I looked at my reflection nervously. I was wearing a brightlavender gown that hugged my body to perfection, with askirt that flowed flirtatiously a few inches above my knees.
I hadn’t spoken to Travis since that day he told me hewas taking me to prom. I found out later that Trip had beenmaking bets with his friends about who would be able topop my cherry at prom. I said yes to Alex, who was morethan willing to do the job that Trip was supposed to havedone had I not caught him on top of that cheerleader. It wasall a bet for him. Alex was cunning enough to use flatteryand poetry to lure me into his lair. They had been bantering
about it in the locker room, cheering that prom was the day.Trip had apparently been cajoling Alex into taping the wh0lething to make sure he wouldn’t cheat on their bet.
The wh0le campus must have known their evil plans. I’mpretty sure that, had Alex caught our fornicating on tape,there would have been a scheduled film showing.
I was on the Campus Bulletin Gossip Board again, ofcourse!
Whose virtue was up for grabs? Looks like football teamcaptain’s plans blew up in smoke when a rebelliousheartthrob chose to defend our girl’s unwanted honor. Whatinterest could our heartthrob have in our girl, I wonder?
Travis must have just finished gym class and overheardTrip and Alex. He got furious and was not able to stophimself from demonstrating his martial arts skills to them.
Alex wanted to complain about the wh0le thing, but Trip wasstill on probation and he didn’t want further trouble. SoTravis got off the hook. Not that he wouldn’t be able to doanything about it. I’m pretty sure one phone call from his father to the school board would prevent the wh0le dramafrom ever being on his record.
I stared at my reflection again. I didn’t put on muchmakeup. I didn’t want to overdo myself. This was Travis,after all. He’d seen me at my worst. I wasn’t trying toimpress him. If he hadn’t changed his mind about tonight, Ididn’t want him to think I was trying to look pretty for him.
He had more than half the girls on campus already doingthat for him. He was just there because he was saving mefrom humiliation. And because of my stupid curiosity andneed to conform to the dictates of high school drama. Justlike he will be there for me if I’m unmarried at thirty and I’mgiving in to the dictates of the stupid family tradition.
But that didn’t stop me from buying a fresh pair ofVictoria’s Secret undergarments. I was wearing a lightlavender slip and string bikini underneath my cute promdress. I didn’t know what to buy, but Cindy suggested itlooked classy and just a little bit s€×y. If Travis (or any guyfor that matter) saw beneath my clothes, I would at least
want to look elegant and classy.
I showered in chamomile and jasmine bath oils for likean hour. I applied the same scent of lotion and the samescent of perfume. I was sure I smelled sweet, innocent, andfresh, not that it was the first time I’d ever bathed in floraloils. I did it at least three times a week anyway. I liked tosmell good…even for myself.
I curled my hair and tied it in a bun at the top of myhead. Some tendrils escaped to frame my face. I lookedsimple but nice. I wasn’t planning to catch any attention.
Two days wasn’t enough to make people forget about thelocker room fight that Alexander and Trip had with TravisCross. In fact, two days wasn’t enough to make anybodyforget the show of emotion from Travis Cross. If he hadn’tbeen such a hottie, he would almost have been the campusoutcast, as he seemed so uninterested in any high schooldrama.
I wasn’t sure if he really meant he would take me toprom. If he didn’t show up, I wouldn’t go at all. Not afterslapping Alex in the face and telling him that he needed tofind a new prom date quickly!
The doorbell rang. I jumped up from the bed. I took mypurse and staggered downstairs to the door. When I openedit, I found Travis looking down to me, wearing a whitetuxedo. His hair was sleekly brushed up, with a lock fallingover his forehead, giving him a sleek and mischievous look.He was as dashing as ever.My heart pounded in my chest.
This is Travis! I reminded myself.
“You look…” he started but trailed off.
“Nice?” I asked, uncertain. That was what I was aimingfor.
He shrugged. “Yes, if that’s the word you prefer.”
I smiled. “Yes. You’re not too bad yourself.”
He offered his arm to me, and I took it. He led me to hisBentley and opened the passenger door for me.
We drove toward the hotel in silence. I felt my hands,they were cold and shaking. I was nervous as hell. Travislooked…devilishly handsome! And if I were any other girl, Iwould think that there was no better man to go to bed withfor the first time! But I wasn’t any other girl! I was Brianne…his best friend’s little sister. He wasn’t any other guy. Hewas my…safety guy.
“What was the word you were aiming for?” I asked as weneared the hotel where prom was held. I wasn’t sure if heunderstood what I meant. When I said I preferred the wordnice, he had been about to say something else. I wanted toknow what that was.
He looked at me for a second, but he didn’t answer. Heparked his car at the front of the hotel and rounded it toopen my door.
He stared at me for a long moment. I raised my chin tohim, determined to let him know that he needed to answer. I had to know what he really thought about the way I lookedtonight.
He dropped his eyes to his shoes, as if in defeat. Whenhe raised them to me again, they were full of mixedemotions.
“I was aiming for the word…ravishing.” And as if he wereashamed of his own thoughts, he turned away from me. Heheld his arm to me but refused to meet my eyes. I guess Iwasn’t the only one who was uncomfortable about thewh0le thing. More than being uncomfortable, I think Travisfelt…guilty…embarrassed…ashamed.
Is he ashamed of being with me tonight?
My thoughts were interrupted by Cindy, who met us at the entrance. She was with Allan. Allan nodded at me andextended his hand to shake Travis’s.
I knew people were looking, people were talking. It wasnot like Travis to show up at school dances. He didn’t haveany friends. People barely knew that we knew each other.We hung out with Cindy and Allan. Travis and I werebarely talking, barely touching. It was getting awkward.
“Nervous?” Cindy whispered to me.
I shrugged. “Yes. And scared half to death!”
Cindy laughed. “You won’t be if you didn’t want him inthe first place, you know.”
I asked myself if that was true. Did I really want him?Yes! But God, this is Travis I’m talking about. Ourrelationsh¡p might change forever after this.
And then I realized who Travis really was to me. Yes, Icannot deny that he is devilishly handsome and that I longto feel his k-sses once again. But, on the other hand, he wassupposed to be the most comfortable guy on earth for me.
That’s why he was my safety guy. Maybe…I shouldn’t haveasked him to…be something else. To do something that hewasn’t supposed to do. This task was not meant for him.Maybe I shouldn’t force it. Maybe now, it’s best if we justenjoy prom the way it should be enjoyed.
I felt him tug at my hand. “Let’s dance,” he said.
I nodded and let him pull me toward the dance floor.
Slow music played. Travis stared down at me, and myheart pounded in my chest.He pulled me to him and m-ssaged one of my hands. It
was cold and sweaty. He narrowed his eyes. “You’renervous.”
I took a deep breath. “Travis… maybe this wasn’t such agreat idea.”
He raised a brow. “Don’t hurt my feelings. I alwaysthought I was a graceful dancer.”
I glared at him. “You know very well that wasn’t what Iwas talking about!”
“What were you talking about?” he asked innocently.
“Travis!” I could not believe he was making me say it outloud.
He chuckled. “But didn’t you say…better me than somerandom guy or some boyfriend who would cheat on you?”
“I know…but…you’re my safety guy! You’re notsupposed to make me feel as nervous as I am now!”
He smiled as if he had triumphantly gained something.
“Good. Then we’re off to a good start!”
“I’m not…sure I am doing the right thing now.”
“You are,” he said. “I’m the one going to hell for this.”
“Why?” I asked.
He shook his head and didn’t answer. Instead, he pulledme toward him. He wound his arm around my wa-ist tightly,his other hand kept m-ssaging my hand.
“You need to relax,” he said. “You’re too tense.”
I had no idea how I could get rid of that weird feeling.There was electricity, there was thrill…but I was too scared,too nervous to feel anything else. I was sure I didn’t want tofeel ashamed of myself the first time I was going to do it.And not only that, I remembered the look of shame inTravis’s eyes.
“You don’t want to do this, either,” I whispered to him.
“Don’t lie to me, Travis. I could see it in your eyes. And Idon’t think I want my first time to be with a guy who…didn’twant me. Even for just tonight. Maybe it isn’t right. Maybewe shouldn’t do this.”
“I think you’re reading me all wrong,” he said. “And it’stoo late to back out now.”
“No, it’s not,” I protested. “We haven’t done it yet. I’mstill a V-rgin!”
He stared at me for a moment and then he leanedforward so he could whisper in my ear. “You won’t be by theend of tonight,”
My heart pounded in my chest. I felt his hand slowlym-ssage my back until it rested at the top of my bodice, thepart that was bare. The touch of his skin was electrifying. Ialmost forgot to breathe. “Travis…”
His other hand crept on my neck, and I felt his breath onmy ear. He m-ssaged my neck very gently, and then I felthim nip at my earlobe. An unfamiliar emotion crept throughme. I let out a mo-n.
“Travis…” I whispered again.
“Don’t say my name…” he said.
He took a deep breath. “Because I promised to protectyou and take care of you for as long as I live.” He pulledaway from me and stared down at me. I saw confusion andshame in his eyes. “I’m not supposed to do this.”
Guilt crept through me again. “But you are doing itbecause I asked you to. Because you protected me fromAlex…and Trip…because, you knew I was better offspending this night with you.”
“Those…and some other reasons,” he said. He held meby the neck and gently pulled me to him. “I think you’reready now, Brianne.”
It took me a moment to realize that I wasn’t trembling infear anymore. I could feel thrill more than fear. How couldhe know that?He pulled away from me and led me toward the exit.I wondered where we were going. I certainly hoped hedidn’t plan to do this at the back of his car, although thebackseat of the car he brought was pretty spacey.Was that why he didn’t bring his sports car? If he’d planned for the backseat, I would strongly protest and tell him to just take me home. My room was a lot better, and ifhe didn’t agree, I was better off not spending the night withhim at all.
We entered the elevator. Instead of pressing the groundfloor, Travis pressed P.
He rented a Penthouse room?
It seemed like it took forever to get there. When theelevator opened, he took my hand in his.
“You rented a room for us?” I asked.
He raised a brow. “Since your brother is going to kick myass in hell for this anyway, I thought I should at least do thiswith class.”
I rolled my eyes. Of course! He was Travis Cross, anyway.
He swiped his access card at the last door on the floor. Itopened into a spacious room. The living room was lit justright, setting a mood in the room. He led me toward thecouch. There was an ice bucket with a bottle of wine in thecenter of the table. Travis picked it up and poured each of usa glass.
Chærdonnay. The one wine I actually liked. Did heremember?
“We shouldn’t be drinking, but I know you only likeChærdonnay,” he said.I smiled. He remembered!
“You know me too well, I guess.”
He gave me a rueful smile and said, “Not yet.” Andsomehow, I knew what he meant by that.
I was still uncomfortable. Still nervous.
I looked up at him. “Thank you…for doing me all these…weird favors.”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “Don’t thank me just yet,”he said. “This may destroy us, you know.”
“You’re…my friend…a dear one. And you know I don’tlove that easily,” he said quietly. “Now, you see what you’remaking me do?”
“We won’t let it destroy us then,” I said. Maybe this wasa mistake and maybe I wasn’t entirely sure why I asked himto do this. But I’m sure of one thing. I won’t let this destroywhat we have… what we are.
He shook his head. “Don’t speak too soon,” he said. “Youmay choose to stay away from me after the night isthrough.”
“I won’t,” I said. “I’m not going to lose you, too, Travis.”
And I knew I meant that.
He reached out for my hand. “I pray…that you can stillsay the same thing later.” He pulled me toward him. Hestared at my face for a long moment. Then he said, “What asilly little girl…”
“I’m not a girl anymore.”
He shook his head. “After tonight, you won’t be.”
My heart pounded in my chest. Travis led me toward thebedroom. When he opened it, my heart dropped to mychest. The room was lit by candles everywhere. The floorwas covered in rose petals. There was a California king bedin the middle. The room looked familiar…somehow. It was…like the room I painted…the painting I threw out.
“How did you…” I started to ask.
“I found your painting,” he said. “Doesn’t take a geniusto know what’s going on in your mind when you werepainting that…considering you threw it away after…” Hedidn’t continue. “Anyway, I thought you deserved this. Morethan anyone.”
I stared back at the room again and almost gasped. “I
thought you said you were no angel in bed.”
“I’m breaking all the rules for you, can’t you see?”
It was absolutely perfect. The candles were situatedalmost in the same places as in my painting. It was like thatportrait came to life.
I felt Travis’s hand on my shoulder as he eased me intothe room. Then I heard him whisper in my ear, “Do you likeit?”
I nodded slowly because I couldn’t speak. I felt morenervous than I was when I went into the room with him.
“You’re trembling,” Travis said.
“I have every right to be.”
He chuckled. “Now you realize what you asked of me?”
I shook my head. “I still mean it. Better you thananybody else. And I will not lose you after this, Travis.”
He fell quiet for a while. Then he pulled me gently so Icould face him. He searched my face. Then he said, “Closeyour eyes, Brianne.” Reluctantly, I closed my eyes. I felt hisbreath on my face. “Don’t look… just feel,” he said.
Then I felt his l-ips on mine as he k-ssed me. Gently atfirst, his mouth guiding mine until I started k-ssing him back.My arms went around his neck and I let him k-ss me. It wasnerve-wracking. My world started spinning, I felt my kneesweaken, and I clung to Travis as if I were clinging to lifeitself.He stopped k-ssing me and leaned his forehead againstmine. “This isn’t right…” I heard him whisper, more tohimself.
My eyes flew open and I looked back at him. His facewas torn, full of emotions I couldn’t read. His look was darkand he was flushed, out of breath.
“What did I do?” I asked nervously. “What’s…wrong?”
He stared back at me but didn’t reply.
I felt like crying. I didn’t know what was going on. I feltsilly. I felt stupid. And even Travis, who was supposed to be the most honest person in the world to me, felt somethingwas wrong.
“Tell me what’s wrong?” I asked, unaware that a tearhad escaped my eye.
He smiled ruefully, as if in defeat. He reached forwardand wiped my cheek with his thumb.
“What’s wrong, Travis?”
He took a deep breath. He held my face between hispalms and pulled me to him again. And just as his l-ips werean inch away from mine, he said, “The way I feel right!”Then he k-ssed me again. Hungrily. As if he were lettinggo of all his shields, all his reservations. I felt wonderful. Hisk-sses were making me feel emotions I hadn’t felt in my life
at all. Without breaking our k-ss, he gently guided metoward the bed until the backs of my knees hit the edge.
He took off his coat and then he leaned toward meagain. He k-ssed me again as he gently unzipped my gown.
When it fell to the floor, I let out a mo-n. It seemed likeTravis was sending all my senses of reason and sanity flyingout the window.
How could I feel like this about Travis? How could heundo me this way?
When he pulled away from me, the look on this face wasdark and unfathomable. It was like he was fighting all thedemons in,side of him.
“Sshhh…” he whispered. “Don’t say my name,” he said.
He shook his head. “I’m not supposed to do this. This isnot supposed to be me.” He took a deep breath. He tooksomething from the bed, and I saw that it was a piece ofblack scarf. He placed over my eyes like a blindfold. “I don’twant you to see me like this.”
It took a moment for him to answer, and when he did, heanswered very carefully. “Like a predator.”
My heart stopped beating in my chest. I almost lost mybreath. Then I said, “Then you can’t look at me, either. Youcan’t see me… like a prey.”
He chuckled softly. “Then we have a deal. Don’tlook…just feel.” His breath was warm against my cheek.
“Let’s…you and I…forget who we are…for a moment.”
I nodded, and I couldn’t agree with him more.I felt him on top of me. He k-ssed me again, gently atfirst…and then as if he had finally unleashed the ‘predator’in,side him, he k-ssed me like it was the last time he wouldever k-ss a woman in his life.
When I opened my eyes again, it was already dark in theroom. The candles had burned out, and I could only hear aquiet snore beside me. I was not resting on soft pillows, buton a hærd, firm chest. I could feel strong arms wrappedaround me, keeping me safe and warm.
I looked back at the events that had transpired only acouple of hours before. I remembered the gentle tearingpain. He tried as much as he could not to make it hurt. But itwas inevitable.
In those few moments of pain, he held me in his armsand allowed me to whimper. And after that…I rememberedwarmth, I remembered pleasure. When it was over, Iremembered being held. Aside from his quiet mo-ns, I neverheard him speak again. As if he was trying to conceal hisidentity from me. He didn’t want me to remember who he
was. I would be allowed to remember only the moment.
He shifted beside me. I felt him car-ss my arms gently.Then I felt him tilt my chin gently and he k-ssed meagain…passionately. He lit the fire in me again. He neveruttered a word. But he touched me in places I longed to betouched without knowing I’d wanted it. I let out mo-ns ofpleasure. And when I reached the gates of heaven, I wanted to scre-m his name, but I stopped myself. I couldn’t knowhim like that. And he couldn’t know me like this. He wantedme to keep my promise…that I wouldn’t lose him. Because Icouldn’t afford to lose him.
He was my safety guy, my protector. But that didn’t stopme from feeling right! From wanting to stay like that withhim forever…at least, in those few moments of heaven. Ididn’t see him. It was too dark. He had turned off all thelights in the room. The drapes were shut. He too, didn’t wantto see me this way…a wanton…woman.
When I opened my eyes again, it was already morning. Iwas tucked comfortably in bed but unlike an hour ago, I wasalone. There was a little light coming from the window. Ireached out for the lamp on the bedside table and turned iton. I realized that it was already almost noon.
I found Travis sitting at the edge of the bed, his back tome. He was already dressed. He was quietly waiting for meto wake up.
“Trav…” I started. I still wasn’t sure if I was allowed tocall him by his name.
He inclined his head gently, acknowledging me.
“Good morning,” he whispered. “I need to go. I justdidn’t want you to wake up and find me gone. You deservebetter than that.”
I felt warm. Even in a situation like this one, Travis founda way to be a gentleman.
“Where are you going?”
He took a deep breath. “Far away from you.”
Instantly, panic gripped me. “What? But you said…youpromised I wouldn’t lose you.”
He shook his head. “And you won’t. But I hope youunderstand that I need to do this. I need to…stay away for awhile. I have made arrangements to send you home safely.”
He stood up from the bed and picked up his coat fromthe couch. He still refused to look at me.
“Why are you going away?” I asked quietly. A deep painwas threatening to shred me to pieces, and I didn’tunderstand why.
“I promised to look out for you. I promised to keep yousafe at all times. I do not want to break those promises.”
“Why?” I asked. “Am I in danger?” I was trying to controlthe anger in,side me.
He took a deep breath and then finally he turned to me.His face was torn, pained…almost broken. But he still lookedas handsome as hell.
“Yes, Brianne,” he whispered. “I underestimated somethings. I’m a few seconds away from breaking thosepromises. You are in danger…grave danger…of me.” And heturned toward the door and left quietly.
I wanted to cry. But I knew I couldn’t. I had done this. Imade Travis do it. I knew I had to do what I could to helphim keep his promises. I had to give him his space. I could not remember…