"Bonnie." My mother's disapproving tone demanded my attention. She tapped a red lacquered nail against the table. "You look a mess. I hope your night out with your friends was worth it."
I straightened the sundress around my knees, and shifted in my seat. Though my memories of the night before were somewhat foggy, a slow smile crossed my lips. It was everything a twenty-first birthday was supposed to be. And this morning, I'd had the hangover from hell to prove it.
She dug through her purse, offering me a compact. "You need some concealer." The only thing my mother criticized more than my poor manners were my looks, and though applying makeup in public would have typically earned me an exasperated sigh, apparently things were dreadful enough that immediate intervention was warranted. That and I guess being tucked back in the tall booth of a dim restaurant wasn't exactly public.
I took her compact and flipped it open, inspecting my appearance. There were dark circles under my eyes, and my hair hung limply around my face since I hadn't had time this morning to dry it. I twisted it into a low, loose bun and secured it with a few pins dug from the bottom of my purse. Then I swiped some of the concealer under my eyes until I was satisfied it was the best I could do.
"That's better," my mother said, holding out her hand to retrieve the compact.
We were waiting for my father to arrive, and so far he was an entire seven minutes late. I was sure he'd get an earful about it later. My mother had chosen the restaurant –a high-end steakhouse. I was never much of a meat eater, but she and my dad were on a high-protein diet. I scanned the menu for something that didn't make me want to hurl. I decided on a Caesar salad with grilled shrimp.
My father arrived, slipping into the booth beside my mother and offering her a chaste peck on the cheek in apology. "Sorry I'm late. Business meeting ran over." He reached across the table and gave my hand a squeeze.
I nodded. "It's okay, Daddy."
I knew my dad had a stressful job. He was a partner at an accounting firm and worked hard to give me and my mother everything and then some. I couldn't be mad at him for being a few minutes late to a lunch I didn't want to be at either.
My stomach was still queasy from last night, and I nibbled on bread and sipped my water while my parents discussed the upgrades they had planned to our vacation home in Vermont. My mind wandered to last night's events. Oh, all right, directly back to Kol. This morning while I'd stood under the steaming hot spray of the shower, scrubbing his address from my forearm, I couldn't help but remember his sexy, challenging smile.
Seriously, who in the hell arranges a meeting to lose their virginity? It wasn't like I was actually going to go through with having sex with a porn star, and a complete stranger at that. God, was that insane or what? I really needed to keep Camille on a tighter leash. This was all her doing. When I remembered the look she gave me when I admitted that I was a virgin, I shuddered. Even Matt had jumped in, saying he'd be happy to make me a woman himself. Too bad there was zero attraction there. He was a nice guy, and I knew he'd do anything for me—but that? No thanks. It'd be like kissing my brother. Gross.
The look on Kol's face at hearing Matt step up to the plate was pure anger, and when his eyes flashed to mine they were filled with something else… Longing? No. I couldn't think about the possibility of desire in Kol's expression. That had me shuddering for an entirely different reason.
But what was etched most deeply into my memory was the smug look on his face, the certainty that I wouldn't have the guts to show up today.
That, coupled with my mother's disapproving glances and not-so-subtle hints about setting me up with Jeremy Gilbert were enough to convince me. Even though I'd scrubbed away every trace of his writing from my skin, I remembered the address.
Not that I was actually going to go. God, could you imagine? Sorry, Mom and Dad, I have to cut this horrendous lunch short to go meet a porn star so I can lose my virginity. Ha! I choked on my water at the absurdity.
The few bites of solid food in my stomach and multiple glasses of iced water had returned me to my former self. I would go to Kol—but only to tell him off. Who the hell did he think he was? Offering his services like it was a total inconvenience for him, but still agreeing to take my virginity? I shuddered. He was about to get an earful.
My parents insisted on dessert, since it was my birthday after all, so I forced down several bites of cheesecake before saying goodbye to my parents. Once they were gone, I made my way to the restroom inside the restaurant and scanned my appearance in the full-length mirror. I adjusted the spaghetti straps of the form-fitting, cream-colored sundress and smoothed the fabric over my hips. Everything about my look, from the coral gloss on my lips to my French-pedicured feet encased in gold designer sandals ensured Kol would understand I was way out of his league. Satisfied I looked as good as I could manage on a hangover I straightened my shoulders and grabbed my handbag. This had nothing to do with seeing Kol again, and everything to do with letting him see what he'd never have.
When I pulled up in front of his place, I figured there had to be some sort of mistake. He'd probably give me a fake address, since I doubted Kol, the porn-star hottie, lived in this suburban, middle-class neighborhood.
I put my car into park and switched off the engine. The house itself was small, but neat and tidy, its white siding freshly painted. A row of trimmed hedges bordered the small yard.
A black pick-up truck was parked in the driveway, but other than that, there was no telling if anyone was home. I checked my appearance in the rearview mirror one last time, took a deep breath and left the safety of my car before I chickened out completely.
I didn't get very far. A school bus had stopped on the corner, letting off a small army of children. The noisy kids scattered in different directions, parading home along the streets and sidewalks, but my attention was momentarily captured by a bright-eyed little girl, smaller than all the rest, who hobbled her way past me with the help of a tiny walker. She spared me a curious glance, but continued on, her eyes shining with determination.
"Kol!" she called, struggling to make her legs carry her in the direction of the house, where Kol had appeared on the front lawn. He crossed the last few feet separating them and lifted her easily from the ground, the walker momentarily left aside.
"How was school, baby girl?" He planted a kiss in her blonde curls before lowering her to the ground.
"It was good. I colored a picture of a butterfly for you today."
"Yeah? That sounds really nice. Is it in your backpack?"
She nodded, her curls bouncing as she did so. The pink backpack was nearly as big as she was. I thought maybe he'd take the bag from her shoulders, or help her up the ramp that led up to the porch, but he just looked on proudly as her little figure slowly shuffled upward, pushing the walker out in front of her with each step.
The little girl had captured Kol's complete attention and he'd yet to even notice me.
"Kol?" My voice sounded shaky and uneven even to my own ears.
He spun around and looked at me, still waiting by my car at the curb. "Bonnie?" Confusion etched into his features, creasing his brow.
Shit. I should not have come. All my earlier venom about wanting to tell him off had evaporated at watching him with the little girl.
I watched as he connected the dots in his head, and the surprised expression on his face disappeared, a slow smile curving his lips. "So you really want to go through with it, do you?"
And the venom was back. I marched across the yard, stopping just in front of him, and jabbed my finger into his chest. "I'm not here to have sex with you, you sleazebag. You didn't think I'd show, so I only came here to prove you wrong."
The front door opened and the little girl peeked out. "Kol?" Her voice was full of questions and her eyes widened at the sight of me so close to Kol. I dropped my hand from his chest and stepped back. It was hard to be mad at him when such a sweet little girl obviously adored him.
"It's okay, Bex. Go on back in the house. I'll be in to help you with your stretches in just a minute."
She scratched her belly and sighed. "Can you make me a peanut butter and jelly?"
He chuckled. "Sure will. Go turn on your 'toons for a minute."
"M'kay!" she called happily, closing the door behind her as she disappeared inside.
He ran a hand across his hair and blew out a frustrated breath. "Rebekah's my sister, but I have full custody. I have since she was three."
"Oh." He was raising his little sister? I took a step back at the weight of this new information. The strong bond between them was undeniable. "Is it scoliosis?" I asked softly.
"Spina bifida," he said, his eyes far away.
"Oh," I said again. I knew it was a crippling childhood disease that left the spine twisted and often affected the legs, but not much else. "I'm sorry."
"We manage," he bit out.
"I can see that. Look, I'm sorry. Why don't we just forget I ever came here?" I wanted to take another step back, to disappear entirely, but I remained where I was, fighting the urge to run.
"Why did you come here?" His gaze sparked with curiosity, the challenge in his tone unmistakable.
His eyes raked over my skin, and sent a brief chill skittering down my spine. I cursed myself for wearing this damn sundress and for how much skin was showing. My breasts pressed against the thin cotton fabric, reminding me this dress didn't accommodate for a bra and left me feeling a little too on display. I hated how his mere presence left me off balance and reeling.
"At least a little part of you was curious. You wouldn't have shown up otherwise." He touched my shoulder, his thumb brushing along the exposed flesh next to the strap of my dress.
My eyes shut briefly at the intensity in his caress, and I uselessly opened and closed my mouth, unable to respond. Heck yeah, I was curious. I was curious what his stubble-covered jaw would feel like against my skin and what his full mouth would feel like covering mine.
He dropped his hand, seemingly unaware of the panty-melting effect he was having on me. "Just so you know, I wasn't trying to embarrass you, or take advantage. I was trying to preserve some of your dignity. Your one friend was practically auctioning you off, and your other friend was ready to whip out his dick and take you right there. You should be thanking me."
Thanking him? Yeah, right. But I guess it had put him in an awkward situation, too. "Well, I only came here to tell you never mind. That I wasn't interested."
"Really? That's why you drove all the way over here?" One of his eyebrows quirked upward in disbelief.
My cheeks reddened. I supposed curiosity had more than a little to do with it… Well, that, and I'd have done just about anything to get away from my mother's afternoon shopping plans for us.
"We both know there's more to it than that. A small part of you wants this, but I can be patient. I've got all the time in the world."
He was right that I did want it, but I wasn't about to tell him that. His cockiness was now really beginning to get on my nerves. "Get over yourself. It'll be a cold day in hell when I come asking you for sex."
He laughed at my sudden outburst, the sound full and throaty. "Whatever you say, love." He glanced back at the house where I knew his sister was waiting for him.
Hearing him mention about helping her with her stretches sent my mind tumbling in the direction of nursing school, and trying to remember what I knew about issues with the spine. "Does she go to physical therapy?"
"Not anymore. I couldn't afford to keep it up, so I had the therapist teach me the exercises I could do with her at home."
"Oh." I seemed to keep saying that, increasingly finding myself at a loss for words. Over the past few minutes he'd transformed from an ultra-sexy, bad-for-you porn star into a loving, caring human being. He clearly loved his sister and worried over her condition. I didn't know what to do with this new information. "I have to go. Besides, you have a PB and J to make." I held my face impassive, trying like hell not to let him see just how confused I was becoming.
"Yeah, okay." He stuffed his hands into his pockets, his forearms flexing with movement, a smug smile still on his lips.
I turned and headed for my car, his chuckle grating over my skin for what I assumed was the last time. How wrong I was.
Thank you for the support. TGIF and stay safe.