Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweetest readers: I love you because you are the best!
And I have brought you a gift! HOWEVER, you are not to blame me for this gift, because Cindy Pon and Holly Black chose it. They felt it was absolutely the right one. So if you don’t like it… come after them…
Thus without further ado…
It took her a moment to realize there was someone else in that small dark corridor.
He was standing against the wall in the shadows. The only light was the stripe cast through the door Kami had not quite shut behind her; the iron doorknob was still pressed against her palm. His face was shadowed, but in that pale strip of light, she saw the gold glint of his hair and the line of his body, shoulders squared and arms folded.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Kami. She let go of the doorknob and reached for him. Miraculously, he did not flinch away. He let her fingertips rest against the worn leather of his sleeve.
“Listen,” Kami whispered, braver now. “I don’t care what Lillian says, or what anyone says. It doesn’t have to matter. You don’t have to hate yourself. I know you. Better than anyone. Don’t I?”
She felt sinking disappointment when he uncrossed his arms and her hand fell away, certain he was about to move farther away.
But he moved nearer. Surprise ran through Kami at that simple action, his warmth so close to her chilled body. His breath was a whisper of heat against her cheek. As she swallowed in the dark, she felt his fingers lightly touching the collar of her dress, trailing back to the nape of her neck.
Then his hand closed tight in her hair, and he pulled her in against him and kissed her. Kami arched up against him, sliding her hands up along his chest, feeling muscle move under thin cotton against her palms. She clenched her hands and held on tight to the fabric of his T-shirt, knuckles pressing into the lines of his collarbone.
She kissed him, pulling him down to her, as his fingers tugged at her tie and her body drew in closer to his with each tug. She felt the material give, the buttons pulling free so her collar drew open, and he slipped his hand just inside the warm space between her collar and her throat, his fingertips curling against her skin.
His other hand was stroking her hair, pulling at it a little too much but with a frantic attempt at gentleness. He was pressed against the wall and she was pressed against him. She was finally close again, inside a circle of warmth, his leather jacket around her and his body against hers. She was almost close enough.
The door to the pool room opened, and Kami tore herself away, throwing open the door of the parlor and hurling herself inside. She found herself blinking in the impossibly bright lights. When the dazzle cleared, she saw everyone looking at her curiously. Holly was leaning across to Angela, as if they had been talking at last, and Rusty looked as though he had just woken up from a nap.
Kami resumed her seat on the sofa in complete silence, and found out who had opened the door to the pool room as Lillian walked into the parlor. Lillian, naturally, had not a hair out of place and gave no indication that she had witnessed any torrid corridor encounters. Kami watched her walk calmly toward the mantelpiece, and jumped like a hare at a gunshot when the door opened again.
Ash walked in.
Kami had not noticed before that he was wearing a leather jacket. His was black, and looked a bit newer than Jared’s battered brown leather jacket, but she hadn’t been able to see colors in the shadows.
Oh no, Kami thought, surely not. Life could not be that ridiculous or that cruel. It could not be true.
Ash met her fixed stare and offered her a smile, shyer than Ash’s usual smiles. Kami forced herself to smile weakly back. It wasn’t one of her best efforts, but Ash looked pleased. He went back to his chair, glancing at her and smiling again.
Then Jared marched into the room and headed straight for the window seat. Once he was at the window, he leaned against the glass and looked out at the night.
So if Kami did the making-out mathematics, and weighed the chances of it being the guy sneaking looks and smiles at her, or the guy who was keeping up his perfect record of stonily ignoring her . . .
Kami sat stricken. She could not imagine what expression was on her face, but she saw Angela giving her an odd look out of the corner of her eye.
Rusty leaned in to her, settling his arm around her shoulders again. “Everything all right, Cambridge?” he murmured.
Kami said numbly, “Never better.”
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! (Sorry!)