He leaned back long enough to say, “Are you sure?” Then we were kissing again, and the rhythm he set was just as seductive and hypnotizing as the music had been in the club. He asked again, “Bliss, are you sure?”

Was I sure? Why was he asking me questions? Did he realize I just wanted to kiss him? I wanted to kiss him until the rest of the world fell away.

“Bed,” I said again.

“That’s not an answer.” He moved toward the bedroom anyway.

I clung to him tightly, transferring my kisses to his jaw and then his neck so that he could concentrate on walking.

Somehow I still managed to get caught in the curtains.

Like literally caught.

My earring caught on the sheer material, and I didn’t notice until he kept walking. Pain lanced through my ear and the side of my head. I yelped in response.

“What? I’m sorry! What’s wrong? What did I do?”

“Ear.” Apparently, I’d been reduced to one-word sentences.

“Damn. Hold still.”

He tried to use both hands to free my earring, but then we lost balance, and both of us slammed into the side of my dresser that sat just inside my bedroom.

Judging by the way my elbow was smarting, I was going to have one hell of a bruise tomorrow.

When the pain subsided, I laughed, because as usual, my life was ridiculous. And as luck would have it, it was one of those half laugh half snort hybrids. We both laughed, gasping for breath for an entirely different reason now. My side was aching from where we hit the dresser. My earring was still attached to the curtain, and my legs were still around his waist. Between laughs, Garrick pressed a sweet kiss to my forehead.

Maybe ridiculous wasn’t so bad.

“Okay, let’s get you untangled. I’m going to put you down, okay?”

He lowered me gently the floor, and my stampeding pulse began to slow. He tried for a few minutes to free me, but his fingers were large and clumsy. Finally, I said, “Just undo the earring. I’ll get it out of the curtain tomorrow.”

Laughing, he did as I asked.

Whereas before, I’d felt like I was burning up in our kiss. Now, warmth spread through me that was different, sweeter. Candlelight instead of open flame.

He rubbed at the shoulder that had hit the dresser, and said, “We’re kind of a mess.”

I pinched my fingers together, and said, “Little bit.”

He curled a hand around my neck, and pulled me forward, pressing another kiss to my forehead. I closed my eyes, thinking that this was what perfection felt like.

“I think maybe the curtain did us a favor. Your legs in that skirt pretty much killed all my self-control.”

I smiled. “I told you that I never should have worn it.”

“Oh, I’m definitely glad you wore it. It’s a memory I’ll cherish for a very long time.” I slapped him on the arm, but I didn’t mind the cheeky smile. He said, “I should probably go now, before you make me lose my mind again.”

I let him go, even though a large part of me was screaming in protest. And when he was gone, I celebrated in much the same way I had when I learned I’d gotten cast as Phaedra.

I danced.

Because… finally… things were going right.

Chapter Twenty-One

Things were so wrong.

The first Phaedra read through was a disaster of epic proportions. Even after two weeks, Cade wouldn’t speak to me at all before we started, and it seemed everyone in the cast was on his side, based on the glares I was getting. And though read-throughs tended to be a bit stale since everyone was sitting around a table, this one was worse than week-old pizza.

Every once and while, Eric would shake his head, and I could practically see him thinking, what happened to the people I cast last week?

Each scene kept getting worse like a screw going in at the wrong angle, but we just kept going, trying to make something work that would clearly not.

When it was over, I felt deflated. I had been so excited about this play. I’d been waiting for something like this since freshman year, and now it was here and it was unbearable.

Eric faked some optimism, saying things would be smoother on stage. I don’t think anyone believed him.

And if they did, that misplaced hope dwindled when we had our first rehearsal onstage, which if possible, was even worse. The unease between Cade and I seemed to permeate the entire cast until everyone was stiff and on edge.

Classes weren’t much better.

Cade stayed far away from me, and Kelsey was still angry, so I was disproving that quote about no man being an island. I was totally alone.

Except for Garrick.

I was terrified by the depth of my feelings for him. Things were too good. Nothing in life was this amazing, at least not in my life. He stopped me after Senior Prep Wednesday morning, “Bliss, wait one second.”

I took my time packing up my stuff, waiting for everyone else to leave the computer lab. When we were alone I asked, “What’s up?”

He smiled, “Nothing.”

Then he pressed me into the computer table behind me and kissed me.

I gasped in shock, and his tongue stormed my mouth. I did nothing, but blink, and then he had me lifted up onto the table, his hips fitted between my open thighs, and his mouth burned against my own.

There was no slowness to this kiss. It was a frenzied, stolen moment, and I was spinning with want. I clung to him, certain I was about to fall to pieces in his arms, and then he pulled back.

I had to concentrate on breathing for several long seconds before it even occurred to me to be mad. I swatted his bicep, “Are you crazy? What were you thinking? What if someone walked in?” I pushed him several feet away, and hopped off the table, my legs unsteady against the floor.

“I was thinking that you looked entirely too sexy for this early in the morning.”

I steeled my glare, “I’m serious, Garrick.”

“So am I,” He said. He took me by the elbow and pulled me into the far corner of the room, where we couldn’t be seen from the door, and we’d have warning if anyone entered. “When it comes to you, Bliss, I’m very serious.”

Was he implying what I thought he was implying? The look in his eyes was dangerous. I couldn’t think straight when he was so close to me. He tried to pull me into another kiss, but even out of sight from the door, I was too scared, too afraid. It felt like that first night together on my bed all over again. Was this me? Was I ready for something like this?

I turned my head, and his lips found my neck instead.

Everything was just so confusing.

How could I want something so badly and not want it at the same time?

A part of me wanted to fold my arms around him, and pray for his lips never to leave my skin. And a part of me wanted to run screaming in the other direction.

The second part came out on top.

I pulled out of his embrace, and held up a hand to keep him from following me. “I can’t. I have to go. I want to try and find Cade before rehearsal tonight, see if we can’t work things out.”

Then I fled the lab, my skin still burning from his touch.

Cade was already gone by the time I made it to the greenroom, and I didn’t manage to get him alone for the rest of the day. I thought about asking to talk to him before rehearsal, but everyone was around, staring, and I truthfully just didn’t have the energy.

But that meant that our third rehearsal started just as poorly as all the rest.

Eric, who had no idea of the offstage drama, was at a loss. I think he could tell that it all stemmed from Cade and I, which is why he sent us away. He said he just wanted to spend some time with the chorus, but still wanted us to get some work done. So, he sent us into a smaller workshop space to work alone… with Garrick.

It had to be a sign of the apocalypse. Things this terrible only happened when the world was about to end.

I envied Garrick’s composure. He didn’t give anything away.

I, on the other hand, was a train wreck in human form.

We ran our first scene together twice. Cade was lifeless and I was pitiful.

No matter how many times Garrick muttered between lines “Wake up.” or “Intensity!” or “Raise the stakes!” We were still awful.

Garrick, who knew what we were both capable of, grew more and more frustrated. He didn’t even bother faking optimism.

“Both of you take five.”

I went the bathroom, and splashed my face with water. This had to stop. If I could act opposite Dom, I could certainly act opposite Cade, no matter how upset he was. He was my best friend, but I had to learn to put my emotions aside and think of him like anyone else if I wanted to be an actor.

Feeling a little better, I made my way back to the workshop room.

Cade and Garrick were already inside talking.

“I know there is personal stuff going on between the two of you, but you’ve got to get over it,” Garrick said.

“I’m trying. It’s not that simple.”

Garrick’s back was to me, but I could see Cade’s face, which was pale and crumpled, like a discarded piece of paper. I choked up, wishing this was all over or that it had never happened.

“You’re not trying hard enough. So, she didn’t return your feelings. That’s life.” My jaw dropped. How could he be so callous? Garrick, who had been so sweet and understanding when I’d come to him about this same fight? “It happens. You’ve got to grow up. Are you an actor or not? You can’t let your feelings for her dictate your life. ”

My mouth went dry, and a hard lump formed in my throat.

I pushed the door open the rest of the way, and said, “That’s enough.” The heat in my voice surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. I hated seeing Cade hurt, and finally it wasn’t just me causing it. Garrick’s words had sunk under my skin, festering, and my hands were shaking with anger.

Cade looked horrified at seeing me.

Garrick didn’t look guilty at all, which only made my anger burn hotter. I walked until I stood between the two guys, blocking Cade from sight.

“This is none of your business,” I told Garrick.

He turned toward me, and his whole face seemed to pull down with his frown. “It is my business when you both bring your outside issues into rehearsal.”

I knew, logically, I knew that he was right. And I knew that he was my teacher, and this was his job, but the judgment in his tone cut me all the same.

And I wanted to cut him back.

“You’re probably right,” I said. “Maybe relationships have no place here at all. It’s a bad idea to mix them, don’t you think?”

He was so calm, which made me want to shake him. I wanted to sink my fingers into his shoulder and shove and pull and push.

“Bliss, you’re being unprofessional.”

“I’m being unprofessional? Oh, that’s rich, coming from you!”

“You and I can talk about this later.” His hand touched my elbow, and I hated that even angry, his touch made my knees weak. I pulled away.

“I don’t want to talk about this later. I just want you to direct. I want you to stay out of my business with Cade. Do you hear me? Do you understand? Stay out of it. That’s all I want from you.”

Finally, something in his calm expression cracked. His jaw clenched, and for a second he screwed his eyes shut. It didn’t feel as good as I thought it would to see him affected. And already I wanted to take it back.

“Fine.” He threw his hands up and repeated, “Fine. As a director, both of you need to get your shit together before next rehearsal, unless you’d like us to start looking at your understudies. You’re dismissed.”

The door slammed on his way out, and I heard the echo again and again in my mind. I was so stupid. This was SO stupid.

I’d almost completely forgotten Cade was there until he said, “Holy shit, Bliss. He’s the guy?”

Tags: Cora Carmack Losing It Romance
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