★★ PLAYING WITH FIRE ★★
Book 3 in the Sweet Secrets Series
by Taylor Henderson
Now available from Limitless Publishing…
★ SYNOPSIS ★
Ella Snotty is worth more than a quickie…
After a family scandal tore their family apart, seventeen-year-old Ella chooses to stay in California with her mom for the rest of the school year. Things are lonely since her sister Lena went to live with their dad. But at least she has her new boyfriend, Shane Quinn, to make things a little less depressing.
Ella isn’t the only girl who thinks Shane is swoon-worthy…
Shane takes Ella out to blow off some steam, and the party isn’t short on alcohol. When a tipsy old flame “falls” into Shane’s lap, her spontaneous kiss makes Ella more than a little jealous. And when details of Shane’s dating history surface, Ella is determined to be more than a fling.
The V-word will slow things down…
Afraid Shane wants to use her for a little fun, Ella lies and says she’s a virgin. According to his reputation, Shane has commitment issues. Maybe it’ll make him stick around long enough for them to form a real connection before the physical sparks fly. But is he worth the lie? And what happens when both of their insecurities come crumbling down like a house of cards?
She wants his heart. He’s afraid to commit. As the pressure mounts, will they find comfort in each other? Or will they learn that when playing with fire, you risk getting burned?
The music blasting from the speakers in the living room was so loud that it felt like the house was pulsing to the beat. There were giant speakers set up against the walls, and each piece of furniture, with the exception of a few couches, had been moved out of the living room to make space for a makeshift dance floor. From my position on the loveseat in the corner I could see a group of drunk girls gyrating and grinding against each other to a completely different beat. Each girl was dressed as a cat, and I almost groaned audibly at their costume choice. There were so many damn cat outfits that I’d lost count. Is originality frowned upon on Halloween too, of all days?
Next to me, Carter laughed as one of the girls stumbled in her leopard-print heels and almost toppled over before she was caught by one of her more sober kitty-friends.
“Why aren’t you out there?” Carter asked, leaning toward me and yelling over the music so he could be heard.
I shrugged. Normally I was the type of girl who spent the night dancing in the middle of the crowd until my thighs burned, but tonight was different. I just wasn’t in the mood to dance, or to be social at all. I hadn’t even wanted to come to the party. If it weren’t for Shane and Carter, I would probably be at home right now squandering away the night watching old Disney Halloween movies and avoiding my homework assignments until the last minute. “I can’t find Shane,” I answered. It wasn’t the exact reason, but it was more or less true. About an hour into the party, Shane had disappeared. I told myself the only reason I was wondering where he’d gone was because he was the reason I was here, but everyone knew that wasn’t true.
Carter smirked at me. Shane and I had been dating, for lack of a better word, for nearly three months now and yet he still teased me about it every chance he got. I never teased him about how whipped he was when it came to my sister. The least he could do was extend that same courtesy to me.
“Aw, do you miss him?” he questioned, still smirking. The fact that his face was painted as the Joker only added to my annoyance. It was as if his smirk was extra defined.
I rolled my eyes dramatically.
“Hey, I’m only messing with you,” he said loudly, placing a hand on my shoulder. He offered me a small smile when I made eye contact. “If you find the alcohol, I can promise you you’ll find Shane.”
“Come with me?” I had to lean into his ear as I asked. I could barely hear my own voice.
He nodded in response and we both got to our feet. As soon as our butts left the couch, the wolf and Little Red Riding Hood swooped in to take our seats, then proceeded to make out. Her grandmother would be so disappointed.
Carter led the way out of the room and down the hall toward the kitchen. I’d only been in this house one other time for a party at the beginning of the year, and was surprised I remembered my way around. As we entered the room, we wove in and out of people who were standing around, guzzling substances from their red plastic cups. Some people had really gotten into the Halloween spirit and went all out for their costumes, while others had taken the easy route by sticking animal ears on their heads and calling it a night. If I had originally planned on coming to the party then my costume would’ve been way better than it was. Instead, I was wearing the same costume I wore last year to Brianna’s Halloween party—Marilyn Monroe.
I scanned the room as Carter and I made our way through the growing throng of our peers. Shane wasn’t anywhere in sight. I was rapidly becoming annoyed. How rude is it to force someone to come to a party with you, and then just ditch them? Very.
I followed closely behind Carter as he exited the kitchen through a sliding glass door and headed out onto the deck. The hot day had turned into a warm, breezy night. The sky was dark, but light came from tiki torches and the many candle-lit, carved pumpkins that surrounded the backyard. Almost instantly after I stepped out onto the porch, Shane walked up to me with a big smile on his handsome face.
“Ella!” he yelled, throwing his arms around me and pulling me in for a bone-crushing hug. The strong smell of alcohol hit my nose as he nuzzled his head into the crook of my neck. “I missed you,” he mumbled against my skin, sending tingles down my spine when he kissed my neck. The way my body reacted to him only served to annoy me further. I was mad at him for making me come out tonight, and then leaving me on the couch for nearly an hour while he drank. He did not deserve my affection right now.
I pushed him back by his shoulders, keeping him at arm’s length as I said, “If you missed me then you would’ve come inside and gotten me. Have you been out here the whole time?”
He nodded hard, causing his blond hair to fall into his eyes. Then, catching me off guard, he placed his hands on my cheeks and guided my face to his. He kissed me hard for a moment before I pulled away. If it was possible, he tasted worse than he smelled. Carter laughed as I scrunched my nose in disgust.
“What are you doing?” I groaned, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. I ignored the hurt in his eyes as he pouted.
“I just wanted to kiss you,” he answered, running a hand through his hair and glancing to the side.
I sighed, pulling him away from the door, down the steps into the yard, and over to a lawn chair. Carter followed us and stood with his arms crossed over his chest, just watching us in amusement. “You smell terrible,” I said, trying not to stand downwind of him. “How much did you drink?”
Shane shrugged as he dropped down into the chair. My gaze trailed from his face to his chest, which was on full display in his costume. He was one of the people who had taken the easy route out for a costume, and bought a cheap boy scout’s vest from the costume store earlier today. He paired it with some khaki shorts, and was ready for a night out. The vest was open and showed off his tan abs and muscular arms. I wasn’t the only one who was noticing either. Other girls were milling around the yard, obviously checking him out, and it was kind of pissing me off.
Shane pulled me down onto the chair with him, hugging me tightly to his chest. His muscular arms flexed as they circled my waist, and he leaned down to rest his chin on my shoulder. He sighed deeply. “You smell so good,” he commented.
Carter rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna go see if I can find him a bottle of water or something. He’s gotta sober up before he gets home or his mom will have an aneurysm.”
“Okay, hurry back. We should leave soon. I’m tired.” As if my body was trying to prove my words, a yawn escaped my parted lips. Behind me, Shane hugged me tighter. I shifted positions uncomfortably, trying not to gag at how horrible he smelled.
“Got it,” Carter replied, turning to head back into the house where I could see people dancing in the kitchen through the plate glass door.
More people were beginning to come outside, probably because of how crowded it was inside. It was hot in there, and there was hardly any space to move around. The only downside to being out here was that the music was only a dull thud. You could hear the beat, but it was hard to tell what song was playing. At least outside I could actually hear myself think.
I turned my head slightly so I could see Shane’s face as his head rested on my shoulder. When I moved, he opened his eyes and his gaze met mine. Then he shifted his eyes and looked around in front of us. Returning his gaze to mine, he sat up as he said, “He’s gone!”
He looked so cute and happy that I couldn’t help but smile at him. “Carter?”
Shane nodded in response. “I was waiting for him to leave.”
“Why is that?”
He smirked. “So I could do this,” he answered, turning me slightly as he leaned in to kiss me again. I pulled away before he could.
I placed my hands on his chest and held him back as he tried to lean in again. “Damn boy, you need to calm down. Your hormones are on a whole ’nother level right now.”
“It’s the outfit.” He raised an eyebrow at me as he pulled at the material of my white dress. “I always had a thing for Marilyn Monroe.” He winked, and even in his drunken stupor he managed to look so sexy that I almost swooned. How that was possible, I had no clue.
“Well, Marilyn is taking a vow of abstinence.”
Shane groaned. His mood changed so quickly. He went from flirtatious to looking like someone just ran over his puppy.
I laughed lightly as he pouted. “We really need to get you home.”
Shane instantly took the bait and his smirk returned full force. “You wanna take me home?”
“Yes, but not in the way you’re implying,” I answered, rolling my eyes at how cheesy his suggestion was. Then I glanced up and looked toward the door, hoping to see Carter coming out, but he wasn’t. “Where is Carter? He said he’d be right back.”
Shane waved my question off. “Who needs Carter? All he does lately is talk about Lena. He’s boring.”
“That’s not boring, that’s adorable.”
Sighing, I tried to push myself up, but Shane tightened his arms around me so I couldn’t stand. “Shane, I’m going to find Carter. Just wait here for me to get back. Do not move.”
Pouting, he let me go. Then he crossed his arms and leaned back in the chair, frowning.
“Seriously, don’t go anywhere.” I stared at him until he said he wouldn’t move, and then I headed back toward the house.
As soon as I entered through the back door the sound of the music filled my ears again. Everything was loud inside. People were yelling over the music, laughing, and singing. I had no idea how I was supposed to find Carter if he wasn’t in the kitchen. After I looked around the room and saw that he wasn’t there, I continued to push my way through the crowd. I hardly recognized anyone from school other than people who hung out with Carter and Shane. When I was almost out of the kitchen, a tall girl dressed as a pirate came hurtling around the corner and ran straight into me, spilling the cups of beer she had in each hand all over the front of my dress and down my legs. I groaned loudly, shaking the beer from my hands, and then holding the front of my dress away from my body as she apologized and ran off.
Now I’m going to smell like beer, I thought with a sigh. Holding my now wet dress away from my body, I walked down the main hall, scanning the throng of people for Carter. As I neared the bathroom door, it opened, and out walked Carter with a satisfied expression on his face. I almost wanted to hit him.
When he spotted me, he laughed, but it was covered by the music.
I marched toward him, taking him by the arm and pulling him to the kitchen, where he grabbed one of the many bottles of water that sat amongst the nearly empty bottles of liquor. Then we headed back outside, into the night.
“You look horrible,” Carter commented, gesturing to my beer stains.
I frowned in response. “Thanks, that’s what every girl wants to hear,” I said, the sarcasm heavy in my voice. “Let’s just get this water to Shane, so we can get out of here.”
Carter nodded, and we both turned our attention away from each other and to where I left Shane. I was happy to see he was still sitting there. I took the four patio steps down to the yard, and froze as I watched some girl stumble toward Shane. It was like one of those scenes in a movie where the main character knows in her gut that something bad is about to happen, but is powerless to stop it.
The girl was dressed scantily as a damn black cat, with her dark hair curled and two little cat ears sticking out of her hair at the top. When she got to Shane she plopped down into his lap, tossed her arms around his neck, and kissed him with everything she had in her. My heart clenched at the sight, and I felt anger bubble up inside of me. My head swam for the two seconds that she kissed him until Shane pushed her away. I felt like my blood was boiling, I was so mad.
Shane stood up, placing the girl on her feet and holding his hands up in a surrendering motion. I watched as his lips moved, and then the girl crossed her arms and stormed off. As soon as she turned away from him, Shane turned slightly and his gaze met mine. He looked apologetic, and it seemed as if that one action had sobered him up quick.
I didn’t know what to think. Why the hell did she feel comfortable enough to just come over and start kissing him? Was I missing something?
I didn’t wait to find out though, because as soon as Shane took a step toward me, obviously coming to explain, I turned away and headed back into the house. It was time to go.
I should’ve stayed home.
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