Updated: Jan 31, 2019
Ten Years Ago
“Come on, you have to go out! I refuse to let you sit at home and sulk over James one more night. It’s been two months, Isla. This break you’re on is the worst ever,” my best friend Mari grumbles as she rifles through my closet.
I throw on my best attempt at a cheerful smile and summon my legendary ‘everything’s great, I’m so optimistic I’m puking glitter and farting rainbows’ attitude. “It’s good for us. We’ve been together since we were sixteen. Two years is a long time to be with one person, especially before we head off to college.” I flop on my bed to hide my face in a pillow so she doesn’t see my plastic smile break. We’re taking this time apart to ensure that we want to be together for the long haul. I’ve parroted that explanation to everyone and their mother this summer. I can’t quite forget how much it stung to hear he wanted a break. It came out of left field and crushed my unassuming idea that everything was fantastic. I do everything James wants, I don’t know why he would suddenly want a break. But I got on board because James has always been the long-term thinker, the planner, the one who carefully crafts his words, his actions, and insists he knows what’s best. Best for me as well.
Mari backs out of the closet, her curly red hair disheveled as she levels a look at me that calls bullshit. “A break doesn’t mean you have to abandon everything while you wait for him to make up his damn mind. You can still live a little, even without James dictating every move you make. He has absolutely killed your social life. You used to be so fun.” She buries herself back in the closet.
“I’m having the best summer!” I totally lie. “I reread the entire Harry Potter series last week and look, no tan lines!” I pull my shirt off my shoulder to show her, even though she can’t see.
“God, really? It’s even worse than I thought.” I hear more scuffling. “Being on a break means you can finally shake yourself free from the James shackles and go out with your friends. So, we’re going dancing at the country bar tonight.” She throws my cowboy boots out of the closet, emerging with cut-off jean shorts and a red Texas state flag tank top clutched in her hands.
“James doesn’t like me to go dancing without him.” I bite my lip.
“You’re on a break. So put your damn boots on and let’s get tacos before we shake it on the hardwood.” She pauses to cross her arms over her chest and eyes me shrewdly. “You are going to dance with anyone who asks, or else I’ll play the ‘Have you met Isla’ game and leave you with randos.”
“Shit man, this place is packed! We got here at the perfect time.” Carson throws his arm around my shoulders and gestures to the dance floor. He has zero chill.
“Those fakes totally passed, I can’t believe it.” I look down at the neon green wristband circling my wrist instead of the big, black markered T they would normally draw on the back of our hands for being under twenty-one. “Let’s get drinks.”
I’m a little nervous standing in line at the bar, but remind myself that I have nothing to worry about now with my wristband. We grab a couple Jack and Cokes and lean on the railing that surrounds the dance floor, watching the couples two-stepping and scanning the girls looking like they want to dance.
I elbow Carson in the ribs. "You think you'll actually find a chick who wants to dance with your sorry ass tonight? I'm betting they just brush you off and fall straight into my arms." I crack a smile at the annoyance that plays across his face.
"We'll see who gets the girl tonight, fucker. That redhead over there has been eyeing me since we got here. Not every girl wants the all-American, good old boy thing. They want Latin lovers who will sweep them off their feet." He tilts his head in the direction of a couple girls across the dance floor.
"Yeah right. You're paying my bar tab tonight when I get the girl first."
The opening chords of Footloose blare through the speakers, the DJ knowing what will get people on the dance floor.
“That’s our cue.” Carson sets his empty glass on the railing, pointing at his redhead as she skips onto the dance floor, pulling a friend with her. "I'm line dancing now so I can get her when it's done."
The brunette on the end of the redhead's arm has me moving before Carson can. Tight red shirt, dark brown hair, her ass practically shimmies out of her cut-offs and you couldn’t pay me to look away. Damn. Thank you, God, for making long-legged girls.
I grin as I push him against the rail and make my way to the dance floor. "I got my girl. Hope you got enough cash for that tab, bro."
Carson stupidly grins at me. “You calling the hottie in the cut-offs?”
Hell yeah, I am.
When she turns to laugh at something her friend says and I catch a glimpse of hazel eyes and a heart stopping smile, I forget Carson is speaking to me.
We join the mass of people that are headed to dance and place ourselves strategically behind the girl Carson is stalking. It puts me right behind the booty that can werk and I'm never leaving.
We start slapping leather, the linedance used for Footloose, and I let myself get lost in the steps while I keep an eye on my girl. I catch the T on her hand and know she’s gotta be around my age. She has a carefree grace and laughs often when people choose the wrong step or almost plow into her because they are going the wrong speed. She doesn’t seem to take it too seriously, shaking off the terrible dancers and sliding through the steps with ease. I want to know her. I want those expressive eyes locked on me, that smile and laugh rewarding my humor.
When the song ends, I step in front of her, blocking her way before she can leave the floor. "Wanna dance?"
“You want to dance with me?” She gives me a curious look, placing her hand on her hip instead of brushing me off. I can work with curious.
“Hell yeah I do. It’s a good song, a beautiful night, and since we’re both out here already, we might as well take advantage of it.”
“Oh, she’s gonna dance with you.” Her friend gives her a push and quickly walks away. Straight toward Carson, who is waiting for her at the edge of the dance floor like he and I planned it.
I hold my hand out, not taking my eyes off her bewildered face. She’s gorgeous; I may already be in love with her and I don't even know her name. She places her hand in mine tentatively. I try not to let it show that her big eyes and that shy smile got my heart pounding faster. She follows my lead without fighting me.
Her voice is honey sweet and a little low. I already know I could listen to her speak about nothing for hours and be completely entertained. It’s only been about five seconds and I could easily commit to five hours—hell, give me days—with her. I gotta slow my roll or I’ll end up making a fool of myself before this night is over.
“Damn, that’s a pretty name. You come out here often?”
She shakes her head. “Not really.”
That’s it, now I have a purpose for this evening that goes beyond winning a bet with Carson.
“Well then, I’m gonna make sure you enjoy yourself while you’re here tonight.” I turn my wrist, sending her out into a spin. She follows my lead perfectly, twisting under my arm and letting me throw her around without getting tangled up. "You ready for some fun?"
Isla smiles up at me as I throw her around like we've been dancing together for years. I need to remember to thank my momma for forcing me to dance with her when I was a kid. I may have hated it then, but I sure as hell don’t now. I spend the next few minutes of the song twirling her around, laughing along with her. I can already tell Isla is full of life.
"You have a beautiful smile." I can't help but compliment her as she laughs freely while I sing along badly to the music. When the song changes, I keep her in my arms, not about to let her go.
“You don’t have to keep dancing with me, I...” she stops and looks toward her friend at the railing. The redhead waves at her and smiles encouragingly. She looks down at her boots in consideration.
I don’t let her overthink this. “I wanna dance with you as long as you’ll let me.” Before she can respond, I have her back in my arms and I’m quick-quick-slowing her around the dance floor. After a minute, the tension that had her moving stiffly is replaced by the fluid grace that tells me she’s gotta be an athlete of some sort. I want to really know her, not just get the basics that a single song will allow. I’m not letting this one go tonight.
“Do you live around here?”
I spin her around again before I answer.
“Austin born and raised. You?” I dip her down low, loving how she clutches at my arms but lets her head fall back as her knee comes up along my hip. God damn sexy as all hell. I bring her back and she tucks herself in close. My heart slams against my ribs as her breasts press against my chest and my dick twitches in response. Easy, tiger.
“Same. I just graduated.” Her fingers slide along my neck.
I fight the tremor her touch sends straight down my back. “Me too.”
She looks down at my wristband and then back at my face, narrowing her eyes. She doesn’t miss a thing. I duck my head and smile.
“I, uh, have a fake. I’m eighteen. I can show you both IDs and you can see for yourself, if you want.”
She rolls her eyes and the sassy smile she gives me just now could lead to all sorts of trouble. “No, don’t bother. I guess I’ll just have to believe you. Don’t lie to me again.” She pokes me in the chest and winks.
Well, fuck. I don’t ever want to lie to her now that she’s said that. “Cross my heart.” I smile, working my dimples.
She pulls on my hand as the song ends, leading me off the floor. “I need a break. I’m getting all sweaty already. You have me spinning around that floor like a crazy person.” She pauses at the edge of the dance floor and twirls back around into my arms in the cutest way. “Buy me a drink, Mr. I got a fake ID?”
She could ask for far more than a drink and I’d find a way to get it for her. “What’ll you have, bird?”
She looks at me funny and stops at an empty table. “Bird?”
“You have a little feather charm on your necklace.” I reach out and finger the silver charm resting in the hollow of her collarbones, loving the shiver my touch brings her. “Special necklace?”
“My daddy gave me this necklace on my sixteenth birthday. He said that dreams are like feathers; you gotta give them wings.” Her voice is soft as she stares into my eyes. “No one has ever given me a nickname so fast.”
I shake my head. "Giving nicknames is just something I do. But only for the people I like.” I brush hair out of her face before I remove my hand from her body.
She sways toward me, my hands instantly land on her hips to steady her. That's right, baby, swoon away.
She leans in closer, looking up at me, killing me with her irresistible smile. She nods. “I like it. I’ll take a seven and seven.”
Keep looking at me like that and I’m a fucking goner. I clear my throat. “I’ll take you back to your friend so I can get your drink, come on.” I grab her hand, running my thumb along her knuckles and lead her to the redhead she was with.
“Mari, this is Wyatt.” She introduces me to her friend standing by the table alone. Looks like Carson struck out just like I said he would. Sucker.
I let her hand go and place mine on her back as I lean into her ear. “Don’t break my heart by leaving now.”
“Oh my God! He’s so cute!” Mari grabs my hand and pulls me into a seat at the table.
I look around quickly, shushing her as I make sure Wyatt is out of earshot, heat burning my cheeks.
“Seriously, Isla, that’s a hot chunk of man-candy right there. You better get his number, or I will.”
My heart pounds painfully as guilt washes through me. And, funny enough, jealousy that makes me want to lunge across the table at her. “I can’t get his number, I have a boyfriend.”
Mari rolls her eyes. “Your boyfriend said he wanted to take a break for the summer. He’s as good as broken up with you so he can chase whatever ass he wants without feeling bad about it and then he’ll have you to come back to when he’s got it out of his system.”
I love my friend, I love my friend, I repeat in my head so I don’t smack her. James would never cheat on me. “We’re going to spend the rest of our lives together, we might as well spend one summer apart before college complicates things,” he had reasoned. It made sense to me at the time, but that’s pretty typical for James and I. He calls the shots and makes me see how right it is, even if I initially disagree. I guess there’s no harm in dancing with Wyatt tonight. I could even see him later, if he plays his cards right. He’s fun. I look up when Mari snaps in my face.
“You might as well live it up, too, so you can see what you’re missing by sticking with boring James. He’s got his life mapped out, and yours too. Who wants that? It’s predictable and leaves no room for creativity and spur of the moment decisions.” Mari flicks her wrist and tosses her brilliant red curls.
I rest my elbows on the table, dropping my forehead onto my palm. “That’s easy for you to say. It’s not that simple for me.”
“It’s one night. I bet you can’t just enjoy it and have fun with Wyatt without thinking about James.”
I drop my fists on the table and glare at Mari’s twisted smile. Dammit, now I have to prove I can. Thankfully Wyatt is easy to have fun with and is already taking my mind off James in a way I thought was impossible. I will get completely lost in Wyatt for the night and see where things lead. It could be much worse.
“Watch me.” I straighten up and turn, scanning the bar for Wyatt. He’s on his way back, drinking from a plastic cup of water and carrying a glass in his other hand.
“One sec.” He dumps the ice from his water into the trash and transfers the alcoholic beverage into the plastic cup before handing it to me. “For you.”
Oh, he’s clever.
“Thanks.” I take a sip from the cup that was just against Wyatt’s lips, letting my tongue play against the rim as I peek over at him. His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows. Damn, he’s cute. I love the dimples that come out to play every time he smiles, which is a lot. James only smiles when he knows he’s got the upper hand.
“Do you ladies mind if my friend joins us? He did drag me out tonight and I’ve ditched him because y’all are better company.”
“Not at all, bring him over.” Mari smiles, her perfect white teeth flashing.
I know what she’s doing. She’s ensuring Wyatt has no excuse to leave me tonight. I’m not complaining. I slip my hand into his and entwine our fingers. He looks down at me with a happy expression, squeezes back and rubs his thumb over my knuckles softly. Goosebumps dance across my skin as I try not to shiver in response. My senses are on fire.
Wyatt looks back toward the bar and does that chin lift thing guys are so good at. A guy just as tall and built lean like Wyatt comes over. They could be brothers but he’s dark where Wyatt is light. They’re an attractive combination of man-candy, as Mari would say. Wyatt runs his hands through his wavy light brown hair as he turns around. A piece stays up funny, so I reach up and gently direct it back into place. He smiles at me, capturing my hand in his and lacing our fingers again. The easy way he does it has me swooning over the simple gesture, even though I was the one to do it first.
“Ladies, this is Carson.”
Mari waves. “Yeah, we danced earlier. Hi again.”
“You ready to dance now?” Wyatt plays with my fingers in his as I set my cup down.
His arm circles my shoulders and he pulls me close as we walk to the dance floor. I see Carson ask Mari to dance and can’t help giggling a bit as she turns bright red, smiling and nodding. Wyatt pulls me closer than before, leaning down to sing along to the song. I can’t help smiling like a fool and singing along, too. He’s so easy to be with, I don’t have to pretend at all to be enjoying every moment.
“What are you doing in the fall?”
I look up into his sky blue eyes, framed by his glasses. “UT. Bio major with a pre-med focus. I want to go into sports medicine.”
He halts in the middle of the dance floor and holds me at arm’s length. “No shit? Not only do I have the most gorgeous girl here dancing with me, but she’s smart as hell, too. How’d a simple Air Force recruit like me get so lucky?”
I laugh with him. “You were persistent and wouldn’t let me go, that’s how. Air Force, huh? No college or anything?”
Wyatt takes my hand and leads me around the dance floor again. “I’ll probably do graphic design afterward. I’ve wanted to enlist since I was a kid. I was in ROTC all through high school and took dual credit college courses to help me get a higher rank. Are you a dancer or something, because you move...” He turns me and drapes his arm around my side so we’re facing the same way and does some complicated step work that I try to keep up with. “...like you can read my mind.”
“No dance, just running. Track and cross country all four years. You just make me look good.”
“I’m surprised I never spotted you at a meet. I ran also and I’m sure our schools competed. My loss, for sure.” He dips me backwards.
My heart leaps from the sudden drop but I grip his arms and trust him. He has me back on my feet and spinning a second later. “How’d you get to be such a good dancer?”
“My mom. She always had country music playing at home and liked to dance. I’ve always been tall and she doesn’t take no for an answer from my brother or me.”
“Any other siblings?”
“Just the one. He’s two years younger and God’s gift to baseball. That kid’s already being scouted. He’s gonna go far.” The gleam of admiration in his eyes tells me far more than he has.
“What do you do for fun?”
“For real. I want to do everything. The best is anything with speed or a hint of danger. Motocross, wakeboarding, drag racing, cliff jumping. If it scares you, I’ve probably done it.”
“Why would you intentionally scare yourself?” I stumble over my boot as I lose focus on our steps and contemplate his words.
“Why not? You only get one life, live it up and make the story exciting.”
I can practically feel the thud as my heart and my panties hit the floor. I think I may have just fallen head over heels for this gloriously perfect stranger. God, I need to know everything about him to see if my gut instinct that he’s made for me is real. He has no problem keeping time while he answers my many questions and manages to have me laughing, out of breath, and covered in sweat with every song we dance to.
He offers to buy me more drinks. When I decline after the second, he brings us both water. He will dance to anything, including the old George Strait the DJ throws in every half hour to break up the fast-paced stuff. He doesn’t let me go unless he has to, managing to find a place for his hands whether or not we are dancing. Our fingers are constantly tracing, touching, intertwining, our bodies getting physically closer as the night wears on. His actions mirror my thoughts, pulling me in with more than his touch. It feels good to have someone so attentive and in tune with my body. It’s thrilling and forbidden and gives me a desire for something other than what I’ve thought was right. It scares the crap out of me and makes me want to be bold at the same time.
It’s not at all hard to forget about James as Wyatt holds me close. I wish I could blame the alcohol, but even buzzed I know Wyatt is giving me something entirely new to think about where my future is concerned. Maybe I should be worried, but for some reason, I'm not. This is my single summer, too, I might as well use it to explore my options, and Wyatt is a turning out to be a damn fine option.
“This has been an amazing night.” Isla hasn’t left my side and is the best dance partner I could ask for. We have undeniable chemistry.
“You’re incredible. Thanks for making this so fun.” Her hands run up my chest and clasp behind my neck. We’re swaying in our own little corner, two-stepping forgotten.
My chest swells at her compliment. Damn, I’m toast. Fucking gone to this girl who can’t keep her hands to herself, even when we aren’t dancing.
She’s giving me kiss me eyes that I want nothing more than to give into. Our eyes are locked and I’m moving before I can stop myself. Fuck it, I know it’s what we want and the desire is making my heart rip through my chest so I know it’s gonna be good.
“Isla, it’s one-thirty! We gotta go, babe.” Her friend Mari cuts into our dance, blasting the magic and cock blocking me so epically I want to swear.
“Oh, crap.” Isla turns to me with an apologetic expression. “I just missed my curfew and I still gotta get home. This has been amazing and I wish I could stay longer.” She brushes her thumb along my hand as I hold hers tight.
Don’t go, Bird. Stay with me so tonight never ends. “Give me your number.” I need to see her again. Talk to her more. Learn every little thing that she likes and commit those facts to memory so I can surprise her down the line when she thinks I’ve forgotten. I’m ready to drop everything to make her a part of my life and I’ve only known her a few hours. And I’m totally okay with that. I pat my pockets, looking for my phone with a desperation I’ve never known. “Shit, I think I left it in the car. Wait while I grab it.”
She shuts her eyes briefly and looks pained. “I really have to go.” She squeezes my hand tighter as she stays glued to my side.
That’s not a no, but she’s not pulling her phone out to text me. I’m not letting her have second thoughts about this. “Fine, we can play it a little differently. How about we meet again in a week. I’ll completely soak into your brain as you think about this incredible night and how much fun we had. I bet you will be ready to give me your number then.” I smile, hoping this stupid idea that just popped into my head will work. I need it to work. I can’t let this girl slip through my fingers.
“You want to see me again? Where?” The relief and hope mixed in her pretty hazel eyes tells me she isn’t ready to let me go, either.
“Right here. Next Friday, ten o’clock. Meet me by that table. I’ll be waiting to spin you around the dance floor again.”
Her smile is wide and makes me take an extra deep breath. “Deal. I’ll see you next week, Wyatt.”
Recklessly, I seize the opportunity before it’s gone and lean in slowly until my mouth is an inch from hers. I slip my hands into her hair at the nape of her neck as my thumbs brush her cheeks. Her lips part as her eyes bounce between my eyes and mouth, but she doesn’t move away. “Don’t forget, Bird.” I brush my lips against hers and touch our foreheads together for a second before I pull away.
Heat colors her cheeks as she blinks and touches her lips.
It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. “One week,” I remind.
Her smile is shy as she turns to leave without saying anything more. With one look over her shoulder, she’s gone.
Isla’s friend Mari steps up next to me. “I just thought you should know, she’s on a break from her boyfriend. They’ve been together for two years, they’ll probably get back together at the end of the summer. You were one night of distraction, I don’t want you to get attached.” She gives me a sympathetic look before she turns to leave.
My chest constricts, my heart ripped out like Indiana Jones is standing right there, clutching it.
He never showed. Why didn’t he show up?