Authors: Julie Kenner,Kathleen O'Reilly
Tags: #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Adult, #Romance - General, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance
Evan, however, had been smitten the first time he’d seen her. He’d never done anything about it, though. He might have had his own entourage of hero-worshipping girls, but the idea of going after Cam’s little sister—and a freshman, no less—was unthinkable. So he’d consoled himself with talking to her after school at Cam’s house, arguing about cool books they’d read, like the works of Stephen Hawkings or Carl Sagan. After he graduated, he’d see her occasionally on the local college campus, taking dual-credit courses. Each time, he’d feel that familiar twist in his gut, but again, he never did anything about it. She was a high-school girl, and he was in college. She was still Cam’s sister. And he was dating an English major he’d met at registration.
Now, the English major and Evan had gone their separate ways, Darcy was all grown up and the simple sound of her name still made his skin tingle. “She’s in the city?” he asked. The last he’d heard, she was at MIT working toward a Ph.D. in mathematics.
“On the way to my apartment,” Cam said. “And unless my little sister has changed, there’s no way I’m going to convince her to stay here for the day.”
“What do you want me to do?” Already he was out of bed. Already, he was imagining a day with Darcy.
“I need you watch out for her, buddy,” Cam said, voicing the words that Evan so wanted to here. “I need you to take care of her. I know it’s a lot to ask—following my kid sister around—but I’d really appreciate it if—”
“No worries,” Evan said, his voice in a rush. “I get it. You’re worried about her. She’s alone in the city on April first.”
“The kid’s brilliant,” Cam said. “But she can be scattered. And tunnel-visioned. And she’s determined to pretend like the curse doesn’t exist.”
“Don’t worry,” Evan said. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”
“She’ll have both our butts in a sling if she realizes I asked you to keep an eye on her. And it’s not like you’re going to play James Bond in a trenchcoat and tail her from afar. So what’s your excuse going to be? To hang out with her, I mean.”
“Right,” Evan said, scrambling. “I’ll think of something.” Heck yes, he’d think of something. The idea of spending the day with Darcy beat pretty much anything else he could think of doing that day, and that included winning the lottery.
“How about an article?” Cam said. “Tell her you’re doing a feature on the family curse.”
“That’ll go over well,” Evan said. He might believe in the curse—how could he not?—but he knew damn good and well that Darcy was the hold-out in the family. And the truth was that antagonizing her wasn’t what he
had in mind. No, his image of the perfect day was something significantly different.
“She says she doesn’t believe in the curse,” Cam said. “But she can’t deny what happens to us every year.”
“I’ll tell her I want to write a feature piece from her perspective. Holding the line in a family of believers.”
“You’re a good man,” Cam said. “There’s no one I trust more to keep an eye on my baby sister.”
Evan thought. He’d keep an eye on her, all right. On those flashing green eyes and that mass of wild, untamable curls.
He imagined brushing her hair out of her eyes and stroking her cheek, taking her hand and walking through the park. Sharing a kiss on the top of the Empire State Building.
And, yeah, he imagined a hell of a lot more than that, too.
Cam sighed. “It’s just that she can be so damn naive, you know? I don’t want her to get hurt.”
“Right,” Evan said, reining in all of his fantasies, because he could have none of them. This was
he was thinking about. Cam’s little sister, who’d never once shown the slightest hint of interest in him. “I’ll keep her safe.”
Safe, he thought. And at arm’s length.
OUR PURSE WAS STOLEN
Cam said. He spoke the words as if they constituted mathematical proof, and punctuated them with a scowl, the effect of which was only slightly lessened by the flower-print blanket Jenna had tucked around his shoulders, his body and his elevated foot.
“So? Lots of people get robbed in New York without being cursed. All it means is that I was an idiot for not holding the thing closer. And,” she added with a wry grin, “it means I need to borrow some cash.”
“And if I say no?” Cam asked, as if that was his trump card.
She rolled her eyes. “I only need to borrow a few bucks. As soon as the bank opens, I can get more.” She reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out her driver’s license. “I always keep it in my pocket when I’m in the city. I figure that’s just smart.”
“You’re being irresponsible,” Cam said, apparently unimpressed by her foresight. “Stay here, nice and tight and snug. Tomorrow you can window shop or do whatever you planned on doing.”
“Tomorrow, I’m going back home. And I don’t want to stay in today. I have theater tickets for tonight, and
I’m going. They’re for
Dance in the Winter
, and it’s sold out for the next two years. It’s the hottest thing on Broadway right now, and I’m not missing it. Just because you’re laid up on the couch doesn’t mean I have to be an invalid, too.”
“It’s hours until your show,” Jenna said, coming back into the room with a yellow tray topped with three mugs of coffee. “And Cam and I hardly ever see you.”
“Jenna’s right,” Cam said, taking one of the mugs, then wincing when hot coffee sloshed over the sides onto his hand. Darcy eyed the tray and decided to wait. “Hang out here and keep us company,” Cam added.
“Keep you company?” she repeated. “Cameron Franklin? Mr. Action? Laid up in bed with a sprained ankle, and you want me to just hang out here for the day? Excuse me for being blunt, but that’s really not my idea of a good time.”
“I sprained it this morning, Darcy. Right after midnight.” He ran his fingers through his thick hair, making it stand up in tufts and giving him the look of a man who knew he was fighting a losing battle, but was determined to go on fighting. “You know what day this is. Why the hell did you have to come in to New York today, anyway?”
“Because tonight’s the play,” she said simply. And that was true, since she’d specifically told her friend Bella to buy tickets for the April 1 show. “And because I was able to take the whole day for shopping. It’s not like my schedule gives me that many free days. MIT’s not exactly a party school, you know.”
Also true, but what she didn’t point out was that as a Ph.D. candidate, she had significantly more flexibil
ity than she’d had during the earlier years of her education. Her free time was still sadly lacking, but at least she could move the blocks of time around, like tiles on a sliding-number puzzle, until she managed to create a gap large enough to allow for a trip into the city.
But was it really her brother’s business if she got a certain sense of satisfaction from coming to New York City on this day?
Cam used to dive out of planes on April Fools’ Day—his boldness a way of thumbing his nose at the curse. Darcy did the same. Only she wasn’t daring the curse—there was no curse, after all. Instead, she was proving a point to her siblings who continued to believe in such nonsense.
“Dammit, Darcy,” Cam said, not needing to say any more. She understood his frustration. She even sympathized with it. However silly it might be, Cam was a believer, and her big brother’s concern was genuine.
“Bella’s going to be with me all day,” she said, bringing up her undergraduate roommate the way a Civil War officer might have raised a white flag. “We’re going to shop, have lunch, shop more, then do drinks and the theater. So I won’t be out in the big, bad city on my own.” She shrugged. “That’s the best deal I can offer.”
Jenna put a hand on his shoulder, effectively silencing her husband. “Promise us you’ll be careful?”
“I already have,” Darcy said. “But if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll promise again. If you have any of those old family documents that Reg is always digging up, I’ll even swear on those. I’ll do whatever you want to make you believe I’ll be safe—except spend the day
locked up in here with you,” she added, as Cam started to open his mouth.
“At least stay for breakfast,” Jenna said. “You brought the bagels. I can scramble some eggs, fry up some sausage.”
Darcy shook her head. “No, thanks. I want to get going. I just—” She cut herself off. She couldn’t exactly admit that she’d done this on purpose, coming here today, knowing that he’d spend the long hours worried about her. She’d come, because it would have that much more impact when she survived the day unscathed. Afterward, it’s just a story. Knowing before had meant her brother would be involved, too. And maybe this would finally convince him.
Maybe, she thought. But as she glanced ruefully at his raised ankle, she had to admit she doubted that he’d ever become a non-believer.
It took another twenty minutes for Darcy to extricate herself from her brother and sister-in-law, and that included fifteen for more arguing and five to search for her driver’s license, even though she could have sworn she’d put it back in her pocket. She finally found it in the cushions of a nearby armchair that she didn’t even remember sitting in. She took two long gulps of the now cold coffee, dribbled enough on her white shirt that she had to beg a replacement from Jenna and finally managed to get out the door and breathe a sigh of relief that at nine forty-five, her day was about to begin.
And, dammit, it was a day that promised to be curse-free, carefree and fun.
The elevator did not stick as she descended to the lobby from Cameron’s apartment. She didn’t slip on the
newly waxed floor, and no armed thug rushed the building, prepared to take everyone in the lobby hostage. In fact, the first few moments away from her big brother were so uniquely dull and uneventful that she half considered calling him from the house phone and telling him that a flock of angry penguins had stormed the building, knocked her over and now her picture was going to be splashed all over the front page of the
with a decadent headline about how an MIT Ph.D. candidate was caught in a torrid penguin lovefest in the lobby of one of Manhattan’s most exclusive apartment buildings.
Or maybe not.
She shifted, intending to swing her purse over her arm, then realized she didn’t have a purse. She patted her back pocket, feeling her driver’s license and the fifty-dollar bill that Cam had handed her. She didn’t even realize she’d been glancing down as she stepped past the doorman until she glanced back up and felt the sharp stab to her heart. Not the bad you’ve-been-mugged-on-the-streets-of-Manhattan kind of stab, but the good man-of-your-fantasies-staring-right-at-you kind of stab. The kind that’s hot and cold at the same time and makes your skin go all prickly and your knees go week and your mouth go dry.
The kind of stab that Darcy got whenever she looked at Evan Olsen—and this time, he was looking right back.
He stood for a moment—and for one exquisite instant it seemed that he was as desperate for her as she was for him—then a wide grin broke out across his face, and the desire she’d imagined shifted into the familiar, friendly expression she’d seen so many times on her big brother’s best friend’s face. “Darcy! Hey! I’m so glad I caught you.”
Hope fluttered through her, and she took a step toward him, intending to speak, but no words coming out because her mouth was suddenly full of cotton. Or sandpaper. Or sandpaper wrapped in cotton.
She coughed. “Sorry. Thinking. I’ve been working on this algorithm, and—”
“And suddenly the blank expression makes tons of sense.”
She laughed. “I swear it’s a really fascinating algorithm.”
“Aren’t they all?” he asked, completely deadpan.
“Are you here to see Cam?” she asked, which was a totally inane thing to say since—duh—he was standing right outside Cam’s apartment and they’d been best friends for years. He sure as hell wasn’t there to see her.
“Actually, I was on my way to see you.”
And there it was—the last prime number, all the digits of pi, the nirvana to end all nirvanas.
This was the man she’d had fantasies about since her first day of high school. The guy who’d been at the center of so much female attention during school. She smiled to herself, remembering how the girls had flocked around him, the hero of the town.
They’d all been jealous of her, being the sister to Evan’s best friend. At first, she’d never had the guts to talk to him when she saw him at the house. Then they’d started talking, about math or politics or whatever. Stupid stuff. Nothing personal, nothing intimate.
But in her imagination…
She’d imagined his face during long, slow soaks in
the tub. She’d replayed their conversations, twisting their arguments around and analyzing his point of view. She rarely shifted off her own opinion, but she liked the way he thought.
And then she’d let the imaginary conversation drift away in favor of the magical illusion of his hands on her as she lay naked between cool, crisp sheets.
He’d filled her mind for years, even though he’d never once filled her bed.
The guy. This was that guy—and he was right there, smiling at her.
Forget the curse—April Fools’ Day should be gold-plated and set up on the mantle.
She realized she was gaping, played the conversation back in her head, and said the first—albeit idiotic—thing that came to mind. “You’re here to see
He laughed. “Can’t I just want to see you?”
“No.” The word came out fast, and she backtracked. “I mean, why would you even expect me to be here? I don’t live in New York, remember?”
His smile was soft and his eyes intense. “Yeah. I know.”
“So Cam said you were coming over, and I wanted—”
“Yes?” She clenched her fists at her sides, forcing herself not to take a step forward, not to react at all, at least not until he said the words.
“I wanted to talk to you about the curse.”
“Oh.” Can a person deflate? Right then, she was certain she’d be living proof of that particular hypothesis. “What about the curse?”
“I’m, uh, doing an article—a feature piece on super
stitions, that kind of stuff. And I had the idea of doing an article on your family’s curse.”
Suddenly, the allure of Evan was fading. She crossed her arms over her chest. “You realize I don’t believe in that stuff?”
“That’s why I was hoping to spend the day with you. I know Cam’s story, and I know how frustrated he is with your stand—”
He held his hands out to his sides. “I’m a reporter. That makes me part lawyer. I follow the evidence.”
“Follow me, and all you’ll get is nothing. There won’t be evidence. There’ll be the absence of evidence. It’s not the same thing.”
“We’re living in Reporter World now, not Math Land. Just go with me here.” He cocked his head. “Unless you don’t want me to come with you.”
“No!” she said, then blushed because she’d said it way too hastily. “I mean, if you want to write an article, then that’s fine. I’ve got plans with a friend today, but—”
His quick smile lit up his face, making him seem even more delectable—and making her heart stutter in her chest. “No worries. You two go on about your day. I can be completely unobtrusive.”
“Right. Sure.” She drew in a breath, wishing she could reach out and touch him. And, yeah, wishing she could kick herself for sounding like such a dope. He was just a guy; she talked to guys all the time.
But he’s not just a guy.
He’s Evan. And the idea of spending the entire day with him was enough to make
the concrete streets of the city sprout with daisies and lilies and forget-me-nots.
He tilted his head, then crooked his arm for her to take. She hesitated only a second, then slid her arm through his. He was right there, only inches away, their bodies slightly touching, even if that touch was hampered by his cotton shirt and her long-sleeve T-shirt. Yet despite all that, the contact was as sensual—as soft, as arousing—as if bare skin were brushing against bare skin.
Dear Lord, she needed to stop this.
“Taxi?” he said.
She turned to look at him, still feeling off center. “What?”
“You said you were spending the day with a friend. Do we need a taxi?”
“Oh. Right. Of course.” Bella’s apartment was only ten minutes away by cab, and it made sense that they’d go there first, and then hit the bank branch near Bella’s place so that Darcy could get some more cash.
She edged near the curb, watching Evan as he lifted his arm to hail a cab. Only half watching, really. Mostly, she was lost in the delicious fantasies about this man who’d come here today to see her.
Wonder of wonders…
And that wonder swept her forward into the street—
—and right in front of a taxi that was violently swerving toward the curb.
“Darcy!” This time the scream was accompanied by a yank on her arm, and as she rocketed toward Evan, her mind processed a whirr of motion and the screech of tires. It was a blur, a mess.
And then suddenly it wasn’t. Suddenly she was pressed against him. His body right there, holding her tight. His breath coming hard and fast. “Darcy. Darcy. Holy shit, Darcy, you—”
“I’m fine,” she said, but she wasn’t. She was shaking now, scared of what had almost happened, and overwhelmed by what was happening now.
The way his body felt pressed tight against her. The beat of his heart, the warmth of his hands…
And the sweet tingle of anticipation that swept through her as she realized his mouth was right there, hovering just above hers.