Authors: Stella Cameron
This book made available by the Internet Archive.
For Maureen Walters, with affection.
Sebastian Plato was bad news.
Dark hair the wrong side of too long fell toward narrowed eyes the color of green glass; broken green glass. Glittering green glass. His tan was the kind Seattleites weren't supposed to have— a tan from the sun. The visible edges of his teeth were very white. His mouth had smiling corners. Corners that lied. Sebastian Plato didn't laugh. His green glass eyes didn't grow warm—ever.
Stay away from that boy, every "nice" kid's parents warned. He's trouble.
Bliss Winters whistled softly and focused on a worn silver belt buckle fashioned in the shape of a coiled snake. The snake's tail wound into a lazy S.
The belt was a school legend. Bliss swallowed, and whistled some more. Her dry mouth and throat produced no sound.
Did Sebastian Plato really do the things they said he did with that belt?
Bliss sat a little straighter in her cafeteria chair, and frowned at her sandwich. If he did those things, why did the girls who talked about them act as if they were sorry for those who hadn't experienced . . . whatever? She glanced up at six feet or so of stomach-twisting bad news.
Sebastian Plato stared right back. And the legs of the chair opposite Bliss's squeaked as he pulled it aside.
Her heart broke into a tarantella rhythm.
Whistling wasn't an option anymore.
He sat down.
The chair squealed some more as he scooted his long legs under the table.
Bliss eyed her sandwich.
Sebastian Plato had big hands, very big—and tanned like his face. Long fingers, blunt at the tips. They rested on the tabletop and drummed lightly. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. Then the other hand. Then just the index finger of the right hand while the left curled into a fist, a fist with a pale scar across the knuckles.
Nonchalance, she told herself. Play it cool.
She wasn't Morris and Kitten Winters's only child for nothing. Haughty nonchalance subdued the opponent every time. Sebastian Plato definitely fell into what Bliss's parents regarded as "an opponent," one of those who didn't equal their social status.
Bliss rested an elbow on the table and aimed a corner of her sandwich at her mouth.
"What d'you call a dachshund sitting on a rabbit in January? ... In Minnesota?"
The sandwich missed Bliss's target. She glanced around the high-school cafeteria. He was talking to her. Really talking to her. He had to be. The room had emptied and they were the only two people at this table.
He tilted his chair onto its back two legs and jiggled. The lazy S, slung low over a flat stomach, glistened. "So, what's the answer? What d'you call it?" he asked.
She set down the sandwich and pushed her glasses back up her nose. "I don't know."
"A chilly dog on a bun."
"A ..." She frowned. He must be making fun of her. Of course he was making fun of her. Why else would he be hanging around?
"A chilly dog on a bun!" He grinned and his green eyes narrowed some more. "Get it?"
Bliss looked over her shoulder, then back at the wild boy she'd heard other girls call, "dishy." "I get it," she told him. Wild, dishy, dangerous boys didn't seek out dull, ordinary girls. "What's the point?"
Sebastian let the front legs of his chair hit the tiled floor with
a thud. "No point," he said airily. "An ice-breaker is all. Just making conversation, Chilly Winters. Get it? Ice-breaker? Chilly—"
He crossed his arms on the table and rested his chin on top. His hair slid even farther forward. He regarded her from its shadow. "Best I could do," he muttered. "Y'know why they call you Chilly, don't you?"
"I think I've figured it out." She wasn't like them, or interested in being like them, and she didn't say much—that made them think she was cold.
Bliss picked up her sandwich again and peered at the contents; rapidly drying tuna, and wilted lettuce.
"You bring your lunch every day, don't you?" Sebastian asked.
Why would he care? "Yes."
"Because the food they sell around here isn't good enough?"
"I'd rather eat the food around here," she said before she could stop herself.
He considered before saying, "What's it like to be rich the way you are?"
"What's it like for you to be—" She closed her mouth and lowered her eyes.
"To be what?" he said. He reached across the table, tapped the back of her hand. "Look at me. What's it like to be what? More than a year older than every other senior because you dropped out of school for a year? A guy with a reputation for being dangerous? A guy they say deals in drugs and totes guns?"
"Do you?" This time she clapped a hand over her mouth.
"Absolutely." Sebastian blew upward at his wavy, black hair. "You've seen me flashing my piece, haven't you? And you've gotta get sick of me trying to sell you coke."
"Yes." Bliss laughed a little. "Really sick of it." Maybe it was all lies. At least he could joke about himself.
"Your dad's a senator. And you're rich."
Same old questions. Same old curiosity. Same old assumptions that it was great to be the daughter of Senator Morris Winters and his wife, Kitten. "My folks are rich," Bliss said, resigned.
"What's that like?"
"Yeah." He scrunched down and laced his hands behind his neck.
"I've never been the daughter of poor people, so I've never known anything else. My mother doesn't want me to eat school food because she doesn't want me to get fat."
"Mrs. Morris Winters, pres of the PTA." With his hands still behind his neck, Sebastian slipped slowly sideways. He spent a long time peering under the table at Bliss before jerking himself up to his former position. "She's got some imagination, hasn't she? Your mother?"
Bliss's face throbbed with heat. "You're rude."
"One more thing people say about me. You'd have to eat a helluva lot of school lunches just to reach well-covered."
Bliss took a large bite out of the horrible sandwich the family housekeeper, Mrs. Lymer, had made. She chewed ferociously.
"I like the way you look," Sebastian said.
Bliss's jaws missed a beat, then she kept on chewing.
"Why are you in a public school?"
She swallowed with difficulty. "I like being here."
"I didn't ask if you liked it. I asked why."
Because Daddy thought it looked good to his constituents. "My parents believe in public education."
"But not in public education lunches?"
"No." He was quick. Sharp, quick, big, self-confident—a dish. And dangerous. She heard the other kids whisper about him. When Sebastian showed up, the whispering stopped.
"You must be the only student in the history of the school to have a ball field named after her old man. At least in his lifetime."
Scrambling out of her chair and fleeing the room wasn't a choice she could make. Not dignified. Morris and Kitten Winters' first family law: A Winters must always be dignified.
"Didn't it embarrass you to have your dear old dad buy a new stadium for the school?"
She folded her arms.
"I watched you when he gave that dedication speech."
Bliss looked at the table.
"I watch you every time he gives a speech. Some of the kids think he's great. Some of the girls think he's sexy."
"Have you finished?"
"Nope. We're the voice of the world, right? The kids? The world the way it's going to be? Morris Winters' way?"
"It embarrasses me," she said. Let him sneer at her for being honest. All the other kids sneered, why not Sebastian, too? "All of it. The stupid field. And every time he comes here, it embarrasses me."
Blinking didn't stop her eyes from stinging.
"When your dad talks, you look like you want to disappear— or die."
Bliss met his stare.
"It stinks to feel like dirt, doesn't it?" he said. "I watch you all the time, Chilly. I've wanted to talk to you for weeks."
Another girl strolled toward the table. She ignored Bliss and said, "Hi, Sebastian." Crystal Moore was captain of the cheer-leading squad, and drop-dead gorgeous.
Sebastian looked at her and Bliss almost turned away when he made a visual run from long, shimmering red hair over the type of body he would never refer to as less than "well-covered."
"You going to the game tonight?" Crystal asked. "There's a party afterward."
"There's always a party afterward," Sebastian said without cracking a smile.
Crystal wrapped her arms around her books. She spared Bliss a curiously spiteful glance before focusing the power of her violet eyes back on Sebastian. "See you there, then."
He watched Crystal walk away.
Bliss watched Sebastian.
"Like I was saying"—he turned to her once more—"I've wanted to talk to you, Chilly."
"My name is Bliss."
He spread his long fingers on the scuffed, beige tabletop. "Okay. I like Bliss. I wanted to talk to you, Bliss. I like you, too—Bliss the girl."
"You don't know me."
"I told you. I've watched you for weeks."
Her tummy made a roll.
"No kidding!" She snorted.
"In a good way. Have you always lived in Seattle?"
"Yes." Bliss rapidly stuffed the remains of her lunch into Mrs. Lymer's brown sack. "I'd better get going."
"Why? You've got an open period."
She stopped in the act of getting up. "How do you know?"
"I looked up your schedule."
Her next breath stuck on top of the last bite of sandwich. She dropped back into the seat. "I don't understand." They said he . . . They said he forced himself on girls. The fast girls said he didn't have to force himself. Bliss's palms sweated.
"You don't understand a guy liking a girl?"
"Well . . ." She'd never had a boyfriend, never been on a date—unless you counted the awful, awkward social pairings her mother had arranged.
"You think I'm on the make, don't you?"
She felt the horrifying burn of tears in her eyes. "I'm not sure what to think. We've never even spoken to each other before, but now you tell me you know all this stuff about me. You've been watching me. Of course you're not on the make, but I don't know ... I don't know why you'd watch me."
"That's one reason." He dipped his head to look into her face. "You come right out and say what you think. Everyone else around here worries about the impression they make before they speak. So they don't say anything real."
Bliss had never felt so flustered—or so jumpy—in her life. She said, "I'm clumsy. Socially inept."
"Sounds like something you've been told."
"It is." And she couldn't imagine why she was repeating such personal information to bad boy, Sebastian Plato.
Bliss puffed up her cheeks. "I guess." It was too late to take back everything she'd said.
"I know how that can be. Something else we have in common. Not living up to family expectations."
She almost told him they had nothing in common. But they did. They were both different, different from all the kids they went to school with, and different from what their parents wanted them to be.
"I'm not the way people say I am." Sebastian's lips came together in a straight line. His lean cheeks moved as he set his teeth.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"Because I want you to know the truth."
"I've told you," he said. "I like you."
Her skin prickled. "You don't know me," she reminded him for the second time.
"I want to. You won't want to know me because we're from different. . . Well, you know what I mean. But I wish it wasn't that way. It took a lot of guts—or maybe stupidity—for me to do this. To talk to you."
"Someone dared you."
He screwed up his face. "Huh?"
Bliss made two fists in her lap. "Someone bet you wouldn't come and talk to me."
She turned her head away. "You wouldn't be here just because you wanted to be. I don't care. You can go and tell them you did it now. Or are they around somewhere, watching?"
"You're like me."
Bliss wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly. "I beg your pardon?" she said. She looked at him again and got the crazy notion he could read her mind.
Amazingly, he extended a hand, palm up, on top of the table. "Shit. You really are like me, aren't you?"
"I hate it when people swear."
"Yeah. Okay. Put your hand on mine."
Bliss studied his broad palm, his wiggling fingers.
"Come on. There's nobody watching. And no bet. Why would there be? I don't have any friends in the school. I don't fit in— same as you."
"Crystal Moore wants to be your friend."
"Crystal Moore wants to be everyone's friend—if she can use them somehow. Don't ask me why she thinks she can use me. Give me your hand."
Lifting her shoulders a little, half-expecting whoops of laughter, Bliss put her hand on his. He easily closed his grip around her wrist.
No one laughed.
She trembled inside.
"You're seventeen," he said.
Bliss nodded. He seemed to know everything about her.
"You drive your own car. Shiny new cream BMW."
"And you drive a black Ford pickup." Her color heightened once more.
"You do know I'm alive." Sebastian grinned afresh. "You do care."
"You drive fast. It would be hard to miss you."
"Most people don't seem to have any trouble."
"They all watch you," she said, liking the way his fingers felt too much. "I hear other kids talking about you." No boy had ever held her hand before. No boy even spoke to her. About her, in whispers, but not to her.
"I know they talk about me," Sebastian said, echoing her thoughts again. "And I know what they say."
Bliss relaxed a little. "I really ought to go."
"I wish you'd stay. For a while?"
"Are the things they say about you true? Don't kid around this time. Tell me."
"You won't believe me, but no."
Bliss tilted her head. "They say I'm stuck up. They laugh because I'm . . . well, because . . ."
"Because you're not one of their clones. Matching the pack is everything around here. I don't match either. We've got that in common—for different reasons. That kind of makes us the same, doesn't it?"