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Things weren't always this tense between Declan and Mak. For a brief, shining moment, they forgot all their preconceived notions and saw one another. Ready for prom?
I drained the water and put my glass under the table, pouring some of the vodka into it.
“Declan, can I have a dance later?” A girl, Hannah—or was it Anna?—asked as she passed by on the arm of her date.
I winced and shrugged my shoulders at the guy. Sorry, dude. I’d convinced the guys to go solo. Well, except for Emmett. He’d of course brought, Avery. They’d been joined at the hip since sophomore year. But Heath, Ford, and Colm were by my side at our table. Blue light skated over the room from the massive fish tank that took up one entire wall.
Not many people got to say they had their prom at an aquarium. A group of other students crowded around one end of the tank where a fish that looked almost as big as Emmett hung near the glass. All it was missing was the giant bushy beard.
This was one of our last nights all together. The prom, the big pep rally, a final blow out at Emmett’s, and then we were all off to college. Bittersweet in a way. Leaving most of the guys behind. Heath and I would be playing locally at the University of Philadelphia. Colm and Ford would be up in Boston, and Emmett was being cagey with his plans for next year.
A few hors d’oeuvres and a shot from the flask later, and the prom was really in full swing. Emmett arrived with Avery on his arm, beaming like he always was whenever she was near him. Dude had it so bad and he didn’t even care. We didn’t even give him shit about it anymore, that was just how it was. Avery meant everything to him, made sense when you had parents as shitty as his.
The room heated up, and I shrugged off my jacket, draping it over the back of my chair, ready to get back on the dance floor. While most people would have expected everyone to be uptight, it seemed that the dim lighting and fish as an audience meant everyone was ready to show off their moves.
“Holy shit!” someone behind me said, and my gaze darted all over the place to figure out what they were talking about.
I’d been hit in the chest with a puck before, but nothing quite compared to this feeling. Across the room, standing in front of the entrance, was a breathtaking sight. I don’t remember what the hell color her dress was, all I knew was I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
She stood there fidgeting with the small bag in her hands and glanced around the room.
“Wow, looks like the Ice Queen has finally thawed out a bit.”
A slight murmur rippled through the people around me. My stomach dropped as my mind whirred trying to place her. And like a slow motion reveal, Makenna Halstead slid those horn-rimmed glasses she’d worn every second I’d ever seen her back on.
Avery spotted her and raced across the room, wrapping her arms around an incredibly uncomfortable-looking Makenna. It was like now that she knew all eyes were on her, she couldn’t handle the pressure.
It wasn’t just the glasses that were missing. It was also the telltale bun and the talk-to-me-and-I’ll-kill-you stare. Normally, she walked with her shoulders square and a stomp that could shatter bone. I’d never seen her look so...nice.
She bit her bottom lip. It was the first time I’d ever seen her look unsure. I’d have never thought her barely strawberry-blonde hair was that long, since she always wore it up. She also swore up and down that dances and other stuff like this were a waste of time, so seeing her here had taken my brain at least a little while to piece it together.
Avery dragged her over to our table. We had a couple seats free. Mak gave the table a small wave.
“No, you’re not wearing those tonight. You don’t need them.” Avery tugged the glasses off her face and shoved them back in her bag.
“Actually, I kind of do.” Makenna reached for the bag as Avery smacked her hands away.
“Nope! I’m sure one of these strapping young men would be happy to lead you around like your very own seeing-eye stud if you do need to go anywhere.”
The corners of her mouth turned down, but this time her lips were all soft and shiny. Deep pink brought out the fullness I’d never seen before. I shook my head. This was Mak the Ice Queen we were talking about.
She sat on a seat beside Ford, who seemed completely content to be sitting beside someone who was also happy doing her best mute impersonation.
“If you don’t dance to at least five songs tonight, I swear I’m tanking our final project on purpose.”
Mak gasped, like a real-life hand-to-chest gasp in horror at Avery even suggesting it.
“They would never find your body, Avery.” Mak grinned up at her with her arms crossed over her chest.
I laughed into my napkin, and Mak turned her glare on me.
“I’m sure Emmett would. He’s like a bloodhound when it comes to me.” Right on time Emmett slid his arms around her waist and planted his nose in her neck, letting out a sniff loud enough for everyone to hear.
“I smell someone who needs to get out there and dance.” Emmett led Avery away from the table. Avery held out her hand, flashing a five at Mak over and over. I grabbed the flask from the spot Colm had stashed it and had another drink.
A long, slender hand slid its way down over my shoulder, stopping at my chest. “You promised me a dance.” The smell from Anna’s hot breath against my neck told me we weren’t the only ones who’d snuck in a little booze tonight. It was not a good smell on her, and my skin crawled. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the pissed-off face of her date. I did not want to have a fight tonight.
“Listen, I’m sorry. I would, but I already promised Mak a dance, and you know how she gets when she can’t get what she wants, and it looks like tonight she wants me.”
Mak’s eyes got as wide as saucers, and her mouth hung open. Slipping out of the grasp of the date-ditcher, I rounded the table and held out my hand to Mak.
Glancing behind me at the very pissed-off Hannah or Anna and her even more pissed-off date, Mak perhaps sized up the situation and didn’t want to be in the middle of a whirlwind of haymakers or thrown drinks, so she took my hand. A small jolt shot straight up my arm the second my skin touched hers. It was that same feeling you got standing in line for concessions at a movie you’d been waiting for forever. I shook my head. This was Mak we were talking about, and she didn’t look one bit affected by my fingers wrapped around hand.
“And tonight I want you?” She lifted an eyebrow at me as we walked out onto the dance floor with the corners of her mouth turned up the tiniest bit.
“I improvised. I know how people get when they don’t get a piece of me.” I grinned at her, but she just rolled her eyes.
“Probably for the best. Hannah can be a real bitch when she doesn’t get what she wants, which probably means Edgar is in for a rough night. Poor guy.” She glanced back over her shoulder to a very irate Hannah standing with her arms crossed over her chest.
People parted out of the way to give us some room. The moderately fast-paced song switched up to a slow one almost as soon as we found our spot.
We stood there staring at each other. I took a step forward, and Mak hesitated before looping her arms around my neck. The sensation was back now and worse than before. Staring down into Mak’s eyes, I really saw them for the first time. They were the brightest blue I’d ever seen. Maybe it was the room or a trick of the lights, but I’d never seen so many blues in one spot.
It was the soft stroke of her fingers along the hair at the nape of my neck that made my hands tighten on her waist. The way she stared into my eyes, I don’t even know if she realized she was doing it. Like her hands had a mind of their own, trying to soak up a little bit more of me. And I figured that was how she felt because my fingers had the same idea as I pulled her in tighter against me. Her lips parted, and her eyelashes fluttered.
The thud of my heart pounded as we moved to our own rhythm under the dim lights at the center of a sea of people. Electricity buzzed through my body, but I knew it wasn’t just the vodka. It was all to do with the woman in my arms who usually drove me up a wall.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without your glasses before.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a tux before.” Her pink tongue darted out to lick her bottom lip. The wetness left behind drew my gaze to it, and I wanted to have my own sample of her lips.
“You’re never been to prom before.” My hands pressed into the small of her back, closing the tiniest of gaps that had been between us. Why did she feel so good in my arms? The blues and greens from the fish tank washed over us like a spell had been cast and we were living in our own little underwater bubble.
“Almost didn’t come to this one.”
“Why not?” I leaned my head back, savoring the trail her fingertip blazed along the base of my neck.
She never let herself have any fun. Normally, it also meant no one else could have any fun and it irked the shit out of me, but tonight I just wanted to hold her close on the dance floor all night.
“It’s not really my thing, but I figured it’s a rite of passage and all, so I decided to come.” She shrugged her shoulders.
“I’m glad you did.”
Even with the pretense of her helping me out of a dance with the devil—aka Hannah—gone, we stayed out there through a string of slow songs. At least I think they were slow songs; our tempo didn’t change. It was the first time we’d probably had a civil conversation with each other in years. So weird that it would happen now. It was like one of those high school movies I swore I never watched, but I had at least a few times, where the big thing happened between the two nemeses.
My head dipped down slightly. It was like the warning sirens blaring on a submarine. My blood pounded in my veins, and I needed to taste her lips like I needed my next breath. It was an uncontrolled dive, and I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but she wasn’t pulling back. She wasn’t pushing her hands against me or cocking her hand back for a slap; if anything, she leaned in even more.
Her eyes almost fluttered closed as my lips parted, so close to hers. Her body went stiff, and her eyes snapped open wide. “Are you drunk?” She pushed back in my arms.
I let them drop. “No, I’m not drunk. I’ve had a couple drinks, but that’s it.” I took a step toward her, and she took a step back.
Before I could say anything else, a booming voice came out over the squealing PA. “And now it’s time to announce our prom king and queen.” One of the prom committee girls grabbed me by the arm. “We need you up front, Declan.”
With a strength I didn’t think someone of her size could possess, she pushed me from the middle of the dance floor. I glanced behind me at a stone-faced Mak with her arms crossed over her chest. She was back at our table and had her glasses back on her face. Things were back just how they’d always been.
The bright lights hanging from the ceiling shined in my face as they went through whatever the hell they were doing up onstage. I kept my eyes on Mak with the corners of my mouth turned down as she slowly made her way toward the double doors.
“And this year’s prom king is Declan McAvoy!” Someone placed a crown on my head, and everyone cheered. The doors closed behind Mak, and I couldn’t help but feel like that was the end to something. The end of something that hadn’t even really started. But I know one thing. If I’d known how long it would be until I got to hold her again, I’d have held on a bit longer.
Sometimes you start a story and you know which side characters will be getting their own stories and which ones won't. Frankie and Grim came to me over time, growing on me every day until their story unfolded clearly in my mind.
Their backstory is equal parts tragic and beautiful. Bright as a sunny morning with lows that will have you in tears. It's a story that will have you laughing, crying and panting for more, so get ready for Frankie and Grim on February 6th!
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Maya Hughes | Romance Author