Authors: Haley Allison
“Well…I guess there’s one way to straighten this out,” I say, and I take the glasses off. Alfonzo and Steph gasp, and Gio’s eyes widen.
“She does look like…” Alfonzo mutters.
“My God, the resemblance is…scary,” Steph says in horror.
“What resemblance?” I ask.
“You, uh…” Steph glances at Cass, who makes a throat-cutting gesture with her finger. Dad’s glare is practically melting him. “You just look like someone we know, that’s all.” Steph shakes it off, and his joyful smile returns. “Anyway, I’m simply
for some antipasto, so let’s show them the dining room, Alfonzo.”
Dammit! When am I going to know who I look like?
Alfonzo and Steph lead us into the traditional, luxurious Italian dining room. “Everyone help yourselves to the antipasto,” Alfonzo says, gesturing to the appetizer as Dad, Cass, Ana, and I pull out our fine-upholstered mahogany chairs and sit down. “Gio, take the Pinot and serve it to our guests.” Alfonzo disappears into the kitchen with Steph so they can bring out the rest of the food.
“’Kay,” Gio says in his deep, cute voice. He takes the bottle from the table and moves around to pour the wine for Dad and Cass. Then he pours wine for Ana too, and I raise my eyebrows at Dad, like
“Are we allowed to drink this?”
He holds up a pinky, imitating the teacup hold Nana tried to teach me as a kid, and I laugh quietly behind my hand. That’s his secret code for
Manners have always been a huge deal in the Landers-Daley family, so I guess I’ll get to sample wine just this once.
Gio pauses again to stare at me when he brings the bottle around, and I reach for my cold crystal wineglass and hold it out to him. I was trying to make it easier on him, but he gets distracted by me again while he’s pouring and accidentally spills some on my fingers.
“So sorry,” he says, reaching for my crisp, white napkin, but I set my glass down and get it myself.
“It’s all right, really.” I give him a reassuring smile.
Funny, I thought I would be the nervous one tonight…
The dinner conversation is lighthearted among the adults, but Gio remains dead silent as he plays with the food on his plate, which forces me to only talk to Ana. She taps me on the shoulder, and I lean over to her.
“What is his deal?” Ana whispers.
“I’m not sure. I guess I really look like whoever it was he used to know and he’s in shock about it.”
“Yeah, but…isn’t he being kind of rude?”
“Ana,” I say through my teeth, “it’s the first time any guy has
stared at me. And it’s
. Just go with it.” She rolls her eyes and shakes her head, like
I listen in as Alfonzo talks to Dad. “So what have you been up to for the past seventeen years, neighbor?”
“Nothin’ much,” Dad replies. “Raisin’ horses, takin’ care of Momma…and, of course, raisin’ that one over there.” He nods in my direction and grins at me.
“If you keep blaming me for us leaving town, everyone in L.A. is going to hate me,” I say. The adults chuckle.
“No one hates you, Madison,” Steph assures me. His dark eyes sparkle with mischief. “We might resent you a little, but—”
“Steph!” Cass scolds, and he laughs.
“Well, I hope I’ve redeemed myself by bringing him back,” I say, and Steph nods enthusiastically.
“Honey, this is a great day for all of us.”
“By the way, Mads is my preferred name,” I say, making him grin.
“I’ll be sure to remember that.” He turns to talk to Dad after that, and I can’t resist another glance in Gio’s direction.
Gio’s completely ignoring his vermicelli with vodka sauce and instead looking up something on his phone. I take the opportunity to study his face further. His nose is long and straight, and it leads down to some delicious-looking, well-shaped lips. His sideburns almost meet the hollows in his cheeks, and I follow them down to the clean edge of his sharp jawline. My gaze travels down his strong neck and back up again, and…yep, that view is just as glorious from the bottom up. I’m in so much trouble.
about this guy puts waves of nausea in my stomach. I lay down my fork and sit back, taking a few extra sips of my wine. As long as this Adonis is sitting next to me, I’m never going to be able to keep all this food down.
When dinner is done, Steph stands and motions to Ana, who gladly follows him out of the room. I shoot her an encouraging smile as she leaves. Dad, Cass, and Alfonzo go out to the living room, which leaves me alone with Gio. He finally glances up in my direction.
“So…you’re the Basket Baby, huh?” he asks with a smirk.
Fuck…he would bring that up first thing.
“Yeah…not the most flattering claim to fame one could imagine.” He snickers, but it’s not derisive. It’s more like an ‘I get that’ laugh. “And you’re Tony from
Jackson and Julia
“Correct,” Gio says.
“I have to admit—I
that show. I think I’ve probably watched every episode. I was so upset when it ended.”
“Yeah, me too.” Gio rolls his eyes and sighs. “I’ve been out of work for a year because of that.”
I choke up for a second, losing steam in his presence.
“I gotta say, you’ve changed a
since that first season.”
Ugh, that’s the worst thing you could possibly say!
Much to my relief, he laughs. “Yeah, luckily I got a trainer after the first couple of seasons. I was that stereotypical fat kid everybody got to make fun of on set.”
“Well, you showed
.” A surge of heat rushes into my cheeks.
Why did I say that? Am I actually flirting right now?
I’m rewarded with a dimpled smile that turns my heart into mush. “Thank you,” Gio says pleasantly. I’m relieved he didn’t find that comment disgusting coming from me.
Say something else…ask a question, something innocent…
“So, what are you doing right now?”
“I’ve been at Wilcox High School for the last year,” Gio replies. “I wanted to have a couple years of normal high school experiences before it was too late. I already had a lot of friends there, since my best friend Dalton goes there, so it just made sense. One more year, and then I’m going back to acting full-time.”
Oh yeah, that’s right. He probably had a tutor on set. Maybe we have more in common than I thought. “I’m also hoping I’ll be able to get one year at a real high school before graduating. I was homeschooled my entire life,” I say.
Gio raises an eyebrow, making some cute little creases appear on his forehead. “Your
“No, my Nana did. She was a teacher for thirty years.”
“Oh…I see,” Gio says.
Ask something else…
“What’s Wilcox like?”
“It’s an exclusive private high school in Beverly Hills that you only get into if you’re filthy rich or a scholarship kid,” Gio says, and he leans back and folds his muscular arms in front of him. I wish he wouldn’t do that…it’s really unfair. I have force myself to concentrate on what he’s saying. “We have to wear uniforms, and they have
grading standards. If you make an eighty-seven on a test, it’s a C instead of a B.”
“Holy damn! Wilcox sounds cool, though. If I moved here, I’d probably try to get in.”
“I barely passed junior year,” Gio admits. “If you have any previous classes with a grade lower than an eighty, you might as well abandon all hope.”
“My Geometry grade was an eighty-two,” I tell him. “Everything else was way above that.”
“Nice! I guess you’re set then,
.” He gives me a wink and a sexy half smile.
My neck and cheeks feel like they’ve just been set ablaze. Giovanni Abate just called me ‘
.’ I’m starting to wish I was recording this conversation, but that would be creepy and weird, so I’ll just record it in my head instead.
“Hey, do you wanna see my room? You know, just for something to do,” he asks. I hesitate for a split second before remembering our parents are inside the house, so it’s unlikely he has any naughty intentions. Then I laugh at myself on the inside for even imagining he would look at me like that. I nod in response to his invitation, and he takes me upstairs to his bedroom.
Gio also has his own king-sized bed, plus he has a
curved TV on the wall opposite the bed. There are a ton of posters from action movies on his walls, not surprisingly, and there are some bookshelves between them filled with Blu-Rays, video games, and books of every sort. Gio is completely entertainment-obsessed, which is a relief, because that’s something I can definitely talk about.
“Nice room.” I head over to one of the bookshelves to look at his games. “What’s your favorite console game?”
. You play?” Gio asks, shocked.
“Yeah, my dad and I play
together all the time, actually. I’m pretty good at it.”
Gio smirks. “Bet you’re not as good as me.”
His arrogant smirk reminds me of a smolder.
, he’s so cute…even cuter in person. I could literally melt into a puddle at his feet right this moment, but I manage to keep myself strong.
“Is that a challenge?” I ask, returning the smirk.
“You bet your sweet ass.” He glances down at it as he moves behind me to get the controller, and I thank myself profusely for wearing these flattering black skinny jeans. There are a couple of black leather lounging chairs in front of his TV, so we both sit down in front of it. “Have you ever played on a TV this big before?” Gio asks.
“No…we had a flat-screen back at home that we played on, but it was nowhere near as big as this.” I steal another glance at him as he boots up the console and leans back. His core movement is so smooth…you can tell he’s played just about every single sport there is. Except maybe football. He’s not that bulky.
“It’s a little jarring if you’re not used to it,” Gio says, talking about the TV screen. “I’ll show you.” He logs in and gets a match started, and I immediately see what he means. My eyes can barely keep up with the motion of the guns and characters on the screen.
, this is trippy,” I say, rattling my head.
“Scoot back,” he says, and I pull my chair back all the way to the bed. It’s a lot better after that.
Gio gets a decent number of kills, but I know for a fact that I can beat his score and even double it, which brings me to a dilemma. Should I show off my mad gaming skills and possibly make him feel bad about himself? Or should I do the ego-boosting thing and pretend I need his help? My feminist side kicks in and makes the answer pretty obvious. There ain’t no way in
I’m getting beat by a boy if I don’t have to.
Gio’s match ends half an hour later. “Good job,” I say, and he hands the controller to me with a self-assured grin. I take the controller from him and inhale and exhale deeply as I join a new match. I’m proud that I’m able to get used to the new screen immediately and dive right in. I steal a glance at Gio every now and then as I’m playing, and his eyes grow wide, glued to the TV. As I go on to obliterate enemy after enemy with expert ease, his expression morphs from shock to horror to embarrassment. I feel a little guilty about emasculating him like this, but I keep going, not willing to sacrifice my pride for anything. At the end of the match, I have more than double the number of kills he got, and the challenge is won.
How the fuck did you do that?
” Gio shouts, staring at the screen in dismay.
“I was trained by the best,” I say, giggling over his mind-blown reaction. “You should see my dad play. He’s always one of the best in the nation.”
“’Kay, well, can I have my balls back now?” He’s somewhat disgruntled as I hand the controller back to him.
“Sorry,” I say, still giggling, and Alfonzo walks into the room unannounced.
“What have you two been doing up here for an hour?” he asks Gio with a suspicious look in his eye.
“Well, I think you should join us downstairs now,” Alfonzo says, eliciting an irritated groan from Gio.
“Fine.” As Alfonzo leaves the room, Gio turns back to me. “That was
most impressive gaming I’ve ever seen in person. You’ve got to teach me to play like that.”
“Well, here…” I pull out my phone and go to the Notes app. “Give me your gamer tag, and we’ll party up sometime this week. I’ll get a console for my room at the mansion and teach you everything I know.”
“Awesome.” He grins as he types in his tag. “Hey, I’m sorry for being so rude earlier. I didn’t mean to ask you to take your glasses off. It just kind of popped out.”