Suncoast University Short Story – Becca and Josh’s Halloween Meeting

Becca

I apply another coat of mascara, widening my eyes as far as they’ll go. With these damn blonde eyelashes, I need the extra black to make the green of my irises pop. And who knows, maybe it’ll attract the notice of someone hot tonight. There has to be a guy out there better than all the duds that’ve crossed my path lately.

A gentle knock on my open bathroom door has me turning my head, finding my roommate Charlotte hovering in the doorway. “Do you need help with anything?”

I smile at her, appreciating her offer, even if the girl doesn’t understand the first thing about hair and makeup. “No, thanks, sweetie. I’ve got it covered.”

She nods, still lingering, and I pat the edge of my bathroom counter, encouraging her to hop up. “Are you sure you don’t want to come to the party with me? I have my costume from last year-”

“No, no. Parties are your scene, not mine.”

I gaze at my lashes in the mirror, triple checking there are no clumps. “Well, the offer still stands.”

She picks up my Dior perfume, holding it up to sniff. “And you have a designated driver, right?”

I internally smile, loving when she gets all mother hen with me. Usually, it’s the other way around. “I don’t plan on drinking a lot in case Giselle wants to let loose.”

“That’s your friend you’re going with?”

I nod, carefully applying eyeliner. “But maybe I’ll meet someone there. You never know who will be at the next party.”

“I wish I had your optimism,” she murmurs, spritzing some perfume on her wrist.

“I might even get laid.”

She fumbles with the bottle, nearly dropping it before recovering and setting it down.

I throw my head back and laugh, enjoying catching her off guard like that. She peeks over at me with reddened cheeks, smiling when she realizes I merely said it for shock value.

“You could meet your Prince Charming.”

I continue applying my makeup, swiping bloodred lipstick over my lips, loving how it transforms me into a seductress. “I’ll settle for a halfway decent lay.”

She snorts, angling herself toward me. “Here.” She adjusts a lock of my hair in its updo, one blonde tendril doing its best to escape. It’s getting so long, I’m tempted to cut it all off soon. Maybe a bob. That’d be cute.

“Well, when you go all out, you go all out.”

We each take a step back, gazing at my Queen of Hearts costume in the mirror, the red faux corset with the black satin laces dipping low in front to highlight my modest cleavage. A short underskirt showcases my legs that hours of yoga and pilates have toned well, while a longer red silk skirt trails behind me. Black five-inch stilettos grace my feet which, I admit, I’m not the best at walking in, but tonight will give me more opportunity to practice.

“Last chance,” I tell her, adjusting the costume’s built-in bra till it’s more comfortable. “You could come with and be a sexy kitty for Halloween. Find your own tomcat.” I make a hissing noise and pretend to scratch at her while she laughs at my antics.

“I’ll be fine here, I promise.”

“Okay.” Yes, she’s an introvert, but I worry about her always keeping to herself, hiding in her room all the time reading. She should be out meeting people, making the most of life. You only do college once.

My phone vibrates next to me on the counter and I pick it up, Giselle’s name flashing on the screen.

Giselle: I’m outside. Get out here.

I grin to myself. “My ride’s here. Don’t wait up for me.”

I check my makeup a final time at the mirror by the front door and smooth a hand over the front of my corset. Not to toot my own horn, but I look damn good tonight.

“Love you, girl,” I call out, locking up behind me and skipping down the steps toward Giselle’s Oldsmobile, a relic she inherited from her grandmother.

I open the rear passenger door, glad I have the entire backseat to myself. This skirt is a bit… voluminous.

I don’t recognize the girl sitting in front of me, so I lightly tap her shoulder. “Hi, there. I’m Becca. I love your mermaid costume.”

Not many girls could get away with baring their midriff like that, but even prettier than her outfit is the smile she gives me as she glances back at me. “Hi.”

“This is my little sister, Lacey,” Giselle says from the driver’s seat, her eyes never leaving the road. “She just turned eighteen and she’s ready to let loose.”

“I’ve never been to a college party before.” Nervousness bleeds into the excitement in her voice as she fiddles with an iridescent scale on her skirt, and as much as I want to assure her she’ll be fine, a Halloween bash probably isn’t the best one to start at. Everyone’s inhibitions will be lowered and we don’t know the host. A friend of a friend invited us, but apparently it’s supposed to be the party of the year. It’s had bigger hype around Suncoast’s campus than Sigma Chi’s annual rager.

“Giselle and I will look out for you. Just remember, never drink out of a cup you haven’t poured yourself.”

“Don’t even let anyone else hold it,” her sister adds, warning in her tone.

Lacey glances between us, eyes turning worried.

“You’ll have fun. I promise.” I reach forward and squeeze her shoulder, and she sends a grateful smile my way.

I lean back in my seat, a grin creeping over my lips. There’s something in the air tonight. A whisper of exhilaration, the unknown possibilities tantalizing. If I didn’t know better, I’d call it… destiny.

***

“College boys are so cute,” Lacey whispers in awe as we make our way through the crush. At least I think she whispered it. It’s hard to hear over the steady bass of the speakers in the living room. We must be breaking some kind of fire marshall’s code, but the teeming mass of people surrounding us only adds to that growing sense of providence I had in the car. If Charlotte were here, she’d turn right around and head home.

“Is it okay to dance with someone?” she asks, her interest settling on a buff guy dressed as Thor.

“Let him come to you.” I lead her to the makeshift dance floor, watching as Thor’s gaze travels over her. After a minute, he sidles up to her and she sends him a shy smile. Ah, young love.

The two of them pair off as Giselle approaches with a red solo cup in hand. I take it from her and sneak a sip before handing it back, grimacing at the warm beer. She might as well be drinking piss.

“Did you lose her already?”

“She’s right there.” I motion a few feet to our left and she blinks, appearing taken aback.

“I keep forgetting how old she is now,” she admits sheepishly.

“Baby sister growing up too fast?”

She smiles at me. “Something like that.”

My own younger sisters are getting big too, but at twelve and fourteen, they’ve still got time before I really have to worry about them.

“Any contenders tonight?” I ask. Giselle is always on the hunt for her next victim- I mean, boyfriend.

“Well, Superman over there has nice muscles.”

“I think that’s padding.”

“Damn it.”

I grin at her. “Body isn’t everything.” It definitely doesn’t hurt, but give me sweet and caring any day over some meathead with a thick neck.

She pushes my shoulder lightly. “You would say that.”

She always teases me about how I believe in true love and soulmates. Not that I’m out actively searching for mine, but my parents are living proof there’s someone out there that completes you. Together for over twenty years, they’re still disgustingly in love.

“Hello, ladies.”

The two of us glance over in unison at yet another guy dressed as the Joker, his white face paint artfully cracked along the forehead and hair a messy, tangled green. Going with the Heath Ledger version then.

“You gonna heal me?” he asks Giselle, leaning in uncomfortably close to her.

“Excuse me?” She takes a step back so he’s out of her personal bubble, but he doesn’t seem to get the hint.

He points to her nurse’s costume, actually reaching forward and sticking his finger in a pocket on the front of her dress. “I’ve got a sickness only you can cure.”

She gives a weak chuckle, taking a long sip from her drink as she silently signals to me to get rid of this perv.

“Are you going to break my heart?” he asks me next, motioning to my costume. “I’ve got something else you can handle instead.”

Um, ew. I open my mouth, about to read him the riot act, but before I can, another guy approaches. “He giving you trouble?”

I look up into eyes so pale a blue, they’re almost icy. Yet somehow, they give off an incredible warmth I immediately can’t get enough of. Paired with the golden blond hair swept off his face and chiseled jaw, the effect is regal. 

Or maybe that’s just due to his courtly costume. Broad shoulders fill out a velvet burgundy doublet and matching cape, his burnished brass crown atop his head glinting with faux gemstones. Charlotte said I might meet my Prince Charming tonight, but I think I’d rather have this king instead.

Giselle stays mute at the newcomer’s question, but I have no problem piping up when a guy is acting sketchy. “Yeah, we’re getting a weird vibe.”

“All right, Brian, you have to leave.”

Wait, he’s kicking him out?

“No, I didn’t know you knew them, I’m sorry,” Brian pleads, turning spectacularly undignified.

“It doesn’t matter if I know them or not. You shouldn’t be making anyone here uncomfortable.”

“But-”

Our kingly rescuer shakes his head, cutting him off. “I already warned you after the last group of girls complained about you.”

There’s something about the way he says it that doesn’t come off as accusatory, but more like he’s disappointed in this Brian guy. And that’s what seems to make the difference in the offender dutifully accepting his punishment, head hung low as he heads toward the door.

“I didn’t mean to intrude,” our rescuer apologizes. “But he was on thin ice already.”

Giselle merely nods, still flustered, but I move a little closer, something about this guy, I don’t know… calling to me, as weird as that sounds.

“You regularly use your kingly authority to banish people?”

He smiles, gaze glinting with what looks like approval. “Well, this is my domain.” He sweeps his arms wide to encompass the apartment. “And everyone here is under my protection.”

I twist a dangling tendril of my hair around a finger. “Including me?”

The blue of his eyes turns darker as he whispers huskily, “Yeah. Including you.”

A shiver runs through me, the kind that fills my stomach with butterflies. And not that I claim to be an expert on men, but it seems this attraction isn’t one sided. His gaze on me is open, interested. But unlike that Joker, he’s not pushy about it, waiting for me to decide how I feel about him too.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Giselle smile into her cup as she takes another drink, then wink at me as she slips into the crowd.

“So this is your apartment? Your party?”

“Yes and yes. I promise it looks better when there aren’t a million people in here.”

Guilt floods through me. “Sorry we crashed-”

“No, no,” he rushes to say, stepping closer. “I’m not saying I mind. The more the merrier. Though I honestly didn’t think this many would show.”

Someone bumps into me from behind and my mystery man catches me by the shoulders, his hands warm where they touch my skin.

“Thanks,” I whisper, getting caught up for a moment in those gorgeous eyes.

“Would you like to dance?”

I nod, biting my lip to contain a goofy smile as he leads me further into the mass of people, the two of us forced to move closer to each other so we don’t collide with anyone else.

I’m thankful for the limited space because, if I’m being honest, I’m a terrible dancer. I’m fine when it comes to working out at the gym in a yoga or pilates class, but I just can’t seem to master any kind of innate rhythm when there’s music on. That being said, it still doesn’t stop me from getting my groove on whenever I can. Life’s too short to worry about others judging me for it.

I shimmy from side to side, his expression morphing into one of delight as he watches me make an utter fool of myself.

“You, uh…”

“Can’t dance? Yeah, I know.”

“No,” he backtracks. “That wasn’t what-”

“It’s fine,” I grin, swaying my hips some more, letting the bass of the song move through me. “You don’t have to dance with me if you’re embarrassed.”

His eyes shine with something like challenge. “Me? Embarrassed? Physically impossible.”

He then busts out with a moonwalk in the small space, other party attendees side-eyeing him suspiciously.

I clap with glee, then begin vogueing as he does the robot next, until we both eventually dissolve in laughter, my sides aching as I wrap my arms around my stomach.

His eyes shine with that same warmth as we recover, and I sidle closer, lightly placing my hands on his shoulders, following his rhythm as he dances normally.

“I didn’t know I’d meet a master dancer tonight,” I tease, his answering grin infectious.

“One of my many talents.”

“Oh? And what other talents do you have?”

“Maybe I could tell you more during dinner tomorrow night?”

I duck my head to hide the smile that reflexively spreads over my face. I glance back up, nodding. “Definitely.”

We let the music consume us then, occasional nudges from other dancers pushing us closer and closer until the tips of my breasts are brushing his chest, the action leaving me hypersensitive. I look up, discovering I’m not the only one affected. There’s definite interest there, though he’s not making any overt moves to hit on me.

While I appreciate the gentlemanly behavior, I’ve never been one to wait around for a guy to make the first move. Otherwise, I might be waiting forever.

That sense of destiny fills me again, and I recognize the sensation for what it is now. There’s something about this man that seems… right.

I open my mouth, no plan to what I’ll say, when a big guy bumps into me from the side in the crowded space, jolting me hard to my left. I stumble, my rescuer quickly catching me, his palms warm where they span my waist.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m just a little wobbly in these heels. I don’t normally wear ones this high.”

I step back into his arms, but my mishap must have done more damage than I suspected, the stiletto snapping so that I lurch dramatically to my left.

He’s there quick to catch me again, and I grip his broad shoulders for balance as I take off my shoe, the thin heel dangling limply, barely connected.

“Well, shit.” There goes my chance to wear these.

His brow creases with concern staring down at it. “Come on.” He grabs my hand, leading me away from the other dancers. “I’ve got superglue in my room. I can fix it.” 

Thank God. I was about ready to toss them in the trash.

I have to stop for a moment to remove my other shoe, unable to handle a sudden five inch difference in height between my two legs, and follow him down a short hallway, bypassing several couples making out.

He turns the knob to the last door on the left, moonlight filtering in through the window to showcase a small room with just enough space for a queen-sized bed in one corner and a desk and chair wedged into the other.

“My lady.” He flicks on the light and bows down in a courtly gesture toward the chair, indicating for me to take a seat, then rummages in his desk drawer for the glue.

I glance around the room, finding a concert ticket thrown casually on his desk for a band I adore, a stack of books in the corner with a few beloved titles I remember reading years ago, and a takeout menu of a restaurant close to campus I love. So we have similar tastes in things. Good to know.

I bend forward to peer more closely at a framed photo of what looks like him and his family at the beach, his smile wide, eyes crinkled at the corners. “Were you on vacation here?”

He pauses in his hunting, his gaze focusing on the picture. “Home, actually. I’m from Cocoa Beach.”

Well that explains the sun-lightened hair and tanned skin.

“Found it.” He holds up a small bottle of super glue and dabs it on my shoe, pressing the heel to it tightly. “That’ll need to dry for a while before you can wear it again.” He tosses the glue back in the drawer and bends down to check my ankle, probing the area lightly, sending a rush of shivers up my leg. “How’s that feel?”

It’s actually fine, but I’m not wasting my chance to be alone with him a little longer. “Would it be okay to rest it in here?”

“Yeah, of course.” He sits on the edge of the bed, getting comfortable. “So what made you decide to wear those shoes tonight if you have trouble in them?”

“Well, they’re so cute.” I hold up the still functional one, admiring it. “I never get a chance to show them off. And they make my legs look fantastic.”

“That they do,” he murmurs, gaze dipping down briefly to check out said legs, my longer skirt arranged around me so that the underskirt is on display, the tops of my thighs visible.

I’m tempted to ask if he likes what he sees, but is that too strong of a come-on? I just met the guy after all. I shouldn’t do more than flirt with him tonight, right?

But as his eyes meet mine again, the blue of them rooting me to the spot, that sense of destiny tugs at my heart, an instinctive trust pervading me.

He already asked me on a date. He’s not only looking for a wham, bam, thank you ma’am kind of encounter.

“So you’re dressed as…”

“The Queen of Hearts,” I helpfully supply, standing and doing a little twirl for him.

“But no crown?”

I reach forward and pluck his off his head, setting it down carefully atop my coiffure. “Now I do.”

He grins at me, bemused. “It looks good on you. So does that make you my queen then?”

I send him a flirtatious smile. “If you want me to be.”

His grin fades as a more serious look enters his eye. “Yeah. I do want that.”

I bite my lip, the air between us charging with a welcome tension. Have I ever been this instantly attracted to someone before? I can’t recall anyone else at the moment. It’s like my brain hit reset on all past boyfriends and crushes as soon as I laid eyes on him.

“How about I check your ankle again?” He pats the spot next to him on the bed and I gladly comply, carefully placing my foot on his lap. Thank God I just got a pedicure.

He skims light fingers over the area, his touch gentle and sure. “That feel okay?”

I nod, my insides twisting with anticipation as his hand moves up the slightest bit toward my calf. “And here?”

“Maybe you could try a little higher?”

He gives me a wicked smile as he caresses my knee, and even though it’s an innocent place, there’s nothing angelic about his touch.

My breathing picks up as his fingers trail north, whispering along my thigh, goosebumps running rampant.

The party rages on just outside his door, but here in his bedroom, the two of us are in our own world, some kind of connection happening that I wasn’t expecting.

My heart pounds as he says, “The moment I saw you, it was like I knew.”

Taken at face value, his words don’t even make sense, but I know exactly what he means. He’s feeling this too.

I lean forward, brushing my lips softly against his, the first of what I hope will be many more kisses.

He lets out a low groan in response, his palm leaving my thigh to cup the back of my head gently, holding me in place as he gives me a deeper kiss, the taste of him ratcheting my desire higher.

He licks his way into my mouth, using his other hand to remove his crown I’m still wearing, pressing me against the soft comforter, his weight settling over me.

I swear I didn’t have any intention of this happening tonight, but I’ve always been one to take chances. And he certainly seems like an exciting one. From what I’ve seen so far, he’s kind, generous, handsome, charming. What more could I ask for?

We explore each other for long minutes, tentative touches turning bolder, until we’re panting, and that’s when the real fun starts.

I bring my hands up to his broad shoulders, tracing his lean muscles down to a trim waist, circling his hipbones lightly with my thumbs.

“Fuck,” he mutters, kissing me more roughly, his enthusiasm spurring me on. I part my thighs, letting him nestle more deeply into me, his hardening dick grinding against me.

I hiss in a breath at the contact, loving the feel of him right there, but he breaks away, looking into my face, some of my lipstick smudged onto his lips. So much for the long-lasting formula claims.

My belly dips low at the wildness in his eyes. There’s nothing I love more than making a man lose control. “Everything okay?” he murmurs, his gaze flicking over me.

“Yes. More than okay.” I tug his head back down, wrapping my legs around his waist, kissing him with abandon.

His hand snakes over my ribcage, the action sending a thrill through me as he teases the underside of my breast. I strain upward, wanting more, but he grins against my lips, keeping his touch featherlight.

Oh, he wants to play? I can play too.

I move down to his neck, pressing delicate kisses over his pulse, sucking gently at the skin there.

He makes an unintelligible noise, finally giving me what I want as he shapes his hand over my chest.

“Yes,” I murmur, needing his touch.

He shifts his body to the side, resting on one elbow as he more thoroughly caresses me, the butterflies in my stomach fluttering like mad. His touch is masterful as he trails kisses down my neck, driving me wild.

He continues down toward my chest, hesitating at the edge of my bodice, and I solve his dilemma by slowly untying the laces keeping it together, my breasts spilling out.

His gaze glows with hunger as he lowers his head, the first touch of his tongue making me keen in pleasure.

My hands tangle in his golden locks, holding him in place as he kisses, licks, and sucks my nipples, my hunger for him rising the longer he continues. I shift restlessly, searching for relief, when one of his hands drifts down my stomach, caressing me softly right where I need him most.

I moan as he delves a finger in my panties, his movements light and purposeful. “You like that? When I touch you there?”

I nod frantically, gripping the back of his neck, pushing my chest toward him.

“And this?”

He adds a second finger, going deeper, working me up until I’m writhing, so far gone as he devotes all his attention to sending me over the edge.

He sucks my nipples harder, the pressure exactly what I’m craving, then focuses on my clit, playing with it till I’m straining, heels dug in the mattress.

How can it be like this already? Is he really that good with women? Or is it this connection between us?

There’s something familiar already as he finally sends me spiraling, like we’ve done it a hundred times before, my low moans of encouragement making him work harder to prolong my orgasm. When I can’t take any more, I curl myself around him, kissing him feverishly, his enthusiasm quickly matching mine until I’m ready to go again, wanting him.

I trail a hand down his hard chest and flat stomach until I reach his cock, straining at the fly of his pants. I run a careful palm over it, loving the slight inhale he takes followed by a groan. “Can I return the favor?”

“Please,” he murmurs, kissing me as I slowly draw his zipper down and find the slit in his boxers, running my fingers over the velvety soft skin.

I take him in my hand, stroking him gently at first, his length pleasantly surprising, and gradually increase my pace, his hips reflexively shifting as he takes my mouth in a claiming kiss. I swallow his groan as I rub a thumb over the sensitive head, and he runs his hands over my body, like he can’t get enough of me.

Maybe it’s time we take this to the next level.

“Do you have a con-”

“Police!”

The shout from directly outside his bedroom has us freezing, and it’s not till several shrieks sound that we take the warning seriously.

He jumps off the bed, tucking himself in his pants as I hurriedly tie my corset laces and pull my skirt down.

He opens the door to a scene of chaos, people dashing back and forth trying to find their friends, the front door packed full of partiers pushing to get through.

What the hell is happening?

He grabs the next person that passes by, grinding them to a halt. “What’s going on?”

There’s an authority in his voice I find incredibly arousing, but that’s probably because my body is still revved up. My brain, though, has realized the urgency of the situation.

“Three cop cars showed up outside. Don’t know who they’re here for, but everyone figured it was safer to leave.”

“Right.”

He goes in command mode, directing someone to open the back sliding glass door so others can exit that way as he grabs my hand, pulling me through the crush of people, asking, “Where’s your friend?”

Giselle. I need to find Giselle. Oh, and Lacey.

I search for a nurse and mermaid, but everyone looks the same as they rush past, the mass panic starting to affect me too.

“There,” he says, guiding me toward the sliding glass door, Giselle’s worried face finally coming into focus.

She latches onto me, pulling me in for a fierce hug. “Let’s go,” she shouts over the din, pushing me forward.

“Wait, I have to say goodbye.” I glance back over my shoulder as I’m shoved over the threshold, but he’s already nearly swallowed by the crowd.

“We don’t have time.” She’s in full flight or fight mode, her insistent tug on my arm unrelenting as other party-goers rush by, scattering in the parking lot. Ahead of us, Lacey calls out for her sister, the fear in her voice spurring me on.

Away from the best night of my life.

***

“I bought you a brownie.”

Charlotte sets a white paper bag in front of me, the fudgy aroma of chocolate a welcome reprieve from the melancholy surrounding me for the last two days.

I muster the biggest smile I’m capable of at the moment, opening the bag and taking a small bite, despite my lack of appetite.

But judging by the wrinkle that forms between her brows, she’s not fooled by my act.

It’s been two days since the party. Two days since I’ve seen my mystery guy. Two days since I realized idiot me never even asked his name, much less his phone number. I was too caught up in the idea of destiny to deal with mundane practicalities like getting contact information.

“Let’s brainstorm how we can find him,” she says, taking a seat next to me at my table in the library. God, am I that predictable that she knows exactly where my head’s at?

“Giselle said she doesn’t know who hosted the party. Someone else invited her.”

“And did she ask that person?”

“I already asked her to.” I take another nibble of my brownie, the rich taste doing nothing for me.

Misgiving fills her eyes as she gazes at me, and I totally get it. I’m not one to let things get me down very often, but I feel justified in this. I’ve never had such an instant connection with a guy.

“You’ve been to his apartment, right? You could just… go there.”

I consider her words for a moment. “That’s a last resort option. I don’t want him to think I’m a stalker. What if…” I smooth out the paper bag the brownie came in, fiddling with the edge. “What if I imagined everything from that night? Like I thought it was so much more and it was just a random hookup to him?”

“Becca.” Her stern tone catches my attention, face set in a fierce expression. She so rarely gets riled up, it always makes me sit up and take notice. “If you felt that strongly toward him, I’m sure he did too. He’d be lucky to have you.”

A reluctant smile creeps over my mouth. “I like it when you go all avenging angel.”

Pink stains her cheeks, but she smiles back at me.

She’s right. I can find him. But would it reek of desperation if I randomly showed up at his house, not even knowing his name?

“Just who I was looking for,” a familiar voice drawls to my left. I glance over, Giselle wearing a cat who ate the canary grin as she approaches the table.

“Did you find out his name?” I blurt.

“Even better.” She holds up a flyer with a picture of my stilettos, along with the caption Seeking Cinderella.

I grab the paper from her, the heavy weight in my stomach from the last two days lifting.

The line below reads: Or the Queen of Hearts, if you prefer. But really, you shouldn’t have left your shoes if you didn’t want to be mistaken for a princess. I’ll be waiting to fit your glass slippers on outside Hawthorne Hall tonight at six, and then I’ll take you on that date I promised. –Josh.

My mouth curves into the widest smile of my life, my melancholy from earlier miraculously gone. “Josh.” I shape his name aloud, loving the way it feels on my lips.

Charlotte reads the flyer over my shoulder, asking Giselle, “Where’d you get this?”

“Someone plastered them all over campus. Haven’t you seen them?”

“I’ve been here for the past few hours,” I murmur. I’m supposed to be working on a project due next week, but I haven’t been able to focus well enough to produce anything worthwhile.

I hug the paper to my chest, still grinning like crazy. “Can you believe he did this? Isn’t it so romantic?”

“Aren’t you in class at six?”

I stare at Charlotte, not comprehending her words for a moment. “What?” I hold the flyer out in front of me, double checking the time. “Damn it!”

“Skip it,” Giselle says, like it’s the obvious answer. “This is more important.”

“I can’t,” I sigh. “I already missed class twice last month when I was sick. Dr. Monroe has a strict attendance policy. Three strikes and I’m out.”

“But you said this is the love of your life.”

Okay, so maybe I exclaimed that in one of my more dramatic moments yesterday. “This class is required for my major. I can’t risk having to retake it next semester. It would push my whole course schedule back.”

I bite my lip, indecision warring within me. This is my chance to reconnect with him. Josh. The name sends shivers through me, the same as any time I recall our hot encounter. “I guess I’ll just try to duck out early and hope he’s still there.”

I pack my things up, needing to get a move on for my next afternoon class.

Charlotte’s wrinkle between her brows makes its appearance again, her dark eyes troubled.

“It’ll all work out,” I tell her, holding up the flyer. “This proves we’re on the same wavelength. It’s meant to be.”

She gives me a slight eye roll, her signal that she’s fine.

I get to Dr. Monroe’s class with time to spare, forgoing my normal seat for one in the back of the classroom nearest the door. The class normally releases at six-thirty, but I slip out twenty minutes prior, praying he doesn’t notice. It’s not like I could pay attention to what he was saying anyway.

It’s another five minute hike over to Hawthorne Hall, and when I get there, I’m met with a zoo. There’s a line of what has to be at least thirty women snaking around the building, the air buzzing with excitement.

I approach slowly, snippets of conversation catching my ear.

I had a crush on him last semester in our Business Ethics class. Maybe he’ll remember me.

Did you see how tall he is? I love a tall guy.

I’m going to flash him when I get up there. He can’t say no to that.

What the hell did I walk into?

“What’s going on?” I ask a group of students sitting at a table nearby, clearly entertained with whatever this is.

“Prince Charming is fitting all the ladies at the ball for glass slippers,” one of them answers with a grin.

For real? I shade my eyes against the setting sun, but can’t see that far ahead to the front. “But I’m the Queen of Hearts.”

They laugh riotously, one even going so far as to pound his fist on the table in hilarity. “Yeah. You and all the other girls.”

“No, really, I am. We met- Oh, why am I explaining it to you?”

I bypass the line, receiving several dirty looks until about a quarter of the way up where a girl steps out and crosses her arms menacingly over her chest. I have to crane my neck to look up at her with how big she is.

“No cutting.”

“I’m not cutting, I-”

“I’m tired of all these girls claiming they’re really the mystery girl, only for him to turn them away. The rest of us want our chance.”

“I totally understand, but-”

“No buts. Back of the line.”

I stare at her, the surrounding girls nodding their heads in agreement.

This is insane. Do they truly believe he’ll mistake them for me?

I go to move past her, but she steps closer, narrowing her eyes. Seriously, I think she could try out for Suncoast’s football team with that height and those linebacker shoulders.

“Josh,” I yell out, but I can’t even see him with how far back in the line I am. Not that he could hear me either with how loud it is out here – not just from the other hopeful girls, but the growing amount of spectators too.

I throw my hands up, resigning myself to the end of the line. “Well, good luck fitting your feet in my shoes. I wear a size six,” I tell her sweetly.

Nervousness flits across her face for a moment, and I take a perverse pleasure in it as I walk back. It’s hard finding shoes in my size, but at least it’s to my advantage now.

The line moves forward at a snail’s pace, my toe internally tapping with impatience. When a dejected looking girl passes by, I call out, “Did you meet him? Josh?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s taking so long?” Doesn’t he realize none of them are me?

“He’s allowing all the girls to try on the shoes and then letting them down easy. It’s actually really sweet,” she sniffs.

Well, of course he’s that gentlemanly. I sigh, unable to fault him.

But after a few more minutes, the line suddenly breaks up, girls walking away in droves, some slightly disappointed, others outright crestfallen.

I flag down one of the mopey ones, asking what happened.

She shrugs miserably. “He left with some girl. I guess he found his Cinderella.”

What? No. I’m the one that got away. Not whoever this imposter is.

I run ahead, but at five foot two, there’s no way I can see over the crowd.

My heart thuds painfully, and for the first time, I sympathize with all the other women here also rejected. Did our night together mean so little to him? I was sure there’d been a connection, especially after seeing his flyer. Who did he go home with? Was it the girl who planned to flash him? I admit, I’ll never be able to compete with the double D girls, but he seemed to like mine when he-

Nope, not thinking about that night any more. It’s too painful.

I drive back to my apartment in a daze, my nails digging into the steering wheel, mind unhelpfully focusing on the what-ifs. What if I had pushed past that girl like I should have done and cut to the front of the line? What if I had had some sense and gotten his name and number at the party in the first place?

Or what if I stop beating myself up and focus on the positives instead of the negatives? I know his name is Josh, he definitely goes to Suncoast, and he’s possibly a Business major if he took a Business Ethics class. That’s more than I knew this morning. I can find him. Even if I have to be a stalker and show up at his apartment unannounced or paper the school myself with a missed connection ad. Whoever this girl is he left with can’t hold a candle to the real deal.

Me.

Charlotte’s bike is already chained up outside the building as I pull into the lot, and I say a little prayer of thanks that she’s home so I can run my options by her. She’s usually the voice of reason to some of my more outlandish ideas.

“You’ll never believe what happened to me,” I call out in the foyer, letting my backpack slide off my shoulder to thud heavily on the ground. “He left with another-”

The last word dies on my lips as I round the short hallway into the living room, discovering none other than my mystery man lounging on the couch, a broad smile on those lush lips.

“I… um…” It’s not often words get the best of me, but it’s pretty fair to say I wasn’t expecting this.

I glance toward Charlotte’s closed bedroom door, and he seems to catch my train of thought. “She wanted to give us some privacy.”

My brain finally plays catch-up, realizing what must have happened. “Charlotte was the girl you left with?”

He nods. “When it was her turn in line, she showed me pictures of you on her phone and explained you had an important class at six, but you wanted to see me again.”

“I did. I mean, I do.” My lips tip up imagining shy Charlotte waiting in line with all those girls just to help me out. “I snuck out of class early, but this ridiculous girl wouldn’t let me cut to the front of the line.”

He rubs a palm across the back of his neck, the action making his bicep pop. Yes, please. “I wasn’t expecting that whole mess. It got pretty out of hand.”

“I heard you were a real gentleman letting them try on the shoes.”

“It’s all I could do,” he shrugs helplessly. “Especially when I couldn’t find you.”

His gaze holds mine, pulling me forward, and I take the seat next to him on the couch. “Well, I’m here now.”

He angles his body toward me, those blue eyes mesmerizing. “I was afraid my mind was playing tricks on me, but you’re just as beautiful as I remembered,” he says softly, reaching a hand up to gently tuck a lock of hair behind my ear, sending shivers through me. “My roommates thought I was crazy going on about you. Thought I’d made you up.”

I glance down, attempting modesty even as my heart soars at his words, wishing he’d go on. “I’m glad I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. Thought I’d gone a little crazy myself.”

He scoots closer, our thighs brushing. “So it’s okay I came over then? It wasn’t too forward?”

If he’s worried that Charlotte specifically inviting him was too forward, how would he have reacted to my stalker plan to show up at his place unannounced?

“It’s absolutely okay. I missed you.”

Those blue eyes crinkle at the corners, filling me with warmth. “You have me. For as long as you want.”

He leans in, giving me time to back away, but there’s no way I’m running from him again. At the first touch of his mouth, I’m home, that connection alive and kicking. The taste of him is already familiar, essential, as he kisses me tenderly at first, the two of us getting worked up as it continues on. My fingers run through his hair. His hands tighten on my waist. And the pull between us is as strong as ever.

A sound emanating from Charlotte’s bedroom has me breaking away, still unable to believe he’s actually here next to me, that we got hot and heavy again so quickly.

He runs a hand through that golden hair, smoothing it back in place from where I may have messed it up, wanting to touch the inviting strands. “You ready for that date?”

He pulls my stilettos out of his backpack, the heel expertly mended on the left one as he holds it out for me. I slip it on, the fit perfect, and my heart lifts at his wide smile, that sensation of rightness settling over me once more. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

For a night together. And another. And another. This thing between us? It doesn’t happen every day.

And I’m not letting go of it.

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