Authors: Liz Schulte
“No, not Ron,” Juliet surmised, reading me like a book and raising an eyebrow.
“Not Ron,” I agreed.
“What are you two lovely ladies talking about?” Christopher asked too loudly with an ultimately false air.
“Juliet, you remember Christopher.”
“How could I forget the cheating jackass?” she offered her hand to him. “How have you been? Any diseases yet?”
He smiled tightly. “If you’ll excuse us, Juliet, I’d like to speak with Olivia.”
“And what makes you think I have anything to say to you?”
“Call it instinct.” I didn’t even try to suppress my eye roll.
“I’m not going to leave. Whatever you have to say to Olivia you can say to me too.” Juliet’s mouth set in a straight, no nonsense line. Christopher looked at me; I simply shrugged in response.
“I made a mistake and I’m sorry. I’d like to start seeing you again.”
Juliet laughed harshly. I was shocked—and horrified. What kind of an idiot did he take me for? “Have you lost your mind? I haven’t spoken to you in over a year. You cheated on me.”
“Do I look stupid?” I couldn’t believe he was here, doing this
. People didn’t change. There were no second chances with me. I’d been very clear about that with him. He had to know this would be a wasted effort.
“No, just leave.” I didn’t have time to deal with this now.
He studied my face patiently. “You want me to stay. We have a lot to talk about.”
“No, really, I don’t. I want you to walk away and never come back.”
“You fascinate me.”
“Get out,” I hissed, though I felt on the verge of yelling.
“Not until you listen to me.”
“I believe the lady asked you to leave.” A cold, hard voice came from behind Christopher and left no room for argument. Christopher, however, was never one to pick up on nuances. He turned around with an obtuse expression. I saw Holden over Christopher’s shoulder with what I was beginning to assume was his customary expression: bored, cold, disinterested. There was something else in his eyes though. They seemed to glitter, itching for a fight. Holden didn’t make any quick movements. He simply placed his hand on Christopher’s shoulder.
Christopher dropped the glass of champagne he’d brought for me.
“You’ll leave now, and you’ll leave quietly.” Holden’s voice never reached even a conversational level. Much to my surprise, Christopher nodded and walked out the door without looking back—maybe he wasn’t as stupid as I thought. Juliet went to find the reporter again, no longer concerned now that Christopher was out of my hair. I didn’t take my eyes off Holden as one of the waitresses cleaned up the broken glass between the two of us.
“How did you find me?” I blurted before I could think better of it.
His cold, green eyes finally shifted to mine. “I’m sorry do I know you?”
“I—uh—well no, I guess not. Sorry.” Oh my God, it was so embarrassing! Holden was turning away. I knew I had to stop him. I reached out and touched his well-shaped arm. He snapped back towards me so fast I flinched.
“I’m sorry.” My heart raced wildly. “I just wanted to thank you for helping me with Christopher.”
His jaw flexed and his nostrils flared. I stood dumbfounded in front of the most unsettling man I had ever encountered.
“You’re welcome. He won’t bother you again.”
“I’m Olivia Martin.” I extended my hand towards him. Instead of shaking it, he took my fingers and planted a smooth, cool kiss on the back of my hand without breaking eye contact. His eyes weren’t cold when they looked back into mine. This time they were warm and inviting . . . hungry even. He kept my fingers in his cool grasp, then slowly, deftly pulled me closer to him. No thoughts, warnings, or alarms were in my head, the only thing on my mind were his lips moving closer and closer to mine.
“Holden, I’m bored,” said a whiny voice from behind us. My eyes flickered from him to see who was interrupting. He gave a low growl of frustration and pulled away, releasing my hand.
“Candi … Didn’t you look at the pictures?” His patent expression of boredom was back in place, masking his face.
“It’s Cathi.” Holden shrugged as if her name was a minor detail. “Besides they're only of ugly people.”
A bitter laughed slipped out of my mouth. A slight smile touched Holden’s lips. He wasn’t apologetic or embarrassed though, he was amused which irritated me further.
“Cathi, this is the photographer, Olivia Martin.”
“Neat,” she said as if she couldn’t care in the least. I extended my hand towards the 60% plastic model who obviously lived to make others feel inferior, because I was determined to be an adult. She looked at my hand as if it might not be safe to touch me—some plainness might wear off on her—but eventually shook it. I resisted the urge to squeeze her fingers together until she said mercy. Like I said, I was being an adult.
“It’s lovely meeting you, Candi was it?” I asked innocently
“Candi, why don’t you go get our jackets? I'll meet you at the door.”
“Does it matter? Please get them.” He brushed his hand against hers and her face went blank. She went towards the coat check line. Holden gave me his attention again, raising an eyebrow.
“Can you not remember all of your girlfriends’ names, or was that for my benefit?”
He leaned in close and whispered in my ear. “I bet I'll remember your name, Olivia.” His breath was warm and made me want to press up against him. And the way my name rolled out of his mouth like a caress made my cheeks flush.
“Only time will tell,” I whispered back, then forced myself to step away, and flashed him a dazzling smile. I wouldn’t let him muddle my thoughts; his girlfriend was waiting. “It was nice meeting you, Holden.”
“And you,” he said with a slight bow. He walked out of the door with stripper Barbie. Story of my life.
“That was, without a doubt, the hottest man I’ve seen in weeks,” Juliet shrieked, materializing out of nowhere—or maybe she’d been nearby the whole time and I was too mesmerized to notice. “Who is he and please tell me you got his phone number.”
“That’s the guy I saw outside the bar the other night—Holden.”
“I can’t believe I missed
. And his number?”
“I didn’t get it, no. . . .” Honestly, asking for it had never even occurred to me.
“Damn! Hopefully he bought something and you can get his contact info from the sales slip.”
I laughed and shook my head. “He was with a model. Didn’t you see her?”
“Yeah, but he hardly looked at her. She's an obstacle at most, not a wall. Olivia, if you were ever going to take a risk, this would be the time.”
“Well, risks aren’t really my thing.”
“Liv! You saw him once and started dreaming of him. You somehow manage to run into him again in a matter of days, and he comes to your rescue while ignoring his supermodel girlfriend. I don’t see the problem here. The universe is practically throwing him at you. And now all you want to do is ignore him?”
“That’s the plan.”
Juliet started protesting again, but I gave her a look telling her to drop it. She held her hands up, but shook her head disapprovingly.
“Well, I caught Mr. Reporter Guy before he left and he got my phone number.”
“You gave him your number?” I was amazed.
“Don’t be so judgy. He was nice and had half a brain.”
“That's why I'm surprised. Definitely not your type.”
“Ha, ha, very funny.”
The rest of the evening went by in a blur of names, handshakes, and smiles. Outwardly I played my part, making appropriate responses and displaying proper attentiveness to my surroundings. Internally I was a jumble of curiosity and thought. Somehow though, I made it through the night. Juliet and I shared a cab home and to her credit, she refrained from saying anything to me about Holden until we were in the stairwell.
“What's going on in your head?”
“I’m just tired,” I mumbled.
“Bullshit. You haven’t gone out with anyone since Christopher. I know you're not still hung up on him. You can't give up on all relationships because you had one crappy one.”
“Having two dreams and seeing a guy in a bar does not qualify as a relationship. I'm not you. I don't function the same way. It's easier for me to be alone.”
Juliet was quiet for a while. “Two dreams?”
“They're really strange and so real. I can’t shake the feeling that I am missing something.”
“You are—a life.”
I rolled my eyes. “This is different. I admit he is completely hot, but …”
“He scares me.”
“Scares you how?”
“I don’t know. Maybe ‘scares’ isn’t the right word. I haven’t even figured it out. I have the feeling there's more to him than I'm seeing. I need to be careful.” We had finally made it up to our apartments somewhat winded. “I'll see you in the morning.”
“Liv, no one is what they seem. Don’t let that hold you back—and if you need me, I'm right next door.” Juliet looked concerned, but knew enough not to push me.
“I’m fine—but thanks. And thanks for coming tonight. Goodnight.”
“Night.” She waved.
I shut and locked the door behind me, then went through my nightly routine, though I wasn’t particularly tired. I pulled my camera bag onto my lap. I hadn’t had a chance to really look at the pictures. I flipped through them casually. A lot of pictures were from the night I was scared and using the flash on my camera as a light. I tossed those on the bed beside me while I continued to flip through my pictures from the park. When I made it through the stack, I collected the wasted shots from the bed. And I noticed something on one of them. At first, I thought it had to be my mind playing tricks on me. I picked up the photo and held it under the light, studying it carefully. Outside my window there was a hand. It was such a small detail of the picture I was convinced I was imaging it. I was on the ninth floor. It wasn’t possible. No one could have been outside my window; the very idea was absurd.
I stood up with determination and walked over to the window to prove myself wrong and find the true source of the hand-like object in the picture. I pulled the gauzy white curtains to the side and started to open the window—a face appeared before me.
Holy shit! Breathe, Liv,
. I backed away unable to scream or do anything but shake.
This isn’t possible. It's not happening.
I glanced around the room for a weapon of some sort. I found nothing. My eyes darted back to the window and I waited for my attacker to come in. This time there was nothing there.
Did he fall?
I crept up to the window, half expecting to be grabbed and half preparing to see a mangled body on the sidewalk below. But there was nothing. Nothing at all.
“Olivia, get a grip,” I said aloud as I ran my fingers through my hair. A knot of worry settled into my stomach.
I'm losing my mind.
With trembling hands, I lifted the photo once more to make sure I hadn’t imagined that either.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw it was still there. Unfortunately, that was a double edged sword. My relief was quickly followed by dread. Sure, maybe I wasn’t crazy—I just had some freak skulking outside my ninth story apartment!
He was there and gone so fast I couldn’t even describe what he looked like. The only feature I remembered were eyes that were filled with hate and looked like polished silver.
But he’s not there now. Whoever it was is long gone—you saw that for yourself.
My lecture didn’t really calm me, but I pulled my curtains shut and turned off the light, regardless. I climbed into bed and tried to force myself to sleep, though I don’t know who I was trying to fool. I was scared out of my mind, but my pride and my ego wouldn't let me call anyone, not even Juliet, so late. I wouldn't let my imagination control me. I was stronger than that. I finally drifted off to sleep just as the sun was rising, as I felt a small amount of safety creeping in with the light. I awoke a couple hours later to knocking on my door. I pulled myself out of bed and stumbled over to answer it. Juliet was there, looking pretty and chipper.