A British general, a damsel in a dress, and a pirate walk into a
gym, I thought as I gazed over the bodies moving in a
mind-numbing chaos of pent-up, teenage, inexperienced lust.
Leave it to my mom and her over-the-top reactions to turn prom into
a joke. What was I doing here? Prom was supposed to be
real dresses with a live band, not rented costumes with canned music
sure you don’t want to dance?” Josh yelled in my ear, sending his
sugary breath over me. I tried not to grimace, keeping my gaze
fixed on the clock beside the gym’s scoreboard and wondering if an
hour was long enough to stay and not get the third degree from my
dad. The music was dull—the same rhythmic thump over, and
over, and over. Nothing new in the last forty minutes.
And the bass was way too loud.
I said, edging away in time with the music when his hand tried to
creep to my waist. ”Still don’t want to dance.”
to drink?” he tried again, and I cocked my hip, crossing my arms to
hide my cleavage. I was still waiting for the boob fairy to
show up, but the dress’s corset shoved everything up and together to
make it look like I had more than I did, making me
thanks,” I said with a sigh. He probably didn’t hear me, but
he got the gist, seeing as he looked away, watching everyone
move. Long ballroom gowns and skimpy barmaid costumes mixed
with swashbuckling pirates and sailors. That was the theme of
the prom. Pirates. God! I had worked for two
months on the prom committee at my old school. It was going to
have been freaking fantastic with a moonlit barge and a real band,
but no-o-o-o. Mom got scared when she caught me sneaking out
for a late cappuccino and shipped me back to Dad and Dullsville
USA. Okay, so it had been after midnight. And I might
have been after more than coffee. And yeah, I’d already been
grounded from staying out too late the previous weekend, but that’s
why I had to sneak out.
Running the stiff lace of my colonial dress between my fingers, I
wondered if any of these people had a clue what a real party looked
like. Maybe they didn’t care.
Josh was standing a little in front of me, bobbing his head in time
with the music and clearly wanting to dance. Nearby at the
food table was the guy who had come in after us. He was
looking this way, and I gave him a stare, wondering if he was after
me or Josh, seeing as he hadn’t said anything to either one of us
after buying his ticket. Seeing my attention on him, the guy
My gaze fell back on Josh, who had begun to almost-dance halfway
between me and the moving people. Actually, I mused as he
shifted and bobbed his head to the music, his costume made his thin,
awkward height work for him—a traditional British general’s red and
white, complete with fake sword and epaulets. His father’s
idea, probably, since he was the VIP of VIPs at the research
facility that had kept everyone employed when the military base
moved to Arizona, but it did go with the overdone lace and corset
thing I had on.
on. Everyone else is dancing,” he coxed when he saw me look at
him, and I shook my head, almost feeling sorry for him. He
reminded me of the guys in the photography club pretending the
dark-room door had locked. It just wasn’t fair. I had
spent three years learning how and trying to fit in with the cool
chicks, and now I was right back with the nice but unpopular guys,
mowing down cupcakes in the gym. And on my birthday,
I said flatly. Translation: Sorry, I’m not
interested. You may as well give up.
Even thick-headed, awkward, broken glasses Josh got that one, and he
stopped his almost-dancing to fix his blue eyes on me. “Jesus,
you’re a bitch, you know that? I only asked you out because my
dad made me. If you want to dance, I’ll be over
My breath caught, and I gaped at him as if he had punched me in the
gut. He cockily raised his eyebrows and walked away with his
hands in his pockets and his chin raised. Two girls parted so
he could walk between them, and they hunched into each other in his
wake, gossiping as they glanced at me.
Oh my God. I’m a pity date. Blinking fast, I held
my breath as I fought to keep the room from going blurry.
Crap, not only was I the new girl, but I was a freaking pity
date! My dad had made nice to his boss, and he made his son
ask me out.
of a dead puppy,” I whispered, wondering if everyone was looking at
me or if it was just my imagination. I tucked my short blonde
hair behind my ear, and backed to the wall. Leaning against it
with my arms crossed, I tried to pretend Josh had gone to get some
pop. Inside, I was dying. I had been dumped. No, I
had been dumped by a geek.
to go, Madison,” I said sourly, just imaging the gossip on
Monday. I spotted Josh at the food table, pretending to ignore
me without being obvious about it. The tall guy in the pirate
outfit who had followed us in was talking to him. I still
didn’t think he was one of Josh’s friends, even though he was
jostling his elbow and pointing at the girls dancing in dresses cut
too low for the gyrating they were doing. That I didn’t
recognize him wasn’t surprising since I’d been avoiding everyone for
the simple reason I wasn’t happy being here and I didn’t mind anyone
I wasn’t a jock or a nerd—though I had belonged to the photography
club back home. Despite my efforts, I apparently didn’t fit
with the Barbie dolls. And I wasn’t a Goth, brain, druggie, or
one of the kids who wanted to play scientist like their mommies or
daddies at the research facility. I didn’t fit
Correction, I thought as Josh and the guy laughed. I
fit with the bitches.
The kid followed Josh’s attention to another group of girls, who
were now giggling at something Josh had said. His brown hair
was frizzed out under his pirate ’do rag, and his billowy outfit
looked like everyone else’s. He was tall, and there was a
smooth grace to his movements that most of the kids here
lacked. He looked older than me, but he couldn’t be too much
older. It was the prom.
And I don’t have to be here, I thought suddenly, shoving myself
away from the wall with my elbows. Josh was my ride home, but
my dad would pick me up if I called.
My motion to weave through the crowd to the double doors slowed in
worry. He’d ask why Josh wasn’t bringing me home. It
would all come out. The lecture to be nice and fit in I could
deal with, but the embarrassment . . .
Josh was watching me when I glanced up. The kid with him was
trying to get his attention, but Josh’s eyes were on mine.
That did it. No way was I going to call my dad. And I
wasn’t getting into a car with Josh, either. I’d walk
it. All five miles. In heels. And a long cotton
dress. In a damp April night. With my boobs scrunched
together. What was the worst that could happen? A
run-away cow incident? Crap, I really missed my
to go, girl,” I muttered, gathering my resolution along with my
dress, head down as my shoulders bumped into dancers on my way to
the door. I was so out of here. People were talking, but
I didn’t care. I didn’t need friends. Friends were
The music melted into something fast, and I brought my attention up
when the crowd seemed to shift, awkwardly changing rhythm. I
jerked to a stop when I realized I was a step away from running into
someone. “Sorry!” I shouted over the music, then froze,
staring. Holy crap, it was Mr. Sexy Pirate Captain.
Where had he been the last three weeks, and were there more where he
I’d never seen him before. Not in the entire time I’d been
stuck here. I would have remembered. Maybe exerted
myself a little more. Flushing, I dropped my skirt to move my
hand to cover my cleavage. God, I felt like a British tart
with everything shoved up like that. The guy was dressed in a
clingy black pirate costume, a pendant of gray stone lying on his
chest. I could see it where the collar parted. A
Zorro-style mask hid his upper face. The wide silk tails of it
trailed down his back to mix with his luscious wavy black
hair. He stood taller than me by about five inches, and as I
ran my gaze over his tight figure, I wondered where he’d been
Certainly not the band room or Mrs. Fairel’s US Government class, I thought as the spinning lights played over him.
apologies,” he said, taking my hand, and I caught my breath, not
because he was touching me, but because his accent wasn’t
Midwest. Sort of a slow, soft exhalation laced with a crisp
preciseness that told of taste and sophistication. I could
almost hear the clink of crystal and soft laughter in it, the
comforting sounds that more often than not had lulled me to sleep as
the waves pushed on the beach.
aren’t from around here,” I blurted as I leaned to hear him
A smile grew, his dusky skin and dark hair almost a balm, so
familiar amid the pale faces and light hair of the Midwest prison I
was in. “I’m here temporarily,” he said. “An exchange
student, in a manner of speaking? Same as you.” He
glanced disdainfully at the people moving around us with little
rhythm and even less originality. “There are too many cows
here, don’t you think?”
I laughed, praying I didn’t sound like a brainless
flake. “Yes!” I almost shouted, pulling him down to talk into
his ear over the noise. “But I’m not an exchange student.
I moved here from Florida. My mom lives out there on the inner
coastal, but now I’m stuck here with my dad. I agree.
You’re right, it’s awful. At least you get to go
And where is home, Mr. Sexy Pirate?
A hint of low tide and canal water drifted to me, rising from him
like a memory. And though some might find it unpleasant, my
eyes pricked. I missed my old school. I missed my
car. I missed my friends. Why had Mom gone so
yes,” he said, and an intoxicating smile showed a hint of a tongue
when he licked his lips and straightened. “We should leave the
floor. We’re in the way of their . . . dancing.”
My heart pounded harder. I didn’t want to move. He might
go away, or worse, someone might slip their arm into his, claiming
him. “Do you want to dance?” I said, nervous. “It’s not
what I’m used to, but it has a good beat.”
His smile widened, and relief sent my pulse faster. Oh
God. I think he likes me. Letting go of my hand, he
nodded, and then dropped back a step and started to move.