward me, looming over my five-foot-nine frame. "I’m Stone."
He didn’t extend his hand as I would have expected. Instead, he rested it on the wall behind me, hovering just close enough to send my heartbeat skittering.
"Jane," I managed.
"Jane," he said, a slow smile crawling across his lips. "I like that name. See Jane run. Run, Jane, run." My eyes widened and he laughed, reaching out to toy with a tendril of hair that fell across my shoulder. "It’s very nice to meet you, Jane." He made a leisurely perusal of my person, pricks of awareness dancing over my skin. Settling his gray gaze on mine, he ran his finger along my cheekbone. "You’ve got eyes like a cat—jade green and full of mystery. They intrigue me."
With that he left me, speechless, leaning against the wall. He strode toward the bathroom. My eyes tracked him, taking in the long length of his body, the wide stretch of his shoulders, until he disappeared behind the door. Hastily I made my way back to Sara.
"You about ready?" I asked, breathless, eyeing her half-full wine glass like an adversary—a hindrance to my desired speedy departure.
She looked at me with suspicion in her eyes. "Don’t you want to finish your wine?"
Grabbing my glass I drained the last of its contents, setting it down on the bar top with a satisfying thud. "Yes, thanks. How about you?"
The corners of her lips curled in amusement. "What’s going on?"
"Nothing. Just a long day. You know, with the drive and all." Running a hand through my curls, I grasped them at my nape, eyeing Stone from my periphery as he approached. I steadied myself for more embarrassment but he only smiled the most devastating smile I’d yet to encounter and passed by us on the way to his table.
"Now I see."
I glanced back at Sara. "Now you see what?"
"What happened back there that’s made you all jumpy?" she asked.
Glancing over my shoulder, my heart dropped into my stomach as I met the stare digging into my back. I returned my gaze to Sara’s. "Um, nothing really."
Sara crooked her head slightly, looking behind me. "Ah, yes. Madeline’s brother. The girl I introduced you to earlier." She tapped her finger against her forehead. "I can never remember his name…starts with an ‘s’."
"Stone," I offered a little too quickly. Sara’s left eyebrow shot up. "Well," I said, my hand on my hip. "It’s a unique name—hard to forget."
"If you say so." She smiled, toying with the stem of her wine glass. "He was Madeline’s stepbrother before their parents divorced. She only moved here two years ago."
I glanced over my shoulder again. "So, you don’t know him?"
"No. I know of him, though."
My gaze shot back to hers at her tone. "Meaning?"
"Meaning I’ve heard some cautionary tales from Madeline. Apparently he’s somewhat of a player."
Sara polished off her wine and we settled the tab. I could feel the heat of his gaze as it tracked our movement away from the crowded bar. The night air on the other side of the door was a comfort as I followed Sara to the car. My mind raced. One, two, three, four, five…
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