Secrets - [Guardian Trilogy 01] (2 page)

BOOK: Secrets - [Guardian Trilogy 01]
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Hypocrisy is the fuel of life, I thought as I watched my best friend Juliet execute her plan. She giggled coyly, brushing against a group of young men who seemed heartened by her attention. I sat at our table alone, marveling at her ability to con fifteen-dollar drinks out of just about any man. Had it been any other woman in the bar I would have been disdainful, watched with veiled disgust, but being my oldest and dearest friend, her actions were excused without much of a thought. Juliet could do nothing so bad that I couldn’t find a way to dismiss it.

 

Juliet pointed at me. I shook my head at her slightly, hoping to deter the inevitable. I didn't like being surrounded by men I didn't know, hated being the center of anyone’s attention. Soon she was leading the group of men to our table, showing no regard for what I wanted. Typical. I sighed and rallied. It wasn’t the way I would’ve chosen to spend my evening, but tonight was about cheering her up, not me.

 

 “Olivia!” Juliet exclaimed in high-pitched joy, like she hadn’t seen me in forever. She slid a drink in front of me and winked, knowing exactly what I was thinking. I shook my head and a laugh bubbled up. “Harlot.”

 

She cocked an eyebrow innocently, but her grin widened. “What would you do without me?”

 

I rolled my eyes, but we both knew I meant it nicely. Juliet was the sister I never had. If I was ying, she was yang. We were peanut butter and jelly, Thelma and Louise—without the cliff—, Laverne and Shirley, so on and so forth—best friends. She was the one person I told everything.

 

“Olivia, this is John, Craig, Sean … and Don?”

 

“Ron,” not Don said.

 

“Right.
Ron
. This is my friend, Olivia.”

 

I smiled congenially and made appropriate greeting sounds. None of these men were my taste—or Juliet's for that matter—but she was well beyond the point of caring. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why I let her drag me here. I was past the point in my life in which meeting men in bars seemed like a good idea. Juliet didn’t care how she met men so long as she had one waiting in the wings at all times. Ron-not-Don settled in next to me.

 

“So, Olivia, what do you do for a living?”

 

I couldn’t suppress my laugh at the predictable question, but kept my smile warm and inviting, knowing I was in for a long night. On nights like this, she would close the place down, and I had to stick around to make sure she was safe. I glanced over at Jules who was entertaining all of those around her, talking with her hands and laughing without reservation. She loved being the center of attention and she shone under the spotlight. I wondered why Ron was talking to me. Poor guy—had he drawn the short straw?

 

“I’m a photographer. You?” I said, but maybe I’d waited too long to answer his question. He’d followed my earlier gaze and was staring at Juliet. It shouldn’t have been easy to forget because I saw her every day, but seeing the way others looked at her with awe, always reminded me that Juliet was really pretty. Her silky smooth, straight blond hair seemed lit from within. Her clear blue eyes sparkled with mischief, and a sunny smile radiated from her perfect pink lips. She looked like the girl next door—if you happened to live on television.

 

I set my glass down with a clink, and Ron’s attention drifted back to me. Good. After all, we were stuck on the same side of table—I might as well make the best of it. When my eyes met his, he smiled and put a hand on my knee. I casually removed his hand. “I'm sorry, what did you say you do?”

 

 “Oh, I’m in investments,” his laugh ricocheted in my eardrums. “It isn’t as risky as you might think if you know what you are doing.” He was too casual, too full of self-assigned importance. I prided myself on being an excellent judge of character, so I rarely questioned my original assessments. Ol' Ron wasn't fairing too well. He seemed shallow, conceited, and generic in the worst possible way. Cutting to the chase and past the smoke screens of someone's persona was sort of my gift—not many people could surprise me.

 

I forced a smile and a light tone to hide the fact that I really just wanted to go home. “Awesome. Any good stock advice?”

 

“Well, none that I could give you,” he said with a wink. I had to bite my tongue to keep from voicing my immediate thought.
What a jackass. Seriously, who winks? “
You’re a photographer,” he continued. “What do you photograph?”

 

“A little bit of everything. I have a studio and do some freelance for magazines. Sometimes the clients suck, but mostly it's fantastic. I'm lucky to be able to do something I love every day.”

 

He gave a hearty,
fake
laugh. “Tell me about it. It's difficult having to deal with clients. They never know what they want to do.”

 

“No, some of them know
exactly
what they want. The trouble is convincing them that what they want isn't always best.”

 

He laughed again.
Spare me,
I thought. “That’s exactly right.”
Don’t roll your eyes, don’t roll your eyes.
“And have you always lived in St. Louis?” He kept blathering, unaware of the mental beating I was giving him.

 

“Uh, yeah. Born and raised. You?”

 

“No, I'm a transplant. I like to think of it as home though.”

 

I forced another smile. I got a creepy salesman vibe from him. He wasn’t ultra-smooth or anything. It was more the selling something on an infomercial voice he had—like his mundane conversation was setting me up for a sales pitch. “St. Louis is great. It's one of my favorite places.”

 

He asked a few more questions, but soon enough I was able to steer the conversation back to him. He rambled on and on, leaving me free to let my mind wonder as far away from him as it would take me. I knew Juliet would disapprove of my tuning out, but I couldn’t help it. I found maintaining conversations with strangers trying, and I’d accepted that I never really fit in anywhere. People always liked me, but never remembered to invite me. They recognized me, but couldn’t remember my name. I simply failed at making an impression. My tombstone would probably read, “Olivia Martin, that girl you met that one time.”

 

This complete failure of people to notice anything about me always struck me as ironic, because I noticed everything about them, I loved people watching. Finding that moment when their true nature peeked through all the facades we feel the need to hide behind was exhilarating. No one is exactly what they seem upon first meeting them. My eyes searched out couple after couple in my own little game. I discerned their inner turmoil to the point I felt I knew them. Ron was still rambling something about his job in my ear, but he kept his hands to himself. I was certain he was attempting to impress me, but the effort was wasted. I wasn't impressed by money, power or anything he was telling me. I was looking for something else, something I couldn’t quite name. I wanted something life altering, something that demanded my attention and didn’t let me go. I wanted something
unexpected
.

 

Fifteen minutes before closing time, the hair on the back of my neck stood. It felt like someone was staring holes into the back of my head. I took a quick glance around the crowded room, but no one appeared to be looking at me. I caught Juliet’s eye. She seemed to be finally tiring of the tedious company, so I made a slight nod towards the door. She gave an affirmative tilt of her chin. Our silent conversation went unnoticed, and she started to politely excuse herself from whichever man she’d been talking with most intimately. Meanwhile, Ron moved uncomfortably close. It was definitely as good of time as any to extract myself from the situation.

 

“You're such a good listener.” His breath was hot against my ear, making me cringe.

 

“I get that a lot.” I leaned as far away from him as possible. “But I think my friend and I are calling it a night— thanks for the drinks. And if I never see you again, have a nice life.” Nothing if not polite, I extended my hand to him.

 

“You’re leaving already? But we were just getting to know each other.” He ignored my hand and instead touched a piece of hair that had fallen over my shoulder. I had to repress the reflex to slap his hand, but I couldn’t keep annoyance from my face.

 

“I really have to go.”

 

“Can I have your phone number?”

 

“I don’t give out my phone number.” I certainly had no intention of encouraging him further. Listening to him talk for a couple hours was bad enough, but a whole date? Ugh.

 

He mumbled an expletive under his breath as he turned away, shaking his head as if I was unreasonable. My eyes shot daggers at the back of his head as he stalked off. I was just trying to be nice. I was sorry if he felt lead on
.

 

Juliet came over, her face crinkling in amusement when she saw my expression. “What’d he do to get
that
look?”

 

“Nothing. Boys get so irritable when you don't fall at their feet and thank God you met them.” I shrugged and grinned, wasting no more time thinking about Ron. As quickly as the irritation appeared, I was over it.

 

“Well, who’s the harlot now?”

 

“It’s still you. It's always you.”

 

She laughed and linked her arm through mine. Relief at finally being able to leave washed over me—but disappointment was quick in its wake. She was stopped by another friend of hers. I slipped my arm free. “I'm going to wait outside.”

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yeah, I just need some air.”

 

But I’d lied. And as she nodded and turned to her other friend, I headed for the door with a singular focus. I didn't know what had come over me, but I had to get out. I still felt watched, and it was making my skin crawl. Call it God, Allah, a cosmic force, or destiny—whatever it was, it felt like a warning. I couldn't breathe in there another moment. I needed space. I pushed my way out of the door and directly into a person trying to walk in. The man was an immoveable wall and nearly crushed me as I smashed into him and stumbled backwards.

 

“Sorry,” I muttered, then squeezed past, not at all deterred. The cool night air hit my lungs at the same time a hand grabbed my arm.

 

I jumped, startled, and my feeling of claustrophobia melted into extreme annoyance. I glared and intense green eyes returned my stare, drilling into me as if I was both offensive and intriguing.

 

“I said I was sorry.” I pulled my arm from his grasp. My eyes, however, stayed locked to his.

 

The man shook his head and took half a step towards me. I nearly turned and ran, but my stubborn feet wouldn’t move. For as intimidating as he was, there was something that held me in place. Maybe it was the disproportional irritation on his face that I found fascinating. Maybe it was the flicker of life behind his cold, dead eyes that made him seem interesting. Or maybe I had a concussion from running into him. Whatever it was, my body felt it warranted further investigation. One thing was for sure—I couldn't predict what this man was going to do, and that made my heart race in anticipation.  The man sized me up, his gaze slowly traveling up and down my body. I thought about saying something snide, but aggression wasn't really my thing. Instead, I returned the favor and inspected him in the same manner. His face was comprised of classic, traditionally handsome features: a straight Roman nose, full lips, sharp cheekbones and a strong jaw. His hair was dark and short, and his body hard, almost militant. His eyes may have been a little close set and his legs slightly bowed, but they all seemed minor details. It was his intense, unrelenting expression that stood out.

 

When his eyes connected with mine once more, a slight smirk twitched on his stoic face then vanished without a trace. It occurred to me that he might not be such a mystery after all: arrogant smile, entirely too attractive, bored with the world. . . . This guy wasn’t worth my time. He’d never be happy with anyone who had more depth than a teaspoon.

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