Finally, the three of us reached the stairs and went up to the ground floor. The moment we were outside the building, Mr. HS jerked his head to Ryan. I looked back to see Ryan disappearing into the building again.
“Thanks, Ryan.” I shouted to the closing door.
A faint sound of the door being shut, then silence.
I sighed. “You’re welcome,” I said to the door.
Mr. Hot Stuff chuckled behind me and I swung to him. His hands were in his pockets, his eyes on the ground and he was shaking his head.
“What’s funny?” I crossed my arm around my chest.
HS just shook his head at me, then asked. “So where’s your ride?”
“I didn’t bring my car.”
“Judging on your jeans and shoes, you don’t have a motorcycle.”
“I don’t have a motorcycle,” I confirmed.
Even in the dim-lit street and now-dark surrounding, I saw his brow furrowed. “So how did you get here?”
I shrugged and answered, “I walked.”
He froze and his eyes narrowed dangerously at me. Uh-oh.
I uncrossed my arms and just stared at him.
He started walking to me. My heart skipped a beat then started beating like a lunatic. I put my hands in front of me, palms out, trying to stop him from approaching any closer. I stayed exactly where I was, not willing to back down.
“Do you have any idea how dangerous this part of the neighbourhood is?”
“I know,” I muttered. “I would not dive into the dark waters if I know that I’d be eaten by sharks.”
He momentarily stopped walking, staring intently at me. I relaxed, relieved that he was not going any closer. Lord knew what I would do.
To my horror, he started coming again. This time, his steps are quicker and determined. Uh-oh again.
All the departments in my brain screamed, ‘Alert! Alert! Evacuate the premises immediately!’
Why the heck would I run away? I was not going to step back.
He kept his pace, his face cold and pissed-off— again. He was not going to stop. Oh my God. If I didn’t step back, he was going to collide with me. My body would be pressed firmly against his, his chest against mine—
Before I could finish the thought, I stepped back, not just a single step but a heck of a lot more. In my frantic state, I was pretty sure I was running— backwards.
My back hit the wall and I grunted, not because it hurt but because I had nowhere to go. In an instant, Mr. Hot Stuff was in front of me, and I pushed back to the wall.
“Riptide,” he muttered, his voice low and rumbling. I could almost feel the dangerous and scary waves emanating through him.
I blinked. “What?”
He ignored my question and went back to the previous topic. “Why did you walk? Damn, why are you even here?”
“It’s none of your business,” I snapped.
“Please don’t tell me it’s not because of those brownies. You didn’t come all the way here just to have a special delivery of brownies to Jay, did you?”
“No,” I answered. “I gave him the game that he purchased.”
His jaw tightened. “You could’ve sent it to him online.”
“It is none of your business.”
Whoa. Wait. Stop right there. Did he really just say that?
“It is not,” I argued.
“You’re playing with the wrong sharks, Sophia. Stop it.”
He said that my business was also his business and now he was warning me—more like demanding me—to stop playing with the sharks. Furthermore, he was using my metaphor. That was not acceptable.
I glared at him. “I don’t care if I’m playing with sharks. Sharks are cute.”
HS tensed up again and I felt the scary waves slowly packing up and hiking to the national park. His body was still tight, his face still had its mask of impassivity, but his eyes softened a little. Raising his left hand, he put it on the wall beside my head, partially caging me in.
“You think sharks are cute?” he asked, a hint of amusement in his voice.
He took another step and was now a couple of inches away from me. Just a thin sheet of air separated my chest from touching his. His head bent down and I pressed myself further to the wall, as if I could move it back.
“Yeah,” I whispered. My voice sounded raspy so I swallowed. “They are cute. They always smile and like to show their teeth.”
I watched in fascination as his mask slipped away and the corners of his lips twitched and later formed into a smile. Oh, goodness gracious. My breath caught at the sight of his smile and his divine dimples.
Good news: he wasn’t scary anymore and I got to see his dimples. Bad news: I was being too relaxed around him. Another news: I was trapped against the wall pinned by Mr. Hot Stuff’s body. This last news, I realized, was hard to categorize. I did not know if it was a good thing or a bad thing.
“Step back,” I said to him, shifting my gaze to his throat.
My erratic heartbeat and shallow breaths was all I could hear.
“Sophia,” he muttered. And God, I love it when he say my name like that. My name coming out of his lips, coated with his rasp and velvet voice.
I mentally shook my head. My lips went dry so I licked them and commanded, “I said step back.”
A low groan escaped from him. I looked up and saw that he was looking at my lips, his eyes were glazed over.
I was so fixated at looking at his eyes that I failed to notice his body touching mine. Oh crap. He was leaning into me. Oh crap. He was getting closer…. an inch… another inch…
“I don’t know your name!” I blurted, my voice an octave higher than normal.
This broke the daze that we were both in. I slowly released the breath that I was unconsciously holding in.
He then grinned at me, his perfect dimples emerging.
“Yeah,” he replied, “You don’t.”
Narrowing my eyes, I asked, “What’s your name?”
I waited for him to answer, but he just continued grinning at me.
“Your name. Tell me. Now.”
“Bossy little thing. I like that.”
“I’m not a ‘little thing’,” I growled.
His grin morphed to a flat-out smile. “Of course not. You’re much more.” He lifted the other hand which was not caging me in, as if he was going to brush it against my cheek. I was about to jerk my head, away from his hand, when he stopped his hand at the last second.
Dropping his hand, he scanned my face. Then he mumbled under his breath, “Much, much more.”
I had no idea what to say. I couldn’t focus on anything, the feel of his body near mine was enough to entangle my thoughts. I tried to dig through my mind about what to say and blurted out the first question that popped up.
“What’s your name?” I snapped.
The grin appeared again. Hah! He found this funny. He gave me The Grin, I provided him The Glare.
Finally, he spoke, “You can call me baby…”
“…or honey,” he continued.
No. Freaking. Way.
I gave him a glare that could freeze up hell. “Step back,” I hissed, putting my hands to his chest and shoving him hard.
He didn’t budge. Not a single inch.
My eyes widened, my gaze dropping to my hand on his chest then back to his face. I was pretty sure I put a lot of force when I shoved him. And he did not even flinch.
I could feel his heartbeat thudding on his chest against my palm. That was good, because at least it meant that he wasn’t a supernatural being.
He was staring at me intently, as if trying to read my thoughts and calculating my every move. For me, this was the ultimate Red Flag.
My brain shouted at me, Run.
He must have known what I was going to do because just before I bolted, his right hand shot out and caught my left wrist on his chest.
When his grip on my hand tightened, I could feel my pulse thumping against his hand. I acted on instinct. I raised my left hand that was held by his right and put my other hand below his wrist. Squeezing, I twisted and pulled it away, dislodging myself from his hold. I saw the surprise look in his face but ignored it and braced myself for another move.
I twisted my hip, my leg stretched out, and used my momentum to kick him on the side of his knees. He dodged efficiently and without any visible effort.
Unaffected, he strolled towards me and called, “Sophia—”
This time, I didn’t care even if I liked the way he said my name. He was close enough so I turned on the other way to face him, my elbow ready to swing. On the last second, he put his hand up and it collided with my elbow, stopping my attack.
With him too close, I could not swerve my leg and kick him. His hold on my arm was firm, and I only had one hand free. So I swung my hand, aiming to punch. I wasn’t sure but I thought I heard him sigh before his other hand blocked my punch.
Oh crap. I couldn’t break free from his hold. I had no choice… except I had one.
To knee him where it hurts the most.
I was about to execute my plan when he pulled my arms, yanking me to his body.
He leaned over, and whispering to my ear, he said, “If you kick me in the nuts, I’m gonna handcuff you to my bed so you could listen to what I’ll say, without you going berserk.”
A shiver ran down my body, a warm sensation rushing to my face and neck.
I swallowed. “You wouldn’t do that.”
He slowly pulled back, his eyes coming into view. My breath stuttered when I saw his eyes were dark and dilated. “Try me,” he drawled.
I kept my mouth shut.
He loosened his hold on my arm and hand. He stepped back, far enough to give me my space but close enough to indicate that he could easily catch me whenever I try to run. I neither said anything nor escape.
“Better.” He rocked back and forth on his heels and continued, “Since you didn’t bring your car and it’s a wrong timing because I also left mine, I’m walking you home. I don’t give a damn if you won’t talk to me, as long as I know that you’re walking to your house safely. With me. Yeah?”
I could’ve called Jillian and told her to pick me up, but she might still be with her colleagues. So I just nodded.
“Good. Now, let’s go.”
For a brief moment, I wondered if I’d get the chance of hearing him say ‘best’. When I agreed to let him walk me home, he said, ‘good’. And earlier when I didn’t protest, he said ‘better’. What would it take for him to say ‘best’?
I walked to the direction of my apartment. It took me almost thirty minutes of walking when I came here. So I sighed heavily, knowing that I would be with this guy—who, by the way, hasn’t told me his name— for about thirty minutes.
Just thirty minutes, I told myself, then you won’t see him again.
And boy, was I wrong.