I regarded her intently, searching for an indicator that she didn’t really buy into all of this. I couldn’t believe this is who she’d become, that deep down she didn’t harbor some of the same feelings that I did, the same desires I had started to want for us too.
“So you think I’m just like everyone else then?”
She closed her eyes, holding them shut a second too long.
“I know you’re not.”
MAYA. We walked through the park. Manhattan was lit up over the river, a thousand city lights danced across the water. I didn’t mind the cold when Cameron had me at his side, his arm draped over my shoulder, warming me and keeping me close. Tonight had all the earmarks of a date. I didn’t want to admit it, but Cameron was already an exception. He wasn’t like everyone else. Far from it, in fact.
Cameron had been my first and only love, but holding it against him was difficult when, despite our painful past, I still wanted to be near him. Being together had always been easy, a natural state that neither of us had to work too hard at. Even with all the time we’d spent apart, that hadn’t seemed to change at all.
When he reached for my hand I took it now, out of habit maybe. When he pulled me to him, I leaned in, reveling in the small touches, uncertain where each might lead. All my instincts responded to Cameron. Even my heart did—the battered soul of me that would have been safer at a distance.
“I’m glad we did this.” The low hum of his voice vibrated through me.
“Me too. Dinner was amazing. Thank you.”
I’d eaten my fill, perhaps in defiance to this new health kick, but mainly because after working out all week I was perpetually starving. My stomach almost ached now from all the amazing steak I’d stuffed in it, followed by dessert.
My fingers touched on the pack of cigarettes tucked deep in my coat pocket. The urge to partake in my post-food ritual tugged at me. I pulled out the pack and tapped one out.
“What are you doing?”
“I need a smoke. Do you mind?”
He stopped us abruptly. “Yes, I f*****g mind.”
Before I could form a thought, he grabbed the cigarette from one hand and returned the offending object to the pack I held in the other.
My jaw dropped at his boldness. “What are you doing?”
“My rules,” he said simply, his expression tight with unmistakable determination.
“There were no rules about smoking in our deal.”
“When the hell did you start smoking?”
“I don’t know. When life got stressful, I guess. Give them back to me.”
He held them beyond my reach as I grabbed for them.
“Do you want me to tell you I’ll give them back to you at the end of the week?”
He hesitated a second. “No. Not a chance, actually.”
I gritted my teeth, making a concerted effort not to stomp my foot. “You’re really starting to piss me off, you know that?”
He stared down at me, a smirk turning up the corner of his mouth. “You’re cute when you’re pissed off.”
“I am not cute.”
“You are incredibly cute. Don’t sell yourself short.”
I stomped my foot and groaned, trying like hell not to smile. I looked around us, wishing I could re-harness my original flash of anger. I bent down and grabbed a handful of snow and planted it directly in his face.
He jolted back and yelled. “What the hell?”
“Is that cute?”
He brushed the snow off his face, revealing a broad smile. “That’s it. You’re getting it now.” He leaned and packed a snowball between his hands.
“You wouldn’t,” I challenged.
“Want to bet?”
I took a few cautious steps back.
“You better run,” he warned.
He wound up and I ran, quickly finding a tree to shield me from the snowballs flying in my direction. I threw a few, landing none. This was easier when he wasn’t expecting the assault. I hid behind the trunk and prepped a fresh one when he circled behind me and sank me down to the ground. I was pinned under him, my back half stuck in the snow.
I screamed, suddenly fearful of getting a face full of snow. “No, don’t!”
“Are you sorry?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. Please!”
He hesitated, as if considering the sincerity of my remorse.
“Please don’t,” I begged.
“Not a drag. I promise.” The choice was rash, but I was desperate. Also a tiny part of me—the part that wasn’t furious about being told what to do with my own body—was happy that he cared enough to say anything at all.